by James Woodward
I hope that this Christmas Season is a happy one for you and those you love. In this our city of stars let these days bring us some refreshment, laughter, and good food.
In my work at Sarum College I am sometimes asked what the point of religion is. There are plenty of reasons to wonder if believing makes any difference to the kind of people we are. It does of course start with us. In the workplace, in our homes, our streets and our localities. Religion is about listening, relating and friendship. Amidst the tinsel and the carols, the life of Jesus is a true story that invites us into wanting the best for others. It invites us to keep an eye open for those who might need our support in difficult or testing times. Small acts of kindness build bridges and offer light and hope.
One of the questions I want to ask you here as the year turns is this: what small act of kindness might you consider in 2024 to build community in a concrete way? Volunteering. Keeping an eye open for a neighbour. Supporting one of our local charities with a small donation. Remembering someone whom you know is having a tough time. We all know lots of people who will face this season having lost someone they love. A donation to support those attempting to bring relief to the devastating chaos in the Middle East. One small step to let the aspiration of wanting the best for others to land.
Recently we have been saddened by the death of one of Birmingham’s most gifted artists, the poet Benjamin Zephaniah. He loved to write stories for children. Through his poetry he called on us to recognise the compelling need for radical truth-telling and for cooperation across difference in the cause of justice and human rights.
In one poem The Old Truth he writes that whatever our religion, as human beings and as a planet,
Rumour has it
Our destinies are all
(Rumour has it)
He said of himself: “Here is a poet who won’t stay silent. I live in two places, Britain and the world, and it is my duty to question and explore the state of justice in both of them…As I grew up in the Rastafarian community in Birmingham, I dreamt of the day when I would leave Britain…and the truth is the more I travel, the more I love Britain: and it is because I love the place that I fight for my rights here.”
Let us be people who love Salisbury, who want to make a difference, who want to build cooperation in a city where all belong. That might just start with your small acts of kindness.
Happy Christmas and be the difference in 2024.
James Woodward is Principal of Sarum College. He is a practical theologian who specialises in health and healing, old age, theological reflection and end of life care. This article is adapted from the original, which appears in the Salisbury Journal (21 December 2023).