The hills and hedgerows that John Wesley walked and rode have changed a bit over the centuries. Castles still dot the English landscape. Occasionally a village still houses thatched roofs. But in some cities you’ll find Pizza Hut, Starbucks – and mosques. Where once England went to the Empire, the Empire now comes to England, and Indian “takeaway” food is as plentiful as Mexican restaurants in the United States. And after all, the institution of English tea time is powered by tea plantations very far away from the local WI.
This is not an essay on politics or globalization.
It’s interesting to consider, though, the mental image of John Wesley on a motorbike in the current British landscape, a short man with a series of bungled relationships trailing behind him, scholarly Greek puttering away in the back of his mind, preaching to people who are poor or uneducated or, sometimes, extremely uninterested.
Anyone who knows me knows of my obsession with the BBC show, “The Great British Bake Off” (or as it’s known on PBS, “The Great British Baking Show”). All my questions about Victoria sponge and treacle tart have been answered in a charming and, yes, riveting amateur baker competition. You may chuckle at my obsession, but who’s chuckling when I finally master choux pastry and serve you homemade eclairs? Yes, that’s what I thought.
[Spoiler Alert for fans and global readers]
Last night this season’s finale aired. The field had been whittled away to three contestants, two men and a woman, who survived all kinds of baking challenges, including some very finicky pastry.
Nadiya won, an intensely focused woman who stands all of 4’11” and amused viewers with her transparent and emotional facial expressions and her early struggles with technical challenges and nerves.
Here’s the thing: Nadiya is the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants. Which, for her, means –
that a woman in a headscarf just won “The Great British Bake Off.”
For she’s hijabi good fellow…
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. At all. Regular viewers have watched her skill set grow, her confidence grow exponentially. Her personality began to shine through as she gained more confidence. Any fair viewer knows she deserved to win. J.K. Rowling was live-Tweeting her emotion throughout the finale. Even the Prime Minister was rooting for Nadiya.
And then – because we’re human and our world is broken – a bit of snark began to surface – snide suggestions that producers rigged it for a Muslim woman to win, in spite of the repeated demonstration of her skills and understanding. Half of stiff-upper-lip Britain was in tears because of a moving statement from the shaky winner, and immediately, a few people began to focus, not on her skills or her kindness but on her religion and apparel.
How un-Wesley of them.
I know that people in the broad Wesleyan Methodist tradition all like to try to claim Wesley as their own. But today I’ll boldly make a Wesley claim: there’s nothing of racism or suspicion in perfect love. To be entirely sanctified, to be perfect (complete) in your intentions of love, always involves kind respect toward the individual.
Wesley understood this: he took the poor seriously. He wrote health brochures to help improve their quality of living. He worried over the effects of alcoholism on poor families. He went out to the miners because the miners mattered to him. And when he finally found himself in the twilight of his life, he wrote his last known letter – about the pervasive evil of slavery.
Friends, there is nothing Wesleyan about putting down the foreigner among us. The Old Testament has a great deal to say about how we treat the alien, the foreigner, the “other” who eats differently or dresses differently than we do. Coming up to an election year, we need to state clearly that most news organizations report for profit. Their goals aren’t to equip people with basic facts; their goals are to keep viewers anxious enough to stay tuned in constantly (on both ends of the North American political spectrum).
Jesus “had to” go through Samaria (no one “had to”) to chat with one woman one midday at the town well. He didn’t blanket people by their appearance or background. He saw individuals. And I do not think the early Methodist movement would’ve gotten far if, after his heart was strangely warmed, Wesley hadn’t cared about the individuals he encountered. The fact that he went out beyond the physical church walls into fields and cemeteries and town squares showed that he cared about the individuals who didn’t make it into church buildings.
Recently I began fundraising for the campus ministry where I work. In January, we are scheduled to travel on a mission trip to Greece to serve war refugees entering Europe mainly due to the ongoing violence in Syria. Some of the refugees are Christian. Many are Muslim, bombed out of their neighborhoods by rival factions or under threat from the ISIS extremists. Many are families or young educated professionals or students. I have discovered to my sorrow that it’s not always easy to raise funds for a mission trip to provide humanitarian aid to Muslims – in other words, people – who are tired, hungry, traveling with small children.
Last Sunday I preached at a church about the light shining in the darkness, and the darkness not overcoming it. I painted a picture of the refugee crisis. Afterwards a woman approached me crying. One of her good friends locally has many family members in Syria; some of them are the ones traveling through Greece. She thanked me. Later I received an email: “my Muslim friend is so touched to hear what you’re doing. Almost all of her nieces, nephews and cousins have had to leave Syria. The older relatives are staying. It’s their home and they say they’re too old to leave. What can I do to help with your trip?”
I wonder if some of the children passing through Greece will make it into Britain? I wonder what things they’ll enjoy baking when they grow up. I wonder what Mother Teresa would do with the refugee crisis, the woman who saw individuals and held them and fed them and loved them.
Kind respect – let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord.