Bullying, oppression and exclusion have no place in God's coming kingdom
I was sitting in a waiting room a few days ago. During the long wait I noticed a poster with the strapline 'All Equal, All Different, All Together'.
It was produced by the Northern Ireland Anti-Bullying Forum for their focus week last year, running from November 13 to November 17.
It's a good slogan and attempts to address one of the most prevalent and persistent causes of pain for many people, especially children and young people. Bullying remains a perennial problem for numerous folk and the misery it heaps upon them is often a burden that is incalculable and sometimes unbearable - as evidenced by the tragic instances where sufferers take their own lives, seeing it as their only means of escape.
Ponder for a moment the long, drawn-out fear and despair of someone dreading the next journey to or from school, break-time or lunch-time, workplace banter or, worst of all perhaps, their return to a place called home, which, in truth, is a cruel mockery of what that word should mean.
I realise that this short article can't adequately address, never mind resolve, the phenomenon of bullying, but I am struck by the appropriateness of the slogan quoted above.
What it does is strike the right kind of notes amidst the noisy, chaotic discord that's often generated around such issues - some clamouring for harsh justice to be meted out to those identified as perpetrators, others crying out in lament for those who are victimised but offering not much in the way of positive proposals.
In a crucial sense, of course, bullying is something to be addressed in an individual sense, in the face-to-face settings of particular people in specific cases.
But beyond or behind that, the slogan emphasises the culture that is desirable or even necessary for the right relationships to occur and within which such interpersonal dynamics can flourish. In other words, the hope is that all the over-lapping communities in which we live - home, education, work, recreational, political and, yes, spiritual - will aim to model and maintain an atmosphere in which we are considered to be all equal, all different, all together.
Nothing less is surely intrinsic to Christ's message of God's coming kingdom, a new creation free from oppression, coercion and exclusion.