Weekly Insights (7) – Environmental activism isn’t just for lent it’s for life

Every year people search for lent resources which will help connect them with God in a deeper way. We may be a few days into lent but if you have not found a resource can I suggest you look at the Diocese of Chester’s resources around environmental action. For forty days members from across the diocese will write about how they have been impacted by the environmental challenges we face and offer reflections on how we could change and care for creation.

The environment is not just for lent, it’s for life. Psalm 104 is a beautiful depiction of God’s care for creation. It speaks of the ways God has created everything from tiniest creeping thing to the mighty Leviathan. God’s hands are all over creation and the world demonstrates that glory. When we see a beautiful sunset or stand atop a mountain range we cannot be express praise to God. But, those moments should also challenge us to care more.

Last week I attended an event run in collaboration with Christian Aid. The event launched a report which shows how out of touch the church seems to be on environmental issues. It suggested that if there was not radical change then we would loose many young people because of the apathy and lack of care the church has shown about environmental issues.

In the face of that apathy I challenge you to become more educated. To read, listen and learn about our environment and discover ways you can care more for our creation. I have listed several resources at the end of this blog post which you could use but they are only a starting block. There are so many resources out there that you could become lost in information, overloaded by facts and figures. So, in an attempt to keep this weeks reflections grounded I offer seven suggestions for ways you could change your life that would impact the world around you.

What follows are seven simple ways you could make a difference in your life that will help our planet and align your life with God’s call to care for creation.

  1. Meat Free day’s – Around 14.5 percent of all human emissions comes from animal agriculture and just under half of that is through the production of beef. One way then that you could reduce your carbon footprint would be to have meat free days. Even by stopping eating meat one day a week will make a huge impact not just on our carbon but also on our world.
  2. Reduce single use plastics – This is a much harder challenge. If you go to most supermarkets you will find the shelves littered with single use plastic but this is another serious problem for our world. Why not try and buy vegetables that are not covered in plastic. Or if you live in or around Manchester why not try one of our eco shops in Bramhall or New Mills. These shops allow you to take your own packaging and let you choose how much of any product you want. Similarly they stock things like shampoo and hand soap which can help the reduction of single use plastics as well!
  3. See what your Carbon Footprint is. There are many websites that can help you calculate your carbon footprint and this is a great way to help reduce carbon. If you know how much carbon you use each week then you can slowly reduce it in those areas of your life that it impacts the most!
  4. Drive Less, Walk More. Why not stop using the car as much and make use of that bike you bought five years ago or simply walk to the places you need to go.
  5. Replace the lights in your home. LED lights use 85 % less energy and can last 25 % longer than incandescent lighting.
  6. Recycle More – why not do some research and see if there are things which can be recycled which you used to throw away.
  7. Talk to people – why not talk to more people about the environment. Encourage others too recycle and change their habits. That way your small changes are not just impacting you but impacting others as well!

In Genesis 1 God encouraged us to be stewards of creation. We were not called to dominate or abuse the world but to care for it. Why not use lent to pray and learn more about ways we could care more for creation.

Resources

AROCHA – this website has some great ways that the church can promote care for creation.

Christian Aid – another good website to learn more about the impacts we are having on the climate.

Chester Diocese – This lent they both have a lent resource to use and a recent podcast from the environment forum talking about ways we can respond to climate injustice.

Weekly Insight (6) – Racial Justice Sunday

This week Churches Together in Britain and Ireland are holding “Racial Justice” Sunday’s as a church we will be using the resources and educating ourselves. One of the problems we face in Britain is education. Many will ask why we are holding a “racial justice” Sunday well it is so that we can spotlight the biblical importance of such issues. The bible has been used throughout history to oppress and put down. Yet, when I read the gospel’s I read a gospel of love. When I read the writings of Paul I read the letters of a man who cared about justice and wanted to encourage others to follow the cross of Christ. As we are challenged this Sunday. As we become uncomfortable with what is said and the prayers we pray we need to see that as a good thing. We need to become uncomfortable so that we can enact change. This weeks blog suggests some of the things you could read/listen too if you feel uncomfortable and want to know more. These recourses will help you move from conversation to action.

Something to read

There are so many good books that you could read. These books will make most of us become uncomfortable but they have changed my perspectives. More than changing my perspectives however they also gave me the resources to speak out. They showed my “blind” sides and helped me become familiar with the problems our society faced.

Reni Edo-Lodge, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race . This is a real uncomfortable read for a white person as it challenges our unconscious bias and makes us think more deeply about the things we say and actions we take.

James Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree. This book explores the spiritual world of African Americans in 20th century America. Drawing on some of the most violent acts of racism Cone is able to tie together both hope and terror through the lens of the Cross. This is a powerful read especially as we move through lent towards the cross.

Something to Listen too

This week I am going to once again recommend a podcast. Podcast’s are some of the easiest ways to educate yourselves on specific issues, especially now that we have time on our hands. In the Unlocking Us Series by Brene Brown Brene has a conversation with Emmanuel Acho. Emmanuel talks about his experiences as a black person and explains why he wrote the book “Uncomfortable conversations with a Black Man”. One thing that struck me in the conversation was when Emmanuel said that “true allyship moves from conversation to action.” As we pray and worship this week why not ask God to help move us from conversation to action this week.

I also took time to watch the BBC programme Anthony. The story of Anthony Walker, who was killed by two white men in 2005, demonstrates that racism is not some distant issue but that it is closer than we think and has an affect on all of our communities.

An important idea

In here podcast Brene Brown says that there can be “no courage without vulnerability.” Racism can be a difficult issue to speak out against as white people because we can fear that we say the wrong thing, or that can be seen to not have compassion. That attitude however is just as bad as racism for it silences the conversation. As Norbury Church prays and worships this week we will ask God to come and change the narrative. We will ask God to come and transform our community by His grace so that justice will roar through this land. Sometimes it can feel like our voices are not loud enough, or not bold enough. Yet, as we learn, speak and act, we can have a great influence on our friends, our families, and our communities. If we join our voices together we will be able to affect more change than we ever could alone. If we partner with God we can do the impossible. We can see God’s kingdom come and change the earth. That is why we join with God this Sunday and ask that God’s love overpower all the earth and we proclaim together that all lives are important. That black lives matter to us!

Weekly Insights (5) – The importance of History and the story it can tell

I have often the pondered the importance of journaling. On some occasions I have attempted to write down my thoughts at the start or the end of day. Often, however, this is with little or no lasting impact. Yet, as a historian, I am always drawn to the importance of story.

While studying in America I took an American Christianity course which used story. The lecturer, Dr. Lauren Winner, used a lot of stories. Each week our readings would include somebodies story in the form of a journal entry or a letter. It was amazing to read American history in such a way. It was intimate and relevant. It was deep and profound and it was a course which had a great impact on my thinking as a priest and a theologian.

This week I have thought a lot about stories and wonder what kind of legacy we will leave.

Something I’ve read

This week I have finished this book, Facist Voices, by Christopher Duggan. This history of Mussolini’s Italy is written from the perspective of story. Duggan spent a lot of time finding relevant archival accounts and diary entries which tell the peoples story. The book depicts the rise and fall of Mussolini from the perspective of the Italian people. It is well worth a read for anyone interested in modern history and the use of journal entries in an academic account of the Italian state.

Something I’ve listened too

Similarly, I listened this week to a BBC radio production from documenting the interview of Rudolf Hess who was the deputy Fuher by a prominent British psychiatrist . Once again this was a really interesting listen which further opened up the importance of story. In this case through examining the importance of the stories we tell ourselves and how easy it is to become ensconced in a particular story or narrative.

An Interesting Idea

As I have written stories play a crucial role in how we develop and tell history. As Winston Churchill said  history was written by the victors. Yet, there is so much that can be learnt by reading the stories of those who didn’t win. Those who are different to us. Those who come from different places and times. This week, I would love for you to explore history through story. For it is in reading about someone’s life that we learn what it means to live in a different time or a different way. It is by engaging with, and learning about, those who are different to us that we can come to accept who we truly are and grow and learn.

History may have been written by the victors but we have a lot to learn from the losers as well!

Weekly Insights (4)

It is hard to avoid the headlines this week. Hard not to acknowledge the fact that our nation has now lost over 100,000 people to the COVID pandemic. For those keen Manchester United fans out there that is a full to capacity stadium + another 25,000 people. The number is even larger than a full Wembley (90,000) people and each of those people hold a story. Each of those people are more than a number. As we come out of this week I want us to think about the importance of their stories and think about a way we could respond.

Something I’ve read

This week the Archbishops (C of E) wrote to the church. The letter included this:

100,000 isn’t just an abstract figure. Each number is a person: someone we loved and someone who loved us. We also believe that each of these people was known to God and cherished by God( Church of England Website, 2020).

The whole letter can be accessed here. The letter is a helpful read and one which encourages those with faith to put aside time every evening in February to pray. From the 1st of February our archbishops ask us to pray. But, is pray enough?

Is pray enough if you have lost a loved one? Is pray enough if you know someone who has died? The archbishops write this about prayer:

Prayer is an expression of love.

As we cannot gather, or see each other, at the moment maybe prayer is one way that we can remember others. As we name those we know who are ill, or who grieve, or who suffer we offer an expression of love. An expression of hope and a desire for change.

Both the letter, and the call to prayer, are something I would like to attempt in February as a demonstration, and expression, of God’s love.

Something I’ve heard

Well, this week, it is more something I’ve watched. A recent Panorama Documentary (BBC) told the story of those people behind the numbers. For 30 minutes families tell of their pain and suffering. The explain the effects that coronavirus have had on their lives and they tell the stories of some wonderful people who have been lost because of the pandemic.

For those, like me, who struggle to comprehend the number. For those for whom the number is too great then this documentary goes behind the number. As one family member says:

I don’t want to talk about number because they are all people and people we care about.

Even the loss of one life is too many and by listening to the stories of others it helps to understand and appreciate the need for the current guidance. It moved me from numbers to story and stories are always more hard hitting than facts.

An interesting idea

As I have already mentioned our archbishops have asked us to dedicate time to prayer. It may feel that you cannot do a lot at the moment. That you cannot support people in the usual ways so why not pray? Why not do something you can rather than something you can’t.

As we face the truth about the impact of COVID on our communities and loved ones why not reach out to God. If you feel angry; shout. If you feel sad; cry. If you have hope; pray. God is there to listen. To come close and offer hope.

Not just hope for today, but hope for tomorrow. Through the lens of the resurrection we have a deeper hope. A hope which stretches further. On the cross, Jesus shares the weight of our sadness (Archbishops Letter, 2021). How powerful is it to know that God suffers with us. That God suffered for us. And that because of all that God offers us hope.

As you hear stories of those who have died why not simply pray for their families. If you hear of someone who is lonely why not reach out to them and offer to pray. If you see someone in need why not ask God to show you a way to help. For we are all connected by the love of God and we can connect to that love through prayer.

Let us enter February in prayer. Let us pray not just for ourselves but for others. Let us remember that we are all part of a bigger story and let us put our hope in God.

Weekly Insight (3)

This week I have been thinking a lot about leadership, especially church leadership. This is in part because I was writing a blog post about faith, leadership and jazz (shameless link: https://boundbygrace.org/2021/01/18/disneys-soul-jazz-leadership-and-faith/) and also because Norbury Church took part in the 3rd session of lead academy churchNEXT.

For those who wonder what ChurchNEXT is it is a learning community of churches from around the U.K. who want to “embrace the gospel opportunities for the post COVID world.” It has been an amazing opportunity for several of the team from Norbury to gather with other churches and discuss the possibilities and challenges that have risen out of COVID. I may write a specific blog about the process (if there is interest). For now however, I want to dive into my weekly insights with the caveat that leadership has been on my mind A LOT.

Something I’ve read

This week I want to offer to offer insights from two books I read. Well, one I read and one I looked at for a second time.

The first book was by Helen Cameron, Living in the Gaze of God. This book is primarily about ministerial flourishing however there are lots of nuggets of wisdom in it. The book is structured around a need to be attentive to our own needs and expectations as we live in partnership with others. This is especially important for those who are called to supervise others well. Cameron writes:

Honesty to ourselves and others about our perceptions is vital if we are to be safe practitioners, safe containers of pain and suffering of others and if we are to reflect the glory of God at work in us and the world. (9)

I wonder when you were last honest with yourselves and reflected about what you bring to the relationships around you. I found it a challenging question to ponder as I talked to both our leadership team, friends and family this week.

The second book was Sam Wells, Improvisation. Structured around the themes of improvisation this would be good read for anyone interested in jazz, drama or theology. Wells, with his usual style, manages to blend together the art of improvisation and Christian ethics in a way which is poetic and challenging. Definitely one to read if you haven’t before.

Something I have listened too

This week I listened to a podcast by the wonderful author Brene Brown. In this particular episode of her podcast series Dared to Lead Brene interviews president Barak Obama after the launch of his recent book. In this honest, and telling, episode Obama describes the challenges he faced and the practices he put in place so as to help achieve a better world.

I have also spent a lot of time listening to the new playlist for Disney’s Soul. Those who have read my earlier podcast will know why! This was helped by Abbie asking for it every time I brushed here teeth in an evening. Her recommendation for the week would be the song It’s alright from the movie Soul so make sure you check that out!

An interesting idea I came across

One of the key aspects of improvisation, which I knew about before this week, is yes and. Yes and is about the ability to receive what the other offers and improve upon it. About taking the melody played on the piano and adding something to it with the Saxophone. It is about receiving the offer from the other actor and continuing the drama. The opposite of this is to block, to shut down the song or play by simply saying no.

I wonder what you are more prone to do. Are you the kind of person who loves the spontaneity of saying yes and. Or, are you more likely to say no and shut down the possibility? Why not ponder this week which kind of person you are and how you could say yes and to someone in your life this week. It maybe even that you need to say yes and to God.

Disney’s Soul – Jazz, leadership and faith.

The 2020 Christmas release of Soul seems, if you believe rottentomatoes, to be a film which caught the imagination of the audience. With a deep story line, and clever sub plots, the story is a ‘multilayered experience of the musical dimension’…which touches…’our humanity’ (Heltzel, 2012, p.2). Heltzel, is obviously not writing about Soul per se, but his description of jazz holds true of the storyline of Soul. In fact, Soul is based within the world of jazz, and both, offer ‘a new way of experiencing life – life together’ (p.2, 2012). 

The story of Soul is one of a burnt out middle school teacher, Joe, who has dreams of making it as a jazz musician. In search of his “big break” Joe experiences a life changing situation, falling down a manhole and ending up in the “Great Beyond”, where soul counsellors – all named Jerry – manage the intersection between life and death. 

At the heart of Soul is the moment of improvisation. The movie pivots and turns as Joe tries to live out his dream, even in the face of death. Many people think improvisation is all about the experimental, about the new and the bold. I have found it to be the opposite. In fact, the best improv comes from those who truly know their art form. Improvisation does not come from picking up an instrument and giving it a go but from practice. It take time to learn the appropriate scales or discover how to give permission and always say yes. To be good at improvisation you need to be faithful to the process. Or, to put it another way, the journey. 

Soul, I propose, raises two interesting points for those who are Christian. The first relates to our faith and the second looks at how those who minister, mentor, and enable others.

Improvising faith

We cannot deny that 2020 was a year of improvisation. No-one was trained to minister in a pandemic. There was no handbook of expectations. No tick list of tasks to complete. We were improvising. Using the tools given to practice our faith in new ways. But, this was not simply improvisation for the sake of improvisation it was what Cameron defines as faithful improvisation – ‘of finding out how to say the same thing in a different language, different context, to different people’ (2018, p. 60) and it was hard. Just like saying yes can be hard on stage to the other actor or using the skills at your disposal to respond to the musical overtones. Improvisation is not easy but neither is faith. 

As already mentioned Soul is set within the world of jazz and there is much we, as Christians, can learn from jazz to help enrich our faith. Hetzel (2012) puts it like this:

Like jazz, Christianity is a dramatic and musical performance. Like jazz, Christian thinking and acting are improvisational, creative, and hopefully forward-looking. Like, Jazz, they exemplify a dynamic of constraint and possibility.’ 

Christianity is all about creative witness. It is about taking the gifts we have and improvising. That is what we did in 2020. We, as a church, took the gifts God had given us and improvised. We used the deep wells of faith to improvise. We came up with creative ways to reimagine faith and to offer witness to the world. We did not shrink into the darkness but we embraced the possibility and shone. We used our faith and we improvised.

To do this though we needed to develop one particular muscle, we needed to learn to trust. Wells argues that that improvisation ‘is not about being spontaneous and witty in the moment, but about trusting oneself to do and say the obvious,’ (p.13, 2004). Trust is a key skill that any improvisation involves and it is central to the story of Soul. In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown, notes that because of our insecurities and our desire to be strong we can often miss forming strong relationships. Brown writes that “trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement’ (p.53). Just like it takes time for the jazz musician to learn the needed skills to improvise it also takes time for Christians to learn to let go and trust God. To trust that God has the rudder and will take our permission giving and the skills we have gained and use them to make something beautiful. 

Faithful Improvising is all about improvising our faith. It is about using the skills that we have sharpened in prayer and being a witness in the world. It is not about being perfect or performing well. It is about taking what we have learnt and using it creatively in the performance that God has put us in. It is about trusting God and letting go, it is about being vulnerable and saying yes. Nothing more, nothing less. It is about saying yes to God’s amazing plan.

Permission giving – a way to mentor others into their full potential

An important part of any improvisation is permission giving. It is about saying yes to the other person. In drama it is about not blocking the other and enabling the show to go on, it is hard. It is hard because it demands trust and vulnerability. At its heart this is what Soul is all about. It is about two lost souls giving each other permission to become themselves and to share in each others vulnerability. It is something that Christian leaders tend to struggle with. 

Soul is a story of two lost souls coming together and gaining trust. By cleverly using skills from jazz the Disney production team demonstrate how trust is won and relationships are formed. This is something that Disney understand intrinsically as it is in their ethos. In Creativity Inc. Ed Catmull demonstrates that the Disney model is based not simply on skill but also on ethos. They create a culture of buy-in and community, something later fostered by both Facebook and Google. Catmull acknowledges that before the ideas are formed the team needs to be right. Before the musicians can improvise they need to trust, and before the mentee can grow the mentor needs to have gained the others trust. 

To do this mentors need to be willing to acknowledge their own weaknesses and strengths. Miroslav Volf (2019) suggests that to do this we need to embrace not exclude the other but to do that we have to acknowledge our own vulnerabilities. We need to be attentive to what is going on in our own lives and welcome people into that. We need to be drawn into communities of sacrifice not gain. For it is through our own sacrifice that we can move closer to the cross. It is only when we are willing to sacrifice our place at the table that others will grow.

Returning for a moment to trust. As leaders we often demand respect due to archaic ties and positional power. So often the minister exert power explicitly. It is only as Joe and 22 come to trust each other that a relationship is formed. It is only when Joe begins to show vulnerability that 22 begins to understand what it might mean to be human and that is to trust. It wasn’t because of Joe’s power but because of his vulnerability that their relationship changed and this is something all leaders need to be mindful of, especially those within the church. Helen Cameron (2012) puts it like this ‘those who do hold authority need to foster imagination, empathy and humility to remain aware of how powerless and vulnerable others may feel.’ Rather than trying to exert dominance, or rely on stature, the leader, or mentor, needs to come alongside the mentee, or team member, and try to understand how to say “yes”. How to enter their life and make them flourish. How to use the gifts they offer and turn those gifts into something for God. 

Improvisation is all about permission giving. It is about enabling the other to trust in themselves, and you, enough to respond. It is about offering your gifts, and weaknesses, even if this makes you vulnerable in the hope that the other person will respond. Jesus ‘got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet’ (John 13, 4 – 5). This moment is the perfect example of the intersection between vulnerability and trust. Jesus, in showing his vulnerability, asks the disciples to trust him. In taking a position of service Jesus demonstrates his vulnerability and asks for permission to show the disciples a better way. How often does our ministry do that? How often do we look to give permission to think outside the box? How often do we ignore the one who may flourish because they do not fit the criteria for ministry? How often do we fail to promote amazing leaders because we fear that they are better than we are? How often do we serve our own aims and forget God’s? 

Soul offers a specific moment in the life of a man who had one dream. A dream which he comes to realise was limiting his very existence. He was so caught up in that dream that he could not see what was going on around him. He failed to give himself permission to let his yes be yes. He could not see a different way. As we move into 2021 we will need to come up with new ways to live out our faith. We will need to be creative in enabling budding leaders to flourish. Fear not however for God has already given us to the tools and the permission, I think it is up to us to say yes and that’s the hard part!

*As an Amazon Association I earn from qualifying purchases

Weekly Insights (2)

This week has mostly been holiday. It felt odd taking holiday Wednesday to Wednesday but who knows what normal looks like anymore? This weeks insights focus around the theme of “wellness”. January is the time that we create hopes and dreams of what we could be. Often, in the moment, we forget who we are and where we have come from as we idealise what could be.

All of my three insights this week focus on being the “best” you, you can be while also grounding us in the reality that, at times, life is hard.

Something I’ve read

I am going to be a little biased this week and say one of the best things I read came from my lovely wife. In her honest and open reflections Ash reflected upon the difficulties that we can sometimes face and the need for peace.

I will not spoil her wonderful words any more but simply offer a link to her blog post:

https://believinghealthy.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/not-hope-but-peace/

Something I’ve listened too

This week I listened to two things which I found helpful and I will offer both as a way for you to learn and reflect. The first was a conversation between Nicky Gumble and Timothy Keller, two influential Christian leaders.

The conversation brushed over many topics but at its heart were Timothy Keller’s grappling with faith, the resurrection and his cancer diagnosis. Keller offers poignant reflections about how faith can change and develop even when facing the darkest of moments and, as he spoke, I was drawn back to C.S. Lewis’ short book, A grief observed*. Lewis, facing a difficult loss, offers similar reflections on faith and doubt at moments of darkness but both point to the light of the resurrection and the peace that it can offer.

The second conversation I listened too was the Hypermobility podcast, a recommendation from a member of our parish who suffers from EDS. This podcast offers real, and practical, advice for those who suffer from Hypermobility Disorders on how to enable conversations around pain.

Early on in the conversation one of the hosts helpfully reframes how a person with EDS could speak about their pain in terms of EDS rather than simply in terms of pain and what others may see as unnecessary “complaining”. I offer this podcast both for those who suffer from, or know someone who suffer from, hyper mobility disorder but also for us all to help gain insight on what it is like to suffer from such pain and how we can better help those who do.

An interesting Idea

This week, as I prepared to preach, I reflected on our reading from the Old Testament. The story of Samuel’s call is one which sits close to my heart and in it there is a wonderful moment in which Samuel says to God “speak Lord, your servant is listening.” In the depths of night, when Samuel did not know what was going on, he trusted that God would speak to him and he was eager to listen.

As I have pondered what it means to face different challenges and find hope I was caught by the idea that God can offer us peace if only we listen.

So, this week, why not find a quiet space and pray “Speak Lord, you servant is listening,” and hopefully God will speak words of peace to you.

A prayer

A prayer for peace from the Book of Common Prayer

Lord God, all holy desires, all good counsels, and all just works come from you. Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give, that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments. Defend us also from the fear of our enemies that we may live in peace and quietness, through the merits of Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen

*As an Amazon Association I earn from qualifying purchases

Weekly Insights (1)

I am going to attempt to blog more regularly in 2021 and therefore each Friday will be releasing a blog post. These scribblings will include something I have read, something I have listened too and an interesting idea. This is both an attempt to offer you, my lovely reader, some new ideas but also to keep me accountable. It is very easy to settle into a pattern of watching the latest TV and not striving to learn. Yet, the most important thing we can do is experience new ideas.

So, in an attempt to keep me learning please indulge me and maybe you too will learning, or uncover, something new too.

Something I have read

This week I have been reading atomic habits by James Clear. This is a great book for anyone who wants to achieve their goals and make sustainable changes in their life. I am only partway through as it is quite a slow read if you want to really address the issues discussed. This week I have been thinking about the habits that form my daily routine.

James Clear argues that one of the main challenges to changing habits is maintaining the awareness of what you are doing. Clear recommends making a list of your daily habits and putting a +, -, or = sign next to each one. The “+” recommends positive habits, i.e. taking a shower, the “-” equates to negative habits, i.e. checking your phone when you get up, and the “=” sign reflects neutral habits like getting up.

I definitely recommend atomic habits to anyone who wants to make a positive change to their life in 2021.

Something I have listened too

Every few months I like to change up the routine of my daily quiet time. Last year I was working through the Bible in a year and tended to read chunks of scripture in my quiet time. At the start of January I picked up the app “Lectio 365” which is a great prayer app that you can listen too where ever you are. It’s a great one for the commute, for the kitchen sink, or sat at your desk. The app tends to take a theme for the week, or a longer period, and the daily prayer time uses that “theme” as its structure.

The app is currently looking at the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 so each day you are offered a time to pause, a piece of scripture to reflect on and a time then to pray. Each “episode” is only about 10 minutes so it truly is a great way to start the day with God!

An interesting Idea

Those of you who know me well know that I have a real love of coffee, in fact I am drinking a coffee as a write this, so I thought it would be interesting to learn a bit more about caffeine this week and see what effects it has on the human body.

While reading some interesting articles I stumbled across a piece of research which suggests that caffeine can help improve Bee’s memory. Researcher’s found that caffeine, which in high doses, can be poisonous to all animals, is, in small amounts, helpful in improving the memories of bees. In fact, in one study, it was found that the reward is such that caffeine can pharmacologically manipulate the behaviour of pollinators and reward them by improving their memories of which plants to return too.

The study may not have impacted my consumption, but at least I learnt something new!

A prayer from the week

This week the Church has celebrated the Epiphany. It has remembered the visit of the Magi to the Christ child. In a week where authority figures have caused great chaos, and demanded to be worshiped, it is good to remember that it was not the Jewish leaders who first worshiped Jesus but foreign travellers. I wonder what that could teach us about our lives and worship.

O God,

who by the leading of a star

manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth:

mercifully grant that we,

who know you now by faith,

may at last behold your glory face to face;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,

who is alive and reigns with you,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever.

Collect for the Epiphany,

Church of England, Common Worship

Advent Waiting

2020 has felt like “the longest year,” this advent has felt like the “longest advent,” and, if we are honest, we do not know what we are waiting for. A few weeks ago I read part of John of the Cross’ dark night of the soul.

This 16th century poem, written in five stanza’s of eight lines each, narrates the journey the soul takes as it becomes united with God.  The poem, which shows the importance of contemplation in our Christian journey, speaks of a presence in absence. As we contemplate God in the darkness of the night we are drawn to a closer union; our emptiness is filled by the presence of God. 

And, if you think, this kind of idea is a quaint trait of 16th century mystics, I recently came across the soul moving song “After the Storm,” performed by Mumford & Sons. In this song we encounter a set of profound spiritual truths which can be hard to understand. 

“And after the storm, I run and run as the rains come. And I look up, I look up, on my knees and out of luck, I look up.”

I wonder when you were last on your knees. When you last encountered a “dark night” of the soul. Christian life is full of such moments. No matter how positive we make faith look, we all face dark nights. We all face moments where we fall to our knees in the middle of the storm. 

We all face moments when we want to look up and scream.

It is interesting that these moments, these experiences of darkness tend to push out the positive. They outweigh any good and make us want to focus on the dark. To stay in it, alone. 

“Night has always pushed up day. You must know life to see decay. But I won’t rot, I won’t rot. Not this mind and not this heart, I won’t rot.”

Yes, it is easy to focus on the darkness, but both St. John and Mumford & Son’s 

allude to a greater truth. The truth that we are not alone. 

“And I took you by the hand. And we stood tall, And remembered our own land, What we lived for.”

One of the blessings of advent is that it opens up a new opportunity. As we prepare for a king we are reminded that God came to us. We are reminded that we do not need to perform religious acts, or build taller towers, but in fact God leans down and meets us in the form of a child. Emmanuel, God with us. God comes to us and meets us, often in the darkness, and shows us love. 

“And now I cling to what I knew. I saw exactly what was true. But oh no more. That’s why I hold, That’s why I hold with all I have. That’s why I hold.”

Once you have seen the truth. Once you have encountered the love shining in the darkness it is hard to turn back. Even when the tears blind us, or the pain cripples us, we can hold onto something else and in the midst of the darkness we can abandon our pain and greet the one who calls us by name. 

I abandoned and forgot myself,

laying my face on my Beloved;

all things ceased; I went out from myself,

leaving my cares

forgotten among the lilies.

On this, the darkest of nights, I am reminded that we all have darkness to face. We all have things that we hide in the storm. Yet, in the midst of the storm, we are not alone. We encounter one who offers us rest. He may not take away the pain, or solve the problem, but as the tears flow and the rain falls, we encounter one who wants to hear our pain. One who wants to take our sorrows upon himself and offer us peace. 

On this darkest of nights, why not light a candle, play a song, and try and cast your cares on God.

Because…

there will come a time

You’ll see, with no more tears

And love will not break your heart

But dismiss your fears

Get over your hill and see

What you find there

With grace in your heart

And flowers in your hair

That may not be tonight, but it will come, for the grace of God does not exclude. It does not stop. We may be in the storm but we are being prepared for more.  We are being prepared for a time when there will be no more tears. We are being prepared for the time when we will see God’s face and feel no more fear, rejection or pain. A moment when all we will feel is love. 

But, for now, on this darkest of nights, why not light a candle, play a song, and try and cast your cares on God.

For, the journey can be hard I know that too. But in the darkness God may come and offer you some rest for your soul. 

I pray, that tonight, God offers you rest for your weary soul and a song for your struggling heart.

So, light a candle, and sit. Sit and wait for God will come and ease the weary tears. God will come and sooth the pain. 

God will come.

Just as God came that first Christmas morn.


God will come. 

God’s not fair

It’s unfair, it’s unfair, it’s unfair. 

How come he got the promotion.

How did she get that car.

How did they afford that house. 

It’s unfair, it’s unfair, it’s unfair. 

Black Lives Matter, LGBTI+ rights, equal pay, we live in a world where we have come to understand that life is not a fair place to live and that we should strive to make it more just. But justice and equality are different. Equality is the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, or opportunities. Justice, on the other hand, is about our behaviour and our treatment of those who are different from us. That, when observed through the lens of justice, this passage teaches us more about God’s love than we care to admit and that once we have seen it we cannot be changed.

God’s love is radical. 

If we were to trace the narrative ark of God’s love through our bible, beginning with Adam and ending with the ascension, we cannot but see that God’s love is radical. The biblical narrative is about a divine creator who wants to be in relationship with us. Think back to the Israelites who rejected and turned away from God’s love. For 40 years they wandered in the wilderness, worshiped idols and failed to hear God’s call. Yet God still provided for them. He provided them Manna to eat, great chunks of food which gave them physical sustenance. He gave them leaders to follow, people who could help reconcile their relationship, and, eventually, he brought them home. No matter how despondent their faith got. No matter how much they moaned and wailed, God still wanted them. He was still jealous for them. He still loved them. 

This love does not stop with the people of Israel. It does not stop even when the Israelites turn away from faith and professionalise their worship in the temple. God still yearned for his people, and this was demonstrated through a truly radical act. God came to earth and offered love. God, in human form, offered us a kind of reconciling love that was totally radical. Jesus’ death on the cross was the most radical act of love. It strived to break down barriers and build connection. It called the people of Israel back into loving relationship and it opened our understanding of love to include us. 

God’s love isn’t fair.

If you struggle with the concept of God’s radical love this next concept is even more difficult to comprehend. God’s love isn’t fair. When we come to God’s holy table we get a glimpse of this. When we recite the prayer:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” 

This prayer is not exactly something one would want to say to God. Yet, these words are prayed by Christians in liturgy before receiving Communion.

In this moment we remember our original sin. We are reminded that we can never be perfect and that it is only by God’s love and grace that we are able to approach the altar at all. 

Those words, not only remind us of our original sin but, also remind us that God’s love is open to all. For they take us back to Matthew 8 and the Roman centurion. Jesus, approached by the Roman Centurion who asks for healing for his servant, is so moved by the centurions faith that he offers healing to the servant. In response the centurion says those words we heard a moment ago. But it is Jesus’ response that I want to focus on right now.

‘Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed…’ When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Amen, I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith…You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.’”

There is too much going on in this passage for me to unpack it now, but let me say this. The faith Jesus encounters in this moment demonstrates the unfair nature of love. Jesus offers healing to this “servant” even though he is not of the Jewish faith because he encounters true faith in the words of the centurion. Moved by love Jesus offers the healing of the Jewish people to the world. It may seem fair to us, but could you imagine what the Jewish authorities thought?

But, what about us. How do we understand the unfair nature of God’s love. Well, let’s think about the prodigal son for a moment. Once again this is a complex multi-layered story that I cannot unpack fully. But, let me draw your attention to a few things. The obvious focus point, when discussing what is “fair” is to discuss the son who did not receive his inheritance. Who stayed and worked for his father and, in his own words, didn’t even receive a fatted calf. But, I think there is something even more radical going on. Something that we often fail to notice as we are caught up in the story. The younger brother never truly asked for forgiveness. He admits his fault yes, but he never asks for forgiveness, he never says “Father, please forgive me”. He doesn’t need to, the Father has already forgiven him, even before the words are uttered forgiveness is offered. All is forgiven. 

That is what the radical nature of God’s love is all about. It has nothing to do with us. It isn’t about what we can earn, or what we receive, but it is about a God who constantly offers us forgiveness, no matter what we do. And, it’s not fair. It’s not fair that we can strive our whole life to live by faith and then our friend, or neighbour, confesses on their death bed and are forgiven. It isn’t fair that God forgives the worst of sinners but we experience suffering even though we have lived our whole life by faith. God’s love simply isn’t fair. 

It’s all about grace 

That’s the point though, for God’s love isn’t about what is fair, it is a moment of grace. Grace is the free, undeserved help that God gives us to respond to his call to become children of God. It is free and undeserved. It is offered to all, not just a set of people who look and sound like us, but those who we think are unworthy. It is radical. It is obscene. It is the offer of salvation to a Roman Centurion and his servant. It is the offer of love to a child who is spent up and washed out. It is an offer of safety to a people who have wandered aimlessly unable to hear God’s call. Grace is a radical gift that we cannot predict or contain. It is about a radical love. A love which is completely unfair but is available to anyone who wants to come and receive it. 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑