Weekly Update (8) – The Circle Process

In a world where conflict is an ever present reality. Where political parties and community groups jostle for power over each other and disagree over the smallest of details I have a passion to live out the biblical principles of justice and reconciliation.

In 2 Corinthians 5: 17 – 19, St. Paul writes:

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. Everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation”

This is a ministry we are called into, commissioned for, and it can often be difficult to be involved in. This week’s blog comes with a caveat. If anyone who reads this wants to become more involved in reconciliation, or solve a conflict in their own lives, I recommend they go and receive the appropriate advice and training. It takes a skilled mediator to deal with difficult conflict and more damage can be done by diving into situations unprepared. That being said Christ calls us into this ministry and there are tools that we can use in our day-to-day lives to become more aware of how we respond to conflict.

Something I’ve read

So, this maybe a bit cheeky, but this is not something I read this week but something I looked at in the past however it is such a good book I want to recommend it here. John Paul Lederach, is a key figure in Christian reconciliation, and his book reconcile: Conflict Transformation for Ordinary Christians is a brilliant starting point for anyone who is interested in the idea of reconciliation.

Early on in the book Lederach writes that when we think about reconciliation we often look for tools, processes and techniques, but in fact we should first attend to the question of presence. We should focus not on the tools but on the relationship. Looking at the life of Jesus we see a figure who was more concerned with relationship than the tools. It is through Jesus that we see God’s reconciling love made present. If we are to become true reconciler’s we should first turn and attend to our relationship with the perfect reconciler.

Something I’ve listened too

Early this week I listened to the Guild of Health’s 2020 Duncan Lecture led by Ruth Harvey. I first encountered Ruth through Reconciler’s Together as she headed up our training. Ruth is now leader of the Iona community and someone who everyone who has a passion for reconciliation should spend time with. The brief conversations we had while walking through the Cumbrian hills have stayed with me for a long time.

In her lecture Ruth was attentive to the intersection between healing and reconciliation. She acknowledge that the two fields have much to learn from each other and much to share. She encouraged those with a passion for reconciliation to be healers of communities. She did this through conversation, expertise and attending to her relationship with Jesus, our wounded healer. Once again it is a great lecture to watch for anyone who has an interest in healing and reconciliation.

An Interesting Idea

So, at last, I return to the title of this blog: The Circle Process. I am thankful to Steve Mansfield, vicar and lead for the mediation services for the Diocese of Chester, who led the training. The process, which is meant to be used to facilitate group discussion, is an easy one but it is one that needs to be practiced with care. It is a process which can enable the most difficult stories to be heard and I have experienced it in several different places now. What I appreciated most about this weeks training is the care Steve took to point us towards our mission as reconcilers, as people called by God into the mission of reconciliation. He also explained the circle process well and if the training is offered again I would recommend you go on it. It is the kind of process that works in many environments, not just places of reconciliation, but encourages more attentive listening and a safe space for people to speak. If you want to know more this is a good book to look at by Kay Paris.

As I close I offer this prayer for reconciliation that I came across this week:

God of Peace,

We praise you for people who dare to use their words and actions to model your way of peace.

We pray that others might be inspired to follow in their footsteps.

Amen.

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.

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