RIP Truth

Today we mourn the loss of Truth
who died un-noticed, forgotten and much-maligned.
Truth (age unknown) died after a long period of neglect
and abuse at the hands of humankind
who had not realised she had gone.

Despite her indeterminate age, people remarked that
Truth seemed to have been around forever.
References to her have been found in manuscripts
covering all aspects and eras of human endeavour
right from time's dawn.

Truth had always been fragile and vulnerable
to being unfairly impersonated by half-truths, spin and fibs.
And while in earlier years she stood firm against the
tainted mimicry of her true self and dishonest ad libs
her strength was undermined.

Truth tried to speak out against deceit and
manipulation of facts that she claimed were abuse
And looked in vain for allies who would help her
counter the accusations of fake news
by any who were so inclined.

Until her death Truth was often taken for granted
and her full value was unappreciated by the masses.
Her inate value was in her ability to speak plainly and honestly
and not look through rose-tinted glasses
at subjective perspectives offered in her place.

She refused to be swayed from her conviction that
people deserved to see her for themselves,
and in later years tried in vain to be heard above the resounding gongs
of voices that had her expelled
and couldn't look her in the face.

Truth came under significant pressure to moderate
her radical convictions and purity,
And adapt to the times to become what others told her to be
as a sign of her social maturity
to continue to speak to power.

Concerted attempts were made to bully her to concede
her place in the bright light of scrutiny
or believe what they told her to believe
instead of speaking out about how what she could see
was being turned sour.

"What is Truth?" is a question that has been asked through the ages
(most notably on the lips of Governor Pilate)
in an attempt at justifying an unwillingness to stand up for her
in the face of fiscal influence or mob violence
that sought to erase
her.

Truth is much lamented by those who find victims of lies
on the margins and in a maelstrom of misery.
She had championed their cause against politics and money, power and might
throughout the course of human history
but died in their place.

RIP Truth.

rusty society

If you own a car you will know that one of the greatest enemies of the automotive conveyance is iron oxide… aka rust. It slowly, imperceptibly, gently corrodes the bodywork and chassis of a car and, if left untreated, eventually renders it unusable and fit only for the scrap heap.

rust pile metal junk material rubbish rubble waste junkyard trash dump iron garbage earthquake pollution recycling landfill heap scrap scrapyard scrap yard

And there is an emotion that I think is the human equivalent of rust. It can eat away at work relationships, friendships, families, whole communities and even a society as a whole if left untreated. What is this corrosive feeling?

Hate.

It undermines, it erodes confidence, it justifies bullying and violence and it has the potential to destroy.

I struggled initially to consider hate as an emotion, but I guess it is in that it is a emerges from our circumstances, our interactions with others and our moods. In itself it is as intangible as the chemical oxidation process that creates rust – you can see the effects of it but you can’t actually see hate happening. You can see it in someone’s face or eyes, hear it in their voice, see it in their actions, but you can’t see it on its own. And hate does not live in isolation. It needs something to feed off in order to exist. It needs a scapegoat, it needs a victim, it needs to be able to blame another person or indeed a whole culture. We don’t say, “I hate” we say “I hate [you/them/it]”.

I am concerned that it feels like there is an increase in hate in our society. You only have to surf social media to see how easily people react with hate to someone with whom they disagree or who has a different perspective to them. You only have to listen to the rhetoric of some politicians to hear hate very close to (or on) the surface as they blame ‘others’ for the ills of society (and if not hateful words in themselves they can be designed to incite hate in others). You only have to look at government statistics to see it: the number of hate crimes recorded by the police having more than doubled since 2012/13 (from 42,255 to 103,379 offences)*.

So what can be done about it? Surely there is some sort of societal rust treatment that we can apply.

You might think it is tolerance. And that can help slow down the slithering spread of hate, but it does not stop it completely. You see tolerance has a couple of flaws. First of all it is a value rather than an emotion so it works at a different level: I can tolerate something while still hating it. Secondly tolerance has its limits – tolerance cannot cope with intolerance and becomes intolerant of it. Someone who holds a view that is counter to the views of others and is not willing to tolerate them is unacceptable in a tolerant society (unless they are the majority – at which point tolerance is trumped by democracy).

You are probably well ahead of me here, but I think the treatment for the corrosiveness of hate is love. Not romantic, mushy love. Not erotic, sexual love. Not even familial love. The sort of love I think can counter hate is what the Bible calls ‘agape’ (an ancient Greek word you don’t find in many other places in ancient literature). ‘Agape’ is a love that wants the best for others. It sees the positives above any negatives. It blesses, encourages, includes and affirms.

It’s made famous by 1 Corinthians 13 that you may well have heard at a wedding:

13 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

The love described here is ‘agape’ love. And while it’s an emotion it’s also an intention, an attitude, a verb and a noun, and a lifestyle. If it is adopted in the form described above it has the ability to stop the spread of hate-rust, remove it and replace it with itself. Of course ‘agape’ also needs a subject, just as hate does. “I love” does not make sense but “I love [you/them/it]” does.

If it’s such a powerful weapon against hate why is it not employed more often? It’s the cost. True ‘agape’ costs a lot more than many people are willing to pay. It costs your self-centredness, it costs your win-at-all-costs ambition, it costs your pride and feelings of superiority, it can even cost your reputation and dignity. Why does it cost so much? Because you place others before yourself. You consider everyone else’s well-being and welfare before your own.

That sounds really costly doesn’t it? And it is if ‘agape’ is only expressed in pockets in a society. But imagine a society or organisation where everyone is motivated by ‘agape’! That sort of society does not have extremes of inequality, it does not have people on the margins, it does not have winners at the expense of losers. If everyone is seeking to live by ‘agape’ then it creates the sort of paradise that God intended the world to be. If you doubt me, read about God’s Jubilee plans in Leviticus 25 and you will see how that sort of society is God’s intention. (We get occasional glimpses of it (such as in the early church described in Acts 2) but it’s regrettably fleeting.

It’s what I believe church should be like. It doesn’t always happen because we are human and fallible, but it should be our ambition and intention that we become places where there is no place for hate because love wins. And if churches can come close to being communities of ‘agape’ then they will be close to being the free samples of Jesus that we are supposed to be because it’s exactly what God is like.

And it happens as we open ourselves up to being changed by God through prayer and reflection. It happens as we offer up our hate and ask him to treat it with ‘agape’. It happens when we reorder our lives and put him first, others second and ourselves third (recognising how amazing we will feel if everyone is doing the same).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*It is suggested that this increase is due to improvements in crime reporting, but that seems to be a naive and unsubstantiated assumption. You can see my source here.

remembrance

We interrupt the occasional thoughts about prayer to bring you my sermonette from Sunday morning – Remembrance Sunday…

Poppies Worship Background

It always feels very poignant when I share communion on Remembrance Sunday, as we did last Sunday morning – Remembrance Sunday. The poppies are a moving remembrance of the death of many who have died in war. So there is something really profound about Jesus’ words ‘Do this in remembrance of me’ in the context of a service where we spend time in silence remembering the sacrifice others have made for the freedom of many. Yet, and please bear with me here, the word ‘remembrance’ causes me to ask some questions.

You see I have always thought of ‘remembering’ as something I do for something I might forget – requiring a reminder like a knot in a handkerchief – or events, people and experiences that I have encountered. How I am supposed to remember events and people that were hundreds or thousands of years ago where I was not present?

I know that Jesus is alive today, but I wasn’t at the Last Supper. I haven’t been in armed conflict. I don’t know anyone who has been killed in battle. How can I remember them?

And what did Jesus mean when he used the bread and wine of the Passover to tell his followers to remember him? They were very unlikely to forget him, although the events as the evening unfolded perhaps make us question that. It’s poignant to me that after Peter had denied Jesus three times and the cock crowed, Luke’s gospel tells us that then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: ‘Before the cock crows today, you will disown me three times.’ 62 And he went outside and wept bitterly.”

Remembering what Jesus had said led to a moment of clarity and conviction for Peter that broke his heart. And the remembrance of Jesus in communion can also remind us of our failings – causing us to come to the foot of the cross in repentance.

There’s no doubt that Remembrance Sunday can also evoke strong emotions. When the nation stands together in silence it is a deep and solemn moment: some will be remembering friends and relatives; others will be reflecting on the many who died in conflict to ensure our freedom. We can’t possibly know all of the millions who have died to preserve our liberty, but we can contemplate their bravery, their service and their sacrifice.

The Apostle Paul (especially in 1 Corinthians 11) affirms the idea that sharing bread and wine is something all followers of Jesus are meant to do ‘in remembrance’ of Jesus. We are using bread and wine as reminders of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Maybe, but if that’s the case, why not say ‘do this to remind you of me’? Why ‘in remembrance’? There is something more here than simply not forgetting.

I think there is something here about about a related word: ‘commemoration’. A dictionary definition seems to open this possibility – a commemoration is something that is done to remember officially and give respect to a great person or event. That sounds a little like what we do on remembrance Sunday, and at Communion.

And there’s another related word: memorial. A grammatical analysis of the Greek word that we translate as ‘remembrance’ from the New Testament narratives around the Last Supper suggests that ‘memorial’ is a fairer translation – something that honours the one being celebrated. “Do this as a memorial to me.”

It’s complex isn’t it? But then perhaps that’s the point.

I have reached the conclusion that all the above and so much more are represented for me in remembrance. All of these ideas and concepts combine so that remembrance becomes an encounter – an encounter with bravery and sacrifice, an encounter with grief and loss, an encounter with love and hope, a moment of forgiveness and reconciliation.

And an encounter with Jesus: the One whose body and blood were given “for you”.

Simple things lead to profound moments: silence, bread, wine. In remembrance.

Be blessed, be a blessing

prayse

Photo by Shirley Şerban from FreeImages

Continuing my apparently occasional series on praying that began with the buffet I reach the more well-known subject of ‘praise’. I have to confess that in more naive times I wondered why we should praise God: not because he is not praiseworthy but for two other reasons. Reason the first – if he is GOD, what difference will my praise make? Reason the second – God doesn’t need his ego massaging, he knows he’s God.

Now both of those show a significant misunderstanding of what praise prayers (or prayses – yet another new word from the wonderful world of Nick’s brain) are about. I don’t think they are as much for God’s benefit as for mine. Praise prayers don’t do anything for God other than perhaps make him blush (if you don’t mind the anthropomorphism) and make him chuffed that I am talking with him. But for me they expand my understanding and experience of God, they give me an increased sense of who he is (albeit limited by the finite nature of language and human comprehension).

Prayses are enhanced by things such as imagination, experience – mine and what others have shared, encounter, emotion, insight and much more beside.

Let’s have a look at one of the psalms and you will see what I mean (I hope) as I annotate it with some observations:

A psalm of praise. Of David.

I will exalt you, my God the King; [David has experienced God’s sovereignty]
    I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
    and extol your name for ever and ever. [David has grasped the eternal nature of God and that in relationship with him he will be able to praise for ever]

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise;
    his greatness no one can fathom. [we can never fully understand God – he is greater than we are]
One generation commends your works to another;
    they tell of your mighty acts. [we are blessed by the praises and experiences of previous generations and build on their praise with our own.]
They speak of the glorious splendour of your majesty –
    and I will meditate on your wonderful works.[b] [reflecting on the experiences of others leads David to think of what God does in his own experience and understanding]
They tell of the power of your awesome works –
    and I will proclaim your great deeds. [being reminded of what God has done in the past leads David to praise too]
They celebrate your abundant goodness
    and joyfully sing of your righteousness. [the experience of others is to celebrate and sing joyfully and David can join in]

The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
    slow to anger and rich in love. [David has experienced this for himself as well as having the stories of others to remind him]

The Lord is good to all;
    he has compassion on all he has made. [a reminder of how God views all of creation]
10 All your works praise you, Lord; [Creation points to God]
    your faithful people extol you. [those in a relationship with God want to shout about it]
11 They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts [those in a relationship with God not only want to shout about it they also want to tell others]
    and the glorious splendour of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations. [another reminder of the eternal nature of God]

The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.[c] [David’s experience and the stories he has remembered remind him that he can trust God]
14 The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down. [God is on the side of the weak and downtrodden]
15 The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
16 You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing. [the entire ecological system of this planet is dependent on God]

17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways
    and faithful in all he does. [God is good]
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him,
    to all who call on him in truth. [God is close]
19 He fulfils the desires of those who fear him;
    he hears their cry and saves them. [God’s desire is to save]
20 The Lord watches over all who love him,
    but all the wicked he will destroy. [evil cannot survive in his pure presence]

21 My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
    Let every creature praise his holy name
    for ever and ever. [the choir of creation speaks of God’s greatness and I will join in]

David’s experience and understanding of God was expanded as he praised and, I dare to suggest, so might ours have been as we reflected on the psalm ourselves.

So when or if you feel like praysing, remember it does you good! And maybe linger on the praysing before starting on the asking… you may find that the answer is already there

Be blessed, be a blessing

lament

This is the next in the slightly-less-frequent-than-I-had-hoped series of bloggages about prayer, beginning with buffet. Do explore the others if you fancy expanding your experience of praying. This one is, I confess, one that is mostly ignored in my tradition of church (Baptist). But I think we need to recover our ability to lament.

Laments are a strange form of prayer. They are neither one thing, nor another, they just are… well… laments. They are expressions of emotions (often painful or angst-ridden) about situations and circumstances. They can be articulate rants and they can be distressing howls of pain, they can be shouted at the heavens and they can be whispered through tears. And, for me, the most amazing thing about them is that they don’t have to have a resolution.

In a lament you express to God how you are feeling, you may beg him to do something about it, and you leave it with him. From a therapeutic point of view you might say that it is good to express how you feel and get it ‘off your chest’, but that is not the main purpose of a lament even if it is a positive by-product. I reckon the main purpose of lamenting is to enable us to be honest with God.

If there’s a tragic event that has taken place and you are angry that it has happened – lament.

If you don’t understand why God allowed something bad to take place – lament.

Even weeping aloud or silently about a situation can be a form of lament.

And by not requiring a resolution we do not have to worry about discerning an answer or articulating an outcome that we may not be able to see. We can simply tell God how it is for us. We can even complain about him to his face. He is able to take it, and because he knows all of our emotions he already knows that is how we are feeling so there’s no point in hiding it.

The danger of laments is that they can become part of a downward emotional spiral if that is all that we do. A good lament may not have a resolution but it does ask God to do something about it. It has an expression of faith that may be full of questions, doubt and anguish, but it is still an expression of faith that God might be present and act.

Laments are not often articulated in the churches I attend. Why not? I think we are afraid of admitting how we feel, exposing our doubts and pain, and not having a good answer at the end of it. This coming Sunday I am going to be part of a church service where we will be lamenting about events in the recent past of the church and part of that will be expressing regret, sharing painful memory and yet also declaring a hopeful resilience about the future.

How about you? What do you lament? When do you lament? Do you lament? God welcomes it if you have the courage to give it a go…

Be blessed, be a blessing

wrestlemania

Image result for wrestling ring

This is another part in my ongoing series looking at different types of praying. Today I want to explore what it means to wrestle with God. Let me start by saying that I don’t mean we should be trying to get him in a headlock and force him into submission. Nor am I alluding to the event recorded in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestled with a stranger, possibly even an incarnation of God himself. There’s so much that I would want to explore and unpack in that encounter that it would take several bloggages on their own.

What I want to consider today is that in the Bible many of the prayers that are recorded seem to involve wrestling: wrestling with conscience; wrestling with submitting to what God wants; wrestling with circumstances and so on. There aren’t many (any?) occasions when prayers are reduced only to the ‘shopping list’ style of praying that I mentioned earlier in the series.

Even in the Lord’s Prayer, where we are invited to ask God to supply our physical and spiritual needs, we are previously urged to pray that God’s will is done and that his Kingdom prevails… and that may involve us in some wrestling if it’s not what we have in mind, or involves a greater cost to us than we are willing to pay.

The prime example is Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the hours just before he was arrested, put on trial and crucified he wrestled with God. He knew what lay ahead and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39 NIV)

Having gone back to his friends and found them asleep he want back again an prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42 NIV)

This looks like wrestling with God to me. The first prayer was emphatic – I really don’t want to do it, but I will submit to your will. The second has a subtle difference that suggests that Jesus knew there wasn’t another way, but hoped there might still be one, yet he was willing to do what his Father wanted. In being completely honest with God and wrestling with what he was experiencing and what he believed his Father wanted Jesus was able to be changed by his praying.

Let’s bring it to the present day. What if someone has done something that has hurt you deeply and you do not feel able to forgive them? You know that the Bible says you should, but you can’t get past the hurt. What do you do? Wallow in guilt that you can’t do what the Bible says (compounding the sense of hopelessness) or wrestle with God about it? The wrestling might look something like this (over a period of time).

“God, I know you want me to forgive, but I just can’t. You’re going to have to help me here. Help me to let go of the hurt. “

“God, I know you want me to forgive, but I just can’t, help me to want to forgive. Help me to let go of the hurt. “

“God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive but I just can’t. Help me to let go of the hurt. ”

” God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive and I will – one day. Help me to let go of the hurt. “

“God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive and I will – soon. Help me to let go of the hurt. “

“God, I know you want me to forgive, I want to forgive. Help me to let go of the hurt. “

“God, I know you want me to forgive, I do forgive. Help me to let go of the hurt.”

Did you notice that often the wrestling results in us changing, rather than God? The wrestling is real because we are being honest with God. If we are not being honest with God the wrestling is as fake as the wrestling that used to be on Saturday afternoon TV in the UK.

But if we are honest, God is able, by his Spirit (and sometimes with the help of a wise friend, pastor or counsellor) to help us. In Colossians 4:12 a chap called Epaphras is described as ‘always wrestling in prayer’. If you want more reflections on this read the excellent bloggage by my friend and collegue Graeme.

Be blessed, be a blessing

sorry

Image result for sorry board game

When I was a child I used to play a board game called Sorry. It is a version of the classic Ludo where you had to get your counters around the board (by way of dice throws) and back to your home before anyone else. The apology part of the game was that if you landed on a square occupied by one of your opponents’ counters you could send that counter back to the start, and you were meant to say ‘sorry’. My recollection is that I was not sorry at all and was actually rather pleased when I was able to do that to someone else’s counter – my ‘sorry’ was not at all heartfelt. Of course I was less happy when it happened to me.

I wonder whether there are times when our ‘sorry’ prayers are perhaps less heartfelt than they could be. I think we can judge this by using a repeatometer. The repeatometer measures how often and how soon after we have prayed for forgiveness we repeat the thought, action, words or attitude that led us to seek forgiveness in the first place. The higher the frequency and the sooner the ‘offence’ the less heartfelt the apology is. It’s not an exact science (but then it doesn’t exist in reality anyway) but it may be a useful rule of thumb. Of course it may also be that we have got into a cycle of habitual behaviour that we are finding difficult to break and we may need to get some help with that.

I wonder too whether we sometimes use ‘sorry’ prayers as a way of ‘clearing the cobwebs’ so that the things we are sorry about don’t accumulate too much. I am reminded of the story of a woman who, in church prayer meetings, would always pray that God would clear out the cobwebs in our life. One day a young person could not resist it and blurted out, “No, Lord! Kill the spiders!”

There’s an element of truth in that story. Sometimes when we say sorry to God we also need to take action (including asking for his Spirit’s help) in dealing with the problem at root cause so that we are less likely to stumble again. That too may need us to get some help or accountability support from someone we trust.

Of course the Bible doesn’t use the word ‘sorry’ much when it comes to our relationship with God, it prefers to use the old fashioned word ‘metanoia’.

What? Well the original New Testament manuscripts were written in Ancient Greek (not King James English) and that is the Greek word that is used to refer to us having a change of heart and mind and a change of direction. We translate it as ‘repentance’ but that’s a word that is not really used today outside of churches. So change of heart and mind and direction is perhaps a more accessible concept for our culture.

You need to change direction when you realise that the way you are headed is not the way you want to go. You need to change your heart and mind when you realise that you are wrong and want to realign yourself with what is right. Put the two together and you get a good summary of what ‘repentance’ is about – realising that we are headed away from God and that our self-centred approach was wrong and deciding to head back to God and to live life the way he recommends. Jesus’ wonderful story of the ‘prodigal son’ is a beautiful example of that (Luke 15). There are elements of contrition, regret and new resolve within the process too, but let’s not overcomplicate things.

To go back to our Sorry board game. A sorry prayer happens when God’s Spirit lands on us and shows us that we need a change of mind and direction and we head back home. (Yes, I know it’s not a perfect illustration but you get the point don’t you?)

The brilliant thing is that God is longing for us to play say sorry and metanoia-ise. He gives us his Spirit to nudge us and help us to realise what’s going on. When our spirit finally resonates at the same frequency as the Spirit of God we realise what we are doing and how that is wrecking our relationship with God, others and even ourselves and we do an about turn. And when we do, he is there waiting to embrace and celebrate and welcome us back. He offers complete forgiveness (although we may have to suffer the human consequences of our actions) and a fresh start and wipes the slate completely clean. How?

That’s what Easter is all about – God does all that is necessary to make our metanoia completely effective. If you want to know more, have a read of my series on the ‘atonement’ that begins here.

Be blessed, be a blessing