finding hope

Sunrise 9-13-05

Today is the day after the 2019 General Election in the UK. Those who read this blog regularly probably won’t be surprised to learn that it was not the result I was hoping and praying for. So what do we do? We can stomp around in an angry huff, complaining about fairness and how the election campaign was fought. And that may make us feel better in a cathartic fashion, but it is not a sustainable solution. I want to offer HOPE and have four suggestions how we can do that:

HELP

If social media is anything to go by there will be a lot of people who are disappointed in the election result. Indeed, the way our electoral system works there are more people who voted against the new government than who voted for it. So how can you help others to come to terms with the result? Rather than ramping up the rhetoric can you offer gentle, calm words of wisdom? An offer of a cup of tea or coffee may seem insignificant but it shows you care when someone is sad. And a non-critical listening ear costs only time.

Can you explore ways of helping during the term of the next parliament? For example, can you help support a local foodbank. From being almost non-existent 10 years ago last year the Trussell Trust, which supports a national network of foodbanks, distributed ovr 1.6 million individual food parcels and they have seen a 23% increase in demand between April and September 2019 over the same period last year.

Can you help support those who feel more vulnerable because of the policies that are planned or will be maintained by the current government? It is not likely that things like Universal Credit are going to change anytime soon, so if you are aware of those who have been adversely affected by such policies try to find out whom you can help and how. It may not be you on your own, but with a group of friends you can make a difference.

We can all help with those who are lonely and isolated. Who in your neighbourhood could do with a visit, help with shopping, a lift or some lunch?

If we were to calculate the value in pounds of the work of volunteers in the UK it is estimated as about £24 billion per year! If it didn’t happen there would have be a massive hit on taxes to provide those things. This country has to rely on each other, not just on government. That includes you and me.

There is something we can all do to HELP.

OBSERVE

There were a number of promises made by our new government during the election. There was a lot of doubt expressed about them, but we need to be vigilant now and seek to ensure that they are kept.

According to the Conservative Manifesto we should expect to see: 50,000 new nurses in the NHS; no income tax, VAT or National Insurance rises; pensions to rise by at least 2.5% each year; that no-one will need to sell their home to pay for care; progress on achieving zero emissions by 2050; £6.3bn spent on 2.2 million disadvantaged homes; a commitment to reduce poverty, including child poverty, through changes to tax and benefits; 250,000 extra childcare places; tuition fees frozen at £9,250; a new Manchester to Leeds rail line and £2bn to fill potholes; millions more invested every week in science, schools, apprenticeships and infrastructure while controlling debt; and 20,000 more police.

Those are Manifesto commitments. So lets make sure that they happen. Check your newspapers and news bulletins. Try reading reports from those who don’t share your political leaning to inform yourself. Let’s be OBSERVANT.

Be PROPHETIC

I don’t mean here that we try to predict the future. In the Bible prophecy is more about speaking (God’s) truth in the present. So how can we be prophetic?

We can dissent. Baptist Christians (my church family) have their roots in dissent. They spoke out against injustice and evil where they saw it. In the bad old days when it was illegal to be a non-conformist many of them were imprisoned (John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress while in prison). Christians have led campaigns for social change including the abolition of the slave trade and many of the social improvements in the Victorian era. The Drop the Debt and Jubilee 2000 campaigns began with Christians at the heart of them, but it’s not just Christians. Bob Geldof led a movement in the 1980s that culminated in Live Aid and (in my view) began the process of major fundraising events supporting the poorest and marginalised in our world that continues through Children in Need, Comic Relief, Sport Relief and others. Greta Thunberg is making a massive difference by raising the issue of climate change in a way that has motivated millions so that the powers that be are being challenged to increase the rate of change.

There’s a great tradition of prophetic action in the Bible – from sitting naked on a pile of ashes to marrying a woman of dubious reputation and taking her back when she was unfaithful. I am not suggesting either of those actions, but what action can you take? It may be something simple like ensuring you reduce your plastic consumption, recycling more or walking or cycling shorter journey distances to reduce your impact on the environment and encouraging others to do the same. It may be joining in with a protest march, or signing an online petition. There may well be other things you’re inspired to do. Do them.

We can all be PROPHETIC.

ENGAGE

This follows on from being prophetic. As well as prophetic action to highlight issues and make a difference we need to engage with those in power – those who may be able to change things.

If we see injustice we should not sit by and remain silent about it. If there are things that are wrong we should campaign against them. And if there are others who are speaking out we should support them. If nothing else we should contact our MP and point out the issues (I think I have been put on an activist watchlist by my MP (Con) because he hasn’t replied to my last 2 emails where I pointed out flaws in some of the government plans and activities, but he did reply to the earlier ones). When I lived in a different constituency I engaged with my MP (Lib Dem) about Foodbanks and he didn’t like it (you can see it here – read the comments at the bottom of the bloggage for the full account) but it got a response.

Keep going. Encourage like-minded others to join you. One thing Greta Thunberg has reminded us about is that a single voice can make a difference, but it is most effective when it motivates the many voices. Speak truth to power.

It is suggested that one letter or email to an MP is considered to represent the views of hundreds. So imagine the impact of 100 people writing to the same MP.

If you are a praying person, pray for politicians too. They have a difficult job, whatever we think of them. When they do something you like, write to encourage them. Don’t only be a moaner (I need to do something about that).

At a time when it may feel that your vote didn’t count for much, let’s remember to keep ENGAGING with our politicians at national and local level.

I am sure that by now you will have realised that the 4 suggestions above give and acronym of HOPE. Let’s ensure that hope never dies and give it to those who feel hopeless.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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