We live in confusing times*. There is so much to celebrate at the moment, especially if you are English. Our national football team is doing rather better than expected in the World Cup leading to a growing national hysteria and expectation that “football’s coming home.” I think we’d better make sure we leave a key under the mat if it does come home because I suspect the country will be out celebrating.

In 2018 we are celebrating centenaries: 100 years since the first women were given the right to vote; 100 years since the end of World War 1; 100 years since the RAF was founded (I’ve just watched the amazing fly-past on TV); and for Baptist Christians it’s 100 years since the first woman Minister was called to a church (Edith Gates).

And right as I type the news has come out that the 12 Thai boys and their football coach have all been successfully rescued from the cave complex in which they were trapped (while poignantly remembering the diver who died in the process).

And at the same time there is so much to lament at the moment: Over 140 people have been killed in Japan by severe flooding and we’re entering Hurricane season in the Caribbean with the threat of damage and loss of life there; refugees and migrants are dying and being turned away and ignored; there seems to be a lot of political turmoil across the world and whatever you think of it the word ‘Brexit’ seems to be associated with growing uncertainty about the future for the UK.

Picture DramaWhat are we supposed to do in confusing times like this? One moment we are cheering and rejoicing and the next we are lamenting and crying. Can we switch from one to the other with integrity? It’s not easy. Yet to carry on with one when the other is happening seems to lack emotional integrity and empathy – laughing and cheering while some are weeping seems heartless.

Writing to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul encouraged them to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) Taken out of context that suggests to me that we are being told to react how those around us are reacting and take our cue from them. But the phrase is part of a wider section of the letter where Paul is teaching about how we should be in relationship with one another. It’s a passage that encourages humility, self-sacrifice, an honest appraisal and use of the gifts we have to bless others, and loving one another.

This is not an emotional, mushy love. Nor is it a lustful, erotic love. It’s a practical love that sees others how God sees them, values everyone for who they are and supporting and helping one another way beyond the superficial ways in which we relate to one another today. When we do that (allowing God’s Spirit to grow that sort of approach within us) we will find that we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn because we know them so well. It’s natural.

Of course that doesn’t work for national and international events really does it? In those circumstances I hope that I am sufficiently alert to God’s Spirit within me that God’s reaction resonates within me and I respond empathetically and prayerfully to what is happening. The closer we are to God and the more responsive we are to his Spirit in us, the more we will be able to do this. In circumstances where I am unsure, we are told that God’s Spirit interprets our inner groans and translates them into prayers for us.

So don’t be afraid to allow yourself to celebrate with others who are celebrating or to weep with those who are weeping, even if you don’t share their excitement or sorrow about the events to which they are responding. By doing so you are not being shallow. In fact I think you are showing God-style love to them and deepening your relationship with them.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*For those of you who didn’t get this, ‘smite’ is an anagram of ‘times’ – ie ‘confusing times’


On Sunday evening at our church we will be having another of our Film Nights. They are relaxed occasions when we gather together and watch a film, with an invitation to reflect on some of the deeper meaning of the film and what it means for our lives.

This Sunday we will be watching The Bucket List. I will endeavour not to give out any spoilers, but the blurb on the back of the DVD case describes it as, “A hilarious and deeply touching tale. The Bucket List charts [Edward and Carter’s] journey across continents, to building a friendship and discovering their own identities.”

The two main stars are Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and I think it is a lovely, moving film that makes you laugh and consider deep questions. What is it about the arts that they have the capacity to do that to us? Music, even without lyrics, can move us. Poetry can touch deep within. Paintings and sculptures can speak to us in ways that words cannot. Film and theatre can engage us in unexpected ways.

On Saturday I went to the cinema and watched Les Miserables with the two main women in my life (wife and daughter). I had seen it at the theatre in the past and was moved by it, but the film production of it left me with a lump in my throat.

I am sure that wiser and deeper thinkers than me have pondered why the arts can move us, and probably have been awarded PhDs for their troubles. But here’s how I see it. God has made us with emotions as a way of helping us to engage more deeply with him, with each other. with his world and with ourselves. We are moved, we feel joy, we express laughter, we cry because we are created to be affected by all that is around us. It is an essential part of being human. It is part of being created in God’s likeness. It is part of understanding the world in which we live and ourselves within that world.

We respond emotionally to the arts because they meet us on an emotional level that is underpins intellect and cognitive ability. Stories resonate with us. Images remind us. Sounds and melodies stir us more profoundly than knowledge can.

I think that it’s part of us growing emotionally as well: we have a safe place to ‘rehearse’ our emotions so we can know how best to respond to them in other circumstances. It can help us to empathise and sympathise with others.

One of the messages for me in The Bucket List is that there is more to life than we often allow ourselves to experience. In our morning services we are exploring what it means to follow Jesus and live life in all its fullness. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that God wants us to explore what it means to be fully human in a relationship with him: allowing ourselves to be emotionally affected by many different aspects of his world and allowing him to speak to us through them.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A film crew was on location deep in the middle of Dartmoor. One day a wizened, weather-beaten old man went up to the director and said, “It be gwin ter rain termorrow.”

The next day it rained. A week later, the old man went up to the director and said, “Termorrow there be gwin ter be a hoooge storm.” The next day there was a hailstorm.

“This man is incredible,” said the director. He told his secretary to hire the old man to predict the weather. However, after several successful predictions, the old man didn’t show up for two weeks.

Finally the director sent for him. “I have to shoot a big scene tomorrow,” said the director, “and I’m depending on you. What will the weather be like?”

The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Oi dunno,” he said. “Me radio is broke.”