view from my pew 5

Dear Internet

Welcome to another of the musings of Mr Grenville-Stubbs. (I don’t think we know each other well enough to be on first-name terms).

I have not written anything for a while because I have been trying to work out which way I will be voting on Thursday in the EU Referendum. I consider it to be more than my democratic right, it is my duty to vote. That is why I have not missed a Church Meeting for the past 37 years. I have witnessed many changes in our church over the years (and have opposed most of them).

Our Minister, Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker keeps telling us that a Church Meeting is not a business meeting, nor is it a democracy, but it is an attempt to discern God’s will together by listening to each other and seeking to see what is right. He says that we are not voting to see who is in the majority but as a way of working out how well we have discerned what God wants.

I think I know what he is saying, but I prefer the cut and thrust of debate, the clinical nature of points of order, and the complexity of proposals and counter-proposals. I vote to express my firmly held opinions and convictions, and no amount of discussion is going to change my mind.

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That is one of the things I have enjoyed in the count down to the EU Referendum in the UK. There has been a lot of heat generated by both sides. But it has also left me feeling a bit confused: one side will make an exaggerated, headline-grabbing claim and then the other side will refute that (but the headline has done its job). Then the other side will do the same.

I had a leaflet arrive through my letterbox this week from the ‘Leave’ campaign that was full of promises about how much better the country will be if we leave the EU, but those promises are surely empty because they are not from any particular party but a coalition of people from across the political landscape. I was completely turned off by some of the racist rhetoric that I have seen, so I will not be voting ‘Leave’ on that basis.

However, I had another leaflet through my letterbox from the ‘Remain’ campaign that was full of warnings about the danger to our economy from a vote to leave, and about how much better off we are at the moment. How can they predict the future like that? And the rhetoric I have heard against those who want to leave has been rather unpleasant too, so I will not be voting ‘Remain’ on that basis.

I told Revd PI-T that I did not know which way to vote and he suggested that I read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and see if that helped me. He said that this was Jesus’ manifesto of what the world could be like if we lived in the way that God intends. That did seem a bit heavy but I did as he suggested and it helped. I decided that I will not be basing my decision on the negativity and lies that have characterised both campaigns. I am going to see if I can find any traces of what Jesus was talking about and vote for whichever one offers us the best opportunity to be more like that.

When I told Revd Phil this he was speechless for the first time since I have known him. The look on his face was priceless!

Yours faithfully

Q.R.Grenville Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick likes to write)

the man in the seat next to me

Our flights to and from Sweden were fairly uneventful. Apart from one moment. Remember that this was only a matter of days since the Egypt Air plane crashed in the Mediterranean, possibly (probably?) caused by a bomb.

aircraft interiorWe were seated in a row of three, and in the seat next to us was a man who didn’t really make eye contact with me. He was not in a chatty mood. During the flight he looked a bit anxious and then, rather alarmingly, on a couple of occasions he leant forward and laid his head on his knees. If I mention that he looked to be of North African descent and that he looked like he was praying then you might understand how uneasy it made me. The thought did cross my mind that he might have somehow got a bomb on board the plane and was waiting for it to go off.

It’s not that I am afraid of dying – I have absolute faith in Jesus about my eternal destiny. But the fleeting thought crossed my mind in the moment of anxiety that I don’t really want to die in a painful way. And I thought that I would rather not die yet as I have lots I would like to do. And I thought of the impact on those whom I love and might miss me and I didn’t want them to be upset.

It may be that if there had not been an apparent terrorist bombing of a plane the week before I might not have been so anxious. I can’t say. But what that moment revealed about me troubles me.

Call me untrusting.

Call me suspicious.

Call me paranoid.

Perhaps even call me racist.

Those things might be true of me in that moment. I hope and pray that they are not. I need to work through with myself and God whether any of them are, and if my thoughts were unfair or unjustified. I have sought forgiveness for them and asked for God’s Spirit’s help to change me so that I am not like that in future.

In that moment I did pray. I prayed for safety. But, thank God, I did at least also pray for the man next to me – that his stress and anxiety would diminish.

As I reflect on the events from the comfort of my study I also pray the following prayer…

“Please God, cleanse me from all of the taints and tarnish of suspicion or even racism that cling to me because of what I hear on the news and events that go on around the world. Forgive me when I act and react because of them rather than because of you. Please God help me always to think the best of people, because you do. Please God help me to be like Jesus on the cross when I am in situations where I am anxious – and think of the welfare of others before myself. “

Be blessed, be a blessing

the hokey cokey referendum

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There has been a lot of heat generated by the EU Referendum in the UK. The official campaigning period started last week but the rhetoric has been flying for many months beforehand and, in my humble opinion, has generated more heat than light. The news has been full of headlines that I summarise as ‘hokey cokey’ – “in, out, in, out, shake it all about”!

So this little bloggage is my attempt at offering some reflections that are not intentionally ‘yes’ or ‘no’ biased. It is intended to ask some Bible-based questions that may help me make up my mind: to consider what the issues are.

“What is truth?”

This question is not from Jesus, but was a retort from Pilate when he was questioning Jesus after his arrest (John 18:38). It’s a pertinent question, though. What is truth?

There has already been and will continue to be plenty of spin – so much so that our brains will be dizzy by the time we come to vote. One campaign will tell us that there are benefits to voting their way, or that there are negatives about voting the other way, and the other campaign will respond by telling us that this is not true.

In response to a lot of spin and conjecture about his identity Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The ‘truth’ he’s talking about here is himself – the truth about God – but for those who seek to follow him we seek to hold to his teaching and then we will know the truth that liberates.

So much of the rhetoric and discussion is about an unknown future. We don’t know what life would be like if Britain voted to leave the EU any more than we know what it would be like if we voted to remain. The future is uncertain and unknowable. So I ask myself, “What is truth, what is conjecture and what is spin?” And I will try to make my decision based on truth. And what aspects of Jesus’ teaching can help me?

What is the most loving option?

This is not about romance! This is about agape – the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe God’s love for us, and the way that he wants people to love one another (especially, but not limited to, followers of Jesus). Jesus taught about this love being a radically different way that seeks the best even for those who oppose us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Agape is gracious not greedy; servant-hearted not power-hungry; and selfless not selfish. My question about the EU Referendum from this is two-fold: “Who are we to love, and which outcome will enable us to be most loving towards them?”

Who is our neighbour?

When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) he shocked his listeners by making the hero of his story someone whom they hated by virtue of his nationality. This was in response to a question, “Who is my neighbour?” and that in turn was in response to a summary of the Old Testament Law: ‘Love (agape) God wholeheartedly and love (agape) your neighbour as yourself’ (my paraphrase).

At the end of the story Jesus bounced the question back at the person who’d asked it – “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The (perhaps reluctant) answer was “The one who had mercy on him” and Jesus told his listeners to go and do likewise. So my question about the EU Referendum is, “Which approach enables us to show most mercy on those in need?”

“I have come that they might have life… to the full.”

Jesus made this statement (John 10:10) when he was teaching about himself and contrasting himself with people who were only looking for what they could get out of life and of others.

What does ‘life to the full’ look like? Many of the arguments I have heard so far are about economics, but there is much more to life than money. Accepting that part of what Jesus was talking about was a relationship with God (which neither ‘in’ nor ‘out’ can offer), but also that Jesus was talking about more than that too, my question is: “Which approach will enable people to have life to the fullest?”

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Jesus said this in response to an attempt to trap him into a position that polarised opinion (Luke 20:20-26).  He refused to allow people to label him or push him into a corner. He refused to allow himself to be manipulated.

My question here is not about taxation. It’s based on a recognition that a ‘yes/no’ referendum is, by definition, polarising. However, deciding to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ does not mean that you have to agree with everything that is associated with that campaign. “Which outcome is least likely to mean that you feel manipulated into a position that you do not wish to be associated with?”

 

These few questions are not intended to be the exhaustive list of questions I am asking myself about this referendum. But they are intended to help me think beyond the rhetoric, beyond self-interest and beyond economics and think about how I can engage helpfully in the politics.

Be blessed, be a blessing

The parable of the okay Samaritan

(This is the most recent parable we are sharing with our churches. It is based on The Message paraphrase of the Bible).

questions

Just then a religious scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbour as well as you do yourself.”

“Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbour’?”

Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

“A Samaritan travelling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, intending to take him to an inn. But just as he was about to set off he remembered that he was supposed to be home early that night because he was expecting a delivery of a new harness for his donkey from RiverJordan.com.

“Then he looked at the man’s injuries and felt bad that he was worried about who was going to sign for his delivery. He looked at the bandages that he had put on the man’s wounds. Blood was beginning to seep through. He worried that it might stain the travel rug that the man was sitting on, and blood was really difficult to get out as Persil hadn’t been invented yet, so he took the man back off his donkey and laid him gently at the side of the road.

“’No!’ anguished the Samaritan to himself, ‘this poor man needs help. I can’t leave him like this at the side of the road.’ So the Samaritan took out a piece of papyrus and wrote on it, ‘Please help this man.’ And he placed his sign next to the man who had been robbed and went on his way, feeling that he had made a difference and done enough.”

“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbour to the man attacked by robbers?” asked Jesus.

“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Did he really become his neighbour?”

Questions
How does the reshaping of the story make you feel?
Who are your neighbours?
What opportunities for mission action does your church take? Is there more that you could do? What stops you from doing more?

Be blessed, be a blessing

Be like…

There’s a meme that’s doing the rounds of the Internet at the moment. There’s a stick man called Bill. The text that accompanies the picture of him describes how he does something sensible and encourages people to be like Bill instead of responding with hysteria, following the crowd, doing something that annoys people, etc. For example:

And there are now ‘generators’ that can generate ‘Be like Bill’ memes and you can insert your own name in them.

And there’s a mini-backlash of ‘don’t be like Bill, be yourself’ memes.

And I have also seen a ‘be like Jesus’ meme.

And that got me thinking. I wonder if anyone would sign up for the following.

Jesus loves people.

Jesus hates it when things get between people and God.

Jesus gets really angry when it’s religious people who get in the way.

Jesus is smart.

Be like Jesus.

OR

Jesus speaks a lot.

Jesus tells good stories.

Jesus tells lots of stories about how love of money can distract you what really matters in life.

Jesus is not distracted from God.

Be like Jesus.

OR

Jesus has lots of friends.

Jesus’ friends say lots of things on his behalf.

Jesus wishes they wouldn’t put words in his mouth.

Jesus keeps it simple: love God, love people.

Be like Jesus.

OR

Jesus invented church.

Jesus wanted it to show people what he is like.

Jesus didn’t want it to become a religion.

Jesus said ‘love people’.

Be like Jesus.

OR

Jesus upset religious people.

Jesus called religious people ‘hypocrites’

Jesus told his friends off when they became religious.

Jesus got killed because he upset religious people.

Be like Jesus.

OR

Jesus upset lots of people.

Jesus was crucified for it.

Jesus forgave the people who killed him.

Jesus loved everyone.

Be like Jesus.

 

Be blessed, be a blessing (be like Jesus!)