Category: love

neighbours, everybody needs good neighbours

[This post was written on 19th June and does not appear to have made it into the full bloggage history, so I repost it now for completeness. Apologies if you got it more than once.]

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The news recently has contained harrowing accounts of a number of hate-motivated attacks, the most recent at the time of posting this was against Muslims in Finsbury Park. They have left me with a number of deep-rooted emotional responses. The first is deep, deep sadness for those who have been injured and bereaved; secondly there is anger that fellow-humans are treating each other in this way; the third is powerlessness that there is nothing I can do that will make a difference. And then I stopped and reflected on the third emotional response and that led me to write this tweet:

We pride ourselves on being a tolerant society but recent events show us it’s not enough. We need to LOVE our neighbours #lovenothate

It’s not that I think that by tweeting I can make much of a difference on my own. But the power of social media is that we can share our ideas, thoughts and emotions much more widely than ever before and that might make a huge difference. One brick on its own may make a couple of people trip up, but thousands of bricks together can create a a tidal defence that will hold back a flood of hatred. If you doubt me, consider this… last weekend all across the country hundreds of thousands of people engaged in The Great Get Together. It was a series of community events inspired by the late Jo Cox MP and her words: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than that which divides us.” We got on board with this rather too late to organise a street party but we had some of our neighbours around for a barbecue. It was lovely to get to know each other a little more and come out from behind our front doors. It was a glimpse of what community could be like if we tried.

Coming back to my tweet, and bearing in mind that for me the origin of “we need to love our neighbours” was the encounter Jesus had with a lawyer who wanted to look impressive (what a surprise!). It’s recorded for us in Luke’s account of the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus in Luke 10.

The lawyer had asked Jesus what he had to do to “inherit eternal life”. Now he should have known (as a lawyer) that his question was fundamentally flawed. You can’t do anything to inherit something. An inheritance is a gift from another. But Jesus knew that the bloke wanted more than a semantic argument so he asked him what he thought the Old Testament said about it. (They didn’t have a New Testament at the time, they were living it!) The lawyer gave the stock answer which was to keep the Commandments and that is summarised as ‘Love God, love your neighbour’.

In order to show how impressive he was the lawyer asked a follow-up question, which he probably regretted afterwards: “Who is my neighbour?” That’s when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. If you’re not familiar with it follow the link above and read it. But make the man a violent racist and the Samaritan a muslim and you’ll get an idea of the shocking nature of the story and how radical it was that Jesus made the Samaritan the hero.

But the man didn’t actually get an answer to his question. The question was “Who is my neighbour?” but the story answered a different question. The message of the story is not that our neighbours are anyone in need. The message of the story is that to discover who our neighbours are we first need to examine ourselves and discover our self-justified prejudices, our self-obsessed self-interest, and our compassion-fatigue. We need to let go of those and see that we define who our neighbours are. The number of neighbours we have is limited only by the limits of our love.

And yes, let’s say that word. Love. Not mushy romantic love. Not lustful carnal love. Not even the love we have for our families. But rugged, determined, self-denying, putting others first and considering the needs of others love. If the story of the Good Samaritan didn’t tell the lawyer who his neighbour was it did give him a glimpse of how he was to love his neighbour when he worked out who it was!

make a dealWe pride ourselves on being a tolerant society but recent events show us it’s not enough. We need to LOVE our neighbours #lovenothate

Be blessed, be a blessing.

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post-truth?

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The word ‘post-truth’ has been declared the Oxford Dictionaries word of 2016. It is an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. It emerged this year to try to describe the way in which the UK Referendum on EU Membership and the US Presidential election were conducted and how people voted.

I am not keen on the word. It’s not because I don’t think that both the UK and US campaigns were marked by misleading, emotive and undeniably false claims and statements aimed and getting an emotional response and appealing to less honourable human instincts. It’s not because I don’t think that people were unaffected by these claims and statements. It’s because I don’t think that ‘post-truth’ is the root of the problem.

People have always responded to others with a combination of heart and head. And that has always been exploited from the time that Thag persuaded Ug (remember them from yesterday?) to come hunting with him with the promise of a full tummy at the end of it right through to advertising campaigns and political debates today. What I think has changed is that those who are seeking to affect public opinion are no longer being held accountable for what they say.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with us, the general public. We have allowed things to slide: by not challenging disingenuous statements in the past an environment has evolved in which it is acceptable knowingly to make outrageously false statements and get away with it.

Part of the responsibility for this lies with the media – television, TV, radio. They need headlines that grab our attention. Why else do newspapers devote so much of their front page to a few words in massive print? Why else to news programmes trail the rest of the programme with sentence summaries of what is coming? And the more outrageous the headline, the more likely we are to pay attention to it. Why else did a bus get driven around the country with “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead” plastered down the side? It got a lot of publicity because it was considered headline-worthy, even though those who were funding it had no intention or power to use any saving from leaving the EU to fund the NHS.

Part of the responsibility (and I think the biggest part) lies with our culture in which ‘the end justifies the means’ has become one of our mantras.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to buy the goods we want for the cheapest possible price because we want to maximise what we have while ignoring the price paid (literally and metaphorically) by those who are the sharp end of the production process.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to tell lies about someone else in order to protect or enhance our reputation without considering the impact on the other person.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to feel okay about polluting our planet in order to allow the rich minority in the world to continue to live in the manner to which we are accustomed.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to salve our consciences when innocent civilians are killed by ill-directed bombs or drone strikes in the so-called war on terror.

‘The end justifies the means’ allows us to make false statements in order to try to get elected or the outcome we want from a referendum.

I don’t like to think we are in a post-truth era. I think we are in an era where we are reaping a harvest from a lack of love. Not mushy romantic love or sweaty sexual love, but dogged, belligerent, ‘want-the-best-for-you’ love in which we value every single person has as much as we value ourselves.

You see, when you love someone like that you don’t want to deceive, dishonour or destroy them because they matter so much. Rather you want to respect, encourage and bless them with the way that you speak to them and treat them. You are not indifferent to their suffering, anguish or despair. Rather you want to alleviate suffering, comfort and affirm them.

Perhaps we are not in a ‘post-truth’ society so much as a ‘post-love’. What would a political campaign look like that was based on that sort of love? What would a life look like that was based on that sort of love? (Hint, if you want to know read one of the Gospels in the Bible).

Be blessed, be a blessing

a love story

This Sunday morning in my sermon I will be exploring Hosea (the whole book). Every time I come to Hosea I find myself thinking, “What would I do if I was in Hosea’s position?” How would I feel? How would I cope?

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Hosea’s story is a love story… of sorts. The narrative is fascinating: Hosea set aside his personal preferences and on God’s instruction married a woman, Gomer, who was of dubious reputation (to say the least). This was to be a prophetic symbol to the nation of Israel about how God saw them – promiscuously pursuing other gods. He even named his children with names that spoke prophetically – how would I feel if God told me to name my daughter ‘Not Loved’?! And then there’s the emotional pain and heartache of Gomer’s further unfaithfulness and prostitution.

God not only told Hosea to take her back but he actually BOUGHT her back – perhaps paying off her pimp! Again, this was to be a prophetic sign of how God was going to treat Israel for a season (Hosea bought Gomer back but they were to abstain from sexual intimacy for many days and in the same way Israel’s return would be gradual). It’s only 14 chapters into the book (the final chapter) that there is a glimmer of hope for Israel as Hosea the prophet finishes denouncing them and instead announces the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him. Hosea went through an emotional and reputational wringer in order to give the people God’s message. Some of you may be empathising with him a little! But he was willing to allow his whole life to be a message from God, not only his words. It’s a love story where we are Gomer and God is Hosea.

Ministers can feel a pressure (it may come from within or from outside us) to be a shining example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus and not admit to any weakness. We can present ‘supercope’ to our people: nothing fazes us and we are as close to Jesus as it is possible to be this side of heaven (I exaggerate for comedic effect) (I think). But do we really want people to look at us and see a message from God that it’s wrong to admit weakness and that we never struggle? That’s not a message we find in the Bible: read Romans 7 if you doubt me!

It is important for people to know that we are trying our best with God’s Spirit’s help, they need to see leadership from their clergy, and the qualities of a leader are clear in the Bible. But I believe that we also need to admit that we are fallible, that we are not perfect, and that we don’t have it all together. I’m not talking about airing all of our dirty laundry – we have to be sensible about what we share. But how often are we prepared to be vulnerable about our own doubts, failings and struggles? Can we admit to people that we make mistakes – even Ministers who have trained, studied and are set apart for ministry? Do we dare allow the admission of our mistakes to be a message from God  – that no follower of Jesus is perfect but when we struggle, fail or even doubt there is hope because his Spirit is in us? Does admitting our struggles strengthen or weaken the message that there is the possibility of return to God, forgiveness, reconciliation and a renewed relationship with him?

What message from God do people get when they look at you?

Be blessed, be a blessing

I don’t think Facebook really cares about me

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Early Facebook?

 

When I log on to Facebook now I often get reminded of a post I made a few years ago on the same date with the heading, “Your memories on Facebook”. I quite like that, it reminds me of things that I had forgotten had happened and people with whom I was in touch at that time.

The text under that heading reads: “Nick, we care about you and the memories you share here. We thought that you’d like to look back on this post from x years ago.”

Now I seriously doubt that Facebook care about me. There are over 1.5 billion users of Facebook and I don’t think that Facebook actually cares about each one of us as an individual even though the message is personalised.

Equally I don’t think they care about the memories I share on Facebook. They care whether or not I keep on being active on Facebook and want me to keep posting on Facebook in order that they continue to gain advertising revenue and sustain the business model under which they operate.

And I am pretty sure that they didn’t think about me and whether I would like to look back on a particular post. I suspect (cynical? me?) that there is a program running at Facebook HQ that picks out posts from previous years and lobs them onto my page for me to consider. No human thought was involved in selecting that memory for me.

I like the reminders of the memories, but I don’t like what feels like an attempt by a Faceless Corporation to try to personalise my experience and make me think that I am a valued customer. I know that it’s exactly the same experience as all of the other 1.5 billion users. They don’t care about me. They don’t think about me.

And sometimes I wonder whether that is how people experience God through Christians: almost as if we have a stock computer-generated response that may look on the surface as if it is personal but actually is more of a platitude: “Jesus loves you.”

How do people know that Jesus loves them? Not just because some random stranger tells them. Please note: I am not discounting random encounters but most people find faith in God through a long process of engagement with friends and family who are followers of Jesus. They know it because they experience it as true in the lives and words of those they know and trust. They know it because people they know and trust have taken the time to listen to them, to understand them and to love them unconditionally.

And that’s a challenge to me. Do I care about my friends and family? Do I care about the memories and experiences that have helped shape them and am I willing to listen to them? Have I thought about what they would like? How good a free sample of Jesus am I? Is it clear that I share my faith because I care about those people?

Be blessed, be a blessing

for the victims of violence

Violence appears strong: it intimidates; it wounds; it destroys; it instils fear; it undermines; it screams; it demands; it provokes negative reactions; it kills.

And grace and love appear weak: they can be trampled underfoot; they can be ignored; they can be pushed around and taken advantage of; they can be shouted down; they can be ridiculed.

But violence cannot create unconditional loyalty; it cannot diffuse tension; it cannot calm down; it cannot relax someone; it cannot restore; it cannot build up; it cannot bring peace.

Only love and grace can do that.

Love and grace win in the end because they go to the core of a person’s being and inspire, bless, encourage, enhance, affirm, disarm, reconnect, and want the best for others. They bring about peace through the indomitable power of forgiveness.

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how do you read the Bible?

How do you read the Bible?

bible genesis
Open Bibles are generally easier to read than closed ones.

That question has a range of answers from the simple: “You open the book and read the words on the pages” to the complex: “You need to understand the culture surrounding the events and you need to understand the form of literature that you are reading.”

Actually both are accurate and fair answers to that question. But I want to frame it slightly differently: do you read the Bible searching for answers to life’s problems and complexities or do you read it looking for wisdom to help you work out how to approach life’s problems and complexities? It may seem like an esoteric exercise in semantics (and tricky words) to pose the question that way but I think the answer is important because it affects how we approach life.

I have a book on my bookshelf that I have had since I was a teenager. No, it wasn’t written on a scroll, but it was published in 1978. It’s called The Answer’s In The Bible. And I think for a lot of my life that’s how I have approached the Bible – looking for answers. I have looked to find out what the Bible says about issues that I face. Sometimes, I admit, I have even naively used it to justify my own actions by taking some verses out of context as an answer (you could use Matthew 25:27 as an argument to save money in a bank and not give it away, but that’s not what the parable is about). But the Bible doesn’t have direct answers for a lot of the questions we might ask today because those things could not have been anticipated in the days in which it was written. It does not have anything to say directly about the internet, computers, cars, aeroplanes, television, space exploration and so much more that we take for granted in our 21st Century cultures and lifestyles. And the Bible’s silence on some issues causes us problems if we are just looking for answers on what to do when…

Okay Christians, put the stones down gently and step away. Or at least don’t lob them at me just yet, please – read on…

You see I do believe that the Bible gives us access to God’s wisdom which enables us to work out what to do and how to approach life’s problems and complexities. The wisdom of God is contained throughout the pages of the Bible*. But there are two overarching themes through the Bible – God’s LOVE and JUSTICE – and they are at the heart of his wisdom.

They trump anything else. And if Love and Justice seem to be in conflict then Love wins every time in the form of grace and mercy. If you want the ultimate example of it you find it in what the Bible has to say about Jesus’ death and resurrection: God’s love and justice are both involved, but love wins even as he dies. (The resurrection proves it!)

So if you decide to look for Biblical wisdom rather than answers what does the Bible say about the internet and computers, for example? Nothing directly, as I have said. But it talks (from a starting point of being loving and just) about being honest, not gossiping, not lusting, not expressing hatred for others, good administration, and a lot more. That wisdom can shape good use.

And the great thing about seeking Godly wisdom from the Bible rather than just answers is that the wisdom crosses boundaries of time, culture, geography, ethnicity and any of the other things that can make it difficult for us to apply those words to our lives today. The Bible is not a rule-book to be followed or an instruction manual to help us maintain our lives. It is God’s wisdom expressed as love and justice seen through his interaction with humanity (especially seen in Jesus where the two are combined wonderfully).

So how do you read the Bible? Searching for answers or looking for wisdom?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Even the apparently esoteric rules and regulations of Leviticus contain wisdom: not wearing clothes woven of two different kinds of thread (Leviticus 19:19) is about ensuring that clothes will last and provide value for money because when washed different threads are liable to shrinkage and may either weaken or even tear the garment, which could also lead to public embarrassment.

a rANT against violence 

Over recent weeks and months there seems to have been an escalation in hatred, violence and bloodshed across the world. It may just be a perception-thing, and the situation may not be worse than what I hesitate to call ‘normal’, but there have been so many atrocities. How do you feel about it? I have several different responses.

One thing is that I feel outrage and anger at the violence, bloodshed and death. This is not how the world is meant to be. Terror, intimidation, threats, abuse and racist attitudes are hideous distortions of humanity as it could be and it makes me angry that so often the victims are those who are ‘innocent’ and just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another response (usually after I have calmed down a bit) is deep sorrow for the victims, their families, the communities and the countries that have been affected. Some are afforded the opportunity to grieve and mourn and lament, others simply recoil from what has happened before being affected by yet another incident. This is deeply saddening.

A third response is a sense of helplessness. What can I do in my comfortable, relatively safe cocooned lifestyle where despite the emotions I have expressed above I am insulated from the true horror of what has happened by viewing it on a screen or hearing it on a radio? Will anything I do make any difference?

My personal approach to each of these is also threefold as a follower of Jesus (who responded to darkness with deep emotions, prayer, action and solidarity with victims):

First I try to pray. Sometimes I can articulate my thoughts and at other times they are simply emotions that I offer to God. Sometimes they are angry prayers, sometimes sorrowful, sometimes bewildered. Sometimes they are prayers for someone to do something, sometimes they are laments of helplessness. But I find that in addition to turning to God for help there is a degree of spiritual and emotional catharsis in praying that enables me to express my thoughts and emotions honestly.

Second I try to see whether there is someone ‘on the ground’ whom I can support. Are there agencies, charities, organisations or simply people with whom I have contact that I can support financially; can I campaign on their behalf by petitioning Governments; or are there ways in which giving financially will make a difference? It’s part of being open to God asking me to be part of the answer to my own prayers (and the prayers of others).

Thirdly I can get involved locally. Because if everyone around this planet took action locally then we can make a significant difference. So I try to look for acts of kindness I can do for others. I try to look for ways I can express God’s shalom (peace and wholeness) to others. I try to find ways to be Love in my community. Even posting something on social media is a positive act. And, because of my role, I can also share great examples of how followers of Jesus (and others) are responding positively and encourage others to do the same.

For example (and I have shared this around a bit) Westcliff Baptist Church in Southend have been taking bunches of flowers to people in businesses in their community who may be subject to abusive words or behaviour. Here are three stories of what has happened:

‘The first business I visited was a café run by a lady from Germany. She had received some online abuse online after the referendum. She and a Polish waitress were delighted to receive the flowers. As we handed them over, a customer who had heard our conversation said “that has made my day – that you should do this”.’

‘Further down the road, an elderly couple from our church visited a Polish deli. The owner was a little slow to understand why this couple were giving him flowers. When they were able to explain, he broke down in tears and repeatedly hugged them, thanking them for thinking of him. He wouldn’t let them leave the shop without a complimentary box of chocolates!’

‘An Italian waiter who received some flowers declared that he would put them on a table in the centre of the restaurant so that everyone who dined there could see the positive spirit in the community.’

Along with the flowers the church has given out cards (a copy is attached) that say, “With love from friends at Westcliff Baptist Church after the EU Referendum vote. We wanted to say you are welcome here and your contribution to our community is very much appreciated.” It has contact details for the Minister.

Churches in Fakenham are doing something similar in the Market on Thursdays

Earls Hall Baptist Church have invited any and all Christians to come together for a time of prayer for our land/nation/country following the referendum on Sunday evening from 6.30pm.

Churches in Leigh on Sea are putting up signs expressing that all are welcome in the churches, especially those from overseas.

Churches in Cambridgeshire are being offered a template for postcards they can print out “for members to use in personal low-key acts of welcome and blessing to those in minority communities who may be feeling threatened by the recent upsurge in acts of antagonism and hatred.”

 

ant

We may not think that the small things we do make much difference but to the people on the receiving end they make all the difference. And if we all do this, the hatred in the world starts to be countered and overcome by a revolution of Love: one ant on its own cannot do much, but a swarm of ants working together can transform a landscape!

Be blessed, be a blessing