a reflective response to the referendum result

make a dealI have been trying to work out in my mind how to respond to the EU Referendum result. I want to offer some disparate thoughts.

To those who voted ‘Remain’: You did not lose. We made a decision. Right now you may feel as if you have lost, I understand that. (I voted ‘Remain’ too). From the comments I have read and heard it sounds like many of us feel like the Israelite exiles in the Old Testament who had been taken against their will to a new land where they did not want to be. I think we have two choices in that context:

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

or

Jeremiah 29

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

We can either sit down, moaning, complaining, weeping and writing Boney M songs, or we can get on with it, be activists, make a positive difference, work for peace and prosperity and pray for the new place in which we find ourselves. If you want to do the latter, I heartily recommend Citizens UK as an organisation through which we can do this. But if not them then get involved somehow, make a difference.

To those who voted ‘Leave’: You did not win. We made a decision. I did not vote the same way that you did. A lot of positive possibilities were offered to us about a future outside the EU – possibilities that inspired a majority of those who voted to choose to leave. We all now need to work together for the benefit of all to try to make positive change a reality. You need those who voted ‘Remain’ to make this happen. So don’t alienate us.

These words from Philippians 4 were written in the context of Paul pleading for two people who were in violent disagreement to work out their differences:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Bringing the two themes together I am reminded that Jesus taught people to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done on earth in the same way as it is in heaven. But praying is not merely words of hope or aspiration. It is also an attitude that motivates action, it is the fuel that powers God-inspired change. Let’s pray – yes, yes, yes, but let’s act in response to, and because of, those prayers. Let’s allow ourselves to be changed by those prayers so that we are acting in accordance with what God wants – the peace and prosperity of the world in which we now find ourselves.

The country had a choice on 23rd June 2016. We now have another one: we can either focus on our difference or make a difference.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

you say ‘tomato’ I say ‘tomato’

A number of years ago I was in America as part of a committee that was planning a Baptist World Youth Conference. Our host kindly took a group of us out for brunch after church on the Sunday (how civilised!) and I was amazed at what was on offer at the buffets (hot, cold, cereal), on special order and at a counter where they made omelettes to order. I decided I wanted an omelette so strolled up and joined the queue. I watched how everyone else did it and then when it was my turn pointed out the items I would like in my omelette:

“Bacon… sausage… mushroom… and tomato, please,” I said innocently.Tomato

The girl had been placing some of each item into the mixing bowl, but when it got to tomato she stopped and looked quizzically at me.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“Tomato.”

[thinks] “Oh, you mean tomato,” she said.

Now at this point, in written text, that does not make sense so I ought to point out that I pronounced it “tom ar to” (ar as in car) and she said “tom ay to” (ay as in hay).

The young lady was so excited that she asked me to say it again. And then she called her colleagues over and got me to say “tomarto” again. By the time I had finished I was blushing as red as a tomayto.

I didn’t think I had a strong accent. I didn’t think I was very ‘British’. But she did.

I’m not sure why that episode came to mind this morning, but it made me wonder whether I write with a British accent too. I know I spell words differently to my friends in America, and indeed use different words for the same things. But does that show? Do you notice?

The stats I can look at about the blog tell me the country you bloggites are in when you read this. Most are from UK, then USA, then Canada, India, Australia and Germany. (I hope that when I mentioned those countries if you are from there you gave a little whoop.) For some of you there will be obvious things I write that tell you I am British. For others you will be used to it and it won’t be obvious.

I could launch into a Tower of Babel analogy here, where language became a barrier. But instead I want to go to the other end of the Bible where we have an image of people gathered to worship God from all countries and languages. We have a taste of that in our church where we have people who have joined us from many countries from across the globe (and they seem to cope with our British English). For me, one of the greatest blessings has been getting to know followers of Jesus from across the world. We may struggle to understand each other, perhaps even needing an interpreter, but what unites us is stronger. I have sat in worship services where I have not understood a word (except the mentions of Jesus) but have left blessed because I have been with fellow believers. What unites us is far more than what is different about us. That is a desire to follow Jesus and make him known. It is a sharing of the same Spirit of God within us.

I have found the same is true of believers from other Christian traditions. I used to be a bit of a Baptist bigot (as a teenager) – believing that we had all the answers and worshipped God properly. Now I realise that we worship according to our convictions, but others worship according to equally strongly held convictions and while we may disagree about them, we are united by a desire to follow Jesus and make him known. And what unites us is stronger than our differences.

So, let us look for what we have in common with others rather than what divides us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

ecumania?

Yesterday I was very ecumenical. In the morning we participated in a pulpit swap with the other churches in the town centre. Rather than moving pulpits to different churches we felt it would be easier to move the ministers (!) so I went to our local Salvation Army Citadel and one of their Majors came to our church.

I think it’s times like that when ministerial insecurities come out. When we are at the ‘other’ church we jokingly reassure them that normal service will be resumed next week. And at the same time we are hoping that the person speaking in our church is good, but not that good. I wonder whether we ought to covenant together simply to bring an average sermon… not so bad that it will give us a bad reputation, not so good that it will make life difficult for the incumbent on their return!

In the afternoon we attempted to be more ecumenical: we showed BBC’s Song of Praise at our church in the afternoon. This was recorded in Colchester in October 2011 at St Botolph’s church, and we enjoyed watching to see if we could spot people we knew as well as enjoying the hymns. It was strange seeing Colchester on the telly like that. Sadly, because of the early start (there was snooker on later so it started at 4:25PM) we did not have too many people, but we all enjoyed refreshments afterwards.

In the evening the Churches Together in Central Colchester United Service was at our church and it was lovely to worship Jesus together with many friends from churches across the town centre. We even polished off the refreshments left over after Snogs of Praise (sic) following the service.

As I said, a very ecumenical day. I am convinced that while we are called to work towards and express our unity with other believers, Jesus does not want uniformity. There is a place for churches and Christians with different preferences, spirituality, experience, emphases and even theology, so long as we can all unite as followers of Jesus Christ: crucified and resurrected. That’s what really matters!

And here’s the joke I opened the evening sermon with:

A group of ministers and priests from different the nominations were attending an Ecumenical Conference at a Christian conference centre. During some free time several of them set off to explore the area, and presently they came upon an old bridge in the grounds that crossed a quiet pond.

Unfortunately, they didn’t notice a sign declaring the bridge to be unsafe. They walked onto the bridge and leaned on the rail to look into the pond.

The groundskeeper saw them and came running over to them, shouting and waving his arms. “Hey! You there! Get off that bridge!” he protested.

“It’s all right,” declared one of the ministers, “we are allowed to be here. We’re priests and ministers from the Ecumenical Conference.”

“I’m not worried about THAT,” replied the groundsman. “But if you don’t get off that bridge, you will no longer be ecumenical, you’ll all be BAPTISTS!”