how’re you doin’?

(in a non-Joey from Friends way!!)

How have you been coping with the lockdown? Some people who prefer their own company may have been flourishing while others who are energised by the company of others may be in despair. ‘Huggers’ may be reduced to hugging pillows and cushions soon. Children may well be climbing the walls (or their parents will) as their normal activities are curtailed, although they may be delighted at being told to go and play computer games when their frazzled parents have had enough.

I have not found it too difficult (yet). I can manage to do some of my job from home (online or on the phone) and I am comfortable enough with technology that I can keep in touch with the wider family by video. Meetings have either been cancelled or turned into virtual meetings – and we have to learn new meeting skills for those occasions.

That’s one of the positives I think we may be able to draw from this – at the end I suspect that a far higher proportion of the population will be more tech savvy than when it started.

Another seems to be a rediscovering of the importance of local community. A WhatsApp group has been created for our road and a neighbouring road and alongside being introduced to people we have either ignored or nodded towards in the past we are interacting and supporting one another. Sally, my wife, has even initiated an Easter Egg hunt (pictures and creations in windows and around the street) for when children take their exercise with the family, and we’re hoping that a delivery of chocolate eggs will arrive in time so we can reward participants.

In addition to keeping in touch with all of the ministers and churches I serve and seeking to advice and support them as they face new challenges I have started a series of silly magical videos with my magic accomplice – Stew the Rabbit. They have a short encouraging message at the end and you can see them at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCydPS_gPVXqtwZEO2CfO9yw if you are interested. I have also done a virtual magic show for a group that is keeping its members in touch with one another. Both have challenged my video recording and creation skills. It’s been fun.

So I go back to my initial question. How are you coping? I wonder if you can turn that level of ‘cope’ into prayer? If it’s ‘not very well’ – ask God to help you to manage those emotions and to bring you someone who can encourage you. If it’s ‘okay’ – ask God to help you to flourish and to grow beyond ‘okay’. If it’s ‘thriving’ then ask God to help you to see others who are in need and find ways of encouraging and supporting them. You may not be a praying person. That’s okay. God’s not selfish – he loves to hear everyone’s prayers and responds to them. You may not really be sure if there is a God. That’s okay too. God knows you exist and will respond to the level of faith that you have.

In the Bible Jesus spoke about having faith the size of a mustard seed (very small) and that amount of faith being able to do amazing things. But how do you quantify mustard seed sized faith? I reckon it’s having just enough faith to pray.

May you know God’s blessing and love during these unusual days. And if you do pray, my prayer to go with yours is that you will be able to see God’s answer or even that you may be the answer to someone else’s prayers.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

space to think?

The coronavirus pandemic is scary in both the scale of things and the speed it spread (taking advantage of how interconnected global travel has made us). It’s also scary for individuals who may have caught it (and their families) and for those who are worried that they might. Maybe you are worried about the dystopian nature of the measures being taken to try to contain the outbreak. I don’t intend to diminish the significance or impact of this. I pray that you may find some comfort about it.

When I was little and had been naughty one of the punishments was being sent to my room to “think about what I had done.” I wonder whether this virus is providing us with a moment that otherwise would not have existed to think about what we have done: as the normal commerce, travel and activity of 21st Century life are suspended does it give humanity an opportunity to pause and reconsider what’s important? Will a period of isolation help us realise how much we need one another? Will the inability to do lots of the things we take for granted mean we no longer take them for granted when they are restored? Will there be things we have to do without that we realise we actually can manage without and don’t restore them to our life afterwards? Will we realise that helping one another builds community while selfishness builds walls?

Those don’t have to be questions that are only answered at a global level. We would do well to consider them as individuals, families and communities.

And I wonder if this is giving the planet a rest from human pollution and giving us an opportunity to make some of the planet-saving changes that we need to make but which the relentless activity of 21st Century humans has made it impossible for us to contemplate until now?

The first half of Psalm 23 might just have a global significance, not just a personal one.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
    He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
    he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

I don’t believe for one second that God has caused this pandemic, but maybe we will allow ourselves to listen for his voice in it…

Be blessed, be a blessing

1%

Just over 2 years ago I had a major operation to sort out an aneurism on my aortic root. And our wonderful surgeons, doctors and nurses in the NHS did an amazing job of repairing and restoring me (not forgetting all those behind the scenes who cleaned, adminned, physioed and all the other unseen heroes), for which I am incredibly thankful.

In the pre-op meeting with my surgeon he was very reassuring but he needed to tell us about the risks. He said that there was a 1% risk of me dying during the operation. That was scary. Of course he also said that if I didn’t have the operation there was a 100% chance of me being killed when the aneurism burst, so it was a ‘no-brainer’.

But it was interesting how much bigger that 1% became in my mind. It wasn’t a disabling thought that stopped me functioning, but it was there – hovering in the background.

At least it was until a very wise woman suggested that I draw a circle and shade in 99% of it. She didn’t say anything else, just left that hanging.

So I did. It looked a bit like this:

And suddenly things were back in their right perspective. Yes, there was still a risk of me dying, but there was a 99% chance of me living. As my surgeon said, if you knew there was a 99% chance of winning the lottery, wouldn’t you buy a ticket?

I am aware that there will be some people for whom the spread of Covid-19 is alarming because, unlike a common cold, it carries a mortality rate with it. And each day the media (bless it) updates us on the figures – those who have caught the virus and those who have died from it. But the mortality rate is 1%.

Now across the world there are stringent emergency measures being put in place to try to limit the spread of the virus and slow down infection rates and they can make the 1% look huge. Yet there is a 99% chance of survival. While there are going to be a lot of isolated people over the next few months we can use social media to keep in touch. We can help each other out.

Here are a few ideas I have had and have gleaned from others:

Home food delivery slots from supermarkets seem to be in massive demand. How about getting together with your neighbours (especially if they don’t shop online) and doing a joint order?

Think of someone you know who is in a job that means they can’t stay at home and bake them a cake, send them a message, pick some flowers or do something else that says that you’re thinking of them and appreciate what they are doing.

Send an encouraging email, text message or social media post to someone different every day.

Don’t panic buy. We’re in this for the long haul and there will be enough for everyone if we all carry on buying supplies at the normal rate. Stockpiling is selfish. If you have stockpiled, perhaps you could make a gift of some of your resources to someone else?

If you are a follower of Jesus think about how you can apply his teaching – such as the parable of the Good Samaritan – in new, practical ways. And offer to pray for people.

I am sure there will be lots of other examples of how we can support and bless one another. Be imaginative. Be generous. Be kind.

Be blessed, be a blessing