Love of power or the power of love?

October 21, 2020

Ever since humans walked this earth, we have loved power. At its most extreme you see it in dictators who use power ruthlessly to kill, torture or imprison their enemies, or anyone who they perceive as a threat to their position. They will often erect monuments to themselves all over the country they rule and live in the lap of luxury while their people live bleak, impoverished lives. In some cases, dictators will even let their people starve.

Many would say that the North Korean Dictator, Kim-Jong-Un, is a classic example of that today, but he is not alone. President Xi of China, President Putin of Russia and President Erdogan of Turkey are all leaders who demand obedience from their people. The Russian President is even accused of having his enemies murdered in other countries.

China has locked up around a million Muslims in what we would call concentration camps but they call re-education centres, to eliminate their ethnic background and religion, making them loyal citizens of the Chinese State. Then you think of names like Saddem Hussain, Colonel Ghadaffi, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Stalin, Hitler, Mugabe and a few others, all dictators who loved power and used it in the wrong way, even if some of them had a facade of democratic legitimacy. Even in so-called free and democratic countries, with checks and balances on the power of the leader, you can see the love and misuse of power.

Often a dictator will have charisma, a powerful personality, potentially attractive policies and appear to be the answer to a country’s problems. But once in power their main focus and desire is to stay in power at whatever cost. To have people worship them, even if that means bussing in crowds to shout approval and applaud the great man when he speaks!

The extreme love of power is often manifest in leaders of governments, but you can also see it in people with power in the business and commercial world to a greater or lesser extent. As the saying goes power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! But to me it also seems that humanity wants strong and powerful leaders, people who, in a sense, are larger than life. We want to follow people who seem to know where they are going; who are strong, powerful and selling a vision that they are the answer to all our problems.

So I wonder whether anyone would follow a leader who is not like that? Who would follow a leader who never had a fight, never led an army, never held a position of power or in government? Who will follow a leader who was gentle and kind, a person who was so submissive he allowed himself to be crucified at the hand of the Romans, dying a horrendous death? Who will follow a leader who had no love of power but had the power of love? And by doing do so ushered in a new way of leading, by being a servant?

Have you ever heard of a leader who after leading a small, insignificant group of people died by way of crucifixion to then become the leader of the largest following in the history of humanity? How many people after their death have become more famous than when they were alive to the extent that they have an estimated 2.4 billion followers today?

You may already be there; the answer is of course a person called Jesus Christ, who Christians claim was resurrected after his death, was God in the flesh and has the power to create and sustain the universe. But through the power of love, not the love of power, Jesus showed us a very different way.

Christians will tell you that he is coming back to earth, in love, to rule humanity in a way that loves and serves. It is a big statement; what do you think? If what Christians say is true will you be ready to respond to the power of love?

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

My new VR headset

October 19, 2020

The new Oculus Quest 2 to be exact. The headset that is increasing heart rates in the VR community. If you haven’t explored the world of VR, the Quest 2 is a standalone (wireless), slick and powerful all in one VR headset. You just pop it on, and you’ll be transported into any number of worlds. This is VR for the masses.

But why am I talking to you about it? I, like you, may not be the most likely VR customer. I fell into this alternate reality through the enthusiasm of a friend. And this whole new world opened up connections and immersive experiences of fun and education. All from the comfort of my living room!

Whether it’s Beat Sabering to The Greatest Showman or attending a VR meet-up, I feel I’m living and experiencing more. And the cool thing is that I don’t need to sanitise my hands, or social distance, or keep to the rule-of-six in these virtual worlds. So apart from a Covid-free universe, what activities have I found most interesting?

From play any game under the sun (well, almost), to binge-watching Neflix, or being able to make friends on the other side of the world in real-time, there are some experiences that have stood out. I don’t know about you, but exploring the deeper, maybe more spiritual questions of life, is something of an awkward social exercise especially if you are in face-to-face dialogue with others, or attending a physical event (if that is even possible right now). VR changes that. It enables exploring the spiritual in a more comfortable, less judgemental way, that has been a stand-out feature.

I had dinner with a friend this weekend. She had just bought the Quest 2 and was telling me how addictive it was. As a keen explorer of the meaning of life, she happened to find and drop-in to an event discussing the well-worn question, ‘Does God exist?’. She was surprised, pleasantly so, by the cordial discussion and freedom to question and explore such ideas. There was a certain kind of safety in the fact that you are in virtual reality, not reality, yet having a very real conversation.

I found this as well. And you might too. From open mic nights, to mediation, to church, there is something for you. If you’re interested, these events can be found on the VR platform called AltspaceVR. You can even attend in 2D on your computer.

I would love to hear how you get on at any of these events.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Photo by Minh Pham on Unsplash

My voice, Our equal future

October 16, 2020

This week marked the ‘International Day of the Girl Child’ under the theme of ‘My Voice, Our Equal Future,’ commemorating 25 years since the adoption of the ‘Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action’ – the global agenda for advancing the rights and empowerment of women and girls everywhere. Although girls have been breaking barriers in those 25 years, there is still much to do: 130 million girls around the world do not have access to education, 1 in 5 girls globally has experienced sexual violence, and nearly 80% of new HIV infections in Eastern and Southern Africa are among girls.

As a Christian I believe God’s heart breaks for the injustice girls suffer. The Christian worldview is that humankind, both male and female, was created in God’s image[1], that in living as a Christian there is to be no male/female discrimination[2] and that woman have the same glorious future as men.[3]

God loves all of humanity and treats men and women as equal. Just think what a difference it would make if our world did the same.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] Genesis 1:7

[2] Galatians 3:28

[3] 1 Peter 3:7

Woodland worship

October 14, 2020

The conversation had taken an unusual twist. There I was, after a church meeting, listening to a lady who was speaking with passion about holding worship services in nearby woodland.  She felt that there was no better place for honouring God than in the heart of his creation. Based on her genuine enthusiasm, it appeared that this spiritual activity had brought good things into her life. I must admit that, despite her energetic testimony, I did remain skeptical about the idea. The UK climate isn’t always reliable for a worship event in woodland – I most certainly would be a fair-weather attendee.

Yet, I do enjoy a day out in the countryside. I always feel invigorated afterwards, with the worries and stresses of life seemingly put into proper perspective. I wonder if that is why this particular lady preferred her worship to be outdoors; perhaps being close up with nature brought this same balance of mind.

I’m a follower of Jesus; however, I’ve noticed that I spend a lot of my ‘spiritual time’ indoors. Bit odd really, when it looks like Jesus spent a lot of time outdoors, teaching both on mountains and on lakesides. He clearly noticed the world around him, using the flora and fauna he encountered as illustrations. At the prompting of a book I was reading, I did once set off on a hike with the express ambition of thanking God for the beauty of all created things. It left a big impact on me. It really did feel that I had connected with God within his very own cathedral of nature.

However, I discovered there was more to learn. One day I was inspired by a couple who I watched picking up plastic washed in at a nearby beach. Having a spare carrier bag with me, I also started to pick up the rubbish on my walk. That day, this couple prompted me to stop just passing through the cathedral of nature. Instead, I was taught to actually appreciate what’s going on around me.  Picking up the odd bit of plastic is only a small thing, but it has to be said that the countryside always looks better afterwards.

Which was the greater act of worship? My hike of giving thanks or my ramble of picking up rubbish? I suspect that it isn’t about just choosing one of these activities; true worship involves an active life of doing both types of walk. I can’t ever see myself ever joining a church that runs services in woodland, but that hasn’t stopped me worshipping in the cathedral of nature. Every piece of rubbish picked up is worship in action; what better way is there to say thank you for creation?

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

And pause

October 12, 2020

To pause is to give yourself time to think.

I’m no linguist but when I saw the title of Roy Lewis’ celebrity portraits entitled ‘Selah’, I knew I had seen this word before. From Ant and Dec to Russian actor Lyanka Gryu, these pictures capture the second of decision – a moment of pause, before something good or bad is to happen. The results are powerful. And you’ll be able to see them from today if you’re walking through train stations in Liverpool. If not, here they are.

Often, life can be seen as a carousel of good and bad, the pathways of our life etched out by decisions we make in the face of such situations. It is moments at the bell curve of fortune that need the benefit of a pause.

This selah, meaning to meditate and pause, was written into and originates from the famous poems turned songs called psalms.

Indeed, this pause was the very purpose of the word used 71 times in these Hebrew poems about the agony and ecstasy of life recorded in 39 of the biblical psalms. These lyrics, some of which plunge the depths of life’s difficult decisions, were put to music. Punctuated throughout is the word selah, giving the reader, singer and musician a reminder to pause and meditate. Maybe this pause was an indication to think on the words just recited.

Some of these words are the kind that get you through a bad day, or just give you pause for thought. So I took a look at these words again and wanted to share one example with you:

From Psalm 62, “Trust in Him at all times, O people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Selah.”[1]

And pause…

Whatever the good or bad this week brings, it might be worth pausing and thinking that we have someone to talk to, a divine refuge we can go to.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Psalm 62:8

Saving the planet

October 9, 2020

Earlier this week, the Duke of Cambridge launched the biggest environmental award scheme ever, in a bid to help save the planet. Dubbed the Earthshot Prize, the plan is to award £1 million to 5 winning innovators every year for 10 years, thereby encouraging solutions to the world’s gravest environmental problems.

Prince William said he wants to convert climate change doom-mongering to optimism, because the public needs, “a bit of hope, a bit of positivity”.

I couldn’t help thinking of another prince with an even more grandiose mission – the Prince of Peace1, another name for Jesus Christ. In his own earthshot 2000 years ago, he gave everything he had, not just to save the planet, but everyone on it.

When the whole world realises Christ’s mission succeeded, our sadness will be converted to joy. As Jesus put it, “I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”1.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

1 The Bible: John 10:10 (MSG)

We are not alone

October 7, 2020

The English Lake District provides some of the most amazing and challenging walks. That’s where I am at the moment, with family, staying in an enormous house that used to be a vicarage. For a while that confused us as there was no evidence of a church nearby and we wondered what the responsibility of past vicars had been.

A Sunday morning’s walk from the vicarage took two of us across marshy fields full of disinterested sheep, and then on to a steep track with a road sign stating it was unsuitable for vehicles. The track continued to climb, wandering around the hill until it eventually levelled off and we were rewarded with a view across a valley, uplifting in early October sunlight.

We almost missed it, but nestled back against the hill, and hidden by trees, was a tiny church. In the walled churchyard there was a small congregation standing in a circle, socially distanced, with a vicar in full robes. He was leading his tiny flock in singing We Plough the Fields and Scatter. Of course – it was that time of the year, Harvest time. There were no fields around to be ploughed or scattered with seeds in this fairly inhospitable landscape. Crops would not have grown here – only sheep grazed, but there was still something to show gratitude for. His voice was strong and confident and the singing echoed across the hillside until the wind took it away.

We stayed and listened to the end of the song, having shared the moment. There were people who had made an effort to reach this somewhat inaccessible place of worship, to be with each other – and from a world where there is no longer a discussion of whether God exists or not. We have moved past that to an arena where it is assumed that God is not a thing to be believed in – everyone “knows” that he is a myth. He is a product of our imagination. Something we have created to fulfil a need and create some structure in our lives. Believing in God is sometimes a lonely place to be. An old testament prophet – Elijah – was convinced that he was the only person left in Israel who worshipped God, but God pointed out to him that he was not alone – there were 7000 others who were still faithful.1

And here were less than a dozen people, on a windswept hill, looking out over the craggy hunch-backed hills of the Lake District, publicly singing their beliefs to the open sky.

Sometimes a belief in God, and a desire to follow his direction, can set us up for ridicule. It can be tempting to seek a way of life that does not confront the issue. But we can be confident we are not alone. It would appear that God has placed his name somewhere in every corner of this world, in every corner of our country – our town – even on the top of a remote Cumbrian hillside. We are not alone, a comforting thought, do you share it?

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an editor at Because

11 Kings 19:18

The Good Book

October 5, 2020

There was a time when this book was dangerous. Well, at least it was 485 years ago yesterday when the first English Bible was printed. Back in those days it was illegal to own a translation of the Bible. The ‘Good Book’, as it’s nicknamed, for some was not so good. Religion was a lot more political back then – remember the shenanigans with Henry VIII.

Yesterday, was the anniversary of the first English translation of the Bible published in 1535. Bearing the name of its translator, the Coverdale Bible was the first complete (Old and New Testament) English translation.

But what is good about the ‘Good Book’?

US vice-president, Mike Pence, recently used the phrase ‘Good Book’ at the announcement of the Middle East Peace deals with the UAE and Bahrain. “Blessed are the peacemakers”, he quoted. This line comes from one of the most famous sermons ever given.

Called the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, it contains some of the most encouraging words spoken in human ears. Here’s a taster:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted…Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy…Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Powerful words.

Being the anniversary of the first complete English translation, maybe this week would be a good time if you are curious enough to find out how good the Good Book really is.

Here’s a link to the chapters of the words Jesus spoke in that famous sermon.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

 

Give prayer a chance

October 2, 2020

This week Jennifer Lopez’s 12-year-old daughter, Emme Muniz, published a Christian children’s book on prayer called ‘Lord Help Me.’ With a wisdom beyond her years, she told People magazine[1] that she has been passionate about prayer since she was five-years-old and believes that prayer has helped her get through small challenges like getting along with her brother to the bigger ones like helping to save the planet and its creatures. In her interview, she said, “I really hope children are able to learn to pray, share the book and spread the power of prayer after reading it.”

Of course, prayer is not only for children; many adults have also found help for life’s challenges, peace and comfort, and answers to their questions through prayer. The Christian evangelist, Billy Graham, once said “heaven is full of answers to prayers that haven’t been asked.”

In our world of pandemics, social unrest, environmental crisis, and yes, even struggling to get along with an annoying family member, why not give prayer a chance by asking the Lord to help us? Maybe then, like Emme and Billy Graham, we too will discover the power of prayer.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] https://people.com/parents/jennifer-lopez-daughter-emme-muniz-talks-kids-book-performing-at-super-bowl/

Photo: Penguin Random House

Fatter, or fitter?

September 30, 2020

When Boris Johnson announced on 23 March this year that the whole country must stay at home, I’m sure he had little idea of the impact that decision would eventually have on the nation’s physical, mental and spiritual health.

For the first few weeks my wife and really lived it up. Spent our days cooking up a storm, trying out new cocktail recipes, binge watching the latest Netflix offerings. Another glass of wine? Don’t mind if I do! Chocolate, anyone? I wouldn’t say no.

Clearly, we weren’t alone. An article I recently read in the newspaper i confirmed what the scales had already told us. During lockdown, grocery sales went up £524m year on year alcohol sales rose 41% and as for chocolate, one firm, Hotel Chocolat, experienced a surge of 200% in quarterly online sales.

The British people were getting fatter and it seemed we were following a national trend. Something had to be done. So a meeting was called and a discussion had. Point one on the agenda? We’ve got to do something about this! Resolution? A strict lockdown diet and exercise regime.

I fixed up an old bike that was languishing in the garage and started going out for a cycle every morning. My better half took up running. Healthier food starting appearing on our plates. Alcohol only put in an appearance at the weekends. Chocolate? Well it pretty much stayed in the shops.

But the biggest change for me was the impact of a daily exercise regime on my mental health. It made me realise that staying in the house all day staring at a computer screen in daylight hours and a TV screen at night had closed down my world, making me anxious about every little thing, and depressed. I have never been depressed. The thing was, I didn’t notice how bad it had become until that combination of fresh air, sunshine and aerobic exercise every day began to work its magic. Honestly, it was as if I had been locked in a dungeon for weeks at a time, then discovered I had the key all the time. The key was me.

So that ticked two of the three boxes I mentioned in my opening paragraph. The third was spiritual health. Not so easy to fix, not even easy to define. You might say that spiritual health is closely related to mental health, but they are actually very different. Spirituality is a sense of connection, whether to humanity, community, Nature or a higher power, which many humans define as God. Good spiritual health is, in many ways, more important than the other two and its absence can negatively affect both. For my wife and I, going to church each week and connecting with that Higher Power kept our spiritual batteries topped up, leading to inner peace, harmony and balance, as well as a feeling of deep happiness that’s hard to describe and which even chocolate can’t replace.

Thanks to Lockdown, that avenue was closed off to us, as firmly as our church’s front door. What could we do? And then the answer came – prayer. You don’t need a pair of running shoes or a bike, although you can pray while doing either (just don’t close your eyes). All it takes is a bit of time, and we had plenty of that on hand. And the list of spiritual, physical and mental benefits attributed to praying goes on and on. It relieves stress, improves your attitude, is good for your heart, helps you to be more positive and has even been said to extend your lifespan. But what if you’ve never tried praying before? How do you start and what do you do? Well I recently came across a free app that teaches you how to pray. Billed as a “7 day prayer guide for those who are not religious and don’t go to church”, you can download it here: https://bit.ly/33eZRAF

These past 6 months have been challenging, but this period has also been a learning experience for me and my wife. On the surface, all our needs have been met and we haven’t wanted for anything. Yet at the same time, our physical, mental and spiritual health has suffered. It’s taken a bit of figuring out, but so far we’re getting fitter in all 3 departments.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

 

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