A different kind of vaccine

January 18, 2021

If you happen to visit Lichfield Cathedral this week, you might get more vaccine than vicar.

It is as much symbolic as it is diagnostic that this is the first place of worship in England to be transformed into a vaccination hub.

Diagnostic because the corona crisis has uncovered where much of our nation’s hope lies. Not in priests and pews but in the NHS and inoculation. The latter is now our saving grace, the new ‘miracle’ on the block, giving us our lives back. In these times, hope comes more from the medical sector than the big man in the sky.

Symbolic because churches for centuries, ever since a radical new hope burst forth from the streets of Jerusalem from a man they called Messiah, have been the place where a weekly shot in the arm of hope was administered. Indeed, this use of the church as a place for vaccinations stirs something in our psyche, reminding us what churches were about in the first place: inoculation from plagues. And I’m not talking about the pandemics types. I’m talking about mass vaccination of a different kind, offering relief and protection from other plagues.

A few years ago, the Pew Research Centre asked why people went to church. I think the results suggest what this different kind of vaccination is for. Three of the top four reasons why people go to church are: to make me a better person; give children a moral foundation; and for comfort in times of trouble.[1] Not bad inoculations!

Now, I agree, churches like the one in Lichfield can come across as austere, pious, places for the holy, not people like us who sometimes live messy lives, struggling through the day trying to pull some kind of order out of the chaos. But you’d be wrong. Churches are communities that somehow, and over time, help inoculate us against our worst habits, against the moral uncertainty, and against the anxieties we face day-to-day.

And I know you may ask, but how do I get to a church in lockdown? Well, if you’re interested, here is the church I attend on Zoom: Launch Meeting – Zoom.

If you decide to come along, please say hello – I’m the young-looking guy in the square glasses.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] Why Americans go to religious and church services | Pew Research Center (pewforum.org)

Keeping the US economy afloat

January 15, 2021

This week, I was reading about Joe Biden’s stimulus plan for a U.S. economy devastated by the coronavirus pandemic. $1.9 trillion doesn’t sound like much when you read it quickly, but when you realise that is 1.9 with 12 zeros after it, it’s quite something to consider.

If his proposal is passed by Congress, Biden wants to make a direct payment of $1400 dollars to every single American household. Will his plan work? Only time will tell. But many are already describing it as simply throwing money at the problem.

Contrast that with another plan devised by arguably the greatest world leader in history, Jesus Christ. He didn’t throw money at problems, he threw solutions. He fed the poor, healed the sick, restored sight to the blind and forgave the unforgivable. In fact, that last action was the solution to the biggest problem of all, the conundrum that at the end of every human life, there is death.

Jesus died and rose again so that we might do the same.

You could call that the most successful stimulus plan of all time.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is editor-in-chief at Because

What does 2021 hold in store for us?

January 13, 2021

Let’s face it, 2020 was a stinker of a year and all around the world, people are hopeful for a better, brighter 2021.

What do you think the future holds in 2021? I thought it would be interesting to review some of the different predictions people have made for this year, so I did a little desktop research and here’s what I found.

Top of a ‘2021 predictions’ search result in Google is the cartoon franchise The Simpsons, which, in November last year, predicted that the world would end on 20 January 2021. (Don’t laugh, fans of the show believe it correctly predicted the coronavirus pandemic and the 9/11 tragedy.)

Next up is the Nostradamus, who apparently believed a comet would hit the earth this year, causing earthquakes and other natural disasters.

At the more believable end of the spectrum, I found a fascinating survey conducted by the multinational market research conglomerate, Ipsos. In October last year its Global Advisor 2021 Predictions poll canvassed over 23,000 adults around the world, asking them what they expect to happen in 2021. I’d like to share a few of their findings with you.

A whopping 68% of respondents believed that a successful vaccine for COVID-19 would be developed – a prediction that has already come true. Yet 61% believed that people will still be wearing a mask in public places for most of 2021. Less optimistic were their predictions regarding economic recovery, with only 32% believing the economy will have fully recovered by the end of the year. While, slightly scarily, 47% believe there will be a new global pandemic caused by a new virus.

Of course, we’ll have to wait until the end of the year to see just how good the general public is at predicting the future, but the likelihood is they are no better or worse than all the other seers, sages and Simpsons.

In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with the story of one man whose predictions have always come true, every single time. His name was Jesus Christ.

Jesus predicted when he would die, where he would die, how he would die and even that he would live again just 3 days later. Every one of these predictions came true. So what does that mean for you and me? It means we can also believe his promise that he is going to return and save the world. 1

And that, I believe, is the most important prediction you will hear in 2021. In fact, ever.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is editor-in-chief at Because

1 The Bible: John 3:17 (NIV)

A lesson from the wealthiest men on Earth

January 11, 2021

Being a teacher of teenagers is amusing as it is unpredictable. But one predictability is their answer to the question, ‘what do you want to be when you are older?’, the answer I’ve heard more than any other is…

“I want to be rich”.

Maybe we do too. But deep down we know there is something missing from this answer. And what’s missing is revealed by the two richest men on Earth.

Last week, eccentric entrepreneur Elon Musk became the richest man on earth. Overtaking Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who held the top spot from 2017. This reminded me of a Bezos interview just after he acquired the richest man title. Asked for his reactions, he said, “I would much rather they said, ‘inventor Jeff Bezos’, or ‘entrepreneur Jeff Bezos,’ or ‘father Jeff Bozos’, those kind of things are much more meaningful to me”. Interesting answers. So what about Musk? He simply tweeted dismissively, “How strange…Well, back to work…”. And Musk is not going to be hoarding that wealth either, “About half my money is intended to help problems on Earth, and half to help establish a self-sustaining city on Mars to ensure continuation of life”[1]. So what do these answers tell us?

They tell us something important about living a fulfilling life. That meaning is not easily persuaded into your life through wealth. Indeed, meaning and fulfilment comes in the opposite direction of money. What do I mean? I’ll answer that with another question, what is the connection between Bezos and Musk’s answers and activities?

Wealth is not what gives them meaning, rather it comes from what they put into the world, not what you take out of the world.

The “I want to be rich” answer fails to understand that we are driven by deeper motivations than just material acquisition. What these men are doing with their riches uncovers a human and universal truth. It is much more meaningful – much more fulfilling – to put something into the world, than to take something out. Maybe it is how we are wired, or maybe it’s because meaning demands that we aim for something bigger than our being. Whatever the reason for this truth, it confirms a principle Jesus taught himself, saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”[2].

I suppose if we live a life trying to ‘get money’ as our primary focus it will inevitably reap a harvest of life deficient of meaning. That’s a soul-sickness, an internal lostness, I would prefer to avoid. Instead, a life meaningfully lived is a life that gives more than it gets.

So this week, what are we going to give? What are we going to put into the world?

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] Elon Musk becomes world’s richest person as wealth tops $185bn – BBC News
[2] The Bible, Acts 20:35 (NIVUK)

You’ll never walk alone

January 8, 2021

I’m a fan of 1960s’ pop music so it was sad this week to hear of the death of Gerry Marsden, the lead singer of the Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers. They had many hits including ‘Ferry ’cross the Mersey’ and ‘I like it’, but perhaps their most famous song was ‘You’ll never walk alone’. Originally it was a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel which Gerry took to the top of the charts in 1963 with it becoming an anthem for Liverpool football club, and more recently the song reached the number one spot again with Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball, and the NHS Voices of Care choir.

This song, as well as a football anthem and a recognition of the work of the NHS, is one that Christians can also embrace. The Bible tells us that Jesus will be with us to the end of the age and that God will never leave or forsake us.[1] With whatever we face over this next year, including the tighter lockdown imposed this week, this knowledge gives us the strength to walk through the storm with hope in our hearts because we are not walking alone.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

 

[1] Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5.

A tale of friendship and kindness

January 6, 2021

There is a song sung on New Year’s Eve around the world which you may well have joined in with or at least heard and yet few people know what it means. Its title is Auld Lang Syne which sounds as if it’s in a foreign language and for all intents and purposes it is since it’s a phrase in the Scots language of the 18th century. The title means ‘old long since’, or as we might say today ‘in days gone by’, or ‘a long time ago’.

The version we sing today comes from a Rabbie Burns poem published in 1788, although some elements of it date back to the oral tradition of the late 16th century. The lyrics of Auld Lang Syne are about old friends having a drink, recalling adventures they had long ago, and reflecting upon friendships that have stood the test of time. The opening stanza lists a couple of rhetorical questions:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And auld lang syne?

Whilst the chorus adds:

For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

The poem is telling us that we should not forget old friends or acquaintances but show them kindness.

The beginning of a new year may be a good time to make resolutions but the close of a year provides an opportunity to reflect on what has passed. For most people around the world 2020 has been an exceptionally difficult year with many having to be separated from loved ones for long periods because of the COVID pandemic. It has made us treasure the friendships we have even more and appreciate the small acts of kindness shown in so many different ways from key workers in the NHS to neighbours checking on one another.

As we enter 2021 let auld acquaintance not be forgot. Lets plan to recall, remember, and honour those who have done so much to help us and others through a difficult year: not only workers in the health service, but teachers, the refuse collectors, transport and shop workers, and many more. Why not take time to recognise how important and precious family is to us, especially when we can’t see them at major celebrations or key life-events. As a Christian, I believe all these family, friends, and acquaintances are gifts from God[1] and should be brought to mind often.

Thinking about all these gifts in our lives is good, but more than that lets plan to tak a cup o’ kindness yet. To take time to express how much family and acquaintances mean to us, maybe by making that phone call, sending that email, writing an old-fashioned letter, or doing something practical that can be of help; this seems to be the Christian approach.[2]

Auld Lang Syne sounded different to me at the end of 2020 and I doubt it will ever sound the same again.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] See the book of James chapter 1, verse 17 in the New International Version (UK) of the Bible.
[2] James chapter 2 verses 14-17 in the New International Version (UK) of the Bible.

A reading resolution

January 4, 2021

A new year has come. And a chance to set a new goal or ambition for the next twelve months. What will yours be?

I’ve never really done the New Year’s resolution thing. The goals don’t stick, and anyhow, any goals I may have are usually ones I’m already working on. But this year I’ve decided to go for one. And I’m optimistic about keeping it, after all, it has the bitesize advantage – drip-feeding you with a bit each day.

With reading being something many of us have rediscovered in our lockdown hibernations, I have decided on a reading resolution. And you may be interested in it too.

Last week, I wrote about the comfort book – a unique book to get you through those tough times. This book is called Psalms and is part of a bigger epic known to us as the Bible. I don’t presume to know your thoughts towards such a book. But if you were like me or many of the people I have talked to in life, then such a book may evoke scepticism, questioning, curiosity, intrigue, comfort, derision, or even a desire to read it. Some just want to know what it says – what the fuss is all about – and then they can make up their own mind to shelve it, or leave it on the bedside table.

I don’t know where you’re at with this Bible stuff. But if there has ever been a flicker of a curiosity, an interest to crack the old book and decide for yourself what place, if any, it has in your life, then maybe you might be interested in my resolution too.

I signed up for a one-year reading plan of the Bible, which amounts to a few pages or so a day. But the difference in this plan is it has been created by one of the best Bible learning platforms out there. Called The Bible Project, not only do they give you simple access to the daily reading on the web, they accompany it with some of the best animated videos out there if reading was a stretch too far. All you have to do is sign up with your email at BibleProject Reading Plan | BibleProject™.

As one social commentator put it, the Bible is the most hyperlinked book in the world – so much of what it says relates and links to multiple other parts of the book. When you start to read, you may be amazed at its interconnectedness. And how the themes and topics relate to our everyday lives even though such a book was written by people detached from our culture and time – I guess human nature, problems, and triumphs are often very consistent across centuries and cultures.

I believe it’s certainly worth exploring. So how about it? A few pages of reading a day might mean you can finally put that curiosity to bed.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

 

Freedom in 2021???

December 31, 2020

Freedom calls. Freedom by Easter, freedom by the summer, freedom maybe by the end of 2021, depending on what news you read or listen to.

The vaccine means freedom, they report, but freedom to do what? To jump back into normal, to return to how things were?

Jesus Christ was someone who declared freedom for all of humanity. He was talking about our physical as well as our spiritual future. His take on freedom was never one about returning to the past. His view was that our past did not have to dictate our future. Don’t go back, but rather leap ahead with him into a new tomorrow.

Why not go with him?

Let Jesus lead you into 2021.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

The Comfort Book

December 30, 2020

What books will you read in 2021?

I like a good book, and this pandemic has meant many of us have blown the dust off those books we always intended to read. So I was curious to see a list of books suggested by the BBC to read in 2021.

I’m a non-fiction man myself. It’s the stories about the gritty, messiness of humans and how we somehow muck through that grabs my attention. The real-life equivalents of getting the gold after defeating the dragons. Exploring the different ‘dragons’ that we have to slay means we add an extra layer of wisdom to our life without going through the pain. That’s why one book on this list jumped out at me.

The Comfort Book is written by a novelist who once faced down the demons inside. After wanting to finish it all, but stepping back from the cliff edge (literally), Matt Haig came back from a battle with depression and anxiety. Today, he is a bestselling author and in this book he brings us “a mix of short, hopeful anecdotes and reflections on life to dip into when in need of consolation, and help in seeing hard situations in a softer light”.[1]

No doubt, we all need a dose of hope and consolation after 2020. Maybe you found a book that helped you crawl through this pandemic. I did too. I managed to drip feed on a book that offers hope in all sorts of situations. Written as poems and songs, this compendium of consolation known as the Psalms is a biblical book offering comfort in areas such as identity, guilt, pandemics, and depression.

If any of these issues have affected you, here’s the comfort Psalm offers:

Identity – Psalm 139:1-18

Guilt – Psalm 51:1-17

Pandemics – Psalm 91:1-16

Depression – Psalm 42:5-11

In 2021, why not make Psalms your comfort book?

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] Books 2021: A pick and mix of what’s coming up – BBC News

Chance for renewal

December 28, 2020

After 2020, a chance for renewal sounds good. A chance to freshen up. Reset our course. Decide once again who we want to be.

We – the nation that is – are being given that chance for renewal. At least that is what the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, Lord Frost, believes. Saying that the new Brexit trade deal, freeing us from the influence of the EU, is a chance to make a new start.

But renew to what, exactly? As a multicultural, multifaith country, I wonder what renewal looks like. Whether it is even possible. And if it is, what do we renew ourselves too?

Often what gives nations their sense of identity, and thus something to renew too, is their past. This story may be a historical or religious narrative. But how might the UK collectively renew itself when much of what we used to believe about our ‘island people’ is now not the cultural glue that holds us together?

Maybe this renewal is about sovereignty and choice; a new national path we can embark on. Frost alludes to this saying, “All choices are in our hands as a country and it’s now up to us to decide how we use them and how we go forward in the future”. Maybe our renewal is about autonomy. About going it alone, again.

One helpful suggestion as to what this renewal looks like comes from a man who, although religious, had astute political insight. The late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who died last November, understood that a nation’s big stories, which give it independence do not have to lead it to isolation.

In his insightful TED Talk in 2017, the spiritual leader gave three ways to move from the politics of “me” to the politics of “all of us, together”. Sacks believed this shift in lifting our eyes beyond the horizons of our own tribes was counterintuitively connected to the renewal or retelling of our nation’s story. “I think collectively we’ve got to get back to telling our story,” Sacks explained, “who we are, where we came from, what ideals we live by”. You, like me, may ask, how so? Surely, telling our own story just makes us more tribal not less? Sacks disagreed, adding, “When you tell the story and your identity is strong, you can welcome the stranger. But when you stop telling the story, your identity gets weak and you feel threatened by the stranger”. I hadn’t thought of it that way before. But Sacks wasn’t finished; he had a criticism for us: “In the West, we’ve stopped telling the story of who we are”. Maybe we have.

As we embark on a new year, still reeling from the contortions Covid has placed on our lives, we would do well to consider rediscovering our story – our identity – the big truths about life and spirituality. Who are we? Where did we come from? What ideals do we live by? And maybe, in rediscovering the answers to these questions, we can gird ourselves for the uncertainties that inevitably lie ahead in 2021. And, more so, welcome the stranger along the way.

Reconnecting with our history, our past, is not wrong. I’ve found it helps not judge our past by the cultural standards of today. There were many good things we have achieved as a nation. So national renewal does not mean condemning our past but committing ourselves to do better today and in the future. Part of that renewal may also be remembering our past values, often underpinned by our society’s religious beliefs, as a firm foundation on which to move forward.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

 

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