It’s goodbye for now

July 28, 2021

If you’ve ever asked ‘why?’ then join the club. Searching for answers to life’s bigger questions comes naturally to us insatiably curious humans.

Why are we here? Why is the world the way it is? Why do I feel the way I do? Is there more to life than this? Why, in this modern age, is spirituality still so important to so many people?

It seems many people feel there is more to the life we experience than just this natural world we inhabit. There is a supernatural side to things. There is something else out there that is not so easy to put your finger on.

Often it is easier to ask questions than find answers. So we created Because as a space for those questions, and a way to explore together the first tentative steps to answers. A place for anyone who’s ever asked, ‘why?’ A thought break on our mutual journey.

This is what we have been doing for the last decade or so. But all journeys eventually come to an end and the Because team feels that the time is now right to focus its energies in other directions. And so, this post you are reading is the last one we will publish on the Because blog.

The organisation behind Because is called Grace Communion International. As a Christian church, we believe the reason so many of us sense a bigger, spiritual dimension to life is that there is one! That everything is guided and directed by a supremely intelligent being we call God. A God who is intimately interested in and deeply concerned about the worlds he has created. More than that, who is head over heels in love with humanity and sent Jesus Christ to save us from ourselves.1

So, in a very real sense, the answer to all your questions, and ours, is Jesus.

Thank you for sharing this space and journey with us. It has been fun, and we’ve learnt a lot on the way. We wish you every blessing for your future spiritual exploration.

P.S. We will continue to publish a Because-style post every Friday as our Thought for the Week. You can read them here.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is Editor-in-Chief at Because.

1The Bible – John 3:6 (NIV)

The light at the end of the tunnel?

July 23, 2021

The outer rim of Japan’s National Stadium exploded in a spectacular display of pyrotechnics as the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games finally got underway at noon today GMT.

More than 11,300 athletes from 207 countries are scheduled to compete over the next two and a bit weeks, all I am sure hopeful of winning a medal.

When the Games were postponed in March 2020, organisers said the Olympic flame “could become the light at the end of the tunnel” a message of hope that the Pandemic which forced its adjournment was coming to an end.

But with infections continuing to rise in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, does the light symbolise hope or is it instead the sign of an impending train wreck?

Hope is a marvellous thing but human hope is little more than an optimistic state of mind. In the Christian Bible, hope means something else. The confident expectation of a promise made by God. The promise was Jesus. The fulfilment is a new life for all peoples, even those who have already died.

Jesus is the light at the end of the tunnel. More, he is the light of the world.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is Editor-in-Chief at Because.

1 The Bible – John 8:12 (NIV)
Picture: ID 176256655 © Vasilis Ververidis | Dreamstime.com

What’s the point of Christianity?

July 21, 2021

Christianity is a practice, and a group of very diverse institutions, that is seen as irrelevant in today’s technology-led, busy, noisy world. It is ignored by many and maligned by a significant number. But in this modern age it seems to have few adherents. If it is bundled together with other religions, it attracts even more critics, and sometimes haters.

How did we get to this point? Maybe it’s continuing ‘revelations’ of the excesses of false religious leaders, from Jim Jones in Jonestown to the abuses suffered by children in certain church-sponsored orphanages. Maybe it’s the effect of a hostile media that looks with suspicion on anything religious and generates negative press. Maybe it’s the relentless attacks from passionate atheists who see Christianity – and other religions – as the source of all human problems.

In many ways nothing has changed since Jesus Christ challenged the established religion of his day – culminating in his own death by crucifixion. It hasn’t changed since the time of the Apostle Paul, one of the early church teachers who closely followed the life and death of Christ. He challenged the pagan rituals of the Greek and Roman world of his day, and ended up imprisoned.

But in many ways, everything has changed. Christianity became the dominant belief system across Europe after the efforts of Charlamagne to find a unifying formula for his divided empire.

In a damning indictment of the muddying of the waters of what Christianity is actually about, The Rev. Halverson, who was Chaplain to the US Senate until 1995, is credited with the comment:

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture, and, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise”.

It pictures a movement seemingly without real purpose, other than surviving in whatever environment it found itself in; sometimes intent on maintaining whatever power and influence it had. And now it finds itself in a ‘post-God’ world. Does it have any purpose – did it ever have any purpose? Hasn’t science brought us to the point where we don’t need to put our trust in an all-powerful deity? In a comfortable and wealthy state, we don’t need God. We have vaccines for disease, air conditioning to keep us cool as temperatures soar, space travel to take us away from the planet we are destroying. But not everyone is wealthy and not everyone has access to these things – many do not even have access to enough water or food.

Our leaders claim that their policies can solve the world’s problems – but the world is burning; the world is suffering with disease and the same leaders seem powerless. They are confronting problems that are a long way beyond their ‘pay scale’.

It’s worth noting an observation that many voluntary workers, or workers in caring professions, are Christians. Is there a link other than pure chance? Is there something about Christianity – or at least some Christians – that points to something beyond our commerce-led societies? Christianity, as preached by the man who gave his name to it, and by the early church leaders, generates a framework for giving, for tolerance, for forgiveness. These are unifying characteristics, qualities that heal, and create communities of compassion.

If the foundations of Christianity have the power to work towards this kind of world, then the world makes more sense with Christianity’s God in it – rather than a long way off in somewhere called heaven, or no God at all. Having God in the world doesn’t have to be in the ringing of bells on a Sunday morning or the chanted prayers of a gathered congregation, or any of the other expressions we have come to associate with religion. But it does provide us with a different way of being human.

The Apostle Paul wrote a long letter to a church in Rome, and it has become an important part of the New Testament. Chapter 12 of this letter is worth reading if you want to get some sort of picture of what Paul sees as a Christian world. Is that a hopeless ambition? We certainly have some way to go, but it is a work in progress and that progress is directed by a God who is still very much involved with his world, working with people with a mistaken view of Christianity, who either dismiss it or else struggle to live up to following in Jesus’ footsteps, unaware that the living Christ has designs on them for glorious living, because it is in him alone – without the baggage of religion! – that we find out who we are and what we are living for.1 Perhaps we need to go back to the start – as expressed by Halverson:

“In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centring on the living Christ. … ”

Jesus is the point of Christianity. And more than ever, the world today is crying out to hear his radical message of love in action.

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an Editor at Because.

1The Bible – Romans 12:3

Take care as you go

July 16, 2021

Hello.

Use freedom for good.

That seems to be the message for our nations as we come cautiously out of Covid’s lockdown. Let’s think of others more than ourselves and be careful out there!

Freedom can be a dangerous thing, especially when it’s used as a pretext to harm others. Does freedom of speech mean we should attack others verbally just because we don’t like them or they’re different from us in some way? We celebrate liberation, but should we abuse others as we were once abused, or regard people who don’t hold to our views as being inferior to us?

A Christian called Paul proclaimed that following Jesus was in fact embracing the cause of freedom. Embrace it wholeheartedly, he said, but don’t use it as a licence just to do what we want while ignoring the needs of others.

It seems good advice for today.

Love freedom and love others.

Use freedom for good.

Best regards,
James

(Pics from iStock)

Tree of life

July 14, 2021

During lockdown most of us dreamed about the things we planned to do as the various restrictions lifted. Top of many people’s lists was seeing friends and family they have been unable to be with – at least in person – and have dearly missed. I have to travel to see many of my friends and my family, and I prefer to do that by train – so now I am looking forward to taking trains once again. I may still need to be masked, but train travel, for me, is part of the pleasure of the visit.

Fairly high on my ‘to do after lockdown’ list is to travel to London – by train, of course – and then to the British Museum. I have read about an exhibition there that I want to see. It can be found in Room 25 of the museum and is a sculpture called Tree of Life. The title of the sculpture might be a familiar term; a description of such a tree can be found at the very end of the Bible where the leaves of the tree are said to be ‘for the healing of the nations’.1

The tree in the British Museum is obviously not this tree but, in many ways, it is a reflection of it. The museum and Christian Aid together commissioned the sculpture.

 

Built in 2005, by four artists from Mozambique, from 600,000 surrendered weapons, it represented part of the healing that this country needed after a bitter civil war lasting 15 years. It was a war that saw over a million people killed, or starved to death. Numbers – statistics – can stop having meaning because we are bombarded with them as various groups attempt to persuade us of their opinion or try to sell us something.

To put a million pointless deaths into some sort of perspective, it exceeds the number of deaths from COVID in the UK, or in the US, and is also more than the two totals put together. Bishop Sengulane of Mozambique, who inspired the project asked the following questions:

“Why should this world have hungry people? Why should this world have a shortage of medicines? And yet the amount of money which can be made available, almost instantly, for armament purposes is just amazing, and I would say shocking”.

The Tree of Life is not the only contribution of art that seeks to express a future where people turn their weapons of war into useful and peaceful tools (as described by an Old Testament prophet2). In the UN Sculpture Garden in New York there is a huge and hopeful sculpture, standing nine feet tall, entitled Let Us Beat Swords into Ploughshares. The musical Les Misérables ends with an Epilogue which contains the lines:

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the ploughshare;
We will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Art, in its many forms, has a huge contribution to make to our quest for, and need for, peace. Without art, the message might become theoretical. Art demands and evokes an emotional response and I anticipate that response when I eventually get to Room 25 in the British Museum, standing in front of a creation that is so much more than the rusting pile of metal it could have been.

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an Editor at Because.

1The Bible, Revelation 22:2
2The Bible, Isaiah 2:3–4

Easily offended?

July 11, 2021

It’s been said we live in a snowflake generation. It’s a 2010s word, referring to people who are hypersensitive and easily offended in any perceived or even slightest of ways, especially if their worldview is challenged. Whatever we call it, I think it’s undeniable that our current cultural trend indicates we are more easily offended than ever before.

So it’s not surprising then to discover that broadcasting watchdog Ofcom has reported the highest number of complaints last year than in any other year since it started in 2002. A rise of 410% in the previous 12 months. The top three complaints were Piers Morgan’s comments about Megan Merkel, Diversity’s BLM dance performance on Britain’s Got Talent, and the treatment of animals on I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here. We certainly seem to be moving towards a society that readily takes offence.

But is there a better way to live life and react to views that rub up on ours?

I think so. That’s not to say there isn’t a time to be genuinely offended and take the necessary channels of complaint, but if this becomes our default reaction to opposing views it will inevitably lead to greater unhappiness.

The reality is that in a world with such decentralised ways of looking and interpreting the world we live in – the fact we all now have a personal truth, a subjective worldview – then the frequency of meeting a different viewpoint than the one we hold is increasingly likely. Sometimes we will disagree, other times we will detest the ideas espoused by that comedian, politician or religious figure. But we all get to choose our reactions.

We could throw our toys out the pram, stomp on the ground and run to get our comfort blanket, and reassure our own worldview by convincing ourselves that that other person is bigoted or extreme (i.e. the minority holds the distasteful view). And then soothe ourselves as we take to social media, reinforcing our view on the subject with subsequent oxytocin doses as we get affirmation from our own tribe when they hit the like button. But I think there is a pearl of age-old wisdom, simple in theory, maybe harder in practise, that if applied would lead to a happier, more mature place.

The proverb goes something like this, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offence.”[1]

In simple terms, it’s ‘put your big boy pants on’ time. In this wisdom is a maturity that is often lacking in public discourse. At the heart of the statement, it says that I am not the only person in this world, where I get to bend reality, including other people’s reality, to my subjective notions of the world. Instead, we live in community made up of other sovereign individuals who have views, values and beliefs that are important to them. And although there is space between my view and theirs, what will make me happier is to fill that space with grace and understanding when I’m triggered by foreign ideas to mine. That way we get to release the negative emotions that otherwise come with being offended.

Suddenly life becomes lighter and freer. Let’s overlook offences more often.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is Editorial Assistant at Because.

[1] The Bible, Proverbs 19:11

It’s coming home.

July 9, 2021

Is football finally coming home for England after 55 years of hurt? With England through to Sunday’s Euro 2020 final their supporters won’t have long to find out. Perhaps the most endearing story of England’s successful run in the tournament is that of their manager Gareth Southgate. 25 years ago, he missed the penalty against Germany that knocked England out of the 1996 Euros, now he has led the team to the final, beating Germany on the way. A photoshopped picture summed up the poignancy of the moment depicting the 2021 Southgate putting his arm around the 1996 Southgate.

Southgate seems to have found redemption for his past mistake, but what about us, can the mistakes of our past be healed? Jesus Christ once told a story[1] about a young man who squandered his father’s inheritance on wild living in a distant country, and when he was penniless, he decided to go home hoping his father would help by giving him a job as a servant. Instead, his father welcomed him with open arms and threw a party: healing had taken place.

Whatever mistakes you may have made in the past your heavenly Father is waiting with open arms to embrace you. Maybe it’s time to come home.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] The Bible, Luke 15:11-32.

 

 

A modern Superman?

July 7, 2021

I don’t know Bill Gates personally, so I freely admit my impression of him comes from reading about his remarkable achievements in business and media reports. Although a billionaire, he made his fortune by his own efforts, building Microsoft into a global business. One of his skills was to recognise that software was more important than hardware well before computers became a household and business essential.

It’s hard to begrudge success, even for someone whose business has made him wealthier than many countries, because Gates, like most entrepreneurs, started with nothing but a dream. And even though he must be a ruthless, focused and determined individual, he still comes across as a caring human being.

As other super wealthy individuals before him, Gates decided it was pointless keeping his immense wealth to himself. So, with the same drive and determination that made him super successful, he created the Bill and Melinda Gates Charitable Foundation, in order to use his surplus to help others in the most effective way.

The foundation’s funding of a drive to eliminate malaria in Africa, as well as projects to help fight HIV/Aids and tuberculosis are examples of the passion he and his wife have to make a real difference to the lives of people who can never repay them.

But there is one area of his charity work that has recently raised eyebrows. Bill Gates is one of the funders of a £15m project called SCoPEx – the Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment. You may not be aware of it, but it was a plan to send a balloon 12 miles into the atmosphere, from a site in Sweden, to release a small quantity of calcium carbonate, otherwise known as chalk dust. The idea was to test whether this would help global cooling.

Although the proposed test was a modest one, it attracted the attention of environmental organisations, including the Greenpeace Sweden, Friends of the Earth Sweden and the Indigenous Saami Council who wrote a letter saying that the project could be the first step towards the adoption of a potentially “dangerous, unpredictable, and unmanageable” technology and demanding the project be cancelled.

The project has now been postponed, pending further investigation and I for one, am relieved.

Proponents of solar geoengineering, as the technology is called, say that its widespread use could be be beneficial and safer than some fear. But critics argue the consequences of its use are not well understood and stratospheric aerosol injections (SAI) on a large scale could damage the ozone layer, cause heating in the stratosphere and disrupt ecosystems.

Well-meaning as Mr Gates undoubtedly is, as a Christian it seems to me that his experiment was potentially ill-advised. In my title I call him a modern Superman, but a super wealthy individual like him, at the centre of his own universe, could just as easily become an anti-hero like the megalomaniac D.C. Comics characters Lex Luther and General Zod, destroying all in their path.

And so without taking anything away from their business and philanthropical success or the respect they undoubtedly deserve, I wonder if it is wrong to ask the question of the super wealthy, super powerful and super privileged, is this wise?

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an Editor at Because.

Image: Creative Commons

Viral sheep

July 4, 2021

Have you seen the latest viral video of a drone shot of a mega herd of sheep? In almost kaleidoscope fashion – forming all kinds of patterns – watching what looks like moving grains of rice being poured, these shots are even soothing to watch.

Filmed by videographer Lior Patel at a farm located in Peace Valley, Yokneam in northern Israel, in the speeded-up video you see the flocks move from one field to another, through a gate, in a sand timer movement. Sheep are often known for following and placidity, but what strikes you is that as they move together, they move as one. Because that’s what sheep do, they follow. But as I watched, sometimes I noticed the odd few doing their own thing.

This reminded me of another viral sheep encounter. This time it was a short story about these bleating bundles of wool which, ironically, went viral from Israel, too. From the lips of a man who was brought up just 15km from the farm where viral sheep footage was filmed.

You may remember the story, it’s one of those that have found itself into our culture and has a message behind it. “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”[1] Sound familiar?

If it does it’s because it’s one of the more famous short stories spoken by Jesus. But what is it all about?

Many of us when we think about the notion of God or some transcendental being – whether we think there’s one or not – sometimes conjure up someone who’s distant or harsh, someone who would disregard the weak or sinful. Certainly, the Greek and Roman Pantheon of gods would fall into this category. But Jesus surprises us with this sheep story. He related the joy of finding one lost sheep to the same joy that God experiences when a human, lost in the mess of this world, comes back into belief and relationship with God. A God who will run after the one sheep to save and keep safe.

I don’t know what your spiritual journey has been like. Maybe you are searching for something bigger than yourself. Maybe you’re on a path to finding a concept of God you are happy with. Or maybe you feel you once knew God but now feel lost. Maybe there has been confusion, even moral failings. If that is you, and you are searching for the way back to somewhere that feels safe and secure, this story tells us God is also looking for you.

God is full of goodness and grace – he wants us found, to come home. Like one famous Christian said, “we find no home until [we] find a home in Him [God]”.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is Editorial Assistant at Because.

[1] The Bible, Luke 15:4-6 (NIVUK)
Photo by Stefan Widua on Unsplash

Passport to paradise

July 2, 2021

If your idea of paradise is lying on a sun-kissed beach on a balmy Balearic island, you may need a new kind of passport to get there. Yesterday the EU officially introduced its Digital Covid Certificate, a way for European citizens to prove they have been vaccinated against, negatively tested for or have recovered from Covid-19.

This passport is free and recognised by all 27 EU member states, as well as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein. In principle, if you have one, you should be exempted from testing or quarantine should you wish to cross an international border.

If you live in England, don’t panic, it’s hoped the NHS Covid pass, bundled with the NHS app, will also be accepted by most countries. If you live in the rest of the UK, you’ll have to get by for now with a retro paper certificate.

But what if your idea of paradise is more grandiose? A place where there is no war or pain, poverty or sadness, no hunger, not even death? (Yes, we’ll throw in a beach too, if that is your heart’s desire.) If such a place was possible, what kind of passport would you need to get there?

This passport is not an app or a piece of paper, but a person. “I am the way”, said Jesus.1 “All you have to do to get there is believe in me”.2

If you’d like to know more, just ask.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is Editor-in-Chief at Because.

1The Bible – John 14:6
2 The Bible – John 3:16

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