Pride will sink you (but only if you let it)

January 29, 2020

“Pride goes before a fall”, so the proverb goes.[1] And I was looking at a classic example – the Vasa warship, named after its haughty king, Gustavus Adolphus. As I came face to face with it, I felt like I had stepped onto the set of Pirates of the Caribbean, half expecting Johnny Depp to walk by with a parrot on his shoulder.

I was staring at a ship that sank in 1628 and lay at the bottom of Stockholm harbour for over 330 years until it was finally raised from the water on 24 April 1961. The Vasa now lives in a museum of the same name, enabling the continuous retelling of the story of one of Sweden’s greatest maritime disasters.

And all because of the pride of a king.

King Gustavus wanted his warship to have an extra level of canons. Sweden had an empire to protect and this new state-of-the-art warship would be the showpiece of the Swedish navy; one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. But the ship builders had their doubts; would it be stable? The king’s pride meant he was eager for the Vasa to take up its position as flagship. There is something about pride that is hard to reach, let alone teach. So the king insisted and the ship was built.

The maiden trip came. And went very badly. The ship was dangerously unstable; it did not have enough ballast for its weight, nor was it wide enough. It managed to sail just 1,300 metres, when it was hit by a gust of wind. It started to tilt. One more gust and the ship was on its side taking in water and the sailors went overboard.

Pride often overextends us and leads to a fall. It makes us top-heavy, just like the Vasa. Pride then hurts people. But it also puts a strain on us: we must put out effort to protect our image or position. And it often leads us to defencelessness; when we don’t listen to others, when we don’t hold space for the possibility that we could be wrong, then we leave ourselves open.

And then, bang! We hit the deck (…or the bottom of the ocean!). You may have experienced this kind of fall. But I find it interesting that the Vasa was rescued! Even though the pride of a king led to its destruction, it now sits in the Vasa museum for all to see. But more than just see, to learn from. And that’s what the fall that comes after pride is all about; to learn.

You may be licking your proverbial wounds from a stiff-necked argument with someone, or a failed project you went all-in with, or just the realisation you are not as good as you thought you were. It will sting, but let it. Your fall will not be meaningless as long as you are willing to learn from it, reflect on how pride got you into a difficult situation. Then make the change needed to move on.

There have been times in my life where I have allowed myself to become the victim of pride and the only way out has been to suck it up and move on. I guess that’s where the phrase ‘swallow your pride’ comes from!

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Proverbs 16:18 (NIVUK)
Image by Salih Seçkin from Pixabay

Learning from experience

January 27, 2020

Before last week, had you heard of the Chinese city of Wuhan? I hadn’t and was surprised to hear it has a population of 11 million. But then, with a national population of 1.3 billion, China has many mega cities that we in the west have never heard of.

We’ve certainly heard of Wuhan now. The news today, Monday 27 January, reported that the death toll from the Coronavirus now stands at 80, with around 3,000 more confirmed infected.

The Chinese authorities have imposed travel bans, but too late to stop the virus escaping abroad. To date, at least 44 people outside of China have contracted the virus, in places as far afield as Thailand, Australia and the United States,

Here in the UK there are about 120,000 Chinese students studying at our universities, many of whom have gone home for the lunar new year. Will they bring back the virus when they return to the UK? How alarmed should we be? Despite the media hype, most experts are saying that the UK is well prepared and there is no need to be unduly concerned.

That’s where experience comes in. As a pensioner I have lived through a few scares that have been billed by our mainstream media as world-shaking events. For example, according to the media the SARS virus in the early 2000s was a serious threat to our existence. But while some people died, and that is very sad, it thankfully did not become the worldwide pandemic that was forecast.

In my lifetime there have been many threats: a coming ice age (late 1960s and early 70s), no more oil (1990s), overpopulation (1960s to 2020), global food shortages, the “hole” in the ozone layer (1985 to 2000, now repairing itself), acid rain and, of course, the Ebola outbreak in West Africa between 2014 and 2016.

All were forecast as potential worldwide disasters but somehow the vast majority of us are still here. That’s where experience comes in; being able to differentiate between what the media say and what is realistically likely to happen. Being able to take a calm and balanced view of the situation rather than over reacting.

So while there is no doubt being alive is a definite danger to our health, we shouldn’t live our lives as though danger lurks around every corner. Having said that, one of the best things about my Christian faith is believing I have an all powerful, all loving God to turn to in the hard times, as well as the good. Knowing that whatever happens, he will work it out for our ultimate long-term benefit is a huge comfort to me.

My experience tells me that there will always be times of trouble, but my faith reassures me that God is always there for us.

 

Davos 2020 and the Rorschach test

January 24, 2020

Hermann Rorschach developed the test that bears his name in 1921 after noting that people interpret the things they see in many different ways. In the test, participants are shown a series of ten inkblot cards and asked to describe what they see. There are no objectively correct answers, but the test demonstrates that what we see can say more about us than what is actually there.

This effect came to mind when I was watching news coverage of the World Economic Forum in Davos this week. President Trump told the world to ignore the climate change “prophets of doom”. Yet on the same day, Greta Thunberg said world leaders claim they are aware of the need to deal with climate change but are not doing anything.

An interesting example of two people looking at the same thing and coming to a totally different conclusion, just like the inkblot test.

Many of us are conflicted in the same way. Our hearts listen to the climate change arguments, but perhaps our heads can’t or won’t accept them. What are we to believe? We naturally want to do our bit and be as gentle as possible on our planet, but how much of our way of life are we prepared to change?. We still want to use our cars, maybe fly abroad once or twice a year for a holiday…can we change our lifestyle a little or must it be a lot? Where is the sensible balance between the vast extremes exemplified at Davos?

It is a big question, but only one of many that have no easy or certain answers in the complex world we inhabit today. We talk about spirituality a lot on this website and that is also like a Rorschach test where people look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. For example, I have atheist friends who believe that this life is all we have. But I’m a Christian and so believe that there is an eternal spiritual world that stretches on beyond this one.

I believe Jesus came to show us that there is more out there than we can see on the surface. Which is precisely the effect the Rorschach test demonstrates.

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

I once was blind, but now I see

January 23, 2020

I never thought I would find an empty pool so fascinating. But this, apparently, was no ordinary pool. The pool of Siloam that I came face to face with on my trip to Jerusalem claimed to be the scene of a miracle.

Now, I’m no fan of pilgrimages that take you to some supposed sacred place that promises the believer miraculous recompense for  their efforts, Lourdes and all! But the story behind this ancient pool was unusual and intriguing. It caught – no demanded – my attention.

Its true location and the events it played host to were confined to the pages of the Bible until 2004 when archaeologists uncovered this 68.8 metre pool. What I was looking at was the best-preserved site of one of Jesus’ reported miracles. I couldn’t help but think, what if…?

What if a man who was born blind was really healed here? [1]

Now my imagination began to take over. As I walked down to the steps leading to this empty pool,  I imagined the hundreds of people who would’ve come to this place each day. Including that blind man who Jesus was meant to have sent here.

“Go”, Jesus was reported saying, “and wash in the Pool of Siloam”. The story continues, simply stating, “so the man went and washed, and came home seeing”.[2]

As I sat by the now empty poolside, I imagined it full of water. I wished I could have been there to see it, watching the drama unfold, so I could know what really went on. But I couldn’t; I wasn’t there. Others had to do this investigation into the legitimacy of this peculiar event. And apparently they did.

At the time of this event, some refused to believe, so they spoke to the blind man who could now see. Then they interviewed his parents. If you are curious to learn the rest of the story, you can read it in the Bible, in the book of John. Spoiler: the sceptics couldn’t deny that the man who could not see, now saw. They just couldn’t explain it.

It was now up to me – what should I believe?

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] Painting by James Tissot: The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam
[2] The Bible: John 9:7 (NIV)

 

Promises, promises

January 21, 2020

The email’s boast was worth a second glance: a happiness guarantee. Given it was an advert from a utility company, I assumed that the promise related to the product and not to life in general. On closer look, I found that this limited promise was restricted to 60 days! Happiness can be a fragile commodity; even this utility company is cautious about over committing itself.

My parents were big country music fans when I was young. One song that they often played was sung by Lynn Anderson, with the catchy line: “I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden”.[1] The song is about dealing with the ups and downs of a relationship, though at my tender age that went over my head. But I did pick up a simple message: “Along with the sunshine, there’s gotta be a little rain sometime”. Life has downs as well as ups. There’s no such thing as a happiness guarantee: beware anyone offering otherwise. For me, Lynn Anderson became an early source of wisdom.

Of course, I later learned that my view of Rose Garden is far too simple an analogy for life. To stay with the imagery, it doesn’t just rain sometimes. On occasion we get monsoons; every now and then a tornado rips through. But that wouldn’t make for a catchy tune, so I’ll let Anderson off for her simplification. However, all this just emphasises the fragility of happiness: too often it is punctured by events that are sad, bad or even mad.

Looking back on Rose Garden, I feel that it does actually offer a good piece of advice: “Come along and share the good times while we can”. Share: to share indicates time in some kind of relationship. I wouldn’t mind the diamonds (or the cash equivalent) that one line of the song refers to. But do they lead to true happiness? As much as I would like to say yes – the answer is probably not. But good, healthy relationships will. I have had some great opportunities over the years, but relationships have brought me the longest lasting joy. I don’t hear Rose Garden very often these days, but “I beg your pardon” always reminds me of the things in life that really make me happy.

Years after my first encounter with country music, I began a relationship that has really helped me last out the ups and downs of life. At the time, it took me by surprise; for it led to me dipping my toes into ‘spiritual waters’, something I turned away from when very young. It’s a long story, but I now look at it as a knock on the door from God, an invite to something new. Don’t worry, I’m not going to claim that I’ve now found a happiness guarantee! But it has kept me grounded as to what is important at those times when all seems to be going wrong.

God hasn’t promised me a rose garden. Instead, there is a promise that he’ll always be right there for me. This is another source of wisdom that I endorse. Rose Garden is a bit of good advice sung to a catchy tune, but it can only take us so far. In my experience, my relationship with God has always made a difference – to whatever situation I find myself in. Country music may not be to your taste and so it doesn’t really matter if you never listen to Rose Garden. However, I wholeheartedly recommend giving God a go; he has become integral to all those things in life that make me truly happy.

Woodley info@because.uk.com

[1] Rose Garden, written by Joe South and released in 1971.
Photo by Tabitha Mort from Pexels

Kangaroo Island

January 17, 2020

In the news this week there were distressing pictures of the destruction wrought by bushfires on Kangaroo Island in Southern Australia. The fires are not just a threat to human life – there are fears that the fires could lead to the extinction of several native animals unique to Australia.

Kangaroo Island has been described as a kind of Noah’s ark for many animals because it has not been affected by many of the deadly diseases and invading species that plague mainland Australia. For many Christians, the story of Noah’s ark is one they treasure because it tells of God’s desire to save not just humanity, but the rest of his creation as well. In the story God, through Noah, saves two of each kind of animal from an impending flood.

With the severity of the bushfires in Australia having been linked to man-made global warming, maybe it is time we learnt from Noah’s story and did something positive to prevent the ongoing destruction of our beautiful planet.

Gavin Henderson info@because.uk.com

Gavin is an editor at Because

A right Royal example

January 15, 2020

For people born in, or after, 1952 there has been one constant in our lives and that is our Queen. Whatever is happening in the UK or around the world the Queen has been a beacon of stability for us. In just three weeks, on February 6th, Her Majesty will have been on the throne for 68 years, setting an amazing example of service and representing the UK in all kinds of circumstances.

I once had the privilege of meeting the Queen and speaking to her. I was told where to stand, how to respond when she spoke to me and where to wait to be introduced to her. Unfortunately the person who was supposed to introduce us was overwhelmed by the occasion and the Queen and I were left staring at each other for a few seconds, though it felt longer. Thankfully, she has great experience in these matters and after a pause simply asked me a question to break the ice.

That was a proud moment in my life and I still treasure the photograph I have of that occasion.

Yet as famous as our Queen is, there is someone even more important. Someone the Queen has always respected and followed. In her Christmas broadcasts and sometimes in her speeches, she will often refer to her Christian faith and her belief in the Bible. In short, she has never made a secret of her conviction in the existence of a higher power.

I find it fascinating to reflect on the fact that the head of our Royal Family looks up to an even higher authority, an even more important Royal Family. In the Bible there are several references to Jesus as a King, even as the King of Kings! I found my meeting with the Queen to be quite humbling, so I can only imagine what it would be like to meet the King of Kings face to face!

Clearly the Queen thinks along similar lines. How else would you explain away the fact that a person who lives in palaces, is surrounded by servants who cater to her every whim, and is treated with great respect by world leaders, kneels down in prayer before another. No less than the King of Kings; the one who loves us all – great and small – so much so that he became one of us, bringing with him the gift of everlasting life.

Perhaps this goes a little way to explaining our Queen’s remarkable attitude of service for all these years.

There are many things I admire about my Queen, but her tremendous faith is a wonder to behold.

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

 

There is hope

January 15, 2020

This morning, I watched the sun rise – again. In January you do not have to get up exceptionally early to see the beginning of a new day. We are just a few weeks into the beginning of a new year – a time that is touted as being one of the more depressing seasons.

In Britain and other Western nations, New Year comes at the coldest, darkest time in the calendar. At the moment of writing there are only eight hours of daylight, against sixteen hours of darkness. The spark of hope that accompanied the celebratory fireworks, as they followed the hour of midnight around the globe, has begun to fade. We once more become enmeshed in the everyday tasks of earning a living, looking after families – just getting on with the continuous task of being human – all that enthusiasm that created our resolutions for the year ahead might be beginning to fade.

It seems as though we are built for beginnings – moments that renew the hope we need that we can change things for the better – that there are better times ahead. And our lives can be seen as a catalogue of beginnings. There is the moment we were born – whenever that was. It may be a long time ago now and the candles may be getting too many for the cake.  We wish each other, ‘many happy returns’, expressing the wish that the year ahead will be kind and the next birthday celebration will be a joyful one. It doesn’t always work out that way but we hope.

Another beginning was the first day at a new school. You might remember it – putting on strange new clothes, filled with anticipation or fear about what lay ahead.  There were new things to do, new people to meet, new rules to follow – it was another new beginning. Marriage is another beginning, filled with hope for the future. We celebrate it with our closest friends, looking forward to a life spent together with someone we love.

Sometimes the hope that we have at the moment of these new beginnings is not fulfilled. Things maybe do not work out the way we had planned or anticipated. The resolutions from the New Year are forgotten. The year between one birthday and the next might carry any number of trials and difficulties. Marriages can end too quickly – and winter comes around again. But there will be a sunrise tomorrow. There will be another beginning, another new day, and that can be a source of hope that is repeated again – and again.

GK Chesterton found expression for this when he pictured a God who was so involved in His creation, so wrapped up in the continuing process of life and the hope that it embraces, that he wrote in his book, Orthodoxy, “Is it possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’, to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’, to the moon.”

Chesterton described this as the “eternal appetite of childhood”, suggesting a quality in the Creator that is worth emulating. We can look forward to the next sunrise – if hope accompanies a new beginning, then we don’t have to wait until the next new year in 2021.

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an editor at Because

Photo by davide ragusa on Unsplash

Unforgivable?

January 10, 2020

When I woke up on Friday 3rd of January, the world had changed.

This week the repercussions of the US drone assassination of General Qasem Soleimani continue to rumble on. American officials have defended President Trump’s decision to kill the Iranian commander, Iranian leaders have stepped up calls for revenge against the United States. Missiles have been fired in retaliation and, at time of writing, it looks possible that the Ukrainian airline tragedy could now be related to the crisis.

This is a very serious situation and there is speculation that it could escalate into a full blown war. If you were Donald Trump or the Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, what would your next move be?

How about forgiveness? That’s a strategy my leader, Jesus Christ, used when standing at an equally dangerous crossroad. When he was being crucified to satisfy the demands of an angry mob, instead of calling on his followers to seek revenge he cried out “Forgive them for they know not what they do”.

It takes courage to forgive. Why is that? Maybe because forgiveness can seem the weakest weapon in our human armoury. Or, perhaps, because it’s the most powerful.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is editor-in-chief at Because

 

Love is in the air

January 9, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It seems like we’ve only just put the Christmas decorations away and – whoah! – here comes Valentine’s Day.

Love is in the air everywhere you look (especially if you look in the shops). But have you ever wondered where love comes from?

I’m a Christian and my belief is that it comes from God. After all, God says of himself that he is love. In the Christian Bible, we can read a radical statement that takes this thought further: “We love because He first loved us”1. In other words, we are only able to love because God invented this thing called love.

You might ask, if God first loved us, when did this happen? The answer is, before you existed, before the world began, before matter and time were created. Yes that’s right, even before there was a you, God loved you. When there was nothing and no-one else, you were in his heart.

What all of this means is that not only is there no love without God but without God loving us, we would not be able to love others.

Does that mean, then, that God is to blame for Valentine’s Day? Certainly not – He has far too much taste for that!

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter editor-in-chief at Because

11 John 4:19 (NIVUK)

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