Richard’s Blog

Time and Chance

I have never seen a cricket match like it! England’s win in the final of the cricket World Cup against New Zealand will go down as one of the greats.

The game had more twists and turns than the Nürburgring racetrack. Some extraordinary things happened that couldn’t have been scripted even if you tried. Twists in the game that seemed like such chance happenings yet had such pivotal effects on the outcome – things really did turn on a five-pence piece.

But happenstance can lead us to question whether we are really in control of our future. These events, often momentary and freakish, can so quickly influence the direction of life. If you’ve ever watched the movie Sliding Doors you will know what I mean – it is scary to think what difference missing a train can make to your life!

I had my own ‘sliding doors’ moment today. I was driving to work as I have done for the last nine years. But something happened that had never happened before. As I was driving, someone pulled out and hit the back of my car. I couldn’t help but reflect on my frustration about how different my day would have been if I had left home a few seconds earlier or later; I wouldn’t be standing on the side of the road asking whether the lollipop lady witnessed the accident!

So are we servants’– victims, maybe – of time and chance. Are the happenings of our life as unpredictable as a roll of a dice?

This feeling can often lead us to default to a fatalistic worldview about the universe in which we hear ourselves say almost religious-like statements such as, “Whatever will be, will be”, “It’s fate, nothing you can do about it”, “Everything happens for a reason”. I get why statements like this are said – at times, I have added to the chorus – but statements like this leave me with a question: is life a product of time and chance?

For me, I have come to see things differently.

Yes, when navigating life, I have developed a mental flexibility that is comfortable, or at least consigned, to the randomness of events. I know things happen to people all the time: time and chance is a part of the human experience. But I don’t feel on the roller-coaster of life, at the mercy of fate, without any control.

My belief in another, namely the Christian God, has changed my perspective on this question. It has not meant I can explain every happening, or that every event is positive and without frustration and questions. At least in my journey with God, I don’t think that is how God works. Rather, I have another consolation…

In my limited understanding, God does not stop happenstance – time and chance – but he draws meaning and purpose from it. In my experience, it is from life’s events – some random, some very unpleasant – that he creates purpose. I guess, life is not a tapestry of untamed, random events, but the patchwork of individual events that, when you step back, become a picture of something more meaningful; something God is working with.

God puts it like this: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”[1]

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Romans 8:28 (NIV)

[Photo by Mike Szczepanski on Unsplash]

Looking for the good

I do like a robust debate. The verbal sparring and intellectual chest thumping are all quite entertaining. You may have seen last night’s debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, both vying to be the next Prime Minister.

But after all the ‘blue-on-blue’ shots are fired, there is a cost. Two people from the same team end up further away from each other than they did at the start. Maybe more than this, they probably have a job detoxing all their anger and bitterness from the previous night’s vitriol. This would give anybody’s emotional plumbing a workout. But let’s be honest, even the most forgiving amongst us would have a job letting go of some of those penetrating comments.

The point is, words create unintended consequences: they can create distance, resentment, and end friendships. Now, I’m no snowflake who thinks debates should be sanitised into a rainbow and unicorn pageant. But I believe, in debate, or any difficult conversation, there is a better way.

This better way was offered to Johnson and Hunt in yesterday’s debate. It came from the last question asked:

“What do you most admire about your opponent?”, came the question. It drew a small chuckle from the audience – they knew this may be the hardest and most humbling question for both to answer.

Johnson and Hunt answered with creative ambiguity: an answer which was very much a two-sided compliment that simultaneously showed the opponents weakness.

Maybe they should have taken a leaf out the book of a man who probably had as many public confrontations as we’ve had hot dinners. He was a man who learnt how to navigate the hostile territory of the debate, and those who wanted to run him down. No surprises when I tell you that it was a religious environment that bred this contempt. And the target for the contempt was the Jesus of the Bible.

I like Jesus for many reasons. But one of them is how he handled hostility.

Jesus had some advice for all of us when in the arena of confrontation. It is advice that stems from the question asked to Johnson and Hunt: look for the good in others. Jesus put it like this:

Bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.[1]

Ok, easier said than done. But if done, things end a lot better.

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Matthew 5:44 (NKJV)

Is it time we found our safe space?

I rarely get ill. But last week was an exception. I must have hit a wall of sorts because I lost the ability to function as a normal human being! That day, after work, I decided to self-prescribe the universal medicine that is, bedrest.

After some 20 hours, I woke to what was as surprising as it was worrying!

Now, I’m no Mr Popular, but looking down at my phone I did question the sustainability of my life when seeing seven missed calls, nine text messages, ten Whatsapp messages, and 11 emails.

Even thinking about having to reply made me noxious. Something wasn’t right, and I was starting to see why. Maybe it was time to find a safe space.

For me, the phrase ‘safe spaces’ conjures up cotton wool wrapped university students whose sensitivities are imposed on others as the new norm. I meet this kind of new age behaviour as a teacher. But this is not the kind of safe space I am referring to. The safe space we all need more of is one during each week where all the outside stuff cannot get in; a space where you can lay all your burdens down.

This soul searching is not an unfamiliar pursuit for us 21st century sojourners. You may have heard the reports of increasing numbers of young Jains, a religious community in India, who have begun renouncing the material world for their own ‘safe space’. In the case of the Jain’s, this ritual of renunciation means they will always walk barefoot and eat only what they receive in alms. They will never use a vehicle, never bathe, never sleep under a fan and never speak on a mobile phone.[1] The number of those taking the renunciation has gone from 10-15 a year, to 250, and is expected to top 400 this year. One reason for this increase is the disenchantment of the young with the pressures of modern life.

This same pressure from the woes of modernity was felt by Samantha Bell when she suffered a number of losses, whilst also having to deal with incurable cancer. She decided her safe space was going to be the dance studio. She would leave her phone at the door when she came to teach. The dance studio was the place she would let nothing in. It’s been a fruitful decision: her dancers are the first UK team to take part in the World Cup in Portugal later this month.

Maybe this is what I need? Maybe this is what you need? A safe space where we can leave life at the door and find solace, serenity, some precious seconds to restore a sound mind and balance. To meditate, to pray, to process, to search and recover who we are meant to be on this great journey called life.

I’m already keeping my phone on silent permanently. It’s a good step towards my own safe space.

Notes:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-48879591

[Photo by Kornél Máhl on Unsplash]

Immigration – A Different View

The media last week showed pictures of the young man from San Salvador who died in the Rio Grande, along with his two or four-year-old daughter. (Age depending on which media source you read or watched.)

It was a shocking picture and the various talking heads commenting tended to blame President Trump and his tough immigration policy. It’s worth observing, however, that while that death made the news, many other young people have also died trying to cross from Mexico to America as illegal immigrants.

But before we join the chorus of criticism, let’s remember that immigrants are also drowning in the Mediterranean and English Channel. Any death is a tragedy but when these people have undergone a long arduous journey to try and find a better life for themselves and their families, it seems especially hard.

So who is to blame? Some might say it is the fault of the immigrants themselves who have willingly taken a gamble in the hope of a better life for the future. But who are we to judge when many of this number are literally fleeing for their lives from persecution, war, famine or disease? Then there are the governments of those countries the immigrants are fleeing – don’t they have to accept some responsibility for their own citizens? Except that in some of these examples, the government is at war with its own citizens.

A separate issue to consider is the question of how many immigrants we can absorb? Our hearts go out to people struggling against the odds to achieve a better life. But isn’t it acceptable to have policies that control the numbers of legal immigrants and, at the same time, aim to control illegal ones?

A Christian response is to weep for all these people, whether alive or dead, who are forced to leave their own countries and travel so far in such difficult circumstances.

Many churches have programmes to welcome and help immigrants, whether legal or illegal and that surely is a good thing to do.

I don’t know the solution to this difficult problem, but perhaps we should thank God that, by accident of birth, we already live in a relatively free and prosperous society. Perhaps instead of moaning about all we think is wrong with the UK, we should count our blessings to be living here and ask ourselves why we are so attractive to immigrants.

My prayer is that God will show our governments, and the governments of the countries the immigrants are trying to leave, a better way to handle this more and more common 21st century problem.

Keith Hartrick.

[Keith is a retired Managing Director and the church leader of our Leeds congregation, Grace Communion International. He is editor of Richard’s blogs.]

We love because…

Two stories this week have been equally surprising, but for very different reasons: one of neglect, the other of love.

Heartbreak followed by hope were the emotions when we saw footage of “Baby India,” in the state of Georgia, being cut from the plastic bag she had been hidden away in. We can only guess at the motives of someone who was driven to do this.

Then, in a very opposite display of humanity, you may have seen the reports of a teenager catching a toddler mid-air as she stumbled out of an open second-floor window while her mother was cooking. In true ‘babies away’ fashion, the footage shows two-year-old Doha Muhammed drop like a stone only to be caught by the outstretched arms of Feuzi Zabaat, 17, in Istanbul, Turkey.

“I did what was necessary”, said Feuzi, “for the love of Allah”[1]. These words made me stop and reflect. I’m not Muslim, but I guess many religions would echo the same sentiment. They would give their reason for acts of love as a love they have for God.

But we might ask, why would this be?

I guess, most religions would say it is because God is the source of love. Christianity puts it like this, “We love because he [God] first loved us”[2]. In this thought, it appears that our love is a reflection of God’s love for us.

Others would argue, but if there was a loving God, how could he let a baby potentially fall from a window? And even worse, why would he allow a baby to be left in a plastic bag?

Good questions. I guess if we were to suspend all prejudice and momentarily believe in a fully aware and loving God, then he, surely, is responsible for the laws of gravity that would have caused a baby to fall. And God is also responsible for the creation of humans who are capable of abandoning our very own offspring. So maybe it is his fault?

The thing missing in this argument, surely, is a sense of responsibility. In these scenarios, who really is responsible? If we are the creatures of God, which I believe we are, then do we not have a part to play in this equation of life and love?

I once saw a fictitious meme that illustrated this misplaced responsibility. A man met Jesus on a bench. He sat down and preceded to ask Jesus about the suffering in the world: “So why do you allow things like famine, war, homelessness, crime, suffering, and despair to exist in our world?” Jesus looks at him, pauses, and then says, “Interesting that you should bring that up as I was about to you the exact same question”.

I believe each time we choose love; we bring a little bit of God into the world and accept our inevitable responsibility as creatures of influence and not just passive observers. Each time we show love, we reflect the higher reality of God’s love for us.

Notes:

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-middle-east-48781526/hero-17-year-old-catches-falling-toddler

[2] The Bible, 1 John 4:19 (NIV)

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