Because Blog

Fertile topsoil

Just over 4 years ago we moved into a brand new house. The garden is a little bigger than the normal size and the builders had laid turf so we had a nice lawn, but we wanted to create a more interesting garden bordered by some flower beds.

As part of the preparation, we needed many tonnes of top soil to give our trees, shrubs and plants a fertile growing environment. We had the soil delivered and the merchants left it in a big pile at the front of the house, much of which I had to shift round to the back with just a wheelbarrow. It took several days and my back and legs were sore at the end of it.

While I was working, I had time to think – is my garden like my mind? (Bear with me on this for a minute!). Do I spend more time making my garden a more fertile habitat in which to grow beautiful plants and flowers, than I spend helping my mind to become a productive environment? How fertile is my mind? We are bombarded with so much rubbish today in the media, that if we’re not careful, our minds can become like a wasteland. Fake news and harmful values can, like weeds, too easily take root and flourish. I reminded myself that my mind is a tool to be sharpened, not just a library to be filled.

But if we are passive in what we watch and read, it can become counterproductive. If we just accept ideas, values and beliefs without thinking about them, or questioning them, we can drift along with the tide of consensus like so many people do today.

Shifting tonnes of topsoil is hard physical work, but very satisfying. Thinking about what we let into our minds and how we sharpen them is hard mental work, but also very satisfying.

Around two thousand years ago, some people were challenged to reconsider what they believed and why.  A man called Jesus demanded that they questioned the way they thought and lived.

For example he turned upside down the accepted view of  success. He said instead of seeking power, position and status – to be important in the eyes of others – we should instead have the mind, heart and attitude of a servant.

He also asked his followers a question, “But you, who do you say I am?”1

Many alive in those days were confused about who Jesus was. Many alive today are also confused by who he is! Maybe it’s time to ask ourselves, have we simply accepted what other people say? Or are we prepared to do the mental digging to unearth the answer for ourselves? Are our minds a fertile topsoil where our ideas, values and beliefs are thoroughly sifted and evaluated? Are we confident we know the truth about why we are here and what life is all about?

When Jesus asks you today, “Who do you think I am?” what is your answer?

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

1 The Bible – Mark 8.29

Lockdown take two

Could you endure another lockdown?

With lockdown easing, taking our first tentative steps into a freer brave new world has been exciting. Emerging from hibernation has had a kind of first-day-back-at-school feel – we’re all excited to see each other. And we’ve wondered how we got through it?

So you can imagine why the people of Leicester may be a little jittery this week with the news of a possible regional lockdown looming! In the US, Texas and Florida are already shutting down again. So just how do you get through another lockdown?

In a BBC Newsbeats piece last week, 4 people gave us what had helped them endure the solitude, anxiety and uncertainty of the Coronavirus lockdown.

Answer: religion!

I had read elsewhere surveys finding that more people had been praying during lockdown, but I was curious to know what it was, specifically, about people’s faith that had helped them get by. Here is what they said:

Philip who’s Christian said, “It’s the personal connection to God which gives you hope.”

Adrisa who’s Hindu said, “I feel like there is a higher power taking care of me, and it’s reassuring.”

Kasim who’s Muslim said, “When I feel down mentally, I turn to God to feel better.”

Hannah who’s Jewish said, “Faith gives me another side to life and exploring that area has given me strength”, describing the Sabbath – a day of rest – as being a day to reset.

I guess one thing we can learn about the effects of lockdown on the human psyche and spiritualism is that freedom is a spiritual matter not just physical. Peace, hope and purpose seem to be the measured results of physical confinement with God. Echoing the kind of clinical insight of psychologists Viktor Frankl and Carl Yung who could see purpose and meaning was not constrained by personal circumstances.

There’s a personal echo of truth here of lockdown’s mini religious renaissance; I, too, found this small, quiet voice of God calling me back to a more authentic version of myself during lockdown. Have you heard that same voice, too?

No doubt, many of us may be left with an opposite feeling after seeing just this weekend the world hit 10 million cases of Coronavirus. Where’s God in that? One of the interviewee’s comments jumped out at me: “Challenges and struggle have been happening for ages. But religion teaches you God has a plan and it helps to accept reality a lot more”. I thought on this.

It reminded me of the piece of deep painful poetry I once read; words that pierced through the most trying time of my life. With a reputation as a middle eastern prophet, the writer echoes the truism of the words above – that somehow God’s plans for us are not synonymous with our circumstances. And this prophet had some credibility to say such things. Unfairly imprisoned in a pit filled with mud, the biblical Jeremiah writes:

“My soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”[1]

These words come from some of the most well-known biblical verses. They talk about a God who doesn’t protect us from suffering but protects us in suffering. This God seems to be more consistent with my observations and experiences. Yet, this same Bible goes further and claims that God himself came to us as Jesus, sharing in our suffering, to tell us about his plan of compassion and love. A message of hope that can see us through a second lockdown, maybe?

If you’d like to know more about where God is in a Coronavirus world, please check out John C. Lennox’s short book with the same title.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Lamentations 3:20-23
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The Real Story

If things are not going the way we’d like them to go, should we change the story?

For example, what if the government intervened and changed the weather forecast? It sounds preposterous, but think about it: since so many are rushing to our beaches and thus possibly might be risking a second peak of coronavirus, what if the prediction was for really bad weather, meaning that fewer sun-seekers would flock to the seaside? Of course, we’d disagree with anyone changing the weather forecast to suit his or her own purposes!

What about people of faith? Should they change their story in order to adapt to current moods and trends? For example, there’s too much violence on the streets, so Christians say their message is all about being against violence. Or racism must go, and so the message is all about how true faith is against racism. Or sexism. Or whatever social injustice we may think of. Of course, Christianity stands up and is counted as being against all those things, but to say that’s the main message is a change to the story.

The Christian story is, quite simply, that Jesus Christ was crucified for us. Because of all the mistakes we’ve made, do make and will continue to make, all of which lead to the mess the world is in right now, Jesus died. The only way forward is to accept him and let him change us personally and collectively.

It may not be PC. It might not fit in with what people want to hear right now.

But we’re not going to change our story to make ourselves more popular or more in vogue with how things are.

We preach Christ crucified.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

The new normal

The ‘new normal’ is a phrase that has entered our vocabulary in the past few months to convey how life will be different because of COVID-19. What will this new normal look like? Will more people work flexible hours or work from home? Will bikes and walking overtake our use of public transport? Will we forever have to social distance in supermarkets and restaurants? For these things and many others, we will just have to wait and see how the new world order will pan out.

But for some, the new normal has already begun and for them, life will never return to how it was before. There have been over 40,000 deaths from COVID-19 in the UK alone and in the past three months, many others have died for other reasons. For the family and friends of those who have died the new normal is facing life without their loved one, with no prospect of returning to how it used to be.

Bereavement comes from an old English word that means “rob,” “deprive,” and “seize.” The bereaved person feels they have been robbed and deprived of their loved one because they have been seized from them in death. It is probably the most severe psychological trauma most people will encounter during their lives. Almost all of those who experience a bereavement will face distress, depression, and sadness as a result. The majority will experience grief, a word that comes from the Latin for “make heavy” and accurately describes the heavy burden or affliction someone carries because of their loss.

With over 600,000 deaths occurring in the UK last year and all the recent deaths that are COVID-19 related, many of us will know someone who is recently bereaved. When faced with that situation you, no doubt, feel sad and want to help the person cope with the new normal they are experiencing, but where do you start? If you are anything like me, you can feel totally inadequate in such circumstances. It takes us out of our comfort zone and very quickly we can feel out of our depth. What can I say or do to help? What shouldn’t I say or do to make matters worse?

I can’t provide you with a one size fits all answer to those questions, but from the bereavement seminars I’ve attended at university and run by my church two pieces of advice stood out for me, and have been invaluable in my Christian ministry. First, the one thing I’ve realised not to say is ‘I understand what you are going through,’ because with the best will in the world I don’t. Both of my parents died in the last five years and I reacted in a particular way to my loss, but that doesn’t mean I understand how someone else is feeling who has just lost a parent. Everyone’s experience is different, everyone’s sense of loss and the grief they encounter is unique to them. I’ve had to recognise that I may not understand what a bereaved person is going through, but I can be there for them. And so, secondly, I’ve had to learn that when I am with a newly bereaved person one of the most helpful things I can do is just listen. Very often I don’t know the right words to say, and frequently there are no words that can be said, but what I can do is listen to what the bereaved person wants to talk about. It might be about how much they miss the person who has died, it might be about the numbness they feel, it might be about the anger and hurt they feel that their loved one has left them alone or the God they looked to has deserted them. It could be about anything at all. Simply giving a person the space to off-load their feelings can be of the greatest help.

The new normal for a bereaved person is not an easy thing to come to terms with, but with shared tears and a listening ear, we can help that transition rather than hinder it.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

A new intimacy

After 51 years of marriage my wife and I know each other very well. But this lockdown has created a new intimacy between us. Women may understand the importance of this rather better than men. For the first time in our married life, I have been allowed to cut my wife’s hair – under strict instruction as to how and where – and only just the once so far! (By comparison, I have allowed my wife to cut my hair three times, although seeing as I am quite bald on top, that’s not too onerous a task.)

I don’t think our local ladies’ hairdresser or barber’s shop have anything to fear as we will both be returning to them as and when they open. But I have now learnt that to be allowed to cut a lady’s hair requires a great deal of trust and intimacy in a relationship. Even after 51 years, my wife was very nervous about letting me loose on her crowning glory. However, she was pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Either that, or too polite to say anything!

When I suggested that I was paid the going rate, and where was my tip, her thin smile told me that next time she did my hair I might end up completely bald!

But as close as I think we are, being allowed to cut my wife’s hair was quite a privilege and depending on how fast the lockdown is eased I might have to do it again. I expect I am not the only man who has been allowed to cut his partner’s hair in this current lockdown, but it certainly felt like our relationship had reached new heights.

Which got me thinking about trust and intimacy in human relationships. Do we have family or friends that we have a close connection with? Do we have someone we can share a problem with, a person we can trust absolutely? I used to have that kind of relationship with my younger brother, but sadly he died recently. We could tell each other anything, share our triumphs and disasters openly with no hint of judgement or criticism. I guess such intimacy can only come from growing up together, having each other’s backs in any situation and, despite leading different lives, somehow remaining closely connected throughout our lives.

Which then got me thinking about another very close relationship in my life. One that is even more important than the one I have with my wife (and you might be surprised to learn that she understands and supports this). I’m talking about my relationship with God, forged over 45 years of following the Christian faith.

It is interesting that many people today fear to have a relationship with God, let alone an intimate one in which they have absolute trust and can tell God anything. Yet when we understand who and what God, is we find out that he already knows us intimately, whether we realise it or not.

There is no mistake we can make that God does not already know and none that is beyond his power to forgive, God has watched humanity since he created us and we can never surprise him. That ancient book of wisdom, the Bible, tells us that God loves us, but why, oh why, do we find it so hard to believe? The answer, in the main, is because we don’t know him.

If you have a close, deep, intimate, trusting relationship with somebody in your life, as I did with my brother for many years, it is sad but inevitable that one day that relationship will come to an end. Either through a change of job, a move to another part of the world, a breakup or divorce, an illness or death.

But a close, deep, intimate relationship with God will never come to an end, whatever our circumstances in life or death. Yes, not even death can end that relationship with God!

With that in mind, I would like finish by throwing out a challenge to you. Why not take the first step in building that unbreakable, eternal relationship with your God? You have absolutely nothing to lose.

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

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