Richard’s Blog

You Good Samaritan

The term ‘Good Samaritan’ is part of our vernacular. But I wonder whether I would be one? Or, how about you?

For those of us who may get caught in the no-man’s-land between bystander and Good Samaritan then I have some good news. There has been a study suggesting there are more Good Samaritans out there than we may at first think. It challenges the so-called bystander effect – that people, on average, will not help strangers in distress. Maybe we have it in us, after all. The conclusion was made after studying hundreds of incidents on CCTV of people stepping in to help a perfect stranger in their moment of distress.

The phrase ‘Good Samaritan’ has passed into our cultural vocabulary – everyone knows what it means – the person who does not just walk on by when seeing someone in trouble. But where did this term ‘Good Samaritan’ come from?

Actually, from a story Jesus once told.

Jesus is many things to many different people, but he was also a good storyteller. Not to entertain but to educate. In an intriguing encounter, a lawyer approached Jesus. The lawyer knew the central biblical teaching of “love your neighbour as yourself”. But the lawyer wanted to know who his ‘neighbour’ really was. What Jesus then shared is still relevant today:

“In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him”.

Then Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?””[1]

What the modern reader might miss is that the Samaritan was not ethnically or religiously connected to the man who was attacked. And so Jesus helped lift the eyes of the lawyer, raising his sight to see his neighbour was not just the person who lived next door, nor just the people he shared a culture or language with. But his neighbour included anyone he came into contact with.

Interesting thought. How about next time we see that stranger in trouble, we are the ones who go and help.

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Luke 10:30-34, 36 (NIVUK)

[Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash]

Identity: where is it safe?

Identity – our personal identity – has become something of a commodity in our digitalised, technology-driven culture. But its increasing availability is alarming.

Just a cursory look at today’s headlines will show concerns over facial recognition being used at King’s Cross, the millions of fingerprints that have been leaked by a security firm, and the recent explosion in people handing over their DNA to companies in exchange for information about their ancestry.

What are the implications?

If information about our identity is in the hands of another then there is a shift in power. We may become powerless – or at least subject to influence – and others may have power over us – after all knowledge is power. But maybe more than that, does this accumulation of personal data not erode the liberty we have enjoyed for so long and the privacy that is inherent in the West’s emphasis on human dignity?

I don’t have all the answers or even the solutions. But I do have something else.

I have a hiding place – a place of safety where my personal information will not be misused.

We have an innate desire for our identity to be protected, or at least respected. There are some things in our life, in our personal histories, that are rightly private. I wouldn’t feel too good if it got into the wrong hands. But for me, I have found a place where my most personal information and identity will be protected.

So where?

Many would argue that the liberty and emphasis on human dignity the West has espoused, has flown organically from a very specific Christian concept about human identity: that we are made in the image of God. You may not believe in this personal God, but this idea led me to my place of safety.

The Christian concept of identity is encouraging for this reason. We are told that Jesus is interested in keeping our identity safe and unique – our personal information hidden away.

“…and your life”, the Scriptures tell us, “has been safely guarded by the Messiah [Jesus] in God”.[1]

And there is a big difference in our identity being in Jesus: he won’t misuse it.

I appreciate this may be of little consequence if you don’t believe in Jesus. But if you find the idea encouraging why not search out this safe place?

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Colossians 3:3 (ISV)

What does the future hold?

Maybe you’ve been one of the TikTok users who’ve been sharing the viral #Globalwarning videos that show the time-lapse effects of global warming.

From 2019 to 3019, the 15-second video is pretty sobering viewing showing what is to come: no water, over-heating, and choking on plastic! Anna Bogomolova, from Russia, seems to capture the mood well in her video.

But in the here and now, I can hear that summer sound of a British lawnmower and that irresistible summer smell of freshly cut grass. 3019 seems so far away! So what, really, will it be like?

One thousand years ago, in a century that played host to the likes of Macbeth, Edward the Confessor, William the Conquer and his Doomsday book, they would have hardly been able to see what the next millennium would hold for humanity, no less us the next millennium.

So are these videos another example of the new sound-bite, virtue signalling media that passes as authoritative and acceptable to our short-attention-span, sound-bite generation? Maybe! Yes, I agree, we should be aware and warned about our effects on mother earth but reducing the complexity of climate change (or should it be ‘heating’) to a 15-second time-lapse video?! I’m not too sure.

Ok, with little rant over, could there be another outcome by 3019? I hope and believe so.

Some believe in another time-lapse scenario. This time-lapse comes in print and its predictions are a little more hopeful than what’s trending on TikTok. Some say it’s a source to help us see into the future. It’s claims of such a prophetic ability come from the predictions it’s made and gotten right!

The prediction I would like to share illustrates a very opposite outcome. So here’s 15-seconds of something a little more hopeful:

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy”.[1]

Wow! If only. But why the change?

Because “they will see the glory of the Lord, the splendor of our God”.

These words are from the famous Middle Eastern prophet, Isaiah. Much of his writings were about a future time of worldwide liberation from the ills we see plague this planet, including global warming, as a result of the intervention of a personal God here on earth.

Now, just because this is a nice thought, it doesn’t make it true. Correct. So why do some believe there is more to his words than Middle Eastern musing? Because he also predicted the first appearance of God, in the form of Jesus.

Maybe this dessert blossoming is worth a second look?

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Isaiah 35:1-2

[Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash]

Out of the ground

If you were to ask me what my best outdoor survival strategy was, I would probably say Tesco’s! But after spending last week in the scenic Welsh south coast countryside of Pendine, I have a different answer.

My experience was to turn out more Bear Grylls than cashier tills! Gathered around a campfire, with nettle bread in the pan, I was about to visit a very different supermarket: the British countryside where the food is free.

The summer camp I attend each year (SEP) has always been a place for stepping out of my proverbial comfort zone and learning more about the natural wonder that surrounds us. Last week, our instructor, Dan, took us no more than 30 paces down this a pick n’ mix pathway! Dandelion, silverweed, wood sorrel, broadleaf plantain, and, apparently, any berry that grows on a plant with thorns on was good to eat! Who know the ground of the British countryside was so full of edibles (and I’m not talking drugs!). And get this, if you are looking for a bit of pain relief, then why don’t you try a bit of willow bark(!) which works the same way as aspirin does, by reducing inflammation and pain as it enters your bloodstream.

This experience reminded me that the earth is kind to us. On some level, the personification of the earth as a nurturing mother makes sense, after all, 95% of the food we eat comes from the soil! But this ‘mother’ has been somewhat under-visited with our modern lifestyle.

As I made my acquaintance, once again, with this Britain, I am reminded of a long-lost appreciation for this ‘promised land’ once echoed by Shakespeare in his play Richard II: “this sceptered isle, this earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, this other Eden, demi-paradise”!

Just like the biblical Eden where “out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food”[1], I can see somehow we have in this ‘other Eden’ our very own pleasant and good food to eat. Happy eating.

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Genesis 2:9 (NKJV)

[Photo by Eduardo Jaeger on Unsplash]

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]