The Mask

July 29, 2020

In times gone by when I heard the term ‘The Mask,’ my mind immediately thought of Jim Carry’s film of the same name. Carry plays a hapless bank clerk who finds a magical green mask that transforms him into a mischievous troublemaker with superpowers. More recently, ‘the mask’ has taken on an entirely different meaning as should I venture out on public transport or into my local supermarket my first thought is ‘have I got the mask with me?’

My green mask doesn’t transform me into a comic hero, nor does it give me extraordinary powers, rather it is intended to offer some form of protection against transmitting or picking up the Coronavirus.

I must admit that wearing this mask makes me feel like someone I’m not. After all, I’ve always associated wearing a mask with a bank robber, or someone holding up an off licence, or a mugger in a dark alleyway. As I walk into Tesco’s with only my eyes visible my instinctive reaction is ‘this makes me feel like a criminal.’ I haven’t been transformed into a criminal by simply wearing a mask, but it feels like this is the persona I’m presenting to the world.

Interestingly, throughout antiquity, so far as we know, all the actors in Greek tragedies, comedies and satyr plays wore masks all the time they were on stage. The mask signalled the act of impersonation as they were transformed into the character they were playing. An actor often played multiple roles within the same play by disguising himself with a series of masks. He might come in from one side of the stage wearing the mask of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, and hence a sad mask as he delivered solemn and sorrowful lines. Then later he would appear from the other side of the stage wearing the mask of Thalia, the muse of comedy, and hence a smiling mask as he delivered lines designed to make people laugh.

The English word ‘hypocrite’ originates from this theatrical context. It came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means ‘an actor’ or ‘a stage player.’ This Greek word is made up of two Greek words that literally translate as ‘an interpreter from underneath.’ In other words, the Greek actors interpreted the story from underneath their masks. Over the years hypokrites and thus hypocrite has come to refer to any person who is wearing a figurative mask, pretending to be someone or something they are not. They are just acting. They are just being two-faced.

The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, had some strong words for the hypocrites of his day: ‘Woe to you…hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’[1] Jesus was calling out those who didn’t practise what they preached, who said one thing but did another.

If I am absolutely honest, I have to own up to varying degrees of hypocrisy, where I’ve put the mask on to hide what’s happening inside and to transform me into a different persona on the outside. Usually, it’s done to present me in the best possible light so that I look good to other people. However, if I am going to be a follower of Jesus, and an authentic one, then I need to take off the mask of hypocrisy and live by the beliefs I profess.

The next time I go on public transport or into Tesco’s and I diligently put my green mask on, I’ll be thinking about the persona I’m presenting to the world. It won’t turn me into a superhero, but it will help me to think about my authenticity as a Christian.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] The Bible, Matthew chapter 23, verses 27-28, (NIV)

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

What do you fear?

July 20, 2020

In a book called Search for Significance, by Robert McGee, he claims there are four key fears that we all suffer from and have to face up to. They are the fear of failure, rejection, punishment and shame. It is true that most of our fears relate to those four areas, but I suggest there is one more which needs to be added to the list: fear of death.

Fear is a paralysing emotion. It can affect our relationships and even hold us back, preventing us from realising our full potential. It can make us risk-averse, so we don’t take opportunities that come our way which we then regret later in life.

The question that we then have to ask ourselves is, why do we have these fears? Many of us will answer, they come from our childhood, from our culture, from past criticism, or risks taken that went wrong.

But I want to suggest a different reason we fear. We suffer from these fears when our focus is on ourselves. When our thought process is, what will people think of me if I fail? will they reject me? punish me or shame me? It is this inward focus and worry about what people think of us that is so often at the root of our fears.

We don’t have to go far in life to remember examples where we experienced this paralysis from fear. Just think of that time when you had to get up in front of people and speak! Public speaking is certainly one of the top fears that people have (some say even before death). The experience of all those eyes looking at us floods us with self-conscious thoughts. What impression will I make? What will these people think of me? When really the thought should be, how can I help people by what I am going to say? This focus on others, not on self, can make a real difference to the message and our fear levels.

But dealing with fear is not that easy, especially if life has been cruel to you. Maybe your parents and teachers overly criticised you, instead of encouraging you. Maybe you had an unpleasant boss who was never satisfied with your work. Maybe your relationships did not work out. Or maybe you failed tests and ran away from challenges. In short, you feel useless and worthless, often compensating by desperately seeking approval from the people in your life. So what can we do if we find ourselves in this position?

Like most problems, there has to be a first step of recognition, admitting to yourself that you have an issue. It’s after this acceptance you can then decide you want to do something about it. And there is somewhere you can turn for the kind of encouragement you need to soothe your fears. Because whether you know it or not, there is someone who believes in you, someone who loves you, someone who can help you with all your concerns. Someone bigger than your lack of confidence, your insecurities, your doubts and fears. What is more, this someone stands ready to help you, all you have to do is ask.

Because this someone promises to take your fear if you give it to him: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”[1] What this means is you can unload all your cares, worries, fears and doubts on him. Why? Because he cares about you!

This someone is the God of creation. And for those who are willing to give him a try, he gives us an awesome invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[2] When fear rules our life we feel weary and burdened, but what would it feel like to have that weight lifted?

And better still, when you start a relationship with God, he can even lift that final fear, the fear of death!

Life will become better over time when you let God carry the burdens of your life, when you share your life with him. All you need is the courage to take that first step and ask for God’s help. In God’s eyes, you were born to be a champion!

If you would like to reach out to us and find out how you can take that first step, we would love to hear from you.

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

[1] The Bible, 1 Peter 5.7
[2] The Bible, Matthew 11:28
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Look up!

July 13, 2020

Have you looked at the stars recently?

It certainly helps from time to time. But maybe even more so during the lockdown. There’s something about stepping outside and peering into infinity that is almost mesmerising. This is what two astrophotographer’s have done as lockdown eases – their stunning pictures of the Milky Way taken from Devon can be seen here.

We can all remember that moment when we looked up at the stars and they held our gaze and caught our breath. Maybe it was on a bender, or that romantic walk, or that clear night when we took out the rubbish. For me it was when I visited my mother in the Scottish countryside. I got there late – midnight. With no streetlights to compete for my attention, I stepped out the car and was hit with what seemed like hundreds of thousands of little lights peering down at me. And there it was.

The Milky Way!

I had only made my acquaintance with this strip of stars in picture form. But in real life they were every bit as awe-inspiring. As the stars held my gaze, I got that reduced feeling. Not the one you get in a supermarket, but the one when you meet something so much more bigger than yourself. I guess when you come face-to-face with infinity, that’s inevitable.

Inevitable and soothing.

I say soothing because there is something about the starry blanket of mystery and magnificence that reduces the mundane and menial of our existence. That gives us perspective. Millions of people have lived and died on the watch of the same starry splendour. These stars are a witness to the transience of human life as they inhabit their own perpetual transcendence. This is why we are soothed by them. They speak beyond our infinitesimal life.

Life with all of its worries, stresses, pressures and pain hems us in. Pushes our gaze ever inwards, closer to our own horizons of concern. Yet, the stars in all their stillness dare us to think beyond ourselves. Beyond the stress. Beyond the here and now. They dare us to question.

For me when I stood stunned at the splendour of this train of stars, I was met with the question of my existence. The starry inquisition asked of me, what is this light show, this universe, all about?

I don’t know what your answer would be to such a jury of jewels. But if you are looking for an answer, here is what one poet’s conclusion was from long long ago:

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”[1]

This week, why don’t we find time to look up.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Psalms 19:1-2
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Turn

July 8, 2020

In 1965 The Byrds released a song entitled ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’, written almost a decade earlier by Pete Seeger, a song-writer known for his protest songs. In turn, he lifted his lyrics, almost word for word, from a short book in the Old Testament – Ecclesiastes. This book is squeezed between the better-known book of Proverbs and the somewhat raunchy ‘Song of Solomon’. They are known as ‘The Wisdom Books’. Traditionally all three books are claimed to be written by King Solomon who lived about 1000 years BC.

These words, from the first thirteen verses of Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes, were read at a funeral I recently attended. As with all funerals taking place at this time, it was ‘socially distanced’. Nine of us were scattered around a crematorium chapel that normally would have accommodated over one hundred people. Although I knew the words from this passage, they rang more clearly than ever before as I sat alone. When Pete Seeger wrote his song he was mindful of the huge problems facing the world over 60 years ago. In a 2006 interview about the song he said, “This world has to stick together”. It was the only way he saw it as surviving. But as I heard the words they seemed to have been written for this very moment we are living through.

We cannot turn our backs on the opening line, “A time to be born, and a time to die”. This has for ever been the case but it is thrown into harsher perspective as we read the statistics on worldwide deaths from COVID-19. And many of those deaths could be seen as out of time. But in the middle of this rampant pandemic, new life is happening. Children are being born. So that takes us to Verse 4 – “ a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”.

The fifth verse hit home with its immediacy – “A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing”. It could have been a line from a 2020 Government paper advising us on limiting the spread of this virus. We are withholding from embracing so many people that we long to hug. In doing so we have come to realise just how frequently we did – without thinking. We truly have to “withhold” ourselves and look forward to when it is “a time to embrace” and we can enjoy that warmth of human contact.

Verse 7 admonishes that there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak”. Our all-pervasive media often magnifies the voices of those who speak words of hatred or anger. Twitter, at its worst, has become a platform for shouting but during the 2006 interview, Pete Seeger made the comment: “We have to lower our voice. How can we say what needs to be said …  without making ‘them’ so angry they will walk out?”

This centuries-old passage of poetry remains wisdom for our time. It acknowledges the faulty wisdom that leads to hate, war, killing, weeping and mourning but juxtaposes each of these against the more hopeful evidence of birth, healing, laughter, love and peace. To this Pete Seeger added the simple words of the chorus: “Turn! turn! turn!” It demonstrates a message of hope; that as the seasons turn, so our world will turn to better times. This time – this season – is outlined in the last book of the Bible. In Revelation the ‘time to weep’ is over when we are told: “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes … the former things are passed away.”[1]

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an editor at Because

[1] Revelation 21:4
Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

Good news that lasts

July 3, 2020

Have you noticed how the news channels and newspapers get fixated on one topic at the expense of everything else that is going on in the world? Over the past year we’ve heard about nothing but Brexit, then everything centred on Harry and Megan ending their royal duties and fleeing to Canada, followed by weeks concentrating on the General Election and for the last few months everything has been about COVID-19. To hit the headlines most of the news presented has been negative in one form or another. Now Brexit, Harry and Megan and the General Election have become today’s ‘fish and chip paper’ and in time so will Coronavirus. The news will then be preoccupied with something else.

There is one piece of news though that has been around for 2,000 years and hasn’t become today’s ‘fish and chip paper.’ This news is just as relevant today as it was then. It’s the good news that Jesus Christ died – forgiving humanities wrong-doing and rose from the dead so we can all live with God forever.

No wonder the Bible tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:2). If you haven’t read this news why not take a look for yourself?

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

System overload

June 19, 2020

You may have seen in the news this week that the web giant Amazon fended off one of the largest cyber attacks in history. The attack in question was a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack and it works by flooding a website with a huge number of requests so that the system becomes overloaded and ceases to function.

As I was reading this story, I was struck that sometimes all the news and social media we are exposed to can have a similar affect on us. Life can seem like a continual bombardment of conflicting information that can leave us confused, anxious and even paralysed with self-doubt.

When you are experiencing your own DDoS attack, perhaps you will find comfort, as I do, in these words taken from the Bible: “God is good, a hiding place in tough times. He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help” (Nahum 1:7, MSG).

If your digital life has left you feeling overwhelmed, perhaps it is time to turn to God.

Gavin Henderson info@because.uk.com

Born again Earth

May 25, 2020

 

Some have called it a ‘new dawn’, one writer even used the phrase a ‘born again world’. As we emerge from the great pause, a slow realisation is sweeping the world that things will never be the same again. But what does this born again Earth look like? Are things about to change for good?

Things really have changed, haven’t they? We now know our neighbours. Queuing is part of our daily experience (and us Brits do it so well). Our elderly can now Zoom where they have never zoomed before. We’ve discovered TikTok’s not some new sweet, rather a video-sharing platform that is feeding the nation with bitesize humour. I’ve even joined what seems to be the rest of the nation in getting on my bike.

But some think bigger changes are ahead for the Earth.

The born again phrase comes from a national newspaper published yesterday where the writer forecast that the world is on the verge of another Age of Revolution. A post-pandemic agenda that will address our problems of poverty and the environment, rekindling a “transformative vision of humankind working in concert to defeat common evils”. I like it, but will we get it?

Before the Covid-crisis, we had a steady stream of enviro-mania – David Attenborough even gave the Earth a countdown of 20 years and then times up. From Gretna at Davos to President Trump pulling out of the Paris Accord, such a focus on the environmental conditions of the Earth – and now the great pause – has meant a re-emergence of the idea of Earth as our nurturer which, in turn, needs to be nurtured. And the conditions of Earth suggested we really did need this pause and now a rebirth.

Thinking of Earth as living – mother-like – has become an implicit part of the environmental narrative and global collective consciousness. Mother Earth has been front and centre in our global and individual decision-making (I now really do reuse my supermarket bags). Many now believe that Earth is herself a living organism.

Ideas about a life-giving, mother-like earth are littered throughout the ages in literature. Even in the New Testament of the Bible we get a curious, enigmatic statement that has echoes of the born again prophecies of today’s news pundits that hint at a reborn Earth.

It describes a remarkable truism “that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time”.[1] So what comes next? According to the Christian worldview “the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay”. This is a promise of a born again Earth that no longer fears pandemics or pollution but a better world full of better things, and no death.

The world will change post-pandemic. We will have to see how. But whatever the change, the Christian worldview offers the hope of a truly born again Earth. One that works for all, works for the environment and sustains all life in peace and harmony. A real change for good.

If you would like to find out more about this world, reach out at the following email – I’d be happy to share more thoughts.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Romans 8:22 (NIVUK)

Share your smile

May 20, 2020

On one of my brief forays out of the house to get some food, I was rushing around the local Tesco Express to get what I needed as quickly as possible so I could get in and out without meeting too many people in the aisles. This coronavirus makes you do some strange things. All was going well until at the self-checkout I heard the mechanical voice say, ‘unexpected item in the bagging area – assistance required,’ and over came the checkout assistant to sort me out. As I stepped back the required two metres, he smiled at me and automatically I just smiled back.

When I got home and thought about that little episode it reminded me of a poem attributed to Spike Milligan called Infectious Smiles:

Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too.

I passed around the corner
and someone saw my grin.
When he smiled I realized
I’d passed it on to him.

I thought about that smile,
then I realized its worth.
A single smile, just like mine
could travel round the earth.

So, if you feel a smile begin,
don’t leave it undetected.
Let’s start an epidemic quick,
and get the world infected!

In a world where the COVID-19 pandemic is infecting the world, it’s a timely image to imagine starting a smiling epidemic that would get the world infected. Perhaps this was on the mind of Robertino Rodriguez, a respiratory therapist from San Diego. He recognised that for those COVID-19 sufferers who are taken into hospital it can be a scary experience, especially as family or friends cannot accompany them. The situation is made worse when the only people the patient sees are the medical team and they are covered from head-to-toe in protective gear that conceals most of their faces. And so, Robertino did something different and quite extraordinary. He said, ‘I felt bad for my patients in ER when I would come in the room with my face covered in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) [because] a reassuring smile makes a big difference to a scared patient. So…I made a giant laminated badge for my PPE so my patients can see a reassuring and comforting smile.’ Robertino attached a photo of himself wearing a suit and tie and a beaming smile to his PPE to remind his patients that there is a compassionate human being under all that gear. He went on to say, ‘One thing health care workers do to make our patients feel at ease is to reassure them with our smiles but now that we have to wear masks, we are unable to do this…A smile goes a long way in comforting a scared patient ― bringing some brightness in these dark times’. Robertino’s Instagram post went viral, and soon after other doctors and nurses were attaching pictures of themselves smiling on their hospital garb, in a movement he calls ‘share your smile.’ As the medical world was becoming infected by his smile, Robertino said, ‘People love seeing that you went that extra mile to show them that you care.’[1]

That phrase ‘go the extra mile’ comes from the lips of Jesus Christ in the ancient writings of the Bible,[2] and means making a special effort to go above and beyond what is required. Whether Robertino realised it or not, going above and beyond what was required of him as he shared his smile is showing Christian compassion at its best. It’s an example I intend to follow as I hope to infect the world with my smile.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] For Robertino Rodriguez’s story see https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/medical-workers-pics-smiling-covid-19-patients_l_5e8f725bc5b6b371812da523
[2] The Bible, Matthew chapter 5, verse 41.
Photo by Brittani Burns on Unsplash

Joyful longevity

April 17, 2020

Over 70? Tired of staying indoors?

Then Captain Tom Moore might have the answer for you! Determined to help out during the coronavirus crisis, he decided to raise funds for the National Health Service (NHS) by walking laps of his garden with the aid of a walking frame. Despite being 99, Tom set himself the goal of 100 laps before he turned 100 this last Thursday. At the time of writing, he has raised a staggering 18 million pounds.

An ancient psalm, recorded in the Bible, says “do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent”. The Bible is replete with stories of people who, through God, overcame the adversity of old age to accomplish amazing things.

While society might class you as being vulnerable, never forget that God classes you as being wonderful.

Gavin Henderson info@because.uk.com

Gavin is an editor at Because

 

 

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