Non-stop shielding

August 3, 2020

Shielding has just ended for over two-million people in the UK. If you’re one of them, you may be relieved at the prospect of normality returning. Or you might be feeling vulnerable.

Shielding during this pandemic has been about protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. There’s even something reassuring about the word itself. A shield keeps us safe from danger. Metaphorically, we all need a shield.

Last week’s Islamic celebration of Eid al-Adha (meaning “Festival of Sacrifice”) reminded me of another kind of shield. The festival is a celebration of a peculiar, if not painful, event in the life of the spiritual father of the three major world religions, Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All three look to the patriarch Abraham as a great man of faith. But even he had to be shielded.

One of the most well-known encounters Abraham is said to have had with God is in a vision where God tells him “I am your shield”.[1] Interesting shield! But what would it be like if God was our shield?

Maybe we grew up in one of the above religions but drifted from the faith in direct proportion to how many times God didn’t come to our rescue when we really needed him. If God was a shield, then why did faith feel like no shield from the worst of times. I’ve felt that, too. And ironically, so did Abraham.

The Festival of Sacrifice[2] is a celebration of a story about Abraham’s most heart-wrenching moment. Abraham had two sons – Ishmael and Isaac. He loved both of them dearly but Isaac was the one son born by his, until then, barren wife – they had waited 25 years for this. So Abraham saw Isaac’s birth as a miracle. But then God requested something unreasonably drastic. God asked Abraham to take Isaac’s life! For any modern reader, this story sounds barbaric. So when I think about the story, I ask myself, how was God being a shield in all this?

I guess I’ve come to see divine shielding a little differently now in my 4th decade on this earth. I once thought if you believed in God, he would protect you from anything going wrong. How the Abraham story ends has taught me to see divine shielding in a more grown-up way.

When Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God told him to stop. Phew, that could have been messy! But jokes aside, God gave Abraham a way out from the test. God provided a ram to sacrifice instead. And for me that’s the point of the story. It’s not a story that tells us God shielding stops bad things happening. It’s a story that tells us that God’s shielding will help provide a way out, a way to cope. That’s why Abraham names the very location, “The-Lord-Will-Provide.[3]

God’s shield protects us in pain, not from pain. Shielding that is never taken away.

[1] The Bible, Genesis 15:1
[2] The Islamic version of the story has Ishmael as the son who God asked to be sacrificed, whereas the Judeo-Christian version, Isaac is the son to be sacrificed.
[3] The Bible, Genesis 15:14

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

The Real Story

June 26, 2020

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

Reach Out

May 22, 2020

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, and taking care of ourselves and each other has never been more important. As new words have entered our vocabulary like ‘Covid-19,’ ‘lockdown,’ and ‘social-distancing,’ we are missing family, friends, and colleagues. The disruption to our daily lives and the uncertainty about the future raises anxiety and can be detrimental to our mental well-being. That’s why the theme of this week has been about kindness and looking out for each other.

In a recorded message to launch this week, the Duke of Cambridge said, “We’re all connected. And sometimes just talking about how you’re feeling can make a big difference. So right now, let’s join together across the UK and reach out to someone.”

In a week where the awareness of mental health issues is being highlighted why not take time to see if there is someone in your life that you could reach out to and provide some encouragement. Conversely, if you are feeling overwhelmed by this pandemic, talking about your feelings to someone you trust can help to relieve the tension.

It is a mark of the Christian community to be there for one another – reaching out can make a big difference, all it takes is the first step.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

“I will never lie!”

May 4, 2020

Who would want the job of White House Press Secretary?

It is in a small theatre in the West Wing of the White House where the press secretary gets grilled. Where temperatures rise, and where a lot of the recently heated exchanges between the press and President have taken place.

There is nowhere to hide from the precisely formed press questions. Such pressure can tempt the press secretary to drop the odd half-truth or plain lie. And in a world of nuance and linguistic interpretation, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. The fact that last week we got our first press briefing in 459 days suggests there haven’t been many volunteers for the job.

The treatment of previous press secretaries by the media and comedians makes it a poisoned chalice!

So, naturally, seeing who decided to inherit the role caught my attention. At her first press conference, the new secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, made a pretty big commitment. “I will never lie to you, you have my word”, after being asked by the press to pledge honesty (because in a world of misinformation, truth has never been so under attack).

The cynic in me awaits to see her nose grow longer. But I also want to believe her; I want her to follow through on this commitment. A commitment that may have something to do with what was around her neck.

If you looked closely (and I did) there was a small, discrete cross on her necklace. In America more so than anywhere I know, this is a cultural symbol of Christianity. I’m guessing her value system holds space for that command of God that says, “You shall not give false testimony”.[i] In other words, don’t be a Pinocchio!

But if you’re not religious, does lying matter? I once heard something that changed my perspective on this. That made me realise making an effort to not lie should not just be a religious obligation, but a very healthy personal obligation.

Why so? Because lying makes you weak! If you betray yourself, if you say untrue things, you weaken your character.

I remember hearing this doctrine from a well-known intellectual. Suddenly it had a very personal benefit. No longer was truth-telling something we do for a distant, transcendental being, but for ourselves – our well-being. Because “lies warp the structure of Being”.[ii]

Truth-telling has been a long-known antidote to many human problems. Great thinkers like Victor Frankl, Sigmund Freud, Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Carl Rogers in their clinical work came to see that being truthful was central to healing and self-redemption. Even Jim Carey found the glorious benefit of truth in the 1997 comedy film ‘Liar, liar’. “And the truth shall set you free”, he shouts in the courtroom. Discovering the truth meant justice in his case.

If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything, said Mark Twain. He’s right. Truth-telling will help Kayleigh McEnany with this brave pledge. How about this week we join her in that pledge?

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[i] The Bible, Exodus 20:16 (NIVUK)
[ii] 12 Rules for Life: an antidote to chaos by Jordan B. Peterson. Published 2018, page 215.

Virtual Church

March 23, 2020

What are your thoughts about going to church? Maybe you went as a child but got bored or disillusioned with this faith stuff. Maybe you believe in a higher-being but wouldn’t darken the door of a church. Whatever your relationship with the spiritual, maybe like me, this pandemic has made you think about the deeper, more existential things of life.

And now we’re all going to have more time on our hands and at home, is this a chance for us to explore those thoughts and questions about life and faith again? If so, there’s a church out there that isn’t closing its doors.

I have a virtual reality headset. If you have one you will know the fun you can have from the comfort of your own living room. Exploring virtual worlds has never been easier. Worlds and events that are untouched by the coronavirus! Yes, doors to these virtual events remain open even in the middle of a pandemic.

Now I will be spending more time indoors, I’m reminded of a suggestion my friend gave me (a friend who I meet in virtual reality around a campfire!). Recently, he suggested I check out a virtual church he found on a VR platform called Altspace. This church even got a review from the BBC yesterday. So now I’m social-distancing, I’ve decided to check it out.

Maybe it won’t be for me or for you. But I can see the advantage of this way of meeting, especially if you are suspicious of churches or unsure about where you stand with faith, in general, or Christianity, specifically. When you step into this world, you are an avatar which takes away any social awkwardness. Then you are free to listen to the message, talk to those attending the same event, and then log-out anytime you want – you’re in control.

You can find guidelines of how to visit this ‘church’ here. If you don’t own a headset, then you can still join in – guidelines to see Altspace events on your PC can be found here.

If you check it out and have questions about faith and God and you want to speak to someone, then we’d be happy to hear from you at the below email address.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Photo by Frank Vessia on Unsplash

The enemy within

March 13, 2020

Xenophobia, literally the fear of strangers or foreigners, is alive and kicking; in fact it has recently gone viral. Thanks to the Coronavirus.

In the last few days, I have heard or read statements along the following lines in the media:

“The COVID-19 epidemic is all the fault of those bat-eating communists”. “True to form, the Iranian government are lying about the number of cases to suit their own nefarious purposes”. And, “Those ghastly Italians with their slobbery kisses are superspreaders of the disease”.

There have been reports of Australian parents refusing to let Asian doctors treat their children. While the British-born Chinese comedian Ken Cheng recently observed, “Less than 0.001% of Chinese people have coronavirus, yet more than 99.999% have experienced coronaracism”.

Many spiritual leaders have pointed out that xenophobia, racism, bigotry  – whatever you call them – are not really external problems; they stem from within us. Perhaps that is why the founder of Christianity, Jesus, famously declared, ““In everything you do, be careful to treat others in the same way you’d want them to treat you, for that is the essence of all the teachings”.1

Following his advice could change the world. But the biggest beneficiary of all will be yourself.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is editor-in-chief at Because

1The Bible: Matthew 7:12 (TPT)

 

Out of this world

September 13, 2019

Stop the world, I want to get off!

What with all the political shenanigans here in the UK and Europe, and with the general parlous state of the world, I’ve felt often like that in the past few weeks.

And now there appears to be somewhere I could go to. It’s called K2-18b, and, according to scientists, it may be able to support life. And it’s only 110 light years away, meaning it’d take a million or so years to get to.

It’s been argued that, if life is found outside our blue jewel of a planet, then Christianity becomes irrelevant because it’s only about God and human beings. Wrong, actually! The Bible explains that Jesus came and will come again to restore and reconcile all things, not just humanity. Even those dead places where life is unlikely or where life might exist but not as we know it.

A renewed universe, wouldn’t that be great? Then maybe we could stop the world to go explore somewhere new and exciting.

Fancy a trip to K2-18b?

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

 

Authentic bravery

June 28, 2019

Should Boris Johnson appear in TV debates to discuss his leadership credentials? Should he answer questions about his private life? Does the public care? Do Conservative Party members, who will select the next party leader and Prime Minister, care? Maybe Boris feels to do so would make him vulnerable to attack with no mercy shown by press and public alike? As a result his rival in the leadership campaign, Jeremy Hunt, has called Boris a coward for not addressing these issues.

Certainly it calls into question whether our leaders can be one thing in public and another in their private lives. A Christian is not afforded that luxury. To be one thing at home where no-one or only our family sees, and then put on the mask of respectability in public is rightly viewed as hypocritical, and hypocrisy is often quoted as a reason why people have a negative view of Christians and are reluctant to come to church.  

As a Christian I try to live out my Christianity in both the public arena and in my private space, but I recognise that I do so imperfectly, just ask my wife. But there is bravery and authenticity about a Christian acknowledging their failings and that they have no grounds to look down on anybody. Yes, it makes us vulnerable to admit our mistakes, but the Christian message is that with God there is no attack or condemnation, only grace. Now that’s something to care enough about to investigate.

Kind regards,

Barry Robinson  

barry.robinson@gracecom.church

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-48744493

 

Back from the Dead

June 14, 2019

One news headline that grabbed my attention this week was ‘The snail that came back from the dead’. On further investigation, It turned out to be fake news – this wasn’t a tale of mollusc resurrection at all. It was the story of a rare species, the Bermuda land snail, that was thought to have gone extinct 40 years ago, but has now been found still alive and is being rescued from the brink of extinction by a successful breeding programme carried out by Chester Zoo.

The Bermuda land snail is one of a number of ‘Lazarus species’, named after the bible story where Jesus brought his dead friend Lazarus back to life. Later, after his own brutal death by crucifixion, the bible tells us Jesus himself was raised from the dead, this time to eternal life. Is this just a myth, as some say, or is resurrection for real, as millions of Christians believe? And if so, what does that mean for all of us?

Jesus answers those questions with a profound statement, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even if they die”.1

That could possibly be the boldest claim anyone has ever made. Is it worth looking into? You can bet your life on it.

All the very best

Peter Mill

  1. John 11:25 (NIRV)

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