Faithful

September 25, 2020

 

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve been advised by health ministers to limit sex to well established relationships. In other words, not to sleep around and not to have multiple partners.

It’s for practical reasons, of course, and not a question of returning to old-fashioned Christian morality. It’s about stopping the spread of the virus, not about the virtues of faithfulness and of the sanctity of marriage. 

But is it the cart before the horse?

Call me old-fashioned but maybe, if we had followed the original advice of Jesus and his followers, we’d be in a better place right now. Loving faithfulness is good, and, if we put that as a first principle in relationships, there’d be less transmission of communicable diseases and more harmony in society.

Let’s be faithful.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

What are you passing on?

September 14, 2020

Infections of Coronavirus are on the increase in the UK. The R number is now at 1.2 meaning infections are on the rise. But I didn’t need a number to tell me that, a few days ago I got a Track and Trace call. Not the call you ever want.

The school I work in called to tell me that I’d been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus. When you get a call like that, it creates a strange feeling of uncertainty. A feeling that things are about to change for the next 14 days.

After booking a test, I started to replay every moment of interaction I’d had with the person who tested positive. I had walked and talked with them for some hours. Unnervingly, I suspected I might now have the virus too. And it made me think. In a time like this, we are confronted with the realisation of how easy it is to pass something on to someone.  The very nature of existence is defined by interactions with others. But this virus brings an awareness that interactions are not always neutral. In the case of COVID-19, interactions can leave us worse off.

Maybe it was irony that at around the same time, I happen to watch an ad on Facebook with a similar theme. This ad stopped my thumb from swiping to move further down my feed. It was too dramatic to pass by without a little more of my attention. It was a filmed scene. A man with a group of friends. But they were not the focal point of the scene. A lady’s shriek indicated that there was something to be afraid of. An unkempt, dirty man in rags approached…”it’s a leper,” said one of the men. I knew enough about leprosy to know why you stay back. It’s highly infectious and if you get it, it causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage. It’s a life destroyer. Another of the friends shouted, “cover your mouth,” now where have I heard that before?

But as the leper approached, one man did not cover his mouth or move away. Instead, he moved towards the leper. By now, memories from my childhood told me that I was familiar with this story. It was to become clearer as this uninhibited man walked towards the leper, his friends protesting not to touch him. Maybe the story is starting to sound familiar to you too?

I remembered enough to know what was about to happen. The leper was touched by this man. But instead of the infection being passed on, there was a reverse infection. Something in the man was passed to the leper, healing him of his leprosy. This was an ad for the first multi-season series about the life of Jesus, called The Chosen. Season one was the highest crowd-funded TV series. Here’s the powerful scene. You can check out the series on the App Store or Google Play.

This story reminded me of how fascinated I was with this man Jesus in my childhood. Maybe the story intrigued you too. Wherever you stand with Jesus, I wonder if there’s not something we can still take from it? For me, it reminds me that our interactions are not neutral. When we leave people after meeting them, we leave them either better or worse off. Our being and energy can be infectious for good or bad.

So what are we passing on?

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

 

What’s this “moral” stuff?

August 26, 2020

The UK’s Prime Minister has said that it’s the “moral” duty of parents to send their children to school. The context is, of course, the Coronavirus crisis, and the thought is that, if we follow the science, then it’s safe for children to go back to the classroom.

“Moral” is an interesting choice of words, especially when it comes from the mouth of politicians, some of whom have demonstrated a questionable morality in their public and private lives. It implies a sense of right and wrong, and that parents should be held responsible for the choice they make. In a society that pays little attention to traditional concepts of morality, such as lying, cheating and infidelity, is it now up to the government to determine what our moral duties might be?

Fascinatingly and, perhaps, surprisingly, the Christian Bible does not mention the word “morality” in most of its translations. Not even the word “ethics” is used in the sense we understand it today. Morality implies a recognised and recognisable distinction between right and wrong options, between good and bad behaviour. Thus, from the viewpoint of many who do not accept the idea of God or of a higher spiritual power, it’s a moveable feast, a culturally variable set of values that have relevance only in the communities that promote them.

What if, however, we had it all wrong? What if there is a God who defines right and wrong conduct, and who knows what is the best pattern of behaviour for us? That is the Christian view. Even though “morality” is not a word found in in its pages, the Bible is full of moral instruction and advice, the most memorable of which is that our actions should illustrate that we love and care for one another. And this love is not a duty. It’s expressing the very character of God who gave humanity the gift of love.

Perhaps, instead of saying “moral” duty the government should have said that, given all the available data, they think it’s the best idea to send children back to school. I don’t know. I’m not a politician (thankfully). Maybe “best idea” sounds too weak.

But both you and I do have moral responsibilities, and they begin with loving one another.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

 

Listening for the quiet voice

August 19, 2020

The death of anybody as a result of suicide is a tragedy, not just for the person, but also for their family, their friends and society as a whole.  Suicide doesn’t discriminate and we see that on an increasingly regular basis when celebrities or those in the public eye are victims.

In my job I come into regular contact with people who are thinking about, have tried, or are in the process of trying to commit suicide.  I try and talk them out of harming themselves and find out what led them to the point where they do not want to keep living.  There isn’t always an obvious reason why people take their own life, but what I hear from loved ones in almost every case is that nobody expected it to be them.  It comes as a shock to everyone around the person, and sometimes to the person themselves.

I recently read in a national newspaper of the heart-breaking story of Dennis Ward, who took his own life.  He was 82 years old.  He was a father, a grandfather and was described as the life and soul of the party.  His family were understandably distressed at losing him and pointed out the effect that the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic is having on us all; but in particular those in society who are vulnerable and perhaps not having the contact with others that they had before.

Often when such tragedies occur, those left behind can feel guilty about missing something that would have showed them how a person was feeling.   Had they said something that, looking back, didn’t seem right?  Were they not doing the things that they usually did?  With current circumstances, that can be very hard to notice.  Given that we have all been removed from our routines for over two months, and with little chance of a return to ‘normal’ in the near future, it’s almost impossible.

If I think about the people that I care for, I know that there is a definite separation from them compared to what I am used to.  How much did they (or I) rely on those chats and visits without actually realising it?  We all want to play our part in trying to halt the Coronavirus spreading.  Nobody wants to be a burden to others and we all want to be strong for those around us and the country as a whole.  But some of us aren’t that strong.  We aren’t weak though – our coping mechanisms are just rooted in being with other people and being part of wider society, even if that’s as simple as a trip to the newsagents or stopping for a chat when we’re walking our dog.

It is, as my granny used to say, “the way it is these days”. Life is different for all of us, no matter if it’s school, work, family, or whatever else usually gets our attention.  It’s easy to get focused on our own issues; and as we do that other people can blend into the background a bit.  I know that I sometimes forget to reply to emails, texts or missed calls if I don’t do it there and then.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m avoiding someone, it’s just that I can become so involved with my to-do list that I forget for a while that everyone else is in the same boat.  Talking to me might be what someone else needs though.

Have you ever considered what life would be like if we thought as much about the feelings and situations of others as we do of our own?  Almost all of the major religions in the world have this, or something similar, as a spiritual idea that we should pursue.  Whether it be Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism, Humanism or any other belief, this central theme is constant.  One faith however takes this further.  Within Christianity, ‘Love one another” is something that Jesus asks us to do.   Wouldn’t it be great if we all did that?  Remembering that other people have lives and feelings and taking a bit of time to think about that is a good start.  Then we would remember to answer those texts and emails, and be more understanding in our day to day lives.

Sometimes, what others need is for us to listen and try to understand.  Sometimes, they just need to know that someone cares.

Paul Woods info@because.uk.com

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator 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

Lockdown take two

June 29, 2020

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

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

The new normal

June 24, 2020

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

Choose life

June 12, 2020

‘Choose life’ is a catchphrase that has become strongly associated with Danny Boyle’s 1996 movie Trainspotting, but its origins pre-date the film by a considerable margin.

They are the words of a man called Moses speaking to a nation newly rescued from 400 years of slavery and oppression. “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…Now choose life”.1

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that, as we begin to emerge from potentially the worst global crisis in modern times, we are facing some equally weighty choices. But it’s fair to say also that this pandemic presents us with unprecedented opportunities. To replace prejudice and hatred with tolerance and respect. To reappraise the impact of humanity on the environment. To plan and prepare better for future disasters. To hold onto the good things we have experienced in the midst of the bad.

In an interview on Sky TV this week, the economist Professor Stephanie Kelton said, “We are facing a choice…the new normal could be awful. It could be a decade of double-digit unemployment, poverty and social unrest…or it could be a beautiful world, where we come together to safeguard communities, battle climate change and redress long-standing inequities in our economy”.

The coronavirus pandemic is an event that will be remembered by our children and the story retold to our grandchildren. Let’s hope they won’t be asking us why, when we had the opportunity, we didn’t choose life.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is editor-in-chief at Because

1The Bible – Deuteronomy 30:15, 9b
Photo by Steve Harris Unsplash

“Words without thoughts never to heaven go”

June 10, 2020

We have words – to speak, to write, to read, to listen to.

We have an enormous number of them. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, in 2019 we had 171,476 of them that we could use to communicate and express ourselves. Words are not the only way we communicate, but words are the big one.

On my fridge I have a few hundred magnetic words – ‘fridge poetry’. Maybe you have fridge poetry too.  Built-in fridges are no good for fridge poetry – and neither are under-the-counter fridges. Who wants to grovel on the floor to create their literary masterpieces? My fridge poetry includes a set of Shakespearian words and some of these words are ones we would not feel comfortable using today; words like ‘vouchsafe’, ‘naught’ and ‘codpiece’.

Language changes. Words are discarded and new words are created and adopted. Samuel Johnson would have been bemused by some of the entries in today’s dictionaries such as ‘motherboard’, ‘selfie’ or ‘feminism’. The English language has historically borrowed from other languages to add to the collection we have. With this many words at our disposal, we should be able to perfectly express ourselves. Surely we should be able to communicate every subtlety in our thoughts. Research suggests that the average person uses up to 7000 words in a day and has access to 20,000 words. And yet words so often seem to be an imperfect vehicle with which to express ourselves. The meaning that we want to share with others seems to slip between those words.

And who are the people we want to share our thoughts with? There are our families – both adults and children; our work colleagues; people we might share a train, bus or plane journey with; our friends; a medical professional. We choose the language we use depending on the audience and we are quite good at moving from one type of language to another, selecting different vocabularies and even using different pronunciation. But in all of these examples, we often feel that what we have actually said has not reflected exactly what was in our minds.

During the present coronavirus crisis – and other major crises throughout history – many people have shared their thoughts, their fears, their hopes and their helplessness with someone they perhaps hadn’t thought much about before – the God who claims to be their Creator. And in so doing, maybe the words were hard to find. Maybe it was difficult to choose the right words to truly share what they wanted to say. But there is evidence that points to over 3 million people attempting to do just that.2

If we really want to talk to God, not only will he listen, but he will also give us the words we need – even if we don’t think they sound holy enough. ‘Hello’ or ‘Listen to me God.’ or ‘Where are you God?’ are better prayers than no prayers at all. We are beginning a conversation.  All relationships begin with a few passing words, but the conversations get easier as more is shared. I find it is the same with prayer and, if I am finding it hard, sometimes a few words is all I can manage.

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an editor at Because

Headline quote from Hamlet by William Shakespeare
2 https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2020/1-may/news/uk/more-people-praying-during-lockdown-survey-suggests
Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Next Page »