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

 

Moments of…

August 10, 2020

“If you can help tonight, then there’s a number on screen. If you can’t then don’t worry about it, you’ve got enough going on.” That sentence has stood out in my mind ever since I first heard it, uttered by Peter Kay, on the BBC’s Big Night In. I didn’t watch it live, but caught the highlights later on. Aired in April, it now feels like an age ago. Who was to know at the time that the UK Lockdown still had months to go?

Peter Kay makes me laugh. Sometimes, he makes me laugh so hard that I think I’m going to pass out. But the one thought he has left lingering in my mind is the sentence I began with. The Big Night In was all about making money. As the Government matched donations from the public, they actually passed the £67 million mark. Wow! Of course, it was all for good causes, with a large chunk going to help those significantly affected by the Covid-19 situation. But Peter Kay’s message highlighted an awareness that not everyone could give. It had the ring of grace around it; a genuine acceptance of everyone watching, whatever our backgrounds, learning or achievements.

I am always pleasantly surprised by such moments of grace. I don’t know if Peter Kay considers himself a religious man, but such grace does feel as if something spiritual has just crept up from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. Forgive me if you think that it is unseasonably early to mention school nativity plays, but such grace pops up in our traditional Christmas story. Some shepherds are invited to meet the baby Jesus. We’re so used to the story that we don’t even blink at the idea. (Sounds like something that Peter Kay would invent! But I digress.) The shepherds had no gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh like later visitors. Compared to the wise men, they probably had little education or influence. The only qualification for them being there was that they happened to be in the neighbourhood. But they were invited into the story anyway; a moment of grace in the shepherds’ lives.

Moments of grace are rare; I can confidently say that because every such event I’m aware of has stood out as something unusual. They flow against the normal activity of life; I do not expect to wake up tomorrow and find any stories of grace among the news headlines. So how about it?

Let’s follow the philosophy of Peter Kay and keep open the door of grace for those who have “enough going on” right now. It is risky; we have no idea who might wander through that door. But if it is a true moment of grace, with that wonderful tap on the shoulder – well, I truly believe we won’t regret it.

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

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

Light in the darkness

June 4, 2020

‘I can’t breathe’ was not said by a Covid-19 patient urgently needing a ventilator but were the final words of George Floyd, a black man who died last week at the hands of a white policeman, sparking violent protests in the USA and demonstrations in the UK. There is no place for racism and the injustice it brings in its wake within our society.

Christian minister and civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King once said, ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ It’s a statement that reminded me of Christianity’s founder Jesus Christ who suffered excruciating pain and injustice when he was crucified on a Roman cross. The mechanism of death in crucifixion is asphyxiation, and as Jesus hung there struggling for breath, he uttered words of forgiveness for the humanity who was killing him.1 The ‘Light of the World’2 was driving out darkness, love was driving out hate. He included all human beings in that forgiveness because all lives matter to him.

If you have suffered the injustice of racism (or any other ism) why not check out the love, light, and inclusion Jesus Christ brings, and see just how much you matter to him.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

1The Bible, Luke chapter 23 verse 34
2The Bible, John chapter 8 verse 12

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

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

Chorus of consistency

May 18, 2020

Many things have changed in the past couple of months. Less traffic, slower download speeds, queuing at shops, and out of control hair! But there’s one thing I’ve noticed that has stayed consistent: the singing of birds. And I’m sure they’ve turned the volume up! Such has been their impact national news – presumably to spice up their monosyllabic feed of misery – has recorded our feathery friend’s symphony of sound in Shrewsbury.

Maybe with less traffic noise, human chatter, and school playgrounds muted, birds have reclaimed the airwaves. And I’m not complaining. There’s something tranquil, even mesmerising, about the playful tune of birds such as the nightingale, robin, or song thrush to name a few. Even as I write this blog, I can hear the twitter of birds outside my window and the sound takes me back into my school classroom years ago.

A classroom that still used chalk, and where we were studying the poetry of the romantic poet, John Keats, and specifically his Ode to a Nightingale. Keats’ mastery of language and metaphor meant this poem expressed the joy – nay, bliss – of this most vocal of birds. I’ve just read it again and there’s something pertinent about its message for us today.

The poem focuses on a man standing in a forest listening to the beautiful song of the nightingale. This provokes a deep mediation where he longs to forget “the weariness, the fever, and the fret” of human suffering and our eventual death (something we are all too aware of in this pandemic). But the nightingale seems immortal because of its consistently sung song across the ages, “Perhaps the self-same song that found a path through the sad heart of Ruth”. Ruth? Who’s she?

This enigmatic reference to a Ruth is thrown into the poem but the irony need not be lost on us when we find her story, written in the Bible, is one that resembles the kind of consistency of the nightingale’s chorus. Ruth, too, is a story of consistency.

A woman named Naomi had been widowed whilst living in a foreign land. Ruth had married one of her sons who also died making her a widow too. When Naomi decided to return to her homeland, Ruth in a remarkable act of loyalty, went with her vulnerable mother-in-law even though Ruth would now be the one living in a foreign land. “Where you will go, I will go” is Ruth’s chorus of consistency to Naomi (you can read or listen to the story here).

This display of loyalty – albeit extreme – seems to be missing in our very transient, easy-come-easy-go world. But I wonder whether in, and after, this crisis we need to find our own chorus of consistency and loyalty with the vulnerable we know.

After COVID-19 the grieving will not be gone. And not all grieving is obvious. There will be those who have lost someone to the virus. But not all loss is visible. Others will have lost jobs, some would’ve lost connection with friends, and, as I read this morning, some even have lost counselling sessions for their mental illness. I wonder whether these people will need a friend like Ruth? Someone who will say to them, ‘I’m here for you’.

Maybe we can be that loyal friend, that chorus of consistency, in the life of another who has lost something.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

When will it end?

May 8, 2020

When will the lockdown end? The question is trending on Google in many parts of the world, with search enquiries rising more than 4,000% in the last two days.

It’s hardly surprising; here in the UK we’ve been cooped up like chickens for almost 7 weeks and many people are missing the everyday things we used to take for granted. Some of these items might surprise you, like “Paying for overpriced coffee” “Going to the gym” or “Sitting in rush hour traffic”. Others, like “walking by the river”, “popping out to the pub” or “Nandos” less so.

Me? I miss my church. I miss it terribly. Thankfully, we have a twice weekly live-streamed service, which I am very grateful for. But church is more than that. I miss the people, I miss the hugs and conversation over a cup of tea. And, I’ll admit it, I miss the cakes. But most of all, I miss the feeling of entering into the presence of something so much bigger and more important than myself.

If you have ever encountered the living Jesus Christ, you will understand what I am saying. If not, and you would like to, I would be happy to talk to you about it.

Peter Mill info@because.uk.com

Peter is editor-in-chief at Because

Is this the End of the World as I know it?

May 6, 2020

My mum’s question caught me off guard: “Will the end of the world be like this?” It was one week before the UK lockdown due to Covid-19, though we didn’t know that then. Social distancing had just begun, with everyone at risk being advised to self-isolate. We were walking down a beach on the east coast of England and we hardly saw anyone. Of the people we did see, all passed us with a gap of at least 2 metres between them and us.

The end of the world. I admit I’d never pictured it possibly ending like this. Where were the hordes of rampaging zombies? There were no ‘death stars’, anti-matter bombs, aliens or dinosaurs in view. Neither had any superheroes arrived, whether in the shape of Wonder Woman, Luke Skywalker, or even Arnold Swarzenegger. All of my life, I have been fed a diet that the end of the world will be a loud, heart-thumping unmissable event. Not a slow decay into distance and isolation.

For many years, cosmologists used to wonder whether the universe could end in a ‘Big Crunch,’ in which the expanding universe would eventually bounce back on itself and collapse back into an infinitesimal ‘singularity.’ Everything would be turned back into pure energy. Now that is a Hollywood way of ending the universe. Unfortunately, since the discovery of an elusive force called Dark Energy, most physicists now think the universe will die in a ‘Big Freeze’. Everything will get further and further apart, with the universe progressively getting darker and colder. A slow, unexciting and perhaps even tedious end.

Some excitable religious types believe that God will step in before the Big Freeze, opening up a different possibility for the Hollywood style ending. There will be a big showdown on this planet, with all opposed to God being wiped out. The Christian version of this has often appeared in popular media, but other religions also have proponents of this view. But I have often pondered: if Christians continually remind us that God is intrinsically graceful, is this really how he wants to end all things? Or is this how certain excitable human beings want it to end?

If I have a vote on the matter, then I would prefer the Hollywood ending rather than the tedious and shockingly boring alternative. In his comic masterpiece, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams has the Earth suddenly destroyed by some bureaucratic aliens, in order to build a new galactic highway. I’d even vote for that over an increasingly cold and lonely existence.

Even though I find it more attractive, I don’t think the end of the world will play out like some Hollywood blockbuster. Personally, I draw spiritual strength from the life of Jesus – and his story prompts a hope of something better. In the four different written down versions of Jesus’ life, we discover that it ends badly. The ruling authorities feel threatened by Jesus’ message and put a swift end to it – literally. He ends up being crucified by the Romans. Yet, the story doesn’t end there. Jesus is seen again – alive – giving his disciples instructions to tell the world that grace and forgiveness are the only way forward.  I didn’t see that one coming and nor, does it seem, did anyone else. It appears that God doesn’t play by our rules.

So where does that leave me? Clinging to hope. Whatever the end will be, I’m sure it will catch us all out. But I hope that it will be far better than what we can imagine, for God doesn’t play by our rules. All I can knowledgeably say about the end of the world is that it clearly didn’t happen today! My hope leaves me with a solid resolve: try to focus on today, for that’s where I have influence. Let God take care of the end of the world. After all, I’m sure God will do a far better job than any Hollywood director.

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

Photo by Tedward Quinn on Unsplash

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