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

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

Support bubble

June 15, 2020

Who can you be a support bubble for?

This weekend saw the next stage of the lockdown-lift with one new measure called a ‘support bubble’ for those who live alone in England and Northern Ireland. One household can now be a ‘bubble’ for another adult who lives alone to come over and even stay the night.

There’s something cosy, even warm, about this phrase. It reminds me that we have an innate need for human contact – we don’t do well otherwise. And the necessity of meaningful contact with others has also been highlighted by leading psychologists warning of the risk to the mental health of school children from being separated from friends. After all, we are a relational species at our core.

Last month, after living alone for nearly four years, I decided to move in with a good mate of mine. The collective resources meant many things are easier – shared chores and chess games on tap are some of the perks! And you don’t have to go far to find ancient wisdom advocating support bubbles.

One man who in his day was world-famous for his wisdom (and also not short of a wife or two), insightfully said, “Two are better than one…if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”[1] The ancient king Solomon knew the comfort of connection.

So this morning I woke up realising I could be someone’s bubble of comfort. So I shot off a text to a friend who lives alone.

Why not take some time to think about being a support bubble for someone you know? Who needs the cosiness and warmth of your household? Who could do with some face-to-face time?

But maybe you are the adult who lives alone and as yet you have no bubble, is there any bubble out there for you?

I don’t know if you are religious or not, but I believe there’s another kind of support bubble that is always open for us to climb into. The UK government hinted at it last week when they opened churches for individuals to pray. I’ve found prayer is like a spiritual bubble, a bubble you can step into, stepping out of the craziness of the world – and things are a little crazy right now. Although prayer looks like a solitary act, prayer to me is about stepping into connection – there’s someone else in the bubble with you. Someone ready to listen.

If you want to know more about the God who’s listening, then reach out – I’d love to hear from you.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Ecclesiastes 4:9-13

“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

Singing Good News

June 1, 2020

Have you seen any of the virtual choirs?

My Facebook feed has seen an increasing numbers of them. From the United States Navy Band singing One Voice to The Irish Blessing dedicated to frontline workers sung by 300 churches. Choirs have found a way around isolation to sing good news to us all and they’re good.

This weekend we get not just a virtual song but a virtual oratorio! Thousands of members of a worldwide choir will be joining voices to sing the well-known baroque-style Handel’s Messiah. It is set to be a feast of delectable sounds. Composed by George Frideric Handel in 1741, is structured in three parts. Messiah is a unique oratorio; it is not a drama of personalities, nor an encompassing narrative, instead it offers contemplation on different aspects of the Christian Messiah.

Scene 5 of the second part alludes to the Christian festival of Pentecost, a day celebrated just yesterday. It includes the enigmatic three-minute piece called How beautiful are the feet of Him. Now feet have never struck me as beautiful, in fact they are often described as one of the most undesirable parts of the human body. So why are these feet beautiful?

Sung at an andante pace in D minor, we get a rather simple set of repeated words, “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace…Glad tidings of good things”. What makes these feet beautiful is the good news they brought with them. Handel is referring to a message first spoken this past weekend some two millennia ago. So what was good about this message?

Known as the gospel of peace, it is a message about the peace that can be experienced personally today, and a peace that the preachers shared would one day be experienced universally. This good news is that there is a God who is for us, not against us. Who is intimately interested in our well-being and wants a good life for us. Who wants us to live into our potential; who will be there for us through the good times and the bad. A God who offers us a relationship through forgiveness and newness of life.

If you would like to find out more about this good news, then reach out; we would be happy to hear from you.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

The handwriting on the wall?

May 15, 2020

There seems to be an App for everything these days. By downloading one, we can play online games with family and friends, check our own health, identify plants and chart the stars. And now, hopefully, an App will help us beat the coronavirus.

Another App helps us decipher our own handwriting. Sometimes I’ve come across a scribbled note of my own from years ago and I can’t work out what I had written. But now, thanks to the wonders of technology, an App may help me work it out!

It brings to mind a painting by Rembrandt called Belshazzar’s Feast. It depicts a scene from the biblical book of Daniel. The king, Belshazzar, thinks that he has all the answers, but then the hand of God writes a mystery statement on the wall. What did it mean? The handwriting told the king that no, he doesn’t have all the answers at all: in fact, things were about to get worse.

Is there a parallel here for our society? We think we can sort everything out ourselves, but, actually, the writing on the wall is against us.

The message for Belshazzar was, whether things go well or go badly, turn to God.

You don’t need an App for that: just talk to him.

James Henderson 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.

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

 

 

A prophet without honour

April 8, 2020

Have you ever heard of William Edwards Deming? Probably not, but if you buy anything Japanese, he has impacted your life. Today, Japanese products are a byword for quality and a lot of that has to do with Deming.

Deming was an American business and management expert, who in the aftermath of the Second World War was told by corporate America to get lost! He was disliked and his advice rejected because he bluntly told American businessmen that poor quality products resulted mostly from their own failures, not from worker ineptness. You could say Deming was a ‘prophet without honour’, virtually ignored and unappreciated in the US until the 1980s.

In contrast, Deming went to Japan in 1950, the first of many visits, and the top business leaders came to his eight-day seminars. At the heart of Deming’s message was quality control, to “get it right first time”, not simply to have inspectors on the production line to pick up defects.

In the post war years Japan was a byword for low quality products designed to generate income from exports to earn money to feed the people and rebuild the country. But Deming’s approach suited Japanese culture where there was a more team-oriented attitude as compared to the aggressive individualism of American culture. Deming’s focus on getting it right first time made the person on the production line a key part of the process, they became a person that management and owners listened too. Their input was invited and welcomed because as the person doing the job, they could often see a better or more efficient way of doing things. This developed into what the Japanese called Kaizen, a policy of seeking continuous improvement in small but effective ways.

In June 1951, less than a year after Deming’s first lecture on quality control, the Japanese instituted the Deming prize for industrial achievement. It took 30 years for America to incorporate an equivalent award, established to encourage higher quality in American manufacturing.

By the 1950’s and 60’s Japan was not just listening to Deming, they were actively incorporating his ideas into the manufacturing process. One result was that by the 1970s Japanese motor bikes were such high quality that they virtually destroyed the UK motor bike manufacturers.

Today, whether it’s cars, cameras, consumer electronics or other products, the ‘made in Japan’ label equals quality. While Deming was not the only American expert who went to Japan in the 1950s, he was the first, most respected and most accomplished.

It took until 1981 before American manufacturers’ minds opened and Ford Motor Company hired Deming in a desperate attempt to stem their huge losses. Ford soon adopted the slogan, “Quality is job one”, and moved back into profitability. It had taken thirty years, but finally American business leaders began to listen. Just ten days before his death in December 1993, Deming gave his last seminar to America companies, finally willing to listen to his advice.

This whole story reminds me of another prophet without honour who also had a message about quality. A man rejected by people in power for his revolutionary ideas, yet years later his ideas quite literally turned the world upside down.

He was born and lived some 2000 years ago in the area we now call Israel. His name was Jesus Christ. So why do I say he was a prophet without honour? In his lifetime he was rejected by the religious leaders of the day and eventually executed by the Romans. Not all were ready to hear his message was about the need for a quality-checked life and a restored relationship with God.

At the end of his life he only had about 120 followers; you could argue that he did not have much impact at all, just as Deming had little impact on American business leaders.

But since Jesus’ death his message about a quality life and relationship with God has constantly grown. It has impacted humanity in amazing ways. Many people have been prepared to face hostility and even death because of their belief in his teaching. So much so that it is now estimated that around 2.4 billion people alive today call themselves Christians, or followers of Christ. Even more amazing to consider is that around 10% of those people facing active persecution for their beliefs remain faithful followers.

How about us? Is our mind closed like those American business leaders in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, to a message about quality? Is our life so good that we see no need for improvement? Or do you find yourself wondering sometimes what life is all about?

If there is something missing in your life, a feeling of dissatisfaction, that things are not quite right? If so, why not investigate Jesus’ message? Maybe your quality of life will be improved as a result; living life with greater meaning, so you enjoy today but also can look forward with excitement to what the future holds!

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

 

Splendid Isolation

April 3, 2020

With many people following the government’s guidelines to self-isolate at home, every day can feel like Groundhog Day where we are going stir crazy wondering what to do. Which is why I was encouraged to read that when Shakespeare was in quarantine as the plague swept through London, it is thought he wrote King Lear, Macbeth, and Anthony and Cleopatra. Time in isolation can lead to great things.

With more time available comes the opportunity to do all sorts of things we never had time for, like reading the book that’s on the shelf, painting the spare room, or making that phone call you’ve always meant to make.

It’s also an opportunity to explore more about God – Does he exist? If so, what is he like? How can he help in our current situation? It’s been said that there is no unknown God behind the back of Jesus[1], which means when you see Jesus you see God. If you want to know about God, looking at Jesus is a good place to start, and maybe now we have the time to do it.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] Torrance, T.F. The Christian Doctrine of God, pp. 243-244.

Next Page »