A different kind of vaccine

January 18, 2021

If you happen to visit Lichfield Cathedral this week, you might get more vaccine than vicar.

It is as much symbolic as it is diagnostic that this is the first place of worship in England to be transformed into a vaccination hub.

Diagnostic because the corona crisis has uncovered where much of our nation’s hope lies. Not in priests and pews but in the NHS and inoculation. The latter is now our saving grace, the new ‘miracle’ on the block, giving us our lives back. In these times, hope comes more from the medical sector than the big man in the sky.

Symbolic because churches for centuries, ever since a radical new hope burst forth from the streets of Jerusalem from a man they called Messiah, have been the place where a weekly shot in the arm of hope was administered. Indeed, this use of the church as a place for vaccinations stirs something in our psyche, reminding us what churches were about in the first place: inoculation from plagues. And I’m not talking about the pandemics types. I’m talking about mass vaccination of a different kind, offering relief and protection from other plagues.

A few years ago, the Pew Research Centre asked why people went to church. I think the results suggest what this different kind of vaccination is for. Three of the top four reasons why people go to church are: to make me a better person; give children a moral foundation; and for comfort in times of trouble.[1] Not bad inoculations!

Now, I agree, churches like the one in Lichfield can come across as austere, pious, places for the holy, not people like us who sometimes live messy lives, struggling through the day trying to pull some kind of order out of the chaos. But you’d be wrong. Churches are communities that somehow, and over time, help inoculate us against our worst habits, against the moral uncertainty, and against the anxieties we face day-to-day.

And I know you may ask, but how do I get to a church in lockdown? Well, if you’re interested, here is the church I attend on Zoom: Launch Meeting – Zoom.

If you decide to come along, please say hello – I’m the young-looking guy in the square glasses.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] Why Americans go to religious and church services | Pew Research Center (pewforum.org)

You’ll never walk alone

January 8, 2021

I’m a fan of 1960s’ pop music so it was sad this week to hear of the death of Gerry Marsden, the lead singer of the Merseybeat band Gerry and the Pacemakers. They had many hits including ‘Ferry ’cross the Mersey’ and ‘I like it’, but perhaps their most famous song was ‘You’ll never walk alone’. Originally it was a show tune from the 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Carousel which Gerry took to the top of the charts in 1963 with it becoming an anthem for Liverpool football club, and more recently the song reached the number one spot again with Captain Tom Moore, Michael Ball, and the NHS Voices of Care choir.

This song, as well as a football anthem and a recognition of the work of the NHS, is one that Christians can also embrace. The Bible tells us that Jesus will be with us to the end of the age and that God will never leave or forsake us.[1] With whatever we face over this next year, including the tighter lockdown imposed this week, this knowledge gives us the strength to walk through the storm with hope in our hearts because we are not walking alone.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

 

[1] Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5.

Life amid death

December 2, 2020

2020 – it’s been the worst of years and it’s been the best of years, to misquote Dickens in his famous opening to A Tale of Two Cities. It will go down in history as the year COVID-19 struck leaving few lives, if any, untouched by this invisible killer. This year my life has been touched by death. Back at the start of the pandemic, a friend I had known for over 40 years died of Coronavirus. As the year moved on, two other friends who I had known for a similar time also died, one from cancer and the other from breathing complications. Two weeks ago, my daughter’s father-in-law passed away, I had known him for a much shorter time. A week later my aunt died after a long and successful life. She was the last remaining member of her generation in my family. Death, like taxes, is inevitable and has made this year the worst of years.

Yet, as I write, my wife and I are celebrating the birth of the newest member of our family, our first grandchild. Amidst all this death a new life has been born that has brought joy and hope for the future, making this the best of years too. I had forgotten how tiny and vulnerable a newborn baby is. He is reliant completely on his parents for his existence; they provide him food and warmth, change his nappy when required, and comfort him when distressed. Without his parent’s loving care, he would soon be another statistic in death’s column.

While my grandson brings our family great joy, an even greater joy is that the Christian Bible shows humanity’s future is secure because of the coming of another baby into the world. It’s incredible for me to think that the God, whom the heavens cannot contain, should become a tiny, vulnerable baby totally dependant on his creation to be fed and changed and kept alive.

Now I love to sing Christmas Carols, but there is one that I have difficulty in singing, and that’s Away in a Manager. The reason for my hesitation in singing it is because of the verse that goes,

The cattle are lowing [mooing]
The poor Baby wakes
But little Lord Jesus
No crying He makes

If there is one thing my new grandson has reminded me of it’s that newborn babies cry, they cry a lot. They yell their heads off. It’s a healthy sign that the baby is alive, responding to things, and is a human being. When I think about babies, I often remember the story of Superman. The baby born on the disintegrating planet Krypton is sent by his parents in a space capsule to earth. The boy grows up to be Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet, and no one can tell that Kent is not a human being but Superman – until he goes into a phone box. He looks like a human, but don’t be fooled. Christians believe that when Jesus was born God actually became human, he wasn’t just pretending to be human. This was not play-acting. The divine Son of God was no hologram or apparition. He became flesh.[1] He would have cried in the manager, soiled his nappy, and needed his mother’s milk to enable him to grow. If this were not so then Jesus was only pretending to be human, and the claims of Christianity fall flat.

Around 33 years after his birth history records that Jesus was killed on a Roman Cross, having his flesh ripped apart and his blood spilled on the ground. The eye-witness testimony of the early Christians is that this same Jesus didn’t remain dead but came alive again. Out of death came life, and it’s this belief that spawned the Christian church. It’s this belief that gives Christians hope. That even in the worst of years where death has been all around us, there is the hope of life because a baby has been born – not my grandson, but the Son of God. Incredible? – yes. Unbelievable and just a fairy story on a par with Superman? – millions of Christians don’t think so. Why not check out this crying baby for yourself – if you do 2020 might just become the best of years.

Barry Robinson

[1] The Bible, John chapter 1, verse 14, (NIVUK).

Positive contact

November 13, 2020

“As you have been identified as a contact of someone who has recently tested positive for COVID-19, you are under a legal obligation to self-isolate from now until…”. As soon as the text arrived my mind start rushing through all the things I should have done to prepare for potentially spending the next two weeks at home.

People who have near death experiences often say a similar thing. As their life flashes before them they think of all the things they haven’t done but wanted to do. All the things they should have done but never got around to.

Is this the fate that awaits us all? That at the end of our lives we are to be judged for all our mistakes and all our regrets?

The Christian message is one of hope. It tells us that we have all tested positive for grace and that if we turn to Jesus, he will both redeem our mistakes and turn our regrets into joy.

For hope, turn to Jesus.

Gavin Henderson info@because.uk.com

A myriad of choices

October 23, 2020

The Scottish government announced today a 5 tier system of covid restriction in Scotland. As we look around the world, there seems to be so many different approaches to dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and the resultant economic hit. They can’t be all right can they?

This is the same question that has sometimes been asked about the myriad of religions in the world today. Is one religion right and all the others wrong? Is it just a cosmic multiple choice question where you need to guess the answer?

We often face difficult choices in our lives, and sometimes it seems easier not to make a choice than to make the wrong one. Yet the startling claim of Christianity is not that you have to make the right choice out of the plethora of world religions, but that the right choice has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ.

God, in his love, sent us Jesus to show us the way.

In this time of uncertainty and difficult choices, there is hope and comfort to be found in Jesus.

Gavin Henderson

Living with a prayer plant

September 23, 2020

A few months ago, I received a lovely surprise: a plant through the post. I remember opening the cardboard box desperately trying to remember if I had recently ordered something! I unwrapped Maranta Leuconeura, also known as the Prayer Plant. The next day was quite traumatic: I discovered the leaves were in a serious droop. A quick check of my Prayer Plant found the soil to be moist, so it wasn’t due to a lack of water. A frantic search on the internet discovered that this was normal ‘behaviour’. During the day the leaves of Maranta Leuconeura droop downwards, but at night they lift up and even fold. To some this has looked like the closing of hands in prayer, which explains its common name.

However, I’m not too sure about that description. I guess it’s all about your perception of spiritual matters, as it seems to me that the ‘prayer’ happens the other way around. When my plant droops during the day, it looks like it is in the middle of humble supplication. As I received this gift during the UK Lockdown, it almost seemed as if the plant was interceding during the worst moments of the Covid-19 crisis.

My Prayer Plant reminds me of another gift; this time of a picture given to my Mum. It is a print of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane by Heinrich Hofmann. I need to be honest: I don’t like it. I don’t think it is my Mum’s cup of tea either, but it was gifted by a friend who passed away some years ago. The picture reminds Mum of her friend. Why don’t I like it? Well…it’s all a bit too nice. The picture shows a Jesus who is serenely praying, completely oblivious to all that is going on around him. One version of this event records Jesus as being in anguish.[1] Hoffmann’s depiction doesn’t feel real, that this really is a man coming to grips with the knowledge that he will soon be executed. Perhaps, again, it all comes down to my perception of spiritual matters. Do accept my apologies if you think Hofmann’s painting is a masterpiece!

Personally, I much prefer to study my prayer plant than to look at Hofmann’s painting. My drooping plant does look like it is wrestling with mighty issues in prayer, humbly looking to God for his action in a troubled world. It also gives me a picture of what Jesus may well have felt like in the Garden of Gethsemane. My plant gives me hope, because it reminds me that prayer can sometimes feel difficult; that there is too much on my mind, which I am struggling to express. Seeing Jesus troubled in the Garden of Gethsemane reminds me that God is not oblivious to the suffering of humanity. Though our troubled thoughts may overwhelm us, God is still on our side, listening to our anguished cries.

Sometimes, a low mood tempts me to ignore prayer. Thankfully, my prayer plant reminds me that my intercessions are not hindered by how I feel. Whether I droop in difficult supplication, or lift my arms in thankfulness, Maranta Leuconeura reminds me that all prayer is worth pursuing.

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

[1] The Gospel of Luke 22:44

Faith, hope and love

September 18, 2020

In the UK, an influential parliamentary committee recently described one government department as drawing up immigration policies based on “anecdote, assumption and prejudice”.

If a committee were to look at your life, what would they find? What are the three principles that underpin your decisions and actions?

This is something the early Christian writer Paul, a follower of Jesus Christ, wrote about. His conclusion was that there were three guiding principles that should underpin our life: faith, hope and love. Faith in the goodness of God shown in Jesus, hope in his power to make all things right, and a love that overcomes all adversity.

As we face the challenges of life, choose to engage in faith, hope and love.

The greatest of these being love.

Gavin 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

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A Tale of Two Churches

August 7, 2020

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,’ so go the opening lines of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. This week I read the story of two churches. The first is a church in Staffordshire that has not been used as a place of worship for over 20 years and was found to have 400 cannabis plants growing inside. The second is a Greek Orthodox church that was destroyed by the 9/11 attack but is being rebuilt and will open on the 20th anniversary of that horrific day.

These past few months have been the worst of times, a season of darkness, a time of despair as churches have not been able to physically open. When the time comes to reopen will people physically meet up again becoming the hopeful and loving light of Christianity in the community? Or will the place of worship be a thing of the past where cannabis now grows?

Whilst churches haven’t closed during the pandemic with thriving online services, most Christians are looking forward to physically meeting again. How about you? If you haven’t attended church for a while, or maybe have never attended, why not give it a go? It might just be the best of times.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

“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

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