The Mask

July 29, 2020

In times gone by when I heard the term ‘The Mask,’ my mind immediately thought of Jim Carry’s film of the same name. Carry plays a hapless bank clerk who finds a magical green mask that transforms him into a mischievous troublemaker with superpowers. More recently, ‘the mask’ has taken on an entirely different meaning as should I venture out on public transport or into my local supermarket my first thought is ‘have I got the mask with me?’

My green mask doesn’t transform me into a comic hero, nor does it give me extraordinary powers, rather it is intended to offer some form of protection against transmitting or picking up the Coronavirus.

I must admit that wearing this mask makes me feel like someone I’m not. After all, I’ve always associated wearing a mask with a bank robber, or someone holding up an off licence, or a mugger in a dark alleyway. As I walk into Tesco’s with only my eyes visible my instinctive reaction is ‘this makes me feel like a criminal.’ I haven’t been transformed into a criminal by simply wearing a mask, but it feels like this is the persona I’m presenting to the world.

Interestingly, throughout antiquity, so far as we know, all the actors in Greek tragedies, comedies and satyr plays wore masks all the time they were on stage. The mask signalled the act of impersonation as they were transformed into the character they were playing. An actor often played multiple roles within the same play by disguising himself with a series of masks. He might come in from one side of the stage wearing the mask of Melpomene, the muse of tragedy, and hence a sad mask as he delivered solemn and sorrowful lines. Then later he would appear from the other side of the stage wearing the mask of Thalia, the muse of comedy, and hence a smiling mask as he delivered lines designed to make people laugh.

The English word ‘hypocrite’ originates from this theatrical context. It came into English from the Greek word hypokrites, which means ‘an actor’ or ‘a stage player.’ This Greek word is made up of two Greek words that literally translate as ‘an interpreter from underneath.’ In other words, the Greek actors interpreted the story from underneath their masks. Over the years hypokrites and thus hypocrite has come to refer to any person who is wearing a figurative mask, pretending to be someone or something they are not. They are just acting. They are just being two-faced.

The founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ, had some strong words for the hypocrites of his day: ‘Woe to you…hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.’[1] Jesus was calling out those who didn’t practise what they preached, who said one thing but did another.

If I am absolutely honest, I have to own up to varying degrees of hypocrisy, where I’ve put the mask on to hide what’s happening inside and to transform me into a different persona on the outside. Usually, it’s done to present me in the best possible light so that I look good to other people. However, if I am going to be a follower of Jesus, and an authentic one, then I need to take off the mask of hypocrisy and live by the beliefs I profess.

The next time I go on public transport or into Tesco’s and I diligently put my green mask on, I’ll be thinking about the persona I’m presenting to the world. It won’t turn me into a superhero, but it will help me to think about my authenticity as a Christian.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

[1] The Bible, Matthew chapter 23, verses 27-28, (NIV)

Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

Unmasked

July 24, 2020

Am I the only one to get confused when wearing a mask? Recently I had my face mask on when I went for a cup of coffee. I tried to pay by using my phone, but it would not process. What was the problem? My phone’s security works by facial recognition and the mask obscured my face! I felt flustered and peered intently at the phone, thinking it would click in. People in the socially distanced line behind me were sniggering as they watched, and I too began to laugh.

Masks have a fascinating history and were worn for all sorts of reasons, and they still are. I remember watching a movie which featured a masquerade, a party where people wore elaborate masks to conceal who they were. The idea goes back to the theatres of ancient Greece and elsewhere, where actors would don a mask to get into character. Typically, they’d use a mask that featured a recognisable attribute of the role they were playing.

A friend of mine, who knew I was a Christian, asked me about God. What is he like? Would he please come out from behind his mask and identify himself? My friend was being sarcastic, but I had an answer. Jesus came, I said to him, to show us who God is, to reveal how God is love.

It’s something worth noting. If we want to know what God is like, how he thinks and how he cares for us, we look to the life of Jesus.

Jesus is God unmasked.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

What do you fear?

July 20, 2020

In a book called Search for Significance, by Robert McGee, he claims there are four key fears that we all suffer from and have to face up to. They are the fear of failure, rejection, punishment and shame. It is true that most of our fears relate to those four areas, but I suggest there is one more which needs to be added to the list: fear of death.

Fear is a paralysing emotion. It can affect our relationships and even hold us back, preventing us from realising our full potential. It can make us risk-averse, so we don’t take opportunities that come our way which we then regret later in life.

The question that we then have to ask ourselves is, why do we have these fears? Many of us will answer, they come from our childhood, from our culture, from past criticism, or risks taken that went wrong.

But I want to suggest a different reason we fear. We suffer from these fears when our focus is on ourselves. When our thought process is, what will people think of me if I fail? will they reject me? punish me or shame me? It is this inward focus and worry about what people think of us that is so often at the root of our fears.

We don’t have to go far in life to remember examples where we experienced this paralysis from fear. Just think of that time when you had to get up in front of people and speak! Public speaking is certainly one of the top fears that people have (some say even before death). The experience of all those eyes looking at us floods us with self-conscious thoughts. What impression will I make? What will these people think of me? When really the thought should be, how can I help people by what I am going to say? This focus on others, not on self, can make a real difference to the message and our fear levels.

But dealing with fear is not that easy, especially if life has been cruel to you. Maybe your parents and teachers overly criticised you, instead of encouraging you. Maybe you had an unpleasant boss who was never satisfied with your work. Maybe your relationships did not work out. Or maybe you failed tests and ran away from challenges. In short, you feel useless and worthless, often compensating by desperately seeking approval from the people in your life. So what can we do if we find ourselves in this position?

Like most problems, there has to be a first step of recognition, admitting to yourself that you have an issue. It’s after this acceptance you can then decide you want to do something about it. And there is somewhere you can turn for the kind of encouragement you need to soothe your fears. Because whether you know it or not, there is someone who believes in you, someone who loves you, someone who can help you with all your concerns. Someone bigger than your lack of confidence, your insecurities, your doubts and fears. What is more, this someone stands ready to help you, all you have to do is ask.

Because this someone promises to take your fear if you give it to him: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”[1] What this means is you can unload all your cares, worries, fears and doubts on him. Why? Because he cares about you!

This someone is the God of creation. And for those who are willing to give him a try, he gives us an awesome invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”[2] When fear rules our life we feel weary and burdened, but what would it feel like to have that weight lifted?

And better still, when you start a relationship with God, he can even lift that final fear, the fear of death!

Life will become better over time when you let God carry the burdens of your life, when you share your life with him. All you need is the courage to take that first step and ask for God’s help. In God’s eyes, you were born to be a champion!

If you would like to reach out to us and find out how you can take that first step, we would love to hear from you.

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

[1] The Bible, 1 Peter 5.7
[2] The Bible, Matthew 11:28
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

This is the air we breathe

July 17, 2020

Sometimes

All I need is the air

That I breathe

And to love you

Do you recognise the song? It was popularized by the Hollies in the 1970s, and it was a hit for Simply Red some 20 years later.

The air that we breathe is in the headlines again this week, and, surprisingly, it’s good news. Apparently, air quality has got better during lockdown. Some have speculated as to whether high air pollution has been a contributing factor in the spread of coronavirus. But, with fewer cars on the road and with many factories closed, air quality in major cities like London and also in rural areas has improved hugely.

It’s late news in one way, for many of us have noticed the difference when walking, running or cycling. It’s great to breathe in the purer air, and I for one don’t relish returning to how things were before the outbreak.

Another song I like is “This is the air I breathe” by Michael Smith. It’s a Christian song which suggests that the more we breathe in the freedom of Jesus, the more we want to do so. It’s like our newly restored air quality: the more I breathe it in, the more I want to go for a walk and indulge in a long, slow intake of clean, fresh, unmasked air.

Sometimes it’s all we need.

And to love, of course.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

Moved with compassion

July 15, 2020

Every now and then, just when I’m not expecting it, I find myself watching a powerful and moving scene on TV. For example, I recently watched a 35-year-old Muslim stumble across some children living in poverty in São Paulo, Brazil. Disturbed by their living conditions, he decided to give them what he could – but he was in a race, where every penny counted. So, he gave away his “luxuries”, including a pack of cards and his water bottle. Emom, with his nephew Jamiul, were taking part in the BBC TV programme Race Across the World; they were racing on a fixed budget and funds were low. Faced with such poverty, he didn’t wait to find out why this had happened or seek to discover what faith they had. He was moved to act out of compassion.

The expression “moved with compassion” reminds me of a story that I’ve known for most of my life. Two thousand years ago, a man called Jesus was concerned about the plight of a large crowd on a hillside far from the nearest town.[1] Jesus was moved to act: the miraculous result was an event now called “the feeding of the 4000.” Now Emom didn’t have such resources to hand. I’m sure he would have treated those children to a banquet, if it had been possible. But he did what he could at the time.

Sometime later, after winning the competition, both Emom and Jamiul ‘put their money where their mouth is.’ They donated half of their winnings, £10,000, to charities helping children in poverty. Given how much they had struggled in order to win the competition, such generosity blows me away.  Their compassion makes me wonder: have I seen so many images of distressed children that I’ve become jaded by them? I know that I can’t solve all of the world’s problems. But am I helping with at least some of them?

Apparently, Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”[2] I’ve heard lots of times that giving is actually good for me. It makes me a ‘better’ person, which no doubt is true. Giving allows empathy to take hold in our hearts. So thank you, Emom, for reminding me of that truth. God bless you in all your endeavours.

Ian Woodley info@because.uk.com

[1] The Bible, Matthew chapter 15 verse 32.
[2] The Bible, The Acts of the Apostles chapter 20 verse 35.
Photo by SwapnIl Dwivedi on Unsplash

And not a drop to drink

July 10, 2020

Water.

Drinking water. Around the world major fresh-water rivers are under threat from the salt content of rising sea levels, and natural underground reservoirs are being steadily depleted.

This week the news is that even in England’s green and pleasant land groundwater is being extracted at an unsustainable pace, and that a water crisis will hit its shores within 20 years. It seems impossible, unthinkable even, bearing in mind how much rainfall we have in the British Isles. The UK’s reputation as the umbrella nation might drizzle out!

 

Most religions see water as a gift from God. In fact, it is valued so much in the Christian tradition that it’s linked to eternal life. Drink the waters of Jesus and of his teachings and you’ll live forever, is the thought. He is the fountain of living waters.

Whatever our view, there’s no doubt that we need water. Fresh, vibrant, life-sustaining water.

Let’s value it and use it wisely.

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

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

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

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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