Saved by a whale

November 9, 2020

Or at least its tail!

You may have seen the near-miraculous pictures of a train suspended in mid-air only supported by the tail of a whale. At first glance, I thought it was something ready-made for the Tate Modern. But no, on closer inspection, this was a train crash.

A train near the city of Rotterdam, Netherlands, had run off the end of the tracks and was suspended 10 metres above water. But instead of plunging to a watery end, the train had been saved by the whale sculpture just the other side of the tracks. The pictures are something out of a movie scene.

The two whales’ tails poke out the water, rising to the level of the tracks. The train had crashed through the end barriers, travelled mid-air for a few metres before it landed on the whale’s tail. Humoured by the picture, I thought this wasn’t the first time I had heard of a whale coming to the rescue.

You may remember the story too. Of Jonah, that is. That selfish, pessimistic biblical prophet who ran from a divine task. But for those who are less familiar with the story: Jonah, a passenger on a ship traveling across the Mediterranean, was on the run from a special task for God. Things took a turn for the worst when Jonah was thrown overboard into the sea where he was saved by a whale who happily swallowed him up.  Some may think this is fairy-tale territory, and I would too unless there were no reports of such happenstance historically documented which there are. So what came of Jonah?

Fortunately, after some serious soul searching, Jonah was vomited out having reluctantly agreed to complete the task God gave him – I guess it’s not that much fun being in the belly of a whale! And what was this task? Well, in short, it was to tell Jonah’s national enemy – the ancient kingdom of Assyria – that God is a merciful, forgiving God, that if the people of Nineveh (their capital city) were to turn from the bad to the good, then God would forgive them. Nice message; so why the resistance from Jonah? Because his enemies had done lots of bad things to his people; Jonah thought this kind of divine love was simply unfair.

And it is.

Jonah was to learn that God’s love and forgiveness are unfair; God loves those who don’t deserve it and forgives those who have done wrong. But that’s what God’s justice is like. I wonder whether ours is like that too?

The memories of war from yesterday’s Remembrance Day, and, in particular, now in the US after two sides fought one of the most bitterly divisive election races, are reminders that this kind of justice is the way to healing. Our instincts tell us to stay in division, to revile and not forgive our enemies. But God’s message through Jonah, a message of hope to his enemies, encourages us to fight those instincts.

Jonah was saved by a whale so he could save his enemies. This is the simple, old but necessary message of “love your enemies”.[1]

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Matthew 5:44

Love of power or the power of love?

October 21, 2020

Ever since humans walked this earth, we have loved power. At its most extreme you see it in dictators who use power ruthlessly to kill, torture or imprison their enemies, or anyone who they perceive as a threat to their position. They will often erect monuments to themselves all over the country they rule and live in the lap of luxury while their people live bleak, impoverished lives. In some cases, dictators will even let their people starve.

Many would say that the North Korean Dictator, Kim-Jong-Un, is a classic example of that today, but he is not alone. President Xi of China, President Putin of Russia and President Erdogan of Turkey are all leaders who demand obedience from their people. The Russian President is even accused of having his enemies murdered in other countries.

China has locked up around a million Muslims in what we would call concentration camps but they call re-education centres, to eliminate their ethnic background and religion, making them loyal citizens of the Chinese State. Then you think of names like Saddem Hussain, Colonel Ghadaffi, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Stalin, Hitler, Mugabe and a few others, all dictators who loved power and used it in the wrong way, even if some of them had a facade of democratic legitimacy. Even in so-called free and democratic countries, with checks and balances on the power of the leader, you can see the love and misuse of power.

Often a dictator will have charisma, a powerful personality, potentially attractive policies and appear to be the answer to a country’s problems. But once in power their main focus and desire is to stay in power at whatever cost. To have people worship them, even if that means bussing in crowds to shout approval and applaud the great man when he speaks!

The extreme love of power is often manifest in leaders of governments, but you can also see it in people with power in the business and commercial world to a greater or lesser extent. As the saying goes power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely! But to me it also seems that humanity wants strong and powerful leaders, people who, in a sense, are larger than life. We want to follow people who seem to know where they are going; who are strong, powerful and selling a vision that they are the answer to all our problems.

So I wonder whether anyone would follow a leader who is not like that? Who would follow a leader who never had a fight, never led an army, never held a position of power or in government? Who will follow a leader who was gentle and kind, a person who was so submissive he allowed himself to be crucified at the hand of the Romans, dying a horrendous death? Who will follow a leader who had no love of power but had the power of love? And by doing do so ushered in a new way of leading, by being a servant?

Have you ever heard of a leader who after leading a small, insignificant group of people died by way of crucifixion to then become the leader of the largest following in the history of humanity? How many people after their death have become more famous than when they were alive to the extent that they have an estimated 2.4 billion followers today?

You may already be there; the answer is of course a person called Jesus Christ, who Christians claim was resurrected after his death, was God in the flesh and has the power to create and sustain the universe. But through the power of love, not the love of power, Jesus showed us a very different way.

Christians will tell you that he is coming back to earth, in love, to rule humanity in a way that loves and serves. It is a big statement; what do you think? If what Christians say is true will you be ready to respond to the power of love?

Keith Hartrick info@because.uk.com

Keith is an editor at Because

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

Photo by LinkedIn Sales Navigator 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

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

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

Freedom plan

May 29, 2020

FREEDOM!!!

It’s beginning. Many of us can go out more often, see a few others, buy a little more, enjoy the fresh air and breathe a sigh of relief. But, responsibly so, of course. Without hurting people or breaking laws. With freedom always come responsibilities.

Oddly enough, this weekend many western Christians celebrate the Spirit of freedom. It’s a special festival called Pentecost and it’s about how God’s Spirit frees us from our past to live new and different lives.

Paul, a Christian writer, put it this way, “We have freedom now… the fruit that the Spirit produces in a person’s life is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these kinds of things”.1

As lockdown unfolds, that could be our freedom plan.

What do you think?

James Henderson info@because.uk.com

1The Bible (Easy-to-Read Version) Galatians 5:1,22-23

Streets filled with love

May 11, 2020

“Our streets are not empty; they are filled with love”.

I’ve never thought of the Queen having a mic-drop moment but, if she did, this could have been one. As I listened to her VE Day message this was the stand-out sentence. She had captured the essence of what so many of us have witnessed over the past weeks.

I’ve seen this new-found love splashed on house windows with their ‘thank you’ messages for key workers and iconic rainbows drawn by children. I’ve heard the Thursday 8pm clap for the NHS echo around my local park as I’ve walked and then watched neighbours stand and chat as I’ve never seen them do before. We have lost many things during lockdown, but we have gained love. And we don’t have to lose it when this is all over.

I must admit, though, I’ve not always known my neighbour’s names. I get by with one of those half-polite grunts with a token smile and wave to boot. But I now have a chance to change this because I’m moving to a new house at the end of the month. So when I sat down with my soon-to-be housemate, after divvying up our new house cleaning duties, I asked him, ‘What relationship do we want with neighbours?’

A new house means a fresh start and we get to decide what kind of neighbours we want to be. I’ve decided to ditch the grunts and half-smiles for something that looks a little more like what the Queen was talking about. Something that looks a bit more like love.

Ok, no need to reach for the bucket – sentiment platitudes are not my thing, either. So what do I mean by a little more love? What does that look like?

I’ve thought about this word recently. I dropped the ‘What is love?’ question on one of my many WhatsApp group chats as a result of lockdown induced boredom. It had been inspired by a YouTube binge where I came across the well-watched SoulPancake channel with a video asking the same questions to people aged 5 to 100 years old. Their answers were as endearing as they were individual.

So what is love?

I have never found a better definition from the one I once read at a wedding. It goes like this: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Not bad, ay?! You may recognise it, but it doesn’t come from any wedding. No, not even from the silver-penned Shakespeare. So where? We must go back some 2000 years, to the writings of the Bible to find its origin. And I’ve found the Bible has a lot more to say about this 4-letter word, too.

As I gear up to move house, I will try – and no doubt do it badly – to fill the street with this kind of love. I might be cracking that ancient book to remind myself what it looks like. Let’s keep this kind of love on the streets.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

Keep Connected

May 1, 2020

Since being in lockdown we’ve had to do things differently. Events like One world: Together at home and The Big Night In brought music and comedy direct from the artists’ homes into ours. Keeping in touch with family and friends has meant many of us having crash courses on Skype and Zoom. For faith groups, holding meetings and maintaining contact has also presented a challenge.

Yet with these challenges comes an opportunity to be connected in all sorts of different ways. Last week I attended church services in Luton, Market Harborough and Llanelli and was in touch with friends and family in Northern Ireland, Hampshire and across London via Zoom and all without leaving home. None of which would have happened in this way without this lockdown.

As one member of a recently set up WhatsApp group commented, ‘it’s a pity we didn’t have this earlier; it keeps everyone connected.’ It often takes a crisis to bring forward new ways of doing things and technology has provided an opportunity for us to follow Jesus’ command to love one another (John 13:34-35) in a fresh way.

The challenge will be to keep connected once this crisis is over – I guess that will be down to you and me.

Barry Robinson info@because.uk.com

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