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

The real deal

April 13, 2020

This week my Facebook page pinged with a friend request. It was a blast from the past; someone I’d met just once on holiday but hadn’t seen for years. I always wondered what happened to her.

Accepting the request, I couldn’t help indulging in a little Facebook stalking. Scrolling through her timeline, one post stood out more than most: “There are almost 5000 gods being worshipped by humanity. But don’t worry, only yours is right”.

It now started to make sense why I hadn’t seen her again; we had been on holiday at a Christian conference. I could see she’d fallen out of favour with the faith. I guess we’re all on a journey but mine had led me to stick with the faith.

Looking at my mobile screen, the post confronted me with a challenge. How do I know the God I worship is the real deal? Have I just played spiritual pick n’ mix and hoped for the best? A kind of religious roulette wheel where you go all on red 21 and hope it lands. But just as fast as I had read the challenge to my faith, a thought came…

‘…because the God I believe in was resurrected from the dead!’

It is this weekend just gone where Christians think about this very event that’s so central to why they have chosen Jesus as their God. As one scholar puts it, ‘if you don’t have the resurrection, you don’t have Christianity’. But I’m no religious snob who says nothing nice about the gods of other religions; many of whom have qualities that I think are good – I mean, who doesn’t want to have the power to throw a few thunder bolts around…go Zeus.

But Jesus is different. After his death, he lived again. That’s enough for anyone to think twice about his divinity. Especially when confronted with the evidence.

Yes, many legends and stories may talk about gods dying and coming back to life. But with Jesus you find a God who walked among us, who could be seen and touched just like you and me. And then died as human. But then was seen alive again by over 500 people![1]

Some say the resurrection could’ve been a myth but “even the more sceptical historians agree that for the primitive Christianity”, theologian and historian Carl Braaten explains, “…the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was a real event in history, the very foundation of faith, and not a mythical idea arising out of the creative imagination of believers”.[2] That makes sense to me because there are nine ancient sources inside and outside the New Testament confirming and corroborating that the disciples witnessed the resurrected Jesus.

But more. Those early followers were so convinced Jesus had been raised from the dead that they were willing to put their lives on the line; they died for their faith. Because the resurrection of Jesus gave them hope that they too could have life beyond death.

If you have the power of life over death, then that’s a God worth reading more about. Here is a short video of four reasons why one atheist who investigated the resurrection to disprove it came to believe in the end it was the real deal.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

[2] The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel (1998), page 240.

Holy city or holy person?

December 8, 2017

Jerusalem is regarded by Jews, Christians and Muslims as a special place.

And now, with the decision to relocate the US embassy there from Tel Aviv, the city is in the spotlight once again. Both Islamic and Christian groups have protested that their holy sites and shrines in Jerusalem might be threatened by this move, which has been interpreted by some as a kind of victory for the Jewish state of Israel.

I wonder, however, whether any place is more holy than another. It’s been a notion that has existed for thousands of years. Religions have taught, and still do teach, that certain places, times and even nations are blessed with a special measure of divine presence.

Is this idea true? Is Jerusalem, for example, more holy than other cities?

The Biblical New Testament points us in a totally different direction, to a thought that might surprise us. It tells us that, if holiness was ever linked particularly to a physical nation, time, or place, it is no longer so.

Rather, all holiness is invested in a person. And, the person is Jesus Christ, who alone is holy.

Therefore, it we want to be holy, let’s look to Jesus and follow him.

james.henderson@gracecom.church

Seeing past the labels

January 22, 2016

dreamstime_m_40478673Recently I was asked to reorganise some resources in a classroom. I actually enjoy doing those types of tasks and I spent a good few hours sorting everything out, getting rid of the things we no longer needed and putting everything else in storage containers which were clearly labelled. As I stood back to survey my work a quiet sense of accomplishment stole over me as I pictured the children being able to find the things they needed and just as importantly being able to return them when finished. A place for everything and everything in its place but not only that – a shiny new label to evidence where that place was!

How do you feel about labels? Are you a labeller?

In certain situations, such as the one I just described, labels can be a good thing but not in every situation. Take labelling people for example. We often hear things such as he is disabled, she is an underperformer or they’re refugees. Labels can often be used to dehumanise people and can be a source of judgement and prejudice. Jesus saw past the labels used in his day to the people behind and he took the time to get to know them and build relationships. He went to the home of the tax collector and became friends with the sinners and prostitutes. It certainly gives us something to think about.

So whether you are a labeller or not, when it comes to people, it is perhaps best to remember labels are not helpful.

Now what else can I organise?

Jackie Mill

Give Thanks

January 15, 2016

dreamstime_m_60533967Do you ever criticize others? Or perhaps you don’t go as far as actually saying anything, but maybe you think it, just the same?

Being critical is an easy habit to get into but a hard one to stop. So this week I was very interested to read of a simple, but effective, antidote to being overly judgmental.

In Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, she advises, “Curb critical tendencies by upstaging them with thanksgiving.”*

Sage advice because, when you think about it, it’s hard to be critical and grateful at the same time.

Mrs Ahlberg goes on to say, “Thankfulness is a thread that can bind together all the patchwork squares of our lives. Difficult times, happy days, seasons of sickness, hours of bliss – all can be sewn together into something lovely with the thread of thankfulness.”*

We all have a choice in how we respond to what life dishes out to us. We can choose to be critical and risk becoming bitter people. Or we can look for the good in a person or situation and give thanks.

The apostle Paul wrote “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I believe following that principal was what made Paul able to be content with every situation in his life.

We can do the same.

 

Peter Mill

* Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, P.32, by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

Who do I want to be today?

December 18, 2015

dreamstime_m_14325871What are the first thoughts that spring into mind when you wake up in the morning?

Many people immediately think of all the things that have to be done and begin to make a mental list. Are you one of these people?

At this busy time of the year the lists can seem endless and produce feelings of being overwhelmed and anxious – even before you get out of bed!

Richard Reeves, of The Work Foundation said: “The demands of work, family and commuting make us feel as if we are constantly trying to catch up with ourselves.” For many of us life is one big rush and there is never enough time to do everything. A new phrase has been coined to describe this worldwide condition that many suffer from: ‘Hurry sickness.’

But how many of us stop and ask this more important question each morning? “Who do I want to be today?” After all we are human ‘beings’ not human ‘doings.’ What kind of people do we choose to be each day?

Jesus Christ knew who he was and always acted accordingly. We are made in the image of God and we too need to act accordingly. I would like to suggest this needs to be an intentioned thought each morning and once decided upon can influence our whole day positively.

Whether or not we get to the bottom of that never ending list!

Jackie Mill

A Premature Goodbye – Is it really the end?

March 30, 2009

Woman in Mourning at Cemetery in Fall“What next after death?” Simon Williams shares some thoughts.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Jane* shrieked as the curtain drew round before the coffin. Her beloved husband and best friend Stephen* had been snatched from her at the age of only 43, his body destroyed by an aggressive cancer diagnosed barely five months earlier. They had been together for 23 years.

It was standing room only in the Chapel of Rest. Friends, family, work colleagues unexpectedly brought together to pay their respects. I was ushered into a corner near the front exit where the mourners would file out. Surveying the scene of subdued faces, I could sense the pained expressions as people fondly recalled their memories of Stephen and then pondered why it had happened to him.

Originally a chef, Stephen later worked with vending machines on London Underground and became a technical expert. It was in this role that I had worked with him over a period of seven years. Always pleasant, always likeable, always with a “can do” attitude, Stephen was willing to go above and beyond to install and maintain machines in the rugged sub-terranean environment. In the early days he had played a pivotal role in the team which installed nearly 1000 machines right across the network, reaching almost every station. Sometimes he would work for three days and nights without a break to get the machines in place. For years night shifts had been the norm. Yet he found time to share himself with others, to help and support them, to have a laugh, and to look after Jane and the horses they together delighted in keeping. His eulogist described him as “an ideal friend.”

But now it was all gone. The vending machines had been consigned to the scrap heap a couple of years before, victims of “de-cluttering” needed to cope with increasing passenger numbers. The vending team had been disbanded. Now brought back together one last time, it was clear their lives had taken very different paths. Stephen had taken voluntary redundancy and worked part time for a friend until his illness. One former colleague had set up a property development business which had sadly collapsed in the “credit crunch”; another was supplying plumbing and solar heating, also struggling in the economic downturn. Only one remained in the vending industry, providing stock for machines at Heathrow Airport.

Stephen’s hobby was visiting the battlefields and graves of France and Belgium, learning of what others had sacrificed in the cause of freedom. Fitting then that Stephen should be laid to rest on the 90th anniversary of the Armistice. Yet so sad that he also should now be numbered among those whose lives were taken prematurely. As we observed the two minutes silence I pondered the question “why?” The pained faces around indicated no one had an answer.

But then my thoughts returned to some of the words cited in the funeral service. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you.” “For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Could there be an answer after all, somehow, somewhere, some way? Could there be something more than Stephen’s few years of life? Could he and Jane yet have a future? I resolved to investigate further.

* Not their real names.

simon-williams3

Simon Williams lives in Cambridgeshire with his wife and baby daughter.  He has worked at London Underground for over 12 years.