No singing

November 30, 2020

My YouTube viewing this week has been peppered with Christmas adverts. We have entered the season – and I’m already feeling nauseous! But this year there will be one noticeable absence.

No congregation carol singing. Even the multi-generational, hodgepodge at your door will have to remain there whilst they “Fa, la, la, la, la, la” and social distancing at the same time.

But churches up and down the country will be silent over this usually vocal time of year. Even the famous King’s College, Cambridge, iconic Christmas Eve Carol Service will not have the help of the public’s throaty excesses, as the pews will be empty.

Who would have thought one of Covid’s victims would be congregational singing! But the show must go on, King’s has decided. The service, minus the congregation, will still be broadcast live on BBC Radio 4. However, the usual injection of chorused voices to the opening song, Once in Royal David’s City, will not be heard.

So what will these singers have missed? Well, some of the more intriguing words about the life of Jesus. Words which speak of a phenomenon peculiar to the Christian faith; that the God of heaven’s entry into the world saw him take up residence in a cattle shed! Not the grand entrance one would expect for such a VIP. I wonder whether God was trying to communicate something? Maybe there’s a clue in the words of this poem turned carol:

“Day by day like us He grew,

He was little, weak, and helpless,

Tears and smiles like us He knew,

And He feeleth for our sadness,

And He shareth in our gladness.”

These words capture something very human about our first encounter with this Jesus. But more than that, they describe how God seemed to be eager to share in our life, condition and pain; to experience things just “like us”. It’s curious to consider why. I wonder if it allows God to be more relatable, more attainable, more approachable.

Certainly, 2020 has left many of us worst off materially, and maybe emotionally. But there is something encouraging to consider when it comes to this lowly story in such economy trying times. For me, I see in this story of the birth of Jesus an example of how God has somehow shared in our discomfort and need. And that his life shows us that things can get better even if you start from a stable.

Maybe that’s worth singing about.

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

What are you passing on?

September 14, 2020

Infections of Coronavirus are on the increase in the UK. The R number is now at 1.2 meaning infections are on the rise. But I didn’t need a number to tell me that, a few days ago I got a Track and Trace call. Not the call you ever want.

The school I work in called to tell me that I’d been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for the virus. When you get a call like that, it creates a strange feeling of uncertainty. A feeling that things are about to change for the next 14 days.

After booking a test, I started to replay every moment of interaction I’d had with the person who tested positive. I had walked and talked with them for some hours. Unnervingly, I suspected I might now have the virus too. And it made me think. In a time like this, we are confronted with the realisation of how easy it is to pass something on to someone.  The very nature of existence is defined by interactions with others. But this virus brings an awareness that interactions are not always neutral. In the case of COVID-19, interactions can leave us worse off.

Maybe it was irony that at around the same time, I happen to watch an ad on Facebook with a similar theme. This ad stopped my thumb from swiping to move further down my feed. It was too dramatic to pass by without a little more of my attention. It was a filmed scene. A man with a group of friends. But they were not the focal point of the scene. A lady’s shriek indicated that there was something to be afraid of. An unkempt, dirty man in rags approached…”it’s a leper,” said one of the men. I knew enough about leprosy to know why you stay back. It’s highly infectious and if you get it, it causes severe, disfiguring skin sores and nerve damage. It’s a life destroyer. Another of the friends shouted, “cover your mouth,” now where have I heard that before?

But as the leper approached, one man did not cover his mouth or move away. Instead, he moved towards the leper. By now, memories from my childhood told me that I was familiar with this story. It was to become clearer as this uninhibited man walked towards the leper, his friends protesting not to touch him. Maybe the story is starting to sound familiar to you too?

I remembered enough to know what was about to happen. The leper was touched by this man. But instead of the infection being passed on, there was a reverse infection. Something in the man was passed to the leper, healing him of his leprosy. This was an ad for the first multi-season series about the life of Jesus, called The Chosen. Season one was the highest crowd-funded TV series. Here’s the powerful scene. You can check out the series on the App Store or Google Play.

This story reminded me of how fascinated I was with this man Jesus in my childhood. Maybe the story intrigued you too. Wherever you stand with Jesus, I wonder if there’s not something we can still take from it? For me, it reminds me that our interactions are not neutral. When we leave people after meeting them, we leave them either better or worse off. Our being and energy can be infectious for good or bad.

So what are we passing on?

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

 

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

Using our freedom

March 25, 2020

It was raining heavily – and I went outside, and stood in the garden in the rain; no coat, no umbrella – I just stood still, feeling the downpour. So why did I stand there? Firstly – because I could. I am old enough not to have a parent to tell me to come inside or to put my coat and wellies on. Also, I’m not yet old enough to be told by carers that I need to come in. Standing in the rain is a very cleansing feeling. It’s not a problem if you know you can soon change into dry clothing.

So I had the freedom to stand in the rain. In another situation, other people might have felt they had the responsibility to bring me inside. We are prevented, by law, or our own morality, from doing many things. But we also have the freedom to do many things. With that freedom often comes a certain weight of responsibility. I have the freedom to drive where I choose – with some obvious exceptions. With this freedom comes the responsibility to obey the rules of the road, designed to keep everyone safe. I have the freedom to say what I want but I have the responsibility to try and make sure that my words do not harm or hurt other people.

The need to consider the effect that our personal quest for freedom has on those around us is neatly summarised by a quote of uncertain origins that states, “Your liberty to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”. Drawing that line is sometimes not straightforward.

Every news bulletin has examples of people who have taken freedoms to themselves that have caused suffering to others. And there are many stories of people who have denied themselves freedoms to benefit others – they have provided some element of sacrifice. It could be someone confronting a violent criminal or a parent going without food so that their child can eat. Sacrifice is a choice, and exists on many levels. Giving one’s own life to benefit others is the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus Christ made this choice and he made the point to his followers that he had a way out that he was choosing not to take. They were ready to fight when he was being arrested by, “a great multitude with swords and clubs”.[1] He pointed out to them: “… do you think that I cannot now pray to my Father, and He will provide me with more that twelve legions of angels?”[2]

Jesus did not need to experience all that followed – the beating, the mockery, or the horror of the crucifixion. It was a choice made to pay the penalty of all sin. And that provides each one of us with a freedom from that penalty. But it also provides us with a responsibility to live according to the law that Paul, the author of the book of Romans, explains is, “summed up in this saying, Namely, You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.[3]

Paul points out that “love does no harm to a neighbour”.[4] I hope that the choices I make, and the freedoms I take to myself, do not harm my neighbours, and today – if it rains – you may find me, out there, standing in the rain.

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an editor at Because

[1] The Bible, Matthew 26:55

[2] Matthew 26:53

[3] Romans 13:9

[4] Romans 13:10

Pride will sink you (but only if you let it)

January 29, 2020

“Pride goes before a fall”, so the proverb goes.[1] And I was looking at a classic example – the Vasa warship, named after its haughty king, Gustavus Adolphus. As I came face to face with it, I felt like I had stepped onto the set of Pirates of the Caribbean, half expecting Johnny Depp to walk by with a parrot on his shoulder.

I was staring at a ship that sank in 1628 and lay at the bottom of Stockholm harbour for over 330 years until it was finally raised from the water on 24 April 1961. The Vasa now lives in a museum of the same name, enabling the continuous retelling of the story of one of Sweden’s greatest maritime disasters.

And all because of the pride of a king.

King Gustavus wanted his warship to have an extra level of canons. Sweden had an empire to protect and this new state-of-the-art warship would be the showpiece of the Swedish navy; one of the most powerfully armed vessels in the world. But the ship builders had their doubts; would it be stable? The king’s pride meant he was eager for the Vasa to take up its position as flagship. There is something about pride that is hard to reach, let alone teach. So the king insisted and the ship was built.

The maiden trip came. And went very badly. The ship was dangerously unstable; it did not have enough ballast for its weight, nor was it wide enough. It managed to sail just 1,300 metres, when it was hit by a gust of wind. It started to tilt. One more gust and the ship was on its side taking in water and the sailors went overboard.

Pride often overextends us and leads to a fall. It makes us top-heavy, just like the Vasa. Pride then hurts people. But it also puts a strain on us: we must put out effort to protect our image or position. And it often leads us to defencelessness; when we don’t listen to others, when we don’t hold space for the possibility that we could be wrong, then we leave ourselves open.

And then, bang! We hit the deck (…or the bottom of the ocean!). You may have experienced this kind of fall. But I find it interesting that the Vasa was rescued! Even though the pride of a king led to its destruction, it now sits in the Vasa museum for all to see. But more than just see, to learn from. And that’s what the fall that comes after pride is all about; to learn.

You may be licking your proverbial wounds from a stiff-necked argument with someone, or a failed project you went all-in with, or just the realisation you are not as good as you thought you were. It will sting, but let it. Your fall will not be meaningless as long as you are willing to learn from it, reflect on how pride got you into a difficult situation. Then make the change needed to move on.

There have been times in my life where I have allowed myself to become the victim of pride and the only way out has been to suck it up and move on. I guess that’s where the phrase ‘swallow your pride’ comes from!

Richard Fowler info@because.uk.com

Richard is editorial assistant at Because

[1] The Bible, Proverbs 16:18 (NIVUK)
Image by Salih Seçkin from Pixabay

Crossing the benches

May 17, 2019

Why is it so hard to work together?

Perhaps you heard the recent news that the weeks of discussion between the two main political parties in the UK resulted in no agreement with regard to how to proceed with the UK’s exit from Europe. Many in their respective parties felt that the talks were doomed from the start – the differences between the two parties too great to be overcome. This seems to be the story of our times.

What about God? If there is a God, could there ever be an understanding between God and humanity? Are the differences between us too vast?

Christianity believes that this gulf was bridged when God became human, like you and me, in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus we are able to discover who God is, and be assured that God knows what it is like to be one of us.

In this time of political madness, find comfort in praying to a God who understands you.

gavin.henderson@gracecom.church

 

https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56761074

 

Rising damp

May 10, 2019

Sensationalist headlines screamed from our national newspapers this week; “Climate crisis ‘may force UK towns to be abandoned’” was the Guardian’s version. It went on to say that, according to the Environment Agency, the impact of a forecast global temperature rise of 4C could lead to whole communities having to move away from coasts and rivers, leading to towns and villages being abandoned.

As a Christian, which to me means a follower of Christ, my knee-jerk reaction was to ask myself what would Jesus think about it all? How would he react? What would he say or do?

On the subject of climate change, he is silent. Perhaps not surprising when you consider how different a place the world was 2000 years ago. Yet in his famous Sermon on the Mount, he made this simple, yet profound, statement: “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.”

The implications behind those words stretch far beyond our management or mis-management of the environment.

All the very best

peter.mill@gracecom.church

1Matthew 7:12 (NIVUK)

Sinking? Need Help?

September 4, 2018

You’ve probably heard of sinkholes, but sinking cities? For the 10 million people who live in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, they have definitely heard of the later, and it’s giving them that sinking feeling!

Jakarta is the fastest-sinking city in the world and this is no joke. The city on average sinks faster than your finger nails grow, at a rate of 1-15cm a year. In fact, since 1970, some parts have sunk by four meters. Experts say that most of the city could be submerged by 2050! Not funny.

I wonder what the solution is? It appears that the only solution is to stop what is causing the problem: stop pumping groundwater out from underneath the city. Groundwater is pumped for domestic use, but it causes the land surface to sink too.

This all got me thinking. I’m no expert but I once heard of a solution to this kind of problem long ago. But the lesson I heard was about a house sinking. And the solution was a no brainer.

The teacher said that if you want a house to survive storms and rising waters, so it doesn’t sink, then here’s what you do: build the house on rock. Genius! But the real mystery of this lesson – for you and me – is in the metaphor. What do I mean?

This teacher was talking about life. And his story finished like this, “everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”[1] This may sound familiar (or not). The teacher who said these words was no ordinary man. His name is Jesus. But you might be thinking, ‘isn’t that a little arrogant of him to say such a self-assured thing?’

Why are the teachings and values of Jesus ones that can help you ride the storms of life, stopping your life from sinking? Well, I guess it’s to do with the source of his wisdom. His wisdom was different. I have always been impressed by the wisdom of people more experienced than me; it’s just that: their wisdom comes through insight from life experiences. With Jesus, this was not where his wisdom came from.

His wisdom was from above; it was not earthly. It was not self-generated. He said that it came from God because he had come from God. It was divine wisdom and values that work. That help us live life better.

Personally, I like the bits in Matthew 5, 6 and 7. I have found them good principles to build my life upon. Let’s build on the rock.

Notes:

[1] The Bible, Matthew 7:24 (ESV)

[Photo by Serge Kutuzov on Unsplash]

What’s Missing? Part 2

August 7, 2018

In the previous blog, we challenged you to add punctuation to a sentence, that without it, did not make sense. Then went on to challenge you to ask what is missing in your life? Let’s deal with the sentence first, correctly punctuated.

Keith, where Richard had had, “had,” had had, “had had.” “Had had” had had full marks.

Punctuation makes sense of what seemed to be a nonsensical sentence. As we said, it is important in enabling us to understand the written word, whether a sentence, a paragraph, an advert, an article, a set of instructions or a book. Without punctuation, if it’s missing, the written word would just be gobbledegook!

But like punctuation in sentences, what might be missing from our lives? However good life can be, it can be better; or however bad things are, there is a way out of the spiral of agony, pain and draining emotional distress each of us may experience. Of course, we all know that life is a bit like a rollercoaster with ups and downs, whatever our personal situation.

Whether rich or poor, old or young, black or white, fat or thin, we will never have a perfect life where only good things happen. But for so many of us, there is something missing. What could this be? It is as a simple as a relationship with God.

Whether we know it or not, this relationship that is missing. This void in our life often creeps into our thought process from time to time, even though we may dismiss it. So whether our life is happy or sad, there will be a time when the big questions fill our mind. Is there a God? Is God real? What is the purpose of life? Why am I here? If life is good and we are happy we will most likely let them flit through our mind but quickly forget them. We are doing fine, we don’t feel we are missing anything!

But if our life is not so good, especially if we are in a crisis situation, we are more likely to let those questions linger and want an answer to them. However bad our life seems, whatever addiction has dragged us down, however low we are, whether it is a family problem, a work problem, a financial problem or a social problem that has got us in crisis, we will be aware that something is missing.

We often look for a magic solution which delivers us from the crisis, solves whatever the problem is and allows our life to return to an even keel overnight. The bad news is that’s not the way God usually works! The good news is that once we realise what is missing, and you seek that relationship, God will calm the storm by giving us the strength we need to sail through it.

From the day we surrender our life to God, seeking him in prayer, we will feel different even though faced with all the problems that got us into a crisis situation in the first place. Why? Because we are no longer on our own, because from that moment we have hope! If it’s taken five, ten or twenty years to get into so bad a mess that we know we need help, then we can’t expect an overnight solution to all our problems.

God will allow a situation to continue because he wants to know how serious and committed we are to have a relationship with him. But and this is an absolute promise, God will never let us be in a situation that we cannot survive.[1]

In any situation, there will be a way forward, even if we can’t always see it at the time. Following God does not create a golden path through life, with no stress, no strains, no pressures. But it does mean we can have real hope. That hope will become ever more real to us as time goes by. If we add some bible reading to our prayers, then eventually we can take the big step to find and get to know other Christians.

You can’t teach or show someone how to have a relationship with God, each person has to experience it for themselves. Let me explain it this way. As I write I am eating a bar of chocolate (or part of a bar if my wife reads this). Can you tell me if it’s milk, plain, flavoured or, say, chocolate with something in it, like raisins or nuts? Of course, you can’t because you would have to be here and taste it. Only I know what kind of chocolate I’m eating.

So it is with a relationship with God, you have to try and experience it for yourself. Here’s a challenge for you: ask God to reveal himself to you in prayer. Over time, just as punctuation is needed to make sense of sentences, you will find a relationship with God is what’s been missing, helping you make sense of your life![2]

By Keith Hartrick.

[Keith is a retired Managing Director and the church leader of our Leeds congregation, Grace Communion International. He is editor of Richard’s blogs.]

Notes:

[1] 1st Corinthians 10:13

[2] Matthew 7:7-8

[Photo by Ben White on Unsplash]

What’s missing? Part 1

July 30, 2018

From time to time, in one of the national newspapers, perhaps as an article or on the correspondence pages, someone will raise a concern about the lack of correct punctuation in a publication, an advert or even a company name. It often seems that our schools don’t see correct punctuation as a priority. So how would you punctuate the sentence below for it to make sense?

Keith where Richard had had had had had had had had had had had full marks.

What’s missing? We will reveal in the answer in the next blog! Meanwhile, you might enjoy working out how to punctuate the above sentence so that it makes sense. But what is the point of what, for you, maybe a simple exercise or an annoying puzzle? Well, the answer is in the title: what’s missing?

For just as punctuation marks enable us to read and understand a sentence, an article, instructions, or a book, so we can find life doesn’t make sense without proper guidance and knowledge. We go through the motions in our home, work and social life and convince ourselves we are enjoying life, but maybe in the back of our heads, we know something is missing.

Sometimes we look for what is missing in the wrong places: in excessive alcohol consumption for example, or in taking illegal drugs, which we know is only going to hurt us and make our life more difficult. Maybe we find meaning, for a while, in sleeping around, in being obsessive about a hobby, whether that is an extreme sport or following the fortunes of our local football club.

Maybe we become a workaholic because that pushes what is missing in our lives to the recesses of our minds. We keep ourselves so busy we convince ourselves that we are important and don’t have or need the time to think about the big questions of life. Perhaps work is boring and uninteresting – it’s just what we do to make money – so we live for our weekends, out drinking with our mates, or absorbed in our hobby, or chasing satisfaction in a one night stand.

Alternatively, we may be very involved in our family, giving every spare minute to our children, on a treadmill of football training, gymnastics, swimming, dancing, trampolining, or other sports and providing a full-time taxi service to all their out of school activities.

Life today is already busy and stressful, but we make sure our days and nights are filled with activity, even if that is sitting in front of the television each evening. We keep ourselves in a whirl of physical and mental activity, some of which we can really enjoy. But, of course, takes away anytime to think, to ponder, to let what’s missing come to the front and centre of our thoughts.

So the days, months and years slip by and we go through highs and lows, sometimes relaxed and enjoying life, sometimes stressed and tired of what seems to be a never-ending treadmill of things we must do.

Is it any wonder that our mental health, as a nation, is becoming an increasing concern to the medical profession and government? That suicides among our young people are increasing? That more and more people are hanging on by their fingertips in this materially focused world?

But you may be one of the lucky ones, with a good job you enjoy, a supportive family and good friends so life for you is good.

Yet in whichever situation you are in, just occasionally, in a rare quiet moment your mind strays and whether life is good or bad you find yourself thinking, something is missing! So just what is it? Find out in our next blog.

By Keith Hartrick.

[Keith is a retired Managing Director and the church leader of our Leeds congregation, Grace Communion International. He is editor of Richard’s blogs.]

[Photo by Goh Rhy Yan on Unsplash]

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