Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The old or the new?

One of the things I have probably heard the most during this Coronavirus epidemic is "when can we get back to normal?" or "when can we return to the way things were?". I can completely understand the need to re-find some sense of comfort in being able to do things in the ways we had grown used to. For example in my case that might include:

Planning trips to see our children and grandchildren

Organising holidays well in advance

Meeting up with folks over a coffee or a meal

Sharing worship in person with the church

Catching up with the church over coffee after the services and in other meetings and gatherings.

Meeting all of the toddler group mum's, carers and children


The longer this lockdown or partial lockdown has continued and a few weeks has stretched into 7 months, so far, we still see no clear end to the situation and so what was thrust upon us by the rapid change has become a sort of new normal.

Jesus' arrival heralded a new normal for all people. No longer a normal of trying to win God's favour by observing strict religious codes and rules, but a new normal of inclusion in God's kingdom through Jesus' suffering, death and resurrection. A new normal of Salvation by God's grace and not our observances and rituals. This new normal caused ructions, the religious of the day wanted Jesus out of the way, they clung to the old. Jesus' words about new wine in old wineskins certainly caused issues. I am not sure he meant the old was bad and the new was good, but more that a new way meant a new container, the old wouldn't be able to hold it.

As I reflect a little on what has happened I can be sad at what I don't have and miss - the personal contact with friends and family, the buzz of church before during and after worship, the laughter and fun with the toddlers and so on. But I can also consider what is different and positive. Less meetings to travel to and so more time for other things (like speaking to church folks with real time given to it on the phone and not in snatched conversations with others waiting). Folks being able to attend services on Zoom who often work hours that make actually getting to church on Sunday hard. And then there is the on-line chats with our children and grand-children which are more frequent.

The old normal has some useful things to pull forward into the new normal but I wonder how much of the old we need to let go of and embrace the new a little more. Then perhaps it will not be so frightening but instead will become an opportunity to embrace new ways of doing things in all aspects of our lives and especially in our church lives.

God is more than able to work through each and any situation, after all church has survived two millennia so far and a good many changes have happened in the process. Maybe there is something for us in this embracing of the new, Isaiah wrote God's word to him down for us and maybe they are worth reflecting upon in the current situation. "Behold I do a new thing".

Friday, 21 August 2020

A Rock in a world of confusion

 I suspect that like me these last months have seemed like a sea of shifting sand. Different countries, even different parts of countries approaching this virus pandemic in different ways. In The UK we have England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales all taking slightly different approaches - perhaps a foretaste of what things will be like if and when some get independence? Each claim to be following the science, the mantra of the post modern world? Because politicians don't want the blame for any bad or wrong choices, its all down to the science. Yet the scientific community does not have all of the answers, there are different views on how it spreads, how isolated folks should be, heard immunity and so on.

The plethora of rules, regulations, guidelines and such is truly mind boggling and as a church minister it has proven both time consuming and difficult to navigate through it all, especially when we consider opening the church for limited congregations.

Rocks, sand and water in Saligo Bay, Isle of Islay | Islay ...Jesus told a parable about building our houses on sand or rock. And yes I know he was talking about faith. The question of what we have faith in is very relevant to the situation. My faith in Jesus has helped me to stand firm in this uncharted time. It helps me to take a more considered look at how to respond and how to get involved. For many of the world their faith in human endeavour and has been shown to be flawed, science is not the universal panacea, governments are flawed and make mistakes, the worlds economy lives on a foundation of sand, which it seems is very easily moved.

What has caused me even more thought is how easily the world economy can be pushed into melt down by a little virus. Perhaps it speaks to us about the fragility of the systems that we hold so firmly to? In the area in which I live I have been pleased at the response of people to giving up time to help others. Ensuring that those who have to shield etc still get their medication, shopping and a phone call to cheer them up.

I wonder if the real problem that this virus highlights relates to our ways of life. Is our travelling the globe with relative ease, our desire to do as we want, often without regard for the impact on the ecology of the planet or others, now getting some payback? It seems to me that some things are going to have to change or this has every chance to become a regular problem.

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

How much are we worth 2?

Last time I talked a little about how we value different people and different jobs or skills that society relies upon Over the last weeks we have seen events that suggest that some feel marginalised for other reasons and the protests, riots and looting that have followed are justified by some as expressions of anger against the injustices that they experience.

It led me back to reflecting upon how much we are valued or how much we think we are valued. In the face of an unequal society that various of course from country to country. Different forms of inequality present themselves according to culture, race and economics. In some countries we talk about the inequalities of the colour of skin. In others the inequalities of the shade of the colour of skin, in yet others the caste in which a person is born. In yet other countries it can be those who have power and those who are powerless. Yes, I realise that there are other forms of inequality and prejudice.

However in the cases above, there is, I think, another factor, economics. It seems to me that one of the key denominators in those forms of inequality and prejudice is that of economic access. The ideas of some being superior to others is nothing new, neither is the mighty ruling the less mighty. Throughout history it has been a factor in reducing the economic access for those in the "lower" orders, those less equal than others.

As a teenager I read and was moved by the story that George Orwell gave us in "Animal" farm and the salutary comment "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". In some countries being white may well give an unfair advantage over others. in others its that a person is born to a higher caste or is from a people group who have power over others (regardless of colour). The result is usually the same, I think, that some are denied full access to appropriate education, resources, opportunities and the ability to help themselves. It can also breed a sense of helplessness, hopelessness or a lethargy in groups and so one spark can cause the sorts of reactions we have been seeing recently around the world. Not that I condone riots or looting, nor the total ignoring of social distancing in the protests, but I do understand the frustrations that lead to this.

Politics, action groups and the like have not made a huge difference to lower castes, minority groups to those who live in townships, ghettos or are part of ethnic minorities where there are social groups who have vested interests in keeping them down. Human schemes can only go so far.

Far too many folks have, in my opinion, bought the philosophy which suggests that "I" have the right to live life as I see fit, "I" decide what is right and wrong, (mentioned by the New You Times journalist Samuel Freedman and quoted by Tim Keller in Walking with God through pain and suffering). Whether we are in some way privileged or underprivileged, that philosophy leads to justification of whatever action we take to achieve or maintain our goals.

Jesus offered a radical solution to those "outcast" or "subjugated" by the society in which they lived, the same offer is there today. In humanity there needs to be a heart change. A change so radical that some are prepared to give up privilege, power, economic wealth and social standing, so that others might take part in the wealth and opportunities that should be available to all. But it also needs a heart change in those under privileged as well. To see the world differently, to take the opportunities that education can offer and so take part in changing society rather than being on the outside. People rarely change because they are told to, in my experience, but faith in Jesus will and does change us all. It gives us hope that we can and in fact do make a difference.

To the one who tries to amass wealth or power Jesus reminds us that all will die and leave it behind. He tells us to sow treasure in heaven by what we do here in this life.

To the one who feels put down. Jesus included all that he came across even those from outside of the Jewish people that he focused on at that time.No one is beyond his love and grace. He gives hope to all.

To the one who stands apathetically by, Jesus says when you do not do it to the least of these, you do not do it to me.

The kingdom of heaven is not about something we simply hope for in the future when we die. Jesus tells us that it is in our midst. It is with us - Christ initiated it so that we could be a part. We all have choices to make - to live for ourselves or to learn to live for each other. To love our neighbour as we love ourselves. 

I believe it is possible to make a better future for all. But it takes faith, love and the ability to sacrifice for others. The question for us all is will we?

Friday, 24 April 2020

How much are we worth?

Hi, as we continue in this period of self-isolation resulting from COVID-19 it has given me a little time to ponder the way we approach things, the value that we place on things and the need for some adjustments.

How many of us get caught out by shopping on the internet seeing a cheap "bargain" and order it.? Only to find that it's a fake shopping site or they send the incorrect item and try to get away with not refunding. In effect caught out by our desire to get something cheaper.

Reflecting on our current situation, it seems to me that the value systems that we have developed and embedded into our modern culture, have been thrown onto their heads. Our social standing, how much a person earns counts for nothing where this virus is concerned. Where we live and how well educated we are only matter in so far as the access they give us to protective gear and medical aid. How much money a person makes for their business, is totally irrelevant when what is needed are folks with specialisations that have long been undervalued in our society. In a society that wants to pay as little as possible for as much as possible, those with less voice, often the lower paid, are oppressed. We have seen the impact of zero hour contracts, we have seen the whittling away of money for schools, social services, hospitals, council services, care work and such. Now these are the things we need more than ever. These are the ones putting their lives on the line for the rest of us - nurses, doctors, teachers, care workers, refuge collectors, shop workers, delivery people ... yes its quite big list of mostly lower paid workers!

Don't get me wrong, I am not in favour of generating bloated organisations that waste money or of privatizing everything so that others can cream off profits, efficiency is important. I am wondering what value we should truly place on the things we need to help us cope with and overcome this virus and others like it that will surely come along? How many of us would be prepared to give up a lot more of our income to help fund decent salaries for these sector workers and the equipment that they need? Would we be prepared to pay more for the things we want or need to have them manufactured locally rather than in sweat shops in foreign parts or by people being paid a pittance for their work? Surely if nothing else this virus crisis should make us rethink and learn?

Value is important, above I question the value we place on things and people. Jesus challenged his disciples about status and value.We have just"celebrated" Easter, when Christians remember and rejoice at the work God did through Jesus on the cross and then through his resurrection. God wants to know us personally and to do that made a way through Jesus' sacrifice to wipe the slate clean for us, if we will accept it. Jesus put a value on each and every person, that value is the same in each case, because what he did he did for each of us, regardless of what we think or the world thinks we are worth. Graham Kendrick summed it up in his song "Paid on the Nail". It's worth a listen and spending a moment reflecting - how much are you worth?

During this period of isolation our church are meeting with "Zoom" - take a look at our website for info on how to join us (10.30am UK time). A song that has recently really encouraged me as I consider values and the value God has placed on me is this "King of Kings". I hope it lifts your spirits to know that God has placed a value on you, you are worth everything to God.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Fake News and Truth

The current Coronavirus epidemic seems to have generated a large amount of fake news. What is hard to understand at times is why folks make it up, perhaps people trying to get more likes or shares on social media. Maybe some just like to worry people and stir things up. What is even harder to understand is the willingness of so many to believe anything on the internet without checking its truth.

A stunning one was that somehow 5G was connected to the spread of the virus or that the virus was let out to mask the impact of deaths through 5G radiation. Several masts in the UK have been attacked as a result. The WHO had to publish a list of Coronavirus myth busters which included:

  1. The 5G situation mentioned previously
  2. Exposure to Sun or higher temperatures or low temperatures, does not kill the virus
  3. You can actually recover from the virus
  4. 10 secs of holding your breath without coughing does not mean you are free from the virus
  5. Drinking alcohol does not protect your from the virus
  6.  ... there are more in the web page!
Have we become so easily sold out to someones mistaken ideas and fantasies that we can no longer determine the truth from fiction?

Why does all of this interest me? As a Christian church minister I am often confronted with the opposite. Folks unwilling or unable to look at the "truth" of Jesus Christ, but instead pushing it aside as fiction or fantasy. Some accept that he was an historical character but not who he claimed to be, God incarnate, God with us. Perhaps it has something to do with the potential impact of believing something. Believing unsubstantiated internet stories on social media or in the press, has little if any cost to us, unless of course they are true. But if the accounts of Jesus are true, then its a very different story. 

He calls us to change our way of life, to care about others with a higher regard than perhaps we have had. He calls us to worship God when we probably never did before. He calls us to develop a whole new world view, neither consumer capitalism based nor communist based. But an attitude of fairness, justice, love, mercy. Preferring the needs of others before our own. Often it requires sacrifices in our lives. So no its not an easy path. 

Easter is the time of year when Christians remember and celebrate the events of the death and resurrection, the coming back to life of Jesus. Signalling a new way, a new agreement being made possible between people and God. In our church we invite folks to the Alpha course, to look into these in an open and reasonable way. Presenting what we as Christians believe and allowing folks to explore and if they want to to experience it for themselves. Hopefully shortly we will do an on-line Alpha for those isolated by the virus.(contact me if you are interested).

My hope is that more will want to explore faith in Jesus this Easter, without simply assigning it to the myth bin.

Happy Easter