Sunday, December 18, 2016

Behtlehem Choir

A melody not heard before
Tumbles over hill and moor
A song of peace that stirs the air
News from heaven angels share

They sing of peace so rich and deep
For those who mourn, who grieve, who weep
They sing of new life - ours to claim
An end to sorrow, guilt and shame

They sing of hope that never died
Of God’s vast love that dwells inside
They sing of freedom, chains that break
Of new adventures now to take

They sing of unrelenting joy
That starts its journey with a boy
He’s heaven clothed in earthly skin
Who ends a curse for us to win

They sing to us, yes, you and me
Ignite in us eternity
And birth in us a thirst for more
Of all that falls through heaven’s door

Be still and listen to their song
Learn the words and sing along
God has stepped into our world
Into our lives salvation hurled

Saturday, December 10, 2016

The Sin, The Outcry and the God who Comes Down

“Then the Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” Genesis 18:20-21

An outcry so great and a sin so grievous – this potent combination draws God from His throne to “go down and see.”

Let’s just remind ourselves of what the sin so grievous was.

“As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, your sister Sodom and her daughters never did what you and your daughters have done. Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.”  Ezekiel 16:48-50

“…arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” This is God speaking. Ask any of us about the detestable things and not helping the poor doesn’t come instantly to mind.

Who made the outcry? That is what interests me.  You see, without the outcry being so great, the outcry about the sin so grievous, God would not have visited Abraham to involve him in what happened next. OK I admit He might have come down just for the meal and the baby talk, but one gets the impression that it was the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah that drew Him down.

The dictionary defines an outcry as “a strong and usually public expression of protest, indignation, or the like, a crying out or a loud clamour”. There doesn’t seem to be any obvious indignant protesters in the story.

Does it have to be a person? I’ve heard one or two speakers talk about guardian angels of specific towns or cities. Could it be an angel that cried out about Sodom and Gomorrah’s sin?

What about creation? The whole of creation was tied up with Adam and Eve and fell foul of the Fall and the curse that followed. Maybe nature was fed up of being twisted and corrupted.

Maybe it wasn’t an audible cry at all. Maybe it was a heart cries of tears and sorrow, empty stomachs and disappointed hopes of the poor and the needy – the ones the arrogant, overfed and unconcerned wouldn’t help.

God is moved enough to visit when someone protests so strongly about a sin that cannot be lived with or tolerated. 

Today there are outcries so great about sins so grievous.  And God still comes - in church and people delegated form. His church, His people are the ones He sends to respond to the outcry. It challenges me to think about how I react to outcries. How loud does it have to get before I actually hear it? Do I rank outcries according to how great I think they are before I respond? Do I think that someone else will deal with it? Or do I help?

I am also challenges about my own out-crying. I was talking with a group of young people this week about why we find it so difficult to ask for help. We have this idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness. Society demands we cope and frowns on those who are struggling.

Christmas is about God coming down to a whole human race that isn’t coping. The sin so grievous is in trying to live a fruitful life without God – the failure to help the poor and needy being just one of many symptoms of life lived without God.  In Christ, God deals with it.

Where Abraham in his bargaining with God stopped at ten righteous men needed to save the city, God stops at one. His One Righteous man saved us all. God comes to each of us, in Christ, through His Spirit.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

The Cry of Blood

six hundred cells in a single drop of blood
countless drops in a human body
a hundred and twenty days to travel
a hundred thousand miles of micro metre vessels
at a walking pace

the brother’s keeper turns traitor
anger in heart and blade in hand, he
diverts the blood’s journey
and the ground collects every cell
as Abel’s blood cries for justice

the pattern repeats
printed on the fabric of history
as every brother’s keeper refuses to keep
the ground is saturated and
the world stops listening

God listens and births himself
Jesus, divinity in dust, a true brother's keeper
love in heart and nails in hand
he surrenders his blood
it collects at the Father’s throne
and cries for mercy

The pattern is forever altered and
The torn fabric of humanity is mended

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Facing Up to the Enemy

I didn’t plan to watch the whole Matrix trilogy last night. Our paths crossed. It was a planets-lining-up-moment and I went with it.

I have seen them all before but not recently, and not one after the other. I understood the first one and thought it was very clever.  And then it gets all too philosophical. A group of young people and I were debating the whole issue of free-will and came to the conclusion that we are not really free at all because, even taking away all the rules we live by, we are surrounded by the fitting-in thing and a list of what society expects and rewards and punishes, not by prison, but by ostracising us.

That said, I sat down to join Neo on his journey through the Matrix. I have probably mentioned before that I am not a film watcher that keeps a respectable distance from what is going on. I have a joining-in gene when it comes to watching stuff. Sometimes it is kept in check.  At other times I let myself off the leash.

So last night, I sat on the sofa joining in. I did all the martial arts poses as best as I could, sitting down. I did the swirly arms thing and the arm blocks and the chopping motions. And I made the right sound effects as I watched. There was no point where Neo was ever fighting on his own – I was there. Can I just tell you how cathartic that whole first film was for me? Every real and imagined foe I had encountered during the week, I thought about, and I chopped them to bits. And did I laugh? Absolutely.

The second film began. I opted not to try to figure out the philosophy. Remember, it was Friday night and I was rather brain-fried. I was looking for fluff and nonsense. I wasn’t really getting the finer moments of the story line – just continuing my seated Kung-Fu poses. There’s a bit in the film where Neo and his friends are in a tunnel, being chased by a lot of sentinels, squirmy robots with a gazillion tentacles. They are running, the sentinels are hot on their heels. Neo turns and lifts his hand and the sentinels explode in a fire-work flash of lights.

“St Columba!” I roared.

This is not a new swear word. I had been exploring the life of St Columba with a bunch of young people – a different bunch from the ones who had the free-will discussion. In the story of St Columba, he and his friends have an encounter with the Loch Ness Monster. The monster was terrorising the people who lived near the River Ness. One man has been bitten and had died. Columba had buried the man.  Later he told one of his friends to swim across the river to fetch the boat. (Oh, yes, St Columba – of course I’m going to swim across the river to get a boat, even though the monster had just bitten someone – sure, no problem – NOT) Well, without hesitation the man began swimming. And yes the monster appeared. St Columba made the sign of the cross and commanded the monster to “Go no further!” and it turned tail and ran.

St Columba wasn’t a man to shrink back. He faced up to all sorts of scary things. There are so many stories of him and his men going out of their way to confront the things that scared themselves and others. We had a great time swapping stories of our phobias and trying to work out why we held them. We also talked about how to deal with them. One girl talked about her parent’s friend who worked with spiders visiting them with a whole collection of stuff and teaching them how to handle hairy legs crawling over them and to not feel alarmed, giving them information about habitats and lifestyles and, in the process, pulling out the little splinters of fear that had become embedded.

St Columba was a man who took God at His word. The opening chapters of Genesis contain the creation story. People are made in the image of God and given dominion, power to rule, over the birds of the air, the fish in the sea and every creature that moves over the land. Columba took that to heart. God had given him that power and he used it. I know that one day in the near future my free-will discussion young people will be exploring these opening chapters and dissecting them – but I want to have a St Columba spirit about the authority we have been given. I want to face my own Loch Ness monsters fearlessly and command them to “Go no further”.

St Columba and the Loch Ness monster! Neo and the sentinels! The brain made the connection. Neo’s hand raised became my hand raised too. Both of us raised our hands against the sentinels.  Both of us witnessed victory over them. Neo collapsed and I roared out “St Columba!”

In my quiet time this morning – well, it wasn’t really quiet at all, a hand was raised and authority was taken and a few monsters commanded to “Go no further!”

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Jericho Man

What’s yours is mine
Says the bandit hiding behind the rocks
As he hits the Jericho man on the head

What’s mine is mine
Says the priest hiding behind his holy vocation
As he passes the Jericho man leaving him for dead

What’s mine is yours
Says the Samaritan not hiding at all
As he wraps up the Jericho man and puts him to bed

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

His Way

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9

It’s a familiar passage and I know a song about the verses that follow on from it. We have a tendency to isolate verses from their context. Thoughts about what? What particular thoughts here are not mine? What ways are higher? Pretty much every thought is what you might be thinking – but there is a specific thought in this case.

There was a programme on BBC on Sunday night. It wasn’t on that late, but late enough for me to decide to record it and watch it the next day. “The Selfless Sikh: Faith on the Frontline” is one of those programmes that RE teachers feel obliged to watch. So I watched it yesterday. Spoiler Alert! It was about a Sikh putting his faith on the front line! The front line he was putting it on was in war torn Iraq. He didn’t tell his mother where he was headed because he didn’t want her to worry. He provided aid to Yazidi refugees fleeing ISIS.

Ravi Singh talked to women and young boys about life under ISIS rule and it was uncomfortable stuff to listen to. Families were broken apart, husbands killed, wives and daughters sold as slaves and young sons drafted into the army and given guns to shoot and lessons in how to behead the enemy. The women telling their stories wore headscarves and covered their faces – but their eyes, uncovered, showed how much they had suffered. They wiped away tears – and so did I.

As Ravi listened, he dropped his head. As he listened he admitted to being angry about what men has done to other men, to women and to children. It was all too easy to focus on the bad actions and harden his heart to the culprits, but he didn’t want to be like that. He wanted to stay soft hearted and compassionate and reach out to their victims instead.

Let’s head back to Isaiah and to God’s higher thoughts.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Isaiah 55:6-7

God will have mercy on the wicked and the unrighteous. He will freely pardon them – if they seek him.  If they turn to him.

I am not sure I want to have any mercy for those who raped the women in the programme. I didn’t want them to be pardoned. They didn’t deserve mercy or pardon. I know…I know…I didn’t deserve mercy or pardon either but in comparison to the crimes they have committed, mine is just little forgivable stuff.

That’s how God thinks differently and acts differently to me. I think in terms of justice, of revenge perhaps and of people getting exactly what they deserve. God thinks in terms of mercy and pardon. My ways are the ways of the world – they have got to pay for their actions. God thinks – “I have already paid.” God challenges me to think and act the way He does.

“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.” Isaiah 55:12-13

God has created me for joy and for peace. He wants me to inhabit an environment where hills and mountains sing and trees clap their hands. That doesn’t happen when I choose revenge. I have the choice to grow the juniper and the myrtle and walk away from the thorn bushes and the briers.

I had a picture in my head. I was standing with a machine gun in my hand. The gun summed up my heart reaction to all the stories I had heard in the TV programme. These men of violence understood only violence. The way to defeat them was by using greater violence. Then a man came along and took the machine gun off me. He pushed into my hand a pile of bandages and a first aid kit. Nothing was said.

This is His way and it has to be my way too.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Generation Snowflake

The Oxford English Dictionary is updated four times a year – in March, June, September, and December. As some of the words we don’t use anymore get kicked out, new ones take up residence.

Not so long ago BBC Breakfast TV introduced its viewers to a selection of the new ones. They took a camera out onto the streets, stopped members of the public, quizzing them on the definitions of the new words. The only entry that stuck in my mind was Generation Snowflake.

One of the first women they asked described Generation Snowflake well. They are the generation of young people who are wrapped up in cotton wool by their parents.  They are the “little treasures” that must be protected and defended at all times. They are surrendered to at the first hint of a tantrum. If a teacher gives them a row or complains about homework not done, the parents take up the fight on their child’s behalf. What they don’t teach their children is about how to fight their own battles and how to be resilient. Their sons and daughters don’t know how to prevail, to stick at something and see it through to the very end. They simply cave in.

One of today’s papers picked up on the idea of the snowflake generation. The journalist wrote about being a Brownie and going away to camp and sleeping away from home for the very first time. They were out there, in the wild, with their tents and their Brown Owl learning how to cook sausages over a camp fire. When it came for the time to go to bed, the girls had not realised that the tents they had put up were for them to sleep in. They expected a parent to show up and take them home. There was a lot of weeping and wailing and sobbing and very little seeing the whole adventure thing. One lassie wanted to be dropped off at the nearest police station where she could call her parents to come and get her. This was in the days before mobile phones.

The Brown Owl was a no-nonsense woman. She just told them to deal with it. It was the tents or nothing and no one was going home. The girls eventually climbed into the sleeping bags, fell asleep and woke the next morning feeling they had done something very brave. They were not allowed to be snowflakes – people that melted at the first sign of a scorching challenge.

Part of the resilience found in the brownies at camp was in their shared experience. They discovered that other girls shared the same fears and anxieties they had.  They were not alone. Part of the problem for the current generation of young people is their isolation. They don’t always do things with others. Computers, I-phones and game-boxes mean that they are often on their own. Meal times might often not be a family affair, but a variety of meals taken upstairs or eaten in front of a TV. There is too little interaction with others without that opportunity to develop a “we-are-in-this-together” mentality.

Resilience is becoming my favourite word these days. I am surprisingly resilient. I’m not sure that I can hark back to my Brownie days and say it happened then. I came from a large family and lived in a street where every house had its offspring and everyone playing together all the time. There was no computer tech then. I am not sure that’s where my resilience has its birth.

My early days in the teaching profession were not successful ones – I am not that sure about my current day either. I had spent four years getting my teaching qualifications and was determined to give teaching four years before coming to the conclusion I wasn’t cut out for it. That was some thirty six years ago.

My resilience comes from my relationship with God. He doesn’t really allow me to back down from a challenge. When things get tough He directs me to all the resources that I need to triumph. I have always believed that an important part of those resources come from the church family that God has built me into. Yes, we are in this together and we share life together, the joys, the struggles, the defeats, the victories, the tears, the laughter, the battles we fight side by side and the lessons we learn along the way. There is no room for isolationists in God’s kingdom. No one gets to grab a meal and take it up to the bedroom to eat whilst texting a mate.

I would like to think that to the new generation of just-surrendered-to-Jesus Christians I can be a little Brown Owlish. I am thinking not so much of telling the new generation to “deal with it” or declaring “It’s the tents or nothing”.  I would like to live resilience in front of them in a way that they can learn and live it for themselves.