Thoughts and prayers

This morning the world wakes to the news of yet another shooting in the US. And as usual the social media channels are full of people offering “thoughts and prayers.” Some of this is doubtless from people of faith who are genuinely praying for those caught up in the incident. But how much of it is really just the culturally expected response?

And what does it mean to pray in this context? Or indeed in any context. Surely our prayers must be active – we cannot use “I am praying” as an excuse not to respond in other ways – it can’t be a case of I’m leaving this to God so I don’t need to do anything. James is abundantly clear about this:

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” (James 2:14-17, NIV)

Is this not what sections of the American church have been guilty of time and again? Offering “thoughts and prayers” to the victim of gun crime while doing nothing to support efforts for greater gun control. Indeed far too often it is those who claim the name of Jesus who have been arguing for a continuation of the current right to bear arms. I am usually cautious in criticising the views of those who are in a very different cultural context than myself, but in this case I have no hesitancy in stating that this is wrong.

To be blunt, if you continue to support the free availability of instruments that exist for no other reason than to injure and kill, while claiming to worship the God who said clearly, “Do not kill”, then you lose the right to offer “thoughts and prayers” for those who have been injured or killed.

Most people reading this will not be in the US, but many of you may know people in America. If you do, please do talk to them about this issue. If they are not yet speaking out in favour of gun control please urge them to do so. If, like all of my American friends, they already see the importance of this issue, then please encourage them to continue in this fight.

My thoughts and prayers are with those caught up in the incident in Texas. But they are also with all those involved in political and religious leadership in America – that they may have the courage to follow the leading of Jesus, to put faith into action, and to see the responsibility and the power that they have to be agents for change and to reduce the probability of this happening again.

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Lent

Tomorrow is the first day of Lent, the period of the year when Christians turn their minds and hearts to the coming Passiontide and Easter season.  Traditionally Lent is a time of reflection and penitence, 40 days mirroring the 40 days which Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted.  Often it has been a time to give something up as part of a process of refocussing of life on what really matters.  But increasingly it has become a time instead to take up something new and positive.

This duality of both consciously fasting and also positively refocussing is expressed in the following, words of Abbot Tryphon of All-Merciful Saviour Orthodox Monastery, Vashon Island, Washington, USA, which were sent to me by a member of our congregation:

Fasting is not just about food.

Fast from self-concern and feast on compassion for others.

Fast from discouragement and feast on hope.

Fast from lethargy and feast on enthusiasm.

Fast from suspicion and feast on truth.

Fast from thoughts that weaken and feast on promises that inspire.

Fast from shadows  of sorrow and feast on the sunlight of serenity.

Fast from idle gossip and feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm you and feast on prayer that sustains.

Fast from criticism and feast on praise.

Fast from self-pity and feast on joy.

Fast from ill-temper and feast on peace.

Fast from resentment and feast on contentment.

Fast from jealousy and feast on love.

Fast from pride and feast on humility.

Fast from selfishness and feast on service.

From what will you fast this Lent?  And on what will you feast?

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!  I pray that everyone reading this will have a 2017 that is indeed happy, and peaceful, and filled with the presence of God.   

I’m not sure I’ve ever known so many people expressing a hope that this year will be better than last.  For some that is a result of personal and family situations which have made 2016 a difficult year.  For others it is a result of the number of household names who seem to have died (David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, the list goes on…), which perhaps reminds them of their own mortality.  For still others the various political developments in this country and around the world have made them feel unsafe and uncertain of the future. 

None of us know what 2017 will bring, whether it will be better or worse, but it is inevitable that it will hold times of sadness and distress.  So how do we motivate ourselves to carry on? 

As I reflected on the last year God gave me the chorus of a gospel song, “Because he lives I can face tomorrow, because he lives all fear is gone.”  When Jesus was on earth he experienced the joys of being human, but also the sorrows, grief, terrible suffering, torture, and death.  But he walked through this and out the other side into fullness of life.  And now he walks with us through everything we experience in life, its joy and its sorrows. 

So I hope 2017 will be a good year for you, but when the difficult times come we face them with Jesus who “endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” where he is still seated today (Hebrews 12:2).  His death and resurrection don’t make any promises that we won’t hit difficulties this year, but they do assure us that he is in control, and give us hope for a future that is full of joy and peace in his presence.

On the move

For a while now I have had a blog, but the site at which it is hosted is ending their blogging service in December this year.  So I am on the move.  This blog will be the continuation of maninthemiddle.blog.co.uk.  Hopefully I will be able to transfer over the previous posts, but I haven’t worked out an easy way to do that yet, so do go to that site if you want to read what I have written in the past, or follow this blog to see what I may say in the future.