Plus ça change?

Last week someone commented that they had read my last blog post, and hadn’t initially realised that I had written it all the way back in March.  Re-reading it, I can see why, as it really feels like little has changed in the past 6 months.  As we approach another possible Brexit date, I repost the prayer points here, as they are just as valid now as they were back then!

There are some certainties about what is coming, and there are some responses which I believe Christian people must make at this time, irrespective of political persuasion.  Many of these are also valid responses for people without faith.  I offer a list below, and I may amend it or add to it over the coming days.

  • We must continue to pray for our politicians.  Paul urges us to bless people rather than curse them, even when they are hurting us.  That doesn’t mean we can’t hate their decisions, and fight against them, but we must try (and it’s not easy!) not to hate them as people.  We must pray for wisdom, for a desire to do what is right for people rather than their own political games, but above all for honesty and integrity – two virtues which are sadly too often lacking in our culture.
  • Whatever happens, the poor and marginalised will lose out, because they always do.  The church must continue to be challenged by Scripture, which calls us time and again to care for those who are disadvantaged, on the margins, unable to speak for themselves.  You could argue that if we as a society had done that better we wouldn’t be in the current mess, but we must take particular care of those who are vulnerable, as at times of political uncertainty they are the ones most likely to be trodden on.
  • We must take a stand and say that racism and xenophobia are not acceptable, in any form.  Sadly over the past three years they have become an every day experience for many people in this country.  All people are made in God’s image, irrespective of the colour of their skin, where they were born, or what language they speak.  The love of God is not contained by our arbitrary geographical boundaries, and we must fulfil our Biblical mandate to welcome and love all people in Jesus name.
  • Pray for the island of Ireland.  I am just old enough to remember the troubles in Northern Ireland, but I didn’t really understand what was going on.  But those who were there know it is not something they ever want to go back to.  Pray for continued peace.  But it’s not just about that; even if there is peace, any closing of the border will cause serious economic issues on both sides, so we must pray that a solution can be found.
  • Above all, remember this is not just about us.  The events of the next few weeks will affect UK citizens in the UK, UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU, EU citizens living in the UK, the jobs and livelihoods of thousands, and who knows what else.  In this, as in everything, we must resist any tendency to protection of our own interests, but instead seek what is right for the whole of God’s creation.

Keep praying!

What is going on?

A question that is being asked by many people in the United Kingdom, and indeed across the world, at this time.  The events of this week have made an already confused Brexit process appear even more in disarray.  One journalist used the word “omnishambles” and that’s probably as good a description as we could get.

No-one seems happy with where we are now, neither those who wanted to leave the EU or those who wanted to remain.  No-one seems to be in control, no-one really seems to know what is going on.  With two weeks to go until the date set for Brexit we still don’t know if, when, or how we will leave.

But there are some certainties about what is coming, and there are some responses which I believe Christian people must make at this time, irrespective of political persuasion.  Many of these are also valid responses for people without faith.  I offer a list below, and I may amend it or add to it over the coming days.

  • We must continue to pray for our politicians.  On Sunday I will be preaching on Romans 12, where Paul urges us to bless people rather than curse them, even when they are hurting us.  That doesn’t mean we can’t hate their decisions, and fight against them, but we must try (and it’s not easy!) not to hate them as people.  We must pray for wisdom, for a desire to do what is right for people rather than their own political games, but above all for honesty and integrity – two virtues which are sadly too often lacking in our culture.
  • Whatever happens, the poor and marginalised will lose out, because they always do.  The church must continue to be challenged by Scripture, which calls us time and again to care for those who are disadvantaged, on the margins, unable to speak for themselves.  You could argue that if we as a society had done that better we wouldn’t be in the current mess, but we must take particular care of those who are vulnerable, as at times of political uncertainty they are the ones most likely to be trodden on.
  • We must take a stand and say that racism and xenophobia are not acceptable, in any form.  Sadly over the past two years they have become an every day experience for many people in this country.  All people are made in God’s image, irrespective of the colour of their skin, where they were born, or what language they speak.  The love of God is not contained by our arbitrary geographical boundaries, and we must fulfil our Biblical mandate to welcome and love all people in Jesus name.
  • Pray for the island of Ireland.  I am just old enough to remember the troubles in Northern Ireland, but I didn’t really understand what was going on.  But those who were there know it is not something they ever want to go back to.  Pray for continued peace.  But it’s not just about that; even if there is peace, any closing of the border will cause serious economic issues on both sides, so we must pray that a solution can be found.
  • Above all, remember this is not just about us.  The events of the next few weeks will affect UK citizens in the UK, UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU, EU citizens living in the UK, the jobs and livelihoods of thousands, and who knows what else.  In this, as in everything, we must resist any tendency to protection of our own interests, but instead seek what is right for the whole of God’s creation.

There’s a few things to be going on with!  As I say, I may add to this as we watch the continuing unfolding of events over the coming days.  If you have suggestions of other ways we as Christian people should respond then please let me know.

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.

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.