Monday 30 January 2017

Word of the year 2016

Every year the Oxford Dictionary chooses a  "word of the year."  For 2016 it is “post-truth”  which they describe as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.  Or in other words, never mind the facts it’s what we believe that matters. It’s a word that has been used increasingly following the wildly exaggerated claims made in the election campaigns on both sides of the Atlantic last year.

From a Christian perspective this is disturbing.  Jesus did not say, "Never mind the facts, it's how you feel that is important." He didn't say, "All opinions are equally valid: it's sincerity that counts."  Jesus said, “The truth will set you free”. Distorting truth is not acceptable, even if much of what is reported as "news" is spin.

So, for Christians, the question we should keep in front of us is, "Is this true?" We should always be looking for facts and evidence rather than opinion.  Because, from a Christian perspective, the pursuit of truth will lead us to the one who said "I am the truth." At Jesus' trial the politician, Pontius Pilate, asked the question "What is truth?"   He couldn't recognise the truth when the personification of truth, Jesus, was literally staring him in the face.

I hope that 2017 will be a year of truth, not post-truth.

Saturday 5 July 2014

Stourport Deanery arranged "Encouraging Pastoral Care". The day was designed to be what it was called! Time for anyone interested in the church and pastoral care to come together for mutual encouragement. 

And that is exactly what it was. With Archdeacon Nikki as our keynote speaker we had 40 or so people stimulated by her insights. Workshops were on Pastoral Teams, End of Life Care, Healing and Pastoral care and (led by myself) Caring for Ourselves.

In the Caring for Ourselves Workshop (run twice) we talked about the principles of
  • "Sabbath"  - God builds us so we don't work out flat out 24/7, but Jesus breaks the Sabbath and & says his Father is "always working"
  • "Prayer" - Jesus frequently withdraws to a quiet place & encourages the disciples to do likewise, but is on occasions met be a crowd "like sheep without a shepherd" and he meets their needs
  • Expectations - wonderful to be valued but Jesus when the crowd expects  him to be king  (ironic really because of course he was and is a king) goes off to find a mountain to climb!

 The morning workshop chose to talk about expectations & how we deal with them. Participants felt that they were expected
  • to take on new roles without giving anything up, 
  • that others expected everything to be done without getting involved themselves, 
  • that the church would find solutions to everyone's problems, 
  • that new people would bring about unwanted change and/or threaten the position, status and power of existing volunteers  
Coping strategies included (in no particular order)
  • Putting the phone down, saying a few expletives and then doing something about the situation,
  • Prayer - the cross gives a different persepctive
  • resign
  •  cry
  • gin and tonic
  • vocalising the poroblem to yoursleve in a mirror
  • going to a quiet place e.g. Glasshampton
  • having a working agreement setting oput expectations
  • listening to music
  • saying "NO"
  • knowing who you are
  • apps - usable on phone or tablet for meditation/de-stress

The afternoon workshop talked about Sabbath. Should be a day of refreshment but the church can be so obsessed with itself & unaware of demands of work & family that it becomes the opposite.

Strategies/remedies included
  • finding fulfilling roles, ones that created energy
  • worshipping on days other than Sundays -   midweek services can be life giving
  • there needs to be effective leadership 
  • communication so that the church is aware of the demands on its members
  • prioritising - allowing things not to happen.


Friday 2 May 2014

What would the Emmaus story have been like if Cleopas & A.N. Other had been members of the Church of England?

Mr & Mrs C –of –E were out for a Sunday afternoon stroll. In days gone by they might have had a proper walk, seven miles or so,  but age brought creaks and pains so now it was more of a stroll. They thought the exercise would do them good because they were both a bit down. That was to be expected as it had been a strange time. Their friend,–well more than a friend really, it was hard to describe what he meant to them, had been killed. He’d done something, they weren’t quite sure what, to upset the authorities and it had all been a bit nasty really.  He’d been arrested one evening, some sort of fast track trial that night and then executed the following day.

It had been a bit of a blow for Mr & Mrs C –of –E, but a breath of fresh air would do them good. They were sure of that; fresh air, exercise, a stiff upper lip and just keep soldiering on.

“I’m not sure I think much to that,” said Mr C –of –E to Cleo, his wife, gesturing to an advertising hording with a product that promised relief from heart burn. “I’ve never had a problem with heart burn.”
“I’m not into burning things either,” replied Cleo, “I remember when it was the rage to burn bras, but bras, bridges, candles, hearts. It all seems a undignified to me.”

As Cleo and her husband walked they were aware of someone walking with them. That was strange because they hadn’t caught anyone else up on the path. If they had been catching up with someone they’d have hung back so they could keep themselves to themselves. And if someone had been catching them from behind they would have hurried on so as not to have to speak. But someone had caught up with them and was walking next to them........ And was talking to them!!

“You’re looking a bit down,” said the stranger.
 “Afternoon,” said Mr C –of –E curtly
“Everything all right?” persisted the stranger.
“Funny weather for the time of year,” replied Mrs C –of –E, “It wouldn’t surprise me if there was a storm later, but not as odd as three days ago. The sky turned black and the sun was blotted out.”
“Oh how foolish you are and slow to believe,” answered the stranger and starting with the weather he explained to them all the things that had happened to their friend and put it all into a bigger picture – the picture of God’s love for His World.

They were getting towards the end of their stroll and Mr C –of –E was a bit taken aback when Cleo invited the stranger to came and have a cup of tea and piece of cake with them. They didn’t usually pick up strange people when they were out.  He was even more surprised when the stranger didn’t wait to have the tea poured for him but took the pot and poured it himself.  And he was completely dumbfounded when the stranger vanished from their sight.

“You know, he was a bit like our friend that was executed,” said Cleo
“Can’t have been,” answered her husband, “It doesn’t do to get carried away.”
“We must tell his other friends”, said Cleo, “If he’s alive death isn’t the end”.
“It doesn’t do any good to ram religion down other people’s throats”, came the response. “I mean faith is all very well but it’s personal and you’ll upset people by talking about it.  Yes, you’re right. It was Him. It wasn’t a ghost. He’s drunk the tea and eaten the cake. But we’ll keep it as our secret. It’ll cause too much trouble if we tell others.”

So they finished their tea and said nothing to anyone

Wednesday 16 April 2014

An Organist's Prayer

Came across this recently which I hope all musicians might say "amen" to

An Organist’s Prayer
Dear Lord,
I am here to support the congregation, not to overwhelm them:
May I play quietly enough to hear their singing, firmly enough to keep it alive but not so fast that they can’t get their breath between verses.  
May I allow enough time for them to find the hymn before starting the first verse.
Help me to do my homework properly, to avoid choosing the wrong tune (especially if it’s one I like), to check that it is not pitched too high and that I know how many verses there are.
Lead me, O Lord, when I don’t know which verse they are singing, when my eyes have skipped to the wrong line and when I can’t find the chorus.
Before the service, may I play quietly enough to encourage conversation and remember that if I play louder they won’t be able to hear each other.   At the end, remind me, O Lord, that all the wrong notes in the concluding voluntary will only have been noticed by you!
On some occasions, O Lord, I know that the words and the music and the singers have come together and I believe it must please you.  
May I remember also that you are Lord of peace: help me to resist the temptation to intrude on silence.  

Thursday 13 March 2014

Larger but just as lively

Yesterday evening's Lost for Words session was larger than the week before, but just as lively! 

We talked about our own journeys to faith.  Four of those present had particular moments in time which had been significant. Five had a more gradual journey. 

The evening focussed on the importance of listening to have meaningful dialogue. Using the story in Acts of Philip and the Ethiopian we thouhjht about being alongside people on their own journey ad of ttreating people sensitively and with respect. Philip asked the Ethiopian "Do you understand what you're reading?" He didn't challenge him, "You don't understand what you're reading!"

We thought about the factors that can make it difficult for people to come to faith, personal tragedies, bad experiences of church,  misunderstanding of what Christians actually believe, lack of knowledge, disinclination to acknowledge someone/something greater than themselves.....

We did decide that even though one person had come to faith as a result of his then girlfriend going off with a rich man twice his age that encouraging women to go off with rich older men wasn't a basis for an evangelistic strategy!

Thursday 6 March 2014

Lost for Words

Yesterday evening was the first of the CPAS  Lost For Words course we're running during Lent.

A small but lively and select group of people worked through the course material. How do we respond to the word "evangelism"? As you can see from the flip chart, it's a word with lots of negative connotations. It's about being pushy, insensitive simplistic. Not something that appealed at all! Hardly surprising really.

So having identified the negative feelings that come with the word we thought about what it could or should mean.  We thought about what it's like for us when someone tells us a piece of good news. One participant spoke about a phone call from her grand-daughter giving her the latest news & how nice it was to have it. 

The course's working description of evangelism is;
"Serving others so they too discover, and respond to, the good news of Jesus"
Nothing there about being pushy.

We thought about the things that make sharing faith difficult.  The principle difficult was fear of embarrassment either of oneself or others. Politics and religion are taboo subjects. What is sometimes known as the "knickers phenomenon" - something that we feel much more comfortable having but that we don't discuss in public.  In fact it's probably more publicly acceptable to discuss underwear than faith! The key principle the course suggests is "Be yourself, with God, for others." and the acronym HELP was suggested for conversations - Honesty (though we liked "Humility") Explore issues, Learn & Pray
We talked also about prayer and evangelism.  Based on Colossians  2 4-6 we saw prayer as the vital and our need to be watchful for prayer being answered. Was the conversation I'd had earlier about coming to cafe church an answer to prayer? Who knows?> It was certainly good news!

So the evening which had started with a certain amount of trepidation ended. It was full of laughter and enjoyment.

Roll on next week!   


Wednesday 29 January 2014

February Thoughts

The 4th  of February 1945 saw the meeting of Winston Churchill with  Stalin and Roosevelt at Yalta to discuss the shape of post-war Europe.  Those leaders, nearly 70 years ago, could hardly have imagined Europe as it is today.

Air travel, once the preserve of the few  has come into the reach of many. The  internet means we can communicate across Europe (and the world) at the click of a mouse. News which 70 years ago would have taken weeks to appear in the papers can now be seen almost instantaneously on  television or tablet. With shops today full of all kinds of produce it is hard to envisage that in immediate post war Europe starvation was a reality. 

The last 70 years have not been without problems. There has been a military coup in Greece, dictatorship in Spain, ethnic cleansing and massacres in the Balkans, financial instability in the Euro-zone... But for the most part,  European citizens have enjoyed peace, stability and increasing affluence.

This year is likely to be a year in which Europe’s future is once again under debate with elections of MEPs and a promise of a referendum on the EU at some future date. What sort of Europe do we want to live in? The various political parties and the newspapers will all be outlining their views. It would be wrong of me to offer any thoughts about any one view of Europe’s future. However I would like to offer two things I hope for about the debate. 

First, I hope that the debate about the future can be based in facts, not in myths and misunderstanding. Recent  research shows that what we may think about Europe (and the EU in particular) may be inaccurate. For example Yougov research shows that most people in this country think that one in three of EU migrants to the UK are on the dole. The actual figure is less than three in every hundred.  

Secondly, I hope that debate will be rooted in Europe’s Christian heritage, a heritage which places emphasis on the need to show hospitality  to the outsider.