A few weeks ago, when visiting friends in London, I was leaving a tube station when I noticed a man sleeping under a few old blankets. He had taken shelter at the foot of the stairs because it was cold and raining outside, the ground around him was itself damp from the feet of those who had passed him. A scribbled message on a piece of cardboard stated that he was homeless and hungry and he needed help. A few small coins were placed next to the message. Now I had treasured the apple in my bag all the way from Lincoln the day before – I was saving it for the end of my visit and the journey home. It was a Cox’s apple, to many that would be immaterial, but I love a fresh Cox’s apple, their season is all too brief but all the special for it. Nevertheless, I placed the apple next to the man’s plea for help. I won’t say it was with reluctance but nor was the apple given lightly.

An hour later, after my visit to an old friend, I returned to the tube station.
The man was still there, fast asleep. My apple was still there too, untouched.
But beside it now were sandwiches, a banana, a small cake and two bottles of pop and water.

It had been a small gesture. But small gestures build a better world.

When Malcolm Muggeridge observed Mother, now St Teresa working amongst the poor and destitute of Calcutta he asked if she felt that what she was doing was merely a drop in the ocean, she replied that the ocean is made up of many drops.

So often we are made to feel as if we are utterly powerless in a world that has no interest in us as individual human beings. We are tempted to believe that what we do is of little or no significance. So why should we bother to even attempt an act of kindness?

There is the familiar story of a boy throwing starfish into the sea that had been left on the beach as the tide went out. A man came by and asked what he was doing. The boy said that if he didn’t do this the starfish would dry out and die. Noticing that the beach was littered with thousands of starfish the man scolded the boy with the comment ‘and what good will that do?’ To which the boy, picking up another starfish, responded ‘To this starfish it will make a world of difference.’

Over the last year Greta Thunberg has become a household name. The young teenager once sat on her school steps in protest one Friday at the lack of action in dealing with the global climate crisis. What good would her solo one-day school strike do? Today millions support her, millions have also come out on strike for the climate, today there is a growing awareness that we cannot, we simply cannot, allow inaction on the climate to continue. 2020 is forecast to be the hottest year on record. What good can we do in the face of such a massive issue.? Well we can do a great deal. To make seemingly small and incremental changes allows us to get used to the changing lifestyle so necessary to rescue our world. And just as importantly – others will see our action and hopefully imitate it.

A bit like those who must have seen my apple next to the sleeping homeless man in a London Tube Station and contributed other items of food and drink.

When my colleague Alison heard about this particular incident she told me of an occasion when she was travelling through Preston Railway Station en route to Manchester. At Preston many people joined the train after a day out in Blackpool. The carriage became overcrowded with families of all ages standing in the passageway and even in the aisles. There was a lot of grumbling and the atmosphere was poor to say the least. Then Alison overheard a man of senior years say to someone with whom he was travelling that he would not be able to stand for the whole journey. Alison being Alison stood up and offered him her seat. Within a very short space of time, having seen this act of kindness, someone else stood and offered their seat to another standing passenger, and another and another. Soon many people have exchanged places. The atmosphere changed considerably: instead of the tension that had been present shortly after they had left Preston station there was now a sense of togetherness with complete strangers talking to one another.

At the beginning of a whole new year we are tempted to think that there will be plenty of time to correct that which has bene wrong in our lives. New Year’s resolutions are now a form of joke these days but the truth is that we need to act and act now.

The 18th century Quaker Etienne de Grellet once wrote: I shall pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again. I expect to pass through this world but once.

A man went to his rabbi one day to ask when he must put himself right before God and his neighbour. The rabbi replied, ‘not until a moment before you die.’
‘But’ said the man ‘I don’t know when I will die.’
‘Exactly’ said the rabbi ‘so do it now.’

Even a cox’s apple can turn into a full blown meal when others add to it.

Every blessing on whatever time you have in the coming year to lay down an apple or throw a starfish into the sea.

May hope rise

24 December 2019

 

 

20191025_181011

May hope rise through Christmas cheer
And bring better days in the coming new year.
For if hope could rise, here just once more :
in the sombre and doleful, and mourning widow,
in casualty stench and stifling home,
through forceful exchange and tones of woe,
it will rise in lives so long forlorn.
Let it rise in the chilled hearts and cossetted minds
of commuting stranger and hasty shopper.
Let hope rise for good and for ever,
that never more we have need to meet the needs
of those on the streets and metaphorical gutter.
The glitter and gloss of cards and trees
mask the shadow and the dark,
the grim marks of heartsache and lingering pain.
We looked for hope, we wanted it to be,
and in the dawning of reality
some truth illumined the lie.
So, if hope could rise,
may it shed piercing light
upon the coming hours
when no more shall beggar’s bowl
be placed on broken slabs,
through cold wind and unrelenting shower.
May hope rise,
so no more tired young nurse shall have need
to force smile after smile through gritted teeth.
Hope beyond hope
that squinting eyes and ear splitting cry,
shall no more in deafened silence
be made by homeless, starving child.
Cling to the hope that it may yet rise
for rise it will,
through striking bell and determined will.
BT Dec 19

 

16th December 2019

Congratulations on being elected to represent your constituency as their Member of Parliament. With this highly privileged role comes great responsibility, you will remain in my prayers throughout your term of office and I will lead the Methodist people of Lincolnshire in praying for you whenever I lead worship in your constituency.

I am the leader of the Methodist community in Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire. We have 140 churches in rural and urban environments and there will be many in your constituency.

Towards the end of the last Parliament I wrote to all the then serving MPs to express my serious concerns about the language and attitudes within the debating chamber. I enclose a copy of that letter. Only three MPs replied, one who was as concerned as I was, one to take a party line and another to tell me how wrong I was.

The failure of some of your colleagues to moderate their rhetoric is not only divisive but dangerous. It confuses some who are unable to distinguish between adversarial debate, necessary in a healthy democracy, from aggression. It may even give ‘permission’ for some to take further action, not only on the internet but on the streets also; such an outcome is far from healthy. We witnessed a slippage of ethical constraint over the course of the last Parliament and during the recent election a blatant use of misleading information, which in the past would have been seen as propaganda in certain systems. This is not only unhelpful and unhealthy but hugely irresponsible.

The Prime Minister has urged that healing should begin. I sincerely hope so. Just like Margaret Thatcher’s quote from the Prayer of St Francis in 1979, Mr Johnson’s actions will be measured against his words on the steps of Number 10. Your Party has won a resounding victory with a significant majority affording it little opposition. Therefore, there should be no reason why the promises made by you and your Party during the campaign are not fulfilled.

I am therefore writing to you to ask if you would meet with me at Westminster, alongside your other Lincolnshire colleagues, so that we could consider committing ourselves to speaking and acting responsibly in the course of the coming debates. As people in positions of responsibility we owe it to the people of our county.

For the sake of transparency and accountability this letter will be circulated to my colleagues across the region I serve and published on our social media outlets.

I look forward to your response.

I remain respectfully yours,

 

Prague

Prague

 

 

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand,
the one whom you made strong for yourself.
Then we will never turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call on your name.
Psalm 80.17,18
We will find You in the least-expected places.
Yet we should have known better. We should have known all along.
We will hear You in the voice of a stranger.
We will sense you in the café, on the station platform,
at the concert and on the gallery wall.
Through the chatter, be it filled with joy or a tale of woe,
through the music that lifts the soul
and transports us to another plane, we will know You.
Such a birth in our world is a sign of more to come,
a glimpse of that which awaits us.
It makes me catch my breath
and urges me to look longer and to more deeply think.
Can it really be so? Can it be true?
I should have known all along. I should have known better.
Once You came, You never went away,
nor will You, of this I can be sure.

Generous and ever-Present God,
I never ‘gained’ an interest in your love;
Your love was real all along,
Your promise had already been fulfilled.
It was for me to acknowledge it, to accept it, to respond.
It is true that this birth of awareness, of knowing,
is the freedom for which I, and so many, have striven.
It is so for me and it can be, for it surely is, for all.
Amen.

 

Place a stone in the centre of a table.

Be still.
Relax your body, still your mind.
Consider the Presence of God with you.

Silence

Present God,
You are a protective shadow from the glare of critics,
a steadying hand in the flux of turmoil,
a reassuring security in the passage of time;
instil further within me the unquenchable hope
that may be expressed in all my dealings with this world
and in all my encounters with those about me.
Amen

Place a candle next to the stone and light it.

You make us the scorn of our neighbours;
our enemies laugh among themselves.
Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine,
that we may be saved. Psalm 80.6,7
Can it be that the places scorched by the sun will thrive once more?
Can it be that the cities devastated by war will again hear the abandoned laughter of children at play?
Can it be that those who find themselves far from home, in a land where their language is not spoken, will find shelter and purpose?
Can it be that those whose past was marred by broken trust will find confidence in new ventures?
Can it be that the Christ who walked this earth long ago be present in our divided, disfigured and anxious world?

Reflect on the images and stories from around the world presented through the media and how they are but a glimpse of the bigger picture.

Recall how quickly the media moved on, leaving the victims to pick up the pieces and yet at some later stage return to find that, even though the hurt remains, significant progress has been made.

I remember Grandfather blessing me: “May you see the Messiah put an end to exile and the reign of evil.” A blessing that almost came true. It was night. I found myself transported into a strange and distant kingdom. In the shadow of flames, the exiles were gathered. They came from everywhere, they spoke every language and told the same story. Seeing them together under the fiery sky, the child in me had thought: this is it; this is the end of time, the end of everything. Any moment the Messiah will appear out of the night, the Messiah of fear, the Messiah of death. I thought of my grandfather and I trembled for him, for myself. And for his blessing.
Elie Wiesel, Souls on Fire, Summit Books 1972
If these bones could live again, and this tongue speak of your deliverance, then let them now; not at some far-off time, or even sometime soon, but now, here as I look for your reassuring presence in the potential, and the promise, of a world filled with rich purpose. Amen.

 

Kolwitz

 

Käthe Kollwitz, Mother with Two Children, 1926 – 1936
Käthe Kollwitz Museum Berlin

 

A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray. No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. Isaiah 35.8-10
It was Martin Luther King who said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Others, including President Obama, have popularised it by saying that the arc of history bends towards justice. In their minds there was an inevitability about progress, that no matter how tough the situation became, righteousness, justice and truth would somehow prevail, they win out in the end, evil must surely be overcome by good.
For the one in the pit of despair, a cage of uncertainty may hold them captive. For them the overwhelming sense is that there is no light at the end of the tunnel.
Our world is experiencing a difficult time. Righteousness is scoffed at; justice is questioned, and the truth denied. For now, it may be hard to see how this will pass. But our knowledge of history, and our personal experience, tells us that a day is coming when the liars will be shown for what they are, when the corrupt will pay a price for their misdemeanours and when order will again prevail. Had this not been so before then we would have already been lost forever in a quagmire of evil long ago. Goodness and joy have more than a habit of returning after horror and tears; reassuringly they are forever present waiting to rise at the opportune moment.

Praise to Life!
Praise to Joy!
Praise to Peace! Praise to the One God of all Three! Amen.

 

Place a stone in the centre of a table.

Be still.
Relax your body, still your mind.
Consider the Presence of God with you.

Silence

Present God,
You are a protective shadow from the glare of critics,
a steadying hand in the flux of turmoil,
a reassuring security in the passage of time;
instil further within me the unquenchable hope
that may be expressed in all my dealings with this world
and in all my encounters with those about me.
Amen

Place a candle next to the stone and light it.
Strengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.” Isaiah 35.3,4

Can it be that we have a part to play? We who have already experienced the passing of much time? We whose minds and bodies don’t seem up to the task of taking on a world that appears to be bent on crushing the weak?

Can it be that God, in some mystical wisdom, sees within us the potential to be partners of re-creation? To continue the work of the saints and heroes? To bring a voice of reason amongst the discordant clamour?

Reflect on the conversations you hear that are clearly improper; those that spread rumour and inuendo, that are lacking in the grace of understanding.

Recall the times when others have gently and lovingly corrected you; how you have felt and how you may have altered what you said and did the next time a similar scenario arose.

The glory of God is a living person and the life of each living person is the vison of God.
Irenaeus of Lyons
Second Century.

Gently loving God,
You nudge us into the people you would have us be,
correct us through those about us
with constructive and formative compassion,
so that we may grow in goodness
and be alert to our potential;
for this world is crying out for us,
we, your vision of what it is to be human.
Amen.

Isaiah looks to the possibility of a ruler whose reign will be one of peace.
Human striving for such a scenario has failed.
The only option for the people is for God to step in.
God will provide the kind of leadership that has thus far been unattainable.
The old era will have passed and one is about to begin.

Eight hundred years later as the early Church sought to make sense of the ministry of Jesus they would scour their ancient texts and find some similarities with the words of the old prophets.
It was inevitable therefore that the followers of Jesus would reflect on passages such as the one from Isaiah we heard today and conclude that they provided some light on what had been a deeply perplexing life.

We are doing nothing less each Sunday when we read from scripture, reflect upon the words and consider the insights they shed upon our own situation.

Today we find ourselves contemplating leadership.
A little over 36 hours after another live debate featuring the two men who want to be our next Prime Minister I couldn’t help returning to not scripture but an old Jewish fable entitled Two Tomcats by one of the most original and talented Yiddish poets Eliezer Shtaynbarg.

Tomcat white and tomcat black got in a fight.
‘Viper! Dragon! Walrus! Hisses white.
‘Blackguard! Child of darkness! Black as night!
Compares himself to me! From one bowl, and without washing,
He’s quite ready to go noshing
Butter next to me. Meow! Now be off! First scrub your puss nice and clean.
What? You refuse? You can’t?
But mice you’re capable of hunting! You want butter?
But like butter white and don’t be such a pitch-black, ugly-looking fright.’

Now the rolling pin catches up to tomcats two and starts to mutter:
‘White face, black heart! Alas, alack!
Only the devil knows which of you is really white, which black.
Now scat! – both you cats – and beat it from the butter!’

Eliezer Shtaynbarg
The Jewish Book of Fable, Selected Works, Syracuse University Press, 2003
©Dora Teitelboim Center for Yiddish Culture

Whether Boris is one cat and Jeremy the other remains to be seen.
All I will succinctly say is that Boris has said the most disparaging and dangerous things about Muslims whilst Jeremy has aligned himself with people who are little other than Jew-haters.

There are plenty who would urge preachers to steer clear of politics at any time, especially 5 days before a general election.
There are a number of things wrong with treating this as some sort of dictate.
Firstly, Isaiah and his peers would not have recognised a separation of politics from religion. It was all bound up in the one life. The fortunes of the people depended upon their faithfulness in the tasks ordained to them by God and that included its rulers. Even a cursory glance at the Old Testament should lead us to that conclusion. Tutu was right when he stated that he was confused as to which Bible people were reading when they claimed that religion and politics didn’t mix.
Secondly, the Reformed Churches of Germany had made the grave mistake over centuries to separate religion from politics. As a consequence of such a heresy their utter failure to challenge the rise of National Socialism in the ‘20s and ‘30s left an indelible scar on our world and religion.
Thirdly, those who want to keep religion out of politics are often the ones whose politics do not match up to the ethics we espouse as people of God.
This has happened most recently when I wrote to all the MPs of Lincolnshire on the morning after the debate in which the language adopted by the Prime Minister was below that one should expect from his office.
Responding to frightened women MPs who are facing rape and death threats every day, and speaking below the plaque in memory of Jo Cox brutally assassinated by a right wing terrorist, the Prime Minister described their concerns as ‘humbug.’
I wrote appealing for our Lincolnshire MPs to moderate their language as it was doing much harm to the moral fabric of our nation. One MP replied to tell me how wrong I was and that I ought to get on with evangelisation.
That utterly woeful response to my genuine concerns for the safety of our MPs, especially our women MPs, and sorrow at the fear and division in our society merely steeled me further to hold those whom we elect to account.

Isaiah tells us that the wolf shall dwell with the lamb and that the leopard will lie down with the beast.
Such a dream seems far off when the Brexit debate has divided families and broken up long-standing friendships, when neighbours no longer converse at the gate and truth is in short supply.
Lies spill from the lips of many with little shame in their faces.
Those who were once dismissed as a discomforting be presence are now treated as if they don’t exist at all.

I say this often and in many places: I have never known our nation and society to be in such a place as this, not during the Cold War, not even in the 1970s pre membership of the EU when we had the 3-day week, power cuts, sent home from school because of coal shortages. As a 12-year-old I sieved for coal in a disused canal basin in order to heat the house. I have not forgotten those times but I do fear what the coming days have in store for us.

Genesis records that God took Adam and placed him in the garden to look after it.
There is no earlier nor more lasting instruction than this.
It is incumbent upon us, as the descendants of Adam, to look after this world in which we have been placed by God.

This is our time.
Our time to rise and speak out.
To stand for righteousness, justice and truth whatever the cost to ourselves.
For too long we have sat in the corner while others have controlled the room.
It is now our turn to step out and take centre stage.
To say that enough is enough.
To call out the lies for what they are.
To urge others to make the connections between the rising hatred in our world with their own prejudice, sometimes blind and unintentional, but prejudice and therefore offensive nevertheless.
We must call a halt to the direction of travel.

On Thursday these nations we call the United Kingdom go to the polls in what may become the most significant election in modern times. Our relationship with our neighbours may come to an end. Our Union itself is under threat.

As individuals, we may feel powerless but it is vital that we vote with our Christian conscience, to take Isaiah and the rest of scripture into the polling booth. Afterwards is afterwards, we will cross that bridge when we come to it. But one thing is for certain, we are not without purpose.

Let me share a little experience I had in London on Friday:

I was leaving a tube station when I noticed a man sleeping under a few old blankets, he had taken shelter at the foot of the stairs because it was cold and raining outside, the ground around him was itself damp from the feet of those who had passed him. A scribbled message on a piece of cardboard stated that he was homeless and hungry and he needed help. A few small coins were placed next to the message. Now I had treasured the apple in my bag all the way from Lincoln the day before – I was saving it for the end of my visit and the journey home. It was a Cox’s apple, to many that would be immaterial, but I love a fresh Cox’s apple, their season is all too brief but all the special for it. Nevertheless, I placed the apple next to the man’s plea for help. I won’t say it was with reluctance but nor was the apple given lightly. An hour later, after my visit to an old friend, I returned to the tube station. The man was still there, fast asleep. My apple was still there too, untouched. But beside it now were sandwiches, a banana, a small cake and two bottles of pop and water.

It had been a small gesture.
But small gestures build a better world.
We may not be leaders but in a democracy we make them.

A Tale of Two Sides (Brexit Blues)

It certainly isn’t the best of times, it may actually be the worst of times.
My heart is aching with pain, literally.
‘The boil that needed lancing’ has poured pus all over the body politic, poisoning the very arteries of reason, respect and restraint.
This ill-thought-through political gamble has ripped what remained of British society to shreds.
Our island nations rush headlong into the unknown. A tangible angst grips many. Even those able to contemplate it seem unable to admit it, such is their fear of neighbour, ‘friend’ and family member alike.
The words of the prophets have been scrubbed off the subway walls, scoffed at by those who prefer the fantasies of populists.
Truth has become a dispensable intrusion, mocked by the perpetrators of propaganda and pointless lies; no perspective is acceptable unless it endorses the position formed by unscrutinised, self-held opinion.
History’s discomforting lessons are conveniently forgotten, belittled by those who ‘know better’.
Advances, long fought and hard won, costly to the generations that engaged in the struggle, are frighteningly allowed to slip away with ease, consigned to some imagined scrap heap that is deemed to be of a failed experimentation from the past.
The hatreds that never went properly away are now on full display, unchecked and growing wider and deeper day by day; they have found fertile ground in the echo chambers of so called democratic discourse.
As climate catastrophe rises with each morning sun we have taken flight into pockets of political extremism. Night has dawned. Blinded by the darkness, what is left of even our blinkered vision may be insufficient for the task ahead.
Our days will surely be judged with justifiable harshness for the legacy can only be one of bitter tears.