The View from the Vicarage
Black Lives Matter! Friday 5 June 2020
When some of our family members first saw a photograph of our now Son-in-Law, Ian, their response was interesting. A frequent question was, ‘Where is he from?’ The reply was ‘Slough’. ‘No, where is he from - originally?’ The answer was the same, but with the added comment that his parents are from Jamaica and Anguilla in the Caribbean. They came to the UK in the 1960s with British passports and made their home in Slough.
It is sad that the question of Ian’s origin was the first question that was asked, for that perhaps shows that the immediate thought was one of difference. ‘He is not like us.’ ‘He is not from round here.’ Human history is littered with the results of highlighting difference on the basis of origin and identity. And people suffer as a consequence.
George Floyd died on 25th May 2020 – an unnecessary and unjust death based ultimately on the colour of his skin. The subsequent cries of grief, frustration and anger have rocked the USA and flowed out across the world.
In the USA:
1 in 1000 black men will be killed by the police.
Black people are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people (even though black people are only 13% of the population in the US).
Getting killed by a police officer is among the leading causes of death of young black males.
Other minority groups such as Native Americans, Hispanics, and Native Alaskans are all more likely to be killed by police than white people. The system is broken. Prejudice and discrimination are systemic.
But what has that got to do with me and you? As someone has recently posted on social media: If you can read all this and not see a problem; then you are the problem. We need to remember that such injustice is not limited to the USA, but that our own country’s statistics show that our system is broken, too.
Martin Luther King Jr. is being quoted by many people. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." This shows that things just haven’t changed in 50 years. The starting place has to be an honest assessment of our own attitudes to difference on the basis of race, origin and identity. Is your acceptance and tolerance more than skin deep? MLK again, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Jesus command to love your neighbour is a challenge. A greater challenge is to love your enemies. In other words, there is no one you should not be able to love, because that is the example which Jesus gave us and which he expects us to imitate in our own lives. Black lives matter, because every life matters to God. Is your love of neighbour just a matter of thought, or is it a reality, demonstrated in action. Is it limited to people who look and sound like you?
Time for some soul searching? Time for a change of heart? Time for a change in the system – your system?
Wednesday 3 June 2020
‘We seemed like grasshoppers’ Numbers 13:33
‘We seemed like grasshoppers’ is the title of a book detailing the history of AIM, the Africa Inland Mission. It describes the amazing courage and determination of the men and women who left families and homes to serve God in lands which were difficult, at times hostile and with no guarantee of ever returning home. Today we might be critical of some of their methods as, at times, they exported unhealthy elements of colonialism, but their desire to serve God and not to count the cost leaves a commendable example of Christian love and commitment.
The title of the book comes from Numbers 13:33 in the Old Testament.
Moses had sent out 12 men to investigate the land of Canaan. On their return there was only one who spoke in favour of the people advancing over the river Jordan – Caleb saw the opportunities and was positive that it was achievable. But the majority gave a negative report noting all the problems and difficulties. ‘And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored . . . We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes.’ Numbers 13:32-33. The effect on the rest of the people was discontent and grumbling with claims that they were better off in Egypt. The consequence was that the people remained in the wilderness for many years and those who grumbled never got to experience the land promised by God.
The people of God, with the exception of a few like Caleb, forgot
Who they were – the People of God!
Who God is – The LORD God Almighty who calls, protects and provides for His people
What God had done – in bringing them from the power of Pharaoh into freedom.
The problems seemed bigger than the opportunities and this was reflected in their reactions of fear and anxiety.
‘We seemed like grasshoppers’ is a good phrase for describing how many people feel in these uncertain days. Everyday life has been radically disrupted by forces beyond our control and we can feel helpless and hopeless in the face of Government decisions and the fears which come with the spread of Coronavirus.
We can so easily use the language of ‘when things get back to normal’, but it is unlikely that we will be free from the impact of the virus for some time to come.
What does this mean for the future of the church? This incident seems, to me, to be a significant warning for the church. There will always be the temptation to look back and to try and reclaim the benefits and blessings of the past, when we are invited to live with the God who is faithful in the midst of any and every circumstance of life. Indeed, it could be argued that the more difficult the times, the more opportunity we have to trust and rely on God – ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’. So said Peter to Jesus (John 6:68)
No matter how we feel, no matter what the government of the day might decide, you are invited to live with God in the moment and to choose to worship Him, you are invited to trust God for the future and to walk with Him into that future. And as we do so, to be aware of the influence we have with the people around us and we demonstrate our trust in God who loves us and who gave His Son for us.
What does the Lord require?
to do justice
and to love kindness
and to walk humbly with your God.
What does the Lord require?
love from your heart, soul, mind, strength.
What does the Lord require?
love of neighbour and self.
What does the Lord require?
me, all of me.
Monday 27 April 2020
Colossians 2:2-3 My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (NIV)
Reset: Someone once said that sometimes God pulls the rug from under our feet, for it is only when we are flat on our backs that we then take time look up to God. The world has had the rug pulled up in a big way – the whole of ‘normal’ life around the world has changed for millions of people.
For many people this time of social restriction is proving to be a time of re-evaluating life and their life with God. Is this something you are finding? People are creating lists of those things they want to do when this is all over. But some of the issues go beyond a ‘to do’ list.
The uncertainty of this present time can help us to focus on the significant things in life that we can so easily take for granted. St Paul writes:
. . .that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom
Are you finding, as Paul writes, encouragement for your heart? Are you reassessing your life with Jesus – how well do you know really know Him? Are you seeking His ‘treasures of wisdom and knowledge’?
Space: There have been a number of article and features recently about working from home. For many people it is a new venture – so which room do you work in? (Assuming you have the luxury of choice.) What do you have around you to make it an attractive or perhaps neutral workspace? What do you wear? (Daytime pyjamas instead of night time ones, or something more business-like?) Where do you sit – facing a window for a (distracting) view, or a blank wall to aid concentration? For some people it is all about creating the right kind of setting in which they can be reasonably productive.
It made me think about the spaces in which we seek to pray and meet with God. There are no right answers here, but it can be helpful to think about the practicalities of prayer
Do you have a particular chair or place where you go to pray? Some people find that helpful. Do you use aids to prayer such as a worship songs or lighting a candle as a reminder of God’s presence with you. Do you use a wooden cross, or have a picture of a cross to remind you of the access we have to God in prayer through the sacrifice of Jesus? Do you have a Bible reading plan to help guide you through God’s Word day by day? Do you pray as you go out on your daily walk – asking for God’s blessing on the homes you walk past? Do you pray as you spend time in your garden?
Jesus is everywhere, but it is good to have somewhere, a place, a space, a time, when you purposefully choose to meet with Him.
Friday 3rd April 2020
The view from the vicarage, more specifically the view from my study at the vicarage, is changing. There are the noticeable changes of more birds appearing in the garden. There are the usual Blue Tits, Blackbirds, House Sparrows, Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons (have you noticed how beautiful is the Wood Pigeon’s plumage?). But now we have had visits from Goldfinches, Collared Doves, Long Tailed Tits and Bull Finches.
Of course some of the changes are of a much slower pace. The leaves are appearing on the two apple trees, the grass is definitely growing (faster than I would like) and the bright glory of the daffodils is starting to fade. So, these changes you have to look for more carefully, more precisely.
It means that the old joke perhaps needs rewriting – “Why doesn’t the Vicar look out of his study window in the mornings? Because he would have nothing to do in the afternoons”. There is much to look at throughout the day, and much to be thankful for – the life around us which does carry on as normal in our days of the ‘new normal’.
But the view is limited - framed by the size of the windows in front of my desk.
Our view of life is limited as well, which is why it is important to have our view enlarged and extended through our reading of the Bible.
One of my favourite books is Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. It is probably a circular letter written to the Christians in and around the cosmopolitan city of Ephesus in what is now the country of Turkey.
Paul invites his readers and hearers to be encouraged as he reminds them of God’s wider purposes in Christ:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Ephesians 1:3
And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment–to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will. Ephesians 1:9-11
And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fulness of him who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:22-23 (NIVA1984)
The big picture is that God’s purposes for the world totally revolve around Jesus and it will all work out according to God’s good and perfect plan. One head over all and it is Jesus through whom and for whom everything was created.
So, in these days we can take encouragement from Christ ruling and reigning – the BIG PICTURE! He hasn’t abandoned His people or the world he has made (Ephesians 2:6).
And we can take great encouragement from his work of grace for you and me shown in His death on the cross Ephesians 2:8).
And we can take great encouragement that He knows us and loves us and we can know this amazing love here and now. (Ephesians 3:14-19)
Tuesday 24th March 2020
Lockdown Day 1. When you use the word ‘Lockdown’ it immediately creates a negative impression – the curtailing of life at someone else’s command or instruction. This last week events have moved rapidly: self-imposed isolation to enforced isolation.
For some people, including some of my family members, they might say, ‘nothing new there. This is how my life is’ – isolated for much of the day with little contact with other people. One benefit of this time might be that we have greater empathy and understanding for those who live alone.
The Apostle Paul was often in lockdown, but for a different reason. He was imprisoned for sharing his faith in Jesus, the Son of God, on numerous occasions as well as suffering all kinds of hardships. He writes from prison to the Christians in Philippi,
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.
Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.
He sees his confinement as an opportunity to build, encourage and share the news about Jesus.
My hope and prayer is that this time of upheaval and uncertainty might create the same kind of opportunities for us.
We may have more time to pray, so
May we nurture our own prayer lives and use this time to move on with the Lord – further up and further in.
May we look for the ways in which we can encourage people in faith.
May we use the time we have to pray for those who will find these days difficult.
O gracious and holy Father,
give us wisdom to perceive you,
diligence to seek you,
patience to wait for you,
eyes to behold you,
a heart to meditate upon you,
and a life to proclaim you,
through the power of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord. St Benedict
God of compassion,
be close to those who are ill, afraid or in isolation.
In their loneliness, be their consolation;
in their anxiety, be their hope;
in their darkness, be their light;
through him who suffered alone on the cross,
but reigns with you in glory,
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday 18th March 2020
It is said that every human experience and emotion can be found in the Psalms. This morning, reading Psalm 38, which is a Psalm set for this day in the Church of England’s lectionary, I came across these words which raised a smile:
My friends and companions stand aloof from my affliction;
and my neighbours stand far off. Psalm 38:11 NRSV
‘Self Isolation’ is a positive encouragement to keep away from everyone as much as is possible. It’s a term which sounds positive, but it has a negative impact on the quality of life. Of course, many people in our society are already isolated because of illness or infirmity and they will be all too aware of the problems caused by a lack of meaningful contact.
Coronavirus hadn’t appeared in the days of the Psalmist, but there were many diseases and conditions which made people keep their distance from those afflicted. Social exclusion was a normal part of life for many.
The Psalmist, out of his pain and anguish calls out to God:
O Lord, all my longing is known to you;
my sighing is not hidden from you. Psalm 38:9 NRSV
He takes comfort from the fact that God is with those who cry out to Him, and that nothing is hidden from His gaze. He goes on to pray,
Do not forsake me, O Lord;
O my God, do not be far from me;
make haste to help me,
O Lord, my salvation. Psalm 38:22-23 NRSV
These days of upheaval to the normal life provide great opportunities for us to remember with the Lord God, those people whose world has shrunk, who feel isolated, alone and fearful because of the coronavirus crisis. We can pray that they might not feel to be forgotten, and even better, we can pick up the phone or knock on the door to ask if we can help in any way.
And we can pray to God, knowing that He hears us, understands us and offers His peace and grace to those who cry out to Him. He is bigger than any crisis – personal, national or global. Whenever you find yourself overwhelmed by life, you always have two choices: you can focus on your circumstances, or fix your eyes on the Lord God Almighty and His Son, Jesus.