The American media personality, model and businesswoman Kylie Jenner recently posted on social media, “Can you guys please recommend books that made you cry?”, to which Saransh Garg replied, “Data Structures and Algorithms in Java, (2nd Edition)”!
Perhaps over the summer you’ve had the opportunity to read a good book. It may have been one you’d been waiting to read for a long time, a book recommended by a friend or something that caught your eye over the top of your mask in a shop!
We all love a good story. The Christian faith is a collection of stories passed down from generation to generation, either through word of mouth and experience or written manuscripts, books and letters.
The Gospel writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us the stories of Jesus, his life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension to the Father. Although John acknowledges that his account was a mere snapshot, when he says, “There are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they would all be written, I suppose that even the world itself wouldn’t have room for the books that would be written.” (John 21 verse 25, WEB)
The Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus (37-100AD) also wrote about Jesus when he said, “About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ.”
We hear those stories of Jesus and we re-tell them ourselves to family, friends, maybe even sometimes to strangers, so that together we share in the good news of Jesus Christ, realise that he was no ordinary man, learn more about what faith in him can mean and understand his promises to us and for our generation.
So next time you are asked to recommend a good book, why not recommend “the” good book. By the way has anyone read “Data Structures and Algorithms in Java, (2nd Edition)”?
Listen to “Thy Word”, from the musical Greater than Gold, by Roger Jones.
There are those who have both written and spoken, saying if there is a god, why is god so cruel? Why does he demand so much of us?
These questions can be countered by asking another: “Does God demand of us something he is not prepared to do himself”, and then referring to a passage in the Bible such as Paul’s letter to the Philippians Chapter 3 verses 1 to 11.
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” (Philippians2:1-3)
This passage reveals for us the breathtaking fact as to what is at the very heart of God and of His greatness. This is the God we are called to believe in and adore and whose light we are to conduct our lives in.
May the mind of Christ my Saviour
live in me from day to day,
by his love and power controlling
all I do or say.
May the word of God dwell richly
in my heart from hour to hour,
so that all may see I triumph
only through his power.
May the peace of God my Father
rule my life in everything,
that I may be calm to comfort
sick and sorrowing.
May the love of Jesus fill me,
as the waters fill the sea;
him exalting, self forgetting --
this is victory.
May I run the race before me,
strong and brave to face the foe,
looking only unto Jesus
as I onward go.
Katie Barclay Wilkinson (Singing the Faith 504)
The Republic of Ireland Department of Health launched a YouTube video in March of this year to help people with social distancing. It started by asking the question “How far is 2 metres?” and then went on to provide some helpful hints …
… 2 metres = 200 centimetres
… or 6 feet 7 inches
… about the length of a double bed
… or about the arm span of an average adult
… or about twice the arm span of an average child
I prefer this visual reminder from Coult Decorators at their premises in Aintree, that reminds people to “keep 2 Beetles apart”!
Whilst we have become familiar with social distancing in the 21st Century, social-distancing measures date back to at least the 5th Century before the birth of Christ In the book of Leviticus, chapter 13 and verse 46 we read these words in association with someone suffering from plague, “All the days in which the plague is in him he shall be unclean. He is unclean. He shall dwell alone. His dwelling shall be outside of the camp.”
In the Gospel of St Luke chapter 17 and verse 12 we read, “As Jesus entered into a certain village, ten men who were lepers met him, who stood at a distance.”
Jesus is travelling along the border of Samaria and Galilee when the lepers call out to him, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” “Go and show yourselves to the Priests,” Jesus replies. The lepers go to the priests and are cleansed, but the story doesn’t end there. A single leper, a Samaritan, returns and throws himself at the feet of Jesus to give thanks. Ten lepers are healed and a single one returns. “Weren’t the ten cleansed? But where are the nine?”, asks Jesus, before saying to the one leper, “Get up and go your way. Your faith has healed you.”
As humans we struggle with gratitude. We intend to “say thanks” through sending a card, making a phone call, or sending a short e-mail and yet often we forget and the moment is lost. The story of Jesus and the ten lepers reminds us to be thankful, even when we may feel isolated or be in difficult circumstances and, like the one leper who returned, to praise God for his goodness to us, whilst making sure our thankfulness leads to action.
Listen to “Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart":
Jesus Heals a Boy Possessed by an Impure Spirit
When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them. As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.” The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” - Mark 9:14-29
Doubt, says the Christian author Os Guinness, “is a state of mind in suspension between faith and unbelief, so that is neither of them wholly and is each only partly. It is faith in two minds.”
Selwyn Hughes, Christian counsellor, author of the ‘Every Day With Jesus’ Bible reading notes, in his handbook “Your personal encourage” (CWR 1994) agrees with Guinness, but adds this comment: “The presence of doubt is not the problem, the critical issue is what we do with it when it emerges.” He follows this up with referring next to Mark Chapter 9 verses 14 to 29. This tells us about a man coming to Jesus confessing to Jesus the struggle he had over healing of his son, but there he is, with Jesus, telling him. He has faith enough to go to Jesus. The point to take here is that it is not doubt that destroys faith, but disobedience, the disobedience of failing to go to Jesus, avoiding the light of the world (John 8:12), the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6)
The words of the man to Jesus “I do believe help me to overcome my unbelief” contained in this passage are words we can echo when we are caught not only in the slings and arrow of despair and doubt but at all times we have needs beyond our understanding and control.
The words of this hymn may be inspiring:
What a friend we have in Jesus,
all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations,
is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged:
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful
who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness:
take it to the Lord in prayer.
Are we weak and heavy-laden,
cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Saviour, still our refuge --
take it to the Lord in prayer!
Do your friends despise, forsake you?
Take it to the Lord in prayer;
in his arms he'll take and shield you,
you will find a solace there.
Joseph Medlicott Scriven, Singing the Faith 531
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. - 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
If you are struggling on your own to face challenges, then you need to know that you are not alone. The God of all comfort is with you.
Richard Daly in God’s Little Book of Calm
I have thought for a long time that the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and particularly the passage below, are as fresh, pertinent, and challenging as when they were written.
In the summer of 1939, Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906 – 1945), a Lutheran pastor and lecturer in theology, was on a lecture tour in America. Already he was known as an enemy of the Nazi regime in his native Germany. He had denounced Hitler on the radio in 1933, before he came to power. He had spent two years in London urging the German congregation there to join the battle against Nazism. And in 1936 he had been banned by the Nazis from speaking, writing, or lecturing. He had also written two influential books – The Cost of Discipleship and Living Together – and his reputation as a radical Christian thinker was growing. If he stayed in America, he would be safe and could pursue his studies. Instead he chose to return to Germany, taking one of the last ships to sail before war broke out.
After four years of resistance work, he was finally arrested for his part in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. On 9 April 1945 – only a short time before the end of the war – he was hanged. His Letters and Papers from Prison, published after his death, show a man who thought deeply about what Christianity means in the modern world, and who lived out his faith to the end with unfailing courage.
Cheap Grace and Costly Grace
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace. Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack’s wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the church’s inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessing with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.
Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all of his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.
Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us.
(from ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ by Bonhoeffer quoted in The Lion Book of Christian Classics 1988)
Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,
nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices. - Songs 4:13-14
So sensitive are the human nervous system, mood and temperament, that flowers may stimulate metabolic changes. They bring refreshment and raise the spirits. Enjoy their fragrance and calming beauty.
Taken from Richard Daly's God’s Little Book of Calm.
During the long, hot summer of 2018 I worked in Hounslow, West London, which meant that I had the opportunity to travel into Central London each week to visit the sites or the many visitor attractions that take place in the evening such as Beating the Retreat.
One of the places I visited was St Paul’s church, Covent Garden. Located in Bedford Street, it was designed by Inigo Jones as part of a commission for the 4th Earl of Bedford in 1631 to create "houses and buildings fit for the habitations of Gentlemen and men of ability". (Sorry ladies!)
As well as being the parish church of Covent Garden, the church has gained the nickname of "the actors' church" because of its long association with the theatre community. Buried around the church are may famous people including Thomas Arne, the composer of Rule Britannia and the interred ashes of Dame Edith Evans. Whilst inside the church there are wooden memorials to many famous actors, actresses, playwrites and producers.
On a warm June evening, it was the small lectern that stood at the entrance to the church that captured my attention. On it were these words:
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, widowed, straight, gay, confused, well-heeled or down at heel. We especially welcome wailing babies and excited toddlers.
We welcome you whether you can sing like Pavarotti or just growl quietly to yourself. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing”, just woken up or just got out of prison. We don’t care if you’re more Christian than the Archbishop of Canterbury, or haven’t been to church since Christmas ten years ago.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome keep-fit mums, football dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk food eaters.
We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems, are down in the dumps or don’t like “organised religion”.
We offer a welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell or are here because Granny is visiting and wanted to come to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced, both or neither. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down their throats as kids or got lost in Covent Garden and wound up here by mistake. We welcome pilgrims, tourist, seekers, doubters … and you.
In the Wesley’s conversion hymn, Charles Wesley reminds us of the universality of the gospel when he writes:
Outcasts of men, to you I call,
Harlots, and publicans and thieves!
He spreads his arms to embrace you all
Sinners alone his grace receives.
No need of him the righteous have:
He came the lost to seek and save.
We have a similar welcome statement in our church, which reminds us that we extend that welcome of Christ not just to those like us, not to a chosen few, but to all, because, as the Apostle Paul writes to the church at Corinth,
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians, 5, verses 14-15, ESV)
Listen to “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be”.
I have recently been inspired by some of the reflections in this book, Quiet Moments by the former Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright. The below reflection is about prayer.
I wonder how many of you have achieved all the jobs you set out to do at the beginning of lock-down? I certainly haven’t! However, one job that’s been ongoing for weeks is sorting my study. If you’d seen it in March you’d know why it’s not finished yet! But I’ve unearthed all sorts of interesting memorabilia, photos, articles and assorted junk – and it’s taken so long because I’ve been stopping to read or look through so much!
One document I discovered this week was an article I’d written in 2003 for the old church ‘Together’ magazine, about that year’s Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, Judy Jarvis (whom I’d known slightly from our previous Circuit). In it I’d quoted some of what she’d said in her inaugural address to Conference, when she talked about the concept of ‘church’ as ‘Hospitable Space’.
As we emerge from lock-down and life returns to some sort of semblance of normal (though will it ever be ‘normal’ again?), it seems to me that what she had to say then is of some help to us now. We are trying to determine what the Church will be like in the ‘new normal’, how we should function, what changes should we make in our worship, our service to the community, our discipleship and our proclamation of the Good News about Jesus? Judy’s explanation of ‘Hospitable Space’ gives us, perhaps, some basic parameters on which to base our moving forward.
She says that first and foremost the Church must be a Welcoming Space, in which everyone, from the youngest to the oldest, and whatever their background, finds a sense of their own value in the church community.
The Church must be Safe Space, in which we provide “a safe, caring space in which people of all ages are free to develop, explore, experiment, take wings and fly!”
The Church must be Challenging Space, where worship is participatory, fresh and lively, where all are encouraged to learn, and where injustice is challenged at all levels of society.
The Church must be Still Space, valuing time for quiet, reflection and silence.
The Church must be Overflowing Space. Important though these other things are, we need to see ourselves as the Church of mission, “where we are so surprised and astonished about the experience of being wanted by God that we seek in every way to share it with others.” Instead of being complacent and self-satisfied, or depressed about decline or the difficulties posed by the Covid-19 outbreak, we need to be “surprised, delighted and excited by the joy of the Christian message and …… recover the ‘wow’ factor, rejoicing in the power of God working in and through us.”
Most importantly, she concludes, the Church must be Sacred Space – “a Church where God is at the centre, a Church in which Jesus becomes the host and bids us welcome, a Church in which the Holy Spirit warms, inspires and invigorates the hearts of all its members.”
In these uncertain times that is surely a message to inspire and encourage us all.
One of our members has submitted the below extract from Amen to That by Ferdie Addis.
No Balm in Gilead - Jeremiah 8:22
This unusual phrase comes from the Book of Jeremiah. The prophet laments the suffering of Israel saying: ‘is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?'
‘Balm’ is the resin Balsam dendron trees – a well known medicine in the ancient world and one for which the region of Gilead (in modern Jordan) was famous. For Gilead to run out of balm is, in the Bible, a powerful sign that Israel is in dire straits.
African slaves taken to America the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries famously answered Jeremiah’s question in a traditional spiritual called, in a remarkable display of optimism, ‘There is a balm in Gilead.’
These days, Gilead usually crops up as a literary reference (for example, as the name of a future American dystopia in Margaret Atwood’s the Handmaid’s Tale) ‘Balm’ used on its own, is more common in phrases like ‘a balm for the soul.’
Members of Frodsham Methodist Church were asked about their favourite readings and prayers.
Harry chose Psalm 22, saying ...
"A long psalm that has to be read in full. It provides support for doubters and each time I read the first verse I hear Christ’s own words in the original Hebrew repeated in Matthew 27. The only, or only one of a few places in both testaments to give an actual Hebrew phrase."
A Cry of Anguish and a Song of Praise
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
I have cried desperately for help,
but still it does not come.
During the day I call to you, my God,
but you do not answer;
I call at night,
but get no rest.
But you are enthroned as the Holy One,
the one whom Israel praises.
Our ancestors put their trust in you;
they trusted you, and you saved them.
They called to you and escaped from danger;
they trusted you and were not disappointed.
But I am no longer a human being; I am a worm,
despised and scorned by everyone!
All who see me jeer at me;
they stick out their tongues and shake their heads.
“You relied on the LORD,” they say.
“Why doesn't he save you?
If the LORD likes you,
why doesn't he help you?"
It was you who brought me safely through birth,
and when I was a baby, you kept me safe.
I have relied on you since the day I was born,
and you have always been my God.
Do not stay away from me!
Trouble is near,
and there is no one to help.
Many enemies surround me like bulls;
they are all round me,
like fierce bulls from the land of Bashan.
They open their mouths like lions,
roaring and tearing at me.
My strength is gone,
gone like water spilt on the ground.
All my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like melted wax.
is as dry as dust,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.
You have left me for dead in the dust.
An evil gang is round me;
like a pack of dogs they close in on me;
they tear at
my hands and feet.
All my bones can be seen.
My enemies look at me and stare.
They gamble for my clothes
and divide them among themselves.
O LORD, don't stay away from me!
Come quickly to my rescue!
Save me from the sword;
save my life from these dogs.
Rescue me from these lions;
I am helpless
before these wild bulls.
I will tell my people what you have done;
I will praise you in their assembly:
“Praise him, you servants of the LORD!
Honour him, you descendants of Jacob!
Worship him, you people of Israel!
He does not neglect the poor or ignore their suffering;
he does not turn away from them,
but answers when they call for help.”
In the full assembly I will praise you for what you have done;
in the presence of those who worship you
I will offer the sacrifices I promised.
The poor will eat as much as they want;
those who come to the LORD will praise him.
May they prosper for ever!
All nations will remember the LORD.
From every part of the world they will turn to him;
all races will worship him.
The LORD is king,
and he rules the nations.
All proud people will bow down to him;
all mortals will bow down before him.
Future generations will serve him;
they will speak of the Lord to the coming generation.
People not yet born will be told:
“The Lord saved his people.”
... and Harry's favourite hymns
To God be the glory, especially when I am playing it with a large and enthusiastic congregation!
But I also like the words and rock music of No other God like you. The electric guitar riff is “magic”.
Many of us will have visited the National Trust property of Quarry Bank Mill in Styal, Cheshire. The National Trust describe it as 'one of Britain's greatest industrial heritage sites, home to a complete industrial community'.
The mill was established by Samuel Greg in 1784. According to (the I am sure very reliable!) Wikipedia entry, 'He and his wife Hannah Greg took their responsibilities to their employees seriously, building a model village alongside the factory'. In this vision they were very much influenced by their faith, Unitarianism. The village provided solid housing for the workers, a shop, school, chapel and Sunday School. Like me, I imagine many others growing up in this area visited this model village on a school trip to learn about the Industrial Revolution! (1)
One of their sons, the imaginatively named Samuel Greg Jr., who lived in Bollington and managed the mill there upon his father's retirement, was also active in the Church and wrote a hymn, published in 1854, that made its way into the Methodist Hymn-Book (1933) as well as Hymns and Psalms (1983). This is the hymn:
STAY, Master, stay upon this heavenly hill
A little longer, let us linger still;
With these two mighty ones of old beside,
Near to the awful Presence still abide;
Before the throne of light we trembling stand,
And catch a glimpse into the spirit-land.
Stay, Master, stay! We breathe a purer air;
This life is not the life that waits us there:
Thoughts, feelings, flashes, glimpses come and go;
We cannot speak them—nay, we do not know;
Wrapt in this cloud of light we seem to be
The thing we fain would grow—eternally.
“No”, saith the Lord, “the hour is past,—we go;
Our home, our life, our duties lie below.
While here we kneel upon the mount of prayer,
The plough lies waiting in the furrow there;
Here we sought God that we might know His will;
There we must do it,—serve Him,—seek Him still.”
If man aspires to reach the throne of God,
O’er the dull plains of earth must lie the road:
He who best does his lowly duty here,
Shall mount the highest in a nobler sphere:
At God’s own feet our spirits seek their rest,
And he is nearest Him who serves Him best.
Samuel Greg (1804–1877)
The hymn is about the transfiguration of Jesus, a story told in the gospels of Matthew (17:1–8), Mark (9:2–8) and Luke (9:28–36), and mentioned in the Second Epistle of Peter (2 Peter 1:16–18). when Jesus is transfigured and becomes radiant in glory upon a mountain. It is a story some churches around the world will be remembering over the coming two Sundays.
The gospels tell how Jesus and two of his disciples, Peter and John, go to a high place. There, Jesus was transfigured before them; 'the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white' (Luke 9:29). They see visions of Elijah, representing the prophets, and Moses, representing the Law, appear and talk to Jesus. Peter asks Jesus if they should build three dwellings for Him and the two prophets (Luke 9:33), perhaps either as a way to worship them or an attempt to keep them there longer!
The account is fantastic and one easy to misunderstand. Indeed we are expressely told by Luke that even Peter, in suggesting the building of the dwellings, has also misunderstood the event. The true signficance, we are told, is found in the heavenly voice that is heard, assuring the disciples that the Jesus they are following is indeed the Son of God, not despite his coming passion, but because of it. And, furthermore, they are to obey Him - and Him alone: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" (Luke 9:35). A reminder for us in our time as well.
Here is a video of that hymn performed on the organ of Edgworth Methodist Church near Bolton:
(1) On the other hand, and we should not proceed without mentioning this: for all Samuel Greg's enlightened views, practices we find abohrrant today were also used. If we visit the mill today, we can take a guided tour of the Apprentice House to step into the lives of the pauper children who worked in the mill. Children as young as eight years old were apprenticed at Quarry Bank, working 10 hour days in the mill and living cramped together under the control of the Apprentice House superindentents. Furthermore, in my research I have read that Samuel also part inherited a plantation in the West Indies from his uncle, and this would have included slave labour. A local overseer was appointed to manage this estate. From the sources, we do not know what he or his family thought of slavery.
One of our members has submitted the below extract from Amen to That by Ferdie Addis.
Amen to That - Deuteronomy 27:27; Matthew 6:13
In the earliest Bible translations, the word ‘amen’ doesn’t feature at all. Like any other Hebrew words it gets translated – to ‘so it is’ or in the Old English Sodlice. By the 1382 Wycliffe edition, ‘amen’ had begun to be used as an English word, for example at the end of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew’s gospel.
Amen became a standard ending to all prayers, indicating a general assent to whatever has been said before. In 1605 the phrase ‘amen to that’ was first used in a non-religious sense in an anonymous drama called King Leir (not to be confused with Shakespeare’s King Lear). Charles Dickens picks it up in the Pickwick Papers, as does Agatha Christie a hundred years later in the Mysterious Affair at Styles: “’We do hope, if there has been foul play, to bring the murderer to justice.’ ‘Amen to that,’ said Dorcas fiercely.”
‘Amen’ also gives us the old American expression ‘Amen Corner’, meaning a group of fervent believers. It comes from the practice of sitting the most vocal pious people near the pulpit in Methodist churches, from where they could lead the communal ‘amens’.
Water always wants to continue any movement at the same speed and in the same direction, this is something I have to be really mindful of as an Aqua instructor. I instruct from the pool side, and the class copy from the pool. So if I jog down the poolside, they will follow me in the water and we will all be happy, until I turn around to go back again. That turn is easy for me on land, but water inertia means that turning is difficult for them. The water will resist that change and want to keep going in the same direction, if I don’t manage the change, the water might literally knock some of them off their feet and I might not be invited back again!
As we start steadily moving out of lockdown, I am beginning to realise that I seem to suffer from human inertia, I prefer to continue doing what I’m used to and resist change! I hated going into lockdown, now as lockdown is beginning to ease, I find myself unsettled again. I don’t want to go out and learn how to use all the new systems at the shops, gyms, church, school etc. I don’t like the sound of a ‘new normal’, I prefer ‘normal normal’.
I wonder if there’s a few tips from the Aquafitness world that I (and maybe you?) might find helpful. The acronym Acts.
Inexperienced instructors often forget or underestimate the water’s resistance to change which leaves the class frustrated. Perhaps our first step is to acknowledge any needs we have for consistency and familiarity in times of uncertainty and admit to ourselves and others if we are finding things difficult.
2. Consider the Transition
I manage the problem of water inertia with considered transitions that allow the change to be less problematic. Practically there’s obvious transitional activities we can do: going out to a local shop before hitting Cheshire Oaks! But, spiritually I wonder what we can do to help during this time? Perhaps now is a good time to seek comfort in the permanence of God’s love and care. To read the old, old stories, that still speak to our soul and to seek guidance, strength and wisdom from an eternal, unchanging source.
In Aqua fitness, water inertia isn’t just a problem, it’s also a tool. When we change direction, or speed, the water environment acts as a personal trainer for each participant, the disturbance - when met with hard work, is a great environment to develop muscle stength and growth. As these times continue, I wonder if we will be able to come out of these ‘troubled waters’ stronger. I don’t believe that Covid 19 was ‘sent’ for this purpose (I don’t believe it was ‘sent’ at all) but I think there’s possibly opportunity for personal and community growth.
Without the disruption of the pandemic, I’d have kept doing all the things I was already doing, now this disruption stops my flow and invites me to reconsider my commitments and lifestyle. What are the things that really matter? What do I really want to invest in? What needed ‘letting go’ of anyway? Also, as I do new things that frighten me, maybe I will become braver and more adaptable?
I wonder how this might also be for us collectively, as a church? Perhaps we are developing a stronger understanding of what it means to be the Body of Christ as we find new ways to worship, reach out to each other, serve and care? As our worship has been interrupted, perhaps we are growing some spiritual muscles, learning to find God in all things?
Water always wants to continue any movement at the same speed and in the same direction, I suspect the Spirit of God is not the same. While God’s nature remains never changing, I wonder how the Spirit might be wanting to transform us to be a movement that innovatively reflects the love of Christ during these times? We might want to resist change, but change and discomfort can lead to growth, health and strength.
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.’ - Isaiah 43:19
**The below reflection is published by kind permission of Methodist Minister Rev'd. Dr. George Bailey. It was first published on Monday in Theology Everywhere. All are welcome to subscribe.**
I have been interested in the concept of Universal Design since first encountering it when learning about Higher Education course design. The basic idea is that whereas, previously, design began with some supposed ‘normal’ person in mind and then adjusted things if necessary for other people (or too often, failed to adjust), instead everything should be designed with everyone in mind. Since appreciating this, I have aspired for the background colour of all my slides to be maximally helpful for as wide as possible a range of both visual and cognitive diversity – however, usually I just have to settle for a certain shade of cream. Universal Design is an intuitively sensible idea, but the challenges and complexities both of its development and its application defy simple analysis and undermine merely enthusiastic unsophisticated efforts, as illustrated by my inadequate struggles with cream…. or is it ivory?
These complexities are comprehensively uncovered by Aimi Hamraie in a book which explores the history of the concept from the mid to late twentieth century and then the various ways it has been appropriated into mainstream discourse in the USA.[i] Universal Design was originally intended to bring disabled designers to the fore not just of accessible design adjustments or ‘retro-fits’, but of better design for all from the outset. However, the appropriation of the concept for consumer markets has seen it repositioned to focus on the spectrum of (dis)ability which all people experience, and particularly to assist all with the challenges of aging. This has limited the scope for hearing the voice of people with disabilities and prejudiced design for wealthier and healthier sectors of the population who are more likely to experience longer periods of old age. The widely disseminated Principles of Universal Design (1997)[ii] do not even mention disability and advocates have claimed that ‘through the design of thoughtful environments – ones which anticipate and celebrate the diversity of human ability, age, and culture – we have the capacity to eliminate a person’s disability.’[iii] This attitude does not make it easy for the voice of people with disabilities, who continue to find themselves excluded by design solutions, to be heard and heeded. What might easily be accepted as ‘common sense’ can become oppressive and unjust.
We face similar issues when applying our theologies of disability and inclusion. Amos Yong has argued that not only should the church include people with disabilities, but following the logic of 1 Corinthians 12, they should be at the centre of our ministry: ‘the body of Christ and the fellowship of the Spirit are constituted by many different members, each with his or her own spiritual gifts; none of the members or their gifts are more or less valuable – and, if anything, those deemed less worthy of honour are more indispensable.’[iv] The church can easily accept as ‘common sense’ theology the call to be inclusive, but then fall short of critically exploring what that inclusivity might mean if taken more seriously. It would radically alter our life together and our self-understanding. ‘We’ would become a bigger and more complete concept than in the potentially divisive idea that ‘we are called to include others’. The church’s ministry and witness would look different if those on the edge were brought to the centre. Benjamin Conner poses the question in this way: ‘Do we acknowledge that people with disabilities are members of the body of Christ who enable a more credible witness in a world of people with differing abilities?’[v] Rather than resulting in a transformation of our witness by people with differing abilities, if applied in an incomplete or fractured way, ‘inclusivity’ can itself instead become oppressive and unjust. As a simple example, when the church sings ‘All are welcome’ (Singing the Faith 409), unless the questions of who is in the position of host offering the welcome, who is the stranger being welcomed, and why, are explored honestly, then the power imbalance between those two positions will not easily be addressed and the new community of the body of Christ cannot be realised.
These reflections on Universal Design and the challenges of transforming church community are relevant as churches plan for the easing of the lockdown. If we can resist simply reacting to circumstances and the impulse to try to return to what we knew before, then in many cases we are presented with opportunities to design church life in new shapes. The pandemic has opened new experiences of ability and disability as unexpected people and sectors of our communities have found their lives restricted and struck by tragedy. There is a new sharing of the experience of disconnection, loss and exclusion. At the same time, some people who were previously unable to connect to much of church life have found that through post, phone, email, Zoom, and so on, they are now more at the centre than usual. Some, who had been unlikely to visit a church building, are investigating our ministry online, and some find themselves the wrong side of a digital divide. How do we shape ourselves to witness to God’s kingdom of inclusive healing love? How do we truly listen to the voices we have previously struggled to include – and not just listen to them but bring them to the centre so that the body of Christ can be enabled to become a ‘more credible witness in a world of people with differing abilities’?
Rev'd. Dr. George Bailey
Lecturer in Mission and Wesleyan Studies, Cliff College
[i] Aimi Hamraie, Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability (University of Minnesota Press, 2017)
[ii] Ibid. p.224-5. As published by the Center for Universal Design, North Carolina State University
[iii] Ibid. p.223; citing Josh Safdie, quoted in Susan Szenasy, “Accessibility Watch: Q&A with Josh Safdie,” Metropolis magazine, February 2011.
[iv] Amos Yong, The Bible, Disability, and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), p.116.
[v] Benjamin T. Conner, Disabling Mission: Enabling Witness (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 2018), p.60
I have never really understood what this word is all about, but it is the poem below that I have read recently that got me thinking about what this word really means.
In the dictionary it is defined as a ‘ deep respect for someone or something,’ and has origins in the 13th Century Latin reverential, meaning awe and respect.
During this time of lockdown I have had the opportunity to make new friends and get to know others more and learn about their life journey in all sorts of ways. It is in the listening and learning about their story and who they are that has deepened my understanding and respect for them and what they have done.
Paul talks about having reverence for God in Ephesians 5:21 with respect to “submitting ourselves to one another out of reverence for Christ”
It is not for personal benefit that we submit to each other, but rather out of “ reverence for Christ”. When we serve others, we serve the Lord. We lay aside our own needs and wants and humbly serve one another in love.
During this time of great sadness, uncertainty, challenge and change, I am sure that we all have stories to tell of people who have gone about humbly serving and loving each other and have learnt about others who live alongside us in our street, town, country and much further afield.
Let us take time to thank God for those who have served us,
…..for the time to learn about those whose lives are very different from ours and how best we can serve them.
……and let us pray that as we continue to travel on life’s journey into the unexpected and unknown that we do so with renewed and refreshed reverence for God and in service to one another.
When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery,
you return to rhythm with yourself.
When you take the time to travel with reverence,
a richer life unfolds before you.
Moments of beauty begin to braid your days.
When your mind becomes more acquainted with reverence,
the light, grace and elegance of beauty find you more frequently.
When the destination becomes gracious, the journey becomes an adventure of beauty.
John O'Donohue (1 January 1956 – 4 January 2008) Irish poet, author, priest, and Hegelian philosopher. Excerpt from his books, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (US) / Divine Beauty (Europe)
Author Monica Parker wrote a book in 2015 called, “OMG: How Children See God.” It is a magical window into just how children view God, which can be funny, poignant, insightful and sometimes outrageous!
When asked “Who is God?” Layla, aged 8, replied “God is a spirit”, whilst Isabelle, aged 4, said, “God is a girl”.
“What can God do?” the author asked. Evan, 7, said “Everything, he can move himself wherever he wants.” Whereas Shane, also 7, preferred the idea that “God is like a transformer, he can be anything he wants”.
“God is a superhero with red hair”, said one child, whilst another thought that “God is a bearded guy with really big ears”.
When asked to draw God, one child responded, “God is a man or a woman, I don’t know which, neither do you, so I drew God half woman, half man.” Another just remarked, “God is a theory.”
But beware, because, “When God gets mad he lets out the thunder and throws lightening around.”
St Mark records the words of Jesus in chapter 10 of his Gospel:
They were bringing to him little children, that he should touch them, but the disciples rebuked those who were bringing them. But when Jesus saw it, he was moved with indignation, and said to them, “Allow the little children to come to me! Don’t forbid them, for God’s Kingdom belongs to such as these. Most certainly I tell you, whoever will not receive God’s Kingdom like a little child, he will in no way enter into it.” He took them in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands on them. (Mark 10, verses 13-16, WEB)
Sometimes we can complicate things, we want to know why, how, where and when? Whereas Jesus words remind us that all we need is, simply, faith, because if we can’t receive God’s Kingdom like a little child, then neither can we enter into it.
So remember, “God is a bearded guy with really big ears”!
Thanks to Sutton Coldfield Baptist Church for this song:
Members of Frodsham Methodist Church were asked about their favourite readings and prayers.
When asked about his favourite Bible reading, Trevor said ...
"Oh Dear! There is so much in the Bible but I think that Luke 7:27 sums up the message from Jesus:
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself'.
And chosing his favourite hymns he said,
"O lord my God, when I in awesome wonder. We once sang this hymn in the open air at a classic car show in a field at Carrog in the Vale of Llangollen, surrounded in the sunshine, by the magnificent Welsh hills. I truly felt: my God, how great thou art!”
and also ...
"Great is thy Faithfulness. This is probably my favourite for the line, “all I have needed thy hand hath provided”. So very true, when as a child after my Father died Mum and I were cared for in so many ways by so many people.
The poems which are to be found in the book of the above title, written by John Bunyan (1628 – 1688), arguably Bedford’s most famous son.
The book being the one your contributor has just finished reading, and the town being the one in which he resided from 1988 to 1992.
The poems are the Shepherd Boy’s Song and The Pilgrim’s Song, which is also a well-known hymn (Singing the Faith 486, Who would true valour see).
The Shepherd Boy’s Song
He that is down needs fear no fall,
He that is low no pride;
He that is humble ever shall
Have God to be his guide.
I am content with what I have,
Little be it or much;
And Lord, contentment I still crave,
Because thou savest such.
Fulness to such a burden is,
That go on prlgrimage;
Here little, and hereafter bliss,
Is best from age to age.
The Pilgrim’s Song
Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather;
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.
Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
But he will have the right
To be a pilgrim.
Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit;
He knows he in the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away,
He’ll fear not what men say;
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
John Bunyan is known the world over as the author of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’, the story of Christian’s journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. Born in a Bedfordshire village, Bunyan had little education and followed his father into the tinsmith’s trade. At sixteen, during the Civil War, he was drafted into the Parliamentary Army.
When he returned home he married a woman as poor as himself. Her only dowry was two books: ‘The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven’ and ‘The Practice of Piety’. These awoke a longing in Bunyan’s heart which led, after much inner struggle, to his conversion. He became a travelling Baptist preacher. At that time all nonconformist meetings were illegal. Bunyan was arrested, held in Bedford prison for six years, released briefly, then held for six more – until a change in the law made it possible for him to have a preacher’s licence. It was while he was in prison that he started to write.
The reflections here are written by members of our congregation.