Friday, 4 May 2018

Friends in Strange Places

I was driving through Ashby de la Zouch yesterday when I saw her. It looked exactly like Suzy. I almost shouted out a greeting- until I realised how silly that would have been. Suzy lives in Nova Scotia,  Canada and is very unlikely to be walking through an East Midlands town in the UK.

But it did get me thinking. How I have found the most wonderful friends in the strangest of places.

I belong to the biggest family in the world. 2.3 billion and counting. It means I am never alone. I can be anywhere in the world and find a friend that shares my Christian faith.

The taxi driver in Auckland. The Pensions Manager at Cleanaway. The hiker in Snowdonia. The barista in Leicester.

I was caught in a snowstorm in the United States once and our plane ended up being diverted to Minneapolis St Paul’s airport. I had been sharing my Christian faith with the guy next to me on the flight- but seemingly with no interest from him. So as we arrived at an airport I didn’t want to be at in the middle of nowhere (Sorry Minneapolis St Paul’s, I’m sure it’s a great place!), I was feeling a bit low. I cried out to God, complaining. I was on my own, miles from home, in a place I didn’t want to be and in the middle of a snowstorm.  

It was then that the guy in the seat behind me leaned over and whispered in my ear. It seems he had been listening to my conversation.

‘I know Him too.’

It’s all he said. But it was enough.

I wasn’t on my own of course. God was with me. And in the loneliest of moments, there was someone there. One of my family.

My message is simple. You need never be alone. You can know God with you through Christ. Have a read of St Mark’s gospel and find Him. And you’ll find others on the same journey in the strangest of places. They know Him too.

And Suzy. If it was you, sorry I didn’t wave.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

In Play At Little Games

These are the final lines of a poem written in 1938 by Robert D Abrahams. He is reflecting on wars around the world whilst he and his wife, safe at home,  drive to a game of bridge:

Tonight Shanghai is burning,
And we are dying too.
What bomb more surely mortal
Than death inside of you?

For some men die by shrapnel,
And some go down in flames,
But most men perish inch by inch,
In play at little games.

The words are a challenge to every one of us. Will we allow ourselves to die inch by inch? Or will we determine to live for a cause? Will we allow others to play little games with our lives? Or will we ignore the fear of shrapnel and fight?

May every one of us reading these words determine to live; and to live for something great, something lasting, something meaningful.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Flawed. Frail. Fanatical.

I’m reading a fascinating book on the life of Larry Norman, the pioneer of Christian rock music. He comes over as flawed and frail – but at the same time as fascinating and almost fanatical. His passion for Christ shines through even the most troubling of times. He knew his God and wanted more than anything to tell others about Christ in the way he knew best – through his music. His albums were many but for me, the standout is Only Visiting This Planet. There’s not a weak track in sight and a challenge to the listener in every verse.

I’m also listening to the news today, on the death of Winnie Mandela. Another flawed, frail, fanatic. She faced prison and death threats on a daily basis. But unlike her husband, she seemed unable to forgive, nor to manage retribution in the right way. Flawed. Frail. Fanatical.

These words are not the worst labels to hang around our lives. You can make a case for the apostle Peter being flawed, frail and fanatical too. His very public failures are reflected later in a passion for Christ that led to martyrdom.

The first two words reflect all of us if we’re honest. The last one gets more of a bad press. Maybe I should use ‘tenacious’ or ‘strong minded’ instead. But my prayer is that although I see my flaws and frailties all too well, I may also be known as someone who is absolutely fanatical about his faith in Christ.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Fake News

I think I first heard the phrase used by President Trump. ‘Fake News’ became the ‘word of the year’ for 2017 according to the Daily Telegraph; despite it being two words!

But the concept has been around forever. Ever since the lies in the Garden of Eden, Fake News has been in existence. The Times comments that ‘a lie is halfway round the world before truth has got its boots on’. Why? Because too many of us love to gossip and are fascinated with the failure of others.

A new study from Science Magazine is extremely thorough. The report indicated that Fake News travels ‘faster, deeper and more broadly’ than the truth. Truth on social media platforms takes six times longer to circulate than lies. Twitter gets the most Fake News, with other social media not far behind. People tweet and retweet what they consider to be a surprise, to be provocative or disgusting. Indeed, it may be disgusting- but was it true?

I remember a debate on the BBC some years ago - I haven’t been able to source it so it may be Fake News! - where these issues were discussed. There was a concern from the Corporation that they were showing drama dressed up as history. I guess the concerns didn’t win. I loved watching Netflix series ‘The Crown’. Claire Foy was amazing as the Queen. But there was so much fiction in there. It made Prince Philip out to be some sort of mad egoist and misogynist. History doesn’t back that up. But how many now have a view of the Royal Family based on this new fiction?

Or take the simplest of lies. I spotted a quote on Facebook the other day attributed to C S Lewis.  In fact it was a quote from a motivational speaker called Les Brown. Does it matter? The quote was a good one, so who cares? But that’s the point! We need to care. Without a truth filter, we are creating a future full of false news for the next generation.

As someone that works with Christian History, I’m taught to verify what I teach. I try and find the original source of a story. If I can’t, I check it out with accepted historians with a good track record. I see whether the story is regularly reported in Christian History books, or is it an outlier in just one or two? I check who is recording the story and as much as possible, whether they have a particular slant on Christian History they want to convey.

We can’t do that with Twitter. So, much as I value free speech, I agree with the conclusion in The Times: ‘[Social media companies]must be forthcoming, transparent and co-operative in helping their users distinguish lies from the truth, and in helping understand why the former should not be so blithely spread.’

We need to care what is true and what is a lie. Or maybe we just prefer to gossip?

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Blinded By Your Grace

In musical terms, I’m a child of the 70s. I grew up on the heavyish rock of Argent, Led Zeppelin, Free and Deep Purple. And when I’m feeling nostalgic, that’s still where I return.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that I never really got into Rap, didn’t particularly get along with Punk and as for Garage, Grunge and Grime… it passed me by.

That was, until four months back, when the artist Stormzy appeared as a guest on X Factor on TV, and sang Blinded by Your Grace. I’m told he’s a Grime and Hip Hop artist. What I heard was pure Gospel. In fact, for me, one of the best Gospel songs I’ve heard in many years.

If you’ve not heard it yet, here’s a link:

As I watched, I found myself worshipping:

Lord, I've been broken
Although I'm not worthy
You fixed me, I'm blinded
By your grace

You came and saved me...

You saved this kid and I'm not your first
It's not by blood and it's not by birth
But oh my God what a God I serve…..

Now I'm in a better place
No longer afraid
Blinded by your grace
You came and saved me

It’s been a particularly tough time, especially with regard to local church. I’m a part-time church historian, so I know that even in the most successful revivals in history, there’s often an undercurrent of unrest and disagreement. Even my heroes George Whitefield and John Wesley fell out for a while!

There’s a verse in Proverbs that says:

There are friends who pretend to be friends
But there is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother.

It’s important to focus on line 2, not line 1, and that is what I choose to do.

As I write this, I look out of the window, I see all His creation, I think of all He’s done and I’m blinded by His grace. Amazed at a God who would love me, who saved this kid- and I’m not His first. What a God we serve…

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Meeting John

He's smartly dressed in a business shirt and suit trousers. And he's just offered me a cup of tea.

John is a warehouse supervisor during the week. His accent gives him away as coming from the Black Country. And today he's a volunteer at a hospital, making tea's and coffee's, helping with meals and washing up.

Imagine that. Five hard working days in the warehouse and then giving your Sunday away to care for the sick. Wow.

John's not the only one. Jo and Judith are the nurses on duty today, on the men's ward at Burton hospital. Their love, care and attention help these largely older men maintain a degree of dignity and decorum in the most difficult of circumstances.

And that's why I'm here. Dad's had a fall and the care from John, Jo and Judith is helping him make it through.

Could the NHS be better? Sure. Does it need more money? Of course. But because of selfless giving and compassion, it's one of the best and most inclusive healthcare systems in the world.

I read President Trump's comments on the NHS. A bit rich coming from a man who is planning to unravel a first attempt at universal care in his country. He really has no idea.

But then.... he hasn't met John.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

REPOST: The Pale Blue Dot


Look carefully at the image. The pale blue dot is the Earth, captured in a picture from the Voyager 1 spacecraft at a distance of 4 billion miles on February 14, 1990.

Carl Sagan was the one who pushed for the Voyager craft to take the shot, and it’s his quote that follows:

“Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."

With thanks to Professor Brian Cox, speaking at the NAPF conference, October 2012 for pointing out the Pale Blue Dot.