Brexit: disquiet in the House… our part in the solution?

“When the lightning flashed, I saw that what I had thought to be a city was in fact a deserted plain and, in the same sinister light that revealed me to myself,

there seemed to be no sky above it. I was robbed of any possibility…

…the end of all worlds drifting blackly in the wind, misshapen, anachronistic, without the God who created it, without God himself who spins in the dark of darks, impossible, unique, everything. If only I could think! If only I could feel!”  

 

Fernando PessoaThe Book of Disquiet

 

It is the end of November 2018 and I’m in a house in Godalming. It is too early for Christmas.

I’ve been here previously at this time of year. This year there is something different. I can sense the difference but I cannot put my finger on ‘it’. Then I realise that the answer is all around me; staring me in the face; so obvious I have overlooked it.

Their Christmas decorations are up. Everywhere.  You could light a runway with the number of bulbs beside the wood burner. More lights and decorations than ever before, yes. But that isn’t what’s giving me a sense of disquiet.

Then the couple speak. “It’s the decorations, isnt’ it?” They say. And then I understand. “We usually put them up in mid-December but we decided that with everything going on in the World and UK we needed some extra cheer, early.”

‘with everything going on’

The next few days are important for the United Kingdom and the EU. For many people “everything going on” is deeply unsettling, perhaps because what they hoped for does not appear to be; or what they feared appears to be. It is as if Pessoa’s phrase ‘I was robbed of any possibility’ has taken root. Some hoped for limited Brexit, others none; some wanted total Brexit and yet others wanted control of borders, or immigration, or…the list goes on.

The reason for the early Christmas lights is more than ‘just’ Brexit. The term for this is ‘synecdoche’; where something represents an amalgamation of things. There’s so much going on and no-one quite knows what, where, when, how… about anything anymore. This erodes trust and when trust goes, anything can happen.

We appear to be in an Epoch where, for many, there is a sense of a changing World; of certainties becoming uncertainties; ways of being and doing becoming fractured; realisation that my view may not be their view and that this now matters; a sense of alienation or of being passed by; resurgence of opinions and ideologies across the Globe which were thought to have been locked in the past; developments which are destabilising and uncontrolled; of nation states with changing objectives; and at a personal level, for many, a question of ‘what will my job, company or employer be like in 3 or 5 years from now’?

Called?

What is our response as Christians to someone who puts their Christmas decorations up early and adds extra lights in the hope that it will bring salve in this worried World? Within ourselves, what’s our own response to everything going on?

Some passages of Scripture come to mind; John 14:27; Psalm 146:3-4; John 17:14; Titus 2:7. They point us towards a purpose at this time which is entirely within with the World, with a deeply Christian perspective and approach about how we engage with people; and what we do, whilst being mindful that we are not merely people of this World as we have the capacity to look beyond.

We are called to be in the World (not to withdraw). When Jesus prays for his disciples he specifically prays that they will not be taken ‘out of this World’ but are now to be ‘sent into the World’. They go with a transformative good news narrative and perspective on life. Hopelessness is not an option.

We are called to be engaged with people and situations (not berate or alienate) as bearers of Good News rather than purveyors of gloom. We are called to bring possibilities and resolution. Our country has a long history of good Government, fair decision-making and equitable negotiation where everyone is usually able to leave the table with a degree of satisfaction and confidence. We have amongst the World’s oldest Parliaments (Iceland’s being the oldest) which has been shaped and reshaped by changing circumstances since the 1300s. It is robust and adaptive and based on scrutiny, rules and processes. Those who serve in Parliament are often people who have given up much and there is great cost to being in the public eye. We are called to pray for those who wrestle with decision-making and to assure them of our trust in their integrity, even in the midst of disagreement.

We are called to be models of good works and purveyors of God’s Peace. Part of this is to show how disagreement can be done well. As Christians, where our views are tempered by our understanding of the uniqueness of all people no matter if they agree with us or not, we are called to be able to see beyond our own perspective. As purveyors of Peace we have to be able to glance not in the mirror at our own opinion reflected back at us but through an open window where we seek to comprehend why there is another opinion which differs from ours. The Samaritans UK has a five-point process for listening, the first four being:

·         Ask open questions

·         Summarise what you feel you have heard

·         Reflect this back

·         Clarify

The ability to model a way to disagree is deeply Christian and about taking our place in our immediate world around us at a time of division. Families are divided about what it means to be ‘European’ or ‘British’; caricatures can reduce complex opinions to a single-issue; regions of the UK might be generalised as identifying in various ‘camps’; and friends and communities have strongly differing opinions where one person’s view may be perceived as threaten the job security of the other. We offer a model of how we hold ourselves which brings Peace by our presence and our doings.

We are called to have an answer for the hope which we have. The destabilising sense which led a family to put their Christmas decorations up early is a sign of the reality of the World we are so ingrained in. While we are called into this World, we are also called to a deeply Christian distinctiveness which means we are recognisably ‘other’ from Worldly perspectives.

We are called to point to a hope which goes beyond the temporal and finite. The Temporal often provides purpose and stability, offers a sense of identity and gives belonging. Much which is Temporal in our World and is good comes from deep Christian foundations going back over millennia but even the best of the Temporal is not the true reason for Christian hope. Hope which looks beyond is one which unites. We are people who offer unity rather than division.

A changing Epoch is one where we are called to have a voice in which we shape both today and the future. If we are silent in our hope which is to be ‘beyond princes and mortals’ then we are withdrawing from the very World which we have been sent into for a time such as this. Perhaps we can learn from a 14-year-old girl named Anne Frank who, in the darkness of her war-torn situation wrote in her famous diary, “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.”

We are called to our knees in prayer. We are called to do as Jesus did in John 17; when he sent the disciples into the World he did so through the power of prayer. Our prayer is not ‘my will be done’ but that, through Christ, God would be glorified. This is the eternal perspective that only a Christian can bring to bear on the current situation.

 It is Anne Franks’ beauty in the misery;

the landscape of God revealed when the lightning flashes across Pessoa’s the dark sky;

and the tangible answer of hope beyond extra Christmas lights and early tinsel.

For such a time as this

This is the hope we bear witness to this Christmas season. Beauty, God and hope. As we lean not on our own understanding but on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit we are called to be:

signs of God’s Peace,

models of good works,

extending the invitation to listen to alternative views,

seeking good disagreement which leads to mutual compromise

where all have a sense of achievement,

pointing to hope which is beyond temporal human construction;

immersed deeply in the structures, decisions and aspirations

of families, communities, companies and employers,

have an answer for the hope we have found in Christ Jesus – for the beauty

rather than misery,

people of faithful prayer for times such as these

People at the Crossroads

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Which are we in life? We’ve been looking at this scenario recently as a church community.
Stop following everyone else’s road. Be transformed. Have a renewed mind.

Test and Discern so know what’s really good. (Romans 12:2, The Bible)It is important to know the past and the basis of where you’ve come from in life, business and background.

The famous psychologist M. Scott Peck wrote ‘The Road Less Travelled’ and he noted a common theme: that the vast majority of people consider that they look ahead, based on their conscious awareness but the, conscious is driven by their sub-conscious.

He would draw a small circle with a huge outer circle around it and label the smaller one ‘conscious’ leaving the enormous one the collective experience and understanding of the sub-conscious. Was it sensible to consider that something that huge wasn’t a ‘driver’ into the future?

Testing and discerning in order to make good decisions is healthy. It is important to look down at today. To take a moment to consider the things that we rarely consider.

The Mindfulness movement has brought this to an increasing number of people. The Bible spoke into this long ago with a verse from the New Testament “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. As a church we’ve been looking at today: who we are, the things we do and the reason for this. One of the key questions has been whether a vicar is still needed, wanted or desired in the village. We’ve come to the view that this is something which is for the general good of all and we are moving forward with this.

It is important to look to the future. There is a beautiful Hebrew word in Scripture: parach. We know it as ‘flourish’. Flourishing involves two things for the Christian. It is a combination of the two people who met at the crossroads where one was looking ahead and the other focused on the road just travelled.

The Hebrew means to ‘blossom and bud; to bear something new as it unfurls’. It is like looking down a road of a new dawn in life or the sealing of a corporate decision that leads to good things. It also means looking back and seeing the old ways cease; a dying off of that which has been holding us back; literally ‘withering it to nothing’ so that it has no power over us any longer.

You’re invited to explore the crossroads.

As a church we are looking back down the road of the best of the past; looking at today and mindful of a flourishing future. If this is something that sparks thoughts for you; perhaps about a different future, being the same person but with a new ethic which allows the past to wither away; a desire to pause, reset and consider today; then we’re offering a course over several weeks in the New Year to explore whether this holds water and a Christian approach which centres life differently is worth pursuing.

If you’d like to find out more information about this course (called Alpha) then put alpha course trailer into YouTube for a 2 minute intro. It’s about looking back, down and forwards all at once. To take this a step further and ask about the course that we’re putting on, email alpha@bhcgodalming.org.

Simon Taylor

A fractured sense of belonging?

Harvest 2017

October is harvest time. Being a rural community many Hambledon residents will be used to the activity and toil of harvest. Harvest is a time of looking back in thankfulness and looking ahead.

When you look ahead, what do you see? Not literally, but in your mind. It’s an important question because it will shape next year’s harvest. If you’re a farmer you will know that the world of digital agriculture allows for predictive crop creation and adaptation. If the weather next year is likely to be dry you might plan to plant one type of crop now, and so on.

We don’t know what things will be like next harvest because we don’t have a form of digital agriculture that shows us our future lives. This creates insecurity for some and a need to collect and protect; for others it generates senselessness about what life is about; or maybe a question of purpose.

Imagine that, the ability to know the weather a year in advance? You’d be planning BBQs and beach holidays with precision!

Seeing ahead might sound great, but what if you could see your own future? It might appear a great idea but if you google ‘knowing the date of your death’ you are presented with a ‘death clock calculator’… and I haven’t had the courage to try it.

So, some knowledge is good but knowing all things may not be quite so simple. This is what harvest is about for people who follow a Christian faith. It is about giving thanks that God is ultimately our loving Creator, and that we are able look to Him for what the future holds. This isn’t about crops, produce, wealth or security. It is about purpose, destiny and identity. When we know ourselves in this manner we are becoming equipped to be the person God created us to be. If this sounds somewhat religious, let me quote the author of 1960s business book ‘The Money Game

“The first thing you have to know is yourself. A man [sic] who knows himself can step outside himself and watch his own reactions like an observer.” Adam Smith (author’s pen name), 1968

Harvest shows us that we know ourselves not by what we collect or aspire to for ourselves or our families but by what we exist for. I was asked recently to reflect on years of working with people and to identify the one characteristic which seemed to hold people back from being at peace within themselves. I responded that many people live with a fractured sense of belonging that leads to following after desires that do not fill voids because they’ve forgotten they were created for another purpose. Harvest is a great corrective; like a spiritual detox with a ‘reset’ button waiting to be pressed.

And when you press the reset button, what happens? Well, it depends on what you’re expecting. The Bible says that God is the Lord of the harvest, but the harvest talked about there is people: people who recognise that God is calling to them. My experience is that those, who know things are fractured, recognise that a spiritual detox is powerful but that it is the beginning rather than a magic solution. It is the beginning of looking at the future differently and seeing themselves in a new light.

For Hambledon as village and church this meaning of harvest has special significance in that we are saying farewell to the Rev. Catherine McBride in thankfulness for all she has brought to the village. Catherine has brought us to know ourselves in a deeper way by showing us much of what God is like. We are also looking to the future and asking what God’s purposes are for the church here.

 

Fragility, Work and Seasons of Life

A couple of years ago an older lady with a stooped frame walked into church with me. Her name was Dena. Her eyes were failing, her body was quite fragile and she struggled to walk. As she lent on someone else and me she said somewhat wistfully

“I remember coming here in the 1950s. I could bounce into church then. Look at me now, but I can still pray.” She paused and as we entered the church she said “I think I’m nearly ready to go Home.” Later, she shared just how much she used to love chocolate. I think we knew what she meant by ‘Home’.

Fragility
Dena taught me some important lessons that day: that there are different seasons in life, it is worth looking deeply because each one can be celebrated for what it brings and faith in Christ matters. For Dena, this was her season for reflection, preparation and prayer.

Work
Maybe jobs can be like seasons? Some jobs are enriching but others might simply be necessary moments in our lives. Sadly, for some people there can be confusion between what is necessary in life and what is enriching and this can lead to holding on to things that are meant to pass.

As a church and community we are in a season of change in jobs. We’re saying goodbye to Amy and Michael Johnston as they leave behind the ministries in music and children’s work and move back to Northern Ireland. Our Church school is saying farewell to Carolyn Holmes later this year as she leaves after fifteen incredible years and thirty years in education. Our prayers and thanks go to Amy, Michael and Carolyn.

We could try and hold on: keep the school as it has been, look for a mirror image person to replace Amy, fossilise the music in the genre that Michael brought to it. Or we could celebrate that which has been and look to what God has planned for the future.

I’m not sure Carolyn, Amy or Michael are looking for jobs but here are two unique roles to consider. The first sounds so boring with its listing on an advertising website is “Job Number: 1700295”

Why would you even glance at it? But if you don’t glance you are not lifted out of the today and given the possibility of a new tomorrow. Or what about the ‘hay’ job placed in the small ads of a newspaper? You probably smiled and moved on.

Then you glance again. What if the hay-chewing job had benefits so incredible you began to wonder why everyone wasn’t running to find out more? What if your first glance didn’t tell the full story?

And job 1700295? As you absentmindedly click on the link you find yourself at the Mondelez website and there, like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket, is your dream-come-true! You can become one of only 11 people working a mere 7 .5 hours a week and just between Tuesday and Thursday so you can have a long weekend. The job? A Reading, Berkshire, based Chocolate Taster.

Faith
It is the same with faith. Some people glance and move on; taste a bit but find it inconvenient; smile at its claims but see them as a few quaint values. There wasn’t anything quaint, irrelevant or inconvenient about Dena and her faith. It was like a rod of iron through every part of who she was.

Every time I read the Bible I find that there is more to understand about God. Each time I pray I find myself moving beyond my own preoccupations and into something deeper and wider than I can comprehend. The moment I pat myself on the back I am reminded by my Father in Heaven that another season of life is just around the corner.

Take the story of Jesus’ friend Lazarus (John chapter 11). There he is, dead. He’s very dead and the Bible makes this clear with some horribly graphic information. So, Jesus raises him. We could glance at it and move on – dismiss it. We could give it a bit of consideration in the same way we might humour ourselves about chocolate tasting; ‘could I move to Reading? Do I really like chocolate?’ but dismiss it as slightly inconvenient.

Or we could do as Dena did: consider its merits at a particular time of life. For those in a closing season, it offers more than platitudes: it is Truth that Christ can raise the dead. For those who see Christianity as a value system it offers an invitation into an understanding of reality which takes us into such a new dimension of confidence, love, care, charity and kindness that those around us may begin to wonder what has happened.

So what did I learn from Dena?

I learnt:

·         To appreciate today and celebrate the season of life I am in

·         To remember to look deeply rather than glance and move on

·         Faith in God means being willing to let go when the moment is right to do so

·         That true confidence comes from trust in the Lord who is the Maker of Heaven and Earth.

 

Simon Taylor

Lists

The Austrian neuroscientist Walter Kintsch has spent a lifetime exploring how we acquire knowledge and experiences, the mechanisms people employ for this and how lists are crucial in enabling us make sense of the situations we encounter.