What does Brexit mean? This is the question of the moment, given that those politicians who led the campaign for it have mostly resigned and are certainly not forthcoming about what they had in mind. It has left others trying to make sense of it all, for the good of the country, and now we know we will have a ‘remain’ voting Prime Minister!
One argument raised for Brexit has been a broadening of Britain’s commercial interests around the world, which might be a positive view if the markets in mind were not those, like China, with serious human rights issues. The loudest popular voices in support of Brexit have been around the issue of immigration, but all in terms of shutting borders and some to ‘send them home’. The popular media have given little or no coverage to the questions around why there are so many refugees and that it might make sense to do something to tackle the causes rather than shut out the problems. The false slogan about diverting £350million per week from the EU to the NHS is obscene, when this sort of finance spent appropriately in other parts of the world might contribute to combatting some of the causes of the situation.
If leaving the EU gives the UK any financial gain, then I hope that it is spent to counter some of the horrendous poverty that persuades so many to leave their home to follow a dream of prosperity elsewhere, to build trade with those parts of the world that need it the most to build a prosperous home for their people. I suspect, though, that the immediate aim will have the further prosperity of the UK as a priority and the deals will be made with the economic powers of the world.
I hesitate to voice my opinions because I am very aware that it is a very complex problem and the political, economic and security issues are largely beyond my full understanding. However, there are some very simple and straightforward principles at play in this and they can be found within the teaching of Jesus. They are to do with loving the neighbour and the least. They are to do with life-giving sacrifice and the widow’s mite. They are about an interdependence that enables all to be satisfied even when resources are finite (five loaves and two fish). The politicians will not dare to risk their positions for such principles. It falls then to the Christian community, along with other faith communities, to put these principles at the centre of our national life.
My Christian faith has much to do with the fact that I grew up in a Christian family. Sunday by Sunday I benefitted (mostly) from one or two sermons delivered by my Father, which all now reside in his study neatly filed by date and theme. Sadly, because of dementia, my Father would no longer make sense of his filing system and would struggle to read more than a few lines of any of his sermons, the fruit of so much thought and time. And I wonder if the faith that he has so clearly shared with thousands over the years has any substance for him today.
How might it be possible to know God when one struggles to recognise someone you have known well who is physically in front of you?
It strikes me that this question is at the heart of any Christian approach to dementia.
In our life of faith we depend a great deal on our intellectual capacities. We are ‘people of the book’, reading and interpreting the Bible. In the life of the Church we share our understanding and learn from each other. Aspects of our belief, such as the Holy Trinity, challenge our ability to make sense of complex concepts as we seek the God who will remain beyond our full understanding (otherwise he would not be God!)
Yet our faith is more about a relationship of trust in God and, as in any relationship, is something we experience and sense rather than learn on an intellectual level. We have all had experience of some beautiful part of God’s creation. This experience, with a sense that it is a gift, is our knowledge and awareness of God, the loving creator, in whom we can trust.
The important question then is ‘do we need more than this?’ To experience beauty, to feel love, to receive care – are these our relationship with and knowledge of God?
I am very aware that my own faith in Jesus Christ has come from experiencing him through my family and others. I trust that while my Father’s faith can no longer be supported by his intellect, he might remain in relationship with Christ through the love and care he is given in his confusion.
During my sabbatical I am hoping to have a number of conversations with people who, with experience of dementia in themselves or in loved ones, may be able to give some substance to these thoughts of mine. I trust that, we might see that dementia is not the disaster that we tend to think it is because, in the love of Jesus, God is as much a part of life as he ever has been.
Not so good for the turkey! – may be an appropriate response, but as it is getting near to ‘twelfth night’ some reflection on the Christmas celebrations that have just passed is prompted with, hopefully, an eye to their significance for the year that lies ahead.
For me, the theme of each worship occasion over this Christmas has focussed in some way on the present, our experience of the Christ who is born and our part in enabling a reality and relevance in the world of the 21st century.
Advent began with a ‘shoe box’ version of a calendar in the entrance to the church halls. Each box carried a part of the Christmas story illustrated by one of our church folk. The boxes were opened each day by one of the groups who use our premises. Some creative gifts were evident in the creation of this.
Added to this were some paper angels made in the Moments dementia cafe and some contributed origami angels in silver, which looked good alongside the Christmas tree in the church.
The Extravagance of God’s gift in Jesus …
Eight celebrations were held in local care homes or sheltered housing. These focussed around a Christmas hamper with conversation about the different foods eaten at Christmas, their often rich and spicy nature, and along with decorations and presents the general extravagance of our celebrations and festivities. Apart from the inflatable turkey dinner (!) this was a way to accepting the fact that everything is ‘over the top’. In relation to God’s gift in Jesus, is this not what it is all about?
The Christmas Story – with sound effects!
The sound effects provided by the congregation as the Christmas story was read encouraged us to think about how we react and respond to the coming of Christ in our midst.
A Nativity Play – including a heavenly host!
Christmas Day saw the whole congregation playing parts in our nativity play – with a lot of angels and quite a few shepherds and sheep. We moved around the church as the story progressed. The point? – simply to help us to reflect on the part we have to play to enable Christ to be born, to be a real presence, in our world.
The First Sunday of Christmas
Found us looking at two paintings by Pieter Bruegel. ‘The Census’depicting a village scene in Spanish governed Flanders i
n the 16th century – a place under foreign rule where locals are required to register – and in the midst a carpenter with his pregnant wife on a donkey. It is an everyday
situation and there are no haloes, just plain characters helping us to reflect on the unrecognised presence of Christ in a political situation that is very familiar in our own time. The second painting, ‘The Massacre of the Innocents’, portrayed in the time of oppression of the Flemish by Spain, of Protestants by Catholics. So Christ comes to situations of political tension and religious difference. What does this mean for us as we seek to make Christ real in our world of the 21st century?
Advent 2015 – there have been many deaths through terrorist attacks in Paris, but also in other places around the world. It is easy to despair of where it will all lead. These events are juxtaposed with the British government talking about entering the bombing campaign in Syria, with cinemas blocking a video about prayer and much more. In the midst there is light – found in the personal response of a bereaved husband:
Three stages of life - for reflection ....
This triptych has been hung in a quiet room at an Abbeyfield ‘extra care’ home in Solihull. It’s purpose is to encourage reflection, perhaps particularly on how each ‘stage’ is fruitful and life-giving and might apply to any time in our lives.
I hope that it may be helpful to others, leading to thankfulness for every aspect of our lives.
Edward was born on 5th November 2014 and has been melting hearts from the outset. It is impossible not to be moved by such an event, but of course it touches each person in a different way, depending on the relationship etc.
Interestingly, this momentous event in our family came as I was reflecting around the whole theme of birth as the Christian community looks forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas.
Following a pattern of considering different perspectives, the notes offered below begin to explore the viewpoints of me, you and God.
In relation to the arrival of Edward I know how mind-boggled I feel at the whole experience of a new life coming into the world and how aware of the ‘gift’ that is offered. Apart from the pain, I know my daughter, Rachel, found Edward’s sudden appearance quite surreal, with this little mite instantly beginning to make sense of the world around him and commanding attention care and love. From God’s perspective I can only trust that he is offering life, hope and trust in his creation.
Risk assessment is a requirement in many avenues of life these days – a consequence of a creeping desire for litigation. If someone wants to claim compensation for injury then there is a need to prove that you have done all one can to reduce risk. This leads to the rather comical situation where most assessments conclude that the ultimate risk is death. This may be the result of some dangerous activity, such as sky-diving, but might be applied to something seemingly innocent, like sitting in an arm-chair!
‘The only certainty in life is death’ – an often quoted saying that from a human perspective seems so obviously correct, is from the perspective of Christian faith completely wrong. Yes, the end of physical and earthly life is indeed certain, but the life that comes from a relationship with God, known in Jesus, does not have a certain end, but rather can offer us something eternal. Life is not fatal!
Henri Nouwen explains this in quite traditional Christian language:
Jesus Takes Away Fatality – from Henri Nouwen’s Bread for the Journey
The great mystery of the incarnation is that God became human in Jesus so that all human flesh could be clothed with divine life. Our lives are fragile and destined to death. But since God, through Jesus, shared in our fragile and mortal lives, death no longer has the final word. Life has become victorious. Paul writes: “And after this perishable nature has put on imperishability and this mortal nature has put on immortality, then will the words of scripture come true: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54). Jesus has taken away the fatality of our existence and given our lives eternal value.
This is not an esoteric theological concept, but something that impacts on our everyday existence. Not knowing quite when our physical end may come (from skydiving, sitting in the armchair or getting up in the morning!) God’s promise of an everlasting relationship with him is of significance now as well as then.
Our recent house-move gave opportunity for a ‘big clear-out’. Things of no use were not to be part of the future and the local tip has been visited frequently over a period of weeks. But of course there are those things regarded as ‘precious’. Gifts received for significant events, mementoes of places visited by us and others, photos of family and friends from years past. ‘We must keep those’ gave reprieve for these things to continue as part of our life. However, the time will come when all these ‘things’ will come to an end. So what is it that lasts?
We all have our ‘recycle’ bins, but to give something a renewed life takes effort and care and that useful thing will in the end break down beyond recognition. Transparencies of our wedding need to be given a new lease of life, converting to a digital format, but at some point this format, this ‘life’ will end too. Ultimately, however, it is the ‘core’ of us, our soul in relationship with God, known in this earthly life in the person of Jesus, that can know immortality.
Life is not fatal !
Leading up to the tenth anniversary of the London bombings on 7/7 in 2005 I returned to my reflections of 2009 (read here) for a sermon – challenging the temptation after such events to ‘get things back to normal’, hiding them away rather than allowing ourselves to engage with a motivation to change the world in which we live for the better. This inevitably has something to do with engaging with what God is doing through us and around us.
I was then surprised to learn that my eldest daughter had, at some point, observed that I never talked about the events of that day and that they had clearly changed me. I wonder if I have ‘buried’ my experiences and, if so, has the change in me been for the better?
There are two reasons, I reflect, why I do not share the experience of that day easily. Firstly, it is enough to experience such horrors (even from a ‘safe’ distance of a few yards) without then inflicting others with the reality. Secondly, I have not had the tragedy of losing a relative or friend and there is a sense that it is not my grief to share. However, I do have my own experience and memory of that day and I know that I should not ignore it or shut it away, as of no significance.
Last night Judy and I watched, rather tearfully, ‘A Song for Jenny’, a dramatisation of the experience of one victim’s family. A number of things stay with me:
Grief found a voice in a number of ways and was certainly not suppressed. Julie Williamson, Jenny’s mum and an Anglican priest, screaming and throwing things while others worried over domestic arrangements for the dog. A desire to know every detail it was possible to know about how and why Jenny died and thus to share in her pain and death. The recitation in the funeral service of literature that was significant for Jenny – a sharing of her life and passions. There was no ‘hiding away’ in these.
Faith also had a significant part, despite the understandable doubts that such horrific tragedy brings. Julie feels that she must see the photographs that investigators have taken cataloguing Jenny’s death. They are for Julie ‘the stations of Jenny’s cross and I as her mother must share them’.
Visiting the Chapel of Rest Julie, as both mother and priest, anoints her daughter. She cannot recall the liturgical words, but rehearses the various ways in which, as mother, she has anointed the life of Jenny, ultimately commending her to God.
Grief is very personal but should not, because of that, be closeted away. We may express it in a wide variety of ways and each is our way of sharing the suffering, of marking the Stations of the Cross. This description helps me to understand that I share Christ’s suffering while he shares mine. I trust too that the fruits of ‘resurrection’ will be real too!
This jovial fellow decorates the vegetable garden at Baddesley Clinton (a NT property) and easily catches the eye. The bright colours, the flower in the hat, the broad smile and the open welcoming arms all carry a clear message – but it is hardly the ‘clear off!’ that scarecrows are supposed to say.
It prompts the question about ‘calling’. What is it that God is calling us, as individuals, to be and to do?
Often, like the scarecrow, what God asks of us does not seem to fit with our obvious, presenting, abilities. For myself, with a career in art education and a love for creating, but not the academic life, I discovered myself back at college training for ministry in the Church. Creative gifts have found a place within this ministry, but the craftsman covered in clay would not be recognised by many as the minister in his cassock!
So, what might this mean for you who are reading this? Well, simply sensing the promptings of God’s Spirit – often found in the things that challenge us and urge our action, as well as in the insights others have regarding your particular gifts.
Once the visitors have left the vegetable garden the scarecrow, no doubt, discovers his true calling. It is not the arms of welcome but a loud ‘clear off!’ to the birds.