Winter Solstice Reflection

“And that of course is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the worlds seemingly most indifferent” Taylor Caldwell

It’s winter solstice, the day with the least daylight and the longest night. A day to reflect on this past year. As Winston Churchill once said, “Christmas is the season not only of rejoicing but of reflection”. 

A time to look back with thanksgiving but also with sadness over many of the happenings that we witnessed throughout our nation and the world in 2019. 

It’s the words of the prophet Jeremiah 6:14 that resonate with me more than most biblical passages as I think of this year. “They act as if my peoples’ wounds are only scratches. They say peace peace, all is well but there is no peace. All is not well”.

We live in an increasingly conflicted and divided nation and world. A world where nationalism, tribalism and racism, allied to poverty and injustice is fuelling conflicts. A world where the gap between rich and poor widens. A world dominated by a wealthy elite, the power of multinational corporations. For example, in Britain, more than a fifth of the population live on incomes below the poverty line and nearly one in three children live in poverty and the use of food banks is rising. The six-fold difference between the income of the top 20% of households and those of the bottom 20%. Nearly 50% of the UK’s wealth is owned by less than 10% of the population. According to the charity Shelter, at least 320,000 people are homeless in Britain and over 7,000 people will be rough sleeping tonight. 726 people dies on the streets of England last year, a rise of 22% on the previous year.

This year has seen the rise of demagogues and dictators, undermining and demolishing the liberal democratic systems of the western world as we know it. 

The world is changing.  

A scorched and polluted earth which is revealing before our very eyes, changes and a crisis that has not been seen before. 

We live in a world where Human Rights are denied to millions, where believers of all faiths are persecuted, including nearly 250,000,000 Christians who suffer persecution for their belief. Let’s not say peace where there is no peace.

However loud people sing or deceive themselves with a fictitious fundamentalism or naive, head in the sand spirituality, defining reality, will tell us that we are living in turbulent and troubled days. It feels more like exile than any notion of revival, days not of light but what feels like the emergence of a new Dark age. 

So where, if anywhere, is hope to be found? The Advent reading from the prophet Isaiah, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light” speaks powerfully to our present darkness. Amidst the darkness, we celebrate the God who loved the world so much that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem, bring hope and transformation. Christ’s coming was and is “Good news for all people”. Darkness can be transformed by his light and enmity erased by his peace. That love, not hate, would rule and one day the ways of his kingdom would be fully realised and in the meantime is prayed and worked for.

As those who follow Christ, the light of the world, we must not despair but burn like candles, holding his light before us as we live through these dark days.

As we journey through this Christmas season and anticipate the dawn of a new decade, 2020, my prayer is an adaptation of one of the meditations in our Northumbria Community Celtic Daily Prayer. A prayer that I have adapted from Paul Field’s song, Go peaceful:

Lord help us to live peacefully in gentleness through the violence of these days. Help us to show tenderness in all our ways. Through darkness in troubled times we pray that the beauty of you, our God, may be upon us in all our ways; in our hearts, minds, words and actions. We pray that we may seek your wisdom and allow your faithfulness to burn like a flame. Help us to speak truthfully in the world of lies, fake news, propaganda and deceit. Help us to show kindness and to see everyone through heavens eyes.

This is my prayer for you and all those whom you love and care for. 

I will not be back posting on social media until January 6th Epiphany, on that great Christian Feast day that celebrates God’s coming to us in Christ, the hope, peace and light of the world. 

In his name, be blessed and take care.

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Remembrance Day Reflections

I travelled back to my cousins farm in Norfolk last night after preaching at a Portuguese speaking service, listening in the car to Radio 2 broadcasting from the Royal Albert Hall, a poignant and moving occasion. 

This morning 14 years ago I gathered with other denominational leaders and representatives and met with Members of the Cabinet and Opposition parties and Ambassadors prior to standing by the Cenotaph, observing the two minutes silence, and the laying of wreaths watched by the large assembled crowd representing Allied Nations, the Armed Forces, Military personnel, past and present and their families. A moving, solemn occasion of commemoration and remembrance mingled with thanksgiving for those who gave their lives sacrificially that we might have our lives. 

As we gathered this morning, at the war memorial in the town, following the service where I preached at Dereham Baptist Church, the remembrance ceremony that was being held throughout the country ending with the words penned by John Maxwell Edmund in 1916, “When you go Home, tell them of us and say, For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today

Tomorrow back home in Northallerton I will attend the laying of a memorial stone dedication on our housing estate to remember the life of Ben Hyde, a young man, an only child, from the town, who was one of six Royal Military Policemen killed on 24th June 2003 in Southern Iraq. A Lance Corporal, a peacemaker who lost his life so others could live in peace.

I remember standing with my younger son Joshua back in 20006 as we visited the battlefields of the First and Second World War and reading the thousands of names of young men who had died, like lambs to the slaughter, in a war that was meant to end all wars but didn’t.

I remember watching those remarkable scenes from Berlin back in 1989 as the wall dividing East and West Germany came down and the nation was re-unified, the fruit of which was to see, in due course, a remarkable German Chancellor, the daughter of an East German pastor, Angela Merkel, at the forefront of European life. Her words yesterday so needing to be heard for the times in which we live. See:

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/merkel-marks-fall-of-berlin-wall-and-urges-europe-to-fight-for-freedom-democracy-equality-1.407812

Angela Merkels’ speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d533-6m7i5o

In the midst of disturbing, turbulant and dangerous times, a Day of Remembrance and Reflection during which I read this evening my friend,  Malcolm Duncan’s poem that he wrote in 2014, on the centenary of the First World War.

Remember Me” by Malcolm Duncan

Ten decades ago

the World went

to war

in the War

to end all wars

but the problem is

it didn’t.

16 million lives

lay poppy-strewn

on fields drenched in blood.

Futures stolen.

Dreams lost.

Lives seeping

into soil

at Ypres,

the Somme,

Verdun,

Cambrai,

Marne.

A quarter

of a million

boys went

to war,

‘For King

and Country.’

They went

to change

the world.

Those who returned

came back

hollow eyed.

Their hope

eaten by

the teeth

of the trenches.

Such a

bloody

waste

of life.

That Great War

was not

a great war.

It was a Great Slaughter.

Aren’t all wars?

Isn’t slaughter

a better word

even if it is more

offensive?

So I stand

holding a poppy.

Small,

red

poppy.

Beautiful

in it’s simplicity.

Blood red….

birthed in fields

where once young men

became old before

their time.

Its leaf

pointed to 11

to remind me

of the moment that it stopped.

I want to meet the parents

who lost their children

and tell them

I admire them.

I want them to know

they had more courage,

more valour,

more everything than me.

What would I have done?

Saluted my boys as they walked away?

Stood proud and tall?

Or would I have

Gripped their sleeves?

Begged them not to go?

Pleaded with them to stay?

That war

made heroes

of mothers

who lost their boys,

fathers

who lost their friends.

It did not

matter whether

you were

French

or German

or British

or Australian

or Italian.

Humanity trumps nationality,

at least it should.

The enemy lines reached into

homes from Derry to Dusseldorf

From Sydney to the Seine.

The world was shrouded in sorrow,

Drenched in blood.

What then

of the hope

of Christ

that swords

would be ploughshares,

that chains

would be broken,

that peace

would reign?

That hope lay buried

in the dark soil of men’s hatred.

But look further back.

Not ten decades

but ten times ten

and ten times nine

and see the answer

to this blood-letting there.

Another young man’s blood

seeped into the soil.

It soaked the ground,

saturated the earth,

changed the world.

Innocent.

Beautiful.

Perfect.

Son.

Loved by His Father.

Cherished by His mother.

Betrayed by His friends.

Butchered by His own.

Bearing a weight

not His to bear,

He sank His love

into the soil

and cried

for forgiveness.

He carried the very hatred

that we have held onto.

He emptied the gun.

He defused the bomb.

He took the bullet

for us,

for the world.

The darkness

was absorbed

by Him

but we

have loved

the dark

more

than the Light,

so we

continue

to plunge

the world

into darkness.

We do it with our words.

We do it as nations.

We do it as people.

But God has borne this pain.

He has carried this weight.

He has cracked the seal on our hatred.

It is us that will not let go.

So today

if you remember

the sons

and daughters

that died

remember this Son.

This beautiful perfect Son.

This One who bore it all

and offers His life

to you and

to me.

Let your tears

be offered

at the foot

of His cross

because His suffering,

His death,

His pain is deeper

than anything

we have seen

or known.

And in it

we find hope.

His pit was

deeper

than Ypres,

deeper

than the Somme,

deeper

than Verdun,

deeper

than Cambrai

deeper than  the

trenches at Marne.

His love

is the only love

that can break

this curse of hatred.

His cross

stands

still.

Offering life.

Offering hope.

Offering peace

to all.

‘Remember me.’

‘Remember me’

‘Remember me’

© Malcolm Duncan

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Words Matter

Words Matter… Saying our Northumbria Community Morning Office, (Celtic Daily Prayer), I affirmed my belief and trust in Christ in the words from our Declaration of Faith, “You have the words of Eternal life“.
Words of life, words of blessing. Such a contrast from the words of malediction; destructive, damaging and despicable words heard in our UK Parliament this week, including those uttered by our Prime Minster and the Attorney General.
Words are among the most powerful forces available to us as human beings. We can use them to bless or curse people, to encourage or destroy, to heal or harm, help or humiliate.
The Bible reminds us that words have real power; they convey more than information. They can bring life or destroy life. They can speak peace or stir up conflict, hatred and violence. The gift of words, a unique ability possessed by humans, is something we do well to use wisely. “The tongue has the power of life and death” Proverbs 12:6 
As I contemplated and reflected on the words used in Parliament this week, they were words bathed in bitterness, hatred, loathing, resentment and revealed an absence of any semblance of honour, respect and dignity, that perhaps in my naivete, I expect of those who hold a Government post.
Politicians of all sides and amateur, armchair pundits and ‘experts‘ and all those who engage in the seemingly unaccountable social media would do well to remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:36, 37, “I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Yes, words matter! 
It was the apostle Paul who wrote, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them” (Ephesians 4:29). 
Appreciating that consumerism and hedonism, (the pursuit of pleasure) anaesthetises us from the realities of what’s happening, any thinking person will surely come to a greater realisation of the crisis that we are facing here in Britain. 
This weeks happenings with the Supreme Court ruling, the government‘s response and the terrible scenes in the House of Commons only illustrate further the terrible situation that faces us. 
The language that was used, predominantly by Government Ministers was incendiary to say the least. Words that were deployed by the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. Words that pit the population, beguiled by lies, manipulation and falsehoods, against Parliament. 
This is such a dangerous precedent for democracy and will lead to ruin, just as it did when Hitler, deploying the narrative and tactics of Goebbels and Göring brought down the German Reichstag government. Göring’s concern was to dismantle the democratic system and pave the way for dictatorial power. 
Former cabinet minister Amber Rudd, who now stands as an independent after rebelling against Mr Johnson’s Government, urged the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, to “cease this language of pitting Parliament against the people”.
Germay in the 1930’s saw a dismantling of democracy, fuelled by nationalism, racism and the idea of supremacy that demonised any opposition. Goebbels, one of Hitler’s chief aides, was the Reich Minister of Propaganda from 1933 to 1945. He was a brilliant orator, could stir up and motivate vast crowds, (a man of wealth purporting to be on the side of the poor) sowing the seeds of anti-semitism and discrimination towards anyone who questioned, challenged or deviated from the party line. 
I am not accusing the present government of committing such atrocities as those meted upon the world by Hitler and the Third Reich but I am seriously worried about the irresponsibility of those in Government who have resorted to such abysmal language and damaging methodology to pursue, for some, personal ambition and for others, political ends, at whatever cost. 
However things are played out, the task before which every party or parties govern in the coming years, is immense. 
The task of rebuilding civic society is a daunting and challenging one and will require all of us, men and women of good faith and public goodwill, to play our part. 
Pray that God will raise up more men and women of peace to govern our nations; we are going to need them!
With such task it does not help in any way to use the destructive language that we have heard this week. 
Some words of life would be very welcome and are much needed.
May God enable us to use our words as an instrument of His love and peace.

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Why Post on Facebook?

One of the primary reasons why I post on Facebook, apart from some sharing and reading news, is to provoke and stimulate thinking and discussion among friends and followers on some of the issues that we face as a society. 

I do so as a fellow human being, to think, reflect and prayerfully consider as someone who seeks to love God and follow the radical Christ, whose power to transform and affect for good life here on earth, has shaped my own life and faith. 

We are all influenced by our background, culture and experiences of life, all of which play into our perceptions and interpretations of happenings in the world. It is my desire in writing posts and sharing others to get readers to think about the issues that we are facing, serious issues that affect not only us but our children and children’s children and our neighbours here at home and abroad. 

Our ability to discuss and debate, hold differences of opinion, respect and recognise diversity is one of the characteristics I believe are essential for a healthy society. 

On the whole I have been encouraged by the responses to the posts that I have written or shared. It is obvious where my own persuasions, outlooks and views lay but I have welcomed those comments and critiques from those who hold, sometimes, very differing views. We have been able to discuss with respect. 

However, a recent post only illustrated to me one of the most disturbing aspects of the current situation we find that has arisen with Brexit. A resorting to vitriol in response to somebody’s post did little for the points that were being made because the anger, disrespect and name-calling on behalf of the writer drowned out whatever arguments they were putting. When those points were challenged it triggered even more vindictive language, and this sadly from someone who seeks to be a follower of Christ. The Christ who calls us to engage in the work of reconciliation in the world. The same Jesus who said that the world would know that we were his disciples by our love for one another. We do nothing for the cause of the faith or the values of the kingdom of God, let alone make any contribution to a society that is seriously conflicted and divided, by hurling insults at others or not listening to one anothers opinions and views. 

The European Union has not divided us. The Referendum has merely revealed the deeply held divisions, prejudices, intolerance and racism that reside in the human heart and has been kept at bay superficially by our alleged British tolerance and unloosed unintended consequences that are very disturbing.

I don’t claim to be an expert about anything but just someone who is trying to find a way to think through, in my case, as a Christian, how we live in these troubled times. 

I do have the privilege of knowing many good friends across Europe, the majority of them men and women of faith and I’m mindful of their perspective on what is happening in Britain. Most of them are dismayed by what they are witnessing here. They would strongly refute some of the lies, distortions, myths and false claims made by some Brexiters and the ways in which the EU is portrayed by some of our popularist demagogues. 

I am no great advocate of the EU. I am aware of its many flaws and failings, as well as our own and many other so-called democracies and political systems. I am however a committed European, someone who has valued the contribution of Europe, rooted in its Judeo Christian values, that has shaped and influenced so many good things across the world. Of course, history is littered with good and evil and Britain is no exception to that fact. 

I am mindful that most wars are triggered by trade conflicts and so I am obviously concerned about the implications of nations falling out over trade deals or no deals. We have been very fortunate in my lifetime to live through a period that has been free from war on a global scale. Something that most of our current politicians have not lived through and are therefore unaware of that which my parents generation lived through.

One of the greatest achievements of the European Union, for which it received the Nobel Peace Prize, was for keeping peace across Europe for over 60 years, something that should not be taken lightly. 

Most people I speak to are oblivious of the contribution that the EU has made to peace and justice. I am dismayed that Christians in particular are unaware that the vision for the European Union came from Christian statesman, like Robert Schuman back in the 1950s. He with others, in the light of the bloodbath that saw millions killed across the continent in World War II, determined to find ways of uniting the nations of Europe through trade agreements and working together.

The EU has moved a long way from those early foundations but please let’s not be ignorant about its noble aspirations and whether we work for its reform, leave it and no doubt with Brexit, contribute to its demise and eventual collapse, whether we are Brexiters  or Remainers we need to be mindful of attitudes and actions lest we trigger further conflict not only at home but with our European neighbours. The language that has been deployed, eg. ‘war cabinet’ is desttuctive and disturbing.

There is nothing more satisfying for more menacing superpowers in the world than seeing Europe fragmenting. We need to be careful that we do not add to the malign forces and sow the seeds of division that could lead to serious global consequences. 

I’m writing this post looking out over the Irish border, celebrating a 40th birthday, mindful that during those wonderful days celebrating the birth of our first born son, that here in Ireland Lord Mountbatten, his grandson and two others were killed by a bomb hidden aboard their fishing boat in Mullaghmore. On the same day just a few miles from here near Warrenpoint, eighteen British soldiers, a British and Irish civilian were killed and six more were seriously injured in the Narrow Water Ambush during The Troubles

I have family and many friends over here and I listen to their concerns over Brexit, the backstop and the potential consequences of a no deal exit from the EU. 

I remember coming to Northern Ireland during the Troubles and subsequently meeting people whose lives have been scarred by the experience of conflict as the toxic fires of sectarianism fuelled the atrocities committed by both sides in The Troubles. Thankfully those fires have been dampened or put out, largely as a result of the Peace Process and the Good Friday Agreement. 

I do pray for the Government and all those involved in negotiations over Brexit that they appreciate the severity of the task that is before them to secure an agreement that will not trigger a return to violence and unrest across this amazing land and its peoples. 

Lord have mercy

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Easter Reflection

The dawn broke heralding a new day. The first sounds of creation were all around us welcoming not just any day but Easter Day. The day of celebration, the day that changed everything, a day that offers hope and peace. 

I read the resurrection narratives in John’s Gospel and listened to Vaughan Williams ‘The Lark Ascending’ on the radio. In the still, quiet early morning, we make our way to the Secret Garden, just off the High Street for an Easter morning Garden Reflection. We gather in an unexpected, ‘sacred space’ with other believers to listen to Scripture, reflect and ponder on that resurrection appearance of Jesus to Mary in the garden. 

Over 40 years ago I encountered something of the presence of the risen Christ on the side of a mountain in the Cairngorms of Scotland, an experience that was to change my life and orientate it away from the mountains and into the ministry. Now many years later, it is not on the mountain top but in the garden that I get a hint of awareness of His presence. In that moment of contemplation, of quiet prayer and reflection I am also mindful of a world beyond the tranquility of these moments; of those whose hearts were broken in Sri Lanka today by the mass killings of believers gathering to celebrate Easter, their lives ended as a result of terrorist bombs. 

I’m enjoy listening to my toddler granddaughter Lyra, pottering around the garden, exploring its many delights but my prayers take me to think about her namesake, Lyra McKee. A gifted and courageous young journalist who was shot dead in Northern Ireland on Thursday night.

Suffering and death remain a tragic scar on the face of humanity. Only the cross and resurrection makes any sense of such evil and devastation and the consolation and hope that such things will be no more.

Travelling south I think about some of the happenings in our world and cannot escape thinking that I am part of a generation that has been so consuming of our own wants that we have been blind to the consequences of our actions for our children and grandchildren. For all the amazing progress that we have made, we have consumed the world with little care for God’s creation. TheExtinction Rebellionprotesters have reclaimed the streets of London and other cities and injected fresh energy into the climate movement. Whilst not endorsing all of their tactics I appreciate their courage and attempts together with the YouthStrike4Climate movement to bring society’s attention to the current and the impending global ecological crisis. 

Driving to Oxford, in central reservations and by the side of every road that we have travelled, is the litter and plastic detritus that is polluting the planet as a result of our careless disregard of our ‘ Garden of Eden’. 

I think of that passage in the Bible which speaks about creation crying out and groaning for its redemption. 

In Ukraine this evening, the country has elected a TV comedy actor, with no political experience other than appearing in a soap drama as their next president. He has deposed Petro Poroshenko, who whenhe became president of Ukraine in 2014, swept away the notion of Ukraine as an inherently divided state, by winning in every region.

All across the world, including the West, the former and noble aspirations of democracy are being challenged by populist movements. The thought of a Brexit Party, gaining seats and being in the lead of current opinion polls, holding influence is a disturbing one. The movement’s clever propaganda, the hypocrisy of its proponents and the capturing of peoples’ hearts and minds on single issue politics is reminiscent of those employed by Goebbels in 1930s Germany. Self-interest, national interest, a right to sovereignty, fearing and blaming the stranger in our midst, trading insults at other nations, falling out over trade deals and running down established institutions all contribute to the arena in which populist movements fester and grow. 

Many people are coming to wonder at the way in which the referendum was conceived, how it has been handled and what it has revealed about divided Britain, (created not by the EU but by us) as one of the saddest and most disturbing periods in modern British history. 

The task of beginning to unite a fractious and divided Britain along with that of climate change are among the greatest challenges we face as a society. 

So how might we have any hope of ever making a contribution to such a task? By seeing in the events of that first Easter both the challenge and hope that is found in Christ. His rising from the dead is proof that evil will not conquer, that redemption is possible, that fear can be set aside, peace with God and between nations can be expereinced and the earth can be renewed. In Christ, God is always making things new and bringing hope and transformation.

The movement that was born on that first Easter Sunday was to turn the world upside down. A movement of ordinary men and women, meeting the risen Christ and empowered by his Holy Spirit went out with the gospel of peace and love. A movement that truly was motivated by love not hate. A movement that eschewed all traces and traits of nationalism, racism, sexism and sectarianism. “Your kingdom come, your will be done here on earth as it is in heaven”.

In that quiet garden this morning we were reminded in the reflection that the same word for ‘garden’ is that used for ‘paradise’. 

God calls us to shine in a dark world, to speak and work for peace amidst conflict, to be bearers of hope and to share the joy that comes from recognising the presence of the risen Christ in the garden or wherever we are. So that the world might experience something of paradise here on earth.

Christ is risen; He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

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Remembering the Good Friday Agreement and our Present Political Crisis

On a day when we remember the signing of the Good Friday Peace Agreement, it’s timely to be reminded of the words of Bill Clinton, when he was President of the United States. Speaking outside the Guildhall in Derry/Londerrry, Northern Ireland he said, “I see a peaceful city, a safe city, a hopeful city that’s full of young people that should have a peaceful and prosperous future. A future where their roots and roots and families are. That is what I see. And so I ask you, to build on the opportunity that you have before you. To believe that the future can be better than the past, to work together because you have so much more to gain by working together than by drifting apart. Have the patience to work for a just and lasting peace”. 
Last night the excellent Channel 4 ‘Derry Girls’ finished the present series with Clinton’s speech.
In an era of Brexit attrition and antagonism that divides people and nations, when it’s easy to forget that many conflicts and war stem from trade disputes and nations contending for self-interest, those words of Clinton are timely because, in the uncertain, hostile happenings of Brexit, the Good Friday Agreement is seemingly being ignored. His words, “you have so much more to gain by working together than by drifting apart” speaks volumes.

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In celebration of women


Marking International Women’s day on Friday, I turned to our Northumbria Community liturgy Canaire – In celebration of women and gave thanks to God for the many women who have blessed my own and many others lives.
I read about how such a day was celebrated throughout the world and probably for the first, and possibly the last time, I found myself in agreement with President Putin of Russia. He marked International Women’s Day by congratulating Russian women, “You manage to do everything: both at work and at home and at the same time you remain beautiful, charismatic, charming, the centre of gravity for the whole family, uniting it with your love…..It is hard to imagine the history and development of our country without the contribution of the great Russian women.”
Last week I was privileged to share and work with some of the women who are leaders in our Northumbria Community and was blessed by who they are and the gifts they bring.
This morning I listened and was truly blessed by a brilliant exposition of Psalm 118 by one of the many gifted women in the church we belong to. Tomorrow I shall be with some amazing women pioneers and on Tuesday with another group of gifted women who are studying for the ministry at Cranmer Hall, Durham.
At a historic UN Summit in 2015 the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted by world leaders. Over the next 12 years countries are mobilising their efforts to end all forms of poverty, fight inequalities and tackle climate change, while ensuring that no one is left behind. In relation to women, the goals include;
By 2030, ensuring that all girls and boys complete free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education leading to relevant and effective learning outcomes.
By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and preprimary education so that they are ready for primary education.
End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere.
Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.
Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.
These are great goals that every nation should embrace.
They also contain a challenge to the church, for there still remains a failure to recognise fully the gifts of women. An issue that was brought home to me so forcibly this morning when I received a message from an incredibly gifted woman student who is having to jump through so many hoops, meet some unrealistic expectations and incur considerable debt in order to be formally recognised as a minister, when clearly she already is one! It’s one example among many of discrimination and inequality which damages people and robs the church of those called and gifted by God who happen to be women. As the Canaire liturgy declares, “It is not God who blocks the way of women. It is not God who robs us of their gift.”

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Ash Wednesday Reflection

Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. An intentional season of prayer, fasting and generosity.
Deploying and exercising some of the spiritual disciplines, this season provides us with an opportunity to be more open to God, ourselves and others. A time to reflect, refocus and re-centre ourselves.
I’m mindful of that image in Luke 15 of the Prodigal Son returning home to be welcomed by his Watching Father. An image that challenges and speaks into the busyness of our lives, of the “far country” that has taken us into a world of constantly doing and the drivenness of activism. Doing that has led us away from being held in the arms of God, we’ve wandered off into a world of frenetic activity and Lent reminds us to return home, to respond to the invitation of a watching, loving, forgiving God who longs for us to know what it is to be with him.
Lent is an invitation to come home; home to God, to ourselves and others. A time to reorder, to clean up, not just the house and exterior matters but the interior of our hearts and lives.
I appreciate symbolism and the powerful marking of the cross with ashes on the forehead as part of today’s Ash Wednesday liturgy, accompanied by the words ”remember that you are guest and to dust you shall return”, a vivid reminder of our mortality and a perspective on our life and purpose in the world.
Lent is a period of abstinence. For some, the pancakes are been consumed, the festivities of Mardi Gras are over. It’s a season to renounce, to repent – to turn around, think, feel and act differently.
I enter Lent, surveying the landscape of my own heart, seeking God with a desire to re-orientate those areas of my life where I have drifted off, been distracted or side-tracked from my true hearts bearing and calling by God. I am mindful too of the gathering storm clouds across Europe, which way heavily on my heart and am conscious of the political, economic and social chaos that threatens our own British society at this time. The European Union and the Referendum are not the causes of broken Britain; they have merely brought to the surface the underlying conflicts, inequalities, injustice, prejudices, fears, racism, increase in violence, hate and knife crimes, bigotry and other evils that have been simmering away for a long time. The Referendum and its dire consequences have only brought to the surface the brokenness of our society. I believe we are seeing in our contemporary society the first fruits of a post-Christendom culture, a society that is increasingly abandoning the Judaeo-Christian narrative that has shaped and undergirded civic society, holding it together and providing values that have informed the public domain. Education, welfare, health care, justice, work and governance, religious tolerance and race relations, all influenced by underlying Judaeo-Christian values that held things together for the common good. The longest-serving MP and ’Father of the house’ said recently that Britain is facing the worst political crisis since 1938 with the Government and Opposition parties divided and ruling over a fragmented and divided nation. Using my Voice Recognition Software, I had to train it to recognise the word ‘Brexit’. Before introducing the word to the software vocabulary it thought I was saying either ‘wrecks it’ or ‘breaks it’! Whatever side of the divide we may be on when it comes to the issue, no one can deny the wreckage and breakage we are seeing in a divided Britain.

So on this Ash Wednesday we cry out to God to show us His mercy and to lead us individually back to him and to lead us out of the dis-ease and fragmentation and all that threatens to trigger further trouble in our own and others societies.
Lord in your mercy… hear our prayer.

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Appreciation​ of things don​​e well

It’s the perfectionist bit in me, (which has its strengths and weaknesses) but I really appreciate it when things are done well. I’m reasonably relaxed when they are not so good but love when someone uses their God given gifts and demonstrate a good attitude and aptitude to do something well. Doesn’t matter what it is I appreciate when things are done well. I marvelled at the skills of the guys who erected a fence on our estate last week, the gardeners at a nearby Historic House and the art work from some pupils at our local school. Likewise I really appreciated being part of the congregation at New Life Baptist Church here in Northallerton this morning. Sadly too many church services I attend across all traditions and denominations do little to feed my soul, inform my mind, stretch my imagination, deepen my faith or increase my awareness of God’s heart for the world but it is a privilege to be part of a church that we belong to here in North Yorkshire that does just that. 

This morning was no exception. Being part of a church of all ages and backgrounds, where the services usually evidence over 90% seating capacity and often more. Worship is led by a variety of different but gifted teams. A church where welcome and hospitality is extended to friend and stranger, regular attender and guest.  For a new monastic introvert contemplative, loud action songs pose a challenge but being part of the family I swayed my arms and joined with others in worshipping God with lots of children, who are very much a part of the church. Not the church of tomorrow but every bit a part of the church today. Before many of them left for their own groups they were prayed for and blessed but not before five people were welcomed into partnership. Each shared something of their faith story and why they were joining the church. Diverse, mixed ages, men and women, each received an encouragement, word of Scripture and were prayed for as we welcomed them into the fellowship and committed ourselves to work with them in serving Christ and his Kingdom. We were then led in prayer for the world; praying among other things for the people of Yemen, Indonesia, those victims of human trafficking, for an increase in Fair trade and a respect for human rights, together with prayers for Parliament this coming week and for the local hospital under threat as a result of Government cutbacks and staff shortages, (where are the medical staff who will come and live in the north?). We prayed for those who belong to the church who are suffering or struggling at present. (I still recall with much amusement being asked as a visiting preacher to pray “for the sick of the fellowship” at a church and thought how apt a prayer for many folks I know who are sick of their fellowship!).

This morning it was so refreshing for a charismatic evangelical church to pray and intercede for the world, for those outside the walls of the church. The prayer ministry team who meet before the service to pray and wait on God share any words or pictures they receive in the service and offer pray for anyone at the end of the service. We then sang a wonderful song which has been adopted as a song for the a new series, Show Us Christ. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk2Y7WoM4h4A different genre to that of our Northumbria Community’s Morning Office Declaration of Faith but in its own way a reminder that Christ holds the words of eternal life.

Glen, our Senior Pastor then opened up John’s Gospel with an inspirational exposition of John 1 to introduce the series. Good Bible teachers are gifts from God, building up believers in the faith and opening up opportunities and avenues for those new or exploring what faith can mean.

Concluding worship and blessing flowed naturally into sharing conversations over coffee with friends old and new.

A service not thrown together but prayerfully and carefully crafted that had design, order, spontaneity and no trace of manipulation or religious jargon about it. I said I liked things done well and this morning was cracking! Thanks be to God.

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Christmas Eve Reflection

I have and am blessed by many women in my life; an amazing mother, an incredible wife, two fabulous daughters, two wonderful daughters in law, three fantastic granddaughters, a soul friend, spiritual director, many companions, friends and colleagues – all of whom have been a source of great blessing. Mindful of the inspiration of women and taking a retreat at Whitby, made famous by St Hild, I have spent time thinking about Mary through this Advent season. Incredible to think that she was no more than a teenager, that she would give birth to Jesus and in such extraordinary circumstances. The words of the angel, “Do not be afraid Mary. Nothing is impossible with God“. In those words the impossible was made possible. The coming of Christ into the world, the miracles, healings and transformation he brought to peoples’ lives and above all, the reason and foundation of all hope, his resurrection – the impossible made possible with God.

Advent and the celebration of Christmas is a season for remembering what happened and for imagining what is possible. A season to hope, to realise new visions and dreams. 

And it’s the thought that nothing is impossible with God that has given hope in what is a bleak period. Winter with its darkest days and chill air echoes the bleak news pervading our daily lives. The folly of a contrived Referendum and its consequent Brexit debacle is disturbing. All that it has triggered is seen in damaged relationships, a fractured Britain, discord with our European neighbours and the fueling of partisan, nationalistic and racist popularist movements. It’s incredible that we are seeing a resurgence of extremist policies, of both the Left and Right that are undermining democracy.  We learn so little from history. What we have sown in the West, we are beginning to reap: failure to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, defend the weak, protect the vulnerable has resulted in a backlash, meted out to us in the increasing threat of global terrorism. 

History reminds us that after any economic recession, austerity measures that favour the rich and neglect the poor will result in civil unrest. It is obscene and evil that Britain, the fifth richest country in the world has inflicted hardship and misery to the most disadvantaged and poor in our society. There are 14 million people living in poverty in Britain, one in five of the population. A benefit system that is supposed to protect all of us from being swept into poverty is failing. The gap widens, the number of people living in poverty increases, all of which fuels the fires of discontent and contributes to a society conflicted, lacking in compassion and blinded to the reality of suffering behind the veneer of consumerism. The number of people using food banks has increased from 2010 from 41,000 to 1.4 million. Attitudes towards ‘strangers’ migrants, refugees and asylum seekers smacks of those prevalent within 1930s Germany. Our self-interest and protectionist policies are eroding our contribution to the shaping of European society, rooted in its Judeo-Christian values. We are giving up our place at the table where we can influence for good the shaping of an institution, that, far from being perfect and in major need of reform, has nevertheless held once warring nations together for over 60 years. Conflict is often triggered by contesting trade issues. Volatile and dangerous policies, usually announced over a twitter feed by the president in the United States, together with the rise of an increasingly powerful China, which has no checks and balances in terms of democracy, is threatening world peace. The War in Yemen has been raging for three years and has left the country in the grip of the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis where children are paying the heaviest price, facing a deadly cocktail of bombs, disease and hunger.

Western consumerism is beginning to evaporate as the tangible signs of an economic downturn, the weakening of the High Street, the struggle of businesses, the stockpiling of resources, the failure of the Government and Opposition parties to exhibit any sense of serving the common good are all signs of a society that is in turmoil and signalling its decline

I do find it difficult to sing, “tis the season to be jolly“. I am disturbed by what is happening in the world. I am blessed for I represent the minority of people in the world who have a comfortable home, I don’t have to worry about having enough food to eat, I can drink fresh water straight from the tap. I am content and enjoy a comfortable life. I am blessed with a great family and lovely friends.  For the vast majority of people in the world life is hard. It is a time in world history when hope can be hard to find and dreams of a better future difficult to believe. Hope seems to be in short supply and it is in this context that we need to receive Mary’s inspiring courage and trust in the face of fear and uncertainty.

Life was uncertain for Mary. She had fears and problems to encounter. The bureaucracy of her day required her to travel some distance to Bethlehem late in her pregnancy on a donkey more uncomfortable than any packed commuter train. After the birth of her son Jesus, she had to flee with Joseph to Egypt; refugees, fleeing from an evil dictator, when their lives are in danger.

She must have been anxious at the prospect of what life lay ahead for her beloved child. The angels announcement, the shepherds arrival, Simeon’s words in the temple, “a sword will pierce your soul” left Mary pondering. 

What Mary experienced and how she responded provides us with an inspiring example of faith in troubled times, courage in facing uncertainty and above all hope. Hope that the impossible is indeed possible.

Whatever the future holds, whatever challenges, turbulence and uncertainties may lie before us, we hold on to the hope that all things remain possible with God. We once again dream and allow ourselves to be inspired by the same Holy Spirit which came to Mary, to imagine the world where Good News is heard, where God’s Kingdom breaks through and hope is born. Where the same Holy Spirit brings not a selection box but the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Fruit that makes the impossible possible.

May the hope of Christ and his inextinguishable light illumine your path throughout this Christmas and the coming year.

Bless you and take care

Roy

Hope is the ability to hear the music of the future. Faith is the courage to dance to its tune today.

Peter Kuzmic, Croatian theologian

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