I Hate Losing Arguments

I hate losing arguments. Are you like me?

Is it important to you to be right? Do you always want the last word in an argument? I know I do!

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realise that there are more important things in life than being right. For example, being kind or loving. Being right is often over-rated.

At BGBC Sevenoaks, we’ve recently been thinking about a story in John’s Gospel. It’s John’s setting of the ‘last supper’; Jesus and his friends are about to eat together. Before they eat, Jesus gets down from the table, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist, and assumes the role of the lowliest servant in the house, where he washes his disciples’ feet.

A couple of observations from that story: taking off your outer clothing, stripping down to your loin cloth in a room full of people and washing their feet is going to make you feel vulnerable. It’s as though Jesus is stripping away his role, his status, his identity as their leader, and instead making himself lowly and vulnerable before them. He is getting beyond his ‘ego’ and becoming a servant in order to connect with them, love them and teach them.

In her work on what it means to live a “whole hearted life”, American author and academic, Dr. Brené Brown observes that:

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow.”

I wonder if this is what Jesus is demonstrating when he kneels and washes his friends’ feet?

Later during the meal he tells them:

“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

These are some of the most important words in the bible. As Jesus moves beyond his ego, and makes himself vulnerable, he is demonstrating what it means to love one another.

Love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, it is a daily decision to step beyond ourselves, beyond our ego’s self-defenses, to serve and connect with one another. By this, says Jesus, everyone will know that you are my disciples.

By what?

By being right all the time? By having correct doctrine (ideas about God)? By keeping up with the latest fashion or style? Nope…

By loving one another. This is what ultimately matters. And it is ‘by this’ that people notice and experience God.

As Dr. Wayne Dyer famously wrote:

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind every time.”

We all struggle with our ego’s insecurities. None of us like being wrong, and a threatened ego will almost always come out of its corner swinging.

The ego cares about whether we are right or wrong; whereas our heart cares for the person we are having the conversation with.

The next time you feel yourself needing to be right and wanting to crush your opponent’s argument – pause. What is your goal? Being right or being kind and loving?

Winning the ego’s victory or connecting with the person before you?

If Dr. Brown is right, it is also the way to a whole hearted life, whether you’re religious or not.

God, help me choose wisely.

Charlie Ingram

Losing my religion

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”[1]

“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”[2]

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”[3]

For years I interpreted these passages simply as the need to sacrifice more. To give more generously and not to count the cost. To spend myself exhaustively in the service of others – and that is certainly a part of what they are about; as John the Baptist said “He must become greater; I must become less.”[4]

But, it raises a question: if Jesus is our example, then how much should I give? How much should we sacrifice? How much is enough?

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!”[5]

The answer appears clear; if Jesus is our example, then our only appropriate response is…unequivocally all.

As we sing in worship, “I surrender all”, “all to Jesus I surrender” and “all I have is yours”.

Yet, in this, I have failed. I haven’t surrendered all. In truth, I haven’t surrendered very much at all. I don’t live up to the words I sing in worship. Do you?

I surrender just enough, rather than all; I spend what I can afford, as opposed to everything. Now, like Paul, I sometimes “want to want to”, but is a sung, aspirational faith enough?

In reality, there is always more we can give, more we could do. We can all give more money, and more time, until the day we are bankrupt, exhausted, homeless and martyred.

God forgive me. Maybe I’m just not radical enough, or zealous enough – maybe I’m just too comfortable. My life is one of inadequacy, so maybe I should feel guilty about not giving enough, (‘amen’ I hear you cry). There is a puritan in me somewhere who loves nothing more than a good dose of guilt and self-loathing – it’s good for the soul, or so I was taught.

But, what if there is another way to read some of these passages? A way that takes seriously God’s love for me as well as his love for others. That leads to the “life in all its fullness” Jesus spoke about. That incudes, but also transcends the interpretation above.

I reached this point a few years ago, having spent myself emotionally in ministry and run out of resources. There at rock bottom, with nothing left and yet still feeling guilty because I’d not given enough, I lost my faith. Or rather, I lost a particular faith understanding (although at the time – it felt like I’d lost my whole faith). From a place of brokenness, I began to explore the contemplative and Christian Mystical traditions. In these traditions I found a way out of the mental trap in which I’d snared myself.

I discovered that God loves me as well as other people. I discovered I am called to love my neighbour ‘as I love myself’, which presupposes that I love myself and this is ok! In a word, I discovered Grace. Over the last decade I have been healed, restored and faith has given me a second chance.

But I have had to look again at some of these hard scriptures – how am I to understand them, in the light of the gift of the reality of life, in the light of grace – something I preached for others, but didn’t apply to myself.

In the contemplative and Christian mystic tradition I found the writing of Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr and others.

These writers interpret that which must die differently; the “grain of wheat that must fall to the ground” is understood as “the ego”.

As Rohr writes:

“Since the twentieth century we have used the word ego (Latin for “I”) to describe this rather total identification with one’s own “single grain” as the reference point for life and perception.

All great spiritual teachers will tell you that your small self [the ego] is not the reference point for anything lasting or substantial at all, but only for a small memory bank of experiences, my feelings, and my temporary self-image—all too small and not a fitting reference point for big truth or reality.

The problem of “ego” … is an issue that cannot be dealt with by simply being “moral” about this or that, or joining the right group; but by a fundamental “dying” which almost all of us are afraid to do”

The ego is the self we project out to the world, it’s what distinguishes us from others, it is bound up in our looks, our education, our wealth or our possessions. Ego is earned, strived for, unreliable and ultimately temporary.

But as Merton writes:

“True Christianity is growth in the life of the Spirit, a deepening of the new life, a continuous rebirth, in which the exterior and superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snake skin and the mysterious, invisible self of the Spirit becomes more present and more active.”

“The mysterious, invisible self of the Spirit” – I like that phrase – your true-self, that part of you that is made in the image of God. Who you are in God. Who you are when all the rest is stripped away. Eternal. Unearned. Gift. Grace.

If the small self (ego) is ‘doing’ then the true self is ‘being’.

This true self can’t be manufactured. It can’t be earned by work or by piety. It can only be discovered when all that ego noise and striving is put aside, shed like a snake skin. It is often fallen into. Accepted as a gift. Found in silence. Uncovered.

As Martin Buber puts it; it is located in the ‘I-Thou’ relationship, which for me only came to light when I was prepared to pray/meditate and be quiet long enough to hear it.[6]

Reflecting back, was all my faithful striving with the attendant feelings of guilt and failure the result of an ego driven faith? Is much of what passes for faith in the Evangelical tradition (which I was born into and of which I remain a part) in fact just striving and ‘works’ by another door. Are piety and puritanism just ways to convince ourselves, others and even God of our ‘lovability’?

It’s not that this view is entirely wrong – it’s probably that most of us need to go though it (transcend and include) – but just that it’s not the full truth. As we daily learn to shed the ego, to ‘die to self’, we find our value and self-worth in another source and with it we find a new freedom. To know that you are loved and that this love has nothing to do with your looks, wealth, health or education is liberation – it is a form of salvation. It quite possibly is the radical, counter-cultural, surprising path to ‘life in all its fullness’.

“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”[7]

I am learning that I am free to spend myself in the service of others or not; to give and not count the cost; to own possessions and not let them own me. To live from a place of security in God. From a place of choice. From a place of grace.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain, but if it dies it produces much fruit”. [8]

May you know the fruitfulness and freedom that comes from learning to die to your striving, from dying to your ego and discovering the true self of the Spirit that dwells within you.

Bless you,

Charlie Ingram
5th April 2016

As always, it would be a delight to chat/pray this through with you. If that would be helpful, please do get in touch.

Heartfelt thanks to Paul Sanders for the image, I’m a huge fan of Paul’s work, please do visit his website and buy lots of prints – paulsanders.biz
[1] Luke 9:23
[2] Matthew 16:25
[3] John 12:24
[4] John 3:30
[5] Philippians 2:5-8
[6] Here I want to be careful not to slip into Platonic Dualism, easily understood with the phrase “Spirit Good – Matter Bad”. It is not that the material life is bad and we must therefore reject materiality and instead embrace a better ascetic spiritual existence. The true-self, the soul, that which is in all of us and is made in the image of God, is material as well as spiritual. It includes, spiritual practices, but it also includes, blood, sweat, tears, work, wine, bread, song and dance. Incarnation and Resurrection both teach us that God values and loves this material world. It might be “fallen” but it is still his creation, sustained, redeemed and loved. What God made is not perfect but it is still good…. a blog for another day…
[7] Matthew 16:25
[8] John 12:24

Perfect love casts out fear

To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. – Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I was fortunate enough to visit the infamous ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais for a second time earlier in March. While there I was invited to take part in a multi-faith service held in a tent in the middle of this emerging slum community. Together, as a small group of Christians from Syria, Iran and Europe, we reflected on the words of an Old Testament Prophet, Micah.

Calais01Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid. – Micah 4:4

We shared stories of the Fig and the Vine from our traditions, and prayed for those who are afraid. Then it hit me – the feeling of fear all around me was vivid and over-whelming.

The fear of falling bombs and war that had driven many of these people from their homes. The fear that many must have felt crossing the Mediterranean in unsuitable boats. The fear of the journey so far with no end in sight.

Then the fear of the imminent demolition of the camp, the fear of homelessness, of cold and hunger. The fear of not knowing what is next. Fear of the police and the authorities. Fear of ‘us’.

Also, our fear of ‘them’, fear of what mass migration means to our way of life, fear of different cultures, the fear of not having enough resources. A fear used by right wing politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to gain ground – fear of militant Islam, the fear of ISIS, the fear of terrorism. Fear of ‘the other.’

A fear of heights saves us from falling, a fear of snakes may stop us from being bitten, a healthy sense of fear protects us from harm. But fear can also close us off to the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to life – love and relationships.

All the great world religions speak of a need to journey beyond our fear and see the humanity in ‘the other’, to see them as made in the image of God – just like us.

Thomas Merton, the Christian Mystic wrote of an experience, a vision he had in 1958, where he became acutely aware of his connection to the people around him, even strangers. In that moment he realized that he shared more in common with them than he and they knew. He says:

It was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, …  the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time. – Thomas Merton

Or as the Bible puts it:

Perfect love casts out all fear.

Bless you,

Rev Charlie Ingram
Minister, bgbc.co.uk

Calais02

Karōshi

The first case of karōshi was reported in Japan in 1969 and cases have been on the rise steadily since. Numbers are difficult to find, but in the last decade 120 to 160 families per year have been financially compensated for karōshi. It is likely that many more go un-compensated; the actual figure may well be much higher. The Japanese word Karōshi translates to ‘death by overwork’.

Literally, people dropping dead at work due the stress of overwork.

Hiroko Uchino’s husband, Kenichi, a third-generation Toyota employee, was a victim of karoshi when he died in 2002 at the age of 30. He collapsed at 4am at work, having put in more than 80 hours of overtime each month for six months before his death. “The moment when I am happiest is when I can sleep”, Mr Uchino told his wife the week of his death. He left two children, aged one and three.

How did we get here? What insecurities drive us to such extremes?

“To get home just one day a week early enough to see my wife and kids before they go to bed.” This was a friend’s 2016 New Year’s resolution.

Modern life is so full, always on, always connected, always busy: there’s work, TV, radio, internet, 24hr news channels, Netflix box sets, text messages, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Amazon, Ebay, electric lights that eliminate the dark and extend the day infinitely, so we can go shopping in Tesco at 3am…

No wonder we’re all stressed out and anxious.

Here at Bessels Green Baptist Church we’ve started 2016 thinking again about our Vision, which begins ‘Living like Jesus’. We’re told that Jesus frequently took himself away to find solitude and pray. I believe we should follow his example and do the same. We were not created for the madness of modern life; we were created for relationship.

Blog 02So why not unplug for a while? Take a step back? Slow down?  To do so is a revolutionary, counter-cultural act. To be happy with our own existence. To find contentment in the simple things. To still the noise long enough to become aware of the divine God who sustains all things.

This is a spiritual truth we have forgotten and badly need to rediscover and relearn.

It takes practise, try starting with a few minutes per day. Find a place away from distractions and just stop, breathe and listen – you’ll be surprised how helpful just a few minutes of prayer like this can be. Prayer that is about ‘being with God’ and listening, rather than about ‘talking to God’. Both are right, helpful and have their place. But in a mad world of constant busyness, activity and ‘doing’, just a few minutes each day simply ‘being’ can be a revolutionary action – why not give it a try?

Grace and peace,

Charlie

 

Telling and Re-telling the Nativity

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them…”

So begins arguably the most famous story of all time – told and re-told, year after year, through thousands of miles of tinsel and by tea towel clad shepherds and trembling narrators in school nativities.

Stories shape us. Consider the stories we tell over the table at a dinner party. The stories we choose to tell about ourselves not only recount our greatest successes and failures to others, they also reinforce our self-identity. They speak to us about who we are. We tell stories of challenges overcome, of achievements at work or on the sports field; stories of our children, our family and our origins.

Communities do the same thing; our communal stories tell of challenges overcome, of achievements, of family and origins.

Companies spend millions each Christmas with advertising agencies to pedal us a story – of the happiness and fulfillment which can be ours if we buy their products. Saturday night TV brings us fairytales of overnight fame and success. Stories of finding wealth and fortune abound.

Which is why I believe it is so important to tell other stories. Stories that challenge the way we think and how we think of ourselves.

The Christmas story tells of Kings and Shepherds; the rich and powerful and the poor and humble bowing down together before a helpless, new born baby. It tells us of the divine in the ordinary, of God born among us.

The story of Jesus tells of a different way of life. We tell this story because we believe that it shapes us. We listen in the hope that it will redeem us, save us and teach us how to find the life in all its fullness that Jesus spoke of.

What stories do you tell? Which stories should we as a society, a community tell?

I believe the ancient story of Jesus is full of wisdom – wisdom for life, wisdom for today.

Church is the community of people who meet each week around this story. Bessels Green Baptist Church meets together every Sunday morning to retell and listen to this story afresh. You can find more details on our website, bgbc.co.uk

Do you need a new story to live into? Why not join us, it might surprise you?

Merry Christmas

Charlie Ingram

Image Credit: Flickr, violscraper

Christian Mindfulness

The present moment is all we have.

The past is gone, and unless someone invents a time machine, it is gone forever.

The future is yet to be.

So this present moment is really all we have.

Practising the presence of God is all about this. It is about finding God in the present, in the eternal now: Trying to find that still point where you can experience the presence of God – something that is only possible in this present moment.

I’m sure we’re all aware of the gift of someone’s presence. There is nothing so frustrating as having a conversation with someone who is visibly distracted. Yet the gift of full presence, the gift of someone’s full attention, is just that – a gift and a precious one. We all know what it feels like to have received someone’s full attention, what it feels like to be really listened to and it is a blessing.

God is present, and we can learn to be still and present to the presence of God.

Meditation, and in particular the benefits of mindfulness meditation have been in the news a lot lately.

Mindfulness can reportedly cure anxiety, lower blood pressure and promote better sleep. And, according to Lizzie Widdicombe, who experimented with mindfulness meditation when writing for the The New Yorker, “Like travel, the chief boon of meditation might be the way that it throws the place you came from into relief. I’d never noticed what an incredible racket was going on in my mind: to-do lists, scraps of conversations, ancient memories…As calm set in, I’d occasionally achieve a few seconds of relaxed concentration, the meditative grail, which felt as if I were walking on a balance beam.”

Stripped down to its essence, mindfulness meditation “is being aware of what is inside and around us in the present moment,” says Elli Weisbaum, a mindfulness teacher and a co-founder of Partners in Mindfulness. “Our mind can time travel into the future or the past—and we are doing that constantly. A goal of meditation is having our mind completely resting in the here and now.”

The thing that I’ve found is that our mind conspires against us, forever pulling us back into the past with regrets or into the future with worry. I wonder if this was what Jesus was talking about when he said:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Matthew 6:26-27

So live in the present.

Although ‘mindfulness’ is usually associated with more eastern religions, and Buddhism in particular, I am keen that this should not deter Christians from finding the immense value it brings. Monastic Christianity has long had a tradition of meditation or ‘centring prayer’ as it is sometimes known.

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which you have set in place,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

God it seems is ‘mindful’ of us.

Centring Prayer or Christian Meditation, like mindfulness, often begins with calling your attention to your breathing.

By focusing solely on your breathing for small chunks of time—things like the sound and feeling of air filling your lungs and flowing out of your nostrils—you are drawing your attention back into the present moment – back to God’s presence.

When thoughts arise during this practice of focusing on breathing, you are not ignoring them. Instead, you are acknowledging those thoughts and releasing from them by returning to your breathing.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for Spirit is the same word as for breath – Ruach.

From a Christian perspective we are calling our attention back on the Spirit of God who is the very breath that sustains us moment by moment.

And interestingly this isn’t a practice that can only be done sitting cross legged on the floor, with a lighted scented candle.

I’m a keen endurance athlete. Endurance sports involve a lot of time spent focussing on breathing. Some of my most profound experiences of the presence of God have been while swimming, cycling or running. Calling my attention back to my breath, back to the Spirit of God, lifting my head up and observing the beauty of my surroundings, becoming aware of God’s presence with me, step after step, pedal stroke after pedal stroke.

If hours of running aren’t for you, you can practice this on a crowded commuter train early in the morning or in a few minutes through the day while you take a break from the day’s chores.

 

Pause.

Draw your attention to your breath.

Breathe in God’s Spirit, breathe deeply.

Breathe out the stress and worry of the day.

Repeat.

 

Feel the cool air in your nostrils.

 

As your mind wanders back to the day’s tasks or yesterday’s mistakes (which it will), acknowledge the thought, then park it and return to the present moment.

 

In truth this present moment is all we have, and it is where we find God.

As always, I’m very happy to chat about this or any other Spiritual disciplines you may find helpful – please get in touch and we can find a time to chat and pray together.

Every blessing,

Charlie

Photo: Paul Sanders (thanks Paul)


 

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

 

#RefugeesWelcome

I guess like me, many of you saw this photo this week and were stopped in your tracks. Like someone hitting the pause button, followed by the internal dialogue: “is that what I think it is?”

Yes, it is, his name was Aylan, and that fact makes the horror harder to ignore. He’s no longer one of a ‘swarm’ (not my term) – he is a three-year-old boy. A boy fleeing war, literally running for his life, except this time he didn’t make it, he drowned and his body was washed ashore on a Greek island.

As one commentator observed this week: “No one puts their family in a boat unless it’s safer than the land.” If they’re right, then the land must be scary as hell.

The conversation in our house this week quickly threw up a whole lot of questions, among them – how should we respond? What is a Christian response?

Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister has offered one “Christian” response. He insists this is not a refugee crisis but one of migration, therefore, the criteria used to decide a response need not be humanitarian alone, but political – even religious.

“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture,” Mr Orban said this week. “Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims.” This is relevant, apparently, because “Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity. Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian? There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”

Please God no! How is it possible for someone to get Christianity so wrong? It is difficult to know how Mr Orban understands Christianity but it doesn’t appear to be the way Jesus does.

Hear this from Deuteronomy 10 (The Message translation).

14-18 Look around you: Everything you see is God’s—the heavens above and beyond, the Earth, and everything on it. But it was your ancestors who God fell in love with; he picked their children—that’s you!—out of all the other peoples. That’s where we are right now. So cut away the thick calluses from your heart and stop being so willfully hardheaded. God, your God, is the God of all gods, he’s the Master of all masters, a God immense and powerful and awesome. He doesn’t play favorites, takes no bribes, makes sure orphans and widows are treated fairly, takes loving care of foreigners by seeing that they get food and clothing.

19-21 You must treat foreigners with the same loving care—
remember, you were once foreigners in Egypt.

Or from Jesus (Matthew 25):

“Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”

45 ‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

These are a million miles away from Mr Oban’s defensive and nationalistic interpretation of Christianity.

So what should a Christian response be?

My favourite response so far has come from Giles Fraser in the Guardian – you can read it here.

But in short, an unconditional, generous, warm hearted, welcome; one that is extended to both Muslims and Christians; to all refugees of any faith or none. #RefugeesWelcome.

So how can I be a part of it?

In truth, I’m still working that out personally, Sarah and I are trying to work out what we can actually do as a family. Some suggestions can be found here on the TearFund website – here.

Our Harvest offering on the 20th of September will be going to support the work of Tearfund including their work with refugees – please come prepared to give and give generously.

It’s a massively complex issue and we aren’t able to solve this ourselves, so let’s keep praying, seeking and trusting in a God who can turn even the darkest of situations around and use them for good.

  • Please pray for a swift, compassionate and more effective response to the refugee crisis in Europe.
  • Pray that those fleeing war and persecution will find safe havens where they can begin to put the traumas they have experienced behind them and lead lives free from fear.
  • Continue to pray for solutions to the root causes driving people to flee – the conflicts, poverty and inequality.

Aylan’s life may have been short, and we extend our deepest sympathy to his family, but it is starting to look as though his death has been a catalyst for change. It already looks as though the huge public outcry this week partly response to his image on the cover of every paper and Facebook wall, has begun to shift hearts and minds in Europe, in the UK, in Westminster, but also in me, how about you?

Omar and Amie…

I read this story on the train and it brought a tear to my eye…

Omar Al Shaikh and Amie Cresswell, two 16-year-olds from England, tied the knot just days before Omar’s death, fulfilling a last wish.
The pair started dating eight months ago, shortly after Omar had been undergoing treatment for leukemia and was in remission.
The couple’s bond was strong—they talked about spending their lives together—but the decision to marry came sooner as Omar’s health took a turn for the worst.
He was diagnosed with cancer again in March and was given three months to find a stem cell donor. Amie stuck by him through chemotherapy treatments and visited as much as she could.
“I knew I wanted to stand by him through it all…he is such a lovely soul—I wanted to spend as much time as I had with him as possible,” Amie told the Daily Mail.
By the time June came around, Omar was told that his cancer had spread to his bone marrow and Omar’s days were numbered. To fulfill his dying wish, he proposed to his teenage love with a daisy-chain ring as he laid in his hospital bed. She said yes.
“Omar wanted to get married before he died and when he proposed I just jumped at the chance,” Amie said.
Two days later, the couple married. Amie wore a flower crown and a pink strapless dress and secured their vows with makeshift flower bands.
Three days after the wedding, Omar died.
“As he put the ring on my finger he said wish he had more time with me,” Amie said. “I really wish we had too, but I’m just so glad we had the chance to make this happy memory.”

What a poignant, beautiful, yet tragic ending.

My twelve years at Bessels have come to an end. It hasn’t been tragic, I’m not beautiful but the ending has been poignant for me. Thank you to everyone in the Bessels family who has loved me and my family; who has encouraged me along the way and who have let me move on to new pastures so graciously.

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

Just 100 minutes…

In a news summary magazine this last week I read the following story:

‘A newborn baby who lived for just 100 minutes has become Britain’s youngest organ donor – and inspired a surge in the number of people registering as donors. One of a pair of twins, Teddy Houlston was born with anencephaly, a fatal condition that prevents the brain developing. His parents had been told he had the condition, but opted to carry on with the pregnancy because they wanted him to have his life, however brief it was. They also resolved that when he died, his organs should help other live. “He lived and died a hero,” said his father, Mike. “It’s impossible to explain how proud we are of him.” ‘

I found this true story moving on a number of levels:
o The bravery of Teddy’s parents to continue with the pregnancy knowing how it would end. I meet so many folk (and so do you I imagine) who are shaped by the death of a child. There is bruising and brokenness with all but in some situations something beautiful comes out of the darkness of that death. I think of close friends who lost a young lad and have a deep desire to suck the marrow out of life. The have loved and lost and have decided to love life once again.
o Teddy’s dad said he died a hero. When I think “hero” I imagine a Fireman running up the stairs of the Twin Towers as flames engulf and weaken the floors above. I think of the single-parent who has been wronged by their partner and yet balances the bills, puts good food on the table and shows their children love.
o Teddy’s twin will live on with his/her brother close to them. Will this be a positive or debilitating experience I wonder? Will the surviving twin be proud of their sibling?
o I was reminded of the film “Jesus of Montreal”; a provocative film about the life of Jesus where some actors put on the Passion play in a contemporary way. When the church powers realise it is a traditional play they try to stop it and the actor who plays Jesus dies. His resurrection? You see his organs being placed in boxes of ice to be given to others so that they may have new life. In some way Teddy reflects the life-giving power that Christians see in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
o The quality of life is at the forefront of this story. As a church at Bessels we are spending a few years on Sundays looking at the life of Jesus in the gospel of John. The series title is: “Life in all its fullness.” This phrase is taken from John 10:10 where Jesus says this is what he has come to give humanity. The Greek word for life used here is “zoe” and it is used 134 times in the New Testament. It refers to eternal life and that should definitely encourage us to think of life with God after this one ends, a life that Teddy is currently enjoying I believe. But it also refers to a depth of life that we can experience here before we die. It is a life of depth where we know God’s presence with us in the ups and downs of life.
o Finally, I was grabbed by the length of this young lad’s life – 100 minutes. Little more than a football match or average Hollywood rom-com. And yet what a difference! How could I use 100 minutes of my life to bring “zoe” life to those around me and around the world?

Did anything grab you as you read the story?

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

Shark: Fear and beauty.

It was my birthday a few weeks back.

Thank you for remembering.

One of my presents was a fantastic photographic book by Jean-Marie Ghislain entitled: “Shark: Fear and beauty.” In the introduction he talks about swimming with two Great White Sharks, a feisty small male and then a five metre female that he played with for over an hour, patting her on the nose as she followed him towards the surface and back down again (see the picture)!

The following paragraph grabbed me and could apply to us in these final few key matches of the season:

“Did I need courage? I don’t think so. You can dive up to certain limits without risking your personal safety. But a solo journey imposes tough demands: you have to have the capacity to live your own life without crutches. My solitude taught me how to live, to understand how much we are part of a whole, and to perceive the ties that bind us to creatures that are so different from us. These ties are fragile, indefinable, yet we can begin to perceive them by swimming with them. Sharks are capable of teaching us vital lessons. In the cruel world of the sea, there is no room for pride; only survival counts. If you have to lose a power struggle, then so be it – you just have to leave the arena. If you are not totally focused on the immediate task at hand, or if you are not completely relaxed when you enter the water, then these encounters can become very dangerous.”

“There is no room for pride.”

In our personal lives…

In the church…

In our communities…

If we “stay in the arena” because of pride “these encounters can become very dangerous”.

Are you facing a situation at work, home, church or socially where pride is warping your vision of what is really happening.

Maybe it is best to walk away.

In Philippians 4:5 Paul wrote to the early church: “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

If we are aware of God’s present nearness to us we will walk away when tempted by pride and instead be gentle.

After all, who wants to be eaten by a shark?

Yours because of Jesus – Neil.

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