‘Held to the cross not by nails but by love – it was you broke his heart, not the spear.’ And yet he still loves, generously, freely.
Did the refugee child ever need to say sorry? How often did he offer thanks? The Pharisees invited him into their homes and even warned him of impending arrest; yet those Pharisees, the scribes, the rulers of the temple were silent when challenged. Being called hypocrites and a brood of vipers would hurt anyone; the self-righteous for whom the tag fits must have been indignant with rage, perhaps driven insane with jealousy at how people loved the Messiah’s message of God’s love and forgiveness.
False testimony, invented lies, transferring blame and then inciting a crowd to do their own dirty work… in two thousand years, how many have learnt from history, learnt from the belovèd son and seen their lives transformed?
How many of those who had been called hypocrites garnered sufficient humility to say sorry when the truth came out?
As Kendrick sang ‘He paid what he thought you were worth’. Without being prompted, how easy do we find it say sorry?
There was much wisdom and talk about it being unwise to put new wine into old wine skins. Fears were raised over the ability of the old to cope with the effervescence of the new fruit; some, with evidence, showed concern and exhorted us to wear a new skin – or something like that. It was considered impossible to teach an old dog new tricks…
And yet.. there have been some who have lived out Philippians 2.3, who are devoted to friends and those who consider themselves foes. They have been overwhelmed by love and don’t consider others as enemies. They love freely, generously and unconditionally – but their love doesn’t necessarily mean they approve of another’s behaviour, attitude, words or actions. Indeed, their love drives them to seek ways to help others out of the pit or the mire of their own making.
We, too, owe so much to the generous love of friends near and far, freely poured out with admonishment and correction, discipline and learning, helping us to set deep roots and grow strong. Our thanks to Barrie Stephenson for his digital stories – fresh expressions of testimony; his collection of witnesses to Canon David Watson’s ministry include honouring the way he sought to help everyone, young and old, to enjoy the new wine. Such a profound desire to keep everyone on board transformed our lives. Enjoy this snippet on ‘Reconciliation‘.
‘Six days to change your life – radically‘, promised the ad in ‘Third Way’ in November 1980, encouraging folk to join the throng at Spring Harvest. Change and transformation, though, can be deeply challenging and some folk adamantly refuse to even see in the mirror or recognise any possible need to do anything about themselves. Cry for a pure and contrite heart and a truly humble spirit – longing to learn from others, and especially seeking peace with their heavenly Father.
Isn’t it good that folk are still seeking transformation this Eastertide; we’re grateful to all those helping to pass on the blessings…
What-e’er the origins of April Fool’s Day, perhaps the need for a light heart, a sound mind and a confident spirit is more needed today than ever. With ‘fake news’ and cries of treason abounding, surely it’s time for a change in the climate?
One leader said recently, “Who do I trust?” Who are we to believe when so many stories circulate? If leaders struggle to know who to trust, whose example are we to follow?
It’s a relief and the deepest of joys that some things are the same, yesterday, today, forever, the rock who was, is and is to come who still knocks on the door and allows us to open it from the inside. And when the joy comes to rest, there is true peace.
All wrapped up in love. Far better than distrust, suspicion, blame – or any fake news.
Love heals, restores, builds up, welcomes, helps others overcome their toils and troubles.
Love lasts eternally.
One of the more highly respected of colleagues dropped this into the conversation: ‘Never lower your standards to those of others’. I’d not heard it up to then, nor have those whose company we’ve enjoyed since offered anything similar. Mr Google nowadays shows up variations and my much lover father offered something on those lines when driving.
When journeying to a distant venue at the speed limit, you expect to arrive at a given, planned time. Reducing to 50 seems fair for a while behind a slower vehicle, but then a lorry at 40 – and before you know, 30 behind a tractor ends up doubling your journey time. At some point, the needs of those you planned to meet move you to overtake (safely, of course) and keep the original schedule.
Some walk away the moment things don’t go their way. Some listen and learn from those slowing them down – asking the what, why and wherefores to nurture open dialogue and offer space for the others to reflect on their viewpoint. Some welcome the time and space to develop their viewpoint or change their opinions – and eventually come to welcome the gentle prods or queries. A growing number, though, appear to see any question as a challenge to their very being – even if they’re leaving a sorry trail in their wake.
Asking for a small tweak to the sound system, the engineer (a management consultant in his day job) insisted there was no need for such a thing. For the next five years, he was asked around the issue in careful steps, until the opportunity came to request the original tweak. ‘Of course,’ came the reply – ‘why didn’t you ask me five years ago?’
Blessèd are the pure in heart who welcome the question on the first asking – rather than after years of meandering. It helps them, too, to jump into the fast stream.
Never lower your standards to the standards of others. Better to have a heart devoted to helping others reach higher and see far more of the outside world. ‘Malus Harry Baker‘ bore fruit in abundance.
When your grandmother sheds the deep tears of fondness and anguish, surrounded by the full assurance of eternal, selfless love, unconditional forgiveness and acceptance, you’re caught up in the eschatological purity of redeeming love, heaven on earth. There’s nothing more precious than the heavenly union of kindred souls, especially within a blood line. She’ll be celebrating another 100+ a few birthday this week; well, those who know her will be celebrating near and far. Chocolate in bed sounds like a celebration to me, too, even when it’s a daily delight. I wonder if my cousin is allowed such a treat?
Generosity is so welcome during a time of celebration. When you love others so much that you give your left kidney to your husband, when you devote your life to your mother and sister, when you lay down your own desires for the sake of others, generosity becomes the celebration. When it’s hard to understand where others are coming from or to know how to help them but you still visit and care, generosity is to be celebrated. When you offer the gift of life to anyone, not just those nearest to you, and they have nothing within them that can say ‘thank you’, then generosity becomes something beyond celebration – it becomes part of the natural life, unseen, rarely understood.
For some, such a life takes a different form; rather than ignoring it – or being grateful for others’ goodness – some are so deeply challenged that they delve the depths of denouncement to such a level that they reveal how much pain, hate and confusion rules their hearts. The generous person simply continues to pour out the milk of human kindness and the recipients live in blissful ignorance of the love around them. Lost in their self-seeking protectionism, determined by a desire for doctrinal purity, fighting by fearsome lie and deception, their lives become an inward spiral, clinging onto the flailing threads of their own mis-beliefs and incredulous at how and why others seem happy. Any mention of what most recognise as a good work can be twisted and turned into acrimony. False, malicious or disturbing rumours and stories are perpetuated. Those who perpetuate such folly create a world where it becomes impossible to ever say sorry, to ever seek absolution or to turn from a depressing life of self seeking.
It seems easy to celebrate the rather bold honesty of an organisation which declares that they’re clean – free of equine DNA, for example. Some insist that an apology should have been given even when there was nothing to apologise for; such is the demand of those who cannot bear anything other than being in control. Yet the Christian gospel has at its heart the suffering atonement of one who was sinless and took upon himself all the sins of everyone else – purely for their sakes. So perhaps the clean organisation should be happy to apologise to those who don’t understand the full picture.
But for some – especially within faith groups – apologising can be completely outside their desire. Such folly serves only to reveal their own arrogance and self-seeking, their desire to manipulate, control or maintain power. How best to celebrate such attributes? Wield more power? Nurture further self seeking, incompetence and rudeness? Establish a stronger foothold for those with their own agendæ?
It becomes further and further beyond their understanding when the selfless soul steps down and allows the folly to continue. Surely they would want to seek redress, compensation or revenge for the pain caused? Yet the selfless soul steps back and continues only to offer help – even when such offers and assistance are rejected and even doors are physically slammed in their faces. The desperate development of self justification and self righteousness goes against the received teachings and doctrine, but hypocrisy has now taken over. How best to celebrate hypocrisy? Point a finger at those who are humbly devoted and manifest the Fruits of the Spirit and accuse them of hypocrisy? Such is the battle of the mind, the spirit, the soul.
So it’s a day of celebration. A day, a month, a season to be grateful for the richest, purest, most fruitful relationships and acts of kindness we know, recognising that even the foolish have many good gifts, talents, skills and attributes. ‘Loving your neighbour as yourself’ proves to be far more challenging and consequently rewarding than simply ‘treating others as you would like to be treated’. Thinking of others as more significant than yourself is the starting block to humility. And to saying sorry, and to celebrating with a pure and contrite heart. It also anoints the conversation and relationship with those who became a mother at 28 (less ten), whose daughter became a mother at 28 and whose grandson became a father at 28. Hmm – but it’s the 29th… so there must be a future in all this life of loving! ‘Celebrate the whole of it’, sang the Fisherfolk, Time to tune up the mandolin.
Way back in, umm, 2005, we’d just made it to the campsite named after martyred St Vital, arriving in the nick of time for check by 8pm. To our delight, the pitch was occupied… still, or had we the wrong emplacement? Nope, Mama et les jeunes were waiting for the return of Papa from Lyon where it turned out they lived midweek. But these were the summer holidays, and they had recently acquired a pile of stones nearby. It turned out that the worship in their home town was a little dry, so they headed off to Taizé for the weekend.
Cue the arrival of Papa in the Voyager (it seems that even some of the French struggle with the reliability of French motors) and a genial Franglais conversation ensues. Papa’s second question “Êtes vous Chrétien?” underlined the true bond of love in a universal family where all are welcomed. We chatted on, enjoying an anointing beyond our dreams, swapped telephone numbers and eventually set up camp – now in the dark. We were called the following day with a generous invitation to join the family at the old farm house for a feast in honour of the Assumption of the Blessèd Virgin.
The conversations included some welcome illumination on the concept of ecumenism in Britain. Whilst the Communauté de Taizé is renowned for its ecumenical foundation and passionate drive for reconciliation, it appears that the folly of multi-denominations in the UK is beyond any rational thought. Why would anyone want to start their own church if they truly proclaim Jesus as Lord? Surely such an allegiance could never be replaced by an individual’s personal understanding of doctrine? How on earth does such a self-centred outlook fit with any version of Christianity? Forming your own congregation – especially at the expense of any sense of loving,. welcoming relationships with other Christians – appears as utter selfishness to the outside world.
So, perhaps, ‘being true to your beliefs’ is shorthand for ‘being utterly selfish’? After all, Jesus went to the local temple; he didn’t have a launch party for his own sect.
Back to the welcoming family. A short while afterwards, we were privileged to welcome their eldest daughter to stay awhile, surrounded by speakers of English. Another year, we were invited to enjoy a break on the Rose Granite coast, with our eldest sailing en famille along La Manche. All very easy, very natural. Hearing the joyous news of an engagement was as delightful as if from our own wider family, tinged only by the fabulous news of my nephew’s wedding on the same day – even if only 450 miles away in Italy. To be invited to both was so kind, to know how to respond was impossible.
Burgundy is special to many. Returning after far too long away was so very good, yet the delights awaiting were beyond measure. We were finally able to meet the whole family – but even beyond that, the friends, neighbours and cousins from several homesteads. Icing on the cake included the neighbour who stopped to ask if we were looking for the farm house… perhaps the steering wheel on the wrong side gave us away? The bride looked like an angel in both dresses; the necklace from her Godmother a perfect accompaniment. The neighbours and friends included this generous lady, and the joy of sitting with her and her husband was akin to the best of coincidences. I’m just sorry to have been so slow with such cuisine – the people were too good to meet, and the knife and fork fell idle. We couldn’t say thank you enough to Papa et Mama; but she was insistent about how good friends we were. Her kindness, her welcome.
The ceremony at the church of St Martin’s, Chapaize was also blessed by the outpouring of loving reconciliation from Taizé. The local priest warmly welcomed the university chaplain who shared in the ceremony (bilingually) – inviting him to sign the book, too. The steward, here since he was three, accepted our apologies for not gift-aiding a donation – such is the understanding of far more than l’entente cordiale. And the organist appreciated a full church of voices, although it was a little unusual to have a string quartet adding to the little organ. A choir drawn from university friends and led so powerfully and graciously… and then a request from the family for our percussionist to play the djembe… he had seen one some years earlier, but this was the first time he’d played en masse. The bride’s middle sister had provided hers – easier than sourcing one from our home – yet was a little concerned through the service that the instrument stayed tacit throughout. I’d like to say that the discretion and professionalism displayed in only playing for the last – and most vivaciously timed – hymn simply reflected the higher levels of graciousness we were embraced with by everyone there. Anyway, it sounded extraordinary, adding more than a je ne sais quoi, and provoking the most delightful inward smiles from youngest and middle bridal sisters.
Some things become part of the deepest set memories for life; precious for all the best reasons, inspiring and uplifting at every moment. 1,562 miles, daily swimming and running bombs, jus de pommes at the Café de Paris, catching up with friends at Taizé (only because they went to check whose car alarm was sounding), being treated with daily baguette, rare canapés and guinea fowl (surely a nod to the English pound?), being welcomed by neighbours and our own graduates being welcomed by the groom’s family, having body clocks reset under canvas, even the deep pain of missing the family wedding in Italy. Nothing compares with the thrill on the face of the younger sisters hearing that djembe. When’s the next wedding?
The clamour for a sense of value has become more than deafening… When so many voices shout for their rights, no-one can hear reason, self-sacrificial love or kindness. Everyone wants what they want – be it a round of drinks or a chosen lifestyle. Is this an ever-increasing cry for a sense of identity, a desperate scream for a sense of value and worth in a world where financial foundations are forever being debased – lowered, lost into a pit of debt. Those who say ‘we owe it to ourselves’ are speaking far more than the truth; we are in debt to ourselves and each other in the striving to be heard, to be valued.
Parents show how much they value their offspring in exorbitant ‘holidays’, scaring the fragile climate to cast off its protective layers. More clothes, more food, more trips, more toys. What are they valuing – their children, the toy maker, the travel agent, the ready-meal factory worker, the planet? Or their friends – “We could only afford China and Florida this year”? How much do we value our families, each other?
Some folk invest generously in their children’s mental education, their musicality, their sports; some bond deeply and share those bonds gently with their wider family and confidants. Some go further and invest in the spiritual pillars of our humanity – helping a child to understand what it means to stand up for themselves and why – and to realise that whatever they believe may challenge them to the depths of their soul and the ends of the earth. But how much do we invest in each other? 50 pence in the church collection suggests a very poor demonstration of worth compared to the hundreds of pounds spent on food, housing, clothing, events… How much do we want our dependents and friends to grow?
The local church may turn over just £25,000 each year; it may pay for the minister, the heating, lighting and insurance. Some turn over more than twenty times that. One congregation, known for a theology of proselytisation in all things, recorded an entry in its year end accounts amounting to a very tiny 1% of turnover. It looks like an interesting twist showing how much they think their neighbours are worth. What is the Christian Church for unless it is there purely for those who are not yet members?
Or is it all just a matter of proportion or priority? The short, medium and long term priorities for a church/LEP council are worth working through, calmly, in reasoned and measured ways. What proportion of the budget invested in people is used for maintenance (welcoming one new person for every one who moves on or dies), what proportion is used for decline (not investing in any new members) and what proportion is invested in loving and welcoming in those who don’t yet know God’s love? It’s an easy way of recognising how much the congregation values others – loves their neighbour as themselves. And in so doing, shows what they think of themselves.
So let’s throw money at mission, then? Please, please just rephrase that like this: ‘Let’s waste loads money on the activity called mission because that’s what we’re told to do’. Nope, please. If the congregation – the whole congregation – truly loves sacrificially, preferring their neighbours’ needs to their own, then their priorities have already changed. Please invest money on discipling the congregations to love sacrificially, then mission flows far more generously than the treasurer’s pen. Those who love sacrificially will love their own congregation, their neighbouring congregation and their neighbours at least as much as themselves; they live out a restored, healthy lifestyle where they are genuinely at peace with themselves, with God and their neighbour.
The priorities on the church or family budget reflect their priorities in life. And you can hear it – they don’t shout their desire for mission from the roof tops. Love pours quietly, humbly and kindly from their hearts. Peace doesn’t need to shout. Neither does love. Nor Mission.