clinging to what we knew

7 06 2013

Our culture is obsessed by feeling. We are encouraged to let our feelings lead the way. So our feelings are used to justify any opinions, actions, and some of the worst cliche-ridden auditions on talent shows. Just because you’re singing in memory of your grandma, doesn’t make you a good singer.

When we let our feelings lead us, we are blown around like the wind, and spend our lives like hormonal teenagers craving feeling good, and despising or avoiding anything that doesn’t feel good. But in the words of Skunk Anansie, just because you feel good doesn’t make it right.

I was thinking about this because today I took the funeral of a man who had committed suicide. What do you say to a family, many of whom are Christians, who have lost a husband, father, brother, grandad and friend so suddenly, so inexplicably. Suddenly we are ambushed and surrounded by feelings and emotions, crowding round and jostling us and clawing at us; or to use another image, our ship is suddenly tossed in a storm far from port and God who is our rock appears to turn to sand and disappear. 

hope

hope

What we do is turn to what we know, not what we feel. Feelings can be great, but if we follow them all the time, they will lead us a merry dance. In grief it can feel like the end of the world; it can feel like God is very distant; and it may be that we feel alone and abandoned by God. 

That is why we must trust what we know. We know that God does not abandon us. We know that God always loves us, even when we are in a dark place. We also know that God does not always intervene to stop terrible things happening, and that can make us angry. We know God is big enough to receive our anger and our grief, big enough to catch all our tears in a bottle [Psalm 58.6]. 

So whilst we may feel alone – and in the moment it truly feels that we are – we cling to the knowledge we are not. We cling to what we knew about God – he never abandons us, but walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death. When we have lost someone we love we grieve deeply, and rightly so. But we do not stop there, not forever, because we have a hope that transforms even the darkest black into resurrection life. 

We may not feel that now, but we know it because we knew it. This is why we need to strengthen and deepen our faith in-between crises so when the crises come we know God, not just know about him. This is why, for all its faults and imperfections, church is important, home groups are important, prayer is important. Because faith needs depth. So then when life goes belly up we can cling to what we know, not just how we feel.

None of which makes it feel any easier, of course.  





burning questions

24 01 2012

A little girl came to church the other day specifically to ask me some questions. Because her grandad had just died. She was about 7. I loved her questions. She had written them down in this order:

  • Is heaven made out of clouds? 
  • Can we sing ‘shine’ at the funeral [a bouncy kids song she likes!]
  • What do you say at the funeral?
Ok so far? Carry on…
  • Do you like being a vicar?
  • Do you like working for God and Jesus?
  • Can you pray for my grandad?

And then comes the crunch…

  • Do you burn my grandad? 

How would you answer that? Watching a vicar try and explain cremation to a little girl should be a spectator sport. The wonderful thing is, children accept what you say so readily. So, when I said yes, we do burn grandad’s body but grandad isn’t there any more so it’s not really burning grandad, she was fine.

We keep kids away from death too much. They often deal with it more better (as they say) than us grown-ups who worry to much and try and protect them. Let‘s not do that so much. 

And by the way, heaven isn’t made of clouds.

It’s made of cheese.





a greater violence to remember

8 11 2009

he won a fight

Life sometimes throws up some unexpected ironies. On the eve of Remembrance Sunday, a Briton beat a Russian in a fight in Germany. David Haye became the WBA heavyweight champion. People cheered. Hooray for violence! But this is not the time to reflect on boxing; there is greater violence to remember.

Last week in Sutton (near where I live) a man was violently killed as a group of angry people stamped on his head. A fight that began over a stolen Halloween hat. There is great violence to remember in this world, and it is not just in faraway lands.

Such violence, and the violence of the wars we remember today, reveals the nastiest, most undignified side of humanity. We keep it under wraps, peeping at it from the safety of our newspapers or TV screen. But our capacity for greed, for murder, our lust for power and wealth is all too real. The great Christian writer CS Lewis wrote this: ‘I looked inside myself, and found that I am a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.’

Jesus recognised the capacity within his disciples for violence. He recognised the capacity of his disciples to struggle, to fall out with each other. Love each other as I have loved you, he said. Love each other even when you disagree. Love each other even though you are so different. Love each other because being humans you will discover the urge for power, for status, the need to be right, to be better than others…

In recognising that part of ourselves, and giving over that part of our characters to God, that its power is taken away. The power of Jesus’ love, the love he commands us to remain in, is stronger than the power of evil that wants to drag us down. And we are forgiven; our zoo of lusts, bedlam of ambitions, nursery of fears, harem of fondled hatreds will not be held against us.

It doesn’t stop there though. The Christian life is not passive. It is a verb not a noun. We have a responsibility, a new responsibility as followers of Jesus. The responsibility is not this: to characterise or dismiss people of a particular race or ethnic background as terrorists or war-mongers as many of us have done in the past and the present to the Irish, Germans, Russians, Bosnians, Arabs…; our responsibility is not to join in or encourage conversations that do those things. Our responsibility is not to glorify war, or to force war on others. Our responsibility is not to judge other people as inhuman and therefore beyond the power of Jesus Christ to transform them, the same Christ who by his grace transforms us.

Our responsibility is to remain in Jesus’ love; a responsibility to love each other as Jesus loved his disciples; a responsibility be prepared to lay down our lives for our friends; a responsibility to be like shining stars as we work out together what it means for us to be followers of Jesus in this messed up world. A responsibility to show the same self-sacrifice as Jesus did. To put you before me; them before us.

poppy sxc

violence and remembrance

We remember that suffering and violence do not have the last word, but that Jesus resurrection has the last word, his resurrection that breaks the power of sin and death, that redeems and transforms all who come to know him. So we remember those who have died, and we commend them to God; but also and maybe moreso, we pray for those in places where war is all too real, death all too near, and we pray for transformation of hearts, for transformation of communities – not just them and their communities, them over their far away; but as much us and our communities, for Jesus loving and saving power to do what the gun and bullet will never do. From St Helier to Sutton and the ends of the earth.

We pray that  the hope we have and glimpse will be reality; that there will be no more death and tears and mourning; that anger will not turn to violence; but through grace, to peace.

We will remember them.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.





anyone for a coffee (and tax) break?

3 11 2009

Death and taxes. Fewer things are more inevitable, frankly spoke Benjamin Franklin. Except maybe the twins reaching the semi-finals. Yet fewer things have such a bad press (except the twins, but so they should). Now I know I’m a bit of an oddball, but I’m not much frightened of either (I am frightened of the twins. Enough of the X-Factor).

I worry about the consequences of my death; but I am not hugely frightened of death itself, most of the time. I certainly don’t avoid talking about death like many people. And perhaps more oddly, I secretly quite like paying tax. It makes me feel grown-up. It also gives me roads to drive on, infrastructure to rely on, governments to complain on, schools to compare and many other good things.

Pret VAT sign

VAT nightmare?

This photo was taken at Pret a Manger, when I paid for my coffees and via VAT contributed to the infrastructure that enabled me to buy it, pay for it, drink it, and not have to wash up afterwards. I like Pret. They are fair-trade and tasty and fresh. But their attitude to VAT is somewhat negative. They encourage the view that it feels inconvenient, annoying, even an abuse of my rights to a cheap coffee. “VAT nightmare!” they scream. If you can’t read it because it’s a bit blurry (my phone was drunk) it says “We’re legally required to add on VAT when you eat in. Nightmare.”

eat my taxes

But is paying tax a “nightmare”? Really?

Why should we have everything for free? We demand, we consume, we don’t want to suffer the consequences. But surely we should be willing to pay our way, to contribute to the communal fund. To be generous.

It is unpopular to many, but our taxes allow all of us to live as we do; and allow many people to simply live, as they have no other income, no other way to pay for food or housing or a present for the kids. The vast majority of people who receive benefits are not wasters and scroungers. I want to support them. I know that is not all that taxes pay for. I know that much tax-payers money is wasted, much like my own (on a smaller scale!). I know the banking system has swallowed an awful lot of it this year and is laughing loudly whilst we squirm is disbelief. But still.

Are taxes inevitable? Yes. Are they a bit of a pain? Ok, yes. Are they necessary? Yes. Are they a nightmare? No. Do they give us a higher standard of living than so many across the world? Yes. Do they give some people life for whom everything else is only death? Actually, I think they do. Maybe we should be grateful we live in a country that can tax, unlike many where it is just a pipe-dream, so infrastructure cannot be built without bribery and corruption. Maybe we should be grateful we live in a country with a lower minimum tax threshold of 33%, like Sweden. Though they do have Volvos.

So,  hooray for taxes. And as Jesus demonstrated in the transformed life of one, hooray for the tax man.

Now I can drink my coffee without having nightmares.








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