The value of human life


After the massacre in Tunisia on Friday, I have been reflecting on what I believe about the value of human life. In one sense, it is incredibly fragile and can be snatched away in an instant by a radicalised individual with a gun. Yet, as the shocked and bewildered begin to tell their survival stories, we also see the resilience and personal dignity of human beings. The woman who played dead at the feet of the gunman as he reloaded his weapon, the man whose wife’s handbag took the bullet meant for him and the courage of the fiancee who was willing to pay the ultimate price to protect the one he loved. So many acts of bravery, compassion and selflessness in the midst of the horror perpetrated by one man consumed by a cause for which he killed tourists sunbathing on a beach.

The Bible too, seems to reflect this tension. Psalm 103 says, “A person’s life is like grass. Like a flower in the field it flourishes, but when the hot wind blows by, it disappears, and one can no longer even spot the place where it once grew.” But the Psalmist also asserts, “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, the sons and daughters of man that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned them with glory and honour. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet…” (Psalm 8, verses 4-6) And Jesus says of our worth, “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?” (Matthew 6:26). While God remembers we are dust and has infinite compassion upon us in our fragility, She also bestows upon us eternal glory because of our intrinsic value which She won for us by sacrificing Her only son.

How do we then live in the light of this wisdom? It seems to me a difficult balance to negotiate. We need to be self aware enough to recognise the power entrusted to us which can positively transform our world or do untold damage and destruction. At the same time, we must consider our own weakness and mortality. This is not to be morbid or depressing but realistic so that we might celebrate and squeeze the most out of life, for we do not know when it will end. It can also help us re-evaluate priorities. For those caught up in the horrors of last Friday, it became all too clear that their most urgent need, other than staying alive, was to say I love you to those they held most dear.

I think what we all need in the days ahead is hope. Hope that terror will not win. Hope that darkness will never put out the light. Hope that love will ultimately triumph over fear and despair. I wonder if we also need to regain a hope that this life is not all there is. Actually we have an eternal purpose and destiny that is assured when we put our trust in Christ. What is beyond is a great mystery and the unknown is always frightening. However, I was recently introduced to a wonderful poem called ‘I never wanted to be born’ which contrasts the uncertainties we had at birth with those we experience as we contemplate death. It is by John L. Bell and I will share it with you in it’s entirety…

“I never wanted to be born.

The older I grew,
the fonder I became of my mother’s womb
and it’s warmth
and it’s safety.

I feared the unknown:
the next world,
about which I knew nothing
but I imagined the worst.

Yet, as I grew older,
I sensed in my soul
That the womb was not my home forever.

Though I did not know when,
I felt sure that one day
I would disappear through a door
which had yet to be opened,
and confront the unknown
of which I was afraid.

And then,
it happened.

In blood, tears and pain,
it happened.

I was cut off from the familiar;
I left my life behind
and discovered not darkness but light,
not hostility but love,
not eternal separation
but hands that wanted to hold me.

(pause)

I never wanted to be born.

I don’t want to die.

The older I grow,
the fonder I become
of this world
and it’s warmth
and it’s safety.

I fear the unknown:
the next world,
about which I know nothing
but imagine the worst.

Yet as I grow older,
I sense in my soul
that this world is not my home forever.

Though I do not know when,
I feel that one day
I will disappear through a door
which has yet to be opened.

Perhaps having come so safely through the first door,
I should not fear so hopelessly the second.”

Written originally for the funeral service of a group of teenagers who had been killed in a car crash.

Aramaic Lord’s Prayer

prayer at sunset
This translation of the Lord’s Prayer from Aramaic into English was posted by Janet Sutton Webb on Facebook. It really resonated with me.

O cosmic birther of all radiance and vibration!

Soften the ground of our being and carve out a space within us where your presence can abide.

Fill us with your creativity so that we may be empowered to bear the fruit of our mission.

Let each of our actions bear fruit in accordance with our desire.

Endow us with the wisdom to produce and share what each being needs to grow and flourish.

Untie the tangled threads of destiny that bind us,

as we release others from the entanglements of past mistakes.

Do not let us be seduced by that which would divert us from our true purpose,

but Illuminate the opportunities of the Present Moment.

For you are the ground and the fruitful vision,

The Birth Power and the Fulfillment,

and All is gathered and made whole once again.

by Mark Hathaway, published in The Cygnus Review 2003 Issue 3
Here is the link http://www.free-meditation.ca/archives/446

Letting Go

Letting_Go

The harder I try to hold on

The more I seem to sink lower;

My head is telling me let go

My heart is so full of fear.

 

If I let go of feeling secure

What will I have in it’s place?

Well – possibly a new found freedom

Do I therefore trust in God’s grace?

 

The road less travelled is not an easy one

Yet my options are closing in;

I know I need to take a deep breath

Pick up my pen and begin.

 

Where it may lead I do not know

I guess it doesn’t matter where;

Inside the fear sometimes grips my heart

Then I hear Jesus say “It’s OK I care”.

 

“Take my hand and I’ll show you

The next step is all you need take”;

Negative thoughts and chains of fear

Jesus assures me he will break.

 

Today I put my hand in his

and let go of what holds me back;

With him by my side, continuing on

Assured there’s nothing I will lack.

by Denise Dale

Remembering Brigid, Imbolc and Candlemas

1st woman bishop

The Right Reverend Libby Lane being received as a Bishop in the Church of England

 

Today is an auspicious day!  The 2nd February is when celebrations in the Celtic, pagan and church calendars align.  It is Brigid’s day, when she is honoured as both saint, in the Christian tradition, and goddess with three aspects, maid/virgin, mother and crone.  Each aspect is marked in different seasons and this day, the beginning of Spring, celebrates the fruitfulness of womanhood.

Brigid was born in Ireland in AD453 and, having infuriated her father by giving away his wealth and refusing to marry, she chose a religious vocation.  It is said that at the moment of receiving the veil, a ring of fire appeared above her head and the bishop consecrating her, elevated her to bishop in his shock and confusion!  Perhaps this was no mistake but an intervention by the divine spirit, for she went on to found an educational order for men and women and people came to her for healing at a holy well.  She is said to be the keeper of the Sacred Fire and the church in Kildare was built on the site of a pagan temple where a flame burned constantly.  Brigid’s sisters maintained this tradition and kept a fire alight for a further 1000 years.  She is associated with poetry, prophesy, the importance of friendship with humans and animals, as well as learning and healing.  She is often pictured with a white cow and is associated with birth.  The word ‘Imbolc’ means milk or ewe’s milk and was thought to come in at this time.  She was said to be ‘wet-nurse’ or ‘mid-wife’ to Christ and Imbolc is considered as midwifing the year.

Candlemas celebrates the fruitfulness of another woman, Mary the mother of Jesus.  Women were considered unclean until 40 days after childbirth and once this time had elapsed they went to the temple to perform the ceremony of purification.  It is when Mary and Joseph present themselves and their newborn son at the temple for this ritual, that the prophet Simeon takes Jesus into his arms, looks to the heavens and says, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles.” (Luke 2:29-32)  These are the words of the Nunc Dimittus which remind us that Christ is a light to all peoples.  Traditionally all candles that were to be used throughout the year were blessed at a special service of Candlemas.  Yet, Simeon also prophesies to Mary, “A sword shall pierce your soul too.”  Tess Ward makes the following comment in response to this, in her excellent book and worship resource, ‘The Celtic Wheel of the Year’, “So here, in the midst of the occasion of Mary’s requirement to be purified from the natural processes, the mess, blood and pain of giving birth, an old man can see what messy, bloody, painful times are ahead for a woman loving from the depths of her mother’s heart (p. 36).”

Last week saw another amazing woman of faith and courage consecrated as bishop.  This has felt like a particularly long, painful and traumatic labour!  But now, along with Simeon the prophet, we can rejoice that we have seen what we long hoped for, but hardly dared to believe.  I offer a prayer, also by Tess Ward, that we might all see more clearly the better future we’re promised through Jesus and have the strength to bear the waiting for the newness that’s yet to come to birth.

“Morning Invocation

Healing Spirit,

midwife of my newness and growth,

tend the fresh shoots of my emerging as I set foot this day.

Heal my birthing soul when I pass through the ring of fire and broken waters on my journey through this world.

Fuse my backbone mettle with your courage

as I stand against all that is unjust.

Craft my words that they might meld heart and mind

and mend with fiery precision.

Befriend my creaturely ways that I might be friend to all your creatures that share our precious planet.

Create in me a prophetic eye that I might see the new thing you are doing this day and have vision for tomorrow.

Healing Spirit, be with me as I walk this new day.”

by Tess Ward, page 46,  ‘The Celtic Wheel of the Year’

Thoughts on Community

simplicity book image

Yesterday we had our annual community meeting.  We reviewed the good, as well as some disappointments, experienced last year and made plans for the year ahead.  One of our number, Sue May, has been reading Richard Rohr’s book ‘Simplicity’ and she shared some of her thoughts on what she learned of community from her reading.

1. Others can get through to me – I can get out of myself.

2. Not a special kind of structure – but a network of relationships.

3. Relationships between the established church and the ‘base community’.

4. Both are needed, established church has history and communities have vibrancy and honesty.

5. Advocating living on the edge, holding both together but holding things lightly.

6. Act of faith is to give away what we don’t yet have. For example, healing when we aren’t healed, love when we struggle with bitterness or unforgiveness, compassion when we struggle with pride.

cross

The cross is an excellent reminder of our posture and orientation. To look up and fix our eyes on Jesus, with our feet rooted in the soil of ordinary life. Reaching out in one direction to institutional church and in the other to community on the edges.

Faith in Hindsight

Stan origami

A five year old dies from meningitis

A young woman commits suicide within hours of being released from hospital

The blog of a young man suffering from severe depression

A young mother miscarries

Loss

Stress

Grief

Tragedy

Heartbreak

WHERE IS GOD?

THIS CARING,LOVING GOD?

Verses quoted by well-meaning but un-empathetic people

Become a weight round my neck

Adding to my misery and despair

I don’t see him Not even a glimmer

In the deep dark pit of

WHY?

It is only as I come out

Of the darkness of despair

That I begin to see

That God has not left me

And in hindsight

I see the provision

Growth

Change

Hope

Strength

For that deep dark chapter in my life

And my faith deepens

And I can say

GOD, YOU WERE THERE!

YOU ARE WITH ME!

YOU DO CARE!

Hindsight Gives me the strength

To hold on

When life gets tough

Bible verses only become real to me

As I live out the ups and downs of life

These are the verses I can hang onto

Strengthening my faith

AND I KNOW YOU ARE STILL GOD!

Carol Clack, 21st January 2015

Spend! Spend! Spend!

sales shopping

One minute everywhere, the next gone.
The shops adorned with decorations and full of seasonal song
Full of everything one must have for the perfect Christmas
Spend!
SPEND!
                    SPEND!
Black Friday
Manic Monday
Cyber Monday
Special offers
Spend!
SPEND!
                    SPEND!
Retailers desperate that we spend
And buy everything
From mince pies to turkey and all the trimmings
To tablets, kindles and complete entertainment systems
So that you need not miss the unmissable
To that furniture you must have before Christmas
Spend!
SPEND!
                   SPEND!
Retailers caught
Emptying stores of Christmas cheer
Before Christmas Day
So the Sales
Can begin
Spend!
SPEND!
                   SPEND!
As mince pies go out
Hot cross buns and chocolate eggs enter
For…..
EASTER!

by Carol Clack,
January 2015

How long, Lord?

waiting1
I have issues with this time of year. Advent is the few weeks leading up to Christmas. It is a season of waiting. I hate waiting! I like to be busy, I like to get things done and I like to be proactive. It’s a great way of pushing away uncomfortable feelings I don’t want to acknowledge. Busyness can fool me into believing I am the author of my own destiny, I am in control. Yet, I know this is a deception. In so many areas of life, I am at the mercy of others. Whether in a shop longing for the assistant to return and tell me they have that dress I’ve set my heart on in my size or in the car waiting for the vehicle in front to hurry up and turn right or hoping my on-line order arrives before Christmas, I can do nothing but wait and hope.

This brings me to the other difficulty I have with Advent, hope. Hope is precious but fragile. This year I’ve had hopes that have been disappointed. Hope for a position of responsibility so I could pursue a vision for an organisation I care passionately about, hope for healing from my depression which has returned despite years of hard work and wading through a vast reservoir of tears, hope that years of study and faithful service would lead to some kind of formal recognition in the church, as well as new opportunities for paid employment. The child in me is hurt and angry. She’s screaming, “It’s not fair!” I don’t understand why some appear to get rewarded while others don’t get what they hope and pray for. I am tormented by the question, ‘what have I done or failed to do that God should ignore my pleas and petitions?’ And I know for many, my sadness and frustration is nothing compared to their daily, demeaning, soul-destroying struggle just to survive.

So what difference does a baby born over 2000 years ago make? Despite all that I wish were otherwise, I am still astounded that the Creator of the Universe took on our flawed and frail humanity. He became flesh and blood, allowed himself to be formed in a womb and for uterine contractions to push him out into a world of dirt, poverty, social exclusion and religious segregation. God’s love is real and all-consuming to be so embodied in the person of Jesus Christ! And what hope his birth unleashed in all those who knew his true identity. His uncle, Zechariah, describes him as, “…a horn of salvation for us…to rescue us from the hand of our enemies and to enable us to serve him without fear.” (Luke 1:69&74) His mother Mary says of God, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53) But has He? Really?

If I’m honest, the answer is probably yes and no! While I find it easy to reel off my disappointments and look at all the injustices that persist in the world, I have to balance this out with all the good things that I’ve experienced this year. As I’ve chosen to let people into my grief and fear, friendships have become stronger and deeper. There have been times when I’ve actually felt held, in an emotional sense. Also, I’ve become more sure of who God has made me to be and that I’m investing time and energy in fulfilling Her ultimate purpose for my life. Surely these are gifts of truest value? I was looking for tangible expressions of affirmation like a job title and salary, yet been blessed with something unseen but so much more important! “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what has been promised. For in just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one live by faith…Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 10:35-11:1)

The end of the beginning

me in Ireland
Yesterday I graduated from CMS’s Pioneer Mission Leadership Training Course. For those of you not able to be there, here is what I said…

I want to begin with a load of thank yous. Firstly, my Mum and Dad. Thank you for the vision of the Kingdom you demonstrated and inspired me with from the off. Thank you to John Buckeridge and Jacky Bone from Surbiton Community Church. You saw something in me, in terms of leadership, that you thought was worth investing in. Thank you Richard James, you were the first to call me a pioneer. Thank you Colin Brice you kept me engaging in mission to spiritual seekers when everyone was doubting, including me! Thank you David, Daniel and Nathan. I love you so much. You have been amazingly patient and willingly carried the additional burden so I could do the mental and emotional work, study and mission has entailed. Thank you to those in my missional community for trusting me and journeying with me when I didn’t even know where we were going! And lastly, thank you Jonny for really listening and allowing me the privilege of shaping what’s evolved. You reflect back to me an image of myself I’m actually beginning to like!

Just before I started the course, I had a dream. I dreamt I needed to get to a cashpoint and in front of me was a path to the bank. The problem was, it was still under construction. There was a man sitting at the start, trowel in hand, cementing in loose paving stones. He turned to me and said, “It’s not finished, but you can still use it.” So when I handed in my last assignment, I sent Jonny a text which simply said, “It is finished!” It was Easter, so it seemed appropriate on a number of levels. Although, to be honest, I don’t think the pioneer training at CMS will ever be finished because there’ll always be new things to add, new challenges and opportunities to address. That’s the trouble with us pioneers, we’re never content with the way things are!

However, today is still a remarkable day on the road to completion. As I reflected on what I might say, the biblical passage that came to mind was John 21:2-6, “Simon Peter, Thomas (known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples, were all together. Simon Peter spoke up. “I’m going fishing,” he said. “We’ll go with you,” they replied. So they went off and got into the boats; but that night they caught nothing. As dawn was breaking, Jesus stood beside the seashore, but the disciples didn’t know it was Jesus. “Children,” Jesus said to them, “haven’t you caught anything worth eating?” “No!” They replied. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” he said, “And you’ll find something.” So they cast the net; and now they couldn’t draw it in because of the weight of the fish.”

This is often quoted in relation to mission and for many of us students this is exactly what we’re engaged in, casting the net again in uncharted waters. However, I was thinking this is also true of the theological education that CMS has created. Training for leadership in Christian ministry has been done a certain way for a long time and yet Jesus says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you’ll find something.” CMS has indeed found something – something good and something valuable. I hope I’ll be the first of many who’ll be equipped and moulded by the pioneer team at CMS, and that a heap of those will also go on to become CMS pioneers who’ll do their bit to renew the church in the UK.

But I want to make another couple of points about the benefits of our course from this passage. The new thing Jesus asked his disciples to do was not a departure from who they were, but a fulfillment. We strongly believe that mission which is authentic and Christ-centred will flow out of who God has made us to be. This course is as much about becoming more sure of our unique personhood, as learning to do mission and church differently.

Also, they didn’t do it alone. The disciples were caught in that place between grief and newness. They’d watched Jesus die in agony and shame on the cross. Their hopes and dreams for the future were destroyed, and while they’d had an encounter of the resurrected Lord, he’d told them to wait for empowerment from above before stepping out into the work he had for them. I’m an activist, I hate waiting. I’m a prophet and I hate the wilderness. Yet both are essential in order to begin to perceive God’s new reality. That doesn’t mean it isn’t intensely painful or lonely. It is. That’s why we need each other in this learning community. So we don’t lose heart in the liminal space between the end of false expectations and the birth of new previously unimaginable visions for the future.

To conclude then, the course has given me many things, greater confidence in the ministry God has gifted me for, as well as theoretical frameworks to hang my missional activity on, but what I am most grateful for are the friends and co-conspirators that have brought me comfort and encouragement as I’ve wrestled with my shadow self and my destiny. It is because of you that I am standing here today. It’s not just my achievement, it is truly our achievement.