Love the natural environment? How recycling bottles, reducing waste and returning bottles is more than reducing your eco-guilt.

Way back when, in the last century, I was an environmental science-type dude. Long before I was a balding surf instructor, a husband, a dad or a vicar I was officially a tree hugger. I never quite got around to padlocking myself to a digger or staging a sit-in protest on behalf of the greater crested newt population, but that was only because there wasn’t a digger or a newt to hand. Or to put it another, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a little bit green in my politics, my theology and my lifestyle.

Which is a roundabout way of introducing this post, something that was an off-the top of my head email a few hours ago which a couple of friends have already asked to re-post, and so I thought I’d put it out here… read, respond, ignore, or continue as you were…

Image result for plastic bottle on beach

There are many, many things that we see or read about in our world that bring us great sadness, and there is often the question ‘what can I do about it?’ As Christian’s we’re always faced by the big and the small scale of things- we pray for peace in the world and in our own hearts; we try to show grace and mercy to those we meet; we rejoice when we see that same behaviour mirrored in our governments and lament where it is not. But we often feel that our actions are insignificant, and that can paralyse us.
Ok, then here’s a little thing, that may be a part of a bigger thing- plastic bottles and cups. I’m old enough (just) to remember the 5p deposit return on glass lemonade bottles, which disappeared when cheap plastic bottles supplanted them. The problem now is that we’re literally being swamped with plastic, particularly in our seas, and as an island nation, many of us will see this impact on the places we live and love.
And the type of plastic we’re being swamped with is easy to re-cycle plastic bottles, so we can actually do something about this-
1- personally recycle as much plastic as you can (check your local recycling centre for whether they’ll take food waste etc, most will take more than you imagine)
2- maybe we could use less plastic? Try to cut out some, if not all, of the plastic you use in your life, whether than’s bottles of water (re-use one!), food wrapping (is it needed or just convenient?) or plastic bags (most of us now use re-usable shopping bags- see how easy that was to change?)
3- and this is the retro/forward thinking one- join the campaign for deposit return scheme on plastic bottles- https://www.sas.org.uk/messageinabottle/ is one place you can sign up. The scheme would turn waste into a resource at no tax cost or end user cost. At the moment 250 thousand people in the UK have signed this petition, and already in other countries over 150 million people are making use of this scheme, so why shouldn’t we? Is your MP supporting this?
4- this might just be the starting point for you, and your church- folk at A Rocha have put together a scheme to help churches turn good intentions into solid actions- its called Eco Church and you can find it here https://ecochurch.arocha.org.uk/
I know, recycling’s not glamorous, it’s not bringing peace in a warzone or praying for healing; but if we, as Christians, believe that the natural world expresses the love of God, then taking action to protect it is one way that we show God our love and appreciation for the gift of Creation.
Please share, forward, sign up yourself, or get back to me with any questions.
And just while I was looking for the image for this post, I came across this article from the Guardian website, which offers some hope and a challenge- why aren’t we refilling our plastic bottles? Retailers and producers will only do these things if consumers as well as governments give them encouragement and pressure in the right direction.. it really is up to us.
And if you’ve been wondering why there’ve not been more posts in the last couple of weeks, it’s not your computer, it’s my life…

Holidays and Holy Days

I don’t have a talk from last weekend to post… because I didn’t preach at all. Cathy preached at one of our services (Recorded and uploaded here), and Hugh preached at the other (sorry, if you wanted to hear it, you needed to be there!). I was leading the worship, and since then I’ve been taking some time off- a holiday, would you believe it!

Its a strange thing, but for me, at present, holidays represent stepping back from my phone and emails as much as anything else- a time when I let my phone battery die and don’t bother finding the wifi code for wherever I am, but unfortunately I’m also in the habit of using my phone to help me in my prayer and Bible reading… it has readings on it and apps with ‘verse for the day’ and prayer links, so when I’m in holiday mode, I find it easy to miss my personal time with God. Added to which I’m not in meetings or leading services, or ‘doing’ God-stuff… and so I can find that I don’t have the same structure to my daily relationship with God. And that’s doubly ironic, because the word holiday is derived from ‘Holy day’- a day when folk didn’t have to work because it was a saint’s day. In some churches there is a saint’s day every few weeks, in others they’re barely remembered… but most of us now have personal holiday that adds up to 4-5 weeks each year or more… and in our personal holiday, have we forgotten about being holy?

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I know that in the last few days I’ve sat by a fire and watched the sunset, I’ve marvelled at the shine of water on a pebble beach, I’ve looked on as my children play together… and given thanks for those things. (and yes, I’ve sat in a traffic jam, struggled through a diversion, put up a tent with tired helpers, worried about car-sick little ones and survived temper tantrums… life has been real still).

So are my holidays my holy days? I guess the test for me is that I’ve still been talking with God, and have taken some time each day to at least touch base with Scripture, and have been loving being in the world whilst being conscious of the One who made it. If I forget who’s child I am, or forget who’s world I’m in, that’s when I’m going in the wrong direction.

Did Jesus take holidays? He took time out from his healing and teaching the crowds- to spend time with his closer friends, and to spend time with his Father, but he didn’t go off to exotic locations to do so- a hill, the side of a lake. For him, and for us when we stop and think, its not about the location, or even really about the experience, but about the people we are with- the relationships that are fed and deepened through time together. Sure, it’s wonderful to say ‘that’s where we…’ or ‘do you remember…’ about particular places and times, but it is the truth that what makes those things significant is being able to say that to those people who’re part of our lives.

 

How should we pray? Or, ‘How shouldn’t we pray?’

When you pray, pray like this… Jesus told his followers; and then proceeded to break most of the rules that they’d been brought up with for prayer…

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When you pray, address the God of all creation as you would your own father- with that level of love and intimacy… (in another passage Jesus says to his friends that they can call God ‘daddy’ when they pray…)

When you pray, remember also that God is the Lord of all things, sovereign in heaven, and that you are asking his rule on earth to grow through your prayers.

When you pray, remember to include your own life- the simple things like bread, the things you’ve done wrong and those who’ve wronged you… the Lord God knows and cares about such things.

When you pray, ask for help in the things you’ll face, deliverance from the challenges that will come against you.

When you pray, expect that God will hear, and will answer, and will do so because of his love for you rather than your amazing prayers or righteousness.

When you pray, don’t be all ‘ooh, look at me’, you might head off into the shed, or go for a walk, or pray in church… but don’t hog the spotlight and make it all about you- those prayers won’t be answered.

When you pray, put time into it- quality time, just you and the Father, but if something comes up that you need to do- healing or serving others, don’t turn them away for your prayertime… that’s that whole overholy thing.

Oh, and as for how to pray, which words to use in particular, or whether to pray out loud, the importance of tongues, formal liturgy, whether you can smile while praying… Jesus didn’t say a word about any of them.

If I’m in a corner, which way will I jump?

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I like to think I have integrity- I know how to spell it, I know what it means (or at least I think so), and someone once said they thought I had it… but I don’t know for sure.

There are times when I fade under pressure, keep quiet to blend in, don’t say things for fear of upsetting folk… and in your heart you tell yourself its wisdom, its building relationship for future opportunities, and all that, but there’s another voice saying ‘but were you true to yourself- do you still have integrity?’

I’m not talking about major things (like, say, telling everyone you won’t call a general election and then changing your mind (sorry, no more politics for the rest of the post), or cheating on taxes, lying to friends or whatever), but the difficulty I face with little things makes me worry- what if I ever faced a biggie… how would I respond?

Acts chapter 4, if you’re not familiar with it, has Peter and John (that’s Peter the guy who denied knowing who Jesus was, remember?), pulled in front of the religious authorities (that’s the guys who got Jesus killed, remember?) and told in no uncertain terms to shut up talking about Jesus… or else. And their reply is pure gold- ‘Judge for yourselves, whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.’  in other words ‘You guys, the religious leaders, help us out here- what would you do? We can’t help ourselves’… Boom! Take that Mr High Priest and your assorted cronies… But the big question it raises for me is, how would I speak in their shoes? Would I be like them, confidently taking on the authorities because I know I have God in my corner? Or would I back away, intending to lay low and spread the message subtly, or at least telling myself that? I know what I’d like to do, and I hope I’d be able to, but…

The truth is, I just don’t know. And part of me is afraid to find out.

(If you’ve reached this point and are still wondering about the image at the top- it has nothing to do with Peter, John, the book of Acts, or integrity in particular, but is the album cover of a band I quite liked in the early 90’s- I saw them supporting the Charlatans when I was at school, and then a few years later on their final tour saw them again with a band called Oasis as their support act…)

The Essential Question- So, what shall we do?

It’s easy to see a problem and say ‘We have to do something!’. It’s even easier to say ‘You do something!’. But it takes something more to say ‘what shall we do?’ We might think that is abdicating responsibility- after all, if I’m asking the question, then I’m not taking the initiative myself, unless of course that is precisely the first move that is needed…

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Often I’m tempted to charge into a situation and try the first thing that comes to mind, but gradually, through painful experience, I’m learning that may not be the ideal, and so I’m discovering that asking questions like ‘what shall we do?’ help me to make the right decision. In first aid and medical care this is called triage- figuring out who/what to treat first, to get the best outcome for a patient/department etc- the classic I was taught was to make sure I’m not distracted by the sprained wrist that’s producing a lot of noise and risk missing the bleeding that is far more serious.

What shall we do? In the specific instance I’m referring to this phrase is used by someone in a crowd, responding to Peter on the day of Pentecost… he’s been accused of drunkenness and has defended the disciples, turning his defence into an accusation that the crowd bear a shared responsibility for the death of Jesus, who God has raised to life, and that this Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah… It’s one of those moments where things could have gone very wrong- 7 weeks before a similar crowd did cry for Jesus to die, and at other times in the book of Acts we will see the crowd aren’t so friendly, but as I read this passage (Acts chapter 2, this comes in verse 37), I imagine a silence falling, and then one voice, followed maybe by others, calling out ‘what shall we do?’

When someone asks you that question, there’s a pressure, and a responsibility- ok, I have to get this right, which is a bit scary… Peter, fortunately for him, has recently had his training refreshed- the last thing Matthew records Jesus saying in his Gospel is that the disciples should ‘go and make disciples of all nations- baptising them…and teaching them… (you can find this in Matthew 28 verse 19)… so, maybe after a panic-stricken millisecond, he responds ‘repent, be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ, every one of you’- in other words, if you’re seriously asking, then let’s do the thing, let’s take this seriously.

And they do.

That’s the second scary thing- what if someone does take my answer seriously? The good news in this context, and wherever we’re talking about faith, is that the next bit really isn’t my responsibility- its between an individual and God- they ask me what do they need to do, I say repent and believe, be baptised, they say ok… It’s not me they’re believing in, it’s not me they’re asking to forgive them, they don’t get baptised in my name. Which is a huge relief!

Of course, the question ‘what shall we do?’ doesn’t just apply to a response to the Gospel, and it isn’t simply a question about plans for Saturday night either. There is a genuine, huge question of ‘what shall we do?’ that faces us every day- what shall we do about the destruction of the environment that is leading to climate change (according to most everyone but the Trump), what shall we do about the refugee crisis, what shall we do about the homeless in our town, the poor in our street, the broken relationship in our family, the habits of our mind. What shall we do about the election, the health service, the corruption and apathy that litter our communities?

I guess we have to start by doing something… registering to vote, and voting… voting for a candidate (and ideally a party) that you believe can and will make a difference. Maybe making some decisions about your habits of shopping and how you use your time. Maybe giving up something to help someone else. Right now, because I don’t know your circumstance, I can’t tell you the answer, but if you sit in front of a mirror you’ll probably see someone who can; they just might be afraid of the responsibility.

The Essential Question… How can I make a difference…

For the last few years a number of us in our churches have been reading through a book together- not quite a book club, but just a bunch of people reading the same thing at the same time. This year we’re looking at ‘The Essential Question’- a book by Whitney Kuniholm which takes us through the book of Acts in 50 readings. It’s looking at the question of how can I make a difference for God in my life, and over the next 10 weeks we’ll be having some talks based on passages from Acts, and I’ll be posting occasionally on bits that I’ve been reading.

Image result for whitney kuniholm essential question

Today we’re right at the start- Chapter 1… in the first reading yesterday there was the account of Jesus leaving his disciples, ascending to be with the Father- its one of those things that our imagination (with some help from Star Trek or wherever else) tries to help us with… but of more importance is what is said- he tells them to wait, and he tells them to pray, and he tells them they will receive the Holy Spirit, and he tells them they will do great things in many places.

If someone ever tries to tell you how great you’re going to become at something, there is something within us (certainly in me) that doubts, that puts your head down and says ‘yeah sure, whatever’… but I guess if that same person has healed the sick, raised the dead, fed the hungry, risen from the dead themselves (oh, after telling you in advance that they’d be killed and rise again), and then proceeds to teleport/fly/ascend/whatever, you have to wonder that they might know something more than you do.

But you still have to trust.

And trusting is hard, especially when it involves waiting.

But that is the first thing the disciples have to do, and us if we’re going to try to learn from their experiences of how to live and make a difference for God. If you want to make a difference, first of all trust, and wait.

It’s December!! On feeling cheesed off and excited at the same time…

Ok, so please don’t hear this as a Scrooge rant… and please please don’t hear this as anything like a ‘how can you celebrate this early?’ post… So just to make sure this is heard: CHRISTMAS IS AMAZING!! I AM ALREADY BEGINNING TO CELEBRATE!! IN FACT I CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR!!

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But at this time we do some more obvious things… Advent calendars are out- check, Advent candle is on the table- check, planning Christmas services has started- check (no, its not finished yet, at last count I am involved in 17 events…), yes yes yes, however…

I’m wondering at how far we’ve gone from the origins of Christmas- whether you go into the Christian origins (celebrating the birth of Jesus as the ultimate expression of God’s love for humanity and the restoration of relationship between God and humanity that it demonstrates and brought about) or the non-Christian origins (in the middle of winter at the passing of the solstice its good to celebrate with hope that there will be a lightening after the darkest days- with varying levels of spiritual or pragmatic aspects)…

But I don’t see in any of those the celebration of antlerfest that many decorations have become, or the recent fascination with elfonashelf that seems to have grown in the last few years… The commercial side of Christmas I can understand- shops are about selling stuff, and selling presents is a good angle, but, it just feels a bit too much.

Its as though we’ve spent so long assuming that we all know and get the basic premise- gifts as an expression of love, seeing family and friends as an expression of relationship etc that we don’t need to mention those things, and aren’t actually showing them anymore…

Its a lot of little things, but they add up- just one example- you can still buy ‘proper’ Christmas cards (but the fact that you know what I mean is revealing), but all of the Christmas cards that are to do with the birth of Jesus that I’ve seen are either lame, or badly designed, or just far too serious. I want to give people cool, celebratory, exciting cards that are more WOOHOO! than a card with a snowman or a comedy reindeer gag… but no one makes them…

So my bit is this- I’m going to celebrate, I’m not going to be snarky (from now on), and I’m going to do my best to make sure I say, demonstrate and party in a way that makes sure everyone around me knows what Christmas means to me, and invite them to join in the celebration.

Anger, fear and #postrefracism well its #notinmyname

I’ve been lost for words at times since Friday morning, and those who know me well will know that is possibly the best thing that has come out of the referendum if you were a remain voter.

I am shocked by the result, deeply saddened that neither the remain or leave campaign seem to have had a plan for what they would do in the event of a narrow leave vote, upset by the finger pointing and accusations made towards individuals who voted as their heads and hearts led them, and utterly appalled by the racist attacks and abuse that have been reported.

I’m white, British, middle-class, middle-aged and I’m not a racist. Anyone who lives in this country is welcome to live near me, to work with me, to build community with me. I don’t care which football team, which religion or which political party you support. But discriminating against someone based on their background, religion, sexuality or skin colour is wrong- so how do I build community with those who disagree with me about that? If I’m supposed to be tolerant and respectful of others, does that mean I have to tolerate and respect the abuse of people simply because they have a different native language?

The first thing to do is recognise that racial abuse is happening, and its happening a lot more since the referendum than before. That is just reality. This is not about refugees being welcome or not, this is people who’ve lived in the UK for years, who’re citizens and residents, holidaymakers and tourists. People living in their home towns are experiencing racial abuse that they weren’t experiencing last week, last month or last year.

The second thing I’m doing is reassuring everyone I know that I welcome them- that they are safe with me. I’m not pretending to be Superman, but I’m not claiming to be from a race of Supermen (or Ubermensch, if we’re still allowed to use foreign words after last week). Racism, when it happens, is not something I support, approve of or agree with- it is not done in my name.

I’m still trying to work out what step 3 is, and would be grateful of advice. In trying to work it out I’m mulling over whether reconciliation is actually the way forwards, or whether we need to go into this- do we need a bandage or surgery at this point?

A friend of mine blogged this today on shinyheadedprophet here– its really worth reading. In the meantime I hope and pray that you don’t experience any abuse, and that you’re able to reduce the levels of fear and anger in those around you.

I have not blogged for a while … and not really said much publicly about Thursdays elections.

It seems argument after argument is still coming on social media. I, along with many others, was indirectly told to stop posting stuff in a generic ‘stop whinging’ type post and grow up … only to then receive in my news feed from the same ‘stop whinging’ people post after post of silly stuff like ‘if England lose the match on Monday night can we play again if we don’t like the result’.

So remainers are not allowed to whinge, but outers can post ridiculing posts. Why draw attention to this … ?
Someone recently, well on the actual morning of the vote result, reminded me that I am a priest and that I needed to be about reconciliation. I also had scripture quoted at me but no response when I gave counter scripture showing ‘anger’ was ok, particularly righteous anger.

I do believe the country needs reconciliation … and I do believe as a priest I should help that in my community … but at the moment I can not.
At the moment I am still angry …. not at those who voted out because we are in a  democracy and we all have a  right to opinion and are free to vote as we choose.
I am angry over how people are being treated.

On Friday I spoke to three dear friends who were crying over the vote. Crying because  this vote has dramatically changed their lives.
I am angry because I know of teachers who have had to comfort children in their classes who have heard that they are no longer welcome here in the UK.
I am angry over how the vote has been an excuse to gang up on individuals who are trying to cause change for the better.
I am angry over the countless stories of violence towards people in this country since the vote outlined here.
I am angry because decent humans who felt this was their home last week now feel homeless, unwanted and scared.
I am angry … and that is ok for the time being!
Please stop telling me to be involved in reconciliation … that will come … but first …something more needs to happen.

Before reconciliation these things, the divisions we have tried to ignore, our opinions …. everything we value about our lives and how we live together as decent human beings needs to be talked about. Things need to be expressed and heard.

I could ramble but my now retired Suffragen Bishop (when I was in Rochester Diocese) , Bishop Brian, writes so much better here …. a great article from an amazing man and one that we should read and take to heart of we really want to move forward.

A brief call… from Thomas the tank engine

Yesterday morning at our all-ages service we were thinking about how Jesus used stories really powerfully to engage with people of all ages and backgrounds, and we used the themes and imagery of the Thomas stories (originally written by a vicar for his children) to help us with our thinking… led by the fat controller after he’d been to weightwatchers we thought about what rules and regulations we need to avoid ‘chaos and confusion’ and to help us all to be ‘really useful engines’…

Earlier in the morning at our 8am service I’d been reflecting on the passage at the start of Paul’s letter to the Galatian church where he writes about his own background- he gives his biography in order to establish, to a degree, his credentials. The only problem is that he basically says ‘no one recommended me- not the apostles, not the other Christians… they just knew me as the man who was trying to destroy the churches…’ but then goes on to say (and I paraphrase brutally) that he was called by God and given the gospel by God… so we were thinking about the call that God gave to Paul, and the call that God makes to each of us… not to be apostles to south Turkey and Syria, though that’s possible and very much needed, but to be us- God calls each of us to be ourselves, in the places where we are, with the gifts and network of friends that we have…  And the fact of our faith- that some of us believe in God while others don’t, is the first evidence of our response to that call…

So the questions we are faced by are whether we recognise that we’re called (or to use the language of our all ages service, that we’re one of the Engines), and if we recognise that in principle, then what does it mean in practice… how will we be Useful?

Volcanoes and radiators- life as usual

Easter… It was two weeks ago now, and since then there’s been school holidays, church annual meetings, a family wedding, a funeral, a trip to the beach… and life carries on.

And that is the problem- somehow or other the events of Easter, which we proclaim as life universe changing don’t seem to always have an impact on the life that we live every day. Or maybe I’m looking too hard? Maybe I’m looking for volcanic eruptions of faith when in fact all around me are radiators. I want to see explosions and bangs and new islands appearing in the sea, but I’m missing out on the gradual warmth that brings life and support. And which is better?

I’m a big fan of enthusiasm, passion and commitment, but in order for commitment to endure it has to, well, last- it has to be more than a flash in the pan. And sometimes enthusiasm and passion, for all their noise and excitement just don’t, well, last. But equally low level commitment doesn’t always engage- it doesn’t get things going. Both are needed. The question is ‘which one needs to have priority in my life at the moment?’ Is today a persevering day or a partying day?

Have a think for yourself, have a look at your situation, have a pray about it, have a chat with someone you trust… and then act on it- because the one thing I’m sure of, is that today is a day for something rather than nothing.