Morning with Mr. Browne.

Jackson Browne

As I have mentioned before in these posts this ‘lockdown’ period is providing plenty of time to sort things out – photos, assorted papers, magazines that were kept for some sort of eventuality that never arose. In a box next to my desk are many such magazines, along with about 20 or so vinyl records that I have replaced with CD’s but kept because of their sentimental value (included here are several albums by Bruce Cockburn that I got from his management in Canada when he was a virtual unknown here!!). Among them are three records by Jackson Browne including his 1976 masterpiece ‘The Pretender’.

I have written before about this music (‘Jackson Browne and the lure of nostalgia’), but ‘The Pretender’ had such an impact on me this morning that I had to write something about it. I have celebrated the first track ‘The Fuse’ in that previous post, and to that I would add Lowell George’s slide playing on ‘You Bright Baby Blues’ (David Lindley is his usual revelatory self on this record as well, as on other key songs in this repertoire), the beautiful harp on ‘Linda Paloma’ (nice to see Van Dyke Parks get a mention here). The next three tracks (‘Here Come Those Tears Again’, ‘The Only Child’ and ‘Daddy’s Tune’) move up mixing bare emotions and hard won optimism. Here’s a sample of Browne’s words to the last track;

“Somewhere something went wrong/ Or maybe we forgot the song/ Make room for my forty – fives/ Along beside your seventy eights/ Nothing survives -/ But the way we live our lives”.

Those words always speak to me eloquently about my relationship to my own father and its ups and downs. The album closes out with two marvellous songs, the deep and dark reflection on loss ‘Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate’ and the title track ‘The Pretender’ which I always saw as a ‘rite of passage’ song, the narrator passing from the innocent optimism of the 1960’s (?) and the harder realities of everyday life;

“I want to know what became of the changes/ We waited for love to bring/ Were they only the fitful dreams/ Of some greater awakening”.

The song ends movingly with the narrator “struggling for the legal  tender” and seeking prayer for the inevitable surrender to the everyday. Perhaps it is a bit pessimistic but I have always seen hope in these words and a return to one of the abiding concerns of this writer; the importance and durability of love.

I can’t finish this without reference to my other favourite Jackson Browne songs. ‘The Rebel Jesus’ was originally recorded with The Chieftains and it appears on a 1997 ‘best of’. Despite what some say on the ‘web about this song I always find it incredibly moving, and the reference in the final verse to being on the side of the rebel Jesus reminds me of words attributed to Jesus in Mark’s gospel “whoever is not against us is for us”. Then there is the track that follows this on that ‘best of’; ‘The Next Voice You Hear’. This song is remarkable for its departure from Browne’s usual music, Jon Hassell’s trumpet and the loops combine to summon up a feel of the Middle East which I think perfectly complements the lyric;

“Gather your deeds and your possessions/ Whatever certainty you’ve known/ Forget your heroes/ You don’t really need those last few lessons/ Stand in the open/ The next voice you hear will be your own” 

Once again, I find myself returning to music I valued immensely when it was brand new and finding new and lasting resonances there. I read recently that Mr Browne has tested positively for the COVID 19 virus and is, in the term we have come to know, ‘self isolating’. This post comes with hope that he and the rest of us keep well and remember the important things in life, or as another singer has it (following the Bible) “strengthen the things that remain”.

Two Thoughts.

Living the moment to the fullest;

“Being patient is difficult. It is not just waiting until something  happens over which we have no control; the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict. Patience is not waiting passively until someone does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as though the real thing will happen tomorrow, later and somewhere else. Let’s be patient and trust that the treasure that you are looking for is hidden in the ground on which you stand”.

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“Often we want to be able to see into the future. We say “How will next year be for me?” Where will I be five or ten years from now?”. There are no answers to these questions. Mostly we have just enough light to take the next step: what we have to do in the coming hour, or the following day. The art of living is to enjoy what we can see and not complain about what remains in the dark. When we are able to take the next step with the trust that we will have enough light for the step that follows, we can walk though life with joy and be surprised at how far we go. Let’s rejoice in the little light we carry and not ask for the greater beam that would take the shadows away”.

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(These reflections come from Henri Nouwen’s anthology ‘ Bread for the Journey’ (Darton, Longman and Todd 1996)

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Watching the Parade (A Palm Sunday reflection).

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The world is always filled with disturbing images; warfare, famine, disease. Every day on television and in other visual media we see images of people who are fleeing some catastrophe or other, and the heart-breaking images of those who do not make it. Imagine how the families of those victims must be feeling. They are reduced to watching their loved ones in a place of great peril knowing that there is little they can do. Modern life often makes us to passive observers who watch everything from sport to surgery, from warfare to the latest fashion. In the strange world of daytime television it is even possible to observe people working out their most intimate problems before an invited audience. As the writer Neil Postman pointed out not that long ago in his book ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death – Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business’;

“[It] is not that television is entertaining but that it has made entertainment itself the natural format for the representation of all experience. […] The problem is not that television presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining” 

No matter how you feel about it television is a huge part of our lives (and even more so than in this time of self isolation!), and in a fascinating way the feast of Palm Sunday invites us, through the story in all four gospels to watch a man on a journey. So let’s switch on!

First, we watch Jesus making the familiar pilgrimage that devout Jews have always made. He is travelling to the holy city that is forever connected with the history and destiny of Israel. Every year Jerusalem would be full of pilgrims celebrating the release of the Jews from foreign dominance. But for Jesus this was a significant turning point in his life and Mark signals this in the way his story changes in intensity and drama. Jesus may well be doing something that all Jews do, but for him it is different.

Then we watch Jesus on the way to the Cross. He goes to challenge “the city of the great King” with his message of the coming Kingdom. This brings him into conflict with the authority which leads to his death. This account of the journey is permeated with the prophetic language of the Hebrew Scriptures. And notice the way that Jesus seems to have ‘orchestrated’ the event. For example many pilgrims would have walked respectfully in to the city. But Jesus rode on a donkey, an animal laden with the symbolism of peaceful royalty for any to see. Parable and prophecy combine to point out the messiah for all to see. The time for secrecy was now past and this lowly yet triumphant event reveals the purposes of God.

So we watch Jesus on his journey to Jerusalem, to the cross, and, finally, to glory. In the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians, the writer describes Jesus as “humbling himself, becoming obedient unto death”. But in a paradoxical way he was ‘glorified’ through it. Scripture reminds us that his injuries bring us healing. God establishes his way of doing things in the reality of death and the mystery of resurrection. In the fierce white light of his judgement he also provides the answer to that judgment. God in Christ establishes a kingship which is lowly and humble and which criticises notions of monarchy and power in the human sphere. This is an epic human journey which encompasses the mundane and transforms it into a channel for the grace of God.

Interestingly, this material is placed firmly in the context of imitating Jesus. In his letter to the Philippians (the epistle could be seen as a commentary on the entry into Jerusalem) the writer says “so you too, my friends”. We are to have the “same attitude” or the “same mind”. As the Revised English Bible has it we are to “take to heart among (y)ourselves that which (we) find in Christ Jesus”. In the words of one commentator; “We are to begin to think as Christ thinks” (Philippians 2; 5). So the story of the final journey of Jesus carries a message about the realities of discipleship. A book I return to regularly is ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ the classic by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I have been interested to discover that the German translation of the title is ‘Consequences’. It is about what happens when we decide to follow Jesus. In his name we are called to move from the familiar to that which will challenge and renew us. From Jerusalem to Calvary and beyond if you like. We too are called to experience acclaim and rejection and maybe even death in his company. It seems that Jesus could not have Palm Sunday without Good Friday and neither can we. Making any journey means that we take seriously the consequences of what we are doing. Travelling always means changing direction and consulting the ones who know the road! In a similar way travelling with Jesus means that many of our most cherished ideas will be challenged. Our pilgrimages are an echo of that greater journey with significance for us all. Jesus walked the way of the cross so that we could travel on clear roads free from interruption. He embraced the ultimate forgetfulness of violence and was vindicated and this brings us life and health. Christ’s journey of faith did not end with Calvary and if we have faith neither will ours.

It was Robert Louis Stevenson who said “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”. We travel hopefully because we know that Jesus is our companion on the road. We also know that no matter important the journey is one day we will arrive! Then, in the words of the apostle Paul “I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13; 13). Many of those people who crowded around Jesus on that first ‘Palm’ Sunday were carried along by the excitement of the day. They did not realise what they were saying or who they said it about.  Where are we standing as this Palm Sunday passes and the drama of Holy Week begins?  Are we just spectators, passive bystanders caught up in the joy and celebration but not really knowing what it is all about? Or are we on the road, joining Jesus on the journey of faith and imitating his way of travelling. As one commentator on this story has written “discipleship still means following the man on the donkey” for he is both the guide and the Way.

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(The readings I had in mind here are from Philippians 2 verses 5-11 and Mark 11 verses 1-11. The story of what is called ‘The Triumphal Entry’ appears in all four gospels. Read them one after the other and compare and contrast!)

 

 

 

 

Theology in a time of dis – ease?

There is something about this present crisis which seems to defeat our readiness to try to ‘explain’ everything. The daily ‘briefing’ programmes that appear regularly on the BBC here are, in my opinion, rapidly becoming superfluous as the crisis deepens and politicians in particular flounder around to try to ‘spin’ what is happening. Accusations fly around about people trying to make capital out of the misery and anxiety that is gripping large sections of the populations across the world. I think  that there are worrying signs that some politicians are using the crisis to suspend normal democratic processes or to pretend that this will all be sorted out in good time. I heard someone on the radio this morning talking about  a person they had spoken to who could not understand “why all the pubs are shut” – it seems like there are people out there who still haven’t got the message or heard the news!

But what about religions? Our normal wordy discourse has, in turn, been swamped by events, and it seems by cliche – I turned my radio off early this morning when I heard two eminent ministers sounding like ministers with the thought “why can’t they talk like normal people” for a change! As a minister I have used my fair share of words in my time – trusting that they have not been either cliched or hollow. I have tried to match my words to the situation to speak of comfort and solidarity in difficult times.

Whatever theology we do has to address where we are – and there is a real irony that, as someone said recently, this crisis will deepen (or reach its peak) at Easter. As a Christian I am called to do theology wherever I find myself, in a hospital bed, in a time of isolation, or when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. And I come back almost afresh to the conviction (not confined to Christianity) that God is mysteriously present particularly when the going gets tough.

One of my isolation tasks has been to sort out the plethora of paper that I accumulated over nearly thirty years of ministry – articles I thought I would need, notes for bible studies, all sorts of stuff, some of which I can now recycle. In an old notebook I came across a reference to some words in Psalm 66, the NRSV renders verses 10 to 12 like this;

“For you O God, have tested us;

you have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net;

you laid burdens on our backs;

you let people ride over our heads;

we went through fire and through water;

yet you have brought us out to a spacious place”

There is a real sense that the people here feel through the psalmist that he misfortunes that they have suffered have come as a punishment from God but that God has brought them out “to a spacious place”. This interesting phrase is rendered in a variety of ways in various translations but behind them all are the word ‘saturation’ (an obvious boon to people who live in the desert!), and ‘abundance’. In his translation Robert Alter has the phrase “You brought us out to great ease”. As I said in a previous post I am not convinced that God brought this virus on the world at this time, but God certainly promises to be amongst us as we deal with it and travel through it . The causes of this pandemic are probably legion, but maybe it could come down to the way that there is so much injustice in our otherwise prosperous societies, so many cases where people at the bottom of the heap become voiceless because meeting their needs does not fit into some political agenda or the needs of an elite. It could even be a basic lack of hygiene which in itself is a sign of the selfishness that doesn’t care for those who follow us!

But whatever happens, the evidence of scripture speaks of a God who is not afraid to travel with people and be seen amongst them when the burdens become too great and they long for answers. I found myself thinking over the last few days that if the churches were open would they be full of people who normally would not bother, who knows? Either way theology (or ‘words about God’) should never mask the injustice that comes from disobedience and selfishness, but neither should it forget to point to the God who is always at work to make all things new as the prophet Isaiah writes, or who, in the context of the praise song at hand, stands with people to bring them “out to great ease”, or to the place where those whose dryness has led nowhere feel a ‘saturation’ that brings new life.

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A Poem For Thomas Merton.

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‘Sing Ho’ for Tom Merton,

Solitary monk in rainbow robes –

Reaping revelation from open spaces

Untouched by the wind.

Words from life, compressed

Like gems from coal,

Born of the pressure of clouds and rain –

God’s restless neighbour

Translator of the poetry of His face.

 

However solitary this monk travelled,

Sometimes without moving at all,

No voice could still his voice –

Speaking with the power

Of hills and beloved earth.

Praying the spaces of his night office

Tuned to the nocturnal song,

Haloed with words and wires

He chose the stars for his habit.

 

Now His Eastern road is taken,

Stretching from Kentucky green

To sleeping statues of inscrutable stone –

The riches of a path long searched for

The deep poetry of stars and things –

The unsearchable grace of God suggested

In every moment of faith –

Reaching beyond tradition’s grasp

To find the Father in everything.

 

American jets fresh from a foreign war

Bear home a posthumous friend,

From the pathways of the Buddha,

and the shadow and the disguise –

To dusk light and aerodrome snow,

Too soon the world is short another hero,

Who sought to capture the eternal –

To utter in words the Word

From the jewelled depths of the telling.

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In one of his notebooks Merton wrote; “Well, it is poetry hour again. It is the moment of truth, the moment of effort. The unexpected word will suddenly be there with its new hat on. The unexpected sound wearing its dim little inarticulate fury and unable to be fitted in with the other children. But it is poetry hour and all must receive their due. Who knows but that the future will have to obey them”

(From ‘Words and Silence – On the Poetry of Thomas Merton’ by Therese Lentfoehr).

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I first wrote this poem in 1982 after reading some of Merton’s poems and his collected pieces in a book called ‘Love and Living’. I revised it in 1984 and 1990 and came back to it this Lent. I am not sure how good it is but it speaks of my exploration of this luminous intelligence and the great help his words gave to me in my own journey of faith. The photograph was on my study wall for many years, I like to think it captures Merton’s humour and vivacity.

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Sunday in Suburbia.

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In the United Kingdom the clocks have just gone forward and we are now in British Summer Time and here in Northern Ireland the weather has warmed up slightly. The chill is still there and the wind is too if it searches you out but a new sound is heard in the road and avenues around here. It is the sound of lawns being mowed and edges being strimmed – the smell of fresh cut grass fills the air, as do the sound of children playing in their back gardens – it is as if the slightly warmer weather and longer evenings have freed them from winter’s grip. Even though, as a nation, we are ‘social isolating’ it is possible to see people you have never seen before walking around, sometimes on their own or in family groups. Bikes appear and some parents pedal vigorously ahead to spur their children on to greater speed along the pavement or the road. It seems like everything is in motion, a delicious irony as we are supposed to be keeping ourselves to ourselves. With the cutting and the strimming and the shovelling it feels like the earth is being opened up to greet the warming sun.

One of the things we have got used to here is the morning and evening congregation of birds on rooftops, chimneys and telephone cables. They fill the sky with their voices as they gather together to move back to their roosts in the nearby forest. Those voices are loud and the birds obviously have a lot to say, their restless communication and seemingly random flight patterns tell of routine and freedom with each wing beat. Even though it looks like a type of aerial chaos they all seem to know where they are going, and how long it will take to get there!

Yesterday we walked on a long beach near here. In all seasons of the year this space can be filled with cars but yesterday it was empty of cars, no exhaust and no tyre tracks to follow. It felt unreal, and at the same time like a scene from any dystopian film from the last 50 years. Some say that the Covid 19 outbreak has seen nature recovering from our passage through it (although the chances are it will go unreported) – silent chimneys, empty skies, and a strange sort of peace. It feels unreal and makes me think of the ideas of James Lovelock (the proponent of the ‘Gaia’ hypothesis) who suggests that left to itself the earth will recover and that in a sense we are the problem.

Perhaps we can hope that whatever comes out of this will be a new appreciation for the world around us and less of an attitude that sees it as a resource to be exploited. A better stewardship of the earth. But for now there is the sabbath activity extended into the everyday, the noise of gardening implements and the cuttings gathered as diligently as possible in the light breeze and the possibility that economic activity for its own sake and at any cost is a thing of the past. Perhaps!!

What sort of God?

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As we enter the second week of isolation, or lockdown here in the United Kingdom I find myself wondering what people are doing with all this time. As for me I am reading more, discovering music I haven’t listened to in ages, walking in the forest and on the beaches (at least those that are still open!) and doing my best not to be anxious all the time!!

Last night we played a game with my daughter and her partner over the internet and while it was great to do it and see them it had the curious effect of magnifying the distance between us and the fact that we cannot be in the same space as them, or touch them. Talking to my son has the same effect, I value these conversations more than ever these days but I think that they are a double edged sword!

One thing I have looked for in vain is a measured theological exploration of what is happening. Perhaps, as Chairman Mao is supposed to have said, it is too soon to say how this will all shake down, yet religion (so often the problem!!) whilst not possessing any real answers, does have resources that are worth exploring. I read recently in an article on a Christian website the contention that God somehow ‘knew’ that this was going to happen, and remains in control; “I don’t know God’s plan and his purposes, but I do know that he has allowed this and foreknew this”. And  yet in the same article the interviewee spoke of the resources found in Christianity’s view of suffering; “We certainly have a theology of suffering — of redemptive suffering — and an understanding that this life is not all there is. And yet at the same time, we have a theology that calls us to reach out, and to do everything we can to support others who are in need, and to warn others about danger. So we have both of these in tension: we are willing to lay down our lives, knowing that they’re not our own, and yet at the same time, to stand up and try to protect others”.

Whilst I would not disagree with much of that, I find myself wondering about this notion that God is ‘in control’ of everything that happens, and what sort of God this conviction illustrates – obviously these are deep waters! It strikes me again and again that the only ‘control’ that God can exert comes from vulnerability and love. If the cross of Christ says anything it speaks of a profound lack of control and a divine vulnerability that takes my breath away! The article ends with this hopeful statement; “But I think we have to remember that God is good, he loves us and he is faithful.  We can cast all our cares and worries on him, because he cares for us. No matter what the future holds, whether this disease ends up causing a lot of destruction, or somehow a cure or vaccine are found quickly — as Christians, our hope and trust is in him”. 

It seems to me that this current crisis asks people of faith a difficult question; ‘What sort of God do you believe in?’. Nick Cave has a song on his album ‘The Boatman’s Call’ called ‘Into My Arms’ which begins with the line; “I don’t believe in an interventionist God/ But I know darling that you do”. I have believed for a long time that God sees multiple possibilities, takes human free will seriously and that Godself is always intervening. Christians speak of the Jesus story as a major intervention, as Charles Wesley put it so well in one of his beautiful hymns about the Incarnation;

“He laid his glory by,

He wrapped him in our clay;

Unmarked by human eye,

The latent Godhead lay;

Infant of days he here became,

And bore the mild Immanuel’s name”

But then, what about the countless acts of kindness that take place regardless of religious allegiance? These are happening all the time, and especially at this time of anxiety and crisis – and are a useful counter to some of the horrible selfishness it is impossible to ignore these days! Are these not interventions – perhaps not on the scale of the story of Jesus Christ – but they could be understood as flashes of grace that reveal the ‘everyday’ goodness of God and that Godself is right here with us, in the almost unmarked acts of kindness and grace that surround us all the time. And in the midst of our anxiety and sadness. A few posts ago I quoted the prophet Isaiah, and these words seem worth repeating for the truth about that they reveal;

“Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art Mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee…..For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour….Fear not; for I am with thee” (Isaiah 43; verses 1 -3, 5).

It is too soon to say how this crisis will work itself out, and what sort of world will remain. As for me I hope and pray it will make us more aware of the mystery of life, our stewardship of this good earth, and of the love that shapes and forms us, even when we are busy with a host of other things!

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(As with all my meanderings here this is very much a work in progress!! The Wesley hymn is ‘Let Earth and Heaven Combine’. The quotations come from an interview I read with a medical doctor called Lisa Gilbert on the ‘Journey with Jesus’ website). 

The Jester Sings Again!

“Now for ten years we’ve been on our own,

And moss grows fat on a rolling stone

But that’s now how it used to be,

When the jester sang for the king and queen

In a coat he borrowed from James Dean

And a voice that came from you and me”

Don McLean ‘American Pie’.

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about my frustration at Bob Dylan’s journey though The Great American Songbook – I loved the first of the records ‘Shadow in the Night’ but found the following two sets ‘Fallen Angels’ and the far too long ‘Triplicate’ too much. In the post I wondered how long it would be before Dylan was doing a season in Las Vegas, and I ended with the thought that he maybe had it him to surprise us again, and last night (around midnight I think) Dylan posted a new track on YouTube and his website – he describes it as a “song we recorded some time ago that you might find interesting”, a 17 minute meditation on the death of John Kennedy called ‘Murder Most Foul’ – I have listened to it a couple of times so far and it is an amazing piece of music – a long poem about Kennedy’s death and its cultural impact set to the backing of piano, violin, drums  and Dylan’s voice in remarkably good form – the images jostle together from Woodstock to Altamont, Dealey Plaza to the New Frontier, Parkland Hospital and Love Field, Jack Ruby, Lee Oswald and Lyndon Johnson being “sworn in at 2.38 (am)” – there are a lot of references to records too from blues to rock and roll, jazz, Shakespeare and even hymns, and of course Dylan’s own songs.

Of course I want to know who is playing the rolling piano (is it Dylan himself?), and the beautiful drums (which sound to me like Brian Blade?), there is so much about this song that I want to know, but all I can do is to wait for further light and keep listening. For it is a song that will repay repeated hearings, there are layers on layers of meaning here, and, well, he’s done it again, surprised us all with a song that is about the past but it also strikes a chord for these strange and difficult times. Dylan concludes his note to accompany the song with these words; “Stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you”.

And the same to you, you surprising jester!

 

Faith in Testing Times.

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There is a popular stereotype of the Christian believer that is all teeth and smiles and a relentless enthusiasm that believes it can save the world all alone. Then there is another where a person’s religious faith is an excuse to be an all-purpose wet blanket, judgemental of the world in general and people in particular. Then there are the ordinary believers seeking to understand a strange and hostile world in the light of the faith they have.

Sometimes this is simply a matter of a personality type exaggerated by the influence of religion yet all of us know people who belong to these groups. The pernicious influence of bad religion in all world faiths is plain for everyone to see – in itself the present health crisis can easily become an excuse for all sorts of toxic religious talk that no faith really gives licence for. We all know how people of all faiths lose their nerve and fall prey to harsh fundamentalism as they are tested by the times in which we live. For example what does the extreme violence we use in the name of God to solve our problems say about him? What do the appalling consequences of a natural disaster or the present health crisis say to those who believe God is in control of everything that happens in the world? What does religious faith say to those who must watch a loved one’s life ebb away through illness or senility? And what do we tell our children when the gospel of love that Jesus embodied becomes a license for genocide? These are uncomfortable questions without easy answers. Yet each of the types listed earlier on will have their answers to these questions. One may say “keep smiling, the Lord will provide!” Another will forcefully pronounce divine judgement on an evil world and while the ordinary Christian might search for value in both positions each may feel a little short changed by the whole experience.

Perhaps I am an ordinary, middle of the road believer because I know how easily relentless enthusiasm can pall when faith becomes demanding. I also know how easy it is to judge those around me without standing in their shoes for a while. But most of all I aspire to ordinariness because I believe that God is active in the ordinary world. I believe that Godself is working for shalom through all those of good heart however they name the ultimate. And I believe that whether I go through exhilarating joy or deep sadness those are the places where I must look for God’s compassionate love. Religion tells me God is there but discernment is a matter of faith. This is the faith – ful, wish – ful thinking that in my experience makes sense of the world. It also has the great virtue of pointing all of us to the One who is at work in many places and who speaks in many languages but who said to us in Jesus Christ; “I will never leave you or forsake you”.

Comforting Words for Testing Times.

Without stating the blindly obvious these are indeed testing times. Like many around me I decided to turn off the TV news and the various news feeds that pop up on my ‘phone and concentrate on something else. Also like others I have been turning to things like reading with renewed vigour. I think that these times are also testing for people of faith, raising deep questions about God’s purposes and human freewill. But wherever you look for solace, it is possible (like the chair in Waldemar Nowak’s photo) to feel very small in the face of the tide of present affairs. I was feeling a little like that when I came across this in Leslie Weatherhead’s little book ‘A Private House of Prayer’;

“Fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art Mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee…..For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour….Fear not; for I am with thee” (Isaiah 43; verses 1 -3, 5).

And this is Weatherhead’s comment to go with the reading; “God does not say, “I will excuse you from the waters; I will show you a shortcut by which you may escape the rivers”. If He did, what an insurance religion would be, and how men would rush to pay the premium of a spurious piety!

God does say, “In all the experiences through which you have to pass, I shall be there too.”

Thus shall even the experiences which cannot be called anything but evl, the experiences I have hated and from which I have shrunk, be woven into a pattern of good and made to serve the purposes of a holy, loving, wise, omnipotent God”. (The emphasis is mine).

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(I adapted the title of this post from the title of an album by saxophonist Joshua Redman called ‘Timeless Tales for Changing Times’. Leslie Weatherhead’s little book was published in 1958 and is worth seeking out. It is a bit old fashioned in some senses but is still an attractive book and, like Weatherhead’s many other books, full of insight, faith and wisdom).

Look after one another and stay well.