Can we all breathe yet?

It is a number of weeks since I have posted anything here, but the time is right to reflect on the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in the United States.

As we all know, George Floyd, a black man, died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for many minutes, during which time George pleaded that he could not breathe. It was all caught on camera, as a good number of similar incidents have been in recent years, highlighting the violent abuse of power to which the black population of the United States are disproportionately subject.

Many have protested in cities all across America and indeed the world, including our own country. Racism is as widespread as the coronavirus, and has been deadly for much longer. While many of us are looking for the light at the end of the tunnel of the current pandemic – a time when we can live free and breathe easy – the constricting and dangerous evil of racism will not pass so quickly. It has been centuries in the making, and has become endemic.

The history and outworking of racism in the United Kingdom is certainly somewhat different to how things are in the United States. For them plantations, the Civil War and civil rights are key concepts. For us the transatlantic slave trade, Empire and the Windrush generation give a local shape to this global evil. But the underlying issues are the same – a blasphemous disregard for the dignity of others made in the image of God.

So how do we respond?

I made a small contribution to a response of solidarity by Baptist ministers in the UK, but that was easy.

Leaders in all four denominations to which Cambourne Church belongs have issued statements of solidarity. Black lives matter. But such statements alone fall short of what is required.

A phrase I first heard several years ago seems apposite. “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” It was from the lips of an Australian general seeking to root out bullying and sexism in the Australian army, but the principles are the same. Ignoring racism and silence about oppression do not amount to neutrality. Until we can all breathe easy, none of us can. This is not a black problem. It is a human problem, which impacts disproportionately on black, Asian and minority ethnic people.

We must not just avoid racism, we must call it out and oppose it.

Creativity unleashed

One positive outcome of the current lockdown is the unleashing of creativity. Yesterday an online quiz night, and this evening a piano concert whilst wearing a kilt – not me I hasten to add. Both raising funds for good causes, and both nurturing community in our online world.

Carnegie of Skibo Tartan

We start devising and practising new ways of doing things when the old ways won’t work. Maybe we should not need adversity to press us into exploring new terrain, but often we do.

We meet at last … virtually

One rather pleasing outcome of the lockdown has been that I have met new people. Strange, but true!

During this period I have engaged with a Sunday evening Zoom “happy hour” meeting of Baptist ministers from across the country – most of whom I have never met in person. I have taken part in a prayer meeting of the Friends of Ffald-y-Brenin – the Pembrokeshire retreat house where I have stayed and which I support, but which is too distant for frequent visits. And last night I met for prayer and conversation with a handful of friends and one person I did not know, all of whom share a connection with the Door Trust – a Christian Centre on the Isle of Mull.

We are distanced from one another in many ways, but we are also connecting in new ways. This is not only a time of loss and disconnection. It is also a time of fresh ideas and new connections.

Signs of Hope

We are now in the season of Easter – celebrating resurrection and glorious new life. Because Easter is always in Springtime (in the Northern hemisphere, at least) the language and imagery of Spring and the language and imagery of Resurrection have often become entwined. Lambs and daffodils … as well as an empty tomb.

This has never sat very easily with me. It is wonderful to see the signs of new life in nature around us, but the Easter message is of life coming when you least expect it – not when you most expect it. There is nothing natural about the message of Easter. A Springtime walk through a cemetery may be enlivened by blooms and birdsong, but an empty grave and a raised body are in a very different league and elicit a very different reaction!

And yet on my walk beside Lake Ewart today I was surprised at the way my heart was warmed and at the hope that rose within me when I saw two swans on the water where in recent days there has only been one. A sign of Spring. A sign of hope. It may not be the Easter message of God turning nature and history upside down, but it is a wonderful sign of life in the midst of our walk in the shadow of death.

Too Proud to Ask?

I had an interesting conversation this afternoon with one of the coordinators of the Cambourne Volunteer Task Force.

He has been collecting and delivering prescriptions across Cambourne. In fact dealing with prescriptions has become the most significant task undertaken by the volunteer task force in recent days. But often he has suspected when delivering the medicines that there has been a need for food as well … but that people were too proud to ask for or accept a food parcel.

We talked together for a while about how difficult it can be for people to receive the help they need because pride gets in the way, Being too proud to ask for or to receive a free gift is the same problem that some people have in accepting the gospel.

Is this part of what Jesus meant when he said: “Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”? It is, after all, a rare child who is too proud to receive a free gift!

Love Streaming

Over recent days there has been lots of talk about “live streaming” as churches and others have started conducting meetings and broadcasting live content over the internet.

A thought-provoking typo recently wrote about “love streaming” instead. That made me think that if what we, as Christians, are doing on the internet is not expressing love then, to quote the apostle Paul, we are nothing and we gain nothing (1 Corinthians 13 v.2-3).

The technical hardware and software, which help us to keep connected and communicating while staying within our homes, are nothing if they are not used as channels for expressing love.

Let’s keep love-streaming!

Eating Together

One helpful idea I heard about today was of a family who agreed a time for a meal together with their isolated neighbour. They obviously could not gather around the same table, but propped an iPad at one end and the neighbour ate her food and joined in the conversation with the family through that online connection.

A simple and effective way of being neighbourly. An invitation to share in a virtual meal together!

Be like Tom

A minister friend of mine in another part of the country wrote this in a Facebook group to which I belong. I am deeply touched reading about Tom – an old man willing to serve in new ways:

Last week I wrote about our oldest member Tom who is just short of his 101st birthday. When I told him that the church couldn’t meet for the time being, he said, “Is there anything I can do because I will have extra time on my hands.” I gave him the task of writing short thoughts which I would type up and share in various ways.
Here is the first of Tom’s short meditations:

The intensity of the Corona-virus, rapidly spreading across the world, is a new experience for us. It affects each of us, so now we are in “Lockdown,” and even families cannot socialise with each other.

Crises like this, bring out the worst or best in people. Stores and suppliers are under pressure. Panic buying creates more stress.
On Saturday my daughter obtained some food items for me and watched the ugly side of panic buying; customers were fighting and screaming at each other. She managed to get me the last loaf of bread. Shopping like that causes fear and distress.

On Saturday, thankfully, I saw the better side. Later in the evening, I saw on my doormat what I thought was junk mail. I picked it up and it was a note from two strangers, who were going to be my near neighbours in a few weeks. They knew I may find it difficult to get groceries, so they gave me their telephone number with the offer of help if I needed it.

Epidemics seem out of place to us, but similar accounts are found in the Gospels.

“Sadly lepers were ostracised, denied socialising or any contact with their families. “PANIC BUYING,” was carried out by locusts, by stripping bare farmers’ crops, thus threatening their livelihood.

God was with His people in such dire conditions, and still is with us, if He can count on us to be agents of His Grace and loving care.”

… and a second meditation from Tom has just arrived.

SEEING IS BELIEVING

A causal thought may convince you that this is true e.g. if you possess an item you don’t need faith because it is right in front of you.

In our present circumstances this saying is promptly challenged. We take for granted things we cannot see and here are some:

  1. We get up each day carry out our daily routines without a thought. Did you see the air you breathe? Can it be true if you did not see it?
  2. You are walking in the face of a full force gale, the wind so strong you could lean on it. You can’t see the wind so is that an expensive fantasy?
  3. Where would we be without electricity? Can you see it? No, you can’t! BUT you can see and feel the impact of it
  4. Consider the virus which affects each one of us. This invisible killer can decimate thousands in a few days. You could be the next victim.Would that change your mind?

Could it be that because you cannot see God He is not real? So you do not believe. True you cannot see God, but we have His Spirit through Jesus and He cannot be seen – yet is very potent. You ignore God and the virus at your peril. Don’t ignore Him and reject His wonderful relationship, which you can share.

A Smile on my Face

Well done to one of the church home groups! Amid all the difficulties, it was a real encouragement to hear how one home group has chosen to face this challenge together and with God.

They are making sure that they stay connected, even though they cannot meet, and that they are being supportive of one another. I also hear that they have decided to read the same daily devotional as one another during this period of separation so that they can feel spiritually connected and can talk together through social media about what they have been reading.

Well done! You have brought a smile to my face.

This is what church looks like in these difficult days!

The Volunteer Task Force

Outside the window of the church office this morning I see people setting up for the next stage of activity for Cambourne’s Volunteer Task Force (VTF) being coordinated through Cambourne Crescent. A leaflet delivery to every home.

Have you yet registered as a volunteer? Food deliveries, telephone calls to those who are isolated, administration … different skills and tasks.

The way of registering your interest and availability is by emailing info@cambournecrescent.org .