Friday, 22 October 2021

Everyday Faith

 

I enjoy belonging to a couple of Book Groups.  One is made up of Baptist Ministers and, truth to tell, we often discuss much more than the book!  The other is a church group here at AFC and we met this week to reflect on the book Pillars by Rachel Pieh Jones.


As is so often the case, we all gained something different from the book and its enlightening to hear the variety of responses that one text can elicit.  It’s rather like a family discussing their individual favourite parts of a shared meal! I loved the meat, but you preferred the vegetables!

Pillars tells the story of Rachel’s life, as a young American ex pat, living in the Horn of Africa in an Islamic culture.  At one point she writes: I’ve read that some Muslims see prayer not as an interruption to their lives but as a call back to what is real. Rachel constantly observed the integration of faith and life around her so that for her many Muslim friends there was never a compartmentalization of the two.

Maybe we are not so good at this in Christianity?

I regularly come across the idea that attending worship or being involved in service is difficult for folk to ‘fit in’ to their busy lives.  It betrays the idea that, in essence, Christianity is an interruption to the normal, not an integral part of it, and that is a betrayal of the whole-life understanding of faith and life advocated by Jesus.  Indeed, I think he would wholeheartedly approve of the idea that prayer is not an interruption to our life but a call back to what is real.

ps. Blog holiday next week

Friday, 15 October 2021

Experiencing Covid

 The last week has been somewhat unusual at The Manse as both of us have had Covid.  Maybe, because I’m married to a teacher, it was inevitable.  Once the symptoms appear (in my case a high temperature and cough), and having posted off the PCR test, it’s a surreal moment to be pinged, in the middle of the night, by the NHS with the positive result.  You look twice to make sure it’s your name on the communication, an electronic missive that tells you about the legally binding isolation which is now in front of you.


Over these days we have both become grateful for the many ‘little’ encouragements which have smoothed our path.  Everything from supportive messages of goodwill to one son’s girlfriend picking up the dog walking!  And I was touched that Erna offered to read my sermon last Sunday – it was an unusual experience to tune in to the recording and hear your own words spoken by a colleague – and spoken very well I may say!!

I was intrigued to hear the other day that if we collected all the Covid virus up, that is now prevalent throughout the world, it would fill just half of a can of Coca Cola!  Amazing that something so little has blighted so much of the last two years.  Wonderful too, that those two trips I made to a pharmacy in Northwood to have the injections have personally meant that come the time when I had Covid my inconvenience was just for a mere ten days.  I am profoundly grateful to those scientists who developed the vaccine, and I’m thrilled that at AFC we can show our gratitude through the October Mission Offering as we support raising funds for Developing World inoculations.

Friday, 8 October 2021

Gorillas and Caesars!

 I’ve been struck by two very different images this.


One is of a gorilla, photo bombing someone taking a selfie.  She is Ndakasi, a mountain gorilla and she is sharing the moment with one of her friends at the gorilla orphanage in Virungo, Africa’s oldest national park located in the Congo.

Ndakasi died this week, aged 14 years, in the arms of the ranger, Andre Bauma, who rescued her back in 2007 when she was just two months old.  He parents had been shot dead by poachers and ever since the ranger, Bauma and the gorilla, Ndakasi have had something which seems like a father and daughter bond.

It’s a charming photo.  This adopted gorilla is doing her best, we are told, to imitate the man taking the selfie.

Those two words: adoption and imitation, are ones we often use when it comes to faith.  We are, as it were, ‘adopted’ by a loving and welcoming God as his beloved.  We then spend a lifetime of discipleship seeking to imitate the example left us by The Lord Jesus Christ.  We want our lives, in some small way, to reflect His.

Well, if Ndakasi looks statuesque in this photo my second image is actually a statue.  A statue of Julius Caesar.

I was listening to the engaging historian, Dr Mary Beard on the radio introduce her new book detailing the lives of the first dozen Caesars.  She mentioned that the Romans occasionally changed the heads on their statues.  So, if a Caesar’s reputation went down hill after the statue was erected, as it did in the case of both Nero and Caligula, rather than throw the statue in the river, the Romans simply pulled off that head and put another one on instead.  An early example of re-cycling!  So, Julius Caesar’s head was put on a statue of Alexander the Great.  One reputation on the way up, the other on the way down.

In fact the Romans had an official way of re-defining someone’s memory and it was called Damnation Memoriae.  It needed a vote in the Senate, and it effectively ‘corrected’ their image by taking them down a peg or two.  This happened to no less than 26 emperors; however, we must also be aware that the Senate deified another 25!

One of the problems we seem to be having with statues is accommodating the notion that all human beings are blended characters of the good and the bad.  Whilst we understandably want to re-evaluate whether people from the past deserve a place of honour, the truth is that statues, if they are of people, will inevitably be of flawed individuals.  And just changing their heads, as the Romans did, is not really a practical option in the current debate.

This leads me to rejoicing that in real life, before we immortalise anyone in stone, all of us are capable of change.  Indeed, it’s a mark of our maturity that we continue to grow, expand our understanding, and broaden our horizons.  We are a work in progress, not yet the finished article.  God and I know my faults, and by His grace, we are working on them together.  At least it’s one way to keep you head!

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

How do you spell that?

 

Sunday’s Harvest Festival was fun!  It was a real delight to welcome families and children along to the Worship Together service and then have so many people take part.  The Chiltern Food Bank has written thanking us for some 86kg worth of food, and so far we’ve raised around £500 for Operation Agri.


So, it was a shame about the preacher – me!!  There I was doing a ‘spelling game’ up the front trying to get other words out of the word Creation.  I thought I survived till the car journey home when Rachel looked at me smiling and said, you know you can’t get ENTIRE out of CREATION – it’s got two e’s!  To have made that mistake so publicly is quite an embarrassment, even if I did admit to everyone at the start of the talk that I’ve always been bad speller.  Well, Q.E.D!

At moments like these I’m grateful for a generous and forgiving congregation.  In fact, I thought the whole atmosphere on Sunday, from listening to Diane’s insightful presentation on the Foodbank to watching that wonderful Junior Church video about our church shrubbery, from being led in the visual prayers by Erna to the strong lead offered us by the music group as we sang, was all about being a ‘family’ at worship, accepting each other’s offerings with gratitude.

So, in making my spelling mistake – I’m glad it was at AFC amongst good hearted friends.

See you next weak….I mean week!

Ian

Friday, 24 September 2021

Goodbye Summer!

Well, as I write this Blog the sun is shining; perhaps far more than it did in August!  Yet, there is no doubt we are once again on the cusp of the seasons changing.


Now the Autumn Equinox of Wednesday is behind us we begin that inevitable march to the year’s end.

It's significant that in church services and private prayer we often mark these ‘on the cusp’ moments.  In the Monastic offices of the day, Lauds is said as the dawn breaks and Vespers is prayed at dusk.  And this weekend at AFC we hold our Harvest Festival which, to me at least, is an annual marker that summer is over and the autumn beginning.

As I ponder all this it strikes me that in observing these ‘transitional’ moments we are re-affirming our faith in the God who has walked with us in the past and promises to take us in coming days.  Life has a momentum which is unstoppable, and our moments are usually anything but truly ‘settled’.  In a way, as we emerge from the Pandemic, gradually and cautiously, we are once again in another ‘on the cusp’ phase. 

The hymn we often sing at New Year has a refrain that seems equally appropriate as the seasons change: So, it’s from the old we travel to the new, keep me travelling along with you…

Friday, 17 September 2021

The Life behind the Words

 

This week it was my privilege to officiate at the funeral of a father of an AFC member. The tributes given in honour of this ‘gentle-man’ were touching and one has lingered with me. He would often encourage the family with the single word ‘steady’.  I am sure it would have been said when they were facing a complex decision or needed strength and courage to take certain actions.  Well, his grandson said in tribute to him, that now he often says that word to himself, ‘steady’, when he’s up against it.  The influence of his beloved grandpa lives on.


It does in my own life too. For my grandfather would often say ‘life isn’t a rehearsal’, meaning everyday was the ‘real thing’ and needs to be lived with energy and determination.  I often think of that, as I often think of him.

The point, I think, is this: we recall these words and phrases because they were matched with a life that authenticates them. Both the words and the life speak and validate each other.

I sense it is the same with the Lord Jesus Christ. His words speak truth to us and guide us, and his life inspires and motivates us.  The gospels brilliantly contain not just the SAYINGS of Jesus but also His STORY.  We are the beneficiaries of both.

Everyday Faith

  I enjoy belonging to a couple of Book Groups.   One is made up of Baptist Ministers and, truth to tell, we often discuss much more than th...