Helicopters overhead!

The sound of rotors.

Over the last three weeks, the characteristic noise from the skies has been the sound of helicopters above. Living in Glasgow, where COP26 has been held, the security for the conference on climate justice has involved so many, with every precaution taken to keep people safe.

I have read some of the papers about climate justice, but wanted to understand more, so I went to Glasgow Green last Saturday to hear the speakers, and to get a better sense of what they key issues are, and what we can do. I seem to learn better in person, than just by reading.

Vanessa Nakate

The street protest in Glasgow involved over 100,000 people even in the pouring rain and strong winds. At Glasgow Green there was a great variety of speakers from many different organisations. One of the most powerful was Vanessa Nakate from Uganda. She spoke about the devastation happening in Uganda from uncharacteristic storms, and the impact on the global south from changing weather patterns. Another speaker from the Marshall Islands spoke of her concern than unless global warming is kept to 1.5 degrees, that these islands will become completely submerged by rising sea levels, possibly in the next 20 years. Hearing the stories of these speakers, and many others, brought the urgency of climate justice home.

There is so much to be done. We can lobby our governments to keep the promises they make on emissions, forestation and climate initiatives. We can pray for governments and international corporations to put ethical environmental concerns before profits. We can campaign for educational initiatives to inform and to inspire change.

I have also been challenged about how I live each day. Can I use refillable products from shops like Locovare, to reduce plastic waste? Can I use locally produced products more? Can I lead a simpler life, buying less, using my car less often, perhaps eating less red meat? So many questions. I have started, even just a few wee steps to change, and I guess if we all start, then this is how we make progress.

I remember the opening words of psalm 19: ‘ the heavens are telling of the glory of God, the heavens declare the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech, night after night reveals knowledge’

We have been called to be good stewards of this gorgeous planet, with such rich and diverse ecosystems, and gorgeous colours and forms. There is enough for everyone, if we are willing to be less greedy, and to share well. Are we willing?

Gracious God, You have created the heavens and the earth, and they tell of Your glory and goodness every day. But we the people of the earth mine, destroy and exploit the resources of this earth, to make money, to wield power, to exploit those who live on the edges. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us. Holy spirit burn away our disinterest and complacency, and grant us tender hearts, which care, and desire to be thoughtful stewards of this earth and her people. Give us self discipline to live differently, courage to change, and inspiration to make a difference, Amen.

Anger and advocacy!

Let’s be angry!

At times in today’s world, the danger is that we can feel a little numb, a little detached. Sometimes however, we can allow ourselves to feel- to hear another person’s story, and in our imagination to feel we are going through it with them, and to identify with their emotions. It could be listening to the person on the train, or a magazine article, some words from the family next door, or a person on the other side of the globe.

Some stories are about people who have overcome, who are settled and at peace, and we are thankful for these. Other people are in such pain and weariness, that it can be hard to listen. Just now, there seem to be so many stories of terror and loss-

The family in which some one has a disability, and whose support services have been cut because of the pandemic, people who have become more isolated and lost skills and confidence.

The prisoners, languishing in prison, although they have done nothing wrong – people like the Chinese Christian Gao Zhisheng, whose work as a human rights lawyer has resulted in him disappearing in 2017, and he has not been seen since.

And we think of the terrified in Afghanistan, as the Taliban reassert control, the cries of the vulnerable, of women and children fleeing from.rhe brutality and lawlessness of their rule.

How do we respond to these heartbreaking situations. Well maybe, just maybe, we should be angry! We should be angry that people with disabilities and mental health issues seem to be at the bottom of the pile in our society. We should be indignant that human rights lawyers, who courageously speak out for others, can disappear with so many people turning a blind eye. We should be furious that in so many lands, the rights of women and children are non existent.

To be healthy, we cannot focus on all these issues all the time. However to pretend they are not happening, is not the answer either.

As we listen to the cries of these individuals, we should be angry that they suffer so much, and so many do so little. But hopefully it is not the kind of anger that breaks dishes, but rather the kind of anger that we ask God to channel into a constructive energy for advocacy and action.

In Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26, it says: ” in your anger, do not sin.” We are allowed to be angry- it is what we do with it that matters. Jesus Himself was angry- about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, or the greed of the money changers in the temple. So he spoke out against that which was wrong.

In Proverbs 31:8-9 it says: ‘ Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute’. Part of our calling as Christians, as human beings, is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or those who are not being listened to.

When we are touched by what has happened to some one, and have become indignant, whether it is the plight of the homeless, the story of the woman who has been human trafficked, or the lonely person in a hospital bed, may we channel these feelings of sadness and frustration into something good, to lobby for funding, for advocacy, for change. It might only be the words of a prayer, or writing to our MP, or giving to a charity, but every little helps.

Gracious God, we remember the roar of Aslan in C S Lewis’s novels, conveying the power and majesty of God. You are the God of justice, and You long for justice and fairness. Yet on this earth so many suffer- trauma, ill treatment, sexual exploitation and brutality. Forgive us for the times we turn away. Lord Jesus, help us be angry when another human being is treated without dignity or respect. And may your holy spirit helps us channel that anger wisely, to pray, to give, to be advocates for those on trouble. Give us energy to do this, and to be courageous in seeking to make this a more just world, Amen.

More bridges- bridges of connection.

All different kinds of connection!

I have been reflecting a lot recently on different ways to connect. In my last blog, I was thinking of the importance of listening and prayerfully making space, but there is so much more to connection.

There are qualities that make deeper connection more possible, openness, love, empathy, compassion. People have such different life experiences, incredibly varied ways of thinking, different priorities, that we need many ways of relating to others.

I was privileged to be a chaplain in a special educational needs school, and I learned so much about different types of communication, whether it was makaton, dancing or using all the senses. I loved it, and felt at home, as we were all being and learning together.

In this time of lockdown, I worry that so many are becoming isolated, and we are forgetting how to communicate. For many people they have lost their confidence, their ability to relate. And for people who have experienced trauma and sadness, this is intensified.

And so I think we need to build many types of bridges of love and connectivity. I have been reading about ‘trauma informed’ care often spoken about in education and in medical settings, about helping people to feel safe, to be gentle, to give options, to explain things well, to promote healing and empowerment.

When I hear of this, it seems as natural as breathing. Why haven’t we been doing this all the time? And what does it mean for our society, and also in a spiritual dimension. We talk of churches as places of sanctuary, places of safety and healing, but how often is this really the case?

As we start to think a little more about the future, how can we promote healing to a society stressed out and anxious after lockdown, traumatised by experiences of suffering and grief? We need to offer a wide variety of ways to enable people to connect and experience safety and love.

I started to think about many of these themes, because of my late husband’s ptsd symptoms and brain injury. And I think how we support individuals, and how we operate as a society, says so much about who we are. We have a choice to pursue divisive and negative rhetoric, or a language that uplifts and offers opportunity for safe self expression.

It says in 1 John 4:19 ‘we love because He first loved us.’ God revealed the full extent of His love in Jesus, how he challenged corruption, loved the person on the road side, healed the sick. How can we continue that kind of work today, as it has never seemed more important?

Let us pray, Gracious God, so many are tired and stressed, lonely and traumatised. Yet You look upon us with tender mercy, and long to pour out your healing balm. Forgive us Lord Jesus, that we are so rigid and narrow in our form of communication, where we often judge others, rather than appreciate their difference. Enlarge our minds and our hearts, through your holy spirit, to connect with others with empathy, with creativity, so we can build bridges of acceptance and love with others, Amen.

Building bridges not walls.

A beautiful bridge.

I have so enjoyed walking in the snow this week, noticing birds and squirrels and foxes. The park has been an extraordinary place of crisp snow, exquisite swirly patterns on bark, soft sunrises and a frozen pond. And every time I walk round, I pass a gorgeous wrought iron bridge, joining the land with a small island in the middle.

It has caused me to reflect on the importance of bridges in our society today. People seem to be so polarised in their opinions, whether about independence, the effects of Brexit, or about the best choices in a pandemic. Everyone seems to have a view, and they often seem to be strongly held, and loudly articulated. And people are so busy speaking, there seems little room to listen.

Listening is underrated however. Listening attentively to another human being can lead to new understanding and a fresh perspective. At the end of the time, people might still have different views, but someone perceived as an enemy could have become a friend. Listening, helps to remove walls of division and hatred, brick by brick, and allow bridges to be built in their place.

In the book of James chapter one verse 19b it says: ” everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak” and the transformative power of this teaching, if applied in our world, would be powerful. Before we spout forth, we should check our sources, listen carefully, and ask God what we should say. The checklist, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?, is a wise one to consult, before we even consider speaking. We all regret saying hasty words that have given offense to others.

In the New Testament, one of the great listeners is Barnabas- Son of Encouragement. He was one of those people who listened to God, who saw beyond the superficial, and brought people together. An example of this is in Acts chapter 9, where Saul has had his conversion experience on the Damascus road, but when he got to Jerusalem, the Christian community were suspicious about the genuineness of his conversion, and wondered if he was trying to trick them. It was Barnabas who spoke for Saul, and told of his story, so bonds of trust could be built, and Saul, or Paul as he became known, was welcomed into the Christian community, and went on to become one of their most feverent leaders and letter writers. If Barnabas had not intervened, then we might never have heard of Paul!

And so in today’s age, let’s not be part of the vitriolic rage and criticism of others, but rather be reasonable and fair in debate, looking for the best in people, weighing things carefully. Let us see behind empty and critical rhetoric, and have courage to listen to God, to discern the wisest course of speech and action, so that bridges of insight and understanding can be built, and a shared way ahead found.

Let us pray. Gracious God, You are perfect, holy, good, yet because of Jesus’ death on the cross, the one who sacrificed His life for us, You look upon us with grace and mercy. You have reconciled us to yourself in Christ, and then give to us the ministry of reconciliation. Forgive us when we look for the speck in another’s eye, whilst there is a log in ours. Give us calm hearts, that we might listen attentively to others, to appreciate their views, even when we differ. May your Holy spirit inspire a ministry of reconciliation through Your people, and in this world, so we might work together for peace and justice, so we might value and honour one another. In Jesus’ name, Amen.