Covid-19 risk assessment

It is humorous enough that you want to read it, yet it still helps to remind you of the real dangers

I love this, popularised on Twitter by Alice Roberts. It is humorous enough that you want to read it, yet it still helps to remind you of the real dangers, and makes you think about the fact that some risks are greater than others.

Covid-19 risk assessment chart

Brilliant! Stay in the green where possible, everyone.

Elephant hawk moth

The caterpillar did something extraordinary – it mimicked a small snake

Have you ever seen an elephant hawk moth? If you live in Europe or Asia you might have spotted one of these amazing insects. In the United Kingdom they are fairly common, but perhaps not often seen. It’s a real treat to spot an adult or a caterpillar, both are amazing sights.

An elephant hawk moth male (credit: Wikipedia)
The circle marks the spot (credit OpenStreetmap)

Walking in the Cotswold Water Park recently, near the Gateway Centre on Lake 6, we spotted an elephant hawk moth caterpiller crossing the footpath (close to the grey circle in the map.

For a short time we just watched as it made its way across the path. But before it made it to the vegetation on the far side, some people appeared with a dog. The dog ran up enthusiastically to greet us and accidentally kicked the caterpiller before running off again. The caterpillar did something extraordinary – it mimicked a small snake.

Am I a caterpillar, or am I a snake?

The caterpillar crossing a stony path

For perhaps 20 seconds or so it writhed its body in a convincingly snakelike movement, and it pumped up several body segments behind the head, tucking its head down at the same time. With eye spot markings on its flanks, a scaly pattern on the entire body, and by raising up the front part of the body, it really did look the part. I wasn’t fast enough to get a photo, but I did get some video of the recovered caterpillar continuing on its way afterwards.

Searching the internet later, I found several good images of the caterpillar mimicking a small snake. Perhaps the best of these is show below.


The caterpillar looking very much like a snake (credit iSpot)

The natural world is so amazing, and so full of surprises, but mimicry is quite a common feature in both plants and animals. The European white dead-nettle has leaves that cannot sting but match the appearance of the unrelated stinging nettle very closely. Some insects look like pieces of wood, or a leaf, or a patch of white lichen, or a bird dropping. Many slugs look very much like animal droppings of various kinds, and as they move so slowly only an alert predator is likely to notice them. Predators, too, use camouflage which is not truly mimicry, but helps them merge into dappled sunshine and shade. Fish are often dark on top and silvery underneath. Sometimes they are patterned and look like the gravel bed of a stream or river.

Amazing!

See also:

Rethinking witness

Do we need to talk about Jesus or should we demonstrate his character?

Michael Frost

Michael Frost is a great communicator with excellent presentational skills. He expands our horizons by opening up the truth about church, evangelism, and living as followers of the one who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Michael speaks very clearly about whether we need evangelism or whether it’s better to focus on loving those around us. Should we tell people about Jesus or should we demonstrate his character by touching lives in practical ways? It’s a false dichotomy – we need both. But how does this work in practice? Few have explored this fully, so most of us need to hear it.

Michael’s message is as fresh and as necessary now as it was in 2015 when this video was made. Please don’t miss it!

New situation, new (old) ways

If meetings back then were small, informal, and participatory, could that become the norm again for us?

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I’d better begin by explaining the title – ‘New situation, new (old) ways’. We are certainly in a new situation! Covid-19 requires us to avoid large gatherings of people in close proximity, whether at the beach, in the supermarket, at sports events, or in church. It may be a long time before the situation will ease, so this could become the new normal for most of us. In terms of church meetings, many of us have been learning to make do with internet services and small group meetings using Zoom or some other form of online discussion. These are stop-gap measures.

Meeting at home in the New Testament – image from Michael Frost

So what do I mean by ‘New (old) ways’? The original form of church meeting is described very clearly in the New Testament (see this tweet from Michael Frost – I borrowed his image for the article). It was based in people’s homes. What is preventing us making this old form of church life into our ‘new’ form in response to our current circumstances? I suggest two answers – habit and prejudice – or to roll them into one, familiarity. More about that in a moment, but first I’d like to suggest reading through some of the replies to Michael’s tweet. All sides of the debate are pretty well covered.

Familiarity

For most believers in Western and some other contexts, church meetings normally take place in church buildings and have done so for many generations. Closely allied to the church building experience come other expectations, among them a worship band, rituals, a minister or pastor, sitting in rows, a liturgy, hierarchical leadership, and limited participation. Not all of these factors are found in every church, but some mix of them is normal. The danger is that familiarity gives us expectations and blinkers us to alternatives.

Not only does the New Testament remind us that people often met in homes, it also describes what these meetings were like (1 Cor 14:26-40, for example). They were informal, everyone was encouraged to contribute, spiritual gifts were exercised freely, there was a shared meal, and sometimes things got a bit out of hand. So if meetings back then were small, informal, and participatory, could that become the norm again for us?

House church in our time

House church meetings do exist today, they are common in places and times of persecution – China, Iran, India, Pakistan, North Korea to name a few examples. But they are also quite widespread in the USA, the UK, and the Western world in general. Try a Google search for ‘house church uk‘ and you’ll be surprised at what pops up. Bear in mind that most groups of this kind don’t have an internet presence so the hits you see are the tip of a considerable iceberg. Some of the websites represent wide groups or networks of home churches.

Is this ‘the new (old)’? I think it could be, in part. One way of dealing with Covid-19, would be meeting in limited groups in homes or, indeed, in the open air. It’s important to respect government guidelines on gatherings, but even a few people face to face might be better than trying to get by online. Jesus said, ‘Where one or two are gathered in my name, I’ll be right there with them.’

You do not need permission to start a home meeting in the UK. So if anyone in or near Cirencester wants to meet like this or is already doing so, I’d be very interested in exploring the possibilities. Please leave a comment and I’ll be in touch.

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Sarah Reynolds

Sarah has focussed on collaborating with producers, writing, tracking and editing vocals, and releasing some songs

Sarah Reynolds is a talented song writer, composer and music producer who also has considerable ability as a singer. Her most recent release is ‘Covers Me’; she wrote the lyrics, composed the music, and sings the track too.

I was impressed when I first heard this song and liked it more and more on listening again – see what you think…

This particular song fits right into the genre of Christian music, but Sarah’s musical tastes are far more wide ranging than that. She’d like to develop her work in a variety of ways, writing music for TV and film for example; she has abilities and skills in recording, mixing, and production as well. That adds up to an unusual and valuable breadth in understanding and communication across the whole spectrum of roles in the music business.

Bio in a nutshell

Sarah was brought up in the Cotswolds in a house that was full of music. She learned piano and flute during her school years, at ten she was performing the lead role of Joseph in the school production of ‘The Techicolour Dreamcoat’, and she has a Music A level. Sarah achieved Grade 8 on the piano and then began improvising, taking a keen interest in the music of Alicia Keys’ early albums. She taught herself guitar while at university.

Sarah began writing songs as a teenager, and played in a songwriting competition at ‘The Cavern’ – Yes, that Cavern! She also began working with sound engineers, producers and other musicians, recording some of her songs, performing gigs around London, and learning more about production, recording, sound engineering and mixing.

Going forward

Recently, Sarah has focussed on collaborating with producers, writing, tracking and editing vocals, and releasing some songs. She works with others online a good deal, quite an advantage in these days of Covid-19. She’s always looking for talented writers, producers and artists to co-operate with, and to learn from. Here are some examples of her work with others:

In the future, I hope Sarah finds more great people to work with – I know she has significant talent and wide experience and won’t disappoint!

You can follow Sarah online:


Another way – write.as

The focus moves from advertising, costly payments and central control to an absence of these things

There’s more than one way of doing most things, and write.as is an alternative way of writing stuff online. Whether you want to create a blog, a story, or just private notes, write.as is well worth a look.

It’s part of a long standing move by some web users away from the commercial world of Google, Facebook, Twitter and so on, towards a very different model of which Wikipedia is the best known example. The focus moves from advertising, costly payments and central control to an absence of these things.

If you like freedom, privacy and simplicity, you’ll find all three at write.as . I suggest you take a quick look around, you can begin with a simple page I put together in less than five minutes – write.as/chrisjj

Marble Machine – Wow!

What an amazing device

I came across this marble machine today, somebody posted the link to Mastodon, I watched it once, and absolutely had to write about it here. What an amazing device. It does lose its marbles – well, a few of them anyway towards the end.

The astonishing Marble Machine

What is Mastodon, I hear you cry? It’s sort of a bit like Twitter, but is an open, free and distributed system. Wikipedia, the fount of (almost) all knowledge knows what it is. (Wikipedia even knows about the Marble Machine.)

Eradicating coronavirus

By determined and sustained action the virus can be confined and eliminated

There’s lots of good advice out there about combatting the Covid-19 disease as it continues to ramp up around the world. Official figures at the time of writing are ten million infected and half a million dead; the true figures are almost certainly far higher than that. But those numbers are rising daily – who knows where we’ll be this time next year.

A virtual model of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (image copyright Wikimedia)

There have been successes in eliminating human diseases in the past, smallpox in 1977, and polio (close to extinction but still persisting at low levels in Afghanistan and Pakistan). In both cases, progress was achieved by use of vaccines that provide lifetime immunity.

Is this possible for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19? The simple answer is that we don’t know; many vaccine candidates are being developed, but it will be some time before we find out how effective they will be, nor do we yet know how long immunity might last.

A vaccine would help, but we do have some other ways to attempt eradication. Countries like New Zealand, South Korea, and Vietnam might give us a clue. By determined and sustained action the virus can be confined and eliminated so that only importing it from an external source can bring it back; we have seen this happen several times.

So here’s a strategy that is worth considering

  1. Use restrictions on movement and contact to reduce the size of the infection in a defined area. This has been done many times already in areas from whole nations to small districts. We know it works.
  2. Test and trace while cautiously lifting restrictions, re-imposing them quickly wherever there is a local resurgence.
  3. Once the defined area is free of virus, allow life to return to normal except for travel into the area. Use strict quarantine measures to contain new imports.
  4. When two or more adjacent areas achieve step 3, their common borders can be opened.

Such a strategy has the potential to rid larger and larger parts of the globe of Covid. Would it be easy to do? No, it would be hard work, costly and it would demand constant vigilence as well as coordination by a body like the World Health Organisation. And we won’t know if its possible unless we make the attempt. Would it be worth it? Almost certainly if we can get something like this agreed internationally and adequately funded. Less wealthy nations with limited health care resources would need monetary and practical help along the way. The economic costs of eradication would be very large, but the ongoing annual costs of living with Covid-19 will be larger still.

Maybe it’s too early to start a Covid-19 eradication programme, but it’s certainly time to begin conversations about one.

Is church unbalanced?

If we learn to cooperate with one another … we will catch a view of [Jesus’] nature and so will the world around us

Part 6 of a series – What are we doing?

The good and bad of services | Index | New situation, new (old) ways >

So – Is church unbalanced? What a question! And what do I mean by unbalanced, anyway?

Let’s put it it like this. I’ve been talking most of my life about five things that seem to me to be of the utmost importance. I’ve been trying to live and grow in these five things, and I’ve always wanted to express them and share them widely. But I’ve found few who will listen, and even fewer who understand at a heart level. Here are the five things briefly described; as you read the list consider their effectiveness within church and beyond church (out in the world).

A rose with three petals missing is barely a rose at all
  • The church should spread and multiply everywhere
  • The church must speak truth into its own culture and into the culture of the world around it
  • The church should stir up desire in people’s hearts and minds, and help them find the way to live and move in truth and light
  • The church needs to nurture and encourage people, especially when they face pain, danger, hardship or doubt
  • The church should communicate in effective, memorable ways

Although the church is working in some of these ways, it doesn’t seem well-equipped to move equally in them all. What’s the problem and how can it be resolved?

Alan Hirsch, one of my favourite authors, explains this very clearly in a short video. It takes less than 11 minutes to watch, but they will be 11 minutes well spent. Can I encourage you to watch and listen as he explains where these five things come from, how they are all essential, and where they should lead us? He has analysed and expressed it all very clearly, but if you’re new to this stuff you’ll need an open and listening heart for the pattern to emerge and gel.

Alan Hirsch – 11 minutes on APEST

All of this is especially relevant to the series of articles on what we are doing in church life and how we might make some changes. We really do need the mind of Christ; our own minds alone are not up to the task. If we learn to cooperate with one another so as to allow Jesus to express himself in us and through us corporately, we will catch a view of his nature and so will the world around us. Being church on our terms will not take us any further than we have already gone, being church on Jesus’ terms will transform everything. What have we been missing?

I’d like to develop some of this in further posts. But finally, please note that Alan begins by saying, ‘One of the dimensions of movements is APEST’. We’ll discuss some of the other dimensions in future posts too.

Additional resources

The good and bad of services | Index | New situation, new (old) ways >

The good and bad of services

A meeting that is not managed by us has the opportunity of being managed by the Holy Spirit.

Part 5 of a series – What are we doing?

Message to a friend | Index | Is church unbalanced? >

In part 3 of this series, ‘Like a waterfall’, I shared a vision and some words from the Spirit about how the water in a river is constrained by the banks and bed of the river, and how a waterfall allows complete freedom for the water to respond to the attractive force of gravity. In this post I’d like to share some thoughts about church services and how they affect church life.

A photo showing people in a typical church service
A typical church service (image from Wikipedia)

Pretty well all denominations hold regular services, usually on Sunday mornings and often Sunday evenings and a weekday evening as well. They are called services because they serve someone. You could argue that their function is to serve the Father and/or Jesus through corporate worship and praise, or you could take the view that they are occasions where a minister serves teaching and guidance to the congregation who act as a (mostly) passive audience. Services follow set patterns, from a loosely defined prayer/hymn sandwich, to a set of rituals, and traditional and familiar practices like preaching or singing, prayer from the front and so forth. But if we turn to the New Testament we find nothing like this.

It’s true that Jesus and his disciples met together a lot, they travelled the road as a group with many other followers and hangers on, and they ate together and talked a good deal. Sometimes Jesus spoke with the inner twelve alone – often asking them questions, so it was conversational teaching. At other times he spoke to larger crowds. He provided wine when it ran out at an embarrassing moment, he healed sick people, spoke to people, sometimes he touched people physically, and yes – occasionally he went to the Synagogue. But there’s very little here that looks like a 21st century church service.

There are more clues in Acts and Paul’s letters. People did meet together, but the descriptions we get are of participatory meetings with no particular person making decisions about timing and no discernable programme. Certainly, if there was a visitor like Paul present, he might share news or even teach, but this seems to have been done on an ad-hoc basis as and when it seemed useful. We read of people praying, prophesying, teaching, singing, worshipping, speaking in unintelligible languages, interpreting what was said, praising, giving way to one another and so forth. There’s nothing here we’d recognise as a service. People were sharing whatever the Holy Spirit urged them to say at that moment.

So let’s think about the benefits and issues of church services on the one hand, and on the other, meetings with no agenda where people listen to the Spirit and share freely whatever he provides. Which seems most like a waterfall? Which seems most like a fixed channel? If the Spirit urged you to pray, or share a vision, or begin a song, or start to teach – which kind of meeting would offer the most comfortable opportunity? Paul wrote that we should do things decently and not in disorder. But he didn’t write that we should decide the pattern, sequence, songs and speaker beforehand! Somewhere between 100 AD and the Middle Ages, dynamic church life in the Spirit was replaced with restrictive and pre-set formats and traditions. The waterfall became a river!

What are the benefits of a ‘waterfall’ meeting? Simply this: a meeting that is not managed by us has the opportunity of being managed by the Holy Spirit. I say ‘opportunity’ because it’s also possible for us to have an unruly free-for-all in which we all do what we think best without waiting for the Spirit to guide us. Paul warns against this. But if a group of his people agree to be silent together and listen and then express whatever they are given, there will be a sharing of spiritual life with a focus and purpose that is astonishing. We have to trust one another to act gently and kindly, to see, hear and share what we are given moment by moment, to give way to one another, to wait for one another, and to focus on the Master, not on ourselves. And then there is the potential for a meeting in which he speaks and we listen in awe and amazement. Pictures and words, Bible verses and songs, unknown languages and their interpretation, prayer, prophetic words and teaching, worship and praise will merge as he leads us and guides us. We will know when he has finished, the end of the meeting will come naturally and with a sense of fulfillment and purpose. All of us will know that something special has happened and we will go away deeply encouraged, with a sense of direction, and the knowledge that this was another special time in the presence of the King. And yes, it will have been a ‘service’ in the deepest sense of that word, for he has served us and we have served him and his presence was clearly evident and amazing.

Will this fruitful kind of meeting come easily? No it won’t. It will take practice, and it may be difficult at first. GK Chesterton famously said, ‘The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried’. The same might be said of ‘waterfall’ meetings – we need to be willing to try and try again until we learn how to let the Spirit lead us together in this way; but we do need to try! The benefits will far outweigh the difficulties. I’ve been in many meetings of this kind over the years, from tiny groups of just two or three people, up to gatherings of more than a hundred.

Here are a few hints that may help if you want to try this with friends.

  • Don’t sit in rows, sit in a circle; if there are many people you might need several concentric circles, but you need to see one another. Don’t have a ‘front’, have a centre.
  • Give Jesus your full attention, and examine the things that just pop into your mind – thoughts, words and phrases, emotions, images.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. Use these times to focus on Jesus and his presence in the meeting.
  • Give way to one another. Many short contributions will be better than one or two long ones.
  • Don’t have a leader. Somebody might begin with a welcome and to point out the emergency exits or share other important practical details, but then they should sit down and become part of the corporate process, listening and sharing like everyone else.
  • Allow plenty of space, have a gap in the circle so people can come and go – several gaps if the circle is large. Have space for people to stand, walk about a little, or dance.
  • If possible, don’t set a time to end the meeting. Everyone will know when it’s finished.
  • Allow time at the beginning for people to mingle and chat. Consider eating and drinking together, anything from tea and coffee to a pot luck meal. And allow time to mingle and chat again at the end if you can.
  • There is no ‘right’ format. The purpose of meeting is to be one in Christ, to hear from his Spirit, and to share what each is hearing or seeing. Be open, be flexible.
  • If you haven’t met like this before, it may be best to begin with smaller numbers, perhaps twelve to fifteen at most.
  • Don’t prepare what to do or say in advance. Instead come with nothing and be prepared to see and hear and share moment by moment while you are together.

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