I plan to gird up my literary loins and begin to put things right
It’s been a long, long time since my last post. I sent a hasty ‘Happy Christmas’ post on 23rd December 2020 and since then – nothing. I really have been rather busy, but also have somehow lacked the energy to make the effort. I don’t know why – perhaps I just needed a break.
In the next few days I plan to gird up my literary loins and begin to put things right. There are a lot of unanswered comments that I need to deal with first, I want to say something about a song I especially like, and I’ve been asked to write a little about my personal history. So watch this space.
Meanwhile, just for fun, here’s my friend Kevin and his daughters at the Cotswold Wildlife Park in August. (It’s well worth a visit, by the way.)
Kevin is taking a photo of a waterlily. Don’t drop your phone, Kevin! Don’t fall in, Kevin! He didn’t – but it looked risky for a moment there.
Surely love and goodwill are appropriate not only at Christmas, but all year round
I’d like to wish all my readers a very happy and blessed Christmas holiday and all the best for 2021. The last year has not been great, one way and another, has it? Covid is likely to get the biggest mention when the history books are written. But Brexit has also loomed large for those of us in the UK and also for all our friends in Europe too. Whichever side of the debate you were on – leave or remain – the deed is done now and we will have to deal with the expected and unexpected impacts that it will bring.
For those of us who follow Jesus, our calling is to love him, one another, the people we live amongst, and even those who might wish us harm. And surely love and goodwill are appropriate not only at Christmas, but all year round.
The picture was taken earlier this month and may not seem very ‘Christmasy’. We have had no snow and very little frost (though more than enough rain). But the sunshine, blue sky, and light mist in the photo remind us that spring will soon be on the way. I’m hoping for a very much better year in 2021, and I hope exactly the same for you. Happy Christmas!
It’s so important to wait for the right moment, to be sensitive to the feelings of other people.
Let’s analyse the idea of kindness – being kind to people.
First, it’s worth noting that the spring that feeds a flow of kindness is love. The reason a person acts in a kind way towards others is that there is love in that person’s heart. A loving attitude impels us towards kind thoughts, words and actions. Where there is a loving heart, kind things will pour out – always fresh, never running low. The stream of kindness flows because of the rising spring of love. But there also needs to be a measure of self control. Sometimes the instinct to be kind can result in thoughtless acts that embarrass or distress; kindness must be appropriate and considered.
Kindness is fundamentally a thing of great joy. If we are kind out of a sense of duty or if we have a grudging attitude, there will an absence of that wonderful enabler – a joyful heart. A kind act without joy may be useful and of great benefit, but it will never be a pretty thing. Even worse is kindness with a hidden motive. If I want something in return, my kind behaviour is no more than a calculated trade; there’s an expectation. This is kindness used as a wrapper to hide something else. The missing ingredient here is gentleness. Kindness must be a gentle thing, demanding nothing in return, offering benefit at no cost.
And kindness is always a thing of peace, without this essential element it may involve serious danger. Maybe you find it hard to imagine kindness without peace; but what happens when we want to be kind to an enemy? There are plenty of stories of wartime situations where a noble act of kindness has bridged the gulf between those on opposite sides of the battle. The counterfoil here is faithfulness. If we are to be kind in the middle of an argument, or much more a war, we will need to be faithful. But faithful to what? Faithful at the very least to strength of character and to courage and to the deep wisdom that even my enemy is a fellow human being, that there is a bond deeper even than existential danger.
Finally, kindness requires patience. It’s so important to wait for the right moment, to be sensitive to the feelings of other people. Nothing is more damaging to an attempt to be kind than the haste that overlooks the nuances of the situation. And what does patience need as a companion? Goodness. So how do we define that? It’s the thing that distinguishes what is right and what is not, a bit like conscience I suppose. Goodness is hard to define because it’s internal and may not be detectable from the outside. Goodness is about motivation, it’s allied to gentleness.
Let’s lay these concepts out, with kindness at the centre. We have:
Love, joy, peace, patience
Goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control
When Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, one of the things he told them was this.
The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control
So be kind whenever and wherever you can. There are plenty of opportunities in the world. Be kind to friends and family, be kind to the people you work with, be kind to your neighbours, to strangers, and yes – be kind to those people who are not kind to you, those who behave like enemies. Kindness never does any harm, and sometimes it can be quite disarming.
If I’m given misinformation and base my thoughts, words and actions on that, sooner or later I’ll run into a problem
In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act
Truth matters. It matters because basing our thoughts, words and actions on falsehood is asking for trouble. Truth is like light: it enables us to see clearly, it banishes darkness, but it can be snuffed out and then we’re left in the dark.
Let’s explore the background, why am I writing about truth at this particular time? And why am I writing about it at all? I’m writing about it at this particular time because truth seems to be valued by fewer people than ever before. There have always been those who trample on truth, but we do seem to be living at a time when peddling falsehoods has become pandemic. Perhaps the most obvious examples are in the political sphere, where governments and their opponents have sometimes made claims based on almost anything other than the simple facts. Policies and decisions are being made on the basis of opinion, personal ambition, whim, wishful thinking, and even denial of clear evidence. I’m writing about it because it matters. It really does. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Is this a new phenomenon? No, people have always made things up, sometimes to fill gaps in what is known, sometimes to deny what is known because it’s distasteful or hard to deal with, or for the base motives that are common, if we’re honest, to all of us – greed, self preservation, shame, fear and the rest. Survival, self-respect, money and power are important to us – sometimes important enough that we will cheat, lie, and ignore inconvenient truths that are staring us in the face.
So why does it matter?
(I said we’d get to that.)
The answer is really quite simple. If I’m given misinformation and base my thoughts, words and actions on that, sooner or later I’ll run into a problem. You can’t avoid the truth indefinitely, it will come back and bite you. Misinformation leads inevitably to error and confusion.
Imagine a map that shows a bridge across a river. An ambulance crew see that the bridge provides a valuable short cut to reach a seriously ill patient in half the time. But when they arrive at the river – there is no bridge. They have to retrace their journey and try a different way, but they are too late and the patient dies. Truth matters, and it can be critically important, even to the point of life or death.
Or imagine a general fighting a battle. He is told by his spies that the enemy is almost out of ammunition; he decides to mount an immediate attack, before new supplies can reach his opponents. If the spies’ report is true, he will win the battle easily. If they made it all up and it’s false, he might be heavily defeated. Does truth make a difference? Yes – because it leads to right action. This is why intelligence and counter intelligence matter; if you can feed falsehoods to your enemy and they believe them, they may well make a serious blunder.
Unfortunately, this strategy to deceive and confuse is now being applied, not to the enemy, but within our society. We should be friends speaking the truth to one another, but much of the untruth flying around these days seems deliberate and causes serious difficulty for all of us. It’s become a bad habit. Who should I believe? Which ‘facts’ can I depend upon? How can I check? How should we deal with this difficulty? Here are some suggestions.
Dealing with it
Be sceptical of assertions – in other words, ask people for evidence
Don’t accept claims without supporting evidence
Remember that lots of people saying something doesn’t make it more true
So what is the take away message here? We can all make a difference for better or worse. Search for the truth in every situation, look for evidence, listen to what people say but don’t accept anything without evidence of some kind (this might be evidence about the claims being made or it might be evidence that the person making the claims is reliable and usually speaks the truth). Then base any decisions or choices on the truth, never on claims you know to be false. Never deliberately mislead others (unless you are a general fighting a war). And always bear in mind that people with an agenda may sometimes behave like an enemy general. They may see you as the enemy and will misinform you if they think it will help them in some way. The world is a wonderful place, but it can also be a deceptive and dangerous place. Go in peace, but go very carefully!
Let’s base our lives on what is true, and not on what is false. Even though it’s sometimes hard to tell what is, or is not, true – it’s always worth making the attempt. And let’s remember that truth will never let us down. Untruth is just as reliable – it will always let us down in the end. No wonder Jesus said. ‘The truth will set you free’ (John 8:32). He was talking particularly about spiritual truth, but it’s a valid statement for truth in general. And let’s also bear in mind that science is a search for truth, and all the technology we depend on every day works only because it stands on that foundation of truth.
Whether we turn to the spiritual or the physical realm, we can only rely upon what is true. Truth is a thing of beauty, but deceit is ugly beyond measure. Choose beauty. Choose the light. Choose truth!
What are your hopes, what are your needs, and what can you contribute?
You won’t often see me post on political topics. This is not the first time I’ve done so, but it’s been something of a rarity.
Today I feel compelled to share a Liberal Democrat story, a short video presented by their new party leader, Ed Davey. Take a look and think about the people he talks to and the reasons he visited them.
So – what are your hopes, what are your needs, and what can you contribute? How can you co-operate with friends and neighbours, meet needs, calm nerves, comfort hurting people? And, whatever your politics, how can you influence your chosen party to listen, hear, understand, and promote fairness, kindness, and the common good?
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.
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?
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 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.
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).
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.
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.
Visit 5Q and read some of the great articles posted there
When the days are short and the weather is cold (or wet this year), it’s cheering to see Christmas lights in the streets. Here’s a photo of Black Jack Street in Cirencester taken on 12th December. Lovely!
Whoever you are, whatever faith you do or do not have, and whoever inspires you, I have some simple things to say to you:
Life is not always easy or comfortable – may you have strength, wisdom and courage to carry on despite it all. May peace and grace, joy and blessing always follow you and find room in your heart – whatever your circumstances may be.
For myself, I follow Jesus to the best of my limited ability, for more about what I do, think and believe, browse around this website. You are a welcome guest here. And here’s a true word from Jesus himself:
If you’re struggling and heavily weighed down, come to me, I’ll give you rest. Learn from me, the burden I lay on you is very light because I’m gentle and kindheartedly humble.
There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed
Modern residents of Cirencester may not know that the town once had a wharf where canal boats tied up to load and unload goods of all kinds, including coal, manufactured goods, and timber. There were small hand-operated cranes on the quayside to help with handling heavy items.
The wharf lay at the bottom of what is now Querns Hill, less than half a mile south of where Cricklade Street meets the Market Place. It was an easy trip by horse and cart for any of the businesses in the town in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and would have been a bustling hub of activity. The area was large enough to turn arriving barges for the trip back to Siddington; imagine the sounds and smells as horses were harnessed and roped for departure or released to rest and graze after arrival. Money would have changed hands as goods were loaded or unloaded from carts and dreys. There would have been bargaining and haggling, tobacco smoked and ale downed, jokes and banter and laughter, bread, cheese and meat passed around. People would have greeted one another and said their goodbyes because barges were used to carry passengers as well as goods.
Does anything remain?
Surprisingly, yes! Parts of the towpath remain as footpaths and can still be walked, though the canal has been filled in and there’s no sign of it in the area near the wharf. There are dry stone walls that were once the boundary walls of the canal; you can see these when you know what to look for. And it’s not hard to trace the route of the canal on foot.
Begin near the bottom of Querns Hill, where it meets Querns Lane and Sheep Street, find the view in the location photo below.
You are now looking at the site of the old wharf. It stretched from close to the building on the left (beyond the parked cars and the wall) across to the right hand edge of the photo. The canal leading from the wharf headed directly through the building in the centre of the photo and on through the trees in the centre.
The photo above shows the same trees but looks back towards the wharf; the buildings on the left are close to those in the first photo. The canal would have more or less followed the line of trees from the buildings on the left right up to the yellow vehicle, and the course of the towpath remains along the garden boundaries hidden by the parked cars. Turning 180° from this view there is a house built over the route of the canal, but walking around it and crossing the road, the footpath between the houses is again the old towpath. What’s more, a dry stone wall on the left hand side of this path is almost certainly the old boundary wall that ran along both sides of the canal. The wall is high here, about 2 m, but beyond the town and in farmland the wall was only 1 m or so. It’s easy to visualise the canal here, mentally remove the tree, imagine water where the grass is, and you have it!
I was quite surprised to find so much remaining and still identifiable. Local history can be very fascinating and sometimes the detective work is easier than expected. It would be nice to have some of these remains marked and explained on noticeboards.
If anyone reading this is interested in helping to research the Cirencester Branch of the canal, please leave a comment below and I’ll make contact.
It’s that time of year again, cards have gone out and others have arrived on our doormat. I’d really like to include my blog readers. So, whoever you are, wherever you live, here’s the image that was on this year’s card:
And what I’d like to pray for everyone reading this is that you would find fresh grace and peace in your life every day and be blessed throughout the coming year. May 2019 be the year you meet Jesus as your friend and guide. And for those who already know him, may your journey find you going deeper and further with him than ever before, in increasing faith and obedience.
Happy New Year 2019 everyone!
The photo shows Cotoneaster berries covered with hoar frost, the photo was taken in 2012 in our old front garden before we moved to Cirencester.