Voices of Hope – April 16th 2019

“God Will See Us Home” (Part 2) – “The Bigger Picture” by Tracey Byrne

Tracey Byrne

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the death of Jim Cotter, a dear friend and LGCM’s first General Secretary.

As a gay man, deeply committed to truth-telling, Jim knew all about exile, about being cast to the edges, but he resolutely refused to become a victim.   From that place he lived with such searing authenticity and tenderness, through the AIDS epidemic, from a place of dark depression, of illness and healing.  Around 2000 he moved to Wales, near an ancient pilgrim route high in the hills above Harlech, where he welcomed strangers, seekers, poets, pilgrims and friends – few of them from the central powerful places of the church.  He exercised a profound and prophetic ministry, incognito.

Towards the end of his life,  Jim was offered and accepted the post of priest at Aberdaeron, where the poet R S Thomas had once served.  From his place of abundant exile Jim had been called to a new, and all too short, phase of his pilgrimage.  As far west as it’s possible to go on land, Jim exercised an extraordinary and unexpected ministry, as gently subversive as ever.  “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.”

Sometimes, caught up in the machinations of the institution, we can forget the bigger picture.

The God of surprises is waiting, incognito, to draw us on, to welcome us, to heal us, to give to us all those things we never dared dream of, even from our place of exile and despair. And that God of surprises has plans for us too.

A Prayer

Restore the years, O God, that we have lost,

that the locusts have eaten.

Give to us the future we thought we should never see.

Even when we feel exiled,

locked in, despairing,

move secretly within us and among us

and without our realizing it

keep us moving on our journey to your city.  Amen.

Jim Cotter

1942 – 16 April 2014

Tomorrow – the Revd Jenny Clark, “Confidence in Christ”, Phil 1: 6

 

 

 

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Voices of Hope – April 15th 2019

“God Will See Us Home” (Part 1) – “Clearing the Smog” by Jeremy Marks

Jeremy Marks

1952: The year of the Great Smog in central London, where my parents had their first home, is vividly remembered by my mother for the terrible air quality. You could not go out because visibility in daytime was down to a couple of feet; you could not open a window or the room would soon be filled with smog. Ambulances could not run; all private and public transport stopped except for the underground.  Five days of dense smog killed 4-6,000 people whilst another 100,000 were severely affected by respiratory problems.

The government was forced to take decisive action. Eventually. Four years later, the Clean Air Act was passed, but the changes were too slow to prevent another smog ten years later. Fortunately my parents took the decision to move out of London to a more healthy environment.

The deadly impact of the Great Smog was immediate and very dramatic.

More insidious but no less dramatic, is the toxic spiritual smog in our country today. This is profoundly unsettling. National turmoil created by Brexit has been the catalyst to spawning deep divisions in our society. News reports full of endless speculation and polemic do nothing to help matters. This has resulted in profound disillusionment and frustration for very many people.

In stark contrast, disciples of Jesus Christ who seek to follow his teachings, have an eternal perspective not confined to this life with its many disappointments and traumas. Instead we place our confidence in God’s goodness and eternal sovereignty.

But to benefit from this knowledge we must have an unambiguous strategy – to guard our hearts from the toxic effects of our national attitude of cynicism and hostility.

In his letter to the Philippians, St Paul gives a clear strategy to eschew this kind of scepticism and negativity. Throughout Scripture we are instructed to “Rejoice in the Lord always”; to rise above our national malaise and live in hope now and for the future.  Striving to make strategic changes to the situation, however much relief that might bring temporarily, is no solution.

Authentic change begins with the heart!  Rarely do we see the need for change in our own heart attitude – the very essence of repentance – until we’ve exhausted all our own schemes and the mounting crises all around us become so overwhelming that we are forced to stop in our tracks.

Then we might begin to see the things that are good, true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. These excellent, praiseworthy qualities can be seen everywhere in God’s world when our eyes are open.  To “think on these things” provides the oxygen we need for our souls.

The Great Spiritual Smog begins to clear as we open our mouths to share the divine perspective.

The decision to live with a clean heart and wholesome outlook is ours; nobody else can make that for us. It is the outworking of a pilgrim’s resolve to follow Jesus Christ – the Lord of all.

And it is the way of peace.

A Prayer

Thanks be to God for the gift of life and and breath in us; for those good relationships that we have and the abundance of opportunity every day to love and encourage others, and thereby make the love of God known to all. 

Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen 

Tomorrow – Tracey Byrne, “The Bigger Picture”,  Jer 29: 11

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Donkeys, Leaders and Fairy Tales

by the Rt Revd Dr David Walker, Bishop of Manchester

david-walker

What a mess to be in!

The metropolitan elite, secular and religious, is totally out of touch with the mood of the wider population. Caught up in its own petty power plays, it blunders on, disconnected from the anger endemic in the rest of the nation.

Ordinary people feel, with good reason, that nothing ever gets done to benefit them. Nor does it help when those who do articulate a different future, one that breaks free from the shackles of subjugation to foreign powers, seem to have little to offer beyond a vague return to former glories.

Maybe what’s needed is a populist leader. Someone untainted by past compromises and connections. Someone who can latch onto their religious and cultural identity. A leader who puts things in simple and straightforward ways. A person with a natural, charismatic authority. Someone who will shake everything up.

Better than the current load of donkeys!

If there’s one clear, consistent message from every fairy story in history, it’s to be careful what you wish for.

It never turns out the way it was expected. The tale twists, the prize being grasped turns to dust or destruction. Things that were meant to get better end up vastly worse. The hoped for saviour turns out, after at most a couple of years, to be just another donkey, braying pompously in the breeze.

Except once, when the tale is turned on its head.

This time we start with the donkey. It won’t take long for the wildly acclaimed popular leader riding it to see his opinion poll rating to dive from hero to zero.

His moment of glory will be measured not in years or months, but in days. He’ll be dumped on the rubbish heap long before ever he reaches a position of power. Discarded for not playing to the prejudices of the mob, for being as critical of power and its abuses as some Old Testament prophet.

The end.

Except, not the end.

Posted in Bishop of Manchester, Politics, Social Justice | 2 Comments

Voices of Hope – April 13th 2019

“Truths to Live By” (Part 6) – “Don’t Give Up” by Savi Hensman

SAvi Hensman

Working for a more loving, just and non-violent Church and world can be tiring and frustrating.

In my experience and that of many others, even when it appears as if things are moving forward, a setback may follow. It can be hard enough to live by those values oneself, especially since poverty and other forms of inequality and harshness can come to seem inevitable.

At times it can be tempting to give up. In my life and in communities of which I have been a part, there have been times when it felt as if hope were gone.

But we need not rely on our own strength.

The book of Isaiah, quoted in the New Testament, offers a vision of a God who cares deeply for those ill-treated or abandoned by society or even religious institutions. This includes working through a Servant, sometimes identified with the community of faith and, for Christians, with Christ. The Holy Spirit rests on this figure, who will see justice done in the end, whatever the cost to themself, who, out of defeat, will bring victory over all that harms and destroys.

When we pray and strive for God’s realm on earth, there is One greater than ourselves working alongside and in us.

This Companion draws our attention to the cries of those pushed to the margins, steadies us when we are exhausted and, when we go off course, can gently set us right. With the help of the Servant, we can spot signs of hope even in the desert, encourage others too to show compassion and courage in defence of the vulnerable and admit our own need.

The promise of a world where everyone is valued and protected is not just a dream. God is continually at work bringing this into being and supporting us to play our part.

A Prayer

Loving and ever-faithful God, if we feel exhausted or despairing when we are working for a more just, compassionate and non-violent church and world, deepen our trust in you and remind us that we need not rely on our strength alone.

Amen 

Next week – a series of reflections on “God Will See Us Home”

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Voices of Hope – April 12th 2019

“Truths to Live By” (Part 5) – “Don’t Try to Understand” by Sue Jones

Sue JOnes

Then Job replied to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things;
      no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
  You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
     Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
             things too wonderful for me to know.”

Eleven years ago I was in a spiritual wilderness.

My faith had been shaken to its core by several painful events. My oldest child had died suddenly at the age of 17. My long marriage didn’t withstand our grief; my husband left two years later for someone else. Then, a bone infection contracted during a routine operation left me gravely ill.

I hadn’t stopped believing in God, but I no longer trusted in his goodness.

As I slowly recovered, I felt called to read my bible with new eyes, and to study theology, hoping that I would be able to understand why God allows awful things to happen.

Reading the book of Job initially made me as angry as Job himself. God takes everything away from Job, including his family – apparently for the sake of winning a wager. When Job is shown to remain faithful to God despite all these trials, he is rewarded with a new wife and new children.

I found this impossible to understand. How could precious, unique individuals, each made in the image of God, be “replaced”? How did that make everything better?

I was wrestling with this question when I reached the passage quoted. A distraught Job has been railing against God, who replies by asking why he expects to understand his purposes: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand”. (Job 38:4). God then indicates the beauty and unfathomable nature of his work in creation, and Job finally realises that these are things “too wonderful for [him] to know”.

When I came across those words I realised that I could not possibly hope to understand what God’s plan was for my daughter’s short life; I have to trust God that there is one, and that it is too wonderful for me to know.

Learning to trust God has given me my faith – and my life – back.

A Prayer

Heavenly Father, 

I cannot begin to comprehend your majesty, nor the depth of your love for me and the whole of your creation. 

I pray that you would fill me with your peace, as I humbly put my trust in you. 

In Jesus’ name.

Amen

Tomorrow – Savi Hensman, “Don’t Give Up”, Isaiah 42: 4

 

 

 

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Voices of Hope – April 11th 2019

“Truths to Live By” (Part 4) – “Don’t Panic!” by the Revd Nigel Evans

Nigel Evans

“Don’t panic!” A familiar phrase, and the way The Message begins this verse from Isaiah 41.

Panic, fear and anxiety was felt many times in the years before I ‘came out’. As a son, a husband,  a father, and as a vicar in the evangelical tradition for 18 years I was in constant denial about my sexuality. Deep down however, I knew the truth, and feared what would happen if anybody found out that I was gay.

During those nights filled with anxiety, troubled sleep and night terrors this verse brought me comfort and strength. I knew in my head the truth of these words – God was with me in my fear. God alone gave me the strength to get through each day – something I prayed each morning. The verse reads: “I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.”

These words kept me going for over 30 years. Until I chose to come out, and everything crumbled around me. It was then that I knew not just in my head but in my heart the real truth of these words. For so long I believed, that living out my true sexual identity would put me beyond the boundaries of God’s love. How wrong could I have been!

As I relinquished control, and allowed God to take the reins of every part of me, I became aware of the deep strength of his love, of the tight grip he has always had on my arm to stop me from crumpling and despite the fear that was undoubtedly present he has filled me with hope and joy.

There has been pain of loss. But fear and panic has subsided, replaced by joy as I live the life God always intended for me. His promise – to do the same for you.

A Prayer

God of strength, you are always with us. You will never leave us or abandon us and you hold us when we feel weak.

Enable us to be strong and courageous this day. Help us to not be frightened, and not be dismayed, as we live out our lives as your precious people.

Amen

Tomorrow – Sue Jones, “Don’t Try to Understand”, Job 42: 2 – 3

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Voices of Hope – April 10th 2019

“Truths to Live By” – “The Battle is God’s” by Lucy Gorman

Lucy Gorman

Does anyone else have those Bible verses that just pop up every now and again?

This is one of mine, I can’t even say I know the story surrounding it that well, but this is a verse my Mum gave to me when I was younger and every now and again when the going gets tough it miraculously springs to mind.

Working towards LGBT+ inclusion within the Church can also feel like a bit of a battle at times. I hesitate to use the word ‘battle’, because that’s not how Jesus calls us to respond to each other, but at the same time, you and I know, it’s hard work!

We all have our own personal battles. In the interest of honesty and openness, mine at the moment are my recent diagnosis with Crohn’s Disease and realising my sexuality isn’t quite as definite as I thought it was!

Take a minute, what’s yours? What’s going on in your life that feels like a bit of an uphill struggle?

Whatever we face in life, whether personal, or what feels like an ongoing battle within the Church, this verse, to me is reassurance. Reassurance that however vast the issue before us is, or seems, God is in charge, and the battle is not yours but His. Verse 17 goes on “Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged. Go out and face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.”

We do not face our battles on our own, we do not have to feel the entire weight they bear, they are God’s and with his unfailing love, and promise we can get up, go out and face them day after day because the Lord is always with us.

A Prayer

Lord, Help us to remember, that you are with us through the good and the bad. When life seems too hard, too much of a battle, remind us that we are not alone and that when we draw you close, by our side we can conquer anything.

Amen

Tomorrow – the Revd Nigel Evans, “Don’t Panic!”,  Isaiah 41: 10

 

 

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