Archive for November, 2015

Christmas is coming…

Posted: November 29, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

You might not be ready to open the first door of your calendars yet, but today is the first day of Advent, when we can officially start getting excited about the fact that Christmas is coming.

In a few short weeks we will be celebrating the fact that Christ came to be one of us, and Advent is a time to reflect and prepare before the party starts.

With that in mind, the blog will be turning into our very own virtual Advent calendar, with reflections from members of the community and other interesting people, focused on the one in whose presence we will be rejoicing on Christmas Day.

We’ll be starting on December 1st, which is this coming Tuesday, and we’d love for you come back here each day for some contemplation to go alongside your chocolate.

Here’s to a wonderful Christmas season together!

 

God is Love (with bonus Doctor Who)

Posted: November 27, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

At our meeting on Sunday night, we turned our thoughts to the idea that God loves and is love. It can be a difficult proposition for us to wrap our heads around, which is probably why a Google search brings up a whole heap of Bible verses but very little else.

It’s as if we are familiar with the concept but don’t spend much time exploring or reflecting on it, perhaps because we don’t quite believe it could be true. So whether you were part of the discussion on Sunday or not, I hope this blog will be a chance to explore and reflect on the astounding and wonderful and brilliant fact that God loves and is love.

A few quick thoughts to begin with…

If God loves then that tells us that his love is active, that for him love is not a matter of empty words or delicate feelings or abstract concepts but meaningful action, and we have the cross as proof of that

If God is love then it must mean that love is not just something God does but something that is the very essence of his being. It must mean that everything he is and does is suffused with love so that his love doesn’t need to be explained or justified. It must mean that he loves because he loves because he loves.

If God is love then that also tells us that God is the source of love, so that when we experience love we are somehow connected with him, as we are caught up in his very nature and participate in his vision for the world.

And if God is love then it must mean that love can teach us something about God. It must mean that as we experience love in our human relationships, we also glimpse God in his divine truth. It must mean that we see the face of God in the faces of the ones who love us.

Building on that final thought, we spent some time on Sunday trying to answer the question ‘what is love?’ and then reflecting on what that might say in answer to the question ‘who is God?’

These are the words we came up to describe love. I want to let them speak for themselves, so all I will say is that I think they paint a beautiful portrait of the God I have begun to know.

 

understanding

forgiving

accepting

bilingual

faithful

reluctant to discipline

merciful

individual

contrary

vulnerable

trusting

compassionate

sometimes seemingly cruel

passionate

sacrificial

unfair

perceptive

unconditional

seeking return

safe

kind

optimistic

generous

the greatest thing

Perhaps you might like to spend some time dwelling on these words as descriptions of God, testing them against scripture and your own experience, asking that God reveal more of himself to you as you contemplate on his character as revealed in love.

I said at the start of this blog that we can often struggle to believe that God is love, and we asked ourselves on Sunday night why that might be. There was a feeling that it can be difficult to accept that God is love when we do not feel loved, or when we see and experience hardship that we believe a loving God should not allow, or when we read of his wrath in the Old Testament and find it impossible to reconcile the extremes, or when we feel that we do not deserve to be loved by him.

There aren’t easy answers to any of the questions these dilemmas raise, but I did share on Sunday night that Doctor Who had given me some food for thought. Bear with me here, because I don’t think that’s as mad as it sounds. After all, God has a habit of showing up in unexpected places.

A while ago I came across an article which says this: Doctor Who teaches me I just don’t know everything. Horrible events can occur for reasons explained in lost episodes or laws of physics too dense for my blogger’s mind and that doesn’t mean we are lost or unloved. There is the possibility of a god who roots for us, loves us, and grieves for us just like the Doctor. And a god who has saved us so many times and in so many ways we’ve never known.

The Doctor often gets frustrated with the humans he comes across, but deep down he really loves them, and more than anything else he wants to save them. He can’t always do that, and sometimes the people who travel with him don’t understand why not, but in the end they trust him because they trust his love. There’s something about story which captures the heart, especially when it has a ring of truth to it, and for me this speaks of the fact that we too can be assured that God loves us through all circumstances, that he walks with us to the end of the episode whatever that may look like.

And in the last series, there was a scene in which the Doctor tells his companion Clara that he will do all that he can to save her boyfriend, despite the fact that she has just betrayed him. She can’t believe that he is still willing to help her after what she has done, but then he says this: “Did you think I cared for you so little that betraying me would make a difference?”

I am not ashamed to admit that I cried watching that episode, because in that line I heard the voice of God. I have always been told that God loves us in spite of everything, but watching that scene play out really brought home what that looks like. God knows we’re not worthy. He knows we mess up. But still he loves us because he loves us because he loves us.

This is only a tiny fraction of all that can be said about the God who is love, but I hope it will give you something to explore and reflect on. And I pray that as you do you will experience something of the love of God, who roots for you and grieves for you and has saved you so many times in and in so many ways that you have never known.

 

Only a Small and Passing Thing

Posted: November 19, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

This last week has surely left many of us feeling an overwhelming sense of despair. Forty three dead and two hundred and thirty nine injured in bombings in Beirut. One hundred and twenty nine dead and three hundred and fifty two injured in coordinated attacks in Paris. Forty seven dead and eighty injured in two days of bombings in Nigeria.

And there is worse to be found when you look past the numbers and realise that one of the suicide bombers in Nigeria is believed to be a girl as young as eleven.

Many articles and opinions pieces have condemned and analysed, and many statuses and tweets have expressed deep sympathy and solidarity, but I must confess that I have found it difficult to even pray. Not because I don’t believe prayer is right or powerful, but because all my words somehow feel trite.

Of course I hold those affected in my heart and of course I want to see God at work in those places that have seen such devastation, but what words could I say that would possibly make sense of or add anything to what has happened and what has already been spoken?

I didn’t feel I could blog as if this week had not happened, but I still cannot find words that don’t seem hopelessly inadequate or hackneyed. And so I am drawn to offer something else.

Because amid all of the stories of horror there are other stories. A man named Adel Termos who tackled the second bomber in Beirut, sacrificing his own life but saving others in the process. The Parisians who lined the streets to give blood and returned to the sites of the attacks in the perfect act of defiance. The fact that Nigeria has just banned female genital mutilation, a spark of hope in a country racked by terror.

And there are other stories away from the horror. Ireland has just celebrated its first same sex marriage, after being the first country to introduce equal marriage through a referendum. A volunteer firefighter has received the most extensive face transplant yet, giving him back eyelids and ears after he lost them in a fire fourteen years ago. My Facebook feed has been ful of little stories of people defying the narratives of hate and difference through simple acts of love and community.

You may have to look harder for those stories, but they are there. And we can all write our own stories, as we find small moments of blessing in the people around us or the things we take pleasure in or the simple fact of our being alive.

These other stories dont cancel out the horror that has happened, and we shouldn’t use them as an excuse to look away and pretend everything is okay.

But these stories do remind us that we work for a kingdom that is breaking through and bearing fruit everywhere, pushing tender shoots through broken ground and bringing beauty and hope into barren places. They remind us that even in the valley of the shadows we are not alone and we are not forsaken, for we worship a God who made his home in the dirt and the mess of our world. They remind us that we believe that life can come from death, because love always wins over hate.

Or to (slightly mis-) quote Tolkien, they remind us that “in the end the shadow is only a small and passing thing: there is light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach”.

 

 

 

A Thought on Silence and Remembrance

Posted: November 11, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Every year, as Remembrance Day rolls around and the two minute silence draws closer, I am reminded of a line from the Manic Street Preachers song Fragments, which speaks of “two minutes silence in a century of screams”.

I must admit that I have never really understood the song as a whole, but that line has always stayed with me. We have been observing the two minute silence as an act of remembrance since 1919, and yet we have seen war upon war fill the intervening near-century with more screams than we can possibly comprehend.

Wars of liberation in Eastern Europe, civil war in Spain, another global war, purge and famine in Russian, wars of independence across Africa, revolution in Cuba, wars involving big political powers in Vietnam and the Falklands, massacres in Bosnia and Rwanda, sustained sectarian violence in Ireland, the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Arab Spring, the rise of IS…and that’s just the edited highlights.

“Two minutes silence in a century of screams” is not enough. Remembering is not enough if it changes nothing.

If I can speak more personally and specifically for a moment, that lyric became particularly significant for me when I used it as part of the stimulus for a play I devised about the Bosnian War. The play was intended as an act of remembrance and a challenge to the idea that we can remember without acting, and was born out of the fact that Bosnia has been on my heart for many years now.

In fact Bosnia has been in my thoughts more than ever in the past few months. July marked twenty years since the massacre of nearly eight thousand men and boys at Srebrenica, as well as bringing the revelation that the Western powers knew an attack on the safe haven was on the cards but allowed and even aided it as they thought it was a price worth paying for peace. And this month marks twenty years since the Dayton agreement brought an end to the fighting by dividing the country into a two state nation with a tripartite government, and brings a referendum which threatens to undermine the fragile peace with increasingly looks like nothing more than a prolonged ceasefire.

Our two minutes of silence didn’t help the people of Bosnia when men were being flung into mass graves and women were being raped and children were being displaced in their thousands. Neither has it helped the people of Bosnia as they have struggled to heal and rebuild in a country where many feel like the genocide has succeeded and many others believe that a genocide never took place.

In just the same way, it isn’t helping the men and women and children facing execution for their beliefs and drowning in the Mediterranean and living in makeshift camps right now.

What is helping is the people who are breaking the silence to make their voices heard. The young people of Sarajevo who organised a beauty pageant in the midst of a besieged city to reclaim some sense of normality and draw attention to their city. The men and women on all sides of the conflict who have challenged the narrative of hate to write new stories of hope. The ordinary people telling their governments that refugees are welcome here…

All this reminds me of another line, this time from Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem The One Minutes of Silence, which contemplates the memorial pause held after racist murders and challenges us with the thought that “we have come to dis because too many people are staying silent”.

I’m not proposing that next year we all start screaming during the two minute silence as an act of protest. There is something very profound in that shared act of remembrance, and it means too much to too many people to trash it so crudely.

What I am suggesting is that silence and remembrance should be the beginning and not the end of the conversation. A beat in which we pull back our focus and really look at the world so that we can lift our voices against the injustice and hatred we see. A pause in which we can feel the sadness and the anger that we need to inspire us and transform them into the purpose and and the hope that we need to sustain us. A moment in which we connect with the heart of God for his world and commit to bringing in his kingdom of peace.

That doesn’t have to come once a year. It’s probably best that it doesn’t.

In Which I Attempt to Get Creative

Posted: November 4, 2015 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

While I was wondering what to blog about this week, I stumbled across a project me and a few friends started a few years ago. It fits really nicely with the series on God we have just started, so I thought I would give it another go.

The words that appear in the middle and at the end were taken from responses to a prayer activity at Skipton Baptist Church and supplemented with words from the activity we did at Revive last week.

My skills are incredibly limited, and there will be many more attempts before it looks on the screen as it does in my head, but I hope it is still something worthwhile in the meantime.

Just click on the image below…

God Is