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A Work in Progress: Walking with Jesus

Thought for the Day: Of Politics and Prayer

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As a self-confessed politics geek, I’ve been in my element this week. I love it all- the debate, going to cast my vote, being able to have my say, feeling like I’m part of something bigger; even staying up all night to watch the drama unfold on election night. During this election it’s been great seeing so many younger people engage with politics for the first time. My daughters are of an age now when they understand more about what’s going on- even if being able to vote themselves is still quite a few years off- and talking to them about the political process and fanning the spark of their interest has been an added bonus this time around. I think my husband is concerned that before too long he will have three opinionated feminist socialists on his hands instead of one….!

There is a downside to it all though, even a dark side. We human beings are not always very good at disagreeing well. Impassioned differences of opinion can turn into arguments and personal attacks, which can cause rifts in relationships. Elements of the media have been vitriolic in their treatment of various politicians, who have also been subject to horrendous online abuse and trolling.

But this isn’t just about those with a public platform- we all have a part to play. We can disagree with those in authority, whether in government or opposition, whilst still respecting their humanity and treating them with grace and compassion. We can hold different opinions to our friends, family, colleagues and strangers without casting aspersions on their intelligence, motivations or understanding, and without making unkind personal comments. We can listen to each other. We can listen to God.

In the Bible, both Paul and Peter remind us about the importance of praying for each other, and our leaders. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:3

“The first thing I want you to do is pray. Pray every way you know how, for everyone you know. Pray especially for rulers and their governments to rule well so we can go quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Saviour God wants us to live.”

It’s worth pointing out that the ruler in Paul and Peter’s day was the Emperor Nero, who murdered his mother and both his wives and persecuted Christians… yet they still urged the followers of Jesus to pray for him! When we pray for people, whether they are those in authority over us, or our friends, or family, or even (as Jesus commanded) our enemies, we start to see them in a different light. We start to see them as God sees them. We are reminded that they are all made in the image of God.

So whether you voted for her or not, perhaps, if you are the praying sort, you could commit to taking some time this week to pray for Theresa May as she seeks to form a government, and for politicians of all colours as they find a new equilibrium and a way forward. Healing our divided nation may seem at times like an uphill task- but it’s good to remember that all things are possible with God.

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 11/6/17

 

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Thought for the Day: God’s got it covered (but we’re not off the hook)

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Even the briefest look at a newspaper, or discussion of current affairs, reminds us that we are living in strange and uncertain times. Donald Trump, Brexit, climate change…..Whatever we think of recent world events, we can all agree on one thing- the world as we know it is changing.

Things don’t stay the same in our own lives, either. I celebrated my 40th birthday a few weeks ago which caused me to stop and reflect a little on how much has changed in my life over the last 10 years. I’m a very different person now compared to then. People have come and gone, circumstances have changed, some for the better, some not.

I was chatting to a young mum at our Princess Project Hub this week about how difficult she is finding it adjusting from being a professional working outside the home, to working at home being a stay at home parent. At times of transition in our lives- as we pass from one stage of life to another- as well as at times of transition on a wider stage- it is good to be reminded that we are not just adrift in a pilotless, rudderless ship, but that God is in control, of both our lives, and the world he created.

When everything around us is uncertain, God is faithful, his love unchanging. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. We change and grow; circumstances may be unrecognisable; but God is the same. He is good, and trustworthy, and always with us. As the prophet Isaiah puts it in the Bible

“For even if the mountains walk away and the hills fall to pieces, my love won’t walk away from you, my covenant commitment of peace won’t fall apart.” The God who has compassion on you says so.” [Is 54:10 Msg.]

Whatever the situation- God has got it covered.

But that doesn’t mean we can just sit back on autopilot. God being in control doesn’t absolve us of responsibility for what’s happening around us. Proverbs 24 makes this clear:

“Rescue the perishing; don’t hesitate to step in and help. If you say, “Hey, that’s none of my business,” will that get you off the hook? Someone is watching you closely, you know- someone not impressed with weak excuses.”

It is our responsibility to stand up for injustice when we see it, in our own lives, homes, schools, workplaces, as well as in the wider community. It is crucial that the church takes a lead in these matters. This is why Krish Kandiah’s letter to the government challenging the closure of the Dubs scheme, which has been signed by church leaders of all denominations up and down the country,  is so important. It is also why we at the Princess Project want to challenge and work to combat the disadvantages faced by many of the women we work with right here in Kent. God’s got it covered- but He works with us and through us to achieve his purposes.

So let’s go forward into a new week, a new era, feeling confident that whatever happens, nothing can separate us from the love of God, and that he will work his purposes out in our lives, and in the world- if we’re prepared to let him.

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio Kent Sunday Breakfast 22/1/17; subsequently edited to include link to Dubs Closure letter

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Let your Light Shine

This past week will surely go down in history as one of the most momentous in our nation’s history. However you voted, whether you are in the just-over-half or just-under-half, life will never be the same again.
Unsurprisingly, in a time of such unprecedented change, social media went crazy. 


Euphoria, triumph, grief, anger, bewilderment…. There were many different opinions expressed, with varying degrees of sensitivity. 

Then followed a spate of ‘stop whinging and get on with it’ type posts. We are being exhorted to pull together, accept things, put a brave face on it, stiff upper lip, it’ll all be OK- oh, and don’t ask any difficult questions.

On the face of it this seems like sensible advice, and what I was telling myself. The country has been pretty much split down the middle (52:48 is hardly a resounding victory) so more arguing is hardly going to help.

But in the light of recent events I have been prompted to reevaluate my position. I no longer think it’s OK to sit back and hope for the best. I strongly believe that, now as before the vote, we should be on our knees praying for wisdom, and guidance, and courage ….but I don’t think that our Christian responsibility stops there.

This vote has unveiled a deep divide within our country. Those who voted ‘Remain’ can’t just dismiss all 17.4 million ‘Leave’ voters as racist, or old, or uneducated. Those who voted to ‘Leave’ need to recognise that the pain being expressed by the Remain camp is not just intellectual snobbery, or being bad losers. There is a deep dissatisfaction in our society, a distrust of red and blue politicians alike. The campaign was fought on both sides in a way that promoted division and sowed harmful seeds of bigotry (whether racial or educational), fear, and selfishness. Something has broken. And no amount of ‘Keep calm and carry on’ memes are going to fix it.

It seems like the  referendum result has somehow made racism and xenophobia socially acceptable again. Whether it’s teenagers on a tram in Manchester disrespecting and verbally abusing a fellow traveller, or Polish schoolchildren being confronted with racist notes and graffiti, or the BBC thinking it’s OK to interview a neo-nazi (complete with swastika tattoo) on the breakfast news- it’s like the boundaries have suddenly been taken away and, like children, we are now testing them. The problem is that our political leaders have abdicated all responsibility for the genie they’ve let out of the bottle. Our Prime Minister has walked away from the result of his self-inflicted nightmare and left us to our own devices. Both Labour and the Tories are seemingly too busy scrambling for power to notice what’s happening, let alone provide leadership and direction.

And that’s where the people of God should come in.

As citizens of the Kingdom of God- a kingdom that transcends all earthly powers and nations- we need to put our trust first and foremost in Jesus, the Prince of Peace. We need to make it clear, both to ourselves and to those around us, that our hope is in Him and not in politicians. This is not a time for the Church to be anxious or divided. Now more than ever we are called to be lights shining in the darkness. Our little lights may feel weak and flickery, and if we’re relying on our own battery power they will eventually stutter and go out. But if we are plugged into the mains, energised by the Holy Spirit, then together we can shine an unwavering beam of light- of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control- into the darkness, and the darkness will not overcome it.

That might mean calling out and standing up against racism and xenophobia wherever we encounter it- on the street, online, amongst our friends or families. It might mean giving a voice, and being Jesus’ hands and feet, to the disadvantaged in our communities who feel disempowered and ignored by the political elite. It will almost certainly mean loving those we find difficult to love, and forgiving those we find difficult to forgive. 

It may well come at a cost. Following Jesus has always been a costly business if done wholeheartedly. But the cost of sitting back and doing nothing will be far higher. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Silence in the face of evil is in itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

So I am going to stick my head over the parapet and risk being labelled opinionated (again!) I’m going to stop apologising for caring deeply about the future of our nation, and the safety within our communities of people who don’t look or sound like the majority. I am going to try my best to do what I can with what I have, where God has placed me. And I hope you’ll join me.

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A poem for anti-bullying week: words of wisdom from a 6 year old

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Guest post by my baby girl 🙂

Sticks and stones can break your bones
But words can hurt you more.
Bullies bully and buddies help you.
Be a buddy not a bully.
Be friends not enemies
Help others not hurt them.

By Charlotte Tanner (age 6)

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Mum vs IPad

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I have a confession to make. I really don’t like IPads. Before you start throwing things at your computer screens or writing me off as an out-of-touch Luddite allow me to clarify a little. I would quite like an IPad for myself- you can’t help feeling a little left out when other people use them for everything from supermarket shopping (me: shopping list and pen), cooking (me: recipe book with actual pages), meetings (me: notebook stuffed with lists and scraps of paper) to church services (me: Bible, notebook, pen). If nothing else it would mean my handbag was a lot lighter. This French advertisement could actually be about me (even the same name!):

No, where I have the issue with IPads (and other portable devices like them- I’m not just singling out Apple) is when they are marketed for, and used by, children. Two news stories in particular have highlighted for me the problems associated with the increasing use of handheld electronic devices, especially those that can access the internet, by our kids (I’m mostly thinking of those of primary school age or younger).

Firstly, a recent report found that less than half of seven-year-olds get the recommended one hour of physical activity a day, and only 38% of girls (Click here for article). It’s not rocket science- the more time our children spend sitting down looking at a screen, the less time they have to be physically active. We adults are not the only ones with finite amounts of time at our disposal. Our children are living increasingly time-pressured lives as well, and they have to make choices about how they spend their time, just like we do. And we need to help them to do that. They might think that at seven they know what’s best for them- but I think we would all agree that they probably don’t. Computer games can be very addictive, for adults and children alike. Sometimes, we may need to say ‘no’, or ‘no more screen time today’, or ‘turn it off and go outside’.

Secondly, a news item earlier this week reported the prevalence of online grooming and cyberbullying amongst children and young people in the UK. According to figures published by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre, nearly half of known victims of cyber sexual predators worldwide are here in the UK, with children as young as eight years old being targeted. It is right and proper that the authorities concentrate their efforts on finding the paedophiles targeting our children, but parents have responsibilities in this area too. In my opinion, no child of primary school age should be accessing the internet unsupervised, period. We would not leave our children alone in a room full of strangers to talk to whoever happens to walk up and strike up a conversation with them. Why, then, are we content to let children as young as eight access social media sites and chatrooms? Children are not naturally cynical; they inherently tend to take people at face value. It is a very difficult and abstract concept to explain to a child that in the virtual world people may not always be who they say they are. That, to my mind, is the main problem with devices such as IPads that have internet access. It is precisely because they are so portable and easy to use that they present such a temptation, and a potential danger, to our children. One wrong click or swipe of the finger and they can end up seeing something that they wish they hadn’t; something that can never then be unseen.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not anti-technology, or anti-internet. There is a wealth of information and entertainment there at our fingertips that can be a great resource for our children. The problem comes when we use IPads and the like as electronic babysitters and leave our children to their own devices. I believe we need to take the time to enter this world with them whilst they are still children, to teach them internet safety, to put boundaries in place. What works for our family is to put our laptop in a public place, which my daughters can use to access certain websites that we have agreed and explored with them in advance.

There is a lot of peer pressure at work in this area, for both children and parents. Pinterest and twitter posts about ‘best apps for your child’ abound. By labelling them as ‘educational’ we let ourselves be fooled into thinking that they are necessary, and that we are doing our children a disservice if we don’t give in to the hype. One mother I met on holiday last year suggested to me I was putting my children at a disadvantage by not allowing them to play with electronic gadgets. Yes, they may well have great educational value- but I would argue that spending time with our children, reading with them, adventuring with them, finding things out together, even looking things up online together, will be of even greater benefit.

As I’ve said many times before, each family is different; there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to parenting and family life. It is not my place, or anyone else’s, to pass judgement on the choices that other parents make. I do think, though, that it’s right and proper to question our choices; to realise that we have a responsibility to make informed decisions on behalf of our children, and not just to unquestioningly follow the herd.

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Bread of Heaven

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I’ve been thinking a lot about food this week (some might say ‘nothing particularly unusual about that’, but that wouldn’t be very charitable). First of all, I started a new diet. The weight I managed to shift a few years back has been slowly starting to creep back on, and I now have two choices- buy more clothes or try to get back to a healthy weight again.  I promised myself when I got down to within my healthy BMI for the first time in 2008 that I wouldn’t buy any new clothes in a bigger size- rash, I know, but I can be very stubborn sometimes. Not wanting to renege on that, coupled with being a cheapskate, means I’m back on the wagon again.

Secondly, I became aware of a campaign running at the moment called ‘Live Below the Line.’ This campaign challenges people to only spend £1 a day on food and drink, for 5 days, to raise awareness (as well as money) for the 1.4 billion people around the world living in extreme poverty. I haven’t been doing this challenge myself, but have been following the efforts of some who have, for example Jack Monroe. I have been really impacted and humbled by how little so many people have to live on- including here in our own country. Another prominent movement at the moment is the Enough Food IF campaign, which is trying to get the G8 leaders to tackle the issue of global hunger at the summit next month. Over 150 organisations have signed up to this campaign- Christian, Jewish and Muslim as well as non faith-based groups- all coming together to make the point that the world produces enough food to feed all its inhabitants, if it was produced and distributed fairly. Carry on reading…

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