Dear Belvoir family,
Across the globe, the language of how we are called to respond to the coronavirus speaks of self-isolation, separation, avoidance and withdrawal. The physical and emotional territory that we find ourselves in has many hallmarks of the desert and wilderness.
Insights from psychology teach us that, when faced with testing experiences, we humans often ‘busy ourselves’ to avoid and distract from the thoughts and feelings these bring up. During the coronavirus pandemic, the usual distractions of work, travel, socialising, sport and shopping are not available.
Authentic spirituality and our relationship with the Lord is always concerned with the reality of our lives – not how we want them to be. We can be assured that our God, who is a God of love, is not sitting idly by watching us suffer.
During my years as a social worker, | learnt through experience that in any crisis it’s easy to identify the obvious threat; but the challenge is to search for and seize the opportunity. Latterly, as a spiritual director, this translates as finding where God is in every experience – even those that are difficult.
God has always used the wilderness as His classroom: A place of learning and transformation, from which new insights emerge. John the Baptist began his ministry in the wilderness. Jesus went there to face temptations at the start of His own.
The wilderness is inextricably interwoven with the spiritual history of Israel. It was the place they were humbled, tested and ultimately strengthened. The Desert Fathers and Mothers of the early Church chose the barren Egyptian deserts and deliberate asceticism to live out their desire to draw closer to God.
Might we understand the wilderness of the lockdown experience as something to be accepted, even embraced, rather than something to fear, avoid or get through quickly? Might we discover that God is somehow in this – even using it for good?
These days offer an invitation to arrive at a fresh understanding of God, ourselves and the role that the Church has to play in our constantly evolving world.
Jesus tells how the seed has to fall into the earth to die for growth to come forth. If we step back, we notice fresh shoots appearing. Churches are connecting online in ways never envisaged. In countless parishes, the Church has emerged as the hub of community outreach to those in need. Parents have stepped off the treadmill of work and productivity to spend time together as families. There has been a revival of wildlife and waterways and a pooling of human intellect in the search for a vaccine. We realise the items we thought we desperately needed were only wants.
It is often in times of great difficulty that we see how Jesus reaches us through the love, care and kindness of other people. The invitation is to continue to look for these fresh shoots and nurture their growth.
The temptation will be to rush and accelerate out of this wilderness. Desiring ‘normality’ to return and claiming back certainty are normal human responses. Jesus’ temptations in the desert centred around the human desire for power and control. The children of Israel wanted to leave the wilderness and return to their accustomed way of life as slaves, rather than continue to journey in the uncomfortable liminal space which required dependence on God.
When life inevitably got tough for the Desert Fathers and Mothers, they faced the tug to abandon their life of prayer and return to civilisation.
The fulcrum point of our faith as Christians is the death and resurrection of Christ: The darkest hour becomes the brightest morning – but not immediately. We must journey through the wilderness and emptiness of Holy Saturday.
As we slowly creep out of lockdown, might we live true to the vision of Christ as pioneers in this new world that is opening out in front of us. Asking ourselves how do we nurture what has germinated over the last months and is now being birthed, rather than rushing to get back to the way things were before? As that wonderful prayer, attributed to St Brendan, begins: “Help us to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown. Give us the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You.”
A weekend of celebrating the end of school, Sunday club and celebrating families and church family and marking 100 Daily Candles. Go to this link to join the fun!
6pm The Big Belvoir Talent Show
10.30 Virtual Breakfast Club
11am Scattered Together Special
12pm Sunday Club Party on Zoom and Youth Cell on Zoom
7pm Worship and Prayer
6pm 100th Daily Candle
Show off your talent in the Big Belvoir Talent Show on Sat 27th June at 6pm!
Whether it is a new skill you have learned over lockdown or something you were born with. Telling jokes, baking cakes, dancing, singing or keepie uppies we want you to show us what you’ve got. It isn’t a competition and there will be no nasty judges – just a celebration of you and you talent.
How to Enter
1 Make a video of you showing off
2 Videos must be no longer than 3 minutes – so you can edit it to show the best bits
3 Send us your video – upload it at belvoirparish.co.uk/talentshow or email email@example.com.
4 All entries must be received by Thursday 25th at midnight.
May I apologise for this not being a chatty newsletter about parish life. All sorts of social media abound with pics and thoughts and chat. So, let’s use this for a wee think…
In the last email I was trying to describe the BIG PICTURE of God’s landscape on which the details of our lives are lived out. That landscape is:
- a beautiful creation that went badly wrong because of human freedom misused,
- a redemptive plan that involved God living and dying among us,
- and a future certainty of a new heaven and a new earth.
Many of the questions we ask can only be answered if we try to place them first on that landscape. So, let’s jump straight into another big feature on that landscape; EVIL and God’s response to it? Evil can be described in two ways.
This is exactly what it sounds like – evil perpetrated by people against people and against nature. Both the result and the source are evil. Murder, war, abuse, racism…it is pretty obvious. Terrible acts committed by humans against humans. But what about pollution, extinction of species, poverty, poor education, tower blocks that burn? Suddenly the perpetrators of moral evil may be people like me, or may even include me. Unfortunately when even someone as insignificant as me is multiplied by a few million (or a couple of billion) the results on many people in the world and on the environment are devastating (moral evil). I was going to suggest that maybe God could just quietly remove all the bad people. The frightening sub-question would be where would he stop – murderers and abusers and violent people and tax-dodgers, and polluters, and people who park illegally in disabled parking spaces or on yellow lines, and gossips, and people who wear pyjamas to the shops, and queue jumpers, and sickie-day takers…. hold on a minute! I may be on the wrong side of one or two issues there. What if God did something much more merciful? What if God organised a way to deal with the spiritual evil source that wreaks such havoc in our hearts? What if God organised a way to change the heart of the individual human being so that when that is multiplied by millions or billions we find a new heart beating in our world? That would be an incredibly gracious God, especially if that plan required a personal self-giving of the Divine Life itself. God has already done it (it is the central theme of the landscape described above). So, let’s agree that we don’t want God to wipe out all bad people, because that would include us, and maybe we should also think a bit longer before blaming all the bad things on others. and it would be very subjective for me to expect God to wipe out the all the bad people as decided by me. It is worth mentioning that the normal human solutions to moral evil are more laws and greater threats of punishment. These things sometimes modify behaviour but rarely change hearts. Guidelines only have positive effect when people comply with them. Consider the response of a wealthy educated society like ours that emptied every shelf in every shop in a few days – rampant moral evil fueled by fear and selfishness. Legislation does not combat greed and selfishness. Look at our lockdown beaches on a sunny Saturday. Moral evil needs a deeper solution.
Natural Evil has evil results, but the source is not evil (compared to Moral Evil). It is mostly the natural activities of our wonderful world. We would never dream of arresting a shark for taking a bite out of a swimmer. There is no moral evil in the shark. But the result is evil, a leg damaged for life with all the associated consequences. Coronavirus is just one of millions of viral types on the earth, most of which are beneficial and necessary for the health and well-being* of some living organism. Coronavirus has no moral stance or awareness. It just does what a virus does. Nonetheless, coronavirus19 has evil results – suffering, illness and death. Other sources of natural evil include storms, earthquakes, tidal waves, volcanoes, plagues and illnesses. Many of these are part of how our planet works. It is as natural as my hair falling out but with much more devastating results. God’s response to these situations is found in the life of Christ, inspiring us to respond with development in the poorest places, bringing medical care and healing, housing, new technologies and new possibilities. It is possible to reduce the suffering caused by natural evil. Not responding to the suffering caused by natural evil may take us into the world of moral evil???? We cannot blame God for the suffering caused by natural evil when He is helping us to solve it. We cannot blame God for moral evil when He has supplied the solution to it.
As with last email, could I remind us that there is an eternal dimension to all of this? “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18 This assurance allows us to take the risk of self-giving service to others.
Lots of love
*“Where is God in a Coronavirus World?” (p.33) Professor JC Lennox
The big picture?
One of the most difficult things we all face in the faith part of our lives is making sense of it all. Now maybe that doesn’t bother you. It bothers me lots. I can’t bear contradictions or things that only make sense so long as they are never mentioned at the same time. Like why God is so horrible in the Old Testament and yet so completely the opposite in the New Testament. Why can the Bible tell us that God only has plans to prosper us and not to harm us and yet terrible things happen to people? Why is God only described as good when we pass the exam or get a clear scan result or win that contract?
Anyway, the contradictions and un-thought-out mysteries could go on and on. Some of them are quite good fun to consider and even interesting to discuss. But some are downright serious and can’t be ignored. We can never be content to mutter, “God works in mysterious ways…” as if that gets us all off the hook.
So, let’s exercise the mind for a few minutes. Coronavirus19. Did God send it? Did he just let it? Does he not care? Is it some sort of punishment from God? The internet has exploded with theories and ideas on all of these. We all know about financial scams – watch out for those emails that look like they come from your bank! Could I be so bold as to suggest that there are theological scams all around us. Most are nothing worse than a sweet play on our emotions to make us feel better in the dark days of the virus. Many are a very loose use of scripture (with little harm done). Many are from sources and churches not accountable to us. Are they consistent with the whole revelation of God in the Bible or are they just sound-bites, designed for effect? Internet/fake news/exaggeration/unaccountability/no sources given????
You won’t have received many WhatsApp pictures of a respirator and the verse Romans 8:17, “We are the children of God…if we share in his sufferings.” Who wouldn’t rather receive the picture of footprints walking across the beach. Seriously, why would I want to embrace suffering with Christ, even if it is the path to my inheritance. One of those contradictions we would rather not have to struggle with.
Did God send it? Well, he certainly created it. Nothing came from nothing. Everything has a source, in whatever way we understand the creation idea (more next week on why He made it).
Here is another question. Is God powerful enough to wipe out all evil, but chooses not to? Or would God like to wipe out all evil, but does not have the power to do it? Either lands us with a very disturbing image of God. Here it is again: Is God powerful enough to wipe out all evil, but doesn’t want to, OR He does want to but does not have the power to do it? Oh, I can hear the mutterings, “God moves in mysterious ways…”
We can’t leave these questions hanging like that. It is not fair on those around us who doubt our faith because they think we don’t take it seriously.
Here is a possible answer. God is powerful enough to wipe out all evil and He wants to. In fact, He wants to wipe it out so much that He has already done it. And it cost Him life. These three must fit together.
- Creation; many throughout the centuries have understood it to be a much longer process than a week. Thinking like this does not undermine our faith, or the Bible, or our wonder at the Creator God. So, let’s put a huge timescale for God’s plans onto the desktop of our minds. Remember in His timings a thousand years is but a blink of an eye.
- The temptations in the wilderness. Jesus was tempted by Satan to take the shortcut to sorting the world out. “Bow down and worship me. Throw yourself off the temple roof. Either way we can get the world sorted out pronto.” Is that what we are asking God to do – sort out our world pronto? Has it ever occurred to us that we may be echoing the taunting of Satan when we pray that God does it all for me right now?
- Jesus chooses the better and longer path to recovery and redemption, giving us dignity and partnership in the receiving of it and becoming part of it. All our prayers for healing and miraculous intervention have been answered. Jesus does have the power to wipe out all evil and does want to do it. “It is completed” was his cry from the cross. Just like the creation of the world may not have been shrunk into days of a week, so we must allow our minds to see that from the first century until the revealing of the new heaven and the new earth, God is recreating, just as carefully and powerfully as He once created. And we are part of it!!!!!!! Get the BIG PICTURE.
Coronavirus, you can struggle with humanity all you want, but you will never be more powerful than our God’s redemptive healing plan. History’s conclusion is already sealed with victory. Coronavirus nil, Corona-thorns won (that isn’t a mistake). Long live Messiah Jesus!
MORE QUESTIONS ON THE WAY –
Why does God not do all the miracles and healings that would prove it?
How can God say He is love and allow terrible evil to exist?
What is judgement?
Is there a heaven and a hell?
How can we change the world?
Why are there so many churches?
What did Jesus come to do?
Did he do what He came to do?
Where do I fit in?
What is normal for a Christian – I am not sure if I am?
Lots of love
Dear Belvoir family
Ignore the theatre, movie and TV meaning; to act means to do something, to react means to do something in response.
There is a very curious moment in John chapter 11 when Jesus appears to not react, or maybe does react but not in the way we would imagine he should. The moment is when he hears from Mary and Martha, two of his dearest friends, that their brother Lazarus is very ill.
5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, 7 and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
Can you imagine having that depth of peace and certainty about the purposes of God? The risk involved in waiting. Jesus really is the best.
Back to you and me. Do you remember when the rumour of pandemic was interpreted as a worldwide shortage of toilet paper? Reaction. I have never met anyone who rushed to Tesco, but mysteriously every shelf except the birthday cards was emptied. Even the couscous went. Are people plastering their walls with it? Best thing for it, in my humble opinion, but I digress. Last Sunday on the news there was a beach with thousands of people on it and one interviewee said how disappointed they were that so many people were here. We don’t seem able to include ourselves in the herd-thinking. It is like we are doing the right thing and everyone else is the herd. Yesterday there were people who had never been in a garden centre before queued up outside garden centres to get in, just because we had been told we could. Or what about taking a flask of tea and a picnic and sitting outside a recycling centre for a day out?
It makes you think that this is why the government spokespeople are so reluctant to tell us what we can do at every 0.1 movement of the mysterious R, because we will react immediately (or even sooner) to every hint of possibility to rush back to where we were before.
So, what is it with Jesus and his ability to wait? I think it may have had something to do with his lockdown in the wilderness. He had conquered his fears and weaknesses. Remember those “temptations”? One of them was to take shortcuts, to rush to success, to clutch at the next thing. But he had it licked and was now driven by patience. Now there is a cute idea, driven by patience…waiting intentionally for God’s purposes to unfold.
Back to you and me again. The government has helpfully told us we can do drive-in church. I am not sure when the government suddenly became all spiritual and worship-centred? I believe they have and should have total control of restrictions and the lifting of those restrictions for the sake of public health. They are completely within what we expect of them to tell us about use of our buildings, but style of worship???? They can tell fishing people the limits on space while fishing, but they can’t tell them what bait to use. That is the skill of a fisher-person, not a public health official statement. I am not talking revolution here, just common sense, and a wariness of setting the herd into a stampede (remember Lion King).
Like Jesus I think the church needs to be learning more about itself in the present situation and its role in the herd. We follow Jesus, which means that at times we have to stand out from the herd, promoting grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, peace, healing, generosity, and spiritual reality. We must not be swerved from our call. Living or organising right to the limits of the restrictions is herd-mentality, not the prayerful shalom-filled seeking after God. I know this sounds ridiculous, but within the restrictions we could meet along riverbanks at two-metre intervals, or, if we could get a load of Lairds rowing boats, we could have an open-air service in Bangor Marina. I wonder where we could get the boats…. Let us once again settle ourselves to seek after God in these precious moments of pain and struggle. There is yet more to learn about our future. The present is a gift.
Could I make a comment about R? R is a mathematical value that measures the rate at which we infect one another. If it goes up we infect each other faster, more people get ill, more people have to wait for other procedures, more people have to worry about their jobs and businesses, more people have to work in dangerous situations and more people die. R is the rate at which we infect one another – infect one another. Covid19 does not have feet or wings – it requires us to infect one another. The herd wants to turn R into the green light for how much fun we can now have. R could become a measure of how shallow we have become, both society and church.
Let’s turn our hearts again to the possibility of
- a renewed Adrian (feel free to enter your own name) rather than a patched-up old one.
- a renewed herd rather than a patched-up old one.
- a renewed church rather than a lifted-restriction-driven one.
God of the prayerful, shalom-filled reaction, please give us your patience to wait for those now moments rather than grasp for the most immediate.
Lazarus could have been healed if Jesus had rushed. He was raised from the dead because Jesus waited.
True freedom is not found doing what we want, it is found doing what we ought.
Lots of love
Press Release 16.05.20
Please Like, Comment, Share and Invite to get the word out! The event will be hosted on our Facebook page.
Dear Belvoir family
EXILE is a state of enforced absence from country or home (that is the dictionary definition).
OK, we are not exactly in exile, but we are in a state of enforced absence from our previous way of life.
Once upon a time…about 700 years before Christ, the nation of Israel suffered an invasion from a neighbouring nation called Assyria. Over the next 150 years this invasion was repeated twice more by even bigger more powerful nations/empires. These decades of conflict brought the destruction of Jerusalem, the temple, the economic infrastructure, the agriculture, the pillaging of wealth and ultimately the deportation of skill, energy and youth. About seventy years after this deportation, thawing of hostilities led to a warming of new possibilities. In this time frame you will find Daniel and the lions’ den, Meshach, Shadrach, Abednego and Queen Esther. The Jewish exiles are now in a bit of a lockdown and a small minority in the Persian Empire (which stretched from Greece to the borders of India, Russia and Egypt).
We pick up the story in the Old Testament book of Ezra around 530 BC. Ezra is given permission to leave exile, restrictions were being lifted, and return to Jerusalem to start work on the temple (Ezra 2). Five years on a second wave of restriction is lifted, and they begin to re-shape their culture and religious festivals. The next phase includes the re-development of their agriculture with new plantations and plant species being brought in to revive a collapsed system (Ezra 3). Ezra 4 tells the story of opposition and the whole renewal process goes into reverse; fear and threat reign again. Nonetheless the candle of hope continues to flicker. A few years later and we see another wave of exiles returning and the re-building continues (Nehemiah).
Some things worth noting in all of this.
There is an underlying faith story going on here. This is God’s people rebuilding God’s life here on planet earth. We too are in a faith story – an upsurge of prayer and concern is all around us. Lists of NHS staff are stuck to our fridge doors. Rainbows are on our windows. Hahahahah: exercise has become compulsory! Fear has surrounded us and driven us to changed lifestyles in ways we would never have believed possible. Good stories abound – I was disheartened this morning by a news report that we, in Northern Ireland, did not actually need the numbers of gowns and masks produced on the kitchen tables of our homes. Then someone rang in and suggested that we could send the whole lot to a less fortunate country. Now that sounds like a God-idea. The atmosphere is alive at the minute with the possibilities of faith and the incoming Kingdom. I don’t want to go back to being embarrassed about telling someone I will pray for them. I have a new-found pride in belonging to that crowd of people who deliver all the food and make all those phone calls and make all those masks.
The reconstruction also interests me – they built in the same places as before, but they were building for a new era. That historic period has become known as “Second Temple Judaism” and covered the period leading to Jesus Christ. During this period, the Old Testament was translated into Greek for the first time and became an international text. The Dead Sea Scrolls were written, re-interpreting faith and life, and new movements such as the Pharisees and the Sadducees were forming and shaping their society. The timescales were so vast that we can barely get our heads around them – things moved slower in those days. Nonetheless…could we grab an opportunity and build for a new era rather than a return to the past? There will not be a moment when church services will suddenly be available again. But we could try to build within the government guidelines as they develop, taking every opportunity to shape and re-shape in every way possible. Some of you can remember living in post-bomb Belvoir in caravans and shipping containers, meeting in community buildings and in the open-air. Let’s capture that same spirit of innovation and apply it to parish life, not just services of worship. Remember a church is not a meeting or a service. Church is something we are, and with a joint purpose and a reason. There may be lots we can be and do long before we ever gather again.
They built for the whole of life, not just for religion OR culture OR economics. They recognised the interlocking nature of human existence and went for the whole caboodle. Virus-free food banks? Crowded airports and poisoned airspace? Re-opened operating theatres with 18 month waiting lists? Churches open for those who like that kind of thing? I listened to a podcast yesterday where a Lutheran minister called Nadia Bolz-Weber suggested that we need to re-calibrate. Recalibrate? When a ship is blown off course by a storm the navigator eventually has to recalibrate from some new landmarks so that a new course can be plotted. What might be the new landmarks of the church?
How about reflecting on recalibrating our personal landmarks. I would suggest a new (or, maybe, very old) set of landmarks –
My relationship with the Jesus of the gospels. I have just finished reading “Simply Jesus” – it is like a bomb has gone off in my head.
My commitment to promoting the Kingdom of God through my work, leisure, finance and family – a re-appreciation of the tapestry that is life.
My street, my new-found neighbours, and my place in the human race – local and global.
The landmarks of a new society, what might they be?
The landmarks of a newly energised church family, what might they be?
Lots of love
V I R T U A L B R E A K F A S T C L U B
Join us for chats and friendly faces at Virtual Breakfast Club from 10:30am.
Bring your own coffee and treats. ☕️🍩
To join in click on this link at 10.30am on Sunday. https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86228127215
Zoom Meeting ID 862 2812 7215