30 March 2013

Artist and musician

Ben and Hannah Dunnett create delightful greetings cards, art prints, posters and music CDs. We rediscovered all of these during and after a visit to St Michael's Without, an Anglican church in Bath. The grace, peace and beauty of the images and the music are also evident in the people at St Michael's.

One of Hannah Dunnett's cardsSome time ago I was delighted to find that Cornerstone Cafe and Books in St Neots was stocking some really great cards by Hannah Dunnett.

I bought several of them for friends and soon found the Dunnett's website where Ben and Hannah provide more information and sell their material online. Hannah is an artist, Ben is a musician. When I wanted to buy one of Hannah's cards again more recently I was sorry to see they were no longer available at Cornerstone.

But just last week when we were visiting Bath, Donna and I decided to have a coffee at St Michael's Without in Broad Street. And there we found a selection of Hannah's cards again!

I'd like to make you aware of Ben and Hannah's beautiful work because it deserves to be much more widely seen and heard. Not only is it all available to order and in a growing number of retail outlets. But Ben and Hannah have made everything available online, pictures and music too. You will need to buy their products for the full quality, but you can also enjoy it for free.

I predict that having tasted it, most people will end up buying prints or CDs.

Hannah's cards - Hannah paints stylised designs with words from the Bible in sweeping curves. She makes these available as greetings cards, high quality art prints, and posters. The picture above is a design called 'God of all Comfort'.

Because of the carefully chosen words these cards are not just beautiful in their own right, they also bear the stamp of a loving Creator. From the picture above we read, 'I will sustain you, I will give you rest, I will carry you, [I] will be with you, I call to you'. And there is much, much more. Words of great comfort from the One who is quick and ready to bring great comfort.

Ben's music - Ben is a music teacher and examiner. He writes some delightful melodies and is clearly a gifted pianist. If the two worship albums and the children's album are anything to go by he's also very talented in laying down individual tracks to build up a full backing for songs.

You will find everything here from reflective, gentle melody to robust rhythms good for dancing, and great lyrics provided by Hannah.

St Michael's Without - I simply can't close this post without saying more about this lovely Anglican church in Bath. Everything about the place is delightful. The interior has been modified to make a quiet space for coffee, cakes, books and a comfortable place to sit. The website soon makes it clear that the people are delightful too.

They are evidently active in the local community in many ways. They seem to be conscious of the need for gentleness and peacefulness in everything. They are careful and deliberately slow in making changes trying to 'avoid the rush which undermines friendship'. They pray about everything in love.

If you are visiting Bath, try to make the time to drop in to spend a little while experiencing the peace and the fragrance of this lovely place and the people who make it what it is - a little piece of heaven right here on earth. Just like Hannah's pictures and Ben's music.

Questions:

  • Are there ways you can be a little piece of heaven for those you meet today?
  • Might there be 'difficult' people in your life you could make an extra effort to bless?
  • How does Hannah's artwork and Ben's music make you feel?
  • Does it help you find the peace you need to become a blessing to others?

See also:

Procession in St Neots

This year's Good Friday procession makes me wonder if there might be better ways of reaching people in the town. Rather than trying to engage people in what we are doing, can we find ways of getting them to engage us to ask what we are doing and why?

Good Friday march in St Neots
Every year, Churches Together in St Neots holds a Good Friday procession to the Market Square where a combined service is held.

We'll return to consider how this impacts the local community in a moment, but first I'll describe the occasion.

This year the numbers were significantly lower than usual, perhaps because it was a bitterly cold day. The group of believers gathered outside St Mary's, walked to the church gate on Church Street, turned left into the High Street, and gathered in the Market Square.

The procession involves a simple banner stating who is walking (Churches Together), and a wooden cross as an emblem and statement of the events being remembered, the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. The walkers are silent because it's a solemn occasion, and there's a police presence because the walk takes place on the road rather than the pavement.

Once assembled in the Market Square there is a conventional church service with hymns, Bible readings and several short messages delivered by leaders from some of the churches represented.

Impact on local people - I didn't walk in the procession although I have done so in previous years. Donna was keen to walk and I took some photos and then joined the meeting in the Market Square.

I wanted to support Donna by walking with her but felt that Papa was guiding me not to. I've been rather uneasy about the walk in previous years; this time I felt more strongly that it was not the right thing for me to do. My sense on this is that by walking we are creating a minor inconvenience to the majority of people in St Neots. Most are not believers and I don't want to be remembered as a person who just gets in the way and holds up the traffic.

The purpose of the walk is partly to witness to those around that we are followers of Jesus, and partly to reach them with the good news he brought. But I feel sure that it is not be very useful and may even be counter productive. Better, perhaps, to try to engage with people in a less traditional and more effective way.

There are other things to consider. What do people make of the banner stating we are 'Churches Together'. I wonder if, rather than suggesting we are united, this doesn't confirm to many that we are a set of separate organisations. It doesn't really emphasise that we are one church, but rather that we are several.

The solemnity of the entire event, although understandable, is not likely to seem attractive to everyday people. To connect with the population we surely need to be more fun, more colourful, more interesting and more relevant.

Some alternatives - I certainly don't intend to criticise. I'm glad that there are people in the town who are willing to turn out on a cold day like this, to stand up and be seen, and to make the truth known to anyone who will listen. But I suspect few pay any attention.

Most people think they already know roughly what Christians believe and they don't see us as attractive or interesting. They typically presume us to be fuddy-duddy and irrelevant to the ordinary lives of ordinary people.

But there are alternative ways to reach people that are much more effective; alternatives that will play on the natural curiosity that is common to all people everywhere.

A few years ago there was a passion play in the town, and that got a lot of attention and made a real impact. I'm glad to see that there's a plan to repeat it in 2014. It's a colourful event full of action and interest and sound and colour. Many people followed the play from place to place in the town and watched.

Another alternative focusses on free hugs and the many other similar activities we can try. Once again these engage people's interest. As far as I could tell not a single person stopped to watch or listen to today's meeting. A few people watched very briefly as the procession passed by. But joining in with the free hugs a few weeks ago I was struck by how many people wanted to ask about it and listen while we explained.

Instead of trying to engage people it may be far better to do something unusual and intriguing so they will want to engage us. We need to spend less time and effort doing what people expect us to do, and put far more time and effort into doing what they do not expect.

Questions:

  • Imagine yourself as an unbelieving onlooker. Which would you find more interesting, a clearly religious meeting in the middle of your town or someone giving away labelled fruit?
  • What could you do locally to encourage people to come and ask you questions?
  • Which will people find the more approachable, a group of forty or a group of two?

See also:

26 March 2013

The colour of the robe

Visiting Bath Abbey left us with a conundrum. When the Roman legionaries dressed Jesus in a robe and mocked him as a king, was that robe purple or red? The Greek text is fairly clear with a small caveat and I'm left wondering if it was, in fact, a rather dark red, perhaps a centurion's cape.

Stone tracery in the roof of Bath Abbey
Donna and I spent a couple of days in the city of Bath recently. While we were there we looked at a number of interesting places including the Roman baths, the famous Georgian architecture, and the Abbey.

The Abbey had some beautiful panels, the Bath Abbey Diptychs. They are presented as pairs, one painted and the other made in needlework.

One of them had a lovely, red, fabric background and the text referred to the scarlet robe put on Jesus by the Roman troops when they mocked him as a king.

This got me thinking, surely the robe was purple, not red? When we got home Donna checked and it seems the robe is sometimes described as scarlet and sometimes as purple.

So what happened? - After Pilate handed Jesus over to the Roman troops for crucifixion, they stripped him and then dressed him in a robe and a crown of thorns. Matthew says the robe was scarlet (Matthew 27:28). Mark says it was purple (Mark 15:17). Luke doesn't mention the event at all. John says it was purple (John 19:2).

So what colour was this robe? There are several plausible reasons for the differences.

The Greek is quite clear. Matthew uses κοκκίνην (kokkinēn), Strong's number 2847, literally 'scarlet' or 'crimson'. This kermes dye is obtained from an insect that lives on the holm oak tree. Matthew and John use the word πορφύραν (porphyran), Strong's number 4209, which usually means 'purple' or 'purple garment' but may also mean 'deep violet', 'deep scarlet', 'deep crimson' or 'deep blue'.

So one possibility is that the three gospel writers are in agreement and the colour was a rich, dark red of some kind.

Alternatively there may be some doubt about the colour, eye-witnesses might have seen or remembered it as either purple or red, particularly if it was a heavily dyed fabric and therefore dark.

Meaning and availability - Another point worth making is that purple was a colour that denoted wealth and high status. The Roman emperors wore purple so it denoted rule, power and kingship. Scarlet on the other hand might represent sacrifice, blood or death. Both seem appropriate, one representing Jesus as King of kings, the other as High Priest. Red and purple were both components of the Jewish priestly robes, along with blue and gold.

We can also ask ourselves what dyed garments the soldiers might have had available. Soldiers wore a white tunic under their armour, but coloured material was expensive and was not worn by the ordinary legionaries. Purple fabric was even more expensive and it's most unlikely they'd have had access to it.

Centurions, however, wore a red cape; might the soldiers have used one of these to dress Jesus as a king? It's certainly possible. A much cheaper dye suitable for these red capes would have been madder.

What's more, using a centurion's cape would have made the mockery deeply shameful as well. It's not unlikely Jesus would have remained naked with just the cloak over his shoulders, the woven thorns on his head and the reed in his hand as the soldiers taunted him. Then they dressed him in his own clothes and led him out to die. They stripped him again before nailing him to the cross, and shared out his clothes as he hung there. In this way Psalm 22:18 was fulfilled (see Matthew 27:27-35).

For me, the idea that the colour might have been deep and could be described equally well as purple or scarlet makes perfect sense. So too does the possibility that a Roman centurion's cape was used.

Questions:

  • Have you ever wondered about the colour of the robe? I hadn't until now.
  • Does the deep red using madder seem a probable solution to you?
  • Do you think the colour is symbolic?

See also:

20 March 2013

Elon Musk at TED

Elon Musk is an extraordinary entrepreneur. He is behind SpaceX and several other ground-breaking companies. Interviewed here for TED he explains how he has achieved such success. It seems that it essentially depends on beginning with sound principles, aiming high and taking risks.

This rocket is landing, not taking off!
Sometimes a truly extraordinary event or person comes along and changes everything. Elon Musk is one of those people.

He was a co-founder of PayPal and sold his share in the company for a considerable fortune.

Wanting to devote his life to things that would solve major issues for the human race, he went on to develop a company building electric cars to reduce our need for fossil fuels (Tesla), a company to dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflight (SpaceX) and a solar power company  (SolarCity) to eliminate the fossil fuel industry.

Elon Musk hopes to make humanity a multi-planet species by making it possible to colonise Mars.

How does he do it? - Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED Talks, interviewed Elon to find out what makes him tick and exactly what it is that has enabled him to succeed repeatedly. Chris would also like to know whether the essential factors can be identified and encouraged in others. Can Elon Musk become a sort of 'template' or guide for success with extreme projects?

The answer is, quite possibly, 'Yes'. The keys seem to be to aim high, take risks, base new ventures on the underlying principles and work up from there. It's also useful to pay close attention to negative feedback from friends.

Watch the interview for yourself. It is short, fascinating, and informative.



Questions:

  • What most astonishes you about Elon Musk's achievements?
  • What is the most interesting part of his thinking? What is fundamental?
  • How might you use the underlying principles in business, church, politics, education... ?
  • What are you waiting for?

See also:

16 March 2013

Obey, obey, obey

Our own efforts are not enough, we need to be obedient to the Creator. Not only that, we need to understand that he is involved in all of life, not just the part we might think of as 'church'. We should all follow the same basic principles, yet he deals uniquely with us as individuals.

Hand made furniture
Felicity Dale posted about how she started writing, and I left a comment. But now I think I should expand on parts of the comment here on my own blog.

One of the issues with church as we have known it is that we are inclined to work very hard at making it better.

We aim for better organisation, better teaching, more entertaining speakers, more professional music, more and better books and leaflets, exciting events, and so on.

So what could possibly be wrong with making things better? Well, nothing really. Better is indeed... better! But that's not where the problem lies.

His ways and our ways - The real issue is that we work out ways of making it better according to our own wisdom and knowledge. And all the time Papa might be watching what we do, appreciating our zeal and hard work, while all the time lamenting the fact that we are not doing his will, but our own.

His ways are his ways, not necessarily like our ways at all. Better in my opinion may even be worse in his.

We need to become a more obedient people. We need to hear more clearly, take what we do hear more seriously, and turn hearing into action. Something that is held to be almost self-evident in many parts of the church today is that men should take leadership roles and women should be quiet and submissive. But Felicity has been hearing very clearly (and so have I and many others) that this is not really what Papa is saying. It's generally based on a particular way of reading a handful of verses in the New Testament and on historical attitudes in society as a whole.

This latter point about society is part of a larger issue that needs to be resolved in our hearts and minds, and that is where church fits in society.

Holy and secular - You see, church is not separate from the rest of life. We often think in terms of church on the one hand and the world on the other. We 'go to church' on a Sunday morning and do and say and hear and see holy things. And the rest of the week we live our 'ordinary lives' and go to school or work or care for the home and devote our attentions to money, shopping, looking good, having fun, watching TV and doing a thousand and one other 'important' things.

But in truth there is no holy and secular, there is just life as a whole and society as a whole and Christ in and through his people bringing light and flavour into all of it, into all the aspects mentioned above and many, many more. Alan Hirsch makes this point very clear in 'The Forgotten Ways'.

The thing is, Papa is involved in all of life, he is indeed the source of all life. And if he is involved in all the aspects mentioned above, so should we be. If we are truly in the Son and he is truly in us, how can we avoid his involvement in every moment we are alive? And in any case, why exactly would we want to? If my heart is open to hear him he will continually tell me where to go, who to speak to, how to behave and what to believe.

Obedience - Understand that Felicity's writing, and Alan's are the results of obedience. They did what the Holy Spirit called them to do. It was already in the Father's heart and plan for them to write. He has things in his heart for you to be doing too - what are they?

And best of all, rather than all following the same understanding and the same ideas, we all follow the same principles but the detail varies. Papa's path for you will be different than his path for me; he deals with us individually. We should not see ourselves as factory-produced items, all made the same within very tight tolerances. Instead we are are all hand crafted, individually fashioned by the master craftsman.

Factory-made furniture is manufactured from laminated board and timber pre-cut and fastened with plastic blocks and metal screws and fittings. Craftsman-made furniture is hand sawn from selected timber of good quality and jointed in traditional ways. The maker is sympathetic to the pattern of the grain and turns imperfections into beautiful features. The surface is carefully sanded to a smooth finish and polished with real waxes or oils.

I commend Alan Hirsch's books to you, and Felicity and Tony's, and Neil Cole's too. There are a thousand clues to Father's ways of showing us his purpose in all these books.

But I commend the still, small voice of the Spirit to you even more.

Here's what we need to do, all of us who are willing and able.

  1. Tell Papa you're sorry for your failure to listen and hear.
  2. Tell him that you will listen from now on.
  3. If you don't know how to hear, ask him to teach you. Then expect him to find a way to do it.
  4. Decide to obey everything you hear from him.
  5. Just begin doing it!

Questions:

  • Have you read Alan Hirsch's book, 'The Forgotten Ways'?
  • Is the Father's wisdom greater or less than yours?
  • Do you suppose Father wants us to do his will or our own?


See also:

13 March 2013

If there's a Creator...

If there's a Creator, why is suffering permitted? Perhaps we are looking at life in the wrong way, it's not about ease and safety. It's about living a more free and abundant life, about loving one another, about knowing the Creator intimately. Life is not supposed to be me-centred, it's other-centred.

A royal doll's house
Haven't we all heard this question? 'If there's a Creator, why does he allow suffering in the world?'

Or it might be, 'Why did he let my wife/husband/child/parent/friend die?', or ,'Why didn't he stop a terrorist incident?'.

Why are there earthquakes, why is there disease?

It's a question that comes from a great missing of the point. Our Father didn't promise us lives without trouble. Indeed, Yahshua specifically told his followers that they would face severe trouble in the world.

He himself faced ridicule, scourging, and a ghastly death. Why would we expect to suffer any less? And if we who have trusted in him and follow him face hardship, danger and loss, why would those who have not trusted and followed expect a better deal?

The fact is, he did not necessarily come to bring us health and happiness and security in this life, he came to set us free and pour into us the essence of a new life - a life that will never end. We begin to live the new Kingdom life now even while we still struggle daily in our old, temporary lives.

We rarely think about the alternative to a universe in which suffering is allowed. The alternative would be no free will, no self determination. Only chaos (in the mathematical sense) makes life possible.

Why is this so hard to grasp, so hard to come to terms with?

Perhaps it all depends where we are standing as we review the situation.

The view from this world - Looking at it from the perspective of this life alone it is natural for people to want comfort and security. If we expect to die and pass into an empty obscurity, why would we search for anything else but benefit now? More money, more fun, better health, more happiness, more time, less work, more to eat but a slimmer body, less working out but better fitness, less effort but more achievement. Are these reasonable goals? No!

As long as we think of heaven as a place of lazy happiness and easy joy we are trying to find the wrong reward. And if the truth be known, we are still wanting to enjoy that reward in this life.

The view from the kingdom of heaven - But Christ did not come to reward us. We did not (and cannot) earn a reward. We are too often like children opening a wrapped gift and saying, 'But I didn't want a key, I wanted a doll's house. This comes from a failure to understand from a grown-up perspective. Which is best for us, a doll's house now or the key to our Father's house so we can freely come and go?

We need to learn to live our lives from this new perspective. It's not healing now, or food now, or safety now that truly matters. By comparison with receiving the heavenly and eternal healing, food and safety and having them in the here and now are of little value.


Heaven invades the world - And if this is all true, why do we see people healed when we pray for them? Why did Yahshua tell his followers, 'Ask anything in my name and it will done for you by my Father in Heaven'?

One of the greatest joys and privileges we have as believers is the gift of being able to come to the Father in the name of the Son. It is one of the means by which the kingdom of heaven invades this physical universe in which we live. Other ways include direct communication through the action of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, through dreams and visions, in prophecy and teaching, words of comfort and wisdom, and above all the growing knowledge believers have of the Father's heart and nature.

Some will say, 'But it doesn't always work!' This is true, sometimes we pray for healing and there is no perceived change. It might be due to lack of faith in the heart of the one who asks or of the one who is prayed for. But it might also be because we have not clearly heard the Father's will and purpose. It may be because we give up instead of persisting in prayer. And sometimes it may even be because the hard experience is essential for our eternal well-being or for someone else's.

We need to become like Yahshua who said, 'If it's possible, let this cup pass from me. But even so, Father, let your will be done here, not mine.'

Isn't this what Paul had in mind when he wrote, 'Let your bodies be made spiritual sacrifices'? We must lay down our lives daily. Lay them down and not take them up again. Lay them down and leave them for Papa to use and bless in his own way and at a time of his choosing.

And while we are here, in this world, it is our responsibility to help other people whenever we have the means to do so. We must pray for the sick and feed the hungry. We are the hands and feet of Jesus.

Questions:

  • What does it mean to you, personally, to 'let your body be made a spiritual sacrifice'?
  • How do you answer someone who says that unanswered prayer shows you lack faith?
  • Has anyone ever said that to you or someone you know?

See also:

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