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Be Kind

As I spoke to my mother in the US, she asked whether we have protesters swamping the halls of government to demand a release from our lockdown.  I said, “Of course, not.”  I know people are fed up.  I know the papers say some people are going back to work, but there are no crowds swarming around Parliament Square or the Senedd demanding we are let back to work—though each day we hear more people are driving or on public transport.

Instead of protests. we do seem to have people reporting others who appear to flaunting the rules:  the nurse whose tyres were slashed because her neighbours didn’t realise she was a nurse; the Job Centre worker who had the police show up at her door; the angry walker who confronts a group of young men playing football in the park; the shoppers who accuse the mother of a large family of hoarding.

When I encounter someone who walks or cycles too close to me, I am frustrated and frightened, but I haven’t yet shouted at them.  I wonder about this.  Should I confront the people walking the wrong way around Roath Park?  I haven’t, but I have heard someone else do it.  (And I was glad they did.)
Still I wonder about policing other people.  Is it my job, your job, to challenge the person who seems to be breaking the ruleS?  Is it my job to judge them or inflict a “punishment”?  

We like to speak about the wonderful side of community this lockdown has created between us.  When a six year old can’t have a birthday party, our hearts warm seeing footage of a whole street coming out to clap and sing for her.  When Captain Tom walks his laps, we are joyful and we give to the NHS.  (For which I am grateful, but I am also angry because our government should properly funded our health service.) There are lots of examples of community spirt and caring, which we hope will continue following the pandemic.

But what is our responsibility toward our neighbour?  To judge, to punish or to love?  Just before this started a television presenter committed suicide, partly, I guess because she felt judged.  In response to her death the hashtag, “Be Kind” became popular.  Where is our kindness in Covid 19 judgement?

I have long told my children to simply be kind to other people. I’m sure they grew tired of hearing me say it in their teenage years.  It was my attempt to interpret Jesus’ command, “Love your neighbour as yourself” in a pre-teen and teen Florida life. In the face of bullying and rudeness and cliques it seemed to me kindness would go a long way—hard as it was to be kind some days. I’m sure my girls thought I was naive then, but I still think being kind is essential.  Though I might want to shout at other people for flaunting the rules, I don’t know their circumstances.  I have no idea of their needs and understanding.  Maybe they can’t read the signs in English and Welsh around the lake.  So I only complain in my head.  In my practice, I try to be kind in my encounters and, more often than last week, in my head

A Confession and A Sermon

I have a confession to make.  Please don’t hold it against me.  My confession:  I have been having trouble listening  and watching church services during the lockdown.  I generally love listening to a good preacher.  And I am aware we have access to almost anyone I would deem a good preacher right now.  That should be a good thing for a church geek like me, but I have trouble listening and watching now.

In response to my confession, I might offer an explanation.  That is I have trouble concentrating.  When we are grieving, we do struggle with being focused.  So I could use that as my excuse, but I don’t really think a lack of concentration is the reason.  This morning I listened to a service, a good service, and I have been sad all morning.  

I am sad because it reminds me of what I am missing.  I identify myself as a “preacher.”  As a preacher, I am missing the interaction in the community of faith.  I am missing developing friendships.  (My advice:  don’t move just before a pandemic.). I am missing the surprises of being with other people who have stories and ideas to share.

When leading worship, I always have mixed feelings. My feelings range generally between fear and dread.   I feel the responsibility of leading worship and worry that I might not have the message together enough.  Sometimes I am sure I have not, but there are times when I feel a warmth and connection during a service.  On those times,  I believe the Holy Spirit is at work.  I also enjoy the  conversations after the service.  In the worship and the conversations there is a connection which is energising, despite my fear and dread as 10.30 a.m. approaches.  I love the connections made around the act of worship by the Holy Spirit.

Now I firmly believe God is present in many ways in life, in people who aren’t church people, in small kindnesses shared and in grand gestures.  I am sure God is at work even now, in people we pass on the streets, in our neighbours, in shops, in nursing homes, hospitals, surgeries, in warehouses and schools and delivery and lorry drivers.  The list is really endless despite the lockdown.  God is still present.  I know that is true, but I still feel sad.  I miss the human connection, the unexpected touch of the Spirit, the smile we share, even the frustration when things go wrong.  Today I can see God at work, but I’m still sad.

I am grateful for life, but life has taken a new shape.  I accept it has to be this way.  I am even grateful it can be this way, but I can’t see the way out of it.  I am being changed by this new way of life.  There is a future, but it will be different than we imagines. I am sad for what the loss of what was and not yet able to imagine what might be. 

So today I am simply sad.  Today will have its gifts despite my sadness.  Tomorrow I will leave to the One who holds our future in His/Her hands.  And one day, in that future, I will enjoy a good sermon again!

A Morning Walk

This morning a battle raged in my head before I was even downstairs.  I had a package I needed to post.  The battle was, “Do I make the 10 to 15 minute all to the post office or do I nip up there in the car?”  Now the car does need to be used now and then to keep the battery charged, but do I really need to drive?  I have time.  I have energy.  I can walk.  On the other hand, I have to insure I am back in time for the Zoom coffee morning.  

I used to live less than a five minute walk from three local shops that each carried any odds and ends I needed.  I happily walked to them regularly for a pint of milk, a newspaper, or, more importantly, a Diet Coke.  I was spoiled.  “It’s so much easier to drive,” my mind says today, but my hearts say, “Walk.”  This time walking won out.

On my “trip,” which included a brief stop at the local shop before going into the post office, I noticed a few of things.

Firstly, people were friendly.  They said “hello,” smiled, and moved out of my way to keep to rules of social distancing.  On my regular afternoon walk, no matter which way I go, people rarely speak.  They often fail to move out of my way.  This morning I  passed one person coming and going to the post office, and she remarked on that.  Why were people friendlier?  I have no idea.  Maybe it is just the day and everyone will be friendly later.  Maybe we are just too tired later.  Maybe I was friendlier.  Or maybe there is no clear reason, they just were.

Secondly, in the shop there was a girl with her mother, happily chatting away about what they were going to eat when the returned home.  She was about four.  I imagined her chatting all the way to the shop and all the way home.  The joy of life brimming in her.  She reminded me that most children are able to adapt to whatever life throws at them.  They live in the moment, with less worry about tomorrow or next week than adults do.  They do have sadness, but they also can put it aside to focus on a task before them or the excitement of this moment.  Children do grieve, but generally they also get on with life.  (I know I am not talking about children who are abused or ill etc.)

For this lass, life, even in lockdown, held joy and things to which she could look forward.  Hmm, what does that say to me/us?

Finally, as I waited in the shop queue, I noted again the screens in front of the shop assistant. I don’t like barriers.  I believe that Jesus came to break down barriers—between human beings and between us and God, to bring wholeness to our relationships.  

So what did those barriers remind me of?  I thought a moment, “Ah, the banks.”  There is a similar style barrier which protects the “gold” we store in banks and building societies.  Those barriers now protect something more precious than “gold”—life.  It’s not gold that is precious now; it is life—the shop assistant’s, mine, ours.  

In essence, all three aspects of my walk to the post office were about the goodness of life—in the kindness and brief words of those who like me were out and about this morning, in the joy of the little girl, and the “barrier” reminding me of the value of life for all people.  My choice of a walk was a good thing in more ways than one.  Despite lockdown, life, today, is good.

Noticing and Listening

There is a bush that blocks one of my front windows.  I love light coming into rooms so I wanted the bush removed.   However, sitting in the living room I began to notice a robing flitting back and forth in the bush.  I loved seeing the robin sitting there, remembering many people finding comfort in the appearance of robins at Willen Hospice during the death of their loved ones. As I sat in the chair in the morning, I looked forward to the brief appearances of the robin.

But the bush was still overgrown and blocked light.  So I decided, rather than cutting it all the way down, I would cut it back.   I did.  To my delight the robin and another small bird have continued to bless us with their presence in the bush—now half its size.

“Every day I listen to the dirt. What are you telling me? What do you need? What do you want to give?”  Dirk Gianinni, fourth-generation farmer in Salinas, California

During this pandemic, I am listening in new ways.  I continue noticing the robin in the bush in the front garden, but I am also noticing the birds in the back garden. (I discovered that female blackbirds are brown.) I am noticing the birds nesting around Roath Lake.  I am noticing flowers.  I am noticing signs in windows.  I am noticing people who pass my house every morning.  I am noticing and listening.  These are spiritual practices.

I am conscious that for some people this time is very busy and overwhelming.  But for me there are less meetings to rush to and from.  There are less distractions so I am trying to listen and notice the world around me—the creation and the Creator.  

What am I being told by what is around me?  The lockdown had highlighted that I basically have everything I need.  I am listening to this lesson.  If I return to Dirk Gianinni’s words,  I guess I only need to ask what do I need for today and what can I learn today.  I do not need to worry too much about tomorrow.  As Jesus said, “So don’t worry about tomorrow. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Tomorrow will have its own worries.”  Matthew 6.34 Instead, I will pray with Jesus, “Give us this day our daily bread.” 

And I ask what can I give?  This question has to be asked in a remote context.  How can I give to someone who I cannot visit today?  Whose life can I touch, without touching them?  The answer is different depending on the day, but asking the questions reminds me that there are many ways to give.  Which one will I use today?

So in the days ahead I will continue noticing and listening for the lessons of each day, trusting God for what I need for tomorrow.  I will continue to offer myself in service, despite the limitations of lockdown, and hope that God will use my efforts to encourage someone else today.