“let the little ones come to me”

Some weeks the big issues talked about in our home are chosen for us. B & A are now using social media and see the trending issues as they come and go. So of course we have been responding to the highlighting of the way the immigration policies have been implemented in the USA recently, particularly the separating of children and parents as they cross borders, economic migrants and asylum seekers alike. It has made no sense whatsoever to them seeing pictures of small children so terrified, taken away from parents in a strange new place. They have wondered why, wanted to understand, and wanted to do something to stop it.

I share their concerns. And I found yesterday’s social media feeds difficult. I read wanting to know truth, wanting to respond and act to the true situation. Wanting wisdom, and a stronger heart with bigger, braver love. Jesus rebuked the disciples saying ‘let the children come to me’ (Matthew 19:14), he also of course told us to ‘love your neighbour as yourselves’ (Luke 10) – quite a few times, and to clarify also followed it up with the story of the good Samaritan in case we were wondering about the fine print. I want a heart like his, not one that scrolls quickly past the pictures of children hurting and hungry, suffering in a world full of injustice, so many pictures from so many places both in the headlines and not, but in my social media feed because of the charities I follow I guess. Displaced people is one of the big issues of the day, and so our immigration policies and how they get implemented are of huge concern. There are concerns in my heart about UK policies and implementation of policies too. I don’t for a second feel complacent that we are acting justly, respectfully, humanely as people come to our borders either.

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There is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response as countries and communities to be a blessing to so many people in need right now when you stop and think about it – thinking outside the baggage – and the flip side is of course that there is possibility and opportunity for our policies and response to cause more trauma and lasting damage, more hurt and division long term.

Before we moved to Nottinghamshire we had more opportunities in the everyday of life to practically respond to displaced families looking for asylum. In our church family we got to know families and individuals from all sorts of different places around the world, B & A got to know them, we heard their stories and felt their pain as they shared what they had left and shared their hopes as they navigated their way through the very complicated and clumsy asylum system here. But what for T where we live now? It is not in the everyday encounters that she will hear and feel the experience of displaced people. It is something that if I want her to learn I will have to be intentional about.

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Our church supports a project in Nottingham itself which supports refugees and asylum seekers so that is one very obvious way. In fact we have a fundraising quiz night coming up very soon, and someone from the Rainbow project will be coming to tell us a bit about what they do! Good timing. Of course there are also the families we are still in touch with from where we used to live, including our beautiful godchildren. And continuing to cultivate a culture at home of discussing, exploring and asking questions, bringing faith into all of that and trying to live out the things we discover matter, trying to make a difference.

IMG_20180620_203437811_LLSo, needless to say really yesterday my instinct was to end the day with T by steering the bedtime book choice towards a lovely thoughtful book called ‘The colour of home’, by Mary Hoffman & Karin Littlewood. It tells the story of the first day at school in England of Hassan, a boy from Somalia. Through his painting his teacher is able to speak with him through the language barriers and begin to understand and know him. It is gentle, age appropriate without glossing over the reality of fleeing from home because of violence and conflict. The pictures are wonderful, full of life and colour.

I also ordered a new book (which of course I will tell you about as soon as we have it) which came up on my facebook timeline during the day yesterday – the only thing I shared into the discussion! – written by a child, Fraiser Cox, called ‘There’s a boy just like me’ and Bedtime Story Winner 2017. The more books like this on my shelves the better!

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Dreaming of better things

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The other week we managed a cinema trip as a whole family!! (a good reminder that miracles do happen!) We watched ‘The Greatest Showman’, and absolutely loved it. Each of us enjoying the music and dancing, the editing, the story.

As usual we came away with plenty to talk about – as well as new songs stuck in our heads, that have to be sung. And this film left us with questions that needed answers.

Based loosely on the life story of Mr Barnum, the man who dreamed circuses into being the story depicts society misfits – through class, colour and through disability – coming together to forge themselves a place in the world, to be accepted and recognized as valuable. And so it deals with big themes; rejection, prejudice, contentment and discontent, affirmation, belonging, the human spirit, community…

Now the film depicts Mr Barnum as a lovable flawed hero whose dream creates a family by bringing a group of people together who have only ever found rejection. It does wrestle a little with his own sense of rejection and his striving after social acceptance which leads to him turning his back on his troupe in pursuit of his ultimate dream. But even so he is the film’s hero. Yet as my A quickly found out when we’d got home the real Mr Barnum story was almost exclusively the struggle to make it in the world – and none of the creating of a family. Yes he did collect together social misfits but he didn’t even come close to treating them kindly or as equals. So is the way the film lets us believe in a better version of history at best misleading, at worst glossing over the reality of the prejudice and inhumane treatment of those of different race or of different abilities by society in the past? Or does it actually give us a vision of something to strive for – a community of equality and respect?

So how can I talk with my children about these things?

Is Hollywood history? Is it right for film makers to tell history in a better light? How important is it to find out truthful history? What really happened? Does God ever ignore the tragic or wrong, does he ever only see the good in our lives and our stories?

‘these hands could hold the world but it’ll never be enough’ What did the characters want most in the world? Did they find it? Can we ever find and get everything we long for or think we need? Are we wanting the same things that God wants for us I wonder?

I am the Lord your God. I brought you up out of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Ps 81:10 NIRV)

Find your delight in the Lord. Then he will give you everything your heart really wants. (Ps37:4 NIRV)

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Can we ‘rewrite the stars’? In 2017 headlines were telling us that hate crime against people with disability had increased by 150% over 2 years in the UK. And statistics showed a marked increase in race and faith based hate crime following the Brexit referendum in the UK.  Prejudice is still very much an active part of society in the here and now. The characters Philip & Anne wanted it to be different but didn’t know where to begin. What can we do to change things? Is it possible? Does God also have a dream to change things? What will things look like and be like in the world he’s going to make?

Cause every night I lie in bed
The brightest colors fill my head

A million dreams are keeping me awake
I think of what the world could be
A vision of the one I see
A million dreams is all it’s gonna take
A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make (Lyrics from ‘A million dreams)

‘I am brave, I am bruised. I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.’ These are words from the song Lettie sings when she sees that Barnum has also let them down. ‘Won’t let them break me down to dust. I know that there’s a place for us. For we are glorious.’ Barnum is the main character of the film, but who are the other heroes? Why are they heroes? Have you ever felt let down like Lettie? Have you ever felt brave like Lettie? Who or what makes you brave?

‘a celebration of humanity’ the newspaper reporter concedes that another reporter might even have said his circus was a celebration of humanity. In what way are all unique? Is difference something to celebrate and value? Does God celebrate difference – does he value all of humanity? How does our understanding of God change how we behave towards others?

For the love of Christ puts us into action. We are sure that Christ died for everyone. (2 Cor 5:14 NLT)

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Did it really happen? Evidence for the Easter story.

So, I have plenty of ideas for telling the Easter story at home but when it comes to the inevitable difficult questions like ‘Did it really happen?’, ‘How do we know he came alive again?’ am I ready??

I feel no need to justify God, he can defend himself! However, there are plenty of resources out there that can give me help in exploring these tough questions with my inquisitive, need-concrete-facts, take-nothing-at-face-value children. So I thought I’d get a bit ahead of the questions when they come and remind myself of some of the evidence.

There is plenty of written historical evidence that would be considered trustworthy that suggests Jesus was a real historical figure. The Gospel ‘witness statements’ refer to places and events that there is archaeological evidence for, and they give accurate descriptions to those places and things.

“The historical evidence for Jesus of Nazareth is both long-established and widespread. Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.” (Dr Simon Gathercole, an article in The Guardian)

I can explore more about the archaeology that is providing evidence showing Bible stories to be historically accurate. www.biblicalarchaeology.org 

This second-century graffito of a Roman crucifixion from Puteoli, Italy, is one of a few ancient crucifixion images that offer a first-hand glimpse of Roman crucifixion methods (https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/crucifixion/ancient-crucifixion-images/)

We can also find evidence – written accounts, early pictures and engravings, of crucifixion as a method used by the Romans during the right time frame. We can find out more information than we would want to about usual practice, and what crucifixion involved and see the way that the Gospel accounts describe it is an accurate one.

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“In 1968, an ancient Jewish cemetery was unearthed during construction. There, a heel bone was discovered in the grave of a young criminal that contains an iron nail matching the record of crucifixion. Remnants of a wooden board are still attached at one end, where the nail was bent over to hold the foot on the cross.

It appears the nail hit a knot in the wood of the cross and didn’t allow removal of the body without serious damage. Therefore, the family conducting the burial probably chose to leave the spike in the bone and cut away a section of the wood. The heel bone dates to the first century AD and provides grim evidence for the reality of crucifixion.” (www.allaboutarchaeology.org)

There is evidence from outside the Gospels to look at that also confirms that Jesus was killed in this way. A Roman historian called Tacitus, and a Jewish historian called Josephus both describe Jesus as having been crucified. There is similar reference in the Babylonian Talmud, some Jewish writings. All of these texts are early accounts, not written later with hindsight or loss of information. And they all contain the same facts, Jesus was crucified, Pontius Pilate ordered it, Jesus was a notable figure who had followers.

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“Do we have evidence for Pontius Pilate outside the biblical texts?

In 1961, archaeologists discovered a plaque fragment at Caesarea Maritima, an ancient Roman city along the Mediterranean coast of Israel. The plaque was written in Latin and imbedded in a section of steps leading to Caesarea’s Amphitheatre. The inscription includes the following: “Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a temple in honor of Tiberius.” Emperor Tiberius reigned from 14 to 37 AD. This matches the biblical timeline that records Pontius Pilate ruling as governor of Judea from 26 to 36 AD. (www.allaboutarchaeology.org)

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“The documents produced by Christian, Jewish and Roman writers form the most significant evidence.

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question – which goes beyond history and objective fact – is whether Jesus died and lived.” (Dr Simon Gathercole, an article in The Guardian)

So, then on to the questions about Jesus coming alive again. We have evidence to back up the story that he really died. But then what?

The Gospels all have the disciples finding an empty tomb. Matthew’s Gospel also tells us the Jewish leaders began spreading the rumour that the disciples had stolen the body to make it look as if he had risen from the dead. Even they were in agreement that the tomb was empty! And this is confirmed in some early Jewish writings called ‘Toledoth Jesu’.

It is also interesting that the man who takes Jesus’ body and places it in an unused tomb is a Jewish leader himself, Joseph of Arimethea. He would have been well known, part of the Jewish high court. It would not have been possible for him to be written into the accounts of the Gospel within seven years of the event if this had not been true. And this being true also gives an inherent accuracy to the rest of the account.

It has also been said that the accounts of the empty tomb have women as eye witnesses, women spreading the news. If Jesus’ disciples had wanted to start a fiction, a legend then they would almost certainly have had men as the eye witnesses to the empty tomb, and men would have spread the news. In that time a woman’s evidence was not recognized in court, their testimony was thought of as worthless.

All the Gospels talk about Jesus appearing to his disciples in the days after he had died. They each contain eye witness testimony. Not just factual accounts but accounts as felt, seen, and interpreted by people. “These eyewitness testimonies speak to us
from the inside of the events, experienced by those who recognized the
disclosure of God in them.” (Richard Baukham) There is a consistency between them as well as each being unique. They are personal accounts that also pass on theological understanding.

Outside the Gospel accounts there is evidence from Tacitus, Josephus and also Pilny the Younger, a Roman Imperial Magistrate that the followers of Jesus did not stop, weaken or disperse after the crucifixion and the testimony about the empty tomb. Rather they grew dramatically in number. Were observed to worship Jesus, as they would a god. It is written that they met together weekly to worship despite growing persecution of any thought to be Christians.

“..the Jews or Romans had no motive to steal the body–they wanted to suppress Christianity, not encourage it by providing it with an empty tomb. The disciples would have had no motive, either. Because of their preaching on the resurrection, they were beaten, killed, and persecuted. Why would they go through all of this for a deliberate lie?” (Matt Perman, on Desiring God) 

It is good to refresh my mind about all of this before the questions come my way. Not that it’s my place to ‘convince’ any of my children but it’s important to me to know that I have gathered resources so I can explore with them the best I can. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), or ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition) as it’s more often becoming referred to as in recent months does mean for us, in our house that facts are important. Knowing why, knowing detail, being thorough (and intensely focused) are all important in life, and so they are important in exploring faith too.

the votes are in

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I vividly remember my first ever vote. Walking in to the Polling Station with my Dad, who took me to the desk and proudly announced to everyone and anyone that it was my first time to vote. We registered, went to the booth to cast our vote, posted it into the black box and went home! I don’t know who felt more proud, Dad or me – I certainly remember the feeling of the sheer privilege of it, and the weightiness of the process of reading up, carefully considering, praying & voting.

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 [all] be quietly about our business of living simply, in humble contemplation. This is the way our Savior God wants us to live. (1 Tim 2: 1-4 MSG)

We grew up discussing together. Questioning, discovering and finding out for ourselves. Matters of faith, ethics, the big questions of life were mulled over. Sermons were discussed at Sunday lunch. Politics was also a significant part of family conversation. We knew (or at least I’m fairly sure we knew) how Mum & Dad probably voted, but they modeled a way of weighing up policies from different parties, holding them up against the Bible and our experience and knowledge of our faith, questioning them and ourselves. They modeled a sense of responsibility to take each opportunity to vote seriously, showed us in their attitudes and actions the ways that policies were not simply academic but affected people. We were not told which party we should vote for, we were shown how to vote. I’m so grateful for their lives of faith and the example they gave us. I’m thankful too that over the years they have made room for our questions, our doubts, our naivety, our simplistic thinking. That they did not belittle but encouraged.

So today I have thought a lot about that first experience of voting, and how my parents made space for us to grow and discover for ourselves – and how that spurs me on to keep intentionally making that same safe space for mine as they grow. I have, as usual, missed my Dad’s voice and encouragement in the run up to today. We have definitely not stopped the big discussions, not stopped asking the difficult questions whenever we get the chance to all be together – and the older ones in the next generation are getting into the swing of it very ably too now – but it is one of those parts of life where it still feels very stark that his voice and his wisdom is not in the mix anymore since he died!

What would he be reminding us of now that the votes are in, and the counting begins? Whatever tomorrow brings I think Dad would be reminding me of my calling to Christ-likeness, in my loving and living, in my choices and my thinking. So I am reminding myself of Jesus’ ‘manifesto’ – and praying for more grace! (so much more needed as always!)

When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God’s Spirit is on me;
    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”

 

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent.  (Lk 4:17-19 MSG)

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I don’t understand

So, what have Jack the Ripper, weight, mass, velocity, aboriginal art, tadpoles, trellis, soft furnishings, origins of the word ‘Blazer’, peonies and politics got in common??? Not sure, except that I’ve had to have discussions and try to answer questions about all of them so far this week, and more. We have children who ‘need to know’ all sorts of things, they want to understand, sometimes it feels as though they have never grown through the ‘why?’ phase.

Some of the questions spark from homework – I’m extremely thankful for the balance brought by Jack the Ripper alongside aboriginal art this week! But most simply come from things seen, heard, encountered. Nurturing an environment at home where faith is part of everyday life means of course that the questions and discussions are also about that too, which in a way is really encouraging – it means they are seeing, hearing and encountering it. My week began with a real humdinger of a question – ‘how can I make sense of God when I read the stories about wiping out whole people groups in God’s name in the Old Testament Mum?’. To make a change it came in the midst of the rush to get ready for school rather than last thing at night before bed, but even so – a real tough one – thanks A!

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Image from ‘The Graphic Bible’ J Anderson & M Maddox

In that moment I think I remember expressing what a tough and real question it was, and how many other questions it gives us. I think I remember suggesting it’s not the only picture of God that we have even in the Old Testament – Jericho and the peaceful walking around the walls (though admittedly still a story of conquest which becomes less peaceful quite rapidly), Gideon and how God asked him to keep reducing his army, the story of the broken jars and the lights causing panic (Judges 8), Jonah being so disgruntled when God forgave rather than punished. And I definitely finished that short moment of discussion by introducing the idea that Jesus is the lens to understanding God – how Jesus himself said ‘If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father’ (Jn 14:9), that we can’t separate the two. We both agreed that Jesus’ life showed us things in a different light.

We’ve not found a moment to pick it up again yet, but it will come. And in the meantime I’ve been pondering and wrestling (probably much like A has) what do I think? How can I explore that with A? What’s the best approach?

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Despite the years of theological study it’s a tough one, there isn’t one clear answer that a majority of scholars agree with and the approaches that they take are varied. Some explore and discuss from a social history perspective, how what we know of ancient cultures contemporary to early Israel lived, helps us interpret the biblical accounts. For some this gets done in the light of archaeological evidence from sites of the cities in 20170519_134922Canaan for example. Others take a literary perspective wanting to explore which bits of which biblical book probably have a similar source, how the accounts may have been passed down and then written and how that process might shape our understanding of the events behind the accounts. Different literary approaches might focus on the ‘why’ of the writing, and in the comparison between Israel’s way of recording it’s history and other cultures or people groups’ recorded history to see what defines it and shapes it, what makes it different? Some focus really closely in on the linguistic analysis of particular key words or phrases, asking how they have been translated, was there a cultural nuance in the original language that’s missed in translation, and how could we know that? Some in contrast focus on the ‘Big Picture’, asking what do these accounts mean if we see them in the context of the whole sweeping story of salvation – the story of God and his people? and of course there are different perceptions of what that story itself is, and different aspects of it that can be focused in on… and each of these approaches and questions can lead to different conclusions of course.

Was the history written down as it happened, very humanly, but with people justifying their actions by couching it with ‘God says…’? Did God say these events had to be this way to show us something about ourselves or him without which we would not be ready for Jesus? Are they there to teach us about purity, justice, holiness, God’s jealous love for us because there was no other way for us to learn those things?? Do these accounts of war and killing show us human imperfection in the midst of a story which has a focus on love and self-sacrifice?

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When I pick up the conversation with A again, I probably won’t keep the complexity from him. He’s a deep thinker, and we try as parents not to gloss over or ignore the big questions however hard they are, and however daunted we feel going into those conversations. Equally I probably won’t go through each different school of thought in huge amounts of detail unless he shows an interest and a million other questions follow on! I’m imagining I will ask him as many questions as he asks me… what does he know about God that these stories seem difficult to match up with? what is it that’s a puzzle? where else could we look in the bible that might help us understand, or see it differently? what have we experienced of God, what do we know him to be like because of that? Do we always understand everything about him? If not I wonder why not?

Whenever these tough questions come up I remind myself that my kids are not content with superficial, smoothed over answers, and neither am I probably – though I’m tempted sometimes. Which leaves us in that uncomfortable place of unknowing and the difficult task of learning to live in that without clear cut, definitive answers for everything. But I hope that in creating a safe space for these questions to be asked & heard, and to be wrestled with that we draw ourselves and our kids to the heart of that safe space that we pray into our family life, we draw them into God’s presence, into the presence of the one who does understand all things and still loves us. I hope that by giving space for the wrestling rather than telling A my opinion as if it’s the only one will also model a pattern of growing in faith through the tough questions without being afraid of them.