Who to betray…

I wrote this on facebook yesterday:

I’m finding this whole election thing very difficult this year. I guess one reason is that, whichever party I vote for, I know that I will be betraying some of my own values, and their policies will betray people I care about. It’s kind of tough deciding what and who to betray.
I know, it’s entirely possible to consider things from a more positive point of view – establishing which party most agrees with my own convictions and priorities, but for some reason, my overriding feeling this time round is just negative. Whoever I choose, someone’s screwed.

I look at every party (well, I’m kinda stuck looking at the ‘big 5′, because no-one else is standing around here) and see stuff that I like.

I love the Green Party’s stance on the environment.  I think, as a Christian, they tick a lot of boxes in the stewardship sort of thing (though most of them wouldn’t call it that).  I also love what happened on Twitter this morning:

I think that willingness to engage with an ‘undecided’ is pretty important.  But I think it’s important to engage with the ‘decideds’ too :)

I like our local (Conservative) MP, and think she’s done some good stuff around here.  She’s very involved in government, attending more debates and governmenty stuff [I’m pretty sure that’s the technical term] than your average MP.

I like the Lib Dem’s desire to look after the NHS.  Ironic, that the health service is itself in ill-health…

I like Labour’s approach to welfare, and accept that taxes may have to rise as a result.

I like UKIP’s colour scheme.  I’ve always been a fan of purple.

But equally, there are things from each party that are troubling.

The Greens seem to be in support of euthansia, which I’m absolutely not, and disestablishing religion (which wouldn’t be the end of the world, but I’m against anyway).

The Conservatives appear to prioritise the wealth of the wealthy over the needs of the needy, and I think that flies in the face of godly living.

Labour worry me because of their history of overspending.  Of course, that came at an economically tricky time, but if I tried to spend money that didn’t exist, I’d get into trouble.

UKIP just worry me.  I’m sure there are level-headed people in the party, but the focus on immigration and the sheer numbers of numpties who are verging on seeking Aryanism is disturbing to say the least.

Lib Dem’s are (clue’s in the name here) just a bit too liberal for me.  I’m more conservative (with a little ‘c’) than they are.  Just looking at the overview of their policies has me thinking, ‘oooh, no…’  a fair amount.

So you see my problem?  At some point in the next six hours, I need to go and vote, and I’m still struggling to work out who to vote for.  Natalie Bennett almost clinched it by actually tweeting me (perhaps you think that’s fickle), but I then have the problem that polls suggest Greens would get about 2% of the vote where I am, which raises the question of whether I should be voting tactically or not…  Oh dear.

As I said at the start, I fear that, whatever my choice, someone’s going to get completely done over.  But I am truly grateful that I get to vote.  I’m also very grateful that, whoever my MP turns out to be for the next few years, I’m perfectly able to contact them and put my views across. Whether or not I voted for them, that’s what they’re there for.  I hope I’ll be more engaged in politics in the coming years.

Having said that, I think I’ve effectively ruled out two parties.  Two more to go…  Plenty of time.

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It doesn’t add up…

Ok, so I’m coming into this whole election thingy a bit late in the day, but this has been floating around my little brain in the last couple of days:

photo 1

This is our car.  We’ve had it for a few years now.  It’s served well.  It’s had a couple of knocks, but still works ok.  (Perhaps I should clarify at this point, it’s not the car that’s been floating around my little brain recently – that would be jolly inconvenient, no I’m just illustrating a point – stay with me).  Last month, we bought this:photo 2It’s really quite nice.  There’s a lot I have yet to learn about it, but it’s nice to drive.  The boys are excited by the dizzying array of cup-holders (let’s face it, who wouldn’t be?!).  It’s got a bit more oomph, and hopefully will last us for a few years.

However, it cost us money.  The asking price was more than we’ve ever paid for a car (though we did once have a car loan, which ended up totting up to more than we’ve paid for this fella).  Not only did it cost us money, but it will also continue to cost us money.  More money, in fact, than the Skoda featured in exhibit ‘A’.  It has a bigger engine and is newer.  It is therefore more costly to insure.  It also uses more petrol.  It has a bigger fuel tank, so every trip to the pump costs more, and (given the bigger engine) doesn’t actually get you any further in terms of miles.  I’m assuming that services and parts will cost a bit more (let’s face it, if I was making Skoda and BMW parts, I know which I’d put a higher price on).  So not only did we commit to spending more money on purchasing it, it’s also a commitment to spend more money on running it.

By this time, you’ve either forgotten that this post started with a comment about politics, or you’re wondering where on earth I’m going with this.  Well, this is the thing that’s been buzzing around my head of late.

The main parties seem to be promising us bigger and better things, and yet assuring us that they’ll save us money at the same time.  They are, if you like, promising us the use of a BMW for less than the cost of a Skoda.  And I just can’t help thinking that’s completely stupid.  For one thing, if they are in a position to do that, why on earth weren’t they doing it already?  And how on earth do they expect us to believe it’s possible?  “We’ll cut your taxes”, they say, “and life will be even better, or at least, we’ll make sure it doesn’t get any worse”.  Piffle.  Seriously, are we expected to buy that?

It makes me want to vote for the party who are promising the greatest tax increases.  At least that’s one thing they’re not lying about…

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Worship, love and sacrifice.

The Bible has a lot to say about all three.  But I just wanted to mention where the three all come together for the first time…

You’ll probably be at the very least vaguely familiar with the story.  God has promised Abraham a son and numerous descendants.  Abraham has waited for ages (like, way longer than seems humanly possible) for a son.  He even bypassed God’s promise by having a son with his wife’s servant.  But God reminded Abraham of His promise, and Abraham set about waiting all over again.  And then Isaac was born.  At last.

About time too, might have been Abraham’s general feeling (alongside the required gratitude).

And then God drops this bombshell.

Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you.’

Marvellous.  Talk about a spanner in the works.  What a profoundly stupid suggestion.

But remarkably, this is how the story continues:

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac.

Not ‘after a long-hard period of fasting and prayer’.  Or ‘after careful consideration’.  No, ‘early the next morning’.

What has Abraham been waiting for for a long, long time?  A son.  And how does God describe that son? ‘…your only son, whom you love…’  Isaac means ‘he laughs’.  Abraham’s not laughing now.  God’s promised Abraham a son.  God’s given Abraham a son.  And now God’s asking Abraham to sacrifice him.  To give him back.  And that’s exactly what Abraham is willing to do.  He collects the wood, his son and a couple of servants, and sets out.  We then read:

He said to his servants, ‘Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.’

What does this tell us about worship?  Well, I’m guessing Abraham’s not expecting the equivalent of Big Church Day Out.  Worship here seems to be him giving up what he loves very much, for the God he loves even more.

I remember, many years ago, a chap coming to church and talking about his conversion (he was from the Indian Subcontinent).  When he chose to follow Christ, he lost many friends and family as a result.  He made a great sacrifice in order to follow Jesus.  As it happens, his visit to our church came shortly after the birth of our first child.  Those first few days were a hideous experience.  We’d only just got our son, and we’d very nearly lost him.  The chap doing the talk at our church was closing his talk and asked, ‘would you be willing to give up your family to follow Christ?’  I was on the piano for the song immediately after the talk.  I was playing away, with tears in my eyes and a big, fat, resolute, resounding ‘NO’ echoing around my head.

Worship is not always easy.  It won’t always feel uplifting.  But it is always right.  It sometimes hurts a great deal, and requires us to be willing to sacrifice the things we love most, even when those things have been given to us by God Himself.

I wonder what worship is calling me to do today…  I wonder what it’s calling you to do.

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Seeing is caring.

Ok, so I call myself a Liverpool fan (and I’m talking about football here (and for any non-British readers, that’s the proper, original type of football…))  And I am a Liverpool fan, really I am.  But I’m just not a very good one.  I’m not the type to cry in the event of a loss.  I certainly wouldn’t leave the stadium part way through a match just because my team was losing (quite apart from anything else, it would strike me as a waste of money to do so).  But despite my shortcomings in the area of fanning, I am nevertheless a Liverpool fan.

Yesterday, Liverpool were playing in the FA Cup semi-final.  I decided I’d watch it.  Sunday afternoon, seemed like a good idea.  So I turned the telly on and flicked through to find it.  But, shock horror, it was on BT Sport (seriously!) which is a subscription channel that we don’t subscribe to.  This is pretty absurd, as FA Cup stuff has tended always to be on the BBC (which is free (ish))  So I settled down in front of the telly to watch it on the Radio.  Radio 5 Live had the match commentary on.  I know it’s a bit weird watching the radio, but there we go…

As I was listening, I decided that the fact I couldn’t see what was happening was making me care less about the game and the result.  I followed the match but, even for a pretty rubbish supporter, I was surprised by my lack of engagement.  Oh sure, it was quite annoying when Liverpool had a perfectly good goal disallowed.  But the fact that I couldn’t see it being wrongly ruled offside from numerous different camera angles in glorious slow-motion seemed to stop me from caring quite so much.

The match just didn’t quite grab me as much as I think it would have done if I’d seen it rather than just heard it.

And that got me thinking about suffering (my mind makes funny jumps sometimes).  I was thinking about the sinking boats of hopeful (or hopeless?) refugees from North Africa.  I thought about people being executed by IS.  I thought about the absolute barrage of ripped-up lives that the media hits us with day in and day out.  And I think sometimes seeing those things makes me care more.  And I’m sure that’s not lost on the media, but I wondered if that wasn’t perhaps a bad thing.  Surely I should care deeply about our broken and hurting world without having to have visual proof.  I shouldn’t have to see the faces of those Christians burnt alive in a brick kiln for me to care.  I shouldn’t have to see body bags lifted into vehicles on the European coast to be concerned about the flood of the desperate.

Surely my empathy shouldn’t rely so heavily on whether or not I can see those who are suffering.

Any thoughts?

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Easter Saturday.

I wonder if you’ve ever had to wait for something.  Traffic jams annoy us.  That tinny music on the other end of the line that signifies no-one’s listening, that’s pretty tedious.  But what if it’s something really important?  What if it’s life and death?

Because that’s what Easter Saturday means to me.  That waiting.  That pain.  That distress and confusion. The questioning.  The dull ache.

Of course, we know the outcome.  But on this day, above all others, I try to put myself in the place of those disciples.  As their worst Sabbath ever comes to a close, and they question the past, and fear the future.  The confusion, the terror, the sheer hopelessness.  And I’m so grateful that, even as I take my place with them in that locked room, it’s with one eye on tomorrow, and the hope that’s ready to explode into our fallen humanity.

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Itching ears.

There’s a passage in the Apostle Paul’s letter to his friend, Timothy, where he says this:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

And I think that that’s a pretty true-to-life comment.  We like to hear easy stuff, comfortable stuff, doctrine (teachings) that suit what we want to hear.  But this week, I’ve been thinking about something that’s kinda similar to this.  See, I am becoming increasingly aware of a habit I have.  And as I become more aware of it, I recognise that it’s something I really need to tackle.

The passage above is talking specifically about doctrine and what we believe.  We all have a tendency to gather people around us who say what we want to hear, and thus drown out what we don’t want to hear.  But I have a habit of selecting things to do and watch and listen to that will drown out everything else, not just doctrine.

Facebook and Twitter feed this nasty habit.  So I watch pointless rubbish.  Or even highly entertaining and informative stuff.  But it’s not with a view to doing anything but drowning out other stuff.  It’s a highly effective way of avoiding things of value that are absolutely crying out for my attention.  And I’m not just talking about the hoovering, either.  A relationship that needs strengthening can be postponed with a quick bit of kissing kittens on youtube.  A prayer need that is pressing can be put on hold for a little foray into the world of the best/worst/slowest/funniest penalty kicks ever taken.  The chance to ping someone a little message of encouragement can give way to watching some funny if rather pointless series of Australian comedian sketches.  And the list goes on.  My itching ears would rather hear the stuff that demands nothing of me.  My itching eyes (yes, I know, that’s rather a gross concept) would rather see stuff that amuses/entertains me than stuff that challenges me.  I’m taking the ostrich’s approach, but instead of burying my head in the sand, I bury it in my laptop. 

It’s like I’m screwing my eyes shut to the important things, putting my fingers in my ears and shouting, “la la la la la la la la la” just to drown out the stuff that makes me uncomfortable.

Is it just me?

Can anyone out there help?

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Reflected Glory.

Last week, we had a visit here at school from an Old Reptonian (i.e., someone who used to attend the school!).  This is not altogether an unusual thing.  ORs come back from time to time for various reasons.  On this occasion, however, it was a bit different.  This time, it was somebody I actually knew, despite the fact that he finished school here in the 1950s.  You see, this was Sir Nicholas Barrington – the British Ambassador/High Commissioner to Pakistan.  He was in that role as I was growing up in Pakistan.  And we’d met on a number of occasions.  Mum and Dad had eaten at the High Commissioner’s residence.  Mum met Princess Diana there.  Sir Nicholas attended the same church as us, and he and I both did a reading in the same united carol service many, many years ago.  I first realised that Sir Nicholas was an OR when I was sat in our first Carol Concert here at Repton back in 2008.  As I listened to the band playing, my eyes drifted around the building we were in, where there are numerous boards charting the history of the school – ORs who attended top universities and won honours, various scholarships, Heads of School, and many others beside.  It was as I was glancing down the Heads of School board (that is, the senior pupil, not the Headmaster!) I found the name ‘Nicholas Barrington’.  Research over the following days showed that this was, indeed, the Sir Nicholas I knew.  So when an occasion to meet him came up, I went for it.  I went and had afternoon tea with him before he delivered a talk to our History and Politics students.  I also told everyone I could that I knew him – it seemed kind of cool. Always worth emphasising the ‘Sir’, when telling them, too.

Reflected glory, you see.

File:Joshua Leakey 2015 (cropped).jpg

© Copyright Jamie Peters Photography 2015

And then, imagine my surprise when I picked up the paper last week and saw that someone had been awarded the Victoria Cross.  But not just anybody.  No, this was someone I knew.  For those not familiar with it, The Victoria Cross (according to Wikipedia!)  “…is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces…”  And the recipient was none other than Josh Leakey.  Someone I knew when he was just a young lad.  And again, another chance to tell people that I know someone famous.  He’s even got his own Wikipedia page now…

Ah, more reflected glory.

And as I was mulling over this exciting week of knowing important people, and basking in the reflected glory, something struck me (no, it wasn’t my three-year-old; that happened later).  I really like knowing famous people.  Of course, my definition of ‘famous’ probably doesn’t completely match everyone’s definition.  Because I only know sort-of-not-particularly-famous people, so have to compensate by considering them to be very important indeed.   But I love the chance to comment on the famous people I know.  When I picked up the paper and saw Josh’s name in the Victoria Cross article, I was genuinely excited – my initial overriding emotion was a sort of ‘that’s so cool’ feeling.  And perhaps a bit of pride in Josh’s achievements.  But I guess that can then be overtaken by feelings of ‘look everyone – someone I know is pretty darn important’.  And however famous people are who I know, and whatever amazing exploits previously-unfamous-people I know are involved in, that is fundamentally not the place I should be going for reflected glory.

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

That’s from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth.  And it shows a reflected glory that is far better than anything I’ll get from anywhere else.  But how often do I get excited about it?  How often do I tell other people that I know the creator of the universe?  How often do I reflect His glory?  And it’s not just a reflected glory, it’s a transforming glory.  A glory that changes me to be more in His likeness.  And that’s far better than tea with an Ambassador, or finding an old friend’s name in the paper.

I can’t think of anyone whose glory I’d rather reflect.

Over to you…

If you’re a Christian, when do you most reflect God’s glory, and when do you most struggle to do so?

If you’re not a Christian, or just not sure, do you want to be transformed – changed into His likeness?  Because it’s an amazing invitation.

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