More than giving up Chocolate
I’m still going on about Lent… I do that, because it is a period that, in the churches calendar, lasts for 6 weeks and so we are in the middle of it. I’m also going on about it because I think it says something important to us, perhaps particularly in this period of lock-down and lives on-hold.
Outside church circles, Lent is mainly associated with the idea of giving things up. Even within the church, it can be sold mainly for its health or environmental benefits; give up chocolate/sweets/alcohol for your health; embrace veganism/walking/cycling to save the planet. It’s true that changing our life style can bring benefits to ourselves and others, but that is rather to miss an important point; Lent is not just a 40 day fix and then back to where we were. The whole point of giving up material things is so that we can focus on the spiritual, however you understand that; the things that underlie us and really matter. In the Bible, Jesus went into the wilderness, a quiet and remote place in Lent to pray and think, not to diet. Lent reminds us that we can also set aside periods in our lives to do as Jesus did; to think and pray, or contemplate and reflect if that is language that you prefer. You may or may not wish to mark that by giving something material up like chocolate but that is secondary to thinking about the deepest issues around our lives and that determines what we will be when we exit the “desert”. This year we are still in the wilderness of Covid, but we will come out of that in a few months, about the same time that Lent ends. We have the time now to decide what the “new normal” will look like for us when we get there.
Rev David Poyner
Education and Wisdom
Not surprisingly, the Covid vaccines continue to be in the news; there is rightly much celebration at the remarkable speed they are being made available, but also concern that not everyone who would benefit is coming forward for vaccination when called. Part of the problem is “mis-information”; the lies that the vaccines contain microchips, dangerous materials or human foetal cells. Some leaders, including a few within the Anglican Communion, have spoken out without properly checking their facts. Earlier this week I was talking to one of my colleagues at work (Aston University) who specialises in vaccines; he had produced a short education article on the Covid vaccines that seems to be having a very positive effect; drdanpatten.wordpress.com/2020/12/14/covid-19-vaccines-sorting-fact-from-fiction/. He has been told of how the article doubled the number of people in one local facility willing to be vaccinated. Giving people the facts really can work and I highly recommend the article!.
Pleasing though this is, I have to say that I have never had much success by simply providing facts to get people to change their mind; I know myself that my deepest beliefs are resistant to this. As I write this article, news has broken of how the Queen has urged people to take up the vaccine because it helps others; both by stopping us spreading Covid and also from taking up resources if we fall ill. I suspect this appeal to our emotional and moral sense will reach many who will not be moved by simple facts.
To change our behaviour we need to use both our head and heart; we need facts, but we also need to use our emotional/spiritual senses to accept the need to change. This is part of what the Bible calls wisdom; it is what it means when it asks that God will “write” his laws on our hearts.
Rev David Poyner
Lent conversations, questions and challenges
One of losses of lockdown has been conversations with groups of friends, whether round the dinner table, the pub or sharing in some other activity. When we gather we talk about all kinds of things, but perhaps the best conversations are those when we hear something that gets us thinking; those that spark off an internal conversation in our own head when the group breaks up. It can be a statement we feel we strongly disagree with or perhaps something new that resonates with us. In either case it makes us think through what we believe and can result in us having a deeper understanding; either to affirm what we previously thought or come to a new position.
One of the big issues we all need to deal with is to understand our own spirituality; not just whether we believe in God or not, but what are our core values and beliefs; what sustains, inspires and moves us. In the Christian tradition, this is what happens at Lent, the season we are now in. It is a time of self-examination, when we grapple with the fundamentals of our faith. That means challenging ourselves and being prepared to face hard questions honestly. It does not mean that we are going to get simple answers to them; often it is about learning to live with doubt and uncertainty. With our benefice this Lent we are running a series of sermons and workshops on “Hard questions” which we hope will help people better understand their faith. But whatever belief system you subscribe to, the discipline of self-examination and the courage to challenge ourselves by asking questions is a vital part of our spiritual growth.
Rev David Poyner