The Perception of Light

With the General Assembly of the United Nations taking place this week, Thought for the Day was on the topic of light and darkness this morning. As ever, you can catch up here (scroll forward to 01:21:12) or you can read the text below. These are dark times for our world,  so for those of us who believe that Jesus offers hope in the midst of darkness, any opportunity to help people perceive the light, is one to be seized!


In the United Nations building in New York there hangs a stained glass installation by the artist Marc Chagall. Entitled ‘Peace’ this enormous blue window draws its inspiration from verses in the Old Testament:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.

Speaking about his work, Chagall said:

For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating. It has to live through the perception of light.

We live in dark times. The people of Korea, north and south; of Myanmar; of Bangladesh; of the Caribbean; of Yemen all understand what it feels like to walk in the land of the shadow of death.

This week the annual UN general assembly takes place. 193 member states meet in a large hall near to Chagall’s window to discuss global concerns. And as with any gathering of world leaders, each nation will come with its own interests to defend. The founding aim of the UN is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” yet, 72 years later, the world is rife with conflict and upheaval, and the responsibility for saving succeeding generations weighs heavy on those who will attend the assembly.

Human assemblies and political debate exist to encourage us to take action to prevent war, displacement and environmental disaster.  For those who are working with patience and determination to find peaceful routes forward our hope would be that they find the inspiration they need.

And perhaps as delegates pass the Peace window they may pause and sense the ‘elevation and exhilaration’ Chagall wanted to invoke with his work. Perhaps they may allow ‘the perception of light’ to give them purpose, passion and courage in their decision-making.

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More than the absence of war. On partitions, division and being children of God…

Another Thought for the Day from the Creative Fool this morning. If you missed it, you can catch up here, at 01:22:44 but if you just want to read the text, it’s printed below.

 

Good morning.

I have a friend who writes books. She told me that she was shocked recently when a child who had read one of her stories set in 1990s’ Albania asked “whether all her novels were historical fiction”. Events in the book, so current in her memory, were ancient history to a 10 year old.

I’ve been reminded of this in the lead up to the anniversary of the Partition of India in 1947. The enforced division of communities by the outgoing British colonial government created an atmosphere of hatred and suspicion of the ‘other’. The ensuing mass migration of people, and the killing of hundreds of thousands, led to heartbreak for many families. Interviews with Scots of Indian and Pakistani origin sharing their experiences reveal the pain of many whose lives were irreparably changed by events that seem like ancient history.

Closer to home, in 1947 Europe was piecing itself back together after the bloody conflict of the Second World War, another struggle marked by mass migration, violent conflict and religious hatred. It all seems so long ago, a different world.

Yet, events in Charlottesville, Virginia, belie the idea that we are wiser, more sophisticated, more tolerant than we once were. Charlottesville is simply the focal point for today’s news cycle, an illustration of what we know to be true all over the world, that when suspicion and prejudice turn to violence, pain ensues for many.

Why can’t we learn from history? Why don’t we choose to build bridges rather then partitions and walls? The psalms instruct the reader to flee from evil and pursue peace, and Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.”

Peace, as Albert Einstein said, is not merely the absence of war, but the presence of justice, of law, of order.

When living memory becomes ancient history, surely you and I will want to be remembered as peacemakers, not as those who stayed silent.

What did you do in the Cyberwar?

It was a dreich day along the Clyde this morning, and the headline news wasn’t about to cheer anyone up. Over the weekend the cyber attack on the NHS and other major organisations had escalated and there were questions to be asked. So, Thought for the Day offered an opportunity to think about why anyone would choose to wreck havoc on such a well-loved institution. Here’s a couple of minutes of reflection. As always, you can listen again at 1:22:44, or read the text below.

In a recent interview Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet, spoke of how he imagined the web as “an open platform that would allow everyone, everywhere to share information, access opportunities and collaborate across geographic and cultural boundaries.”

He went on to remind readers that while he may have invented it, all of us have helped to create the web as it is today. The online community has grown with each word, image or piece of code that human beings have contributed to it. This morning, in the middle of this unprecedented and escalating cyber attack, perhaps it’s helpful to reflect on our role in creating the web.

In recent months we have grown accustomed to stories about the role of the internet in manipulating political opinion, exploiting our privacy and challenging truth, but the ransomware attack on the NHS seems to sink to new depths. Who would do this? Why would they choose to perform an action that puts ordinary people in danger? And what can we do to stop it?

There is a level of complexity to this story that leaves most of us feeling out of our depth, so it’s tempting to dismiss the perpetrators as deliberately evil, or blame the technology that allows them to act with such selfish disregard for the lives of others.

But to do so lets us off the hook. No technology is innately good or evil, it is only ever a vehicle for our ideas and imagination. So, the printing press enables us to read the Bible, Shakespeare and today’s newspaper, but it also gave us Mein Kampf, and the phone-hacking scandal. The invention of bronze gave us tools to cultivate and weapons to destroy. The internet offers collaboration and opportunity, but is also a vehicle for hate speech, pornography and cyber crime.

Who would do this? Human beings, whose hearts are, according to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, the most deceitful of all things. Perhaps we begin by acknowledging the truth of that statement, recognising the capacity for good and evil, light and dark that dwells in each of our hearts. Let’s not be deceived that the internet is to blame for the state the world, or even that a small band of evildoers intent on causing chaos is all that is wrong here. We each play our part in creating this web of lies, half-truths and finger-pointing, and perhaps by choosing today to live with truth, goodness and grace towards others, we counter the darkness with light, and confront the evil with good.

Just One Day Out Of Life

 

It’s the 1st of May and lots people were enjoying a long lie, but the Creative Fool was up early and off to work, presenting Thought for the Day on Good Morning Scotland. As always you can listen again here by scrolling forward to the 22:50 mark. Otherwise, have a read and take a moment to consider how you are going to rest well today:

Bank Holiday Mondays occupy a funny place in our psyche. While some of us look forward to a lie-in and a day of unstructured leisure, others feel frustrated when the bank’s closed, the motorway’s clogged and rain puts a dampener on our barbecue plans. And that’s without taking into consideration those who don’t have a job, those whose work involves caring for children or dependent relatives, or people who simply have no option to take the day off work.

Of course everybody needs a break, a chance to take a breath. And if the only way for that to happen is for the wheels of commerce to stop turning for a day, then perhaps it’s not just a quaint hangover from our Victorian past. The idea behind statutory bank holidays was to protect the rights of workers to enjoy days of celebration such as May Day. How does that play out in the days of zero hour contracts and 24-hour retail?

The principle of resting is rooted in the Bible. The creation story takes place over six days, and finishes with a seventh that God declares to be holy, a day of rest from the work of creation. Whatever your perspective on creation, there is an interesting discussion to be had about the value of rest. The concept is important enough to be woven into the fabric of existence. We are more able to work hard and accomplish all we have to do when we have rested well. And I’m not just talking about collapsing in an exhausted heap at the end of a stressful day, week or decade. The view of rest that’s presented in the Bible is of breathing deeply, being re-created, recovering our sense of who we are.

We pride ourselves on our 24 hour culture, particularly in urban areas, and technology makes switching off difficult. Levels of stress and anxiety are on the increase. A few statutory bank holidays might help some of us to switch off, but I think we also need to find ways of encouraging one another to rest well and find room to breathe whatever our work or non-work situation.

I don’t often quote 80’s Madonna songs, but maybe she was onto something when she sang that:

If we took a holiday…

Just one day out of life

It would be, it would be so nice

The Greatest Day in History

Our friends at Above Bar Church in Southampton have put this little animation for Easter and asked us to provide the voiceover for it. Even if you’re not in Southampton, and won’t be able to attend any of their events, it’s worth pondering the questions that it asks…

If you are in Southampton then get yourself to one of their Easter events. If you live elsewhere then check out what local churches are doing in your area to celebrate the greatest day in history!

SOS to the World

This week’s Thought for the Day was a last minute swap with another presenter, and in the midst of a plethora of world events, the Creative Fool’s eye was caught by a story about an Icelandic anti-littering project. You can read the full story here, you can hear the Thought here at 1:23:19 and below you’ll find the script. And if you keep listening, you’ll also hear a wee bit of singing from sports presenter, Phil Goodlad.

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Photo: BBC News

This week we learned that a brightly coloured yellow float had washed up on the east coast of Tiree. The heavily encased bottle, which carried a GPS tracker, was one of two dropped into the seas off Iceland in January 2016 by a children’s TV programme. Its purpose was to demonstrate to viewers that rubbish tossed into the ocean doesn’t disappear, but can travel miles to cause problems on the other side of the world. The team who launched the device anticipated that it would end up in Norway, but, as though designed to prove the point, it didn’t follow predictable patterns and, after being tracked around Greenland and off Canada, eventually washing up in the Outer Hebrides.

Those of us who grew up singing along to The Police know that the way to send an ‘SOS to the world’ is to pop a message in a bottle and thrust it into the waves. And anyone who’s ever tried to send one, knows it’s a risky business. A carefully composed note might end up buried on a distant beach, undiscovered and unread. But there’s always the hope that your corked bottle will connect you to someone on the other side of the world.

The premise of the Icelandic project is right. All actions have consequences, and not just our littering tendencies. Our decisions, whether on a personal, national or global scale, have an impact on other people and our own future. Like an unpredictable yellow float, the lies we tell, the deeds we hide or the damage we inflict on others might remain undiscovered, but more likely will turn up at a later point to cause problems.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the confident belief that God is both just and merciful. It’s this that sets us free from the fear that our actions can never be forgiven. Casting our burdens onto Jesus brings forgiveness and a fresh start, and this hope can keep us steady when life feels uncertain and chaotic. Rather than sending an SOS to the world, to quote another line from the song, only hope can keep me together.

On Randomness and Powerlessness

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This morning’s Thought for the Day drew inspiration from a quote I read at the weekend. It’s from a book entitled The Descent of the Dove by Charles Williams, author and member of the Inklings literary circle, and is quoted in Eugene Petersen’s helpful commentary on Jeremiah, Run With The Horses. The full quote refers to the Church, but I felt there was a relevance to the broader culture in these times of uncertainty and fear.

You can listen again to the Thought here by scrolling to 01:23:06 or you can read the text below:

Charles Williams, literary contemporary of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, once wrote that:

“At the moment when it is remotely possible that a whole generation might have learned something both of theory and practice, the learners and their learning are removed by death…The whole labour of regenerating mankind has to begin again every thirty years or so.”

Thirty years is no time at all. It seems that, just as one generation gets to grips with the world, everything shifts, the wisdom we have accrued is lost and we need to begin all over again.

My generation grew up during the Cold War. The seeping fear of nuclear threat permeated our understanding of politics and the future, yet the threat of monolithic global conflict seemed both remote and impersonal. This week, as parliament debated the rights and wrongs of maintaining a nuclear deterrent, violence and conflict seem closer to home, more individually driven, more likely to erupt at the end of my street. The sense of powerlessness and uncertainty is as overwhelming as thirty years ago.

In Baton Rouge, Nice or Istanbul, we observe the apparent randomness of events, and the deep-seated anger that drives individuals to behave violently towards others. How can peace ever be won by human endeavour when anger lurks in all of us? Not the righteous anger that rails against injustice, but an anger rooted in the hatred of others, acting in rebellion against peace.

Out of powerlessness, I find myself responding in the words of the psalm that asks the question. “Why. Why, Lord, do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” And the more I contemplate the random nature of violence in our times, the more drawn I am to the words that follow:

“You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.”

Perhaps we must learn again to look beyond ourselves to find the deep-rooted peace we are craving for the next generation, and for our own.

Truth is in the Body

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 14.30.45Back in the chilly days of March 2016, the Creative Fool was invited to speak at Q Commons, and event which aims to equip Christians to “engage our cultural moment”. Q Commons is a satellite event to the annual Q Conference and involved events happening in 180 simultaneously across the globe. It was a privilege to be invited to speak for 9 minutes on the subject of my choosing (that’s nine times more than you get on Just A Minute!) and I chose to speak on truthfulness, incarnation and physicality. If you’d like to view the whole nine minutes, you can do so here. I hope it stimulates you to “engage our cultural moment” regardless of your faith perspective! Here’s the video:

 

Thinking about the Unthinkable

ClydeEven at 7am the view over the Clyde sparkled with the promise of another glorious June day. The subject of Thought for the Day was less promising. Darker. Chilling. Last Wednesday, Scotland was trying to make sense of the verdict in the Liam Fee murder case. The temptation when asked to write something from a spiritual perspective on such a stomach-churning series of events is to pull a sickie and leave the job to someone better qualified, someone more able to understand the ‘why’. But the privilege of offering some hope, some promise of the presence of God in the darkest of suffering is one that is one that cannot be treated lightly. So, here is some reflection on the matter, form someone who is also trying to make sense of it.  As ever you can go to the BBC iPlayer and listen again at around 7.20am.

We’ve been hearing this morning the events surrounding the death of 2-year-old Liam Fee, and the news that his mother and her partner have been convicted of his murder. IT provokes a mixed response, and mixed because, on the one hand, there is relief that the justice system has done its job, but on the other, anger and distress at the disturbing details of this case and the vulnerability of the toddler.

This case perhaps seems especially upsetting because we assume that motherhood always comes with a measure of compassion and nurturing spirit. And unsettling because it occurred in an ordinary street in an ordinary Scottish town. Disbelief and anger is surely a just and right response to such inhumanity towards another human being.

And yet it might be too easy for us to try and make sense of this by blaming systemic failure or individual error of judgement, and too convenient to package up our disbelief in the assumption that by pointing the finger that will prevent future cruelty against the vulnerable.

Important though it is to put in place checks that will help prevent this happening again, in our most honest moments each of us knows that we carry the capacity to behave selfishly and cruelly towards others. We would be horrified at the idea of inflicting this kind of pain on someone else, but we know that we do not always behave with kindness, mercy and love. Amid the mourning for this vulnerable little boy, there can be a renewed determination in all of us to offer protection and security to others.

The Bible frequently stresses the importance of protecting the vulnerable and defending the weak. True religion, says the New Testament writer James, is pure and faultless, and means caring for the widows and the orphans in their affliction. It also gives us the chance even when we’re trying to come to terms with difficult and painful news to reflect and remember the capacity for love and protection for there that we all carry in our hearts.