Breaking Down Barriers (Radio Version)

A Thought for the Day for Black Cat Radio, June 2021

(This is a modified version of my sermon on the same subject, which you can find here)

I find it very strange when Christians insist on putting up barriers between people. The barriers might be between those who are considered godly and those who aren’t. They might be barriers of race, gender, sexuality or wealth. They might be barriers about how and when and where people worship. Sadly, it has happened a lot in the Church and still happens now in some places.

I find it strange because it seems to me that Jesus was all about breaking down barriers. He welcomed women and children and treated them as equals, at a time when that was unheard of. As a Jew, he spoke to non-Jews and was concerned about them, at a time when it was common to look down on non-Jews.

Jesus also broke down another barrier which seems strange to us today – the barrier between clean and unclean. This was about whether a person was considered pure under religious law or if there was something which had stained them. This wasn’t just about doing things wrong – a woman was considered unclean while bleeding, and dead bodies were also unclean. And if you had contact with an unclean person, you were also unclean. This was serious because an unclean person was a social and religious outcast until they’d been made clean again. Jesus, though, took no notice of this, with Bible stories describing him praising a woman who touched him for healing from chronic bleeding, and touching the dead daughter of a local religious leader to bring her back to life.

We still have barriers between people, both inside and outside the Church. But I wonder what it might be like if we took more notice of Jesus’s example of breaking down barriers. What if we reached past our social barriers to get to know people who are different from us, or who we look down on? We might be surprised at the good people we find and the ways in which our lives become richer.

Change

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio – 12th June 2021

As I write this the G7 summit is starting, and the leaders of the 7 most-advanced economies in the world have descended on Cornwall. Apparently, the big discussion this year is recovering from the Covid pandemic, as well as climate change and trade.

As a world we seem to be facing big challenges all round, and although things are definitely improving with Covid, there’s uncertainty about whether restrictions will be lifted on the 21st after all.

We can react to uncertainty in different ways. We can sit back and say “Well, everything will go wrong, so why bother doing trying to do anything about it?”. Or we can resist change by stubbornly clinging on to how we’ve always done things or denying the need to think or do things differently. We might even blame the messenger telling us we need to change.

In his life on earth Jesus met with some of these reactions, and his message that people needed to change wasn’t always popular, yet he never gave up patiently giving his message and doing what he knew to be right. Dealing with change is hard, whether because it makes us uncomfortable or because other people don’t approve, but it’s important to keep going and show patience with ourselves and others if we want to see good things happen. And for people of faith, it’s also helpful to think of God knowing what dealing with change is like and understanding our situation.

I hope that the G7 summit will lead to some positive outcomes, and that we will see the change in Covid restrictions that we’re hoping for, but even if change is a long time coming and harder than we want, let’s never give up hope.

Take care,

Mel

Good Weather

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio – 20th May 2021

I don’t want to jinx anything, but I think good weather is finally arriving! It’s been a cold spring, which has led to me having loads of plants waiting for ages on my windowsill to go out in the garden. Like a lot of people, I really notice the effect of weather on my mood. When it’s dark outside I feel down and like I can’t be bothered to do anything, while as soon as the sun comes out I perk up. I hope the better weather lasts to the bank holiday, as on the last bank holiday I went to visit a friend I hadn’t seen for ages for a walk around with her puppy and we got rained on the whole time.

It’s amazing, really, how something as small as the sun coming out can make things seem easier or more bearable, even if just for a little bit. For me as a Christian such things are a sign of God being with us and loving us. It’s hard to feel blessed when there’s political trouble, the pandemic still isn’t over, and when faced with our own personal troubles. But the promise of the Bible is that even though we will still have difficulties God is right here in them with us. And God sends us things to make life easier – a sunny day, a kind word, a helping hand out of nowhere. The knack is to notice these things and enjoy them and be thankful for them. And even if you don’t believe in God, it’s always worth noticing and being glad about the good things that happen even on bad days.

 

Take care

Mel

Bricks and Trees

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio on 13th March 2021

Hello

 

This has been a week of turmoil about the Royal Family and concern about women’s safety, among all the other things we might have on our minds. In the middle of it all, though, I saw something that reminded me of hope. I saw on Facebook a photograph someone had taken of a tree in the Cambridge Botanic Gardens. This tree was damaged in a storm in the 1960s and had been filled with bricks and tar to protect it from rotting away. This isn’t recommended now as it’s not that good for the tree, but the image caught my eye.

 

Although bricks are obviously not natural for a tree the bark was growing round them in a kind of heart shape, as if trying to turn something alien and harmful into something beautiful and good. This kind of reminded me of the ways in which we might have bad things happen to us, and we can’t deny or hide this, at least not without harming ourselves, but it’s possible for new life to grow round it and transform it. We don’t get rid of our past experiences but with the right help we can make something good come out of them. This, I think, is what the Bible is getting at when it talks about how in God all things work together for good. It’s not that bad things happen to teach us something or because we’ve done something wrong. It’s more that, when bad things happen, he wants to help us repair the damage and even make things better than they were before.

 

For me, that’s a hopeful thing and I’m really glad I saw that picture, so I just wanted to offer you that image, or maybe you’d like to find one for yourself that will remind you of the possibility of change and beauty in the most unlikely of circumstances.

Boxing Day

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio

Merry Christmas!

It may not have been the Christmas Day you were hoping for or expecting but I hope it was as good as it could be.

Now we’re on Boxing Day and you might wonder what that name is all about.

As it happens it has nothing to do with fighting or clearing up opened boxes. No-one’s exactly sure what it means but there are a few theories.

One idea is that it comes from the tradition of giving to the poor on St Stephen’s Day, which is the 26th December. This tradition started because St Stephen was not only Christianity’s first martyr but also known for being generous to the poor.

Another idea is that it comes from people seeking out boxes, or tips, from rich people they’d worked for during the year.

And a final idea is that it comes from servants being given the day off to celebrate Christmas after having to work on Christmas Day.

Now of course it’s connected with turkey sandwiches, sports and sales.

Whatever the reason for the name Boxing Day, though, and however we spend it, it really doesn’t mean the end of Christmas. In fact, in the church’s year it’s only day 2 of the twelve days of the Christmas season. But, even without that, there’s no reason why we can’t try to keep some of the Christmas spirit of giving, hope and togetherness alive all year round.

After all, the Christmas message isn’t just about making one day different but about making all days different, all year round.

So, Happy Boxing Day and best wishes for the New Year!

Mel

Christmas lights

A Thought for the Day for Black Cat Radio on 12th December 2020

Hello, I hope you’re all keeping well.

Walking around near where I live, I’ve noticed a lot of people have put their Christmas lights up outside. Some mutter that it’s too early, but I think this year, of all years, we need to cut each other some slack and appreciate people putting in the effort to brighten things up a bit. The lights on the houses are all different from one another and give a lovely variety to look at in the dark. I find them very cheering.

The desire for light in the darkness is very old, going back to the days when our earliest ancestors would huddle round a fire at night for warmth, light, and safety. With light we can see where we are going, know who and what is around, and feel a bit safer. On one of my recent walks, I nearly bumped into someone walking her dog on an unlit pathway. This was not only embarrassing but we also both thought that a light would’ve made that part of the walk so much nicer.

Christmas, like many festivals and celebrations at this time of year, is all about light. Not just physical light, although there’s plenty of that with bright stars, shining angels, and so on, but a spiritual and inner light. The story of God coming to earth as a human baby brings light to many by offering comfort, hope and joy. It also reassures us God is not some far-off man with a beard sitting on a cloud. Rather, God comes right down into the darkness and mess to share our lives, help us cope with darkness and difficulty, and show us a better, more fulfilling, more loving way to live.

So, as we go towards Christmas, and look forward to the Covid-19 vaccine hopefully making a difference next year, why not remind yourself of the story of that first Christmas and see if there’s light in it for you?

 

Take care

Mel

Walls – Guest ‘Thought for the Day’

This ‘Thought for the Day’ comes from my vicar, Canon Annette Reed. She has kindly allowed me to share it with you as I like it a lot.

If you had walked into Holy Trinity Church in Great Paxton village this week, you would have been greeted by a building site.

The Cambridgeshire Saxon building was full of dust and the sound of old concrete plaster being drilled off from the interior walls by two very capable contractors. For years, the lower part of the walls had been very damp. No one had quite realised that several years ago concrete plaster had been applied to the walls in an attempt to stop rising damp.

The result being that more moisture had been trapped due the surface not being able to breathe.

Hence the on going damp, musty problem.

Apparently putting on concrete plaster was a common approach in the 1960’s – we are wiser now.

Once the old defective plaster had been drilled off, we could see the problem that was being covered up. We hope that now that thick coating has been removed, the walls will dry out ready too have a new appropriate mortar mix applied sometime in 2021 so the walls can breathe.

There is a saying that you never know what is really going on behind closed doors.

Nor can we really know what is going on behind someone’s stoic smile or cheerful words.

Many of us keep our inner most thoughts and secret struggles to ourselves, preferring to be a closed book rather than risk being laughed at or criticised.

We might have a lot going on in our hearts and minds which we are not even aware of ourselves.

I know how easy it can be to put on a brave face when really we are hurting inside.

We conceal how truly are – but long for someone to reach out and connect with us in a meaningful way.

There is a lovely prayer  which comes towards the beginning of one of our church services which begins:

Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden.

What an amazing  thought that God knows exactly our state of being.

We don’t have to conceal anything or hide behind a hard exterior.

He invites us to come to him – just as we are.

The walls of Great Paxton Church are free now of a hard coating that was causing a lot of problems.

My prayer for all of us is that some at least of the barriers we put up may soften and as we learn to breathe in God’s goodness and healing presence we find it easier to truly be ourselves.

Take care and may God bless you all in these  difficult days.

 

Waiting

young annoyed female freelancer using laptop at home

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio – 31st October 2020

By the time you hear this I will have the final results of a degree I’ve been doing as an allegedly mature student. Now, though, I’m still waiting for them to come out. There’s a lot of waiting now for all of us. We’re waiting for an end to the pandemic. We’re waiting to see what will happen about Christmas. We’re waiting to see what the economic effects are going be. We’re waiting for a vaccine. Some are waiting for Covid test results. And all this is quite apart from any other waiting we might have to do. We might be waiting for an operation or to hear if we’ve got a job. We might be waiting to see someone again who we haven’t seen for a long time. There are all sorts of things we have to hang around for.

Waiting often suggests a kind of passive, helpless time. It can suggest that we can’t do anything but see what fate has in store for us. And being told to wait can be very annoying, as well. What choice do we have, after all? But a Dutch Catholic priest and writer called Henri Nouwen suggests a different way of waiting, called active waiting. This means remembering that what we’re waiting for is growing up right now, like a plant, even if it’s still a seed hidden underground right now. Then we can wait with hope, knowing that what we’re waiting for is working to burst into our lives and change things. And as we wait, we can take a mindful approach of noticing what’s going on and looking out for the first signs that things are changing.

So, I’m going to try this and see if waiting can be not so bad after all, and perhaps you might like to join me?

Take care

Mel

All Change for Autumn

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio’, broadcast 17th October 2020

Recently I was in an online discussion about why people love autumn. There were hundreds of answers. A lot included the beautiful colours, the crisp air, the smell of bonfires and snuggling down indoors while it’s all cold outside. I would also add seeing and hearing flocks of geese flying in their V formations. My chickens always look up at the geese as they go past. I’m not sure if the hens are annoyed about the noise or wish they could fly like that too.

The geese and other birds come to us in the autumn while other birds go south. This makes autumn a time of change for them as much as it is for us. It’s a time when we see leaves changing colour, days getting shorter and cooler, and our thoughts turn to winter. It’s also a time when many people decide to do something like taking up a hobby or starting a course. Such things aren’t just for young people, either. People do degrees and take up new hobbies into their 80s and 90s because we all have a divine spark of creativity in us, whatever our age.

So, as we start moving into a new season, maybe now would be a good time to something different, that will make a positive change for us, however small. This is especially important this year, as we face a rise in coronavirus cases and a difficult winter. I’m going to try watercolour painting, which I may or may not be good at, but I’d like to try. And maybe when you see the geese flying or notice golden leaves they will inspire you to wonder what you could do this autumn to help you through the months ahead and bring something good into your life.

All change for autumn!

With all good wishes

Mel

Hairdressers

A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio – 25th July 2020

This week I went to a hairdresser. Just for a trim, nothing major, but it was lovely to have that bit of pampering after they’ve had to close for so long. I’ve also read a letter this week on the internet that was written to a hairdresser. You might’ve seen it but if not, it was from a man who’d brought his wife in for a haircut. She was suffering from dementia and a few months later she sadly passed away. The man wanted to say, though, that she’d loved that haircut. It had made her feel so good about herself she couldn’t stop looking at herself and smiling. The man was very grateful and wanted to tell the hairdresser what a difference she’d made.

It was a lovely story, and really got me thinking about how we don’t always know when we might do something ordinary to us, but which makes a big difference to someone else. We should never underestimate what we can do for others just by doing our job with kindness or making a little bit of extra effort. On the other side, of course, how often do we thank people when they do something that’s helped us? We remember to be grateful for the big things but thanking people for things they might even have realised they’ve done can really make their day as well.

In the Bible Jesus talks about how small things can make a big difference, and about how we can build up a better world with the smallest and most ordinary of things. I think we can all get behind the idea of doing small things to make a big difference, and maybe one of them could be thanking someone for doing small that makes a big difference to us?