A Thought for the Day for Black Cat Radio – May 2022
We’ve recently started a wildflower area in our garden at home. I hesitate to call it a meadow because to me that suggests a much bigger area than we’ve got. The ground is cleared of rubbish, raked over, and sown with seeds, which are already beginning to sprout. We’ve been watering as well, although the recent downpours of rain have also helped with that.
Audrey Hepburn is supposed to have said that “To plant a garden is to hope for tomorrow”. I don’t know if she really did, because internet quotes aren’t always reliable, but it’s a lovely thought, nonetheless. I think it’s important to remember that idea of hope. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on in the world, including the truly horrific school shooting this week in America, and hope doesn’t pretend it’s not there. What hope does do is believe that things will one day get better. Whether you believe in God working in the world to put things right, or in the power of human beings to work together for good, or some combination of those, hope is an important part of being a human being.
Gardens also involve work, though, and so does making our hope into a reality. It’s no good just looking at the ground and wishing something will grow how we want. We have to make the place ready, provide the right conditions, get rid of anything that might choke or stunt the plants we want. Similarly, if we want a better world then we all have something to do. It might be as small as helping a neighbour, or as big as changing our lives to work in a far-off country. Either way, anything we can do is a step in the right direction.
Our attempts might not work out, and sometimes it can all seem too difficult, and we need a break. At those times, maybe the best we do is remember another quote, by Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow”.
The American writer Hal Borland is credited with saying “No winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn”. I love this, as it reminds me that however dark a day might be, either literally or emotionally, there will always be a better time coming up.
It’s especially fitting for this Easter weekend, I think. Having Easter in the spring makes a lot of sense, as it’s a festival about new life and new hope, about seeing the start of something beautiful growing. We’ve had all the darkness of winter and the darkness of Good Friday, and now the light and happiness of spring and new life are here for Easter Day. So many of us celebrate, maybe with chocolate eggs, maybe with a roast dinner, maybe in church. I’ve also been celebrating by filling the garden with new flowers and plants so that it looks colourful and cheerful (even if something has been eating my parsley!). The birds are out and about, squabbling over nests and mates, and I even spotted a couple of hedgehogs on the patio.
All these things are signs that spring is not skipping its turn. They don’t undo the negative things happening in the world, but they do remind us that there’s still a lot of good to be found. Similarly, Easter Day doesn’t pretend that there aren’t problems to be sorted out, but it does say that, despite the worst the world can throw at us, goodness and love will always eventually win out, just as they did on the first Easter Day.
I hope you find joy, blessing and hope this Easter weekend, however you celebrate, and even if you don’t. (And if you know who the parsley thief might be, please let me know!)
A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio, February 2022
Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend? I wasn’t able to, but I often have in earlier years. The idea is to count birds in your garden or a park so that we can get a picture of how birds are doing. Shockingly, we’ve lost 38 million birds from UK skies in the last 50 years, so it really is vital we do all we can to look after our birdlife.
I’m not at all an expert on birds but I do enjoy seeing them. I have bird feeders and a bird bath in the garden, and it’s really increased the numbers we get. It’s mostly sparrows and starlings, but also some blackbirds and the occasional robin or blue tit. It hasn’t taken much to get more birds into the garden, and they really brighten the place up. They also got me laughing when I saw a small starling squeeze itself with great difficulty in and out of a guard that was supposed to only allow entry to sparrows.
The natural world needs our help these days, with the problems of climate change and the loss of places for wildlife to live. This is important to many Christians because we believe that God made this world and loves it and has put human beings in charge of taking care of it. In fact, there’s a scheme to encourage churches to become more environmentally friendly, and lots of churches have taken it up. Churches are moving to environmentally friendly electricity, reducing water usage, putting up bird boxes and creating wild areas in churchyards.
All of us can help to look after the world we’ve been given and try to pass it on to future generations in a good condition. There’s a lot of natural beauty all around, and it would be really sad to lose it. Nature is also good for our mental health and that’s more important than ever these days.
I know it’s a bit late for new year’s resolutions, but there’s no law against February resolutions, so can I suggest seeing if we might all be able to make some change to help wildlife? Even just a saucer of water might make all the difference and help us fulfil our role as carers of the natural world.
A Thought for the Day for Black Cat Radio, October 2021
I’ve been hearing a lot about emotional support animals recently. In fact, I even saw a programme on TV this week which featured an emotional support hamster, which was a new one for me! Opinions vary on such animals and the need for them. Some are sceptical about them, while others insist they’re vital to help people suffering from mental health problems.
Of course, all pets can provide us with emotional support, whether or not we struggle with long-term mental health problems. I know that my pet gerbils cheer me up and I love stroking their soft fur; that is, when they will stay still long enough! Animals are a great gift to us, whether they become part of our family as pets or whether they’re outside living in the wild. They bring beauty, comfort, and friendship, which are all things we need as human beings. They also remind us of the goodness that exists in the world, even in the middle of our human problems. I also believe that we have a responsibility to look after animals, as fellow-creatures placed into our care by God.
I know that not everyone is able to have a pet at home or lives in a place surrounded by wildlife. But even in the middle of a town or city there are signs of nature everywhere, from birds of prey hovering above, to foxes slinking down alleyways, and you can always pet a random cat in the street! So, next time you need cheering up, can I suggest that it might help to look around for an animal to bring a moment of happiness and beauty into the day.
A Thought for the Day for Black Cat Radio, September 2021
This week I’ve been thinking about the difference between childish and childlike. The word childish goes back to before the 12th century and was originally a neutral word that just meant being like a child, but then it became more negative. If we call a grown adult childish then we’re describing them as silly or immature, acting in a way that we find annoying, like throwing tantrums when they don’t get their own way. The word childlike, in contrast, appeared in the 15th century and is much more positive. It refers to a person who has qualities of innocence, trustfulness, openness, simplicity, joy, curiosity and wonder.
This is an important distinction for me because Jesus calls on his followers to have a childlike faith. By this I don’t think he means being naïve or foolish or not thinking for ourselves. There are other places where he makes clear the importance of being mature. But it can really help us to have some of the positive characteristics of children. Imagine being delighted by simple things like an ordinary flower, finding joy in the everyday. What if instead of playing games and hiding behind false fronts we were more honest about what we need and want, and how we feel? Might this lead to better relationships and fewer people feeling alone with their problems? What if we were more curious and asked things like ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ more often? Might this help us solve some of the problems we face as individuals and as a world, as we stop accepting things as they are and work to change them to how they might be? So many possibilities open up.
So, I hope that we might all find ways to be a little more childlike, and to appreciate the wonder of seeing things through a child’s eyes.
A ‘Thought for the day’ for Black Cat Radio on 31st July 2021
Did you know that from April 2020 to March 2021 a record 2.5 million emergency food parcels were given out in the UK by the Trussell Trust? This was a 33% increase on the previous year and included 980,000 parcels going out to children. It also included nearly 250,000 in the East of England. These numbers are staggering, and hopefully will go down again, ideally to nothing because we build a fairer society which cares for all.
Horrible though it is, however, to be without food and have to depend on charity, there’s another important kind of hunger. This is spiritual hunger. You might have felt it when wondering if there’s more to life, a deeper purpose behind everything, or if you’ve felt an urge to pray or meditate or do something that has real meaning or makes a difference in people’s lives.
For me, Jesus is a good place to go to have spiritual hunger satisfied, as he describes himself as “the bread of life”. This is an odd way to describe yourself, admittedly, but it’s all about Jesus saying he can meet our spiritual hunger. And he offers himself as a gift to us in this way, freely and without conditions. Many of us, if we’re honest, worry deep down that we’re not good enough. But Jesus just says come, I’ll give you everything you really need.
I think, regardless of beliefs, there’s something wonderful about the idea that spiritual hunger is an important need, something worth looking for, not just a distraction from what people call “real life”. So, my hope for all of you is that you will see and understand your spiritual hunger, and that you will find answers to your deepest needs and longings.
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.
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.
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.
A ‘Thought for the Day’ for Black Cat Radio on 13th March 2021
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.