As we continue to celebrate this season of Easter, we are reminded about the promises of renewal and daily resurrection. New life can come out of death, hope out of darkness and joy out of despair. Recreation becomes a theme across all of life and reordering priorities and values feels appropriate.
We have recently been redecorating in our house and in order to do so we have packed everything into boxes in order to clear the room to paint and lay new carpet. This is not an enviable task and I have been amazed at just how much clutter we have hoarded, indeed like many, we still have packed boxes in the garage from when we first moved in over seven years ago! I realised that we have so much storage space to accommodate stuff we never use, stuff that hasn’t seen the light of day for years, stuff that we are unlikely to use again but which may be needed by others, or could be remade into something with new life. I have discovered five clocks, family heirlooms, none of which work! So, it has been time to sort out all the things clogging up the cupboards and repair, donate, recycle or reuse. I have images in my mind of the recent flood victims in Africa huddled on strips of land in makeshift shelters, their only possessions those they could carry on their backs. What a contradiction!!
I am so glad that there are movements afoot here in Cornwall to become more aware of how much of a throw away society we have become. I was excited to learn of the new repair café that is to be trialled here at All Saints Church organised by Lindsey Southcombe the former City Mayor, on 22nd June. The idea is that people can bring items in need of repair to a group of skilled volunteers and get them fixed over a cup of coffee for a small donation. I am pleased to be part of this new initiative and look forward to not only doing sewing repairs but also to teaching people how to do simple sewing tasks, giving them the skills to repair and upcycle for themselves. The Monday craft group at All Saints are also exploring how we can recycle garments and curtains etc. to recreate craft items to sell in aid of the Church 10/10 Life House project. One of our team has been recycling pyjamas covered in winter penguins into Christmas tree decorations. Others are using scraps of fabric to make dolls clothes and a team of knitters are using up all the odd bits of knitting wool they can find to make hats, toys, blankets and even key rings!
Likewise, we are looking forward to sharing in the Green Truro event later in the summer where we will have a stall again teaching people how to sew, repair, renovate and upcycle clothing and household items to give them a new lease of life. I hope that this is the beginning of a major culture shift. I think we are moving away from the stigma of ‘second hand’ clothing and embracing the concept of re-using, recycling and upcycling. Charity shops and clothing banks are brilliant ways of encouraging us to value the surplus things we no longer need, but wouldn’t it be great if we could all be more creative with the stuff that we are so ready to give away. The opportunities for creativity and renewal are endless.
(Mary Magdalene's experience of the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Resurrection experience combining John 20:2-18 and Luke 24:1-12)
I’ve been hanging out with a guy who I thought the world of. He’s no ordinary guy, people love him, he has this way about him that attracts normal people like you and me.
You see I’ve not lived the best of lives, I’ve done things wrong, I was pretty well off coming from a fishing village but at one point I was really troubled with bad spirits. They messed with my head and made me think bad things and do bad things. Not many people wanted to be near me but this guy
This guy he was different...
He healed me.
My mind and my body and I became better again.
So I followed him, I invested in him, time and money along with my friends Joanna and Susanna
We went with him wherever he went and we saw amazing things.
He didn’t just heal me, he healed so many people, I saw blind men see again, this man who was lowered into a house on a makeshift bed as there were so many people around they couldn’t bring him in the door. He couldn’t move got up but this guy told him to get up and then he started walking about.
It was like having on the ancient prophets with us, but even better.
He even brought people back to life, this little girl, a young man and my new friend Lazarus.
We thought he was he messiah we’d all been waiting for.
We thought he’d come to overthrow the Romans, be our warrior but he was different.
We loved him but the priest and leaders of the temple weren’t so enamoured with him.
They didn’t think some guy from Nazareth could be God’s son so when that’s who he said he was they were not too happy.
Plus, he did things they REALLY didn’t like, it was bad enough when he started doing things on the Sabbath, like healing people, I mean what can be more important, healing people or observing the Sabbath.
Well the priests had their opinion that’s for sure…
But then he started telling people their sins were forgiven…
Talk about taking their job from them…
Plus, he started getting lots of followers and it threatened their ‘jobs’ so they started plotting to kill him.
They started by trying to catch him out with tricky questions but I’ve never seen anyone be able to answer questions like him.
But then not long ago when he came into Jerusalem he came on a donkey and the people went crazy, treating him like a crusader, a warrior, someone come to save us from the Romans. He knew what he was doing but I think that was the last straw for the Jewish leaders…
And the unthinkable happened.
They got to one of our friends.
It was the best way to actually catch him as up until now they never managed it. He always slipped out of their grasp… To many people around who loved him to protect him.
They needed to get him when there weren’t so many people around…
They got to Judas.
He was a good guy but never really got away from the pull of money. He used to look after the money for us so they offered him money to betray him and one night he did.
This guy was being weird the few days before.
It’s like he knew what was going to happen.
He started talking about dying and how he was going to be betrayed but we didn’t believe him.
We didn’t want to believe him.
To us he was Gods son, our messiah.
And lots of people thought so too.
But Judas did betray him, over the time of the Passover of all times, he told the roman guards where they could find him and with all things a kiss he showed them who he was.
And they took him away.
That’s when people starting walking away and disappearing.
The next few hours got tough…
Our friend Peter denied him. I mean Peter! He was right there during EVERYTHING. Even this time when he went up a hill and they said Elijah and Moses appeared. You don’t get closer than that…
But while this guy was being questioned the people outside recognised Peter but he denied even knowing him.
He said that would happen too.
I mean who knows the future?
But then it all went totally pear shaped.
He went from Pilate to Herod and back to Pilate.
They both found nothing to charge him with, but in that short time the leaders and priests managed to rile up the crowd who had to gathered.
I don’t know how it happened, it makes no sense, but before we knew it they were calling for him to be put to death.
Pilate said no and tried to appease them by flogging him.
It was awful, we couldn’t leave him, but it was horrific to watch and they seemed to enjoy every moment.
These people who days before were cheering for him. From Hosanna to Death in days.
What was going on. It was all going wrong. This man I’d invested my life in.
It was going, just so badly.
But the flogging wasn’t enough.
Death, Death, Crucify, Crucify.
And they got their way.
He was exhausted, they had kept him up all night, questioning him, flogging him, mocking him.
Then they made him carry his own cross, and not just to outside the city on the road, they took him to a hill where everyone would see him.
And to make the point that they thought he was a guilty they crucified two criminals with him.
It was the worst day of my life.
This man who I gave up my life for, I saw him struggle and die.
As he took his last breath he said ‘it is finished’
For us it was.
I felt my heart break
I fell to the floor
I felt physical pain throughout my whole body.
We managed to get the Romans to agree to let us take his body down so he was not hanging on the Sabbath and we laid him in a tomb which was given to us and rolled a stone in front of it.
Those of us that were left, we went into hiding but we had to go back, he was laid in a hurry before the Sabbath so me and some of the other women prepared the embalming spices and took them to the tomb.
The men didn’t come, I think they were too scared but we knew it needed to be done.
He might not have been who we thought he was, as how could the son of God, the messiah, have died? How could he have left us?
But at the very least he was our friend and he deserved to be treated as we would anyone else.
It was the right thing to do.
Summoning up all our strength and courage we went, knowing the Romans and the Temple Elders were still on the lookout for his followers.
As we got near I knew something was wrong, there was a sense in the air and from a distance I could already see the stone was rolled away, but how? Why?
Could this get any worse?
We ran to the tomb and looked inside and the body was gone?
But the tomb was not completely empty, the cloth we wrapped his broken body in was there, neatly folded. Surely if someone had stolen his body they would take the cloth? Who would want to carry a naked dead body through the city? And even if they did who would take the time to fold the cloth and lay it so neatly with the smaller amount we carefully wrapped his head in at the top?
But there was something else in that tomb though, two bright figures, dressed in shining, dazzling white,
They scared the life out of me and were so bright I couldn’t even look at them.
Then they spoke. Their words made me jump.
They told us he had risen from the dead.
I remembered how he brought Lazarus back and my heart began to lift, could it be possible?
Who could raise themselves?
But these figures told us to remember all he had told us before.
Those words came back like a crashing flood. All those times he said the Son of Man must die, the Son of Man will be handed over, the Son of Man will rise again.
The Son of Man will rise again, on the third day.
Friday, day one, Saturday day two...
Sunday… Could it be?
The other women they ran home, but my heart and mind were buzzing, so many thoughts so many fears, wishing it to be true but I saw him die, I saw his body broken and now his body wasn’t even there.
When the girl rose we saw the body wake up, same with the young man.
But his body, where was he?
I needed time, I needed space. So, I wandered the garden where the tomb was.
Eyes, fuzzy with tears and confusion I saw a man. I asked him if he knew. If he knew where this man was.
He said one word to me.
My heart flooded with joy. My friend, my saviour, my messiah.
It was true, he was alive.
This guy… this guy.
Jesus was this guy. THE GUY!
THIS GUY, THE GUY, JESUS!
He WAS and IS the son of God, and what he had said would happen had happened.
He came to this earth, born just like you and me, saw life in its rawness, felt it, touched it, lived it…
Then went to the cross, not for what he had done, but for what I had done.
He forgave my sins, he forgave many sins but we all knew sin needed sacrifice which hadn’t been made, but he was that sacrifice…
A sacrifice once and for all.
He told me to go and spread the good news, the news that he was alive and risen from the dead.
To begin with the others didn’t believe what I and the other women had told them,
Some of them ran to the tomb themselves, that was good enough along with that we told them.
For others, they were still a bit sceptical but then the impossible happened.
He appeared to us, in a locked room. Then disappeared.
Then he appeared again, then to hundreds.
Our Lord and Our saviour, IS alive.
He died and is alive.
Life has changed forever.
He changed my life, he healed me and many others.
He’s not here on this earth now in bodily form, but he sent his spirit of love and truth and grace and mercy so you can share in him too.
I’ve never known anyone who gives without expecting much back. But he does.
He just wants you to know he loves you. That’s all he ever wanted.
And when you know that, when he touches your heart you change.
Don’t ask me how it works, I don’t know. It just pure deep love that changes you from within.
He died on that cross so we can all have it.
This guy, THE GUY, Jesus.
He loves you SO much.
Uncertainty is something we can all relate to, but living well includes the acceptance that we live momentarily. Not just in the sense that life can feel fleeting, but in the sense that all we ever really know for sure is what we experience now, in the moment. Yesterday is a memory that begins to change from the moment it ends, and tomorrow is only ever imagined and hoped for. This moment, the one we live in now, the one that includes you reading this, is all we ever experience. This moment is life, the rest is uncertain, so live it.
Uncertainty is the experience of realising that tomorrow will be different from today, and we have no way of knowing how different it will be.
Sadly, in the last few years the word ‘uncertainty’ has been synonymous with Britain’s proposed exit from EU. The question over how much ‘uncertainty’ continues to impact the UK economy has been reported in the news on an almost daily basis. Journalists, politicians, business leaders, financial advisors, professors, and local government leaders have all had their say over what it will mean. Despite their collective wisdom we are still left with… yes you guessed it, uncertainty. What will it mean? How will it affect us? What will it do to the economy, how will it affect our relationship with the other EU states, what will it create, or what will it destroy in the UK? So many questions. It seems the only thing we can be certain of is that it will definitely be different.
In medieval times cartographers used to write the words ‘beyond ‘ere be dragons’ at the edge of their maps denoting the threshold of unexplored lands and seas. Its effect was to ward off travellers and seafarers from the unknown. Don’t go there!
You may, like me, wish we had never even considered leaving the EU in the first place. Nevertheless, the fact remains, there is still a great deal of uncertainty.
You might be surprised to hear that for Christians this social anxiety about the future is not felt any less than it would do for anyone else. If anything, the concern is felt more acutely, since the Christian duty is to care more intently for the wellbeing of people and the common good. Christians care about the same things as others do, especially when it comes to things like Brexit. Christians worry about the same things, fear the same things, get angry about the same things, and celebrate the same things as most other people.
However, there is a profound and important difference. Christians have a special ‘hope’ that shapes how we respond to uncertainty. Not knowing what tomorrow will bring is a necessary part of the Christian life. Christians aren’t any more certain about what tomorrow looks like than anyone else. But Christians do find their hope in the one that is. Jesus said, “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). Christian hope originates in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is profoundly life changing for anyone who accepts him. But faith in Jesus, and our commitment to follow him doesn’t mean that we can kick back and enjoy the ride and not care about tomorrow. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
It is because of what Jesus has done for us that we find we can’t sit back. On the contrary, we are compelled to step out in faith, to go out in to the world in order to see it transformed.
Christians have a special ‘hope’ that shapes how we respond to the concerns of today and tomorrow. By reading the bible we are reminded that the author of time, who became human, who was born of Mary in Bethlehem, is with us. And because of this, no matter what we face in life we do not face it alone (Matthew 28:20 – Jesus saying “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."). One of the greatest and most important truths of the Christian faith is written in the letter to the Romans by the Apostle Paul, (Romans 8:38-39) "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
We might want to add nor ‘leave’ nor ‘remain’ can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The truth that nothing can separate us from the love of God is at heart of our Christian hope, and it is what energises the Church to keep on. So, in this season of uncertainty I want to encourage you to consider Jesus and the hope that comes from knowing him. I want to encourage you to believe wholeheartedly that our heavenly Father, who can see everything about tomorrow, and the next, will always love you and will always be with you.
Jeremiah 29:11 says “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
May the blessing of God be with you this month and always.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
Today Friday March 15th young people all over the UK and here in Truro will walk out of their schools to protest about the woeful lack of action on climate change. The protests have been controversial but these young people will bear the brunt of the coming climate change and rightly see it as a catastrophic problem that is worth missing school in order to try and effect political change to avert disaster. It can be difficult for those of an older generation who have known the environment as stable and still with plenty of resources to take seriously the risk we face today. As Christians however, we have a duty to protest when we see the world and political or other powers behaving in a way which threatens God’s creation and the well- being of others, particularly the poor who bear the brunt of climate change around the world.
Being followers of Jesus means that we should be working to bring the full reality of the Kingdom of God into being: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10:10. The Kingdom of God is not “of this world” meaning that it is not part of, or subject to, the political and cultural powers of any place or time but it is very much of the created world and God’s plan is for the care and redemption of the whole creation.
The Jewish religion honours the fragile created world, and the Old Testament speaks of the need for Sabbath and regular rests for the earth and the 50 year Jubilee, where land was rested: “but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for the land, a sabbath for the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the aftergrowth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your unpruned vine: it shall be a year of complete rest for the land. “ Leviticus 25:4-5.
There is actually a long history of Christian campaigning and care for the environment which has only become more muted in recent years, some would say because of a fear of association with “pagan” or “New Age” religion within the Green movement. However, abuse of God’s creation is a sin. God created the world and sustains it moment by moment, he loved it so much he became incarnate within it in the person of Jesus. Therefore it becomes a Christian duty to protest when this creation is under threat. As Pete Enns says:
“We are humans living here and now under systems of government, but we are also living in and trying to embody here and now our deeper “heavenly” citizenship. ….. I take it as non-negotiable that the Christian’s first allegiance is to God and God’s kingdom. Doing so is why we are “saved” in the first place—not to escape this world but to help transform it.”
For those who are looking to join in with today's protest it begins at 9am from Lemon Quay, Truro and travels to New County Hall at 1100 followed by:
1200 Open letter read to government and a platform for youth to voice their concerns
1230 Study session
1300 Q&A with Sue James and hopefully other members of CCC
Please make sure you have spoken to your school or college about your desire to join the march before attending it.
Resistance begins in Lent.
Lent begins this Wednesday the 6th March, Ash Wednesday. Many of us are familiar with Lent in terms of giving things up, chocolate and alcohol being favourites. The church marks Lent from Ash Wednesday until Easter Saturday to remind the church of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness being tempted by the devil.
Jesus’ time in the wilderness happened immediately after his baptism and at the beginning of his public ministry. Matthew and Luke’s gospels describe Jesus’ temptation, with the somewhat disturbing statement that he was not forced by the devil but “led up by the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil”. We do not want to be led into temptation, praying specifically in the Lord’s Prayer that we will not be. A better translation is probably “Lead us not into a time of trial, or testing”. Of course, Jesus himself taught us the prayer, knowing that in our weakness we will struggle to resist as he did. The other interesting point is that the gospels record that the devil only began to tempt Jesus at the end of the forty days and nights, when he was starving and exhausted. Another way of looking at this is that when we are forced by circumstance to rely on God or more accurately, realise our complete dependence on God, then we are able to do more than we thought possible because we stop taking control and getting in the way of what God wants us to do.
Jesus resisted the devil in three ways: when the devil urged him to turn stones to loaves of bread, Jesus reminds him of the bigger picture, by quoting scripture “It is written, One does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” In other words, satisfying only our immediate material needs does not lead to Life in all its fullness. In a wider sense Jesus calls us to look beyond our own lives, families, careers, racial, religious or social groupings to listen to God’s word for the whole of humanity and creation. Simply “looking after our own” is not an option for followers of Jesus.
Secondly, when the devil tempted Jesus to throw himself from the temple to be saved by angels, Jesus replied “Again it is written, do not put the Lord your God to the test” Here the devil is quoting scripture (Psalm 91) to Jesus. How often are we tempted to make a grand gesture or do something we know may harm ourselves or others rather than truly doing God’s will, believing that God will somehow retrieve us from the mess.
Finally, the devil stops beating around the bush and tries a full-on bribe, promising Jesus all the kingdoms of the world if he falls down and worships him. Jesus replies with a sharp rebuke to match the bribe: “Away with you Satan! For it is written, worship the Lord your God and serve only him” Although the devil’s attempt seems like an obvious ploy, sadly humans are not immune to this kind of temptation. Although it appears the crudest and most obvious temptation on one level, the temptation of power can also take subtle forms, especially when we start to justify it as promoting our faith like some American Christians who see the Trump administration as somehow ordained by God. We follow Jesus who, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,” (Philippians 2:6-7), therefore we take the powerless way of servanthood to each other and God.
Many of us will give something up for Lent but perhaps we could also practice resistance against the forces of evil that are prevalent in our world today, both blatant and subtle.
Some people who may inspire you: Rosa Parks, who was tired and worn out but found the strength to resist discrimination in the American South during the civil rights movement. On December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama Parks refused the bus driver’s order to relinquish her seat in the "coloured section" to a white passenger, after the whites-only section was filled. Parks' act of defiance and the Montgomery bus boycott became important symbols of the movement. She became an international icon of resistance to racial segregation.
Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad, given the 2018 Nobel Peace prize for resisting power and the forces of shame. The physician Denis Mukwege has spent large parts of his adult life helping the victims of sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has repeatedly condemned impunity for mass rape and criticised the Congolese government and other countries for not doing enough to stop the use of sexual violence against women as a strategy and weapon of war. Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq and herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.
More locally, peace activist Paul Haines, who has resisted the world’s constant warring by walking for peace from Rome to Jerusalem in 2015 and organises events every year for World Peace Day right here in Truro.
We can build resistance into our days in small ways too, indeed we must begin and continue with this to make it part of the fabric of our lives. In an atmosphere of increasing hate and suspicion of “others”, simply being open and friendly can become an act of resistance-chat to someone at the bus stop, gently challenge the untruths you hear in conversation if necessary and consciously replace judgement with love next time you catch yourself judging others. Resist the forces of commercialisation and over-industrialisation by making a garden, growing food, buying less. The possibilities are endless and you will think of your own Godly resistance to evil that expresses the unique way that God shows His love through you.
Step out boldly whatever you do, for Jesus says “take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)
This month's blog was written by Kirsty who works for All Saints as our Parish Administrator.
Happy Saint Valentine’s Day!
During yet another commercial enterprise by the retail world that insists that the only way you can show your love for another is by helping with their profit margin! I offer something of an alternative look at Saint Valentine of Rome.
What you may not hear today is that St Valentine was a proper holy agitator. A 3rd century religious menace living and working in the heart of a very oppressive Roman world under Claudius II.
Valentine lived in Rome at a time when Christians were often persecuted. The reason for the persecution was the Christian claim of Christ’s sovereignty, which inevitably clashed with Caesar's claim of his own exclusive power and self-proclaimed godlike status. There was an expectation that all citizens would adhere to all the practices of the state religion by attending numerous feast and festival days throughout the year.
There are many legends of Valentine -- that he courageously refused to pay homage to the imperial gods faithful only to Christ, and that he was a war resister, subversively marrying young couples preventing the men from going to war (the emperor Claudius believed unmarried men made better soldiers so married men were spared the horrors of war).
His subversive behaviour ended with Valentine being clubbed, beaten and stoned to death, and finally beheaded on February 14th, 269CE. In the year 496, February 14 was named as a day of celebration in Valentine’s honour.
So what should we be marking on the day of his death?
Well this story of Valentine might help. Just before Valentine was executed by Claudius’ charge, whilst imprisoned, Valentine became friends with the daughter of his captor and judge. While under the arrest of Judge Asterius, and discussing his faith with him, Valentinus (the Latin version of his name) was discussing the validity of Jesus. The judge put Valentinus to the test and brought to him the judge's adopted blind daughter. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl's sight, Asterius would do whatever he asked. Valentinus, praying to God, laid his hands on her eyes and the child's vision was restored. Immediately humbled, the judge asked Valentinus what he should do. Valentinus replied that all of the idols around the judge's house should be broken, and that the judge should fast for three days and then undergo the Christian sacrament of baptism. The judge obeyed and, as a result, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family, and his forty-four member household (family members and servants) were baptized. Then, as the legend goes -- on the day of Valentine’s execution, he left the Judge’s daughter a note signed: "Your Valentine" ... instigating what has become a classic Valentine's tradition around the world -- of sending little notes to people we love (or people we would like to love).
So today I task you with a few challenges. Firstly, ask a Christian about baptism and Jesus, or if someone wants to talk to you about Jesus, don’t switch off and dismiss them, listen and see what they have to say, because today is Valentine’s Day and the only reason we mark the day is because of Valentine's faith. Secondly, in memory of Valentine’s remarkable courage make sure you say with all your heart how much you love those who mean the most to you, like your wife, husband, partner, family members, closest friend. Whoever it might be to you, make sure you’ve had the time to say how much you love them. Thirdly, in memory of Valentine and the compassion he showed to his oppressive jailer and judge, reach out to someone you don’t see eye to eye with, and find out how life changing these words of Jesus are.
For Jesus said (Luke 6:27-36), ‘But to you who are listening I say: love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who ill-treat you.”
29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.
32 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Yours in Jesus
Revd Jeremy Putnam
In January 1989 Gillette launched its new slogan ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ with an $80m campaign during the Super Bowl XXIII. The slogan caught on and was translated into fourteen different languages.
Thirty years later the company released a new campaign ‘The Best A Man Can Be’ encouraging men to reject bullying and ‘traditional masculinity’.
Reaction to the ad was overwhelmingly negative across the world with many skeptical of a company profiting by telling men how to act.
It has however opened up the debate once again as to whether ‘traditional masculinity’ is a problem.
The facts from North America where the ad was first released are alarming:
The American Psychological Association recently released “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” which were founded on the postmodern belief that “masculinities are constructed based on social, cultural, and contextual norms.”
It identified “traditional masculinity” as “anti-femininity, achievement, eschewal of the appearance of weakness, and adventure, risk, and violence.”
Is this how it should be and if not what is the answer?
David French recently wrote that “grown men are the solution, not the problem” and he calls on men to shape their “inherent aggression, sense of adventure, and default physical strength for virtuous ends.”
In his view, we need more fathers to raise sons with discipline, respect, and encouragement.
We also need to escape masculinity which tells men they are to go it alone and to seek assistance is to minimalise their manhood.
We have a delicate balance, given to us by God from the very beginning, which is needed to be kept.
“…the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). Work and keep translate Hebrew words meaning to improve and guard. Men were created to produce and protect, to work and provide.
However, men were not intended to be self-sufficient. Immediately after creating the first man, God created the first woman, explaining: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18). To fulfill their life purpose, men need women, other men, and especially their Father.
Self-reliance is a destructive illusion - “No man is an island” is not just a poem–it’s a fact and self-sufficiency is spiritual suicide. It cuts us off from the only true source of abundant life (John 10:10).
So how do men become the “Best A Man Can Be”?
Jesus Christ was the perfect male and should be our example.
He was strong enough to drive money changers from the temple (Matthew 21:12) but gentle enough to embrace children (Matthew 19:13-15). He was courageous enough to confront the corrupt leaders of his nation (Matthew 23) but compassionate enough to weep for them (Luke 19:41).
Now he is praying for us (Romans 8:34) as his Spirit works to transform us into his character (v. 29). He is ready to help every man become “the best a man can be.” And every woman to become the best she can be as well.
It is the challenge of a live time to live up to this standard but if we strive for it we will be our best and the people we serve will be blessed, to the glory of God.
Well now, Christmas has been and gone, but for many of us, indulgence continues, as we strive to get through the last of the Christmas cake, biscuits and endless chocolate. Not to mention working our way through the freezer and all those little extras we might have bought ‘just in case’ that are still lurking at the back of the cupboard. It is almost a challenge to have to consume all that is left over, and by now most of us are sick of the sight of rich food and have made New year’s resolutions to cut down, get fit, loose weight and have a healthier lifestyle. Some have even combined this with being kinder to the planet and going vegan for January!
I am acutely aware that not everyone is able to share in such ongoing indulgence. Just before Christmas I was emotionally torn at seeing the Food Bank putting so many food hampers together to sustain local families over the Christmas period. Gladdened at people’s generosity and kindness but deeply troubled at the need for it in the first place! I am all too aware that there are people on our doorsteps who are hungry and struggling to feed their families and we must continue to support them and to address the root causes of such deprivation as MP’s call for a Minister of Hunger to be appointed.
There is such a deep irony, that, whilst some of us struggle to shed the extra pounds gained over Christmas, as the NHS seeks to combat long term obesity, as gyms see an increase in subscription for weight loss programmes, others loose weight perilously, effortlessly, inescapably! Both on our doorstep and on the other side of the world there are those who are desperately hungry, indeed there are many in the world many who face starvation! Here people have begun to stockpile tinned food in case of a no-deal Brexit, panicking that there won’t be enough of our favourite things lining the supermarket shelves, whilst in the Yemen the supermarket shelves have been empty for years, there is hardly any food getting through as the ports are blocked and mothers watch in desperation as their children weaken each day because there was nothing to eat yesterday, little or nothing today, and tomorrow is a whole world of uncertainty and fear.
Aid agencies like UNHCR, Save the Children and Mercy Corps report that the situation in Yemen is dire. Four years of brutal conflict has left millions of people without a home and on the brink of starvation. Some have resorted to eating leaves just to stay alive. Since March 2015, a Saudi and Emirati-led coalition has been fighting anti-government Ansar Allah forces, resulting in widespread destruction, bombing and gun battles. Children are paying the heaviest price. They are facing a deadly triple threat - bombs, disease and hunger - they are at risk of dying from entirely preventable causes - hunger, or treatable illnesses and diseases.
With fighting escalating in the port city of Hodeidah - the country's main gateway for food, fuel and humanitarian supplies, little is getting through with Aid Agencies struggling with all the complexities of bringing humanitarian aid in by land. Economic collapse has left many families unable to afford food and water. And millions of children don't know when or if their next meal will come. Yemen is on the brink of the worst famine in 100 years. The UN warned last month that up to 14m Yemenis are on the brink of famine.
Save the Children estimates that 85,000 children under the age of five may have died from acute malnutrition in three years of war in Yemen. The number is equivalent to the entire under-five population in the UK's second largest city of Birmingham,
With a fragile truce in place and peace talks that began in Sweden at the close of 2018, there may be a glimmer of hope of better things to come for the Yemen, but resources are desperately needed on the ground now.
So, perhaps when we reach for that last chocolate bar or box of biscuits, we might also reach for our purse and donate to the aid agencies working in the Yemen, knowing that if we all did so, we could make a difference. We might also reach for our bibles and remember what St. Paul commended us to do -
‘When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to
practice hospitality.’ ( Romans 12: 13)
And the writer to the Hebrews: -
‘and don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.’ ( Hebrews 13:16)
And in doing so we may just find that we are blessed with far greater riches -
‘The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor’. (Proverbs 22:90
And we can all lift our hearts and voices to God in prayer, for prayer never goes unheard or unanswered.
Peace and blessings
Samaritans 116 123
Cruse Bereavement Support Helpline 0808 808 1677
Premier Christian Helpline 0300 111 0101
The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2)
We have all experienced darkness.
We have all failed to see.
We have all hidden in the shadows.
We have all reached for the comfort of the night.
And some have experienced all these things with severe intensity.
Some have been so overwhelmed by darkness that even a pin prick of light, seen with open eyes, can be profoundly life changing.
Some have been to the very bottom of the darkest pit. Where death seems all too close, and tragically for some, has even felt appealing.
The fact of the matter is, in our communities there are people that feel just like this, right now. And yet, at Christmas, the world talks of light as if every festivity, every meal time, every shopping trip and every candle lit can make everything better, everything lighter. They don’t. For those who suffer with depression, low-self esteem, or stress; for those who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones; for those whose families are divided, or even harming, Christmas comes like the darkness. In fact for many of us, even if we do not share these same challenges, Christmas can feel heavy not light.
I was sat in the barbers on Friday waiting to have my haircut. A young man was in the chair ahead of me, he was talking to the barber about Christmas. This young man, probably about 22 years old was expressing his severe dislike of Christmas. “It is stressful.” He said. “I don’t have the money. There is too much expectation and not enough time.” He even went on to say, “It is the one time of the year where I feel the most hurt.”
Christmas comes like the darkness.
How can we take the words of Isaiah (Isaiah 9:2-7) seriously? Especially when he says, ‘the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.’ What light? The latest John Lewis advert? The Black Friday glitzy adverts? The lights of late-night shopping? What light?
The message from Isaiah is clear. For those that sit in darkness, or fear, or failure, or want: rescue is coming!
For Christians this news of rescue comes in the shape and form of a child. This is the single reason the church is gathered on Christmas Eve: “a child has been born for us, a son given to us.”
For this child is the gift. This child is our light, our rescue, and our good news. When the church is at its best, and it is offering what it is called to offer, it takes its role as the stable and manger, cradling the child in its embrace with the world, in the embrace of our aching human hearts.
After all, it is for this light, this child given to us, that our painters have painted, our musicians composed, our architects designed, our martyrs died, our healers healed, our activists agitated, and our preachers preached. [Nancy Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, 2006]
More good works have been inspired by this child than any other. And yet more and more feel the pressures of Christmas and what it has become. So what can we say?
"It’s always darkest before the dawn.”
This is as true for us, as it was for Isaiah. Think of the darkness of the womb before new life meets the world. Think of the darkness of the tomb before that first Easter morn. Think of the darkness of the early morning shadows before the sun rises. Think of the darkness of the blind man’s gaze before the miraculous deeds of Jesus returned his sight. Think of the darkness you have witnessed yourself, before hope replaced it with light. At Christmas we must always remember that the light has come, and the light is coming.
And so rather than ask where the light is? Why not ask who the light is?
Ironically, in a season that is so filled with light, - Christmas trees, festive street lights, fireworks, candlelit Christmas dinner tables and the like, it can still end up feeling as though Christmas comes like the darkness. It can be a very difficult time for many many people. But when we ask the question – 'who is the real light?' then we can look beyond the many lights of the season, and see the one true light, the light that has come to enlighten everyone.
Jesus is indeed the light of the world. It is only his word and his message that can suppress the darkness from our lives. You can have as many Christmas lights, shopping days and inspirational adverts as you like, but unless we seek the one who is the true light, then Christmas will always be less than what it was meant to be.
And the third, and last thing is to say that it is only through Him, Jesus, that we can overcome the darkness in our lives. In the symbolic battle between light and darkness, of which the bible refers to frequently, the moment we think we can manage with our own light and strength, is the moment we are in danger of losing the fight. In my experience, and from what I have witnessed in the lives of others, those that have sought the light of God, and who have welcomed the Christ child into their lives, have also admitted in the same breath that they cannot do it alone. It is that same moment that light truly comes, and they receive the power to overcome darkness. Once we come to believe that a light greater than ourselves can restore us and rescue us, then we do indeed walk in the light of Christ.
For the people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.
If you know someone who is really struggling this Christmas, who might also be suffering with depression or anxiety, or a deep sense of loss then please make sure you encourage them to talk to someone about it. Create some space for them, in the midst of the busyness of Christmas, so they have permission, to feel and to be heard. For those who need more urgent support, go with them to see there GP, help them pick up the phone to the Samaritans 116 123, or phone a bereavement support line like Cruse Bereavement Support Helpline 0808 808 1677 . For when we receive the light of Christ in our lives, we can share that same light with others.
Revd Jeremy Putnam
You may not know that the very first Black Friday was Nov 18th 1910, and it had nothing to do with shopping. On this day 300 women marched to the Houses of Parliament as part of their campaign to secure voting rights for women. The day earned its name from the violence meted out to protesters, some of it sexual, by the Metropolitan Police and male bystanders. Thanks to the courageous perseverance of these suffragette women, and even earlier the commitment of Chartism for the working class, there is now equality in voting. We still have a way to go though, inequality is still very present in our society.
You may be wondering why I am talking about Black Friday when the rest of the Church is probably talking about Advent & Christmas. Inequality was certainly very real at the time of Jesus’ birth. Consider Mary the mother of Jesus. Mary had no status, or societal influence. Her wealth was next to nothing, and she had no real material value that would’ve caused people to stand up and take notice. And yet because of this, God chooses Mary. In the eyes of the world she had nothing to give and yet Gabriel was sent to her with some extraordinary news. Mary was a young girl in a society that valued men and maturity; she was lowly and poor as her canticle of praise mentions. In other words, Mary was not someone who was favoured in the world, but Christians learn from the Gospels that she was indeed honoured in the eyes of God, she was in fact blessed because of her poverty.
It’s important to know that Mary’s status before God would have undoubtedly brought her shame. In her day, an unmarried woman expecting a child was cause for disgrace. It broke every social and familial law of acceptability. Not only would her condition bring shame on the family, but to try and explain it was somehow a blessing from God, that conception was by account of a visit from God’s messenger, well, this would have been blasphemy of the highest order. Nevertheless, she trusts God. Mary’s part in the Good News and the Incarnation is so inspiring, so extraordinary, and so liberating for us because of her faith.
Mary was the first champion of the Christian faith, showing such courage despite facing the possibility of social darkness, disgrace, shame and violence. Because of her faith the Word of God came into the world. To the world around her Mary had nothing to give. To us, as Christians, we learn that Mary had everything to give, and held nothing back. Her faith inspires us today.
And so, this Christmas I hope like Mary, you know the grace to trust God completely. There are many challenges still facing our society with regards to freedom and equality, and we do need boldness and faith to survive them and to challenge them. But my prayer this Advent and Christmas time is that we learn how loved we are by God through the inspiring faith and motherhood of Mary, and together make the changes God longs to see.
May God bless you and keep you this Christmastide.
Revd Jeremy Putnam.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.