What would you be prepared to die for?

Most of us at some time in our life think about what is our purpose here on earth. Does our existence have any meaning? One way to test this is to ask, “What am I prepared to die for?” Is there anything or anyone who means so much to you that you would lay your life on the line for them?

This is Holy Week in which Christians remember the events of the last days in the life of Jesus, leading up to his crucifixion on a cross. Although the story is more detailed than the way the rest of Jesus’ life is told, the aim of the storytellers is not to tell how Jesus died, but why. They also stress that this was the way that Jesus wanted to go. They say that he was not under the control of anyone else, either Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, or the religious hierarchy of Jerusalem.

There are many moving examples of people who have donated organs to others, kidneys for example, that can save someone’s life. There are also stories of a few who have taken the place of others in the line leading to the death chamber, and who have died in their stead.

Another kind of willingness to die for others is that shown in the lives of martyrs. I don’t mean those who go on suicide missions to kill others, but those who stick to their beliefs, their cause for justice, even if it means they lose their lives. Perhaps Martin Luther King is one example.

Jesus can be compared to these examples. He is regarded by some as a martyr. A good man who stood up for the poor and oppressed. He is an inspiring example for us to follow, if we dare.

For many Christians he is more than this. Somehow, they believe, the life and death of Jesus releases us from what is wrong in our lives and in the life of the world. This too is a reason to follow his example: to live a life of love towards each and every neighbour. Because he loved us, we should  love one another.

Did Jesus die in vain? I think he died for a purpose. But the question is, has that purpose been fulfilled or will it be fulfilled in the future? The Christian message of Easter is that it will be fulfilled. Jesus was justified in loving and dying the way he did, and events since and to come will show that his way of love is the best way for all of life to flourish. His death can help us learn how to live and gives us hope for the future.

Loving Earth Project

A contribution from a local Friend.

In January 2021 I decided to join a day of meditation,shared with the Loving Earth Project and Woodbrooke.  The project invites individuals and groups to consider how the future of something, someone or somewhere that we love is affected by our own actions.  All are invited to participate by making a textile panel to join a travelling exhibition and it is hoped the exhibition will be displayed in Glasgow at the time of the UN Climate Change Conference COP26, and more widely thereafter.

Climate change can seem an overwhelming topic but working on the panels, alone or in a group, can help find small things that we can tackle, so each panel is accompanied by a piece of writing from the maker that explores what she or he feels able to do.  I have found making my panels and researching possible actions a meditative and prayerful process, and so far I have made two:

Panel one: Refuse

It is so disappointing to come across litter so often carelessly, and, sometimes dangerously, dropped. Apart from being unsightly it puts wildlife at risk from choking, strangulation, poisoning and other types of damage or death, yet still we see it dropped.  In my panel the swan is caught up in a bed a litter. In this case it is largely plastic waste.  

I’ve spun the swan from fleece made from recycled plastic bottles, and the background is made from hand spun odds and ends of pure wool.  The backing had a previous life as a pillow case.

I have choices.  I can refuse to buy what I don’t need, or look for biodegradable options.  I can dispose of waste responsibly, and not leave it as a hazard for others to clear or for wildlife to become entangled with, or even to eat and thereby block the digestive system.   Where possible I should try to reuse or extend the life of materials we longer need, recycling or reworking them as has happened in this panel. 

We do not own the world, and its riches are not ours to dispose of at will.  Quaker Faith and Practice: Advices and Queries, 42


Panel two: Witnessing change

My triptych demonstrates the extremes of temperature that climate change will bring, some of which have started now.  The centre panel represents the lush greens we have in England, nourished by the varied weather we have had.  Flowers and fruit are illustrated by beads.  The yellow panel shows extreme heat which dries and denudes the land, and the blue is the flooding which covers more and more of our land in winter.   In March 2021 the National Trust published a map forecasting the worst scenario for climate change by 2060 without intervention.  In it, Duncan Wilson, the Chief Executive of Historic England said: 
Climate change is putting our historic places under threat. Warmer, wetter winters and hotter, drier summers mean hazards such as flooding, intense rain, drought and overheating will become more frequent.

So what can I do as a tiny part of that intervention? During the summer I try to conserve water by being careful about how much I use and reusing it on the garden where possible to encourage flowering.  I need to learn about planting to sustain the lives of pollinating insects for flowers and predating wildlife.   I also need to learn when prune plants to encourage growth and when to leave plants for a while in order to give pollinators a late opportunity to feed.  And I can provide bug hotels for shelter or breeding.

The communal compost bin in the gardens of my flat yields rich compost to nurture and to help the sandy soil retain water.  I can continue my practice of many years of not using peat which takes years to mature and gives us wildlife habitats we can’t replace and which holds the water which would otherwise contribute to flooding.

Alms House Vacancy

The Trustees of the Leighton Buzzard Almshouses (charity no. 1118085)
invite applications from individuals who would like to be considered for
appointment as a resident to one of the almshouses in North Street.
The dwelling consists of a one-bedroom house, suitable for a couple or for
individual occupancy.
An application pack can be obtained by emailing or writing to the relevant
address below. Applications should be returned no later than 5 March 2021.
The Clerk to the Trustees
C/o The Parish Office
All Saints Church
Church Square
Leighton Buzzard
LU7 1AE

lbuacharities@gmail.com

Meetings for Worship

We held our first Meeting for Worship together today since March. There were six of us in the pleasant surroundings of the garden, bathed in sunlight and blessed with birdsong. The flowers in the courtyard are wonderful, thanks to Mary.

Having carried out a risk assessment and put in place posters about safety during COVID-19 and provided for hand-washing or sanitiser, and markings for social distancing etc., we are able to resume weekly Meetings for Worship, outdoor for preference, but indoors if the weather is not kind. We will be limited to eight people if we move indoors, so registration with the Clerk is necessary. The kitchen will not be used nor will there be anything that is normally shared, such as books. The cleaning regime for the Meeting House and particularly the toilets will be considered with our cleaner this week. They’re will be a one way system operating when we meet indoors, so please follow the guidance of the welcomers. We are not planning to re-open for any other groups before September at the earliest.

We continue to care for each other and keep in touch by phone and email. Please contact Adela or Jackie our Overseers with any concerns.

Flower display by the south wall
Flowers in the courtyard trough
Flowers by the front corner

Charitable giving

Charitable giving

Charity at its heart is a gift of love. 

There has been much publicity recently about people raising huge sums for Charity, Captain Tom Moore among them. However, at the same time many established charities are struggling because their usual sources are drying up. Kids Out is a local example. Christian Aid Week in May has been the major way in which that Charity has raised the bulk of its funds for many years until recently. Door to door collections was the normal method, though it has proved more and more challenging recently and during the Coronavirus lockdown is not possible. 

Churches and all faith groups are also feeling the pinch of reduced income because normal activities have been prohibited. Many rely on a weekly collection – the offertory –  during worship. Sometimes this is called ‘free-will’ offering. It is an expression of thankfulness, a ‘love-gift’. Although there can be an element of duty when it is regarded as a necessary part of believing, as when a tithe (tenth) is expected, or when almsgiving is a pillar of faith. 

Many people have their favourite Charity, which they support regularly, which could be anything from a hospice (which is likely to be really struggling at the moment) to a refuge for ill-treated animals. National fund-raising events such as Children in Need raise millions each years by appealing to our sympathy for the plight of the most vulnerable. Sponsored sports events such as the London marathon give benefits to the runners as well as to the charities they support. 

All of this money-raising effort for Charity enables good work to be done. However, there is a question as to whether some needs should be met by Government funding, which is raised though taxation, rather than by charitable giving. Should we need to rely on money raised through charitable giving for the National Health Service or should it be fully funded as part of our national infrastructure? Often the work of charities is to do extra and supplementary work over and beyond the basic care we offer. But it could also be seen as merely papering over the cracks, rather than dealing with the underlying issue. Proper funding requires Government action. 

Another issue about charitable or faith based giving is whether it is spontaneous, ‘from the heart’, or pre-determined. Is one better than the other? Many worshippers now contribute by direct debit or by other regular payments, and this enables greater confidence in making plans for further action and service. But there are some who view this as duty and regard a second gift or a thank-offering as a more genuine expression of faith. 

Charitable giving is not just about giving our ‘tithe’ or our duty, it is about offering our whole selves, everything we have in service. If love is our motive, then it requires our all, not just the little extra we think we can afford. Our whole life is a love gift, received and given!

Wise or Foolish?

What counts as wisdom these days? And what is folly? April 1st is a traditional day to make a fool of someone, though that is not a practice to encourage. Perhaps it is wiser to recognise our own folly and admit it on All Fools Day. 

The Hebrew Scriptures, on which Christianity draws, is composed of three parts: Law, Prophets and Wisdom. Books such as Proverbs and Job are amongst the collection of received wisdom. Folly and Wisdom are often contrasted in the collection of sayings in Proverbs. There are many warnings about thinking that you are wise, for example, “Do you see someone wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” (Proverbs 26:12). In the teaching of Jesus there are elements of this wisdom tradition, like the parable of the wise and foolish who build their houses, one on rock and the other on sand (Matthew 7.24-29).

So what is wisdom and what is foolish? One of the key features of the Hebrew Scriptures is the teaching that we should care for those who are vulnerable, such as orphans, widows and strangers. To be merely concerned about yourself and your wealth is not wise. Jesus takes up this idea in the parable of the rich man who thought he could store up his wealth and live an easy life, eating and drinking and being merry, only to die a sudden death (Luke 12.18). Jesus also teaches that it is important to care for the ‘little ones’ by which he meant not just children but those who are vulnerable and at risk.

One of the wonderful aspects of the current pandemic is the way that people are showing a concern for their neighbours who might be at risk. This is true wisdom. Whereas the panic about stocking up on toilet rolls or the worry about the stock markets may well be folly. Discovering that what is really important is our relationships with each other, this I suggest, is wisdom. Thinking that we can exist by our own efforts, I believe, is foolish. 

Often the wisdom of ‘the world’ is set against the wisdom of the Gospel. ‘The World’ in this context means the system of thinking and behaving that puts oneself and money at the heart of things. In the scriptures this is judged to be folly. The Good News is that love and justice will be given to the  poor and oppressed. Sayings such as ‘the last will be first’, and ‘how splendid are the humble’ show what Gospel wisdom is. 

So, on All Fools Day, and everyday, we could show our love and concern for those who are in desperate need, whether they ‘deserve it or not’. Such folly is the mark of the wise.