Welcome to the Romans 15:8 leaders blog for May. Please do encourage colleagues to join this network, and if you are reading this page please consider signing up! It’s easy, painless and free!
As I write this, plans are in place from the government for us all to take some more tentative steps towards the ‘new normal’. Clearly I hope these will be successful and we can avoid another surge in cases.
I trust you are keeping well and safe during these testing times? One thing I am sure you have noticed during this lockdown is the appearance of brightly coloured rainbows in many windows and public places. These rainbows are expressions of hope and solidarity with the NHS.
I find it interesting how the meaning for many of the rainbow symbol has changed recently from a declaration of LGBT rights to support for the NHS. In thinking about this I was reminded of the Biblical symbolism of the rainbow which is primarily to do with the mercy of God. I encourage you to look up some of these rainbow references, beginning with Genesis 9:13 and including Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 4:2-3 and 10:1.
Teaching reflection of the month (May)
What’s Going On? Some initial theological reflection upon the current Covid-19 pandemic.
Over the past ten weeks I have spoken with many people, both within the “CMJ network” and beyond and I have listened carefully to their stories relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this there are many encouraging signs of the LORD’s grace at work, as many Churches and individual Christians seek new ways of sharing the Gospel and new ways of serving those in need. Yet alongside this there is much evidence of suffering and loss as the death toll
rises. No-one is immune, yet, as so often is the case, it is the vulnerable and the social marginalised who suffer most.
Hopefully when we return to a “new normal” there will be a “collective ambition” to do things differently - this will hopefully be true both for the Church and for the wider society. This “doing things differently” should include acting in ways which will result in a “levelling up” in our society and a renewed care for the vulnerable and for the environment.
As Christians we are all involved in theological thinking and reflection. We may not always be aware of this, but every time we try to share our faith or to seek understanding about the implications of our faith we are doing theology.
I am sure most of us have heard lots of voices trying to “make sense” of the current pandemic. In terms of Christian voices I think there can be two major approaches - namely those who speak of God ‘sending’ the virus for a range of reasons, and those who speak of God ‘using’ the virus for a number of purposes.
How we navigate between “sending” and “using” involves how we perceive God’s sovereignty over His creation. For those who speak of God sending the virus, the reasons for this can be categorised as a “wake-up call” or as a “punishment” (as in the case of the flood at the time of Noah). As I said the reasons for such a call or punishment can be numerous, but always the identification flows from a particular insight, concern or calling held by the person speaking - so far I have heard four passionate cases been presented where the prime reason is perceived to be one of the following: our failure to support the State of Israel, our failure to stand against abortion, our failure to care for the environment (and to mitigate against global warming) or our failure to engage with the fight against poverty and the pursuit of social-justice. Such presentations demand careful consideration and robust questioning.
Those who see this crisis as something God allows, rather than initiates, tend to see what is going on as simply the “downside of normal”. In this challenging period there are unprecedented opportunities for Christians to witness and to serve. I have been encouraged and challenged by many who have in the light of this crisis, deepened their prayer life, renewed their compassion, engaged
with practical acts of service and doubled their efforts in terms of being ready to: “...always give an answer to anyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15).
In reflecting on some of the practical and theological responses my mind was drawn to how Hassidic Jewish leaders interpreted the actions of God in the immediate period following the horrors of the Holocaust (Shoah) (I think the reason for this connection in my mind is that during this time of social distancing I have invested some time in studying the Hassidic Jewish world.1)
Many Hassidic leaders simply “fell back on silence”, reflecting in part a stance articulated by Job and in part of the book of Lamentations. Others found insight from the theological idea of “hester panim” (the hiding of God’s face, based on a traditional interpretation of Deuteronomy 31:17-18). While others still (probably the majority) embraced the common interpretation that the Holocaust was punishment for sin (and a goad to repentance), the sin identified ranged from assimilation to Zionism. A few saw the Holocaust as the violent “birth pangs” which will bring forth the Messiah and the Messianic Age. Finally, some, who veered to a more pantheistic understanding of God, saw the Holocaust in purely mythic terms as a process within God “himself” or as a struggle between God and the forces of evil. In all of the above, there was a profound searching for a “framework of meaning”. A framework which made sense both of “Kiddush ha-shem” (martyrdom) and “kidush ha-hayim” (sanctification of life).
Maybe some of this Hassidic led reflection has some echoes with our own theological thinking at such a time as this? I would be pleased to hear of your thinking about such issues. In the meantime I can assure that all of us linked to CMJ will do all we can to live out and to share the Gospel to the Jewish world at this time - and especially to those who are searching for a “framework of meaning” and those who are hurting as this crisis unfolds.
Ministry News update
Five of my colleagues are currently being furloughed as part of the government led work retention scheme. It seems likely that this will be the case for a while and probably a few more of us will join them for periods. However, key aspects of ministry continue, for example, production of key advocacy resources, strong social media outreach and significant planning for the online day Conference on 4th July.
As I mentioned in the April blog the staff team has met most days for prayer and it is encouraging to share together. One fun aspect of these times, which may become a new tradition, is often that the meeting starts with a song which is supposed to reflect something about how we may be feeling during this lockdown - the following are a top ten of my song selections. I would be interested for you to send me any songs you think should be on the play-list!
Current Top Ten Playlist
- The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset (which includes the wonderful line- “every day I look at the world through my window”)
- The The - This is the Day
- Elvis Costello - Everyday I write the book (which seems highly appropriate for me in regards to aspects of my current advocacy work!)
- Bob Dylan - You ain’t going nowhere
- Bob Dylan (the Covid-19 parody and cover version) - Everybody must stay home
- Van Morrison - Ain’t nothing you can do
- The Police - Don’t stand so close to me
- The Beach Boys - I just wasn’t made for these times
- Dexys Midnight Runners - Tell me when my light turns green
- Bob Dylan - I shall be released
I have nothing to add to the book news section for I am still working through the book – Hasadism - A New History (see April blog for publication details). I said in the April blog that I had another 27 chapters to go; now I am facing the final five.
Monthly Memory Verse
At many times and in many ways, God spoke long ago to the fathers through the prophets. In these last days He has spoken to us through a Son, whom He appointed heir of all things and through whom He created the universe. (Hebrews 1:1-2) (MJFB).