The Longest Night

The 21 December is the longest night of the year.  It is cold and dark and the warm balmy evenings of summer seem a long way away.

Over the past few weeks we have been remembering in prayer all those who find Christmas difficult.  Dealing with the loss of a loved one, facing life after divorce or separation, coping with the loss of a job, living with an illness that puts a question mark over the future. Things like this make the joviality of celebration painful for many people who feel ‘down’ at Christmas. It is good to be able to
acknowledge these feelings and to bring them to God.

The author Jan Richardson has written a beautiful piece of prose that offers healing and hope.

May the presence of Christ our Light, who goes with us in the darkness and in the day, be yours this Christmas.

Mark Abrey


 

Blessing for the Longest Night

longest night

All throughout these months
as the shadows
have lengthened,
this blessing has been
gathering itself,
making ready,
preparing for
this night.

It has practiced
walking in the dark,
traveling with
its eyes closed,
feeling its way
by memory
by touch
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.

So believe me
when I tell you
this blessing will
reach you
even if you
have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you
even though you cannot
see it coming.

You will know
the moment of its
arriving
by your release
of the breath
you have held
so long;
a loosening
of the clenching
in your hands,
of the clutch
around your heart;
a thinning
of the darkness
that had drawn itself
around you.

This blessing
does not mean
to take the night away
but it knows
its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots
along the path,
knows what it means
to travel
in the company
of a friend.

So when
this blessing comes,
take its hand.
Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.

This is the night
when you can trust
that any direction
you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.

© Jan Richardson, from janrichardson.com

Image: Longest Night © Jan Richardson used with permission

Advent Supper 4

If Jesus was born today, what sort of world would he find?

Twenty-two of us gathered in Chadlington last Wednesday for the last of our series of Advent Suppers, this time on the theme of ‘welcome’ – or perhaps, what it means to offer or receive a ‘well-coming’.  The evening began with a short discussion, during which we considered what the defining characteristics of a welcoming country might be.  Our answers included:

  • acknowledging strangers in such a way as to allow communication, even if there are language differences
  • showing interest by asking questions in a sensitive, non-aggressive, way
  • smiling, and making eye contact
  • showing respect and giving dignity
  • practical help such as hospitality, and providing information and basic necessities
  • being aware of cultural differences eg behaviour normal to us, that might inadvertently cause offence

The TED talk that followed, How to help refugees rebuild their world, was given by Melissa Fleming of the UN Refugee Agency.  It is a strong presentation – and in charting the progress of particular refugees it illustrates well the power of the human interest story to inspire our compassion and empathy (two of our themes from earlier weeks).  It is perhaps human nature to find it easier to respond to individual people or families, whereas the plight of anonymous thousands can leave us feeling helpless.

The talk, recorded in 2014, presented many surprising facts about the ongoing refugee crisis in the Middle East:

  • 86% of those fleeing their homes find shelter in neighbouring countries (Lebanon, with a population of just 5 million has 1 million refugees),
  • only 14% head for Europe and the West.
  • Being a refugee is not a temporary condition – the average length of time is 17 years.
  • 50% of refugees are children, for whom there is a scarcity of education beyond primary level.  The lack of funding for secondary, let alone tertiary, education means that a whole generation is being wasted.
  • The very people who need resourcing and equipping to rebuild their countries in years to come are being left vulnerable and without hope for the future.

There was plenty of food for thought here to stimulate our discussion during the meal that followed, after which we looked at a number of short bible quotations from both the Old and New Testaments linking the theme of God’s commandments to care for ‘the stranger’ and for each other.  Far-ranging discussion in the groups included consideration of how ‘justice’ can be defined (whose justice is being enforced?); what our responsibilities to refugees might be (do they, for instance, include trying to bring wars to an end?); the effects of changes in society since biblical times with people nowadays more likely to be dislocated from families and places of origin, and the loss of inter-generational living.  As at previous Advent suppers the evening ended with discussion on how to put our responses usefully into practical action.

The series of Advent Suppers has been both stimulating and an excellent opportunity for fellowship.  Special thanks go to all involved in setting up the evenings, those who prepared the hall, cooked and served the very delicious meals and drinks, and washed up.  A Lent series is already being planned!

Marian Needham


 

ADVENT SUPPER – WEEK  4
16 December 2015

TED Talk – How to help refugees rebuild their world

For discussion before the TED Talk:

What are the defining characteristics of a welcoming country? (Have someone at your table jot down the characteristics you have identified).

Some questions to consider during our meal:-

Discuss your reactions to any of the points the speaker made, and consider the implication for our country, our church community and ourselves as individuals.

Here are some that you might like to consider.

  1. What is a refugee/What makes people become refugees?
  2. What choices do they have?
  3. How extensive is the refugee problem today and where is it concentrated?
  4. What responsibilities do we have towards refugees?

If you think we do

What can we do to help solve the problem?

Biblical reflection

God accepts all in Jesus
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations (Greek ethnos), But you have made it a robbers’ den.”  (The word ethnos is the New Testament word for “gentiles.”) (Mark 11:17)

We Were All Baptized By One Spirit
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14)

Invite the Stranger In
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ (Matthew 25:25-36)

Love Your Neighbour as Yourself
For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14)

Leave Food for the Poor and the Foreigner
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. (Leviticus 19:9-10)

If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the LORD gives us.” (Numbers 10:32)

God Loves the Foreigner Residing Among You
He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)

The Sin of Sodom: They Did Not Help the Poor and Needy
Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. (Ezekiel 16:49)

Do Not Oppress a Foreigner
Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)

Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country.(Deuteronomy 23:7)

Do Not Deprive Foreigners Among You of Justice
“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty. (Malachi 3:5)

Questions to consider

  • HOW DOES WELCOME RELATE TO THE FIRST TWO THEMES OF COMPASSION AND EMPATHY THAT WE DISCUSSED IN OUR ADVENT SERIES?

Advent Supper 3

If Jesus was born today, what sort of world would he find?

A very cheerful and large group gathered for our session this week on What sort of community would Jesus find. We listed to a TED talk by psychologist Sherry Turkle entitled Alone but together – see below for details and questions that we consideredThe Bible passage for exploration that followed the talk was 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 in which St Paul examines the body and how each element is related to the whole.

This week people seemed even more relaxed and engaged than last week – with humour playing a very enlivening role at some tables! The talk explored the potential effect that electronic communication and social networking could have on the way people communicated with each other. And how that could affect the way society as a whole worked. Some of us fell more into the category of enlightened electronic Luddites that avid Social networkers, but all acknowledged the potential negative and positive effects that Twitter, Facebook and the like could have. The point raised in the talk about people withdrawing  from company onto their electronic devices where they could create and control their own virtual world, rather than interact with others face to face, had been noticed by everybody. The potential to for this to limit the social competence of  people young and older was also noted.

There was also discussion about whether the fear of intimacy, which had also been raised in the talk, and in the bible passage discussion on how the church worked as a community. Are people fearful of being open to others? Do they expect to engage with others at a deeper level when the join the church community? Does the church encourage and facilitate deeper personal relationships?

There are no slick answers to the challenge of living as a community, especially within the church. Electronic communication had real potential for harm, but equally real potential for building community, if it was used as a powerful and creative tool facilitating and supporting real relationships. There was strong agreement that Jesus would go onto Facebook if he were to come again now, as it would provide a great opportunity for him to reach many.

Next week we will be exploring welcome.   There is still time to sign up – don’t miss out! – you can book your place by clicking here.

Peter Silva


 

ADVENT SUPPER – WEEK  3
9 December 2015

TED Talk – Connected, but alone?

Some questions for discussion during our meal:-

  • Discuss your reactions to some or all of these points the speaker makes, and consider the implications of the situations she describes.‘We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere – connected to all the different places they want to be. People want to customize their lives. They want to go in and out of all the places they are because the thing that matters most to them is control over where they put their attention.’

    ‘Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection.’

    ‘And so from social networks to sociable robots, we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our ‘flight’ from real time conversation denies the capacity for self reflection.’

     

  • Were there any other points that particularly caught your attention? Why? 
  • To what extent do you recognise any of the habits, changes and trends the speaker talks about in yourself, and in others you know? What effects has it had on relationships?

Biblical reflection

1 Corinthians 12.12-26

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.

Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear were to say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’, nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable we clothe with greater honour, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect; whereas our more respectable members do not need this. But God has so arranged the body, giving the greater honour to the inferior member, that there may be no dissension within the body, but the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.

Questions to consider

  • What is Paul’s vision for Christian community living in this passage?
  • How does it contrast with what’s happening in digital communities and relationships?
  • How could we, in the Chase Benefice, respond to the isolation and false connectedness suggested in the talk?
  • How can we teach younger people to have and value real conversations?
  • Are there ways in which we could use digital communication and connectedness to bring about positive benefits for a community?

Advent Supper 2

If Jesus was born today, what sort of world would he find?

There was a very relaxed and sociable atmosphere as 22 people gathered for the second talk in the Advent series – an exploration of Who would be capable of showing empathy.  We listened to a TED talk by the American sociologist, Sam Richards entitled, A Radical Experiment in Empathy – see below. After our meal we read the passage from Luke 16 – The rich man and Lazarus. People were very engaged in the discussion at their tables and the feedback at the end was vigorous and varied about both the talk and the Bible passage.

We all grasped that empathy was the process by which we put ourselves in the shoes of someone else, and saw the world through their eyes. If we were to enter into this process, we would have to ‘suspend judgment’, consciously putting our own views and opinions to one side. Seeing things through the eyes of someone else would enable us to understand in much more depth, why they react and behave in the way they do. It would not necessarily lead us to agree with them, but our new, more profound understanding would make it highly like that our attitude to them would change as would our behaviour. This in turn would lead to greater tolerance and respect for those who appeared to differ from us in many aspects of life.

Next week we will be exploring how changes in the way we communicate challenge how we relate to each other and the opportunities that those challenges bring.   There is still time to sign up – don’t miss out! – you can book your place by clicking here.

Peter Silva


 

ADVENT SUPPER – WEEK  2
2 December 2015

TED Talk – A Radical Experiment in Empathy

Some questions for discussion during our meal:-

  • What struck you about the presentation by Sam Richards?
  • What is the difference between sympathy and empathy?
  • What does having empathy mean for you?
  • Can you think of a time when someone was empathetic towards you? How did it make you feel? Share this with others if you wish.
  • What stops us from ‘stepping into’ someones shoes?
  • What questions does this TED Talk raise for Parliament today as it discusses the use of airstrikes against ISIS in Syria?

Biblical reflection

Luke 16. 19-31  – The Rich Man and Lazarus

‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’

Questions to consider

  • What do you think that the message of this parable is?
  • Who is isolated? Lazarus or the rich man? Why?
  • What are the consequences of not having empathy?
  • Whom do we ourselves lack empathy for?. The poor? The rich? People of a certain race or faith or lifestyle? Some family members?  Whom do we want to avoid?
  • Is it possible to have empathy for people who hurt us or mistreat us?What practical things can we do to increase empathy in our lives? In the Church?

CUMBRIA FLOOD APPEAL

The images of the damaged caused by Storm Desmond will have brought back painful memories for many in the Benefice.  Back in 2007 41 homes in Ascott-under-Wychwood and some in Chadlington were flooded .  We know first hand just how devastating that is for those effected and for their communities.

An emergency appeal has been launched for anyone wishing to donate to assist individuals and families whose homes have had significant structural damage or flooding due to recent floods and storms which took place during the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th December throughout Cumbria.

Cumbria Community Foundation has committed £50,000 from its own funds to prime the Appeal.

Grants for charitable purposes will be distributed to relieve hardship, which can help with cleaning up, emergency repairs, clothing, food and drink, heating and heating equipment, child care equipment and basic furniture.

The fund is administered by Cumbria Community Foundation, who effectively managed the £3 million Cumbria Flood Recovery Appeal following the floods in 2009.

CCF has a well-established and effective system for application, grant assessment and allocation. CCF is a highly regarded local grant giver with experienced staff and solid systems and processes in place.

The Ascott Village Shop is collecting donations of money to send to those effected in Cumbria.  If you would like to contribute you can do so by calling into the shop or by putting your donation into an envelope marked ‘Cumbria Flood’ and put in on the collection plate at Church.  We will make sure your donation is passed on.

 

A prayer for those affected by flooding

Creator God, we remember at this time all those whose homes and communities have been damaged by flooding in Cumbria.

In the the name of Jesus we give thanks for the courage and dedication of the emergency services who have come to the help and rescue of all in need.

We celebrate the kindness of neighbours in caring for the most vulnerable.

Lastly, we ask in the power of your healing Spirit to rebuild not just the physical communities which are coping with many problems today but also to give us a sense of trust in your goodness through the kindnesses of one another, in Your Holy Name.

Amen

PRAYING FOR THE CLIMATE IN ADVENT

David Soward reflects on the UN Climate Conference being held in Paris

As the Paris climate talks begin, we already know that 2015 has been the warmest on record, with the 5-year-period to 2015 also recording the warmest global average temperatures ever, and with 14 of the warmest years in the last 100 all occurring in the 21st century. No surprise then that everyone – from Pope Francis to Prince Charles, from David Attenborough to David Bowie, and from Bjork to the head of the Royal Opera House – has been lining up to impress upon our world leaders that they must produce a deal which is ‘ambitious’ and ‘inspiring’. (The EU added that it must be ‘robust’ while the US, the world’s second worst producer of CO2, is more worried that it might also be ‘legally binding’. ) Continue reading PRAYING FOR THE CLIMATE IN ADVENT