Tag Archive | community

The World is Smaller Than You Think…

shutterstock_518692792You know those times when you’re in a restaurant where the tables are a bit close together, and the person at the next table decides that they’re going to get to know you, get involved in your conversation, and generally make a thorough nuisance of themselves? Well, I’m very sorry, but, although I try to control myself, there are times when that person on the next table has a good chance of being me.:

I promise, I mean no harm; I just like people, and I like getting to know them. Friendly, passing conversation is where community starts.

And community is the backbone of society.

But we’re all getting fewer and fewer opportunities.

A while ago, walking from our hotel to an interview with the lovely Maria Rodriguez on Woman to Woman, at Premier Christian Radio, we made the twenty minute walk using Kevin’s phone sat-nav. Not a single chance to ask anyone the way.

People rushed past, with not a chance of even the smallest bit of communication, because they were all so busy texting on their phones that no one looked up for long enough to catch their eye and exchange the most fleeting of smiles.

File 04-04-2017, 09 51 43Some of my most long standing friends are people who caught my eye, exchanged a smile with me, which, on a second time of passing, turned into a friendly word, and off the friendship went. We were designed for community. We like having friends, people we can trust. It makes the world feel a safer, smaller place.

Some of us are extroverts, and some of us are introverts, but nonetheless community is key to our children growing up healthy and happy. Without community, our country will crumple to its knees.

Which is where I’m getting to. We now have lots of nationalities in our country, and we should be learning to live side by side; our children should be going for ‘sleepovers’ in each other’s houses, learning from each other, experiencing different customs, new games and new foods. We should be going round to each other’s houses, eating together, cooking together, revelling in our differences and our similarities. I can’t wait.shutterstock_450400126 (1)

Today, walking through a particularly troubled bit of Gloucester, I saw a tall, strong-looking, young man walk out onto the pavement in front of me. He was wearing bright red trainers, cut off jeans and a brilliant red T-shirt; I took the risk, hailed him and told him that he looked fabulous…

He turned, asked me what I’d said, and then, when I repeated it, his face cracked into a blazing smile as he walked back toward me, thanking me and proffering a huge hand to be shaken.

Community starts with men and women getting together and chatting.

We shouldn’t complain about the break down of society, until each of us is prepared to risk the exchange of a friendly word with a complete stranger.

Don’t live in fear – live in the safety and security of God’s hands.

It’s a Good, Good Place To Be.


File 04-04-2017, 10 22 21

That “love thy neighbour” thing – I meant that…


cable street sign 2 I’ve been asked to write a blog about our song ’Love Your Neighbour’. This is my third attempt.

We sit here in a world of unspeakable violence, where Muslim extremists are murdering Christians, Christian extremists are murdering Muslims (yes really), Hindus are murdering Christians. The devil is at work in every corner of the world.

Fear is everywhere. It is fed by the media who rarely tell us what we will find encouraging. It festers and grows within us, blocking out what is good and true.

And fear breeds alienation and hate.

I learnt recently that we go through behavioural cycles every four generations; apparently, popular culture tends to repeat itself every eighty years (Strauss and Howe).

Well, with that in mind – in 1939, Germany invaded Poland. This was the year that we look on as the beginning of the Second World War and a time of atrocities throughout the world that is hard to consider without shuddering. But actually, German fascism, with it’s accompanying trend for violence and hate, started some years before that in 1933, when the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazis) took control of pretty much every aspect of life, both public and private, throughout Germany.

The thing that came as a shock to me, was how much closer than might be expected the UK came to fascism. Oswald Mosely and his British Union of Fascists provided our own answer to the violence of Hitler’s Brownshirts, with the BUF youth movement, the Blackshirts. The Riots of London’s Cable Street in 1936 bore food for thought, as the Fascists, in uniform, marched confrontationally through the Jewish Sector chanting slogans and violently opposing all who stood in their way. Fortunately, in a rare move, the communists, anarchists and labour parties all stood together with the Jewish community, building multiple barricades, and, despite the extraordinary apathy of the Metropolitan Police to the violent behaviour of the Blackshirts, the March was eventually foiled and abandoned.

So, here we are eighty one years on. We look back on those appalling years of the holocaust with horror; and yet our newspapers are full of stories about the extremism of today, and we seem to be oh so ready to take the bait and let our hearts be filled with the fear and hate that so nearly prevailed then.

heartsong welcomesAs an antidote, I’d like to share a story from Heartsong, Tennessee with you:

Steve Stone is pastor of the Heartsong Methodist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He learned that the Memphis Islamic Centre had bought some land adjacent to the church, and were planning to build a community centre and a mosque.

Unlike so many in the US Bible Belt, Steve decided on an approach of love; instead of objecting to the plans, his church put up a large sign that said: “Heartsong Church Welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the Neighbourhood.”

First of all, there was astonishment from the Muslim community. This led to heartfelt gratitude and, ultimately, friendship. Over a period of time, a bond developed between the two churches of love and tolerance, which at the time of the Ramadan Festival, when the Muslim community centre was still not built, led, in an unprecedented move, to the Muslims being offered use of the largest room in Heartsong Baptist Church.

The friendship between the Christians and the Muslims in Heartsong is ongoing. Now, when the church has a barbecue, they serve halal meat, so that Muslim friends will feel welcome. Joint projects are planned, friendships forged, doors and hearts opened so that God can really work.

On hearing about the story, CNN arrived to interview the Muslims and Christians in Tennessee, and an item about the co-operating communities was broadcast on the CNN Global News Service and seen all over the world.

7500 miles away, in a small community in Kashmir, a group of astounded Muslim men saw the news item. Having believed that all Americans hated them, and were against Islam, they sat in amazed silence. “How can we try to kill these people when they welcome us like this?” One of them was so touched by the love of the Christians in Tennessee that he went straight to the local church in Kashmir, and cleaned all the anti-Christian graffiti off.

Steve Stone was at home when he received a phone call from Kashmir. A man, who he had hitherto never spoken to, told him they had been watching CNN when the segment on Heartsong Church was aired. He gave the undertaking that, following the expression of love from Heartsong Church, this community in Kashmir would, in the same way, take care of their own Christian community.

Loving can be hard, it can mean going against the grain, both in terms of what our neighbours and friends think, and in terms of how our own desires and instincts feel. It begins with asking God to take our anger away whenever we are slighted or injured, and pervades every facet of our lives. In this age of an ever shrinking planet we need to bear love in mind when me make decisions about the clothes and food we buy, the newspapers we read, the electoral parties we vote for, right down to the things we say and who we’re prepared to sit next to on the bus. Being loving involves both risk and commitment in so many ways.

I leave you with a quote from a man who had every reason to live in fear … Martin Luther King:

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

When I was a child, I was taught that love doesn’t make the world go round.

But actually, I suspect that it does. cross sun

Hope in your backyard…

Hope in your backyard…

Sometimes it can be really hard to raise significant amounts of money for local causes; for two reasons, the first being that we don’t tend to be very good at seeing what’s in our back yard, and the second being that we struggle to believe that someone who lives just a few miles away from us can be any more needy than us. This problem is amplified when the cause in question is in Cheltenham in the UK, because everyone sees Cheltenham as being affluent. But it has pockets that are among the 10% most deprived in England; areas where the hardship is exacerbated by the fact that because of the area where those people live, they are assumed to be well off and therefore ’OK’.

Due to their social circumstances, some children in these areas can start life in a negative spiral. A child can start his or her school life vulnerable in one way or another, and as time passes it becomes harder and harder for them to fit in and enjoy learning. It can become increasingly difficult for many parents as they try to support their child and get through whatever problems may arise.

The Rock is a Christian initiative in Cheltenham that was set up to enable and re-engage children who, in one way or another have become stuck on the periphery of family, school or community life. Objectives are varied according to the needs of each child, or, indeed, in certain situations, the needs of a whole school; for example helping children find learning a positive experience, assertiveness without anger, social integration, dealing with bullying, and dealing with the inadequacies that lead to bullying. Where necessary, The Rock also provides an essential communication ’bridge’ between parents, pupils and schools – gradually, self sufficient communication becomes a reality.

Children are developed from being on the point of total exclusion to becoming an asset to the school and home community. Their futures are thereby saved. Lives are transformed.

Simple Christian love and values – young lives given hope and changed for the better.

In a weeks time (Saturday 29th March), Out of the Ashes and the Beacon Gospel Choir are going to be performing in St Matthews Church, Cheltenham in aid of The Rock. If you can be there, we’d love to see you.

Tickets are available from the Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham on 01242 572573. Doors open 7:30pm.