Speaking Generally

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I’m grateful to my friend Stephen Poxon (author and writer) for contributing this guest post about William Booth. You can find his books here.

William Booth: Founder of The Salvation Army, Christian evangelist, reformer, friend of royalty, champion of the marginalised, wit, entrepreneur, and master of the soundbite.

So far, so good, but we must remember that Booth was preaching his message and espousing his spiritual and moral philosophy before any of the advantages of modern communications technology could be exploited. His was an era of voice projection and oratory that went largely unaided except by, maybe, primitive devices for amplification.

All the more remarkable, therefore, is the fact that so many of William Booth’s quotations have survived into the present age. Granted, many were recorded by stenographers and biographers, but General Booth’s feat is still special, especially as much of his (prophetic?) wisdom retains a fresh touch.

Such as, for example, his utterance that there might come a time when the fires of scorching faith that burned within his bones would somehow become

“Religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, heaven without hell”.

Forgive the pun, but this is hot stuff; not for the faint-hearted (but then, faint-heartedness was a concept Booth never understood).

Was the old man right, though?

Take a look around. See for yourself a market-place swarming with pseudo-Christian philosophies (touchy-feely-feel-good mantras of consolation paraded in the name of some churches) and you might concede, he made a reasonable point! Denominations, I mean, that sometimes appear not to know their convictions from their desperate strivings to be ultra-relevant, and which, consequently (inevitably) dilute their ancient mandate to the point of it being nothing in particular and of little use to anyone.

And as for the penultimate utterance in Booth’s list of concerns, who can forget Alastair Campbell’s famous interruption of Tony Blair, reminding the then Prime Minister that “We don’t do God”?

How about this absolute corker:

“Don’t instil, or allow anybody else to instil into the hearts of your girls the idea that marriage is the chief end of life. If you do, don’t be surprised if they get engaged to the first empty, useless fool they come across.”

He wasn’t holding back, was he! Anyone voicing such opinions nowadays would be faced with any number of charges before they could say political correctness. Yet, allowing the dust to settle, we might just find ourselves agreeing with the outspoken warrior, albeit only grudgingly, on behalf of our children and grandchildren. Is it even possible we might only, eventually, accuse him of speaking downright common sense?

Try this one: “The greatness of the man’s power is the measure of his surrender”.

Notwithstanding the gender bias of the statement, how much does a contemporary age rail against notions of surrender, obedience, deference or conformity; in civil and legal matters, relationships, education, religion, societal structures, international political diplomacy, and the workplace (and so on)? Are we, can we honestly claim, the better for such prevailing tendencies and the tacit approval of creeping anarchy in the name of entitlement?

Read. Ponder. Agree. Disagree.

Jumping from 10,000 ft at 94

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Commissioner Harry Read is a retired Salvation Army Officer who was my Training Principal while I was at the William Booth College in London between 1978-1980. Harry is also a D-Day veteran who parachuted into Normandy in 1944. At the age of 94, he made another parachute jump to raise funds for Salvation Army work to combat modern slavery and human trafficking. Amongst his many gifts, this fine Christian leader is also a poet, and I often use his insightful poetry while leading worship. Well done Harry!

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Note: I’m grateful to Margaret Ord for the photo of Harry preparing for his jump.

Supporting Families in Nicaragua

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Margaret Storey is a lovely Christian lady who lives in Wallsend, but who spends most of her time in Nicaragua, a country currently going through difficult times politically. In this guest post she tells her story:

I first heard about SIFT (Seed International Fund Trust) when I made inquiries regarding school sponsorship in Nicaragua. I had previously been to the country volunteering with a different charity three times and each time I returned home, I felt part of me had been left behind. I decided when I retired in 2008, to return to Nicaragua independently for 11 weeks to wait on God and see where he wanted my future to be.

During that time, the SIFT team arrived to do their yearly visit to the children who were sponsored by the charity, to get their school reports, family news, a fresh photo to send to their sponsor in the UK and pay their next year’s school fees. They invited me to join them. They had been praying for someone to act as a link person in Nicaragua with the office in the UK. Unaware of this, I told them the reason I was there. Some weeks later, they asked me if I was prepared to join SIFT. I agreed to give them, in a voluntary capacity, nine months each year (now eight months).

My main ministry is the area around the rubbish tip, where lots of our sponsored children live and scavenge. Many of these children would not be in education today were it not for SIFT. Some of them have now reached university level. I support the families in their struggles an encourage the children with their schooling. I also organise the payment of the monthly school fees. We have 135 children in 8 schools and 2 universities, which I have to check on regularly. With donations from home, I help buy school uniforms and supplies, pay for prescriptions and medical costs, contribute towards projects at the schools or the church, and give treats to the children.

Every 2 months I give out food rations to our SIFT families. My home church, Trinity Methodist in Wallsend, has a well fund, and with this I am able to organise new wells to be dug, or dried up ones to be dug deeper. There is always a demand for wells!

I’ve had a playground built at the orphanage, a shelter built at the rock quarry, where people sit for 10 hours a day in dire conditions, breaking rock to sell to builders and a laundry in the poorest community where people walk a mile to wash their clothes in the creek. I work alongside the pastor of the church I attend, sometimes preaching. In our women’s fellowship, I have taught many of them to knit and now some of them are making and selling their own work.

Bluefields is a very poor community with people living in atrocious conditions, often not owning a pair of shoes or knowing where the next meal is coming from, but they are happy people and grateful for the help they receive.

When I am home, I speak at various guilds, meetings etc. and it’s from donations there that I carry out the projects, independent of SIFT. I am self-funding, so none of these goes towards my own costs. I find it challenging, often an emotional strain, but also a joy to serve these underprivileged brothers and sisters who are now part of my extended family.

End of Summer Feelings

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How do you feel at the end of summer? Spring is my favourite time of the year; there’s new life emerging in nature and I can enjoy the (hopefully) better weather without hay fever and asthma (July and August are worst for me), the days are getting longer, and my birthday falls in May. Also, as a Christian, the significant events of Easter and Pentecost come within this period in the Northern Hemisphere.

By August Bank Holiday Monday (at the end of August in the UK) I start to feel reflective and sometimes a little down with the nights closing in, the onset of autumn, and (although I enjoy my vocation as a Salvation Army Officer) the thought of returning to the busyness of work.

I occasionally get depressed and take a mild anti-depressant for it, more recently I’ve experienced bouts of anxiety as well. Although the depression is well-managed, I find that autumn and winter are the most difficult seasons for me. I’m open and honest about this because I believe there shouldn’t be any stigma about mental health issues within society; many will suffer from mental health issues during their lifetime (or know someone who does) and so education and openness can only be for the good, so that no one suffers in silence.

There are various strategies I’ve learnt through the years to help including eating healthily, getting out in the fresh air, exercise, running and making sure I get a good night’s sleep (not always easy). I also consciously focus on living in the present, grounding exercises and the like.

How does the end of summer affect you? I’d love to hear from you, whether you love it or loathe it; and if you find it difficult, how do you cope?

Photo Credit: Howard Webber (check out his books here).

The Dark Side of the Moon

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I love music and have a very wide and eclectic taste, equally at home listening to Bach, Bartok or The Beatles. Purcell, Prokofiev or Pink Floyd.

There are certain albums that have become legendary and (quite possibly) changed the course of music history. The BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is clearly one, but so is Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon which celebrates its 45th anniversary this month (March 2018).

I well remember buying this album in vinyl with its iconic gatefold sleeve, which I poured over as I listened to this amazing music for the first time, wondering what a VCS3 was! Nothing quite like this had been heard before.

It’s the ultimate concept album; moving (through its roughly 43 minutes) from birth to death, describing the human condition. It still speaks to us today, and I expect people will be listening to this album long into the future. Life, time, fear, madness, money, war, suffering, solitude, withdrawal, selfishness, relationships, breakdowns, fame, politics and (ultimately) death.

Yet this merely touches the surface of what Pink Floyd manage to squeeze into this magnificent work. The themes are bleak and dark, yet the album is positive in the sense that it’s asking the listener to explore what it means to be human, to embrace our common humanity. There are some great lyrics.

At the end you hear a voice saying, “There is no dark side of the moon really, matter of fact it’s all dark”. To spiritualise it, this is a picture of a Good Friday world, with the possibility of new life, but lacking the means. During Lent and Holy Week Christians reflect on the death and resurrection of Jesus, with the means whereby the dark side of human nature might be redeemed. The following verses from the Bible speak about this possibility:

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 3:1-4 & 12-17 NIV