There are so many health benefits of human contact and hugs, and these benefits have been denied many during the current coronavirus pandemic. In addition, dating for single people is fraught with difficulties, and it’s a total nightmare for tactile individuals.
As Virgina Satir, a respected family therapist said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.” It concludes that hugs are having a great role in improving our life’s quality. In addition, hugs also have many health benefits you have never expected before. Source
You can easily find out more by clicking on the above link (and Google is your friend), and it’s well worth doing so. I might blog about it sometime, but it’s not the main subject of this post.
One friend commented that being safe (in lockdown) isn’t the same as being alive, because alive isn’t the same as thrive. I know that many can identify with this inability to thrive in lockdown. She also said, “I’ve never felt so alone in my entire life. I’m losing both good and bad parts of me. I’ll never be the same after this”.
Since the start of pandemic I’ve been reflecting on how social distancing might affect our long-term human interaction, especially with strangers. Initially, I discouraged handshaking in Wallsend Corps, greeting each other by touching elbows. This was met with a mixture of amusement and anxiety, the latter due to the uncertainly of what the future might hold, but it wasn’t long before the first lockdown was announced.
A phrase I coined at the start of the pandemic was: Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection. If I could go back twelve months I would change it to: Physical distance with emotional and spiritual connection, as this better reflects my considered thoughts. We need all the social connection we can get within the restrictions. But laptops, tablets and Zoom meetings have their obvious limitations, we need actual human contact to thrive. That said, video calls have been a lifesaver for many.
Another friend said, “Our [adult] son has profound and multiple learning disabilities including autism. He is in a care home. He is non-verbal and touch is how he communicates whether it’s to hug you, hit you or take you to something he wants. Needless to say social distancing hasn’t been good for him. When he sees us to wants to come over to us but can’t. Socially distanced walks with a carer bringing him in the wheelchair to make sure we don’t get close to him is the best way to deal with. Once when on the walks he tried reaching out to stroke a dog that came up to but had to be pulled away. When the dog came up it was lovely to see his smile but heart breaking to see his disappointment when he wasn’t allowed to touch the dog. I dread to think how all this is affecting him long term. However one lovely thing when we’ve done video calls with us, he will touch the screen to acknowledge us.”
I’m not coming to an overall conclusion, but these are personal reflections. We all know how physical distancing is affecting us and our loved ones, but we can’t be sure of the long-term effects. Will we remain ‘distant’ from others, even when we go back to some sort of normality? Reaching out to others, with its associated physical contact, is vital for us to thrive individually and collectively. May we never lose this.
I spent this afternoon at Costa Coffee inside the Odeon Cinema foyer at Silverlink Shopping Park waiting for my car to be serviced at a nearby Citroën dealership. Having bought coffee and cake, I told the staff to let me know if they needed the table, especially in the light of reduced capacity with all the coronavirus social distancing measures, as I had done in McDonald’s in the morning.
An elderly lady and her middle-aged daughter came and enjoyed some refreshments before going into the cinema. As they left, I was still in the same place doing personal business on my Chromebook. They came over and struck up conversation, quite concerned that I had nowhere to go.
They were genuinely relieved when I explained why I was 35 miles away from home and could only have my car serviced there because it came free as part of the original sales agreement. Oh, how we laughed. Life’s little interactions are important, always talk to people whenever you have the opportunity.
In the current coronavirus pandemic lockdown I’m managing food very carefully to minimise my visits to the supermarket, even though they’re doing a great job of social distancing. It’s a case of the less direct human contact the better to reduce the spread of the virus, especially as I’m in a vulnerable group because of my age and (albeit well-controlled) asthma.
Yesterday, my little food notebook told me I needed to use up some bacon and eggs, and so I decided on an all-day breakfast pasta bake. My young children love pasta so I knew I was onto a winner, a 100% comfort dinner on what has been a colder day than we’ve generally been having in lockdown.
I was asked for the recipe by a friend, although I was just making it up as I went along, but here’s the ingredients and what I did anyway.
Ingredients (serves 4-6 depending on appetite and portion size) 375 grams of Fusilli pasta (or whatever you have) 250-300 grams diced bacon (I used smoked, but use what you prefer or have) 8 large free-range eggs (medium will be fine) 1 large tin of baked beans with sausages (I didn’t have sausages readily available) 1 tablespoon of cooking oil (any will do) and salt Salt & pepper (to taste)
Cook the pasta in salted boiling water for 8-10 minutes. While the pasta is cooking, chop up the bacon (unless already diced) and gently fry in the oil until cooked. Add the beans and the sausages (chop in the frying pan) and heat through. Transfer this mixture to a preheated (200C) oven dish and spread evenly. Add half of the cooked pasta. Carefully crack the eggs (evenly spaced) onto the layer of pasta. Gently cover the eggs with the remaining pasta. Cover the oven dish with kitchen foil and cook at 200C until done. Enjoy!
Note: Obviously other ingredients could be added or substituted.
The Rising Sun Country Park is a wonderful place to visit, just two miles away from where we live in Wallsend. It’s somewhere we’ll miss when we move away from the area on my retirement in a few months time. It’s also the location for a parkrun.
In the current coronavirus pandemic the main facilities and car park are obviously closed, but it’s still open for exercise and there’s plenty of space for social distancing. We had a lovely walk round part of the country park yesterday. The above photos are some that I took while out with my family.
You can see all the photos taken on my smartphone by clicking here.
The challenges we face at the moment are many and interconnected. They are shared challenges, yet deeply individual at the same time. I believe we’re all trying to do our best, whilst admitting the collective need to lower expectations of ourselves and others. Many things in this crisis are counterintuitive. like desiring human contact but needing to stay apart. It’s OK to admit we’re not OK, whilst at the same time supporting and encouraging others. We need each other more than ever in these hard times, we’re all hurting and struggling.
We’re learning valuable lessons about ourselves and discovering the things that are important for our emotional and mental wellbeing, our relationship values and working lives. I believe we’ll emerge from this stronger people, better able to take our place in a changing society. Stay strong and stay safe.
Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection.
We meet for Palm Sunday worship online, socially distant but with an emotional and spiritual connection. The Bible message today is about something of the nature of peace, and it’s linked to Misunderstanding Palm Sunday which I wrote and published here a few days ago.
We start our worship with Song 365: He is the Lord, and he reigns on high
They waved palm branches as He passed And hailed Him as their King; Yet, they knew not of the sorrow The coming week would bring. The glad acclaim would soon give way To jeers and mockery; In Pilate’s court He’d be condemned To a cross on Calvary.
But Jesus knew He was the price In God’s redemptive plan, The Sacrificial Lamb come down To die for sins of man.
The centuries have passed and still He seeks those lost in sin, Pleading with unyielding hearts To repent and follow Him.
On this day we shout our praise, O, let us not delay; The palm-strewn path of long ago Still leads to Him today.
Song 225: Jesus comes! Let all adore him!
Jesus comes! Let all adore him! Lord of mercy, love and truth. Now prepare the way before him, Make the rugged places smooth; Through the desert mark his road, Make a highway for our God.
Jesus comes! Reward is with him, Let the valleys all be raised, God’s great glory now revealing As the mountains are abased. Lift thy voice and greet the Lord, Cry to Zion: see thy God!
Jesus comes! The Christ is marching Through the places waste and wild; He his Kingdom is enlarging Where no verdure ever smiled. Soon the desert will be glad And with beauty shall be clad.
Jesus comes! Where thorns have flourished Trees shall now be seen to grow, Stablished by the Lord and nourished, Strong and fair and fruitful too. They shall rise on every side, Spread their branches far and wide.
Jesus comes! From barren mountains Rivers shall begin to flow, There the Lord will open fountains And supply the plains below; As he passes, every land Shall acclaim his powerful hand.
Prayer: Gracious God, the energy and emotion of a parade can generate joy. Yet the joy of your parade into Jerusalem turned so quickly to pain signalling the sacrifice of your own self. Let this day remind me that while emotions can be fickle, your faithfulness and love remain true. May I see in the giving of your life the power to give myself for others simply for love. When life’s struggle sears my soul or sacrifice strips me of hope, strengthen me with your spirit that strode into Jerusalem to face death even as palm branches were strewn before your path and the crowd cried “Hosanna in the highest.” Prayer source: explorefaith.org
Instead of the Band this Sunday, I give you…
We’ll now take up the Offering and listen to the Announcements: For those of you who give a weekly (or other regular) offering to your church, please save these up as they will be much needed in due course. Additionally, there may be those of you who would like to make a donation to a charity of your choice. Please check your local church for arrangements during this bewildering time, and don’t forget to check back here and the Wallsend Corps Facebook Page.
Palm Sunday is traditionally the day in the Christian calendar when we think about peace, and especially the peace that Jesus came to bring. Jesus rode into Jerusalem fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah:
See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Similarly, both Isaiah and Micah looked forward to a day when the nations would beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and look to God and walk in his ways.
Jesus came bringing a message of peace, but the people were so accustomed to war and strife that they rejected it. The people expected him to lead them in military victory over their enemies and vanquish their oppressors. Instead, Jesus offered something far more profound, peace to the human heart.
So Jesus and the crowd were at cross-purposes! They misunderstood that Jesus had come for a CROSS PURPOSE! That was not their purpose, that was the last thing on their minds.
They didn’t understand, their minds were closed to the real purpose of his coming. So when it became apparent that Jesus wasn’t going to fulfil their short-sighted ambitions, they turned against him and he was crucified on Good Friday.
In Luke’s account of these events we see that Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. Indeed, it was the very nationalism that motivated the people on Palm Sunday that ultimately led to their downfall years later.
In today’s world, we need to be so careful that national pride doesn’t become narrow prejudice. Nationalism and prejudice are so often at the roots of conflict, and they take root first in the human heart.
It’s a troubled world out there, and God needs Christian soldiers who bring his message of peace to others. All manner of conflict starts with us. It comes from within, and that’s the very place Jesus wants to come and bring peace.
On this Palm Sunday we need to recognise that true peace can only be built on a right relationship with God. That’s both the foundation and source of all peace; peace with ourselves, peace with others, and peace with God.
The whole of the Bible testifies to this truth. Psalm 29, for instance, starts by calling us to worship: Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.
The Psalmist speaks of God’s greatness, which inspires our worship, and concludes with a wonderful promise of peace when we’re in a right relationship with him: The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
Similarly, Isaiah speaks of promised peace given to the one who seeks after God: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.Isaiah 26:3
Our human nature often wants to run away from the very thing that can bring our peace. Jesus said, if you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.
We have freedom as individuals, but there’s part of us that desires us to act selfishly, to do what we want rather than what God wants. This tendency to think we know best and do what we want is very powerful, unfortunately it separates us from God.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to announce the possibility of reconciliation with God and the resulting peace it brings. As we approach Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter, we see very clearly the cost of peace-making. The cost for Jesus was the way of the cross; he died that we might live.
Peace is not something that just happens, it requires action. The very word for peace is active rather than passive. ‘Shalom’ carries the idea of wholeness, well-being and harmony, rather than merely the absence of strife or tension. It’s what God wants for each and every one of us.
It’s astonishing that with the cross looming before him, Jesus was able to speak of peace, and that through the events of Holy Week he was able to demonstrate such confidence and poise. With his betrayal, his agony in the garden, his trial and death so near, he promised peace; peace that the world cannot give, a peace that passes all understanding.
He promised those who follow him an inner confidence and serenity that can overcome any situation life can throw across our path. Our security in the world can be very fragile, but our spiritual security is of an altogether different nature. It comes from God himself; it’s strong and we can rely on it.
It was won for us on the cross. Peace and security can be ours as we enthrone Jesus at the very centre of our lives. Not at cross-purposes with him, but embracing the CROSS PURPOSE for our lives.
For a time of Reflection, Response and Prayer, please read Song 275:
Sing we the King who is coming to reign, Glory to Jesus, the Lamb that was slain, Life and salvation his empire shall bring Joy to the nations when Jesus is King.
Come let us sing: Praise to our King, Jesus our King, Jesus our King; This is our song, who to Jesus belong: Glory to Jesus, to Jesus our King.
All men shall dwell in his marvellous light, Races long severed his love shall unite, Justice and truth from his sceptre shall spring, Wrong shall be ended when Jesus is King.
All shall be well in his Kingdom of peace, Freedom shall flourish and wisdom increase, Foe shall be friend when his triumph we sing, Sword shall be sickle when Jesus is King.
Souls shall be saved from the burden of sin, Doubt shall not darken his witness within, Hell hath no terrors and death hath no sting; Love is victorious when Jesus is King.
Kingdom of Christ, for thy coming we pray, Hasten, O Father, the dawn of the day When this new song thy creation shall sing, Satan is vanquished and Jesus is King.
We finish with Song 135: All glory, laud, and honour
Benediction This, this is the God we adore, Our faithful, unchangeable friend, Whose love is as great as his power, And knows neither measure nor end. ’Tis Jesus, the first and the last, Whose Spirit shall guide us safe Home; We’ll praise him for all that is past, And trust him for all that’s to come. Amen.
One of the things that’s lifting my spirit and keeping me motivated in these difficult times is buying, preparing and cooking food for my family, Healthy, nutritious meals are important for all of us, especially my three young children. Please don’t neglect to eat properly, and avoid the temptation to snack all day.
Unfortunately, as we all know, shopping online is nigh on impossible at the moment, and we need to restrict our visits to the shops to reduce the spread of the coronavirus and keep everyone safe. Also, just because we can go shopping every day doesn’t mean we have to. Every trip out carries its own risks, even if we are social distancing.
Now, this may seem over the top, but it works for me. I keep a simple page-a-day notebook in which I record the ‘best before’ dates of all the fresh food that I buy (usually once every three days). The non-perishable stuff (pasta and tinned food, for example) doesn’t matter, that’s there in the cupboard when I need it, hopefully.
Each day I simply look at what needs eating and decide on my menu from that. Simple, but effective, and very little waste. What are you doing differently in this crisis? Do share your tips for everyone.
Note: Posting on the blog/website is also helping to keep me sane in this crisis and I hope you’re finding my thoughts helpful.
Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection.
For a variety of reasons, I’ve not been able to put together the same type of online worship meeting as I published last Sunday (although I hope to be able to in the future). So this is something of a DIY Sunday worship meeting. I’ve put some useful links and resources at the bottom of this page, and I’ll add to these in due course. Blessings, John.
Today we celebrate children and youth during the Salvation Army’s International Day of Prayer, please click on the link for a variety of resources for you to use in creative ways in our new circumstances.
Then little children were being brought to Jesus in order that he might pray for them.Matthew 19:13
Let’s not be too critical of the disciples. They were simply reflecting the social values of their day. Children were on the lower rung of the ladder of social importance. The disciples were simply trying to be protective of the time and energy of Jesus. What they were learning as disciples of this Teacher is that the Kingdom of Heaven has a different set of social values. Women, as well as men, are integral to the Kingdom. All races and ethnicities are welcomed in the Kingdom. Abilities and disabilities are not a factor in being loved by God. And children, especially children, have an important place in this realm of God’s grace.
Were we to overhear Jesus blessing the children I wonder if it might sound something like this: ‘Hey kids. I want you to know I’m really proud of you. We are going through some difficult days right now, aren’t we? This virus is making a lot of people sick. I hope you are keeping well. Thank you for washing your hands as much as possible, and for keeping your hands away from your face. Thank you too for helping the adults in your family. Your help around the house is very important. And thank you for praying for your friends. We are part of a team that is fighting something important. You can help us to make a difference in our world. We need your help. Know that I love you, and appreciate you very much. May you be blessed this day!’
This Sunday, 29 March, will have a particular emphasis in The Salvation Army world. It is an International Day of Prayer, with a focus on Children and Youth. It is being called The Power of One. Each child within our influence is important to God, and us. Each child has the possibility of making a difference in our world. We are grateful for every Salvationist who takes a particular interest in our young people. Thank you for your time and efforts as teachers, coaches, musical leaders. And thank you for befriending the young people in these formative years. During the COVID-19 crisis, our young people are particularly vulnerable. They may have a difficult time comprehending what is happening. We adults have a difficult time comprehending what is happening! Thank you for your explanations that help, for your patience as they seek to adjust to new boundaries, and for your love that sustains them in difficult moments. Even as we pray with the help of our digital world, may our united praying help to affirm that The Power of One is very real.
There are people hurting In the world out there. They need you, they need me, they need Christ. There are children crying and no one to care. They need you, they need me, they need Christ. And they’ll go on hurting In the world out there, And they’ll go on dying, drowning in despair, And they’ll go on crying, that’s unless we care! They need you, they need me, they need Christ.
(Joy Webb, Song Book 935)
Be affirmed and be still, encourage and be encouraged, love and be loved. God bless you all, Major John Ager.
Social distance with emotional and spiritual connection.
Welcome to our Sunday worship, it’s so good we can all share together in this way. Given the current situation, I think it’ll be good to start by watching this encouraging video by our Territorial Commander, Commissioner Anthony Cotterill.
Please note: the song links will take you to an online songbook, you’ll have to search for the song number manually in the 2015 Song Book (possibly by going back to the homepage). I’ll try and sort this out if possible, it’s all been put together in a hurry as you’ll appreciate. Also, apologies for any mistakes, but please let me know.
Our opening Song 948 is a reminder to stay strong in the grace of God, having confidence in him. The third verse says: Be strong in the grace of the Lord, Be armed with the power of His might; Be daring when dangers abound, Courageous and brave in the fight.
As Paul, in that reading tells us, we are more than conquerors. Nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Our next Song 30 reinforces that theme.
Prayers: Use this time to make your own prayers and use the one below, which can be found in context here. Apologies if I’ve infringed copyright.
Christ, as a light illumine and guide me. Christ, as a shield overshadow me. Christ under me; Christ over me; Christ beside me on my left and my right. This day be within and without me, lowly and meek, yet all-powerful. Be in the heart of each to whom I speak; in the mouth of each who speaks unto me. This day be within and without me, lowly and meek, yet all-powerful. Christ as a light; Christ as a shield; Christ beside me on my left and my right.
We’ll now take up the Offering and listen to the Announcements: For those of you who give a weekly (or other regular) offering to your church, please save these up as they will be much needed in due course. Additionally, there may be those of you who would like to make a donation to a charity of your choice. Please check your local church for arrangements during this bewildering time, and don’t forget to check back here. I’ll do my level best to have a Sunday worship service (meeting as we call them in the Salvation Army) online for you each week. You can download a modified handout (PDF format) for distribution to those not online here.
Let’s listen to the Band as they bring us a lively march with an uplifting message.
Before we listen to the Bible Message, let’s watch this beautiful video by Major David Chadwick. Selected verses from Psalm 91 with scenes of the Lake District and music from Chelmsford Salvation Army Band and Songsters. Words of encouragement as we enter a prolonged period of self-isolation.
Bible Message (Major John Ager)
Our main Bible reading contains one of the most well-known verses from the New Testament: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
But the short passage we shared is not the whole story, you might like to read the whole chapter for context. Our reading had no mention of Nicodemus who came to Jesus by night seeking answers to his questions and no mention of being born again.
Instead, the teaching of Jesus is linked to the story of Moses in the wilderness having to deal with a discontented people found in Numbers 21:4-9.
Life used to be better for them, but now they have left Egypt. Under the leadership of Moses they have achieved freedom. They are no longer slaves. This was what they longed for, the fulfilment of their hopes. But now they are hungry. What food they have is boring. It’s not like the good old days in Egypt when at least they had good, interesting food to eat. The memories of their hardships have faded and all they know is that their bellies are empty and life is tough.
They are and should be people who are journeying towards a high destiny. They’ve been called by God for his purposes. They must reach out to the future and not dwell in the past, particularly on unrealistic memories of the past.
Moses is told by God to make a bronze serpent and to put it on a pole. When anyone who had been bitten by a poisonous serpent looked at this bronze serpent they would live. For many centuries this symbol has been used by those involved in healing and health care as their sign. One of the explanations of this clearly links it to the story in Numbers.
The symbol is still used widely today and maybe part of what it’s intended to convey is that health and healing are gifts. It was God’s gift of healing to an undeserving people, a rebellious, complaining, petty-minded people. Here it was a gift that would help them to become what they were capable of being, God’s chosen people that now includes all who name Jesus as Saviour and Lord.
In the Gospel reading (John 3:14-21) Jesus refers to this passage from Numbers and sees it pointing to his own destiny. The Son of Man will be lifted up and whoever believes in him will have eternal life.
This is a recurring theme in the gospels, that believing is what brings about the change in people and in their situations. Believing is the gift of God, the grace of God, and with that gift of grace all sorts of things become possible in people’s lives.
God loved us so much that he gave his only son. But that’s in the past tense, it needs to be in the present tense, because the activities of God are always in the eternal now. God loves the world so much that he gives his only son. That love is from eternity to eternity and nothing can separate us from that love.
On this unusual Mother’s Day, what we experience in the best of parental relationships, we experience even more in our experience of God. In fact, it’s our experience of divine parenting that becomes the model, the benchmark for human parenting. God loves the world so much. We look to God and live. In God’s love is all our renewal and healing.
We turn to an old favourite now, Song 453. Words that I hope will reinforce my Bible message in your hearts.
In this time of Reflection, Response & Prayer, please spend some moments quietly in ways that you find helpful.
We finish with Song 959. The places we can go might be limited, but we can still ‘go in the strength of the Lord’, finding new ways to share God’s love.
Let nothing disturb thee, Nothing affright thee; All things are passing, God never changeth! Patient endurance attaineth to all things; Who God possesseth in nothing is wanting; Alone God sufficeth. Amen.