Norton Parish Church

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of Norton, Stockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

I took the above photo of the church on a recent walk. Like most churches, it’s very photogenic, and a beautiful building inside and out. You can find out more on the church website where there are some excellent Christian resources.

The church was built as a place of worship and protection in about 1020 CE and so is just over 1,000 years old.

St Mary the Virgin, the ancient parish church that stands on the village green, is the only cruciform Anglo-Saxon church in northern England. Its crossing tower with eight triangular head windows has a battlemented top of later date, and there is a 14th-century effigy of a knight in chainmail.

Residing under the church floor there is claimed to be an escape tunnel used by the Saxons and priests when in danger, though it may be a drainage culvert. The tunnel leads under the church floor and Norton Green, eventually surfacing in the Albany housing estate. The church floor was recently renovated and Saxon remains and artefacts were discovered in the tunnel entrance. Wikipedia

Stargazing with Matilda

Home schooling is a very real and present challenge (understatement) for millions of parents and families in the coronavirus lockdown, but Matilda and I had an enjoyable adventure at the end of what has been a tough day. There was a homework task in her school app inbox from before Christmas, to explore the night sky. So off we went in the car (including Chippy the Elf, don’t ask) to a quiet country lane a few miles from home.

Winter is the best time to explore the night sky in the northern hemisphere, because it’s darker than the summer (obviously) and because there are more distinctive constellations, with Orion dominating.

It was muddy and windy (my flat cap blew off) and a little scary for Matilda, but we had a great time and saw some wonderful objects in the night sky once our eyes had adjusted.

The most obvious object in the sky was the Moon with Mars and Uranus appearing close in the sky, although the latter is too faint to see with the naked eye unless the location is exceptionally dark. We saw the dramatic constellation of Orion and used his belt (three stars in a line) to point down to Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky) and upwards to the constellation of Taurus and the Pleiades star cluster. We spotted the distinctive W (or M) shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, and the plough shape of Ursa Major.

It was a very short lesson as Matilda soon wanted to get back into the car, but we could still see quite a lot inside the car and on the way home. A positive experience of home schooling at the end of the day.

Food Supplements and Vitamins

They say that if you have a good, balanced diet you don’t need food supplements and vitamins. Now, I’m not a doctor, but I feel there is a place for them at times and in certain circumstances. I’m only making personal suggestions here, so it’s important that you use common sense, and seek medical advice if necessary because there can be adverse effects if taken inappropriately.

Because I’m over 65 years old, I take a number of food supplements and vitamins daily: a multivitamin and mineral tablet (formulated for men), a glucosamine and chondroitin tablet to protect my joints (especially as I’m a runner), an omega 3 fish oil capsule (unless I’ve eaten oily fish that day) to help maintain a healthy heart, and a vitamin D capsule.

Vitamin D is essential for the optimal performance of our immune systems, and is produced naturally in the body with the help of sunlight. Unfortunately, it’s easy to become deficient in this sunshine vitamin in the UK and other countries with short days and little sunlight in winter.

A few years ago I was diagnosed with a vitamin D deficiency and was prescribed a high dose of this vitamin. I now take a high daily dose of vitamin D in winter, and a maintenance dose during the summer. In the current coronavirus pandemic, it might be worthwhile thinking about taking this vitamin, but please take medical advice as you can take too much.

Each of my young children also have a daily chewable age-appropriate multivitamin pastille, and they always remind me at teatime in case I forget.

Do you take food supplements and vitamins?

Aeolian Motion (Phil Johnson)

This morning I took Freddy with me to do some jobs in Stockton-on-Tees town centre, but we also had some fun and did some sightseeing. Freddy got soaking wet in the fountains and had to walk back to the car in wet shorts and bare feet, fortunately there were some spare clothes in the car. You can see the photos here.

We also had a walk along the riverside, passing a striking piece of constantly moving public art entitled Aeolian Motion (Phil Johnson). It was erected in March 2001 as part of a regeneration plan for the area and was inspired by the endless flow of the river and its rich history (see plaque below).

Stewart Park with Matilda

I seized the opportunity to have some Daddy/Matilda time while Naomi was out with Freddy and Pollyanna today. It’s great to be all together as a family, but equally important to have one-to-one parent and child times as they can really deepen relationships.

As I was thinking where we could go, one of the places I came up with was Stewart Park in Middlesbrough to see the animals. Without prompting, she said she wanted to go to a park with animals, so that was decided. We’re obviously in tune with each other and on the same wavelength.

We saw the animals and did all the usual stuff you do in a park on a sunny afternoon (including having ice creams) although she was quite happy making sandcastles and adding ‘details’ (her words not mine) of stones, leaves, pine cones and sticks. You can see all the photos here.

Walk in Coatham Wood

Since moving to Teesside (strictly speaking back to Teesside) I’ve been making a list of places to visit, and this wood was somewhere I discovered recently. Naomi is out with Pollyanna today, so I decided to take Freddy and Matilda. We only had time to see a small part of the wood, so we’re sure to visit again.

Visit this vibrant woodland habitat, bursting with wildlife for you to discover. Coatham Wood, found near Stockton, is a newly planted community woodland, with the first trees planted in 1999. The mosaic of broadleaved and conifer trees, as well as ponds and meadows makes Coatham a great habitat for all kinds of wildlife. Look out for newts and dragonflies around the ponds, or you may spot a deer grazing in one of the open areas. All 5 native species of owl have been spotted around the woodland. Forestry England.

Why Don’t Penguins’ Feet Freeze?

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I always like to read, and often have more than one book on the go at the same time. Overall, it’s probably not a good idea to have be reading too many books at once, so I’ve decided to stick with just one (with the exceptions of the Bible, a devotional book, as well as anthologies and the like). For some examples of the latter, click here and here. You can find me on Goodreads (click the link), and see all my 2020 books here.

why-don-t-penguins-feet-freeze-2Knowing that retirement and moving house (with young children) in a pandemic was going to be hectic, I chose one that I could dip in and out of easily. So I decided on this one, and have just finished it. The book answers a whole variety of questions drawn from the ‘Last Word’ column of the New Scientist magazine. There’s a number of books in the series, and this is the third, with a helpful index. This, or others in the series, would make a great birthday or Christmas present for someone with an enquiring mind.

Oh, and in answer to the question, well you’ll just have to read the book!

Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park

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Now that we’re settling into our new home in Norton, Stockton-on-Tees, we’re finding more opportunities to explore the area nearby. Today, Naomi and I took the girls (Freddy was with Grandma and Grandad) and Toby (our dog) to Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park. It’s only a few miles away and I imagine we’ll often be found there, so Freddy needn’t worry about missing out, and he’ll enjoy the trains that pass the park. You can see all the original photos here.

17/05/20 Sunday Questions

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Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

Greetings on this fifth Sunday after Easter as we journey towards Pentecost at the end of this month. First of all, an opportunity to watch and listen to our Territorial Commander Commissioner Anthony Cotterill, and then some questions based on two Bible passages: Genesis 22:1-18 & John 21:15-25.

Imagine receiving something that you’ve always wanted. Imagine achieving your lifetime ambition. Imagine winning a million pounds. And then imagine losing it or willingly giving it away. I’m sure we can all picture in our mind’s eye what our emotions and feelings would be.

So I guess we can all begin to put ourselves in the mind of Abraham as he was put into the position of being asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. This was the son he had longed for, this was the son through whom God had promised many blessings, and this was the son he was now called to sacrifice. A difficult story from the Old Testament, but let’s put our thoughts of the emotional harm to a young child to one side for now.

Abraham had, of course, already learned many lessons of faith, of stepping out into the unknown in complete obedience to God. But surely nothing could have prepared him for this.

Being a Christian and being part of a faith community is not an easy option, because obeying God is often a struggle when we’re challenged to give up something we truly want. As I move towards retirement after forty years as a Salvation Army Corps Officer, I look back on those things I’ve had to sacrifice. Not that I would have made a different decision to follow this calling, even though at times it’s been difficult and especially so now in coronavirus pandemic lockdown.

You see, we mustn’t make the mistake of thinking that obedience to God will be easy or come naturally, we all like our comfort too much, but sometimes God calls us out of our comfort zone.

It was through Abraham’s difficult experience that his commitment to obey God was strengthened, and he learnt great lessons about God’s ability and willingness to provide.

But let’s move to the New Testament, and the disciple Peter:
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him. Matthew 4:18-22

When Peter followed Jesus, did he realise the cost of following him? Peter was the one who, at Caesarea Philippi declared Jesus to be the ‘Messiah, the Son of the Living God’. He was the one who boldly, if rather impulsively, proclaimed that he above all the others would not fall away.

Peter was always the one who opened his mouth first, and the one who opens their mouth first usually puts their foot in it. He made a number of confessions of faith, but when he was put to the test in the High Priest’s courtyard he denied Jesus three times, just as Jesus had predicted.

But let’s not to too ready to criticise Peter, as all the other disciples had left long ago. At least Peter stayed with Jesus the longest, even if he ‘followed at a distance’, at least he placed himself in a position where he might be challenged about Jesus.

Nevertheless, when Abraham faced his test of faith he passed with flying colours, but when Peter faced a similar test he failed miserably. Can we begin to imagine how he must have felt?

That then, is the background, for the meeting of Peter with the Risen Jesus in the Bible reading. The scene is a solemn one; the disciples had gone back to their everyday jobs, only to find that the risen, glorified Lord could meet them even there.

Jesus begins a searching enquiry of Peter:
[Peter] son of John, do you truly love me more than these?

Now this can mean one of two things, but most probably both. It could mean ‘do you love me more than all else?’ or ‘do you love me more than they do?’ Both would go right to the heart of how Peter must have been feeling, realising that he had not loved Jesus more than everything else, realising that his bold claims had been empty promises. He was a broken man, just the kind of person that God wants to be his follower. In the harsh light of reality Peter has to face his failure, the self-confidence has gone.

So what are we to make of these three questions of Jesus to Peter? There is actually something going on here that is not immediately obvious, because there is a subtle difference in meaning between the word for ‘love’ that Jesus uses, and the word for ‘love’ that Peter uses in reply.

It’s a difference that’s not easily communicated in English; the NIV attempts it by using ‘truly love’ and ‘love’ on its own.

Jesus asks Peter, ‘Do you truly love me….?’ And he uses the word for love that means total self-sacrifice and self-giving. Peter replies, ‘you know that I love you’ but he uses the word for love that simply means brotherly affection or care.

He naturally shrinks from using the stronger word that Jesus used, the word for ‘love’ that implied deep and total commitment. Peter realised that he was far from perfect, that his commitment was less than total, yet Jesus still gave him a task to do, ‘Feed my lambs’.

Christ doesn’t wait for us to be perfect before he will use us in His service, he’d wait forever. No, he uses ordinary men and women who will admit their need for forgiveness and recognise that their confidence and strength comes, not from themselves, but from Christ. It’s no longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me.

The second time Jesus asks Peter, ‘Do you truly love me?’ and again he uses the word for the highest form of love, and again Peter replies with the lesser word, he can’t bring himself to use the word Jesus uses.

Then comes the crucial third question, and we are told that Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time. We might assume that he was hurt because Jesus asked him three times, but we would be wrong.

Peter was hurt by this question, not because it was the third question, but because of the word Jesus used. Jesus uses the word for ‘love’ that Peter had used for his replies to the previous two questions. In the third question Jesus is challenging even the small amount of commitment Peter has admitted to.

Peter had been brought to his knees, to his point of need, to the place we all need to come to before God, to the place where he could use him. He’d been gently brought to the point of admitting his need, he could never be the same again, and in that moment he receives the commission, ‘Feed my sheep’.

‘It is a broken and a contrite heart’ that the Lord requires, and when we come to him like that he fills us with his Spirit. We come empty, we leave filled.

Jesus gets to the heart of the matter; Peter had to face up to his true motives and feelings. Jesus then goes on to tell Peter that he will die as a result of his faith, and issues the challenge he issued on that first lakeside encounter, ‘Follow me’.

Peter is now less self-confident, more Christ-confident and, ultimately, did lay down his life for his risen Lord. And what a spiritual giant Peter became in the early church, but even then he was a fallible human being, just like you and me.

In conclusion, Jesus is still calling men and women today. He calls those who in their own estimation and in the eyes of their contemporaries are unworthy and he makes them worthy. He knows what is best for each individual, for our Army and for his Kingdom. He demands devotion and loyalty from those who choose to follow his call. He recognises our weaknesses and still loves us when we disappoint him. He welcomes back those who have failed him, and offers them another chance. Please use this song, well-known to Salvationists, as a final prayer.

Knowing my failings, knowing my fears,
Seeing my sorrow, drying my tears.
Jesus recall me, me re-ordain;
You know I love you, use me again.
You know I love you, use me again.

I have no secrets unknown to you,
No special graces, talents are few;
Yet your intention I would fulfil;
You know I love you, ask what you will.
You know I love you, ask what you will.

For the far future I cannot see,
Promise your presence, travel with me;
Sunshine or shadows? I cannot tell;
You know I love you, all will be well.
You know I love you, all will be well.

See also: 03/05/20 Candidates Sunday

VE Day 2020

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VE DAY IN LONDON, 8 MAY 1945 (HU 49414) Two small girls waving their flags in the rubble of Battersea, snapped by an anonymous American photographer. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205018927

Whilst acknowledging the need to tread carefully and sensitively in any comparisons between the Second World War and the current coronavirus pandemic, I believe there are some useful ones we can make to help us in our thought processes and thereby benefit our collective mental health.

VE Day in 1945 reflected a victory over a visible enemy, although also an invisible enemy of evil thoughts and ideas. The enemy we face now is totally invisible and does not care one iota for those it harms. Fake news is not new, they faced it back then; had they had social media, that would simply have been another front on which the war would have been fought. Today, not only in the coronavirus pandemic, we face a war against those who would deceive us. We need to guard our way of life against those who would lie to us, who seek to destroy the freedoms won for us then.

The Second World War was marked by terrible suffering, the like of which is hard to process, along with the inhumanity of it all. Today, many have been devastated by an invisible enemy, and we pause to remember the lives lost and the families and friends grieving.

Back then the world faced life-treatening jeopardy and, for many today, this is the first time we have faced real jeopardy. Yes, I remember the Cold War, but that’s the only threat that comes anywhere near what we face today. There’s fear and anxiety everywhere, and so we need to affirm, encourage and support each like never before. It’s the same for everyone, yet we all have unique circumstances and all react individually.

Back then, not everyone was celebrating, and for those who were it was only a brief celebration. The world faced an uncertain future and there was much rebuilding to be done, it was many years until food rationing was eased for example. In our own time, we might celebrate relaxations to the lockdown, but we still face the reality of an uncertain future and the prospect of rebuilding society. Then it was a collective experience, so it is today and will be for us. I’m neither being optimistic nor pessimistic; just realistically reflecting that there’ll be much to do in the coming weeks, months and years.

Today we celebrate the heroes of yesterday’s battles, but we also celebrate the new heroes in the NHS and all the key workers fighting a very different battle today. Come to think about it, the creation of the NHS was one of the great rebuilding efforts after WWII, and we are reaping its benefits today.

Who are you celebrating today? What can you do to help and support someone today and in the uncertain future?

Postscript: Today is ‘Victory IN Europe Day’, not ‘Victory OVER Europe Day’ as some history revisionists are suggesting for their own agendas.

Note: I chose the photo for this post because it reminds me of my two youngest girls, Pollyanna (2) and Matilda (3).