Isaiah 40: 28-31:
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no-one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the week.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.
We pray, Lord, for all those engaged in élite sport as players, administrators or businessmen. Help them to see their work as part of wider life, not as separate from the rest of that life, and help them to remember that all physical and spiritual life comes from you. May they set themselves the highest standards of personal and professional behaviour, both on the field and off, and for those who follow the fortunes of the British sports men and women, may they provide an example to make the heart of this great nation sound;
We pray for all those from every country who engage in the London Olympic Games, for their own advancement and for the entertainment of others. We pray that they may be kept from harm and injury. We ask that through their knowledge of the laws of their games, they may see that their are higher laws; that through their experience of training and discipline they may see that there is a nobler discipline; that through their desire for victory they may be directed to the greatest triumph of all, and the goal which is Christ, the Saviour of the world. For his name’s sake. Amen.
(adapted from prayers written by Christopher Idle and Dick Williams)
Watching the quarter-finals of the men’s singles tennis tournament from London yesterday, at the same time as preparing for my Bible Study on ‘Independence’, following on from 4th July, I was reminded that there are some famous lines on this theme which are painted above the players’ entrance to Wimbledon centre court:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same…
They come from a poem by Kipling, two full verses of which are given below. What I like about these lines, written for his son, is that they emphasise that we should not be afraid to fail in life, and imply also that the line between success and failure is very fine indeed. In our daily lives, we are always crossing this line, or having it crossed for us, so that triumphs are turned into disasters and disasters into triumphs. It is all a matter of perception. What I may perceive as a success, someone else may see as a disaster, and what I regard as a catastrophic failure someone else can view as having the seeds of success. It depends upon
perspective, I suppose, on whether you’re face down in the gutter or looking up at the stars! One thing is sure, that God gives us permission to fail, even if others don’t, because he knows that only by conquering our fears can we gain true freedom in Christ, gaining our independence in the world, as well as from it.
NSRW Rudyard Kipling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
RUDYARD KIPLING, ‘IF’ (1910) (First and last verses)
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
English: Jack Kipling Suomi: Jack Kipling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And- which is more- you’ll be a Man, my son!
Kipling – best-known as the author of ‘The Jungle Book’ – helped his poorly-sighted son gain a ‘commission’ as an officer in the British Army at the beginning of the Great War. He was killed in action and Kipling never forgave himself, turning against war. This is the subject of a recent BBC film starring David Suchet and Daniel Ratcliffe. It’s this theme of the relationship between generations, and the balance between independence and inter-dependence, which constantly recurred in Kipling’s life and work, and it’s a theme explored in these prayers, reflections and meditations..
MOVING ON: WE WELCOME NEW FREEDOMS
The routines of our former life are passing away now. We have outgrown the formal relationships that protected and disciplined us. We leave behind the shelter of our schools and colleges and enter the arena of free society.
We welcome the freedom to embark on a new career;
Freedom to earn our own money, or train to earn it;
Freedom to spend our money or to save it;
Freedom to set new routines for ourselves;
Freedom to plan our leisure time;
Freedom to shoulder new responsibilities;
Freedom to make new meanings out of life.
We welcome new freedoms
To grow into the world you have given us;
To travel to the destinations you have prepared for us;
To meet and serve the people you have waiting for us.
In the challenges of freedom – Equip us;
In the decisions of freedom – Direct us;
In the arts of freedom – Discipline us;
In the dangers of freedom – Protect us;
In the joys of freedom – Steady us;
In the uses of freedom – Guide us.
Let’s now praise those who have given us our immediate heritage: those from whom we have learned to think and understand, to know beauty and see goodness, to learn from the world and to recognise God.
There are those who have taught us, forgiven us, believed in us, and enjoyed our company and friendship.
There are those who have laughed with us and not at us, who protected us with their understanding when we were under fire from others.
There are those whom we have taken for granted.
And there are those who have loved us without conditions.
There is no need for jealousy and conflict between the generations. Let us know comradeship with those who are older and comradeship with those who come after us, as we share the same world and head for the same destination.
John 16. 25-33:
Victory over the World
“I have used figures of speech to tell you these things. But the time will come when I will not use figures of speech, but will speak to you plainly about the Father. When that day comes, you will ask him in my name; and I do not say that I will ask him on your behalf, for the Father himself loves you. He loves you because you love me and have believed that I came from God. I did come from the Father, and I came into the world; and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”
Then his disciples said to him, “Now you are speaking plainly, without using figures of speech. We know now that you know everything; you do not need to have someone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
Jesus answered them, “Do you believe now? The time is coming, and is already here, when all of you will be scattered, each one to his own home, and I will be left alone. But I am not really alone, because the Father is with me. I have told you this so that you will have peace by being united to me. The world will make you suffer. But be brave! I have defeated the world!”
What, free to suffer? Yes, but to bear it and make meaning of it.
What, free to stand the relentless monotony of manual labour? Yes, but not to be dehumanised by it.
What, free to take never-ending exams? Yes, but not to become victims of the exam system, not to allow it to label us as ‘failures’.
What, free to be involved in the sins of mankind? Yes, but to be forgiven by the One upon whom the judgement fell.
What, free to believe in a true God of love in a world of ruin? Yes, but not without proving him true.
What, free to die? Yes, but only to find that you are sons and daughters of God and destined for eternity.
We are in the world, and we shall have trouble with it, for we are not of the world;
‘We are all in this recession together,’ say the politicians;
We are in the same boat, and the boat is being rocked by a storm;
We are of the same population, which is exploding;
We are on the same road, and the road is blocked;
What a world!
Millions still enslaved by warfare;
Two-thirds of the world still enslaved in poverty and hunger.
John 8. 31-36:
Free Men and Slaves:
You’re probably familiar with the following chorus, sung every year at ’The Last Night of the Proms’ accompanied by various gently self-mocking, patriotic theatricals from the stage and the auditorium at the Royal Albert Hall. You may be less familiar with the translation of the Hungarian national song written by the national soldier-poet and hero of the 1848 Revolution, Sándor Petöfi. It has become popular again recently, recited and chanted by the crowds in Budapest on the anniversary of the Uprising on March 15th. Both contain Declarations of Freedom from Slavery, and this theme was an important one in the interaction between Jesus and the religious authorities of his time, who did not understand why this man from Nazareth was telling them that they were not really free. The idea that they were sinners and that they needed to be set free from their enslavement to sin did not go down very well among those who were proud of having Moses and Abraham as their ancestors.
Rule, Britannia, Britannia rules the waves,
Britons never, never, never,
Shall be slaves!
On your feet now, Hungary calls you!
Now is the moment, nothing stalls you,
Shall we be slaves or men set free?
That is the question, answer me!
By all the Gods of Hungary
We hereby swear,
That we the yoke of slavery,
No more shall wear!
Slaves we have been to this hour,
Our forefathers who fell from power
Fell free and lived as free men will,
On land that was their own to till,
(Petöfi Sándor, translated by Szirtes György)
John 8. 31-36:
So Jesus said to those who believed in him, “If you obey my teaching, you are really my disciples; you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
“We are descendants of Abraham,” they answered, “and we have never been anyone’s slaves. What do you mean then, by saying, ’You will be free’?” Jesus said to them, “I am telling you the truth; everyone who sins is a slave of sin. A slave does not belong to a family permanently, but a son belongs there forever. If the son sets you free, then you will be really free.”
Against all the victimisation of the world, God has set us free, and we are free indeed.
So, in the freedom of the Son, the perfect Man,
We shall make money honestly,
We shall make love honourably,
We shall make time for those who need us,
We shall make friends of our enemies,
We shall make peace with them, and with God,
We shall make Him supreme governor in our lives,
For in his service is perfect freedom.
The Lord is my employer. I shall never be redundant.
Now it is our turn to join in; to share the responsibility;
To bear this responsibility we need your protection, Lord – the armour-plating of your spirit. Protect us…
From big businessmen and bankers who see us as little people with no power to stand on our own feet;
From corporations who treat us as an easy market for their junk;
From advertisers who promise success for the price of a tube of toothpaste or a bottle of sun-tan oil;
From status symbols and celebrity culture, and the lust for money;
From those who would pollute our minds, soil our bodies and ignore our spirits;
From a world still full of bombs and drugs;
From ourselves, for we are too often our own worst enemies.
Lord, as we go out into the world…
Help us to remember…
In our colleges and offices,
In hospital or prison, in the city or on the land,
In the coffee bar or on the motorway,
In whatever place, in whatever condition:
We are always free to love and serve our neighbour,
We are always free to love and serve God.
(Adapted from Paul Kimber’s prayers and meditations for the St Alban’s District Council of Churches)
We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Declaration of Independence,
4th July 1776
The fourth of July is the most important day in the national heritage of the United States and quite an important date in British History, too. It marks the end of Britain’s first overseas Empire. The seeds of independence were sown in 1608 when John Smith founded the state of Virginia, named after Queen Elizabeth I, ‘the Virgin Queen’. Smith married the native princess, Pocahontas, of course, and his motives were for settlement rather than piracy and plunder, like earlier Elizabethan adventurers. The Pilgrim Fathers, ‘independent’ Christians who sailed in The Mayflower in 1620 to seek a country where they could practise their own forms of faith, free from the state Church in Britain and the watchful eyes of King James’ spies. Maryland was founded by Roman Catholics from England in 1633, who were also persecuted by the state church for not ‘conforming’. Other colonists seeking freedom of religion followed from Ireland, France and Holland, until, by the time of King George III there were thirteen colonies along the Atlantic coast of North America, owing varying degrees of ‘loyalty’ to the British Crown.
The colonists considered themselves subjects of the King of England and there was little desire to become independent in 1760, at the beginning of George III’s reign, but they became increasingly resentful of the taxes they had to pay to a distant government, then several weeks away by sea voyage, when they had no representatives in Parliament. Their trade was controlled from London, through laws, regulations, restrictions and high custom tariffs. The colonists protested with the slogan, ‘no taxation without representation’. A ‘Continental Congress’ was formed, meeting in Philadelphia, the city of ‘brotherly love’ founded by William Penn, the English Quaker, who gave his name to the state of Pennsylvania. It was here that the Declaration of Independence was discussed and voted on and adopted on 4th July, 1776. It was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, whose father came from Glynceiriog in North Wales. It was no doubt from his father that he inherited both his spirit of independence and his gift as a ‘wordsmith’. The American War of Independence dragged on for another five years, until the Independence of the United States was recognised by the European powers by the Treaty of Paris in 1782. In the end, the break between the British and the Americans was made without bitterness on either side, enabling the restoration of a friendship between the English-speaking nations which survives to this day.
Independence Day festivities usually take place outside, with parades, barbecues and picnics. The flag of the United States, ‘the Stars and Stripes’, is displayed everywhere, and in schools there is an emphasis on the spirit and theme of Independence in projects and pageants. Families attend church services on the previous Sunday. On the day itself there are speeches by mayors and senators, picnics and parades led by local bands and drum majorettes. The day ends with spectacular firework displays. There is a mood of patriotism, but also one of reconciliation, based on the concept that independence is the basis for a spirit of international inter-dependence and co-operation, rather than the ‘isolationism’ which has, on occasion, brought tragic consequences in international relations.
Within the United States, the strict separation between Church and State has ensured Liberty and Toleration for those of all beliefs, and none, as its founders intended. However, unlike in Britain, Americans do not confuse these secular principles with atheistic ones. The Declaration of Independence begins with an open affirmation of ‘the Creator’ on whom the inalienable rights of humans depend. On the same side of the coin with Washington’s head on it next to the word ‘Liberty’ is the declaration ‘In God We Trust’. They might have added the word ‘Alone’, but they didn’t add the words ‘and the President’ or ‘and the Federal Government‘. American citizens are independent of the control of the state, and are not subject to any man or woman, no matter how rich, powerful or great they may be. They are only subject to the Creator. So, independence from others is the same side of the coin as trust in God. The state, or states, are on the other side, separate but yet connected in terms of ‘paying dues to Caesar’. It’s these themes of independence and inter-dependence which I want to explore in relation to the stage in life where we come more independent, as we leave school and move on in life. That’s the subject of my next blog….