and lent on line

Lent Thoughts from Week Three welcome.


Angela Wright has made novel use of the UK’s new Freedom of Information Act. Under the name "ilikemeninuniform", she emailed Hampshire police and asked to be told of "eligible bachelors within Hampshire constabulary between the ages of 35 and 49 and details of their email addresses, salary details and pension values". Her search for a man in uniform who might become her lifelong companion has left her intrigued but with work still left to do. The police replied that there were 266 eligible bachelors, of whom 201 are in uniform, but that they couldn’t divulge names or email addresses, as such information is exempt under the act.

There is a bitter sweet aspect to much of life. We catch a vision of how life might be and almost feel we have it within our grasp. Then something happens which makes it clear it may not be quite so easy. This can be an incentive to pursuing the goal with even more energy. Sometimes, though, it can lead to people giving up and even some anger that they have been so tantalized.

The anger that mounted against Jesus during the last days of his life may have had something of the same cause. He had offered new hope for his people, a new kingdom ruled by God, not by the Romans or the religious elite, and people had flocked to welcome him into Jerusalem. But it gradually became clear it was not that easy. There was work still to be done. People felt their own attitudes and life-style were being challenged. There was disappointment that the vision needed fleshing out in ways that were demanding.

Let’s today renew our commitment to our vision of how the world, and our lives, might be. Many will want to make that vision as similar as possible to Christ’s. Achieving it will be demanding but Jesus’ life, death and resurrection offer us an intriguing and enticing incentive to keep working at it.

A Japanese firm has come up with a machine that it says can give you the dreams you want. The device, called a 'dream workshop', gives stressed out people a chance to escape - at least in their dreams. Before nodding off, the would-be dreamer is supposed to look at a photo of what he or she wants to dream about and then record the story-line on the Ł77 machine.

Using the voice recording as well as lights, music and aromas, the machine stimulates sleepers during periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and helps them direct their own dreams. “It has worked for quite a number of people,” said a spokesperson.

The Yumemi Kobo, as it’s called, may have relieved some stress but it can’t change anything in the real world. There are, however, other sorts of dream and other types of stimulation which can. The hopes we have for our own futures, and for that of others and the world, can give us renewed energy to help bring them to reality. We can choose to stimulate those hopes and dreams by what we read, who we admire and by other deliberately chosen influences.

For Christians, the Bible is an important source for our dreams. There’s the Old Testament prophets who foresaw a just society; there’s Jesus talking about the poor inheriting the earth; and at the end of the Bible, there’s its last book with a vision of an end to mourning and crying and pain. The Bible is a resource packed with material to stimulate our dreams and encourage action.

Today, let our own longing for better times, and the visions and inspiring actions of others, direct our dreams. That’s a “dream workshop” that can make a real difference.

Seventy-nine year old Hank Edwards used a guidebook from 1914 to plan his holiday - and got lost for two days in a forest that wasn't there 90 years ago. Hank had been in love with the eastern Bayreuth area from childhood. As a boy and since, he’d explored the area in his imagination, using the guidebook his father had bought. But because of the wars, the Depression and family commitments, neither he nor his father had ever been able to make the hoped-for visit. Now he discovered the hard way that two world wars and a massive reforestation programme meant most of the Bayreuth in the book no longer existed.

Reality often fails to match our dreams. That’s sometimes because our hopes for the future have become inflexible, more geared to what we wanted once than to the best possibilities in the current situation. Sometimes our goals subtly shift without us really realising it. Sometimes we deliberately change direction. Occasionally, without necessarily knowing why, we sense that our previous ideas have got to change. Christians expect God sometimes to put that thought into our minds as happened once to St Paul. He knew he had to abandon his vision of a missionary trip into Asia for a more mundane visit to Macedonia.

When next we take stock of where we are going in our lives, its worth checking that our dreams match with our present reality. Perhaps we need always to be open to the possibility of redefining the future we hope to achieve in the light of our ever-changing experience of ourselves and our lives.

Humpty Dumpty counted to ten
Then Humpty Dumpty got up again.

Not the ending we know but a new one created for a Mothercare CD of nursery rhymes. A spokesman was asked about the new happy ending. “It’s sometimes difficult for parents to explain death and injury to a young child,” he said.

It’s not just parents and children who find it difficult to understand human suffering. The original ending gives a more accurate description of even adult attempts to get our minds round human fragility and pain:

All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Such recognition of our ignorance and powerlessness is painful. Christians try to keep believing that, though we are ignorant, God is still loving. Belief in God’s underlying purposefulness does not diminish the pain involved in experiencing or watching suffering. But it does create the possibility that there might be value in accepting and living with the mystery of it.

For us all, Christian or not, ignorance is uncomfortable. But it is all we have. The way to deal with it is not to count to ten and hope all will be well. It is to acknowledge our inability to put together our fragmented and broken world and trust that it is in that very honesty that there lies a way forward.

Moscow recently had its heaviest snowfall since record-keeping began in the 19th century. The storm snarled the city's horrendous traffic, closed airports and forced pedestrians to wade through high drifts. Local public services were unable to cope. Now the Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, has proposed fining the weather service every time it gets a forecast wrong. Officials at the weather service, which is funded by the city, reacted coolly.

None of us likes uncertainty. Never quite knowing what the future will bring can make us anxious and, like the Mayor, we may want someone to blame when things don’t turn out as expected. In our family life, at work, in the organisations we belong to, we like those on whom we rely to get it right. If they don’t, they may well receive the brunt of our disappointment, even when what happened was not their fault.

Jesus tended to upset people’s certainties. Comments like ‘blessed are the poor’, ‘the last shall be first’, ‘it’s hard for the rich to enter God’s kingdom’ challenged normal assumptions about life. Many of those who had previously felt secure in their status, in this life and the next, found him disturbing. He bore the brunt of their fury when they contributed to his death.

We all live without knowing what the future holds. Learning to deal with that anxiety is an important part of our growth as individuals. Sometimes even what we thought we were sure of is challenged by new truths or new situations. Let’s today seek the courage to be open to such new insights and react without rancour when life doesn’t go quite as we expected.