Away with the Cyclos Day 4

No, don’t worry, you haven’t lost a day, and I’m not getting that forgetful! I decided to post Day 3 over at Fat Dormouse. You can read about our day visiting villages (and see me as a Young Thing) over there.

So we’re on Day 4, which was another bright and sunny day. Mr FD still felt under the weather, or “he was not on his plate“as the French put it. So he stayed in our room to read and snooze, while I went for a walk with some of the others.

It was an easy walk but with beautiful views along the coast and out to sea. We were passed by lots of cyclists, some of whom stopped to chat with our group.

This next photo shows a view down to Antheor where our friend Danièle has a holiday home. She often goes there with the grandchildren during school holidays, and we’d hoped to visit her. Unfortunately she was going to be there the following week, not the week we were there. Oh well.

You can see here that there was a good fairly flat path, so it was suitable even for remedial walkers like me!

We were back at the holiday village in time for lunch, and Mr FD was feeling better. He decided to go out with the “second group” because he didn’t want to be doing anything too difficult. Mind you, they still did some climbs, and in fact rode this route that we had walked in the morning.

That afternoon, I was booked on a minibus tour of the regional nature reserve, with three others from our cycle group, plus three others from the holiday village. The guide, Joseph, drove us around the reserve, giving us lots of information about the flora, fauna and how the reserve was managed. He was really interesting and engaging.

  

A couple of times he stopped the minibus to talk to people who were contravening the local regulations – usually by smoking cigarettes or using primus stoves. The wardens are very vigilent against fire, and although everything was lush and green, this was the worst time for fires. We expressed surprise, and he explained that in the height of summer fewer people actually ventured into the reserve because it was so hot. So even if the vegetation was drier there was in fact less risk of fire; at this time there were more people who were less careful, because they also imagined there was little risk. One cigarette butt, or a spark from a primus stove and there could be a catastrophic fire. So the area is a no-smoking zone.

The other reason he stopped was to reprimand people who were feeding wild boar. I wish I could have got a photo, but it was obviously frowned upon. Joseph explained that the campsite and hotel owners told tourists that this particular spot was a good place to see wild boar and that they would gather to be fed. Which they indeed did – we saw a huge boar lolling around on the floor, and a mother with about ten babies. The tourists who were there hastily dropped their bits of bread as Joseph was lecturing them.

(not my photo)

The problem is that, when there are fewer people to feed these animals, they descend into the villages to rootle in bins and cause chaos, especially as they have lost their fear of humans. Then they get blamed for the mess and danger, even though, Joseph said, quite affronted, it is not their fault. It is the humans who feed them. He was so stern I really didn’t feel I could ask him to hang on a tick while I took a photo!

This is the Pic de l’Ours (the Peak of the Bear) because (apparently) it looks like a bear sleeping on its back. I can sort of see the resemblance, if I squint and use my imagination!

Then we stopped, and were given a little degustation of some local products – tapenade  which is a type of olive paste. We were told the best tapenade is in fact brown, because that is made with veritable local olives. The black tapenade includes a large number of Greek olives. Also, to be called tapenade it must include something (can’t remember what!!!!) Otherwise it should be labelled “Pate d’olives”. We also tried a red pepper and chilli spread, which was delicious, and a tapenade-and-goats’ cheese spread, which I didn’t really like. There was a kir made with myrtle sirop, and a mimosa jelly. That was a little too sweet for me.

Although we think mimosa is beautiful, it isn’t a native species, and actually chokes a lot of the species of plant that should grow in the area. So when it is spotted in the reserve it is generally uprooted to allow native species to grow.

Joseph had his dog Happy with him, who was very well behaved – except when there were cyclists or other dogs going by.

Happy was happy to pose for photographs though!

When we got back to the Holiday Village Mr FD had already finished his ride, and was feeling perkier, having cycled well. We went to the bar for a beer, and then to have dinner. Mr FD and I walked round the perimeters of the village again – we heard a scops owl, and also the rootling and rustling noises of large animals. We assumed it was the wild boars again, so we talked loudly to keep them away. Again, we fell asleep to a podcast!

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Last week’s sermon: The Good Shepherd

This is a bit of a cheat, posting my sermon, but I do like to share them. If it doesn’t float your boat then you can hang around for the next installment of the Cyclo’s trip, which I’m hoping to post tomorrow. But I know some people are interested, so here it is:

READINGS: Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

Every Sunday, when I was young, my parents took my brother, my sister and I to my Nana’s home, where we would spend the day. We would go to church with her, and then have our roast dinner at midday. Nana would make scones, or potato cakes, and then we would troop back to church, where she would hand out bags of freshly made baked goods to her friends and neighbours, and I would go to Sunday School. This took place in the basement of the huge edifice that was County Road Methodist Church, and I remember that on the walls of the basement room were various pictures considered suitably edifying for young minds. There was Holbein Hunt’s “Light of the World” and there was also a rather insipid painting of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.

Wearing a long white gown – eminently unsuitable for life in the fields, I would think – an extremely Caucasian Jesus was holding a lamb in his arms, while other lambs and sheep pressed against his legs. It was a comforting picture – there were rolling green hills in the background, the sheep were plump and just-washed white, there were no predators lurking behind bushes, licking their lips, and dreaming of lamb chops for dinner. Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We as the lambs.

And it is this picture that is reflected, at least to a degree, in the Psalm that we read together, the Psalm that is probably best known of all. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. What a glorious image that is, even to those of us who nothing about animal husbandry; we imagine that picture of the shepherd carrying his lambs, caring for his sheep.

The Psalm tells us of a Shepherd God, who leads his flock to green pastures and still waters, who knows exactly what they need and provides this. All the sheep need to do is to trust their shepherd, to follow his voice, because they understand that he will not lead them to harm. After wandering in the dryness of the hillside, the shepherd finds a place where his flock can rest and be nourished by the green grass. For us, as human beings, the words “he leads me beside still waters” will conjure up ideas of peacefulness and calm; in fact, in sheep terms it is much more important than this. Sheep are not great fans of rushing water: they will drink from it, but they are reluctant to do so, as they are afraid. They prefer still, or gently flowing water where they can drink, without fear, to their hearts’ content. The Shepherd knows this and he brings them to those places where they can feel safe, and take the opportunity to be refreshed.

The Psalmist goes on to say that even in the ravines that the Shepherd leads them through, the sheep can feel secure, as they know the Shepherd will protect them. Even when they cannot see him, they hear the tap-tap-tapping of his staff against the rocky path. They know that his rod, the cudgel he wears at his belt, will fend off any predators who come near. They are safe.

And we can read this Psalm, and feel comforted by the picture that it gives us of our God as a caring Shepherd: if we trust him, he leads us to places where we can be at peace, where we can be nourished; he does not confront us with things of which we are fearful, but instead brings us contentment. Like the flock following their Shepherd, we don’t necessarily need to know where we’re headed, all the details of the journey. Only that we are in the right place, right now, just where we should be. And even when we have to face problems, then we can rely on him to be there, still leading the way and protecting us. Everything is calm, everything is beautiful, everything is rosy. It is that pastoral picture of Jesus cuddling a lamb, with the washing-powder white flock surrounding him, looks of sheepy contentment on their faces.

But, as Rob said last week, it is not in these situations of comfort that we grow. He talked about times of loss and struggle as being the catalysts for knowing and learning. Learning about ourselves; learning about God. As Christians – as human beings – we get very used to being in our “comfort zone”. We do things a certain way, we believe certain things, we behave in certain manners, and when we have to step outside of this zone, we begin to feel uncomfortable, and challenged, and maybe scared. Suddenly we are being asked to do things in a different way, our belief system is being questioned, and we have to consider something we’ve never thought of before.

So far, we have pictured our sheep as obedient creatures who, trusting their Shepherd, will follow him wherever he leads, doing whatever he tells them to do, and responding to his voice. But if anyone has watched One Man and his Dog, or seen sheep being rounded up, they know that this may not always be the case. Sheep are not as dim witted as we often imagine, but – rather like us – they prefer their comforts, they prefer feeling safe to being challenged. However, the sheep can’t spend their whole lives in the sheepfold, no matter how safe the enclosure may be. There’s no food in the fold, after all. The sheep may be comfortable and safe, but they must follow the shepherd out of the fold in order to find sustenance, in order to live.

And this is where Jesus’ picture of himself as the Good Shepherd comes into play. In today’s reading, we don’t hear Jesus actually use this metaphor – that comes a few verses after those we read today – but we do hear him talking about how his flock know his voice. The shepherd of the sheep calls his own sheep by name and leads them out., says Jesus, and then he continues. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.

It is while researching this sermon that I found the answer to something that has often perplexed me about this Gospel reading. I have always been a little surprised how in this passage Jesus skips between metaphors, first saying he is the gate to the sheepfold, and then a couple of verses later, refers to himself as the Good Shepherd. It has never seemed to make sense, as usually Jesus takes just one image and develops it to lead his listeners to understanding what he means. However, I discovered that , in the Middle East of Jesus’s time, the sheepfolds were not individual folds, where each shepherd kept his own flock, but rather they were communal affairs, probably built into a hillside, with stone walls protruding out, narrowing to an entranceway. Various shepherds would bring their flocks to the fold where they would all mix together as they rested for the night. Once the sheep were all in the fold, the shepherds would lie in the entranceway, acting as a gate effectively securing the sheep, and protecting them from harm, from predators and thieves. Then, in the morning, the shepherds would call and chivvy their own sheep out of the fold to find grazing for the day.

So, Jesus could refer to himself as both the gate and the Good Shepherd, because any good shepherd acted as the gate to the sheepfold. Jesus’ listeners would know this, and so when he referred to himself as the gate, protecting his sheep in the fold from thieves and bandits they would immediately picture the Shepherd lying down between his flock and those who would harm them. Literally, laying down his life for them.

There we have it, that image of the Good Shepherd who cares for his flock, and the group of sheep trooping obediently after their Shepherd, because they know his voice, they trust him, they love him.

Well…not exactly.

You see Jesus’ choice of words here is telling, but our translation into English does rather obscure the particular word that Jesus uses. “When he has brought out all of his own, he goes ahead of them,” says Jesus in the version we use in church. In this verse, there’s a fairly weak rendering of a Greek word that appears over and over again in the Gospel. We hear this word every time Jesus casts out a demon. We hear this word when Jesus makes a whip and throws the moneychangers out of the temple. We hear this word when Jesus speaks of driving out the “ruler of this world.” In every instance of this word in the Gospel, Jesus is doing some sort of battle: he is pushing, pulling, throwing, yanking, driving, exorcising, casting out. But in this instance about the shepherd and the sheep, the translators decided a nice, safe, neutral translation was better. The shepherd simply “brings” his sheep out of the fold.

But this pushing, this shoving by the Shepherd is something that we so often need. Just as the sheep may actually prefer to stay in their fold, surrounded by safe stone walls, don’t we prefer to stay where we feel comfortable? We want to know that we have money in the bank, and a roof over our heads, we feel we need our jobs, our cars, our possessions that surround us. We feel that if we have these things that society tells us are so important then we are doing okay. We don’t want to let them go, because then we might have to face up to facts that we don’t like. We want to hold onto the beliefs we have held dear since childhood, and don’t want them to be challenged, because then we may have to face up to a God that isn’t just on our side, but on the side of the outcasts and the not-quite-our-sort-of-people. We want to feel safe. We want to stay in our comfort zone, in our sheep fold. We want to huddle together with people like ourselves.

But, as I said earlier, if the sheep stay in their fold they will not be fed. It is not good for them to stay there, and so the Shepherd will force them from the restrictive stone walls and bring them out. Because he knows what they need. It is when they are released from the confines of the fold that they will have the freedom to find the nourishment they need. The good grass that will help them to grow, to have life.

A few verses later Jesus says Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. …. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

So what is this abundant life that we can have, if only we allow ourselves to be challenged by our dynamic Shepherd-God?

I believe that this is what is illustrated in the reading from Acts, which told us about how the early church lived and worked together. Let me remind you of what we heard: All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

Here we read about how the early Christians accepted the challenge set before them by their Lord. We have a picture of them, no longer clinging to their possessions, to what was theirs, to what made them feel safe. Instead they were open to providing for those who were in need. Yes, they retreated into the safety of the sheepfold – spending time together in the Temple – but they did not stay there. They also lived out the Gospel in their everyday lives. One commentator I read talks of the early church “gathering for growth and worship balanced by scattering for work and to communicate the Gospel”. This is the life that our Shepherd challenges us to live: yes, by all means, retreat to the sheepfold at night, where you feel safe with others from your flock. Rest, and be comforted in the sheepfold of the church flock. But do not stay there. In the morning, go out into the world to find nourishment in following your Shepherd. He will lead you to unexpected places, but they will be places where he will go before you, guiding you and taking you further and higher than you might even believe you can go. There will be challenges, but by facing those challenges you will be fed and you will learn about yourself, and your relationship with the one who leads you, because it is only when we are taken out of the places where we feel comfortable that we learn who we are and what we can do. It is only in leaving the safety of the sheepfold that we can be nourished, and grow, and truly learn what abundant life God offers us.

And so, I would like to finish with the words of Adam Thomas, a young minister in Massachusetts, who writes:

The message of the Resurrection is this: life cannot be conquered– not by death, not by sin, not by the powers of darkness. Life happens–fully, intensely, eternally. Indeed, Jesus told us: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” The Resurrection of Jesus Christ ripples out to touch every life, everywhere, for all time. The wonder of Easter morning shows us the utter lengths that God goes to in order to offer us abundant life.

And yet, while life cannot be conquered, life can be delayed, put on hold, made dormant. When we retreat to the safety and comfort of our own personal sheepfolds–whatever they may be–we refuse to participate in the fullness of a life lived in God. Of course, existing in the sheepfold is easier, less demanding. But existence is not life. Ease does not bring joy. And less demanding often means less fulfilling.

We cannot import into our sheepfolds the abundant life that Christ offers us because the very fullness of that life cannot fit inside a safe, comfortable enclosure. Christ drives us out of the sheepfold so that our lives have the opportunity to expand, that we may embrace God’s unrestrained abundance. During this season of Easter, join God in the expansive life found in the Resurrection. Listen for the voice of the shepherd calling you by name, calling you out of complacency. And give Christ the chance to cast you out of your sheepfold so that you may find the fullness of a life lived in the abundance of God.

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Away with the Cyclos Day 2

Hello again! I really need to get on with this “series” – I have 4 days to write up, a bad memory and not that much time to spare! (What I mean by that is that my days are busy, not that I am going to shuffle off this mortal coil any time soon) (As far as I’m aware, although the incredibly cheesy pizza I ate last night has probably helped bring that day a little closer by furring up my arteries!)

So, Day 2 in Frèjus. It dawned hot and sunny. We all decided to mosey on down to the market, keeping our fingers crossed that it would be more of a success than the one at Port  Grimeaud last year

We were told of a lovely Sunday market there, so we all went  – only to discover that it didn’t start until May. And it was April. Still, we went on a boat tour.

Anyway, back in Frèjus,we parked some away away, and  headed along the seafront towards the port. With the beach on one side, it was a pleasant walk, and I loved the idea of this little shack:

A cabin where you could borrow books to read on the beach! It was closed up, so there was no detail about how the system worked, but I still think it’s a cool idea! We reached the Marina, but no sign of any market.After wandering around slightly aimlessly  we  feared it would be another Port Grimaud disaster, but eventually we found the market. Definitely better than Port Grimaud!!

Views of the Marina. No market in sight.

Once we reached the market, I was looking for a hat, as my straw hat had been sat on by a cat and split. I found one, bought it, and then immediately saw two I liked better. Sigh. Never mind, the one I bought is quite pretty.

It was remarkably hot, so I enjoyed a paddle in the Mediterranean

Note the hat.

We wandered along the rows of market stalls – about 2 km length – looking at stuff, and admiring the beauty and wide selection of food on offer. If we had been self catering this would be the place to buy Sunday dinner (and Monday lunch…).

We confined ourselves to buying a melon. The stall had bits of melon cut up to try – very tempting, juicy and delicious. But I fear that was my undoing…

After lunch, the cyclists set off for their ride, and the walkers started to congregate ready for their outing. I had already decided I was going to stay on site, and do some zentangling and reading. This turned out to be a good move as, at about 3 o’clock, I had a bout (or five) of The Squits. I suspect it was the melon that I’d tried on the market stall, as it started about 5 hours after I’d eaten it. Thankfully, I felt fine, save having to almost literally sprint to the loo a couple of times, and by 7 o’clock the worst was over. But it wouldn’t have been much fun if I’d been out for a walk.

As Sunday was a changeover day at the holiday village, there was a presentation of the activities available. Most of which didn’t affect us, but 4 of the non-cyclists decided to sign up for a minibus tour of the nature reserve. Me included. Then we had dinner, and Mr FD downloaded another podcast for us to listen to. As he was feeling a bit under-the-weather (he thinks that the combination of the morning’s sun, plus dehydration during the afternoon and the fact that he doesn’t ride well in the heat, had taken its toll) and I was feeling a bit drained after my afternoon’s exertions, we both fell asleep and missed most of it!

 Next installment coming soon!

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Away with the Cyclos. Day 1

Hello dear Readers.

Last week we were away with the Cycle Club on their early-year “Training Camp”. Last year we went to Les Londes, but this year the choice was a holiday village in Frèjus. As it was the school holidays it was quite busy, and the cyclists had some problems with traffic, but it was bearable.

We left St Just at 6.00 am, and planned a rendezvous for lunch at a service station on the motorway. We’ve stopped there before, and know that there is a lot of outside seating for picnicking. The rendez-vous was for 11.30, an early lunch, as there was a ride planned in the afternoon from the holiday village. We arrived at the service station at 10.15, amid cries of “Who the heck suggested we set off so early?! We could have had another hour in bed!!” Never mind…

We had our lunch, eating what we’d brought, but sharing brioche and flapjack too. I shared some of the rillettes with a sweet black cat that was wandering round. I imagine some horrible person had brought her/him to the service station and just abandoned him/her. S/he was hungry, and wolfed down the rillettes, but wouldn’t come near. If it survives the traffic I imagine it will be reasonably well-fed with scraps, but still…it pains me that people do such things. But, even if I could have caught it, Mr FD made it very clear that another cat was not to be allowed.

We arrived at the holiday village, and some of the rooms were ready while others weren’t. So some cyclists could change in private while others, Mr FD included, had to hide their modesty behind car doors as they struggled into their cycling shorts!

All the photos look better in larger format, so do click on them for more detail – should you want to, that is!!

The group photograph was taken:

The non-cyclists split into two groups – the remedial walkers, and the Striding-Out walkers. I am definitely a remedial walker!

We were all (cyclists included) going up Mont Vinaigre, the highest peak in the area at 614 m. The walkers drove to the main car park of the site, overtaking the cyclists as we left Frèjus town. Having parked, our group set off, but not very far into the walk I found that my back was hurting. To be fair, it was only three days since I’d been to the doctor, but I was a little disappointed.

I stopped in a sunny spot where there was a bench to sit on. It meant I could take photos of the cyclists as they came past:

but, even though it was sunny, it was also quite chilly, as there was a strong wind. I was very glad when the Remedial Walkers arrived back.

We got back after the cyclists, so Mr FD had been waiting for me before he could shower, as I had the car key, wherein were all our bags! After a restorative beer, we had dinner – the food wasn’t great, but for a mass-catering place it wasn’t terrible. I can’t remember what we had to eat, but there was a salad bar to help yourself at, then self service mains (so you could take as much as you wanted. Many people took quite a lot!). Then cheese and desserts. The desserts were mostly of the frozen cake variety – millefeuilles, doughnuts, éclairs – or creamy stuff in little pots, but there was also some fresh fruit on offer too. Most people stuck to water, but I bought myself a 25cl carafe of wine -it was very expensive at 1€! Can you imagine being able to buy a 25 cl glass of wine in the UK for £1?!

There was a short meeting to discuss the following day’s routes and then early bed. As we always do on these weekends, Mr FD downloaded the Kermode & Mayo podcast, and we listened to that in our room – quite often we drift off to sleep and miss most of it, but I managed to stay awake, despite my outlay of 1€. Mr FD was snoring for quite a lot of the programme though!

That was Day 1. Day 2 to be recounted at a later date.

 

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Reports from the Front Line

Hello dear Readers. I hope you are well.

We have been away for a few days with the Cycle Club, down near Frèjus, & I’ll tell you more about that another time.

We had a few difficulties though with our little break, because Friend Alison, who usually looks after the cats when we’re away, was going to be in the UK with her family at the same time. Our friends across the road were also on holiday, and all our other friends are cyclists and would be away with us. What to do? I had the brainwave of asking Marie-Odile, who feeds the poor cats with me, if she could do it. She agreed, and so the Saturday before we went away, M-O, & her partner, Rudy, came to meet the cats. All went well, the routines were explained and we knew that the cats would be well looked after.

What we didn’t realise was how entertaining Rudy’s twice-daily reports on the cats would be. His English is quite good, and he wrote all his text messages in English. I thought I would share a few with you, as they are so amusing…

First message: Hey, Rudy calling. First of the 4 was Miss Milley I ran into. She nodded as a sign of accepting my presence…She ate…before observing me with a keen eye while I waited on Gaspard and Pomme…Pomme particularly gourmand ate more than her dinner, but Bib was not there to watch. Shame on him…Well, that was it for tonight, maybe Bib shows more curiosity tomorrow morning. If so, I’ll explain the rules of the presidential elections!

Next day: Pomme made it definitely clear that I have made her wait too long for breakfast! Upstairs Gaspard was very occupied with chasing things he saw but not me!…Miss Milley let me caress her but she wasn’t at all interested in food whatever! In the presidential elections neither, is she French? So I called Bib but she hasn’t shown up.Maybe Bib is just a lazy bum who prefers to be left alone…

That evening: Hey, dinner has been served out. Miss Milley, Pomme and Gaspard were all present from the beginning, but Bib I still haven’t seen…Seeing her just once would make me stop bothering about her…

***

Well, this morning Lord Jasper was more than excited, and poor Miss Milley had to run for safety. After having cleared the room his way he was ready for breakfast. Pomme is lucky to have a stoic nature so most of the time she is left alone and this way she can eat all she wants…I think Pomme really regrets the balcony, several times she tried to make me understand she wants to go out

***

Hey. Our cats have always been served their meals by one of us, so today I’ve been thinking what attitude they might show if you or Andrew took our place. I dare say that theirs would be like Bibs! So I forgive her to hide herself…Anyway I will have to wait for your return to see a glimpse of her nose!

***

Hey, this morning we had a phone call from our son who is squatting 10 days in London. Marie’s sister lives over there and all is well in your homeland! …The same at La Maison des Etoiles (the name of our house)… I’ve put two bowls of Whiskas in the room with the computer where after I waited downstairs for 15 minutes before returning and maybe surprise Bib, but no Bib. lol…

***

For Lord Jaspar, Miss Milley, Pomme and Scarey Bib it will be back to normal tomorrow evening…

We were very happy to bring back a selection of tasty goodies from the region, which we bought at the Olive Oil press in Callas. We bought them virgin olive oil, tapenade, nougat, herbes de Provence, fig jam, and two little “calissons”

Just a small way of saying Thank You for the good care taken of the cats.

So Rudy didn’t see Bib, but – as Mr FD predicted – within 30 minutes of our arrival she was there, purring and wanting attention. Hey-ho, that’s “Scarey Bib” for you!!

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Wishing everyone who reads, follows, likes & comments on my blog a blessed and happy Easter.

Alleluiah. Christ is Risen.

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluiah!

 

And because I am contractually obliged to (not really…) here is a Lol Cat

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Acts N° 39 & 40 (2017): TESTIMONY & DELIVERY

So we’re coming to the end of 40 Acts for this year – though of course, the generosity and love has to continue. It is vital that it continues as we look at the world around us with xenophobia, homophobia, misogyny, inequality, oppression, hate, terrorism…Shit, this world seems like a terrible place.

But we have to remember that Easter brings the message that Christ has vanquished all of the hate and sin and death in the world. We are, I feel, experiencing the “death throes” of the reign of Evil, and it is something that has to be lived through, but we must live through it with heads held high, and arms open to all, in the steps of our Master. We mustn’t curl up into a foetal ball screaming at the world to go away (however much we might want to), but we must say “I am here, for all the hurting, broken, scared and hating people, just as God is here”

I have seen this quotation attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, and Confucius. It doesn’t really matter who said it, as long as we all light our candle, and hold it high to draw others to the safety and refuge that is Christ.

So. The final two Acts.

ACT N° 39 :: TESTIMONY

People keep their stories to themselves. But sharing stories can be a powerful way to connect with people, motivate them, and rouse them to action in their own lives. You’re full of stories: many of them untold. Don’t keep them – your stories, your ‘testimonies’ – to yourself.

If you’ve never told your testimony, plan it out first. Try different lengths. For example: one that works like a trailer for the full movie. Or an extended version for that long conversation over a meal. Write them down, to focus your thoughts. But remember that listening is more important – your story is never more important than the person you’re telling it to. And make sure you don’t slip into Christianese.

If you have a testimony in mind, pray for an opportunity to tell it.

Keeping your stories to yourself? Take a leap. Talk to your church leadership about ways you can share them with others. Get in touch with groups who could use someone with the experiences you have. Experienced and lived through injustice? Charities could find your story invaluable.

I don’t really talk about my faith, unless asked. And that’s often in very vague terms, probably because I’m afraid of offending people. I certainly don’t think it’s my place to try to convert people to Christianity (sorry if you disagree.) If someone from another faith tried to convert me to their religion I would be slightly (or more than slightly) annoyed. Thus, I reason, if the boot was on the other foot, they might well feel the same. If asked I can explain what my beliefs are, and how they impact on my life, but that’s it. I certainly wouldn’t tell others that they are wrong in their beliefs, and I am right (which is, essentioally, what trying to convert someone is).

I also don’t believe that everyone who doesn’t believe in Christ will go to hell. So there goes the “urgency” to convert people. Sorry (again!) if you believe otherwise, but there you go.

But, if God gives me the occasion to talk about my faith in future, I will try to be braver and more dynamic.

ACT N° 40: DELIVERY

Prepare to celebrate. You’ve done it, but He did it first.

Spend five minutes reading Romans 12 today and be refreshed and re-inspired by the words.

Think back over the last seven weeks. What sacrifices have you made that could be repeated during this last day of 40acts in order to be generous to your neighbours?

What has your 40acts journey highlighted? Can you see patterns in the way you’ve used your time, talents and finances? What more could you do with them? Have you made temporary sacrifices in the last seven weeks that should become permanent?

Oh, great, I thought. Paul. With his convoluted sentences and tricksy theology. I really can’t face reading a chapter (a whole chapter?!) of Paul.

And I clicked reluctantly on Bible Gateway…and something led me to choose the translation from “The Message“…which made it clearer and actually, at one point, made me chuckle. I urge you to read it yourself.

The question Have you made temporary sacrifices in the last seven weeks that should become permanent? links with the line that made me chuckle:

Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath…. don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.

Now, I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, saying that Mr FD is one of my enemies, but the challenge that I have faced is that of forgiving him when he hasn’t done stuff I think he should have done, or doesn’t do it how I think it should be done, or does stuff that I think he shouldn’t have done…You get the picture. But when I do forgive him, I often do it with a mardy face, or a muttered something to myself… I think you see where I’m going with this one!

Finally, I leave you with the words that sum up what 40 Acts has been about:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

This world is full of hate and despair; we could, so easily, be dragged down to its level. We could, so easily,  “fit in without even thinking”. But – if we let him – God can bring the best out of us, he can make us what we were born to be: fully rounded human beings.

A line from a Jim Cotter prayer:

God’s glory is a human being fully alive

Let’s get out there and live for him.

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