Great pic, isn’t it? Eagle Owl, Dartmoor, near Princetown. All my own work: could start a rush of twitchers heading for Devon!
Except this is a way of telling truth to mislead. It is an Eagle Owl, I did take the photo. So far, so good. It is Dartmoor in the snow- I took the photo. All true. So what’s the problem?
I combined the two pictures so the owl had a more “natural-looking” backdrop. I haven’t lied, but I wasn’t 100% accurate.
My intention matters. If I have just melded two photos for a better picture, that’s OK. Were I to present myself as a wildlife whizz, discovering Eagle Owls in Devon, then perhaps selling the image to a news agency in exchange for fame and fortune, that is unethical and dishonest. And WRONG.
“The camera never lies” says the old proverb. But it may mislead, even present corrupted truth (in other words, a LIE). This is a huge problem in journalism, advertising, politics… “Deep fake” pictures are created and used to destroy the victim’s reputation, or as the lever for blackmail. Bits of truth selected deliberately, then mixed into untruth. A complete rejection of integrity.
Unless we are careful to act with integrity, there is even a danger that “picking bits” of the Bible then jamming them together will mislead or misdirect people who are seeking God. This coming Sunday, I’m preaching at our church. I have a heavy responsibility to tell the truth truthfully: or I risk putting words into God’s mouth, or persuading people into misunderstanding. A stern warning from the New Testament: “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.“ – James 3 v1
James points out the risk that teachers and preachers take on. Matthew’s Gospel records words from Jesus about the required heart-attitude, the integrity, of those called to serve through leadership and preaching. It must be real, and honest, and true- not a crafty construction of bits of truth. If I cannot preach out of humility and integrity, I should not preach at all.
“Everything they do is for show. On their arms they wear extra wide prayer boxes with Scripture verses inside, and they wear robes with extra long tassels. And they love to sit at the head table at banquets and in the seats of honour in the synagogues. They love to receive respectful greetings as they walk in the marketplaces, and to be called ‘Rabbi.’ Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” – Matthew 23 v5-12
Please pray for me- and any other preachers and teachers you know.
Beware the dread Timber Snake of Slindon Woods… lurking in nettles and fresh leaves, the mossy-headed monster speaks with forked twig.
Please, someone else, tell me you can see the snake! Or is my fevered imagination leading me astray? I’m certain there are at least two people who say “Snake!”
Me and whoever shoved the sticks right up “hiss” nose.
Human eyes and brain need to interpret the light if we are to see. Naturally enough, our brains are tuned to recognise potential dangers (like snakes) and so translate a passing likeness into a “threat” to evaluate. A similar process helps us to recognise faces of people we know and distinguish them from strangers.
Even more wonderfully, sometimes our minds are stirred into action because sight is turned into vision- a revelation of possibilities and opportunities.
Walking through the woods today with bluebells tinkling and the birds offering a Spring Chorale, the rest of the world receded and a sense of peaceful calm descended. It seemed as though we were in an open-air theatre for a matinee performance of new life.
Fallen trees are part of this cycle of renewal. Mosses, fungi and insects find homes, the old wood gradually breaks down and nourishes the next generation. The majestic columns enter into a new birth, and new saplings and fresh leaves are the flags that wave in celebration of life- and its Creator.
Some people talk of a “forest bath” which refreshes our spirits in the green and tender beauty. More than that: I believe it becomes a “forest baptism” when our hearts and spirits see the fingerprint of God. We are immersed in the holy Presence who is Love.
Romans 1:20 reads, “For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” Paul, here, is verifying the fact that we can see God’s hand in all of creation- if we have eyes willing to see.
Even the elements of Creation paused in horror. How could this be happening? What measure of Love accepts crucifixion to redeem a lost world? What kind of people smash rough nails through ankles and hands, offer vinegar and insults, and mock the dying Man?
Darkness came upon the Land. Earth quaked. The dead, disturbed, disturbed the city.
A hardened executioner, expert in Death, trembled and murmured “Surely this was the Son of God.” So the skies grieved and the angels recoiled and the laughter of Hell reached a crescendo- then stopped, dead.
This corpse is like no other. Hell has no power; Greatest of Accusers, Satan, falls silent, dreading the next Battle. Already the smoky deceit of the Liar is being challenged, confronted by Christ. “Send guards to the tomb! Seal the stone, the biggest of Stones, over a gaping grave…” Jesus is dead… yet He refuses to bow down to the Deathmaster.
Let Caiaphas sweat, and Pilate dream nightmares of an Innocent, let Herod the Fox hear the Hounds of Heaven scenting the quarry. Even an Emperor, far off in Rome, cannot command the Christ. Though Jesus gave up his spirit, his story does not finish on the Hill of the Skull.
“For on the Third Day…” said Jesus, “I will Rise.”
The most familiar words can become filled with greater meaning when they are placed in a new setting. As I looked at the photo taken in a remote fjord in Norway, the morning tranquility reminded me of that well-known Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd.” So as I thought about the ancient truth of David’s song of faith, I tried to put it in my own words- not to “improve” it (!) but to make it personal. Perhaps my effort will bring ancient Truth alive through these new words.
Wolves… hunters, scavengers, feared – not one of the cuddly creatures! Their eerie howling strikes terror (and that’s just when they’re in a zoo!). Imagine being lost in the forest, or being stranded in the wild country, and hearing the howling gradually getter louder…
They hunt with great stamina. Wolves can run and run, wearing down the energy and the hope of their prey, finally moving in for the kill as their weakened target reaches the point of collapse.
In these photos of wolves in captivity, even they have scavengers! Crows and magpies harry the wolves, darting in with sharp beaks to grab a share.
We use the wolf as a metaphor when someone is in trouble… “the wolves are closing in…”
Society has invented our own form of wolf: the gaping jaws of the paparazzi lurking with cameras poised, the character assassins digging dirt and flinging it until mud sticks. Social media is abused so it can become an abuser of the innocent: though sometimes the dogged determination of investigators reveals the hidden secrets of the dirty and/or mighty. Once a story- true or false- hits the internet, it builds its own momentum and the fangs drip poison. Perhaps we should call this the “Daily Gnasher”? The scavengers are always lurking.
Position, status, or leadership is often sought for its benefits and advantages, or for the power to dominate, or even for the chance to bring good change. Motives can be mixed. The one guarantee is that people in the public eye are under constant scrutiny, and the wolves WILL gather, sniffing around, and will pounce at signs of weakness or failure.
This is why power has to be matched with accountability, privilege with responsibility, and ambition with character.
Pretence will be gnawed away, sooner or later, and the bare bones will be on display. This is why the Bible insists that CHARACTER is the necessary quality for leadership. “A good leader motivates, doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit. God cares about honesty in the workplace: your business is HIS business.” (Proverbs 16 v10-11)
There is an old saying that we should only elect leaders who DON’T want the job.
Of course, we all, everyone of us, make mistakes and get things wrong. But there is a huge difference between a good person failing and a wrong-hearted person savaging justice and truth. Now, I’m a dog person who loves and admires their loyalty and companionship. A mistreated or badly trained dog is bad news! The similarity of dog and wolf ought to warn us.
Bad leadership breeds unfairness, injustice. The gap between rich and poor gets bigger. A sad truth- Jesus foretold “the poor will be with you always.” (Mark 14 v7) Bad leaders sometimes start as well-meaning people who rot as greed or pride blights them.
Rot “at the top” will ruin a society, a business, an institution, a life.
The people of God are called to be watchers on the walls, heralds who warn of danger, and prophets who speak truth to power/wealth. When we hear the wolves howling, it’s time to speak up. AND it’s time for us to pray. Today, we could pray for Ukraine; pray for political leaders; pray about poverty and sickness and injustice, against racism and extremism and hate.
I think I hear carrion crows… and the wolves are howling… Stand up, speak up, and pray.
January… the crown of winter’s dreary days! It’s not all bad: but it is notoriously fickle and grey. Short daylight hours, cold, damp, and it’s time to get rid of the excess pounds after the Christmas extravagances. A true recipe for joyful living.
Can we renew our joy? Perhaps this picture can help.I’ve never seen a dull red tulip. None in the garden, so I’ve hunted this out from my photo albums. Gloriously scarlet, then an even brighter yellow inside. Just for added impact, starkly geometrical black stamens contrast violently in alien shapes. Looking more closely, speckles of black pollen give a mute testimony to the visit of an early bee. Do these specks spoil the bloom, or remind us of life and growth to come? Can you spot the aphid? I only noticed this today. A pest, or another little miracle of life?
A principle of photography is that the actual subject should be the most important thing in the photo. A common mistake is to make the subject too small. It is lost in the background, and the picture loses impact.
Getting in close makes a difference. This picture shouts “I’m a tulip!” in dramatic tones. It would be easy to walk past the flower beds, camera at head-height, and take a picture of some “nice tulips.” Beauty turned into a vague generalisation!
When we need to renew the sense of joy, the experience of lightness of spirit and being at peace in our world, a great way to start is to pay attention to the small things, the details, the abundance of life all round us. Attention given leads to awareness, appreciation, and a deep gratitude for the richness that is here.
This works in relationships: when did you last tell your partner or friend or colleague that you appreciate what they have done and what they add to your life?
It’s a vital part of faith, too. When you see that first snowdrop, or the daffs beginning to emerge, will you SAY “thank you” to God? Not just thinking it, but putting gratitude into spoken words- it releases a powerful surge of joy.
God is present in our world: and has compassionate love for His creation. Acknowledging His love and majesty “tunes us in” to the love-song God sings over us. In knowing this, we find renewed joy. It could start with a tulip… or with the hope of a psalm:
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
The Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version. (Ps 139:7–12). (2005). Zondervan.
Three days in- so far, so good. Yesterday I enjoyed the privilege of preaching in our local church, speaking about the difference Christmas makes to every New Year. Simply put, it’s the description of Jesus as Immanuel, “God is with us.” Simple words, but deep, deep meaning.
I don’t know what 2022 will bring. But I’m confident that God is with us- whatever will be. That, in turn, means I expect to keep a sense of wonder and hope every day.
The wonder of seeing the frosted leaves, the snowfall, the sunrises and settings… the first signs of snowdrops, crocii, and daffodils… cherry blossom and roses… Restless seas and cloud-paintings, seagulls stunt-flying, the field mice and squirrels…
Stormy days and dark skies, the Milky Way like a chandelier over the sea. Gentle dew and charming streams, trees standing bold before our wondering eyes.
People living in kindness, sharing love and community.
Change. I’m hoping for change in politics and public life, with integrity and compassion displacing greed and sleaze. Change in the ways people behave and believe, learn and persuade. Truth becoming important, with a reaction against shallow sound-bites, dodgy websites, and manipulative extremists.
Health. I’m hoping for an end to this pandemic, and for respect and gratitude to be shown to good medicine and good science.
Ecology: for responsibility from all of us, doing what we can to look after the planet we’ve been given, with hope of reversing some of the damage.
Some hopes, eh?
God is with us. With that fact to hold onto, we can have high hopes indeed! Don’t lose the wonder. Every wondrous thing we see inspires true hope. I won’t see everything on my wish list happen in 2022 – but God is with us, therefore NOTHING good is impossible (even if it will be difficult).
The first frosty morning may be the first day of wonder- and hope.
I never know what I will find on the beach. Low tide is my favourite: as the sea retreats, the sand is sculpted into sinuous shapes by shifting waves. Shellfish leave their mark. Plants of strange forms and unexpected colours are there to admire- like this white “tree” standing out boldly against the sand and sky-painted rivulets.
Some tides bring in rubbish, old tins and perennial plastics. I suppose we might say the flotsam and jetsam of 2021 has largely been junk!
When the opposite happens, though, we have memories of beauty, love, courage, and service.
Concentrating only on the rubbish is unhealthy. Most people have found 2021 hard and hostile, and we’re glad to see the back of it. Whatever your experiences this year, will you try to find one (at least) moment of joy and life to remember- and give thanks God for that?
Looking ahead… no-one is master of tide or weather. But a simple prayer for us all:
“May you find life in unexpected places.”
Keeping our hearts, eyes, and ears open for those special life-affirming moments, we may meet a person, embrace an opportunity, fulfil a hope… and may the God of Hope grant you inner peace and an everlasting love.
There’s a verse in Ecclesiastes Ch. 3 that states “God has put eternity in our hearts.” May the year 2022 bring us hope, peace and joy- and may we find life where we don’t expect it.
Advent is the time leading up to Christmas. It’s a season to prepare for a celebration: God took on human flesh, declaring Love to this world by identifying with us. We ARE “in this together” which is a marvellous truth (especially when compared with the rather devalued meaning intended by many politicians when they say that!).
Odd contrast: the hope of Light and Life comes just when the days get short and the cold gnaws our bones. Everything is saying “time to moan, let’s endure it as best we can” and the shout comes from the heralding Angels – “Prepare the Way of the Lord!”
It’s often a dull season for photography. Apart from dramatic skies and snowy wastes, most other subjects are lurking out of sight in the warm- and the motivation of the photographer has gone into hibernation anyway.
So a memory will have to suffice. Imagine a pleasant late April day, perhaps early May; the bluebells are cheerily dancing the blues, and the bracken begins to unfurl hairy fronds. Look down at the signs of Spring: and a heart-shape presents itself as fronds entwine. Glossy fresh greens and gentle browns mark out the hope of new life.
I love Christmas. Not the busy shops, nor the crazy adverts, not even the mass attempt to double our waistlines in a week! Although that has some attractions, if we’re honest.
Christmas means HOPE. We can all do with some of that!
God, the Giver and Source of Life and Love, sings a song to make the stars shine brighter. In the darkened streets of Bethlehem, an Eternal Light begins to glow.
And every year, however dreadful, has a heartfelt message. “There’s ALWAYS hope.”
“For a child has been born—for us! the gift of a son—for us! He’ll take over the running of the world. His names will be: Amazing Counsellor, Strong God, Eternal Father, Prince of Wholeness.”Isaiah 9:6 (Message Translation)
Just what- or rather, whom- we need. There’s always hope. May Advent this year put the glow of hope in your soul- for God has set His heart on YOU.