Daily Message


September's Daily Message

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1 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.115 Tuesday 1st September 2020

Thought for Today

Here’s question for you: if someone were to ask you to list the values which were important to you, what would you say? Would there be some values which were more important than others?

I’ve been thinking recently about the importance of one particular value: the value of compassion. I think compassion is needed now more than ever. Why do I think this?

I think in part because I am aware that for many people life is very hard indeed, and the experience of living during the Coronavirus pandemic has made life even harder. Difficulties come in many different forms. Perhaps it is the stress of caring for family members. Perhaps it is worry about finances or losing a job. Perhaps is the stress of simply not knowing what life will bring next, and the difficulty of planning for the future in a world full of uncertainty.

At the same time, the systems set up by Governments to engage with the more vulnerable in society can sometimes seem to operate in ways which are harsh and unyielding.

And in the world of work, I think expectations can be increasingly unrealistic. We expect a huge amount of work to be done to a very high standard in double quick time. Sometimes our expectations are simply impossible to meet. Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with the expectations themselves, however challenging they may be. But the problem is that insufficient resources have been allocated to make achieving the desired result remotely feasible.

So, I think we could do with more compassion in the world, especially towards those who are facing particular difficulties at the moment. Compassion was a value which was central to Jesus’ life. Let it be central to our lives as well.

Prayer for Today

Lord, the world is often a hard place;
Soften our hearts, Lord,
and help us to be compassionate on others, and on ourselves. Amen.
2 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.116 Wednesday 2nd September 2020

Thought for Today

Do you like spiders? I’m thinking of spiders because the other day I saw a spider sitting at the centre of its web, and I thought what a beautiful sight it was. It was a brown spider, about the size of a fingernail, sitting patiently at the centre of its web, waiting to see what would happen.

It reminded me of a story about Robert the Bruce, which I remember reading in a story book as a child. Perhaps you know the story. Robert had been defeated by the English, and he was on the run. He took refuge in a small cave, and as he sat there, he watched a spider trying to build a web. Watching the spider patiently at work encouraged Robert not to give up in his fight against the English. So, Robert persevered and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s a good story. It’s a reminder about the value of perseverance.

Perseverance is one of the themes woven through the books of the bible. And interestingly, God himself is pictured as someone who perseveres. You might well think that God would soon give up with us human beings. We don’t do things we know we ought to do. We don’t love God and our neighbour as we should. We allow situations of injustice to continue, even though we know that this is not pleasing to God. You might very well think that God will lose patience with us. But he doesn’t. He cares for us so much that he is prepared to wait. He gives us every encouragement to change our ways for the better. He never gives up on us -even when we have given up on ourselves.

God perseveres with us, and we ought to persevere with one another. Many of the things that are most worthwhile in our lives take years, even decades, to come to fruition. And it can take time, sometimes many years, to heal a source of pain which lies deep within us, or to mend a relationship which is profoundly broken.

I wonder where we might benefit from more perseverance in our own lives?

Prayer for Today

Lord, there are times when we’re tempted to give up,
although we know we should keep going;
at times like this, give us a spirit of patience and the strength to persevere. Amen.
3 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.117 Thursday 3rd September 2020

Thought for Today

Today I’m thinking about a quote attributed to the 26th President of the United States of America. At this point, you may want to test your knowledge of US history. Who was the 26th President of the United States? Well, I will give you two additional clues to his identity. He won the Nobel Peace Prize and was the youngest person in US history to become President of his country.

The quote in question is this: “Comparison is the Theft of Joy”. I’m thinking about it because of a meeting which I attended this morning. Much of the meeting was about the pressures facing school leaders as they seek to re-open and operate their schools in these challenging times. One of the people at the meeting said that one problem was that head teachers were being told that such and such a thing was being done in such and such school, so why weren’t they doing the same thing in their school? To which the answer was that each school is unique, and what is appropriate and possible in one context is not necessarily appropriate and possible in another context. She then shared the quote in question: “Comparison is the Theft of Joy”. As you may imagine, this quote then led to quite a discussion.

I think there’s something about human nature which encourages us to compare ourselves with others, often to our own dis-advantage. We look at someone else’s life and think to ourselves: why is my life not like their life? They are so successful, so clever, so beautiful, and their life seems completely sorted. Of course, the chances are that they are looking at our lives and asking exactly the same question. So, we envy others, while others are envying us.

I think there is also something about human nature which likes to reduce the complexity of real-life situations and apply a one-size-fits-all approach to solving other people’s problems.

The truth is that each one of us is unique and our situations are unique. This is how God has arranged things. God values our uniqueness; let us value it too.

Oh, and the originator of the quote? President Theodore Roosevelt!

Prayer for Today

Lord, in a world which so often can encourage superficiality and sameness,
Help us to value complexity and difference, in ourselves and in others. Amen.
4 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.118 Friday 4th September 2020

Thought for Today

Yesterday, I shared a quote attributed to US President Theodore Roosevelt. Today, I’m going to share a story relating to a British Prime Minister. I came across the story in a journal I was reading, and the story has got me thinking.

The story goes that when this particular Prime Minister was aged 9, they received a school prize. The recipient was asked whether they considered themselves lucky to have received the prize. The future Prime Minister replied, “I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it.”

I will let you have the pleasure of thinking which British Prime Minister this might be. I will give you a clue: they we were Prime Minister for some years during the 20th century.

The words attributed to the future Prime Minister have got me thinking about what we deserve in life. What would you say you deserved in life? Success? A happy and healthy family? A safe and secure retirement? Public recognition for all the good things you have done?

It might be that you are aware that you have done something bad, and you feel that you deserve to be punished for it. But somehow you have got away with it!

Or it might be that you don’t feel you deserve to receive anything at all. You’re grateful for the good things that come to you, and you don’t feel that somehow you have earned them through hard work or being a good person.

And how about God? What might we deserve from God - and what might God deserve from us? In the Christian tradition, it is often felt that we deserve nothing at all from God, but God deserves everything from us. God lavishes his gifts upon us, but not because we have any entitlement to God’s generosity. We receive God’s good gifts simply because God loves us, and that’s the sort of God he is.

And the British Prime Minister? Margaret Thatcher. Did you guess correctly?

Prayer for Today

Lord, when we think we have to try and earn your love,
remind us that you have always loved us,
and always will, for love is who you are. Amen.
5 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.118 Friday 4th September 2020

Thought for Today

Yesterday, I shared a quote attributed to US President Theodore Roosevelt. Today, I’m going to share a story relating to a British Prime Minister. I came across the story in a journal I was reading, and the story has got me thinking.

The story goes that when this particular Prime Minister was aged 9, they received a school prize. The recipient was asked whether they considered themselves lucky to have received the prize. The future Prime Minister replied, “I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it.”

I will let you have the pleasure of thinking which British Prime Minister this might be. I will give you a clue: they we were Prime Minister for some years during the 20th century.

The words attributed to the future Prime Minister have got me thinking about what we deserve in life. What would you say you deserved in life? Success? A happy and healthy family? A safe and secure retirement? Public recognition for all the good things you have done?

It might be that you are aware that you have done something bad, and you feel that you deserve to be punished for it. But somehow you have got away with it!

Or it might be that you don’t feel you deserve to receive anything at all. You’re grateful for the good things that come to you, and you don’t feel that somehow you have earned them through hard work or being a good person.

And how about God? What might we deserve from God - and what might God deserve from us? In the Christian tradition, it is often felt that we deserve nothing at all from God, but God deserves everything from us. God lavishes his gifts upon us, but not because we have any entitlement to God’s generosity. We receive God’s good gifts simply because God loves us, and that’s the sort of God he is.

And the British Prime Minister? Margaret Thatcher. Did you guess correctly?

Prayer for Today

Lord, when we think we have to try and earn your love,
remind us that you have always loved us,
and always will, for love is who you are. Amen.
6 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.118 Friday 4th September 2020

Thought for Today

Yesterday, I shared a quote attributed to US President Theodore Roosevelt. Today, I’m going to share a story relating to a British Prime Minister. I came across the story in a journal I was reading, and the story has got me thinking.

The story goes that when this particular Prime Minister was aged 9, they received a school prize. The recipient was asked whether they considered themselves lucky to have received the prize. The future Prime Minister replied, “I wasn’t lucky. I deserved it.”

I will let you have the pleasure of thinking which British Prime Minister this might be. I will give you a clue: they we were Prime Minister for some years during the 20th century.

The words attributed to the future Prime Minister have got me thinking about what we deserve in life. What would you say you deserved in life? Success? A happy and healthy family? A safe and secure retirement? Public recognition for all the good things you have done?

It might be that you are aware that you have done something bad, and you feel that you deserve to be punished for it. But somehow you have got away with it!

Or it might be that you don’t feel you deserve to receive anything at all. You’re grateful for the good things that come to you, and you don’t feel that somehow you have earned them through hard work or being a good person.

And how about God? What might we deserve from God - and what might God deserve from us? In the Christian tradition, it is often felt that we deserve nothing at all from God, but God deserves everything from us. God lavishes his gifts upon us, but not because we have any entitlement to God’s generosity. We receive God’s good gifts simply because God loves us, and that’s the sort of God he is.

And the British Prime Minister? Margaret Thatcher. Did you guess correctly?

Prayer for Today

Lord, when we think we have to try and earn your love,
remind us that you have always loved us,
and always will, for love is who you are. Amen.
7 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No. 119 Monday 7th September 2020

Thought for Today

Here’s question for you: do you think we live in a world where truth no longer matters? In a world of “alternative facts” and where some people and organisations deliberately spread false information across social media and the internet, are we now living in a Post-Truth Age?

Debates about what is true and what is false are, of course, nothing new. Cynicism and political expediency have been around for centuries, perhaps since the very birth of politics. Truth was certainly a contested subject at the time of Jesus.

Debates about truth feature prominently in John’s gospel. You have the approach of the cynic – the political leader, who is well versed in the ways of the world. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, is the mouthpiece for the cynic’s approach to truth. When Jesus is brought to Pilate for trial, Pilate utters the memorable words: “What is truth?”. It is profoundly cynical, because Pilate would appear to have no interest in deciding what would be a just outcome in Jesus’s trial. His one concern is political expediency. The world-weary question, “What is truth?”, allows him to wash his hands of the whole affair - quite literally.

Elsewhere in John’s Gospel, there are passionate debates about truth where no cynicism is to be found. All the parties to the debate care about about truth; they are convinced that there is such a thing as truth, and that truth really matters. It is in the course of one of these debates that Jesus claims that those who are truly his disciples “will know the truth, and the truth will make you free”. Jesus proclaims that there is such a thing as truth; and that truth really matters, because truth brings freedom. But Jesus goes beyond these statements, to claim that the fullness of truth is to be found in him, and that it is through following his life and teaching that we will be truly free.

I wonder where you find life-giving truth in your own life?

Prayer for Today

Lord, in a world where cynicism and misinformation are never far away,
give us wisdom and perseverance in our search for Truth in all its fulness. Amen.
8 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No. 120 Tuesday 8th September 2020

Thought for Today

People love to jostle for position, don’t they? Jesus’s disciples were no different. Shortly before Jesus was arrested, his disciples were having an argument about which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. Jesus immediately challenges the disciples over their assumptions. Jesus tells them true greatness lies in the humble service of others, and he reminds them that he himself is among them “as one who serves”. If Jesus himself leads a life of loving service, his followers should do the same.

I’ve been thinking of Jesus’ saying because earlier today I took a funeral at Hagbourne Church for someone who had been born in the village in 1932, christened in the church in the same year, and married in the church in 1961. He had come back to the church for his funeral, and to be buried in the village cemetery, where his parents and other family members were buried. The person I buried was not a regular churchgoer, but St Andrew’s was still his church, and his family’s church.

For me, this was a profound illustration of what it means to be a village church. Each one of our village churches has served its village down the centuries and continues to do so today. Each church is there for its community, a tangible symbol of Christian witness. In each of our parish churches, it is as if Jesus himself is standing there, saying “here I am, present in the body of the Christians worshipping in this place. Here I am, as one who serves”.

There are so many ways in which our churches serve their communities, and there are always new ways to serve. But I think there is something profoundly important about being able to offer prayers to celebrate and consecrate key moments in life. There is something special about a christening, wedding or funeral in your local parish church. There is a timelessness about these ceremonies which reflects the timelessness of God. God was there for our ancestors, as he will be there for the generations to come.

Prayer for Today

Lord, we give thanks for our local churches,
and for their faithful witness down the centuries;
help and inspire them as they continue to serve their communities,
now and in the years ahead. Amen.
9 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.121 Wednesday 9th September 2020

Thought for Today

Today, I’ve been thinking about rose hips. One of the joys of living in the countryside is watching the plants and tress change with the seasons. Over the last month or so, I have enjoyed watching the rose hips ripen. On my walk today, I picked one of the hips from a wild rose bush, simply to admire its colour. This particular hip was a gentle combination of orange and red - perhaps it was due to become redder as it ripened further, or perhaps the hips from this particular bush are always more orange than red.

As I looked at this particular rose hip, and held it my hand, I began to reflect how each season brings it own beauty. Earlier in the year, I remember seeing the light lime green of the first leaves, as the bush began to emerge from its winter rest. And then as the months progressed, the buds began to form and in due course the bush was covered with the gentle pink of rose petals. And now it has come to the time of the rose hips, small points of orange and red in the early Autumn scene.

Each of these seasons has brought its own beauty – the light lime green of Spring; the pink petals of Summer; the reds and oranges of Autumn. As human beings, we go through the Spring-like years of youth, followed by the years of Summer, and then the Autumn years. Each of these seasons has a beauty of its own.

It is the same for organisations, which tend to travel through their seasons.

In short, for everything there is a season. You might be thinking that this phrase rings a bell. You would be right. It comes from a book of the bible called the Book of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 3 of this book begins with the following words: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted”. For everything there is indeed a season; for that is how things are.

Prayer for Today

Lord, you are eternal, but we are creatures of time;
Help us to value the seasons in our lives,
and in the world around us. Amen.
10 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.122 Thursday 10th September 2020

Thought for Today

Here’s a question for you: what would you say it means to try and live our lives as followers of Jesus? One answer might be to say that Jesus taught the primacy of love, so living the Christian life is all about love. Being a Christian is about trying our best to love God, and to love our neighbour as our self.

But do we have to love everyone? Do we have to love our enemies?

One of the passages from the Bible for today includes the following words from Jesus: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you”. And a little later, Jesus comments “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them”.

What might this mean in practice? How should we respond to those we disagree with, to the people we don’t like or to the people who have hurt us and have made our life difficult? And what if there is someone out to harm us - how should we respond to them? What might Christian love look like in situations such as these?

Christian love will take many different forms, according to the individuals involved and the particular circumstances of each situation. But I think there are three features of Christian love which are of general application. The first is the importance of mercy. God is merciful with us, and so we should be merciful with one another. The second is the desire to restore broken relationships. Our enemy might indeed be our enemy for the present; but what can we do to make them our friend? And finally, there is prayer. I have left this to the end because it is probably the hardest. We should pray for those who hurt us. This can be incredibly hard for us to do; and even if we will feel able to pray for those who hurt us, it can feel like an almost impossible task to find the right words, or perhaps any words at all. But we can still offer up our desire to pray. At least we’re making an effort at prayer - and God will bless this.

Prayer for Today

Lord, give us the strength to love one another,
and help us to mend the broken relationships in our lives, and in our world. Amen.
11 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.123 Friday 11th September 2020

Thought for Today

Today I want to write about an ethical principle which I believe is of particular relevance for us at this time. The principle in question is that we should try and seek the common good. In other words, we shouldn’t just try and seek what is good for us as individuals, but that we should try and seek what is good for our communities. When we make our ethical choices, it’s not enough to pretend that we’re the only ones who matter. We should also take into account the effects our decisions are going to have on others.

Seeking the common good is one of the principles which lie at the heart of the Christian ethical tradition. I’m not suggesting that it provides easy answers to complex ethical dilemmas. It doesn’t. But it recognises that as human beings we owe responsibilities to our fellow human beings. And I’m not suggesting that the interests of the group should necessarily override the interests of the individual, or vice versa. But by trying to seek the common good, we are trying to create a world in which there is harmony between the interests of the individual and the interests of society as a whole.

Why am I thinking about the common good at this particular moment? It’s because I am reflecting on the many restrictions which have been imposed by our Government in an attempt to limit the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Some of these restrictions impose significant limitations on our individual freedom of choice, and on our ability to spend time with family and friends. Whether we choose to follow the restrictions is largely a matter of our personal attitude. In most cases, if we decide to break the rules, we’re not going to get in trouble with the authorities, because the authorities won’t know. We have to make the choice to keep to rules, not because we’re going to get punished if we don’t, but because we consider that keeping to the rules is a good thing to do.

Which brings us to the idea of the common good. By keeping to the rules, however tiresome they are, we are recognising that we have responsibilities towards others. We are recognising the common good.

Prayer for Today

Lord, sometimes it can get frustrating having to keep the rules;
Help us to remember the common good, and not to be selfish in our actions. Amen.
12 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.123 Friday 11th September 2020

Thought for Today

Today I want to write about an ethical principle which I believe is of particular relevance for us at this time. The principle in question is that we should try and seek the common good. In other words, we shouldn’t just try and seek what is good for us as individuals, but that we should try and seek what is good for our communities. When we make our ethical choices, it’s not enough to pretend that we’re the only ones who matter. We should also take into account the effects our decisions are going to have on others.

Seeking the common good is one of the principles which lie at the heart of the Christian ethical tradition. I’m not suggesting that it provides easy answers to complex ethical dilemmas. It doesn’t. But it recognises that as human beings we owe responsibilities to our fellow human beings. And I’m not suggesting that the interests of the group should necessarily override the interests of the individual, or vice versa. But by trying to seek the common good, we are trying to create a world in which there is harmony between the interests of the individual and the interests of society as a whole.

Why am I thinking about the common good at this particular moment? It’s because I am reflecting on the many restrictions which have been imposed by our Government in an attempt to limit the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Some of these restrictions impose significant limitations on our individual freedom of choice, and on our ability to spend time with family and friends. Whether we choose to follow the restrictions is largely a matter of our personal attitude. In most cases, if we decide to break the rules, we’re not going to get in trouble with the authorities, because the authorities won’t know. We have to make the choice to keep to rules, not because we’re going to get punished if we don’t, but because we consider that keeping to the rules is a good thing to do.

Which brings us to the idea of the common good. By keeping to the rules, however tiresome they are, we are recognising that we have responsibilities towards others. We are recognising the common good.

Prayer for Today

Lord, sometimes it can get frustrating having to keep the rules;
Help us to remember the common good, and not to be selfish in our actions. Amen.
13 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.123 Friday 11th September 2020

Thought for Today

Today I want to write about an ethical principle which I believe is of particular relevance for us at this time. The principle in question is that we should try and seek the common good. In other words, we shouldn’t just try and seek what is good for us as individuals, but that we should try and seek what is good for our communities. When we make our ethical choices, it’s not enough to pretend that we’re the only ones who matter. We should also take into account the effects our decisions are going to have on others.

Seeking the common good is one of the principles which lie at the heart of the Christian ethical tradition. I’m not suggesting that it provides easy answers to complex ethical dilemmas. It doesn’t. But it recognises that as human beings we owe responsibilities to our fellow human beings. And I’m not suggesting that the interests of the group should necessarily override the interests of the individual, or vice versa. But by trying to seek the common good, we are trying to create a world in which there is harmony between the interests of the individual and the interests of society as a whole.

Why am I thinking about the common good at this particular moment? It’s because I am reflecting on the many restrictions which have been imposed by our Government in an attempt to limit the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic. Some of these restrictions impose significant limitations on our individual freedom of choice, and on our ability to spend time with family and friends. Whether we choose to follow the restrictions is largely a matter of our personal attitude. In most cases, if we decide to break the rules, we’re not going to get in trouble with the authorities, because the authorities won’t know. We have to make the choice to keep to rules, not because we’re going to get punished if we don’t, but because we consider that keeping to the rules is a good thing to do.

Which brings us to the idea of the common good. By keeping to the rules, however tiresome they are, we are recognising that we have responsibilities towards others. We are recognising the common good.

Prayer for Today

Lord, sometimes it can get frustrating having to keep the rules;
Help us to remember the common good, and not to be selfish in our actions. Amen.
14 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.124 Monday, 14th September 2020

Thought for Today

How are things for you at the moment? Worried about what might be next in terms of the Coronavirus? Worried about the state of our Constitution, when a government is prepared to introduce legislation which they accept will break the law?

There’s lots to be concerned about at the present, to be sure. But at those times when we are worried, it is good to look out for the signs of hope which are all around us, if we are prepared to look for them.

I was thinking about this as I was walking in the car park in front of the Benefice Centre. Because the of the lockdown, far fewer cars have needed to use the car park. This, in its turn, has meant that parts of the gravel have remained largely undisturbed since March. And this, in turn, has allowed a few plants to flourish which in normal years would not have had a chance, when any tender green shoot would be quickly crushed under the tyres of numerous vehicles. As I was walking in the carpark, I noticed a small plant with the tiniest of yellow flowers. It was the first year that I had seen it growing in the carpark. And then I began to notice several other plants, with tiny purple flowers in the shape of a cross. And as I looked around, I noticed that all around me were lots of tiny little flowers, which I hadn’t really noticed before – tiny little flowers which spoke to me of hope and new life.

There are signs of hope all around us, but so often we fail to see them. I wonder why this is so? Perhaps we’re tired and overwhelmed, and find it hard to pay much attention to anything. Or perhaps it’s our outlook on life. Generally, we only see what we expect to see. If we assume that the present or the future is pretty hopeless, it can be hard for us to see anything that goes against what we assume to be the case. If we are to see things as they really are, it can be helpful to ask someone else, a friend perhaps, for their views on a particular situation or question. They will see things which we will miss.

I wonder where we might be missing the signs of hope which are around us?

Prayer for Today

Lord, when we are dispirited or overwhelmed, open our eyes to the signs of your love and care, and give us fresh hope for the future. Amen.
15 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.125 Tuesday 15th September 2020

Thought for Today

Have you ever come into an old church, and wondered who might have visited the church in previous centuries? Perhaps someone famous has visited the church, or attended a service there.

More often than not we simply don’t know who has visited a church building, and so we can only speculate. But occasionally records survive, and the records can tell a surprising story.

Take All Saints Church, North Moreton. One of the vicars of North Moreton in the 19th century was the Revd Albert Barff, and we happen to know quite a lot about his time in the parish. The Revd Barff knew several of the leaders in the Oxford Movement, a Christian movement which sought to rediscover the rich traditions of the Early Church. So he invited them to come to North Moreton and preach in his church. Over the years, men such as Edward King, Henry Liddon, John Keble and Edward Pusey climbed the wooden steps of the pulpit and preached to the assembled villagers. You might not have heard of them, but in their day they were household names. Keeble had such an influence in Victorian England that it was decided to found an Oxford college in his honour- the present day Keble College. Pusey House, also in Oxford, was founded in memory of Edward Pusey. I sometimes wonder what the regular Sunday congregation must have thought when one of these luminaries visited their church. The preachers were used to preaching to undergraduates and University Dons. I wonder if they preached a different sort of sermon when they came to North Moreton?

I’m thinking of Edward Pusey because it’s his day tomorrow. Pusey was a great biblical scholar and spiritual counsellor. He had a deep sense of human sinfulness, and the importance of the forgiveness of sins which God offers to us through Jesus Christ. I wonder whether Pusey preached on the forgiveness of sins when he came to North Moreton?

Prayer for Today

Lord, we thank you for all who have worshipped in our churches down the centuries; help us to be good stewards of our heritage, for our own generation and for generations still to come. Amen.
16 September 2020Rector’s Daily Reflections: No.126 Wednesday 16th September 2020

Thought for Today

Do you ever read obituaries? Recently I read the obituary of Kaing Guek Eav, who died on 2nd September, aged 77. During the 1970s, he was known as Comrade Duch, and was supervisor of killings for Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. He emerged from hiding in 1999 and in due course was put on trial. He was sentenced to 35 years for torture, murder and crimes against humanity.

When reading his obituary, I was painfully reminded of the unspeakable horror of the Khmer Rouge regime. How could this regime get so many ordinary people to perpetrate the most appalling crimes on its behalf?

Part of the explanation must lie in the regime’s ability to its followers to think along certain lines. The Khmer Rouge knew the power of slogans, repeated regularly and uncritically in an atmosphere of fear. One of its slogans ran “Our party makes absolutely no mistakes.“ Repeated often enough, party members could easily come to believe that this statement was simply a statement of the truth.

Another Khmer Rouge slogan ran “Extinguish your heart”. If a party member has successfully extinguished their heart, actions can be determined solely by the logic of party ideology. And if it is axiomatic that the party can make no mistakes, any action which the party dictates must be the right action to take.

Why am I writing about something that happened over 40 years ago, on the other side of the world? Because as soon as we are prepared to “extinguish our heart”, we have placed ourselves on a slippery slope that easily leads to cruelty, oppression, and the possibility of unspeakable suffering. Yes, there will be times when we have to take hard and difficult decisions, times when we will have to say “no”, times when a punishment or penalty is necessary. But let us never “extinguish our heart”, for if we do so, we have extinguished our true selves - human beings made in the image of God.

Prayer for Today

Lord, when we become hard hearted towards our fellow human beings, remind us that you look upon every human being as a beloved child of God.
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