Operation Market Garden – A Bridge Too Far!

operation-market-garden

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem otherwise known as Operation Market Garden. The successful D-Day landings in France had become bogged down in the slow and costly progress through the Normandy fields and hedgerows which the Germans defended tenaciously. Despite this, the Allies had made progress across France and Belgium, liberating both Paris and Brussels. Surely victory couldn’t be far away! Unfortunately, as the Allies pushed closer to Germany’s borders, the enemy forces were regrouping and resistance became stiff. General Montgomery believed that a powerful, narrow thrust deep into German lines would be more effective that a slow advance on a broad front and so on 17th September 1944, 30,000 British and American airborne troops (backed up by British & Polish forces on the ground) were flown and parachuted behind enemy lines to capture the eight bridges that spanned the network of canals and rivers on the Dutch/German border. Initially, things went well but British Paratroopers were soon under attack and, hampered by radios that didn’t work, they found that they couldn’t co-ordinate things properly. Ground forces found the narrow route treacherous as most of the bridges had been blown up before they could be captured. On the third day they reached the Nijmegen bridge where the Americans were still fighting but they couldn’t get across to join the British Paratroopers at Arnhem just three miles away on the far side. To tremendous cost, General Horrocks ordered American troops to attack across the River Waal. Half of the company were killed. Finally, they managed to storm the bridge but it was too late for the British Paratroopers because the Germans had moved their tanks into the town and were systematically destroying all the houses in which they were fighting. Eventually the Allied troops were forced to abandon their positions and fight their way out – their last radio message only heard by German intercepts was “Out of ammo, God save the King”. The desire to finish the war early by Christmas 1944 had failed. It had proved to be a bridge too far.

Perhaps, if we are honest with ourselves, in the light of our own personal battles, there are times when we too feel that things have got too much for us and that we have gone as far as we can go, with failure the only possible outcome. It’s at times like these when we need to remember those who gave so much for us in service of the nation and be encouraged and inspired by their example. It was always thought that the 10,000 men of the 1st Airborne Division would only be able to hold the Arnhem bridge for two days, but in reality, 740 men held it for almost twice as long against much heavier opposition than expected. Theologically speaking, the Christian is aware that we are not always called to be successful (as nice as that may be), but we are called to be faithful. We may not always win the battle because sadly some things may prove to be outside of our control to our disappointment, but how we fight the battle and conduct ourselves is a sign of God at work in us and can make a real difference!

Please may I warmly invite and encourage you to join us for one of the many Remembrance Day Services taking place across our benefice on 10th November as we remember with gratitude and grateful respect all those who have died in two world wars and other major conflicts. Not only will you be warmly welcomed but your presence will significantly enhance this special occasion.


Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15.13



It’s All A Matter Of Perspective: The Norwich Cathedral Helter Skelter

Helter Skelter

For ten days or so in August, it appeared that Brexit was not the only topic to divide national opinion but whether the decision to install a helter skelter within the Nave of Norwich Cathedral was really a good or a bad idea! Certainly, The Dean, The Very Revd Jane Hedges, appeared to be enjoying herself as she came swishing down the slide accompanied by a number of her Cathedral’s choristers captured on the BBC’s national news, but the wisdom of such a move was soon brought into question by The Right Revd Dr Gavin Ashenden (former chaplain to the Queen), who thought that the whole enterprise ‘smacked of desperation’ as the Cathedral tried to tempt visitors through its doors. He was concerned that the apparent frivolity of the helter skelter detracted from the holiness of the place; the awesome nature of God and the seriously sacrificial nature of the Gospel as demonstrated by Jesus and his death upon the cross. The vast and awesome nature of the Cathedral space with its north and south transepts symbolically representing the cross could and should encourage people to look upwards and prayerfully contemplate the presence of God – if only they weren’t distracted!

Ironically, this inspirational aspect of the building was not lost on the Cathedral staff whose campaign was entitled ‘Seeing it differently’, encouraging people to use their imaginations as they saw the Cathedral from a new perspective engageing with its structure and ‘salvation story’ as they admired its ancient roof bosses which depict the whole Bible story from Genesis to Revelation – all easier to see from the slide’s 40ft high viewing platform.

In response to Gavin Ashenden’s criticism, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Professor of the History of the Church at Oxford University observed that although some would think that the installation of the helter skelter was ‘trendy’ and a somewhat ‘undignified’ attempt to appeal to people in an increasingly secular society, in reality Cathedral attendances are growing and “so this shouldn’t be seen as a desperate attempt to get people in the building”.

So what is it? Well in my view – it is a joyful invitation! It’s a joyful invitation not only to encourage people into the building – but to make them feel welcome and what could be more welcoming than effectively saying ‘here you are – ride this! It’s fun!’ So many people, even Christians, tend to think of God as a great big killjoy and nothing could be further from the truth. God himself knows joy and he wants his people to know joy too. Psalm 104.31 speaks of God as rejoicing in all of his creative works – and what is the pinnacle of his creation? We are! Of course we should naturally respect God and honour his name but we should never, ever forget that God rejoices in us – because in and through Christ he loves us. Of course, being welcomed into the Cathedral is one thing, but if through that one visit, experience or conversation someone finds faith in God and wants to know more about the Cathedral, and it’s worship then how much more glorious and joyful is that! A simple welcome into the Cathedral becomes a joyful invitation into the ‘Kingdom of God’. So, perhaps for a mere ten days the helter skelter in the Nave should be viewed not so much a distraction to heartfelt worship and prayer – but as a warm invitation and proper attraction to it.


May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may he rejoice in all his works. Psalm 104.31


Image 2
Bishop Jonathan Meyrick – 18th August 2019

“Loving You To The Moon And Back” – And So Much More!

0_Apollo-11-astronaut-Buzz-Aldrin-standing-on-moon-with-astronaut-Neil-Armstrong

Although I can’t honestly say that I actually remember Neil Armstrong’s famous moon landing of the 20th July 1969 (I was 7!) I do remember seeing some of the Apollo missions by the time that they finished in 1972 and being aware of the profound effect that they had upon me. When I looked out at the night sky it was incredible to think that men had actually stood on the moon. It was so exciting! What would they do next and where would they go? I still think it’s absolutely incredible and exciting – and I’m in utter awe of the men who undertook such a brave and perilous journey. It took Apollo 11 four days, six hours and 45 minutes to get to the moon (8 days including the return journey) and cost NASA around $25 billion (£20 billion). It may have been ‘one small step’ for Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins but it was a huge accomplishment for the 400,000 people who had worked upon the mission. The Earth, the Moon and space would never be seen in quite the same way again. However, during the recent 50th anniversary celebrations, it’s been the reflections of Alan Bean, who was part of the Apollo 12 mission and the 4th man on the moon that struck me most. Gazing back to the beautiful but profound sight of the Earth hanging in the darkness of space (later referred to as ‘the blue marble’ by the crew of Apollo 17) Alan Bean was powerfully struck by the recognition that all the people I have ever loved are over there! A thought he would frequently share with his family upon his return.

I suppose the truth is that of course the human spirit has an immense desire to explore and discover, to look beyond the horizon and around the corner in search of new things – and incredibly through our brave ingenuity, determination and skilled use of finite resources we often have the capacity to achieve more than is usually thought humanly possible – but at the same time it is love which unites us and binds us together and gives us not only the motivation to succeed, but a sense of place, belonging and home. Used wisely, intellect and love are powerful gifts with which we can pursue not only our goals, dreams and ambitions but also serve our nations and further the common good.

The accomplishments of Apollo 11 and all those missions that followed it combined with the fragility of the Earth have fostered our modern desire to go further and reach for the stars, the Moon, Mars and beyond – and yet however amazing those thoughts might be, the Christian is struck by another amazing theological concept, which is not only did God create the world that we see hanging so beautifully in space, but that he actually stepped into it, and not because it was pristine and perfect but precisely because it wasn’t. For the beautiful world that God had originally created had been spoilt by the often selfish, unkind and greedy actions of its inhabitants which the Bible calls sin. Yet, the mission that God embarks upon is not one of running away, starting again and abandonment, but one of new beginnings, new starts and digging deep as people recognise the grace, peace and restoration that is made possible through Jesus and his death upon the cross. It’s an amazing act of love that reaches out to us across the depths of time and space and calls us – home!


Praise him from the heavens … praise him, you sun and moon and shining stars. Psalm 148.1,3


Posted on the 50th Anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s Moon Landing with Apollo 11 

Fake News, Brexit And ‘The Prophets Of Doom’

Brexit_cartoon_06.23.2016

Long before Donald Trump coined the phrase ‘Fake News’ (dismissing whatever is inconvenient), British politicians were juggling with ‘spin’ and ‘spin doctors’, as certain individuals or political parties tried to get their own political message across in the most favourable way possible, whilst portraying competing projects, events and points of view negatively. ‘Project Fear’ is perhaps one of the most recent and prominent examples of this where politicians favouring a ‘no deal’ Brexit consider the arguments presented by Remainers as scaremongering, whereas those in favour of remaining portray Leavers as chasing after unicorns and duping the public (arguing therefore that many of those who voted to leave didn’t really understand the implications of what was put before them). Naturally, this is seen as patronising twaddle by those who voted ‘leave’. All of this has been magnified by television, social media and the internet to fever pitch. However, the stakes have been significantly raised by Conservative politicians each vying to be the next Prime Minister with many leaning towards a harder or no-deal Brexit in the light of the recent European elections. But this has caused many on the opposition benches and those wanting to remain in the EU to highlight all the more fervently the perils of a no deal Brexit and falling off the so-called ‘cliff edge’.

The problem is of course that we are not homogeneous human beings – we all come to life with our own particular values and perceptions, but in the game of politics, many of our politicians are deliberately selective, trying to promote their own particular viewpoint or party-line to gain some sort of party or personal advantage. It’s therefore very difficult for members of the general public to ‘see the wood for the trees’ and discern the impartial truth. The BBC may try to give us its own ‘reality check’ but many people are still wary of fake news and ‘media spin’ and therefore find it hard to discern fact from fiction. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate that people want honest politicians but discerning the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth is very hard.

With so much at stake it’s becoming increasing important that we should trust the politicians who represent us – and honesty is paramount, because it’s honest and transparent politicians who garner the greatest trust and respect. As someone who the Bible describes as being ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1.14) it’s not surprising that Jesus encouraged his disciples to be equally open and honest, advising them not to make promises that they can’t keep but urging them to simply, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5.37). Biblically speaking it’s not just cleanliness which is close to godliness but truthfulness, whereas lies and deceit generate confusion and are much more likely to be destructive. So let us do our best to discern the fact from the fiction, the fake news from reality and when it comes to determining our future, let us call for less political spin and more honesty and truth from our politicians and then vote for those who do so.


He whose walk is blameless … speaks the truth from his heart. Psalm 15.2


project fear

The Depths Of Love, Despair – And The Marina Trench

08-sub-return-mariana-trench-c2a9reevejolliffe

On the 13th May the world woke up to discover that Victor Vescovo, a retired naval officer, had broken the world record for the deepest dive ever made by a human being inside a submarine by descending nearly 6.8 miles (35,853 feet/10,928 meters) in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench. Naturally Vescovo was very excited and pleased with his achievement, “This submarine and it’s mother ship, along with the extraordinarily talented expedition team, took marine technology to a ridiculously higher new level by diving – rapidly and repeatedly – into the deepest, harshest, area of the ocean.” he says. The extreme pressure at such a depth would be the equivalent of 50 Jumbo Jets standing on top of one another said the BBC. Along with the new technological achievement, Victor Vescovo and his team were delighted to discover previously undiscovered sea life at the bottom of the ocean ranging from shrimp-like anthropods with long legs and antennae to translucent “sea pigs” similar to sea cucumbers. However, one disappointing feature alongside the discovery of new sea creatures was the discovering of plastic and other human contamination at the bottom of the ocean. Finding plastic at such depths highlighted and confirmed the fears of scientists across the world that plastic waste had reached epidemic proportions in the world’s oceans with the United Nations estimating that 100 millions tonnes had been dumped there to date. The consequences and repercussions of such a desperate discovery have heightened calls for greater and more urgent action by the world’s authorities to conserve the environment.

This is a call which will resonate with many people around the world and especially Christians who will recall the fact that theologically speaking when God placed Adam in the ‘Garden of Eden’ he made him responsible for not only working the land but for the taking care of it. In fact, God trusts us to take care of the environment and doing so for the long term and future generations is not only good stewardship but is the epitome of loving God and one’s neighbour as oneself. Yes, it may be true that even at the bottom of the ocean ‘our sins will find us out’ (Numbers 32.22) but it’s not too late to resolve things. If we have the brains, intellect and technological skills to even get to such incredible depths, surely we have the capacity to find the means by which we can clean our oceans and the environment, and transform the way we use and recycle plastics to our common good. We just need to have the will and determination to do so. A children’s chorus describes God’s love as being as ‘high as the highest mountain and as deep as the deepest sea’, let us all reflect this truth with the deepest love and concern that we can muster for the world in which we live and the people we share it with.


And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may …. grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ. Ephesians 3.17-18


Faith, Hope And The Flames Of Notre-Dame

Image 1

It was with a great deal of sadness that millions watched the iconic Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame go up in flames on Monday 15th April 2019 via their televisions, computers and smartphones. It seemed incredible to think that this wonderful cathedral that had taken over 200 years to build was essentially destroyed in a mere 30 minutes. It felt like something out of a movie or a bad dream. Many French citizens were in tears and disbelief as they witnessed this terrible event unfold but huge credit should be paid to the firefighters and others who were trying against the odds to save as many of the priceless art and religious antiquities as they could whilst others were trying to save and preserve the actual building. Yes, France may pride itself on it’s secular education but this tends to hide the fact that over 2/3rds of the population still identify themselves as Christian predominantly Roman Catholic – but equally it has to be said that to the French, the Cathedral of Notre-Dame represents so much more than being simply a place of religious devotion. It represents their nation, their heritage, their architecture, their culture and their wonderful way of life – and so it comes as no surprise that almost immediately President Macron committed himself and the whole of France to rebuilding and restoring the Cathedral.

“So I say this very solemnly to you tonight, we will rebuild this cathedral all together – and it is undoubtedly part of the French destiny …. we will rebuild Notre-Dame.”

Thankfully, in the cold light of day it appeared that despite great damage, the structure was basically sound and donations large and small were coming in from across France and indeed the world for its repair.

D4P_Nv6XsAMGnKb

But what is it that drives the human spirit to want to commit itself to such projects? For even in our own country, we have historically seen the rebuilding of Coventry and York Cathedrals damaged by fire, as well as Windsor Castle. It seems for all sorts of reasons we have an innate, inbuilt desire to rebuild, capture and preserve these majestic and ‘glorious’ buildings because they represent the triumph of victory over adversity and they speak to our heart and soul – and so we naturally wish the French every success in their efforts to overcome the disaster that has befallen them. There is of course a parallel to be found in the Christian faith, for just as President Macron said, ‘we will rebuild this cathedral all together, the Christian will be aware that this is precisely the task given to every believer – to help collectively and together to build a Kingdom, a temple, a church, not with actual bricks and stones (because these are transitory and prone to damage and decay) but with ourselves as human ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2.5), joyfully working together in hope and celebrating the victory that Christ has won over sin by his death upon the cross. For the Christian appreciates that it is what is built in Christ’s name for the common good which is the most successful, eternally praiseworthy and enduring.


In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
Ephesians 2.21


 

Have You Really Got To Grips With – The Resurrection?

resurrection

‘A lot cleverer people than us embrace religion so I can be as dismissive of it as I like but we have to acknowledge that’. Paul Whitehouse.

These were the words that comedian Paul Whitehouse shared with his good friend Bob Mortimer in the BBC Television Series Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing (Series 1: Episode 2), where having recovered from heart problems, they each mused about the future and chatted to a local Vicar about death, and their own funerals. Because neither were religious, they captured quite nicely the views and perspective of so many in our largely secular society. In some ways, each wistfully wished that there was more to life than this but couldn’t quite embrace the apparent foolishness of a religion they had no real experience or sensible knowledge of. Their musings echoed the apparent disconnect that exists between believing individuals and the rest of society – a disconnect which is made worse by opinion polls that suggest that Christianity in the UK is in a rapid state of decline. Although there is a decline, it has now been recognised that many of these polls don’t make sufficient distinction between active Christians who attend church regularly, and those ‘non-active’ Christians who are people who simply view themselves as Christian because they happen to live in a ‘Christian country’. If there was a clearer distinction between the former and the latter, then statistics about matters of faith and belief wouldn’t be quite so stark as are sometimes portrayed.

Last month my sister-in-law died, and I attended her funeral not as a clergyman but simply as my brother’s brother. Of course, the whole thing was immensely sad and hugely painful, and seeing my brother (who is still a relatively young man) who I love, without his wife, and his daughters without their mother – greatly hurt. But it didn’t hurt as much as I’m sure it would have done, had I had no hope! As Christians, a very real comfort and consolation can be found in the fact that we believe not just in life and death – but in life, death and resurrection. For as Bishop Tom Wright puts it, we have a sense of saying ‘Good night and see you in the morning’, for Heaven isn’t simply ‘pie in the sky when you die’ – a land of make believe, somewhere over the rainbow. It’s the promise of a new real existence as demonstrated in the person of Jesus himself, whose life, death and resurrection were witnessed by so many; people who saw him, touched him and ate with him. These are events which are not simply made up but recorded by many faithful men and women in the Scriptures and other historical documents, many of whom were prepared to die themselves on the basis of what they had seen and heard. So why are we so blind, ignorant and unwilling to believe their testimony in this modern age?

Bishop Tom Wright (a greatly respected Christian theologian and commentator) explains it like this.

‘The great turning point in human history, the moment when everything changed was when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning. We live in a world which fools itself that the great turning point in history came in Europe and America in the 18th Century, when we had what was called ‘The Enlightenment’ and with our new ideas, and our new science and our new democracies etc we were actually going to solve the problems of the world. If you look back at the last couple of hundred years, you say, ‘Well give me a break! If that’s called solving the problems of the world then we are going to have to think a bit better in the future.’ But actually, that’s because ‘The Enlightenment’ has offered a parody of Christianity. The Enlightenment therefore wants to rubbish the resurrection because if the resurrection happened it means that THAT was the great turning point in history and not Europe in the 18th Century and so the agenda for Christians today … is to go back and re-inhabit the truth that God’s new world was born, not when certain European thinkers had some bright ideas 200 years ago, but when Jesus came out of the tomb on Easter morning, and as we learn to live ‘out’ of that belief, ‘out’ of that event, then that is the way that God’s kingdom is going to come on earth as in heaven.’

If each of us can get a small glimpse of this, and hold it thoughtfully, intelligently and respectfully in our hearts, we can properly celebrate and wish each other a very Happy Easter.


Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Matthew 28.7