I know most people think that their Mother is the best Mum in the world ... but mine REALLY is.
She's an amazing person. A great woman. Although she's my mother, she's also my friend - we get on so well - and she's a great role model for me, not just as a woman but also as a Christian.
My mum is a person of deep faith and has lived her life for Jesus since she was in her late teens, often sacrificially. She and my Dad spent most of their married life in Christian ministry and my dad and mum have touched many lives down the years. She's hardworking, a great cook, not someone who pushes herself forward, kind and caring. Mum is a person of grace and love and although she's now aged, she is still sharing that love with her family, albeit a little quietly now.
Mum has also made so many sacrifices down the years for us, her children and her family, and for and her example of love and care I will always be grateful. I love her more than words can say and I'm so pleased we still have her with us and that it is now our turn to care and help her through her day.
It was Mum who first introduced me to the religious and inspirational poetry of Helen Steiner Rice, another woman of faith who had the ability to touch hearts and minds.
So today, on my Mum's birthday, here's a short line by the poet that I think sums up my mother ... it's a simple poem but profound in its sentiment. It inspires me to write ... but actually today it expresses just what I want to say.
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A week ago the world said 'farewell' to a great character.
Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, passed away at the grand old age of 99! Had he lived another eight or so weeks he would have turned 100. What a life! What a lifetime of experiences!
My Dad always reminded us that he was six days older than the Prince ... and he was!
My Dad, Arthur Maitland Le Feuvre, was born on June 4th 1921 and Prince Philip on June 10th. But that was all they had in common really.
My own Dad died many years ago ... on May 17th 1985 ... taken far too soon at the age of 63. But he remains alive for me, in my heart, in my memory. No matter that I haven't seen him physically for so many years, his love for me and my love for him remains the same.
Today will be a tough day - perhaps the toughest yet - for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. After more than 73 years of marriage and more than that of love, she will lay her beloved husband to rest. Because of the coronavirus restrictions which prevent crowds from gathering, it sounds like it will be a small and family affair in St George's Chapel in the family home - Windsor Castle. And perhaps that's how it should be.
I've been to Windsor many times, as I lived nearby for more than a decade, and it is a beautiful place. And I know that the 'locals' especially will want to be there to support her today, and I'm sure some will make that journey to the Castle to do so safely.
Now, whether you're a Royalist or not, you have to feel sympathy and sadness for the Queen and for the wider family. Even though the Prince lived such a long and active life, which I'm sure is to be celebrated, the loss of him will be deeply felt.
And so I, for one, am praying today for peace to fill the Queen's heart and soul. For her deep Christian faith to sustain her at this difficult time, and for her to know that she is supported and upheld not just by her family and friends, and the people in her own town, but by many around the world. Those who know her and knew the Prince and the many millions who do not and did not.
Yes, the Duke was a Prince and his family are Royal but ultimately they are all human beings and this time of bereavement will affect them as grief affects us all. That dreadful empty feeling of loss and grief which seems to suck the life out of you at times. So today I also pray for the Duke's children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and all those knew him and loved him, not as a leader or an iconic royal figure, but as a Dad, grandad, great grandfather, friend, boss.
'Grief' is something which affects us all differently. It can prevent us moving forward, to be always looking back. For some, it appears to have little effect, but I would argue even those who put on a brave face will know the suffering of bereavement, even if they don't wish to show it to the world. It is the human condition.
But over the years, since I lost my own darling Dad, I've learned that even though those we love may no longer be alongside us, and once the gut-wrenching sorrow has begun to dissipate just a little, even if it never entirely leaves us, there comes a point when we can smile again at the memory of those whom we have loved. They continue to enhance our lives, continue to make us the people we are and are yet to be, and they and their memory continue to fill our hearts with love and joy.
So today I just leave you with a thought that seems to express this a bit better than I can...
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If you're a person who sings, and sings seriously - I'm thinking about choirs and the like, including in church - you MAY know the piece of music I'm talking about today.
It's not easy to sing - I know, because I've tried it once or twice and it was beyond me.
But it's a glorious piece, actually more of an experience I would say, rather than just a 'sing'
And it was on this day - April 13th - in 1742 that Handel's 'Messiah' was first performed in Dublin!
George Frideric Handel was a German born composer who had trained and worked in Germany and Italy before moving to England in 1712. His reputation was built on compositions of Italian opera but as public tastes began to change, he adapted. In 1727 Handel became a naturalised British subject and by the 1730s he began producing English oratorios.
Research tells me that Messiah was actually Handel's sixth oratorio in English and although it apparently had a rather low key debut, it was immediately popular. About a year after the Irish first night, Messiah was premiered in London, a gala performance attended by royalty. And apparently King George was so moved by the rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he rose from his seat. The audience also took to their feet and for the past 270-plus years, audiences have continued to do the same. Over the centuries it has become one of the best known, most popular and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.
But what I didn't realise until I started researching was that it was written at a time when Handel's health and reputation was failing. He was an opera man and that genre had begun to become less popular. He felt his work had become rather jaded and he was struggling, but he was a deeply religious man and he turned to the Bible for inspiration. And that's when he was re-energised and he started to produce some amazing works!
Messiah is all about life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the 'Messiah' being the saviour of humankind who is first mentioned in ancient Jewish scripture. Christians believe Jesus is the 'Messiah'.
Handel was so inspired that he apparently finished Part I of the piece (the birth of the Messiah and the Old Testament prophecies) in only six days. He composed Part II (the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) in nine days. Part III ( which charts the promise of redemption, the day of judgement and the resurrection which ends with the final victory over death for all those who believe) was completed in just six days. The orchestration took Handel only a few days more which means that in total, the whole composition took less than 25 days. Astonishing!
Handel's music is set to words compiled by Charles Jennens who drew from the King James Bible, and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer. The 'libretto' is apparently not designed to dramatise the life and teachings of Jesus, but to acclaim the "Mystery of Godliness", and anyone who has sung or heard Messiah will be aware not just of the wonderful music but also of the spiritual impact it can have on a soul!
Handel continued to write religious music and to perform until, at the age of 74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. At that time, as he was laid in bed he allegedly said “I should like to die on Good Friday.”
That wasn't to be, although he did die on a Holy Saturday - April 14th, 1759. That anniversary is tomorrow! Handel’s grave is in Westminster Abbey in London and it's marked by a statue of him with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.”
But today I'm going to share perhaps the most familiar piece of music from Messiah and it's the piece that brought a king to his feet. And it's still attracting crowds ... as this 'flash mob' by the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus in the USA proves.
I love this and as I watch it I wonder if all those singing are actually members of the Chorus, or whether because the piece is so well known some people just started singing along?
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I've done quite a few jobs down the years. Worked in newspapers, radio, television, PR and communications, training. I'm also an author.
My first book was about the founders of The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation, William and Catherine Booth.
Weirdly it was called 'William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army told through their letters' (Monarch/Lion Hudson 2013) ... and yes it was based on the letters the couple wrote to each other from the time they met and throughout their engagement and long marriage.
The letters are full of their love and family life, but also show how that love, and a love for and faith in God, led to the creation of The Salvation Army, from very humble beginnings in the East End of Victorian London to a 'movement' which today can be found in more than 130 countries.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it's because today - April 10th - is William Booth's birthday! Born this day in 1829 in Nottingham in England, he was a man on a mission. Having become a Christian when he was what we today would call a 'teenager', he was determined to spend his life in God's service.
He yearned to be an evangelist and to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He tried hard to fit into the Methodist Church, but he was such an individualist that, ultimately, that just didn't work. Finally, after years of struggle and ministry, he and Catherine found themselves in London where William began to really see the plight of the poor and to be challenged into a response. He and Catherine had realised their 'calling' in life was to champion the hoards of people excluded from church and society, marginalised, ignored, undervalued and even abused.
In 1865 the Booths created the East London Christian Mission, among other things to preach to, feed and support the poor. In 1878 it was renamed and became 'The Salvation Army' and from that moment it really took off, with its quasi military structure and distinctive character. Uniforms and brass bands were among the features which captured the public imagination and attracted not just people from the poverty stricken part of the population but also those from the higher echelons of society who felt that 'church' should be more than just ritual and Sunday attendance at services. Christian faith in this context was to be shared, and to make a difference in the world. In modern parlance, Christian faith is '24/7' and is to influence what you get up to and how you interact with the world.
The Booths and their followers (known as 'Salvationists') faced much opposition, from society and even the church. Among other things, The Salvation Army asked, and still asks, it's members to give up the booze and that didn't go down well with publicans! Salvation Army members were imprisoned for their faith, and attacked by those who opposed them, including groups calling themselves 'The Skeleton Army'.
But by the time William was an old man he was revered. He and Catherine (she had died in 1890) and their children and followers had developed not just what was effectively a church with many hundreds of 'corps' across the globe, but a mission which helped to pick people up from poverty and equip them for a future where they could look after themselves and their families. Not just a 'hand out' in charity, but a 'hand up'.
And even as an old man, William Booth never lost the spirit to fight for the marginalised, people who no one else would champion.
On May 9th 1912, just a few months before he died, William ... the 'General' of The Salvation Army ... appeared before a huge crowd at the Royal Albert Hall in London. He had just completed a tour of Europe and it's reckoned around 7,000 Salvationists packed into the venue to hear what would be their leader's final address.
It was here he was reported to have said something which would sum up his 60-year Christian ministry, and the mission of The Salvation Army.
And it still inspires today
While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight.
While little children go hungry, as they do now, I’ll fight. While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight. While there is a drunkard left, While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight – I’ll fight to the very end!
It was called the 'I'll Fight' Congress and it's theme was that great speech made by General William Booth at the start of the 1900s.
But, big question - is the sentiment of the speech still relevant for the 21st century?
Well of course there are still 'poor lost girls' ... in fact today The Salvation Army is at the forefront of the fight against human trafficking, the modern slave trade, across the world. People still go hungry, still go to prison and end up isolated. Drugs, alcohol abuse, homelessness, unemployment ... these are unfortunately still issues which The Salvation Army helps to address day on day.
And for that 'congress' we re-worked the original Booth speech to suit the times. It was some years ago, so apologies to the children who kindly helped me on this project. They are now grown adults.
But it still works ... and it still challenges ...
*image above and film embedded in the video copyright The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre
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If you're a Christian, like me, it's the Best Day of the Year.
It's because today we celebrate something AMAZING!
Something supernatural and surreal, astonishing and astounding ... as Christians we believe that today Jesus, who was killed two thousands years ago in Jerusalem, came back from the dead. He was 'resurrected'.
If you've been reading my blog these past few days, or if you're into theology, you'll know that this is central to the Christian faith. That we believe in a God who is alive. Jesus proved his divinity by living as a man, dying and then ... well being raised from the dead! Defying death!
And all this to give us all hope that if we believe in him, we may also live eternally, eventually, when we're done living life on earth!
Today we celebrate the life of Jesus and his resurrection - and what better way than to share a great hymn?
It is actually my favourite Easter hymn. Years ago I featured on the TV religious programme BBC Songs of Praise (recorded in Jersey) and THIS was the song I chose.
It tells the story of Easter so well and it's so optimistic, so positive. It always fills me with joy!
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It's a day when the original disciples of Jesus, his friends and followers, will have been in despair. Their friend was dead. He had died in the most horrific way and although a couple of them were with him, most had deserted him and even denied knowing him! How awful they must have felt! They would have been ashamed, gutted and afraid.
But after experiencing the Worst Day of their lives, little did they know that on the horizon was the Best Day ever!
It's something I'm sure we can all sympathise with. Many of us will have been through hardships and trials and had days when it feels like the end of the world, or at least our world as we know it.
But today ... let's be encouraged ... whatever is happening in our lives ...
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On Good Friday, as Christians we are remembering how Jesus Christ was crucified on a hill outside of the city of Jerusalem.
It's perhaps the holiest day of the year for Christians, and some people might think that it's strange to call a solemn holy day that commemorates a death a 'good day'.
Lots of deep theological and historical and cultural reasons for that, but for me the 'good' is there because actually it comes a few days before the main revelation of Christianity. Which is ... that Jesus didn't stay dead!
Yes he died, but then he pushed through death, proving that it didn't have to be the end of existence.
By coming back to life he 'conquered' death which means that if we believe in Jesus we also ultimately can push back death. Dying doesn't have to be the end of it all for us. We can be God's person here on earth, but we may also live eternally in the spirit world after we have shrugged off this mortal coil
It's an astonishing thing! Difficult to comprehend, supernatural, but when embraced, an outrageous concept of optimism and hope.
Christians believe that although Jesus lived as a man for about 33 years, including 30 as a member of a family, a working man, followed by three years as an itinerant preacher, teacher and miracle worker and healer in the place we now know as The Holy Land (modern day Israel) ... he actually was more than a man. He was the Son of God, or God himself in human form.
We Christians do believe that Jesus was the best example of a human being that ever existed and we are encouraged to emulate his compassion, love and life of service. We also believe that his death (and ultimate resurrection on the day we call 'Easter Sunday') not only shows his divinity, but also paves the way for us to embrace eternal life ... if we would only believe in Jesus and follow him.
If you've been reading my blog a bit this week you might have picked up that by the time he reached Jerusalem in the final days of his life - the time we call 'Holy Week' in the church - the religious leaders of the day were determined to get rid of Jesus.
There were rumours that people believed that Jesus - the poor itinerant preacher - was actually the Messiah. This was the person that ancient scripture said would be sent by God to save the people of Israel. Not to mention those claims that Jesus could actually be God in human form, or the Son of God. For the Jewish religious leaders this was blasphemy and Jesus' popularity threatened their control over the population.
Ultimately they wanted rid of him. And by the day we call 'Good Friday' they had had him tried before the local and the Roman authorities and he found himself being beaten, a crown of thorns rammed onto his head (an ironic reference to the fact that some saw him as a 'King') and he had to carry his own cross through the streets of Jerusalem, through the crowds, being mocked and taunted and laughed at!
It was a horrible death, bloody and brutal, designed not just to punish the person being nailed to a cross of wood and left to hang until they died, but also to warn those watching that THIS is what was in store for them if they, too, dared to defy authority.
There are many songs associated with this day, some very traditional. But this one and this particular version by the Gaither Vocal Band, always stirs my heart as on Good Friday I once again think about what Jesus did two thousand years ago, and what he's still doing for me today.
No pictures on this video. Maybe just close your eyes and listen to the words.
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