Religion

Surviving Celebrity

We live in a celebrity culture, there’s no doubt about that.

Reality TV stars, ‘influencers’ on social media, icons of fashion and music and self-proclaimed ‘experts’ in everything from keep fit and nutrition to commenting on other people’s lifestyles and television programmes. It seems we can’t move for ‘celebrities’ and, of course, through the media – TV, the online world and particularly social media – their fame spreads fast and wide. Although some reputations last down the years, invariably the fame and celebrity of many of those in the public eye doesn’t last that long - adoring fans are prone to move on to other ‘celebrity crushes’, seemingly on a whim.

But this ‘celebrity culture’ is not just a phenomenon of the 21st century.

Almost from the beginning of time, I would suggest, humans have wanted to have ‘celebrities’ in their lives. People they can look up to, people they can aspire to be, people who they can copy, people who they can ‘adore’, if you like. 

Of course, the reasons why individuals are favoured and admired change with the times and it's interesting to note that in the past many of the ‘celebrities’ were religious people – alive and dead!

Today is January 19th and in the church it’s the now little-known Feast of St Wulfstan.

Never heard of him ? No,  me neither.

But back in Anglo Saxon times he was HUGE!

And part of the reason for that is that he was a survivor!

If you know your English history, you’ll know that something big happened in 1066. The Normans under William the Conqueror invaded the country and took over. The Anglo Saxons were out. Many or most of the kings and leaders lost their lives, or at least their positions, lands and power. And that included the church men.

Ok – so that’s a very simplistic telling of history, but it’s the basic story.

But remember what I said about this chap Wulfstan? He was an ‘Anglo Saxon’ and, much against the odds, he survived the transition.

Wulfstan had been appointed Bishop of Worcester in England in 1062 so he was one of the leaders of the Anglo Saxon church at the time of the Norman conquest just four years later.

Very unusually, he was the only Anglo Saxon churchman to keep his position under the new regime and he continued to serve for another 30 years until his death, actually on Jan 20 1095.

The new King William himself had noted Wulfstan’s importance in his diocese and during his lifetime the Bishop was much admired especially within the church and by the new regime. At one point he even managed to help prevent an high level insurrection against William the  Conqueror.

Wulfstan was buried in Worcester Cathedral … one of his big projects was the rebuilding of the site, demolishing the old Anglo Saxon church and building the new Norman cathedral. But Wulfstan also help to re-build Hereford CathedralTewkesbury Abbey, and many other churches in the Worcester,  Hereford and Gloucester areas. 

And if you think Wulfstan was popular in his lifetime, that was nothing compared to his reputation once he was dead. People started reporting that when they visited his tomb, there were miraculous cures. And these supernatural and spiritual experiences led, in 1203, to his canonisation. He was made ‘Saint Wulfstan’

During the Middle Ages especially, Wulfstan was a very popular saint and King John, who ruled  from 1199 until his death in 1216, thought so much of him that he asked to be buried close to Wulfstan -  he was buried in Worcester Cathedral in front of the altar of St Wulfstan.

The saint's reputation persisted across the decades and in fact, he continued to be a popular saint for many centuries. Pilgrimages in his name to Worcester continued until the turn of the 18th century. HIS celebrity was far from fleeting!

These days few of us, especially outside the church, have heard of him, and his ‘Feast Day’ on January 19th every year is almost completely ignored today, apart from at Worcester.

Wulfstan was a lowly monk who rose through the ranks to the top job and managed to hang on, despite the cultural and political turmoil than came with the Norman Conquest.

His reputation survived strongly for at least 700 years, and … well I’m talking about him today … so he is still remembered. Perhaps it was because he was known for more than his personal achievements (like the rebuilding of Cathedrals) and it was his spiritual legacy that persisted.

Question – I wonder where the ‘celebrities’ of today will stand in the history of mankind? I wonder if those who today are applauded, and rewarded, for their antics on reality tv, their wealth, appearance and fashion sense, even those who are known for ‘helping’ the world through online ‘self-help’ videos, will be remembered even into the next decade? Let alone the next millennium?

I think I know the answer!

British Saints Days, 19th of January - St Wulfstans Day (information-britain.co.uk)

 


Changing the World!

It’s 17 January 1829 and in a place called Ashbourne in Derbyshire in England, a baby girl is coming into the world.

Her name is Catherine – Catherine Mumford – and little did her parents John and Sarah know, but their daughter would grow up to change the world.

I’m not understating that. Really!

And if you doubt me then I need to tell you one more thing. Catherine Mumford young

Catherine grew up to marry a man called William – William Booth – and together they would go on to found a Christian ‘movement’ that would eventually become The Salvation Army, the global church and charity organisation that today supports and cares for millions of people, many of them disadvantaged and unable to help themselves.

People with addictions, homeless men and women, children, people who don’t have enough food and who are ill, people who yearn for education, those who are seeking work, and those who are exploited including the victims of human trafficking or modern slavery. Today, The Salvation Army is in over 130 countries and responds to need wherever they find it. And although the history dates back more than 150 years they remain relevant. During this COVID-19 pandemic, local Salvation Army churches and other associated groups are working to help people in over 100 countries!

The Salvation Army makes a difference to people’s lives every day … and it is ultimately all down to William and Catherine Booth, who’s Christian faith, vision and inspiration started it all back in 1865.

I think Catherine was an incredible person. She grew up in a Methodist household but quickly developed her own Christian faith and although she was a sickly child, she apparently read the Bible voraciously and immersed herself in spiritual things from an early age. She wasn’t a healthy person all round, it’s thought among other things she suffered from a curvature of the spine. But in her spirit she was bold and brave, and determined in her Christian faith.

When she met William Booth, a fellow radical Methodist, in 1851 – it was almost love at first sight. He was a poor would-be evangelist who would struggle for years to find a place in a church. She supported him through difficult years, and after they married in July 1855, despite her ill health they went on to have eight children, all of whom survived into adulthood and who would all become part of their mission. Catherine was also a Christian evangelist and writer/theologian, and a sought after preacher in her own right, at a time when women preachers were not only rare but frowned upon by ‘polite society’.

Catherine Booth preaching

In fact, it was ‘polite society’ to whom Catherine often preached  - middle class and upper class ladies in particular.

And in 1865, after the family moved to London for one of HER preaching engagements, William finally found his purpose, preaching to the poor and uneducated, those who 'polite society' and established churches of the day often disregarded and even excluded. From this grew a mission to reach out and support those who could not look after themselves and who others considered unworthy.

Between them, William and Catherine Booth founded the (East London) Christian Mission and then in 1878 the name was changed to The Salvation Army, adopted uniforms and a military structure, and the mission really took off. Yes, it was and is still ultimately about preaching the Christian gospel, and 'saving lost souls' but it became more. What was the point of preaching to a person who was hungry - perhaps food might be a good idea?  The Salvation Army wasn't and isn't just about a 'hand out', helping people to survive their day, but also about a 'hand up', assisting people to help themselves, providing accommodation, skills, work and helping to rebuild their confidence. 

I know what you’re thinking – Cathy seems to know a lot about this woman and her husband and the movement they founded!

Well, I should. My first ever book – published in September 2013 – was a biography of the couple.

William and catherine book coverDrawing on letters which they exchanged from the time of their first meeting until Catherine’s death in 1890 from breast cancer, I learned so much about the duo, and how they came to create the worldwide Christian movement which today is their legacy.

Much of what The Salvation Army stands for today is down to Catherine, her interpretation of scripture and her personal and professional influence. The teetotal stance which The Salvation Army still holds to, the equality of the sexes in ministry – both men and women are ‘ordained’ and 'commissioned' to preach and lead - and even the work with victims of human trafficking which dates back to Catherine and other pioneering women from across society and church denominations to advocate for the raising of the age of consent and the protection of girls and women lured into the sex trade. This was just one of the campaigns for the betterment of poor people at a time when poverty blighted British society.

My book is called ‘William and Catherine – the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army, told through their letters’ (Monarch Books 2013)  Weird I know, but true! If you fancy reading all about them then I invite you to do so! The book is still available on many online platforms.

And I hope you will be as inspired as I am, not just by their joint passion for God and people but also by the life of Catherine – a complicated, strong Victorian who was truly a woman before her time!

When she died (or in Salvation army parlance, when she was 'Promoted to Glory'),  The Salvation Army was still  a rather peculiar notion to many who still did not understand it,  but it was gaining credibility.

The Methodist Recorder paid tribute to he as ‘the greatest Methodist woman of this generation’ (9 Oct 1890) and the Manchester Guardian newspaper wrote in its obituary ‘She has probably done more in her own person to establish the right of women to preach the gospel than anyone who has ever lived.’(18 Oct 1890)

All that - and The Salvation Army!

What a legacy!

Historic images from The Salvation Army International Heritage Centre

The Salvation Army UK

William and Catherine - the love story of the founders of The Salvation Army, told through their letters - on Amazon


Blessed are the Peacemakers



We live in a tumultuous world, don’t we?

Even as we’ve entered this new year, and so lately have been wishing each other ‘Peace and Goodwill’, we only have to switch on the news to see so much that is not peaceful. PEACE

In homes, it stands to reason and human nature, that there are bound to be arguments even today over trivialities, siblings bickering, relationships disintegrating. Between friends there are quarrels over meaningless nothings, petty jealousies.

Nationally, politics is often an excuse for perceived contrary views on just about every issue. Media's job is to tell us what is happening in the world but some outlets do unfortunately feed on divisions, like vultures over a decaying corpse on the savannah, making what might have been inconsequential disagreements into bigger disputes. 

Riots, insurgency, unruly behaviour - that's just the start of it. On an international scale we face some of the least peaceful times in the history of the world, with terror and fear being fed by megalomania and warped interpretation of religion.

We're living through a global pandemic, and that's certainly not peaceful. It's a source not just for community effort, but also for division as people have varying opinions on where the virus came from, how bad it is, and the efforts being taken to keep the world as safe as it can be. I do believe the majority of people do understand the seriousness of what the world is facing and are working hard to keep ourselves and loved ones and others healthy. Staying isolated, wearing masks and keeping our distance. There are some, I'm sorry to say, who have contrary views resulting in behaviour which others feel put us all at risk. It's a source of discontent, there's no doubt about that. 

And let's not forget social media, which in my experience can be such a power for good, but invariably is also an opportunity for people to express hateful ideas, and a chance for people to vehemently express their opinion in the strongest possible language. And often being the source of further division where they might not have been disagreement before.

Yet in the midst of all this there will be those who strive for peace, however hopeless it may seem. These are the people who dream of a world where people, although different, coming from different perspectives and even with different beliefs and opinions, can learn to live in harmony.

On this day, in 1920, a group of men sat down in Paris as part of the first ever Council Assembly of the League of Nations, an organization born out of the horror of the Great War of 1914 to 1918, a congregation of people, and countries, who wished to ensure that the world would never again be embroiled in global conflict. The League had been officially founded just the week before on January 10 1920, but this was the culmination of years of negotiations, primarily between the allies who had won what is now known as the First World War. The first full meeting of The Assembly of the League of Nations wouldn't happen until November 1920 but today in that year was a significant moment in the march towards anticipated peace.

Of course, in hindsight, we know that aim was thwarted. There would be another world war in 1939 and plenty more wars and conflicts to follows.

And today, although it's certainly not perfect, the United Nations, which grew out of that League of Nations after the Second World War, still works to find ways of bringing peoples together and trying to ensure that peace which I think, I hope, we all crave. Among other things, UN agencies exist to help people out of poverty and ensure good health and education, often some of the causes of conflict. 

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke to his world, and to ours.

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.’ (Matthew 5:9) he said.

Not all of us can be part of an international summit on peace. We can’t all sit in a parliament or be part of an advocacy group encouraging people to see the things on which they can agree rather than always to be looking for the negative in others’ policies.

But we can be ‘peacemakers’ where we are. In our families, in our communities, in our churches, at work and in the world where we might have some influence. In our relationships, in our behaviour and in our conversations in person and even virtually via social media. 

So, today, I don't know about you, but I want to be one of those ‘peacemakers’ which Jesus so highly regards.

It might start small, but who knows where it could lead, if we all give it a go.

http://www.onthisday.com/day/january/16


I arise today

I've been wittering on a bit over the last few days, so today I just bring you a prayer.

I love the Celtic Christian tradition and this won't be the last time I bring you a prayer or blessing from this heritage.

Today here's a blessing to start the day. This is a prayer that has probably been spoken for more than a thousand years, because it dates from the first millennium and attributed to an Irish saint called Brigid of Kildare, otherwise known at Bridget of Gael. 

Have a great day!

 

I arise today
Through a mighty strength:

God's power to guide me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's eyes to watch over me;
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to give me speech,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to shelter me,
God's host to secure me.

 

I Arise Today (St. Bridget) – A Collection of Prayers


More

Following on from yesterday's post about Happiness and Joy, here's something I wrote a little while back which summed up how I was thinking then and what is still in my heart. 

Suffice to say, I'm a bit of a 'work in progress' 

 

MORE

Money, love, recognition, image, security

Clothes, house, car, holidays,

All the ‘Stuff’ which controlled me, which I thought defined me

All the ‘Things’ which I desired yet left me constantly dissatisfied, unfulfilled

Always comparing myself with others, always wanting MORE of what THEY had

MORE of what I thought I deserved

MORE and MORE and MORE...

 

NOW

AT LAST

I finally understand

All the Stuff and Things are insignificant, unimportant

Compared to Jesus

And now the MORE for which I yearn is only

MORE of Him, His Love, His Presence

MORE of Jesus in my life

MORE and MORE and MORE ...

 

Cathy Le Feuvre


Not to Worry!

“Worry retards reaction and makes clear-cut decisions impossible.”

These are words attributed to  Amelia Earhart  (1898-1937) who was a pioneer of aviation, as well as an author and decorated pilot.

We know her as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, which she achieved in May 1932 –it took her 14hrs 56mins by the way – but Amelia also set many other records, including on this day - January 11 - in 1935 becoming the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean between Honolulu and Oakland, California (2,408-miles). This was also the first flight where a civilian aircraft carried a two-way radio but flying in those days was still a tricky and dangerous business.

It was in July 1937, during an attempt to fly solo around the world, that Amelia disappeared over the Pacific Ocean. She was eventually declared dead in January 1939.

In her short life, Amelia Earhart achieved much and received many awards, including being honoured by her own country and becoming the first woman to receive the US Distinguished Flying Cross. Apart from flying for fun and competitively, she was also an early advocate of Equal Rights and encouraged women pilots in particular. At one point she was (the first ever) aviation editor for the magazine Cosmopolitan and she also wrote best-selling books about her flying adventures.  The book she wrote about that first (very dangerous) solo Atlantic flight was entitled ‘The Fun of It’.  What a woman!

If you are someone who collects ‘quotes’ from famous people, you may have seen quite a lot of great sayings and adages attributed to Amelia Earhart. Some of these are on Amelia Earhart - The Official Licensing Website of Amelia Earhart but this one about worry rings bells with me.

Anxiety – worry – can be really debilitating.  I’ve learned that over the years.

Worrying about things that haven’t yet happened, things that could happen or might happen if circumstances go one way or another, even worrying about things that have ALREADY happened that you can’t change. Being anxious can rob you of sleep, of peace of mind. It can make you physically ill and incapable of functioning normally. I know, because over the years anxiety has sucked the joy out of my life at times and has sometimes prevented me from going for my dreams and with my gut instinct!

In addition, as Amelia Earhart suggested … “Worry retards reaction and makes clear-cut decisions impossible.” When we worry, we can and do make mistakes, and then our worries are almost self-fulfilled prophecies. And when our minds are full of anxieties and ‘what might be’ and ‘what could happen’ we may find it hard to make sensible decisions for ourselves and for others.

Coping with worry and anxiety can in itself be stressful, but there are things that can help. Deep breathing is a good one for me. And meditating on the moment I’m living NOW rather than the one that is past or the one that is to come.

In the New Testament of the Bible, in Matthew Chapter 6, Jesus said …

 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

It’s something I need to remember every day! And then, who knows, I might still have adventures to enjoy without worrying about the consequences?

Amelia Earhart - The Official Licensing Website of Amelia Earhart


A Red Letter Day

Are you on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok ? The options, it seems, are endless.  

But once upon a time, even before the invention of the telephone, if people wanted to contact their business contacts, friends, or family when they were apart, the best way was to write a letter.

I love letters. I love handling them, thinking of the person who has taken the time to pick up a pen and write down their thoughts.  Cards also work for me and it’s about this time of year we file away or recycle last year’s Christmas cards.

The letters people have written to each other in the past are also accounts of history, of facts and feelings handed down to us from people who have long since departed our world.

A few years back I even wrote a book based on the love letters exchanged over nearly 40 years in the 19th century between the founders of The Salvation Army - William and Catherine Booth. I have to say, reading their letters, which are held in the British Library in London, and writing 'William and Catherine' not only helped me to understand their personalities and motivations in life, but also to get an insight into their deep Christian faith and how that helped to create what is now a global church and charity movement!

But back to the point of today's 'thought'.

It was on January 10th 1840 that the Penny Post was introduced in Great Britain. This meant that mail was delivered at a standard charge. Until that point every letter was paid for individually by the recipient and it was a cumbersome system.  It was at the end of the 1830s that a chap called Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’, which proposed a uniform postage rate of one penny, wherever in the country the letter was posted or received.  To prevent postage fraud, he came up with the idea of an adhesive label to pre-pay the postage. So the postage stamp was born.  

The 'Penny Black' was that first ever stamp and its inventor was eventually knighted by Queen Victoria and became SIR Rowland Hill.

Red post box (edit)

Today we can still find old red postage boxes dotted about, and whenever I spot one it draws me right back into history. It's a link with the past!

Not so many people use ‘snail mail’ today, but every time we place a postage stamp on an envelope perhaps we can think again of those who have left  their impact on the world through letters.

In the New Testament we hear accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, and the early church through epistles, or letters.  Letters which contain wisdom which is as true today as when it was conceived and written down a couple of thousand years ago.

Like St Paul’s words to the early church in Corinth - ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love!’ (1Corinthians 13:13)

If that’s not a great blast from the past handed down to us in a letter, what is?

Note - http://www.victorianweb.org/history/pennypos.html


A 17th century Prayer

In my traveling and musings through the years, I’ve collected lots of sayings and readings that I find inspiring. I'm not a 'collector' of many things, but I do have a store of inspirational thoughts which I sometimes dip into.

I may share some of them with you from time to time ...

And here’s one of them.

Just proves  I think that us humans never change really … and the older I get, the more this seems to resonate with me.

 

I do not want to be a saint but......

Lord, Thou knowest better than I know myself, that I am growing older and will some day be old.

Keep me from getting talkative and particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I may say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from the craving to try to straighten out everybody's affairs.

Make me thoughtful, but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all, but Thou knowest Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips from my aches and pains. They are increasing, and my love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I ask for grace enough to listen to the tales of others' pains. Help me to endure them with patience.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally, it is possible that I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint. Some of them are hard to live with, but a sour old woman is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Help me to extract all possible fun out of life. There are so many funny things around us and I do not want to miss any of them.

AMEN

By a 17th century nun


Epiphany - a bit of a revelation!

Today is officially the end of the Christmas season.

Yes, I’m aware that most of us think Christmas ends on Dec 25th, but in strictly theological terms, that’s the day it STARTS!

And the ’12 Days of Christmas’ then run until today – January 6th – which is also known as the Feast of the Epiphany.

This important holy day originates in Eastern Christianity and in fact today is Christmas Day in the Eastern Orthodox churches. It’s also called ‘Old Christmas Day’. In some countries  January 7th is also celebrated with a Christmas bank holiday.

Traditionally, today marks the moment when Jesus was made known to the world. If you think about it that’s where the word ‘epiphany'’ comes to us … not to get too technical but if you look up the word in the dictionary … it means ‘a moment of sudden and great revelation or realisation’.

Epiphany

January 6th is the day when the Magi – the Wise Men/Kings – are thought to have visited baby Jesus, the Christ Child,  as related in the New Testament of the Bible in Matthew Ch 2: 1-12. Yes, I know, in the traditional Nativity we have them coming to the manger in the stable at the same time as the shepherds on the night of the baby’s birth, but this narrative tells us it might have been a bit after that.

But as those wise men (and by the way there’s nothing to tell us there were three of them – we just assume that because they brought three gifts … gold, frankincense and myrrh) represented the wider world outside of the place of his birth, the place we now call ‘The Holy Land’, it has become the time when we commemorate the ‘revelation’ or ‘appearance’ of Jesus Christ to the world, to the Gentiles or the non-Jewish populations of the world.

Another tradition also links Epiphany with the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, thirty odd years after his birth, just as he was about to start his ministry. This story is shared in Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11 and Luke 3:21-22, with Christ revealing himself to the world as God's son. Some Christian denominations also celebrate Epiphany as the commemoration of Jesus' first miracle of turning water into wine at the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11), an event thought to show the divinity of Christ and his divine power.

To put it simply - today, Epiphany, is a day laden with significance.

Epiphany was introduced into Western Christianity in the 4th century and these days many churches also celebrate the festival on the Sunday before January 6th – it’s called ‘Epiphany Sunday’ and soon after there is ‘Plough Monday’ but that’s perhaps a story for another time.

There are many traditions which have developed down the centuries associated with Epiphany. Today is the day when it’s thought we should take down our Christmas tree and decorations.

So that’s one of my jobs for today then!

Epiphany (holiday) - Wikipedia


Every Step Will Show

When I was a child and into my teens I had an autograph book. 

It was the thing to do and it wasn't particularly about getting the signatures of famous people - this was a LONG time before our celebrity culture kicked in! It was more about gathering the names and thoughts of our friends and relatives. So whenever I had the opportunity I whipped out my little autograph book and asked people to sign. 

I was at boarding school when I first started gathering names and so my friends signed, as well as family members, and visitors to our home. Some just signed their names. Others wrote a little joke, some gave me their favourite Bible verse. And others left little sayings which they hoped would help me.

One of those went something like this ...

The future lies before you, like a field of driven snow
Be careful how you tread it, for every step will show

I've discovered over the years that's it's quite a well known adage written by 'Anonymous' or 'Unknown'. There are sometimes slight changes to the wording. Some versions have 'paths of white snow' and 'a field of fallen snow' in that first line but the sentiment is the same.

It's a thought that's travelled with me since I first read that entry in my little autograph book when I was a pre-teen.

Every time I experience snow, even very occasionally in my back garden in Jersey, the strength of the proverb impresses again. Snow jersey garden - cropped

So as we enter 2021 with all it's 'unwritten pages' and every day being a new one, I am once again reminded that whatever I do and however I behave, it has an impact on the world around me. My actions affect others. My behaviours can be selfish, or selfless. I can be a good in the world, or a 'less than good'.

It's up to me to decide what mark my steps leave.

 

Image by Cathy Le Feuvre