We become taller when we bow! 

GK Chesterton wrote, ‘We become taller when we bow’. Humbling ourselves is not very fashionable, but it was one of the key ideas Jesus taught and modelled. The following story involving the Amish community explains it in one of the most powerful ways I have ever heard.

In October 2006, a gunman entered a schoolhouse on Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and opened fire on ten little girls aged between 6 and 13, before turning the gun on himself. The girls were part of the Amish community which combines Christian faith with a lifestyle that has changed little since the 16th Century.

Terri Roberts who lived nearby heard the helicopters overhead, but thought no more of it until, her husband Chuck, a retired police officer called her and told her to go immediately to their son Charlie’s house. On arrival, she learnt about the shooting and the devastating news that it was their son Charlie who had committed the crime. Five of the girls died, four recovered and one, Rosanna, was left disabled with serious brain injuries.

Chuck and Terri had to come to terms with how their son, who had enjoyes a happy stable childhood, had somehow become this monster who had turned a gun on innocent children. One of their first visitors was their neighbour Henry Stoltzhoos, who came in his Amish black visiting attire to tell them, ‘Roberts, we love you. This was not your doing. You must not blame yourself.’

This was the first instance of a startling experience of forgiveness by the very people who Chuck and Terri believed had most reason to hate them. The next hurdle was Charlie’s funeral and the police had assured the family that they would provide a cordon of officers around the cemetery. On the funeral day they were faced with aggressive news crews and spectators. At that point a group of 30 or so Amish stepped forward and formed a solid wall of black around the family, shielding them from onlookers. The group included some of the parents of the girls who had died in the attack.

Terri says, ‘This will be forever a picture in my mind. I see those faces – the purity of their love and compassion. There are not words to describe it.’ Surely this is the epitome of GK Chesterton’s words – we become taller when we bow.

One by one the Amish came forward from the black line to express their condolences and to tell Chuck and Terri that they were so sorry for their loss. Forgiveness ultimately is a choice and the Amish community were very bold and brave in the way they chose to make their response.

The journey of healing and forgiveness continued. Chuck and Terri began to visit families in the Amish community and vice versa. Friendships grew, and Terri started to help relieve the family of Rosanna in the round-the-clock care her post shooting condition now required, by looking after her one evening a week. At first, it proved distressing and difficult but in time it became second nature to her. We become taller when we bow.

How is God calling us to bow? I suspect that in the end this is the only way we really make ourselves taller.

Andrew talks about ‘bucking the trend’ on BBC Radio Wiltshire

This morning Andrew had a short interview on BBC Radio Wiltshire. It was about how St Katharine’s is going against the tide as the Church of England announces that national attendance has dropped below 1 million for the first time.

If you would like to have a listen, click on the following link and skip to 1:23:50 (this is the point in the show that you can hear the interview).


Always Winter and Never Christmas – the World of Narnia

Many of us are familiar with the story of Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy, four children evacuated from London in the 2nd World War, who are given lodging in an old house in the country belonging to an eccentric professor. On a rainy day, confined to the house, they set about exploring the corridors and rooms of this country mansion. Finally they stumble into a room that is quite empty except for one big wardrobe. Lucy, on entering the wardrobe, finds herself in a cold and snowy land in which it is “always winter and never Christmas”.

In her encounters with the inhabitants of Narnia, Lucy learns the story of this fascinating land. The true king of Narnia is a great lion named Aslan, who has been absent for many years now, but who is now “on the move again”. Edmund also enters Narnia but he learns a very different story about this land. He hears the story from the White Witch, who presents herself as the true and lawful ruler of the land. Who is to be believed? The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a tale about how these characters are tested just as their stories are also put to the test.

In order to make right judgments, the children need to learn to trust the true over-arching story of Aslan, and in time they need to meet Him and to learn to trust His love and wisdom for their lives. As they do this they find that in this strange world into which they have stumbled, like it or not, they are destined to play a significant role.

Lewis’ imaginary world of Narnia is a world of supposition. In effect, Lewis is asking us to imagine what it would be like if the Son of God were to enter a world like Narnia. As He became a man in our world, He becomes a lion in the world of Narnia; now imagine how the story would unfold… As we read the Chronicles of Narnia, we are called to reflect on how C.S. Lewis’ imaginary world helps us to understand our own.

As the impact of the Church has declined in our country, the over-arching story of the love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ is more in the background than it has been in previous decades. If Aslan is the answer to the problem of it being “always winter and never Christmas”, I wonder whether we might see our world in similar terms? Just as the Beavers of Narnia kept the faith, and kept telling the story of Aslan, so there are churches today that are still confident of Jesus’ ability to bring a thaw in the conditions. As our Church grows, and new people respond to the love of God, we have seen a lot of the snow already melted. Just

as the creatures of Narnia began to understand that Aslan was on the move again, so in our world we sense that Jesus is bringing a fresh move of His Spirit. The Spirit of Jesus is on the move again!

Just as Lucy and Edmund were tested, so this life tests our character, and all of us are found wanting at some time or other. And what of the stories that Lucy and Edmund want to tell about Narnia? Edmund has been bewitched into thinking that Aslan is not the answer to Narnia’s woes, and he has to be won back from the clutches of the White Witch, something that can only be accomplished by Aslan’s death on the stone table.

Edmund has a threshold to pass through, and in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe ‘thresholds that take us into another world’ is a central theme in the book. Pushing through the fur coats to the back of the wardrobe can transport us to Narnia, but Aslan himself becomes another kind of threshold. Nothing but Aslan’s death, it transpires, can take Edmund from legally being bound to the White Witch to being a child of the King of Narnia. Edmund reaches the point when he sees the White Witch’s story as a pack of lies, and he is desperate to change his allegiance over to Aslan, but what it costs Aslan to enable him to cross over, comes as a surprise to him.

I think it comes as a surprise to us too, to find that it takes Jesus’ death for us to cross over into His Kingdom. When we put our faith in Jesus’ death and pledge ourselves to follow Him alone, we find this step of faith truly takes us to another world where we can see much more clearly the Aslan/White Witch divide, and can more keenly sense that Aslan(Jesus) is on the move.

Just as C.S. Lewis’ Narnia has the capacity to re-enchant a dis-enchanted world, entering over the threshold of faith makes each of us a new creation and opens our eyes to the wonderful plans Jesus has for the part we are to play in this world. Would you like to take that step? A prayer that asks forgiveness for the past, pledges your life to follow Jesus and make him your lord, and asks him to come and live in you by His Holy Spirit, is what it takes. Then join a lively church and tell the church leader you’ve just prayed that prayer.

Just as the children in the story find that they have a special role to play in Narnia – once a King or Queen in Narnia, always a King or Queen in Narnia – so Jesus calls us to a significant role in how the story of His world unfolds…

The Chronicles of Narnia are wonderful. They resonate strongly with our basic human intuition – telling us that our own story is part of something grander.