I had a job interview this year with an individual who I would have liked to work for, who is very much in the public eye, and I was asked if I was prepared to be living and working in the public eye. Especially on my personal social media, this would have been always reflecting on this public figure. The employer found someone else they wanted to employ more, and I am now working in a very different capacity which I enjoy and is a niche I am creating for myself.
The private and the public is a topic I think about often. The paradox of the private and the public is that what I do in private, when nobody else can see, proves my character, and overflows into what I do in public. My faithfulness, or my diligence in areas people can’t see, will always shine through without me speaking about it. Conversely, my private failings, will always eventually find me out.
Jesus spoke about this principle – don’t let everyone know you are fasting, fast to God alone and for God’s glory, not my own glory. Jesus also lived this out. He had a public ministry, but he never did anything in public at the expense of his private times with God, and private times of fellowship and teaching of the disciples. I have been reading and studying the gospel of Luke slowly with a close friend and we are reminded almost every week that Jesus guarded private times with God.
Daniel the prophet and visionary faithfully prayed at least three times a day to God in secret, he lived in Ancient Babylon and Ancient Persia at the court of 3 kings when it was illegal to worship anyone other than the king on the throne. His private devotion to Yahweh was noted and reported on by those wise men who were jealous of him and this led to Daniel being thrown to the lions.
Esther lived at a similar time as Daniel, married to the king of Persia. She had a secret identity and a public identity. She had the ‘right’, if you will, to keep her identity a secret. As an individual, any of us can behave in any way we choose. But if we honour God first, we relinquish our hold on the ‘rights’ we feel entitled to by the world, and live to please God first. This often leads to more community minded thinking, like Esther standing up for her community. She had to reveal her private secret in order to fulfil her public ministry. When I work to benefit and give justice to the most vulnerable people in my community, I am most myself.
Living even earlier, I love noting how God’s special shepherd king David dealt with the private and the public. We have a direct window into his private life through the Psalms – many of which were written by David, and started as private songs of worship, prayers and laments David sang to God in private which he later chose to record and lead people in public worship.
I suppose what I am saying, what I glean from the lives of these examples is the message that there is no such thing as a public life and a private life. I live one life, before God, the witness of all my thoughts and deeds. If I get into the habit of thinking about a private life and a public life, I am on dangerous territory. When my time is over, I want to be greeted with “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master!” That greeting will only be mine if I faithfully attend to my devotion to God in private, at the times nobody else is keeping me accountable. I was made to do this, and I access joy by faithfully doing it throughout my life.
I have been writing this story since I could first hold a pen. I know you do it too. I tell myself stories all the time, my running commentary on the events happening around me.
It’s 4am. I am dogsitting, housesitting, not in my usual surroundings, without my usual people. Just me and two upset dogs, one of whom has diarrhoea. Yep. It’s poo time, it’s everywhere, the mess is all over the floor and I just can’t. All I want is to crawl into bed, and be done with everything, to hand these doggies back to their owner. But I don’t crawl back into bed, because I made a commitment to take care of the dogs so my sweet friends can go to meet family and get married. The thing is, I am able to tell my story to myself, to remind myself of the higher purpose beyond the poo, of the reason I agreed to be here, despite the potential for disaster and reality of mess. The poo is everywhere, my precious sleep is interrupted, not once but many times through this night and the following night. But I get up, I comfort the doggies, especially since she has made a mess right by the front door, as if she was trying to go outside to not leave me mess indoors. Please be reminded that even in your mess, Father God loves you.
I think you have had a 4am like this at some point. Maybe it’s because you’re a new parent, or you have new money worries that keep spiralling. Maybe it’s an old wound, that doesn’t seem to go away.
Please be assured that 4ams come, and 4ams go. God chose this 4am to remind me of his supernatural peace, which has nothing to do with getting a good night’s sleep. “You keep her in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on you, because she trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)
Go on. Put your name in there. My Father God, you promise to keep Beth in perfect peace, because Beth chooses to stay my mind on you. That ‘stay’ is a bit clunky in English, it is a translation of the Hebrew word samak, which Strong’s dictionary translates in the following ways: to “lay, uphold, put, lean, stay, sustain, hold up, bear up, stand fast, lie hard, rest, set”. Now, all those words add nuance and are interesting. What is your favourite? When I read the words “stand fast” and “lie hard”, I started to get excited. Please God, help me learn what it means to “stand fast” and “lie hard” my mind, on You.
Let me leave you with what I know to be the first step in helping my mind stand fast and lie hard on My Father God. It’s realising that I have a choice. The stories I tell myself in my mind, are not involuntary, as I once thought, they are a choice. I get to choose which of my thoughts I allow to stay in my mind, and which I choose to get rid of.
For me, at 4am on the poopy, no sleep morning, I chose to not dwell on the unfairness of being landed with sick doggies, and I chose to praise. I chose in that moment to allow this particular verse from Isaiah to occupy my mind, and in doing so, the Truth soothed my soul.
The story of the universe, which we are all part of, started with God, and ends with God. It started in a garden, and it ends with a King. A King who suffered and died. A King who’s coming back. Next time you catch yourself telling a story that is hopeless, remember you can choose to tell a different story, a bigger story which can make you whole and soothe your soul.
This moment is not about me, but I believe we are all somewhere in between these three words at the moment and I wanted to spend a moment with you where you are. I might write more about these three words in the future. I am struggling with how to respond to the events of the past few weeks, so I am not going to speak for long. Primarily I am going to point you in some of the directions that have really helped me to put words to some of the anguish I have been feeling. I sense that all of us will be in a similar place at the moment, trying to process and work through how to respond as a church to issues of racial injustice in our communities and further afield. Lots of you will have received list of resources for different reasons, petitions to sign and other things which is so needed, but I am sending you a short list of places I am filling my heart with truth, a list which is provoking questions in me, because I am feeling so overwhelmed by the choice of other places I might turn and activism I might embark on.
Some thoughts as I begin writing my dissertation (a case study on Scotland, asking who is identified as a victim of modern slavery?)
Market capitalism keeps many of the world’s poorest people in exploitative circumstances. I have never had to make a choice that impacted my survival. Capitalism means that so many of us are born propertyless – and so have to make real choices between an exploitative labour situation, perhaps a form of debt bondage, or starvation. Nobody will say no to a job, even if it’s a job that the ILO or the UNODC would class as a form of modern slavery. Sometimes, people have to choose to be exploited.
I don’t have an alternative economic model for the world to be built on, although I try and understand the state of the global economy, lots of what I read goes over my head. However, I do wholeheartedly believe that there is a better way to live than continually exploiting the poorest people. In the beginning, the people of God were called to be a people of justice. When growing food in the kingdom of Israel, the people were told by God not to harvest all the way to the corners of the fields or pick up anything the harvesters had dropped, so anyone who did not own property could use that food (Leviticus 9:22). Once every seven years, for a whole year, the land was left fallow, not planted and harvested as usual, but left uncultivated primarily for the socially outcast and the poorest people to use whatever grew on it that year (Exodus 23:11). Lots of us are having years in which our livelihoods feel ‘fallow’ at the moment, and we are not cultivating the things we usually cultivate. I ask you to rest in this. I trust that you see this as an opportunity, that the Lord really can use this time for the long term good of the poorest people in our society. I don’t necessarily know all that might mean in the future, but I know that God can cultivate a global economic situation that does not hinge on an underworld of marginalised poor people. I do genuinely think that this moment of economic crisis presents an opportunity to begin thinking about ways of creating wealth in order to share it.
What could it mean, if I not just grow potatoes for my house, but I let anyone in my street share my produce too?
What does it look like, if when I realise I am running low on leggings and sports tops, I go first to a slave-free retailer?
What does it mean if my government decide to turn away from exploitation, towards a fairer way of being?
What are you doing to stay sane during lockdown? My family and I are growing vegetables. A friend reminded me that it is a luxury to have the space to do this. I am thankful for my family who love me and don’t want to harm me. I have begun growing for multiple reasons, one is that I love being outside in the sunshine and we want to make the most of the sun while it is here in Scotland! Another is that I firmly believe in growing where I am planted. If we have to stay in our homes for some time, I will grow in my home, both in my heart and my faith and in the veg patch behind the house. This is a time that requires each day to have an achieveable goal. While I am carrying on with university work and my goal is to write 500 words a day to do well in my tasks, I also am setting one other goal a day for myself like
1) write letters to loving friends
2) FaceTime someone I haven’t spoken to in a while
3) Write about being
Some women and girls who are inside with family members for longer periods of time in lockdown will be experiencing higher levels of violence than usual. This is true for my girls in Uganda, and is true in developed countries. Just one aspect of lockdown you might not yet have considered and could pray into.
I don’t offer platitudes to you, or a comfort without any weight. There may well be weight to the pain you are experiencing today. But I do offer faith, with weight. I mentioned the women and girls above, who are experencing more violence now because I care about them and I have glimpsed in my life the way that the Lord cares about these girls, all of whom I don’t know personally. Over the coming days I will be writng a series called Lockdown with Purpose: locked in narratives in the Bible, because although this is unprecedented in the democratic twenty first century, it is not the first time anyone has ever had their liberties restricted. The Lord is calling us to stay close to him and to use this time intentionally. Here I will end, and leave you with my veg plot. I hope it makes you smile! Go well, and grow friend.
I know who holds the future, And I know he holds my hand; With God things don’t just happen everything by Him is planned. So as I face tomorrow with its problems large and small, I’ll trust the God of miracles, Give to Him my all!
Hamilton, #SlaveFreeLent and the University of Glasgow
I started this weekend by listening to Hamilton. This was different than the other times I have listened to Hamilton, because I have spent a lot of my thought life and planning time this week preparing for #SlaveFreeLent and my part in University of Glasgow’s Stand for Freedom, 5-6 March. Hamilton is about freedom and independence, and abolition and freedom from slavery are a key theme in the show. I let that really wash over me and sink into my heart as I listened to John Laurens rapping about freedom from slavery in ‘My Shot’, and the implications of the fact that Hamilton was the son of a Scottish man. Scotland’s historical links to transatlantic slavery matter. As a new abolitionist who longs to see an end of modern slavery, I speak over where we now stand fighting modern slavery; “this is not a moment, it’s a movement” (Lin Manuel Miranda, ‘My Shot’, Hamilton). We are here for the long haul, we are here to move forward together, actioning this one step at a time.
This leads me to speak about #SlaveFreeLent (www.ijmuk.org/slavefree). For anyone who is not part of this campaign yet, it isn’t too late! It constitutes messages on WhatsApp each day of Lent about an aspect of modern slavery, facts in small digestible doses and crucially, a suggested action. This week as a movement, the 1900 people in the UK currently signed up to take part in #SlaveFreeLent have given up chocolate in honour of the children who are exploited on cocoa farms. “Two thirds of the world’s cocoa supply comes from West Africa, where more than 2 million children are thought to be exploited in the cocoa industry…The practice isn’t new, or even unknown to chocolate brands. In fact, two decades ago chocolate brands pledged to eradicate child labor. But deadlines continue to be missed.” (IJM UK, #SlaveFreeLent). Please take a moment to pause here. You might well be someone who has already pledged to give up chocolate for Lent, for your own reasons, and I honour that. But have you thought yet about the people behind the product? If not, why not? If you have already read this today and your heart hurts, like mine, for the children who are forced to work on cocoa farms, and it’s beginning to stir you, I say there are actions we can take. We can write to brands and use our consumer power. We can write to politicians and use our advocacy power. I will post in the future about my experiences writing and advocating so far. Whatever you do, don’t sit back and say you could not do anything, or pretend you didn’t know.
Finally, I wanted to highlight Stand for Freedom. This week I will be part of the University of Glasgow’s Stand for Freedom, in which members of Just Love are standing outside the library as a for 24 hours to protest the use of modern slavery and forced labour in the making of university branded clothing in the campus shop. If you are a UoG student, alumni or staff, please consider signing this petition here to support our campaign. I have written already about my thoughts linking transatlantic slavery and modern slavery. They are both wrong, and need to be fought. I think at times we all experience feeling powerless to change the systems we are fighting. I want you to know that I do not believe that anymore, I feel convinced that my voice is powerful because I do not stand alone. I am part of a group, a process, with a long term goal to end injustice, fighting on different fronts and in different spaces, one of which is cyberspace. Congratulations friend, because by reading this article, you are part of the fight.
I am a waitress. I like my job, because I am proud to serve people locally sourced food, and I love talking with guests from all walks of life. Last weekend, I was working at a wedding, and I had a significant conversation with the bride. I have spent a whole week thinking about that conversation, and I wanted to share some of those thoughts with you. Firstly, I was taken aback that on her special day, when everyone wanted to talk to her, dance with her and take photos with her in her beautiful dress; I was astonished when the bride stopped for a few minutes to talk to me. I was serving behind the bar at the time, in uniform and getting a bit hot and tired, and she looked at me with interest and a warm smile and asked me to tell her more about myself and what I want to do with my life. Never being one to miss an opportunity to share about God’s justice, I said “I want to advocate for people who are victims of modern slavery and human trafficking.” She looked surprised!
“Wow that is really selfless!” The bride responded, looking intrigued. I asked her what she is doing at the moment, and whether she enjoys it. The bride said “Oh I’m an estate agent, I’m the devil compared to you”. After saying this she picked up her drink, and left me stunned and totally at a loss about what I might have said to turn the conversation around to something more positive. I have been thinking all week about how I wish I had an opportunity to say something that would bless her and be life giving.
Firstly, I want to speak to the lie that says because you have a career or a bill paying job, like an estate agent, your job is less important than your calling and must be separate from your calling. Nowhere in the Bible does it say “Thou shalt be be a full time salaried worship leader” or “Thou must be paid to be a pastor”. No! Paul kept his job making tents so he would not burden the church while he preached and travelled. Joseph served God by serving people in Egypt in a house, in prison and as Pharaoh’s number 2, but his job was not the whole of who Joseph was! He was also a father to two boys, a husband, a brother who forgave despite great personal reason not to! He was an instrument of grace and forgiveness in every area of his life, from the lowest moments when nobody was watching to the grandest moments when the whole known world was watching. Maya Moore said it like this:
Don’t wish for success too fast, because it could crush you. In the journey that I’ve been involved in happened quiter than people realise; and when I get there they’re like, “Wow where did you come from?” And I’m like, “No, I’ve been here”, being built all this time, one layer at a time. Obviously the Lord opened doors, but there was a journey, and every day you gotta go through it and when you get there you’re ready for it. I don’t want people to think that what they see is all there is. People that “get there” are people that love the process. They throw themselves into the process, the stuff that happens off of Instagram, the stuff that happens when literally no one is looking except God, the ones that embrace the process and don’t run away from the hardness of it, those are the ones that you see, and admire.
Maya Moore (2019) ‘Trained in Faith’, The Grove Podcast.
Many of us have to stay in jobs that do not align with our calling all of our lives, like my granddad John who worked full time in a factory all of his life. He was still fulfilling his calling! He was having conversations all the time with colleagues that were speaking life and not death to people. He was a godly father at home, and he was leading a church and participating fully in midweek meetings and Sundays. The table at my grandparents house was always full of people who needed a home, and they found it with my family who lived with grace and always cooked enough for extras. This was not always easy, my Nan and Grandad would sometimes have preferred to cook a quiet meal and be alone, but there is an expression of God’s justice and righteousness when we extend hospitality.
There are so many ways to live for justice, no matter your job. This Lent, we have the opportunity to participate in #SlaveFreeLent, which is a way of encountering how I interact with products produced by the 25 million people who are still in forced labour today. #SlaveFreeLent is a social media campaign that sends messages to your phone each day of Lent with information about products we regularly use and possible swaps we could make. Let me know if you join my sister, my friend and I on the journey of #SlaveFreeLent this year. More details are here.
But changing the products I consume in order to care for people who have been forced to make them does not mean much long term if I do not let my heart change. The story of justice designed by a loving God who wrote down his thoughts and plans in the Bible declares that we are all waiting for a wedding. I read the account this morning in Revelation 19, of the joy we will feel at the wedding of the Lamb. One day, the God of justice will right every wrong and make all things new, and the church who is described as the Bride of Christ will be beautiful and completely fulfil her calling and commitment by marrying Jesus. Every wedding I am ever part of in a small or big way is a reflection of Jesus perfect love for the church. But just like Maya said, every day, when nobody is watching, is an opportunity for me to be built, so one day I will be a spotless bride.
Thou dost seek a bride all pure and holy, Those who now belong to Thee alone, Those who give Thee all their hearts' affections, Of Thyself a part, bone of Thy bone.