Archive for October, 2012

At which Christian event would you see a Pentecostal pastor sitting with a Catholic priest, a young trendy man in a skinny tie chatting to a gentleman in a bow-tie, and a lady in an evening dress conversing with a Bishop from the Coptic Orthodox Church?  Yes, it’s the Christian New Media Awards ceremony!

This year on World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about the importance of us embracing the world of new media as Christians rather than getting left behind:

“Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives.”

Back in 2007 I stumbled across an underground world.  It was the year when Twitter was pretty much unknown in the UK and Facebook was in it’s infancy, predominantly being used by University students.  I had started writing a blog which mainly consisted of simple daily reflections from a faith perspective composed during the morning commute.  Writing the posts was not particularly life transforming but the people I met through it were.  My eyes were opened to a movement of Christians around the world who were encouraging, supporting and even counselling one another through the medium of the internet.  After several months I came to realise that there were a few Churches and Christian organisations who had a dominating presence online through use of blogs and websites – they knew the importance of using new media to reach young people and even unbelievers with the Gospel message.  However there were many who were stuck back in the 90’s with primative websites (if they had a site at all) and I was determined to do my bit to change that!

The original concept was to hold a ceremony at which those who were doing a great job in the digital world in the UK could be both encouraged and commended, mainly because no one was giving them any recognition.  The dream was that anyone who was lagging behind in the area would then be inspired to take advantage of the opportunity presented by new media, having seen the way that others were modelling it as a tool for witness or discipleship.  After a few months of working out the logistics the ‘Christian Blog and Web Awards’ were birthed (now the Christian New Media Awards).  The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, attended the first gathering along with around 100 other people for a three course meal complete with live music and an awards ceremony.  During his address the Bishop nicknamed the event ‘The Bloggies’, something which has stuck to this day!

Next Friday, 19th October 2012 marks the 6th awards ceremony at Skinner’s Hall in London where the entrance gate reads ‘To God only be all glory’!  I have seen the embargoed list of winners and runners up which I think contains a few surprises.  The judges have made their decisions but whether we agree with the outcome or not, hopefully greater unity between believers will occur as well as greater emphasis upon new media as a method of spreading the Gospel.

Only the finalists make it to the black tie event but a new addition in the last two years has been the Christian New Media Conference which takes place the day after the awards night, and anyone can attend that!  It’s an inspiring gathering for digitally minded believers who come together to share ideas, theology and more.  (You can book on here: www.christiannewmedia.com)

New media is a gift if used wisely.  We have the ability to influence thousands of people through a tweet or a video but may our aim be to point people to God and glorify Him rather than glorifying ourselves. “To God only be all glory!”

©Maria Rodrigues-Toth

p.s. Video from the awards and podcasts from the conference will be available online afterwards. Watch this space!

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“When are you two going to get married?” can fast turn into “so when are you starting a family?”, but for many people their dream of becoming a parent never becomes a reality. Although technically you won’t be tested for infertility until after a whole year of trying for a child, questions can arise even after 6 months.

Mags* is in her late twenties.  She got married young.  Her and her husband decided to wait a few years before starting a family, but they were met with a brick wall when the time came.  A number of years has now elapsed.  She is confused but clinging to God.  On the one hand she blames herself for waiting and not being open from the start, on the other hand she can’t close the chapter marked ‘baby’ because she doesn’t know whether one might unexpectedly come along down the line.  She is walking into a future marked ‘unknown’, secretly hopeful but not wanting to get her hopes up too much so as not to put her life on hold whilst waiting.  She admits that sometimes she cries herself to sleep over the situation.

It is not just married couples who go through the challenge of wondering if they will ever become parents, single men and women are faced with the same query.  Katie* always dreamed of being a mother, but she has now gone past the age of 40 with no sign of Mr Right on the horizon.  She is bubbly, dynamic, faith-filled and beautiful, yet she has come to accept that if she ever has children it will have to be through adoption.  Katie says there is nothing wrong with adopting but that she has had to go through a painful grieving process in order to reach a place where she accepts that her bloodline will probably stop with her.

Young girls grow up often assuming that it is their right to be able to have children if they want to, so chatter takes place about the number of boys and girls they would like to have.  Some women pick out potential names for their desired dream team only to discover that Prince Charming hasn’t come along in time or that the life she hoped to have with him isn’t unfolding like the fairytale she imagined.  There are people who tell me that their first child came along ‘too quickly’ or their baby was ‘unplanned’.  When I hear these claims I am reminded of those at the opposite end of the spectrum who are hitting disappointment month after month when signs of the woman’s monthly period arrives in place of a positive pregnancy test.

Increasingly couples labelled as infertile (unless a miracle occurs) are coming into my path.  What many of them have in common is a sense of guilt for being upset about it.  We know that God can come through with a miracle even after a long wait – Abraham and Sarah are classic examples of that with her becoming pregnant when she describes her womb as being ‘good as dead’ – but when the life you thought you were going to have doesn’t come to fruition it can be challenging.  Perhaps we need to create a culture within our Churches where we tell people that it is ok to grieve, whether that be for the loss of a loved one or the loss of fertility, rather than thinking that because we are believers we need to have it together all the time.

Everyone goes through struggles during the course of their life, many of which are unknown to the people around them, but the question we can put to ourselves during those dark moments is whether we will allow the tough experiences to crush us or make us.  Will we let God use the hard stuff to mould us into someone more compassionate with an increased capacity to receive His love or not?

A thought:  If we have God then we have everything we need.

A prayer: Lord, we ask you to be the strength we need in our times of weakness. Be with all those who are hurting or suffering in secret this day. Give us your heart of compassion and use us as a channel of your healing love. Amen

Resources:

1. HTB Church (sorry if you are not in London) run a course called ‘Waiting for Children’. The course title is one of hope and expectancy rather than closing a door because of a label you have been given. If you or anyone you know is in that place of waiting or struggling with fertility issues perhaps take a look:

http://www.htb.org.uk/whats-on/courses/waiting-children

2. There is also a book written by two Christian women who had different outcomes to their fertility journey. It is called ‘Just the two of us?’ by Eleanor Margesson and Sue McGowan:

                                                          Just the two of us?

Also a book by Rosemary Morgan called ‘Living With Infertility – a Christian Perspective’:

rosemary

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

*Real names have not been used

Are you happy?   If you had to fill out a form right now and tick the box that best reflects your state of mind what would you choose:

1. Yes, I am content 

2. I am partially content

3.  No, I am not content

Recently I came across a survey which stated that 99% of people in a particular life situation claimed to be happy – a shockingly high figure!*  So who are this group of seriously happy people?  At first I wondered if stay at home mums were the happy bunch, enjoying the satisfaction of rearing their children themselves rather than leaving them in daycare.  Then I remembered that those who have family around often score more highly in polls for contentment levels, but it turns out that neither of my considerations were the category of people whom this questionnaire had been targeted at.  The group under scrutiny had been adults with Down Syndrome, and nearly all of them had said that they were content with their life.

José Omar is in his twenties and hails from Venezuela.  Although he was born with Down Syndrome he has forged a career as a musical conductor, reaching the point where he is taken seriously enough in the profession to be allowed to conduct the Children’s Symphony Orchestra for his country.  That is more than some musically talented young men without DS achieve!  He is happy with his life.

Until last week I knew very little about the capability levels of those who are born with this condition, but as October is Down Syndrome awareness month I thought I would try to understand it a bit more.  I was humbled and surprised to discover that many adults with DS live on their own, hold down jobs, graduate with academic qualifications, do all their own housework and even get married.

A campaign was launched in America called ‘WE’RE MORE ALIKE THAN DIFFERENT’, highlighting that those with Down Syndrome have dreams and aspirations just like anyone else.  [The video at the end provides a brief but moving compilation of stories.]  It is not all about career success though.  Many adults and children with Down Syndrome have a unique ability to bring joy to an entire room full of people in a way that those of us without DS would struggle to do.  One lady who is involved in raising awareness said,

I wish that parents would stop giving up on the kids and assuming that because they have a disability that they can’t do things”.

Powerful words.

On average around 75% of women who discover that their child could be born with Down Syndrome terminate the pregnancy**.  I wonder if raising awareness of how happy many of those with DS are will see a shift in society’s attitude towards them, giving them the opportunity not only to live but to show the world just how capable they are.

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

* I acknowledge that no survey is fully accurate but they can very often give us an indicator or guide of a trend.

** Of 9 hospital-based studies conducted in 6 American states between 1995-2011, selective terminations for Down syndrome ranged between 60-90%, with the average at 85%, so figures vary dependant upon state and country.