At “vicar school” I’ve been learning about a really helpful lifelong skill called Theological Reflection. It might sound dull but it’s not! Trust me, I’m an Ordinand. In essence it’s about us thinking about a certain experience in light of our faith. To put it rather simply it’s asking, “where is God in this?” and then… “what do I do now?”
In my first theological reflection class, I realised I already do it all the time, as most of us do. In fact, over the last 30 years versions of it have become popular in all kinds of fields like business, medicine and finance. You may know it as “Reflective Practice”. When we hear a story in the news and think “ah that’s just like the story of the Good Samaritan.” When a situation brings to mind verses from the Bible or we feel our church traditions and beliefs are shaping the way we respond to a situation, it’s all theological reflection.
Knowing how to do it well is so valuable. It’s such a great way to deepen our faith and fulfil our mission as disciples because it’s about working out where and how God is at work in our lives and how we can respond and act in a Christ-like way. Honestly, I love this stuff. I fear I might bore you to tears over the coming months, but I don’t think I can help myself. I’m an evangelist by nature, and this is my new thing to proclaim.
Anyway, I drew you in with a snappy title which promised intrigue and drama and I’ve delivered neither. So here it is: last night, Sunday 8th November, something really awful happened which provided quite the opportunity for some deep theological reflection. At about 7pm as I was relaxing after an exhausting but wonderful Remembrance Sunday, my phone started buzzing. About 4 or 5 messages all at once from friends asking if I was OK or needed help. I saw some missed calls. I got an email. I got 3 Facebook Messenger alerts at once. My phone was blowing up. I got a notification that said the word “hacked” and my heart sank.
Immediately I tried to get into my account and change my password and alert my friends that my account had been hacked and whatever messages they’d received were completely untrue. At this stage I didn’t even know the nature of the messages. I felt sick. I was being contacted by former colleagues, school friends, parishioners, people I’d not spoken to for years. What had they been sent on my behalf!? I raced upstairs on tiptoes (not easy) so as not to wake Elizabeth and turned on my computer to deal with it more quickly at a keyboard.
Dozens and dozens of my contacts had received this from my Facebook Messenger account, “I’ve got some bills due tonight but locked myself out my online banking for 24 hours, if i send you details to my other account can you pay it for me? Its for £280 I promise to pay you back tomorrow morning with an extra £20 xx”
Some people who received it, like my old tutor from 6th form, thought it was too unusual to be true and began asking her own questions, and soon realised it was false. Others know I’m a stickler for an erroneous apostrophe and thought “this just can’t be Rachael”, and one friend didn’t think I’d offer to give her £20 extra! But, sadly for one friend it was too late.
Truly believing I was in need, she gave. She just saw that her friend was in trouble and she willingly parted with nearly £300 as soon as she could because she loves me, because she’s a generous person, and because she tries hard to be Christ-like in her daily life. I was too late in getting warnings out and she’d transferred the full amount to the hacker’s bank. She was angry and mortified and stressed. She spent all night on the phone to her bank’s fraud investigation team, and meanwhile I spent all night contacting as many people as I possibly could to warn them. I felt absolutely terrible. Later that night she sent me a message telling me it’s “time to forget about it now, please, please don’t worry about it- we’re fine, we can take the hit”. Reluctantly I took her advice and turned off my phone and tried to forget about it.
Today I’m relieved that it seems, so far, no-one else has handed over money to the hackers, and my anger has given way to gratitude. As my mind turned to God, initially just to give thanks for my lovely friend, I wondered where God was in this whole picture. Theological reflection begins with understanding what led to the experience (social and cultural factors for example) and I reflected on the greed of some people who would con a stranger out of money to meet their own needs. I thought about how vulnerable even the smartest people can be. I thought of technology and how easy it is to manipulate to pretend to be someone you’re not, to transfer funds in an instant, to investigate the electronic footprints left behind.
And I then asked myself, how does my faith shape this? What does the Bible say? What would Jesus do? Where does God sit in this picture. I could have thought about sin and retribution and of Paul telling his mentee Timothy that “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” But instead I went to the Gospel passage I’d preached on the day before, on Remembrance Sunday. John 15.17 This is my command: Love each other.
My friend did what she did out of compassion, generosity and love. She didn’t hesitate to act. She just gave. She gave a lot, and it has cost her greatly, not just in money (which hopefully she’ll get back) but in emotion and time, and in the bitter taste this whole saga leaves her with. God is the source of all love and generosity and Jesus teaches us to love one another as God loves Him. Like an angel, last night my friend was watching out for me (or whom she believed to be me) and she showed me what love looks like.
And folks, it just wouldn’t be good theological reflection if it didn’t culminate with action. So here’s what I think action looks like for me. I think the most appropriate thing to do to combat the thieves and fraudsters and the manipulative badness of this world is to continue to preach love. To live a life so sure of God’s love for me that it spills out and washes over others. Today I’ll be dedicating myself to thinking about all the love in my life. Love wins. Again.