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What would you say to your 13 year old self? (Artificial Intelligence, Fear and Compassion).

I was listening to a favourite song of mine by an artist called Pink! the other day called ‘Conversation with my 13 Year Old Self’'s a tough song about speaking courage, empathy and kindness to a young person that you can see that is going through the same kind of pain you knew at that age.

13 is a difficult age for anyone but when life is tough and you don't know love, or you are being abused, or you are in poverty or you fear rejection it can be a time of hell.

I was thinking what would I want to say to my 13 year old self? What words of insight and encouragement would I give myself at that age, at that time, in those circumstances?

What would you want to say to your 13 year old self?

When I worked as a therapist much of the conversation in the session was about time travel…..fear of the past…..what happened, how it made them feel….or it was about fear of the future and all that was to come…perhaps because of the experience of the past. Staying in the present, free from fear, is a very hard thing to achieve.

What would you say to our 13 year old self if you could go back?

There has been much discussion in the past few months about the arrival of Artificial Intelligence, what it can do, what it will do and what this might mean for our society and indeed for the survival of our species. I’m both excited and worried by all that is happening and all that may become possible.

Which brings me to a Radio 4 programme called Crowd Science that looked at what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is doing already and what it might do in the future.

In this programme we heard from a scientist and artist called Michelle Huang who recently embarked on a therapy project to try and connect with her own ‘inner child’. She took a decade’s worth of her diaries from her childhood and fed them into an AI ‘Chatbot’ to try and stimulate a conversation between herself now and her younger self then.

In general terms the experiment was a success - the conversation felt real and meaningful and she gained healing and closure from the encounter. As a child, Michelle was a driven and ambitious people-pleaser, and in one exchange with the chatbot, present day Michelle shares with Chatbot Michelle that fear of failure left her feeling stuck and struggling for years.

The Chatbot responded to her saying: "I'm honestly proud of you for everything you've accomplished…..It hasn't been easy, and I know you've made a lot of sacrifices to get where you are. I think you're doing an amazing job, and I hope you continue to pursue your dreams and make a difference in the world."

I don't have diaries from my childhood and if I did I don't think I would undertake this experiment….I don’t know…something to ponder more on perhaps. Would you?

What I am clear on is the message I would want to give my 13 year old self which is to not to be afraid.

This message of fear and to not be afraid is at the heart of the gospel text we have today.

Actually, because of the way the Gospel texts get sectioned up for each Sunday we don't get a chance to read and understand Chapter 10 from Matthew's Gospel in its entirety - this great teaching and encouragement on mission - and in so doing miss the key message about fear. So let's take a few minutes to understand the whole chapter - in the same way we looked at Chapter 6 from John's Gospel recently.

All kinds of literary and rhetorical techniques are used in holy scripture to explain, show and reveal the Word of God. Some of these are generally obvious, for example the use of a parable to explain a teaching. Another is where the key message is placed at the centre of the text and this key message then shapes the entire passage and the overall teaching is to be understood in light of this key message.

The ordering around the key message is in matching pairs and this is called a chiastic order:

A - Welcome / acceptance

B - Persecution and family conflict

C - Suffering and loyalty of Christ

D - Have no fear (Verses 26 - 31)

C - Suffering loyalty of Christ

B - Persecution and family conflict

A - Welcome / acceptance

With this understanding we can see the key message in this amazing chapter about mission is to have no fear - we are completely in the hands of the Father and we can trust him.

I think having no fear is much like forgiveness - it sounds great until you really have somebody to forgive - and I would argue - having no fear sounds great until you have something to be afraid of!

Fear is such a powerful emotion and gets in the way of all kinds of things. It did when I was 13 and it does now - you maybe the same?

Let’s try this……Barry I’d like you to leave everything behind - and go to Moulsecoomb, share the Good News, drive out demonic forces and heal and help people as required. Jeanie you are to go to Whitehawk, Shirley you go to West Street and Nigel please go to Portslade. None of you are to take anything with…no money, no food, just simple clothes, if you need somewhere to stay you need to ask some Christians to take you in… might get tough ….you might be rejected terribly …..but that's the ask…..go on - off you go!

Imagine how the Apostle felt when Jesus asked them? How would you feel?

Maybe the Apostles went off with confidence, determination and nerves of steel….. I'm not certain.

We however may feel more like sheep without a shepherd, lacking confidence to talk about our faith even with those sitting next to us at church….. let alone strangers in neighbouring areas.

In our secular and multicultural world it's easy to be hesitant for fear of being too pushy, or offending others or just because we are afraid of making a fool of ourselves if we can't answer questions about our faith.

Fortunately Christians throughout history have read this passage and gone out and shared the good news, just like these first disciples. How did they overcome their fear to do this? Was it the example of the apostles….. yes ….. the strength and guidance of the Holy Spirit…..yes!…..the encouragement of others Christians…yes.

Looking at the text, I wonder if it was also the example of Jesus and his compassion that helps them to overcome their fear? If you remember the passage starts with:

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’.

The movement of the passage seems to reveal that when there is a need, Jesus shows compassion and his compassion causes him to send out others on a mission to serve others in need, and this compassionate ministry is free for all the lost sheep.

All that Jesus desires is that the Lost are found.

There is such a need in this world isn't there?…. People are lost and in despair, there is suffering, abuse and prejudice of all kinds, there is war and there is violence.

In response Jesus is asking us to go out and respond - to overcome our fears - and be the good news to those people in need.

Jesus is asking us to go out into the world with this same compassion and he is saying, it is simply not enough to see human need and not so something about it.

As followers in Christ we are called to not be afraid, that through our faith the gap between the real and the ideal can in fact be bridged and crossed…. God is with us and for us…..and that Jesus believes in us to get the job done, even if it will not be easy.


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