Hateful

Over the last week or so hate has been bothering me. Not, I hasten to add, because I am feeling hated. And not because I hate someone else. I was reading some comments online from someone I don’t know but whom I respect about the level of negative, critical, judgmental, cruel and rude comments they were receiving. It was horrible.

And to make things worse, the comments were from people who said they were Christians!

It led me to post two Tweets:

It breaks my heart when I read judgmental comments online from people who follow Jesus. He was so inclusive of all.

Jesus welcomed and loved everyone (even the self-righteous religious people whom he called ‘hypocrites’).

I am acutely aware that by posting these Tweets I may well be guilty of judging too. But I feel a little bit justified because I am not naming and shaming someone. It’s not trolling. And as a note of self-restraint I recognise that therein lies the beginning of the thought process that can lead someone to feel justified in writing and posting horrible things about someone else with whom they disagree. Can’t we learn to disagree well?

These Tweets got an interesting and encouraging range of responses. I was getting ready for a lively discussion…

Then at 10:33pm on Monday 22nd May hate took on a hideous and heinous new form when a suicide bomber killed 22 and injured hundreds at the end of a concert at the Manchester Arena. The act in itself is barbaric, but to deliberately do it at a time and a place where you know that young people will be present adds an evil twist to an already evil act.

My initial response was stunned silence. I could not find the words to express how I felt. The tears that kept welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat were the most eloquent expression I had.

Hands Holding a Lit CandleLater on I found myself reflecting on the hate that had been expressed. I thought about Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s words:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

These words appeared all over social media. They are deep, profound, defiant words that also express truth.

So I let them lead me into a personal prayer:

You cannot stop hatred with more hatred
You cannot prevent darkness with more darkness
You cannot reduce pain with more pain
You cannot defuse anger with more anger
You cannot defeat injustice with more injustice
You cannot reduce outrage with more outrage
So I resolve afresh to pray for love, light, healing, peace, justice and grace in myself that I might share it with others

You see the first response that matters in the face of hatred, anger, evil and all else that seeks to destroy and tear down is the one within us. We can add to them, or we can diminish them. We can give them energy or we can starve them of life.

In some ways it’s counter-intuitive, it goes against the self-preservation instinct within us all. It is selfless, it is generous, it is loving. I believe it’s a glimpse of God.

We saw it in action on Monday evening:

The homeless man who ran into the arena foyer against the flow of people seeking to escape the carnage – to see if he could help the injured and comfort the dying.

The taxi drivers who took people home at no charge.

The people who opened their homes to strangers who were bewildered and didn’t know how they would get home that night.

The emergency services who had to deal with the carnage with dignity and professionalism.

The hospital staff who turned up for extra shifts.

The many people who gave blood for the first time.

People who brought lunches and cups of tea for the overburdened hospital staff who had no time to stop.

And so much more.

Hate is an acidic, corrosive, ugly word. It’s an even worse emotion. And as an action it is beyond appalling.

But it does not win when love rises up in our hearts. Love wins. Love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

just to reassure you

Hi, thanks for the many messages I received after my last bloggage, and thank you for your kind and generous thoughts, I really appreciate them. I also feel a bit bad that you wrote them in response to what I wrote because I think the way I wrote it suggested that I am still encountering the pain of the migraine and cluster headaches. I’m not in pain. Sorry if that’s what I communicated. What I was trying to say is that while the migraine and cluster headaches are still firing away inside my head the ONS means that my brain ignores the signals from them and I don’t feel any pain. 🙂

If / when the ONS expires the pain would come back rapidly but please don’t feel sorry for me or unnecessarily impressed at the moment!

I have adjusted the text in the bloggage in a way that I hope avoids that confusion.

Be blessed, be a blessing (and thanks to all who were a blessing to me)

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no pain, just confusion in here!

 

scar

If you are one of the poor souls who reads my bloggages regularly you will know that from time to time I mention that I suffer from Chronic Migraine and Cluster Headaches. From about 2002 onwards there has been a constant Migraine headache going on inside my skull. The only variation was in intensity of the pain levels. To go with this is a regular routine of Cluster Headaches. The CH attacks make the migraine feel pleasant by comparison and are debilitating beyond belief.

Before you start getting the handkerchiefs out for a sob story let me say that since I had an operation to install an Occipital Nerve Stimulator I have been more or less Migraine and Cluster Headache free while it has been working, which is life-transforming. The headaches are still there. They are still firing away, which I discovered to my painful cost when the battery in my first ONS expired and the headache pain resurfaced almost instantaneously. But the ONS means that my brain no longer pays attention to the pain signals.

(If you don’t like the idea of surgical implantation you might like to skip the next paragraph and pick up the bloggage below the picture).

I am SO grateful to have this gadget implanted within me and to feel the reassurring ‘fizz’ in the back of my head where the wires are implanted. Each week I sit for a while and re-charge the battery that is inserted just under the skin at the top of my chest (no, I don’t plug in, it’s an induction charging process).

charge
recharging

 

 

(If you skipped the last paragraph, welcome back). The great news for me is that because of this implant I am pain free on the whole. The headaches are there still, but I can’t feel them because my brain has been tricked into ignoring the pain signals.

However, occasionally I get a bit self-conscious about the bits and pieces inside me. Last weekend I attended the Baptist Assembly and as we were sitting in a row in the auditorium one of my self-conscious moments came over me as I realised that all of the people behind me were able to see the scar in the back of my head (oops, sorry, another potential squeam moment). I started to wonder what they were thinking about it, and if they were put off by it. I started to feel uncomfortable about it and wanted to put a hat on to hide it.

And then I realised that most people weren’t likely to be feeling as awkward about it as I was. I realised that if anyone asked me about it I would be able to tell them about the wonderful life-transforming nature of the surgery that led to that scar. And I realised that, once again, I was grateful that I have the scar rather than the headaches. I still wouldn’t mind if my hair regrew in that area and covered it (or indeed the rest of my scalp too) but I became comfortable once again in my own skin, scars and all.

That then got me thinking about how people can be really uncomfortable about how other people perceive them. We all want to be liked and appreciated. We don’t want other people to think badly of us. We try to keep our weaknesses and failures and difficulties hidden from others.

But as a follower of Jesus I want people to know that I have not got myself completely sorted, I still make mistakes, I still let people down, I still get things wrong. I want people to know that I am a work in progress. And while I don’t rejoice or revel in these things they are like the visible scar on the back of my head and I am happy that they are visible because they are testimony to the change that God is bringing about in me. I want people to know that my relationship with God, the example, teaching, forgiveness and fresh start offered by Jesus Christ and the personal experience and presence of the Spirit of God make all the difference in the world to me. Slowly but surely I am being changed to become a better person. The scars and wounds of fragile human nature and fecklessness are still present, but they now point to the fact that my identity in God has been changed to ‘forgiven’.

Just as my ONS means that my headaches no longer have the debilitating effect on me they once had, and it gives me the opportunity to live life with a broader smile on my face, so my relationship with God described above makes all the difference. It’s not that I am perfect and that bad stuff will no longer affect me – far from it. The bad stuff still happens but it happens in the wider context of God’s forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, his gentle presence, a certainty, a hope and a meaning for life within me that are life-transforming for me.

And my story includes an experience that without that forgiving, all-embracing gracious love, presence, certainty, hope and meaning for life within me during the darkest days of the rampant Migraines and Cluster Headaches I would not have been able to live in even the semblance of coping that I had. God’s grace was enough when there was nothing else but pain. The pain didn’t go away, but the all-consuming meaninglessness of it was given a different context of life, hope, love and strength that came from God, not from within.

I hope and pray that you might experience that for yourself too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the best laid plans

Today I am having a day off, and it is proving to be quite a mixed event. In anticipating the day ahead of me I had some plans in mind of what I was going to do to relax. And since I woke up other things have started to invade the space I have today and are taking control. I had planned to go out, but as Robbie Burns wrote: “The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gan aglay.”

For example, it’s a nice sunny day today. So we could do with me doing a couple of loads of washing. But that means me being around to load and unload the washing machine and then to hang out the wet clothes. This is best done in the morning so there is a good opportunity for the clothes to dry. So I need to stay home this morning.

And then I had some messages that several different items that have been ordered online are going to be delivered today. One is a pair of concert tickets I ordered months ago, the other are a couple of items I only ordered yesterday and which were despatched in record time. It is good to receive notifications that these items will be delivered today, but I don’t know when so I have to wait in for both of those to be delivered. And one of them contains a light that will need fixing up outside the house, so that’s another job for the day. If you have read any of my bloggages about deliveries then you will know I have low-level paranoia about this so I have already checked that the doorbell works and that the sign showing where it is is still visible.

And then there’s the reason for this photo. No, I am not intentionally pointing to the frown lines on my head, I am trying to show the mark on my head that was caused by me getting dressed this morning. I bent down to open a drawer in order to get some clothes out and made several misjudgements: (a) how far away I was from the chest of drawers (b) how long my arms were to reach down into the bottom drawer (c) that my head was connected to my torso and when I bent forwards my head would move towards the top of the chest of drawers (d) how dopey I am.

I leant forward and down into the bottom drawer but before my hands could reach the clothes I was trying to get my head reached the top of the chest of drawers. It wasn’t a major impact. I am not concussed or in need of a visit to hospital. It was more of a surprise. But for a while there was a noticeable red mark and it may be that a bruise emerges (hypochondriac? me?). The initial red mark was much more noticeable than this photograph shows and it made me wonder about going out today as people might stare at me.

The combination of all of these things (coupled with me taking the time to write this bloggage) means that I may well not go out today because of a number of circumstances beyond my control.

How often do we have to adjust our plans and ideas because of circumstances beyond our control? Unless you have decided to become a hermit and live a self-sufficient lifestyle in a remote cave somewhere (in which case how have you got internet access to read this?) you will be living in the reality that other people will make an impact on your life. Sometimes that may be negative, other times it may be positive. But we have to respond and react to all of these other people as well as to many other unforeseen events.

It has been said that if you want to make God laugh tell him your plans. I think that’s rather a sad parody of how things are. I think God really does want us to share our thoughts, ambitions, plans and hopes with him. But not so he can mock us and hit the ‘smite’ key on is computer. Rather it is with the attitude that as he is God it would be a rather wise thing to consult and involve him in our life. The pattern for prayer that Jesus taught encourages people to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I believe that if we pray and share our plans with God in that attitude it makes him smile rather than laugh – smile because he delights to work with us to help shape our lives, to walk with us in the tough times and dance with us in the joyful ones.

Although there may have been a divine snigger when I banged my head this morning!

Be blessed, be a blessing

recycled blessings

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In order to try to save trees and do a little bit towards helping the environment I try to do a couple of things: I try to print double-sided (saving paper) and I try to re-use bits of paper on which I have only printed on one side – using them as scrap paper. I started the double-sided printing a while ago, but I had started the reusing single side-printed paper as scrap a while before I found out how to make my printer print on both sides, which meant that I have had a modest stock of single-sided paper to use as scrap.

However over the weekend I reached for a piece of scrap paper and found that I had more-or-less exhausted my stock of scrap paper. It wasn’t so much that I had used it more frequently as that my double-sided printing had reduced the amount of paper available for scrap. I hadn’t expected that side-effect. In the end I had to use a pristine piece of paper to write on. It felt wrong (recycling-wise), and at the same time there was something lovely about writing on a clean piece of paper with a nice fountain pen. (Yes I am that sad).

So often there are unexpected consequences to our well-intended actions. You stop your car to let someone pull out in front of you and someone behind you gets angry that their journey is delayed. You make a phone call on your mobile while on the train to let someone know you are thinking of them in a time of difficulty and someone else on the train is upset that they have to listen to one side of your conversation. You walk to the shops rather than driving in order to keep fit and reduce pollution but the journey takes longer than anticipated and you miss an important phone call at home. You perform a magic trick on stage to entertain an audience and make a 4 year-old girl cry because her granny was the one sprayed with silly string at the end*. You get the idea.

The unintended and unexpected consequences do not make our original actions wrong. They do not mean that we should not have done those things (except perhaps not spraying granny with silly string). But we need to remember that we do not exist inside a bubble, we live in a society with lots of other people. Perhaps we should think more widely about our impact on other people: who else is impacted by our actions?

And while we are contemplating that are there ways in which we can expand the positive scope of our actions? That’s one of the questions that led to the establishing of the Fairtrade Foundation to enable people to buy goods that will more directly benefit the producers as well as the vendor and purchaser. Another way, I think, is by seeking to reciprocate and pass on the positive impact when we are the beneficiary. It blesses me no end if, after I have let a car pull out in front of me in a queue of traffic, the person I let pull out does the same for someone else further along the road.

Can you imagine the impact on our society if we all acted in that way, rather than in self-centred and selfish ways? Not just letting people pull out in front of us, but everyone seeking to bless others. In the Bible there are lots of ways in which we can do that for one another. These are some I have identified

one another image

I wonder whether this is part of what the writer intended in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10 (my emphasis):

23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Is this also part of what Jesus meant by us being salt and light in our communities – adding savour and enhancing the brightness so that people “may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”? (Matthew 5:16)

I’m not sure how all of this will help my scrap paper problem (except to say that I don’t need donations!) but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think that is as important.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes, to my shame, I really did that!

piles, files and dustbins

In my former incarnation as a lawyer the partner who oversaw my work had piles. No, not like that, he had piles of files. He had one pile of files on the left hand side of his desk that he had to deal with and a pile on the right hand side of the desk of files he had dealt with. In his mind it was a clear and simple system. But to anyone coming into the office it looked chaotic because even though files moved (via the space in front of him) from one pile to the other to the untrained eye it looked as if the piles never moved. And there were many occasions when his long-suffering secretary would have to rummage through the piles when the need of a file became more urgent.

paperworkI developed my own system based on that approach, but I resolved to keep the piles small and deal with them as soon as possible. I think that approach has stayed with me. Today I try to have regular ‘dustbin days’.

The idea of a dustbin day was that were would be scheduled days when I cleared out my inbox; desktop and rubbish bin. And in those days these things were real, tangible things not virtual places on a computer! The purpose of having these regularly is to make sure that you don’t overlook things that find themselves at the bottom of a pile, to make sure you don’t keep putting off that awkward visit or phone call, and to make sure that you keep yourself (relatively) organised. It also enables you to get rid of the clutter and unnecessary things that take up space in your office and in your mind: there is something cathartic about throwing away something you no longer need.

I still try to have dustbin days. I like the opportunity to go through things that have been gathering literal or metaphorical dust and dealing with them. I like the feeling of having a single figure number of emails inbox (and even, occasionally, having an empty inbox!). I like being able to see the top of my desk. I like having a tidy space to work in. And I like the corresponding tidying that takes place in my mind as I deal with things.

And I need to have even more regular spiritual dustbin days. On the advice of my Spiritual Director (he’s perhaps a bit like Yoda in his wisdom and perception but not as small or green; he speaks conventionally and is not so good with a light-sabre) I have been trying to finish each day with a spiritual exercise. It goes something like this:

I ask myself two questions.

How have people and experiences today have energised, blessed and encouraged me and where have I sensed God at work in them?

How have I been drained and diminished by people and experiences today and where do I need God to see God at work at work in them?

I then pause and pray for God’s Spirit to give me the grace and wisdom to respond appropriately to both answers, and I then leave those things with God.

It has been helpful to me in reflecting on my day. It has been helpful as a sort of spiritual dustbin day to deal with emotions and thoughts that are hanging around from the day. And it is helpful to leave them with God so I don’t have to have my mind trying to think about them and process them when I want it to let me go to sleep.

If good administration is important, how much more important is good soul-administration?

Be blessed, be a blessing.