who said that?

I was meeting with some church leaders recently and I said, “The past helps to shape our present but it need not define our future.”

One of the people there asked, “Who said that?”

My answer was not intended to be flippant: “Me.”

They wanted to know who I was quoting, but it was one of the rare occasions when something possibly profound came out of my mouth and I was not aware that I was quoting anyone else. I have since done an internet search for that sentence and while there are others who have written similar sentences and thoughts I am not aware of anyone who has said it in exactly the same way. (If I did inadvertently quote someone else please let me know and I will gladly attribute it to them.)

I have pondered this sentence since: partly because I could not believe I had said something that made sense and sounded like I was quoting from someone intelligent; and partly because I have reflected further on whether it is true. I still think it is. And it can be liberating.

A past success may have enabled us to be in a particular role or enjoy a measure of wealth or fame. But those things can fade if all we do is live on those past glories. I am a long-suffering supporter of a football team that has won domestic and European trophies at the highest level. But the last major trophy was well over 30 years ago and while we still rejoice in that success it is no guarantee of success or survival in the future.

A past failure may have shaped who we are today. But that does not mean that we have to be marked by that failure for the future. We don’t have to wallow in shame and self-pity forever. One of the joys of being a follower of Jesus is that he is in the business of offering forgiveness, fresh starts and freedom from past failure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAApparently there’s a saying in countries where there unpaved roads that develop deep ruts in wet weather – choose your rut carefully as you will be in it for a long time.  Once your car wheels have entered a rut you will find it difficult to escape it. The idea is that whether it’s the recent or distant past, events in our life will have shaped and define who we are and where we are today.

But need not remain in a rut. Grace, apologising, seeking and giving forgiveness, reconciliation and renewed hope can help us leave a rut of past failure. Learning from the past, looking with optimism, seeking fresh vision and a willingness to grow can help us leave a rut of past success.

Be blessed, be a blessing

resurrection rollercoaster

Once again we are about to strap ourselves into the spiritual and emotional rollercoaster that is Easter. For me Easter starts with the long, slow Lent ascent towards Palm Sunday. The shouts of “Hosanna!” at the top begin to turn into shrieks when we swoop downwards as the authorities tell Jesus to quieten the crowd and we are thrown into a series of unexpected corkscrews as Jesus clears the Temple of the traders. 

From there we have a series of small undulations and curves as the authorities question and challenge Jesus and he tries one last time to prepare his followers for what is about to happen. 

Suddenly there’s another steep drop as Judas agrees to betray Jesus and then another slow ascent to a profound peak as we experience the Last Supper. From there we experience a stomach-churning maelstrom of emotion as Jesus is betrayed, arrested, abandoned, betrayed, tried, flogged, sentenced and condemned. 

And just when we think things can’t get any worse the rollercoaster plunges into a tunnel of pitch-black darkness with Jesus on the cross, his death and burial. At this point, in the darkness, we are disorientated and unaware that the rollercoaster is actually climbing again. 

On Easter Sunday it emerges triumphant into the glorious brightness of the new day of resurrection, restoration and recommissioning.

(I did wonder whether on Easter Sunday we should find that we have emerged from the darkness and find ourselves on a completely different rollercoaster, but that would be stretching the analogy too far!)

One of the miracles for me as a Minister at this time of year is that I have yet to run out of new things to learn and discover about Jesus. I was ordained 23 years ago and each Easter there is more for me to learn, understand, appreciate and experience and there are more reasons for me to worship the Risen Saviour. I find that it is easy to fall into the trap, however, of looking for that ‘new thing’ rather than simply stopping and reflecting on what I have already experienced and know to be true. Let me give you an example:

“Jesus is alive!” This phrase trips off our tongues so easily. Familiarity with that does not so much breed contempt as complacency. But stop for a moment. Think about it. Allow the words to sink into your heart and mind. Jesus was dead and now is alive! Don’t go off into the theological implications of that just yet – Jesus is alive!!!! The dead, executed, extinguished, disposed-of, rejected one is now the surprising, greeting, living, breathing, walking, locked-door ignoring, breakfast-eating, risen and very much resurrected ONE. Doesn’t that send a shiver down your spine?

My hope and prayer for each one of us is that Jesus will meet each one of us afresh this Easter in significant ways that will revive our faith, and through us and our churches so that the Good News is proclaimed loud and clear in our communities.

Be blessed, be a blessing 

The bootiful voos

Yesterday we went for a walk in the Devon countryside. We walked along a ridge and were presented with this beautiful view (pronounced differently with a Devon accent).

From there we walked along the gorge and ended up for lunch next to this bridge.

And then after lunch we walked back along the river Teign.

And we came across this dry stone wall. I was so impressed with how all of the differently shaped stones are fitted together. All have a place. All complement each other. All can be used. Even little ones. It’s not uniform but it’s strong and useful and impressive. 

An image of church?

Be blessed, be a blessing 

 

brexit stage right?

I have tried to resist the change, I have tried to make a stand, I have tried to persuade others, but in the end it seems inevitable that ‘Brexit’ has entered the English language. It’s such an ugly and clumsy word – a lazy amalgamation of ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’ to denote the decision in the EU Referendum last year for us to leave the European Union.

way out signEvery time I hear the word it sets my grammatical hackles rising. I wondered whether the Bible had anything to say about it and found this verse (out of context) Proverbs 8:13:

 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Surely the word ‘Brexit’ counts as ‘perverse speech’ doesn’t it?

But I think I am going to have to accept that ‘Brexit’ is a word now. It has entered common usage and also entered our dictionaries. It doesn’t mean that I have to like the word, but I should recognise that my one person campaign against it (predominantly through passive resistance by not using the word – yes, I know, I’m a real RADICAL!) is not going to change anything.

I wonder how much emotional and physical energy is expended by people trying to protest against the unchangeable and trivial?

It’s important to notice two things about that rhetorical question:

  1. I am talking about the unchangeable and trivial. We can get hot under the collar about the most minor things and turn them into a point of principle. If you don’t believe me, read historical minutes from Church Meetings in the past where there will have been lengthy discussions about the colour of carpets or even (shock! horror!) about rotas.
  2. Notice that I wrote energy that is ‘expended’ not ‘wasted’. Some energy is wasted on protesting against the trivial, but some is well-spent influencing and affecting decisions. We should not meekly accept change that is unjust, that heightens inequality or that diminishes other people.

So where is all this leading? I don’t think I am likely to embrace the word ‘Brexit’. I will continue to use ‘leaving the EU’ or a similar phrase if I want to talk about it. But I will try not to allow the use of ‘Brexit’ to carry negative emotions and shape my opinions about other people who choose to use it.

If you look at the verse from Proverbs 8 in a slightly wider context (verses 12-13)we read:

‘I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
    I possess knowledge and discretion.
13 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Prudence, knowledge and discretion are all associated with wisdom, which is primarily about how we relate to God and others. If I let something trivial rile me it will only erode my relationships! Whether or not someone chooses to use the word ‘Brexit’ is surely less important than how I relate to them, isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

view from my pew 13

Dear Internet

Mr Grenville-Stubbs here again. Did you miss me? I have been busy trying to make a positive difference in cyberspace. I had an idea for a search engine that I have been trying to get off the ground with what is known as ‘crowd funding’ – where lots of people offer small amounts of money to help make something a reality.

My idea was to create a Christian internet search engine. I did think of calling it ‘Ask Mr Grenville-Stubbs’ but my friends suggested that this might be a bit of a long name for people to type in. They suggested something easier to remember, too. So I came up with ‘Goddle’.

searchGoddle works like any other search engine you can think of: you type in a question, a word or something that you want to find out about and click ‘pray’. (I think ‘pray’ is better than ‘search’ for a Christian search engine).

After you have clicked ‘pray’ the clever software will go to work and find a Bible verse that relates to that question / word / thing you want to find out about. So, if you wanted to search pray for information about ‘wrestling’, for example, Goddle would provide you with Psalm 13 verse 2: “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me?”

I put this idea on a website for crowd funding ideas and have been waiting for donations to flood in. I think there must be a bug in that website because even though my idea has been available for the past month so far nobody has offered anything.

I am sorry to have to say that my Minister, Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker was not much help at first, either. I mentioned the idea to him on a Sunday after church but he had one of his mysterious coughing fits and had to rush off to get a glass of water. I tried to talk to him several times later that day but he always seemed to rush away just as I got close to him. In the end I managed to talk to him by waiting outside the church until he had locked up and was unlocking his car in the dimly lit car park.

I came up behind him: “So what do you think of Goddle?” I asked.

He uttered something unintelligible (or it may have been ancient Hebrew) as he clutched his chest. “What are you doing sneaking around in the shadows? You almost gave me a coronary!”

I apologised for surprising him, but insisted he gave me his opinion.

“Why would anyone want to use Goddle?” he asked. “If I want to find a recipe for chili con carne I don’t want to be given some obscure verse from Leviticus about regulations for food preparation.”

“But the Bible has answers for everything,” I said.

He gave me one of his funny looks and that’s when he gave me a brilliant idea. He suggested that if that was my attitude to the Bible I could save myself a lot of time and money by making the answer to every question: “Jesus.”

Why didn’t I think of that?

Yours faithfully

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs

 

kaboom?

An unresolvable conundrum is this paradox: “What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?” Is the answer ‘kaboom’?

explosionThere is no answer that does not fundamentally change the nature of either or both of the entities. If the immovable object moves it is no longer immovable or if the unstoppable force stops it is no longer unstoppable. There is no answer that allows them both to remain unaffected by the encounter.

But couldn’t the unstoppable force change direction and avoid the immovable object? Yes. And sometimes we prefer to avoid and evade conflict. But the force remains unstoppable and the object remains immovable and the likelihood is that we have only postponed the inevitable.

So what if they just keep bashing against each other until one of them wins? Well, technically if they do that it looks like the immovable object has won because the unstoppable force has stopped, even if it keeps trying to move the object. The unstoppable force will not be happy that its progress has been stopped and the immovable object will not be happy at the constant buffeting. Sometimes we find ourselves stuck in a place where nobody is happy but nobody is willing to give in.

What if one of them wins? What if the force moves the object or the object stops the force? Well one of them is happy, but the other is not only defeated but loses its identity and no doubt resents the winner for enforcing their will over them. Sometimes we see a conflict situation as ‘winner takes all’.

What if both of them decided that they needed to change. The immovable object could become a solid object that was willing to move and make way for the force, if the force could become a powerful force that was willing to allow the object to remain in that location and not seek its destruction. I think its called ‘compromise’.

I have sometimes thought of compromise as a weakness: a situation where nobody is entirely happy with the outcome. And it is, if we remain in a ‘win/lose’ mentality. But what if we could listen to how the ‘other’ feels about the situation too? What if we could understand how we make them feel? What if they could listen to us and understand how they make us feel? What if we were willing to change our approach in order to accommodate the other?

“Com” as a prefix (rather than the web address suffix) means ‘with’, ‘together’, and ‘collaboratively’. Add to that the word ‘promise’ and it becomes a mutual agreement in which everyone is involved and to which they are all committed. In that case ‘compromise’ is not weakness – it increases the strength of a relationship that otherwise might be destroyed.

Yes, of course, I know that there are painful times where it is right for people to go their separate ways. But that in itself is also a com-promise – agreeing together to end the escalating conflict in that way.

And while compromise means we have to be willing to give rather than focusing on what we might lose or give if we focus on what we gain it becomes easier to do. I’ve been reflecting a lot recently on what Paul wrote in one of his letters to one of the early churches. He tried to address a conflict situation (Philippians 4:1-9):

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

In the context of the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche he did not tell them to battle it out until one of them won, he pleaded that they would “be of the same mind in the Lord” and asked the church to help them. It was their shared faith in Jesus that would be the starting point for their compromise. What was that same mind? I think it was to look at what they would gain by changing their attitude from ‘winner takes all’ to ‘com promise’ based on what they had in common. They would gain joy, gentleness, less anxiety, and prayerful peace.

Be blessed, be a blessing.