it’s coming home

Table football men

All across England at the moment people are saying, “It’s coming home!” or, “Football’s coming home!” In case you are unaware (and I know that there are some of you bloggists who are not from UK) these are lines from a song that was released in 1996 when England hosted the European Football Championships. It was a very clever song as it picked up the national angst at not having been very good at major tournaments since winning the World Cup in 1966 and had a really catchy tune that meant that it was easy to chant in the stadia.

Since then the song has re-emerged any time England’s football team looked any good (rarely) and now that the men’s teamare in the semi-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1990 it’s everywhere. Social media seems full of people singing versions of the song and clever photo montages that say ‘It’s coming home’.

But, while I am really excited about England’s success and really want them to win I can’t help pondering the thought that while English people know what it means for football to be coming home – we invented the game and we might be winning the biggest prize in world sport – the rest of the world might be a little bit confused. Why not, “We’re gonna win” or something along those lines. And (me being me) I started wondering about other idiomatic phrases in English that may cause confusion for others. Such as…

“Break a leg.” Spoken to actors and performers just before they go on stage supposedly as an encouragement!

“Born with a silver spoon in their mouth.” Someone who lives a privileged lifestyle because their family is wealthy.

“That’s the last straw.” Someone has reached the limit of their patience and is going to take action in response to the latest provocation.

“Don’t beat around the bush.” Don’t prevaricate, speak plainly.

“A fate worse than death.” Something terrible has happened or is threatened.

I find it quite amusing thinking of how we might have come to these idioms and work out the back story for them. I know that if you put them into a search engine online you may find some answers (or at least theories) but to me it seems more fun to guess. And when you read some foreign idioms translated literally into English it’s even more fun…

Thai idiom: “The hen sees the snake’s feet and the snake sees the hen’s boobs.” Two people know each other’s secrets

Portuguese idiom: “He who doesn’t have a dog hunts with a cat.” You do what you need to do, with what the resources you have.

Japanese idiom: “To wear a cat on one’s head.” You’re hiding your claws and pretending to be a nice, harmless person.

Swedish idiom: “To slide in on a shrimp sandwich.” Refers to somebody who didn’t have to work to get where they are.

Aren’t they brilliant? I really want to write the back stories to these… but that’s perhaps another bloggage.

As fun as they are the problem with idioms is that if you are not ‘in on it’ they are simply bewildering and confusing statements that reinforce that you are not ‘in’. In the groups to which you belong do you use language inclusively or exclusively? Do you ensure that people who are not ‘in’ can access what you are about or are you more focused on using the ‘in’ phrases in order to show the rest of those who are ‘in’ that you’re ‘in’ too? I’m not just thinking about churches…

We need to be as wise as Solomon, as patient as Job, ensure we don’t cast our pearls before swine but cast our bread upon the waters and preach to the choir. Or maybe not…

Be blessed, be a blessing

smite*

We live in confusing times*. There is so much to celebrate at the moment, especially if you are English. Our national football team is doing rather better than expected in the World Cup leading to a growing national hysteria and expectation that “football’s coming home.” I think we’d better make sure we leave a key under the mat if it does come home because I suspect the country will be out celebrating.

In 2018 we are celebrating centenaries: 100 years since the first women were given the right to vote; 100 years since the end of World War 1; 100 years since the RAF was founded (I’ve just watched the amazing fly-past on TV); and for Baptist Christians it’s 100 years since the first woman Minister was called to a church (Edith Gates).

And right as I type the news has come out that the 12 Thai boys and their football coach have all been successfully rescued from the cave complex in which they were trapped (while poignantly remembering the diver who died in the process).

And at the same time there is so much to lament at the moment: Over 140 people have been killed in Japan by severe flooding and we’re entering Hurricane season in the Caribbean with the threat of damage and loss of life there; refugees and migrants are dying and being turned away and ignored; there seems to be a lot of political turmoil across the world and whatever you think of it the word ‘Brexit’ seems to be associated with growing uncertainty about the future for the UK.

Picture DramaWhat are we supposed to do in confusing times like this? One moment we are cheering and rejoicing and the next we are lamenting and crying. Can we switch from one to the other with integrity? It’s not easy. Yet to carry on with one when the other is happening seems to lack emotional integrity and empathy – laughing and cheering while some are weeping seems heartless.

Writing to the Christians in Rome, the apostle Paul encouraged them to “rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.” (Romans 12:15) Taken out of context that suggests to me that we are being told to react how those around us are reacting and take our cue from them. But the phrase is part of a wider section of the letter where Paul is teaching about how we should be in relationship with one another. It’s a passage that encourages humility, self-sacrifice, an honest appraisal and use of the gifts we have to bless others, and loving one another.

This is not an emotional, mushy love. Nor is it a lustful, erotic love. It’s a practical love that sees others how God sees them, values everyone for who they are and supporting and helping one another way beyond the superficial ways in which we relate to one another today. When we do that (allowing God’s Spirit to grow that sort of approach within us) we will find that we rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn because we know them so well. It’s natural.

Of course that doesn’t work for national and international events really does it? In those circumstances I hope that I am sufficiently alert to God’s Spirit within me that God’s reaction resonates within me and I respond empathetically and prayerfully to what is happening. The closer we are to God and the more responsive we are to his Spirit in us, the more we will be able to do this. In circumstances where I am unsure, we are told that God’s Spirit interprets our inner groans and translates them into prayers for us.

So don’t be afraid to allow yourself to celebrate with others who are celebrating or to weep with those who are weeping, even if you don’t share their excitement or sorrow about the events to which they are responding. By doing so you are not being shallow. In fact I think you are showing God-style love to them and deepening your relationship with them.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*For those of you who didn’t get this, ‘smite’ is an anagram of ‘times’ – ie ‘confusing times’

it sucks!

Omega hover from the sixties
the vacuum pump is a little smaller than this one!

At the moment I have what I call a ‘sucky dressing’ on. It’s a clever dressing with a small pump that creates a vacuum to drain a wound area. Without going into gory details I have been wearing them since the beginning of May when an issue arose, and I will need them for a couple more weeks until a minor procedure in mid-July.

If I am honest I find that at times I resent the sucky dressing. Because it sucks onto my skin it feels uncomfortable (and is held on by plenty of sticky dressings that wax me each week as they are replaced). The little pump has a flashing light that indicates it’s working properly (and others that show if it isn’t) and that can be quite a distraction at night when I am trying to sleep. Furthermore, the pump buzzes quite loudly when operating and that can be a surprise for others during the day (I have to explain that it was the sucky dressing and not me) and really annoying when it disturbs sleep at night. I am really looking forward to being free from sucky dressings.

And yet… without the sucky dressings the problem I had at the beginning of May would have been a lot more difficult to manage. Without the sucky dressings it would have been a lot messier, and the yucky fluids that my body didn’t need would have remained inside me and may have led to infections. Without the sucky dressings I don’t think I would have been able to resume work (albeit on a reduced basis and phased return) and the possibility of resolving the problem surgically (the small procedure next month) would have been complicated significantly.

And that got me thinking – do we have sucky dressings in life?

A simple one might be speed limits and traffic rules on roads. Some drivers clearly find them to be an inconvenience (and some ignore them) but they have been put there for safety reasons, not to annoy us. We might want to get somewhere more quickly but we may not get there at all if we drive too fast or recklessly.

What about the sucky dressing of exercise? Some people love exercising and getting fit, but it seems that for most of us it’s something we know will do us good but we lack the motivation/self-discipline to exercise enough. It’s hard work and we’d rather not do it. And anyway a bar of chocolate while watching TV is much tastier and more relaxing.

Or there’s the sucky dressing of meetings. This is a sucky dressing for a lot of churches. I hear Ministers or Church Members talking about meetings as something to be dreaded and a ‘necessary evil’ in order to keep the church functioning. Now I know that some meetings can be bad, but that’s not an essential quality of a meeting – it doesn’t have to be boring/difficult/painful/[insert appropriate negative quality here]. I think it partly depends on the attitude of those who attend: if all participants attend wanting to get their own way then conflict may be inevitable but if they attend with the desire to do what God wants (or if in a non-church setting perhaps do what serves most people the best way) then the atmosphere changes.

I think the Apostle Paul had some experience of sucky dressings. In 1 Corinthians 12:7-10 he wrote:

“in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The thorn in the flesh sucked, but he learnt from it about the sufficiency of God’s grace and about how God makes up for our human deficiencies and helps us when we struggle with the sucky dressings of life – perhaps by helping us to see the blessing in the midst of the ‘bleurgh’.

How can we cope with sucky dressings?

I think part of the answer is a shift in attitude from self-pity to an attitude of gratitude. Instead of ‘poor me, having to cope with this’ what about seeing what we can be grateful for in the circumstances? Try not to see things in terms of ‘must’, ‘ought’ or ‘should’ and instead try to consider ‘want’ or ‘will’ – for example, “I want to get fit so I will exercise” is more motivational than, “I ought to get fit so I must exercise.”

Don’t try to cope on your own. There’s a wonderful wound nurse at the hospital who I see each week as she changes the dressing and checks to see that all is well. She’s a delightful person and even if I have got fed up with the buzzing she reminds me that the dressing is making a positive difference. So look for those who can encourage you, enhance your perspective and build you up. Then listen to them! And try to be that person for others, even if it’s only in apparently tiny ways – helping someone else to see things differently may also help your perspective on your own issues.

And if nothing else looks like it’s working, find some funny cat videos online and have a chuckle for a moment. Laughter is one of God’s ways of helping us to stop and look at things differently for a moment, and it makes us feel better.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

the inner toddler

I like to think of myself as being fairly laid back. Most of the time I am able to reflect calmly and intelligently on events and then respond appropriately (possibly). But I know that when I am tired I get grumpy more easily and little things that would not bother me normally now irritate me intensely.

Normally if my phone is not working properly I calmly resolve the problem (by turning it off and on again). But if I am tired and ratty all of a sudden the problem becomes much more difficult to resolve. I repeat the same process on the phone, somehow expecting that doing the same thing will bring a different result (d’oh!!).

One of the problems with this is that I know that I am acting irrationally and that I have moved up the grumpy index but I can’t stop myself. It’s almost as if I have to get to the full toddler strop before I can calm down and revert to adult again. My wife knows me well enough that she can tell me that I am being silly and to calm down, and sometimes that works, but the more tired I am the harder it is to stop.

grumpy index

In order to prevent the world being full of stroppy adult toddlers and prevent global catastrophes from happening on the whim of someone who’s not over-tired God has built in to us a rhythm of life that includes sleep and recreation. We tamper with or ignore these at our peril. It’s not a sign of superhuman-ness to exist on a couple of hours sleep a night. It’s not a commendable trait to work 24/7 and never take any time to rest, relax and be refreshed. The inevitable outcome is that you will end up behaving like a toddler – selfish, prone to irrational outbursts, ignoring the effect you have on others and demanding attention.

So how do we reverse the climb up the grumpy index? Build in regular relaxation, find things that make you laugh, find people who energise you and whose company you enjoy, maybe even take yourself off to the naughty step to calm down a bit… and as you realise that the inner toddler has taken control ask your heavenly Father to calm you down and renew his Spirit’s presence in you.

Be blessed, be a blessing

there and back again

As a child I used to love the animated short stories on TV from Trumpton, Chigley and Camberwick Green. If you’ve never seen them then find them and watch them – they have a charm and innocence that is special. Many of the characters had their own rhymes or songs that accompanied their actions, especially if they were travelling somewhere. “Pugh, Pugh, Barney, McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb” accompanied the firemen sliding down the pole in order to get into their fire engine, for example. In Chigley most episodes involved Lord Belborough driving his own personal steam train to help someone out (just go with the plot, don’t get all Network Rail on us!). His journeys would be accompanied by the song that began, “Time flies by when you’re the driver of a a train and you ride on the footplate there and back again…” That song came into my mind today, but let me try to explain why:

One of the things I am encouraged to do in order to aid my recovery following the surgery earlier in the year is to go for walks. I have tried to do this, gradually increasing the length of the walks around the estate on which we live. Some days the walks have been longer than others – it depends on how much energy I have in my legs.

On one of my walks with my wife a while back we started walking up a slope towards some local shops (I had expressed that one of my targets was to be able to walk to the shops). I was surprised at how much steeper the slope felt than I had expected and, about two-thirds of the way up, Sally pointed out that I had stopped talking and asked if I was okay. Disappointingly I had to admit that my legs felt really weak and that I was not going to get up the slope. So we turned around and walked home.

I was determined I was not going to be defeated by it. So a few days later we tried again and, to my amazement, about two-thirds of the way up the slope my legs felt really weak and I had to turn around again.

Now the slope had become my nemesis. I was not going to be defeated by something as simple as a slope.

As you can see from this photo it doesn’t look that tough, but it was too much for my weakened legs. I set myself the target of being able to walk to the local shops that were the other side of the slope. I even set that as a goal within the cardiac rehab process that I had just begun.

Frustratingly I had another setback shortly after beginning the cardiac rehab process which meant I had to put it on hold, but the slope was still there in the back of my mind, taunting me. So a short while later Sally and I set off with the express purpose of conquering the slope. It was hard work and my legs felt like jelly at the top, but I made it. I didn’t have enough in me to complete the journey to shops but the slope had been defeated.

Last weekend I decided that it was time to show the slope once and for all who was the boss. So, having arranged for Sally to meet me at the shops with her car, I set off. At the top of the slope my legs felt like they were on fire, but I kept going and got to the shops. I was elated – so much so that I couldn’t stop myself posting the achievement on Facebook. Lots of my friends very kindly and encouragingly ‘liked’ the post and wrote encouraging comments below the post, which was really a blessing. But in my heart I felt as if I hadn’t really completed the mission. I had only gone one way.

So this morning I set off to the shops again with no backup driver. I needed some tablets from the pharmacy in the parade of shops so that was my motivation. But this time I was going to walk back home afterwards. As previously by the time I reached the top of the slope my legs were burning. I paused to catch my breath at a lamppost at the top of the slope and then pressed on to the shops as planned. I got my tablets and set off back home.

Now the good thing about slopes is that while they may prove to be an obstacle in one direction, they are an assistance in the other direction. The upward slope that inhibited me became a downward slope that made my walk back home manageable and I arrived home tired but triumphant. I had achieved my goal. There’s a lot more to be done in terms of rehab, but it felt like a big step (or lots of little steps) in the right direction. There and back again – without the aid of Lord Belborough’s train or my wife’s car!

And it also made me ponder – what can feel like an obstacle and a difficulty when we look at it from one direction can prove to be a blessing and assistance from another. For example: my unexpected need for a heart operation and subsequent convalescence has been hard to cope with physically but it has also revealed to me an amazing level of friendship, support, prayers and encouragement that I had not expected. And while it’s taking longer than I had anticipated it’s also giving me an opportunity to live life at a slower pace and appreciate the many blessings I have. I see life differently now because of what I have been through. I definitely would not be so insensitive as to suggest that everything bad that happens has an equally positive side to it, but (often with hindsight) if we look for them some blessings are there too and often manifest themselves in other people. They may not make the bad stuff tolerable, but it’s amazing how bright even the smallest pinprick of light looks in the darkest places.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the right time to change

person wearing leather wrist watch
Photo by Jonathan Miksanek on Pexels.com (not my wristwatch or wrist!)

Yesterday I had another of my regular visits to hospital to see various specialists and also have some more blood tests. I would have thought by now they’d know whether or not my blood had passed the test and was fully qualified as blood, but apparently not.

I’ve described my progress following my heart surgery as ‘two steps forwards and one step back’. That adds up to progress overall, but it’s frustrating when I am in a ‘step back’ phase, as I am now. The appointments yesterday were positive and hopeful but the cardiac rehab process is still on hold until at least next week, which means my return to ‘normal life’ (whether it ever was normal is debatable) is on hold too.

Anyway, that little diversion by way of an update distracted me from my reflection. In order to test my blood they have to take some of it away to a laboratory and this (inevitably) involves someone jabbing me with a needle. Yesterday my veins decided that they had had enough of being speared so for a while they refused to give up any blood. The doctor who was impaling me tried five times before he finally managed to hit a gusher.

The five attempts were not without cost. I suspect that my hand is going to resemble a rainbow soon with the bruising that is ominously threatening behind a mask of off-yellow discolouration. And my wrist is really sore as it took the brunt of the assault. That would not be a problem normally, but it’s my left wrist.

I am a conventional watch-wearer, normally locating it on my left wrist. But because of the aftermath of needlegate yesterday it’s too uncomfortable to wear my watch on my left wrist at the moment, so it’s located on my right wrist.

“Big deal,” you might (rightly) think. But I am finding that this minor adjustment feels really strange. The watch feels heavy on my right wrist. It feels strange, unusual, even uncomfortable on my right wrist and I am very conscious of it whereas on my left I rarely think about my watch unless I am consulting it to discover the time.

And it struck me afresh how difficult most of us humans find change. There are some people who embrace change and seems to struggle with regularity and consistency, but most of us (I reckon) find change uncomfortable, unusual and strange. We are acutely aware of what has changed and how different it looks and feels and we don’t like it. So we become ‘change-averse’. We can even fear change because it might not be something we like, and moreover we are usually not fully in control because changes can bring unexpected consequences.

If you want an example of a change-averse organisation then look at most churches. Even those with brand-new premises will be doing things in the same way they have done them for decades (or longer). That’s not a criticism, maintaining links with the past is important and for some people to reconnect with church they need to find something familiar. But the change-averseness that I am thinking of is the knee-jerk reaction against any proposals or actions that threaten ‘the way we’ve always done things’.

Leaderships need to take some responsibility for this: introducing possible change is an art form and should be done with grace, patience and discernment. Grace – recognising that for some people this will be traumatic – patience – realising that the majority of the church has not been on the same journey as the leadership and it will take some time for them to catch up – and discernment – receiving and weighing responses that are given and sifting them to find out whether God has hidden any pearls of wisdom in the field of unhappiness. Possible change that is well-introduced, well-led and adaptably implemented can bless everyone and bring them together. The opposite is also true.

And leaderships must be open to the possibility that they have heard God wrongly and that the proposed change is not what he wants. Humility is still a virtue isn’t it?

But it’s not all down to the leadership. The rest of us have to recognise that the way things are done in church can become a sort of spiritual security-blanket. We are comfortable with the way things are (why do you think we are part of that church?) and locate our spiritual well-being as an aspect of our comfortableness. If something threatens that then we don’t like it.

When I am tempted to hide my head under my spiritual security-blanket I need to remind myself of a few things:

  • My spiritual security is in my relationship with Jesus not in the church I attend.
  • Jesus embraced, introduced and inspired change – re-read a Gospel and see how much he changed and how much he spoke about change.
  • God, while unchanging, has put change into the rhythm of life (the seasons) and through his prophets says things like, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
  • Even if I am uncomfortable with change I should look to see where God is in all of this, not seek to impose my own preferences (thinly disguised as ‘thus saith the Lord’) on others.

So for the time being (pun intended) I shall continue to wear my watch on my right hand and allow it to remind me not only of the time but also that change, while uncomfortable, can also be beneficial.

I have some questions…

ask blackboard chalk board chalkboard
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are times when I read what another Christian has written or said and I wonder whether I am reading the same Bible as them because I can’t justify their behaviour based on what I read in my Bible.

Now I realise that in writing this bloggage I am opening myself up to an accusation that I am making judgements about other people, and that’s something Jesus said we should not do. So I am writing this in the form of four sets of open questions based on my observations rather than accusations against anyone in particular. And I am writing this to Christians – the rest of you can relax…

I ask these questions of myself as much as anyone else and if I am being honest I am uncomfortable with some of my own answers – as always I am NOT suggesting that I live a fully-sorted life as a follower of Jesus. But I want to be open to his Spirit’s transformational prompting.

  1. Where in the Bible does it say that it’s right to use unpleasant, vitriolic, and hateful language against someone with whom you disagree? Doesn’t the Bible say that the way people will know we are followers of Jesus by the way that we love one another? How can it be right that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second one was to love others, yet some comments that Christians have posted online about fellow-believers and some behaviour between Christians appear to be devoid of love and full of hate? And how are some of the hideous comments made against those who don’t claim a Christian faith showing them what God’s love and grace are like?
  2. Where does it say that it’s okay to condemn someone for interpreting the Bible differently from you by denouncing them as ‘unbiblical’ (which presumably means that the denouncer has absolute confidence that their interpretation is entirely ‘biblical’ and there’s no chance they could be wrong)? Wasn’t Jesus regarded as ‘unbiblical’ in his day? Where does the Bible tell us that we should consider ourselves better than others, using our superiority to tell them how and why they are wrong and we are right?
  3. Why do Christians spend so much energy arguing about relatively trivial things like doctrinal differences and not spend as much time and energy tackling poverty, injustice and conflict? Jesus spoke much more about the use of and love of money than he did about doctrine didn’t he?
  4. Given how much Christians have been forgiven, and how much Jesus said we should forgive, how come some of us find it so difficult to apologise to other Christians when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness? Is admitting we are wrong so difficult?

I realise that this is rather an incendiary post, and it REALLY isn’t my intention to have a go at anyone in particular. My hope is that this little bloggage might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behaviour and open us up to God’s Spirit changing us to become more like the Jesus we follow.

Be blessed, be a blessing