say what you see

Some of you may remember Audrey 3 from a couple of weeks ago. She’s a venus flytrap and I bought her to deal with the small flies that seem to like annoying me while I am in my office. Since her arrival the number of annoying flies in my office has dropped significantly and it looks like Audrey 3 has eaten some of them because several of her ‘mouths’ have been closed recently and have now reopened.

I wasn’t around when the flies got caught so I can’t confirm whether there was a loud ‘whump’ or ‘om, nom, nom, nom’. The trap is triggered when a fly moves one of the tiny hairs inside the mouth and I really would like to see it happen. The temptation is to use a cocktail stick or something like that to trigger the trap. But the advice given to owners of venus flytraps is that you should not trigger them unless there is food in their mouth. Apparently it takes a lot of energy for the plant to trigger the trap and that needs to be replenished by the energy obtained from absorbing the prey. Unnecessarily triggering the trap can lead to the plant’s death.

There’s a real temptation to make a comment about the consequences of triggering Article 50 here but I am going to resist it and allow you to make your own jokes. But there are times for all of us when we have to go to extra effort because of someone else.

It could be as simple as someone leaving the toilet seat up, or leaving the lid off the toothpaste. But there is lots of scope for us to have to take extra effort in life because of the actions of another person.

Do you get frustrated when someone is dawdling along the pavement in front of you and start to go around them and they change direction right in across your path? You then have to stop suddenly and change direction to avoid knocking them over.

Or what about if you have a dishwasher and someone has thoughtfully brought their dirty dishes and placed them on the surface in the vicinity of the dishwasher rather than in the dishwasher? They may think they have been helpful but you have to finish the job.

Or maybe you have trodden in something unpleasant on the pavement that was left behind after someone had a takeaway, or even worse, after their canine friend had done what it had to do? There’s some serious cleaning up needed then.

How about when someone’s having a barbecue in a neighbouring garden and you’ve got washing out drying?

Most of the time when our hairs are tickled and we have to make the effort to react and respond to others they are unaware of the effort we have expended. Of course we would like them to know (and that’s why car horns were invented I think) but ask yourself for a moment how many times are people doing that for us and we are unaware of it? Because we are unaware we won’t know.

We human beings almost always live in communities with other humans. Sometimes they are informal, like towns or cities, and sometimes they are more formal like places of work or places of worship. In every case I think we would be better off if we all put into practice some of the most overlooked advice in the Bible:


Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4.2 NIV)

or


Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3.13 NIV)

The emphasis is mine, but the opportunity is there for all of us. How different would life be if we all bear with one another? (Say what you see)

Be blessed, be a blessing

training

train 2
Not the train I was on!

I was on a train yesterday at silly o’clock in the morning. It was almost full of commuters heading into London, however there was a spare seat between two blokes so, muttering an apology for disturbing them, I tried to squidge my way into the space.

I am not a very wide person and I kept my arms and elbows in front of me in order not to cramp those beside me, but the two of them reacted very differently. One of them (we’ll call him ‘Lefty’ because he was on my left) gave way a little. He moved across and enabled me to fit one side of my back against the back of the seat. I couldn’t get my arms back, but that was okay. He also kept his legs together so there was room for my legs.

The other, on my right, (guess what we’ll call him? Yup. ‘Bob’) did not give me anywhere near the same amount of space. Bob remained spread out. His arms and shoulders were pinned against the back of the seat (and part of the back of mine). I couldn’t lean fully back against the back of the seat because of him, so I remained hunched forward, hugging my backpack. His legs were spread out in such a way that if I hadn’t shifted mine it would have been a bit… intimate. Bob was not giving me a millimetre of ‘his’ space. He also had ear buds in and was playing music loudly enough for me to be able to hear the tinny ‘tshh te tshh te tshh’ that we are often blessed with by fellow passengers.

Because I was so cramped I could not move my arms to get out my phone or my Kindle to entertain myself, so I remained in this position for the rest of the journey. Every time we stopped at the station I willed him to get up and get off the train, but Bob was glued in place and my telekinetic powers were useless against him. It was not a comfortable journey.

Now I realise that I could have asked him to move. But I could see in the reflection of the glass in front of me that Bob had his eyes closed. He was either asleep, feigning sleep, or trying to block out the fact that there were other passengers and that made it more uncomfortable to contemplate interrupting him and asking him to give me my space. And I am British. And I wasn’t sure what sort of response I would get. So I suffered in silence.

At the end of the journey we all disembarked and part of me was feeling quite resentful about Bob. He hadn’t given me any consideration at all. But I had chosen not to ask him to move, and maybe he hadn’t realised how uncomfortable I was.

A part of me also thought, “Well played!” He had maintained his position, preserved his space, and had a much more comfortable journey than me.

So what are my reflections on Bob and Lefty?

There are times when we need to be considerate of others. We need to adapt our behaviour, attitude and approach in order to enable them to grow and flourish. It’s a part of what Jesus meant by us being ‘servant-hearted’.

But there are also times when we should not yield to the demands of others if they are going to cause harm to others or if they are asking us to compromise our core beliefs. In Luke 21:19 Jesus said to his friends (in the context of being persecuted), “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (NIVUK)

The art is knowing which is appropriate at any given time. I would suggest that the difference is to do with whether our core beliefs are under threat. Of course we need to know what they are, and we also need to be sure that we are not elevating secondary issues to the status of ‘core beliefs’ because we want to get our own way.

Be blessed, be a blessing

below the surface

Dearest bloggists, I am back. Sorry. Having enjoyed two weeks off I feel refreshed and ready to go again. A lot has taken place since I last put fingers to keyboard and I would like to add my own thoughts to those of many bloggers, tweeters, columnists and pub-philosophers.

It is obvious that there is no ‘one size fits all’ description of the riots and looting last week, nor is there a ‘one size fits all’ response that will resolve the issues. But it seems to me that many of the responses have not gone deep enough and risk responding at a merely superficial level. For example, how will stopping the benefits of any in receipt of them who are convicted of looting or rioting resolve the problems? It will make people poorer and will not address the many people who are not in receipt of benefits who helped themselves to a smash and grab discount.

I wonder if part of the problem is inherent in the culture within which we live. We are undoubtedly a market-led consumer culture, powered by powerful commercial pressures and advertising industry. This is fed by a constant need to engender a sense of dissatisfaction among us. My very simplistic analysis goes like this: we must need newer, better, faster, sleeker, sexier goods in order to keep buying the consumer goods in order to provide profit for the companies in order to provide dividends for the shareholders in order to give them more money in order that they can buy more goods…

The message we are learning is that ‘you are what you have’ and an unwanted by-product of this culture is the sense of dissatisfaction that easily mutates into greed. I know it myself, as a technophile / gadget-lover. I see the latest tablet computer or phone and without processing the thought think,'”Ooh, I’d like that!” So when people are presented with an apparently cost-free opportunity to have the latest stuff they will take it. It feeds their self-esteem, it apparently satisfies the dissatisfaction and it overrides any latent sense of right and wrong that they have.

Our core beliefs underpin the values by which we live, and if ‘you are what you have’ has become a core belief it is not surprising that the value to possess the latest and best is in conflict with (and for some will over-ride) values about not stealing, when you do not have the disposable income to buy what you think will make you complete (at least until you are told you need the next new thing). It is not surprising to me that many of the shops looted were selling phones, tvs, computers and the like, as these are the ‘must have’ items in our society.

Let me offer a response…

It surely goes beyond the superficial behaviour, through our attitudes and values, down to our beliefs, on which our culture depends. Where are the voices that are saying that “you are intrinsically valuable as a person, not because of what you have”? Who is saying, “love is the greatest force in the universe”? When will we hear that “communities are primarily groups of people who look out for one another rather than places we live and shop”?

Isn’t that part of the message of the gospel? It certainly sounds like things Jesus was telling people… but they won’t be coming to church on Sunday to hear it. How will you tell them today?