watch out for icebergs

I am fascinated by the way that internet memes seem to come around in cycles. Someone comes across a meme as ‘new to them’ and shares it, and a whole new generation of people who haven’t seen it before share it as if it’s new. That happened to me this week when someone shared the following:

“Never be afraid to try something new: remember that amateurs built the ark but professionals built the Titanic.”

Now I know what they are trying to say, but there’s a big flaw in this: the meme is based on flawed logic. You might as well say that my childhood go-kart that I used to ride down our drive was built by an amateur (my dad) but my car that I use on the roads is built by professionals! The different status of the builders was irrelevant to their success. It seems to me from my limited research that the reason the Titanic sank was not the build quality it was a failure to adapt to the environment. The Titanic was steaming at full speed and when a warning of icebergs in the area was received it should have reduced speed and increased the lookouts so that they could take avoiding action.

Image result for icebergs

Why didn’t they adapt? There are a number of theories. Perhaps the failure to adapt to the environment was also based on arrogance – the Titanic was famously claimed to be ‘unsinkable’ so why would you need to slow down? Maybe it was down to prestige – the desire to make the fastest passenger crossing of the Atlantic and the associated publicity and perhaps commercial success that would be associated with it. It’s possible that it was ignorance – a failure to recognise the dangers – but that seems unlikely given that Captain Smith was extremely experienced and had been master of numerous vessels.

Whatever the cause, it seems to me that the reason that the Titanic sank was not because of build quality but because of a failure to adapt to the environment.

So to what changes in our environment should we adapt?

There’s The Environment which, despite the Nelsonian blind-eye approach of Donald Trump and climate-change deniers, is changing rapidly (and potentially catastrophically) caused by human action. If we all make small changes it will make a big difference.

But there are other changes – technological change is increasingly changing the ways that we interact with one another and how we operate as human beings (at least in the countries where the technology is available and affordable). Reading some of the vitriol that is poured out via social media against people who have different views to the ‘author’ upsets me considerably. I wonder whether one change in environment to adapt to is a recognition that the impact and reach of what we say is far greater than we might imagine (like the amount of iceberg hidden under the surface of the water) and a realisation that we need to be more careful before steaming ahead at full speed with our opinions into iceberg-infested waters.

I believe that the concept of ‘family’ is sailing in dangerous waters. The traditional model of family has been changed by the family breakdown and divorce, social and economic mobility and other changes in society and moral attitudes that have created families with multiple parents, absent parents and other family configurations that would not have been imagined half a century ago. Some wring their hands and long for the ‘good old days’ but we are where we are. Whatever we think of this we need to adapt and sail carefully in these waters. Condemnation of difference merely because it does not conform with our ideal is likely to tear a huge gash in the hull of our society that is irreparable. Instead we could navigate far more wisely by emphasising the importance of communication, community, love and valuing all as wonderfully-created human beings.

I am sure you can think of others. However, there’s one other major difference between the Titanic and the Ark and that’s to do with motive for them being built. The Titanic was built for commercial reasons, the Ark was built to preserve life. One was a cruise-liner motivated by profit, the other was a lifeboat motivated by God. Which would you rather be on?

Be blessed, be a blessing

a new you?

So, a new year has begun. The fireworks displays are no longer burned on our retinas, the echoes of Auld Lang Syne have faded away and whatever passes for normal life is being resumed just as it was in 2018. Of course there are a few differences: we have to get used to writing 2019 on letters, cheques and so on but in reality not a lot has changed in the changing of the calendar year.

Except that at the start of a new year we are encouraged (or perhaps challenged) to think of new things. In the days of paper diaries I used to love having new, fresh pages to write on. I would resolve that this year I would write neatly (that lasted until the first time an entry had to be changed). And resolutions are the flavour of the month in January, aren’t they?

We resolve to be fitter, healthier, happier, more efficient, better organised, more eco-friendly, more friendly… any number of possibilities for a new and improved version of yourself. It’s the lifestyle equivalent of having a new diary with fresh pages – so may possibilities to improve and enhance our life and establish a hoped-for better-than-last-year feeling.

It’s been interesting this year to notice how many people are suggesting on social media that you don’t need a ‘new you’, you should be content with the you that you are. And I agree with that, to an extent. Nobody should feel under pressure to create or innovate a new way of being simply because others have led them (or advertisers have conned them) into believing that they are not good enough, they don’t have enough of the right things in their life and that they ‘should do better’ (to quote many of my school reports).

But I also want to say that being content with the me that I am does not preclude me from wanting to be the best me that I can be. I know that there is always room for improvement. There are always ways in which I can better fulfil my purpose in life. They will always be new experiences, new people and new opportunities that will shape me so that I am not the same ‘me’ that I was last year.

So how do we hold these two in tension? I think the answer is to recognise where the motivation comes from. If it is external we should regard it with suspicion and caution – does that influencer have my best interests at heart or someone else’s (including theirs)? If it is internal we should treat it seriously, weigh it, evaluate it and if we want to pursue it then we can do so with the liberty of someone who is not under duress.

That does not mean we should not listen to other people or take their advice. Neither does it mean that we should always listen to our own whimsical ideas and act rashly. Wisdom is required. Discernment is beneficial. Because if you want to be the best you you can be I am fairly sure that there is always more that can be done – the art is to work out what that is, whether it is achievable, and to work towards it diligently and enthusiastically.

In the Bible the book of Ecclesiastes seems to be a book that is full of doom and gloom. Everything is deemed to be meaningless and pointless. It could have been written by Eeyore, AA Milne’s lugubrious donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories. Yet right at the end Eeyore (or possibly the King) comes to a startling conclusion, having looked at the whole of life (Ecclesiastes 12):

13 Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.

Fearing God is not being terrified of him, but having a sense of awe about him. Keeping his commandments is not about following a rulebook but living sensibly to get the most out of life. And knowing that you can’t pull the wool over God’s eyes means we can live openly and honestly. And because there’s a sequel to the Old Testament (aka the New Testament) we know that God has also done all that is necessary to deal with the parts of us that need some more serious renovation.

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.

updates

I think modern technology is, on the whole, wonderful. It has transformed so much of my life. I began working (in a solicitor’s office) having just two options if I wanted to communicate with someone who was not in the office. I could send a letter or I could phone. Now I have email, text messaging, I can send photos, I have video calling, and so much more. It all so convenient and helpful.

https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5101/5572152632_8c9c864871_b.jpg

Except for those moments when my technology decides it needs to do an update. It feels like they always choose the most inconvenient moments to do this. I know that this isn’t true and that it’s probably only that I notice and remember the inconvenient times and ignore the others, but that’s how it feels. I wrote a bloggage about the most inconvenient one – you can read it here.

It seems to me (and it may just be that I have more gadgets) that updates are a more frequent occurrence than they used to be. Rarely does a day go by when one or more of my gadgets announce that they updating a program or app or operating system.

And is it just me, or do you also feel that when an update has happened you want to see some changes, improvements and benefits from having the updated version?

But that doesn’t seem to happen very often. I am told that an update is happening and then that it has completed, but most of the time I can’t see or experience any difference after the update. I know that some of the updates will have been to fix bugs or improve security or to enhance compatibility but there’s a part of me that wants to see a tangible improvement in my user experience for having had the upgrade – more than just a change from version 16.3.4.5.334.1 to version 16.3.4.5.334.2

Reflecting on this recently (while my phone was carrying out some upgrades) I realised that we are changed and transformed in a similar way. We don’t often see dramatic changes and significant upgrades to who we are – mostly we are changed and improve incrementally and imperceptibly.

This should not surprise me. After all, the Bible talks about the changes that the Spirit of God brings about in me are spiritual fruit – and fruit grows gradually. Over time you will be able to see a difference, but on a daily or even weekly basis you won’t notice anything different.

How does he bring about these changes? With our permission, and with our involvement. He won’t go against our wishes, we have to want him to transform us. And he wants us to participate in the process by putting into practice the fruits he is growing in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. The more we deliberately seek to act in these ways the more naturally they will be part of who we are and how we are.

I hope that Nick version 16.3.4.5.334.2 is an improvement on Nick version 16.3.4.5.334.1 but you may not notice it. I hope that there is a more noticeable difference from Nick version 1.0!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

twenty-first century jubilee

Warning: this bloggage contains idealism, optimism and challenge.

prioritiesI grew up in an era when the threat of nuclear attack was real. The peace of the world existed in a tension that was known as MAD – mutually assured destruction. In other words, we would not blow up another country because we knew that they would blow us up in return – the missiles passing each other in their deadly trajectories. It was also an era when acts of terrorism were commonplace – mostly in Northern Ireland but sometimes on the UK mainland too.

We now live in an era when there is a new threat of nuclear attack as smaller countries acquire the technology to split the atom destructively. We also live in an era where acts of terrorism are commonplace – fuelled by a hideous distortion of Islamic ideology.

It seems to me that MAD and terrorism are two aspects of the same worldview: the threat and reality of death and destruction are the ultimate ways of exercising power, influence and control over someone else. They are ways of establishing or enforcing control in a situation. Those who have the power maintain it with the threat or reality of death and destruction and those who feel powerless seek to regain power and control through the threat or reality of bringing death and destruction to those who have the power.

Part of me wants to scream, “Have we learned nothing in 50 years?”

And I fear that the silent response will speak louder than words.

Why is it that some nations, people groups and ideologies are seeking to regain or establish power and control? Put simply (and I know it’s more complex than this) it must be that they feel powerless or lack control. So if we are to resolve these issues how are we going to do it?

  1. You could rain death and destruction down on those who are threatening it – remove them from the planet and you remove the threat. Except that the threat will always re-emerge because there will always be others who feel so powerless and lacking in control and influence over their own lives that they see no alternative. That is the current policy operated by the powerful.
  2. You could seek to force those who are threatening death and destruction to desist by making their existence intolerable through the imposition of sanctions of different sorts. But the danger is that if they are not starved into submission they may be starved into even more desperate acts in order to try to survive.
  3. You could seek to negotiate peace with those who are seeking or threatening to disrupt it. This only works if all sides want peace and are willing to negotiate. It necessitates a recognition that peace through compromise is more desirable than the current situation. Peace that lasts cannot be coerced or imposed because otherwise resentment will fester and emerge later on in violent antipathy.

It seems to me that the approaches that have been taken in the 50 years I have lived on this spinning globe have not secured lasting peace. United Nations resolutions have not changed anything. Economics has not changed anything. Ideology has not changed anything – capitalism may have gained the ascendancy but it actually only benefits the wealthy and powerful so is likely in the long term to exacerbate the problem. Religion has not changed anything – different sides have claimed moral and religious justifications for their actions but nobody has been proved right. Technology has not changed the status quo.

So what would work? I think we need a global response to a global problem. That problem is inequality: inequality of wealth, power, influence, lifestyle, resource consumption, technology and so much more. And what we need is a global outpouring of grace. By this I mean that those with power become willing to ‘lose face’ and seek to improve the circumstances for those who are power-less. It will cost a lot in many different ways, and the cost will primarily be paid by those who have the power, wealth and so on. They are the ones who will be giving things up for the benefit of those who have less as it means a substantial redistribution of wealth, power and influence.

It also carries with it a lot of risks: the risk that those who are seeking to wreak death and destruction on others will simply take what is offered and continue their deadly path; the risk that those who have used aggression or its threat to make their point will claim victory and it could encourage others to try the same thing; the risk that the citizens of the powerful nations will see it as weakness and not re-elect those that we in power who acted that way… many more besides.

It’s actually something that God intends. In the Bible we read of the concept of Jubilee. It was to be a year (once every 50 years) in which debts are written off, land is restored to its original owners, those who have been exploited are released, and everyone acts in the best interests of everyone rather than motivated by greedy self-interest. The problem is that those who had the power and wealth found it too difficult to let go of it so it was never (to our knowledge) put into practice.

Is this achievable? Not by our own efforts because greedy self-interest will always overpower grace and love. Look at what happened to Jesus!

But it is achievable if we get radical. ‘Radical’ as a word has its origins in the concept of ‘going back to the root’. What we need is not a new politics, economics or ideology. What we need is a radical renewal of our relationship with God. Jesus described what he had come to do in the form of announcing a year of Jubilee in our relationship with God: a change of heart and renewed relationship with our Creator is the only way we can begin to see his world transformed and the only way we can see the sort of change that is needed that will affect the hearts and minds in such a way that we will be willing to risk all for the benefit of all. It’s only possible when we allow him to get to work on us by his Spirit to change our hearts and minds and we live in a grace-rich environment.

Am I an idealist? Maybe. Am I unrealistic? Maybe. But it can start with me and you. How about it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

mmm… cookies?

cookiesNo, this is not a tribute to Homer Simpson or the Cookie Monster. It’s actually a reflection on how, through cookies* and the like, websites get to know stuff about us. If you search for ‘silly string’ (as I have done recently, watch out!) you will find that you start getting offered adverts for silly string on other websites you visit because of the clever sneakiness going on behind the scenes that tracks what you are interested in and offers you more of the same or similar (I still have no idea why I get offered hair products, though!).

At the moment I am gathering some items for a couple of new magic routines I am working on so the adverts are becoming quite interesting. I get offered gifts to go in party bags, fancy dress costumes and practical jokes. (I will leave you guessing what the magical routines are!)

I wonder why the clever sneakiness going on behind the scenes thinks that because we have searched for something once we want some more of the same? I have bought all I need for the magic routines, that part of my internet life is at an end. I won’t be buying any more but the adverts that are based on what I searched for assume that I want to continue purchasing that sort of thing.

Of course I recognise it’s very difficult for websites to anticipate what we will search for next – the only thing they can go on is what we have done in the past and try to extrapolate from that to offer us what we might want next. It would probably freak me out if every time I went online to search for something new my browser offered me exactly what I wanted before I had even searched for it. I would wonder how they had got inside my mind!

You and I are much more than the product of our past. We are shaped and influenced by it now and in the future. We even have to pay for it (eg loans). But the mistakes and terrible events of the past do not have to have so much hold over us that they define who we are today. We can choose.

Just because you are walking down a particular path does not mean that you have to continue to follow that path.

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Changes of direction, turning around, fresh starts and freedom are available to us all. It can take courage, resolve and we may need help (either from friends or professionals), but it’s possible. I don’t write these things lightly and recognise the limitations of a blog that can’t hope to minister to all of you, but I have found these things to be true for myself as a follower of Jesus and share that experience with you. I hope you will find the same thing in a local Christian church.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*According to Wikipedia “Cookies were designed to be a reliable mechanism for websites to remember stateful information (such as items added in the shopping cart in an online store) or to record the user’s browsing activity (including clicking particular buttons, logging in, or recording which pages were visited in the past). They can also be used to remember arbitrary pieces of information that the user previously entered into form fields such as names, addresses, passwords, and credit card numbers.”

a rANT against violence 

Over recent weeks and months there seems to have been an escalation in hatred, violence and bloodshed across the world. It may just be a perception-thing, and the situation may not be worse than what I hesitate to call ‘normal’, but there have been so many atrocities. How do you feel about it? I have several different responses.

One thing is that I feel outrage and anger at the violence, bloodshed and death. This is not how the world is meant to be. Terror, intimidation, threats, abuse and racist attitudes are hideous distortions of humanity as it could be and it makes me angry that so often the victims are those who are ‘innocent’ and just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Another response (usually after I have calmed down a bit) is deep sorrow for the victims, their families, the communities and the countries that have been affected. Some are afforded the opportunity to grieve and mourn and lament, others simply recoil from what has happened before being affected by yet another incident. This is deeply saddening.

A third response is a sense of helplessness. What can I do in my comfortable, relatively safe cocooned lifestyle where despite the emotions I have expressed above I am insulated from the true horror of what has happened by viewing it on a screen or hearing it on a radio? Will anything I do make any difference?

My personal approach to each of these is also threefold as a follower of Jesus (who responded to darkness with deep emotions, prayer, action and solidarity with victims):

First I try to pray. Sometimes I can articulate my thoughts and at other times they are simply emotions that I offer to God. Sometimes they are angry prayers, sometimes sorrowful, sometimes bewildered. Sometimes they are prayers for someone to do something, sometimes they are laments of helplessness. But I find that in addition to turning to God for help there is a degree of spiritual and emotional catharsis in praying that enables me to express my thoughts and emotions honestly.

Second I try to see whether there is someone ‘on the ground’ whom I can support. Are there agencies, charities, organisations or simply people with whom I have contact that I can support financially; can I campaign on their behalf by petitioning Governments; or are there ways in which giving financially will make a difference? It’s part of being open to God asking me to be part of the answer to my own prayers (and the prayers of others).

Thirdly I can get involved locally. Because if everyone around this planet took action locally then we can make a significant difference. So I try to look for acts of kindness I can do for others. I try to look for ways I can express God’s shalom (peace and wholeness) to others. I try to find ways to be Love in my community. Even posting something on social media is a positive act. And, because of my role, I can also share great examples of how followers of Jesus (and others) are responding positively and encourage others to do the same.

For example (and I have shared this around a bit) Westcliff Baptist Church in Southend have been taking bunches of flowers to people in businesses in their community who may be subject to abusive words or behaviour. Here are three stories of what has happened:

‘The first business I visited was a café run by a lady from Germany. She had received some online abuse online after the referendum. She and a Polish waitress were delighted to receive the flowers. As we handed them over, a customer who had heard our conversation said “that has made my day – that you should do this”.’

‘Further down the road, an elderly couple from our church visited a Polish deli. The owner was a little slow to understand why this couple were giving him flowers. When they were able to explain, he broke down in tears and repeatedly hugged them, thanking them for thinking of him. He wouldn’t let them leave the shop without a complimentary box of chocolates!’

‘An Italian waiter who received some flowers declared that he would put them on a table in the centre of the restaurant so that everyone who dined there could see the positive spirit in the community.’

Along with the flowers the church has given out cards (a copy is attached) that say, “With love from friends at Westcliff Baptist Church after the EU Referendum vote. We wanted to say you are welcome here and your contribution to our community is very much appreciated.” It has contact details for the Minister.

Churches in Fakenham are doing something similar in the Market on Thursdays

Earls Hall Baptist Church have invited any and all Christians to come together for a time of prayer for our land/nation/country following the referendum on Sunday evening from 6.30pm.

Churches in Leigh on Sea are putting up signs expressing that all are welcome in the churches, especially those from overseas.

Churches in Cambridgeshire are being offered a template for postcards they can print out “for members to use in personal low-key acts of welcome and blessing to those in minority communities who may be feeling threatened by the recent upsurge in acts of antagonism and hatred.”

 

ant

We may not think that the small things we do make much difference but to the people on the receiving end they make all the difference. And if we all do this, the hatred in the world starts to be countered and overcome by a revolution of Love: one ant on its own cannot do much, but a swarm of ants working together can transform a landscape!

Be blessed, be a blessing