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

seeing things

I wear glasses. They are varifocals – correcting both long and short-sightedness depending on which part of the lens I look through. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my eyes and brain adapted to this (I doubted I would ever get used to such a strange thing but it happened almost instantly).

glassesWhen I am not wearing my glasses some objects will be in soft focus. If you ever see me without my glasses and it looks like I am frowning at you, please don’t be offended it’s just that I am trying to work out who you are.

One of the things that is easy to forget is that each of us sees the world around us, and other people, through our own eyes, but other people see things differently. I am not really talking about literal vision and sight, but the way in which we experience, interpret, filter and infer.

For example, someone who loves fast cars might be really excited to see and hear an Aston Martin roaring up the street. Another person might experience the same event and be concerned about the safety of pedestrians. Someone else might experience the same event and wonder how anyone could afford such a car. Do you see what I mean.

When we forget that we ‘see’ and experience life in a unique fashion that can lead us into difficult and uncomfortable places. By way of an illustration, I sometimes forget that not everyone is into performing magical illusions to the same extent that I am. I might think I am being entertaining and engaging but to someone else I am a bore and tedious. You could replace ‘performing magical illusions’ with almost anything else and it can work out in a similar fashion…

Not everyone enjoys the same TV programmes / films / music / books as you do. And even if they do, they may not enjoy them in the same way.

Not everyone is an interested in crocheting as you are, and may not appreciate how much work went into your full-sized crocheted African Elephant so don’t be too disappointed if they simply say, “Oh, that’s nice.”

Not everyone enjoys sport (watching or playing) and even if they do they may not enjoy the same sport and even if they do they may not support the same team / individual as you do and even if they do they may not agree with your perspective on their performances.

Not everyone understands your interest in Mongolian Tree Frog Worship* or (more conventionally) shares your perspective on Jesus.

So what do we do?

A little self-awareness goes a long way. Be aware how you see things and realise that not everyone has had the same experiences, enjoys the same things and understands life in the same way as you. That’s called individuality.

Recognise that if you only ever mix with and talk with and encounter people who are broadly similar to yourself you are seriously limiting your ability to grow and learn and perhaps also limiting the opportunities for others to learn and grow through you. To realise and embrace that is called diversity.

Recognising that people see and experience things differently, and becoming comfortable with exploring that in conversation with them without fearing that it will contaminate the way that we see and experience things is called dialogue. (If you are tempted to think that you should not be influenced by others see the outcomes of a lack of ‘diversity’ above.) Communication and Community have the same root for a reason!

Now, before you start lobbing virtual stones in my direction for heresy let me be clear: I am not saying that there are no absolutes. I am not saying that I believe that all truth is relative. This is not a bloggage to embrace a pluralistic view of life, the Universe and everything. There clearly are some absolutes. For example: being outside in the rain without an umbrella or a coat means we will get wet; bald-headed people have less hair on their heads that people who are not bald… and so on.

I think I am coming up for some rules of engagement on issues and subjects that some of us believe are absolutes but which are not shared universally, even if we believe that they should be.

Should we share those with others? Absolutely. (pun intended)

Should we try to persuade them? With grace and respect, yes.

Should we force others to believe what we believe? No.

Should we insist that they accommodate our beliefs? Not to the detriment of others.

Should we listen to what others have to say about their perspective on things? Definitely.

Should we be offended if they disagree? No, although they may disagree disagreeably which may cause offence.

Should we be offensive if they disagree? No.

Should we be willing to change our minds? Maybe, but because it feels right to us, not because they tell us to. A closed mind can never be expanded.

Should we be open to learn new things and see things in new ways? Absodefinutely.

These rules of engagement are very much a work in progress. They have come out of the mush that is my brain as I have typed so have not had a lot of thought applied to them. But behind them all is an attempt to acknowledge that part of being in community is to sensitively encourage a creative balance between expressing individuality, embracing diversity, and exploring through dialogue. That is not something to be afraid of because if your truth is true it can survive those things and probably be enhanced by them.

If you have ‘absolutes’ you need to recognise that there may be different grades for you: my convictions about who Jesus of Nazareth is are absolutes that exist at the foundational belief level of who I am and how I see and experience things and shape what I do. I have that in common with a lot of people. But the way I express that through the Christian church of which I am a part differs from the way that others who share that same foundational belief express it in their church. To make non-foundational beliefs more important than they are opens us up to ridicule. And for that purpose I refer you to a joke by Emo Philips:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

In the book of Proverbs in the Bible we read (chapter 3 from verse 13):

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honour.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.

It’s worth pointing out that in the book of Proverbs ‘wisdom’ is a way of living, relating, understanding and perspective, not mere knowledge. And the writer of Proverbs says that a right perspective on who God is and who we are (aka “the fear of the Lord”) is the beginning of wisdom.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*A fake religion I made up many years ago when I was trying to come up with something obscure as an illustration. I don’t even know if there are any tree frogs in Mongolia.

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 

 

a reflective response to the referendum result

make a dealI have been trying to work out in my mind how to respond to the EU Referendum result. I want to offer some disparate thoughts.

To those who voted ‘Remain’: You did not lose. We made a decision. Right now you may feel as if you have lost, I understand that. (I voted ‘Remain’ too). From the comments I have read and heard it sounds like many of us feel like the Israelite exiles in the Old Testament who had been taken against their will to a new land where they did not want to be. I think we have two choices in that context:

Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
    when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
    we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
    our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
    they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a foreign land?

or

Jeremiah 29

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

We can either sit down, moaning, complaining, weeping and writing Boney M songs, or we can get on with it, be activists, make a positive difference, work for peace and prosperity and pray for the new place in which we find ourselves. If you want to do the latter, I heartily recommend Citizens UK as an organisation through which we can do this. But if not them then get involved somehow, make a difference.

To those who voted ‘Leave’: You did not win. We made a decision. I did not vote the same way that you did. A lot of positive possibilities were offered to us about a future outside the EU – possibilities that inspired a majority of those who voted to choose to leave. We all now need to work together for the benefit of all to try to make positive change a reality. You need those who voted ‘Remain’ to make this happen. So don’t alienate us.

These words from Philippians 4 were written in the context of Paul pleading for two people who were in violent disagreement to work out their differences:

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.

Bringing the two themes together I am reminded that Jesus taught people to pray that God’s kingdom would come and his will be done on earth in the same way as it is in heaven. But praying is not merely words of hope or aspiration. It is also an attitude that motivates action, it is the fuel that powers God-inspired change. Let’s pray – yes, yes, yes, but let’s act in response to, and because of, those prayers. Let’s allow ourselves to be changed by those prayers so that we are acting in accordance with what God wants – the peace and prosperity of the world in which we now find ourselves.

The country had a choice on 23rd June 2016. We now have another one: we can either focus on our difference or make a difference.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

pulling our lego(TM)?

Some of the children in one of our Sunday morning groups were invited to write a letter to the church. They have been exploring some of the letters written to the churches in the New Testament and were given the opportunity to write to our church.

Some of them will be read out on Sunday morning in our Harvest / Communion service so I won’t quote them now. Perhaps next week…

One of them (cheekily?) wrote this:

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome
When we’re living our dream

Everything is better when we stick together
Side by side
You and I
Gonna win forever
Let’s party forever

We’re the same
I’m like you
You’re like me
We’re all working in harmony

Everything is awesome
Everything is cool when you’re part of a team
Everything is awesome
When we’re living our dream

legoThose of you who have seen the Lego Movie are now singing it in your head. If you haven’t seen that film it’s worth watching – it’s not just for children. There are all sorts of ways in which it can be seen as a parable, as an exploration for the nature of God, good vs evil and so on. Plus it’s great fun!

Look again at the words of the song, though. They really could be a letter to our churches. And not just churches on their own, but groups of churches in a town, or in a denominational stream, or worldwide! Try placing the words as a template over your church. Do they ring true? If not, perhaps God might be saying something to us.

In some ways I am sad that this ‘letter’ was filtered out. The message is a great one, an optimistic one, a challenging one and yet one that contains hope.

Perhaps we should sing it in church instead!!!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Blessings from Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have been following a series of 40 daily readings from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a German Christian pastor who was arrested for opposing Hitler during the Second World War. He died in captivity shortly before the end of the war.

 

These readings from the last couple of days made me think about churches as Christian communities:

Reading 1

Every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial…

Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly…

Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive. We thank God for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us other Christians who live by God’s call, forgiveness, and promise. We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily.

Reading 2

Christians are persons who no longer seek their salvation, their deliverance, their justification in themselves, but in Jesus Christ alone. They know that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them guilty, even when they feel nothing of their own guilt, and that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces them free and righteous even when they feel nothing of their own righteousness…

Because they daily hunger and thirst for righteousness, they long for the redeeming Word again and again. It can only come from the outside. In themselves they are destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside; and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing us redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. But God put this Word into the mouth of human beings so that it may be passed on to others. When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell it to other people. God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Barney the dinosaur was right

I was taking an assembly at a local secondary school this morning and talking about the African concept of ubuntu. Before the name was adopted by computer geeks it was a traditional word that is difficult to translate into English. But I think the essence of is that we are completed in community. We need other people to help us to be our best. No difference is great enough to mean that we do not need other people – either so that we can help complete them or they can help complete us, or both.

I support Ipswich Town Football Club (yes, I am used to disappointment). They are my favourite team and I am never going to change that. But unless there were other football teams for them to play, there would not be much point in them existing. (Yes, even Norwich City!) We all need each other, even those with whom we disagree.

I did a magic trick this morning using numbers. Thankfully it worked. But we need all numbers if we are to be able to count accurately and easily. Mathematics depends on there being more than one number. (And for pedants like my son, that includes binary because you need 1 and 0 for that number system). Everyone is needed, even if we are different (or because we are).

This should be no surprise to us: in the earliest chapters of the Bible we hear God say that it is not good for man to be on his own. Much of the Bible is about how to live together in a God-centred community. It’s not named Ubuntu but the concept is inherent in who we are created to be.

I think that applies to churches, denominations, neighbourhoods, workplaces, places of study, families… maybe Barney the Dinosaur was right with his song: “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you. Won’t you say you love me too?”

be blessed, be a blessing