solving or resolving?

Recently, in order to make an online order up to the amount that qualified for free delivery, I bought a Rubik’s Cube. Technically it isn’t a Rubik’s Cube because it is not an official one, but you know what I mean.

Rubik's cube 3

When they first came out I was a teenager and I got hold of one. I learnt how to solve it and spent a lot of free time trying to solve it as quickly as possible. I was delighted when I managed to do it in 45 seconds on one occasion, and my average got down to about 1 minute. There are a few moves that you have to know, and of course you need to know where and when to do them. I was pleased with myself.

I don’t know that I could solve the cube as quickly as that now, but I am enjoying the challenge of solving it (each time is almost certainly different to the last because of the number of permutations of a cube). There is something satisfying about being able to transform a mixed up cube back to its solved state. However my pride at being able to solve the cube was put in perspective when I saw a video of people solving the cube in about 6 seconds! They do have special ‘speed’ cubes but even so it’s astonishing to witness. My method of solving the cube would not work at such speeds so it is clear that they have another approach.

A bit like my love of fountain pens (see the previous bloggage) part of my enjoyment is also tactile. There is something satisfying about the way that a Rubik’s cube moves. The noise it makes, the smooth clacking as the cubes are rotated and even the way that the cube fits into my hand and can be flicked by my fingers is soothing.

And there is a sense of fulfilment about reorganising the confusion and returning order. Each time I succeed is a victory for order over chaos (albeit a tiny and insignificant one). It’s also a victory for persistence over hopelessness and logic over muddle.

Life could be described as being like a Rubik’s cube in that it can be chaotic, disorganised and frustrating. It is also unlikely that we will come across exactly the same permutation of experiences in life, even if there are similarities. And there are some people who seem better at life than others (often they also try to sell us their advice).

But of course life is not like a Rubik’s cube. It’s not always possible to solve it. We can’t simply apply the right moves in the right order and at the right time to resolve difficulties, trauma and horrific events. Logic can’t always be applied. Sometimes the answer to life is that it sucks and it’s awful and we can’t change our circumstances.

What we need then is not someone on a video (or bloggage) telling us how to solve things, we need people who resolve to be with us. I know that some people avoid people who are going through rough times because they don’t want to say the wrong thing, or even wouldn’t know where to start with saying anything. The good news is that words aren’t necessary. They don’t need to give us advice, answers, resources or solutions. They just need to have the wisdom to know that being with us is enough. A hug can say more than a thousand words. A reassuring smile can be louder than a 1000W speaker system. An empathetic tear can be more effective than hundreds of advice videos in helping us to cope.

That, for me, is one of the amazing things about Jesus. One of the ways he is described is ‘God with us’. And he has promised that by his Spirit he remains with us and in us. He experiences our deepest depths and darkest darkness with us. The Bible even says that when we can’t articulate words the Spirit translates the groans within us into prayers in the throneroom of heaven!

And Jesus asks his followers to emulate him and we can be ‘God with us’ to others. Yes there may be practical things we can do to help, but starting by ‘being with’ is an astonishingly powerful thing. When, last year, I was trying to recover from my heart surgery the best moment of the day was when my wife and family and friends came to visit. I learnt what Sally’s footsteps sounded like in the corridor and that lifted my spirits. They didn’t need to say or do anything, simply them being there was wonderful for me. And knowing that those who could not physically be there with me were praying for me was also an immense encouragement. The McFlurries and other treats that people brought me helped, of course, but just knowing that I was not alone and that I was loved was the best medicine.

I am not going to be as glib or frivolous as to suggest that knowing that God is with us is enough and that simply being with someone is all that is needed. Of course we want terrible circumstances to be improved and there may be things we can do to help with that (like when my nurse sister spoke to the ward staff on my behalf when I was in excruciating pain). We want to believe that there is hope – that even though God is with us as we walk through the darkest valley, the valley has an end. But knowing that we are not alone, we have not been abandoned, is a good start.

Who needs you to resolve to be there for them?

Be blessed, be a blessing

shame

houses-of-parliament-london-1-1515543Last night I watched ‘democracy’ in action. There was a debate in the House of Commons on the Immigration Bill and an amendment proposed by Lord Dubs that would have allowed 3000 unaccompanied children who are already in Europe to be accepted into this country. These are children who are in refugee camps across Europe and who are at risk of all sorts of exploitation, abuse and being trafficked.

The debate was impassioned, moving and (on the whole) well-informed. Sadly the House of Commons chamber wasn’t full. But then the Speaker of the House of Commons announced that the debate had run its time and it was time for ‘Division’ – when MPs vote on measures.

Suddenly, from nowhere, you could see MPs rushing through the chamber to the Division Lobbies in order to vote. MPs who were not in the Chamber to hear the arguments, the moving statements and sense the mood of the Chamber. They were coming in because they had been told which way to vote, or had already made up their minds, and so they trooped through the lobbies almost as robots and the amendment was not accepted.

294 votes to 276.

If just 10 of the MPs who voted against the amendment had changed their mind and voted in favour of it the amendment would have carried and 3000 children would now have a hope and a future.

I was deeply saddened and ashamed that our country had turned its back on these children.

Arguments against the amendment seem to be based on the ‘slippery slope’ theory – that if we let in 3000 now it will just encourage more. But that’s just daft. If my child ran and fell over, hurting their leg, I would not leave them there saying, “If I help you now it will encourage you to run again and I’ll only have to help you some more if you fall over again.”

Where’s the compassion?

Where was my MP? Mark Francois MP did not vote. He may have deliberately abstained – better than voting for – but he did not participate (this is what I wrote to him about most recently). He may have agreed with someone who was going to vote the opposite way to him that both of them would refrain from voting (it’s common practice in the Commons) – but he did not participate.

Shame.

There was one ray of hope. Will Quince, Conservative MP for my old home constituency of Colchester, sat through the whole debate (I saw him) and then, having heard what was said, changed his mind and voted against the Government. Well done!

I hope that the amendment will be coming back in a slightly different form and will be approved next time – and next time it would be great if all MPs were there to hear the debate.

How many of us have fixed views about issues and won’t change their mind, or don’t want to change their mind? How many of us only read newspapers with which we will agree? How many of us will only read books with which we will agree?

The Bible says that ‘iron sharpens iron’ – you need to be honed by interaction with those with whom you disagree.

I wonder too how many people have a fixed view about God – his existence, his opinion of them, his thoughts, and are not willing to consider any other possibilities?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Botox

there's nothing happening inside the red line
when you try to raise your eyebrows after Botox!

A few years ago I had a series of Botox injections in my forehead. It was not for cosmetic purposes, but was to try to alleviate the pain I was experiencing from a chronic migraine headache. Sadly it did not work, but it made a significant difference to the lines on my forehead (they disappeared) and meant I could not raise my eyebrows or frown until the effects wore off (after a few weeks).

It seems to me that some Botox has been applied to some more headlines this week.

The headline yesterday was that Britain is to take 20,000 refugees.

Yippee.

But the Botox of spin was injected to the refugee crisis so that eyebrows were not raised and frowns could not be made. The headline did not show that this was spread over the next five years, and that equates to 76 per week. And it neglected to mention that by the end of August 2014, the UN estimated 6.5 million people had been displaced in Syria, while more than 3 million refugees had fled to countries such as Lebanon (1.14 million), Jordan (608,000) and Turkey (815,000). That was last year! And that’s just Syria.

Ah.

The UK will accept up to 20,000 people from camps surrounding Syria over the next five years, with priority given to vulnerable children.

Yippee.

But that’s up to 20,000. And the need is urgent now, these people can’t wait five years!

Ah.

Priority is to be given to vulnerable children.

Yippee.

But, and here’s perhaps the place where the Botox of spin has really frozen the truth, they will only have the right to stay for five years and Lord Ashdown says that when these vulnerable and displaced children reach the age of 18 the Government says they will be deported!

Really?! That surely can’t be true can it? So far I have not heard anyone from the Government denying it…

This is described as humanitarian aid – it’s a compassionate response to a global crisis. And surely it’s better than nothing, isn’t it? We can’t help everyone. We have a duty to protect the most vulnerable. We want to stop the flow of people across Europe at source by taking people from the refugee camps. We want to stop the people traffickers who are profiting from these vulnerable people and putting their lives at risk.

I understand those points of view, but I want to draw a couple of contrasts between that approach and a couple of others:

Contrast that attitude with the people of Munich applauding and cheering as the weary refugees arrived there at the weekend.

The British announcement yesterday may be better than nothing, but in my view it’s not much better. The Botox of spin has been applied so that bad headlines can be erased, eyebrows won’t be raised and frowns will disappear. We can pat ourselves on the back for making a difference.

But Jesus had a different view of things (Matthew 25, slightly altered):

35 “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in [a refugee camp] and you came to visit me.”

37 ‘Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you ill or in [a refugee camp] and go to visit you?”

40 ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

There’s no time limit or numerical limit there…

Be blessed, be a blessing