thoughtless or less thought?

A lot of time and effort had gone into creating a resource. It had been honed, refined, shaped and adapted over a period of several months after the initial version had been finished. Finally it was ready to be released and there some positive feedback.

But there were also some people who made critical comments about the resource on social media. The critical comments were not about the core message, nor were they about the concept. They were complaining about one small aspect of the resource. It was not as if they said, “We like these aspects of the resource, but wonder about that one…” They simply complained about one aspect of the resource and had nothing positive to say about the rest. They denounced the whole thing because of one minor part of it.

For those who had invested time, creativity and effort into the resource it was incredibly disheartening that some people could not see past the one thing they did not like and were not able to write anything positive. It was even more disheartening that the people who felt critical about it decided to post their comments on social media for all to see rather than speaking privately to those who had created the resource. The delight at what they had created had been replaced by misery and disappointment. And the good work that had been done felt tarnished by the negativity. Maybe the people who wrote the negative comments were simply thoughtless, or maybe they gave less thought to what they wrote because they wrote on impulse but the impact was the same.

The story above could probably be told many times over, perhaps with minor adaptations, about how people respond negatively and critically on social media to what others have created. You could replace ‘resource’ with ‘cartoon’, ‘book’, ‘website’, ‘blog’, or ‘video’; you could replace it with ‘TV show’, ‘film’, or ‘song’; you could replace it with ‘politics’, ‘philosophy’, ‘spirituality’ or ‘morality’ and it would still resonate as true. Somehow we have reached a point where it is deemed entirely acceptable to be negative about what other people think, create, do or say and even to insult and personal in the critiques. And they wound in ways that cannot be easily bandaged.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In days gone by, before social media and the internet were even embryonic thoughts in the minds of those who created them, comments that were intended to be seen by others were usually printed or broadcast on TV or the radio. And what was said was usually moderated because people knew that they were subject to the laws of libel and defamation. In law the main defences to libel and defamation are truth or that it was an honest opinion and the impact of libel could be reputational or financial with recompense awarded accordingly. For some reason nobody seems to apply these laws to what someone splurges across the www!

Have we lost our filters of decency? Have we stopped thinking about the impact of our words on other people? Do we think that those who are the subject of vitriol or ridicule are immune to the effects of our comments? Are we less thoughtful and now are thoughtless?

The worst thing for me about the story at the start of this bloggage is that it is a true story and relates to something that was created for churches to use. The negative comments were made by Christians. Christians are not perfect, we make mistakes, but it saddens me when we flaunt those imperfections in full view of the online world without thought.

Be blessed, be a blessing

view from my pew 13

 

Dear Internet

Mr Grenville-Stubbs here. I imagine that you thought I had forgotten all about you, didn’t you? But no, I have simply been rather too busy to put fingers to keyboard and muse in your direction. However, I have something rather significant to tell you.

Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker, our Minister, told me a story before Christmas and said that I was one of the characters, but I can’t work out which one so I will tell you the story and let you decide. First of all I need to tell you the context:

We had a young lady come to our church recently for a concert to raise funds for the refurbishment of the thermometer at the front of the church that indicates how we are doing with our fundraising to replace the church roof. She was one of a number of performers, many of whom were from our church. My friend, Mr Capel, gave an enthusiastic performance on the spoons. Mr Baumgarten surprised us all with a performance of Nessun Dorma that led to a standing ovation until the CD jumped and we realised he was miming to a recording of Pavarotti. Mrs Barnard raised a few eyebrows with her Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. And I gave a stirring recitation of the “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V (although our safeguarding designated person did suggest that covering myself in stage blood was a bit much for a family event).

The young lady in question was a schoolfriend of one of the young people from our church. She doesn’t normally come to our church but she wanted to perform and played her violin for us. She played ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I commend her ambition but unfortunately her ability did not match it. It was rather painful to listen to and I felt embarrassed for her as she battled her way through (repeats and all). After the concert over a cup of tea in the church hall I talked about her performance to Mr Capel, Mr Baumgarten and Mrs Barnard and I expressed my opinion with my usual thoroughness.

I thought nothing more of this until Revd Phil told me this story:

“Thomas Edison did not invent the electric lightbulb, even though many people believe he did. What he managed to do was invent a commercially viable, practical and durable electric lightbulb. The problem with previous versions of the electric lightbulb was that the filaments would burn out quickly so the bulbs did not last long.

light bulb“Edison tried 6,000 different materials for his filament. Each time it didn’t work he decided that he had excluded one more non-working alternative, narrowing down the options until he found one that worked and was cheap enough to be financially viable. Finally he tried carbonized bamboo and found that it worked.

“But imagine, for a moment, if Mr Edison had been working in his laboratory and he had overheard a conversation outside the door. ‘I can’t believe he’s still going. He’s tried almost 6,000 different materials and it just doesn’t work. He’s not going to succeed. He just isn’t up to it and he should give up now.’

“What if he had taken that to heart and given up just before he tried carbonized bamboo?”

I don’t think I am that much like Thomas Edison although I do consider the comparison to be flattering.

Yours faithfully

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs

critical thinking

As you will know by now if you have read my previous bloggages, or follow me on social media, my friend Richard Jones has won Britain’s Got Talent. He is the first magician to win this and, in my humble opinion, is a worthy winner. He’s also a really nice, genuine, humble bloke.

But it is distressing to see that some in the media have decided to attack him. If it distresses me, how much more must it hurt Richard? There have been claims that he was repeating illusions performed elsewhere. There were even (amazingly) claims that he was not performing real magic! And some magicians have criticised him for not performing more difficult illusions.

Let’s be clear about a few things. First of all Richard has never claimed to have supernatural powers. What he does is perform illusions with style, charm, skill and panache. Of course he’s not performing real magic if you mean that he is using spells and incantations to invoke dark powers to enable him to do what he does. But he’s a member of the Magic Circle and a member of Mid Essex Magical Society, neither of which admit people who don’t know what they are doing.

The second thing I want to clarify is that many illusions are available for sale commercially through magic shops (online and physical). So the chances are that if some of what Richard did was based on something that is commercially available someone else will also have performed it somewhere else, assuming that they have secured the right to perform it on television. Even illusions performed by famous televisions magicians are also available commercially. Criticising Richard for what he has done is like criticising a musician for performing a cover version of another song. But actually what he also did was add his own twist, style, presentation and personality onto the illusions he performed.

The final thing I want to clarify is that Britain’s Got Talent is about the performance and the effect that it has on the audience. It is not a show that rewards technical excellence, but a show that promotes talented performers. Richard’s performances in the audition and live shows were excellent. He presented the illusions superbly. You can tell that by the reaction of the judges and the audience, and of course by the fact that he won! If I was in his shoes I would not try to do something technically risky in order to wow the magicians if I could perform something I was more confident with pulling off successfully that would get the reaction he did.

All of this criticism needs to be kept in perspective. They are criticisms by just a few people who happen to have a public platform from which to proclaim their negative opinions. In my mind their opinions matter less than the opinion of those who voted for Richard, and the opinions of those who know him. But why do people feel it is necessary to criticise others in that way?

In part I think it is because they are jealous. They are jealous of the success of others and need to tear people down in order to make themselves feel better. One of the Ten Commandments is that we should not covet what other people have. It’s not just to stop us being jealous, it’s because wanting and focusing on what others have stops us appreciating what we have.

In part, too, I think it’s because they want to try to make others think better of them. It’s pride. If they are critical perhaps others will think that they are an expert. If they put other people down then perhaps others will assume that they are above the person they are putting down. Pride is as corrosive as jealousy because it makes us oblivious to our own faults, it empowers us to judge others but masks our own inadequacies from us. Jesus said that you will be judged in the same way that you judge others – in other words those who are negative and critical will be perceived as such by those who hear them and those who are positive and affirming will be perceived as positive and affirming.

We don’t know the impact our words can have on someone else. I hope and pray that Richard will not have been too badly hurt by the negative comments and will recognise them for what they are. I hope and pray that he is enjoying his well-deserved success. I hope and pray that he will be able to continue to respond with grace.

A verse from the Bible, written to a church, has been bouncing around in my head form the past few months and seems appropriate here:

“Encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Imagine how different it would be if those who have a public platform tried to to that…imagine how different the world would be if we all tried to live like that!

All of this has made me reflect again on myself. I hope and pray that my words are positive, affirming and encouraging not negative and destructive. I am trying hard not to be judgemental of those who have criticised my friend. If I am being judgemental, please forgive me. I have tried to defend Richard not only because he is a friend but because he doesn’t deserve it and the criticism is unfair. But I also want to use this to reflect again on my own behaviour and ask for God’s Spirit’s help to point out where I am jealous or proud, seek his forgiveness, apologise where I need to, and start afresh.

Be blessed, be a blessing

it’s a yes from me

A good friend of mine is currently appearing on Britain’s Got Talent. He got through the live auditions and this week it will be decided whether or not he will go through to the Live Semi-Finals. He’s Richard Jones and his audition is here. If you haven’r seen it, watch it. If you have, watch it again. And then if you get the chance to vote for him if he gets that far, please do so. He’s a great bloke and a great magician.

I don’t usually watch Britain’s Got Talent but I did watch Richard’s audition. I imagine that when he had completed his audition and the crowd were going wild and the judges were applauding he must have been feeling really good. And when he got four ‘yeses’ from the judges he must have been so excited.

But there were other people who, in the middle of their performance, suddenly heard a claxon sound and a big red X appeared above them as a judge said that they did not want to send them through. That must have been so off-putting, and then for some they would have got a second X and then a third and then a final X that meant that they were out. How must that feel to be publicly voted out? I imagine they felt awful, discouraged and perhaps even hurt.

I applaud the courage of all who have auditioned, whether or not they have got through, because they were willing to have a go. I don’t think I could do it even if I felt I had the talent!

When Jesus warned people against judging others I am pretty sure he did not have TV talent shows in mind. But he said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured.” (Matthew 7 1-2)

When he spoke about us being judged in the same way that we are judging I don’t think he was just talking about divine judgement. I think he was saying that we can expect to receive the same sort of treatment that we give out to others: an obvious example of this is that in Britain’s Got Talent or similar shows there’s always a nasty, harsh judge and they often receive a harsh reception from the viewing public.

How we make other people feel will reflect back on us.

If we are constantly putting other people down, belittling them and criticising them negatively, then we should not be surprised if people start attributing those characteristics to us. We will gain a reputation as a judgemental, negative person. I think it even extends to gossip (which is a form of judging): if we gossip about others we gain the reputation as a gossip and won’t be trusted.

But I think that the opposite is true. If we look to affirm, encourage, lift up, bless and support others we will gain the reputation of being an affirming, encouraging person. If we refuse to engage in gossip we will gain a reputation that we can be trusted.

I think this is part of what Jesus meant when he said that when you look at a tree you know what sort of tree it is by looking at its fruit.

The great thing is that it’s never too late to make a fresh start, and God gives us his Spirit to help us. We may need to repair some of the damage we have caused in the past, but that will also have the effect of starting to change our reputation for the good.

It’s a yes from me.

Be blessed, be a blessing

PS I apologise for the relative scarcity of bloggages recently. This has been due to a lack of time and opportunity to write anything. I see that Mr Grenville-Stubbs has been taking advantage of this by posting a few items. Sorry about that too.

Don’t forget to vote for Richard Jones!

cause and affect*

change is inevitable... except from a vending machine
change is inevitable… except from a vending machine

Why is it that software developers keep changing the software? We get used to the way a program or app or website works and then, before we know it, an upgrade has happened and things are different. New settings need setting. Old settings need resetting. Changed default settings need grrring at.

But it’s a very 21st Century problem. Less than a generation ago so much of what we take for granted today was the stuff of science fiction.

Imagine ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in the late 1970s…

“In the first part of the 21st Century computers will be everywhere. They will be accessed via touch screens or even controlled by voice. They will fit into your pocket. People will be connected with each other and with information via a global communications network – a web if you like. We will all carry multi-functional communication devices that can also access information from this interlinked global web, take photographs and video which can be instantly shared, and millions of other possibilities? Entire music and film collections will be stored on microchips the size of a fingernail.”

[Presenter pauses and chuckles incredulously].

“Yeah, right. Dream on! What’s next? You’ll be telling us we’ll be in driverless cars soon.”

[puts finger in ear to listen to instruction from Producer]

“What’s that?”

[listens]

“Oh. Apparently they are developing driverless cars.”

Anyway, enough reverie, back to the topic in hand – these pesky upgrades. We can find them incredibly frustrating. Every time a well known visage – tome related social networking site is updated I reckon the first 24 hours of communication on it will be dominated by people complaining about the changes and demanding that it is changed back.

Why do they do it? I think the clue is in the first sentence of this bloggage. There are people called ‘software developers’. That is their job – to develop software (cue references to well-known adverts for varnish). I wonder how they feel at the tirade of complaints about the changes when they have worked hard on what have been planned as improvements and enhancements (or have been introduced to protect users from unscrupulous people)?

We’re always very happy to complain about things, but do we ever stop to think about the effect of those complaints on the people behind the scenes? Do ‘reviewers’ ever stop to think about how a scathing review affects the people who have worked hard to produce something?

There’s an ancient story about a visiting preacher who was saying goodbye to people after the service. A man came up and said, “I couldn’t understand a word you said!” and walked off.

A few minutes later he came back and said, “You went on far too long,” and left again.

Not long afterwards he returned again: “That was the worst sermon I have ever heard,” and he left the preacher reeling. The Church Secretary came up and the preacher explained what had happened.

“Oh, you don’t want to take any notice of him,” reassured the Church Secretary, “he never has any opinions of his own. He simply goes around repeating what he hears other people saying.”

I am not saying that there is no room for critical comment. We need that. We need to listen to it because God might be speaking through it. But there are ways of offering it that are not destructive, aggressive, hurtful or (yes I am going to say it) rude. Before you offer some criticism or complain, why not ask yourself how you would feel if it was said to you? And if you are brave enough, ask if you can imagine Jesus saying it that way?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes I know it should be ’cause and effect’ but it’s intended as a pun that makes us think about how we affect others [he explains defensively to prevent criticism from pedants]

blind criticism

blind monkeyRecently I watched an interview with Russell Crowe, who was asked about his film Noah. He said that he had received criticism for it – mainly from people who had not actually seen the film. That approach really annoys me. Why is it that people (Christians especially) are willing to criticise, condemn, attack and even campaign against something without checking it out for themselves? It has happened on many occasions and does not do anything to enhance the reputation of those who do so.

We are about to enter one of the most amazing weeks in the church calendar. From Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday we will reflect on and explore the astonishing events of Jesus’ last week before his arrest, trial, execution and resurrection.

These events are so important, so significant, so amazing that Jesus’ biographers* devote massive portions of their books to covering them.

And yet there are many people who will ignore or write off the events of Easter week without having examined them for themselves. Have you ever wondered why that is? Have you ever examined them in detail? Or do you assume that it’s not true because someone told you it wasn’t?

Over the next week the bloggages will be a series of reflections on Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. These are reflections we are following in our church. I hope you will find them helpful. They lead us towards the astonishing events of Easter Sunday… but let’s not give any spoilers!

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

 

*Matthew, Mark, Luke, John

Mull of inspire

(Please excuse the corny title, I couldn’t resist.)

SONY DSCA long time ago in a church far, far away I received a letter in the post. It was a rather critical letter. My friend and colleague in the church, David, had been sent a copy of the letter and as soon as he got his he phoned me and urged me not to respond for 24 hours and then to meet with him prior to doing so.

I took his advice.

I mulled for 24 hours (which is shorthand for thinking, praying, agonising, worrying, praying, feeling upset and trying to listen to what God might be saying). After that period of time I met with David and he suggested that I look again at the letter and see where there was truth, where there was inaccuracy, where there were misunderstandings and where it was unkind. His suggestion was to reply in a letter, but to lace the letter with grace. Endorse the truth (and apologise if necessary), gently correct inaccuracies, clarify misunderstandings and pray forgiveness over the unkindness but don’t respond to it.

I wasn’t sure about that approach because I was still smarting from some of the comments, but because I trusted his wisdom and judgement I attempted to follow what he had advised.

Truth is always truth. It does not change and is worth endorsing and affirming even if it shows up our failings and inadequacies. If we take the time to mull on challenges, even those that sting, God’s Spirit can minister truth to us.

It is worth correcting inaccurate statements. Not to prove that you are right, but so that the other person may be able to evaluate the situation more accurately and won’t appear silly if they rely on something that is wrong. But this is about inaccuracies of fact, not opinion. If I have a different opinion to someone else that is something that needs to be discussed not enforced on them.

Misunderstandings are a bit like inaccuracies, but I try to treat them as a failure on my part to communicate clearly enough. If I can clarify what I am trying to say then it will make it easier for the other person to understand me, even if they still don’t agree with me.

And responding to unkindness with forgiveness? Well Someone once said that we should ‘turn the other cheek’ – it is a way of defusing anger and diffusing tension. To respond in kind to the unkind just escalates and antagonises. To refuse to retaliate is to emulate Jesus and that’s well worth doing.

I am so glad I listened to David and mulled because it inspired* me to write a very different letter to the one I would have written had I replied immediately. I believe God used my reply to help change that person’s perspective so that they could see the issue that was the subject of the initial letter differently. When it was ultimately brought to a Church Meeting they actually voted in favour of the issue that they had been so strongly against in the letter!

It’s not new. It’s age-old wisdom. Thousands of years ago in the Book of Proverbs (15:1) we read:

A tender answer turns away rage,
but a prickly reply spikes anger**.

And remember that if someone’s words to you appear sharp it may be because they are trying to squeeze them in edge-ways!

Be blessed, be a blessing

* hence the title!

**from The Voice translation

 

you what?

I went to the local DIY store yesterday. I was looking around, just browsing and minding my own business when a chap in an apron came up to me and asked if I wanted decking… luckily I got the first punch in.

I have just got back from the Doctor’s and he tells me I need to lose some weight. I asked him what I should do and he said that everyday I should do something that leaves me breathless. I am going to take up smoking.

There is always scope for misunderstanding in life. If you write to someone at church and ask them to take the lead you may find that your church roof has been stripped rather than you successfully having delegated a task. The problem comes when we make assumptions about what the other person meant and don’t check it out with them. We assume that what we think they meant is what they actually meant and we take offence when none was intended.

For an organisation that is supposed to be in the business of communicating we are not very good at it between ourselves. I operate a lot by using email (what on earth did Ministers do before email? Oh yes, we wrote letters and spoke to people.), but I have to try to be wise and make a phone call or a visit when an email could be misunderstood or seem cold and rude. There are times when I hear that someone is upset by something I have said or done but they have not come to me to sort it out. It could be that I am unapproachable, in which case… sorry, but so many things that become big issues could be resolved with a simple phone call or conversation at an early stage. If there is ever anything I have said or done with which you are unhappy, please speak with me about it.

Of course sometimes people do take offence and sometimes they let us know about it. One of the things that I learnt early on in my ministry is that when someone is critical of me I will try to meet with them to hear things from them, offer my perspective (and often apology) and seek to discern what is at the root of the problem and whether it can be resolved. Those conversations are not always easy at first, but it is so much better than exchanging letters, emails, phone calls and definitely better than ‘hurrumphs’.

On one occasion I received a very critical (and personal) letter from someone, who copied it to someone else. That person received their copy before I did and advised me to sit down, take a deep breath and read the letter calmly. They also advised me not to respond to it immediately, but to spend time considering whether there is truth in anything that was said and to offer a considered response.

I am glad I took that advice as it enabled the person who had written to me to receive a gracious (I hope) response that took on board some of the substance of what was said and also gave me a chance to explain what I thought and correct misunderstandings.

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)

“If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)

there is such a thing as bad publicity

How can a massive organisation like FIFA have got itself into such a mess? I don’t know whether any of the allegations that are bouncing around about the shenanigans at FIFA are true. I don’t know whether anyone has been bribing anyone else. I don’t know whether the process of awarding of the World Cup Finals was corrupted. It has to be said that all of the people who have been accused of these different things have denied them. In which case I would expect a stream of libel lawsuits to follow in order…

I come back to my initial question. How can a massive organisation like FIFA have got itself into such a mess? Surely those in leadership are aware of how this looks. Surely they know that the general public tend to assume that there is no smoke without fire. As a former lawyer I try very hard not to make judgements about people or events without knowing enough facts. As a Christian I try not to judge people at all. But these people are not making it easy for me!

Sadly churches are equally capable of shooting themselves in the foot. It’s probably unlikely that people are going to be bribing one another in order to influence the direction of a church. Ministers are very unlikely to be able to afford a bung in order to encourage a church to call them. But we know that the media is happy to tell stories of scandals, schisms and sundry ‘stinks’ that happen in churches.

But when we criticise each other in public are we acting like FIFA? I am not saying that we should not be critical. If that were the case then we might as well delete all of the prophetic books from our Bibles and remove a lot of what Jesus said about Pharisees. But there are ways of doing this that can demonstrate love, kindness, respect and integrity. If we lack grace in public, how will people think that we have experienced and share God’s grace? If we are aggressive towards each other, how will people believe that we have experienced God’s peace and love?

I would love to think that we can show the rest of the planet what it is like to be able to disagree without falling out. We should be able to dissent without fighting. We must be able to speak prophetically while at the same time offering hope and light.

And here are some genuine football commentaries…

1. Well, it’s Liverpool two, Ipswich nil, and if the score stays this way, I’ve got to fancy Liverpool for the win.

2. He had an eternity to play that ball, but took too long.

3. And so they have not been able to improve on their 100% record.

4. With the last kick of the game, he scored with a header.

5. Well, it’s a fabulous kaleidoscope of colour: almost all the Brazilians are wearing yellow shirts.

6. If that had gone in, it would definitely have been a goal.

7. Their manager, Howard Wilkinson, isn’t here today, which strongly suggests that he may be elsewhere.

8. I am a firm believer that if one team scores a goal, the other need to score two to win.

9. If a team scores early on, it often takes an early lead.

10. You cannot possibly have counted the number of passes made, but there were eight.

intro-speck-tion

contact lensMy eye is irritated at the moment. I usually wear contact lenses and it feels like there is a tiny bit of grit or something else under the lens. The contact lens-wearers out there will be empathising with me right now. Those of you who don’t wear them can’t really understand.

It was quite funny, therefore, that my daily bible reading this morning included Jesus using the example of someone with a plank in their own eye trying to help someone else get a speck of dust out of their eye. It’s another of his funny images using hyperbole (exaggeration) to get a laugh. Can you imagine someone wandering around oblivious to the plank of wood in their own eye but worried about the speck in someone elses? It’s ridiculous.

But it happens.

It happens when I am ready to criticise someone else without examining myself first. It happens when I am annoyed by something someone else has said or done and I have not stopped to think why they have said or done that thing, merely reacted at how it affected me. It can happen at any place and any time. Before I know it I can be busy worrying about someone or something else without first considering myself. That is one of the things blogging does for me – it makes me stop and consider the health of my relationship with Jesus.

So what should you do if someone comes up to you with a plank in their eye while worrying about a speck in your eye? Grace. Grace. Grace. Grace. Otherwise the speck may grow in size quite rapidly and before you know it there’s a whole woodworking workshop in there!


Vaguely dust-related joke…
A collector of rare books ran into an acquaintance who told him he had just thrown away an old Bible that he found in a dusty [there it is!], old box. He happened to mention that Guten-somebody-or-other had printed it. 

“Not Gutenberg?” gasped the collector.

“Yes, that was it!”

“You idiot! You’ve thrown away one of the first books ever printed. A copy recently sold at auction for half a million pounds!”

“Oh, I don’t think this book would have been worth anything close to that much,” replied the man. “It was scribbled all over in the margins by some guy named Martin Luther.”