when coffee forces you to make an urgent decision

Yesterday I managed finally to perform a classic of modern living. I have not really been able to perform it fully until now. I have occasionally managed a smidgeon of the act but have somehow always managed to catch myself and pull back from the brink. Yesterday I indulged fully.

Image result for spill coffee
covfefe spillage

I spilt a mug of coffee on my computer keyboard. It’s not the one that’s on the laptop but a lovely wireless one that is full-sized and sits on my desk to enable me to work more ergonomically. I had just made myself a lovely cup of coffee and placed it on my desk near the keyboard and then was distracted by something on my right. I turned to deal with it and as I turned back to the keyboard and screen caught the mug full on with my left elbow. Cue the deluge.

I called for help and my wife came running, armed with cloths to mop up. We did a fair job of limiting the flow of the coffee to the keyboard and its immediate vicinity. Thankfully nothing else was baptised by the coffee and after the diligent application of tea towels, paper towels and other drying implements I thought I had salvaged the keyboard too. It seemed to work okay.

But within a few minutes it started becoming unresponsive in different areas. Some of the keys stubbornly refused to tell the computer that they were being pressed. Others decided to disguise themselves by telling the computer than another key altogether was being pressed. And slowly it dawned on me that the keyboard was dead.

The problem is that I use the keyboard all the time when I am at my desk so from the moment when I admitted defeat and allowed the old keyboard a dignified end I realised that there was an urgency for a replacement. I know that there are some online companies that promise next day delivery and I am subscribed to the South American river service. But in order to qualify I needed to order within a short space of time.

So began the hurried yet diligent search for a replacement. I did not want to make a hasty decision I would regret, but I did want it to arrive today so could not afford to take too much time over the decision. I narrowed down the search by focusing on the keyboards that had the highest rating by purchasers and limiting the price range (you can get some REALLY expensive keyboards!). In the end I chose a keyboard that seemed to tick all of the boxes for my needs, and which was reasonably priced. It wasn’t a premium brand, but came very well recommended.

And it arrived today. I am using it now. And it feels good to type on. It does have ‘light up’ keys that change colour all the time but given that most of the time I don’t look at the keyrfohgs keyboard when I type (ooh, get me!) it doesn’t bother me, and there is the facility to turn that off if I want. It is connected to my computer via a usb cable rather than being wireless, but that’s not a problem (and means that the money goes on the keyboard quality not the bluetooth / wireless link).

So why am I telling you this boring tale, other then as an exercise to test the keyboard? (it’s more productive than typing ‘hello’ into my wordprocessor) Well, it’s the whole thing about having to make urgent and important decisions. When we can take our time, pray (even people without faith sometimes do that), consult other people and listen to their advice, weigh up the options and come to a wise conclusion then decision-making can be a blessing. Of course, if it’s a corporate decision in a church, a business or another organisation there is also a need to ensure that the ‘stakeholders’ are involved in the process of consultation, praying, listening, weighing-up and wise-concluding, which also takes time.

But there are times when we have to make an important decision quickly. I was with a church leadership team recently where this had been the case and they were reviewing what had happened and why some people had struggled with the process (but not the outcome). I suggested a couple of principles that may help:

First, break it down into bite-sized chunks. If there is important information to be communicated then make sure that it’s shared in a way that everyone can understand. For example, if a decision has to be made about buying something expensive but urgently needed explain – why there is a need, why it’s urgent, the options that have been explored, and the potential cost. If you present it all as one item you will lose people (or yourself) along the way. I needed a keyboard and set some parameters around the purchase to help me decide what to get (cost, rating, not bothered about brand).

Second, make the decision as small as possible and allow time for the rest to be decided later. For example, your car may need some work to get through the MOT (a car roadworthiness test) today and the garage may also suggest other work that could be done which is not urgent. If you’re unsure, get them to do the minimum work needed to get through the MOT and say that you’ll have a think about the rest. You don’t need to get all of the work done urgently so if you isolate what is urgent and focus on that you may well find that it makes the decision easier. For me the question was simple – I needed to get a keyboard that would be delivered today.

And finally realise that there are very few decisions that will be catastrophic if you get them wrong. Of course we want to make wise, sensible and correct decisions but most of them can be rectified. The process of putting it right may not be easy and may cost a bit more in time, effort and money, but there are not many issues that cannot be resolved. I may regret buying this particular keyboard and may have to buy another one, but for the time being it works, it does what I want (and it has pretty lights).

Be blessed, be a blessing

the hokey cokey referendum

Embed from Getty Images

There has been a lot of heat generated by the EU Referendum in the UK. The official campaigning period started last week but the rhetoric has been flying for many months beforehand and, in my humble opinion, has generated more heat than light. The news has been full of headlines that I summarise as ‘hokey cokey’ – “in, out, in, out, shake it all about”!

So this little bloggage is my attempt at offering some reflections that are not intentionally ‘yes’ or ‘no’ biased. It is intended to ask some Bible-based questions that may help me make up my mind: to consider what the issues are.

“What is truth?”

This question is not from Jesus, but was a retort from Pilate when he was questioning Jesus after his arrest (John 18:38). It’s a pertinent question, though. What is truth?

There has already been and will continue to be plenty of spin – so much so that our brains will be dizzy by the time we come to vote. One campaign will tell us that there are benefits to voting their way, or that there are negatives about voting the other way, and the other campaign will respond by telling us that this is not true.

In response to a lot of spin and conjecture about his identity Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The ‘truth’ he’s talking about here is himself – the truth about God – but for those who seek to follow him we seek to hold to his teaching and then we will know the truth that liberates.

So much of the rhetoric and discussion is about an unknown future. We don’t know what life would be like if Britain voted to leave the EU any more than we know what it would be like if we voted to remain. The future is uncertain and unknowable. So I ask myself, “What is truth, what is conjecture and what is spin?” And I will try to make my decision based on truth. And what aspects of Jesus’ teaching can help me?

What is the most loving option?

This is not about romance! This is about agape – the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe God’s love for us, and the way that he wants people to love one another (especially, but not limited to, followers of Jesus). Jesus taught about this love being a radically different way that seeks the best even for those who oppose us (Matthew 5:43-48).

Agape is gracious not greedy; servant-hearted not power-hungry; and selfless not selfish. My question about the EU Referendum from this is two-fold: “Who are we to love, and which outcome will enable us to be most loving towards them?”

Who is our neighbour?

When Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) he shocked his listeners by making the hero of his story someone whom they hated by virtue of his nationality. This was in response to a question, “Who is my neighbour?” and that in turn was in response to a summary of the Old Testament Law: ‘Love (agape) God wholeheartedly and love (agape) your neighbour as yourself’ (my paraphrase).

At the end of the story Jesus bounced the question back at the person who’d asked it – “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The (perhaps reluctant) answer was “The one who had mercy on him” and Jesus told his listeners to go and do likewise. So my question about the EU Referendum is, “Which approach enables us to show most mercy on those in need?”

“I have come that they might have life… to the full.”

Jesus made this statement (John 10:10) when he was teaching about himself and contrasting himself with people who were only looking for what they could get out of life and of others.

What does ‘life to the full’ look like? Many of the arguments I have heard so far are about economics, but there is much more to life than money. Accepting that part of what Jesus was talking about was a relationship with God (which neither ‘in’ nor ‘out’ can offer), but also that Jesus was talking about more than that too, my question is: “Which approach will enable people to have life to the fullest?”

“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Jesus said this in response to an attempt to trap him into a position that polarised opinion (Luke 20:20-26).  He refused to allow people to label him or push him into a corner. He refused to allow himself to be manipulated.

My question here is not about taxation. It’s based on a recognition that a ‘yes/no’ referendum is, by definition, polarising. However, deciding to vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ does not mean that you have to agree with everything that is associated with that campaign. “Which outcome is least likely to mean that you feel manipulated into a position that you do not wish to be associated with?”

 

These few questions are not intended to be the exhaustive list of questions I am asking myself about this referendum. But they are intended to help me think beyond the rhetoric, beyond self-interest and beyond economics and think about how I can engage helpfully in the politics.

Be blessed, be a blessing

sunglasses

So, it has been a while hasn’t it my bloggist chums? I hope and pray that you will have had a wonderful Easter, and not just because of a surfeit of chocolate.

I was listening to a ‘discussion’ on the radio today and was struck by how it was set up and the nature of the debate. The producer had clearly got two people with diametrically opposing views and decided to put them together with the expectation that it would create an interesting / entertaining / provocative piece of journalism. But actually all we got was people shouting over one another. When that happens I tend to turn off the radio or change channel – presumably not the effect that the producer intended.

sunglassesIt got me wondering why it is that when we have a debate or a discussion or a discernment process we become more polarised than a pair of sunglasses? Why do we always have to go with a ‘yes / no’ approach? Why can’t we hold things in creative tension rather than having to have a winner and a loser?

I was recently involved in a discussion where I actually found myself in agreement with both of the apparently polarised sides of the discussion. I didn’t want to disagree with either of them. But the process forced me to choose one over the other and I was left feeling dissatisfied.

At this point you may be dismissing me as indecisive or lacking backbone, and you may be right. (Or are you?) But ‘creative tension’ was a phrase that was offered to me when I was inducted into my first church team. It is something that I have appreciated when working alongside people throughout my life. I don’t have to agree with everything someone else believes to get along with them and in the discussing and discerning process of disagreeing agreeably something creative can emerge.

And before you dismiss me completely as someone who is need of therapy to help reconcile internal conflict my understanding of God enables me to hold apparently irreconcilable views in that creative tension. The Bible describes Jesus as being both fully human and fully God at the same time. The infinite and the finite in an apparently impossible paradox. And how can one beyond time enter time? And then there’s the events of Easter when the eternal one dies (and is resurrected) – how can eternity (no beginning nor end) end and begin again? God is simultaneously a God of justice and mercy… and there are so many more. He doesn’t seem to have any problem with paradoxes, and he leaves our small brains smoking as we try to comprehend them.

So why can’t we live with creative tension? It’s more difficult sometimes. It’s messier. It means that we have to be more considerate of other people. It means we have to accept that we don’t have all of the answers. It means that we can’t ‘win’. It means that we need to listen to one another. It means that we need to honour one another.

Is that so bad?

Of course there are times when we need to make yes/no decisions. In a church recently I was asked a question: “EU referendum, in or out?”

I thought for a moment, and then said, “Yes.”

Which may have been a cop-out, or it may have been an attempt at saying that it’s important to make a decision but that my view does not need to distance me from those who disagree. Just because a decision has to be made it does not have to polarise. Surely we can disagree agreeably.

And it’s important. I wonder if one of the reasons why people switch off from church is because they don’t like it when we shout over each other.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

making your mind up

It’s almost Eurovision Song Contest time again: the time of when (cynicism alert) songs from around ‘Europe’ are the subject of tactical voting so that the winner is not always the best song and where Britain enters a song that the rest of ‘Europe’ doesn’t like.

It wasn’t always like that. On 3rd April 1976 Britain won with the Brotherhood of Man’s Save your kisses for me. I remember watching it aged 9 (yes, do the maths if you want). I can remember it because I wasn’t going to be allowed to stay up to watch it but then had an accident that required stitches in my head as I was going to bed so after a trip to Casualty I had to stay up while my wound settled down.

On 4th April 1981 Buck’s Fizz won again for Britain with Making your mind up. I don’t remember if I watched it live because there was no corresponding hospital visit that night. The lyrics for that song are erm, interesting. They seem to be designed more to fit the music than to give any sort of message about decision-making:

You gotta speed it up
And then you gotta slow it down
‘Cause if you believe that a love can hit the top
You gotta play around
And soon you will find
That there comes a time
For making your mind up.

You gotta turn it off
And then you gotta pull it out
You gotta be sure that it’s something
Everybody’s gonna talk about
Before you decide
That the time’s all right
For making your mind up.

See what I mean?

questionsSo how do you make your mind up about something? Are you the sort of person who gathers all the information you can before making your mind up about whether you think you will like something or do you take a quick look and decide whether or not you are going to like it?

We are all prone to do that aren’t we? We decide before something has happened whether or not we think it is something we want to do. I remember being asked by a friend in 1978 whether I wanted to go and see a film with his family. He told me it was a musical called ‘Greece’. At least that’s what I thought. I had in mind a ‘Singing in the Rain’ or ‘West Side Story’ type of musical about ancient Greece and declined the invitation – which was of course to go and see ‘Grease’! I really regret my pre-judging and not taking a risk and the opportunity.

So is there a different approach? I think there is – a more open-minded, inquisitive, optimistic approach. It’s the sort of approach that is typified by the women who found Jesus’ tomb empty on Easter Sunday – “what’s happening?”… leads to “gathering the information”… which leads to “excitedly telling others”… which refuses to be silenced. It’s a sort of godly optimism – see what might be possible, what God might be doing and, with a bit of faith, give it a try!

Contrast that with poor old Thomas who refused to believe that Jesus was alive unless he saw the evidence for himself and touched the wounds – I suspect he wouldn’t have wanted to see a musical about ancient Greece!

How many opportunities do we pass on because of pre-judging? What about as followers of Jesus? To change the example, do you want to stay in the boat or have a go at walking on water?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

permission granted?

thumbs up 2I can remember once being told that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. It was said slightly tongue-in-cheek, but only slightly. The premise for that maxim is that getting permission from someone can be time-consuming, takes a degree of tact and diplomacy and you have to be good at patiently explaining yourself, so it is easier just to go ahead. If you get it right everyone will be happy. On the other hand, saying ‘sorry’ if you get something wrong is relatively easy.

While from an expediential point of view I have some sympathy with that perspective, it is not a very gracious or inclusive approach and probably only works in the short term, especially in a church context. You can only ask for forgiveness so many times before people start to question whether you are doing a good job.

We do need to trust those we have asked to lead us: for example there’s no point in electing a government and then insisting that they hold a referendum on every issue. But that trust needs to be earned, and it needs to be respected and not taken for granted. To forge ahead regardless without seeking to explain ourselves or to worry about what other people think on the understanding that we can always say ‘sorry’ if we get it wrong is not very honourable. It is often (imho) at the root of when a government starts to become unpopular – when people think that they have stopped listening to us or caring about what we think.

In a church context, especially one like ours which has a congregational approach to leadership where the gathered church makes the big decisions in the church, those in leadership should never allow ourselves to take other people for granted. Everyone’s opinions matter. In fact I think they matter more if they differ from mine as the interaction between differing opinions can refine one or the other, or both, just as pebbles on a beach smooth each other out as they are rubbed against each other by the waves on the shore.

It is worth taking the time and trouble to explain things when asked. It is worth offering the opportunity for people to seek clarification or suggest alternatives. It is worth asking for permission. Because God might have something important to say through those people and those in leadership are there to serve not to dominate or impose. It may take longer, but in my experience it is better when making important decisions to take that time (when the decision is not urgent) in order to make the decision well and to include as many people as possible in that process.

Of course there has to be a balance between leadership, consultation and group decision-making. Of course there has to be trust in the leadership and the tasks  delegated to them so that a large group is not micro-managing an organisation. Of course we need to discern which decisions need to be made by the larger group and which details need to be delegated.

But if we are genuinely seeking to do that we can attempt to do those tasks well with permission granted (and seek forgiveness if we make mistakes).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

decisions, decisions

How do you make decisions?

Some are relatively simple choices, both of which are equally pleasant – do we go to the beach or the park? We might metaphorically (or literally) flip a coin to decide.

Some are more complex, especially where possible outcomes are going to have a negative impact on some people. Do we choose the ‘least worst’ option? And how might you define that? Do we decide on the basis of causing the least distress to the least number of people? Do we consider the impact on ourselves and those known to us as more important than the impact on people we have never met (and may never meet)?

Often in life it is the important decisions that can be the most complex and have unintended consequences. I wonder how Jesus would have made such decisions? Would he have sought to minimise the negative effects of what would happen? Would he have used his supernatural powers to change the outcome so that everyone won? I may be wrong, but I suspect that he would have turned the issues on their head and tried to do the most loving, most just thing. Yes, there may be negative consequences for some, but even those do not have to be delivered callously: they can be shared, people can be comforted, support can be given. That way the experience of God’s love is maximised.

I was going to give some examples, but then I thought that this might trivialise the circumstances in which you may find yourself. Instead I encourage you to seek to make your decisions so that the outcome is the most loving and just possible.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

At a Wednesday evening church meeting a very wealthy man rose to give his testimony.

“I’m a millionaire,” he said, “and I attribute it all to the rich blessings of God in my life. I can still remember the turning point in my faith, like it was yesterday: I had just earned my first dollar and I went to a church meeting that night. The speaker was a missionary who told about his work. I knew that I only had a dollar bill and had to either give it all to God’s work or nothing at all. So at that moment I decided to give my whole dollar to God. I believe that God blessed that decision, and that is why I am a rich man today.”

As he finished it was clear that everyone had been moved by this man’s story.

But, as he took his seat, a little old lady sitting in the same pew leaned over and said: “Wonderful story! I dare you to do it again!”