what Jesus forgot to say

Jesus face-planted as he realised what he forgot to say

I’ve been wondering recently whether Jesus forgot to say a few things. Did he stop too soon when he was saying the amazing things he was saying? I am only asking because, from what I can observe, it looks like we have worked out what he forgot to say…

I wonder, for example, when he was talking about taming the tongue he forgot to include the exception that you can be as offensive and insulting as you like on social media if you disagree with someone.

When he said that to be great you should consider yourself the servant of all, should he have gone on to say that this does not apply if you are in charge?

When he spoke of the Spirit of truth guiding us into all truth did he omit the bit about saying that it was alright to ignore truth if it was politically expedient?

When he said that we should not judge other people perhaps he forgot to say that it was okay to be judgmental if you are sufficiently sure that you are right.

When he said that we should take the plank out of our own eye before sorting out the speck of dust in someone else’s eye, did he neglect to mention that it’s okay to ignore the plank if you think other people haven’t noticed it, or to deny the plank’s existence if they do?

When he criticised religious people for neglecting justice, mercy and faithfulness did he forget to say that it’s okay to do it if the people affected were not born in your country?

When he was questioned about whether it was right to pay taxes and he said, “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” did he forget to say that it was okay not to pay tax if you could find a good loophole?

And when Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God wholeheartedly and the second is to love your neighbour as yourself is it correct that he forgot to say, “So long as they agree with you”?

Just wondering.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

political paranoia

https://images.freeimages.com/images/large-previews/868/shady-1486730.jpg

This bloggage carries a ‘harumph’ warning. It is fuelled by deep dissatisfaction about the direction of politics in the UK and other countries and a fear that we are bumbling our way to a crisis of global proportions. If you’re not up for that I suggest that you head for the fun and funny stuff section.

You have been warned.

Is it just me or are some politicians getting more extreme in order to gain popular support? In the UK and USA there are politicians who are seeking (or have) the highest office in the land and they are making statements that are designed to attract attention and appear to be on the side of ‘ordinary people’. Or am I being paranoid?

I consider myself to be ‘ordinary’ and I can conclusively say that these ‘populist politicians’ are not on my side when they make comments that fuel racism, stoke the fires of the irrational fear of the foreigner and pander to a right wing agenda. Part of making a nation great again seems to be about denigrating other nations so that a nation feels superior to it. In the USA the President regularly tweets in a critical manner about other people, nations and situations.

Another tactic that I see at work is the ability to make statements that have no basis in fact, or at best are a half-truth. And when that is pointed out the critics are the ones branded as peddling ‘fake news’! Or am I being paranoid?

Truth is the first casualty in this campaign of contradictory communication. In the UK the Referendum on whether to leave the EU had a headline figure that was emblazoned on a big red bus that said, “We give the EU £350million a week let’s fund our NHS instead.” Now it’s arguable that the amount of money that flows to the EU is less than that (some say £100million less each week!), but this ‘fact’ ignores the UK also receives a substantial rebate, it receives agricultural and other subsidies,research grants and it benefits from the free trade environment within the EU. It’s so disingenuous, but once the headline has been released into the wild it gains a notoriety and life of its own that no amount of ‘fact checking’ can remove from the public consciousness.

It was very clever and played to the self-centredness and indignation of those who would vote ‘Leave’, but it was a lie, and has subsequently been criticised as “a clear misuse of official statistics” by the UK Statistics Authority. Boris Johnson, one of the candidates to become our next Prime Minister, was the leading propagator of this lie. In the USA the President denies that climate change is a thing or that it has its roots in human activity – denying the truth of the vast majority of scientific research. His actions in leaving international climate change agreements could condemn the planet to serious damage!

If truth becomes defined by the loudest voice then it ceases to have value and politics has become a pantomime of populist personality propaganda. The politicians that seem to be the most popular are those with the most apparent flaws in character and frequently seem to put their foot in it when they open their mouth. I don’t believe that they are as daft as this appears. It’s portayed as them being a ‘character’ or laughed off, while truth lies trampled and unnoticed in the dirt. Or am I being paranoid?

It seems to me that much of this ‘populist’ politics is led by business and financial interests. The politicians at the head of these movements are wealthy, privileged and are not affected in any way by the impact of their actions. They can cope if markets crash because they have investments in many different places. They don’t need to queue for a foodbank, live without money when their benefits are stopped while an assessment takes place or make a choice about whether to buy food or clothes for their children. Yet their policies condemn more and more people to this existence while they celebrate tax cuts for the rich and get excited about how business will save the world.

These politicians are mostly isolated from the real world – ironically the ‘ordinary’ people from whom they are seeking to win support – and seek to blame someone else (immigrants, the EU, other countries) for the negative impact of their policies on the most vulnerable in their countries. Have we seen this sort of thing in the 20th Century after World War 1 when there was a rise of nationalistic fervour and the nation’s ills were blamed on others that began innocently enough and culminated in the most hideous acts in human history? Or am I being paranoid?

And how does the prevailing economic system make sense? Almost all of the governments in the world have borrowed money in order to carry out their policies. But that has to be paid back doesn’t it? And where will the wealth come from in order to pay it back? Taxation? Maybe, but there’s only so much money available from the taxpayers. So the rest is borrowed to repay the loans. But that has to be paid back doesn’t it? The debts rise inexorably while the ability to repay them diminishes. In the UK over the life of the Conservative Government we have been treated to ‘austerity’ which was designed in order to restore our country’s finances to a place where we lived within our means. Between 2010 and 2019 more than £30 billion in spending reductions have been made to things like welfare payments, housing subsidies, local council budgets, police services and social services. And the impact has been on the poorest and most vulnerable in our society while the wealthy have carried on relatively unaffected. And have nine years of austerity reduced our deficit? Well, the Office for National Statistics tells us that the deficit is decreasing. But the general government gross debt was £1,763.8 billion at the end of the financial year ending March 2018 and it’s still increasing! Am I being paranoid?

Our political system and the reporting of it is such that personality seems to be more important than substance and the media is keener on promoting their own preferences or prejudices in the way that they report the activities and words of their favourite puppets than in proclaiming truth. And people seem to have lost the ability to discern when they are being sold a lie and take on board what they are told in the ‘news’ as being the truth. In May 2019 Nigel Farage made his 33rd appearance on BBC Question Time – more than any other MP even though his party has no MPs! And the public are unwitting accomplices in this as they forget (or choose to ignore) that they have chosen the media outlet that they prefer, which reinforces their own preferences and prejudices, rather than listening to the voice that proclaims that the emperor has no clothes. Or am I being paranoid?

Don’t worry, the harumph is nearly over. You see I believe that there is a different way. Not all politicians are like this. I see many members of parliament (of all parties) whose reason for being MPs is to serve not to self-promote. I see many members of parliament whose voices are raised in protest at the lies. I want to thank them, encourage them, pray for them and (if I lived in their constituency) vote for them. It doesn’t have to be like this.

I am not advocating communism or socialism, certainly not in their current national incarnations that lead to oppressive regimes founded on a flawed atheistic view of life where there is the same inequality between those in power and the poor as there is in capitalist countries. I am advocating a new politics based on love and justice. What if society existed to benefit all, not just the rich, and there was a model in which justice and love were the main motivators for policies. What if we really did what Jesus encouraged and ‘love our neighbour’ and seek the best for everyone else? If everyone did that, what sort of society would we live in? Or am I being idealistic?

Be blessed, be a blessing

the write stuff

Image result for fountain pen writing

I have a confession to make. I love fountain pens. I don’t know why but I love the combination of the concept, the feel of them,  and particularly the sense of the flow of ink when writing that make up a fountain pen. I even like the sense of ancient history behind them (there are references to something that resembles a fountain pen in the 10th century, and of course quills were used many centuries before). I realise that in an electronic age (and I LOVE technology) it may seem rather archaic to enjoy fountain pens but there you go… it’s what I like.

Many years ago my wife gave me a lovely ink pen and it lasted quite a long time until it gave up and literally fell apart. I loved it so much that I tracked down another one online that looked identical and I bought it as a replacement. Then, tragically, earlier this year I dropped the replacement fountain pen while writing with it and it landed nib-down on a hard floor. The nib bent.

What had been a joy to write with became a scratchy implement that was difficult to write with and left an inconsistent and sometimes indecipherable mark on the paper. I tried to unbend the nib with as much gentleness and skill as I have seen on the BBC TV Show ‘The Repair Shop’ but I am not a skilled craftsman and the nib remained scratchy and inconsistent. I even checked to see if the old nib would fit from the previous pen, but there was a minor but important difference that meant it wouldn’t fit and in any event it was full of dry ink that would not budge. I then looked at whether it was possible to buy a new nib for the pen and was alarmed to see how expensive this would be. The problem was that these pens had gone out of production many years back. The replacement I had bought was remaining stock, not new stock, and to buy a replacement nib required a specialist shop and for specialist shop read ‘expensive shop’. I was quite upset.

However my birthday was coming up and I thought about asking for a replacement nib for my birthday. But it felt wrong to ask someone to spend as much on a new nib as the pen had cost in the first place. I decided to ask for a new fountain pen and settled on a different one that I liked the look of. I went into a pen shop and ‘tried it on’ and it felt really good in my hand. So that’s what I asked for, and that’s what my wife gave me for my birthday. I am delighted with it, it writes beautifully (even if my handwriting is a bit ropey because of how much I type now) and my love of fountain pens continues.

Why this tale of ink pens? Well, I was looking at my new pen on my desk a little earlier and was reminded of Psalm 45:1 “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.” It’s part of a love song composed for a wedding that praises the bride and groom, but confirms that God’s hand has been on the couple. It’s a lovely image – that our spoken words are written by a dextrous wordsmith – God’s Spirit inspiring our thoughts and speech. This is true for us when we preach and teach, when we seek to speak God’s words to people, and should be true of us all day long. The problem is that while the writer always remains skilled, sometimes the pen is scratchy and almost illegible. It can happen to any of us.

It happens when we don’t take care of our souls, perhaps when we have been dropped on the hard floor of self-reliance instead of relying on God’s Spirit. Or it can happen when we become spiritually dried up rather than allowing the Spirit of Jesus to flow within us and through us. And we can even make the mistake of failing to ask the Master Craftsman to restore us when that happens. Miraculously the beautiful message can still get through even when we are scratchy or the reservoir has run dry, but that is more down to the skill of the author than the pen.

If you’re aware that you are a bit scratchy why not put yourself in for a service? Take a retreat, find a Spiritual Director, be accountable to someone else and allow these people to help you. Open yourself afresh to God’s Spirit in whatever way you find it easiest to be restored and renewed so that once again the author’s wonderful words flow well.

Be blessed, be a blessing

audrey 3

So, this is Audrey 3. (That’s a Little Shop of Horrors reference, nothing to do with my Grandma for anyone who knows my family). I have always been fascinated by plants that eat insects and when recently I had a persistent little fly in my study I decided that now is the time to get myself a venus flytrap.

In researching beforehand I discovered that a supply of water and good light is more important to the plant’s survival than a supply of insects. I found out that they really don’t like being triggered without gaining food from it as that takes a lot of energy. And I discovered that venus flytraps only grow naturally in boggy land in North and South Carolina in the USA.

So far I have not seen Audrey 3 in action. I have kept her well watered and she sits near the window in my study in order to get the light she wants. But the pesky little flies have not decided to fall for her charms. I am not sure what I am expecting if / when they do. I would like to think that there would be a ‘whump’ followed by “Om, nom, nom, nom” but I suspect it will be far less dramatic than that.

I do wonder what vegetarians and vegans make of carnivorous plants. Do they cheer them on for getting their own back on more sentient beings, or do they resent them for eating ‘meat’?

And then, more recently, there was a freaky moment on YouTube. I had been speaking with a couple of people about Audrey 3 and why she was called that. Then yesterday as I was scrolling through the videos YouTube was offering me to view, I was offered a song from Little Shop of Horrors! How on earth did they know that I had been thinking about this show? Are they monitoring my conversations? Are they ready my mind?

Of course not. It’s just one of those random coincidences that happen sometimes and which the human brain contrives to put meaning to. Like when a song has been on our mind and we switch on the radio and it’s playing. Or when we have a sense of deja vu. I have a hunch that this is how superstitions start. Something happens just after something else and we attribute a causal connection. So perhaps a black cat walked underneath a ladder while someone was spilling some salt and at the same time a mirror was broken and a person who had been walking on the cracks in the pavement got distracted and tripped over… There must be some sort of connection.

It’s like bad luck always coming in threes. Nope. But sometimes it does, and sometimes we notice that it did.

I wonder if it’s true that the same people who are willing to see cause and effect at work in random events are less willing to see a creative mind behind the universe we inhabit, and are less keen to think that the Creator might be interested in them?

Be blessed, be a blessing – and if you have any flies you want getting rid of, you know who to call (or is that another film?).

training

train 2
Not the train I was on!

I was on a train yesterday at silly o’clock in the morning. It was almost full of commuters heading into London, however there was a spare seat between two blokes so, muttering an apology for disturbing them, I tried to squidge my way into the space.

I am not a very wide person and I kept my arms and elbows in front of me in order not to cramp those beside me, but the two of them reacted very differently. One of them (we’ll call him ‘Lefty’ because he was on my left) gave way a little. He moved across and enabled me to fit one side of my back against the back of the seat. I couldn’t get my arms back, but that was okay. He also kept his legs together so there was room for my legs.

The other, on my right, (guess what we’ll call him? Yup. ‘Bob’) did not give me anywhere near the same amount of space. Bob remained spread out. His arms and shoulders were pinned against the back of the seat (and part of the back of mine). I couldn’t lean fully back against the back of the seat because of him, so I remained hunched forward, hugging my backpack. His legs were spread out in such a way that if I hadn’t shifted mine it would have been a bit… intimate. Bob was not giving me a millimetre of ‘his’ space. He also had ear buds in and was playing music loudly enough for me to be able to hear the tinny ‘tshh te tshh te tshh’ that we are often blessed with by fellow passengers.

Because I was so cramped I could not move my arms to get out my phone or my Kindle to entertain myself, so I remained in this position for the rest of the journey. Every time we stopped at the station I willed him to get up and get off the train, but Bob was glued in place and my telekinetic powers were useless against him. It was not a comfortable journey.

Now I realise that I could have asked him to move. But I could see in the reflection of the glass in front of me that Bob had his eyes closed. He was either asleep, feigning sleep, or trying to block out the fact that there were other passengers and that made it more uncomfortable to contemplate interrupting him and asking him to give me my space. And I am British. And I wasn’t sure what sort of response I would get. So I suffered in silence.

At the end of the journey we all disembarked and part of me was feeling quite resentful about Bob. He hadn’t given me any consideration at all. But I had chosen not to ask him to move, and maybe he hadn’t realised how uncomfortable I was.

A part of me also thought, “Well played!” He had maintained his position, preserved his space, and had a much more comfortable journey than me.

So what are my reflections on Bob and Lefty?

There are times when we need to be considerate of others. We need to adapt our behaviour, attitude and approach in order to enable them to grow and flourish. It’s a part of what Jesus meant by us being ‘servant-hearted’.

But there are also times when we should not yield to the demands of others if they are going to cause harm to others or if they are asking us to compromise our core beliefs. In Luke 21:19 Jesus said to his friends (in the context of being persecuted), “Stand firm, and you will win life.” (NIVUK)

The art is knowing which is appropriate at any given time. I would suggest that the difference is to do with whether our core beliefs are under threat. Of course we need to know what they are, and we also need to be sure that we are not elevating secondary issues to the status of ‘core beliefs’ because we want to get our own way.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the choir

piano

“The greatest choir I have ever heard!” Sandra felt a tingle of electricity running down her spine and the hairs on her arms stood on end as she read the headline in the local newspaper. Last night the choir she had founded – Concordia – had sung as the headline act in the final concert of the town’s music festival. Sandra had to admit that they had sounded incredible. The singers had been lifted by the atmosphere in the theatre and had sung their hearts out.

It had all started eight years ago when Sandra had watched The Choir on television – when Gareth Malone had taken ordinary people and formed them into choirs. Sandra had been excited about the relationships that had formed, but more than that she had been inspired by Gareth’s ability to bring the best out of people and bring them together in harmony to make a wonderful sound together. Sandra had been a singing coach for a number of years so felt that she ought to be able to do the same. She had asked her friends and family and they had formed a small choir. As they grew in confidence the choir members invited their friends and colleagues to join them and the choir also grew in numbers so that now there were 35 of them meeting once a week to rehearse.

Concordia rehearsed in the local school on a Monday evening, alongside other evening classes. Sandra didn’t plan any concerts or performances, she was just enjoying being the choir director and the choir members seemed to enjoy singing together. But then people started listening outside the doors of the school hall after they had finished their evening classes, and then once one of them had sneaked in to listen at the back of the hall a small crowd would do the same and they had an audience. Sandra didn’t mind. She was focused on leading the choir and getting the best out of them. What she didn’t know was that one of the uninvited audience worked in the Town Council promoting community activities and they were planning a music festival. When the music festival organiser rang Sandra out of the blue and asked if the choir would like to perform as part of the event she was stunned. Sandra had never envisaged that the choir would do anything but rehearse together. The following Monday she told the choir about the invitation and, after some initial shyness, the choir had enthusiastically voted to do it.

Things escalated from there. Before Sandra knew what was happening she found that Concordia were listed in the final event of the festival. Then, just a day before the performance, the headline act had to pull out due to an attack of laryngitis and Concordia were promoted to the headline act. For their first public performance! But what a performance it had been. A standing ovation at the end had been followed by two encores – so great was the audience’s applause.

But the morning after the performance, as she read the article in the newspaper, the elation and euphoria ebbed away. Even though the reporter had written a really glowing review of the performance and had clearly been moved and thrilled by it there was no mention of Sandra by name, or even any mention of the musical director at all. It had been her idea, her choir, her hard work and her leading but it was as if she had not been there. Where was her acclaim?

At first the choir only sang for themselves and their own enjoyment. What aspects of (church) life are like that?

Are there times when we feel a bit like Sandra at the end – unappreciated and unacknowledged? What might you say to Sandra to encourage her?

Who are the unappreciated people who might appreciate a similar word of encouragement?

Be blessed, be a blessing

Jesus is missing

I hope that you are well and in good heart as you navigate through the maelstrom of Christmas events. I hope and pray that in the midst of it all you are finding Jesus… which leads me neatly to my theme:

Have you seen this news story on the BBC news website? https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-46599641?utm_source=Daily+Media+Digest&utm_campaign=4223aabbb0-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2018_12_03_10_54_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_296e14724b-4223aabbb0-248620461&fbclid=IwAR2rgNGteYRlZ7vzkbhmnrM9m5nmIiM_DpmnUvHr-G9YkvdRYbzk_ooqC_w  

If you don’t have time to read it, the short version is that someone has taken the baby Jesus from a church nativity scene in St Annes, Lancashire. It’s not clear whether it’s malicious, pranksters or even a child who wanted to take care of the baby however in the article there are a couple of fascinating sentences: The first is from the priest, Revd Scargill who ‘said he had tried to order a replacement Jesus but it was out of stock.’ Imagine that, Jesus is out of stock at Christmas! (There’s a line for your Christmas day sermon).

But for many of us he can be out of stock, can’t he? I am not just talking about the people who don’t know him, who walk past churches every day unaware of the good news within. I am also referring to the way that for all of us we can all ‘run out of Jesus’ – even Ministers. It happens particularly when we are busy and we find that we lose touch with him. Our faith dims a bit (it’s so gradual we don’t always notice the process) and slowly but surely we find that we are ministering more in our own strength than in the power of the Spirit. Of course we are good at covering it up so that our people won’t notice, but we do notice after a while. We feel a little empty, or as if the shine has been taken off and spiritual fruit starts to wither and we respond to people with less grace, joy, patience and so on. That leads me to the second sentence.

In the article there are quotes from different people. The priest speaks of forgiveness for those who return Jesus. But on the church Facebook group one lady ‘called the culprit “low life scum”’. I’m not sure which of the fruit of the Spirit is being shown there.

I do hope they find Jesus (a smaller replacement has been offered). And more than that I hope and pray that all of us find him again this year in the familiar carols, readings, services, lunches, Christingles, nativity plays and the time we spend with those we love.