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

not much has happened

Dear Bloggists, sorry that it has been a while since my last bloggage. Not much has happened in the intervening time…

We have been on holiday to Sweden, meeting up with lots of Sally’s friends (and me making new friends). So I have seen lots of lakes, lots of words that in Swedish are normal but in English are funny (such as the delicious chocolate sweet in this photo).

I have seen castles and visited the Royal Palace at Drottningholm (in my mind a bit like Windsor Palace for the Queen in the UK as it’s a bit out of Stockholm). I have walked in a national park and heard some interesting noises that may or may not have been an elk or a wild boar.

I have discovered a new special concept: fika. This is stopping for tea / coffee and a cake, and can be at any time. Indeed as I write this bloggage I am also enjoying fika with a cup of coffee and the last of the Swedish cinnamon buns we brought back.

I have performed some magic for some of our Swedish friends, and also for an 8 year-old daughter of the friend of one of our Swedish friends on her birthday. It’s quite a challenge performing illusions when you don’t share a language, but it seemed to go well. I think an open mouth and wide eyes means the same thing for audiences in most languages!

And I have performed magic with a message at Heart for Harlow’s town centre service (not long after two women performed songs from Disney’s Frozen, complete with costumes.

I have had the date confirmed for my interview to join the Magic Circle. If I get through the interview I will then have an examination (audition) to perform later on.

We have been welcomed into Membership of our local church, South Woodham Evangelical Church.

Oh yes, and my friend Richard Jones only went and won Britain’s Got Talent! Well done Richard! You can see the two of us performing together last year here at the end of a show when we hired out a local village hall. I guess his days of performing in village halls may be over!

So not much has happened.

It is easy to get caught up and carried away with events, especially when they are either really positive or really negative, and forget that God wants us to involve him in these things too. When it’s good we sometimes forget to be grateful to him. When it’s bad we sometimes forget to call out to him (unless it’s to blame him).

I have written before about having an attitude of gratitude, and I am so grateful for all of the above experiences.

I am grateful that when things are not so good I know that I do not have to face those things alone. I know that He is with me when I walk through the darkest valley and I am grateful that nothing can separate me from his love.

I guess I am even grateful for the ability to be grateful. And I am also grateful that I have someone to be grateful to. If you don’t have a relationship with God, who are you able to be grateful to?

Today why not try listing things for which you are grateful, and be grateful to the One who gave you the ability to be grateful?

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!

decluttering

Hopefully in the next couple of months we will be moving house. In anticipation of that we are starting the process of clearing out the clutter that we have accumulated in 7 years of living here (plus some that we have brought with us from previous houses!). It’s amazing how much stuff just gathers dust because, while you no longer have any use for it, you can’t be bothered / bear to get rid of it.

At the moment I am re-reading a number of books that I have had for ages. They are books I enjoyed reading when I bought them. When I had finished reading them I then put them on a bookshelf – presumably as evidence for other people that I can read, like hunting trophies on the wall. Why have I kept them? Antelibroinertia (new word that means the failure to get rid of books you have read because you have not got around to it). So I am giving them one last read and then they will be taken to a charity shop.

Closet Clutter Monster
Maybe it’s time to declutter!

Other ‘stuff’ is going. We have an old snooker table that was rescued from a church youth club when they were replacing it (probably 20 years ago!) and which we have hardly ever used because we have not had space for it. (You don’t just need space for the table, you need at least a snooker cue’s length of space around it if you are going to play.) That is going to a good home through a local recycling website. We need to get rid of some old bicycles (one to a bike-recycler and the other on a well known auction website).

And I have plenty of ‘useful’ cables and pieces of wood that I will have to sort through and send to the recycling centre (they are kept because one day they might be useful).

And there’s plenty more.

I hope that as we de-clutter we can bless some local charities and people, (and hopefully not just move the clutter to fill up someone else’s house.)

We all gather clutter in our lives too, don’t we. We have the clutter of tasks that we have not yet got around to doing and which slowly accumulate until we can’t bear to look at them. We have the clutter of hopes, dreams and ambitions that are unfulfilled and, if we are honest, are never going to be fulfilled (I probably won’t be playing in goal for Ipswich Town FC in the FA Cup Final). We have the clutter of promises that we have made but have not yet kept, or those made to us which have not been met, with associated hurt. We have the clutter of relationships that we have either broken or neglected and which we are now too ashamed or frightened to do anything about. We have the clutter of disappointments accumulated over a lifetime of living. We have the clutter of habits that we have acquired that are not healthy for us but which we daren’t deal with because that may be too painful…

So how do we de-clutter those things? I am not sure that we can do it all on our own. That’s where friends and family can come in useful – people who won’t judge us, make fun of us or abandon us but who will love us no matter what.

And be assured that God’s got the same attitude to you. He’s waiting for us. Not (despite popular opinion) to smite and condemn and judge and sentence, but to embrace, to restore, to renovate, to offer grace and forgiveness. If you doubt it, read Luke Chapter 15. Who are you in the stories?

So what about it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

sore jaw

My jaw is sore.

It is a result of last night.

laughing - permission given for blogIt is not aching from being punched, but from laughing. I had an evening that combined three of my favourite things. I went with a friend to see John Archer perform his wonderful comedy magic at a church in Southend. Friendship, magic, and faith all combined in one hilarious evening.

Wonderful.

Today’s bloggage may not be the longest ever but I hope it is illustrative of some of my firmly-held beliefs:

  • my Christian faith permeates and is relevant to every area of my life – there are no areas it does not touch and should not touch.
  • it is good to laugh – especially in church.
  • an experience (good or bad) shared with friends (and family) is an experience enhanced.
  • Jesus loves it when we enjoy ourselves, he told funny stories after all, and God gave us the gift of laughter.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

last minute decision

Stew the Rabbit may, or may not appear during the evening

Today I have had an epiphany.

It’s difficult isn’t it. When one section of society celebrates it can unintentionally alienate another.

So English people might celebrate a win at rugby or football or cricket and non-England supporters can feel left out.

Sport-lovers celebrated the Olympics and Paralympics last year and those who don’t like sport were left on the sidelines.

Halloween is celebrated with plastic vampire teeth and highway robbery (plastic teeth presumably needed to replace the normal teeth rotted by all the sweets acquired by the extortion) and those who prefer not to participate (or already have false teeth) can be made to feel like killjoys.

Valentines Day encourages those who are couples, or hope to be couples to celebrate their love while unintentionally excluding those who are single.

So, at the very last minute, following this epiphany, I have decided that since I am on my own this evening (Housegroup night for Sally) I fancy having a non-Valentines un-date with anyone else who would like to join me. If you would like to meet up this evening for an evening of sillyness, laughter and friendship that may or may not include magic tricks (depending on demand) please will you send me a message via facebook, email or text and we’ll do it.

Space is limited, so this is not an open invitation to everyone in Colchester: contacting me will result in me sending you an invitation and more details. Bring something to share.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

appreciate me now and avoid the rush

We have recently had some unexpected deaths in the music industry. Tragically Whitney Houston and Davy Jones have both died prematurely. Understandably their music has received significant airplay on the radio following their deaths by way of tribute to them.

What I am still trying to get my head around is that (and this seems to happen every time a musician or singer dies) so many people rush out and buy their music (or click and buy their music) after these people have died. Is it because they have suddenly been reminded about how good that artist was, or  have just realised it? Could it be that they have remembered how much they enjoyed particular songs and are prompted to add them to their music collection? Is it their own form of tribute?

Whatever the reason, isn’t it sad that sometimes it takes someone’s death for them to be appreciated or recognised? Sometimes we don’t appreciate someone while they are with us and then regret not having been able to tell them how much they meant to us when they’re gone. In recent thanksgiving services for friends in our church who have “gone to Glory” we have been able to pay tribute to them, but that’s not the same as saying it to their face.

I can remember seeing a Peanuts cartoon when I was a child which had Snoopy stood looking proud of himself and the caption underneath read, “Appreciate me now and avoid the rush.” We so easily take other people for granted and sometimes regret doing so.

Often, after a musician singer has died, their songs go into the top 10 – even though they might not have had a hit for many years. So, taking that as inspiration, who are the top 10 people you appreciate? How can you show them or tell them?

It’s all part of having an attitude of gratitude– gratitude for the people around you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.