subtle segues*

One of the things we tried for the first time on your recent holiday was riding a Segway. In case you’re not sure what they are, essentially they are a platform on which you stand with a wheel either side and a handlebar to steer with. Now that’s not really doing justice to them as it could also describe a scooter! In a Segway there are gyroscopes and computers and motors and batteries that do all sorts of very clever things to enable you to control them with subtle movements of your body.

To go forwards you lean forwards. To go faster forwards you lean further forwards. To slow down you lean less forwards. To brake (when going forwards) you lean back. To reverse (from stationary) you lean backwards. To go back faster you lean backwards further. To slow down (when going backwards) you lean forwards. To steer to the left you move the handlebar to the left. To turn to the right you move the handlebar to the right. To turn more sharply you turn the handlebar further. To stay still you stand upright.

Simple!

Actually although it may sound complicated when written down like that it is relatively easy to learn to do and very quickly becomes intuitive: you don’t think about doing it you just do it naturally.

seb

If you are ever in Devon I highly recommend that you visit Go-Segway where we received excellent three stage training and then enjoyed a great tour through Haldon Forest. It was brilliant. Even those who, before we started, were really nervous about it (especially fearing falling off) enjoyed it and by the end were confident in what they were doing. I was very impressed with the instruction – it was simple, comprehensive and the instructor took time to learn everyone’s names (14 in the group) and talked to us as we were learning to take our minds off thinking about what we were doing (it’s best when it’s intuitive).

And this is where I subtly segue* from Segways to a thought about them. The thought, like riding a Segway, is simple but there’s a lot going on under the surface. And that’s the thought. Riding a Segway is simple because of all of the complicated things going on underneath your feet. You don’t have to worry about what is going on and you don’t have to know about how all of the gyroscopes and computers and motors and batteries are working together. All you have to do is step on (and you learn this in the training) and let the Segway do its thing. I think it’s called ‘faith’.

It’s the same with God. You don’t have to understand the Trinity, the Incarnation, or any of the other detailed doctrines that try to explain the mysteries of how we can get to know him. All you have to do is step on and let him do his thing.

Of course, if you want, you can learn about how a Segway works, you can understand the complex mathematics and physics and engineering, you can be trained to maintain them and you can become an instructor. But that’s not essential for riding a Segway. And you can learn lots about Christian theology and doctrine, but, (takes a deep breath and prepares for barrage of stone-throwing) you don’t need to learn lots about Christian theology and doctrine to be a follower of Jesus.

One of the errors that I have made as a Minister is that I have sometimes equated ‘knowledge’ with ‘discipleship’. Growing deeper in your relationship with Jesus is not about learning more knowledge. You can be the most knowledgeable person in the world about him – he could be your specialist subject in Mastermind – but if you are not getting to know him more and allowing his Spirit deeper into your life then that’s not discipleship. How do you get to know him more and allow his Spirit deeper into your life? It’s actually quite simple and intuitive: you talk with him more (it’s called praying). You make conscious decisions to include him in what you are doing. You chat to him during the day. You actively invite his Spirit to accompany you. You make a decision to be full of his Spirit. And, (segue back to Segways) like riding a Segway, when you start off you will be thinking about these things and remembering to do them, but after a while they become intuitive and you find that they are a part of your everyday life, and following Jesus becomes less of an academic exercise and more of a relationship that deepens.

And like riding a Segway once you have got beyond the ‘thinking about it’ stage to the ‘doing it intuitively’ stage you can really go for it!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Yes, that’s how you spell ‘segway’ when it’s a linguistic term to describe a link from one thing to another

lol, rotfl, or jars?*

pubI went into a pub at lunchtime recently and was rather surprised when I went in there was nobody else there. The place was empty.

I looked around and saw an old fashioned Space Invaders machine in the corner. I couldn’t resist so put the coins in and started defending the earth from the relentless slowly advancing aliens.

Suddenly I heard a voice: “I don’t know why you are bothering to play this game, you’re rubbish!”

I looked around but there was still nobody there.

I carried on and the voice spoke again: “You’ve just wasted your money. You might as well give up now.”

There was still nobody visible and it sounded like the speech was coming from inside the machine.

I continued and the voice spoke a third time: “Give up slaphead!”

I was so thrown by this that I forgot to watch for the missiles from above and lost my last life.

Rather upset and perturbed by this abuse I headed towards the bar, looking for some bar staff. There was nobody around but there were some peanuts in a bowl on the counter. I reached out to take a few when another voice spoke from nowhere: “Hello, it’s nice to see someone who is looking so smart come in here.”

I looked all over the pub and there was nobody around. As I reached for the peanuts again I heard the voice: “We don’t often get someone of your calibre in here.”

There was still nobody around and I started to get worried that I was losing my mind, while at the same time feeling better after the verbal mauling by the Space Invaders machine.

Suddenly, as if by magic, a barmaid appeared behind the bar. I went over to her and explained about  the abuse from the video game and the nice things the nuts seemed to be saying.

“Oh yes,” she said knowingly. “You see the nuts are complimentary, but the machine’s out of order.”

Be blessed, be a blessing

*lol = laughing out loud; rotfl = rolling on the floor, laughing; jars = just about raising a smile (a new one I have just created)

A shameless plug

One of my friends and I are putting on a magic show on 23rd May.

image

We had this poster created for the event (Richard is definitely one of Essex’s finest magicians: he’s a member of the Magic Circle –  I’d be happy to be known as one of Essex’s thinnest!) If you would like to come along there are booking details on the poster. I think it will be a great night’s entertainment, but then again I might be biased…

(Membership relates to the Village Hall – you can join for a nominal fee when you book, I believe).

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prestidigitating (look it up)

ahem, don’t look up my sleeves…

Tonight is the second of three magical evenings for me this week. The first was on Tuesday, where I took part in the Mid Essex Magical Society’s annual Stage Show Competition. I didn’t win, but I was pleased with my performance. The other performances were great too, especially those that beat me – they were amazing!

Tonight I take part in a ‘Magic and Curry’ night for South Woodham Evangelical Church. I am looking forward to both parts of the evening, especially making curry disappear. There will be a series of mini routines interspersed with much curry consumption. In a moment I shall be preparing my set list and finalising my routines. That involves rehearsing my patter as much as the tricks themselves – so much magic is accomplished by sleight of mouth as much as by sleight of hand!

Tomorrow I will be performing some walk-around magic at a fundraising event for International Justice Mission –  an international human rights organisation that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Each of these evenings has ‘magic’ in common – although there is no actual magic involved. No witchcraft, sorcery or other dark arts are used, I have not attended Hogwarts, everything that I do is down to skill and practice! But each of them requires a different approach for a different audience. The competition had time limits within which I had to operate (last year I over-ran, this year I was ‘in time’) and there were four judges whom I had to impress as well as an audience to amaze and amuse. I had to try to keep people’s attention and focus on me.

Tonight I have been asked to include some thoughts to make people think about life as well as trying to entertain them. So I hope that the focus will be on Jesus at the end of the evening.

Tomorrow I am part of the background hum that will hopefully mean that those who attend the fundraiser will enjoy themselves but the focus will be (rightly) on IJM and how people can support it.

For me each of these different events is a great opportunity to share one of my passions – learning and performing magic tricks. I am not naturally an extrovert, but put an audience in front of me and I am more than happy to prestidigitate for them (look it up, it’s not rude!) for as long as they can bear it. (I need to remember the adage ‘leave them wanting more’!)

So a few thoughts from these ramblings:

Thought the first – we need to make sure that we are appropriate to the needs of those around us. The magic club competition was not the right environment to be making people think about life in anything like the way I hope to tonight.

Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again
Jesus face-planted as Nick got it wrong again

Thought the second – there’s nothing wrong with enjoying ourselves. Churches used to make a virtue out of boredom, with an almost pharasaical fanaticism about making sure that people didn’t smile or laugh in case it was linked to a sin. I suspect there were many faceplants in heaven when we did that in the name of holiness and purity.

Thought the third – God can use whatever gifts we are willing to offer him – even magic tricks!

Thought the fourth – make sure you are not the focus of attention when someone or something else should be.

Thought the fewth – whatever you do, do it for an audience of One.

Be blessed, be a blessing (especially if you will be in one of my audiences!)

ooohs

On Sunday morning we played a game in our all age Mothering Sunday service. It is a relatively simple game that makes the participants look a bit silly (see the picture). The idea is that you put the basket arrangement on your head and attempt to fling the balls into it. On Sunday morning we did a mother vs child version.

Other than to have a bit of fun point of the game was that whilst we all aim to do the best we can we don’t always manage to ‘hit the target’. That is true of parents as much as anyone else and the wonderful thing is that God’s grace and forgiveness are available for us all, and he gives us his Spirit to help us to hit the target more frequently.

(We reflected on the supermum in Proverbs 31 and how none of us could ever live up to that. In addition to sometimes missing the target we also should rejoice and celebrate when we hit it. Rather than seeing the biblical standards of perfection as being something unattainable we can see them as God’s ambition for us: asking for his help to try and be more like the people he has created us to be, asking for and receiving a fresh start when we fail, and rejoicing when God helps us to succeed.)

When the mother and son were playing the game on Sunday the congregation cheered when they managed to get a ball into the basket and there were groans and ‘ooohs’ when they missed. Often as Christians we are better at the groans and ‘ooohs’ then we are at the cheers. We weep with those who weep and neglect to rejoice with those who rejoice.

As well as personally rejoicing when we manage to live in the way that pleases God we can also encourage one another. Perhaps it is our natural humility that makes us not want to tell other people when we have done well but if we can see something to encourage in somebody else, let’s not hesitate to do so.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Game related joke:

Two friends went out to play golf and were about to tee off, when one fellow noticed that his partner had but one golf ball.

“Don’t you have at least one other golf ball?”, he asked. The other guy replied that no, he only needed the one.

“Are you sure?”, the friend persisted. “What happens if you lose that ball?”

The other guy replied, “This is a very special golf ball. I won’t lose it so I don’t need another one.”

Well,” the friend asked, “what happens if you miss your shot and the ball goes in the lake?”

“That’s okay,” he replied, “this special golf ball floats. I’ll be able to retrieve it.”

“Well what happens if you hit it into the trees and it gets lost among the bushes and shrubs?”

The other guy replied, “That’s okay too. You see, this special golf ball has a homing beacon. I’ll be able to get it back — no problem.”

Exasperated, the friend asks, “Okay. Let’s say our game goes late, the sun goes down, and you hit your ball into a sand trap. What are you going to do then?”

“No problem,” says the other guy, “you see, this ball is florescent. I’ll be able to see it in the dark.”

Finally satisfied that he needs only the one golf ball, the friend asks, “Hey, where did you get a golf ball like that anyway?”

The other guy replies, “I found it.”

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.

 

a fun bloggage

My bloggerel seems to be influenced by breakfast cereal at the moment. This morning as I was munching on my non-brand wheat-based biscuits I glanced at a box of crispy rice cereal that was left on the table. On the front was an advert for a ‘fun colour me in activity’ on the back of the packet. Call me cynical [pause to allow you time to shout ‘cynical’ at the screen] but I reckon that if someone has to tell you that an activity is fun, it may not be as good as you might hope. And the relationship between actual fun and promised fun may be inversely proportional: the more fun you are told the activity / venue / event will be, the less you will have.

‘Fun’ is a word that is used to describe all sorts of activities, and seems to be the default word that advertisers drop in to their adverts in the hope that we will want to buy it / do it / go there.

Our local leisure centre proclaims that it offers ‘Year round fun for all the family’

A free games website offers ‘ thousands of fun games for free’

Slightly overdoing it is ‘Fort Fun in Eastbourne, the Family Fun Park which provides outdoor and indoor fun for kids of all ages’

Long distance races are now called ‘Fun Runs’ (two words I have not often associated with each other).

A Google search for ‘fun’ yielded 3.5 BILLION results!

Regardless of my cynical view of ‘fun’ in advertising, it is clearly something that we humans like, otherwise they would not spend some much time, money and effort telling us where and how we can get it.

Sooo, and some of you are already way ahead of me, should we be describing church as ‘fun’? Well, if my cynical view is right, we should never label any church activity as ‘fun’ because it won’t be fun when people come. But the problem is that many people would associate the two words ‘church’ and ‘fun’ even less than I associate ‘fun’ and ‘run’. There is a serious problem here (pun intended).

Church is viewed as serious, boring, dull, out of touch. And we have not done much to dispel those views.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that we get all frivolous. Neither am I suggesting that solemnity, reverence and awe do not have a place in church. But we have represented Jesus as someone who does not smile, as a ‘Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief’ without also representing him as the one who was accused of being too much of a party animal, who laced his teaching with humour and who, I believe, wore a smile more often than a scowl. The film Dogma starts with a Catholic Cardinal recognising that the church has an image problem and coming up with a solution. A new sigil (look it up): the Buddy Christ (pictured).

I think that it’s intended to poke fun at church attempts to be cool, trendy, hip, or any other words that lie behind similar attempts in the ‘real’ world. And I am with the film makers to a great extent. It just comes across as laughable (not the right sort of fun) or cringeworthy. So what should we do? Well, if my belief about Jesus is right, and if we are meant to be good free samples of him, the best way that people will see that being a Christian does not mean you have to surrender the right to laugh is by us being, er, fun.

Instead of holding coffee mornings, perhaps we could hold games mornings. Instead of tutting, perhaps we could giggle.

I love watching the sitcom Miranda. I think it is well-written, winsome and funny. Miranda’s mother has a phrase that drives her daughter mad because it is a stock answer to any objections or concerns she may have: “Such fun!”

Wouldn’t it be great if that was one of the characteristics people saw in us, the church, the collection of free samples of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Why did Jesus’ popularity mushroom? Because he was a fun guy to be with.

[Okay, I apologise for that, but I could not resist].

Such fun!