>199 not out

>I have just noticed that this is the 199th blog entry I have made. I mention that not because I deserve a medal (my readers deserve that if they have read all 199) but because I am astonished at how much drivel I have managed to pour out into the blogisphere since I started. Nearly 200?! Hopefully that means that my head is empty of 199 random thoughts and ideas that otherwise would still be floating around unconsidered and unmanifested.

In honour of this almost-milestone and in anticipation that because I have a busy day tomorrow I may not get around to posting something tomorrow, I will celebrate today.


Consider that an understated celebration of a constant stream of internet-based communication.

This reminds me of something that Kofi Manful said in the Bible Studies he was leading at the conference I was at last week. He said that God is always broadcasting to us, but it is up to us to tune in to his frequency and we decide how often we tune in. God is not silent, but we can drown him out or tune in to other sources of input and guidance in our busy lives. I found that a very helpful thought and am trying to keep myself tuned in and listening more often by pausing at regular times, by reading my Bible more prayerfully and by asking God intentional questions such as, “what are you saying to me?” and “is there anyone you want me to visit or speak to?”

Sometimes all I hear is spiritual static. Not because God is not broadcasting but because I have changed the channel without realising it. Sometimes I do hear him, though, through phone calls from other people, through apparently chance encounters, through circumstances that all fit together so neatly it is as if someone had it planned…

I think the celebrations deserve the funniest joke in the world to accompany them…

The funniest joke in the world (a Monty Python sketch, as described on Wikipediavisit youtube and see it for yourself if Monty Python does not offend you.

During World War II, Ernest Scribbler, a British “manufacturer of jokes” (Michael Palin), creates “the funniest joke in the world” and promptly dies laughing. His mother (Eric Idle) reads the joke, at first believing it to be a suicide note, and also dies laughing. A Scotland Yard inspector (Graham Chapman) retrieves the joke, but despite the playing of somber music on gramophone records and the chanting of laments by fellow policemen to create a depressing mood, also dies laughing.

The British Army test the joke on Salisbury Plain, then translate it into German. Each translator only translates one word of the joke, so as not to be killed by reading the whole joke. One of them saw two words of the joke and had to spend a few weeks in hospital. This German version is said to be “over 60,000 times as powerful as Britain’s great pre-war joke”, a reference to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement. The nonsensical German translation is used for the first time on 8 July 1944 in the Ardennes, causing German soldiers to fall down dead from laughter:

Venn ist das nurnstuck git und Slotermeyer? Ya! Beigerhund das oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!

To a German speaker, the joke contains a number of nonsense words, and does not translate into anything meaningful. 

In the version of the sketch featured in And Now For Something Completely Different, another scene of the joke being used in open warfare is shown, with Tommies running through an open field amid artillery fire shouting the joke at the Germans, who die laughing in response. Afterward, a German field hospital is shown with Germans in blood-stained bandages, laughing incessantly.

In a following scene, a British officer from the Joke Brigade (Michael Palin) has been taken prisoner and is being interrogated and tortured by Nazi Gestapo officers. The torturing is completely benign, the interrogator fake-slapping him, and another officer clapping his hands to make the slap noise, but the prisoner is eventually persuaded to recite the joke after being tickled. One of the Nazi officers (Graham Chapman) erupts in laughter and dies. The second (John Cleese) retorts “Zat’s not funny!” but then he too starts to giggle hysterically before falling down dead. Another captor (Terry Gilliam) notices the two deceased officers and points his gun at Palin, who recites the joke to the captor, who is also killed by the joke.

The Germans attempt counter-jokes. Eventually their best joke is used in action (“There were zwei peanuts, walking down the straße, und one was a salted… peanut”), but proves in English to be hopelessly bad. The British joke is laid to rest when “peace broke out” at the end of the war as countries agree to a Joke Warfare ban at the Geneva convention. In 1950, the last paper copy of the joke is under a monument bearing the inscription “To the Unknown Joke”.

Church meetings

Church Meeting tonight. They seem to come around quicker and quicker. I have to say that they are a pleasure at our church. (I have to say it because it is true, not because someone is forcing me to or because it’s my job to enjoy them). There’s a sense of family and a desire to discern God’s will rather than factions fighting corners that I have heard about in some churches. Long may this continue.

See full size imageWhen I first became a Church Member (when I was a teenager) I can remember sitting through what seemed like interminable business meetings where people I had not met stood up and spoke for a long time. It was almost always the same people. It seemed like they almost always said the same things. Now I do realise that this caricature has been shaped by teenage boredom thresholds and the passage of time. What concerns me now is that I never had the courage to stand up and say anything (even if I had something significant to say). I was scared and intimidated. Not a good state of affairs.

Years later I joined the Baptist Union Council as a representative of Sussex Baptist Association. I distinctly remember as I was being given a lift to my first Council meeting being told not to say anything, just to listen and observe. It seemed like good advice, but towards the end of one debate I felt very strongly that I should say something. My mouth went dry, my heart started pounding and I wrestled with whether or not I should say anything. The chairman was about to close the session when I gingerly put up my hand. He was a bit exasperated at this late addition to the debate but allowed me to speak. I said my piece and sat down quickly, heart still thumping and red in the face.

I have gained in confidence since then and am normally happy to speak my mind in public (perhaps too happy!). But I hope and pray that nobody at our Church Meetings ever feels intimidated or frightened. We believe that God speaks through everyone and anyone and we need to hear everyone’s voice. We also need to recognise how much it takes for some people to speak in public. We try sometimes to split into small groups to enable people to speak more freely and then share back in plenary sessions but I am always open to other suggestions about how we can enable people to speak what they believe God is asking them to say. If you feel God has something for you to say, please don’t hold back: in the Bible he spoke through children, through young people, through outcasts, through untrained peasants, even through a donkey!

Church jokes
After a church service on Sunday Morning, a young boy suddenly announced to his mother, “Mum, I’ve decided to become a minister when I grow up.”

“That’s okay with us, but what made you decide that?”

“Well,” said the little boy, “I have to go to church on Sunday anyway, and I figure it will be more fun to stand up and shout than to sit down and listen.”

Fred walked into the pub with a black eye.
“How did you get that?” asked Joe.
“I went to church,” said Fred.
“You got a black eye for going to church?” exclaimed Joe.

“Well,” explained Fred, “I was sat behind Mrs Arbuthnot, and when we stood up to sing the first hymn I noticed that she had her skirt tucked into the top of her knickers. I leaned forward and, as gently as I could, I pulled it out for her. Just as I was finishing she turned around and punched me in the eye.”

A week later Fred came into the pub with a second black eye.
“How did you get that?” asked Joe.
“I went to church,” said Fred, sadly.
“You got another black eye for going to church?” exclaimed Joe incredulously.

“Well,” explained Fred again, “once again I was sat behind Mrs Arbuthnot. When we stood up to sing I noticed that once again she had her skirt tucked into the top of her knickers. Mr Entwhistle next to me noticed too, and he leaned forward and, as gently as he could, pulled it out for her. Now I know she likes her skirt tucked into her knickers, so I leaned forward and tucked it back in for her…”


We have a small radio that moves around the house with us at different times of the day. The channel changes according to time of day too. It starts off with Radio 4 when Sally gets up and then changes to Radio 2 or 5 when she leaves the room and I have taken over. Later in the day it stays on Radio 2. We’re showing our age!

I have noticed that there is a considerable difference in the sound depending on where I put it. When you carry it around it sounds like a small portable radio. But when I put it down in some places there is wonderful bass resonance that enhances the sound brilliantly. The two best places are on a chest of drawers in the bedroom and (ahem) on the toilet cistern. They allow the bass notes to resonate and make the sound much richer.

Recently at our church we have started recording sermons as MP3 files, with a view to putting them on our church website soon. (They aren’t there yet). I had a quick listen to part of one of my sermons this week to check it had recorded ok and was horrified at the sound of my voice. I had forgotten that the sound of my voice I hear is different to what everyone else hears. For me there is resonance created by my own head that makes it a fuller sounding voice than what you hear. I am sorry. It’s the voice God gave me. I will attempt to put more variation and intonation into it, but you will still get my voice as heard on the MP3.

The combination of these two observations got me thinking. Either I need to sit on a toilet cistern when I preach to make my voice sound better. Or I need to be resting on God so that he creates resonance – not of my voice but of my words, resonating in people’s lives as his Spirit applies what I say to the different people listening. That way they won’t be so put off by the sound of my voice!

An old man was wondering if his wife had a hearing problem. So one night, he stood behind her while she was sitting in her lounge chair. He spoke softly to her, “Honey, can you hear me?”

There was no response.

He moved a little closer and said again, “Honey, can you hear me?”

Still, there was no response.

Finally he moved right behind her and said, “Honey, can you hear me?”

She replied, “For the third time, Yes!”

what goes on in your head in the night?

Yesterday I had a really good idea for a blog entry. Or at least I thought it was a good idea. Today I can’t remember anything about it, except that it seemed like a good idea. It’s so frustrating. It’s as if during my night’s sleep the internal white board on which I write the important stuff I want to remember gets all smudged so that it is illegible in the morning.

At the same time I found myself awake at 5.21 this morning (I looked at my clock) with my mind rehearsing lots of the things I am going to do today. Why couldn’t it wait? Why did my brain decide that 5.21 in the morning was a good time to go through the day and wake me up in order to do it? Someone needs to tell my brain that if I have a good night’s sleep I am more likely to be able to cope with the day than if I have been awake half the night thinking about it.

I quite like the theory that dreams during sleep (as opposed to daydreams or aspirations) are when the brain does all the filing of things that are important in your life. That makes sense (until I start to think about some of the dreams I have had!). It helps explain why some dreams seem to have meaning. It also provides an opportunity for God to put some new files into our lives for us to file in the ‘woaah’ or ‘really?!’ section. Just ask Joseph (of technicolored dreamcoat fame).

I have only had a few dreams that I felt had direct meaning for my life. The most dramatic was when my family was on a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads. I was only four (I think) but had a vivid dream in which I could see my teddy bear floating down one of the Broads. I shouted out “My teddy’s floating!”

This woke my mother who thought, “He’s thrown his teddy overboard!”

She jumped out of bed to come and see the problem…

…into water that came up to her knees. The boat was sinking. My teddy and my dream had saved us all from drowning in our sleep (I may be exaggerating the danger levels for dramatic effect). I have often wondered whether that dream was a message from God. On its own it was a weird dream. In that context it was exactly what we needed to hear. The same seems to be true in my life of lots of other occasions when God has spoken to me – through other people, through circumstances, through passages in the Bible. On their own they are insignificant or strange. But in that context they are just what I needed to hear. I guess I need to make sure I am always listening.

String of pearls 4After she woke up, a woman told her husband, “I just dreamed that you gave me a pearl necklace for Valentine’s day. What do you think it means?”

“You’ll know tonight.” he said.

That evening, the man came home with a small package and gave it to his wife. Delighted, she opened it to find a book entitled “The Meaning of Dreams”