light hearted

I am on a waiting list for surgery on my heart. It was something of a surprise when I was told that I needed an operation and, if I’m honest, being on a waiting list has been rather disruptive to my life and work as I have not been able to book things in my diary very far ahead having been told that the surgery would be “soon”: I have discovered that “soon” is a very flexible and indeterminate length of time! I would much rather have the surgery “soon” so that I can get on with getting better but I am having to be patient before I can be a patient.

During the waiting time I have had lots of different tests and conversations with medical staff to prepare me for the operation and have discovered lots of new terminology and seen images and video of bits of me that I never imagined I’d see. The most significant meeting was with the surgeon who will be carrying out the operation. He was really reassuring (I would characterise his attitude to the operation as seeing it as ‘routine but serious’) and was also very honest about what lies ahead of us in terms of the length of time of the operation, length of time in hospital and length of time convalescing and rehabilitating. He also mentioned that, as with all surgery, there are risks – albeit minor – and reassured us that every possible precaution is taken to minimise them.

As I have waited and pondered what lies ahead I have realised how much I take for granted in my life and the people around me. And I think there’s a truism to be found here: we take so much for granted and only notice its significance to us when it is threatened or taken away. Maybe it is only in shadows that we fully appreciate the light: illness sharpens our awareness of what it means to be healthy; sadness and grief poignantly make us hope for joy; poverty and debt heighten our appreciation of wealth; loneliness makes us yearn for companionship; incapacity inspires us to value freedom and mobility.

In one of my favourite films ‘Evan Almighty’ there is a moment when Evan’s wife, Joan, has an encounter with God. God (brilliantly played by Morgan Freeman) serves her in a diner and says: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”

This is left as an open question in the film but it does make a lot of sense to me. Taking that thought and applying it to what I said earlier, I believe that God uses our shadow experiences to help us appreciate the light. I don’t believe that God causes illness, sadness, grief, poverty, debt, loneliness or incapacity but I do believe that he can speak in and through them and perhaps at those times we are more attuned to listening.

In words that are often read at this time of year in Carol services from the beginning of John’s Gospel we read: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5). For John ‘the light’ is Jesus. But the word we translate as “overcome” can also be translated as “understood”, “seize”, “grasp”, “comprehend”, “overtake”, or “suppress”. Because the irrepressible, inextinguishable light is beyond the experience and comprehension of darkness it stands in stark contrast to it. From an experience of darkness (an absence of light) the light becomes all the more attractive and we begin to appreciate it, realise what it means and move towards it.

If you are in shadow or darkness now, I hope and pray that you will experience light or at least catch a glimpse of it and find that the power and hold the darkness has on you is diminished as a result. If you are in light now, appreciate it and make the most of it – and share that light with those who need it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the heart of the matter

Sorry about the absence of a bloggage on Friday and over the weekend. On Friday I went to visit a church near Southampton as part of my sabbatical studies, and it was so encouraging. Thank you Gordon and your church for the hospitality and sharing.

On Friday evening I stretched out my left arm at about 10pm and felt a twinge. By 3am on Saturday the twinge had become very painful indeed and my left hand was starting to feel a bit numb, so I looked at NHS Direct’s website and entered my symptoms. I was rather surprised that it suggested I should go to hospital immediately.

So I rang NHS Direct instead, and having spoken to two nice people they concluded that I should go to hospital immediately and, before I knew what was happening, an ambulance crew was knocking on the door. They wired me up and did not see anything too alarming but took me to the hospital anyway.

The hospital staff were great (I was feeling silly and a bit of a fraud, especially when the ambulance staff insisted on wheeling me in a wheelchair). They realised quite quickly what I was trying to say all along: that I had strained / torn / tweaked a muscle in my arm.

The problem was that the symptoms were such that it meant that the answers I gave to the person on the phone sounded suspiciously like the symptoms of a heart attack. Let me state here and now, on the record, I did not have a heart attack, I don’t have any heart problems, and other than a very painful left arm I am fine. Any rumours circulating to the contrary are false!

I am glad that our NHS system was so efficient and alert to the possibilities of me having a heart attack. I am grateful to all the staff who made sure that they were happy that I was not going to keel over before releasing me into the wild, rather than just taking my word for it. I am happy to know that my heart is in good condition. Better to be safe than sorry. At the hospital the doctor I saw could tell I was in a lot of pain and prescribed me some heavier duty painkillers for the pain in my arm – unfortunately they also make me feel dopier than usual.

But it did feel like a bit of an over-reaction. I only wanted some advice about what I could do to reduce the pain in my arm and ended up having an ambulance ride and a mini waxing (pulling off the electrode contacts from the ECG machine also removed a few body hairs).

I wonder if sometimes churches are the same. Someone may come to us asking for some help and before they know it they have been presented with a full explanation of the good news about Jesus, enrolled on an Alpha course and provisionally booked for a baptism. When people came to Jesus he was far more generous – he allowed others to set the agenda. He did not have a set routine of questions designed to diagnose their problem or a series of presentations and programmes to make them a Christian. Several times in the gospels he asked people, “What would you like me to do for you?”

That’s an amazing question to ask. It’s a dangerous question, a vulnerable question, and it’s a mission question. It leaves the power with the person who has come to him rather than him assuming control of the situation. It keeps the focus on the individual rather than on what we might think is the answer.

Yet at the same time we often find Jesus answering the wrong question. When four friends lowered their paralysed friend through a hole in the roof to get him in front of Jesus for healing, Jesus told the man that his sins were forgiven! He did not start with the physical healing, he healed the man’s soul. But then, to demonstrate that he had authority to forgive sins, he did the apparently more difficult task of healing the man.

Confusing isn’t it?

Yes and no. Jesus knew what was at the heart of the man’s needs. We may need to spend some time listening to get to the same point. But if Jesus’ mission question is not far from our lips we will be on the way to getting to the heart of the matter.

upgrade to man flu

I am declaring a probable man-flu infection. My throat has been sore for a few days now and other symptoms have decided to join in and throw a party – sneezing, runny nose, tiredness…

Because I am a manly man [stop laughing] I am not going to allow man-flu to win. It is the wrong season for me to be ill and taking unscheduled time off is not an option that I want to consider. There are schools to visit, carol services to attend, services to prepare, sermons to write, photographs to be taken, people to visit, books to read, prayers to pray, meetings to attend… and that’s just tomorrow morning!

However, the mind-bogglingly brilliant way in which God has designed our bodies to cope with infection means that I may have to give in to the inevitable. My white blood cells need me to rest to be at their best. I may have to slow down or stop for a while if I am to get better quicker.

As I consider the list above I wonder how indispensable I really am. I am sure I am less indispensable than I’d like to think I am. If I was unable to do these things most would happen without me. Someone would cover for me. And those things that did not happen would not lead to a catastrophic implosion of the time-space continuum and herald the second coming of Jesus. Life would go on. Church would go on.

Ego tells us that we are vital as it seeks to inflate itself. Humility gently lets the air out and suggests that people will cope without us. Ego then suggests that we must have done a good job equipping them to step in when we are unavailable. Humility chuckles sagely and tickles our pomposity until we start giggling and receiving the Kingdom of God like little children…

I’m still planning on fighting the man-flu. But I am willing to admit temporary defeat if absolutely necessary.

Be blessed, be a blessing

There were two guys working for the Council. One would dig a hole, he would dig, dig, dig, the other would come behind him and fill the hole, fill, fill, fill. These two men worked furiously. One digging a hole, the other filling it up again.

A man was watching from the a pavement cafe and couldn’t believe how hard these men were working, but couldn’t understand what they were doing. Finally he had to ask them.

He said to the hole digger, “I appreciate how hard you work, but what are you doing? You dig a hole and your partner comes behind you and fills it up again!”

The hole digger replied, “Oh yeah, it must look funny, but the guy who plants the trees is sick today.”

a blogged ub bloggage

I am having a good day so far today. I am on schedule to complete all of the tasks I have in my diary, which is always a good sign. Indeed at the moment I am half an hour ahead of myself, which is astonishing.

Tissue boxThe only slight probleb is the cold that is rapidly developing within be. The Christmas season is one of the busiest for Binisters (okay, you get the idea that I have a blocked up dose, so I will stop reblacig codsodeds). Services and opportunities to talk about Christmas seem to come thick and fast, which is brilliant. So it is rather inconvenient to have a cold right now. I have been taking various proprietary remedies in order to relieve my sore throat and dry me up (too much detail?). I am hoping and praying that they will do the job and keep me going until my immune system can get around to dealing with the cold virus that has overcome it at present.

I feel like I ought to be cheering on my white blood cells: “Come on you whites! Get in there! Let’s be having you!” I am frustrated that there’s not much I can do (other than treating the symptoms), and I will have to wait as patiently as I am able.

How often is our life one of coping with circumstances beyond our control? How often do we have to accept that we will not be able to deliver our best, even though we strive to do so, because other factors / people / events intervene? In those times I guess we could simply give up or give in: admit defeat. Or we can persevere and strive to succeed against the odds. But is there a third way? It seems to me that Jesus was constantly having to cope with dealing with circumstances beyond his control.

Really?

Well, yes. He was not in control at his birth. [m u s t   r e s i s t   b i r t h   c o n t r o l   j o k e.] He did not choose the stable. He was not in control of his disciples – they had freedom to choose whether or not to follow him and demonstrated levels of ineptitude that give us all hope as they stumbled around. And yet he coped. His trust in his father was absolute. His prayers were profound and frequent. His patience was endless.

When I am not in control, please God give me the faith to trust that you are holding me, help me to turn to you in prayer, and grow the fruit of patience within me.

Be blessed, be a blessig!

A military cargo plane, flying over a populated area, suddenly loses power and starts to nose down. The pilot tries to pull up, but with all their cargo, the plane is too heavy. So he yells to the soldiers in back to throw things out to make the plane lighter. They throw out a pistol. “Throw out more!” shouts the pilot. So they throw out a rifle. “More!” he cries again. They heave out a missile, and the pilot regains control.

He pulls out of the dive and lands safely at an airport. They get into a jeep and drive off. Pretty soon they meet a boy on the side of the road who’s crying. They ask him why he’s crying and he says “A pistol hit me on the head!”

They drive more and meet another boy who’s crying even harder. Again they ask why and the boy says, “A rifle hit me on the head!”

They apologize and keep driving. They meet a boy on the pavement who’s laughing hysterically. They ask him, “Kid, what’s so funny?” The boy replies, “I sneezed and a house blew up!”

blerggh

Still feeling grotty today. Inspiration is at a low ebb and it feels like I am trying to think through custard.

If that last simile is not proof enough of my lack of creativity or coherence I don’t know what is!

So I will simply offer you a thought – whether a glass is half full or half empty there’s still water in it if you are thirsty – and a joke from across the pond:

There is a story about a new clerk in a supermarket. A customer asked him if she could buy half a grapefruit. Not knowing what to do, he excused himself to ask the manager.

“Some nut out there wants to buy half a grapefruit…” he began, and, suddenly realizing that the customer had entered the office behind him, continued, ” … and this lovely lady would like to buy the other half.”

The manager was impressed with the way the clerk amicably resolved the problem and they later started chatting. “Where are you from?” asked the store manager.

“Lancaster, Pennsylvania,” replied the clerk, “home of ugly women and great hockey teams.”

“Oh, my *WIFE* is from Lancaster,” challenged the manager.

Without skipping a beat, the clerk asked, “What team was she on?”

Side effects

I have now seen a physician who has taken my temperature, peered down my throat as I said ‘Aaaah’ and diagnosed a sore throat. She was not prepared to diagnose it as Man Flu (notice her gender, see yesterday) and did not give the ailment a name. I felt bereft, not being able to give what ails me a special name. A friend came the rescue though and suggested I call it ‘Bob’ (thanks John!).

The physician prescribed antibiotics to get rid of Bob and in a moment of boredom induced by being oppressed by Bob I read the accompanying leaflet. I was intrigued by the description of possible side effects. There were some which, if they occur, require immediate consultation with a Doctor. Then there was this section:

Other unwanted effects which are more likely to occur are:

* nausea, vomiting or stomach upset

* diarrhoea

* black hairy tongue.

If you notice any of the above side effects, or you notice any other unusual or unexpected side effects and think your tablets may be causing them, please inform…

HOLD ON! Go back a paragraph.

Black hairy tongue????!!!!!

Are they SERIOUS?

I was sufficiently alarmed by black hairy tongue that I looked it up online. It sounds like someone thought that nobody ever reads the leaflet that accompanies drugs so they would slip black hairy tongue in and have a laugh.

Yuck! It’s a real ailment! It looks so revolting that I have decided against putting a picture of it on my blog in case it frightens you away for good. If it’s a choice between vomiting and nausea, diarrhoea and black hairy tongue I would prefer either (or even both) of the first two. (Not that I would like either of them!). If I go into hiding you will know that I have succumbed to black hairy tongue. It sounds like a tongue that has gone feral – living wild and growing a black mane – like the difference between a domestic pig and a wild boar! Black hairy tongue even makes Bob seem less life-threatening.

In the New Testament Paul wrote about wild tongues (admittedly not black hairy ones) to several churches. He seems to be convinced that if we do not keep our tongues under control we can seriously undermine or destroy what God is doing. Not by blowing raspberries (or at least not just by doing that) but by gossip, slander, undermining others and all sorts of other destructive talk. If I am repulsed by black hairy tongue, how much do these other wild tongues repulse people from encountering God through his people?

Some tongue twisters: (to be spoken aloud as fast as you can and repeated – preferably in polite company!)

Seth at Sainsbury’s sells thick socks

Eleven benevolent elephants

Red lorry, yellow lorry

One smart fellow, he felt smart.
Two smart fellows, they felt smart.
Three smart fellows, they felt smart.
Four smart fellows, they felt smart.
Five smart fellows, they felt smart.
Six smart fellows, they felt smart.