a brief history of communication*

communicate

Technological advances have provided us with so many new ways of communicating with each other. It probably started with Thag and Ug gesticulating to each other and making sounds that they mimicked – gradually evolving into a spoken and comprehensible language. Cave paintings at that time of history were perhaps the earliest form of strategy planning – this is what we are looking for and we’re all going to attack it when we see it.

But Thag and Ug could only communicate with each other when within earshot. Maybe blowing into an animal horn or big shell helped with vague instructions and rallying calls, but you still had to be able to hear. Until some bring spark (!) invented fire and then we had the possibility of warning beacons and someone else thought about making smoke signals.

Technological advances from this point onwards seem to have been accelerating at an almost exponential rate. Written language (and the invention of the quill and paper) enabled people to write things down and send them to someone else, perhaps attached to a person or a pigeon (which also provided a tasty snack for the reader). Semaphore and flags enabled more specific communication over distances.

Books and then the printing press were a quantum leap in mass-communication – enabling more people to read the same thing. (Assuming they had been taught to read).The invention of the tin can, coupled with string, gave a brief opportunity for people to speak to each other over distances – limited only by the length of the string and how empty the can was.

And then telegraphs and telegrams and telephones meant that you could speak to anyone, anywhere (so long as they also had access to a receiving unit). Radio enabled longer distance communication without the need for long wires. The next step from radio is television where you can see the person speaking to you.

Innovations on these themes led to satellite communications to speak in (almost) real time around the world. For a while we had pagers (remember them) enabling people to send us a message when we were not at home or in the office. Computers and the Internet then created a whole new way of communicating (email) and bringing that together with the phone produced mobile phones and texting. Video conferencing expanded rapidly at this time, and the ability to create simple websites meant that almost anyone could put their opinions out there for anyone to see: people have visited this blog from almost every country on the planet!

And yet, with all of the technology that we have now, and with all of the innovations that will come, nothing actually beats Thag and Ug in each other’s presence communicating face to face. If you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence.

And so, dear bloggists, I give you the reason for Christmas: if you want to communicate best with someone it’s best to be in their presence (cue sounds of a baby being born)…

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I don’t claim any particular expertise in this area. Don’t rely on this as rigorously researched wisdom, it’s light-hearted speculation to make a point!

the parable of the creativity

Today I have been creative. Well, I think I have been creative. I have put together combinations of letters to form words that I believe make some sort of sense when I put them together. I have put images with words to illustrate them.

I have sent some of the creativity to other people for them to use, adapt, change or delete. And some of it has been prepared for later consumption and I hope that they will be helpful there too.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut after launching this creativity out into the world I am no longer able to control it. I have to wave goodbye and watch it leave home. I can’t control how it is received. I can’t demand that people look at it or read it a particular way. I can’t make people like it. I run the risk of being misunderstood, misrepresented and having my creativity misappropriated.

Perhaps the best way would be if I could somehow be present when people read the words and see the images and then I could explain to them what I meant and help them to understand. But that’s not possible. Is it?

Perhaps there is a parable here?

In the beginning was the Creativity…

Be blessed, be a blessing

the even older joke I almost included in this week’s sermon

child drawingA little girl was drawing. Her dad came up and tried to work out what it was she was drawing, but he couldn’t find anything familiar in the series of swirls, shapes and squiggles.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m drawing a picture, daddy” was the factually accurate response.

“What are you drawing a picture of?” asked the day, incorrectly ending his question with a preposition.

“I’m drawing a picture of God, daddy,” came the innocent reply.

“But, darling, nobody knows what God looks like,” said dad.

[altogether now with the punchline]

The girl didn’t look up from her masterpiece and said, “They will when I have finished, daddy.”

I decided against retelling that joke in the sermon on Sunday morning because it is so familiar. If you are there you can work out the moment when it would have been included. It would have led into this point – if you want to know what God looks like (not physically but in character), we do know. We have the perfect description in the Bible’s accounts of Jesus of Nazareth: that’s what the incarnation is all about after all!

Be blessed, be a blessing

Overnativityed?

I suspect I might be a bit ‘over nativityed’. This morning I looked at the mixer tap in our kitchen, over which my wife had draped the dishcloth to dry, and thought, “Hmmm, a shepherd tap.”Shepherd Tap

I wonder what the other signals may be that you have had too many nativity experiences?

When you see a tea towel you automatically look for a tie to go with it.

You can pronounce ‘Quirinius’ successfully.

You know why lobsters, Darth Vader and Olly Murs all have a place around the manger.

You find yourself humming ‘Little donkey’ at random times during the day.

You book a flight to Bethlehem because you have to register for the census.

Any other suggestions?

I am not sure that there is such a thing as being ‘overnativityed’. Each one is special, each one is a gentle and joyful reminder of the moment when we could no longer accuse God of being remote and distant: he came into our world and lived among us.

Each time the angel appears to Mary, there’s a reminder that God has a role for everyone, no matter how ill-equipped they are for the task.

Each time Mary and Joseph are told that there is no room at the inn, there’s a reminder that we need to make room for Jesus in our lives.

Each time the shepherds wash their socks by night and are shocked by the arrival of the heavenly host, we are reminded that God is interested in everyone, even those who think themselves insignicant or are told they don’t matter.

Each time the wise men arrive on the scene with gold, myrrh and ‘Frank sent this’ we are reminded that each of us has gifts we can offer to Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

are you sitting comfortably?

Stories are brilliant.

As a toddler I used to love the afternoons when my Mum would turn on the radio and we would enjoy ‘Listen with Mother’. A plummy BBC-voiced lady would read a short story for children, but would always begin with: “Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin.”

One of the things I miss is that my children are now too old for me to read them bedtime stories. I used to enjoy those moments when they’d snuggle down, having chosen the story for the night, and I’d read them the story. It was a wonderful time.

I can still remember some of the stories with great affection, especially Isabel’s Noisy Tummy which was about a girl (Isabel) whose tummy would not stop making funny noises, despite the best advice of family, friends and doctors. There’s a wonderful ending to the book, which I won’t spoil for those of you who will now rush out and get it, but suffice to say that the children learnt the last line and would join in with gusto.

Later on, when I was feeling inspired, I started making up stories of my own. They were about a little boy called Dave: ‘sometimes he was good, sometimes he was naughty.’ He got into all sorts of mischief but his parents never stopped loving him and helping him to learn from his mistakes. Thomas loved the Dave stories and would sometimes request a new one based on a scenario he had come up with. When Hannah got older she demanded Dave stories, but surprisingly he also had a little sister, Daisy, who could be as much trouble as Dave.

These stories are now just family folklore. They no longer get told. That reminds me of the stories my Great Grandad used to tell us about a family of ducks – the main protagonist being called ‘Willy Waddle’. I know my Mum persuaded him to write some of them down and they exist somewhere among her treasured possessions.

I am looking at my open Bible at the moment and wondering in amazement how this book has come to me. It was not simply some stories that were made up and passed down from generation to generation until someone was persuaded to write them down. This is not mere history though – it is His story: a record of human encounters with the Divine.

Like many people I have favourite passages. I love Isaiah 6, because God spoke to me through it about my own call to be a Minister. I love Paul’s letters to Timothy, the young Minister of Ephesus Baptist Church* because they resonate with my early years as a Minister, and they contain these words from 2 Timothy 4 that were ‘given’ to me when I was baptised at the age of 13, before I had considered a call to Ministry:

But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

But my favourite of all are the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In them we find out about Jesus of Nazareth. He was a master story-teller (no record of him telling any about Dave), a man of compassion and grace, a confronter of prejudice and hypocrisy, a reconnector of people and God.

But he also claimed to be God. The gospel narratives blend together to provide the most wonderful picture of God among us. Joan Osborne sang a song a few years ago that asked the incarnation question:

If God had a name what would it be?
And would you call it to his face?
If you were faced with him
In all his glory
What would you ask if you had just one question?

Chorus: And yeah, yeah, God is great
Yeah, yeah, God is good
Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home

If God had a face what would it look like?
And would you want to see
If seeing meant that
you would have to believe
in things like heaven and in Jesus and the saints
and all the prophets (chorus)

Trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome(chorus)

Just trying to make his way home
Like a holy rolling stone
Back up to heaven all alone
Just trying to make his way home
Nobody calling on the phone
‘cept for the Pope maybe in Rome

How do you answer the questions in the song? Is Joan Osborne being cynical, questioning, genuine, critical?

How do you respond to the narratives of the gospels that speak of God as one of us? Have you ever read one – start to finish – as you would read any other book?

I have added ‘Luke’ to my reading list for my sabbatical and am going to spend a day this week just reading the narrative again: start to finish.

Be blessed, be a blessing

[No joke today, but go and buy Isabel’s Noisy Tummy (second hand copies on Amazon) and enjoy it instead. The ending will make you laugh.]

*Okay, probably not a Baptist Church by name at that time, but on a trip to a village near Ephesus a couple of years ago our guide showed us the ruins of an ancient Roman church with an open baptismal pool, which my imagination leapt to thinking it was Ephesus Baptist Church, where Rev Tim pastored.

the appeal of Jesus

It was Friday. Mid-morning.

The court had given its verdict, albeit following a trial that ‘stretched’ the rules. They had found the defendant guilty on all counts.

And the Court of Appeal, one judge sitting on his own, had conceded that the verdict, albeit rather unsafe, was expedient. He too found the defendant guilty on all counts and had sentenced him to death.

But now the defendant had appealed to the International Court of Human Rights. He had enough of the snide comments about his beliefs, muttered behind his back as he worked. He was fed up with being the victim of persecution and oppression, accused of immoral behaviour and consorting with known criminals. He did not like the unjust way his case had been handled.

So Jesus appealed against the verdict and sentence. No longer was he going to be their whipping boy. He was ready to stand up for his rights and see to it that none of his followers ever had to go through what he had experienced. He did not want his friends to have to give up everything to follow him. He no longer wanted to be identified with the poor, the downtrodden, the weak, the oppressed, the abused, the unloved, the victims of life.

And he definitely did not want to wear a cross to work.

 

Inspired(?) by this news story.

what a weekend

This past weekend has been full of significant events. Very edited highlights follow:

On Saturday I attended the reopening of our local Salvation Army premises following a significant refit. It is very impressive and a great improvement on what they had. I particularly liked the prayer that asked that the walls would soon be scuffed and that there would be marks appearing because the premises are being used so well for sharing the good news of Jesus in word and deed.

On Sunday morning we had a service of Believer’s Baptism, where 4 people were baptised. They shared four very different life stories and were inspirational, encouraging and wonderful in what they shared. Baptising them was wonderful – one of the highlights of being a Baptist Minister. Grace abounded!

Four brave and slightly soggy people after their baptisms – and two grinning ministers!

And, on a completely different tack (pun intended) there was incredible sportsmanship shown on the Tour de France. I think there is growing excitement and interest in this bike race as there are two British riders leading the event. Yesterday on one of the climbs someone threw some tacks / nails onto the road as the cyclists were approaching and 30 riders suffered punctures. The Tour leader, Bradley Wiggins, was unaffected but when he realised what had happened he slowed up the whole race and waited for those who had been affected to catch up again when they had been given new bikes / wheels. One of the people affected was the rider in third place. What incredible sporting behaviour – to refuse to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune! To me that makes Bradley Wiggins a prime candidate for Sports Personality of the Year regardless of whether he wins the Tour de France.

What lessons have I learnt?

That I may need to get scuffed and marked as a follower of Jesus if I want to share the good news of Jesus. He does not want me to avoid people in order to stay in pristine condition. (revisit the parable of the talents (Matthew 25) with that in mind!)

That God’s grace knows no limits, especially those I may put on it by the limits of my imagination or expectations.

That the only person whose misfortune I should take advantage of is Jesus on the cross.

Be blessed, be a blessing

A man was hurtling along the road, in excess of the speed limit when he was pulled over by a traffic cop. The officer wrote out a ticket and handed it to him.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” grumbled the man as the policeman handed him a speeding ticket.

“Keep it,” said the officer. “When you collect 12 points you get a bicycle.”

the little angel

Following on from yesterday’s bloggage I thought I would share a story with you. It’s the story I told in our Bright Sparks parent and toddler group and is based loosely on fact.

The little angel always looked forward to Christmas because it meant she came out of the box and got to hang on a lovely Christmas tree. This year we got her out of her box, along with all of the other tree ornaments, and hung her from the tree as usual.

But this year the thread from which she hung broke and the poor little angel tumbled off the tree and bounced into a corner. Nobody noticed she was missing and she lay there all Christmas, hidden from everyone. She was very sad.

After Christmas we packed away the tree, the ornaments, the lights and the tinsel from the tree and put it all back in the roof. The little angel watched all this happening from where she was lying and sadly realised that she had been left behind.

As I was finishing tidying up after the Christmas decorations had been put away, I noticed the little angel in the corner. I picked her up and put her on the table, ready to take up to put with all the other decorations. But then I had a thought. I decided that instead of her only coming out at Christmas, she would be on display all year round and would remind us of the wonderful Christmas story whenever we saw her.

So now the little angel is happier than ever, because she has the really important job of reminding us about Jesus all year round.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

It came upon the blog so clear…

So that’s it for another year, then.

Christmas has been packed away in boxes and confined to cupboards, the garage or the loft… only to be considered in December as we wonder whether we will be able to untangle the lights, why they don’t work when they did when we put them away, and where we put those favourite tree decorations. Rooms, houses, streets and (dare I say it) churches look a bit drab and empty after all the glittery tinselly sparkly twinkly lighty stuff has been taken down.

I wonder if we do the same with the Christmas narratives. We focus on them for a short period of the year and don’t consider them at all for the rest of the year. Mary is free to live without fear of being surprised by an angel, the shepherds stay unfrightened in the fields, wise men don’t travel from the East, and the cattle are free to low to their hearts content without fear of finding a baby in their food.

But if the real message of Christmas also gets packed away for another year we are impoverished by that. If Immanuel, God with us, is simply something we consider during the Advent season and we forget the miracle and reality that he is with us always, we are almost in the same category as Joseph’s relatives in Bethlehem who would not put up with the scandal of having Mary and Joseph stay with them: we are part of the family in name only.

It’s a real shame that we only sing Christmas carols at Christmas because there is so much deep theology within them that we could spend the whole year unpacking and still not finished by the time we get Christmas again. so here’s a challenge for you: think of your favourite Christmas Carol and contemplate averse a day until you have finished that Carol. What is it saying to you about who Jesus is and your relationship with God? How is your life different because the baby was born in the manger? Where do you fit in the Christmas story? Where does the Christmas story fit in your life?

One of the problems at Christmas is that there are so many lovely carols we don’t get to sing them all in any given year. I got into trouble this year because several people had said that they had a favourite Carol and I had not included it in our Carol services. Perhaps this is an opportunity to redress the balance!

It came upon the midnight clear, that glorious song of old, from angels bending near the Earth to touch their harps of gold: “peace on the earth, goodwill to men, from heaven’s all gracious king;” the world in solemn stillness late to hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come, with peaceful wings unfurled, and still their heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world: above its sad and lonely plains they bend on hovering wing, and over all its Babel sounds the blessed angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife the world has suffered long, beneath the angel-strain have rolled 2000 years of wrong; and man, at war with man, hears not the love song which they bring: so hush the noise, you men of strife, and hear the angels sing.

And still the days are hastening on, by prophets once foretold, when with the ever-circling years comes round the age of gold; when peace shall over all the earth its ancient splendours fling, and all the world send back the song which now the angels sing.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I don’t believe it

Sometimes you have to stop and throw your hands up. In a moment I want to make some comments about the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but first I want to scream at the screen “WHY?” Not “WHY?” about the earthquake, tsunami, suffering and death but about this news story:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-12756366

British bureaucracy has prevented a team of rescue experts from helping out. I hope we are proud.

OK, rant over.

So what are we to make of what has happened? Well the first thing to say is that if it does not drive us to our knees in lament and intercession there is something seriously wrong. One of the things that evangelicals seem to have lost in our search for certainty is the ability to lament to God and tell him exactly how we feel. He is big enough to take our questions, our doubts, our anger and all the rest of the things churning around within us in the face of such devastation. Have you told him?

The second is to point out that God is not immune from suffering either. He experienced devastating emotional pain when Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in the face of his impending separation from his eternal relationship with his Father. God experienced bereavement when Jesus cried out “It is finished!” and died. And God is not remote and watching us from a distance. He loves every single person on this planet.

So how could he allow this to happen? Surely if he loved those people in Japan he would have saved them? This is taking us into the deep and dark language of theodicy – how come a benevolent omnipotent God allows evil things to happen? I believe that in the immediate aftermath of such a disaster these questions need to be articulated honestly but not necessarily answered. Short answers can seem trite and unsatisfactory and longer answers are irrelevant when prayers need praying and action needs taking.

This does not mean that there are no answers. There are clues towards them in Jesus’ death and resurrection (hope in the face of death); in the good that rises in the face of evil (such as the intention of the rescue team in the story above); in the way that the world has to be to allow free will and the possibility of human rebellion; in the sin of people that leads to disastrous decisions (building a slum in an area prone to landslides because it is the only cheap land around); in evil as a cosmic force not just a personal problem…

There are no easy answers, which is why it is often called a ‘mystery’.

The nature of God as seen in Jesus in the face of suffering leads me back to him rather than to answers. When crowds of suffering people came to him, Jesus ‘had compassion’ on them. In Greek the word is ‘splanchizomai’. It describes a physical gut-level response. Jesus was affected by human suffering. He still is. God is far from indifferent to human suffering. He does not have an easy answer to the problem either.