slip of the tongue?

Is it just me, or is the use of language becoming more slippery and less honest? Maybe it’s rose-tinted nostalgia glasses but It seems to me that it was not so long ago that people spoke more plainly and honestly. Let me give you some examples of what I mean:

There’s a word that seems to have crept into regular use by politicians. It is used to try to deflect allegations or inferences of lying or getting something wrong: “I misspoke.” It’s as if the words accidentally tumbled out of their mouth without them being in control of them.

On other occasions when someone being interviewed does not want to answer a question they answer a different one they prefer, despite any attempts by the interviewer to get them to answer their question (perhaps best exemplified by when Jeremy Paxman asked the same question 12 times to an intractable Michael Howard in 1997).

Newspaper articles, blogs and social media posts put their own editorial bias on events and report them either favourably or unfavourably depending on that bias (look at how different newspapers referred to the Brexit campaigns if you doubt me).

The recent debate between the US Presidential Candidates was, at times, a shouting match where each candidate spoke over the other one to make their point and refused to listen.

Of course Christians would never be like that. Would we? Really? Not in church meetings (misvote?), leadership team meetings (misserve?), sermons (mispreach?), talking about someone with another person (misshare?), emails (mistype?), a social media platform (mispost?)…

Jesus had some very tough things to say about what we say and how we say it, recorded in Matthew 12: “33 ‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’”

James takes this theme even further in his open letter – James 3:1-12. Here are the last 3 verses: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig-tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.”

Words can be weapons of mass distraction and mass destruction and they can be as healing as medicine and surgery and as affirming as a hug. The clear message from Jesus and James is that what we say reveals what’s going on under the surface. We need to show integrity in how we speak (written or verbal). Integrity means: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” and “the state of being whole and undivided.” Hmmmm.

Let’s pray Psalm 19:14 – “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

you say tomarto…

I had a giggle this morning when an interview went a bit wrong. Chris Evans (BBC Radio 2 Breakfast Show) was interviewing the American author of a Txt Dictionary and decided to ask her what something meant. I will transliterate so it makes sense. The phrase he asked about began ‘two bee zed…’ (2BZ)

This rather flummoxed the poor lady on the other end of the phone and on the other side of the Atlantic. It was only after an uncomfortable pause while she tried to work out what was being said that one of the team on the Breakfast Show realised the problem. What Chris should have said was ‘two bee zee…’ ie ‘too busy’.

The confusion was comical.

It reminded me of a time when I was in Washington DC and a friend had taken me out for brunch after church (what a wonderful idea!). I was amazed at the range of breakfast / lunch items available in the restaurant and decided to sample lots of them. There were breakfast cereals, different types of bread, cold meat, hot buffet, and a counter where they were making fresh omelettes.

Red Ripe TomatoesI went up to the counter and the young lady behind the counter politely asked me what I would like in my omelette. I replied, “Bacon, cheese, ham and tomato please.” The young lady looked at me quizzically.

“Pardon me?”

“Bacon, cheese, ham and tomato please.”

She still looked blank. At that moment I realised that there was a problem with my pronunciation. I was saying ‘tomarto’ not ‘tomayto’. I tried ‘tomayto’ and she smiled knowingly. Then she said, “Say it again.”


She called her colleagues over. “Say it again.”


Eventually it felt like the whole restaurant was listening to me saying ‘tomarto’.

My friend remarked that if an average English preacher* came to the USA as a pastor they would fill their church each week because people would come just to listen to the accent!

The problem was that I didn’t think I had an English accent. I spoke normally. I was used to the way I spoke and did not think it to be out of the ordinary at all.

How often do we do that in other ways? We become comfortable with and used to our own mannerisms, language, attitudes and so on and consider them to be normal. But to someone else we might appear to be abrasive, flippant, unpleasant, rude or uncaring.

It is important for us to try to be aware of how we come across to others and how what we feel is ‘normal’ might be received differently by others. And we also need to be cautious about the way we receive communication from others. We might receive something far more negatively or of little importance to that person when they have communicated in a way that they consider to be normal. When I was at school I was constantly told not to worry – but that was just my face: apparently I looked worried when I wasn’t.

When we read the Bible I think we need to be aware of those issues too. We have words to read, but we read them through our own cultural lenses and experiences. In our mind we might make Jesus look and sound like us. We might apply 21st Century concepts to 1st Century culture and misunderstand or misinterpret. One of the things I think we miss if we do that is Jesus’ sense of humour. That’s one of my passions, but that’s for another time.

For now, be blessed and be a blessing!

*I might one day be good enough to be average!


a long time ago in Croatia…

Warm air has been flowing up and over cold air and the water vapour from the warm air has super-cooled to form tiny ice particles, which have been precipitated across our part of the country.

It has snowed.

This morning my wife and I coordinated 34 facial muscles and 112 postural muscles, particularly the orbicularis oris muscles, and applied our lips together in an embrace to signify our affection at a moment of separation.

We kissed goodbye.

Isn’t it wonderful how we can say the same thing in different ways. In both cases above both statements are correct (I think) but they tell us different things.

We use language differently on different occasions. You may want to communicate a technical description of snowfall or a kiss. Or you may simply want to state what happened without the technical specifications.

We sometimes commend people for ‘calling a spade a spade’ (as opposed to a hand-held manual soil redistribution implement). Sometimes that is necessary. But sometimes we need to be a little bit more circumspect. We need to be gentle with our words. We might sometimes withhold a piece of information because we know it will upset someone, or we might explain a situation with a lot more words than usual because we want someone to understand all the circumstances rather than the plain facts.

‘I punched him in the stomach’ may be factually correct. But if we knew that the circumstances were that the ‘victim’ was choking on something and by punching them in the stomach we dislodged the obstruction it takes on a very different complexion. (Yes, I know the Heimlich manoeuvre is recommended in those circumstances).

When I look at Jesus he was fairly straight talking. Especially when he wanted people to understand the truth that was contrary to their previously-held assumptions. Or if he was correcting the abuses of the religious elite (Ministers and Vicars should always be especially wary). But he also demonstrated compassion.

I hear a gentle tone in his voice as he corrects Martha when she had a go at her sister for not helping her with getting the meal ready.

I hear compassion as he is reinstating Peter after breakfast on the beach.

I sense incredible gentleness as he asks John to take care of his mother, even as Jesus is dying on the cross.

As followers of Jesus and free samples of him to others, let’s try to ensure that we don’t only speak truthfully, but that we also speak lovingly. And I reckon if there is any conflict between the two, love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Apparently women think dogs are better than men:

Dogs don’t have problems expressing affection in public.
Dogs miss you when you are gone.
Dogs are very direct about wanting to go out. 
Dogs mean it when they kiss you. 
When dogs play “fetch”, they don’t laugh at how you throw.
Dogs understand if some of their friends aren’t allowed to come inside.

You can train a dog.

langwidge is confewzing

questionsThis morning I took another assembly at a local primary school. While I was waiting in the hall for the children to arrive I looked at their work that was displayed on the wall. One section was clearly the fruit (pun intended) of a project to get them to consider a balanced diet. The children had recorded what they had eaten during a week.

These were Key Stage 1 children, aged 5-7. I was delighted and amused to read some of their spelling, which was creative, imaginative and often showed that they were heading in the right direction. The one that stuck in my memory was the spelling of ‘Sugar Puffs’: ‘Shooger Puffs’.

If you say both of those out loud they sound the same, which is clearly what the child had done. If it sounds like ‘Shooger’ then that must be how you spell it. Genius!

Because of course the English language, like most others, has some ridiculous spellings and pronunciations. And then there are the words that read the same when they are read (case in point) or sound the same if they are read out loud, even if written in red ink.

Confusing or what?!

Yet somehow we master it. Somehow some people even master other languages. Somehow some people even master other languages written in different forms of script and characters.

So why is it that sometimes people don’t apply the same processes to reading the Bible? Perhaps because Ministers and Vicars tell us that it helps if we understand the original Greek or Hebrew words we assume it must be beyond us. Perhaps because of the length of time some of us preach about just a few words we assume it is complex. Perhaps we have been put off by the unusual names. Perhaps we simply don’t understand how it all fits together because it reads unlike most other books we have on our shelves – a mixture of all sorts of styles and types of literature.

One of my ambitions this year is to run a course at our church to help people understand the Bible: to tackle misunderstandings; explain the narrative; help with the different literature and encourage people to become avid readers. I’m still working on a good name for the course – any suggestions gratefully received – but if you have any subjects that you reckon we should tackle, please do lob me a comment on this bloggage.

And if you want to get a head start, how about reading one of the gospels from start to finish? Luke is my personal favourite but choose the one you fancy. Read about Jesus from people who were there, or who interviewed those who were there. It’s not hard work and it’s rewarding because I guarantee (money back on your subscription to this blog if it does not work) that you will be blessed by the experience and you will discover something new about Jesus (and yourself).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

This was posted in a question on Yahoo about why the English Language is so confusing:

“There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins were not invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

“And why is it that writers write, but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So, one moose, 2 meese? One index, two indices? Is cheese the plural of choose?
If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat?

“In what language do people recite at a play, and play at a recital? Ship by truck, and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell? Park on driveways and drive on parkways? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?
When a house burns up, it burns down. You fill in a form by filling it out, and an alarm clock goes off by going on.

“When the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible. And why, when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this essay, I end it.”

how do you do?

A few years ago I had the immense privilege of visiting mainland China. It was a wonderful experience (not just for the food) where I met some amazing people who have made an impact on me, and on my faith in Jesus. I met Christians who had endured incredible hardships because of their faith and had refused to deny what they knew to be true. I met believers who were being amazingly imaginative in how they led churches and trained ministers in an environment where it was against the law to do so.

I also had the opportunity to visit  an English Language school that was being run by some American Christians (from the South of America) and was given the opportunity to talk with some of the students so they could practice their English. We had previously sat in on the start of their lesson and I was fascinated that the lesson began with the teachers greeting the students in a Southern drawl, “Hi – how are y’all?”

The students repeated the welcome in response in an interesting blend of Chinese intonation and pseudo-Southern drawl.

When I had the chance to talk with the students I confess I was a bit mischievous. They were fascinated that I had a different accent: a quintessentially English accent (if you know me you’ll wonder at that description too, but it was because of the contrast, I think). Anyway, I decided that they needed to learn some English English so I told them that there are different ways of greeting people in England and told them that we offer a handshake to people we meet and say, “How do you do?”

I told them that next time their teacher began with, “Hi, how are y’all?” they should respond with, “How do you do?” in as posh an English accent as they could manage. I don’t know if they did, but the thought tickles me that it may have happened, just imagining the look on the teacher’s face!

At our Deacons’ Meeting last night we looked at how we welcome people in our church and looked at how we can go beyond simply greeting them well. Part of it was about offering to accompany newcomers through a service so that they could ask questions, and be helped if we do things that we assume everyone knows about. Part of it was about making sure that they were remembered and contacted further during the week. Part of it was looking to introduce them to other people in the church and helping them to find where they belonged. But most of all it is about an attitude of openness and invitation. We heard how the experience for some of the deacons when they first came to the church was that the people with whom they sat took an interest in them, looked out for them, invited them for a meal, shared their lives with them. One of the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament is ‘hospitality’. It’s an expression of God’s love in action.

The temptation is to think that it’s just for some people, but it’s a gift for the church, surely, and while some are more natural about it than others, it is a gift we can all exercise if we use it, if we ask for it, and if we want it.

Be blessed, be a blessing (y’all)

i don’t get it

A couple of weeks ago I began a sermon with a joke that died. Here’s the joke (told here on April 5th 2011):

Two guys are bungee-jumping one day. The first guy says to the second, “You know, we could make a lot of money running our own bungee-jumping service in Mexico. They’ve never heard of it there.”

The second guy thinks this is a great idea, so the two pool their money and buy everything they’ll need – a tower, an elastic cord, insurance, etc. They travel to Mexico and begin to set up on the square. As they are constructing the tower, a crowd begins to assemble. Slowly, more and more people gather to watch them at work.

The first guy jumps. He bounces at the end of the cord, but when he comes back up, the second guy notices that he has a few cuts and scratches. Unfortunately, the second guy isn’t able to catch him. He falls again, bounces, and comes back up again. This time he is bruised and bleeding.

Again, the second guy misses him. The first guy falls again and bounces back up. This time, he comes back pretty messed up – he’s got a couple of broken bones and is almost unconscious. Luckily, the second guy finally catches him this time and says, “What happened? Was the cord too long?”

The first guy says, “No, the cord was fine, but what is a piñata?”

I think it’s a funny joke. But it fails badly if, as happened in that fateful sermon, your audience does not know what a piñata is! I wondered why the laughter was spread sporadically across the congregation. Perhaps there had been an horrendous bungee jumping accident at the church before I was appointed. Perhaps piñatas were the cause of arguments in the past. I did not consider the possibility that some people did not know what one was.

The following week I used that as an illustration. We now live in an era where the vast majority of people only go to church for weddings or funerals and may feel like a lot of the congregation did in not understanding what a piñata was. They don’t know what we are talking about when we talk about faith and church. We need to adapt and respond to these changed circumstances (which is what the book of Daniel is all about, and that was the point of the illustration). But it’s worth considering whether we as a church or as individuals use language that is impenetrable for people who are ‘outside’ and thus are creating barriers between them and God that he has not intended.

Here’s a test. Do you know what these are?


If you struggle with some of them, how much more difficult will others find it? Jesus used everyday illustrations to explain what he meant and helped people to engage with him. We seem to have reversed that process. The bungee jumping joke may have another application here…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

mind your language

I’ve just had an interesting ‘moment’ caused by an inadequately phrased headline on the BBC website. The headline was: “Star Church settles over hacking.” This set all sorts of questions running in my head…

What sort of church is a “Star Church”? Does it have something to do with Star Wars or Star Trek, so that this is some form of niche church for sci-fi enthusiasts? Or is it a church for people who are famous – it would be interesting to know how you define “famous”?

And what is a church doing “settling”? It sounds as if they are accepting less than the best.            I struggle with the idea that we would ever utter the words, “That’ll do” where we accept just about adequate in church. Surely if all that we do is as an act of worship to Christ we should offer our very best – even if that doesn’t turn out to be the best thing ever since sliced bread. Or perhaps it was about that special church getting a new minister (we use the term ‘settling’ to describe the process of calling / choosing / electing / blind dating / selection of Baptist Ministers and churches).

And was this a story about someone with a really bad cough who was disturbing the congregation during a service, about an unfortunate interchurch hockey match, or about a minister who (like me) is learning to play golf?

Actually it is none of these. This is both unsurprising and disappointing. The headline related to Charlotte Church reaching a settlement with the News of the World for the way that they hacked into her phone. While it’s a shame that it was none of my interpretations, once you know the back story you can understand the headline.

So what about I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb; or We are the Bride of Christ; or I give you all the honour and praise that’s due your name?

We, who are regular churchgoers, know the back story. We know what we mean by these phrases. We know (for the most part) what songs and hymns are saying as we sing them. But what about those who are new to church or new to the Christian faith? I have been challenged about this again recently by conversations with a new Christian. She is asking all the right questions about what and when and how and why – questions to which we assume everybody knows the answers. I know she sometimes reads these bloggages so to her I want to say, “Thank you. Keep on asking the questions and challenging my assumptions.”

And to the rest of us: mind your language!

[expletive deleted]

Dear loyal Bloggist,

Thank you for bearing with me during my recent cold. I am sorry that the inspiration levels were low, but mucous and phlegm have that effect on me. But now my nose has stopped training for a marathon and my throat has decided that it’s perhaps alright to breathe and swallow without causing me pain.

Enough of the blatant attempt at drawing sympathy from you. On with the bloggerel.

On Sunday morning we will be celebrating an anniversary at our church. It is 25 years since Open Door began. You can find out more about Open Door on their website but in short is is a drop-in centre for anyone who would like to come and have a cuppa, perhaps wants someone to chat to or to listen to them, maybe needs some help or advice.

I have been helping out there once a week (Fridays) and have experienced laughter (it is banter-central), occasional sadness, great conversations and non-judgemental acceptance. I think Jesus loves it in there.

On my badge I am simply ‘Nick’ and designated as ‘Helper’. But the regulars know that I am one of the Ministers at the church. It’s often the cause of some hilarity to me when someone forgets one of the house rules and an expletive slips out when I am in earshot. The rest will pick up on it and tell the swearer off, while they offer deep and sincere apologies for swearing in my presence. It’s almost as if they think my head will explode if I hear rude words or that my ears are so sensitive that they will fall off if they hear such things. My usual reaction is to accept the apology but try to remind them that I am a normal human being.

I wonder how people spoke around Jesus. Were there Aramaic swear words that people used in his presence and then realised that they were in the presence of the Rabbi and apologised? If so, the gospel-writers have edited those bits out. Perhaps they thought we were too sensitive to cope with them. And if people did swear and curse in Jesus’ presence how did he react? Would he warn them against blasphemy? Would he tut and tell them off? Would he threaten them with lightning bolts from heaven if they did it again? Or would he accept them as they are and hope that they would experience God through him?

I’m not condoning swearing. It saddens me that some words have now become punctuation for some people while others only have one or two adjectives and adverbs to enrich their conversation. But I am reminded of the parable Jesus told of two brothers who were asked to help their father. One said ‘yes’ and did nothing while the other said ‘no’ and then changed his mind. What they did revealed their heart more than what they said.


Read Matthew 21:28-32 if you want a challenge, especially with Jesus’ punchline…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

One day an elderly pastor confides in his parishioners that he’s feeling a bit lonely and depressed. So one of the parishioners suggests to the pastor that he buy a pet. Thinking this a grand idea, the pastor hurries into town and after much deliberation, buys a parrot.

Unfortunately not five minutes after arriving home, the parrot starts hurling a string of expletives at the pastor.

After about an hour it gets to be too much, so the pastor walks up to the parrot, slaps him on the beak, and yells, “QUIT IT!” But this just makes the parrot madder and he starts swearing at the pastor in even more colourful language.

Finally the pastor has had it and says, “All right, that’s it. Grabbing a blanket, the pastor throws it over the parrot’s cage and screams, “Now, SHUT UP!” Well, this really irritates the parrot and he starts clawing and scratching at the bars of his cage. Finally the pastor removes the blanket. Immediately the parrot starts right in on the pastor again.

By this time, the pastor is so infuriated that he grabs the parrot by the throat and throws him into the freezer. Well, the parrot starts swearing and thrashing about so loudly that the pastor is considering killing the bird. Just as he’s thinking this, it gets very…very quiet.

At first the pastor just stares at the refrigerator, but then he starts to think that the parrot might be seriously injured. He becomes so worried that he runs over to the refrigerator and throws open the freezer door.

The parrot climbs out of the freezer, flaps the ice off his wings, and says, “Awfully sorry about the trouble I’ve caused you, rev. In the future, I’ll do my best to improve my vocabulary.”

The pastor is astounded. He can’t believe the sudden transformation that has come over the parrot. Finally the parrot turns to the pastor and says, “Um….by the way, what did the chicken do?”


PasswordHow do you cope when you forget a password for a website, a program or (worst of all) your computer? There are usually ways of finding it out, but sometimes you have to be a bit of a detective. Yesterday I was planning to send a blog entry for you by posting via email. But I could not remember the access code. I knew I had done it in the past, but this time it would not come back to me, and was not stored in my Blackberry.

In the end I had to admit defeat and wait until I got home to post my thoughts on the Learning at Work day yesterday.

I have a dread that someone people experience church like that. They don’t understand all that is going on, some of the language we use or even can’t work out where to sit and it’s as if they have not been given the password. If they persist and do some detective work they can eventually work it out. But coming to church should not be difficult.

I can remember being challenged by someone speaking on this subject to go to a betting shop and place a bet. He said that if you have never been to a betting shop before it will be as awkward and unusual as it is for people who step into a church for the first time. I have to admit I never have gone into a betting shop, but I can imagine how it would feel.

In 1990 Sally and I went to a new church. (It was a Baptist church, so any non-Baptists can breathe a self-righteous sigh of relief – it couldn’t have been your church. Could it?) We needed to leave fairly quickly afterwards so sat in the back pew. As the church filled up two elderly ladies came and sat on either side of us. It became obvious that we were in their seats because they started talking. To each other. Across us. Not even acknowledging us.

During the sermon one of them got out some fruit gums. They passed them across us to their friend. Not offering us one!

We left feeling completely unwelcomed and  excluded and never went back*.

In the evening we went to a different Baptist church and as the service was about the start the minister noticed us, came over and spoke to us, made sure we were welcomed and accepted. We stayed at that church for 4 years until we moved.

All of this fuels my dread that our church may cause people to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. But it’s not just about being made welcome and shown your seat. It’s also about helping people to feel involved and integrate. It’s also about looking after those who have been with us for a long time and perhaps feel taken for granted or even that church has changed around them.

There are no short cuts. Just good relationships.

  New Year’s Resolutions for Internet Junkies 
      1. I will try to figure out why I *really* need 7 e-mail addresses. 
      2. I will stop sending e-mail to my wife. 
      3. I resolve to work with neglected children – my own. 
      4. I will answer my snail mail with the same enthusiasm with which I answer my e-mail. 
      5. I resolve to back up my 10GB hard drive daily…well, once a week…okay, monthly then…or maybe… 
      6. I will spend less than one hour a day on the Internet. 
      7. When I hear “Where do you want to go today?” I won’t reply “MS Tech Support.” 
      8. I will read the manual. 
      9. I will think of a password other than “password.” 
      10. I will stop checking my e-mail at 3:00 in the morning.

*About 15 years later I went back to that church as an invited preacher and was pleased that the welcome was warmer and people were obviously included. (I didn’t tell them of my previous experience).