Britannia may not rule the waves, but we can still raise a smile

In previous years I have written reflections for Easter Week. This year I have something planned for Maundy Thursday, but as I am about to start a week’s leave and I try not to switch on my computer during times of leave in case I am tempted to work, I won’t be doing a series this year.

If you are looking for a serious reflection on Easter week you can start an old series I wrote here

Today I want to celebrate the great British public. This is not a jingoistic, nationalistic, EU referendum-related post. It’s a celebration of how the public in this country can embrace the unusual.

The National Environment Research Council has commissioned a new ship (text from The Independent)

The £200 million polar research vessel, which will be operational in 2019, is set to sail the waters of Antarctica and the Arctic carrying a team of 90 scientists and support staff.

In a statement NERC said: “Tonne-for-tonne, the ship – together with NERC’s existing two blue water research ships – will provide the UK with the most advanced floating research fleet in the world and will help put the UK at the forefront of ocean research for years to come.”

NERC was looking for a name to reflect the ship’s prowess in the oceans, symbolising the pioneering work they will undertake.

When thinking of submissions, they advised: “We’re looking for an inspirational name that exemplifies the work it will do.

“The ship could be named after a local historical figure, movement, or landmark – or a famous polar explorer or scientist…”

The NERC decided to put the naming of the ship to a public online vote, with submissions from the great British public. They were thinking of names like Endeavour, Falcon, David Attenborough and so on.

But the name that was put in as a joke and which is currently the runaway leader in the public vote is Boaty McBoatface.


boaty mcboatfaceI love that. I love the idea that this amazing vessel could be sailing around the world called ‘Boaty McBoatface’!

However, there is one small problem. Hidden in the terms and conditions of the public vote is a small, but significant, clause reserving the right of the NERC to select the final name.

It did make me wonder whether we should be naming ships in the Royal Navy in a similar way. It could be a new weapon. Imagine a captain of a foreign ship about to engage in a battle with a Royal Navy ship. He picks up his big binoculars and focuses on the ship that is steaming towards him. Then he notices the name: HMS Shootyshootyfloatfloat.

The captain is unable to issue any orders because he is laughing so much and HMS Shootyshootyfloatfloat is victorious without a shot being fired.

Humour can be disarming, when used graciously. It can puncture pomposity. It helps people to look at things from a different perspective. It’s difficult to be angry when you’re smiling. I believe that it’s a gift from God, and we need to use it.

I hope that this week you find things and people who make you smile. With whom can you share the gift of humour? If you see someone who hasn’t got a smile, give them one of yours.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

advice for modern living

pssst! (photo used with permission from

Listen to this…
(photo used with permission from

Having seen many ‘top ten’ and ‘essential’ lists of things that we need for modern living on t’internet and elsewhere I felt that it was time that I gave you my advice. It is based on no empirical research.

1. Love more

2. Live more

3. Laugh more

You might be a bit disappointed by this list (or if you are a regular bloggist here you might be surprised it was that long!) so let me expand on it a bit.

1. Love more

Love is not something that exists in the abstract. It is not a theory. Love is an act of will that does not depend on the vagaries of emotion and hormones: it is constant, consistent and invincible. It only exists when there is somebody or something to love. Love is seen and experienced by the recipient rather than felt by the one giving it. Love, at its best, is not conditional: it does not need to be reciprocated (but it’s nice when it is). Love seeks the best for the other person: it is not best expressed in extravagant bunches of flowers but in ways that may go unnoticed and even unappreciated. The love I am writing about is not romantic love, sexual love, or even familial love – it is the love best seen at work in Jesus: compassion in action, willing to lay down your life, indomitable. Love more.

2. Live more

I have a feeling that so many of us live life in just three dimensions (or four dimensions if you add ‘time’). We only focus on the things we can touch and see and feel and sit on and drive and watch and type on and so on… But life is much, much more than physical objects. Have you ever had your breath taken away by a view, by a sunset, by a person? Have you ever ever been overwhelmed by love? Have you ever been captivated by a thought? Have you ever been inspired by a piece of music or a song? Have you ever had the feeling that there is more to life, that something is missing? None of those things can be touched or bought or fully comprehended – they are experienced because we are human and are created to experience so much more than just three or four dimensions. We are created for relationships so talk more – talk to those who matter to you, and to those who don’t. We are created with an appreciation of the awesome and the Awesome. We are created to bless and be blessed. We are created to inspire and be inspired. Lift your eyes up from three dimensional life and experience life as it is meant to be lived: live life in all its fullness (as Jesus suggested) including The Dimension that created us in the first place. Live more

3. Laugh more

Laughter is one of the greatest gifts we have. It can be misused and be cruel, mocking, thoughtless, even bullying. But it can also lift us – levity and levitation have the same root! Laughing is possible when we see or sense that something or someone (often ourselves) is just a little out of kilter, just a little incongruous, just a little bit… daft. Laughter is an impulse that helps us not to take ourselves more seriously than we ought. It is a release from stress and strain. It is a moment to look at life sideways and see that the things that dominate us are not as real or scary as they look from front on. It is a way of experiencing and expressing joy. It is infectious. It is physically good for us (releasing good chemicals within our brain and body). It is a gift we can share. It is a gift for humanity. It is a gift from Above. Laugh more.

These are my thoughts as I can distil them for you today. You will have noticed that there is nothing about money, nothing about possessions, nothing about sex or sexuality, nothing about politics, nothing about rules, nothing about obligations, nothing about self-improvement, not even much explicitly about God! But if we all lived like that, would the world be a better or worse place? And actually much of what I have splurged from my consciousness for you above is based on my experience as a follower of Jesus. I am able to do those things not merely because I choose to do them but because his Spirit releases the ability and desire within me.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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!)


I remember when I first received a text message from someone that included LOL. I thought it meant ‘lots of love’ which was really nice, although it was a bit unexpected from the friend who sent me the message. It was only later when I discovered it meant ‘laughing out loud’ that the message made more sense.

Laughter is something human beings instinctively want: Martin Luther is credited with saying, “If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven I don’t want to go there.” And comedy is fast becoming the new rock n roll, with stand up comedians selling out massive venues. I think it is because people love to laugh and will gladly pay to watch someone who has the gift of bringing laughter out of them.

You can go to laughter therapy sessions where you laugh with others and enjoy the endorphin buzz. I am not sure about that but there is something genuinely therapeutic about laughter. One of the (many) reasons that depression and other emotional illnesses are so awful for sufferers is that they can rob people of the gift of laughter.

What makes you laugh?

Do you enjoy physical comedy and slapstick – the classics of seeing someone slip on a banana skin or getting a custard pie in the face?

Do you find laughter comes from words – jokes, puns, funny stories?

Do you laugh at situation comedies or cartoons in the newspaper?

What makes you laugh?

Sometimes it is good to pause in life and realise the silliness of some of our attitudes or behaviour. It’s worth reflecting on how we can elevate the petty and insignificant actions of others to a place where they dominate us (see most of the ‘feud’ plots in soap operas). Ponder the thought that so many of the things that worry us are beyond our control (the future, the actions of others) that it’s pointless us worrying about them.

And then allow the incongruity to make us smile, allow the smile to become a grin, let the grin make a noise, and let the noise build to a laugh. Don’t worry about the people around you: laughter is contagious and you might be responsible for starting a glorious epidemic! And you might just see things differently afterwards.

Be blessed, be a blessing


Unexpected blessing

Today I was blessed by a friend. I was blessed by their friendship and trust in me. And I was blessed because they told me that they read my bloggages. And I was blessed because they said that they had read this morning’s and it reminded them of some artwork they had.

And I was blessed because they kindly, generously and thoughtfully gave it to me. It is now sitting above my desk in my study to remind me of God’s laugh and smile.

So, to my friend, ‘Thank you’.

And to the rest of you, read this (you may have to click on it to enlarge it) and…

Be blessed, be a blessing.2014-02-07 14.11.55

sore jaw

My jaw is sore.

It is a result of last night.

laughing - permission given for blogIt is not aching from being punched, but from laughing. I had an evening that combined three of my favourite things. I went with a friend to see John Archer perform his wonderful comedy magic at a church in Southend. Friendship, magic, and faith all combined in one hilarious evening.


Today’s bloggage may not be the longest ever but I hope it is illustrative of some of my firmly-held beliefs:

  • my Christian faith permeates and is relevant to every area of my life – there are no areas it does not touch and should not touch.
  • it is good to laugh – especially in church.
  • an experience (good or bad) shared with friends (and family) is an experience enhanced.
  • Jesus loves it when we enjoy ourselves, he told funny stories after all, and God gave us the gift of laughter.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

organic music

I feel the need for some church-related silliness. These actually happened: I was there (as a teenager).

organ pipesA church organist decided to play some more contemporary ‘voluntaries’ in the services and discovered that some enterprising Christians had written some lyrics for well-known tunes. Sadly, few people in the church knew of the worshipful lyrics, so when he began playing ‘O Sole Mio’ during the offering many people smiled and wondered why he was playing the music and some asked the stewards for ice creams. (O Sole Mio was used to advertise Cornettos at the time).

On another occasion during a parade service he played the Match of the Day theme (to which someone had written lyrics ‘I want to give my life to Jesus, my Saviour and my King…’), breaking into the worshipful atmosphere and causing much merriment among the Boys’ Brigade boys (of whom I was one).

The most memorable, however, was when he played the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony during communion as the servers were taking the bread around. At the time that piece of music was the background to the adverts for Hovis bread. The pew-shaking and handkerchief-in-mouth-stuffing happened all over the church. Not the sense of reverence that was hoped for by the minister!

Be blessed, be a blessing (and don’t take yourself too seriously)

what a star

One of the joys of being on sabbatical leave is that I can visit other churches. I have been spreading myself around: making impromptu visits to local churches. Last Sunday I went to another church and had a lovely time. I did, however, have to suppress an attack of the giggles.

The lady who was leading the children’s talk / all age time / bit people remember was using an illustration of how she uses her binoculars to look at the stars at night. She got some children to look through the binoculars and had placed some people at the back who occasionally put up some stars on sticks. The point was that we can’t always see what we are looking for first time and have to keep looking, and praying is like that – we don’t always see the answer first time.

What got me giggling was that the Minister’s son (why is it always the Minister’s son?) was trying to get his toy in the line of sight of the girls who were looking through the binoculars. He was stretching as far as he could to get the toy in front of them. Those attempts were funny, but what almost had me laughing out loud was that his toy was a toy space shuttle! How did he know to bring that toy? Genius!

And what can we learn from this?

Perhaps God was having a laugh with us. Laughter is an underused gift from God: Martin Luther wrote: “If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don’t want to go there.”


Children have the ability to upstage anyone.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

are you wearing that for a bet?

No, I am not wearing this for a bet

Today is expected to be the hottest day of the summer so far in the UK. That’s not saying much for this summer, ‘dry’ is good, but it has prompted me to get one of my summer shirts out of the wardrobe. As you can see, it’s the sort of shirt that will attract both attention and rude comments.

I hope it is the latter.

At least from people who know me. From strangers it may be a little off-putting.

I love the fact that people who know me feel comfortable teasing me and making fun of me. It is good to puncture potential pomposity and deflate an over-inflated ego.

It is great because it shows that people feel comfortable with me. There are times when someone will say something cheeky to me and someone nearby will say, “You can’t say that, he’s a Minister!” Yes, I am a Minister, but I am also a human being who loves laughing and spreading laughter, and if it’s through good-natured banter I am all for it.

How different is Jesus in the New Testament if he has a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face when he says things like:

“Who do people say that I am?”


“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”


“Have you heard the one about the Priest, the Levite and the Samaritan?” (very loose translation here!)

God takes us very seriously so that we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

contagious infectiousness

There are some things we do that are infectious. Some of them are involuntary. If you have ever tried to suppress a yawn you’ll know that it’s impossible. The yawn decides when it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But why is it that when you see someone else yawn (or suppress a yawn) you then feel the need to yawn too? My theory is not that you are indicating boredom too, but that a yawn is your body’s way of increasing its oxygen intake to increase energy levels and when you see someone else yawn your subconscious thinks it would be a good idea for you to increase your oxygen levels too.

Isn’t it a good thing that sneezing isn’t infectious in the same way? The first sign of pollen or a cold would trigger a mexican wave of sneezing that could shake the world off its axis!

But there are other things that are equally infectious. Laughter can be very contagious. A friend of mine and I were sharing a retreat at Worth Abbey a few years ago. Our idea was to spend the morning praying and reflecting on our own in the morning and then share with each other after lunch and pray for each other.

The monks had invited us to join them for lunch, but only as we were about to go into the dining room were we told that it was a silent lunch. Steve and I realised that this was potentially disastrous because we find each other’s laughter very contagious and we were worried that we would destroy the atmosphere in a fit of giggling. We decided to sit out of each other’s eyesight.

All went well during the meal. By the way, did you know that in a silent lunch you have to look out for the needs of those around you because they can’t ask you to pass the ketchup or salt? Pethaps we should do more things together in silence!

Anyway, the meal was not completely silent. A novice monk switched on a microphone and started reading from a book as we ate. It was a biography of Pugin – the church architect – and he was reading it in such a way that it sounded like Lord of the Rings! That thought got me smirking inside.

Suddenly, towards the end of the main course, the novice monk announced solemnly, “End of book!” And he slammed the book shut.

That was it. I felt an irrepressible giggle rising from within me and, worse still, could see out of the corner of my eye that Steve’s shoulders were shaking as he tried to control a similar urge. The more we tried not to laugh the harder it became and the more we sensed the other struggling to control ourselves the stronger the impulse became. How we managed not to end up rolling around on the floor waving our legs in the air I have no idea.

After the meal the monks invited us to join them for drinks and laughed at us and with us.

But there’s one more thing we can do that is infectious. There’s a semi-trite saying: ‘If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.’ I think there’s something to be said for that. Not artificial, but if you have a smile, don’t feel afraid of sharing it. God invented them as ways of us blessing others and sharing joy.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that it may escalate into a snigger-fest, but that’s a risk worth taking!

Be blessed, be a blessing. 🙂