magic moments

I have finally got around to doing something I have been talking about for a while – trying to organise a magic club for North Essex. I have imaginatively called it ‘Colchester Magic Club’ and it is for anyone interested in performing, learning, sharing and improving magic tricks. The Facebook page is here

The response I have had to my magic tricks is interesting. Some people get hung up on the word ‘magic’ – but it’s not about special powers or dark forces, it’s all about illusions and how you create them. I never went to Hogwarts and have no special powers: if a trick works it’s all skill (usually the skill of the trick designer rather than me!)

Other people have said that it’s wrong to trick people – but it’s a performance as much as any play or TV soap opera, and people buy into that.

Children at the local schools I visit love them. They ask me if I am doing any tricks at the next assembly when I see them. It can be awkward when, as has happened to me in a local shop or street, a child from one of those schools out with their parents says ‘hello’ and asks if I am going to do any tricks… a very swift introduction and explanation to parents is called for at those times!

But the child-like response to such things is surely what Jesus was talking about when he said we should receive the Kingdom of God like a child. Awe, wonder, laughter, joy, delight, anticipation, openness, excitement, giggles, glee… how many of these words have we banned from the Christian life and in doing so have failed to understand what Jesus was saying? In The Name of The Rose, Umberto Eco wrote a story of monks who had discovered a book that spoke of God as the source of laughter and humour and had tried to suppress it. I fear that many churches have managed to do this…

Be blessed, be a blessing, have a laugh!

Jester minute

I sometimes wonder if I am too frivolous. Not just with the bloggerel that I churn out, although I do feel somewhat lightweight compared to other more worthy and theologically profound blogs, but generally.

I can often see something from a slightly different perspective that is at least humorous, if not funny. I like that. It helps me keep perspective on things and also helps me not to take myself too seriously. Heaven forbid that I do that (literally, please!).

My wife does not wake up grumpy in the mornings. She lets me sleep. (badum tsch!) One of the warning signs that I need to heed is that I am probably overtired / stressed if I am permanently grumpy and can’t see the funny side of things any longer. I am not good first thing in the morning (which is why early morning prayer meetings are difficult for me), but I am not talking about body-clock regulated grumpiness, but a general ‘grrrr’ feeling. I think that is one reason why I find writing bloggages helpful. It forces me to stop, to slow down, to reflect, and gives me an opportunity to flex my funny muscles and God an opportunity to turn my grumps into grins.

When I worked for the Baptist Union of Great Britain (other Baptist Unions are available) I used to take part in monthly ‘Management Team’ meetings, where we considered significant and difficult issues around the life of the BUGB family. I often found myself in those meetings sensing humorous moments and sometimes articulated them. I had annual appraisals and on one occasion I asked my appraiser whether I was too flippant in the meetings. After all, we were discussing significant and difficult issues. His comment to me was refreshingly honest – that these humorous interludes helped the meeting from getting too heavy or overly serious.

jesterI did not see that as a licence to be flippant, but it did remind me of the role of the court jester in ye dayes of olde. Their role was not simply to be a stand-up comic, but to point out absurdities and introduce moments of levity in the royal day. Don’t expect me to wear brightly coloured quadrant tunics and breeches, nor indeed a silly hat with bells on it, but I think there is some wisdom in that approach.

God has created us with the capacity to see humour. That enables us to see things differently, to approach things from a different perspective, to relax and laugh. And in the laughter we sometimes find profound moments. Jesus’ friends laughing at camels being forced through the eye of a needle suddenly had to readdress their preconceived ideas about who was most acceptable to God. The audience laughing at a slapstick image of exploding wineskins realised that Jesus was not patching up the old religious way of life but was offering them something new – a living relationship with God. It’s one reason why I tell jokes in my sermons – it helps people relax so that God can speak.

I suspect that Jesus finds it easier to work with us when we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Perhaps in the apparently frivolous lie nuggets of truth to be discovered. Perhaps in the light-hearted moments his Spirit has opportunities to refresh us. Maybe in the moments when we are most intense and serious God is laughing at us… after all, how many meetings does it take to decide whether we should have curtains or blinds and what colour they should be?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

It’s interesting that quite a few humour-related words start with ‘F’: fun, funny, frivolous, frivolity, flippant… I heard a story (and because of my source I am fairly sure it is true) of a youth worker who was saying a prayer at a youth camp. It went something like this:

“Lord, thank you for fun, friendship, family, fellowship, food and anything else beginning with ‘F’. Amen.”

Cue much juvenile sniggering.

and the winner is…

This morning on the radio they were talking about the Ig Nobel Prizes which are awarded for achievements that first of all make people laugh and then make them think. The awardssuccess way ceremony is tonight. Previous winners include a lady who invented a brassiere that quickly converts to face masks (for use in the event of an epidemic); a team that has perfected a method for collecting whale snot using a remote controlled helicopter; a team that discovered that symptoms of asthma can be helped by rollercoaster rides; Ireland’s police service, for writing and presenting more than fifty traffic tickets to the most frequent driving offender in the country — Prawdo Jazny – whose name in Polish means “Driving Licence. He has never been caught because it was a misreading of Polish Driving Licences; and a team that demonstrated that in icy weather people slip less if they wear socks outside their shoes.

I have to say that the premise of the Prizes – making people laugh and then making them think – is something that I applaud most heartily, and I would love it if people would say the same about this blog. I think too it is a great dictum for the way that we communicate our faith. Laughter and learning can be great companions in life and faith.

It got me thinking about whether we ought to award similar prizes in Baptist churches for daft things we have done that also make us think… perhaps called the ‘RAFTAs’ – Ridiculous Actions and Foolish Teaching Awards. All of these have happened in Baptist churches or to Baptist preachers:

The RAFTA for Best Sermon Gaffe might go to the visiting preacher who nervously twiddled a wing nut on the back of the pulpit during his sermon, only to find afterwards that it was attached to the cross on the front… and it was rotating while he twiddled. (Lesson – don’t twiddle while you talk)

The RAFTA for Best Missionary Presentation must go to the Missionary who was working with unreached people in Indonesia who wore very little and felt embarrassed showing slides (proper slides in a slide projector, not PowerPoint) of these people to polite British churches upon his return. Having put small squares of paper on the naughty bits he then found that during the slide presentation the fan on the projector blew the squares off, just after the image appeared on the screen. (Lesson – don’t draw attention to what you don’t want people to notice)

The RAFTA for Worst Children’s talk might be the Minister who chained two children together with a bicycle chain as an illustration of the way that sin binds us and how Jesus frees us (the key). He then discovered he had the wrong key and had to send his wife home to get the key… in the meantime the children escaped on their own. (Lesson – check everything before you use it)

The RAFTA for Most Inappropriate Voluntary could be the organist who played the Largo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony* as the bread was served at communion. Cue many pews shaking and much giggling suppressed. (*It’s the theme for Hovis!) (Lesson – music can evoke the wrong mood)

The RAFTA for Worst Moment at a Wedding may be the Minister who misheard the groom ask, “Can I kiss the bride?” at the end of the ceremony. The Minister took it as permission, leaned forwards, lifted the veil and kissed the bride himself. (Lesson – clean your ears out)

The RAFTA for Least Successful Cross-Cultural Communication probably goes to the British preacher in Africa who had asked his interpreter how to say ‘Good morning’ in the local dialect at the start of his sermon and had added the two words from the front of the toilets that he noticed on his way into church so he could say ‘Good morning ladies and gentlemen.’ After a stunned silence that descended into uproarious laughter he discovered he had actually said, ‘Good morning water closets and urinals’. (Lesson – don’t try to be too clever)

Any more nominations or alternative awards? There’s nothing like raising the RAFTAs!

(Don’t confuse these awards with the Royal Air Force Theatrical Association)

STOP PRESS – just thought that there’s a far better name for the awards. The Ludicrous Actions and Foolish Teaching Awards. After all everyone enjoys LAFTA!

funny: you should say that

The levity levels on this blog have dropped to worryingly low levels this week. Yesterday I even had the temerity to suggest that you go and find your own joke!


It won’t happen again.

By way of apology, here is a quick thought and jokes to illustrate:

God created laughter. We should use that gift as much as possible – especially by giving it to others.

A couple loaded down with suitcases staggered to the airline check-in counter.

As they approached the line, the husband glanced at the pile of luggage and said to the wife, “Why didn’t you bring the piano, too?”

“Are you trying to be funny?” she replied.

“No, I really wish you had,” he sighed. “I left the tickets on it.”

For a while Houdini used a lot of trap doors in his escapology acts. But it was just a stage he was going through.

And a pome wot I writ:

Thinking is a funny thing.
If you think about it.
Chemical reactions & neural impulses
Are interpreted
By our consciousness
Into comprehensible cognitive concepts and inexplicably incomprehensible ideas.
Such as this poem.
Which is funny
If you think about it.

thank you Ship of Fools!

I have just had a genuine lol moment that verged on the rotfl. Have a look at and see proof that if God moves in mysterious ways (like a divine ninja?), the movement of Christians is bizarre… a sample below!

I have often thought that there ought to be a space reserved for ministers in our church car park. I am now having a rethink!

No crackers, Gromit!

Just home from a Ministry Refresher Conference (no sweets in sight) but feel refreshed. If nothing else blessed me (lots did) I was blessed by a moment during Communion that you could not create if you wanted.

During the service there was a time of silent reflection. I was praying hard when someone’s phone went off. Ordinarily that may have been the cue for a round of serious tutting, head-turning and hard stares. Instead it led to an experience I can only describe as… brilliant.

The ring tone was Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame) saying, “No crackers, Gromit! We’ve forgotten the crackers!” It repeated several times before the owner of the phone was able to find it and silence it.

I was splitting my sides, trying hard not to laugh. The problem was that I could sense all those around me having the same problem. People were shaking silently all around me. Some had their heads in their hands, others were stuffing hankies in their mouths.

It got worse. Everytime I closed my eyes again and tried to be holy my mind replayed, “No crackers, Gromit! We’ve forgotten the crackers!” That led to me smirking and trying to suppress more sniggers.

It’s a line from A Grand Day Out – the first ever Wallace and Gromit film.

Eventually we calmed down a bit and got back to remembering what we were doing, even though Wallace kept coming back to me at different times. After the service I spoke with Viv, who was leading that part of the service, and asked if she had heard it. She had, and said she didn’t know what to do – to try to carry on or say, “Yes, it’s funny, we all have permission to laugh now.”

I wish she’d gone for the latter option. I have a feeling that the heavenly trilogy were having a good giggle – at the incident and at our efforts not to laugh out loud.

Perhaps the only thing that could have made it funnier would have been if we had been Anglicans or Catholics using communion wafers!

If you hear of the Swanwick Blessing you now know how it started…

No additional joke because this was such a funny experience for me and the rest who were there

>tickle your funny bone

>This summer there are a lot of films that I want to see in the cinema:

Shrek Forever After
Toy Story 3
Cats and Dogs – The Revenge of Kitty Galore

These are just three of the films (all available in 3D if your eyes can stand it). Have you noticed that they are all what might be described as ‘family films’, all pure fiction and all designed to induce laughter in the viewers. What does this say about me?

I think (or hope) that one of the things it says is that I recognise the need to take a break and laugh. That’s not to say that there is not normally any laughter in my life, but it is good to take a break and deliberately find a way of being amused. That may be why most posts on my blog have a joke on them – the hope is that it may make you smile or even laugh.

The old maxim is that ‘laughter is the best medicine’. Not necessarily true. Iif you need brain surgery or have diabetes you don’t want the doctor treating you by telling you jokes. But it does help bring physiological and emotional balance. God knew what he was doing when he created us with the capacity to find things funny and laugh, and I am extremely grateful for that.

See if this tickles your funny bone:
You are driving in a small car at a constant speed. 

On your left side is a drop-off (The ground is 18-20 inches below the level you are traveling on), and on your right side is a fire engine traveling at the same speed as you are. 

In front of you is a large galloping horse which is the same size as your car and you cannot overtake it. Behind you is a galloping zebra. 

Both the horse and zebra are also travelling at the same speed as you are. What must you do to safely get out of this highly dangerous situation?
Get off the merry-go-round!

so long and thanks for all the hits

Tomorrow is D-Day. I am heading off to the hospital in London, subject to bed availability. If there are no beds available I will share (within reason!). I want to thank all of you who have kindly said that you will be praying for me over the next couple of days, and for the cards that have already arrived – so thoughtful! I wonder if I ought to be asking you to pray for the surgeon more than me, as my part in the operation is fairly simple – lie down and stay still.

That means that this is probably he last blog entry for a while. I hope that you will be kind enough to come back when I do. I will announce my reappearance on Facebook. I expect it will be the middle of next week. It’s not so much goodbye as au revoir.

What this means is that I need to provide you with a stonker of a joke. Something genuinely funny. I have suddenly been reminded of the line in the song from Joseph about Pharaoh and his power: “Whatever he did he was showered with praise. If he cracked a joke then you chortled for days.”

As I don’t have the dictatorial power of Pharaoh I will have to rely on the quality of the humour to keep you chortling.

Here are a few classics for you, voted the best ever:

Best in England:
A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: “That’s the ugliest baby that I’ve ever seen. Ugh!” The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: “The driver just insulted me!” The man says: “You go right up there and tell him off – go ahead, I’ll hold your monkey for you.”

Second best in the world (English-speaking I guess)
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip, and after finishing their dinner they retire for the night, and go to sleep. Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend.

“Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.” “I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” exclaims Watson. “And what do you deduce from that?” Watson ponders for a minute. “Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”

Watson, you idiot!” He exclaims, “Somebody’s stolen our tent!”

Best ever (by Spike Milligan)

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head.

The other guy whips out his mobile phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?”

The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”

There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. 

He says: “OK, now what?”

Keep laughing!