sweet reflections

Perhaps because of the stacks of boxes and tins of chocolates in the stores for Christmas I was reminded today of what Forrest Gump famously said: “My momma always said, ‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.'”

(I know Forrest Gump is a fictional character in a film, so in fact it was the scriptwriters and author articulated by Tom Hanks, but that is not such a striking statement!)

The quotation from his momma is cute, it’s moving but it’s not true because most boxes of chocolates have a card or a ‘menu’ that shows what the different chocolates will be.

I wonder if a more accurate statement comparing life to a box of chocolates might be: “Life is like a box of chocolates, sooner or later we all come to a sticky end.”

But that’s a bit maudlin for this time of year isn’t it?

However, there is some truth in what ‘momma’ said – there is uncertainty in life, particularly about the future. We all live in the present. We can’t change that without a Tardis (search for Doctor Who online if you don’t know what one of those is). We are unable to move from living in the present moment, even though that moment is constantly moving along the line we call ‘time’. It is now a different time from when you started reading this bloggage (and some of you may be wondering why you have wasted that time!) but you are still in the present. We are shaped and affected by events that are now in the past, and we plan for the future, but we are bound to live only in the present. And we don’t know for certain what the future holds for us. We never know what we’re gonna get.

One more reflection on chocolates (or assortments of sweets generally). I usually find that there is one or more of the assorted confectionery that I don’t really like (especially coffee or cherry). But they are there anyway, mixed in with the ones I do like.

In that sense life is like a box of chocolates – it’s a mixture of things we like and things we don’t. But instead of complaining about the chocolates we don’t like in our life, how about we ask the One who gave us the chocolates in the first place to give us an attitude of gratitude for the ones we do?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the sequel

I had an interesting and helpful conversation with someone this morning following yesterday’s bloggage. They helped me realise that I needed to expand a bit more on what I had written, so consider this the sequel.

I finished yesterday by saying that Jesus offers us life in all its fullness as the Creator’s intended answer to our search for happiness. I realised after this morning’s conversation that it looks like I meant that God was offering us happiness after all. I am sorry if that is the impression I left you with (all I can say in my defence is that it was blogged on a phone on a train).

I am sorry too if you have ever got the impression from me that if you become a Christian your life will be sorted and there will never be any problems. That’s not the message of Jesus. He told us that his followers can expect opposition, even persecution. He told us that we should pick up our cross daily and follow him. He told people not to worry about tomorrow … “each day has enough trouble of its own.” He taught us to pray “deliver us from evil” and “don’t allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear.”

There is much more to life than this
There is much more to life than this

‘Life in all its fullness’ is a life lived in God’s presence, filled with God’s Spirit, seeking to live in a way that honours him as a follower of Jesus. As wonderful as that is, and as amazing and positive as that is, fullness of life also includes the pain, grief, difficulties, frustrations, confusion and anxieties that life can throw in our direction. It includes all of life, knowing that God is with us in it. It includes those moments when we can look back and see that God really was in it with us when we wondered if we were alone. It includes those times when we were clinging on to our faith by our fingernails. It is life lived in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Following Jesus is no guarantee of an easy life (perhaps it’s a guarantee that life will not be easy) but it is life as it was created to be. It’s not all doom and gloom, there is also brightness, joy, peace, laughter, fun and so much more – don’t read this and think that it’s all bad. God is with us by his Spirit in the light and the dark, in the laughter and the tears, in the joy and the pain.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

feelings…

On Sunday evening at our church we will be having another of our Film Nights. They are relaxed occasions when we gather together and watch a film, with an invitation to reflect on some of the deeper meaning of the film and what it means for our lives.

This Sunday we will be watching The Bucket List. I will endeavour not to give out any spoilers, but the blurb on the back of the DVD case describes it as, “A hilarious and deeply touching tale. The Bucket List charts [Edward and Carter’s] journey across continents, to building a friendship and discovering their own identities.”

The two main stars are Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and I think it is a lovely, moving film that makes you laugh and consider deep questions. What is it about the arts that they have the capacity to do that to us? Music, even without lyrics, can move us. Poetry can touch deep within. Paintings and sculptures can speak to us in ways that words cannot. Film and theatre can engage us in unexpected ways.

On Saturday I went to the cinema and watched Les Miserables with the two main women in my life (wife and daughter). I had seen it at the theatre in the past and was moved by it, but the film production of it left me with a lump in my throat.

I am sure that wiser and deeper thinkers than me have pondered why the arts can move us, and probably have been awarded PhDs for their troubles. But here’s how I see it. God has made us with emotions as a way of helping us to engage more deeply with him, with each other. with his world and with ourselves. We are moved, we feel joy, we express laughter, we cry because we are created to be affected by all that is around us. It is an essential part of being human. It is part of being created in God’s likeness. It is part of understanding the world in which we live and ourselves within that world.

We respond emotionally to the arts because they meet us on an emotional level that is underpins intellect and cognitive ability. Stories resonate with us. Images remind us. Sounds and melodies stir us more profoundly than knowledge can.

I think that it’s part of us growing emotionally as well: we have a safe place to ‘rehearse’ our emotions so we can know how best to respond to them in other circumstances. It can help us to empathise and sympathise with others.

One of the messages for me in The Bucket List is that there is more to life than we often allow ourselves to experience. In our morning services we are exploring what it means to follow Jesus and live life in all its fullness. I don’t have all the answers, but I know that God wants us to explore what it means to be fully human in a relationship with him: allowing ourselves to be emotionally affected by many different aspects of his world and allowing him to speak to us through them.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A film crew was on location deep in the middle of Dartmoor. One day a wizened, weather-beaten old man went up to the director and said, “It be gwin ter rain termorrow.”

The next day it rained. A week later, the old man went up to the director and said, “Termorrow there be gwin ter be a hoooge storm.” The next day there was a hailstorm.

“This man is incredible,” said the director. He told his secretary to hire the old man to predict the weather. However, after several successful predictions, the old man didn’t show up for two weeks.

Finally the director sent for him. “I have to shoot a big scene tomorrow,” said the director, “and I’m depending on you. What will the weather be like?”

The old man shrugged his shoulders. “Oi dunno,” he said. “Me radio is broke.”

squiggles

Today I have been working on writing up the report on my sabbatical leave. It is an attempt at drawing together some of the disparate threads from three months of reflection, reading and prayer and trying to tie them all together into something that is intelligible.

I have bits of paper, a notebook, a ring binder and a head with lots of different squiggles and pieces of information in them. As I have been re-reading them I have found that they have served their purpose and I am able to recall what happened, what someone said or what I read to motivate the squiggle being created. Just to warn those who may be asked to read what I am preparing, so far I have written 5,000 words and I am nowhere near finished!

Graffiti 3I may inflict some of this on you, dear bloggite, at some stage, but for now I want to reflect on the squiggles. We humans like ‘marking our territory’. That may be an indelicate phrase, so let me explain. We like to leave reminders of our presence. We may build an enormous henge out of stone (and forget to leave instructions so that it baffles people in 21st Century Britain). We plant flowers and trees in our gardens to personalise them. Some people use spray paint to leave their unwelcome mark on buildings and walls. We mark our time on this planet with a stone, a plaque, to commemorate that we have been here and identify our final resting place. Squiggles on the page of human history.

And while some of these squiggles are significant enough that people will remember that Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, or that Sir Christopher Wren designed St Paul’s Cathedral, few of us will leave such obvious squiggles.

Our squiggles are scrawled on the lives of those around us. They can be positive or negative. They can be memorable or forgettable. They probably won’t merit a blue plaque on the wall of the house where we used to live, but the impact on others can be immense.

If you want a wonderful, moving example, read Romans 16:1-15. These people wrote squiggles on  Paul’s life and he has written squiggles on the world stage!

Be blessed, be a blessing

life in all its fullness

DSCF1884Just a short thought today as I have been out for most of the day…

When Jesus told people that he had come to give them “Life in all its fullness” did they realise that the fullness of life includes pain and suffering as well as joy and excitement? Did they understand that the fullness of life includes doubt as well as certainty? Did they expect fullness of life to include moments when God seems distant and silent as well as those times when we are aware of his awe and wonder? Did they think that forgiveness is only needed after hurt has been caused?

I doubt it.

But then we don’t often think of it in those ways too. We want the good, the exciting, the joyful and forget that character is more often forged in the furnace than among feathers.

Yet they are all experiences of life. The difference with Jesus’ offer of “life in all its fullness” is that there is a God dimension in our life too. He is there with us in pain and suffering as well as joy and excitement. He understands our doubt and certainty. He has not abandoned us even when he seems distant and silent – he is just as close as when we are aware of his awe and wonder.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I wish they’d taught me to…

It is now over 15 years since I was ordained and I have discovered some deficiencies in my ministerial training. I would like to suggest that vicar factories include some or all of the following in their training programmes:

“Excuse me” – how to suppress embarrassing body noises when visiting / in the pulpit. This will include hiccoughs, tummy gurgles, burps and worse.

“More tea vicar” – expanding the capacity of your bladder.

“On the door” – this would be a series that includes: decoding comments about your sermon; remembering everyone’s name; holding three conversations simultaneously; ensuring you spot everyone…

“Dealing with omnicompetency” – admitting you are not good at everything

“Coping with compliments” – how to be gracious and humble when you want to jump up and down punching the air shouting, “Yes!”

“Coping with criticism” – how to be gracious and humble when you want to jump up and down punching someone shouting, “No!”

“I wish I hadn’t said that” – how to recover with dignity when your mouth lets you down in a service (such as “in the same way, after cuppa”) – linked to “Keeping your brain engaged all the time.”

“I don’t get it” – coping with the silence when a sermon joke crashes and burns. Also covers when you write a tongue-in-cheek blog entry about courses for ministerial training that people take seriously.

By the way, I accept that it is possible that these courses were run while I was at Bible College but I was ill, inattentive, asleep or have forgotten!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

apologies to St Francis!

I have been considering a song or hymn to follow my sermon on ‘patience’ (see yesterday’s blog) on Sunday morning. There were several candidates but in the end I went for ‘Blessed assurance’ which is a great old hymn. The verses are relevant to what I think I will be saying, but the chorus goes:
Song Book 2

“This is my story, this is my song: praising my Saviour all the day long.”

That is a brilliant summary of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. My life should be one long song or story that praises him, which points people in his direction and says, ‘he’s amazing, isn’t he?’ I want to amend St Francis of Assissi’s famous (or attributed) saying, “At all times and in all ways preach the gospel. If necessary use words.” I hope he won’t mind.

“At all times and in all ways praise Jesus. If necessary use words.”

I will try to do that in the way I drive, in the way I relate to people, in the prayers I pray, in the conversations I have, in the activities I do. Whatever I do I will try to do as an act of worship to Jesus. I think this will have several side-benefits. One is that it means I will be more consciously serving and praising him during the day, making it more difficult to slip. A second is that I should be nicer to be around. A third is that I will always be doing my best.

The following hymns have been adapted for those who are teenagers four times over:

Precious Lord, Take My Hand . . . And Help Me Up 
It Is Well with My Soul . . . But My Knees Hurt 
Just a Slower Walk with Thee 
Count Your Many Birthdays, Name Them One by One 
Go Tell It on the Mountain . . . But Speak Up 
Blessed Insurance 
Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah . . . I’ve Forgotten Where I Parked