light hearted

I am on a waiting list for surgery on my heart. It was something of a surprise when I was told that I needed an operation and, if I’m honest, being on a waiting list has been rather disruptive to my life and work as I have not been able to book things in my diary very far ahead having been told that the surgery would be “soon”: I have discovered that “soon” is a very flexible and indeterminate length of time! I would much rather have the surgery “soon” so that I can get on with getting better but I am having to be patient before I can be a patient.

During the waiting time I have had lots of different tests and conversations with medical staff to prepare me for the operation and have discovered lots of new terminology and seen images and video of bits of me that I never imagined I’d see. The most significant meeting was with the surgeon who will be carrying out the operation. He was really reassuring (I would characterise his attitude to the operation as seeing it as ‘routine but serious’) and was also very honest about what lies ahead of us in terms of the length of time of the operation, length of time in hospital and length of time convalescing and rehabilitating. He also mentioned that, as with all surgery, there are risks – albeit minor – and reassured us that every possible precaution is taken to minimise them.

As I have waited and pondered what lies ahead I have realised how much I take for granted in my life and the people around me. And I think there’s a truism to be found here: we take so much for granted and only notice its significance to us when it is threatened or taken away. Maybe it is only in shadows that we fully appreciate the light: illness sharpens our awareness of what it means to be healthy; sadness and grief poignantly make us hope for joy; poverty and debt heighten our appreciation of wealth; loneliness makes us yearn for companionship; incapacity inspires us to value freedom and mobility.

In one of my favourite films ‘Evan Almighty’ there is a moment when Evan’s wife, Joan, has an encounter with God. God (brilliantly played by Morgan Freeman) serves her in a diner and says: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”

This is left as an open question in the film but it does make a lot of sense to me. Taking that thought and applying it to what I said earlier, I believe that God uses our shadow experiences to help us appreciate the light. I don’t believe that God causes illness, sadness, grief, poverty, debt, loneliness or incapacity but I do believe that he can speak in and through them and perhaps at those times we are more attuned to listening.

In words that are often read at this time of year in Carol services from the beginning of John’s Gospel we read: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5). For John ‘the light’ is Jesus. But the word we translate as “overcome” can also be translated as “understood”, “seize”, “grasp”, “comprehend”, “overtake”, or “suppress”. Because the irrepressible, inextinguishable light is beyond the experience and comprehension of darkness it stands in stark contrast to it. From an experience of darkness (an absence of light) the light becomes all the more attractive and we begin to appreciate it, realise what it means and move towards it.

If you are in shadow or darkness now, I hope and pray that you will experience light or at least catch a glimpse of it and find that the power and hold the darkness has on you is diminished as a result. If you are in light now, appreciate it and make the most of it – and share that light with those who need it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.


Over the last week or so hate has been bothering me. Not, I hasten to add, because I am feeling hated. And not because I hate someone else. I was reading some comments online from someone I don’t know but whom I respect about the level of negative, critical, judgmental, cruel and rude comments they were receiving. It was horrible.

And to make things worse, the comments were from people who said they were Christians!

It led me to post two Tweets:

It breaks my heart when I read judgmental comments online from people who follow Jesus. He was so inclusive of all.

Jesus welcomed and loved everyone (even the self-righteous religious people whom he called ‘hypocrites’).

I am acutely aware that by posting these Tweets I may well be guilty of judging too. But I feel a little bit justified because I am not naming and shaming someone. It’s not trolling. And as a note of self-restraint I recognise that therein lies the beginning of the thought process that can lead someone to feel justified in writing and posting horrible things about someone else with whom they disagree. Can’t we learn to disagree well?

These Tweets got an interesting and encouraging range of responses. I was getting ready for a lively discussion…

Then at 10:33pm on Monday 22nd May hate took on a hideous and heinous new form when a suicide bomber killed 22 and injured hundreds at the end of a concert at the Manchester Arena. The act in itself is barbaric, but to deliberately do it at a time and a place where you know that young people will be present adds an evil twist to an already evil act.

My initial response was stunned silence. I could not find the words to express how I felt. The tears that kept welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat were the most eloquent expression I had.

Hands Holding a Lit CandleLater on I found myself reflecting on the hate that had been expressed. I thought about Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s words:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

These words appeared all over social media. They are deep, profound, defiant words that also express truth.

So I let them lead me into a personal prayer:

You cannot stop hatred with more hatred
You cannot prevent darkness with more darkness
You cannot reduce pain with more pain
You cannot defuse anger with more anger
You cannot defeat injustice with more injustice
You cannot reduce outrage with more outrage
So I resolve afresh to pray for love, light, healing, peace, justice and grace in myself that I might share it with others

You see the first response that matters in the face of hatred, anger, evil and all else that seeks to destroy and tear down is the one within us. We can add to them, or we can diminish them. We can give them energy or we can starve them of life.

In some ways it’s counter-intuitive, it goes against the self-preservation instinct within us all. It is selfless, it is generous, it is loving. I believe it’s a glimpse of God.

We saw it in action on Monday evening:

The homeless man who ran into the arena foyer against the flow of people seeking to escape the carnage – to see if he could help the injured and comfort the dying.

The taxi drivers who took people home at no charge.

The people who opened their homes to strangers who were bewildered and didn’t know how they would get home that night.

The emergency services who had to deal with the carnage with dignity and professionalism.

The hospital staff who turned up for extra shifts.

The many people who gave blood for the first time.

People who brought lunches and cups of tea for the overburdened hospital staff who had no time to stop.

And so much more.

Hate is an acidic, corrosive, ugly word. It’s an even worse emotion. And as an action it is beyond appalling.

But it does not win when love rises up in our hearts. Love wins. Love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the pesky fly

FlyI am being distracted. There is a pesky little fly that is wafting around in my study and it’s rather attracted to the screen in front of me. I would be very grateful if it would leave my study and go somewhere else because it is irritating me. But the pesky little fly seems unable to leave behind the brightness and vivid colours on my computer monitor in favour of the darkening sky outside (it’s about 4.30pm).

In some ways I can’t blame it. I can understand why it is attracted to the monitor rather than the darkness. To a fly light is a sign of life and goodness (you can see your food, for example). Darkness is full of danger and death (bats anyone?).

So how come we humans seem to be attracted by darkness? How come we find it so easy to be cruel, thoughtless, impatient, greedy, gossipy, selfish, and so much more? Why do we prefer that sort of stuff to love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, goodness and self-control?

For some reason we are fascinated by, drawn to, attracted by darkness. Do you doubt me?

These are the cinema’s own summaries of films currently on at our local cinema:

A crooked tale of con artists, mobsters and politicians Contains strong language

Drama featuring Matthew McConaughey as an HIV sufferer Contains strong language, sex, sex references and drug use

Cliff-hanging sci-fi space thriller Contains sustained moderate threat, disturbing images and strong language

A high-flying action thriller starring Liam Neeson Contains moderate action violence and one use of strong language

A fun-filled action film centred on a mismatched buddy cop duo Contains moderate violence, sex references and one use of strong language

An action-packed sci-fi reboot starring Joel Kinnaman Contains moderate violence, injury detail and infrequent strong language

A WWII drama about a young girl in Nazi Germany Contains scenes of emotional distress and moderate threat

A comic animated adventure set in the LEGO universe Contains mild fantasy violence and very mild language

Historical drama with an all-star ensemble cast Contains moderate violence, bloody injury detail and scenes of smoking

White-collar crime drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio Contains very strong language, strong sex and hard drug use

I agree that this is not a scientific survey. It’s a snapshot. But I think it makes my point if this is what passes for entertainment. We are happy to condemn the Romans for throwing Christians to lions and enjoying gladiators chopping each other to bits (unless we turn it into a film or TV drama) but we have no problem with films showing the above. I am not anti-film or a prude (I don’t think). This is not a rant against films or a demand for censorship. I am simply illustrating that we are all drawn to the darkness (whether in the Colosseum or the Odeon). (We might exclude the film set in the LEGO universe).

Why are we drawn to the darkness rather than the light? There’s an old fashioned word for it: ‘sin’ – otherwise known as our in-built propensity to mess things up. Without God we have a bias in us that draws us to the darkness. But when we see the light, when we are confronted with a glimpse of the vivid colour and brightness of God, why would we prefer the darkness?

Perhaps rather than being bothered by the little fly I should follow his example, with God’s help?

Be blessed, be a blessing.