Yes, I know you’ve all been desperate for another bloggage from yours truly, well I hope this is worth its wait on hold.
My Dad asked me for some information about a new bicycle seat I had bought, which was lovely and comfy for those of us who would rather not sit on the edge of a razor blade (aka a racing saddle). I sent him a text message with the link, but for some reason it didn’t show up on his phone. So he sent me a message asking for the information again. The text arrived while I was driving around Plymouth on empty roads at a gentle pace so I asked my hands free system to read it out for me. After I had listened the system asked me if I would like to dictate a response. As the roads were still clear I decided to do so. This is what it sent:
“Sorry about that. I can see a reference to it in my message to you. But perhaps your phone can’t cope with that message. I will send you an email with the details. Lots of love boobs.”
Now I ought to explain that one of my childhood nicknames was ‘Dougal’ because I liked the Magic Roundabout on TV and used to crawl around fast in circles like Dougal the dog on that show. Later that got shortened to ‘Doogz’. But the phone dictation system didn’t know ‘Doogz’ so it sent the nearest equivalent!
I wonder how often we fail to listen properly to other people, or to God, and then approximate an understanding of what we think was said? It’s a bit more nuanced that my phone…
When we ask someone how they are and they say, “Fine,” do we listen to their tone of voice, watch their body language and look into their eyes to see if they mean it or are just giving a knee-jerk response, or do we take it at face value and move on without asking how they really are?
A while ago I failed to read the body language and tone of voice and didn’t realise that when someone was telling me they were going on holiday what they really wanted was for me to show some interest and ask about their plans. Instead I replied with what I thought was a fair answer and said that I hoped they would have a lovely time. I had closed down the conversation rather than opening it up further.
And yesterday, when I was with my Spiritual Director, he asked me about my prayer life. I thought it was going quite well and I explained about the apps I use to help me (eg Lectio 365) and how I try to have a conversation with God throughout the day, especially when my thoughts are prompted about someone or something. My SD then asked me whether I spend any time just sitting in God’s presence in silence… ah… well… no. Not really. So I am resolved to try and do that more often. It may not be a long time at first, but I can build that time in, and give him chance to tell me what’s on his heart rather than listening to me all the time.
Yesterday I managed finally to perform a classic of modern living. I have not really been able to perform it fully until now. I have occasionally managed a smidgeon of the act but have somehow always managed to catch myself and pull back from the brink. Yesterday I indulged fully.
I spilt a mug of coffee on my computer keyboard. It’s not the one that’s on the laptop but a lovely wireless one that is full-sized and sits on my desk to enable me to work more ergonomically. I had just made myself a lovely cup of coffee and placed it on my desk near the keyboard and then was distracted by something on my right. I turned to deal with it and as I turned back to the keyboard and screen caught the mug full on with my left elbow. Cue the deluge.
I called for help and my wife came running, armed with cloths to mop up. We did a fair job of limiting the flow of the coffee to the keyboard and its immediate vicinity. Thankfully nothing else was baptised by the coffee and after the diligent application of tea towels, paper towels and other drying implements I thought I had salvaged the keyboard too. It seemed to work okay.
But within a few minutes it started becoming unresponsive in different areas. Some of the keys stubbornly refused to tell the computer that they were being pressed. Others decided to disguise themselves by telling the computer than another key altogether was being pressed. And slowly it dawned on me that the keyboard was dead.
The problem is that I use the keyboard all the time when I am at my desk so from the moment when I admitted defeat and allowed the old keyboard a dignified end I realised that there was an urgency for a replacement. I know that there are some online companies that promise next day delivery and I am subscribed to the South American river service. But in order to qualify I needed to order within a short space of time.
So began the hurried yet diligent search for a replacement. I did not want to make a hasty decision I would regret, but I did want it to arrive today so could not afford to take too much time over the decision. I narrowed down the search by focusing on the keyboards that had the highest rating by purchasers and limiting the price range (you can get some REALLY expensive keyboards!). In the end I chose a keyboard that seemed to tick all of the boxes for my needs, and which was reasonably priced. It wasn’t a premium brand, but came very well recommended.
And it arrived today. I am using it now. And it feels good to type on. It does have ‘light up’ keys that change colour all the time but given that most of the time I don’t look at the keyrfohgs keyboard when I type (ooh, get me!) it doesn’t bother me, and there is the facility to turn that off if I want. It is connected to my computer via a usb cable rather than being wireless, but that’s not a problem (and means that the money goes on the keyboard quality not the bluetooth / wireless link).
So why am I telling you this boring tale, other then as an exercise to test the keyboard? (it’s more productive than typing ‘hello’ into my wordprocessor) Well, it’s the whole thing about having to make urgent and important decisions. When we can take our time, pray (even people without faith sometimes do that), consult other people and listen to their advice, weigh up the options and come to a wise conclusion then decision-making can be a blessing. Of course, if it’s a corporate decision in a church, a business or another organisation there is also a need to ensure that the ‘stakeholders’ are involved in the process of consultation, praying, listening, weighing-up and wise-concluding, which also takes time.
But there are times when we have to make an important decision quickly. I was with a church leadership team recently where this had been the case and they were reviewing what had happened and why some people had struggled with the process (but not the outcome). I suggested a couple of principles that may help:
First, break it down into bite-sized chunks. If there is important information to be communicated then make sure that it’s shared in a way that everyone can understand. For example, if a decision has to be made about buying something expensive but urgently needed explain – why there is a need, why it’s urgent, the options that have been explored, and the potential cost. If you present it all as one item you will lose people (or yourself) along the way. I needed a keyboard and set some parameters around the purchase to help me decide what to get (cost, rating, not bothered about brand).
Second, make the decision as small as possible and allow time for the rest to be decided later. For example, your car may need some work to get through the MOT (a car roadworthiness test) today and the garage may also suggest other work that could be done which is not urgent. If you’re unsure, get them to do the minimum work needed to get through the MOT and say that you’ll have a think about the rest. You don’t need to get all of the work done urgently so if you isolate what is urgent and focus on that you may well find that it makes the decision easier. For me the question was simple – I needed to get a keyboard that would be delivered today.
And finally realise that there are very few decisions that will be catastrophic if you get them wrong. Of course we want to make wise, sensible and correct decisions but most of them can be rectified. The process of putting it right may not be easy and may cost a bit more in time, effort and money, but there are not many issues that cannot be resolved. I may regret buying this particular keyboard and may have to buy another one, but for the time being it works, it does what I want (and it has pretty lights).
I was at a Church Meeting last night (and was immensely blessed by the experience). As a frequent ‘outside observer’ of Church Meetings I have a few ‘hunches’ (not caused by uncomfortable seating):
The way a room is set out may have a correlation with the mood of the meeting. If those leading the meeting are sat behind tables at the front it may suggest that there is likely to be confrontation. If everyone is in rows facing the front it may inhibit discussion. If the room is set out with people in a circle (or a version of a circle depending on numbers and space) it might encourage people to listen to one another more because they are facing each other.
Church Meetings that describe themselves as ‘Church Business Meetings’ have a different atmosphere to those that don’t. If it’s a formal business-style meeting then the approach (with proposers and seconders and lots of voting) may lend itself to more business-style topics. I have not done any research on this but my hunch is that those that are described as ‘Church Business Meetings’ may lead with things like finance and the running of the church rather than what church is really there for. And those meetings can feel more like democratic meetings where strident majority views carry the day rather than discernment meetings where we listen to the small uncertain voice as well as the loud.
Another hunch is that where a Church Meeting is explicitly a discernment process, seeking to listen for what God is saying to the church through one another, the focus of the meeting is likely to be more about mission and serving the community. Those meetings are often characterised by the number of times the meeting prays together about issues and different ways of listening to the gathered community other than just be plenary discussion. And everyone’s comments are listened to and respected because they could be the one God is speaking through.
Last night’s meeting included an epiphany for me. Quite often in the meeting there was a request for people to ‘pray about this’. That’s brilliant. That’s how churches should operate. And we did pray during the meeting. However I wonder how many of those ‘pray about this’ issues remained with people at the end of the meeting, and how many still remember them this morning?
I was given the opportunity at the end of the meeting to feed back to the church what I had experienced (this is something I often do – with permisssion – as a visitor). I remarked on how often we had been encouraged to ‘pray about this’ and wondered whether it might be worth having someone in the meeting designated to record the points for prayer. At the end of the meeting they could remind the meeting about these things (things to thank God for as well as requests) so that the meeting could do what it had been asked to do, and then perhaps those prayer items could be circulated to the church membership for them to continue to be in prayer about them. Of the cuff I suggested that they could perhaps be the ‘Prayer Champion’ and I am not convinced about the name, but I am warming up to the concept.
If you’re in a church that holds meetings, what are they like?
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’
41 ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things,42 but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’
A while ago I read the passage above and wrote some reflections on it based on sermons I had heard about it which always criticised Martha and commended Mary. I wondered if there were other ways of looking at what happened…
Humiliated Martha? (Jesus defended Mary)
Jealous Martha? (would she have liked to be listening to Jesus too?)
Brave Martha (for telling Jesus what to do)
Being hospitable Martha
Faithful Martha (exercising the gift of hospitality)
Neglected Martha (working in the background and nobody had noticed)
Smug Mary? (Jesus commended her)
Naughty Mary (going against cultural norms by sitting with the men)
Scroll through to John 11:17-32. When their brother, Lazarus, died who showed faith In Jesus and who blamed him for her brother’s death? Who’s the spiritual one and who’s the practical one now?
My satnav is an invaluable resource. Because it gives me live traffic updates it can navigate me around jams and queues. It has saved me hours of frustrated sitting in the car going nowhere.
But in the last few days it has irritated me. The first occasion was when it alerted me to a lengthy queue ahead and offered me a route that would be longer in distance but shorter in time. You may be wondering what’s wrong with that.
It offered me the new route just as I went past the exit it was recommending and the queue started just around the corner. Why didn’t it tell me earlier?
The second was this morning when as I was happily going along a route I use regularly I turned off onto an exit only to find myself joining a lengthy queue on the slip road and beyond. Why didn’t it warn me? Was it sulking because I was unhappy with it at the weekend?
As I reflect on both situations I think there’s a common problem. A software problem.
You see I think, on reflection, that in the first case the satnav probably did offer me an alternative route sooner than I realised but because I was wearing sunglasses I couldn’t see it clearly. In the second situation I did hear the satnav say something but assumed it was telling me to turn off rather than keep going. I wasn’t listening properly because I was confident in my own ability.
I make the same mistakes with God. Sometimes I ignore him or I am distracted by other things or I am overconfident in my own ability. And then I wonder why he didn’t say anything.
Hmm. Note to self: pay more attention to God and my satnav.
My sailing boat is radio-controlled (It’s the one with the green hull). I have discovered that there are two types of radio control units. The radio signal from my controller tells the receiver unit in the boat what I want it to do and the boat responds. But the two types of controller are different:
One, the type I have, is analogue and the signals are broadcast over a particular frequency but in a way that any other boat that is tuned into the same frequency will also receive the same instructions. So I have to have a second set of crystals tuned to a different frequency to change over in that event.
The other type of control system is digital. The controller and receiver are linked together in a unique way and nothing else shares that unique ‘signature’. There is no interference, no fear that someone else might be affected by my transmitter.
In my mind it’s the difference between a loud hailer and a mobile phone. A loud hailer (megaphone) broadcasts loud and clear to anyone and everyone in the vicinity. Anyone can hear what is being said. A mobile phone has a unique number and only the person who has that phone can receive what is being said (unless they are on a train in which case everyone hears).
Sometimes God speaks in the same way as an analogue signal, or a loud hailer. His words and thoughts are for everyone to hear. An appreciation of his creativity is available to anyone who looks at the wonders of nature. An awareness of his love for us and how much he values us is available to anyone who cares to read a Bible (if you never have I suggest you start with one of the Gospels – Luke is my favourite). A sense of awe about who he is available to anyone who attends a service in church or who gets to look at the night sky without any light pollution. You get the idea.
But sometimes he speaks with a digital signal, through direct phone number. Those words are specifically for us. The amazing thing is that sometimes that comes even when I am listening to a wider ‘broadcast’ from him. Specific words and thoughts come through to me (perhaps in the same way that my boat receives and responds to the analogue signals intended for it). And sometimes the words come to me through a person who unwittingly says exactly what I needed to hear. And sometimes they come as I read the Bible and see words that were written thousands of years ago that are exactly relevant to me today (not surprising if the One who inspired them is also the One to whom I am trying to listen).
But, as I said in my earlier bloggage, the art is to be listening to him. He never stops broadcasting analogue and digital signals. My job is to tune in to him, to be receptive to him and to respond.
This next few days are very busy and my opportunities to inflict bloggages on you will be limited, so this will have to do for a while. Let me explain why…
Today I am planning to enjoy a day off. I am planning to go sailing with Sally (model yacht sailing) and this evening I will be with my friends at Mid Essex Magical Society.
Tomorrow I am spending the day in Newport Pagnell in a meeting that will be making recommendations about the level of support that can be given to churches that cannot afford a Minister on their own. And in the evening I will be at a leaders’ meeting for one of the 60 churches I serve.
On Thursday I will be at Spurgeon’s College Conference. It’s the annual get together for students (former and current) who have trained at the College and this year the incoming President is Juliet Kilpin who I believe is one of the prophets of our day – speaking out for those whom society (and churches) often ignore.
Friday will be spent catching up on emails that will have flooded in over the next 3 days and in preparation for our EBA Annual Assembly which will be taking place in Felixstowe over the weekend. I hope too to spend some time reading and reflecting before travelling to Felixstowe.
Saturday is the main day of the Assembly and there will be lots of opportunities for conversations with people, seminars to attend where I can learn, meetings to enable through the medium of PowerPoint, magic to perform in the afternoon free space, all age worship to enjoy, and an England football match to enjoy or endure.
Sunday will conclude the Assembly in the morning with a service, and then it’s a drive across the country to collect our daughter from University.
Then on Monday it’s some more meetings and in the evening I have my interview at the Magic Circle – part of the application process for me joining the prestigious organisation.
But just because I am not expecting many opportunities to write bloggages, it does not mean that I won’t be looking out for what God is saying to me. I fully expect to encounter him in all of the scheduled activities I have mentioned, and also in the gaps in between. In fact it’s often in the gaps that I find God speaks more obviously.
For example, he’s speaking through the dawn chorus at the moment as I type – reminding me that Jesus said that if God cares for a sparrow, how much more does he care for me? He speaks through the calmness and gentleness of quiet moments, encouraging me to relax in him. He speaks through a song on the radio as I am driving. He speaks through an unexpected encounter with someone while I am out in the street. He’s always speaking: the question is whether I am listening.
I am going to post a second bloggage today that reflects on sailing my boat, which I hope will expand on this thought. In the meantime be blessed and be a blessing.
Everyone wants our attention nowadays don’t they? Our mobile phones let us know when we have received a message and then flash a light at us incessantly until we have acknowledged that fact. It seems to me that junk mail is on the increase (particularly the sort that is pushed through everybody’s letterbox indiscriminately (pizza companies, gardeners, Indian takeaways, free newspapers… you know the sort of thing*). And all of the junk mail is trying to get our attention. Then there are the adverts on television. I know they’ve been there on commercial channels since they began but if you try to watch a sporting event with 2 halves on one of those channels the number of advert breaks before the match, during the interval, and after the match is incredible. (I know that’s how they fund the channels but it doesn’t stop it being annoying).
And don’t get me started on the pop-ups in apps and on websites!
And really don’t get me started on the spam emails!!
And really really don’t get me started on those constant unsolicited phone calls!!!
A Chicago company is one of the world’s largest subscription fulfilment companies. They have a computer database that records everyone’s subscriptions to various magazines and automatically sends out reminders and renewal notices when the subscription expires.
One day the computer malfunctioned. Soon afterwards, a rancher in Colorado received 9,734 separate mailings, informing him that his subscription to National Geographic Magazine had expired. This got his attention. He stopped what he was doing and travelled the 10 miles to the nearest post office, where he sent in his money for his renewal – along with a note, which said, “I give up! Send me your magazine!”
In the face of this impersonal onslaught don’t you find yourself sometimes almost screaming, “I don’t want any more junk mail, automated calls, spam emails, pop-ups… I just want to talk to a person!”
Do you ever get the sense that in the midst of all of this clamour for our attention God is gently and patiently coughing: “Ahem, I’d really like us to have a chat. That is if you’re not too busy for me.”
Too busy for God?! Now there’s an interesting concept. God’s approach to us is not to bully us into submission. He does not demand our attention but he does crave it. And the good news is that God so loved the world that he didn’t send spam emails, make unsolicited phone calls, send junk mail or bombard us with adverts – he sent his Son: a person to whom we can relate. Someone with whom we can talk.
If we’re not too busy dealing with everyone else who wants our attention.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*When the flow of junk mail gets particularly intense I am tempted to put a notice on the letterbox saying ‘thank you but no thank you’ and then I wonder what would happen if everyone did that. It would take away employment (albeit very low-paid and almost thankless) simply because I am feeling inconvenienced. I accept that if everybody stopped receiving such a large volume of paperwork we might save a few million trees, but that’s a different question.
A piece of advice we were given before we got married was ‘always kiss each other goodnight’. As well as being romantic, it also ensures that there are no lasting grievances between you that are unresolved at the end of the day. Good advice I think – it’s worked for us for 25 years.
A couple had an argument that was unresolved. They were still not talking to each other when the husband stomped off to bed early because he had to get up to catch a flight. He knew his wife was always up early so he wrote a note and left it on her pillow:
“Wake me up at seven.”
He went to sleep and when he woke up the next day he was alarmed and then angry when he saw that the time was nine o’clock!
Then he noticed a note on his pillow:
I felt a little bit like that this morning. I have been expecting a delivery and it was coming by tracked mail. This morning, at 6.26, an email arrived in my inbox telling me that the parcel had arrived at the Colchester delivery office and would be delivered today. While I was still sleeping, blissfully unaware of this, an attempt was made to deliver the parcel. Thankfully my wife was up and able to sign for the parcel.
If the purpose of the email was to alert me that the parcel could be delivered today and to be ready for it, it failed. It was only Sally’s internal alarm clock that meant someone was ready to receive it.
How often do we fail to communicate with people? We think we have, but effective communication requires effective delivery and receipt. We might ping off an email but if it is not read it is useless. We might send a text message but if the phone is switched off it is not received. We could write a bloggage but if nobody reads it it’s just words on a website. We might talk to someone but if they are not listening then we might a well not have said anything.
I wonder if that’s how God feels sometimes about us. He tries to communicate in so many different ways, but if we are not switched on, listening, reading, alert or waiting to encounter him then there has not been effective communication. I think we all know which end of the line is at fault!
Do you have a Satellite Navigation System? And if you do, do you talk back to yours, or is it just me? Do you argue with yours, or is it just me? Do you always obey yours?
My satnav has live traffic updates and about a week ago as I was travelling to a meeting it suggested that I should divert around a problem. I couldn’t see why that was necessary especially as I was in a moving flow of traffic, so I ignored it. Then I arrived at a section of road that was flooded and, while passable, required gentle navigation and tested the waterproofness of my car floor (it passed). Then it said that I should divert around another problem ahead. But I could see that stretch of road and it was empty. No flood. No cars. No problem. So I told my satnav not to be such a worrier and carried on without an issue.
On Sunday I was travelling to a church and the satnav was taking me on a lovely country road when it told me to turn right. I was singing along to a song so didn’t think about the instruction – I blindly followed it and indicated right. It was only as I turned right that I questioned what the satnav was doing as I drove down what looked like a farm track. It did come out onto another main road but I wondered whether the satnav would have been better keeping me on the main roads.
Yesterday I was heading to another meeting when the satnav started telling me to leave the dual carriageway I was on and follow a route along more minor roads. I was unconvinced, especially after the experience last week, but wondered whether or not to listen to the satnav anyway especially as it was telling me that if I followed the diversion I would be 15 minutes late for my meeting. So I ignored it and carried on along the dual carriageway.
Then the satnav offered another alternative route if I came off at the next junction. I admired its persistence and began to wonder whether I should listen to it. Just at that point my car radio was interrupted by a local traffic report that told me that the dual carriageway I was on was blocked ahead and that the queues went back for miles.
I decided to listen to my satnav.
I followed an interesting ‘cross country’ route which I imagine was probably the main route before the dual carriageway was constructed. The satnav told me where and when to turn and I was completely at its mercy. And wonderfully I arrived at my destination less than 10 minutes late (I didn’t speed, but the satnav had overestimated the delay).
At certain points in the journey the minor road I was on went parallel to the dual carriageway and I could see the massive tailback with stationary traffic (as opposed to stationery traffic which is made of paper). I tried not to feel smug, but enjoyed the experience of being in moving traffic.
Whose opinion do you trust? Whose voice do you listen to? What are the criteria by which you judge whether or not someone is trustworthy: previous experience; corroboration from other sources; the ‘authority’ of the speaker?
Do you apply those same criteria to questions of faith or how you read the Bible?