another thing I got wrong

I have a lot of issues with some of the ways in which the Genesis Creation narratives are used by Christians. They are theological poetry (look at the way that the verses in Chapter 1 are set out in your Bible – not like prose, more like the settings of the Psalms) and narratives that are designed to emphasise the who rather than the how – who created, who humans are, who we are in relation to the planet, who we are in relation to one another. If we start to use these foundational chapters as a science textbook we are asking them to do something they are not designed to do – like using the clothes washing machine to wash the dishes.

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

But that’s not my major confession today. That relates to chapter 2 verse 18. Chapter 2 is very much the tale that tells us how we should be stewards of the planet and the life that teems on it rather than masters, and the story that shows us the importance of human relationships and companionship. The thing I have got wrong for all of the [coughs loudly to disguise the large number] years I have been reading the Bible is my growing unease with the description of Eve being created as “a helper suitable for him.”

My chauvinistic prejudices are shown in all their glory here if I explain that I had always assumed (and been unhappy with the implications of that assumption) that the ‘helper’ was subordinate to the person being helped. In effect, I had read ‘assistant’ or ‘support act’ rather than ‘helper’. Now don’t get me wrong, I fundamentally believe that all humans are made equal and I do not believe that men are superior to women – we all have the same ‘made-in-God’s-image-ness’ inherent in our being. And that is why I have been uncomfortable with the use of the word ‘helper’ because I had always read it as suggesting inferiority when I do not believe that there is any inferiority or superiority between any humans.

Part of the problem is that I have only read the passage in English and relied on the translators to give me the best equivalent word for the ancient Hebrew. If you explore the ancient Hebrew word which we translate as ‘helper’ it carries with it a sense of someone who assists and encourages. It is someone who provides support for someone who needs help.

Hmmm…

And the same word is used several times in the Old Testament to describe the help which comes from God.

Aaah…

And we translate a Greek word used for the Holy Spirit as ‘helper’.

Ohhh yes…

And when you add the word which qualifies ‘helper’ in Genesis 2 (which is translated as ‘fit for him’) it actually means ‘suitable for him’ or ‘matching him’. A literal translation is ‘like opposite him’. It actually has nothing to do with superiority.

I am much happier now. Especially when I reflect that ‘helpers’ are more often the experts. A good football coach has greater knowledge and experience which they use to help a team work together as well as possible and offer tactical changes and inspiration that help them to win games. A teacher has vastly more knowledge of their subject than their students as they help them to understand it. A breakdown assistance mechanic has far more knowledge and ability than the driver of a broken down car as they help them to get back on the road. And a magician’s assistant is often the one who does the difficult and dangerous work that makes the magician look good. A ‘helper’ is an empowerer who in many ways is greater than the one who is helped.

So that is my confession. I have wrestled uneasily with that word for so long – finding it jarring with what I believe about God and humanity – and now I can embrace it and relax knowing that because there are others around me who are my helpers I am able to grow beyond what I am now.

late mistake

Hot Air Balloon
Getting bigger and hot air – the themes of today’s bloggage in one image

I seem to have got bigger. No, I’m not talking about my weight or waist size thank you very much (cheek!). In the last few days I have started my new role as a Regional Minister and my area of responsibility has expanded somewhat – seeking to support and encourage 60 churches across most of Essex (and 120 more spread across the whole of East Anglia).

Yesterday was my first day ‘on the road’. I have bought myself a ‘hands free’ unit to help me with this. I like it because it links to my phone via Bluetooth and to my car radio via an FM signal so I can play music from my phone through my stereo – and when I make or receive calls the system cleverly mutes the music and I can hear the call through the stereo. Very convenient. Very clever.

But any system is only as strong as its weakest component. Often that component is homo sapiens. Last night it certainly was.

I was travelling back home after spending some time with a church and decided to call home and let them know what time I expected to be back. I tried in vain to get the system to work as I thought it should and pressed one button twice. On my phone that should activate the voice-activated help system. But on the Bluetooth gadget I discovered that it told the phone to redial the last number that had been dialled.

Unfortunately I didn’t know it was doing this until the phone started ringing and I couldn’t work out how to stop it. Neither could I work out who it was calling because the phone screen was blank. A voice I did not recognise answered the phone and I realised what had happened. I desperately tried to remember who I had called last and thought it had been my new colleague, Simon. I said hello and that it was Nick calling, ready to explain that I had not meant to call.

It wasn’t Simon. It was a member of a Minister’s family I had called earlier in the day. They didn’t know Nick. So they terminated the call. Fair enough. I would probably have done the same if I had had a strange call late in the evening.

It was at that moment that my phone chose to tell me who I had called. Now I had a dilemma. Should I call back and disturb them again to explain what had happened or wait until today to offer my apology. I opted for the latter approach. I hope that they will understand and laugh.

What do you do when you make a mistake? Do you admit it, ask for forgiveness and seek to start again? Do you tell a little white lie to try to cover it up or at least minimise the error? Do you refuse to accept that you were at fault? Or do you go the whole hog and try to cover it up Bart Simpson-style: “I didn’t do it, you can’t prove anything!”?

Which is the approach that is most likely to lead to or enhance healthy relationships? It’s the same with your relationship with God.

Be blessed, be a blessing

slip, slap, splosh

Today’s bloggage is going to be like Zacchaeus – quite short.

Capture
click on the image to link to the BBC website for the video

Occasionally this week I have been watching the Commonwealth Games. Two thoughts occurred to me as I was watching a poor Australian springboard diver who slipped on the board as he was in mid-spring and ended up landing on his back.

As I resisted the urge to chuckle I thought, “Ouch!”

Then I thought: “Poor man, he has trained for years for this and one small slip makes him look silly and ruins his chances.”

We all make mistakes, we all perform below our own expectations, never mind the expectations of others or God. The good news is that most of the time our mistakes are not as public or displayed on the internet. The great news is that when we ask God for a fresh start he wipes the record clean: we don’t even have to get a court order to have search engines remove the links…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

witnessing

This morning I gladly witnessed some signatures for some friends in our church. It’s something I do on a regular basis. I was chatting with my friends as I signed to verify their signatures and recalled that I have verified peoples’ identity for their passport applications, countersigned visa and residency applications, signed wedding certificates, witnessed wills, and supported applications for children who are part of our church to be admitted to church schools.

I am very happy to do this, not merely because it is helping someone out but also because it is a tiny way of reaffirming the status of clergy in our society. Don’t get me wrong. I am not a saint (just ask my wife). I am not looking to be put on a pedestal (it’s way too easy to fall off them) and I am not looking to be revered (even though I am a Reverend). The reason I am glad to reaffirm the status of clergy in our society is that our reputation and thus the reputation of the church and therefore the reputation of Jesus has been somewhat tarnished. Sadly the public falls from grace of a few have sullied the reputation of many.

There is an ancient story of a small boy who came back from Sunday School and was asked what they had talked about.

“Sin.”

“What did they say about sin?”

“I’m not sure. But I think they were against it.”

Yes. Absolutely. We are against sin. But (and regularly bloggites here will know this of me) I am always acutely conscious that Jesus told his followers not to judge others. He warned against hypocrisy (and reserved his harshest words to condemn religious leaders who were hypocritical). He told us not to attempt to sort out a minor defect in someone else’s life while we require major surgery in ours. When I feel my fingers tighten around a stone in my hand I remember a man drawing in the sand and asking me if I am without sin.

So, yes I am against sin. First and foremost I am against it in my own life. I regularly need to ask for God’s grace and forgiveness for the times when I allow his reputation and my life to be tarnished. I need to ask for fresh starts on a daily basis. I need a fresh infilling of his companion-Spirit to help me.

But also I pray that those who don’t mind throwing stones at churches will recognise that we are also places of grace, forgiveness, healing and fresh starts. We are all striving to be more like the people God created us to be, but we are not perfect. Forgive us if we ever project a ‘holier than thou’ attitude. Please God may we project a ‘just like you, but forgiven’ attitude instead.

Perhaps if we are tempted to condemn someone we should fill our mouths with humble pie instead?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

sand art

I will try to tread carefully today. That’s because the subject of this bloggage is still an active court case and I do not want to be guilty of contempt of court.

Yesterday, shortly before his trial for perverting the course of justice was due to begin, Chris Huhne changed his plea from ‘not guilty’ to ‘guilty’. At first I was indignant. Why didn’t he ‘put his hands up to it’ when he was first confronted with the allegation? Then I was annoyed. Why has he wasted so much time and money (his own and that of us taxpayers) in protesting his innocence and having a trial set up only to change his plea at the last minute?

I found myself clambering onto a high horse and clothing myself in self-righteousness. He should have known better. If he knew he was guilty why has he thrown so much away over 3 points on his driving licence and a fine? I could feel myself getting quite ‘harumphy’ about it. And it didn’t help when other politicians were interviewed on TV and said that he had done the right thing by resigning as an MP. I was thinking that he should have done the right thing long before rather than playing this brinkmanship game of ‘chicken’ with the Crown Prosecution Service to see who would give in first.

true loveAnd then, to make matters even worse, an image of a man drawing in the sand came into my mind. He had been presented with someone who was clearly guilty and asked what to do. The Jewish Law said that the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (and yes, where was the man?) should be stoned to death. But the accusers knew that Jesus would want to show compassion. They thought they had him. He either had to break the Law or condemn a woman to death.

The sand-drawing stopped. The man stood up and gently said, “The one who is without sin can throw the first stone.” Then he crouched back down and started drawing.

The baying mob went silent and slowly, one by one, they melted away until it was just the sand artist and the woman left. There was nobody to accuse, condemn, convict. Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Where did she go? Did she go back home? Did she join the other women who were part of Jesus’ nomadic group?

As I watched the doodling in the sand I thought of Chris Huhne – desperately trying to cover up a mistake with lies. I thought of how I have tried to avoid blame, how I have lied to cover my back, how I have tried to cover up my own sinfulness and present a perfect image (see yesterday’s bloggage).

I did not have a stone in my hand but I gently climbed down off my high horse, went and stood next to the man in the sand and asked him for forgiveness – and to say the same to me as he had said to the woman.

He did.

He does.

He will.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

flagging

What a mistake to make! Putting the South Korean Flag on the screen next to the pictures of the North Korean Women’s Football Team at the Olympics. The press have made a big deal of it. The BBC news had it as their headline this morning, reporting on how offended the North Koreans were. There were probably prophets of doom who had been saying how bad it would all be who were busy polishing up their ‘I told you so’ speeches. Now I am not suggesting that this was not a significant error. Nor am I saying that the North Koreans should not have taken offence.

The correct flag was on the pitch

But in all of this I wonder if anyone has thought about the poor person who was responsible for the mistake? How are they feeling? How does it feel to them that every newspaper, TV station and radio bulletin is reminding them of the mistake that they made? I suspect that none of the media who are standing on the moral high ground and denouncing this mistake have given one moment’s thought to how that person is coping. Their innocent mistake is being broadcast across the world.

If it was me I would want to go into hibernation and not surface until after the 2016 Olympics, when this has become a distant memory.

Except that there is another way. When we let God down he does not make a big deal about it. He does not broadcast it to the world. It upsets him but he longs for us to ask for forgiveness, to seek a fresh start, to be renewed and receive his overwhelming grace.

I pray that the person responsible for the error is not feeling victimised or overwhelmed by the mistake. I pray that they may know God’s strength and grace. And I pray that those who are ready to condemn are also willing to put their self-righteous stones down and think about everyone who has been affected by this. And I pray that we too may know God’s forgiveness, restoration and grace and be as willing to share it as he is.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

This may be a surreal answer to the problem of getting the flags right:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjqIDFjBNhQ

With credit to Tim Vine and Flag Hippo*

 

*aka John Archer

seamless links?

If you didn’t know better you would think that this blog is planned. (It’s not – at least not by me). This morning I want to draw together some of the threads of the past few days.

Early this morning (see ‘unwelcome epiphanies‘) I woke up with a thought running around in my head that there was a better name for the spoof awards that I suggested yesterday (see ‘and the winner is’). Instead of RAFTAs they could be called LAFTAs. You can see what this means in the stop press at the bottom of that blog.

Then my brain started thinking of other sorts of acronyms (see ‘acronymity‘) for Christian activities:

BUBBLEs – Being Underwater at Believer’s Baptism needing Lifeguard’s Expertise – for baptisms that include a near-death experience (not had any)

CRUMBs – Communion Really Unfortunate Mistake with Bread – for when the bread is not pre-cut, small pieces are dropped everywhere or the loaf is hollowed out (all happened to me)

GOSH – Ground Open and Swallow me wHole – for when you ask the oldest member of your church if this is their first time (not happened to me) (and yes, the acronym is tortured)

AXE – Awful eXperience of Evangelism – for when someone approaches a stranger in the street and proclaims that ‘Jesus Christ is the propitiation for your sins’ (seen that!)

JUG – Jargon Used as Gibberish – for when we use Christian jargon that non-churchgoers will not understand.

The thing is that Christians regularly get things wrong. Not intentionally (most of the time). Usually it’s because we have not thought things through properly.

It can be because we are so caught up in our subculture that we don’t realise how difficult it is to penetrate. Earlier I had a conversation with someone who wanted to know if it was all right if they just turned up at our church. Of course I was delighted at that question because it showed interest and also reminded me that we are strange to most people and coming across our threshold takes courage.

Or perhaps it’s because we are (ministers at least) too professional. It can be because we are doing something automatically to which we actually should be devoting our entire attention. Have you noticed how in the homes of tradesmen and women there are often tasks that they would do as part of their work (putting up shelves, mending dripping taps…) that don’t get done because it is too much like work. There is a danger that ministers (as professional Christians) only do the Christian stuff at work and forget about it at home, in the quiet, on their own. Please God prevent me from ever being too professional about my faith!

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.

if you need to eat humble pie, you may need to take your foot out of your mouth first…

chicken piemmmphlugh hhmmugh grimngtpgh

That is the sound of me eating some humble pie while talking with my mouth full (of foot). Yesterday I acted less than graciously towards somebody. It took my wife Sally to point this out to me. I did not notice.

And therein lies the problem. I had become so caught up in what I was doing that I had neglected courtesy and had not thought of the impact of what I had done on someone else, which may have made them look bad in front of others. Not exactly the Christlike attitude I have been seeking, nor demonstrating the Fruit of the Spirit about which I was preaching before Easter.

Sorry.

You don’t need to know the details (super-injunction is ready to launch!). The good news is that it bothered me. I think that if I get to the stage where it does not bother me I need to take a longer harder look at myself and the calling God has placed on my life.

This morning I spoke with the person concerned and they demonstrated the grace I should have shown. Bless you if you are reading this.

Sally offered me some wise advice when telling me about my ungraciousness. I share it with you in case it is helpful.

“Sometimes you need to keep quiet and think before you open your mouth.”

Bless you!

And now a joke about lawyers (who are the ones really profiting from the super-injunctions and what I used to be)

A man who was having heart trouble went to the doctor to see what his options were. Naturally, the doctor recommended a heart transplant. The man reluctantly agreed, and asked if there were any hearts immediately available, considering that money was no object. 

“I do have three hearts,” said the doctor. “The first is from an 18-year old kid, non-smoker, athletic, swimmer, with a great diet. He hit his head on the swimming pool and died. It’s £100,000.

The second is from a marathon runner, 24 years old, great condition, very strong. He got hit by a bus. It’s £150,000.

The third is from a heavy drinker, cigar smoker, and a steak lover. It’s £500,000.”

“Hey, why is that heart so expensive? He lived a terrible life!”

“Yeah, but it’s from a lawyer and never been used.”

underprepared, overprepared, ministering free…

Very quick lunchtime blog today as I am almost overwhelmed by stuff I have to get done.

Yesterday I was at an inspirational conference about how churches respond to the Big Society agenda. It was delivered by Steve Chalke and gave us lots to think about. At the end of the day there was a panel discussion with Steve Chalke, Bob Russell (our local MP), one of our Councillors, a Christian businessman, a youth worker, and, erm, me. I found out at the moment the panel was invited to sit at the front. Short notice or what!? Thinking time was virtually zero!

Today I prepared for a regular meeting at our church, went to the church and discovered that the meeting was not happening. I should have checked our weekly notice sheet. D’Oh! I am annoyed with myself but now have the talk I was going to give ready to roll next month! Over-prepared!

For me as a minister the biggest problem I have is making sure I leave myself enough time to prepare well for what I have to do. I hate ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ although I do find that when those moments occur God is gracious and helps me out. I hate rushing out of the door with the ink still wet on what I have prepared. I like to take a relaxed approach to preparation. I have taken to putting preparation time into my diary, but know that I am sometimes more generous in giving it away than I should be.

So how do you prepare for what God wants you to do? Do you arrive at the next thing and ‘wing it’ or have you spent time asking God what he wants from you?

Unrelated joke:
“Doctor, Doctor, I think I am a labrador. I slobber and dribble everywhere, I chase sticks and I walk round in circles three times before I lie down in my bed.”
“Well, lie down on this couch and we’ll talk about it.”
“I can’t. I’m not allowed on the furniture.”