The parable of the good refund

How comfortable is your driving space? [Note the new team sponsor]
How comfortable is your driving space? Note the new team sponsor for Team Lotus

One of the things I have quickly realised in my new role as a Regional Minister is that I am going to be spending a lot of time in my car. And I have recognised that if I am going to be spending a lot of time in the car it makes sense to ensure that it’s as comfortable an environment as possible.

I don’t mean that I will be installing a foot spa and replacing the seat with an armchair. But it is sensible to make sure that things that I will need are within reach – so that the phone holder is in a sensible place, I have space in the door pocket for Werther’s Originals (other sweets are available) and so on. In finding a sensible place for my mobile phone I also need to make sure that if I am going to use it I am doing so legally.

In the spirit of making my car accommodation as nice as possible and being compliant with the law I bought a hands-free unit that links to my phone by Bluetooth* and also sends a local FM signal that my car radio can pick up. This means that I can stream music from my phone through the gadget to play through my car stereo speakers – enhancing and personalising my listening experience beyond the slightly less flexible CDs or impersonal Radio. It also means that when I get a call the gadget mutes the music and I can hear the call through the car stereo.

The gadget I ordered was not the most expensive on the market but it worked fine.

For about a month.

Then it became intermittent in connecting to the phone. Finally it stopped switching on altogether.

The problem was that part of the unit is supposed to be detachable so it can be placed in the most convenient place in the car, and that part of the unit is also rechargeable. However for some technical reason it stopped recharging. I contacted the seller and they advised about some possible ways to reboot it but those processes failed to reawaken the unit. So I contacted the seller again and asked what I should do.

Without hesitation the seller said that they would either replace the item or give a full refund. Because I was no longer confident with the gadget I asked for a refund and it happened almost immediately. That sort of customer service makes me much more likely to reuse that seller in the future. (For those who will worry about these things I have ordered a new (better) gadget).

So if this is some sort of parable, what’s the message?

All good parables sit in the reader’s mind gently ticking away until PING!’ a lightbulb goes off in the head. (lovely mixed metaphor there). For that reason I am reluctant to give you the answer. But I will give you some questions:

How well do you recharge, and to what or whom do you connect to do that?

How do you respond to complaints?

How likely is it that your attitude to others will attract or repel?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Did you know that Bluetooth is so-called in honour of the 10th century Norse king Harald Bluetooth (see here for more)? It’s nice to think that in a millennium’s time there will be a communication standard called ‘Queen Elizabeth 2’…

the parable of the banquet (revisited)

Embed from Getty Images

It was a very posh do. In a very expensive restaurant. The chef had three Michelin Stars and more were expected. There was normally a waiting list of six to eight months just to get a table. But since he was also the host of the event the chef reserved the whole place for his invited guests.

It was a very posh do. The invited guests all turned up (surprising some of you) in beautiful gowns (the women) and black tie (the men). The tables were arranged in a circle so there was no top table (surprising others of you) and people were allowed to sit where they wanted. The chef had prepared an amazing menu of food for his invited guests. There were twelve courses (if you count the champagne cocktails on arrival and the after dinner mints and coffee). It was the best food that the guests had ever tasted.

It was a very posh do.  Each course was brought to the table by waiters and waitresses who were impeccable in their attire, deferential in their manner and superb in their service. No sooner had a course finished than the waiters and waitresses swooped, removed the debris, cleaned and re-laid tables as necessary and brought the next course in a seamless stream of serene service.

It was a very posh do. At the end of the meal the host thanked the guests for coming. The guests all thanked the waiters and waitresses. They left significant tips for them. Some guests had made sure that they remembered the names of those who had served them and made sure that they thanked them personally. In the end one of the guests proposed three cheers for the waiters and waitresses and there was a thunderous series of cheers. The waiters and waitresses felt very good about all of this.

The chef, meanwhile, had gone home.

Be blessed, be a blessing

going abroad

Yes, it is the same image as yesterday!
Yes, it is the same image as yesterday!

Foreign travel sounds exotic, exciting, and adventurous. If you have ever flown on a commercial airline you will know that once you arrive at the airport expectations of ‘exotic, exciting and adventurous’ are replaced with ‘queueing, waiting and boredom.’

First of all you arrive and find where you have to go to check in to confirm your place on the flight and send your bags into the mystical baggage handling system in the hope that they will travel with you and that you will be reunited at the end of the journey. You queue. Eventually you reach the front of the queue. You hand over your passport and ticket, confirm that you packed the bags yourself and that nobody has tampered with them, wave goodbye to your suitcase, remember to pick up your passport and boarding pass, and head off to the security gate.

You arrive at the security gate where they will examine your belongings with an x ray machine and check that you are not carrying anything you shouldn’t be. But first, you queue.

And after a long time queueing you reach the front of the line. You put your hand luggage in a plastic tray, take off your belt (hoping that your trousers will stay up) and put that in the tray, make sure you have no coins in your pockets, put your watch in the tray too, put your jacket in the tray, and wave goodbye to your belongings as they go off to be examined while you take a deep breath and step through the magic door that may or may not beep as you go through.

(At this point I want to make a personal detour. I have battery implanted in me and some wires that go into my head in order to stop chronic migraine. I have a special card that I carry for airport security (and other metal detecting places) that explains what is in me in the expectation that it will make the magic gate beep. It has never done so, which disappoints me. I want to be special and wave my card at the security person. But I am normal.)

If you do make the magic gate beep then the security person has to frisk you to make sure you haven’t got anything you shouldn’t have on your person. Then, finally, you proceed to the end of the conveyor where you wait for your hand baggage and other belongings to join you again.

When they arrive you grab the box, hope your trousers remain up, and join the ever-changing group of people who are reassembling their ensemble.

From the security gate you go into the wonderful world of duty free shopping. Big discounts are promised but, in my experience, the prices don’t seem much cheaper than in the high street. But if you want to buy anything you have forgotten to pack, or that was confiscated at the security gate, or simply because you want to carry more stuff around you join a queue. Because you can’t just buy it, you have to show your passport and boarding pass. And some people in front of you won’t have realised and can’t remember where they put them. So you wait.

Finally you have bought what you need and look for somewhere to sit while you wait for the electronic board to show which departure gate your flight will be leaving from, and to tell you when to go there. In the meantime you might feel peckish, go to buy some food, and join a queue to pay for it.

Then you wait. (This bit always seems a lot longer than it actually is).

The board suddenly changes and shows that they want you to go to the departure gate. Depending on the airport you then either have a long walk (occasionally using the travelators that enable you to walk at hyperspeed until you step off at the end and come to a juddering halt) or you get on a transit vehicle to take you there.

When you arrive at the departure gate, guess what, all the other passengers are there too and you have to find somewhere to sit until the plane is ready for boarding. So you wait. You wait for the moment when you hear the announcement that the flight is ready for boarding. And then everyone rushes to the desk and forms yet another queue.

So you wait, shuffling slowly forwards, until you reach the desk, hand over your passport and boarding pass one more time, and are told that you are worthy of flying on their aeroplane and admitted into the mysterious world beyond the desk. There may be a passenger boarding bridge (jetway) that enables you to walk from the desk around a series of unnecessary corners and straight to the aeroplane. Or you may have to go down a series of stairs or escalators and outside where a bus will take you to the plane, or you will walk across the tarmac to the plane.

When you get near the plane (whether on the boarding bridge or ready to ascend the stairs from the tarmac to the plane) you join the end of another queue. Slowly but surely you get closer to the plane and as you enter the door you show your boarding pass to the flight attendant who tells you that your seat is ‘down there’ (where else will it be?). You shuffle slowly along the aisle as people ahead try to cram unfeasibly large bags (how do they call that ‘hand luggage’?) into unfeasibly small overhead lockers and finally find your seat. You deal with your own hand luggage and collapse into your seat.

Then you stand up again quickly because you have sat on the safety belt buckle.

You move the belt and sit down again.

Then you wait.

You wait for all the passengers to board the plane. You look disappointedly at the person who arrives a few minutes after everyone else looking flustered at having run and almost missed the flight.

Then you wait.

Various announcements will be made over the intercom, most of which are ignored by most of the passengers.

The flight attendants will go through the humiliation of doing the safety demonstration while being ignored by most people.

Then you wait.

At last you sense the plane is moving as it is pushed away from the terminal and you get ready for take off.

Except that the plane has now joined a queue of planes awaiting permission to take off.

So you wait. The plane slowly shuffles forwards in the queue.

And just when you think the plane may as well drive to your destination it turns and pauses. You hear the engines start to increase in power and the plane leaps forwards. I love that moment. Judging by the white knuckles and vice-like grip on the armrest I perceive that others around me perhaps don’t share that joy.

Soon the rumble of wheels on tarmac is replaced by a funny lifting feeling and the sound of wheels being retracted as the aircraft climbs into the sky at a seemingly impossible angle. Then, slowly but surely, the angle of ascent gently lowers and the flight attendants burst into life.

Depending on the airline you are on food is either offered on a complimentary basis (ie included in the cost of the ticket) or you have to pay for it. But the flight attendants spend an inordinate amount of time travelling up and down with trollies dispensing food and hot and cold beverages, collecting the debris from the food and hot and cold beverages, offering duty free goods for sale (see above) and interrupting the flight in other ways.

I have a theory about this. My theory is that it is less to do with feeding the passengers (who could bring their own packed lunches, subject to restrictions on drinks) than it is about crowd control. If the trollies are going up and down the aisles we have to stay in our seats. If the flight attendants are constantly offering us things we feel like they are concerned for our wellbeing and are happier. If they keep interrupting us they are stopping us from becoming bored and restless. That may be a cynical approach, I have never tested the theory with anyone who knows about these things either.

If you are on a posh flight you may have some in flight entertainment system offering you a range of films, old TV shows and a map showing you where your aeroplane is relative to the departure and destination points. If you are on a budget flight the in flight entertainment is whatever you brought with you.

All of this action takes place in a relatively confined space for however long it takes to get to the destination. It is punctuated occasionally by turbulence and the ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign being illuminated. (It’s fun to watch those in the queue (!) for the loo working out whether or not to remain in the queue or return to their seats. My observation is that most stay where they are.) Rumours that the ‘turbulence’ is the way the pilots deal with the monotony of the flight by jerking the flight controls up and down are not to believed at all.

Then comes the moment when you sense that the aircraft is starting to descend. The ‘fasten seatbelts’ sign is illuminated, the flight attendants check to ensure that everyone has obeyed, their seats are upright, armrests are down, tables are stowed, electronics (in flight mode) are off, headphones are taken out and luggage is not around people’s ankles. The aircraft may circle around for a while as the pilot awaits our slot in the queue (!) for landing and then the final descent begins.

If I can see out of a window I like to play a game on the landing descent. It starts with trying to see if I can identify any traffic moving. Then I like to be able to identify a human being on the ground. Soon after that we are usually on the ground (with or without ‘whump’ depending on the landing).

The aircraft engines are thrown into reverse, breaks are applied and the plane slows to taxiing speed. Where it joins a queue (!) to taxi to the stand where we will disembark. Even though the flight attendants (and captain) may tell everyone to remain seated with their seatbelts fastened until the plane has halted there’s always at least one person who thinks that they can get a head start on everyone else by getting up before the plane has stopped. Everyone else gives them a hard stare or tuts silently – hoping that a flight attendant will tell them off.

As soon as the plane stops it’s every person for theirself. We all grab our luggage and seek to push our way into the aisle, even though the doors are not open. We all wait impatiently to disembark, knowing full well that there will be more queues waiting for us as soon as we do. Queues to transfer into the terminal building. Queues for passport control. And then the interminable wait for the luggage.

We try to anticipate which carousel the luggage will appear on. We try to manoeuvre as close as possible to the place where the luggage is ejected from the conveyor belt onto the loop on which it will travel until claimed. And when it finally all starts up we look expectantly at the conveyor in the hope that our bags may be first off. They never are. I have another theory that they send down dummy bags to start with because I have never been the first and have never seen anyone else collect the first bags.

Joy of joys you see your bags and fight through the scrum to retrieve them – checking for footprints and other damage. Once they have all arrived (hopefully) you join the procession through the customs check and out into the airport arrivals area. You check all of the people holding up names in the vain hope that someone somewhere has decided to pick you up (even though you didn’t arrange anything). And then you emerge, blinking, into the daylight or even the night – breathing in the fresh air.

Then you go to whatever destination you have – you holiday or attend a business meeting – and then you repeat the whole process in reverse.

Some of you may be wondering why I have spent so long talking about the flight and only a sentence about what you do at the destination. The reason is that this is intended as a parable. About church. Or more specifically about church services.

Church services are not the destination of our Christian faith, they are the journey. They are to inspire, equip and encourage us for the rest of our lives. What we do, who we are, how we are, what we say when we are not in church is the destination. That’s where the rubber hits the tarmac and we live out our lives as followers of Jesus and witnesses to his love and good news. If we spend all our time focussing on church services we are like someone who travels abroad and focusses on the journey rather than the destination.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the lost zeros

In 2007 I was in Ghana for a meeting of the Baptist World Alliance. I changed a small amount of currency into the Ghanaian currency, cedi. I was impressed by the ‘wodge’ of notes that I got, especially with all the 000’s.DSCF0907 I felt wealthy. (And when I saw how some people lived I realised I really was, but that’s another story).

Then, while I was in Ghana, the currency was devalued. Essentially they knocked off lots of zeros from the value of each note. The old notes were suddenly worth a lot less and after six months would no longer be legal tender and would be worthless. It felt strange paying for things that were worth a couple of cedis with notes that had thousands of cedis on written them but were in fact worth only a few cedis!

Because the notes were worth so much less I brought a couple back home with me and gave them to my children as souvenirs. They ‘filed’ them in their bedrooms…

…Just recently a couple of these thousand cedi notes re-emerged and the children looked up their value on the internet. They did not know that they were no longer legal tender and were rather excited to think that they had banknotes worth thousands of pounds. The excitement diminished somewhat when I told them that they were worthless.

That’s a lesson that Jesus tried to teach us. In his parable about a wealthy farmer who kept building bigger barns to store his increasing crops. He planned to build a big enough nest egg on which to retire and then…

…let’s just say he experienced an unexpected devaluation in his currency.

Jesus described him as a fool for focusing on what wouldn’t last.

Be blessed, be a blessing

stumpbusting

Our stumps are being busted today.

A new tree stumpI wonder what that sentence means to you. Some of you may be thinking it’s medical, dental, mis-typing, ‘yoof-speek’, or just ‘confused’. Others will have jumped to the right conclusion (probably guided by the photo): people are coming with a machine to chomp up the tree stumps in our garden.

 am sure it’s an effective process. These people come recommended by a friend who had them remove a stump from their garden. I haven’t seen them in action yet, but their website suggests that the machine will turn the stumps into chippings and grind down to below the soil level so that all evidence of the stump is removed (apart from the chippings). While all the roots remain, there is no regrowth and they gradually rot away.

I am sure there’s a parable here. Some of the bad habits we adopt, mistakes we make and stuff we do that lets God and others down need to be eradicated from our lives. We need to be radical, get rid of it, kill it. We may well need God’s Spirit to help us by helping to change our priorities, attitudes, desires and habits. It’s possible that we may need others to help us, to support us and to encourage us. It may not be easy, it may be painful, but it needs doing.

God’s grace and forgiveness are greater than anything we can do that could offend and upset him. It is always available to us. And it is the best place to start. Sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes there is more work to do.

But while the stump of sin can be busted, there will almost certainly be something left behind that will take time to rot away. It could be hurt that we have caused others. It could be physical damage we have caused ourselves. It could be economic impact. It may be residual memories. Perhaps, like those struggling with addictive habits and behaviour, we will remain recovering addicts taking one day at a time.

But those stumps need busting. God’s Spirit will be with us all the way. We may experience him powerfully or gently, through other people or directly, in the pages of the Bible or the words of others.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Garden-related joke from Clean Jokes

My daughter-in-law Alma and grandson Eddy were digging for fishing bait in my garden. Uncovering a many-legged creature, Eddy proudly dangled it before his mother.

“No, honey, he won’t do for bait,” his mother said. “He’s not an earthworm.”

“He’s not?” Eddy asked, his eyes wide. “What planet is he from?”

the parable of the lost pen

There was a man who had a favourite pen. It was not an expensive pen, but it wrote nicely and he had bought some refills for it so he could continue to use it for a long time as well
Pilot Begreen Green Tecpoint Rollerball Pen 0.5mm Tip 0.3mm Line Black Ref 145101001 [Pack of 10] as being more environmentally friendly.

One day, when he was looking to write something with his pen, he could not find it. It was not in the pen pot on his desk. It was not obviously in view on his desk. He started to look under different piles of paper on his desk. It was not there. He looked on the floor under his desk. It was not there. He decided that one of his family had ‘borrowed’ it, so he accused them of nabbing it.

They all denied that they had nabbed the pen, and were a bit hurt by the accusation because they knew that he was very protective of the pens in his study.

The man continued to search for the pen in all of the usual places that the pen often turned up in. He checked his briefcase and other bags. No pen.

He checked a folder he used to put sermon notes in. No pen.

He started checking some less usual places. Still no pen.

The man was frustrated that he had lost the pen. He still had a couple of refills left for it, and he really needed to use the pen.

So he went out in his car to the stationery store and looked for a similar pen. There were none on the shelves. So the man bought some other pens and soon forgot all about the old pen.

The man reflected on how churches sometimes treated people like that. People can drift away and while we make efforts to talk with them and encourage them to come back, some don’t. After a while other things replace them and we forget about those people, who feel hurt and upset. The man wished it was not like that and resolved to try to do better in his church.

The story has not ended, however. Because this morning the man picked up a folder he had not used for a month. When he opened it the lost pen fell out. How the man rejoiced! He went out into the streets and danced around, shouting that he had found his lost pen. (Actually that last sentence is fiction). The man was pleased that he had found his lost pen, however, and resolved to look more carefully next time it went missing.

And the man reflected that Jesus had said how much rejoicing there is in heaven over one ‘sinner’ who repents. He reflected that God never gives up on us, even when we give up on ourselves. He remembered that he himself was a frequent cause of rejoicing in heaven. He asked for God’s help to show his love and grace more effectively and ‘normally’.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

talking with technology

One of my Christmas presents this year has been transforming the way that I interact with my computer. Dragon NaturallySpeaking is allowing me to dictate directly into e-mails, documents and even my blog. I have been very impressed with the accuracy of the program and as well as saving wear until my fingers is also enabling me to process information as I think it. This probably also saves time in the long run. I haven’t yet attempted to write a sermon with it (that’s today’s job) but so far I have written letters, added to my book manuscript, sent e-mails and spewed forth bloggerel.

I need to speak more clearly than normal and (sadly) needs to be in a relatively quiet environment. This means that I can’t have music playing in the background while I study if I am intending to dictate to my computer. I think I will miss that, but I’m sure get used to it.

Is this a ‘parablette’ about my relationship with God? I don’t want to stretch it too far as an analogy but the thought did occur to me that perhaps I need to be clearer in the way that I speak to God – articulating what I’m really thinking rather than what I think he wants me to say. it’s only when I’m honest with him and myself that my relationship with him can flourish in the way that it should.

Perhaps too I need to spend more time in relative quiet in order to concentrate on him. I have often promised myself that I will go on more retreats but so far since I have been in Colchester that has been more limited. Do I sense a new year’s resolution coming up? Maybe, although I prefer not to confine my personal improvement ambitions to the first few days of January each year. I think I’ll probably be revisiting this throughout the year.

There are a couple of small problems with dictating to the computer. It cannot always distinguish between when you are speaking to somebody else and talking to it and I can find that (forgetting that the microphone is still on) I am will talk to a member of the family and then turned back to the screen to find all manner of garbage has been produced. [Insert your own sermon writing jokes here]. It also struggles to interpret coughs and sneezes for what they are so it may be less useful when I have a cold. Who would have thought that mucus could frustrate technology?!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

surprise!

Yesterday was a day with several surprises. One was something I should have been expecting and the other was an invitation to do something, which came out of the blue. (More about this after it has happened next year.) The thing I should have been expecting was the arrival of a book I had ordered a long time ago. It is a book of modern parables and psalms: written by people in Baptist churches.

Bible Messages for TodayIt’s called ‘Bible Messages for Today’ and I will probably be quoting from it a lot. There are a couple of entries in it from me, which is probably why I only ordered one copy, but there are some brilliantly imaginative and powerful entries. Get your copy (or copies) from here. I hope it’s okay to share an entry or two with you… consider them free samples!

Just to be safe, I am sharing my entries with you, but don’t let them put you off: there are lots of better ones! They are sort of poetic psalms – psoems? polms?

My church gave me an asbo for shouting during prayers

They said I was disruptive: I said I didn’t care

My church gave me an asbo for crawling under pews

They said it was distracting – untying people’s shoes

My church gave me an asbo for singing the wrong words

They said it was disgusting: I thought they were absurd

My church gave me an asbo for laughing far too loud

They said it was despicable: I felt rather proud

My church gave me an asbo for sticking out my tongue

They said I’m disrespectful: I was having fun

My church gave me an asbo for running in the aisle

They said it’s dangerous for a seven year-old child

 

 

In the beginning was the Word

but we refused to listen.

In the beginning was the Word

but we were illiterate.

In the beginning was the Word

but we misspelt him.

In the beginning was the Word

but we didn’t speak his language.

In the beginning was the Word

but we turned him into a sentence.

In the beginning was the Word

but we preferred our own words.

In the beginning was the Word

but we were into moving pictures.

In the beginning was the Word

but we changed the subject.

In the beginning was the Word

but we used him as an expletive.

In the beginning was the Word

but we queried his grammar.

In the beginning was the Word

but we put him in a PowerPoint presentation.

In the beginning was the Word

but we abbreviated him.

 

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the parcel delivery

Fragile ParcelHow do they do it? Do they have some sort of sixth sense? Or (more sinisterly) do they have cameras monitoring what we are doing?

What am I talking about? Delivery people. How do they know when is the most inconvenient time to call? I know it must be in their best interests not to have to take things away because they have not been able to deliver, but my experience is such that I almost suspect that they get a bonus if they are able to put a ‘sorry we missed you’ card through the door. This morning is a case in point.

Our children leave the house on school days just before 8 am. It is at this moment that a calm descends on the house. Because I was expecting a delivery I told Sally that I would wait until she could answer the door before I used the bathroom. We were on alert. We were prepared. We were waiting.

So imagine the frustration when I discovered a card on the doormat at 9.30 saying that they had attempted a delivery at 8am and nobody answered! Did they knock quietly so as not to disturb us? Grrr.

I think there’s a parable in there.

The Kingdom of God is like this: a person is waiting for a parcel to be delivered. They make sure that they are in. They watch out for the delivery van. But when they are distracted for just a few minutes the delivery person knocks on the door and when there is no answer posts a card through the door that says, “We missed you.” Nobody knows when the parcel of the Kingdom will be delivered. Make sure you are ready for it.

Be blessed, be a blessing (especially if you deliver parcels!)

A new postperson (male or female, it doesn’t matter. In fact we will call them ‘Bobby’ as that is a gender-neutral name) came to a house where there was a big sign, “Beware of the Dog”. Bobby looked over the fence and saw a large harmless looking old hound lying on the path. Then Bobby noticed the owner of the house looking out of the door.

“Is that the dog I have to beware of?” asked Bobby.

“Yup,” affirmed the owner, not wasting words.

“He doesn’t look like he could bite anyone,” said Bobby.

“Nope,” said the owner, briefly.

“So why do we have to beware of him?”

“Because until I put that sign up people coming to my door were always tripping over him.”

[expletive deleted]

Dear loyal Bloggist,

Thank you for bearing with me during my recent cold. I am sorry that the inspiration levels were low, but mucous and phlegm have that effect on me. But now my nose has stopped training for a marathon and my throat has decided that it’s perhaps alright to breathe and swallow without causing me pain.

Enough of the blatant attempt at drawing sympathy from you. On with the bloggerel.

On Sunday morning we will be celebrating an anniversary at our church. It is 25 years since Open Door began. You can find out more about Open Door on their website but in short is is a drop-in centre for anyone who would like to come and have a cuppa, perhaps wants someone to chat to or to listen to them, maybe needs some help or advice.

I have been helping out there once a week (Fridays) and have experienced laughter (it is banter-central), occasional sadness, great conversations and non-judgemental acceptance. I think Jesus loves it in there.

On my badge I am simply ‘Nick’ and designated as ‘Helper’. But the regulars know that I am one of the Ministers at the church. It’s often the cause of some hilarity to me when someone forgets one of the house rules and an expletive slips out when I am in earshot. The rest will pick up on it and tell the swearer off, while they offer deep and sincere apologies for swearing in my presence. It’s almost as if they think my head will explode if I hear rude words or that my ears are so sensitive that they will fall off if they hear such things. My usual reaction is to accept the apology but try to remind them that I am a normal human being.

I wonder how people spoke around Jesus. Were there Aramaic swear words that people used in his presence and then realised that they were in the presence of the Rabbi and apologised? If so, the gospel-writers have edited those bits out. Perhaps they thought we were too sensitive to cope with them. And if people did swear and curse in Jesus’ presence how did he react? Would he warn them against blasphemy? Would he tut and tell them off? Would he threaten them with lightning bolts from heaven if they did it again? Or would he accept them as they are and hope that they would experience God through him?

I’m not condoning swearing. It saddens me that some words have now become punctuation for some people while others only have one or two adjectives and adverbs to enrich their conversation. But I am reminded of the parable Jesus told of two brothers who were asked to help their father. One said ‘yes’ and did nothing while the other said ‘no’ and then changed his mind. What they did revealed their heart more than what they said.

Hmmm

Read Matthew 21:28-32 if you want a challenge, especially with Jesus’ punchline…

Be blessed, be a blessing.

One day an elderly pastor confides in his parishioners that he’s feeling a bit lonely and depressed. So one of the parishioners suggests to the pastor that he buy a pet. Thinking this a grand idea, the pastor hurries into town and after much deliberation, buys a parrot.

Unfortunately not five minutes after arriving home, the parrot starts hurling a string of expletives at the pastor.

After about an hour it gets to be too much, so the pastor walks up to the parrot, slaps him on the beak, and yells, “QUIT IT!” But this just makes the parrot madder and he starts swearing at the pastor in even more colourful language.

Finally the pastor has had it and says, “All right, that’s it. Grabbing a blanket, the pastor throws it over the parrot’s cage and screams, “Now, SHUT UP!” Well, this really irritates the parrot and he starts clawing and scratching at the bars of his cage. Finally the pastor removes the blanket. Immediately the parrot starts right in on the pastor again.

By this time, the pastor is so infuriated that he grabs the parrot by the throat and throws him into the freezer. Well, the parrot starts swearing and thrashing about so loudly that the pastor is considering killing the bird. Just as he’s thinking this, it gets very…very quiet.

At first the pastor just stares at the refrigerator, but then he starts to think that the parrot might be seriously injured. He becomes so worried that he runs over to the refrigerator and throws open the freezer door.

The parrot climbs out of the freezer, flaps the ice off his wings, and says, “Awfully sorry about the trouble I’ve caused you, rev. In the future, I’ll do my best to improve my vocabulary.”

The pastor is astounded. He can’t believe the sudden transformation that has come over the parrot. Finally the parrot turns to the pastor and says, “Um….by the way, what did the chicken do?”