Category: perspective

seeing things

I wear glasses. They are varifocals – correcting both long and short-sightedness depending on which part of the lens I look through. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my eyes and brain adapted to this (I doubted I would ever get used to such a strange thing but it happened almost instantly).

glassesWhen I am not wearing my glasses some objects will be in soft focus. If you ever see me without my glasses and it looks like I am frowning at you, please don’t be offended it’s just that I am trying to work out who you are.

One of the things that is easy to forget is that each of us sees the world around us, and other people, through our own eyes, but other people see things differently. I am not really talking about literal vision and sight, but the way in which we experience, interpret, filter and infer.

For example, someone who loves fast cars might be really excited to see and hear an Aston Martin roaring up the street. Another person might experience the same event and be concerned about the safety of pedestrians. Someone else might experience the same event and wonder how anyone could afford such a car. Do you see what I mean.

When we forget that we ‘see’ and experience life in a unique fashion that can lead us into difficult and uncomfortable places. By way of an illustration, I sometimes forget that not everyone is into performing magical illusions to the same extent that I am. I might think I am being entertaining and engaging but to someone else I am a bore and tedious. You could replace ‘performing magical illusions’ with almost anything else and it can work out in a similar fashion…

Not everyone enjoys the same TV programmes / films / music / books as you do. And even if they do, they may not enjoy them in the same way.

Not everyone is an interested in crocheting as you are, and may not appreciate how much work went into your full-sized crocheted African Elephant so don’t be too disappointed if they simply say, “Oh, that’s nice.”

Not everyone enjoys sport (watching or playing) and even if they do they may not enjoy the same sport and even if they do they may not support the same team / individual as you do and even if they do they may not agree with your perspective on their performances.

Not everyone understands your interest in Mongolian Tree Frog Worship* or (more conventionally) shares your perspective on Jesus.

So what do we do?

A little self-awareness goes a long way. Be aware how you see things and realise that not everyone has had the same experiences, enjoys the same things and understands life in the same way as you. That’s called individuality.

Recognise that if you only ever mix with and talk with and encounter people who are broadly similar to yourself you are seriously limiting your ability to grow and learn and perhaps also limiting the opportunities for others to learn and grow through you. To realise and embrace that is called diversity.

Recognising that people see and experience things differently, and becoming comfortable with exploring that in conversation with them without fearing that it will contaminate the way that we see and experience things is called dialogue. (If you are tempted to think that you should not be influenced by others see the outcomes of a lack of ‘diversity’ above.) Communication and Community have the same root for a reason!

Now, before you start lobbing virtual stones in my direction for heresy let me be clear: I am not saying that there are no absolutes. I am not saying that I believe that all truth is relative. This is not a bloggage to embrace a pluralistic view of life, the Universe and everything. There clearly are some absolutes. For example: being outside in the rain without an umbrella or a coat means we will get wet; bald-headed people have less hair on their heads that people who are not bald… and so on.

I think I am coming up for some rules of engagement on issues and subjects that some of us believe are absolutes but which are not shared universally, even if we believe that they should be.

Should we share those with others? Absolutely. (pun intended)

Should we try to persuade them? With grace and respect, yes.

Should we force others to believe what we believe? No.

Should we insist that they accommodate our beliefs? Not to the detriment of others.

Should we listen to what others have to say about their perspective on things? Definitely.

Should we be offended if they disagree? No, although they may disagree disagreeably which may cause offence.

Should we be offensive if they disagree? No.

Should we be willing to change our minds? Maybe, but because it feels right to us, not because they tell us to. A closed mind can never be expanded.

Should we be open to learn new things and see things in new ways? Absodefinutely.

These rules of engagement are very much a work in progress. They have come out of the mush that is my brain as I have typed so have not had a lot of thought applied to them. But behind them all is an attempt to acknowledge that part of being in community is to sensitively encourage a creative balance between expressing individuality, embracing diversity, and exploring through dialogue. That is not something to be afraid of because if your truth is true it can survive those things and probably be enhanced by them.

If you have ‘absolutes’ you need to recognise that there may be different grades for you: my convictions about who Jesus of Nazareth is are absolutes that exist at the foundational belief level of who I am and how I see and experience things and shape what I do. I have that in common with a lot of people. But the way I express that through the Christian church of which I am a part differs from the way that others who share that same foundational belief express it in their church. To make non-foundational beliefs more important than they are opens us up to ridicule. And for that purpose I refer you to a joke by Emo Philips:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

In the book of Proverbs in the Bible we read (chapter 3 from verse 13):

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honour.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.

It’s worth pointing out that in the book of Proverbs ‘wisdom’ is a way of living, relating, understanding and perspective, not mere knowledge. And the writer of Proverbs says that a right perspective on who God is and who we are (aka “the fear of the Lord”) is the beginning of wisdom.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*A fake religion I made up many years ago when I was trying to come up with something obscure as an illustration. I don’t even know if there are any tree frogs in Mongolia.

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zooom

So, dear Bloggists, I have been away for a week with Sally (the wonderful lady to whom I am married) in the Lake District. That is why this page has been silent for the past week – sorry. We had a fantastic time. We walked over hills and down valleys and around lakes. We saw some astonishingly beautiful scenery. We ate some delicious meals. We spent quality time with one another.

I also took some photos. We have recently acquired a new camera as our old one broke and we have some significant family events coming up. It’s what is known as a ‘Bridge camera’ – halfway between a point and shoot compact camera and a complex Single Lens Reflex camera. It has rather a long zoom on it, though. In fact a combination of optical and digital zoom means that it has 84x zoom on it. I didn’t really know what that looked like until I took the photographs below.

We had stopped for a break on a walk around Derwent Water and looked across at Catbells. It was a beautiful view so I decided to take a photograph, resting the camera on a post that was part of the landing stage on which we were sitting in order to keep it stable. This is the view that we had.IMG_0060

After I had taken the photo I look across again and I thought I could just about make out some tiny shapes on the skyline that might be people so I decided to see if I could zoom in on them with the camera. then zoomed in… as far as the zoom would go. This is what I saw!

IMG_0059

I was astonished at the level of detail that was achieved from the camera. It was exactly the same view as the first image, I had not moved the camera at all. But instead of mountains and trees and lake and landing stage, there were visibly discernible people and dogs walking across the top of Catbells.

Reflecting on these two images has led me to reflect again on Psalm 8:

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

  You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honour.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

It’s easy to get sucked in by our own ego and think that we are bigger and more important than we are. At times like that perhaps we need to look at the zoomed out picture and realise that we are specks on the horizon.

It’s also easy to believe our own lack of self-worth and think that we are insignificant and irrelevant. At times like that perhaps we need to look at the zoomed in picture and realise that we are significant individuals who are worth noticing.

It’s important for us to see people the same way. It’s important to understand that those who intimidate us occupy about the same amount of space that we do on this planet. It’s important for us to understand that some people have a much lower opinion of themselves than we do. How does that understanding change the way that we respond to them?

And then perhaps we need to realise that God sees us from both perspectives. He sees the whole big picture of life, the Universe and everything, and he sees the details of each person: our needs, our concerns, our joys and our sadness. And both views matter to him intensely. Knowing that he sees the big picture can be reassuring when we can’t. Knowing that he sees the individual issues and is interesting can be reassuring when we can’t see a way ahead. That knowledge is possible if we look with the eyes of faith.

Be blessed, be a blessing

that Monday morning feeling

I have just come back from spending a wonderful weekend away with one of the churches in my sector. I was doing the talky bits. I really enjoyed myself, and the people from the church said nice things so I think they were blessed too.

AsiniBut now it’s Monday morning and the joy and blessing of the weekend are rapidly fading in the shadow of the week ahead. Garfield (the cat) famously hates Mondays. We talk about ‘that Monday morning feeling’ – usually meaning dread and gloom that we are about as far away from the weekend as we can be.

And this morning I have a real sense of that Monday morning feeling.

But it’s not dread and gloom.

It’s a sense of anticipation – what does God have in store for us this week? Whom will I meet? What will happen?

It’s a sense of blessing – I have so much for which I can be and am thankful, and I have Someone to thank.

It’s a sense of privilege – I have been given the gift of time this week for me to use selfishly or share with others.

It’s a sense of solidarity – not everything is lovely and sweet and happy and fluffy. There are shadows and difficulties and I will be meeting people who are struggling and in pain. And I have the privilege of accompanying people as they go through those things, and others are in solidarity with me.

And so much more. It’s not a question of whether the glass is half full or half empty: there’s a glass and it has some water, that’s more than many have!

There’s a good old hymn that encourages us to “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” and while I don’t often sing it (but it’s now in my head for the day) I think it is good practice, especially to counterbalance the woes that can loom large and distort our perspective on life.

So why not give it a go, and embrace Monday for all you’re worth (and that’s a lot!)

Be blessed, be a blessing.

C3H5N3O9*

Today two of my Christian siblings are meeting for the first time. They are people who are unashamed of their faith and whose faith clearly makes a difference to how they live, how they treat others and how they are perceived by others. Everyone I know who knows who these people are speaks highly of them.

They are, in my humble opinion, good free samples of Jesus.

explosionHow do they do it? I don’t know for sure but I would imagine that they have a humble prayer life, and a heightened awareness of who Jesus Christ is. The combination of those two things is as powerful as a mixture of nitrogen and glycerine*.

A humble prayer life is one that starts from where we are rather than where we think we ought to be. It is a prayer life that recognises our dependence on God. It is a prayer life that acknowledges that all we have is as a result of his grace. This pome was inspired by another person I know who has such a prayer life:

prayerpome

I wish I could pray like Teresa:

I wish it just came to me quick

she’s so calm and serene and so godly

and I only pray like, erm, Nick.

When Teresa prays we all listen:

with ears pricked and mouths open wide

in awe at the depth of the insight

that comes from her saintly inside.

I wish I could pray like Teresa:

with words that are gentle and kind

pastorally sensitive praying

not the first thing that comes to my mind.

I wish I could pray like Teresa:

a top-notch grade 1 intercessor

while my stuttering words come weakly

in rough phrases that fail to impress her.

Teresa’s prayers are always so perfect:

fluently considered aforethoughts

that flow from her mouth like a poem

that rhymes and resonates like it ought.

I wish I could pray like Teresa:

expressing the depths of her soul.

but God doesn’t want me to be her

he just wants me to say what I think… even if it doesn’t rhyme or make much sense

And then there’s the heightened awareness of who Jesus Christ is. When people speak to me of their faith being dry or routine I always suggest (alongside other things that relate directly to their own circumstances) that they go back to reading one of the Gospel narratives of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Because if our faith is based on anything it’s based on him. And if it’s not based on him, it’s based on nothing. But as we become more aware of who he is, and that HE loves us, it can be transformational.

Oh, in case you were wondering… the two Christians who are meeting today for the first time are Pope Francis 1 and Queen Elizabeth 2. Isn’t God amazing that they are my Christian brother and sister!

Be blessed, be a blessing

* nitroglycerine – it is very volatile and makes a BIG bang! (And in case the mention of this stuff here triggers alerts for national security services, welcome to you too.)

 

revelation

In correspondence to a friend earlier this morning I had a moment of revelation that I thought I would share with you:

Is one reason that people think churches are full of hypocrites because Christians are imperfect people trying to follow a perfect Lord and our imperfections show up in greater relief against the life and teaching of the One we seek to follow?

Empty PlinthIt also inspired me to write an ickle pome:

Don’t put your pastor on a pedestal

They’ll only fall off.

Don’t give your minister a medal

It’ll make their spouses scoff.

Don’t make a saint of your shepherd

You’re ignoring the stains.

Don’t romanticise your rector’s record

It’ll only bamboozle their brains.

That doesn’t mean we don’t like or need encouragement, but help us keep a good sense of perspective!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

worm provision

One of my favourite verses in the whole Bible is Jonah 4:7 which includes the immortal words “… God provided a worm…”

That is just awesome. It is the provision part of that phrase, coupled with the bizarre nature of what was provided that brings a smile to my face every time. And when you consider the context, it’s even better.

Picture by Sally Lear (originally on Overhead Projector Slide, hence the 'shine')
Picture by Sally Lear (originally on Overhead Projector Slide, hence the ‘shine’)

Jonah (he of fish-food fame) had finally obeyed God and told the people of Nineveh that God was mightily displeased with them and that they should expect the full ‘wrath of God’ experience in 40 days’ time. Having delivered his message had Jonah left the city and went a safe distance away to sit and watch the fireworks.

Jonah became considerably disgruntled when God saw the people of Nineveh respond in humility and seek his forgiveness, and God had forgiven them and cancelled the fire and brimstone from heaven. He ranted at God, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Isn’t that incredible, he ranted at God for being compassionate and forgiving. They were not getting what they deserved, it was making him look foolish, it was not fair.

So God made a leafy plant grow up to provide Jonah with some shade while he sulked. Jonah was happy with that. It is at this moment that God provided a worm. The worm ate the roots of the plant and Jonah was seriously dischuffed once again, launching into another rant at God about the plant: “I’m so angry [about the plant] I wish I were dead.”

Then the gentle word of God offered his perspective: if Jonah was bothered about the plant, shouldn’t God be much more bothered about the people?

What’s your plant? What details are bothering you at the moment? If you are bothered about them, remember that God is bothered about people in the big picture too – about people in peril, people in poverty, people in powerless situations. What might he want you to do to help them?

Be blessed, be a blessing

persecution?

I am working on a sermon on the Beatitudes (the first part of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5). As I am preparing I have noticed the breaking news that the European Court of human rights has ruled on the cases of 4 Christians who claimed that their human right to “freedom of thought, conscience and religion” had been infringed in different ways and that they had experienced religious discrimination. You can read about it on the BBC website here

With that breaking news in mind I re-read these words of Jesus: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

First of all, and without wishing to trivialise the experience of those who have lost their jobs and felt so strongly that they wanted to take these issues to the European Court of Human Rights, I don’t think that these people have experienced the sort of persecution that Jesus had in mind when he spoke the beatitudes. Yes they must have felt terrible, yes they have probably experienced stress, yes they have probably experienced economic hardship but Jesus spoke in an era in which people would pay with their life for standing up against the authorities (and he did). He spoke in an era that not long afterwards would be throwing Christians to the lions.

iStock_000008457626MediumThere are some who tell us that there is an anti-Christian conspiracy in this country, or that Christians are always being discriminated against, and I have heard the word ‘persecution’ used about this. I’m sorry, but no. The court decided that one of these four people had suffered discrimination but that is not the same as persecution. Persecution is what believers experience in countries where it is illegal to be a Christian, or illegal to become a Christian and where you may lose your livelihood, your reputation, your family and even your life. It is where you are in physical danger because you’re a follower of Jesus not where you are told you cannot wear a cross as a piece of jewellery.

In fact it is exactly the sort of thing I think we should be expecting to happen if we are living as countercultural followers of Jesus. Jesus did not promise his followers an easy life or that they would not encounter difficulties in trying to live out their life in a world that does not acknowledge him as Lord. Exactly the opposite is true. Picking up your cross daily and following him is not intended to be comfortable or easy.

The other thing that I struggle with is that Jesus’ countercultural response to persecution, even if what has happened to these 4 people could be regarded as persecution, is to rejoice and be glad not to go to court over it. It is to recognise that our inheritance is not in this world but it is “the kingdom of heaven”, the God dimension that invaded this world in the person of Jesus to reclaim it and us for the rightful owner.

I have mentioned before on this blog the wonderful old Christian lady I met in mainland China who had been a nurse in a mission hospital at the time of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. Each week soldiers would come to the hospital and beat the nurses, demanding that they renounce their faith in Jesus. One week it got too much for her and she said that she no longer believed. Once the soldiers had left she bitterly regretted what she had done and when they returned the following week for her colleagues she went up to them and told them that she had lied. She still believed in Jesus and loved him and no matter what they did to her they would never be able to beat that out of her. After that they left them all alone, realising that there was nothing they could do that would change their allegiance to Jesus.

As she told us the story her eyes glistened, tears streamed down her cheeks (and ours) and yet she smiled because she said she had been counted worthy of persecution on behalf of Jesus.

Be blessed, be a blessing.