Holy Hamsters

This is Sandy. She was the first of our family hamsters. As you can see she was a very holy, prayerful hamster.

.pray sandy

It may be that she was actually eating a sunflower seed, but it looks like a praying hamster to me (as opposed to a praying mantis).

I use that image to illustrate a reflection card, which I still use. The reflection goes as follows:

At the end of every day take a few moments to review the day as you and God together watch an action replay. As you do this, have these questions in mind:

  1. How did I experience God’s love today?
  2. How did I express God’s love today?
  3. Where did I act out of selfishness rather than love today?

Let the answers to these questions lead you into gratitude (for your experience of God’s love), encouragement (for your growth in service) and confession (for the times you missed the mark).

These are simple, but profound questions that I find enhance my relationship with God and others.

I don’t always remember to do it: I have tried to associate it with cleaning my teeth at night so I remember to do it, but sometimes other things push it out of my mind. However, when I remember, I find that this sort of reflection is helpful. Perhaps you will become a holy hamster too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

piles, files and dustbins

In my former incarnation as a lawyer the partner who oversaw my work had piles. No, not like that, he had piles of files. He had one pile of files on the left hand side of his desk that he had to deal with and a pile on the right hand side of the desk of files he had dealt with. In his mind it was a clear and simple system. But to anyone coming into the office it looked chaotic because even though files moved (via the space in front of him) from one pile to the other to the untrained eye it looked as if the piles never moved. And there were many occasions when his long-suffering secretary would have to rummage through the piles when the need of a file became more urgent.

paperworkI developed my own system based on that approach, but I resolved to keep the piles small and deal with them as soon as possible. I think that approach has stayed with me. Today I try to have regular ‘dustbin days’.

The idea of a dustbin day was that were would be scheduled days when I cleared out my inbox; desktop and rubbish bin. And in those days these things were real, tangible things not virtual places on a computer! The purpose of having these regularly is to make sure that you don’t overlook things that find themselves at the bottom of a pile, to make sure you don’t keep putting off that awkward visit or phone call, and to make sure that you keep yourself (relatively) organised. It also enables you to get rid of the clutter and unnecessary things that take up space in your office and in your mind: there is something cathartic about throwing away something you no longer need.

I still try to have dustbin days. I like the opportunity to go through things that have been gathering literal or metaphorical dust and dealing with them. I like the feeling of having a single figure number of emails inbox (and even, occasionally, having an empty inbox!). I like being able to see the top of my desk. I like having a tidy space to work in. And I like the corresponding tidying that takes place in my mind as I deal with things.

And I need to have even more regular spiritual dustbin days. On the advice of my Spiritual Director (he’s perhaps a bit like Yoda in his wisdom and perception but not as small or green; he speaks conventionally and is not so good with a light-sabre) I have been trying to finish each day with a spiritual exercise. It goes something like this:

I ask myself two questions.

How have people and experiences today have energised, blessed and encouraged me and where have I sensed God at work in them?

How have I been drained and diminished by people and experiences today and where do I need God to see God at work at work in them?

I then pause and pray for God’s Spirit to give me the grace and wisdom to respond appropriately to both answers, and I then leave those things with God.

It has been helpful to me in reflecting on my day. It has been helpful as a sort of spiritual dustbin day to deal with emotions and thoughts that are hanging around from the day. And it is helpful to leave them with God so I don’t have to have my mind trying to think about them and process them when I want it to let me go to sleep.

If good administration is important, how much more important is good soul-administration?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

unseeing

blind monkeyDo you sometimes wish you could ‘unsee’ things? Do you wish that you could delete what you have seen in the same way that you can delete the viewing history in a browser?

As a boy I remember stumbling (!) across a small stash of items in the bottom of my parents’ wardrobe that were clearly intended to be Christmas presents. I was excited to have found them but later wished I hadn’t as it spoilt the surprise on the day.

After watching an emotion-wrenching and draining television programme a friend of mine commented that they wished they could unsee it. I saw the same programme and can empathise with that feeling.

Perhaps you were sent a letter or an email and, after reading it, you wish you hadn’t and could delete the memory of it from your brain.

At the heart of these things we often find an emotional response has become associated with the memory and when we recall the memory we recall and relive the emotion which makes the memory more difficult to cope with. I am sure psychologists and counsellors would help with the particularly traumatic ones, but what about all of the smaller things that you wish you could unsee? We can’t get therapy for everything!

In time (probably) the impact of the emotional reflex will diminish as the significance of the event fades. It may help to talk about it with someone who knows you well and whom you trust – asking them to help you get a fresh perspective on things.

But we can also use those things to help us to learn and grow as individuals:

I learnt that the joy of finding presents before they are given diminishes the excitement and surprise of receiving them and didn’t go rummaging stumbling in my parents’ wardrobe again.

My friend could decide not to watch any more of the programmes in that series, or perhaps to watch them at a time when they have the space and company to help them process what they saw.

Your memory of how you felt when reading that letter or email can help you think about the impact of messages you send and perhaps soften the approach.

You see what I mean?

This is not ground-breaking therapeutic news. We learn and grow by experience. It’s what people have been doing with ‘stuff’ since Thag got tummy ache after eating some dodgy berries.

But in our multimedia internet-dependent world do we sometimes forget to do the learning and growing as we click and tap from experience to experience? By reacting and splurging on social media almost as these things happen to us we may fail to give ourselves the space to process, reflect and think before responding.

Psalm 27 is attributed to David – the shepherd boy who became Israel’s most successful king. It’s clearly written at a time when he was under threat. He had taken the time to pause, reflect and respond to what was happening – perhaps writing the psalm was an ancient form of blogging – and these reflections led him to these gentle, final words: “Wait for the Lordbe strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”

David had clearly learnt that rushing in with a response is not always the best way ahead, and to wait for God’s timing is best.

That’s something I hope I never forget and don’t want to unsee!

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

 

time for Remembering

clocksFor those leading services on Remembrance Sunday it can be one of the most fraught days of the year. It is not necessarily because of the content but because most services start before or at 11am on the Sunday and we have to incorporate the 2 minutes’ silence at the right time. This requires a level of timing, anticipation, clock-watching and ‘seat of the pants’ ministering that can raise the blood pressure of even the most relaxed of Revs.

This year I was ministering at one of the churches I serve as a Regional Minister. Their service starts at 10am. The first part of the service was led by church members (really thoughtfully and sensitively) and then I stood up to preach. Normally it’s only those listening to me who have an eye on the clock, but this time I was keeping an eye on the time too. I was amused that during the sermon, just as I was reading Psalm 23, the town parade went past the outside of the church with a band playing at the head of the procession. The band stopped playing just as I finished reading the Psalm. I told the church that it was appropriate as the psalms were originally sung to music!

The sermon finished at about 10.45.

That would not normally be a problem with a view to having 2 minutes of silence at 11.00.

But the church also also wanted to share Communion* after the sermon and I wasn’t sure whether we would have time. We also had a song to sing before Communion. I invited people to sing and afterwards I led the church into sharing the bread and wine.  The sermon had been on Jesus saying, “I am the resurrection and the life” and I made a link with that and that he invited his followers to share bread and wine “In remembrance of me”. I broke the bread and shared it with those who were serving and they took it out to the congregation at about 10.50. It’s a large congregation which meant that serving the bread took a while and we finished that at 10.57.

Are you feeling the pressure too?

I knew that we would not be able to serve the wine in 3 minutes so I took the decision to have the 2 minutes’ silence in the middle of Communion. So I introduced what we were going to do and at 11.00 we stood in silence for 2 minutes, after which I read the familiar ‘they shall not grow old’ words and prayed. We then sat and continued with Communion as the wine was served in small cups to each person and we drank together and once again reflected on Jesus who died for us.

After the service lots of people said how much they had appreciated that we did things that way, and few seem to have realised that it was not by my design. And I was blessed by the experience too – I reflected on the act of Remembrance in the light of Communion and Jesus saying, “Greater love has no-one than this, that they lay down their life for their friends.” I reflected on Communion in the light of the act of Remembrance and what it means – more than just keeping a memory alive. The unplanned order of things was very poignant and significant to me.

Reflecting on it all now, a couple of days afterwards, I realise that God often does that… he takes our plans and if they don’t turn out the way we intended he finds a way of speaking in and through the ensuing disruption. So for some of Jesus’ friends who went on a fishing expedition that proved fruitless he turned it into an encounter with him that they would remember for the rest of their lives (John 21). And, if I am honest, that’s so often what inspires me to write bloggages – unexpected moments turn into moments when God speaks to me. Maybe it’s because in those moments I realise that I am not in control and need to reconnect with the One who simply is.

I suppose the question is whether, in the disruption, we try to listen to what God might be saying or whether we are too busy trying to resolve things ourselves.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Eucharist, Lord’s Supper, Bread and Wine – depending on your tradition

being vigilant

Last Thursday evening there was a superb prayer vigil at Chelmsford Cathedral organised by a team led by Hannah Bucke, the Churches Together in Essex and East London Ecumenical Officer (when she wears name badges they have to be extra long). It was a well-thought out, brilliantly delivered opportunity to reflect prayerfully on some of the key issues around the EU Referendum (which is on Thursday, in case you hadn’t realised).

Prayer stations were arranged around the Cathedral where we considered issues relating to:

Peace and International Relations,

Sovereignty,

Trade and the Single Market,

Borders,

Environment, and

Agriculture and Food.

In addition, given the shocking news of the murder of Jo Cox, MP, there was also a space for prayers for her family and the opportunity to light a candle.

I was so grateful to the team that put it all together, and for the thoughtful, non-partisan way in which the issues were presented and the helpful references to Bible passages that were relevant to the issues as well.

To give you an idea of the excellence of the event, and perhaps to help you in your praying about how to vote, this is the prayer card we were given:

Scan_20160618

I have already voted (postally) as I am away on Thursday this week, but my thinking, praying and deciding was based on the values I wrote about back in April The Hokey Cokey Referendum

Be blessed, be a blessing

10 second sermons? you’re having a laugh!

Regular bloggists among you will know that I like a good joke. Actually, regular bloggists among you will be questioning what I consider to be a ‘good’ joke, but be like Paddington and the Brown family and bear with me here (what do you mean that’s not a good joke?).

I recently bought a copy of Milton Jones‘s Even More Concise 10 Second Sermons, the aptly-named sequel to 10 Second Sermons. These books contain very brief and yet very pithy (and often funny) observations by Milton Jones on life and faith. Let me give you a couple of examples to whet your appetite (I am not on commission but the books are available to be ordered from local bookshops or online retailers – published by DLT):

A lot of organised religion seems like a man who was told that the only thing he could give God could be found in a mirror. So he went off and made God a hugely elaborate ornamental mirror.

Praying seems to be like trying to undo a knot. You never know quite what’s going to work, it’s just important to keep going. (Also, best check what you’re trying to undo isn’t holding up something else important.)

‘Upholding Christian values’ can be a way of insulating myself from the world, which is the ultimate un-Christian value.

Brilliant, aren’t they? You could ponder each one for ages and there would still be more to reflect on.

How about these:

Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.

‘No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.’

‘Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices – mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.

It seems Jesus was rather good at the pithy, humorous observational comedy too. (If you’re not sure about the humour try pushing a camel through the eye of a needle, enjoy the slapstick of the second observations and think about a blind guide. And the final observation is perhaps the earliest occurrence of ‘waiter, there’s a fly in my soup’ with the kicker that you missed the camel!

Humour can be a very effective way of communicating truth because it disarms and then comes at you from an unexpected direction to make you laugh (the reflex action) and then, maybe, reflect.

Which one of the six sayings above has God spoken to you through today?

Be blessed, be a blessing

the parable of the oasis

oasis

The Eastern Baptist Association, whom I now serve as a Regional Minister, is putting together a series of thoughts that we will send out in order to help us to think through how we can engage with mission and evangelism. Each month churches will receive a parable to introduce a theme and there will also be some questions to consider. We hope that churches will share these materials within their leadership team and church perhaps in a meeting, homegroup, service or in some other way and hope to receive feedback from them afterwards that will help shape our strategic thinking about mission. What follows is our first parable, which was released into the wild last week, followed by some questions:

The land was dry and arid. It rarely rained. Because of this the desert had no vegetation and there was no shelter from the burning heat of the sun. But in the midst of the desert was an oasis, a well was fed by a spring that bubbled up from the ground. A small community had settled at the oasis and some weary travellers found refreshment and rest there. But there were other travellers who did not know about the oasis and perished in the midst of the desert.

The villagers who lived at the oasis were troubled by this. Each day they would send out search parties looking for travellers and pointing them towards the oasis where they would find water and shelter. They put up signs pointing people towards the oasis and warning travellers about the dangers of travelling in the desert.

Then one day a wise woman suggested that instead of going out to the desert to find travellers they could take water in big containers out into the desert. They loaded up the camels and took the water with them. By this means they were able to help more travellers.

Then the wise woman had an even better idea. She suggested that they should dig deep holes in the desert and fill them with water from the well. That way travellers would find water even when the villagers were not in that area.

One day a traveller found his way to the oasis. Grateful for the cool, refreshing water, he started talking with the villagers and commended them for their hard work to save the lives of travellers. But, he wondered, what if they dug irrigation channels from the oasis out into the desert? Could the desert itself be transformed?

  • Take some time to think about and perhaps discuss this parable with others -consider how we share the water of life.
  • This month we are considering Places which is the first of five areas that our mission strategy is focusing on. Questions to consider. Think about the community that your church is in and consider ways that you are or that you could engage and be a blessing within it.
  • Ask people within your church family (possibly in homegroups?) to share about places they are each day and pray for them in some way (you could create a list for prayer).
  • Sometimes churches feel ineffective in mission when actually the members are present in many places in the world which puts them in the ideal position to engage in effective Mission.

If you have any thoughts or reflections on the parable I would love to hear them.

Be blessed, be a blessing