critical thinking

As you will know by now if you have read my previous bloggages, or follow me on social media, my friend Richard Jones has won Britain’s Got Talent. He is the first magician to win this and, in my humble opinion, is a worthy winner. He’s also a really nice, genuine, humble bloke.

But it is distressing to see that some in the media have decided to attack him. If it distresses me, how much more must it hurt Richard? There have been claims that he was repeating illusions performed elsewhere. There were even (amazingly) claims that he was not performing real magic! And some magicians have criticised him for not performing more difficult illusions.

Let’s be clear about a few things. First of all Richard has never claimed to have supernatural powers. What he does is perform illusions with style, charm, skill and panache. Of course he’s not performing real magic if you mean that he is using spells and incantations to invoke dark powers to enable him to do what he does. But he’s a member of the Magic Circle and a member of Mid Essex Magical Society, neither of which admit people who don’t know what they are doing.

The second thing I want to clarify is that many illusions are available for sale commercially through magic shops (online and physical). So the chances are that if some of what Richard did was based on something that is commercially available someone else will also have performed it somewhere else, assuming that they have secured the right to perform it on television. Even illusions performed by famous televisions magicians are also available commercially. Criticising Richard for what he has done is like criticising a musician for performing a cover version of another song. But actually what he also did was add his own twist, style, presentation and personality onto the illusions he performed.

The final thing I want to clarify is that Britain’s Got Talent is about the performance and the effect that it has on the audience. It is not a show that rewards technical excellence, but a show that promotes talented performers. Richard’s performances in the audition and live shows were excellent. He presented the illusions superbly. You can tell that by the reaction of the judges and the audience, and of course by the fact that he won! If I was in his shoes I would not try to do something technically risky in order to wow the magicians if I could perform something I was more confident with pulling off successfully that would get the reaction he did.

All of this criticism needs to be kept in perspective. They are criticisms by just a few people who happen to have a public platform from which to proclaim their negative opinions. In my mind their opinions matter less than the opinion of those who voted for Richard, and the opinions of those who know him. But why do people feel it is necessary to criticise others in that way?

In part I think it is because they are jealous. They are jealous of the success of others and need to tear people down in order to make themselves feel better. One of the Ten Commandments is that we should not covet what other people have. It’s not just to stop us being jealous, it’s because wanting and focusing on what others have stops us appreciating what we have.

In part, too, I think it’s because they want to try to make others think better of them. It’s pride. If they are critical perhaps others will think that they are an expert. If they put other people down then perhaps others will assume that they are above the person they are putting down. Pride is as corrosive as jealousy because it makes us oblivious to our own faults, it empowers us to judge others but masks our own inadequacies from us. Jesus said that you will be judged in the same way that you judge others – in other words those who are negative and critical will be perceived as such by those who hear them and those who are positive and affirming will be perceived as positive and affirming.

We don’t know the impact our words can have on someone else. I hope and pray that Richard will not have been too badly hurt by the negative comments and will recognise them for what they are. I hope and pray that he is enjoying his well-deserved success. I hope and pray that he will be able to continue to respond with grace.

A verse from the Bible, written to a church, has been bouncing around in my head form the past few months and seems appropriate here:

“Encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Imagine how different it would be if those who have a public platform tried to to that…imagine how different the world would be if we all tried to live like that!

All of this has made me reflect again on myself. I hope and pray that my words are positive, affirming and encouraging not negative and destructive. I am trying hard not to be judgemental of those who have criticised my friend. If I am being judgemental, please forgive me. I have tried to defend Richard not only because he is a friend but because he doesn’t deserve it and the criticism is unfair. But I also want to use this to reflect again on my own behaviour and ask for God’s Spirit’s help to point out where I am jealous or proud, seek his forgiveness, apologise where I need to, and start afresh.

Be blessed, be a blessing

I hit him back first

There is a Garfield cartoon strip where Odie (the dog) is sitting near Garfield (the cat if you didn’t know). Odie is not doing anything in particular, he is just sitting when WHAP! Garfield thumps him. When confronted by Jon, his owner, Garfield’s response is, “I hit him back first.”

Pre-emptive strikes seem to be part of our world now. It is militarily and strategically more effective to get your punch in before the other side can. If you know that the other side can inflict serious damage to you, it is seen as best to try to take out that capability. We hit them back first.

Punch 2Sadly it seems that this approach is no longer reserved for comic strips and military campaigns. I note with sadness how some politicians not only run each other down after the event, but they get their punches in early by commenting about what is expected to be said or expected to happen. I recognise with real disappointment that it is also something that happens in relationships – someone fears that the other person will say or do something that will hurt them so they go on the offensive. They get the verbal punches in first.

Do you recognise it in yourself? No?

There are times when I think ahead about an event or a meeting and in my mind I play out what might happen. If I imagine a ‘worst case scenario’ I can find myself planning what I will say or do in response. So, before I go into that meeting I already have negative thoughts about what may or may not happen. I have planned my (defensive) response before anything has occurred.

I need God’s grace to help me. I need his grace so that I am looking for the positive, not assuming the negative. I need his grace to help me not to want to be defensive but lovingly to seek truth. I need his grace to help me to realise that I need to listen and learn much more than I need to talk.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

When I was at school my Mum used to sew name labels in my clothes. She used to do the same for my older sister. One day she hit on an idea to help save the cost of having two lots of labels made up. She got them made with both our initials on them, one at the start of the label and the other at the end. She would fold the end over that was not needed. The labels looked like this:


My sister had ‘H LEAR’ in all her clothes. In all my clothes there was a reminder that I was to LEAR N!

in the end are the words

I was glad I was not there. I would have disgraced myself with sniggers, snorts and perhaps even full-blown laughter.

It was an important meeting making important decisions. The meeting seemed to be moving towards agreement when a lady who might be described as ‘traditionally built’ (see No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency) stood up.

“I have a ‘but’,” she announced, “and it’s a very big ‘but’!”

A friend of mine who was there at the meeting told me that there were many people who were trying hard not to show any reaction as they mentally added a ‘t’ to ‘but’ while others stuffed fists in their mouths or had thinly disguised coughing fits.


I was angry that I was there. I almost disgraced myself with an outburst, but my wise and loving wife restrained me with a gentle hand on my arm and prevented me from making a scene.

At the time I was working as a lawyer. I had many different clients and had recently had to obtain an injunction to keep a man away from his wife after he had beaten her to a pulp.

The (allegedly) qualified Christian speaker stood up at the seminar on marriage at the Christian Conference that is held in the Spring and announced, “It is always right for a husband and wife to remain together.”

In my mind I could see my client’s battered face and wanted to introduce her to this speaker and see if she still believed that statement.


Typewriter 3

26 letters can rearrange themselves into all sorts of amazing combinations

The words we use are incredible. They have the potential to amuse (intentionally or otherwise), to convey wisdom, to encourage, to correct, to support and so much more. And they have the power to be destructive, to tear down, to imprison, to denigrate, to humiliate.

Most of the time we lob out words without giving them much thought. We scatter them liberally as we travel throughout the day. We leave them behind us like the wake behind a speedboat and don’t consider the impact on those who are bobbing around behind us. Some may enjoy the ride, others may be swamped.

In James 3 we read of how potentially dangerous the tongue is and James suggests that it needs taming and restraining, it as if it were a wild horse. He continues:

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Jesus spoke of how the mouth reveals what our heart is like.

I don’t think they were just writing and talking about swearing: if we say things thoughtlessly, what might that say about what we are like?

In writing this bloggerel I am acutely aware that once I click on ‘publish’ these words are out there for anyone to find, read and react to. I hope and pray that they are a blessing and an encouragement to you. If they are the opposite, please let me know so I can respond and amend what needs amending.

How will people respond to your words today?

Be blessed, be a blessing.



Crazy babyYesterday evening was full of surprises. Sally and I went to a Salsa night at the church, being held in aid of Christian Aid. I was surprised at just how bad I was, but also that I enjoyed it. I believe that I lack the gene that allows people to dance smoothly and gracefully, but I had a go anyway. Ole!

As I was driving towards the church I was paying attention to some pedestrians in the middle of the road and was taken by surprise by a metal pole sticking out from a market stall that was being erected. In one swift move it took the driver’s wing mirror off the car so that it was dangling simply by some cables. Grrr.

Surprisingly the wing mirror seems to have been designed with precisely this sort of event in mind, and it had come off intact. I was able to push it back onto its mountings and it is back to normal. Phew.

When we got home we were surprised to see something was on the ground towards the back of Sally’s car. Normally it is on the drive, but my car was in the way so Sally had left hers neatly parked facing the traffic flow, outside our house. As we got closer we realised that someone had driven into Sally’s car door, leaving some paintwork and a crease, and knocked the wing mirror off. Spooky grrr.

Annoyingly (and sadly unsurprisingly) they did not leave any details so we have no idea who has done it. It has been reported to the police but unless someone goes and owns up it’s unlikely that we will be reimbursed (not worth claiming on insurance). Grrr.

I believe that we are not defined by what happens to us (surprising or not) but by how we respond to those events. We may be annoyed (grrr) when something unpleasant or upsetting happens, but we do not need to allow that bad thing to define who we are. We can respond with grace, love, peace, patience and allow those things to define us. And if we are followers of Jesus, seeking to be free samples of Jesus, his Spirit at work within us helps us to respond in those surprising ways.

Be blessed, be a blessing

A defendant was on trial for murder. There was strong evidence indicating guilt, but there was no corpse. In the defence’s closing statement the lawyer, knowing that his client would probably be convicted, resorted to a trick.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I have a surprise for you all,” the lawyer said as he looked at his watch. “Within one minute, the person presumed dead in this case will walk into this courtroom.”

He looked toward the courtroom door. The jurors, somewhat stunned, all looked on eagerly. A minute passed. Nothing happened.

Finally the lawyer said, “Actually, I made up the previous statement. But, you all looked on with anticipation. I therefore put to you that you have a reasonable doubt in this case as to whether anyone was killed and insist that you return a verdict of not guilty.”

The jury, clearly confused, retired to deliberate. A few minutes later, the jury returned and pronounced a verdict of guilty.

“But how?” inquired the lawyer. “You must have had some doubt; I saw all of you stare at the door.”

The jury foreman replied, “Oh, we looked, but your client didn’t.”


Today has been an interestingly eclectic one. It started with a visit to our church by Year 5 children from a local school, where we tried to explain what happened in the building and what was distinctive about Baptist Christians. From there it was straight to Costa Coffee for a meeting with Susan, our Children and Families Coordinator, to consider some of the possibilities, opportunities and possible difficulties we face in the coming months and years. Finally I came back home to work on Sunday evening’s sermon.

That’s where it has got really strange. We are exploring what happened to David between when he was anointed as Kingand when he became King. And (Goliath aside) it was a pretty stressful experience. Saul, the incumbent king, got jealous of him (perhaps also paranoid in its technical sense) and tried many times to kill him. Just before we get to the passage we are considering on Sunday (1 Samuel 23) David went to Goliath’s home town and tried to find sanctuary with the Philistines (my enemy’s enemy is my friend?).

When the king of Gath saw David as a threat David pretended to be mad so that he was dismissed as an irrelevant irritant. Is that a strategy that God would like us all to adopt? I sense a new module in Baptist Ministerial Training – feigning madness to get out of tricky situations.

  • When people complain about your sermon, start doing monkey impressions – they will soon leave you alone.
  • If your Deacons are ganging up on you, put Fairy Liquid in your mouth – you will start foaming at the mouth and making unintelligible ‘yuck’ sounds and they will consider that you are in need of a rest.
  • If your Regional Minister unexpectedly calls around and says that he has received some phone calls that he wants to discuss with you stick some underpants on your head, a pencil up each nostril and say, “Wibble.”* He or she will soon put you on the ‘moving list’ to get you moved to a church in a new Association.
  • When the BUGB Ministry Department invite you in for a ‘chat’, answer all of the questions with, “So’s your face!” You will soon find that you are placed on indefinite leave.

Please don’t think I am making fun of mental illness. It is a genuinely distressing problem for people and can strike anyone in the same way that anyone can catch a cold. We need to lose the stigma that is wrongly attached to it while exercising maximum compassion and grace.

But David feigned madness to escape from a tricky situation. Was that morally acceptable? Did God sanction it? Did he approve of it? I can’t bring myself to believe that God was pleased that David acted so strangely (dribbling, graffiti on the walls and ‘acting like a madman’). But the outcome from the subterfuge / acting was that David, God’s anointed king-in-waiting, lived to fight another day.

The ends do not always justify the means and God certainly moves in mysterious ways** (facetious thought alert, don’t follow the ** if you think you may be upset by a daft comment about God). But to pretend to be mad…? Surely we should act rationally…

What if we are experiencing unfair opposition we try to act with grace and generosity instead of hostility and anger?

What if when we receive complaints we sift them to see if there is any truth in them and anything we can learn from them?

What if when we receive a critical email we don’t fire off an immediate rebuttal but wait on God for a day or so first?

What if when Church Meetings don’t go the way we expect we don’t go off in a sulk but accept that we don’t have the monopoly on discerning God’s will (surely the foundational basis for our ecclesiology and theology of Congregational Governance)?

What if, when someone says something untrue about us we pause and consider what is making them act in that way?

You’d have to be mad!

Wouldn’t you?

Would you?

Could you?

Can you?

Will you?

*Thanks to Blackadder Goes Fourth for that one

** I can almost bring myself to consider a ‘Ministry of Divine Funny Walks’ – perhaps we need a sub-Department of the Ministry Department at Baptist House!

lights, cameras, reaction!

Happy new week!

Cyprus BeachIt’s Monday morning and a new week with all sorts of opportunities, events, happenings, experiences, encounters, people and ideas stretch out before us like a freshly revealed beach that has not yet been walked on since the tide went out.

How do you respond to that? Did it energise and invigorate you or cause you to shrink and want to go back to bed? All of the opportunities, events, happenings, experiences, encounters, people and ideas are neutral at this stage. How we respond to them can make the difference between them dragging us down and lifting us up. I am not saying that bad things don’t (or won’t happen). They do. But how we respond to them has yet to be determined. I will try to explain with some examples. Words in [square brackets] are my honest answers, so please be gentle with me.

When you stub your toe do you hop around howling [yes] and then do nothing about it or do you use the experience to remind you that wearing shoes or slippers would be a good idea.

If you are cut up by a bad driver do you mutter under your breath about them [yes] and then get revenge [no] or use the experience to remind you that you are part of a whole flow of traffic and you can play your part in helping the flow move smoothly by driving carefully and considerately.

If you are running late do you howl and stomp [not usually] and work yourself into a frenzy of anxiety or take a few breaths and realise that the world will not stop turning if you are late occasionally, and make a phone call to explain the delay to the person waiting for you.

“When the world gives you lemons, make lemonade” is the sort of attitude I am asking God’s Spirit to cultivate within me. It is an extension of the attitude of gratitude that I am also asking him to grow in me. It is gratitude for the opportunity to respond positively to difficult circumstances. It is gratitude for the people around me that make me who I am by encouraging me and by making me think about myself in response to them.

A husband was in the bath. last thing at night, singing his little heart out. When he had finished and got dressed he went to find his wife. Eventually he found her outside the house, stroking their cat.

“Why are you out here in the middle of the night, stroking the cat?” he asked.

“I wanted to show the neighbours that I am not strangling the cat.”