the cup of tea, the robotic dog and the precocious child

Christmas was brilliant. It was great sharing the Christmas Day service with my colleague Lynsey (taking a quick break from her maternity leave). We had a lovely day together as a family. And on Boxing Day we posted Sally’s relatives (Sheila, Norman, and Pat).

Christmas Crackers 1

We even managed to play a silly game during lunch. We all chose the name of a person, place or object and wrote it on some rather silly headgear for the person on our left. We each then had 20 questions in order to try and work out who we were. [If it wasn’t for the two sentences before the last one you might have thought we were trying amateur psychology!] The catch was that we could only ask questions that would result in an answer of ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That all added to the fun and games. There were some very creative ideas – my mother-in-law Sheila had to work out that she was a cup of tea; my son Thomas was K9 (the robotic dog from Doctor Who); and I was Karen from Outnumbered.

I was particularly interested in the artificial parameters around the game. It would have been considerably easier if we had been able to ask any question at all rather than being constrained to asking questions that could only be answered ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It seems to me that we are often guilty of applying the same sorts of artificial parameters to life. We want cut and dried answers to our questions. We hope that we will be able to come up with simple and yet comprehensive answers to complex scenarios such as how God can allow suffering in his world. And we insert an artificial dichotomy into the apparent debate between science and faith.

Somehow when it comes to the big questions of life we forget that life is almost always about fuzzy edges and grey areas. Why is it that we assume that we can come up with clear and concise answers to the most complex of questions when we struggle to answer simple ones with ‘yes’ or ‘no’? So, I have heard very intelligent people mocking those who articulate their faith in Christ because “you can’t prove that God exists using scientific methods and standards” and yet they are quite comfortable with the notion that there is no easy answer to the question posed by Thomas as K9: “Am I alive?”

For the most part when you look at Jesus’ teaching he does not offer us unequivocal answers. [Please put down those virtual stones until you have finished reading this bloggerel, at which point you may throw them if you still feel that it is appropriate.] When asked whether it was right to play Roman taxes Jesus did not say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, instead he offered a principle that we should follow. When asked about how to get into heaven he did not give three simple steps, instead he turned the question back on the questioner and, when pushed further, told the story of the good Samaritan which challenged preconceptions. On another occasion when he was asked about the route to heaven he did not offer a roadmap or even a first century satnav, he said that he was the way, the truth, and the life and that no one could come to the Father except through him.

I do believe that there are clear answers to many of life’s questions. But they’re not always simple, often aren’t concise, and because they are of a different order may not stand up to interrogation by scientific methods. But then again neither do appreciation of beauty, unconditional love, grace, serenity in the face of tragedy, or forgiveness.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Cracker jokes (you have been warned!):

How do hedgehogs make love?
Very carefully.

What did the Policeman say to the stomach?
You’re under a vest

What wobbles and flies?
A Jelly-copter.

What goes ha ha ha clonk?
A man laughing his head off.

What do you get when you cross a cat with a lemon?
A sour puss!

“Waiter! This coffee tastes like mud.”
“Yes sir, it’s fresh ground.”

What athlete is warmest in winter?
A long jumper.

Why did the man get the sack from the orange juice factory?
Because he couldn’t concentrate.

What has four legs but can’t walk?
A table!

Why did the hedgehog cross the road?
To see his flatmate!

What goes up and never comes down?
Your age.

What do you give a man who has everything?
Antibiotics.

What did the fish say when it swam into a wall?
Dam.

What’s brown, steams and comes out of Cowes?
The Isle of Wight ferry.

What is Good King Wenceslas’s favourite pizza?
Deep pan, crisp and even.

Why would you invite a mushroom to a Christmas party?
He’s a fungi to be with.

Why was Santa’s little helper feeling depressed?
He had low elf-esteem.

On which side do chickens have the most feathers?
The outside.

What do you call a woman who stands between two goal posts?
Annette.

Did you hear about the man who bought a paper shop?
It blew away.

How do snowmen get around?
They ride an icicle.

Who hides in the bakery at Christmas?
A mince spy.

What do you call a penguin in the Sahara desert?
Lost.

Did you hear about the two ships that collided at sea?
One was carrying red paint and the other was carrying
blue paint. All the sailors ended up being marooned.

What’s ET short for?
Because he’s only got little legs.

Where do Snowmen like to dance?
At Snowballs.

What did Cinderella say when the chemist lost her
photographs?
Someday my prints will come.

What does Santa suffer from if he gets stuck in a
chimney?
Claustrophobia!

What kind of motorbike does Santa ride?
A Holly Davidson!

What does Santa do with fat elves?
He sends them to an Elf Farm!

What do you get if you cross Santa with a duck?
A Christmas Quacker!the

What’s the most popular Christmas wine?
‘I don’t like Brussels sprouts!’

 

reflections of a proud parent

success wayProud parent day yesterday. It was Speech Day at Thomas’s school and he was awarded the Year 11 Science and Religious Education prizes. It’s very tempting to go on about how brilliant this is, and I will if you ask me, but you can imagine that Sally and I sat there very proudly and applauded very loudly when he received his awards. It has to be said that Hannah brought home a good report from her year’s study too.

Well done, both of you. The combinations of my genes, Sally’s genes and a ‘normal’ (????) upbringing has produced two great young people. And a quick reminder that God thinks we are all pretty special too.

I think that given the apparent juxtaposition of the two subjects it is hilarious that Thomas was awarded them both. People like Richard Dawkins would have us believe that the two are incompatible and that science trumps religion anyway because there is empirical proof. Of course RE does not mean ‘faith’. Knowing the facts of religious doctrines and history do not make anyone a Christian any more than knowing the recipe for Coq Au Vin makes you a chef. It’s only when you live what you know that it starts to become faith.

And that to me is the fatal flaw in Mr Dawkins’ thesis. He wants to be able to discover all truth by reason. But you cannot discover the truth that you love someone by reason. You cannot discover the truth that something (or someone) is beautiful by reason. These things are intangible, yet still true. I’m sorry, I can’t remember who came up with the following analogy but it works for me.

If you look at the stained glass window in a cathedral from the outside you get some idea of the form and shape, you can gauge the size and may perceive some colours. It is only when you go inside the Cathedral and see the window from the interior where the light shines in through the glass that you can experience it in all its beauty and splendour. The same is true of faith. You can understand a little of it from external observation. It is only when you you genuinely ‘enter’ the faith for yourself that you can perceive it correctly and experience it for yourself.

No jokes today, just a website you may like to visit. What do you do during boring sermons? I carry on preaching. Some people doze (no names here!). At Norwich Cathedral some of the choristers drew cartoons related to the sermon text. You can find them online with a quick search. Some of them are quite funny, but what I find funnier is the explanation about why they drew the cartoons that you will find on the welcome page!

Black Holes

I have discovered a black hole!

On Monday I had a mole removed from my face. The doctor who did it put a small plaster over the wound so I did not get to see it until yesterday. I have a black hole in my face. I am intrigued by it and by how people may react to seeing it. Sympathy is in short order in our household.Thomas was repulsed. Hannah was less interested in it than an injury she picked up at school and Sally finds it amusing. Last night at church only one person made any comment: either everyone had read yesterday’s blog, they were all being very polite, or it is less obvious than I think. What do you think?

Black holes are very topical at the moment. Yesterday the Large Hadron Collider collided two protons for the first time to see what will happen. The aim is to try to discover the building blocks of the universe – the particles that make up particles that make up atoms. The one they  are particularly looking for is a theoretical particle called a ‘Higgs Boson’. To me that sounds like a person working on a pirate ship for Captain Higgs, or what you find in the bathroom of an unsophisticated provincial person*. Some people are worried that they will create a black hole in Switzerland where the LHC is based that may swallow the Alps or even destroy the planet. I am fairly happy to trust that this will not happen, but we can’t be sure.

The LHC project has cost over £4 Billion. Yup, that’s £4,000,000,000. A lot of zeros are involved. Don’t get me wrong, I am fascinated by what they are doing and what may be revealed. But what could £4 Billion do to alleviate world poverty, cancel the debts of poorer countries, provide education for those who have no access, and so on? Is discovering the small building blocks of the universe worth more than human life?


Talking of black holes, I have been watching ‘Wonders of the Solar System’ on BBC2 by Prof Brian Cox. It has been brilliant – describing the intricate and delicate balance of the Universe, explaining how things have been created in language I can understand and showing some astonishingly beautiful pictures that have been taken of space. With my tongue very firmly in my cheek (the left one in case it comes through the black hole in the right one) I would suggest that it almost looks like someone designed it all. Wouldn’t it be great if one day a programme like that not only looked at the ‘how’ but also rearranged the letters and looked at the ‘who’ – science and faith hand in hand?

Anyway, following the success of the LHC scientists have agreed that they can now recreate the way in which the Universe was formed. So they sent their best people to tell God that humans no longer need him because they can create too.

God suggested that to test this theory the scientists and he should have a little competition to see if he was now redundant – each would create Creation. Since God said he had already done it once the scientists should go first. The LHC scientists wound up the elastic bands powering the LHC further than ever before, getting ready to launch two protons against each other at almost the speed of light in order to recreate Creation. Just as they were about to push the button to start it all off God stopped them.

“If you are going to do it how I did it you will have to get your own protons instead of using mine!”

* A Hick’s Basin! [Stop groaning, you should know me better than to assume it was not corny…]