Context is everything.

“I never want to see you again” can be devastating if spoken to a person but fully understandable if spoken to a grey hair that has just been plucked from your head.

It is entirely appropriate to greet someone and say, “How are you?” when you meet them in the street but sitting in a doctor’s waiting room the same question can seem overly nosy and perhaps even unnecessary.

Thumping someone on their chest is entirely appropriate if you are attempting to give cardiac massage but can lead to a night in the police cells if that other person Is perfectly healthy.

Steaua Fans“Who are you?” is a very different question when chanted by a football crowd in the direction of the opposing fans to when you say it to a stranger in your house.

It’s also very true for the way we read the Bible. If you take a verse out of its context you can almost make it mean anything, and can certainly distort its meaning. I can still remember the adage from my days in the vicar factory: “a text without a context is a pretext.” it’s important to ask ourselves what is happening in the surrounding passages in order that we can more fully understand the passage we are considering.

In all of the above circumstances if we fail to take account of the context we may well get the wrong end of the stick. We can jump to conclusions, make assumptions and fill in any blanks in the background story in such a way that we completely misunderstand what is happening.

Hopefully you are all agreeing with me at this point because they think I’ve said anything particularly radical. So why is it that we often fail to take account of our own context? We can fail to recognise that we are too busy and wonder why our family seem a bit distant. We can ignore sin in our own life and happily dispense judgement about others (Jesus said something about planks and specks of dust didn’t he?). We can feel hurt and wronged by others and fail to recognise that we may well have caused hurt by our own failure.

At its worst this tendency has a hideous name which Jesus used for the religious leaders of his day: hypocrisy.

Have people ever said to you that they won’t go to church because churches are full of hypocrites? it’s a sobering thought. But following on from yesterday’s bloggage I think (or at least hope) but the reality is that the churches are full of people who fall short of God standards but are aware of that and are asking God to help them as they wrestle with that reality. We are people who are acutely aware of our need of God’s grace and forgiveness.

Please God always help me to be aware of my own context so that I never end up being hypocritical.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A driver is pulled over by a policeman. The police man approaches the driver’s door.

“Is there a problem Officer?”, the driver asked.

The policeman says, “Sir, you were speeding. Can I see your licence please?”

The driver responds, “I’d give it to you but I don’t have one.”

“You don’t have one?”

The man responds, “I lost it four times for drink driving.”

The policeman is shocked. “I see. Can I see your vehicle registration papers please?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t do that.”

The policeman says, “Why not?”

“I stole this car.”

The officer says, “Stole it?”

The man says, “Yes, and I killed the owner.”

At this point the officer is getting irate. “You what!?”

“She’s in the boot if you want to see.”

The Officer looks at the man and slowly backs away to his car and calls for back up. Within minutes, five police cars show up, surrounding the car. A senior officer slowly approaches the car, clasping his half drawn gun.

The senior officer says “Sir, could you step out of your vehicle please!”

The man steps out of his vehicle. “Is there a problem sir?”

“One of my officers told me that you have stolen this car and murdered the owner.”

“Murdered the owner?”

The officer responds, “Yes, could you please open the boot of your car please?”

The man opens the boot, revealing nothing but an empty boot.

The officer says, “Is this your car sir?”

The man says “Yes,” and hands over the registration papers.

The officer, understandably, is quite stunned. “One of my officers claims that you do not have a driving licence.”

The man digs in his pocket revealing a wallet and hands it to the officer. The officer opens the wallet and examines the licence. He looks quite puzzled. “Thank you sir, one of my officers told me you didn’t have a licence, stole this car, and murdered the owner.”

The man replies, “I bet you he told you I was speeding, too!”

China in your hand?

Yesterday’s bloggage reminded me of an incident that took place while I was travelling through China. I was part of a small international group, led by a lovely American lady who knew China (and the languages) very well. She also knew a lot about Chinese culture and traditions. And she got to know me and my sense of humour as we travelled through the country, which may still be causing her nightmares!

Image DetailThe incident in question happened as we were travelling on an internal flight. As I went through the free-standing metal detecting door-frame at the airport my belt buckle caused the alarm to sound. I assume that there is an official policy whereby equality of gender is a value that is more important than responding to the sensitivities of travellers as a very polite young lady official came across and gestured to me to stand still while she patted me down to make sure that I was not carrying anything I should not be. It was not indiscreet, invasive or any more inappropriate than when I have been patted down by male officials at airports, but our team leader was furious that my male personal space had been violated by this young woman. She started to object and was asking for the Supervisor to be called in order that she could lodge a complaint about this.

Maybe it was because I did not want to cause a scene.

Maybe it was because I did not feel that my male personal space I had been violated.

Maybe it was because I was in a mischievous mood.

But I stopped our leader in mid flow with a sentence that left her shocked and open-mouthed:

“Actually, I rather enjoyed it. I’m going around again!”

She looked at me with alarm in her eyes, and then I think she saw the sparkle of mischief in my eyes, the grin on my face and realised that I was not upset.

She laughed.

The young official laughed.

I was waved through. No supervisors were needed, no reprimands were issued.

As I reflect now on that incident I wonder if I was unfair to our leader. She was only doing what she thought was right and appropriate. She was standing up for me because she thought it had been inappropriate. But to me the more important thing was that this young lady, who was only doing her job, should not have got into trouble because our cultural values clashed with the Chinese ones within which she operated.

Today I am preparing a sermon on the end of Luke 7, where a woman seemed to violate Jesus’ male personal space by anointing his feet with her tears and with oil and by wiping them with her hair. Those watching were outraged and would have called the supervisor, had there been one, in a tirade of self-righteous indignation. But Jesus’ values were different. He wanted her to know forgiveness and God’s love and grace, and these over-rode doing what was considered decent.

Are there ways in which today we should allow God’s values of love, grace and forgiveness to over-ride rights, traditions or even ‘decency’?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

goodbye cruel world

That was the clever headline in one of our newspapers today about the story that the News of The World newspaper is to close because of the phone hacking scandal. I am not claiming a gift of prophecy but I did say to Sally earlier this week that I thought the NOTW was finished.

It seems that there is nothing we like more than some righteous indignation and moral outrage at the failings of others. The media go into feeding frenzy mode, the public feel better about themselves and an individual or two are placed in the stocks of public opinion and pelted with bile and vitriol.

Before we get too self-righteous about this we ought to check if someone has been quietly drawing in the sand and asking us about whether we are qualified to throw first.