the loo roll hypothesis

Tomorrow hopefully will include admission into hospital for a long-awaited operation. This means that there will be a hiatus in the bloggage production while I am in hospital and for a little while as I convalesce. Just to warn you, however, once I have recovered a bit the frequency may increase (and I am offering no guarantees about the quality).

So, in order to prepare you for this, I feel I need to offer you a highbrow bloggage today. And I want you to consider the cardboard tubes inside toilet rolls (how highbrow is that!?).

Toilet Paper RollThese humble tubes have always led a double life. They spend some of their life as the centre of a roll of toilet paper, enabling the easy retrieval and removal of the paper at the moment of need (ahem). Then, when they have finished distributing toilet paper, many of them begin the second phase of their life as a staple part of many different children’s craft activities.

When I was a child it was rare for Blue Peter ‘makes’ not to include the holy trinity of ‘sticky backed plastic’, ‘double-sided sticky tape for speed’ and ‘a cardboard tube’ (they were too polite to refer to its previous life). The wonderful thing is that these tubes were universal in size so you could guarantee that they would be the right size for the craft project.

Recently Sainsburys (they need naming here) have taken the decision to reduce the diameter of their cardboard tubes inside the toilet paper. According to their blurb this means that they can reduce the size of the packaging while keeping the same number of sheets on each roll. That in turn means they need fewer lorries to deliver it to the stores and it takes less space on their shelves and in our homes.

Amazing – all that from simply reducing the size of cardboard tubes. But have they considered the impact on the children’s crafts? Did they consult Blue Peter? Have pre-schools and play groups been asked about this? Will all other toilet paper manufacturers follow suit, and while reducing the carbon footprint caused by our need to (ahem) they will be throwing the best laid plans of teachers and parents into disarray.

Start stockpiling the old size tubes now, before they vanish completely!

In case you have not picked it up yet, yes I am being facetious, ironic or even sarcastic. Of course it is a good thing to reduce the environmental impact on our planet caused by our lifestyles. If that means that craft activities have to be adapted or abandoned, so be it. One toilet roll changing size on its own won’t make much difference, but if millions of toilet rolls are changed, then there will be a measurable difference.

It made me wonder whether there are simple things I can change in my life that will make a significant difference. Not on my own, but if lots of other people do the same we can see change.

How about if we all take the time to say ‘thank you’ to someone else whom we normally take for granted? It could be someone in a shop or restaurant. It could be someone in our family. It could be our neighbours or friends. It could be in person, a phone call, a letter or card, or by one of the many electronic forms of communication. It could even be God! Let’s cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

And how about you make something for someone else each day. It may be something physical like cakes, a meal, a bed or something tangible like that (even made with toilet roll tubes). Or it could be something less physical. You could make someone feel loved or appreciated. You could make someone feel special. You could make someone happy by the way you serve them.

And what about doing something new each day that makes someone else smile? It could be a joke, or a cup of tea. It could be that you give them one of your smiles because they look like they are in need of one. It could be a hug or a compliment.

I reckon it’s the sort of thing Jesus did on a daily basis. In his praying he thanked, he made people’s lives better, and I am sure he put smiles on many people’s faces.

Thank, make, smile. 

Simple and humble, easy and adaptable. Just like cardboard tubes.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Hospital-related joke. (Yes I know there are some data protection issues with it, but it’s funny).

A woman called the reception desk at a hospital.

The receptionist heard the woman say, “Hello. I’d like to talk with the person who gives the information about the patients. But I don’t want to know if the patient is better or doing like expected, or worse. I want all the information from top to bottom, from A to Z.”

The voice on the other line said “Would you hold the line please, that’s a very unusual request.”

Then a very authoritative voice came on and said, “Are you the lady who is calling about one of the patients?”

She said: “Yes! I’d like to know the information about Sarah Finkel.”

He said “Finkel. Finkel. Let me see. Filch, Finch… Finkel. Oh yes, Mrs. Finkel is doing very well. In fact, she’s had two full meals, her doctor says if she continues improving as she is, he is going to send her home Tuesday at twelve o’clock.”

The woman said “That’s wonderful! She’s going home at twelve o’clock! I’m so happy to hear that. That’s wonderful news.”

The guy on the other end says: “From your enthusiasm, I take it you must be one of the close family.”

She said “What close family? I’m Sarah Finkel!! My doctor won’t tell me anything.”

shhhh

I’m back!

It seems like forever since I last wrote any bloggerel, and some of you may think it’s still too soon. No matter, I will follow my usual pattern and ignore the wishes of my readers – all three of you.

I have just come back from the last of my sabbatical visits. I have been visiting different Baptist churches across the country and talking with the leaders to listen to their stories of how they have adapted to, changed because of, and prepared for growth. It has been very encouraging and inspiring to do this and it is interesting to discover that there are similar themes in all of their stories.

No, this does not mean I am about to write a new bestseller on church growth. If I did it would be silly: perhaps led by dolphins and called ‘The Porpoise-Driven Church’ or about using air-to-air missiles in a ‘heat-seeker sensitive church’. But it does appear that there are some themes that may be helpful to us at our church.

And at the moment I am not going to tell you.

That’s not only because I am mean, but also because these thoughts are still a bit vague and woolly (yes I know that’s not stopped me before) and I feel it’s most appropriate to share them with the church leaders and wider church before I consider releasing them into the wild untamed blogosphere.

‘So, what’s the point of reading this bloggage?’ I hear you ask. (A very good question).

The point is that I have found God speaking consistent themes to me through various different sources:

Through my reading of 1 and 2 Timothy on my retreat; through many of the books I have read (‘sacred’ and ‘secular’); through the conversations I have had; through my observations and musings and through bouncing ideas and concepts off people. It is my experience that sometimes when I want to hear from God all I get is a deafening silence or the sound of Spiritual static. And other times I hear so much from different places that I almost hold my hands up in surrender and give in.

The silence / Spiritual static is a tough one. Sometimes that happens when we are at our weakest, our lowest, our most vulnerable. It’s reminiscent of the depressed prophet Elijah who found God in the ‘sound of sheer silence’. I wonder if at times God keeps silent vigil with us because words would be unhelpful.

As a teenager we had a Labrador, Bonnie, who was the family dog. I spent most time with her and walked her and she was a faithful companion to me. There were times when I was low and it was as if she sensed it. She would gently stroll up to where I was and nuzzle me. She might put her head on my lap if I was sitting down and look up at me. Or sometimes she would come and lie down on my feet (having turned around three times first). She would know that I did not want or need ‘bouncy dog’ or ‘playful dog’. It was as if she knew that I would simply appreciate the company.

There’s an element of that in what I am trying to describe about God’s silence. My experience is that sometimes I sense God’s presence nuzzling me in that way and it often sends a shiver down my spine. At other times I experience him through other people – directly as they are with me or indirectly through a song they have recorded or a book that they have written.

Or maybe we should pause and reflect and see if we can sense God smiling at us. I think many people think of him scowling and angry, but I reckon he smiles most of the time.

Of course there are times when we want to hear words, advice, answers and the hiss of static is all we receive. Perhaps it’s because we have tuned God out a bit and need to get back in practice at listening to him. It is possible that we are not listening to the right voice – he may be speaking to us through someone else or through a song and we are determined to hear him in our heads or in the pages of the Bible.

And yes, I think there are times when it’s just silence and static. It’s not that God is not there: it may be that the best thing for us is to pause, be still, relax and wait rather than rushing ahead with our plans and responses. Perhaps the only way God can do that is to keep quiet, like a teacher in a noisy classroom who stops talking and holds her hand up while waiting for the children to notice and join in.

When I was at Primary School (aged about 6) I had a teacher called Miss Bagley. On the last day before the Easter holidays one of the children in my class had given her an Easter Egg. Miss Bagley was bringing the day to a close and saying a few final words when I blurted out, “Don’t forget to eat your Easter Egg!”

Poor Miss Bagley had had a long term and I had interrupted her. Uncharacteristically she responded by saying, “Oh, be quiet you gasbag!”

I was stunned initially. I could not believe that she had said that to me. But by the time I met my Mum at the school gate I was in floods of tears. I was almost inconsolable at the thought that Miss Bagley had called me a gasbag. My Mum eventually got a vaguely comprehensible answer out of me and we went back into the school where I apologised for interrupting and Miss Bagley apologised for calling me a gasbag. (The irony of her name and the epithet she gave me did not strike me until I just wrote this down!)

Nearly 40 years later I still remember that moment. Miss Bagley had had to resort to drastic measures to make me stop and listen. Thankfully God doesn’t (often) call me a gasbag, but he may resort to drastic measures.

Just a thought.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

are you wearing that for a bet?

No, I am not wearing this for a bet

Today is expected to be the hottest day of the summer so far in the UK. That’s not saying much for this summer, ‘dry’ is good, but it has prompted me to get one of my summer shirts out of the wardrobe. As you can see, it’s the sort of shirt that will attract both attention and rude comments.

I hope it is the latter.

At least from people who know me. From strangers it may be a little off-putting.

I love the fact that people who know me feel comfortable teasing me and making fun of me. It is good to puncture potential pomposity and deflate an over-inflated ego.

It is great because it shows that people feel comfortable with me. There are times when someone will say something cheeky to me and someone nearby will say, “You can’t say that, he’s a Minister!” Yes, I am a Minister, but I am also a human being who loves laughing and spreading laughter, and if it’s through good-natured banter I am all for it.

How different is Jesus in the New Testament if he has a twinkle in his eye and a grin on his face when he says things like:

“Who do people say that I am?”

or

“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”

or

“Have you heard the one about the Priest, the Levite and the Samaritan?” (very loose translation here!)

God takes us very seriously so that we don’t have to take ourselves too seriously.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

contagious infectiousness

There are some things we do that are infectious. Some of them are involuntary. If you have ever tried to suppress a yawn you’ll know that it’s impossible. The yawn decides when it’s coming and there’s nothing you can do about it.

But why is it that when you see someone else yawn (or suppress a yawn) you then feel the need to yawn too? My theory is not that you are indicating boredom too, but that a yawn is your body’s way of increasing its oxygen intake to increase energy levels and when you see someone else yawn your subconscious thinks it would be a good idea for you to increase your oxygen levels too.

Isn’t it a good thing that sneezing isn’t infectious in the same way? The first sign of pollen or a cold would trigger a mexican wave of sneezing that could shake the world off its axis!

But there are other things that are equally infectious. Laughter can be very contagious. A friend of mine and I were sharing a retreat at Worth Abbey a few years ago. Our idea was to spend the morning praying and reflecting on our own in the morning and then share with each other after lunch and pray for each other.

The monks had invited us to join them for lunch, but only as we were about to go into the dining room were we told that it was a silent lunch. Steve and I realised that this was potentially disastrous because we find each other’s laughter very contagious and we were worried that we would destroy the atmosphere in a fit of giggling. We decided to sit out of each other’s eyesight.

All went well during the meal. By the way, did you know that in a silent lunch you have to look out for the needs of those around you because they can’t ask you to pass the ketchup or salt? Pethaps we should do more things together in silence!

Anyway, the meal was not completely silent. A novice monk switched on a microphone and started reading from a book as we ate. It was a biography of Pugin – the church architect – and he was reading it in such a way that it sounded like Lord of the Rings! That thought got me smirking inside.

Suddenly, towards the end of the main course, the novice monk announced solemnly, “End of book!” And he slammed the book shut.

That was it. I felt an irrepressible giggle rising from within me and, worse still, could see out of the corner of my eye that Steve’s shoulders were shaking as he tried to control a similar urge. The more we tried not to laugh the harder it became and the more we sensed the other struggling to control ourselves the stronger the impulse became. How we managed not to end up rolling around on the floor waving our legs in the air I have no idea.

After the meal the monks invited us to join them for drinks and laughed at us and with us.

But there’s one more thing we can do that is infectious. There’s a semi-trite saying: ‘If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.’ I think there’s something to be said for that. Not artificial, but if you have a smile, don’t feel afraid of sharing it. God invented them as ways of us blessing others and sharing joy.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that it may escalate into a snigger-fest, but that’s a risk worth taking!

Be blessed, be a blessing. 🙂

resolutions that happen to be made at the start of a new year

Do you ever wonder what other people really think about you? Beneath the superficial greetings and pleasantries, what do they like about you? What do they struggle with? I am not being paranoid or self-obsessed (am I?), but I am in the middle of a process at the moment where I am considering the real me – strengths and weaknesses, warts and all- and seeking to see how I can be better.

I am making some resolutions about myself which coincidentally happen to be occurring at the beginning of January, but have nothing to do with New Year’s Resolutions: these are deeper and (perhaps) will affect how people perceive me and interact with the real me.

  1. Smile – ever since I was little people have asked me what is worrying me. I think my natural ‘relaxed’ face looks a bit worried / concerned. So smiling will help to counteract this. But it can come across as superficial, so what I am praying and seeking is that the joy in my life shows more in my face; that the pleasure of being with other people causes my mouth to curve upwards; that the knowledge of being adopted into The Royal Family shines out more from within through my face. People naturally prefer us to smile at them than scowl!
  2. Listen. I am aware that I can talk a lot. I wonder if sometimes it’s a defence mechanism because I am a bit introverted. I struggle to make small-talk (never been good at that) so I respond by waffling on about me and telling endless jokes. This blog gives me the opportunity to spout forth about me (pretentious? moi?) so I resolve to listen more to other people. I am trying to learn ways of training myself to shut up and show people that I am interested in them by asking the right questions and listening to what they say in response.
  3. Honesty. Ministers can project ‘supercope’. I wonder sometimes if we have to in order to survive. We are expected to be there for people, to prepare fresh sermons each week, to lead meetings, to visit, to pray, to serve. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I LOVE this calling. But I am not doing myself or anyone else any favours if I am coming across as having it all together all the time, always getting everything right and being able to do everything. I am realising that I am not good at everything. (well, duh!). I am realising that I need to delegate better, and more. I am realising that I need to tell the inner control-freak to calm down a bit. I am realising that I need to release people to use their gifts. And part of this is being honest with myself and them – admitting when I get things wrong, admitting that I need help, admitting that I am not superminister (I wear my pants inside my trousers).

Those three seem good places to start. You may be thinking that they are not very spiritual, but I would disagree. The changes will take place best if I work with God’s Spirit to help me. The changes can be superficial if they are not embedded within the real me, and the best way of doing that is to ask for the Creator to carry out an upgrade!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

A strong young man at the construction site was bragging that he could outdo anyone in a feat of strength. He made a special case of making fun of Morris, one of the older workmen. After several minutes, Morris had enough.

“Why don’t you put your money where your mouth is?” he said. “I will bet a week’s wages that I can haul something in a wheelbarrow over to that outbuilding that you won’t be able to wheel back.”

“You’re on, old man,” the braggart replied. “It’s a bet! Let’s see what you got.”

Morris reached out and grabbed the wheelbarrow by the handles. Then, nodding to the young man, he said, “All right. Get in.”