cupboard love

insert Minister here
insert Minister here

The room in which I study at home is quite small: in some houses it would be called a cupboard. But I can squeeze all my bookshelves (three big ones), my desk and chair, a drawer unit, a couple of other shelves for general gubbins, various magic trick storage boxes and a CD/DVD shelving unit in addition to a few other items that probably come under the heading ‘sundry tut*’.

I am quite happy in this little room. It’s cosy. It’s my space – there is no room for another person in here and as long as I am relatively organised I can get in and out of the door without crashing into things. But recently someone who knows about these things looked in through the door and observed that it breaks all sorts of rule and regulations about working environments. And that leaves me with a dilemma: do I obey the rules and regulations and move my study to occupy the room which is currently our Dining Room or do I carry on as I am – cosy and happy?

If I occupy the Dining Room there will be no space for our dining table and chairs in the house. They could go into what will become a cupboard that was previously my study, but there will be no way in which people will be able to sit around the table! And it’s a colder room, too, having a much larger window and being part of an extension that is not well insulated. But if I stay as I am I am breaking the rules and regulations and I try to be a law-abiding person.

In the end I have decided that as I am the only person affected by the current arrangements and I am happy with them, and that if I adopted an approach that met with the rules and regulations it would seriously inconvenience our family (and make hospitality somewhat difficult) I will stick with the Status Quo** (“Whatever you want, whatever you like, whatever you say you pay your money – you take your choice…  Whatever you need, whatever you use, whatever you win, whatever you lose…”) sorry, status quo.

How do we decide what the right thing to do is? On the whole we obey the law, but sometimes the law can stand in the way of justice. I think it is that sentiment which is behind general disgruntlement with ‘health and safety gone mad’ attitudes. The summary of Biblical ethics by which I try to live is to seek to do whatever is loving and whatever is just, and if the two are in conflict love wins. I am not sure that it’s just to disobey the rules and regulations about my study cupboard, but it’s the loving approach to put my family’s needs before the rules and regulations.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I would usually pronounce this word like ‘but’ however here I would like you to pronounce it like ‘put’ – or if you have a better spelling please let me know!

** If you don’t know what this refers to, shame on you – visit this clip on Youtube now with the volume on your speakers set to 11 (warning – someone had a lot of fun with a vision mixer!).

The heart of the matter

I’ve been contemplating the recent decision by the Church of England General Synod. Personally, I was saddened and disappointed that they were unable to agree to have women as bishops. Part of me wants to throw my hands up in the air and sound exasperated.

But I keep seeing a man writing in dirt and asking those without discrimination to cast the first stone.

It is true that our denomination has ordained women for much longer than the Church of England, and we have women in National / Regional positions that are the closest equivalent we have to Bishops. But there are still far more men than women who are ordained Ministers in our denomination. And there are still churches that will not consider calling a woman to be their Minister, albeit on theological grounds (with which I disagree).

It’s interesting to see the reaction of the non church sector of society. The media has portrayed this as the Church* being out of touch with society, but I reckon that there is a bloke writing in the dirt of our culture asking those who are without discrimination to cast the first stone. The problem is that society is out of touch with God. Human beings have allowed (or deliberately introduced) discrimination to tarnish and taint all aspects of our lives. When we see differences of any sort between ourselves and others and allow them to influence us we are out of touch with God. He is the one who created human beings, male and female.

Our society is riven with discrimination. If you doubt me, look at the profile of the highest earners in our country. How many are women? How many are of non-white ethnic origin? How do the proportions relate to the actual proportions in the country as a whole?

How many Director Generals of the BBC have not been white men? How many editors and journalists are not white men? How come women earn less than men for the same jobs? What proportion of MPs and Lords at Parliament are not white men?

There may be “Yes, but…” answers to these questions, but they are indicative of the reality at the heart of our society, that human beings are selfish at heart and those who have power will not easily surrender it. In 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act became law. Yet while there has been progress, I do not think a change in the law can change society. Laws will be necessary, but they work best when they reflect society rather than trying to shape society.

So what can we do?

We need to recognise that while culture and society seem to have a life of their own, in fact they are the products of a collection of individual human beings. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. Each of us needs to do some soul-searching and be honest with ourselves. We are all subject to selfish bias. We all look out for ourselves first and foremost, and I think we allow prejudice to self-justify that (consciously or sub-consciously).

The antidote is godly selflessness motivated by godly love. When we are able to see all people as those who are loved by God, all people as those for whom Jesus made the ultimate selfless sacrifice, it is more difficult to elevate ourselves at the cost of others, or to suppress or oppress others because we consider them to be less than us. God does not discriminate. He does not even reject those who reject him, rather he respects our free will so much that reluctantly he accepts the decision of those who don’t want anything to do with him: yet he will always welcome them with open arms if they change their mind.

And while we may be able to do some things about this ourselves, actually we need God’s Spirit within us to change us, to make us more godly, more selfless, more loving, more like Jesus. We need him to bear more fruit within us. And I’m afraid that until more people in our society acknowledge their need of him, we will not eradicate the evil of discrimination from our society.

But surely those who are followers of Jesus can set an example? It can start with me and you.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*Once again the media have carelessly talked about ‘the church’ in their reporting, lumping all churches under the umbrella of the Church of England.

in the beginning

For some reason this morning my thoughts turned to the opening words of Genesis (and John’s gospel too): “In the beginning…” They are quite momentous words, it’s a phrase of epic proportions. Regardless of what you think about what comes afterwards, “In the beginning…” sets us up with considerable expectations. I imagine the words have to be spoken either with the deep husky voice of the man who does the voice overs on American film trailers or perhaps proclaimed by a voice like Brian Blessed’s.

I’m not going to head off into a discussion about different understandings of origins because that is what comes in the … part. I want to pause and think about “In the beginning”. It is a statement that establishes a timeline. It is a statement that assumes an eternity beyond time, outside the beginning. It is a statement of cosmological significance. It is a statement about origins.

It is of such epic proportions as a statement that it may be difficult for us to consider how it relates to us, or how we relate to it. Well, it establishes that we are part of the timeline that has been established. It offers us the possibility of something that is beyond time. It points us in the direction of a big bang, a moment of origins. No matter how many years you believe have passed since “In the beginning” happened, we all exist because there was a beginning.

Have you ever felt small, insignificant, unimportant, irrelevant? Then consider this – you are part of all that has happened since “In the beginning”. You are part of the momentous life of the Universe.

And if you ever get too full of yourself, consider this: you are part of all that has happened since “In the beginning.” You are part of the momentous life of the Universe.

I believe the next word in Genesis after “In the beginning” makes sense of it all. “In the beginning God…” We can ask and answer questions about suffering and injustice, about life and death, about theories and probabilities. But you have to admit, even if you don’t believe in God, it all looks a bit like someone designed all this. And if there is a ‘someone’, you exist because he willed it. And he wants to get to know you.

That sends a shiver down my spine – especially as I have spent the morning with a team of people from our church talking with some Year 6 students about Easter: the second ‘beginning’.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Who was the first person in the Bible?

Chap 1

space the final frontier?

Today I am going to join with fellow Baptist Ministers from the East of England at our annual conference. It is an occasion I really look forward to each year. It looks like there is a good line-up of sessions and there are some high-quality speakers (orators not the fixed to the wall amplification type). I am sure that the sessions will prove beneficial to me and hoping to return from the conference refreshed and inspired.

It is often the case, however, that these spaces in between the sessions are at least as valuable (if not more) then the session themselves. That is not unique to this conference but has been my experience at almost every conference I have attended or even participated in as a speaker. In those spaces conversations can take place but strengthen friendships, establish new ones, provide inspiration and ideas, and also enable participants to relax and (hopefully) laugh.

Spaces are important. if there were no spaces between words, for example, itwouldbemuchmoredifficulttoworkoutwhatwaswrittenonthepage. If we do not leave adequate spaces between moving traffic we end up with car accidents. And none of us like a personal space being invaded!

I think spaces are important in our spiritual life as well. we need opportunities to pause, reflect, take time out, consider, reconnect, repent, start again and so on. It is important to try to build them into our daily routines (that’s why I write this bloggerel) but also to make the most of the ones that occur by accident.

When I am driving around I like to try and reflect on and pray for people I know. It may be that I recognise their car (or there is one like theirs that reminds me of them); it may be that I drive near somebody’s house; it may be that I drive past their workplace (or a similar one) – there are many different ways in which I’m reminded of other people and offer prayer on their behalf. Another way I use driving time is to put a worship CD on and sing along (I usually keep the windows and sunroof closed).

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some super spiritual being who goes around in a holy haze of prayer all the time, but I do find that God prompts my praying if I am looking for him to do so.

I also find that sometimes the spaces are brilliant occasions just to stop, do nothing, enjoy life and (hopefully) laugh. There’s nothing wrong with that, and indeed there is plenty right with it!

What will you do with the spaces in your life today?

Alternative driving tips:

1. Turn signals will give away your next move.

2. Under no circumstances should you leave a safe distance between you and the car in front of you, or the space will be filled in by somebody else putting you in an even more dangerous situation.

3. Crossing two or more lanes in a single lane-change is considered going with the flow.

4. The faster you drive through a red light, the smaller the chance you have of getting hit.

5. Never, ever come to a complete stop at a stop sign. No one expects it and it will inevitably result in you being rear ended. If you want your insurance company to pay for a new rear bumper, come to a complete stop at all stop signs.

6. A right lane closure is just a game to see how many people can cut in line by passing you on the right as you sit in the left lane waiting for the same people to squeeze their way back in before hitting the cones.

7. Never get in the way of an older car that needs extensive bodywork repairs.

8. Braking is to be done as hard and late as possible to ensure that your ABS kicks in, giving a nice, relaxing foot massage as the brake pedal pulsates. For those of you without ABS, it’s a chance to stretch your legs.

9. Never pass on the right when you can pass on the left. It’s a good way to scare people entering the motorway.

10. Speed limits are arbitrary figures, given only as suggestions and are apparently not enforceable if the reason for your journey is more important than everyone else’s.

11. Just because you’re in the outside lane and have no room to speed up or move over it doesn’t mean that a driver flashing his high beams behind you doesn’t think he can go faster in your spot.

12. Please remember that there is no such thing as a shortcut during rush-hour traffic.

13. Always slow down and rubberneck when you see an accident or even someone changing a tyre.

14. Learn to swerve abruptly: slalom driving keeps everyone else on their toes.

15. It is traditional to honk your horn at cars that don’t move the instant the light changes.

16. Never take a green light at face value. Always look right and left before proceeding. Someone like you might be coming the other way (see 4 above)

17. Remember that the goal of every driver is to get there first, by whatever means necessary.

blank looks

I use an electronic diary. My life is synchronised between my phone and my computer, so that in theory both of them know what I should be doing. There are disadvantages to electronic diaries compared to paper. Paper does not crash (but it can burn). Paper pages can be easier to turn (but you can’t search by subject). Paper is tangible and you can write notes in the margins (electronic is amendable without crossing out and you don’t need to remember a pen).

On balance I am happy with the electronic diary. One of the things I like is that you can adjust the view from one day right up to a whole year. I had a shock this week when I looked at my week view on the screen. There are almost no blank spaces between when I am supposed to wake up and when I am supposed to go to bed. That is scary. That is unhealthy. That is unsustainable.

Next week there are LOTS of blank spaces at the moment, which is good. I intend to take advantage of some of them to be recreated. I also plan to use some of them to visit people I have not been able to see for a while because there have been no blank spaces in the diary. And I plan to try to sort out some admin that has been put to one side for a while, awaiting a blank space in the diary. I know that these things could be put into the diary and take up some of the blank spaces, but at the moment it is therapeutic for me to look at the blank spaces and imagine what God might want me to do with them. They are an offering to him.

Where are the blank spaces in your life? No, not in your head! Where are the spaces when anything could happen? Where are the moments when you can stop, pause, reflect, wait, listen? No, not your holiday. I know that this week is unusual and that it is unsustainable in the longer term. Unusually busy weeks are okay, but unless I have blank spaces in my weeks the opportunities to reflect, to listen for God and to pause are diminished. I tend to blog if I have a blank space. (Today I have stolen the time from preparing for something else!)

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Talking about spaces…

A minister parked his car in a no-parking zone in a large city because he was short of time and couldn’t find a space anywhere. So he put a note under the windscreen wiper that read: “I have circled the block 100 times. If I don’t park here, I’ll miss my appointment. FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES.”

When he returned, he found a parking fine along with this note. “I’ve circled this block for 10 years. If I don’t give you a ticket, I’ll lose my job. LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION.”