what’s going on?

schrodingers balls swf showWhat do you think is going on in this picture?

It’s a photo taken during the show I put on with my friend, Richard Jones. I was performing an illusion with some balls in such a way that my volunteer (Peter) had no idea what was going on, but everyone else did. I did feel a bit mean about it, but thankfully I know Peter well enough to think that he did not take it personally and at the end I did show him what had been going on too.

Do you ever have the feeling that everyone else around you knows something you don’t? They all seem to have worked out the answers and you haven’t even realised that there is a question!

It can happen to me sometimes when I am driving along within the speed limit through some roadworks and people are speeding past me. I wonder whether I have missed the end of the speed restriction.

And it can happen to me sometimes when I am on a train that pulls into a station before the one at which I am due to disembark and everyone else in my section of the carriage gets off. I wonder whether I have missed an announcement about the train terminating at that station because of [insert excuse here] to be replaced by a bus service. (Why do train companies think that a replacement bus service is an adequate replacement for a train? If I had wanted to go by bus I would have bought a bus ticket. (Yes I know they do it because the train can’t go any further, but bear with me I am having a little rant)).

It has happened to me in churches where everyone else seems to know what to do and I don’t. You can be left standing / sitting / kneeling while everyone else has moved on if you don’t have your wits about you. The worst experience of that I had was when I was preaching in an unfamiliar church where there was a lot of standing / sitting / kneeling (not usual in a Baptist Church) and as I was the preacher they had put me on the front pew. That meant treble trouble: not only did I not know what to do, and not only did I not have anyone to copy, but because I was at the front it would be very obvious to everyone else when I got it wrong! My peripheral vision worked overtime that morning.

It bothers me that we have made church so unusual an experience that people who don’t usually attend might struggle to know what to do and for those brave souls who do venture in the feeling of not knowing is multiplied by everyone else knowing what to do. Can we make it any more awkward (that’s a rhetorical question, not a challenge!)?

It bothers me that we being a Christian is so unusual that people think it is weird, when actually it is ‘normal’ (in the sense that God designed us to be in a relationship with him so not being in that sort of relationship is ‘not normal’).

What’s the answer? I come back to the answer I have given on many occasions. It’s recapturing the essence of following Jesus as the priority. Not a priority. The priority. And as Christians do that and become less bothered about traditions, rituals, preferences and all of the extra bits we have added to following Jesus to turn a relationship into a religion, so we will be better free samples of Jesus to those around us.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Epiphanies

light on handAn epiphany is a sudden realisation or revelation about something. It comes from a New Testament Greek word that means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation’. It is also the name of a Christian feast day celebrated on the twelfth day after Christmas, traditionally linked to the visit of the wise men to the infant Jesus, but is more about recognising who Jesus is than about the wise men.

I had a bit of an epiphany today. I had a hospital appointment in London (follow up for the operation I had last year). I travelled in on the train and London Underground and arrived in time for the appointment. Surprisingly they were only running about 15 minutes late, and I went in to see the doctor aware that they wanted to check the wound site and how my cyber-brain gadget was working.

Two minutes later I was leaving the office having had a very brief visual check and asked if it was all okay (it is). I then had the return journey that was extended by having to travel on a specific train (in order to get a cheap ticket). All that travelling and time for just a couple of minutes? I could have sent a photo or done it by Skype and saved a lot of time, effort and money!

And as I grumped about it I had my epiphany. How did the wise men feel after they had travelled such a long way home again. They had found the baby in a modest house (not a stable if you read Matthew – presumably they moved out of the stable rather promptly!) rather than the royal palace from which they had been redirected? Did they wonder if the journey had been worth it? Did they wonder if they had got it wrong?

I suspect that they were nowhere near as grumpy as I was. They had been led by an astronomical anomaly. They had been redirected following a search of Hebrew Scriptures. The star had stopped above the right house. And then there was the dream that warned them to avoid Jerusalem on the way home. For them it had been worth it. They had risked their reputations, their finances (in travel costs and generous gifts) and their time (a very long journey!) to spend a few moments with a peasant family, but it was the highlight of their lives.

I am often humbled by people’s gratitude. Not because something I have done has been the highlight of their life (far from it!!!) but because God has used something apparently insignificant to bless them. In physical terms I may not have done anything remarkable, but somehow God has used a visit, a prayer, even a sermon, and blessed people out of proportion to my involvement. He does that, you know. He takes what we offer and feeds multitudes. He takes words and speaks through them. He takes a visit and encourages through it. He takes bread and wine and inspires and blesses.

And in case you are thinking it, this is NOT limited to Ministers. God uses all of us. That includes you. That’s probably not an epiphany for you, but it’s always good to be reminded! It’s worth the effort, and worth rejoicing about on the way home afterwards.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

i don’t get it

A couple of weeks ago I began a sermon with a joke that died. Here’s the joke (told here on April 5th 2011):

Two guys are bungee-jumping one day. The first guy says to the second, “You know, we could make a lot of money running our own bungee-jumping service in Mexico. They’ve never heard of it there.”

The second guy thinks this is a great idea, so the two pool their money and buy everything they’ll need – a tower, an elastic cord, insurance, etc. They travel to Mexico and begin to set up on the square. As they are constructing the tower, a crowd begins to assemble. Slowly, more and more people gather to watch them at work.

The first guy jumps. He bounces at the end of the cord, but when he comes back up, the second guy notices that he has a few cuts and scratches. Unfortunately, the second guy isn’t able to catch him. He falls again, bounces, and comes back up again. This time he is bruised and bleeding.

Again, the second guy misses him. The first guy falls again and bounces back up. This time, he comes back pretty messed up – he’s got a couple of broken bones and is almost unconscious. Luckily, the second guy finally catches him this time and says, “What happened? Was the cord too long?”

The first guy says, “No, the cord was fine, but what is a piñata?”

I think it’s a funny joke. But it fails badly if, as happened in that fateful sermon, your audience does not know what a piñata is! I wondered why the laughter was spread sporadically across the congregation. Perhaps there had been an horrendous bungee jumping accident at the church before I was appointed. Perhaps piñatas were the cause of arguments in the past. I did not consider the possibility that some people did not know what one was.

The following week I used that as an illustration. We now live in an era where the vast majority of people only go to church for weddings or funerals and may feel like a lot of the congregation did in not understanding what a piñata was. They don’t know what we are talking about when we talk about faith and church. We need to adapt and respond to these changed circumstances (which is what the book of Daniel is all about, and that was the point of the illustration). But it’s worth considering whether we as a church or as individuals use language that is impenetrable for people who are ‘outside’ and thus are creating barriers between them and God that he has not intended.

Here’s a test. Do you know what these are?

Chasuble
Communion
Hassock
Monstrum
Ordain
Apostle

If you struggle with some of them, how much more difficult will others find it? Jesus used everyday illustrations to explain what he meant and helped people to engage with him. We seem to have reversed that process. The bungee jumping joke may have another application here…

Be blessed, be a blessing.