dustbin days

One of the things I remember from my days at Bible College is that it is important to have ‘dustbin days’ from time to time. These are days when you have a clear out. You sort through the pile that has overwhelmed your in-tray. You clear the stuff that has accumulated on your desk and remind yourself what colour the desk actually is. You throw out the bits and pieces that you have kept ‘because they might come in handy’. And you go through your email inbox and answer / delete the emails (my target is single figures).

I do this from time to time and find myself feeling quite virtuous afterwards. I cherish the tidy desk, the empty in-tray, the single-figure email inbox and the sense of order that accompany them.

2014-03-13 12.49.56Last time I did this I came across this object, which has sat on my desk for as long as I can remember. I had no recollection about its origin, but thought that it might have been something I had made on a retreat sometime. I didn’t use it, it was taking up space (not much, it’s 8cm in diameter) and it looked a bit shabby.

I picked it up and moved towards my rubbish bin, ready to dispose of this shabby unwanted piece of hardened clay and chipped paint. Just before I threw it away something prompted me to look underneath it. This is what I saw.2014-03-13 12.50.08

You may be able to make out the feint writing that is etched into the bottom of the clay. It says: “Thomas ’97”.

It had been made by my son at preschool. Suddenly this changed my perspective. Now it was something invaluable. Now it was impossible to throw away.

How often do we do that with people? How often do we judge people by outward appearances without looking deeper and seeing their true value. A person’s value is not determined by what they look like, their financial status, their health or any of the other shallow indicators that are used to define people in our culture. Their value is determined by who made them.

Sadly sometimes people have received the message from churches that we think everyone is a worthless sinner. Richard Dawkins recently posted a disingenuous piece of propaganda with a picture of a child holding a list that said that “According to religion I am broken, flawed, sinful, dumb, weak, nothing.” Have a look at Krish Kandiah’s response to this, which I think is brilliant.

You are someone who is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ in the likeness of your Creator. You are someone whose is loved beyond all loves by your heavenly Father so much that he gave up Jesus so that whoever believes in him can inherit eternal life. You are brilliant. You are amazing. You are spectacular. You are unique.

And so is everyone else whom you will meet.

Let’s challenge the politics and politicians, the social trends and the economic structures that seek to discard anyone in the pursuit of tidiness, popularity or expediency.

Be blessed, be a blessing

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.