backhanded compliments

Following my lengthy period of convalescence after my surgery in February I am now back at work full-time. I was blessed by being able to phase my return slowly rather than jump straight back in. And this has led to some very interesting comments from people who saw me early on in the process and have seen me again recently.

complimentary nutsWith the intention to encourage me and generally be upbeat about my progress people have been making comments about how much better I am looking. They don’t mean that I have grown more handsome, but that I am looking healthier. Some have been even more specific and have commented on how I have much more colour in my cheeks and generally look a more ‘normal’ hue. And some have gone even further by suggesting that they were rather worried when they first saw me because I looked pale and ghostly, but now I looked well. One colleague even suggested that when she first saw me I wasn’t so much pale as translucent but I was now looking better!

Now I know that these compliments are meant to be positive and making me feel good about the extent of the improvement that they can see in me. And I do receive the comments in the spirit with which they are offered. I am grateful for people’s love, concern, encouragement and prayers. But there’s a little part of me that asks myself just how ill I must have looked a couple of months ago. I didn’t think I looked that bad, but (bearing in mind that these conversations take place on a very regular basis) I must have looked more poorly than I realised.

I am going to try to take the positive aspects of the comments on board much more and not allow the negatives to bother me because I know that my health is much improved, my stamina is better and I am far more capable of living normally (not the same as ‘being normal’ – my wife will testify to that!) than I was previously during my convalescence. I am so grateful for that: grateful to the medical staff who have been brilliant, to my family who have been wonderfully supportive and encouraging, to the many of you and those in the churches I serve who have been praying for me, and to God who has sustained me and created bodies in such a way that they can recover from trauma.

But (and this won’t surprise regular readers) I had another thought. If we are willing to comment on someone’s physical health, why not their spiritual health too? How often do we take the time to say encouraging things about people’s spiritual growth and health? Do we take the time to speak positively to someone after they have preached – more than just, “Thank you” – and share how God spoke to us through them? Or do we take the time to reflect on the way someone has show spiritual maturity through difficult circumstances and encourage them about that? How about finding someone who has prayed for us and sharing how we have seen answers to those prayers? What about simply encouraging someone because we have caught a glimpse of Jesus through them?

Be blessed, be a blessing

no joking matter

not speakHaving recently posted my degree dissertation on ‘A Theology of Humour’ it feels appropriate to be making an observation on the recent comments by Boris Johnson about women wearing Burqas. I am not going to give Mr Johnson’s comments any publicity by repeating them save to say that I consider them to be reprehensible and offensive, especially when written by someone with his public profile.

Had the hideous comments been made by someone in a far right organisation there might have been a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred. If you doubt that this is the case I was deeply distressed to read a report last week of how some yobs had been abusing and harassing a lady wearing a burqa in such a way that it was clearly ‘inspired’ by Mr Johnson’s comments.

It has been suggested that Mr Johnson should not be censured for his comments because they were “a joke”. Even if that was so it was in extremely poor taste. But a joke can still be offensive and can still incite others to copy them because the words, once released, carry a life and notoriety all of their own and any humorous intent can swiftly be lost.

And it’s this ‘joke’ concept that has niggled away at me – perhaps because I have recently revisited my dissertation. It seems to me that there is a very fine line between laughing at someone or something we hold affectionately – like laughing when one of our friends says something unintentionally funny – and ridiculing someone we do not respect – which feels like the tone of Mr Johnson’s comments, particularly given his (apparent) unwillingness to apologise for them.

I think there may be some sort of comedic continuum here with concepts like: ‘parody, lampooning, caricaturing, send-up, spoof, and satire’ at one end and ‘mockery, scorn, ridicule, derision, contempt, disdain, sarcasm, jeering’ at the other. The problem is that it is very difficult to know where satire becomes ridicule, or lampooning becomes jeering. And I think the answer is revealed as much by the outcome as the words themselves and the intent of the author, and perhaps as much by the (lack of) affection or respect we have for the subject.

Words, once spoken or written and released publicly, are not harmless. I can remember reciting the mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” as I was being verbally bullied at school. It was intended as a defence mechanism because I was unwilling to become physically violent in response. But deep down I knew that those words did hurt. It was not only the words themselves that hurt, but I knew that there was disrespect and hatred behind them.

If we let a domesticated, well-trained dog off the lead in the countryside and it harasses or savages a flock of sheep we have to take responsibility for that and I believe we also have to take responsibility for what we say even if the words have taken on a significance and meaning we did not intend. That is true not only for Mr Johnson, but for all of us. In the letter written in the Bible by James (possibly Jesus’ brother) we read in chapter 3 verses 3-12:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Jesus was even more direct (Matthew 12):

33 ‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’

Gulp.

Be blessed, be a blessing

brexit stage right?

I have tried to resist the change, I have tried to make a stand, I have tried to persuade others, but in the end it seems inevitable that ‘Brexit’ has entered the English language. It’s such an ugly and clumsy word – a lazy amalgamation of ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’ to denote the decision in the EU Referendum last year for us to leave the European Union.

way out signEvery time I hear the word it sets my grammatical hackles rising. I wondered whether the Bible had anything to say about it and found this verse (out of context) Proverbs 8:13:

 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Surely the word ‘Brexit’ counts as ‘perverse speech’ doesn’t it?

But I think I am going to have to accept that ‘Brexit’ is a word now. It has entered common usage and also entered our dictionaries. It doesn’t mean that I have to like the word, but I should recognise that my one person campaign against it (predominantly through passive resistance by not using the word – yes, I know, I’m a real RADICAL!) is not going to change anything.

I wonder how much emotional and physical energy is expended by people trying to protest against the unchangeable and trivial?

It’s important to notice two things about that rhetorical question:

  1. I am talking about the unchangeable and trivial. We can get hot under the collar about the most minor things and turn them into a point of principle. If you don’t believe me, read historical minutes from Church Meetings in the past where there will have been lengthy discussions about the colour of carpets or even (shock! horror!) about rotas.
  2. Notice that I wrote energy that is ‘expended’ not ‘wasted’. Some energy is wasted on protesting against the trivial, but some is well-spent influencing and affecting decisions. We should not meekly accept change that is unjust, that heightens inequality or that diminishes other people.

So where is all this leading? I don’t think I am likely to embrace the word ‘Brexit’. I will continue to use ‘leaving the EU’ or a similar phrase if I want to talk about it. But I will try not to allow the use of ‘Brexit’ to carry negative emotions and shape my opinions about other people who choose to use it.

If you look at the verse from Proverbs 8 in a slightly wider context (verses 12-13)we read:

‘I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
    I possess knowledge and discretion.
13 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Prudence, knowledge and discretion are all associated with wisdom, which is primarily about how we relate to God and others. If I let something trivial rile me it will only erode my relationships! Whether or not someone chooses to use the word ‘Brexit’ is surely less important than how I relate to them, isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

dis

dictionaryIn an early edition of yesterday’s bloggage I made a typo that completely changed the meaning of a phrase. I had edited what I had written from ‘I do not agree…’ to ‘I profoundly disagree…’ I replaced the ‘do not’ with ‘profoundly’ and thought that I had successfully added ‘dis’ to the front of ‘agree’ but when it was published somehow I had failed to do so and the sentence began ‘I profoundly agree…’

That put a very different meaning on what I wanted to say.

Thankfully a kind friend (thanks Alan!) noticed and rather than pointing it out publicly on social media he gently sent me an email pointing out the lack of ‘dis’ and assuming that I didn’t mean to say what it looked like I was saying. I immediately edited the version on my blog and pointed it out on social media in the hope that people would be alerted to the mistake.

It got me thinking, though, about the difference those three letters make. You’ll have to indulge me a bit in the musing below that may or may not evolve into a poem, but I have certainly taken poetic licence:

Spirits are dampened if dis is present and a heart-and courage are lost.

A dis can disempower different ability.

Agreements and unity fall apart in the presence of a dis.

A harmonious chord can become painful to hear when a dis is added.

It’s much more difficult for a sentry to stand still if there’s a dys.

If dis is missing a theory is proved.

But without a dis – gruntle is puted, tances are indistinct, a turbance is roughed up, traction is hard to maintain and the meaning of tort is twisted.

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

addidges

Some words start to sound funny when you say them out loud a few times. They may start off sounding fine, but when you repeat them they start to take on a different audio character.

dictionaryTry these (repeat them slowly out loud 4 or 5 times):

Bliss

Grumbling

Indulge

Adage

I hope that you are doing this, especially if you are reading this bloggage in a public place. Hehehe.

Adage is not only a word that starts to sound funny, it’s not even pronounced how it’s spelt. It should be ‘add ayj’ but it’s often pronounced ‘addidge’.

An adage is a saying that becomes accepted as true over a period of time, often observations about life and human behaviour.Here are a few adages:

“My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

“No peace for the wicked” Isaiah 48:22, Isaiah 57:21

“Pride goes before a fall” Proverbs 16:19

I want to start off some new addidges:

“Life is like eating a box of chocolates on a sunny day. We all come to a sticky end.”

“No peas for those with pea allergies.”

“Gravity goes with a fall”

“When things go wrong there’s not always anyone to blame, but anyone can be involved in making it better.”

“To become a wise old person you need to live a long time and listen more than you speak.”

How does something become an adage – how widely does it have to be accepted? How long does it take before something becomes an adage?

Based on a glance at social media it seems that some people live by adages – they find an apt saying to go with a photo of a kitten and it goes ‘viral’ so that suddenly it’s a new adage to live by.

What are your adages? What is the truth that underpins your life?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

new words

Those of you who are unfortunate enough to be regular visitors to this blog (and the fact you keep coming back suggests that you are doing it deliberately as opposed to those who have stumbled on this repository of bloggerel on t’internet) will know that from time to time I like to invent words. I have created such marvels of the English language as ‘ambitextrous’ – able to text with the thumb from either hand and ‘technoloiterate’ – comfortable hanging around with technology. And of course the words ‘bloggage’ – an entry on my blog, and ‘bloggerel’ – the words and content that comprise an entry on my blog.

Today I introduce you to the latest word to come from my confused mind: ‘ambisomnorous’. I will leave you to work out what you think it means whilst I tell you a little story.

At the beginning of August I had some minor surgery on my right shoulder. It is getting better but it is not yet completely pain-free. There are some things I still cannot do (for example, my golf clubs have lain undisturbed for the last couple of months – and probably grateful for the lack of mistreatment). But the most frustrating thing that I’m not yet able to do is sleep on my right side. That is my favourite side to sleep on.

I don’t think I’m alone in having a favourite site to sleep on, am I? I don’t know why it is but I prefer to sleep on my right hand side. It’s not as if I can’t sleep on my back or my left hand side but if I’m on my back I’m more prone to snoring (apparently, although I’ve never heard it myself so I can’t be sure) and if I am on my left side but somehow doesn’t feel as right (pun intended).

To provide some internet balance against all of the cat photos...
To provide some internet balance against all of the cat photos…

As I was lying awake last night musing on this the thought occurred to me that there must be some weird people who are actually capable of sleeping on either side without a preference. I have decided that these people are ambisomnorous.I have checked on a well-known search engine and it does not have a record of this word existed before today so I am claiming this as a new English word. When the Oxford English Dictionary finally get around to include it in one of their editions they will reference this bloggage is the first incidence of the word being used publicly.

I suppose alongside ambisomnorous should be ‘monosomnorous’ – someone who can only sleep on one side and ‘monopreferosomnorous’ (which is what I am).

As I was dropping off to sleep (on my left hand side) following these musings I reflected on two things: first of all my brain goes to some very strange places when it’s half awake (and/or half asleep); and secondly I was reminded of a paraphrase of a Bible passage that I wrote recently:

“When I think about how I’m made I tremble in wonder.”

That’s not big-headedness, it is giving credit to the imagination and skill of the Creator.

Be blessed, be a blessing

expect the unexpected and other silly things we say

not speakI was listening to the radio recently and the interviewer was asking his expert interviewee about the financial crisis in Greece. He asked the expert what surprises lay in store as the process unfolded.

To be fair the expert was not fazed by such a daft question and pointed out that by their nature surprises were impossible to predict. Then he said that we had to expect the unexpected.

I know that the phrase is used to encourage people to be ready for anything but when you look at the bland meaning of the phrase it’s rather silly isn’t it? Unexpected things are, by their nature, not something we can expect. If we expect them they cease to be unexpected.

We say all sorts of things without thinking them through:

“Don’t come running to me if you fall off and break your leg.”

“Close your mouth when you eat your food.”

And so on…

Sadly we also say hurtful and cruel things without thinking them through. Sometimes, if we speak reactively, we can say things that we instantly regret, but we can’t unsay them. Sometimes we might even intentionally say things that we know will hurt.

And we learn to expect the unexpected. We learn to anticipate that someone will not respond well to a suggestion that we make, so we hit them back first by getting in a pre-emptive strike.

Jesus suggests that what comes out of our mouth is based on our heart (Luke 6):

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

So if we want to be more careful about what we say we need to ask for God’s Spirit’s help with our heart, not our mouth. We all need a change of heart.

Be blessed, be a blessing