100 metres

Like many millions in this country and probably across the world I watched the Athletics World Championships 100 metres men’s final on Saturday evening. I tuned in hoping to see the fairytale ending to Usain Bolt’s career with him winning the 100m.

But the fairytale ending didn’t happen. He didn’t even come second. He came third! That wasn’t meant to happen.

And more than that, the person who won, Justin Gatlin, had previously been banned from athletics for drugs offences. Twice.

I had very mixed emotions. I felt sorry for Usain Bolt. It would have been so good for him to win one last time. I felt disappointed that my dream of seeing him win had died. And I was conflicted about someone who had twice been found guilty of cheating by using performance enhancing drugs winning and being crowned World Champion. It didn’t feel right.

I think many in the crowd at the London Stadium in Queen Elizabeth Park also felt the same way. When he was introduced as he came onto the track at the start Justin Gatlin was booed. And he was roundly booed when he won. And he was booed when he was awarded his medal last night. Part of it I think may have been frustration that it wasn’t Usain Bolt getting the gold medal but it was mostly, I think, an expression of distaste at Justin Gatlin’s past behaviour.

And that did not feel right either. He had ‘done his time’ for whatever he had done in the past and because of the stringent drug-testing nowadays we ought to be confident that he is now ‘clean’. So even though it doesn’t make me happy that he won, I don’t think he should have been booed. The rules of the sport allowed him to compete after he had served his sentence. Couldn’t the crowd have showed a bit more class and a lot more grace?

Usain Bolt’s comments after the race show his class:

“I always respected him as a competitor,” he said. “He’s one of the best I have faced. For me he deserves to be here, he’s done his time and he’s worked hard to get back to being one of the best athletes. He’s run fast times, he’s back and he’s doing great. I look at him like any other athlete, as a competitor.”

I think that what bothers me most is the lack of grace shown by the crowd. What if they had twice under-declared their income on their tax return, or had twice failed to admit that they had been undercharged in a shop, or had twice broken the speed limit, or had twice taken a ‘sickie’ from work, or had twice lied to their family … and been caught? Wouldn’t they want to be given another chance? Wouldn’t they hope that this would not characterise their life in the future? Wouldn’t they want to be allowed to move on after doing something to repair the damage and apologising? If so, isn’t it a bit, erm, hypocritical not to offer that same grace to someone else?

I cannot condemn Justin Galtin without also condemning myself because I know I am far from perfect. I hope and pray that with the help of God’s Spirit I am becoming more like the human being I was created to become and am able to fulfil my potential and part of that is showing grace to others. Jesus told a telling parable, you can find it in Matthew 18:

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’

22 Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 ‘Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 ‘At this the servant fell on his knees before him. “Be patient with me,” he begged, “and I will pay back everything.” 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, cancelled the debt and let him go.

28 ‘But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. “Pay back what you owe me!” he demanded.

29 ‘His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, “Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.”

30 ‘But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 ‘Then the master called the servant in. “You wicked servant,” he said, “I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?” 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’

 

Be blessed, be a blessing

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Old Testament satnav

Image result for the man who took seven baths

When I was a child I used to love this book. It was about an Old Testament Syrian General called Naaman (you can read about him in 2 Kings 5). The story was told in rhyme and I asked for it as my bedtime story so often that I knew the whole story off by heart. My parents used to get so bored with it that they would make deliberate mistakes as they read it to try to see if I noticed. I did.

I was reminded of Naaman today, by my satnav. No, it didn’t get all ‘Old Testament’ on me: “At the roundabout take the third exit and then cross the Red Sea…” What happened was that I had installed a system update on it a while ago and ever since then it had developed a fault: when there was an instruction prior to a roundabout it used to say (for example) “Turn left, then cross the roundabout, third exit.” But after the update it just said “Turn left, then cross the roundabout.”

That was insufficient information – it meant that I didn’t know where to position my car approaching the roundabout or which way to indicate until I had got much closer to the roundabout, by which time it may have been too late. I sent an email to the support team at my satnav and explained the situation and received an email back telling me to reset the satnav.

I could not see how that would make a difference. It felt too easy. It felt like the old ‘turn it off and on again’ or ‘press ctrl+alt+delete’ approach to technical problems. I had already installed a new operating system and surely that would have involved a reset. And anyway, I didn’t want to risk losing all of the saved places that I had in the satnav.

So I wrote back to the tech support man and pointed all of this out. I wanted to know why a system reset would make a difference. I wanted a better answer.

And then I thought that perhaps the tech support man knew what he was talking about. I reckoned that maybe this was a problem they had come across before and that this was a solution that had worked. And anyway, all of my places were backed up in the cloud. And what could it hurt?

So I did a reset.

And then I reloaded my saved places and re-linked it to my phone to receive live traffic updates. And then I switched it on and set my next destination.

Lo and behold, thus spake the satnav: “Turn left, then enter the roundabout and take the third exit.” Ooh, new improved instructions and not only that but the voice was restored to the politely-spoken voice I remembered from before the update! Sarah the satnav was back to her best.

Ah. Time to eat some humble pie. I have written back to the tech support man and apologised for my attitude… I learnt a lesson in trusting others, letting go of pride and realising I don’t know everything. That was Naaman’s lesson too.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

seeing things

I wear glasses. They are varifocals – correcting both long and short-sightedness depending on which part of the lens I look through. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly my eyes and brain adapted to this (I doubted I would ever get used to such a strange thing but it happened almost instantly).

glassesWhen I am not wearing my glasses some objects will be in soft focus. If you ever see me without my glasses and it looks like I am frowning at you, please don’t be offended it’s just that I am trying to work out who you are.

One of the things that is easy to forget is that each of us sees the world around us, and other people, through our own eyes, but other people see things differently. I am not really talking about literal vision and sight, but the way in which we experience, interpret, filter and infer.

For example, someone who loves fast cars might be really excited to see and hear an Aston Martin roaring up the street. Another person might experience the same event and be concerned about the safety of pedestrians. Someone else might experience the same event and wonder how anyone could afford such a car. Do you see what I mean.

When we forget that we ‘see’ and experience life in a unique fashion that can lead us into difficult and uncomfortable places. By way of an illustration, I sometimes forget that not everyone is into performing magical illusions to the same extent that I am. I might think I am being entertaining and engaging but to someone else I am a bore and tedious. You could replace ‘performing magical illusions’ with almost anything else and it can work out in a similar fashion…

Not everyone enjoys the same TV programmes / films / music / books as you do. And even if they do, they may not enjoy them in the same way.

Not everyone is an interested in crocheting as you are, and may not appreciate how much work went into your full-sized crocheted African Elephant so don’t be too disappointed if they simply say, “Oh, that’s nice.”

Not everyone enjoys sport (watching or playing) and even if they do they may not enjoy the same sport and even if they do they may not support the same team / individual as you do and even if they do they may not agree with your perspective on their performances.

Not everyone understands your interest in Mongolian Tree Frog Worship* or (more conventionally) shares your perspective on Jesus.

So what do we do?

A little self-awareness goes a long way. Be aware how you see things and realise that not everyone has had the same experiences, enjoys the same things and understands life in the same way as you. That’s called individuality.

Recognise that if you only ever mix with and talk with and encounter people who are broadly similar to yourself you are seriously limiting your ability to grow and learn and perhaps also limiting the opportunities for others to learn and grow through you. To realise and embrace that is called diversity.

Recognising that people see and experience things differently, and becoming comfortable with exploring that in conversation with them without fearing that it will contaminate the way that we see and experience things is called dialogue. (If you are tempted to think that you should not be influenced by others see the outcomes of a lack of ‘diversity’ above.) Communication and Community have the same root for a reason!

Now, before you start lobbing virtual stones in my direction for heresy let me be clear: I am not saying that there are no absolutes. I am not saying that I believe that all truth is relative. This is not a bloggage to embrace a pluralistic view of life, the Universe and everything. There clearly are some absolutes. For example: being outside in the rain without an umbrella or a coat means we will get wet; bald-headed people have less hair on their heads that people who are not bald… and so on.

I think I am coming up for some rules of engagement on issues and subjects that some of us believe are absolutes but which are not shared universally, even if we believe that they should be.

Should we share those with others? Absolutely. (pun intended)

Should we try to persuade them? With grace and respect, yes.

Should we force others to believe what we believe? No.

Should we insist that they accommodate our beliefs? Not to the detriment of others.

Should we listen to what others have to say about their perspective on things? Definitely.

Should we be offended if they disagree? No, although they may disagree disagreeably which may cause offence.

Should we be offensive if they disagree? No.

Should we be willing to change our minds? Maybe, but because it feels right to us, not because they tell us to. A closed mind can never be expanded.

Should we be open to learn new things and see things in new ways? Absodefinutely.

These rules of engagement are very much a work in progress. They have come out of the mush that is my brain as I have typed so have not had a lot of thought applied to them. But behind them all is an attempt to acknowledge that part of being in community is to sensitively encourage a creative balance between expressing individuality, embracing diversity, and exploring through dialogue. That is not something to be afraid of because if your truth is true it can survive those things and probably be enhanced by them.

If you have ‘absolutes’ you need to recognise that there may be different grades for you: my convictions about who Jesus of Nazareth is are absolutes that exist at the foundational belief level of who I am and how I see and experience things and shape what I do. I have that in common with a lot of people. But the way I express that through the Christian church of which I am a part differs from the way that others who share that same foundational belief express it in their church. To make non-foundational beliefs more important than they are opens us up to ridicule. And for that purpose I refer you to a joke by Emo Philips:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”

He said, “Nobody loves me.”

I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”

He said, “A Christian.”

I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”

He said, “Protestant.”

I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”

He said, “Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”

I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”

He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”

I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

In the book of Proverbs in the Bible we read (chapter 3 from verse 13):

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
    those who gain understanding,
14 for she is more profitable than silver
    and yields better returns than gold.
15 She is more precious than rubies;
    nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
    in her left hand are riches and honour.
17 Her ways are pleasant ways,
    and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who take hold of her;
    those who hold her fast will be blessed.

It’s worth pointing out that in the book of Proverbs ‘wisdom’ is a way of living, relating, understanding and perspective, not mere knowledge. And the writer of Proverbs says that a right perspective on who God is and who we are (aka “the fear of the Lord”) is the beginning of wisdom.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*A fake religion I made up many years ago when I was trying to come up with something obscure as an illustration. I don’t even know if there are any tree frogs in Mongolia.

Profound thoughts and how to fail at remembering them

So… here I am sitting down trying to think profound thoughts to share with the world via my blog. And the problem is that I find that profound thoughts are really elusive (pun intended). They are a bit like Nanny McPhee. When you want one and you are looking for them you can’t find them. But when you are not looking for them they sneak up on you and hit you. That, I believe, is the origin of the phrase, “A thought just struck me.”

They particularly like sneaking up on you and striking you when you are least likely to be able to remember them. It can be just as you are dropping off to sleep… when you promise yourself you’ll remember the profound thought when you wake up and when you wake up all you can remember is that you had a profound thought and that you promised yourself that you would remember it. The actual thought has vanished (and all you can hear is the vague memory of a thought chuckling to itself as it sneaks off). 

It can also be when you are driving along and have no means of recording the profound thought. You think to yourself that it was really important and promise yourself that when you get to your destination you will write it down… but when you get to your destination you forget to write it down and later on you remember that you had been struck by a profound thought but can’t remember what it was.

When the profound thoughts get really confident they can do a double strike. They strike when you are not in a position to record or remember them, and then they come back later in similar circumstances. That doubles the level of frustration but doesn’t (apparently) increase the chances of you remembering them.

I wonder (profoundly?) how much the human race would have advanced and how much better we would be if all of these elusive profound thoughts had been able to be captured and shared. Would we by now have solved world poverty? Would we have a cure for all known diseases? Would we have an explanation for mullet haircuts in the 80s?

I am not sure. But I have a vague recollection of a profound thought about them sometime in the past as I was about to fall asleep while driving…

Be blessed, be a blessing