Being overtaken

My position in our household has changed. I have been overtaken. I used to be the tallest person in the family, even despite losing the additional height afforded by having hair. Now, however, I have been overtaken in height by Thomas, my 15 year-old son. It’s not as if I have shrunk (other than my hairline).

It feels a bit like a game of Mario Kart I was playing against him a while ago. I was happily zooming along in the lead with the finishing line in sight, not anticipating anything preventing me from taking the victory and gloating joyfully (but graciously), when all of a sudden Thomas overtook me and beat me on the line. It seems that he appeared from nowhere, and the same feels true of his sudden growth spurt. How did it happen?

I may seem bitter or regretful about this relegation, but I am not. I find it remarkable that the small(ish) baby I held in my arms 15 and a bit years ago has now grown taller than me. I am proud of the way he has grown and matured as a person (as I am also of my daughter, Hannah, but thankfully she has not yet grown taller than me). I felt that fatherly pride last Sunday in a special way.

Last Sunday morning both of them took part in leading our church as members of the youth group who took over the morning service. In addition to the ‘normal’ parts of our service like singing, Bible readings and praying we also had a ‘Cool Wall’ of Bible characters (see Top Gear for an explanation), a great drama depicting the early part of David’s life and then his victory over Goliath and an exuberance of youthful joy and enthusiasm as they all took part in different ways.

Hannah played the drums, narrated a drama and spoke about what life is like for her at school and Thomas played keyboard, acted in the drama (as Goliath, appropriately) and preached the sermon! I sat there being blessed both by what the all young people said and did as a member of the congregation and being blessed by what Thomas and Hannah were doing in particular as a proud dad.

That’s how God feels when he looks at you as you follow Jesus.

Evangelism is like flossing

 

I’m currently “at queue position two… in the queue.” That’s what the machine I am dealing with on the phone is telling me, and has been telling me for the past ten minutes. I’m trying to make an appointment for a dental check up, which is not something I am thrilled about) and they are not making it easy for me. I am beginning to lose my patience with the machine’s repetitious messages and beeps. I wonder whether the machine is working and whether I will ever get to “speak to a member of our team” as the machine keeps inviting.

One thing that the waiting is doing is enabling me to practice my one-handed typing, but it is not doing anything else positive for me. I am sure that when the dental surgery installed the system they thought that it was user-friendly and helpful for us patients. To be honest it is having the opposite effect and they may well lose one of their patients if this goes on much longer.

I have now hung up. (Two-handed typing resumes – can you tell the difference?) I can’t spend all day listening to a machine telling me that I am “at queue position two… in the queue.” I would like to move up the queue. I would like to talk to a person. I will be very polite if I ever get to speak to one (see ‘Bless a Bureaucrat Day’ Blog on 9th March). I will now probably visit the surgery in person to make the appointment and will refrain from starting with “Your conversation is important to me, please hold. You are at queue position two… in the queue. Your conversation will be initiated soon.” Instead I will smile sweetly (to show that I have been looking after my gnashers) and ask gently for an appointment so that a dentist can gaze into my mouth and tell me I should floss more regularly.

I know what I ought to be doing, and I try hard to remember to do it – honestly – but I end up feeling guilty every time I sit in the dentists’ chair and try not to exaggerate when I am asked how often I floss. Is that how people feel when they come to church? Do they feel guilty when I try to encourage them to share their faith – they know what they ought to be doing and try hard to remember to do it – honestly – but they end up feeling guilty every time they sit in the pew and try not to exaggerate when I ask how often they talk about Jesus to their friends.

Hmmm. A wise lecturer at Spurgeon’s College, where I trained, said that people respond far better to encouragement than to challenge. I know I ought to be encouraging, and I try hard to remember to do it – honestly – but I end up feeling awkward every time I stand in the pulpit and try not to make people feel guilty. Much grace is needed!

Car bears (no, not Care Bears!)

Last Saturday I bought a teddy bear. Those who read my blog entry for last weekend will remember where I went on Saturday and may realise what was special about this teddy bear. He has moving arms and legs and wears a lovely warm blue jumper with a badge on it. Still not sure? He looks like this:



I bought him to sit in my car and accompany me on journeys. As well as providing company he also proclaims my footballing allegiance to Ipswich Town FC to anyone who sees him.

This may be a problem. For the geographically challenged, Ipswich is about 16 miles away from Colchester. This means that there is a strong rivalry between Ipswich Town FC and Colchester United FC. I am wondering how sensible it will be for me to drive around the town with my new teddy bear riding shotgun, and whether I am asking for trouble if I leave him guarding the car while it is parked in the town centre. Only time will tell!

My new awareness of what is in my car and how my car bear may be received by others has made me wonder about the people who drive around with fish symbols on the back of their cars to show that they are Christians. The fish is one of the earliest Christian symbols, the Greek Word for ‘fish’ being ‘ichthus’ which represented the first letters of Greek words that we translate as ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour’. It was a simple yet profound statement of faith, a mini-creed.

But it has created a car boot* (*trunk for North American readers) battle. There are now Darwinian fish appearing on cars. The fish has legs to represent the evolution of animals from fish as they crawled onto land and is designed as a direct attack on the ‘ichthus’ fish for Christians. 

I find it rather funny and applaud the creative thinking and imagination that led someone to consider putting legs on the fish symbol to represent their world-view, even though a belief in evolution does not negate or deny a faith in Christ. Perhaps we should respond in kind. Will we find aggressive new symbols for fundamentalists with an ‘ichthus’ fish eating a Darwin one? Will we get fish with stick men inside representing Jonah for those who like Old Testament narratives? How about five loaves and two fish? Or best of all I would love to see a car with nothing on one side of the car and 153 fish on the other! (Have a look at John 21 if you are not sure why).

Sad to say I have seen many ‘ichthus’ fish-decorated cars driven badly, over the speed limit, inconsiderately or even dangerously. It made me wonder whether the fish was intended as a warning: “I am going to heaven and I drive like I want to get there soon!” Because of that I do not have an ‘ichthus’ fish on my car. Not so I can drive badly without bringing Jesus into disrepute, but because I do not want to perpetuate a perception that Christians are bad drivers or rude. Being a Christian doesn’t automatically make me a good driver, but it surely ought to make me more considerate and courteous. I’ll try to remember that next time I get behind the wheel.

In the meantime I will stick to my Ipswich car bear and see if anyone notices him.

Cultured?

A while ago I was travelling in a car with a colleague, following another car with two other colleagues in it. We received a text message from the passenger in the other car, remarking on the classical music playing: “It’s very cultured in here.”

We had a chuckle at that and sent the reply, “So is a pot of yoghurt!”

There was a short pause as the text message made its way through the ether to the phone in the car in front of us and while the passenger read it out, followed by obvious signs of laughter.

I was reminded of this a moment ago as I searched for some background music on my computer and re-found a selection of classical tracks (which are playing now). My study currently has more culture than a live yoghurt: Grieg, Bach, Pachelbel, Mozart, Vivaldi, Elgar… music that has been composed by all these and others beside is filling my study and ears with beautiful melodies.

When the orginal scores were written (by hand, on parchments, with a quill or ink pen) the composer’s music would only live when performed by an orchestra. Otherwise they would simply be memories for those who heard the performances, perhaps hummed as they went about their daily routine. With the advent of devices to capture and replay sounds (which have metamorphosed from gramophones into MP3 players) music took on a different role in the lives of people. It became less of an event and more of an accompaniment to life, evolving into an everyday part of our experience.

I hope and pray that the same is becoming more true of my following Jesus. Becoming a Christian is not simply something that has happened in the past which I remember and hum to myself occasionally but is the rhythm and melody that accompanies and inhabits what I say and do. Jesus is the composer, conductor and I am part of his orchestra – seeking not to play too many wrong notes.


If you would like to preserve the cultured moment, please don’t read on… if you would like a classic joke, please continue.



When Beethoven passed away, he was buried in a churchyard. A couple days later, the town drunk was walking through the cemetery and heard a strange noise coming from the area where Beethoven was buried. Terrified, the drunk ran and got the priest to come and listen to it. The priest bent close to the grave and heard some faint, unrecognizable music coming from the grave.

Frightened, the priest ran and got the town magistrate.

When the magistrate arrived, he bent his ear to the grave, listened for a moment, and said, “Ah, yes, that’s Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, being played backwards.”

He listened a while longer, and said, “There’s the Eighth Symphony, and it’s backwards, too. Most puzzling.” So the magistrate kept listening, “There’s the Seventh… the Sixth… the Fifth…”

Suddenly the realization of what was happening dawned on the magistrate. He stood up and announced to the crowd that had gathered in the cemetery, “My fellow citizens, there’s nothing to worry about. Beethoven’s decomposing.”

Count Your Blessings

Baptist Christians don’t seem to do Lent in the same way that other Christians do. Sure, some of us give up chocolate but that seems to be more for dietary reasons than to bring us closer to God. This year I have been following the Christian Aid ‘Count Your Blessings’ Lent reflections which I have found have helped me to reflect on my own circumstances as well as to respond to challenges from God.

Each day there is a brief statement about an issue of justice, poverty, care for the planet and more, together with a suggested response. The response may be a prayer, it may be to reflect on my own consumption or wealth and make a small donation to Christian Aid, or it may be a challenge to take practical action.

Today I was challenged to recycle old phones and ink cartridges. A quick search revealed more than 10 empty cartridges and 3 phones that were lying around waiting to be recycled. I have registered with www.recyclingappeal.com/christianaid and they are sending me envelopes to send the stuff back in. Christian Aid get £4 for every phone and £1 for every cartridge. Everybody wins – the old stuff does not get lobbed into a landfill site and gets recycled and reused so the planet’s resources are preserved fractionally, I get rid of some of the stuff that was cluttering up my shelf which I have been meaning to recycle for ages, and Christian Aid get some dosh to help their work around the world. If you have these things lying around, why not register too?

As I am in a recycling mood, I am going to recycle an old joke in honour of my colleague Lynsey who preached so brilliantly last Sunday morning on the subject of the joke.

A minister was complaining to her husband that nobody listened to her sermons. They all fell asleep, read the weekly notice sheet, started doing crosswords or knitting, or simply gazed out of the window. But at the end of the service the congregation all shook her hand and politely said what a nice sermon it had been.

“I could preach about anything and they wouldn’t notice,” she said with a hollow laugh.

“Why don’t you try it?” suggested her husband. “Preach on something mundane and see if they still say what a nice sermon it was.”


“I’ll do it!” said the minister giving in to a surge of enthusiasm. “I’ll preach on riding a bike and see if anyone says anything about it.”


Sunday morning came around and after the children and young people left the service with the minister’s husband (who was one of their leaders), the minister contemplated what she was about to do as the congregation murdered the hymn before the sermon. Suddenly she had a flash of inspiration. She would not preach about riding a bike, she would preach about sex. That ought to get their attention!

So she did. She was witty, she was honest, she was helpful, she was biblical, she was brilliant. Everyone was captivated by it.

At the end of the service everyone wanted to talk to the minister and thank her. One parent went out to collect her children and the Minister’s husband gently asked her what the sermon was like.

“Oh it was brilliant!” enthused the parent. “She was so honest and helpful.”

The Minister’s husband was taken aback. “I’m rather surprised to hear you say that,” he stammered. “She’s only tried it twice – the first time she fell over and the second time her hat blew off!”

Feewing Wucky

 

Don’t ask me why, it was on a whim, but last night I changed the language settings on Google from English to Elmer Fudd. For those who don’t know, Elmer Fudd is the hunter who is always trying to catch Bugs Bunny in the cartoons. He wepwaces some consonants with ‘w’ and Google now does that for me. But the programmers have gone further than just weplacing with ‘w’s. The ‘Search’ button now alternates between ‘hunt’ and ‘Seawch de Web, you scwewy wabbit’. As you may guess from the title of this blog the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button now says ‘I’m Feewing Wucky’. The Elmer Fuddisms have permeated the whole search engine: even in the settings page I can select ‘gwobaww pwefewences (changes appwy to aww Google sewvices)’

As a child I felt sowwy for poow old Elmer Fudd even as I was rooting for Bugs to escape. He was doomed to failure: always outsmarted by Bugs Bunny and on the moments when he seemed to have cornered Bugs (by virtue of the cartoonists’ imagination) the wascawwy wabbit would pop up in another part of the screen and ask, “Ehhh, what’s up Doc?” Elmer Fudd never got to catch the wabbit. Or almost never.

According to Wikipedia (this is a well-researched blog!) there are three occasions when Elmer won. The most famous is the highly acclaimed ‘What’s Opera Doc?’ (voted the best ever cartoon by 1000 cartoonists). This was an operatic cartoon using the music from Ride of the Valkyries. In it Elmer chases Bugs wewentwesswy (figure that one out!) while singing “Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!”; falls in wuv with bugs dwessed as Bwunhilda; and finally after Bugs’s subterfuge is wevealed the music swells to a cwescendo and Bugs is dwamatically struck down as Elmer calls down all the forces of nature on him.

At the moment of victory, Elmer is suddenly filled with wemorse. “What have I done?” he sobs and gathers the stricken wabbit in his arms, walking off into the distance.

In this tragic scene of pathos the apparently dead Bugs suddenly raises his head to face the audience behind Elmer’s back and remarks, “Well, what did you expect in an opera? A happy ending?”

Sevewal thoughts came to me out of this. One is that sometimes what we think we want is not what we actually want. We can become so fixated with getting our own way that we forget to stop and think whether that is the best outcome.

The second thought comes from my new Google wangwauge. It is so pervasive that I am constantly aware of it at the moment, but I guess eventuawwy I will become used to it and it will be ‘normal’. I do the same thing with God – his fingerprints are everywhere but I have allowed them to become part of everyday life so that I no longer notice them.

Dwat.

A prickly subject

[Disclaimer: no animals were hurt in the making of this blog]

Last night a hedgehog decided to sit on our drive, just at the time Sally came back home in her car. The poor thing was very confused and did not know which way to go (the hedgehog, not Sally). In the end it ran up the drive and curled up into a ball in front of the garage door.

Unfortunately Sally needed to get into the garage so the hedgehog needed to move. The problem is that the hedgehog’s defence mechanism when it feels threatened is not to run away but to roll itself into an even tighter ball and stay put.

Talking to it did not work and neither did trying to open the door to make it move, so in the end we got a broom and VERY GENTLY nudged it away from the garage door to safety.

How often do we react like the hedgehog? When we experience something that makes us feel threatened (change?!) do we roll ourselves into a defensive ball of rhetoric and intransigence and refuse to move, even when it is in our best interest? If so, we should not be surprised when sometimes God has to give us a gentle nudge with his celestial broom!

This post also gives me the opportunity to share the joke voted the top joke at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, by Dan Antopolski:

“Hedgehogs – why can’t they just share the hedge?”