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?”

The plan is…

The plan is that I will have a great day off tomorrow. The plan is that tomorrow morning I will do one or two jobs that need doing and do some child-ferrying. The plan is that tomorrow afternoon I will go to Ipswich and watch a football match. The plan is that Ipswich Town will put in the best performance of the season and win at least 4-0. The plan is that I will have a great seat.

The problem is that most of those plans are reliant on factors that are beyond my control… unless of course my fantasy comes true and Roy Keane (the Ipswich Town manager at the time of this bloggage for the uninformed) realises he is one player short, looks into the stand, spots me and decides that I am exactly the right person to save the day and I score all four goals. Of course if that happens I will have to give up my great seat. What a dilemma that will be.

In the real world the words of the Scottish poet and hero Robbie Burns seem to be true: “The best-laid plans of mice and men aft gan aglay.” (translation: ‘the best-laid plans of mice and men often go wrong.’) Robbie Burns observed (how?) that human and mice plans often go wrong. The comedian Eddie Izzard asks a very pertinent question of this truism. What plans are the mice making – plans to get cheese? (It’s a brilliant routine that I won’t spoil by attempting to quote it here). But even if we put the mice plans to one side for a moment, it is true that our plans aft gan aglay.

The key is to have the ability of a chameleon. No, not having a tongue twice the length of our body. No, not having a sticky bit on the end of your tongue to catch insects. No, not having eyes that can look in two different directions at once. All those things make chameleons extraordinarily cool creatures. God was definitely on a roll when he was designing them. No, the coup de grace, the piece de resistance, the cherry on the top of the cake for the chameleon is the ability to change colour. Some say that it does it to reflect its mood, while others say that it does it for camouflage. All we know is he’s called the Stig… (sorry, slipped into a Top Gear parallel universe for a moment).

Chameleons are adaptable. They are able to change. That’s something we often find difficult because we find security in familiarity. There is a comfortable inertia that we have to overcome if we are to be adaptable, willing to step beyond our comfort zone and try things a bit differently. It’s not always easy, but it means that if the plans gan aglay we are able to respond and make new plans that may be better than the originals.

I guess that’s what Peter found when Jesus encouraged him to step out of the boat. His plan original plan was to get safely from one side of the lake to the other but he ended up being the first boardless surfer.

Dandling

In the UK it is ‘Mothering Sunday’ this Sunday (important to point this out for international readers who celebrate it on other dates, and to point out that I have international readers [smug mode enabled], and to make those international readers feel included). Where was I? Oh yes, ‘Mothering Sunday’. It has the potential to be another day designed to line the pockets of card and gift shops across the country as more and more “stuff” is produced just for that day.

At its heart, however, is thankfulness for the human experience of being mothered. It is chance to be thankful to those who have given us their love, patience, encouragement, patience, lent us their car when we were learning to drive, patience, tidied our rooms (or got us to do it eventually), patience, put food on the table for us, patience, nurtured us and did I mention patience? They need not have been our biological mothers, or even women, but they have shared motherliness with us and we are grateful to them.

In preparing for Sunday morning at church I have reflected on Isaiah 66:12. It’s a passage that was originally written for the Jews in exile and is assuring them that God has not forgotten them. It reveals something of his character to them and how he views them with motherlike affection. There is a lovely image of God treating his people the same way that a mother dandles a child on her knees.

Have you ever been dandled? I was not sure, so looked it up. Dandling is affectionately bouncing a child up and down in your arms or on your knees (now you know). That image took me back – first of all to my childhood when I can remember being bounced on knees, and then to my children’s earlier days when they were bounced on knees. The dandling was invariably accompanied by giggles, laughs and joy. It’s a shame I am too big to be dandled today.

The image of God dandling us on his knees has charmed me. There are times when I think he must despair of me but his desire is to know me as his child and to spend time with me in laughter and joy. Wow! That thought has just made the hairs on my arm stand on end and sent a shiver down my spine!

So let’s regress to childhood for a story. I can remember story-time on the radio as a small child: ‘Listen with Mother’, which always began: “Are you sitting comfortably? [pause] Good, then I’ll begin…”

The three bears

Baby Bear goes downstairs and sits in his small chair at the table, he looks into his small bowl. It is empty. “Who’s been eating my porridge?!!”, he squeaks. 

Daddy Bear arrives at the big table and sits in his big chair. He looks into his big bowl, and it is also empty. “Who’s been eating my Porridge?!!,” he roars.

Mother Bear puts her head through the serving hatch from the kitchen and yells, “For Pete’s sake, how many times do we have to go through this?

“It was Mother Bear who got up first, it was Mother Bear who woke everyone in the house, it was Mother Bear who made the coffee, it was Mother Bear who unloaded the dishwasher from last night, and put everything away, it was Mother Bear who went out in the cold early morning air to fetch the newspaper, it was Mother Bear who set the table, it was Mother Bear who put the cat out, cleaned the litter box, and filled the cat’s water and food dish, and, now that you’ve decided to drag your sorry bear-butts downstairs, and grace Mother Bear’s kitchen with your grumpy presence, listen good, cause I’m only going to say this one more time . . .

“I HAVEN’T MADE THE PORRIDGE YET !!”

Living on past glories

I have become a convert. I have moved from being a breakfast-time listener to BBC Radio 5 (news and sport) to BBC Radio 2 (music and laughs). That probably says a lot about me, but the conversion is based principally on my enjoyment of Chris Evans and the team (Radio 2) and my getting more and more annoyed with Nicky Campbell’s interviewing techniques and approach to his colleagues (Radio 5).


That little prologue was to set the scene for the main bit. In a recent show, following the Academy Awards (aka Oscars) Chris Evans asked listeners what awards they had received. That got me thinking about awards I have received in the past. There was the time I was playing in goal for Horsham Baptists FC Third XI and was awarded ‘Man of the Match’ even though we lost 9-0 (I kept the score down to a reasonable level apparently!). There was my one and only swimming certificate (10 metres) at primary school, when I doggy-paddled my way down the pool, just making it to then end of the pool before my feet hit the bottom of the pool. I was awarded a School Prize at the end of my Sixth Form for running the Christian Union and School Volleyball Club (and got awarded a parking ticket too when I went to collect it at the prizegiving).

And there was the time when I was a lad in the 1st Torquay Boys’ Brigade Company and was part of a team that won the Brek Trek (hiking race in the Brecon Beacons). We were given a shiny trophy that we were to share between the three of us. I took it home first and promptly forgot to let my colleagues have it until I uncovered it when we were preparing to move to Colchester two years ago! One of the other two team members was then my boss so I cleaned the trophy up and passed it to him so he could have it on his mantlepiece and reminisce for another 25 years before passing it on to the final member of the team.

All this nostalgic glory made me feel good for a while. Then I came back to reality. While remembering good things from the past is great, it is no substitute for living in the present. We can’t live on past glories. I reflected on an exercise we did at a recent prayer meeting. We tried to think of five things for which we were thankful for God that had happened that day. It brought our faith into the present day, rather than living on past events. It’s something I am trying to incorporate into my daily routine so that I can be more aware of what God is doing now, and live with an attitude of gratitude,

To conclude, and bringing together the theme of awards and humour, I leave you with the joke that was voted ‘Funniest religious joke ever’ on the Ship of Fools Website. It was written by American comedian and mammal Emo Philips (pictured).

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.

Bless a Bureaucrat Day

Bureaucracy is a necessary fact of life. We need people who organise things for us – those who design bus and train timetables, people who manage the benefits system, the organisational structure in the background behind important services like hospitals and the police. On the whole bureaucrats get a bad press. If you are in that line of work and someone asks you at a party what you do for a living you are more likely to say ‘Administrator’ or ‘Civil Servant’ than ‘Bureaucrat’. The word just sounds so… bureaucratic.

We all notice when bureaucracy goes wrong. I am waiting for a date for a hospital appointment and phone calls to the admissions office have been met with sympathetic resignation from the bureaucrats (I think they should reclaim the name) at the other end of the line. They are not in charge of deciding when my appointment will be and are very sorry. At the same time this week I have been chased by another bureaucrat: calling twice to offer me appointments I don’t need. It’s a shame I can’t merge the two systems!

I always try to be sympathetic to these people when I speak with them. I believe that they are trying their hardest to be helpful and often are as exasperated with the system as we are. It’s almost always not their fault that they can’t supply the appointment we want or the answer we need. 

So, I would like to declare tomorrow ‘Bless a Bureaucrat Day’. If you are on the phone or speaking face to face with someone who is a bureaucrat tomorrow (even if they will not admit it) say something encouraging to them. Assure them that you are not angry with them. Ask them how their day is going. And if they have not hung up on you or gone to see their supervisor because it has never happened before and don’t know how to cope you can bless them further with some bureaucratic one liners:

A clean desk is a sign of a cluttered desk drawer.
If at first you don’t succeed, redefine success.
I don’t have a solution, but I do admire the problem.
Jesus is coming! Look Busy.
I love deadlines. I especially like the whooshing sound they make as they go flying by.
A Committee is a group of people who individually can do nothing, but as a group decide that nothing can be done.
Meetings: the practical alternative to work.