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.

A smile on God’s face

I am convinced that God has a sense of humour. You only have to consider the fact that he called me to be a Minister to have your hackles of suspicion raised. A little more theological deduction and you may suggest that having a sense of humour is inherently human and God made us… therefore he must have a sense of humour to give us. Not entirely convincing as an argument because it would follow that therefore he must also have a trunk like an elephant, stripes like a zebra, leaves like different trees, a mouth that closes on flies like a venus fly-trap and every other attribute of his Created order.

When I was at the vicar factory where they tried to train me I wrote my dissertation on a Theology of Humour (subtitled ‘A serious look at the lighter side of God’). I loved writing it and discovering humour in unexpected places throughout the Bible. I won’t bore you with it now, but one of the joys was discovering humour in Jesus. We miss much of it because we do not share the same sense of humour as first century Jews, but it is there all right. I sense that so much of what he said was with a sparkle in his eye and a broad grin.

At first this seemed so out of character with the dour, serious Man of Sorrows that I learnt about growing up going to church that I could not cope with it. It felt wrong. But then I realised that if Jesus was fully human then he must have had a sense of humour as well. (As Jesus is also fully God, we can say through theological deduction that therefore God does have a sense of humour). So you see him smiling knowingly as he tells people that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I believe that this was Hebrew humour, based on hyperbole (exaggeration to an extreme). Jesus was not saying it was impossible, he was simply cracking a joke to show just how hard it is.

I had a conversation with someone today who was asking about when Jesus said that we should hate our parents and siblings. Was he serious? Well, I wonder whether he was cracking another hyperbolic joke here. The point was not that we should hate our family, rather that we should be 100% devoted to God and that he should have our first loyalty.

People who listen to my sermons are usually treated (!?) to a joke or two. I think it is good to season what is said with a little joy and levity – if it was good enough for Jesus who am I to argue? So here’s a chuckle to conclude:

The old man placed an order for one hamburger, French fries and a drink.
He unwrapped the plain hamburger and carefully cut it in half, placing one half in front of his wife.
He then carefully counted out the French fries, dividing them into two piles and neatly placed one pile in front of his wife.
He took a sip of the drink, his wife took a sip and then set the cup down between them. As he began to eat his few bites of hamburger, the people around them were looking over and whispering.
Obviously they were thinking, ‘That poor old couple – all they can afford is one meal for the two of them.’
As the man began to eat his fries a young man came to the table and politely offered to buy another meal for the old couple. The old man said, they were just fine – they were used to sharing everything
People closer to the table noticed the little old lady hadn’t eaten a bite.
She sat there watching her husband eat and occasionally taking turns sipping the drink.
Again, the young man came over and begged them to let him buy another meal for them. This time the old woman said ‘No, thank you, we are used to sharing everything.’
Finally, as the old man finished and was wiping his face neatly with the napkin, the young man again came over to the little old lady who had yet to eat a single bite of food and asked ‘What is it you are waiting for?’
She answered
(scroll down)
‘THE TEETH.’

 

Face furniture

I normally wear contact lenses. I find them far more convenient and less intrusive than wearing glasses. Indeed I find wearing glasses to be uncomfortable after a while. Today, however, I wore my glasses at church because one of my eyes has become a little irritable (I don’t know what I did to make it so fussy) and wearing contact lenses is uncomfortable.
Today was the first Sunday I have worn them and I think that people spent more time focusing on the glasses (pun intended) than anything I said or did. You would not believe how many people commented on me wearing the glasses.

I had people telling me that the glasses suited me and my bald head; that they made me look more intellectual / intelligent / studious / distinguished; that they made me look more like a doctor (?); that they made me look more handsome; even that they went well with my suit! I think people were being complimentary. But why is it that when I don’t wear them nobody comments on how I look? 

Nobody normally tells me that I look intelligent or like a professional person. It may well be that I look daft, unprofessional, plain, that my face does not go well with my suit and people are keeping quiet to avoid insulting me. In which case, ‘Thank you for your consideration’. On the other hand I suspect that it is the unexpected appearance of a pair of glasses on my face that made them think about the way I look.

I’m relieved that God is not as worried about what’s on the outside. A pair of glasses don’t make him think any differently about me. He already knows me completely (although the Bible verse about him knowing how many hairs are on my head is becoming less impressive by the week as the hairs continue to evacuate my scalp). He’s not affected by how I look. He simply takes me as I am (the real me, not the superficial one I project) and says, ‘Let’s start from here’ as I seek to follow Jesus with his help.

However, I am tempted to wear a wig to church next week and see who is brave enough to comment then!!


Explosive milk

In an effort to be environmentally friendly we are trying to buy our milk in bags (from Sainsbury’s). You buy a groovy little jug that the bags sit in and then pierce them with a cleverly designed spout. The idea is that it saves the world from disappearing under a mountain of plastic milk bottles. We tend to buy a few bags at a time (they are only 1 litre) and freeze some of them so that we have them in reserve.

Anyhoo… one of the bags was being de-frozen, and was standing in another jug. It was a good think that Sally, my wife, had the sense to stand it in a jug as it had sprung a leak. When she was out I came along and saw what had happened. Man thoughts: “That milk bag will be no use in its groovy little jug.” These man thoughts were logical. The milk bag still had large lumps of frozen milk in it while it floated in a gently growing pool of milk at the bottom of the jug. I decided that the sensible thing to do was free the frozen milk and allow it to join the escaped milk at the bottom of the jug.

I picked up a pair of scissors and lifted the bag with frozen milk out of the jug. I forgot that it would be slippery because of the unfrozen milk on the outside and as the bag reached the top of the jug it slipped out of my grasp. Back into the jug (fortunately).

Unfortunately it hit the pool of milk at the bottom of the jug with considerable force and the milk made a violent bid for ultimate freedom. Milk went in all directions. It was like someone had placed an explosive charge at the bottom of the jug. I stood there, dripping in milk, for that second in which I took in what had happened. Then I wiped every surface in the kitchen (and inside the cooker – how???) while reciting a mantra: “bother, bother, bother, bother, bother…” (honestly, that was the mantra).

The thought briefly crossed my mind that I would laugh at this in the future, but I dismissed it as I did not think it very funny at that moment. Well you don’t when milk is dripping off you and running down the fronts of the kitchen cabinets onto the floor. But now I am finding it amusing (even if you aren’t). It seems that things do look different in hindsight than they do at the time. 

The same is true of much darker experiences than a milk explosion. When we are in the midst of them we can’t always see beyond the experience. It fills our view. Afterwards we can look at them differently and see them from a better perspective. In my experience I can see that God has been with me through them, even if I didn’t know he was there at the time. He has been there through the kindness of others, he has been there through their prayers and he has been there going through it with me. 

Perhaps today he got covered in milk too.

Love is… like a Bugatti Veyron!

Do you remember the ‘Love is…’ cartoons? They used to be in the paper and would have some sweet statement that related to the way a man and woman love each other. The example here has the caption: ‘Love is… not asking how much her new dress cost.’ You get the idea. (If you want to see lots of these, visit www.loveisfan.com). I suspect that the original idea for these cartoons came from the Bible – from the famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13 that describes love in different ways.

I have the joy of preaching on 1 Corinthians 13 on Sunday morning. That’s the chapter that is often read at weddings and funerals because it is such great poetic literature. I can understand why it is used in that way, but it’s a real shame if that’s all it’s ever used for. Kind of like having a Bugatti Veyron and keeping it in the garage to look at without ever driving it. (For the unitiated, that’s a Bugatti Veyron next to this paragraph – 16 cylinder engine, 1001 BHP, 253.5 mph, you get the idea – for lots of info for petrol-heads visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bugatti_Veyron).

I’m in the middle of preparing the sermon now (“So what are you doing blogging rather than writing the sermon?” I hear you shout) and am being blown away by the depth and impact of the passage. It’s a high octane ride all right. It revs loud and clear at you from the first words to the last and takes your breath away.

You shouted at me a moment ago, asking why I am blogifying not sermonising. I am about to put pedal to the metal, but before I do I needed to stop and regain my composure because it’s so exhilirating. The only problem I can foresee is that there is so much in the passage that we may need a very long sermon. Those from my church who read this before Sunday morning have been warned. 

Vrooom, vrooom!

The inner monologue

I was in a meeting earlier this week, talking about websites, and I mentioned this blog. My colleague Lynsey (who tells me she only has fruit tea once or twice a month [update for ‘waiting room-inations’ post]) said that she could not write a blog because she does not have an inner monologue running.

I did not realise that I had one. I have always thought of inner monologues being like JD on the awesome Scrubs* and I didn’t think I narrate my life to myself. However, as I reflected more on Lynsey’s statement (she’s always worth listening to) I wondered to myself whether it was true and had a moment of self-awareness. In wondering whether it was true, was I running an inner monologue? And in typing that question into the blog am I becoming like Carrie from the not as awesome Sex in the City?

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with this. It was just a surprise to realise that it was true and to understand that this probably is what enables me to blogify. It’s actually quite liberating to realise. All that this blog is doing is releasing that inner monologue into the wild to roam free and express itself like Free Willy making his jump for freedom. Jump little thoughts, jump!

examples of JD inner monologues

“I think the easiest way to lose something is to want it too badly… Of course, it doesn’t help if your friend is a diabolical genius.” (When Elliot has foiled his attempt to get together with Molly).

“As Turk and I recuperated from our big chair swap, I wondered what other couples were doing tonight… Did I just refer to Turk and I as a couple?”

Danni: “Sorry. Sometimes I have an inner monologue running through my head.”
JD’s inner monologue: “Inner monologue? Weirdo!”

squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak.

Are you fed up with the squeaking yet?

There’s a lady who lives down our street who walks her dog early in the mornings. Not a problem – it’s probably good for her and for her dog. She goes out in her car with her dog every morning (early means before 6am) to take the dog to where the dog gets its dose of walkies. Not necessarily a problem, although I reckon there are nice walkies areas around us within walkies distance.

What is frustrating is that her car brakes squeak. Badly. Very badly. Each morning she eases her car gently down her drive onto the road. Squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak… You get the idea. It’s not a nice way to be woken up. It sounds like there’s a mouse with a megaphone outside our window. I find the dawn chorus of tweeting bad enough.

We have spoken about this to some of our neighbours and they hear it too. The funny thing is none of us have had the nerve to go and speak with her about it. Instead we (if they are anything like me) wake up to squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak… and lie there feeling annoyed and irritated. Why don’t I say anything to her?

The coward in me thinks that it is not the best way to introduce myself: “Hello, I’m Nick, please will you sort out your car brakes because they are driving [pun unintended] me mad in the mornings.” How would you react to that? Of course I don’t have to introduce myself like that, but that is how I imagine it when I am awoken by squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak, squeak…

She’s almost certainly a lovely lady who has a nice dog and loves it enough to take it to its favourite place every day early in the morning. I keep resolving to go and find out. Maybe blogging about it will motivate me. Perhaps I could take her a gift. WD40 anyone?