Poetry is in the ear of the beholder

At our Ministers’ Conference we have been blessed by both the main speakers. Viv O’Brien has been challenging and inspiring as we consider preaching styles and looking after ourselves pastorally. 

Stewart Henderson (www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/presenters/stewart_henderson.shtml) has been equally inspiring and also engaging as he has shared some of his life and experience and (brilliantly) some of his poems. I love the way in which he paints such evocative pictures using unusual and unexpected combinations of the 26 letters in our alphabet. 

I confess to being an amateur amateur poet myself and have been in awe of the creativity and power of the poems which Stewart has written and performed for us. There is a wonderful juxtaposition of humour and sobriety in some of the poems that is delicious to behold. The humour disarms and then the point is made while the defences are down so that it strikes deep and true. Jonathan Miller described humour as “a sabbatical from reality” that enables us to see things from a different perspective and then re-evaluate reality. That seems to be what is happening in the poems and I love it.

One of the points Stewart made was how different people receive different things from the same poem, some of which may not have been intended by the poet at all. I guess that’s because we all receive the poems through the graphic equaliser of our experiences and personality that diminishes the volume of some aspects of the poem and accentuates others. I had this experience a while ago when I read a poem at the start of a sermon. The poem was intended to be a light-hearted poke at my own inability to find things I have mislaid in comparison to my wife’s apparent ability to know where everything is in the house at any given time. I was using it to open a sermon on the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin (Luke 15) by illustrating how hard we look for things.

I had not anticipated that the opening line might cause upset for a member of the congregation who had divorced from his wife and whose ex-wife had been verbally abusive towards him. I apologise again to him (if he should ever read this blog) and anyone else who is offended by the poem but I am going to take my courage in both hands and reproduce the poem for you here in the confident hope that Stewart Henderson is highly unlikely ever to read it (at least not until after the conference, when I will be a long way away!).


My wife says I'm a loser
I'm inclined to think she's right.
I don't know where my things are but
She doesn't share my plight. 
Though my keys aren't where I leave them
She always finds them there.
Somehow they're invisible
Despite how hard I stare. 
My mobile phone IS mobile
I'm sure it runs around:
I can look in vain for hours but
In seconds she has it found. 
She says I don't look properly
When I overlook it
And start an inquisition
To find out just who took it.
I'm sure my searching's thorough:
That I look in the right places
Which is why I get so ratty
In my oh-so frantic chases.
"Where did you last see it?"
She asks me through my bile.
"If I knew I wouldn't need your help."
I sulk back like a child. 
My wife's knows where to start things:
"I've already looked there twice"
Means that's her quest's beginning
And where she finds the prize.
As I'm reunited with what I lost
And turn off my pressure cooker
I consider it a huge blessing
That I married such a looker.

Ministers’ Conference part 2

Being at this Conference Centre reminds me of another previous occasion when I was here.  It was a meeting of the Baptist Union of Great Britain’s Younger Leaders’ Forum (snappy title!). There was another gathering here at the same time – a gathering of members of a Christian singles’ network. They had a bewildering range of activities organised for the weekend that enabled people to get to know one another.

The meal tables were set out with cards showing where the BU group should sit and where members of this singles’ network should sit. At one meal three of the female members of the YLF were sat at a table waiting for others to arrive. One of the men from the singles’ network sauntered over to the table and started to sit down, announcing his arrival with the immortal chat-up line: “I don’t think I have inflicted myself on you yet.”  The three young women were rather flustered by this and panicked. The only defence they could muster was to point to the card on the table and say, “We’re Baptists!”  

The man left.

A number of thoughts occur to me from this encounter.  One was to ask what the thinking was behind “I don’t think I have inflicted myself on you yet.”  Was it intended to come across as casual and self-deprecating?  Was his self-esteem that low, or was he simply very self-aware?

The second thought was to ask what sort of defence against unwanted advances “We’re Baptists!” is. Is being a Baptist the dating equivalent of Kryptonite to the prospective superman lothario, causing him to lose all allure unless he flees immediately. Do Baptists not participate in dating rituals thus rendering the approach unnecessary?  Is declaring oneself to be a Baptist a way of pouring cold water on a suitor’s ardour?

And thirdly, why did the man give up so meekly?  Was it the fluster and panic in their voices as the young women declared their Baptist allegiance?  Did he realise he was sitting down at the wrong table?  Or was he allergic to copious amounts of water?

Since Baptists owe their denominational origins to John the Baptist* I thought I would leave you with one more question:

Q. What do Winnie the Pooh and John the Baptist have in common?
A. They both have the same middle name


**Irony doesn’t work in written text

Ministers’ Conference part 1

Today I am off to a three-day conference for Baptist Ministers in the Eastern Baptist Association.  It should be a good time of refreshing, sharing of ideas, chatting, eating and all the rest of the important things that happen. Oh yes, the main sessions look good too, being led by my old friend Viv O’Brien.

Going to this conference reminds me of an experience I had a while ago when I went to a conference centre when there was another Christian conference running at the same time. I knew one of the participants, who was running a stall in their ‘marketplace’ and he invited me to come over and see him during one of the breaks. As I was interested in the subject of that conference I gladly accepted the invitation and was happily looking over the different stalls (wallet in hand) when one of the leaders of that conference approached me and asked if I was a member of the conference.

I sheepishly admitted that I wasn’t and he started to ask me about why I was interested in their conference. He told me about their themes and what the organisation did. He listened to my interests related to the subject of his conference and finally he invited me to join them for a couple of sessions. Before I knew it lots of the members of the conference were chatting to me and invited me to rejoin their organisation. (I had been a member in the past but had let the membership lapse).  What a great analogy of what church should be like.

Or at least it would be if that whole last paragraph wasn’t a complete fabrication. What actually happened was that the conference leader approached me and asked me to leave (politely) as I did not belong there. I left feeling unwanted and decided that I did not want to renew my membership of an organisation that was so unwelcoming. I hope that is not an analogy for churches!

So what sort of welcome will we get in heaven?  An exasperated mother, whose son was always getting into mischief, finally asked him, “How do you expect to get into Heaven?”

The boy thought it over and said, “Well, I’ll just run in and out and in and out and keep slamming the door until St. Peter says, ‘For Heaven’s sake, Jimmy, come in or stay out!'”

Power napping

A while ago I read Ellen MacArthur’s inspiring book which tells some of her life story in the context of her Vendee Globe race. She truly is an inspirational person and reading the book made me aware of how often I am restricted by what I perceive to be my limitations.

One of the most extraordinary things is that Ellen MacArthur survived the race around the world on ‘power naps’, never sleeping for more than two hours and often only grabbing a few minutes at a time. Apparently it’s something to do with the quality of the sleep rather than the quantity. As someone who feels like I need at least 8 hours of sleep a night I find it difficult to comprehend. Of course, I should not knock it until I have tried it.

Following yesterday’s pathetic exertions on my new bike I have decided that I need a power nap. I will finish writing the blog later.


Note to self – do not power nap with head resting on keyboard.

Bicycles hurt

Today I rode my new bike into town and back for the first time. I can’t believe how many different muscles now hurt. Surely there should be some sort of law preventing such self-inflicted torture. It’s all very well Queen singing ‘I want to ride my bicycle’ but they missed off the verse about all the bits that hurt afterwards.

Okay, it’s evidence of how unfit I am, and I know that if I persevere it will get easier (life lessons there if you want them), but right now I am discovering muscles that hurt in places that I did not know I had. It’s not the bike’s fault. I partly blame the roads and cycle tracks for being so uneven. Bumps that cars take in their stride (figuratively speaking) feel very different when the shock is transmitted up through your handlebars and seat. (More life lessons there if you want them – does God cushion us from the impact of some of the bumps of life?). But I mostly blame myself for not taking the time or effort sooner to get up out of my comfortable seat and get some exercise.

I thought I would leave you with a pothole joke. I feel able to share it as I am an ex-lawyer. What’s the difference between a lawyer and a pothole? You swerve to miss a pothole.

I want to ride my bicycle

I have just bought a new bike.  Nothing astounding about that (except that it means I will be getting more exercise).  What intrigued me was the variety of bikes available now.  Aside from the variety of kids’ bikes and vehicles (my son was trying to persuade me to get a pink battery-powered ‘quad bike’) there are so many options:

BMX Bike, Mountain Bike, Town Bike, Hybrid Bike, Folding Bike, Battery-assisted Bike, Road Bike, Sprint Bike, Trials Bike, Unicycle, Tricycle, Tandem… it’s enough to make your head spin, never mind the bike wheels.

I have gone for a relatively modest hybrid bike, which is what happens when you cross a mountain bike with a town bike.  It’s pretty comfortable (no razor’s edge saddle like I had on an old racing bike), pretty sturdy and pretty tame.

I have to be careful though because the police are cracking down on cycling offences.  An over zealous traffic cop stopped the vicar on his bicycle. After checking the bike thoroughly and finding nothing wrong he had to let the vicar go. “You will never arrest me because God is with me wherever I go.” said the vicar. 

“Right then” (said the cop) “I’m nicking you for carrying a passenger on a single seater vehicle!”

Now all I have to do is remember what to do when I am riding it. Hopefully it’s not as easy as falling off a bike.

Breaking Murphy’s Laws

There are various versions of ‘Murphy’s Law’ going around.  It may be Murphy’s first law of inevitability: ‘If anything can go wrong it will’ or his first law of obsolescence: ‘If it jams, force it. If it breaks it needed replacing anyway’.  There’s Murphy’s law of duplication: ‘The legibility of a photocopy is inversely proportional to the importance of the document.’  And Murphy’s law of computing: ‘The attention span of a computer is only as long as its power cable.’

Of course Murphy’s law is traditionally tested by dropping a piece of toast that is buttered only on one side.  Murphy’s law dictates that it will always fall buttered side down.  This has been scientifically tested and is not true. It does not always fall buttered side down.  A development of the theory then states that the likelihood of the toast landing buttered side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.  Still not scientifically proven.

Murphy’s law(s) are predicated on pessimism.  They assume that the worst will always happen.  While they may be amusing, if we live our lives based on Murphy’s laws we will miss out on so much joy.  So, on Shrove Tuesday (otherwise known as Pancake Day in the UK) I have a suggestion for breaking Murphy’s law.  Instead of dropping toast, toss pancakes – because they are double-sided they always land right side up.

(unless they stick to the ceiling!).