attention!

paperworkEveryone wants our attention nowadays don’t they? Our mobile phones let us know when we have received a message and then flash a light at us incessantly until we have acknowledged that fact. It seems to me that junk mail is on the increase (particularly the sort that is pushed through everybody’s letterbox indiscriminately (pizza companies, gardeners, Indian takeaways, free newspapers… you know the sort of thing*). And all of the junk mail is trying to get our attention. Then there are the adverts on television. I know they’ve been there on commercial channels since they began but if you try to watch a sporting event with 2 halves on one of those channels the number of advert breaks before the match, during the interval, and after the match is incredible. (I know that’s how they fund the channels but it doesn’t stop it being annoying).

And don’t get me started on the pop-ups in apps and on websites!

And really don’t get me started on the spam emails!!

And really really don’t get me started on those constant unsolicited phone calls!!!

A Chicago company is one of the world’s largest subscription fulfilment companies. They have a computer database that records everyone’s subscriptions to various magazines and automatically sends out reminders and renewal notices when the subscription expires.

One day the computer malfunctioned. Soon afterwards, a rancher in Colorado received 9,734 separate mailings, informing him that his subscription to National Geographic Magazine had expired. This got his attention. He stopped what he was doing and travelled the 10 miles to the nearest post office, where he sent in his money for his renewal – along with a note, which said, “I give up! Send me your magazine!”

In the face of this impersonal onslaught don’t you find yourself sometimes almost screaming, “I don’t want any more junk mail, automated calls, spam emails, pop-ups… I just want to talk to a person!”

Do you ever get the sense that in the midst of all of this clamour for our attention God is gently and patiently coughing: “Ahem, I’d really like us to have a chat. That is if you’re not too busy for me.”

Too busy for God?! Now there’s an interesting concept. God’s approach to us is not to bully us into submission. He does not demand our attention but he does crave it. And the good news is that God so loved the world that he didn’t send spam emails, make unsolicited phone calls, send junk mail or bombard us with adverts – he sent his Son: a person to whom we can relate. Someone with whom we can talk.

If we’re not too busy dealing with everyone else who wants our attention.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*When the flow of junk mail gets particularly intense I am tempted to put a notice on the letterbox saying ‘thank you but no thank you’ and then I wonder what would happen if everyone did that. It would take away employment (albeit very low-paid and almost thankless) simply because I am feeling inconvenienced. I accept that if everybody stopped receiving such a large volume of paperwork we might save a few million trees, but that’s a different question.

the parable of the misunderstood inattention

Crazy Little Game Called... FootballA long time ago, in a football league far far away, I played for my church football team. I was still a teenager and had not yet settled on the idea of being a goalkeeper, but rather fancied myself as the next Paul Mariner*. I read lots of books about playing football, about tactics, skills and training. I used to spend hours kicking a football against a wall at home: practicing my shooting accuracy and ability to control the ball when it bounced back.

I used to train with my church football team, who played in the local league. And just occasionally, when they were desperate, I would get a game. I can remember the joy I experienced when I was picked, the enthusiastic running around that I did, and the happiness when the manager had substituted all of the players he could substitute during the match and I was still on the pitch!

There was one occasion I can remember when I was in the opposing penalty area and the ball rebounded towards me. My team mates were shouting at me to control the ball before hitting it, but I had memories of slamming a football against the wall at home and was confident that I would be able to slam it into the back of the net. I ran towards the ball and thundered it high and wide. You can draw your own conclusions about why I developed into a goalkeeper. It may have something to do with me never scoring a goal, but I am not sure.

But the occasion that I am using as a parable came about because I had read in one of my many football tactics books that you could lull the opposition into thinking you weren’t a threat by behaving as if you were disinterested with the game. You would wander around, not looking at what was happening. You would not put your hand up or shout for the ball to be passed to you. You would look not pay attention. Except that in reality you were. You were watching with your peripheral vision and when the defenders had decided that you were not a threat you would burst into action, call for the ball, run past the surprised defence and slot the ball past the unsuspecting goalkeeper.

To me this sounded like an excellent idea and I resolved to try it in the next game I played. There was one flaw in my otherwise foolproof plan, but I will come back to that. It was not long before the team was desperate enough for me to be picked again and I was delighted to find that they had put me up front again (now I wonder whether that was to keep me as far away from our goal as possible). The match started and I did my best not to look interested. I tried not to look as if I was paying attention to what was happening in the rest of the game. I wandered around aimlessly. I did not look at what was happening. I did not put my hand up or shout for the ball. And the defenders started to ignore me. It was working!

Then (and this is where the flaw comes in) the captain of our team shouted at me to pay attention and get involved in the match.The flaw was that I had not warned my team that this is what I would be doing! My plan had been so good and my acting so believable that I had even fooled my own team and the captain’s shouting had drawn the defenders’ attention back to me. I felt disappointed that my team captain would shout at me and think I was not interested, but then realised that I could not blame him because he didn’t know what I was doing – I had assumed that he would realise that my apparent inattention was part of a cunning plan.

How often is that true? How often do we assume that other people know what we are thinking and why we are doing things? How often are misunderstandings caused by a failure to communicate clearly (or at all)? Nobody (regardless of what their publicity says) is actually a mind-reader.

Writing at one of the first Churches, Paul had these words of advice (1 Thessalonians 5:11ff, NIRV):

“So encourage one another with the hope you have. Build each other up. In fact, that’s what you are doing.12 Brothers and sisters, we ask you to accept the godly leaders who work hard among you. They care for you in the Lord. They correct you. 13 Have a lot of respect for them. Love them because of what they do. Live in peace with one another. 14 Brothers and sisters, we are asking you to warn certain people. These people don’t want to work. Instead, they make trouble. We are also asking you to encourage those who have lost hope. Help those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. 15 Make sure that no one pays back one wrong act with another. Instead, always try to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. 16 Always be joyful. 17 Never stop praying. 18 Give thanks no matter what happens. God wants you to thank him because you believe in Christ Jesus.”

The passage speaks of what to do with those who are not engaged with what is happening but if you look at all of the advice it all presupposes good communication, doesn’t it? Very few of those things can happen if people don’t talk with one another and God!

Be blessed, be a blessing

*For those uneducated people among you, this is Paul Mariner’s Wikipedia entry.