polar exploration

confusedWhat is it about humans that makes us want to polarise? Is it because we secretly like conflict – perhaps something left over from our cave-dwelling kill-or-be-eaten past? Maybe it’s because we want to know who’s on our side, and by definition who isn’t?

If you listen to interviews on the radio phone-ins they always seem to try to find two people who have opposing views on the topic to argue against one another. I remember a while ago listening to a debate about whether or not (and there’s a clue in that part of the ‘discussion’) it is right to teach young people about sex or teach them about abstinence from sex before marriage. I was really unhappy with the way it was set up, especially as it seemed to be an opportunity for church-bashing, so I phoned in. I wanted to point out that it’s perfectly possible to teach young people about all aspects of sex, including the emotional ones, even if you hold a view that abstaining from sex before marriage is most beneficial. Sadly I didn’t get on to make that point and the show continued with the polarised debate.

You can take almost any significant issue (and many trivial ones) and polarise opinions on them. For example, do you like Marmite? The answers you would be offered would be ‘yes’ or ‘no’. However it’s possible that some people like Marmite in some circumstances (on their toast in the morning) but not in others (in sandwiches with bananas and anchovies)*.

It grieves me to say that Christians are some of the best at polarising. We seem to relish an ‘yes or no’ approach to almost any issue, usually coupled with an inference or implication that if you disagree with me (and I can back it up by some reference to the Bible) then you are a heretic and should be subjected to some of the worst aspects of the Spanish Inquisition (you didn’t expect that). I may be overstating things for comedic effect, but I hope you get my point.

I could put a post on social media about any of 20 different subjects on which Christians disagree and I am fairly confident that quickly a discussion thread would follow that quickly degenerated into a polarised argument. Today is 31 October. That is a date which polarises Christians, doesn’t it.

On 31 October 1517 Martin Luther, a disaffected priest, nailed a piece of paper containing 95 radical opinions about church practice onto the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. That simple act is seen as the spark that lit the touchpaper of the Protestant Reformation.

What? You didn’t think I meant Luther’s 95 theses? You thought I was referring to Halloween? Ah, well, if I was writing about Halloween some of you might start picking up virtual stones to lob in my direction while others of you might start a virtual fan club. So I am not going to.

Instead I am going to suggest that there is another way. It is the way of dialogue instead of debate. It is the way of seeking common ground rather than focussing on what we disagree about. It is the way of affirmation and blessing, not devaluing and condemnation. I believe it is the way of Jesus. He had a lot of controversial things to say. He disagreed with a lot of people. In the end some of them were so incensed that they contrived to arrange his crucifixion.

But to most people he offered welcome and inclusion rather than division and exclusion. He seems to have gone out of his way to mix with the ‘wrong sort of people’. The only times (and Christians should be aware and beware) that he had harsh words to say to people was to the religious people who excluded people from society and from an encounter with God by their words and actions.

“Ah, yes,” some of you may be saying, “But didn’t Jesus say in Matthew 10:‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn “a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law – a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.”’?”**

Yup. That’s what it says. But he was not talking about doctrinal differences or ethical conundrums or what to celebrate on 31 October. He was talking about the cost of following him and for some people that would mean that their family turned against them.

So, whatever issues you have with someone else if you disagree with them disagree well.

Perhaps we should pay more attention to the One who said ‘blessed are the peacemakers’ and less to those who want to have a heated debate.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*I don’t like Marmite (under any circumstances) and would not recommend trying Marmite, banana and anchovy sandwiches unless they prove to be a gourmet delight, in which case you heard it hear first! However, despite my lack of desire to consume the brewing by-product I don’t have a beef with those who do (see what I did there?)

**I think I got the punctuation right

magical inspiration

surprise
This magical response to one of my illusions is one of my favourites!

Yesterday evening at the Magic Club of which I am a member (available for charity shows locally) we had a lecture from Michael Vincent. It was a fascinating, inspiring and extremely enjoyable lecture. It was also quite profound. I’m not going to tell you what he said, that would not be fair to him as it would give away some of his secrets, but I was left with several impressions that I will share:

It is clear that Michael is someone who is striving for excellence in his magic. He is not satisfied with ‘adequate’. 8 out of 10 will not do.

He pays great attention to detail. Every move, every word, every look and every thought is considered and planned.

He is a great technician – clearly what we saw was the product of years of practice and benefited from him listening to (and being mentored by) others who had years of experience.

He enjoys what he does – even before he delights and audience he is delighted with what he is performing and how he is performing it.

He wants his audience to have a magical experience. The presentation of the illusions is as important (if not more important) than the technical skills. You need both but mere technical brilliance is not enough if your audience doesn’t find you engaging and want to go on a magical journey with you.

There’s so much more I could talk about but I am also trying to assimilate it for myself. But, reflecting on those things alone, there are lessons for followers of Jesus, not just magicians:

Strive for excellence. “Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God,” writes Paul to the church in Corinth. If God is GOD, then we should offer him our best. That applies to church activities, but it also applies to us as individuals – being the best free samples of Jesus that we can (as someone has blogged). The good news is that we also have God’s Spirit to help us in that process, it’s not something we have to try on our own. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but if you give of your best and consciously tell God that you are doing so as an act of worship then it is an act of worship.

Pay attention to detail. In my experience it’s not often big things that cause arguments in churches it’s little things that become inflated into big things. The colour of the carpets is not a big thing but if someone’s views are not listened to they can feel ignored and unloved and those feelings grow with more little things. How many people do ‘little things’ that go un-noticed and unappreciated? Pay attention to detail and thank people for the little things.

And, flipping it over, if we do the little things well often the bigger things fall into place: for example if someone wants to help with the sound desk, make sure that they receive training in how to do it.

And in our everyday life, pay attention to the little things that others do for us and appreciate them. If everyone appreciated others how much better would life be? Pay attention to the little things for others, like using their name (difficult for those who have problems remembering names, so if that’s you don’t try to bluff it, admit it and ask the person their name again and explain your weakness). It may seem trivial, but it makes a difference.

Practice. Living as a follower of Jesus won’t make any difference to your life if you only think about it when you attend church. Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” Does that sound like he meant that all you have to do is go to church services? Life is meant to be lived, and life in all its fullness is meant to be lived in all its fullness, which means we have to put what we believe into practice: In other words: loving one another; forgiving one another; serving one another; praying (talking with God); blessing one another. The more you put it into practice the opportunities God’s Spirit has to shape us and the more it will become second nature.

Enjoy it. I read an article which said that researchers have found that middle age is the unhappiest era in peoples’ lives. As someone who is in his forties (just) that could be worrying. But life is for living. Find satisfaction in things you do (especially if you do them to the best of your ability – see above), even little things (see above). Celebrate good things. Relish what is possible. Share what you enjoy with others (and if there’s nobody else with whom you can share it then tell God about it). In the act of sharing you reinforce to yourself the positive experience you had. I know that life can be tough. I know that sometimes the s**t hits the fan and sometimes you are in the vicinity and it hits you too. But rather than only focusing on the negative, seek to find positives to enjoy – that could be as simple as having an understanding friend on whom to offload or savouring a cup of coffee.

Think of others. You are not on a desert island (if you are, how on earth do you have an internet connection and why are you reading this instead of asking for help?) Others will be around you. How can you bless them, encourage them, support them, amuse them, strengthen them, and enhance them by what you do with them and for them? “Love God, love those around you” is a pretty good personal mission statement! And even if you feel alone then you aren’t – God’s still there and you can ‘perform’ for an audience of One.

So, thank you Michael Vincent for provoking these (and many other) thoughts. And it has also underlined for me my intention to apply to join the Magic Circle this year (there, I’ve gone public, I have to go for it now!) whilst applying those principles both to my life and my magic.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

 

simply counting

Travelling back from Bluewater in the car yesterday evening (see Friday’s bloggage for details) I had time to reflect a bit on the day. The morning service at our church blessed me immensely. It was not the singing or the sermon or the prayers or actually anything that happened in the service, it was the service itself. Being together with fellow followers of Jesus was a blessing on its own. Everything else was a bonus!

Then there was Bluewater itself. Not only did I get to drink some lovely coffee and meet some new people, but I had the opportunity to share some of my magic tricks and jokes with them (that’s three of my passions indulged already) but I was also able to share briefly about God having a sense of humour and what that means for us (a fourth passion). Personal chuffment came from a magic trick ‘what I built’ working as intended on the first time of trying in public! All are simple things but they blessed me.Image.

And on the journey home, after the reflecting, I called my sister on the hands-free unit and had a good chat with her as I trundled up the A12. It was lovely to catch up with her, share news of our families and simply talk. And I really appreciated the company (I went to Bluewater on my own) as I drove, even though she was hundreds of miles away..

How often do we look for blessings in complicated and ‘significant’ things and overlook the many simple ways in which we are blessed by God through other people. The good old hymn encourages us to: “count your blessings, name them one by one…” Sounds like excellent advice to me. And when we have totted them up, lets not lose that attitude of gratitude!

Be blessed, be a blessing, keep counting…

You can find even find blessings in backhanded compliments:

A fellow computer programmer for a consulting group had designed some software for one of our largest accounts. He asked my help in putting it into operation.

At first, he handled most of the work. Eventually, though, he asked me to help with the last phase of the training. When I sat down with one woman and told her I would be showing her how to make changes to the files, she sighed with relief. “I’m so glad you’re teaching me instead of him.”

Surprised, I said that my colleague was far more experienced than I was.

“Yes,” she said, “but I feel much more comfortable with you. I get nervous around really smart people.”