view from my pew 13

 

Dear Internet

Mr Grenville-Stubbs here. I imagine that you thought I had forgotten all about you, didn’t you? But no, I have simply been rather too busy to put fingers to keyboard and muse in your direction. However, I have something rather significant to tell you.

Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker, our Minister, told me a story before Christmas and said that I was one of the characters, but I can’t work out which one so I will tell you the story and let you decide. First of all I need to tell you the context:

We had a young lady come to our church recently for a concert to raise funds for the refurbishment of the thermometer at the front of the church that indicates how we are doing with our fundraising to replace the church roof. She was one of a number of performers, many of whom were from our church. My friend, Mr Capel, gave an enthusiastic performance on the spoons. Mr Baumgarten surprised us all with a performance of Nessun Dorma that led to a standing ovation until the CD jumped and we realised he was miming to a recording of Pavarotti. Mrs Barnard raised a few eyebrows with her Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. And I gave a stirring recitation of the “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more” speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V (although our safeguarding designated person did suggest that covering myself in stage blood was a bit much for a family event).

The young lady in question was a schoolfriend of one of the young people from our church. She doesn’t normally come to our church but she wanted to perform and played her violin for us. She played ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. I commend her ambition but unfortunately her ability did not match it. It was rather painful to listen to and I felt embarrassed for her as she battled her way through (repeats and all). After the concert over a cup of tea in the church hall I talked about her performance to Mr Capel, Mr Baumgarten and Mrs Barnard and I expressed my opinion with my usual thoroughness.

I thought nothing more of this until Revd Phil told me this story:

“Thomas Edison did not invent the electric lightbulb, even though many people believe he did. What he managed to do was invent a commercially viable, practical and durable electric lightbulb. The problem with previous versions of the electric lightbulb was that the filaments would burn out quickly so the bulbs did not last long.

light bulb“Edison tried 6,000 different materials for his filament. Each time it didn’t work he decided that he had excluded one more non-working alternative, narrowing down the options until he found one that worked and was cheap enough to be financially viable. Finally he tried carbonized bamboo and found that it worked.

“But imagine, for a moment, if Mr Edison had been working in his laboratory and he had overheard a conversation outside the door. ‘I can’t believe he’s still going. He’s tried almost 6,000 different materials and it just doesn’t work. He’s not going to succeed. He just isn’t up to it and he should give up now.’

“What if he had taken that to heart and given up just before he tried carbonized bamboo?”

I don’t think I am that much like Thomas Edison although I do consider the comparison to be flattering.

Yours faithfully

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs

critical thinking

As you will know by now if you have read my previous bloggages, or follow me on social media, my friend Richard Jones has won Britain’s Got Talent. He is the first magician to win this and, in my humble opinion, is a worthy winner. He’s also a really nice, genuine, humble bloke.

But it is distressing to see that some in the media have decided to attack him. If it distresses me, how much more must it hurt Richard? There have been claims that he was repeating illusions performed elsewhere. There were even (amazingly) claims that he was not performing real magic! And some magicians have criticised him for not performing more difficult illusions.

Let’s be clear about a few things. First of all Richard has never claimed to have supernatural powers. What he does is perform illusions with style, charm, skill and panache. Of course he’s not performing real magic if you mean that he is using spells and incantations to invoke dark powers to enable him to do what he does. But he’s a member of the Magic Circle and a member of Mid Essex Magical Society, neither of which admit people who don’t know what they are doing.

The second thing I want to clarify is that many illusions are available for sale commercially through magic shops (online and physical). So the chances are that if some of what Richard did was based on something that is commercially available someone else will also have performed it somewhere else, assuming that they have secured the right to perform it on television. Even illusions performed by famous televisions magicians are also available commercially. Criticising Richard for what he has done is like criticising a musician for performing a cover version of another song. But actually what he also did was add his own twist, style, presentation and personality onto the illusions he performed.

The final thing I want to clarify is that Britain’s Got Talent is about the performance and the effect that it has on the audience. It is not a show that rewards technical excellence, but a show that promotes talented performers. Richard’s performances in the audition and live shows were excellent. He presented the illusions superbly. You can tell that by the reaction of the judges and the audience, and of course by the fact that he won! If I was in his shoes I would not try to do something technically risky in order to wow the magicians if I could perform something I was more confident with pulling off successfully that would get the reaction he did.

All of this criticism needs to be kept in perspective. They are criticisms by just a few people who happen to have a public platform from which to proclaim their negative opinions. In my mind their opinions matter less than the opinion of those who voted for Richard, and the opinions of those who know him. But why do people feel it is necessary to criticise others in that way?

In part I think it is because they are jealous. They are jealous of the success of others and need to tear people down in order to make themselves feel better. One of the Ten Commandments is that we should not covet what other people have. It’s not just to stop us being jealous, it’s because wanting and focusing on what others have stops us appreciating what we have.

In part, too, I think it’s because they want to try to make others think better of them. It’s pride. If they are critical perhaps others will think that they are an expert. If they put other people down then perhaps others will assume that they are above the person they are putting down. Pride is as corrosive as jealousy because it makes us oblivious to our own faults, it empowers us to judge others but masks our own inadequacies from us. Jesus said that you will be judged in the same way that you judge others – in other words those who are negative and critical will be perceived as such by those who hear them and those who are positive and affirming will be perceived as positive and affirming.

We don’t know the impact our words can have on someone else. I hope and pray that Richard will not have been too badly hurt by the negative comments and will recognise them for what they are. I hope and pray that he is enjoying his well-deserved success. I hope and pray that he will be able to continue to respond with grace.

A verse from the Bible, written to a church, has been bouncing around in my head form the past few months and seems appropriate here:

“Encourage one another and build each other up…” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Imagine how different it would be if those who have a public platform tried to to that…imagine how different the world would be if we all tried to live like that!

All of this has made me reflect again on myself. I hope and pray that my words are positive, affirming and encouraging not negative and destructive. I am trying hard not to be judgemental of those who have criticised my friend. If I am being judgemental, please forgive me. I have tried to defend Richard not only because he is a friend but because he doesn’t deserve it and the criticism is unfair. But I also want to use this to reflect again on my own behaviour and ask for God’s Spirit’s help to point out where I am jealous or proud, seek his forgiveness, apologise where I need to, and start afresh.

Be blessed, be a blessing

cause and affect*

change is inevitable... except from a vending machine
change is inevitable… except from a vending machine

Why is it that software developers keep changing the software? We get used to the way a program or app or website works and then, before we know it, an upgrade has happened and things are different. New settings need setting. Old settings need resetting. Changed default settings need grrring at.

But it’s a very 21st Century problem. Less than a generation ago so much of what we take for granted today was the stuff of science fiction.

Imagine ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in the late 1970s…

“In the first part of the 21st Century computers will be everywhere. They will be accessed via touch screens or even controlled by voice. They will fit into your pocket. People will be connected with each other and with information via a global communications network – a web if you like. We will all carry multi-functional communication devices that can also access information from this interlinked global web, take photographs and video which can be instantly shared, and millions of other possibilities? Entire music and film collections will be stored on microchips the size of a fingernail.”

[Presenter pauses and chuckles incredulously].

“Yeah, right. Dream on! What’s next? You’ll be telling us we’ll be in driverless cars soon.”

[puts finger in ear to listen to instruction from Producer]

“What’s that?”

[listens]

“Oh. Apparently they are developing driverless cars.”

Anyway, enough reverie, back to the topic in hand – these pesky upgrades. We can find them incredibly frustrating. Every time a well known visage – tome related social networking site is updated I reckon the first 24 hours of communication on it will be dominated by people complaining about the changes and demanding that it is changed back.

Why do they do it? I think the clue is in the first sentence of this bloggage. There are people called ‘software developers’. That is their job – to develop software (cue references to well-known adverts for varnish). I wonder how they feel at the tirade of complaints about the changes when they have worked hard on what have been planned as improvements and enhancements (or have been introduced to protect users from unscrupulous people)?

We’re always very happy to complain about things, but do we ever stop to think about the effect of those complaints on the people behind the scenes? Do ‘reviewers’ ever stop to think about how a scathing review affects the people who have worked hard to produce something?

There’s an ancient story about a visiting preacher who was saying goodbye to people after the service. A man came up and said, “I couldn’t understand a word you said!” and walked off.

A few minutes later he came back and said, “You went on far too long,” and left again.

Not long afterwards he returned again: “That was the worst sermon I have ever heard,” and he left the preacher reeling. The Church Secretary came up and the preacher explained what had happened.

“Oh, you don’t want to take any notice of him,” reassured the Church Secretary, “he never has any opinions of his own. He simply goes around repeating what he hears other people saying.”

I am not saying that there is no room for critical comment. We need that. We need to listen to it because God might be speaking through it. But there are ways of offering it that are not destructive, aggressive, hurtful or (yes I am going to say it) rude. Before you offer some criticism or complain, why not ask yourself how you would feel if it was said to you? And if you are brave enough, ask if you can imagine Jesus saying it that way?

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes I know it should be ’cause and effect’ but it’s intended as a pun that makes us think about how we affect others [he explains defensively to prevent criticism from pedants]

blind criticism

blind monkeyRecently I watched an interview with Russell Crowe, who was asked about his film Noah. He said that he had received criticism for it – mainly from people who had not actually seen the film. That approach really annoys me. Why is it that people (Christians especially) are willing to criticise, condemn, attack and even campaign against something without checking it out for themselves? It has happened on many occasions and does not do anything to enhance the reputation of those who do so.

We are about to enter one of the most amazing weeks in the church calendar. From Palm Sunday through to Easter Sunday we will reflect on and explore the astonishing events of Jesus’ last week before his arrest, trial, execution and resurrection.

These events are so important, so significant, so amazing that Jesus’ biographers* devote massive portions of their books to covering them.

And yet there are many people who will ignore or write off the events of Easter week without having examined them for themselves. Have you ever wondered why that is? Have you ever examined them in detail? Or do you assume that it’s not true because someone told you it wasn’t?

Over the next week the bloggages will be a series of reflections on Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion. These are reflections we are following in our church. I hope you will find them helpful. They lead us towards the astonishing events of Easter Sunday… but let’s not give any spoilers!

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

 

*Matthew, Mark, Luke, John