the new normal

Man in Bathrobe
This face-mask won’t protect you from Covid-19!

It’s weird/frustrating/ isn’t it, this Covid-19 lockdown situation? Life as we knew it has been put on hold and the canned music playing in the background of self-isolation, furlough and limited journeys outside our homes is becoming so familiar to us that we are almost unaware of it. The ‘new normal’ is becoming normal, at least temporarily. We are acutely aware of what we have lost during this time, and I am not wishing to ignore that or diminish how tough some people are finding this, but are we also recognising what we have gained? Here are a few things for which I am immensely grateful.

Our family is joining in the 8pm applause outside our house on a Thursday evening to express our collective national appreciation of the NHS workers and many others who are enabling us to survive this time. It’s evolving so that it’s not just hands clapping – there are pots and pans being hit by wooden spoons, car horns tooting and even music being played at high volume for everyone to join in with. When this is over, I feel that we must not lose that appreciation of those who, until now, have been unsung heroes.

In the UK we have all been inspired by Captain Tom Moore – a 99 year-old who walked 100 laps of his garden with his walking frame with the intention initially of raising £1,000 to support NHS workers. His determination and spirit captured our imagination and at the time of writing people have donated over £28million! It’s partly because of his self-effacing, unassuming attitude, partly because of his age (he wanted to do it before his 100th birthday) and partly again because we have realised how much we depend on and love the NHS. Let’s not forget that!

Community Spirit has blossomed to fill some of the emptiness in our streets. Many WhatsApp groups have begun in neighbourhoods, people are talking with one another (virtually or at least 2 metres apart) and saying hello in ways that they had not done before. We have got to know people from our street that we wouldn’t have recognised beforehand if we bumped into them, and we now have a weekly street ‘virtual pub quiz’, and Sally (my wife) arranged an Easter Egg hunt that was so well received that people asked us to do it again next year. Can we afford to lose this when the lockdown ends?

The country has moved online. Most days bring with them some new funny video that someone has created and shared online relating to the lockdown. It seems like half the country is joining in with online workouts and learning new cookery skills and other things from live videos. Many people have learnt how to communicate by video with friends and relatives who are distant from them. Churches have rapidly embraced the opportunity to live stream or record and share their services and other meetings which has enabled some people who could not physically attend to feel more connected. I have even started a YouTube channel with my magic rabbit called ‘StewTube Magic’ (you can see it here). (I had the funny experience this week of putting a video online and phoning one of my Ministers to see how he was only to find that he and his son had literally just started watching the StewTube Magic video!) How will this newly-acquired tech-savvy-ness change life after the lockdown? Can we incorporate it into our new new normal to ensure that we stay better connected than ever? And how can we ensure that those who can’t be part of the online experience remain connected too?

It feels that there is a growing appreciation of what’s important and what’s not. We realise that stuff matters less than people. Money matters less than relationships. For those who are forced to spend more time with those who live in the same house as them there may be increased tensions caused by living on top of one another, but can we also see the value of being with those we love in ways that we could never have imagined or engineered? When we emerge from the lockdown how can we make sure that we don’t lose this realisation and give in to the temptation to return to being consumers of stuff rather than creators of love?

The environmental impact of this freeze on so much polluting activity is incredible. I have seen pictures of cities that previously were blighted by smog now having clear skies, of rivers that were brown now being clear, of wildlife reclaiming our streets and it seems as if nature is flourishing in this time when human beings are shut in our homes. So dare we go back to the self-centred pollution-generating lifestyles of the past? Can we use this as a ‘reset’ moment that not only enables the planet to recover temporarily but enables us to hit the long-term environmental goals much quicker?

And in all of this, I want to ask: “Where can we take the gratitude?” We rightly applaud those whose work we now recognise as vital. We rightly enjoy connecting and communicating with people we had lost touch with or never known. We are grateful for a fresh appreciation of what matters most. We are grateful (and I suspect the planet is breathing a sigh of relief) that the environmental impact of this is so positive. But I suspect that without a belief in God you have limited places to take this attitude of gratitude. You see all of the things I have listed above are things that God, through the Bible, has been urging us to do since the words were written down. They are things that he has written on our hearts as important but which we have ignored or forgotten in the everyday busyness and business of what used to be normal. Perhaps in addition to the above you might also be grateful to him that these things are happening and that he is using this unprecedented time (yes, I finally used the ‘u’ word) to remind us of them – and perhaps see them as pointers towards him.

Be blessed, be a blessing

dubious dates

datesNo, not that sort of dates.

And not romantic dates… or rather, yes, romantic dates but not that sort of date either.

Let me explain. The curmudgeonly part of me occasionally got a bit cynical about some of the anniversaries that are celebrated nowadays. There seems to have been a slide towards esoteric and trivial reasons to celebrate something. It used to be things that we would celebrate things like 100 years since someone’s birth or death; or 200 years since the founding of an organisation; or 50 years since a significant event.

But then it seemed to slither down that slippery slope towards the banal and we started celebrating every 25 years: 25, 50, 75, 175 and so on. And now we seem to be invited to celebrate any anniversary with a ‘0’ at the end – 10, 20, 90, and so on. Is it just me that thought that this is a bit much? Is it just me that cynically wondered whether it was more about marketing than celebrating?

But I have changed my mind about these dubious dates. You see I think we should take every possible opportunity to celebrate. In fact we shouldn’t even wait for a special anniversary, we should celebrate whenever we can and whatever we can.

Celebrate the fact that you woke up this morning (even if you felt under the weather).

Celebrate the person who last made you laugh or smile.

Celebrate the food that you most enjoy eating.

Celebrate what you appreciate about other people.

And so on.

And in celebrating we can also express gratitude – to the people around us who bless us, encourage us, serve us, love us and stand with us; to those who have gone before us in life who have helped to bring light and joy into the world; and, dare I suggest, to God who made us, loves us and wants to be involved positively in all aspects of our life in the same way that a good parent wants to encourage, bless, support and love their children, who has made himself known in Jesus and who is with us by his Spirit.

I have often written about having asking God’s Spirit to help me grow an attitude of gratitude but now I am also asking God’s Spirit to cultivate and integrate a desire to celebrate.

And that leads me to the romantic aspect of the dubious dates (and possibly where my wife will roll her eyes when she reads this). I am not going to get all mushy and soppy here but I have worked out that today is the 10,000th day since Sally and I got married! And that’s something to celebrate. I should point out that I have not been keeping a running score since the day we got married – I got the internet’s help in doing the calculation a couple of months ago.  I am not telling you to brag or boast, but in order to invite you to find something to celebrate: in the Bible we (in churches at least) are encouraged to rejoice with those who rejoice as well as weeping with those who weep.

So why not join me and seek God’s help to cultivate and integrate a desire to celebrate, and do so with an attitude of gratitude (and possibly a surfeit of rhymes!)?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

notice the astro-naughts*

20140901_132530I have just looked at my computer keyboard and noticed that there is an area on the space bar which has worn much more than the rest of it, and indeed is much more worn than any of the other keys. Hopefully you can see what I mean from the photo here. There is a shiny patch in the middle of the space bar, which contrasts with the matt finish on the rest of the space bar.

That observation led me to two thoughts:

Thought the first – I must hit the space bar in more or less the same place each time in order to wear out that section. If that is so, the space bar could be a lot shorter and not cause me any problems. Keyboard designers take note.

Thought the second – I must use ‘space’ more than any other key.

If the latter thought is true (and when I type every word is bracketed by spaces, so I can see how it could be true) then perhaps I ought to pay more attention to these spaces: withoutthemitwouldnotbesoeasytoworkoutindividualwordsandreadsentences. They are not just there for show, to decorate the text. They help to define what I write. And yet so often I overlook and ignore them.

This has reminded me that many people are like spaces. They are easily overlooked but are vitally important. They are the people we only notice when they are absent. In our church on Sundays we tend to forget those who run groups for our children and young people, those who welcome others, those who operate the sound and video desks, the musicians, those who serve our refreshments, those who set up for communion services, even the cleaner – until they are not there and we have to improvise or do things ourselves.

And the same is true in all aspects of life. There are astro-naughts* everywhere: who are the spacemen and spacewomen you have taken for granted already today? Who are the people to whom you did not give a second thought, who counted for naught?

Or maybe you’ve been a spaceman or spacewoman today? Do you feel like you are unnoticed, unappreciated, taken for granted?

I would like to suggest that we stop for a moment and think about those astronaughts* in our life. And let’s resolve to do a few things – let’s notice them, let’s thank God for them and pray a blessing on them, and let’s thank them personally too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Yes, I do know that the correct spelling is ‘astronaut’ – it’s another new word from the weird world of my brane.

And finally a joke that tickled me a lot when I first heard it (a long time ago).

What do you do if you see a spaceman?

You park in it, man.

the unwinner is…

red carpetSo the Academy has made its awards. Oscars have been given to the winners. The nominees who were not chosen have put on their best ‘I’m so pleased for the winner, it was an honour just to be nominated’ smiles. The speeches have been speeched, the thank-yous have been thanked, the tears have been shed. The after-parties have been attended, the interviews are over. Now the red carpet is being rolled up again and the hysteria is dying down.

This whole business of awards interests me. It is good to commend excellence. It is good to encourage. It is good to inspire people to do better. But where was the award for best cup of tea? Where was the award for most thoughtful word of encouragement? Where are the awards for the hundreds of names that scroll past our eyes at the end of a film (when we wait in case there’s an extra bit right at the end)? I would love to see an award for ‘Best Best Boy’!

I know you could say that the awards that are given include recognition for those who have worked behind the scenes but that’s a bit like posting a blanket ‘thank you’ on Facebook for all your Christmas presents rather than writing individual thank you cards or making personal phone calls.

So this bloggage is a reminder to me to make sure that I thank people. I don’t get it right all the time, and I am sorry for that. But as well as thanking the obvious people, I want to encourage us to thank the people who often go unnoticed, the people who may feel unappreciated, those who will never win an award: the unwinners.

And what’s the award? It’s a Wedogofase, which stands for ‘Well done, good and faithful servant’. To all of the unwinners who have worked hard without thanks and without recognition I present you with a Wedogofase from God. I will try to present it to you personally.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

new year’s honours

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I have decided to trump the Queen and issue my own New Year’s Honours List, but issue them a day before hers are published.

Rather than identify particular people and risk missing some out or embarrassing others I have decided to offer honours in generic groups in the hope that you will be able to identify yourselves. Here are the awards which are all offered with my heartfelt gratitude:

MBE (Mates Being Encouraging) to friends who have sent me text messages and emails out of the blue that made me smile, feel warm and fuzzy or just loved.

CBE (Christians Blessing Endlessly) to the prayer activists in our church.

OBE (Occasional Blog Entrants) to anyone who has contributed to my bloggages either by commenting, or by being the subject of a bloggage.

Order of the Bath to those I helped to baptise this year.

Knighthoods to those who have ‘sirved’ diligently and inconspicuously.

Order of the Thistle to those with whom I have been prickly (and yet have graciously accepted my apology).

Order of the Garter to people who have upheld me in their prayers.

Life Peers – all of you who are my companions and peers in this journey of life – thank you and bless you!

Be blessed, be a blessing