feeding back, moving forward, building up

Last night I went to another meeting of the Mid Essex Magical Society (available to enhance a charity event near you – so long as it’s in Essex). Once a month we hold a Feedback Night. This is not where we try to see how close we can get a microphone to a loudspeaker before getting the loud screeching noise, It’s an opportunity for some of the magicians to perform a routine and receive constructive criticism from the rest of the club. It might be a relatively polished routine that we are looking to enhance or a work in progress where we would appreciate some advice.

Bearing in mind that MEMS is full of brilliant magicians, many of whom are members of the Magic Circle and have years of experience, you would have thought that performing in front of them would be quite scary. In fact it is something that I really appreciate because of the intent, tone and content of the feedback that I receive. The feedback is offered (admittedly because it has been invited by virtue of performing on Feedback Night) in a constructive way: “Have you thought about…”; “I noticed that…”; “You could try…” What is offered is not critical in the negative sense but it is thoughtful and considered, providing the performer with the opportunity to draw on years of experience, ideas, wisdom and skill.

Last night I performed a routine that I used in a service on the previous Sunday morning because after the service I reflected on what I’ve done and came up with an alternative way of performing the trick. I decided to run it past MEMS for their reflection. The feedback I received was very helpful and has given me food for thought (which is actually a pun if you know the routine I performed (actually it’s a pun whether or not you know the routine but you won’t recognise it as a pun unless you know the routine)).

How often do we invite feedback from others? I think most of the time we run away from it because we are afraid of negative criticism. But if we can learn to offer positive, constructive feedback that is designed to enhance and improve and is offered with grace and consideration of how it will be received then I think it is more likely to be welcomed (even better if it is invited rather than offered!).

In 1 Thessalonians 5:11 we read these words: “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” That’s certainly what happens at MEMS. I hope you get that experience too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

tickly coughs

2014-04-24 10.11.45I have a tickly cough. The back of my throat gets irritated/tickled and it causes a cough reflex to try to get rid of the sensation. It’s irritating. It’s not debilitating. It’s not desperately uncomfortable. It won’t require a trip to the hospital or even the doctor. And I have some medicine to soothe and get rid of the minor infection, and also some lozenges* to help with the soothing. I am also trying to drink lots.

But it is a persistent tickly cough, it is an irritating tickly cough and it interrupts me when I am speaking, which is a significant part of what I do. (I mean the speaking, not persistent, irritating interrupting.)

What are the tickly coughs in your life? I don’t really mean physical ailments now. I mean those little things in your life that are persistent areas in which you struggle. I mean those irritating temptations you give into and instantly regret. I mean those things that interrupt your relationship with God?

How will you deal with them? I am sorry to say that there is no medicine and there are no lozenges* that can sort this out for you.

But the good news (as that Easter reminds us) is that God has remedies, and he has quite a range!

One is called ‘grace’: undeserved love lavished upon us from heaven.

Another is forgiveness that only needs to be received.

A third is his Spirit within us to nudge, encourage, remind, provoke and to speak words of caution.

A fourth is called ‘church’: people who will walk with us on our journey of life; people in whom we can confide because we know that they know what it’s like because we all have a persistent tickly cough or two; people who (with permission) can ask us the awkward questions and pray for us.

I pray that my tickly cough will go soon. I pray that yours will too.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*Isn’t ‘lozenge’ a great word to say out loud? Go on, say it with me now: “Lozenge”. Don’t you feel better for doing that? (Unless you are reading this on the train or in another public place and are getting some strange looks now. :-))

who are you going to call?

In the last couple of days I have had 2 experiences of things needing fixing.

I bought a new car radio for Sally’s car as a birthday present. I was fairly confident of my ability to fit the new radio and managed to get it seated properly and connected properly with only a small quantity of blood lost. But when I switched it on, although there was power, no sound came out of the speakers. I knew I had plugged it in correctly and was at a loss to work out what else I could do. In the end I took it to a local car radio installer and they were able to work out what the problem was (a previous installation (not me) had connected some loose speaker wires to the power supply in the car!). They sorted out within an hour or so and Sally is now very happy that she can listen to her CDs and radio once again in her car.

In the process of detecting the fault the radio installer also found that it would be relatively easy, providing I can find the correct connectors, to reconnect the rear speakers to the system, further enhancing Sally’s listening experience. He drew me a picture of what I’m looking for, showed me the place in the car where it needed to go, and suggested that I might be able to pick it up at a car breakers yard.

And then this morning the catch broke on our tumble dryer. It is within warranty but only for parts and the fixed fee for the engineer to come out and repair it is £95. It’s only a small catch although one of the broken parts is still inside the locking mechanism. Sally spoke with the manufacturers and initially was going to book an engineer to come and replace the part. However she asked how much the parts would be and found that they would be significantly cheaper than the cost of the engineer and that they would be sent on a 7 day return basis so that if we found we could not fit them we could send them back and then book the engineer to come and fit them for us.

When I looked at the tumble dryer I have to say that I was not very confident about being able to carry out the repair on my own. There is no obvious way to remove the locking mechanism from the outside. At this point I was ready to say that we should get the engineer when I checked online to see if there was any advice. Wonderfully there is a web page where somebody talks and enquirer through the process of changing the locks for precisely the model of tumble dryer that we have. I am now much more confident that I can do it because somebody who knows what they’re talking about has explained it.

So where is all this going (other than a rambling sharing of some of our family issues)? There is no substitute for expert advice. Having somebody who knows what they’re talking about, who has experience, who understands the problems and pitfalls is incredibly helpful when you don’t know. And if they are able to communicate that to you in words that you can comprehend then that can give confidence and encouragement.

I hope that in some way that is what ministers/vicars/priests are able to do. It is certainly what I experienced when I read different books, including the commentaries on the Bible that helped me to understand better. It’s one of the reasons why churches such a good thing for Christians to be a part of: if we try and go it alone we may well struggle when we find we come across the things that we don’t understand or cannot cope with that if we are part of a church family there are others who can help us and be with us through it, offering their advice and experience.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

Men don’t come with an instruction manual that here is what Clean Christian Jokes suggest might be helpful for women to know about us.

“Will you marry me?” Really means….
“Both my roommates have moved out, I can’t find the washer, and there is no more peanut butter.”

“Go ask your mother.” Really means….
“I am incapable of making a decision.”

“I do help around the house.” Really means….
“I once put a dirty towel in the laundry basket.”

“Hey, I’ve got my reasons for what I’m doing.” Really means….
“And I sure hope I think of some pretty soon.”

“I can’t find it.” Really means….
“It didn’t fall into my outstretched hands, so I’m completely clueless.”

“What did I do this time?” Really means….
“What did you catch me at?”

“She’s one of those rabid feminists.” Really means….
“She refused to make my coffee.”

“I heard you.” Really means….
“I haven’t the foggiest clue what you just said, and am hoping desperately that I can fake it well enough so that you don’t spend the next 3 days yelling at me.”

“You know I could never love anyone else.” Really means….
“I am used to the way you yell at me, and realize it could be worse.”

“You look terrific.” Really means….
“Oh, God, please don’t try on one more outfit. I’m starving.”

“I brought you a present.” Really means….
“It was free ice scraper night at the ball game.”

“I missed you.” Really means….
“I can’t find my sock drawer, the kids are hungry and we are out of toilet paper.”

“I’m not lost. I know exactly where we are.” Really means….
“No one will ever see us alive again.”

“We share the housework.” Really means….
“I make the messes, she cleans them up.”

“Of course I like it, honey, you look beautiful.” Really means….
“Oh, man, what have you done to yourself?”

“It sure snowed last night.” Really means…
“I suppose you’re going to nag me about shoveling the walk now.”

“I don’t need to read the instructions.” Really means….
“I am perfectly capable of screwing it up without printed help.”

“I’ll take you to a fancy restaurant.” Really means….
“This time we won’t use the drive-thru window.”