choices

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Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

Modern life seems to be defined by choice. From the moment we open our eyes in the morning to the moment we drop off in the evening we are faced with choices:

Do I get out of bed?

What do I have for breakfast?

What do I wear today?

And so on. It seems to me that the more we are trying to make life ‘better’ for ourselves the more choices we have. For example:

When I was growing up you could count the number of available television channels on the fingers of one hand and still have one left to stick in your ear. Today you run out of digits on the first screen of choices as you scroll through the TV guide. And we have to decide which sort of mobile phone we will have – are we android or apple (or are we going to subvert the system by going for something more obscure?)? And then we have to choose the apps we want. And we have to choose passwords… so many passwords! And on your computer what web browser are you going to choose?

I don’t have to keep listing them, you know what I am talking about. In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Dumbledore seeks to reassure Harry that he is not the same as Tom Riddle (aka Voldemort): “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

And he is right. We are defined and shaped by the choices we make. How others see us will be in the light of those choices as well as through the lens of the choices they have made.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t realise that we have made a choice. ‘Default settings’ that almost every appliance and gadget and piece of equipment come with are necessary as a starting point for users unless they are to boot them up from scratch, but if we blindly accept them (a choice) we find that someone else has decided what our user experience will be.

And sometimes we make a choice by not choosing anything. If you choose not to vote in an election you are choosing not to participate in the democratic process and must accept that your views are not part of the final outcome. Your choice is to accept that others will decide for you.

There are occasions, of course, when we don’t know that we have made a choice, or we make it unthinkingly. How many times have you accepted the terms and conditions of a website, an app, or a computer program without reading them fully? Of course you have. Nobody has the time to read them all from start to finish. You assume that they are benevolent and innocent.

And I have a feeling that most people have an automatic reaction to thinking about God. Instinctively we click ‘ignore’ because we don’t think we have time for him, or we don’t want believing in him to disrupt our life, or we don’t like the version of God that we have been presented with, or it all seems far too difficult and complex to consider… or… or…

I believe that many people have not given him any more thought than they have the terms and conditions of the latest app they have installed on their phone and have instinctively decided that they don’t want to. Until they are faced with more significant moments in their life when they feel out of their depth and want the comfort of praying to someone or the reassurance of the possibility of divine intervention on their behalf. Or until they meet someone whose relationship with God seems so different to their assumptions about him that they are intrigued and want to know more. Or until someone they know and trust starts to talk about God. Or even until they read some random bloggage on an even more random site…

So have you adopted a ‘default’ setting when it comes to God? Jesus tried to make it really simple for us to make a choice: “Follow me.”

If you are a follower of Jesus is it obvious (in a good way) to people around you?

 

water

Washing HandsThis week we have had some plumbers working on our house. In order to plumb they have had to turn off the water. I didn’t think it would be a problem… but it has become one as the day has gone on.

The kettle was filled with water before they started. The coffee machine was filled with water before they started.

But (and I will try to be delicate) there are other uses for water in a house that were not available to me that became more important during the day… ahem.

In addition to that, the first day was an ideal day for doing loads of washing (sunny and breezy) and the dishwasher was ready to go.

But it all had to wait until the water could be turned back on.

It made me pause for a moment in gratitude that usually water is readily available to us.

It made me pause for a longer moment and think of those on this planet for whom fresh drinking water is a luxury, never mind anything else, and then recognising that there is something I can do about that. (Time to make a donation to a charity making a difference in such countries).

It made me pause and reflect on how privileged I am and how much I take that for granted.

It made me pause and reflect on the way we use water in Believer’s Baptism.

It made me pause and reflect on Jesus saying he is able to give us living water and what that means for me – essential for life, thirst-quenching, taken for granted.

Be blessed, be a blessing

Hateful

Over the last week or so hate has been bothering me. Not, I hasten to add, because I am feeling hated. And not because I hate someone else. I was reading some comments online from someone I don’t know but whom I respect about the level of negative, critical, judgmental, cruel and rude comments they were receiving. It was horrible.

And to make things worse, the comments were from people who said they were Christians!

It led me to post two Tweets:

It breaks my heart when I read judgmental comments online from people who follow Jesus. He was so inclusive of all.

Jesus welcomed and loved everyone (even the self-righteous religious people whom he called ‘hypocrites’).

I am acutely aware that by posting these Tweets I may well be guilty of judging too. But I feel a little bit justified because I am not naming and shaming someone. It’s not trolling. And as a note of self-restraint I recognise that therein lies the beginning of the thought process that can lead someone to feel justified in writing and posting horrible things about someone else with whom they disagree. Can’t we learn to disagree well?

These Tweets got an interesting and encouraging range of responses. I was getting ready for a lively discussion…

Then at 10:33pm on Monday 22nd May hate took on a hideous and heinous new form when a suicide bomber killed 22 and injured hundreds at the end of a concert at the Manchester Arena. The act in itself is barbaric, but to deliberately do it at a time and a place where you know that young people will be present adds an evil twist to an already evil act.

My initial response was stunned silence. I could not find the words to express how I felt. The tears that kept welling up in my eyes and the lump in my throat were the most eloquent expression I had.

Hands Holding a Lit CandleLater on I found myself reflecting on the hate that had been expressed. I thought about Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s words:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

These words appeared all over social media. They are deep, profound, defiant words that also express truth.

So I let them lead me into a personal prayer:

You cannot stop hatred with more hatred
You cannot prevent darkness with more darkness
You cannot reduce pain with more pain
You cannot defuse anger with more anger
You cannot defeat injustice with more injustice
You cannot reduce outrage with more outrage
So I resolve afresh to pray for love, light, healing, peace, justice and grace in myself that I might share it with others

You see the first response that matters in the face of hatred, anger, evil and all else that seeks to destroy and tear down is the one within us. We can add to them, or we can diminish them. We can give them energy or we can starve them of life.

In some ways it’s counter-intuitive, it goes against the self-preservation instinct within us all. It is selfless, it is generous, it is loving. I believe it’s a glimpse of God.

We saw it in action on Monday evening:

The homeless man who ran into the arena foyer against the flow of people seeking to escape the carnage – to see if he could help the injured and comfort the dying.

The taxi drivers who took people home at no charge.

The people who opened their homes to strangers who were bewildered and didn’t know how they would get home that night.

The emergency services who had to deal with the carnage with dignity and professionalism.

The hospital staff who turned up for extra shifts.

The many people who gave blood for the first time.

People who brought lunches and cups of tea for the overburdened hospital staff who had no time to stop.

And so much more.

Hate is an acidic, corrosive, ugly word. It’s an even worse emotion. And as an action it is beyond appalling.

But it does not win when love rises up in our hearts. Love wins. Love wins.

Be blessed, be a blessing

addidges

Some words start to sound funny when you say them out loud a few times. They may start off sounding fine, but when you repeat them they start to take on a different audio character.

dictionaryTry these (repeat them slowly out loud 4 or 5 times):

Bliss

Grumbling

Indulge

Adage

I hope that you are doing this, especially if you are reading this bloggage in a public place. Hehehe.

Adage is not only a word that starts to sound funny, it’s not even pronounced how it’s spelt. It should be ‘add ayj’ but it’s often pronounced ‘addidge’.

An adage is a saying that becomes accepted as true over a period of time, often observations about life and human behaviour.Here are a few adages:

“My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump

“No peace for the wicked” Isaiah 48:22, Isaiah 57:21

“Pride goes before a fall” Proverbs 16:19

I want to start off some new addidges:

“Life is like eating a box of chocolates on a sunny day. We all come to a sticky end.”

“No peas for those with pea allergies.”

“Gravity goes with a fall”

“When things go wrong there’s not always anyone to blame, but anyone can be involved in making it better.”

“To become a wise old person you need to live a long time and listen more than you speak.”

How does something become an adage – how widely does it have to be accepted? How long does it take before something becomes an adage?

Based on a glance at social media it seems that some people live by adages – they find an apt saying to go with a photo of a kitten and it goes ‘viral’ so that suddenly it’s a new adage to live by.

What are your adages? What is the truth that underpins your life?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

what am I doing?

In a couple of weeks’ time I have been asked to facilitate a weekend for a church Leadership Team to look at God’s vision for the church. In preparation I have done a lot of reading around the subject and there seem to be a lot of different nuances and terminology used but the same basic themes emerge. I was talking with a couple of the leaders about this as we planned the weekend when this analogy came to mind to help me understand the terms I was using:

golferWhen I stand on a golf tee my purpose is to get the ball in the hole – it’s the overarching theme of what I am doing. If I don’t know what my purpose is, I will be aimless.

My vision is to get the ball in the hole with as few shots as possible – it’s what my purpose looks like in practical terms. If I don’t know what my vision is how will I know when I achieve it?

My strategy is to use the right clubs and hit the right shots in order to achieve my vision of getting the ball in the hole with as few shots as possible – it’s the steps I will take to achieve the vision. I need to work out the steps needed to achieve my vision, starting from where I am now and leading to where I want to be.

Along the way I may make tactical choices such as avoiding hazards and whether to go for the green or ‘lay up’ – they are second-level strategic decisions that help me fulfil my strategy.

You may disagree with the terminology I have used – others may use words like ‘mission’, ‘aim’, ‘goals’ and so on – but to me that analogy helped me make sense of the whole thing. I don’t claim to understand it all. I certainly don’t claim to have a sense of what the purpose, vision and strategy should be for that church (my role is to facilitate them discerning those things not to tell them what I think). But at least I have a sense of the direction in which we will be going.

I believe that these concepts apply equally well to our personal life, to work, and to lots of other areas in life. How might they relate to yours? Here’s my current sense of what they might be for my faith:

Purpose: to be a follower of Jesus and make him known to other people

Vision: to be more like the person I have been created to be and to help others achieve the same vision for their life

Strategy: to walk closely with Jesus, be open to his Spirit, and be ready and willing to help others

Tactics: to walk closely with Jesus by prayerful reflection, reading the Bible, listening to God, seeking God, being willing to change, receiving advice from others

be open to his Spirit through a consciousness of his presence, listening to his prompting, recognising my own weaknesses, willing to take risks, having an attitude of gratitude, seeing life as an act of worship

ready and willing to help others by looking to see needs I can meet, asking ‘what would you like me to do for you?’, being ready to listen before sharing, loving as God loves, trying to be a good free sample of Jesus

Be blessed, be a blessing

worn out or worn in?

tennis ballDon’t you feel sorry for the groundsmen at the  Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships? Before play began on Monday they must have worked tirelessly to get the courts into pristine condition. The grass was perfect, the lines were precise so that it was looking at its absolute best. This comes from the Wimbledon website:

It takes around 15 months to prepare a Championships’ standard court before it can be played on.

This is the process:

  • The courts are constructed and seeded in April
  • The courts will then be cut once the new grass reaches 15mm, and then cut three times a week in May to keep at 15mm
  • During The Championships the height of grass will be 8mm, it will be cut every day
  • For the remainder of the summer the courts will only be cut three times a week and watered as they need to mature and naturally firm up
  • At the end of summer six tonnes of soil will be put on each court to make sure the playing surfaces are level
  • In the spring of 2015 Courts 14 and 15 will be included into the pre-Championships programme of grass court preparation
  • The height of cut will be reduced from their winter height of 13mm to the playing height of 8mm, this starts in March and will be ready for Members’ day in May
  • In early May we put the white line markings on the courts
  • During the playing season the grass is cut every other day
  • The courts will get rolled once a week in May with a one-tonne roller to firm the surface so that it is ready to play on
  • In June we start to restrict the amount of water we put on the courts, this also helps firm the surface
  • During The Championships we cut the courts and mark out the lines every day
  • We put a little bit of water on the courts at night during The Championships to help the grass survive

Wow! What a lot of effort to get the courts into top condition – and as soon as the first match starts to be played the courts deteriorate. By the end of the Championships there are very obvious bare patches where the players have been running and sliding and turning. The courts look nothing like they did at the start.

Does it break the hearts of the head groundsman, Neil Stubley, and his team when they see the condition of the courts at the end of the fortnight?

Or do they look on it as a job well done and rejoice because the courts have been used for the purpose for which they were laid and tended and grown? Do they feel glad that the players had good courts on which to play, that the crowds enjoyed themselves and that the event was a success? The courts may be worn, looking the worse for wear and rather shabby, but they will have done what they were designed to do. They could have refused to let anyone play on the courts and preserve them in top condition, but that is not what the courts are designed for.

Do we sometimes put more effort into preserving appearances and making sure everything looks good, not risking anything and trying to remain untouched by life rather than allowing ourselves to fulfil the purpose for which we exist, getting on with it and accepting that this will wear us down, that we will not be the same.

There’s a cheesy old joke that the first historical mention of tennis is in the Bible – Genesis 41:46 – “Joseph was thirty years old when he served in Pharaoh’s court.” [groan] But if you read Joseph’s story you will see someone who took a lot of knocks in life, was definitely not kept in pristine condition, but at the end of the narrative could say to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20) He may not have played tennis, but he certainly knew that his purpose was to be the person God called him to be in whatever circumstances he found himself.

So who and where are the people who need you to get alongside them, support them, encourage them and get stuck in with them? In whose court are you serving? And how are you tended and renewed? The Head Groundsman of life has given us his Spirit to tend us, help repair us, support us and encourage us as we fulfil our purpose (if we seek him). How do you think he feels when we seek to preserve ourselves and keep ourselves in pristine condition (untouched by life) instead?

Be blessed, be a blessing

death is a part of life

teardropApologies for the relative silence last week – it’s been a very busy period and while I have still tried to be reflective I haven’t had much chance to put fingers to keyboard and share those reflections with you.

I also ought to warn you that this bloggage is about death, so if you are feeling like you can’t cope with that at the moment you might like to look at another of my earlier bloggages… I understand.

January 2016 seems to have been a month in which more high profile people have died than is usual. Each announcement has been met with sadness, grief, gratitude for the impact the person made on the national consciousness, and expressions of condolence towards the immediate family and friends who mourn their death. I wonder whether the amount of time and space that is given to commemoration of those who have died is partly due to a failure to appreciate people sufficiently in life. It is right that we do this. It is good that we remember and recognise that death is part of life.

It is much less healthy for us individually and as a society if death is the morbid elephant in the room of life. We know it is there but we don’t want to mention it or talk about it. Perhaps there is even a degree of superstition that if we talk about it then we will awaken death and it will rear its ugly head again so if we keep quiet, all will be well. We know that this is not true, but we seem to act as if it is. I wonder whether if we do not talk about death bereavement hits us harder because we are unprepared for it.

Death is terribly sad for those who mourn the death of someone they love. It releases many emotions such as loss, regret, grief, pain, emptiness and sometimes is so overwhelming that our emotions shut down and we feel numbness and shock. It is horrible. It is awful. In the gospel records of Jesus’ life we read how he loathed death and resented moments when it encroached into his experience of life. He grieved the death of friends, he himself did not want to die. We know how he felt.

But (and I do not diminish the impact, significance and emotional pain of death when it takes someone we love away from us) if death is not seen and talked about as a part of life we perpetuate the fantasy that it will not happen to someone we know and love… until that fantasy is torn apart by death itself. We can almost pretend it doesn’t happen.

We don’t help ourselves by euphemising death, either. We talk of someone ‘passing away’, ‘going home’, ‘leaving us’, ‘going to sleep’, ‘going to the next room’ and many more. But, and I am sorry if this is blunt, the reality is that the person has died. Some euphemisms suggest that they could come back, that they are nearby, that it’s not final. But (forgive me for being blunt again) death is final. It is the one certainty in life* – we will all die.

I am not suggesting that we cultivate a morbid fascination with death. I am not saying that we should talk about it all the time. But I am suggesting that it would be healthier for us as individuals and as a society if we talked about it from time to time. Talk with your relatives about your will. Talk with those who may have to make arrangements for your funeral service about what you would like (they will be grateful when it comes to it). Talk about how you feel when someone has died. Share memories of that person – not to pretend that they are still with us – so that the impact they made on us is not lost and the significance of their life is underlined by their death.

And if you know someone who has experienced bereavement don’t tiptoe around them, don’t wrap them in cotton wool, don’t patronise them. I think that often we say nothing and avoid people who are bereft because we don’t want to say the wrong thing and don’t know what to say. But that can add to the sense of isolation and loss. I think it is unlikely that any of you would say anything insensitive or cruel to someone who is mourning the death of a loved one, so talk with them, listen to them, ask them about the person who has died, if you don’t know what to say sit in silence with them, even pray with them (and for them).

And, as a follower of Jesus, I also want to say that although physical death is the end of our experience of this life, he promises that the life in all its fullness which begins here and now, through faith, will stretch into an experience beyond time: eternity in God’s presence. Death hurts, it stings, but it is not the last word.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*It used to be death and taxes but as some large corporations have found ways of avoiding tax we can’t rely on the latter.