a parble*

The mouse scurried silently along the skirting board, undetected and unnoticed by anyone, including the fierce tabby tomcat that was sleeping on the sofa. The mouse’s family had lived in the house for many generations and, for the most part, had lived undisturbed. The mice were able to exist in the house because nobody knew they were there.

The mice knew that they had to be wary. They knew that a cat would take great delight in capturing any of them that it saw and tormenting them before finally extinguishing their tiny mouse life. It would then present the dead body to the humans. The humans though it was a sacrificial offering to show loyalty but in fact it was a warning that they could be next if they failed to provide for the cat!

Cats were bigger than mice, more powerful, had stronger jaws and sharper claws. They were terrifying and a constant threat.

But mice were small, nimble and could squeeze through impossibly small gaps. They existed in the spaces where the humans and cats never went. Occasionally, like today, they ventured swiftly into the human/cat space in order to forage for food or bedding. It was necessary but dangerous. The humans never really noticed that the mice had been there, although they did wonder about how the small holes appeared in blankets or how a box of biscuits had split and there seemed to be fewer biscuits in there than the humans remembered.

Cats had a strong suspicion that there were mice in the house. They often saw tiny shadows flitting in the corners of rooms but by the time they arrived there was nothing there. The areas where the mice lived smelt different to the cats and they kept a wary eye out for the little vermin.

But the little vermin knew that they would not be welcome in the realm of the humans and cats. They knew that the cats and humans would not understand that they believed they had a right to live peacefully. Of course the cats and humans didn’t really know why they didn’t like mice and would not accept them in their realm, they just instinctively knew that it was wrong.

And the mice continued to live in the walls and shadows.

Some reflections

In this parble the cats are the dominant big ideas in life. The ones that have been accepted for many years and remain unchallenged because they are so big and powerful.

Mice are radical, different ideas. How could they challenge the power of the big idea?

Why can’t the cats allow the mice to live in peace? Why do they have to try to extinguish them if they see them?

What would happen if the mice all appeared at once to try to change things?

Could the humans do anything to change the status quo? Would they want to?

What are the big, dominant ideas?

*yes, I know it’s ‘parable’ but as I have created other words on this blog (eg bloggage) I thought I could create another one – parble is a story with a message but which is not as powerful as the ones Jesus told.

the parable of the choir

piano

“The greatest choir I have ever heard!” Sandra felt a tingle of electricity running down her spine and the hairs on her arms stood on end as she read the headline in the local newspaper. Last night the choir she had founded – Concordia – had sung as the headline act in the final concert of the town’s music festival. Sandra had to admit that they had sounded incredible. The singers had been lifted by the atmosphere in the theatre and had sung their hearts out.

It had all started eight years ago when Sandra had watched The Choir on television – when Gareth Malone had taken ordinary people and formed them into choirs. Sandra had been excited about the relationships that had formed, but more than that she had been inspired by Gareth’s ability to bring the best out of people and bring them together in harmony to make a wonderful sound together. Sandra had been a singing coach for a number of years so felt that she ought to be able to do the same. She had asked her friends and family and they had formed a small choir. As they grew in confidence the choir members invited their friends and colleagues to join them and the choir also grew in numbers so that now there were 35 of them meeting once a week to rehearse.

Concordia rehearsed in the local school on a Monday evening, alongside other evening classes. Sandra didn’t plan any concerts or performances, she was just enjoying being the choir director and the choir members seemed to enjoy singing together. But then people started listening outside the doors of the school hall after they had finished their evening classes, and then once one of them had sneaked in to listen at the back of the hall a small crowd would do the same and they had an audience. Sandra didn’t mind. She was focused on leading the choir and getting the best out of them. What she didn’t know was that one of the uninvited audience worked in the Town Council promoting community activities and they were planning a music festival. When the music festival organiser rang Sandra out of the blue and asked if the choir would like to perform as part of the event she was stunned. Sandra had never envisaged that the choir would do anything but rehearse together. The following Monday she told the choir about the invitation and, after some initial shyness, the choir had enthusiastically voted to do it.

Things escalated from there. Before Sandra knew what was happening she found that Concordia were listed in the final event of the festival. Then, just a day before the performance, the headline act had to pull out due to an attack of laryngitis and Concordia were promoted to the headline act. For their first public performance! But what a performance it had been. A standing ovation at the end had been followed by two encores – so great was the audience’s applause.

But the morning after the performance, as she read the article in the newspaper, the elation and euphoria ebbed away. Even though the reporter had written a really glowing review of the performance and had clearly been moved and thrilled by it there was no mention of Sandra by name, or even any mention of the musical director at all. It had been her idea, her choir, her hard work and her leading but it was as if she had not been there. Where was her acclaim?

At first the choir only sang for themselves and their own enjoyment. What aspects of (church) life are like that?

Are there times when we feel a bit like Sandra at the end – unappreciated and unacknowledged? What might you say to Sandra to encourage her?

Who are the unappreciated people who might appreciate a similar word of encouragement?

Be blessed, be a blessing

passwords

loginI don’t think I am the only one who has come to hate passwords, am I? In the good old days of telephone banking I might have to remember one password along with my date of birth and mother’s maiden name. I was rubbish at it. I could remember my date of birth and mother’s maiden name but kept forgetting the password.

Now password protection is everywhere and we are told to use a different password for each website and password-protected activity. How on earth are we meant to remember them all, and what chance do we have at remembering which password was for which event?

I have to remember a password to log onto my computer. And periodically my computer tells me that the password has expired and I need to choose a new one. Not re-use an old one, but create a new one! The pressure of trying to come up with a new combination of characters that would be difficult to guess and easy to remember causes my eyeballs to swap places and my brain to deflate like a sat-on whoopee cushion. And then when I switch the computer back on I have to try to remember the new password and the sneaky variations of capital letters, numbers, symbols and other special bits. And while I am typing these things in all I am shown is a series of dots so there is no way of knowing if I have typed the wrong thing. I’m sure that the stress we feel at that time is not healthy for us.

And then there’s the anxiety caused if the password that I have typed in is deemed incorrect. Now what? I try typing it again.

Nope.

I try variations on a theme.

Nope.

I try the old password (just in case).

Nope.

I type in the password as I remember it but R E A L L Y slowly.

Nope.

I start complaining to the computer that I am typing it in correctly in the hope that it will be sympathetic to me.

Nope.

I get to a place where I am almost in tears and, as a last resort, type in the password again.

And suddenly it’s deemed acceptable!

And that’s just to get into the computer. Next I am confronted by passwords for my email, for websites and for all manner of other things. And for some of them, if I get it wrong too many times, I then get presented with some squiggly letters and numbers that I have to try to interpret and type in to prove I’m not a robot! They’re almost impossible to read.

Others don’t ask me for the whole password, they just want the 3rd, 7th and 17th character from the password. How am I supposed to work that out?

And all of my other gadgets have password protection too.

Aaargh!

The only consolation I have is that if I am finding it this hard to get into my computer and logon to websites then perhaps those who have malicious intent will also struggle.

The thing about computer passwords is that you have to type them in perfectly for them to be acceptable. You have to have the right characters, the right case for the right characters, and the right characters in the right case in the right order. One mistake and it’s…

Nope.

As I reflected on my password angst I thought that perhaps this is a good analogy for the good news of Jesus: To be in God’s presence we need to get the password absolutely right: and the password is our life. One mistake and it’s…

Nope.

But the good news is that Jesus has given us his password – his perfectly-lived life. His death was the moment that his password became universally available and gives us complete access to God. And it always works. All we have to do is use it.

And while I am sort of happy with that parable, I am also discontent with it. Because it makes it seem as if God wants to keep us away from him and that he wants to keep us out. In fact the opposite is true. God wants us with him, he wants us to know him, to experience him, to be with him forever. He loves us so completely that we will never fathom the depths of his love. I get the feeling that rather than wanting us to remember the right password all he really wants is for us to want to gain access to him, to want to know the password. He will then supply the password and everything else we need.

Be blessed, be a blessing

view from my pew 4

pewsDear Internet

Welcome to another of the musings of Mr Grenville-Stubbs.

I had an uncomfortable moment  after church this week. I was sitting having a cup of coffee after church with Dot, one of my lady friends (no, it’s nothing like that), when I noticed that she still had the plastic loop from a price label attached to her shoe. The price label was no longer there but somehow she had forgotten to remove the plastic loop.

And once I had noticed it I couldn’t help noticing it. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. I found my mind wandering from what she was saying. I nodded sagely at what I thought was an appropriate moment when she paused and looked at me quizzically.

“You’re not listening to me, are you?” she asked.

I tried to bluff it for a moment by telling her that what she was saying was fascinating and I was fully supportive of her but at that point she started laughing.

“You’ve just proved my point,” Dot chortled. “I was telling you that you have still got the price label attached to your jacket and it’s sticking out of the back of your collar!”

I was somewhat embarrassed. It was partly because everyone would have seen where I shopped, partly because everyone would have seen that I bought the jacket in a sale. But I was mostly embarrassed because in order to change the subject I mentioned that Dot had still got her plastic loop on her shoe. She went on to say that it sounded like one of Jesus’ parables and I could not work out which one she meant.

Yours faithfully

Q.R.Grenville Stubbs

Be blessed, be a blessing (as Nick likes to write)

the lost ring

wedding ring

This is my wedding ring. Actually it’s the ring Sally gave me when we got engaged: I had given her an engagement ring and I too wanted an engagement ring in order to show everyone I was engaged to her. For our wedding she got it engraved with the date of the wedding so that it would become my wedding ring. 1-7-89.

No, cynical peeps, the date was not there in case I forgot it. It’s a date that is engraved in my mind – I counted down towards it for about 6 months in my diary! The date is purely there to show the change of use.

The observant among you will have noticed that I have a different, much chunkier, gold band on my wedding finger. The reason for that can be seen if you look closely at the ‘9’ in ’89’ inside the ring. Eventually the ring cracked and broke. I wore it out! So we got a second, chunkier wedding ring to replace it and the original was put in a safe place. I had planned that one day I would get it restored.

The problem is that as time passed I completely forgot where that safe place was. I thought it was in my bedside cabinet, but even though I have emptied it several times and looked inside every place and container inside the drawers (and behind the drawers) it wasn’t there. I looked in Sally’s bedside cabinet as she has some precious things in there – some of our children’s milk teeth that were returned to us by the Tooth Fairy (in case our children read this and are worried); letters and poems that I have written to her over the years and other things that have no intrinsic value but lots of sentimental value. I thought that probably my old wedding ring would have been in there with those things. But no, it wasn’t there either.

I had even resorted to asking Sally to look for it – she is the looker in our house – but she couldn’t find it. So we assumed that somehow it had been lost in one of the house moves or accidentally thrown out in one of our tidying sessions. I forgot all about it.

Until today.

I was rummaging in one of the sets of drawers in my study – looking for a bulldog clip – when I noticed a section in an organising tray in the bottom of the drawer that had been covered over by a piece of debris. When I lifted it up I was thrilled to see my old wedding ring!

Wooo Hooo!

It’s not because it is very valuable (although as Sally was a student when she bought it for me it was relatively expensive).

It’s not because it proves that I am married to Sally. I have almost 27 years of being together with her, two wonderful children and lots of people who know that we are married to show that.

It’s because it was given to me by her at that special moment when we were wed and when it had gone missing that link to that amazing day had vanished. The value was in the giver and what the gift represented. It meant so much to me.

Some people treat their faith a bit like that ring. It was really important at first. It meant something. Perhaps you were baptised. But over time it became a bit tarnished and perhaps even was a bit damaged by other people or circumstances and eventually, rather than getting it restored, it got put in a safe place and forgotten about.

And then, when you least expect it, perhaps when you have forgotten about it, you rediscover it. You find that it had been nearby all the time. God hadn’t gone anywhere, but you’d had been looking in the wrong place. He’s just been waiting for you.

I am going to get the ring restored now. It is going to be made as good as new.

How about you?

Be blessed, be a blessing.

 

the parable of the wall

Outside the church is a wall. It separates the church from the street. It’s a low wall, just the right height for sitting on. It’s a convenient wall. Passers-by will sit on the wall in order to make a phone call, to eat an ice cream (in the summer) and to wait for someone. And the nearby traders use it as somewhere to sit when they take a cigarette break.

The Minister of the church doesn’t approve of smoking. It’s unhealthy. The smoke is unpleasant for those around. It’s not the right image the church wants to project to the community. And even though there is a rubbish bin nearby, the traders tend to flick their cigarette butts into the flowerbeds behind the wall, which irritates the Minister.

people-sitting-on-a-quay-amst-1562809 (2)

One day the Minister was passing by the wall and saw one of the traders sitting on the wall, smoking, as usual. The trader finished her cigarette, stubbed it out on the wall and flicked the butt into the flowerbed…

Scenario 1

The Minister was incensed: didn’t they have any respect?

“Excuse me,” said the Minister as the trader made her way back to her shop, “Is our wall comfortable?”

The trader sensed possible sarcasm and wasn’t sure what to say. The Minister took her silence as an admission of guilt.

“I noticed that you were sitting on our church wall while you smoked your cigarette and then flicked the cigarette butt into our flowerbed,” the Minister continued. “We don’t approve of smoking – it’s unhealthy and the smoke is off-putting so in future please don’t sit on our wall, smoking, and please don’t flick your cigarette butts into our garden.”

The trader mumbled an apology and went back to her shop. The Minister went into the church feeling pleased at having made a point, and ordered a ‘no smoking’ sign to be attached to the wall. It wasn’t long before no traders sat on the wall, no cigarette butts were flicked into the flowerbeds and the Minister felt vindicated.

Scenario 2

The Minister was incensed: didn’t they have any respect?

“Excuse me,” said the Minister as the trader made her way back to her shop, “Is our wall comfortable?”

The trader sensed possible sarcasm and wasn’t sure what to say. The Minister continued: “It’s just that I have noticed that you sit on our wall a lot and I was hoping it was comfortable.”

The trader grinned. “It’s a wall innit?” she said. “I aint expectin’ cushions!”

It wasn’t long before the Minister started joining the traders on the wall for a chat from time to time. The Minister still didn’t like the smoke, and cigarette butts were still flicked into the flowerbeds but the traders felt welcome.

Questions to inspire you:

This parable is based on real events – one of the scenarios happened.

What are the ‘walls’ and ‘cigarettes’ for you and your church?

How could you respond in missional ways?

What might we need to lay aside in order to take the opportunities that God might be giving us?

What small changes in attitude could make a big difference to the people you meet?

Be blessed, be a blessing

blind to the truth?

20160402_114517Recently I acquired a study. The garage in our house has been converted into a study. It’s a lovely space in which to work, study and meet people and makes my life a lot easier. It’s also downstairs, which helps (not too many upstairs garages though, so I guess you realised that). And it’s much closer to the coffee-making facilities in our house.

The front of our house faces south. And it was only after we had some vertical blinds installed that I realised the significance of this: if it’s a sunny day when I twist the blinds open in the morning I have to twist them to the right so that the sun does not shine directly through into my eyes. Later in the day, after the sun has traversed (or, for the cosmic pedants the earth has rotated) I have to twist the blinds to the left for the same reason. It’s not something that is bothersome, but it’s not something I had considered until the first sunny day when I was in my study.

I think that the ability to be flexible, adaptable and open-minded is one that all of us need to develop because the environment and circumstances in which we exist changes around us. I think most people suffer from change-inertia. It’s not necessarily that we don’t like change but it takes so much effort that we’d rather not bother thank you very much. However if we don’t change and adapt to the changing circumstances around us in the same way as if I failed to adjust the the blinds we may find that we can’t operate effectively because those changed circumstances make it more difficult.

It seems to me that churches suffer from change-inertia. Christians are like all people who tend to like things the way they have always been. Keeping church the way it has always been is perhaps a bit like a spiritual security blanket and if things change in church one of the fixed points of a person’s faith has changed and that can be uncomfortable. I understand that.

But I don’t think it’s healthy. Because if one of the fixed points of a person’s faith is the way a church has always been then their faith is in the wrong thing. We are supposed to be followers of Jesus and put our faith in him not in traditions, preferences, buildings, or even other people. And following Jesus involves change. That is at the heart of the word ‘repentance’ (a change of direction back towards God). It is inherent in what the Holy Spirit is doing within us – changing us to become more like the people God created us to be. And if you look at how Jesus engaged with the religious people and traditions of his day he was all about change! I would go so far as to suggest that if a church does not want to change (if the change is Jesus-led) then they are in danger of becoming a church-preservation society and not a church.

I may be coming across a bit strong here, but it bothers me that if churches do not change and adapt to the changes in culture around them they will be seen as out of date, irrelevant, and old fashioned and that people will then think of Jesus in the same way and ignore him. We’re supposed to be free samples of Jesus not of our own preferences and traditions. And if we refuse to adapt to our changing environment and become irrelevant while remaining in a happy holy huddle we are not only being selfish but disobedient to Jesus by not going to make disciples.

Now before anyone starts branding me a heretic and picking up virtual stones to lob at me or my blog can I say that I am not suggesting that we change the core of our message. Churches must always be ‘on-message’ when it comes to Jesus. But we can change the way that we say it. For example, Christians may (or may not) know what I mean if I say, “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb.” But for most people outside church if they hear that they will imagine I am engaged in some sort of animal cruelty and may call the RSPCA.

Jesus used language and illustrations that were contemporary for his day, but were also radical and challenging to the status quo and that is a problem for us if we refuse to change and adapt. Many of the amazing stories he told are culturally irrelevant to the Western post-modern society in which I live. (Don’t lob those virtual stones yet, read on). His parable about a Good Samaritan needs a lot of explanation to people today (explaining the depth of the historical animosity between Jesus’ Jewish listeners and the Samaritan people of his day, the religious cleanliness rules that would have prevented the priest and Levite from carrying out their duties if they had touched the beaten up victim, for example) even though the message is relevant today (perhaps more than ever). Today in telling the same story we might talk about the parable of the Good Immigrant who goes out of her way to look after a Right Wing Racist thug who was beaten up by a rival gang (who might still be hanging around) and was ignored by the leaders of his gang who ran away and a vicar who was on her way to a PCC meeting. It’s the same point Jesus was making about who your neighbour is but set in a different cultural context.

So how would you communicate the truth of “I’ve been washed in the blood of the Lamb” to someone who knows nothing about the Biblical imagery or theology of that statement?

Do we adapt to our ever changing world, or do we keep the blinds as they were and end up unable to see what we are called to do?

Be blessed, be a blessing