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A mixing up desk

As I was driving home after spending an inspirational morning with one of our Chaplains I was listening to some music and realised for the first time that I had misheard some of the lyrics, and had kept that misheard interpretation in my mind for many years.

Coincidentally I also saw a post on Facebook about misheard lyrics today.

Here are some of the best:

The Police had a song when I was a teenager: “So Lonely” but it sounded like they were singing about a newsreader of the day: “Sue Lawley”

Johnny Nash’s iconic song lyric: “I can see clearly now the rain has gone” sounds like “I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone”.

Instead of “diggin'” the dancing Queen it sounds like Abba had a more violent lyric: “See that girl, watch her scream, kicking the dancing queen”. And in the same song, “Dancing Queen, feel the beat from the tangerine.” (“tambourine”)

“It doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not” was not what Bon Jovi sang in ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’: “It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not.”

I honestly can’t remember what my epiphany was today, but if I do remember I will add it to the list above.

But it also reminded me how a wrong idea, a wrong perception of someone, an erroneous misunderstanding, and even a prejudicial assumption about someone can remain with us for such a long time. We can remain oblivious to the truth and unaware of the error because we have become comfortable with the mistake.

When I was in year 7 at school (we called it ‘First Year’ in those days) a friend invited me to go with him to the cinema. He said it was to see a musical called ‘Greece’. At that time nobody else in our class had seen the film but because I had in mind some sort of opera about Greek myths I decided I didn’t want to go. It was only later, when everyone else was saying how great it was and had all seen it, when ‘Summer Lovin’ and ‘You’re the One that I want’ were all over the charts that I realised that it was ‘Grease’.*

What assumptions have you made about life, about people, even about Jesus? Are they based on fact, on reality, or on what you have heard someone say that someone else told them that their friend’s cousin had read on someone’s blog?

It’s worth checking for the truth. Don’t just take my word for it! After all it probably does make a difference if we’re naked or not!

Be blessed, be a blessing.

*(In case regular bloggists are having a sense of ‘deja vue’, yes I did use this story in a bloggage in August 2014)

 

label makers

Do you remember a few years ago how young people wearing hoodies were being vilified by politicians and the media? Some brilliant people at Frontier Youth Trust did some research that found that adults overestimate the level of antisocial behaviour by young people and teenage pregnancy and decided to make a statement about it. They made a 7ft high jar, put some young people in hoodies in it, and drove it down Fleet Street to publicise the research that was entitled ‘Labels R4 Jars – Not Young People’.

Geniuses!

We label people all the time. We categorise them by gender, sexuality, age, ethnicity, musical preferences, job, unemployment, disability and in so many more ways.

Why?

I have a few theories:

Laziness – it is easier and more convenient to stick a label on someone and assume that we therefore know all about them than to get to know them as an individual.

Self-esteem – if we label a group of people pejoratively it makes us feel better about ourselves because we are better than all of them.

Prejudice – yes, let’s name it and admit it, even though we may not like it about ourselves.

Peer pressure – this can sometimes be an excuse, but when everyone else is labelling others it is easier to go along with it than stand against it (think about your attitude towards ‘greedy bankers’ and ask whether that is an informed opinion or a label conveniently stuck on by others that we have accepted).

One of the MANY things I love about Jesus of Nazareth is that he did not label people. He saw people as individuals not as needs. He was not lazy or sloppy in getting to know people. He did not need to boost his self-esteem by looking down on others. He was not prejudiced. He did not give in to popular opinion.

Except (and I hope some of you have already got here) he did label some people, didn’t he? Look at what he had to say about Pharisees and teachers of the law. He spoke about them as a category. He made sweeping statements about them. He labelled them. I am sure that when he spoke generally about them being hypocrites who were like whitewashed tombs – looking good on the outside but rotten and hideous on the inside – there would have been some who were genuinely trying to do their best and were not hypocritical.

So what are we to make of that? Well, I suppose it is always true that the nature of a generalisation is that it will not always be true of everyone. And we need to bear in mind that the Pharisees were a religious group along the lines of a political party who shared the same ideology and it was the ideology that was under attack. Those make me feel slightly better about Jesus’ approach. And it’s also fair to say that his criticism hit the nail on the head of what was wrong at the heart of this ‘party’.

But what makes me feel even better was that he had as much time to spend with Pharisees and teachers of the law, trying to explain to them what God was really like as he did with those whom the religious system classed as ‘sinners’ and ‘unclean’. Even though he was willing to use polemical rhetoric as a way of drawing attention to the injustice, inequality and hypocrisy of the prevailing system he also sought to engage with those who were his opponents (and later saw themselves as his enemies). Read John chapter 3, where Jesus spent time explaining things to Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the ruling Council alongside Matthew 23 where Jesus warns against hypocrisy and unloads both barrels against the Pharisees.

It is right that we protest against systems, injustices, and those in authority when they are acting in a way that is out of step with God. It is right to speak out for those whose voice is not heard. It is right to challenge and make people think about their attitudes. But it is also right to engage with all people as people, not labelling, not making assumptions, not being lazy, denigrating, prejudiced or simply going along with the flow. Let’s show Christ-like integrity in the way we are with everyone – loving everyone equally.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

son

>DandlingI am reading a wonderful book at the moment. It’s called ‘stand’ and is written by Karl Martin, who was at Bible College at the same time as me (feel the reflective glory!). Indeed we played in the same football time. Or rather, I played in goal in the same team as Karl. When Karl played I was not usually very busy!

Anyhoo.

The book.

It’s looking at the call to live as a follower of Jesus and is very engaging, accessible, encouraging and challenging. This is not meant to be a review, but if you are looking for a book that helps you look at how you follow Jesus, this would be a good one.

I have been reading a section that is talking about identity and among the things I have read was a bit about how all of Jesus’ followers are God’s sons. Now immediately my anti-discrimination hackles were raised. Surely Karl actually means we are all God’s sons and daughters? On behalf of all my female Christian friends (and my wife) I was ready to take issue with the book. But Karl explains that this is not about gender (here), and invites the reader to consider how us all being ‘sons’ is about equality (yes, really!).

In Jesus’ day society was even more male-centred than it is today. Inheritance mainly passed through the male heirs. Daughters did not usually get a look in. The sons were the ones with the rights, with the inheritance, with the family honour, and so much more. So when the Bible describes us (regardless of physical gender) as ‘sons of God’ a significant counter-cultural statement is being made. It is inclusive, not exclusive. All of us become fully part of God’s family. All of us are his heirs. All of us are given equal rights and responsibilities in his Kingdom. If we were described as ‘sons and daughters of God’ there would be wriggle room here. Prejudice and inequality could sneak in. Cultural norms would prevail over God’s Kingdom values.

But we are sons of God, regardless of our gender. (Karl balances it up if you are feeling concerned about this apparent gender redefinition by reminding us that on the same basis the church (men included) is described as the ‘Bride of Christ’).

Churches have not been good at this. Women have not been treated well through church history. We (usually men) have superimposed sexist prejudice over God’s Kingdom values and attempted to say that this is what the Bible endorses, ignoring Jesus’ inclusive approach, interpreting away passages that say that with God there is neither male nor female, and holding onto a male-dominated view of the world and the church despite all that the Bible says about God not having favourites.

And so, acutely aware of that, I have railed against singing songs in which the women are expected to sing that they are ‘sons of God’. I have substituted ‘child’ where possible to be inclusive and sometimes I have even avoided those songs altogether. And now I am questioning my approach.

Unless I have an opportunity to explain the above in a service I may well still ask that we sing ‘child’ instead of ‘son’. That is especially true if there are likely to be visitors present, or those who don’t know much about church because I would not want people to feel that God only loves one gender.

But there will now also be moments when, given the opportunity, I want to declare that with God there is no second class: I will try to explain what it means for us all to be ‘sons’ and invite everyone to declare their status before God. Surely that is what Paul was trying to say to the church in Galatia isn’t it?

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female,for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

Be blessed, be a blessing

which generalisation are you?

Any of you who don’t use Facebook you will have been spared the seemingly endless succession of pseudo-psychological ‘tests’ to analyse your personality.

Which sandwich are you?

Which Disney character are you?

Which Reformation leader are you?

Which Greek god are you?

Which Hobbit character are you?

and so on…

ad…

nauseam…

(which Latin phrase are you? Aaaargh, stop brain stop!)

taking this test may alarm you
taking this test may alarm you

When I see these come up on Facebook I have two reactions. One is, ‘Oooh, I wonder which I am’. The second (and it usually comes a split second after the first) is ‘I am not a [insert noun from the question here], I am an individual.’

Yes, I know that these are intended as a bit of fun. I get that. And yes, we must always remember that we are unique: just like everyone else. But we cannot be defined by a few inane questions that identify us most strongly with one of a range of options.

For a start the list of possible outcomes is finite so the answer is limited. The person framing the question has also framed the answer. It is like the old story about the interviewer who asked a visiting Pope whether he would be visiting any nightclubs in their city during his stay. The Pope replied, “Are there any nightclubs in your city?”

The newspaper ran the headline the next day, “Pope asks ‘Are there any nightclubs in your city?'”

You may have chosen from the options, but someone else chose the options from which you chose.

I think I also have a reaction against these sort of quiz because the answers are based on generalisations and stereotypes. That is inevitable given the nature of the quiz. They are picking up on answers and making assumptions about the answers that filter us and pigeon-hole us. If your favourite colour is blue, you can eat at least six jelly babies in a minute, you have visited more than three non-European countries and you wear glasses then (wait for it) you are Nick Lear. (If you are, by the way, I apologise profusely!)

Yes, I still know that they are just a bit of fun. I still know that we are not meant to take it seriously. But there is a trend within our culture to pigeon-hole people. There is a trend in our culture to group people together and treat them as one. I do not subscribe to any of these views but I have heard them expressed: ‘People on benefits are all lazy scroungers’; ‘Women are all over-emotional’; ‘Readers of certain newspapers are all bigoted’; ‘Christians deny science’.

None of those is true. All of them are abhorrent. But if you listen to people it won’t be long before you hear one of those, or other stereotypes that are siblings of prejudice. Racism, ageism, sexism, classism, religious discrimination, and any other prejudice is fed by generalisations and stereotypes. One of the most powerful pieces of television in recent years was when Tommy Robinson, the founder and leader of the English Defence League, agreed to spend some time with Mo Ansar, a Muslim who was campaigning to ban the EDL. As they got to know each other understanding, respect and ultimately friendship replaced fear, prejudice and hate. As a result Tommy Robinson quit the EDL. (It’s not available on iplayer at the moment but this page on the BBC website gives you a flavour).

If you enjoy the ‘what [insert noun here] are you?’ quizzes please don’t let me deter you from continuing to enjoy them. But perhaps each time you do you will also listen to these words of wisdom from Psalm 139:

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.

and later:

23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

Be blessed, be a blessing

the other side of the door

clocksThis morning I had a check-up by the Dentist. Thankfully he was only checking my teeth. The appointment was at 10.55 but there were plenty of people waiting when I arrived and many of them weren’t seen before 11.30. A general air of disgruntlement spread across the waiting room (not helpful by the usual ubiquitous dread of seeing a Dentist). There was plenty of deep sighing, watch / clock checking and people even started talking with strangers about how long they had been waiting – British reserve and reticence to talk to other people goes out of the window when we have weather to complain about or are subject to delays.

As I sat quietly trying not to check my watch too often or sigh too deeply something struck me. Thankfully it was only a thought, nothing physical. We were all having gruntle extractions (being dis-gruntled) but once we were the other side of the dental door we would not want our dentist to rush or skimp. Those having anaesthesia prior to treatment would not want the dentist to say that because he was running late he was not going to bother. Those who were experiencing pain would not want the dentist to ignore it and push them out of the chair as quickly as metaphorically possible. Once we were being seen we would want the dentist to take all the time she or he needed.

The thought that had struck me has embedded itself in my brain and has been germinating: in what other ways do we change our attitudes significantly when it affects us? I suspect that many of the people whose view of those on benefits are that they are scroungers and layabouts would change significantly if they were suddenly reliant on benefits themselves. Those who complain about immigration might change their views significantly if they had a relative living overseas who wanted to come and live with them here. People who dislike those who do not share their sexuality or ethnicity may change their minds if a family member declares that they don’t share that sexuality or are marrying someone from a different ethnic group. And in case you are getting excited about me bashing of these unknown nasty people and are cheering me on, the thought started growing in a way that brought it uncomfortably close to home.

Do I have negative attitudes about others that I would adjust significantly if I was in their shoes? If I would, I think it is fair to say that it is hypocritical and perhaps even amounts to prejudice!

Dear God, please help me to see everyone the way that you see them; to have your grace, compassion and generosity of spirit; and to act accordingly. Forgive me for my prejudice and bear your Spiritual Fruit in my life.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

the parable of the good…

Some thinking required
Some reflection required

If Jesus was telling the parable of the Good Samaritan to a church today (recognising that he had a religious audience) who would be the characters in order to have the same shocking impact as the Jewish victim and the Samaritan hero? It’s worth noting that even though the Samaritan was the hero of his story that does not mean that Jesus agreed with him on every point. He was merely a shocking illustration to show what a good neighbour looks like.

The parable of the hoody Samaritan? An old lady is mugged in the street and the hero turns out to be a hoody-wearing teenager who has previously been making fun of her.

The parable of the good muslim. A racist man throws a petrol bomb at a mosque and is injured by the explosion. The Imam takes him into his home and tends his wounds.

If these are not sufficiently disturbing for Christians, let me try this version:

A fundamentalist Christian was preaching in the street. He was denouncing all kinds of evil in society: especially condemning the British Government for introducing legislation to legalise same sex marriage and being particularly scathing about gay men and women.

As he spoke he suffered a sudden serious heart attack and collapsed to the ground, unconscious.

“Serves him right,” said one onlooker. “He should not be such a bigot.”

“Thank goodness that he has stopped preaching,” said a passing vicar. “He’s ruining the reputation of Christians.”

But a gay couple stopped where he lay. One gave cardiac massage while the other called for an ambulance. The man regained consciousness and one of the couple took off his coat and made a pillow on the ground while the other spread his coat over the stricken preacher to keep him warm until the ambulance arrived.

Jesus said, “Which of these do you think was a neighbour to the man who had a heart attack?”

[insert your answer here]

Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.”

If that does not make you feel uncomfortable (which may or may not be a good thing) how about this question for reflection: Is the ‘do likewise’ about being kind and nice and helpful?

Or is it actually about asking for his Spirit to help us to overcome our prejudices and living graciously?

And if you want to feel really uncomfortable, try this question for size: who might Jesus make the hero of the story if he was telling it to you?

Be blessed, be a blessing.