view from my pew 12

Dear Internet

Harrumph. That’s how I felt last week. My long-running late night radio show on Radio Upson Downs, “Hymns on my Organ” has been cancelled. Apparently it was not mainstream enough for a community radio station that only has a maximum audience of 4000 listeners and apparently they could not sell any advertising time during it even though it was only on once a month on a Sunday evening.

organThe format of the show was very simple: people would write in and request a favourite hymn and then I would play it on my electric organ live on the radio. The postbag for the show never actually bulged, but there were usually enough hymns requested for me to fill half an hour and if there weren’t enough then I would augment the list with some of my own favourites – some of which don’t get sung at all at our church now.

In addition to the requests for hymns I did sometimes get other requests of an impolite nature: it took me a while to realise that there wasn’t a hymn called, “For heaven’s sake, stop!” Other letters questioned my ability to play anything beyond ‘chopsticks’ and some seem to have confused me with some sort of medical show.

I took this up with our Minister, Revd Philip Inneck-Tucker, in the hope that he might organise a petition of support to hand in to Radio Upson Downs to get my show reinstated. I must admit that I half-expected him to smirk and pretend to have a coughing fit again (yes, I have worked out what he was doing – the cheek of it!!) but he surprised me by saying that he was sorry that my radio career had come to an end as he used to enjoy listening to me at the end of a busy Sunday.

I didn’t expect that and waited for him to crack a joke. But he didn’t.

He listened to me as I explained how much time I spend preparing for each show. He nodded sympathetically as I bemoaned the radio station’s lack of community spirit. He said how good it was that I was using my hobby to try to bless other people. He even made a few positive suggestions about what I could do in my last show (they have given me one last show to say goodbye to my listeners).

When I told him that I was surprised that he was taking the situation so seriously he floored me with his comment: “I may not agree with you on everything but I know that you are a man who has sincerely held beliefs and seek to live by your convictions. I can see that you are upset about this and as your Pastor I want to listen to you, support you and pray for you.”

Well, I would have skipped home if it wasn’t for my bad hip. Who’d have thought it? When I got home started to prepare for my last show. I looked at my card index of all of the hymns that have been requested (including the frequency of requests, by whom they were requested and hymn book reference number) and then at all of the letters I have received over the years. It was then that I noticed that some of the handwriting looked familiar. Then I realised whose it was – our Minister had written some of the requests!

I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t expected that he would be so supportive. Perhaps I misjudged him. My ‘harrumph’ has turned to a ‘hallelujah’ and I am going to dedicate my last hymn to him: ‘Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love’.

Yours faithfully

Mr QR Grenville-Stubbs

More puppetry

A further Elmo related thought…

People relate to Elmo the puppet as a real being because of the puppeteer behind  (or beneath) him. There’s an illustration of grace and service here – someone who is willing to work in the background to support someone else. The puppeteer gets no public credit or acknowledgement but is affirmed when others are blessed by Elmo.

May we be willing to have the same approach to serve and support others in order that they’ll be blessed and be a blessing.

not just there for the nasty things in life

I hope you will forgive what might be self-indulgence, but I am going to inflict a little more of my sermon to myself which I preached at my induction last week, looking at 1 Corinthians 3:1-9:

Paul wrote some harsh words to the church in Corinth. The comedian Eddie Izzard has a very funny routine in which he imagines the postman in Corinth trying to get someone to sign for the letter from Paul. None of them want to because they know that he is going to be telling them off.

Nick, a Regional Minister’s role is not to write letters telling people off. But let’s be honest. At different times all churches, like Corinth, have their challenges and difficulties. The Christians in Corinth struggled because of different factions, and because of perceived or assumed super spirituality. Other churches in the New Testament era had other problems. And that has continued throughout almost 2000 years of church history. I don’t think that there are many problems that we face today which have not been faced by churches at some point in history.

Part of your role as a Regional Minister is, to appropriate the words from the wedding service, to help nurture and support churches for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health.

The ad was so successful that they wrote the book (available from Amazon.co.uk and other booksellers)

Some of you will be old enough to remember the TV advert for Yellow Pages in which an old man is phoning around bookshops looking for a copy of Fly Fishing by JR Hartley. Eventually he finds one and leaves his name: JR Hartley. The strapline of the advert is: “Good old yellow pages, not just there for the nasty things in life.”

Nick, I think you should have that strapline too: “Not just there for the nasty things in church life.”

But recognise that you are there too for the nasty things in church life. Not to be nasty, but to be there in the nastiness with the churches.

When you read the passage in 1 Corinthians 3 you can read it as quite an admonishment from Paul: “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are worldly – mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed you are still not ready.”

Ouch. But look at it another way. Paul had not abandoned them, even though they were somewhat dysfunctional. And Paul recognised their situation and offered them what they needed – milk, not solid food. You don’t feed babies solid food, it’s not what they need as they are growing.

Nick, part of Regional Ministry is to help feed churches appropriately. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to ministry at local level let alone Regional. Come alongside each church in their own context and feed them what they need to help them to grow.

Be blessed, be a blessing

you shouldn’t walk alone

iStock_000008457626MediumToday I head off for three days with a large number of Baptist Ministers.

You might think I must have done something very bad to have to suffer that. But you’d be wrong. Not necessarily about me being bad (see recent bloggage about pastors and pedestals), but about it being a punishment. It’s the Eastern Baptist Association Ministers’ Conference, which is an annual gathering for inspiration, encouragement, challenge and increased beverage intake (of the tea and coffee variety of course).

I look forward to this conference every year. It’s not because of who the speakers are (although I am looking forward to this year’s speakers in case they read this), or because of the singing but it’s first and foremost an opportunity to meet friends and make friends with people who understand some of my context because they also live in the goldfish bowl we call Baptist Ministry. Everything else is a wonderful bonus on top of the conversations before, between and after the sessions and over meals.

One of my favourite passages in the Bible is in Paul’s first letter to the church at Thessalonica. In Chapter 5 verse 11 we read “Encourage one another and build each other up…” That’s a really important aspect of church life. You can get it in church on Sundays, in small groups, in prayer triplets, in conversations with one other person. But you can’t get it on your own. For me this Conference is another place where I receive that. Where’s yours?

(By way of warning: I may post bloggages reflecting on the conference over the next couple of days, or I may be so absorbed that I forget).

Be blessed, be a blessing.

I have a challenge for you: I will post the joke with which I opened Sunday morning’s sermon and (if you weren’t there and haven’t listened online) you have to try to work out why I told it:

Three men were scheduled to be executed. Their captors told them that they had the right to have a final meal before the execution and asked them what their favourite meal was.

The first man loved French food. “Give me some good French wine and French bread with French cheese,” he requested.

So they gave it to him, he ate it, and then they led him away.

The next person was a fan of Italian food. “Give me an enormous pizza,” he said, “followed by a big bowl of Italian ice cream.

So they brought it to him, he ate it, and then they led him away.

Now it was the third man’s turn. “I want a big bowl of strawberries,” he said.

“Strawberries? They aren’t in season for months!”

The man smiled: “I’ll wait…”

 

delegation

What happens if you just ask someone to buy you a mouse...
What happens if you just ask someone to buy you a mouse…

Delegating is difficult. If we ask someone to do something we need to make sure that we provide them with the resources to do it, that they have the skills and ability needed to do it, and that they will be able to complete the task within the time scale needed. And there’s the distinct likelihood that the person to whom a task has been delegated will do things differently to the way we would have done it. Delegation requires a degree of oversight, encouragement and support and the temptation can be to do things ourselves because it can take a lot of effort to delegate successfully.

But if we don’t delegate we limit what can be achieved to our own skills and ability, resources and available time. And we also deprive someone else of the opportunity to contribute and to have a sense of accomplishment at the end of it. We limit what can happen to the limits of our own imagination.

Recently I asked someone to design something for our church. I gave a working idea to them, parameters for the design and asked them to produce something. I am so glad I did that rather than trying to do it myself. What they have produced is way beyond anything I would have conceived. It’s brilliant.

The outcome is not only that the church will have something new and special to offer people who are newcomers, not only that I have had the opportunity to thank someone and that it has used someone’s gifts, but also that they have had the chance to use their amazing gifts as an act of worship.

Delegating is not easy. It can be risky. But I suspect that many of the occasions when I have delegated and it has not gone well it is perhaps more down to me not delegating well and failing to support / oversee helpfully rather than failure on the part of the person to whom I have delegated.

Of course Jesus has taken the risk of delegating the task of telling people the good news about him to us, the church. He offers support, encouragement, advice and enhances our gifts through his Spirit…

Be blessed, be a blessing

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.”

keystone

Time for me to confess. I have a problem. It is something that clearly does not bother lots of people, but causes me some angst.

Green DoorThe problem is keystone. Not the cops from the black and white movies. But the adjusting of video projectors so that the image on the screen has vertical sides instead of resembling a trapezoid. It’s called keystone because the shape is that of a keystone that you find at the top of an arch (or apparently above a door if you look at this picture). It happens when a projector is projecting at an angle rather than straight ahead.

Most video projectors have an adjustment that enables you to change the image so that what appears on the screen is an image with vertical sides. I find it frustrating when I see one where clearly that has not been done. Recently I have been in several different places where the keystone adjustment has not been done and have had to restrain myself from toddling over to the projector and making the adjustment myself. (I didn’t, but I did consider it – how sad is that?)

Of course adjusting the keystone setting on a projector means that the image that is projected is distorted. The projector is projecting a skewed image that appears rectangular on the screen.

I have been struggling to think of a spiritual application for this confession of mine. I wonder what is at the heart of my problem? I think it might come from my time working with the Baptist Union of Great Britain when we had people who know about these things telling us about good and bad presentation techniques. It has become important to me that what we present looks as good as it can and adjusting something as simple as keystone can help. And therein lies the application. We all want to project and present an image that is as good as possible.

We keystone ourselves. What we present to other people is a distorted image of the real us. We hide some of our pain, problems, concerns and so on behind an image that presents itself as ‘normal’, ‘correct’, ‘true’. We distort reality and project a neat rectangular image to others when they ask us how we are and respond, “Fine, thanks.” Or we adjust the image that we project so that it looks to others that everything is well with us and that we don’t have any problems.

And in doing so we are not fooling ourselves and we are not fooling God. What we are doing is keeping help at arm’s length rather than receiving what’s on offer. God’s Spirit ministers to us in our deepest places, but he also ministers to us through other people. If we project a perfect image they will never know and we may be preventing God from helping us. Showing others the real ‘us’ may make us vulnerable, it’s a risk. But is the keystone-adjusted image we project better than being helped?

Be blessed, be a blessing.