looking for a wookiee

I think our family might acquire a new euphemism: “Looking for a wookiee.” It will mean ‘going to the toilet’!

No, we haven’t lost our mind, and if you have ever visited our house you might have a sense of why “Looking for a wookiee” might mean that. Last year, when I was convalescing following surgery, my children (allegedly grown up) gave me a book to keep me occupied: Where’s the Wookiee. It’s a Star Wars version of Where’s Wally (or Where’s Waldo if you’re in the USA) in which there are scenes from the Star Wars franchise of films and in each on Chewbacca the wookiee is hiding along with lots of other characters you also have to find. Are you with me so far? Some of you may be ahead of me.

After enjoying the book I decided that it might be the sort of thing that people might enjoy if they need to pass the time in our downstairs ‘washroom’. Subsequently I was given the sequel that was cleverly titled Where’s the Wookiee 2 and that has replaced the first one.

So if you need to use the smallest room in the house and want to be a bit more delicate about it, you can say that you are going to look for a wookiee.

Of course to most people that will make no sense at all when they hear it, especially if they have not read this bloggage or haven’t visited the house. But it means something to me – not only where I am headed, but also reminding me of my children – and you may hear it if you visit. I wonder what family euphemisms you have…

Of course organisations are very good at having their own language that nobody else can understand. They may start off as euphemisms, or may be terminology used to describe something technical. Perhaps even they are a shorthand for a lengthy description. Most of the time these things seem to become jargon…

Medical jargon is impenetrable to most of us. Computer jargon may as well be Klingon. Magicians have their own language that is actually designed to be difficult for non-magicians to comprehend. And Christian churches have their own jargon that many of us in church don’t understand, never mind outside!

I distinctly remember walking down a street one day and seeing a street preacher haranguing the passers-by with his big black bible tucked under his arm. Next to him were his minions. You could tell they were minions because they were small, yellow and shaped like tic tacs they had smaller black bibles under their arms. Most people were giving him a wide berth as they walked past and as I approached he proclaimed, “Jesus Christ is the propitiation for your sins!”

I should have stopped and asked him to explain what he meant but I was so gobsmacked I kept walking. I have a feeling that I may have been the only one who knew what he meant* (possibly including him!). I still use it more than 25 years later as an example of how not to communicate with your audience.

The problem is that the subject of his message is really important. But the content and delivery method made it so incomprehensible for most passers-by that he completely failed to communicate.

Successful communication requires the successful transmission of information, ideas, emotions, feelings and so much more from a person(s) to another (or others). If you have been heard but not understood you have not communicated you have only expounded. And since ‘ex’ can mean ‘no longer current’ and ‘pound’ can mean ‘to pummel’ an intended recipient is unlikely to be receptive of that approach.

I realise that this bloggage may not have been an example of successful communication, it may have simply been me expounding. If that is the case, I apologise. But if you will excuse me I don’t have time to explain further as I have to go and look for a wookiee.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*It refers to how Jesus made it possible for us to have a good relationship with God by dealing with the wrong stuff in our lives when he died – like when a bodyguard takes a bullet for the person they are protecting.

the write stuff

Image result for fountain pen writing

I have a confession to make. I love fountain pens. I don’t know why but I love the combination of the concept, the feel of them,  and particularly the sense of the flow of ink when writing that make up a fountain pen. I even like the sense of ancient history behind them (there are references to something that resembles a fountain pen in the 10th century, and of course quills were used many centuries before). I realise that in an electronic age (and I LOVE technology) it may seem rather archaic to enjoy fountain pens but there you go… it’s what I like.

Many years ago my wife gave me a lovely ink pen and it lasted quite a long time until it gave up and literally fell apart. I loved it so much that I tracked down another one online that looked identical and I bought it as a replacement. Then, tragically, earlier this year I dropped the replacement fountain pen while writing with it and it landed nib-down on a hard floor. The nib bent.

What had been a joy to write with became a scratchy implement that was difficult to write with and left an inconsistent and sometimes indecipherable mark on the paper. I tried to unbend the nib with as much gentleness and skill as I have seen on the BBC TV Show ‘The Repair Shop’ but I am not a skilled craftsman and the nib remained scratchy and inconsistent. I even checked to see if the old nib would fit from the previous pen, but there was a minor but important difference that meant it wouldn’t fit and in any event it was full of dry ink that would not budge. I then looked at whether it was possible to buy a new nib for the pen and was alarmed to see how expensive this would be. The problem was that these pens had gone out of production many years back. The replacement I had bought was remaining stock, not new stock, and to buy a replacement nib required a specialist shop and for specialist shop read ‘expensive shop’. I was quite upset.

However my birthday was coming up and I thought about asking for a replacement nib for my birthday. But it felt wrong to ask someone to spend as much on a new nib as the pen had cost in the first place. I decided to ask for a new fountain pen and settled on a different one that I liked the look of. I went into a pen shop and ‘tried it on’ and it felt really good in my hand. So that’s what I asked for, and that’s what my wife gave me for my birthday. I am delighted with it, it writes beautifully (even if my handwriting is a bit ropey because of how much I type now) and my love of fountain pens continues.

Why this tale of ink pens? Well, I was looking at my new pen on my desk a little earlier and was reminded of Psalm 45:1 “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.” It’s part of a love song composed for a wedding that praises the bride and groom, but confirms that God’s hand has been on the couple. It’s a lovely image – that our spoken words are written by a dextrous wordsmith – God’s Spirit inspiring our thoughts and speech. This is true for us when we preach and teach, when we seek to speak God’s words to people, and should be true of us all day long. The problem is that while the writer always remains skilled, sometimes the pen is scratchy and almost illegible. It can happen to any of us.

It happens when we don’t take care of our souls, perhaps when we have been dropped on the hard floor of self-reliance instead of relying on God’s Spirit. Or it can happen when we become spiritually dried up rather than allowing the Spirit of Jesus to flow within us and through us. And we can even make the mistake of failing to ask the Master Craftsman to restore us when that happens. Miraculously the beautiful message can still get through even when we are scratchy or the reservoir has run dry, but that is more down to the skill of the author than the pen.

If you’re aware that you are a bit scratchy why not put yourself in for a service? Take a retreat, find a Spiritual Director, be accountable to someone else and allow these people to help you. Open yourself afresh to God’s Spirit in whatever way you find it easiest to be restored and renewed so that once again the author’s wonderful words flow well.

Be blessed, be a blessing

thoughtless or less thought?

A lot of time and effort had gone into creating a resource. It had been honed, refined, shaped and adapted over a period of several months after the initial version had been finished. Finally it was ready to be released and there some positive feedback.

But there were also some people who made critical comments about the resource on social media. The critical comments were not about the core message, nor were they about the concept. They were complaining about one small aspect of the resource. It was not as if they said, “We like these aspects of the resource, but wonder about that one…” They simply complained about one aspect of the resource and had nothing positive to say about the rest. They denounced the whole thing because of one minor part of it.

For those who had invested time, creativity and effort into the resource it was incredibly disheartening that some people could not see past the one thing they did not like and were not able to write anything positive. It was even more disheartening that the people who felt critical about it decided to post their comments on social media for all to see rather than speaking privately to those who had created the resource. The delight at what they had created had been replaced by misery and disappointment. And the good work that had been done felt tarnished by the negativity. Maybe the people who wrote the negative comments were simply thoughtless, or maybe they gave less thought to what they wrote because they wrote on impulse but the impact was the same.

The story above could probably be told many times over, perhaps with minor adaptations, about how people respond negatively and critically on social media to what others have created. You could replace ‘resource’ with ‘cartoon’, ‘book’, ‘website’, ‘blog’, or ‘video’; you could replace it with ‘TV show’, ‘film’, or ‘song’; you could replace it with ‘politics’, ‘philosophy’, ‘spirituality’ or ‘morality’ and it would still resonate as true. Somehow we have reached a point where it is deemed entirely acceptable to be negative about what other people think, create, do or say and even to insult and personal in the critiques. And they wound in ways that cannot be easily bandaged.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In days gone by, before social media and the internet were even embryonic thoughts in the minds of those who created them, comments that were intended to be seen by others were usually printed or broadcast on TV or the radio. And what was said was usually moderated because people knew that they were subject to the laws of libel and defamation. In law the main defences to libel and defamation are truth or that it was an honest opinion and the impact of libel could be reputational or financial with recompense awarded accordingly. For some reason nobody seems to apply these laws to what someone splurges across the www!

Have we lost our filters of decency? Have we stopped thinking about the impact of our words on other people? Do we think that those who are the subject of vitriol or ridicule are immune to the effects of our comments? Are we less thoughtful and now are thoughtless?

The worst thing for me about the story at the start of this bloggage is that it is a true story and relates to something that was created for churches to use. The negative comments were made by Christians. Christians are not perfect, we make mistakes, but it saddens me when we flaunt those imperfections in full view of the online world without thought.

Be blessed, be a blessing

no joking matter

not speakHaving recently posted my degree dissertation on ‘A Theology of Humour’ it feels appropriate to be making an observation on the recent comments by Boris Johnson about women wearing Burqas. I am not going to give Mr Johnson’s comments any publicity by repeating them save to say that I consider them to be reprehensible and offensive, especially when written by someone with his public profile.

Had the hideous comments been made by someone in a far right organisation there might have been a prosecution for incitement to racial hatred. If you doubt that this is the case I was deeply distressed to read a report last week of how some yobs had been abusing and harassing a lady wearing a burqa in such a way that it was clearly ‘inspired’ by Mr Johnson’s comments.

It has been suggested that Mr Johnson should not be censured for his comments because they were “a joke”. Even if that was so it was in extremely poor taste. But a joke can still be offensive and can still incite others to copy them because the words, once released, carry a life and notoriety all of their own and any humorous intent can swiftly be lost.

And it’s this ‘joke’ concept that has niggled away at me – perhaps because I have recently revisited my dissertation. It seems to me that there is a very fine line between laughing at someone or something we hold affectionately – like laughing when one of our friends says something unintentionally funny – and ridiculing someone we do not respect – which feels like the tone of Mr Johnson’s comments, particularly given his (apparent) unwillingness to apologise for them.

I think there may be some sort of comedic continuum here with concepts like: ‘parody, lampooning, caricaturing, send-up, spoof, and satire’ at one end and ‘mockery, scorn, ridicule, derision, contempt, disdain, sarcasm, jeering’ at the other. The problem is that it is very difficult to know where satire becomes ridicule, or lampooning becomes jeering. And I think the answer is revealed as much by the outcome as the words themselves and the intent of the author, and perhaps as much by the (lack of) affection or respect we have for the subject.

Words, once spoken or written and released publicly, are not harmless. I can remember reciting the mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me” as I was being verbally bullied at school. It was intended as a defence mechanism because I was unwilling to become physically violent in response. But deep down I knew that those words did hurt. It was not only the words themselves that hurt, but I knew that there was disrespect and hatred behind them.

If we let a domesticated, well-trained dog off the lead in the countryside and it harasses or savages a flock of sheep we have to take responsibility for that and I believe we also have to take responsibility for what we say even if the words have taken on a significance and meaning we did not intend. That is true not only for Mr Johnson, but for all of us. In the letter written in the Bible by James (possibly Jesus’ brother) we read in chapter 3 verses 3-12:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

Jesus was even more direct (Matthew 12):

33 ‘Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36 But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’

Gulp.

Be blessed, be a blessing

brexit stage right?

I have tried to resist the change, I have tried to make a stand, I have tried to persuade others, but in the end it seems inevitable that ‘Brexit’ has entered the English language. It’s such an ugly and clumsy word – a lazy amalgamation of ‘Britain’ and ‘exit’ to denote the decision in the EU Referendum last year for us to leave the European Union.

way out signEvery time I hear the word it sets my grammatical hackles rising. I wondered whether the Bible had anything to say about it and found this verse (out of context) Proverbs 8:13:

 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Surely the word ‘Brexit’ counts as ‘perverse speech’ doesn’t it?

But I think I am going to have to accept that ‘Brexit’ is a word now. It has entered common usage and also entered our dictionaries. It doesn’t mean that I have to like the word, but I should recognise that my one person campaign against it (predominantly through passive resistance by not using the word – yes, I know, I’m a real RADICAL!) is not going to change anything.

I wonder how much emotional and physical energy is expended by people trying to protest against the unchangeable and trivial?

It’s important to notice two things about that rhetorical question:

  1. I am talking about the unchangeable and trivial. We can get hot under the collar about the most minor things and turn them into a point of principle. If you don’t believe me, read historical minutes from Church Meetings in the past where there will have been lengthy discussions about the colour of carpets or even (shock! horror!) about rotas.
  2. Notice that I wrote energy that is ‘expended’ not ‘wasted’. Some energy is wasted on protesting against the trivial, but some is well-spent influencing and affecting decisions. We should not meekly accept change that is unjust, that heightens inequality or that diminishes other people.

So where is all this leading? I don’t think I am likely to embrace the word ‘Brexit’. I will continue to use ‘leaving the EU’ or a similar phrase if I want to talk about it. But I will try not to allow the use of ‘Brexit’ to carry negative emotions and shape my opinions about other people who choose to use it.

If you look at the verse from Proverbs 8 in a slightly wider context (verses 12-13)we read:

‘I, wisdom, dwell together with prudence;
    I possess knowledge and discretion.
13 To fear the Lord is to hate evil;
    I hate pride and arrogance,
    evil behaviour and perverse speech.

Prudence, knowledge and discretion are all associated with wisdom, which is primarily about how we relate to God and others. If I let something trivial rile me it will only erode my relationships! Whether or not someone chooses to use the word ‘Brexit’ is surely less important than how I relate to them, isn’t it?

Be blessed, be a blessing

 

dis

dictionaryIn an early edition of yesterday’s bloggage I made a typo that completely changed the meaning of a phrase. I had edited what I had written from ‘I do not agree…’ to ‘I profoundly disagree…’ I replaced the ‘do not’ with ‘profoundly’ and thought that I had successfully added ‘dis’ to the front of ‘agree’ but when it was published somehow I had failed to do so and the sentence began ‘I profoundly agree…’

That put a very different meaning on what I wanted to say.

Thankfully a kind friend (thanks Alan!) noticed and rather than pointing it out publicly on social media he gently sent me an email pointing out the lack of ‘dis’ and assuming that I didn’t mean to say what it looked like I was saying. I immediately edited the version on my blog and pointed it out on social media in the hope that people would be alerted to the mistake.

It got me thinking, though, about the difference those three letters make. You’ll have to indulge me a bit in the musing below that may or may not evolve into a poem, but I have certainly taken poetic licence:

Spirits are dampened if dis is present and a heart-and courage are lost.

A dis can disempower different ability.

Agreements and unity fall apart in the presence of a dis.

A harmonious chord can become painful to hear when a dis is added.

It’s much more difficult for a sentry to stand still if there’s a dys.

If dis is missing a theory is proved.

But without a dis – gruntle is puted, tances are indistinct, a turbance is roughed up, traction is hard to maintain and the meaning of tort is twisted.

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.