Be still – be yourself!

Durham Cathedral from the south

Durham Cathedral from the south (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I don’t know if it is my being at that ‘difficult age’ or the times but the months seem to be winging past.  In fact, the constant round of work, travel and the odd bit of telly, can leave the old brain fairly buzzing. So much so, few of us ever seems to be static even for a moment . No wonder then that I think often of the wisdom of the local expedition bearers who insist on regularly stopping to let their souls catch up! Nowadays we think less of our bodies let alone or spiritual well being.

Going on this year’s summer holiday was more vexing than usual. The days before were particularly hot and busy. The journey was hot and slow with road works. The camping site was hot and packed. And trust me, in Britain the word ‘hot’ is rarely said in the same breath as ‘weather’.

In fact, to escape the heat with the dogs we made the short trip – air con on full blast – to a local beauty spot on the River Wear. It was there I wandered in the medieval ruins of Finchdale abbey; the place where the monks of Durham Cathedral came to rest and recuperate in the summer months.  Something of the ancient meditative mood must haunt the stones. For I found myself sitting and thinking – be still and know that I am God. Perhaps we also need to be still and know ourselves as well.

Advertisements

How to keep life simple

Just recently I was recalling to someone my childhood family doctors. They were Drs Kerr Brown and McNeish. They practiced from their houses in Deniston in Glasgow. Once, when I had earache, I was taken down to see them. I already had almond oil put in the offending orifice, then before venturing into the winter evening a piece of new flannel embalmed my head. Next went my woolly balaclava. And finally my pride and joy – my red school cap – surmounted the whole ensemble!

 

No wonder when I arrived at the surgery, Mrs McNeish who acted as the doctors’ receptionist – Oh Graham what a lot of hats you’ve got on.

 

Somehow, back then, infant ailments were treated more simply. Somehow life seemed in general less complex.  Somehow knowing what do was easier.

 

Well to some degree the information explosion and the knowledge economy has increased life’s intricacy. Since these have brought in a greater understanding of the physical world around us, the society in which we live and even of our own personalities and biology. Also, the constant stream of news and views bring a multitude of opinions to our attention. Moreover, powerful pressure groups such as politicians, businesses and charities vey hourly for our ears, eyes and available neurons

 

And whilst it is laudable to be well informed, if we are not careful we run the risk of falling into the trap of Naaman ’s syndrome.

And what is that?

Well, in the end of the day, we have to admit that Naaman the General in Old Testament was a powerful, rich and probably imposing man. He wasn’t in the habit of going third class. So when he heard that his not just life threatening but socially excluding disease could be cured practically for nothing he was outraged. Such cures are for the peasants, he surely deserved something better, something more sophisticated or at least more expensive. It was as if he was blinded to the pure and simple truth. He could not see the obvious before his very eyes.

 

 

Here then is the Naaman syndrome! And it is to believe that good things must be expensive or complex. You get what you pay for we hear said often. Alternatively, if it is straight forward it must be biased, if it is cheap it is invariably nasty; if it’s free it must be rubbish.

 

So how do we live in a world where we are bombarded complexity and yet still see the pure unvarnished truth of its cure?

 

When Matt Taylor comes on the box with his BBC forecast, have you ever thought that weather forecasters have the coolest toys? They have satellite “eyes in the sky.” They can track off-shore flows and coastal disturbances, high pressure systems and low pressure cells, the rise and fall of the jet stream and even see rain on radars.

 

Added to that, television weather people have the most interesting screens to work with, with all kinds of magic features to make this or that bigger and smaller. Forecasting then the weather is complicated and growing more so with the years. Yet the truth is living with the weather is not.

 

Since in the last few month parts of this country have been under water, parts of this country have had a drought and parts of this country have been swept away by gales. All the meteorological explanations and predictions in the world don’t change the simple truth. For the uncomplicated truth of how to deal with the weather is:

 

If you are in a flood zone—get to higher ground.

If you need water – ship it in.

If there is a gale coming, lash things down.

If it’s too warm – stay still and enjoy it!

 

No matter how complex the weather system then, your best response is simple and straightforward. Indeed, the most complicated part is doing the simple.

 

Something similar was the thinking of Jesus when he sent out his disciples. They went out with the simple truth that the Kingdom of God is near. Despite the theological complexities then, all that people need do was see it. They went out to proclaim that God’s will being done is the way to a better world. Despite all the religious regulations then, it was simply a matter of lives following that will. They went out to exclaim that the reign of God is here. Despite all the political controversies then, the only unsullied way is the doorway of Christ Jesus.

There then is a masterly rejection of the Neman syndrome!

There is a perfect lesson in the engineering principle of Kiss – keep it simple, stupid.

 

There is a perfect illustration of the unpretentious action of a man with an unsightly rock in his garden.

Because, there is a story about a man who had a huge boulder in his front yard. He grew weary of this big, unattractive stone in the centre of his lawn, so he decided to take advantage of it and turn it into an object of art. He went to work on it with hammer and chisel, and chipped away at the huge boulder until it became a beautiful stone elephant. When he finished, it was gorgeous, breath-taking.

 

A neighbour asked, “How did you ever carve such a marvellous likeness of an elephant?”

 

The man answered, “I just chipped away everything that didn’t look like an elephant!”

 

 

And so when we try to come to terms with boulder-like complexities of 21st Century Britain – let us chip away with the chisel of the gospel. When we are beset by global conflicting arguments, reasons and explanations, let us see the simple actions decided by God’s will. When are tried to the limit by inner conflicts, let us do the obviously pure.

 

For then we cure ourselves, shape ourselves and bless ourselves into the most beautiful of shapes – the shape of Jesus himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fly God’s Dream!

God giving us everything we need to dream the dream, dream our dream, dream his dream!K21_glider

And by way of personal illustration, I can prove that last point. Since although I haven’t flown solo in a glider for many years, I recently felt that I must get this capability back. Yet my somewhat sporadic attendance at the gliding club resulted in very slow progress. Well, on Monday, my first flight’s landing left much to be desired. The second mercifully much improved. Nevertheless I remained unsure if my instructor was going to let me go on my own. Imagine my pleasure if slight apprehension when, as we talked of putting the glider into the hanger, he said to me – do you want to nip in and a have few launches on your own.

The proof then – that  I not only had the instructor’s affirmation but also the necessary skills to fulfil the dream – is that I am standing here in once piece. So too with anyone wanting to follow Jesus. Because doubtless you have heard the call to God’s service. You also have been given all that is necessary to soar high and make a safe landing. Moreover, to Christ’s offer you have undoubtedly said a big yes – yes I want too. For otherwise, why are you here reading this?

So now go and dream the dream!

Want to study the reformation for free?

If you have ever wanted to know more about the 16th Century Reformation and is lasting effect today, why not try the free course at the Khan Academy. It reviews the whole history of that era in a non-partisan way by exploring the personalities, politics and theologies involved. There is also the opportunity to comment and ask questions of this ‘sea-change’ that still influences Christian witness here and now.

 

Here is its link:

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/history/1500-1600-Renaissance-Reformation/protestant-reformation/a/an-introduction-to-the-protestant-reformation

 

Good studying !

Elijah and Chaos Theory

It could be in your newspapers today. Its a story about a middle-eastern morpho-butterflycountry with a dynasty of dictators running it. And as these rulers get cruel and lawless so do the people. Until one faction breaks away and before we know it there’s a civil war. This doesn’t, of course, stop the struggle for power and the rot of corruption. So what is held dear – what is revered if you like – gets more rancid by the day.

 

But then something happens which is not so much unexpected as utterly bizarre. Since from nowhere, into the despot’s palace pops a man who is honest. He says – What you are doing is against God’s will. The reply he gets is – see if I could care but you better watch out my friend. Nevertheless our honest man is also courageous one as well. Since he then speaks like the Sky weather forecaster. He predicts that the rain ain’t going to fall no more. Now that isn’t much of a curse in Scotland but in hot countries where water politics is big business, he is chancing his arm a bit too far. And so he makes himself scare and relying on God’s guidance stays on the run for a few years as the endless drought takes it toll of humans, animals and crops.

 

And that brings us roughly up to date with Elijah and his current CV.

 

No wonder when as a refugee he approached a single parent just surviving with a sickly son in this most sickly season, he had every right to expect to be sent packing. Yet he was not. In fact, he asked for help and out of this woman’s poverty he received it. Then in turn she also received aid and her son even got his life back. And so together through the long cruel heat-wave they held on – they survived – they got through it.

 

What then does this tell us today?

 

Mercifully, we do not live in strife torn places such as Syria, Iraq and Somalia. We do not live in famine struck areas such as sub-saharan Africa. But we do live in a time in our nation of hardship even of food poverty. We do walk past the doorstep of the hungry parent of the ill child.

 

It is therefore worth noting the deeper story within this story. Because did you notice, there was no religious language used. There was no judgment calls made. There was no conditions set or budgets considered. There was only one in need and one with compassion. And that was enough. That was enough to change both the lives of Elijah and the widow, it was enough to change the world they lived in even by a microscopic amount. In fact, it was that interchange mercy that created a quantum step away from the cesspit of dog eat towards true community. Or as Christ might express it – they contributed a smidgen to moving a living hell towards the coming of the Kingdom of God.

 

Yet we can still be a bit perplexed as to how such a little event can alter the whole picture.

 

 

 

Well, I heard it said this week that material things come and go but ideas are can never be destroyed once they are talked about! Take the one that was hugely popular a few decades back called chaos theory. Basically it said that everything no matter how small has an effect on everything else. More interesting, even small changes set up new conditions that might just result in massive outcomes down the line. As a result, small happenings can trigger others to give a chain reaction with unforeseen consequences. The classic illustration given at the time was that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rain forest causing a typhoon in the China Sea. All a bit far fetched maybe. But even if none of us can alter bad situations a lot, we can least try to alter it a little. For then we improve someone else’s world more than we imagine.

 

Nevertheless, trying to change things even a little, speaking truth to power even a little, asking or giving help even a little seems difficult.

 

But that forgets this story.

 

There was a tightrope walker, who did incredible aerial feats. All over Paris, he would do tightrope acts at tremendously scary heights. Then he had succeeding acts; he would do it blindfolded, then he would go across the tightrope, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow. An American promoter read about this in the papers and wrote a letter to the tightrope walker, saying, “Whilst I don’t believe you can do it, I’m willing to make you an offer. And it is for a very substantial sum of money, besides all your transportation fees, I would like to challenge you to do your act over Niagara Falls.” The tightrope walker wrote back, “Sir, although I’ve never been to America and seen the Falls, I’d love to come.” Well, after a lot of promotion and setting the whole thing up, many people came to see the event. The dare-devil was to start on the Canadian side and come to the American side. Drums roll, and he comes across the rope which is suspended over the most treacherous part of the falls blindfolded!! And he makes it across easily. The crowds go wild, and he comes to the promoter and says, “Well, Mr. Promoter, now do you believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do. I mean, I just saw you do it.” “No,” said the tightrope walker, “do you really believe I can do it?” “Well of course I do, you just did it.” “No, no, no,” said Tightrope, “do you believe I can do it?” “Yes,” said Mr. Promoter, “I believe you can do it.” “Good,” said Tightrope, “then you get in the wheel barrow.”

 

Well if today we feel daunted at taking a small step that could result in a revolution, then here is the story to challenge, prod and to inspire. For if we call ourselves Christians we do need to get into the wheel barrow. We need to get into the wheel barrow to allow Christ to act through us via faith, courage and compassion. We need to get into the wheel barrow and trust that with Christ we will start a waterfall by giving a little and taking a little. We need to get into the wheel barrow and expect to reach the God’s side – for there alone will we discover needy lives changed, fallen nations purified and an arid universe refreshed forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to break a record today!

k7flipDuring our recent holiday in the Lake District, we saw two exhibitions dedicated to Malcolm and Donald Campbell. The first at the Lakeland Motor Museum had replicas of the Bluebird cars of father and son and the Bluebird K7 boat in which latter lost his life. More poignant, at the Ruskin Museum, were the various fragments of the actual Bluebird boat recovered from Coniston Water after Donald’s crash trying to keep his grasp of his own World Water Speed Record. This display in the village of Coniston also had his helmet and flying suit recorded with his remains in 2001. It is sad to think that when his boat literally became airborne from the glass-like surface of the water he was already travelling faster than any other human being afloat at over 300 mph.

Almost as sad is that this doomed yet heroic attempted seemed to close a era of the daring individual in favour of large teams  of specialists. For I suspect we shall never see such lone endeavours again.

But there is a lesson here for every congregation across Scotland. For the epoch of going it alone has definitely closed for them too. For if we are to face down and conquer the challenges ahead we will team work; team work of a whole congregation contributing their skills and abilities, teamwork of congregations helping across the whole tapestry of the Church’s community and teamwork of all denominations to witnessing the reality of Christ’s kingdom in its communal  word and deed.

 

At the Ruskin Museum I met an Australian who had seen Donald Campbell the day before his successful first attempt at the water record. He said he always regretted not going to see this feat the next day. Let us then not have any regrets of making insufficient efforts now at teamwork since then we will not miss our own record breaking for the gospel’s sake.

 

 

Poem for times of trouble

I found this on my Facebook page today:

 

We who were once far off,9994-sunrise-at-orvieto-umbria-italy-free-landscape-and-scenic-desktop_531x331
who wandered as if
in a wilderness,
searching for water,
desperate for shade,
now rest in your embrace,
feast on your word,
drink from a well
that will never run dry,
and have found the place
we were searching for,
as Christ has brought us home.

Can you ever forget this story?

This is one of the most memorable stories  I have ever heard! It comes in Katheleen O’Sullivan’s superb book Light out of Darkness in a chapter on A listening experience:

christmas-332When I began to write about ‘listening’ I felt urged in prayer to go out among the people and listen. I went into a fish-and-chip shop. The space was very limited. It was a bitterly cold day. Perhaps the cold made us a pretty soulless group of people. I was trying to listen. There seemed to be little communication between us. I smiled at a little girl who was splashing vinegar on her chips. For a moment, her mother half looked and half smiled at me. We were there seemingly for one purpose only, to get our food, to get home and be comfortable. I felt depressed as I listened.

Suddenly I became aware of a change in the atmosphere. Continue reading