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Rethinking Christmas

The madness is upon us again. ’Tis the season to spend a fortune. To purchase our way into our children’s hearts. To fall for the manufacturers’ thinly veiled commercialism—O look, a new model just in time for Christmas! To inculcate our children with the notion that we get our identity from our stuff.

I have nothing against Christmas. I love it (when it comes—and not before then!). I’m not even going to suggest that we should remember the so-called ‘Reason for the Season’. I think the problems are far more foundational than a surface rejection of Jesus. I mean, what odds is it if we forget about Jesus at Christmas if we don’t pay him any attention the rest of the year—why be hypocrites?

On the other hand, what we do at Christmas often displays what really matters to us. So we buy a lot of stuff for our kids because, as adults, we get our identity from what we have. We get them the latest iPhone, the latest ‘in’ toy, the latest fashion accessory. Are any of these things wrong in themselves? Not at all. But in bestowing them on our children repeatedly, we confirm to them the lie that their […]

Conversations with a snowflake

The world outside my window lay blanketed in dazzling white. I stepped outside and drank deeply from the cold fresh air.

“Good morning, Mistress Snowflake,” I greeted the freshly fallen flakes.

“Tell me, where have you come from this morning?” I asked as I marvelled at her beauty and splendour.

“O from vast heights of velvet clouds. But we were not always as you see us now,” chirped the particular snowflake I had focused my gaze on.

“Go on, tell me more.”

“We lay about the earth, in stagnant pools by busy roadsides, in polluted puddles in industrious cities, in effluent-ridden seawater. Some of us lay in leaf blocked gutters and in wayside ditches.”

Seeing my surprise she explained, “We were not as you see us now. We were mere water drops—filthy and contaminated.”

I gazed at the breathtaking beauty of the intricate structure of this perfect crystal flake and marvelled at its brilliance, “How then did you come to this?”

“The sunlight kissed us and caught us heavenward. How it happened none of us can tell. Before we knew what was happening, we were swept through the skies and set free once more.”

There was a moment’s silence as she remembered that glorious day, then she continued, “We […]

No longer talking

Have you noticed that people are no longer talking? Sure, there is plenty of chat in shops and restaurants, but how often do you phone someone? If you’re over 40 you probably haven’t changed your habits, but I suspect that if you are under 40 there has been a change.

I’m reading Alone Together by Sherry Turkle, a book whose subtitle is ‘Why we expect more from technology and less from each other”. In it she explores how technology is changing us and how we interact with each other.

One aspect she writes about is the growing distaste for the talking over the phone, and a preference for texting; of how using the phone is often seen as an intrusion on people.

Turkle quotes a sixteen-year-old who won’t use the phone: “When you text, you have more time to think about what you’re writing… On the telephone, too much might show.” Another says, he might, not now, but sometime soon, “force himself” to talk on the phone. “It might be a way to teach yourself to have a conversation . For later in life, I’ll need to learn how to have a conversation…”

She tells of a daughter being picked up from school by […]

Decision paralysis and searching for paradise

Monday morning. A day off for some pastors; certainly for this one.* And a good opportunity to grab coffee or lunch with my wife. The conversation goes like this:

Lovely wife: “Where d’you wanna go?”

Me: “I dunno, where do you wanna go?”

Lovely wife: “How about McGovern’s, we’ve got a discount voucher for there.”**

Me: “Dunno never eaten there, let me check what people say.” Gets out phone… “Reviews don’t say a lot, is there anywhere else”

Lovely wife: “What about Puddleglum’s?”

Me: “Nah, doesn’t inspire me”

Lovely wife: “What do you feel like?”

Me: “I feel like something tasty, but not spicy—not expensive either, but not fast food.”

20 minutes pass while I poke around on Facebook and Tripadvisor .

Meanwhile, lovely wife is losing the will to live, never mind the will to go out for lunch.

Lovely wife: “Are you finding anything there?”

Me: “Nah, nothing grabs me.”

Lovely wife: “Why don’t we get in the car and just head down town?” (Slipping McGovern’s voucher in her bag, just in case)

Another 5 minutes pass as I scroll through reviews, muttering, “Where, where, where?”

Then came the grand denouement, the moment of blinding revelation:

Lovely wife: “Look, It doesn’t have to be perfection. I’m not looking for a place that gives me […]

The language of tears

I came across a set of photographs of tears taken using a microscope. They are fascinating to look at; vastly different in their detail and patterns, like looking down at changing landscapes from an aeroplane.

The photographer, Rose-Lynn Fisher, has pictures of tears from all sorts of circumstances: tears of happiness, grief, pain, reminiscing, tears caused by irritation or for lubrication, and many other sorts—each like a unique work of art. Some are jagged and angular, some are densely detailed, like an aerial view of the Amazon rainforest. Others pictures are sparse in their detail, yet others square and block-like like a city plan. I love how she describes them as “aerial views of emotion terrain.”

Our tears are mostly salt water but contain a variety of substances—including enzymes, oils, antibodies, hormones, and even natural painkillers the body releases under stress. Each of these seems to impact the detail. (Although another photographer seems to think these additives are less of a factor.)

All this came to mind because I was preaching last Sunday on Psalm 6. The songwriter is at the end of his tether, he says his “I flood my bed with weeping… my eyes grow weak with sorrow”. Perhaps you know that […]

Always Looking; Never Wanting to Find

Here’s something I’ve noticed: It’s cool to search for God, but uncool to find him. People talk about wanting to find spiritual reality and deeper meaning, about wanting to get in touch with God. The idea of looking for him sounds good—the search, the journey—but the reality of actually finding him is too much.

Here’s how it plays out: a person recognises that there is something missing in their life, or some issue that needs to be resolved. They may have tried many other avenues or none at all, but now they throw themselves at God. And they start to find out about God, and all goes well for a time. The information is interesting—but then comes a crashing realisation: God isn’t simply interested in getting my problems; He wants me!

At that point, they turn tail and run, run as hard as they’re worth—all the while proclaiming that they are searching for God. What they want isn’t God, but a magic genie, an Aladdin’s lamp to rub in a crisis, who will genially disappear when he isn’t needed. Or a sense of connectedness to something greater which bigs up our own sense of self-importance without ever challenging us with our smallness and wrongness.

It’s […]

Reading God’s Handwriting

I made a comment recently that we should be readers of three books in particular: the book of Scripture, the book of Creation, and the book of Providence.

This was off the back of a holiday which took us across the States and into Canada—so enabling us to enjoy some of the glories of God’s creation, whether it was the mountains around Seattle, the islands off Vancouver, the sheer might of Niagara Falls, or the beauty of sunsets. We saw God’s artistry in a new way. Added to that were many experiences of God’s providence as we travelled—from misplacing tickets and missing a train (which ended up saving us money!) to a stranger offering to carry a suitcase down four flights of stairs (which enabled us to catch a bus to the airport to make a flight) to many, many more—which filled us with a sense of our heavenly Father’s care.

So in preaching I said we should be good students of these three books, and in particular we should note down God’s providences so that we can see the regular care of our Father for us, and learn to marvel at his kindnesses. This way we train ourselves to see his […]

Fearing Christianity?

It seems that in the western world there is one category of people not particularly allowed to voice an opinion; one category of people that should be denied office at all costs.

Would that be people with a track record of lying to the public? No. People with a track record of breaking their promises? Nope. People with a history of political violence? Nope again.

What about people who come from a tradition which established schools for all children, brought an end to slavery, built hospitals and hospices, elevated women’s rights, fought racism, put an end to widow burning and cannibalism, alleviated poverty, and much more?

Absolutely—they shouldn’t be let within a beagle’s gowl* of anything political—who knows what sort of damage they might do! Former American Democratic Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders typified this attitude last week. He was part of a panel interviewing nominees for the role of deputy director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.

The problem for Sanders was that nominee Russell Vought had once written that Muslims stand condemned before God because they don’t acknowledge Jesus as the way to God. Sanders pressed him and pressed him on this issue of condemnation, despite the fact that it’s been […]

Missing Words

I am a bit of a word geek. I have a passing interest in where words and phrases come from. A few years ago I had a “Forgotten English” desk calendar which had a different word each day—such glorious terms as dringle (to waste time in a lazy, lingering manner), eargh (superstitiously afraid—from which we get eerie), and searcher (a civil officer employed in Glasgow to apprehend idlers in the streets during the time of public worship on Sunday).

Maybe if towns employed a few searchers to round up the dringlers on a Sabbath morning we won’t suffer from as much eargh. But fair enough, words drop out of usage and we no longer need to be familiar with them—and new words and terminology need to be defined.

In 2008 Oxford University Press, in updating their Junior dictionary, removed words like ‘bishop’, ‘chapel’, ‘goldfish’, ‘liquorice’, ‘buttercup’, and ‘heather’ and replaced them with words like ‘blog’, ‘mp3 player’, ‘cut and paste’ and ‘celebrity’.

But it struck me as interesting what has largely been dropped from the Junior Dictionary—words to do with rural life and the countryside, words to do with royalty and empire (this is the UK version after all), and more crucially as far as I’m concerned, words to […]

Ultimate blame shifting

A businessman from the south of France is suing Uber for a staggering €45 million in damages. (For those who aren’t familiar with Uber—it’s effectively a taxi company without cars. You use your smartphone to submit a request for a cab, and someone nearby who is signed up with Uber as a driver is sent your request.) So what happened?

The man was being unfaithful to his wife, and on several occasions had used her smartphone to request a driver to take him to his lover. Despite signing out of the app, the software kept sending notifications to her phone revealing his travel history and ultimately arousing her suspicions. She divorced him, presumably on the fairly solid grounds of adultery.

And now with all the arrogance of one who had wanted to have his cake and eat it, he is seeking to blame Uber for the mess.

His lawyer said after lodging the case, “My client was the victim of a bug in an application. The bug has caused him problems in his private life.”

Check the language: “My client was a victim”—surely the aggrieved wife was the victim?? The ‘bug’ has caused the problems—seriously?!? The bug?? How about his unfaithfulness?

The glitch in the […]