Friday, 3 February 2012

On sharp reflexes and Twitter Accounts

A few years ago on a visit to the Ontario Science Centre I took an interactive reflex test and scored 100% or Excellent  - or whatever the grading system was. There are times when having sharp reflexes is incredibly useful like earlier in the week when I was at the home of a fastidious person and on moving something along a shelf inadvertently sent a jar flying. Thankfully my hand shot out and caught it 1mm away from the milk jug it was about to smash saving the jar, the jug, and an awkward situation. Or like today in the supermarket when I caught my shopping before it dropped to the floor because the cashier somehow missed putting it on the metal shelf by her till.  This kind of thing happens regularly, a while ago I caught a friend's child who tripped and prevented him from hitting his head on the side of the bath. His mother and I were both equidistant from him but my reflexes were quicker.*
      Before this dissolves entirely into some kind of narcissistic praise of my reflexes, the downside should also be mentioned. Having sharp reflexes can also involve reacting quickly to situations and conversations, the worst kind of 'conversation' being that in which it is possible to type and press enter before allowing the words to fully filter through the thought process. Or more precisely, pressing enter before summing up how abrupt words on the screen can appear in the absence of tone of voice. This is one of the many reasons why I'm not keen on Twitter.

Update: See this for a horrifying example. (How one stupid tweet ruined Justine Sacco's life.)

For those who have pressed enter far too quickly:

Saturday, 21 January 2012

On Fluffy Bunny and Machismo 'Christianity'.

Last week I went to church - nothing that earth-shattering there- the usual minister was preaching elsewhere and a woman ordinand/trainee led the service and gave the 'sermon'. From the moment she led the prayer I felt a little queasy. It consisted of statements such as 'your love is like soft raindrops...when we come to you it is like being wrapped in a warm blanket' etc and basically everything went downhill from there. The 'sermon' (I use the speech marks advisedly) was  a retelling of a biblical story from the point of view of a mother ~ think: 'oh, my little boy is growing up' and you'll get the idea. I sat there wishing I could be anywhere else and berating myself for not checking beforehand who would be speaking. But, then how was I to know? For this is not a diatribe against women preachers. I have heard the same kind of 'fluffy bunny'* type preaching and approach from men. The embodied gospel is absent, sentimentality reigns.

That should be the end of the rant, but it's not. In fact, it's only just begun. At least the lady in question above was not preaching about herself (I would question whether she was preaching at all but that's another point). When I got home I noticed a barrage of postings on a certain social networking website about a certain North American preacher who, apparently, has challenged people to hit him on stage to prove how masculine Christianity ought to be and other such cringeworthy statements and antics.

The problem is Jesus said 'take up your cross and follow me'. He did not say take up your cross - IF you can carry it, you weakling! Or take up your cross and use it to do a few muscle crunches or even, take up your cross and you will find it all warm and soft like a baby's blankie. Just, take up your cross...follow me. The call to follow goes to the weaklings and the muscle-bound*, the young, the old, the women (women - yes, even old women, Mr celeb preacher - what's wrong with old women?), the men, the messed up, the all. And the call is to follow HIM, to be like HIM. Where did he go, what did he do? He went to the cross, he was despised, rejected, he endured shame. When we are exhorted to look unto Jesus what do we see? There is no show, no celebrity, no strutting peacock but a bloodied beaten man hanging on a cross. There is nothing machismo, nor cuddly, in this picture. Yes, he went to glory, he did it for the joy that was set before him but these came through the cross.

Four staples that are mentioned in a variety of contexts and metaphors in the Bible are water, oil, bread and wine. They are all obtained through piercing, boring, crushing or grinding of some sort - through brokenness. Once you have tasted them it is not hard to tell the difference, for example, between fizzy pop and fine wine. To state the obvious, water quenches thirst, bread feeds, oil and wine/vinegar heal wounds but only because they themselves have come into being through brokenness. Macho 'Christianity' is not broken, it's puffed up. Fluffy bunny* 'Christianity' is not broken, it's wrapped up - in marshmallows*. They are two sides of the same coin. Jesus said unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies... 

May God have mercy on his church.

- update below
*Here's a fluffy bunny: 

(taken from here:

 *and here are some macho men 

 (taken from here:

*and a few marshmallows for good measure: 
 (taken from here:

And here's a beautiful setting of Psalm 51 - a psalm of brokenness.

and a link to a great book on the topic - you can read some of it on the site:

Update - In conversation with a friend the edges of this post were honed somewhat, his point was that the key thing is the expression of the fullness of humanity in Christ. Whenever only one aspect of his humanity is exaggerated error creeps in and christological problems abound. That which should be positive is distorted, that is, if gentleness is over-emphasised, or his physical strength. So, without wanting to overdo this post, I'll simply add that he is lion and lamb, a man of joy and of sorrow, weakness and strength...

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Forgiveness and James Blunt

Oh well, since the topic of uncool musical taste has been raised I may as well admit to another: James Blunt (be gentle, Aliber). It's not that I can't understand why some may dislike his offerings but I LIKE a lot of his music and also find that some of his songs closely describe people or situations I know and thus they resonate. Since I  have never been a groupie or die-hard fan of any group or individual, it doesn't bother me if there are tracks I don't like, so what! There are people I am very fond of who do stuff I don't like, that's life, deal with it.
One song in particular describes so well one of the sledgehammer individuals of the previous post that it could have been written by the very same and the song reminds me to think gently and mercifully.* It's called Same Mistake:

*I read a book in 2005 which has quite possibly been the most useful book I have read in my life and one to which I frequently refer in conversation. It's called Forgive, Release, Be Free. Unforgiveness and the corresponding bitterness is a huge stumbling block, maybe the biggest in life. The results are evident in our 'smiles', tone of voice, words, actions and, most telling, reactions. The book is based on the parable of the Unforgiving Servant of Matthew 18:21-35. I highly recommend reading both, for me it was life-changing not just for the situation I was in at that moment but for taking stock of all of life, forgiving (and in the presence of a witness declaring that I acknowledged that nothing was owed to me) things that had been said and done and things that should have been said and done (but weren't) and asking forgiveness for my own wrongs too. Here are links to the parable and the book. Here's to freedom!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Phil Collins and the Meaning of Life: Oxymoron?

I was reminded by a friend that I have been a little remiss in my musical tastes section on my blog profile. She, who on a couple of extended visits to mine was subjected to an album played endlessly on repeat*, declared: 'you seem to have omitted Phil Collins from your musical interests ... shame on you! He got you through dem bad times, sister!' Ahem, yes, I have omitted him indeed. This is not so as not to appear incredibly un-hip (as, no doubt, the very use of the term 'un-hip' will) but because (1) I had completely forgotten about him, and (2) even had I remembered, I suspect that the music will not so much hit a raw nerve as bring back memories best left. 

So, although it has been pointed out to me that Phil Collins' music is about as trendy as gyrating octogenarians, I stand by my musical choice at that time, not least because I have a tendency to resist music fascism. I certainly bought the music in a happening place, Crouch End no less (ok, it was in Woolworth’s, but still). His music may not be my taste now but it was one of three** things that helped me through a tough time and when people are metaphorically wielding sledgehammers and smashing up every area of your life you need all the help you can get; you don't stop and question the fashion-status validity of this aid. So, cheers Phil, you may not make it onto my playlist these days but for a time you spoke words that were meaningful to my life.

* this would have been one of the tracks:

Nowadays, I would be more likely to listen to something like this:

or, this:

**The other two are Jesus Christ and kind and patient friends/family; to my God and King and to these friends I owe a debt.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Not another New Year's resolution

Thinking again of New Year's resolutions, I recalled this poem by Pablo Neruda. Although, I don't think the pursuit of personal happiness is the aim of life, far better to live for others and let joy be a by-product (and generally we only understand joy when we have experienced sorrow), nonetheless, why should I not aim higher than giving up this or that and instead - God willing - live, really live.

Die Slowly
He who becomes the slave of habit,
who follows the same routes every day,    
who never changes pace,  
who does not risk and change the colour of his clothes,  
who does not speak and does not experience,
dies slowly.

He or she who shuns passion,
who prefers black on white,  
dotting one's I's rather than a bundle of emotions, the kind that make your eyes glimmer, that turn a yawn into a smile,  
that make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,
dies slowly.

He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy,  
who is unhappy at work,  
who does not risk certainty for uncertainty,  
to thus follow a dream,  
those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives,  
die slowly.

He who does not travel, who does not read,  
who does not listen to music,  
who does not find grace in himself,  
she who does not find grace in herself,  
dies slowly.

He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem,  
who does not allow himself to be helped,  
who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck, about the rain that never stops,  
dies slowly.

He or she who abandons a project before starting it, who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn't know, he or she who doesn't reply when they are asked something they do know,
dies slowly.

Let's try and avoid death in small doses,  
reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead
to the attainment of a splendid happiness.

Pablo Neruda

(and a song by Passenger which expresses similar sentiments to the poem)

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Modus operandi: survival

Really should have known that what I mean by 'nice walk on the beach' and what hardcore Sally means by 'nice walk on the beach' have a never the twain shall meet gulf between them. After a chilled and fun New Year's Eve gathering with friends (hardcore Sally included) followed by a great cooked breakfast with same friends I embarked on said walk along the beach, without first checking the weather forecast - foolhardy move. It wasn't simply the driving horizontal rain that stung the cheeks, the gale force winds that we at times struggled to stand up in (a bit like this) and the fact that not a part of my clothing or body was dry after only five minutes, what amused me in the midst of this was the total difference in outlook. Sally was in her element, overjoyed by the interesting colours in the sea and the horizon* and invigorated by the 'bracing' (ahem) weather. I, on the other hand, was on survival alert (desperately hoping for a quaint, cosy tea house to miraculously emerge out of the sand flats**) and my modus operandi was safe mode, still functioning, still chatting to her (very nice) friends along the way but only half operating.

Likewise, the couple of times I have been asked what my New Year's resolutions are for 2012 all that comes to mind is 'survival'. This is not for any dramatic life-at-risk reason just that the year ahead is already looking so hectic, papers to research and write, countries to visit, and then again and again, topped with a conference to organise. Perhaps, though, 2012 has started as it intends to go on; if so, despite the bleak weather and survival mode, the day was spent with nice people, punctuated by good conversation and a welcome cup of hot chocolate, and ended with a delicious home-cooked meal (courtesy of my mum - promised to put that bit in) and a blissfully hot bath, maybe the year will follow a similar pattern.

* the beach today - crystal clear skies, shimmering turquoise sea etc

(photo by Sally)

** or, alternatively in lieu of a tea house, something like this:

Happy New Year! 

UPDATE: The next day hardcore Sally went back to the beach and as she said: what a difference 24 hours makes...

(photos by Sally A)