Thursday, April 30, 2009

Credibility in ruins

I was talking to my sister-in-law the other night and had another "To the blog!" moment.

I asked her about her recent holiday in Rome. "I loved it," she said, "but there was a lot of Roman stuff..."

Erm. Yeah.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Vodka Bongos

The other night I went onto a trip to the The-at-er (darling!). In the interval I was at the bar and asked for an orange juice. The woman next to me made a mistake and asked for two fruit juices. She was given two cartons of Five Alive.

Because obviously the classy patrons at the Wales Millennium Centre are going to want to drink vaguely fruity drinks designed for five year olds.

Although, as my friend Bryan pointed out, it could have been worse. It could have been Um Bongo.

That observation led to a silly conversation about whether you could serve Um Bongo as a mixer. Vodka Bongo, anyone? If anything can really make you 'wongo' that will!

We have agreed that when we open our high-class cinema/club hub/place to be seen the cocktail menu will definitely feature Vodka Bongos. It will be our distinctive drink. Closely followed by Grand Marnier Vimto and Tizer Surprizer. Any other ideas? Leave a comment.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More Neo-Orthodox then I thought

Ages ago I did a quiz on my theological worldview, where Neo-Orthodox scored third place. Having now done a similar kind of unscientific pop quiz to discover my inner theologian it turns out my alter ego is one of the founders of Neo-Orthodoxy: German uber-scholar Karl Barth.

Which is interesting (to me anyway).

Karl Barth

A 20th century German Reformed theologian, Barth lived from 1886-1968. He followed in the tradition of Calvin, though teaching that the Bible CONTAINS the Word of God, but is NOT the Word of God itself. He also taught that Jesus Christ is the only one who is elect, and Jesus Christ is simultaneously the only one who is reprobate. Otherwise, Barth agreed with Luther and Calvin in preaching that justification is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as understood by Scripture alone.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Maybe I'm just a grumpy misanthrope

The new maternity/paternity policy has come into force, with details of how work are planning to support parents, particularly new parents. And, of course, that’s all good. But there is a small part of my brain thinking ‘what about those of us who aren’t having children?’

There’s a Dilbert strip somewhere that satirises ‘family friendly’ policies for effectively discriminating against single people (or childless married people). I can’t remember the actual joke, but the gist of it is that childless people end up doing the work of their burdened co-workers, while said co-workers get extra time off for an event they chose to happen.

It would be like me having an extra week off ‘decorating time’ if I move house, or ‘driving time’ to enjoy my new car. Basically if you want some extra vacation, make a new sprog every year. Don’t worry about your work – other people can do that while you take some much-needed time with your family. Although perhaps spending too much time with your spouse is what caused this whole thing in the first place. (Hmm?)

What about some kind of bonus for those of is who don’t take paternity leave? After all we don’t cost the company anything with extra leave, we don’t add to the workload of our colleagues, and we will have fewer unplanned days out of the office in the next fifteen years because our kids are suddenly ill. We are less inconvenient all round, and on top of that we don’t show anyone pictures of wrinkled babies and demand to be told how cute they look.

I think we should be rewarded as team players, not punished for other people’s proclivity for procreation.

Monday, April 20, 2009

An apology to my mum

Just for the record, because she commented crossly on my previous post, I don't think my mum has a drinking problem.

She does like the occasional glass (or two) at parties. (And that was more my point, because if she was at a party where the wine ran out I'm sure she would have a glass in front of her.) And she can hold her liquor and normally stops when she's had enough. (If you want to see someone get twinkled up you should see my Grandma when she's had a couple.) And I probably shouldn't have implied more than that, really.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

When Jesus says 'So, what?'

This is the provocative title of the session I led in our works prayer time today. Here are my notes...

John 2
Jesus Changes Water to Wine

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus' mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus' mother said to him, "They have no more wine."

"Dear woman, why do you involve me?" Jesus replied, "My time has not yet come."
His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you."

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." And, you know the story, water into wine, everyone got merry, ‘wow! you saved the best to last’ and so on.

What interests me though is Jesus’ response to his mum. In this Bible version he says ‘Dear woman’, but that’s been softened for our fluffy Western sensibilities. In the original Greek he just says:
τι εμοι και σοι γυναι ουπω ηκει η ωρα μου
(I know what you’re thinking. Wow, Jon’s not just handsome, but he knows New Testament Greek as well. What a valuable skill to have in the modern age.)

Literally the Greek says: "What (is that) to you and me, woman?" There doesn't have to be a subject to a sentence in Greek.

Now we soften that and make it ‘dear woman’ and say ‘how does that involve me’, but an equally valid translation would be ‘So, what, woman?’

I like the thought that Jesus turns round and says ‘So, what?’ You know that annoying smile people give you when they say ‘…and what would Jesus do?’ Well he might just say ‘so what?’

What I really love about this story is the authenticity of the little vignette. He’s with his mum who says something disapproving about the party planners and Jesus says ‘look that’s not our problem’ and she then does something that is SO mum-like. She ignores him completely.

Mums do that, don’t they? It doesn’t matter how old you are – Jesus is 30 years old and his mum just completely ignores him. You can imagine it. She says ‘Look, they’ve run out of wine.’ He says ‘So? What’s that got to do with us, woman?’ And she just goes ‘Oh hush’ and calls over the waiter. ‘Hey you yes, you, listen, do whatever he tells you.’ And Jesus is left there thinking ‘What? What are you doing? I just said this wasn’t our problem. Oh for goodness sake…’

It comforts me that Jesus knows every trial and temptation that we face. I think this particular temptation was to drown his mum in a water jar. Okay, maybe not that extreme. But he must have been a bit annoyed. After all, he had said ‘What’s this got to do with me and you?’

‘So what?’ isn’t a particularly caring attitude – not a particularly Christian attitude. But I think there are a few things we can draw out of this response. We don’t get to pick and choose which bit’s of Jesus’ life we get to emulate. Are there any times when we are justified to shrug and say ‘so what?’

Well, yes I think there is.

First off there’s the way Jesus’ mum says ‘they have no more wine’. Now if that was my mum, I’d probably be saying ‘Really, and who’s drunk most of it, mum? Hmmm?’ while looking pointedly at her empty glass. [My Mum reads my blog, but hopefully won't read this bit...]

But what’s in that statement. Is it a criticism? They’ve run out of wine. Ooh, bad planning. Such a shame. And the wedding was so well organised up to this point…

Jesus refuses to join in by passing judgement. His response is ‘So what?’

Sometimes we will be in a situation where we will be asked to comment on something when it really isn’t our business. I’m willing to bet that in your church there will be some people who gossip. Despite the many Biblical injunctions against gossiping it seems a habit we Christians find hard to break. We do it at work too, don’t we? Or is that just me? It is just me? Ooh, you liars!

So a challenge to us when we are invited to comment is to say ‘What’s that to you and me?’ When the gossip starts we should try to say ‘so what?’

Then there’s the anticipated reaction. Jesus’ mum obviously expects him to act and he resists. He effectively says – ‘actually that’s not my responsibility’.

He could have stood up and said “Aha! I see you have run out of wine. Now fetch me jars of water. Behold I will work a miracle and solve your problem! Here you go - the freshest, tastiest and all-round best wine you have ever tasted!”

But he doesn’t do that. In fact, when he’s pushed into doing something by his meddlesome mum he does it quite secretly. Only the servants know where the wine comes from.

I believe his reluctance comes from a great compassion for whoever’s wedding this is. It’s embarrassing when you run out of wine at a wedding. I went to a wedding a couple of years ago and at the reception the caterers ran out of food. I was offered bread rolls and gravy. The couple getting married were really embarrassed when they found out.

Weddings are a big deal and to run out of wine is embarrassing. Maybe they couldn’t afford it. Expensive weddings are not an entirely new phenomenon. And Jesus knows that, so he doesn’t draw attention to it.

We will frequently find ourselves in similar situations. It is hugely tempting when we see a problem to seek to take control – to take responsibility for the project in hand. To stand up and say ‘Aha! I see you are having a problem. I will do this because you are obviously incapable!’ and so on.

But it is incredibly disempowering and undermining to do that to someone. It is embarrassing and humiliating. It dents people’s self-esteem and sense of worth. People begin to feel they are useless, and that then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because they are afraid to try to do things.

So here’s the question – when you see a problem are you going to flamboyantly take responsibility for it and potentially undermine someone or are you going to ask, as Jesus does, ‘what is that to me’?

In fact, by saying that to his mum, Jesus leaves it open for the bridegroom or whoever is paying for this shindig to approach him and ask for help. In similar fashion, do we wait until we are approached, until our opinion is asked, until our help is sought? Of course, his mum doesn’t give the bridegroom a chance – she gets the servants over. So Jesus has to act but he does so in a way that protects the dignity of the unnamed bridegroom.

And the third – and final thing that occurs to me – is that this is a genuine question. ‘What is that to me and to you?’

It invites a response.

Most of Jesus’ questions do.

He turns to his own mum and says ‘What is that to me and to you?’

And maybe he wanted to know her response. Was this his test to her – ‘do you believe that I can make a difference?’

His mum’s response – in her typically-mum bossy way – is one of faith – possibly born from an unswerving conviction that it is her business and therefore her son’s business and that he can sort it out so he will sort it out. She ignores Jesus’ ‘so, what?’ and acts in the conviction that he will act in the situation.

We are gathered to pray and I’m sure we’ll pray about all sorts of things – here, now, in other places, at other times. As we take problems to Jesus, are we prepared, in case he says ‘so what?’

What will our response be?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The powerlessness of God

The Easter service today contained the following interesting observations, based on the work of a sociologist called Willard Waller and his concept of the 'least love'.

According to this, in any relationship one person will love the other more. The one who loves least therefore has more power in the relationship, because the one who loves more will forgive more often, will compromise more readily and so on. The one who loves the most will have the least power and potentially is more likely to be abused.

In the context of Easter, if the theory can be extrapolated that far, God loves most and therefore in relationship to humanity is rendered powerless. The death of Christ is not God pouring out His wrath on the Son (the evangelical demi-heresy which divides the persons of the trinity), but God extending his love to us through embracing death, even death on a cross. God is abused on the cross, and by the cross, and is broken for us, he dies and in that death is also bereaved, because of his love for us.

It's deep stuff. And it's made more deep by the passage of John's gospel which was the text for the day where Jesus invites his disciples to eat breakfast with him on the beach. This is the powerless God who invites us to breakfast, after everything we've done. Because he loves us more.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

No gays in this village!

I went to a party in a pub in Abergavenny tonight. The pub was called The King's Arms. One of the restrooms was labelled Queens, and it was for women.

You'd be asking for trouble using that terminology in a pub in Cardiff!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

At the Good Friday service today, The Blessing by Gerard Kelly was read out. It resonated with me. Particularly the last verse.

May you who are restless
Find rest
And in rest, restoration
And the healing
Of your hollow soul
May peace be yours
May you who are frozen
Find freedom
And in freedom the faith
To face the fire
And the thawing
Of your ice-gripped heart
May peace be yours
May you who are conflicted
Find convergence
And in convergence
To be the one new child
Of your old divided self
May peace be yours
May you who live in tension
Find tenderness
And in tenderness the tendency
To kindness
And the creativity
Of a caring character
May peace be yours
And you who are Godless
May you find God
And in God,
The grace and growth you need
For fruit and fullness
And the love that will last you
Through the long-haul
Of a lived-for-others life
May peace be yours

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Pressure produces diamonds

Apparently. (It also breaks continental plates.)

It hasn't been an easy month or so. Cath has been ill and off work. On Tuesday the doctor told her that (and this is a paraphrase, but it's Cathy's summary) 'you're broken and I don't know how to fix you.'

Two of my friends experienced an unexpected bereavement when a pregnancy fell short.

Work hasn't been easy. Managerial caution at the highest level (some of it justifiable) has pushed one of my already-fragile colleagues almost over the edge. I have my own issues with another person who seems to have a fantastic knack for making easy jobs much, much harder than they should be, and a definite talent for creating work for other people. Unfortunately I am other people.

I still get surprised by reminders of Grandad when I least expect it. Occasionally I am ambushed by grief.

But there have been some good things shining through like sun rays in a cloudy sky.

Last week on my birthday I saw all three members of my immediate family. And it was sunny, so we went to Rest Bay and breathed in sea air and saw starfish in the rock pools.

The dodgy bit of our roof is finally - after months of stress - fixed!

Along with all the other staff I got given a Cadbury's Creme Egg in work from our CEO for Easter. Sometimes it's the littlest gestures that mean the most.

I am now working on helping with two more books. I may be involved in four books getting published this year now.

My eBay purchase of a box of 100 Padres baseball cards arrived, and I've been geekily cataloguing them. Happy Excel Spreadsheet fun!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bradford's finest

Terrorvision are doing a short tour celebrating the 15th anniversary of their finest work: How to Make Friends and Influence People. In the process they will be re-recording the entire album live and subsequently releasing it in a limited edition.

You don't have to go to the gig to get the CD, but you do have to go here>>>>>

We've ordered our copy. And, no, you can't borrow it.