Sunday, December 30, 2007

I am invisible

I guess that bargain hunting in the sales probably bring out the worst in us all but I almost came to blows with a shop assistant yesterday. I had picked up a box of bath goodies from the shelf. There was a price tag and there was a 10% discount sticker and it was exactly what I was looking for. I took it along to the woman at the till.

Apparently it was the last box like that and because it was the last box like that they were unwilling to sell it! It was a display item and not for sale – despite being on the shelf, with the price tag and the 10% discount sticker. However, I was assured that I could have the box free if I spent £15 on other items in the shop.

I politely assured them that if there was anything else I wanted to buy from the shop, that would be ideal, but it was just that particular box that I wanted. She wouldn’t sell it to me.

I went home and complained to Joe. He told me that if the shop, the box and I were in England, there would be no dispute. The box on the shelf with the price tag and the 10% discount sticker constitutes an invitation for the customer to buy and they would have to sell it to me. In Scotland the same box with the same the price tag and the same sticker is an invitation for the shop to sell it, but they don’t have to sell it if they don’t want to!

For the past two weeks I have been ferrying a similar box of bath goodies in the back of the car. I finally gave to away to someone who I hadn’t anticipated seeing before Christmas!

For the last few months I had been buying my “Big Issue” from a lady outside Tesco’s. The box of bath goodies had been intended as a Christmas present. I appreciate that as much as I would like to invite her into the cafĂ© for a cup of tea or coffee, she has a quota of magazines to sell and time and opportunities are precious.

Just a few weeks before Christmas as I was handing over my money and rolling up the magazine to fit into a pocket, she thanked me and then went on to say, “I am invisible.” She was hurt by the rejection of so many shoppers scurrying into the supermarket, wheeling out their overflowing trollies an hour or so later.

I have walked past enough Big Issue sellers to know that there are times when I deliberately don’t look in their direction. I choose not to see the person. Sometimes it is about not having the money on me, sometimes it is about not having the time or willingness to stop and dig out the purse, sometimes it is about a vague resentment that I feel I am being manipulated to feel sorry, sometimes it is the voice inside that wants to ask why they can’t get a proper job instead.

I don’t know what circumstances lead to people being on the street, but those words “I am invisible” have lodged somewhere inside my heart. Those words refuse to become invisible and challenge me to “see” the people that think they are invisible and do something that tells them they are not!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Walking by...or not

My friend, Mark’s blog contains a wonderful account of what happened in church (or should that be “to church”?) on Sunday morning. It contains this paragraph:-

“A friend had walked past a guy begging on the streets on her way to Mojo's and it had bugged her that she felt helpless about it. As she sat reading our church calendar for the next week, she was inspired by the wording of the Sunday morning meeting, got up out of her chair and went and found this young man, let's call him J, on the streets and invited him in for a hot drink and what food we had - some biscuits (ahem, cookies) for the kids and some bread that we were planning on using for communion.”

I wish I could have been that friend – but I wasn’t. I walked past the same man on the street not more than half an hour before. I didn’t read the church calendar for the following week and did not get inspired by the wording! I noticed the man, and I thought vaguely about coffee or something – but I didn’t do anything about it.

I was leading worship that morning and thinking about the songs I had planned for us to sing, the time available for practising the songs and how best to lead the church into a time of worship.

There is a huge part of me that is ashamed that I had missed the very essence of worship which really isn’t about singing songs at all, but about a whole lifestyle that centres on God.

However, I am also very encouraged. Mark’s friend and I meet for a Bible study later on in the day. She was almost floating off the the floor with happiness that she had heard God so clearly AND responded! She admits that her relationship with God fluctuates between extremes. God sometimes appears silent to her and remote. Times like Sunday are times of tremendous blessing for her – to know God speaking, to feel that tug on her heart that she can’t ignore and to expereince a joy from obeidience that just floods through.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blame it on the DJ

It’s been a long time since I was 21, but I seem to remember it being a time of great energy. When Joe and I were invited to someone’s 21st birthday party, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go. It was in Dingwall for a start and driving at night is something that has never appealed. It was on a Friday night and at the end of fairly challenging week I would rather that climbed into my TV watching clothes instead of pouring myself into the sparkly jumper. I had also become quite obsessed about my roots needing touched up and although I had a “root-touching up kit” in the bathroom , I didn’t really have the time (before “Strictly – It takes Two”) to wait the required amount of minutes.

I have this thing about arriving on time. Maybe, just lately, at some of the mid-week church meetings, I arrive not so much on time, but in time. Our new boss at work gave everyone a severe telling off a few weeks ago about the value of punctuality. It doesn’t seem to apply to parties though. We were well early. The only other people who were that early were the immediate family of the birthday girl. Incidentally the birthday girl looks very much like Julia Stiles, and I liked her hair cut.

This party did not really ignite. The venue was huge. There was a huge dance floor. Just about everyone occupied the space between the bar and the last row of tables.

Had I been the DJ I might have just left a very long playing record of the turntable and gone home! Actually, now I think about it…. During my short time in South Africa, I became acquainted with “boom boom buses”. The Indian population travelled about the city in minibuses blaring with music. The bass would be turned up so loud that the bus throbbed with the constant beat. The DJ began with that kind of music. The transition from one song to another was entirely spot on – one booming bass line to another booming base line. I rather thought it was probably what people who are 21 dance to or listen to these days. The 21 year olds present might have been listening, but they weren’t dancing. I snuck a glimpse at the watch to see if I had stayed long enough to not be rude if I left.

It seems to me that, if you are going to have that volume of music you aught to dance because the option of yelling into the ear of the person sitting next to you just doesn’t work! But converse we did!

It would appear that the TV watching world is split between The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. We found a tenuous connection between the two when Joe mentioned having watched the American version of Stictly and Marie Osmond being on it. From there was moved on to talk about Donny (Isn’t he gorgeous?). It was at this point that, had the music not been throbbing so loudly, we would have had more time to follow up on a throw-away comment. It was suggested that Donny’s clean living Mormon lifestyle was something to do with him wearing well, and not looking his age. (I seem to remember mentioning my 50th birthday coming up next March and there was no chorus from the audience “No? Surely not? You don’t look it!”) Anyway, that led the conversation to whether following a religious faith made you “too good”. There was this idea that there was something almost unhealthy about being too good! In their experience, church, or some level of belief in God did not have the same effect on them. They seemed to think that faith should act as a kind of vaccine protecting you from hard times and various disasters. The “Mormon” vaccine appeared to be working for Donny, but for everyone else it didn’t work…and should it work anyway? Aren’t we all better off for the struggles and trials?

What a wonderful opportunity to talk about the realities of faith! I saw it! I recognised the chance given! But I also recognised that I couldn’t compete with the boom boom background. And the DJ announced the buffet was open. Perhaps if there had been no boom boom and no buffet, I would still have kept quiet. They were Joe’s work mates. Maybe it was the wrong venue. They were there to party. And maybe those are just really feeble excuses!

From my experience faith is not a vaccine. It opens you up to a whole load of hard times and disasters that the people of no faith don’t encounter. They don’t worry about God’s silences. They don’t expect prayers to be answered, or people to be healed. God in the equation sometimes generates more questions than it answers!

But “too good”? I wonder if people look at my life and think – “She’s just too good for it to be good for her!” Ask the people I meet at work everyday. They will give you a very clear answer!