Friday, September 30, 2011

Playing with the Pastry

There is a very cute advertisement on TV at the moment. I think it’s a Sainsbury’s ad. It features a father and son making a pie. It begins with each of them sprinkling the table with flour. Everything the father does from rolling out the pastry to tapping fingers on the counter, the son copies. The father places the rolled out pastry on top of the pie and carefully cuts away the excess, and the son completes the pie by adding the trimmings on top. The pie looks delicious as it comes out of the oven.

I don’t remember ever being in the kitchen and being given a bit of pastry to roll out while mum made the real thing, but that doesn’t mean to say it didn’t happen. When I think of learning how to cook I think of Domestic Science in school. Watching a demonstration and then doing it myself rarely led to any kind of success – except for bread. It is the one thing I ever made that turned out better than the teacher’s.

I suppose that I like the advert because it is a father and a son rather than a mother and daughter. It is all too safe to present the predictable images to sell products.

The son does what he sees the father doing – I’m sure there is a scripture somewhere that says just that. In the advert the father and son work together to make the pie. In the Kingdom the Father and the Son work together, with the Holy Spirit, to make something better than a pie!

Every member of God’s family is encouraged to join in – to work with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit to build the kingdom.

“…the work of My hands, for the display of My splendour.” Isaiah 60:21b

The title of the chapter in Isaiah is “The Glory of Zion”.

How much of the work is the “work of My (God’s) hands”? How much of it is my work and not really God’s work through me? In the advert, the pie was really the father’s work – not much was the son’s. Did the father secretly scrape off the trimmings the son had put there, because the pastry, after the son had played for it a while, was just a little bit too grimy?

When I think of myself as a work of God’s hands – fearfully and wonderfully made – I begin to wonder sometimes if I haven’t really messed up Gods’ work, “myself”, with the grimy trimmings that I try to add. I begin to wonder whether God is able to really display His splendour through my life.

I don’t think the boy’s pastry trimmings were grimy because he had watched what his father was doing and copied him. He knew that he wasn’t just playing with pastry but making a pie. He watched his father’s every move - not just what the hands were doing, but the expression on his father’s face – the encouragement and approval. The father so desired for the son to succeed.

I will not spoil what God is doing in my life if, working with Him, I watch my Father’s every move, if I seek by faith to see the expression on His face and I am convinced He wants me to succeed.

I need to stop playing with the pastry.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Queues

There’s an article in “The Independent on Sunday” about Martin Bell, the former BBC war correspondent who took up a career in politics for a while. He has now turned his hand to writing poetry.

He has published a poetry collection, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”. At the launch of his book he shared a few of his poems, one of which was prompted by the war in Iraq.

“Other subjects he covered,” reads one of the paragraphs in the article, “included MP’s expenses, the Kindle, Marmite and the wedding of President Idi Amin of Uganda.” I like the variety of things that inspire him!

Later on he is quoted as saying, “I feel very deeply about things and it’s a wonderful way to express yourself.”

I also feel deeply about things but it doesn’t often translate into poetry. I complain – usually to the wrong people. I seem to remember from an exhibition focussed on the poetry of Robert Burns that he commented on the world around him through poetry.

Here’s my offering. Last week while putting money into our savings account this happened.

One morning I stood in a very long queue
To say it moved quickly would be quite untrue
I fretted, observing the clock on the wall
For ten solid minutes I moved not at all
All of a sudden a man from the back
Strode past the queue to the front of the pack
He walked to a window his business to do
Ignoring conventions that governed the queue
On mass we all whispered, we snorted and sniffed
Making it clear we were nettled and miffed
Where was the hero to take up our fight?
A queue without backbone – a pitiful sight!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Litmus Paper

I was never very good at Chemistry at school. I can remember almost nothing about it. At least in Physics I can remember everyone in the class holding hands and the person nearest the electrical current touching it, and the electric shock passing through the wrists of each and every person in the link. But Chemistry has no such memories attached.

I remember litmus paper. It did something but I can't quite put my finger on what it did. It was a long time ago. Putting one particular element in a solution nestling at the bottom of a test tube caused a reaction that confirmed the presence of another element. Things would change colour, or let off a swirling cloud of gas, or make a distinctly unpleasant aroma.

There is a story in the gospels where a woman, named as Mary by some, emptied a jar, or broke the jar according to some, of very expensive perfume over the feet of Jesus, or his head in some accounts, and wiped the excess with her hair. It was an act of worship. There was, perhaps, a prophetic element to her action.

Suppose that you looked at it from a “science experiment” point of view. Put an extravagant act of worship (the one particular element) into a room full of Jesus’ disciples ( or the solution nestling at the bottom of the test tube) and watch for the reaction. How do they react to her actions? The presence of one thing might reveal the presence the other thing, or the absence depending on the reaction.

That one act of extravagant worship revealed something about Mary. Just as importantly, it revealed something about everyone else too.

The story tells us exactly what the disciples said, but let your imagination supply you with their thoughts.

"That was a bit over the top."

"That's taking things to the extreme."

"She'll regret she did that one day."

"That was embarrassing."

"Who does she think she is?"

"Typical of women - over-emotional."

"You won't see me doing anything like that."

If it had been a "science experiment" it had revealed that her act of worship left them cold and critical. There was no change in colour or a swirling cloud of gas. The odour from the perfume was present – but it all indicates the absence of a heart of worship. There was no echo in their spirits that led them to join in.

Let’s move away from extravagant acts of worship and broken perfume bottles.

Let’s try instead broken water tanks and leaks. Not so uplifting. Let’s imagine buckets under drips and towels laid down to try to protect carpets and floorboards. Some of us won’t really need the imagining bit seeing as the buckets and towels are there right in front of us.

Suppose that you looked at this scenario from a “science experiment” point of view. Put an a broken tanks and various leaks (the one particular element) into a house of a usually happily married couple (or the solution nestling at the bottom of the test tube) and watch for the reaction.

It wasn’t a pretty sight! While the one person remained calm and collected, phoned the plumber and patiently waited for them to track down a new tank and work out the maths involved to get the large tank through the small hole up to the attic, the other person freaked out!

A friend of mine used to call these kinds of things “refiners”.

I was refined.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Christ the Redeemer

It was just a throwaway comment on a television programme that started the discussion. The programme was set in Brazil, exploring the issue of poverty. The statue “Christ the Redeemer” dominates the skyline of Rio De Janeiro. The narrator made the comment that the statue faces towards the south where the rich live and has its back to the poor people in the North. He implied there was something symbolic in it all. Christ stands with welcoming arms for the rich, but turns his back on the poor. I am sure that it was never intended to be seen that way.

The group of young people I was with thought it was unfair.

They suggested some solutions to the problem.

Could they not turn the statue around?

What about placing the statue on a turntable so it rotated – sometimes facing south, sometimes facing north then everyone gets the chance to be embraced and welcomed?

Can’t they carve out the face of Jesus on the other side so that the back of the statue is another front?

Perhaps they should just take it down so that no one is offended at all!

I dreamed about the statue last night. It was definitely Christ the Redeemer, but with one slight variation. One arm was outspread in welcome. In his other arm Christ cradled a child.

I want to be welcomed by Christ. And there are times when I want to be carried close to his heart.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The God Who Makes Things Grow

I am ashamed of the state of my garden. I am equally ashamed of the state of my house (bar the kitchen that I cleaned on Friday night) but the pigsty nature of the house remains concealed behind brick walls, whereas the garden is open to all who pass by. I feel sorry for my neighbours who have to live next door to my wilderness. I wouldn’t want to live next door to me.

My shame provoked me to do something about it. Mowing the grass was always going to be a challenge. Too much rain, too long a time since I had last mowed the lawn left a lot of work for the mower. I wouldn’t have dared use an electric mower even had I possessed one. I had visions of electrocuting myself with all that water and electricity. It was me and a cylinder mower against the grass!

To mower spoke the long wet grass
“No matter what – you will not pass!”
But long wet grass could not evade
The slash and slice of mower’s blade

It took longer than I had anticipated. I am one of these I’ve-started-so-I’ll-finish people. Leaving the lawn half mowed was just not an option.

It is brown bin day tomorrow and the grass cuttings filled the bin a third of the way up. It seemed a shame not to present a full bin for collection, so I started weeding the flower beds. I use the term flower bed loosely seeing as there are rarely flowers in them. Once the daffodils and tulips have had their day, the weeds move in and stake their claim to the soil. They party well into autumn as I rarely get the time or the weather to evict them.

So, the two flower beds by the front door were cleared and the bin was about half full – still too empty.

They could have been buttercups – some long tall relations to the smaller lawn variety. I sensed them trying to duck out of sight at the bottom of the garden. They flaunted thorns in an attempt to scare me off, but I got them in the end. The bin was almost three quarters full but still too empty.

Joe hacked at overhanging branches from a climbing rose in the back garden and scraped away the moss on the flagstones of the patio. And the bin was full.

The garden still falls short of the standards of just about every other garden in the street, but it is a vast improvement.

I was reading 1 Corinthians 3:5-9

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labour. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

I thought for a while about the God “who makes things grow” – can I blame God for my garden chaos? Probably not.

What came to mind was the morning spent with our church family. We had a really laid back time of fellowship over tea and croissants. The conversation meandered through a lot of topics that you couldn’t exactly label as religious, but were about daily life. Advice was sought by some and offered by others. We shared history together.

Throughout the whole time there was planting going on and watering happening in a very casual and informal manner as people exchanged ideas and experiences. One person might have had a little more insight into one area of the conversation, but everyone had the chance to plant into and to water each other’s field.

God, who makes things grow, was present in the conversations and I look forward to seeing just what grows over the days, weeks and months ahead.