Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Thou Shalt Not Eat Your Neighbour

I was watching a documentary last night. It was exploring parts of the Pacific Ocean, predominantly an area of dead sea. It isn’t dead sea as in the Dead Sea, where, apparently there is so much salt in it that you can float and your newspaper doesn’t get wet, but dead in the sense that there is very little surface plankton. We all know that plankton is like the one ingredient of the food chain that nature, as far as the oceans go, just cannot do without. It’s what the small fish, and the big fish feed on, and then the even bigger fish eat the small and the big fish. Without the plankton, there’s no small fish, big fish or even bigger fish.

To grab the viewers interest the programme began by describing a whaling ship from long ago. Although the dead sea part of the ocean is not where lots of fish make their home, lots of fish have to pass through it to get to where they want to go, whales included. Where there are whales, there are sometimes whaling boats. The oil produced from whales was valuable and worth the effort taking a boat out into the middle of nowhere to get the whales. The whalers targeted the calves knowing that would draw the bigger ones in closer.

In this particular voyage, the whales retaliated. One big bull of a whale rammed the ship and sank it, leaving all hands on board to get into the life boats. There were three lifeboats that set off. There was land, not exactly close by but accessible, had the prevailing winds been in the right direction. They headed off for the coast of South America a few thousand miles in the opposite direction.

Had they not been in the dead sea part of the ocean, being very good fishermen, they might have been fine, except for a lack of fresh drinking water. But the dead sea bit of the ocean was fish-less, because it was surface plankton-less, so they caught nothing. Had they known more about that area, fish-wise, they might have known that at night time, what little fish life there was rose to the surface. We are talking about little fish…very little fish.

Only one boat eventually arrives in port ninety days later carrying just two people. It would seem that they came up with a solution to the food crisis. They cast lots to decide who to kill and eat. Yes, they resorted to cannibalism.

I would like to say that I am one hundred percent sure that when faced with inevitable death that can only be surmounted by eating someone, I would prefer to die. I can’t imagine me eating anyone. I am more likely to say “Kill me, Eat me”. I don’t mind being dead and getting eaten. Eaten alive? No. It’s probably the dying part of it that I wouldn’t look forward to. I wouldn’t want that bit of it to hurt.

Would anyone criticise the survivors for surviving in such a way? Under normal circumstances most people don’t eat other people, but these were not normal circumstances. The rule, “Love your neighbour…don’t eat them”, no longer applied in the conditions they found themselves in.

It is easy to look at the lives of other people from the viewpoint of the conditions that we find myself in, rather than the conditions that they find themselves in. We don’t always know their conditions, and yet make our judgements about people. We think, often wrongly, that with a little bit of hard work and effort they could change their conditions for the better. With a little bit of hard work and effort, we could be the ones that change their conditions, or at least help them to change it themselves.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Uniquely Me

As if I actually needed any more books, but there was a sale on! Books that had begun their shelf life at a respectable £7 or £8 were now on offer for a lot less. Sticky labels, one on top of the other marked the gradual drop down in price until it reached ridiculous, pocket change numbers. I guess they are just not the flavour of the month in terms of authors or subject matter.

One of the books, “Devotion – a Raw-Truth Journal on Following Jesus” is a month’s supply of devotions looking at the character traits of the disciples. I picked it up this morning to test drive the first day.

The opening chapter was all about being aliens and sojourners in this world. As Christians our values are not the same as the world’s and we are somehow out of step in our thinking. We are the odd ones out, or rather we should be, but all too often we are indistinguishable. We don’t always like to be different.

Today’s Top Ten encouraged me to write a list of things that make me different from everyone else.

1. I have my own unique history – no on else has lived my life
2. My relationship to God is uniquely mine
3. My fingerprints are different
4. My reactions to situations are different
5. I have my own cocktail of strengths and weaknesses
6. The prescription for my lenses are unique to me – my glasses are useless to anyone else but me
7. My DNA is individual
8. The particular combination of things I like and don’t like is different
9. The freckles and moles that mark my body are not like anyone else’s
10. The gifts and talents God has given me, and the opportunities to use them are different.

I could have written that I look different from anyone else, but that isn’t really true. There is the well known idea that we all have a “twin” somewhere in the world. Mine happens to live in Northampton-shire and, although not an actual twin, my sister and I do get mistaken for one another.

Every snowdrop is unique. God made them unique. I am unique. God made me unique. It’s time to enjoy my uniqueness!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Oh Deer!

It is just typical, isn’t it? We spent the last couple of weeks in work melting with the heat pouring through windows, and as soon as my holidays kick in the clouds gather, the rain falls, thunder and lightning storm across the sky. OK I realize that I am living in Scotland and one cannot guarantee good weather, but it just seems a little unfair.

The same batch of washing went back on the line this morning, after having been hauled in twice before. The cloudless blue sky, according to the weather forecast, wasn’t going to last.

I completed a few essential tasks and then decided to pack a picnic lunch and head for the hills while it was still dry. Just above Loch Ness there are a number of smaller lochs away from all the Nessie hunters and tourists.

There was a sign just before the road dwindled into a single track which informed me that work was being done up ahead. I assumed it was resurfacing or something, but overhanging branches were being cut down, left by the side of the road, to be picked up later. Single track roads are not very wide to start with, so trying to manoeuvre around piles of debris was a challenge. Passing the lorry that was cutting down the branches was even more challenging.

I parked in a long lay-by beside Loch Dunchelchaig and headed off down the path that followed the shoreline and plunged deeper into the surrounding woods. I had the camera fully charged and ready. I always hope to catch a glimpse of something interesting but lack the skill to capture the moment on film.

Imagine my surprise to encounter the smallest of fawns tottering around on the path just ahead of me. It wasn’t big enough, or wise enough to disappear into the forest, and just looked at me. Eventually it stumbled over to the edge of the path and into a nest of heather.

I half expected mummy deer to appear out of somewhere, and do the mothering thing of scaring me in some way or another, but the baby seemed to be on its own. I wondered if mummy deer had got shot, or had an accident. Perhaps the fawn was orphaned. The one thing I needed, but didn’t have in my rucksack was a feeding bottle filled with deer milk, and I thought for a while about dismantling my chicken sandwich and sharing it. I wondered whether I ought to call someone, a rescue home for lost deer.

I so wanted to pick up the fawn and take it somewhere safe.

Common sense prevailed. Just because I couldn’t see mummy deer, didn’t mean that she wasn’t around somewhere. Picking it up, feeding it my chicken sandwich, was probably the worst course of action I could have taken. What might work for a human baby (feeding it a chicken sandwich?) doesn’t work for every other species on the planet.

How little I know about the workings of nature! How much I am divorced from it all, living in my terraced house, driving about in my red car, buying my food cellophane wrapped from the supermarket!

And how little I know about the Creator of all this nature! Am I equally divorced from him too?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

The Essential Difference Between Dr Who and God

I sat down last night to watch the final instalment of the Torchwood series that has been showing throughout the week. It was compelling viewing, but I have to admit that it was dark and very disturbing. It seemed to portray the very worst of humanity, particularly from those who make the decisions that affect everyone else. I hated the way they decided which ten percent of the nation’s children would be offered up the aliens so save the other ninety percent.

I seem to remember that in the fifties and sixties the films about alien invasions that were around were not really about alien invasions at all, but commentary on political matters. The aliens were communists, or asylum seekers, or refugees. You just needed to decipher the code. One wonders what the axe the writer was really grinding – the unfairness of school league tables, and how their use can be abused perhaps.

One scene that stood out for me was when Gwen and the children were hiding in the barn. She was making a last film for future generations to find that would explain what went wrong with the world. Talking of Jack’s friend, the Doctor (akka Dr Who), she wanted to know why he wasn’t there. The way she understood it was that the Doctor turned up in the bad times to rescue people. He was there when all hope seemed to be extinguished. He dropped in from nowhere, pointed his sonic screwdriver at the bad aliens and saved the day.

So why not this time? Perhaps this time, Gwen mused, they didn’t deserve saving.

Earlier on the government had decided that there were some people who were potential parasites in society. There were some children who would never have a positive contribution to make. They would be the ones on benefits, the ones who couldn’t get a job, the ones who were more than likely to end up in prison. There were the ones who were worth less than others, the ones they could afford to give up on.

How opposite to the gospel! The truth is that none of us is worth saving – regardless of our potential earning capacities, our talents and abilities, or the lack of them. We love to construct league tables and make comparisons. We love to line ourselves up and shove other people to the back of the queue. It makes us feel better to think that we are better than someone else.

Gwen thought there was some requirement for Dr Who to rescue everyone, because that is what he did. In the same vein, I often think that God ought to drop in more often and intervene. There are so many times when I feel that I am on my own, that the help I expected hasn’t turned up, even at the eleventh hour!

Sometimes it is tempting to draw the same conclusions as Gwen – I don’t deserve saving. I am so glad that faith tells me that isn’t so, in capital letters, written in think black maker pen, in permanent ink. OK I do not deserve saving, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get saved! If it was ever about who deserved what, none of us would be around. God’s grace gives me what I don’t deserve – a vibrant relationship with the Living God, oft-times incomprehensible, sometimes silent, frequently unpredictable.

I don't always get rescued the way I want to be rescued, or when, but I do get rescued at the very end of the story.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

My Day of Tambourines and Dancing

“Again you will take up your tambourines and go out to dance with the joyful.” Jeremiah 31:4

This small sentence caught my eye as I was reading through Jeremiah 31 because it contains so much promise and so much hope.

I actually own two tambourines. One is a small one, a kind of tourist souvenir of a tambourine that hangs on the wall in the down stairs toilet.

The other is a real musician’s tambourine. It was on one of my Christmas lists long ago. I was a part of the worship team in the church and lamenting that I didn’t play an instrument, apart from my voice, which on a good day, was passable. I had the heart for worship but had not yet developed the vocal chords to match. I thought that a tambourine would make me feel that I had something musical to contribute. My sense of rhythm turned out to be as hit and miss as the vocal chords. It isn’t the easiest of instruments to wield, not made to measure and a little too heavy for my wrist.

Just lately there hasn’t been that much that prompts me to pick up a tambourine and join in a dance with the joyful. I am more likely to be comfort eating in the cafĂ© exchanging woeful tales with anyone that will offer a shoulder, or a box of tissues.

That’s what I meant about promise. God doesn’t offer empty words as comfort and encouragement. He knows that there will be a day for tambourines and dancing, because He stands outside of time and He sees it.

He sees what I cannot see right now and tells me that my day for tambourines and dancing is just around the corner.

(Picture from

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Girlie Grunts

I don’t normally watch the girlies at Wimbledon. Mostly it’s the grunting and the squealing that puts me off. It just seems very unnecessary. Also most games seem to be over very quickly, with the winner winning very easily…well, one would assume it was an easy win with 6-1 6-2.

I watched the semi final between Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva. My husband has taken a liking for the other Russian…Safina, so I was killing time waiting for that game to begin.

I suppose if you watch something long enough you are bound to get involved. As much as admire the William’s sisters, I like it when they get beat. And it looked like Serena was getting beat at one stage.

There was one point in the match where the grunting and squealing transformed into something else. Whereas it had just been irritable background noise, in one game where Serena was serving and it was a deuce battle, the grunting almost became snarls and hisses. If you could have translated the grunts I really think a dialogue was going on between them across the net as the ball thundered past.

“I’ll be blowed if you are going to take this point off me!”

“You try and take this point and I will scratch your eyes out!”

“This is my game, get your stinking paws off it!”

“Take that (whack) and that (whack) and that (whack) and there’s more where they came from!”

“Over my dead body!”

I don’t think I have ever heard anything so intimidating. For that single game there was so much ferocity in the grunts and the whacks. It was scary. If I had have been on the receiving end…I would have run away. I would not have snarled back!

I was thinking about the verse in Romans 8:26 “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”

When I groan it tends to be pitiful stuff. Things are going wrong. I am on the brink of tears. I am feeling frustrated. It’s like I am on the verge of some kind of breakdown.

Imagine then if the groans of the Holy Spirit are like those girlie groans in the tennis match, those really intimidating ones. Imagine that you could translate them.

“You (as in the enemy) are not going to snatch this victory away from Mel!”

“You try and take away her healing and I will scratch your eyes out!”

“This is her time with God, get your stinking paws off it!”

“Take that (whack) and that (whack) and that (whack) and there’s more where they came from!”

“Because of Christ’s resurrected body you will not prevail!”

Wow! So much ferocity, so much intimidation...and the enemy on the receiving end of them runs away!