24 June 2014

Take Us As You Find Us

We've recently been looking at the subject of hospitality in our Corps house fellowship. I never realised how much of a challenge this was going to be to me personally! The course helped us take a look at what was custom in biblical times, when the practice of hospitality was so important. Welcoming the traveller, the stranger.

In modern society we seem to have lost our way here. The stranger is as often as not shunned; the traveller's motives are questioned. It's all rather sad.

Even socially, modern families seem to have reduced this down to basics. It's the exception rather than the rule to welcome others in - and then only for a dinner party/ barbecue / family get-together from time to time. Celebrating those big birthdays. Or to further your career - having the boss over for dinner. It's all etiquette and entertainment.

Modern-day neighbours don't tend to pop round like they used to. Gone are these days of 'take us as you find us'; many of us don't even know their neighbours' names (do you?). And you don't have the same number of visitors at the door - fear of the 'stranger' means they are kept on the doorstep, or are told to go away unless they have made an appointment first.

I've thought a lot about this over the last week, realising with increasing concern that I've more to learn here than most. You see, I've never really been used to that sort of hospitality lifestyle. My mum and dad were very private people. Whilst growing up, visitors were kept at the door, or if allowed in, were restricted to the front room only. My parents used to keep all but the immediate family at a distance, so I never really learnt any of this in my formative years. They were very defensive about visitors - I could have the odd friend around to play, but large parties weren't allowed.

Take Us As You Find Us? Nope - unfortunately, when growing up, we were more likely to take up the welcome mat!

I've learnt a bit more since I first starting working in the voluntary sector - either in church, or through working in a group. Because it's more than just 'open house'. You see, Christian hospitality is all about showing respect for others, providing for their needs, and treating them as equals. Not just at home - but anywhere that we go. And it's about hospitality to real strangers, not just people that are like us but that we haven't got to know yet. Also, Christian hospitality isn't about beautifully prepared tables piled high with picture-perfect food. It's about servanthood; it's about loving others; it's about making people feel special.

I don't disagree with any of that. Indeed, I've been trying to work towards this over the past few years. But I now see that there's more of a challenge for me when it gets close to home, when it gets so very personal - that's when I start getting nervous. Something to work on. Something to pray about.

Interestingly, the latin root hospes, which means guest or stranger, is the root for the English words host (where the p was dropped for convenience of pronunciation) hospitality, hospice, hostel and hotel. All are, of course, connected.

17 June 2014

Tailspin

(tāl′spĭn′) noun:
1.The rapid descent of an aircraft in a steep, spiral spin.
2. Informal A loss of emotional control sometimes resulting in emotional collapse.

Have you ever got yourself into such a state that life just seems to get progressively worse and worse? I've heard it called an emotional tailspin. Spiralling down, out of control, just like the planes you see in the films. A crash seems inevitable. Not good.

I'm afraid I've had this experience from time to time, so I know what I'm talking about. But I now have the answer. I know now that disaster can be avoided - I can pull out of such a 'tailspin'!

I need to start to think. Think, rather than feel.

Get one too many negative in any given day, and it's like an emotional traffic jam has occurred. I try and come to terms with each thing, but it becomes simply too much. Emotions start to overwhelm me - anger, confusion, negativity. It drains me physically. I start shutting down; I begin to switch off emotionally. If I can't remove myself from this I know that I'll begin to spiral out of control. And going home isn't an option most of the time...

It's terribly hard for me to do anything when I start to enter a tailspin. With each new challenge that comes along, I run a greater risk of 'losing it'.

Tailspins don't stop by themselves; it needs concerted effort from the pilot to pull the plane out of a spin. I need to take time out; re-centre myself. I need time to call on my Lord to centre my mind. He needs to take control of the 'plane' for a while. He needs to press reset on my emotions. He needs to clear my mind to allow myself to think clearly.

I read the other day about a bumper sticker that said "If God Is Your Co-Pilot, Switch Seats"... yes, understood.

More later....

14 June 2014

What Do We Miss?

It was a cold January morning, back in 2007. The scene was a Metro rapid-transit station in Washington, DC. A man with a violin played six Bach pieces for just under an hour. He had a small container in front of him to collect money.

Approximately 2,000 people went through this station, however only a handful stopped to listen. Even fewer gave a donation. The man collected a total of $32. When he had finished, no-one seemed to notice, no-one applauded. There was no public recognition at all.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, a renowned musician. During the impromptu concert, he had played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, using a violin worth $3.5M. Only two days earlier, Joshua had played to a packed house in Boston where the cost of seats averaged at $100 a time.

The story is true - I verified this through snopes.com and other media.

How do you and I perceive beauty?

Do we stop to appreciate it?

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

12 June 2014

The Wrong End Of The Stick

I am, when all is said and done, a seeker after truth. This does mean I tend to challenge things more often than most people. I tend not to take information on face value. I take time to check my facts.

I know quite a number of people who tend to believe everything they are told. I guess I understand that - you'd want to trust people; to believe people are being fair to you. Unfortunately, sometimes what you are told - is wrong. Sometimes people lead others astray deliberately - a spoof, a prank (Facebook seems to be full of these this week!). Alternatively, they may be simply relaying information without checking further...

However, it's staggering to see just how many people there are who quickly grab 'the wrong end of the stick' - hearing one small piece of information and leaping quickly to an erroneous conclusion. Assuming that something or other is going to happen, based on minimal facts - or even just on hearsay.

I think you've guessed. Something happened in my life recently that prompted this blog. It made me so angry.

Then I calmed down. I went away and checked my facts, just to make sure. And then took a week or so to write this down, choosing my words carefully.

John 7:24 (CEV)
Don’t judge by appearances. Judge by what is right.

9 June 2014

Days Of Future Past

On Saturday, as an early birthday treat, I got to see "X-Men: Days of Future Past". Terrific film - and, as you might expect, it's got me thinking...

The plot of the film was inspired by the 1981 Uncanny X-Men storyline "Days of Future Past" by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, which I clearly remember reading when it first came out!

I can't say I ever thought I would be sitting watching a big screen film version of that particular X-Men story with my wife and two children 33 years later. At the time the comic was first published this cinema wasn't even built ... at that time the site was quite an unremarkable chalk quarry. Conclusion: Life doesn't work out the way you think it will.

Winston Churchill once said, "The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you are likely to see". Another quotation states "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana). However, I sometimes find that reviewing the past can be terribly difficult. Memories are funny things. I can struggle recalling the fine details about something that happened just last week. And yet, a scrap of paper from 30 years ago, a song, even a smell, can instantly take you back years in the past; trigger emotions that you thought were long dead and buried. I've been time-travelling a little bit myself lately (as I blogged earlier). And it's revealed to me how much has changed... 

As a science fiction fan, I am frequently introduced to another author's vision of the future. Some futures sound very appealing; others, less so. But a dystopian future isn't inevitable! And that goes for our individual futures, too....

We often think we cannot do anything in the present to change our current circumstances. On the contrary. The future is unwritten - thus, you can change it. Or work to improve the future of others. Even without a time machine (or whatever power Kitty was using in the X-Men movie)...

It all depends on the present. On what you do to change things now. On who you want to serve...

James 4:13-16 (ESV)
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.

6 June 2014

In God We Trust

"You cannot serve both God and Mammon"

The famous words from Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:24).

Whom do you serve? Do you serve the Lord - the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob? Or do you serve the god called “mammon.” You can only have one God.

We all know the word mammon has something to do with money. But the original word used here (and also in Luke 16:9-11) isn't the common word for money. Instead, Jesus uses an Aramaic word meaning riches... not in fact the name of a god, but in reference to the greedy - those who love wealth so much that it takes the place of God in their lives.

We are called to make good use of any money we are allotted - it's a tool we are given to help others, not just to help ourselves. Jesus reminds us that our wealth does not really belong to us; we are just stewards of it for a short time. You can't take it with you...

'Mammon' implies money that is an end in itself. Rather than provide for your friends and family, followers of mammon would sell out their friends , their family, their country, even their integrity . . . Just for money.

The United States of America was once wise enough to remember to put “In God We Trust” on its money. A useful reminder.

I find it necessary to make a stand here. Anything that I do, I want to use to build up the Kingdom of God, not necessarily my own.

You see, when it comes down to basics - the Lord isn't interested in your skill set; in what you can do for Him; what you can earn for Him. He's looking at one thing - whether you trust Him, put your hope in His unfailing love.

He's not so worried about our abilities; He's more concerned about whether we trust His abilities.

4 June 2014

Sharing Is Hard

I understand that my life touches other lives - on a busy day, many hundreds of other people. The mind boggles - that's an uncomfortably large number to me.

However, only a small number of that massed sea of faces ever seek to form any sort of meaningful relationship with me; by which I mean get close enough for me to ever consider they may possibly be considered as a friend.

And of that small number, it'll only ever be a minor fraction of those that I will actually befriend. That is, where I begin to let down my outer defences to reveal the sensitive me underneath...

If you're one of these extremely few souls, please take it as a complement. I trust you.

Unfortunately, I've had one or two people over the years who have betrayed that trust and because of that I can be quite wary of letting people get close - past experience makes me oh-so-careful.

Psalm 118:8 (NIV)
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.