Monday, 18 July 2022

I Don't Usually Get Angry at Advertisements


I have been trying advertising on social media and it is an interesting exercise. It is an advert for a Christian conference about cults and new religious movements in September. You can find out more here if you're really interested. Someone helpfully pointed out I might like to think about my strategy given the hostile emojis and unhelpful comments I have received.

Of course, I rely on Facebook to choose my audience according to the declared purpose of my page and its regular content. Perhaps they're not doing such a good job, maybe there is something I can do to manage that, but...

It's a Christian ministry page and my personal FB account carries a fair amount of Christian/religious content, as you might imagine. That being the case, I get all kinds of 'suggested' post, emails to my ministry email account, things I regard as not interesting, or not 'appropriate.' From ads for success-building advertising funnels to invitations to New Age conferences, past regression therapy, even a ride on a spaceship to meet my forefathers from another galaxy.

I pass on without comment, I delete as I see necessary. I don't throw a hissyfit, or hurl insults at those people posting, because I don't usually get angry at an advertisement. When I get leaflets, adverts, menus, etc. through my door they all go in the recycling. I don't call up every organisation and complain, 'What are these leaflets doing coming through my door?! I am offended! Where is my safe space?'

It seems, however, there is a population on social media that is determined to take offence where none is offered, and I find that curiously interesting.

Is this a mental health problem? Have we raised a whole generation convinced they have a right to not be offended, to not see or hear anything that might bruise their tender little hearts? Is the current generation imprisoned in a continuous state of peripubescence, of teen angst, capable of expressing itself only in terms of shallow petulance, and spite?

Is this a specific expression of neo-atheism? I know Richard Dawkins has, for many years, encouraged his acolytes to mock religion at every opportunity. Can we do anything to help these poor people who seem incapable of seeing something they don't like, are not interested in engaging, and just walking on?

I can't help but think about the sleepless nights they must endure as they turn over in their minds 'what has offended me today?' Indeed, it seems amazing to me they manage to fulfil their work and family commitments given their demanding commitment to complaining. Do they laugh as they point mockingly at someone on the street that has caught their attention?

Are there regular, real world gatherings outside the homes and businesses of folk unfortunate enough to unwittingly look, think, or speak in a way that has offended the mob? Or is that too much reality for them?

Actually, this behaviour has spilled over into the real world. From Christian bakers to street preachers, from those holding traditional family values to those regarding human life as sacred, from farmers and their traditional practices to meat eaters and their personal tastes, all have provoked the ire of the determinedly offended, always ready to put the rest of us right. How did we ever manage to live before they came along?

What is social media making of us? It has brought together people who would otherwise have never known each other, who have gone on to create a complaining critical mass of the traditionally isolated, historically localised, Marxist ‘we know best’ brigade.

It’s a jungle out there, predation the every day experience of anyone with a faith, an opinion, strong convictions, or a ham sandwich. Time was you simply walked away and got on with things. We have to find a new way of dealing with the know-it-alls in this wacky new world where your next word or thought might find you socially mugged.

The mob is the mother of tyrants - Diogenes

Friday, 15 July 2022

Where is Your God?


William Wordsworth wrote:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

Wordsworth is lamenting the fast withering connection between people and nature because of the all-embracing industrial society of his time, a great theme of his day. I find people are often aware they are somehow disconnected from something bigger than themselves. I sense their longing for they don’t know what, their frustration at an inexplicable sense of fragmentation.

Believers can experience this frustration, when ‘the world is too much with us, late and soon, getting and spending.’ That sense we have laid waste our powers, given our hearts away while distracted by the demands of life. Like Esau, we can feel we have traded our new-birth-right ‘for a mess of pottage.’ Genesis 25:29-33 ‘The world is too much with us, late and soon,’ and little we see in spiritual things that should be ours but are not.

As I read psalm 42 last evening I discovered David experienced this longing for connection, as he found himself far from Jerusalem in, ‘the land of Jordan and Hermon, from Mount Mizar,’ Psalm 42:6. Although he knows God is never far from him, David feels physically far from God (42:9), the world is too much with him, and it taunts him, ‘where is your God?’ So David cries:

As the deer pants for flowing streams,

so pants my soul for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God,

for the living God.

When will I come and appear before God?

My tears have been my food

day and night

while they say to me all the day long,

Where is your God?’’

Psalms 42 and 43 stand together as one song and are a great comfort to those who feel as David did, surrounded by, ‘ungodly people...unjust man.’ (43:1) I find myself in this psalm as David cries, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?’

David prays fervently for vindication and deliverance (43:1) for leading and guidance (43:3). In all this David is open and honest with his God, sharing his thoughts, speaking of his sense of abandonment (42:8,9)

At the same time he is determined to prove faithful to his God. David answers his own plight with two comforting words of encouragement. In the first he remembers those days when he was in communion with God and his people:

These things I remember,

as I pour out my soul:

How I would go with the throng

and I lead them in procession to the house of God

with glad shouts and songs of praise;

a multitude keeping a festival.’ (42:4)

Remembering is a gift and a comfort to the saints. In those times when I feel the world is too much with me I go to his Word, remind myself of his mercies, and recall those countless times of blessing in fellowship. God has been good to this man and I remember his goodness.

David’s second word is encouragement to hope in God. Our present circumstances do not, finally, determine our future, or our eternal place among the saints of God. We have every reason to hope in him, to praise him. He is our salvation, our God. When the world is too much with us, late and soon, we may encourage ourselves with David’s encouragement:

Why are you cast down, O my soul,

and why are you in turmoil within me?

Hope in God; for I shall praise him,

my salvation, and my God.’ (43:5)

Thursday, 14 July 2022

My God is Enough


This morning I walked the dog, spoke to a few neighbours, and tidied up a little more of my study, a task that seems to have no end. I still seem to be caught up with the idea I am not enough and somehow can’t get away from it. So, I am reflecting on a prayer of David I read last night and asking myself how thankful I am, and ow to be as thankful as David.

He is at the end of his life, there are rivals for his throne staking their claim, enemies at court that his son Solomon wisely gets rid of later, and he speaks to his assembled officials. David has dedicated a fortune in gold, silver, bronze, and other materials for the temple Solomon would build and invited Israel’s leaders to make a similar freewill offering to the project. There is a lot going on for a man on his deathbed. Then he prays:

Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of Israel our father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and in the earth is yours. Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted as head above all. Both riches and honour come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name.

But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you. For we are strangers before you and sojourners, as all our fathers were. Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no abiding. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own. I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you. O Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, our fathers, keep forever such purposes and thoughts in the hearts of your people, and direct their hearts toward you. Grant to Solomon my son a whole heart that he may keep your commandments, your testimonies, and your statutes, performing all, and that he may build the palace for which I have made provision.” 1 Chronicles 29:10-20

Who am I? What a great question! David was the greatest king in Israel’s history, achieving so much despite his failings (did he ever feel he wasn’t enough?), despite setbacks (did he ever think this was all too much for a shepherd boy?). What kept him going in spite of everything? He knew God, and he knew who he was before a holy God.

Who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able thus to offer willingly? For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you.’

Who am I? I am a man who knows God and my God is enough.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

When This is Over…

Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay
When This is Over…
How are things with you these days? I imagine there have been significant changes to your normal routine. Confinement has seen me running out of excuses and actually tacking the mess I laughingly call my study. (Starting to tackle)
My local shop is allowing just two customers in at any one time. He has considerately marked out the floor into metre squares in black and yellow tape. Shopping is now a dance class, but we are all grateful. I like chunky rolled oats for my porridge and it is not easy to come by these days. But my local shopkeeper, who doesn’t usually carry them, found a box for me and made a friend for life.
I needed to visit the chemist in the city centre and the roads and pavements were quieter than a wet Sunday in November. I knew the police were stopping drivers to ask if they have a legitimate reason to be out. I did, but I still felt somehow guilty, waiting for that tap on the shoulder. We had to go to the hospital and that journey has never been so quick and trouble free.
When I walk my dog the streets are eerily quiet. I am reminded of the 1959 film On The Beach, an end of the world following nuclear war story by Nevil Shute. Streets become increasingly bare and empty, ordinary life breaks down as the radiation poison spreads. The only person left in the world in the end is the cameraman. Funny that.
Of course, this isn’t the end of the world. We will get through this, though at unimaginable cost in lives, livelihoods, mental, emotional, and economic damage. As we become accustomed to this new reality, people will surely find themselves making ‘when this is over’ promises to themselves. When this is over I’m going to stop making excuses and...
chase that job...
Take that trip…
End that relationship…
Mend that relationship…
Finally propose…
Start my business…
Hold my family that much closer...
Fill in your own ‘when this is over’ promise…
However, when this is over some of us won’t be here, and not just because of Covid-19. Notwithstanding the virus the mortality rate is still 100% - that’s life. We are all staring into eternity. For some it is more immediate than for others, but it is a reality for all. One thing I have learned is you can’t negotiate with eternity.
Can I suggest, therefore, instead of making ‘when this is over’ resolutions, those who can might take ‘by the time this is over’ actions. If eternal questions are on your mind there are plenty of good resources available. f you know a Christian I am sure they can recommend some. I am a Christian by the way and I welcome questions, but it doesn’t have to be me.
Many are already complaining about how restrictive and boring this enforced isolation is. It looks like life isn’t going to get back to normal (whatever your normal is) for some time to come.
I am currently inundated with offers of free to download books about all sorts of subjects, short courses that are normally paid for are, for a limited time, being offered in exchange for simply signing up to a list. Perhaps, like me, you have some sorting out to do. Why not use the time wisely and with purpose. By the time this is over I will have…
Learned a language…
Called an old friend…
Sorted my shed…
Planted a border…
Started a blog…
Started a website…
Learned the piano…
Talked to someone about God...
Become expert at something…at least good enough to hold my own in the black chair.
Apart from tidying my study, I am learning a new note-taking system. I hope, by the time this is over, I will have mastered a system of note-taking that makes me more efficient in my writing, and have a better ordered study in which to write (if you’re the gambling type I’d put money on the first...ahem)
Of course, when this is over I will hold my family closer and I am sure you will yours. When this is over I will want to make changes, moved perhaps by these times, resolved maybe by the reassessment that is common to many of us in these days, to make a greater difference in my little part of the world. But...

What will you have done by the time this is over?
Stay safe

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

The Child in us All

The Three Musketeers LOTSWI had put on my coat to leave the gym and was finishing a conversation with other victims of good health and rigorous exercise, when I caught sight of myself in a full length mirror. Who was that man staring back at me? When did I ever get to be so big? How did I come to look so deceptively grown up and respectable? Aware of the possibility of looking vain (a weakness of mine I confess) I looked away and rejoined the conversation, having gained an insight into what my interlocutors saw. In my head I don't see myself according to my outward appearance. The child is too much with me still.

One of the things I like about the now sadly missed comedy series Last of the Summer Wine is it's portrayal of three old men wandering about the Yorkshire countryside acting like boys. Look carefully and you see one man's pomposity as simply a grown-up role being played by a boy hiding behind a disguise of 'respectability', another man's willing resignation to the truth that they are all big kids, and a third man's wonder at and fascination with it all. Officialdom, iconoclasm, and philosophy out for an afternoon stroll.

I find it fascinating and bewildering in equal measure. The problem is, I can't take it all seriously enough to play 'respectable' bordering on ridiculous like the first man, I am yet a little too serious-minded to resign to the childishness of it all like the second, so I am left like the third, to wonder at it, fascinated by my ability to see everyone still in their juvenile greenery, their schooldays, wondering what it's all about.

I see the teachers' pet, I see the thinker who will enjoy quizzes and teach maths, the misfit who only shone on the rugby field, or in the carpentry shop, the prefect, the sensible one who will end up working in a bank, or a chemist's, the adventurous one who will travel and fill their life with memories, the timid one who will work a job, save money, and wear beige, the one who will surprise us all and become a successful writer.

Though old now, I see them in the classroom and school yard still. I find myself looking for, and am often rewarded with that sly, watchful eye that glances to see if they've been found out, the big kid in the bank queue, the little boy at the supermarket checkout, the little girl at her office desk, the class clown in the pub, holding a pint and incredulous that he is up so late and drinking beer. I have found them out. I have found you all out. I see the child in us all.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Dysphoria by Any Other Name

BisexualMy wife and I were watching the ITV Wales News last evening and two items covering very similar stories followed each other in quick succession. The first put a positive spin on plans to open Wales’ very own gender identity clinic, which will be the first in the country. The report, which you can read here. said:

'It’s a step forward which many in Wales’ trans community have welcomed, including one 20-year-old [transgender person]. He transitioned from female to male at the age of 14, but waited five years to see a gender specialist on the NHS. He eventually opted for private treatment, costing him £7000.

Knowing that you should look different to how you look, it’s so traumatising”, he said. “At the end of Year 11 I just thought I need to start hormones. I can’t go to college not starting hormones. I knew I wasn’t going to start taking them until I was 19 on the NHS”.'

There followed a report about a model and TV presenter from Aberystwyth, who has spoken out for the first time about the pressures she experienced whilst working in the fashion industry and how she subjected herself to laxative abuse in order to try and lose weight.

You can read the report here, which goes on:

'Shortly after [one particular] experience, [the model] received a message from a modelling agency which expressed an interest in representing her. After sending her measurements to the agency, she was told that they would only be willing to represent her if she lost weight and slimmed down to a “genuine size 8”. This particular experience made [her] turn to extreme lengths to try and get the “perfect figure” by taking laxatives.'

Having learned her lesson the hard way the model reports:

If I’d have realised before that I could do all this as me and embrace who I am, rather than trying to change to suit the industry, I would never, ever have done it and my body would still be working as it should be.”

The first story concerned plans, at great expense to the NHS, open a clinic to treat self-identified gender dysphoria with extreme surgical procedures, an acceptance, even a celebration of dysphoria, the second concerned efforts to persuade young models to avoid taking extreme measures, such as laxative abuse, and learn to be happy with the body in which they were born, an attack on a dysphoria.

Both reported on the trauma of thinking they don't look the way they should look. Both took extreme measures to 'fix' what they imagined was wrong. One is in the vanguard of making their extreme measures more readily available to others, at great expense to the taxpayer, while the other issues a stark warning of what can happen if you take extreme measures to change how you look, and urges young people to accept their bodies.

Both 'suffer' from a dysphoria, but the approach to each is very different. One is accepted, the other rejected. The extreme measures to treat the one are embraced, those to treat the other met with dire warnings.

Dysphoria is defined as 'a state of feeling very unhappy, uneasy, or dissatisfied.' (Merriam Webster Dictionary. The Concise Oxford gives the same definition) There seems to be a cognitive dissonance between how we regard gender-based dysphoria, and how we regard other forms of dysphoria. Both stem from the same place, a feeling of dissatisfaction that can so trouble someone that they are driven to extreme measures, but one is treated as a physical problem, while the other is regarded as a psychological problem. One declares, 'your body shape is wrong, nature has made a mistake,' the other declares, 'your body is naturally what it is intended to be, you have made a mistake.'

The prefix dys means abnormal, impaired. It is used to describe something that has gone wrong with body (dystrophy, dyspepsia), mind (dysthymia, dysphasia) even society (dystopia), it is a dysfunction. In the case of the model the dysfunction is mental/emotional, is 'it's all in your head,' while for the transgender person the dysfunction is physical, 'your whole body is wrong.' Both are dysphoric, but one regards radical surgery a reasonable solution, the other considers a change of mind a better solution. If you were to advise the model that she is making unhealthy choices you might be regarded a caring friend. If you were to offer the same advice to the transgender person, you might be accused of hate speech and prosecuted.

To my mind this demonstrates we are an increasingly dystopian society as we cherry pick which problems we identify, how we describe and diagnose them, and what treatments we prescribe, not according to sound medical and psychological knowledge, but according to a frighteningly overbearing ideology of the left that thinks it can reshape the whole world in its own bizarre and dysfunctional image.

Society has to pick up the bill for the proposed clinic, but that same society will have to pay again, it seems to me, to undo the terrible wrong being done to vulnerable people whose issues are being identified and resolved according to an ideology. Perhaps it will take a lifetime's therapy and support to deal with the outcome of a momentary ideological fallacy.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

The Way ‘They’ do Things These Days

The World in HurricaneIn her latter years my mother would explain to herself an increasingly confusing world with the words, ‘Well, that’s the way they do things these days.’ From free love to microwave ovens this phrase explained it all, ‘I don’t understand it, but that’s the way they do things these days.’

Most people follow the way they do things these days, whoever ‘they’ are. From the clothes we wear to the opinions we hear and retail, from what we choose as entertainment to our eating habits, and ther company we keep we all do things the way they are done these days.

But what if ‘they’ make bad  lifestyle choices, express dangerous, destructive opinions? How would we even know those choices were unwise if the way ‘they’ do things is our only measure of what is good, If man is the true measure of man?

I am reminded of the adage, ‘Who marries the spirit of the age will end widowed.’

James, in his letter to Christians scattered across the empire, writes about the trials of many kinds that come and test our faith (Js.1:2-3). He encourages us to have a firm faith, warning against doubt, or we will find ourselves ‘like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind,’ driven by the way things are done these days. Does that sound familiar?

When Jesus spoke of John the Baptist he said, ‘What did you go into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?’ (Lk.7:24) A single reed was the personal emblem of Herod, a man blown about by every political wind, driven by the way things are done these days, defined by expediency, nothing to cling to but the latest piece of fashionable flotsam.

What we learn from my mother’s ‘explanation’ of the way things are done these days is that the spirit of the age will pass. The way things are done is not the way they were done in her lifetime, neither is the way things are done today the way things were done in my memory, The way you do things will pass too, another generation will rise and do things their way.

We are mistaken, of course, if we assume the way things were are preferable to the way things are, to imagine a golden age. At the same time it is folly to assume improvement is inevitable with each passing generation. Things can’t only get better, as history teaches us. What can we find to cling to in this process of rising and dying ages, this sea of life that tosses us this way and that?

James reminds us, ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach and it will be given him.’ (Js.1:5) The Father, he reminds us, is one ‘who does not change like shifting shadows’ (Js.1:17) and Jesus, we are told, is, ‘the same yesterday, today, and forever.’ (Heb.13: 8)

Isaiah reminds us, ‘All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flowers of the field…The grass withers, the flowers fade, but the word of our God will stand forever.’ (Is.40:7-8)

If you’re looking for stability in a changing world look no further than the word of God. It will often make you unpopular with those married to the age, but when this age has died and another rises, you will still be standing faithfully doing things God’s way, while they seek yet another marriage of convenience leading inevitably to another funeral.