Sunday, 26 April 2009

A ray from on high

To see this world a person needs more than eyes.

"You need a certain dose of inspiration, a ray from on high, that is not in ourselves, in order to do beautiful things."
Vincent van Gogh

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Manage like your hair's on fire

I came across a blog entry with this wonderful title - and had to read it. I guess that Rafe Esquith has an interesting and inspirational story to tell, but I was particularly interested on the six levels of moral development:

Level 1: "I don't want to get in trouble."
Level 2: "I want a reward"
Level 3: "I want to please someone"
Level 4: "I follow the rules"
Level 5: "I am considerate of other people"
Level 6: "I have a personal code of behavior and I follow it"

This is relevant for me just now as I am preparing some bible studies for teenagers on the Sermon on the Mount, and need to convey to them the standards that Jesus is explaining to his disciples. So I can definitely use this.

As I was thinking about this I began to wonder if there should be another level:

Level 7: "I follow the standards of Jesus"

Of course, none of us can actually live up to that, but it seems to me that it's a pretty good target to aim for.

While thinking about teachers with their hair on fire, I was reminded of this TED video. I can't imagine what would happen if Clifford Stoll's hair caught fire, but I can see that it has probably happened to him on more than one occasion!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Instant judgements

We all make them, and occasionally regret them. We take one look at someone, and decide how we will react to them.

I've heard about Susan Boyle a few times this week. Don't recognise the name? That's not really surprising. She's appearing on a TV talent show (see video). If you haven't seen it, it's worth watching - not just for her amazing voice, but for the reactions and (towards the end) the honest assessment by Amanda Holden of the prejudice that Susan instantly faced.

I won't be following the contest, although I will no doubt hear it on the news if she wins, but the challenge is: how do I avoid making the same kind of judgement tomorrow, and the day after that?

Monday, 13 April 2009

The garden at Easter

Even if our words were inadequate - and they often are - the garden would tell its own story of Easter.

The pulsatilla rubra would tell us of the blood of the sacrifice.

The pulsatilla purpurea would tell us of the majesty of the king.

And the fanfare of daffodils would tell us of our need and duty to worship him.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Exodus and Easter

In exile and separation
Darkness covers the land
and the people

Nature is suspended
and the first born die

The water is parted
and the tomb is opened

With the promise of land
and the presence of hope.


Thursday, 9 April 2009

Synchronised Blogging Day: The Resurrection

Slipstream is having a synchronised blogging day on the topic of the Resurrection. I don’t recall playing on one of these days before, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Anyone who gives the Resurrection any thought at all is surely prompted to start asking questions. Depending on your starting point the questions will vary – but I’d hazard a guess that most of them will start with the word ‘why?’.

I fear that the church in this country tends to answer questions about ‘how’ – how did it happen; how can you be sure? Many Easter sermons will focus on the historical facts of the event. Now I think there is a place for that, but not in an Easter sermon. For me, the key issue isn’t the historical accuracy, but rather what does the Resurrection mean.

If the end of the Jesus story is the cross, then all we are left with is some radical ethical teaching and some miracles. But at the Resurrection – and beyond it – we are offered amazing hope. The hope that lets us dream and have visions that the imbalances in our lives and our world can be rectified and harmony can be restored. It’s the hope that through reconciliation with God we can be empowered to transform ourselves and our society.

I also think that in shifting the emphasis we can learn - from postmodernity - that questions are OK; that people can live with ambiguity and uncertainty. And if we can learn this, then we will be better placed to walk beside others on their spiritual journey, gently answering their questions, honestly acknowledging where we don’t know things; having a meaningful conversation rather than being dogmatic. In fact, as I write this I have the image of the risen Jesus walking to Emmaus. Too often, I fear, we drive people away by propounding absolute certainty, without leaving room for doubt and exploration. The disciples on the road to Emmaus came to the right conclusion after a time – maybe we could learn to let others complete their journeys, but with appropriate help from us.

Finally, the picture that I’ve posted is a sculpture by Lyn Constable Maxwell – thanks to Jim at Living Wittily from bringing it to my attention. Anyway, maybe to really understand the Resurrection fully we need to stand back and see the cross in perspective – and open our arms to others and our minds to the possibilities that hope can bring.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Somehow to forget myself

This morning I was reflecting on the story of Jesus' arrest, Peter's swordplay and denial - and was struck by something that I read in the WordLive material:

"Jesus wanted Peter to be a witness, not a defender."

The more I thought about this, the more I realised that it's so much easier for me to live reactively, defensively, defending-ly (as Peter did) than to adopt the proactive, giving, accepting way of Jesus.

Then I read today's entry over at Living Wittily and was struck by this section from Elizabeth Jennings poem:

"Teach me how you love and have to die
And I will try

Somehow to forget myself and give
Life and joy so dead things start to live."

With help, we can make positive choices, even though we are aware of our own intrinsic frailty. I guess that in many ways it's about demonstrating the difference between knowing Jesus and knowing about him.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

G20 - after the dust has settled

What to make of the G20?

It would be easy to rant about 'too much talk, too little action'; or about the agreed package being balanced in the wrong way; or about any number of other things depending on your own particular hobby-horse.

On Thursday morning, David Arnott was talking on Good Morning Scotland's Thought for the Day, and he posed the question:

"Does anyone believe that our leaders can set aside their differences and prejudices and actually find a global solution to this recession?"

He wasn't being unduly cyncial. I think he was highlighting the difficulty that the leaders faced - with a range of competing issues to address and desires to be met.

One of the interesting facets of the G20 summit (at least the bits of it that I saw/read) was the efforts that were being made to work collaboratively. There was Gordon Brown's world tour trying to establish a workable framework for the summit, and also Barack Obama's string of meetings to work out issues and to establish relationships for the future.

I think that this is one of the hardest dimensions to leadership in our complicated, inter-dependent world - to establish a collaborative, partnership approach which avoids the loss of anyone's principles but doesn't allow for brinksmanship and 'rule by veto'.

In November 2008, Dawn Spalding wrote in Human Resources magazine:

"Barack Obama has been described as a leader with vision, who ignites passion, brings people together and wins hearts and minds."

These qualities seemed to be in evidence during his time at the G20.


If this is the high point of achievement for the G20 - and therefore for the world's economy - it will be a failure.

If it marks a new way of doing business on the global stage AND it materialises in concrete action to make our economic activities just, sustainable and legitimate, then it will have been a success.

Thomas Merton wrote:
"The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little."

Let's hope that our leaders aren't victims of this temptation.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Timidity... and all its friends

"Timidity, confusion and populism have been the enemies of effective action."
Financial Times
13 March 2009

In how many areas of our lives is this the case?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

There is no more urgent time than now ... (2)

... to feel optimistic.

Suspend cycnicism. Hold on to hope. Pray.

[Robert] Zoellick [ president of the World Bank] said world leaders should learn from previous economic crises in Latin America in the 1980s and Asia in the 1990s and not repeat the mistake of ignoring the plight of the most vulnerable. Developing countries needed to be part of the global solution to the global crisis.

"Isn't it time to institutionalize support for the most vulnerable during crises, especially those not of their own making?" said Zoellick, who has proposed that developed countries allocate 0.7 percent of the stimulus packages to a fund for developing countries.

"A commitment to put in place structures to support and fund safety nets for those most at risk would go a long way to show that this G-group will not endorse a two tier world, with summits for financial systems, and silence for the poor." he added, calling for market economies with a human face."