Wednesday, 28 February 2007

The salesman

A door-to-door salesman is getting rather bored with his job of selling Bibles, so he decides to become a boss, hiring three people to sell Bibles for him.

He interviews three people.

The first comes in and says, "I want to sell Bibles for you."

"OK, you're hired. Here's your kit; go and sell!"

The second comes in and says, "I want to sell Bibles for you."

"OK, you're hired! Here's your kit; go and sell!"

The third comes in and says, "I-i-I wa-wa-wa-want t-t-t-t-to s-s-s-s-ell to sell, to sell, to sell, Bi-bi-bi-Bibles, sell Bi-Bibles f-f-f-fo-for y-y-y-y you Bibles for you!"

"No," says the boss, "this will never work! You can't sell Bibles for me!"

The applicant replies, "B-b-b-b-but I r-r-r-eall, but I really, really, n-n-n-n-need th-th-th-this, really need tthis job!"

As there were no other applicants, the boss says, "OK, I'll give you one shot at this, but I expect you to PRODUCE!"

At the end of the first day, the first guy comes back and reports, "I sold 8 Bibles today."

The second reports: "I sold 11 Bibles today.

The third worker reports, "To-to-to-to t-t-today, I-i-I so-so, I so-, I so-, I so- I sold 28 Bi-bi- b-bibles!"

"Great," says the boss. "However, I want you to sell lots more Bibles than that, so get out there tomorrow and MAKE ME SOME MONEY!"

The next day, the first worker comes in and reports, "Today, I sold 32 Bibles."

The second worker reports, "I sold 44 Bibles today."

The third worker reports, "To-to-to t-today, I-i-I so-so, I so-, I sold 79 Bi-bi-bi- sold 79, sold 79 Bibles."

"Fantastic," says the boss. "Since you're doing so much better than these other two losers, why don't you tell them what your sales technique is?"

The worker replies, "I-i-I j-j-j-j-ju-ju-ju-just wa, wa, wa, just wal- wa- wa- walk, just walk up to up to up to just walk up to them and and ask, them and ask, them and ask if th-th-th-th ask if they w-w-w-w-w- wa- ask if they want t-t-t-t-o-o- if they want to b--b-b-b-b if they want to buy a Bi-bi - want to buy a Bi--b--a - a- abi - buy a to buy a Bi-bi-bible, or d-d-d-d-d do th-th-they do they w-w-w-ant me to READ it to 'em?"

Who Art in Heaven

I should say here that writing all this down is a way for me to organise my thoughts - I'm no theologian (as you've probably realised by now), so if I say anything stupid or heretical, please forgive me (and then correct me).

I
often wonder about Heaven. We're given this image as children of angels sitting around on clouds playing harps. I know hundreds of stories and jokes about Heaven as a place (yes, you'll probably hear a few of them if you stick around).

But
more and more over the years, I've come to think of Heaven as more of a state than a physical place. For me, Heaven is a state of pure joy in the presence of the Lord. I think there are times on Earth when we can feel a foretaste of that joy.

And
if Heaven is a state which we can feel here on Earth, if only for fleeting moments and imperfectly, when we say that God is "in" Heaven, does that mean that if we're looking, we can recognise Him in those moments?

I
also have another way of thinking about Heaven. Imagine the unborn child in the womb. All it knows is darkness, warmth and comfort. Occasionally muffled sounds intrude from outside, but in the womb it is cushioned and protected. It receives everything it needs through the umbilical cord. Obviously, at this stage, it's not able to rationalise things as we do, though it is able to feel pain and to be soothed by its mother's voice.

Then
, after it has started to get a bit cramped in its little world, the child is squeezed out into a narrow passage and the cord which has been its only source of sustenance is cut off. It emerges into a world of richness, variety and colour which it could never have imagined, and over the remaining years of its life it grows physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

If
it was able to rationalise the way that we do, I imagine the child in the womb would be terrified when this process of change began, and might even want to stay where it is (as imagined by Bernice Reubens in her excellent novel, Spring Sonata). It has to die to its previous life of dependence on its mother (by the cutting of the cord) before it is able to grow in its new life.

If
we see death as a new birth into a new level of understanding, and Heaven as a new home where our Father is waiting for us, how can we be afraid of dying? We can't imagine or understand what Heaven is like, or what form our new life will take, but we trust in God and know that we must cut the cord with Mother Earth and go on to something far better and richer than we can ever know in this world.

Looking on the bright side

A man travelling through the country stopped at a small roadside fruit stand and bought some apples.

When he mentioned they were awfully small, the farmer replied, "Yup."

The man took a bite of one of the apples and exclaimed, "Ugh! And they taste pretty nasty, too."

"That's right," said the farmer. "Lucky they're small, ain't it?"

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Penguins

OK, I've done quite enough posting for today and was about to go to bed... but look at these cool penguins Simon-Peter has found for me - I especially like the first one.


Our Father


When Jesus was asked how we should pray, He gave us His own prayer. We say it often, and it trips off the tongue - I can say it in three languages without thinking. But that's the thing - this is something that Jesus Himself gave to us. How can I say it without thinking? So over the next few days, I'm really going to be thinking about what the Lord's Prayer means to me.

Jesus taught us to call God our Father. Now, fathers have been getting some bad publicity recently - we hear about "feckless fathers", men who sleep around and leave their partners holding the baby, who don't support their families or provide any sort of role model for their children.

Politicians are beginning to get the message that the lack of a father figure (whether that be their own father or some other male role model) in so many young people's lives puts them at a huge disadvantage and is contributing in many areas to a general lack of respect, growing crime rates and the disintegration of society.

So what is it that a strong father figure gives us? Well, I couldn't even name all the ways in which my own father enriches my life - with his unconditional love and support, his advice and gentle guidance, his total interest in me as a person and his concern for my happiness and safety. When we were little, my mother could make us behave by threatening to tell my father when he got home about what we'd been doing. It was only as I got older that I truly appreciated what a complete softie he was - but the threats still worked, because I desperately wanted not to disappoint him.

My father sometimes says that, for all the sleepless nights and physical effort of looking after a small child's every need, it was easier to look after us as babies and small children than it is now. When a baby or small child cries, you can usually give it what it needs for comfort. When your adult children are in pain, you can't make it better, and I know that every time any of his children have been in difficulty of whatever kind, it has caused my father immense pain.

My father himself is an imperfect human being, but I see in him many of the qualities which lead us to call God our Father - the deep and lasting love, no matter what I do; the sorrow when I disappoint him; the way he feels my pain with me and would do anything to try to ease that pain; the way he leaves the line of communication open but doesn't force himself on me if we've had a disagreement; the way he welcomes me back with open arms when I'm ready.

I'm incredibly lucky to have the earthly father that I do - with all the imperfections he has, he shows me something of what it means to call God my Father.

More wisdom...


First, a variation on yesterday's theme: Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. Teach a person to use the Internet and they won't bother you for weeks. [Too true...]

Some people are like a Slinky... Not really good for anything, but you still can't help but smile when you shove them down the stairs.

The trouble with bucket seats is that not everybody has the same size bucket.

All of us could take a lesson from the weather. It pays no attention to criticism.

No one ever says "It's only a game" when his team is winning.

There are 2 theories to arguing with a woman ... neither works.

The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back in your pocket.

There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves.

If you're riding ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it's still there.

After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you're full of bull, keep your mouth shut.

Standing up to be counted


Mac has a great post today about the totalitarian tendencies of our current government. Well, I was one of the 1.8 million people who received an e-mail from our Great Leader last week, telling us (in a nutshell) that he intended to ignore our concerns about road pricing. My own (more practical and cheaper) suggestions for reducing congestion are for another post, but the idea of forcing every driver in the UK to pay £600 to fit a device in their car which will track and report to some government agency their every movement is frankly scary.

Anyway, like many other people, I was alerted to the fact that the Prime Minister's office now accepts electronic petitions by the huge publicity which the road pricing petition received.

A visit to the petitions website gives you a real insight into British society today, and I find it fascinating to trawl through the various petitions that are there. But the reason for this post is to draw your attention to one petition in particular, which petitions the Prime Minister to "allow adoption agencies the freedom to work according to the dictates of their conscience when finding adoptive parents for children. Also respect that the preference that children be given a home with a mother and father is not anti-homosexual discrimination".

At the time of writing, this petition only has 4,039 signatures, and it is due to close this Thursday (1 March).

By contrast, a petition to abolish all faith schools has over 10,000 signatures, and a petition demanding that the Prime Minister "prohibit discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities on the grounds of sexual orientation for the remainder of the UK at the earliest point possible" has almost 7,000.

You must be a British citizen or resident to sign any petition - let's see if we can get a few more signatures before this one closes. Signing a petition may not make the government change its mind, but at least you can say you're standing up to be counted, and showing that the anti-religion lobby are not such a majority as they like to think they are.

Incidentally, there's also a petition to allow home educators to be free from the interference of Local Education Authorities, which closes on 17 March and currently has 981 signatures.

Monday, 26 February 2007

A very small thing


I mentioned that I have a book of reflections for Lent. Today's scripture is:

"I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me." (Matthew 25:40)

We have a 93-year-old family friend whom I have been meaning to visit for ages. What with the new job, and then the new house, and various other things, I just never got round to it. Then my plans for this weekend were cancelled. I was still planning to watch the rugby, but on the spur of the moment I picked the phone up and asked this lady if I could go and visit her on Saturday.

Well, it was a lovely drive to get there, on a clear road lit by the beautiful spring sunshine. I spent about two hours with her, and did a couple of jobs which took me minutes but will make a huge difference to how easy her daily life is. We went to Saturday evening Mass together, and she proudly introduced me to all her friends as "my nearly niece".

Yesterday evening she phoned me up. Once again, she thanked me profusely for taking time to visit her. One thing she said really struck me: "I went to bed feeling so happy after seeing you." I didn't know whether to feel pleased that at last I'd made her happy, or guilty that I could have done it so much earlier, and so much more often.

Such a small thing I did - just two hours of my time, to visit someone I love but never have enough time for. Our daily lives are so busy, and we're so focused on dealing with the here and now, that weeks and months can pass without us even noticing. Lent gives us an opportunity to stop and think, and maybe sometimes those Lenten reflections help us to choose to do the right thing - that thing we've been putting off for too long.

I did miss the rugby, though - I presume England thrashed Ireland...?

Words of wisdom for the day

Always remember you're unique. Just like everyone else.

If you think nobody cares whether you're alive or dead, try missing a couple of mortgage payments.

Before you criticise someone, you should walk a mile in his or her shoes. That way, when you criticise them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

Some days you are the fly; some days you are the windscreen.

A closed mouth gathers no foot.

Looking at the future




Every year for the last few years, I have been given one of those page-a-day desk calendars for Christmas. I enjoy reading the new page each morning, and never look ahead to see what's coming next. My brother, on the other hand, picks up my calendar whenever he comes round and reads the whole thing from end to end - while I sit there saying, "You shouldn't look at the future. Stop it!"

Well, part of my Lenten reading for this year is a little booklet which has a page for each day of Lent. Each page consists of a gospel verse, a short meditation and a prayer. Each evening, as I read and reflect on the page of the day, I'm tempted to read on and look at the future. One reason I stop myself is that I often feel that the reading and meditation have a particular resonance for me on the particular day in question.

Take Thursday, for instance. I was starting to toy with the idea of starting a blog, which would contain, among other things, musings about my spiritual life. This was how the reading for the day began:

"'When you pray, go to your private room and pray to your Father who is in that secret place.' (Matthew 6:6)

The spiritual life is interior and hidden. God sees what is done in secret. God knows and sees our hearts..."

OK, fair enough, I thought - no blog. But then I was itching to comment on something else, and on Saturday I thought again about starting a blog. The scripture for the day was "Your Father who sees all that is done in secret, he will reward you" (Matthew 6:18). As I drifted off to sleep that night, I resolved to start a diary instead. You know, a nice black pen, a fresh new notebook and my secret thoughts shared only between me, God and the page.

Well, that resolve lasted all of 22 hours! Maybe He was just telling me to keep my blog anonymous...

Sunday, 25 February 2007

Be careful what you ask for

This birth announcement from a local paper (names changed to protect the innocent) made me chuckle:

Jane and John are delighted to announce the birth of James, on 19 February 2007. A big, bouncing brother for Simon, Charlotte and Rachel and grateful thanks to Dr Jones and nursing staff at the Hospital. To all those who prayed for us when we thought we couldn't have children...please stop!

Musings on Lent

What finally prompted me to start blogging was the discussion of Lenten Sundays on Mac's page (ooh, I think I might just have answered my first question!), together with all the other similar pages that are linked to it. I'm of the "Sunday is a day of rejoicing on which you shouldn't fast, and the 40 days of Lent don't include the Sundays" school of thought. I think support for this view comes from the fact that I understand the Orthodox Lent is 8 weeks long, because in the early days of the Orthodox Church neither Saturday nor Sunday was a day of fasting, and extra weekdays had to be added to replace the non-fasting Saturdays.

From what I've read, most priests and commentators are fairly quiet - not to say (at times) wishy-washy - on the subject, a rare few coming down firmly on one side or the other (mostly on the side of excluding Sundays from Lenten observance), while others say something like, "Go for whatever you think, because the way you observe Lent is your own free choice anyway, and you're only obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday". Hmm, cheers for the guidance!

So am I, as some people seem to suggest, less of a Catholic for enjoying a nice meal, and maybe a bit of chocolate and a glass of wine on a Sunday in Lent? Shouldn't I be making it reeeeeeally hard for myself? Am I "copping out" and taking the easy route? Well actually, chaps, you can keep your hair shirts - I'm going to carry on keeping Sunday special and enjoying my celebration of the Lord's Day. (You see how I make my own choice seem like the morally superior one - annoying, isn't it?!)

I was interested to see on one of the sites I looked at last week that "guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offence or causing enmity" are excused from fast and abstinence (and remember, that's on the days when fast and abstinence are definitely required - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday).

Now, my self-imposed Lenten fast is a personal thing which I hope will help deepen my relationship with God through prayer. It's not something that I want to shove down people's throats - when I get the inevitable question, "What are you giving up for Lent?", I just mutter something about alcohol and chocolate - I'm not doing it for them, so why should I boast about it to them?

So there are occasions outside of Sundays when I reluctantly break my fast to avoid causing offence. In fact, there's one coming up this week - the members of my department at work (3 practising Catholics, 2 practising Anglicans and 2 non-Christians) have been given some chocolates, and the head of department (one of the Catholics) has suggested that we share them on St David's Day (none of us being Welsh), as that's a feast day. If I acted all holier than thou and refused to share the chocolates with them, would my continuing fast make me a better person in the eyes of God, or would my taking the supposed moral high ground and making the others feel bad make me a worse person?

I find it comforting that the Church apparently recognises my dilemma, and agrees with me that I'm not "copping out" - far from it, I actually find it more difficult and painful in many ways to break the fast than it would be to act all pious and offend the other person.

As for now, it's Sunday evening and there's a mug of hot chocolate with my name on it...

I finally succumbed

Well, I've been lurking on other people's blogs for the last two or three months, and finally got fed up with not being able to post comments on some of them! It'll probably take me a while to figure out how to work this thing (how do I link to another blog, for instance?), but here goes...