Stand up to ridicule

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I actually don’t like being the centre of attention. I feel really self conscious when everyone is looking at me or listening to me. I always assume that everyone is looking or listening and rolling their eyes at me being a total idiot (yes, slight self-esteem issues). If I receive compliments then I don’t know how to react, beyond saying thanks, of course. I feel quite comfortable sitting at the back of a room or in a quiet corner and, as Jonah Lewie sang, you’ll always find me in the kitchen at parties.

So, why do I always speak out in meetings? Why am I always cracking jokes in public places? Why do I write this blog? Why do I do amateur dramatics, taking principal roles in musicals? Why am I applying to be a reader in the Church of Scotland? Why do I train groups of people as part of my job?

And why, in the name of everything on this Earth which makes sense plus most of those which don’t, when my wife asked me what I want for my birthday did I say that I wanted to do a two day course on stand-up comedy at the Edinburgh Festival? Seriously! I could have asked for anything; theatre tickets, a telescope, a new car… ok, not the car. But why did I ask for that?

My joke telling skills are legendary. Legendarily bad. Well, the jokes are legendarily bad, anyway. King of the crap one-liners and poor puns, I’m actually well known for it among friends and work colleagues. I don’t think I’m particularly funny and neither does anyone else.

I hear about comedians dying on stage, where it goes so badly that even the tumbleweed won’t roll across the stage as it doesn’t want the shame of being associated with the act. This is how I imagine things will go for me, only I will literally die on stage. 90 seconds into my set a shared insanity will grip the audience and they will rise as one, tearing my body apart as I attempt to make jokes about being “armless”, “not having a leg to stand on” and “have a heart, oh, I see you already have mine”. At the subsequent trial for murder the judge will ask what the audience’s defence is and they will produce a video of my set. The judge will free them immediately to a heroes’ welcome. Meanwhile, my family will have been forced to change their identity and emigrate to Peru to avoid the public humiliation.

And breathe…

Ok, maybe not that bad, but why does a guy with no experience, who doesn’t actually like the limelight, who doesn’t even think he’s funny and who suffers from anxiety want to put himself through possibly the scariest form of public performance there is? Because I really want to give it a bash. I don’t know why, but I’ve always fancied giving it a go. Just the once, I don’t want to suddenly change careers, but it just looks like really good fun. I intend to have a laugh learning some of the skills of stand-up and actually trying to perform it, even if it turns out that nobody else is laughing.

I think the reason I do all of this is twofold. Firstly, there’s a real adrenaline rush and sense of achievement involved. You get a buzz which is better than any drug (not that I have any experience in that area) which seems to grow the scarier the setting.

Secondly, I think it’s some sort of defence mechanism against my low self-esteem. It’s not a cry for acceptance, I would choose stuff which would leave me less open for criticism if that were the case. If, however, I throw myself into stuff like this then it stops me sitting quietly, moping about how useless I am. Instead, I give my mind something else to focus on which, because I’m doing it publicly, I have to focus on completely, without drifting into distractions.

So, one weekend in August, just after the 20th anniversary of my 21st birthday (that’s how I’m choosing to market my birthday this year) I will go on a two day stand-up course and perform to a group of strangers.

I’d better get my will sorted out.

Shout for peace

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The children of Gaza I Channel 4 News

A question. How many of you pay tax in a Western country, especially the UK or USA? How many of you care enough about where those tax pounds or dollars or euros go that it sways your vote? Or it sways you opinion on subjects like welfare, health care, education, immigration or many other issues? How many of you have actually used the argument “I don’t want my taxes being spent on that”?

Your taxes are being spent in defending Israel from Hamas rockets. This is a good thing, it is undoubtedly saving lives in the face of an aggressor which needs to cease violence immediately.

However, do you see the video I linked to at the top of this post? Your taxes paid for that, too. The support western governments give to Israel allow them to fire rockets into Gaza, killing innocent men, women and children. We help to pay for young foot soldiers to go into Gaza and put themselves in the line of Hamas guns. We pay towards the violence and mistreatment towards Palestinians which has led to the election of a group such as Hamas as their leaders, escalating this situation to what it is now.

We live in a society which complains at our money going to those who, for whatever reason,, are not working and get angry when we see them with an iPhone,  but we say nothing when atrocities like those in Gaza are carried out with the help of our money.

No more!

We must start to put pressure on our political leaders to take on those causing the violence in Gaza and Israel and stop giving them financial aid. We must tell them that if all world governments were firm in their resolve that both Hamas and the Israeli government should cease hostilities of all form then we may, finally see a way forward.

We can no longer allow our leaders to excuse the actions of the Israelis by simply labelling Hamas as terrorists. Neither of them are acting with regard for peace and humanity. Both authorities are responsible for misery and suffering.

The arguments about whether Hamas are using human shields or not are pointless. Either they aren’t and Israel are indiscriminately bombing and killing innocent civilians, or they are and Israel are bombing targets knowing that they are killing innocent civilians. Neither are excusable. Neither, in a conflict between two religions from the same origin, are the will of God.

“I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me. And I am willing to die for them.  There are other sheep which belong to me that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them, too; they will listen to my voice, and they will become  one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16 GNB)

We are called to be one people. One flock with one shepherd. This is what we should be working towards. I’ve read about “evicting” Hamas or military action against Israel. Neither of these can serve to do anything except drive a wedge between Jews and Muslims even deeper and cause further animosity towards the west.

The time has come for us, as one voice, to call for peace and to back it up with actions. We need to stop paying for war and misery. We have done that in Israel and look what’s happening there. We have done that in Syria and Iraq and ISIS are reaping the benefits and are driving out and killing all of their opponents from their self imposed Caliphate.

Join demonstrations. Spread information. Contact your elected representatives. Do what you can, but we must stop this and stop it now.

Bad caretakers

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This World is beautiful. I mean, not just quite pretty, but absolutely mind-blowingly, outstandingly, breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful to the extent that, sometimes, all you can do is stand and stare in sheer awe.

I took the photograph above on the Isle of Arran, just off the west coast of Scotland. It’s an island which has been given the moniker of “Scotland in miniature”, mainly because it has flat(ish) rolling fields in the south and rocky mountains in the north, caused by it lying on the Highland fault line which runs through the mainland. It is home to beautiful trees, wild flowers, seals, deer, red squirrel, golden eagle and so many other flora and fauna that you could spend weeks looking at it.

I only spent one day on the island, but also visited the Isles of Bute and Greater Cumbrae, as well as several west coast towns in mainland Scotland, all with their own unique character and quirks. That was just five days in a very small area of a very small country on a planet containing over 300 countries and 7 billion people. From the Himalayas to the Grand Canon, the desolation of Antarctica to the crowded Amazon, there is so much beauty and wonder on this Earth that you could live for over 100 years and still only be able to experience a fraction of it.

Sadly, there is one blot on God’s amazing creation. One factor bringing destruction, desolation, pollution, division, pain and death.

Human beings.

I recently read this post about the awful situations in places such as Mosul, Israel/Palestine and Ukraine. Places where those kids in the school playground who fought every lunchtime, using the excuse “but he started it” have failed to progress from their childhoods, but now have control of media and military and are dragging as many innocent bystanders into their fights as possible, with painful, deadly consequences. Humanity is forgotten and old, man-made artificial divides and selfish motivations become the important things.

Nations and businesses are built on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised. The Earth’s resources are stripped bare in the search for money and power. Natural habitats are destroyed and animals are forced into endangerment and extinction due to the greed of those who then destroy economies, tearing lives apart, pushing the poor further into poverty, seeing the vulnerable blamed whilst those responsible and in charge get off scot free. We accept and encourage hatred of the poorest and most vulnerable, but accept the myth that the rich can’t be punished for fear that they’ll all pick up their ball and run away.

Our atmosphere is being poisoned by burning fossil fuels and belching noxious gases into it in the name of progress, yet we let ourselves be taken in by journalists and politicians who have vested interests in big industry telling us that man-made climate change is a myth. Even if we believe that it isn’t, we sleepwalk towards destruction through apathy, laziness, materialism and greed.

Animals are raised in the harshest and most desperate of conditions in order to feed the richest for as little money as possible. Cattle, fowl and others crammed into barns with no room to move or lay down so that as much food can be produced as possible in as little time as possible and for as much profit as possible. A miserable existence, whose only relief is the violent death which will come at an abattoir.

“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened. Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:26-31 NLT)

The part of God’s creation made in his image, the part made to reign over the Earth and all of its animals and plants, is the part which is destroying it. I don’t subscribe to the view that the creation story in Genesis is a literal account, but I do believe that it is an accurate portrayal of God’s purpose for humanity on Earth. We are his gardeners, curators, groundskeepers and caretakers. We have dominion, as some translations put it, over the Earth, but that comes with a responsibility. A responsibility of care and of love for all of God’s creation, not just those in which we have a vested interest. We have neglected that responsibility, either directly or indirectly. Most of us don’t cause this destruction and hatred, but we stand idly by and allow it to happen. We encourage it. We get sucked in by it. We live our lives expecting and wanting it.

The thing is, it’s become so difficult to know what to do about it. I’m not going to give you an answer, because I don’t have one. However, at the very least we need to stand up to hatred, speak out against injustice and the destruction of our planet, seek ethically produced food and clothes.

And pray. Pray for change, for forgiveness, for strength, for guidance. We live in a world which has turned it’s back on God, especially many of those claiming to fight in his name. So much has replaced God in people’s lives; money, power, fame, belongings, sex and, yes, religion.

We need God and the peace he brings, rather than the wars that many think he wants.

We need God and the guidance he gives, not the selfish desires of man which many think will set you free.

We need God and the grace that he gives, because we don’t deserve him. But he still wants us to return to him and be the custodians we were created to be.

We need God.

A prayer for today

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What is wrong with us?

You get on a plane in Amsterdam and find yourself blasted out of the sky by people fighting over artificial borders due to artificially created nationalities which have nothing to do with you.

What is wrong with us?

Groups of people whose only real difference is how they choose to worship God can’t live alongside each other and can’t even live in close proximity to each other without chucking rockets at each other and killing hundreds of innocent people.

What is wrong with us?

Arguments over who should run countries become so violent that torture, starvation, rape and murder become a way of life. Men, women and children are treated with unfathomable brutality simply because of their home town, name or political thought.

What is wrong with us?

We treat the vulnerable, disabled, poor and stranger with derision and suspicion. We think they’re taking from us and that it’s no longer our priority to help them.

What is wrong with us?

Rather than seriously look for solutions, our leaders search for blame, recriminations, excuses, scapegoats and some sort of advantage. They play games and inject complications into situations which require simple humanity.

What is wrong with us?

The rich and big business are protected in ways that normal people can only dream of, yet we continue to let them get away with it.

What is wrong with us?

More people know and care about the private lives of people who are famous for nothing than know about the man-made suffering throughout the world.

What is wrong with us?

Lord, forgive us!

Help us choose love over hate.

Life over death.

Good over evil.

Compassion over selfishness.

Action over apathy.

Humanity over inhumanity.

Reconciliation over division.

Compromise over conflict.

Your grace over our arrogance.

Help us.

Guide us.

Heal us.

Forgive us.

Your children are crying out. Please hear us.

Amen.

What I want to do when I grow up.

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A pilot.

A professional footballer.

A psychologist.

A teacher.

A TV presenter.

An estate agent.

A hypnotherapist.

A Ghostbuster.

An inventor.

A stand-up comedian.

A photographer.

A journalist.

Many and varied things, none of which remotely relate to what I do for a job now.

But you make do. You plug on. You grin and bear it.

I don’t hate my job. I rather like it on some days.

On others I really don’t.

But it’s a job and, especially at these times, I’m glad to have one.

Sometimes I come home from work satisfied that I did a good thing that day. Sometimes I forget about my day before I’m even out the door. Sometimes I’m so stressed and anxious that it all spills out in a torrent as soon as I get home.

Today was the latter. Today was because of me. Because it’s been a day where my anxiety claimed a small victory and I allowed it to define my day and myself.

But I won’t let it win. I won’t let anxiety and depression be the defining aspects of my personality. There are too many good things in my life for those two destructive forces to beat me.

“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Colossians 3:23 NLT)

So, this is what I’ll do. There is more to me than my job. More to me than the depressed and anxious me.

I wish I felt that more often, but I will not let it win.

Late night, big picture.

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As I write this it’s 1.40am and I can’t sleep. So, as you do, I decided to do a little bit of light reading to while away the sleepless hours. In this case I read the jolly tale of bloodshed and genocide which is the book of Joshua.

Well, I actually only read the first two chapters. No bloodshed or genocide yet, but it’s clearly on its way.

There’s an awful lot of violent, nationalistic language here. You know, the type of thing regularly used to denounce the Bible and religion itself as backwards and a force for evil. There’s lots of talk of fighting and taking of land in God’s name. There’s talk of blood being shed and striking fear and dread into other nations. There’s talk of destroying kings. Lovely, lighthearted stuff for a late night, insomnia driven read.

Now, I’m no biblical historian. I am looking to do some theological training very soon, so I hope to put that right. However, it seems to me that this stuff, if looked at through the eyes of the readers it was aimed at rather than 21st Century eyes, would not appear in the least bit barbaric. I can’t say for certain, though, which is why I want to learn more.

However, it does look, when read as part of a much wider narrative, to be a bit easier to swallow than we may imagine.

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:7-9 NIV)

God’s promise to go with the Israelites relied on them following his law, living it every second of every day. Their success in battle, in winning land and nations, depends on their ability to live within God’s law as given to Moses. As time goes on, however, this changes from laying waste to other nations into prosperity and peace for themselves and between Israel and other nations. They move on, they grow up as they learn more and more about the very nature of God.

Finally, the law which they struggle so hard to live with, which is such an impossible burden for the Jews, is fulfilled in Jesus. In Jesus we finally go from conquering nations by force to conquering hearts with God’s grace. It’s no longer about a chosen people and military might, but God has fully revealed himself and shown that his Kingdom on earth is won by his word and people living under the new covenant. Hearts, minds and souls have become the objects to win for God, not military and political domination.

In God’s command to Joshua we see something which appears unpalatable to our eyes, but is near the start of a journey which sees him move his people away from the usual way of barbaric warfare to one where all people can be reconciled through him. It seems unpalatable to us because it’s unpalatable to God, but he’s moving his people forward, step by step, to peace, love and grace.

Sadly, this has been lost by many who feel that literal translation is the way to look at these things. Fundamental believers from Crusaders in the Middle Ages to many on the Christian Right in America (and a few in the UK too) seem to think that conquering military forces, destroying the bastions of “heathen” religions and setting up systems more acceptable to Christian (or a Western version of it) sensibilities.

On the flip side of the coin there are those who use verses like this to attack religion. They say that it demonstrates a bloodthirsty, psychopathic God and his sheep like followers being a danger to society as a whole and a cancer on the Earth.

Both of these views misrepresent the nature and law of God. They say that you can’t know where you’re going until you understand where you’ve come from. That’s what stories like Joshua do, they show a developing understanding and relationship with God. They show the start of the revelation of his true nature, which points to and culminates in Jesus. They show our own journey from people lost and blind to those found and sighted by his amazing grace. They are just the beginning, not the whole story.

God’s story is far bigger than one moment in history. It’s far bigger than one book of the Bible. It’s bigger than the Bible itself. Unless we try to see as much of the story as we can we run the risk of reading individual parts badly wrong and acting in ways which he never means us to. But when we try to look at the bigger picture we are constantly amazed by his love and patience for us and for all of his people.

A short open letter to people of all religious persuasions.

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If you are an adherent to one of the World’s major religions I have one simple request.

Please stop killing people.

Especially in the name of your religion.

I don’t care whether a person or group of people have insulted your God or major prophet.

Please stop killing people.

I’m sorry if people of your religion are being persecuted, tortured or murdered in countries around the world. It’s a truly awful thing to happen and we need to stop it. Reacting in kind, however, just makes things worse. So…

Please stop killing people.

I know some of you live in very complicated situations. Many historical arguments over land, particularly holy land, have led to animosity, hatred and extreme conflict. Do you know what may be a good first step to solving these situations?

Please stop killing people.

I know you may be incredibly zealous about your faith. You cannot understand why there are people who don’t share your beliefs or values. You are frustrated that some see openly hostile to your religion. You feel compelled to do something about it. But, if you want to win hearts and minds…

Please stop killing people.

You may feel that your way of life is under attack by people with extremist views, determined to force their ways on everyone else through violence. They recruit followers by looking at how you treat the adherents of their religion around the world, saying they are the true victims and building sympathy from normally reasonable people. Guess what may help there?

Please stop killing people.

I don’t care if you are a Christian, Jews,  Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, Zoroastrian, Taoist, Satanist or any other-ist. I don’t care how literally you interpret your holy book. I don’t care how much you hate the beliefs of people of other religions. I don’t care what anger, hurt, text, argument, disagreement, injustice, historical claim, war crime or wrongdoing you use to justify your acts. It is so much easier not to kill someone than it is to kill someone. I’m not killing someone right now. I haven’t killed anyone all day, or year, or for my whole life. It’s easy.

I have faith in God. I see text in the Bible about people killing in God’s name. I see Christians being persecuted worldwide. I don’t,  however, kill people.

So please, I beg you, in the name of whatever God or gods you pray to.

Please.

Stop.

Killing.

People.