Fatherhood, Politics

A-VENGE-ANCE

A few weeks ago I was standing in the kitchen at work chatting to a colleague. I was telling a story about my son and this guy turned to me and said;

“Is he getting into Spider-Man and Avengers and stuff now?”

It turned out his nephew is around the same age and totally obsessed with superheroes. In truth, I hadn’t really thought about it but my son had showed no interest up to that point. He was, at that moment, obsessing over Princess Sofia having just come out of an intense fascination with The Lion Guard, preceded by a combination of PJ Masks and Paw Patrol all served up with an underlying appreciation of the Octonauts.

Batman, Flash, The Incredible Hulk, Tony Stark, Clark Kent and all the rest meant nothing to him. And I was fine with that.

I’m not entirely sure what happened but fast-forward a fortnight and our house is littered with Avengers “stuff”.

At some point, without any intervention from his mum or I, he found out about superheroes. And a couple of visits from grandparents, some well-earned pocket money and an uncle with so much stuff he has two of some of it, have led to an assembling of Avengers hats, t-shirts, toys, figurines and costumes in our home.

It’s all very cute, and, if experience has taught us anything, it may not last long. But right now all he thinks about, talks about, plays about or asks about are superheroes.

It has raised one issue though.

Bad Guys.

I’ve written before about his confusion around bad guys.

Most of his previous favourites may have had a few cheeky characters, someone a little mean-spirited, who made bad decisions or was a bit selfish, but they weren’t bad guys.

This is different now.

Ultron, The Joker, Penguin, Loki, Lex Luther, these are the real deal.

Not people a bit misguided or looking to take too much of the buffet.

These aren’t “Naughty Norman” or “Sweetie” the spoiled pup.

These are proper bad guys.

And it’s obviously playing on his mind.

In fact, more than ever, we’re being asked this question:

“Are they good guys or bad guys?”

Or where there are no obvious villains, we get asked;

“Who are the bad guys in this?”

It’s sort of sad in a way.

Like something has been lost.

Like somehow he’s learnt that the world isn’t all one thing.

Not everyone is on his side.

Not everyone has his back.

We’re trying our best to not over-react. To over-compensate.

The truth he’s learning might be sad, but it is, more sadly, the truth.

Not everyone is on his side.

Not everyone has his back.

But I wonder if this is the moment where we get to help him understand one thing.

To help him try to see the world in a way I struggle to most days.

That not everything in life is split into two camps.

Not every story has bad guys in it.

That not everything in life falls neatly into “good” and “bad”.

Too often we rush past the nuance.

The labels are easier.

What do I think about XXXX?

Well that’s easy, I think YYYY and anyone who thinks ZZZZ is wrong.

In fact, I often rush even further.

They’re not just wrong. They’re so wrong that I can only safely assume that they’re somehow so complicit in their wrongness that they are therefore the villain, the bad guy in this piece.

Think about it.

Politics

Religion

Morality

Science

News

Let’s be more specific.

Brexit

Abortion

The Troubles

Immigration

Trump

Israel / Palestine

…the list goes one.

When was the last time I encountered someone who fundamentally disagreed with me on something important to me, and I didn’t cast them as the bad guy?

I’m not saying there aren’t some clear right and wrongs in some of those things, because there are.

I’m not saying there aren’t some grey areas in some of those things, because there are.

But I wonder how quickly I rush to define myself as the hero, and in turn, cast anyone who thinks differently as the villain?

The bad guys.

Like my son finding a new story to explore, I wonder how often I encounter the world not looking for the agreement, the momentum towards humanity and goodness, but instead fixated on finding the bad guys.

Pointing out the differences.

Marking out the camps.

Seeking out the conflict, not in terms of what, but who.

As I try to teach my son that sometimes there are no bad guys, I wonder if I might be wise to try and learn it myself first.

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Current Events, Faith

THREE QUESTIONS OUTSIDE MCALLEN, TEXAS

The news continues to be dominated by the ongoing disgrace at the US border.

That’s my cards on the table.

I often work hard to not state my position up front. I worry it makes dialogue difficult, that it stunts conversation if I’m too emphatic on my starting point.

But on this occasion I’ll forgo the sensitivity, just so there’s no confusion.

What I’m writing comes from a place of total disgust at how human beings, parents and children are being treated at the US border.

The reports of 2,000 children being held apart from their parents make me feel sick to my stomach.

Knowing how my son feels if he can’t find my wife or I in our own home for just a moment makes my heart ache.

The panic in his voice.

The tears in his eyes.

The fear that those people who love and protect him most in this world might not be right there, or even just in the next room, become so tangible in his being.

The thought of these children, ripped from their parents’ arms not knowing if, or when, they’ll see them again is heartbreaking.

I thought I couldn’t be angrier.

Then American government officials started getting asked about the situation. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said this:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order…Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, when asked about these comments, said this:

“I’m not aware of the attorney general’s comments or what he would be referencing, [but] I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law. That is repeated throughout the Bible.”

I found that my anger had another level.

When I worked for my previous church, my life was spent in the company of other believers.

Meetings would begin and end with prayer.

The language of those interactions would be heavily influenced by religious understanding.

That’s not so much the case these days. I get to work with a broad spectrum of people with a broad spectrum of beliefs and values, it’s probably the bit of my job I love the most.

I love the people I meet and spend time with.

I love finding out more about what inspires them and motivates them.

I love asking questions and I love being asked questions.

And occasionally that means being asked questions about what I believe or whether what I believe means I think a certain way or hold certain views.

I’m always amazed at the damage people of faith have done to our faith. Becoming known for what we’re “against” rather than what we’re “about”.

And so, when the Bible is used like this to justify injustice, to back up discrimination or make excuses for hatred, I’m disgusted.

I could easily have churned out thousands of words in an angry rant, or done the research needed to prove just why Romans 13 has no place in justifying the horror show at the border. Why the Bible has no place in supporting these inhumane and callous actions.

Instead, I was reminded of all the times people have asked me how I can read the Bible and not be “anti-that” or “against whatever” or “them-phobic”.

I was reminded of all the times I’ve sat with people while they told me their own horror stories of how the Bible was used to demean them, to make them feel small or worse.

I was reminded of the damage the Bible has done because of the way it was used by people who should have known better.

And I’ve come up with three questions.

Three questions that can be used any time the Bible is used to try and oppress. Any time the Bible is used to discriminate. Any time the Bible is used to defend the indefensible.

Three questions that can be used when the Bible is being used to back up something that would exclude, put up a wall or close a door to another human being.

Three questions, not to be used in anger, not to catch people out or “win” the argument.

Three questions that might just unlock another conversation, and might just move us on.

Question One 

Is that ALL the Bible has to say about that?

Let’s be clear, in Romans 13, the Bible does condone submitting to earthly authority and obeying the laws of the land. But it’s not all it says about it. 

The “woman caught in adultery” by law could have been stoned to death. 

Healing on the Sabbath was forbidden.

Money changers were allowed to be in the temple courts.

And yet we’re told that Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, dispersed the stone holders, healed the sick no matter what day it was and overturned the tables (criminal damage at best). 

In fact, huge portions of Jesus’ actions and teaching seem to point towards a more subversive way of living.

And this is particularly true when it comes to the well-being of others.

And this is particularly true when those others are the weak, the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed or the under-represented. 

And when the law is unjust or causes harm to those others, it seems that observing it or submitting to it become less important. 

In fact, the pattern of Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, seems to be to follow the law unless it causes harm to those others. 

When you ask someone if that’s all the Bible has to say about that, you find out whether they’re interested in applying the Bible to their lives and world or whether they’ve found a bit that backs them up and are sticking to it. 

Question Two

Is there anything about when or where it was written that might affect that understanding?

Romans 13 is a fascinating bit of the Bible. Who it’s written by, who it’s written to, what it’s written for all adding to our understanding.

There’s too much to unpack, and much smarter people than me have done it better many times, but here’s one thingI think is worth mentioning.

Paul, who is believed to have written the letter, was imprisoned and later believed to have been executed by the state. So either he didn’t believe what he’d written or there were limits to what he’d written. 

Perhaps, like Jesus, who was also executed by the state, he realised that, on the whole, obeying the law is a good thing unless it is clearly unjust or causes harm to others? 

When you ask someone about the context, you find out whether they’re attempting to faithfully explore the text and apply it to this situation or using it as an answer to a question it may not have been asking, or the writer could never have even imagined answering. 

Question Three 

Does it fit the BIGGER picture? 

The Bible is a huge collection of different things. Poetry, history, songs, stories and letters all bound together into what we now think of as a book. 

And when bits of it are ripped out and held up as “truth” or when they’re dragged out of this collection and paraded around as a justification for our thoughts, feelings or actions, then we risk missing the bigger picture.

Or worse still, we can willingly and deliberately rip, drag, hold up and parade the bits that justify our thoughts, feelings or actions, hoping that those listening won’t know about the bigger picture.  

When you ask someone what the bigger picture of the Bible is, you get to know a lot about what they actually believe. Because when we have a clear view of the bigger picture then rather than trying to make decisions and actions based on tiny bits, stray verses or random chapters, we instead find a way to faithfully explore the Bible without losing sight of who and what it’s all about. 

Three questions.

Two thousand children.

One amazing collection of literature that deserves so much better.

Culture, Fatherhood

GREY

We spent a few days back in Northern Ireland last week.

It really is a beautiful place. The people are friendly, the portions are huge and apparently everything now comes with sweet chilli sauce.

It’s always lovely to go “home” and this trip was no exception. It’s become even more important since my son was born. I want to him to know not just where I come from, but to experience it as part of where he comes from.

As we got to the final day, we made sure we’d scheduled a trip to see my nana. It’s hard to describe the influence this woman has had on me over the years. Not only is she someone who makes me feel incredibly loved, but she’s been a huge part of shaping my character and my faith. Some of my most formative experiences, conversations and debates (and boy did we debate) have been in her company. And so going “home” always means spending time with nana.

My son knows already how important she is. This trip was prefaced by a week of him discussing how he was going to make her a cake. And true to his word (and because he is as stubborn as his great-nana) a cake was made and delivered.

As we said our goodbyes and began our drive to the airport, he became agitated in his car seat.

My wife immediately knew something was up and asked him a brilliant question;

“What are you feeling right now?”

His agitation continued as he struggled to articulate it.

“I’ve got too many feelings mummy.”

She held his hand and asked again

“What feelings have you got?”

He explained

“I really miss my bed, but I want to stay here forever.”

And there it was, a moment of tension.

He really wanted to go “home” because that’s where his bed is, that’s where his friends and some of his family are, that’s where his life is.

And yet somehow he wanted to stay at “home” because that’s where some of the most important people in his life are.

It’s a tension anyone who has left “home” or lives far from “home” can nod along with.

A mixture of feelings that we all get from time to time. Perhaps heightened by the months since our last visit, or a realisation that you’re too far away to help/visit/mourn with any regularity or proximity.

And yet, for me, it also reminded me of the tension of the everyday.

That place between two feelings.

That space between two points of view.

It’s become more apparent in recent years with a shift towards referendum.

Two choices.

In or out.

Leave or remain.

Yes or no.

Each choice coming pre-loaded with its own camp.

Its own “home”.

Making a choice needs to be accompanied by complete devotion, unwavering support and an immovable foundation.

The louder the debate, the more entrenched we become. The more our heels get dug in.

We surround ourselves with people like us, that’s a given. But we also look for wins. We hunt out those who disagree, who choose differently, who vote the other way.

We become consumed by the need to have the last word, to make sure our point is heard, all while ignoring the fact that no-one is listening, just preparing their next point (evidenced by the fact we haven’t been listening either).

And somehow my son nails it.

He has the honesty or perhaps the naïveté to just say it.

“I feel two feelings.”

“I want to be in two places.”

“I believe two things.”

In conventional wisdom, one has to contradict and therefore rule out the other, but somehow it doesn’t.

“I want to be here AND I want to be there.”

“I think this is true AND I think that is true.”

“I’m at “home” right now AND yet I long to go “home” right now.

That space where our feelings don’t make sense.

That space where we’re agitated and confused.

That space where all we can be is vulnerable.

As always, I wonder what the world would look like if we approached these things like a four year old.

If we had the courage to dwell a bit more in the grey spaces.

If we had the honesty to step away from certainty, to abandon our megaphones and soapboxes and see where it might lead us.

Maybe, when all is said and done, when we stop to listen, when we acknowledge the space between, it might just lead us home.

Current Events, Fatherhood

WEAPONS OF CHILDISH INSTRUCTION

Two weeks ago during “Man-Time” (see here for an explanation) my son and I were getting ready to leave the house.

I was watching the Prime Minister make a statement on Syria.

He was putting his shoes on.

He hadn’t been watching the news, he had been more interested in not putting his shoes on, but the sudden stop to comply had also given his ears the chance to tune in just in time to hear the Price Minister say the word “weapons”.

“Daddy, why did that lady say weapons?”

A moment of panic as I try, in a few seconds, to figure out what my answer will be.

I take too long.

“Does that lady have weapons?”

I’m stuck in silence. My head is swirling with thoughts and questions.

I’ve taken too long again.

“Why does that lady need weapons?”

I need to say something…anything

“The thing is buddy, that lady is in charge of our country and she has decided that she needed to do something to stop someone who was making bad decisions. And so she decided to use weapons to try and stop him.”

I hope I’ve done enough.

It’s a vain hope that should have been stopped in its tracks by experience.

“Was he a bad guy?”

This is a tough question. I don’t want him to grow up with the idea that people are one thing or another. I see it in a lot of the TV shows he watches, there’s fewer “bad guys” these days and more people who, by the end, have learnt from their mistakes.

I like it.

But how does it work when you’re dealing with the real world. With crime, famine, terrorism, war?

I spent some time explaining the situation as best I could to a four year old. I explained that people had been hurt, and our leader thought she knew who had done it, and so she’d sent planes with weapons to try and get him to stop. To try and destroy the other weapons that were hurting people.

Even as I said it I was wondering if any of it even made sense, to me, let alone a four year old.

He suggested we needed to get some knights with shields to protect the people from the man making bad decisions.

He then demonstrated what he would do if he was a knight.

He then told me when he grew up he was going to protect people and save the world.

I smiled, and told him I didn’t doubt it for a second.

A few days later we were let down by a delivery of tiles from a big DIY chain, I’m not into naming names but if Barry and Quentin are reading this, they need to have a long hard look at themselves.

It had been an error on their part, but with a tiler ready to go and no tiles to get going with, we were feeling up against it.

I phoned the delivery company and they couldn’t do anything. So I phoned the customer service line and tried to get it sorted.

Sadly, the person I was talking to wasn’t in the mood to help.

And even more sadly, I wasn’t in the mood not to be helped.

It wasn’t too long before my tongue got sharper, my responses got shorter and in the end I was reduced to just saying “stop talking” over and over again to try and get them off their script and on the case of delivering some tiles.

My son was sat nearby.

After the call, and with no tiles on the way, I was explaining the situation to my wife.

My son wandered in from the living room.

“Daddy was telling that person off”

We both stopped to look at him.

“Why were you telling that person off daddy?”

I thought I had it covered.

“Well, the thing is, they said they’d deliver some tiles to us and they haven’t done it. And they were being really unhelpful and rude to me on the phone.”

He’s not satisfied.

“Where they being unkind daddy?”

Now I can handle this.

“Yeah I guess so, they weren’t listening and they weren’t trying to help me so yes, they were being unkind?”

His face contorts in the way it does when he’s trying to work something out. He only takes a few seconds.

“Is that why you were unkind to them daddy?”

A moment of silence.

My pride says I was right. And all I need to do is articulate that to him in a way he can grasp and it’ll be okay.

Truth says I need to apologise and thank him for reminding me who I’m meant to be, and who I want him to be, even at this age.

And so I do.

A week later we were looking at a book that has a map of the world in it, after a few moments my son turned to me and said “where’s Syria daddy?”

Turns out he remembered about the planes and wanted to know if the people who had been hurt in the first place where okay now and if the man was making better decisions yet.

It’s amazing what he has the capacity for.

Makes me wonder if we should set a new rule for ourselves.

No matter if our actions have far-reaching consequences or impact only one person.

No matter if our words are heard by millions or just one on the end of a line.

If we can’t explain our words or articulate our actions in ways that a four year old can understand, maybe we should stop and think again.

After all, if the world is anything like my house, they’re the ones we need to be most answerable to.

Culture, Fatherhood

WHAT TIME IS IT?

My brilliant wife has recently started working for a couple of hours every Saturday morning.

It’s meant that my son and I have a few hours each week to hang out which is awesome.

We’ve always called any time it’s just me and him “boy time” but truth be told he’s not always a big fan. This boy loves his mummy and any time not with her is time wasted (he’s a smart kid and I feel the same way about her).

However, this weekly hang out isn’t optional and I’ve been keen to make sure we not only enjoy it when we’re in it, but it becomes something he feels invested in and has a say in.

One of the ways this has been outworked is that we’ve had to change the name.

A month ago we were walking through a garden centre on a Saturday afternoon, we’d had a lovely morning and I was starting to prepare his mind for next week and asking him to start thinking about what he’d like to do for “boy time.”

He stopped and looked at me.

“Daddy, it’s not boy time because you’re not a boy.”

We’re not big on gender stereotypes in our house. He is currently all about having his toenails painted, he often picks the female character to play in imaginary games and he spent a large part of his second year on earth in a Princess Elsa dress. But he knows that I’m a boy and mummy is a girl so I was a little taken aback.

“Well, I am a boy, so why can’t we call it boy time?”

“No daddy, you’re not a boy, you’re a man!”

I knew what was coming next, sadly the couple drinking coffee at the table next to where he’d stopped didn’t.

“So from now on daddy, it’s not boy time – it’s Man Time!”

My son’s words were enough to make the poor bloke next to us nearly choke on his latte.

My son’s dramatic stance, point and hair flick caused the woman to laugh her flat white through her nose.

And so now we have weekly “Man Time.”

It’s a funny idea “Man Time.”

A recent trial back in my homeland has brought the issue of “lads banter” back into the spotlight.

18 months ago it was “locker room talk” many of us hoped would be a step too far to allow a man to be elected.

Whatever it is, it won’t go away.

What’s perhaps most surprising is our acceptance of it as somehow natural or acceptable.

“Boys will be boys” 

“It’s just banter”

“You know what lads are like”

But worse is the idea that it’s somehow something we’re willing to look past if it helps us.

We can look past disgusting messages and attitudes towards women if their sporting skills are praiseworthy or might help our team.

We can look past bragging about sexual assault if their political agenda matches ours.

In fact, it seems we can forgive almost anything said to, thought about, or inflicted upon women as long as the man or men involved have something we want or value.

I’ve noticed something else about this.

Unsurprisingly for me it’s a word thing.

I’ve realised that when we want to play down the masculine ugliness we talk about “boys”. It’s like we want to infantilise them so that their words or actions are somehow a sign of immaturity that can be grown out of. Or we want to imply a kind of innocence or even charm about their, often disgusting, behaviour.

I’ve also realised that when we want to suggest two sides to a story or attempt to discredit the females involved in these things we talk about “girls”. Like somehow we can make them seem a bit silly or like they’re too immature to know what really happened. You’ll see or hear things like “she was just a silly wee girl” or “girls like that”.

As always, words matter.

We need to do more to help men understand the need to take responsibility for their thoughts, their words and their actions.

And we need to do more to help women speak out confidently and without fear.

For me, I’m taking a few hours every weekend with a four year old man in the making.

It’s “man time” but not as we’ve known it.

Faith

DUST TO DUST

We’re entering the third month of some fairly major renovations in our home.

We’ve known from the moment we bought the house that we were going do this work.

We’ve been talking about it for five years.

We’ve been looking at plans, getting permissions, gathering quotes and sorting out the mortgage for 9 months.

We’ve got one of our closest friends overseeing the whole project, we’re in safe and trusted hands and we’re thrilled with how it’s all going.

But nothing prepared us for how we’d feel seeing our beautiful home hammered, bashed, sliced and turned inside out.

Holes appearing where we most and least expected. Places where light had previously been locked out suddenly opened up and ushered in.

In the end, it was the wall into what had been our nursery being bashed down and cut out that made us feel the most.

It wasn’t just that this tiny room had become a symbol of what our family would become over the course of the pregnancy.

It wasn’t just that we’d laid our son there for the first time and then sat studying the baby monitor frozen in parental fear.

It wasn’t any of the firsts that this space has come to represent or remind us of.

It was the dust!

I had no idea that walls were made of dust.

I thought bricks, cement, plasterboard or breeze blocks.

Turns out they’re made of solid dust, that once disturbed permeates and overcomes every inch of life it comes into contact with…or maybe that’s just how it felt.

We’re beyond excited about the house we’re building.

We’re even more excited about the home we’re building.

But right now, in the midst of the destruction, in the middle of the demolition, surrounded by the dust, we’re sometimes not sure if it’s all worth it.

There’s this story in the Bible about a man who gets brought to Jesus. He can’t walk and so he’s actually carried by some friends.

Jesus is at the height of his popularity and he’s teaching in this house with some really important people in attendance and it’s rammed.

So the friends get onto the roof and start digging through. They lower him down into the room in front of Jesus and the story ends with the man walking again.

And then everyone goes home.

Jesus leaves.

The crowd disperses.

And we hear nothing more about the roof of the house, or whoever owned it.

This place and its owner go from hosting the best gathering in town, to being essentially vandalised and abandoned.

We don’t hear anything else about them after that.

We don’t even know whose house it was.

And yet, even if the physical miracle is hard for you to believe. Even if the idea of someone being healed is too much to take. You have to admit, the fact that the story doesn’t end with the homeowner demanding compensation or massively kicking off is essentially a miracle in itself.

Maybe they just left that bit out.

Maybe some of the admin types had to stick around and negotiate a settlement.

Or maybe, just maybe, being a witness to something spectacular made all of it worthwhile.

Maybe in the midst of the incredible act of friendship, the hope of seeing someone given a fresh opportunity, the joy of seeing something really really good, all of the dust was worth it.

I wonder perhaps, if I’m actually serious about making the world a better place, I might need to prepare myself for a bit of mess, destruction and demolition.

Because if you want to build something better, you’ve got to put up with the dust.

Culture, Faith, Fatherhood

WHO’S WATCHING WHO?

A few months ago my son and I were in a local bookshop.

My wife had some quick errands she needed to run and has learned that these will always be run quicker if we are otherwise engaged and a bookshop is a great way to keep us both out of mischief.

After a while our friend walked in with his little girl. He’s not just our friend but also one of our church leaders. We don’t go in hugely for titles, but if you need a frame of reference he’d be called Pastor, Vicar, Reverend or Father in other traditions…we don’t call him any of those things.

It’s always great to bump into friends when we’re out and about, but it’s also a bit annoying as my son starts most days asking who we’re going to see today.

And if the answer is “just mummy and daddy” we’ll get a variety of responses;

“That’s boring”

“Can we not see some friends?”

“I really like it when we see friends”

But the most intriguing response of all is when he looks at you and says;

“No daddy! We’ll see friends today.”

I’m not sure if it’s the sheer confidence of the delivery or the fact that occasionally it’s delivered with a point that makes him look like a life coach from the 90’s that makes it most unnerving.

And so, when we’re out and about and we bump into friends, I’m fairly sure that my initial reaction could lead them to be somewhat confused as to whether I’m pleased to see them or devastated. Because whilst I love the time to connect, I also know that about a foot below me there’s a tiny Tony Robbins giving me a wink and a point.

And at some moment in the day, when I least expect it, he’ll say;

“I told you we’d see friends dad.”

I digress.

I was really pleased to see my friend (even if my face didn’t show it) and as we sat down to chat, the kids were having a great time, colouring in at the little tables and picking out books to read.

After a few moments my friend’s daughter came over and asked him if he’d read a story to her.

He agreed and she went off to pick a book.

She appeared quickly with a large book called “Stories of Jesus” and on handing it to her dad said;

“Daddy, will you read me the sorry about Jesus and the children.”

It was a really beautiful moment. And as she sat on his lap, he opened the book, found the page and began to read.

My son, never to be outdone, came and asked me if I would read him a story.

“Of course, why don’t you go and choose one.”

At this point I’d love to tell you that I sent him on his way without hope or agenda.

But, something in me had pinged and having clocked where my friend’s daughter had picked her book from I motioned towards it…actually, I think I probably waved towards it like a man trying to bring an aircraft into land at sea, whilst blinking at a shelf like someone trying to communicate via morse code…but I can’t be sure.

He, of course, paid no attention to my subtle hints and wandered off to choose.

A few moments later he returned and in his tiny hands he carried

“The Mr Men Halloween Special.” A Spooky Spectacular, complete with ghosts, vampires and other brilliant drawings on the front.

I heard a story recently about a famous sports coach. This guy is globally at the top of his game.

He was asked about the importance of culture at the places he’d coached, the athletes he’d got the best from, the teams he’d led, and he said this;

“Most people think culture is the way we do things round here. But that’s not quite true. Culture is the way we do things around here, when no-one’s looking.”

I wonder what would have happened if it had been me sent to pick a book that day?

I wonder if I’d have been bound up in trying to pick “the right one”?

Something that made me look smart, well read and cultured…but not something that looked like I was trying too hard.

Something that spoke to my depth…but didn’t make me look too detached or academic.

I wonder, in reality, if I’d have been able to pick one at all. Or if I’d just have wandered around in circles trying to choose.

That’s what I love about our kids. They don’t seem to care.

My friend’s daughter no more picked a book about Jesus to impress me, than my son picked a book about Halloween to make a point about the way we pick and choose Pagan celebrations to honour in 21st century Christianity.

They walked up to shelves and picked up the books they wanted their dads to read to them.

On another day, my friend’s daughter might walk past “The Stories of Jesus” and might pick up “The Gruffalo”, or “Nobot: The Robot with No Bottom.”

And my son might pick up…well actually we both really enjoyed the Mr Men Halloween Spectacular so he might pick it up again.

Because they’re not putting on a show. And they’re not making different choices when others are watching to when no-one is watching.

And that makes me wonder if I might be able to learn a thing or dozen from them.

It’s funny actually, that story my friend’s daughter so beautifully asked for is told in the Bible.

It’s about this time when Jesus is amongst a crowd and some parents with their kids are trying to get to him.

I get the feeling Jesus was one of those people that kids just loved being around. They’re fun and funny, full of life and energy. And kids somehow know they’re safe.

His followers start acting like bouncers. They’re stopping people getting to him.

And Jesus is irate!

He not only welcomes the children to him, but he tells his followers that if they can’t start to understand who he is, what he’s about and approach life with the simplicity of a child, they’ll never get it. And they’ll never get to experience life in all its fullness.*

And I wonder if that outburst doesn’t ring true today.

Not just to followers of a certain religion or people who are trying to follow a certain set of beliefs.

But to all of us.

That if we can’t approach life with the simplicity of a child.

If we can’t get over our need to be “seen” or to “get it right” in public, then somehow we’re missing out on something.

Maybe missing out on everything.

Because when no-one’s watching, we find out who we are.

When no-one’s watching, we allow ourselves the opportunity to be all we can be.

And, when no-one’s watching, we can make our choice, get comfy, and start a brilliant, new story.

 

 

*I appreciate my re-telling and interpretation of that story may cause some people of faith concern. You’re welcome to talk to me about it.