The Uninventor

I treated myself the other week to getting the latest book of short stories by Neil Gaiman, one of my favourite authors, out of the library. He’s a fantastic writer with many clever ideas and stories to tell. One of his greatest talents in my opinion is his ability to have fun with words, to play around with them. For example in one of his books he picks up on London Underground tube station names and speculates what it would be like if we took them literally. Just who is the Baron from Baron’s Court, and what is his court like anyway? Who or what is the knight of Knightsbridge and so on. Brilliant! Trigger Warnings, his new book, is full of such playfulness. In one of the stories he speculates on if you can have inventors, whether you could you have uninventors too? The main character is such a figure and the story tells about how he set out to uninvent all the inventions that have made the world a worse place since he was born (of course it’s foolishness to change the past before you were born, as Back to the Future warned us, all sorts of crazy family implications may occur). You know we were told that there’d be flying cars by now? Well, there were, but he uninvented them – the skies got just too congested. It’s just as if they’d never been!

This got me wondering, what would you uninvent if you could do so? What inventions or fashions do you think have made the world a worse place – serious or flippant, I’d love to know!

An alternative take on this story would be to ask not what you would uninvent but what you would undo. Are there things you’ve seen or heard you wish you hadn’t? Are there things you’ve said or done that you wish you could undo? I’m sure the answer for all of us would be yes despite protestations otherwise, we all have regrets, for all of us there are ‘if onlys’. Of course our regrets have a role in making us the people we are as we work through the consequences; to go back and undo the past would change us and others and maybe not always for the best. Adversary breeds courage, suffering character, and reflection on our wrongs and frailties can make us humble and perhaps a bit more gracious (perhaps taking liberty with Rom. 5:3-4 but I think it’s fair). Like the pearl, sometimes we need trouble to bring out the beauty in us. I think add much as it sounds a wonderful idea, being an undoer sounds far too dangerous to me! My vision and understanding is far too narrow.

Maybe this is where God’s wisdom shines. As Romans tells us, he uses all situations for the good of the believer (Rom. 8:28) – could this also include times when bring suffering on ourselves and others as will as when others are the cause? He forgives and forgets (PS. 103:7-12), whilst leaving us to face and grow through the consequences of our actions under the guidance of his Spirit.

Church Newsletter Article, 17.05.15

Faith on Two Wheels

A few weeks ago I went for a ride with a couple of friends of mine. We hadn’t ridden together before, but had talked frequently about our love of cycling both as a sport to watch and as something to do. After months of saying we must go for a spin together, the alarm clock woke me early on a Saturday (early for me that is – we don’t tend to do early on Saturdays) and I slipped down for a quick breakfast popped on the cycling strip (yes I am a MAMIL – ‘middle aged man in lycra’) and pushed out the bike to meet them. Cycling with someone you’ve never ridden with before involves ground rules, for example, what do you do if one of you is lagging behind? How about hills, do you go your natural paces and then meet at the top, or do you strike up a shared pace and stay together? And maybe the most important question of all, who sets the pace? I consider myself a good cyclist. I’ve cycled all my life, and it’s one of the few sports I have a good physique for with little body weight to drag along, even if the legs look ridiculously skinny beneath the shorts! Agreements made, off we went, and boy was it fun. We did some 30 miles up and down the hills around Essendon, Brickendon and Bayford and were home for a mid-morning cuppa.

I discovered a few things about myself that morning. I might be a good cyclist, but they were better. Whereas I tended to ride at 16mph on the flat, they preferred 20mph, and so I had my work cut out to keep up. I was fine on the flat but towards the end I was struggling on the slopes, and every pot-hole sent my legs to jelly (strange phrase I know, but if you’ve been there you’ll know what I mean!) I kept feeling that I had reached my limit and soon they’d stop noticing I wasn’t there and leave me behind in a crumpled heap on the floor! Fortunately they were gracious and kept stopping for me and I made it around, promising myself that I’d have to put in more practise and pedal harder and faster so that next time we rode I would be able to stay with them. And that is what I’ve done. On the flat 20mph is no longer the test it once was, and the slopes are getting easier. If I keep at it I am sure that next time I will find it comes much more naturally to me.

Our recent Bible notes in James started with Paul’s attitude towards suffering. He wrote, in James 1:2-4, ‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.’ I wonder if in some small way I have found the truth of this on two wheels.

Church newsletter article 25.05.14

Why?

The recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan has shocked everyone around the world – who cannot help but be affected by the horrendous footage we have seen? As a Christian, this inevitably provokes questions. Why does God allow such events? Why does he allow such suffering? In an attempt to help think through these questions, I wrote the following for our church newsletter on Sunday. Inevitably, 500 words is nowhere near enough to explore such a topic thoroughly, but hopefully they may be of help to some.

The images coming from Japan these last couple of weeks have been horrendous. What is happening has hit home in this country in ways that perhaps other disasters haven’t. Perhaps it’s the extent of devastation, perhaps the way we have seen it unfold live on our screens, or perhaps it’s because although culturally quite different, technologically and economically Japan is very similar. This is not happening to some ‘underdeveloped’ country where if they had what we have the effects could have been limited, but its happening to people just like us.

As a Christian, such devastation raises the inevitable question ‘why?’

One response is to say that Creation has in itself an inherent risk. Just as God created people to have freewill with the accompanying risk that we might chose to turn from him, so too the design of the world in such a way as to be suitable for habitation entails the risk of harm. E.g. the ground needs to be hard to offer support, but this entails the risk of hurting us if we fall on it.

Does this mean God didn’t design it well enough? Maybe this is where we need to turn to the unfolding story in Genesis 1-3. The world was created good, but through ‘the Fall’. In Genesis 3:17, God announces to Adam, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you’. In Romans Paul writes that the whole of Creation groans, waiting to ‘be liberated from its bondage to decay’ (Romans 8:21). God never meant these things to happen, disasters are not God’s fault, but the consequences of sin.

Somehow this still doesn’t satisfy. If God is good and loving, why doesn’t he intervene? Surely he could do so! Some say that God doesn’t just refrain from intervening, but in fact sends these disasters as judgements or warnings. I struggle with this; this doesn’t fit my understanding of God’s grace and compassion. He maybe in his right to act this way (here the natural disaster of the flood and Noah’s ark rears its ugly head), but how does this tie in with the revelation of God in Jesus?

So does God idly sit back while such events occur? No. Christ has not come simply to offer the forgiveness of our sins, but also through his life, death, resurrection and one day return, to redeem the whole of Creation. Revelation has the marvellous proclamation ‘See, I am making all things new!’ (Rev. 21:5)

But in the meantime we are left with our questions. Perhaps now is the time not to rush to judgement or to the provision of glib answers, but to stand before God with the people of Japan and cry ‘why?’ – offering lamentation is a Biblical tradition, check out the Psalms – but as in those offered in Scripture let’s find hope in the knowledge that despite circumstances and appearances, our God is a good and loving god who is acting to put things right. This is perhaps the only honest response we can make. Let us also act as a conduit of God’s compassion, offering whatever aid and prayer we can.