Archive for the ‘Everyday Life’ Category

Rainbow in the fountain

September 10, 2012

There’s a fountain near my work, and one day – a year or so ago – I saw this beautiful rainbow reflected in it as I walked past. I’ve never seen it since, but last week, as I was passing on a lovely sunny day, I decided to walk carefully around it and try my best to find the rainbow again. I did find it – photo below (snapped on my mobile). It’s not as good a rainbow as the one I saw by accident a year ago, but it does at least show that if you pass a fountain on a sunny day and try enough viewing angles you have a reasonable chance of finding a rainbow in it!

Regarding the photo, I focussed into the distance in an attempt to make the rainbow clearer  – didn’t work brilliantly but that is why the rest of the photo is not particularly in focus – this was deliberate.

A rainbow in the fountain


June 6, 2012

 Many, if not most, people want their lives to count for something – they want to be significant. This can be in many spheres. At work we want responsibility, to have a higher profile role in whichever organisation we may work for. We want what we do in our work to last in some way and to make a name for ourselves which will last longer than we will. Others care more that their lives are significant to their friends and family, knowing that there are some around them whose lives are enhanced because they are there.

When those things which we hope / trust in to bring significance fail, then it’s tough going. Maybe it’s reaching an age – often somewhere around my own – when you start to suspect that you’re not going to achieve anything world changing after all. Or if family or friends reject or disappoint you, you realise that trusting your desire to be significant on those around you can be a shaky enterprise.

Contemplating the universe also makes it hard to feel significant – the earth is just one planet orbiting one star in a vast universe with an incomprehensibly large number of stars. And what’s one creature among many billions that live there? The eminent mathematician and physicist, Stephen Hawking is quoted as having said

‘We are such insignificant creatures on a minor planet of a very average star in the outer suburbs of one of a hundred billion galaxies. So it is difficult to believe in a God that would care about us or even notice our existence.’

Such reasoning makes sense– but it’s wrong. The staggering thing is that we are significant to God, he does care about us. This struck me recently as I was reading the book of Jonah. See my thoughts on Jonah for more details, but basically although it’s full of dramatic elements with a whale and a city full of ‘evil’ people deciding to change, the majority of the book really describes God taking time (and going to great lengths) to impact Jonah’s life, to change his attitude and to teach him an important lesson – that God cares about people, even those who seem not to deserve it. He cares about the cities of people, and also about each individual like Jonah.

If we are significant to God we know it’s not going to be because of something extra-special that we’ve done. Perhaps we don’t want the sort of ‘significance’ that depends on someone else being great (God), rather than us. But can there be any greater significance than that the God of the universe cares about us? And because it depends on God, not us, this significance will last.

Mea Culpa

September 27, 2011

There’s a lot of blame around at the moment.

At the UK Labour party conference yesterday, the shadow chancellor – while admitting that their party had made mistakes – insisted that Labour wasn’t to blame for the current financial challenges, saying that it wasn’t “public spending on public services here in Britain which caused the global financial crisis.” Trying to avoid political bias, I can point out that the blame game occurs on all sides of the political spectrum – so the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats equally insist that the current hardship caused by public spending cuts is not their fault, but the consequence of the public debt that they inherited.

Trying to pin the blame on someone for the current financial crisis will also lead you in circles – was it the reckless bankers, the politicians who were reluctant to regulate, the failure to provide adequate safeguards when the European single currency was set up, the addiction to debt of us all? The one answer you are unlikely to get – no matter who you ask – is ‘Mea Culpa!’

People are willing to admit that they are not perfect, they have made mistakes, they must put their hand up for some of the things that have happened: but on the big issues, the ones most under consideration, they are really not to blame.

I’m not aiming to denigrate politicians here. I may be naive, but I think that the past Labour government followed a policy of relatively high public spending to boost the economy during financial turmoil because they sincerely believed that was the best course of action for the country as a whole. Likewise I believe that the current government is following a course of fairly severe public sector spending cuts because they also sincerely believe that this is the best and wisest policy in the current circumstances. In a similar vein, I suspect that most of the individuals that authorised the bank loans which ultimately put banks in financial difficulties, did so believing that debts would be repaid and the loans were a good thing for their employers. And when we go it into debt, most of us do so in the confidence that we will repay those debts before long.

Just after Jesus healed a blind man he said:

“For judgment I have come into this world, so that those who do not see may gain their sight, and the ones who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and asked him, “We are not blind too, are we?” Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now because you claim that you can see, your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41, NET)

The truth is that knowing the best course of action for a country in the complex world of interdependent economies and unpredictable market forces, is beyond any human’s ability to fathom. Any individual’s views will always be swayed by their limited and one-sided experiences and perspectives. Even in a larger group, the collective perspective will always be biased. In such circumstances we should recognise that we don’t really know what is best, that we need the help and advice of many others and that even with the best advice and soundest judgment the decisions made will undoubtedly prove to be at least partly wrong.

And this is no less true in the equally complex sphere of everyday life. We have limited understanding, experiences and, no matter how hard we try, are most likely to see things best from our own perspective, rather than that of others. We need help in life.

The guilt of the Pharisees lay, at least in part, in their unwillingness to recognise their own blindness, their unwillingness to listen to a different understanding of what was true, and to acknowledge that they had been far more ready to judge than to help this man in need. For us, we too should recognise that we are ‘blind’, that we are often to blame, and that we need the help and advice of others as we go through life. And supremely we need the wisdom, guidance and teaching of the God who does see all perspectives, is not tainted by bias, and does know the best way forwards in a complex and confusing world, even if that way forward is not the one we want to hear.

Sadly though, the tendency is to assert our own independence, our own ability to determine what is best for us, and to insist that we see quite well enough thank you. So our guilt remains.

Changing reflections

January 11, 2011
Icy lake at Blenheim Palace

Icy lake at Blenheim Palace

2011 has arrived, and the start of a new year is often an appropriate time to reflect over the past one. 2010 was a year of change for us as a family. I changed job half way through the year. A few months later we moved house and have been working our way through all the tasks that this entails since then. We’ve had other, sadder and harder changes to come to terms with this last year too.

Too much change brings stress and exhaustion. I don’t think that this is good for you(!) – but I’ve known something of this reality over the last year. However change also brings us the chance to learn new things, to develop and grow.

To give a trivial example. Our new house – the second we’ve bought – was also the second house that we’ve moved into with a broken letterbox in the front door. This had been fixed by the previous owners using glue but in time the fix came apart and the front plate came off – much like it had in our last house after I’d glued that! In our old house we eventually got a door repair company to come and change it. This time I was more adventurous and decided to try and fix it myself. I learned that actually this was very easy to do, that the mainstream DIY stores do not tend to stock replacement letter boxes for doors like ours, but that your can buy replacement letter boxes of all shapes and sizs on ebay! We now have a nice shiny new letter box on our door. It also cost rather less to fix this myself, than it does to pay for someone else to do it.

I would hope that learning to fix uPVC door letter boxes has not been the most profound thing that I’ve learned through the changes of last year. While changes can be uncomfortable, life would be much less rich without the challenges of new circumstances to face. A school that gave the same lessons each day would not be one to recommend.

Change while not always nice is often good for us.

…  a bit less change in 2011 would be nice though.

For everything there is an appointed time, and an appropriate time for every activity on earth… (Ecclesiastes 3:1. NET)

Christ at Christmas

December 25, 2008

Well I managed the third of my three series of Christmas posts before Christmas is over – even if the last of these is on Christmas day itself!

It’s an appropriate day to write it however, for my third aspect of Christmas is that as well as being a busy time, and a time of celebration, Christmas for me is primarily about Jesus Christ who came from heaven to earth. This is I hope the most important focus for many others too – and Christmas day is the day on which we remember this tremendous happening.

It’s hard to write any new thoughts on this – after all the Christmas story is pretty familiar even to those who rarely venture to church. Even my two year old daughter is familiar with the fact the we remember baby Jesus being born at Christmas – even if it’s the Tweenies’ version that she remembers best!

It’s also hard to find time to think about this aspect of Christmas amidst all the busyness, the travelling, the presents, the time with family too. Writing this blog today is in some way providing an opportunity for me to give time to think about it.

As well as familiar, and hard to give time to, the fact that 2000 or so years ago, a baby Jesus was born in fairly poor circumstances is also mind blowing – because of just who that baby was and is. I know that this baby was the son of God – the one who had seen (and was responsible for) the whole universe come into being, sees (and is responsible for) all the life we see teeming around us – suddenly was looking out on the world from a feeding trough, with baby’s eyes and a baby’s limitations. It’s not something we will ever properly get our minds around.

I know that I find changes difficult and I have to give time to adjust to changes in life and surroundings. The bigger the change the more difficult it is to get used to. If you are raised in one culture and then move to live in another, if you’re being honest, you have to recognise that there might be some aspects of living in that other culture that you will never really be able to cope with. You may never truly be able to live like a native.

This was, for Christ, a cultural change bigger than any we will ever face. That he loved us enough to come here is amazing.

Happy Christmas.

Celebration at Christmas

December 18, 2008

I went into town today to buy a few last items needed for Christmas presents. Oxford city was, as usual in December, decked out with an array of different lights hanging over the streets, a Christmas tree (which didn’t have any working light on – a bit odd!) and so forth. The streets were buzzing as it was late night shopping. The stores were full of Christmas music …

I guess that for most people in the UK, Christmas for them is the biggest festival, and time of celebration, of the year. A time for parties, a long holiday, relaxing, spending time with family and friends, lights and decorations, presents and gifts, Santa and TV.

For me, neither trees nor Christmas lights, nor the all-too-familiar music are at the heart of what Christmas is about. I have some big problems too with the intense consmerism that surrounds Christmas, where stockings are less something in which you put a cherished gift or two, but rather something which needs to be ‘filled’ with imaginative, and completely unnecessary, novelties.

Having said this, however, I do still love Christmas the festival and time of celebration. Winter in the UK can be a somewhat bleak time, with dark days and limited sunshine, the cold setting in and the knowledge that it will be several months before things get warmer again. At this time the lights and festivities can really cheer things up. There’s one street near to where we live where quite a few houses are completely covered on the outside with flashing Christmas decorations. While I wouldn’t dream of having them on my own house, they are interesting and cheerful, and my daughter loves it when we drive past and she can admire them – so, to be honest, do I!

So while this all may not be at the heart of Christmas, Christmas time is still for me a time of celebration and festivity – and it’s good to enjoy it!

Crazy Christmas

December 8, 2008

One of the most obvious things about Christmas is that it’s a bit of a crazy time to say the least. In particular, it’s always busy. Maybe one of the reasons that most of us (Brits at least) have a long holiday between Christmas and New Year is that we need it to recover from the hectic rush which makes up life before (and sometimes during) the holiday itself.

There are the Christmas cards to write (I confess we won’t be sending many this year – mostly just emailed Christmas greetings!) and the presents to buy (hooray for Amazon, Ebay etc.). The house needs decorating and we try and fit in a trip to see the Christmas lights in town. The Chrismas holiday itself is usally spent with families – which is nice – but this means lots of travlling – more busyness.

Then, as a Christian there’s usually lots going on at church – we have our first carol service this weekend, and another the week afterwards, plus carol singing and so forth.

And with the long break at work there’s all that needs to be done in readiness for the shut down – and all the things you want to get done before the break makes you forget what it is you’re doing.

Is it meant to be this crazy?

Christmas is coming …

December 8, 2008

… and far quicker than I feel ready for! The last few days I’ve been thinking about what Christmas means for me, a Christian, a Dad, a Brit.

In reality Christmas has a variety of different meanings, and impacts life in many ways. I’ve decided to write a series of (probably 3, maybe more, but hopefully at least 3) blog articles about some of these aspects of Christmas in the coming two and a half weeks. Watch this space!

Making waves

October 23, 2008

… well maybe just watching them. We recently went on holiday to Swanage in the south of the UK. It’s a great place to holiday with small children and is on the coast – always a good thing (especially for someone who always seems to live in places about as far away from the sea as you can get in the UK!) I love watching the sea – and managed to get this photo of a wave breaking which I thought I’d share with you.

Hope you like it!

Breaking Wave

Breaking Wave

More Spanish castles

April 24, 2008

Perhaps I should start a new blog giving photos of picturesque Spanish castles at night. We recently spent a week in Peñiscola, a couple of hours up the coast from Valencia. It was a great week, and has a beautful old castle, which looks great lit up at night. Here’s the photo!

The castle in Peñiscola at night

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