Clergy are experts at recycling. Why tell people something once when you can reuse the material and tell them the same thing three times? Recycled material from the blog is providing the Sunday thoughts for East Coast, a local radio station, for the next four Sundays. Here are the first two;
Sunday, May 4th
Our son is seventeen now. He still has in his room a white toy mouse called Cheezer, which he was given when he was seven. I was alarmed one morning when I spotted the much loved Cheezer lying in the front garden. I picked it up and ran upstairs, but our resident Cheezer was sitting on the dresser looking quite happy with himself. This one belonged to someone else. How would I ever return what was obviously a much loved mouse to its owner? How had it come over our garden wall? Then I remembered I had twice seen a little girl peering in through our gateway, as if hoping she might catch sight of something she had lost. I was convinced that Cheezer must be hers and that she must have tossed him in the air and over our wall – which is six feet high! Because Cheezer in our house had always been such an important toy, I decided this Cheezer must be reunited with the little girl who had lost him. At the beginning of the morning service in church one Sunday I asked if anyone knew the name of a little girl with blonde ringlets, who was accompanied by a Filipina nanny wearing a baseball cap. After church, a lady came and said she had seen two people matching the description in the post office. She could not be far away! It would just be a matter of waiting and watching for the reappearance of the little girl looking for her lost mouse. One lunchtime, a couple of weeks later, I was sat at my desk looking out of the window for inspiration when I caught sight of the ringlets. Grabbing Cheezer, I ran out of the door, fumbled to get the garden gates open, and then went running along the pavement. “Hello! Hello! Excuse me!” I shouted. The nanny turned around and then the little girl. Panting for breath, I said to the little girl, “Is this your Cheezer? I saw you looking in a couple of times.” “It is”, said the girl smiling, “thank you”. The nanny was in a fit of giggles. I could read in her face the question as to who was this mad priest returning a lost mouse. “Thank you, Father”, she said, stifling the laughter. I smiled and turned to walk back to my house. Was I a complete sentimental old fool? Maybe. But what’s more likely to stick in the mind of the little girl with the blonde ringlets, sermons and ceremonies, or the fact that someone from the church thought it important to return to her the lost mouse? What is it that sticks in our memory, things told to us or things done for us? I think it’s better to be remembered as daft than as boring. The Bible says that it’s in the little things that Jesus looks for faithfulness, get those things right, he says, and then the big stuff will fall into place.
Sunday, May 11th
My greatest fear every month is taking the morning assemble in a local secondary school Think back to all the talks you heard during school assemblies. Do you remember any of them? The only speaker whom I ever remember talked about being in a bus queue in Yugoslavia, and being caught in a huge scrum of people trying to get on the bus. He was suddenly aware of being lifted bodily up the steps and turned to see a huge Yugloslav who smiled at him. I remember it because the speaker came back two years later and told the same story. The story was supposed to be about God acting to protect people – it sounded to me like the story of a huge Yugoslav lifting him up bus steps, it didn’t sound like God to me at all! Most times we will judge the words we hear by the experiences we have had. If the people I try to talk to once a month at assembly have had a bad experience of the church, then the things I say aren’t going to make much difference. I think if I had had an experience like that of a friend of mine, it would have been enough to make sure I never listened to an assembly talk ever again. He had no shoes for school and was sent to buy a second hand pair, his ten shillings didn’t give him much choice and he bought a pair of shoes that were poor and ill fitting. The shoes were so poor that he was sent to the local clergyman to ask if the clergyman might give him money for shoes from the parish poor fund. The clergyman said he would think about it, and sent my friend away. The following week the clergyman was in school and sat at the front of the classroom talking with the head teacher. They turned to my friend and summoned him to the front of the room. He was made to sit on the teacher’s desk, his feet dangling in the air, while in front of the whole class the teacher and the clergyman discussed whether the boy should have spent ten shillings on such shoes. I thought the story was terrible: imagine being sat in front of the whole class while people talked about your shoes because you were too poor to buy a decent pair. “It was humiliating”, he said, but then he smiled, “Do you know what? I got money for new shoes.” There a letter in the Bible, written by James the brother of Jesus, where we are told that words not matched by actions are pointless. No-one at the secondary school will listen to me unless they think that what I say is matched by what I do.