AA service centres are offering an “atlas amnesty”. Drivers can exchange an old road atlas of any make for a free new edition. Some motorists in Britain are using road atlases that are more than ten years old, an AA survey found. As many as two in five use one published before 2000. With more than 3000 amendments made each year, it means, said their representative, Steve Dewey, that “many people are driving around without proper information about new road layouts and even whole new road networks.”
Planning a route when we don’t know all the options may make for a less expeditious and enjoyable journey. In our lives too, there may be new possibilities that we haven’t yet realised exist, new opportunities to make our lives richer. The disciples who first experienced the presence of the risen Jesus found the whole direction of their lives transformed by this new discovery. The same has happened for some Christians since, though many others have found that it is more in the detail of the journey of our lives that Christ’s presence creates new options.
Perhaps today there are some parts of our lives where we would appreciate an amnesty. We might want to take the opportunity to hand in some of the bits of our lives where we feel there might be newer routes to follow. We need to be open to taking these different directions. As with the AA, so with being open to the new way Christ’s resurrection offers – its free!
Car owners in Sullivan, New York, are covering their mirrors in an attempt to outsmart an aggressive woodpecker that’s been smashing them. Anne Miller has had two mirrors on her Pontiac Grand Prix smashed and watched the bird attack her neighbor's Malibu. "I told him to shoo. He did. Then he came right back and finished the job," she said. "Instead of flying off, he walked across the windshield and did the passenger mirror. I was flabbergasted." It seems the reason for this aggression against mirrors is that the woodpecker thinks his reflection is an enemy.
People also sometimes see themselves as ‘the enemy'. “I’m my own worst enemy” is not just a colloquial saying – it also expresses how some people really feel about themselves. Sometimes this can lead to behaviour not unlike the woodpecker’s. Without realising it, we do things which undermine our happiness, sabotage our hopes or even cause us physical harm. But even for those whose feelings about themselves are not as destructive as that, there can be difficulty believing in ourselves when our experience is that we often let ourselves down.
Jesus met a “madman” who was intent on harming himself. He drew the “unclean spirits” out of the man and sent them into pigs who hurtled to their death over a cliff. In the strange (to us) thinking of the time, Jesus had found a way
to convince the man that he didn’t necessarily have to live with this self-destructive personality but could be at peace.
Perhaps we too want that kind of peace. Parts of ourselves which we don’t trust, or ways in which we often fail to achieve what we hoped to, are not our enemy, to be regarded with antagonism. They are the result of who we have become but they do not need to be part of who we are becoming. A combination of trust in our better selves, and a certainty that God wants to help us be released from what holds us back, will help us move forward. Let’s hope we don’t need anything quite so dramatic as the death of a herd of pigs to convince us to let go of the past and stop punishing ourselves.
The other week an amateur football match between Peterborough North End and a Royal Mail side came to an abrupt and early end. The referee, Andy Wain, had to abandon the game in the 63rd minute because he sent himself off. North End's goalie had muttered to himself about the ref’s unfairness but he was overheard and Mr Wain threw down his whistle and eyeballed the goalkeeper. He later explained his decision. "If a player did that I would send him off, so I had to go," he said.
It’s a laudable quality to expect no less of ourselves than we do of others. Some people are temperamentally inclined to judge their own behaviour too harshly; others are over-eager to pin blame on someone else. But a balanced recognition of our own part in any unpleasantness or contretemps is very healthy.
A red card means the end for a player, or, in this case, of the game. In life, even if we acknowledge our own full responsibility for a mistake or bit of aggro, it shouldn’t prevent us continuing with the activity or relationship in which we were involved. Sometimes, recognising our failure can cripple us and leave us wanting to give up. Peter, the disciple of Jesus who had denied he knew him at the time of Jesus’ torture, must have felt like that. But Jesus
later encouraged Peter to realise he still had an important role to play in carrying forward the work Jesus had begun.
If today we are tempted to give ourselves the red card, it’s worth remembering that we can be forgiven by God and by others, if we ask them. We need too to be able to forgive ourselves. That way the game can go on.
Rick Pyburn was sick and tired of motorists speeding past his home. Already, he had lost five chickens to hit-and-run drivers passing by at speeds well above the limit. Calling the police did no good —with a strapped budget, the Benton County Sheriff's Office couldn't do much to help.
Then, one day, as he watched a sheriff's car cruise by his house, Pyburn got an idea. With the help of a local sign company, he built the front half of a two-dimensional plywood sheriff's car, and set up the decoy in some bushes complete with a cut-out of his own face in the "window," warning them to slow down. "Once I placed that on the highway, it was amazing," he said. "The traffic, even when it wasn’t breaking the limit, slowed immediately."
Authority figures do tend to slow us down. The sight of someone with power to issue a reprimand makes most people stop to check whether they’re doing anything amiss. Often an internal policeman makes us feel guilty even when we’re not actually doing anything wrong. There’s sometimes a fear which may go back into childhood that we are perpetually at fault.
Religion can have this effect but not at its best. The God of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures has high moral standards but also a compassionate, forgiving attitude which is far from being like the authoritarian figures in our past and in our imagination. We need to try and live by our principles. If an imaginary plywood cut-out god would help make us better people, let’s adopt one – but the real God, while demanding the best from us, is infinitely understanding and forgiving about our failures. Perhaps that's the inner voice we should really listen to.
The recently released version of Michael Caine’s film, Alfie, has been voted the 6th worst movie remake of all time. It topped the YouGov poll of 2,000 movie-goers. Also in the top ten worst were new versions of Psycho, Charlie's Angels, Planet of the Apes and Cape Fear.
Not all attempts to rework a previous film fail. The 1959 version of Ben-Hur, which won 11 Oscars, was a remake of earlier 1907 and 1925 films, and the legendary 1960 western The Magnificent Seven reworked the 1954 Japanese classic The Seven Samurai.
Bonfire night celebrations are also a remake of sorts. The re-living year after year of an historical event which arose out of religious fanaticism and prejudice tends to deprive it of some of its horror. But some re-enactments are more horrific than others. Last year a bonfire party was held near Lewes with fifty Travellers gathering from across Sussex. Its purpose was to remember an occasion the previous year at Firle when the effigy of a gypsy caravan was thrown onto a bonfire. But the party was designed to express how offended the Traveller community were about the incident but also to put the matter behind them. “This is our answer - this is the last word,” said Jake Bowers, the Chair of the Gypsy Bonfire Society. “The people were at the time let off - they were not charged for what we considered to be a criminal act and this is our way of laying that matter to rest."
Prejudices of all kinds persist and sometimes lead to violence. The kind of forgiving attitude shown by the Travellers is in short supply. Our society needs a reworking. The story needs to be rewritten so that the focus is on the laying to rest of hatred rather than the perpetuation of violence. As the bigotry of the first Nov 5th is re-enacted, let’s work in our local situations for a world remade, a world where intolerance no longer has the last word. That would be one of the better remakes.
There’s a new Dyson vacuum cleaner on the market. When it breaks down, the mechanic will connect a microchip inside it to a phone. This will send all necessary information about the machine’s history and performance to the call centre so that the cause of the fault can be easily discovered and put right.
Human problems cannot be sorted out so easily. If something goes wrong with our lives, we struggle to understand, let alone repair, our failings and shortcomings. No human being knows us well enough to suggest a completely reliable remedy.
The Psalmist suggests, however, that God may have that insight. ‘You have searched me and known me … You are acquainted with all my ways …It was you who formed my inward parts.’(Psalm 139)
Christians believe that God knows us well enough to help us deal with those things which go wrong and which prevent us living up to our potential. Our relationship with God is not mechanical and the process of change is normally slow; but it is encouraging to know there is some one who understands and can help us.
Sometimes other people know us so well that we are grateful for their wisdom and advice. God knows us fully. It’s not quite so simple as putting a phone and a microchip together but it’s good to know there’s someone whose forgiving and healing love can be trusted to help put us right.