The Maglev train can reach 360 miles an hour on an experimental track west of Tokyo. It is gradually being brought into commercial use. The secret of its speed is that it doesn’t touch the track. Magnetic force enables the train to float just above it as it travels, thus eliminating friction.
A life without friction sounds appealing. Not to be slowed down by other people’s resistance to our wishes, or by circumstances which get in the way of what we want to achieve, sounds as though it has a lot to commend it. But friction and a slower pace can have their advantages. Encountering opposition provides opportunity for redefinition or redirection of established goals. Sometimes it is in the interaction between our selves and others or in response to new circumstances that we discover our aims more clearly and grow as people.
It appears God recognises the value of friction. There are various explanations of why the world does not automatically go the way God wants it to, but it certainly doesn’t. Human beings are constantly standing in the way of God’s purposes. But God chooses to work with this resistance, refines the way forward to take account of it and is constantly creating imaginative ways of moving us forward positively in spite of it.
Perhaps today, if there are moments of frustration, we might try looking for ways of turning it to our advantage by asking what we might learn from the experience of feeling hindered by people or circumstances.
Peter Ash, of Lawford, Somerset, invented a hamster-powered mobile phone charger as part of his GCSE science project. He came up with the idea after his sister Sarah complained that Elvis was keeping her awake at night by playing for hours on his exercise wheel. “I thought the wheel could be made to do something useful so I connected a system of gears and a turbine,” he said. “Every two minutes Elvis spends on his wheel gives me about thirty minutes talk time on my phone.”
There are other kinds of annoying distractions that can also inspire a creative reaction. In Jesus’ parable
about a woman pestering a judge to find in her favour, it was her thoroughly annoying badgering which led him to act justly in the end. The apostle Paul found
his ‘thorn in the flesh’ (an irritant he gives no further information about) helped him keep an appropriate sense of his own vulnerability and need to depend on Christ.
Perhaps today, if there are aspects of our lives that are getting on our nerves, it might be worth checking whether the experience of them might be teaching us something or encouraging us into a worth while course of action we might otherwise try to avoid. Sarah still suffers sleepless nights but at least now Peter gets his phone charged and earned a C grade for his project. Would that we could all find a value in what otherwise just seems irritating.
Knitting is apparently ‘the new yoga’. Inspired by a book called Stitch 'n Bitch: The Knitters' Handbook, by Debbie Stoller, enthusiasts from all walks of life are taking their needles to coffee shops and community centres. There they turn yarn into sweaters and spin yarns about people, particlarly those who are not there to defend themselves.The combination is apparently an excellent way of relieving stress.
These Stitch'n'Bitch groups, and the gossip that goes with them, provide participants with a sense of solidarity as they join in unravelling someone’s personality. It’s not only in groups created for that purpose that this happens. The temptation to deal with our own frustration or anger by attacking others is not just felt by knitters. Often without realising it, we redirect our sense of inability to cope, or our dissatisfaction with how life is going, in irritable comments or angry outbursts, particularly against those who are close to us. We put in the needle as a way of making ourselves feel better.
The Stitch'n'Bitch movement also includes trips to the cinema, internet chat rooms and lessons in knitting. Solidarity and mutual support don’t necessarily include finding a common victim to chat about. Perhaps a good way of dealing with life’s stresses without resorting to bitchiness or ill-temper, even for non-knitters, is to find people with whom to share our frustrations. When we unburden our anxieties to someone who listens, it often achieves what Shakespeare said sleep did,and ‘knits up the ravelled sleave of care’.
Today as we listen to someone else’s worries or find relief by sharing our own, we may also be protecting others from becoming the butt of unexpressed frustration.
A distressed and angry bull was roaming around dangerously in the town of Hof in southern Germany. Authorities were getting a tranquilizer gun ready when the farmer's niece suggested luring the bull back home with a cow on a leash. "When bulls break out there's no telling what might happen," a police spokesman said. "He was getting pretty angry. But this worked. He calmed right down and trotted behind her back to the barn."
Perhaps the bull was angry before it broke out but the situation clearly got worse as attempts were made to capture it – panic and fear no doubt increased its distress. Human beings too can easily get in a flap when things aren’t going well and our levels of anxiety often increase rapidly the more out of control things feel. We get to the point where we are unable to take a grip on ourselves. We need someone else to calm us down.
Quite how the cow quietened the bull we can only guess. Our ability to help each other can be equally mysterious. Some attempts to placate those close to us simply make them more angry and panicky; it’s only with experience and observation that we learn what best helps them and getting it right is a valuable gift to them. The most helpful thing may be to let the fretting run its course – it may be part of a process that needs to happen. But often effective calming prevents that waste of energy and that tendency to make mistakes which goes with being unnecessarily flustered.
Let’s today keep our eyes open for those things which soothe agitated colleagues or friends. We may then be able to help them relax just as effectively as the cow did the distraught bull.
Today is World Parrot Day. At Longleat Safari Park, a parrot keeper, Rob Savin, will spend the day sitting on a wooden perch in an otherwise empty cage. Although he is allowed to talk to intrigued visitors he is not allowed to have anything in the cage to keep him occupied.
Rob Savin, a parrot keeper at Longleat Safari Park, recently spent the day sitting on a wooden perch in an otherwise empty cage. Although he was allowed to talk to intrigued visitors he was not allowed to have anything in the cage to keep him occupied.
By “doing bird” for the day, he was making the point that you can’t just stick a bird in a cage and forget about it: “Parrots are highly intelligent creatures and, just like humans, they need regular exercise, activities and things to keep them mentally stimulated.” So Longleat parrots are caged in a larger enclosure in which they can relate to other parrots and enjoy tests, games and an interesting environment to keep them stimulated.
Human beings can sometimes feel caged. We don’t need real bars. Boredom with our lives, lack of financial resources, a commitment to care for others, a stultifying relationship, a tedious job, can all lead to a longing to escape from our current situation. Complete freedom in such circumstances may be an unrealistic goal. But as for the parrots who also remain trapped, it may be possible to take small steps to find ways in which the frustration of such feelings of confinement can be made more bearable.
At the weekend, Christians celebrated the coming of God’s Spirit. One of the Spirit’s characteristics is to set people free. God prompts and inspires us to take action to alleviate our sense of being cooped up and helps us find ways to do it. Whether we feel able to seek divine help or not, it’s worth looking for those small enlivening changes in routine which could help us deal more effectively with any larger disappointment about the limitations of our lives.
A customer, trying to collect his dole money recently, was so furious that he superglued his hand to the desk and said he wasn’t leaving till he had his money. He got his money but the damage to his hand was painful and the scars permanent.
The man must have been at his wit’s end, frustrated and desperate beyond endurance.
As often with us too, his frustration led to anger and such anger can often be self-destructive.
What creative responses are there to frustration? One answer is to try and look beyond it. The Apostle Paul described
described the whole world as experiencing frustration (or ‘futility’ as some translations put it). He even suggested that it might have been part of God’s intention. But he also saw it as like labour pains – leading somewhere positive. For Paul, the antidote to frustration is a hope that believes in God’s transforming power.
It would have been unrealistic and unfair to have offered such a reflection to someone so frantic for money that he resorted to desperate measures. Such hope can not just be summoned up whenever frustration surfaces – it needs to be developed as a lifestyle. Belief in a God who works with us for our ultimate good makes hope easier to cultivate. But only very gradually does it affect our day to day attempts to deal with life’s many frustrations.
Today will probably produce its usual share of these. Perhaps the best we can do is to make hope and trust part of our normal outlook and hope that in time this will make us less prone to feeling the irritation and anger that many situations can easily provoke.