On their way are robotic cones that can be programmed to move on their own at any particular part of the day. For example, if workers arrived at 6 a.m., the cones could move from the shoulder to block off the lane at that time, then return to the side of the highway at the end of the day. The robots are placed at the bottom of the cones and are small enough not to greatly alter their appearance. Well that’s OK then! At least we won’t lose the familiarity of their delightful shape and colour – it’s bad enough that we might be shunted into line by a cone with a mind of its own.
Being told where to go and what to do is not something many of us like. It can make us unreasonably angry to be ordered about, especially for no apparent reason, on the roads and elsewhere. It feels an infringement of our independence. When there are usually many more complicated and significant threats to our freedom, it’s easy, and possibly helpful, to vent our frustration on the more trivial limitations which are imposed on us.
The need to be in charge of our own destiny is something most of us experience. Indeed the biblical story about the behaviour of Adam and Eve in the Garden indicates that it’s always been part of human nature. Taking the fruit against God’s orders was symbolic of a desire to leave nothing up to God. Jesus suggests that real life is not to be had in holding on to our freedom but in letting it go. There is ultimately safety and joy for those who let themselves be guided and directed by God.(Mark 8.35)
Perhaps today we might reflect on our experiences of being told what to do by others. Maybe a greater readiness to allow ourselves to be guided in unplanned directions will bring its rewards. Possibly too, discovering the value of responding this way in the big things will mean we’re not so irritated when we feel pushed around in less important ways.
A recent Health and Safety memo to BBC staff seemed to state the obvious. Entitled ‘Revolving Security Door User Instructions’, it began "Follow these simple steps each time you use the doors: to enter the secure space move directly into the revolving door compartment”. The memo followed an incident at the BBC's offices in Birmingham in which a worker cracked a toenail when her foot got trapped.
What the memo said about how to move out of revolving doors is not reported. In life though, where we have got ourselves into situations which just seem to go round and round, it’s getting out that’s the real challenge. Whether it’s at work, in our relationships with friends or colleagues, or simply in the routine of our days, we can sometimes feel trapped, see a life beyond what restrains us, and yet be unable to take that step out towards it.
Someone to help us through the door can be a great help. Jesus frequently helped people break out of a cycle of unhappiness – a woman going round and round looking for healing, a former soldier rampaging frantic round a graveyard, a tax collector uncomfortable in his role. For Christians, faith can help in the task of seeing ways out of stifling repetitiveness and in finding the courage to make the required moves.
For everybody, Christian or not, help and advice from someone else can be enormously valuable when trying to escape from continuously going round in circles. Each situation has its own difficulties and there’s no memo with simple answers, but seeking support from someone we trust can often be what enables us to take that step into a new kind of life.
Mr Wu, from the Shengyang province in China, uses the branches of living elm trees to make chairs. As the 'chair' grows, he constantly trims and guides it into shape before the chair is finally harvested. Mr Wu says it takes him about five years to grow a tree chair, from saplings to the finished article.
The kind of patience needed for such long-term craftsmanship is a useful quality in life. As circumstances influence our progress as people, our task is gradually to encourage those developments in our personalities and skills which have potential. We’ll also want to redirect or cut out those which, if allowed to grow, may not make us the kind of people we want to become. While we’re doing this, our roots continue to be the source of our life.
In one of the stories Jesus told, he describes a small seedling which draws enough energy from the soil and the sun to become a tree large enough to provide comfortable rest for birds (Mark 4.30-32). He is inviting his hearers to let God be part of the process of their growth and to be the source of their life.
Let’s today enjoy the way our lives change and we grow. As this happens, we may perhaps wish to encourage some developments and restrain others. There’s no certainty what the end result will be like – we’d probably prefer the beauty and comfort of the tree in Jesus’ image to Mr Wu’s less appealing chairs. More important is that our roots are in firm and fruitful soil.
An Under-13 Rugby Union side was told by their manager to stop playing at half time. The side, Norwich, were being beaten by Shelford, 50-0. Nigel Francis said he’d told the boys to give up because they had played in a Sevens Tournament the previous day and were exhausted. It was not going to be good for them to continue. The opposing manager wasn’t happy. ‘It’s a poor example to set to children – to tell them it’s OK to give up if you’re losing.’
Sometimes, on the other hand, it takes courage to admit there’s no point in continuing. Indeed, there are times in life when giving in and accepting defeat is the gateway to a new, more positive way of moving forward. On one occasion, the disciples of Jesus had had to give up after a long night of unsuccessful fishing (Luke 5.1-11). Jesus however saw where a good haul of fish was to be had and following his instructions, their luck dramatically changed.
There may be aspects of our lives today where we are battling on because we are unwilling to admit failure. Sometimes such determination is appropriate and eventually productive. But just as often, the willingness to abandon the struggle somehow creates a new opening. It may be that by giving up we are enabled to see things differently or to become more willing to receive help and advice. God is often more able to help us when we stop struggling. To let go in a losing battle is not necessarily a poor example to set.
At an annual festival in Bali each March, around 70 Hindu young men and women dress in traditional sarongs and pray in the local temple in Sesetan before parading in lines through the street and choosing a partner. As a gamelan orchestra chimes in the background and to the cheers of onlookers, they kiss for around 15 seconds before priests step in, soaking them with buckets of water.
The ceremony, dating back to the late 19th-century, is said to ensure the good health and prosperity of those taking part and of the whole village. For the same reason, the crowd welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. They cheered because they hoped he would bring them good times and because it was fun.
Our emotions can be fickle. It’s doubtful whether many of the liaisons created at the kissing festival will come to anything. The crowd’s enthusiasm for Jesus drifted away as the unorthodoxy of his approach became clear during the week which followed. Any real change in the fortunes of individuals or of peoples takes more than momentary enthusiasm or passion.
Jesus’ feelings ran deeper. A word the gospel-writers use for one of them literally means a churning of the inner parts and implies a mixture of anger, sympathy and compassion (e.g. Mark 1.41). It was perhaps one of the things which kept him going through his last week of life.
Perhaps today we might look for ways of harnessing our feelings in the cause of creative change. Most people prefer more superficial expression of passion – it’s more comfortable - but allowing strong emotions to emerge, sometimes from deep within us, can be a powerful force for good.