Are you an imploder or an exploder? Or, to put it another way, what do you do with your anger? Imploders apparently bury their feelings, exploders, yes, you guessed. Probably, you can be either at different times. And probably too, you know the dangers of each: burying feelings can affect your health and lashing out can affect others’!
So what’s to be done? One thing is to be clear that the anger is ours. “You made me angry” is not usually accurate. Once we’re aware that the anger is our responsibility, it becomes easier to choose what to do with it. We can save it to give extra fuel to our next bit of energetic activity, we can smile at its laughable attempt to make us look foolish, we can turn its aggression into assertiveness.
So today we need neither bury our anger nor give it the power it seems to want. Anger deserves respect but it is, after all, ours to do what we choose with.
Tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day. Surprisingly, even our own National Consumers Council has joined various organisations in various countries, such as Nigeria, Korea, Israel, Panama and Latvia, in recommending a day when we watch what we spend. Purists will try to go for a day without spending anything, others will cut out any unnecessary shopping. Elsewhere there will be light-hearted protests against consumerism. In Britain we will spend £7,600 per second between now and Christmas and, however it is done, the idea is to make us think before we contribute to that figure.
The philosophy behind the Day is based on United Nations reports which indicate that unrestrained consumption broadens the gap between rich and poor. What’s more the continuing rise in purchasing makes the achievement of many necessary environmental objectives impossible. Practical ways of cutting down on purchases are to use vouchers or home-made gifts as presents, to repair rather than replace, to simplify our lifestyle or to destroy credit cards.
The Day is designed to draw our attention to a complicated and controversial issue. Changing the world will take longer than one day’s abstinence. But if it makes us think, it will have had at least one of its desired affects.
In villages all over Zimbabwe, at around 6pm each evening, groups gather round anyone who possesses a radio. That’s when SW Radio Africa comes on air. The station broadcasts from London. A group of former broadcasters on Zimbabwean State radio who are now persona non grata under Mugabe’s regime, present a mixture of songs and report.
The life-blood of the station are the reports coming in from ordinary listeners providing information about what is going on all over the country but which will never be reported on the State radio. What draws hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans to listen is the knowledge it gives of the wider picture in their struggling country.
Most of us benefit from being able to see the wider context. Even if what we see is other people struggling as we are, it is encouraging to know we are not alone. Sometimes we see people coping bravely with their difficulties and are inspired by their example.
Perhaps today, if we sense we are becoming too caught up in our own issues, we could look wider and find ourselves heartened and emboldened.
At about 8pm last night, the Galileo spacecraft came to the end of its life, disintegrating as it entered Jupiter’s atmosphere. It has withstood the pressures of travelling a million miles a day for the last 14 years and has enabled the discovery of an ocean deep within the icy crust of Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons. If there is life anywhere in the Universe, it seems that this ocean is the most likely place.
The possibility that there is life so far away which might be so utterly different from any form of life we know is extraordinary. But our marvelling at the possibility of its existence prompts wider amazement at the presence of life anywhere at all.
The late Michael Hollings was leading worship in the local school and asked for suggestions of things we could thank God for. In the front row was an 8 year-old boy, a victim of the thalidomide drug which had caused him to be born without arms or legs. He nodded his head for attention. “Life”, he said.
Today let’s celebrate the fact that we woke up breathing!
The Tactual Museum in Athens offers blind people a rare chance to literally get in touch with great works of art. The museum displays exact, original-size plaster copies of more than 80 works of ancient Greek masterpieces, including famous statues such as the Venus de Milo. "Unlike other institutions, we actually encourage visitors to touch the exhibits.” said Dimitra Asideri, the museum's director. "Thank you for helping us discover so much," a French visitor noted in the guestbook.
Those of us who have our sight may sometimes forget how much can be discovered and experienced by touching. Because our minds are focussed on other things, we’re generally not aware of the sensations coming to us through our fingers, of the feel of clothes against our bodies and our feet on the ground. When we do make a conscious choice to touch something or someone awarely, it’s nearly always a pleasurable experience. Our skin is an extraordinary creation.
Perhaps today we might be take a few moments to be ‘in touch’ with the physical things around us and enjoy the sensations our fingers can bring us.
I wonder how Barry Manilow is feeling after his painful accident last week. I too have walked into a door and hurt my face so I can sympathise with how foolish he feels, and, although I didn’t break my nose (it’s rather less prominent than his), how sore. Not fair then, that added to the indignity was a fair bit of ribaldry and amusement in the press and elsewhere. But Barry apparently saw the funny side of it. “I may have to have my nose fixed and, with this nose, it’s going to require major surgery”. When I heard he’d said that, I was able, without my previous discomfort, to enjoy my amusement at the irony of the incident.
The ability to smile at our own misfortunes and mistakes is an invaluable asset. It takes pressure off ourselves and releases other people to react genuinely to us. We might imagine that when we take ourselves less seriously, others will do so too. In fact, the opposite is the case and most of us warm to, and respect, someone who is relaxed about themselves and how they are seen.
But it is not an asset that is easily come by. It requires a certain inner security and self-confidence that does not rely on external status or other people’s opinions. For Christians, the knowledge that God loves them is a start in providing that inner confidence. Others develop theirs in different ways. But let’s enjoy today any amusing incidents in which we are involved, and, if we find that difficult, seek from God, or elsewhere, ways of deepening our inner confidence in who we are.
Among the many casualties, the war has left many children orphaned and now that it’s over, many families remain desperately poor and unable to feed their children. The occupying powers are holding the country in a vice-like grip. They want to squeeze their former enemies ‘until the pips squeak’. Some in this country are being accused of being unpatriotic because they are highlighting the suffering the war has caused.
Such was the situation 85 years ago today ( toujours la meme chose) when the public meeting was held which launched the Save the Children Fund. Eglantyne Jebb (pictured) had been fined under the Defence of the Realm Act for publishing and distributing the leaflets ‘A Starving Baby’ and ‘Our Blockade has Caused This’, but the leaflets had the desired effect and money to bring relief to the children of post-war Europe began to flow in to the organisation which she and her sister, Dorothy Buxton, founded.
In the distress we feel as we hear reports at the moment about the effects of the invasion of Iraq, it may be encouraging to know that from other similar, horrific situations, something good has eventually emerged. It’s part of the Christian belief in God’s resurrection power that goodness and love are not defeated by suffering and violence. Yet it’s not easy to see anything positive in the present situation in that country.
Perhaps today our thoughts might focus on the likelihood that, at various levels of significance, good things as yet unknown will emerge from what’s happening in Iraq. If we can have that trust, it is more likely to happen.
Pen Hadow will about now, if all has gone well, be arriving at the North Pole. He is alone. No reassuring plane dropping supplies has accompanied his journey across the ice.
He has chosen to undertake this journey cut off from human support. But to know loneliness without choosing it can feel like being surrounded by the cold and windswept wastes of the Arctic.
Ultimately, even within the most loving and supportive relationships, we are alone. Sometimes we use relationships to keep at bay the fear of loneliness. Sometimes a crisis forces the reality of our aloneness upon us. But we would do better to choose to face the reality of it.
Christians believe this is what Christ was doing with his despairing cry, when dying on the cross – ‘My God, why have you deserted me?’. He entered into this fundamental human experience. But his last cry before death – ‘Into your hands, I give my life’ – suggests that, within deep loneliness, he found a new trust, a new faith in a God who would hold him, as it were, in his hands.
Today, if we have the courage to face our loneliness, we may begin to discover that same trust.
Writing in the New York Times last week, Booker prize winner A.S.Byatt criticised J.K. Rowling’s writing. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, she said, is written for people who are more interested in magic than mystery. She blames TV cartoons and soaps for stunting our generation’s awareness of the genuinely numinous.
A sense of the other, of something beyond, of the mystery and wonder of simple things, adds enormously to the quality of life We experience it not so much by avoiding particular aspects of modern life and culture but by making sure that our diet is balanced. We need to look at trees as well as television; give time to being still as well as being busy; listen to our hearts as well as our heads.
As we approach the season of Advent, we hope to find in our preparations for Christmas, and in the Christmas stories, opportunities to become open afresh to the presence of the beyond in the middle of ordinary life. But let’s today value our experiences of wonder and work to sustain an openness to life’s mystery.
It's been reported that in the UK, one in three meals are eaten away from home and roughly the same proportion are snacks. Much less often than previously do we sit down at home over a meal.
Meals can often be an opportunity for conversation and for relaxing in each other’s company, for reviewing the day or sharing plans. This is why a meal is frequently used as a biblical image for God’s plans for the world. God is working to encourage us into the kind of relationships with each other which are reflected in the shared celebration and mutual enjoyment of a meal.
Sitting round a table at home is not the only way of sharing in the rich possibilities of an unhurried meal. Eating out, even if it’s a snack, can be an opportunity to spend time with others, to deepen relationships and feel closer. Wherever we eat today, let’s use the opportunity to feed the heart and mind as well as the body.