Angela Wright made novel use of the Freedom of Information Act. Under the name “ilikemeninuniform”, she emailed Hampshire police and asked to be told of “eligible bachelors within Hampshire constabulary between the ages of 35 and 49 and details of their email addresses, salary details and pension values”. But Angela’s search for a man in uniform who might become her lifelong companion has left her tantalized. The police replied that there were 266 eligible bachelors, of whom 201 were in uniform, but that they couldn’t divulge names or email addresses, as such information is exempt under the Act. If she’s to find Mr Right, Ms Wright has work still to do.
There is a bitter sweet aspect to much of life. We catch a vision of how life might be and almost feel we have it within our grasp. Then something happens which makes it clear it may not be quite so easy. This can be an incentive to pursuing the goal with even more energy. Sometimes, though, it can lead to people giving up and even some anger that their hopes were unjustifiably raised.
The anger that mounted against Jesus during the last days of his life may have had something of the same cause. He had offered new hope for his people, a new kingdom ruled by God, not by the Romans or the religious elite, and people had flocked to welcome him into Jerusalem. But it gradually became clear it was not that easy. There was work still to be done. People felt their own attitudes and life-style were being challenged. There was disappointment that the vision needed fleshing out in ways that were demanding.
The hope Jesus offered inspires us too. If we want to see every detail spelt out or if we expect it to be achievable without disrupting the routine of our lives, we will be frustrated. But the vision Jesus shows us is intriguing and enticing enough to offer plenty of incentive to work for it.
Read: Jesus said: ‘For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.’ (Mark 8.35)
Rejoice: in the pictures Jesus offers of a world where God is in charge.
Reflect: Is there anything I do which might be standing in the way of a better world?
Remember: God continues to work for the world he wants even when we fail him.
Resolve: to let my hopes for the future, mine and the world’s, be shaped by Jesus.
A Japanese firm has come up with a machine that it says can give you the dreams you want. The device, called a ‘dream workshop’, gives stressed out people a chance to escape – at least in their dreams. Before nodding off, the would-be dreamer is supposed to look at a photo of what he or she wants to dream about and then record the story-line on the £77 machine. Using the voice recording as well as lights, music and aromas, says the company, the machine stimulates sleepers during periods of rapid eye movement (REM) and helps them choose their own dreams. “It has worked for quite a number of people,” said a spokesperson.
Pleasant escapism this may be, but a ‘dream workshop’ won’t of itself change anything in the real world. There are, however, other sorts of dream and other types of stimulation which can. The hopes we have for our own futures, and for that of others and the world, can give us renewed energy to help bring them to reality. We can choose to stimulate those hopes and dreams by what we read, whom we admire and by other deliberately chosen influences.
The Bible is an important source of such inspiration. From the Old Testament prophets who foresaw a just society, through to Jesus who saw a world where God was accepted as King, and to the book of Revelation with its vision of an end to mourning and crying and pain, it is a book packed with material to stimulate our dreams and encourage action.
So stimulated by what the Biblical writers and others have written and inspired by their vision, it’s possible to choose our dreams without the £77 outlay. Not a good idea, if it’s escapism we want, because this kind of biblically-inspired dream makes us want to get up and take action!
Read: We have the word of the prophets …. and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1.19)
Rejoice: in people and writing which inspires my hope.
Reflect: what changes do I dream of in my life and work?
Remember: that by God’s grace, if I can’t see what to do to make my dreams a reality, just having the longings can make a difference.
Resolve: to do something today, however insignificant, towards creating the new world of which the Bible speaks.
Two Australian tree experts had to be flown to Hong Kong when a banyan tree believed to be imbued with special powers took ill. Visitors and pilgrims throw wishing tokens written on cards tied to oranges at the tree. It’s said that your wish will come true if your orange hooks onto the tree’s huge branches. Recently at a Lunar New Year, one of the branches fell on two of the many visitors who visit the tree annually and it’s feared the banyan’s days are numbered.
Eighty years of carrying the longings and expectations of thousands of pilgrims is perhaps proving too much for the ancient tree. For human beings too, such pressure can be burdensome. Children carrying their parents’ hopes, leaders carrying their followers’, lovers carrying their beloved’s, workers carrying their boss’s, all may sometimes find the strain onerous. Many of us are, in some relationships, carrying other people’s hopes, while in others, it is we whose longings are focussed on another.
Jesus too, especially as his followers grew in number, carried their hopes for freedom. Yet he knew he could not deliver what they longed for in the way they hoped. His chosen path of suffering and death led many to disillusionment. When people expect a lot of us, it’s not helpful to anyone if we let their hopes alone determine our behaviour. Like Jesus, we need to go the way that seems right for us.
Our own expectations of others may similarly be putting inappropriate pressure on them. The symbolism of the banyan tree and what happened to Jesus reminds us of the penalty that’s sometimes paid by those asked to carry too heavy a burden.
Read: Carry each other’s burdens (Gal 6.2)
Rejoice: in those who fulfil our expectations.
Reflect: Is there anyone I expect too much of?
Remember: when I’m bearing others’ burdens, Christ shares the load.
Resolve: to accept Christ’s offer to let my hope be in him.
It seems a pity that the number of pea-shooting enthusiasts for a world championship fits onto just one village green, but there it is. Accuracy, not distance, is the aim of this competition in Witcham, Cambridgeshire, with contestants shooting a pea through a 12-inch tube, 12 feet towards a 12-inch target. Preparation is intense. Growing the most aerodynamic pea and discovering the most effective launch pad (even laser-guided shooters are not considered cheating) can be a year round commitment. Few contestants will be satisfied unless they hit the bull’s eye.
Striving for perfection provides motivation in a wide range of human activity. It can be taken to extremes. Many people are unhappy with themselves unless they always hit the bull’s eye. Such perfectionism usually leads them to a permanent sense of dissatisfaction. But there is value all the same in having a challenging target.
What Jesus suggested we aim for, in a passage about loving even our enemies, was that we become who God made us to be. He uses a word usually translated ‘perfect’ which means more accurately ‘the state of having fulfilled a purpose’. Like God, who is completely loving by nature, each of us is called to be the fully and completely loving person we were made to be. But because each of us is unique, the way we achieve this goal and the way being fully loving is reflected in each of us will be different from everyone else. The target for human beings suggested in these words of Jesus is that each of us becomes the person we were made to become.
We can give up on perfection as a goal if it means always being successful or permanently in the right. The bull’s eye that’s really worth trying to hit is becoming the person God created us to be.
Read: Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5.48)
Rejoice: in the delight of discovering my uniqueness.
Reflect: am I too keen to get everything exactly right?
Remember: no one was ever denied God’s support because they failed.
Resolve: to learn something more about myself today.
Seventy nine year old Hank Edwards used a guidebook from 1914 to plan his holiday – and got lost for two days in a forest that wasn’t there 90 years ago. He felt rather foolish.
Hank had been in love with the eastern Bayreuth area of Germany from childhood. As a boy and since, he’d explored the area in his imagination, using the guidebook his father had bought. Now he discovered the hard way that two world wars and a massive reforestation programme meant most of the Bayreuth in the book no longer existed.
Reality often fails to match our dreams. Our hopes for the future can become inflexible, more geared to what we wanted once than to the best possibilities in the current situation. Our goals and expectations need to change so they become more realistic. But sometimes we remain stuck in the past, unable to see what’s often clear to others – that the map we’re using to find our way through life is out of date.
God can sometimes make this clear to us. In an Old Testament tale, an angel blocks the path Balaam was travelling on. His donkey understood this was to show God didn’t want him to go that way long before he did. For us, such intervention might take the form of advice from friends, an unexpected hitch in our lives, a surprising but attractive alternative which catches our imagination. Or it can come in moments of quiet reflection when, consciously in God’s presence, we take stock of where we are and where we want to get to in our lives. When we do that, we may need to be open to the possibility of redefining the future we hope to achieve in the light of our ever-changing experience of ourselves and our lives.
Read: The angel of the Lord stood in the road to oppose him (Numbers 22.22)
Rejoice: in the delights flexibility and spontaneity can bring.
Reflect: what new dreams might I develop where old ones have become unrealistic?
Remember: as I think about my future, to leave space for God’s intervention.
Resolve: always to be open to diversions from what I’ve planned.
Humpty Dumpty counted to ten
Then Humpty Dumpty got up again.
Not the ending we know but a new one added on a CD of nursery rhymes. The publicity justified the new happy ending: “It’s sometimes difficult for parents to explain death and injury to a young child”.
A happy ending is what we hope for in every situation where there’s pain and sadness. Yet often our longing for a satisfactory outcome to suffering is not fulfilled. It’s not just parents and children who find it difficult to explain why such things happen. Our sense of helplessness is expressed more clearly in the original ending:
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
Such recognition of our ignorance and powerlessness is itself painful. Christians try to keep believing that, though we are ignorant, God still loves us. Belief in God’s underlying purposefulness does not diminish the pain involved in experiencing or watching suffering. But it does create the possibility that there might be value in accepting and living with the mystery of it.
Jesus struggled with this paradox in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew God loved him, yet he also sensed that he was going to have to endure terrible pain. His prayers there on the night before his crucifixion expressed his fear and his trust but also perhaps reflect the possibility that even he didn’t fully understand how God’s love and human suffering could go together or that resurrection would emerge from his torment.
Ignorance is uncomfortable. But it is all we have. The way to deal with it is not to count to ten and hope all will be well. It is to acknowledge our inability to put together our fragmented and broken world and trust that in that very honesty with ourselves and with God lies a way forward.
Read: In all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8.28)
Rejoice: that though we may feel defeated by the world’s pain, God isn’t.
Reflect: What have I learnt (or what am I learning) from times of suffering?
Remember: Jesus too wanted to avoid suffering.
Resolve: to accept my human frailty.
When Moscow had its heaviest snowfall since record-keeping began in the 19th century, the storm snarled the city’s horrendous traffic, closed airports and forced pedestrians to wade through high drifts. Local public services were unable to cope. The Mayor’s response was to propose fining the weather service every time it got a forecast wrong. Officials at the weather service, which is funded by the city, reacted coolly.
None of us likes uncertainty. Never quite knowing what the future will bring can make us anxious and, like the Mayor, we may want someone to blame when things don’t turn out as expected. In our family life, at work, in the organisations we belong to, we like those on whom we rely to get it right. If they don’t, they may well receive the brunt of our disappointment, even when what happened was not their fault.
Jesus tended to upset people’s certainties. Comments like ‘blessed are the poor’, ‘the last shall be first’, ‘it’s hard for the rich to enter God’s kingdom’ challenged normal assumptions about life. Many of those who had previously felt secure in their status, in this life and the next, found him disturbing. He bore the brunt of their fury when they contributed to his death.
We all live without knowing what the future holds. Learning to deal with that anxiety is an important part of our growth as individuals. Sometimes even what we thought we were sure of is challenged by new truths or new situations. Let’s today seek the courage to be open to such new insights and react without rancour when life doesn’t go quite as we expected.
Read: Do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough troubles of its own. (Matthew 6.34)
Rejoice: in those whose ability to trust God for their future encourages me to trust him more.
Reflect: Where do I look for security when I’m feeling anxious?
Remember: our fears can sometimes blind us to signs of hope.
Resolve: to leave in God’s hands my worries about the future.