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July 3rd 2016
Last weekend was the Cairns Road Baptist Church weekend away, and about 100 of us went to the Heatree Centre in Devon for a few days of prayer, fellowship, study and so forth. It was a good weekend with plenty to think about, and I hope to see the fruits of it in my relationship with God and with others, both inside and outside of the CRBC family. A few of us had been asked to contribute to a booklet that would include different ways for people to engage with the theme of the weekend - 'Higher, Wider, Deeper' - and we were given a fairly vague remit, I think intentionally to allow a range of responses. There were poems, pictures, facts, prayers and - in my case - a few paragraphs of thoughts.
I haven't checked whether or not I signed away my copyright, but on the off-chance that I haven't, I've reproduced my submission here.

Neighbours. Everybody needs good neighbours.
If there's one thing I learned from daytime TV when I was student, it was that, if you were quick, you had time to solve the Countdown conundrum and still make it to a 4pm lecture. If there were two things, though, the second one was that everybody needs good neighbours. The Neighbours theme tune insisted upon it. But Neighbours had and probably still has a fairly parochial view of what constitutes a neighbour, essentially meaning only those people who lived on Ramsey Street.
If I'm honest, my very own version of Ramsey Street Charlton Gardens, BS10 is quite different to the TV portrayal. We've never had a communal barbecue, played street cricket, or amusingly fallen into a swimming pool together. Basically, we say hello if we're putting the bins out at the same time. If they're my neighbours, I'm probably not a very good one.
Who is my neighbour? That's the question that an expert in the law asked Jesus, and it's one of those questions that Jesus doesn't really answer. Instead, he tells the story of the Good Samaritan, and by the end of it he has a better question: "Which of these three do you think was a neighbour? Go and do likewise."
Or, to paraphrase JFK, ask not what your neighbour can do for you; ask what you can do for your neighbour.
Sometimes I find it useful to turn a question on its head and see what happens. This might be a habit picked up from studying maths if you've got to prove something is true, often the best way to do it is see what would happen if it were false but, like so much of degree-level maths, it's useful in everyday life, too. So let's turn this one around, and ask: "Who isn't my neighbour?"
That's trickier. I've scratching my head for a while, and I just can't see a convincing scenario where I say: "Ah, but you see, God, that doesn't count, because he wasn't my neighbour". The inevitable (and slightly uncomfortable) conclusion is that everyone is, at least potentially, my neighbour. And vice versa. If I've met them, they're in.
"Higher, Wider, Deeper" is the theme of the weekend, and it doesn't get much wider than that. How about higher & deeper? Well, Jesus says "Love your neighbour as yourself", and I don't know about you but that's setting the bar pretty high. And it's not a bar I'm clearing very often. Throw me into the story of the Good Samaritan, and if I'm honest I can see myself playing the role of Levite just as easily as Samaritan.
Guilt is a terrible motivator, though. Jesus may have said: "Go and do likewise", but the good news is that he is also the one who promised: "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." He may set high bars, but we're not jumping alone.
I'm hoping that, over this weekend, we can find out more about how to be good neighbours, whether it's to each other, to people who live near us, or to people we'd never have dreamed would ever be our neighbours.
With a little understanding, we can find the perfect blend.

July 24th 2016
As the song says, hate is a strong word - but I really, really, really don't like these things.
You don't know that song? It's by the Plain White T's. I listen to modern music sometimes. OK, that song is ten years old. But you know what I mean. Anyways, here is a list of some things I really, really, really don't like. You might like them. Sorry if you do. Takes all sorts to make a world.

There is nothing on God's green earth that I hate more than parsnips. Nothing. I'm not exactly the world's most adventurous eater - and I generally hold that enjoying vegetables is a sign of madness - but my loathing for parsnips surpasses all else. If I have to, I will eat most things I am served - it's only polite, after all, although I will draw the line at Branston pickle - but you would have to give me bounteous treasure in order to get me to eat parsnips. And I mean bounteous.
This is a relatively simple one to explain (unlike many of the rest of the list): parsnips taste horrible. Really, really horrible. If parsnips were a feeling, they'd be unbearable pain. Indeed, you can't spell 'parsnip' without all the letters from 'pain' - can that be a coincidence? I think not. But it's not only that parsnips taste horrible - although they do; I just want to reiterate that one more time - they compound their awfulness by looking like roast potatoes, which are awesome. I love roast potatoes. On more than one occasion, as a youngster, I've tucked into a lovely roast potato only to discover, too late, that it is in fact a parsnip; the root (if you will) of all evil.
And no, there is no means of cooking a parsnip that renders it palatable. Roast it, boil it, stick it in a stew; it will still be the worst food known to mankind. This is not subjective. This is a fact.

Inanimate objects that become animate
OK, this is an odd one. And it's not so much something that I dislike, as it is something that scares the life out of me. Inanimate objects having life is terrifying.
To be clear, I'm not scared that it will actually happen to me. It's not like I think that my laptop will come to life and try to bite my fingers; it's just that it's a truly terrifying idea, and I shuddered several times while writing this sentence. I mean, how is that not petrifying?
It's hard to know where this came from. Perhaps there was some childhood trauma that I can't recall. I do remember once seeing a clip from an old Doctor Who episode where someone was swallowed by their sofa, and that frightened me horribly, but I don't know if that was the cause or merely a symptom.
I've not come across anyone else with this fear, as far as I'm aware, and it does lead to some odd situations. For example, there's an advert currently on at the cinema (and, I think, TV) that shows a bucket of popcorn growing arms and doing stuff, and I just can't watch it. *shudder*

The word 'sliver'
Another one I can't really explain, but I can't stand the word 'sliver'. It, too, makes me shudder. I have vague memories of the first time I came across the word being when it was being used to describe something (OK, a sliver. Don't make me say it again) getting stuck beneath someone's skin, so I guess that would explain it. Anyways, it's my least favourite word.
I have no problem whatsoever with the word 'silver'.

When people say 'no pressure'
You know the scenario; it goes something like: "You need to get this one right to stay in the game." / "No pressure, then!". Whether it's on TV or in regular conversation the phrase annoys me, because it's basically a way of making a joke without actually having to make one. It's a stock response, and a signal to say "I'm being funny", with no imagination or wit actually required; the verbal equivalent of holding up a laughter sign.
I'm not going to bang on about this one, because I'm getting dangerously close to trying to deconstruct how humour works, and that's always a mistake. But the problem I've got is that, having taken against the phrase, it sets of alarm bells whenever I hear it. So, if you say 'no pressure' to me in a jovial manner, please forgive me if I laugh a little slowly. I'm seething inside.

Collective nouns
A pride of lions; a parliament of owls; a murder of crows. That kind of thing. Partly I dislike collective nouns because I don't think there's any earthly reason for having different words for different groups of things: if I want to call them 'a bunch of geese', I'm jolly well going to. Also, I'm pretty sure the whole range of accepted collective nouns must have been made up by one bloke with too much time on his hands. "How about giraffes, Les? What's a bunch of them called?" / "Giraffes, eh? They're tall. Let's go with 'a tower of giraffes'. Right, that's lunch."
The other thing that gets my goat ('a trip of goats', among other options, in case you were wondering) is the standard joke about collective nouns - as in, some wag comes up with 'a procrastination of students' or 'a calculation of actuaries'. Humour is subjective (unlike, as mentioned above, the awfulness of parsnips), and I just don't find those jokes funny. Sorry.

New Mr. Men
I love the Mr. Men; they are the anti-parsnips. Roger Hargreaves, a wonderful genius, came up with 39 Mr. Men characters - as well as the Little Miss and a number of other children's favourites - before his death in 1988. As a child I greatly enjoyed these stories, and my love has barely diminished in adulthood; even as I write this I am sipping from a Mr. Clever mug. So, what's the problem?
Well, the problem is the new Mr. Men; the ones who were created after Roger Hargreaves' death. In some cases the publishers claimed that the characters had been created by Hargreaves and been discovered posthumously (e.g. Mr. Grumble, a blatant knock-off of Mr. Grumpy); for others, there was no pretence that they were anything other than new creations. These reached their nadir with 'Mr. Cool'.
It is bad enough that the publishers have taken something I love and added some cheap pretenders to the roster in order to pull in some extra cash; what is really sad is that the kids of today won't know the difference. They'll think that Mr. Perfect & Mr. Rude are deserving of a place alongside true classics such as Mr. Funny, Mr. Bump & Mr. Happy. And that upsets me.

So, there you go. Six things I really, really, really don't like. Could be worse, eh?

what was I listening to?
Anywhere I Lay My Head - Scarlett Johansson
what was I reading?
Firefly: A Celebration - Joss Whedon et al
what was I watching?
Ghost World
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