Friday, June 06, 2014

Raise your voice and move your feet

It's 1297 and a ragtag Scottish army led by William Wallace is lined up against a superior English army led by King John in what will become the battle of Stirling Bridge. With a face painted blue, Wallace has delivered a rousing speech encouraging the Scots to fight for their freedom. Now the armoured English cavalry are beginning to charge and the Scots are quietly holding their ground until, just as the lances are upon them they lift up a series of pikes, raise their voices and move their feet as they engage their enemy and overcome the cavalry charge.

A different situation. You're walking in thick forest when you turn a corner and not far from you is a large, dark shape. Sensing your presence it turns towards you and you see that it's a large black bear. You slowly raise your hands above your head to make yourself seem larger, and you calmly start talking to the animal as you gradually move your feet and back away to safety. By all accounts, bears don't like to be surprised!

Between you and me, I've never encountered a bear in the woods. I wasn't present at the battle of Stirling Bridge (but I have seen Braveheart a few times, which is almost the same). But both of these are examples of times when, perhaps counterintuitively, it's appropriate to raise your voice and move your feet. In less extreme ways, I'm sure that most of us have had times when we've needed to take action, speak up and do something - rather than keeping quiet and staying still. I wonder what moves you to action?

Last summer, for my niece's birthday party, my brothers, dad, and various nephews and nieces descended on some woodland in the Midlands (no bears present) for an afternoon of outdoor laser tag. After instructions on the laser guns, and having been split into two teams we then had a number of 10-15minute games, each team trying to have the most collective hits on the other team's weapons. Now you may not know that I'm quite a competitive person, in fact my whole family are extremely competitive, and although none of us would readily admit it, we were all taking this quite seriously. So seriously in fact that almost every game was conducted in near silence as we all crept, hid and sniped each other.. The facilitator even said we were the quietest and most competitive group he'd known! (I'm guessing many groups run around in a frenzy.. Not our style). 

My hunch is that in modern warfare (and I'm no expert, as Ghost Recon on the Xbox as a student probably doesn't qualify me), if you scream and run at the enemy you'll probably end up dead. Clearly there are times for staying quiet, perhaps biding your time, but recently I've been wondering if I remain unmoved by situations in life when it would be better to take action. On the whole subject of poverty, even here in the UK, it can be easy to bury our head in the sand, pretend it's not around and remain unmoved. 

Sometimes we're rooted to the spot by our fears, but there's times, individually or as a community when we need to take action - to raise our voice and move our feet.

Many of us are familiar with the story of David and Goliath, an underdog shepherd boy who is the only one to volunteer to face the Philistine giant Goliath in single combat. After raising his voice to the King, he moves his feet towards his opponent and using his sling, topples the mighty warrior. It's a story we may think we know well, but I'd recommend you all seek out Malcolm Gladwell's insightful TED talk on the subject. He admits that perhaps he didn't know the story as well as he thought, and concludes (I'm not spoiling it I promise) with the thought that our giants aren't always what they seem.

Out giants, our opponents, our problems aren't always what they appear to be.. So pick your moment, maybe stand your ground until the right time, then raise your voice and move your feet.. You may be surprised at what happens!

Now as much as I want to encourage us to take action when we need to, I'm enough of a realist to recognise that things don't always magically work out every time we do. We can get knocked back, hurt, disappointed - situations can even get worse not better. Positive thinking by itself can't solve all our problems, and I don't want to paint the picture that life is just a series of instantaneous magical moments - it's important that we play the long game as well as the short game, although I would say that in general it's usually better to do *something* than do nothing. As my Granny Mary used to say 'the sooner you face up to your problems dear, the sooner they go away'!

For me, this is where a different angle on 'raising our voice' comes in. I don't know about you, but I'm a praying person, and I think it's really important to get the balance between action and prayer in our lives. Prayer may not immediately change your circumstances (although it can and does), but through the act of prayer, in articulating our needs to loving God, we can be changed in the midst of our circumstances.

On my train journeys home this week I've started to watch the excellent videos on different aspects to prayer recently produced by the Prayer Course. It's a free course, aimed at individuals and groups who want to learn how to pray better - and each 15minute video that I've watched so far has been really good quality and insightful - I can't recommend it highly enough, so go watch one now! Over the last month, having read Mark Batterson's 'The Circle Maker', I've been keeping a prayer journal. It's been great to craft some prayers for my own life and family, and also to keep track of people and situations I am praying for. I have to say that I have genuinely been seeing more answers to prayer, and whether this is just because I'm more aware of what I've been praying I don't know, but it's encouraging nonetheless. It's good to be specific in our prayers, and I'd recommend starting a prayer journal as a great discipline in this area.

As I finish, I'm reminded of the story of Joshua and the Isrealites taking the city of Jericho. A bit like William Wallace's Scots, they were up against superior opposition - in this case not the English armoured cavalry but Jericho's solid walls. At God's command they took an unorthodox approach and circled the city in silence for six days. On the seventh day they circled it seven times and then together raised their voices.. And sure enought the walls collapsed and the city was won. I like this story as it's a good mixture of feet moving and voice raising, and a reminder that some things in life we need to circle a few times before things change. This week, what are you circling? And how are you moving your feet and raising your voice? Let me know.

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