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Who Needs Words indeed!

Time to return from Wales and back to preaching tomorrow. However, before I do so, a brief stop in the Welsh Valleys. On Thursday I spotted a road-sign so obscure and intriguing that I almost lost my concentration whilst craning round to look at it. Thankfully there was another example a little further down the road, so I got a second bite of the cherry. As it turns out I was particularly fortunate – since only four examples of this particular sign exist in Wales. When I looked at it numerous possible interpretations sprang to mind:

  • Danger of alien abduction (unlikely)
  • Star wars testing range (improbable)
  • No mobile homes with satellite dishes (feasible, in a popular holiday destination)
In fact, the signs were erected to tell the drivers of heavy goods vehicles not to rely on their sat navs to send them down these narrow roads, since many had come to grief by doing so.


The thing is, with signs as with sermons, unless they are clear, there is little point having them. A pictogram like the one above must make sense instantly if it is to be of any help at all. Maybe this is why only four of the signs were ever displayed?

Yesterday Nick Baines, who wrote the Foreword to my book Who Needs Words, was kind enough to blog about it. He writes that it gives ‘confidence to those who feel a bit daunted by the plethora and complexity of modern communications media‘ and that it offers ‘good stuff to anyone interested in communicating better’.

Hopefully all of us want to communicate better. I know that I shall never remove my ‘L’ plates in this particular field whilst I still have the power of speech. As a communicator and preacher, though, I shall keep the picture of the little sign above in my head – and try to prize clarity over obscurity every time!

A good day for words

Three hundred and sixty nine years ago today, The British Parliament was opened for the first time with a speech in English rather than in Latin. That same Parliament passed the Statute of Pleading, which allowed Members of Parliament to debate in English. The ability to debate things close to our heart in our own tongue is a privilege which we should not take for granted.

English language day feels like a good day to be thinking about words.

The priceless word of a speaking God to his creation finds its voice in the myriad voices of his followers. This can be wonderful, since it means that God is heard in as many voices and is seen in as many colours and is felt in as many textures as His spokesmen and spokeswomen will allow. Their character and experience and humanity become part of the telling. However, this brings threats as well as opportunities.

– from Who Needs Words

"English as she is spoke" - wikimedia

A sufferer speaks out

As a preacher I suffer from a disease known to many of my colleagues – compulsive illustration acquisition syndrome. It’s all Martin Luther’s fault really – since he taught his students to draw their sermon illustrations from life all about them. My case has grown worse since I started to work on the Pause for Thought team – and find myself looking out for illustrations all around about me. I have been known to pull into a lay-by and break my little notebook out to jot down a potential gem there and then.

Once in a while, though, its nice to know that you are not the worst afflicted. Last Sunday  I was due to preach on one of our 50 Biblefresh memory verses, and somebody presented me with the photo below. The owner of this camera shop in Singapore had gone one better, and actually named his shop after a Bible verse in order to provoke conversation!

And they say preachers are the ones who treat life as one big illustration!

A camera shop with a clear focus


The curse of the mobile

If you had to think of the worst possible moment for your mobile phone to ring – I wonder what it would be?  Every time I record a radio broadcast, I live in dread of forgetting to turn my mobile off. Equally, it would be seriously embarrassing to have it go off during a prayer meeting or whilst preaching. Can you imagine, though, the awkwardness if it went off during a funeral?

Mourners at St Margaret’s Church, Rottingdean, don’t have to imagine. At a funeral service last week somebody had forgotten to switch their mobile off. That would have been bad enough, but would you care to hazard a guess as to the offending ring-tone?  Whilst many tracks spring to mind, the Bee Gees’ ‘staying alive’ is definitely not the best!

Confession is, apparently, good for the soul – so what have been your most awkward mobile moments? Time to share…

When small print is still small print

We are often told that everything is so much clearer and easier to understand now that we have integrated text and graphics online rather than boring old static print. Not only that, but the young are the ‘digital natives’, brought up in this graphics-rich and clickable environment. All of that is true, to an extent – although a 7 year old boy in England might query it this weekend.

Earlier this week he was left (some might say ill advisedly) by his father to amuse himself by browsing through e-bay.  On his travels he spotted what he thought to be a model harrier plane, and clicked the “buy it now” button.  Unfortunately the jump jet in question was the real thing – decommissioned but otherwise intact and full size, at a price of over £70,000!

His father then had to resort to the rather more old-fashioned means of pleading on the phone to the seller – who then graciously accepted the mistake and put the plane back on sale.

Digital media, with their integrated graphics, clickability and connectivity are wonderful – but just like days of yore – you still have to read the small print!

Fresh air or hot air?

Preachers are frequently accused of generating hot air, which is why I often get to use the picture I took below when training others:

What about fresh air, though? Shouldn’t our words come as a breath of fresh air, throwing open the window and letting God’s wonderfully disruptive Spirit in to upset our certainties and ruffle our feathers? Some years ago, writing about the first Pentecost, I described it like this:

In through every window and funnelled down every alley it came.It rattled and whistled and ruffled wherever it went. A curtain was torn from its mounting here, a jar toppled from its table in the street there – shattering in a hundred un-noticed pieces.A barking dog flattened its ears and whined at this strange phenomenon. A child stuck out his pudgy arm to feel it, only to be snatched back by his protective mother. The robes of the priests flapped round the grey heads of their wearers and wrapped them up like clowns in a show.Many cowered, shielding eyes and faces from the dust. Jerusalem had never been like this before. You can find the rest of this in Stale Bread.

Last night I saw a television advert which advertised an air freshener fragrance entitled…’open windows’! Am I missing something? Surely there is an easier way to achieve that particular fragrance? Preachers – make sure you keep the windows open when you preach!

…and missing the door

I have written before on here about my uneasy relationship with navigation, and shown German artist Gavin Nolte’s views on the dangers of sat navs.  I can only speculate about what Nolte would say regarding yesterday’s story of pensioners Hilda and Eric Davies. They were apparently concentrating so hard on their sat nav’s three-dimensional display of the route to Oberallgau’s historic church that they smashed straight into it.  There is now a car-shaped hole in the church’s wall, and extensive interior damage.Newspapers around the world, from Austria to India, Croatia to Florida, have picked up on the story and accompanied it with dubious headlines about ‘the road to heaven’.

Some years ago we had a couple arrive late here for a service, as their sat nav had sent them to Teddington Methodist Church instead of Teddington Baptist church.  I suppose we can’t really expect such a device to be sensitive to the niceties of denominational differences!

What has struck me most about the coverage of this story, though, is the lack of rancour. Neither the local police in Oberallgau nor the priest in charge of the church have been quoted as saying anything beyond that this was an unfortunate accident and that they were concerned for the couple’s well-being. How refreshing!  Years ago I  worked in a church where there was still a yellowing notice in the church hall declaring that “ball games should not be played – by order of the Deacon’s Court”.  Once in a while it was knocked down by a low-flying football, but always replaced for old-time’s sake!

Church buildings are a blessed and sacred resource, but we should be careful not to over-emphasise their importance.

Image of Oberallgau:

Richard Littledale

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