Looking for the Third Option: How my library book made me think again

IN this digital age I still read printed books from the library. Yes, my town is still blessed with a library. And, yes, I’ve been known to read eBooks; they need no shelf space, are searchable, highlightable (should there be such a word) and quotes can easily be copied for the obligatory social media sharing. Physical books, on the other hand, don’t need batteries, aren’t prone to startling you with notification sounds and don’t emit harmful light when you read them in bed. And with the added technology of a bookmark, I get real-time updates of how far through I am, at a glance.

None of which is particularly relevant to the point, except that the point was made to me by reading a physical book.

End GameThe work in question is End Game by Matthew Glass, which GoodReads describes as “a powerful geo-political thriller set in 2018 that describes the build up to a confrontation between the navies of the world’s superpowers, U.S. and China, off the Horn of Africa.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.

The build-up to said confrontation begins with shenanigans on the US stock market. The book was written in 2011, just three years after the 2008 financial crisis, and envisages how the influence of investment funds belonging to foreign governments could conceivably wreak havoc and bring about another crisis. It was quite an eye-opener to realise how much influence other nations can potentially exert on a country’s economy via their investments. Our economies are deeply intertwined and we’d better get used to it.

Add to the mix a UN-sanctioned military intervention that unwittingly upsets the Chinese, stir well and wait for a few weeks until you somehow end up with a standoff between navies that could lead to a major war. The fictional US President can’t quite believe how this has escalated and despairs that such financial and military crises should converge just as the country goes to the polls for the midterm elections. Not only that, but none of the options his advisers give him are appealing, all leading to disaster one way or another, sooner or later. They pretty much boil down to a classic Hobson’s Choice between Act Tough or Back Down, both of which will have dire consequences as things stand.

Until, that is, the US ambassador to the UN challenges the President to think again. She manages to get him to consider the work of a professor friend of hers who’s been predicting exactly this kind of issue as globalisation marches on in its various guises – not least, on the world’s stock markets.

While the academic isn’t accustomed to applying his theories to the real world, let alone coming up with pragmatic solutions, conversations between him, the ambassador and the President eventually lead them to the Third Option.

Desired effect

The Third Option emerges from considering two questions:
“What might be driving them to behave like this?”
and
“What do they want?”

These questions might sound trivial, but up to that point, it’s clear nobody has really asked them. Naturally, the resulting diplomatic and military strategy, although risky, has the desired effect. The military forces stand down, there are internal political maneuverings in China, concessions are offered by the US and things get back on track. Lessons have been learned and the tale reaches a very satisfactory conclusion.

And…?

“Nice book review,” you might be thinking (I wish), “but what’s this about it making you think again?” Well, I see a general moral from the tale that when you seem to have no good options, there’s always a better way if you look hard enough. And, with God on our side I genuinely believe that’s true; the Bible promises that He’ll give wisdom to anyone who knows they lack it and who asks Him. (Caveat: Sometimes an option that looks bad to me may actually be the right one; I just don’t want to follow it!)

wpid-Photo-5-May-2013-0957.jpgBut it just so happens that the story made me think again about two specific issues in my personal life where I felt I was either banging my head against a brick wall or repeating mistakes of the past. In both instances I could predict with reasonable certainty what my options would lead to, none of it particularly helpful. So I asked for that wisdom and believe that in both cases I was pointed to a Third Option. For one issue it came from reading articles on a web site; for the other it was literally a case of telling myself that my normal reaction had been unhelpful for long enough so I needed to change it.

Just like in the novel, my Third Options don’t sound particularly insightful or sophisticated, but they’re what I needed to at least start off down a hopefully more fruitful path.

Telling (not)

By the way, I’m aware you may be curious about what my issues actually were. Because I had no intention of saying what they were, I hesitated to write this post but decided I would, if only for my own future reference! So – sorry, not telling. Not because they’re terrible or scandalous, but because they’re private (remember that word?!).

The more important question is: Do you need a Third Option today? Get looking, get asking. If you seem to be heading for disaster now or disaster later, pray for the better way. Pray for the right conversation, the right idea – whatever it takes.

 

 

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A brief history of my thoughts about history

Recently I saw a video about how they do education in Finland. It’s impressive. So much so that, at the time, I promised myself I’d read more about it (or watch more videos). To date I’ve failed to keep that promise, but that’s not the point.

The point is that the Finns put a lot of emphasis on kids discovering: how to learn; what they want to learn; what makes them happy; what they might be good at. They still cover the full spectrum of arts and sciences (in fact, they seem to manage to cover subjects we’ve dropped from our own schools because there’s not enough time or it’s not deemed “relevant” enough). Anyhow, it made me think back to my own schooldays. (And, yes, this is where the history bit comes in, and not just because my schooldays are now quite a long way back in history…)

I was what would typically be called “academic” or “bright”. I did well in tests and exams. I worked hard. I handed my homework in on time. I got my O levels, my A levels and then a degree and later on another degree. And all that education opened doors of employment for me, as it’s supposed to do. I’m grateful for that. My employment, and my home life, have been “strong and stable”, to coin a current phrase.

But.

My schooldays were good but not your classic “happiest days of your life”.

I worked hard. Once I got to 14 or so I would get home from school and work till 9 p.m. most nights. I did the homework because that’s what needed to be done. I did have friends but, as I watched that Finland video, I began to wonder if I’d missed out on friendship or doing other activities because of the time I spent studying.

And two other things struck me as I looked back. First, I never had a clue what I liked or wanted to do. I knew I could understand maths and physics and was good at homework or passing exams – but that’s not what I’m talking about. Through several decades in work, I’ve never really been sure what I wanted to do.

Second, I asked myself what my gut reaction was to the question, “What subject did you most enjoy at school?”. Answer: History. (Told you we’d get to it.)

history-funI did history to O level. My teacher (Chris Rowe) was disappointed because I only scored a grade B, and I didn’t want to do it at A level. And yet it’s what came to mind 39 years later when I asked myself what I’d enjoyed most. Why? Well, words like “interesting” and “fascinating” spring to mind, but if I dig a little deeper, it has something to do with a concept of my connection to those historical events – “a sense of history”, if you will.

Our curriculum covered “modern” British and European history, starting with the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 and ending with World War Two. (Nowadays, my schooldays period – the seventies – would have to be in that curriculum too!) I liked finding out what happened and why, and seeing how one thing led to another. I didn’t like writing essays about it – but I did it, naturally. Today I still like that finding out (or, more accurately, being told – normally by a presenter on a TV documentary). But I find it especially fascinating (there I go again) when I can make a link to my own history or my life today.

Take World War One, for instance. Although further in the past than WW2, I feel a stronger link to it because both my grandfather and my Great Uncle Ernest fought in it. Although Uncle Ernest was killed, my grandfather survived and went on to have my dad. (Of course, if he hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here and you wouldn’t be reading this and we’d all end up in a space-time paradox.) That knowledge does something to me. And I still remember Chris Rowe teaching us how the Versailles Treaty at the end of WW1 sowed the seeds for WW2, a conflict that ended a mere 17 years before yours truly appeared on the scene.

Back to Finland, then. Does any of this mean I should have been a historian? I doubt it – but, then again, I’m approaching the time of life where I may have the chance to do different things, so who knows? I do know that I’m a habitual diary writer and like to look back, muse on what’s gone before in The Life Of Me, and even (sometimes) learn stuff from doing so. Chris Rowe started our 4th form history lessons by defining history as something like:

The art of looking at the past in the light of the present to learn lessons for the future.

So maybe I am a historian after all! I’m going to try to contact Chris Rowe to let him know.

 

It is wrong and unfair to denigrate older people because of the EU Referendum result

Bringing some balance to this aspect of the referendum…

Age UK Blog

The conclusion of the EU referendum, with its relatively slender majority for Leave, has been warmly welcomed by those who campaigned for a ‘Brexit’ but generated shock and dismay on the part of many fervent Remainers and in some instances real anger too. Such emotions are  understandable, given the huge potential ramifications of the decision to leave the EU, about which we will no doubt be hearing a lot more in the days and weeks to come.

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Idolatry of the Heart

This is an old (2006) post from a blogger I’ve not seen before but speaks absolutely about the place I’m in as a Christian, even after 32 years. To the extent that I seek fulfilment through anything but God, my life is a waste. To the extent that I want Jesus to forgive my sins but not to be Lord of my life, my life is a waste. I can’t make myself godly; I can’t make myself into someone who puts others first; but I can surrender unconditionally, somewhat apprehensively I’ll admit, and let God begin a new work in me.

It’s a long article but if, like me, you’re a Christian who knows their life isn’t really that distinctive, or falls prey to pursuing security & fulfillment apart from God, please read it 🙂

Possessing the Treasure

The following piece is an excerpt from my book Walking the Walk by Faith. I decided to post the chapter titled “Idolatry of the Heart” today because of some very uncomfortable blogosphere discussions I have been involved in over the last few weeks. There seems to be a great deal of confusion rooted in pride in many well-intentioned Christians who are passionately doing battle to defend their “beliefs” who end up after a many skirmishes feeling somewhat ashamed of themselves. They end up asking for forgiveness from the very people they have been battling. Of course that “shame” is coming from the conviction of the Holy Spirit into their consciences. When I wrote this chapter over a year and a half ago I was trying to explain the greatest obstacle Christians have in becoming Spirit-led. That obstacle is pride which builds idols in our hearts with the biggest most…

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That Community Moment when your neighbour asks you to pick up a Sunday paper

It's been a beautiful sunny winter day so far. (Aside for the grammar aficionados: according to this site, the names of seasons are only written with a capital letter when the season has been in some way personified, as in I was captivated by Winter's stark beauty / Summer's shimmering heat / Spring's unfolding beauty (dang it, already used “beauty”; never mind) / Autumn's something-or-other-something: you get the idea. Sorry, rather a long aside so soon in the story.) That being so, and being still in holiday mode, and, what's more, being in need of a replenished stock of old newspapers for various purposes domestic, I decided, unusually, to stroll down to the village shop for a Sunday paper. (For anyone confused by the “old newspaper” allusion, I should explain that the said domestic purposes range from shoe polishing (not that I polish shoes with newspaper; rather, the newspaper acts as a base on which to conduct the polishing and to collect the inevitable bits of polish, mud and other detritus) to mopping up water that accidentally leaks through the back door when not properly closed. It is a fundamental necessity of domestic life that one must have a stock of old newspapers to call on. One cannot, by definition, have old newspapers if one never acquires, at some point, new newspapers. And since we do not, as a matter of course, read a newspaper then our stock, last supplemented in about 2011, inexorably shrank until the point of disappearance. Sorry. Another long aside.)

Let me add that I genuinely wished to read the paper; the domestic stock replenishment would be merely a happy side-effect.

Anyhoooo, as I walked the few hundred yards to the shop, be-hatted, be-scarved and be-gloved (grammar aficionados make of those constructs what you will), I passed our friend's house. Theirs being an old property that sits right on the pavement, I easily spotted my friend in the kitchen and she waved. They are the neighbours we know best and have quite a close friendship with. Days before, she had called round and left us a fabulous Christmas gift (pictured), so I seized the opportunity to trot across the road to thank her for the gift.

Our Christmas gift

I explained the mission I was on and she asked me if I could do her a favour and buy her a copy of The Sunday Times, should one be available. As it turned out, there were none (I too had intended to buy a copy of TST but settled for The Independent on Sunday), so I duly returned her cash.

As I made my way home in the sunshine, I was struck in some admittedly vague, fuzzy way by the uplifting combination of the weather, the wave across the road, the request to buy the paper, the friendship we have with our neighbours, and the fact that she bought us the picture (which is full of Bible truths) although not (yet) believing herself.

So what's my point? Nothing profound – just a tiny occasion, a confluence of circumstances that I wanted to remember and thank God for. And to ask Him to bring about more of these Community Moments at home, at work and in church.