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  • Writer's pictureRoss Moughtin

How God uses nerds

A fascinating meeting yesterday with a self-confessed Nerd. I’ve always associated the term nerd with computer geeks, entirely focussed to the point of obsession while being entirely devoid of social skills. However, I now discover from Wikipedia that Dr Seuss coined the word in 1950 in his book “If I Ran the Zoo.” In that pre-digital age it had the connotation of bookishness. I guess the English equivalent is the term ‘anorak’ which I have always assumed comes from the sight of middle-aged train spotters standing in the early morning drizzle at the end of platform 12 of Crewe station, waiting for the Class 89 diesel locomotive to pass through. You may know, incidentally, that this unit was named the Avocet although the anoraks used to call it the Badger owing to its slanted front ends. Again you may recall that in December 2006 the AC Locomotive Group launched a successful appeal to save this particular prototype locomotive for the nation. It is currently being extensively restored by devoted volunteers, especially its bogies Anyway, back to nerds. No longer a term of abuse, the ability of computer nerds to earn huge piles of cash has earned them a measure of respect – although usually earning piles of cash was never their aim, merely a welcome spin-off from their obsessive pursuit of some technical objective. In fact, rule #11 from the now famous Rules of Life speech falsely attributed to Bill Gates reads “Be nice to nerds … Chances are, you’ll end up working for one.” I’ve come across a few nerds over the years, not least in the Christian world – people who have focussed on one particular area of ministry, say, with a concentration which borders on the obsessive. And I think it is fair to say that like Juliet yesterday, they gladly own up to the description of nerds. Take Colin – who actually became a Bishop, though not one I finished up working for. His passion was liturgy. Now I fully concede that this is a hugely important subject but who in their right mind makes this their all-consuming obsession? Well, Colin for one; he lived and breathed liturgy. As it happens he became known as the Patrick Moore of the CofE. But his contribution to worship proved immense. God clearly used his passion. Or John. I blogged about his ministry some years back and such is the power of the internet that my comments reached him via Argentina and the Home Counties within a couple of hours. John’s passion is church administration. I thought at the time: “Who in their right mind is passionate for church admin?” For John, who it turns out was a contemporary of mine at university (we appear on the same Christian Union Leavers’ photo in 1970) church admin was his all-consuming passion to which he has devoted his entire life. And his contribution to parish ministry has proved immense. God clearly used his single-minded focus. Or George, my hero whom I last met at Costa Coffee at Lime Street station the summer before last. As always he was wearing his ‘world map’ shirt. For George’s passion is world-wide mission, taking the gospel to every conceivable corner of the planet even if it means buying a ship as a platform for evangelism. Again, his passion borders on the obsessive. He talks about nothing else. Some of you will know George as the founder of Operation Mobilisation. In fact, Jacqui’s time on OM in France some 50 (!) years ago proved to be hugely formative. And not only is George driven by this passion for sharing the good news of Jesus, like many nerds he has boundless energy and a fearful drive. Yesterday’s nerd - her expression not mine - has her obsession as funerals. Juliet – who no doubt will soon be reading these words as forwarded to her by one of you – has found her calling in this hugely important ministry of funerals but again, funerals virtually to the exclusion of everything else. She explained to us her previous experience in ordained ministry led her to see funerals as not only very important but also sadly neglected by the CofE. In fact, I blogged about this just a few months back, how civil celebrants, including the humanists, are muscling into this key area of parish ministry in a big way. It seems, as Juliet described, that the CofE had lost the plot in neglecting this ministry. Strangely some clergy see funerals as a distraction to their main task. “The Diocese needed a nerd” is how she explained her appointment. That rang a bell for me. And I am sure that the Holy Spirit will use her nerdiness to help us reclaim lost ground. I’m not sure which characters from the Bible could be classed as nerds. The apostle Paul, as grabbed by the love of Christ, has to be a leading candidate. His passion to the point of obsession for sharing the good news of Jesus along with – as he freely admits – a lack of social skills as well as boundless energy. “Christ is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:28-29) (And if you are a nerd, don’t let them put you off!)

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