Saturday, March 31, 2007

Meandering around Caroline's questions (more work in progress)

Caroline Too said
I guess that I do struggle with the idea that our job is to get people to come to church for Eucharist, guest service, seeker service, fresh expression or ...
Shouldn't we be out there?
What might we be doing if we were living "this is my body broken for you" out in the world and what would we be doing if we were living "this is my blood shed for you" out in the world
and if in addition to being a living sacrifice; we were a living sacrament to our Lord, what would we be doing and who would we be doing it with and do you think that more people would see Jesus if we lifted him up that way?

As challenges at the beginning of Holy Week go, these don't make much pretence at pulling punches, do they?
But of course, she is absolutely right.
We need to not just to go out, but to stay out in the world, to live sacramental lives there that speak of God’s transforming love,and show its power. Guest appearances aren't enough if we are serious in following the Word made flesh who lived among us.
My favourite definition of priesthood has always been that coined by Austin Farrer
“a walking sacrament” – and if that holds good for the ordained ministers of the church then its clearly every bit as true for each and every member . The only difference is that the ordained might have an advantage of being recognised either by uniform or because they are themselves known in their community, - so that their efficacy as a sign might, just possibly, be more explicit…Which means, I fear, that all the times when I fail, (so that’s every day of my life, then) are equally obvious.
There's a prayer that I don't use as often as I ought which includes the plea that "today nobody should think the worse of You because of me..." Perhaps now would be a good time to find it again.

But it seems to me that this sort of incarnational ministry depends hugely on our having a relationship with the community. All the discussions that I’ve been part of around Fresh Expressions of church have at their centre the idea of community…of meeting people where they are, and joining in with what God is already doing there. I've watched with delight as Michael has gathered a community around his family to become a new kind of church in Gloucester. One year ago, that church did not exist. Tomorrow, its family members will be offering worship in the Cathedral...all because Michael has taken time to be in the city with no agenda other than God's agenda. He has loitered, prayed, made connections, loitered and prayed some more. And a community has gathered.
That’s something I get hugely excited about, and certainly my experience in schools and with our Youth Group (who mostly do church independent of what is happening with the medieval walls on Sunday mornings) suggests that it can be much easier to engage with God without extraneous mediate our relationship with God through our relationship with one another.
But that's because I've been given the privilege of time to get to know people, to explore the big questions with them, and we are all comfortable with each other in all sorts of situations....We can be the Body of Christ to each other because there is a basic level of trust and familiarity.
But what about those people who aren't part of any obvious networks...those who would be hard put to it to describe where they felt at home? We need some existing group into which we can welcome them in Christ's name, while we get to know and love them for themselves.
When an obvious network and community doesn't exist, liturgy provides a framework to enable a disparate group to gain its identity as the Body of Christ worshipping together. And for a disparate group, maybe an identifiable sacred space (something a bit like a church, perhaps) is a helpful focus for gathering.
I just don't know.

I’ve been struggling quite a lot with thequestion of how to do ministry without relationship recently…When I'm taking my turn at hospital cover, I'll find myself precipitated into peoples lives with no idea of what has gone before, and no chance of hearing the next chapter of their story. All that is asked of me is that I turn up, say the holy words and so remind patients and families that God is there for them. They don't want to be connected to a network. They don't want a relationship with me at all. They just want someone who has (to quote the wondrous David Hoyle) been given "words of power".

I have one congregation member who is in a P.V.S. ,- has been for several years now. Every now and then, when I’m feeling really guilty, I visit her. I never knew her when she was well. She doesn’t know me. But I sit there and talk and pray and read large chunks of the psalms (about the only communication that feels even half way meaningful) because it’s part of what I’m for.
I'm there to remind her (but she can't see this) that God is still there.
I find it very hard.
Relationships are key - but when they are not possible, liturgy enables us to articulate truths that we would not dare to explore except with our closest confidantes.
Where that liturgy happens is another question...

John Donne, Poet and Priest

I was in my last year at school, preparing for A levels, when we began work on the "Metaphysical Poets". Some people found them dull, quaint or obscure, but I loved them from the first moment that I read

Goe, and catche a falling starre,
Get with child a mandrake roote,

Tell me, where all past yeares are,
Or who cleft the Divels foot,
Teach me to heare Mermaides singing,

Or to keep off envies stinging,

And find
What winde
Serves to advance an honest minde.

Something in the writing of these self-consciously "clever" men roused a response in me that was quite different from any other poetry at that point. Later, theirs was to become "my" period, in which I immersed myself in both undergraduate and post-grad years, so that I was no longer deterred by obscurities but recognised the realities to which the words pointed.
George Lukas talks of the metaphysicals "looking beyond the palpable" and "attempting to erase one's own image from the mirror in front so that it should reflect the not-now and not-here" - which sounds rather sacramental and priestly from maybe there was another dimension in their appeal to me even then..

Certainly, one of my first and most treasured experiences of God's love came to me while reading John Donne's "Hymne to God the Father" on the day that my own father died. I blogged about it 2 years ago, but only included one verse of the poem. So today, when the Anglican Church gives thanks for the life and work of John Donne, I want to share with you the whole thing. Reading that last verse takes me straight to the railway carriage near Pevensey Bay where God met and held me and promised that all would be well.

A Hymne To God The Father John Donne

Wilt thou forgive that sinne where I begunne,
Which was my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive that sinne; through which I runne,
And do run still: though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sinne which I have wonne
Others to sinne? and, made my sinne their doore?
Wilt thou forgive that sinne which I did shunne
A yeare, or two: but wallowed in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For I have more.

I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spunne
My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;
But sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy sonne
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I feare no more.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Towards a response part 1

First of all Steve challenged my assumption that the Eucharist is the ultimate mission tool…Caroline Too then quite properly picked me up on the idea that mission involved people coming to us.
Reflecting on this has led me in all sorts of round-about directions, - so this will be a rather incoherent post, very much work in progress, and I suspect I’ll be back to it in the future too.

First, Steve….I absolutely agree that too often what is presented at the Eucharist on a Sunday morning is far short of the best and most helpful way of introducing people to the living power of Christ. It is quite possible for stuffy , sloppy or over formal liturgy to so grate that nobody even wants to approach the table,- let alone the times when they bravely stick it out, but then find themselves forced to indicate that they are “not one of us” by asking for a blessing rather than the food that they need. Too often, what happens during a Sunday Eucharist simply doesn't match what FabBishop calls "playing at heaven". It can feel dead, or hollow - when it should be the deepest reality of all....

But I’d still want to assert the power of the Sacrament to operate despite our worst efforts.
That’s because it’s not just a clever centre-piece to a service - yes, I’m very keen on other symbolic actions, on multi sensory worship generally and on using the richest variety of ways to make what we are doing in church accessible and “user friendly”.
If I thought of the Eucharist as simply a way of remembering what happened at the Last Supper, then I’d probably feel that there was other stuff that we could do which would be equally, if not more, effective.
But I don’t.
I believe in Real Presence, so there is nothing in the way of creative liturgy that could have the same impact.
It's not a question of priesthood shaping my view, now that I can say the words of institution myself and gather the mess and muddle of the community together for this transformative offering. This has been true for me all the way along the line, since I found myself post university, trying to settle in London, working at Hatchards and attending the 8.00 Eucharist at St James's, Piccadilly before we opened each morning, because having done so a couple of times by chance I discovered that days went better if they started that way...
When I was Readering in the Cotswolds, we tried to follow the prevailing wisdom and offered a non Eucharistic family service once a month, together with a Family Eucharist on another Sunday. The Eucharist flourished, drawing congregations from beyond the village, while the other service dwindled and finally died...
For us, in that context, it seemed that the significance of what was happening at that feast far outweighed any confusion over the rationale behind it. Perhaps we didn't always ask the official questions about how visitors "stood" in relation to their own church...If empty hands were opened, then it was our privilege to fill them with the Bread of Life.


I wrote the first part of this post while trying to come up with a creative idea for our non- Eucharistic Family Worship, which takes place after the 10.00 Eucharist on Easter Sunday. I really struggled with lack of inspiration, and wondered why (this being the sort of thing I’m supposed to be good at) till I realised that deep down, I don’t think we’re doing the right thing with this service at all.
As I said in an email
“If we want those families to have the opportunity to encounter and celebrate God's love, why aren't we making them welcome at the service that does that most explicitly? Of course, we are not excluding them from the 10.00 in any way, but the very fact that there IS something described as "Family Worship" at 11.30 makes it very clear that this is when we expect families to attend."
I n the end, that service will have as its central act something involving taking stones from the foot of the cross (where they have been a symbol of sorrow and death) and exchanging them at the Easter garden for eggs, - with all the new life that they symbolise.
But I’d so much rather be giving them bread.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The rest of the trail

There's so much I need to say in response to Steve and now to Caroline Too too, - and that's something I really want to do,- but if I wait till I've got all my thoughts organised and coherent, we' might find ourselves on the far side of which point the trail rather loses its immediacy.
So I'll just tell you about the Last Supper station, and how that confirms for me the mind-blowing power of the Eucharistic action....

In some ways, the station "Remember Me" was the simplest station of the lot.
No funky activities.
No plasticene or pebble art.
Just a table set with bread, "wine", grapes, and lighted candles.
An invitation to think of things that are special because they help us remember a special time or a special person.
When they meet together, Christians have a meal....

The institution narrative is read...
Bread is broken and shared.
`Jesus said "Whenever you do this, remember me and I will be with you"'

EVERY TIME, there is complete, focussed quiet at the words of matter how the children have been on the rest of the trail, no matter whether it's new to them or "heard it all before", no matter what is going on in the rest of the church.
As so often, whether with Little Fishes, Open House or even on Sunday morning, the moment you pick up the bread and tell that story, there He is.
Just as he promised.
Holy ground, that it was a privilege to tread with those children.

I believe in the Eucharist because, in my experience, it works.
That doesn't absolve us from the need to go out and live as the body of Christ (at the "Servant King" station, the children heard the prayer of Theresa of Avila "Christ has no body now but yours...")
It doesn't give us carte blanche to hide within our churches, doing unquestioningly what we've always done and trusting that it will bear fruit.
But it is my firm belief that within the worship of the church, nothing, nothing has that same power to engage and to transform.
It doesn't depend on the skill or creativity of the leadership.
It doesn't depend on reading the signs of the times and matching provision to need.
It's not about us at all.
"When you break bread together, remember me and I will be with you"
I was going to write a lovely happy piece about a visits from our local schools this week.
Then I was going to produce a rant (which is largely undeserved) because Steve challenged my view of the Eucharist as the ultimate mission tool.

Then I thought perhaps I could try both,- because my experience of one supports my view of the other

Gloucester is having a diocesan campaign this year called “Experience Easter” The aim is to encourage those outside our churches to try Easter worship (the hope being that even the most struggling and weary rural congregation will probably manage some enthusiasm about the Resurrection at least). The thinking is that its easier to attract people if they realise that there is something major happening wherever you turn…and that all the somethings are related.
So we’re branding and marketing Easter this year! I'm told that the resemblance of the official logo to a "B.o.g.o.f" sticker in a supermarket is entirely deliberate, so I've swallowed my reservations. After all, it would be well nigh impossible to produce anything that would sum up the whole meaning of Easter in a way that would please everyone.
As part of the campaign, we’ve had stickers, posters, worship ideas…An awful lot of paper has been generated, some less inspiring than others but some genuinely good stuff too,- among which I’d class the Experience Easter trails.

These have been designed by the diocesan primary schools’ advisor, Shahne Vickery. A church invites its local schools to visit to explore the events of the first Holy Week via assorted interactive stations (and there's a pack available to save you the work of inventing the stations). I’d done something similar in my past life, with Holy Week Prayer Walks around the village, including tables overturned in church, feet washed at the village pump, and bread broken in the pub. However, this was a first for St M’s (normally rather taken up with doing Holy Week along more traditional lines), which has no church schools, but excellent relations with the infants and primary schools closest to us in the parish…

So this week has been Easter Trail week.
A few lapses communications meant a minoe panic on my return from the Spi.Dir course on Monday, and I did adapt some of the diocesan ideas slightly, but leaving aside the fun of washing 180 pebbles (and then drying them) most things were accomplished without too much trauma.
Then the children came....

Day 1 saw 3 classes of year 2 children, with teachers, assistants and a few parent helpers for good measure, worked their way round the stations, each of which had a brief chunk of supporting Scripture and some ideas to encourage reflection. Some worked better than others, of course, but overall the whole thing was wonderful - and to have the chance to share the Easter story like this was sheer joy.
Highlights of the trail included
Hopes and Dreams- Palm Sunday.
"If they were silent, the stones themselves would shout"
"When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the people believed that all their dreams had come true, that at last someone would help them to be free from the Roman soldiers who ruled their lives, free to live in peace and prosperity. Think of your hope and dreams for the future, then draw something to represent this on a stone and add it to the cairn..."

Servant King - Maundy Thursday 1.
These 2 words don't often go together....what do you think it might mean, that people sometimes call Jesus the Servant King.
"You call me Lord and Teacher, and rightly so, for that is what I am. If I have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example..."
What do you think this might mean for you? Before you move on, if you wish dip your fingers in the water and make the sign of the cross on each hand as a visual prayer that God will help you to care for other people in a special way this Easter

Gethsemane - Alone
People often feel especially alone after dark...Think of Jesus alone in the garden while his friends slept, then think of a time when you felt specially alone, sad or afraid. Use the plastecine to make a model to represent this time, and hold it in your hands while you listen to some promises from God - then place your shape in the garden
"I have loved you with an everlasting love" "I have called you by name, you are mine."
Jesus said "Do not let your hearts be troubled, nor be afraid."

Good Friday - Sharing our Sorrows.
The cross reminds Christians of the death of Jesus, but because he rose again the cross is also a sign of hope for anyone who is suffering
Children are invited to think about a person or situation that they would like to pray for – write this on a post-it and fix to the cross

But, predictably, the station that had the most impact was the second for
Maundy Thursday, the point at which the children are invited to share in the breaking of bread. But perhaps that, and the thoughts that go with it, deserves a post of its own...there seems to be quite a head of steam building up on the subject.

In which world views are challenged!

Here in the GoodinParts household we have 2 dogs...Dillon the Evil Jack Russell, and Mufti the Good-as-Gold, Butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth Australian terrier.
This is a truth both self-evident and as immutable as the courses of the planets.
Until today, that is.

I went out in a hurry after lunch, accidentally shutting Good Girl Mufti in my study (where she spends hours most days, peacefully sleeping on the sofa).
I returned 90 minutes later, and opened the study door to find the place absolutely and completely t.r.a.s.h.e.d.
Chairs upturned.
Bin emptied.
Papers everywhere (oh no, hang on, - that's where they were before)
Bags of tea lights torn open, and their contents scattered far and wide.
Basket ransacked and feminine necessities ditto (thank the Lord I came home alone,without any poor innocent parishioner in need of comfort or reassurance....)
Books eaten.
Yes, you did read that correctly. Mufti devours poetry. More especially the poetry of Elizabeth Jennings and of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

History has been rewritten. Maybe, all those times when Dillon was caught red pawed in the act of committing a heinous crime, his svengali, Malicious Mufti, had vanished from the scene only seconds before.

You could say (and you'd probably be right) that it serves me right f0r allowing the books I'm in the throes of reading to pile up on my desk (she'd caused an avalanche from desk to floor as part of her depradations) but why, oh why did she have to pick on Elizabeth Jennings. I'm pretty sure that she's out of print, and I'd just promised LongsufferingClockmaker to have a book buying fast for a while...but I do love her work so.
So from Privet Drive comes the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth.
From the curate, that is.
The dog, of course, is completely unrepentent.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Liquid Mass

Was the title of a most excellent training day arranged by Praxis last week, led by the ever wonderful Tim Sledge.
A couple of hundred of us met in Birmingham Cathedral, and heard about Critical Mass, the worship event that Tim et al has produced for the youth of Peterborough diocese. It's basically an alt worship Eucharist road-show, Tim was very quick to tell us that it is not a Fresh Expression of Church..He was equally clear on his basic premise, that if we cannot reach people with the Eucharist, the time has come to hang up our cassocks, recycle our tea-lights and go home.
Amen, say I.
The Eucharist works, when we allow it to. Often, of course, it is all the things that Peterborough youth feared - "clannish, longwinded, hierarchical,static and nothing to do with the emerging church" - but if we don't get in the way, it actually contains all the right elements to engage a post modern culture...Story, journey, participation, visual imagery, symbol...It is multi sensory, and, of course, it focusses on food.
Tim talked us through some practical ideas for presenting the parts of the Eucharist, and later on we all participated in a splendid act of worship, with lots of lovely right-brain intuitive and experiential components, - utter bliss!

But the thing that I will carry with me for the forseeable future was a throw away line, early in the day...
"Worship", said Tim, "is what gets me up in the morning!"
Oh....if only.

Being honest, how many of you feel that what your church offers would qualify on these terms?
I'd love to be engaged in that sort of reality, but there's a long long way to go, not just in the way we present liturgy in most of our churches but also in the little world of the curate's soul.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Annunciation

The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Ghost.....

Nothing will ease the pain to come
Though now she sits in ecstasy
And lets it have its way with her.
The angel's shadow in the room
Is lightly lifted as if he
Had never terrified her there.

The furniture again returns
To its old simple state. She can
Take comfort from the things she knows
Though in her heart new loving burns
Something she never gave to man
Or god before, and this god grows

Most like a man. She wonders how
To pray at all, what thanks to give
And whom to give them to.
"Alone To all men's eyes I now must go"
She thinks "And by myself must live
With a strange child that is my own."

So from her ecstasy she moves
And turns to human things at last
(Announcing angels set aside).
It is a human child she loves
Though a god stirs beneath her breast
And great salvations grip her side.

Elizabeth Jennings

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Set All Free!

To the Cathedral this evening for a service to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Act Abolishing the Slave Trade. It was a weird and wonderful mix of Anglican formality and Afro-Caribbean zest, enthusiasm and downright chaos. Gospel choir, lots of ladies in fantastic hats (the Dean said wryly that it wasn’t often that he felt under-dressedin his own Cathedral but this was clearly one of the times) and a small girl dancing in the aisle, just a few rows ahead of me, whether there was music playing or not.

The first person to grace the pulpit was very impressive – both in his words and in his person. I couldn’t stop thinking of how unimaginable it would have been 200 years ago that a black man should be speaking out from the pulpit of Gloucester Cathedral while the Bishop sat listening silently several feet below. He talked about the loss of self-hood that slavery imposed, and went on to talk about contemporary slave-masters that still shackle black British youths,- ignorance, disrespect and mediocrity.
A later speaker told of the chain that remains around an old cotton tree in Kingston, Jamaica…left in memory of the slaves that were flogged there, but being gradually hidden as the tree grew and increased in girth. Memories are long but in the end the effects of slavery may be forgotten, the distorting impact upon black and white cultures finally dissolved.

We thanked God for those whose eyes had been open to the evils of slavery, and who had worked to overcome it, repented of our part in injustice and committed ourselves for the future. An amazing woman sang a Spiritual with overwhelming passion, to a smokey jazz accompaniment and then FabBishop gave us his blessing. At this point the proceedings became high farce. A congregation that had been significantly less static than your standard Cathedral bunch were not going to hang around now that the show was over. Instead they rose and made to depart, leaving the official procession, in all its glory, to jostle its way through the crowd to reach the door. I wondered if the Crucifer had considered pole-vaulting, and it struck me that there might well be a few lessons in freedom that could usefully be learned. Priceless

Edit: For an account of transatlantic celebrations, go here

Lenten Confusion

It's just as well that the LLLL booklet says that we can chop and change the order in which we attempt the actions - I seem ready to move into the home for the terminally confused, as not only did I get to Friday this week ahead of time, but I missed out a really Top action en route.
Thursday, you see, should have seen me setting out to

Give a friend a good book or CD

How lovely! But what to choose, and for whom?
Actually, I've been a fortunate recipient this week, since a copy of Leaving Church arrived from Maggi in time for me to read it (it's pretty well unputdownable, imo) for the RevGalBookPals discussion tomorrow. I'm now anxious to share it with everyone who has every wondered why I'm in ministry, and with those who know the answers all too well, - not to mention with beloved friend who is approaching the end of her sabbatical (why, oh why, did I not know about this book 3 months ago, - it would have been the perfect thing to send her way before she started).
So, I could give someone a copy of that...
But then, a couple of weeks ago, I was driving along the A40 towards Oxford, where I've been attending some rather stressful meetings, when classic fm played the most marvellous piece of music (Yes, I know, classic fm is a nasty pernicious radio station that tears great works apart to give us the most accessible bits and almost achieved the remarkable feat of putting me off Mozart's Clarinet Concerto for life - but when I'm driving, it's often what I need). It turned out to be proof that Allegri was not after all a one-hit wonder, as it was another anthem for the Sistine Chapel "Christus resurgens ex mortuis",- so beautiful that I had to stop driving to listen properly. So, making the most of the Dufflepud's need to pay off a debt to his mother I used his Amazon vouchers to order the CD as soon as I got home. It arrived yesterday and has not disappointed in any way. There are lots of people I'm longing to share that with too.

I guess maybe I'll have to have a random draw of names from a hat and depending on who emerges, see what might be best for them.

Meanwhile, last night I was told

Don't leave the TV or hi-fi on stand-by

and today I have to
talk to someone about why I go to church

This last requirement puts me in mind of an old joke which was possibly mildy amusing once upon a time, before Noah...
Son: Mum, I don't want to go to school today. The kids laugh at me, I can't do the work and the teachers all hate me.
Mum: Well, you'll have to go anyway. For one thing, you're 46 years old and besides, you're the Headmaster!

Happily, my experience of going to church this morning was substantially less bleak (it usually is).
I may have set out for St M's sleepily because it's part of my job to be there, but while there I met God in so many people, was challenged by the Word and shared in an amazing meal.
Good enough reasons to get up, even when the clocks have sprung forward!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Revgalblogpal Friday Five: River in the Desert Edition

I'm very tired today (sat up way too late last night, exalting with HS) so this is a lovely exercise to do, while I muster my resources. Thanks to Songbird for the impetus to reflect on what refreshes

I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:19, NRSV As we near the end of the long journey toward Easter, a busy time for pastors and layfolk alike, I ponder the words of Isaiah and the relief and refreshment of a river in the desert. For this Friday Five, name five practices, activities, people or _____ (feel free to fill in something I may be forgetting) that for you are rivers in the desert.

1. Music - obvious, but the most constantly restoring thing I know. As I type, I'm listening to the CD that HS gave me for Mothering Sunday - Samuel Barber Violin Concerto, Piano Concerto and (of course) the Adagio for Strings. I can feel the exhaustion slipping from me. Listening to music in a deep and bubbly bath, with a drink at hand refines the process still further - but maybe I'm being too demanding! If energy levels are better, then music-making myself is yet more restorative,- though the reality of my performance may not always satisfy me, the very act (particularly of singing) makes an enormous difference.

2. Fresh flowers. If I'm having a wearing week, then a bunch of daffodils in the sitting room lifts everything.

3. Walking with the dogs on the hills around Cheltenham, or better still by water - best of all, the sea. It's perfect with someone with whom I can be silent , or on my own. Even manic extroverts need this. It doesn't mean I'm sad or sulking!

4. Hugs from people I love (ideally from one of my 6ft, HS does a particularly satisfying version but I'll take any that are offered, and feel so much healthier as a result)

5. Those friends who are best at distentangling me and restoring my
perspective. You know who you are,- I hope you also know how often
your words and presence bless and transform me.

Do you hear the people sing?

Alongside all the everyday necessities of a busy parish preparing for Holy Week, this week has been dominated for the GoodinParts household by a production of Les Miserables at school.
The biennial musical is a major highlight of Burford life, and it has always been hugely signficiant for my offspring as they've made their way up the school, from chorus in Oliver through minor principal roles. 2 years ago, they offered Jesus Christ Superstar in the week before Holy Week, and its songs provided a constant soundtrack for me as we followed the way of the cross.

This year it feels equally appropriate that we're on the eve of the 200th Anniversary of the Act to Abolish Slavery, - for themes of freedom and redemption shout from every line of the show.
Victor Hugo wrote about the book

"I condemn slavery, I banish poverty, I teach ignorance, I treat disease, I lighten the night, and I hate hatred. That is what I am, and that is why I have written Les Miserables."

Alongside the big themes, let me tell you that being the mother of Jean Valjean is an emotionally gruelling experience. I'm not completely sure whether I breathed at all while he was on stage. When you're in your final year at school, the lead in the musical is probably the pinacle of life's achievements so far...HS has put so much into it and gave what seemed (allowing for maternal bias) to be a remarkably real and moving performance. AND he can sing.
He's settled into his tenor voice now, and it does sound rather lovely.
But believe me, you don't, you really don't, want as a parent to watch your son as an old man, dying only a few feet away from you, no matter now beautiful his singing. I've never wept that much in public.

Friday, March 23, 2007

One lovely thing

about giving last night's talk was that I could (and did) read poetry in any spare moment, and
tell myself that it was work! (Reminds me of my undergraduate days. 3 years spent reading, and being paid by the government to do so. Sheer bliss. Wish it were that straightforward for HG and her friends)
This means that I've rediscovered all sorts of delights, and met many more for the first time. I daren't say that I'll post a poem a day between now and Easter, but when I can, I will.
This one, by my beloved George Herbert, is for those who are feeling beset and battered by life right now. It doesn't say exactly what I'd wish to, - because in using the image of a flower, Herbert has to suggest that the events that bruise and damage inevitably come from God. Not in my theology, they don't. But the penultimate verse has such tranquil wholeness about it, it has stayed with me as a reminder of where I'm making for during the stormy times in my own journey.

The Flower.

How Fresh, O Lord, how sweet and clean
Are thy returns! ev’n as the flowers in spring;
To which, besides their own demean,
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring.
Grief melts away
Like snow in May,
As if there were no such cold thing.

Who would have thought my shrivel’d heart
Could have recover’d greennesse? It was gone
Quite under ground; as flowers depart
To see their mother-root, when they have blown;
Where they together
All the hard weather,
Dead to the world, keep house unknown.

These are thy wonders, Lord of power,
Killing and quickning, bringing down to hell
And up to heaven in an houre;
Making a chiming of a passing-bell,
We say amisse,
This or that is:
Thy word is all, if we could spell.

O that I once past changing were;
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither!
Many a spring I shoot up fair,
Offring at heav’n, growing and groning thither:
Nor doth my flower
Want a spring-showre,
My sinnes and I joining together;

But while I grow to a straight line;
Still upwards bent, as if heav’n were mine own,
Thy anger comes, and I decline:
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone,
Where all things burn,
When thou dost turn,
And the least frown of thine is shown?

And now in age I bud again,
After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing: O my onely light,
It cannot be
That I am he
On whom thy tempests fell all night.

These are thy wonders, Lord of love,
To make us see we are but flowers that glide:
Which when we once can finde and prove,
Thou hast a garden for us, where to bide.
Who would be more,
Swelling through store,
Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Returning to myself

Tonight was the Lent talk I was fretting about on poetry as part of a series "Lent and the Arts", offered by a neighbouring parish.
When the publicity mailing came round, I very nearly fled the country as the line-up consisted of 4 emminent and erudite persons, each speaking on their particular area of expertise - and me.
For heaven's sake, I was the only one listed who wasn't a Canon of Glouceste!
However, by dint of sheer determination I reminded myself that I surely loved poetry just as much as anyone loved anything, and that I really did have things I wanted to share. I then spent my day off shut in the study surrounded by endless collections of glory...and delivered the result tonight.
And when it came to it went down a treat, actually.

Given that really all you can do with poetry is talk - read it to them, talk about it, talk around it...I was half expecting people to drop off.
Cosy church.
March evening.
Dim lights.
What would you do?
But they attended. Most beautifully.
I read them a poem by Rowan Williams, - Jerusalem Limestone - and invited them to close their eyes and let text draw them into the wilderness landscape.
Mine were the only eyes that remained open.
I read them a meditation from Mucky Paws about sand, and one woman spoke to me afterwards about the words, all the while rubbing thumb and forefinger together as if she were running invisible grains of sand between her fingers.
At the end, there might have been questions but the vicar asked us to stay silent, to reflect, and it was very good.

It was also hugely helpful to me as a reminder that I love poetry with a passion and that though I may no longer harbour ambitions to complete my PhD, I do still know my the point of the PhD in the first place...

Let me tell you what Sue Monk Kidd has to say on the subject of poetry and the Journey
"“I’ m discovering that a spiritual journey is a lot like a poem. You don't merely recite a poem or analyze it intellectually. You dance it, sing it, cry it, feel it on your skin and in your bones. You move with it and feel its caress. It falls on you like a teardrop or wraps around you like a smile. It lives in the heart and the body as well as the spirit and the head.”
Poetry is something to warm your hands around on a chilly spring evening.
In a few months it will be the lilac scented warmth of a summer evening.
It works to forge emotional connection
But either way, it points, sacramentally, to something beyond itself...and its signing is a language that speaks to me.

Lent continues...

truly it does, despite my lamentable failure to keep you updated with the Love Life Live Lent material for a whole week now. I'm afraid it has been more a question of Live Life, hang on in there - just too much going on, and backlogs of reflection on so many things....
However, since last I blogged, LLLL has encouraged us to
  • have a conversation with someone from a different generation (easy - I live with teenagers and have a fairly elderly congregation)
  • join a litter walk or clean up (I'm going to help the Scouts on St George's day, thanks to MGBF)
  • ring a loved on (phoned Hatti Gandhi, texted Special Friend)
  • plant some seeds where the flowers will be seen (well, I have a packet of nasturtiums to cast, but it snowed on Monday, when I should have done this, so it seemed kinder to postpone the action till the seeds have a chance of survival)
  • find an open church (like St M's, you mean!) and spend 5 minutes in silence
  • Hug someone who needs it (who doesn't? but hugging is easy and wonderful)
  • find out about blood/organ donation (do both anyway - though I have to wait another 3 months before my blood is deemed clear from Indian influence)
It's sad that life has rather got in the way of my responding to and savouring each day's action. Perhaps I can retune after this peculiarly manic week.
Meanwhile, as my maths teacher used to say when he was leaving the classroom to have a badly needed cigarette
"Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee going on with that"

Edit: Marcella is quite right. Tomorrow is organ and blood donation day - so having been a week behind, I'm now 24 hours ahead. Ah well. Time keeping is never my strong suit!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Response to Comments

Caroline pointed out, by implication, in her comments on yesterday's post that actually what I think is probably more sorted than I've suggested.
She's right, of course, but (returning to the good old MyersBriggs paradigm) I am so strongly F that when I'm considering the realities of being me, feelings have it their own way almost entirely.
I know quite alot of things as intellectual certainties.
I actually live most of my time quite contentedly on the basis of that knowledge.
But when I'm asked to go grubbling about in my murky depths, that's a process based on instinct and feeling.

I'm only pointing out this obvious and boring (to anyone except me) truth because I spent some time last night with very dear friend whose T is as strong as my F. Hearing her talk about her approach to a situation, I was struck again by what a huge impact this all has.
And I remembered that, at least half the time, when I say "I think..." what I actually mean is
"I feel"

Right now, though, I think, feel, KNOW that if I don't press on with writing the Lent talk I'm to deliver tomorrow night I will be absolutely done for.
I've only had 6 months to prepare. No wonder I haven't started!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Accountability - or stupidity??

As Songbird clearly knows me well enough to giggle at the idea that I might need to learn that it's not all up to me, I'm taking a deep breath and posting the fruits of the weekend in terms of where I could usefully be heading....That way you can at least smile knowingly to yourselves as you see me fall flat on my face in my attempts to live them

Key transforming truth: relationships are not as fragile as you think

Key action: say no

Key attitude: trust yourself

Practical outworkings of this might well include
  • switching off my mobile and being unavailable at times I've set aside to play, pray or be with family
  • resisiting the urge to plough into emails first thing in the morning (yes, I'm online now before I've been up to say the Office, and yes, I did do emails before blog) without first stilling myself and handing over fears/hopes to my Source of safety
  • handing over to someone else a role I'm possessive about (stand well clear, anyone who doesn't want to find themselves up to their ears in OpenHouse)
  • asking for help when needed, rather than taking on all the responsibility myself

Typing that lot felt very vulnerable. Not the sort of "cost-you-your- job/wreck-your- relationships" vulnerability that might be part of careless blogging, but rather the vulnerability that says
"now anyone reading this who was at the residential will be able to work out what "type" I am, and could speculate on the flaws in personality or relationship that have made me thus".
[Awful pause for thought.]
They might be able to guess what I keep in my cupboard back-stage.

Its hard to think of anything less backstage than a blog open to the whole world to read (however limited my real live readership) but yes, I do trust that those reading who are guessing significances won't think the less of me...
And, bearing in mind the stuff in my personal back-stage cupboard, that feels like a pretty big thing for a Tuesday morning.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What price Mothering Sunday?

It had escaped the notice of very few of the curates at Glastonbury that we were actually away from home on Mothering Sunday. It would be fair to say that many of us, of both genders, were less than delighted!
Not surprisingly, in recent post-Christendom years Mothering Sunday has become inextricably entangled with Mothers Day, but its roots are very different, having as much to do with a return to a home "Mother Church" as to a great celebration of the female parent.
Of course, I was sad that I wouldn't be with my own children this year (though with Hattie Gandhi in Cardiff, and the boys engrossed in the final rehearsals for Les Miserables I'd barely have seen them anyway).
More than that, though, I found it really hard to be away from St M's on a day when so many of the children I encounter each week really might turn up in the congregation.
I wanted to be there to welcome them.
I wanted to make sure things were OK, that everyone had a wonderful time and determined to return at an early opportunity.
(Hang on...wasn't there something about this sort of thing over the weekend? I wonder if I dare to blog my own targets from the weekend - boring for others, possible useful accountability for myself)
I felt awful when I gathered that this year there weren't enough flowers for everyone to go home with a bunch.
I can but hope that nobody felt excluded.
I can't fix it, even if they did.
It's not actually all dependent on me!
Relieved edit: Flowers did not actually run out at St M's...and there had been clear instructions that everyone should be included. Inevitably I hit the one person whose experience didn't match the norm - isn't it funny how the negatives always find a way to get through. But I'm so glad that the majority went home feeling happy and loved.!

For me, one of the most important truths of the day is that the sort of care that we regard as "mothering" comes to us from so many many people, only a few of whom will be mothers.
When it comes to soothing ruffled feelings at the end of a long day,- I go to my sons. Hugger Steward is not called that for nothing!
When I want reassurance that I'm loved and lovable,- I'll probably phone my daughter.
When I'm too tired to cook, and left to myself probably wouldn't bother to eat, - there is my husband.
If I'm reduced to tears by the proportion of chaos at home, the Domestic Goddess appears to set all to rights.
And in any number of situations when I need consolation, understanding, advice or encouragement, - and perhaps above all a sense of proportion, there are my friends. You.

Mothers have never had the monopoly on mothering - and at times when I'm very aware of my own absences from crucial points in my children's lives, I'm thankful that there are others to share in the role.
If you've mothered me in any way this past year, thank you. These flowers are for you!

St Chad - Undefended Leader!

I came home from Glastonbury in time to preach at Evensong - part of a sermon series on missionary saints commemorated during March. I have to say, my heart did not leap when I was assigned Chad. Beyond a number of entertaining and gin sodden evenings with some camp catholics at St Chad's College, Durham, during my post-grad year, I knew less than nothing about the man, and wasn't sure I wanted to.
In the event, he surprised me, as I've illustrated in the sermon, which I've posted here.
I wished, though, that I'd been able to rewrite the sermon again to reflect some of the things I think I've learned about leadership during the weekend.
Chad, you see, sat very light to his leadership.
He was happiest giving away his power (he literally handed back his bishopric, rather than place himself centre stage as a cause celebre, a figurehead for the Celtic church whose influence was diminishing before the church of Rome)
He felt no need to impose himself or assert his dignity - indeed, he consistently resisted those projections of others that insisted that a bishop must be an authority figure . He exemplified the type of power that we identified as "weak power" - which, of course, reaches it perfect expression in the Incarnation and the "undefended leadership" of the Servant King.

The thesis of the weekend, as I understand it, is that our habitual leadership styles emerge from our earliest experience of relationships that meet or fail to meet our internal needs....
We are shaped, we are distorted or we blossom through those experiences.
Our goal in leadership is to become undefended leaders, whose sense of personal worth is independent of our success, or of the affirmation that we receive from others...
Clearly we don't need to be engaged in leadership to find ourselves trapped by the same behaviour patterns, derived from the same sources.
But we can, with God's help, learn new patterns based on our identity as God's beloved children.
Once we grasp in our souls that this love really is unconditional and inexhaustible, received as gift each and every moment, everything is transformed. We don't need defence strategies, because we understand that we are defended by the love that holds creation in being.

I don't expect that St Chad would have much truck with books on The Undefended Leader but I'm certain he'd recognise the subject matter.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

And did those feet?

I’m sure there is much I should say about Glastonbury.
It is the weirdest of weird places.
Abbey ruins and the thorn that sprouted from Joseph of Arimathea’s staff or the goddess temple, Isle of Avalon and enough New Agery to supply every MindBodySpirit fair for years to come…It's not either/or it's Both/And.

Middle-aged women in exotic robes wander down the High Street brandishing their wands, passing a Sufi charity shop where prayer time is rigorously observed.
Meanwhile, safe in Abbey House, a host of Anglican curates learn about management styles.

"Hold up your hands, this is a send up!" *

Here I'm suddenly one with Louis Macniece
" World is crazier and more of it than we think, incorrigibly plural."

And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England's mountains green?

In all honesty, I can't say that they did...but there an awful lot of people out there looking for their Owner with every fibre of their being.

A friend from VicarSchool is curate in Glastonbury and says that on the wh0le the only people who are not interested in dialogue and discussion are the Christians. She has good relations based on trust and respect with many of the other seekers around the place....but the bottom line for too many of our brothers and sisters in Christ is that Chrisianity is too frail and uncerain a beast to withsand the onslaught of this sort of questioning encounter. Much safer to keep it behind a neat wrought-iron railing.
I didn't enjoy the influence of esoterica around Glastonbury, but the stress on vegetarian, oragnic, Fair Trade shopping made me totally at home. In my flowery Docs and Bishopston trousers, I blended nicely into the crowd, comfortable here as I'm not in Cheltenham, save during Greenbelt.
So much to learn!

* Explanatory note - in my childhood, there was a radio sketch of an rather inept bank-robber rehearsing and then carrying out his crime, which began with huge confusion around stick ups/hold ups/hands up etc - and which used to make my mother and me cry with laughter. To this day, I'm unable to hear any phrase of the sort without that subtext running in my head. I'm not convinced this is the original in its perfect form, but it's the best the web could offer.
So here I am back from a curate’s residential in that wackiest of wacky places, Glastonbury…
The prospect of a weekend on “The Undefended Leader” pressed all the wrong buttons for me in advance – leadership is something that I can see is necessary, but not something that I’m excited to exercise. For me it carries heavy associations with a particular style of rather male dominated evangelical church, which is just not my natural home,- but I have to accept that I won’t be a curate forever, and that when (if) I’m a Real Live Vicar, entrusted with a parish of my own, though I’ll surely have all sorts of dreams and visions for the place, they will be futile if I have no mechanism for taking people into those imagined futures with me. So, I guess leadership, of whatever variety, will have to be part of life – though I hope it will always be a question of enthusing and inspiring rather than directing…
However, my attitude to the weekend improved when I tried the online profiling exercise we were asked to do in advance. I couldn’t grasp how the simple imaginative process we went through could ever produce such uncannily accurate results, - but produce them it did. So I went off to Glastonbury with at least a reasonably open mind, was reunited with some truly splendid people, and was thoroughly engaged by the guy who led us through the material,- a real sweetheart.
Am I a convert?
I’m not certain – but I’m interested enough to read the book we were given as part of the weekend. Certainly as we considered our leadership styles, and the life events that might have shaped them, I found myself glimpsing one or two uncomfortable truths that I’d kept well buried in a cupboard back-stage for many a long year. Bringing them out into the open, even for long enough for me to name them to myself, was hard and painful….But there were good friends about the place, and the whole weekend was interspersed with and under-girded by plenty of prayer and reflection before God.
This morning’s Eucharist ended with an invitation for anyone to share a word or picture they felt they had been given by God for the group…not something that is a regular part of worship at St M’s, as you’ll not be surprised to hear.
What did surprise me was that the one picture that was shared spoke clearly and directly into my self-discovery.
So, if you ever find yourself at the top of Glastonbury Tor on a windy day, lean back into the wind, think about God and then think of me. Really, I’d appreciate it.

for an alternative view of the weekend, Dave Wheatley blogs here

Friday, March 16, 2007

"My chains fell off...."

Yesterday's "thought for the day" in the diocesan Lent material came from Rachel Conrad Wahlberg. Having spent some time on google, I'm rather ashamed to admit that I hadn't encountered her previously, for her words had a huge impact on me.

I thought about my friends in India, those women who'd dared to step outside the expectations of their society to claim their right to respect and status apart from that conferred by father or husband.
Later in the day, at my review we talked about the courage with which the majority at St M's have
welcomed me, despite the many years in which they'd been told by their former priest that women just couldn't be ministers of Word and Sacrament. With both those situations present in my thoughts, perhaps it's no wonder that I found myself struggling with tears as WonderfulVicar read to us in the chapel.

"Jesus gave the [Samaritan] woman a message bomshell...It acted as a spiritual call within her. She went forth immediately to tell a message - and the message got through. She was the medium. She left her water pot to go and tell. She left her woman-job for her preacher-job.
Her culturally assigned status gave way to her Jesus assigned status - one who is worthy to go and tell."

Thursday, March 15, 2007


A break from the guilt, - today's action was completely straightforward and something I do all the time anyway
Buy a Fairtrade product with this mark

In celebration of the realisation that this was actually a manageable goal, I decided to buy something along the lines of a Fairtrade treat. Not chocolate - I needed to prove to myself that I could resist that particular temptation this morning - so I bought the boys a treat instead, a jar of FT choc spread and then went one step further and treated myself to some exciting muesli (is that an oxymoron ? - it sounds rather as if it might be) in the hope that I might remember to eat breakfast as a result.

Mind the Gap (again)

During this morning's blog surf, I found myself commenting both here, and here
that it's disturbingly easy for me think I'd manage to live up to my principles, since most of the time I'm in very little danger of being asked to do so.

This afternoon I have the ministerial review that has been looming for a while. The form to be completed beforehand had some pretty clear categories, but finished with an "Is there anything else you'd like to say?" type question. With the woes of the Anglican Communion heaped about me, I added something about my longing for "compassionate inclusion" and felt as if I might have nailed some sort of colours to a mast.
But of course, as I was reminded by reading Tom's post, I've never actually been asked if I would bless a same-sex couple (this could, of course be because . St M's isn't the sort of church that is brimming over with brave souls who've come out and are asking God's blessing on their the curate can rest secure in the knowledge that she won't actually be challenged to do anything.
Equally, this isn't the kind of community where individuals in need of refuge from a hostile world turn to the church for help (unless you count the occasional visit from Hamish, of course) - so again, I'm safe from having my behaviour actually challenged by reality

In the months ahead, I'll begin the process of looking for a new parish, a new situation in which to try and live out this calling. I've been hoping that this won't be somewhere too comfortable, that I'll find myself in situations where I might begin to bridge the gap between present reality and cherished aspirations.
But if it came to the crunch, I'm very much afraid I might just melt into the background, always smiling a friendly pastoral smile but doing precisely nothing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

And another one....LLLL24

I guess its somewhere about now that you realise that actually 6 weeks is quite a long time, and not only have I slipped terminally from all the focussed prayer and quality time with God that I had so fervently intended this Lent, but even the LLLL activities seem to be beyond me.
Today was, in theory, my day off so the task
"Visit your local park and then write to the council and tell them what you thought about it"
ought to have been quite manageable.

However, thanks to a study morn on the Resurrection (v.g), and a parish Lent course tonight(slightly uninspiring) , the day didn't actually feel that re-creative (with the glorious exception of a lovely lunch time with special friend - some things are always just what you need). What's more, when I got home from the school run, the dogs had managed to break the cat flap so there was lots of faffing about and not alot of joy in Privet Drive.
Actually, unless you count the recreation ground immediately opposite Privet Drive, I suspect there's minimal chance of of my getting anywhere near anything resembling a park for a long while...and, to be honest, if I did have time, I'd rather get out of town altogether.

Of course, there's always Crickley Hill Country Park - one of my most favourite of all dog walks. I could write a very nice letter about that, and the views of Gloucestershire from the escarpment....Do you think that might count instead?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

LLLL23 - I do like a good haggle

Buy something at a local charity shop and reverse haggle

Attractive though this action is to an inveterate charity shopper, I suspect I'm just not going to get round to it before Easter. Indeed, I don't intend to go near the town centre and its shops at all in the next 3 weeks, unless I absolutely have this one will just have to wait for the moment.

However, in honour of the noble concept of haggling (in either direction), herewith the scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian which sets a gold standard for hagglers everywhere

BRIAN: How much? Quick.
BRIAN: It's for the wife.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Oh. Uhhh, twenty shekels.
BRIAN: Right.
BRIAN: There you are.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Wait a minute.
BRIAN: What?
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Well, we're-- we're supposed to haggle.
BRIAN: No, no. I've got to get--
HARRY THE HAGGLER: What do you mean, 'no, no, no'?
BRIAN: I haven't time. I've got--
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Well, give it back, then.
BRIAN: No, no, no. I just paid you.
BURT: Yeah?
HARRY THE HAGGLER: This bloke won't haggle.
BURT: Won't haggle?!
BRIAN: All right. Do we have to?
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Now, look. I want twenty for that.
BRIAN: I-- I just gave you twenty.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Now, are you telling me that's not worth twenty shekels?
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Look at it. Feel the quality. That's none of your goat.
BRIAN: All right. I'll give you nineteen then.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: No, no, no. Come on. Do it properly.
BRIAN: What?
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Haggle properly. This isn't worth nineteen.
BRIAN: Well, you just said it was worth twenty.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Ohh, dear. Ohh, dear. Come on. Haggle.
BRIAN: Huh. All right. I'll give you ten.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: That's more like it. Ten?! Are you trying to insult me?! Me, with a poor dying grandmother?! Ten?!
BRIAN: All right. I'll give you eleven.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Now you're gettin' it. Eleven?! Did I hear you right?! Eleven?! This cost me twelve. You want to ruin me?!
BRIAN: Seventeen?
HARRY THE HAGGLER: No, no, no, no. Seventeen.
BRIAN: Eighteen?
HARRY THE HAGGLER: No, no. You go to fourteen now.
BRIAN: All right. I'll give you fourteen.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Fourteen?! Are you joking?!
BRIAN: That's what you told me to say.
BRIAN: Ohh, tell me what to say. Please!
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Offer me fourteen.
BRIAN: I'll give you fourteen.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: He's offering me fourteen for this!
BRIAN: Fifteen!
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Seventeen. My last word. I won't take a penny less, or strike me dead.
BRIAN: Sixteen.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Done. Nice to do business with you.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Tell you what. I'll throw you in this as well.
BRIAN: I don't want it, but thanks.
BURT: Yeah?
BRIAN: All right! All right! All right!
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Now, where's the sixteen you owe me?
BRIAN: I just gave you twenty.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Oh, yeah. That's right. That's four I owe you, then.
BRIAN: Well, that's all right. That's fine. That's fine.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: No. Hang on. I've got it here somewhere.
BRIAN: That's all right. That's four for the gourd.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Four? For this gourd? Four?! Look at it. It's worth ten if it's worth a shekel.
BRIAN: But you just gave it to me for nothing.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: Yes, but it's worth ten!
BRIAN: All right. All right.
HARRY THE HAGGLER: No, no, no, no. It's not worth ten. You're supposed to argue, 'Ten for that? You must be mad!' Ohh, well. [sniff] One born every minute.

If I weren't an optimist, I'd be tempted to despair.

The annual excitement that is the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival began today, so the blue sky of spring was full of the helicopters of the affluent, delivering beautiful people to the racecourse for a day of (mildly) risky excitement, smoked salmon and champagne. It was also full of advertising planes, towing banners - and it was these that irritated a group of gentlemen with whom I was working this afternoon. Looking up, they grumbled and berated not the pilots, nor the firms that were sponsoring the adverts but the green lobby for even thinking that increasing the cost of commercial flights, flights for ordinary people, might be a helpful measure against climate change.
The gist of the conversation was broadly this
In the UK, we're only responsible for 2% of the damage to the world, - if there's really any damage at all. What's that in the grand scheme of things? If I never went on another holiday, it wouldn't help anyone else. And anyway, scientists say that it's possibly not a manmade problem at all. We're just moving naturally into another ice age, that's all. It'll be good when the millionaires houses on the Thames are so close to the flood line that they're being sold off dirt cheap. You could make a killing then...And people like visiting Venice, so if a few more places are under water that will be good for their tourist industries, won't it.
Anyway, until they stop people like those from flying, we don't think its fair if we have to spend more to take our holidays. Global warming just isn't the fault of ordinary people.

This after a winter of such un-natural weather that the crocuses in the garden came into bloom just before Christmas, and the flood plains around Burford have been under water since October at least...
It would not have been helpful for me to start sharing my beliefs fully at that point but I did point out that I knew young people who were seriously proposing not to have children themselves, because they felt the world would not be around to sustain them. That silenced them for a second or two...but they quickly recovered.
It's official.
If you live in Cheltenham, global warming is not your fault - unless you've invited friends to the Festival.

This morning, Steve Tilley, whose Mustard Seed Shavings are always worth investigating, invited visitors to help construct a Wall of Words to faise funds for I CAN, a UK charity that works for and with children who struggle to communicate.
As someone who rarely, if ever, stops talking this really - [no, Kathryn, you simply can't write "this really spoke to me"....]
Ah well, you get the gist.

It's a thumping good cause and an innovative way of raising money. You can add a word you love to the wall, in the hope that by the end of the month we'll have built a wall 2 miles long and inspired OpenReach to produce some more funds. Steve asked his readers to come up with a word as yet unposted, and after minimal thought, synecdoche popped into my mind.
Rewind some twenty mumble years, to a summer afternoon in Cambridge.
Scary Tutor is talking us through a piece of Prac Crit and refers to something as "synecdoche".
Brave Student Who Doesn't Mind Being Thought Foolish asks for a definition, but as Scary Tutor draws breath to explain, our attention is diverted by the sight of a basket, filled with bundles of papers, being lowered past his window. The don upstairs is moving out.
"There goes Professor X" says Scary Tutor "THAT'S synecdoche"

More about that Lion

What has happened is that we have turned the focus of our attention away from the deep and dazzling darkness of God and the immensity of his reality and settled, in our hearts and minds, for something much, much less, namely a God who is no bigger than we can cope with.
( Melvyn Matthews)

This morning's reflection from "Praying Together in Lent" practically leaped off the page and grabbed me by the throat. There were 4 of us in the chapel for Morning Prayer and for a little while afterwards we talked about the way God is swept tidily away into a box, with a pretty brocade curtain across the door.
I felt ashamed.
Always, though, there's a balance to be found.

I used to worry that the prevailing theology at St M's was so shaped by awe that there was a real danger that fear would cast out love. The rope closing off the sanctuary, with its forbidding notice "This area is alarmed" seemed a disturbing expression of the collective vision.
"His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form"...
Tremble, then, and keep your distance!

But God invites us to take off our shoes and step closer. He opens his arms. He calls us his beloved children.
And there's danger there too.
I know that in preaching God's love I may too easily present Someone cosy, domestic, smiling indulgently at our flaws and foibles.

The thought of a God I can cope with is truly terrifying.
A God limited by my capacity would be no God at all...
...and I remembered Annie Dillard's words from Teaching a Stone to Talk

"It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church. We should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may awake someday and take offense, or the waking God may draw us out to where we can never return."

So today we prayed for courage and then set out, 4 middle-aged women called to be part of changing the world.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Help a bug out of the house, rather than squash it

No problem with the theory of this, but opportunity eluded me today. On Thursday, however, as I set the altar for the BCP Eucharist I became aware of a very sleepy tortoiseshell butterfly, perched with wings outstretched on the service book.
St M's has rather a tradition of church butterflies. Distressingly, they fly about during the winter months seeking warmth and light and their end is usually signalled by an unpleasant singed smell. I was determined that this butterfly at least should fare better, so at the end of the service I persuaded it onto my stole and it departed with me to the vestry.
It was a lovely spring day, and it fluttered drunkenly off the stole when I opened the door, and was last seen sunning itself on a grave stone. I fear it won't have survived for long - but it was a beautiful addition to the congregation that morning.