Sunday, 19 April 2015

MORE FROM THE FOREST

There  is certainly a welcome calm about the forest, especially because it is a car free zone(except on arrival and departure days). After dark it has a silence which is rather special, enhanced by the clear sky last night and the stars twinkling through the tall pine trees. For David, who lives amidst city lights, the clear skies were really outstanding..

A memory of the weekend will be the strenuous efforts to get all 17 on a family photograph,involving the camera owner to set the shutter in time to run round and join the picture. It will be interesting to look back  as the years pass. It made me think of what holds families together over the years and I guess one of the strongest circumstances is location, i.e. living close rather than spread over country or continents. And families often preserve a unity until parents are gone, after which it needs real effort and affection.

Just being away evokes memories great and small. These pine forests make me think of Berlin, as I have expressed recently, but there are little, unexpected memories. In each lodge there is large blackboard and chalk for the children. And with it the necessary board duster. I picked this up and realised that it must have been 25 years since I held one previously. Very unimportant, but just one of those tiny throwbacks to past days.

We are all looking out for red squirrels, but none have been sighted yet. We are told that they are here in some numbers, meanwhile we will just have to concentrate on the unusual birds that live in the forest. Today it is lunch at the Italian restaurant, the orders for which had to be in yesterday. This was quite a challenge I can tell you, Before that several are going swimming, but we will be boring and simply relax. Apparently the meal is followed by ten pin bowling. 

So far today we have a disguised sun. We know it is waiting beyond the clouds and already bits of blue are showing.Our various moods and dispositions are rather like this. Sometimes the  sun shines and all seems well, and hopefully all is well. Other times- by simple 'mood' or circumstances- we know the clouds are above us.But we also know they will clear. The challenge is, how to clear them, and an even bigger one, how to prevent them arising in the first place. Beyond family generated happiness I could select some 'mood enhancing' phenomena. The garden, the seaside, the bicycle. I have learned how big a feature they can be.Christian adventures, and I do not mean everyday church life, excite me, but they are few and far between,  And even beyond them the quiet inner life of faith, God attempting to hold on to impossible me.

This latter aspect of my life makes me think of a verse from years ago, one many of you will recall

Said the robin to the sparrow
I would really like to know
Why those anxious  human beings
rush about and worry so

Said the sparrow to the robin
I really think that it must  be
That they do not know our heavenly father
such as cares for you and me.

I hope I have not told you this before, but when Rosie is sitting on my knee, and I lean forward, say for a mug of tea, I say to her 'I've got you' and she has now learned she is safe. That is how authentic faith should make us feel: we are held by a providential love, safe and sound.



Saturday, 18 April 2015

FROM THE FOREST

So here we are,....90 minutes drive and 50 minutes queuing to get in to 'the camp'....parking difficult but our lodge comfortable. So many people here...sure to run into crowds tomorrow and do not like leaving the car 15 minutes walk away from here.But very nice to be so near all the children and grandchildren.

Hoping to have a little quiet time....we live in such a noisy world and we all need that inner quietness. And my impressions? First- and mainly- great pleasure at the way in which our family are enjoying themselves.Then my own reflections? Crowded in places; Constant observations of hundreds of people which I do not particularly enjoy or need.No cars but bikes everywhere. Today there has been swimming, table tennis, tree walking, quad biking, horse riding. But what have I enjoyed the best: sitting quietly in lovely sunshine with the quiet hills in the distance.

I have a picture at home of man wearing beret, sat in garden, playing a flute, bicycle propped against flowery wall. That sums much of me up nicely these days, leaving behind the frenetic pace of modern life, and need to dash from activity to activity. Am I pleased to be here? Of course I am- I just have to hold on to the dignity of not being afraid to be who I am.I have to confess that the many winding lanes through the forest being car free are grand 

There is a wonderful line in the parable of the Parable when the lad was far from home and after living among the pigs 'came to himself'....in other words discovered who he really was. That is a challenge for me and for you- to see who we are, in terms of our deepest needs, aspirations and possibilities. The false self is always there, often encouraged by the world of 'Go compare'. It is a big quest but I am finding more and more of myself, and glad of it.

It is now mid afternoon and we are resting! At 6 we visit Christine, Lance, David and Denise's Lodge (5 minutes by forest path) for a 'Chilli Feast' (their title). No doubt after that it will be board games, perhaps with Janet and Wes and we will relax as we child sit here for Rachel.

Sorry not much in today's piece but there will be plenty of reflections to come soon.



Friday, 17 April 2015

THE WEEKEND

Last evening a Meeting. This one was about our church's involvement in the wider world, both at home and overseas.There really are stark choices to be made but I was pleased to see the total of £80,000 of benefits given away in various ways over a recent year. We moved on to our future agenda the needs of the persecuted church in various- many- parts of the world.Another topic was our noisy collections- one of which is due this Sunday- and for a Blackpool based charity operating in Kenya.The last one raised over £400 and given the pound for pound facility offered by a large commercial organisation means a great deal for those who receive this sum.

But this morning attention switches to getting ready for our family weekend away. I will miss Rosie of course, and be unable to be beside the sea for several days, which I will look forward to next week. I will even miss my bit of gardening, although I have got some potatoes and seeds in the ground. I am particularly pleased with my orange tree that now has 7 grape sized oranges on it. I do not think they will grow to full size and be sweet enough to eat. But they do look rather attractive I have to admit.

How much we need sunshine for health, well being and mood. We also need the sunshine for our spirits to charge our weary hearts and minds in difficult days.You will recall the fact that putting mushrooms into sunlight for an hour means they are fully charged with  vitamin D. We need to find time to put ourselves in spiritual sunshine so that we can absorb it and have it ready for difficult and trying times. I guess this is what St Paul was wanting to say when he listed  various attributes like goodness, and directed his readers to 'Think on these things'. So should we, but first we need to find them and that takes us back to knowing ourselves sufficiently to recognise our own need.

This coming weekend will be interesting! The 17 of us gather for meals about three or four times each year, but this will be quite different to those occasions. Of course there was the camping weekend last Summer but Janet and I and Stephen, Kate and Rachel went home each night.. This weekend there is no such escape (!) although we are in three Lodges. We will share with Stephen, Kate and Rachel where child sitting will give us at least one quiet evening in front of the open fire. We have stayed just one night previously and that evoked memories from a former life.

That life was in West Berlin as it was then, and my in-laws had a small city apartment and a small lodge in the middle of one of Berlin's many forests. I recall the sound of land mines going off in the night, hopefully some poor animal and not an escaping East Berliner longing for freedom. It is quite eerie, rather like a drama from which I am the only survivor. I do not think the authorities lay landmines where we are going, nor will anyone, except perhaps me(!) be looking for an escape..It will be lovely to see everyone together and I would really like to emerge as table tennis champion, a most unlikely possibility.


Thursday, 16 April 2015

TWO WORLDS IN ONE ?

Did you see the programme last evening about persecuted Christians? It was harrowing, disturbing, brutal, challenging. So much hatred, yet so much faith. One religion set against another but still places where there is only harmony and mutual tolerance and respect. I hope many Christian people in this country watched it, if only to make them grateful for being able to worship and practise in freedom. The resilience and faith of so many put me to shame. The programme left no doubt that Evil is alive and well in the world today.

But- a big 'but'- one fact should stand in our minds. The Christian Church has been here before.Many times...all the way from New Testament days. Times when it seemed that the story of the Christian Faith had come to its final curtain. But it never has, and we know it never will. This is at the very heart of our faith.

Ironically the alternative programme was about beautiful Britain a choice which summarised the world we live in.A world often held captive to the darkest possible forces, yet haunted by all its beauty and goodness and love. We Christians have to sort out this dichotomy. It is the story of all the ages, the good against the evil. Hell against Heaven.

I have been reading an interesting article, in part a book review, about a psychologist increasingly in the public eye in connection with her work with young people and children.She has a book published later this month about skeletons in the (psychological) cupboard. Interestingly she was in the same psychology set as our daughter Janet at university. Most of the article did not interest me, but one section caught my pastoral eye. This was about her female clients with high levels of anxiety, often rooted in the feeling of the need to be perfect all the time.

It is suggested that part of the problem is internalising the need to be perfect and at high speed. The approach to a remedy is interesting and it was this that caught  my attention. First go back to early life and work out a narrative, especially where the ideas about self expectation come from. So why does this set of beliefs drive behaviour. People need help to understand their own story. The tricky bits about ourselves can be helpful in self understanding.
The example given is a drinking problem. It is not enough to say 'cut it down' without examining what drives the need to drink. So the problem must be acknowledged, i.e. admitting there is a problem. Next it is necessary to attempt to understand it, and hopefully make the decision to change it, and in a meaningful way.

Now you and I are entitled to say that it is all about 'common sense'. But that is just the point- we lose our ability to think and practise common sense, and as a result all sorts of thoughts and issues get knotted up. Then we need to untie those knots which deliver us back to where we started.

Tomorrow- as readers will know- we are off to Cumbria with all 17 of the Haywood tribe.I hope I might be able to write from the middle of the forest, but if there is silence it is to do with lack of signal, not me falling off the high wire or out of the tree top! Until then.....

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The gentle art of encouragement

I have written previously about the power of encouragement and the effect it can have on our enterprises large and small. Gestures of encouragement always carry some cost, mainly pride (because they often will involve raising someone else against ourselves) but also the overcoming of shyness or nervousness(The lady who wants to tell the preacher how she liked his sermon but didn't have the courage). Yesterday a lovely gesture of encouragement arrived in the post in the form of a little card. It was from a friend and was no doubt in response to my doubts over these daily pieces I expressed the other day.

It said ' With most grateful thanks to you...DO CONTINUE! 

We all can be encouragers and need it too. I hope you can be a giver and receiver also.

A feature I have to put up with is my dislike of events and duties on my near and far horizons. They hang over me, trouble me, unease me. I have been  very critical of myself about this habit but now have decided simply to accept  this as just a fact of who I am nowadays. I think we are all a bit like that when we see ourselves as different from the norms around us. The opinion so many have that their way is correct and best puts us at a disadvantage. It should not; we are all distinctly different and need to accept that. (One rider would be that we do not use this as an excuse for being awkward, selfish or unduly independent.)

Last evening we watched a documentary about the food we consume every day. For us it was a great disappointment and proved once again that television is picture book language. If this had been a radio talk we could have learned the same things in a quarter of the time. Do we need the opinions of the public about the benefits of a foodstuff? Do we need images of the River Thames full of milk? Do we need long experiments shown to us to prove (what we knew already) was that milk rather than water or juice was best to rehydrate us?

You may think me too critical. I have to admit that we did learn one surprising fact. Mushrooms have little vitamin D, but if they are put out in the sunshine for an hour they end up packed with that necessary vitamin.. But we couldn't find much else and the concentration of health benefits seemed to focus on very limited aspects of our diet.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of a notorious concentration camp. We saw an interview with one of those liberated on that day. She spoke graphically about the sight of "human skeletons walking about" describing it as pure hell. Then the feeling as the gates opened and the British Army came in. Again she described it: " It was just like Heaven" she said.It made me think of the glorious coming day when Evil will be defeated, Love will march through the gates of humanity and it will be all in all.

There was a delightful sequel to this horror story. One of the first British soldiers the lady saw, caught her eye and he hers. Soon after the war they were married and spent a wonderful 50 years together until he died a few years ago. It helps us see Evil will never have the last word.

Janet has been dealing with 'plugs'. Not in the sink but baby plants. Some seem so weak that they were on the point of death, but I have put three in to an intensive care unit. Symbolic I hope of the challenges for little ones (of all ages) in those places in the world you will hear more about before long.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

GOOD LUCK, BAD LUCK

The longer I live the more it becomes apparent that some people just seem to have bad luck in life. Many will disagree and say there is no such thing as 'luck' but I think there is. I do not mean to interpret this in terms of games of chance, although in a very minor way this is true. Playing family games with our children in times past it was obvious that one in particular seemed to win much more often than the other three. Janet will very rarely win prizes in lotteries and raffles, but her sister seems to have the knack or the luck to do much better.But this is, of course, observation confined to the most minor and trivial aspects of our daily lives.

Notwithstanding this observation I can think of people who seem to have quite unfair burdens placed on them by the chances of life; health is probably the major one, but employment and job security follow behind; choice of partner may be added into the list as well (one imagines the divorce statistics contain many who sadly got the wrong match). Many who read this live in 'community' of one sort or another- village, family, church, social organisation. What follows are different degrees of care, and I think that for those who have to endure bad luck, a helping understanding hand can sometimes help. A colleague of some years ago had a child with a very difficult condition; the church rallied round to help and I am quite sure that the 'bad luck' of the problem was helped or the pressure relieved.

Did you see the excellent drama about the use of genetics in catching a murderer, based on a true story. What an enormous discovery that was, one that followed long experimentation and (no doubt) many failed experiments and blind alleys.It was one of those developments we now take for granted but has revolutionised the forensic scene and now holds vast promise in the world of medicine. And only recently a simple discovery has been made that holds out great promise for the scary world of hospital infections. We are familiar with the old phrase 'The answer lies in the soil'. Perhaps it does for as yet undiscovered and unimagined ways.

Today I am relaxing- or trying to- after a busy weekend  which including the two funeral services. They were both for over 90 year olds and in each a celebration of life. But we do need to recognise what is for our wellbeing and what is not.To know ourselves is the beginning of wisdom, or as the Bard says powerfully 'To thine own self be true, then thou canst not be false to any man' (or something like that- scholars excuse my paraphrasing). I know I could not keep up that level of busyness for long.

I had a patchy night despite being tired from the weekend. Some may ask why I am so open about myself? It is simple: the beginning and foundation of healing requires open-ness. There is no future in closedness. Besides, when people know that someone like me is rather like them (in whatever manifestation) it can but help their aloneness.

At weekend we are off to our weekend near Penrith- yes, all 17 of us. Cycling, tree climbing, swimming, sports of all sorts, bird watching, nature walks. You name it and we will be doing it.Perhaps my biggest problem will be that it is a long way to the seaside. But I will let you know!

Monday, 13 April 2015

LITTLE THINGS

My sometimes troublesome knee was aching last night, so I decided to take a single tablet just to calm it down. These little things are heavily guarded in silver foil and in the half light it jumped out and disappeared- not down my throat unfortunately. So at 2 am I began a careful inch by inch search to locate it. I am sure you have had the same experience yourself but it completely disappeared. Why bother you might say? It would soon be picked up by the hoover so what is the problem? Simple. Even such tiny things are very bad for dogs and although Rosie is not allowed in the room she occasionally sneaks in. Needless to say the search will continue.

I see this as a moral for life itself. So often we are defeated by the little thing, the minor accident the thing we overlooked. They trip us up, spoil the mood, disturb our peace. The aim is, of course, to perspectivise the event and give it a proper place- i.e. among the trivial and unimportant. Hard to do, but necessary for our wellbeing.

This is only half the picture I'm afraid. Because some little things are important, and do matter sometimes greatly so. I recall a serious aviation accident because one strategic bolt had not been secured efficiently. On other occasions an instruction had not been given clearly ensuring an unhappy or at least imperfect outcome. The careless moment as a motorist, cyclist and pedestrian, can have disastrous consequences.We need to be mindful, and in the words of Charles Wesley's hymn 'Leave no unguarded place'.

To steer our way through these matters(proving if nothing else how tricky life can be) is quite a challenge. I think the way is as follows: take great care in those things that have yet to be, but deal kindly with yourself over the things that have happened; they are often less important than they might seem.
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I enjoy providing a little challenge from time to time, even lightly theological ones. Hence my reference recently to 'The wine waiting to be poured' with reference to the new wine of the Gospel still in a large jug not dared being risked on the inflexible wineskins of conventional religion.
So here is another with its own title; 'Do we need to always speak about God?' This is less controversial than it might seem. Let me illustrate with reference to getting up on a bright sunny day. Recent weather has brought many clouds and the sun barely visible through them. But today there is that golden glow in our sky. At first we look at it in wonder and happiness, but soon we lose our consciousness of it and simply live in its light rejoicing in all the colour it brings to our world.

So are there times we do not speak of God (or Jesus, or Holy Spirit) but simply live in the light that comes from that experience. In other words, do we speak enough of kindness, generosity, unselfishness, idealism, delight, community, dignity, purpose, and much more.My view is that we do not do this enough but my idea is as yet unworked, untried, untested. We shall see but I hope you know what I mean.

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And finally watch out for another challenge when I have completed the next resume of Just Connections involvement in Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Palestine, Bolivia. I may well say 'Would you like to be involved for £1 each week, or a little more?' Wait and see!!!
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