Sunday, 29 March 2015

ALLSORTS OF THINGS

The memorial concert last night was very appropriate given the life and contribution to our local town band by Graham. He died last year and will be much missed for all the encouragement, help and inspiration he gave as the band conductor and teacher of many young musicians.There was a full house and I think everyone present enjoyed it. I understand the money will go towards the training of a young musician.

Last we changed the clocks so one hour less sleep, but lighter evenings which will be lovely. For those attending church in the evening it will mean arriving and leaving in the light as it will be for us this evening in Bispham. Although if my sermon is long(it never is) and we stay for their friendly cup of tea after the service, we may miss the light.

There was no Terry at Coffee Morning yesterday, which causes me some anxiety. His son is terminally ill, and place on top of that Terry's general anxiety disorder, his lot is a particularly difficult one just now. But there are so very many people facing difficulties. Even in our own family, a tiny microcosm of the population we have difficulties. My sister in law, and brother in law are unwell and both want to return to more active ways. I may be quite wrong, but the general burden of things to be anxious about seems much heavier and more widespread than in previous days. As someone once said to me, the common denominator of any congregation is that everyone will have something with which to cope.

But how to cope? We certainly need to find and offer all the coping strategies we can find. And often they are quite elusive. Identified diversions and distractions are important. A sense of humour can help also. As can attempting a degree of self transcendence, meaning escaping from ourselves to view objectively. Getting outside ourselves can be very useful.

I have been invited to a meeting in April organised by a local Hindu Society. It is about the benefit to us that comes from helping others. The Meeting will include a DVD and a talk by a Hindu Monk who lectures all over the world. I am quite interested because there are always things we can learn from other people and their faith. We shall see.

Coincidentally. I received some interesting notes from my brother in law who is a lead thinker in a philosophical group in Mold. It is about the writings of an Australian  moral philosopher about altruism and giving. Why do we give? What are the personal benefits of giving? How do we give most effectively? How do we choose where to give? It made me sigh over the actions of some charities I deal with, not their honesty, but their methods of fundraising.

I am enjoying a little smug self satisfaction when I view our front garden. I have erected a fence between our garden and our neighbour's. Duly treated in an attractive cedar colour it looks quite smart. But, despite my pleasure in it, I have to be honest and tell you it is only 12 inches high and the five panels were purchased at our local shop. I describe it as a 'token' fence, but even this admission does not put an end to my pride.There is a lesson here for you perhaps? If you are not very good at something- as I am not in gardening and DIY- we must gain satisfaction in little things. If we have a huge task before us, that we start work on it, and proceed by tiny steps. If we are learning something, to note any small progress made, concentrating on that and not the things we have not yet learned or mastered.. And if it is the above mentioned 'coping' we are dealing with, that we make tiny steps to help us in that often formidable task.


Saturday, 28 March 2015

MORE LIGHT FOR US ALL?

Holy Week is almost upon us...and tonight we are going to a concert by our town band, held in honour and memory of the man who was their conductor. It will be an evening of his favourite music and I am sure will be well  attended. He was also a member of our church, which adds poignancy to the occasion. It is good to mark people like this and I am sure his life in and out of music touched many.

We had sad news from Blackpool where the 90 plus mother of a good friend had died in hospital. Jean- our friend and the lady's daughter- was due to travel up from Surrey last week but car fault prevented her. Because of that she didn't get to see her old Mum. How some of life's sadness arises- or is accentuated- by chance happenings. It looks like just absolute, tragic bad luck. I made an undertaking many years ago to conduct the funeral.

There are all sorts of people we each remember, some from our earliest days. I wonder if today's young people will remember people as many of us do, or are memories rubbed out by the different fascinations and activities they experience ? It would be good to have a birds eye view of ourselves as young people and be able to compare how they are today. I suspect the differences will be enormous.

We have heard dreadful news from the Alps this week, and we find ourselves dealing with life situations we simply cannot reach in understanding. Apart from all the victims of the terrible accident I feel deeply for the poor parents of the young man at the centre of the tragedy.Reports say he was depressed, which surely means inhabiting a world that is not normal, where ordinary rules of life do not apply. How very sad for everyone.

Tomorrow is a day I always like because it signals longer days, or more correctly lighter evenings. There will be the pleasure of cycling or gardening, although I am not too sure about the latter! We will live with more light, which is of course, the Christian's story. And how relevant is that thought at Easter time. One of my thoughts to congregations tomorrow and Easter Sunday is that if we understand these events, we do not truly understand them. For me we are dealing with mysteries whose depth we are not truly able to reach.


Friday, 27 March 2015

MORE QUESTIONS

One of the problems of going away is that it is necessary to come back and settle into daily routines again.It takes some adjustment, especially as there are things that must be attended to. Despite this our short break is still singing in my mind- our lovely, quiet, genteel seaside Rhos on Sea to which we surely will return before long.

I still have in mind the images and reports from our Wednesday meeting about the state of things in Blackpool and the heavy sense of despair about them. And, I sense, a worsening Had I had time I would have introduced a discussion about the 'issue beyond the issue' as to what underlies the catastrophic fall in the mentality of so many. It really is a malaise but I cannot easily think of what it is. The lack of proper housing? The availability of drugs? The 'go compare' culture that sets teeth on edge as one looks at others.? The concentration of problem people in a particular place? I wish I knew, and wish an answer was available.

Had I had even more time I would have commented on the Christian approach to poverty. That is not the correct way to speak of it, rather should it be the Biblical approach to poverty. In the Old Testament there is a continuing thread- often a very dominant thread- declaring God to be a God of the poor. The Prophets return again and again to attack on hypocrisy, the emptiness of words and sacrifices, the paramount importance of justice.
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The thread continues in the New Testament, where even a superficial view of the Gospel story to love the poor of this world and address their needs.What about the cup of water, the prison visit, the loving gestures referred to in Matthew Chapter 25. What about the Good Samaritan, about loving our neighbours as ourselves. But it has to be overwhelmingly about the presence of love- Divine Love-. When it is present in our lives service becomes a sure and certain demand..

Then turn to the rest of the New Testament. Here there was something later known as The Jerusalem Poor Fund, to which gifts arrived from all over the scattered church, often from those least able to pay.

One challenge I would love to issue is a call to sacrificial acts. Little gestures of giving up or earning something so that the proceeds- however small- could be directed to the poor.That is why I am glad our Church Fellowship on outings for meals, sends a purse round for small sacrificial gifts. We have sent £50 to doctors without Borders and two weeks ago another £50 to the suffering and persecuted church. And most weeks I can save £3 or more simply going to a different shop.I really must start a 'Sacrifice Jar' soon. 

So back home, the sun still shining. I am preparing an address for the beginning of Holy Week, but whatever I say I hope it will enable folk to go home with something for themselves.I do not want the comment 'Your sermon was like the peace of God- it passed our understanding'

Thursday, 26 March 2015

A VERY MIXED DAY

It is always sad to leave Rhos on Sea behind as we did yesterday.We had enjoyed a happy three days with lovely sunshine, despite the cool breeze. I had to be back to look after the Fellowship at church when we had a visitor from an admirable organisation called Vincent House. They are a Blackpool organisation for the homeless and the visit is entirely appropriate as the church collects household items each week, mainly to support those setting up a home.It was a good evening ...but a scary one as well. Two community houses for those who just do not seem to have a chance in life, whether it is parental background, drugs, alcohol. It also seemed that the authorities and the regulations they represented, giving them little chance of getting out of their despair. I think it left us all with a sense of hopelessness despite the possibilities of giving some practical help.We left holding on to that- toiletries, toothbrushes, pyjamas.

Recently I re-established contact with an old friend. We first met in Cleveleys somewhere between 1980 and 84. It was the church's policy to hold a 'Minister's Interview Hour each Tuesday, mainly for those wishing to fix weddings, baptisms. But this young man turned up, having been in the morning congregation. He was a student at Fleetwood Nautical College, following some short time travelling the high seas in the merchant navy. He was in Fleetwood to gain what is called 'A Master's Ticket' We kept in touch, and we attended his wedding some time later. He was also a keen supporter of the missionary organisation called 'Operation Mobilisation' whose two ocean liners sail the world selling (and giving away) books, especially (but not exclusively) Christian books.

Graham is still sailing- still devotedly Christian, still serving as Captain on Operation Mobilisation ships in holiday breaks. His full time job is as First Officer on the ferries that ply the ports of Dover to Calais. We have been back in touch which is wonderful. The circle is not yet complete because Graham's wife Janice works for an organisation called 'Latin Link' who have projects throughout South America. And Just Connections have money available so why not send it via Janice, Graham's wife, to South America?

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

SUNSHINE MOUNTAIN

I did walk up the Great Orme after all, getting to the top in about 23 minutes. Clearly a slowing down from the best 19 minutes some years ago. I have, incidentally, no idea how long it should take; I am working entirely within my own parameters. All sorts of thoughts filled my head as I walked. The passing tram reminded me of how we can climb life's mountains in our own strength, or how we can travel assisted by the Grace of God. As I walked the air became purer and fresher, the breeze increasing step by step. It reminded me of a magnificent book on St John's Gospel by the late Stephen Verney, formerly Anglican Bishop and SOE resistance soldier in Crete during the Second World War. He wrote that entering into the mysteries of St John's Gospel was like breathing purer and rarer air, as if climbing a mountain

I also thought of the song that was made famous by Cliff College called 'Climb, climb up sunshine mountain faces all aglow'. Happy memories of Cliff College visits and the realisation that people joined the huge crowds for a Bank Holiday outing little knowing that they may well come home with new hearts and new lives.
I met a party at the summit and we exchanged pleasantries about the sunshine and the mountain views. Countryside and mountains makes companionability natural and warm. Perhaps a parable of travelling together on the way of Faith?

The views from the summit are magnificent. In one directions the foothills of Snowden, then in another direction across the water to Anglesey, then  down to Llandudno town. And then down to the sea with the tiny church and gravestones on the steep hillside It reminded me of the Psalmist declaring that God had led him into a large place, unencumbered by rocks, overhangs, dark paths..I need to live in the large places of God, with the far horizons on offer.

Coming down from the summit I spied a small poodle like dog, seemingly tied to a post. I intitially wondered what I would do with it, but to my relief it turned out to be a white bag of sand.Oh dear. That was not the only deceptive look I had because from the summit I saw what looked liked groups of caravans in fields. Out came the binoculars which informed me they were very large bags of  fertilizer.But they really did look like caravans...honestly.

That made me wonder how often the distant look can deceive. We should not always look, I guess that is why Jesus told people not to be afraid of tomorrow. Cardinal Newman wrote similarly in his famous hymn('Lead Kindly Light') when he said;

The distant scene I do not ask to see,
One step enough for me.

And today's gentle steps are all we can ask for.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

MORE SEASIDE

It is good to be back in Wales, especially Rhos on Sea. As we arrived the tide was in and the sun on the water gave it a green/blue colour we do not see in Lancashire, presumably because of the sand. Not much has changed in the year since we were last here.

In the afternoon we had a seaside walk in the sunshine, despite the clouds giving occassional cover.Once we turned round the sun was behind us, and I decided the best way to get maximum sun was to walk backwards. Janet held my arm to keep me on a level course, but put her hood up in case any passing motorist  perchanced to recognise her. Fancy being ashamed of your husband! I was tempted to do this earlier on a solo walk but decided against it in case someone rang the mental health team.

I think there may be a lesson here. Sometimes in life we walk not knowing where we are heading but we need someone to hold on to us to prevent us from falling.

One thing we noticed was the flowers growing in the walls and gardens not far from the shore. In particular we saw osteospermum, a flower we associate with much later in the Spring. And the Aubretia were making an early show as well.

I haven't done much reading, but two interesting facts came to light. The serious one first- personal household debt is still increasing and is now £9000 per household, not counting dreadful mortgage debt.And I assume that some of this is necessary expenditure, in the process of the very difficult business of balancing the family budget. The other facts was one Janet selected for me as she read a magazine. It was about waist (note the spelling) management. There is a measure that indicates good health prospects; our waist measurement should not be more than half our height. Oh dear, we have no tape measure with us, perhaps a good thing as we are about to go down for breakfast.

As we look out this morning the sea has been and gone overnight and we await the next high tide. Looking out at the sun on the pools of water and patches of sand I am reminded of those beautiful words quoted here before

The silver road at morning, out o'er the boundless foam
the golden road at evening, to the quiet hills of home

Another piece of holiday reading was snippets from the book 'Why Us' written by a practising doctor and medical journalist. The book is much too complicated for me in its detail but being a 'snippiter' I can catch some essential thoughts. One was about the cherry blossom outside the author's window, but it could equally have been about the seascape this morning. Apparently the light comes to us in neutral form, and it is sorted and coloured(and made beauitful).  in our brains. What matters to me is the way the author rejoices in the absolute wonder and mystery of our brains(the physical stuff) and our minds.

The key word is 'mystery'...we simply do not know, and he says that the human brain and mind are the absolute and greatest beauty and mystery we know.

Why 'go on' about this again some might ask? Simply this: there may be some whose faith in 'The Mystery' i.e. of God is threatened and damaged by the 'We know it all 'of modern science. The truth is they no very little so hold fast to the precious mystery we vaguely call God.

Now we are off to the Great Orme and Conway. If I survive the walk I will tell you about it tomorrow.


Monday, 23 March 2015

A TIME AWAY....Monday continued

At this early hour everything is ready for our  trip to Wales. I have packed only four books, there being plenty of space for them in the car. A novel I am half way through about war time in Paris; another French flavour in a well known television gardener about gardens in that country; a lightweight book(It's a paperback !) about the power of the unconscious mind, and one about meditation and monasticism. Is that a fair mixture.

I am sorry Rosie will not be with us, but she hates travelling. I am sorry I have  decided to not to take my bicycle but had a longer than usual 'test' cycle yesterday. More tests will follow, just to see what my knee is up to for a longer trip. Regular readers will recognise my certainty that walking helps the mood and cycling adds to this great benefit for creaking knees. Mind you I had a minor scare yesterday as I returned to the huge bridge across the River Wyre. It was on that bridge I had a puncture recently and had to push all the way home. Yesterday I was on a track under the bridge when I heard an ominous 'pop'. 'Oh dear' I said politely fearing another puncture. Relief when I realised I had gone over that sort of seaweed we used to 'pop' as kids. At least I did.

There are so many issues and problems that attack our spirits (my word to cover both feeling and thinking mind). Going away allows us to live in a tiny capsule of time. Our bedroom- with its panoramic view of the harbour and sea will be our 'home'. A micro world in both space and time. Perhaps we all need to visit such more often, and we do not need to go away to enjoy this. I have it in abundance simply sitting in the garden.

So away we go then....reports from Wales very soon.
Finally, sorry if we are a bit disjointed today...hope you can follow it!