Saturday, 30 April 2016

A THROW BACK?

I think it used to be called  a 'throw back' meaning something happening in the present took us back to a previous time in our lives. Whatever we call it, the situation arose for me earlier today when I met a lady in her sixties (guessing) who I had met a couple of years ago. She recognised me and quickly reminded me that she was teaching at our local college when I was- at least 26 years ago.(I have to be a little circumspect when saying that I retired in 1990 lest they add 26 to 65 and conclude I am looking too bad for 91!).It was very early retirement for a whole batch of lecturers.

Anyway, such a memory is not particularly extraordinary. What constituted the throw back was that when we met at the college those 26 or more years ago she informed me that we had met 19 years earlier than that when I taught her at Bolton Institute of Technology. Once my memory was awakened I even recalled her surname, the conclusion being she was a good student. It was the time when I felt I had achieved all I wanted in job terms, a lectureship at my local college. I had a daughter of  5 who is now 48.As you can imagine it turned my head a little, especially the transience of each day but the endurance of memory.

As I said, we met this morning in the supermarket where people- like me- were buying food. We really are food crazy these days. In this coming week we have over 8 hours of food programmes on TV, no doubt very entertaining but proving the point that everything seems to revolve around what we eat. There are many warnings today- some perhaps not blunt enough- about the huge perils of over-eating on our health. Then you have the Queen of cakes enticing us to eat more and more sugar- surely a peril to the population like other substances and habits? 
I suppose what accelerated this line of thought was the report that 300,000 obese women were admitted to hospital last year, a tenfold increase in as many years. It gets no better in terms of children, the figure for obesity in the 2 to 4 year olds is one in five. Clearly we are as a nation becoming increasingly aware of its many dangers to our happiness and wellbeing.

Friday, 29 April 2016

AN ASSORTMENTS OF TOPICS

Today is something of a mixture, bit and pieces, each with significance but no clearly connected theme. So excuse the jumping from one matter to a quite different one.

First up is the topic of human happiness which arises this morning because I have read that Denmark has been rated the happiest country on earth. By comparison this country is 24th! I get this from a Blog our son Stephen is writing about all the countries in the European Union and he has now reached the letter 'D'. There is a Danish word 'Hygge' which is not easily translatable into English. It is this quality that makes possible the happiness enjoyed. The best description Stephen offered was the equivalent of warmth, being the feeling engendered in warming actions, when friends and family are together around a table, spending relaxed time, often in candlelight.(Denmark spends more on candles than anywhere else)

There are other reasons. Shorter working weeks. A wonderful welfare system facilitated by higher taxes (60%). Far longer holiday. The working week often ending at Friday lunchtime.

This morning I heard a report of a weekend camp for children, up in the hills above Garstang. The poor 7 year olds were so cold  that the parents brought them home early- so cold in fact that several were in tears.This report came on the morning I am seeking to write a note about our church's 'Noisy Collection' in a weeks time. This is to be for the persecuted church in Iraq and Syria, among the needs are, yes, other 7 year old children who will not only be crying with the cold but have no warm homes and beds to return to.

What a world we live in. And in the same week we hear of a once revered industrialist purchasing a third yacht for a mere £100m.

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The third item on my list is a piece of conversation I recorded when the BBC's Foreign Editor was taken to remote Scotland for three days on a trip to see various rare birds and animals. As he sat in front of the bothy fire he referred to being really cold when the temperature was minus 18 degrees.On the same trip 18 people with him had been killed and he and another survivor were numbed with the horror of it. For three days they talked the events over together, minute by minute recalling every detail. By the end of that time they had talked the horror out of their minds and found it much easier to deal with.

He made the point that talking (and I would add writing down ) is often the best policy when our minds are choked up with trouble, horror and pain.

I did intend to fit in a piece about Vincent Van Gogh and a unique new film to be made about him, engineered around his paintings. And not least his Methodist connections. This will have to wait another day.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

SEEKING BEAUTY, ASKING QUESTIONS

It has rained today, a real April mixture of sunshine and showers. I took the opportunity to hump my lovely orange tree outside and allow it to enjoy the falling rain.I have brought it in now but I did notice- I stopped to notice how beautiful the raindrops were on the shiny new leaves. The operative word is 'stopped'. I ceased what I was doing to gaze and take in that which was in front of me. As the poet famously said , a thing of beauty is a joy for ever.

Some readers will remember me reporting an e mail letter to the Cancer Research Campaign following the death of our most famous comedienne.I was concerned that with the spate of deaths in recent months the public might be asking questions and wondering what was happening  to research that seems to promise so much. I did not expect a reply since my letter did not ask for one. But today came a very gracious reply, thanking me for writing, understanding what I was saying and promising to pass on my main point that the issue should not be hidden away, but has to be understood in the time frame to which it belongs.

I have always been a person of questions. 'Why?' was so often directed at my parents, later teachers, then the church and sometimes God Himself. I do not apologise for this because questions open doors to possible answers or at least the search for these answers. Why is the church so rich with all its treasures and investments in a hungry world? Why is the availability of arms so plentiful to repressive regimes? Why do legal processes take so long for accused people to have the shadow of guilt hanging over them? Why so much suffering in the world? Why do the rich prosper and the poor remain oppressed. There are answers to attempt but unless we ask them we will never get near to a solution.

I wonder how many question marks there are in the New Testament, written or implied? Anyone count them for me?

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

FOLLOW THE GLEAM (AND THE SUNFLOWERS)

I have been inspecting my 100 sunflowers and most of them are doing very well. In the quest for the beauty of sunflowers I intend to take up again my own challenge to locate that remote two tennis court clearing surrounded by trees where grew (and I hope still grow) hundreds of tall sunflowers. I still wonder if I dreamt it, but I do not think so. When I later told a local country Ranger she gave me one of those looks that said 'I see...interesting' and unspoken suggestion that I was quite entitled to my ridiculous experience! We shall see as Summer comes. And yes, if I never find them I will be honest and admit it.

For those of us who read the New Testament (and the Old) there are a number of occasions where we are challenged to search for deeper truth and bigger experiences. There is the Gospel story of the merchant who wandered the market places looking for the pearl of greatest value. Then there is St Paul who instructed his people to set there minds. i.e. search for things lovely, pure, right, honourable and  more. It is a search.

What can this mean? A deeper experience of spiritual realities? A deeper peace within? A more embracing compassion. We Christians should be searching people ever pressing on.

I like this verse that seems to describe it well.

There on the border
Of boundless ocean
And all but in Heaven
Hovers the gleam

Not of the sunlight
Not of the moonlight
Not of the starlight
O young mariner
Down to the haven
Call your companions
Launch your vessel
And crowd your canvass
And, ere it vanishes
Over the margin
After it,follow it
Follow the gleam

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

DECISIONS...DECISIONS

Every day most of us are making decisions, usually minor ones, occasionally big ones. As the public we are often making decisions about issues that confront us. There are several about at the moment; should we stay or leave the EU? If we intend to vote then  that is a decision that issues in action , i.e. the vote. Then what is our opinion on the Junior Doctor's strike? Or the Jury decision today about those events in Sheffield years ago.

We do not have to make decisions for action but we often come to a conclusion about how we feel. On the Europe and Doctor's issue I find myself admitting that I really do not know. This uncertainty is more concerning to me on the Europe issue given that it has become largely about economics as this is my subject. But the matter seems to be whether we really want to take the risk of remaining or leaving. Decisions, decisions. As a starting point in any I have to make, I use the safe old formula of ' cost benefit/analysis' Taking the cost in one hand and weighing it against the benefits in the other' It may be simplistic but it is a starting point.

I have found the application of this test quite useful. It requires quite an amount of searching under both headings but in the interests of clear thinking and wise action it is worth the effort. These appraisals will certainly involve the use of the telescope.

And not altogether unrelated is the matter of information which might seem to threaten things we hold as important. I have been handed a Review of a book called 'The Idiot Brain' which seems to suggest that far from our brains being a perfect computer it comes installed with bad programs. The book describes some strange modes of thought, for example why the pain of being criticised lasts longer than the pleasure of a compliment. The upshot is that I will have to read it, just to know what it is all really about.

Tomorrow promises to be quite a busy day. We have our son Stephen coming for lunch on his way from a tax consultation with a local business. Then we attend a funeral at church of an old lady who has not been with us long; we will go support her son and his wife. In the evening it is our monthly meeting when my subject is giving, the value of money and whether there is what might be called a Christian position. Challenging. And when I get near to a difficult subject I always turn my own advice back on myself and ask 'Why did you not use that telescope?'

Monday, 25 April 2016

LIFE'S PURPOSE

My son David has supplied the missing piece from yesterday, locating it in Macbeth, Act 5.

Here it is:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this pity pace from day to say
To the last syllable of recorded time
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death, Out out brief candle.
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Thank you, David. I didn't know you knew Shakespeare so well! Or did he?!
Reading it all re-enforces  what I said yesterday.Is human life really a tale told by an idiot and signifying nothing? It may be to you but it is certainly not to me. I want life to have meaning, so have purpose, to have fulfillment. Was this what Macbeth wanted him to believe, or was it his personal view? We can only guess but will never know.

Today we have lunched out with Janet's 90 year old uncle, and very nice it was. During the conversation we lighted upon an interesting coincidence. We were talking about politicians and I recalled sharing a staff room in Bolton Institute with a man who became a Member of Parliament. Uncle knew him and he was a favourite of his. I last saw the politician in 1972 and as a fairly left wing politician he used to tease me about daily reading of the Financial Times ( for teaching purposes I add). Forty four years ago ! Sadly the politician died in 2007 aged 89 after 9 years as an MP.

I do not know about you but looking back there seems to have been seasons of my life, as the one reflected from those Bolton teaching years so long ago.They come and go but as I think of this the (slightly altered)  verse of a hymn come to mind.

Through all the changing seasons of life
In trouble and in Joy
The praises of my God shall still
My heart and tongue employ.

Sorry folks but I have almost accidentally returned to my familiar theme of the joy associated very deeply with the nature of living faith.




Sunday, 24 April 2016

REASONS FOR JOY

I know just a few atheists and agnostics, or know of them, but I might as well be honest and confess I regard them as symbols of a misery soaked generation. And this line of thought arose out of  listening carefully, and admiringly, to several wonderful quotations from the great bard himself. 

How come you may ask? Before I answer that let me say this: I know little of Shakespeare's life and faith - the latter was certainly strong and believing, but I am thinking of the things we take from all that remarkable body of works. We seize on certain thoughts and plug them into our rather melancholy mode of thinking.  One example is the quote (which irritatingly I cannot presently locate) refers to life being a tale signifying nothing.

 I am comparing this view with the total triumph and purpose at the heart of the Christian story and what a difference that is. I am so glad to embrace a philosophy of love and victory.....life is meaningful and far from signifying nothing it represents the very opposite. 

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I have been getting stung by nettles making me have recourse to the dock leaves. I was harvesting nettles to bottle to turn into high intensity nitrogeneous fertiliser, the aim being to green my lawns. It is difficult to be back to earth here.at home..This last few months have been sadly marked by celebrity deaths, often from cancer, the most famous one last week. We subscribe each month to the Cancer Research Campaign whose worthy title announces 'Help Us Beat Cancer Sooner'  I decided to write to them, gently, kindly suggesting that I had heard someone say 'And we give them all that money'. Perhaps they should mention the recent deaths assuring supporters that it does not diminish all the work they are doing.

I suspect part of the problem is the media that picks up on promising medical research suggesting that these remedies are available now when in fact they may be years ahead. I hope they will accept my suggestions in the spirit I offered it. I do believe there is widespread concern.

The sad news was picked up in 'The Times' and a short article simply regarded it as remarkable.But in one newspaper today it was put down to 'The Stars' the position of the planets. Saturn, Jupiter and a star grouping are at odds hence the deaths!!!. I wonder if they have ever heard of coincidences?

It is Sunday and here is my micro sermon for you!  Are we controlled by the stars, the planets, the movement in the skies? You may think so but for me we place our destiny in the ultimate care of God. What a better option that is. As I said in the first paragraph we have so many reasons to be glad. 

There was a young lady from Ryde,
who was swept away by the tide
A man eating shark was heard to remark
'I knew that the Lord would provide'