Monday, 20 October 2014

AN AMAZING STORY

Many of you will have heard part of the strange story I have in mind today. As you read it, do what I have done: stand back in amazement that this could happen.And then wonder why.

It was 1914 and the carnage of war was underway, lives being extinguished like flickering candles. It all started at Christmas and the sound of German carols floating across the trenches.Soon a German officer and two soldiers appeared waving a white flag, causing the British officer to appear, meet his enemies and agree to share Christmas Day with their enemies. Lager, bully beef and biscuits were exchanged and eaten and for entertainment a boxing match was arranged between a 6 foot 5 inch English soldier and a German of the same height and stature.This had, eventually to be stopped as both men were badly bruised but neither would give up.

Added to this came a football tournament with at least 15 matches being played. For want of a football, various items were used, but in one notable match England triumphed 4-1! For dinner a huge bully beef stew was shared and everyone sat round a huge fire.Then a proper football was sent for and another match played.

On Boxing Day the war resumed and soon gun fire was sounding across the trenches. 

I cannot hear a story like this and leave it- however amazing- without pondering with you what it means. A horrific war, the desire to kill sons, brothers, husbands fathers, for a doubtful political cause. Then to stop- celebrate Christmas- and soon resume the hatred again. But was it really hatred in the minds of all those soldiers who sang carols, played football and shared Christmas together? I do not think it could have been, simply because blind hatred does not simply melt away like that, and then return with vengeance. Perhaps it is blind duty? Perhaps it was the power of Christmas, Christian love breaking through for a  short time.

And if it was not hatred (and certainly not as we have seen it underneath the black flags on the news) then did that terrible war exist fuelled by simple obedience and duty? If that be the case it makes the evil less dramatic but not one jot less insidious and all pervading in its tragic and destructive force.

It made me think of the words 'The truth can be stranger than fiction'. I think that must be true here because which novelist would dare to introduce a story line with impossibility written all over it?

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Yesterday we enjoyed the second celebration in 8 days, this time a ruby wedding. We enjoyed good company and found ourselves on quite a sporting table, golf, soccer, even horse racing being freely discussed.It could have been different but it worked out very nicely for us.And I think John and Margaret had a happy day, towards the end of what seems to have been an extended celebration.


Sunday, 19 October 2014

BESPOKE NOT OFF THE PEG

Today we are off to a Ruby Wedding celebration in Garstang.This will be a lunchtime meal time at the local Country Club, formerly the golf club. No dancing today, much to our disappointment! Before that we will attend church where the two grandchildren of family friends will be Christened, precisely as I did to the children's father more than 30 years ago. Things come round don't they?

The couple who celebrate their anniversary today were part of our life in Garstang between 1990 and 1998, and it has been good to continue our friendship since. They were good days, demonstrated by the length of our stay there, eight years rather than the usual five (when I was usually ready to move on to pastures new). The churches there are so different in nature and size to the ones that followed- Heswall in active work, here in retirement. It is undoubtedly true that the phrase 'horses for courses', in finding a church that feels like home, is important to us. I think we have been very fortunate.

And just as churches suit particular types of mind and heart, so individual faith itself is not 'off the peg' (excuse the changed metaphor) but bespoke, made to measure. On many occasions I have said to people 'do not worry if a particular style of worship, or a particular orientation of thoughts and faith, do not suit you. We are individuals and we need to demonstrate that freedom with joy, continuing to seek that church or that interpretation of faith.

Believe me, there are many expressions of faith and explanation of it, that do not meet my needs. Fortunately my current minister and I live on the same wavelength, which is a great relief. But I hear and see things from churches and people where I do not find a welcome place. I have been listening to the radio service as I type this. It was not the one advertised, and left me untouched, even quite distant from it. But someone else will have warmed to it.We are just different.( The preacher mentioned admiring  a bird of prey hovering over the road as he drove along; I could only think of the poor creature it was about to eat!).

It is getting windy here,although the sky is bright blue. We have been told that quite soon the remnants of the hurricane will be arriving on our shores so we can expect even more wind tomorrow.It should remind me that the weather we experience here is so mild compared with that faced by millions across the world.It is no bad thing to be mindful of this when we are tempted to grumble about the wind, the rain, the storm.



Saturday, 18 October 2014

A SERVANT CHURCH? A CHURCH OF THE SERVANTS?

One of the summer flowers that has served many gardeners well this year is cosmos, which I think comes from South Africa. Although it is nearing the end of October our cosmos are still flowering, aided by our routine(or rather Janet's routine) of dead heading. I did it yesterday and cut off 81 dead heads. Our cosmos seem to have had illusions of grandeur(and achieved it!) because they are about six feet tall.This extension of the season- at least it seems like that- is encouraging.

Despite the usual frustrations, my intended little book of collected insights into our daily lives continues towards its completion.An interesting problem arises- I keep finding new insights I want to share. A week ago I had reached 35, but during the week another 10 came along. Then whilst walking out with Rosie, a very quiet companion, I came across another 3. It has to stop somewhere and I think that will have to be 50. I have very carefull explained that these are gathered insights and not my original wisdom, although for some I do have to take responsibility.I have also indicated that it is a little book from which the readers selects, via the contents page, what might be of interest to them

On Thursday I found  myself with another little challenge. Next year our church celebrates 50 years on the present site, and an early celebration is to have a publicity stall at the town's christmas market. I am to put together a small, and hopefully attractive, booklet to hand out to visitors to the stall, explaining the many ways that the church fulfills its resolve to be a servant church. And what a challenge mine is because out of the church here come so many involvements and resources that flow freely both at home and overseas.Searching it all out is going to be quite a challenge, and that is before I start writing it up.

At the meeting on Thursday one of the church stewards told us more about the deadly, horrible disease now so rampant in West Africa. He is a recently retired GP and has worked in Africa on several occasions. We heard how the social effects of the disease are deadly too, keeping sick people at home(with other conditions) because they fear going to hospitals. Some hospital wards are virtually empty for the same reason, and fear haunts everyone.

The needs are so great, but we can only do what we can do. And being members of a 'servant church' (wherever that is) is a good start. I did think that my booklet should have a quote from the Pope on this very subject. He has much to say about washing one another's feet. A nice gesture for a Methodist Church to quote His Holiness?

Friday, 17 October 2014

THE CHANGING SCENES OF LIFE

Wherever we look, life is changing- and very quickly.I was thinking of the town where we live, one that would I suppose be described as a 'market town'.When we came here 12 years ago it was possible to purchase shoes(two shops), indoor lighting, a book shop and a branch of the country's biggest stationary/news/book stores.It was possible to purchase carpets, records, cds. Now all of these have gone, replaced by charity shops, bookies and building societies. All change as the stationmaster used to announce.

But these changes are small scale compared with what is happening at large in the world. I will confine myself to one example; we have all heard of Drones, being unmanned aircraft that carry weapons of war to far off places. Admittedly they have been used recently to deliver aid packages to disaster areas which is rather wonderful, and surely an example of swords turned into ploughshares. A more recent example is the speculation that drones will be used by police for surveillance and by parcel firms to bring goods to your door. I am not sure how this would work but believe me it is a serious suggestion.(Can you imagine me shouting from the garden to Janet' There's a drone over the garden with your new shoes').!

We cannot ignore the changing scenes of life but need healthy responses to them. First to realise how many of them are beneficial to us, the obvious example being medical research.But there are many others and we need to have a balanced picture.The other response I have in mind is to anchor ourselves in things that are unchanging. There are plenty of them and they represent a huge challenge to us, and the promise of peace in a changing world. Religion is one:

Hence the line from the hymn:

Through all the changing scenes of life, in trouble and in joy,
The praises of my God shall still my heart and tongue employ.

But there are others. Music is one. Timeless, eternal, much of it unchanging. Then there is the natural world with all of its fascinations.

So we live in balanced attitude with the changes that are everywhere, but do not forget to anchor ourselves into the things that do not change.


Thursday, 16 October 2014

MORE THAN ONE UNIVERSE?

Before I explain what this heading means, allow me a moment to explain why I often want to comment on the increasing debate between science and religion. In the 1960's a quite revolutionary theology was introduced to the public, written by an eminent Anglican cleric, pouring scorn on many accepted beliefs and questioning- some said- the existence of God.It hit the headlines of even the popular newspapers. Sadly it was read by an old and frail retired priest, who concluded that all his life's work and devotion was wasted. The next day this lonely old man took his own life.

Some folk can continue in the belief patterns of their youth, blithely isolated from what might be described as the fast currents of the age. Last evening I watched one more of those programmes that was about life, its beginnings and its meanings. The presenter- a famous television professor- is a leading light in the humanist movement so we know where he is coming from. Notwithstanding this approach, it was a good programme when we introduced to the possibility that there are many universes, and things came perfectly together to allow humans to be formed.Rather like winning a lottery ticket.

So there is increasing data about the nature of this universe, apparently leaving less room for God.At one point I startled Janet with an exclamation  when the presenter used a word we do not .hear...'mystery'.Wow, I thought- the admission there may still be mystery about.But this is not my point. The programme left me with a question; this presenter is a physicist, an expert in physical properties.What about the possibilities of spiritual universes that physics can neither appreciate nor measure?

I can make this clear in the simplest of illustrations, and one I have used before. A brain surgeon is asked about the wonderfully complex nature of the human brain, and how it is still being explored. He said that he knew every bit of it in terms of the operations he had to carry out each day. He then admitted something simple but profound in its implication.He had never seen a single thought or idea! Would it be fair to conclude that 'brain' and 'thought' were in different universes? One to be seen (at least by the surgeon) the other invisible, unable to be measured.

My conclusion? In all these matters of belief there is always a reason beyond the reasons, life beyond life as we can see it.

I love the way St Paul describes this. Having spoken about love in his letter to his Ephesian friends, and used words like 'height' and 'depth' to reach meanings other words could not, he concluded about this love 'although it can never be fully known'. That says it all for me and I hope it is helpful to you also.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

AN INTERESTING STORY

Having been reading through(once again!) my intended 'Little Book' I came across the Report about the winner of the most well known book prize. It surprised me how many aspects of the story were covered in my current effort. Let me share the story. 
The winner is an Australian who had  written several books, but thrown them all away ( subject...failure and how to deal with it).He determined to have one last attempt ( do not give up but press on) written around the story of his father( how we inspire and encourage one another).

His father had been a prisoner of the Japanese on the infamous Burma Railway,and suffered greatly at the hands of his captors. The novel was first conceived on his way home from the pub in Sydney, and so urgent was the idea that he returned to the pub and hurriedly wrote down the first chapter on a beer mat.He abandoned four drafts before submitting it, suggesting that a good writer needs a good rubbish bin. ( Readiness to stop and correct- looking with kindly criticism in the mirror of ourselves). 

In the course of writing the book, the author went to Japan to find a guard from the camp, seeking in that meeting a measure of forgiveness and reconciliation.(The need to deal with what has gone before). His father was anxious that the novel be completed. On the day he learned that it was finally ready for submission the old man died at the age of 98.

The novelist described the novel as not about war, bombs or bullets but about people (Behind the 'issues' there are always the people). He was so overcome at the announcement of the award, that he breached royal protocol by embracing the Duchess of Cornwall. He said that she didn't seem to mind!

Back then finally to my little book.I am going to ask one or two folk to look at it and tell me-honestly please- if what it contains might be relevant to some aspect of some folk's lives.Of course my reticence says 'It will not' but I will defer to other opinions. At least the newspaper story provides some minor confirmations. Put quite colloquially, I want to scratch where people itch!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

WHO HAS BEEN SLEEPING IN MY BED?

Sorry, but this is not a tasty story but a real report from today's newspaper.A couple in their  seventies returned home from holiday and noticed newspapers neatly stacked on the kitchen table with a pasta dish alongside. The bath was filled with warm water. On visiting the bedroom the man cried out to his wife' Someone has been sleeping in my bed and he is still there'. The intruder was by this time cowering in bed. The couple could not understand the man as his English was poor so locked him in and sent for the police , who soon  arrested  him.. Apparently he saw the overgrown garden and decided  that  the house was unoccupied, so took up a comfortable residence!

He was eventually given a suspended sentence, the lady of the house saying 'In terms of burglars he was the most domesticated one you could ever ask for. Fancy  washing his dishes and airing his smalls. I would happily put him up in the cellar as our butler'.

From this intriguing story my mind jumps to a television programme tonight where a famous young professor will tell us about the secrets behind the so called 'Big Bang'.I wish sometimes these admittedly clever people would conclude 'In the end we do not know' but few do. The philosophy is that they know everything. Albert Einstein once compared this to a man looking at the face of a watch and listening to it ticking, but unable to get inside it to see how it works. Today, the scientists would say that they have got into the back of the watch. But the question still remains; 'Who built the watch?'

There is a story of a Rabbi  who lived in a totalitarian country.Each morning he made his way  to the synagogue, often brooding on what he had concluded about life's big question; his conclusion was that we simply did not know. One morning an angry policeman challenged the Rabbi as to where he was going. His reply was simply 'I do not know' Angry because, the officer knew that the Rabbi always went to the Synagogue at that time, he threw him into gaol.The Rabbi smiled as he went into the cell; 'I told you...I did not know where I was going'.

And so might say all of us. We trust, we believe, but we do not know.