Wednesday, 28 January 2015

PS.. Sorry folks...my title should read 'unimaginable'

THE INIMAGINABLE

Yesterday- as everyone knows- was 'Holocaust Memorial Day' and rightly there was international recognition of the horrors of those events 70 years ago. They are unimaginable, in that the evil perpetrated was so vast that no publisher would accept it as a possible scenario for a story. We can anticipate the response 'Cut the numbered of the victims by 80% because your numbers are totally unrealistic.' But we know now that they were not unrealistic, and a great darkness overcame millions of people.

I find it difficult to accept the argument that this was all simply perverse human behaviour. Looking at centuries of war, the twentieth century alone accounting for a very minimum of 30 million deaths, there is a dark presence that can only be seen in terms of a Evil intent  to destroy human happiness. It is because of its cosmic vastness and ocean depth I have always found it difficult to believe in 'The Devil'. And this is why: to place the world's evil and darkness on a human like personality is too mild, too limited, yes too human. Talk instead about the powers of darkness and hell and I can begin to understand.

I listened to a ten minute talk by our most famous children's author and on whose books a west end show and popular film was based. I will call him by his initials 'MM'. War comes  into most of his wonderful books, and he wanted to explain why. It occurs so often because he believes deeply that children need to appreciate how horrible war is, and as well as its direct casualties the millions of broken lives it leaves behind.(MM recalled family losses and soldiers coming home to find their beloved had made 'other domestic arrangements').Children play war games, watch war films but they do not reveal the depths of suffering they bring. One of MM's books is indeed set around the holocaust.

But where there is evil, there the light appears. In the darkest places on earth love and hope are found. Isn't this remarkable? Astounding? That for all of Evil's power it cannot put out the light or extinguish love and hope? I think of it, perhaps controversially this way:where love.abides it rarely is transmuted into evil, but evil is far more vulnerable to be turned into love. I know that some evil is clearly intractable but love holds a potential over evil that evil rarely has over love.I will leave you to work that one out- as I am still doing.

One of our greatest poets- wrote verses that puzzle and challenge people still today. He was writing in the early nineteen twenties and was going home each evening to his wife with terrible dementia.In his tortured mind were all the agonies of the First World War, and the seeming impossibility of reconciling his strong catholic faith with all the suffering that filled his mind. He concluded- at the end of much painful and tortuous thought- that there were two powers at work in the world- the Love of God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, and the terrible power of Evil everywhere. He chose the former and wrote these timeless lines:

We are consumed by fire or fire...
By which he meant the fire of the world's Evil, or the fire of Divine Love. He chose the latter, displayed and realised in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
On Sunday evening I took by various documents for the service in a carrier bag with these words written on it: 'Caution- likely to start singing in the street' and another one says 'Caution- likely to start dancing in the street'.

When the years roll by and the centuries are complete Christians believe that this is where and how we will end. Dancing in the street and with a song. No t with a tear.

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And just to prove I sometimes listen to myself, a word about perspectives.Our lounge is being re-plastered and everything is where it should not be. A mess. Tempted to grumble I thought of all those poor people caught in last Winter's flooded homes. With that perspective I didn't grumble any more. There is always someone worse off than ourselves.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

FOCUSSING INWARD

In a few weeks  we will be directing our thoughts towards the benefits of fairtrade and seeking to build on all the success. Much credit for this success must be given to schools and the ways in which the cause of the growers and producers is planted in the minds of children. I do believe that it is important to tell the story behind the word 'fairtrade' because  the title, like so many, can be overused and in this loses its value. It is not simply about economic principles but real life situations. Not only the families but entire village communities.It is this 'focussing in' that we need to do, especially when the news seems to emasculate the real people behind the headlines.

The same focussing inwards is necessary in another area I have been thinking of recently- the suffering and persecuted church around the world. I do not like to read comments such as 'Christianity will be finished in...'. The light will never go out....we should know that through the ages all the way back to that first Good Friday (Black Friday then).Think China- once all gone, seemingly the light of the Gospel extinguished. Think China now....millions of new Christians all across that great mass of population.

And following up on yesterday's comments about gender apartheid, I read of another public execution of a man with six children, protesting his innocence and pleading for mercy. Even a High Court Judge in that country has called for these executions to be replaced by lethal injection. And what do the humanists say? The world is getting better and better!!!!

Returning to my fairtrade theme I wanted to share the story of a cocoa/chocolate entrepreneur who decided to turn cocoa production into a similar matter to wine growing.The two men involved want to emulate 'estate bottled ' wine. So they are building a chocolate factory in the middle of their 6 acre cocoa plantation in St Lucia. 80 people from the estate will be involved and visitors (they expect 150,000 visitors each year when it opens next year). There is already a hotel on the site. This experiment may not carry the label 'fairtrade' (it might well, I  just do not know) but the work will be done by local people rather than the beans being dispatched to some far off location. We will be watching the Sunday evening programme where budding entrepreneurs bid for funds for their ideas. Oh for some idealistic entrepreneurs. I can only recall one when a couple of university students had invented a water carrying device for villages in the developing world. But we need more. Am I expecting too much in this self indulgent world?

Finally- and still on the fairtrade theme- about Christine, our younger daughter. She is altogether dedicated to fairtrade, having worked for Oxfam for several years before marriage and children. She hopes to resume working for the Fig Tree as they re-locate in Lancaster at an old (but still beautiful) un-used Anglican church. There will be-hopefully- a One World Centre and Coffee shop- right in the centre of that historic city. Lancaster was much involved with the slave trade so the dreadful history of that will be included in the hoped for work.

As you will guess, we are cautiously excited by these possibilities. Watch the space,

Monday, 26 January 2015

TAKING THINGS FOR GRANTED- THE HABITS OF THOUGHT

A late posting today as we have been on a family visit to Janet's sister, June,in Warrington, where we had a very happy time. My   piece today is rather disconnected(what's different do you say?!) but you will excuse this.

First to tell you about my new shirt. It has no breast pocket, as far as I can remember the first one in many years without such a useful facility.Useful for my glasses, and for money given to me for things and purposes not my own. Now I keep trying to place my glasses where there is no place for them. It will not get better simply  because when wearing all the other shirts I will inevitably revert to my usual  habit. I asked Janet to sew me a pocket on, but she quietly refused.

Habits, you see.Like well trodden pathways in the mind. I guess the same is true of ways in which we think about ourselves, the world, the life we lead. I heard an interview this morning which made me identify this syndrome. It was about the largest Arab nation where women are not allowed to drive, walk around without the standard dress and can only go out, or marry with husbands or parents permission. The interviewee had this challenge; is the way women are treated in these countries any  different from how non white people were treated in South Africa during the Apartheid regime? The world protested, sanctions were applied, sporting boycotts put in place. Why not then protest against countries where half the population are inferior citizens? We may think that the comparison is unfair, but it is a question worth raising. Perhaps the answer is Defence contracts and oil? But we have got so used to it, the situation becomes habitual, taken for granted.

Last evening I conducted the Communion Service for 43 people. I cannot comment on the sermon but the Service itself was made beautiful by contributions from the choir and the organ, and, of course, the simple sharing of bread and wine.

Then on Saturday a minor disaster. Yes, in view of the world we inhabit a very minor one. From time to time Janet is kept from her beauty sleep by restless calves (i.e. legs, we don't live on a farm). She has tablets which help, but on Saturday, the stock was empty. We forgot to collect the prescription from the chemist, so two nights of difficult sleep were endured. Tonight we have the tablets. Why share this with you? A simple reason why: we take our medicines for granted. Look across the world, look back in even our recent history, and there would not be any such medicines. We take them for granted like so many things. And we should not.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

TWO KINDS OF HOPE

Later today I am due to preach at a Service of Holy Communion, in our own church here in Poulton.I will have in mind many folk I meet and hear of every week who carry their burdens very bravely, the many  things with which they have to cope.Trying to find a word to say is always difficult, but I will leave content if I have tried.

In the Service this morning (standing room only I am pleased to say) our minister spoke of the terrible suffering endured  by Christians in various parts of the world. I read an article by a Dominican Priest.In one region of Iraq there has been centuries of Christian presence, many being farmers and professionals. This life was lost with just half an hour's warning when Isis came. For these people there seems very little hope. They do not trust governments, or Western powers, or their neighbours from other faiths. The only hope they see is exile in foreign lands. 

Apparently in Arabic there are two words for hope. One expresses the hope that all will go well in the immediate present, the other a bigger hope fixed on the long term future. The Christians the writer met had little confidence in the lesser hope, but their trust in God, their big hope, remained strong.

It was noted that a strong sign of hope, albeit a tiny spark, was the commitment to education. There is a recognition among all faiths that military might will not remove the enemy. The real target must be blind fundamentalism, that fuels the violence. There has been established the Baghdad Academy of Human Sciences, where philosophy, sociology, anthropology are taught . to breath the oxygen of debate. The majority are Muslims, who desperately want their Christian brothers and sisters to remain and not flee.. Some Christians believe that by remaining they live out the promise of Jesus that He will be with them to the end of time.

The article ended with the children, who came to Mass and were given a sign of peace to pass on to the congregation. "These children are messengers of hope in a future which they trust that God will give, even if now we cannot imagine it"

Don't you think it good to know that beyond the headlines of gloom and defeat, hope still wings its way around the world.

We had a challenge this morning. Should we, safe in our Western churches, not be doing more to aid or suffering brothers and sisters around the world?


Saturday, 24 January 2015

STICKS AND STONES

You may remember the adage 'sticks and stones may break your bones, but names will never hurt you'. I thought of this today when a person in conversation said: 'The one thing I like about you, is that you introduced..........to..............church' Later I reflected on my saving grace and couldn't remember the accolade being appropriate to me.So my one reason for being liked was gone, just like that!!! But do not worry on my behalf; it was one of those remarks that is quickly forgotten, but I tell you this just as a caution in our use of words to others. St Paul says they can be like sparks that set in place a forest fire.

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By contrast I saw an inspiring interview earlier today. It was with a war artist who has painted many war scenes, many in Afghanistan.It was there when out on patrol he was shot from behind, a bullet going through his forearm and rendering three fingers without feeling. He even showed his camera with the bullet marks clearly evident. Was that the end of his painting? By no means. With hard work he was able to use the brush, even though it is necessary to use his good arm to hold  the painting arm upright. 

What determination! He even declared that his painting had improved because his physical limitations merely improved his skill. Instead of looking at the minutiae he concentrated on the main features, leaving his public to fill in the details themselves.

But for me the real inspiration is that he was not diminished by his difficulty. He took it in his stride- no doubt quite difficult- but used it to develop a new style and do even better.

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I have to admit that I react with a little scorn whenever the word 'survey' is announced. I am thinking of one survey I read this morning. A new  (no! not another new one)survey. Walking stoutly several times a day, is not particularly good for the heart. Instead we need to have a few minutes of robust exercise and that will do. Then there are countless experts (all, no doubt with their eyes on their  future bank balance) telling us about diet, and slimming and fitness. And they all differ! They all change their minds! They all seem to bring  inadequate logic to the task they have set.

Perhaps what we most need is an expert about 'experts', a survey about surveys. The same overview the artist cited above is bringing to his paintings.

Friday, 23 January 2015

GOOD NEWS

Yes, I will call this my good news edition of the week. There is so much bad news about, made worse by the media taking the half empty rather than half full approach on many items of news.First to a matter of health.Childhood cancer rates have dropped by more than 50% in recent decades. Huge strides in modern drugs have ensured that whereas 1300 under the age of 24 died in the 1970's, the number  is now down to 550.And the good news becomes even better when we are told that in terms of leukemia where once the death rate was nine out of ten, there is now a 90% survival rate.

Now a completely different piece of good news, not as obvious as the above, but still significant. An undercover police officer has been responsible for jailing 37 drug dealers in just three months. The officer took part in 100 deals, buying the most deadly of drugs from street corner dealers .He queued up alongside drug users to meet dealers. The rendezvous were amazingly varied- parks, churches(!) besides schools, at a crown green bowling club, phone boxes.I call this good news. Behind the scenes I wonder who the mysterious officer was with the simple code name Stan. He must have taken considerable risks, putting himself in danger. Was he simply dedicated to his job, or was he motivated by some experience of the horror of the drug trade.

And the story goes on. Since October- just one example- Dorset police have made 47 drug related arrests, seized 35 vehicles, seized almost 500 'parcels' of drugs with a considerable street value.

Welcome stories of death reduced- in the clinic, and on the streets. These things are happening all the time; good news is all around us, but we hear so little of it.

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We have been watching the delightful programmes this week about Winter and life in the Scottish mountains- deer, otters, squirrels. We saw plenty of snow but we also saw many different birds in their Winter habitats and habits,. Particularly impressive was the night filming of 15,000 knots, still circling and scavenging by the seashore. Yes 15,000 and not one collision. And why not? Naturalists have no idea. Yet another area of life we have to say 'It remains a mystery'. It is good to be reminded sometimes of our limitations.