Thursday, March 29, 2012

John 15...

Jesus said:
I’m the mobile phone network and you are the iPhones.  If you don’t have my SIM card installed in you, you can’t connect to the network and then you can’t use all your apps.  If you aren’t connected to the network then you are a useless bit of kit and God will tidy you away.  But when you have my SIM card fitted in you, you will be able to be useful and helpful, with lots of good apps and people will know that you are connected to a really good network.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spiritual Director? Problem solved!

I’m doing a lot of extremely heavy reading about the theology of Baptist Church meetings for an essay and I need some light relief in between times.  I’ve returned, as I often do, to an old favourite; the Starbridge series by Susan Howatch.  This series of six novels portray the history of the Church of England in the 20th Century through the lives of some fictional clergymen (they were all men in those days!) from different wings of the Anglican Church as they wrestle with the inner and outer forces at work in their lives.

I first read them probably in the late nineties and have re-read them regularly ever since with a growing sense of understanding.  When I first read them the human stories were gripping but I didn’t understand the references to theologians and theological movements, which didn’t matter in the least.  Now I have done a bit of reading and so when one of the protagonists protests about Karl Barth’s influence on the neo-conservative movement I actually get what they’re talking about and I feel a little frisson of pleasure about it (that’s how sad I have become!) as well as still enjoying the tales of people trying to serve God whilst grappling with their human failings.

In my minister’s cluster we were recently discussing spiritual direction; what it’s for, the pros and cons, how to find one and what to look for in one.  I said “Has anyone read the Starbridge novels, because if you have, you’ll understand when I say I want Jon Darrow for my spiritual director”.  A colleague started nodding and a side discussion of the novels ensued, with us discussing which character we would want for our spiritual director!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Return of the Prodigal

I was reflecting on this famous painting the other day. Actually at a very nice lady’s funeral – she liked the painting so it was on display during the service.  As I looked at it I was dramatically struck, in a way I hadn’t been before, of the postures of the three main characters.  The son is, as might be expected, kneeling abjectly at the feet of his father.  He looks tatty and half-starved, because he is.  He’s made a big mess-up and he knows it and he hopes the father will allow him to work as a servant on the farm.  The father has responded to this by embracing the son; his arms enfold him, drawing his face into the father’s robes, surrounding him with the warmth and safety of his cloak.  What a rush of relief the Prodigal’s heart must feel to be pulled back into the familiar smell and feel of his father’s love.  The father’s face is gentle and accepting, full of love.

But off to the side is another figure, and to me he almost looks incidental to the painting, like he wandered in by mistake.  He seems to unbalance the picture, and simply stands staring down at the display in front of him, hands protectively across his chest.  He is richly dressed, and his face appears to be disapproving and remote.  Who is he?  He could be a passing official, a customer, anything unconnected with the story.  But he is actually the older brother.  He is the one who stayed with the father after the son left, but it doesn’t look like he had much joy of it.   I don’t know what your family is like; mine isn’t super close, but I can say for definite that if one of my siblings disappeared and was thought dead I would be heart-broken.  And if that sibling then returned after some time I would not be standing around looking disapproving.  Despite all our ups and downs I love my sisters and brother and their safe return home would make any differences and squabbles trivial compared to the great joy of knowing that my family was once more safe and whole.  I would be happy for my parents, having watched them suffer a period of sadness thinking they had lost a child.  To know that they didn’t have to live with that pain any more would mean something to me.

That’s the point of the story though.  We’ve lost sight of it because of its familiarity, but Jesus was talking to a group of religious leaders who were moaning that he was welcoming the wrong sort, and this was his response to that.  Because for the last two thousand years we’ve identified with the younger son, we haven’t noticed that we might have become the older son.  We are safe at home in church where we have everything the way we want it, but when younger sons turn up having made big messes we are more interested in the rules they have broken than the knowledge that our family is whole again.  That’s what struck me about the painting: the thing that is so wrong about the painting is not the son or the father’s behaviour, it’s the older brother whose posture jars so badly.  He shouldn’t be standing out there looking daggers, he should be in the thick of the embrace of his family.

There was a delicate synergy at work here, because the lady whose funeral I was at was a member of the welcoming team at church and she was one of the most welcoming and embracing people I knew.  She had a way of offering a kindness and acceptance to all who came through the door that was truly beautiful and she will be greatly missed by many.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

More on my talented daughter

Very atmospheric
My daughter Ellie is going on a trip to Kosovo this summer with the church youth group.  They’re going to help out in an orphanage and spend some time seeing what it’s like there.  The group have been coming up with a variety of schemes to raise money for their trip, such as car washing and baby sitting.  But Ellie had a stroke of genius:  Ellie’s Pop-up Restaurant.  For £10 a head Ellie will cook and serve a three course meal (chosen from the menu she has designed) at our house.  For a further £10 her friend will baby-sit.  All the money goes to the Kosozo trip.


Yesterday evening was her opening night, with the lovely S family coming for dinner.  Ellie spent the afternoon preparing food and laying the table.  The menu was:

  • Fresh Tomato Bruschetta
  • Salmon Tikka with Cucumber Raita and Naan Bread for Mrs and Ms. S
  • Cauliflower and Macaroni Cheese for Mr S
  • Banoffee Pie for Mr & Mrs S
  • Warm Chocolate Brownie for Ms S
  • Coffee and Mints

Chocolate Brownie
 The table looked lovely and the food was delicious, and Ellie cooked and served everything with great style and skill.  The S family were great customers and enjoyed themselves a lot.  Ellie was tired but happy and hoping for more bookings.  

Banoffee Pie
There’s plenty of  Saturdays between now and August when they go, so book early to avoid disappointment J

Friday, March 02, 2012

A new source of reading goodness

I love reading – if I’m stuck somewhere and I’ve got nothing to do I have to read something, which is one of the reasons I love my iPhone so much.  As long as I’ve got some internet access I can get something to read to pass the time.  I just wish I could read while I’m driving.  And before you shout, talking books don’t work for me quite so well, but they’re better than nothing.

So when I find a new resource with lots of things to read I get very excited and want to share the love.  Third Way magazine has been around for ages (since 1977 apparently) and you can pay £38 for a year’s subscription, which I’m thinking about doing.  But, while I’m thinking about that, the archives from 1977 to 2008 are available online via Google Books!!! That’s 31 years of 12 issues a year available for online perusal!

Oh dear…this is going to be a serious challenge to my self-discipline when I’m supposed to be reading for an essay.

You can find Third Way here and there’s a link in the tabs to the archives.  Happy Reading.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Pet Peeve

Sometimes I find myself sitting down with a cuppa and flicking on the TV and it just so happens that the program that is on is "UK Border Force".  I have to say, it's the bottom end of reality TV and I'm not sure why I bother.

There is one feature though that it has in common with many other crime reality shows and that is the way many in the law enforcement community refer to "males" and "females".  In my first life I was a zoologist (briefly) and these terms are used as nouns to describe animals when you need to distinguish gender.  So if you're watching a group of elephants you might say "The large male is walking towards the females".

In my mind this is OK when you're talking about animals but not humans.  When you refer to someone as a man or a woman you also make a statement about their humanity because these words are only ever used about humans.  When you use male or female as a noun when talking about people it seems to me to have a de-humanising effect.

So to return to UK Border Force; the Calais immigration team have found a group of Vietnamese immigrants stowing away in a truck. One of the team says, in a very sympathetic tone "Oh no, there's a couple of little females in here".  In my head she's found a box of kittens, or a nest of baby mice.  But she hasn't, and her tone, which is meant to sound kind, I find disturbing.  What she has found, cowering behind the cargo, is two young women.  She treats them kindly and carefully, given that she has to arrest them as illegal immigrants, but she has already done the worst thing she can to them by referring to them in a way that reduces their humanity and infantilises them.

It something that seems to happen a lot in law enforcement reality shows; police officers talk about IC3 males, or young white females.  They may be criminals but they are actually Asian men and white girls.  It seems to be a result of creating jargon to categorise and encode people for reports, but there's a danger that, as people stop talking about men and women and start using these oddly biological terms, we reduce human beings to animals not only in our paperwork but in our minds, and once people become less than human in our minds it makes it easier to treat them as less than human.