Ash Wednesday yesterday. You know that a lot of Anglican traditions are a bit of a mystery to me so I looked it up on Wikipedia. What? The first line is “Ash Wednesday is a Christian day for peace.”. I don’t think anyone told the school shooter in Florida.

There are a lot of things about America and its gun laws that are alien to me. I don’t live there and I can’t pretend to understand it. I saw a documentary once where a gun-shop owner vigorously defended the “right to bear arms”. He explained that it was in case the government or the people in power ever turned on them. It wasn’t really about day to day protection. It was about a deep rooted mistrust of those in authority. A keeping back of some of the power for the ordinary man. I think I undertstood a bit more – how the keeping of a gun could become a matter of principle but it remained a concept that I couldn’t really imagine. Because I also can’t imagine what it would be like to receive text messages from your child as they cowered under a desk, or as they watched their teacher shot dead as he vainly tried to lock the classroom door to protect them. I can’t imagine what it is like to run to school with that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach because you don’t know what you will find there – whether your child will be alive or dead. I don’t know what it’s like to wait helplessly at school gates while the police try to work out what is happening. I don’t know what it’s like to send your child to school with a rucksack and paper and pencils and them never come home.

I don’t really expect lawmakers in America to change anything soon. Partly because of the deep-rooted beliefs held above and partly because of the money guns earn. Also, if, as in Sandy Hook, a man walks into a school and kills 20 six and seven year olds in cold blood and nothing changes, then, in my humble opinion, nothing will ever change. You have crossed red lines to infinity there and still it wasn’t enough.

There is news emerging now though that the killer was known to people as having an unhealthy obsession with guns and killing. He was also excluded from school and had a grudge. Do you have to be Sherlock to have a clue where it will go? Yet there was nothing, no laws, nothing to stop him. I say again, I’m not an American, I don’t claim to understand. Not at all. I just can’t think of anywhere else where this happens – all the time – and there is no response. As far as I can see, America is a brilliant place, packed to the drawstrings with amazing people, I just don’t get it.

Life is fragile, Ash Wednesday is a reminder of that – we are but dust or a breath. I look at our young people and hope that we are not building a world for them where it is far more fragile than it needs to be.

“I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” Daniel 9

 

 

So it’s Lent any minute now. I am not sure exactly when, I am still quite new to all this but it is Ash Wednesday this week – on Wednesday thrillingly, and I am assuming it starts then. Following on from last year’s enjoyable foray into a Lent Book Pen Wilcock’s The Wilderness Within You (Highly recommended if you haven’t read it before) I have bought another book, this time recommended by the church.  It’s called Scandalous by DA Carson and I know nothing about it. There is also something called The Lent School of Faith going on which I would be quite interested in – if only to learn a little bit more. However, I can’t seem to find out anything about it. I have been all over the website and nothing. I don’t want to turn up and find I am sitting in a room full of trainee vicars all laughing like Derek Nimmo. If I have a criticism of the Church of England, taking into account my limited dealings with them so far, it is that they do seem to sing to their own choir a lot. By that I mean, everyone who is a regular churchgoer will know exactly what it is but those who haven’t been a part of church since Noah was cajoling animals up a plank, are a bit behind the ball and it isn’t always easy to find out what is happening.

It’s a drum I am always banging I know but we don’t always make it easy for people to join church. I have been to countless meetings and seminars where people have discussed people going in the front door of church and straight out the back. I have sat and listened to people saying things like – if we lift Jesus up people will automatically come and stay. I just think sometimes we could make it a bit easier. It’s all very well going out into the streets and inviting the unlovely to come to the banquet but sometimes you have to show them to their seats as well.

Back to Lent. There are lots of things out there to do. You can commit to send out a positive message each day or there is the 40 Acts challenge. But, working where I work, I see a lot of discrimination against people with disabilities. Apparently this is even more so in certain areas in Africa. The Through the Roof charity takes refurbished wheelchairs to Africa and they are challenging everyone to save £1 a day for the period of Lent. At the end (if you do £2 on Easter Sunday) you should have £42 which will buy a wheelchair. Details are here if you are interested.

Right off to watch Endeavour – very good last week but this one is apparently full  of Egyptian Mummies, race riots, one armed cinema ushers and visits from Hollywood. ALL IN 1960s OXFORD! Who knew? I have led a very sheltered life.

This is a strange post. (What’s new? I hear you cry). Was going to talk about magazines and book but thought I would write about what I am thinking about. Today I am twenty years cancer clear. I am not sure whether I should be celebrating really. It’s not as if I achieved world peace or discovered the secret lair of the jiggy spider. I just stayed alive. I wasn’t expected to but I did. It is a good thing, I know. There are qualifications though. There are lots of people who, through no fault of their own, didn’t make it. I have been to a lot of funerals of friends and wondered why them and not me. Also, with cancer, you never say never again. Every day is a delicate balance of being shot through with faith and promises and a feeling of looking over your shoulder. Cancer is like that.

I am not a “God put gold dust in my Bible” kind of girl. (First question – why would God do that? He’s a serious deity with important things to do.) Yet I know there are miracles. I know because I saw one. It was bad and no-one with any kind of medical training is quite sure how it turned good. Still here’s a few thoughts about things and I’m sorry if the overall tone isn’t pogo-ing hysterically on one leg, pointing at the ceiling yelling about VICTORY. You have come to the wrong place.

  • I keep thinking about all the stuff I was going to achieve if I got to carry on and a lot of it appears to have been balderdash. (Although I haven’t given up on a lot of it and some of it is ongoing) However, just to be alive to pray, to read and to be with those you are inordinately fond of is often enough.
  • Life goes on for the most part. Unrealistic thoughts like; “I will never be ungrateful again” or “I will always love my job” turn out to be just that – unrealistic.
  • People are still ratbags sometimes and life isn’t fair. I thought I would be shot through with the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of all the saints knitted into a beautiful duvet. Because people would never upset me again and, having been through what I had been through, I would understand everyone and where they were coming from and we would all be at peace. Erm…lots of people are donks. Including me. But lots of people more donkish than me and I still have bad thoughts about them.
  • Even having experienced that God takes no notice of odds (mine weren’t very favourable) I still need to stir myself up to remind myself that this remains true.
  • I thought would never doubt God again and would always have faith in his ability to work miraculously in my life. That went about as well as you would expect.
  • I said I would never be scared again. This was the most rubbish of all the thoughts. I have remained human. I fight being a scaredy cat on a daily basis.

So we are waving a little flag here today but quietly. But I am grateful to God for his intervention and to those medical wonder-people he used to support that.  And I would encourage you to lift your eyes and your faith levels. To pray and keep on doing so. Strange things happen. God intervenes. I think it’s true.

 

Apologies for lateness. I have been helping offspring to fill out job applications and I forget how long that takes. (If you do it properly FOW1!) It looks like Spring is having a little think about possibly popping its head out but my advice to that daffodil is not to bother for a while because it is freezing here.

As I may have mentioned, we live by the sea. This is not your sweet little cove by a Cornish rock face but a city by the ocean. Still, if you stand on tippytoes in the bedroom window and if the flats weren’t in the way, you could see the sea, it is so close. This is not to say that I am a particularly seafaring kind of person. I am not at my best in a boat. I usually take some convincing. During the first boat trip I took when we moved here, the engine caught fire and they had to send another boat out to rescue us. According to the gnarled old fisherman, straight out of central casting, this was a once in a lifetime event. We then had to walk a plank – I’ll say that again, walk a plank to get to safety. My family still talk about it now; when they feel like howling with laughter. Anyway, I digress.

Our proximity to the sea means that we see very little snow. I’m not saying it doesn’t get cold – trust me – it can get very very cold and the gales can pin you against walls but the sea winds seem to keep the snow at bay. But…we have had a warning. Snow is possible! Snow is possible!

This has caused wall to wall excitement and the old people we serve in work have spoken of little else. It is not spoken of with unalloyed joy though because we are not used to it. So a low level British panic has set in – a bit – but we are ready. Heat has been set, salt has been bought, daughters have been locked up. Should the deed happen for more than fifteen minutes, people will run into the street shouting “It’s laying! It’s laying!” and the buses will stop running. (This is not an exaggeration) I am from the North of England and snigger behind my hand at a lot of this.

Aged Parent has been instructed NOT to turn her heaters off at the plug as she is prone to do. This is not for money saving but she has a morbid fear of anything being plugged in for any amount of time. Then she will inform me -“It’s very cold in here”.

“Did you switch your heaters off?”

“Yes! They were boiling hot!”

So we are watching the skies, like we are in a Spielberg movie and all normal life is just edged with that extra tinge of excitement. I will keep you informed. If we are spared. Roll on April.

We were back at the pictures this week. Well, it’s cold, it’s dark and we are skint because payday seems to have been moved on about three weeks, so it was as good a place as any. We saw Darkest Hour (Not “The” Darkest Hour by the way. Some people can get quite upset if you get that wrong) It’s about Churchill and how he struggled to get  the government to realise that Hitler was going to have to be fought rather than reasoned with. Gary Oldman is as brilliant as everyone says he is and the prosthetics to age him are equally impressive. I’ve seen a few reviews that praise Oldman but also say that the film is quite cold and unengaging. I don’t know if it is my current frame of mind but I didn’t find it cold at all – I cried three times. I don’t think I understood how close we came to losing and early on as well – this was set in 1940 and Europe was disintegrating. To fight on was such a risk. What a time.

There is one scene that is getting a lot of attention. In the midst of the crisis, Churchill is advised by the King (who is very handsome but definitely has a teeny tiny Australian twang in there) to go to the people. So Churchill takes himself down to the Underground where he meets lots of salt of the earth Londoners – a tradesman, a mother and a baby, a black man and myriads of determined looking women. They all advise him to fight on – hurrah! This never happened and it is a set up to say that the people were 100% behind Churchill and it is quite naff. However, I think, sometimes naff is fine when it hits a spot. I have never seen Dirty Dancing but I know people who acknowledge that it will have taken a budgie ten minutes to write it but they still love the way the hero rescues the young girl from er… sitting in a corner. Because it’s about young love, and music and dancing and things people like. These kind of things are sometimes called guilty pleasures because they are not considered worthy or smart but they mean things to people and they are important.

I watched some late night review show once and some donk was on there saying how critics like him were important because they were the gateway to “important”culture for the masses and, without people like him, the great unwashed would just go off and watch Coronation Street and never read Freud. I think people should try stuff and sometimes they should push themselves a bit. I am reading a book by Tom Wright again at the moment and am finding it a bit/lot heavy. However, every now and then I get it and I’m learning stuff I think I needed to know. This does not mean that I will be replacing my 1940s Golden Age of Crime Fiction trashy paperbacks with every book in Tom Wright’s back catalogue. Because I like them. I’m not trying to impress anyone – I just like them.

In the Screwtape Letters CS Lewis talks about how Screwtape advises that people should be steered away from hobbies that they enjoy into things they think are impressive or worthy. Because (if I remember this properly) if people are doing something they genuinely like, they become less conscious of themselves, they lose themselves and don’t get caught up in trying to be something they are not. There’s a brilliant bit that says something like – You have no idea how many people have been steered away from useful debauchery by an in-depth love for County Cricket. (Don’t forget Screwtape is a bad ‘un and his recommendations are always the other way round) Please note the things that you like generally have to be fairly benign, I think you will struggle to justify going out on every full moon to do some killing just because you genuinely like it.

It starts by being loved as you are – because you are – loved as you are that is. On the rare occasions that I actually get that I am ok with God as I am – it is such a relief. Then, if I want to try a bit of Ibsen (can’t say I do –  but I might) I’m doing it because I am curious not because I want you to think better of me. I have no idea how I got to this ranting – oh yes Churchill on the Underground. Naff but good. I liked it.