A Good Innings

It is, as my Grandad once told us in a phone call home from his holidays, like “The Riveera” here. The sun is shining and we can almost entertain the possibility of summer. Hurrah.

I wanted to use this space this week to draw attention to the life of Jean Vanier. In contrast to last week’s news about Rachel Held Evans, this is more of a celebration of a life rather than the wrench of the loss of a young wife and mother. Jean Vanier had had what my grandad would have called “A Good Innings” This is true, partly because ninety years old is probably more than enough for anyone and also because his life’s work falls fairly and squarely in the category “good”.

Vanier famously visited a psychiatric ward and was appalled by the treatment of the patients there.

 “I visited homes and discovered a world of vast suffering that I had been totally ignorant of. In the navy, I had been in a world of efficiency; through my studies, I was in the world of intellect. And then I found myself faced by a world of ‘the cry’ and that has turned my life upside down.”

He began to live with people with intellectual difficulties – not as a carer so much as a friend. This change of perspective – treating all equally and recognising the value of all people – was revolutionary. It is an attitude that reflects directly the approach of Jesus and led to L’Arch (or Ark) communities being set up all over the world.

I think that the current slow but sure changes that we are seeing in attitudes to people with disabilities and also their own sense of place in the world is rooted in the work of Jean Vanier.

So how does it work out in practice? My chances of leaving everyone and going to live a simple life in an Ark Community are slim. But little thoughts and changes where we are now can make a difference. When I am shopping at lunch and cannot cruise through M and S at my preferred speed because an old lady in front of me does not seem to be in full control of her walking frame, I can become impatient. When that happens, it helps to ask myself – what right did I have to set the walking speed to 100 mph and maybe it is me that is out of step? Or, if I have to repeat myself because someone can’t hear me or if someone in a wheelchair gets to jump the queue because they can’t actually fit their chair down the till isle. We need to see these as necessary adjustments, not favours.

The challenges are there for all of us every day. When Aged Parent decided that 5.45 am was a perfectly acceptable time to take round a friend’s birthday card. (“I wanted to catch her before she went out for lunch”) I am grateful that her friend gracefully decided that her response was to say “Thank-you”, then inform Aged Parent that Jesus loved her and then celebrate that fact with a rousing chorus of “When the roll is called up yonder”. (I am, unfortunately, unable to furnish you with the neighbours’ reaction at this point)

On the flip side, necessary adjustments do not mean accepting a phone call where someone shouts “I’m disabled! You better find a seat for me on your ****** buses or else!” Nor should physical violence to people who are trying to help be acceptable. I am also reliably informed by medical people that patients who have issues with the appropriate nature of certain Anglo Saxon words are always politely but firmly called out on it. (Even when everyone is sniggering because they have no idea how Nana ever even heard that word.)

Christianity does not escape unscathed. I have worked at a couple of churches where there wasn’t a lift to go to the second floor and it wasn’t considered a priority. I think that kind of attitude is on the way out now. (Please don’t write in with loads of “I think you’ll find it isn’t” stories – I know there is a very long way to go with this.) Vanier’s attitude – informed first and foremost by his understanding of the teachings of Jesus, is an example and a challenge. I’ll be honest, I’m a bit of a ratbag and I’m not sure I’m always up to it. The problem is – I don’t think I’m supposed to have a choice.

Inexplicable

So Rachel Held Evans died. (Please see previous post) She was 37 and leaves a husband and two children – one of them not even one year old yet. She died of complications from flu. The Internet is full of people grieving for her – people who have benefitted from her sisterhood, her writing, or her ministry. I would like to add myself to that list. There are also the people who have prayed unceasingly for her healing.

There are also people who are putting articles on the Internet along the lines of “How does one react to the death of an apostate?”I will confine myself to noting that anyone who reacts with that kind of sentiment when a young mother has died, may possibly have no idea about anything Jesus ever said. (Disclaimer – these opinions are my own as you well know)

Prayer is a tricky subject. Petitionary prayer even more so. One one hand, there is the “Ask Anything And You Shall Have It” gang. On the other, the “Hold The Things You Desire Very Loosely Just In Case God Says No” people. This is all very well and good but when we seem to have been taught that faith is essential to prayer, it is difficult negotiating how to ask for things believing God wants us to have them and then trying to maintain a peace that God knows best and if he says no or makes us wait, then all will be well.

I don’t think any of you are here because you think that I have any answers. I most certainly do not. However, I have had a wander around some books and a few Dallas Willard sermons and have reminded myself of the following…

There is no such thing as a prayer that hits the ceiling and doesn’t reach God. Because God is under the ceiling – with us – involved, laughing, mourning, training, raising an eyebrow and saying “Really?”. Prayer is God’s day to day entry into our lives, as it is our entry into him. If it’s working properly, it is happening often, in our designated places and times as well as on the hoof. But the truth is that, even then, sometimes things don’t go as we ask and I seriously don’t know why.

Faith is also essential for prayer. Faith that we are heard. Faith that our best interests are at God’s heart and faith that God is not too small and that he is able. It is this faith that allowed Jesus to sleep in a boat in the middle of a storm while the disciples screamed at the top of their voices and ran up and down the boat doing hysterical jazz hands. (This is a perfect picture of how I react in a crisis as opposed to how I should react in a crisis) This was then followed by the disciples screaming “Don’t you even care?” (Also me)

We have to square the reality that not all petitions are answered with the equal reality of a caring God. I didn’t say it made sense. The thing that has made it a bit easier for me is realising that my relationship with God is a two-way street. Obviously, I say all the time that Jesus is my friend but I also have to get hold of the fact that I am his friend. He looks at me and sees his friend. This’s who I am to him. That’s what I am worth. And if that’s how he sees me then I have to try to trust his judgment when it comes to how he cares for his friends

Trying

I’ve had a trying week. Have you had a trying week? I’ve had a trying week. I’ll just share my week. It’s not that I’m not bothered about you and your week. I’m happy to hear about it. But first – me.

Oh by the way, in a bit of throwback. We went to church on Good Friday. I can get a bit religious on Good Friday as you probably know. It seemed like a good church. We can’t commit to anything at the moment because we have no idea which area we will be living in when we move but this place seemed ok. Certainly ten team points for singing “When I Survey The Wonderous Cross” to the proper tune and not some hippy-dippy 60’s nonsense. We are a bit church burned and won’t be rushing anywhere but we did like it.

Back to the week that was. It was a short work week, what with the Easter Monday thing. Then I had Tuesday off as FOW2 was over for her birthday. She wanted to go to IKEA to buy a desk and we are very much “You shall go to the ball” on our kids’ birthdays so off we went. Unfortunately she had neglected to bring any measurements or indeed, a tape measure to check those measurements so there was a lot of standing around with arms outstretched and running from desk to desk trying to use visualisation powers to work out if it would fit. Annoyingly, it fitted perfectly so I didn’t get the chance to say – “Well if you had just measured your room before you came…”

Then, on Thursday night I got a call from Aged Parent “I’ve just called the ambulance.” Cue a panicked rush round to her flat. To insert a spolier here – she was ok and I think it could have been a medication mix-up combined with a bit of a panic attack but it was a trying evening. It was four and a half hours before the ambulance arrived. I’ll just repeat that. Four and a half hours. (To be fair to them, I think they had pegged her symptoms and past history and had placed her well below young people with multiple stab wounds on their priority list). I arrived at the flat to find her “religious maniac friend” her words not mine, washing up in the kitchen loudly singing “And LEAP ye lame for JOYYYYYYYYYY!!!” over and over again. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a prayer or speaking something into being but God wasn’t having it. No leaping was being done at all and Joy was in short supply. Especially from me.

When the paramedics arrived they checked AP over and came to the conclusion that her symptoms sounded like trapped wind and told her to drink more water as she was probably a little dehydrated. As they were leaving, one of them rubbed my back surreptitiously and told me to go home and get some sleep as there was nothing to worry about. Oh you think do you? Let me tell you about my life. I was in bed by 2.30 am which gave me a whole three and a half hours before the alarm went off. AP took their rejection in her stride and next night was heard telling HOH that the paramedic had no idea what he was talking about but that they had said that she was severely dehydrated and more or less lucky to be alive. Hmm.

Then we though we had sold the house but people who play hardball better than us decided not – no more details – it makes me sweary. Unfortuntely, because we thought it was sold, we looked at flats and found something that we liked and now we can’t bid on it. I fully expect it to be sold the day before we are able to make an offer for it.

Also, I don’t know if you have heard of Rachel Held Evans. She wrote a book Searching for Sunday which is an honest and helpful account of a woman losing her faith, finding Jesus again but not really being that keen on evangelical Chrisianity anymore. I can’t say I agree with everything she has ever written but she does talk a lot of sense and has devoted her life to those struggling with their faith. She has recently become seriously ill and is in an induced coma. Her friends have come online and asked people to pray for her. And “Christians” have come back with phrases like “I’ll pray for her – I’ll pray that she repents!” JUST GO AWAY WILL YOU! Is that seriously an attitude you can ever EVER see Jesus supporting?

On top of all that, Manchester United can’t buy a win and even though FOW1 gamely tries to cheer me up with Tweets about transfers and optimistic predictions, I do care more about football than I should and can get very downhearted. Because of work and other things, we won’t be able to go and see Avengers Endgame until next weekend which means a week of probably unsucessfully avoiding spoilers and I HATE being the last to see anything. Also after lots of family pressure I have started watching Fleabag (Series 2. FOW2 has forbidden me from watching Series 1. “Trust me Mum – you won’t like it.” It is apparently filthy) Annoyingly, I can see what all the fuss was about. It is brilliantly written (I knew it would be) and although I wholeheartedly disapprove (She is trying to get a priest to sleep with her – but there is more to it than that. May blog a bit more when I have seen it all) I can’t help but admire it.

Sometimes, it’s a million little things don’t you think? Comforting myself with this.

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed
That I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.

 Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!

Psalm 27

Also comforting myself with a DVD of The Way We Were and my body weight in Maltesers which do not weigh very much and therefore that’s a LOT of Maltesters. Hurrah!

The Cut Out Girl

The Cut Out Girl by Bart Van Es

Of the 18000 Jews in the Hague in 1940, only 2000 survived the Second World War. A good proportion of those survivors owe their lives to selfless acts of bravery by ordinary Dutch men and women. Lien, is one of the survivors and her story is told here. She is seven years old when the book begins, a child of a non-observant Jewish family. The author says “It is really Hitler who makes Lien Jewish”. But, even as a young child she notices the changes start to happen, almost imperceptably at first – she is made to go to a Jewish school, she sees signs in parks and on libraries saying “Forbidden for Jews”, then one day she comes home from school to find her mother cutting out stars from a piece of yellow felt.

Soon, her mother sits on her bed one night and tells the little girl that she is going to stay somewhere else for a while. A couple of mornings later a lady arrives at the front door to take her to another family. She has no understanding of the fact that she will never see her parents again.

After the war, when Lien is an old woman, she is visited by the author who is a relative of one of the families who took her in and together they tell her story.

It is a deeply moving and sad story. Despite the bravery of those who sheltered her, danger was never far away and she has to move on to another family as the Nazis close in. Not everyone who gives her shelter is a hero and she has to grow up quickly. Also, again despite the bravery of those who fight to shelter her, the experience leaves her deeply scarred. Life after the war is hard – not so much because of her life circumstances but because of the mental and emotional damage she has suffered.

This is an amazing book. It’s not hard going; despite the subject matter. Her story is so beautifully told, I felt so strongly for her. There are little, amazing stories of heroism and tiny shocking moments of anti-semitism and abhorrent behaviour. With all the background noise we have these days around racism and anti-semitism it does us good to see where these things can lead if they are unchecked. But the main thing this left me with was a sense of a human being; the torments she suffered and her path to peace.

Easter Saturday

Holbein

This is my favourite representation of Easter Saturday – if favourite is the word. It is Jesus’ dead body. And he is certainly dead. In Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot, sees a copy of Holbein’s picture “Looking at that painting,” he says, “might make one lose one’s faith.”

Easter Saturday is such an important day, but people move on so quickly to the jollity of Easter Sunday. (Obviously – who wouldn’t?) Yet this is the day when the candles had been snuffled out with no sign of them ever being lit again. So I am once again pointing to something I have written before. This is the lost day, the gap, the day of faith for tomorrow. I think it is something that we have all experienced – because Christianity is a religion for grown-ups. Something had been taken apart with no pointers as to how or if it would ever be put back together again. You might feel like that now. Easter Saturday is a hint, a whisper of a God waiting and working. Please feel free to have a read…

So today was the day before the big day. We know that now, so it’s easy to be all full of faith about the promise now. Because we are here all these years later and we know it happened. Harder I think for the followers of Jesus at the time. There were perhaps a few prophecies – half remembered – about the temple or Jesus returning. But all they had for the moment were nightmares about what they had seen yesterday and a dead body. And, because of the brutal times in which they lived, they were quite aware of what a dead body looked like, thank you very much. This man was most definitely dead – none of this swooning nonsense that some people waffle about. He has been tortured and killed. No one could deny that.
And the day lasted just as long as every other day. No clues, no encouragement, just tears and bewilderment. What was that all about then? So they made some arrangements, perhaps to get together and pray. A bit half hearted maybe and not everyone would be there. Peter seemed to have gone back to his old life. Mary Magdalene and some of the other women made arrangements to go and embalm the body – not check if he had risen by the way – look after his dead body. They would meet early in the morning, as soon as sabbath was over. 
And all the time, while the tiniest grains of faith were still binding them as friends, nudging them to pray and to stand their ground in their everyday lives, the miracle was approaching. As each minute passed it was getting nearer and nearer. No warning, no signs but it was on its way.

 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so they could embalm him. Very early on Sunday morning, as the sun rose, they went to the tomb.