Good Friday

It’s Good Friday and I am blogging something I have blogged before. It’s the first time I have ever done that – repeated a post that is. I’m not repeating it because I think it’s so fantastic but because I started to write something and then realised that I had written it before. This either suggests that my writing is based on rock solid eternal truths that never move or that I lack imagination – you decide. I’m probably going to do the same on Easter Saturday as well if you want to come back and have a look. It’s full on religious in case you don’t come here for that (that is not an apology – just a statement) but here you go anyway…

I’m not really up for writing about the Crucifixion. I don’t have the skills. There have been countless poets and hymn writers who have got a lot closer than me. So I’m not going to do it. Write about the Crucifixion I mean. It’s too much for me and I am useless. I did want to say a couple of things though. 
Firstly, I’m really glad that “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming” Well, obviously it is but it is still Friday. And, if it’s all the same to you, I would like to spend at least a portion of this day thinking on the horror that Jesus experienced. I’m not too keen on pretending that the darkness is never worth dwelling on for more than a millisecond. Partly because I think it does Jesus a dis-service but also, if we refuse to face the fact of a darkness full on, how can we identify with those who weep or mourn? Look how this darkness threw Peter. The night before when he had promised undying loyalty and love, Jesus had told him what would happen.

 “Don’t be so sure,” Jesus said. “This very night, before the rooster crows up the dawn, you will deny me three times.”

And that’s exactly what Peter did – a full throated, expletive filled denial in the end. And Peter was overcome. Overcome at his own weakness, and his inability to amount to anything after all the promising and the enthusiasm. He was so overcome that he completely forgot the rest of what Jesus had said to him. 

“But after I am raised up, I, your Shepherd, will go ahead of you, leading the way to Galilee.”

Jesus would come back, and would lead him and Peter would be restored. Peter was blinded to all this, so that on this day of days when Peter had said that he would be there for Jesus, he was nowhere to be found.

Later on, all this would be fulfilled of course but for now Peter was absent as his friend was tortured and killed. The fear had overcome him and he felt there was no way back. Good Friday reminds us that sometimes, for some, all seems lost and hope struggles to get a look in and it makes us go missing from God. People are having those times now as well. Hope seems lost, the darkness overwhelms, we are weak and afraid. Sometimes, as Christians we can be guilty of bellowing “Be Of Good Cheer!” at people (Christianese for “Buck Up”) and then leaving it at that. Today of all days is a time when we can at least, gently rub the back of someone’s hand and acknowledge the fact of the darkness for a time.

Bitty

A bitty week this week so a round-up full of irrelevant bits and pieces that together might make a readable blog. It seems the housing market may be stirring a little as, I suppose, people are fed up of waiting for a Brexit that may never happen, and are moving on with their lives. Also it’s a bit warmer and so people leave their little hedgrows and warrens and think about moving. We shall see.

On Brexit – people are very angry still aren’t they? Do you ever wonder how people get the time off work to walk up and down outside Westminster shouting obscenities? Some of them appear to have been there for years. And the trouble people go to. There was someone last week with a six foot papier-mashe head of Theresa May which was beautifully done but I have no idea what purpose it served. I am with Judas on this (not a sentence you hear very often) and feel that the money could have been spent in a more productive way. I was mildly amused to see Monsieur Macron of La France advising us about how to get a move on and what we should and shouldn’t be doing. This is excellent from a leader whose country is on fire every Saturday night. I was more heartened by Angela Merkel who, on looking at something funny on an Ipad, called over a lonely looking Theresa May to join in the laughing to make sure she was included. Mrs Merkel always seemed a very kind sort of person to me. She is at the top of Europe and didn’t need to do that. Impressive.

We took advantage of our Netflix subscription and watched Faces Places. Well I say our Netflix subscription. FOW2 pays for it because she needs it for her studies so it would be almost rude not to take advantage. And anyway, she owes me for her very existence so it is the least she can do. Faces Places is a documentary about two phtotgraphers – JC and the Legendary Agnes Varda (Being honest – no idea but she is very big in French New Wave Cinema apparently. Well, not so much now because she died last month). But…the film is lovely. They travel around rural France taking photos of the locals and blowing them up into huge posters which are then pasted onto walls, water coolers, huge columns of shipping containers etc. It’s about their friendship and celebrating a France that is vanishing. Just a lovely, affecting film.

We have decided to declutter a bit and have started with books, DVDs etc. We are using Ziffit to get a bit of money back. You put the ISBN number onto the site and they tell you what you will get for it. We earned £87 which is good. It will buy us a passport as both of ours need renewing. (Are they still giving out passports? Are we allowed to leave? Does anyone know what is going on?) The big secret with these sites is not to take things personally. When you wonder for twenty minutes whether to put a beloved book or DVD on the site and then they offer you 28p for it, it can be easy to yell things at the computer. But, it gets you nowhere. I find it’s is best to sneak anything like this back onto the bookshelf when HOH isn’t looking.

It is also 30 years since the release of When Harry met Sally. Thirty years! That was the film we saw on a very early date. I can’t believe it is that old. Nora Ephron, the genius writer is no longer with us, nor Carrie Fisher or Bruno Kirby but some of the other people involved went to a Hollywood shindig which looked lovely even though Meg Ryan seems to be modelling someone else’s face for the event. That’s Hollywood I suppose.

I have, perhaps unwisely, left Aged Parent to sort out her own arrangements for a chiropodist this week.

AP I need my feet doing. Amy – the warden got me a phone number.

Me Very good. When is she coming?

Well – HE – might not be coming. He’s a priest apparently and very busy.

A priest? – wouldn’t you be better with a chiropodist? (A poor attempt at humour which was treated with the contempt it deserved)

What? Oh right. Anyway, I spoke to him and I don’t like him. He was a bit funny.

(Remembering other instances of this kind of thing) What time did you phone? Was it light outside? (AP is struggling with times at the moment but is not over-burdened with this and is quite happy to ring people at any time just to check)

Yes it was!…. Just (uh-oh) but I don’t think it’s right.

Well he probably subsidises his priestly things by this second job.

No. Didn’t like him. It’s weird, a priest cutting toe nails. I got in touch with Donna who did them last time. She fitted me in. She said she hoped I was an early riser because she would be round at 5am. I think it was 5am. I’ll probably give her ring just before to make sure she is on her way.

The Making of Us

The Making of Us – Who we can become when life doesn’t go as planned by Sheridan Voysey

Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
    but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life

Proverbs 13

When HOH and I got married, we always just assumed we would have children. Hardly thought about it really. We got married, got on with life for eighteen months and then decided to “go in for a baby” as they say Up North. “Be prepared for a wait” people told us. I waited approximately four weeks before I suddenly realised I felt a bit queasy. My doctor said – “It’s very unlikely – not this soon – and also…oh”. This last little exclamation came when I took a pregnancy test out of my handbag to ask his professional opinion about the big blue line on it. All went well (apart from me being one of the charmed people who feel nauseous until the actual moment the baby pops out) and so, when we decided that we would “go in for another one” we had no reason to expect that this would work any differently. Nine months later, I still wasn’t pregnant.

I understand that, against the years that others struggle to conceive, this is no time at all but I do have a bit of an idea about that monthly feeling of loss, when you discover, yet again, that no baby is on the way. Again, this ended well for us as I fell pregnant (am loving using all these phrases beloved of Aged Parent) but it doesn’t happen for everyone and it is this sense of loss and disappointment that Voysey addresses in this book.

He has documented the struggles he and his wife have had with infertility in other places and this is not really central here. However, we know that he is truly shaken by several huge disappointments and seeks to address some of them whilst on an eight day pilgimage in the footsteps of Cuthbert; a 6th century Celtic monk. Cuthbert seemed to be a particularly saintly kind of saint with miracles coming out of his ears but this is not a book about miracles. Well, not that kind anyway.

Voysey and his friend DJ find the pilgrimage physically challenging – both are limping badly by the end and there are no easy answers here. Since sharing his struggles in other places, he has been inundated with people sharing their losses and their disappointment with God. This isn’t a book about altering these circumstances but about what we do with how these events have left us and how we find our way through it.

I believe that Voysey is a contributor to Radio 2s Thought for the Day on the Breakfast Show. (I tend to listen to Radio 4 most mornings and Thought for the Day there is usually presented by someone called “The Reverend Doctor…. or a Hindu scholar with loads of letters after his name. At the end of it, I can find myself screwing my nose up and thinking – “no idea”) It is meant as a compliment when I say that this book is more Radio 2 than Radio 4. It is an accessible and sometimes emotional read on an important subject. So many people so broken by life and having to find who they are supposed to be now.

I enjoyed the journey, his take on life is very helpful. The little insights into God speaking to him are especially enlightening. I wouldn’t read it thinking you will have a formula to right all wrongs in your life. I would read it to find out that you are not alone and that there is a way forward, even if the final destination is not what you hoped for or expected.

Call to the Kind

These are my “These are your Valentine’s flowers which I don’t give you on Valentine’s Day because no card shop is going to tell me when to buy my wife flowers!” Nice aren’t they? I like anenamoes. (Yes, I know it’s not spelt correctly, it was meant to be funny. Sorry)

In other news, I bought three bras this week and it cost me just over 100 of your English pounds. As I am one down in the booble department I have to have special bras. There are cheaper bras that look like something Miss Trunchpool would wear. But, if I don’t want to look like a 1970s Eastern Block Shotputter (male or female – they were interchangeable at the time) I have to pay extra for the privilege of surviving breast cancer. Rant over.

On to weightier matters. Usually I am a cheery soul. No, I am really. But, I am a tad downhearted at the news this week – are you? I’m not talking about Brexit either, although that has probably released some of the forces at play here. Whether you agree with leaving the European Union or not, I don’t think that there is much doubt that all other business is taking a back seat at the moment. Last week, a lady fell over on one of our buses and was lay on the floor for over three hours waiting for an ambulance. She’s 94, it was freezing. A nice lady came out of a local house and brought her a blanket. There were six other ladies on the minibus who passed the time by singing “Daisy, Daisy” and evoking the Dunkirk spirit. I’m not sure that should be necessary in 2019 in the UK. We seem to be stretched to breaking point.

This week, I have read about Muslims in camps having their organs harvested and Christians in Kenya having their churches burned down. Also the British Labour Party trying not very hard at all to deal with Anti Semitism. In fact – so hard have they NOT tried – you suspect that maybe the odd one or two of them may actually be a tad anti – semitic.

Then there is the most recent by-election in Newport West which Labour won. However, the turnout was 37%, possibly because of how fed up people are of – well everything to do with politics. Because turnout has plummeted, this allows smaller parties to have a disproportionate impact, so UKIP came third. And, this isn’t the UKIP of Nigel Farage and all that mularkey, no this is a UKIP that has Tommy Robinson as an official advisor. If you have no idea who these people are, please look it up. I am too depressed by the whole thing to put myself through it.

I am reading a book about the Holocaust at the moment (The Cut Out Girl – very good) and that isn’t helping my general mindset in these areas but reading it I thought you could understand how these terrible things could happen. How people could treat each other so badly and lose sight of their basic humanity. But, when things are tumultuous and they get shaken up everything falls back down and things are cracked in a way we could never have invisaged. We must be viligilant I think. I am not sure I can do much about Muslims in camps but I’m thinking we are all expected to speak up more, do more, support the poor and make life easier for those that we can help.

We may be coming into a time when to be kind, to say when something is wrong, to stand with the opressed is more difficult, especially with the advent of Social Media and the kind of “discourse” that Trolls are bringing. Even if that doesn’t prove to be the case, many of the most vulnerable in society seem to be struggling to find the safety net that we all like to think that our society provides.

Kindness is hard work and self-sacrificing. Sometimes the people we are kind to are ratbags. But it seems that it is time to do something – bit of things even. I did a little list.

  • Buy the Big Issue
  • Shop once a week for the Foodbank.
  • Volunteer to drive people to hospital (your local Community Transport Operator can help you with that)
  • Volunteer somewhere else. Use your own skills. Add up a column of figures for a charity. Sit with an old person in a doctor’s appointment.(If you put your tiny hand up to volunteer you will be flattened with enthusiasm)
  • When your friend says on Just Giving or something that they are climbing Everest using only their thumbs for the Women’s Refuge. Actually give them a fiver. Applauding your computer screen does not buy any nappies.
  • Ask what your church is doing about loneliness (Sunday services where everyone just talks to their own friends do not count)

You are not idiots, you know this list could be as long as the Internet. You have also probably twigged that a lot of this list is for me. It’s an important time. We need to be doing the right thing.

Have a good week.

Being Human

David by John Hercus and All Is Grace by Brennan Manning

I have read two books – partly because I have little else to take my attention at the moment and partly because they are really good. They are about human beings. All Is Grace is a memoir by Brennan Manning. Born in New York, he was an Irish Catholic by lineage rather than faith. As a young man he wrestled with a drink problem, although he functioned well enough to hold down a job and then attend college before dropping out to join the Marine Corps. He was a prodigous drinker. Most nights he would drink “a dozen or so beers, a pint of rye whiskey every other day and often a litre of sake a week”. His friends called him Funnel.

When he meets God, it hits him like a train and I’m not sure I have ever read such an unapologetic, deep rooted description of a man enthalled by the Grace of God. He joins a monastic community, becomes a Catholic priest, gets married (therefore no longer a Catholic priest) gets divorced. And all the time, his life was marked by persistant lapses into alchololism.

Yet, his connection with God is both comforting and inspiring. Constantly in demand to speak at Christian events, he calls people to pass on the grace that they have been shown and this call reaches a wide audience in his best-selling book “The Ragamuffin Gospel”

All Is Grace is studded through with truth about the way God sees us that I sometimes choose to ignore. I found Manning infuriating sometimes, as time after time it all went wrong but he was wise enough not to be broken by any disappointment in himself because he accepted his flawed humanity. He writes “God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.”

David by John Hercus is a very different type of book but it reinforces the same message. Written in 1967, the writing style is a bit Enid Blyton. (This is obviously not a bad thing). But his analysis of David the man is spot on I think.

King David has always done my head in a bit. All that “man after God’s own heart” yet sometimes I find him a nightmare. Always ducking and diving, some of his behaviour as a military leader might have been acceptable at the time but, for me, left a nasty taste and all this is before we get to the old “sleep with your friend’s wife and, on discovering she is pregnant, try to make her husband sleep with her to deal with the possible “whose baby?” awkwardness and, when that doesn’t work, put her husband in the heat of battle so he certainly gets killed.” ploy. (I think we’ve all been there)

Yet, I think I am at fault here (always a first time I suppose) I think when I read about David, I think of him as a kind of cardboard cut-out. King of Israel, Great Warrior, Gods Own Heart etc etc whereas, he was a human. As human as me or you or Brennan Manning. John Hercus writes about David’s childhood which was messy and loveless. (Have you ever wondered about how a young boy felt whose family had no use for him so spent his whole life alone watching over sheep) He was completely ignored when Jesse was asked to bring his sons to meet the prophet. Hercus writes admiringly about David’s loyalty in staying on the run so that he would not find himself in a situation where he had to kill King Saul. But he also writes about his ruthlessness – both in battle and as a King. He looks at some of the Psalms that David wrote and points out the lack of self knowledge in them sometimes. The passage where Nathan confronts him with what he has done with Uriah and Bathsheba is particularly good. It’s written like a thriller – where everyone knows what David did, just who will have the guts to say so.

These are very different books – different eras – different approaches but blimey – the men involved. And they are men, permanently flawed, sometimes completely useless, sometimes amazing but what they had in common was they realised their worth before God and lived their lives following on from that understanding.

I’m no expert – on anything really – but I wonder if more of us (by more of us – I mean me) were able to live in front of God in this way – open, honest, passionate and unwilling to allow our flaws to stop us being loved completely by God, how much clearer would our vision be and how much more would we be able to achieve.