Saturday, 27 February 2021

Ice cream Lent

 If memory serves, there was a court case some years ago where a small artisanal ice-cream maker wanted the label 'ice cream' to refer only to products such as his, which contain cream, and little else. The products made by the big food corporations should, as they were more properly whipped, frozen and flavoured margarine, be called something different.. 

Naturally, he lost. Bur maybe he had a case. A reminder of the real thing, not something ersatz. I've never quite looked at the stuff I bring out of the freezer to serve with apple crumble without having a jaundiced eye as to what I'm eating since that time. Frozen margarine lacks any sort of appeal. 

And so to Lent. Like Advent, it's a time we are called back to the real, to forsaking the ersatz. Instead of the expectation of Advent, the note here in Lent is one of lament. Not a frame of mind and heart we indulge in very often, but in this covid-bound time, one we could do well to think of all that we have lost, all that could be repented, all that could change for the better. 

Could be appealing. As well as being personally called back to the rich and creamy fundamentals of the faith, it could lead us into visions which properly would find their voice in 'Thy kingdom come.' All underpinned by the age-old invitation 'Taste and see that the Lord is good'.       

Saturday, 20 February 2021

New Perspectives

 I've never found a way in to those early chapters of Genesis since rejecting them as a teenager as records of fact. Recently however, they've found a way into me- as records of wisdom. On this level- one I freely admit has probably been plain as a pikestaff to you, dear reader- I can't mine them deeply enough. 

Take Genesis 1, for a start. Poetic, beautiful, but not a record of fact. Hold the horses! Let it be seen as a picture of the way God worked; a bringer of light, structure, rhythm, growth, new beginnings, renewal, goodness. And continues to work thus, so that we see consistency and eternal values in God's being and nature. 

Or the story of the fall. The woman saw in the tree of the knowledge of good and evil something to delight the eyes, good for food, and a way to wisdom. All this had been found already in God and his provision, but now it was fixed on secondary things, on what was not God, but something lesser. 

I'm a latecomer to this school of wisdom. My eyes gave been fixed elsewhere, on the lesser things, but light and renewal and growth are beginning to take place. There may yet be found in me some trace of holy wisdom.     

Saturday, 13 February 2021

Family History

 Researching our family history takes up each Thursday morning during lockdown- it's been on the 'to do' list for some time, and has surfaced again. Some of the research, once we get into the rhythm of how to do it, is straightforward, but some connections Mary wants to make refuse to give up their secrets. So far. We live in hope that further research will yield answers, although we are not convinced. The release of the 1921 census results, next year, may provide some clues, but will also- it is my confident prediction- leave us partly in the dark. 

I come from a long line of cotton workers and other sorts of skilled workmen on the male side. Reflecting the times, the women were servants and shop assistants, when not bearing and rearing children. All these, their personalities, their prejudices, their successes and failures, their moves, their hardships, end up in me. Scraps of their humanity make me. 

The same is true of the faith; the scraps of childhood hymns, half-remembered, the people who helped shape my beliefs, the scriptures which have come alive over the years, the choices I made in life, end up in the rag-bag of stuff I call faith, held together with the glue of commitment to God in what I hope reflects outwards and upwards his love to me.

It's not neat, probably not logical, and probably won't ever be. It's a work in progress, and I shall always be, in this life anyway, partly in the dark. But partly in the light, too. 

Saturday, 6 February 2021

The head that once was crowned with hair...

 Increasing baldness over the years has led me to adopt a Grade 1 approach to hair care. Easy to maintain, and far enough removed from looking like a criminal to maintain some of the dignity my position in society requires......... dream on. But when the hair gets a bit too long, drastic action has been resorted to, and once again I've shaved my head, as the services of a hairdresser are not available in lockdown. 

Yes, I admit it, I look liked I've served at least 20 years in jail. It is not handsome. Nor was it easy, especially as I hacked around with the electric shaver, not having any hair clippers. But half an hour's work, finally presided over by Mary's ministering hands at the back of the head where I couldn't see, has completed the task. 

And then oil on the head, partly to calm and heal all the nicks I had made. It gave the task a biblical feel, a biblical edge, made it holy, a symbol of something more than necessity and tidiness. 'Thou hast anointed my head with oil' says the psalmist, a reference to sanctifying, set aside for God. 

Well, in these lockdown times where one day seems pretty much like another, anything which reminds us of vocation, of the ultimate purposes of our lives, is welcome. There it was, an ordinary task of hygiene and necessity, given a dimension unforeseen. The life less ordinary, courtesy of God.     

Saturday, 30 January 2021

In search of the essay

 Whatever happened to the essay? That extended piece of writing which allowed an author to say his or her bit on a topic of choice, with erudition and wit, not to mention excursi as time and theme allowed .Its natural home was The New Yorker and prime journals- I hesitate to use a word as louche as 'magazine'- of that ilk.  These thoughts are prompted by a recent reading of an essay by Gore Vidal, now deceased, but at one time the urbane, deadly skewer and scourge, inter alia, of the inconsistencies of American policy.

The essay demanded of its readers time to read it and digest it, to absorb its erudition, enjoy its unfolding, take note of its thesis. So different from the home life of our own dear experience; who has time to read something  that long? We rely on much shorter snatches of news and opinions, views, reviews and sound-bites to mould our world picture. 

This has implications for the faith. I wonder who, apart from priests and academics, reads the longueurs and tight arguments of theology nowadays. Indeed, who reads the Bible? I changed the epistle reading (legitimately- it was a lectionary alternative) at a service one time, and the churchwarden, Bible in hand, said to me 'You find it- I'm no good at this'. If we do not read the text we say we live by, how can we judge that what we hear, sing, pray, preach, bears any relationship to the faith, handed down? 

The intercessions of St, Jude, patron saint of lost causes, are needed here. Enabling a good read, not only of the scriptures, but of much that shapes and shakes our world, so that we have some understanding of where we come from, where God wants to take us, and how near to, or far from that our primrose path may be taking us.    

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Finding pasture

 There are some who have embraced the faith because it offers answers, security, a haven where with like-minded believers they can be together rejoicing in their salvation on the inside of the sheep fold- that sheep fold which Jesus talks about in John chapter 10. Here in northern England, dry stone walls in a roughly circular shape have a narrow entrance, one person wide, to an inside large enough to hold a flock of sheep, who enter the area one by one through that small entrance. The shepherd sleeps across the entrance, protecting his charges. 

But it is outside this hugger-mugger enclave that the sheep find pasture. Inside can become fetid and arid, its little area of grass soon finished, its earth churned up by many hooves milling about. Inside is safe, out of the wind, maybe out of some of the rain and snow, guarded by the body of the shepherd, and all that is wonderful- but it's not the place to be in daylight hours. It's oh no! out there that the pasture is found; yes, along with  possible dangers, but more importantly with the experienced shepherd who leads his flock to pasture, with the sure knowledge of where that pasture can be found.

I've had my share of holy huddles, I'll admit, but am less and less drawn to them. Out there is so much more exciting, vibrant, so much more satisfying. In these covid-days, though, out there is not as accessible as it was. Virtual out there via Zoom and its stable-mates is the best we can do; what opportunities have presented themselves to you in this way, such that the safe confines of lockdown- home have given way, even though only virtually, to exciting, satisfying pasture out there? 

Monday, 18 January 2021

It's been a while.....

 I think it was the beginning of November- about ten weeks ago- since I was able to blog. Some gremlin in the works has prevented access to the site; or has wiped what I wrote, on the few occasions I accessed the site, as soon as I pressed the 'publish' button. A clean-up of my laptop by an outside company I have used from time to time, has ensured that this, and other issues too numerous to mention, but which could all come under the heading of 'decidedly off-kilter', have now been sorted. 

Off-kilter is what I find myself being, many times. Clogged up, failing to deliver, off-centre, unable to connect. No, I am not a robot, a machine, but the analogy applies. And a clean-up generally restores function. A realisation that God is near, and not far off; a self-appraisal which recognises how much in need of grace I am; a seeking forgiveness; a bringing of God back to the centre of the picture. Sometimes this realisation of the need for a clean-up comes several times a day; sometimes it's been a while. 

The central fact is this; the clean-up, the restoration of grace, makes real what I say in the creed each Sunday- that I believe in the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection of the body. That's how forgiveness is- a resurrection from malfunction to something short of popping on all cylinders, but still ready to go, clarified, clean.