Saturday, 29 June 2019

setting sail

This coming month marks fifty years since I set off for the United States. I was going for a year, and had no idea where I would be for that year.
Let me explain. I had been accepted by an exchange programme run by American Mennonites, with whom I had had contact while at college via a number of summer work-camps in various parts of Europe. Thus it was, that after graduating, I was staring at a huge ship at Southampton docks, and thinking 'This is it! This will be the longest I have ever been away from home!'
On board I met the rest of the party from Europe who would also be away for a year- some twenty of us. And learned for the first time where I would be working and living- in a children's centre in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. 
The first two days out of Southampton brought us terrible weather- loose furniture was tied down in the public areas, and I brought back breakfast one of those days- after which I was right as nine pence. But the weather cleared after that, and we arrived in New York in heat and sunshine.

As I look back on this time, I see what has stayed, what remains in me. Not the avid love affair with America- its cars, its lifestyle, its optimism, its wide open spaces- which so consumed me at the time, but the values imparted by contact with Mennonites- their pursuit of peace, their concern for the earth, their emphasis on reconciliation, their embrace of pacifism. Like some deep underground stream, theses have nurtured and refreshed in the long years since that ship sailed under the Verrazano Narrows bridge, and I was eagerly on the lookout for our first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.

If you look back over a similar time, what remains for you? What values have endured, and what has fallen away?

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The art gallery

Maybe this week's blog has continuity with last week; the thread is this;

We visited the Turner and Ruskin exhibition at York Art Gallery earlier this week, and it set all sorts of hares running in my head. And the bass notes to it all were the need for human expression of creativity, and how a life can only have some sense of fullness to it if the creative instincts are allowed  that expression.

For JMW Turner, this seemed to be at every moment of the day, judging by the number of sketches and paintings he made- over 19,000 in the Tate's catalogue. I'm amazed at the journeys he took- is there any place in the more picturesque parts of Britain he didn't paint or sketch?
For others of us, the opportunities may be more limited in time and scope; for me, making a salad for lunch is just as creative as, say, crafting a poem (see last week's blog). But fortunately, creativity comes in myriad clothes, and it's perhaps not always obvious to us just how creative we are.

In all this we reflect something of our creator God; the words and works of Jesus reflect a creativity with words which still unleash their potency today, and his works of healing are mirrored in countless acts, corporate and individual, done in his name today for the amelioration of human suffering. All of which in their turn may allow space for creativity to emerge.

Maybe you can feel an audit of your creativity coming on. I hope so.Just where do you blossom, show forth your unique contribution to the world? Think about it.... and give thanks.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

something different

Here's a different kind of thought; a recently composed poem.

Black Socks

I still need black socks
In retirement
Which do not draw attention to themselves
In holy moments of wine and wafer.
Bright or odd will do- and more than do-
At other times; a vibrant or off-centre statement
Affirming joy and good.
But now, unseen black socks
Will forward holiness. Such little things,
So great a vista; the widow’s mite to aid
Unseen touches on the hem of God.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

without hope of reward

I gave blood this week; I state this as a fact, and not to brag. I only came to blood donation in my forties, and wish now I had discovered it earlier. I stand in awe of a lady at church in her 80s, I think, who has given over 100 pints of blood. Good on her!

It's not something that features 'up front' in my life, nor, I imagine, in the lives of the thousands of blood donors who regularly go three times a year for an hour or so at a church hall or working men's club and depart a little lighter having given a pint of blood. It remains an aspiration with me to donate three times in a year, but my annual trip as a trustee of an orphanage, to Kenya, means that the anti-malarial tablets I have to take, prevent my donating for six months after I return to the UK.

So even in these days characterised by so much concern for the self, there is still to be found a great deal of altruism. But it doesn't vaunt itself, so we are never sure how much good is being done, quietly, unobtrusively, without fuss.But it is safe to say that churchgoers, Christians, people of  the faith, according to the surveys which research this stuff, are always in the vanguard of altruistic activity.

Imagine what would not be done, how the store of goodness would be depleted, and that of indifference or evil would rise, if these folk, and the faith that propels them, were to disappear. The rumour of God being alive and active still counts for something.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Losing faith

Sooner or later in a tv detective series, I give up. A staple of the genre is that the super-intelligent/insightful/against-the-grain-of-conventional-thought hero, in spite of a cast of supporting extras, works it out on his or her own, and the culprit will not be who you thought it would be.

And this is where I lose faith . It's all set up to look real ( cast of thousands.....) but becomes the work, the genius, of one person. This, apart from the fact that the plot has so many twists and turns I rarely catch them all, and as the credits roll, I turn to Mary and say either 'What was all that about?' or 'So, explain it to me.....'

I have no doubt that genuine police work is patient, thorough, exasperating, and yes, intelligent, insightful, and considers all the possibilities; but my guess is that essentially it's teamwork. Not a facet that gets much credence in our super-cop tv world. It will be the combined gifts and expertise of the whole team in the real world which leads to that lovely but unlikely phrase beloved of post-war chummy detective films, as the villain is handcuffed- 'It's a fair cop, guv!' (As if...)

Teamwork. In our fragmented and individual-centred world, we could do more to emphasise this. It takes a whole village to raise a child, says the African proverb. Church struggles to articulate and actualise this concept of 'team' as it seeks to live out what being 'the body of Christ' means, and prayers centre on 'the common good'. It's in our DNA, even if we fail.

What an appealing facet of experience this would be in our broken, fragmented, me-centred world if we could make that teamwork, that unity, centre-stage. I live in hope.