Saturday, 29 February 2020

In good humour

I have enjoyed over the last few days smiling at Jane Austen's humour in 'Northanger Abbey', the authoress' (does one use that word nowadays?) first book. Not so polished as her later works, it is perhaps her most humorous- at least, to this untutored mind. Maybe Jane Austen in the popular stereotype does not come with humour attached to her writing, but believe me, it does have its moments.

I guess the same goes for Jesus. Surrounded, rightly, by so much reverence, a laughing Jesus seems out of place, possibly unthinkable, but put 'laughing Jesus' into google, and numbers of images come up- and it's not just a simper or chuckle from Our Lord, but what appears to be a hearty and enjoyable laugh. But then, he has a fine sense of the ridiculous; camels going through the eyes of needles comes to mind.

If ever someone was pigeon-holed, it was, is, Jesus. But if he entered fully into our humanity, as orthodox Christianity has insisted on, then laughter, along with a whole host of stuff normally not admitted -because of over-pious reverence- comes into play. And this enables us to address him as our brother- perhaps not the most popular of Jesus' titles or attributes, but one that brings him nearer in our frail humanity. In Lent, which we have just begun, we who have been ashed last Wednesday, have heard the injunction to 'turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ'. This brother is our helper in that task.

I hope that in many ways he will be with you this week- maybe even to laugh together.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

The garden

The garden at home is more of a paddy field at the moment. Constant rain over the winter has left the fields round the house in what looks like a permanently flooded and muddy state; the lawns at our house squelch if  I walk on them. The rain barrel has never been less than full for the last three months. But signs of spring are here; unexpected views of tracts of snowdrops hidden in hedges as we drive by; the first daffodils blossoming in the garden.

'You shall be a well-watered garden,' says Isaiah the prophet,'a spring of water that never fails'. The metaphor of a garden for our life-in-God is one that constantly recurs in Scripture. And I have found that I can identify with it, to see drought, weeds, flooding, pruning, and much else as a feature of what the landscape of my life looks like. On a much grander scale, this is what John Bunyan is exploring in 'Pilgrim's Progress'; I will content myself with something more domestic- it is all I can do to keep my own garden in some sort of order and productivity.

Supposing your life-in-God is a garden, what does it look like today? What signs of life? What areas need attention? What will take some time to recover? What has been neglected? Fret not; 'My father is the gardener', says Jesus .Expert, practical help is at hand.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

Assumptions, slogans, lies and prejudices

'This isn't the Brexit I voted for' tweeted a man this week who spent 50 minutes-plus at Amsterdam airport, waiting to get his passport checked to enter Holland. 'Longer in the queue than in the air'. He has been  (metaphorically) shot down several times by folk replying to his message along the lines of
'this is exactly what was voted for, if we did but know it'.
I am not going into the rights and wrongs of Brexit; there are no winners in that debate any more; tribes have fixed lines, and merely shout at each other. But it does highlight the need for truth, and for informed debate where big decisions are made. Indeed, where all decisions are made.

Truth is a fragile commodity; 'alternative facts' are now firmly in our culture, and we have little idea where their entrenchment will lead us, in the big picture of our national life and politics.Although we might have some idea of where this will go as we look at the corrosive effects of lies, prejudices and 'alternative facts' as they impacted on the smaller world of our relationships.  We have been here before. There is the cynicism with which Pontius Pilate asks Jesus at his trial 'what is truth?; set this against Jesus' assertion of himself 'I am the truth (made earlier in his ministry, not in response to Pilate).
But in the end, who has had more influence on the course of the world's history? Truth personified in Jesus the Christ, or the governor of a back-water province of the Roman Empire? With truth comes a package of goodies which includes kindness, goodness, patience, understanding, and more. This is worth striving for, valuing. It rejects easy answers, slogans, cynicism, and the rest. We can add to the store of goodness in the world by standing with truth, with informed debate,rather than the easier road of assumptions, slogans, prejudices, lies, difficult though that may be. Although it won't, at this stage, change the queues at Schipol.   

Saturday, 8 February 2020

The accident

I have been struck afresh this week by something which happened far away, and its effects on so many people, including myself. Nothing extraordinary in that; the government in London puts taxes up, and here, 200 miles away, my income is more circumscribed. But this week brought it home to me in a way I hadn't realised before.

A pedestrian was sadly killed on a major road about thirteen miles from here. That road was closed during the morning rush hour and beyond. I was caught up in the resulting entanglement as drivers sought ways of getting to their destination along country roads not used to heavy traffic. I arrived nearly an hour late for a nine o'clock meeting. A friend abandoned her attempt to drive forty miles to take her mother to a hospital appointment. Along the roads I was using, secondary-age children were heading home; the school bus had failed to turn up within the appointed time. No doubt scenes like this were repeated in a wide circle around here.

It speaks to me of the interconnectedness of life, our dependence on one another. 'No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main'  wrote John Donne nearly four hundred years ago. This is a challenge to our autonomous view of ourselves in 2020, where I will do what I want, no matter the effect on others, or the effect on the planet. Somehow, that 'road traffic accident' brought home the idiocy of that self-centred view in a way other far-away happenings failed to do. It reinforced our connected-ness. 'Though we are many, we are one body, because we all share in one bread'; these are words I shall hear again today, and today they will have a depth and a resonance that was lacking last week.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

The patchwork quilt

I dug out an old patchwork quilt I made a long time ago, and it graces the bed again now, to keep out the winter cold. Truth to tell, I've forgotten many of the things- dresses of Mary's, tablecloths, napkins- which contributed to its squares and rectangles; and if I remember correctly, some material was bought specially for it anyway. In reds and navy- plain, patterned and checked- it adds a brightness, as well as a warmth, to the bed which was lacking before.

Odd bits, bits which might have been discarded, unimportant and forgotten, now brought together in an order and pattern. It should speak of church and how it ministers to the marginalised, but even a cursory reading of say, 1 Corinthians, shows St Paul dealing with deep dissension. And things have hardly improved in many places since.

Nevertheless, in spite of the popular perception that church is for those who have made it in one way or another, it remains a hospital for the walking wounded, myself included. And the walking wounded can be fractious.... We are all works in progress, striving to bring beauty and order and usefulness, striving to be whole, and sometimes holy, - in some ways then, like the patchwork quilt- into a world of need.