Tuesday, December 29, 2009

When Heaven Invades Earth

A friend of mine told me that the Wesley Owen Christian bookshop in town was closing down and so I got up early to go and look for bargains. I have so many books already, some half read, some unread, some with interesting titles, some that months ago seemed to speak into my life…I really didn’t need another book, but I bought one anyway.

“When Heaven Invades Earth – a practical guide to a life of miracles.” I bought it because I thought reading it would help me to catch up with where some of my friends are in terms of anticipating God showing up everywhere and doing miraculous things.

It’s not that I don’t think God does that – it’s just that I have had recent experience of God apparently not turning up and doing miraculous things.

It seems to me that, having read the first chapter of the book, that some of the miraculous things that God does are unimportant things. An account where someone had one leg an inch shorter than the other, and people pray and watch the short leg grow – a short leg is not life threatening. It is inconvenient, yes, but no one dies because one leg is an inch shorter than the other.

Why is God so interested in the length of a person’s leg, but apparently not interested in poison accumulating in another person’s abdomen, shutting down all the vital organs, pushing them down into further levels of intensive care until eventually the heart gives in? Why does He apparently does nothing to remove cancer tumours seeding and spreading and turning someone into a frame of thin bones with skin stretched over it, and then the lungs fill with fluid there’s one last sigh?

Job never knew why bad things happened to him. It was enough for him to know that God was speaking to him.

Just thinking about God speaking – what He is saying to me is that I think too highly of this life, as if it is the only life there is. There is a next life – an eternal life that follows. Just because those that I loved and lost this year are no longer living this earthly life, doesn’t mean that their lives have come to an end. They are just living the next episode somewhere that right now, today, I cannot be a part of.

The miracle – there was a miracle – has been in me. I have not surrendered my faith because the answer didn’t suit me. I haven’t walked away.

Job says it for me - “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him.” 13:15

Monday, December 28, 2009

She Dreamed a Dream

I caught the tale end of a documentary on Susan Boyle the other day. I was just in time to see her (and hear her) singing with the West End cast of Les Miserables. For her it was a dream come true – she dreamed a dream and it happened. Later on in the evening I took a look at her Britain’s Got Talent audition on Youtube. As the camera spanned the audience and the judges, there were so many cynical shakes of the head, and whispers that conveyed minds already made up. Elaine Paige? In your dreams, woman! And then she sang, and eyebrows arched upwards, people were on their feet clapping and the judges were wiping away tears. Susan has her CD, her interviews with Oprah, her fans pushing autograph books under her nose and her website! She dreamed a dream.

We were talking dreams yesterday as we sat drinking tea and coffee and eating homemade shortbread biscuits. They were not so much the Susan Boyle dream of what we could become, or do, although later on the conversation did turn towards “projects” or dreams of what we could achieve in 2010.

The conversation was about the sleeping version of dreams and how much God used them as vehicles for sharing His plans. I have to admit that I have had more than my share of dreams whose content could not have been other than God inspired. They have been so down the line, obvious, not veiled in dream symbolism, technicolour messages that only a fool would put them down to too much cheese. There have been a lot of them. There have also been a lot of plain ordinary dreams that make sense at the time of dreaming, but are gobble-de-gook on waking. Then there are those “could be a message” dreams.

I don’t keep a dream diary. If I remember, I remember. If I forget, I forget. I am not sure that God needs to use dreams to get through to me. I love His word and more than often, His words comes up with all that I need – the challenges, the promises, the rebukes and the warnings that seem to feature in dreams. I suppose that I am suspicious of my dreams because I am suspicious of my imagination. Sometimes the line between what is real and what is imagined becomes a bit too fuzzy. Does that mean I am on the brink of insanity? Possibly! If it’s in black and white and written on the pages of the Bible, it’s something that I can trust – if it’s in pictures in my head, it’s not necessarily something that I can trust.

That doesn’t mean that it is something that I can just cast aside either. Take the other night. There was a short scene, in amongst a lot of other stuff, of myself and my church leader. He didn’t say the actual words “You are a waste of space, Mel,” although he might have done. (On reporting this to the rest of the company there was distinct agreement that he wouldn’t say that – not, I have to say, that he would have no cause to say that!) On waking, I remembered the words “You are a waste of space, Mel,” and I (a) didn’t wonder if he really would have said it or not, (b) didn’t really wonder if this was a God-inspired dream or not but (c) agree that although a waste of space was a bit harsh, it wasn’t entirely unfounded!

I can think of a myriad ways in which I serve God, or have served Him in the past. I don’t warm a pew. BUT..I may not be making the most of the gifts that God has given me. Like the first and the second servants in the parable of the Talents, I am working, but like the third servant, it’s possible that I have buried stuff too – worried that I might fritter it away and have nothing to show for it.

The chapbook that I produced for the November Poem a Day challenge, which I haven’t submitted yet, because I am not sure if it is a chapbook – whatever it is that I have made, this little book of a dozen or so poems really has thrilled me. These are my poems, written, printed, folded over, with a cover, in a little book – I no longer doubt that I have talent. I no longer doubt that the talent comes from God. I am beginning to believe that the talent is not for playing with.

So, when it came to talking about ”projects” for 2010 – mine is poetry and publishing inspired. I am not setting dates and deadlines…I am making no covenants or vows…although yesterday’s reading from Psalm 76 did mention that at the end. I have just moved the pan off the back burner, and turned up the heat a little!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Turkey Issue

This has nothing to do with Middle Eastern politics, but everything to do with the Christmas dinner.

The issue comprises of a number of factors:

• Snow
• A dislike of driving on icy roads
• Frozen turkeys.

No matter how much I plan to get Christmas organised early, it always ends up as a last minute dash around the shops. Add a few inches of snow into the mixture of shopping lists, long queues and the scarcity of goose fat for the roast potatoes and the stress level hits the stratosphere!

I have a friend who just loves driving in the snow. Well, perhaps he doesn’t love it, but he doesn’t cling white-knuckled to the driving wheel with a hundred different scenarios running through his head that all end up with the car upside down in a snow drift. I rarely drive when it has snowed. I tried it on Monday and didn’t enjoy the experience. The car has been left undisturbed for the past few days.

I have been using the busses all week. They just don’t necessarily go to all the places I would like to get to, but the bus driver is better able to negotiate all the roads that have not been gritted and snowploughed than I am.

That gets us to the turkey issue. Our Christmas meal – the preparation of it, the cooking of it and the eating of it, has over the last fifteen or so years taken on a familiar pattern. The menu is the same, the choreography of the dance of the two of us around the kitchen from fridge to counter top to knife drawer to cooker is so well rehearsed we could do it blindfolded!

The turkey, frozen and usually defrosting nicely in the sink in the downstairs toilet (which is far too cold for human use this time of year – visions of bum frozen to toilet seat) hasn’t been bought yet. I have Bernard Matthews’ issues and he seems to have a monopoly on the frozen turkey market. I am not sure just how turkey friendly his farms are. So, one needs to find someone else’s frozen turkey.

Supposing I find the turkey, I have to get it home and in the sink before the end of the day. Tomorrow is too late to ensure the bird will de defrosted. The mechanics of it all – getting it home via the bus system, is a whole new level of stress.

I ran an idea past the husband this morning – the possibility of abandoning a whole turkey in place of a much smaller turkey joint. They do them is little foil trays that you slam into the oven for an hour or so. His face said everything that his lips didn’t say.

“OK, if you have to,” said the lips.

“Christmas is rapidly going down the drain,” said the face.

Despite what the lips said this morning, my husband believes in miracles. He believes quite firmly that I will find a frozen turkey, that said turkey will have no association with Bernard Matthews and be in the sink by the end of today, that the Christmas dance in the kitchen will not have to be re-choreographed and that, somehow, I will stop Christmas from going down the drain.

The gauntlet is on the floor. I can never resist a challenge!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Organized Band of Snow?


I am fascinated by the weather report. It is snowing down south. It was actually the phrase “an organized band of snow is on the way” that had captured my imagination. Are the snowflakes in communication with each other?

“This is Snowflake 2,984,220 calling, over. The time is 0500 hours and my grid reference is 234 092, over. Our mission is to close the pass. I repeat…to close the pass, over. Requesting units 500 through to 700 to rendezvous at an altitude of 2,400 metres, over. Wind speed is variable, over. Do you read, over?”

“Snowflake 2,984,220 this is Mission Control. Divert your course, over. I repeat…divert your course. Your new heading is grid reference 579 208. Time of arrival is estimated at 0350 hours. Ground cover is precisely 37mm…I repeat 37 mm, over. Do you read, over?”

“Mission Control, This is Snowflake 2,984,220, over. We are good to go!”

“This is Mission Control. Good luck, Snowflake 2,984,220. Our intelligence tells us that there are a dozen or so snowploughs in the vicinity, over. Proceed with extreme caution…repeat, proceed with extreme caution, over. Over and out!”

“Mission Control, this is Snowflake 45,366,722. Snowflake 2,984,220 is down…repeat Snowflake 2,984,220 is down, over. This is Snowflake 45,366,722 requesting permission to mount a rescue, over. Do we have a go, over?”

“This is Mission Control. Rescue not advised, over. Snow ploughs sighted 3.5 km to the north of your position, over. Maintain high altitude. Over and out!”

“Mission Control, this is Snowflake 2,984,220. We are down, over. We have sustained heavy injuries, over. Enemy is 3.5 km to the north of our position. The wind speed has picked up and we are drifting, over. There’s quite a few of us trapped down here, and snow plough is closing in.”

…And so it goes on…our organised band of snowflakes bringing the highways of the country to a standstill!

November Chapbook Challenge

I am not quite sure what a chapbook is supposed to look like, but I made one anyway. It’s not quite stitched together and all that, but looks impressive anyway!

During the month of November, I joined in the Writer’s Digest Poem a Day Chapbook Challenge. Things in my personal life were pretty grim and I needed the distraction. I think I also needed the discipline of trying to write poetry more regularly than I do, and challenge myself to write less inspirational stuff.

The final hurdle was to choose some of the poems, edit them, and present the chapbook manuscript.

I tend to shy away from editing my poems. I change the odd word here and there, but on the whole, what I write remains untouched. I once went to Creative Writing workshop and during one of the breaks I talked to the tutor about one of my poems, asking advice about how to improve what I had written. She suggested changing the order of the verses, and altering a phrase or two.

Who of us would give birth to a baby and then start rearranging the parts, moving an arm a few inches one way, or swapping blue eyes for brown? That is how I tend to see my poetry – not to be messed with! A poem isn’t a baby – one can rearrange lines and verses if one chooses. I have to stop seeing my poems as things written in stone.

Having been told to edit, and having carefully read through some of the poetry workshops, I set about a bit if rearranging.

One of the suggestions was about re-writing a rhymed piece without the rhyme. I friend of mine thinks that I think in rhyme! I suppose that most of the poetry that I have shared with her, in a church meeting, had been rhymed. I chose one of the poems, tore away the rhymes and the meter, fished about for the essence of what I wanted to say, and then built the poem back up. I suppose that writing in rhyme puts in limitations straight away. I have never been quite so confident that some of my free verse has sufficient structure to call it poetry. I did like the edited version. It has more heart, I suppose.

Another suggestion was to re-write a first person poem in the third person. In changing “I” for “She” the reader becomes more of an observer rather than a participator. It puts an interesting slant to it.

My husband was reading my chapbook lat night. Where I was impressed with the actual construction of it, the page numbering and all that, he was impressed with the poems. He made the comment that once something like a poem, or a story is written down, and someone else gets to read it, the writer ceases to have any ownership of it. The reader brings to the reading of the poem their own experiences and life history. What they read and what the writer wrote may not always be the same.

Take for instance one poem in particular. Among the chosen selection there were some that didn’t get changed, simply because no changes could have improved what I already had.

Shrapnel

A single word
Crammed with insult and innuendo
From lips that once kissed
Detonated inside my heart
A shower of spiteful syllables
Ripped through my soul
Shredding my spirit

Your shrapnel
Left me crippled


When I wrote it, I was responding to a prompt. I wouldn’t say that what I wrote was particularly personal, although I have been on the receiving end of thoughtless and hurtful comments. When Joe read the poem, he thought that it was personal and apologised for anything he had said that had caused so much hurt.

He also said that it reminded him of Siegfried Sassoon’s war poetry. He is a man that knows his poetry, so a comment like that is not easily dismissed!

So, my foray into the world of chapbooks is proving to be interesting!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Neither Silence Nor Consent


Amongst all the “faith” testimonies of great feats accomplished in the last year, I was sure that what I had done on Friday qualified. In my eyes, it was great, and in my husband’s eyes, but I have learnt from experience that not everyone shares my definition of greatness, or my definition of an act prompted by faith.

On Friday, I closed down my Royal Bank of Scotland account.

I had been following the discussion between the government and the Royal Bank’s directors. The directors want to give large bonuses to key staff members adding up to billions of pounds. The government doesn’t want them to, seeing as they are now the biggest shareholder. It would seem to me that there is nothing about the performance of the directors or their key workers that deserves any kind of reward. They and other greedy banks and money-minded institutions plunged us into recession – and they want rewarded for it?

I had had enough of them. I would like to think the directors would stick to their guns and actually resign if the government sticks to their guns, but I live in a world where compromises happen.

My paltry sum of money is not really going to be missed, no doubt. I confess that it wasn’t my main account. When Joe and I married we set up a joint account with another bank, but Joe never got around to shifting his money in, which means that it’s joint only in name, not in practice. So I suppose that closing my Royal Bank account down wasn’t that heroic or great.

The lady behind the desk asked me why I was closing the account, thinking perhaps there were things she could do to sort things out. I explained most carefully that I had no issue with her, or her colleagues, or any other bank stuff – it was the directors and their big bonuses that I had led to me closing my account. End of conversation really, although we both admitted that it was sad. I got the impression that I was one of very few taking direct action and my stand was barely a whisper on the economic stage.

Plato said “Your silence gives consent.”

I wasn’t silent and I didn’t give my consent.

Was it an act prompted by faith? The Bible speaks a lot about integrity. It may not have an obviously spiritual tag to it, but all of life is spiritual – not just the bits we label spiritual.