Saturday, December 11, 2010

Dull Orange Planets

My optician took the whole looking into my eyes thing a step further this afternoon. He went so far as to take phtographs.

I seem to have reached a new mark in deteriorating vision. The NHS has stepped in the shoulder some of the expense of new glasses. I have moved into the next category or lenses too – a millimetre or two thicker and a whole lot more expensive to boot.

I remember the days of my youth when I used to try to memorise the letters on the card in the moments where the man was fiddling with lenses, just a few minutes before he asked me to take my glasses off. I felt sorry that my eyes were not improving at all and I didn’t want to discourage him, or make him think whatever he was doing wasn’t working.

Now I am bleakly honest. I am having a tough time reading the big letters, loet alone the next line down. I confessed that we were moving into the realm of guess work. I couldn’t see them clearly but knew enough to know the tall ones could be T and L, and the wider ones could be W and M – anything else was pretty much a hazy blob. Just because I guessed right didn’t actually mean I could see them!

“Can you read the last line?”

I laughed. They were the tiniest dots that could have been absolutley anything. They were beyond deciphering.

He had a good look at the back of my eye by shining a light in them. I couldn’t help but take my eye off the light I was supposed to be looking at to marvel at all the tiny little blood vessels that I could see. Amazingly delicate and fragile – it just made we think about how wonderfully and fearfully I am made.


Then came the highlight – the photograph. If 20/20 is perfect vision, I am more than half blind in one eye at least. With diabetes cropping up in the family, the back of my eye is getting more attention.

The picture he downloaded to his computer looked like a dull orange planet.

He muttered and mumbled as he entered data into a programme and I resisted the urge to tell him to speak up. Wihtout my glasses on, I am a tad hard of hearing. He gave the eyes a clean bill of health and told me to come back in two years time – or earlier if I felt like it.

I’d asked him if there were any eye exercises I could do to improve my vision. He told me that the eye wasn’t a muscle, so exercising wasn’t going to help. Not really believing him I checked out the internet. A million webpages seem to disagree with him. I could, apparently, improve my vision and reduce my presription by half if I stare at dots on the screen whilst holding a pencil somewhere near the end of my nose.

I actually think I look better with glasses than without – so I will pass on the dots and the pencil.

It's a Mystery

Joe and I went to the theatre yesterday to see a play. It was, according to the flyer we picked up earlier in the week, an “enchanting adaptation of a medieval mystery play about the beginning of everything”.

Mystery plays are plays based on Bible stories. In a medieval world where very few people could read or write, one way of teaching Bible stories was through drama. This performance included music, dance, singing and a backdrop screen with famous paintings of various Bible scenes projected on to it.

In terms of performance I would say the music was good. The harp player was excellent. A flute played a merry little tune every so often, and a cello created mood by playing a single haunting note. The singers were adequate, the dancers too – but they weren’t professionals.

As the scenes progressed – it put me in mind of my time in South Africa when we took the film “Jesus” to various outdoor venues around the black townships of Durban. We had a big screen, a projector and a generator. The film was in Zulu, so but knew the story well enough to provide my own mental dialogue.

The film wasn’t watched in silence. The audience joined in. There was a lot of hissing at snakes and bad people, and a lot of clapping for miracles performed. There were sharp intakes of breath when the nails were hammered into Jesus’ palms and there were sobs when he surrendered his spirit. I am not sure if the film took it as far as the resurrection scenes – I seem to remember not, but I am sure that there would have been some loud cheers at the empty tomb.

Then - it wasn’t s silent audience.

I have a “joining in” gene that gets switched on sometimes. Last night, I wanted to “join in”. The audience at the theatre wasn’t a big one. We were competing with the pantomime in the main theatre – so we had a select few. There might actually have been more people on stage than there were watching. I got the impression that many of the audience were friends or relatives of the people on stage, there to show solidarity. There wasn’t an invitation given openly, or not, to join in. The pantomime in the main theatre would have encouraged joining in (Oh no it wouldn’t!), but not this play.

I imagined medieval days, and being outside and the mystery plays performed to various village and town crowds. What the audience watched was familiar to them from previous years. The Bible stories they told had been told last year and the year before that. The audience knew when to hiss, clap, sob and cheer – and they were not a silent audience. Heaven and hell were realities to them. Excommunication was a threat they dreaded. They wanted to see the devil come to a sticky end and they wanted to see the saints triumph. They wanted to hear the booming voice of God.

It’s hard to imagine that there are children growing up that don’t know the full repertoire of Bible stories that I know. They are told that it’s all superstitious nonsense and that rational people don’t think believe these things any more. There may be interesting moral lessons to learn – but you can get those same messages from Harry Potter books.

I enjoyed the plays. I was not quite sure that the Authorised Version narrative helped make the message accessible. I think I saw at least one person I knew on stage. What I loved about last night was not having to read the Bible account for myself and imagine the changing scenes but watch as it played out for me.

I immersed myself in the stories and, if I couldn’t visibly join in, I did so invisibly.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Feet as Sure as a Cat's

We are into the second week of snow. There have only been two or three actual snowfalls, but with temperatures well into the minus numbers, the snow hasn’t had the chance to melt. It has just iced over.

It’s boot weather. Some people seem to wear boots well. They look fashionable in them. I look like some Siberian peasant in my boots. They are practical and for the most part keep my feet dry. I would say warm and dry, but the warm bit doesn’t really happen much without thick socks.

I have tended to wear the boots to get to work, then change into a pair of ordinary shoes. At the end of the day I change back into the boots for the homeward journey. On Thursday I couldn’t be bothered to change back into the boots, figuring the short journey through to car-park would not be difficult. I figured wrong. I minced my way to the car, taking very small baby steps, sliding everywhere.

There was an advert in one of the weekend newspapers. For a reasonable price I could have bought one-size-fits-all snow grips.

It brought to mind a Bible verse that I had read earlier in the week.

“The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip.” Psalm 37:30-31.

I quite like the way The Message puts v31:-

“His heart pumps God's Word like blood through his veins; his feet are as sure as a cat's.”

Pumping God’s word like blood through the veins is a very strong image. It’s not something you can do in a few snatched minutes here and there. It takes the physical heart less than one minute to pump blood to every cell in the body. Amazing! It seems to take a lot longer for my spirit to pump truth all around my spiritual body!

Sometimes, with my encounters with people throughout the day, I do not always feel like I am on firm ground. It is good to know that there is a way we can walk securely – with the law of God in our hearts.

If truth is being pumped into the right places – my feet will be sure as a cat’s.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

On Being a Sluggard

“I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense, thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins.” Proverbs 24:30-31

Let’s just move past the word “field” and the word “vineyard”. I don’t own a field or a vineyard. If only I could tiptoe past the words “thorns” and “weeds”. I do own a garden and those two words describe the state of it really well. My husband would love to replace the badly mowed grass, and the weed infested borders with gravel, but I resist, and he is too scared of me to press his case!

Snow is a great leveller when it comes to gardens. My next door neighbours, on both sides of the house, have immaculate gardens. The lawns are well manicured, the borders filled with a harmonious range of perennials and not a weed in sight. With the snow covering everything, who is to know what lurks under six inches of snow? Mowed lawns and neat edges there may be BUT it’s all hidden under the snow. At last, my garden is on an equal par with theirs!

In the physical world, I may not own a field or a vineyard – but what about in the spiritual world? Fields and vineyards perhaps equate to ministries or even just our daily walk with God.

I was aware as I went to bed last night that as well as being physically tired (I am sure that I have a very switched on hibernation gene!), I was also feeling weary of heart

One of the effects of being snowed upon is that it takes a little longer in the morning to de-ice and warm up the car. I am leaving the house a little earlier than usual. It’s not just iced up cars, but iced up roads. I am trundling along very slowly.

There is a missing fifteen minutes to my morning routine, and my quiet time is suffering. I am a morning person. That is when I am at my most receptive, my most creative and my most energetic. As much as I try to catch up after school with quiet times, the connection isn’t always great.

As I drifted off to sleep, God’s spoke.

“If the late afternoon or evening isn’t working for you, why not get up fifteen minutes earlier than usual to make up the time?”

At this point the word “sluggard” comes to mind! The dictionary defines the word as “A self-indulgent person who spends time avoiding work or other useful activity.” I think the key word her for me is “useful”. I wouldn’t say that I avoid work but I don’t always do what is useful. “Self-indulgent”? Ouch!

It’s not just for my own benefit to feel connected to God, but I want to be able to share my vineyard harvest with other people. I want to be able to confidently declare what God has done for me, not just at the hour I asked Jesus to be my saviour, but on a day to day basis.

Of course, what I really need to remember is that I can connect with God in a variety of ways. My Bible reading routine can become – well, just that – a routine. I can start to get all legal about it and think that God and I are not connected if I don’t read my Bible! Truth is, there are more times than I can count when, even with the open Bible on my knee, I am feeling disconnected!

God will find ways to talk to me as long as I am open to listen. He is not looking for His fifteen minute slot in my day but wants the whole twenty four hours! I should not be finding ways to give him a fifteen minute slot, but open up my whole twenty four hours to Him - which may include a specific fifteen minute slot, earlier than usual for Bible reading.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Than Mere Paint

I watched the last half hour of a documentary last night on the painter Peter Howson. He had been commissioned to paint a picture of St John Ogilvy. The plan was to do a really big picture. He had done a few sketches – crowd scenes with John Ogilvy, noose around his neck, about to be hung.

I confess that I know too little about John Ogilvy, but I know something of Peter Howson. I had plans, once, to send him a collection of my Easter poems, with the suggestion that he might like to provide illustrations for them – and we would share the royalties! I never quite talked myself into it. I am not entirely sure that I haven’t talked myself out of it either! I want my poems to stand on their own merit so that the illustrations and the poems are equal partners in the endeavour

Once he had the commission and the sketches, and an empty church building as a studio, and the really big canvasses, posted through a large letter-box-like hole in the wall, he lost inspiration. The documentary wasn’t called “The Madness of Peter Howson” for nothing. He downsized the picture to something less big, less intimidating for him to paint and he began. He backwashed the canvas in orange and then began to paint.

I suppose that just as a writer may be continually revising a manuscript, or a poet constantly tweaking words, Peter was constantly reworking the picture. The city in the background, with rays of light through the clouds, was painted over so there were just clouds.

I so wanted to take the brushes off him and say “It’s finished!”

And then I thought it was finished.

Brush in hand, he began to cover it all with black paint.

I suppose you have to stop somewhere. There was a deadline – the Pope’s visit to Glasgow. The cameras panned to the opening of the restored church where the painting was to be displayed. The canvas was covered and there were no sneak previews. I am not sure whether Peter was satisfied that he really was finished. He apologized to the crowd in anticipation of them not liking the picture.

And then it was revealed.

I am in awe of people who can paint in such a way that the picture twists your guts and drags out an emotion from you. Flesh and bone people sometimes have a lot less feeling expressed through their eyes than John Ogilvy did in Peter Howson’s painting. It’s just paint. It’s just chemicals mixed together. But those eyes spoke of suffering and sadness, of tranquillity and trust. Something more than mere paint.

I think about the stages of his painting and the times when I liked it and thought it was finished. I liked the city in the background. I liked the rays of the sun pouring through the clouds. I liked the lighter colours. I would have stopped there. But the artist didn’t stop. He took out the black paint. He did not yet see what he was looking for.

Romans 8:28-29 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son”

God want to see the image of His Son when he looks at me. Much as I would like the lighter shades painted on the canvas of my life, often God chooses the dark colours. Sometimes he paints over the city in the background, or the rays of light through the clouds – because they don’t serve His purpose right there and then.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dust

I am but dust, a tiny speck
And yet He speaks to me
I marvel at such sweeping grace
And ask “How can this be?”

The One who takes the stars and flings
Them wide for all to see
Creation balanced on His palm
And yet He cares for me

Worthless, less than nothing yet
He gives His name to me
My spirit like an eagle soars
Because I am set free



Saturday, November 13, 2010

An Axehead Floats - Mel's Alternative Version of 2 Kings 6:1-7

The company of prophets talked among themselves complaining that the meeting place was too small. There weren’t enough seats for everyone if everyone was present.

“We need somewhere bigger to meet. An auditorium or something, with surround sound and a big screen to project the words onto.”

“Elisha is the leader…He is the one that makes those decisions.”

Eventually one of them brought it up in a meeting. Elisha frowned.

“Come on lads. It wasn’t so long ago that you were hiding in caves. I admit that there’s quite a crowd…but the numbers will drop when the novelty wears off. Besides, the Jordan River is not safe. Those woods are full of wild animals. Let’s not bite off more than we can chew.”

The prophets looked a little downhearted, but Elisha was the boss.

“Oh all right then,” said Elisha, “Go build your bigger meeting place. But don’t expect me to come with you…it’s your idea…you run with it. Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea…but…I mean, have you really prayed about it? Are you sure this is the direction God wants you to take?”

In the end, Elisha did go with them. He thought he should be there to pick up the pieces when everything began to fall apart. He wasn’t going to take an axe though. Cutting down trees was not his ministry. He had not been commissioned to do that.

The auditorium turned out to be a bad idea. They didn’t have enough money to hire a builder. That meant they would all have to chip in with the work. They weren’t really builders either, but how hard could it be to build a big shed?

And then it happened – as Elisha predicted it would. An axe head fell off the end of a handle and into the deep water of the Jordan River.

“Oh no, my lord!” someone cried out. “It was borrowed!”

The man of God asked, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, Elisha asked if anyone had some string and a magnet on them. “We could tie the string to the magnet…” but no one had string or a magnet.

“What about wading into the water then?” They looked at the rushing river, deep and churning and decided it might be a little dangerous.

Elisha wondered if this was the time to look for a miracle…but it wasn’t that important. It wasn’t a matter of life or death. It was just an axe head.

“It looks like the axe head is gone. Maybe your friend won’t ask about it if you keep quiet. You could say someone stole it. Ah well…I guess that puts paid to building a meeting place. I guess it wasn’t God’s will after all.”

The prophets sadly nodded their heads in agreement. They decided that they weren’t really all that good at hearing the voice of God. That kind of thing was Elisha’s gift. They should have listened to him from the start.

With drooping heads they went back to Gilgal.


It's sad that for many Christians my version of the story tends to be their reality - and mine too. Much better to live in the reality of the orginal story in 2 Kings 6:1-7

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Picking a Poppy

I never really think that I have much success with listening to God when it comes to moving in the prophetic. Give me a Bible, a week to seek out a verse and a partner to share my thoughts with and I am fine. Fill a table with a selection of objects, ask me to pick one that I think God may be using to say something that will encourage a partner and I am a little out of my comfort zone.


My partner was a young lad of primary school age and a Calley Thistle supporter. He picked up a poppy from the table. It wasn’t what I would have picked for myself, and I wasn’t sure that he knew what he was supposed to do with the poppy…but the results turned out to be really surprising.

It has been a while since we have had a world war and many of the up and coming generation have little idea about two minute silences and wearing poppies…and my partner was no exception. He knew you wore them in the lapel of a jacket but he wasn’t sure why.

We talked about battles and wars. We talked about fighting to protect freedom. We talked about lots of people loosing their lives in the wars to protect the freedom of their friends and families.

“Not all fights are physical ones,” I went on to say. “Sometimes you have to fight with yourself, not to loose your temper with someone who is being nasty to you. Sometimes you have to fight with yourself to do the best you can and not be lazy. The Bible says that being a Christian is like being in the fight – fighting against evil and standing up for good.”

We both agreed that sometimes school can be a bit of a battle ground. The poppy is a reminder about wars fought…and we are also in a war, on the side of God, against the enemy, Satan.

“Where do you wear a poppy?” I asked.

“Over your heart!” was the answer.

There seemed little point in buying a poppy if you weren’t going to wear it. It was no use putting in your pocket, or in a drawer in the desk. It has to be worn so that people know that you are supporting the cause –that you are remembering the soldiers who died in the wars. We talked about Jesus.

It seemed to us that there was little point in becoming a Christian if you were not going to do anything with your faith. It wasn’t something you could hide in a pocket or a drawer, but people should be able to see something of your faith demonstrated in your daily life. Wearing your faith over your heart was about being open about what you believed and letting people know that Jesus mattered.

Finally, we thought about Jesus dying. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have been given the gift of freedom. Jesus paid the price for our freedom. Sometimes we forget that we are free and we live our lives as if we weren’t. We forget that through Jesus we have been forgiven. We don’t have to try to pay God back for anything, or earn His love …but enjoy it.

I forget sometimes that I am called to fight a good fight.

I forget sometimes that my faith needs to be active and on display

I forget sometimes that my freedom was won at a price and it is essential that I walk in it.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eat a Grey, Save a Red

There must be a list of things that you just wouldn’t eat. In terms of “normal” food, I am not sure that I would want to eat frog’s legs, or snails, although other people have no qualms. I don’t like shell fish, although I confess my experience is based on pickled cockles and mussels (alive, alive, oh!) When it comes to the more outrageous stuff, I can’t imagine myself, for instance, eating any kind of bug – fried, boiled, baked or moving. I certainly can’t imagine myself eating someone. You know that you get these stories where the plane crashes in the mountains, miles from anywhere, deep snow in all directions and, since some folks died in the crash anyway, and you’ve ran out of pre-packed plane meals courtesy of “Cuisine al la Clouds”, the next step seems to be eat the dead people or die.

I came across something else I probably wouldn’t eat the other week. Rugby, a market town in Warwickshire, still manages to boast of an open air market. It has downsized over the decades to just a few select stalls. One of the stalls was a cake stall – delicious looking cupcakes at £1.25 a shot.


One stall was a pie stall. Melton Mowbray isn’t so far away, so pork pies featured heavily. There were other kinds of pies – pigeon pies, pheasant pies, beef and ale pies and such like. In the centre of the table were squirrel pies. They looked harmless enough, nothing to tell you that Peter Rabbit’s pal, Squirrel Nutkin was skinned and quartered, braised with vegetables and encased in pastry.

Grey squirrels are hardly on the brink of extinction – but pie filling? Is this a step too far? The stall holder didn’t think so. He didn’t confess to having eaten one, but he rattled off on his fingers the numbers of squirrel pies that he had sold each day at the market. He wasn’t swamped with orders, but there was sufficient demand from the squirrel eaters in Rugby to make it worth his while.

It was the advertising slogan that caught our attention – “Eat a Grey, Save a Red.”

A Lament for Squirrel Nutkin

Little Peter Rabbit had a very special friend
But poor old Squirrel Nutkin met a nasty sticky end
An enterprising baker with a greedy little eye
Murdered Squirrel Nutkin and put him in a pie


(Actually Squirrel Nutkin would be safe from pie making bakers on account that he is a red squirrel, not a grey one.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Floozy Hexx and the Car Wash

“For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7

Maybe God didn’t give us a spirit of timidity, but very often we clothe ourselves in one.

Once upon a time I used to be brave. I wouldn’t say that I have ever been really brave. There has always been a tinge of the coward about me, and although I have done some quite brave things, deep down inside, I have been quaking. Maybe what makes a really brave action is not about whether you were scared or not, but whether despite the fear you still went ahead and did it anyway.

Maybe it’s an age thing, that as you get older you get less brave. Maybe you are more aware of your limitations. I have some very young friends who are very versatile. One of them, who goes to ballet classes, can wrap her legs around her head, maybe not quite comfortably, but she can do it. I am not sure that I have ever been that flexible. I know for sure that if I tried to do it today – well, the imagination will not stretch that far…and neither will either of the legs!

Yesterday Joe and I took proud possession of a new car. It wasn’t brand new, just new to us. The last car was limping towards retirement.

Floozy Hexx is a three year old, Phantom Blue Mazda 3. Joe christened her using the various letters of the number plate. It has been a while since we have named our car. In fact the only one we named was the very first one – Austin. He was an Austin Maestro so it wasn’t that creative a name.

We collected Floozy yesterday from the garage. We handed over a selection of cards of various savings accounts, punched in the pin numbers and drove her out of the salesroom car park.

The salesman has assured us that she had been cleaned up, but it had been a windy day so she was looking a little dusty. We have this thing about making resolutions to look after cars better when we buy them. It lasts for a while. I am not car-savvy and Joe is not car-savvy either. We don’t tinker with stuff under the bonnet and wipe oil stained hands on oily rags. Incidentally the salesman was just a little annoying. When I asked him if I could have a look under the bonnet, he kind of made noises and said, “That’s our domain, dearie. We look after what goes on under the bonnet!”

We decided to take Floozy to the car wash. It was one of those jet wash things, playing with water and soapy brushes. However, the woman behind the counter gave us the wrong kind of ticket and we had to drive through a proper car wash thing. This is something I would never choose to do. It is all a little too precise for me, lining things up, and stopping exactly where they tell you to stop. Just give me a bucket of water and sponge and a squeeze of cleaning liquid.

It was a most unpleasant experience. I know there was a windscreen between me and these huge brushes that swept back and forward, but it was just too near. It’s not as if you can get out at any point and take a deep breath of fresh air. There is no pause button to push – just these manic brushes encasing the car.

Floozy was clean by the end of it, but it took a while for me to recover. The half pint of lager in the nearest pub was purely medicinal!

It made me think about how being fearful can really make our personal world small. There could be so many things that we never do, or try to do, simply because we are afraid.

This doesn’t mean that I am going to take up extreme sports or go bungee jumping off cliffs or high bridges – but I think I might take Floozy through the car wash again!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Respect

I shall never look at church buildings in quite the same way I used to.

I have been carefully following a series of programmes on BBC 4 “Churches: How to Read Them.” I know that many Christians are reluctant to think of church in terms of church buildings, but I like church buildings.

The presenter is an architect and looks at the buildings from an architectural standpoint. He looks at the details of the buildings that most of us don’t really see unless someone points it out to us, inside and out. So much of what Christians have believed in the past is incorporated into the actual architecture itself. It is not just a place where Christians meet and worship – like any community hall. Just as a painting might be displayed to better effect in a particular frame, the people of God can also be displayed to a better effect in a building that echoes their heart of worship.

I have a rich tapestry of church buildings in my faith history. One that sticks out in my mind is a small Methodist chapel in an equally small village called Middleton-One-Row. It is a two mile walk from Teeside Airport. The teacher training college I attended was Middleton-St-George just at the end of the runway.

I made my commitment to Christ at the age of 18, the summer before heading off the college. I wasn’t really planted and nurtured into any particular denomination and drifted for a while. I was beginning to really lose touch with God and decided I needed to act before my baby-faith died of starvation. I started to attend this little Methodist chapel in the village two miles away. My best friend at the chapel was a little old lady in her sixties or seventies – a real dot of a woman. She was a lovely woman of God and took me home to lunch every Sunday.

What I remember of the chapel was the front wall. There might have been windows on either side of a panel, but the focus of attention was on a mural from top to bottom. The memory isn’t what it should be so describing the picture is beyond me. I have seen murals since then and they all get mixed up in the brain. I’m fairly sure there wasn’t a cross. There might have been a dove. It was uplifting. It drew the eye and focussed the heart.

There is a sense in which worship should be stimulated not just by an inner mindset but by something on the outside too. I appreciate that there could be much on the outside that distracts and perhaps even takes the place of the One we worship – but that doesn’t have to be the case.

I am digressing. The presenter is working his way through the ages. He did the Reformation last week. He moved on to new buildings at the time being constructed to reflect the beliefs of different denominations.

He was in a Baptist Church and introducing the viewer to the baptistery – the space that gets filled with water for adult immersion. He is not a believer himself, but he said that he felt compelled to take off his shoes to go down the steps into the baptistery – empty at the time. While he was descending, he was explaining about the sense of the old nature being put to death and being buried. He explained the rising out of the water as embracing a new life, being a new creation. There was almost this sense of awe and wonder and mystery as he talked.

Too often I am surrounded by people who do not share my faith. Maybe it is because they are young people, but they don’t seem yet to have acquired the ability to see that even though they might not share my beliefs, they have value to me. There is often little respect shown for what they have labelled as superstitious nonsense.

I suppose it is a challenge to me too. It makes me consider how I would present a programme about mosques, or Hindu temples. Even though I may not share their beliefs, would I still demonstrate respect when talking about those beliefs and the people who hold them?

It was nice to watch the programme where the presenter, not a man of faith himself, wasn’t there to demolish and undermine a person’s faith. I found joy in all the little details of the different churches – because he passed on his joy in those things.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The "Job" of a Roman Catholic Priest

I have spent two hours in the company of a Roman Catholic priest, Father Piotr Koczorowski, today. At the end of that time I came to a number of conclusions:

1. If he was allowed to marry and I wasn’t already happily married, I would happily marry him. He was a lovely man.

2. If I had known a Roman Catholic priest like him when I was younger I would probably not have left the Roman Catholic Church. He was a lovely man of God.

There is a kind of arrogance about some Christians where they exhibit very little doubt about things. They are very sure that they are right and everyone else is wrong. They have a very clear list of what is right and what is wrong and everything is either black or white. Some Christians do not strike me as being very warm and affectionate people at all. They come across as quite cold and hard and judgemental. Not so my man today.

Father Piotr Koczorowski was talking to a group of young people about his life, his faith and his vocation as a Roman Catholic Priest. It was obvious that the man loved God. His was not an empty or shallow commitment. He admitted that part of the reason for being a Roman Catholic priest, as opposed to a church minister in any other denomination, or just a man of faith without the ministry, was being brought up in Poland where 90% of the population are Roman Catholic.

We have a tendency to think that our experience of something is the only possible experience and that no one can experience any thing different to what we do. When I think about my own Roman Catholic experience in my younger days I think in terms of being made to feel guilty all the time and it gave me no sense of comfort or encouragement. My husband’s experience was different to my own. He found a joy in the liturgy that I never did, and loved the ceremony and ritual that I found a bit daunting. I suppose no one ever told me why we did the things we did and I found much of it irrelevant.

Some people have never experienced the Roman Catholic Church for themselves and rely on word of mouth testimonies that are sometimes third or fourth hand, or gleaned from a book or encyclopedia. What they have learned tends to be someone else’s prejudices. They are told things in isolation without the context and repeat it back parrot fashion.

The one phrase that he repeated over and over again was that his “job” was to make an invisible God visible through serving the community. Isn’t that our “job” as Christians regardless of the label we stick on ourselves? I wonder what kind of “visible God” people see through our service in the community.

The young people today went away with a different picture of the Roman Catholic Church because they had talked to Father Piotr Koczorowski. He didn’t make any excuses or cover up his doubts. He admitted that, yes, he did swear sometimes but tried not to do so in public. What made him angry was evil in the world that was unchallenged. Sometimes he didn’t want to answer the door and serve someone. He didn’t really enjoy listening to people’s confessions. He wished that people would stop being lazy in their faith and made the sacrifices that God asks of them. He really enjoyed seeing people change for the better and knowing that he was part of that process of change.

It was a privilege to spend time with him.

I wonder if people come to that conclusion when they spent time with me!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Visible Minority

My husband introduced me to the term “visible minority” this morning. In the ever increasing battle to find a term to describe someone from an ethnic minority background that doesn’t offend someone, someone else has come up with the term “visible minority”. I wonder if it was a visibly minor person that did so, or was it a member of the “visible majority” (that’s everyone who isn’t a visible minority) who inflicted it upon them.

I asked the husband whether that meant that there was an invisible minority or an invisible majority for that matter. I expected a mocking answer along the lines of “That’s taking it too far, don’t be so daft.” The expected answer didn’t come. He answered in the affirmative. The invisible minority or majority comprises of the non-observable details that you don’t catch at first glance like left handedness, or right handedness, or some such other invisible quality.

So because I am Caucasian I am part of the visible majority and because I am right handed I am part of the invisible majority. However, I wear glasses so I also belong to the invisible minority (although my glasses are very visible). A left handed Indian gentleman would be part of the visible minority and the invisible minority.

I can only think of one person who would fit into all four categories at the same time – Superman. As Clark Kent he is Caucasian and righted handed – visible and invisible majority, but as Superman he is from a different planet so that definitely makes him visible minority and he is allergic to Kryptonite which makes him invisible minority.

The Pope in his message to folk in Glasgow, and folk in London was talking about an invisible minority – nothing to do with being right handed or left handed or allergic to Kryptonite – he was talking about the need for Christians to make a stand for their faith. There are too many of us hiding behind Bibles and hymn books and keeping our heads below the pews. We have become invisible. We chose not to stand up because it is the safer option. The world without the contribution of people with a vital and vibrant faith life has lost something said the Pope. And I agree.

Fiona Phillips is not of the same mind. I was reading her column in the Daily Mirror this morning. She doesn’t often resort to clichés and generalisations, but she did it today. She was commenting on the Pope’s visit and it wasn’t positive. She trundled out the old chestnut that religion is the cause of wars. Roman Catholic priests were all tarred with the paedophile brush, and women continue to be denied access into the hierarchy of church structure. It is lazy journalism.

Nothing is ever said to counter balance such a negative contribution. Nothing is said about Wilberforce who campaigned against slavery, or Shaftsbury who got children out of mines and mills all around Britain – both Christians. Mother Teresa in Calcutta, serving the poor that everyone else trampled on? Christian! Desmond Tutu speaking out against apartheid in South Africa? Christian! Oscar Romero in El Salvador taking on the corrupt governments? Christian!

War is about politics and greed and grabbing something that doesn’t belong to you. I wouldn’t say that Christian hands here are not dirty – but not all wars have religion at the heart. You might dress it up in religious garb to get support – but the heart of it is not religious at all.

Fiona ends with the line of treating other people the way you would like to be treated and how she didn’t learn it from reading a Bible – as if it wasn’t in there. It is there – and something similar to it is in every major world religions’ holy book

Sorry…I am ranting. But I am very cross with people that spew stuff out of their mouths that has very little balance contained in it.

So I guess that all goes to show that I am taking the Pope’s words on board and becoming a very visible minority on the question of faith. (minority? I don’t think so? Not with God standing beside me!)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Questions and Answers

Someone asked me yesterday whether I was going to go and see the Pope. Perhaps if I lived in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or London or Birmingham – those places where he is planning to visit, I might have gone to see him. I suppose there is a sense of it being a historic occasion – coming not in a pastoral role, but as head of state, but as regards my faith, seeing him or not seeing him is not that relevant. Having said that, I watched the BBC’s coverage of the gathering in Glasgow, listening to what he said in his address to the crowd. Not speaking Latin, he lost my attention when it came to conducting mass. I could appreciate that for the tens or hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic Christians, his presence among them was special.

It should not have come as a surprise last night that I dreamt about meeting the Pope. In my dream there was an absence of body guards and there was no list of the highly privileged who could get near to him. He was holding a surgery on spiritual matters, just as a politician would hold a surgery on political matters and it took place in the basement of my local village church. People were encouraged to come and ask questions.

I remember standing in the queue and being aware that I didn’t have a question I wanted to ask. I am not even sure why I was there – just curiosity I suppose, much like you might visit an interesting picture in an art gallery.

Eventually it got to my time. What impressed me about him were his eyes. They were very blue, very clear and bright and full of tenderness. There was an “ask-me-any-question-you-like” quality about them. I felt ashamed that there wasn’t really any burning question I needed to ask – so I made one up. I talked about my father who had recently had a heart attack and how he had come to a full stop in his life. All the things he used to do, like gardening and playing skittles in the pub, he had stopped doing because he was afraid he would bring on another attack. My question was about what I could do to help him regain his courage. The incident was a real one – twenty years ago and I’m not sure then that I thought about how I could help.

I can’t remember what the Pope said. What I remember thinking was “So, you are not infallible after all otherwise you would have known I made up the question and my dad died years ago.”

I don’t really need to look very far to work out why I was asking questions in my dream to a religious authority figure. We have a visitor with our church this weekend. He is our apostle or overseer, responsible for the well being of our church family. We don’t seem him very often as he doesn’t live close by. Sometimes we have the opportunity to deal with what you might class as household issues – practical things about the church. Other times he will share with us what is happening with the other churches he oversees.

There will be a chance to ask him questions. Some friends and I were talking about questions we might like to ask. I am sure you are familiar with the request for any questions being followed by a pin-dropping silence.

I have questions – not so much questions in plural but just one in singular. The trouble is that my question has some strong emotions attached, and I hate getting emotional. Do I really want to weep into a paper tissue as I ask it? Is the answer really that important? Answer “No” to the first and “Yes” to the second.

Why do some of us find it hard to ask questions? Is it that we know everything we need to know right now? Is it that we don’t really want to know what we don’t know? Maybe we feel it’s something we should know and don’t like to reveal our ignorance. Maybe we care too much about what other people might think of us so we stay silent. Or maybe it’s the answer itself that frightens us. I’m swithering between the last two.

I can, of course, live quite well without knowing the answer – but I am sure that I will live a lot better if I did know.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Treasure Hunting

“Wanna come Treasure Hunting?” The invitation came through the email a couple of weeks ago. For the mystified “treasure hunting is a form of prophetic evangelism where we ask Father for words of knowledge that will lead us to people on the streets to bless them - offer to pray, heal, prophesy etc. You can learn how to do it in 5 minutes. It really is very simple.” I spent a year on Go Team part of which involved approaching people on the streets to talk about faith issues and had never felt that comfortable doing it, so these kinds of offers I tended to not take up.

This offer was different for a number of reasons:-

1. I’d had a dream a few nights before which involved me being there – out on the streets with my friend Mark and a group of people. The interesting thing about the dream was that Mark insisted that we turn up butt naked. My figure is such that not only will it fill the centre-fold of play boy magazine, but quite a few other pages too – there’s a lot of me. I was worried in my dream about being seen naked by the public. I must have got over it though, because I was there, and public were not offended. I woke up asking God about the naked part of it – the street part, I well understood. It was about Adam and Eve nakedness, not being ashamed. It was about being transparent with people, not hiding behind something. It was about not having “Mel” resources tucked away in a pocket somewhere that she might rely on, rather than relying on God.

2. I read Ephesians 2:10 that morning. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” A number of years ago, in a previous church, we had been encouraged to learn verses off by heart – much like a Sunday School would do, the big church was also doing. I made up a little tune, which has stuck with me for decades – shame that singing it now as I type will give you no indication of the tune. It’s a catchy number. Anyway, reading the bit about the good works “prepared in advance for us to do” I felt sure that this treasure hunt was a good work that God had prepared in advance for me to do. I had other things I wanted to do, but this was “prepared in advance”. It rained heavily and I wasn’t sure if “prepared in advanced” was quite good enough to keep me there if it rained. I said as much to God and it stopped raining.

3. My friend, Mark, does a lot of these interesting and challenging things like treasure hunting. His faith has spiraled out of orbit and he has such a fund of testimonies that he shares with us all. His is enthusiastic. Having said that, I don’t know how many of us join him when the invitations come. There is a group of people that go with him, from a selection of churches across the city. I suppose that I wanted to show support for Mark.

So, I went treasure hunting. I filled in my map with “clues” like “steps” and “unusual hat” and such like. I was sure that they were not Spirit inspired because we had five minutes to do it and it takes me longer than that to feel connected. In teams of four we headed out.

Did I find any treasure? Absolutely yes! Not in the treasure intended. I looked at my list and looked for the things on it and when I saw something that might match up, I lacked the courage to actually go for it. I found a half-dozen things that didn’t match. I prayed for two people from a safe distance, but on the whole I wouldn’t say I succeeded. My mind got in the way. Some of the people we met and prayed for I knew and although they said they felt better, because I knew them, I wasn’t sure how sincere they were. Sometimes people say what they think you want to hear.

So, what was my treasure? It was in meeting Justin, the group leader. He was so encouraging and enthusiastic. He let me voice all of my concerns and never let me feel that I was jinxing the whole hunt. He talked of his own early efforts at treasure hunting. Any time it looked like I was dragging my heels – I wasn’t, I am an natural ambler – he came back to walk with me, put his hand on my shoulder and chat. At one point he just stopped and told me that God thinks I am wonderful, that I am a princess.

“I came, I saw, I conquered” – not quite. I went for sure. I am not sure if you have to have a gift for these kinds of activities. It is like looking at those squiggly lined pictures and seeing the 3-D image – I can’t see them. My gift does not lie in that direction – which isn’t to say that I can write it off and not be out there. I saw – I saw Jason’s enthusiasm and his kindness and compassion spread about liberally. And I saw that a lot of people were generous in giving him the time and the opportunity to talk and pray with them. I conquered? I was there, so I suppose there was an element of conquering – but, at best I paddled in the water. I watched others diving in and swimming in the Spirit and it was glorious to watch.

I met up with my husband at the end of the day. He asked how it had gone and I told him. He had spent the day watching some football match or other.

“I met a man,” he said, “he stood next to me at the bar and told me that he had met a group of Christians.”

The man carried a walking stick. Walking sticks might not have been a clue on anyone’s list but they asked if they could pray for him. He didn’t really want them to pray for his gammy leg which wasn’t giving him any bother right then, but he had hurt his toe on his other foot. He told them about his injured toe and asked them to pray for it. It got better. I don’t know whether he went to any lengths to take off his shoe and wiggle his toe, but, as he told my husband later, the toe was definitely better.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Time Out

In my line of business you meet a lot of people who are still in the process of developing coping mechanisms. They haven’t quite worked out how to deal with stressful situations where people rub them up the wrong way.

A few years ago, the management introduced “time out” cards. They were either pink or blue, not depending on whether the stressed out person was male or female, but perhaps to do with who issued them, or what the nature of the stress was all about, or how long a person handing one over could absent themselves - I have forgotten. I hadn’t seen one being flourished in a while – until Friday.

I am ill-equipped to make a decision on who should or shouldn’t have a time out card. I see folk for such short periods of time. Even so, I wonder if there are people who milk the system. Are there individuals who are not really that stressed out, they are not really on the brink of exploding, or imploding. Take my Friday encounter – the person got a telling off for unacceptable behaviour. Out came the card and he left the room. Was he stressed out? He didn’t look like it. I admit that I am no psychiatrist – not all clues to a person’s mental state are visible.

I am not saying that every time out card wielder is playing the system. There needs to be something in place to help people deal with very stressful situations where some are clearly not equipped to deal with it.

One person for sure who was becoming clearly stressed out was me. Where is my time out card? The fuse can sometimes be a short one.

“I am your time out card, Mel!”

I have not been issued with a blue or a pink card that entitles me to leave the room when my coping mechanisms are about to grind to a halt. I have the indwelling Spirit of the living God present within.

Neither is it about “time out” – separating myself from whatever is causing me distress. It is a “time in” card – a time when I should be inviting God into the situation and learning on the spot to access and use the resources that He has made available.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Breathed Upon

I am breathed upon
I am picked-up dust from the
Earth at His feet and
Carefully, deliberately and prayerfully shaped
I am stretched out arms and legs
Fashioned torso and head
Moulded in His Hands
He defines my boundaries
This - His image in clay
Form without animation
He imparts His life to me as
I am breathed upon

I am breathed upon
And I inhale
Drawing into myself
Wondrously, gloriously, humbly
His permission to exist
Nerves tingle, synapses explode
Thoughts tumble about my head
I am dizzy with sensation
Heat and light
Scent and texture
I proclaim with joy that
I am breathed upon

I am breathed upon
Yet where is His breath?
Sin pokes holes in my spirit and
Relentlessly, painfully and inevitably
His breath bleeds out
I swap intimacy for independence and
Vibrant life chills to luke-warm
The world wraps rough hands
Around my throat and I cannot breathe
I listen to a different truth
And surrender the knowledge that
I am breathed upon

I AM breathed upon
A truth He refuses to surrender
He wears my dust
Grace - amazing, astonishing and astounding
He chases me down
He swaps His righteousness for my filth
And mends what is broken
Hands outstretched He invites me in
I yield to His truth
His image in me is restored
And I know again
I AM breathed upon


(c) Melanie Kerr August 2010

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Doing What We Can To Help

This email popped into my box the other day.

Dear Melanie Kerr,

Doesn't time fly?

I bet your baby is growing before your very eyes and time is going faster than you ever thought it would? Time is a premium for new parents so I thought I would save you some by writing to remind you that your baby will need some size 2 nappies soon.

Money is the other thing that seems to go faster with a new baby in the house so, as a big "thank-you" for purchasing your real nappies from Littlelamb, I am offering you a discount code to use when you order your new nappies…

Kind regards

Esme


I have to agree, Esme, - time does fly. I have been back at work for two weeks now and the holidays are fast becoming just a memory.

The baby, which is not my baby, is probably growing very fast, but the only way that a person can observe her growth (yes, it’s a girl) is by looking at a scanner. Said baby isn’t yet born. The baby has yet to wear the size I nappies that Joe and I bought the nearly-parents, so she is not quite ready for Size 2.

I also agree with you, Esme, about money going faster, but I won’t blame it on the baby. I would put it down to things like car insurance and grocery shopping. Government cutbacks haven’t helped.

Kind regards

Mel

To put it all into context – Joe and Mel have friends who are expecting their first baby quite soon. Joe asked what we could do to help. We don’t have children ourselves. As Esme reminded us money does go fast in a household with a baby, so we offered to help.

“Nappies” was the reply, along with a request for real ones, terry towelling not plastic disposables that take for ever to decompose on land fill sites. I had my concerns with nappy pins. Maybe I have deeply buried memories as a baby of being poked by one. I knew that companies did nappies with Velcro strips or snappers, so I went on a nappy hunt on-line.

It is important to be able to make sense of the Maths. It is an alarming initial outlay, but there are savings to be made in the long run.

As they say in the Mastercard adverts – 3 hours searching for the perfect product, £££s for the Size I Starter Kit, one week delivery wait, I cup of tea and a tour of the house on delivery to the nearly-parents…the feeling of helping someone – PRICELESS.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Life and Breath

“Find a newspaper article that has something to do with religion.”

It is a challenge that I set every year to groups of young people. In this day and age it isn’t cool to think that religion matters. People listen to Richard Dawkins who insists that religion is outdated and irrelevant, and they nod in agreement, not realising that it’s in our DNA. We are wired to seek after God and find something to worship.

It is probably the only time when I sit down and read a newspaper properly. My husband thinks that The Sunday Post doesn’t qualify as a proper newspaper.

The Daily Record had nothing religious going on. There wasn’t even a Thought for The Day tucked away in a small corner. The Independent and The Scotsman both came up with the goods. One article criticised doctors for having religious beliefs and sharing those beliefs with their patients. Another article was a compilation of comments from letters about the variety of beliefs. Another article reported that a church whose minister had lost his job on account of his sexual orientation were wanting him reinstated.

Pickings were lean.

One story that caught my imagination but had no obvious connection with religion was the one about the baby. A mother had given birth to twins. They were premature. One child, the wee girl, was well and thriving. The other, the boy, had struggled and apparently given up the fight. After 20 minutes of trying to revive the baby, doctors declared him to be dead and handed him over to his mother for a last cuddle before the post mortem. She held him close to her skin for two hours. He twitched and the doctors said it was a reflex action. He twitched again, and again and then opened his eyes. It was all very amazing.

I guess I liked the idea of a mother’s touch doing something that the science of the doctors had failed to do. I liked the idea of skin to skin touching, and the imparting of warmth and the sound of the mother’s heartbeat to the infant’s ears.

“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4

So the mother never breathed into the child’s nostrils and restored life that way. She just held him close. I don’t know if they will ever be able to explain the science of what actually took place during those two hours she held him.

There are times when I feel the need for God to hold me close and restore life to my spirit. I flit into His presence, fidget while I am there, and then dash off to do the next thing. Imagine being in someone’s embrace for two hours. My mother used to boast that she fell asleep every night in my father’s embrace – that was more than two hours, but it doesn’t count because she was asleep all of the time.

Life is more than just breathing. God did not intend for me to simply exist whereby I inhale and then I exhale and nothing much else happens. The baby opened its eyes and began to interact with the world. Living is about interacting. I encounter the world and I change it for the better – that is living.

If God was into accusations – which He is not – he might accuse me of not really living at all. Rather than encountering the world and changing it – I strive to avoid the world and protect myself from the harm that it could inflict. That is not really living at all.

"Life is the ability to exercise all one’s vital power to the fullest; death is the opposite.” (G. Livingston, “The Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament”)

I am breathed upon by God, endowed with the gift of life that is not to be squandered or frittered away. Perhaps, anything less than living life to the fullest is an insult to God.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My Touch of Faith

I’ve heard the stories of the man
Who has a healing touch
My suffering’s more than I can bear
I need His help so much
I’ve seen so many doctors, and
Giv’n all that I possess
Tried all the cures suggested and
Have had not one success

I find him midst a solid crowd
Their bodies like a wall
Strong, resilient, mighty men
And I – a woman small
They cannot see and cannot know
My weeping wound within
The Law speaks clearly, touching them
I taint, infect, with sin

If I can reach, can grasp his hem…
One touch will be enough.
I fear to ask, I cannot risk
A swift and sound rebuff
Determination gives me strength
I push my way ahead
Outstretched fingers brush and touch
A single woollen thread

My faith is proved, my wounds are healed
And wholeness surges through
What once was rent is mended now
And I am made anew
I stand, the crowd is unaware
This miracle is mine
The locust years of pain are gone
At last I’m feeling fine

But now He turns, “Who touched me then?”
His gaze is on my face
“There’s someone claimed a stir of power,
A taste of God’s good grace.”
I own my deed, my touch of faith
Confess my body sound
How fingers felt His garment’s hem
And wholeness then I found

He smiles, commends me for my faith
Declares that I am well
He gives me leave to share my joy
My story others tell
There is no wall, no barrier
That faith cannot pull down
No hope in a believer’s heart
That tests and trials can drown


(Luke 8:40-48)

Riot Sheilds and Batons

I had a very interesting dream the other night. I use the word “interesting” rather than “disturbing” because although while I was dreaming it, I felt very disturbed by it, when I woke up there was no overhanging cloud that sometimes comes attached.

Very simply put, I think I turned into a porcupine.

I was aware that scales were appearing on my arms - hard, flat, patches of armour. There was a ridge of scales down the centre of my arm, the kind you see along the backs of dinosaurs. Little black spikes began sprouting everywhere, sharp and straight.

They – not sure who “they” were – took me into an operating theatre to see if they remove the scales or the spikes. They managed to pull out one of the spikes. It was no more painful than pulling out a hair. They stuck it under a microscope and commented to one another that they had never seen anything like it before.

Removing a scale was much more painful, and almost instinctively I hit out, clouting the doctor with an arms-worth of scales and spikes, sending him rocketing across the room and slamming him into a glass cabinet. I think they were making plans to incarcerate me when I woke up.

There was no mystery for me about what the dream was about, although others might find more interesting interpretations.

The holidays have come to an end and it is back to work. My husband often laments to see me heading back to work. The house that had been kept clean gradually deteriorates into a pig-sty. There are no more cooked meals to greet him when he comes home. He cannot rely on lifts right up to the door of his work place. Then of course, there is the appearance of “Work Mel”. She doesn’t get left behind at the end of a tiring day, but seems to clamber into the car and come home with me. You know when she is around – the voice is pitched a little louder, sharper and she is more inclined to nit-pick and harangue.

Sometimes work can be a very intimidating place. Not everyone there is my friend, and I can react in ways that are very defensive. The prickles are very easily provoked – sometimes.

I had been reading Colossians 3:12 - “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

It didn’t seem to me the most practical advice. I was looking for a riot shield and a baton and Paul was giving me kindness and gentleness.

“You know what, Mel?” said God. “Remember all that stuff about putting on the armour of God? There are times when that is the right thing to do. But supposing you arm yourself mentally with the riot shield and the baton – you are heading into the workplace with the mindset of a warrior in a battlefield. You are expecting to fight. Everyone picks up the vibe that you are armed to the teeth. You have the baton in hand and you are ready to use it. What is their response likely to be? They suddenly drag out their own riot shield and baton to defend themselves. It is kill or be killed. If, however, you were to arrive unarmed – clothed in “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” there is no room for the riot shield and the baton. It is not a doormat mentality where you cease to take authority at all – you just create a different kind of environment to work in. It is far easier to hit someone who is being less than cooperative than it is to show them kindness and patience.”

Some might say that it is just the week-one honeymoon, but they will wear me down eventually. I am not accepting that! I don’t want Work Mel coming home with me. Actually I don’t want Work Mel at all. Work Mel is not who I am, only who I allow the stresses of the workplace to force me to become.

So yes, with God’s help I am clothing myself not with armour but with kindness, compassion, humility, gentleness and patience.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

More Than Bricks and Mortar

It was a church – built for the glory and worship of God. The pews had all been ripped up and replaced by shelves and shelves of second hand books. The pulpit housed a chair for the shop manager to sit in and survey all of his books. The gallery, accessed by a spiral staircase, which probably wasn’t a part of the original fixtures, contained the tables and chairs, and soft sofas of a café.

We were in there this morning. Joe was on the hunt for a book and we had trailed around all of the bookshops earlier on in the week. The second hand bookshop was the last hope – except it really wasn’t any hope at all. The book may well have been there, but finding it was not an easy task. Some attempt was made to categorise the books, but as for displaying them in alphabetical order – it just didn’t happen. As well as the books on shelves there were piles of books on the floor. For someone with a vague tendency to tidy things, I had to resist the urge to start sorting just one shelf into alphabetical order!

There was a wonderful aroma coming from the café – the soup was being made. It was a glorious fragrance and pulled me back there three hours later for lunch. Yellow split peas with turnips and carrots – it was a taste sensation, one of the nicest soups I have tasted in a while.

While slurping soup, and dribbling it down my front from a lack of concentration, I looked down from my gallery table and chairs down the bookshop below. I pictured the place without the shelves and books and the café. It wasn’t so hard. A Sunday morning perhaps, with pews filled with folk in their Sunday best. I saw the wives, rosy cheeks, hats thrust on heads, spitting onto fingers and combing through their children’s hair that wouldn’t stay flat. The first chord of the organ wheezed out and with a scuffle and scrape of shoes, every stood up and the minister climbs the steps up to the pulpit. He preached a rousing fire and brimstone sermon and snatched burning brands away from hell’s fire.

Why do congregations sell off their churches? In my mind’s eye my church was filled to the brim with people. I even thought of revival scenarios where there was an extra meeting or two, or midweek meetings preaching a gospel message. Perhaps the more real picture is a couple of dozen folk rattling around the pews. Maybe that is why they sold the church…because they couldn’t fill the pews.

It offends me to see a church up for sale, or converted into a picture gallery, a pub, an antiques shop or a bookshop. It speaks a message that church is no longer relevant today…that no one needs God anymore.

“Yes, but, what if it is not that at all?” says a still small voice, “How much money do churches spend on the fabric of a building like this one? It may have a history but it also has dry rot, an ancient heating system, dislodged tiles on the roof and crumbling gables. It’s like throwing money into a black hole. So they sell the old building – to a bookshop – and with the money they build a new church, perhaps in a housing estate nearer to where people live.”

It’s not always the case of the church becoming a pub. For many years the function rrom in a pub in the city centre became home to our church. A fish factory in the industrial estate was sold to another church and transformed into a meeting hall and coffee place.

Church should never be about the building, and I have seen my share fair of church buildings.

Church is about the people that God has chosen, changed, equipped and sent out into the world. What kind of building we meet in is irrelevant. What happens when we meet is all important.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dead-weights and Additionality

My husband had a prompt 9.00 start at work yesterday because it was a training day. As I drove him up to work for Part 2 this morning, he told me what he had learned so far - something about dead-weights and additionality.

When I think about dead-weights I think about people who don’t do their part of whatever it is. They are contributing little and everyone else is carrying them. That might be one application of the term, but not the one he had been trained to think about.

Suppose that you were thinking about making changes to a project. It is not a case of “doing nothing is not an option” because sometimes the doing nothing is the better option. If you chose to do nothing at all you predict what the results of doing nothing might be. Then you look at the changes you want to implement and predict what the results of those changes might be. Then you compare your “do nothing” predictions with your “do something” predictions and decide whether the time and the effort involved in doing something was going to be effective or not. The difference between the two predictions is the deadweight…I think.

Give me a break – he had a whole day to learn this with a million examples, I had a fifteen minute journey and all his examples related to crofting grants which I know very little about.

Take Paul, for example, in 2 Corinthians 2. The plan in chapter I was “to visit you (the Corinthian church) on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea”. By the start of chapter 2 the plan had changed to “So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you.”

To visit or not to visit – that was the question. The “doing nothing” option for Paul was not to visit the church. The “doing something” option was to stop off and say “Hi” on his to Macedonia and on his way back.

Paul looked at the possible consequences of a visit – “painful”. The trouble with Paul stopping off to say “Hi” is that he wouldn’t just stick to saying “Hi”. I think that the church had begun to associate Paul’s visits with rebuke, correction and harsh words. His actions and words were motivated by love but they were not always seeing it that way. His letters had been hard to swallow and, in the past, had not always led to the positive changes he was looking for. He could see the whole meeting as going down the tubes leaving them all distressed and unhappy. He declared it better for him the stay away. If he came, he would inevitably end up sorting them out, and in the process deny them their own step of maturity in sorting themselves out.

So Paul chose the “do nothing” option – but he wrote a letter instead, so he didn’t really choose the “do nothing” option at all. So maybe it’s not just a choice of “do nothing” or “do something” but also a “do something else instead”.

I like the idea of considering the option of “doing nothing” rather than insisting on “doing something” when you have not really considered whether the “doing something “is really going to change anything.

Of course, applying business jargon and principles to building God’s Kingdom doesn’t really work. The natural and the supernatural worlds don’t always work according to the same rules. Business principles work with the next month, or the next year or even a slightly longer view in mind. God thinks in terms of the next blink of an eye, or with eternity in mind – and not always in the blink of one's own eye, or one's own eternity.

Well, there you go – a little glimpse about the kind of conversations we have on car journeys.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Telling It As It Is

“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favour granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11)

At last! Someone who tells it as it is. Who is this someone who is under great pressure, far beyond his ability to endure, despairing even of life? Paul wrote it, but his words might well describe feelings that I have felt. I don’t claim to be manacled in a prison and under a death sentence, but there have been times when I have reached the end of any resources I thought I possessed and no light at the end of the tunnel gave me hope that there were better days ahead.

Did I inform anyone about my hardships? My knee-jerk reaction is to say “No”, but having thought about it, there have been times when I have shared my hardships with people. There has always been a determination to try not to say anything, to keep silent. Inevitably something will be said, or done, and the floodgates will open.

Paul didn’t give the impression anywhere that he was ashamed of having to admit to such feelings of despair. He didn’t sanitise his words. He didn’t make light of his situation. He didn’t gloss over how he was feeling. He didn’t try to wrap up his faith-children in cotton wool. He shared the reality of his experience.

He didn’t paint a depressing black picture and leave it at that. He went on to declare “this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” and that “He (God) has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. Sometimes it is all too easy to bring to mind the times when it was not apparent that we had been delivered. Paul had his fair share of being stoned and ship wrecked, flogged and imprisoned. Paul chose to remember the times when he was delivered and declared his confidence that just as God had delivered him in the past, He would continue to do so in the future. Right now, in the present, he couldn’t see it happening – but faith said that it would.

What helped Paul was knowing that his friends and his faith-children were praying for him.

“You help us by your prayers”.

What is the opposite truth to helping someone by our prayers? If we are not aiding someone, supporting someone or serving someone by our petitioning God on their behalf what are we doing instead? There doesn't seem to be an obvious opposite to "Help". "Hinder", perhaps?

If we are not helping someone by praying – I think we are hurting someone by failing to pray. I don’t think that it is just the case that with the absence of prayer nothing positive happens – but I believe negative things are given free reign to happen because we failed to make a stand.

I know that when times of hardship happen I am better able to cope when I know that someone is praying for me. If they didn’t know what my hardships were, they wouldn’t know where they need to make a stand on my behalf. If I didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t know.

Tell it as it is. It’s not negative talk. It is not speaking curses on ourselves. It is a first step. Telling it as should be by faith is our second step. Sharing how it is and how we would believe it will be with others is the not an optional ingredient. It’s the third step

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Beneath the Father's Gaze

You saw my first breath taken as
My tiny fist unfurled -
You and I together part of
Our created world
Our plan conceived in heaven to
Redeem this fallen race
A precious chance for every man
To gaze upon Your face

You saw me in the workshop as
I learned my father’s trade
My fingers rested gently on the
Wood before me laid
You saw me in the Temple
Your own sweet house of prayer
I gathered men around me
My Father’s truth to share

You saw me in the river with
The water and the dove
And pulled away the curtain as
You spoke Your words of love
You saw me in the desert waste
The hunger on my face
The serpent with his twisted truth
I chose not to embrace

You saw me touch the leper’s hand
With everything restored
Then others lame, and blind, and deaf
Your wholeness on them poured
You saw me lift the bread on high
And into pieces break
And watched the thousands gathered there
A precious meal partake

My life was lived beneath Your gaze
You never looked away
Until the final conflict came
That dark and dreadful day
You saw the whip that ripped my back
You saw the crowd that bayed
You saw the nails they hammered in
And knew Your love displayed

And then You turned Your face away
Such loneliness I knew
Lost, alone, forsaken as
The darkness slowly grew
You didn’t see me fix my gaze
Beyond this awful scene
And see by faith forgiveness giv’n
And man made whole and clean

You waited ‘til the angels came
And rolled away the stone
I wasn’t there within that tomb
But stood before Your throne
I looked and saw the smile upon
My Father’s joyful face
No words You spoke, but arms outstretched
I felt Your strong embrace

There's Been a Murder!

“There’s been a murder! Can you follow the trail, solve the clues and unmask the culprit?” Apparently not!

We purchased a treasure trail, "a fun and healthy outdoor activity for all ages", a while ago and seeing as we were child-sitting for the day yesterday we decided to head off to the town and “follow the trail, solve the clues and unmask the culprit”. We were promised 1.5 miles of walking which turned out to be much more than that as we retraced our steps more than once having missed the clue. We were also promised 1.5 hours of sleuthing which turned out to be a lot longer because of all the retracing of steps.

I had my money on Frank Thomson long before we began. His eyes were definitely too close together.

Things started to go wrong at Clue 6. We were instructed to enter the grounds of the Church of Scotland, and find a date above the double doors of the church. The grounds of the church were occupied by a few dozen wedding guests and a man playing the bagpipes. Trying to see the dates above the double door was hindered by the newly married couple and the photographer. None of the dates matched up with the information we had – it turned out we were looking at the wrong double doors of the wrong church!

Clue 10 turned out to be another challenge. “Find the face in the photo” – the photo was a porcelain decoration against something red. We walked the length of the street, and back again looking at front doors, gate posts, garden sheds and there was nothing like the decoration to be seen anywhere. We stopped outside one house to gather round the clue sheet, read the question for the hundredth time and look at the photo.

“Are you doing the mystery trail?” A head popped out of a bedroom window.

“Yes, we are stuck on one clue…”

“Perhaps I can help.”

The woman knew when she stuck her head out of her window that “perhaps” didn’t even cover it. She came through the front door, red faced, carrying the porcelain decoration.

“We painted the shed and never got around to putting the decoration back up,” she confessed.

Clues 11 and 12 eluded us. No doubt we were at the wrong park this time, looking at the wrong information board. There was no mention of flowers, and nothing apart from fouling dogs was banned from the park. We took a guess – flowers and trees? Does Ivy qualify as a flower? Willow is certainly a tree! So we confidently eliminated Ivy Willow from our enquiries.

Next clue had something to do with banks on either side of the main road. We were keeping an eye out for banks – specifically a hole in wall to get some money to pay for tea and cakes. Then we spotted the banks “Ivy Bank House Hotel” and “Willow Bank Guesthouse”.

Another clue told us to look for initials on a “regal” building. Could it be the Royal Bank of Scotland or The Royal Fish Shop? The Royal British Legion wasn’t close enough to the traffic lights to meet the requirements of the clue. None of them had the required initials.

We had been walking around for about four hours up to this point. Admittedly we were walking slowly and we had had a tea and cake stop, but even so, the most enthusiastic among us were beginning to feel frustrated. Ivy Willow being dismissed as a suspect too early on in our investigation undermined our confidence. Mistakes in our reasoning were cropping up. Another photo, quickly found, two initials, F and O, we can eliminate Forbes O’Neil from our suspect list – Oh…we already did…back at the park! We were running out of time and stamina.

All of a sudden I didn’t really care how many identical crowns there were in the Grant Family Crest and was disinclined to walk to the “end of the road down to a small grassy park” to find a fountain. I had had enough.

Then a real life mystery grabbed our attention – the case of the missing car keys. I could have sworn they were in my jacket pocket. We retraced our steps to the coffee house where I had taken the jacket off. No keys had been handed in. We tried the bank where I had withdrawn the money for tea and cakes. No keys had been handed in. I’d sat down on the grass at the park where Ivy Willow had been wrongly eliminated from our enquiries.

I went back to the car, while Joe and the girls resumed the hunt for the killer. I wasn’t quite sure how I could get to my car keys if, as I believed, I’d locked them in the boot. As it was, there they were, dangling enticingly from the lock of the car boot. I thanked God for the honesty of the people who lived in the town, that they hadn’t stolen the car…but then thanked God that the car was of such age and condition that no one in their right mind would steal it!

Joe told me later that he and the girls had prayed that the car keys would be found – and they were.

The trail had delivered some of the promised goods – we had fun (most of the time), we were outdoors (nearly all of the time) and we were very active (some of the time). The car keys might have been found, but sadly our killer and his or her weapon wasn’t. One would hope that it’s not a serial killer we are dealing with.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Showing Off Your Onions

I went to the Black Isle Show today. Agricultural shows and I go back a long way. I seem to remember a school trip to the Royal Agricultural show at Stoneleigh. Collecting as many badges as you could from all the stands seemed to be the main challenge. What sticks is my mind is stepping down from a little electric bus that toured the grounds. I am not sure whether it was supposed to stop, or you just jumped off when you reached your destination. What ever the case was, it wasn’t going very fast. I just didn’t quite make the required adjustment between moving and not moving and fell tip over tail. I am just glad that I was wearing clean underwear!

The Black Isle Show is not so big and there are no little electric busses. I did the usual tour of the “Taste of Scotland” tent. I drank my fair share of tiny plastic cups of whisky and wine (licks lips). I ate (and spat out!) small cubes of cheese on cocktail sticks. I sampled slices of grilled sausage (Mmmm!).

After a quick tour of the animals on show, dodging poo and rain showers in equal measure, I headed for the Flower Show. I have no skill at flower arranging, nor do I wish to have. I wondered for a moment whether the competitors were required to actually grow the flowers they arranged. It was the vegetables that I was itching to see. I give careful attention to the vegetables in honour of my step-father who had an allotment. He used to enter his vegetables at the local village show. I can picture him now washing and drying, wiping and polishing, four onions, perfectly matched in colour and shape. He was a man who knew his onions…and his carrots…and his beetroot. Did we win? If we did we never got given rosettes.

So, there I was, honouring my step-father, paying careful attention to every display. There wasn’t a vegetable in sight that wouldn’t have been out of place on a plate next to roast beef and Yorkshires. My only criticism was that they were just too clean. I like my carrots with a little bit of dirt on them!

Into the home straight and we were faced with fruit. You know, I have forgotten what gooseberries look like? If no one had been around I would have tipped the contents of the plates into my open bag, gone home and made a gooseberry something or other!

How do you choose between almost identical looking fruit and veg? Can someone please tell me how there can be three almost identical paper plates with sixteen raspberries artistically arranged on each of them - one plate has a first place rosette, another has a second place rosette and the final plate has a third plate rosette. OK I can see that on one of the plates, the third placed plate, the raspberries are just a tad smaller – but the other two plates are the same. One set of raspberries was arranged in lines on the plate reminiscent of a legion of Roman soldiers while the other plate had their raspberries in a circle – but size, shape and colour were all much of a much-ness.

Maybe, I thought, there were more than sixteen raspberries to begin with and each judge was allowed to eat one. Maybe it wasn’t so much the look of the berries that won the prize, but the taste.

Maybe in our visual, appearance obsessed culture we need to take a leaf out of the fruit and vegetable show judges.

Taste is what counts.

“Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him” Psalm 34:8

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

God's Agents For Change

Our church has its thumbs into many different community pies bringing support, prayer and insight into the lives of all kinds of people.

On Wednesday mornings we are involved in a ministry called Catalyst. It’s all about being God’s agents to bring about change in some degree or another.

Being on a Wednesday, it’s only during the holidays that I am able to go. For the most part, the times that I have gone have been pretty much an opportunity to meet with other Christians and exchange information and encourage one another. I have made new friends but not really had the chance to minister to anyone – not the yet-to-be-saved. My main reason for popping in this morning was to see if my friend Kathryn was there. The first time we had met, a years or two ago, we connected, talking about our faith, our challenges and our poetry. I hadn’t seen her for a few months and hoped to find her there.

The place was empty but for a couple of people I didn’t know. They were deep in conversation with an open Bible on the table. After the introductions were made we began making connections. One of the people knew me from a few prayer meetings we had both attended. The other person knew my friend Mark and both of them knew Kathryn who was a Street Pastor.

I thought I would give it the time it took to drink my coffee and if Kathryn hadn’t arrived by then I would do some shopping and go home. I may have the appearance of being quite the extrovert but I find new people very intimidating to get to know. I was not part of the “team” and not particularly confident that I had any contribution to give. These people were trained experts to my mind.

A lady walked in. She had carefully read all the posters and notices in the window. This was not just any other coffee shop – not on a Wednesday morning. She came in with the knowledge that people were going to talk to her – perhaps even ask gentle probing questions. She came in with the intention of finding answers.

She joined the two of them on the sofa. I wasn’t any great distance away, but they were talking quietly and my hearing is not so good. I made myself useful by praying quietly – that the woman would feel she was in a safe enough environment to share her heart, and that the couple listening would have God’s wisdom to bring insight and answers.

I was waved over to join with them in prayer. I had heard snatches of the conversation, but not really enough to feel I knew what to pray for so I stayed silent. I heard snatches of the prayers said, but not really enough to understand what the issues were.

How do I explain what happened next? Did I feel sea spray on my face? Were there rocking waves beneath my feet? I just knew that this woman was going through a storm – a bad storm. Whatever strength she thought she had to deal with her trials, it was gone and her ship was about to break apart. Then I pictured Jesus standing and spreading out his arms and rebuking the wind and the waves. There was not gradual stillness, but an instant calm and an immediate peace. So that is what I prayed – the whole scene from storm to stillness.

I don’t know who was most encouraged – the lady I prayed for, the two others on the sofa – or me. I had entered the coffee shop thinking that I had nothing to contribute but God had a different view.

I can’t wait for next Wednesday!

Monday, August 02, 2010

“It’s not poetry!”

I was reading I Corinthians 13 today.

The words are so familiar to me now. Not quite learned by heart, but almost. But as with everything in life, there is always a first time of reading them. My first time was at my mum’s wedding to her second husband. I stood at the front of the small Roman Catholic chapel in the small village of Yelvertoft to do one of the readings. I guess that you can’t help but get caught up in the poetry of the words – and a wedding is such an appropriate time for reading them.

The second time I remember reading the passage was as a part of an English Speaking exam. I had stayed on a school. I was doing just the one “A”level, not yet having discovered an aptitude for learning, so the rest of the timetable was filled with other things. Drama was in there somewhere. It wasn’t a “real” subject in those days, but there were certificates about and this particular one required giving a talk (on volcanoes), reading from a book (the opening chapters of Eric Von Daniken’s “Chariots of the Gods”) and reading a passage from the Bible.

So this morning, I came to read I Corinthians 13. I tend to prefer to read things out aloud, and, there I was, in my imagination, in front of the English Speaking Board examiner, projecting the voice, injecting the right inflection and emotion. Had she been there for real I would have passed.

I got the impression somehow that God wasn’t impressed!

“It’s not poetry!”

Well, we all know that it is poetry. Whatever the original Greek words were, the English translators did a very good job with their word choices and their sentence structure. It is poetry.

For Paul it wasn’t poetry. He had written much in his letter up to this point dealing with issues. His constant criticism was their lack of love towards each other. They were divisive. They were selfish. They were competitive. They were proud. They were, as he says in his opening verses, sanctified and called to be holy, but they were missing the target where love was concerned. Everything that Jesus had been while he had lived on earth was everything that they were not demonstrating in the way they treated each other.

He was lifting love up before their eyes and saying “This is love – this is what we are aiming for.”

Fine sounding words, great acts of faith, noble deeds were all empty of meaning if they did not have love at their centre.

I Corinthians 13 isn’t just for weddings and newly married couples. It isn’t just for inside church walls or for our dealings with other Christians. It’s for us in the supermarket and the queue at the checkout counter. It’s for us on the bus and the person that sits next to us. It’s for us in the car when road works snarl up the traffic, and cyclists go through red lights. It’s for us in the car park when the car is dented and there’s no message left under the windscreen. It’s for us at work when the boss hisses and spits. It’s for us when the neighbour’s party goes on long into the early hours.

As hard as it is for us to get our heads around it - 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t poetry. It is a challenge and a gauntlet thrown down. “This is love – this is what we are aiming for.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Someone Else’s Territory

If you were to present me with a city centre street map of Inverness, I could mark on the map all of the various charity shops, and, which of those shops had second hand walking sticks. I know this very specialised information because I went looking for a walking stick yesterday.

It took just under a week for a dearly beloved husband to leave the new one I bought him in the back of a taxi. I had a slight faith/doubt tussle when it came to buying the stick. The man has done some injury to his knee. A visit to the doctor provided very little information on what was specifically wrong, but he prescribed medication to help with the pain. He also made a hospital appointment to explore the nature of the injury involving a small incision and a camera. In the meantime, the doctor said, “Buy a walking stick!”

It seemed to me that buying the stick was like giving approval to the knee injury. When you read in the Bible of various healing miracles, the ones that feature the lame people, Jesus doesn’t offer to buy them a walking stick. It’s not that I hadn’t prayed, or laid hands on the injured joint, because I had.

The doctor also made the very gentle suggestion that the injury could be weight related. He warned my husband that doctor at the hospital would probably make the same suggestion, but less gently. A history of many and wondrous things deep fried is not the healthiest of diets. Let’s face it, neither of us could pass for slim and sylph-like by any measure.

But anyway, that’s all to explain why I was in town and doing the round of the charity shops. It’s all scene setting.

One of the town centre churches was hosting a low key evangelistic event – free tea and coffee, a place to sit down and rest your feet, and…well, there is no getting away from it…a certain conversation. I wasn’t needing or wanting tea or coffee, but I did want to sit down and rest my feet. I don’t possess a pair of walking sandals and I had done a lot of walking. I didn’t really get the certain conversation either because once I had confessed to being a church going Christian my presence was…how do I put it? – ignored. I didn’t need witnessed to. It would have been nice to have just talked, but that wasn’t the object of the exercise!

Another lady sat down at the other side of the table. She was also a church goer – in fact she attended the very church we were sitting in. I was surprised that our hosts had even asked her the question, “Do you go to church?” You don’t know that she comes every week to your church? They dug a little deeper asking the lady if she “knew the Lord”. I am naïve enough to think it’s a given. The lady replied, “I’d like to think so, but we can never be sure, can we?” I was itching to jump in. I had been on a gospel outreach team for a year many years ago. I knew how to take it from here. I stayed quiet reminding myself that I was only here to rest my feet and this was someone else’s outreach program, not mine. I would like to say that God muzzled me, but I think I muzzled myself.

I wanted to say that we can know for sure. Just the afternoon before, a friend and I had been discussing the importance of confidence in faith. We read from Ephesians 3, “In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” And Hebrews 10 assures us “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” There is nothing “think so” about it. If we lack confidence we will hesitate to take steps of faith, never being convinced that God is with us.

The lady was handed a tract. There was no conversation to throw light on the issue, and I mourned the lost opportunity that they had, that I had, to make a difference.

So much of that encounter really bothered me. To have a woman coming to church every week and for her not to be recognised bothered me. For her to be coming every week and not ever being sure of her salvation bothered me. To have someone say that they are not sure of their salvation and be given a tract bothered me. To have an outreach activity that draws people in, but appears not to know how to talk to people about spiritual things bothered me.

But what really bothered me was my own silence. It wasn’t a case of being out or practice – the outreach team was many years ago, but it’s like riding a bike, isn’t it? It’s not as if I haven’t spoken to anyone since. It wasn’t a case of not knowing what to say – I had been equipped the previous afternoon for that very issue.

I didn’t feel free to say what I would have said had it been my church giving out the tea and coffee. I didn’t want to step into someone else’s territory – except it wasn’t someone else’s territory at all – it was God’s territory.