Thursday, November 29, 2012

Numbered Days


Each day from secret places
Into the cosmos hurled
Babies loud and lusty
Are born into this world

Imagine then for each a jar
That’s filled with numbered days
Each life has time bestowed on them
To spend in countless ways

Some jars are full and brimming
With decades rich, replete
Others jars seem empty
So bare and incomplete

Why are the jars not equal?
Why is it so unfair?
Is every child not worthy of
A just and equal share?

When God created people
And people walked with Him
The jars jam-packed with minutes
Were filled right to the brim

But men rebelled and squandered
Their time in selfish ways
They wasted hollow hungry years
With endless empty days

A life may last a hundred years
But never know delight
Another life a hundred days
Yet burns with passion bright

It matters not the number of
The minutes men possess
Men are measured not by years
But by the lives they bless

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Woundwort's Weapon


“They’re not very big, are they? The Father-of-Lies isn’t going to be impressed.”  Tonguebite peered at the weapons display and wrinkled his nose.

Woundwort wasn’t sure whether he had been promoted or demoted when he was given the job of developing new weapons to arm the sons of darkness.  Chief Weapons Engineer was an occupation with a history of failure, a minefield of a task that had sunk many a promising career in the Underworld.  The Father-of-Lies, curse him, refused to believe that no weapons forged against the loathsome army of light had ever prevailed. 

“You asked for a weapon.  You didn’t specify how big it had to be.”  Woundwort grumbled a little and scratched a flaky patch on his arm.  He frowned, inspecting his arm carefully.  It was possible that his skin had come into contact with the materials he was using.  He chided himself on his carelessness.

Woundwort’s creations were, indeed, very small.   Significantly smaller than a household pin, they were very sharp.  The blunt end was festooned with a dozen fine, black hairs to aid flight.  The sharp end was small enough to penetrate the armour worn by the army of light.  All armour had its chinks, and Woundwort’s darts were engineered to seek out the chinks and find the soft flesh beneath.  Of course, Woundwort was aware that the armour of the army of light was not like conventional armour.  Chinks were hard to find, but, any armour is only effective if it is put on properly. Woundwort knew that any soldier, in any army, light or darkness, takes shortcuts.  A skirmish or two won and the soldier slackens up a little.  He becomes a little too confident and lax in his discipline.  It was this inattention to detail that Woundwort planned to take advantage of.

Tonguebite picked up one of the darts.   He had once heard a preacher deliver a sermon about Satan’s fiery darts.  He had never seen a fiery dart before, and wondered if these were them.  They seemed too small to cause any damage.

“Ouch!”

If Tonguebite had any blood coursing through his veins, which he didn’t, there would have been a small globule of blood on his finger. 

Woundwort took a single step away and snatched up a clipboard from the table.

“We haven’t tested the weapons yet, you understand.  This makes you our first test subject!  Of course, we shall have to factor in the differences between demons and humans –but sometimes the difference is very minimal. Things could get interesting from now on. You have to be very honest about how you’re feeling.” 

It was expecting too much from anyone in the Underworld to be honest, but in the interests of the science Tonguebite was asked to try.

“Well, don’t look so pleased about it.  My arm really itches.”

Woundwort scribbled furiously.

“It’s very warm in here.  Why is the heating on?”

Woundwort popped a thermometer into Tonguebite’s mouth, watched the clock on the wall for one minute exactly and wrote down some numbers on the paper.

“I have better things to do, you know…and it’s about time someone told you about your bad breath.”

Woundwort breathed on the palm of his hand and sniffed it suspiciously. 

“I’d ask for a cup of coffee or something but you don’t know how to make decent coffee.  And you never have any sugar…or milk.”

Woundwort frowned.  He liked his coffee black and strong and in a chipped cup.

“Well, talk to me at least.  Even your mindless chatter is better than this silence.”

Tonguebite harped on for some considerable time.  Every tiny irritation about everything was aired without restraint.  He didn’t like Woundwort’s laboratory.  There was a smell he couldn’t quite identify.  The white of Woundwort’s coat was just too white.  It hurt his eyes.  He didn’t really approve of Woundwort’s friends.  They were too unsavoury, even for the Underworld.  He didn’t like the fact that Woundwort never gambled.  A demon should have many vices, and Woundwort clearly didn’t have enough.

Woundwort kept writing.  His smile broadened with each complaint. 

Tonguebite’s spate of complaints gradually dried up.

“For a first weapons test that was definitely successful!”

Tonguebate raised an eyebrow.

The tiny darts were designed to get beneath the skin.  Little irritations made their way to the surface and were expressed.  Faith, Woundwort understood, could not flourish in such a negative environment.  Without faith the army of light were easy to destroy.

Tonguebite gazed at Woundwort with something like awe.


Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Re-Writing the Rules


In Luke 7 there is a story about an encounter between Jesus, a Pharisee and a sinful woman.  It took place in a crowded room, but what happens between the three of them took centre stage.  The crowd didn’t play any part in the drama.

Simon the Pharisee was a man who lived by the rules.  The rules were designed to address every aspect of life and give a person the “right” things to do in every situation.  If a person lived by the rules, they would prosper.  They would also produce a lifestyle that pleased God and would bring the coming of the Messiah and the day of the Lord closer.

The rules said that sin was something that you could catch off a sinful person so, to the best of your ability, you avoided sinful people.  You didn’t invite them to your house and, if they found their way in, you didn’t touch them, or allow them to touch you.

The woman in the story isn’t named.  I suppose that the minute you name someone, he or she is someone other than you.  The nameless ones could be you.

The woman was a woman who lived by breaking the rules.  Perhaps she had started off a rule keeper but somewhere along the way she discovered that the rules were not written for her benefit.  Very few options were available to women outside a husband, a home and a family.  Maybe she had the lost the first option to the Roman occupiers, lost the second option to debt collectors and needed to find a way to feed and clothe the last option.  She was not given a back story.  She was just a woman that has lived a sinful life.

The strict keeper of the law met the flagrant breaker of the law and Jesus was their meeting point.

To some extent Jesus was both a keeper of the law and a breaker of the law.  Simon’s law was not really worth keeping.  It wasn’t really written for anyone’s benefit.  Those that tried to keep it jumped through all the necessary hoops, and in the process lost their joy and compassion.   They thought that God could be won over by the appearance of goodness.

The law that Jesus kept would not allow him to push aside a person in need.  He could not condone her sinful lifestyle, but neither did he want her to continue living that way.  Both of them, Simon the Pharisee and the woman, were living destructive lives. 

Simon lived by the rules.

The woman lived by breaking the rules.

Jesus lived by re-writing the rules.

Think over some of the things that Jesus asks his followers to do.  He asks us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to forgive the one who has hurt us and to go with someone an extra mile.  It feels like Jesus is asking the impossible.  In the natural – it is impossible.  But the one who re-writes the rules also gives us all that we need to do what He asks.

Today in my workplace a strict keeper of the law (me) met a flagrant breaker of the law (someone wearing a hat).  It was only after the encounter (most unpleasant) that I realised that Jesus had not been invited to be a part of the encounter.

Jesus re-writes the rules of all my encounters if I invite him to be a part of them.    

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Shelving Images

We went to the cinema yesterday to see the new James Bond movie.  I made a conscious decision not to see what other films were on at the same time.  It occurred to me that Joe and I could part company – him to see James and me to see something else - and then meet up afterwards and compare notes.  However, cinema going shouldn’t a solitary experience. 

The cinema allocates seats.  The options offered were two seats at the back or two seats at the front.  We chose the back – just one row in front of the back row.  It was very high up and I was a little anxious about bending over too far, losing my centre of gravity and plunging downwards!  It didn’t happen.

The screen wasn’t in complete darkness, but there wasn’t much light either.  We knew we were the row in front of the back row so we knew where we were going.  The usual aisle seats had been bagged, but there were just two people to clamber past.

A family of four followed us up the steps.  They also had allocated seats, but, in the dim lighting, couldn’t find the right row, or the right seats.  They decided to sit on the back row behind us.  They were just looking for any four seats together. 

It didn’t take long for the rightful owners of the seats to arrive and evict them.  The family didn’t put up a fight.  They found another batch of four seats in the row in front of us. 

The rightful owners of those seats also turned up and the family were yet again made seat-less! 

At this point true darkness had descended.  Adverts had been dispensed with and we were into the coming attractions. 

Did I say how much I hate being disturbed?  There comes a time when the doors ought to be firmly closed and a bouncer placed outside to stop late comers coming in late.

The row in front stood to a man, firstly, to allow the squatters space to move out of the four seats, and, secondly, to allow the rightful owners to take up residence.  The squatters squinted to find four more seats.  There were four more seats next to us so our row stood up to allow the family to move in. 

Meanwhile, back on the screen, blocked by the folk still standing in the row in front us, the coming attractions rolled on. It was the much anticipated film based on one of the Jack Reacher novels.

I am a big Jack Reacher fan.  Lee Child has created such a wonderful character in Jack.  I have worked my way through most of the series, but need to ration myself quite strictly, or I’d never cook meals, doing the washing up or ironing – err, actually I rarely do those things anyway.  Jack is not to blame for my lack of housewifely skills.  I certainly wouldn’t sleep – just the next chapter I asy to myself, then I will turn off the light – but I keep turning the pages.

I think I might just recognise Jack if I met him for real.  I would look for a very tall man, head and shoulders above everyone else.  I would look for a very solid looking man, broad shoulders, thickset – a veritable mountain of a man. 

It had come to my notice months ago that the film rights had been bought by Tom Cruise.  I don’t know whether he planned to direct the film, but he did plan to be in it as…Jack Reacher.   Tom doesn’t tower head and shoulders above most men – or most women, come to that.  He cannot be Jack Reacher.  Jack is a mountain…Tom Cruise is a mere foothill in comparison.  People quake when Jack enters a room and they give him a wide berth.  Tom doesn't command the same respect, somehow.

So there I was, last night, trying to catch a glimpse of Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher, while the row in front was playing musical chairs to the soundtrack of the film.  What I really wanted to see was how they had gotten around the height issue.  Was Tom standing on a box so he could be head and shoulders above the rest of humanity?  Alan Ladd stood on a box for some scenes in “Shane”.

There was a crowd scene and, sad to say it, “Jack” was no taller than the average extra.  I was not surprised.  No box, evidently.

Having read the books, I have an image of Jack.  I haven’t quite slotted in an appropriately tall actor that could play the part in the film – but Tom Cruise doesn’t fit the bill.  There are some aspects like hair colour and eye colour and scars that I can amend – but not height and size. 

If I am to go and see the Jack Reacher film, and not just sit and nit-pick, I am going to have to shelve my image from the book.  It will not be a permanent shelving, just two or three hours.  The Tom will step aside and allow the real Jack to have his throne back. 

Shelving images cropped up in our Bible study this afternoon. 
“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.  From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.  For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John.  And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.  He who has ears, let him hear.”  Matthew 11:12-15

Jesus was challenging the Jews, his disciples included, to accept that John the Baptist was Elijah.  Old Testament prophets like Isaiah and Malachi had clearly said that Elijah would be the herald of the Messiah.  He would prepare the way.

Part of the problem was not with John, I suppose.  They could make that connection.  John patterned his lifestyle of Elijah’s.  He did exactly what had been predicted – he prepared people for the arrival of the Messiah.

The problem was with Jesus.  If John was Elijah then Jesus was the Messiah.

It’s just like Tom Cruise not being Jack Reacher. 

Jesus wasn’t their image of the Messiah.  Just as Jesus was asking them to be willing to shelve their ideas about Elijah and John the Baptist, He was also asking them to be willing to shelve their ideas about the Messiah. 

It’s a hard thing to be prepared to dismantle things we think to be true.  It takes humility to recognise that we might have got it wrong, and be prepared to change our thinking.