Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Younger Than That Now

My heart was sewn upon my sleeve
Its colours black and white
I had no time for shades of grey
My path ahead shone bright
I would not bend or flex my mind
Or shifting views allow
But I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

The world - a bruised and broken sphere
Was mine alone to mend
With heated words I stood my ground
And angry letters penned
Chastising generations who
Had failed to act somehow
But I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

I gorged on trite, romantic words
That spilled from Mills and Boon
That single look as eye meets eye
Across a crowded room
Convinced that nothing in the world
Could break a sacred vow
But I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

I mocked the faith the child in me
Had built into my life
Believed instead religion was
The cause of endless strife
Science gave me answers to
The what and why and how
But I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

I knew I was invincible
A hero near-to-birth
I saw my life a comet bright
Across a dim, dark earth
A furrow carved across a field
My passion as the plough
But I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now

My autumn soul has found its rest
My summer heart fights on
But now I lean upon the Lord
And find all striving’s gone
He meets the deepest needs in me
My what, my why, my how
Oh yes, I was much older then
I'm younger than that now



(A tamer nod to Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages")

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Imitators

I am reading my way through the book of Ephesians.  As ever I am on catch up with my daily reading plan.  There are some mornings where I am a little more alert than others.  The intention of having a quiet time when I come home from work is often sabotaged by a combination of tiredness and TV.

Ephesians 5 begins with the phrase to “Follow God’s example”.  In other letters Paul tells his readers to imitate him or to follow him because he is following Jesus. I suppose that one way we can discover whether our faith walk measures up is to confidently invite people to follow us because we are following Jesus.

I remember very clearly a number of years ago saying to a group of young girls “Don’t look at me – look at Jesus”. 

I was working in a small private English school in Cyprus at the time.  I had come to faith five years before but I wasn’t a secure Christian.  I had spent two years in a Brethren Chapel simply because it had been among friends that were Brethren that I had given my life to Jesus.  I went away to university and attended a Brethren Chapel in the nearby town.  It was assumed that I would just slip into church life.  I had a letter of introduction.  Maybe they did try to nurture me, it was a long time ago.  It was the wrong kind of church for me – the whole women keeping silent played so perfectly into my natural shyness that I kept silent even during the tea and coffee afterwards.  The day I bought a Sunday newspaper into church, sat at the back and read it through cover to cover I knew I shouldn’t be there.

I had spent a few years in the Methodist Church in Chingford.  If I had been less Brethren at heart I might have gone into the ministry.  Methodists had women ministers and there were some in the congregation that believed I would make a good minister.

Anyway, the school was run by the Brethren Church.  I went not because I wanted to return to the Brethren Church but an Elementary Teacher’s post had been promised.  It never materialised and I ended up teaching in the high school.

The school had boarders.  Perhaps up to two or three dozen pupils – it was a small school.  Many of the pupils were from Saudi Arabia. Some of them were much older than the sixteen or eighteen years they claimed to be to avoid joining the Saudi army.  I seem to remember a couple of very bulky men sporting beards and moustaches.

Although it was a Christian school, we had a fair number of non-Christians and more than a fair number of Muslims.  Their parents, apart from the army avoidance thing, believed that Christian principles were good and the school had a reputation for strong discipline.

One year I was living in the boarding house with the boarders.  There had been an influx of quite radical Muslim girls.  The boys were usually no problem – school was better than the army – not much but better. The girls swung between the demands of their Muslim faith and the freedom that was Cypriot life – sun and sea and lithe boys, with smouldering eyes and sun-kissed skin playing beach volleyball.

Ramadan came and the girls made their stand. They wanted to keep the Ramadan fast.  The mealtimes they wanted did not coincide with the usual mealtimes and the cooks were long gone back to their village by the time sunset arrived.  I knew enough about Islam to know that there were get-out clauses when it came to Ramadan.  The Headmaster was not for bending – they ate when the rest of the boarders ate or they ate nothing.  He was not about to allow them to pile up their plates to eat later.

It was war!

There was a combination of prayer mats and tears and rants in Arabic and phone-calls home.  The parents sided with the school. The boys with their beards stood with the girls.  They snuck out through a window at night to go and buy kebabs so that no one starved. 

Being with the boarders I was responsible for their well-being.  Never one for confrontation I just wanted Ramadan to end.

The girls railed on me.  Wasn’t Christianity all about love? Where was the love in the school towards them? All I wanted from them, apparently, so they said, was conversion!  Every Sunday they went to the Brethren Church and listened to a gospel message.  They never responded to the altar call.  They had worked it out that they could get away with “asking Jesus into their heart” and just pretend they had changed their faith – just to get the Headmaster off their back.

“If I could see a genuine Christian life lived out in front of me and not the hypocrisy you parade in front of me…I might truly ask Jesus into my life,” said one Muslim girl folding her prayer mat away.

That’s when I said it, “Don’t look at me – look at Jesus”. 

I wouldn’t say it now.  I wish I hadn’t said it then.  I wasn’t the best advert for a Christian.  I was so not confident in my faith.  I was not like Paul.  I saw too many holes in my walk with Jesus.

But you know what? The next morning I determined that I would be that genuine Christian they were looking for.  I asked God to help me pray more, to love more, to challenge myself more. It was one of those turning points that people have.

The school Headteacher wasn’t enamoured with the change in me.  The kids loved it when I butted in at church meetings – yes, the ones where women were supposed to be silent.  I could not stay quiet – and I really tried hard.  I never spoke nonsense.  Even then an almost prophetic gift was breaking out in me.  I wasn’t asked to leave – but it became too hard to stay. 

Did the girls see Jesus in me?  I don’t know.  Ramadan came to an end and the girls came back to the dinner table.  The boys still climbed out the window to buy kebabs,

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grown-up Faith

I let another speak for me
And think somehow his words must be
More balanced, thoughtful, wise and true
My own, naïve and will not do

I let another set my mind
And follow in his footsteps blind
Refuse to measure, weigh each word
But swallow whole, the things I’ve heard

I let another tell me how
To choose those things I should allow
All actions labelled, nought to guess
All the “answers” I possess

I let another fix my gaze
A lens to see through worldly haze
A compass pointing always “true”
A formula to see me through

But when these “answers” will not fit
On formulae I cannot sit
What then? How will I win the day?
Or will I fall and fade away?

My faith, my own, “grown-up” must be
If I’m to sail the open sea
The time for milk has had its day
A time for growth now comes my way

My words, my thoughts, the way I feel
The man in me these things reveal
And so I choose to put away
The childish things of yesterday

 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

“Men without tears…”

I treated myself to a book by A W Tozer – “God Tells the Man Who Cares”.  I sat in the sunshine looking at an unmown front lawn.  The grass wasn’t quite tall enough to wave at me.  The man next door was hacking away at his tree stump.  It really was too warm to do anything other than sit and read.

The chapters in the book are rather short, a page or two, sufficient to build into a quiet time.  I reigned myself in after I made a start on the second chapter about the voice of God speaking.  My Spirit had stopped at a phrase a few paragraphs into the first chapter and wanted to think about something, but my brain was making the whole book a bit of a sprint. Short chapters read were like brownie points earned. My spirit refused to move on.

“Men without tears…”

Tozer began the first chapter with the line “God has nothing to say to the frivolous man.” He went on to list characters from the Bible who had wept at some point.  These were men that trembled before God, threw themselves on to the ground and poured their heart out.  They were extravagant in what they asked for and equally as extravagant in what they were willing to pay to get an answer.  These were men who grieved that the people who should have been following God were far from him.  It distressed them that people lived side by side with sin.They were quite willing to be blotted out of God’s history if the people they lead could be drawn closer to God.

Then he introduced the “men without tears.” These were the smooth talkers, the persuasive men who acted like superior salespersons, but what they did wss done without heart. They had not lingered in the presence of God to really catch his heart. Faith was merely a commodity to be sold and church was run like a business.

The rest of the chapter was about denominations and who has got it wrong and where, who has got it right and where, and how we have ended up with meetings that have no reverent thoughtfulness, no real sense of the divine presence, no moment of stillness, no wonder, no holy fear – just breezy songs and a few awkward jokes.

Tozer was a heavy hitter.  He was serious about his faith and about his teaching.  He recognised that there was an urgency about being a Christian and getting it as right as we can.  Remember - God has nothing to say to the frivolous man.

“Men without tears…” Tozer was talking about the church leaders of his day.  I am not sure that leaders of this day are any different.  Do they weep over the hearts and lives of the flock under their care? I am sure many do. 

The phrase “men without tears” so perfectly fits the description of many leading politicians. As I sat in the sunshine pondering the words, there were clouds – not real ones, just the metaphysical variety. The rain that comes from metaphysical clouds stings more.  Clouds and an inner picture of David Cameron at his smiling worst.

I don’t know whether it is acceptable for a politician to throw themselves on the ground and weep. It’s probably not part of the job description and you might be sacked for doing so.  I can’t imagine that David Cameron would be found on his knees.  I may be making this up but I seem to remember someone asking him how he slept at night – the implication being he could not have an easy conscience about all the decisions he had made and the policies he had put into place.   Mr Cameron said he always slept well. 

I don’t feel that I have flourished under his term of office.  He doesn’t seem to be a man that knows my particular struggles or puts things into place the ease them.  He has perhaps made the world a better place for only a few people. His tears don’t flow in my direction.

It is all too easy the use the pitchfork and hurl truth in another person’s direction.  God challenges me to look at whether I am a “woman without tears.” Goodness gracious – I weep tears by the bucketful at times, but are those tears the hot splashes from selfish ambitions crushed, or something more?

I don’t want to be anyone without tears.  I don’t want to be the frivolous person that God doesn’t have anything to say to.  I don’t want church to be void of God’s presence, or stillness or wonder. 

I want holy fear.

I want to care.

I want God to speak.

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Cat Sat On The Mat

Our creative writing group met on Saturday morning.  It was a beautiful day and we spent some of it in the Breathe Chapel garden sharing what we had written. 

We began with a writing exercise – The Cat Sat on the Mat.  It is not the most exciting sentence ever.  Ask me to read it out and I have to add to it.  "The cat sat on the mat and had hysterics".

Maybe if you happened to be in my Maths class some forty years ago it might make sense.  Another class has an Indian called Soh Cah Toa but we had a cat sitting on a mat having hysterics.  I remember the phrase well but admit to having problems remembering the meaning behind it – something about triangles and calculating the opposite, adjacent and hypotenuse.

We did a mind map on all the connections we could make about cats and shared fond memories of cats we had known and loved.  T S Elliot got a mention with his poems.  Disney films featured – The Incredible Journey, about the cat and two dogs that walk across the USA to go home.  There is the link with the BIG CATS like lions and tigers.  Bagpuss made it on to the board.

We made a not-so-detailed mind map on mats extending it to carpets, floors, tiles and lino.  Someone mentioned rugs and the picture of a cat sitting on the rug made out of the skin of a lion – very opposite and adjacent thinking.

We were left to write our own stories for a while based on that sentence and taking it somewhere.

I began to write about a memory.

We had a cat called Tabitha – no prizes for an original and creative name there.  It was a long haired tabby cat.  I guess that a cat’s tongue only reaches some places.  Under the chin and round by the ears are out of reach.  At the time I have to admit that the cat and I had certain things in common.  I was also long haired.  The top of my head was immaculately brushed but underneath there were tangles.  There were also two very wet strands of hair on either side of my face from a bad habit of nervous chewing.  The cat didn’t have a habit of nervous chewing, but did have the tangles under the chin and round by the ears. 

The cat had seen off a plethora of other pets.  She just refused to share her house with anything other than humans who worshipped her.  The dog, Jason, named after a TV detective Jason King, lived with us for six months.  A gerbil lasted a mere few weeks as did a guinea pig. 

We went through a series of budgies.  I don’t know if you can teach budgies to talk, but mum was convinced.  The last budgie we had was either green or blue and was called Marty. He was very endearing and should have been called Houdini on account of the number of times he escaped.  He didn’t just escape the cage but the house too.  He turned up back at the budgie breeder’s aviary at the other side of the village one time. I am not convinced it was Marty he returned, but all blue budgies or green budgies look alike and my mum smiled to have him home, so who was I to suggest it wasn't Marty?

She may have been successful in her elocution lessons with Marty. She was convinced he said “Hello!” He was outside the cage at the time, flying from one side of the room to the other, pelmet to pelmet. He landed on the floor, on the mat in front of the fireplace.  He may have been preening himself, perhaps delighted to have said, “Hello!”  It might have been his first word.  It was certainly his last.

What we failed to realise was the cat was in the room, concealed in some corner.  A bird on a carpet was too much to ignore.  She might have been an elderly lady in cat terms but she was spry when the occasion called for it.

There was a flash of fur, a snap of jaws and Marty was not only speechless, but headless too and all in a matter of seconds.

Today the spectators of the event would be heavily traumatised and book into therapy sessions.  We were open mouthed and shocked.  My mother’s slippered foot swung in a small arc connecting with the backside of the cat. A series of small sharp kicks saw the cat out of the house.

So, yes, for a moment there the cat did sit on the mat – while the rest of us had hysterics!

Many years later I wrote this poem.

Death on the Living Room Carpet

Death is unpredictable
It crouches beneath the sofa
Leaps forth with jaws outstretched
Biting the head off the budgie
Strutting the carpet in front of me
I kick death out the front door
It sits on the doorstep
Nonchalantly licking its feline lips

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Slapped Sideways

It has been a trial of a week, truth to tell.  I found myself at the end of my working week sitting in front of the computer screen.  I had googled “signs of a nervous breakdown” half in jest and half in earnest.

Have you ever watched those tennis matches where one player is hopelessly outmatched by the other?  During those breaks in the match between games, they sit with the towel over their heads as the commentators dissect each point and ask questions about commitment to winning or assess the man or woman’s fitness levels. 

Yes, I watched the Andy Murray game against Nadal.  Yes, he lost and it was not his finest hour – there was no taking it to the wire.  It appeared that Andy had lost no credibility in the commentators’ eyes – it was only six months since surgery on his back; it was only the second time he had got to the semis in the French Open; Clay clearly wasn’t his preferred playing surface; Nadal was playing out of his skin.

I was Andy Murray last night! All week at work I have felt outplayed.  I had been slapped sideways on so many occasions.  A low point occurred Wednesday afternoon – something precious and mostly irreplaceable – a work of art of the written kind – was cut adrift into cyber space.  Don’t tell me that I should back things up!  I thought I had backed it up on more than one device only to discover I had only a first draft, not a nearly finished product.  It was a towel on the head moment.

Things just hadn’t gone as planned and I was aware that things will get more hectic rather than more settled.  If I wasn’t coping in a time of relative rest, I was certainly not going to cope in a time of busy-ness.

I scrolled through the list of nervous breakdown signs and none of them applied.  I wasn’t sure whether to feel relieved or robbed in some way.  

God snorted!

As if, He commented, I could be that close, when I had the Almighty on my side.  If only He knew, I thought sourly, that sometimes it is precisely because He is on my side that I feel close to the edge.  I had spent some of my week explaining to groups of young people some of the tough things Jesus said – like “turn the other cheek”. It’s just on the possible side impossible to make it almost impossible!

So, yes, slapped sideways described my week well.

I settled down to spread the week’s mess on the floor of God’s throne room ready for an autopsy.  No unsuccessful strategies, however, were pulled from the week, weighed and measured and scrutinised. 

I found myself reading Ephesians 3:16 “I pray (that’s Paul speaking) that out of his glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being,”

My inner man had taken a pounding and strengthening seemed like a good idea.

I went on to read the account of Jesus being tempted in Luke 4. There were things that Jesus knew to be true.  He knew himself to be the Son of God because God had said it out loud during his baptism.  Yet the enemy was poking holes and goading Him by saying “If You were…You would do this or that..”  

It is a sad day when out enemy knows more about what God’s word says than we do. 

Jesus didn’t debate the issue.  He knew God’s word – what it said and what it didn’t say.  If the word of God is like a two edged sword – the enemy has his own self-forged warped version.  The sword that Jesus wields is the true sword.

God reminded me that His word was deeply rooted inside me.  More than that – I knew the Author of the Word.  The trials of the week were not about poking holes into my boat and watching me sink.  The fact that there were no holes, and I didn’t sink, was proof that my boat was strong and seaworthy. 

Today was another morning of being slapped sideways – in a good sense. 

I enjoyed a morning of creative writing. It was a small gathering at the Breathe Chapel of writers.  Writing was a big part of it, as was sharing what we had written.

The first swipe came as a lady read out a poem about a broken chandelier.  At first read through I was just not getting it. Then, I don’t know what happened.  Suddenly the broken chandelier took on a whole new identity.  Memories of years of fertility treatment and miscarriages came back with all of the emotions I felt at the time. Asking why, not understanding, not being able to function afterwards.  My whole picture of “family” was shattered like a broken chandelier.  It couldn’t be fixed.  Poetry is about touching the emotions – and her poem certainly touched me.  It ended with picking up a broken piece of glass and handing over to God and seeing the rainbow of light glinting off the fragment.  It described so well what I did to be able to move on.

The second swipe, which was really the first swipe seeing as it came first, happened when another lady talked about the poetry of “Melanie Kerr” not realising she was sitting next to me. She had been to an open-mic evening at the Sunset Café.  She had picked up one of my books and shared a couple of the poems from it. She must have sat down to read more of the poems and liked them.  “Liked them” is perhaps too mild a reaction.  We will pass on the superlatives – my head won’t fit through the door. She really liked them.  I love my book and it never fails to amaze me that I wrote the poems. I really like them too. It was nice to feel appreciated.

When God encourages a person he does it BIG TIME.



 

Friday, June 06, 2014

Wilderness Truth

I find myself upon a lonely road
My shoulders buckle ‘neath a heavy load
The acid from my belly burns within
I count my ribs through tired and stretched out skin

My enemy has forged a twisted sword
Into my mind distorted truth he’s poured
He casts a darkened shadow on my light
And thinks that he can somehow cloud my sight

But this my enemy has failed to see
The Living Word is rooted deep in in me
I know the Author and I know His Word
His truth built into me, not merely heard

I’ve been redeemed with something more than gold
God’s promises upon my life unfold
There’s now a man beside me in the fight
Whose sword will put my enemy to flight

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

All Walls Will fall




One of my all-time favourite films is “Saving Grace” with Tom Conti.  It’s not on DVD in the UK and although the VHS version is quite costly, it would be a price I’d be willing to pay if only I had a VHS player.

Thankfully youtube.com has come to my rescue. The film in ten minute chunks is floating in cyberspace ready from me to start watching.

The plot summary goes as follows:

“A newly-elected Pope Leo XIV finds himself accidentally locked out of the Vatican. Unknown to the outside world, he winds up in an impoverished Italian village, where his adventures ultimately teach the Pope and his new friends some important lessons about friendship and self-esteem.”

A 6.7 rating?  Who are they kidding?

I like the film because it presents the Pope as a human being making choices like everyone else – but unlike everyone else his decisions don’t pander to the “me-first” obsession we seem to cultivate.   What he wants is what is best for everyone no matter how difficult it is to accomplish.  He sets out to help people to discover and reclaim their dignity.  He doesn’t particularly win friends that way. There are no easy solutions and no one is allowed to take the short cut or the easy way out.  In that respect he is so like Jesus.

I am not much of a Pope fan.  I don’t have anything in common with someone who claims to be infallible. I don’t have anything in common with such a male dominated set up.  Maybe I would be a little less hostile if the Pope and his cardinals, bishops and priests had wee wives.

I am a fan of Pope Francis.  I like him because he selected the name of one of my favourite saints to be his own.  He is like Tom Conti’s Pope Leo XIV.  He doesn’t distance himself from his flock and he leads through service.

This is why I find this photograph so amazing.  It is not just any wall he is standing in front of.  It is the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  I have seen that wall from afar many years ago when there were very strict rules about who was allowed near and who wasn’t.  I think it has all changed somewhat – but Pope Francis is there, not as a man on holiday, but as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church.  It seems such a symbolic gesture – not something empty or hollow, but a reflection of a heart that is distressed by so much division and separation between people, much as God is distressed by it all.

We build our walls to separate
To close the door on those we hate
But brick by brick and stone by stone
All walls will fall before God’s throne