Friday, July 24, 2015

Low Tide

the withdrawing tide
peels away the water and
strips the shoreline naked

smooth stones pock the
dirty yellow sand and
strands of black seaweed sprawl across
bone white driftwood

seagulls paddle in shallow pools as
blackbirds skip over
empty beer bottles and a
rusted bicycle wheel

man’s careless neglect exposed
the wind mewls and
grey clouds cry bleak tears

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Ta Lots, Love You, Shaz

My sister’s email address was hacked and a message was sent to all her contacts.  No one was fooled for a moment that the message came from her. I know her too well to suppose her to be on an impromptu visit to the Ukraine, although she did once pay me an impromptu visit a couple of years ago – not me as such, but my well-able-to-fill-in-a-form husband.  She was applying for a grant and the form was pages long and he knows his way around a form.  Despite his expert advice, her application for the grant was turned down.

Here’s the letter as it appeared in my inbox.  I’m not infringing on any copyright laws because it was delivered to me by email.  I have resisted the urge to correct the spelling, grammar or punctuation.

I really hope you get this quickly. I could not inform anyone about our trip, because it was impromptu. we had to be in Ukraine for a program. The program was successful, but our journey has turned sour. we misplaced our wallet and Mobile on our way back to the hotel we lodge in after we went for sight seeing. The wallet contained all the valuables we had. Now our passport is in custody of the hotel management pending when we make payment.

I am sorry if i am inconveniencing you, but i have only very few people to run to now. i will be indeed very grateful if i can get a short term loan from you.this will enable me sort our hotel bills and get my sorry self back home. I will really appreciate whatever you can afford in assisting me with. I promise to refund it in full as soon as soon as I return. let me know if you can be of any assistance. Please, let me know soonest.

Thanks so much.

Sharon

I couldn’t resist!  The creative writer in me just had to write the letter the scammer should have sent that might have convinced them it was genuine.  I’ve mentioned horses quite a lot because my sister has lots of them.  She loves networking with anyone with links to equine assisted therapy.  The Boss man is her hubby Malc – she sometimes does things without telling Malc.  Signing a letter as “Sharon” is a real giveaway – she is Shaz!

My revised version:-
erMy revised

Anyone out there willing to rescue me?  Just off the cuff I decided to take a trip to the Ukraine.  Even the Boss man doesn’t know where I am.  Equine assisted therapy is just getting started over here and they are bursting with new ideas.  I had a good time networking and sharing good practice. The trouble is I have lost my purse and my mobile phone.  The place I’m staying is getting all shirty because I can’t pay the bill.  They’re holding my passport to ransom.  I know, I know…stupid woman and all that.

I know it’s asking a lot BUT I will be forever grateful and promise to muck out stables for a long time, if you have stables, if you can loan me some money.  Just enough to pay the bill and get my passport back and come home – a few thousand pounds should cover it.  Ha Ha Ha. You could do a whip round at the pub on my behalf! Seriously, I will pay you back as soon as I can.  I will also give you free horse riding lessons but if you fall off I can't be held accountable.

Ta lots

Love you

Shaz

Sunday, July 19, 2015

When it's Time to Leave the Building

I can think of only one time when I have ever walked out of a film showing at a cinema.  It happened about twenty five years ago.  I can’t remember what the film was called but it was about a group of people, Sean Connery included, who planned to rob a bank.  I didn’t have any serious problem with them robbing the bank. It was the amount of expletives they used in the process. I rarely explete. I sat through the first fifteen minutes of effing this and effing that and got up to leave.  My friends felt the same way about the abundant use of swear words but were loath to walk out.  They had paid good money for the tickets and were determined to see the thing through.

I can think of only one time when I have walked out of a church meeting. That too was about twenty five years ago.  I’m sure if I think hard enough the name of the preacher will come to me. There wasn’t an excessive amount of expletives that time, and no one was suggesting we get into groups and rob banks. We were called to take out our purses or wallets from handbags and back pockets and laugh at them.  Yes, you read correctly – laugh at them! It escapes me now what the purpose was, but I remember the congregation doing exactly that and my husband-to-be taking me by the arm, and taking the arm of my then best friend and dragging us out of the building, muttering and shaking his head.  I think there might have been a few expletives coming out of his mouth.

Part of the problem was the sheep-like manner in which everyone did what the preacher said.  People, perhaps, had been so wound up to an emotional state through the worship that they would have done anything they were asked.  There was no pulling back a little to ask whether what they were being asked to do was a good thing.

I’m desperately trying to remember what the laughing at our purses and wallets was all about.  Could it have been about laughing at poverty? Or encouraging us to be generous in our giving? Certainly we can battle with ourselves about how much we think we can afford to give or not. This could have been one of those extreme moments.

There was a moment this morning in church when I considered walking out. We had a visiting speaker fresh from Bible College. He was invited to speak about what he had learned at Bible College. 

He preached a clear prosperity gospel message in among other things he talked about.

His starting point was Joshua 1:8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Prosperity was spelled out in terms of increased finances and success in the work place. He saw no need for people to be ill or to suffer because obedience meant good health and well-being.  Jesus didn’t make anyone ill, did he?  His unmerited favour towards you means that God loves you, wants to bless you and to prosper you.  Your part is to take the seeds given you, plant them, wait for an unspecified time and then collect the harvest.  He went on to say that to ask for just enough for our needs was selfish praying.  We should be asking for more than enough, not to buy the big car to park in the driveway, but to be blessed to be able to bless others.  He talked about his own experience of moving from one success to another through his own obedience and faith.

It was just my second visit to this church.  I liked my first visit very much.  Had my second visit been my first visit it’s unlikely I would be going back.  The prosperity gospel does not sit easy with my spirit.

I don’t need to look at the state of my bank balance to know whether I am blessed or prosperous – I look deeper, at the peace and the joy in my heart and the assurance of God’s presence in every facet of my life.  If the bank balance is not healthy I don’t assume that God has stopped blessing me – the peace and the joy in my heart are still there and I still know His presence.  Without the struggles in our lives there would be no need for God’s comfort and then how would we be able to comfort others with the comfort we have been given? The widow did not wait for abundance before she gave her widow's mite.

The man, the speaker, then began to talk about the parable of the sower.  He’s moved on to somewhat safer ground, perhaps. Time was running out so he threw out a gem or two.

As he was talking about seeds I had a picture.  It wasn’t a dramatic thing.  The picture was of my coffee table at home. I have a number of piles of things on the coffee table – a pile of magazines, a pile of books I’m reading and a pile of Bibles, daily study guides and printed sheets of song lyrics and how-to guides for personal prayer retreats.  It’s where I have my quiet times.

In this brief picture I saw the coffee table and all the piles of stuff but scattered over the table were seeds – lots of seeds.

“Why are there seeds all over my table?” I asked.

“Ah, why indeed?” said God. “You have a remarkable ability to collect seeds every quiet time.  You dig out truth and revelation. You fill pages in your journal with the stuff. BUT you don’t plant the seeds anywhere.  You just leave them on the table.  The fruit that you ache to see in your life – if you just planted the seeds…there would be an abundance of fruit!”

Hmmm…point taken, Lord.

Something the speaker said that resonated – the ground doesn’t differentiate between seeds.  It doesn’t reject a daffodil and embrace a tulip.  Plant the seed and it should grow.  The ground doesn’t decide.  It’s up to us to be discerning about the seeds we plant.  We just need to know what good seed looks like.  And the bad seeds before we plant them.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Putting Myself to Sleep

The other day I bought the kindle version of Heather Sutherland’s “A Beginners Guide to Spiritual Dreams”.  It was recommended by a facebook friend. I have had my fair share of very vivid dreams.  Some I attribute to cheese, but others bear the divine stamp.  Some dreamed decades ago still continue to speak to me today. 

A section of the book deals with “Cleansing” dreams.  I nodded as I read the first sentence – “Have you ever dreamed of being on the toilet or in the shower?” Yes, to both of those scenarios.  The toilet one creeps into my dreams when, in the real world, I actually need to go to the toilet.  It is my sleeping brain’s way of alerting the sleeping me that I really need to go. I tend to recognise it and then dream I have woken up and gone to the toilet.  Then another toilet appears in the next dream scene and I know I didn’t wake up for real.

The shower one is not always a private affair! I tend to be more concerned about where the water goes as it’s never a proper shower, but a shower head hanging over the top of my bed or some other impossible place.  I always appear much slimmer in my dreams and I’m almost proud to show off a shapely body.  In real life there’s a lot more of me and less of an exhibitionist attitude.

The interpretation given is about getting rid of toxic issues in my life. How I feel about certain people – negative thoughts, or hate or bitterness.  Other people might know about these issues and have some insight.

I was reading this the other night.

“Issues?” I mumbled to God, “I don’t have any issues, do I?”

“Do you want the whole list or would just the top two be enough to go on with?”

Now, in order to dream one must sleep!  I used to sleep, once upon a time.  I still do, but never for the whole night.  I sleep in two-hourly segments.  If I go to bed at 11.00, I will wake up at 1.00 and at 3.00 and at 5.00.  It’s always two-hourly give or take five or ten minutes.  I generally go straight back to sleep unless I accidentally wake my brain up.  If I dream a verse of poetry, the brain is roused to write it down before I go back to sleep.  Of course, once the brain has done its task it has to write a second or third verse and then tweak words before it will settle.  It’s best not to wake the brain.

If you count the hours of sleeping I am getting enough, and I dream a variety of dreams.  I don’t know whether it’s a case of any dream will do or whether there is a depth of sleep where only there can God touch your dreams.  Do I ever reach that depth with my two-hourly routine?

I am not aware of any particular anxieties that keep me awake – except for worrying that I won’t be able to sleep, but I decided last night to enlist God’s help in getting a good night’s sleep.  Out of curiosity I googled prayers for going to sleep.  I pray before I go to sleep but I don’t pray to go to sleep.  I had never thought about doing that before. My two-hourly sleep cycles didn’t appear to be having a detrimental effect.  I don’t think they were doing me any good though.

I started reading some of these prayers and praying them as I read them.  They were beautifully written.

“You’re treating them as spells,” said God. “A prayer is not a magic string of words said in that particular order to get a certain end result. Sometimes I’m not that interested in what your mouth says. I’m more interested in what your heart says.  Just talk to me – your words, not someone else’s.”

So I prayed my own prayer for God to help me to sleep and to stay sleeping throughout the night.

Well, I fell asleep very quickly.  I didn’t sleep throughout the night.  The two-hourly sections stretched to three hourly ones, waking at 2.00 and at 5.00, and I really did feel more rested.  I don’t often lie in, but this morning I rolled over and slept for another couple of hours. It might not seem much to you but I felt progress had been made.

Did I dream? Yes. I was in a church, painting fishes on a wall.  Make of that what you will.



Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Reflection

this still water
perfectly reflects
cloudy skies,
here, now an
unflawed mirror of every
charcoal shade of grey

this still heart
perfectly reflects
God on high,
here, now an
unflawed mirror of every
vibrant shade of love


(Shadorma is a Spanish 6-line syllabic poem of 3/5/3/3/7/5 syllable lines respectively. So I have an extra syllable or two– I can live with that)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Falling Among Friends

Yesterday was my first step in finding a new church to go to. 

It hadn’t been an easy decision to leave a church I had been a member of for almost 25 years. It wasn’t an out-of-the-blue decision but something I had prayed about for a long time.  I was looking for God’s permission to leave, a direct word – “Thou shalt go elsewhere…” but God doesn’t always do things that way.  I had been so unhappy for so long and probably did such a good job covering it all up.  The church had changed over the years and I had changed too but the paths we felt called to follow were not the same.  I did not want to pull them on to my path but neither did I want to follow theirs.  It was an amicable parting and we still have a proper going-away celebration to do.  They are not a number-counting church family and don’t see themselves as the ONE TRUE church in the city. If folk feel their needs might be better met with another church family they are happy to see them settled elsewhere.

If God grins at all He had a mile wide smile yesterday.  I had planned to visit a few churches over the summer holidays and see where I felt settled.  My only stipulation was it had to be a church where I wasn’t known.  I didn’t want people already slipping me into this church box ministry or the other.  I wanted a new start, to be unknown and welcomed as a stranger and then they could get to know me, if I stayed, and slot me into a ministry, if I stayed.

I stepped through the door.  The steward wasn’t known to me – a good start.

“Mel?”  I was enveloped in an embrace with a lady who I hadn’t seen for at least ten years.  I knew her face and tried to hunt down her name from the memory.  My husband said later (he had gone to St Mary’s, Rome, across the river) “We went round her house for a meal. You took her to the Black Isle show!” That doesn’t guarantee a name! Her husband gravely shook my hand and asked “Is Joe not with you?”

“Mel?” I turned around for another hug. The lady was one of twins.  I know them both but need to have them both in front of me to know for sure who is who.  “No Joe?” she added

“Mel?”  This plan of being unknown was rapidly unravelling.  The pastor’s wife is a regular at our fortnightly poetry nights at the Sunset Café.  She was delighted to see me and did the “Joe not with you?” routine.  I couldn’t help spilling the information that he was scared of her!  He had net her once at the poetry night and found her to be more than a little overwhelming.  They were on opposite sides of the Scottish Independence vote and vocal with it.

“Mel?”  The lady serving coffees behind the counter was someone I knew from the “Women Aglow” meetings held every month. She didn’t ask me about Joe having never met him.

“Mel?” I was standing with a cup of tea when the next person sidled up.  “Written any more poetry?” It was the pastor this time who made it to the Sunset Café once in a while.

Finally I sat down. I chose not to sit next to any of the people who knew me.

The man in front of me turned around.

“Do we know each other?  I think we have met.”

I bit my tongue to stop myself from commenting that if he didn’t know me he would be one of the few people in the room that didn’t.  Everyone else seemed to know me.

“It’s possible.” I said vaguely. I thought about all the fingers in all the pies I had in various things about the city and various people that had been in my old church at one time or another and who had left decades ago.  It was possible.

“Millburn!” he said triumphantly. He did his probationary year in the Tech department of my school a few year ago.  He was teaching in a different school now, enjoying the job, enjoying the holiday and about to head off to Romania for three weeks to join his parents on the mission field.

The meeting ticked all the boxes.  The worship stirred my spirit and made me quietly cry.  I felt myself unwinding slowly and the stress of the last couple of years defused.  The word preached challenged me to really be still and to listen to God.  I can be still, but I don’t always listen. It made me want to go back next week and share with the pastor what I had heard God say in those still moments.

I felt as if I had fallen not among thieves, like the man in the parable of the Good Samaritan, or among thorns, like the seed in the parable of the Sower.  I had fallen among friends.  Not such a bad place fall.



Saturday, July 11, 2015

And the Walls Came a-Tumbling Down

My current Bible notes are focussing on the known and the relatively unknown women throughout scripture.  The notes are designed for women so I shouldn’t be surprised that they feature women. I do have a light feminist hue about me so I surprised myself by buying the notes in the first place.  It’s most unlike me.  A women’s Bible study group I went to a long time ago did a study “Excelling as a Woman”.  Why should excelling as a woman be something different to excelling as a Christian? The men’s study was about bringing in the kingdom which sounded much more to my taste. That aside the notes are working their way through the known women at the moment.  The women under scrutiny are not making their appearances in chronological order.  Debra doesn’t come before Rahab, does she? No.

I preached on Rahab ten years ago.  I can be very precise about the ten years as I still have the notes and the date they were last amended.  It was one of those preaches that had five bullet points all cleverly alliterated - a device that appealed to the teacher in me.  I can’t say that ten years on the fact that the points were alliterated has helped me remember what they were.  Still, things stick and bits and pieces floated back as I read the story of Rahab in Joshua Chapter 2.

I remembered the bit in my sermon about the difference between Moses and Joshua.  Moses sent out twelve spies and everyone knew about it.  Joshua sent out just the two spies and sent them out in secret.  Two men, one taking over the leadership from the other and not feeling compelled to be the same man.  Joshua’s leadership style was different to the way Moses did things. It can be a challenge to be your own person and not merely a clone of the people who have gone before.

I remembered the bit in the sermon about Rahab’s house being a part of the wall around Jericho.  Here’s what I wrote ten years ago:-

Her home was on the edge of Jericho - part of the wall of Jericho.  The spies might have been a secret to the Israelites but not to the people in Jericho.  They were prepared.  The King goes straight to Rahab.  The Bible says that someone told the King the spies were in Jericho – it does not specify they were at Rahab’s.  If I was the king and I was aware of the Israelites on the way over, I would have looked at the weak point in the walls.  I would have looked at the people who lived in the houses and I would have checked out their background, and I would have come up with Rahab somewhere in the top few names. If I was Rahab I would have known that it wasn’t safe.  Yet Rahab puts her life on the line for these spies.  No comfort zone!

For her help in hiding the spies and sending the king's men on a wild goose chase, Rahab was promised protection when the battle began.  She was told to tie the red cord in her window, gather her family into the house and stay inside.

Just how did Joshua defeat Jericho?  Not a trick question.

“Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho
 Joshua fought the battle of Jericho
 and the walls came a-tumbling down”

Hold on!  The walls came tumbling down?  And where was Rahab when the walls came tumbling down?  In her house.  And where was the house?  In the wall!

I was impressed that she believed the spies when they promised she wouldn’t hurt, or her family as long as they stayed inside the house.  She tied the red cord in the window the day they left to head back to the Israelite camp. She didn’t wait for the first silent walk around the city.

I’m even more impressed that she stayed in the house, part of the wall itself, when all about her the wall was tumbling down. It’s no wonder she gets a mention in that impressive list of witnesses in Hebrews 11. To stay in her house while the wall was coming down is a real act of faith.

How big was the wall?  Here’s what one archaeological website has to say:-

“The mound, or “tell” of Jericho was surrounded by a great earthen rampart, or embankment, with a stone retaining wall at its base. The retaining wall was some four to five meters (12–15 feet) high. On top of that was a mudbrick wall two meters (six feet) thick and about six to eight meters (20–26 feet) high.4 At the crest of the embankment was a similar mudbrick wall whose base was roughly 14 meters (46 feet) above the ground level outside the retaining wall (see diagram). This is what loomed high above the Israelites as they marched around the city each day for seven days. Humanly speaking, it was impossible for the Israelites to penetrate the impregnable bastion of Jericho.”

Humanly speaking? With that kind of security about them the people of Jericho had no need to have hearts melted in fear and their courage fail them, but they knew they were not dealing with just a human army.  Not just for weeks or months but for back forty year they had been listening to stories of an army on the march led by a God that performed miracles.

That kind of wall – that wall that loomed high above the Israelites as they marched – that huge wall did not fall gently.  It wasn’t a carefully planned demolition like the big old tower blocks of today where everyone is evacuated to a safe place, and people watching press a button and they wear yellow hard hats.  It was loud and earth shaking.  It was dust clouds and flying debris. It was not safe.

And in the wall when it fell were Rahab and her family.

I am amazed that the wall came down, but perhaps more amazed that one tiny section of the wall stayed upright – Rahab’s house. And all because the spies made a promise that God kept.

It has been a wall-tumbled-down week for me.  It was not a gentle falling over of a few stones but a total demolition of what I thought to be a high solid wall.  It is perhaps a necessary thing to pave the way for a new building of relationships and bonds.  Right now it doesn’t look that way.

I am comforted by Rahab’s story.  Right now I would like to run a mile or two in any direction to escape the fall out.  I would like to think that there is somewhere safer that I could be standing.  And then I picture the tiny section of the wall that was Rahab’s house that never fell and think about the promise that God kept.

I am safe no matter the state of the wall because God made a promise to take care of me.

His promise is enough.