Sunday, December 30, 2007

I am invisible

I guess that bargain hunting in the sales probably bring out the worst in us all but I almost came to blows with a shop assistant yesterday. I had picked up a box of bath goodies from the shelf. There was a price tag and there was a 10% discount sticker and it was exactly what I was looking for. I took it along to the woman at the till.

Apparently it was the last box like that and because it was the last box like that they were unwilling to sell it! It was a display item and not for sale – despite being on the shelf, with the price tag and the 10% discount sticker. However, I was assured that I could have the box free if I spent £15 on other items in the shop.

I politely assured them that if there was anything else I wanted to buy from the shop, that would be ideal, but it was just that particular box that I wanted. She wouldn’t sell it to me.

I went home and complained to Joe. He told me that if the shop, the box and I were in England, there would be no dispute. The box on the shelf with the price tag and the 10% discount sticker constitutes an invitation for the customer to buy and they would have to sell it to me. In Scotland the same box with the same the price tag and the same sticker is an invitation for the shop to sell it, but they don’t have to sell it if they don’t want to!

For the past two weeks I have been ferrying a similar box of bath goodies in the back of the car. I finally gave to away to someone who I hadn’t anticipated seeing before Christmas!

For the last few months I had been buying my “Big Issue” from a lady outside Tesco’s. The box of bath goodies had been intended as a Christmas present. I appreciate that as much as I would like to invite her into the café for a cup of tea or coffee, she has a quota of magazines to sell and time and opportunities are precious.

Just a few weeks before Christmas as I was handing over my money and rolling up the magazine to fit into a pocket, she thanked me and then went on to say, “I am invisible.” She was hurt by the rejection of so many shoppers scurrying into the supermarket, wheeling out their overflowing trollies an hour or so later.

I have walked past enough Big Issue sellers to know that there are times when I deliberately don’t look in their direction. I choose not to see the person. Sometimes it is about not having the money on me, sometimes it is about not having the time or willingness to stop and dig out the purse, sometimes it is about a vague resentment that I feel I am being manipulated to feel sorry, sometimes it is the voice inside that wants to ask why they can’t get a proper job instead.

I don’t know what circumstances lead to people being on the street, but those words “I am invisible” have lodged somewhere inside my heart. Those words refuse to become invisible and challenge me to “see” the people that think they are invisible and do something that tells them they are not!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Walking by...or not

My friend, Mark’s blog contains a wonderful account of what happened in church (or should that be “to church”?) on Sunday morning. It contains this paragraph:-

“A friend had walked past a guy begging on the streets on her way to Mojo's and it had bugged her that she felt helpless about it. As she sat reading our church calendar for the next week, she was inspired by the wording of the Sunday morning meeting, got up out of her chair and went and found this young man, let's call him J, on the streets and invited him in for a hot drink and what food we had - some biscuits (ahem, cookies) for the kids and some bread that we were planning on using for communion.”

I wish I could have been that friend – but I wasn’t. I walked past the same man on the street not more than half an hour before. I didn’t read the church calendar for the following week and did not get inspired by the wording! I noticed the man, and I thought vaguely about coffee or something – but I didn’t do anything about it.

I was leading worship that morning and thinking about the songs I had planned for us to sing, the time available for practising the songs and how best to lead the church into a time of worship.

There is a huge part of me that is ashamed that I had missed the very essence of worship which really isn’t about singing songs at all, but about a whole lifestyle that centres on God.

However, I am also very encouraged. Mark’s friend and I meet for a Bible study later on in the day. She was almost floating off the the floor with happiness that she had heard God so clearly AND responded! She admits that her relationship with God fluctuates between extremes. God sometimes appears silent to her and remote. Times like Sunday are times of tremendous blessing for her – to know God speaking, to feel that tug on her heart that she can’t ignore and to expereince a joy from obeidience that just floods through.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Blame it on the DJ

It’s been a long time since I was 21, but I seem to remember it being a time of great energy. When Joe and I were invited to someone’s 21st birthday party, I wasn’t sure I really wanted to go. It was in Dingwall for a start and driving at night is something that has never appealed. It was on a Friday night and at the end of fairly challenging week I would rather that climbed into my TV watching clothes instead of pouring myself into the sparkly jumper. I had also become quite obsessed about my roots needing touched up and although I had a “root-touching up kit” in the bathroom , I didn’t really have the time (before “Strictly – It takes Two”) to wait the required amount of minutes.

I have this thing about arriving on time. Maybe, just lately, at some of the mid-week church meetings, I arrive not so much on time, but in time. Our new boss at work gave everyone a severe telling off a few weeks ago about the value of punctuality. It doesn’t seem to apply to parties though. We were well early. The only other people who were that early were the immediate family of the birthday girl. Incidentally the birthday girl looks very much like Julia Stiles, and I liked her hair cut.

This party did not really ignite. The venue was huge. There was a huge dance floor. Just about everyone occupied the space between the bar and the last row of tables.

Had I been the DJ I might have just left a very long playing record of the turntable and gone home! Actually, now I think about it…. During my short time in South Africa, I became acquainted with “boom boom buses”. The Indian population travelled about the city in minibuses blaring with music. The bass would be turned up so loud that the bus throbbed with the constant beat. The DJ began with that kind of music. The transition from one song to another was entirely spot on – one booming bass line to another booming base line. I rather thought it was probably what people who are 21 dance to or listen to these days. The 21 year olds present might have been listening, but they weren’t dancing. I snuck a glimpse at the watch to see if I had stayed long enough to not be rude if I left.

It seems to me that, if you are going to have that volume of music you aught to dance because the option of yelling into the ear of the person sitting next to you just doesn’t work! But converse we did!

It would appear that the TV watching world is split between The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing. We found a tenuous connection between the two when Joe mentioned having watched the American version of Stictly and Marie Osmond being on it. From there was moved on to talk about Donny (Isn’t he gorgeous?). It was at this point that, had the music not been throbbing so loudly, we would have had more time to follow up on a throw-away comment. It was suggested that Donny’s clean living Mormon lifestyle was something to do with him wearing well, and not looking his age. (I seem to remember mentioning my 50th birthday coming up next March and there was no chorus from the audience “No? Surely not? You don’t look it!”) Anyway, that led the conversation to whether following a religious faith made you “too good”. There was this idea that there was something almost unhealthy about being too good! In their experience, church, or some level of belief in God did not have the same effect on them. They seemed to think that faith should act as a kind of vaccine protecting you from hard times and various disasters. The “Mormon” vaccine appeared to be working for Donny, but for everyone else it didn’t work…and should it work anyway? Aren’t we all better off for the struggles and trials?

What a wonderful opportunity to talk about the realities of faith! I saw it! I recognised the chance given! But I also recognised that I couldn’t compete with the boom boom background. And the DJ announced the buffet was open. Perhaps if there had been no boom boom and no buffet, I would still have kept quiet. They were Joe’s work mates. Maybe it was the wrong venue. They were there to party. And maybe those are just really feeble excuses!

From my experience faith is not a vaccine. It opens you up to a whole load of hard times and disasters that the people of no faith don’t encounter. They don’t worry about God’s silences. They don’t expect prayers to be answered, or people to be healed. God in the equation sometimes generates more questions than it answers!

But “too good”? I wonder if people look at my life and think – “She’s just too good for it to be good for her!” Ask the people I meet at work everyday. They will give you a very clear answer!

Sunday, November 25, 2007


Here am I
Naked before You
Without the make up
To conceal the defects
Without the mask
To cover the flaws
To hide

Here am I
Silent before You
No feeble excuses
To explain my failures
No vain boasting
To embellish my achievements
To say

Here am I
Laying before You
My dented armour
My battle worn shield
My songs of triumph
My golden crowns
To prove

Here am I
Reminded before You
That Your sacrifice
Once for all time
Was always sufficient
To secure my redemption
To add

Here I stand
Receiving from You
From glory to glory
Expressing Your likeness
Revealing Your image
Being made new

(c) 2007 Melanie Kerr

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Dear Mr L

Last week I received a series of letters from the tax office. The letters were a summary of my tax contributions made over the last five years. It took a while to work out from the columns of numbers that someone was owed money, though I wasn't sure quite who. It turned that I had been paying more tax than I should have done. After all the complicated sums had been done I was due to receive a substantial cheque to cover the overpayment.

The last time this happened was just before Joe and I were married. I had been working part time, but had been taxed as if I were working full time. The cheque for a few hundred pounds came in handy for paying for wedding expenses.

However, it would seem that the tax office didn't know I got married! All the letters I have received from them about the overpayment have been addressed to Miss M Wilkinson. It is painful to have a cheque on my possession that I cannot cash!

I phoned the tax office to explain the problem. They have updated all my details, but I have to send the cheque back to get another one made out to Mrs M Kerr. I wrote a covering letter this afternoon. My creative juices churned and the following poem was enclosed.

Dear Mr L, it breaks my heart
To hand this back to you
I’m sure you’ve done the proper sums
The money’s what I’m due

The details that you have on me
Are somewhat out of date
Since 1992 I’ve found
That married life is great

My family were convinced I was
To be a spinster aunt
On meeting Joseph Kerr, I said
“Apologies, I can’t.”

We married in October on
A cold but sunny day
My maiden name “Miss Wilkinson”
Was carefully put away

I’m Mrs Kerr, to all I know
I have been for a while
And every time I think of that
You know – it makes me smile!

Dear Mr L, please will you send
Another cheque to me
Just change the name to Mrs Kerr
Ecstatic I will be

The day the bank accepts the cheque
And lets me have the cash
You can be sure that to the shops
I do not plan to dash

A brand new boiler’s on the cards
Before the winter chill
The money you are sending me
Would nicely pay the bill!

Unsure of how to prove to you
That what I’ve said is true
A copy of a household bill
Is on its way to you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Time to remember

We were on our way to church this morning when, out of the blue, my husband announced that he was heading off to the Roman Catholic Church across the river. He had realised that not only was it Remembrance Sunday, it was also 11th November. Our church tends not to mark dates with particular ceremonies. If it hadn’t been 11th specifically, I suppose my husband might have been content to disappear for a few minutes to observe the two minute silence. So we parted company at the corner of the street – him to head down to the river, me to head down the alley to our usual fellowship.

I can remember one year, Joe and I were on our way to Aberdeen. We were following a programme of fertility treatment with tests and stuff. Aberdeen was the nearest fertility treatment centre and it was a case of dropping everything we were doing and heading off if we got a blue line on a testing kit. One of these trips happened on the 11th November we pulled into a lay-by along the route to observe the two minute silence.

Another year, I think it was a fifth year class, asked if they might observe the two minute silence. They had never been known to remain silent for that long, but seeing as they asked, I agreed, drumming it into their heads that they were not to giggle. They were wonderful, but surprisingly enough, there were a number of pupils who had no idea why they were doing it.

One of the best two minute silences, that wasn’t connected to Remembrance Sunday, but the death of Celtic hero Jimmy Johnston, wasn’t a silence at all. It was a two minute cheer and clap! I really thought that was such a wonderful way of remembering someone’s life. I think part of the reasoning was that the opposition fans might not want to observe a silence.

I was thinking about the two minute silence. It is about remembering the sacrifices made by men and women to make the world a safer place. They fought the battles so that I wouldn’t have to.

People argue about the morality of war. Last week, in a discussion about capital punishment, a friend was asked about whether he agreed with the taking of a life. He said that sometimes you have to like in a war time situation. It is not ideal. It is not what anyone wants to do, but sometimes it is unavoidable.

I was thinking about the biggest battle – the one Jesus fought on the cross. He fought the battle against sin and death, and won the victory, so that I would not need to fight that battle myself. I live in the good of his victory. His death and resurrection have secured a relationship with God that I could not otherwise have. He had released into my life the power of the Holy Spirit.

There is nothing wrong with a noisy, praise filled response – the cheering and the clapping – but silence is not to be ignored either!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sharing our faith

I found this verse in a much longer poem.

"For me 'twas not the truth you taught
To you so clear, to me so dim
But when you came to me you brought
A sense of Him"

(Author unknown)

Pick me!

I was one of those kids at school that never got picked for teams. PE classes would be abject humility when all the players people want on their team have been picked and all that remains are the left-overs. You know that you are not wanted, that you are seen not as an asset but a liability, but the teacher insists that you are chosen! Wearing glasses certainly didn’t help, but being a good six inches smaller than the rest of the class didn’t help either!

That is not to say that I didn’t end up on school teams. We had a house system. I was on the green team – it was named after a forest but the name escapes me. It was competitive – houses had netball teams and hockey teams – both of which I ended up on, not because I was any good at either sport, but because they couldn’t find anyone else to make up the numbers.

I knew they didn’t want me on the team. I very rarely got passed the ball in netball, and if I accidentally ended up with it, I knew I wasn’t allowed to hold it for long! In hockey I was tucked away at the edges of the team – a right wing, or a left wing – somewhere that I could do least damage!

I even remember ending up in a cookery competition, despite having a reputation for not being able to cook. Maybe the person they really wanted on the team was absent that day – but, yet again, they needed someone to make up the numbers. Unfortunately they couldn’t tuck me away in a small space between the fridge and the cooker this time out of harms way. I was required to bake a Victoria sandwich. No amount of butter icing on the top took away from the fact that the sponge had not risen. We lost the competition – but without me, we wouldn’t even have been entered.

No amount of enthusiasm on my part – and despite all my failures – I remained enthusiastic – made up for my obvious lack of ability and skill. But, it was soul destroying – the sound of the groan from the rest of the team when I joined their ranks!

I wonder if there were not a few groans when Jesus introduced Levi, the tax collector to the rest of the disciples. I don’t think anyone of them thought of themselves as great “disciple” material, none of them had any theological training, or “religious” potential – but then, none of them were basically crooks either.

When Peter and Andrew were called to follow Jesus they were promised that they would become fishers of men. When Levi was called it was just “Follow me.” He wasn’t promised anything. When Peter and Andrew were called they left their boats, they didn’t burn them, unlike Elisha who burned his plough and oxen to follow Elijah. If things didn’t pan out, they always had the boat to go back to, and for a short while after the death of Jesus, they did go back. Levi had nothing to go back to. There were plenty of people ready and willing to take up his tax booth. He left, with no promise to claim, and no Plan B if things didn’t work out.

Jesus had strolled along his part of the beach, parked himself within spitting distance of Levi’s tax booth and started teaching the crowds. One wonders what it was Levi overheard that made him not hesitate to follow the call.

There is a part of me that thinks it wasn’t what he heard at all – it was just that Jesus asked him. Jesus wanted him on his team and Levi had never been wanted before - well, not in that sense at least! Jesus is not picking the last team members out of the left-overs. Jesus had his choice of a hundred other men that day – all of them more socially acceptable with nice connections – but he chose Levi. He chose him, not to be another “fisher of men”, or even to be the banker of the group, but simply to be with Him. I think he chose him to show that if Levi, a tax collector and a cheat, can make the grade, there is hope for me too. If Jesus could want someone like Levi simply to be with Him, then maybe he would want me too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What God has planned

There are some things that God simply intends to do and He does them. God intended to have a temple built in the heart of Israel where His name would be honoured. David had a heart to do it but it was ear-marked as a task for Solomon to fulfil. The temple was built. God fulfilled His plan for a place of worship.

A few months ago, people in our church talked seriously about the need for a Christian café. It was to be the best of cafes, with a good selection of coffees and teas, rivalling big brand names like Costa Coffee and Starbucks. It would be a venue for people to talk about God. We had the heart to do it, but again someone else was ear-marked by God to for the task. Java opened its doors a couple of weeks ago. The music – low key – is Christian. There are tiny slips of paper on the tables with an encouraging Bible verse. The quality of the tea, coffee and cakes is as good as the big brand names. The coffee shop is there. God has fulfilled His plan.

Some time last year, “staff well-being” was a term that was being bandied about and a number of activities were spawned. We had keep-fit classes in the lunchtime, and Indian head massages available on appointment. I thought then, and wrote a suggestion to one of the members of the social committee, that prayer might be another avenue to pursue. It was all very well pursuing the physical well being of the staff, but we should not ignore the rest of our being – the emotional or the spiritual. It was hauled up the flagpole and no one saluted! Years ago, when I was more involved in Scripture Union, I used to meet with others each week to pray. I had forgotten how encouraging I found it!

At break time today I was approached by someone wishing to set up monthly prayer meetings. He was aware that the “family of God” in the workplace needed to encourage each other and in praying together we would accomplish so much that couldn’t be done through ordinary channels and by other means. He wanted to know it I would get involved. I had to restrain myself from hugging him!

There is a sense in which I wish I had stuck with my guns and pushed for a prayer meeting ages ago – but, yet again, I think God has given the task to the right person. The young man was talking to me about going to university to do Theology and voiced some of his concerns about dealing with a very liberal curriculum that might have the potential to destroy his faith.

What God has planned, He makes happen!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Copper Kettles Have Great Potential

Have I finally flipped my lid? Have I been reduced to burbling gibberish at long last? The jury is still out on that one! But, no, this isn’t gibberish. It is mnemonics – memory aids like Richard of York and rainbows, and cats sitting on mats and having hysterics – mathematical formulae!

This morning while spending time with God, I wasn’t exactly bemoaning the end of my holidays and the commencement of a new term. Last night I had read the opening chapter on a book about forgiveness and the writer was talking about how expressing so many negative thoughts was equal to cursing yourself – words have the power of life and death and negative words dont produce positive faith. So I wasn’t grizzling. I was looking for equipping for the day ahead.

What sprang to mind, not out of the blue, but a Spirit led progression of thoughts, was Colossians 3. I am not sure of the verses but it is about clothing yourself – Copper Kettles Have Great Potential – putting on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Often when I think about equipping myself for day ahead, I think in terms of battles and conflict and I am armed to the teeth with every bit of spiritual armour going. And sometimes there are battles to be fought and I am glad of the equipping. This morning, it was the Spirit’s suggestion that I try a different set of clothing – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. I was dealing with people – not demons – and where strength and dominion and power simply hit a brick wall of hormones, acne and attitude – perhaps there is a better way.

As the Spirit knows, I am full of good intentions, but in the heat of the moment, I react rather than act. I forget the bible verse that I have been meditating on during the day. The first step was to come up with a reminder of what clothing I was wearing – copper kettles have great potential. I am well capable of memorising Bible verses but I am amazed at how often throughout the day one of those words came to mind.

Too often I allow myself to be at the mercy of prevailing winds. I know I have an anchor but it is only when the storm is over that I wonder why I didn’t use it. Today was a step in the right direction to listen to the directing of the Spirit and to adjust the set of the sail throughout the day.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Appealing to the senses

I think I had a vaguely “golden calf” moment this morning in church.

While we were away for a week’s holiday in Paris, we went to see Chartres Cathedral and, later on in the week, the Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. Perhaps we overdosed on stained glass windows, frescos, candles and statues. There was so much to appeal to the senses and, for me, for the time I was there, it was not a distraction, but actively heralded me into the presence of God.

Sitting in our Sunday meeting, I was struck by the poverty of the appeal to the senses. There was nothing to look at. There was on overhead projector with the words to the songs – but they were just words on a plain blue screen.

There were no pictures, not statues, no stained glass windows – nothing to appeal to the visual senses. There was nothing really appealing in the music – not a symphony of sound from a variety of instruments – just one man and his guitar (not that he played badly!) I just had an “I-would-like-something-stirring-to-look-at” moment. I remembered the stunning fresco of Jesus holding out his arms on the wall of the Sacre Coeur, and thought why can’t I have something like that to look at?

In my student days I used to attend a small Methodist chapel in a tiny village called Middleton-one-row. They had a fresco painted on the front wall. I was just thinking whether it was a stained glass window – but, no, it was a painting. It was contemporary. I am not even sure that I can remember exactly what it was, it was a long time ago. There was a rainbow, a dove, a cross, green fields, blue skies – no Jesus, no angels. It was uplifting and it was constantly in front of you. It did not distract from worship.

A number of years ago I read a book that went through each of the Ten Commandments. The one about graven images was not so much about distraction, but more about how much they limit what God would like us to see. As with the words on an overhead projector screen sometimes binding our hearts, rather that loosing them, when it comes to singing praises, statues and frescos can do much the same. For some people, they never see beyond the marble or the bronze. They focus on the physical, visible things and they never connect with the invisible.

There was almost a gentle reprimand from the Spirit saying “Is that really what you want to see? You want to settle for a picture to gaze upon when you should experience an encounter with the creator of the universe?” I don’t doubt that the one can’t lead to the other – I have experienced it. The one doesn’t always lead to the other – I have experienced that too! The other – the encounter, doesn’t need the picture to make it happen – only the right heart attitude.

God told me to look around at the other worshippers. Hands raised high, heads bowed down – whatever their posture, these people were meeting with God – and so was I!

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Throwing caution to the wind

I am a “Strictly Come Dancing” fan. Every so often my husband and I talk about joining a dance class but it has happened yet!

To get in the mood for the new series I watched the American version last week. It is called “Dancing With the Stars”. The format is pretty much the same, but the Americans seem to be more concerned with entertainment value that getting it right stepwise. Facial expressions seem to go a long way with the crowd, rather than the “hold” and the synchronised footwork.

Once upon a time I used to be a Donny Osmond fan. What do I mean “once upon a time”? I still am a Donny Osmond fan. I would have loved to have gone on the TV programme “Identity” not because I am good at guessing anyone’s identity, but just so I can feel his arm across my shoulder!

Donny’s sister Marie is on “Dancing With the Stars”. I used to follow their show way back in the seventies or the eighties, and I even bought her album “Paper Roses”. I just wanted to see what she was like.

I was impressed. Not with the dancing so much as the spirit with which she got involved. She threw herself whole heartedly into the dances. I think it was the mamba or the rumba they were dancing this week. Whatever the name of the dance – she was required to be sexy and flirtacious. I have seen older ladies in Strictly just not be able to pull it off with these kind of dances. One cringes somewhat as they try to look luscious and curvy. It is painful. Marie was simply saucy! She just threw caution to the wind and she was sensational.

She did not play it safe or cautious. OK she has been in the entertainment business for a while, but she was just fearless.

She has joined the ranks of the women that I admire. I would like to take on board a less cautious approach to life! I like every base covered, every tee crossed and eye dotted, in triplicate, weeks in advance, with Plan B in place just in case. I don’t go into things without some assurance that I will come out at the other end in tact and more mature in some way. I don’t like unpredictable and messy, but delight in order and routine!

I am not as courageous as I used to be. Is that because I am getting older? Is it because I value personal comfort far too highly? I don’t know… I just feel that I need to cast off the cobwebs!

Life in the Spirit

I have to admit that I have found this week to be quite a struggle. Part of the problem has been the absence of my husband who had been away to a training week in Glasgow. Partly I just did not always act in a wise manner and reaped the consequences!

I just dug in real deep with Jesus and spent much more time in His presence. One morning, while reading Romans 8, I was stirred to not just read it is out loud, but to make it personal too. I wrote down each line as a personal declaration.

I am not under condemnation.
I am set free by the law of the Spirit of life.
I can fulfil the righteous requirements of the law because I live according to the Spirit, not according to my sinful nature.
I am controlled by the Spirit.
The Spirit lives in me.
My body is dead because of sin yet alive because of righteousness.
The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead lives in me.
I receive life in my mortal body through the Spirit who lives in me.
I am not obligated to live according to my sinful nature.
By the Spirit I put to death the misdeeds of the body.
As I am led by the Spirit I demonstrate that I am a child of God.
The Spirit I have received does not make me a slave to fear.
I can confidently call God, “Daddy.”
As a child of God, I am also and heir of God.
I share in his sufferings that I might also share in his glory.

Did I feel better afterwards? That was what I was looking for after all – to feel cheered up! Well, actually no. I was almost treating it like a spell or a magical formula! I could almost see the Spirit shaking His head. This was not about me being cheered up, but about being built up, being reminded of wonderful truths that the situation that I faced couldn’t dismantle.

I would like to say that I did as the Spirit asked – combined the reading of them with faith to make them active in my heart – but I rushed out to work for another bruising day!

I got it right eventually!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


The last time Joe and I went down south to visit my family, I spent a few minutes in the local health shop, holding a bottle of sleeping tablets in my hand. I was torn between buying them, taking them and having a wonderful night’s sleep and then never being able to have a decent night’s sleep without taking them, or buying them, taking them and not having a wonderful night’s sleep and feeling half asleep the next day. As the car driver in the family, I feel the need to be alert and refreshed!

It all mostly menopausal and in ten years time I shall be fine no doubt! I don’t know how I turned out to be such a fussy sleeper. I spent my formative years sharing either a bed with my sisters or at least a room packed with two sets of bunks.

I need the room to be entirely dark. Any gaps in the curtain that allow splashes of light on the walls drive me nuts!

I need the room to be insect free! I can cope with a spider on the wall, but not on the ceiling. I read somewhere – yes, the dangers of teaching someone like me to read – that spiders walk across your face while you are asleep! I freak out when there is a daddy long legs, that’s crane fly to you, in the room. It is the wispy nature of the legs that frighten me. I am sure that they are waiting until the light goes off to flop on my face! It happened once!

I need to be quite cool. I can’t sleep when I am hot. Strangely enough it is just the one leg that gets overheated. I had a DVT some years ago and it had left the ankle and calf looking bruised and discoloured. It is that bit of that leg that heats up and itches!

Finally I need quiet! I don’t have ears that accept earplugs readily. When I was younger I used to find comfort in the rumble of the immersion heater in the cupboard of our bedroom. I was convinced that there was a lion in the cupboard and as long as the lion was roaring, I was safe. Once the immersion heater switched itself off, the lion was sleeping and all manner of crocodiles swam under the bed! What an imagination! I wish the rumble of my husband’s snoring as a comfort! Bless him, he gets nudged and pushed and prodded, told to turn over and face the other way. I don’t know who is more relieved when I go and find somewhere else to sleep – him or me? In a hotel there is nowhere else to go!

I am glad that research seems to show that as we get older we need a lot less sleep. I find that encouraging as I am getting a lot less sleep than I would like!

Where's Wally?

It was a busy weekend in Glasgow. Someone said that Daniel O’Donell was in town which might explain it! We spent hours on the internet trying to book somewhere to stay, having left things to the last minute as usual. We ended booking a hotel that overlooked Queens’ Park.

Seeing as we were that near, and there was a Farmer’s Market on near the entrance, we decided to “do” Queen’s Park. Glasgow is not called the “dear green place” for nothing! We took a stroll around the park and visited the glasshouse. It is a huge greenhouse with subtropical plants and fish and things.

One of the exhibition rooms is dedicated to amphibians, spiders, little furry animals and birds. While Joe tried to hold a whistled conversation with a mina bird I pushed my nose up against the glass walls of the various lizards and things. Some were very easy to spot. Others had me just about convinced that there was nothing there. There was plenty lot of grey sand, grey stones, a plastic skull and couple of insects crawling up the side of the glass, but no skink! Another exhibit had a mass of green branches, but the chameleon was well camouflaged! It was like “Where’s Wally?” except you know for sure that Wally is somewhere on the page, but less convinced that there is a skink in the tank!

The last time we were down in Glasgow, we had the chance to walk around Tollcross Park, near where Joe used to live. He was lamenting that the council had let things slip over the years. There was, apparently, so much more to see and do in the good old days. It came as a surprise to discover a section of the park given over to farm animal – sheep and goats and llamas! It would appear that there had been a re-investing in the park – with flower beds and picnic tables. A baseball team was limbering up in one corner of the park, but apart from that the park was almost empty.

It comes as no surprise that we are told that our children are overweight and unfit. Where are they? Not out in the parks kicking a ball around, but sat in front of computers or televisions.

Who am I to point the finger? I have been wrestling with Weight Watchers for over a year! I certainly did not put on my weight by running around the field, kicking a ball!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The last brick in the wall

I have had a very chequered church history. My upbringing was Roman Catholic, my moment-of-salvation, I suppose, was Plymouth Brethren, a lot of my student life was spent in the Methodist Church, then it was back to the Plymouth Brethren for a while, until my planting into the Charismatic/Pentecostal/House Church movement.

Two of the years spent in the Methodist Church happened in the early eighties. I had my first teaching job in north east London in Walthamstow. I lived in Chingford and was very involved with the youth group at the Methodist Church. They were less hostile to women ministers and someone suggested to me that I might like to train to become a Methodist minister. At the time I was totally focussed on teaching and only a classroom would do – and only a primary one at that, although I was teaching in a secondary school at the time.

The brethren Church in Cyprus had a different attitude to the role of women. They took Paul’s comments literally that women were to be silent in church, and not to be given authority over a man. I found it difficult to say the least – part of it being that I had a theology degree and knew a lot but wasn’t allowed to say anything! As a teacher I have always been a good communicator, but in the church environment I kept quiet.

The church drummed into me all the Bible teaching of the place of women in the church. Eve was portrayed as deficient in some way. She had been deceived by the serpent and because of that women on the whole were labelled as easily led astray, gullible and incapable of exercising leadership.

I just accepted it, although I had read enough about the debate that I knew there were other ways of interpreting the various passages. In some ways I took a very back seat and passive role in the church. There was no avenue to share my insight. I went to Bible studies and prayer meetings and didn’t vocally participate! I listened and I learned and I thought a lot, but I wasn’t allowed to say anything. I wasn’t quiet on the inside – I wanted to speak. God was doing something inside, opening up His word and I was getting revelation, but I couldn’t talk!

Well, what is inside has a habit of spilling out sometimes! I couldn’t help myself! So often I sat in a meeting with my hand over my mouth trying desperately to keep it all in. All it would take would be a question from the front – “Has God been good to you?” and the floodgates would break open. I knew I was supposed to keep silent – but I just couldn’t! I didn’t want to break the rules, but my spirit wouldn’t let me stay silent. I left the church because I could see that my behaviour was undermining everything they believed about silent women.

The Charismatic Church was the opposite extreme. I had freedom to say what I wanted, but I was wary of the freedom. It had been drilled into me about keeping silent and even though I had the freedom now I hesitated. I was worried that I had inherited this propensity from Eve to be led astray. I didn’t trust that my words were not seeped in heresy and error. I distrusted that I could hear God clearly – because Eve was deceived!

Although I was encouraged to take on leadership roles, the responsibility hung heavy – not because I wasn’t capable or gifted or even called to do what was asked. I worried that I was building a shaky foundation in the lives of people in my study group.

In all the debates going on about the role of women, and ordaining women ministers, I have never really come down on either side of the fence, but swung my heels sitting on the fence. I don’t want to disrespect any woman that is called to ministry – who am I to say she is not called. I think that Dawn French in “The Vicar of Dibly” has portrayed such a positive image. I was glad to be in a church set-up where I didn’t have to face the question of women elders or leaders.

The boat was sorely rocked a few years ago when our apostle talked about his changing perspectives on the role of women. Suddenly it was there! The possibility of a woman elder! There are women leaders in every arena in the world – but the church? Our church? I thought my only option, should it happen, was to move churches.

The wall I have built up has been slowly dismantled. I just can’t maintain my distrust over women leaders. Part of it is due to a wonderful woman that I meet for Bible study each week. She demonstrates wisdom and insight in the word. She has compassion and kindness. I trust the word she speaks. I try to follow to advice she gives. I am more open with her than with anyone else I know. She is not flighty, or given to mood swings. She is truly a woman to aspire to be.

The final brick in the wall fell on Thursday night at a Bible study. We were looking at the story of Adam and Eve. Four little words have changed my perspective on the story about even being tempted – “Adam was with her.” I always thought eve was isolated and on her own. Under the serpent’s grilling she lost her footing and, yes, she allowed herself to be convinced of something other than the truth. I always thought Adam was a million miles away and unaware of her conversation. I thought that once she had eaten the apple, she set out to search for Adam to “drag him down to her level.” That he was standing right next to her all the time appalled me! He watched. He kept silent. He did not intervene. He did not correct the serpent’s lies. He did not protect Eve. He just stood beside her and let her fall!

Maybe I have got it wrong! What I had been told about Eve kind of almost paled beside what I read about Adam. Neither of them did the right thing. Eve is no worse than Adam. One of them does not come out of the story better than the other – they both ended up naked and ashamed. They both hid.

Where that quite leaves me in my views about women leaders, I am not entirely sure. Not hostile! Not out to look for another church! More ready to embrace the leadership role I have been called to with more confidence.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Change from within?

Someone posted a comment on one of my earlier entries responding to what I had written about attending a Gaelic mass a number of weeks ago. I was invited to consider going back to the Roman Catholic Church seeing as I had gone through all the rites of passage. My husband is of the firm belief that once a Catholic always a Catholic.

I am not sure about this, and I apologise if I have got it wrong, but there seemed to be an impression that because I was a member of a non-denominational church I was somehow less sincere about my faith. I suppose there are people that think is terms of real churches as having buildings and traditions that can be traced back, or a specific kind of hierarchy. Anything less formal in terms of structure is just playing at faith, or faith on your own terms as opposed to on God’s terms, according to what it says in the Bible or in church tradition.

If you know me, and some know me well, you will know that I am entirely serious about my faith. Some indeed would say that I am too serious and need to lighten up!

I can think of two times, two clear times, when I have been challenged about the church I belonged to.

The first time was when I lived in Cyprus. I was teaching in a small private school with very strong links to the local Brethren Church. The main denomination in the Greek side of Cyprus is the Greek Orthodox Church. I went to one or two church services – an Easter Service and a baptism, but for the most part I attended Sunday mornings and evenings at the Brethren Gospel Hall. It was incredibly strict with women wearing hats and keeping silent in church. It was what I needed at the time. It taught me some valuable lessons about discipline which perhaps in another setting would not have been so effective!

I can remember meeting a fairly lively lady who was a Christian. She came under some criticism because she attended the local Greek Orthodox Church. It was commonly held idea by the Brethren Church at the time, and expressed quite strongly, that there weren’t any “real Christians” in the Greek Orthodox Church. Those that went merely did so out of tradition and they did not have any saving knowledge of Jesus. “Real Christians” went to the Gospel Hall!

The woman was not persuaded by the argument. She agreed that perhaps not everyone who went through the door of the Greek Orthodox Church had a saving faith, but then the same could be true for any church. She believed that if she lived her Christian life inside what everyone was labelling a “dead church” perhaps she could change it, rather than abandoning it and finding a “lively” church. (There is an oxymoron if ever there was one when applied to that particular Brethren Church at the time!) My companions at the time were quite convinced that she would eventually die for lack of life within the church. She felt it was her calling to stay within the Greek Orthodox Church and change it from within through a faithful testimony. If everyone was like us, withdrawing from the established churches top set up “our own” new thing, it is inevitable that the established churches end up dying! It is our obligation to change things from within.

The other incident takes place a few years later. I spent a year on a gospel outreach team in Inverness. We were really keen to get into schools – do assemblies or RE lessons and meet with the young people. Being an ex-RE teacher at the time, I advised the leaders to consult with the area RE advisor, a nice elderly gentleman. Seeing as I obviously knew the system, I was elected to meet with him and discuss our “vision”.

The man had a Church of Scotland background. He seemed more interested in why I had abandoned the denominational churches to be a part of something less traditional, or settled, or old. The house movement, or charismatic churches were new to Inverness at the time and people had impressions that they were off the wall – the lunatic fringe as it were. He asked me why I did not remain within the established church and try to change it from within!

I suppose it is uncomfortable when people poke holes in traditions that have been going for many years, decades, centuries or millennia. I don’t poke holes in something just because it has been going for such a long time. I don’t jump on bandwagons, or grab hold of the latest craze. Ask my friend Mark!

I just think about the quality of my Christian life in the church I belong to and I know I am in the right place. I don’t think it panders to my way of thinking or feeling or worshipping – I just see God there week in week out. Maybe I would see God just as clearly in any other church, but I believe that God has called me to be where I am. It is not an easy church at times, and I don’t always agree with everything that is said at the front. There are times when it is hard work – my faith is hard work – my spiritual muscles get stretched. I am not saying that it wouldn’t happen in any other church – but right now I am where I God wants me to be.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Greasy Joe's

Along time ago, in our courting days – see how no one today uses the term courting? – Joe and I used to cook each other meals. I used to do very elaborate three course meals, with table cloths and cutlery and flowers. I even constructed a menu card labelled “Chez Mel” – the front room of the house where I lived turned into a posh restaurant for the night! I always thought that if in the remote distant future I ever won the lottery – millions as opposed to mere thousands of pounds – I would buy a restaurant, get my sister to do the cooking and it would be called “Chez Mel”. Quite how I was going to persuade my sister to move house to Inverness I hadn’t quite worked out. I thought the lure of running her own kitchen might be enough. She is now into horses and I think I have lost my window of opportunity!

Joe’s meals were possibly just as complicated – the Marks’ and Spencer packaging hidden well away. He also had a menu scribbled on a sheet of lined paper and labelled “Greasy Joe’s”.

This morning we resurrected “Greasy Joe’s”. On the last Sunday of the month our church suspends the usual morning meeting to have breakfast together. Sometimes we invade, on masse, a local restaurant, or at other times, members of the church volunteer to host the breakfast. It was our turn! Do we actually take it in turns? I don’t think so. Whatever, we volunteered to have every one around our house and cook breakfast.

I was determined that we would not fail in the task of making sure that every need was catered for. If it could be eaten for breakfast, it was on the menu – even kippers!

Joe and I launched into a flurry of cooking – every pan bubbling away on the stove and the grill sizzling with sausages. The George Foreman grill was out if the box and also sizzling away with bacon in it. It was like a well oiled machine – not just the George Foreman grill, but the whole breakfast cooking process. Everything turned out perfect – although I did see the lady who ate the kippers later on in the afternoon and she wasn’t feeling so well!

Afterwards we sat on chairs on the patio, drinking tea, mopping up the last of the pancakes, soaking up the sun that has been absent for most of the summer, and having fellowship.

It is at these times that we really connect. We behave like a real family and talk about everyday life. We laugh together and don’t hide behind a songs and sermons.

A good time was had by all!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Who turns the world?

Every year I hand out a homework task to the new first year groups. I ask them to find a news paper article that has something to do with religion. I give them a week to do it! It forms part of a lesson where we consider why we study religion in school, and one of the reasons why is because it forms a part of every day life for some people. “It is often in the news” is this throwaway comment in one of the workbooks!

I have always been confident that it is do-able. I am convinced that there are newspaper articles out there – but I have to admit that these days I am not so sure of myself! We have a blue recycling box at home which hasn’t been emptied for a while, so there is a good supply of papers. I spent a few minutes flicking through a couple.

The first paper contained nothing at all. I learnt more than I wanted to know about some of the celebrities and their cellulite problems, I learnt a bit about the best fashion accessories for the season, about which “animals” were locked up for committing which crimes – but nothing religious occurred! Then, in the second papaper, I found it! It couldn’t have been much more than two sentences, lodged in a side panel next to a much more sensational piece!

Apparently a priest in Holland was being taken to court for ringing the bells in his church too loudly! That was the single noteworthy comment about the religious and spiritual state of the nation! Not even our own nation!

I am trying to tell a new generation that religion is important, that it has an impact on the world around us – and all I can show for that statement is a guy in Holland being told off for ringing bells too loud!

In the New Testament, the comment made about the early church and the apostles was that they “turned the world upside down”. Where are the world-turners today? Maybe the church turns the world but because it is good news, as opposed to bad news, no one wants to know! Maybe the church turns the world turns but no one thinks it is that special so it doesn’t get reported. Or maybe it’s the politicians and not the church that turns the world now.

See my previous blog. Maybe it is not just me as an individual Christian who is struggling with the abdication of my responsibilities!

(The Scotsman and the Herald saved the day! I popped into a newsagent this morning to pick up a couple of papers. They both came up with the goods – the Muslim community doing a Live-Aid-like concert to raise money for charities and a prominent church leader withdrawing support from Amnesty International because of their change of view about abortion.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Don't abdicate!

To abdicate means “to renounce or relinquish a throne, right, power, claim, responsibility, or the like, esp. in a formal manner.”

Let’s get rid of some of the sub phrases. We will keep “relinquish” and “responsibility”.

I am involved in a number of activities in our local church – leading worship, preaching, teaching the children among other things. There are mid week meeting for people involved in some of these activities. Monday’s meeting was an opportunity for the preachers/teachers to meet. Part of the meeting was given over to thinking about our Thursday meeting which we called “Connect” with the idea of connecting more with each other and with what God wanted to accomplish through us.

Before the meeting, between coming home from Weight Watchers (Yeah – I’m still going!), and going to the meeting I took time out to pray and prepare my heart. I am not sure of the content of the prayer – but I am sure of God’s word for me. He simply said “Don’t abdicate. Don’t relinquish the responsibility I have given you!”

Like many people I really feel that I don’t give God enough time. School work fights with the ironing pile, washing up fights with mowing the lawn, watching TV fights with settling down to a Bible study – and I never feel that I have quite the cutting edge that I ought to have. I am all too aware of my inadequacies and feel unqualified to do some of the things I am asked to do. I make assumptions that other people are spending more time with God and hearing him more clearly and better qualified to speak.

I have some very creative ideas, but sometimes I lack the confidence to share what I think. I sit there quietly in a meeting internally kicking myself because my tongue seems to be stuck to the roof of my mouth and I can’t shift the words out.

As much as this frustrates me, I reckon it must frustrate God too at times! During that time before the meeting God assured me that I had been given responsibility, and gifting, and equipping and it wasn’t about minutes and hours but heart attitude. I shared with the church on Sunday that I believed I had been given a picture of who God wanted me to become and it wasn’t something unachievable and remote. If I want to be that person God want s me to be it requires that I work with him. I need to take an active role and stop being so passive.

As ever, when I choose to obey, God does something wonderful! It wasn’t just that we had a very dynamic discussion, but that it was so easy! The ideas flowed without anyone having to winkle them out of me. We enjoyed each other’s company, laughed together, expressed our concerns about things, prayed together – all in a really comfortable environment. I went home feeling very encouraged.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Tell me about Jesus

I had an interesting dream last night. At the time it had a very cohesive storyline, but on waking I remember only a few particular scenes.

I don’t think it was set in this country. Joe and I were walking along a road. There was a huge metal fence on the right hand side. It ran the whole length of the road, and beyond the fence there were houses. We were trying to get to the houses, but there were no breaks in the fence. It wasn’t something you could climb over. A young boy was on the road just ahead of us. Suddenly he was the other side of the fence heading out towards the houses. There was a very narrow gate that if you had not been searching for, you would easily have missed it. Joe seemed to have no problem getting through the gate, but I had to really suck in the gut to get through!

We headed towards one of the houses. Joe knew exactly where he was going and he knocked on one of the doors. It was a shanty town and the houses were small one roomed affairs, cobbled together with cement and corrugated iron. Joe knew the woman who answered the door and she let him in. I don’t know why, but she was extremely angry with him. I told her that Joe helped people. He stood up for people who were being railroaded over in their workplaces. She shouldn’t be angry because he could help her.

There were two other people in the room apart from the woman. Her husband was lying on the bed and her mother was sat on a chair in the corner of the room. The woman told us that because her husband was ill, she was the sole bread winner in the family and she was paid very little money for the work she was doing. They were not able to make ends meet and struggling to keep from starving.

It appeared that her husband had been attacked by two vicious dogs. He was severely bitten, and the flesh on his back had been badly gored. They either didn’t have money to get medicine, or because they were so poor, the doctors had taken advantage, charging them money for medicine that was no use. The wounds had become infected and he was getting worse.

The man crawled off the bed and come over to where I was standing. He took off his shirt and showed me the wounds. Then he asked, “Will you pray for me?”

I have prayed for people in real life to be healed, and I suppose, like many other people, I am never sure that my prayers are very effective. The times when I have prayed for myself to recover from debilitating colds, I have not noticed much of a change. In the back of my mind was the haunting question, “What if I pray and nothing happens?”

As I prayed for the man, I thought about myself as a child going to her daddy. (I rarely think of God in terms of daddy!) I had this picture, I suppose, of a child with a broken toy, taking it to daddy to fix it, entirely convinced that he would fix it. Even entertaining the idea that he couldn’t or wouldn’t fix it was unimaginable. I remember closing my eyes – thinking perhaps that not actually looking at the man’s torn back might, in some bizarre way, prevent me from doubting that God would heal him.

The prayer itself was interesting. I can’t remember the words, but I began worshipping God. The opening phrases were confident declaration of His love and compassion. When I got to the bit about healing, I was almost whispering. There was no rebuking of demons or anything, but just an urgent whisper that God would act. I kept thinking I shouldn’t be whispering, but loudly proclaiming God healing to the man, but it was like I had no voice.

However, despite the lack of volume, the man was healed. There was no sign that he had ever been hurt. The wounds and the infection were gone and the skin on his back was smooth and clean. I disappeared to the toilet to praise God in my own way, and noticed that the house that had just the one room suddenly was much bigger. It had a kitchen and bedrooms that were not there before.

The man’s next request was “Tell me about Jesus.”

I am not sure what I said. I have a feeling that I got bogged down trying to explain the trinity! I was totally dissatisfied that I couldn’t come up with something clear and to the point! He wasn’t put off though and asked me to come back the next day to tell him more.

Joe and I went back to wherever we were staying. Somehow we managed to get a hold of three or four Bibles to take with us. I am not sure that I persuaded Alan Scotland, a leader in my mother’s church to come with us, or whether he insisted on coming anyway. When we returned to the house the next day the house was packed out with people.

Alan Scotland stood up to start preaching and the healed man gestured him to sit down.

“We have come to hear what you have to say,” he said to me.

And then I woke up! (Much to my relief)

There are people that take delight in dissecting prayers – feel free to do so – but for me the challenge was all about that question “Tell me about Jesus.” I have been with people over the last couple of weeks who, like the woman in my dream, are finding life difficult. Like the man, they are injured and incapacitated in some way. They didn’t say the words “Will you pray for me?” or “Tell me about Jesus” – but that is what their lives were crying out! I didn’t see it then. I have prayed since!

The question, “Tell me about Jesus” is provoking my spirit. I have walked with Jesus for many years and I should be able to tell people about Him and not struggle to say what people need to hear! I perhaps feel that other people, like Alan Scotland, would do the job better than me. Much as I would like to pass the buck to a more gifted person, there are people who want to hear the Good News from me. I just need to make sure I have a clear message.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


A bible story that I come back to time and time again is the story of Jesus healing the leper in the opening chapter of Marks’ gospel. I once wrote a short story based on the incident. I imagined that the touch of Jesus went a little further than just a hand on the shoulder. While the man had leprosy, or whatever the skin condition was, he was barred from physical contact – so I wanted to communicate how Jesus goes beyond the basics. I opted for an embrace rather than just a touch.

There was nothing tentative or hesitant about his touch. He raises me to my feet and wraps me in his strong embrace. I inhale the clean smell of his robes and feel the roughness of the fabric against my cheek. The sun glistens off the pale hairs on his arms. I can feel his warmth seeping through his clothes and through my rags. Long forgotten sensations cascade over me as I stand enfolded. Just as the open sores of my leprosy break and bleed, my heart breaks and my hurts bleed out. He holds me close as I am drowned in a torrent of my pitiful and wretched tears. After a while I am still. I hear his heart beat in the peace after the storm. And we stand.

As I was checking out commentaries and what other people had blogged, or sermoned, about the story, I discovered that there is some debate about Jesus’emotions. All the various version of the Bible I possess read that Jesus full of compassion, or pity, reached out to touch the leper. It would appear that some of the early manuscripts replace the compassion or the pity with anger. Jesus, being angry, heals the leper.

The anger is not directed at the leper. Jesus wasn’t angry that a man who knew the rules concerning lepers broke them. He wasn’t angry that in coming so close, the leper was putting Jesus’ health at risk. Jesus’ anger was directed at the illness, the conditon that man found himself in and the whole social isolation thing. He was angry because sin had destroyed a person’s physical being, and all his social relationships and left him less than human. This was not the world that He brought into being. He did not plan for people to live under sickeness and death.

Some commentators dismis anger and stick with compassion. Some commentators suggest that anger was softened to compassion to fit in with people’s understanding of Jesus. I am challenged by anger. Like most people I get angry about things – usually the wrong things! I can remember a few weeks ago getting very angry with a minor celebrity who said that her misscarriage was a punishment from God!

I have just returned home from a family visit. My mother isn’t doing so well. She is slowly, but surely, physically falling apart – wear and tear in just about every bodily system. In one of her many hospital visits, the doctor was doing some kind of scan and suggested they look lat her gall bladder to see if she didn’t have gallstones. My mother, ever the humourist, reminded him that the doctor s had removed her gall bladder many years ago so quite where the gallstones were hiding out might prove a mystery!

My mum is fragile. It is not just the physical body that is being eroded, but courage and confidence is also being dismantled.

This is not the world that Jesus planned for her. It’s not punishemnt from God for sin. It is just the fallen world falling on her and crushing her at times.

It’s no wonder Jesus gets angry!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Seeds and weeds

My husband is not much of a Sci-Fi fan, but one of his favourite films is “Blade Runner”. It’s all about a policeman chasing replicants – people who look and act like human beings, and are totally convinced that they are humans, but they are not. The great mystery is whether the policeman, played by Harrison Ford, is himself a replicant, but just doesn’t know it. The secret, so my husband insists, is in the origami animals.

I was reading one of the parables this morning – the one about the farmer who sows good seed, and then the enemy comes along and sows weeds. When the workers realise what has happened they ask whether they should pull out the weeds. The farmer tells them to wait until harvest time. If they start pulling out the weeds now, chances are they will end up pulling out the good plants by mistake.

When it comes to working out who is a Christian and who isn’t, it is pretty much like “Blade Runner” – according to the parable, it is hard to tell.

I can remember a few weeks towards the end of term. It was not a good time for me. I felt that I was being assailed on every side. I know that 2 Corinthians:8 talks about being pressed on every side by troubles but not being crushed and broken – well, that might be many people’s experience, but it wasn’t mine. I was feeling well crushed and broken. I was reacting in a less than positive manner!

Being a teacher of Religious Education, I am often asked about my own faith. In this incident, the question was whether I was a Christian or not. I generally feel that if I am asked about my faith, I have an opportunity to witness – I have not initiated the conversation. Sometimes, it is not appropriate to talk about my faith. In this particular incident, all I could think about was how bad a testimony I had been giving. I was missing the mark by a long way. It mattered that God’s name was honoured, and I wasn’t doing that through my actions.

The word “Sometimes” crept out of my mouth. The minute I said it I was overwhelmed by a sense of shame. My intentions were good in that I did not want my faithless behaviour to be associated with God. I had badly let God down. I felt I was doing more harm than good to His kingdom, and perhaps until I sorted myself out, I should not claim to be His citizen.

God’s reaction came to me so clear - “Do you seriously think that I would ever disown you just because right now you have a lousy testimony? If I refuse to disown you, I expect that you will not disown me.”

Anyone looking over my life in those weeks would have been hard pressed to believe that I was a Christian, based on the way that I was living my life – and yet, I was. I looked pretty much like a weed – and had those workers come along, I would have been pulled up without a second thought.

Right back from the time Eve looked on that apple and took a bite, we have been inclined to be swayed by what we see. We look on the outward actions of people where God looks at the heart.

I have nurtured too many weeds in my garden and pulled up too many genuine flowers to know that I really don’t know enough to make judgements about who is or who isn’t a seed or a weed. God knows!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Custard pie on the walls

My husband seems to be under the impression that I need projects to occupy my time during the summer holiday! Some projects crop up year in year out and never shift off the “to-do” list – like the garden and the decorating. Amazingly enough I have made serious inroads into both. I guess the fact that it is permanently raining does not make for nice days out and picnics, or stretching pasty white limbs out of the patio chair trying to persuade my skin to accept a tan.

The garden project saw me digging out the borders, spending quite a bit of savings money on some plants and battling with the beetles and creepy crawlies. God has been kind enough to take over the watering part of it! Sadly though, one small bedding area seems to have attracted something that eats the plants. All I have left is a few stalks – not leaves and no flowers!

The decorating project is also in hand – though not mine I have to add. I combed my way through the local directory for someone who knew what they were doing and owned a set of ladders to do the hall, landing and stairs! It would appear that summer is a busy time, and, although many were quite happy to have a look and send me a quote for the work, it would be sometime in September before they could start filling in the pocks and crevices with Polly filler.

One man assured me that if anyone could do my hall, landing and stairs in the immediate future, I would have to ask some serious questions about why he was not already busy with other jobs! That man, when I eventually found him – I didn’t ask any questions at all. I liked him! He talked about painting and decorating the way I would talk about writing poetry. Although he had only been in the business three years – as in turning professional – he loved it! Three years? The other man would be totally freaked out with that – him being in the business for three decades! I just liked him, instantly trusted that he would do a good job.

We are going for “Powder Blue” in the bathroom – did I mention that we are having the bathroom done too? We had a new bathroom put in a few months ago, and on account of a hole in the wall where the pipes used to run but no longer do, and even though we have done the bathroom before, we decided to leave that to the expert too. And for the walls of the hall landing and stairs we are going for “Custard Pie”. Why don’t they just say a nice pale terracotta shade? “We have custard pie on our walls.” Doesn’t quite make the grade!

They started today. The nice man bought his nephew with him – his apprentice. I had a quick check to see if he had ever sat in my classroom in a previous incarnation – but no, he was an unknown. I popped out the house to buy a packet of Tunnock’s Caramel Wafers for the men and, on my return, settled down with the laptop in the front room.

I pretty much left them to it. I suppose if I had a hankering to be a painter or decorator I might have watched them, but they seemed to know what they were doing – filling in pocks and crevices with Polly filler.

It was at the end of the day, Just as they were leaving, that the apprentice worked himself up sufficiently to ask the question that had been burning inside all day.

“The Bible upstairs? Do you…are you…a Christian?”

It turned out that he had just recently moved to Inverness. He went to one of the town centre churches. He fair beamed on discovering a fellow walker on the Way. If I was a little concerned about the lack of experience of the two of them, I know now that the apprentice at least will be doing the best job possible – because I am not his boss, but Jesus is! I suspect that his uncle might also be a man of God – which is why I liked him from the start.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Oh Bhoy!

Joe and I went to Glasgow for the weekend. There were the usual family visits to slot into the days, but we were also sightseers!

Having his roots in Parkhead in Glasgow, my husband is a Celtic man and we joined a guided tour of the football ground taking in the behind the scenes rooms and corridors. The Board room was quite impressive with a wall long trophy cabinet. The guide talked her way through the various cup and shields. She just oozed a love of Celtic from every pore. It was almost like listening to a mother talk about her child’s achievements and showing you the handprint pictures on the fridge door – it was that kind of love!

We then progressed up the stairs to the Press Room to watch a short DVD presentation of the history of the club. Neil Lennon was narrating. The golden years of Jock Stein and the 1967 team were praised and the years of not much silverware in the cabinet were glossed over. Again the pride in being a part of Celtic came across strongly.

Next we went outside to sit in the dugout alongside the pitch. We were not allowed to step onto the grass. It was mowed to perfection! Don’t tell anyone, but I sat in Rod Stewart’s seat! He and Billy Connelly have seats for life. Joe was telling me that for a long time, Billy Connelly, or Rod Stewart, one of the two, kept his love of the Celtic quiet and fooled the world into thinking they were a Partick Thistle man(?). Football supporters are fiercely tribal – but none more so than the Old Firm. To have admitted to being a Celtic man would have involved a drop in music or concert sales. Of course, once you are secure, then you can come out of the closet.

I also sat in the “naughty bhoy’s” seat. When the manager is getting a bit too involved in the match and the referee thinks he is misbehaving, he gets sent off out of the dugout. There is a seat just below Billy’s seat where he had to sit and watch the remainder of the game. Joe was telling me that on one of the matches when the manager got sent to the chair, he chose to stay there although the referee said he could come back, because he got a better view of the game from the naughty seat!

We didn’t see any of the players – they were away playing friendlies in other parts of the country. Apparently on the tour it is not unknown to bump into them, even though the places where they hang out, like the changing room, are off limits.

That gets me to Shaun Malony. It was a throw away comment that the guide made that caught my spirit. The difference between a good football player and a great football player is not always about natural abilities and skills. Apparently after the usual training sessions that all the players attended, Shaun Malony would always stay on for two or three hours afterwards practicing. The Japanese striker whose name I can’t spell, Nakamura, or Makamura – he also stayed on for hours afterwards practicing shots. I think it is those extra hours that makes the difference between being good and being great.

What makes you want to stay on for another two or three hours after an already gruelling practice session? I suppose that when a manager has a wide range of players to choose from, you want to be his choice! You don’t want to sit on the reserve bench, or watch the game from stands. You want to give yourself every advantage possible when it comes to fitness and skill – so you stay behind and practise! To want to play that much…you stay on and practise.

As a Christian I am challenged by that. I could just do what is required of me – even then, that is a challenge if you think of those words in Micah 6:8 – or I could be the best that I could be. It is what I do with those extra hours! To want God’s glory demonstrated in everything that you do – that much! “How much do I want that?” I should be asking myself, before I switch of the TV, or mark the page of the book I am reading – and go into the prayer closet, or the Bible, or to the house of a struggling friend and practice!

Be that "me"

I had a very stirring dream last night. It was a Sunday morning and I was leading worship. It was worship such as I don’t think I have ever experienced in the real world. It was incredibly dynamic and powerful. Although there was familiar songs coming up on the screen, and the keyboard players were people that I knew – there was a kind of reckless indulgence in God. We just knew that we were there not to sings songs that flowed, but that we were there to worship God and to usher in His presence.

There were lots of familiar faces and lots of unfamiliar ones too. One of the unfamiliar faces was an older woman sitting on the front row. As we worshipped, the Holy Spirit moved powerfully and she was just knocked off her feet.

Some of the familiar faces were people who had moved to another church in the city a number of years ago. Although we keep in touch, the connection is always tenuous and never the spiritual bond it used to be. Part way through this meeting, one of these people, a man, started to sing prophetically. I can’t remember any of the words of the song just that it was powerful stuff. It felt like we were enacting the passage in Corinthians that relates to worship – everyone coming with something to share.

At the end of the meeting, a rota sheet was being circulated among the worship team. Included among the names were some of the moved-away crowd.

I woke up. I was still there for a while, surrounded by a group of people simply focused on God. I could sense that all those thoughts like “What will people think if I say this?” or “Have I really got this right?” were just put aside. Honouring God was at the forefront of our hearts and minds. I thought about church unity and although to some extent I can understand how different denominations have grown out of one body of people – it just seemed so sad. It is sad that many people, myself included, are unwilling to dismantle differences. People leave one church to go to another and take with them grievances and hurts. People will always get hurt by other people, but sometimes those hurts become the directing force in our lives. God takes second place to our comfort.

The biggest thing though about the dream was the sense of shame that it provoked. There was a corporate shame in the church being so disunited – but there was also a personal shame involved for me. That kind of worship meeting should be a reality and not a dream. I should be an every Sunday experience – not a once in a while, or a Spring Harvest occasion – but every Sunday. Why limit it to a Sunday? Every encounter with God should be dynamic and powerful – and yet, speaking personally, my encounters with God are pale in comparison.

It’s more than whether I am prepared on a Sunday to bring my contribution. Whether I lead worship or not, I still participate. I think it is about where, not just one a Sunday, but every single moment of every day, God is placed in my life.

I am ashamed to admit that too often I am at the centre of everything I do. If I do something, it’s because I want to do it, or I enjoy doing it, or I get something out if it. I am ashamed that my heart is a lot cooler than I realised.

The “me” I saw in the dream was simply sold out for God and making the assumption that everyone else was just as sold out as I was. The “me” in the dream was not “me-conscious” but totally God conscious. The “me” in the dream was not hesitant or cautious but out on a limb. I liked the “me” in the dream.

I think that all God has got to say on the subject is “Be that ‘me’!”

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fierce love

I have spent part of the morning leafing through my collection of worship songs, preparing for Sunday worship. In amongst all the new songs, there are a few hymns, some of which are simply handwritten on the back of another sheet.

I tend not to pick them. Because they have such regular meters they can often come out quite pedestrian and uninspiring. I know that there are those who would take the words and rework the melody but I like the hymns the way that they are! They stir my spirit and tend to be the songs that I sing for the rest of the day.

I think because of my time in the Brethren Church, hymns tend to me my natural worship language. I like order – clear melodies and structured verses appeal to the poet in me. I have just spent the last few days with Stephen Fry’s book “The ode less followed” and have just written pages of iambic pentameters.

I haven’t sung many of them for a long time, but I am amazed at how well I know the words.

“Living, He loved me
Dying, He saved me
Buried, He carried my sins far away
Rising, He justified
Freely forever
One day He’s coming, Oh glorious day!”

This is a chorus from a favourite. It is creed and sums up so perfectly what Christ has done for me. It is the gospel in a nutshell.

The hymn doesn’t have any verses in it that relate to what I do – only what Jesus did for me. As I sing the chorus - “Living. He loved me” – how does that make a difference to the way I live my life? To be loved unconditionally by Almighty God – wow!

I was thinking about God’s love and the Spirit spoke to me and said, “Do you know that you are fiercely loved?” He kept repeating the word “fiercely”.

The dictionary defines fierce as “violent in force, intense, passionate, strenuously active or resolute.” God does not demonstrate a love that is anything less than these things. How He demonstrates that love might be with the utmost gentleness – but He is passionate and resolute.

Reading Psalm 18 this morning, I could see some of this fierceness in the words. I can fully sympathise with David feeling overwhelmed and weak and being confronted with enemies that are far too strong for him to deal with. He call out to God – and then see what happens – verse 7 – the earth quaked and trembled, the foundations of the mountains shook…Smoke poured from God’s nostrils…fierce flames leap from his mouth….the brilliance of His presence breaks through the clouds…He thunders from the heavens…He shoots arrows and scatters His enemies.” That is fierce!

No wonder so often God tells us not to be afraid! When we get that response from God when we are overwhelmed and cry out to Him – pity that we often cry, but that is all we do – we just cry. Sometimes we just allow ourselves to be overwhelmed without crying out to God and we never give Him the chance to be fierce.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Then sings my soul

A week or two ago I watched a programme called “Why birds sing.” A man was setting out convince a number of scientists that birds sang for the pure pleasure of singing and not just for either attracting a mate or warning off rivals. He insisted that birds sang long after they had found their lady birds and the rivals had flown away. Birds just sang too much for that to be the only reason. One scientist stated that birds with the largest repertoire of songs get the pick of the ladies – they attract more attention. It is not just plumage or nest building that indicate a good gene pool, but also whether the male birds can sing a selection of songs. All these extra songs were just for practice.

At one point, our non-scientist man took a clarinet into the local zoo and settled down in front of one of the bird cages. It sounded pretty much to me that he and the bird were having a jamming session. He would start a musical phrase and the bird would bob his head up and down and join in. I suppose the scientists would say that the bird thought the clarinet player was a very shy lady bird to attract, or a very stubborn rival who wouldn’t fly off.

At another point in the programme he had persuaded a friend of his to re-enact a famous musical duet. In the early days of wireless, the radio people had recorded a duet between a lady on a cello and a nightingale in a wood. He had another cellist set up in a wood playing the same music and hoped that the nightingale would join in. After three hours of playing, the nightingale showed up and added his warble! But again, is it just for the sheer joy of singing or because he perceived the mate or the rival?

The scientists remained unconvinced.

In so many areas of life what happens in the natural world has something to say about what happens in the spiritual world. As people we sing for a million different reasons. In worship we often think about singing, with the words of a song, as a way to draw closer to God. OK, it is more than just the singing – it is the heart attitude, the desire to worship. We seem to use worship to draw close to God - but what about the chasing away rivals? What about worship to send the enemy packing? I am not sure that the lyrics of many of the current worship songs are up to it!

I can remember many years ago, a worship leader recognising that we were all tired and battle weary in the meeting. There are songs that you could choose that I class as “comfort songs”. They assure you that you are the Father’s child, that God is your strength and such stuff. Rather than do that, he specifically chose lively songs about victory and insisted that people dance. There was no stopping between songs with aptly chosen Bible verses or homilies – just one pounding song followed by another. At the end of it the tiredness had gone, the sense of battle weariness had lifted. It was an episode of using worship in a war I suppose.

Incidentally nightingales, like most birds have two voice boxes. They can harmonise with themselves!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

She is about to blow!

It must have been two or three weeks ago that I received an email from a friend that after many years of a marriage that seriously wasn’t working she had decided to seek a divorce. She wasn’t walking away easily and had been fighting for a long time, and perhaps there was a turning point where things might have improved, but it came too late. I have had friends that have not struggled so hard to keep their relationship alive, so I kind of breathed a sigh of relief for my friend. They had tried and it had not worked out and it was perhaps better to walk away and be happier part than miserable together.

She sent the email to a block of friends. I have never really learned how to do that and doubt I have a block of friends I would want to say the same thing to.

Last week, one of the “block” replied. It might have been intended to be solely for my friend, but the way the person had replied, the “block of friends” received the email. I should have stopped reading long before the end of the first paragraph. I am not sure that it wasn’t deliberate, that the sender intended us to get it.

I was not pleasant stuff. That is an understatement!

I can think of only one time when I replied to something far more quickly than I should have. Someone on FW had written a poem that in my opinion glorified war and the mood I happened to be in was “righteous indignation”. I didn’t wait for the fires of passion to cool a little and I rattled off a paragraph of criticism. It wasn’t kind, or constructive, or anything I would normally want to put my name to – but I was wound up and hit the send button. I don’t think my finger had lifted from the keypad before I felt regret. I was ashamed of myself – I had just become so blind to anything but anger about her, that I had shelved reason. I think straight away I wrote an apology – it was stronger than an apology. I asked for her forgiveness. She wrote back eventually, apologising for writing something that I had been so seriously offended by.

I reckon this must have been the position that the replier was in. He was a lot closer to the couple than I was and knew much more of the history than I did. But that said, he said more than he should have. When we are angry or hurt, sometimes it is not the issue of the moment that spills out but every other little injury, bruise and scar we think they may have caused us along the way. So many things he had probably bitten his tongue over in the past just spilled out. It was like a volcano erupting.

I was thinking about it this morning –about volcanoes erupting, and how every little resentment gets thrown out like uncontrolled molten lava. God said to me, “These things will come out. What is inside a person’s heart, in certain circumstances, will come out like that, and it isn’t always pleasant. When the pressure in a volcano builds up, weakness in the rock structure allows the neat and the liquid rock find a way out. In people it is no different – those angry words, unless dealt with will find a way to the surface.”

He was telling me all this for a reason. This morning, I felt like a volcano that was about to explode! I am frustrated about many things – some personal, some not so personal. Things are changing and I am finding it difficult to adapt. It is a battle ground. There are a million skirmishes – some I win, most I don’t. It all became a bit too much and just before we left for church this morning, there was spillage. As ever it was over a small thing, but some of the bigger things slid out too, and with my stiff upper lip I just about managed to contain the worst of it. I thought maybe the best strategy to employ was to go and sit at the back of a Catholic mass and let the liturgy wash over me. God had other plans!

It happened that a friend at church had planned to wash people’s feet. He was talking about serving and imitating Jesus, and out came the bowl and the water and a towel. I had a dream years ago of this same scenario, and all the details came flooding back. It was all very emotional. Although we were given the option of passing on the feet washing, I didn’t really feel it was an option. I felt that my feet were fine, but that state of my heart was a bit of a mess. If someone had told me that the basin held acid, I think I would have still complied!

Something happened – apart from totally collapsing into sobs. It wasn’t so much about what came out – I didn’t think I said anything coherent. It was about what went in. The man’s humility and love for me released a peace that I hadn’t felt for a while.

That doesn’t mean that my problems are solved. A concerned friend spoke to me later on in the afternoon and I was able to share some of my troubles.

I have no wish to explode. I don’t want to make things so bad that they can’t be mended. I don’t want to wish that I could take my words back. I long to do the ostrich thing but I won’t. I will try to allow all the people who love me to help me.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Iambic Pentameters

If Joe asks me tonight what I was doing to today I can tell him that I was writing iambic pentameters!

I started to work my way through the first chapter of Stephen Fry’s book. The first chapter was about meter, that is the rhythm of the poem, and iambic pentameter which is a particular regular rhythm of ten syllables made up of five pairs with the stress being on the second syllable in each pair. Do you have any idea just how much I have always wanted to know that? Seriously! I have probably written poems that follow that pattern, but never known the technical name.

Once all the explanation has been clearly set out, he lets you loose on exercises. You have to write on the book. He has this to say about defacing books – “You may wish to use a pencil so that you can rub out your marks and leave this book in pristine condition when you lend it to someone else – naturally the publishers would prefer you to buy another copy for your friends – the important thing is to get used to defacing this book in one way or another”. I guess the library should be glad that I did not borrow their copy!

The first exercise was identifying the pairs of syllables and the stresses on the second syllable. It wasn’t as easy as it looked and the important thing was reading it out loud. The next exercise was writing some iambic pentameters of your own. He gave a few of his own examples – it is amazing what slips out.

“There’s nothing you can say to ease my pain.”

I once watched a TV program following Stephen Fry interviewing different people who were manic depressive. I watched it because I have a friend who suffers from that condition and I thought maybe he would give me some insight in how to simply be a better friend to her. Stephen Fry was diagnosed with the condition a while back, but it was only after suffering for a long time that anyone sought to identify his condition. I can remember him being asked that if he had the chance of being “normal” would he want that. He thought about it and said “No”. For all the agony that he went through, he didn’t want to give up the ecstasy.

“You sharpness rips my paper heart in two.” That’s another one of his examples. My own were less deep, but then the point wasn’t to be poetic or deep, but just to feel the rhythm.

The man who walks through cowpats often stinks. (That sounds like something Confucius might have come up with)

My cup of tea has gone completely cold. (Very true!)

Graffiti scrawled upon a white washed wall. (I am quite proud of that line – it sounds quite poetic)

The dusty spiders’ webs speak of neglect. (No guessing where the inspiration for that one came from)

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Little Faith

Little faith falters at “suddenly”
Demanding notice
In good time
For hurdles and obstacles along the path
To prepare the heart
Plan strategies
And accumulate resources.

Little faith focuses on storm clouds
Assesses the speed
With which they form
Measures their darkening hues
And predicts the force of the downpour
Mental equations worked out
To the detriment
Of the spirit

Little faith feels
The uneasy shift of the boat
As waves swamp
The sides
And as water levels rise
Fear is fed
And faith seeps away

Little faith fastens an eye
On Jesus sleeping
Unaware and uncaring
Unable to deliver
The captain going down
With the ship
With all souls on board
No future but
A watery grave

Little faith fears
Shrieks and shouts
Above the squall
“We are going to drown”
Blind to other possibilities
Eyes closed to hope
Salvation invisible

Little faith finds
Stirring him from slumber

He stands
He rebukes
Dreadful waves
And dread-filled men
And little faith
Fixed on Jesus
The author, the source
Of all faith
Begins to grow

Three bought, three borrowed

I can’t remember the last time I went to the library. It must have been a very long time ago as the lady at the desk insisted on up-dating my card and checking that I had not moved home or changed my name or anything. I didn’t find what I was looking for but never the less came away with things – a leaflet with details of a poetry contest and three books. The book that I was looking for, according to the computer the keeps a cyber eye on what is where and with whom, was on a shelf in the library at Fortrose, and another copy was due back some time this week in the library at Fort William.

At the creative writing weekend, someone recommended Stephen Fry’s “The Ode Less Travelled – unlocking the poet within.” It was on the shelves at Waterstones and I had neough money in my purse. I find that I am not content to lament that I can’t write poetry as good as Omar Khayyam. I can give up when faced with the masterpieces that other poets write, or I can do something to sharpen the tools that I already possess and become a better poet. So… I no more excuses, I will see where Stephen’s insights and challenges takes me.

A second book I bought, this time from the Christian bookshop was “The Gospel Centred Church” by Steve Timmis and Tim Chester. As much as some of us don’t like to embrace change, our church is changing. In my quiet times and prayer times with God this week, I am being made aware that I am changing too. I was reading the opening couple of chapters of Nehemiah yesterday. From the time he heard the news from Jerusalem to the moment he shared his concerns with the king, there is a period of four months. The study I was reading suggested that during that time, God was building into Nehemiah the vision and resources he would need to be the man for the job of rebuilding the wall. God has a role for me in the church that is perhaps different from what it used to be and I want to be prepared. God would like to build into me a vision of my place and resources i will need. So…having a clearer picture of what church can be all about might help.

Third book bought doesn’t qualify as a book. I sometimes get tired of following a daily Bible study and give myself a break, or swap studies. I have had just such a break and feel the need to get back to structure, so my third purchase was Bible study notes that stretch from July to September.

The borrowed books? One is a children’s Scottish poetry book. I am into poetry at the moment. Adult poetry can be a bit too cerebral.

The second – Stephen King “On Writing”. It must have been Monday morning, fresh from the weekend, with a list of “must have” books that I went on line at Amazon. I compiled an order and was about to hit the confirm button when I noticed the post and package charges – I could have bought another book for what they were intending to charge me. Many of the titles I had foraged through the “used copies” button and none of the qualified for free delivery. Seeing Stephen King sitting on the shelf (his book, not himself)– that is one less book to buy. But will I want to give it back in four weeks time?

The third book – Nigel Tranter “Columba”. As part of the Highland Year of Culture we explored the life of Columba. I was inspired by some of the episodes – his meeting with and scaring off the Loch Ness monster being one of them. We learn a lot about the faith by looking at the lives of heroes.