Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I don’t like Monopoly. I don’t like the whole philosophy that you win at someone else’s expense. I don’t like “Horseopoly”. It’s the same as Monoploy, but instead of London street names, you purchase horses. The houses are replaced by bales of hay and the hotels are transformed into barns, and three throws of double dice sees you packed, not off the jail, but into the trailer! Free Parking is Pasture, and you can win £50, not in a beauty pageant, but in a gymkhana. Disguise it any way you wish, it’s still Monopoly.

Disliking it didn’t mean that I didn’t play it for a few hours this morning. I was babysitting – although the “babies” are taller than I am. They are old enough to amuse themselves, but enjoy board games with visitors. My request for “Uno” fell on deaf ears and the “Horseopoly” came out of the box, along with strict instruction not to gang up on anyone.

I don’t like Monoploy because I generally lose. I don’t have the cutthroat nature necessary to win. I generally don’t rub my hands together with glee while my victim mortgages all her property and empties her bank account because she was unlucky enough to land on the horse equivalent of Mayfair, with its three bales of hay.

Yes, for once I was winning. More by luck than intention and I could see that both “babies” were struggling to keep their stables afloat. There was a deep breath as they rounded the corner and raced down the home straight. The trailer (aka Jail) became a haven where for at least three throws (unless they were unlucky enough to throw a double) they didn’t have to worry about stepping on my property. Theirs was mortgaged to the hilt and posed no threat.

That’s when I came up with my genius idea. I made the most creative deals to keep the game going. I was rolling in money and possibly had more money than the bank. One of my charges landed on the horse equivalent of Park Lane. With three bales of hay she owed me £1,400. I could have gloated. There was nothing to mortgage and the cupboard was bare. My deal? In exchange for her handing over the horse equivalent of Pall Mall, I would un-mortgage all her property for her. Basically she got £750 for something worth £90. The dice fell in her favour and I donated another £200 in the stretch of horses between the Trailer (aka Jail) and Pasture (aka Free Parking). She was considerably cheered

The other charge wanted a deal too. It was only fair. I was prepared to deal, but only if she landed on Mayfair or Park Lane. She had been trying to avoid landing there, but now she was eager to climb over my fence and trespass. She got her deal eventually – some old horse that was only fit for the glue factory in exchange for bales of hay on each of her sets of property.

It was probably the only time that I have enjoyed playing the game – not because I didn’t lose, but because I didn’t want anyone else to lose either. I was absurdly generous and I can imagine that Monopoly-philes would say I didn’t play the game according to the rules.

It made me think about God who doesn’t play by the rules. His generosity towards me is absolutely absurd. Just as I took delight in my deals that lifted the “babies” out of their horse-poo debts that they could never repay – God has lifted me and released me from a debt that I could never repay.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hot Bees

I was watching a documentary last night. I’m not really a fan of Richard Hammond, but I caught the last half hour of his “Invisible Worlds”. He was looking at aspects of the world from beyond the normal light spectrum that people can see – the ultra violet and infra red, x-ray vision and radio waves, All these things are present, but our eyes are not designed to see them. If we could detect forest fires long before the trees started to burst into flames, we could stop them long before they get out of control. One little beetle can apparently do that. It sees things in infra red and sees the build up of heat in the air long before the tree starts to smoulder.

What really held my attention though were the bees! The camera went inside a hive. Looking with the natural lens it appeared that some of the bees were sitting around not really pulling their weight while other bees were very busy bees. I am familiar with groups of people – some apparently not pulling their weight, while others are firing on all cylinders. Switch to infra red and the busy bees turn black, and the lazy bees turn yellow. The sitting-around bees were hot little bees and the busy bees were cold bees. The hot little bees were so hot that just a few degrees hotter and they would have probably burst into flame! They were sitting around doing something important because they were generating heat and keeping the baby bees not yet hatched warm. The busy bees were feeding honey to the sitting around bees – the honey being converted to energy to keep them hot.

The temperature at which the baby bees not quite hatched were kept at determined what kind of bees they would turn out to be. A slightly lower temperature would produce a busy little worker bee who rarely left the nest. These little fellows fed the hot bees and generally kept the hive clean. They didn’t have long life spans.

However, a slightly higher temperature produced a forager bee. These little fellows were the ones flying from flower to flower collecting nectar and telling other bees where the food sources were. They were stronger bees, living up to ten years.

Whether it was a worker bee or a forager bee was all down to the temperature that the hot bee kept the baby bees not yet hatched.

I have been reading the early chapters of Ezra. The Jewish nation had been granted permission to leave Babylon and return to Jerusalem. Some of them decided to stay put in Babylon, they had put down roots and were reluctant to move. Others were already packed and waiting to leave. When they got there they built the altar and made lots of sacrifices, but when it came to rebuilding the temple – it was a much bigger job and they encountered opposition. They were discouraged enough to stop working. Years later, the prophets Haggai and Zechariah were called in to bring a word from God. It was very stirring stuff.

Haggai’s word was in the form of a rebuke, chastising them for neglecting to build the temple. They were busy redecorating their own homes, adding fitted kitchens and conservatories, and God’s house was still in ruins. Haggai pointed out that the drought they were living in was linked to their neglect of God’s house. No matter how much they planted, they never harvested a bumper crop. They never had an abundance of stuff.

Haggai’s word hit the mark with me. Although I have my moments of revelation, for much of the time the word “drought” fits. I have been discouraged and downhearted of late. It has been a dry time and I have had to dig some deep wells to get to water! I just thought it was one of those dry times that we all go through. Seeing it through Haggai’s eyes, linking it into building, or neglecting to build, God’s house, has shown up my dryness in a different light.

I got to thinking about the hot bees. When the hot bees cool down, the offspring, the fruit of the hive, is made up of busy, short life worker bees that don’t really go anywhere. When the hot bees stay hot, the bees that get born are stronger bees, living a long time, going on exciting journeys, feeding the hive, helping it to remain vibrant.

If the Jews listening to Haggai had been bees in a bee hive, before he spoke they would have been the black bees seen through the infra red lens. Busy perhaps, but producing something that lasted for just a short time, something that never really went anywhere. The leaders were convicted by Haggai’s word and began to work on the temple. Under the infra red lens they would be like the hot bees, producing the forager bees, the strong ones that lived for years.

I am meant to be a hot bee. Somewhere along the line I have cooled down. The fruit in my life is not as strong, not as vibrant, not really contributing to the body in the way it should be. How do I get to be hot again? One of the ways in which the word describes itself is “honey”. Just as the hot bees needed to be fed honey to maintain their heat – I need to feed on the word. Whether that is “preached” word, “sung” word, “read” word, “prophesied” word or “dreamed” word matters not.

Amazing what lessons the natural world can teach us – even the bits we can’t see.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Invitation

Anyone of his people among you—may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:2

It was an invitation to a people who had been in exile for seventy years. It was an invitation given by a King – Cyrus, King of Persia.

For some, the invitation probably went straight into the bin. They had, after seventy years, settled down, made friends, got jobs, married and reproduced. They just didn’t want to go. Jerusalem was some distant memory and had no present reality for them.

For some, the invitation wasn’t meant for them. They were not part of the Israelite nation, but that wasn’t going to stop them. They went anyway.

For some, the invitation was put somewhere they could see it everyday. They were not quite sure. The invitation wasn’t in the bin, granted. But neither were they packing just yet. They were counting the cost of moving. Some days they were sure, other days they were not so sure. Maybe they had drawn out a chart and listed all the pros and cons – I would have done! It could have gone either way.

For some, the invitation was also put where they could see it – and the packing was in full swing. Not only was the best pottery carefully wrapped in paper and the linen washed and ironed, but the first thing packed was a tin containing all the legal documents – the title deeds to property, marriage certificates, death certificates, “O” and “A” level certificates – every piece of paperwork they could find.

The narrative goes on to say that the people that went were the ones that were moved in their hearts by God.

There are times in our lives when we make the big moves. I did it in 1976 when I moved to Durham to start my teacher training course. !980 I moved to London for my first teaching job. I982 I moved to Cyprus. My life is dotted with big moves. !989 and 1992 were very big moves…moving to Inverness and later moving into a blissful married state with Joe.

What came to mind, when I read Ezra’s opening chapter is that Cyrus’ invitation, the invitation of a King…for the exiles in Babylon, the invitation was a one off, once in a life time opportunity.

There is a different King that gives us a slightly different invitation…not once in a life time, but every single day to ”build the Temple of the Lord”. There are many Christians who are concerned to build “Jerusalem” in Jerusalem. I am not one of them. For Christians what does the Temple equate to?

Just as not all the exiles wanted to go back to Jerusalem, or some of them were agonizing over it and others were already packed…within the Christian faith, perhaps some of us are just a little bit too comfortable, a little bit too reluctant to pick up the gauntlet, which God throws down each morning.

Every day we have an opportunity to move out of something “less than” and into something “more than”. Building God’s Kingdom is an every day occupation, demonstrated in so many way…in words spoken, in love shown, in turning the other cheek, in rebuking sickness, in moving mountains with mustard seed faith, in claiming promises…

My invitation? I am thinking about what I need to pack!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Own Personal Filth Files

I was listening to the radio in the car. Someone was relating a story about window cleaners. Apparently they had contacted a cleaner to come and clean their windows. The man had turned up the next day with the ladder, the bucket of water and his window wiper, took one look at the windows and withdrew his services. I am sure that the windows were no messier than anyone else’s. His complaint was the windows were too big!

When asked a few weeks ago about birthday presents…there was no asking involved now that I come to think about it, merely telling. I had wound myself up into a storm about late nights, ruined dinners and no telephone calls and, as ever when I get that wound up, the state of the house gets tossed into the argument. You know how it goes…working my fingers to the bone…coming home after a hard day to start all over again…the only one who cleans up around here…treat this place like a hotel..

Well, I decided to forgo the book, the CD, the DVD and any other such potential birthday presents. I wanted a firm to come clean my house from top to bottom! I was looking for a blitz on corners and grime and the stuff I never get around to doing.

Then I thought about the window cleaner story. Imagine if the van turns up, parks outside, unloads a plethora of bottles of stuff, and tins of polish, and scrubbing things and an industrial hoover and then takes one look at my front room.

“Oh, sorry, Madam,” he or she says, “there’s just too much dirt here. We don’t do deep cleans, just surface wipes!”

I have had two ladies that “do” – one needed the job to support a menagerie of pets. She was twelve or thirteen at the time. My husband, being the chairperson of his union, insisted I pay her a minimum wage and arrange the occasional work’s night out – a visit to the cinema and a pizza afterwards. There was a rumour, entirely untrue, that I tidied up before she arrived. We worked side by side for a couple of hours and the house was clean.

The second lady that did was a friend who just wanted to serve me. No rumour this time of prior tidying up. She managed a few weeks but then became incredibly stressed out. I don’t blame the state of my home on her stress. There were other things going on in her life.

So with the advent of the cleaning firm knocking on the door tomorrow morning – I kind of feel obliged to at least tidy up. I have already changed the bedding!

Friday, March 05, 2010

Mouths Wide Open

There are some people who are naturally open mouthed. They breathe quite happily through their mouth, rather than through their nose. In fact, closing their mouths is a conscious act, and keeping it closed is an act of will. It’s just not natural.

I am an open mouth person. This has it’s disadvantages in that at night time I drool. I wake to a wet patch on the pillow. If I just happen to be leaning against my husband, the wet patch is on his chest rather than on the pillow. I am open mouthed and I am a drool er! I dare say the drooling will get worse as I get older.

When I was younger, I spent some time in an convent – not in preparation for becoming a nun, although I think I would have made a good nun. There was an orphanage attached to the convent – I wasn’t an orphan, but home life was a bit traumatic at the time for my mum, and all us kids spent a week or two, or longer, in this place. We were there twice.

The first time we didn’t seem to be able to put a foot wrong and were heralded as the best examples of well-behaved children that had ever walked through the door.

The second time we had nits. I don’t know whether we brought them with us from home, or whether we caught them on the bus travelling to the convent, or whether some convent kid passed them on to us. All I know is that from being the best examples of well-behaved children on the planet, we became lepers. I don’t think the nuns knew about the shampoos you could use to get rid of nits. Their preferred method was thrusting our heads over a sink and dragging a fine toothed nit comb through the hair. We were faced with the little beasties in the water drowning slowly before our eyes!

The nits seemed to be just the starting point for all sorts of criticisms levelled at us. We couldn’t do anything right. I came under fire because I was an open mouth person. I never thought about how I breathed before. I just breathed through my mouth rather than through my nose. Suddenly my open mouth became this horrendous thing that double decker buses were liable to fall into! It wasn’t something that I deliberately chose to do. It wasn’t an act of defiance or anything, and yet that was how it was portrayed.

Open wide your mouth and I will fill it" (Psalm 81:10, NIV).

This is a verse after my heart. Not only am I allowed to be open mouthed, I am encouraged to be really open mouthed.

As much as my physical tendency is towards open-mouthed-ness, my spiritual tendency is probably not that at all. Picture bird’s nests and baby chicks, and the not only have you got really wide open beaks, but those beaks are often glaringly red or yellow, so the parent bird just can’t ignore it. The open beak is usually accompanied by a manic squawking that can’t be ignored either. It speaks of hunger, it speaks of utter dependency, it speaks of appetite and insatiability.

Transfer that to our spiritual lives! Does it transfer at all?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Spring Cleaning

I am thinking about spring cleaning – not about the act of spring cleaning, so all the dust bunnies can stop hopping about in anxiety. I am thinking more in the abstract, the concept of spring cleaning if you will. Actually to be more accurate I am thinking not so much about spring cleaning as about Lent, that period of time that leads up to Easter, that begins with pancakes and ends with chocolate Easter eggs, although technically I think Lent ends on Maunday Thursday.

I am not quite sure just what it is about Lent that has caught my imagination. I am a member of a church that seems to bypass the traditional Christian year. Celebrating Lent is one of those bypassed events, and I suppose if it is done in the sense of being religious and legal and ticky-boxy, it is well left. Lent is about springtime, and about the days lengthening, and there is a spring cleaning aspect to it. It is not so much the physical house with three bedrooms and a fitted kitchen, but the body being a temple of the Holy Spirit, and giving that a clean out.

I remember a great clean out. It might have been in 1987. It was my final year of living and working in Cyprus. A friend from the church I attended there was waiting for the delivery of a new car. I don’t think it was brand new, straight off the factory conveyor belt, but just new to her house. I seem to remember that cars over in Cyprus lasted forever – the blessings of being rain free for almost all the year.

We tend to treat new things much better than we treat our old things. The new car was destined for the garage, rather than just being left on the drive, or on the road. The garage, was full of stuff. It wasn’t junk stuff, just stuff. Junk stuff was kept in the shed, not the garage. The shed was a very sturdy building made of corrugated iron sheets bolted together. It was not dilapidated in any way but it did house junk stuff, as opposed to not junk stuff. The plan was to empty the shed of the junk stuff and move the garage stuff into the shed.

There was nothing in the shed that was anything other than junk, so it was all taken away to the tip, leaving the shed empty – apparently. It certainly looked empty to the casual viewer. Before we moved the garage stuff into the shed, my friend decided to clean it up a bit. It wasn’t a case of digging out a brush and dustpan, but switching on a water hose. In the hot weather it took only a little time to dry things.

She played the water along the top of one of the inside walls. It was very dusty and cobwebs hung artistically everywhere. Within minutes, it looked as if the very walls were undulating gently, moving, alive. Down the walls, and out of the door trailed a steady stream of very small, very wet mice. There were dozens of them. It was like wave, after wave, after wave of mice making for somewhere dry.

I had been standing in the doorway when the exodus occurred. I didn’t have time to step out of the way. Truth be told, I was rather gob-smacked. I felt the tickle of the wet little bodies and they streamed over my feet encased in strappy sandals. The idea of moving was considered, but rejected. I was not happy for them to be running over my feet, but less happy with the idea of stepping on them. After a few minutes the stream died down to just the odd mouse here and there, maybe the less sprightly mice or the mice that has stayed a little bit longer to pack a few essentials before being evicted.

What looked to be empty – that shed without all the junk – was anything but empty, but it took a jet of water to shift the inhabitants.

I am a hoarder by nature. My junk is just junk with one or two vaguely valuable items thrown in. I live with my junk. Every so often a purge happens. Some call it spring cleaning – but as it rarely happens in the springtime in my house I just call it cleaning.

I wonder about the other junk – the stuff inside my spirit. Lent seems to be the perfect opportunity not just to give up chocolate, or some other delicious vice, but also a chance to get rid of some of the junk. What comes to mind are old hurts and upsets, fragments of conversations that are not worth remembering, silly and superstitious ideas, the brownie point mentality.