Saturday, October 29, 2011

Free and Clear Speech

I have a whiteboard discussion starter for a unit on Freedom of Speech. Clicking on coloured boxes reveal photographs of people associated with issues to do with freedom of expression. Most of the photographs are rarely easily identified by this generation – Mary Whitehouse for one.

I try to update it every so often to keep it relevant and interesting. A couple of years ago Russell Brand made it on to the board after he and Jonathan Ross got involved in unpleasant telephone conversations with Andrew Sachs. It is always interesting to debate where the lines should be drawn between what you can say and what you can’t. Last year, we waved goodbye to Arthur Scargill and Fred Phelps took his place. He was the church leader who encouraged his flock to wave banners at the funerals of soldiers insisting that God was punishing America for its attitude to homosexuality.

Who shall I kick off the board this time to make way for a photo of either Dr Rowan Williams or simply a picture of St Paul’s Cathedral?

I confess that I haven’t been keeping up to scratch with what the protest is all about. Interim reports have kept me busy for a while. Protestors have pitched tents outside the Cathedral to draw attention to the greed of capitalism, the fat cat bonuses of bankers and the way in which the ConDem’s cuts are unfair and discriminatory.

There was an article in the “I on Saturday” about driving the protestors away from St Paul’s and how such a move has divided the Church of England. The people that should be saying something – like the Archbishop Dr Rowan Williams – are keeping silent on the issue. Silence is often a bad move where the church is concerned. Silence equates to agreement and approval - not something the church should be doing.

What really bugged me about the article in the “I” was their additional fuel thrown onto the fire in the form of “What the Bible says…” It is never a good idea to rip a verse out of context to make a point. “Render to Caesar the things that a Caesar’s” (Matt 22:21) was never the focus that Jesus was saying. That seems to some to be written in capital letters while the “Render to God the things that are God’s” seems to be in the small print at the bottom of the page!

“If any would not work, neither should they eat” 2 Thess 3:10. The same group of young people that discussed freedom of speech issues this week, discussed poverty issues this time last year. Where do people get the idea that poor people don’t work? The problem is not that they don’t work – they do, and often very long hours in very poor working conditions. The problem is that get paid crappy wages! There is another verse somewhere that says that the worker is worthy of his hire. Pay people a working wage! If you, Mr Cameron, want people to work for their unemployment benefit – stop calling it unemployment benefit – call it a job and pay a proper wage for it!

But what REALLY bugged me apart from the verses taken out of context was the version of the Bible they had used. There are so many accessible versions of the Bible. Did the journalist pick the “New International Version” or “The Message”? In favour of the protestors Proverbs 22:16 was quoted. “He that oppresseth of the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want.” “Want” what? Recognition? A fat bonus? Beautiful as it may be in language and poetry the King James Version was the wrong choice.

“He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth and he who gives gifts to the rich— both come to poverty “ is how the New International Bible put it.

“Exploit the poor or glad-hand the rich—whichever, you'll end up the poorer for it,” warns The Message.

It seems to me that by using the King James the writer is creating an impression that the Church of England, or the Church universal, is out of date and archaic, and has no relevance to today’s world, and has nothing to say about current issues that anyone can understand clearly.

I beg to differ.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Lost Letter "G"

Earlier in the week I read an article tucked away in a corner of a newspaper. The Scrabble World Championship in Warsaw had a Thai player insisting that an English player be strip searched to prove he had not hidden a missing letter “G” on his person.

The incident begged some kind of poetic response.

I insist you disrobe
So that I can see
You haven’t concealed
The lost letter “G”

A sleeve or a pocket
I’m sure you’d agree
Are perfect for hiding
The lost letter “G”

Just think of the triple
Word score that could be
If you would surrender
The lost letter “G”

I think you have cheated
The prize denied me
I’ll never get over
The lost letter “G”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Making the Connection

We have just returned from visiting family south of the border. Normally I try to make sure that the house is left reasonably tidy – I wouldn’t want a burglar to complain that I am a lousy housewife. This time however, there were so many jobs about the house, and workmen to do them (or not do them as in the case of the loft insulation because of asbestos fibres) I just didn’t find the time or the inclination. I still don’t have the time or inclination but the house needs to be clean for visitors at the weekend.

It can be quite a hectic time visiting everyone and we NEVER manage to get round everyone. Sometimes it can feel very un-holiday-like and we miss out on just being tourists, so we plundered the box of tourist leaflets at the
B & B.

In all the years of living in Warwickshire, only a couple of months involved driving a car, so I have never really got to know the roads. I confess that I even got lost in the village of Crick where I grew up. There are one or two new housing estates that have sprung up, with a complicated warren of col-du-sacs. My brother in law sniggered as I phoned for directions to his son’s house. Lost in Crick ought to be an oxymoron, but apparently isn’t.

Joe and I headed out to Compton Vereny - “Warwickshire's award-winning art gallery, opened in 2004, delivering an exciting international programme of exhibitions and events in the setting of a Grade 1 listed Robert Adam mansion located in 120 acres of spectacular parkland.”

The art exhibitions didn’t just begin once you entered the building and paid for your admission but the” spectacular parkland” contained things too. Art means different things to different people. A giant spider web woven out of raffia might make one person think of art – it made me think of giant spiders!

A current exhibition inside the building was “What the folk say”. Presumably upstairs, where we didn’t go, there is an exhibition of folk art – not your classic poses in the usual medium in ornate frames, but lots of wood carvings and papier-mâché objects. Artists had been invited to take something out of the folk collection and place it alongside of an object or picture in the other collections and then write a paragraph to explain how the two were related. One object might bring out a truth about another object that wasn’t at first glance obvious. Some of the connections they made left you thinking “Oh Yes!” while others left you thinking “Duh?”

There was a huge picture of the battle of Troy and one of the main men involved had taken an arrow to his thigh. He was surrounded by women trying to extract the arrow and bind up the wound. An artist had teamed up that picture with a picture from the folk exhibition where a boxer with a black eye was being tended by his trainer reaching out with a cold flannel. Whether the battle is a big one with a cast of thousands, or a small personal one – injuries happen and people step in to try to help.

Another exhibit from the folk exhibition was a very large bullet. It was made out of metal and had ammunition stamped on it. It wasn’t a real bullet, but a kind of cartoon type bullet. It has been placed in the middle of a room dedicated to portraits of politicians. The artist was drawing the link between war and politics. Even on a non-war level words can be used like bullets to injure people. I have seen glimpses into parliament debates and the way words are used – not just the words, but the tone can be very damaging.

The whole thing was certainly thought provoking. One pair of objects that I found quite offensive involved a wooden carving of the resurrection scene. You could see the crosses in the background and Jesus in the foreground and a few witnesses. The artist had chosen to team it up with a knitted egg cosy. The egg cosy was in the form of a king’s head with a crown and it was placed over the head of Jesus. Yes, Jesus is the King – but the egg cosy over Jesus’ head seemed irreverent in some way. The egg cosy wasn’t even well knitted. What is was doing in the folk collection to start with beats me.

I was thinking of the idea of putting one thing next to another where one object reveals a hidden truth about the other object. That is essentially what a parable is – using the known truth in one story to reveal an unknown truth in another.

Swap the art of objects for scenes from the Bible and just a single word instead of the object from the folk exhibition and allow the imagination to ignite!

See in your mind, perhaps, the Calvary scene of Jesus on the cross, the nails, the blood, the darkness and Jesus’ cry of abandonment. For many people their word would be “death” or “defeat” but God writes a different word – “life” or “victory”.

See in your mind, perhaps, Paul and Silas in a prison at midnight, beaten and bloody, manacles biting into wrists and the sewer smell in their nostrils. What one word would moat people write? Maybe “misery” or “hopeless”, but again God writes something different – “freedom” and “praise”.

I never quite made some of the connections that the artists were making at Compton Verney – and sometimes I never make the connections that God makes with events that happen in the lives of people. To make the artists’ connections require me to think like the artist. To understand the connections that God makes I need to think like God.

Thankfully God doesn’t stick an egg cosy over His thoughts to conceal them!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Treasure in the Attic

I have long suspected that my husband has a picture of Dorian Grey in the attic – well not exactly Dorian himself as that wouldn’t really work, would it?

I have not read the book, but I have seen the film where Dorian Grey commits all kinds of crimes, leads a less than honourable life and the picture in the attic takes all the depravity leaving the man untouched and beautiful.

I am not saying that Joe is a low life criminal and there’s a picture in the attic soaking it all up. What I mean is Joe is just as young and handsome as he was the day we married. He hasn’t aged. I tease him about a Dorian Grey picture in the attic – but there is no such picture.

I know this for sure because the contents of the attic are spread across a number of rooms in cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes. Some of the boxes might have been in better shape when they went up however many years ago, but are a little less sturdy now.

A man landed on the doorstep a few weeks ago asking if he could look at our loft insulation. I am not actually sure if he went into the loft, or just poked around the area near the door. It’s not an accessible loft. The ladder is a few rungs short of actually reaching the door and loft itself is an obstacle course of hot water tanks, beams and boxes.

He came back down with a page full of measurements and informed us that the insulation was way below the minimum and that we were entitled to a grant to pay towards adding a few more inches. The government may be clawing back the pennies in other places…but not in people’s loft insulation. Of course we would have to move the boxes out, or neatly pile them in a corner somewhere and they would insulate round them.

Neatly piling them into a corner would require one of us going into the loft. It was actually far easier to stand on the top step if the ladder, and reach in to extract them.

I thought it was all Donald’s stuff - our lodger from way back who was a photography man. We have boxes that never made it up the ladder into the attic of his car collections and his artwork given to us instead of rent money.

The boxes were all our stuff…and such stuff.

Joe’s old stereo system was up there. He has a collection of records that no doubt he will start revisiting now.

A box of folders from his college days has his notes on his business management and economics courses.

Another box of folders, this time mine, contained my old Gospel Outreach scrapbook – a commentary of life spent knocking doors and asking people if they were saved! It was a real trip down memory lane. I looked much younger then, much slimmer and looked like I was having fun.

There was also another scrapbook, less pages, covering just a few months. It covered our early days of dating – when Joe and I started to go out together! So cute…

And there was a box of letters. I don’t write many letters today, but then, sometime back in 1992 I was a prolific letter writer. A number of months ago I had sent a cyber blood hound into the cyber world to see if it could track down a pension account I had opened a long time ago and lost track of. I had opted out of SERPS, the teacher’s pension scheme and set up something else. I stopped teaching and closed the account and the scheme and I lost touch. I thought I ought to look for it, hence the cyber blood hound, but the scent was long gone.

Tucked in among the letters was a bunch of brown envelopes – my long lost pension scheme was less lost than it had been. I had an account number and a last known address and a tidy little sum sitting doing nothing.

So…attics…well worth looking into the boxes up there! Who knows what reassure you will find?

Finding lost treasures reminds me that there are other treasures that I need to dig around to find. The words given to me by God through sermons and quiet times are sometimes like my lost pension scheme with its tidy little sum of money sitting around doing nothing. God didn’t intend His word to do nothing, but to work for Him and produce a harvest.

“Every teacher of religious law who becomes a disciple in the Kingdom of Heaven is like a homeowner who brings from his storeroom new gems of truth as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52}

Saturday, October 08, 2011

A Joe-ku

It was National Poetry Day on Thursday. Joe was in the kitchen making East-West chips. The fridge door is littered with words from a magnetic poetry kit he bought me years ago - so he got creative.

you are honey
raw yet cool
but only the tongue
can pant and drool
delicate chocolate

As well as the writing the poem he has invented his own poetry form too calling it a joe-ku.

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Bone weary and dog tired
My heart-spring scorched and dry
I cannot feel the sunshine
For the clouds that fill the sky

I listen in the darkness
There’s a voice says “Come to Me”
A promise of a quiet rest
He bids me come and see

He asks that I will walk with Him
Work with Him by my side
And as I watch and learn from Him
In His grace I’ll abide

He offers me a gentle yoke
A burden that is light
And as I keep in step with Him
There’s joy and rich delight

Matthew 11:28-30

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Overflow of the Heart

It was like a re-enactment of Old Mother Hubbard. The cupboard in question wasn’t in the kitchen and it wasn’t empty. It was a quick glimpse of the contents of my heart! The mouth had been speaking (it rarely stops) but what was coming out tending to be sharp and critical and over loud.

I decided that it was time to clear out the junk from the heart – confessing negative words spoken to myself and others, repenting of attitudes that were less than godly and seeking forgiveness for all manner of things.

Once clean, I felt the need to fill up my heart with some good things. It’s an active thing – much like gardening, I suppose. Good things are not just going to fall into my heart. They need to be searched out, held on to and treasured.

Among the bible readings and listening to worship music while I washed up, I made a date to watch Songs of Praise. The choice of hymns may not always be to my liking, but it was the 50th birthday celebration, and crowds of thousands were packed into the Alexandra Palace in London, and what’s not to like about Aled Jones?

Janet Street Porter wrote an article in the Independent on Sunday. Admitting to be a secret fan of Songs of Praise, she writes “is like saying you believe in God, or that you think marriage is a good idea – something not mentioned in public”. I believe both and mention them quite publically at times. She is not really impressed with the Church and thinks that it has failed to do what it is supposed to do – “taking belief out of out-dated buildings and into the lives of ordinary people in offices, canteens and schools.” I have to agree with her and ask myself whether I am taking faith with me into my workplace and neighbourhood. She lays the blame firmly at the feet of the Archbishop of Canterbury – but we are all responsible for demonstrating faith in every situation we face.

I digress – back to storing up good things in my heart and watching Songs of Praise. Andrea Bocelli was one of the guests on the programme last night. He sang “Ave Maria” and later on “Amazing Grace”. I have been dipping into a book “Beyond Amazing Grace” – a collection of sermons, letter extracts and hymns from John Newton. In one of his letters he talked about a young girl who became like a daughter to him. She had a mental breakdown and ended up in an institution and he visited her as often as he could. In his prayers he committed her to God’s care. He confessed that his prayers are not really for her, but for himself. Difficult times often lead people to abandon their faith. His eyes were failing and his strength was declining and he no longer had her help. His prayer ends with “Spare my eyes, if it please thee; but above all, strengthen my faith and my love.”

We sang a version of Amazing Grace a couple of weeks ago. I wondered them, as we sang the so-familiar words, whether when he wrote the hymn, or when he sang it, he could do so without tears. We all sing the phrase “that saved a wretch like me…” but I wonder if we really think the word “wretch” really applies to us. OK so John Newton was a slave trader and did some really horrendous things – “wretch” is perhaps an apt word. But do we apply it to ourselves? Do we think that we are just a little bad, as opposed to really bad – deep down we are nice people really and “wretch” doesn’t apply. If we appreciated our wretched state without Christ I think we would sing the hymn with tears.

“I once was blind, but now I see.” In the gospels there are no stories of men who have perfect vision becoming blind because of an encounter with Jesus. It happens the other way round – they start off blind and then they can see. John Newton and Andreas Bocelli have blindness in common. As a poet, I can’t help but appreciate the choice of words or the structure of the sentence. As a Christian I can’t help but ask whether I am blind – blind to what Jesus did on the cross, blind to His grace that is outpoured for us all, every day.

Looking back, September was a difficult month. I had so many opportunities to simply step aside and allow God fight the battle on my behalf. Instead I insisted on fighting in every skirmish, losing more often than winning. I came to the end of my resources. Eventually through the noise of the battle I heard God telling me to step aside, to stand behind Him, and let Him send the enemy running.

I don’t need another September! I don’t need a heart that is empty of good things! I don’t need a mouth overflowing with sharp and angry words.

“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matt 12:34b