Friday, June 29, 2012

More Than Just Stoppers

I am kind of glad it is raining at Wimbledon.  Without any current matches being played on any of the courts, the BBC showed a replay of last night’s match between Rafael Nadal Rafael Nadal and Rafael Nadal Lukas Rosol.  It should have been a stroll in the park as far as Nadal was concerned – but it didn’t work out that way.  I knew the score, I’d been listening to the radio early this morning, but it did not stop me from cheering on Nadal – maybe “this” time it wouldn’t end in defeat!

Much was made of Rosol’s age and previous match experience and the fact that he wasn’t overawed by the occasion.  Did the man not realise that he ought to be losing?  It was centre court at Wimbledon and it was Nadal fresh from his French Open championship title.  They watched, the commentators, for the inevitable decline in performance – but it never came, and they concluded that they had never seen the like of it before.  Yes, there had been other upsets in other Wimbledon years, but not like this one.

Comments were made about the much more attractive path it all made for our man, Andy.  There is no semi-final with Nadal to haunt him, but one wonders whether he would fare any better against Rosol.

Rosol may have taken out Nadal in spectacular fashion, but the radio pundit this morning, labelled him a “stopper”.  There were some players, he suggested, that could stop the Nadals and the Federers but that’s all they did.  They didn’t move on any further in the championship.  The next game they were unable to recapture the moment and sank into oblivion.

The concept of a stopper has remained with me much of the day.  Stoppers just stop whoever happens to be in their way, but they don’t progress any further. 

Most times I don’t claim to be a stopper.  Too often I am the “stoppee” – the one being stopped.   It’s not someone the other side of the net with a big serve and powerful cross court forehand and “lovely hands” with the drop shots.  I am thinking more of circumstances that stop me, or the voice in my head that I shouldn’t listen to that tells me I can’t do it, that deep down I am just ordinary with no spark of genius flashing.  I know better! 

I was thinking about prayer.  Ephesians 6:10-11 remind us to Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  That’s us being “stoppers” in the Kingdom. 

Sadly some of us think that this is all that’s required.  And even more sadly, some of us never really do that. 

We are not just stoppers!  We progress even further – taking from our adversary, the devil, the things that he’s claimed to be his own.

Our prayers must be more that those that would stop injustice, and greed and cruelty.  We move on to pray that God will “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing” that there will not be enough room to store it. (Malachi 3: 10)

I am not sure that want Rosol to be more than a stopper.  There is always the next person to stop and somewhere down the line Andy Murray stands in his way.

It would be nice is this year no one stopped Andy.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Middle Stream

There’s to be a shake-up in the education system south of the border.  The ConDems (or, perhaps more accurately the Cons part of the ConDems, since the Dems part of it object strongly) are plotting the scrap the GCSEs which they deem to be too easy and bring back something like “O” levels and CSEs. 

I am the product of a two tier system.  While the gifted and able strutted their stuff quoting Shakespeare, conjugating verbs and solving quadratic equations, the less gifted and unable were given a less challenging syllabus.  

I was ungifted and unable – apparently.  Not a label I would attach to myself, it was given to me on my arrival at secondary school (High School).

In Primary School (Elementary) I hadn’t really had the chance to shine.  The headmaster, Mr Cobbly, operated a system whereby he identified the high fliers and pulled them up a year to his class.  That required some of the low fliers to surrender their tables and take a seat next door.   It was like being demoted. 

It was something you actually volunteered to do.  You were not told to move class but the request was issued.  I didn’t want to go, but my friend at the time was a very giving and generous kind of child and I found it hard to make friends in those days so when she stuck up her hand I followed.  Imagine asking a ten year old to make decisions like that about their education.

So, I never made it to Mr Cobbly’s class.   When the time came to allocate pupils to streamed classes in secondary school, I was placed in the middle stream.  Mr Cobbly’s class mostly made it into the top stream.  I was not in his class so I didn’t make it.  Yes, it rankles. 

Being in the middle stream we were denied access to “O” levels.  We took CSEs which were designed for the less able.  An “A” in a CSE was the equivalent to an “O” level pass.  The only “O” level I sat and passed was Religious Studies.  The RE teacher refused to play by the rules.  He took us on to do “A” level over the next couple of years.

I really don’t know if I was working at the right level.  I know that I hated the label. 

At the start of fourth year we were reorganised into two streams rather than three, and I worked my socks off to make sure I was not in the bottom stream.  Getting into the top stream really meant the bottom of the top – not just the top.  I was still barred from “O” levels.  Being at the bottom of the top the CSE path was my only route to qualifications. 

I suppose that I didn’t really help my cause.  I wasn’t the best student for the most part.  My biology jotter was filled with stories I wrote instead of the required notes on the life of plants or diagrams of the innards of frogs.  Homework was just something I rarely did. 

Sometimes when we look back at things we have a tendency to say that it didn’t really do any harm.  There are some things that may not have any harm – but neither did they do any good.

I came through the system relatively unscathed.  My CSEs and my one “O” level and one “A” level were made to work for me in getting into teacher training college.   I wore blinkers when it came to what I wanted to be when I grew up.  A part of me wanted to prove that I was both gifted and able.  After over thirty years of teaching I seriously doubt at times that I am either gifted or able! (Hail the wisdom that comes with age.)

It must have been about half way through my teacher training course I discovered the sheer delight of learning.   Something cerebral took place – neurons fired possibly for the first time.  Old habits of memorising things gave way to pulling information apart to find its heart and build it back up in a way that I could relate to it, make sense of and pass it on to others.

I would like to think that the middle stream made it.  I’d like to think that we surmounted the hurdles and exceeded expectations.  I’d like to think that the labels came off in the washing machine of life. 

From the other side of the desk I think that going back to those days really isn’t a good idea.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Things to Tell Myself

She’s never read a newspaper
She boasts
She’s never had black ink
Stain her fingertips
She’s never had dark stories
Stain her mind
She already knows
How far humanity has slipped
She says

She’s never watched the news
She declares
She’s never had pictures
Of hurricanes and floods
Drag her eyes open
She’s never heard the screams
From exploding bombs
Echo in her ears
She already knows
How far humanity has slipped
She says

She’s never voted in an election
She claims
She has never put her cross
Decisive and firm
In any box
She’s never listened
To party political broadcasts
She is waiting for a better world
Than this
She already knows
How far humanity has slipped
She says

Humanity slipped and
You stood and watched
I tell her

You’ve wasted the authority
God gave you
I tell her

Your prayers
Stirred by the stories
Like an arrow loosed at a target
Directed and purposeful
Could have felled the enemy
I tell her

Your prayers
Fuelled by the images
Sown with tears
Pleading for the lost, the blind and the lame
Lifting their names to heaven
Applying the precious Blood
To the blows and the bruises
Could have brought healing
I tell her

You could have closed the door
On the tyrants
And on the small men
Who sit on big thrones
And tear down the walls that protect
The poor
I tell her

The better world
Is this one
When we take the authority
God has given
And pray
I tell her

Then I tell these things
To myself

Friday, June 15, 2012


As I am sure I’ve told you before I am a very vivid dreamer.  Sometimes it can be like watching a film – it’s all very organised, scene by scene, and it makes sense.  It’s a proper story.  If only I would sit down and turn them into books, I might have a few best sellers!

Other times they are just disconnected scenes of a very bizarre nature.  There’s no sense or reason and they don’t lend themselves to any kind of useful interpretation.  Most of last night’s offerings were like that – just nonsense.

There was one scene, however, that was fairly normal.  A group of us decided to walk down to the village chip shop.  “Us” comprised of no one I knew in real life.  It was a nice evening for a walk and the company was pleasant. 

I remember having problems with my shoes laces.  They were really, really, really long.  I had wrapped them around the shoe dozens of times, under the arch of the foot, before tying them up, but they kept coming loose and I was forever tripping over.

I told people to go ahead.  I would catch them up once I had sorted myself out.  Someone offered to stay and wait, but I waved them on.

That’s when I realised that the problem wasn’t the shoe lace – it was the shoe.  It wasn’t a trainer, or a walking boot or anything sensible at all.  I was wearing a pair of highland dancing pumps.  The laces threaded through the holes on either side of the pump and then criss-crossed around and up the calve.  The laces were supposed to be long.  They weren’t supposed to be wrapped around the shoe half a dozen times.

I woke up at that point. 

It was while I was having my morning wash that I felt the Spirit say, “You should be dancing!”

“Huh?”  I am not at my brightest before my first cup of tea.

I had been reading a story in the gospels – the story of the crippled woman who is healed on the Sabbath day.

“On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all.  When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.”  Luke 13:10-13.

I don’t think I am crippled, but bits of me take a little bit more time to move than they used to.  People may not look crippled on the outside, but if you could peel away the physical bits and look at their heart, or their soul or their mind, maybe they would be stooped over.  The infirmity is not visible, but unseen.  They are crippled just the same.

Jesus put her hands on her and set her free.  She straightened up and praised God.

I remember, yesterday, or whatever day it was that I read the story, acknowledging that on the outside I may appear to be standing upright, but on the inside in my heart, my soul, and my mind, I am sometimes a little crushed.  An anxiety or worry is plaguing me, and inside I am stooping under the weight of it all.  I prayed for Jesus to touch me and set me free that I could straighten up and praise him.

I guess I didn’t linger long enough to know inside that a change had happened.  I just tossed the prayer heavenward and headed for work.

I didn’t feel particularly plagued with worries or anxieties.  It had been a good day. 

I suppose this morning, before the first cup of tea, or the morning’s quiet time, my internal posture of heart, soul and mind had taken on the customary stooping.  Although there were no worries and anxieties, I had been so used to carrying them around that the inner Mel had adapted to accommodate them.

“You should be dancing!”

That quiet whisper of the Holy Spirit broke through.  The shoes and the very long laces of the dream made perfect sense.

Throughout the day it has been the constant whisper to my spirit.

My heart, soul and mind have been dancing all day.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Seven Times Purified Words

“The words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.” Psalm 12:6

The phrase “purified seven times” struck a chord. 

The psalmist felt himself to be on the receiving end of someone’s lies or flattery, or someone’s deception or their boasting.  People around him were using words to twist the truth a little.  God’s words stood in stark contrast – flawless, like silver refined…purified seven times.
I cannot claim that my words are like God’s words.  I might give them a cursory thought to make sure they were not dishonest or hurtful (most of the time), but “seven times purified” they are not.

A number of years ago, Joe and I went to Ireland for a week’s holiday.  We split our time between Dublin on one side of the country and Galway on the west coast.  I enjoy a wee dram of whisky so I made it a point to go on a whisky tasting tour.  Joe, being more of a beer man, opted to visit the Guinness distillery. 

I wouldn’t say that there is a pleasant haze about that afternoon, but I remember smiling a lot as the afternoon went on.  I might have been a little less upright and a little less uptight!

The difference between Scottish and Irish whiskies is in the amount of distilling. Scots distil twice where the Irish distil three times.  It all makes for a lighter end result.  At the time I hadn’t really put enough work into developing my whisky tongue and training my taste buds so I have to confess that the distinction was lost on me.  I know what whiskies I like and which ones I don’t. 

There was, apparently, a difference between the twice distilled and the three times distilled. 

I wonder whether, just as the trained tongue can tell the differences in the whiskies, whether the ear can tell the difference when it comes to words.

We can, for the most part, distinguish the obvious lies from the less obvious.  We can, perhaps tell when we are being flattered and that what is being said to us is not sincere.  Most of us know when the wool is being pulled over our eyes. 

How many of us seek out “seven times purified” words to share with others? Words without any side, or hidden agenda or strings attached.  

When I have the opportunity to use such words, too often I opt for something diluted rather than distilled.  I may not cause harm by what I say, neither do I do the good that God intends.

Holy Spirit, distil Your word in me, seven times purified,  that the words I speak transform lives – my own, as I speak faith to myself – and the lives of others, as I declare what I know to be true.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Scary Places

The Jubilee Weekend gave Joe and me the opportunity to go away for the weekend to Glasgow.  With the extra day at the end it didn’t feel as rushed as usual.  Spending time with the family was not a clock watching activity.

 Sunday morning we decided to check out the cinema.  I suppose we could have checked out the churches, and we have done so in the past, but this time we opted to go and see “Prometheus”, the prequel To “Alien”.  All I have seen of Alien and its sequels have been short snatches – aliens exploding out of peoples’ innards.  I’m challenged enough dealing with the real world and some of our not-so-alien explosions.

 I was not that impressed.  I might have coped better if the film had not been 3D.  My own prescription glasses did not take well to being climbed all over by another pair of glasses.   They didn’t sit well.  Maybe only certain sections of a 3D film lend themselves to 3D technology – I remember ducking just the once when alien ships flew over my shoulder.

 There was simply too much about the film that was not believable.  The aliens and their fiendish plan to conquer the earth – I had no problem with that.  It’s what they do.  The mutation of a good looking human into an alien – that happens.  I can even swallow that half a dozen humans fighting the entire alien race, with their less superior weaponry, come out on top.

 What I really found unacceptable was the irresponsibility or the arrogance of the human race – pushing buttons to open doors and having absolutely no idea what’s on the other side.  Or waving to alien snakes lurking in black oily stuff and saying “Hello, buddy!”  Or trying to take the mutating human being, who is fast becoming an alien, back on the spaceship.  What are they thinking?  They seem to have misplaced their common sense.  I cannot believe there aren’t any safety protocols in place to deal with alien snakes, mysterious buttons and mutating human beings.

 I acknowledge that you have to take risks.  It’s hardly good film fare if everyone stays on the ship and strange buttons don’t get pushed and aliens are kept at arms-length.  One needs a few explosions and mucus squishing between one’s fingertips.  It just seemed to me that a voice of caution coming from someone somewhere was much needed and very absent.

 You can see where the irresponsibility comes in – but what about the arrogance?  We are always being told that we are the most highly developed species on the planet.  We are the top of the food chain and the decisions we make affect all manner of life on the earth.  It seems we carry this top dog mentality about with us – that we have the right to do what we like, where we like, to whom we like and no one can stop us.  We press the button because it’s our right to press it, no one can stop us from finding out what’s on the other side.  We have a right to satisfy our curiosity.  The alien snake is somehow inferior to us because, after all, it’s just a snake.  It doesn’t carry a stun gun.

 So, that was my take on “Prometheus”.  Not the movie of the year as it promised to be.

 Incidentally, while waiting in the queue to buy the tickets I was musing.

 I was assuming that “Prometheus” was going to be scary, because “Alien”, the bits I had seen, had been scary.  I was thinking about my usual Sunday mornings when I was at church.  They were very different activities – watching a scary film on a Sunday morning compared with sitting in a safe pew in a church.

 “Safe pews?” said the still small voice, “If any church has safe pews there is something wrong with the church!”

 Yes, churches are places of safety – but they should also be places of danger.  When you start listening to a word that that is God breathed, and you let it fill you, you are like the mutating human being – changing not into a scary alien, but into the likeness of Christ himself.  Instead of pushing a button and having no clue to what’s on the other side, you claim promises, trusting that God will do what He says – secure in your faith that what happens next will be God’s good will for you.  You say, “Hello, buddy” not to alien snakes swirling in black oil, but to friends, neighbours and strangers you meet throughout your day. 

 No, church can be a dangerous place – when you are serious about God.

 As long as you are serious about God though, you are always safe!