Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Independent on Sunday Happy List

This invitation appeared in the Independent of Sunday a week or two ago.

“Our sixth annual Independent on Sunday Happy List is now being prepared, and we're seeking nominations. The Happy List is our antidote to all those rich lists, wealth lists, and celebrity lists, and celebrates 100 people who give back; those who, without thought of personal gain or recognition, make Britain a better, more well-adjusted, and happier place.”

I said to my husband that I would nominate him.  He just grinned, knowing that I say a lot of things that I never always do. 

Here’s my nomination.  I don’t have his permission to go through with the nomination, so it will merely be a blog post.  Those readers who know Joe don’t have my permission to use the material.  Joe hates the limelight and I am not about to thrust him into it – and neither are you!

I would like to nominate my husband, Joseph Kerr, for the 2013 Independent on Sunday Happy List.  Joseph lives in Inverness and works for the Scottish Crofting Commission.  He has worked with the Commission for a number of years and is well respected in the crofting community.  For a while he was responsible for grants and development and was known as the “mannie with the money”.  More recently Joseph has provided legal support for the Crofting Commission and been able to steer the Commission through changes to crofting laws.

There are many people in his work place who have been a part of his team at one time or another.  He is a good manager.  He is able to bring out the best in people.  At times it seems like he collects all the waifs and strays in the workplace.  Under his leadership they feel valued.  Being given good support and training they flourish and many of them move on to promoted posts within the commission or elsewhere.

For a number of years he was the chairperson of his local branch of the PCS.  As a union man he is concerned that those in management positions should respect the the working conditions, pay and pensions of his members.  He is always available to talk with colleagues who need advice or support. 

He is well liked and respected by just about everyone.  He sees the best in people and accepts people for who they are. 

He is a kind and generous person.  Not so long ago he asked me if a lady from his work could stay overnight one day a week.  She was travelling quite a long distance and with recent road works, she was leaving home very early in the morning and getting home very late.  He thought she needed a break.  Sometimes he asks me if we can provide some support for other friends.  We have bought more than a few packs of nappies for strapped-for-cash young mothers.  Yes, the initiative usually comes from him, but as I rub shoulders with him, I am becoming kinder.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Living in a Good Land

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land—a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills.  (Deuteronomy 8:7-8)

I came across this verse a few weeks ago.  I was off work with a viral infection.  There used to be a time when colds lasted three days.  On the third day I would rise from the sick bed, get dressed and go back to work.  There was always a residue – a sniffley nose, perhaps, or a bit of a gravelly voice, but I could function.  These days I seem to take a little longer to bounce back.

I remember reading this verse and thinking it was so not my experience.  I wasn’t living in a good land but a very miserable one.  Bread might have been plentiful in the bread bin, but I had no appetite to eat it.

The verse became a rallying point for my spirit and I was stirred to pray.  In prayer I claimed the good land that God intended me to possess.  I claimed fruitfulness and refreshing.  I claimed abundance in every aspect of life.  I claimed wholeness and satisfaction.  I claimed enough and more to share with others.

I might have done some claiming, but nothing really changed.  I was still ill.  I was still coughing and sneezing and mopping up mucus.  Nothing in the physical world changed, but I was convinced that something in the heavenlies had changed.  I felt that a battle had been won on some higher plain.  I might have been physically done in, but in my spirit I was a victor. 

The verse became a rallying point again today.  It was nothing to do with praying for my own needs this time, but praying for others. 

Friends and family seem not to be living in a good land right now. 

I don’t have any answers to pull them out of the mire they have sunk into.  The things that work for me, don’t always work for other people because we are wired differently.   Sometimes there is nothing that I can do to physically help.  I live too far away.

So I prayed.  On their behalf I claimed fruitfulness and refreshing for them.  I claimed abundance in every aspect of their life.  I claimed wholeness and satisfaction.  I claimed that they would experience enough and more to share with others.

I remember Martin Luther King in one of his speeches declaring that the fight has been a long one and he needs some victories.  I am feeling much like that.  The battles my friends and families are fighting are not like the three day viral infections, but seemingly endless with no light at the end of a tunnel.  They need some victories.

Lord, let them see and experience the good land you have brought them into.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

It's All About the Journey

It was a small scene in a much larger dream that has caught my imagination today. 

The larger dream involved driving the car over a patch of sandy ground with lots of marram grass to cut a corner that had a traffic light.  I have seen people on bikes cut corners all the time, but not people in cars!  The car got stuck in sand and I had to get the bus.

I was in Nairn and the last bus to Inverness had long gone.  There was a bus beside the stop and the bus driver leaned out of the window to tell me he was going to Tore on the Black Isle.  For those that know our local area, the geography at this point breaks down.  To get from Nairn to Tore one would have to go through Inverness – but you know what dreams are like.  He told me that there were busses every half hour from Tore to Inverness.

I got on the bus, bought my ticket and sat down.

“So, you are trying to get to Inverness?  There are busses from Tore to Inverness every half hour.”  It was a nice young man standing next to me.  He was repeating basically what the driver had told me.

“You’ll have a half hour wait,” said another passenger.  He was quite a burly chap. “If you visit the Tore Arms bar, you have time to hear my band play.”

“He’s the drummer,” added another voice.

“It’s a rotten band, mind…”

The banter on the bus was really friendly.  It turned out a woman on the bus was in charge of the light buffet and began asking people to do little things for her like collect the paper plates and plastic spoons from the shop.  She also checked whether anyone minded but she was planning the use the spicy recipe for the chicken drumsticks.

A boy on the bus asked if anyone could help him with his homework.

It wasn’t a quiet bus.  No one disappeared behind a newspaper or a book cover.  No one searched for an empty seat all by themselves.  It was a collection of people who knew each other well to the point of teasing one another.

We piled off the bus at Tore, outside the Tore Arms bar.  There was a collection of people milling around outside.  Some of them were the band members with their musical instruments in cases.  They waved to the bus driver as he left.

There was lots of conversation beside the door of the Tore Arms bar.  No one seemed to be in a hurry to set up for the band or sort the buffet.  They stood beside the door and chatted.  It was not a warm night, but with all the people by the door, it felt warm. 

Someone spotted the Inverness bus.  It had a bit of a circuit to do before it came back to the bus stop which wasn’t outside the bar, but a short walk away. 

“We’ll walk you the bus stop,” said the first man that spoke to me.  At some point I had acquired a cat and a seven year old boy.  Someone picked up the cat.  Another man picked up the boy and we all started the journey to the bus stop.

I woke up at this point.  I felt a little bereft.  I wanted my journey to the bus stop.  I wanted to stay in the company of my new found friends.

Before I had even begun to puzzle out some kind of interpretation, those words that instantly came to mind were “It’s all about the journey”.

The word “journey” seems to be tainted with the reality show experience and contestants talking about what they learned along the way or what they will take with them as they get voted out.  This was not like that. 

The friendliness and familiarity of the people on the bus reminded me of my home church.  We are a very small church, but much like a family.  I don’t have my own teenage daughters so I count it a privilege when a young girl tells me about her growing pains.  I sit beside another young girl dissecting poems and counting syllables.

Throughout life there are people who share a part of our journey.  Some walk beside us, or sit on the bus with us, for longer than others.  For some, I think we can make that journey quite unpleasant or a bit of struggle.  Other times, we make the journey a welcoming and comfortable one.  We include rather than exclude people. 

Too often I am the person disappearing behind the newspaper, isolating myself.  By doing so I miss those opportunities to journey beside someone for a while.  The words I could have said to encourage them were never spoken.  We continue to travel in our lonely orbits and that was never God’s intention.  

I time to fold the newspaper and put it away.  It’s time to start telling people about the band at the Tore Arms bar, warn them about the spicy chicken drumsticks and ask them to help us with our homework.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Moving the Furniture

I’m trying to work out when and why I stopped moving the furniture. 

I seem to remember moving furniture around a room was just a natural part of my growing up life.  Every year one room would be re-decorated and the furniture would be shifted accordingly.  Inevitably here were times when the furniture would end up in the same place it started.  The size of the furniture and the shape of the room didn’t always give many options for variety.

Moving furniture was also a part of my university life.  It just seemed natural every so often to have a shift around.  It wasn’t just me.  We all did it.  We might even have had room shifting parties where we all pile into one room and the room occupier would direct people to move the bed under the window and bookcase beside the door. 

When I had my own place I shifted the furniture regularly.  The people I shared the house with were not furniture shifters and couldn’t understand my need to move things.  It wasn’t a compulsive thing or weekly or monthly thing.  I would just wake up one morning and know it was a furniture shifting day.

There was something refreshing about seeing things in different places.  I liked the variety of what I could see when I was in bed – sometimes I would be facing the door, other times the window.  Sometimes I could see the wardrobe, other times I couldn’t.  I liked it that way.

Did I stop because the furniture just got too heavy to shift?  Or was it me getting less fit as the years progressed?  I think part of it was marrying a non-mover-of-furniture.  My husband once wrote a motivational message on his whiteboard at work that said, “No one moves…No one gets hurt,”  he could quite happily have corned beef sandwiches every lunchtime and not feel the need for variety. 

I am a furniture mover at heart. 

I was talking to a young friend earlier in the week.  I suspect she is not a furniture mover.  She doesn’t like change.  It’s the change inflicted upon her that she doesn’t like.  She has reached that age in life where change is inflicted upon her in the form of hormones.  It seems like a stranger has hijacked her life and started to move the furniture around.  Nothing is in its proper place any more.

Change is being inflicted upon me also.  Being issued with hearing aids involved changes and my brain having to adapt to sounds it hadn’t heard for a long time.  Every so often as my vision changes I have to change my glasses.  I begrudge the expense and wish I had twenty-twenty vision.

My working hours are going to change in the not too distant future.   The changes in my view are not for the better, but the bull-headed managers are not listening to my concerns.

It all got a bit much for me yesterday.  Life felt like a pinball machine.  I was not the hand in control of the buttons and levers, but definitely the ball knocked from one side to the other.  Lights were flashing, buzzers buzzing , bells ringing and it’s was all too frantic.  It was just one change too many as far as I was concerned.

I sat on the sofa at the end of the day feeling quite trampled on and bruised.  It wasn’t a bible that I opened but a book of devotions. 

Lord… are you not the God who is in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.  Power and might are in your hand, and no one can withstand you…for we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”  2 Chronicles 20:6, 12

Sometimes I have a tendency to forget that there is a ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations.  Sometimes I think that it is all down to me to sort it all out and find a way though.

Someone else seems to be moving my furniture about – not in my house, but in my life.  I don’t particularly like where they are putting things, but I they don’t listen to me.  It seems like I am powerless to do anything about it. 

What a comfort it is to know that I am not powerless at all!  I have on my side the ruler over all of the kingdoms of the nations.  I don’t feel quite so pushed about.  The furniture may not be moved to where I want it to be…but that’s OK.  My eyes are on God and I am safe.  The challenges ahead are not insurmountable when I have God’s resources at hand to deal with them.

Now let’s think about shifting the bed…

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Poetry That Demands a Response

It was a first, apparently!  The response to a poem I read at the Poetry Club on Saturday was met with something more animated than a round of applause.

The previous week, my first joining-in experience, there were a lot of church people.  I had read a couple of easy-on-the-ear-and-brain ones.  One was slightly autobiographical recounting my time in a Roman Catholic convent – the orphanage side of things.  Another one was a poem I had read at my brother's funeral.  Things seemed to be going well, and, as I said, they were mostly church people, so I tossed in a couple of Christian poems.    They were well received.

So I tried it again.  I had a mixture of poems, some less spiritual than others.  Easter is a matter of weeks away so I read an Easter poem based on Jesus’ words on the cross “Why have you forsaken me?”  It was written from the standpoint of God.  How much it must have cost God to turn aside from his Son.

Someone sitting next to me didn’t like to poem.  It’s OK not to like my poems.  Sometimes I don’t like my poems. 

He said he was a Christian and he used to be a church minister.  He had gone to university or college to do a degree.  He had been confronted with so much evidence that made it difficult to maintain his faith.  Science proves that the opening chapters of the book of Genesis are not true.  He talked about the big bang and how science had proved it all.  He went on specifically to say that he could not respect a god who had sacrificed his son.  Punishing Jesus for sins He never committed?  What kind of God was that?  Not a loving and beneficent God, that’s for sure.  He moved on to talk about natural disasters and said that if God was really powerful and really loving He would intervene.

It wasn’t new stuff to me.  I’ve heard the arguments before.  The rest of the Christian contingent had also heard the arguments before.  It erupted into  a free for all – a chance to dig out the Bible verses in the head and other stuff.  Sometimes these arguments were flung like grenades across the room. I’ve heard all of those arguments before too.  I am not always convinced by them either!

The man had suggested that to be a person of faith one must surrender reason and intelligence.  He wasn’t prepared to do that.  Under normal circumstances I would agree with him in the sense that faith cannot always be reasoned out.  I have known many Christians who are very suspicious of knowledge and intelligence.  They say that you can have too much of it and it’s dangerous. I believe it’s not what you know or how much of it you know but whether you lay it down before Christ and are prepared to surrender it.

There was a pause in the discussion.   

God doesn’t make it easy for Himself, does He?  It seems to me that not only does the devil get all the best music but he also gets the lion share of reasonable arguments.  It is more reasonable NOT to believe in God and when you look at the state of the world and God’s apparent absence from it – it can be a challenge.

I stepped into the pause. 

God did not send Jesus to die on a cross, I said. The trinity is a tricky thing to untangle.  God and Jesus are not two unrelated beings.  God took on human flesh.  That human flesh was called Jesus.  God didn’t send Jesus anywhere.  God went, in the flesh, as Jesus, to the cross.  He took on our sin, as an act of love, to release us from a slavery we could not free ourselves from.

The man looked at me.  This was new to him.  He hadn’t thought of things in quite that way. He nodded a little and agreed that it had its appeal. 

And as for natural disasters, I went on, I am not sure that many of them are that natural.  The human race has created many of the conditions under which tsunamis, flood and droughts happen.  The way that we have abused the earth, cutting down forests and over farming have led to places becoming deserts where crops cannot grow. 

We touched briefly on free will and whether the freedom we had was worth it.

Had the conversation happened twenty years ago I would have been churning out the tried and tested answers that I had been drilled in.  I can remember role play activities in our home groups pretending to witness to a non-believer.  We practiced what to say.  In those days I was one for winning an argument, but frequently lost the person.

It mattered this time that I didn’t lose the person.  I wanted an answer that would make sense, a gracious answer that leaves the hearer free to take it or not. 

On discovering it was a first, I was careful to ask later whether it was best to avoid bringing overtly Christian poems. 

If poetry doesn’t stir a response in the hearer, it’s not good poetry I was told.  When you read a poem, you launch it into the world and it ceases to be yours.  Other people take ownership of it.  They hear what they hear which might not be what you thought you wrote.  It becomes something other than what it was when you wrote it.

Bottom line – keep sharing