Wednesday, September 25, 2013

But Can You Stand?

I am a Sharpe fan.  Sean Bean, along with Colin Firth and David Duchovny make up my three top men to drool over – outside of my husband, of course.  I have seen every episode of Sharpe that often that I could step into the breach if they ever re-record the entire series where Sharpe is a small stout woman instead of Sean Bean in all his hunkiness.

“You don't see a battle. You *hear* it. Black powder blasting by the ton on all sides. Black smoke blinding you and choking you and making you vomit. Then the French come out of the smoke - not in a line, but in a column. And they march towards our thin line, kettledrums hammering like hell and a golden eagle blazing overhead. They march slowly, and it takes them a long time to reach you, and you can't see them in smoke. But you can hear the drums. They march out of the smoke, and you fire a volley. And the front rank of the column falls, and the next rank steps over them, with drums hammering, and the column smashes your line like a hammer breaking glass... and Napoleon has won another battle. But if you don't run - if you stand until you can smell the garlic, and fire volley after volley, three rounds a minute - then they slow down. They stop. And then they run away. All you've got to do is stand, and fire three rounds a minute. Now, you and I know you can fire three rounds a minute. But can you stand?

This is Sharpe training his men.  They weren’t on the battle field at the time.  Three rounds a minute required them to empty their gunpowder down the barrel, spit into it, tap it on the ground and shoot at the enemy.  Three rounds a minute.

To give them feel for the battle field, I seem to remember Sharpe getting someone to fire the cannons and create lots of smoke and shout the words above at the new recruits.  It was unexpected and there were lots of startled jumping about, but it got the message across.

Last night I was reading the passage in Ephesians concerning the armour of God. It is a subject that, let’s admit it, has been preached to death. 

Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” Eph 6:16

The words and the scene from Sharpe came to mind.  We may be good at putting on the armour.  We may be armed with a shield of faith, and a sword of the Spirit. We might be able to fire three rounds an minute.  But can we stand?

“They slow down. They stop. And then they run away.”

Sharpe could give that assurance to the new recruits because he had been there on the battle field and seen it happen.  His words were not just holding out hope, stirring the hearts of his men to fight valiantly but in vain.  He was speaking from experience.

This week I have stood.  I have seen my enemy slow down.  I have seen him stop.  And I have seen him run away.

God holds out His promise of victory to all His enlisted men and women on the day of battle.

Can we stand?


Sunday, September 22, 2013

A Book To Live Up To?

I have always been a vivid dreamer and last night’s dream was no exception.  Most of my dreams are meaningless drivel, although I am sure that Freud would find meaning in them.  His meaning might involve all sorts of unconscious and deep seated complexes, which may or may not be there. In this case he might be right.

The setting was a shopping centre that incorporated a multi-screened cinema and a theatre.  I was with my husband, Joseph, and two of my nieces.  It was the end of the day and the two girls suggested we go and see a film or something.  There was some kind of high action film with lots of car chases and gun fights.  We were all spent out but I decided the debit card could take the hit.  The man behind the counter told me that it was a good idea as being so late in the month as it wouldn’t show up on this month’s statement anyway. 

I don’t know what happened to the film, whether we went through the wrong door or something, but we ended up in the theatre instead.  It was a musical set in the 1950s or 60s.  It was also one of those productions where not everything happened on stage.  There were three or four places where music stands had been set up or seats had been removed to clear a space.  The seats weren’t built in but were stand-alone one anyway.

The girls had disappeared to wherever young girls go just before the start of the play.  There didn’t seem to be a row of four chairs, or even two.  People had draped coats or themselves over a number of chairs saving them for friends.  It didn’t matter too much as the chairs were easy to move.  I shifted one next to where Joe was sitting.  The girls were happy to sit further to the front by themselves.

The play began.   The action on any of the stages was being filmed and projected on to a screen, so you didn’t have to keep turning your head, or looking behind you to follow the story.  But, of course, you did look around you all the time.

A small stage on the right hand side of the room held a bedroom scene.  It lit up with low lighting.  The music wasn’t slow or seductive but very fast paced.  The scene was over and done with in a dozen bars of music.  Two people entered the stage, very swiftly pulled of their clothes, velcro-like.  She was down to a satin camisole and he was down to boxers. All they did was roll over the bed, him rolling over her.  They rolled off the other side, replaced their clothes and left.  It was all in a matter of a dozen beats to the very fast music.

I laughed, simply because it was so swiftly done, to the beats of the music.  I thought it was great choreography.

An old lady sitting next to me took issue.

“Why are you laughing?  It’s not funny!  They are committing adultery and you are laughing at it!”

I hadn’t given much thought to anything like that.  I had just seen the swift choreography and thought it was a clever device.  I hadn’t thought about why they were in bed.

The woman continued her tirade.  She wasn’t whispering or hissing her condemnation of my laughing but speaking loudly.  Head began to swivel not to the action on the stage, but to the woman and me.  My husband, a usually patient man, told the woman to be quiet and let us watch the play.

She just got louder.

Finally, I put a hand on her arm and apologised.  I said that I was sorry that I had upset her by laughing. I didn’t try to explain what I had found amusing.  I just apologised and she stopped ranting.

I woke up at this point.

Some dreams are meaningless, others aren’t. I had been thinking earlier that day about what happens next book-wise. There is the whole marketing thing to get my head around.  A friend of mine has said she will buy the book when Waterstone’s have it on their shelves.  Yeah…right…that’s a challenge for me.  I could have started the whole ball rolling yesterday but needed to take a break from the book stuff.

“What happens next?” is not about the book, but about me.  Poetry, more so than any other kind of literature, reveals the heart of the writer.  Personal stuff creeps into the poems and your own heart is laid out in front of the reader.  “Wider Than The Corners Of This World” is Christian poetry. It’s about trying to see the God that stands outside of time and space, outside of church walls and hymn lyrics and the places you would expect Him to be.  It’s about seeing God in godless places and in godless people as well as the godly ones.  The book published, bought and read tells people about God and me.  I am not sitting on a fence where God is concerned but have firmly placed myself beside Him.

The woman in the dream is like those people now who have read the book.  It’s not just my head that has appeared above the parapet.  I am, apparently, dancing on it - head, body, arms and legs are doing the samba on it.  Caution has been thrown to the wind.  Can people now feel free to pull me up when I appear to laugh at the things God takes seriously? Does the day to day woman, Melanie Kerr, who does her washing on a Sunday, match up to the poet, Melanie Kerr, who writes words to compel people to worship God?

God and I were talking about this yesterday.  What bits of me will I need to change now that the book is out?

“Nothing that you didn’t need to change before the book was out!”

The book is the fruit of my life lived trying to walk as closely to God as I can.  That life is full of intimate moments, interspersed with times of disconnection.  Lots of conversation happens between us, but there are awkward silences too.  It’s not a perfect life, but it is a life that returns time and time again to God’s presence.

I need to make the changes I need to make, not because I need to live up what’s written in a book but because I simply need to make those changes anyway.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The One Who Sees All

Praise the Creator
The One who sees all
The wild wind whipped waves
And the ripples so small
The grey smudge of clouds
In a dull leaden sky
The birds as they glide on
The air currents high

Praise the Creator
The One who sees all
The sunburst of petals
On stems standing tall
The dusty green shrubs
And dry yellow grass
The column of ants as they
March by on mass

Praise the Creator
The One who sees all
The leaves from the trees
That dance as they fall
With brush strokes of autumn
Red, brown and gold
The end of the summer
Begins to unfold

Praise the Creator
The One who sees all
Nature's diversity
Sings out His call
All things are nurtured
By His gentle hand
All things will flourish
Just as He planned

Friday, September 20, 2013

Book Launch

It’s the little touches that I’m not good at…well, it’s the big ones too.  I am not an organiser.  I thought I had it sorted.  I’d talked to someone about cupcakes and another person about some music at the start and the finish.  I’d even found a dress and a flowery lace cardigan.  Did any of that actually happen last night?

The cupcakes didn’t happen.  It’s too complicated to explain why aside from the fact that I forgot to confirm needs and numbers.  The music didn’t happen as my fiddle player was in Dundee.  The dress didn’t happen because I just saw too many lumps and bumps to feel secure about it.

Stepping out of my comfort zone was most uncomfortable.  I settled for the biscuits supplied by the hotel, Kenny G playing on Youtube and dark trousers and a burnt orange top I felt comfortable in.

The trouble is – I don’t have a whole host of friends and I’m never at the centre of a party.  I don’t do witty small talk and I’m not at ease in large crowds.  I don’t really like people to look at me.  I don’t shine very brightly. A book launch seemed to require all of those in large doses.  Not for the first time did I think about letting my poetry book slide into the world without due pomp and ceremony.  I have to confess that I was considering asking someone taller, younger and prettier to pretend to be me.

It is good that God, knowing the general direction of my thoughts, decided to ignore them!  It was, after all, He kept reminding me, not my book that was being launched, but His.  He had waited a long time for the book to be published and it deserved a proper a proper birth into the world.  This was not some badly written second rate book of trite verse but something special, something He has commissioned.  He never picks the wrong person for the job.

The book is tremendous.  It is His book.  I put the words together but He breathed His own life into them.  

I didn’t need the whole host of friends – the friends I had brought their friends.  The people I wanted to be there came.  The people God had invited turned up.  It was not an empty room.  Someone quietly did a count up of the guests and took away the empty seats before we all sat down. 

The book is published by a charity called “For the Right Reasons”.  The director, Richard Burkitt, volunteered to be one of my speakers.  I expected him to talk about the charity and the work they do with people who want to conquer their addictions.  He chose to read a couple of poems from the book, reminding us that all are helpless without the help of God.  We all need our lives to be changed – not just those who live on the margins of society.

I am the only one who has ever read out my poems aloud.  I have had other people read them to themselves when proof reading and such.  Hearing Richard read a couple of them, almost acting out some of the lines, was just awesome.  Poetry is meant to be read aloud.  It’s not supposed to be read silently.  

The second speaker was my best friend, Jeanni.  She is much like me in many ways. We have met together to study the Bible each week.  Sometimes we have not got around to the study, but shared faith in a different way.  We have laughed together and cried together, grumbled together and sat silently together. 

She also chose to read a couple of poems.  Reading?  Much more than that.  The life that God breathed into the poems she breathed out into the people that had gathered there.  Could you preach a poem?  She did!  She also said some very nice things about me!

No one in the audience dozed off!  There were some that came expecting a Christian message.  They knew it was a Christian poetry book.  There were some that had come just for the poetry.  They heard a Christian message! 

I was the final speaker.  I suppose I could have read a few of my favourite poems from the book, but I decided to take them through a guided talk of my conversion not into the Kingdom of God, but into the world of poetry.  Beginning with Omar Khyyam and my Brownie entertainer’s badge I introduced them to my Intermediate 2  Creative Writing certificate, and Stephen Fry’s challenge to compose a poem using a tetrameter/trimeter alternated rhyming scheme.

The man on Star Trek does he know
That he will soon be dead?
The opening scenes are fatal for
The stranger dressed in red

The evening was an overwhelming success.  The book I think was almost a secondary thing.  People were delighted to discover that this thing called poetry that they thought they didn’t really like was really very entertaining.  I think they also discovered that this person called Mel had a very interesting tale to tell and loved God to bits.  They got a very healthy dose of God and the challenges He presents to people. 

And they bought a poetry book or two.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Soul's Song

I spent some time Saturday night buying and downloading backing tracks for worship songs.  We have one or two musicians in our small church but I wanted a just-in-case option to cover the times when they were working or sleeping off the early mornings of Street Pastoring.  I felt a need to sing something before we moved into the word.

The website was generous enough to allow me a taste of the track just to see if I liked the arrangement or not.  On the basis of what I heard, I purchased four songs.  They were a combination of hymns and new songs but not those that jumped between octaves or had complicated melodies. I tracked down the lyrics and printed off enough copies for people not to need to share.

There was an absence of guitars as people arrived so I concluded it was unlikely there would be any singing. So there I was with my lyric sheets and my computer ready to play the tracks ready to jump in.

I was aware that I hadn’t had the chance to actually sing the songs through beforehand.  I hadn’t listened carefully to the introduction to see when we were supposed to come in.  I didn’t know how many times we could sing the verses and the choruses before the end came.  I hadn’t rehearsed so in the end I just bottled it and kept quiet.  We never sang.  We talked and prayed and dived into the word – but we didn’t sing.

I am glad, in some ways, that we didn’t use my downloaded backing tracks.  They were nice but two of them were just too high.  They were in the key of ridiculously soprano.  Dropping an octave didn’t work.  I struggled to reach the notes.  One of them was just too fast.  There were a lot of words in a line, and they did fit in, but there was no breathing space in a line.  One was just right.  Sorry, it sounds like I am having a Goldilocks moment.

I sang my way through the songs using the backing tracks this afternoon.  I was in need of serious time with God – not SERIOUS time, although there were serious moments.  God told me, in no uncertain terms, that I’d lost my sense of gratitude and was a very grumpy person to be around.  My lack of gratitude was beginning to stain everything I was trying to do.  I needed to get sorted and it seemed like singing the songs I had set apart was a good idea.

I decided to check the songs out on youtube to see if singing with the rest of the cyber congregation was any better. 

I sang my way through “Amazing Grace” and “Purify my heart”.  Then something curious happened in the middle of “Indescribable”.  I sing but wouldn’t claim to be a singer.  I can sometimes sing nice, but more often than not I sing slightly flat. I comfort myself that scripture says sing joyfully – not tunefully. In the middle of the song I realised that I wasn’t singing but my soul was!  There was a clear distinction between my singing, which was adequate, and my soul, which was amazing.

I don’t really know how to explain it, but I stopped singing to listen to my soul sing.  The words were the same.  I didn’t get creative with the lyrics.  The melody was the same.  I didn’t launch myself into harmonies.  The sound of my soul was something very different.

I haven’t heard my soul sing in a long time.  I have sung often – but that was just me.  It wasn’t my soul. The way my soul sings draws all of me in.  My mind isn’t looking the other way.  My ears are not checking our whether I am singing flat.  My eyes are not scanning ahead and my brain isn’t making any connections to other songs, Bible verses or relevant experiences.  My soul silenced my self.

I was totally caught up in worship.  My soul just sang to God.  I was in some other place, hands lifted up and tears falling down. 

And then my soul’s song ended.  There was a sigh and then silence and a deep, deep sense of satisfaction.

All of me smiled.

The soul’s song is precious to God.  It’s a song that He listens out for. It’s a song the, sadly, He seldom hears. Self gets in the way and it all becomes just karaoke in the end.