Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

I shouldn’t be surprised when God answers prayer.  I almost didn’t recognise it when I was reading the paper yesterday – but there it was in black and white – “British jihadis want to come home”.

God and I had prayed together about the situation months ago. We had prayed that there would come a time when the young British Muslim men and women who had left UK to join IS in Syrian would have had enough of blood and executions and want to come home.  They had purchased a one-way ticket to what they believed to be a meaningful life standing up for a righteous cause, but it turned out not to be so.  The grass turned out to be less than green on the other side of the fence.

Wanting to come home and actually being allowed to come home are two very different things.  It’s not just the UK government who don’t want them to come home and are threatening prison sentences, but the IS don’t want them going home either.  Mehdi Hassan, just 19-years-old was killed this week because he 'wanted to come home'.

These young people are truly stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The less sympathetic among us will want to say, “You made your bed and now you must lie on it,” I think of some parents of these Muslim children who have talked about betrayal and how they cannot forgive their child’s actions.

When did any of us make the sensible decisions when we were nineteen years old?  Didn’t we, even at nineteen, sometimes feel our lives to be on a meaningless path? Didn’t we long for something a little more exciting?  The older generation had lost its way, got side-tracked by mortgages and bills and keeping up with the Joneses.

God snared me at 18 years old. He nudged me onto a very different path to the one I had planned.  His path wasn't bad for me in any way. Following God does not automatically mean something negative, destructive or divisive. Christians are required by God to serve the community and to love people unconditionally.

I believe the disillusioned jihadis should be allowed to come home. Who better to talk to the next wave of radicalised Muslims? These people had swallowed the same propaganda and let the fire be ignited in their hearts.  They have been out there and they know how the story ends.  Who better to talk sense to the next wave?

They are still young.  Their ways are not set in stone.  They are malleable. They represent the child who stuck his hand in the fire and got burnt and won’t do it again.  Wisdom has come quickly to them.

One day they will not be so young and they will become hard.  Right now they have hearts soft enough to hurt when they see acts of horror meted out on innocent communities.  Leave them there and those hearts will harden and they will hurt less and less as time goes on and horror falls upon horror.

If other countries like Denmark, Sweden and Germany have set up programmes aimed at bringing them home we should be able to follow their example. 

The times when we find ourselves between a rock and a hard place it doesn’t help to be told that we have made our bed and must lie on it.  It’s not about being soft on the offender and letting anyone off.  Very often the way out of our rock and hard place requires effort to change our thinking about things.  We have no “Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free” card that we can slap on the table when times are tough.  We can’t snap our fingers, like Mary Poppins, and the mess of the floor tidies itself up.  

No one expects it to be easy.  A lot of hurt has been caused by the actions of radicalised young people to families and communities but now is not the time for writing them off.  

When one prayer is answered it often leads to another connected prayer.  I pray for a Spirit of repentance and forgiveness and for people to be given a new start.  It is everything the Christian faith is about.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Cotton Parva

The topic for the Faithwriter’s Weekly Challenge is to write a mystery or thriller.  I have seen too many episodes of every crime drama ever aired to think that I could write something that wasn’t plagiarised.  One online story ideas website suggested I read a lot of mysteries and thrillers before attempting my own.  With just a few days left to the deadline, I don’t have time to read a variety, or even just the one book.  I found this site on my online travels.  Fill in the blank spaces and click on the plot generator button and, hey presto, you have your own unique mystery short story.  It’s a hoot!

Cotton Parva

A Mystery by Elliot Jones

The quiet, old town of Cotton Parva holds a secret.

Clement Overton has the perfect life working as a gardener in the city and rambling with his reliable girlfriend, Sally Perkins.

However, when he finds a heavy cake in his cellar, he begins to realise that things are not quite as they seem in the Overton family.

A flower show leaves Clement with some startling questions about his past, and he sets off to strange Cotton Parva to find some answers.

At first the people of Cotton Parva are determined and honest. He is intrigued by the curiously clever vicar, Gene Hollister. However, after he introduces him to hard betting, Clement slowly finds himself drawn into a web of murder, jealousy and perhaps, even lying.

Can Clement resist the charms of Jilly Hollister and uncover the secret of the heavy cake before it's too late, or will his demise become yet another Cotton Parva legend?

Praise for Cotton Parva
"Who wouldn't give up a life of rambling with their reliable girlfriend to spend a little time with a curiously clever vicar?"
- The Daily Tale
"About as mysterious as finding a poo in a public toilet. However, Cotton Parva does offer a valuable lesson about not getting into hard betting."
- Enid Kibbler
"The only mystery, is why did I keep reading after page one?"
- Hit the Spoof
"I could do better."
- Zob Gloop

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wedding Anniversary (22 years)

Another year of seasons turning
And older, wiser – here we are
Autumn leaves to gold are burning
Together we have journeyed far

This precious time, this space for sharing
Tracing lines that life has drawn
Young at heart we dance not caring
From twilight's shade to waking dawn

Dawn Chorus

I have joined the RSPB.  Much as you might attract a hedgehog with a bowl of cat food, I am easily attracted to a promotional table by really cute animal pictures.  The lady seemed quite happy to have an audience of one who was quite happy to listen.  My trolley of paid goods had nothing frozen and about to defrost so I had time for her to complete the sales pitch.

I was up at the crack of dawn, or just before it seeing as there was no bird song.  I was up because it was nagging at me that no one had put out the bin the precious night.  A quick mental estimate of how much was in the bin and whether it could wait another two weeks had kept me sleeping less than soundly.  “Use it or lose it!” might be applied to all sorts of things but it certainly applies to the bin collections.  Once upon a time it was a weekly collection.  Now it is fortnightly and there were mumblings of reducing it further to once every three weeks.  Hygienically it sounds like a plan for disaster.

So, yes, I was awake very early.  I decided to put out the bin and then go back to bed.  With what had kept me awake most of the night dealt with I anticipated I would sleep well.

We used to keep the bin at the front of the house out of sheer laziness. The neighbours didn't complain, but I didn't want to give them one more reason to wish they, or we, lived elsewhere. It’s quite a hike down the back garden, out of the gate, around the block, past the front of the house and around the corner. It’s not a quiet trip either.  I dare say that I woke up one or two light sleepers but no one poked a head out of a window to tell me to keep the noise down. I had remembered to unlock the front door so the journey home wasn’t so long.

As I had my hand on the door handle the first bird peeped or warbled. 

I was in time for nature’s great concert!

I was already wrapped up warm – big coat over flannelette nightie.  I sat one the bench underneath our front window and settled down to listen.  The sky was light grey ribbons on a darker grey.  The moon was a pale smudge wrapped up in dark clouds.

We all have this thing about the good old days being better.  I remember dawn choruses which were very noisy ones.  It was like switching the birds on or something and everything joining in. Perhaps I just didn’t wait long enough.  It wasn’t really a choir performance, just a series of solos. I wondered if the choir-master bird had slept in, or with so many birds on holiday in warmer climes, they had agreed to tone it down or give it a miss altogether.

It did occur to me that there were just not as many birds as there used to be.  Human beings were building houses and taking away precious habitats.  Other human beings had given up on gardens and paved over grass and flower borders to create a space for the car. Yes, it’s entirely possible that there are less birds.

I gave it a good half hour.  Dark grey sky morphed into light grey sky with a few light blue ribbons.  No rosy glow on the horizon.  I went back in, abandoned going back to bed in favour of a cup of tea and a quiet time.  

It occurred to me – what a wonderful way to start a day – with singing!  Imagine if the first sound you make in the morning wasn’t a groan or a well-aimed swear word at the alarm clock or even the deep rumble of flatulence.

I don’t think we sing enough as a species.  Birds have definitely got it right on this one. Maybe we think we have nothing to sing about but perhaps in the singing we discover what it is.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Harold Fry Moments

One of my favourite books is “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce.  “When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking. To save someone else’s life.” It’s a book that I wish I had the imagination and the talent to write.  I thought I knew Harold, or people like him.  I thought I knew Maureen, his wife, too.  I didn’t like her very much mostly because I thought I recognised myself in her.  It turned out that I didn’t know either of them at all.  By the end of the book, both characters had travelled so far from where they began - rediscovering themselves.

I could hardly resist buying “The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy”. “When Queenie Hennessy discovers that Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and all she has to do is wait, she is shocked. Her note to him had explained she was dying from cancer. How can she wait? A new volunteer at the hospice suggests that Queenie should write a second letter; only this time she must tell Harold the truth.”  If it is a page turner, I am trying to turn the pages slowly and chew every mouthful of the story and resist the urge to gulp it all down in one sitting! There is another host of wonderful characters.  It is not just Queenie that is waiting for Harold, but every patient in the hospice becomes involved in the waiting.

Queenie’s first glimpse of Harold was through an upstairs window at the brewery where they both worked.  It was snowing and Harold was tossing empty beer cans into the bin. He thought no one was watching.  There ws a covering of snow everywhere.  The sun was quite low in the sky and Harold danced in the snow. He danced with his shadow. 

It is a wonderful image – someone dancing in the snow – not dancing with anyone but just dancing because the moment demands it.

I was watching a programme on the BBC earlier this afternoon, “Strictly Navratri”.  It appealed to the RME teacher in me.  Hinduism is not one of the world religions that I know that much about.  The programme also appealed to the “Strictly” fan in me.  I am trying to wean myself off Strictly.  If left unchecked my life begins to revolve around Saturday and Sunday nights and the weekday catch-ups.  I don’t know most of the celebrities.  I am a Judy Murray supporter.  I don’t imagine she will win but while she is still waltzing and cha-cha-charring around the dance floor I will continue to watch.

In “Strictly Navrati”, Mark Ramprakash, a past Strictly winner, was learning how to perform traditional Indian folk dances that form a key part of the Hindu religious festival of Navratri.  It involves a whole roomful of people dancing for nine days honouring different Hindu gods.  The dances themselves are acts of worship.  An expert talked about the power of music and dance in worship.  I have seen my share of music and dance in some churches – although I use the term dance very loosely. Music and side to side shuffle might be a better description of what happens.  It’s not something that I would call powerful. 

Watching the dancing at the Navrati festival was a different thing altogether.  They danced proper steps but with such joy and abandonment that it was thrilling to watch.  Everyone was dancing – not just the brave few at the back of the room.  The movements involved the whole body with sweeping arms, bending knees and lots of twirling. It made me want to join in.

Like most things, dancing begins not with the arms or the legs or the body, or even in the mind.  Dancing is birthed deep inside the heart.  Dancing is a response to something that touches the heart. 

I think we all need our Harold moments – dancing because the moment demands it.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Page Turner

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
(2 Corinthians 3:3)

While de-cluttering the rooms of our house I came across three envelopes.  The envelopes are not addressed to anyone but they have a first class stamp in the corner and each contains four sheets of writing paper. 

It was a church activity from way back.  A couple of young people were going through a difficult time – out of control hormones that the older generation didn’t know how to deal with.  The intention was to write encouraging letters to them, and to other people we thought needed a cheerful word.  I confess that I kept an eye on my letter box just in case someone felt the call to write to me, but there was never anything but bills and the usual spam.
It has been a while since I have written any letters.  With facebook, emails and texting it seems that communicating with anyone is done over a collection of letters and numbers.  Proper punctuation and spelling are tossed out of the cyber window.  Maybe with the discovery of these three envelopes three friends or family members will get a proper letter off me.

In Jeremiah 31:33, God promised a new covenant.  The one made with Moses at Mount Sinai had its limitations. The Israelites didn’t have it in them to keep the covenant and fell into a cycle of rebellion, repentance, restoration and back to rebellion.  God promised a new covenant put into the minds of people and written on their hearts.  People would want to please God rather than please themselves and would have access to all the resources to make it happen – the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

Tempting as it is to navel gaze at this point I have decided not to wonder whether it is godly stuff that is in my heart and mind.  I am taking as given that God has put His law in my mind and written it on my heart.  Poking and pulling about in my heart and mind will no doubt create the holes that would otherwise not be there.

If I were to be able to examine the writing on my heart I would discover not just the bits that God has written there, but the bits that other writers have put there. 

Paul describes the church in Corinth as a letter.  This particular letter was written by Paul and his fellow leaders through their ministry.  Every sermon preached, every rebuke issued, every scripture explained, every kindness showed and every miracle witnessed added a sentence or two, or a paragraph to that letter.  

This was not a twitter update or a text message collection of letters and numbers but a multi paged document rich in vocabulary and description.  It wasn’t an abridged version, or a summary of events but the complete story told in detail. It wasn’t a steamed and starched account with all the wrinkles ironed out but a real story.  The story of the church in Corinth was a page turner.

My life is also a letter.  Most of it is written by God, but there have been lots of other contributions.  Every sermon preached, every rebuke issued, every scripture explained, every kindness showed and every miracle witnessed has added a sentence or two, or a paragraph to this particular letter.  All sorts of people have written things on my heart. Sometimes it has been an ugly word or two and God has gently washed them away with the blood of Jesus.  Sometimes I have been the culprit in writing the ugly words.

What’s written in the letter of my life matters because I’m not the only one reading it.  I’m not the only one looking to be encouraged by my story.  Other people are reading it too.  They're are not skim reading either but inspecting the details to find out if it is a credible story. What I allow to be written on my heart and mind is my responsibility. 

My story has the potential to be a page turner.  When God is the central character and written into every scene and shown to be magnificent, it is a story worth reading.

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Life Fully Lived

This frame of years and months and days
Are mine to decorate and paint
The corners mine to occupy
To overspill without restraint

I will not tiptoe through my life
But dance my way through every room
Grey walls wash in colours bright
Leave in my wake a sweet perfume