Monday, June 29, 2015

The Stink of Rotting Flesh

Queues seem to be the order of the day today. According to the news this morning the queue for tickets to Wimbledon began sometime on Friday.  I will admit to a prickle of envy – not so much for the queues, or even the tennis as Andy plays tomorrow, but for the weather.  The weather people talk about heatwaves and tropical temperatures but the north of Scotland is swathed in cloud.

The BBC interviewed one of the Brit girlies.  She plays her first round against a previous Wimbledon champion.  She talked about the honour of playing on the centre court and crossing racquets with a champion.  I would have taken an outside court and an obscure nobody and a chance to make it to the next round any day.  Is that a streak of yellow down the centre of my back?

Another queue much closer to home is outside the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh where one of the world's largest and smelliest flowers has blossomed for the first time in Scotland.  The visitors have been promised the “stink of rotting flesh, mixed with fish, and perhaps a hint of sweaty feet”.  It has taken the staff 12 years of careful nurturing to reach the point where the Amorphophallus Titanum has a flower.   It takes a long time for the plant to store enough energy to bloom and to sustain its bloom for just a day or two.  Does that make it the holy grail of the horticulturalist’s world?

I assumed the smell came from dead insects that fell into the flower and, unable to crawl out, decomposed.  The plant is not a carnivore.  One can fall into it safe in the knowledge that one can climb out.  The plant’s smell is nature’s way of attracting insect attention to make sure the plant is pollinated.  Carrion beetles and sweat bees crawl around, lay eggs and pollinate the plant – and the 12 year wait for the flower begins again.

One cannot help but wonder whether a nicer smell might attract a nicer class of insects who would do the job just as well.  Maybe with just a day or two to attract the pollinator, and the competition from other plants who hang around all summer, it makes sense to go for carrion beetles and sweat flies.

What happens in the world of nature is often a picture or a shadow of what happens in the world of people.  Something blooms in one part of the world that attracts the human equivalents of the carrion beetles and the sweat bees.

In a TV discussion, the religious programme on a Sunday morning, they were talking about Islam and whether people are ignorant about understanding the way a Muslim thinks. I didn’t need to watch it for long before ignorance was revealed.  There was some debate about whether the Qur’an supported violence against women or honour killings in Muslim communities.  It seems to me that anything can be supported. It’s a matter of an extreme interpretation of a line here or there.  A woman stated that Jihad was one of the five pillars of Islam – duties that Muslims must observe.  It isn’t and the mistake was quickly corrected.  Someone else on the programme insisted that he didn’t need to know about Islam.  The old chestnut, unchallenged as ever, about religion being the source of all the trouble in the world was tossed about.

I was thinking about the smelly flower, the carrion beetles and the sweat bees.  Is that not a perfect picture of the Islamic State in Syria and other parts of the Muslim world and the kind of people that flock to join them?  Even in my near ignorant state of all things Islam – what they are doing is wrong.  It is a stinking flower if ever there was one!  There appears to be nothing admirable about what they stand for or what they do. It is not the kind of Islam that most Muslims demonstrate.  Just as Amorphophallus Titanum took a long time to store up the energy to push out a flower – it seems that the Islamic State has stored up years of resentments and petty grievances, and some not so petty ones, to push out their own brand of violence.  It’s not the butterflies and the honey bees that head out there to pollinate something fragrant and wholesome.  No, it’s the men and woman, dragging their children with them, attracted to the “stink of rotting flesh”, who cross the borders.  I suppose they don’t smell it as rotting flesh but something nobler and something other than the Western culture of stepping on people to reach the top of the corporate ladder.

If only there was just the one smelly Islamic State flower out there.  Christians have nurtured their own smelly flowers throughout history, and not the long-dead variety of history. For me, perhaps, it is not the smell that offends – but, more often the absence of smell. 

“To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this?” (1 Cor 2:16 NLT)

How much of a presence, or absence, of a strong fragrance of life is there in our individual lives or our churches? We should be living our lives in vibrant colours and patterns.  We should be concerned not about drawing people to ourselves, but rather to Christ in us.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


me into
the place where God
intends me to be
that wide and open space
where grace lavishly poured out
bids me stand tall and shout His praise
He waits not ‘til I am washed and clean
But though I’m stained still offers up His Son

An etheree consists of 10 lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 syllables for a total of 55 syllables

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Not a Thief

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10

The way some people talk about faith it is as if they have mistaken Jesus for the thief!

Jesus is not the thief or the robber.  He has not come to steal…

He hasn’t stolen my reason and intelligence and left me with superstition and blind faith.
He challenges me to study, to weigh up the evidence and seek answers that make sense.

He hasn’t stolen my happiness or my enjoyment of life and left me feeling and looking miserable.
He makes me laugh at the days to come because I am secure in Him.

He hasn’t stolen my creativity or spontaneity and left me dull and boring.
He calls me His poet and gives me a million words for paint and brushes.

He hasn’t stolen my freedom and bound me with a list of things I can’t do anymore.
He expects me to love my enemies and pray for those who ill-treat me.

He hasn’t stolen my compassion and left me cold-heart and judgemental
He cries over a lost world and I cry with Him.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Who do You Trust?

Sharon Wood, manager of Horses for Causes, EAGALA certified, my wonderfully talented sister is my guest writer...

During a recent trip to Huddersfield I was reminded of an EAGALA event that took place at Derby Equestrian College where attendees had a snip of advanced training and the use of metaphors during an Equine Assisted Learning exercise. The trip was long and tedious.  It was fraught with upsets and I hoped that the workshop scheduled for the following day would go smoothly. I had some idea of what was planned but nothing had really been set in stone.

Staying overnight in a beautiful stone cottage surrounded by rolling hills, fields and horses was EAH-equine assisted heaven or for me a haven. Looking out of the bedroom window I saw a large horse nibbling the fence. When the horse saw my face at the window it stopped momentarily then carried on gnawing.  An equine specialist seeing a horse crib biting would automatically think of boredom or stress.  Through EAGALA’s eyes what did I see? Frustration - the horse was frantically biting and gnawing, teeth on wood. It stopped again and looked to the left where a smaller brown pony, eating the grass, had turned away from the larger one.  It didn’t seem interested in the large one, oblivious to its presence. The large horse returned to the eating the fence. A few moments passed then it made its way over to the brown pony. Unhappy with its presence the brown pony swished its tail and lifted a hind leg as if to warn the horse away. It lifted its head and turned to look at the horse. With ears pinned back the warning was clear -‘stay away-I don’t want you in my space’. The large horse stood and waited, then walked a few paces behind as the little brown pony walked away still swishing its tail. I wondered what the large horse had done to deserve being ousted by the little brown pony.  Why was the little brown pony being so aggressive and mean? What had the large horse done to be treated with such contempt?
I continued to watch as the two wandered over to a nearby gate. The large horse walked alongside the small brown pony its tail still swishing and ears still pinned back. They turned their heads together nose to nose. There was no malice or squealing.  There was no fighting but an acceptance of each other, a tolerance perhaps. It was as if the little brown pony was saying ‘I will share my space but on my terms only’ and other horse accepted that.

As nature called it was time for a trip to the bathroom. Another window looked out into a field with more horses. I was starting to enjoy this trip after all.

Two large cobby type horses stood in the shade of a tree enjoying the early morning sunshine at their fore legs and hooves. Two miniature ponies were lying down, their legs and hooves tucked underneath them. I wondered how something so big could be trusted not to tread on something so small and not just one horse or pony but two of each of equal size. How did the miniatures communicate that they wanted to share the same shady spot?  How did they make the large cobs aware of the spot they wished to lie in? I was witnessing the huge amount of mutual respect that had been established among this little herd.

I started to look forward to the day ahead. I would be meeting a wide variety of attendees, some therapists and some horsey people.  What a coincidence that the agenda for the day was based on communication and trust.  I had not seen the agenda but had already been pre-informed, not by my co facilitator but by the horses.

Thank Calypso, Cameo, Bobbie and the little mini.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Being the Father

I used to presume that all the people I met were familiar with the parables of Jesus.  I had a strong Sunday School background and had heard the stories, drawn pictures of them and acted them out so many times that I had absorbed them into my DNA.  We live in a different world now where these things are not taken as given. 

I read a book once a long time ago looking at the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the light of Middle Eastern culture.  I was living in Cyprus at the time and many of my friends were missionaries working in the Middle East. Jesus’ hearers might have heard the same story that I read – the words have not changed - but they understood the story in a very different way.  The actions of both sons and the actions of the father have a different significance for people living in a Middle Eastern community.

Most of the sermons I have heard on the parable have focussed on the actions of the younger son. We are encouraged to see ourselves in him – the selfishness rebellion of wanting to do our own thing, the inevitable slide down to the pig sty existence, the hunger and poverty or our existence outside of the relationship with our father.  We have worked out that we are that lost son and that the father is God waiting to embrace us and restore our son-hood.  We often treat the parable as if it stops at this point – the younger son is home, all is forgiven, the boy is restored and it ends with a party.

I preached a word once from the point of view of the eldest son.  My testimony is not one of obvious rebellion or a slide into a life characterised by debauchery. I haven’t wandered far from my Sunday School upbringing.  There were few Damascus road revelations.  It’s the eldest son that whispers in my ear.  As much as I know that I am the younger son, I am also the older son too. I want to take folk to task.  I want some kind of punishment even if it's having them wait on the doorstep for a while. I sometimes worry that God really doesn’t have enough love to go around.  If He loves that prodigal son so much, does that mean that His love for me is any less?  I get into that whole quagmire of who deserves to be loved and who doesn’t – as we all do. 

How sad the father in the story must have felt to realise that he had not replicated himself in either of his sons – not at that point in the story.  Maybe there is a part two waiting to be written where both sons grow to be like the father.

A book that I am currently reading (The Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero) explains the parable of the Prodigal Son in a chapter about living in brokenness and vulnerability.  He makes reference to Rembrandt’s painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son. He says a lot about both of the sons, the younger one and the older one making reference to the picture, what they are wearing, or not, and their posture – but then he has a third section on being the father. 

“The church is full of younger sons running away…It’s also full of sons who are older and grumpy…The great need of our day, however…is for you and me to press on and grow into being mothers and fathers of the faith.”

I thought it was our job to be the younger son and come home and to avoid being the older son judging and condemning.  I thought it was just God’s job to be the Father.

I never thought I was being called to be the father – to embrace, to love, to be present for and to freely forgive those that had run away and come home, or those that never leave physically but leave spiritually. The father in the story might not have seen himself replicated in either of his sons but what brings joy to God’s heart is when He sees himself reflected in His children.

The father was once a son.  He might have been just like his younger son or like his older son.  He didn’t stay a son, but became a father.  In our churches it is time for some of us to clothe ourselves in the father and put aside the son.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

With Joy

Pray for me with joy
not with
a sad shake of the head or
a deep and heavy sigh

Pray for me with joy
not with
my worst offences paraded before your gaze or
my last hurtful words ringing in your ears

Pray for me with joy
not because
scripture says you have to or
because I appear on your prayer list

Pray for me with joy
reluctantly or
through gritted teeth

Pray for me with joy
love that overflows
knowledge that deepens
wisdom that undergirds
purity that is without blemish
fruit that lasts
character that is Christ-like
praise that flows upwards

Pray for me with joy

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy…” Phil 1:3-4

Monday, June 01, 2015

Small Wings and a Lighting Fixture on the Ceiling

The topic for the Poetry Appreciation Group at Eden Court tonight was “Mythology”.  I had done my homework surfing the net to find a couple of poems but, in the end, came to the conclusion that I wasn’t well enough to go.  It’s the tail end of a bout of laryngitis and although the voice is there is a croaky affair.

I didn’t have a classical education.  There is a whole aspect to mythology that goes beyond the Greek gods. The internet defines mythology as “a collection of such stories that is a vital feature of every culture. Various origins for myths have been proposed, ranging from personification of nature, personification of natural phenomena to truthful or hyperbolic accounts of historical events, to explanations of existing ritual.”  My knowledge of mythology has been gleaned from watching TV programmes like “Zena, Princess Warrior”, “Hercules, the Legendary Journeys” and, much more recently, the BBC series “Atlantis”.  It would not be my chosen topic if I applied for Mastermind.

I managed to find a Carol Anne Duffy poem – her take on Medusa, and a poem about Eurydice by Sue Hubbard.  It wasn’t Sue’s poem that enthused me but the story about it being written in an underground pass.  It had become a familiar landmark.  I dare say that people walking through the underground pass regularly could recite it not because they had learnt it by heart, but through taking in the words unconsciously just walking by them.  Did the poem get into Trip Advisor or Planet Earth as a must-see landmark in London? Whatever, a clean-up operation saw it painted over.  Following complaints there might be plans to put it back up.

The various themes that the Poetry Appreciation Group comes up with has encouraged me to hunt down poems.  Once upon a time I was a poet-dunce.  I could write poetry but reading was not my forte.  Since joining the group I have become familiar with poets – even made friends with a few.  There are gems out there,

“Icarus” by Edward Field is my latest favourite. In the original story Icarus flew too close to the sun, the wax on his wings melted and he plummeted into the sea and drowned.  But, suggests Mr Field, what if he didn’t drown but simply swam off and landed on some distant shore? Read the whole poem about Mr Hick and what he does. The final stanzas are heart breaking. 

And nightly Icarus probes his wound
And daily in his workshop, curtains carefully drawn,
Constructs small wings and tries to fly
To the lighting fixture on the ceiling:
Fails every time and hates himself for trying.
He had thought himself a hero, had acted heroically,
And dreamt of his fall, the tragic fall of the hero;
But now rides commuter trains,

Serves on various committees,
And wishes he had drowned.

There are times when I think I have led a very ordinary, mediocre life.  I think I haven’t done anything heroic. But that isn’t true. I don’t know what percentage of the population live ordinary lives and don’t really have adventures.  I’m not one of them.  Sometimes I forget the extraordinary things I have done.  

Icarus, in the poem, spends his time trying to replicate his heroic flight, but finds it impossible.  There isn’t really a next thing for him.  He is stuck in a memory of an extraordinary experience and there isn’t anything to top it. He has nowhere to go in terms of adventures. Life in a house, with a garden, saying “Hello” to neighbours is a poor substitute for what he had.

Icarus challenges me to really think about some of the things I try to do, or choose not to do. How much of my past successes, or past failures, dictate the way I live my life?

Then I remind myself that it isn’t my success as if I did anything extraordinary by myself – but God’s success.  And failures are there not to nail my feet to the ground and make me think I am incapable of having adventures.  They cause me to lean on God and learn from Him and launch myself into the next step.

I’m looking for something more than small wings and a lighting fixture on the ceiling to fly to.