Thursday, March 22, 2018

An Upturned Face

I bumped into a friend at the weekend. We were both waiting in a queue at the bank. It was a slow moving queue so we had plenty of time to catch up. She always asks me what I’m reading. Once she found out that I was retiring soon, she invited me round to her house to borrow books. She quickly withdrew the offer when I confessed that my library fines are possibly what keeps the library in funds. Returning borrowed books is not my forte. We also talked about gardens. She is a great believer that only people who truly love gardening should have a garden.

Back to the book that I’m reading. It’s my second time through Malcolm Guite’s book of Lent Poetry “The Word in the Wilderness”. My friend recognised the title. The book is becoming a well-loved friend.

This evening in our fellowship meeting we were talking about relationships and the need to connect with people. Some of us needed to work harder at growing friendships within church and outside of it. A post from a couple of years ago came to mind. Malcolm and I had been reading sections from Dante’s “Inferno” and had arrived at the end section.

Then, at a place in the shadow with the dew...
my master placed the palms of both his hands,
spread wide, likely and gently on the tender grass.
And I aware of what his purpose was,
offered my tear-stained cheeks to meet his touch.
At which, he made once more entirely clean
the colour that the dark of hell had hidden.

Dante and his hero, the poet Virgil,, had travelled together down through the levels of hell. They climbed out and up into the sunshine.

“As Malcolm writes in his commentary, it is a very touching scene. Dante emerges into the sunlight with a face smeared with the grime of hell and stained with tears. Virgil, his companion on the journey, gathers up the morning dew in his palms, stoops down and washes Dante’s face.”

I love the line where Dante offered his "tear stained cheeks to meet his touch". His upturned face invited Virgil to wipe the dust and the dirt and the tears away. Dante’s humility in tipping his face is met with Virgil’s grace in meeting his need.

I wonder if we are all involved in that exchange of humility and grace, of upturned faces and hands full of dew that wipe away the dust of life.

When I choose not to lift my face to you who holds the dew, I deny myself the opportunity to be refreshed. I suppose there was nothing to stop Dante from collecting his own dew and wiping his own face. There is nothing to say I can’t find my own ways of refreshing.

When I choose not to lift my face to you who holds the dew, I deny you the opportunity to bless me and to be blessed yourself in serving me.

When I choose not to lift my face to you who holds the dew, we both lose out. Two friends that could have been blessed never were.

All because I chose not to lift my face.

Monday, March 19, 2018


More than my height, my width, my weight
The parts I adore and the bits I hate
More than the frame of skin and bone
The knees that grind, the joints that moan
I’m more

More than the steady beat of my heart
The blood that flows life to impart
More than the scars that mark my skin
And the injury that’s deep within
I’m more

More than my thoughts, intentions, will
Secret desires unchecked that spill
More than the words tossed from my tongue
Some that healed and othes that stung
I'm more

More than the gifts that I possess
Love and rage, my soul express
More than my fears, the things I dread
The dreams once real that now seem dead
I’m more

I’m more than what your eyes can see
For God Almighty dwells in me
He adds Himself to all I am
And carries high this tiny lamb
I’m more


Friday, March 16, 2018

The Battle of Culloden - Part 2

Culloden Moor is my go-to place when there’s a clear night sky and I’ve a hankering to see the stars. It wasn’t dark when I went this afternoon and it wasn’t stars I was looking for.

I had been in Inverness perhaps a week or two when the subject of Culloden came up. I was on a gospel outreach team and we were knocking on doors and sharing the good news of the Kingdom. I had introduced myself and was about to launch into the well-rehearsed four point plan of salvation when the man, it was a man, held up a hand and said he didn’t talk to the English because of the outcome of the Battle of Culloden.  My knowledge of any history is sketchy at best but it doesn’t stretch to Scottish history. I thought the battle was recent and that he might, perhaps, have been a survivor! I was all set to apologise for any harm that had been caused.

A more recent visit to Culloden was on the way back from a long drive out to Grantown-on Spey. I’d been enlisted by the Crofting Commission to drive my husband to a meeting there. We had a cup of tea in the town before he went off to his meeting and I went shopping. It’s not a big place. His meeting took longer than my shopping expedition. I found a forest walk to amble along. On the journey home a toilet stop was required. We were just that too far away from home. We stopped off at the visitor centre – me to the bathroom, Joe to the shop. He bought me an ice-cream. It was a warmer day then.

Over the last few months I really have felt a little strung out. I wouldn’t say that I am losing battles but I am fighting more than my fare share. I felt the need to declare a few victories. I decided to look up a few Bible verses and march about, as some do, and proclaim battles won long before I fought them.

“Culloden Battlefield,” said God, “That’s where you need to go.”

“Culloden is all about defeat,” I replied. “I’m looking for victory, not defeat!”

“The place of defeat is the best place to start declaring victory,” said God.

It was six o’clock in the morning and it made sense.

“Take a friend with you,” He added. We both knew which friend He had in mind.

I looked up some verses and a victory prayer, printed them off and put them in a poly pocket. The forecast was for rain and I dug out a woolly hat. Umbrellas are not much use when there is a gale force wind ripping about the moor.

I drove around to the friend. The friend didn’t want to be taken and I didn’t twist her arm.  She knew that she wasn’t winning many battles but trailing around a battlefield on a wet and windy afternoon didn’t appeal. She wasn’t convinced that the exercise would achieve anything or that God was her side right now. We talked for a while but the bait I dangled didn’t attract.

It was very windy but not wet. Armed with my Bible verses I headed off along the path.

Deuteronomy 20:1-4 was a good reminder that being outnumbered by the enemy was no cause for fear. God had looked after me so far along my journey and wasn’t about to walk away.

I began to sing as I marched along – “In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we have the victory…” I had the moor to myself. No one else was daft enough to be out there in the wind. Apart from one lady and her dog. Phone held to ear she was shouting that she was freezing. Yes, shouting – she hadn’t worked out that she wasn’t talking to a person next to her with the wind whipping away the words as she spoke.

Psalm 44:3-7 was another reminder that my victories were not about me and the strength I wielded. God’s right hand, His arm and the light of His presence were the reason for any success. If it was all down to me it would be a sorry thing Indeed.

Exodus 15:1 prompted another song. A golden oldie. “I will sing unto the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously, the horse and rider fell into the sea.” Moses faced the Red Sea in front of him and the Egyptian army coming from behind. If I had taken my walking stick with me, I would have held it out in front of me and pictured the Red Sea parting. God always comes through in the end. There’s always a miracle just about to happen when we call on His name. We just don’t call.

As I kept up the Bible readings and the songs something in the heavenlies shifted. The battlefield scenery, the wind howling and my speaking God’s word was a powerful combination. I have a vivid imagination and I’m never sure that what I am sensing is just the imagination running amok, or if it’s something spiritual is going on. There was a sense of something hostile almost, saying this battlefield was their domain, but at the same time something not hostile almost glad to see a friendly face.

I read 2 Chronicles 20:15 and thought about all the battles I insisted on fighting when I should have stepped back to let God fight on my behalf. How long do we wait for God to step in? How do we know if it’s our turn to fight and not His? I thought about the soldiers at the battle back then – they probably didn’t have much choice in whether they fought or not. The movies tell us it’s better to go down fighting that live under a cruel king.

A line in “St Patrick’s Breastplate” (I Arise Today) about calling upon all the resources we have been given to stand “against every cruel, merciless power that may oppose my body and soul”. I sat on a bench sheltered from the wind and read the lines and thought about the powers – natural and supernatural – and called on God to “shield me today”

There was another battle on Culloden Moor this afternoon! There were armies out there – unseen armies.  I marched at the head of an army of angels. We snatched back the ground the enemy had taken – in my life and in my friend’s. It was an awesome battle. The victory songs are being sung in heaven right now!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

He and Us and Joy

Long out of Eden
We forget the evening strolls
And talking with God
It’s almost as if
There never was a garden
And we walked alone

But God pursues us
Though we are men polluted
He chases us down
There is nothing else
But us in His tender care -
He and us and joy

Saturday, March 03, 2018

So that's what goes on in RE

I like the “I” newspaper for two reasons, neither of which has anything to do with the news.

I like their sudokus. I have stopped doing them in pencil.  If I make a mistake, I make a mistake and I don’t rub out and begin again. I just abandon. I call it a good day when I finish them, and an “ah-well-there’s-always-tomorrow” day when I mess up.

The other thing I liked, but they only did it at weekends, and they’ve stopped doing it, were the whole page spreads with the poems generated by Nationwide Building Society.

Today I was seriously not happy with their cover story. It wasn’t so much the story itself as the misleading headline. The small breakfast in the cafĂ© was anything but.

“Teacher gave terror lessons to UK pupils”

I am very protective of the teaching profession. The long school holidays – yes, I can see how that might add a few bees into a parent’s bonnet. Skipping off on holiday during term time – yes, I can see those bees shifting to a teacher’s bonnet.

It was the sub-headline that caused a whole swarm of those aggressive African bees to make a nest in my bonnet.

“Children shown brutal videos during Religious Education lessons”

Now, let’s step back a bit. Have I, or have I not, shown some brutal videos in my time? Last week even? Well, kind of. We watched the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in a lesson looking at a liberation theology response to poverty and corruption in El Salvador. We also listened to a heart breaking account of a woman whose children were killed by a raid on the wrong house during South Africa’s apartheid era. And there was the government and police responses to Martin Luther King’s civil rights protests. The world was and is a brutal place, make no mistake. Too many things happen that shouldn’t.

I read the cover story on p3. The school was a Muslim fee paying school somewhere in London. The headline didn’t really give you any clues on that one. The “teacher” was not a qualified teacher but an administrator. The headline didn’t make that clear either. There was no mention of religious education lessons at all in the article. It was in after school and evening classes at a Muslim fee paying school and a mosque that the IS inspired radicalisation was happening.

Florence Someoneorother had the by-line. I imagine she might be one of those people I meet sometimes who ask me what I do for a living. When I say I’m a teacher they pry further – what do I teach? When I tell them I teach religious education most people don’t really remember much about it. Some never did it. Some didn’t particularly like it. And some, the ones I used to teach a while ago, invariably apologise for how they behaved in my class. Florence strikes me as being in the last category.

“Ah, so that’s what goes on in RE,” says one parent, reading the headline but no further.

“Just confirms what I always thought – it shouldn’t be on the timetable,” says another.

“Religious nut-balls indoctrinating my kid,” says a third.

And all because Florence Someoneorother couldn’t come up with a more accurate headline. With a flurry of fingers over a keyboard she has made it seem as if all RE teachers are pedalling dangerous theology. She has also made it seem as if children are like blotting paper, soaking up everything without question. That is not true of the variety of children I meet. They know how to argue the toss.

Teachers are doing a great job. They don’t view the children in their classrooms as a captive audience and themselves as someone like Moses, chosen by God, to pass down something like the Ten Commandments. They actively encourage discovery and debate, critical thinking and creativity.

Florence, your RE report if I should ever write one for you would read “Florence should express her ideas more carefully to avoid confusion.”