Tuesday, December 31, 2019

It's Your Turn

The Bible notes to get me through Advent began with an ancient prayer – Maranatha. It translates as “Come, Lord Jesus”. It’s an Aramaic word. Its Latin equivalent is “Adventus”. It’s all about asking, waiting and preparing for Jesus to come. It encompasses all the tenses – Jesus has come as the baby in the manger. Jesus will come again, that second coming, as king. Daily, the present tense, Jesus comes as we make space in quiet times and carve out sacred places in the busyness of life.

Every year I challenge myself to write a poem a day, based the Bible notes. Some years I start well but finish poorly if at all. Other years I’m more that a day behind and there are gaps. This year, the only poem I have still to write is the last one. I have twenty-nine poems written on each day or sometimes the day after. I think there is just the one sonnet in there. Most are just a few lines. I like them because they are immediate heart responses rather than carefully crafted to fit a form. As ever, I have to thank for word choices.

All of the Sunday notes have been the same, focussing on that word “Maranatha”. It’s the same devotional each time, applying it to my personal life, my friendships, my church and the world I love in – Jesus, come.

I was wading back into the words thinking that I had already “done” it, when the Holy Spirit said, quite clearly, “It’s your turn.”

One of my favourite films is “Hitch”. It’s about a man, played by Will Smith, who gives advice to other men who really don’t know how to navigate the dating scene. Women are a mystery – a scary mystery if you are looking to date one. There is a scene when Will Smith is talking about kissing. It’s the end of the date, the couple are standing on the doorstep about the say goodbye and there’s a kiss expected. It’s not a tongue down the throat exploration, just lips meeting. The man, apparently, goes 90% of the distance and waits for the woman to move 10%. There’s nothing pushy or demanding. The rest of the scene is very funny.

It was as is the Holy Spirit was saying He had done His 90% in drawing near and was waiting for me to move the 10%. Just as I had been asking for Jesus to “come” at Christmas, He was now asking me to “come” my part of the way. I wrote this in response:-


so there you are
In the boat
not exactly safe
with the wind howling and
the waves higher than your head
water lapping at your feet
fear snapping at your heels and
He says, “come”

so there you are
In the boat
not exactly safe
with the wind howling and
the waves higher than your head
water lapping at your feet
fear snapping at your heels and
He says, “come”
just remember
who started the conversation
you said
“if it’s you…
tell me to come”
so there you are
In the boat
not exactly safeso there you are
In the boat
not exactly safe
He says, “come”
with the wind howling and
the waves higher than your head
water lapping at your feet
water lapping at your feet
water lapping at your feet
you are
walking on water
All because
He says, “come”
with the wind howling and
the waves higher than your head
water lapping at your feet
you come

I remember preaching a word once on the story of Peter walking on water. The rest of the disciples never left the boat. But they weren’t invited. Jesus’ challenge to “come” was not a universal, one-size-fits-all command. Peter wasn’t the faithful, obedient one and the rest of them somehow second-class disciples. Peter started it.

just remember
who started the conversation
you said
“if it’s you…
tell me to come”

In initiating the challenge to Jesus, Peter revealed his heart and his faith. He wanted it to be Jesus out there and he wanted to be out there with Him.

So, the Holy Spirit said, “come.” I really want that to be what I hear throughout the coming year, and all the years after that. I want to find myself in some extraordinary places because I start a conversation that reveals my heart and my faith in Jesus. He is out there and I want to be out there with Him.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Bus Stop Blues

Mu baby got dem bus stop blues…oh yeah
Mu baby got dem bus stop blues
The 1B bus ain’t comin’ an’
I got a hole in mu shoes

I mostly don’t have a problem waiting for a bus. Not when the 1B was due in five minutes according to the information board. I counted down the numbers. It was worse than a watched kettle. Then, it was due and all eyes were fixed on the corner where the bus turns. There were number 5 buses, two number 3s, a number 7A but no 1B. The information board moved on to the next bus coming in half an hour. Not a 1B. The next one of those, that probably wouldn’t turn up either, was in an hour’s time.

Then the man started up. It wasn’t a quiet rant. I’d kind of promised myself that bus stops were fertile ground for gleaning writing prompts. It was a long grizzle about what was a) wrong with the bus system, b) wrong with Inverness and c) what was wrong with Nicola Sturgeon. The man had, apparently, visited a lot of cities all over Europe. Inverness was a joke – but he wasn’t laughing. He wished, time and again, that he had never moved up to Inverness. After fifteen minutes I also wished he hadn’t moved to Inverness.

How much was the weather talking? Had it been a sunny day, had he been licking an ice cream, had he been basking in a heat wave, would he have spoken so critically? He would have had something to say about sunstroke and midgy bites.

a)       The bus system isn’t great but it beats walking. The bus drivers probably have little control over the route or the road conditions. Most of them are cheerful and doing their best. They are never rude. Sometimes they don’t wait long enough for me to find a seat, but I can cope.

I miss the old No 13 bus. That used to be perfect. It didn’t head off into the hills. They were every twenty minutes. Then again, I had a car in those days, so bus journeys were not the norm. And I didn’t have the older person’s entitlement card.

b)      Inverness hasn’t been a city for that long. It has a lot of catching up to do. Most eating places, certainly the chip shops, close at 10.00pm. BUT it is so close to so much beautiful scenery. What’s not to love about Loch Ness?

I remember the morning after the evening I arrived in Inverness. I was all set to work for a gospel outreach team for a year. I stood on a footbridge that spanned the river. I looked at the castle perched on the hill. There was a settling inside and a feeling of coming home. It was exactly the time and the place where I was supposed to be. Every so often I go and stand on the bridge to see if I can recapture that feeling. Inverness now is nothing like it was then but I have had no marching orders.

c)       Please don’t slag our Nicola. Someone on TV yesterday said that she is a rare commodity in politics – she is honest. I’ve always thought that honest politicians are an oxymoron. She has never hidden her desire for independence, but it will always be according to the will of the people. It will always be our choice.

I don’t know what it is about the logic people employ. The independence vote was lost because of the fear that Scotland would end up out of the EU and getting back in wasn’t going to be easy. Not on our own. Westminster played on that fear and insisted that a vote against independence would mean our place in the EU was secure. Now they have taken us out. Yes, the vote was supposed to be a once in a lifetime vote, but things have changed. The promise to stay in Europe is not there now. The result might be very different now.

The man carried on with his complaints after he was on the bus. Had I been the bus driver I would have stopped the bus and told him to get off.

Of course, the man has every right to freedom of speech. He can air his views as often, as loud and as going-on-and-on as he likes. I’d like to think that he is thankful that in doing so he doesn’t end up in prison, or worse.

There are worse places to live than in Inverness.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

the inn in Bethlehem is
pleased to welcome you
due to the nature of your late booking
we’ve placed you in the stable
with the abundance of hay
and other flammable items
please observe our non-smoking policy

we are, of course, family friendly
cots are normally available
at a small surcharge
but not available to
guests in the stable
permission is granted to use the manger
for babies

parking is available onsite
for donkeys, camels and carts
we accept no responsibility for
damage to vehicles

wi-fi is not available as yet

entertaining visitors is permitted
but please keep the noise to a minimum
a quiet time operates from sunset to sunrise

most rooms, except for the stable, have  
tea or coffee making facilities
should you need extra milk
the goat is tied up by the back door

room service operates only
during the daylight hours
in an emergency
contact the concierge
a list of doctors, priests and midwives
is available on request

early morning wake up calls can be arranged
but not on the Sabbath

please pay for your room on arrival
check out time is eleven o’clock

Monday, December 02, 2019

Am I Racist?

I think most of us are swift to answer this one with a resounding “No!”.

In a recent creative writing class, we were asked to describe the days of week as people – the clothes they wore, their hobbies and the temperament that they displayed. Reading over my descriptions it occurred to me that much of what I had written was stereotypical. My Monday was a business man and he wore a bowler hat. My Friday was an unemployed youth, trousers half mast, spray painting walls. My Wednesday housewife was decked in leggings and baggy jumper and had “let herself go.” All stereotypes. As I writer I felt ashamed. I should be able to come up with something more creative.

I remember one Christmas season way back when I had a holiday job in Boots Pharmacy. I was on checkout, beeping my way through the day. For the most part the customers were polite. If things were moving slowly, they took it in their stride. There was one woman packing her carrier. Money had changed hands. Handing back the change, another lady in the queue piped up, “You’d better check your change. These checkout girls – they can’t count, you know?”She had fallen into the pit of stereotyping people. She couldn't know just by looking at me that I had a degree and seven years teaching experience. After a year of gospel outreach, I was waitng for another door to open.

At the Bike Shed cafe last night Lynda Stirratt was sharing her experiences as a black woman living in Inverness. Being a single black face in a white community in the early days of moving here was a real challenge. She talked about the racial slurs she endured, of children on a bus scraping the back of her hand with a fingernail wondering if the “blackness” came off and of feeling unsafe walking along a street. I have always known her as a confident and lively woman, so it came as a surprise to me. I thought that if some people were unpleasant to others of a different nationality, it didn’t include her because she was a generous and loving person.

She had us filling out a sheet that identified the ten most important people in our lives, their gender, and their religion. The sheet went on to ask about nationality, about their education and their sexual preferences. It was a tool to simply say that like gravitates to like. We are attracted to people who are like us.

But how do we treat the people who are not like us? We watched a short clip. It featured a man in a park stealing a bike. He didn’t try to hide the fact that the bike wasn’t his and he was using a chain saw because he didn’t have the key. He was challenged by some, ignored by many and one person phoned the police. The actor was replaced by a woman. Blonde hair. Pretty. She made it clear she was stealing the bike and men did the hard work for her with the chain saw. She rode off into the sunset. No one challenged her – they helped!

When the actor was replaced with a young black lad – the bystanders didn’t ask what he was doing. They presumed he was stealing the bike. There was no walking by and looking the other way. They gathered around the bike, around the boy and a mob was born. They didn’t listen to what he had to say, they took out mobile phones, took pictures and phoned the police. The atmosphere was aggressive.

How do we treat people who are not like us? It depends on whether we are in the majority or in the minority. Living in a multi-ethnic city like Leeds is different from living in the Highlands of Scotland. Inverness is more diverse than it used to be, but in Leeds there is a whole community to fall back on. You can be part of a majority in some areas of come cities. Here is Inverness that doesn’t happen. It was important for Lynda to make sure her sons visited family in Leeds, to feel what it meant to be a member of a black community.

Much of what we say or do is acting on a subconscious level. What we say and how we are heard can be very different. We don’t have the history that the black community has, or their mind set. We might say that we don’t notice colour. We are all human beings. We are all the same. But we are not all the same at all. Not to acknowledge colour is to not acknowledge the differences that are there and to be able to respect people regardless.

The young twenty-something Lynda was when she first moved to Inverness is very different from the woman she is now some thirty years later. The strength and confidence that is seen on the outside does not cover up insecurities on the inside. She is proud of who she is and what she has achieved. She walks tall.

The battle has not ended, by any means. Lynda called on us all to take a stand. Silence is taken as approval. If there is injustice and it’s not being challenged, not only does it continue to happen but if it is unchallenged, it’s like saying it’s normal when it is anything but. And it is not just about the other person and what they have said or done that treats someone as “less than”. We need to take a close look at our words and actions. What have we assumed about a person from what they look like or where they live?

Good societies, like good people, are not born that way. They are made.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

This Is Just To Say

I was trawling some of the books on creative writing the other day, looking to find a task to set for the Breathe Writers meeting today. The original poem the book used for the task was “This Is Just To Say” by William Carlos Williams - 1883-1963. I wrote my own short similar kind of poem:-

This is Just To Say

I have just noticed
the scribbles
on the pages of
your passport

you are probably
going to need to
travel to Peru next week

Alfie would apologise
but he hasn’t yet learned to speak
He loves
the colour red

The Task - Imagine you are the owner of the passport. Write a reply. You can write in the same form with the same number of syllables, the same number of lines and line breaks if you wish. Or you can write your reply as a paragraph of 50 words.

My husband has been coming along to the group. He doesn’t claim to be creative but says he comes to support me. He read his reply as a rap:-

I am the bear found on Paddington Station
On Tuesday I return to my Peruvian nation
Alas and alack my young friend Alfred
Decided to colour my passport dark red
It won’t rub off and it won’t erase
But I know Alfie is just going through a phase
I am sure the custom’s officer will be firm but fair
For the photo in the passport is clearly Paddington Bear

My own reply was is a little more predictable:-

My dearest Alfie
the scribbles
on the pages of
my passport

I cannot go
to darkest Peru
next week or anytime soon

I expect an apology
this time next year without fail
For now
please use a pencil

I don't have a copy of Cliff's reply. He decided that Alfie was a dog.

A great time was had by all.