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  • Deciduous Trees.... and overworked angels

    Every family has its legends and its tales of when it's members were small.

    One of the tales in my family relates to when I was a toddler, or mabe just a little older.  In the autumn I had seen the road sweeper, a man called Mr Kitely (no idea how to spell that) sweep up the fallen leaves from the trees.  When spring arrived and I saw the new growth evidently I said "Oh look, Mr Kitely has put the leaves back on the trees."  How much this is true and how much just family lore I have no idea.  But I find comfort in the story on a day when I feel a bit like a deciduous tree, wondering just how many leaves will fall this day and how long it will take.

    As I walked home from church, enjoying the feel of the wind in my hair, I pondered the uneviable task God is presumably asisgning to some minor angel to keep count of the hairs on my head... I think maybe they should be given a break and told to return next spring.

  • Breast Cancer Awareness Month

    I have no desire to become a total bore (I suspect I'm already pretty boring) or to degenerate into some kind of evangelical zeal for one issue alone, but October is breast cancer awareness month, and it seemed pertinent to post on this theme.  Part of my logic is that, in amongst all the lovely emails and cards I received from friends and colleagues was one that ran along the lines "but you're too young, I mean you're not 50 yet, and anyway how will I know if I have it?"  Clearly awareness is not all it might be, and people's fears of the unknown are part of the problem.

    In the UK each year around 46,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer, that's the equivalent to a town the size of Ayr, of whom around 300 are men, that's equivalent to the size of a very big Baptist church (though one with 300 blokes would be rare sight indeed!)  Currently there around half a million people living with breast cancer in Britain (that's like a city the size of Glasgow or Manchester), and most of us are fortunate enough to have a good prospect of living beyond five years.  Evidently breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in Britain and the second biggest cancer killer (after lung cancer).  The fact is that we will all know someone for whom this is real, and that in your average church around 1/8 of your women will have it at some point.  You might have more, you might have less, such is the nature of statistics, but it's not unusual, even if every person who has it is unique and precious.

    Astounded by the response of my friend as I was, it seems people are very ignorant on this topic.  So to the women out there - get checking (use breast cancer care link on the sidebar if you need help on how).  I would not claim to be a proficient or even especially frequent checker, but the truth is this has probably saved my life.  I saw my GP within two days (and 2 hours of phoning for an appointment), had a hospital appointment within 14 (standard for NHS rapid referral for possible breast cancer) and a formal diagnosis within a week of that. Whilst a week or so doesn't matter either way - so they tell me - it makes sense to act swiftly.

    If you are 50+ get that mammogram done.  There is an irony that Cancer Research UK want to extend the 'window' down to 47 (my current age) by the time I hit 50 (the current age for screening) in 2012 ... Some people find it very painful, I didn't experience any pain, but a few seconds of pain to save your life... no contest.

    The biggest risk age is 50-70, hence the screening programme, but one in five of us is under fifty and/or pre-menopausal.  Whilst it's nice to be classed as 'young' because of my age and stage, it does not mean it can't happen, and I'm not sure everyone, even very intelligent and educated people, 'gets' that.

    There is actually no pleasure in queue jumping at hospital or getting instant appointments at the doctor's surgery because you have cancer, but with the NHS you can be sure you will get the care you need - just so long as you do your bit and get things checked out.

    Of course it isn't just this variety of cancer... if screening is there then take advantage of it, it really could save your life.

    Right, lecture over... it's a glorious day in Glasgow and I intend to enjoy every moment of it.

  • What Job's Comforters Got Right

    I'd love to claim this was an orignal thought but it isn't.  Unfortunately I can't remember where I came across it so I can't give credit where it's due.  Job's friends get a bad press, and God doesn't seem to have been impressed by them, but one thing they got right... and it's easily missed.

    Job 2:13 "They sat there on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights without saying a word, because they saw how much he was suffering." (GNB)

    One thing that seven years of pastoral ministry preceded by four years of training has taught me is the value of sitting in silence sharing the bewilderment.  So often there are no words that can be spoken, but knowing that someone - sometimes me, sometimes you - is there makes all the difference.  And Job's friends canonise the rightness of that, whatever else they may or may not have done.

  • Mapping and Metaphors

    When I do real life long distance footpaths, I buy OS maps, I buy the route map and I buy one or more guides.  This means I know how far apart the landmarks are, what I'm likely to encounter on the way and roughly how long each section might take.  My journey is uniquely mine, but it is well charted territory.  The metaphor doesn't work so neatly for life in general, or what I'm 'walking' in particular.  There is an itinerary and there are landmarks but no one can say with any precision how far apart they are or when I will reach them.  So the reality is that I develop my own map and, whilst some general features will be there for others to find, a guidebook based on my 'journey' is of no use to anyone but me.

    It seems that the chemotherapy path *might* be a zig-zag hill climb, presumably getting steeper as it goes along, and with those horrid steep turns that only zig-zag paths can have.  The first dose left me lethargic for about five days after which I felt fine, not 100% maybe 98% and more aware of tiring, and with a couple of weeks of steady travel before the next bend.  I am taking life easy, but enjoying doing many of things I usually do.

    Somewhere between the first and second bends is a stile, but no one can say quite where it lies.  Indeed for some people it lies after the second bend.  But I won't be some people.  No one can describe the stile either, for some it is tall and sudden, for others it is preceded by a marshy mire, and I'm not yet clear which it is, only that I am at it.  The stile of hair loss.

    Today it begins and I have no way of knowing if it will be slow or fast, patchy or even, only that it will continue until it is complete.  Kind of weird knowing and not knowing.  I'm glad I put in place the necessary practical preparations even if I'm not so sure how to feel.

    It's a bit like so much else in life that we know is on our own horizon - it is inevitable and we do what we can to prepare ourselves but no one has been here before, no one has mapped the territory and no one has a guidebook.  Ultimately we are all pioneers of a sort.

  • The Ongoing Welcome

    Last Sunday lots of churches did 'Back To Church Sunday' or the BUGB version (because Baptists had objected to the words 'back', 'to' 'church' and 'Sunday'!) 'The Bigger Welcome'.  We didn't.  Not because we or I am opposed to it - we did it quite effectively in Dibley.  And not because I'd already booked it as a 'free' Sunday. We didn't do it because, without meaning to be arrogant, we do it anyway.  Granted, we aren't all always inviting people to come (or come back) to church/events/activities on Sunday/any day, but we do seem to understand the whole thing about welcome.

    Sunday coming is our harvest thanksgiving service, when we will be supporting Operation Agri and Glasgow City Mission.  We also have a student soup lunch which has been organised with great enthusiasm by various folk... including one who has been with us for two weeks!  One thing that visitors to the Gathering Place comment on is the sense of welcome they receive, and many mention the welcoming atmosphere too.  Not everyone comes back - some are seeking a more lively or charismatic style of worship, some seek a more prescriptive style of preaching, some are just passing through anyway - but no one ever runs out of the door the moment the blessing ends because it has been simply too awful for words.

    We're not perfect - I've been grouched at by stewards, and I've occasionally seen visitors standing alone clutching their mug of tea - but we do our best to make sure that welcome is for life, not just for B2CS.  I'm not claiming any uniqueness about that, just a sense that whilst B2CS is a good start, it's what comes next that really matters... which is why we need to work hard to sustain our new student connections.