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  • Grieving and Gratitude

    This evening people from local churches meet to share in an annual service of "Grieving and Gratitude" at one of the C of S churches.  Last year I helped lead the service; this year I am exercising a ministry of flopping on my settee.  I am sad I can't go to the service as there are people I wanted to remember who this year slipped from this life to the life of eternity.  Of course we don't need a special framework to remember, and I don't need to be with others in some formalised rite, so I am sitting on my settee recalling those from my story who died this year.

    So I start with B, and overlap from last year, a diamond in the rough whose second marriage I conducted, and for whom I had deep affection, who this time last year died very suddenly.

    Just weeks later came L, a lovely Brummy who had was already terminally ill when I moved north, and whose parting wish was that I would take his funeral.  A delightful and funny man, whose mischeivous smile and open tears on my (metaphorical) shoulder I will not forget.

    There was D, my local MP from down south, a man of principle who understood deeply what constituency politics was about who, too, suddenly died on Boxing Day whilst out walking with his family.

    Then F, in her early twenties, a young mission partner who I'd met when she visited Dibley with BMS and who I had encouraged to explore a call to full time Christian service.  At the time I felt guilty that these words of mine had played a part in her dying so far from home; ten months on the guilt has given way to privilege in having met this amazing youung woman.

    J was a gatherer, the only one I've yet had to farewell.  After a couple of years of burying 'my' flock in ever increasing numbers, it has been good to do so less; yet for folk here this was one more in a year of heavy losses.  She was a special member of our church with her trademark topknot and irrepressible humour; I am glad I knew her, if only in passing.

    Lastly is M, who at 49 years 364 days older than me (a fact she loved to quote to me) was the second oldest of my Dibley flock, and the oldest, if nowhere near longest served, actual church member.  She combined practical wisdom and deep faith with a healthy measure of mining-community grit; she loved owls (her flat was full of pictures and ornaments of them) and she loved life.  I have always remembered the essence of her words spoken to me during an illness, "I'm ready either way, to live is good, to die is fine" - she showed me how Paul's injunction could indeed find expression.


    So, tonight as I sit on my settee, in my imagination I light candles to remember these saints, now at rest, giving thanks for all the light they brought to my life...

    For all the saints, who from their labours rest,

    Who Thee, by faith, before the world confessed

    Thy name, Oh Jesus, beforever blessed:

    Alleluia, alleulia!

  • Preaching to Myself

    Always a good thing, I find, when in preparing my sermon, or the more so, when delivering it, I am preaching to myself.   So this morning, as I reached my final reflection, on Galatians 3: 28 - 29, our 16th reading of the day!!!

    What, I said, if we move beyond the implied dualism of the age in which it was written and try to find a principle for out own time?  What if we said...

    In Christ race vanishes

    In Christ status vanishes

    In Christ gender vanishes

    Just a thought.

  • Happy New Year...

    ... to all Celts who happen to be reading.

    Not entirely sure of the pronunciation of Samhain, the Celtic name of the festival subsumed first by All Hallows and then by Hallowe'en/Halloween, but it marked the start of the new year for the ancient Celts and, indeed Samhain remains the Celtic name for November.

    The ancient missionaries new a thing or two about inculturation - how to look and listen to local custom and practice and spot the echoes and glimpses of what is spoken more profoundly in their Christian experience.  For ancient Celts the end of the harvest and cleansing of the earth with bonfires (hint - where do you think bonfire night comes from really?) coincided with the darkening of the year.  As the natural end of the growing cycle came and with it the slaughter of animals for food (hence the bone-fires), so there was a sense of 'thinness' between life and death, this world and the next.  Enter the Celtic Christians and, later, the Romanised Christians who developed the feasts of All Hallows and All Souls, commemorating and, in a more literal sense of the 'communion of saints', connecting with the 'faithful departed.'

    For those of with strong protestant heritage such festivals are a little uncomfortable, yet I think they do have the potential to to remind us of important truths - our interconnectedness with the rest of creation, of the whisper-thin veil between life and death, of our own mortality, of those who have gone before us, saints official or unofficial, and of the new beginnings that can be marked on any day of any month.

    Among our songs today is a childhood favourite of mine, which reminds us of the ordinariness of God's saints who we can encounter anywhere, "I sing a song of the saints of God".  Unfortunately the words aren't in HymnQuest but it can be found at

    BPW 248 (the red Baptist book)

    BHB 259 (the green Baptist book)

    JP 115

    Sunday School Praise 453

    Fresh Sounds (if anyone still has a copy!) 85

    BBC Hymnbook 353

    plus one or two others.


    It can, however, be found online if you Google it, here's a Americanised version which does, alas lose my favourite lines about meeting saints "at school or in shops or at tea" and that they "began just like me" but it's not bad.

       I sing a song of the saints of God, 
    patient and brave and true,
    who toiled and fought and lived and died
    for the Lord they loved and knew.
    And one was a doctor, and one was a queen,
    and one was a shepherdess on the green;
    they were all of them saints of God, and I mean,
    God helping, to be one too.

    They loved their Lord so dear, so dear,
    and his love made them strong;
    and they followed the right for Jesus' sake
    the whole of their good lives long.
    And one was a soldier, and one was a priest,
    and one was slain by a fierce wild beast;
    and there's not any reason, no, not the least,
    why I shouldn't be one too.

    They lived not only in ages past;
    there are hundreds of thousands still.
    The world is bright with the joyous saints
    who love to do Jesus' will.
    You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store,
    in church, by the sea, in the house next door;
    they are saints of God, whether rich or poor,
    and I mean to be one too.

    If you don't know it you can listen here

    PS In the unlikely event that any trick or treaters knock my door tonight, I might 'treat' them to the 'trick' of taking off my headscarf... cue mean cackling laughter.

  • Half Way!

    So, for those following the chemo-hill I am half way in terms of doses received.  That's good.  Bit of a geeky post, so ignore at will.

    People often ask what it's like, when the dips come, how long they last and so on.  Truth is, that whilst there are general trends, each person is different so their reaction is theirs and theirs alone.  So, as I offer my answers, don't expect they'll match anyone else's.

    What I have found to be the case so far is that immediately after being drugged I am fine, perfectly capable of walking home and, if it is around a meal time, eating something normal, which is a last pleasure before the first effects begin.  I have found so far that after 3-5 hours my energy levels start to ebb away and any high energy TV becomes too demanding to watch.  This floppy phase lasts about five days after which my energy levels return almost as quickly as they ebbed.  I have described it as being a bit like a 'dimmer switch' that some invisible person turns down and then up again.  A bit weird really.

    Even the floppy phase is not totally floppy.  I find I feel much better if I can get out and do something 'normal' for a few hours; this is why I am so glad I am able to preach on Sundays immediately after treatment: it is something to look forward to and the doing thereof serves to energise me, if only for a couple of hours.  There is a balance to strike - I sit down for most of the hymns and rather than a big sermon I opt for bite-sized reflections.  After church I go home and lie on the settee for the rest of the day but do so knowing that it has been good to be out with God's people worshipping and sharing.

    The medical dip follows the energy dip a bit later, being around days 10-14.  This means that although I feel great by then and suspect I could almost rule the world if I so wished, I have to be extra vigilant.  I am aware I tend to scowl at people who cough or sneeze without covering their noses/mouths and cross the road to avoid sniffing toddlers!  As the weather has turned wetter and milder, and my neutrophil count gets ever lower, I will need to be even more careful.

    To the Levitical restrictions have to added to the personalised variations, which can make life rather interesting (or dull depending how you look at it).  I find five days of "soup and smoothies" wears very thin (even if I make broth) and it is good to get back to real food afterwards.  Having said that, it's a great excuse to eat tinned rice pudding and tinned custard in the first few days.  I recently bought a new jar of marmite as one of the few things to put on bread that is (a) permitted and (b) tolerated by my compromised system; I've never bought a 500g jar before!  Personalised, experience based, bans on tuna, cheese, mayonnaise mean sandwiches are limited to ham or marmite...  I could define a whole new 'kosher' regime involving making porrige whilst facing the correct direction or a 'hallal' one by praying over the marmite jar.

    Some side effects are less pleasant than others, but thanks to the wonder of excellent drugs I am very fortunate to be able live a near normal life.  I have had no sickness or nausea, and thanks to magic drugs the acid reflux that plagued my first dose has been overcome.  The second dose left me with a sore arm, well vein, which has now almost recovered, which is great as not everyone who has vein pain is so fortunate.  It seems the third dose may well be having a similar effect on my other arm, rats!  Being almost hairless (the stubble in its telegen phase is proving quite tenacious) is something I've pretty well got used to - though my reflexes sometimes still think there is 24" of hair to flick out of my clothes.

    One of my concerns about starting the chemo was that the hospital would be full of very-brave very-sick people and that I would feel very-inadequate.  So far, most people are just people getting on with what they have to get on with.  The very-brave very-sick ones are, I guess, in the wards, wired to machines, where I don't see them.  I notice a few very frightened people, and a few rather angry people, but mostly they are just people - and mostly they are quite lot older than me.

    So.  Half way.  Capable of boring for Britain.  Mostly positive.  Enjoying life a lot.  Loving church.  Grateful for all the support, love and prayers.  Confident of God's accompaniment in it all.  And stepping onwards and upwards on this zig-zag hill called Mount Chemo.

  • Wayside Flowers

    This week has felt a bit of a trudge.  Maybe it's something about the halfway point on this stage of the 'long distance walk'.  Maybe it's the effect of events that I am choosing not to post (if you can't say something good, say nothing).  Maybe it's just an inevitable part of adjustment to what is happening.  Maybe it's the fact that it has rained a lot and the days have been grey.  Maybe it's a bit of all of them.  Anyway, a fair few posts have been drafted and deleted along the way trying to work it out.  I said way back when this began, that I needed to be able to be honest, not twee or pious, but I also have responsibilities to guilty and innocent alike, so some things remain unsaid.

    It's been a trudge, but it's had it's lighter moments, like wayside flowers surprising the walker with tiny glimpses of unabashed beauty.  I love daisies (I used to hate mowing them in my lawn) and have inherited my Dad's fondness for dandelions; I marvel at tiny blue forget-me-nots, enjoy the brightness of buttercups and celandines whilst pig/cow parsley is a reminder of childhood.  A card that arrived on a particularly trudgey day; an email with an emoticon hug that was a cross between Mr Happy and Mr Tickle; an incredibly creative planning meeting for an Advent service; coffee with some from the Union... and other little things, each lightening the dullness of a trudge through rain.

    Not been a great week emotionally, but God's grace is seen in the little things... a smile, a word, a photo.

    Someone at church put up a poem about the wonder of flowers (as distinct from blossom) which have now obvious functional reason to exist, yet God created them (or allowed them to evolve or whatever).  This week, when the lovely real flowers have been consigned to my kitchen because they make my eyes itch and nose run, I've been very grateful for the metaphorical ones.  Thank God for wayside flowers.