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  • Grrrrrrrrrrr...

    Why do many retired (and some not), male (Baptist) ministers insist on calling me 'dear' and assuming that I am some sort of secretarial assistant...? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  I am sorely tempted to start calling them all 'love' (in my best north west of England accent, viz 'luv') or 'mi dook' (in my best south Dibley accent) to see how they like it.

    Rant over!

  • To Silence a Cinema Audience

    CAUTION plot spoilers.

    Yesterday I went to see The Boy in Striped Pyjamas at the shiny new Showcase cinema in Leicester.  It wasn't cheap, even with my student discount (evidence carefully checked by someone half my age!) it was £5.50 but the seats were comfortable, with enough leg room (if you're 5'4", not so sure if you're 6'4") and the experience was pretty positive.  Unusual to be shown to you seat by an usher(-ette) complete with torch and even more surreal to be asked afterwards 'did you enjoy the movie?' by another one whose job was clearly to ensure we all left!  She seemed a bit thrown when I said "well, I don't think'enjoy' is the right word" so I added "it was a good experience"

    The film reflects its certification - at 12A it isn't going to show too horrendous, and maybe in an odd way that is a strength.  In an age where we have become accustomed to seeing extreme violence, explicit sex and every second word expletive, there was something refreshing about the resort to implication.  The review in the Baptist Times a week or two back seems to have been very fair - the Hollywood thunderstorm signifying encroaching menace wasn't really necessary, indeed I can't help feeling a clear blue sky might have heightened the tragedy that any adult viewer would have been anticipating; afterall in real life tragedy doesn't wait for the right weather conditions.  Seen mainly through the eyes of an eight year old boy (who reminded me somewhat of the younger of my brothers at that age; maybe that's the idea) there are one or two moments that are really striking - such as his observation about the Jewish doctor working as a household servant "he used to be a doctor but he gave it all up to peel potatoes."  The image of the mother kneeling in the rain and mud, clutching his clothes and weeping uncontrollably brought to mind words from Matthew 2/Jeremiah 31: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."  The irony of course is that this was not a Jewish mother, but the wife of an army officer, a woman who struggled with what the final solution meant and what was happening to those she loved as a result of the third reich.

    The film didn't quite cut as deeply as I'd hoped it might, but it did raise questions about the demonisation of 'otherness' and it is very rare that a film renders the audience so silent that no one speaks as they leave - at least until the usher asks 'did you enjoy the movie.'

    Stepping out into bright autumn sunshine and a busy multi-cultural city he contrast was stark.  Muslim men still dressed for Friday prayers chatted at a taxi rank, office workers clutched take away Starbucks coffee, mothers chastened their toddlers, some black evangelical Christians announced tomorrow was a great day when they would be telling people what God really thought of them (!) and a young man told his partner that he didn't have the f*ing money to pay for a new skirt.  Asian, African, black, white, fundamentalist, liberalist, agnostic, atheist, theist, young, old all mixed up together in a British city.  But who is 'other' for them?  And do we poison our children's minds as we seek to protect ourselves? And who are the Rachel's of our day?

    Watching or reading accounts of the Shoah (final solution) always challenges me and reminds me of my Jewish grandmother and my rabbi great-great-grandfather (is there a preaching gene perhaps?).  It also reminds me of my Scottish forebears, which include both Campbells and MacDonalds - both sides in a bloody and destructive campaign.  I find myself reminded of the words of another rabbi 'whoever has no sin, let them cast the first stone' and realise that for all my desires otherwise I, too, am guilty and there, but for the grace of God, go I.

  • Biblical Literalism Taken to Extremes

    This hilarious cartoon from ASBO Jesus brightened my morning considerably!



  • Known Unto God - Thoughts on Funerals

    Funerals for people we’ve never met make us vulnerable – vulnerable to the whims of family who may choose to omit certain details (for which we will be blamed), vulnerable to the wiles of funeral directors who have schedules to maintain, vulnerable to our own sense of inadequacy and/or the odd buttons that might get pushed or phantoms disturbed.  But at least where there is family there is something to hear and so something to say (as well as not to say).  The really tricky ones are those where all we have is a name, an age and a date of death, along with a time and a place for the funeral.


    This has been occupying my mind a lot this week, and was brought into stark relief this morning when I received the ‘standard’ fee from the funeral director for tomorrow’s service, which I can’t see lasting more than ten minutes (though has taken several times that to work through).  Looking at the rectangle of paper that is a cheque, laid alongside two sides of white typed A4 including prayers, a Bible reading, an eight line tribute and words of committal, it all felt very, very sad. 


    I thought again of the funeral with no mourners and the sense that all I could really say of the person was ‘known unto God.’  And is that enough?  On one hand, it is all that is needed, all that, ultimately, matters but it seems so inadequate to sum up a life, especially a long life.  And if the funeral is reduced to three words, twelve letters, that works out at around £9 a letter, £35 a word, which is at once obscenely expensive and cheap sentiment.


    Recalling a simple wooden coffin, topped by a small wreath, in which were held the mortal remains of an elderly woman arriving alone at a crematorium, and anticipating something similar tomorrow in a hillside cemetery, these thoughts arise:


    Known Unto God

    Is it enough to say of her, ‘known unto God?’

    What is expressed when I say of him ‘known unto God?’


    What were her girlish dreams,

    His boyhood ambitions?

    Known unto God


    What made them laugh?

    Did they dance or sing?

    Known unto God


    What was her proudest moment,

    His greatest day?

    Known unto God


    Who did they love – and who loved them?

    Who broke their hearts – and whose did they break?

    Known unto God


    What secret longings were never fulfilled?

    What painful regrets were never addressed?

    Known unto God.


    Who now will mourn them, and who is left?

    Who will remember the life that was theirs?

    Known unto God


    Inadequate sufficiency,

    Essentials fulfilled:

    Known unto God


    ‘Jim’ and ‘Mabel,’

    John Doe, Jane Doe,

    Unknown soldier,

    Unnamed foetus:

    Known unto God

    For ever

  • Funeral Rites for Eleanor Rigby

    Eleanor Rigby died in the church and was buried along with her name
    Nobody came
    Father Mckenzie wiping the dirt from his hands as he walks from the grave
    No one was saved


    Even as a child I found these words immensely sad.  This week as I've been pondering the graveside service I will conduct tomorrow, I was reminded of a funeral I conducted a couple of years back for a real life Eleanor Rigby, an elderly woman, estranged for her relatives whose funeral was arranged by her solicitor. I had anticipated the funeral party consisting of me, the undertaker and crematorium organist and wrote some words accordingly.  In the end a nephew and his wife arrived, along with one neighbour - even this seemingly unloved woman had someone who wanted to say goodbye to her.

    Today I will prepare my liturgy for tomorrow.  For now I offer, tentatively and in case it is of use to someone else, my liturgy for Eleanor Rigby and others like her.  Parts have been adapted from Baptist sources, so please don't sue me for plagiarism!

    Apologies for any odd formatting - I still haven't learned properly how to juggle the html on things I paste in from word processing software


    Opening Sentences and Readings                                                        

    Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.’   He also said ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted’


    We are here to say farewell to FULL NAME and to give thanks to God for HER/HIS life.

    As we do so, we acknowledge that there have been difficulties, that perhaps mistakes were made or potential left unfulfilled, yet we want to acknowledge NAME’s life and to commend HER/HIM to God’s mercy and compassion


    We are here in the presence of our God who has said ‘I will not fail you or desert you.’



    Loving God, we come to you in need of your help at this time.

    You have given us life and now we face the mystery of death, isolation and abandonment.

    Help us to find you in the whole of life, its beginning and its ending.

    Help us to discover you in our pain as well as our joy, in our doubts as well as our faith, in our confusion and sadness as well as our confidence, that we might find comfort in your words and new hope in Christ.

    We make our prayer in Jesus’ name



    Bible reading – Psalm 139, selection


    LORD, you have examined me and you know me.

    You know everything I do; from far away you understand all my thoughts.

    You see me, whether I am working or resting; you know all my actions.

    Even before I speak, you already know what I will say.

    You are all around me on every side; you protect me with your power.

    Your knowledge of me is too deep; it is beyond my understanding.


    You created every part of me; you put me together in my mother's womb.

    I praise you because you are to be feared; all you do is strange and wonderful. I know it with all my heart.

    When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother's womb, when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there, you saw me before I was born. The days allotted to me had all been recorded in your book, before any of them ever began.



    Gracious God, we thank you for life of FULL NAME. 

    We know nothing of HER/HIS life, yet we are sure that SHE/HE has known times of great joy, moments of laughter and happiness and the love of another.  You know all that SHE/HE has been, and we pray that those who have known HER/HIM may, in time, be comforted by good memories.


    We suspect that there have been failures and struggles for HER/HIM and those who loved HER/HIM.  Help them to come to terms with their bad memories and to be healed of their hurt.


    We pray for your comfort and strength for HER/HIS family at this time.


    Now that HER/HIS earthly life has ended, we commend NAME to you, trusting in your love and compassion.


    As the moment comes when we let NAME go, be with us, guiding and strengthening us, helping us to grow in knowledge and love.


    For we pray in Jesus’ name.




    Now having commended NAME to God’s mercy and compassion, we commit HER/HIS body to be cremated.  Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life.





    We leave this service chastened in our own attitudes, reminded of the vulnerability of human life and the importance of love and forgiveness.  Love is never changed by death; nothing of Love is ever lost through death; and the end is the harvest of a new beginning.


    As we leave, we do so enfolded in the unfailing love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.