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  • Reading Books

    Yesterday was almost a day off - I won't disclose how many work phone calls interrupted it (despite the answerphone) - and included a trip to Borders at Fosse Park (for once devoid of other Baptists so far as I could tell!) to browse the shelves and pick up a few novels for relaxation.  I bought four and by the end of the day had devoured two of them!

    The End of the Alphabet by CS Richardson, Portobello 2009 (not the only book of this title it seems from a check on Amazon) is a very quick read (took about 90 minutes) slightly quirky and definitely in the 'feel good' genre which is 'a moving story of the final moment of a life and of a lifelong romance.'  Gentle without being twee, it was enough to generate a little bit of thought whilst providing relaxation.

    By contrast, Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Black Swan 2008, is more challenging.  It is a first person narrative of a sixteen year-old girl with terminal illness as she works through her list of things she wants to do before her death.  Definitely not a children's book (some fairly explicit, if elegantly written, sex scenes as well as drugs and law breaking!) but feels authentic as a teenage narrator.  I found lots of resonance with questions I've pondered at various times over the years - how would the final weeks be spent?  Do the 'rules' change when time runs out?  What might those final days or moments be like?  The story is never ghoulish or mawkish, rather it draws it reader into Tessa's world - or is it maybe that of our own inner-teenager - as well as that of her family and friends.  I found myself oddly reminded of the biblical story of Jephthah's daughter, who went off to spend her final days with her friends before being slaughtered to fulfil her foolish father's vow, simply because it raises the questions of what constitutes a fulfilled life.

    The other two books aren't (ostensibly) about death and dying but we shall see!

  • When Jesus Sleeps

    Children sing of it at Christmas - 'the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay' - and the synoptic gospels tell of it 'the grown up Lord Jesus asleep in a boat' and this morning I found myself recalling a sermon I heard in a small church in Manchester almost six years ago that explored this theme.

    In childhood we learned to sing 'with Jesus in the vessel you can smile at the storm' but of course adult life shows you it isn't always like that - certainly it wasn't for the little church where the sermon was preached, and although now that storm is long past and they did indeed weather it, there was a lot of pain and struggle on the way.

    The Markan accounts are often noted for their 'zap, pow' pace and brevity, but every now and then an adjective or detail slips in that nuances the whole thing - whether it is people sitting on green grass (6:39) or Jesus sleeping on a cushion (4:38) as the boat risks being swamped in the storm.  I have no idea what a first century cushion was like, but the implication seems clear enough - Jesus is comfortable and relaxed, sparked out after his preaching and teaching whilst the disciples presumably are awake and sitting in the boat, maybe even sailing it.  They see the storm brewing (not something that unusual on Lake Genessaret), they get cold and wet and frightened and 'grown up Lord Jesus'?  'Just z's he makes!'  So they have to wake him up - incensed that he is blissfully slumbering while they fear death by drowning (the worst conceivable fate).

    The preacher who spoke on this passage reminded her congregation that though it seems Jesus is indeed in the land of nod, he is present in the boat, in the storms they face.  But just maybe, she noted, he needs to be shaken awake!  Not because he doesn't care, but because we need to be real, to admit and express our fears of drowning.

    Life for churches, individuals and whole nations is incredibly stormy at the moment - and maybe this story, with a Jesus who is present but seems as much use as a chocolate teapot in his somnulent state has resonance.  Maybe we need to rouse him (or at least our perception of him) risking the accusation of 'little faith' (though he also says that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains) and hear him 'shush' the wind and waves, or at least 'shush' the inner storms of our hearts and minds.


    Desist! Be aware of I AM God - I WILL BE, exalted among all the nations, in the whole of creation (Psalm 46:10, my paraphrase)

  • Challenges!

    The end of the financial year looms and with it piles of administrative work and relentless challenges for the small church.

    This morning I have submitted our application to Social Services for funding for the next 12 months for our lunch club.  We already needed an above inflation increase because the coach company with whom we work have had to increase their charges significantly.  Then the restaurant with whom we partner announced that they are being forced to close as their lease will not be renewed and we are forced to look elsewhere.  Thankfully we have found a possible venue but it is further away and the coach costs will rise again.  Will the council - themselves squeezed by the credit crunch - be able to meet our requests?  And what do we do if they can't or don't?

    Our deacons nominations closed on Sunday and we have no candidates for whom to vote - reducing the diaconate to three after the AGM.  Thankfully we have someone willing to stand as treasurer but our retiring secretary has no obvious successor.  Is it reasonable to expect three people to carry this amount of responsibility?

    Sale of our building now nears completion - contracts have been exchanged and a completion date agreed, but the presence of bats in the attic means that the buyer has to get planning consent for a temporary bat house before he can demolish the building - which needs to happen prior to the birds nesting or the whole project is delayed until the fledglings fly.  And all this so that, hopefully, some much needed low cost housing can serve this community.

    Yesterday there were only 18 of us at church - most of the others were sick.  Each week my "significantly sick or housebound" visiting list grows longer and I am merely grateful most are now in the local cottage hospital rather than the city hospitals.

    No wonder, I realise, that I am weary!  Not sure what impact this will have on blogging - to some extent it acts as a 'bolt hole' or 'sanity check' in the madness of pastoral life but I also have other commitments - two papers to write for the university and one I offered to write for the BMJ (no, not that BMJ, the Baptist one) and so on.  So, if I am 'missing' for a while this is why, and if I'm not this is why too!

  • Any Ideas?

    I have a 90-something almost blind, partially deaf Gideon who is in hospital.  Tonight I failed to take a Bible with me, there wasn't one in the locker and his request that I recite a chunk of scripture managed to rob me of the few passages I can just about recite!  In the end we had Psalm 23 in the KY-NRS-NI-GN-almost-version; of course walking down six flights of stairs afterwards I could recite it perfectly in the KJV I learned as a child but hey.  He said what he'd like is cassette tapes with short , light inspirational stuff on - we have loaded him up with tapes of male voice choirs, hymns and the like, but he now wants words.  I have a few 'teaching' tapes and there are oodles of Bible on tape things around but I think he's more after 'thought for the day type things.  Anyone know of anything or got anything I could beg, borrow or buy from you?

  • I'm a Crematorium Snob!

    This I decided when I eventually found the crematorium this morning - if only AA routefinder gave H and V numbers for Milton Keynes... fortunately I had heaps of time, found some helpful council gardeners and my mother survived me shouting at her that there was no point saying 'that way looks good' when she had no more clue than I did.

    Maybe the deep sadness of a young man with only seven people to mourn him (plus his cousin to officiate) added to the sense of the event, and it was a cold, damp, grey, old kind of a day.  Logistically, whilst I'm not keen, the crematorium is very well laid out, unlike one I've been to in Warwickshire where corteges 'cross' mourners returning to their cars.  But it felt horribly clinical and cold (despite a red hot waiting room).  Hard tiles on which shoes clatter; completely bare, almost white walls; a tiny cross high on a stark wall; clumsy wooden pews not quite designed for the purpose; oh, and a little silver cover for the curtain button in case you inadvertently pressed it before you meant to...  Add to the that the very basic coffin, starkly unadorned, and the ache of bereavement was probably the most intense I've ever sensed in such a place.  The staff were incredibly helpful and kind, the acoustics worked well and the garden area for viewing flowers (had their been any) was tastefully arranged.  There was nothing wrong with it at all, it is a well conceived, functional crematorium, I just didn't like it.

    So I conclude I'm a crematorium snob!  I like places where the mourners can move completely indoors from waiting area to chapel, where there is carpet to soften the foot falls and something other than stark walls and a coffin to look at.  I can cope with the odd failed lightbulb, I've decided (though it annoys me!), and even slight shabbiness because somehow it softens the clinical feel of a conveyor belt system.  I have my preferred crematoria and one I really dislike (which wasn't today's) and realise that no one size fits all.  Despite my snobbery, and despite the incredible sadness I felt today (more because of the situation than the place) the undertakers and crematorium staff were superb which, ultimately is more important.