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- Page 9

  • Ordinary Time

    This morning for the first time in far too long, I used the Pray-as-you-Go reflection to start my day.  For all sorts of reasons, mostly good and justifiable, my private devotions have been very disrupted of late, and it is high time I took myself in hand and got them back on track. 

    So it was, that this morning the recording announced that it is the 23rd week of ordinary time.  The first thing that struck me was just that - the twenty third week, that in fact ordinary time is mostly what life is about, that penitential seasons and festivals are necessarily short and focussed, a distraction from the ordinariness of life.  I guess one of the questions for me is what 'ordinary' or 'normal' looks like now.  I cannot turn back the clock to my old understandings of 'normal', I have to live with 'new normal' and work out what 'ordinary' looks like.  Reluctant though I am to admit it, my brain is not what it was a year ago (as I said to one friend recently I am lucky, my reduction in mental faculty is from someone for whom doctoral research was relatively straight forward to someone for whom it would be quite demanding) and my short term memory is permanently affected by the drugs or their side effects.  I need to work harder to achieve what I once took for granted - that's maybe not a bad thing, as it forces me to expect a bit less of other people.

    At the same time, ordinary is a good place to be.  Not having a diary crammed full of exotic-sounding hospital appointments is good.  Being able to wake up and think 'nothing much happening today' is remarkably pleasant (though this week includes three evening meetings and a fair amount of written stuff on tight deadlines... why did I take a holiday, remind me?!).  That most of life is just ordinary, just plods along, is actually worthy of celebration.  Special occasions and parties have their place, but it is good just to get on with ordinariness.

    And it is within the ordinariness that routines can be established that help us deal with the unexpected challenges of life.

    Today's PAYG centred on Jesus calling the first diciples... he spent a night in prayer, he chose the twelve, a massive crowd came seeking him.  The commentator noted the importance of the balance between 'being' and 'doing', that Jesus both took time away to pray and time to be busy with people.  It seemed quite apposite for the first PAYG I've listened to in ages.

    For me, being back in ordinary time, even if I'm not entirely sure what that now means, is a good thing.  Being able to re-establish my times and spaces for reflection, Bible study and prayer, re-training my wandering mind to focus Godward, rediscovering the delight of making connections between faith and life, feeling more 'in control' after a year of being somewhat 'at sea', all that seems very good.

    Evidently in the liturgical year there are 33 or 34 weeks of ordinary time (depends how Easter falls), so around two thirds of the year.  Of the rest, around 10 weeks are penitential (Advent and Lent) and the remaining 8 or 9 festal (Christmas, Easter, Pentecost).  Maybe that's something worth thinking about in life - what is the balance of ordinariness, celebrating and reflecting we experience?

  • Getting Ready... Back Message

    A while back I posted about back messages for charity walks and invited suggestions for what approach I might adopt when completing mine for Saturday's little stroll (still time to sponsor me online or in real life).  There is always the danger that it will offend people who are included/excluded, for some it mixes memorials to absent friends/loved ones with celebration of those who "win" (a word I object to in this context) and omits those who live with whatever it is that's being supported financially.  Some people feel it's bad luck to have their names added.  Others feel it's an honour.

    So, after a lot of soul searching I asked five women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the last year, and with whom I have had a degree of contact (two by blog three by email, none of us has met in life), if I could add their names to my back message on Saturday.  It will therefore say:

    I'm shining for...

    Ali, Annie, Chez, Jane, Jane and myself

    Living with, through and beyond breast cancer

    Breast cancer has an 80/20 rule - 80% of people diagnosed are over fifty, so I'm secretly smug that my back message reflects a reverse 80/20 - four of the five women I've asked are under fifty.  When I was diagnosed a long-standing and very intelligent friend said to me "but you can't have it you aren't fifty yet".  Oh yes I can, and lots of people do.  About 9000 under fifties a year in Britain to be precise.

    Cancer respects nothing and no-one, it defies its own rules and strikes when and where it will.  I have in mind an advertising campaign that could be used featuring images of vicars, imams, athletes, young parents, old people, Asian, African, European etc etc all who have/had cancer... but that's another story for another day.  Today I want to tell you briefly, and hopefully appropriately anonymously, about my five fellow travellers...

    Ali is in her early forties and is mum of little boy.  Her journey is very similar to mine but runs about four months behind me, she is just about finishing her radiotherapy now and has some 'tidying up' surgery ahead of her.  There is a complex, convoluted, real world link, but we are email contacts.

    Annie is in her mid twenties, is a music teacher and an active member of her local church.  She had a lump small enough to be excised with clear margins... but has aggressive mets and has just begun a palliative chemo regime whilst still working full time.

    Chez is in her mid thirties and is lone parent of a little girl.  Following a mastectomy, she is currently NED and hoping that she can have reconstruction at some point.  She has faced many life challenges and hopes soon to move back to her home town.

    Jane (1) is a year younger than me, single and loves dogs.  She is a professional writer and full time carer for her elderly mother.  It seemed her story would be like mine when she was diagnosed and had a mastectomy.  Sadly her CT scan showed liver mets and her chemo regime now reflects her Stage 4 diagnosis.  We are in email contact.

    Jane (2) is in her fifties, a church minister and a dog lover.  She has had a mastectomy and chemotherapy and is now most of the the way through her radiotherapy (EIGHT!).  She is a jam maker, mother and wife.  We are in email contact.

    In super-cheesy-but-true fashion, I am privileged to have been allowed to share with these women parts of their journey/story and I am honoured to carry their names on my back.  I chose my words carefully - each of us is in some way living with, through and beyond breast cancer whatever the prognosis, whatever the stats, whatever that looks like.  We are LIVING and that is the key to it all.

    I'm really looking forward to my little walk... just hope it stays dry!

  • Renewing Our Covenant

    This morning was our covenant service - it seemed to be well received and to be an appropriate start of the 'new year' after the stresses of the last one.  As ever there were several visitors - from Germany and Australia - as well as our regular multi-national, multi-ethnic mix.  It was good to be together, to remember how we are interconnected, to pray for one another's home nations, to break bread and drink wine.  It was good to remember that we are in this together and that everyone has something unique and valuable to contribute.

    In the course of the service we said 'farewell' to one of our overseas students and remembered another who had had to leave without saying 'goodbye' to return to work.  Next week we welcome a baby and farewell a number of folk leaving the UK.  Yet the interconnectedness remains.  We become part of one another in some mysterious, mystic perhaps, way.

    My memorialist view of communion takes a lot of stick from some of my more sacramental friends.  Memorialism does not preclude mystery... for me there is a mystery that unites us as we remember past communion services in other places with other people and through them become linked to all times and places in a continuity of remembrance - or re-membering, putting back together that which has been broken and scattered.

    For better, for worse

    For richer, for poorer

    In sickness, in health

    In faith, in doubt

    In hope, in fear

    And embraced in love

    We walk together, with God, in ways known and to be made known.


  • People, Ponderings and Paprika

    Why do I ever try to use alliterative titles for posts?  I hardly ever do in preaching.  Ah well.  Anyway, a few thoughts arising from last week's conference of Baptists Doing Theology called 'Hearts and Minds' - the idea being something about using both in our theologising.

    As with all conferences, the best bit is not the sessions but the opportuity to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.  It was good to meet up with several Baptist bloggers, some I already knew in the real world and others only in the virtual world.  It was good to meet the minister friend that God sent as far south as I was sent north from Dibleyshire... evidently we needed splitting up... or God wanted to share the blessing more widely.  It was good to meet someone who used to be a member of the Gathering Place many years ago, someone who is a friend of someone else at the GP, and even someone whose son was a member here when he was a student in Glasgow.  I do love how small this world really is and how it intertwines.

    Many, if not most, of the sessions I attended covered ideas I had already pondered, to various extents and the majority offered little to challenge or renew my undertsanding.  That's OK, sometimes it's nice to know you are in tune with others, but I think the next time I will pick things I know less about in the hope of gaining new insights.  For me the most meaningful session was that by a minister reflecting on his experience of cancer two years ago.  There were many resonances and many differences, and that was what, for me, made it a good session.  His main point of reference was Psalm 22 (alongside the cry of dereliction from the cross) and his own sense of 'why me?' and 'where are you God?'  Whilst I can honestly say those weren't my experiences, it was a real privilege to hear someone share their story, and a delight that here was another minister refusing to play the 'oh the Lord is blessing me so much through this' game.  It kind of felt like another little nudge along a path I need to explore in the next little while...

    My dietary needs are pretty legend among those who've known me for any length of time, along with the fact that I get pretty hacked off with conference centres that fail to take them on board.  Whilst peanut allergies and gluten free diets seem to be copable, avoidance of certain phytoestrogens that abrogate Tamoxifen (at least according to some proper research and consistent with NICE guidelines) and an intolerance to capsicums, chillies and their derivatives (even when spelled out) do not.  Last week the centre did really well until the last dinner.  Out came the starter - prawn cocktail (in little metal dishes, oh so 70s retro!) topped with paprika.  Now, I had half expected not to be able to eat this as often people put chillies in the marie rose sauce, so I knew I'd have to check.  But the paprika sitting there seemed to mock me.  As I handed it back, I found myself disproportionately upset.  I don't especially like prawn cocktail, but the alternative - a glass of orange juice - seemed to add insult to injury.  I was cross with myself for feeling so upset - for goodness sake woman you are NED and having a three course dinner in an Oxford college surrounded by interesting people - but it seemed to be some kind of mocking reminder of the fact that I am not like "everyone else".  Of course no one is, but most people are like most other people in this respect.  Perhaps it's partly that I cook veggie/vegan/fat free/hallal/kosher/whatever and it seemed this wasn't reciprocated.  Not quite sure.  I was just surprised how much it upset me at the time.  To add insult to injury, the veg with the main course consisted of cabbage and a Mediterranean vegetable mix loaded with.... peppers.  As there was only one serving spoon, I had to leap in quickly to get some cabbage before the spoon was contaminated.  Part of my internal tension was, I think, that I am now less tolerant than I used to be of people who make a fuss over stupid little things, and here I was upset by a stupid little thing.

    Anyway (x3 in case Annie is reading) I enjoyed being at the conference, enjoyed meeting new people and people I already knew, enjoyed the sessions and felt encouraged in my own ongoing commitment as a practical theologian.  Come the eschaton, chillies and capsicums will be consigned to the lake of fire and everyone will love marmite... ;-)  Until then I will continue to learn more grace and eat an ever smaller selection of foods when away from home.

  • Back Again

    Home after what feels like ages away!  It was good to catch up with my folks and also to spend a few days doing theology with a load of other Baptists.  Not sure yet what I will post about any of that... still processing stuff I think.  Very glad I went but now, having been squished into an overtsuffed train so unable to write my sermon, I have to spend tomorrow playing catch-up.

    For the benefit of the person who claimed not to know it, here is the story of the balloon family (without me getting uncontrollable giggles failing to tell it correctly at midnight)....

    A family of balloons, daddy balloon, mummy balloon and little boy balloon lived in a tiny house. They were so poor they only had one bed, which they all shared. One night little boy balloon stayed up to watch TV while his mum and dad went to bed. Later he went to join them but found that they were taking up too much room, so he let a little bit of air out of his dad. He still couldn't get in, so he let a bit of air out of his mum. There still wasn't quite enough room so he let a bit of air out of himself, finally managing to squeeze into the bed. Next morning at breakfast daddy balloon frowned at his son as he began to tell him off, " I need a word with you master balloon, last night ... you let me down, you let your mother down, but most important of all you let yourself down!

    I told you it was bad.