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  • Hearts and Minds

    Yesterday evening, our monthly social event was entitled "An Evening with Robert Burns" and combined some lovely singing (solo and participative), readings of some of Burns' better and lesser known poems, some background information and a couple of items either about him or responding to him.  It was great fun, and a decent number of people enjoyed munching oatcakes and cheese, shortbread, Dundee cake (I presume, it was already cut up!) and tablet.  For those who wished there was Irn Bru, for those who didn't there was tea and coffee.

    I had fun, but there was, fleetingly, as we sang Auld Lang Syne at the end, a moment of deep homesickness, a sense, I suppose, that this is not 'who' or 'what' I am, and that there is an invisible cord that will always bind me to... well, where?  That was the question I ended up pondering.  I have a real dislike of nationalism and, along with lots of English people would instinctively define as 'British' not 'English'.  I don't get all "gooey and patriotic" when I hear 'Rule Britannia' or 'Jerusalem' or anything else. Likewise, I don't feel excluded or marginalised by "Flower of Scotland" or "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadu" or any other anthem or patriotic song.

    When I moved from the North West (NW) of England to take up my pastorate in Dibley, I was dreadfully, and unexpectedly, homesick for the NW.  Unexpected because Dibley is only about forty miles from where I grew up.  Unexpected because I have moved many times, and come from a family in which moving is perfectly normal, even across national and international borders.  I still do not know quite why I was homesick, or what it was I yearned for, but once I had recognised it, I was able to let it go and enjoy this new community.

    I think what surprised me last night was that, until that moment, I have never felt the least bit homesick since I moved to Glasgow.  I have felt welcomed, accepted and loved from day one, just as I am.  Sometimes I have had to bite my tongue when sweeping generalisations are made about "them" (English people) and what "they" think/want/do/are/say.  But at the same time, it has alerted me to the same tendencies in myself in relation to others.  And it was fleeting, I still am very happy and 'at home' here, that is why it was such a surprise to feel it.

    Robert Burns lived from 25 January 1759 to 21 July 1796.  Dibley Baptist church emerged in the 1740's, with the first wooden chapel being erected in (I think) 1749.  In 1798, the chapel was granted independence from its 'parent' and has maintained a faithful witness since.  It seems, somehow, quite fitting that these two vastly different aspects of human history were broadly contemporaneous, and how each has in some way impacted my life.

    It was a lovely evening, and I hope people are encouraged to plan another 'Evening With...' sharing food, fellowship, words and music.  I did suggest maybe Chaucer, so that no-one would understand a word of it, rather than just me... either that or Gerard Manley Hopkins!

    One thing that struck me as funny... we had two kinds of cheese, one was Scottish Cheddar and the other Red Leicester... how authentically Scottish was that?!


    The now demolished chapel at Dibley at Dibley had a series of 'foundation stones' with the names of four powerful men who had been benefactors at the time of its construction.  Above each name was a little inscription that ran, if memory serves, "God our Father", "Christ our Saviour", "The Spirit our Helper"  and "Heaven our Home".  I'm not sure that it is possible to be homesick for heaven (unless perhaps you are Jesus (discuss!)) but I do think that there is something about our common identity that ought to come before our local/national identity, without denying our reasonable sense of belonging and pride in "our" compatriots and "our" place.  All of which means I will feel no embarrassment supporting the England netball team in next year's Commonwealth Games, at the same time as delighting with the host nation when Scottish participants excel.

  • Flesh and Blood

    At the end of the film 'Jesus of Montreal', the guy who has played Jesus dies in a tragic accident, and his organs are harvested, bringing 'good news' to people of all races, nations and, probably, faiths.  It matters not what you think about the film, this final illustration of the Christ who died for all, that they might have restored sight and abundant life, has stayed with me.

    This morning Baptist Times has an article about a new initiative to get faith groups to become proactive in blood and organ donation.  Flesh and Blood is a new initiative endorsed by most mainstream Christian denominations.  I think it is creative and interesting.  It will intriguing to see how people respond to it.

    Being unable to donate blood any more is a sadness, and I get mixed messages about organ donation (CRUK website says I probably could, my tame oncologist says I couldn't) but if I could, I certainly would.  What about you?

  • That's Refreshing!

    So, I am sitting typing stuff whilst Songs of Praise is on in the background.  How I love it - real Salfordians being real Salfordians.  There was someone called Lisa, a bit of a diamond in the rough, a true Salfordian in whom there was no guile.

    I spent a very significant year of my life working with a Roman Catholic church in Swinton, very near where Songs of Praise was recorded.  Happy memories, and lovely to hear those accents!!

  • Long Day?

    Today one of our readings was from Nehemiah 8, and the occasion when the assembled nation of Israel - adults and 'children old enough to understand' stood from dawn to midday listening to Ezra reading from the Law of Moses.  Had English existed as a language, and had they been reading in English, that would probably have been enough time to read Genesis - and I reckon Ezra would have been pretty hoarse by then!  After a time of praise and prayer, they spent the afternoon with Ezra, Nehemiah and thirteen named levites explaining to them what they had heard.  It was a very long day, which left the people tired and emotional... surprisingly perhaps, they were sent home to have a slap up feed, inviting any less fortunate neighbours to share their plenty.

    For me, today has been a long day, and it's not over yet.  It has, I think, been a good day.  The service went well and elicited some interesting feedback (always intriguing to compare what I think I said with what people heard!).  This was followed by lunch at the home of one of our people, followed by a very creative and helpful conversation about aspects of our worship life.  This evening I will be at worship for Homelessness Sunday, something I am looking forward to, as it's someone leading I haven't heard before.

    So, by the time I get home again it'll have been a pretty long day.  However, I'm not sure counting the hours is terribly helpful.  I prefer to measure this day by its quality, and it has been a good one.

  • Letters...

    Every January a substantial sum of money (roughly third of a month's take home pay) leaves my bank account and finds its way to various professional and learned bodies.  The bulk of this relates to my registration as a chartered engineer and appropriate bodies, which allows me to continue to use, should I so wish, the letters after my name.  Pretty much every year I debate the continued expenditure, since I don't practice as an engineer and the last CPD I can reasonably claim was more than a decade ago.  The various bodies, of course, are happy to take my money and not ask for evidence of CPD; indeed one of them from time to time writes inviting me to up my status from 'member' to 'fellow' - an invitation I studiously ignore, I would not qualify.  But every now and then, having those letters comes in useful, giving credibility to responses I give to insurers or architects or contractors - I may not practice as an engineer, but I do retain the ability to speak the lingo, to make reasonable judgement calls on reports, documents and, very occasionally, to write responses in a competent fashion.

    The remainder of the money pays for continued membership of Baptist groups, one effectively a 'learned society' and the other purporting to be a 'professional body'.  From time to time I consider adding other minister-type subscriptions, but given that I rarely do more than glance at the four journals I receive (two minister, two engineering) would it be justified?

    At the end of the day, the cost of these assorted memberships amounts to a little over £1 a day, which compared with my other expenses is pretty minimal.  It is rare that I use my 'letters', but at this price, and with the continued, if infrequent call on my professional judgement, it is probably money well spent.