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- Page 9

  • Good and Faithful Servants!

    002.JPGI have just cleaned the cat fur from my four dining chairs for the last time - this time tomorrow the chairs will be history, having gone to the great kitchen in the... well to the tip, actually.  I have only cleaned the cat fur off of them because this evening, in a fitting 'last supper', they will be sat on by visitors who have come round to help with making props for the Christmas Eve service.

    I came by these chairs, along with a table that lasted around seven days, when I bought my first house in Derby.  The vendors' dog had chewed the legs of all the chairs and epsecially the table and they weren't going to take it to their brand new home, oh no.  I think I may have paid for the chairs, I can't recall; they certainly sold me other bits and pieces that turned out to be impossible to move when I sold the place two years later - ah well.

    More than 27 years on, and 4/5 (depending how you count) house moves later, these chairs have served me incredibly well.  They have been climbed on by cats and children, had paint, food, drinks, glitter, glue and goodness knows what spilled onto them.  They have witnessed laughter and tears, been the place where essays were written, sermons planned and earnest conversations held.

    They are, it has to be said well and trully worn out, should probably have been replaced at least two decades ago but somehow there was always something better to do with the moeny I had at the time.

    So tomorrow they take their final journey and will end their days dismantled and disseminated between various skips at the recycling centre, well hopefully, it is entriely feasible they'll end up in landfiill.

    Well done good and faithful chairs, you have served me well.  May you rot in peace!!

  • The Valley of the Shadow

    Another well researched, intelligently written and thought provoking read, this issue of BMS Mission Catalyst covers aspects of the current debates and legislative considerations around end of life issues.  Probably not that often that Baptists and Muslims get lumped together as the agreeing odd ones out on a topic!

    Some very personal and deeply moving writing, honest and challenging.  One quote that really struck me was this from Tony Nicklinson, a man who has shut in syndrome following a major stroke:

    "To end on a personal note I decided in 2007, some two years after my stroke, that I didn't want to go into old age like this.  I engaged a lawyer to draw up a living will and stopped taking all drugs that were meant to prolong my life. I also wished for a life-threatening condition like cancer so that my life may end sooner rather than later because the law is not helpful to me.  I also considered starvation but concluded that I didn't have the courage to put my family and friends through that amount of distress.

    So, we a law which: condems me and others like me to a life of misery; makes my wife (or anybody else) a murderer for simply carrying out my wishes; puts people in jail for up to 14 years for helping someone to commit suicide; makes we wish for a fatal condition; makes me consider starvation as way out and sends society's cripples abroad to die.  Tell me, just what is compasisonate about that?  Who will defend sich a law?  What sort of person might he be?  Who can defend the indefensbile?  Perhaps your [Lord Falconer's] Commision will tell us."

    From BMS Mission Catalyst, Issue 1 2014, p7, emphasis mine


    That cut me to the core - that someone would wish for cancer as a way out of suffering.  That someone would feel their life was so unbearable that they'd choose the path that I, and countless others, are propelled down unwillingly every day.  That someone would want to die so much that they would want to be in the shoes of those friends of mine whose cancer ravaged their bodies and stole their earthly futures leaving their families heartbroken...  My heart aches for him, I cannot imagine being in such a place; I cannot imagine not wanting to go on living because my quality of life was so awful.  I'm not angry at what he said, or at him for saying it.  Indeed, like a lot of people who have/have had cancer, I feel that it (cancer) is almost certainly preferable to some other conditions and diseases, but I would not wish it on my worst enemy (if I had one, which I don't).

    But it also jarred because on Friday evening I, with a friend from church, was visiting someone roughly my own age who has advanced and advancing MND, who has already defied her prognosis, and who is a truly remarkable woman.  Free from self-pity, she choose life, she chooses to find moments of joy in each day.  She uses an iris (eye) controlled keyboard emulator to communicate, and had written a lengthy message for us to read on arrival.  We chatted, properly chatted, via this medium, for an hour.  We laughed.  She shared stories of her student days in London.  We talked about church stuff.  And we prayed together.

    The valley of the shadow: I've been there myself (even if I did get the escape route up its steep sides), I've been privileged to walk it with others, but it need not be a place of despair.  I thank Tony Nicklinson for his honesty, and I am grieved that he feels so helpless and hopeless, but it is only one view.  The woman I visited has no possibility of old age, yet, for so long as she has breath in her body she chooses life - and I find her attitude humbling and inspiring.

    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me...

  • 'Haphazard by Starlight' - Day 10

    Church Going

    by Philip Larkin

    Once I am sure there's nothing going on

    I step inside, letting the door thud shut.

    Another church: matting, seats, and stone,

    And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut

    For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff

    Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;

    And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,

    Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off

    My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.


    Move forward, run my hand around the font.

    From where I stand, the roof looks almost new -

    Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.

    Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few

    Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce

    'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.

    The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door

    I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,

    Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.


    Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,

    And always end much at a loss like this,

    Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,

    When churches will fall completely out of use

    What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep

    A few cathedrals chronically on show,

    Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,

    And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.

    Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?


    Or, after dark, will dubious women come

    To make their children touch a particular stone;

    Pick simples for a cancer; or on some

    Advised night see walking a dead one?

    Power of some sort will go on

    In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;

    But superstition, like belief, must die,

    And what remains when disbelief has gone?

    Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,


    A shape less recognisable each week,

    A purpose more obscure.  I wonder who

    Will be the last, the very last, to seek

    This place for what it was; one of the crew

    That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?

    Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,

    Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff

    Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?

    Or will he be my representative,


    Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt

    Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground

    Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt

    So long and equably what since is found

    Only in separation - marriage, and birth,

    And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built

    This special shell? For, though I've no idea

    What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,

    It pleases me to stand in silence here;


    A serious house on serious earth it is,

    In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,

    Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

    And that much never can be obsolete,

    Since someone will forever be surprising

    A hunger in himself to be more serious,

    And gravitating with it to this ground,

    Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,

    If only that so many dead lie round.

  • 'Haphazard by Starlight' - Day 9

    Dover Beach

    By Matthew Arnold

    The sea is calm tonight.
    The tide is full, the moon lies fair
    Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
    Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
    Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
    Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
    Only, from the long line of spray
    Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
    Listen! you hear the grating roar
    Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
    At their return, up the high strand,
    Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
    With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
    The eternal note of sadness in.

    Sophocles long ago
    Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
    Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
    Of human misery; we
    Find also in the sound a thought,
    Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

    The Sea of Faith
    Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
    Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
    But now I only hear
    Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
    Retreating, to the breath
    Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
    And naked shingles of the world.

    Ah, love, let us be true
    To one another! for the world, which seems
    To lie before us like a land of dreams,
    So various, so beautiful, so new,
    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
    And we are here as on a darkling plain
    Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
    Where ignorant armies clash by night.
  • 'Haphazard by Starlight' - Day 8

    The Absence

    by R. S. Thomas

    It is this great absence
    that is like a presence, that compels
    me to address it without hope
    of a reply. It is a room I enter

    from which someone has just
    gone, the vestibule for the arrival
    of one who has not yet come.
    I modernise the anachronism

    of my language, but he is no more here
    than before. Genes and molecules
    have no more power to call
    him up than the incense of the Hebrews

    at their altars. My equations fail
    as my words do. What resources have I
    other than the emptiness without him of my whole
    being, a vacuum he may not abhor?