Category: reflections

30th December 2015

This is the last post for “Sundry Times”. Writing and posting something at least once a week for five years has been an interesting challenge. Having the possibility of sharing on this blog, I have learnt to look through a camera differently; no longer just taking snapshots and landscapes but also looking for curious shapes and patterns.

I have dared to share some of my poetry – I don’t claim any particular merit but I have taken a bit more care over them, sharpening phrases, typesetting lines etc with the thought that someone just might want to read them out loud. And I have mixed all this up with prayers, politics and jokes in the believe that “It is all of a piece”: we have one life with many accents and colours but not separate holy, secular, spiritual, natural, work and home lives.

I hope that you have found something of value here, some gold among the grit.

The main reason for “Sundry Times Too” is that I have more or less used up all the memory here so I need some space for more photos. The other reason is that I started this blog as a way out of a nervous breakdown. I still have my “unexpected lows” but I am in a much better place than I was in 2010 but I want to mark my moving on by moving on to another, though similar blog.

God bless


Happy Christmas Everyone

I do hope that you are otherwise occupied and really do not have the time to read this post. Whether you are with family, eating a special meal, enjoying entertainment, going for a walk, visiting church etc, I hope that you have some joy today.

But I do realise that, for some of us, today is a difficult day. When we are supposed or expected to be “merry” but most definitely are not feeling that way. Perhaps there is someone who is not here today whom you really miss. Or perhaps you are not well; or maybe you are not in a place you would like to be.

When we are on our own – or perhaps surrounded by other people – our loneliness, sadness, disappointment or frustration stands out all the more in contrast to the lights, laughter, excitement and music which are associated with today. There are all kinds of reasons for feeling low today. Maybe that is you.

That is OK. Believe it or not, today will not last forever.

I don’t know whether you will decide to hide away somewhere, or go away for a few days or simply put on a brave face for the sake of others. That is up to you. I would like to remind you that you are not the only one and that you have not been forgotten.

And if you are having a happy Christmas, please do enjoy it. Please, also, spare a thought and a prayer for those, for whatever reason, who are not.

May I wish you a “Happy Christmas” and may God bless you.

Exhibition Road

Natural History Museum, London

Natural History Museum, London

We knew it would be busy at the museum with it being half term but we were not expecting the crowds to be quite as big as they were. The queue was so long that they took us on a tour of the grounds including garden areas we did not even know existed let alone seen before. Most of the queues was for the dinosaur exhibition which we have visited a couple of times before but this time it was not on our itinerary.

Our destination was the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition which features its winners and finalists. Naturally we were not permitted to take any photos so you will have to take our word for it when we tell you that some of the pictures were truly stunning. I can see why the overall winner got first prize but, for myself, I did not enjoy the sight of one fox carrying the bloodied corpse of another. True to life, “nature red in tooth and claw” and all that, but not pretty.

After lunch we wandered down Exhibition Road. This street made the news recently as an experiment in pedestrian/traffic management. There are no kerbs and all travellers are supposed to share the same space. Think of a pedestrianised street down which everyday traffic is allowed to travel: bicycles could and did go anywhere, for instance. It sort of worked in that it slowed everyone down. Meanwhile we came across this sculpture…

"When Soak Becomes Spill" by Subodh Gupta

“When Soak Becomes Spill” by Subodh Gupta

It is supposed to show a drink poured out and over flowing (think of a fizzy drink being poured into a glass, bubbling up and over). It was made from various steel buckets, pots and pans.

close up of "When Soak Becomes Spill"

close up of “When Soak Becomes Spill”

You can see it on the corner between the Victoria and Albert and Natural History museums. The sculpture was said to represent a comment on the wastefulness of consumer society. I thought that there was a resemblance of the ancient notion of a cornucopia: a horn of plenty. That represented good harvests, more than enough for everyone, a generous blessing. How did we get from generosity to wastefulness? Perhaps the difference is whether we use left overs on another day or simply throw them away; whether we use the generous blessings we receive for ourselves alone or to help others as well.

Tourism in the Bible?

The other day I thought to myself that tourism is a luxury only the relatively rich can afford and this post started out as a note to say that tourism is unbiblical. Until I thought about it. Now, there is the principle of taking a rest (Sabbath) and time for family and recreation free from the obligations of working for a living (see the fourth commandment in Exodus 20 verse 8 or Deuteronomy 5 verse 12) so having a holiday seems OK.

You do not have to look to far to see people taking a journey whether it is to a new land to live in, as with Abraham, or to visit the baby Jesus, as with the Magi. Going on a pilgrimage to a special place because you believe God has sent you or because of a holy association seem to be OK as well. But tourism? Visiting places out of sheer curiosity or going somewhere new to get away from it all?

Well, I think I have found two instances which seem to suggest that going as a tourist is OK – at least some times. When the Queen of Sheba heard about King Solomon’s fame, her interest is piqued. So she sets off to see for herself. It seems to me that curiosity was her motive. In the end she discovered that what she had heard was no exaggeration and she was suitably in awe of what she saw. Now one person’s curiosity is another person’s nosiness, so we do need to stop and check our motives. However, I think that a desire to learn, to discover new things, to allow ourselves to be challenged by new people and places etc is acceptable – so long as we are respectful of the people we meet en route.

The other day, when reading and studying Mark chapter 7, I saw something that I had not properly appreciated even though I had read that chapter several times before. At first glance in the gospels, Jesus appears very busy and appears to have little time to eat and sleep let alone take a break. That is understandable as it would be a very slow read if we had to plough through details of every meal and every time he went to the bathroom! Having said that, there are a number of times when Jesus does take time out, usually to pray. If we follow Jesus, having proper rest periods is part of our calling. But in the middle of Mark chapter 7 Jesus does not just have a rest: he goes abroad to another country where people will not recognise him. In other words he takes a foreign holiday.

Jesus’ “holiday” is not like ours. For a start he probably walked. For another, his holiday was briefly interrupted by a “foreigner” who asked him for help. His response is instructive. At first he says “no” but when the woman shows that she is serious, he then grants her request. What he does not do is say, “Now that is my holiday ruined, I might as well go back to work”. That is another lesson for us. If our holiday is interrupted and there is no one else on hand to help in a particular situation, then it is OK to help out. But that is no reason to go back to work – continue with the rest of the holiday.

So the Queen of Sheba travelled abroad to satisfy her curiosity and Jesus went abroad to get away from it all. I therefore conclude that being a tourist on a foreign holiday is permissible.

… so you decide to clean the mirror.

I recently attended a day course to raise awareness about domestic abuse. This is something I knew existed but, like many people I suppose, I assumed that it was rare and did not affect anyone I knew. You see, domestic violence, which is one kind of abuse, does not broadcast itself on the estate where I live. It all happens in another part of town.

Well, I learnt that that is just not true. The statistics were frighteningly high and there are psychological abuse and financial abuse as well as the more-reported sexual and physical abuses. My fellow students and I did struggle with some definitions. We could see how some incidents in isolation, while still wrong, did not amount to a pattern of abuse. For example, a sarcastic remark, a put-down, a criticism of your partner’s appearance is something many of us have said or heard – and regret afterwards. And it would be easy to excuse someone’s poor behaviour with a dismissive “but we’ve all done that” or, worse, ” what goes on behind closed doors is none of our business”.

The fact is that criticism can be used to put someone in their place and keep them there. The jokes at their expense gradually undermine their self-confidence until there is little of none left. Gradually, you have them under your control.The abuse is verbal and not a single smack of the fist is needed.

Then there is money: who controls the purse strings? Now, we had some discussion about this because some of us recognise that in some marriages one person may be more competent/confident in managing the money. That is OK if you are in the habit in trying to explain what is going on from time to time, insist that both of you see the financial advisor and you do not have everything in your own name: there must be some discretion for each of you and a level of trust that does not have to account for every single penny. By contrast, we heard about one instance where one partner worked and earned more than the other. The man took both their wages and she had to ask for some of her own money back – which he resisted and resented. To help make the distinction one member of our family said that it was one thing to be in charge of the money and another to be in control. In other words, one of us might be responsible for the finances but not in a dictatorial sort of way.

There was a lot more in the course but I think one of the key lessons was to realise that abuse is the result of one partner/family member wanting complete control over the other. It was as if they saw themselves in the other person and did not like what they saw. So, instead of sorting themselves out they tried to sort the other one out: “When he sees his dirty face in the mirror, he cleans the mirror”.

The message for the church is two-fold. Firstly, if we want our churches to be safe places for people to come then we need to recognise that it is likely that there are some in our congregations who are abused or who are abusers: their public persona may be wonderful and they may even be in church leadership.

Secondly, abuse is not part of God’s plan. Abuse violates the marriage covenant: there are vows to love and to cherish and to honour; there are none which permit abuse, physical violence or otherwise. Jesus tells us to love one another (John chapter 15 verse 12) and if this is true of his disciples then it applies no less to families. “God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.” (1 John chapter 4 verse 16, NRSV)

There are a number of places you can go if this affects you. I found this link to worth a look. In this country there are now dedicated units in the police, the National Domestic Violence Helpline and Childline as well. For the churches there is also the Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service (CCPAS) with further advice and information.

Incidentally, we learnt that while most domestic abuse is perpetrated by men on women (for which there is most research, and hence the main focus of our course), there is also abuse women on men; by men on men and by women on women.

A prayer for the home

Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, you shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home. Reign in the home of your servants as Lord and King. Give them grace to minister to others as you have ministered to them. Grant that by deed and word they may be witnesses of your saving love to those among whom they live; for the sake of your holy name. Amen. (from Common Worship: Pastoral Services p 161)

… but not necessarily on it!

I have mixed feelings about the sea – I have nothing against it personally. However, this is the person who gets seasick on the Isle of Wight ferry (mind you, I also felt a bit nauseous on a boating lake in East London but I think that had more to do with the state of my rowing as there were no wind and waves to blame.) On the other hand there are some positive experiences, to name but a few: paddling in shallow water at the seaside, exploring rock pools, simply sitting gazing out towards the windswept horizon and boat trips to visit wildlife. There are some magnificent creatures in the sea though many of them are notoriously shy and to see such as dolphins and whales is a rare treat. And where would our fish and chips be without the sea?
Come to think about it, where would our foreign cars, bananas, mobile phones and other gadgets be without someone to cross the sea to import them? Let’s spare a thought for all those who work on, in or under the sea to help our nation’s trade, to provide us with food, to take us on holidays and to keep us safe.
Apparently, it is said that we know more about the surface of the Moon than we know about what is under the oceans’ waves. (If you do the arithmetic, I think you will find that that is in part because there is more ocean than there is surface of the Moon – but you get the general point). There is so much we do not know about the sea. There are myths and legends aplenty – we have very little idea what is to be found in the deeps. For example, over centuries there have been stories about a giant squid which were thought to be entirely myth – until eventually someone managed to bring one to the surface for all to see. (More on giant squid at New Scientist). God knows about the seas’ hidden depths and is fully aware of the risks and benefits that flow from working on the sea.

For some churches 12th July is “Sea Sunday” when the prayer-focus is on those who live and work on (or under) the sea. It is also a chance to learn about the “Mission to Seafarers“. We do well to acknowledge how much we depend on the resources of the sea and on the work of people to harvest them.

When we think of the sea – whether on a seaside holiday or at other times – let’s remember that it is not just so much water full of creatures to fish; it is also a place of mystery, beauty and danger. Thank God for the sea.

There is the ocean, large and wide, where countless creatures live, large and small alike. The ships sail on it, and in it plays Leviathan, that sea monster which you made. (Psalm 104 verses 25 to 26)

Nada te turbe

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.

— St. Teresa of Avila

… or “charismatic introvert” I suppose. Alongside Susan Cain’s work (“Quiet” – see here for my review) Mark Tanner challenges some of the assumptions and prejudices, that society in general and parts of the Christian church hold, in his book, “The Introvert Charismatic: the gift of introversion in a noisy church” (published by Monarch, 2015). His context is the “Charismatic” church which is generally understood to be where the work and person of the Holy Spirit is given more prominence and there is more emphasis on special, “supernatural” gifts. Worship tends to be busy, loud and overtly joyful and large gatherings are the norm. The settings and activities are ones where extroverts thrive and where introverts struggle – though perhaps not obviously so at first.

Incidentally, I put the word “supernatural” in inverted commas because I would say that any gift from God is arguably ‘supernatural” and that includes gifts and talents which we regard as ‘natural’. I am not making any particular judgement about speaking in tongues or healing or words of knowledge or preaching or administration – all of which are gifts from God, all of which are intended for the benefit of the whole Christian community and all of which need to be exercised and practised with humility and care.

Helpfully Mark Tanner’s book is written for the benefit of both those who would regard themselves as extrovert and those who are introvert. Drawing on Susan Cain’s book he dispels some myths: introverts do like people, they do go to parties, they do speak to large groups of people, they do lead. Where they are different from extroverts is that they find those social encounters draining, whereas  extroverts thrive on them and are energised by them. You may not be able to tell who is an extrovert or introvert at a party but in the car on the way home the one is still talking and the other has gone quiet. He usefully points out that in the Bible there is both extroversion and introversion among God’s leaders – the point is not that one is better than the other but that both are needed if a church is to be healthy.

I was intrigued that he suggested that liturgy, such as Anglican liturgy, can be regarded and used as charismatic worship for introverts. He makes other observations and suggestions too as well as reminding introverts that they need their extrovert brothers and sisters as much as they need them.

Among the resources for introvert charismatics is a website which is a work in progress. I will be interested in seeing how it develops.

Overall four stars or 8 out of 10. This is not a book I expect to re-read or to keep – but there are a few people I would do well to lend it to!

Deus Meus et Omnia

The Franciscan motto: “My God – and all things.”

“‘Spirituality’, in itself and apart from others, without service and concrete love, often leads people to immense ego inflation and delusion”

“The great irony of faith is that authentic God experience does indeed make you know you are quite special, favourite, and chosen – but you realise others are too!” Richard Rohr

“Eager to Love. The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi,” by Richard Rohr, p14

Monday 18th May

“When I was young there seemed to be more old people than young; these days there are more young people than old. Surely it should be the other way round?” So wrote Sir Terry Pratchett in one of his Discworld novels. For me these days it is a fifty-fifty split, I think, but when I was a teenager the “old” did seem to outnumber the rest of us. Not that we gave it much thought then. Falling in/out of love, the latest gadget, fashionable music, getting a job, finding a place to rent/buy, making a mark, changing the world, getting enough money – these were the topics uppermost on our minds. Mind you, just listening to our conversation might have given the impression that only the first three topics mattered.

It would be too glib or too patronising to say what “the Young” need prayer for when I haven’t taken the trouble to ask them. Still, I think I would like to pray for hope for all those who consider themselves as “young” that frustration may be turned to determination to change the world for the better and that anger may become action to bring it about for the good of all.

“New every morning is the love, our waking and uprising prove;

through sleep and darkness safely brought, resorted to life in power and thought.” (John Keble, 1792-1866)

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