Monday, 29 September 2008

A place I'd love to go but will never get to.

"First you fall in love with Antarctica, and then it breaks your heart." - Kim Stanley Robinson

If you like nice photos and you've 20 minutes to spare while waiting for the dinner to cook, or the laundry to finish, grab a coffee and watch this. Make sure you're warmly dressed though, as it may leave you cold (literally).

Saturday, 27 September 2008

And they called it puppy love...

Buy a pup and your money will buy love unflinching. Rudyard Kipling

I came across this about "Puppies Behind Bars" and thought it was wonderful. I wish we had it in this country. The video, "The Puppies Behind Bars Story", is 7 minutes long but if you like dogs at all, you will just love it - many gratuitous pictures of very very cute puppies having lots of fun.

Friday, 26 September 2008

"Oney" (pronounced "wunny")

On the way out of the door this afternoon I found myself discussing, in a rather hurried fashion as I was needing to get away, the doctrine of the Trinity with two Christian prisoners. I am no longer surprised by any conversation I get into in Prisonworld, as I'm sure you can imagine.

I was explaining my thoughts about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit being three and yet also one. Using the illustration of a good marriage I talked (speedily) about how when two people are happily married they do become one. Not just in the physical sense but emotionally too. Happily married people speak of their "other half", even their "better half" and then if one is bereaved they describe feeling that they've lost part of themselves. Furthermore, I went on (quickly), parents will say that they feel that their kids are a part of them. My point was that (in short) that we as flawed and finite creatures do have a concept of oneness with another being, limited as it is by our inevitable tendency towards sin and selfishness.

I sprinted to my conclusion (the closest I've come to sprinting since school, btw). I said, "So, if we can understand a bit of what it is to feel oneness with another being, think about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are completely pure. Their oneness is so much more, more, more...." and while I was trying to think of the appropriate word, one of the prisoners supplied: "oney" (pronounced wunny).

Spot on. I congratulated him on hitting the nail on the head. I think he's coined an important new theological word to help us in our understanding of the Trinity. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are more oney than we can understand, even though some of us are lucky enough to have experienced the great blessing of a lesser degree of oneyness in our human relationships.


I was speaking to a man yesterday who has his own business. He was telling me that the day before a woman came to see him. He gave her twenty-five minutes of her time and then, as would be expected by anyone going to that business, she was given a bill to pay. The lady became extremely angry, livid in fact. Amongst other things she said in her tirade, which was in front of other staff and customers, she said "You'll be sorry. Just you wait. I'm a spiritualist and I will curse you and your family and your business". And with that she paid up and stormed off.

Yesterday, the man called her and left an answering machine message for her to come and collect a refund of her money. Not because it had been wrong to charge her but just because he felt that it was the right thing to do. I commented to him that the Bible says to repay evil with good. I've checked this morning and I don't think it exactly says that at all (oops) but it does say, amongst other things, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21) and "Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing.." (1 Peter 3:9) which are along the same lines.

I've never given curses any thought. I suppose I couldn't have said whether people still went in for cursing nowadays.

Interestingly enough, my Bible reading portion for today "happened" to include this: "Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest" (Proverbs 26:2).

No comment from me required...

... except to credit the source of these, who is Jon Birch.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Chippesses off the Old Blockess

Him Indoors is away this week with Blue Eyed Boy, as a parent helper on the Primary Seven week away at an outdoor centre. So on Monday night I produced my newly purchased "Mansfield Park" DVD and Firstborn, Penultimate and Youngest Children and I watched it together, with me explaining it all as we went along. Currently, they are just finishing watching it for the third time (at their own instigation - I didn't MAKE them do it, honest). And now they're off to bed and Firstborn is going to be allowed to stay up to watch the concluding part of Lost in Austen which we've been enjoying. Well, I've been enjoying both the series and Firstborn's squeals of frustration as it's all going wrong. "Oh, no, no, NO! Grrrr!" (For those not in the know, a modern day Jane Austen fan gets hurtled back in time into the Bennett household of Pride and Prejudice, and, because she has traded places with Lizzie, things are departing increasingly far from the script. It's had some very funny bits in it too).

I'm AnneDroid and I'm a Prideandprejudicaholic. Looks like the female offspring are following in my footsteps. Oops. 9pm. Gotta go.

I feel special!

I've always liked that Dickiebo. He's awarded me an award. Thank you!

I think I should pass on the compliment. A new blog I've checked out looks very promising. I don't think I'll issue an award on the basis of one (so far) post, but suggest you pop over there and offer encouragement to the newbie.

seems to have received every award available already but lo and behold not this one so I'll choose her. Apart from the fact she's a great writer (she literally IS a writer, unlike us amateurs) she's such a faithful and gracious commenter, I love her. And Jay can have one too - I like her sense of humour and she posts beautiful pictures of God's creation (usually the bit of creation she focusses on is - well see for yourself!)

That'll have to do for now. Not because I don't admire any other blogs - I'd hardly have added so many to my blogroll if that were true - but because some children want their tea. Feed the hungry 'n' all that.

Monday, 22 September 2008

It's all explained here.

Freshly nicked from Dickiebo's blog:


Men Are Just Happier People– What do you expect from such simple creatures?

Your last name stays put.
The garage is all yours.
Wedding plans take care of themselves.
Chocolate is just another snack.
You can be President.
You can never be pregnant.
You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park. You can wear NO shirt to a water park.
Car mechanics tell you the truth.
The world is your urinal.
You never have to drive to another petrol station loo because this one is just too icky.
You don’t have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
Same work, more pay.
Wrinkles add character.
Wedding dress $5000. Tux rental-$100.
People never stare at your chest when you’re talking to them.
New shoes don’t cut, blister, or mangle your feet.
One mood all the time.
Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
You know stuff about tanks.
A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
You can open all your own jars.
You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.
Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.
Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
You almost never have strap problems in public.
You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.
Everything on your face stays its original color.
The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
You only have to shave your face and neck.
You can play with toys all your life.
One wallet and one pair of shoes — one color for all seasons.
You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look.
You can ‘do’ your nails with a pocket knife.
You have freedom of choice concerning growing a moustache.
You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes.

No wonder men are happier.

In spite of all the above, I wouldn't trade my second X chromosome for one of those pesky Y ones.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

What would Jesus Think?

I was talking with a Christian prisoner the other day who has let himself down by failing a drug test (well, not by failing the test but by taking the drugs that led to the failed test) after a long period of success in staying away from them. He is upset at himself and worried about telling his family what he's done. He has done so well for so long, and particularly because of his relatively new found Christian faith feels that this should just not have happened.

In the course of our long conversation, we talked about this as one of these two-steps-forward-and-one-step-back things. He wasn't buying that particularly as it feels like two steps back for him just now.

We also talked about how God is likely to view it. One of the things we pondered was how serious is this in God's eyes? It's wrong to take drugs. It's against the law for one thing, and Christians should live within the law. But at the same time it's just one sin among so many that we all commit all the time. I told him that Jesus says that the most important commandment is to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second, according to Jesus, is to love your neighbour as yourself. These two, the MOST IMPORTANT two commandments are the ones that the prisoner, the governor, the chaplain and all of us in the prison and outside it break every single day. So we're all pretty much as bad as each other, whether our drug tests turn out negative or positive. I told him God still loves him.

Later that day I was talking to a group of Christian prisoners about the one sin that most gets up the nose of Jesus. It's not failing a drug test. It's not adultery or even murder that Jesus picks out for special mention. The sin that Jesus, followed by Paul in his writings, is most forceful (even brutal) about is the sin of Christians judging their fellow Christians. Judging, bitterness, resentment, jealousy, negativity and constant criticism annoy Jesus intensely. To such an extent is He irked by them that the Bible says that if we won't forgive other people their sins then God won't forgive ours. At all.

The church the world over is made up of REAL and FAKE Christians. They're all mixed together - "wheat and weeds" the Bible says, rather than "real and fake"! And the Bible also says that people outside the church should be able to spot us (Jesus said, "By this shall everyone know that you're my disciples - that you love each other"). There's no such thing as a perfect Christian, of course. I am thoroughly aware of my own imperfections for example. But still it is the case that by and large even folk outside the church tend to grudgingly admit that they can spot the difference between the real and the fake Christian.

In prison guys used to pretend to be converted and start hanging around chaplaincy stuff with a view to improving their chances of parole. Nowadays, I reckon, talking about a conversion experience is more likely to see their mental health questioned and discussion of their "psychotic episode"! (I'm only half joking, actually). Anyway, many a prisoner has told me about fake Christians among the prisoners and how they may be able to keep it up for a wee while in front of the chaplain but they give the game away when they're back in the hall.

Churches have a mixture too of real and fake Christians. I could be a fake one if I stopped believing, as with my background I could talk the talk very convincingly. However my lack of love would soon give the game away.

I have three examples from my church experience to illustrate this lack of love. I'm ashamed of them, even though they were nothing to do with me - I'm ashamed of them because they were members of the church and I love the church.

The first was in 1986, when I took some guys to church, from the night shelter I was working in at the time. It was a well known evangelical church with a reputation for being something special. It had lots of great people in it of course. But I discovered that some people (only a few, I want to emphasize) weren't very pleased at my bringing these homeless guys to the church. A few months earlier the same people were complaining that the youth club members (unchurched kids) were damaging the fabric of the recently refurbished building with their football etc.. Where was these people's love and their heart for mission? I wonder if they were FAKES.

Also quite some time ago, a minister friend and most of his church leadership were exercised in their minds about the amount of unemployment that had suddenly befallen their area following the closure of a big steelworks. They began a club that unemployed people could come to during the day to meet each other and get free coffee and a welcome. However a couple of quite snobby elders complained about the type of person that the minister was bringing in. Where was these people's love and their heart for mission? I wonder if they were FAKES.

More recently, another minister friend and his church leadership decided to donate a big floral display they'd had for a special occasion to a local prison, to brighten the visits area (for as long as the flowers would last). The prison staff, prisoners and families were touched at this act of caring. However the minister received two complaints from people in his congregation that the flowers shouldn't be going to a prison as the prisoners didn't deserve them. Where was these people's love and their heart for mission? I wonder if they were FAKES.

The three groups of complainers I've described probably wouldn't approve of Jesus either, btw, as He famously hung out with tax collectors and sinners, eating and drinking with them.

I am convinced that God would 100% rather have the genuine love of a flawed human being in the shape of the prisoner I described, in spite of his failed drug test, than all the middle class snobby complacency of the FAKE Christian whose religion is worn as a cloak of respectibility to cover up their total absence of grace.

R u a lazy blogger?

Did you know there is a "lazy bloggers' post generator"?

Here's what I came up with:

Goodness gracious, I just returned from my daily swim on the beautiful Fijian beach and realised I have not updated this since Paris Hilton was in jail... You would not believe that my hands were chopped off and I was waiting for bionic ones. Seriously!.

I am distracted with only your readership as life preserver, selling my soul to Google, just generally being of great concern to my psychologist, my day drifts aimlessly from sun-up to well after sun-down. I am avoiding recapture. Can't they see I am blogging?

I probably I will make more of an effort to blog more often until the nice men in the white coats come back. Peace! This is for my ever faithful, devoted public..

Friday, 19 September 2008

Funny wee fellow or Father of lies?

From now onwards till the end of next month, the shops will be filling up with Hallowe'en stuff, including costumes like the one pictured. Fancy dress parties for kids are lots of fun. My dad always made my outfits and he was GREAT at it. I won prizes over the years for going as Zebedee from the Magic Roundabout, a Womble and "hauf killt" (half a kilt made from newspapers and the other half sporting various (fake) blood stained bandages - it's a Scottish pun which may lose something in translation...). Anyway that was in the days when you made costumes and they weren't always and only devils, witches and cats but anything you wanted.

I've got to admit that I sometimes feel uncomfortable seeing wee ones dressed as the devil. I'm not a total meany-pants. I let Penultimate Child be a bat last time, after failing to persuade her to be a cow-girl, but I draw the line at devil outfits. Not because the child will be in some way damaged by wearing the costume particularly, but because I think society as a whole is damaged by trivialising something that needs taking seriously. And yeah, I know some of you are thinking, "You're being silly, AnneDroid".

I believe in the existence of the devil, though, and I realise that most people buying these costumes don't. In fact they would think my belief was quaint and/or mad. Interestingly, though, and somewhat to my surprise, I was talking with a group of six prisoners this afternoon about the devil and not one of them for a moment questioned his existence. I guess they've seen more of his works than many. As I explained that the devil is described in the Bible as "father of lies" and that he hates us and is all about death and lies, there was no argument from any of them. When I used the example of drugs as an instrument he revels in to lead men and women to their death, one of them added "and drugs lead to lies too".

I guess at the sharp end, in prison, prisoners can sometimes see things more clearly than those of us who're caught up in materialism, image, minutiae of living, etc.. It's abundantly obvious to them that there is an evil power at work tempting us and lying to us and trying to lead us in the direction of death.

I once heard that the devil has two main tactics in the world. In our part of the world, the affluent west, he works by using the lie that he doesn't exist. Because people don't believe in him, they're not on guard against his attacks and he can do almost as he pleases and folk will be unprepared. They'll listen to his lies, not realising they're hearing any voice other than their own. On the other hand in other parts of the world, he works by having people totally beholden to him because of their unshakeable belief in, and terror of, evil spirits. Every single event in their lives is attributed to evil spirits and people with next to nothing sacrifice precious livestock to appease them.

But, much as I love my job, I often sense (and I'm not given to these things by any means - quite the reverse) the almost tangible ever-presence of evil. I suppose that presence is always with us but I notice it in jail. The Bible's description of the life of a Christian as constant warfare with the devil needs taking seriously. Those who think it's for weak inadequates don't realise it's in fact for those with b*lls who're willing to don the armour of God and get stuck in.

Violence is obviously part of the evil experienced in jail. Four things happened almost all at once before I began this post. First I read "From The Inside"s post about violence in prison. Then I read a comment from a prison officer called "angry dave", in a debate about sentencing on Nightjack's site, in which he describes being assaulted in the course of his job. While I was reading that (and in the absence of Him Indoors and therefore in possession of the remote control) I had on in the background "Prisoners Out Of Control", a cheery wee documentary from the US about some terrible prisoner-on-prisoner violence and jail riots. Then, for light relief, I turned to a repeat of the wonderful BBC tv series "Porridge" only to find it was the one in which Fletch throws the prison chaplain off the landing!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Googly fun.

Fond as I am of timewasting, and following a tip off (I've forgotten from whom), I once tried putting "Anne needs" into Google, and got some very amusing (to me anyway) results.

I've just tried it with "Anne wants", being a bit bored with Him Indoors's choice of film on tv. (You either get the remote control or the laptop but not both is our rule). I found amongst other things that:

Anne wants to go shopping later (much, much later, or not at all)
Anne wants to console him (if "him" is a prisoner, I suppose I do)
Anne wants to be adored and worshipped like the royalty she feels she is (lol)
Anne wants to live peacefully with her neighbours (I do. I don't reckon it's very peaceful for them with six of us next door, roaring cheerfully at each other as if we were all deaf)
Anne wants snow tires more than a gold watch (tyres in UK!!)
Anne wants to be a role supermodel (lol)
Anne wants the interaction of overflow-x and overflow-y (what?)
Anne wants to give Richard a child (no, really I don't. We haven't even been introduced)
Anne wants to run the superbowl (no, really I don't)
Anne wants to remedy the situation (yep, I'm up for remedying situations)
Anne wants to write in her diary (for diary, read blog)
Anne wants you to enjoy yourselves and each other (ready, steady, go. Do it now)
Anne wants to start dairy farming (no, really I don't, but I like cows)
Anne wants to make a difference (I admit it, I do. So sue me)
Anne wants to be president (no, really I don't. I like being me)

Try your own name... It helps if your parents gave you a common one like Anne, of course.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Get Out of Jail Free

I'm generally opposed to Christian jargon. It's not just that I don't like cliches but also, unless I'm with other people of the same churchy background as myself, I do my level best to avoid the sort of Christian jargon that is clear as crystal to me but clear as mud to someone not familiar with the Bible or church. I know that some Christians love the Authorised Version (aka the King James Version) of the Bible, and whilst I uphold their right to enjoy it, I just don't get why churches use it for reading aloud from at public worship. People in various parts of the world at various times in history have died in the cause of having the Bible in everyone's own language. The old fashioned language of the Authorised/King James version, including thees and thous and dosts and cansts is NOT our own language! Christians may enjoy it for its quaint poetic sound as much as they like, in their own homes, but in public worship where Mr Random Punter and Miss Wandered In Off The Street are present, it's completely unhelpful, in my humble(!?) opinion. I could go on at great length but I'll jump down from one of my favourite hobby horses and proceed to contradict myself completely.

Notwithstanding all I've said, I do appreciate my Christian heritage and although I love lots of modern hymns there are plenty old ones that stir me still. In fact my complete favourite hymn is an old one - with thees and thous in it! It is the hymn, "And Can It Be.." and I've loved it for years and years. It needs enough people present that it can be sung in two parts. To lower the tone for a mo, I confess here that, for some bizarre reason, whenever we divide into men singing one part and women singing another part I am, irrationally and irreverently but only briefly, reminded of the cries of "girls chase the boys" or "boys chase the girls" in playground games of "kiss, cuddle or torture?" (a very innocent game of tag, btw) at primary school! This falls into the "boys chase the girls" category as in the last two lines when the split happens, the women lead and the men follow. Please say you won't think of that now when you sing it at your church...

I love that hymn and my top favourite verse is this one:

"Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee"

and yet in all the times I sang it, it NEVER for ONE minute entered my head that I would one day be a prison chaplain. I'm now truly passionate about getting Christians mobilised to pray for prisoners and in that way to fulfil Christ's calling to us to "visit" Him, through them, in prison. I wasn't always that way, I admit, but I think ignorance breeds lack of concern. That's partly why I keep this blog (it also keeps me from housework which is a bonus, obviously). I am not free to blog freely about the prisoners I come across - that would be unethical in the extreme. But, self-regulating this thing to the extent that it is probably a bit bland, one of my aims is still to encourage those readers who're professing Christians to "visit" the prisons through prayer on a regular basis.

That verse I like reminds us of the tenet of our faith which says that sin IMPRISONS us. We, too, are prisoners - prisoners of our sinful nature. I long for prisoners to Get Out of Jail Free, in the fullest sense of the word "free" so that when they are libbed (liberated, released) they are free of the bitternesses or other kinds of damage to their souls that has contributed to their criminal and/or addictive behaviour. I believe that same liberation is available to me, too.

The open prison system is a half way house where prisoners are prepared for their eventual release by being given a measure of freedom, compared to the normal closed prisons.

As Christians we too are in a half way house. When someone becomes a Christian, that just means they've responded to the very simple but very profound invitation that Jesus brought: "turn from your sins, believe in me, and you'll be forgiven". In so doing we are freed from the guilt, forgiven and in that sense free. And yet while we are in this world we're still in our human bodies and continue to fall into temptations on a daily basis. But we're training for freedom, in an open prison. And when we die we're fully, totally, finally, and utterly "libbed"; really and truly we Get Out of Jail Free.

Btw, if there's money available, and space for all the words, I'd like on my gravestone the words (from that hymn) "My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee" because while that's half true now, it'll be fully true then.
Again, if you wouldn't mind...

Thank you so much.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Another milestone.

Youngest child has had a birthday weekend - a sleepover on Friday night and relatives today, including grandparents and The World's Best and Cutest Nephews, wearing ties for the first time ever (see below). Youngest child got to choose the main course and went for haggis, neeps and tatties, a meal I still forget that it is legal to eat on other days of the year than the 25th of January. Firstborn made the birthday cake - yes it looks like two cakes but together, they're the number eight. One big step forward in the Droid family's life will now be that, without any under-eights among us, the kids can all go into the local swimming pool unaccompanied by parents. Yippee! Or, the parents can go in too but can now swim about freely instead of hanging about, freezing cold, watching them all, yet knowing that they're all better swimmers than either of us! People talk about your child's firsts (first tooth, first step, etc) but I think I notice their "lasts" more, as we stop needing certain things in the house, like pram/cot/potty/nappies/etc. or finish with playgroup and nursery, or whatever. And sometimes you don't realise the "last" has happened when something stops gradually. Our kids used to come through to our room in the middle of the night (one friend, a mother of five, told me it wasn't our bad parenting but rather that they were so well bonded with us, which may or may not be true but what a lovely friend!) None of them stopped suddenly. It kind of phased out, becoming more sporadic gradually. So it was a while before we realised that it was finally a thing of the past. Of course it happened very shortly after we had finally, after years (literally) of my waking up with my head on the bedside table, invested in a king size bed. I'm happy that my kids are coming on, and don't pine for the early years, but LOVE getting to view it all again from a distance with these little gentlemen, whose mum (my hero) makes rearing twins look incredibly easy.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

A little encouragement goes a long way.

I was musing aloud at work today that in view of petrol prices it would make sense for me to work in a jail nearer home, but, before I could add that I like where I am, one of the prisoners I was with said, "No way. I'd come after you and put you over my shoulder and bring you back here. We need you here, don't we, guys?" I was so touched. I'm worried about his mental health, mind you, if he thinks he could carry me over his shoulder - if he'd said he would bring a fork lift truck with him, that would have made more sense! However, it made my day. I'll enjoy the weekend but I'll go back to jail on Monday.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Watch you don't fall into that black hole.

Here is a useful link for those of you who are worrying about the Big Experiment out there in CERN in Geneva: "Has the large Hadron Collider destroyed the world yet?" Hat tip to The Magistrate's Blog's comments bit for that link.

I have been to CERN twice, once in 1979 and once in 1990. My parents' best man was a professor of nuclear physics and he took us underground to see the big particle accelerator. However, I want to make clear to anyone who is reading this after the world has ended that I didn't touch anything. It wisnae me!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

What a web-sight!

Our church website has had a makeover. Viewers will now be alarmed by the sound and sight of Him Indoors speaking to them from cyberspace.

A few years ago, we celebrated the fifieth anniversary of our old church buildings (left) by demolishing them - as you do! We met in the local primary school for a year, which was great actually, and very liberating.

And now it is nearly three years ago since we took possession of our lovely new building. It is on the same site as the old one but in more than one way is a new creation.

As well as replacing the building we replaced the old outdated organisational structure, which had been great in its day but was now no longer appropriate to the modern world. In our denomination, elders tend to be asked to fulfil a similar list of obligations. A one-size-fits-all job description. And it was all originally based around the communion, a prerequisite of which would be that every member would be visited and questioned on their catechism by their elder. Our church decided that it would be better to try to have round pegs rather than square ones in round holes, and so did away with the old system.

Him Indoors and the then Session Clerk (whose wife's funeral was, very sadly, the first service in the new building - she was a great friend of ours and we mourned the third anniversary of her sudden passing yesterday) had a challenging few evenings. They interviewed each elder one at a time in our front room over a few days. In our Scottish culture, humility is valued above self confidence. They wanted to find out what the elders were good at in order to put them into teams. If you ask people here what they're good at, they blush and say, "Er, oh well, nothing much...", so we were given a wonderful tip from a wise Christian retired minister: ask them what they like doing. People almost always LIKE doing what they are GOOD AT doing. So Him Indoors and his sidekick apologised on behalf of the church to each elder, one at a time, for their having had to do things they didn't feel very good at, and asked what they liked doing. From that, instead of the jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none scatter gun approach, specialist teams were formed: welcome team, property team, finance team, leadership team, pastoral team, discipleship team, and youth/kids' work team. It has been amazing to witness this develop over the last few years. People are now free to be what God designed and shaped them for. How liberating for all, and how much better the church is served by happy folk!

Our new building is great, our new organisational structure is great, and numbers are growing. This brings further work of course, and resources are stretched, but it's a great "problem". Today we had a service of dedication where, at the start of the new session, all the organisations, and also all of us generally were asked to recommit themselves to God. We have been exceedingly blessed. God has been really very good to us and we don't take it for granted but are truly grateful.

This just in... an e-mail from my friend Chris:

Subject: Murphy's 15 Other Laws

1. Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

2. A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

3. He, who laughs last, thinks slowest.

4. A day without sunshine is like, well, night.

5. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

6. Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

7. Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

8. The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

9. It is said that if you line up all the cars in the world end-to-end, someone would be stupid enough to try to pass them.

10. If the shoe fits, get another one just like it.

11. The things that come to those that wait may be the things left by those who got there first.

12. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat all day drinking beer.

13. Flashlight: A case for holding dead batteries.

14. The shin bone is a device for finding furniture in the dark.

15. When you go into court, you are putting yourself in the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Cultivating generous spirits (or trying to).

Yesterday I wore a Scotland football shirt to work (I couldn't find the Airdrie shirt I had planned to wear). I was doing a spot of advertising for a volunteering project we are starting with the prisoners. Time banking schemes exist in the community and we are embarking on a project to get prisoners to do voluntary work in the prison which will earn time credits which will then be donated to community time banks. Thus, for example, elderly or disabled people who find it hard to do voluntary work themselves to earn time credits can be given a present of some hours with which they can then "pay" someone to cut their grass or walk their dog or whatever.

A number of prisoners do voluntary things already, such as completing forms/reading letters for fellow prisoners with literacy problems, participating in the Prisoner Listener scheme and so on. When you are a prisoner, your liberty is taken away - that's the punishment. It's not just your freedom to be out in the community that is lost, because it goes much further than that. Every thing you do in your day as a prisoner is because someone has told you to do it. Voluntary work is one area where prisoners can exercise some choice, and from conversations this week it's clear that they find this refreshing and empowering. Our hope is that as they experience what it is to feel like a "good guy", to think of others, and experience people's gratitude instead of anger, they may be encouraged to assume a new identity as a kind and useful member of society. A lofty ambition, but there's no harm in trying!

Anyway, one idea we've had is to collect old football shirts, launder them in the prison laundry, package them and then send them out via a charity to people with very little who might be glad of them. Our prisoners are allowed to wear their own clothes, so some of them have old football tops themselves. The officers and other staff will be asked. And we intend to make links with churches, schools and workplaces as well.

Many people buy the new season's shirt for their football team whenever it comes out, and the old ones get thrown out or lie in the back of the wardrobe. And children, of course, grow out of theirs.

So, if you're one of those readers who actually knows me and lives in my locale:
(a) please feel free to contribute football shirts! (If you belong to a local church or work in a school or whatever, feel free to appeal to them too. I'm particularly keen for schools to get involved as then we'll get kids' sizes of shirts. I'm equally keen for churches to get involved as I want prisoners to see church as a Good Thing.)
(b) if you have any contacts who go out to poor parts of the world who would be up for taking a few shirts with them to distribute, then please let me know.


Friday, 5 September 2008

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Freedom of Speech?

Consternation and controversy in police blogland today. Inspector Gadget whose blog I read regularly seems to be in some kind of trouble in relation to his blog. He has received lots of supportive messages from his loyal readership, who value his commentary on the frustrations of life as a police inspector in the face of the obstacles he perceives lie in the path of the police as they try to do their job of preventing crime and/or catching culprits.

The reason I read police blogs is that day by day in prison I meet offenders but I don't meet their victims (or their victims' families where the victims are dead). Many times crimes are committed under the influence of alcohol. In sobriety, in jail, the offender seems quite innocuous. Whilst I am fully committed, as a Christian, to loving these guys, I am not at all obliged to see them as nice in order to love them. I am committed to avoiding colluding or being manipulated. And so I do find that reading police blogs helps me always to remember that these guys, nice as they seem, and nice as they sometimes are in Prisonworld, have done very horrible things and there are victims. Police sometimes see the crime happening and usually see the victim. They provide me with the balance I need. That's my simple and basic reason for reading these blogs but in the process I learn a lot, and I sincerely hope Inspector Gadget isn't silenced. We need the prophetic voice in society speaking out the truth fearlessly. I'm pretty sure the Old Testament prophets would have used the internet if it was around then!

The police blogs I read don't name members of the public - either offenders or victims - and they don't even identify in which region they are based.

I, too, take seriously that I am a public servant, taking the queen's shilling. That's why I blog anonymously, and don't even name the prisons I work in. I could write a far more interesting (and juicy) blog if I recounted the stories prisoners tell me about their lives and crimes, but I recognise that would be highly unethical. So I keep things very general, even though I recognise they are less interesting that way.

Meanwhile, I hope that Inspector Gadget and all the rest of us aren't stopped from blogging about our work, and being HONEST. Blog on, I say!

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

They will soar on wings like eagles.

Him Indoors got a flying lesson for his 40th birthday six months ago (yes, he is my toy boy) and finally got round to taking it this morning. I went along to watch from the ground. Btw, he gave me a voucher for a helicopter lesson for mine (one of the most terrifying yet exhilarating experiences of my life). Clearly we were both just trying to get our hands on the life insurance but thankfully we survived.

Here's some pictures of his lesson. I had the camera till he got in the plane then he took it.

Well, he looks the part anyway...
...but I bet he doesn't know what all this means.
The right hand picture is the church of which he is the minister. Talk about taking a pastoral overview!
We hope Blue Eyed Boy, Penultimate and Youngest childen were looking out of their classroom windows. Would their teachers have believed them, though, if they said that was their dad up there in that plane, given that he's one of the football coaches at the school and the teachers know full well he's not a pilot?

Monday, 1 September 2008

I'm going to be travelling on an illegal passport.

Today six passports arrived at our house. I had a moment of totally irrational pride to think I was a bona fide citizen with the evidence to prove it. (My last passport expired years ago and was in my maiden name anyway). But since then, I've been thinking that according to the Christian faith, I'm not a citizen of the UK at all. I'm going to travel on this passport anyway though as I'm not sure that airport authorities would be impressed with an impromptu Bible study in lieu of my passport. The Bible says, "...our citizenship is in heaven". That's from Philippians 3:20 but there were lots and lots of other verses I could have picked that say virtually the same thing exactly. So when Christians talk euphemistically about death as "going home", they're actually stating a very important tenet of our faith.

I have only once, in 42 years, had a dream that seemed to mean something. (Most of them are very random and confused). I'm not going to recount it here - I've a vague memory I once blogged about it before anyway. But the point is that since that dream, I've never seriously doubted the existence of heaven. (Unfortunately I don't just believe in heaven. I believe in hell too, though I'm not at all clear what it is. God wouldn't make those who hate Him join Him in heaven for all eternity.) I believe that I'm a citizen of the kingdom of heaven. This would be an incredibly arrogant belief if it were based on a belief that I deserved such an inheritance, but it's not. For the basis of my belief see the words of the hymn blogged about in my last post.

But I really do believe in heaven, and I believe I'm one of its citizens. A few times recently in conversation with atheistic prisoners, they've scoffed at this belief, and said, "Won't you be really annoyed if you die and you find out it was all nonsense?"

Well, if it IS all nonsense, and there's nothing after death, I'll NEVER find out, as I'll be dead and unaware. If it IS all nonsense, I'll still have had an incredibly fulfilling life because the teaching of Jesus is good stuff, and the more we follow laws like, for example, "love your neighbour as you love yourself", "be faithful to your spouse", "don't steal", etc, the better your own life. The more we obey Jesus' teaching to forgive and not be bitter, the freer and happier we are. And so on. If it IS all nonsense, I'll have lost absolutely nothing. Not a thing.

On the other hand, and I have pointed this out to my atheistic friends in the prison, if it all turns out to be true, and if they're wrong, the consequences are Serious with a capital "s" for all eternity.

Now I've been a Christian for a hundred years (well not quite) I find I FEEL that heaven is my home. I feel like when I die I'll be going home. I do FEEL like I'm a citizen not of the UK but of heaven. The only reason my Father hasn't taken me home yet is that He has some purpose from me being here. I'm not here on a tourist visa. I'm here on a work permit. I admit I'm really hoping that part of the thing He has for me to do is to see my kids grow up... Meantime I'll hang about here on my illegal (in God's eyes) UK passport, whilst remembering that 1 Peter 2:11 in the Bible says that we are "...aliens and strangers in the world". I'm an alien! Being an alien rocks!