Friday, 31 October 2008

Happy Halloween.

Isn't my son, Blue Eyed Boy, a handsome fellow? And Firstborn, and her two pals who're here for a sleepover are gorgeous too:Some Christians are very opposed to Halloween and some see no problem with it. I've never been a fan, but as you can see I have mellowed in my old age and tonight we must have had a couple of dozen guisers at the door and I actually (shockerooney!) enjoyed it. I know all the arguments against Christians having anything to do with Halloween, and thoroughly respect them. I could argue them myself.

But I've - some might say "at last" - moved in the same direction as this article, particularly this quote:

"Should the forces of evil be mocked? Should Satan be laughed at? He most certainly should be. At the beginning of The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis includes two telling quotations, the first from Martin Luther: "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn."

The second comes from Thomas More: "The devil … the proud spirit cannot endure to be mocked."
The one thing Satan cannot bear is to be a source of laughter. His pride is undermined by his own knowledge that his infernal rebellion against God is in reality an absurd farce. Hating laughter, he demands to be taken seriously. Indeed, I would say that those Christians who spend the night of October 31 filled with concern over what evils might be (and sometimes are) taking place are doing the very thing Lucifer wants them to do. By giving him this respect, such believers are giving his authority credence.

Not all believers should celebrate Halloween. For those who have been redeemed from the occult, Halloween in its foolishness may contain what was for them deadly seriousness. While their souls were in deadly peril, however, what they experienced were lies and illusions.

It is understandable that they look with horror upon what once enslaved them. Such sensitivity may be appropriate for them, but it is not appropriate for the majority of Christians. Holding their opinions as appropriate for most believers is like having a former bulimic dictate how Christians should regard church hot-plate socials."

Romans 14, an amazing chapter in the Bible, should be our guide in this and many other controversial issues. As Christians we have to work some stuff out for ourselves and God expects us to do that with integrity and honesty, aiming to please him rather than do what's convenient or suits our selfish purposes. Once we've decided what's right/wrong, on the issues which the Bible doesn't spell out for us, we've to live accordingly. HOWEVER, what we haven't to do is judge our brothers and sisters for the different decision their reasoning has led them to. I think that's a fab thing about our faith. Things are not all prescribed in the minutiae for us. We're allowed to use the brains we've been given, and the process of trying to ascertain the will of God on an issue is really good for us. And we're encouraged to have a "Vive la difference!" attitude to one another, and live in such a way as our interpretation is not enforced, sharia-style, on other people.

I could argue the case for infant baptism and I could argue the case for believer's baptism. I could argue the case for communion every time we gather, or communion as a special occasion. I could argue the case for the ordination of women, the case against the ordination of women, and the case against ordination full stop. I could argue the case for Christians boycotting Halloween, and I'm coming round to the case against.

I do admit I am quite an indecisive person. At least I think I am. Or perhaps I'm not. No, I definitely am. But I've come to like my indecisiveness. I'd be rubbish as a prison governor, because I'm not decisive enough. But seeing everyone's point of view is pretty handy when it comes to prison chaplaincy. I think. No it is, I'm sure of that at least.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Female World Records.

I was deleting lots of old emails recently at work to clear my inbox. Most of them were fairly boring and run of the mill, but then I found one from ages ago. It was sent to me by the previous governor. It is disloyal to my sex to publish it, and also to admit that I really liked it, but it's very funny. Here it is:

Female World Records

Car Parking: The smallest kerbside space successfully reversed into by a woman was one of 19.36m (63ft 2ins), equivalent to three standard parking spaces, by Mrs. Elizabeth Simpkins, driving an unmodified Vauxhall Nova 'Swing' on 12th October 1993. She started the manoeuvre at 11.15am in Ropergate, Pontefract, and successfully parked within three feet of the pavement 8 hours 14 minutes later.There was slight damage to the bumpers and wings of her own and two adjoining cars, as well as a shop frontage and two lamp posts.

Incorrect Driving: The longest journey completed with the handbrake on was one of 504 km (313 miles) from Stranraer to Holyhead by Dr. Julie Thorn (GB) at the wheel of a Saab 900 on the 2nd April 1987. Dr. Thorn smelled burning two miles into her journey at Aird but pressed on to Holyhead with smoke billowing from the rear wheels. This journey also holds the records for the longest completed journey with the choke fully out and the right indicator flashing.

Shop Dithering:
The longest time spent dithering in a shop was 12 days between 21st August and 2nd September 1995 by Mrs. Sandra Wilks (GB) in the Birmingham branch of Dorothy Perkins. Entering the shop on a Saturday morning, Mrs. Wilks could not choose between two near identical dresses which were both in the sale. After one hour, her husband, sitting on a chair by the changing room with his head in his hands, told her to buy both. Mrs. Wilks eventually bought one for 12.99, only to return the next day and exchange it for the other one. To date, she has yet to wear it. Mrs. Wilks also holds the record for window shopping longevity, when, starting September 12th 1995, she stood motionless gazing at a pair of shoes in Clinkard's window in Kidderminster for 3 weeks two days before eventually going home.

Jumble Sale Massacre: The greatest number of old ladies to perish whilst fighting at a jumble sale is 98, at a Methodist Church Hall in Castleford, West Yorkshire on February 12th 1991. When the doors opened at 10.00am, the initial scramble to get in cost 16 lives, a further 25 being killed in a crush at the first table. A seven-way skirmish then broke out over a pinafore dress costing 10p which escalated into a full scale melee resulting in another 18 lives being lost. A pitched battle over a headscarf then ensued and quickly spread throughout the hall, claiming 39 old women. The jumble sale raised 5.28 for local boy scouts.

Talking about Nothing: Mrs. Mary Caterham (GB) and Mrs. Marjorie Steele (GB) sat in a kitchen in Blackburn, Lancs. and talked about nothing whatsoever for four and a half months from 1st May to 7th August 1978, pausing only for coffee, cakes and toilet visits. Throughout the whole time, no information was exchanged and neither woman gained any new knowledge whatsoever. The outdoor record for talking about nothing is held by Mrs. Vera Etherington (GB) and her neighbour Mrs. Dolly Booth(GB) of Ipswich, who between 11th November 1983 and 12th January 1984 chuntered on over their fence in an unelightening dialogue lasting almost 62 days until Mrs.Booth remembered she'd left the bath running.

On February 18th 1992, Joyce Blatherwick, a close friend of Agnes Banbury popped round for a cup of tea and a chat, during the course of which she told Mrs. Banbury, in the strictest confidence, that she was having an affair with the butcher. After Mrs. Blatherwick left at 2.10pm, Mrs. Banbury immediately began to tell everyone, swearing them all to secrecy. By 2.30pm, she had told 128 people of the news. By 2.50pm it had risen to 372 and by 4.00pm that afternoon, 2774 knew of the affair, including the local Amateur dramatic Society, several knitting circles,a coachload of American tourists which she flagged down and the butchers wife. When a tired Mrs. Banbury went to bed at 11.55pm that night, Mrs.Blatherwick's affair was common knowledge to a staggering 75,338 people, enough to fill Wembley Stadium.

Group Toilet Visit:
The record for the largest group of women to visit a toilet simultaneously is held by 147 workers at the Department of Social Security, Longbenton. At their annual Christmas celebration at a night club in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne on October 12th 1994, Mrs. Beryl Crabtree got up to go to the toilet and was immediately followed by 146 other members of the party. Moving as a mass, the group entered the toilet at 9.52pm and, after waiting for everyone to finish, emerged 2 hrs 37 mins later.

Film Confusion: The greatest length of time a woman has watched a film with her husband without asking a stupid plot-related question was achieved on the 28th October 1990, when Mrs. Ethel Brunswick sat down with her husband to watch 'The Ipcress File'. She watched in silence for a breath-taking 2 mins 40 secs before asking "Is he a goodie or a baddie, then, him in the glasses?", revealing a staggering level of ignorance. This broke her own record set in 1962 when she sat through 2 mins 38 secs of '633 Squadron' before asking "Is this a war film, is it?".

Single Breath Sentence: An Oxfordshire woman today became the first ever to break the thirty minute barrier for talking without drawing breath. Mrs.Mavis Sommers, 48, of Cowley, smashed the previous record of 23 minutes when she excitedly reported an argument she'd had in the butchers to her neighbour. She ranted on for a staggering 32 minutes and 12 seconds without pausing for air, before going blue and collapsing in a heap on the ground. She was taken to Radcliffe Infirmary in a wheelbarrow but was released later after check-ups. At the peak of her mammoth motormouth marathon, she achieved an unbelievable 680 words per minute, repeating the main points of the story an amazing 114 times whilst her neighbour, Mrs. Dolly Knowles, nodded and tutted. The last third of the sentence was delivered in a barely audible croak, the last two minutes being mouthed only, accompanied by vigorous jesticulations and indignant spasms.

I would like to state for the record that my life in no way relates to any of these at all. I would like to state that, but I can't. The truth is I have been known to set off in the car with the handbrake still on. I can dither in a shop for a very long time and then put everything back and leave with nothing. And of all of them, "film confusion" is the category which Him Indoors would most agree applies to me.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

When time isn't running out...

As I was driving two prisoners to church this morning the conversation (about last night's television) got on to the X-factor. I was mildly surprised that one of the guys (a) watched it and (b) admitted to watching it. But it was his explanation for why he watched it that really struck me. I will never stop learning, in this job, I realise. As I've never been in prison, I'm constantly listening hard to improve my empathy and understanding, so that I can be better at what I do, or at least try to do. It's not the big things that teach you what it's like in prison. It's the little things. Like this guy's reason for watching the X-factor. He also watches Big Brother when it's on, and for the same reason. And it's so obvious when you think about it. Both Big Brother and the X-factor are very long-running series. He knows when he starts to watch one or other of them (the former's on in the spring/summer and the latter in the autumn/winter) that by the time the series is finished, he will be another big chunk of the way through his sentence.

Time passes so quickly for me. I've barely got used to the fact that it's 2008 and I've already had to order next year's wall planner at work and think about Christmas in the jail. I wish I had more time. I wish I could read lots more books (without my eyelids drooping), and take up knitting again. I wish there was any point in buying a newspaper - I don't because neither Him Indoors nor myself have time to read it. And yet these fellows have the opposite problem. They are "doing time" and the time that is the rest of their sentence stretches out before them depressingly. They might have time to read, and their meals made for them, and plenty of rest, but they don't have the freedom I have. Time, without freedom, is no pleasure, and the best way to deal with too much time still ahead of you, at her majesty's pleasure, is to divide it up in your mind into bite-sized chunks. Now till Christmas. Now till my parole papers start. Now till I get a single cell. And now till the X-factor winner is announced...

Saturday, 25 October 2008

For those in peril on the hills...

Worrying news tonight about a fell run in the north of England where the weather conditions caused the race to be abandoned and many many runners are at this time (23.30pm) unaccounted for. It is to be hoped they're sheltering hither and thither in relative safety overnight and it is known that they are (a) fit and (b) equipped with survival gear. Nonetheless, I was greatly relieved to go on Uphilldowndale's blog and see that Mr Uhdd is okay. I don't know anyone else in the race. I don't know Mr Uhdd either I suppose, but I know of him.

Today we went a mad walk of our own. Twelve of us, including five children, walked five miles in rain, cold, wind and mud. It's a lovely walk on a nice day, but it wasn't a nice day. I was cold for a LONG time after I got home and went about in a big thick dressing gown, a blanket and a scarf for some time - there are no pictures of this sight. I'm praying for those, wherever they are, from that race who're cold tonight. If you're not already, perhaps you could too.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Still with the light theme.

Biblically and theologically unsound but funny:

Light, and hope of light.

I woke up this morning reflecting on yesterday's post, and on Ruth's here about SAD but this morning I was remembering a verse in Revelation 21. I often read exerpts from Revelation 21 at funerals but don't give it much thought otherwise, but it is an amazing chapter - part of the great vision, or revelation, that God gave a chap called John about the future:

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea...
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworhty and true."
He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son..".
And then - I'm getting to the point of this post now (!) - it goes on after a bit, "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp... there will be no night there."

Promise of a life to come without dreich days and long nights! No darkness at all. Good! Excellent! (Unless you're the director of the X-files, re-runs of which are showing on TV at the moment. Why do Mulder and Scully NEVER, EVER put a light on in that program? It drives me nuts).

Spiritual Health Warning:
My conscience forbids me to leave this post there - the passage does have a dark side here and here. These are dire warnings indeed, and a call to us all to make sure we have (a) been genuinely sorry and (b) asked God for forgiveness for our sin.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Lucky tortoises.

I was talking (well, moaning really) with a prison officer today about how there would be something to be said for being a tortoise. You would get to hibernate, going to sleep in the autumn and waking up in the spring.

This coming Sunday, our clocks change. Spring forward, fall back. So we get an extra hour in bed. Not quite hibernation but an hour's an hour.

I happened to be in the car at lunch time today, driving back from an appointment with a local faith leader to the prison. I was listening to Jeremy Vine, on Radio 2. Today one of the subjects being covered was the clocks changing and whether it's a good idea. There is a point of view out there that says we should abolish this twice a year move in and out of British Summer Time, and keep the time the same (BST) all the year round.

What interested me in the program was that it was explained that THE main original argument for putting the clocks back in October was so that children wouldn't be going to school in the dark. The reason this was said to be a problem was that, during an experimental abolition in the 1960s of the clocks changing, a terrible and tragic road traffic accident had occurred in Stornoway in the Western Isles, when a lorry driver had failed to see a group of schoolchildren at a bus stop, and careered into them killing them all. In researching for the Jeremy Vine program, it had apparently been impossible to ascertain that this horrific accident had ever happened. (I myself remember as a child being told that this was the reason for the clock change). Now it seems as if the whole basis for the current position is without foundation in fact. I hope that the story's not true. Obviously. What a horrible accident if it did happen. But how amazing and how interesting if it transpires that the reason we have had this clock change for all these years since it was reintroduced after the 1960s experiment was in fact a phantom reason.

William Willett, by the way, was apparently the man responsible for putting our clocks back and forward, which began in 1916, after his death actually. He was a businessman and proposed an early version of the idea in 1907 in a leaflet called "The Waste of Daylight" in which he pointed out that during summer mornings the light was wasted as most people were still sleeping, and that it would be better utilised in the afternoon by putting the clocks forward. But it seems it happened in the ancient world too. According to this site, Willett's actual idea was that "he could improve the population's health and happiness by putting forward the clocks by twenty minutes on each of four Sundays in April, and by reversing this idea by the same amount on four Sundays in September".

Monday, 20 October 2008

Oh me of little faith!

Naked Pastor says, on 9th October, "I personally don’t believe in an intervening God… a God that shows up when we need him and disappears when we don’t. I believe in miracle in the sense that everything is miracle, that God is so interwoven in our world and life that it is all miraculous. The very special times when we conclude God has intervened are actually moments when our blinders have been taken off and we see what has always been. What we call a “miracle” is actually, in my opinion, an intersection of God’s constant activity and our comprehension of it".

I think that's a great quote. A REALLY great quote. One of my biggest problems, and I think I'm probably not alone, is that I'm looking at God through the wrong end of the telescope, trying subconsciously to reduce Him to a little pocket elf that I can keep handy for when I need something done. This quote reminds me that He's way way bigger than I can possibly imagine and He's in charge. This is of course actually a great relief, especially after today, when I've spent time today with two prisoners, one in each jail, whose problems are overwhelming. And more worryingly still I've realised yet again how many prisoners there are whom I've barely spoken to at all. I'm unable to fix any of them but I "know a 'man' who can"...

Btw, I got the picture at the start of this post here. It made me smile. I'm such an incredible cynic by nature - terribly so - that I've wondered many many times how God EVER managed to cause me to have faith. I'm SO not naturally religious. I love how the man walking through this amazing miracle is thinking "fluke" and I love it because deep down I fear that's exactly what I would have been thinking.

"Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" Mark 9:24.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

More googly fun.

I saw this on the very good blog "There and back to see how far it is" and thought it looked fun. I was right. It is, but it's time consuming.


Answer the questions below, do a Google Image search with your answer, take a picture from the first page of results, and do it with minimal words of explanation.

1. The age you'll be on your next birthday.
2. A place you'd like to travel to.
3. Your favourite place.
4. Your favourite food.
Don't knock it till you've tried it but a buttered Scottish morning roll with Walkers Worcester sauce crisps in it is just lovely. Not very healthy so perhaps best to make it an occasional treat.

5. Your favourite pet.
6. Your favoutite colour combination.
Purple and red.
7. Your favourite item of clothing.
8. Your favourite tv show.
9. The town in which you live.
10. Your first job.
Plucking turkeys. Actually the sister in law of the farmer I worked for (25 years ago and 50 miles away) showed up at our church this morning - a blast from the past indeed.
11. Your dream job.

12. A bad habit you have.

13. Your worst fear.
I fear Him Indoors and I both dying, at the same time, before the children are grown up.
14. What you'd like to do before you die.
I'd like to be involved in some people's journey into living faith.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Not a boy called Sue but a man called to SU.

We had a family for dinner tonight (not literally - that would be cannibalism which is illegal) but we had a couple and their four children round to eat a Chinese (meal, not person as that also would be illegal). As they have three boys and a girl to our three girls and a boy - the ages aren't quite right but not to worry - I've cooked up the idea that fifteen years from now or so they can all marry each other at a joint quadruple wedding. This will save lots of money. Also, it would be unusual enough to merit press attention, so we could sell the story for enough to pay for the wedding. Sorted.

Meanwhile back in 2008, the dad in this family works full time for Scripture Union Scotland. This is an organisation for which I have a huge respect, and for which I hope for lots more support in terms of volunteered time as well as gifted money in years to come.

Although I grew up in a Christian home, for which I am immensely and permanently extremely thankful, God has no grandchildren and Scripture Union had a huge part to play in my moving from a kind of inherited faith to a personal one that was real for me too. At thirteen I went to a Scripture Union camp in St Andrews and I reckon that as the time when my faith made the transition from what I'd grown up with but didn't really understand or think about much, to something very very real and personal. I understood about the cross for the first time that week and my life has never been the same since. My "testimony" is kind of boring - people love to hear the dramatic story and mine just isn't, so I don't get asked to tell it, but I fiercely insist that God is worthy of just as much praise and glory for bringing me, in spite of my folly and failings and foolishness, through 29 years of this faith journey, rescuing me from many a blind alley and wrong path and putting me back on the right road.

Being a Christian at school these days isn't easy but it wasn't much easier in the late seventies/early eighties either because the fact is that adolescence is tricky!

Although I had church on a Sunday, it wasn't overrun with young people, and it was Scripture Union which was church for me then. We had a lunchtime meeting at school once a week, we had camps. I went to four altogether while at secondary school. The week-long one at St Andrews already mentioned. A sailing one at Kinlochard, also a week long - it was a flat calm all week so not much sailing happened - and two weekends at Linlithgow. I also went to a monthly Saturday night youth event in Glasgow, called Interalia. I lived for those nights. We were very unsophisticated in those days and had never heard of multimedia, but bands performed, there was drama, speakers, singing and a tuck shop. What was great about them for me as a teenager (oh, it's SOOOOO long ago...) was that for a couple of hours at that event I didn't feel like such an oddity as I did in my class at school.

Isn't that partly what Church does for us? We go, those of us who do, for all kinds of reasons, but one reason I reckon is that it simply reminds us that there are others of us nutters out there. In our everyday lives we may be in a small minority as believers in our workplace and/or families, perhaps even a minority of one, but when we go to church there are a host of others singing from the same hymn sheet - literally. And that's an encouragement, isn't it? And the odd time when we get to attend a really big praise event, like Prom Praise or Frenzy or whatever, it is such a blessing to look round and see there are lots of other weirdos like us...

Interalia and Scripture Union did that for me, and SU has helped countless other kids. Before I started my current job, when I was a lady of leisure, I helped in a Scripture Union group in a primary school in my parish. Kids' and youth work isn't my thing really - I'm a bit rubbish at it (give me a bunch of bad boys in jail any day) - but I realised the one leader at the time needed support and I was glad to do it. It's really cutting edge stuff, SU work. It's front line. It's not hit and run evangelism (which I don't like). It's relational. It's about loving the kids. In this day and age they know next to nothing about the Christian faith, so there's not much chance more will happen than that seeds will be sown, but that's no small thing. Seed sowing in agriculture is a pretty important task.

Where is this post going? Who knows? I'm tired. It's ten past midnight. I just know I want to record three cheers for Scripture Union, and to acknowledge that, humanly speaking, I can't see that I'd still be going on in my faith, weak and all over the place though I undoubtedly often am, were it not for the wonderful job SU did in my teenage years. Our kids are now beginning to go to SU camp too, and I hope it will be of just as much help to them. Blue eyed boy tells me he's the only kid in his class who goes to church and that sometimes he gets "slagged off" about it. It's hard for a child not to care what folk think. (Wait till you get in your forties my boy - it's most liberating!) So I'm thankful for the big gang of boys his age that come each week to our church (and the girls my daughters' ages) and I pray he'll get the sense from church and SU camps that he's not a freak, but part of a big worldwide family which includes boys his age too...

For anyone who's interested, but who can't be bothered clicking the SU Scotland link above, here's a brief history of the organisation, cut and pasted from their website:

"Scripture Union Scotland is part of a world-wide movement that traces it's origins back to 1868. Then, a gentleman called Josiah Spiers gathered children together on the beach at Llandudno, Wales, to tell them stories about Jesus. He started something which now operates in 130 countries.

Across the globe these Scripture Union movements are linked by their desire to reach children and young people where they are with the good news about Jesus Christ. Josiah Spiers began that mission by helping children to trace out and decorate Bible verses in the sand. Still today, the commitment is to encourage people of all ages to read and engage with the Bible which is described in SU's Basis of Faith as being both authoritative and trustworthy.

In Scotland, Scripture Union formally came into existence in 1902. Holiday Beach Missions formed the core of the work at the start but that soon developed into a camps programme and later, work in schools. These things always sat alongside the production and distribution of Bible reading plans and notes. SU Scotland become an autonomous movement in 1972.Across its history and around the globe, SU’s work has been and remains largely dependent on volunteers. In Scotland each year more than 2000 people of all ages and backgrounds form the core workforce for the ministry.Today SU Scotland has groups in around 10% of Scottish schools and some 4,500 children and young people are involved each year in residential events. The aim is to see the scope of this work expand so that more of the 750,000 plus children and young people in Scotland have the opportunity to explore and respond to the significance of Jesus Christ for their lives.SU Scotland has always sought to work with the church. The aim is to see children and young people giving a life-time of service to Jesus Christ within a local church context."

PS The Chinese meal was delicious and the kids had a whale of a time of course including (mildly) untidying the house we had just tidied, and enjoying each other's company. No marriage proposals were overheard though.

It's a sign, contd.

Friday, 17 October 2008


This is a really fun link.

And in other news... I'm off to watch a DVD with the kids and forget about work, although it's "Harry Potter and The PRISONER of Azkaban" - I'm certainly very glad I'm not full-time chaplain of Azkaban.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Mind the Gap

This post on Under the Overpasses, one of the most fab blogs out there IMHO, really moved me when I read it this evening. The post itself and some of the comments also chimed in with a whole range of things I've been thinking about this week to do with how society and in particular church society views, treats and welcomes (or otherwise) the marginalised or odd or just plain weird. The author of Under the Overpasses works in a homeless shelter. I too have worked in one in the past (a long time ago and not for long but it was a powerful world-view-altering experience) and I know that prison clientele has a certain similarity to the homeless shelter clientele.

What I've been thinking about is to do with Christian prisoners, i.e. prisoners who are (now, even if only of late) professing practising Christians rather than those who register as Church of Scotland or Roman Catholic on their admittance to jail and in reality are atheists or agnostics. In the course of the relationship I form with them I often talk about church. I explain that right there in our crappy surroundings we are a church congregation and we're part of the worldwide body of Christ that is the church, brothers and sister of Christians all over the world. I also tell them, and I truly truly believe this, that their "chances of success" as Christians are vastly greater on release if they find themselves a church and start going to it. I know lots of people say you can be a Christian without going to church. I'm not convinced about that. If you CAN'T go that's one thing, but if you WON'T go, I think that's not good. And certainly if you don't have the years and years of churchgoing under your belt that those of us who grew up in the church gained (willingly or otherwise!), if you're the only believer among your family and friends, and if you're still to face the challenge of living a life away from crime and addiction, I have no question in my mind that (a good) church is a crucial part of the best strategic action plan for your future.

However, how do we bridge the gap for our guys who've found faith during their sentence from prison chapel to church? If you're a national rather than local facility that's even harder.

I am really exercised in my heart about it this week. Our guys who come to the chaplaincy services talk the talk about wanting to go to church on the outside but as one of them freely admitted (privately of course) to me today, it's a really really scary prospect.

I think this may be a wider issue than just prisoners though. I spoke to a woman one day last year, I forget where but it may have been at the hairdressers, who asked how you went to church. I didn't understand at first but it became clear she didn't realise you could just turn up on a Sunday at service time, go in (without a ticket) and take a seat. And of course why WOULD she know that?

But for prisoners there are added difficulties. They worry about the potential response if they reveal their past. They worry about the church being full of middle class people. They worry about not knowing how to behave and what is expected of them (prisoners worry about that a lot actually - they worry about coming to events held in the jail - I think it's to do with insecurity and losing face and then appearing weak - unless you explain at GREAT length exactly what will happen at the event and what the expectation will be).

And that's only the gap-bridging problem from one side. How do we get our churches to cope better with the odd, the weird, the marginalised, the ex-offender and the recovering addict? Some do it really well already. Some less so. But Under There's post which I referred to above just makes my heart yearn to feel surer that our churches are full of people who want to love unconditionally, at the possible expense of having to leave, or at least invite challenging people into, their comfort zones. It's hard in both directions this gap-bridging and I have no answers.

My Catholic colleague and I are planning to hold services in the jails during Prisoners Week, to which prisoners can come if they want, and to which local churches will be invited to send folk. As the date approaches I now find I'm wanting to engineer and stage manage these. The purpose of the services is to encourage the churches to pray for the prisoners and to show the prisoners that the churches love them. I also want to cause the prisoners to feel that after all church people aren't so very different from them. So I'm now seriously considering (whilst realising how ridiculous - and discriminatory - it is) that I want to minimise the proportion of middle class grey haired old ladies (that's me out then!) and maximise the number of cool dudes and dudesses.

I want the guys to FEEL that the church folk love them. Some middle class grey haired old ladies loving them would be fab. But I don't want to confirm them in their suspicion that ONLY middle class grey haired old ladies go to church, with the implication being that it's not for them. So I find myself (feeling totally false and devious) in the ludicrous position of trying to engineer and stage manage a designer congregation of working class younger males. I realise sadly of course that the truth is that most congregations are short of working class younger males and that in so doing I'm maybe not being totally honest. And in any cases one of the most beautiful things about church which I personally appreciate every Sunday is that almost the whole point of it is that this random collection of people who on the surface would seem to have nothing in common in reality are family with the deepest possible bond of all connecting them. So maybe I should worry less about it. On the other hand if I manage to crack the job of creating my ideal congregation for those services maybe churches all over will start hiring me to do tailor made bespoke designer congregations for them in the style of their choice...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Noah's blog - a link worth following.

My colleague Tom across the pond in the US of A has a funny post here.

Incidentally, on the subject of Noah's Ark, can I recommend the film "Evan Almighty" to anyone who hasn't seen it. There aren't all that many films our kids watch that I truly enjoy once, let alone watch again and again as they're prone to do. This was one of the exceptions.

AnneDroid and Chums. Ahead of the curve.

I can't decide which of the many many pictures I took of Notre Dame to upload - the truth is it's so amazing no one (or even ten) pictures can do it justice. And there's also the Louvre, the Mona Lisa, the pavement cafes, the Seine and the Scottish pub which we stumbled across in the middle of the Scotland-Norway game. And more. I'm giving up. We had a great time. That's the shortened version of the story. And Paris is great. Very French. Very Parisien. The end.

And in any case now I've been back in jail for three days, my mind's on prison and prisoners. Apart from that I've so many posts to catch up on reading from my bloglist, I'm abandoning the laborious process of selecting and uploading endless pictures one at a time. If you want to see pictures of Paris there are plenty better than mine under Google Images!

Anyway, back in Jailworld, it's been good to be back. As usual I'm confronted with all the rich diversity of our prisoners, and their stories, and their needs, together with the great challenge of how to fulfil all the expected roles of chaplaincy in two prisons, with only me and my part time colleague. The truth is, of course, I don't think we can. We can only do our best and remember that rather than taking God into prison we have to recognise He was there long before us; He doesn't ask us to do it all, but just invites us to tag along with Him and "help" in the way a toddler "helps" its mother to bake!

I may have said this once or thrice before here (I don't always remember everything I write but I comfort myself with the thought that you won't either) but I have found prison chaplaincy extremely liberating. This is ironic because jail's obviously not very liberating for the prisoners. But it has been so for me. When I was at university (as I may have said) I used to get frustrated with Calvin's Institutes because I thought they were too vague sometimes. I wanted every theological and ecclesiological i dotted and t crossed. Now I find that working in prison chaplaincy has caused me to shed so much baggage in terms of niggly points of doctrine and church practice which I now realise don't matter a bit in kingdom work outwith the institution of the church. They DO matter, to a degree, in church-the-institution. I'm not having a go at my fellow clergy for worrying about things that do matter to an extent in the organisation and identity of their church congregations and denominations. But I am so blessed by being in a position now where I'm so released and freed from all that STUFF.

On Maggi Dawn's blog (see blogroll for link) a few days ago she had a quote I liked about chaplaincy (she's a university chaplain). It's from Brian McLaren, from the U.S.A., who's a leading light of the so-called emerging church movement. I sent the quote out by email to all my fellow chaplains in the Scottish jails for their amusement/inspiration/edification/information/delight/astonishment.

Brian McLaren says: "I've been noticing more than ever how many chaplains are 'ahead of the curve' in dealing with the 'great emergence' we're part of. Many (not all!) pastors, professors, and denominational officials can stay in their comfortable echo chambers in a way that chaplains can't - whether they're serving in hospitals, prisons, universities, retirement centers, or elsewhere." So it’s official. We’re the cutting edge. Where it’s at. Etc. Woo hoo!

Droids on tour, part 5.

I also liked the Arc de Triomphe a lot. In fact we went twice. The two youngest did a spot of pigeon chasing as you can see.When we went in the evening and climbed to the top it was just amazing. You would have needed some kind of camera able to take a 360 degree picture to do it justice. This one is looking down the Champs Elysee. About half way down the photo on the left you may be vaguely able to spot a red canopy. We had our lunch under that on our first visit and couldn't believe how cheap it was considering it was on such a famous street near such a famous landmark. I could have sat there all day watching the world go by.I was thoroughly glad we were travelling by metro. For us driving in Paris would mean being on the "wrong" side of the road, but here in the Place de l'Etoile it would be just horrific. Looking down on it from above was scary enough. I have no idea how people negotiate it and come out alive.Walking down the Champs Elysee was fun too. Him Indoors bought me a new watch but not from this shop:It was a Swatch like this which I love because I can see the face without my specs.

Droids on tour, part 4.

I love curves in architecture so I was predisposed to like the Sacre Coeur basilica. Photography wasn't allowed inside, which was fair enough - people were trying to pray, in among the tourists like us gawping at everything and trying to shush our children.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Droids on tour, part 3.

We nobly gave up two days of our five full days in Paris, and two million pounds (it felt like) to take the kids to Disneyland. They thought it was totally wonderful. Having been adamant for years that I would never go and that if I did I would hate it, I have to admit I did enjoy myself. But I've no urge ever to go back. Mind you, it's not really designed for my age group and, as I say, the kids had a ball. I went on a rollercoaster or two (even going on Thunder Mountain - see photo - twice), but I drew the line at the Tower of Terror. The stunt show in the Studios was fab.

Droids on tour, part 2.

We rented a one bedroom flat on the east side of Paris but within the Route Peripherique. The living room had two sofa beds so it was a bit like caravanning. We're used to changing living room to bedroom in the caravan so it was fine. Incidentally the apartment is for sale so if you're interested, and your taste runs to navy blue velour walls in your bedroom and a black bathroom suite...

The apartment was just south of the world famous Pere Lachaise cemetery, where lie the earthly remains of some extremely famous people including, in no particular order, Marcel Marceau, Marcel Proust, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison, Gertrude Stein, and Oscar Wilde. To our British eyes it's a strange looking place. It's still used. A group were just leaving after a funeral as we arrived. The photo below the photo below was taken there and shows the beautiful autumn weather we enjoyed all week.

Also near our apartment, on the Saturday, was a market. It wasn't a tourist thing, but really French, and really fab.