Friday, 28 November 2008

Harlots, thieves and murderers...

I'm preaching this coming Sunday, as the minister of the church in question is out of the country. I was asked to pick a "rousing" hymn to start - one that would sound good on the organ. Since I don't know this particular congregation's repertoire of modern hymns, I thought I'd go for an old faithful, and what better than "Oh for a thousand tongues.."? That's a rhetorical question, folks. I'm not looking for the definitive answer.

Although there are others, this is the tune that's been traditionally popular in Scottish churches for this hymn, providing the congregations are big enough to handle dividing into two parts.

Anyway, I went on t'internet to check the words and discovered something I didn't know about this hymn. I grew up with it. It's been a staple part of most Scottish churches' repertoires (I can't speak for other countries), and even with the arrival of an abundance of modern hymns, it's never been dropped. I knew it was written by Charles Wesley (pictured). It was published in 1740, and apparently he wrote it to com­mem­o­rate the first an­ni­ver­sa­ry of his con­ver­sion to Christ. The stanza that be­gins “O for a thou­sand tongues to sing” (now our first line) is actually verse seven of Wes­ley’s orig­in­al po­em. Most churches would probably sing the first six verses below. What I hadn't realised was that the original poem had eighteen verses! I'll not be suggesting we sing all eighteen on Sunday, but I thought I'd cut and paste and post them here. Incidentally, it's not just fear of running out of breath or time that puts me off having all eighteen verses. You may see why:

O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!

My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.

Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
’Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
’Tis life, and health, and peace.

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

He speaks, and, listening to His voice,
New life the dead receive,
The mournful, broken hearts rejoice,
The humble poor believe.

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.

In Christ your Head, you then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

Glory to God, and praise and love
Be ever, ever given,
By saints below and saints above,
The church in earth and heaven.

On this glad day the glorious Sun
Of Righteousness arose;
On my benighted soul He shone
And filled it with repose.

Sudden expired the legal strife,
’Twas then I ceased to grieve;
My second, real, living life
I then began to live.

Then with my heart I first believed,
Believed with faith divine,
Power with the Holy Ghost received
To call the Savior mine.

I felt my Lord’s atoning blood
Close to my soul applied;
Me, me He loved, the Son of God,
For me, for me He died!

I found and owned His promise true,
Ascertained of my part,
My pardon passed in heaven I knew
When written on my heart.

Look unto Him, ye nations, own
Your God, ye fallen race;
Look, and be saved through faith alone,
Be justified by grace.

See all your sins on Jesus laid:
The Lamb of God was slain,
His soul was once an offering made
For every soul of man.

Awake from guilty nature’s sleep,
And Christ shall give you light,
Cast all your sins into the deep,
And wash the Æthiop white.

Harlots and publicans and thieves
In holy triumph join!
Saved is the sinner that believes
From crimes as great as mine.

Murderers and all ye hellish crew
In holy triumph join!
Believe the Savior died for you;
For me the Savior died.

With me, your chief, ye then shall know,
Shall feel your sins forgiven;
Anticipate your heaven below,
And own that love is heaven.

Singing "Cast all your sins into the deep, and wash the Æthiop white" wouldn't be such a good plan today. I was really shocked when I read that line, although having checked out some other stuff on t'internet, it seems as though the original intent wasn't as racist as it sounds. It was perhaps just talking about the apparently impossible being possible, and the change being as dramatic as that, rather than the implication being that the black skin of the Ethiopian was an indicator of moral inferiority. Whatever the case, I won't be putting it on the screen for singing on Sunday.

"Harlots and publicans and thieves in holy triumph join! Saved is the sinner that believes from crimes as great as mine. Murderers and all ye hellish crew in holy triumph join! Believe the Savior died for you; For me the Savior died". (It's interesting that publicans are included with the others as if on a par). I can't imagine our modern day congregations singing those words either! I've got to admit though, that I secretly quite like them. As someone who works with thieves and murderers, and some sons and brothers and partners of "harlots", I am all in favour of them being invited to join in holy triumph as forgiven sinners with the rest of us non-harlots/non-murderers/non-thieves. Good for Wesley.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Too many pieces.

I drove home from work today slowly, not because slowly is my normal driving style (it's not), but because I'd gone the scenic route (though it was dark) to avoid a traffic jam. Unfortunately I was not the only person who had thought of this cunning plan. As I was driving slowly along, in the dark, I was reflecting about all the stuff I had to do. This didn't improve my frame of mind. I was factoring in the visitors tomorrow, the preaching on Sunday, the fact I haven't seen my very ill mother-in-law for ages, but mainly the fact I haven't really thought about Christmas yet. I don't mean I haven't thought about the true meaning of Christmas (although I haven't much, recently); I mean I haven't got my to-do list for the practial stuff either workwise or domestically.

The image came into my head of a jigsaw with too many bits. I feel like there are too many bits in my life just now and my brain can't hold them all. ("The ship can't take it, captain", as Scottie on Star Trek was wont to say, but that's changing the analogy).

This week, Penultimate Child managed to complete her first 300-piece jigsaw without help. I helped her do it on Saturday and on Sunday she did it herself. It seems only yesterday she was at the stage of the big wooden 5-piece jigsaws with little plastic handles to hold each piece. It's great to see how her capability has increased. What I wouldn't do now, though, is put a 1000-piece jigsaw in front of her just now. That would put her off, and make her feel inadequate.

Am I the only one who feels like there's a 1000-piece jigsaw to be done but we only have the capacity for a 25-piece one?

I'm reminded of Noddy's wonderful statement on his sidebar: "God put me on earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind, I will never die"!

Don't get me wrong. I'm not sad about my too-many-pieces problem. The truth is I love all the pieces. I love all the people in my life. I love my job. The things I have to do are not bad things (apart from the housework). I don't want them taken away. I could do with at least double my not-very-impressive energy levels mind you, but this is the point:

Please God would you help me with this jigsaw? I can't do it on my own.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

We're all different. My branch of different is this:

How to Hide Jesus by Steve Turner

There are people after Jesus
They have seen the signs.
Quick, let’s hide Him.
Let’s think; carpenter,
fishermen’s friend,
disturber of religious comfort.
Let’s award Him a degree in theology,
a purple cassock
and a position of respect.
They’ll never think of looking here.
Let’s think;
His dialect may betray Him,
His tongue is of the masses.
Let’s teach Him Latin
and seventeenth century English,
they’ll never think of listening in.
Let’s think;
Man of Sorrows,
nowhere to lay His head.
We’ll build a house for Him,
somewhere away from the poor.
We’ll fill it with brass and silence.
It’s sure to throw them off.

There are people after Jesus.
Quick, let’s hide Him.

I love this poem. It says what I think, and how I feel. Once upon a time, when I was chaplain in a cancer-care day-centre, though that's not relevant to the story, I was invited to a lunch at a volunteers' trainer's house. We were all asked to bring a poem with us. Being the chaplain at the time I thought I'd take along this one which expresses how I feel about some church stuff. I went in full confidence that I'd be the only clergy person there. However, to my surprise an Anglican bishop had been invited. I'm not sure that he shared my enthusiasm for this poem. The Anglicans have a name for folk like me - they call us "low church".

Now that I've matured/aged, I get it that we're all different. I really do. Smells and bells (as we're inclined to describe "high church" rather cheekily) just do it for some folk and - now - I totally accept that. Robes and cassocks do it for some clergy and congregations and - now - I totally accept that, although I'd rather die than wear them myself. I think God made us all different because our different ways of doing church express different things about who He is. He's too BIG for us to grasp everything properly. So some of us, I reckon, are charged with the responsibility of emphasising and understanding His holiness. Some His awesomeness. Some His approachableness. Some His miracles of healing. Some just the sense of the numinous. Some major on preaching. Some on worship. Some on formal ceremonial. All these things express something important. It could be argued that the ideal would be a perfectly balanced ecclesiology that reflects every aspect of God. Certainly that's worth striving for, but I don't think, tbh, God's that fussed about achieving unity in the sense of union of denominations. What matters is that we can WORK together and just get on with it! Squabbling over minor differences is like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

The emerging church movement is asking really great questions of the institutional church at the moment. There are some very good questions to be asked back though. In the end, what will count is if we all stop looking at each other and working out how exactly all our fellow Christians should be labelled, and just march forward together. As I've mentioned before, working ecumenically outwith the traditional church structure has shown me just how quickly the regimental colours fade into irrelevance when we're on the front line together.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Today's post was brought by the letter p.

Over at A Cowboy's Wife's blog, I volunteered for a meme, which involved asking for a letter. I got the letter "P" and now I'm to list 10 things I LOVE that begin with the letter assigned. Since Him Indoors is in Norn Iron (as the Northern Irish pronounce it) for the weekend and I've already had the girls sit through "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" and made them sing along, I need something to distract me. (That's a lie - I never need any help to be distracted).

In no Particular order, and resisting the urge to use "Participating in..." before lots of non-p words, here goes.

1) I love Prisoners. Love isn't always a feeling. It's an act of the will. But the feeling comes along behind. I don't love what they've done. Some of their attitudes annoy me intensely. But I love them because I've chosen to do so, and I believe God has (a) asked me to do that and (b) enabled me to do that. I love them so much that quite often my secret reaction when they come, all excited, to tell me they are getting their parole is, "Oh no!"... I also love the Prison staff, even though I'm pretty sure some of them think I am an unnecessary expense and a waste of space. As I get to know them I begin to find I'm involved in the Pastoral care of some of them, though.

2) I love Pavement cafes in Paris, where we went on holiday in October. It was our first foreign holiday as a family and we loved seeing the sights, and experiencing the culture, so different from our own and yet not so very far from the UK. Now that we're getting into dreich Scottish winter days, I find myself revisiting the place in my head quite a lot these days.

3) I love Potter, Harry Potter. I know they're not really aimed at my age group but I love these books. I wish I could write like that - not just because I'd be mega-rich (!) but because I love how she creates a whole fantasy world. For example, it amuses me that I could describe to you the rules of quidditch and only remember half way through doing so that it isn't in fact real. Some Christians (mostly those who haven't read them) think the books are bad because they are about witchcraft. I find them to be about love, about being noble and heroic, about perseverance, and about self-sacrifice.

4) I love my very shabby Portacabin which passes for a chaplaincy centre at one of "my" jails. I have a photo of it but if I posted it here I'd have to kill you - official secrets act and all that. When I first saw it I could have cried but I love it now. It's home, it's in a very central spot, yet it's private, and the only thing I'd swap it for is a new one on the same site. I know it sounds very airy-fairy, but I like to think of it, and indeed of church buildings too, as being like a wee embassy of the Kingdom of God. According to the Bible, Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are aliens/foreigners/strangers in this world, here on a work permit rather than a tourist visa till we die and go home. Churches (and chaplaincies) work to Kingdom rules and values (or they're supposed to at least, and we certainly try). I like to think that when a prisoner, or indeed a member of staff, crosses the threshold into my crappy Portacabin, or when a local resident crosses the threshold into the church of which Him Indoors is the minister, they are stepping into an embassy where different rules apply from those they normally experience. In the kingdom of God, there aren't grades of human beings. All are loved equally and fiercely. All are accepted. Prisonworld especially, but society generally are prone to lots of "them and us-es". Not so in our embassies. I'm thinking of renaming the Portacabin the "Portanacle". A prisoner asked me one day what Tabernacles were in the Bible. When I said they were temporary dwellings, he said, "like a portacabin"!

5) I love my Parents and my Parents-in-Law. I recognise that the Privilege of having good parents is such a blessing that I shouldn't have taken it for granted when I was young, and now am determined not to. So many of our prisoners suffered for the lack of good parenting themselves as kids and it is being visited on the next generation.

6) I love my Partner. Yes, we are legally married, but husband doesn't begin with "p", does it? He's a star and I don't deserve him. We met in the street (!) in 1987, and were asked by our then minister to run a youth group together. One thing led to another, and we became engaged in 1990, three days after hearing that we had been accepted as candidated for the ministry. We were married in 1993 whilst still at university. He has more energy than me, and has done some sporting challenges such as biathlons and a marathon. He works really hard and keeps us all organised. He has the exact opposite taste in television from me. We solve this by one of us getting the remote control (usually him - I'm not so bothered about tv apart from all the "America's Toughest Jail" type programs which I gleefully watch when he's out) and the other one the computer (usually me).

7) I love my Progeny, seen here at Notre Dame in Paris. Known on this blog as Firstborn, Blue-eyed Boy, Penultimate Child and Youngest Child, their real names are: Pinky, Perky, Bubble and Squeak. No, they're not. I jest. They bring us lots of fun, and the fun outweighs the stress. Just. It's great to see them coming on, and although I miss having a baby in the house, I'm enjoying this stage. We are untroubled by the "terrible twos" of toddlerhood, and we still haven't reached the time when we will have four teenagers, and their attitudes, snarling at one another and at us. (They assure us they won't be like that). They love our church, and have a great circle of pals there. Recently I've been visiting an atheistic website where they get very upset about us Christians "indoctrinating" our children. I have commented a few times to the effect that all parents "indoctrinate" their children. There's no way round it. Children are like big sponges and will pick up whatever their parents believe. Even, I have argued, if you teach your children, as many of my very lovely non-Christian friends seek to do, that it's up to them what they believe, this is still a point of view. The kids will deduce that their parents think that it doesn't matter what you believe. That is a point of view. Our kids aren't force-fed the Christian faith. They could reject it now, though they'd still be coming to church, at least for childcare reasons (!) and they may reject it as adults, but there is no doubt in my mind that their faith is real and is their own.

8) I love Pride and Prejudice. I've read it so often I know bits off by heart. When the BBC series starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy (it's good to admire God's creation...) came out I remember hurrying home from an evening service I'd been preaching at in Partick in Glasgow to see it. In the scene in this picture, when he came up out of the water, I said to Him Indoors, "that's not in the book! Oh, but never mind, it's a good addition"! My daughters are hooked too. I love to hear them squealing about the awfulness of Mr Collins, or about Mrs Bennett's rudeness to Mr Darcy when she doesn't know what she owes them. They've also watched the Keira Knightley version and the Bollywood "Bride and Prejudice".

9)I love when our caravan is Pitched somewhere nice, and we get some Peace to chill out with a book while the kids Play. I'm definitely a People Person (I was thinking that this morning as I sat in a senior management meeting and found I was constantly distracted from the fascinating statistics we were looking at by thinking about the characters of the different people around the room) but, sometimes I can have too much of a good thing and then getting away from it all is Perfect, although I miss Perusing all the blogs I love to visit.

10) Lastly, I love Photographs. When the kids were wee, I fear it may have been because in the photos all four were clean and smiling AT THE SAME TIME whereas in real life this was less likely to be the case. We have a whole wall of photos of the kids in the living room. I'd take a photo of it to post here but I can't find my camera. I may edit this paragraph later! I hope to find it tomorrow to take our Puppy (now eight months old and not so puppy-like now) and Put one foot in front of the other and go for a nice walk somewhere. (Edit Sunday 23/11/08 - found camera, but not in time for either yesterday's walk or the beautiful snow scene which we woke up to today. The kids all enjoyed a snowball fight outside church after the service, and as usual I tried to convince them all I am highly allergic to snowballs).

Thanks, Cowboy's Wife. I enjoyed doing that. If anyone else wants to join in, please let me know and I'll assign you a letter and await your post with eagerness.


If you're feeling stressed, check out this post by Sage.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

What one teaspoon symbolised.

Because it is Prisoners Week, my Roman Catholic colleague and I held an ecumenical service in one of the jails tonight (we'll be repeating it all in the other prison) to which prisoners were invited but also members of local churches. I thought it went really well and I was particularly impressed by the spirit of unity. Amongst the many "outside" people, i.e. non-prisoners, there were at least six congregations represented (and that was on a night when Scotland and Argentina were playing!). We had some singing, courtesy of some musicians mostly from my colleague's church, and most of the usual components of a service - except for an offering. My colleague's homily was excellent. It was based on this:

"Matthew 25:31-46 (The Message translation)
When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what's coming to you in this kingdom. It's been ready for you since the world's foundation. And here's why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'
Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.'
Then he will turn to the 'goats,' the ones on his left, and say, 'Get out, worthless goats! You're good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.'
Then those 'goats' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn't help?'
He will answer them, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me — you failed to do it to me.'
Then those 'goats' will be herded to their eternal doom, but the 'sheep' to their eternal reward."

My colleague's message included the point that there are prisoners who are, in spite of the restrictions on them, actually fulfilling the calling of this passage and there are people on the outside who aren't at all, even though they have both the ability and the freedom to do so.

Before praying the Prisoners Week prayer out loud together (see two posts ago) a prisoner (NOT one incarcerated for wilful fireraising!) lit five candles. One was for the prisoners. One was for their families. One was for those who work in prisons. One was for the victims of crime. And the fifth was for the Church.

During the last hymn I suddenly remembered we hadn't brought any teaspoons over to the place where the service was happening. We had paper cups, coffee, tea, milk, sugar, biscuits, hot water, but no teaspoons. Then I noticed one prisoner (whom I don't yet know) had brought his mug - it was under his chair - and it had a teaspoon sticking out of it. As soon as the service was over, I asked him if we could borrow it, and our Prison Fellowship volunteer and her friend made coffee and tea for the entire congregation using one teaspoon, brought by a prisoner. I thought that was very symbolic, actually, of the unity that was in the air during the service. Such was the fellowship and chat going on at the end that we had to shoo them all out of the door just in time for prisoner lock-up.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Fools gladly welcomed.

Another clever cartoon from Jon Birch which made me smile.

I've never understood why "he didn't suffer fools gladly" is said as a compliment. Personally, being a fool myself, I have a big soft spot for fools.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Prisoners Week

This week is Prisoners Week. Various events are taking place across the country. Some of them are within prison and are for the prisoners particularly. The main idea of Prisoners Week, however, is to raise the Church's awareness of prisoners and remind them and urge them to pray. Also, it is to be hoped that in this week prisoners may learn that people in the Church love them in spite of the prisoners' offences, just as God loves us in spite of ours. This is grace. God's grace. Amazing grace. If you're the praying kind, please pray for prisoners. I can think of dozens of things to pray for but perhaps I can trust you to use your imagination about what to ask!! Pray too for the Churches, that we will all be able to be loving, merciful, forgiving, interceding models of grace.

The Prisoners Week Prayer

Lord, you offer freedom to all people.
We pray for those who are captives in prison
and those who are affected by or involved in their imprisonment.
Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist.
Support with your love: prisoners, their families and friends,
prison staff and all who care.
Heal those who have been wounded by the activities of others,
expecially the victims of crime.
Help us to forgive one another, to act justly, to love mercy,
and walk humbly together with Christ
in his strength and in his spirit now and every day.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Thought for the day.

"Jesus promised his disciples three things - that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble". F.R.Maltby.

"I like getting into hot water. It keeps you clean". G.K.Chesterton.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

For past and present both.

DULCE ET DECORUM EST, by Wilfred Owen.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Scotland-6 New Zealand-32.

This was taken (not by me - I got it here) earlier this evening at the Scotland versus New Zealand (All Blacks) rugby international in Edinburgh. We took the children, and although Youngest Child was bored to bits, the other three thought it was brilliant, especially the Haka at the beginning. I love it too, not just because of the thirty muscly legs and fifteen impressive chests, honest.

Firstborn wore her Jimmy hat (similar to the one pictured) and Blue-Eyed Boy wore his kilt, and a sporran. Strictly between you and me, said kilt belonged to my mother when she was a wee girl, but as it had first been her older (male) cousin's, we missed the grandma-owning-part out of the story when it was passed to him and he wears it with great pride. It was the kids' first visit to Murrayfield stadium and their first rugby international. Of course we were gubbed by the All Blacks. I say of course because we were expecting it, though obviously hoping for a fluky win. We did have some near-tries though and we could have lost by more considering the ability of our opponents. A chippy tea on the way home. Perfection.

Friday, 7 November 2008

It's SO not fair.

Injustice isn't fair. Obviously. That's the definition of it. But it really makes you want to say it aloud, or shout it aloud: "It's not fair".

One example I've been thinking about this week is the issue of false imprisonment. Many of our prisoners deny they committed the crime for which they were found guilty and sentenced. Most of them are lying (to themselves too, very often, and that's an interesting challenge to deal with). But occasionally there is a miscarriage of justice and a man is falsely imprisoned. I was speaking recently to a prisoner who claims to be innocent of the crime for which he was committed. This may be true. It may be lies. I take everything I'm told with a very large pinch of salt, which can't be good for my arteries.

Anyway, imagining for a brief moment that that prisoner is telling the truth about his innocence. He is in a dilemma. In order to progress towards release from prison, he must comply with all that is suggested to him in terms of addressing his alleged offending behaviour. If he goes before the parole board and denies his crime, this will not go down well. Likewise if he says he wasn't entirely to blame, for example he was acting in self-defence, that will be termed "minimising his crime" and won't go down well either. The best chance of progressing to parole and liberation is to demonstrate to the parole board remorse for the crime, and to have evidence of steps that have been taken to address the offending behaviour. I was asked recently, "What should I put in my letter to the parole board?" by a prisoner who doesn't want to say he committed the crime because (according to him) he didn't, but who doesn't want to stay in jail forever either. It's a conundrum. I have no idea if that particular individual is telling the truth or "full of it" but in general terms this is a real issue. And it makes me want to say aloud, "It's not fair".

I also wanted to say, or indeed shout, "It's not fair" when I sat with two prisoners in their fifties today who have recently been reunited after coming to our prison from two separate establishments. As boys/young teenagers, they were at the same approved school. I listened with horror to the stories of physical abuse they endured from the staff, and other inappropriate behaviour fromt the staff, only just falling short of sexual abuse in their stories, but according to them leading to sexual abuse for some of the other boys. Later I spoke to a younger man who grew up twenty years later in care homes and was also subject to sexual abuse. Again, I wanted to shout "It's not fair", and perhaps to stamp my feet for good measure.

It was also my privilege today to read an anthology of prisoners' poems (and some prisoners' artwork) which I hadn't seen before but which was published in one of the jails in Scotland. Much of it was absolutely superb. Really powerful descriptions of life prior to and during custody. This didn't make me want to shout so much as to sit and cry (if I'd had the space and time). How sad it was to reflect on the wasted talent among these guys whose lives have been given over to addiction and/or crime when they had so much going for them. And I know that many of those with such a lot going for them in terms of talent don't even recognise it in themselves. Society tells them they are the dross. Certain aspects of their behaviour have brought that upon themselves, but the potential for so much more was there, and it's sad. Desperately sad.

World's Easiest Quiz.

Someone I know sent me this in an email today, and, being ever unafraid to plagiarise, I thought I'd share it here. So you don't cheat, I'm putting the answers in the comments bit.

World's Easiest Quiz

(Passing requires FOUR correct answers. ONLY four.)

1) How long did the Hundred Years' War last?

2) Which country makes Panama hats?

3) From which animal do we get cat gut?

4) In which month do Russians celebrate the October Revolution?

5) What is a camel's hair brush made of?

6) The Canary Islands in the Pacific are named after what animal?

7) What was King George VI's first name?

8) What colour is a purple finch?

9) Where are Chinese gooseberries from?

10) What is the colour of the black box in a commercial airplane?

Remember, you need 4 correct answers to pass.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Jailhouse Rock.

I have very sore muscles on the front of my upper legs today. I am walking about like a very old woman, rather than like a moderately old woman as I normally do. When I left school, in the eighties, I was planning to be a doctor (probably a missionary doctor overseas) and I went to university to study medicine. I only lasted two years. I'm so squeamish I can't even watch Casualty on television, so why I ever thought I could be a doctor is a mystery to me even now. In spite of my squeamishness where blood is concerned, I was fine with anatomy dissection (not so fine with anatomy exams mind you) and spent five terms, along with a small group of other students, dissecting a cadaver and looking at diagrams like the one on the left. I haven't looked at such a diagram since until today when I thought I'd see what muscles it was that were sore.

How did my legs get into this sorry state? Well, yesterday afternoon, I took it upon myself to go round 200 cells, putting an information notice under each door. Unaccustomed as I am to physical exercise (apart from the mouth - talking, and the fingers - blogging) the bending down and standing up has taken its toll. Poor me. I'll get over it though, probably by tomorrow, and it was well worth the pain. Last night we had a gig in the jail, courtesy of two bands all the way from the U.S.A., who're over for a wee tour of Scotland, facilitated by Next Generation Mission. I was very taken with these young folk. "Manufactured Defects" were fab. I didn't have much notice that they could come, so I was determined to get the word out to the prisoners, and to make sure they all knew. Hence the postal round, and the sore legs. We were competing with Celtic versus Manchester United on the telly, but it didn't kick off till 7.45, and the gig started at 7pm. 50 or so guys came and seemed to enjoy it. Even the officers were volunteering for duty on security at the concert rather than their normal back shift duties. It is so appreciated (by me, and by the prisoners) when people are willing to come into the prison without the reward of either money or publicity. There was nothing "in it" for these young folk, except I suppose that they add a prison gig to their C.V., but they came because they cared, and that was cool. A few of the prisoners, who weren't rushing off to see the football, got to stay and chat with the band over Irn Bru and Highlander Crisps. One commented to me afterwards, "That's the first actual American person I've ever met"!

Today, my sore legs and I, once I'd met the new admissions, went to a regional meeting of Baptist Ministers to talk about prison chaplaincy. Because of the short notice of the concert last night, I'd had no time to prepare anything but managed to waffle for the best part of an hour. It was lovely to be there with these really nice fellows, because the prisons and I were so thoroughly prayed for at the end. I really appreciated that a lot. I was a little bit worried about going as a "woman minister", although if that were really an issue they wouldn't have invited me. In my denomination, there are loads of us heretics but I don't know if there are any female clergy in the Baptist denomination in Scotland at all. Anyway lunch was served at the meeting, and before I left I did the dishes, just in case any of them thought that was my place! I have a secret soft spot for the bappies actually, but don't let on, please.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

What kind of community?

Something particularly for those of you who're church folk, or who've been put off church by church as you've had the misfortune to experience it. I think it's a fab piece, and hat tip to That Hideous Man - who's not really hideous - for pointing me in its direction. It's from Tim Chester, who says:

"Is your community a community of performance or a community of grace? Try these diagnostic tests …

Communities of Performance:
the leaders appear sorted
the community appears respectable
meetings must be a polished performance
identity is found in ministry
failure is devastating
actions are driven by duty
conflict is suppressed or ignored
the focus is on orthodoxy and behaviour (allowing people to think they're sorted)
talk about grace, but communicate legalism
unbelievers can’t imagine themselves as Christians
don’t attract broken people
the world is seen as threatening and ‘other’
conversion is superficial (people are called to respectable behaviour)
people are secretly hurting
people see faith and repentance as actions that took place at conversion
the gospel is for unbelievers

Communities of Grace:
the leaders are vulnerable
the community is messy
meetings are just one part of community life
identity is found in Christ
failure is disappointing, but not devastating
actions are driven by joy
conflict is addressed in the open
the focus is on the affections of the heart (with a strong view of sin and grace)
people can see grace in action
unbelievers feel like they can belong
attract broken people
people are loved as fellow-sinners in need of grace
conversion is radical (people are called to transformed affections)
people are open about their problems
people see faith and repentance as daily activities
the gospel is for both unbelievers and believers".

I've not, fortunately for me, experienced in any way in many years what Tim Chester describes in the Communities of Performance category. I'm very thankful that my experience now is entirely in the Communities of Grace category, and that's why I'm an enthusiast for Church. But I know that Tim's not wrong, and church in some of its manifestations can be grim sometimes, and if I'd been on the receiving end for too long in a Community of Performance, I'd have a jaded outlook I'm sure. The wonderful thing, though, about doing church in a prison context is that in my opinion and experience it's the Communities of Grace thing that fits and works and happens naturally.

Monday, 3 November 2008

And now the road report.

There was a big traffic jam on the way to work this morning, so my journey took twice as long as usual. I'd been in such a hurry to leave that I was only half dressed (the important half, don't worry).

On the way out, I grabbed my necklace, my prison ID badge on attractive navy blue SPS logo-ed neckstrap, my belt and my keychain, as well as a hairbrush, but failed to have any breakfast apart from a mug of black coffee. In the various periods of being at a standstill, I managed to put on said necklace, ID badge, belt and keychain, to find my mobile and call reception to tell them I'd miss my first appointment with the new kids on the block (new admissions), to brush my hair (again, now that it was dry), to wonder what Bear Grylls could have foraged for on the verge for breakfast if he'd been there, to notice that the lorry driver beside me (clearly equally bored) had wound down his window and sprayed his wing mirror with a cleaning product and was now polishing it, and lastly to compose the first part of this blog in my head.

On the way home on a Monday night (usually 8.30pm till 9.30pm) I always listen to the cool show hosted by Stuart Marconi and Mark Radcliffe on Radio 2. Tonight, a guy (who works on London underground, though that's not relevant) phoned in to make a suggestion for the "The Chain", and when asked what he'd been doing that day, he said he'd been looking after his 18-month old daughter and that he was gradually learning this song which contains all the countries of the world (well, nearly all of them according to Wikipaedia). He sang us the first verse on air. I'd never heard it before and thought it was great so have googled it now to share with y'all. But what I really loved was his motivation. He wants to learn it so that he can teach his wee girl, so that by the time she's four she'll have an advantage over her peers. Isn't that great? Good for him. (And good for her).

I wasn't in the car all day of course. I did spend quality time with some prisoners in between whiles. Yesterday I posted on my facebook "what are you doing now?" bit, that I was looking forward to another fun day in prison, and I got a comment back from a prison chaplain in Albania which said, "yes sister, that's right, a fun day and a love day. Give some love to those people". I have the best job in the world, when I think about it, that I get paid for this. I also (however) got to attend a five hour meeting. Admittedly one benefit of it was that the room was lovely and warm and I've not been properly warm for weeks. (When I was a wee girl we lived in a manse, and my dad would sometimes host meetings in our front room. I'd be in bed upstairs, and being slow to get to sleep even then, would hear occasional bursts of laughter coming from below. I didn't really know what a "meeting" involved but I thought it must be GREAT to go to a meeting. Be careful what you wish for, that's all I can say).

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Hens' Convention.

Last night I was at a friend's house for a Girls' Night In. Her middle child and our youngest child were in nursery together, which is how we met. Those I knew amongst the company were also mostly fellow mums befriended at the nursery or school gate. It was fab. Just fab.

Since I started full time work, Him Indoors does the school run. (By next year there won't be one, as they'll be able to walk unaccompanied - my babies!) But I do miss the school gate blether with my chums and it was great to see them again and catch up. I was there for five hours but the time just flew by.

I realise that most of my time is now spent in the company of males, both incarcerated and staff. Apart from my years as a full time mum and a spell as a hospice chaplain, my life has been like that a lot. I worked in a night shelter at one time and the staff were nearly all men, and the clients were all male too. When I worked, in the late eighties, for the Department of Social Security, almost all the staff my grade were male. We used to go out after work on a Friday to the pub sometimes, and it was a Real Ale bar, a very male domain, where I would alternate a half pint of cider and a diet coke for each pint they drank (I got to contribute a proportionately smaller sum to the kitty as a result!). When I left there and went to university to study theology, Him Indoors had already been there for a year and I joined his crowd - male again. I've never minded being "one of the boys", but not all the time, so last night was a lot of fun. I must organise something similar some time, although looking at the diary, it could be January at the earliest, and my snack selection won't be up to the standard Fiona achieves so apparently effortlessly.

My mum and her old school friends, by the way, have met up for a meal several times a year ever since they left school. I think that's great. Now they're all retired, they can go out for lunch at a restaurant, but they used to take turn about to host the group for an evening meal at home. I remember well the times when it was my mother's turn. My brother, dad and I would be fed in the kitchen, and my dad would be in a mildly bad mood. Not really a bad mood exactly, but I just don't think he knew what to do with himself. Once he had a workshop, he went and hid out there. He had a name for such an evening, which gave me the title of this post. He referred to it as the Hens' Convention. Cheek.