Monday, 28 December 2009

I've had a Nice Year.

Sometimes I think working full time doesn't give enough time for life outside, but when I look back on 2009 I've got to admit I've had a pretty happy year. Thank you Lord.

Could this be Jack Frost?

My dad took this picture in his garden. He calls it "Ice Man in the Grip of Winter". It even has a face!

Monday, 21 December 2009

You may have thought I was dead since I've been away so long, but I'm not. All is well in the world of AnneDroid, thankfully. At least nothing's wrong that a fortnight on my own somewhere sunny wouldn't cure, but that's not on offer, sadly.

Prison at Christmas is kind of depressing but my children at home are so hyper that my mood is stabilised somewhere in between.

In both prisons I work in we had carol services. They were both really great. Admittedly, the second one was a challenge to me as I was throwing up all over the place and wanted to lie down all the time (I have since got better but shared my bug with three of the other five people in this house). The first one was a revelation to me, though. We had a drummer, who is a prisoner, and a guitarist (the husband of a local minister) and someone to lead the singing - the minister who is married to the guitarist. She turned up with a big shopping bag. I couldn't imagine what was in it and was astonished (that's not a strong enough word, btw) when she produced bells, shakers and tambourines for all the guys. I was thinking, "No! No! No! Scotland's Toughest will never wear this! They'll never shake bells and rattle tamourines - they'll laugh in your face." But how wrong I was. The guys had a whale of a time. When I got up at the end to thank everyone, I found I was pretty deaf between the drums and the bells and tambourines. Then we had coffee and mince pies, and, for a little while at least, it was as if none of us were in a prison at all. I love these moments. So often, at chaplaincy events, I've had guys say to me, "It's great to get out of the prison for a wee while" and yet of course we're right in the middle of the prison.

This evening I've been writing Christmas cards to the prisoners. Many of them will get Christmas cards of course, from family and friends, but we do have a significant number of guys who won't otherwise get a single card from anyone. As the wife of a parish minister, we get heaps and heaps of Christmas cards. Sometimes we don't even know who they're from to be honest. If it says "Bill and Anne" or "Jim and Mary" we have to think "Which Bill and Anne?", "Which Jim and Mary?" and so on. But if you either genuinely have no one, or more likely, your behaviour, your crime, your addiction, whatever, has alienated everyone you know, and all your relatives, then you may well get no Christmas cards.

I know it's an insanely busy time of year for most of us, but if you're the praying kind please remember in prayer those who will have no Christmas cards this year: not because cards matter or are useful particularly, but because of what that means - people who have no one who cares enough to send them a card. Even if it's their own fault. That's not the point. To succeed in desisting from crime, the evidence suggests, people need strong and significant supportive relationships.

Recently I was at a meeting where people from a charity for the homeless were speaking. As it happens both of them were former homeless alcoholics themselves. They were talking about the difference that their drop in centre has made in the life of people. Those who come along have next to no real friends to start with and yet in a short time have a circle of people who really care and really are their friends.

I am thinking this Christmas of someone who is enjoying his first Christmas on the outside for many years. When I first met him, in prison, he told me he could see two possible futures for himself - one as a dope-smoking hermit and one as involved in a local church somewhere. The latter he was shy of, though, and apprehensive about. I'm delighted to see what God has done in his life. He has been baptised since leaving prison. He is at church every week and home group midweek. The church he has gone to have been welcoming and supportive. And, on top of that, or below that as a foundation perhaps, he has friends now. A network of friends - he'll have had Christmas cards this year. And that's significant.

Santa's a Scotsman!

I posted this last year but hey ho! I love it and may just post it every December. The video could be better but the song is ace.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Sanctuary First.

I'm really proud this week because it is my prayers and my chosen Bible readings which are in the daily worship bit of Sanctuary First's website, all this week (30 November to 6 December).

And they thought I'd never amount to anything! Huh!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Parenting.

These two brain scans come from Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., of the Baylor College of Medicine. The image on the left is a CT scan of a normal healthy three year old child, average in head size, intellect etc. and the image on the right is the brain of a three year old child suffering from severe sensory neglect.

I was shocked by the contrast in these images. I hadn't realised that neglected children were affected mentally in a literal, physical, neurological way by what had happened to them. I suppose I vaguely imagined their main problems were due to bad example and lack of love and so on.

The poor little child in the slide is an extreme example, admittedly, but the truth is that there are actual neurological consequences to neglect in children. In particular, there are fewer connections in the brain than there should be, and the bits of the brain that enable us to understand where other people are coming from, to have empathy, to have sensitivity to the complex feelings of people around us, don't get the chance to develop very well in the neglected child. These children are therefore biologically more likely to end up behaving in an anti-social manner in the future as they don't understand the effects on other people's feelings of their actions.

I want to encourage anyone who is involved in working with young children in any way that all the time you give is worthwhile. I used to be involved as a volunteer in helping to run a parent and toddler group and my really wonderful friends Gillian and Norma are faithfully still involved, and have been since their own fourteen year olds were babies.

These early years are so critical.

This is a concern to me in Prisonworld too. It seems to me that huge resources should be devoted to parenting classes for prisoners (and perhaps their partners too, in some circumstances). So many of our prisoners had really appalling childhoods, as the children of alcoholics, drug addicts, neglectful or abusive parents. Also, many were in care as children and/or are the sons of parents who were themselves in prison. I have heard some stories that are so horrendous I nearly wept to hear them.

We need, as a society, to do all we can to break this dreadful cycle.

But cynically, I suspect that the problem is that there are no votes in this. It's too long term, isn't it? It's about sowing seeds now that might bear fruit in eighteen years. In party political election terms, that's too far in the future...

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Team Hoyt and the Father's love.



You may have seen this DVD clip before. If not, you're in for a really special treat if you watch it.

But.... can you imagine the immense privilege of watching this with a bunch of prisoners who are having the Fatherly love of God explained to them, in some cases for the first time? I don't need to imagine it! I have experienced it, and it was a very special thing indeed.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Prisoners Week 2009


This is Prisoners Week. Here is the official Prisoners Week Prayer:, though I'm sure the Lord would be at least as happy with an unoffical one, if it's from the heart.

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.
Amen.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Good News for a Change.

Some time ago I pointed you in the direction of the blog of a fellow prison chaplain in Scotland whose new initiative I'm a big fan of. It was really very encouraging to read this update on his blog, especially since I know one or two of the men he's talking about.

Prisoners can be at services every week during their sentence but as I've often spoken about here, it's very difficult for many - most, even - of them to make the transition to church on the outside. The first wee while out of jail is very difficult generally for lots of other reasons too. It is so wonderful to know that these guys are managing, with a bit of facilitation, to support and encourage each other.

I've been invited to go along myself sometime, which I'm looking forward to. Meanwhile, if anyone has a spare house, or a spare minibus, or some spare money, do let me know!! Or if not, your prayers would also be much appreciated.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Man Judges By Outward Appearance.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later: the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

6 minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes: A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes: The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

Thanks to Sonja for sending me this story. It's a hugely powerful one and illustrates a big problem I see in Prisonworld. Many prisoners have a skill or a talent of some sort which would be of benefit to society. Unfortunately, when they are released from prison, these talents will probably be overlooked and ignored because of the giant label they carry which says "ex-offender", together with the other giant label many of them have which says "underclass".

One question is just how to get society to see past these labels and see the gifted person within, and I don't know the answer. Another question is how to get the guys themselves to see past their own perceptions of themselves. So often, to the frustration of their families, and of us who work with them, just when they have achieved a success of some kind, they shoot themselves in the foot with, for example, a drug failure. It's as if they don't really think this new identity fits properly, and it's easier to go back to the familiar, in spite of the fact they know very well where the familiar has got them.

As a Christian working in a jail, it's fab to be able to tell guys who come to the services that God is already impressed with them. He doesn't care about their background or lack of education. He doesn't care that they have a criminal record. He doesn't walk past them, like the folk on the underground walked past the violinist, dismissing him as of no significance. He loves them and thinks they were worth His own Son Jesus. I tell them that when they get "libbed" (liberated, released) they should find a church to go to. I tell them that in the church, also, they will be loved for who they are. I hope that's true.

Monday, 28 September 2009

What Am I Here For?


Powerful stuff, this. Thanks to Claire for sending it to me:

"I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of His and I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still.

My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m done and finished with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed visions, mundane talking, cheap living, and dwarfed goals.

I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, or first, or tops, or recognized, or praised, or rewarded. I live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by Holy Spirit power.

My face is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road may be narrow, my way rough, my companions few, but my guide is reliable and my mission is clear. I will not be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice or hesitate in the presence of the adversary. I will not negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won’t give up, shut up, or let up until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ.

I am a disciple of Jesus. I must give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes. And when He does come for His own, He’ll have no problems recognizing me. My banner will be clear!

-Found among the papers of a young Zimbabwe pastor after he was martyred"

I'm going to put these words up on the wall beside my desk at work.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Football For Life.

I'd love you to read this and then watch this:



It's lovely to be part of a good news story for a change. The media persecute us mercilessly, as a rule. Mindless stories about mollycoddled bad guys sell papers but don't help anyone else.
The Football For Life project in South Africa is just fab. The kids the project aims to help are growing up in poverty and gangland culture. Many of them are fatherless too. The football coaches are trained to mentor the kids they work with, using football as a distraction from gang activity, and a way to channel gang rivalry (better to fight it out metaphorically through a football match than literally fight it out). Along with the football they deliver messages about health, and some education, and a bit of surrgogate fatherhood. I think it's a wonderful thing but it's not just what I think - there is statistical evidence for the reduced murder rate in the area, for reduced teenage pregnancy among the girls they're working with, etc..
Glasgow The Caring City are our main link with the Monte Christo Ministries project in South Africa, and they are in partnership with World Emergency Relief who made the video.
If you're looking for a project for your church or school you could contact Ross at Glasgow The Caring City and offer to sponsor a team in South Africa for their football kit for a year. £250 is an achievable sum (a non-uniform day at school or a dress down day at work, for example?) which would make a world of a difference to the lives of these kids. But they'd accept any money of course. I know for a fact that their football shirts and boots would be their most prized possessions. The plan is eventually to post the projects' football teams' scores on the internet so that folk can follow the performance of the team they're sponsoring. What with the World Cup being in South Africa (without Scotland though, sadly) it is a project that has the potential to capture the imagination of kids as well as prisoners.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

What's your view?

I've not been calling by here much. I go through phases of things and just now I'm in a Facebook phase. Facebook's amazing - this week I've reconnected with my schoolfriend, who was my bridesmaid way back in 1993. And recently I've also reconnected with a former colleague from my days working for the Department of Social Security (as it was called then). I remember debates we had in the pub at work nights out, he being a convinced atheist and me being an equally convinced Christian. Well, nearly twenty years on we've picked up from where we left off. (Incidentally I don't think debating/arguing really works in achieving anything - we just get more and more entrenched. So maybe I should quit while I'm (not) ahead.)

I thought I'd share today's debate.

In the unlikely event I have any readers left here after my faithlessness as a blogger of late, you'd be welcome to join in/argue with either or both of us.

Norman's post, which started it, was: "Blasphemy is a victimless crime." Richard Dawkins.

Then it went like this:

Neil: What a hero.

AnneDroid: Been thinking about this. I would happily fight for the right for people to blaspheme if they want. Free speech etc. But at the same time it actually really hurts us as Christians to hear blasphemy and I don't really get why people want to use God's name/Christ's name all the time the way they do... what do they get out of it? I never say anything but I don't like it. I do know Dawkins wasn't thinking of humans as victims by the way and it was a very clever joke!

Norman: Oh, it's just a joke of course. However, if you make it a crime, as I believe they have just done in Ireland, then it ceases to be funny. Would you hang Dave Allen?

AnneDroid: No I love him. Which I suppose shows I'm not always offended, as with Dawkins' joke which doesn't offend me either.

Norman: It's a question of how we all get along together. The Danish cartoons of Mohammed were deliberately provocative and some Muslims love to be provoked. I am an atheist but have a Christian background and many Christian friends. We all rub along well enough until a subject comes up that divides us on faith lines. The Scott Rennie business, for example.

Neil: The trouble with blasphemy as a crime is that nobody else is protected by the law from being offended. I have no doubt Christians are hurt by some blasphemous comments but I was hurt the other day by the teenage girls following me down the street calling me a fat smelly bastard. I just have to deal with it and get on with life. Christians, I am afraid, need to develop thicker skins.

AnneDroid: Yes Neil that's very true.

Norman: Well, of course behind the idea of a sanction for blasphemy is the idea of any law being dictated by religion. That's less about the sensitivity of Christians than their wish to force their views on others. The various attempts to force Schools to teach Creationism in Science classes for example. That is applied ignorance which cannot be tolerated.

Neil: Hear hear.

(few hours gap)
Norman: AnneDroid, I don't know if you are so offended by the tack this discussion has taken that you've decided to say nothing, however I'd be interested in your view on Christian values in a secular society.

AnneDroid: No not offended esp as my thought for the day is to develop a thicker skin!! Gross over simplification of my view: don't want a Christian version of Shariah law imposed on you or anyone else. But do think kids at school should be taught what faith groups believe, inc that many believe God made the world. Have had many a debate with an atheist who in fact doesn't really know what we believe at all. Appreciate some values are shared between us and secular law, eg "do not murder" and some aren't, eg "do not commit adultery", "do not covet", "love your neighbour as yourself" etc.. That's fine - we can and do live with that tension. But on the other hand as a mum I do sincerely wish some of the messages of the secularist media and state education were not constantly washing over my kids as if they were absolute fact.

Norman: I can live with most of this but "...on the other hand as a mum I do sincerely wish some of the messages of the secularist media and state education were not constantly washing over my kids as if they were absolute fact." Example/s?

AnneDroid: E.G.! (1) that women are to be judged according to their appearance - "read" any women's or men's magazine. (2)That people are valued by what they have - the constant use of the word "worth" in the media - so and so is "worth" sixty million pounds or whatever. (3)That school age sex is just the next developmental stage and nothing to do with belonging in a long term committed relationship - the way it is sometimes presented even by healthcare and educational workers but certainly in the popular teen media. (4) the rampant mateiralism/consumerism - my mobile phone is so last year so I must have another one. (5) the big atheist lie that we must choose between science and faith which is total crap. I love science and the more I learn about it the more my faith is encouraged. I think of at least three Christians I know well who are nuclear physicists, one of whom has twice shown me round CERN, and so on. (6) the fact every time a religious person appears in a TV drama they are mad.

Norman: I'm not sure if any of these are taught in schools! They're certainly not the values of everyone and " the big atheist lie that we must choose between science and faith" is not a universal view among atheists either.

Useless Junkies or People?


This was a totally harrowing programme to watch the night before last, highlighting very graphically (think before you decide to watch this clip) the horrific misery of drug addiction. I'm glad I watched it, but it was difficult to watch. Ben was miserable and his family were miserable. It was brave of his family to allow their story to be shown but it would be wonderful to think it might have put off someone from going down that path.

Prisonworld is, of course, full of people for whom drugs is a part of their story. Some were addicted and getting a prison sentence has saved their life and they have managed to get clean. Some had never touched drugs at all and have only taken drugs since coming into prison, perhaps even getting to the stage where it is an addiction. Some were drug dealers, smugglers, couriers, and of course of those some were small time and some were big time. I've never used drugs myself but I've come to hate them with a passion as a result of seeing the devastation they cause. The addicts are miserable. So are their families. And of course there are also other victims - drugs are expensive and have to be paid for, sometimes through crime.

And yes, I do know lots of folk use them recreationally and don't get addicted. They would, with some justification, point to my drinking a glass of wine sometimes of an evening and say "that's a drug" and so it is, I admit it, though thankfully I'm not addicted. So also caffeine is a drug, which I've lapsed back into big time in spite of my good intentions, here and the first part of this last year.

I really hate heroin, cocaine, cannabis and all of them. I hate the whole world that goes with it. Crime, lies, violence, deception, death, and all kinds of unimaginable seediness. Legalising drugs might take away some of that, but it certainly wouldn't take away what Ben went through. From what I gathered from the program, Ben's family helped him fund his habit, with good intentions, although his poor father was then obliged to keep working till 71 when he died from cancer without having the opportunity to retire. I can imagine I might put up the finance too if it was one of my children. Parents don't want their daughter funding their drug habit by prostituting themselves or their sons doing so by mugging old ladies in the street. No wonder they subsidise them.

I've no idea what the solutions are, although I guess making simplistic pronouncements obviously isn't one of them. It's complex and we need to face up to that.

Certainly, amongst other things we need a different attitude, as a society, to the problem. In this country, there are huge waiting lists in some areas to get access to rehab, or a methadone prescription as the services are hugely under-resourced and stretched beyond capacity. It seems to me that the powers that be probably reckon there's no votes in helping drug addicts. Tabloids paint them as the villains and people don't want to see "useless junkies" getting taxpayers money.

It's my privilege as a prison chaplain to love people for a living, but do you know what? Even if you hate "useless junkies", then for selfish reasons alone, you should want to help them, as you may save yourself being a victim of their crime, or from having to fund through your taxes a costly prison sentence (well over £30,000 a year I think) for someone who might instead be working and paying tax.

Ben's story showed powerfully how low drugs can take a person. It also showed that drug addicts are real human beings with feelings, who didn't plan to be drug addicts and who wish they weren't . Their offences may offend us a lot, but they are still worthy of our compassion. And prayer.

Friday, 4 September 2009

West Highland Way.

Him Indoors and Blue Eyed Boy recently completed the West Highland Way along with some other hardy souls from our church, and the very talented Big Nathan (there's also a Wee Nathan) put it together into a video. (You may remember this, which was really awesome).

Watch this with your sound on:

Sunday, 30 August 2009

When Harry met Great-Gran.

I've sort of lost my blogging mojo recently, though I think only temporarily. But I've just been driven back here to post this photo, freshly nicked from my brother's wife's Facebook photos.

In the picture are two very special people we're delighted still to have with us. My gran was 102 back in April. And my little nephew (her great-grandson) was really about as ill as you can get after he was born in July, but is now absolutely thriving, as you can see.

We are so grateful as a family for all the prayers for Miracle Boy. Some of the prayers were from pray-ers who've never met me but who read this blog and that meant a huge amount to me. I was also very touched by the fact that one of the people praying was a former prisoner, who is a Christian. He not only was praying himself, but had contacted his mum, who lives about 400 miles away, and is also a Christian. She had got her whole church prayer group on board as well, praying for the nephew of someone she had never met.

Prayer works, I have no doubt. Well actually quite often I do have doubt, when it comes to the crunch, and I'm mid-panic, but when I'm, as it were, in my right mind, I really do believe in prayer. From experience.

I know prayer's not a magic wand. God isn't a fairy godmother there to do our bidding and sometimes the answer is "no" or "not yet" or "yes but in a different way from you were thinking", but God is good, and he answers prayer, often with a simple "yes". What I never doubt, though, is that he's always infinitely more ready, willing and able to answer our prayers than we are willing to make the effort/take the time to do the praying.

To those who've prayed for Harry, I just want to say thank you, absurdly inadequate though those two little words are.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Ten Commandments are for Scots too.

Over the summer we've been doing a series on The Ten Commandments at our church. Him Indoors was away the first week so I got to kick it off. He was away on Sunday just past too, and left me to try and fit "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, and you shall not steal" into one week which was a challenge - you'd think he would have known how many Sundays it would take for a series on the TEN commandments, but never mind.

After the first service, a lady in the church sent me the following, which I think is great. Apologies for non Scots readers - you'll have to look up the translation in Exodus 20:3ff.

"In Brief" by W.A. Noble

I am the only God ye'll hae,
Nae images o' gowd nor clay.
In vain ye daurna tak my name,
My day o' rest - ye'll day the same.
Honour yer faither an' mither baith.
Tae slay a fellow man be laith.
The bridal vows ye'll nae disdain,
Nor tak' awa' whit's nae yer ain.
Than tellin' tales ye'll hae mair sense,
An aye respect yer neighbour's fence.

Grace apparently found this treasure in the Church of Scotland's "Life and Work" magazine "many, many, many years ago". Good, isn't it?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Glad of A Dad.

Who Do You Think You Are? on BBC 1 this evening was very moving. Kim Cattrall was researching the mystery of her grandfather's disapperance, after he walked out on her mum and her sisters when they were young children in Liverpool.

I won't say what the solution to the mystery was in case anyone is planning still to watch it, but the mystery was resolved. It wasn't a happy story though.

What struck me powerfully and moved me so much was to see how Kim's mum and aunts were still, seventy years on, not "over it". The tears were obviously, all these years after the event, very close to the surface and the sense of hurt and abandonment was STILL having a very serious negative effect at a very deep level.

Kim's grandfather wasn't in prison, but the program did make me think about the children effectively "abandoned" through the imprisonment of their parents. I read the other day that EVERY YEAR thirteen and a half thousand children in Scotland (and we're only a wee country) lose a parent to prison.

Some families survive this separation and are reunited happily when the sentence is over. But sadly many families don't.

There are many reasons why the relationships don't last. Some guys just think it's easier to be single in prison. "Doing a sentence with a partner on the outside is like doing double time", I've been told umpteen times. Some guys think they're doing the noble thing by not asking the partner to wait. Other times they get a Dear John letter or phone call. And there are many other scenarios.

Unfortunately, lots of our prisoners have no contact at all with their children. Sometimes they've been told to stay away (perhaps with the back up of the force of law) because of their previous behaviour. Other times they seem to be content to break the contact voluntarily. I don't know if their self esteem is so low that they think their kids are better off without them (the preferable explanation actually) of if they really and truly don't care about their children.

For the children of the latter category of prisoner, my heart grieves. How awful for them to grow up in the knowledge that their father chose to cut the ties. How awful for a child to feel abandoned, rejected and unloved. It was heartbreaking to watch Kim Cattrell's mum and aunts still struggling after seventy years to come to terms with their abandonment by their father.

I've been concentrating on the kids of our prisoner population in my thinking. But these guys were kids once. The statistics about the percentage of prisoners without a father's presence in their childhood are astonishing. Some of my colleagues in other jails have successfully distributed Mothers Day cards for prisoners to send to their mums for Mothers Day but attempts to do similar things for Fathers Day have always fallen flat on their face. So few prisoners have or have had good dads present in their lives. It's desperately sad. How can they be good dads to their own kids, with the added pressure of doing it from jail, if they don't know about fatherhood? Some think being a dad is about buying designer labels for their children out of their ill-gotten gains. I have a notice on my office wall that says "Dads! Kids need your presence, not presents", a response to a guy who used to boast about what a good dad he was because he sent heaps of money out to his 15 year old daughter. He had done so for most of her life he said. But he'd been in jail most of her life. Designer trainers can never replace the blessing of a loving dad in your home, or as near as can be.

I am so blessed with my lovely dad.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Update!

Harry, who is two weeks old today, is now free of all his tubes and wires. His progress has been amazing - he was very very sick indeed. His improvement has been wonderful. Thank you very much indeed to all who prayed. I can't wait to meet him.

I'm back to work now after three weeks' holiday, feeling refreshed and enjoying both the banter and the more serious pastoral contacts.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Another Prayer Request.

Please would you pray for my 5 day old nephew Harry. He is critically ill but stable. Today he has shown a very slight improvement but it is still very early days. Please pray that this would continue and that he wouldn't catch any infections. Pray for his mum and dad too. Thank you so much.

I've popped into an internet cafe on holiday to post this. Modern technology is a great thing in these circumstances. Through texting, twittering, facebook, email and this blog, as well as old fashioned word of mouth, Harry is being prayed for far and wide. My brother is also finding it easier to keep all the relatives abreast of news through texting rather than having to phone everyone constantly.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

School's Out For The Summer.

I post this video in honour of the four very excited kids who left the house this morning and who finish at 12 noon for seven whole weeks. In the case of Blue Eyed Boy, it's a case of "Primary School's out for ever", to edit Alice Cooper's lyrics slightly. After the summer I will have two kids at primary and two kids at secondary, which if nothing else is satisfyingly symmetrical. Blue Eyed Boy didn't really bond with school (!) through the first six years and would much rather not have bothered, thank you very much. However, his last year has been a good one, and his two taster days at the secondary school have impressed him (mainly the bunsen burners really).

Do you remember that "school's out for the summer" feeling? I do. There's absolutely nothing like it is there? Adult time off work isn't the same because you still have all the responsibilities at home. I was reflecting this morning that perhaps it feels like that when you die and enter eternal life, free from sin and sadness and worry, for ever.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

A Great Role Model.

If you've only time to read one post, please read yesterday's one instead!

We were privileged at church this morning to have Olympic swimmer Kirsty Balfour with us to present the prizes at the Sunday School prizegiving and to talk a little about her faith which has sustained her through the highs and lows of her swimming career. Our own Penultimate Child is a keen swimmer and was beside herself with excitement at this.

In the absence of a kitchen (we now have a working sink though, and the washing machine is plumbed in - woohoo!) we went out for lunch afterwards with Kirsty and her husband David.

Afterwards, Penultimate Child was given a present of a swimming cap with the Bejing Olympics logo and "Kirsty Balfour" on it, which will be a treasured possession. Then they had their photo taken together, then swapped tracksuit tops - just for the photo of course.

It's great for our daughter to have hsd this experience today of a really positive role model from the sport she loves and it's great that Kirsty and her husband are involved in the youth work in their own church so that they can be role models for their young folk.

Kids look up to role models; they can't help it. We are designed to seek role models as we grow up. Unfortunately our current celebrity culture doesn't always offer the best of role models for young folk but it's great that there are positive examples in our communities if we look for them.

What makes me sad in Prisonworld is that so many guys I work with haven't really ever had good role models in their lives and what makes me even sadder is when I see "STP"s (short term prisoners) look up to "lifers" (life sentence prisoners) and treat them with a sort of reverence, as if they were something to aspire to.

I'd like to see more mentoring for prisoners, people who would model a pro-social lifestyle but in an informal friendly way. Prison officers and social workers can't do it. The prisoners almost don't see them as human beings! But volunteers getting alongside them through playing football, doing artwork, participating in Bible studies, and just "chilling" would seem to me to be a good way to go. Unfortunately that's not as easy as it sounds to achieve, with all the security implications that go along with it. And the media seem to prefer to encourage society to adopt the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" approach.

But for those who haven't so much gone off the rails as who've never even seen the rails, it seems to me that positive role-modelling would be well worth a bit more experimenting with.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Nightjack.

Mr Nighttime drew my attention to this article. I find it very very sad as Nightjack was one of my favourite bloggers. I didn't always agree with what he said, but I thought that he remained the right side of the line and was a super writer. I also felt that it was good that the police has people in it who care so passionately that the powers-that-be should act with integrity and wisdom.

Recently I've been frustrated by some of what is allowed legally to masquerade as journalism in our tabloids. There is so little redress if there are inaccuracies in a newspaper story. If you do manage to get a retraction, it's a tiny one-liner buried near the back of the paper. I know that compared to some totalitarian states we have "free" press and I'm grateful - very grateful in fact. However free doesn't mean fair and well-balanced.

Blogging gives people - ordinary people who aren't either journalists or politicians - a voice and Nightjack generally used his extremely well, I thought. People who work in the public service and who are passionate about their jobs and want to see the system be as good as possible aren't dangerous anarchists. They're ambassadors for their profession. We who read blogs have brains and can reject what we read. On the other hand we who read blogs may also have our horizons broadened and our understanding deepened. One of the things I love about reading blogs is that I get an insight into new spheres, and I'd be really sad if public servants felt that blogging was just too risky.

Incidentally you can hear his writing being discussed on this BBC program back in May when he won the Orwell prize for his writing.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Kitchen Sink Drama

Our current kitchen and our temporary kitchen.

I'm more worried about missing my washing machine than the cooker! Do you think I could use the prison laundry? In a couple of weeks it'll be worth all the upheaval though. The old kitchen was literally falling apart. The other week the drawer unit fell apart, all by itself.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Chris Moyles - our ambassador!



Various friends featured this on Facebook. It's just nice to hear positive, happy, fun, accurate comments about church from media rather than some of the frankly ignorant crap I've read recently in some newspapers from folk who'd obviously not been to church themselves for a hundred years. Chris Moyles hadn't actually been to this Peterborough church but had seen it on tv and was clearly impressed.

The commonest reaction to our church from people who come along to a special occasion and who hadn't been to church since childhood is much more along the lines of Chris Moyles' reaction than anything negative. When I take prisoners out to church, as I do sometimes, they are generally blown away.

Certainly some self-indulgent and luddite churches have turned themselves into stale museums where eveyone's pretending it's still the nineteenth century but there are others like ours who're GOOD places to visit. Happy, relaxed, cringe-free, positive, warm, non-judging and friendly.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Do you have a WEE car?

If you switch on our computer after the kids have been on, chances are the background (desktop wallpaper) will have changed. This one made me laugh. Thanks kids.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Exodus.

Here is a brilliant thing; good news amongst all the bad news which depresses us daily. Please, those of you who're the praying kind, get your praying muscles behind Exodus. I know some of those involved and it's fab, and so necessary.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Happy Pentecost, y'all.

video
We liked this video from Albert, one of our favourite ministers - well in the top 200 anyway (don't want him to get big headed).

Christians sometimes mump their gums about Christmas being an overcommercialised Santa-fest and then at Easter we're inclined to moan about society's fixation with bunnies, chicks and daffodils. We want folk to know about the incarnation, the crucifixion and the resurrection. We get opportunities at Christmas and Easter, as the Church, to tell the story, as the world does nod in our direction at these seasons.

At Pentecost, on the other hand, we're left entirely to our own devices. Given the huffing and puffing some of us do at Christmas and Easter we should be pleased to be left alone at Pentecost.

Pentecost is absolutely up there in importance with the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. But in my denomination and in my church experience, the "celebration" of Pentecost has been a pretty low key affair. I wonder if that's because I/we haven't thought enough about how vital and fundamental to the Gospel story is the bit about the coming of the Holy Spirit. I don't think that's it really.

Or are we so worldly that we take our cue for our family celebrations and feast days more from Hallmark Cards and Tesco's "seasonal" aisle than we do from the Church and the Bible? Something to ponder.

Last night's waterfight.

Firstborn and her pal upstairs at the bathroom window and Blue-eyed Boy, Penultimate Child and Youngest fighting back from below. Lots of fun.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Hats and tightropes.

I don't look like a tightrope walker. At least I imagine tightrope walkers would be usually shaped (and probably dressed) a bit like ballerinas. I am not shaped like a ballerina and as a result it's a very good thing that I'm not dressed like a ballerina. But I am a tightrope walker. Or at least I have to try to be a tightrope walker. Walking a metaphorical tightrope. I'm a minister of religion but I'm also a civil servant. I am, to change metaphors, constantly having to wear two hats and serve two masters (God and the Governor!). This is a tricky balancing act sometimes. Much of the time there's no conflict so don't be sorry for me or anything...

I'm saying this to explain why I've not been posting much lately. I've not stopped thinking and reflecting about Prisonworld and I'm still as passionate about guys getting out of jail free, truly free. However it so happens that most of the things that I've been thinking about or have been happening in recent weeks have been stuff I can't blog about in this public forum. I'm keen with my minister hat and my blogger hat (that's three hats I'm claiming now) to talk about prisoners at every opportunity. I'm keen to raise awareness of them in the public mind and in particular in the minds and hearts of people in the Church. But with my civil servant hat on there are obviously things I can't talk about in this arena. So I've been keeping a low blogging profile.

In Churchworld, there's been a big stooshie in the Kirk and I can't talk about that either as there's a moritorium on public comment at the moment. I'm really pleased that is so as there had been a most unedifying "debate" ongoing through the press which had been very unhelpful. Openness is a good thing but no one wants to watch someone else's dirty washing being washed. So I'm glad to say nothing on that subject.

All that makes for a boring blog though I will have stuff to say soon.

I do have a fourth hat (I'm going to stop this post before I think of any more hats and start to feel overwhelmed) which is family life, and that's such a blessing. The ongoing splendid and delightful pleasure and privilege of watching them grow is fun. Up here on my tightrope I have a really clear view of them all.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

I came across this quote from Eugene Peterson on a forum today and I think it's so good I'll nick it and post it here:

"The churches of the revelation show us that Churches are not Victorian parlours where everything is picked up and ready for guests. They are messy family rooms. Entering a person’s house unexpectedly, we are sometimes met with a barrage of apologies. St. John does not apologise. Things are out of order, to be sure, but that is what happens to churches that are lived in. They are not show rooms. They are living rooms, and if the persons living in them are sinners, there are going to be clothes scattered about, handprints on the woodwork, and mud on the carpet. For as long as Jesus calls sinners to repentance – and there is no indication yet that he changed his policy in that regard- churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright. There is nothing particularly glamorous about them, nor, on the other hand is there anything particularly shameful about them. They simply are.

Much anger towards the church and most disappointments in the church are because of failed expectations. We expect a disciplined army of committed men and women who courageously lay siege to the worldly powers; instead we find some people who are more concerned with getting rid of the crabgrass in their lawns. We expect a community of saints who are mature in the virtues of love and mercy, and find ourselves working on a church supper where there is more gossip than casseroles. We expect to meet minds that are informed and shaped by the great truths and rhythms of scripture, and find persons whose intellectual energy is barely sufficient to get them from the comics to the sports page. At such times it is more important to examine and change our expectations than to change the church, for the church is not what we organise, but what God gives, not the people we want to be with, but the people God gives us to be with – a community created by the descent of the Holy Spirit in which we submit ourselves to the Spirit’s affirmation, reformation, and motivation. There must be no idealisation of the church."


So true. At a recent service in the prison with members of local churches and prisoners all mixed together so that (apart from the women of course, as it's a men's prison) you couldn't tell who was a prisoner and who was "public", it was great to reflect on the unity of this huge, bizarre, flawed, beloved, worldwide, 2000-year old Thing that we call the Church.

The most moving and powerful thing I have seen in the two years I've been in the prison service wasn't actually in the prison at all. It was in a church service in a church not far from here (not the one I normally attend). I had gone along because a former prisoner who became a Christian in prison was speaking and he is a friend. I discovered that he was sharing the platform with two other men. One of these is a prison officer who is a Christian. The other is a prison-based social worker. They stood on the platform as brothers in Christ. I'm sure it was impressive to everyone but it was so much more impressive to those of us who have experienced Prisonworld because Prisonworld is such a divided place. To be fair, how else could it be run? Broadly speaking, the tendency is that the officers and prisoners (screws and cons) hate each other and both lots hate the social workers. This is a wild exaggeration, but there is commonly a "tension" there. It was such a powerful thing to see those three men standing there as brothers in Christ that I think I will remember it always.

I love the anarchic position of the church in society. We aren't part of the divided them-and-us culture. When God looks at our prisons he doesn't see screws and cons, but a whole random bunch of sinners, all of whom he loves. Some happen to be staff. Some happen to be prisoners. All of them need Jesus, because, actually, according to Romans 7, ALL of them - all of US - are prisoners!

We in the church are seen sometimes by secular society as self-righteous and arrogant. I may say that we sometimes deserve that. But in our better moments we acknowledge this wonderful anarchic truth that we're all wading through the treacle together. We're all struggling the same struggle. My set of temptations varies from yours. But that doesn't make me better than you. Or worse than you. Some peoples' set of temptations are also things that are against the law so they risk imprisonment. If that's not true for me I'm lucky. But I'm not superior. I'm a beggar telling other beggars where I've found food.

It's a privilege to work at the interface between church inside prison and church outside prison. They are part of the one Body, yet there's a gap. I suppose it's unavoidable. Chaplains can't really make the experience of a service in a prison exactly mirror the experience of a service in the commmunity outside. It's part of our role to try to facilitate the crossing of that (mostly cultural) gap with Christian prisoners coming out of jail, and it's a challenge but also a rewarding privilege. Even on a day like today which has been a hard one, I realise what an interesting position I'm in. The down side, compared to ministers in a "normal" church is that our congregations are constantly moving on and leaving us when they get out. When a guy tells me he's being released I have to appear pleased but (between you and me and don't tell anyone else) I'm sometimes quite sad as I know I'll miss them! But I've found that "Oh no!" doesn't go down well with the prisoner when he tells you he's getting his parole...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

I've been neglecting my poor wee blog recently. Partly this is due to transferring my addictive personality's attention to Facebook and Twitter, and partly it's been because my poor brain seems to be too tired to do much thinking these days. At least I've been thinking a lot, but I've not been able to marshal my thoughts into posts here.

I've had an interesting couple of days though. Yesterday (though it seems longer ago) I was doing a bit of refresher bereavement training. It was really good to take some time out to think of these issues and reflect on the privilege that we as chaplains have in being with people in their sorrow. One (male) chaplain was reflecting to me afterwards that the hardest thing for him is to sit with someone and to feel unable to come up with anything useful in terms of answers or advice. I (only half jokingly) asked him if he'd read that "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" book - which he had, as it turned out. The point that is made in that book is that men like to fix things, but according to the book women get frustrated with that because when they want to have a good old moan, they want to have a good old moan. End of. They're not looking for a solution. When Him Indoors starts solutionising in response to my moaning I call him Mr Fix It and tell him to stop it! To be fair to him and other men who fit the generalisation, I'm sure he can't see the point of moaning if you're not looking for advice or a solution so I must drive him mad. I'm eternally grateful that he puts up with me. He's a good soul really.

In the terrible reality of bereavement and grief, what the person really wants, the ONLY thing they really want, the ONE thing that would make it better, is the ONE thing you have no power to grant and that is to have the person back. Any other words or advice is likely to be irksome rather than helpful. But what's needed is someone to listen.

Carl Rodgers said that three core conditions are required by the bereaved for pastoral support to work. One is empathy, one is congruence (genuineness, sincerity) and "unconditional positive regard". Isn't that a nice phrase? Unconditional positive regard. Love, I prefer to call it.

Since then I've been spending a lot of time with fellow chaplains from other jails discussing what we do, for purposes I can't go into without having to kill you all. Hush hush. Official secrets act, civil serpents, etc.. Anyway, one of the key things that it is our huge honour to do as prison chaplains, it seems to me, is to meet prisoners with "unconditional positve regard". LOVE. The offences of the offenders may be extremely offensive. Their attitudes may be offensive. Their very appearance may be offensive! (Not that I'm any oil painting myself). But, as an act of the will, we love them. This is not a core duty of any other category of staff but is our privilege and our challenge. With God's help it's really easy actually but don't spread it around or they'll pay us less.

At the meeting this moring was a "high heid yin" who's not a chaplain. It was good to have someone who could see us as others see us. He said that he thought that the distinctive thing that we have to offer is HOPE.

The other thing which we offer is the "ordinances of religion". And the Gospel. We are the God Squad in the prison. We bring the message of Jesus to anyone who is open to hearing it. We facilitate the believing prisoners' worship opportunties. We encourage them im their spiritual growth and understanding. FAITH.

What are we about as chaplains?
Faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

There's been a murrdurr, surr.

A dismembered skeleton was this evening found under our table. The chief suspect has shiny black fur, four legs and a long tail and should not be approached unless you like cuddles.

In case readers overseas don't get the reference in the title of this post it's a quote from the UK television crime drama Taggart, set in Glasgow.

Friday, 24 April 2009

More years than there were dalmations!

My gran was 102 on Sunday. It's an amazing age to reach when you think of all that has happened in the world in her lifetime.

Fourteen of her closest family, plus our dog, gathered in her little room to mark the occasion. Unfortunately she doesn't hear very well so we have to take turns to speak close to her ear. Meanwhile of course the rest of us got caught up in conversations. Penultimate Child, who's very fond of her great-gran, was sitting on her bed beside her for most of the time. On the way home in the car she said, "Mummy. TWICE, Great-Gran said, "Thank you all for coming. I hope you have a safe journey home" but we didn't leave. Why was that?" Oops! None of us heard, except Penultimate Child, who was the only one listening. I think there's a lesson in there somewhere.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

People Get Ready.

On Good Friday (10th April) I posted about the doings of the local church here in Perth. Nathan, our very lovely drummer, who is also a talented film-maker, put this together and said it was okay for me to post it here.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Easter poetry, Steve Turner style.




Happy Easter one and all. Isn't it great, those of you who share my faith, to think about the fact that people in every corner of the world have been celebrating the resurrection of Jesus today? Actually I think most of them must have been in our church as we ran out of seats and some of us had to sit in an improvised overflow area. Good problem to have, though. Incidentally the headless boy in the foreground of the second of these photos is my son. I'm so proud.

Here are two Easter poems from Steve Turner, my favourite poet, even better than Ogden Nash.

The Cast of Christmas Reassembles For Easter

Take the wise men to the Emperor's palace.
Wash their hands in water.
Get them to say something about truth.
Does anyone know any good Jewish jokes?
The one about a carpenter
who thought he was a King?
The one about the Saviour
who couldn't save himself?
The shepherds should stand with the chorus.
They have a big production number -
'Barabbas, We Love You Baby'.
Mary? She can move to the front.
We have a special section reserved
for family and close friends.
Tell her that we had to cut the manger up.
We needed the wood for something else.
The star I'm afraid I can't use.
There are no stars in this show.
The sky turns black with sorrow.
The earth shakes with terror.
Hold on to the frankincense.
We'll need that for the garden scene.
Angels? He could do with some angels.
Avenging angels.
Merciful angels.
He could really do with some angels.
Baby Jesus.
Step this way please.
My! How you've grown!

Steve Turner

- and -

Poem for Easter

Tell me:
What came first
Easter or the egg?
Crucifixion
or daffodils?
Three days in a tomb
or four days
in Paris?
(returning
Bank Holiday Monday).

When is a door
not a door?
When it is rolled away.
When is a body
not a body?
When it is a risen.

Question.
Why was it the Saviour rode on the cross?
Answer.
To get us
to the other side.

Behold I stand.
Behold I stand and what?
Behold I stand at the door and

knock knock.

Steve Turner

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Joke.


This made me laugh, on Annette's blog, so I nicked it:

Black Tarmac and Concrete are arguing in a bar.
"I'm harder than you! I built the M1" Said Concrete.
Black Tarmac retorts: "I'm harder than you, I built Heathrow's runways."
Just then the door bursts open and Black Tarmac and Concrete go quiet.
The barman notices this and asks them why.
"We might be hard.", says Concrete, "but he's a bloody cycle path."

A New Ensemble.

My new dressing gown and my new welly boots match! I bet not many of you could claim to have matching dressing gown and wellies. I didn't set out to have them matching, although perhaps I was in a blue-and-white-stripey mood today...

Anyway what's even more bizarre than having matching dressing gown and wellies is having a place to wear them. Next week we're going off with our caravan and I'll be walking to the shower block each morning in my new outfit. (If you've never camped or caravanned, you need to know that this is socially acceptable behaviour).

Note: wellies from Asda, dressing gown from Matalan. Nothing but the best will do, you know.

Friday, 10 April 2009

It's Friday but Sunday's coming.

Look what was happening at our church today:


Actually it wasn't just at our church. There were six similar scenes set up round the town/city (its current status is a matter of dispute but that's another story) as a joint project by a few of the churches, between 9am and 3pm. The purpose was simply to cause people to remember Easter as being about something other than Easter Eggs, delicious though they are, and daffodils and rabbits, delicious though they may be also, though I've never tasted either.

Also, there was a "walk of witness" in the town centre:


I missed the whole thing, being, as I was, in prison. However, I did get to watch the Jesus film with the second batch of prisoners this week. It may be the most watched film of all time since its appearance in the 1970s but it's probably not the best film of all time, to be honest. Yet, it's a faithful version of Luke's gospel and it really brought home to me how relevant the Christian message is to our guys. Jesus was so subversive. He wasn't impressed by puffed up human authority and loved the underdog so passionately.

Good Friday this year is kind of special to me. It's 30 years this year since Good Friday 1979. I was thirteen - strange, that, since, 30 years on, I'm only 21, but I'm a slow developer. I was at a camp in St Andrews run by Scripture Union. It was on Good Friday 1979 that I understood for myself that the cross was to do with Jesus taking the punishment for my sins, on my behalf, so I could be forgiven and adopted as God's child. In the process I would be promised eternal life in heaven when I die. For years I said that was the night I became a Christian, but, since I grew up in a Christian home, I think now it was rather the moment when I owned my inherited childhood faith for myself. (All who grow up in Christian homes need to do that because God has no grandchildren). Anyway, all these years later I remember it as a significant moment, and it was quite nice to spend the thirtieth anniversary watching the same message that I understood then be dramatised before these men. I hope it did some good for them too.

Incidentally, as I was telling guys round the jails that the film was being shown this week, the common witty retort (from staff too) was that "I don't need to watch it. I know what happens. He dies in the end". How funny. NOT. I was amazed how many times I had to say, "No! He comes back to life after that!" to which I got, "Oh yes. I forgot". That's why I picked the title I did for this blog post. Today is a sad day for Christians, but it's not the end of the story.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Maundy Thursday synchro-blog


Today, to mark Maundy Thursday, there is a synchronised blogging thing happening. I signed up to it earlier today with a plan to write something tonight. This plan has changed thanks to Him Indoors inviting folk round. I don't mind - I like the folk!

So instead I'll go for a teeny weeny little thought on the Lord's Supper.

Theologically minded types reading this may spot that I'm a bit of a Zwinglian Memorialist, but it doesn't hurt, it's not against the law, and it works for me. Basically that means that I think that when we have communion, it is an act of remembrance. I don't believe in transubstantiation, consubstantiation or anything else, personally. However, I bristle slightly when those who disagree with me say that I believe in communion as a MERE memorial. There's nothing "mere" about memorial services. We don't call funerals "mere" memorials. Okay, so there's a body being disposed of, but even if there's not - if someone's lost at sea and there's no body, we don't disparage the importance of the memorial service by calling it "mere".

My thought on the Lord's Supper as instituted by Jesus on the night on which he was betrayed is simply this:

Every time I conduct a funeral service, I try to find out what I can about the person, if I didn't know them, in order to say something meaningful about their life. I try to encompass a bit about their childhood, their parents, their working life, their hobbies and interests, their achievements, their personality, and so on. And yet when Jesus planned his own memorial service, even though his life was far more remarkable than any of ours, in terms of his birth, his miracles, his message, the ONLY thing he wanted for his memorial service, even though he was to be raised to life (and that too was astonishing), was his death.

This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you. Whenever you eat this bread and drink this wine, you proclaim - what? You proclaim my death until I come.

Amazing.

Our deaths don't generally accomplish anything. They bring to an end our accomplishing stuff, in fact. But the death of Jesus was the most important thing about him, and he doesn't want us ever to forget that.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Happy Marriage to You, Happy Marriage to You...

It was my privilege to conduct a wedding this afternoon. I am a fan of marriage and really believe in the whole two-becoming-one thing. It's borne out by folk referring to their spouse as "their other half" and, more poignantly, by the widow/widower who says (s)he feels as if (s)he has lost part of her/himself.

However, conducting a wedding's kind of scary too. Scarier than conducting a funeral. Funerals don't tend to be filmed. But with weddings there is the real and present danger that if things go a bit wonky, then you will end up being seen endlessly for all eternity on You've Been Framed or on Youtube.

Anyway, in amongst the serious stuff, and the beautiful poetry the bride had chosen, and the lovely vows they'd written themselves, and all the general loveliness, I thought it wise to inject a touch of humour and reality into the thing, because marriage is such an everyday practical thing, for all that it's also a mystical magical mysterious and miraculous union.

So I turned to one of my favourite poets, Ogden Nash (author of such delights as:

Parsley is gharsley;

Candy is dandy
but liquor is quicker;

and:

Sure deck your lower limbs in pants; Yours are the limbs, my sweeting.
You look divine as you advance — Have you seen yourself retreating?

It was not these "poems" of course, that I chose, but the following:

"The glances over the cocktails
That at one time seemed so sweet
Don't seem quite so amorous
Over the shredded wheat".

and my favourite,

"To keep your marriage brimming
With love in the loving cup
Whenever you're wrong admit it
Whenever you're right shut up".

Many a true word has been spoken in jest, don't you think?

As I reminded them of the Biblical saying never to let the sun go down on your wrath, it struck me that in Scotland in the winter that must mean you can't argue after about 4pm. Hard! Maybe "don't go to bed angry" is a more realistic target!

In nearly sixteen years of marriage, we've never had a cross word. Huh? Course we have. We've had arguments, fights and differences of opinion too. But we have tried not to let the sun go down on our wrath. And we've tried not to remember the other's past mistakes and cast things up. I suppose the one bonus of getting older is that forgetting stuff seems to come more easily - in fact remembering is the tricky part...

I wish the pair well for their marriage, and am very grateful to have been part of it. Incidentally, lest there is anyone in the world who's never had the pleasure of watching "The Vicar of Dibley" on television, the picture above is her. Not me. I've never worn robes. Otherwise we're a bit alike though, I suppose.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Take a bow, fellow bloggers.

The lovely Dickiebo, the man who puts the "wey hey!" in Wales, has awarded me an award, the Lemonade Award. It's very kind and much appreciated. I'm supposed to pass it on. The trouble is that I'm prone to indecisiveness and sometimes it's at paralysing levels. I honestly can't decide today which of the many brilliant bloggers on my blogroll to choose. So you can all share it jointly, with my very sincere thanks for all the enjoyment I get from reading your blogs.

One of the things I like about blogging is that you get glimpses into the lives and thoughts and world views or literal photographic views of people anywhere in the world. I like that. I've often thought it's a pity I had to be me ALL the time. Although I'm not miserable and I like being me, generally, I regret the fact that I can't go and have a shot of being someone who lives on a ranch on an American prairie, or of being a police inspector, or of being a paramedic, or even of being a fellow prison chaplain only in another part of the world, or of anything. Blogging's the next best thing to being Mr Benn, I reckon.

And talking of Dickiebo, I've nicked these from his recent post because they're so good.