Sunday, 31 August 2008

Singing great theology.

We sang this song at the end of the service at church this morning. It's a beautiful contemporary hymn written by Stuart Townend. As I'm as tone-deaf as a post, I tend to concentrate on the lyrics of a song. I suspect that some songs that have caught on in the church are really just popular because of their tunes, but there are others that say an amazing amount. I remember hearing that, unlike deep mysterious poems that we have to dig into and meditate on and try to fathom the meaning of over time, a hymn has to rise to the challenge of being understandable as you sing it, whilst not being trite and meaningless. I think this hymn cracks it. You can hear it on Youtube here.

How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Bear-ing my soul.

Just for the record, I don't believe in reincarnation. But I re-found this, which I love, today and, in the highly unlikely event that any of my female readers haven't seen it before I thought it worth posting. Enjoy.

In my next life

In my next life, I want to be a bear.
If you're a bear, you get to hibernate. You do nothing but sleep for six months. I could deal with that.
Before you hibernate, you're supposed to eat yourself stupid. I could deal with that, too.
If you're a bear, you birth your children (who are the size of walnuts) while you're sleeping and wake to partially grown, cute cuddly cubs. I could definitely deal with that.
If you're a mama bear, everyone knows you mean business. You swat anyone who bothers your cubs. If your cubs get out of line, you swat them too. I could deal with that.
If you're a bear, your mate EXPECTS you to wake up growling. He EXPECTS that you will have hairy legs and excess body fat.
Yup ..... Gonna be a bear.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Holidaysickness and SAD

You know how some people get homesick when they are away? Yesterday I was at home but feeling thoroughly holidaysick. However, surprise surprise, today it has been a lovely sunny day here, after lots of grey days recently and my spirits are lifted. Tonight we had a lovely walk with the kids and the puppy round a local park, buzzing with joggers, rugby players, kids on bikes and people generally having fun. I wish I'd had my camera with me because the long evening shadows across the grass, the trees and the river were gorgeous. Perhaps, if I'm so cheered by sunshine I have a touch of SAD. If so, I well and truly live in the wrong country! To think it could all have been different...

Monday, 25 August 2008

Trust me, I'm a chaplain.

You can buy anything on the internet. I don't mean female torsos, I mean the teeshirt. I think this is so incredibly cheesy it might just work really well as an ice-breaker at work. If I decide to get one I'll let you know how wearing it works out.

Next week or the week after I'll be wearing a special teeshirt at work. I'll explain more in due course.

On a more serious note, I'm off to watch the end of the film about Pierrepoint the executioner. Cheery stuff. I'm so thankful we don't have hangings or any other form of execution in this country nowadays.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Going to church with prisoners.

Today I was able to pick up four prisoners from jail and take them to a nearby church. (I surreptitiously took this photograph from my pew before the service began as it's a beautiful church). It's only the third time I've done it and it's such a privilege. Folk like me take the whole church going thing for granted but if you're in prison and have to practise your young faith in that unsympathetic environment where you feel like such a tiny minority, I suppose you have an extra level of appreciation for the simple freedom to go to church.

The other thing I've realised afresh (I already knew it) is just how weird Churchworld can be for the newcomer. Most Christian prisoners, it's fair to say, have begun their faith journey in prison and don't have a church background. Neither do some of the folk who turn up at my home church. I think we old timers in church need to strive not to be needlessly obscure in our language. As it happens I hate Christian jargon, and though I need to use some occasionally in order to speak, I try to avoid it as much as I can. The church we went to today is very accessible in style, which is one of the reasons I picked it. Another reason is that it's a resonable sized congregation. In a very small congregation, particularly an aging one, even though they were most welcome, they would stick out like sore thumbs!

One of the other things I've been doing recently is a task I really enjoy doing as chaplain, in the rare event I get the chance, is to "bridge the gap" for the Christian prisoner in the faith "part" of his resettlement into the community. This involves researching churches in the guy's neighbourhood and persuading the minister to adopt the guy pastorally and help him find his feet in the mysterious land that is Churchworld.

In the past, before I got this job, I had a ridiculously romantic notion of people being converted from a terrible life of drugs and crime and then overnight becoming amazing Christians with amazing ministries. I have learned that (obviously) it's not that simple or clear cut. Certainly there are many people who are amazing Christians who had that sort of background and usually, or often, there was a dramatic conversion. But a conversion is a mere beginning. And the "success" of the Christian life is all interwoven with the nurture and support of mature Christians and the fellowship of church over a long period. I didn't become perfect overnight. I haven't become perfect at all. I'm a work in progress. And the progress is slow. It's slow for us all. So, if you're the praying kind, please pray for our young-in-the-faith Christian prisoners whose faith is so fragile. Pray they'll make it.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

It's not just my appearance that's changed.

I've travelled such a journey over my Christian life. I was reflecting on this a week or so ago when I attended a meeting I go to once a month in the city nearest "my" jails. It is for ministry leaders and most of us are clergy but not all. One of the things we have in common is that we would all be termed "evangelical", at least by those who disagreed with us, even if not by ourselves. I think the word "evangelical" can be most unhelpful at times and I wouldn't introduce myself as evangelical any more as I see how it is a loaded word. If you say it, a lot of people immediately think of some of the worst examples of American tv evangelists on the God channels on television, promelgating a prosperity gospel or making money out of very earnest but simple-minded viewers. I'm SO not one of them. To be perfectly honest I don't care any more what term somebody cares to apply to me, and that's an example of what a long way I've come.

I grew up a church goer. I had no choice as my dad was the minister! I don't think my dad would describe himself as either left or right, high or low, liberal or evangelical. At least I've never heard him use any of those terms of himself. My faith was real when I was a child but of course I didn't understand any theology or doctrine. When I was thirteen I went to a Scripture Union camp. On Good Friday (Friday the thirteenth, lol) 1979, I suddenly understood what the cross was all about and I look back on that as the moment when I stopped being one of God's grandchildren, with an inherited (though real) faith, and became one of His children. No, that's not true. God doesn't have grandchildren. I was one of His children anyway, but now I understood it. Or whatever. I don't mind any more. Such is the change in me.

As a young adult I had a wee spell going to a Baptist church and a wee spell going to a charismatic independent church. But almost all my life I've been in the Church of Scotland, which I love although I'm often exasperated by it!

Christians the world over, we believe, are brothers and sisters in Christ. We believe we are one body with many parts. We believe these things about ourselves, and yet there are thousands of different protestant denominations, plus the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. When I first learned about the number of protestant denominations I literally cried. It's so sad.

However, now I'm old (!) I understand that although the divisions are indeed sad, they are not evidence that Christians are all nasty horrible squabbly quarrelsome types. Rather I now understand that most of the divisions have come about because people earnestly want to do what pleases God. It's just they can't agree on what that is! For example, my being an ordained minister is controversial in the Christian world where many of my brothers and sisters (and that's how I see them) think that I'm disobeying the Bible. I'm not offended in the least by that. Actually I can see how they arrive at their position, though I disagree with it. I can see both sides of the debate about infant versus adult/believer's baptism too, and could argue both cases (and have done).

Most splits in church history have occurred because people were earnestly trying to do the right thing.

However, the splits are still really sad, and even though the motivation wasn't bad as such, the results were. God is no doubt pleased that people want to please Him but I have come to the position now when I think that nailing down every finer point of doctrine is NOT the way to go about pleasing God. He'd be much more pleased with us if we left off worrying about all that stuff, and got on with the business of loving people, and indeed loving each other and loving Him.

I said I'd come a long way in my Christian life. When I was at university studying for my bachelor of divinity degree, in the early nineties, I used to get frustrated by Calvin's Institutes (pictured). We had a two volume edition, great big tomes of the sort people use to prop up their bed if it collapses. I used to get frustrated with John Calvin becaue I felt there were areas in his systematic theology where he was too vague! Every now and again, Calvin has the sense (I now see it is sense but I didn't then) to say simply, "There is a mystery here..." and leave it at that.

I wanted every i dotted and every t crossed as a student. No doubt it was good for me at that time to be robust in my critique of various doctrines and ways of thinking.

However now that it's 2008 and I'm a prison chaplain, all is different. I'm part of a two person team, the other member of which is a Roman Catholic priest. We're not employed by the churches but by the prison service. In the eyes of the prison service, and in the eyes of most prisoners, we're totally interchangeable. At least once a week I will be asked by a prisoner if I'm the priest. (They don't know that the fact I'm a woman immediately signals I couldn't be...).

That's not the only thing that's changed me. In the past, as a minister, I've been caught up in all the intrigue of church politics and ecclesiology and doctrine issues too - issues which seem to matter in church circles. Over the past year I've realised just how much of that baggage I needed to shed, and working with prisoners has taught me to focus on what really matters. I've realised the most important thing I can do is love the prisoner, and if at all possible to point them in God's direction.

I haven't actually abandoned my "evangelical" theology at all. In some ways it's stronger than ever. More than ever I believe in the need for redemption. More than ever I believe in the need for the cross. More than ever I believe in man's inability to earn his own salvation. The Bible sounds different when you read it to prisoners but just in the sense it's more real and immediate somehow. And if I'd to pick a group of clergy to hang out with, far and away my comfort zone would be the one with the evangelicals in it, but I don't need to be garrisoned away in there any more. I am so much more able than I was as a young student to work with those of other theological persuasions and look for the good in what they say. But I haven't sold out and I don't hold with the "all paths lead to God" stuff. Just look round the jail and you'll see some paths leading in the exactly opposite direction, sadly.

But I've definitely mellowed in my way, and it's so ironic that I've been liberated by being in prison!

The meeting last week was attended by 23 people. There were quite a few apologies. But among those 23, LOADS of different denominations were represented. Not once was a doctrinal or ecclesiological difference even mentioned. We meet together for mutual support, to pray for the city and to pray for one another's ministries. Some of us come from denominations where babies are baptised, some from denominations where only grown believers are baptised. Some of us come from denominations which have women in leadership, some not. Some of us are Calvinist and some of us are Arminian, and others another variation. In those meetings, it matters not a jot. We love and support each other and pray together. I find those meetings a real highlight in my month.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Before and After.

Tonight I've been filling out a passport application form. My old one was issued in 1991 and had in it a photo taken in 1986. Looking at my new picture, the years really have not been kind.Six passports, incidentally, are costing us £328 not counting the cost of the photos and the mailing of the forms. We hope to take the kids for their first ever trip abroad soon.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Child labour.

Firstborn made our dinner tonight. It was "proper pizza", with a home baked scone base. She was very proud. Penultimate child made chocolate truffles for dessert. She also was very proud. Me? I'm thrilled with the idea that Him Indoors and myself are potentially going to be no longer the only parties in this house involved with the endless job of providing eighteen meals a day every day...

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

School's out, and in, and out.

After seven weeks of school holiday we got the kids back to school today. Yeay! The schools are closed tomorrow due to industrial action by the auxiliary staff. Yikes!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Cheering each other on.

“…encourage one another and build each other up…” says God through Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:11." Wouldn't the world be great if we all did that? I love Scotland a lot, but I can see that one of our character flaws is that we tend not to want to build each other up. Our cousins across the pond in the US seem to me to be genuinely pleased for folk when they do well. In this country we're a bit more prone to say (out loud or to ourselves), "Aye, but I kent yer faither", or "Don't be forgetting where you came from", or "Don't be getting above yerself". Often the only time Scots speak well of someone is when drunk "Oh, ah love ye, man. Yer ma best pal, man" etc, or during the funeral tribute/oration when it's too late for the praised one to hear the compliments.

God wants us to copy his nature and his nature is to encourage us.

I've been thinking about that this week as I've been watching bits of the Olympics.

Once upon a time a few years ago we were raising money for our new church building. As part of that, Him Indoors and another guy in the church decided to run a marathon. As all the marathons are on a Sunday, they thought they would just do their own. So the two of them ran the marathon, and a memeber of the congregation, who is a dentist, cycled along as first aider - the only kind of acceptable ailment that day would have been a dental one I suppose. Anyway two or three families from the church, including the Droids, went along to wait for them at one point on their route. Him Indoors often says that when he rounded the corner and saw us all waiting there he burst into tears! It meant so much at that point, when he was so exhausted, to have some support.

I was struck this week by a few of the stories of support from the Olympics.

For example, here in the UK, we've been very proud of young Tom Daley. Only 14 and out there in China diving in the Olympics. What a hero... Okay so he didn't get a medal, but just being there at 14 is amazing on its own. He's what my gran would call "easy on the eye" too - at least my thirteen year old daughter set the alarm on her mobile phone to get up and watch him. Here he is with his dad Robert:However, there's more to the story. In the midst of all the excitement of qualifying, Tom's dad Robert has had 80% of a brain tumour the size of his fist removed by surgery and the rest treated by other means to try to shrink it. On top of that it is interesting to hear of the great sacrifices of time and money Tom's parents have made to enable him to do so well in his diving career. I find it a moving example of true parental self-sacrifice. The other thing about Robert, as he freely admits, is that he is very prone to crying every time he sees his son perform. His emotional commitment is huge, and his delight and pride in his son. It's love, actually.

And here's another British Olympian, Nicole Cooke:Nicole was the first Brit to get a gold in this Olympics. She's a cyclist and her radiant smile was just lovely after her victory. She clearly just couldn't stop smiling. I know it's not quite up-there as an achievement, but in 1989, when I passed my driving test (first time, I want you to know) I had originally planned to pretend to my family at first that I'd failed, but I couldn't stop smiling long enough to go through with the pretence. In the midst of her great joy, the broadly smiling Nicole Cooke said this: "“We did it… It's a dream come true. I want to thank all the people who've been there from the start. I've worked so hard. I am so happy." That's interesting. "I've worked so hard. I am so happy" is obviously true, but her first words were "We did it". She was aware of the importance of all the support and encouragement she had had, and she said, "I want to thank all the people who've been there from the start".

And lastly, the legend who is Michael Phelps, who's won umpteen gold medals (was it a hundred?) this Olympics. He is a hero, but it's this image that stays with me:I just can't imagine having the president of the United States waving a flag and cheering for me. No need for me to try - it's not going to happen! Nor can I imagine having our queen or our prime minister waving a flag and cheering for me. I think that's amazing. But as I've reflected on it something even more amazing has struck me. From my reading of the Bible, I discover something astonishing. Indeed, who cares whether George Bush, Gordon Brown or the queen know nothing of my existence, because I have God cheering me on. God wants me to do well. Too often, subconsciously, I see Him as some kind of cop or prison warder out to catch me in the act of something wrong when in fact He loves me beyond my understanding of love. He's willing me to do well, to succeed. He's cheering me on, sometimes even saying "Well done, Anne. Today you got that right. I know you got it wrong on the previous 500 occasions but today you got it right and I love you and I'm happy"...

And then, because that's His nature, He wants me (and you) to adopt the same spirit. He wants me to build people up and encourage them. What we say to people has such power. In the them-and-us environment of Prisonworld, with staff and prisoners (screws and cons) it's great to be able to go in there with a counter-culture where we as chaplains see ourselves as forgiven sinners, of the same human ilk as staff and prisoners alike. It's great to be able to look for the tiny wee remnant of the offender which is the spark of the "made in the image of God" person that God potentially could make them. It's overwhelming sometimes but it's a huge privilege. Please would you pray for me as I try to build up and encourage those who've stuffed up thus far in their lives and who doubt themselves to be capable of ever being anything better.

And for what it's worth I want to cheer you all on too.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Eleven years and now seven fish.

Blue-eyed boy is eleven now. Just like that. We moved here when I was expecting him so his age also marks the length of time Him Indoors has been minister of our church. Time flies when you're having fun. We had two other eleven year old boys with us for a sleepover last night, preceded by a trip to the cinema to see the Star Wars Clones movie.

A major theme of this week has been goldfish. The lady in the petshop must think I'm stalking her. Last weekend, Penultimate Child got two goldfish, called Daisy and Pebble (and a Scooby Doo fish tank) for her birthday. Youngest Child then remembered, and reminded us, that she had not spent her holiday spending money this summer and she suddenly wanted a fish tank too. So, through the week two more goldfish arrived, Ella and Bella, in a mermaid fish tank. The two fish tanks are side by side in their bedroom. Blue-eyed boy invited his two pals to choose a goldfish each on his behalf this morning and now we also have Fish and Chips in their Spongebob Squarepants fish tank, in his bedroom. Did I mention we already had a fish tank - in the kitchen - with one goldfish in it. He (if it is a he) is either called Murdo or Hamish. We don't know as we used to have two and one died but we don't know which one, so we don't know which we still have. Seven fish. Four tanks. Ridiculous. Totally and completely ridiculous. I did feebly suggest that we got one big tank and they could all keep each other company but this was dismissed immediately. (Running four filters will not be at all good for the Droid family's carbon footprint. However I'm pinning my hopes of justifying it all on the thought that perhaps growing up having to care for pets will make the children responsible and caring human beings...)

Wordling for worldlings.

Look at this. It's my sermon for tomorrow. Bet you can guess the theme. Btw, wordling is fun. I recommend it.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Beholden to no one?

I think many of us like to feel that we are "beholden to no one". If someone pays for my coffee I feel uneasy and think, "I must remember to return the favour". (I have such a bad memory, however, I don't suppose I always do remember. But at the time, I feel uncomfortable).

I like to be independent. I've always been like that. I love my friends but I don't phone them up all the time and I don't live in their pockets. A hundred years ago when I still went to discos, I never understood why girls had to go with their pals to the toilets - I was quite happy to go on my own. I like to socialise but I like my space too. I would rather do without something than ask someone else for it. I feel guilty if someone buys me something or does something I can't repay.

I reckon that an independent spirit is quite natural and quite common, and not entirely a Bad Thing. However, as I reflect on it, I realise that I am in fact quite inclined to try to carry my independent, beholden-to-no-one attitude into my faith where it is completely out of place and inappropriate.

The Christian faith declares us to be morally and spiritually bankrupt and without hope of earning our way into heaven. Our only hope is to bring our bankruptcy, our debt, to Jesus and get Him to pay it all off for us. I do believe that. I've believed it since I first understood it in 1979. But my independent beholden-to-no-one attitude keeps kicking in so that I rebel and back off from full submission to God. I put myself back in the driving seat, back on the throne (I'm mixing all my metaphors spectacularly in this post, thanks to tiredness plus a glass of wine).

I try and run the show myself, but it's not because I don't love God. I do love Him. I just don't want to be a burden to Him. Huh? And doh! How silly that sounds. How silly that IS. I'm going to be a lot less of a burden if I let Him take charge, if I stop working on the basis of my own so-called wisdom which has got me into many a scrape.

I would be so hurt if my kids didn't let me parent them. I'd be so hurt if they said they didn't need me. And it would be a lot more work and a much greater burden for me, clearing up after all their mistakes. The job I'm called to, the vocation, is way beyond my human capabilities. Some aspects of it I actually enjoy a lot. Some less so. But on my own I can't do anything for those guys. Not really. Not compared to what God can do.

Now that I come to think about it, I tell you what I want, what I really really want (sorry, went all Spice Girls for a moment there)... what I want is to be TOTALLY and UTTERLY beholden to God. I want to see what He wants to do for our prisoners, and what He could do if Mrs Independent here stopped getting in the road.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Wet teeshirt contest at church HQ.

Today I went to a meeting about chaplaincies, not just prison chaplaincy but also healthcare, university and workplace chaplaincy. It was held in "121", as it's known, which is the Church of Scotland's central offices in 121 George Street, Edinburgh. It was an interesting meeting but it's not the meeting that I want to post about. When I was there, I was remembering a previous visit to 121 that you might be amused to hear about. At the time I was pretty stressed but in retrospect I see how funny it actually was.

About three years ago, I think, I applied for a job (which I didn't get, I wonder why) and was called for a second interview at "121". I got the train to Edinburgh, and emerged from the station into pouring rain. I put my umbrella up and it broke immediately. It was so thoroughly broken that I threw it in the bin. I was very short of money in those days (not that I've got buckets of it now either) and could not afford a taxi. So I set off to walk to my interview. I had an hour before my appointment so I had plenty of time to walk.

Of course I was totally soaked, especially because my jacket wasn't waterproof and had no hood (I had brought an umbrella after all). When I reached 121, I was (fortunately) half an hour early. I went into the Ladies room and removed my jacket and looked in the mirror. Not only was the bottom six to ten inches of the hem of my quite-long skirt soaked but I was horrified to see my red blouse had two big wet circles, the size of saucers(!), in a most unfortunate position. Female readers who have ever breastfed might be able to imagine the view.

As it was my second interview, I knew that I was going to go into a room to be interviewed by three or four male clergymen. So for the next twenty minutes I had to stand in a sort of limboing position half under the electric hand drier, attempting to dry my chest. Of course, every time anyone came into use the toilets, I had to stop and fake that I was just drying my hands.

I am completely rubbish at being interviewed at the best of times. But on that occasion I think I have an excuse for being particularly flustered. No wonder they gave the job to someone else.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008


As a follow up to yesterday's post, this, which I've just read, is interesting.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Desisting and Persisting.

No one could fault Chevy Chase's character in the National Lampoon films for the amount of effort he put in to his fatherhood, even though it went wrong, endlessly!
Following my last post, Mr N commented, "One is forced to wonder; What will keep your inmates out of prison permanently? If not for the sake of themselves, which should always be, what about for the sake of their kids?"

I haven't really ever had either the time or the opportunity, yet, to get into reading research into why offenders do or do not desist from criminal behaviour, but the little I've read, for instance this (chosen at random from Google's suggestions), always fascinates me.

My (extremely) limited understanding is that statistical research evidence would suggest that facing up to the responsibility that parenthood brings (or should bring) is one of the key factors contributing to SOME offenders desisting from criminal behaviour. If that's true, that's good and we should be building upon it.

My suspicion is, however, that many offenders are so damaged by their childhoods that their own nurture needs have not been sufficiently met that they are able to make the transition to the compulsorily unselfish role of nurtur-ER. To some degree that isn't their fault. Some of our prisoners are older than me but inside they're like wee boys, or at least teenagers - complicated further in a lot of cases (in my opinion) by the failure to resolve the normal "angst" process of adolescence because of the early onset of serious drug and alcohol misuse which has both numbed and postponed the maturing process.

The bigger question generally, faced by all governments, has to do with what should be done with offenders. Should we feed them bread and water and spend the bare minimum on them? My own view is that much more money should be ploughed into working with them, and also into researching desistance factors.

I do believe Jesus wants us to love prisoners because He wants us to love everyone. As I've said before, when I look at my detailed job description, I often think that "love the prisoners" effectively sums it up. HOWEVER, there is a more selfish argument that should appeal to all of us, Christian or not, for investing in rehabilitating prisoners, and in researching how best to do that. It's this: if we do try to help them to change, perhaps we won't be their victims in the future. And perhaps they will be better parents and their kids will be less likely to go down the same path.

Meanwhile, I certainly frequently appeal to prisoners to consider their children, and the example they are setting as fathers. I encourage them to imagine a happier future which they will one day look back on with satisfaction, knowing they've done the best for their child(ren).

I have a notice on my wall in my office which says: "Fathers! Kids need your presence, not presents". However, the first guy I tried to impress with it looked totally blank and I suddenly remembered he was dyslexic and the difference in spelling was lost on him. Oops. That'll teach me to be smart. There's another guy I've quoted it too on many occasions but he goes back to his mantra that he's been a good dad because he's always (even in jail) been able to make money and his daughter's never wanted for anything. She's fifteen and he's barely been out of jail her whole life. He really feels he is genuinely doing the best for her by keeping her in designer labels. It's sad.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

We are family.

Today is one of only a handful of Sundays in my whole life I have not gone to church. We had a family fun day at one of the prisons I work in. It was basically an extended family visit with some activities for the children - beat the goalie, face painting etc.. It was lovely to see the children enjoying their time with their dads. I'm often struck by a lump in my throat when I see the kids greeting their dads, or indeed parting with them at the end. I wish I could have taken photos but that wouldn't have been right. I was in charge of the raffle, but don't tell my denomination who officially disapprove of raffles. It was a free raffle though, for the children only, so I don't think it's really classed as gambling which is what we're not supposed to condone.

We have a beautiful rug which I once won in a raffle. I was chaplain of a cancer care day centre at the time and a lovely lady who was terminally ill made the rug and then it was raffled. I bought a ticket, thinking my denomination would be none the wiser. I was part time and a few days later I was back in and found I'd won it. There was an absolutely enormous poster on the wall saying: "Winner of rug raffle: Rev. Anne ("Droid") and then, in case the reader hadn't noticed the "Rev", underneath it said "OUR CHAPLAIN" in huge letters. People did jokingly threaten to phone our Church central office to report me but I still have the rug, and remember Lexy, its maker, with fondness. I, mind you, am no particular fan of gambling, seeing as I do guys whose gambling addiction has led them to a prison sentence.

Anyway, the raffle went well today, the whole thing went well, and then I came home to a special "family day" of our own as Penultimate Child celebrated being nine. She is being helped by two pals here for a sleepover tonight. They have been ten pin bowling and are now watching Doctor Doolittle and eating chocolate buttons in bed. And her presents, Daisy and Pebble, two goldfish, and a Scooby Doo fish tank have arrived in the house too.

A cheery wee thought.

Time is a great teacher. Unfortunately it kills all its pupils.

Friday, 8 August 2008

I made a decision after all.

Last week I said I couldn't decide who I would give a blogging award to, as I really like so many of the blogs I read. However, there is one blog which is just in a league of its own in my view. It's so honest, so challenging, so counter-cultural, so real, so.... well I don't know how to describe it. You'll need to read it. I'm going to give him the award and award a joint second place to all the rest of you.

Under the Overpasses is written by someone who is a director in a homeless shelter across the pond. I briefly worked in a homeless shelter myself, twenty two years ago, in Glasgow, but of course there is some overlap between the clientele of a homeless shelter and the clientele I come across in Prisonworld.

I know a few Bible translators, working in remote and poor parts of the world. I think of four in particular who are single ladies. Each of them is physically attractive, a university graduate, highly intelligent, and just generally gifted. I often think that some people would think they were throwing their lives away, that they could have "been something" had they stayed in this country. Bible translation is a long haul. Two of them have been working for fifteen to twenty years "out there". They are heroes of the faith as far as I'm concerned. Humble servant hearts who are "pouring" out their lives so that people can have a copy of God's Word in a language they can understand properly. "Under There" is in the same category as far as I'm concerned. As you read his blog you know he's a gifted writer. His clients will neither know that nor care if they did. He's pouring out his life for them though.

A recent post made me laugh but also expressed very well the huge challenge for us as Christians to put our Christian faith into practice. On Sunday we sit in church and soak up the language and the message of God's love, but then on Monday all of us have to figure out minute by minute how we actually "perform" our faith. In his post he talks about the Anglican prayer book and how it scripts everything in the service, including the congregation's response, who sits where, stands where, does what, etc. and he wishes his working life had such minute and detailed directions.

He says:
"One minute I am sitting at my desk in my office. The next minute I am out front trying to stop traffic so that the naked man who has been huffing paint does not get run over in the street. “Wait a minute, he actually has a tattoo on his butt that says ‘Live to ride, Ride to live.’ Oh no, that car almost hit him! I wish the police would hurry up and get here.” I would give anything for rubrics for my daily life and work. I can only imagine instructions like: “If the intoxicated man flips his middle finger, the Director responds by saying…” “If he moons you, an alternate form may be used.” “When desired, Directors may be appointed to slap the crap out of abusive husbands. In Lent, they may use a baseball bat.” “If a mentally challenged person gets a monthly check, it is appropriate to hide the income from predators in some convenient place.” “In place of calling 911, or in addition to it, the staff may use any of the additional means to keep upset lovers from jumping the fence.” “The Director or staff member faces the People and says…” “Here a No Smoking in the bathrooms anthem is sung or said.” “On weekends the following resources for mental health emergencies may be used.” “A hungry lady with children takes precedence over a lazy man requesting seconds at lunch.” “If a fundamentalist questions the validity of providing GED training to the homeless, hit him with a Bible while singing ‘Inglorious things of thee art spoken’ or, turn to page 732 for additional directions.” “It is always appropriate to yell at agencies that dump people like garbage at homeless shelters.” “If a guest urinates on the sidewalk use Lysol, then follows generous amounts of hot water.” Sigh…of course, there is no such book of homeless shelter rubrics. There are so many invariables that the book would certainly resemble those massive, old Bibles that were kept chained to the tables in old Cathedrals. At the end of the day, the rubric that I usually find best to follow in just about every situation is my favorite, “Silence may be kept.”"

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

I want new digs.

We're dog-sitting this week. Truffle, a chocolate (sadly not real chocolate) labrador is holidaying with us while her humans are elsewhere. She has not had a wink of peace from Flora since she arrived. Well, we do put the puppy in her cage sometimes and Truffle retires to her bed but otherwise Flora is at her side, in a "Play with me, Truffle. Play with me, now, Truffle. Truffle, can we play now?" sort of way. I could see that the last straw this morning was when Flora decided to snuggle in with Truffle in Truffle's bed - she didn't need words to explain that she was not amused.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Speak up. I'm hard of understanding.

I was about a mile away from the jail this morning in my car when I saw some McDonalds litter lying in the road. As the prison is out in the countryside, it was an unusual and unattractive sight.

I didn't jump out the car and take a photo - this one's from Google Images.

I found myself feeling quite outraged and asking myself why someone would turf their rubbish out of the window of a car in such a beautiful area rather than keep it till they found a bin. I am not immune to various other forms of temptation but, particularly since I love the countryside, I just don't get it with littering - I don't get how people don't care.

As a prison chaplain, I'm constantly with people (staff too, not just prisoners). I'm trying constantly to empathise with people and understand them. Doing that with prisoners includes the huge challenge of trying to grasp what's got them to this point, including, amongst lots else, their "index offence".

As I reflect on the litter I saw this morning, and my reaction to it, I find it odd to realise that I have sometimes/often listened to a prisoner whose offence is appalling - much much worse than dropping litter in the grand scheme of things - and found myself thinking that I could understand just how it came to happen (while not condoning it). Other times I just know that I'm not connecting with the guy. And I have to ask myself whether that's because we are just very different types of people. (It's not always, because, of course, the whole thing is muddied by the fact that the prisoner may not be telling you the true story. I have realised that sometimes they are not ready even to tell themselves the true story never mind me, so I don't take it personally.)

The knack of chaplaincy (fortunately) isn't that we have to be able to relate 100% with everyone. Just as well. We can't. We need to be there for everyone, though, and to be clearly seen by them to be listening carefully and understanding as best we can.

Human beings are all wired up differently. When Him Indoors and I were student ministers we had to do the Myers Briggs personality test. As it happens we were newlyweds and it turned out to be hugely helpful to our marriage. It helped us such a lot in those early days to see in black and white that we are wired differently and react to things in different ways. According to Myers Briggs, I'm ENFP (apologies if that means nothing to you). My opposite number would be ISTJ. Him indoors is three quarters opposite to me. But here we are in 2008 still happily married after fifteen years, because we know that it's not JUST that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. On top of that our personalities are wired differently.

I don't think litter dropping or not litter dropping has anything to do with your Myers Briggs personality type. Nor has it anything to do with whether you're from Mars or whether you're from Venus. If I knew precisely what caused criminal behaviour I'd be a lot richer and more famous than I am. My point is just that I don't understand litter dropping,and also that no matter how hard I try as a chaplain, I'm never going to be truly able to understand everyone. I'll give it my best shot though, and in the process I get to hear some interesting stories, some of them even true.

A Prayer.

This prayer was written by Dale Evans, wife of Roy Rogers, and I think it's quite cool:

Lord, thou knowest better than I know myself, that I’m growing older, and will someday be old.
Keep me from getting too talkative; particularly from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.
Deliver me from the need to try and straighten out everybody’s affairs.
Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.
I ask for grace to listen to the tales of others’ pains; but seal my lips when it comes to my own aches and pains, for they are increasing and my love of rehearsing them gets sweeter as the years go by.
I ask not for improved memory, but for a growing humility and less cocksureness, especially when my memory seems to clash with the memory of others.
Teach me that occasionally I may be mistaken.
Keep me reasonably sweet.
I don’t necessarily want to be a saint - some of them are so hard to live with.
But a sour old woman (or man) is one of the crowning works of the devil.
Make me thoughtful but not moody, helpful but not bossy.
With my vast store of wisdom it seems a pity not to use it; but Thou knowest Lord, I want a few friends at the end.
So give me, I pray, the ability to see blessings in unexpected trials and goodness in less-than-perfect people.
And give me the grace to tell them so,
In Christ’s name, amen.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Here I am in the buff.

Recently a reader graciously emailed me suggesting that I should correct my misspelling of the word "waffle" in my blog header, as "woffle" (which I had before) has a somewhat naughty urban dictionary definition. I know I can trust you not to go and look it up. "Waffle", as well as being a foodstuff, has a somewhat similar meaning to "haver" or "blether". Thank you, my friend, for sparing me ridicule.

It's funny how words change their meanings over the years.

Hence I'm able to say that I'm writing this in the buff, while yet at the same time being quite warm in a fleecy and trousers.

According to The Phrase Finder, "in the buff" meaning naked, harks back to a previous meaning. In Shakespeare's day, "a buff-coat was a light leather tunic which was worn by English soldiers up until the 17th century. The original meaning of 'in the buff' was simply to be wearing such a coat. The later meaning of in the buff meaning naked is an allusion to the colour of the skin, which is somewhat like the colour buff (a light browny yellow). This was first recorded by Thomas Dekker, in his work Satiro-mastix or the untrussing of the humorous poet, 1602. In this he likens 'in buff' to 'in stag', which was a commonly used term for naked in the 17th century: "No, come my little Cub, doe not scorne mee because I goe in Stag, in Buffe, heer's veluet too.""

But according to the Urban dictionary (and I did know this, old and decrepit though I am) buff has a new set of meanings.

As if a wee four letter word, economically using only three different letters, hadn't already done enough, our family has become aware of another one in the last couple of years.

Last year on holiday the kids bought "garments" (I don't think that's the right term) called buffs. They have had great use of them especially to protect against midges. Adults wear them too and we bought my dad one for his birthday in July, and another friend too. I bought one myself at The Green Welly Stop on the way home from holiday. There's not much to them, really, just a tube of stretchy fabric, but of course the blurb tells you they're made of some special technofibre. This must explain why they cost more than you'd think.

There are various different ways to wear them (some too girly for boys and vice versa):
So when I say I'm in the buff, I am. Here's a photo Firstborn took of me an hour ago. This is not ideal as a way to wear it, unless you're hiding from the paparazzi:

Friday, 1 August 2008

I'd like to thank my agent and my dog and my second cousin twice removed.

I am deeply honoured to be the recipient of an award, thanks to Ruth. I am most grateful, and especially so to receive it from Ruth. Hers is one of my favourite blogs and if you've never visited it before I particularly recommend you do. Look out for her wonderful Dog Parables which are in a convenient list at the left hand side of the page.

It is suggested that the awardee awards some others. I've thought hard and I can't do it. I really love so many of the blogs I read. And I get different things out of them depending on my mood or the kind of day I've had.

For example, I was so tired as I dragged myself out of bed this morning, having had a difficult first week back at work. I logged on briefly before leaving the house and I read this on Mr Nighttime's blog. It put everything back in proportion and I went off to work with a better attitude and of course had a much better day.

Often I get great pleasure from looking at Just Another Day On The Prairie and Kids' Cattle Blog because the photos are just so lovely and transport me to a world so different from my own. Same with the Antarctic Blog.

Sorry, I'm abandoning the linky bit now as Blue Eyed Boy is waiting to get onto the computer - he's not enjoying "Hairspray" on DVD as much as his sisters apparently - who'd a thunk it?

Reading police blogs like Inspector Gadget's, Nightjack's, Noddy's and others is really good for me and helps me a lot. Both the police and myself work on a daily basis with offenders. However, they often see them in the midst of, or the immediate aftermath, of their crime. And they also spend time with the victims/victims' families. I see the offender cleaned up, sober, in the structured routine of prison and I don't get to meet the victims/victims' families. Many offenders are much "nicer" people in this environment and as I get involved in trying to help them I want to empathise and understand but never to condone or to lose sight of the impact of their crimes on their victims. So it's good for me to read the police blogs and I appreciate them a lot.

I also hugely appreciate Coffee With Louis, From The Inside, On the Brink of Eternity and Finding Grace Within, as they're all written by prison chaplains. The first two are from this side of the Atlantic, the latter two from t'other side. As I work in a very small team (until my colleague gets back from holiday it's a team of one!) it's great to remember there are lots of us out there doing our thing!

And, I like lots of others too of course. The above are just ones that fit into obvious categories.

Do you know what? I could never be a judge on X Factor. I'd never get the numbers narrowed down and there would be thousands of acts in the final. And of course there's always the fact that I'm tone deaf.