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.

Mental Health First Aid.

Recently I attended a Mental Health First Aid course. It was really excellent and although I knew a lot of the stuff already, I didn't necessarily know that I knew it (if you see what I mean) and the course helped me put my knowledge into a clearer framework. The Scottish government are keen to get as many Scots as possible to do the MHFA course, which is 12 hours over two days, in order to help improve the mental health of the people of Scotland, by raising awareness and by helping us to be equipped to help one another. Our country's statistics are none too impressive as far as our mental well-being is concerned. It occurred to me that a church pastoral team, or the leadership of a few churches in an area, could get the course delivered to them, as in-house courses are offered.

Anyway, that's the plug for the course. But for me the most touching bit of what we heard was on a video clip from a lady called Abigail who has had serious mental health problems for many years but who said this, or something like this anyway: "Some people have the idea that the brain needs to be perfect because that's where I live. And if that gets disturbed, then, you know, I've been obliterated, or I've been damaged. You know, me, me, the essence of me. And that's not true".

I once heard that whereas animal charities are very well supported, mental health charities are the worst. I'm sure it's not lack of compassion. I'm sure it's fear. People don't like to think about mental health, because we're all aware instinctively of the truth that mental health/ill health isn't an either/or but a continuum and that we're none of us immune from mental illness. Thus we choose not to think about it, and isolate still further in the process those who've not been so lucky, and who're already isolated by their condition. Abigail came across as a lovely person and I thought that what she said, and what I've quoted here, was one of the sweetest, most positive and most profound things I've heard about mental health ever.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Spring continues to be sprung.

Got out and about again today. I was at a meeting all day just about three miles from home so I got dropped off there in the morning and walked home cross country afterwards, enjoying more sights of spring including some lovely wee lambs which I had to hold the camera above a hedge to get a photo of. Back to prison tomorrow, though.

Monday, 23 March 2009

More gallivanting.

Him Indoors had a day off today and went for a walk up the Knock, which is the hill behind Crieff Hydro hotel (which of course we had to pop into for coffee afterwards). It was chilly but lovely and sunny and it was great to be out and about instead of in jail, which I normally am on a Monday!

I love spring and the last week has been particularly lovely - who knows what's still to come, mind you. "Ne'er cast a clout till May is out", and all that. Daffodils are my favourite spring flowers as they're so big and jolly after the bleakness and dreichness of winter (also they don't take any effort or knowledge of horticulture on my part). These ones on our front step are the miniature variety but they're cheery all the same.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Perfect Day.

While Him Indoors was at the pub with an English friend watching England lose at rugby to Scotland, and Firstborn was down the town with her pals, Blue Eyed Boy, Penultimate and Youngest Children, Flora and myself climbed East Lomond hill today. It's in Fife rather than being anywhere near Loch Lomond, and it was new to me as a place to go but we'll definitely go back, especially since you climb quite high in the car first before you have to get out and walk! It was lovely and it was so nice to be out and about after our winter hibernation. I got the tip off about the existence of this walk from Flombo, the big cheese over at Scottish Banter, where I'm inclined to hang out while housework-avoiding, unless I've something to say here, or unless I'm on Facebook playing Bejewelled yet again (just how empty IS my sad life?). It was great to have a day to please ourselves and with no reason to clock watch. (Good thing too as I've, hopefully temporarily, lost my watch. I was bought a watch in October on the Champs-Elysees, which was then eaten by a certain puppy and an identical replacement was bought for me but now I've lost it. Should I have the dog x-rayed?). Here's a few photos from our walk:

Next we headed back down into the nearby village of Falkland.The village of Falkland is very pretty and historic. The blossom lifted my spirits still further. I hate winter! I love spring! Yeay!

We had a walk round the inside of Falkland Palace. You're not allowed to take photos inside, but I recommend it for a visit. It's owned by the National Trust and is rather nice.No matter where you go in Scotland, all statues are similarly attired. This one, just up the road from Falkland Palace, was no different. It's our Scottish sense of humour at its best and most typical.
We finished off with a fish supper at the seaside, at St Andrews. The dog thought the beach was a wonderful place.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

How do you go to church?

Last year a young woman at the hairdresser, on finding out that I was the wife of the minister of the church, asked me, "how do you go to church?" I didn't understand what "how do you go to church?" meant but it became clear she didn't know if you booked, if you got a ticket from somewhere, if you had to be invited, if you just turned up (the right answer by the way!) I was amazed that she didn't know. But of course, why would she know? Because I'm so used to the whole business of church in all its combination of weirdness and marvellousness and lunacy and glory, I take for granted things that I really shouldn't. I grew up as a minister's daughter and am quite at home in Churchworld. I can even cope with the variety of different types of church that there are and can worship as happily (almost) in most settings from charismatic to ultra-reformed to Roman Catholic mass to whatever. But I have my preferences of course, and 21 years to the day after Him Indoors and I decided that perhaps after all we weren't destined to be just good friends, I fortunately am able to say I particularly like the church of which he is minister. What a relief, eh?!

Recently it was my privilege and joy to take a few prisoners to church. We have services in the jail of course and I'm at great pains to stress to them that they are part of the worldwide church even in prison. However, it's good for them to experience "church outside" before release as a preparation for them to help bridge the enormous cultural gap that undoubtedly exists for them to cross to settle in a local church after liberation. I tell them that when they get released they need to find a church if they want to stay strong in their faith and that picking what church you go to is a bit like picking which pub will be your local - you have to try a few and find the one you feel at home in.

I used to think it was desperately sad that there were so many different church denominations and that we should all be able to agree on one way of doing church. But I've changed my mind. Certainly it's sad when there is a split, say, because folks' egos have got in the way, or there's been a power struggle, or because too much importance has been attached to one person's interpretation of how church should be. But perhaps the upside of that is that, since God is so awesomely awesome and amazingly amazing and wonderfully wonderful, no one group can express everything there is to express about who he is and what he has done for us and how his nature is. We should try to maintain the balance point of all the rich paradoxes of Church and of our faith. But we're always at risk of unbalancing.

Those who emphasise the love of God are perhaps at risk of not taking sin seriously enough and being too flippant about approaching God. Those who emphasise the holiness of God are perhaps at risk of not taking seriously enough the close Father-child relationship with us that is on offer.

Those who like a very ordered and formal style of worship are perhaps at risk of trying to overrule God's leading. Those who like a very fluid and spontaneous style of worship are perhaps at risk of making people feel distracted and uncomfortable by the unpredictability and chaos.

I've taken two pairs of two things there as examples but it's a lot more complex than that of course and only God could possibly understand it all.

I think the important thing is always to be aiming to be real. Church leaders throughout history, being human beings, have often got it wrong. And sometimes that's been through going for what looked good, for the latest thing, for the most fancy robes, or the most academic qualifications, or whatever would massage their egos and their pride. The best church leaders I've met are those who're good at being real, who talk in their own voices (not fake preachy pious church voices) from their hearts and mean what they're saying.

Tonight, a former prisoner visited the jail and spoke to some of the guys about what the Bible says and about how God loves them and wants to be in their lives. He is so real that it is a pleasure and privilege to listen to him, and the guys were hanging on his every word. He has an authority that comes from his realness and from the fact of course that he's been where they are. He has made the transition successfully from church in prison to church on the outside, though he admits that it has been a real struggle at times. Sadly church folk on the outside aren't always as real as church folk on the inside.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Stay In Jail Free.

This is another of Dave Walker's brilliant cartoons. Those of us who've participated in any kind of Bible study group/home group/similar or even secular groups will relate, I'm sure.

Leading a small Bible Study group in prison is this, but taken to a whole new level. And I love it.

Somehow you've to juggle having people who know NOTHING about the Bible and know it, people who know NOTHING about the Bible but think they do, people who know quite a lot about the Bible but for whom it's all theory, and, thankfully, people who know about the Bible and also personally know the author of it (who perhaps I should explain is God - for those readers who know NOTHING about the Bible!!)

But I just love the randomness of it and the fact they'll interrupt and have a sudden round of making tea in the middle of trying to get a point across. Or argue so fiercely with each other that I wonder if a fight will break out and I might need to press the staff alarm. Or go off on a tangent to have a discussion about aliens, or the parole system, or something on tv. (I do try to control it, but you've to pick your battles and let some red herrings swim for a bit, to mix my metaphors). The air can be blue with some of the language but you get used to that. It's crazy and impossible and hilarious and weird. But it can also be so incredibly profound. There can be moments of utter honesty, or of a light going on in a head (and often it's my head), or of that sweet love/joy/fellowship thing which suddenly, though maybe fleetingly, engulfs a ragbag group of Christian folk with otherwise apparently very little in common.

Occasionally guys have said of these meetings that for that time in the week, it's as if they're not in prison. How wonderful. It's not just, I realise, that I want guys to Get Out of Jail Free. I want them to experience freedom while they're still incarcerated. "If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed".

Drunk to the point of leglessness?

This made me laugh.

Monday, 9 March 2009

On Being Fruity.

One of the Bible verses that for some reason I find I keep coming back to with prisoners in Bible study times with them - and if I've blogged about it before I apologise for my rubbishy memory - is Galatians 5:22-23, "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." I don't know why I find myself bringing it up so often. But it is such a beautiful list. And it immediately follows such an ugly list: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God".

The contrast in the two lists is striking, but I think what's most appealing to me of all about this, and I found myself enthusing about it yet again tonight with two prisoners is that the first list above (the second list in the original context of course) is a list of fruits not a list of commands. It would be a bit overwhelming to be commanded to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled. But we're not. It's a list of promises. If we hitch our wagon to God's (to mix my metaphors) we're promised that along the way the natural by-products of our walk with Him will be love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. "AGAINST SUCH THINGS THERE IS NO LAW". If, as is the case for many of our guys, you've spent your life looking over your shoulder for the police (or "polis" as we call them in Scotland) how lovely to swap all that for this instead. And it's not OUR effort that achieves this fruit. It's the work of God through the Holy Spirit. Wow! How cool! The love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control also have little to do with our immediate circumstances. We can be full of love, joy, peace etc even in the midst of dark times. As I was explaining tonight in relation to peace in particular, the peace that Jesus gives, the "peace that surpasses all understanding" is a supernatural thing; it's not dependent on what's going on around us or where we are. So the guy who's gutted by his parole "knock-back" can still experience peace, if he puts his trust in God. I believe that for the guys when I'm talking to them. Sometimes, though, I forget to believe it for myself.

Perhaps I'll get a mural painted on the chaplaincy centre ceiling (don't be imagining the Cistine chapel now, think cr*ppy Portacabin) of a vine with nine bunches of grapes from it with these fruits of the Spirit attached. Then I'll be reminded every day of what God's got planned for these guys and me.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Friday, 6 March 2009

Uncle Buck.

Family film night tonight. After Penultimate Child and her dad had done Swimming Club and the rest of us had done Asda, we cuddled up to watch a DVD. Tonight it was one of Him Indoors' top five favourite films, namely "Uncle Buck" with the late great John Candy. Him Indoors and I have always liked it, but now as parents there's a whole new resonance that wasn't there when we first saw it. Same with "Father of the Bride" with Steve Martin. When I first saw it, I was the bride to be and I thought it was funny. Now as a mum, I actually find it incredibly moving. How our situation changes our perspective. Uncle Buck probably isn't entirely suitable for children, tbh, but I think we got away with it; the unsuitable-est bits were often over their heads. Even though I've seen the film before sufficient times not to have had any urge actually to watch it again, there's nothing to beat Friday night plus your pyjama-clad kids plus your glass of red wine to generate a glowing sense of bliss, in spite of the laundry backlog. The following is one of my favourite bits:
Buck: Did you brush your teeth?
Miles: Yeah. You can even feel my toothbrush.
Buck: You know, I have a friend who works at the crime lab at the police station. I could give him your toothbrush and he could run a test on it... to see if you actually brushed your teeth... or just ran your toothbrush under the faucet.
[Miles imagines hearing sirens, Buck leaves]
Maisy Russell: If that's true, we're gonna REALLY have to start brushing our teeth.

and this is funny:

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

And Another Thing.

As a follow on from yesterday's post, here's an interesting article. "I will tell you this, boy" (to quote Rab C. Nesbitt): this isn't right either. Our jails have far too many prisoners in them who are mentally unwell or who have pronounced learning difficulties and/or personality disorders. Are we just to say that this is what is to be expected? Or is there a better way for these individuals too?

I have seen so many guys who are comfortable in jail but scared s***less by the outside world. Is that okay? I don't think it is.

Could we as a society be a bit more sensitive to people who are less equipped than the rest of us to cope with daily life? (It could be argued that I'm not sufficiently equipped myself at times either, to be honest, but I manage to fool enough people enough of the time to muddle through. And at least I'm not running scared).

A hundred years ago, I was a visiting officer for the Department of Social Security. One task I was presented with was during Maggie Thatcher's "Care in the Community" drive. I visited lots of people who had been rehoused from a long stay hospital into flats in a very socially deprived area of Glasgow. Admittedly they didn't belong in a hospital, and they had certainly been shown how to cook, clean, shop and catch buses. But they were like children. My 13-year old is very able in many ways, but I wouldn't pop her into a flat and leave her to get on with it.

I don't in any way blame social services for not providing enough support for vulnerable adults. They are so far from adequately resourced that it would make you cry.

But the result is that there are people in prison who have committed crimes, certainly, but who are themselves vulnerable and worthy of our compassion and care.

From those to whom much is given (the rest of us) much is expected.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Jailing "Junkies"?

Today I was at the Chaplains' Away Day. When I started as a prison chaplain, I was delighted to hear that a couple of times a year there was a "Chaplains' Away Day". I thought it was a great idea that we could have a day when we had a break away from the intensity of what we do and go off and enjoy ourselves and get to know chaplains from other jails socially. What a numpty I am. A Chaplains' Away Day turned out not to involve a bucket and spade (shame), but to be a meeting in a conference room, in a less than glamorous setting, at which important matters of interest to chaplains can be discussed and through which we can be kept informed of developments on the national horizon that are of relevance to us. Very worthy. But not the same as a day out to have fun!

I don't know what the collective noun for a group of prison chaplains would be (suggestions welcome) but, honestly, what a bunch we are. Lots of different ecclesiologies and personalities and histories all gathered together make for interesting debates. Yet we're united by our passion to care for prisoners and to love them through their sentences, regardless of what they've done and whether they deserve it or not, just as God loves us in spite of everthing too.

One thing we are all agreed on, of course, is that it's really sad that so many people are in prison. In Scotland we've been around the 8,000 mark recently for the first time.

Last week I was at a two day course run by STRADA. Most of the particpants weren't prison service but workers in the addictions field. In my naivete, I was absolutely shocked to learn about the waiting lists there are for many drug rehabilitation interventions in many parts of the community. One said that in her area people had to wait for a year to get onto a methadone detox programme. What a lot of awful things can happen in a year for a drug addict and, it must be said, what a lot of victims they may create in their hunt for money to feed their habit.

Lots of people who have never taken drugs unfortunately leave prison with a drug habit they picked up in jail. Lots of people who used cannabis switch to hard drugs in jail because cannabis stays in the system much longer and they have a higher chance of failing a drug test. Both of these facts are tragic. To think we are sending out people with drug problems they didn't have when they come in is awful.

And yet an opposite scenario isn't exactly good news; I have heard on the grapevine that both males and females who have drug habits are deliberately offending because they know that in prison there is good drug rehabilitation on offer, without a waiting list. I didn't entirely believe that before but now I think I do. And I've certainly heard from many many prisoners themselves, statements along the lines of: "I'd be dead if I hadn't got the jail". It's not good enough. Putting money into addictions work might not be a vote winner for Parliament, but not doing so is creating yet more victims of crime, and amongst the children of addicted people further damage is being caused that will manifest itself way into the future as these kids grow up in distressing circumstances.

I don't know what the answer is exactly, but there must be a better way than this. And, although we weren't discussing drugs in particular, but incarceration in general, it seemed today that my chaplaincy colleagues probably feel a similar frustration.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Prayers for Me.

image from Kairos Prison Ministries

March 2009's "Prayer Topics" sheet was handed out at church this morning. There are seven topics - one for the Sundays of the month, one for the Mondays of the month and so one. I'm Miss Monday, so to speak.

I was supposed to submit a prayer request and, being the dopey auld wifie that I am, I forgot. However, I was thrilled to read the following:

Pray for AnneDroid in her work with prisoners. May her life be an open book for You. Give her wisdom as she brings Your hope to the prisoners and listens to their problems.

Well, okay, it didn't actually say AnneDroid; it used my Sunday name instead. But what a truly WONDERFUL prayer. If I'd remembered, I'd have submitted a prayer request for the guys rather than myself. However, I'd be absolutely thrilled to think people might pray that for me. I'm praying it for myself!

The Bible in a Nutshell.

My friend Claire sent me this today:

A child was asked to write a book review on the entire Bible:

"In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but God,darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, 'The Lord your God is one, but I think He must be a lot older than that. Anyway, God said, 'Give me a light!' and someone did. Then God made the world. He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they weren't embarrassed because mirrors hadn't been invented yet. Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven from the Garden of Eden.... Not sure what they were driven in, though, because they didn't have cars. Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was Abel. Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who lived to be like a million or something. One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him, but they said they would have to take a rain check. After Noah came Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jacob was more famous than his brother, Esau, because Esau sold Jacob his birthmark in exchange for some pot roast. Jacob had a son named Joseph who wore a really loud sports coat. Another important Bible guy is Moses, whose real name was Charlton Heston. Moses led the Israel Lights out of Egypt and away from the evil Pharaoh after God sent ten plagues on Pharaoh's people. These plagues included frogs, mice, lice, bowels, and no cable. God fed the Israel Lights every day with manicotti. Then he gave them His Top Ten Commandments. These include: don't lie, cheat, smoke, dance, or covet your neighbour's stuff. Oh, yeah, I just thought of one more: Humour your father and mother. One of Moses' best helpers was Joshua who was the first Bible guy to use spies. Joshua fought the battle of Geritol and the fence fell over on the town. After Joshua came David. He got to be king by killing a giant with a slingshot. He had a son named Solomon who had about 300 wives and 500 porcupines. My teacher says he was wise, but that doesn't sound very wise to me. After Solomon there were a bunch of major league prophets. One of these was Jonah, who was swallowed by a big whale and then barfed up on the shore. There were also some minor league prophets, but I guess we don't have to worry about them. After the Old Testament came the New Testament. Jesus is the star of The New. He was born in Bethlehem in a barn. (I wish I had been born in a barn too, because my mum is always saying to me, 'Close the door! Were you born in a barn?' It would be nice to say, 'As a matter of fact, I was.') During His life, Jesus had many arguments with sinners like the Pharisees and the Democrats. Jesus also had twelve opossums. The worst one was Judas Asparagus. Judas was so evil that they named a terrible vegetable after him. Jesus was a great man. He healed many leopards and even preached to some Germans on the Mount. But the Democrats and all those guys put Jesus on trial before Pontius the Pilot. Pilot didn't stick up for Jesus. He just washed his hands instead. Anyway, Jesus died for our sins, then came back to life again. He went up to Heaven but will be back at the end of the Aluminum. His return is foretold in the book of Revolution".