Thursday, January 12, 2017

A recording device (2)

As a follow-up to Rob's oral history I should also mention his other recording exercise. At the end of their visit in 2015 he managed to compile a series of thoughts from all the family members (except us!) as they reflected on their time in England.  Well edited, it combined humorous and off-beat comments combined with several poignant and heart-felt words.  Listening to it reduced Carol to tears!

This time he produced another masterpiece.  Recorded during our final Chinese takeaway meal it began with rapid fire interviews with somewhat eccentric responses asking how family members chose to eat their Chinese. I am not sure we needed to know some of the enthusiasms!  But then Rob asked for their thoughts on all that had happened at Christmas with Nanny and Grampy!  One by one our children and grand-children spoke with seriousness and kindness.  Elliot (10 years old) said: ' I like that Nanny always plans ahead and prepares everything so carefully. When she told us that she had made the beds in the house we were staying it made me feel so welcome to England.' (What an insightful lad!)  Our daughter-in-laws both commented on Carol's gift of hospitality.  One of them said:' I love it when we come into the house and everything is so clean and ordered and right from the beginning we can relax.' Several other comments are too personal and it would be self-serving to report them (!) but you can guess how much we treasure this recording.

It reinforced the value of stopping to reflect and thank. This is not easy. Too often our busyness pushes us into the next thing without pausing for breath.  But when we consciously stop in order to be grateful and, better still, express those thanks - to God and to each other - we share in experiencing more the 'now' and live a little more deeply.  In 2017 we don't need a recording device to act on this.

Monday, January 9, 2017

A recording device (1)

After all the family happenings of these last few days so much merits reflection.  My son Rob, who is an associate professor of media studies (radio) at William Paterson University NJ, announced that he had packed his digital recorder in order to begin an oral history of his parents!  Though he stated this intention early in the visit it was only on the last day (actually within the last few hours) that he set up the impressive machine together with its heavy boom microphone fixed on a lightweight tripod.  I think both Carol and I were a little nervous and perplexed.  How on earth do you describe your past life in 45 minutes.  Actually, we only managed the first ten years.

A couple of things happened:
- As to the question How? - it all depended on sharp questions intelligently asked and sensitively followed up. He really is a good interviewer.  The time passed very quickly as we gave it our best shot.  Carol's birth story, her non-adoption giveaway, her frugal home and upbringing.  Living in the same house until she was married, she recalled early years playing with friends in the street, going to school, and special memories of her mother.  In contrast, I spelled out my early years in London, followed by idyllic times in Faringdon, Berkshire with village life spilling over with  'Darling Buds of May' stuff (H.E. Bates rosily pictured the Larkin family in the 1950's) followed by brutal experiences in S. Oxford school, followed by a move to Gloucester....all before the age of nine.  Surprising memories tumbled out. Really vivid.

- Rob expressed such amazement in hearing about us both. At the end he kept saying: 'I never knew that....I just never knew that!' Of course, why would he?  I realize how I never sat down to ask my parents to tell me something of their stories.  I really wish I had!
I don't know when we shall next tell some life-stories but it was deeply rewarding for us to look back with gratitude for all that God has given us and how he has led us.  How important it is to listen to others stories! And to tell them!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Welcome 2017

Just a line to greet you as the year has turned.  I guess optimists face 2017 optimistically and pessimists pessimistically with many of us probably wanting to identify as centrist realists.  For me, one expression has jumped out from Zechariah 9:12 (NLT)
Return to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope;
even now I announce that I will restore twice as much to you.

Prisoners of hope!  Christians are in the extraordinarily paradoxical situation of being caught up, trapped, in God's bigger kingdom purpose which does not remove the troubles, grief and despair of the human condition (which sadly continues in this fallen world) but which empowers cosmic conviction that 'Our God Reigns!'

Omid Safi sums it up well in his blog 'On Being':
Hope is powerful. Hope is different. It is more, much more, than mere optimism.
Optimism is ultimately about optics, about how we see the world. It’s about seeing the glass half-full.
Hope is different. Hope is a cosmic quality. Hope is rooted in faith, with feet mired in suffering. Hope is a heart in agony that yearns for liberation.
Hope is tied not to how we see the world, but to the faith we have in how the world actually is and will be.
Hope is not about seeing the world, but about the heart behind the eye, the soul that sees.
Hope is not a choice. Hope is not optics. Hope is not mere politics. We are wrapped up in hope. Caught up in hope. Imprisoned in hope.
Return to your fortress,
O you prisoners of hope.

We hope in the moral goodness of the universe. We hope in the goodness of God. We hope in the victory of good over evil.
Welcome 2017!

Monday, December 26, 2016


In our devotional reading today part of a seventeenth century poem was quoted, written by Richard Crashaw (1612-49).
Welcome, all wonders in one sight!
Summer in winter; day in night;
Heaven in earth, and God in man.
Great little one, whose all-embracing birth
Lifts earth to heaven, stoops heav'n to earth.

It made me stop and ponder....such profound contrasts contracted and compacted in one truly all-embracing birth.  There is nowhere else and no-one else for whom such words make any sense at all.  But in the incarnation they do. The world's most amazing event occurs.  Share in pondering with me!

Christmas 2016

I hope that your Christmas has brought wonderful times of peace and joy.  On Christmas Eve we took our US family to Ely Cathedral for the 3:00 pm Crib service, which retells the nativity story aided by local children and a donkey.  Warned that hundreds of families attend we arrived two hours early in order to park and spend some time in Ely before the big event.  However, at first we checked in at the cathedral to be warned that families arrive (very)early in order to find seats close enough to see the action.  All of which explains why I was left guarding five empty chairs on the front row right under the soaring Octagon, where the Norman nave suddenly breaks skywards into the fan-light ribs and tall windows of the Lantern high above pillars, arches, stained glass windows of the immense space.  Begun in 1083, with new work completed in 1252 the whole structure takes your breath away.  Indeed, I was sitting right under what many consider is the greatest piece of fourteenth-century architecture in Britain.

For half an hour few others showed up. In that extraordinary space, with wintry sunshine filtering through the windows I reveled in peace in God's presence.  I really did!  Oh, the privilege of minutes spent quietly in such a place.  An empty manger stood on the raised platform right in front of me. The service sheet had these responses:
-When the world was dark and all was very quiet, You came to be with us.
-You crept in beside us and no-one knew, Lord Jesus, come and be with us this Christmas and always.

With an hour to go children dressed up as shepherds and wise men showed up and quiet fled the place.  Excitement grew as a thousand people joined in the carols and heard the ever-fresh story anew.  And, of course, excitement continued with two of our grandchildren sharing the next day with us.  I loved seeing their worship in the cathedral and their enthusiasm at the gift giving and sharing, especially since they had taken so much trouble to bring wrapped presents for us.  Sophie, remembered my love of zebras and the colour purple, and made me a wall hanging with a magnificently drawn zebra under the slogan: Zebra power.  Just right for me!  The US family also presented us with a photo album of our holiday in 2015 when the whole family enjoyed Minehead.  It is impossible not to smile as you turn the pages and see kite-flying, crabbing, castle-visiting and scone-scoffing. I began...I hope your Christmas has given you some moments of peace and joy too.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

December Oddity

As Christmas races towards us and we send out our greetings - as I do now to all my readers who persevere with my erratic and non sequitur postings - I need to explain an apparent recent lack of communication.   As happens towards each year end I have begun transferring dates into my 2017 pocket calendar (no, still not digital!)  I noted a possible preaching tour in the Far East that was first mooted at the beginning of 2016.  Realizing I had heard no more details about the theme and expected work....or anything....I sent an email to the US organizer.  He assured me that the visit to Taiwan, S. Korea and Philippines was definitely happening in May 2017.  So I noted it in my 2017 schedule.

The next day I received an email from the team leader Tom Long (there will be four preachers in all) with a copy of his detailed outline of theme with deadlines for our responses.  Guess when he sent it?   Back in August!  But, mysteriously and very irritatingly, it had been sent to me at a non-existent yandex email address.  I was stunned to read what I was supposed to be working on these last few months. I was living in blissful ignorance (not for the first time). Tom shared in my astonishment that I had been gifted with a mythical email account especially since it is a well-known Soviet server that swallows up all correspondence so that he was unaware I had not received it.  He pondered the image of some Russian operative trying to decipher the code embedded in details about an Asian preaching conference!

Needless to say, the last few days I have been focusing on my contribution and trying to catch up!  However,  Carol with customary flowing pen has been sending out cards to friends with manic intensity.  Many readers of my blog are wisely anonymous but to you all let me reiterate my very best wishes for a joyful Christmas and fulfilling year ahead.  For many these are difficult days...may you especially know that the coming of Christ changes everything for the better.  Just imagine if we could not say 'God with us'!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Silk Screen Printing

Recently, Kettle's Yard (housing a notable Cambridge art collection) held a local 'Open House' in a nearby church which had opened its doors to celebrate our neighbourhood.  At its heart was a print studio where we were invited to create our own silk screen prints of a limited edition print by the artist in residence - Isabella Martin.  She called it A Collaborative Map of North Cambridge 2016 featuring the past, present, future and imagined, green public spaces and waterways.

At different times I have lived on four different roads in the area and my father pastored a church here. The map contains many comments from long-standing residents when much of the area was fields: 'courting in the haystacks', 'coronation party on Green's Road', 'Chivers apple and pears orchards'.  Some went way back - chalk bedrock and mining',  'an iron age fort' and others imagined 'Spiderman on Kendal Way' 'Unicorn on Arbury Road'.....!

Carol and I were guided in our print making as ink was strategically placed on the screen and we dragged a large blade slowly over the surface.  Raising the screen to see the finished products produced gasps of delight.  Mine was blue (102/250) and Carol's was green.  While they were hung up to dry we enjoyed some refreshments and wandered around a small exhibition of some Alfred Wallis paintings.  Living in Cornwall, he was a na├»ve artist who only started painting in his seventies when his wife died.  Oh, the memories they brought back! When I was a student I used to visit Jim Ede at his home Kettle's Yard long before it became a famous art museum.  One term he loaned me an Alfred Wallis picture to hang in my college room.  He said that he liked art to be part of daily living. Now such pictures are in galleries all over the world and sold at huge prices!  What a risk!

Both of us felt exhilarated by our participation (in very small ways) in this collaborative project and enjoyed the moments of creativity.  Another reminder of the power of collaboration!