Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Grave disappointment

In December I mentioned a preaching tour spectacular scheduled for May 2017.  Four of us were to form a preaching team for conferences in Manila, Taipei and Seoul...all within two weeks.  Hearing that arrangements were developing full steam ahead with a deadline for materials at the end of February 2017 I pressed on eagerly and these last few weeks I have (mostly) written my address for translation.  Imagine my delight when talking with the Boston tour operator she then organized my first (business class) airline ticket to the Philippines from Heathrow.  It was becoming real.

However.....imagine my disappointment when I heard last week that the whole trip was cancelled!  Oh no!  An email shared the sad news without explanation though, of course, with much apology.  The US administrator said he was distressed by the news too.  Apparently I need to send him my address which may be published and I have to stand by because a conference opportunity in the US may open up in 2018.  But I cannot disguise my disappointment.

In the interests of full disclosure I also need to mention that Carol is exhilarated by this news.  Though expressing some sympathy for me she has never concealed her worries about me going off to foreign places without her.  Every piece of disturbing news about the three countries to be visited has reinforced her concerns and (though she is coy about admitting it)  I am pretty sure that she has been praying the trip would be cancelled!  For my own protection, of course. As one of my  friends said: 'Well, you know about the powerful prayers of a righteous person!'

Saturday, February 11, 2017

80 years young

We recently attended a 80th birthday celebration for a friend we have known for the last thirty years.  About 50 people gathered in a restaurant to enjoy the occasion and we were delighted to greet several other guests we know well and be introduced to several more.   After the meal a cake was produced and our friend made a short speech.


She thanked us all for coming and then said three things:
     I am unhappy that I am so doubled up that I now have to use sticks to walk (her arthritis is serious);
     I am very unhappy that my husband is not here. He died 10 years ago and I miss him terribly;
     BUT for the last 65 years Jesus Christ has been with me every step of the way.  I have to tell you that his friendship is the most important part of my life. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
It was a very short speech but it expressed so clearly and honestly just how she felt on her big day.


It was a timely reminder as ageing so often brings poor health and bereavement that the relationship with Christ cannot be broken - the same yesterday, today and forever.  Gratefully, I left the meal with that conviction ringing in my ears.  There's no substitute for live testimony like that!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Back to School - Watercolour Class (1)

The last four weeks I have been back to school - actually a nearby Community College - which boasts a variety of adult classes.  Though I greatly enjoyed painting in the past (that's forty plus years ago) I have never learned to use water colours.  When I saw this class posted for beginners and those with a little experience I signed up, albeit with many questions.  You know the kind!  Who will be there, who will teach and how, what will happen in ten weeks?  Ten of us started out and it seems to have settled down to around 7 or 8 - evenly divided between men and women with the average age knocked down by a younger couple.

So what happened?  I have been intrigued by how the teacher has worked with our disparate group.  First, he has gone for boldness and confidence.  He poured scorn on little brushes, small paper, and detail of any kind. "We are not maiden aunts with our little paint pads doing miniatures!' he said.  He demanded that we buy quarter imperial paper, big brushes (12 or 14 for those who know about these things!) and that we begin with big vistas and large brush-strokes.

Second, he focuses on simplicity.  He recommends three colours are all we need: cadmium yellow, cobalt blue and cadmium red.  The rest is down to mixing with basic rules of eye-level, horizon, near, middle and far distances and concentration on tone.  It's tone that matters he keeps saying!

Third, he models from the front.  Sending out details about the next picture before each class he then encourages us to paint along with him.  As he slaps the paint on at the front (and at times it just seems a slap) he distributes little gems such as the need to preserve the white paper and the changes of tone to give three dimensions.  As we follow, he walks round, to give personal encouragement, advice and sometimes rescues a problem!  Rarely does anyone lose enthusiasm!

Four, he makes plenty of room for mystery.  At the outset he explained that because water colouring works with water  there is always some uncontrollability about what may happen next.  With experience you can build expectation but you never quite know.

I know I shall have a couple of reflections as the class progresses but the class agrees that he is a good teacher....and it's much to do with these four aspects.  I cannot help thinking about implications for those of us engaged in Christian teaching.

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

Ponder....

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!