Don’t hate, donate!

dole-460x276Some of my friends have expressed some surprise that I have remained quiet(ish) over the news from Monday. I make no secret about being very anti the policies of the government from that era, and particularly the harshness of the then Prime Minister in her dealings with certain people groups and communities. I consider those polices to have seriously harmed this country and destroyed the feeling of community that we did have, and replaced it with a personal selfishness with no regard for others, which is still rife today.

Plenty of people have written good stuff without being offensive  people with far more of a right to write than me! I linked this morning to Russel Brand’s piece in the Guardian – well worth a read. An article that ‘identifies the whys without the expletives’ accurately noted a friend.

Despite my dislike (you will no doubt even notice my reluctance in even having the name on my blog) I cannot condone, nor would I join in with, so called ‘hate parties’. I could never celebrate someone’s death, not even if they had hurt me personally. As a Christian, and as a human being, death only separates and causes more pain and to maintain our human dignity I think the reality if that pain and loss in others needs to be respected.

There is a much better way to ‘protest’ if that indeed is the correct word. Don’t hate, donate is suggesting rather than have parties that we can donate money to help charities who work with people who are still suffering due to those policies, such as the homeless, miners families, gay teenagers, Hillsborough survivors and victims of Apartheid in South Africa.

Hate breeds more hate …. donating just might be a more satisfying alternative that can make a real difference.


the death zone

I found this video recently; regardless of political persuasion this is a very moving and beautifully filmed. This was filmed during the last two weeks of Philip Gould’s life and he talks of ‘excitement’, ‘joy’, and ‘approaching death’ while ’embracing life’. Most movingly he speaks of the time he understands that his life becomes death and only then did his life take on a quality that he felt it never had before.

This is simply a beautifully amazing and moving nine minutes.

remember … the poppy

Today is Remembrance Day, 11.11.11. I don’t often do long posts, but today my talk at last years Remembrance Service in the cathedral seems appropriate to share in light of what has been in the press recently:

‘Silence falls. Our soldiers fade away. No mans land turns slowly into a peaceful field of poppies. The only sound is that of a bird, singing sweetly.’

The stage directions for what has become known as one of the most powerfully moving scenes ever to grace our TV screens. The final stage directions for the last ever episode of the Blackadder comedy series. We see a slow motion shot of Captain Blackadder and the rest of his company going over the top. The theme tune hauntingly plays on a piano. Explosions around them. The soldiers disappear into a Flanders field as the colour fades away. Hesitantly, colour returns until we see before us a field of vibrant red. Poppies.

This image of the poppy continues to speak powerfully to us today. The poppy has become iconic. Speaking across the generations of sacrifice and remembrance.

I stand before you today nervous and a little unsure while feeling quite inadequate in this task of speaking to you during this service of remembrance. I’m 45, have a wife and 3 children, exist fairly comfortably and like to think I know a bit about life! I am conscious that some of you here today may only be half my age and yet you have experienced many things that I cannot even begin to imagine, and if I am honest – nor do I want to!

You people of our armed forces present today are brave people who have chosen to serve this country so that others, civilians like me, can live in peace and be protected from the horror of war.

I remember in my teenage years how war was glorified by those like Hollywood giving the impression that war was full of heroics and victory. Then the Falklands War happened. I was living in Weymouth at the time and waved off a good friend Richard who had joined up 4 years earlier. Rich survived the Sir Galahad and when I met him it was clear something had changed.

Looking into his eyes something was different, something was missing. Maybe some part of him had even died. As we talked it was clear he was hiding stuff, to protect us from the horror. The Hollywood image disappeared.

There are no words, there are no anecdotes … there is simply nothing that can take away the horror of war which has resulted in the death of your friends, your family members, civilians caught up in war zones and yes the deaths of those you have fought who are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers and friends of different people.

I am struck by our iconic symbol of this day. In this cathedral you can see 2 icons before you. The thing I love about icons is that the longer you look, the more you see. Icons have layers and layers of meaning. To the casual observer these depths of meaning can be missed. If I were to ask you what a poppy symbolised you would probably say ‘remembrance’.

There are two other iconic layers I wish to draw your attention to. The poppy is the source of opium. A powerful pain killing drug. The poppy speaks of the pain of the memory but also of the desire for the pain to be taken away. Just for a little while. As much as we may want that, we also know it does not help us or the rest of society if we try to escape the reality of pain. We live with the scars. Knowing that irrespective of whether those scars are from the wounds of missing loved ones or from the actual things we have experienced during war – both massively hurt! We face up to the pain which Remembrance day helps us to do.

There is another iconic layer of meaning of the poppy. This meaning has its roots in the Greek and Roman times. It comes from the knowledge that poppies bloom every spring. The redness of the poppy, which would be seen without exception every year, seen as a promise of hope and resurrection.

In those Flanders trenches, the poppy flowering each year with the coming of the warmer weather, brought life; it brought hope and colour to that war torn landscape. Red as the colour of hope. Nearly 100 years later the icon of the poppy can continue to be a symbol of hope. A promise of new life.

In the words we heard read in Isaiah, we hear talk of justice and peace coming:

‘My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places’

When will this happen? – Isaiah  goes on to say when a spirit from on high is poured out on us.  If we had read the set gospel reading for today, we would have heard the disciples ask the same question of a similar event … ‘when will all this happen?’

That gives us hope. Faith in the resurrected Christ does not draw out the ‘if’ question but the ‘when.’ When will this happen? There is a certainty there! This is not a faith that talks of being whisked to heaven where everything is ‘fluffy’ and nice. The choir the anthem sang are words from Revelation. These words tell us what will happen. There will be a new earth, and God will live with us and wipe away the pain.

There will be no more death, no more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain. Today we can remember that we have that hope of a new world here on earth.

I end with the, now famous, words written by Major John McCrae from the trenches in 1915:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

McCrae’s poppies symbolise the war dead. From the blood they shed on the battlefield, seeds germinated, sprouted, and grew into beautiful red flowers that inspired and heartened the living.

The poppy … an iconic sign of remembrance and hope – may we (are we able to) let it continue to inspire and hearten us today?

el azúcar

Tonight I had the pleasure of attending the private viewing of Andi’s exhibition at Deaf Cat. Andi had taken the Mexican Day of the Dead theme and produced some fantastic and beautiful work – if you are in Rochester at all this week you really need to pop into Deaf Cat to see this amazing work.

Some people without looking may dismiss the exhibition thinking it to be too morbid. But it isn’t. It is bright, vibrant and strangely alive. The festival itself is about continuation of life and the celebration of life … the complete opposite to halloween.

The picture … oh meet El Azúcar, my new monacled sugar skull. I think he looks amazing sitting on my desk, although I need to find a place to show him off proper.

if today was my last day …

Bishop Alan blogs about two of the Steve Jobs quotes today. They are both worth pondering.

I was only a little aware that Jobs lived his life out in this way … and I guess that is why he has been such an influential creative.

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart …

That is a pretty cool challenge and gutsy way to live
You can read the rest here.

my first burial

Today I took my first burial service which has given me a lot to reflect upon.

It may sound strange, but I seem to enjoy’ funerals. Maybe that is not the right word to use, but I had never really realised what a real honour and privilege it would be to share with a family at such a difficult and painful time for them. It seems to me that this is a real time when we can support people and really be of help by giving them an opportunity to remember, say goodbye and lay the person to rest. I think as well it gives us an opportunity to help people realise that it is ok and perfectly natural to grieve fully, which is painful, as well as be able to remind them that death is not the end. The Christian story is one of hope. Death is a real taboo subject, and I think we have a role in bringing the mystery and questions out into the open so that people can deal with them.

Today was a privilege. The family were lovely and although their loss was clearly incredibly painful they were holding onto the love they have for each other and enjoying memories that nothing, not even death, can take away. I shall continue to pray for them as they continue their lives without their loved one.

This role continues to surprise me but I’m not surprised by that!

achieving life

As this week draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot more on life following yesterdays thought, possibly due to some sad young deaths both locally and nationally. I’m slightly embarrased to say that I never thought I’d be quoting Jade Goody in such a poignant way.

‘I want to be remembered as the one who irritated and entertained people in equal measure! But I also want to be remembered as the girl who put up a fight. I was given a death sentence, but I didn’t let it kill me. I fought it, got married, got christened. I’ve achieved more in 27 years than some achieve in their lifetime. I could bitch about dying young, but at the end of the day, I can look back on my life and be proud of what I have done.’ Jade Goody

SEITE Easter School Day 2

Well morning prayer happened at 7.30 and I was there physically!
I heard a gentle snoring and wondered if it was God being gently woken and wondering why people have to worship Him at such an early hour! Apparently Rowan Williams was around – so maybe as a pioneer minister in training I can grab him for a coffee and chat about where he sees things going in the future and how pioneers can be both effectively trained and recruited!

Monday was funeral day – so we’ve looked at funeral services, looked at coffins and caskets and asked all the questions we would want to ask from a very helpful funeral director. The day was actually very useful and nowhere near as morbid as you might expect. I think I have learnt quite a lot today.

I’ve been forced to think a lot about death recently and feel my ideas around what is happening and what the Bible says are evolving. In many ways it is not something we think about often – probably due to our belief that things will not happen to us. Interestingly in my conversations with people death and what happens are becoming topics and do not seem to hold the big taboo that they used to. I find that quite intriguing? Is this a consequence in a bigger interest in spirituality and health and all that?

Highlights of the after hours program was the watching of The Life of Brian while Jeremy and I ran the bar for the night and part of Casino Royale while enjoying some nice whisky. Nice to end a thoughtful day back with the fun basics of good friends and good laughter!