the excellence of a a plum

plumThey didn’t have to take me into their home back in 2002 but they did. I was  about 23yrs old and had just completed a degree in environmental chemistry, a couple of volunteer years to get away from the  environmental chemistry degree which I hated and I was a little lost, or to be honest, I was a lot more than a little lost.

When after a week or so of moving into their home there was terrible news from a MRI scan and a major operation needed I fully expected to have to move out, to find somewhere else to live to allow them space at this difficult time.
Yet, that never happened.
Grace was shown to me by this couple (and family) at a time when I fully expected to pack my bags.

Now that I am a little bit older and a ministers spouse in a manse I am amazed at that decision to let someone like me stay in their home, especially maybe someone like me with my household habits and ability to eat breakfast cereals.
I like my space, I don’t want to be around people. If someone comes to stay for more than a few days I get cranky.
More than that, if I get sick my immediate reaction is to avoid people.
So to have welcomed me into their home as they did in such difficult circumstances humbles and surprises me. That is grace in action, not just preached.

I was remembering things like this over the weekend after having a service of thanksgiving for the lives of T + C in my old church as he retires after over 30yrs in one congregation and community.It has been one long weekend of reflection, memories and surprises.

It was the old faces I haven’t seen for 10 or more years who seemed delighted to see me again.
It was the kids I used to interact with in Sunday school when I ‘taught’ them. They would have been 9-10yrs old back then and now they are young men and women with boyfriends.There where kids I didn’t remember so well who remembered me.

It was other memories and things as well too personal or small to type out on a blog. In a way it has brought out my melancholic side because although it was an occasion of joyfulness and thanksgiving it also made me remember how much I miss my old church and the people there.

It also made me think about how much of my past life I have forgotten, the way I need to re-remember real experiences in my life again.Not so I can be nostalgic about them but so I can get my bearings again, that I can remember the roots of my past and see that God has been faithful to me despite my best efforts to stuff everything up.

I was reading and re-reading a page of Jacques Ellul today because it fascinates me and seems true in a world of Twitter feeds and hyperlinks. I’ve spent so much time obsessing on the shadows at the expense of the ‘little personal experiences’. I want to remember the excellence of the plums and the kindness and grace shown to me by people like T + C and not get obsessed with the shadows, because the shadows can suck the life out of you like the Ringwraiths do in Lord of the Rings.

‘..everyday day he [man] learns a thousand things from his newspaper and his wireless, and very important, very sensational things. Can he help it, that his little personal experiences, which deal, perhaps, with the excellence of a plum or of a razor blade, are drowned in this flood of important illusions concerning the atomic bomb, the fate of Germany, strikes and the like. …modern man, submerged by this flood of images which he cannot verify, is utterly unable to master them. They are not co-ordinated, for news succeeds new without ceasing. For instance, in the columns of the newspaper he will read one day about an affair which quickly disappears from the paper, and also from the brain of the reader. It is replaced by others; it is forgotten. A man gets used to living like this, without a present and without a past. He gets used to living in a complete incoherence, because all his intellectual activity is taken up with these fugitive visions, themselves without a past and without a future, and without any substance even in the present.’
Jacques Ellul


Last Homely House east of the Sea

I’m re-reading Lord of the Rings. The first time through it was a rushed job just to say I had read the book before the films came out.Now it’s a more a leisurely stroll through The Shire. I’ve just arrived in the House of Eldrond where Frodo is recuperating after a hazardous first leg of the journey.

Reading Bilbo’s description of the ‘Last Homely House east of the Sea’ I thought to myself  ‘I’d like our home to be something like that. ‘

‘Frodo was now safe in the Last Homely House east of the Sea. The house was, as Bilbo had long ago reported, “a perfect house, whether you like food or sleep or story-telling or singing, or just sitting and thinking best, or a pleasant mixture of them all”. Merely to be there was a cure for weariness, fear and sadness.’



So this morning I knew that there would a very glowing sermon for the Queen and this made me stay away from this morning’s service,
but wasn’t an option for my better half who has to go, even though she is Irish, as in born in Co. Offaly or lived mostly in Co. Dublin.  Not British yet part of the Presbyterian Church, like many other people. Well like some other people maybe.
So our gracious Queen isn’t her gracious Queen, and if you are from German or Korean, Polish or a republican from Belfast she isn’t your queen.
The point isn’t whether the Queen is good or bad, is gracious,etc  the point is that if you are the Presbyterian Church in Ireland then you are excluding people if you talk about ‘our Queen’ or ‘our nations armed forces’  as they might talk about at the General Assembly when talking about chaplains and the like.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland means that glowing sermons for the Queen might be divisive in your sister churches a few hours down the road, in places like Cork, Sligo, Dun Laoghaire,  Dundalk area, not even to mention 5mins up the road in west Belfast.

It’s hard, I always seem like I’m moaning about church or my faith, life in general. Yet if you are asking members of the church to bring a friend along to a service but giving glowing sermons for the things British or holding a Remembrance Day with the British National anthem that puts up a barrier to bringing along people who are Republican and saw the British Army as the oppressors….well, you know….it’s the PCNI…

‘You must not eat alone’

We had a little party on Wednesday for Mrs Canalways which involved some cooking and preparation of food, of making tortillas and baking bread, whirling up some pesto and dips, cleaning and washing up afterwards.
This might sound like hard work or a lot of effort (why not just go to M&S and buy a few bits and bobs?…which we did do) but I enjoyed doing it. And it seems like a good thing to do.

If there is one truth that I’ve learned about Christianity over the last decade or so, and if there is one setting where it seems to make sense it is around a few olives or a beer or two. Around a table there is a bit of give and take, you can enter long and lazy conversations, you can get to know your neighbour and it seems like an equal relationship.
I’m not talking about over the top, best china and dressing up type of hospitality, but the casual gathering with a few bits and bobs. |

I was reading this in Mediterranean Cookery by Claudia Roden.

‘Mediterranean society is family-based and that is where real Mediterranean cooking at its best is to be found. The home cooking of a society with strong family ties, large clans and women at home has none of the rigid rules of haute cuisine. And when dishes are passed down in the family they are fill of the little touches which make them both exquisite and individual.
I once asked a wrought-iron craftsman in Turkish Anatolia who builds pavilions in Seljuk and Ottoman styles, why he thought food in Turkey was regarded as being so important. He replied ‘What we enjoy most in life is being hospitable. That is all we have. You must not eat alone.’

That seems to me like pretty good advice for a church to take on board as well.

a hungry son of the righteous?/ church /sharing meals

Sometimes it would be nice to see a harvest for all those seeds you planted in good faith.

I’m not just talking about my veg patch (though that would be nice as well) but for all the unseen hidden groundwork in life that you do and nobody seems to notice.
I’ve actually my suspicions that nobody does notice.

I know of a gentleman (and he is a gentleman) who has come over to this country to for theological training, except not being  from the EU it has been an endless to find work. Now that he has eventually found work it is a slog to do his theological training and take it back to his country.

Keeping it vague he was telling us that he bumped into people from his own country the other day, men who where staying in the place he worked. It turned out these men worked for the corrupt government of his own country.

And my friend couldn’t help but wonder about how it is that someone who is trying his best to honour God could have life so tough while the government officials of a dictator could have it so easy?
Or how could that fit in with Psalm 37, especially verses like

5 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.

That was a verse I came across the other day as well. Is that verse true?
Does God really look after us and give us our daily bread?

To be honest money can be pretty tight in our household.
So one day a cheque came throught the postbox which would gave us a sense of breathing space or a safety net.

So what happened the next day? The car went to pot and the breathing space gift money was gone.
Of course you could say ‘Well isn’t it just as well the gift money came through when it did because the car was about to break…what an answer to prayer..’

but part of you goes

‘Could God not just do his miracle thing and keep the car running smoothly?We’re trying to do the right thing by him and we’re sick of living on the edge…if God can part the Red Sea he can keep a Fiat Punto on the road’

(Actually,maybe keeping a Fiat Punto on the road is asking too much, even from God.)

It just seems to be hard to do the right thing.
However one of the problems seems to be a sense of alienation.
You seem to be the only ones struggling with money or with a car that is shite. You’re worried that if you can’t pay the rent there is nowhere for you to live.

This sense of alienation is the scariest thing about it all because there is no sense of people being there to pick you up when you fall.

Blogging and Facebook are pretty narrow ways to live, but they don’t give you any sense of reassurance that you have people that have got your back or covering you. Does technology feed our sense of being alone in the cosmos?

Yeah, definately – the sense of alienation is what makes things especially hard, You need to know that if your car breaks down for examply there is someone who will give you a lift to wherever you need to go, or let you borrow their car without any sense that they are doing you are favour or because someone made them do it.

They need to feel that from you as well. But its a hard place to get to, this sense of belonging and being. We’re so alienated as people, we’re so alienated in church.

But I know what I would do to fix this.

We should all eat together more. It is no exaggeration to say this but those people I feel closest to, who I feel safest with are those people I have shared meals with.

If we want to stop feeling to alienated from each other we need to start cooking for each other and having each other round for dinner more, we need to break bread together and drink red wine, or cook fish

I’ve had the image of the Jesus cooking fish and telling the disciples ‘Come and have breakfast’ from John 21 in my head.

When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.