Thursday, 29 January 2015

Sometimes, You Have To Get Mad

I often ask myself what the heaven is Church for? And sometimes the answer is, "You mean apart from making me feel good, guilty or foolish? The answer has to be, Not Much" 
Then something really worthwhile happens, and I sigh with relief. I may be uncertain about lots of things I'm supposed to believe in, but THIS is really, really doing the stuff. 
I am thinking about the churches in Gloucester and their response to harmful cutbacks in services for the poor. We've seen in Gloucester what happens in the health service when the resources are pared away until it can no longer cope. The hospital shuts down. Everybody hears about it, everybody cares, everybody gets mad, and the accountable officials have to defend their actions. 
Sadly, not everybody cared, and very few people got mad when the Night Shelter for the homeless closed in February 2013. A few raised a shout when the Day Shelter went on January 3rd this year. Both, note, in winter, when they were most necessary. The County Council had a plan. When obliged, ie when a SWEP was called, they had a contract with Premier Inns to take the rough sleepers to their hotel in Cheltenham.
I doubt you know what a SWEP is. It's a Severe Weather Emergency Protocol. When the temperature is forecast to fall below zero for three consecutive nights, the Local Authorities have a statutory duty to provide shelter for rough sleepers. Except that a week ago when SWEP was initiated Gloucester County Council, and Premier Inns didn't. 
You'll never guess why. In the first place there seems to be a lot of official bungling. Bearing in mind, the reason for closing the Night Shelter was because a robust plan was in place to ensure that no-one slept out in severe weather, it seems nobody at the official level knew who was eligible, where they were, and who was responsibile for getting the vulnerable into a place of safety. Because, basically, nobody in charge cares too much. 
But the Christains know. At night they take hot soup and a sandwich to those on the streets, and during the day, the churches relentlessly hold the officials responsible for what doesn't happen when it should. A hero of mine is a wonderful man called Tony Hipkins, a volunteer who keeps on and on, quietly, graciously, kindly, asking "Who? What? Where? Why...? 
On January 16th. Premier Inns, despite being under contract to do so, refused to take in the rough sleepers because - wait for it - they couldn't supply an address.(!) Or an ID. And the public servant responsible for finding shelter for these people said, " Premier Inns have refused them, I have no further responsibility."
There was nowhere for these people to go, except back onto the streets. In sub- zero temoeratures. Fortunately nobody died. Sadly, this isn't always the case. 
I'm fed up with the softly, softly approach, so I am sounding off here, where all of 25 people will nod in sympathy or roll their eyes and say, "Here she goes again!" To the latter group I say, 
It's time to get mad.

Somebody lives here. I took this photograph yesterday after leaving a fresh duvet. It's the doorway of an empty office block about three minutes' walk from Gloucester Cathedral. 

Monday, 26 January 2015

MicroblogMondays:All Real Living Is Meeting

I am taking a break from serving tea, and am sitting relaxing with three of our guys.: Alan, Phil and Sam.


I wonder how I would have reacted to them four years ago before taking on this job. I expect I would have hurried past the line of weary-looking men and women, poorly dressed, down at heel, waiting for the doors of the Salvation Arly Citadel to open for a free lunch. (There IS such a thing, no matter what they say, and it's good. )


"How are you?" I ask Sam, really wanting ro know.


"Alright," he replies with a grin. Sam has Huntington's disease, and he won't be alright for long, but we don't speak of it.


"How are you Mary?"


I'm aright too.


"How about you, Phil?"


"Oh! I'm alright as well."


I feel a game coming on.


"What about you, Alan?" You don't look alright to me. Can you rise to an 'OK'?"


Alan laughs. He has severe arthritis, and and is in pain.


"Oh, I think I can manage an OK."


"Three alrights and an OK! I need to go round the other tables and collect statistics. "


Checklists, flipcharts, spreadsheets. We explore the possibilities.


Alan moves us on with, "I dreamed I failed my degree exams last night. Took them forty years ago. And passed. Funny things dreams ..."


The conversation drifts on. Famous dogs and their antiquity ( Sam's speciality) tattoos ... Sam has a tattoo of Pluto. Did Pluto, friend of Mickey Mouse, have a wife? I think he did, and that she was killed off. Why kill off a cartoon dog, and can a cartoon dog actually be said to be dead?


No conclusion is reached.


12:50 and I have to run. I explain that I almost missed the bus last week. The driver saw me, and turned round to pick me up. Everybody marvels at this.


I leave.


"All real living is meeting." A quote from Jewish philosopher Martin Buper. I've commented on it before, because it is profoundly true.


I guess there's a choice: stick with our prejudices about faceless street people, or sit with a mug of tea and three friends trying to remember if Pluto had a wife.

Monday, 19 January 2015

#MicroblogMondays:Taking The Bus

My friend Carol took me to task the other day for going on about getting old. Whilst I protest that I do so with tongue-in-cheek, as I feel twenty, and am frequently caught out acting like a six year-old, I admit she has a point. So I have stopped dwelling on creaking joints, aching backs and wrinkles, and am spending my time doing age-irrelevant tasks like dreaming up new and better meals, beating my record on 'Penguin Slide' on Wii-Fit Plus and catching up on back-issues of the New Scientist.
But there is one consequence of becoming a Senior Citizen ( Prefer, 'Wise Woman' myself ... ) that I am delighted with - my Bus Pass. Here in the UK, it enables those of state pension status ( basically over 65, but increasing thanks to the Bankers and their Crisis) to receive free travel on all local bus services.
I have used my pass to visit the beautiful city of Bath, to collect my favourite cheese from Moreton-in -the-Marsh and to oggle the sights from the top-deck of an iconic red London bus.
Today I used it to catch the 32 from outside the Co-op in Newent, to travel to Gloucester via Highnam. I was on my way in to serve tea at The Salvation Army Lunch For The Homeless, but you know that.
It was a spectacular morning. The sun was low, just climbing above the horizon, presiding over a truly beautiful landscape. I was in pole position; front seat, top-deck, which gives the best view ever: simultaneaosly elevated and intimate. Open fields and open curtains offering delightful vistas on both fronts.
The woods are still asleep, but the understoreys of hedgerows are springing to life. I saw snowdrops! The view across the river from Highnam offers a view of Gloucester not much changed since the nineteenth century, excusing the pylons ... There is a magical viewpoint that I wanted to capture for you, but unfortunately I missed it as the bus moved off the stop a fraction of a second too early. Nevertheless, here is:
"The View Seconds After The Best Landscape West of Gloucester". Enjoy!

Monday, 12 January 2015

#MicroblogMondays:The Eighty-fourth Problem

I love this story of the Bhudda. I heard it from another storyteller, as is the way with these things. He is Jack Kornfield, and he tells his tales, invoking compassion and loving-kindness, on the Dharma-Seed website. If, like me, you're still seeking stories to tell that make sense of this small life, there's some true wisdom here.
So. The Story:
A farmer seeks out the Bhudda and there unravels a tale of unrelenting woe. Monsoon rains, droughts, thefts, disease, pests, poor harvests, unsatisfactory wife, disobedient children, the full works.
"What shall I do?" The farmer asks the Buddah and waits for a grand solution.
"Everyone," says the Bhuddah, "Has eighty-three problems. I'm afraid I can't help with any of them."
"Well," says the farmer, not much impressed, "You're not all you're cracked up to be, are you?"
The Buddah smiles. " I can, however, save you from the eighty-fourth and most destructive problem,"

(We wait, agog. Do we not?)
"Stop tormenting yourself with, 'Why me?' "


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Pure Gift

I am overcome, right now, this minute, with an urge to write. I wouldn't get too concerned if I were you. Even if concern were your metier, by the time you read this, the Muse will have moved off to torment some other poor soul.

I am reading a book by ( Pause to write in author's name later. Don't forget) called, (Surely not. I HAVE to remember the title!) anyway it's about discovering my true self, a topic about which, being such a fraud, I am practically obsessed with.

I discover to my amazement that I am not doing all that badly. I say this to encourage you, Dear Readers, because if I'm getting 'B+' in the 'Knowing Who You Really Are' class, chances are that you are too. There are one or two tips that I would like to pass on, especially as at least two of you are my daughters, and mothers have an obligation:

1, Remember who you really are. I borrow this piece of advice from the Bhudda, whom I wish I could meet. Religion tells you that you are an eternal and embodied soul, doing time In a wonderful incarnation that isn't actually out to get you, so don't take the tough stuff too personally. Science will have a different take on the same theme: you are part of the cosmos knowing itself. Yes, really, I got that from one of those wonderful physicists on BBC 4, possibly Professor Brian Cox. Either way , you are pretty special. Gloriously, magnificentky, amazingly unique. So. Just SO.

2. Spend a significant part of every day doing something you really want to do. I often find this the most effective kind of prayer.

3. Practise being a better person. You'll know exactly how to do it, because the good stuff is innate.

4. And Finally. ( I pinched this one from Nelson Mandela, whom I would also like to meet one day.) Treat everyone as if THEY are good. This is a great tip, I find it really works.

The Muse has reminded me of something. I shall have to write it down, or I'll have no peace.

Last Spring, I was at Llansor Mill, sort of 'on retreat' except that THAT sounds holier than I mean it to. There's the Camping Field down by the river and I am hanging over the gate. The sun is behind me, and bright, despite the earliness of the hour, and the meadow grass is wet with dew. Yet, for a few amazing minutes, before the world turns, it's not: it's ablaze with diamonds, refracting light of every hue. I stop, I daren't breathe for fear of missing out on an amazing experience - that of knowing that I am the cosmos knowing itself. And in a moment of pure rapture, certain that creation is mine too, and that it's pure gift, and that I am thankful.

Goodnight, and God Bless!


PS: The Book: "Becoming Who You Are: Insights On The True Self From Thomas Merton And Other Saints"

By James Martin, SJ 

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Hate Crime

I do not habitually listen to news programmes. I don't say this is a good thing, it's just my way of keeping in check the amount of sadness amd pain I'm subjected to, because, frankly, I just can't take it. Sometimes, though, I feel I must.

Yesterday I watched an hour of news that was entirely concerned with the assassination in Paris, of the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, that were targeted for 'mocking' The Prophet Mohammed.

I found it hard. I wept. For the men and women who were killed, for the shocked people of Paris.. . But I felt I had to see it through, to bear witness to this latest manifestation of hate, intolerance and wickedness that some are capable of in the name of God.

I despair. Mankind has no need of a God, or a prophet, that inspires such grotesque acts of worship as this.

There is good news too. I see that many people, including Muslims, are speaking out, holding vigils, wearing Tee-shirts, writing blogs .... Saying to the perpetrators of this hate-crime, 'Me too! You might as well take me too... Because living in the world you want to bring about, wouldn't be worth it.'

They can't kill us all.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Bumping Down The Stairs

Yesterday I returned from a fabulous holiday with my family, now almost a clan, and here I am reflecting on the joys of the second half of life.

All that I will 'achieve' in the worldly sense is now behind me. I have more 'stuff' than I know what to do with, and no desire to engage in the duallist ding-dongs of the days when I believed it was better to be right than happy.

It feels like my ship of state is sailing over the horizon, but the journey holds no fear. I have found real and lasting things to love: precious time with my family, the pleasure of a country walk the fun of playing silly games with my grandchildren ...

There was a point rounding a headland on the beautiful Somerset coast where I just stopped, drew a deep breath and allowed simple gratitude to well up. To Whom, I'm not sure, but for what? Well, at sixty-four, still being able to bump down the stairs on my behind in a race with my three-year old granddaughter that I didn't even want ro win.