Sunday, 29 November 2015

A Year On

I went to an AGM on Thursday night. It was a real sacrifice let me tell you, as I am trying to give meetings up as a reward to myself for leading a good life.


It was the annual reckoning to its supporters of Gloucester City Mission and it was the usual mix of reports and chocolate biscuits. There are now 20 rough sleepers in Gloucester, and many many, more people living in poverty helped by GCM , which means, a little, helped by people like me. 'Grannies for God' I call us, because most of us are: not because we're especially holy, but because we're free during the day to go out on the streets.


On the same point, and by way of conclusion, I found a piece I wrote two years ago for a friend describing a visit to The Day Centre for the homeless before it closed last January:


Mission work was rewarding yesterday. I walked to the Vaughn Centre with Dennis, Ethlyn and Maureen. We had a lot of goodies, so were very popular.

I talked to Abs, an Indian guy in his twenties, a drinker, sent by his parents to India for six years, where he was abused. And more and more... But what impressed me about him was his gentleness, his politeness, and the way he was seeking a way out. Maureen, who is a baptist and a bit more overt than me, took over, and Abs seemed to be earnestly engaged. Funny, I just realised that he has the the name I use for Abigail...

Then there was Dave - indeterminate age, be-stubbled (undesigner), missing teeth, happy, well under the influence... He's just out of prison, has got back with his partner, hence the happy.

'Do you want to see my tattoo?'

Well, what girl could refuse?

He'd seen the text on the wall of the prison chapel, it was, 'God alone is my judge' and it was tattooed down his left calf. ('Now THAT'S irony, Dave,' I didn't say.)

I tried to think of what I would have tattooed, and where, and drew a blank on both counts.

I tell you I came away with a great deal of admiration for prison workers. 'Janice' had really looked after him I could tell, keeping him company, getting him a radio, encouraging him and - not judging him.

Dave wants to be baptised. So, I called over Dennis, who is great with men under the influence, having been one himself once, and he talked about the implications...

There's a great little church in the Docks nearby, the old 'Mariner's' church that had served the sailors and bargees when the docks was more than a Mall on water. The vicar is enthusiastic, and the church is alive to the needs of men like Dave.

Which ALL churches will need to become when the Night Shelter closes and the Vaughn Centre loses its funding next year. We have to get good at doing the real stuff. As I often say to people of faith, the Christ won't judge us on doctrine, theology, or the magnificence of our buildings (not in a GOOD way anyway) but on what we did for the widows, orphans and drunks.

What a witness it would be if the church, in all it's manifestations, spent as much time and energy on the latter as the former! By any criteria, I would say we have failed miserably in what should have been our prime purpose. It's no wonder thinking people don't want to know.

There! It's out! I am bordering on disillusionment. And yet, and yet, I'm not ready to jack it all in. I really don't know why!

The AGM was a reminder that whilst some things get worse, others get better. The street friends mentioned above have moved on, as many do, hopefully to better things, and GCM is now in a position to rent a permanent home. We will share premises with the Homeless Healthcare Team. Christians Against Poverty, and the Food Bank. A Poverty 'One-Stop Shop' which I wish to God we didn't need. At least there will be food and shelter for people who need it this Christmas.



Tuesday, 24 November 2015

#MicroblogMondays:When death comes

A year ago I wrote of the impending death of my dear friend, Margareta Ferguson. ('The Last Mile') Somewhat embarrassingly, and to my joy, Margareta recovered. Not completely, but well enough to do many of the things she wanted to do, and to prepare herself for her final journey. Not that anyone CAN truly do so: If any event may be described as 'a leap in the dark,' this is it.

Also for Margareta, a leap of faith.

Last Friday, Loarne, her son called me to say. "Come now, if you want to say goodbye." I went. My friend was unconscious and her breathing was laboured. I held her awkwardly in my arms, and sang the psalm I had promised her for her last hours:

"How lovely is your dwelling place

Oh Lord of Hosts

My soul longs and yearns for your courts

And my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God ... "

A final hug and my last prayer for her:

"Lord now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace ... "


I left her then, in safer hands than mine.


Monday, 23 November 2015

An Enquiring Mind

The day before terror was unleashed on Paris, it was reported that Jehadi John, a murderous bastard responsible for multiple atrocities, had been vaporised in a drone strike. I felt elated. Joyful. Delighted. Yes, I did. To be truthful, I still do.

I felt something else to: the need to stop and observe the elation, the quickened heartbeat, the rush of pleasure. .. This is new, this is the fruit of months of Buddhist practice. Why, I wonder, is my instinctive reaction so alien to my respect for human life, my abhorrence of violence?

Can't answer that. It's all there in my neuro-biology I expect, the amygdula kicking in, rushing to the defence of the species as represented by me, or somesuch. A rational explanation for an irrational act. I'm not making any judgement or trying to excuse myself: I don't even feel that my instinctive reaction was wrong. I'm just watching it unfold.

It's what happens next that I can work on.

Hate will never conquer hate. An ideology that feeds off fear and stirs up prejudice cannot be bombed out of existence. Perhaps containment is the best that can be hoped for? II have no answers.

The essence of Zen is to 'tend the garden'. I love this metaphor at every level. In my everyday life it is to keep a perpetual watch on the part of me that would vaporise a man and take pleasure in it, and to go about doing what I can in my patch to make the lives of people I meet a little better.


It's not much, but it's a start.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

MicroblogMondays:Seven Symptoms of Evil

So soon after remembering the men and women sacrificed for peace in foreign wars, the visceral horror of conflict was brought home in the scenes from Paris. Ordinary people out to enjoy themselves in a restaurant, concert hall, football stadium, ripped apart in cold blood.

Words of condolence must come as little consolation to families trying to make sense of their loss.

It's hard to get inside the heads of people who want to commit mass murder. Surely they must be evil?

Coincidentally, this week's New Scientist (Nov 14 2015) published an article 'The Seven Symptoms of Evil' that seeks to shed some light on the mindset of IS fighters.

Easy enough to see these traits in others. Perhaps it's pertinent to spend another minute in silence to ponder whether we need to do a bit of work on ourselves.

"Syndrome E: Can Neuroscience Explain The Executioners of ISIS?" (Extract)

Seven symptoms of evil

The idea that evil is a disease is predicated on the observation that mass killers share some common traits:

  • Compulsive repetitive violence
  • Obsessive beliefs
  • Rapid desensitisation to violence
  • Flat emotional state
  • Separation of violence from everyday activities
  • Obedience to an authority
  • Perceiving group members as virtuous

Link to the full article:

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

#MicroblogMondays: Beware! Left-Winger On The War-Path!

I have been suffering more than somewhat from writer's block. I have a sheaf of poems that, frankly, aren't going to finish themselves, and numerous false starts filed here on Blogsey that won't make it past the starting pistol.

So I'm thinking to myself, "Could this be the end?  Is it time to pop the inkwell back in the stationery cupboard and get back on the garden?" These are rhetorical questions, metaphorical in nature, and not particularly helpful, as it happens, BUT, on the verge of dropping out of the literary race I got caught by Gandhi:

"My life is my message."

He scrawled that on the back of an envelope which he then thrust through the window of a departing train to a devotee who'd asked for a last word for his followers.

"My life is my message."

Now before you give up in disgust thinking I've turned into some egotistical maniac, or driven those of you who are intimate with my life into paroxysms of mirth: it's Jeremy Corbyn I'm talking about.

Yesterday he was pilloried by people who want to do that to him, because he didn't bow low enough at the Remembrance Day ceremonial in London.

So far, so bad. But you will know, because I'm going to tell you, that instead of hoofing off to stick his nose in the trough with the other dignitaries, he then went over to the barriers to applaud the veterans who were kept safely behind them. He then returned to his constituency to read Wilfren Owen's great peace-poem ' Futility' at another Armistice Day service.

"My life is my message."

This is why Jeremy Corbyn stands apart from the bunch of trumped-up, over-spun, nasty little nobodies that comprise the UK government today. They despise him because  his is the power of the heart and the soul:it makes them angry because he calls them out. Just by being who he is.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

#MicroblogMondays:What time do you call this?

There's a knock at the door at 6:30 am. I am shocked awake and immediately thinking something must be wrong.. Terribly wrong. Who knocks on the door at this time of day?

Pulling on the nearest garment to hand - my husband's ancient towelling bathrobe, I fly down the stairs and throw open the front door.

Here stands not a harbinger of misfortune, or a stranger in distress, but the Grocery Delivery Man. I am taken aback, he is totally unphased.

The next time I book my slot, I shall wear my glasses.