Tag Archives: children

11 November: Poppies for remembering

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We took a walk in South Manchester, going  to the Fletcher Moss Park along this footpath. Here it crosses over the tram lines; not only has the bridge been decorated with poppies, but where the overgrown verges of the path have been cleared, three local primary schools have sown poppy seeds, ready to come up in the next few weeks. (I was writing this in March, but the poppies did indeed flower during the summer.)

There were poems by some of the children attached to the fence, just out of sight.

On this centenary Remembrance Day, what should we teach them about events that no-one alive remembers? In an increasingly aggressive world, do we say ‘Si Vis Pacem. Pare Bellum’ – ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’? That makes a certain sense, but it is not the way we expect them to behave in the playground.

A sense of injustice can lead to war; but there is also greed. And there is romanticising of self-sacrifice in battle which all too easily prevents the asking of difficult questions. (How dare you suggest my father/brother/son died for nothing.)

There were reasons why our fathers and grandfathers did not speak of their wartime experiences: because romantic it was not. As well as pain, loneliness and fear, a man had to be ready to kill fellow human beings, individually or en masse. Many hated this duty but there was also bloodlust; something we have witnessed, and continue to witness, in today’s conflicts.

Perhaps it’s good to introduce the children to the idea of self-sacrifice, while diverting them from the glorification of war and from the aggressive war games we used to play – in times when the nation had not got the Second World War out of its system. That of course is too easily said, when immersive shoot-up games are readily available on computers and on line. Do these dissipate aggression or reinforce it?

MMB

 

 

 

 

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October 21. What is Theology Saying? XXXIV: My “me” is dependent on desires.

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The fact that my way is illusory means that it cannot be natural, a mistake cannot be of the essence of anything. That this is world-wide and world-old cannot make it natural. Revelation has something to tell us about living together; and we must avoid supposing an autonomy of social science, which forgets that modern social theory is formulated specifically against theology. It shares the same illusion of seeing reality as setting one against another. As a consequence of faith in the Incarnation, we receive the awareness that self-awareness comes from seeing self as total gift – no rivalry, as each one is unique.

Why does the infant struggle to repeat words and sounds; a process we take for granted? It isn’t automatic [and often missing in the Autistic]. This pull we feel confronting us as gravity is for the planets. It is a call to imitate, it is repetitive learning. We move into adult life through relating and, like gravity, such imitating both attracts and repels. We are attracted and we imitate, but eventually imitation leads to rivalry, using the same model differently. Our model is now our rival through whom we define ourselves against.

We imitate not just what the model looks like – but also what he/she has; it is this moving towards an object other than the model that we call desire. It pulls us away from the model into a kind of autonomy. But something more is required to fashion me. This involves focussing on the model as being – wanting to be who the model is. It is this imitating that eventually leads to rivalry: an impossible rivalry. Rivalry is resolved by exclusion or marginalising the victim – asserting individual self over the self of the other – I establish me through many victories gained in this way.

Does this mean we are all victimisers? The sense of self is always given – not acquired. It is the tension set in place by my sense of self as given, and as self acquired by violent means – this is the essence of Original Sin. My sense of self is unstable, changeable, other-dependent – the other who is there before me. My “me” is dependent on the desires that gave rise to it. Christian scholars understood the way in which humans relate to God in terms of where we come from, where we are going and how to get there.

AMcC

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October 9: Traherne X: you must be Heir of the World

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Love has a marvellous property of feeling in another It can enjoy in another, as well as enjoy him. Love is an infinite treasure to its object, and its object is so to it. God is Love, and you are His object. You are created to be His Love : and He is yours. He is happy in you, when you are happy : as parents in their children. He is afflicted in all your afflictions.

And whosoever toucheth you, toucheth the apple of His eye.

Will not you be happy in all His enjoyments ? He feeleth in you ; will not you feel in Him? He hath obliged you to love Him. And if you love Him, you must of necessity be Heir of the World, for you are happy in Him. All His praises are your joys, all His enjoyments are your treasures, all His pleasures are your enjoyments. In God you are crowned, in God you are concerned. In Him you feel, in Him you live, and move, and have your being, in Him yon are blessed. Whatsoever therefore serveth Him, serveth you and in Him you inherit all things.

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27 August. Shared Table XXIV: Prue and the Firefighters

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When Abel’s mother was growing up, Prue Leith was advising what was still British Rail on catering for their passengers. Abel’s mother and her sisters really enjoyed Casey Jones milk shakes from Charing Cross station in London, superior to the franchise operators who took over after privatisation.

Ms Leith was writing about meals in the i newspaper recently (June 30). At the same time as she was devising London’s best milk shakes, her company was catering for city firms, But that business has gone. People are eating alone at their desks, as we read recently.

An exception is the Fire Service, where one firefighter on each watch will shop and cook for the crew: breakfast, lunch, dinner. Meals matter to keep the individual firefighters fit and healthy, and to keep the team fit and healthy, knowing each other, looking out for each other, ‘having each other’s backs.’

I share Ms Leith’s sorrow that eating together has been slipping away from work and family life. Let’s turn off the tv or radio and enjoy each other’s fresh news and stale jokes again!

A festive table from the Littlehampton Sisters, who need no lessons from me in eating, living and praying together! WT

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26 August: Behind these doors …

 

On January 23 I shared a picture of a garage door, the entrancing entrance to the Westminster diocesan archive in London. The archive is soon to be renovated, and sadly for the romantic researcher, the deceptive door will be no more. But really it is good news, as the new entrance will be on the flat without thresholds and steps.

Here is an archive that was built from underground up to be accessible. This is the British Library, home to the eighth century Lindisfarne Gospels as well as every book published in Britain in modern times, and much more besides, including hard to find works on Africa and those working there in the first half of last century, my reason for going there.

Under the courtyard are shelves where curators go to find the books readers request. In the courtyard is Sir Isaac Newton, based on a drawing by William Blake by the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi. Blake was not over impressed by Newton, who he felt turned his back on beauty to measure and record facts, reducing creation to what can be proved and tested. Not altogether fair on Newton, but the statue celebrates both men, and both streams of thought.

In the background can be seen the mid 19th century romantic brickwork of Saint Pancras railway station, my usual arrival point in London. The Library is in the same brick, though in a completely different style. On this site was once the goods (freight) depot for the Midland Railway, built in the same red brick. The crimson on the ventilators evokes the Midland Railway livery.

The goods that leave this spot today are ideas, not physical supplies for shops and trades. This is one of the most important buildings in the world, free to use for research, free to go in and see the displays of rare books. The Harry Potter exhibition was to be paid for and there were at least four parties of school children going in or out as I ate my sandwiches; I think one group had stayed too long eating their lunch as I heard their teacher complaining, ‘And now you’re wasting my time.’ I was off to the Underground, and that deceptive door!

.archivegarage

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29 July: Without thinking?

People were receiving Communion without thinking, the preacher suspected. But how true is that? And does it matter?

I doubt that parents or nurses or carers are always consciously focussed on the task in hand when they change the nappy or soiled sheets of a child or elderly patient, but they will still do the job properly. Doing the job properly is what matters, not having the mind fully focussed or experiencing the ‘right’ emotions.

Lest anyone object to my comparison, I would argue that changing a nappy or soiled sheets could be counted as a work of mercy to rank with the other seven, It is an act of love, and it is life-saving, as any public health worker would tell you.

There are distractions enough at Communion time in church: apart from anything else, I find myself watching whether the person in front of me is going to kneel or genuflect: am I a safe distance from them?

There is though, a chance for all to spend time silently reflecting after Communion. If the priest allows it to happen of course, and to be fair, this preacher does.

In life there are times when the head must lead the heart, and indeed the body or the senses must also lead at times, perhaps when we are dog tired and still need to carry on. It can happen that way at Mass or prayers too: coming to Mass after working a long shift or enduring a broken night may lead to not hearing the readings, missing the consecration and lining up mechanically to receive the sacrament, even to falling fully asleep in the post Communion silence. But you can be there in body and spirit, if not in mind.

MMB

 

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23 July: Shared table XXII, Wedding Cake.

We went to a couple of weddings last year, as I was reminded by the photograph in yesterday’s post. The top of the cake on that day was given to the bridesmaid for her birthday party: wouldn’t you feel special if that happened for your seventh birthday?

A friend of the bride’s mother made the cake; it was a real labour of love, and the love rippled on as the bridesmaid and her friends enjoyed it, as well as we who later ate some at home.

At our wedding, my brother made the traditional fruit cake. The top layer was still good eighteen months later when our firstborn was baptised. Ponder the many connections there, the sharing of our wedding cake, not with our daughter (even I would not offer a newborn a crumb of wedding cake), but with people we had not known when we got married. But soon after the wedding, slices had been posted around the world to people who were unable to be with us on the day. As far as Burkina Faso, Paraguay and Australia.

You don’t have to be in the same room at the same time to share food and drink.

Such sharing points to something very important, don’t you think?

The best willow pattern service accompanied the eating of our slices of wedding cake last year.

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18 July, What is Theology Saying? XVIII: The Eucharist 5: How can a person be food for another?

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What God says is always infallible – and that voice is the sound of the poor! We can and do proclaim: man does not live by bread alone – which is in fact only half true; it needs to be completed with man cannot live without bread. What Jesus brings as Bread of Life is how these two actually fit each other – so much so that we could equally say – what God has joined together let no one break apart…

How can a person be food for another? A strange question when that is how every one of us began life in the womb. Indeed the Bible uses this example to express how God sustains creation. The Mystics speak eloquently of Jesus’ relationship: how often I have longed to gather you children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings – Matthew 23.37. Equally do we sustain each other when rescuing from hopelessness and desperation; like the Apostles on Good Friday night. But now they have been enlivened in a new way – as if they too had been raised from the dead.

Passover acquired a new meaning with the Resurrection – the difference Jesus makes in himself becoming food is linked directly with his death. Our Eucharist of bread and wine must remind us that here we have the Paschal Lamb – a lamb becomes food only when it is killed, not when it dies! Its vocation is to become food for others – to be slaughtered and eaten. When Jesus spoke of becoming food many were scandalised; yet it is in his death that he becomes the bread of life; and it is through our being taken into his death [Baptism] that this food satisfies human hungers.

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Our shared meal is a token piece of food celebrated within an elaborate ritual. God blessed creation making it fruitful. He also blessed the 7th day for us to enjoy what is given. The flood symbolises our complete disregard for what God offers. God blesses Noah with this very same blessing, now with a more explicit covenant. Blessing is a creative act, bringing something new, and making the one blessed a source of blessing for others. It is not only God who blesses – in certain places parents bless their children before they go out. Parental blessing is calling from within another something not yet there, it is an expression of hope for sustaining new life.

AMcC

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23 June: What became of …

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Simon had been a pupil at a school where I had once taught: that’s how we got talking about the disaffected lads I had worked with. Not that sunny Simon, whom I knew before I began teaching, ever had an ounce of disaffection in him in all those forty years.

But Luke did. He was ever ready to pick a fight with another child, then try to pin the blame on them when they gave him as much of a pasting as they could before they were stopped. One day he ran away on an outing to London, but was hiding in full view of the railway station cameras, so was soon rounded up.

‘Do you know what happened to these boys?’ asked Mary.

‘Luke’, I said, hesitating; ‘Luke met a teaching colleague years later, when he was a mental health nurse.

‘And then there was Peter, who broke my ribs, aged 11. He was found to have a severe wheat intolerance and was a changed boy when he cut it out of his diet. He completed secondary school at least.

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‘I was called over to a bench on a major railway station by a young man who introduced himself as Alan West – formerly known by two completely different names. “And this is Jill, we’re getting married soon. But I’m not telling my family. Jill’s my family now – and her family accept me.”‘

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While it’s good to share these positive stories, not all were doing so well when last I heard. Tony, son of a London prostitute, was moved very much against his will and our advice, from a foster family of a different complexion to one that nearer matched his own. He was soon in a secure unit, not allowed out of the new ‘home’ he was assigned by the court. An abuse victim who came to us at 12 was incarcerated at 18 for abusing other children. A lad who won my heart was murdered by his stepfather.

Please pray for them all; may the Good Shepherd seek each one out and bring him home.

We meet another prisoner tomorrow.

MMB

 

 

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May 31: R is for Rugeley

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Rugeley is a former mining town in Staffordshire, which used to have two coal-fired power stations; the second one closed in June 2017. One step towards cleaner air for the country and the planet.

Rugeley is also where Janet and I married, on this day, more than a few years ago in the Church of Saints Joseph and Etheldreda. One step forward together, and we’re still finding our way.

Unlike Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, but not the father of her child; and unlike Etheldreda (or Audrey) who was a Saxon Princess, Queen and Abbess, we got married in order to be and remain fully married and to accept the blessings of children.

Etheldreda was twice married for political reasons, but in each case she lived as a nun despite her married status – with her kingly husband’s consent each time. Except that her second husband eventually changed his mind.

Etheldreda did not change hers and ran first to Saint Ebba, whose monastery was just north of Berwick, across what is now the Scottish border, and thence to Ely, surrounded by marshes which hindered pursuit enough for her husband to  turn back to Northumberland.

Ely Abbey – for women and men, like Hilda’s Whitby – flourished under her leadership.

Let’s pray for the gift to hear what God is saying in our own hearts and the grace to follow his word.

And let’s pray that today’s church leaders will recognise the leadership gifts that many women have been given; and that innovative communities may flourish.

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