Tag Archives: children

26 May: The Builder’s Dog without the Ossyrians, II. Silence amid the Noise.

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From Will Turnstone’s personal blog.

Between 7.30 and 9.00 in the morning must be the noisiest time of day but most people have to filter out the noise, just to do what we have to. Young Abel often draws our attention to sirens, trains and loud machinery, but I did not need his advice this morning.

The Builder’s Dog is with us and needed his morning walk. Today he was sniffling round a shrub when I heard a woodpecker drumming somewhere nearby. Not that I saw him, but it’s a pleasure to hear him. Trying to place him – somewhere in the treetops – without binoculars was futile, but it made me aware of the din around me, even though I was some yards from the nearest road. The school playing field was being mown with a tractor and a mower; the main roads and inner ring road were still very busy, but a motorbike and ambulance stood out. There were trains and planes, and children winding down to go indoors for the morning.

But I could still hear the woodpecker. And the chaffinch and the blackcap … and the herring gulls and rooks overhead.

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Sometimes we must dive into whatever silence is around, even if no-one else can hear it, even if only for a moment. Oh, still small voice of calm.

But now it’s back to work! 1 Kings 19.12.

 

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24 May: C is for Canterbury

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Or even ‘H is for Home’. This city has become home as nowhere else in my life, now I’ve spent more than half my days here. Here are the streets where my students have lived, the schools, community centres, libraries and halls where I’ve taught them anything from the basics of maths and English to art, cookery or even simple motor mechanics. Here is the court where I’ve supported students, the chip shop where more than one has greeted me, years after our lessons ceased …

… but here too, closer to my heart, is a family home of thirty years, infused with memories: three generations of Turnstones have made their mark – young Abel too! He had best watch out, though granddad heard about it when felt pen strayed onto the table surface! Remember too that the previous generation, our children’s grandparents were frequent visitors and remain part of the fabric of their growing up in this place.

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Canterbury is special, even if the city centre is increasingly given over to big business rather than small, let alone to worship. Even the signposts all through the town are in the corporate style of the Whitefriars’ shopping centre. And despite the continuous noise of traffic, and the fumes that poison the air, it has been a good place to raise a family. There is still green space. And we do have access to the cathedral and the deep silence of centuries of prayer.

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We may whinge about the busloads of continental teenagers spilling out of the pound shops, but we’ll miss them when they stop coming. Regimented private schools may be well-behaved, but lack their vitality.

We’ll also miss the Franciscans when they close the Study Centre and leave Greyfriars chapel this summer, but this is home, its churches, shops, level crossings and traffic queues, old friends and acquaintances, and corners unvisited except when friends stop by. I guess we’re here while the next generation are based hereabouts; this is home.

WT.

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23 May: B is for Blacklion, Brocagh and Belcoo

Most readers will not have heard of the twin villages, Belcoo to the North, Blacklion to the South, of a river bridge across the Irish border. The river joins the two Loughs, or Lakes MacNean. Once upon a time I was a student in Blacklion, and each week went to the village school at Brocagh, a good walk from the college, to give the youngsters a catechism lesson.

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Sometime around 1970 the little 2 classroom schools were closed down and a new school built in Glenfarne village. In 2011 I shared this photograph of the school on thepelicans.org.uk website, and it was from Belcoo that Olivia O’Dolan identified many of the children, helped by Mary Brady-Timoney, her sisters Kathleen Brady-Keaney and Bridget Brady-Fitzpatrick with Ben McHugh and the Clancy family. Olivia and her family live in the old station house seen at the top of this post. Life goes on; at times it’s almost as if the border did not exist. These children’s cousins will have lived north and south, and things have been so much better in recent years; pray that life doesn’t deteriorate post-Brexit.

Mrs McCormack, the head teacher, (far right) gave me a valuable lesson, thanks to Joe McHugh, down there in the front row, hand to his brow.

One week after Easter we had John’s story of the barbecue by the lake after the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter’s final declaration of faith. I thought the lesson went well. The children drew some remarkable pictures, but Mrs McCormack drew my attention to Joe’s in particular: come here now, Joe, what’s this in the corner? – It’s Saint Peter’s lorry, Miss, come to carry away the fish. I’d missed the lorry completely; I’d not interpreted the shapes he’d drawn in 20th Century terms.

What she knew, but I did not, was that Joe’s family had recently acquired a lorry which was Joe’s pride and joy, so of course St Peter would have had his lorry ready to take the fish to market. The story made sense to Joe, and had always made more sense to me as a consequence; thank you Joe, wherever you are.

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22 May: A is for Aston

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back-to-back houses, Birmingham

 

Why the spruced-up slum? I was going to write about Aston Hall, the mansion that overlooks Villa Park in Birmingham. My boyhood home was nearby so we could go there on the green diesel trains, taking care to cross the roads safely and watch out for the ‘rough’ Aston kids, who never actually bothered with us. I thought there were priest holes at Aston Hall, but you can appreciate just how mixed up I was when I began writing this post by reading Carl Chinn’s article here.

Consider the contrast between the splendour of the Hall and its park, and the nineteenth century slums all around it. Again,  Dr Chinn gives some insight into the very different ways of life and how the local people themselves raised money to save the hall and park.

One route from Aston station was along ‘Lovers’ Walk’, a narrow alley of grimy red brick; I doubt any lovers would have lingered there. Was it a lovers’ walk before the slums surrounded it, and the name stuck, or an example of slum-dwellers’  humour? After my great grandmother died I was entrusted with taking her clothes along there to the rag merchant’s yard. What they raised was hardly worth the trouble and train fare.

Aston smelt (literally) of stale poverty, but some remarkable people grew up there. My friend Gill remembers dressing the 8 year old Ossie Osborne in old clothes and a mask, and pushing him round the streets to raise money for November 5 fireworks. Penny for the guy?

If Britain could demolish Aston and build new council houses in the 1950s when there was less wealth in the country, why is it now so impossible to house families decently?

WT.

 

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May 4: A pleasure shared

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We walked home from church with a friend who wanted to see the bluebells in the wood. She had heard about them but did not know they were so close to home. A pleasure shared already, but she took pictures aplenty to share with her mother in East London, a pleasure further shared: her mother will enjoy not just the bluebells but the clear and infectious pleasure our friend received from them.

A gift that is special to an English spring.

A few days before we had walked that way with young Abel, who’s too small to damage the flowers as he walks, but he too loved the ‘blue flowers’: pleasure shared as a little child lets us into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t often quote Rupert Brooke, but I remember …

the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Kingdom of  Heaven is reflected in that very English carpet, but I’m less sure about an English Heaven? One that welcomes people from around the world, I trust, or it would not be Heaven, just an off-shore island …

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31 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: VI, Scandal.

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Dear BBB,

There is, of course, an elephant in the room. Has anyone ever said to you something like, ‘Your priests are all child molesters.’ It’s not true of course, but

The disciples came to Jesus, saying: Who thinkest thou is the greater in the kingdom of heaven? And Jesus calling unto him a little child, set him in the midst of them, and said: Amen I say to you, unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greater in the kingdom of heaven. And he that shall receive one such little child in my name, receiveth me. But he that shall scandalise one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:1-6.

It is not just non-Catholics who are scandalised. I once got chatting to a visitor to Saint Thomas’ in Canterbury, totally thrown off balance by learning that his beloved parish priest had been convicted of viewing and storing child pornography on his computer. The institutional church has to regain our trust. 

As a parish minister, working with children, there came a day when I had to submit my name for a police check that I had no record of abusing children. I felt violated that it had come to this. I don’t need to be told that those who suffered abuse from trusted priests and other adults had far more reason to feel violated, but we are one body in Christ. What violates my brother or sister violates me. And if my sister or brother walks away, I am the poorer: if I don’t feel the poorer, something is wrong with me.

You, dear BBB, not only noticed their absence, you drew it to our attention. Thank you.

Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast [the demon] out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.

Matthew 17:19-21.

It will take time for many to take our message seriously so long as we are not seen to be loving one another.

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28 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: III – The church should feel like a place of welcome.

 

Dear BBB,

I spend a fair bit of time with teenage boys, and was one myself. Let me return to those lads staring at the ceiling. Part of the answer to their apparent detachment was that they – and the girls – should have been at the door, greeting people, handing out newsletters and hymn books, finding seats for visitors, pointing out the toilets/washrooms. Yes, some of them would feel awkward doing that, but if you are part of the team you are part of the community. Welcoming could be a ministry they undertake as part of the confirmation programme.

Even when no-one is there but the One in the Tabernacle, a Church should feel like a place of welcome. I sometimes feel a little over-welcomed at Canterbury Cathedral when I just want to dive into the dark, quiet crypt for ten minutes. There is a certain nervous zeal amongst the welcomers when I enter wearing my day-glow builder’s jacket for cycling. But no question of turning me away because I look like a manual worker.

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For good reasons the church porch may be the only space open outside service times. Does it speak of the life of the parish? Can the visitor discover what’s going on and who is responsible for different activities? If I’m in town to visit my relative in hospital, can I see the contact details for the chaplains? Is there a written introduction to the church and parish? In more than one language? Can a wheelchair user see the sanctuary and tabernacle if the main church is locked?

This is all part of ‘do these Christians love one another?’ It is the body language of the parish, absorbed before the newcomer has set foot in the church or joined in Mass.

They say body language conveys more than the spoken word, but one Mass when one of my children was really vocal, an old lady looked daggers at us, or so we thought, till she came over after Mass and made a real fuss of her.

She was blessing our marriage and our child.

A visitor to our parish once complained that he could not pray seated near us when one of the children was too enthusiastic for his liking. He could have sat elsewhere. Such attitudes drive people away; there was the parish priest at a seaside town who told us he expected young children (ours would have been two and four years old) to stay in the porch. We stayed in church, they were quiet, and he complimented us afterwards – but we would not have wanted to worship there regularly.

For it must needs be that scandals come: but nevertheless woe to that man by whom the scandal cometh.

Matthew 18:7

WT

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20 February, Inter-galactic Exploration, XXIII: Peeeeeeeeeeeep! Peeeeeeeeeeep! part 2.

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‘Well,’ said Ajax after Will and Abel had taken themselves back to the railway station. ‘What do you make of that story?’
‘I liked Callum,’ said Alfie, ‘but he seemed a bit aggressive to start with.’
‘So, my friends,’ aked T. ‘Which was the real Callum? “Nasty piece of work” or “you made my day”?’
‘I guess if someone expects you to be a nasty piece of work, that’s what they’ll see, but I smelt anger coming out of him,’ said Alfie. ‘That was before we heard about him at school.’
‘And what if Will had been stealing you? Surely he’d have been righteously angry on my behalf?’
‘But you would not want Will beaten up by an angry law enforcer,’ countered Ajax.
‘He was never going to be touched by Callum, except for that handshake. Once Callum knew the dogs were OK, then Will was OK. And when Callum recognised Will he stopped being a cop and became just a human being. Mind, I might get Sergeant Callum to have a word about the way Will lets Abel stuff you with treats when you have perfectly balanced K9Krunchees in the bowls here.’
‘Leave Abel alone,’said Alfie. ‘K9Krunchees are better than certain other scientific foods we all remember. Adequate but incomplete, the old six foods and four drinks, but K9Krunchees seem to give me an appetite for more interesting things that you couldn’t sniff out in your human disguise.’
WT.

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February 13: Favela!

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As well as fantasy, the BOing! Festival at the University of Kent tried to provide a contrasting awareness of the hurtful and distressing reality of severe overcrowding. This installation in the foyer of the Gulbenkian Theatre was called ‘Favela’ which is the name for large concentrations of slum dwellings in shanty town conditions around the cities of South America. The impression of thousands of families barely housed at all, piled on top of one another, given here for the teenagers and pre-teens to wonder at, was very striking. Poverty, even when represented in a cardboard imitation, is overwhelming.

The Brazilian Catholic Franciscan theologian Leonardo Boff writes about the way in which Francis of Assisi “brought great liberation to the poor,” even without the advantages of a social services structure. “That which makes poverty inhuman is not solely (though it is principally) the non-satisfaction of basic life needs. It is the denigration, exclusion from human community, the introjections into the poor of a negative image of themselves, an image produced by the dominating classes. The poor person begins to believe he is low and despicable.”

In St. Francis, “the ferment of the Gospel breaks forth in all its questioning, challenging reality. We realize how lazy we are, how strong the old man still remains within us. [Francis] is more than an ideal; he is a way of being, an experience of identification with all that is simplest, fraternization with all that is lowliest, enabling the emergence of the best that is hidden within each human being.” [From L. Boff & W. Buehlmann eds., Build Up my Church.]

CD, January 2017

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12 February: Wonder and Bewilderment.

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I  call Friar Chris’s posts this week ‘Reflections from St Thomas’s Hill’ and I enjoyed rereading them, one after another, when I’d slotted them into the blog calendar. You may like to go back through them at the end of the week. Will.

 

BOing! was a Festival for children held on the Kent University campus over the last weekend of August 2016. This strange structure, called Mirazozo Luminarium by Architects of Air is like a series of neon-lit tent tunnels, winding paths through beautiful green and red light and colour. The visitors’ playful antics are transmitted by CCTV to other places on the campus. Is this wonder, fantasy or anti-reality? It is like the children’s games used by primary school teachers, such as asking groups of six children how they imagine a space creature, with suitable bodies and facial expressions. They move around to eerie music such as comes from a Moog synthesizer. Making a ‘Spooky Garden’ is another game like this, with play-acted statues.

But internet and video games nowadays can make this virtual world normal for many adults. Toffler’s Future Shock (1970) saw much modern experience as “mass bewilderment in the face of accelerating change.” There is disproportion between our low human complexity and high technological special effects. Emmanuel Sullivan (Baptized into Hope), as an Anglican Franciscan, asks how we develop sensitivity to those around us. “The ongoing mystery of creation and redemption is a meeting of waters, of life and values, of thought and emphasis. At times it is a gentle flowing together; at others the meeting takes place in a mighty roar.” God gives us, if we are open, “the courage and love we need to tolerate and integrate a diversity of Christian life and witness.” But we must consider, are we moving effectively on from fantasy and eerie music to solutions for bewilderment, a genuine witness to hope?

CD.

January 2017.

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