Tag Archives: work

August 31: L’Arche and Care V – So who is helping whom to achieve what?

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I’ve had a ‘portfolio’ of teaching jobs over the last twenty years, since I became unable to work full-time in classrooms, so it was easy enough to ease into the current L’Arche approach to work and leisure activities where people commit to a weekly portfolio of activities that might include candle-making, gardening, brewing beer, swimming and the weekly grocery shop.

That’s when we meet our friends, often enough. Our local metro supermarket can seem very crowded when three or four people stop to chat in the narrow aisles! We’ve also joined an informal leisure gardening group that includes core members, assistants and their families.

Jobs can take a little longer … for example, setting up a core member to saw wood safely, despite physical challenges. (I’m grateful for the training I received in task analysis as a young man!) but then three eight-year-old girls want to join in, so it’s time to set up the other saw bench and provide them, too, with encouragement rather than hands-on help.

So who is helping whom to achieve what?

Dear reader, I’ll let you puzzle that one out.

But working with core members and children makes me stand and stare and chat. Stand and let others work, stare at the problem of how to let them work safely. Chat while the job is done, encouraging, praising, suggesting, sharing the satisfaction of a job done, a skill acquired.

Let us be ready to receive from others. Didn’t Jesus get the idea of foot washing, that James talked about on Tuesday, from a couple of women?

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August 30: L’Arche and Care IV: Returning to L’Arche.

Janet and I have a little more time that we can call our own, now that we are semi-retired. Mostly it does not feel like a choice between getting on with something and taking it easy: there is always something to be done!

We find ourselves returning to our local L’Arche Kent Community. There is always something to be done there, but we often find ourselves taking it easy in the doing of it.

l’Arche is a community where people with and without learning disabilities live and work together. At totally different times we have both lived and worked in communities in England and Canada, and we have kept in touch with friends in L’Arche Kent, in my case for forty years. We are getting to know newer core members and assistants as we spend more time with them.

Time: there are moments when any of us can feel it running away, and we take account of how we spend it. As my grandmother used to recite:

How doth the little busy bee

Improve each shining hour?

She gathers honey all the day

And knocks off at half past fower.”

(My Grandmother would not have apologised to Isaac Watts, but maybe I should.)

L’Arche slows us down, reminds us that being with people is as important as doing things for them – think back to my mother’s carers we mentioned the other day. The Corporal Works of Mercy are concerned with presence: visiting the sick and those in prison spring to mind. This is not to suggest that core members of L’Arche should be considered sick or prisoners, though when I first joined to community most of our core members had been incarcerated in what were called subnormality hospitals. The very name was dehumanising. After working in one of these places for a few months, I was glad to find a better way.

MMB

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August 24: An unexpected challenge.

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Towards the end of last school term, my 13 year-old god-daughter Rose set me the question,

What are the challenges facing religious people today?

A challenge in itself. Here is my brief answer. Now what would you add  from your personal experience?

Maurice.

Hello Rose! I’m delighted to help with your RE homework. As you well know,  I’m a 67 year-old married Catholic with four grown-up children and one grandson. I am, of course, also a godfather to you and your younger sister.

I take it that by religious you mean someone who believes in what the Creeds say and attends church: that description fits me. I’m comfortable with that.

For the last 20 plus years I have worked as a tutor to children and young people who don’t attend school, usually because their behaviour has been dangerous to others – bullying and aggression – or else because they have not been learning and have made it difficult for other people to learn – or teach, or because of a particular set of needs, such as autism.

This often brings me to homes that are chaotic, often filthy, usually loving, sometimes neglectful. Parents and other adults may abuse drugs; they may also abuse their children verbally, physically, even sexually.

So I have dilemmas that would be the same for any other professional working with these people. For example:

  • Is it part of my job to get pupils out of bed when they don’t come to lessons (their phones are usually on silent at 9.00 in the morning).
  • Do I quietly help the parents in little ways, such as giving one family the bed Harry had grown out of, or a packet of tea bags – strictly speaking not allowed.
  • What steps do I take if I think my pupil’s dad beat him up? Even if the boy says he walked into the kitchen door?

But there are other challenges that arise because I’m religious:

  • Do I keep quiet about being religious? Or more accurately, how openly do I claim to be a Catholic at work? When working with other Catholics it is a help. Others may need answers to questions like, ‘Is God going to be angry with me because I did so-and-so? Why did Nan die so young (I could only start from telling the boy what he already knew: she smoked too much.)
  • How much confidentiality is appropriate? – the Father Confessor problem! Example: a year 11 pupil gets a job in a chip shop. Strictly illegal, but not hurting anyone else, and she soon realises that she is being exploited and packs it in. A boy in year 9 was working in Scrap Metal; illegal on any number of accounts: age, no gloves, no safety boots, slave wages and more. I did not want him in trouble, nor his mother, so she and I spoke seriously to him and showed him that he could get her into far more trouble that the measly pay was worth. No more needed to be done in that case but I would have had to put friendship on the line if he hadn’t dropped the scrap dealing. Good job, as the police were soon onto his ‘employer’ who went to prison.

I hope this gives you a taste of the challenges I, as a religious person, can face at work.

Your loving Godfather,

Maurice.

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August 22: I is for Ironbridge.

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Ironbridge: the name says it. All those glorious structures like the Forth Bridge, Sydney Harbour, the Howrah, the Golden Gate and the bridge at Victoria Falls, owe their ancestry to this iron bridge over the Severn in Shropshire.

A bold venture to build a bridge of cast iron so high above the river in 1779. The beams were cast on site since transporting them would have been difficult. But would it work? Abraham Darby must have been an excellent mathematician, blessed with patience to check each step of his calculations and each stage of the casting, the building of foundations and assembly of the bridge. Here it stands today, carefully maintained, like the Forth Bridge and all those others. My grandfather, a Shropshire lad, took me to see it aged about five; it impresses me more now than it did then, unlike so many things.

Crossing the river here safely was a dream made real by Darby and the men who dug his coal, smelted, transported and cast his iron; masons, surveyors, painters. He and they had to trust in the laws of physics as they understood them. The people who keep the bridge alive –  it is still open to pedestrians – apply the physics and chemistry they understand to prevent rust, metal fatigue and erosion.

The dirt and hard labour of the Industrial Revolution have gone, leaving the Severn Gorge free from dark Satanic Mills. But if we are to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land we need an understanding of what we are about, and how to ensure dirt, fatigue, rust and erosion do not stop us working together.

God, come to our aid, Lord, make haste to help us!

Laudaato Si’!

MMB.

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August 16: Famous first words.

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Let’s stay in Egypt for today: that’s the one link with yesterday’s post, though we are some way west of the Great River, in the desert, in 1942.

As a Church we should learn from whoever can teach us. We could certainly benefit from a few lessons in leadership, so how about this as a new boss’s address to his staff, who were feeling the emotions on the signpost above?

You do not know me. I do not know you. But we have got to work together; therefore we must understand each other and we must have confidence in each other. I have only been here a few hours. But from what I have seen and heard since I arrived, I am prepared to say, here and now, that I have confidence in you. We will then work together as a team, and together we will gain the confidence of this great army and go forward to final victory in Africa.

That was General Bernard Montgomery assuming command of the British and Empire 8th Army in Egypt. Things had been going badly for a while before that.

His driver Jim Fraser, who took him around the front-line units recalled: ‘One could feel the confidence of the troops getting stronger, they were told what was going to happen and when it was going to happen. I must admit that I felt dead, dead chuffed when driving round the forward unit positions with the lads cheering and shouting, ‘Good old Monty!’

Monty believed that his ‘civilians in uniform’ should have sight of the big picture and they responded to that. Peter Caddick-Adams1 points out that logistics and intelligence also played their part in the victorious campaign. The role of Military Intelligence could not be revealed until recently when secret papers were opened up to scholars and journalists, but Monty’s confidence in his troops built their confidence in him and in each other. That is leadership. That inspires.

1Peter Caddick-Adams, Monty and Rommel, Parallel Lives. London, Preface, 2011. pp 284-285; 300-301.

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August 10: Francis Thompson IX: In Darkest England.

In Darkest England

Thompson, a century ago, saw conditions that needed addressing. Having been homeless, he knew the life from inside. Here he compares the Salvation Army with the Franciscans, lamenting that there are not more of the latter. In view of the closure of the Franciscan Study Centre and the diminishing numbers of professed religious Franciscans, we can learn from the Salvation Army, and stand shoulder to shoulder with them with the Food Banks and other ecumenical ventures. The state of ecumenism, at least, is an advance on Thompson’s day.

Tomorrow is the Feast of Saint Clare, friend of St Francis and founder of the Franciscan sisters known as Poor Clares. Happy Feast to all our sisters!

Consider what the Salvation Army is. It is not merely a sect, it is virtually a Religious Order, but a Religious Order of a peculiar kind. It consists of men and women living in the world the life of the world, pursuing their businesses, marrying, bringing up families; yet united by rule and discipline, and pushing forward active work of charity and religious influence among the forsaken poor. It possesses, moreover, the advantage of numerous recruits from the ranks of the poor, through whom it can obtain intimate knowledge of the condition and requirements of their class.

May it be that here, too, the Salvation Army has studied St Francis? Here, too, the Assisian has left us a weapon which but needs little practice to adapt it to the necessity of the day. Even so… The Franciscan Tertiaries are this army. They are men and women who live in the world the life of the world – though not a worldly life: who marry, rear their families, attend to their worldly vocations; yet they are a Religious Order, with rule and observance.

Not all of us are called to join the Franciscan Tertiaries, but there are many openings for us to ‘meet the necessities of the day’. Something to ponder on.

MMB.

See The Works of Francis Thompson, Prose: Volume III, p57-58. Burns Oates, 1920.

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19 July: G is for Valley Gardens

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Since I was small, I had always loved gardening, so when the chance came of a holiday job at the parks in Castleford, I seized it. The town council took a pride in their parks, lung-savers in an industrial landscape. As well as the mines there were glassworks, a  factory producing chemicals such as wood preservers, a coke oven and a maltings: the least offensive smell. In a heat wave the fumes gathered in the valley where the town was built on the ford. The rivers ran black. Breathing was a challenge.

Valley Gardens was our nearest park: a good park with a crown bowling green, playground for the children, lawns and lots of traditional bedding, the plants grown in the council’s own nursery. There was also raised bedding with scented plants for blind people to enjoy. And so they did.

I’m ever grateful for the skills learnt at Valley Gardens but also for the attitude to work imbibed from the older guys I worked alongside. Many had been miners and knew how to pace themselves to be productive over the whole day. They were also humble enough to put themselves through the City and Guilds Certificate training: men who knew how to handle tools, being ‘taught’ how to dig or prune before taking on specialised skills such as caring for the greens.

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Recently I read that Valley Gardens, for many years the responsibility of Wakefield City council, is run-down and the play area no longer safe. A committee has been formed to revive this park. When I was there, people knew the decision makers in town. Now they are in Wakefield and need never go near Valley Gardens.

I hope the committee is supported by the community and Wakefield council so that the gardens return to their former glory.

There are parallels in church life. We need to trust people, even  those who shun responsibilities, with a mission they may fail at. Apart from Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who were members of the Sanhedrin, Jesus chose women and misfits for his first generation of leaders. I don’t recall his disciples sitting exams.

Since writing this post I read an article describing how the people who use the parks the most are poorer people, people without gardens of their own. So it is poor people who take the brunt of government spending cuts in this area of life, as in so many others.

Our beds were every bit as lovely – and more so – than this semiformal planting in Berlin’s Charlottenberg Park. The Roses were a feature of Valley Gardens: the older gardeners taught me how to prune them. This is ‘Mermaid’, who needs very careful handling with her vicious thorns. But she’s lovely!

 

 

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July 18: A walk on the flat side.

swans.stodmarshThe marsh walk was  chosen not because it was flat but because there was a pub at either end. George was home for a few days gardening leave between jobs, his gardening consisting in sunbathing on the lawn that his mother tends with this activity in mind. Stodmarsh feels further from London than 70 miles.

Nonetheless, this is a post-industrial landscape: Chislet colliery lay under here and as land in the Stour valley subsided water and reeds took over. Paths allow dryshod walking from the Red Lion to the Grove Ferry Inn, especially after a dry winter and spring.

Mrs T is shorter than her husband and son, just below the tops of the reeds, so her view was restricted. But she enjoyed the birdsong – including two cuckoos and a booming bittern. The cuckoo is becoming rarer; there were many more when we came to Kent some forty years ago. Bitterns are a different case, no more than birds of passage back then.

Back then the old field fences could be seen from the train, gradually sinking into what was at first seasonal open water but has now become reed beds, favoured home of bitterns. Back then – even just a couple of years ago – we would have expected swallows and martins as well as swifts chasing flies. It cannot be just lack of mud for nest-building that kept them away this year.

Although young Abel will appreciate the birds he gets to know, he may never be familiar with swallows and martins, or even song thrushes. Thank God he has sparrows under his roof.

I don’t need Mr Trump’s climate change denial. I saw how entranced Abel was, aged 18 months, by the song of a robin in a nearby bush. I would like to think that, aged 18, he will enjoy the song of a nightingale from a Kentish bramble patch.

Laudato Si’ – but also – miserere nobis.

George’s picture of the swans -there were two parents and seven cygnets – shows how well the wildlife is hidden out on the marsh.

 

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29 June 2017: Mercy needs humans to live it.

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Mercy, as we have remarked more than once before, needs humans to live it, to give it. Masefield has one merciful man, the Apostle Peter, today’s saint, introduce himself:

A fisherman, who will pull oars and sail,

Mend nets and watch the weather by the lake.

A rough man, with rude speech, who’ll follow you. Giving up all,

And after, will go telling of your glory

A many hundred miles, to Babylon;

And feel your glory grow in him, and spread

To many others in that city, far

From lake and home and the chatter, mending nets.

And after, I will see you come for me;

For all I’m rude and did deny, you’ll come;

And I shall drink your cup, Master, you helping;

And enter glory by you.

Peter had been with Jesus at the Transfiguration (see today’s Gospel, Matthew 17:1-9) and was there when his Master prayed in the Garden, saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done. Luke 22:43.

Peter’s Master and ours will give us mercy to drink his cup with us: the Eucharistic cup, which we remind ourselves at every Mass we can only drink worthily though his mercy; and the cup of daily life, which can be bitter or just too much for us at times.

WT

St Peter by Dirck van Baburen

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27 June, Shared Table IX: The Blessing of Hunger.

 

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I had been ill. Ill enough to give up work and move back home to recover. I’d lost a tremendous amount of weight: an infection had gone crazy, affecting my liver function and leaving me exhausted and without appetite.

Then one day I was sitting at the big kitchen table with my grandmother – Nana to countless young people, by no means all of them her actual grandchildren. Basil and Sam the dogs were keeping us company.

Suddenly I realised that I felt hungry, for the first time in months, and said so to Nana. ‘Feed that hunger’, she said, and put bread on the Aga cooker to toast. Wow! I could taste the good bread, the butter, the marmalade. I was grateful: an informal Eucharist.

As Fr Austin (AMcC who writes here) says, hunger can be a blessing. In this case my body was well enough to feel the need of something outside itself, instead of fighting something inside itself. It took time, but I did get better.

There are other hungers too; hungers for learning, for love, ultimately for God. We need to acknowledge these when we feel them.

But as Austin would also tell us, hunger for many people is a curse; they do not have the luxury of knowing where the next meal is coming from. Perhaps, if you are a child at school in Africa, it will be from Mary’s Meals.

MMB.

 

 

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