Be heroes of hope – Matthew 9:35-10:8 and Romans 5:1-8

Today has been the last time for the foreseeable future in which I will support the North Hampshire Downs Benefice before my deployment to Eversley. All ‘lasts’ are tough, but after a week visiting the battlefields of Flanders to a backdrop of news coverage from the UK of the horrors at Grenfell Tower, it has felt especially difficult to find words appropriate to the moment.

My thanks to the congregations of All Saints Odiham, and All Saints Tunworth for their usual warm welcome. I will miss my itinerant ministry as I go forward to a new phase of ministry. 

Poppies of Remembrance in The Upper Room of Talbot House, Poperinge, Flanders, Belgium

The poppies are flowering among the fields of Flanders. No longer do they inhabit the acres of muddy ground strewn with the debris of battles only recently silenced, but instead they have been pushed to the field margins, replaced by neat rows of potatoes, flowering profusely in the summer sun like the pristine white tombstones of the Commonwealth War Graves they surround. Just as the debris of battle is now largely pushed beneath the soil only to be unearthed by deliberate excavation, the poppies have been sidelined – the now traditional image of blood and sacrifice more profuse in museums and merchandise than they are in the fields where initially they covered the death and detritus of war.

I have spent the majority of this week in Flanders, staying at Talbot House, better known as TocH, the chaplaincy and “Every Man’s Club” that lay in Poperinge, behind the ‘allied’ trenches in World War I. Designed as a study tour focusing on ‘peace and reconciliation’, it became for me a pilgrimage as I retraced in part, the steps my great-uncle trod with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment over the Messines Ridge in 1917 and again, this time in retreat, in 1918. Yet, standing on Thursday, watching the dragonflies dance over the pristine white lilies in the Pool of Peace that now fills one of the 19 mine craters whose explosion was the opening salvo of the 1917 offensive, I was only too well aware that the scene 100 years before would have been in as stark a contrast as, say, a burning tower block against a night sky.

The Rev’d ‘Tubby’ Clayton, the resident chaplain of TocH, was a man whose response to the horrors and suffering of trench warfare was at least two-fold. Firstly, he highlighted and celebrated the equality that lies between all people before God and between each other, for as the sign still reads over his door, “all rank abandon, ye who enter here”. Christ, the kingdom of God come near, died for all, no less for the Private, than for the Major or the General, and called as disciples Matthew the tax-collector to work alongside Peter, James and John the fishermen, who came together in proclaiming the kingdom.

‘Tubby’, also travelled among the “harassed and helpless” men in front line units, bringing with compassion the strength that comes through making visible the grace of God, and with it hope that in enduring their suffering they would come to a better place, in this life or the next. In the front-line confirmation classes and the prayers, this shepherd reminded the sheep that not only was Jesus standing with them in their suffering, but was present in their daily acts of heroism and survival among the horror they endured.

Today, rather than staggering through the mud and gunfire of Flanders, the “sombre national mood” (to quote HM The Queen) reels from the horrors of another seemingly random terrorist atrocity, followed all too closely by the even greater devastation of a towering inferno of sub-standard housing. Where I wonder are the poppies? Have they been sidelined to the field-edges of our consciousness, our yearning for the cost-effective productivity of ordered lives pushing aside our awareness of the inequalities that lead to unnecessary deaths? Where I wonder is the peace that grows like lilies on a pool, only when the violence stops?

The world needs more men and women like ‘Tubby’ Clayton, who with gentle good humour and the warmest of welcomes, can highlight the need for equality and the call to share equally in God’s kingdom building. His work continued through the foundation of the TocH communities around the world, and their focus on fairness, friendship, service to others and to the Kingdom of God, as well as the rebuilding of a church and community at All Hallows’ by the Tower after the horrors of a Second World War.

‘Pool of Peace’, Spanbroekmolen Crater, Messines Ridge, Flanders, Belgium

When the debris of the initial horrors of the Manchester Arena, London Bridge, and Grenfell Tower have been sanitised and tidied away, we need to make sure our memories of the issues that caused each are not sidelined like so many poppies in the edge of a Flanders field. We are called as disciples of Jesus to remember that whilst we may first share the grace of God close at hand among our own communities, we are sent through the power of the Holy Spirit, to support, or even be, the heroes who offer hope, who speak and stand for equality among all people, equality of life, not simply in death.

Let us not wait for the enquiries and recriminations to cease before looking at the gaping holes created by the mine-field of social deprivation and the self-serving isolation, before realising that we are called be Christ on the front-line of our communities, so that through faith and endurance where we find it hardest to face what we encounter, we contribute to a pool of peace that will be the harvest of hope restored, not just to our land, but to the world.

Where we lack knowledge

Two things happened yesterday which involved me simply not knowing enough to have avoided the problem.

Firstly, a call from my son Chris’s school explained that the reason I had not had an invoice for his Grade 3 Oboe exam anticipated in the next 3 weeks, was because an administrative error meant he hadn’t been entered! If I had know that not receiving an invoice well before half term indicated there was a problem, I could have created the appropriate waves to rectify it before it was too late. Instead, Chris is a bit deflated, though he took the news quite calmly, and will move straight to Grade 4, hoping to take it by the end of the year.

I give the Head of Music her due, she was incredibly apologetic and worried about demotivating Chris, and very grateful I didn’t throw a wobbly – she wants to meet me because she thinks I’m incredibly calm and understanding. Not a picture of myself I normally see in the mirror – and perhaps down to the fact she phoned me on the mobile when I was walking the dog, probably the calmest part of my day!

More frustratingly my lack of technical knowledge led last night to the discovery that there is a difference between storing and hosting a website, so I need to get Mothers’ Union to spend a little more money with Zen to make the porting of the Diocesan website happen. It explained why the nice man at Zen was a little confused when I ordered the cPanel Bronze! It is though still only £5 more than Claranet, with far better facilities – the wordpress stuff is all there and the control panel appears to be easy for the numpty like me to use.

The biggest dent is probably to my pride, as asking for more money will show I didn’t know as much about what I was doing as I gave the impression of to people who know less than me. This mornings reply from the MU Treasurer to my rather embarassed email last night, is encouraging though… so more news soon hopefully.

In the mean time, Alec got me organised last night so I can start writing the new pages before they ‘go live’, so that will be a good way to spend an afternoon and evening. It’s rather nice thanking God (literally) for the friendship and expertise of one of my favourite atheists, but I really do 🙂

So, as I dash off to morning service in my placement parish, what have I learnt – that pride goes before a fall? I knew that already and it’s probably more frustration that I don’t understand things. And yet, none of us understand everything, especially not things of God. If we understood everything about him, and how we relate and work with him, there would be no need for faith, and isn’t developing understanding (whether of technical matters or spiritual ones) the exciting thing that makes our journey through life such an adventure, if not always a joy?!

Bitterns,Kites and Ash

Just a quick updating from my accidental birding exploits:

Friday 20th on return to New Forest from Great-Nanny visiting in Bournemouth stopped for first quick visit at Blashford Lakes near Ringwood: fantastic views of two Bittern among the reeds on Ivy Lake. Anyone wanting to take young or old on a nature reserve trip, this looks a great place with easy access.

Today, returning from Reader Training Placement visit to Basingstoke, spotted, stopped and had fantastic views of two Red Kites next to A30 at Nateley Scures, between Old Basing and Hook. Low over the tiny St Swithun’s church there.

My placement is proving very interesting and such a high church atmosphere, with much to learn and consider, which is why I have left the hosting dust to settle for a couple of days. I have spent a lot of time with my placement vicar and celebrated Ash Wednesday by being ‘ashed’ for the first time last night: this was a very intimate service (for which read ‘poorly attended’) but I did find being reminded of the mess we make of so much, and the grace with which God has dealt with that through the marking of an ash cross on my forehead, surprisingly poignant… I’m not sure that’s the right word… thought provoking at a deep level somewhere. The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) is always a powerful tool for teaching …

Tomorrow I really must phone Zen… and perhaps blog about my placement a bit more.

Hosting progress given ethical pause

Todays main job was to set up an hosting account with Zen Internet and start the process of porting the regional Mothers’ Union website I want to re-write to them. The idea is then to re-write using a format similar to the one here.

Then BBC News at 8am briefly touched on this item seeming to suggest that Zen were refusing to block child porn sites. I started asking myself about the ethics of proceeding with my plan: Mothers’ Union is a Christian charity supporting family life worldwide; should we as a regional group use a host who appears to condone the activities of pornographers (of any sort but especially regarding kids)?

Breakfasted I was delighted to find Alec had noted the relevant news item on Facebook for me (thanks), so I briefly commented and then read it.  I then had an interesting conversation with a friend which pointed out several things:

It appears that Zen are very concerned about the way the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) behave by just blocking the websites but not appearing to act. Zen are much more pro the european system that can’t now be acted on in Britain because it gets sent straight back to the IWF.

In the European system apparently works such that if you report a site you get indemnity for reporting it – something that the IWF don’t guarantee. Then they block it but also make best efforts to investigate it.

IWF have also gone slightly ott recently by blocking not just an image but the whole text on wikipedia entry:

There are several issues here firstly related to being a regional Charity Trustee for a Christian charity:

  • I need to use a host whose ethical policy reflects the charity’s aims, i.e. to promote family life;
  • we also need to use a host who offers the facility we want to use at a price that the charity sees as being reasonable relate to the market place of other hosts (so we won’t be staying with Claranet whatever happens);
  • we also need to improve our web presence as fast as possible and dramatically and I have Trustees Standing Committee approval to proceed with Zen as host.

However there are other considerations:

  • Zen Internet are being talked about as ‘happy’ to allow their customers to access these images using very emotive language, which does not appear to reflect the real reason why Zen are not signed up to the IWF code of practice;
  • Why have Zen and any other firms facing the same issues, not got the freedom to apply the European system if they think it is better?
  • If Zen were really against the hosting of such (lucrative?) sites could they not simply make a business decision not to do so, making themselves more attractive to prospective users who do not wish to be associated (even vaguely) with such behaviour?

There is probably more to it than even this, but this is as far as my brain has got right now. I suspect I won’t take any further action for 24 hours on this, especially since family comes first and my son is on an INSET day today.

I also await further comment from you!

Does it have legs?

My vicar is an engineer and likes to operate electronically to the extent I knew he read various Christian blogs. I also know he wants to update our parish website when the webmaster isn’t doing Reader Training like myself, and wanted some thoughts on what we might do – I wanted him to look at the WordPress concept as an idea.

So I sent him the url for this place, explaining the two reasons for it (a dummy attempt for a new MU one, and my own contribution to Christian blogging) to see if he thought the concept “had legs” as I referred to it – in other words was it worth keeping going or was I wasting my time? His response by email, was as follows (I think it is positive, and I’ve put on the widget for RSS feeds – the other things I really want to look at, but not today, as I have a tutorial tonight!):

yes, the last couple of years would suggest that i’m more likely to read a blog and occasionally post a comment
than generate my own online “extroverted thinking” (tho’ i’d love to shift my time-priorities to alter that)

i do think a community of blog-based theological reflection is a good thing
– tho’ i’m not sure if we can educate “our lot” to the discipline of engaging in it regularly
(i’d love something like this to be a forum in which to feed back and further reflect on one another’s sermons / teaching / seminars etc

the two that i follow regularly are

and both have – as you do – a combination of their humanity and their ministry/role-based reflections
howard is a rural vicar and maggi a college chaplain

how it fits into parish / mu based stuff – not sure
– it lends itself well to reflecting on news and fast-moving events etc
but requires a discipline (and/or a newsfeed reader) to keep up to date with the conversation threads

as for design of sites – tho’ it’s busy, i like the st barnabas one
– i like the “click here for more” links to “soundbites” – esp the “mike says ….” bits
– which might have read-across to mu?

….. more of a ramble than a help, i fear ? ……

Something therapeutic

There is something very therapeutic about trying to ‘capture’ a little bit of what makes you ‘you’ for the purposes of sharing with anyone with a passing interest in your view on the world.

I’ve just written a ‘page’ about wildlife as it happens, something that I find increasing fascination with as I get older. I found myself feeling slightly poetic – which probably seems daft – and also wistful as I ‘captured’ memories of my past to share with those who weren’t there.

The process was encouragingly simple as far as the future of the Mothers’ Union website is concerned – more than you can so for the its current hosts’ ability to offer me WordPress! Claranet are not doing themselves any favours – their Starter pack, which I first started using at least five years ago I think, hasn’t moved with the times in either features or price! I’m also frustrated that as a charity we’ve recently (like, last week) paid a years subscription, so porting the domain will be un-necessarily expensive. Since they caused the problem by stopping their support of Frontpage, it seems even more daft, as they’ve not upgraded their package in recompense. Ho hum – I shouldn’t have buried my head about the problem for so long. However, in the long term, I think Alec has put me on to something so much better, that I will thank them as I say goodbye!

Here’s a question though – what is a “category” as opposed to a “tag”? How should I name and use them both to best advantage? (OK so that’s two questions!)