It’s that time of year when the temperatures start to drop and the evenings have a pleasant chill in the air, and the perfect time to set a wedding. In the next week Rev Steve has nearly 20 weddings to officiate so if we don’t respond to emails as quickly as you would like, please, do have a bit of patience, we will respond as soon as we can.
I had a Strawberry and Banana Smoothie last week. I was struck by the ingredients: 4 crushed strawberries, ½ mashed banana, ½ pressed apple, 9 pressed red and white grapes, ½ squeezed orange, and a dash of lime. How odd that we have to use so many different words – yet it sounds wrong somehow to press a strawberry, or squeeze an apple, or crush an orange. I wondered why they weren’t squashed grapes, or scrunched, trampled or pounded – so many words to describe getting the juice out of fruit.
At other times we make one word do the work of many meanings, and I was thinking this week about Truth. In our Ephesians reading last week the soldier in Paul’s mind was wearing a Belt of Truth. Whilst we were looking at my ‘volunteer’ standing by me as I preached, putting on his belt of truth (we have a Centurion’s outfit in our vestry, of course), I spoke of truth mainly as something spoken. It is of course something lived too, which is where the Breastplate of Righteousness comes in, in a way. But truth is a shifty concept once you go beyond defining it as historical accuracy (It wasn’t me your honour). This week our James reading says he gave us birth by the word of truth. This is using truth in a different way – it is significant that a Christian’s identity should be ‘by the word of truth’. Jesus also talks of truth at his trial: ‘I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.’ And Pilate asks, ‘what is truth?’ and I begin to wonder the same question.
I’m not sure I could answer it in a nice succinct way, but I know that I can be born of it, speak it, live it, witness to it, and be on its side. Each way of speaking of it gets a different flavour out but it all blends together into a sustaining teaching of God.
My parents had a strange delivery on my last day in England – they’d complained about their new fridge door not being sealed properly and they promised to send a man to look at it. Two days later, through the post unannounced, came a five foot high package which turned out to be a fridge door. Just a door. The fridge door is not sealing properly? Have another door then!
And now, as memories of the last BLT sandwich at Heathrow fade into the past, Dubai seemed another world on the plane. But on the train back, with the repeated call of ‘Al Buab altugulag’ (Doors closing) at every station to Jebel Ali, and the warm greeting of the security man on the gate as I arrived, I find I am settling back quickly enough.
My back door opens into my own world, but through the strange delights of the computer I find that other doors open into threatening worlds. On facebook to chat to family at home, a previous member of our Sunday congregation saw me online and started to chat. I’m doing potatoes in Dubai and his family’s dying in Damascus – over the last few months he tells me, 16 of his relatives have died, his own parents house is almost destroyed but they still live in it while his wife’s parents house is slightly better so their son stays there – only a few years old, he can tell a canon, rifle, or mortar by its sound, as well as tanks and so on. As I check the food in the oven, he tells me that bodies litter the streets and no one can bury them because they will end up next to them. Two hundred people a day dying he says. I serve myself as he tells me food is scarce, medicines almost nonexistent. He sends a picture of a neighbours boy desperate to rescue his tricycle – seen here – in a bid to re-establish normality.
I want to go back to my normality in the room next door but first I wanted to write about it. I can’t do two things at once very easily so I said I’ll sign off now so I can write up this entry and tell others about it. He asked for prayers and other help which I’ll tell you about in church. It’s so strange leaving this story, happening live from my kitchen table, to have a cuppa in the next room as if life were normal.
Having started my holiday with a surprise, watching the Olympic Torch go by live at Gants Hill, I have finished it by actually holding one in a Norwich vicarage kitchen – a clergy friend of mine was chosen as one of the torch bearers. Unfortunately he wasn’t allowed to keep the gas canister, nor is it refillable so I couldn’t ‘carry the flame’. As I begin to contemplate heading back towards the different heat of Dubai tomorrow I begin to turn my mind to pondering how we can bring a positive optimism and hope in the future to our church that matches the positive input the Olympics seems to have brought to the UK. Our hope is of course considerably longer lasting and more glorious! I’ve passed the Olympic stadium a few times on the train, and seen programmes on telly about it’s construction. It took a lot of work, investment and ingenuity. What kind of work, investment and ingenuity is required of us? I hope our Church Committee will give this some thought before we meet in September.
On one day trip this holiday to Clevedon we visited the Strawberry Line Cafe in Yatton Sation (the nearest stop for us). I can recommend it’s Chai Latte, coffee, and cake selection. It’s a train station cafe, but there’s not so many trains nor travelling customers naturally calling by so it tries to broaden itself from a Station Cafe to a ‘Community Cafe’ with books to read, toys for children, story telling sessions, live music evenings, and special Strawberry and Steam breakfasts when the steam trains come through on a Sunday morning. I like the broader thinking – they’re a station cafe, but not just a station cafe, but still focussed on the main business of being a cafe.
I visited Norwich Cathedral, of course. As I went in there was an advert for Organ Recital with Big Screen. I asked what the big screen was and was told that it was a projection of the organist playing so we could see and admire his finger and footwork at the same time as hearing it – the organist sits far away from the people and is not normally visible at all. Living in the Middle East I value seeing Christian symbols much more than people at home – it always bugs me that the magnificent organ sits bang in the middle of the Screen as I can’t help feeling that whatever the sound improvements, it is still bang in the place where Christ should be and obscures the view to the windows at the end. I’ve learned that the screen is a Pulpitum not a Rood Screen so perhaps it never had a crucifix on it. Oh well. But with this consciousness of the cross symbol in mind as I walked in, I was thrown into negative mood by the big screen for us to watch the organists fingers being placed bang in front of the nave altar completely obscuring the big silver cross at another focal point of the view on the table. (Like visiting choirs in Jebel Ali treating our church like a concert hall for entertainment). I passed a guide explaining to a group how the vaulted ceiling was built in the 15th century and I wondered if he would ever say anything about the actual purpose of the building or something to inspire the listeners to think about God as well as the history. I shouldn’t have done it in the mood I was in, but I went into the shop – it seemed to me that only about 25% of it’s produce was concerned with Christianity, spirituality, or God while the rest was Birds of Norfolk, History of Norwich, East Anglian Views calendars, and so on. At least the Champagne and Strawberry Jams, Liquorice Allsorts and Jelly Babies had Norwich Cathedral written on the packet. They’ve done some broader thinking like the Strawberry Line Cafe, but with the tour guide, I felt they’d lost the focus.
Despite the placing of the organ, I still love wandering with God round this building, and walking the labyrinth in the cloister. The choir were practicing while I was there – all very churchy stuff of course but I knew some of the stuff from my choir days, and the rest was easy enough to commune with.
Tomorrow I may be on a Green Frog Taxi on my way to the Station – the only taxi company with Hybrid only Cars. I’d never been in a hybrid car before and I think they are amazing. They are the butt of a fair bit of humour in the UK and elsewhere – a full episode of South Park devoted to them I found amusing on an idle afternoon – but I hope Hybrid cars succeed. They are trying to challenge the world into thinking about important issues whilst keeping focussed on the business of being a taxi company. Ashok, one man I am grateful for for taking some of our services while I’ve been away, would encourage our church to be a bit more ‘green’ too, whilst keeping to our focus!
In a few days I resume my place in the office, working as a priest in Jebel Ali. I want to be able to keep focussed on the main work that God would have me do. I want to invest the right kind of time, effort and skill into the work. He has given our church leaders (both on and off our Church Committee) ingenuity and spiritual sensitivity. May we use it together in the name of Christ, to the glory of God the Father.
I landed in London yesterday evening and this morning popped over to Gants Hill with Jo and my brother and his wife. We were with a lot of others waiting expectantly where the Olympic flame was due to pass (pictured here before we all got excited and unruly and closed in and filled the whole road). After several floats went by, and some minor circus style acts, we were very happy to happen to be only about 4 feet from the two runners as the previous runner handed on the flame to the next runner. I could reflectively meditate on this and talk of passing on the light of Christ, or running the race, or something, but hey, I’m on holiday, and I was only four feet away from the 2012 Olympic games torch – wow! Who knows, we might even have been on telly!
We went from there back to my parents place where we are staying and then walked to church, the church I grew up in. Nice being back again. During communion the priest announced that one of the leaders had had a vision from God about blessing in ministry and that if we wanted God’s anointing in ministry then to wait and someone would come and anoint any who lingered after receiving the bread and wine. I lingered. The woman who came was anointing people’s hands, which was a first for me, but I saw it as a symbol of anointing the work of each person. I want that anointing on my work . . . when I get back. And on my holiday while I’m away – can holidays be anointed?
I’ve got a couple of days of work here, one of which is tomorrow: I will be one of our Christ Church Jebel Ali contingent at the Friends of the Diocese AGM meeting at All Hallows by the Tower tomorrow on the 23rd July. I’ll meet up with Kent, Norman and with Peter and Irene (and present them with their corrected cufflinks . It should be a good day.