Remember walls come down too

When I was growing up, and for many years after the Berlin Wall was one of those fixed points in life. Always there, a visible symbol of the post-war division between East and West, manifest not just within a country but a city. I sometimes thought of going to see it but never got round to it and then suddenly one day it was gone.

One of the few remaining bits of the Berlin Wall

In the aftermath of the wall being opened there was a short lived debate between those who wanted to preserve some of it and those who wanted it gone completely. Nearly all of it was torn down and rapidly built on. The piece above is part of a museum but mostly it has gone.

The site of Checkpoint Charlie

This is Checkpoint Charlie, where at one point American and Russian tanks faced off against each other for a very tense 16 hours. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/oct/24/berlin-crisis-standoff-checkpoint-charlie. (The link tells the story) It is now a normal shopping street and when we were there the rumour was that the whole area was going to be brought up by an American hotel chain. The one enduring memorial is the metal strip in the road pictured below which shows the site of the wall throughout the city

The metal strip that shows the site of the wall if the writing is the right way up you are in the West.

There is no direct comparison between our current situation and the Berlin Wall, but I offer it as a parable of something that looked horrible and threatening and kept people apart from one another. It seemed to be going on forever and then one day it was gone. The Coronavirus won’t just go, but at some stage the restrictions we are living under will ease and life will gradually return to a new normal. But maybe we need to put down some markers, so that we don’t forget too quickly; the fragility of our way of life and the provisionality of what we take for granted.

In response to a request I enclose the link to my church Facebook page, as I am going to be live streaming the Palm Sunday service from there at 10.00 on Sunday. You can find it at https://www.facebook.com/High-Oak-Hingham-429396720821739/?epa=SEARCH_BOX I have never done this before so I am a bit anxious so please be gentle, but then we are all having to do new things right now.

From the Royal Mail to Mailchimp

I sent out 21 letters today. It’s our Palm Sunday service and a letter from me explaining various things that are happening. I have sent it to all of those on our church contact list who don’t have email or easy access to it from someone in their household. Actually 21 isn’t bad as a week ago we thought we were looking at a mailing of around 30 but it’s amazing how many people have remembered that they do have an email address after all.

The emails are another thing altogether. Sunday morning Michael our administrator will be sending out 130+ emails containing that service and an invitation to join me on Facebook as I try to livestream it. Dispatching that number of emails at once is problematic; hence the chimp which is a programme rather than an actual simian employee.

It does seem to me that as we go through this rather strange time, (we really need a word that we can use for it), that the middle ground of how we normally function and problem solve has disappeared and we are left with solutions that are either high tech or low tech. This irony hit me the other day when after listening to an explanation of the mind boggling economics of the government plans to bail us out our neighbours offered to barter some tins of baked beans for a toilet roll.

I think that these extremes represent a profound imbalance that many people are feeling. I have conversations where people describe rapid mood swings. We are afflicted by a virus and the consequences of the measures to contain it and protect us; and that has caused a profound dis-ease among us.

We will regain balance, but I suspect that our new normal may be different from the old one. No one set out to build the leaning tower of Pisa, they were just building a bell tower but that would never have been such a tourist attraction. Goodnight and God Bless.

Hope is hard…….work

It sounded such a good idea, let’s light up the Church Tower as a symbol of hope. St Andrews in Hingham my largest church, has floodlights and can be illuminated. Local people will pay to have the lights on in memory of someone or to celebrate an anniversary, and a record of who the tower is illuminated for is kept in the parish magazine. So when one resident suggested we light the tower as a symbol of hope we leapt at it.

It seemed to resonate with people and we soon had several offers of help and Peter who deals with it but lives a few miles away set it all up; all well and good. Except when I went out to take a photo this evening and to try to shoot a video it was shrouded in darkness; Peter hadn’t factored in the clocks going forward.

That’s me outside the unilluminated church I think I’m praying for inspiration

So I went to the control panel and he talked me through adjusting it which worked well until the minute hand* on the clock fell off. As well as not factoring in the clocks we hadn’t factored in my cackhandedness with most things practical and mechanical. My friend Tom who was a builder once said that when it came to plastering I made a very good nurse. So in the end Peter, who really shouldn’t be coming out late at night had to come and fix it.

As you can see above it’s now working, at which point I set out on my main mission which was to record night prayers in front of the church tower. I was a bit dismayed at the truck parked in front, but it was quiet so I began recording. Almost immediately he fired up his engine but then stayed stationary, not the background I wanted for compline.

Eventually he left and I shot the short video uninterrupted but now I am having problems uploading it to the church Facebook page and I will have to ask Sally our curate who is much more competent at these things. It’s all been a bit stressful and part of me wishes I hadn’t bothered and just stayed in and watched celebrity bake off with Louise my wife.

And the point of all this. We are lighting the tower as a symbol of hope. Hope often sounds quite easy doesn’t it, you can just decide to be hopeful can’t you. No. Hope is really hard work and keeping hope going, in whatever way, takes effort and time. It can also get us involved with things we are not familiar with or feel competent at, and that’s the other thing about hope, it involves other people. We may chose to be hopeful on our own but making hope concrete and real normally involves other people. And within the Christian tradition hope itself is not solitary but rather described as having two companions, faith and love, and these three as being the things that endure when all else is gone. Goodnight and I hope the day to come goes well for you.

* The clock you can see in the photo is not the clock that controls the light, the story of its bad timekeeping is far too long and involve for this blog, but currently it’s not working at all.

Good coffee and gratitude

Normally at home I drink lots of weak instant coffee. It punctuates the day, keeps me hydrated and gives me an excuse to get up from my desk. I put up with its insipidness because I’m often too lazy to prepare the real thing and I don’t want to go through the whole day on rocket fuel.

But I only manage this way knowing that from time to time I will find myself in a cafe taking a freshly brewed Americano; suddenly that’s just not happening. So, feeling the need I got out the coffee maker this afternoon.

Both the coffee machine and the mug in the picture are Christmas presents from my brother in law James and his wife Thalia. Just seeing these objects made me think of them and then of the view from their house, perched as they are above Oslo fjord.

Oslo fjord from the Notodden peninsula on a rainy afternoon

Had I not been as confined as we all are I might have thought of them as I made my coffee, I might even have silently thanked them for the gift but I’m not sure I would have found myself momentarily transported to another place and time. When life is slowed down we are offered the opportunity to appreciate more the things we have and the memories that we can readily access.

Sunset over Oslo fjord

It’s not the same as being there but it’s like the sun edging under the hem of a long cloud, suddenly shedding a brilliant light across a darkening vista. Such memories are both the product of thankfulness and they can engender further gratitude; accessing them is not living in the past but allowing them to inform the present.

Good night and God Bless

Pause for effect

Fifty years ago, when I started Grammar school, you got given a desk in your classroom, with a hinged lid. My desk, like everyone’s was heavily graffitied, some of which was carved into the wood. On my desk was the inscription “Tamla Motown is dead“. With a brother six years older than me my musical knowledge at this stage was limited to The Beatles, The Who and Led Zepplin and I had no idea what it meant and a slight background anxiety that someone of that name was lying dead in a ditch somewhere. Fortunately, as I was very teaseable I kept my 11 year old anxiety to myself.

When I did find out what it was referring to I was, as a teen very dismissive of it. The songs that came from that source seemed to me the epitome of manufactured music and I preferred to listen to pop, rock, progressive rock, punk and then new wave. However over 30 years of marriage to Louise has introduced me to the soul music she loves and with it I have gained an appreciation for the derided Motown sound. Songs that I thought of as manufactured I now consider to be crafted.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=2EaflX0MWRo

The above link will take you to a performance of “I’ll be there” by the Four Tops. It’s a wonderful piece of music, full of passion and commitment and the promise of help. In my view what makes it a great song rather than a good one is the pause, the gap between the call to “reach out” and the promise to “be there”.

We have created a society in which instantaneous access has become the normal, and in doing so I suspect that we have lost the wonder at what riches we receive. But now we are appreciating the richness of our society with people are helping one another. The pause we are in means that we will appreciate resolution all the more, and in the meantime if you feel you can’t go on, reach out!

Clearing clutter, remaking space.

This is supposed to be my main work desk

Clergy study’s are notorious; I don’t think I have ever seen a tidy one. Mine isn’t too bad, you can see the floor in places, but if I am honest that’s in part due to an ongoing conspiracy between one of my churchwardens, my administrator and my wife. Rumour has it that some clergy have been driven to changing jobs or retirement in order to leave behind the detritus of years of work and that fatal phrase “well it might come in useful”

Faced with weeks and perhaps months of principally being here and not having to use this as a meeting room has inspired some re-arrangements and even a bit of cleaning. I can’t show you the finished product as it’s not complete yet, but changing the look of my work area is helping me come to terms with new ways of working; though it has also revealed another less comfortable truth.

This is Hingham Massachusetts, there is a direct link between the two towns as religious refugees from Norfolk founded the American town, and we were privileged to go there in 2016. Hingham Mass. like many prosperous American towns, is spacious. When I first visited the States I was struck by just how much room there is, compared with this country, only at the heart of the big cities do you have a sense of things being, well, within walking distance.

One of my lasting memories of our visit in 1995 was a train journey from Berlin Connecticut to Washington DC. It was long and mostly rural, but punctuated with large urban sprawls. One was particularly haunting, a derelict slum area, burnt out perhaps after riots long gone, or just left to rot. I loved America but I came away with a judgmental perception that if there is a problem in a place then people (who can) just move away and start somewhere else. I would be happy to be told that I was wrong or that things have changed.

But the log in my one eye is my own attitude to the mess of my office. When asked how I put up with it I have claimed not to mind; the truth is I can always walk away from it and go out and do something else. Except now I can’t and after six days of lockdown I found I did mind and needed to make some space. Except we don’t make space do we, we have inherited space,acres of it, we make clutter.

The Himalayas North of Kathmandu Nepal, one of the most spacious views I have ever been privileged to experience.

I always get Louise to check my posts before they go out, she’s a good proof reader. She couldn’t do it straight away this evening as she was listening to a meditation. There’s lots of ways of reclaiming space and lots of places we need to do it, as George Harrison puts it, within and without you. Goodnight and God Bless.

Is it Saturday?

I am grateful to my friend Pat for this post on Facebook this morning which made me laugh out loud. It reflects something quite profound though, that the normal markers by which we divide up our week have, if not quite disappeared dramatically reduced in number. When Louise my wife asks me what I am doing today I am now lucky if I can come up with one thing that I definitely know is going to happen.

Saturday evening is particularly strange. Normally I sit down and watch Match of the Day, especially if there is a chance that Norwich are likely to be on early. Now that’s all gone and instead I ended up watching the second half of Fisherman’s Friends on Netflix; though to be fair that did give me a laugh as well.

However we are all supposed to think creatively to get through these times, so I offer you ”Thatch of the Day”, an opportunity to compare and contrast some fine examples of Norfolk thatching to wile away that idle 90 minutes you might have wasted on football.

Thatch of the day, probably not a first choice replacement for match of the day.

To be honest I’m not sure what will work, and it will be different for each one of us. But I think we will need to work out something that stops us from saying “well every day is the same now”. Because if every day becomes the same then we may stop hoping for something different.

I want to offer you 2 short passages from “An Evil Cradling” Brian Keenan’s searing account of his time as a hostage in Lebanon. Both these passages concern his adaption to the sheer nothingness of a prison existence.

Each day became another day, unmarked by any difference from the day that preceded it or the day that would come after. Always it began with a door banging and the guards crying out to one another in Arabic; the sounds of the preparation of food, boxes or tins and the shuffling footsteps of men who occupied the cells next to mine fumbling their way to the bathroom.

The prison was, after the first few weeks, a place where there were no incidents to stimulate the mind or the imagination; there was no colour, no character, nothing on which the mind and the personality might feed and nurture itself into meaning.

What we are facing is hugely uncertain and open ended but for most of us it is in no way as bad as what Brian Keenan and John McCarthy and also separately Terry Waite faced and which others continue to face. What I find inspiring is that Keenan’s book chronicles how an unlikely friendship with his fellow captor became their mainstay, their rock, their salvation if you like. A book that could have just been a depressing account of incarceration is also an uplifting chronicle of a friendship.

We can, and probably need to look for new things, entertainments, games, pastimes to fill our suddenly changed and for many empty days. But at the end of the day it will be the quality of our relationships; with each other, with ourselves and perhaps with our God which will pull us through.

Finally do remember that not all things are equal and the clocks do go forward tonight and tomorrow is Sunday.