Archive for the 'People' Category

Bright field of dreams

I was introduced to The Bright Field by a friend, Robin, whilst we were on a course a few years back.

The Bright field

The Bright Field [Buttermere, Cumbria ©AlastairCutting]

Curiously, it is Hillsborough that has brought the poem very much back to mind. Let’s have a reminder of the poem first, and there is an audio/file of RS Thomas reading it himself linked below:

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

The Bright Field
by R. S. Thomas (1913-2000)

Audio file via PoeticTouch.

 

But why Hillsborough bring this poem to mind?

I’ve blogged before that I was a local curate at the time, and involved in some of the immediate aftermath. One of my strong memories, as I walked back down ‘the tunnel’ a couple of times afterwards, was the contrast of the bright green playing field in the sun seen from the shadows of the tunnel.

Tunnel 1989

Tunnel 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The field is so inviting. You can see it. You can almost touch it. There’s ramp, a slope down to it. It’s just … there.

There is an American sports movie called the Field of Dreams, encapsulating the draw – particularly but not exclusively  – for some men to sports, to team games, and to the playing field, or pitch, or ground.

Hymns don’t often make good theology – though they may be better at theology than movies are. But even here we may get glimpsesof heaven, as Ray Kinsella found in the film.

John Kinsella: Is this heaven?
Ray Kinsella: It’s Iowa.
John Kinsella: Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.
      [starts to walk away]
Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It’s the place where dreams come true.
      [Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.
            The Field of Dreams – 1989 Phil Alden Robinson Universal/TriStar

Jesus likens the Kingdom of Heaven to treasure in a field, and to a pearl of unfathomable value, of great price; in Matt 13:44-46. Both are images that R.S.Thomas specifically references in the poem. Not a great surprise, perhaps, for the Welsh priest/poet that he was.

That field. Seen it. Forgotten it. But now having seen it again, illuminated, incandescent, Thomas goes on: I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it.

These sports grounds, these football fields are often a focus for hurrying on to a receding future, [or] hankering after an imagined past. Many memories of matches remembered; of dreams and hopes for the future. The rise and fall of emotion; the tears wept, the joy unconfined. They hold a sense of the numinous about them – the singing, swaying, the shared liturgy and language – even prayers (!) – they are almost religious in their fervour. No wonder some talk of sport as their faith, of the great venues as their cathedrals, temples. Bill Shankly, powerfully linked to Liverpool, is famously quoted as saying “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”.

I was recently reading back some of the witness stories of a number of Hillsborough survivors, and the camaraderie, the shared experience was a powerful memory; some saying the ‘we all came last year and we wanted to all come back again this year’ before the full portent of this particular pilgrimage unfurled before them.

Even after the catastrophe, faith remains a part of the story. I recalled in the previous blog post how 4 fans came in to our local church on the Sunday morning, just hours later. To another one of those ‘thin places‘ where heaven comes closer to touching earth. To come to seek, to pray, to place a loved one lost in to the hands of God. Nearly every anniversary since the first, there has been significant input of hymns & prayers, along with speeches & memories, at each of the ceremonies.

In the poem, Thomas looks: to the miracle … to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

Looking back to the 15 April 1989, though much remains sharp in the mind of each of those most closely affected by Hillsborough, inevitable some of the memories become a little faded, a bit more transitory each year; the images of the ever-youthful 96 remain unchanged, even as ‘those who are left grow old‘. Perhaps that is why there is still such a strong sense of hope around Hillsborough – a very Liverpool – characteristic, the city with two cathedrals linked by a street called Hope.

For RS Thomas, the brightness that has shone on this field leads at last to the eternity that awaits you. May it lead to eternity for you too.

 

The BBC has a Profile of each of the Hillsborough 96, and the Liverpool Echo has created an image grid that links to each of the 96 too.

 

 

 

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Pale-ist

This post isn’t really about hair colour, but one of the things children with red hair have to get used to, is being called ‘ginger’. (Usually ‘Oi, Ginger’ – I should know…)

Red-headed kids

Some with natural ‘auburn’, ‘titian‘ or even ‘strawberry-blonde’ hair have had such abuse that some have called it the last remaining personal attribute to be regularly abused without it being considered discrimination.

However, there is another personal attribute that is regularly and publicly discriminated against in a rather surprising, universal way. It is: being pale coloured, pale skinned; and on the dance-floor.

You may have expected that it is the quality of the dancing that is being judged in the various national dance competitions that are all the rage since ‘Strictly‘ hit our t.v. screens. But no, even the contestants skin-colour is judged.

'Tanned' dance competitor, with fans

And sometimes, skin colour is judged to be lacking. Contestants who have not fake-tanned to some particular colour or shade may sometimes not proceed to further rounds.

I really do find it astonishing that this should be the case. It is like a reverse discrimination. Continue reading ‘Pale-ist’

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Mind the Gap…

I was asked to contribute a bit to the BBC Surrey & Sussex Sunday Breakfast programme presented by Gavin Ashenden, on some of the BBC’s current First Click initiative to help people use internet services, and about online communities, new media and such bits and pieces. Gavin’s page is here, with this week’s listen again (probably only available in the UK, and only for one week) found here. Our discussion verged over email, blogging, Facebook and Twitter; and whether these amount to ‘real’ communities or not. Even the Twurch of England got a name check. The bit where I am chatting with Gavin comes in at about 1hr40min in, though why any one would want to listen again to it escapes me.

The edited down excerpt is available here (probably illegally), so if you really wanted to listen to it click here:

Download the Alastair with Gavin Ashenden 24 Oct 2010 file…
On a completely different subject, I was also asked to contribute to the ‘1 minute sermon’ for the week too – and I did it on Gap Years, or at least, Gap Trips.

Mind the Gap

Mind the Gap

The image above links to a pdf; but the text is below.

The link to Laura’s Gap experience blog on the BUNAC site is here.

“Mind the Gap” says the voice as the doors open on the Tube train on the London Underground; and for just a minute I want share the benefit of a Gap Year, or – in acknowledgement of the cuts as a result of Continue reading ‘Mind the Gap…’

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Le Curé d’Ars – the ordinary priest

Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney, the Curé d’Ars was a simple French priest who is now known as the patron saint of parish clergy. He is celebrated on the 4 August, which happens this year to be just as BBC2 series ‘Rev’ comes to the end of it’s current run. Both have got me thinking about styles and shapes of ministry in 21st century Britain.

The Curé D'Ars

The Curé D'Ars photo Ryan Humphries

Vianney almost didn’t get there, and some have argued Adam Smallbone (Tom Hollander) perhaps shouldn’t have got there – become priests that is. Vianney had problems getting past his ‘BAP‘, and once in ministry, was given a small out-of-the way parish to deal with; the Rev seems to have been dropped, very green, in to a parish setting that appears doomed before he starts.

That’s not to say that there aren’t features of Adam’s situation in Rev that aren’t instantly recognisable to most clergy families – there are many: the constant door bell/phone; relationships with the school; the often disfunctional people that churches collect (fortunately – someone should – and that includes the clergy!). But some of it was pushed beyond credibility, spoiling it for me. The Archdeacon; the inappropriate relationship Continue reading ‘Le Curé d’Ars – the ordinary priest’

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Invisibility Cloak

It may be the stuff of SciFi dreams, but I have recently perfected the invisibility cloak. I neither appear to exist, nor have lived at either of my previous two addresses over the last nearly 20 years. This seems a little strange, as I had really expected that Big Brother had been watching me more closely than that.

Invisibility cloak

Invisibility cloak - image: WatchMOJO

Setting up a basic household utility at our new home, the company ran a standard credit check on me. It came up negative; I apparently appeared to be a credit risk. This seemed unlikely, as our credit card company deem us as eligible for laughably huge potential credit limits on our account, which if we were a real credit risk, they would not.

I had to find out more from a credit-check agency. They confirmed there was a problem. Perhaps it was over precise address discrepancies. However, solving it proved to be complicated. Their researches said I had not lived at my previous address – not even under three possible variations of the property address. In fact there was no evidence of Continue reading ‘Invisibility Cloak’

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Woodmancote Martyrs

On 6th of June 1556, Thomas Harland and John Oswald, were amongst the ‘Protestant Martyrs’ burnt at the stake in Lewes. Harland, a carpenter, and Oswald, a ‘husbandman’ or farm worker, were both residents of Woodmancote, near Henfield in Sussex. After the English Reformation, and the opportunity of having services and hearing the Bible read in English, they were reluctant to come under Queen Mary’s edict that the church and services should return to Roman Catholicism, and in Latin. For this they were tried for heresy.

Bishop Kieran Conroy, Dean Nicholas Frayling, Rev'd Christina Bennett

Bishop Kieran Conroy, Dean Nicholas Frayling, Rev'd Christina Bennett at the Woodancote Martyrs Memorial

There is a record in Fox’s Book of Martyrs of the trial – recorded here:

To Thomas Harland I finde in the Byshop of Londons Registers, to be obiected for not commyng to Church. Whereunto he aunswered: that after the Masse was restored, hee neuer had will to heare the same, because (sayde he) it was in Latin, whiche hee dyd not vnderstand: and therfore as good (quoth he) neuer a whitte, as neuer the better.
Ex Regist.
Answere of Tho. Harland.

Iohn Oswald, denyed to aunswere any thyng, vntill Continue reading ‘Woodmancote Martyrs’

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St Matthias :: the lottery-chosen apostle.

So, “Judas went out and hanged himself”. There was a gap for an apostle. They held an election. By lottery: the lottery-chosen apostle.

St Matthias

The Apostles cast lots to choose the replacement apostle

The story comes in Acts 1:20-26, where Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias were two who’s names were put forward as potential replacements. They were undoubtably both part of the ’72’ disciples. Lots were chosen to decide between them. St. Matthias was chosen.

I have long had a soft spot for Matthias. For a while, back in 2000, I was priest in charge of a church dedicated to St Matthias. And as 14 May is St Matthias Day in the CofE calendar, it brought him to mind.

Yet, in other places, St Matthias is celebrated on 24 February. Like in the calendar of Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia. And it was on 24 February 2000, St. Matthias’ Day, that I was licensed to St. Matthias, Panmure, Auckland, NZ by the then bishop of Auckland, the Rt Rev’d John Paterson. It was a significant day for Bishop John too, as he had been consecrated Bishop of Auckland on the feast of St. Matthias in 1994; and he preached that day on the saint, his election, and ‘filling in’.

St Matthias - Panmure - Auckland, NZ

St Matthias - Panmure - Auckland, NZ

There is something wonderful about being chosen – even by lottery – to be part of something special.

My feelings are even more with Justus, Joseph Barsabbas, though. To be -almost- chosen as one of ‘The Twelve’. But not. To have been “one of those who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us”, and then only recorded as an also-ran. Like one of those left standing, one of the last chosen for a team on the school playing field.

We hear no more of Justus. But then, we hear no more of Matthias either. Both had been close to Jesus throughout his ministry; both were considered worthy of consideration. One was chosen: one wasn’t. That is just how the lottery can go. However that didn’t actually change what went on before. Or afterwards. For either of them. Don’t get too worried about the lottery. But do rejoice in God’s unexpected surprises.

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Lesslie Newbigin – Bishop of Hope

2009 is the Centenary of Lesslie Newbigin‘s birth. Churches Together in Britain & Ireland decided to celebrate this with a Conference held at Queen’s College, Birmingham.

CTBI Newbigin Centenary Conference logo

CTBI Newbigin Centenary Conference logo

This post is….

  • part brief background on Newbigin;
  • part a quick glance at some of his theology;
  • part a ‘back of an envelope’ report on the conference;
  • and part a personal reflection on ‘Uncle Lesslie’
  • with a comment on the source of the CTBI banner photo above.
  • and… it should possibly be a ‘page’ rather than a ‘post’ – we’ll see.

    Background

    Lesslie Newbigin was a Presbyterian minister and missionary who – considering that background, and not really approving of church hierarchies – rather surprisingly became a Bishop of the united Church of South India at it’s formation in 1947. In fact not once, but twice – first in the Madurai-Ramnad diocese, then later as bishop of Madras, as Chennai was then known. In between, he was in Geneva with the World Council of Churches. On ‘retiring’ from Madras in 1974, Lesslie & Helen Newbigin made their way back to Britain overland using local buses, carrying just a couple of suitcases and a rucksack – I love that; sort of reverse hippy, on so many levels!

    Lesslie & Helen Newbigin, Cecil & Eleanor Cutting, Wilfred & Mary Hulbert 1937

    Lesslie & Helen Newbigin, Cecil & Eleanor Cutting, Wilfred & Mary Hulbert in India, 1937

    This photograph shows The Troika, or the Three Graces, as the three ‘girls’ were sometimes Continue reading ‘Lesslie Newbigin – Bishop of Hope’

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    Priests’ Blessing

    Our local clergy chapter were meeting this week, and I was ‘hosting’. Usually, part of hosting involves preparing some prayers and worship. As we were also ‘RememberingSt Martin of Tours, I had a few things up my sleeve, including a fine shell remembering the pilgrims that stopped at St Martin’s shrine in Tours on the Way of St James.

    New Zealand Paua - credit ReedWade

    New Zealand Paua - credit ReedWade

    Actually the shell was in my pocket, rather than up my sleeve; and paua were not really the sorts of shells that pilgrims on the way to Compostela normally wore (they were usually scallops… But these paua are exquisite. We have brought back dozens from NZ over the years.

    Back to prayers and blessings. I have dabbled a bit in Celtic Spirituality over the years, and recently acquired a copy of a couple of John O’Donohue’s books. Continue reading ‘Priests’ Blessing’

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    The Arundel Tomb

    Chichester Cathedral is the ‘mother church’ of the diocese, and as a Sussex priest, I find myself there from time to time. I love wandering through the cathedral when I get a chance. It has so many superb features about it; but one of my favourites is ‘The Arundel Tomb’.

    The Arundel Tomb - credit Tom Oates

    The Arundel Tomb - credit Tom Oates

    It is a fourteenth century table tomb on which lie the effigies of Richard Fitzalan Earl of Arundel, and his second wife Eleanor. One of the most charming features is the way that they are both holding hands, Richard’s hand having been removed from the gauntlet still held in his left hand.

    Arundel Tomb hands - credit bmeabroad

    Arundel Tomb hands - credit bmeabroad

    Continue reading ‘The Arundel Tomb’

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