Thursday, 23 July 2009

News from Turkey

Day four of our holiday and we are looking browner and more relaxed every day. The resort is very nice with stunning views over the Agean - pictures to come and excellent facilities, four pools, a gym , sauna etc. The food is also good, although not to the taste of our elder son.

So far we have largely taken things easy ,with the exception of Tuesday, when Matthew and I spent an hour working out in the gym ( his request, not mine.) Today we went to Bodrum and looked round the castle of St Peter ( above), established by the Knights of St John in the fifteenth century then back and straight into the pool.

Saturday is our wedding anniversary and we are going out on a day cruise taking in the coastline, we stop off at several points to swim in the sea. We have done this type of trip before, the boys are adept swimmers and they love it. We have an anniversary meal booked for the evening - the boys are going to be grown up and eat on their own without fighting, at least that is their promise!

Sunday, 19 July 2009

The Moral Universe of J.K. Rowling

There is a lot of snobbery about the Harry Potter series. A quick google search reveals many sites which warn you that indulging in this fantasy series will leave you in a dire state  from a spiritual or literary point of view. Tosh and nonsense! Reading about Hal and his pals will neither render you immune to the salutary effects of good literature nor allow a foothold for Satan in your life, as one Southern Baptist site proclaimed ( keep taking the meds, dear...)

Rowling’s novels are especially seductive to adolescents ; they feature teenagers with supernatural powers, a sense of being pitted against greater forces, friends, homework, risk, love, loyalty and triumphs. With a wonderful setting and fast moving plot lines, they fire the imagination and feed the emotions but also – and this interests me most of all – Rowling roots all of this in a universe of good and evil, right and wrong and her message of moral choice is the lynch pin of it all.

In the first two books strong moral, even religious, concepts emerge. Particularly fascinating is the idea of Harry and Voldemort as two sides of the same coin, even their wands are linked by the same phoenix feather at their core. At the end of book two ( I think) Harry has divined that they are in some way twins and in an anguished moment,confides to Dumbledore his fears because the sorting hat considered putting him in Slytherin ( the house of all dark wizards ) before, giving in to Harry’s pleas, it places him in Gryffindor ( associated with courage and integrity.)
“ Ah Harry” says Dumbledore,” it is our choices that make us who we are.”

The message is clear, within Harry, as with all of us, exists the capacity for good and evil and the free will to choose between them.

I could ramble on for ages about morality and ethics in Harry Potter. I am sure that Professor Lupin’s departure from Hogwarts, after being exposed as a werewolf, is a reference to social prejudice - akin to homophobia. “They won’t want my sort teaching their children” says the basically good ( if lunarly- challenged) Lupin,bitterly.

However, in terms of Christian mythology the ending most resonates. In Rowling’s universe the fear of death and the desire for eternal life leads to ultimate evil (and in this way she could be said to be anti- Christian.) However, a willingness to relinquish life to benefit others leads to triumph and this could be said to be a profoundly Christian idea with the paradox that he who would gain his life must lose it and that greater love has no man than he lay down his life for his friend. Sacrifice runs through the books, starting when Lily Potter sacrifices her life to save her son, leaving on him the protective mark of love.

Rowling is essentially a humanist; in the legend of the Deathly Hallows the man who cheats death through the invisibility cloak ultimately chooses to relinquish it and giving the cloak to his son, “greeted death like an old friend" and goes with death "gladly, and as equals".The humanist in Rowling sees death as part of life, to be accepted as inevitable and "gentle" even without the consolation of an afterlife.

Harry also voluntarily chooses death to defeat Voldemort and bequeath life to his friends. As he makes his way through the midnight grounds of Hogwarts, the descriptions of the grip of terror and sweat are so intense that Rowling must be consciously evoking Gethsemane,
"He had no strength... he could no longer control his own breathing. It was not after all so easy to die."
Harry, on the brink of life, prepares to sacrifice everything yet wishes the cup of suffering to pass from him, he is hardly sure he can do it, his is no gentle meeting with an "old friend" at the end of life but a bitter Golgatha that goes against every instinct, except love.

Harry’s willing sacrifice is, of course, the one act that can defeat Voldemort. Sacrifice and moral choice runs through Rowling’s ethic, a humanist ethic but one that cannot resist the force, resonance and validity of a Christian ideology.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Going on a Summer Holiday

If anyone has been reading this blog, you may have noticed that we are going on holiday ( have I mentioned it enough?) We will be away for a fortnight and I will try to post but may not manage piccies so here to fire your imagination - well, mine really - are some photos of the place we are going in Bodrum, Turkey.

We are really looking forward to a chance to take a break, spend some time together, as a couple and as a family. We have a trip to Ephesus planned and will be celebrating our anniversary while away , other than that we aim to enjoy lots of sun, swimming, food, drink, reading and just generally relaxing as people do!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Witchcraft and Wizardry

After all that religious nonsense, here is some really exciting news - we are hoping to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince on Saturday ( providing holiday packing is almost done.) Sit back and enjoy this clip - what do you mean you don't like Harry Potter!?

Monday, 13 July 2009

Blogging from Synod (3)

Debate yesterday evening ( Sunday evening) on "Being Adult about Childhood" which is in response - I think- to a report or survey entitled ,"A good childhood" by the Church of England's Children's society. A range of ideas and stories were related - but I wonder how much difference the church will make to the ( increasingly difficult ?)lives of children in Britain. A motion by Alison Rouf at the end reading,
"That this Synod renew its commitment to enrich the childhood of all the children of England by helping them to discover that God loves them, is for them,and offers them friendship, purpose and fulfilment through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ"
didn't seem to go down too well and was seen by some that I spoke to as a little trite and sugary as a response.
Interesting address by the ABC on Monday morning 9.30 -10.00 following worship. He reflected on the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Jamaica and the draft of the Ridley Covenant. There were some questions about this focusing on "repentance" and some voices of frustration ( I think) at the slow pace of this document.

Am now back home and my mind is turning to HOLIDAYS and the need to pack and sort out things for sun, rest and relaxation!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Blogging from Synod (2)

A busy afternoon yesterday, we went to a recording of an interview with Nigel McCulloch, the Bishop of Manchester by Premier Christian Radio. He was talking about Christianity and the media, how to manage and maximise media opportunities. There was a question session at the end and yours truly asked a question ( about how "media savvy" John Sentamu is and should the other Bishops be more like him?)

This morning we went to the service in York Minster. It was a really lovely service, a mixture of traditional ( sung liturgy) and modern (a Jamaican song introduced by the Archbishop of York.) John Sentamu also preached and it was a very good sermon, about how none of the work we do, at Church, meetings, groups or synods matters if we have not first spent time with Christ and about how that impacts on ourselves and relationships with others. Afterwards I was introduced to Rowan Williams ( I am feeling I am sounding a bit like a groupie here...) , he was very warm and welcoming.

Back to York campus and into a lunch with WATCH ( women and the Church.) Really nice food and lots of pasta and bean salads with cake or fruit for dessert. A brief meeting afterwards focused on the legislation coming up in February and what decisions should be made - a variety of opinions as to the way forward were discussed. Some interesting talk about " the theology of taint" - a new term to me.

After the WATCH lunch, Kevin, a priest I had been talking to about FCA , introduced me to Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream. He was actually very nice to me and I bought a video about the FCA conference, "Be Faithful." It was only a pound, so I couldn't really refuse.

I don't know whether to go home early tomorrow morning, so as to be there when the boys finish their sponsored walk ( about noon) or whether to go a bit later. Kev says he will be home about
2pm for the boys - but that leaves them a few hours to get up to mischief! I did want to go to the debate / discussion of the Church of England's report called "A good childhood" -but I need to see when it is on.
Picture on the right is of me, Gill and Sian in the exhibition hall, next to the Changing Attitude stall.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Blogging from Synod!

I feel quite high tech as I am here in the coffee lounge area in Synod, blogging hot from the event. An interesting day yesterday, I reached York and found the student flat I was booked into and ( finally) located two of the people I'd been given as names to contact - we are in the same student house. Went to some a question session in Central Hall from 9 until 10 last night, quite interesting, one question about ACNA from Chris Sugden ( AM) and some stuff about encouraging new ordinands and working in youth ministry through online resources.

I have met Susan Atkins from WATCH and we are invited to a WATCH lunch on Sunday. I spent some time talking to her and others about their preparations for next February and what they will and won't vote for in terms of the legislation on women bishops. Had a curry meal last night with Colin Coward (Changing Attitude) after helping out on their stand in the evening and met Bobby Egbele, a gay guy who is over from Nigeria and has just been given a two year visa to help out in inclusive work. He faces a lot of problems in Nigeria and has told me his story.

Colin Coward on right
Bobby Egbele above.

I've just spoken to a very interesting bloke involved in child protection in the Church and picked up some leaflets etc. I also stopped at a CPAS stand - I think it stands for Churches Pastoral Advice Society, an evangelical organisation looking at leadership development and pastoral / outreach work and had a conversation with the man there about the work they do.

We are meeting up again at 1pm, but for the time being I have a bit of spare time and, as you see, have managed to find this computer. I've bought a book from the bookstall, "The God you already know" - which was recommended to me. There is free tea, coffee and biscuits, the weather is lovely, so I may go and sit on the terrace area and watch the ducks, geese and swans. (Picture of black Swan with her cygnets)

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Tesco and Wine

Mr. M is back from China and has brought with him ( as usual) some mementos of his trip including this oriental style Tesco carrier bag and some Chinese wine in a rather lovely container. This may be the time to divulge that when on home turf, Mr. M has a bit of addiction to Tescos ( seriously, the kids always joke that he has to shop there every day or he gets withdrawal symptoms- there are worse things to be addicted to is what I always say...) Anyhow, at the bottom of his luggage was the evidence that, where there's a will, there's a way. Mr. M had found a Tesco in China!
The wine however did not come from Tescos but was a gift from the company he was working for. He always gets something, once it was a bumper CD gift box of Chinese Classical music ....hmm... which at some point may be appearing on e-bay. The wine is - wait for it - 52% proof. Wonder when we'll crack open that one?

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Kev's nearly back, school's nearly out and I'm soon off!

We break up on Friday 10th July at 12.30 ( three cheers) and I am straight away off to York to Synod. Then another week and the boys break up and we are on HOLIDAY! (I'm not excited or anything...)

I'm at Synod from the Friday to the Monday lunchtime, staying in a student flat, self catering - but am told there is a pub that serves good food nearby. I have no idea what Synod will be like, not having been before. It makes me feel a bit "churchy" and I'm not really churchy, but then I'll sort of be on the sidelines, so not really! I will post when I get back about how things went.

Mr. M flies back from China soon. He phoned me today at 4ish, sounding lonely and longing for home. It is a shame that he comes back and then, almost straight away, I am off. We are going to go out for a meal on Monday to catch up.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Pure Poetry


Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain:
then a man will stand stock still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across

a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside the radio's prayer-
Rockall, Malin, Dogger, Finisterre

By Carol Ann Duffy

Our new poet laurette, Carol Ann Duffy, is ( whisper it...) not my favourite poet of all time. However I am seriously impressed by this hauntingly evocative poem. I decided to post another poem on the topic of faith as I got a positive response from some people to the Hopkins. I love the quiet, reflective tone of this poem, the glimpses of those moments when "meaning breaks through" into our everyday lives and we don't quite know how or why. Duffy describes herself as a "benevolent agnostic" and this poem does capture an almost secular need for the meaning and reassurance of prayer - the woman calling a child's name that recalls the heartbreak of a lost child, the beat of a train evoking a man's youth, the familiar rhythm of the shipping forecast like a sudden litany and that basic human sense of something beyond that is experienced by the faithful and faithless alike.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Munching Sea Cucumbers

Mr. M phoned this afternoon, about 4pm our time, nearly his bedtime over there in China. His hosts had taken him to a sea food restaurant where he had sampled his first Sea Cucumber. Asked to describe it, he selected the adjective "chewy."
Above is a picture of the (live) version. I am sure it looks more palatable cooked.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Pure Poetry

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things-
For skies of couple- colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal , chestnut falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled ( who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour, adazzzle, dim;
He fathers- forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

I am aiming to post a poem at least once a month. I love this one by Gerard Manley Hopkins because it is an outpouring of amazement at the sheer beauty and variety of creation. I particularly love the fact that what Hopkins values is the unusual and striking, not the bland or uniform but the "freckled", the " counter, original, spare, strange." You can tell Hopkins has the mind of a true poet when he sees a similarity in the "couple- colour" of the sky and the couple colour of a cow's hide. It is as though Hopkins imagines the creator saying , " I love that sky pattern, far too good to waste, where else could I use it? - I know, on a cow!" The sounds of this poem are also just fantastic, they spill out and the words are broken up with punctuation and dashes to give a sense of the sheer energy and joy of creation.