Monday, 30 November 2015

Into the darkest hour

It was a time like this
War and tumult of war,

a horror in the air.

Hungry yawned the abyss-

and yet there came the star
and the child most wonderfully there.

It was time like this

of fear and lust for power,

license and;greed and blight-

and yet the Prince of bliss

came into the darkest hour
in quiet and silent light.

And in a time like this

how to celebrate his birth

when all things fall apart?

Ah! Wonderful it is

with no room on the earth
the stable is our heart.

Madeleine Engle

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Friday, 27 November 2015

That Friday feeling?

It is Friday night which usually means a trip to the gym. Tonight I am just too tired following two weeks in a row with parents' evenings and appointments that kept me at work until past nine o'clock. It is also just too wet and horrible out there, so I am going to settle down and do some reading or see if there is anything worth watching (unlikely!) I hardly ever do any marking on a Friday night, it is the one time in the week I reserve for "me". One other thing I would not contemplate doing today, given it is apparently "Black Friday", is venture anywhere near a shop. I was quite pleased therefore to see that Black Friday has been more like slack Friday this year- maybe people have some sense after all?
                                BLACK FRIDAY
         Their black is your red

Monday, 23 November 2015

Lady in the van

This weekend Mr M and I headed out to do some Christmas shopping before the crowds get too horrendous. We have instituted the £20 pound rule again this year (hooray!) and so fortunately it didn't take too long and we found we had time to go to the cinema. It was a choice between Suffragettes or The Lady in the Van; Mr M is all for equal rights but still said he would opt for a batty incontinent old bag over a couple of hours in the company of a mob of seriously pissed off women (I guess he is joking here, right?) so we opted for the former.  Mr M found it funny, I thought it was mildly amusing. We were both agreed that it was very moving as well as that part of the fascination is a glimpse into the life of Bennett himself. Catholicism took a good bashing, but what's new there really? I do recommend it.

Monday, 16 November 2015


Here’s what you need to do, since time began:
 find something — diamond-rare or carbon-cheap,
 it’s all the same — and love it all you can.

It should be something close —
 a field, a man, a line of verse, a mouth, a child asleep —
 that feels like the world’s heart since time began.

Don’t measure much or lay things out or scan;
 don’t save yourself for later, you won’t keep;
 spend yourself now on loving all you can.

It’s going to hurt.
That was the risk you ran with your first breath;
 you knew the price was steep,
 that loss is what there is, since time began
subtracting from your balance. That’s the plan,
 too late to quibble now, you’re in too deep.

 Just love what you still have, while you still can.
 Don’t count on schemes, it’s far too short a span
 from the first sowing till they come to reap.
One way alone to count, since time began:
 love something, love it hard, now, while you can.

Rhina Espaillat

Saturday, 14 November 2015


Like pretty much everybody else, I heard the news about Paris last night on the ten o'clock news. It sounded like there was going to be a high death toll and, although nothing had been said about the motives, everyone knew there was a fair chance that some form of Islamic extremism would lie behind it. The retreat that I used to go to every year attracted a fair number of Europeans, several of whom were French, and I was struck today by the range of reactions posted by Christian friends on Facebook  from expressions of absolute hatred and anger against Muslims/ immigrants to pleas for hope and peace to overcome hatred and conflict. How differently people who ostensibly share the same faith can react to the same situation.
It is very natural for us to react strongly when we feel or can imagine ourselves or those like us threatened and very easy for us to react with equanimity or indifference to atrocity or injustice affecting others. Paris is not the only place recently subject to violence and atrocity but it is maybe the closest to us, we tut when we hear of ISIS murdering innocents in Syria but we are shocked and angry when in happens closer to home- not to "them" but to "us".  Our ability to divide people into them and us and feel a lack of compassion towards the ones we have designated as "them" runs deep. Ironically it lies behind the actions of extremists such as ISIS and behind so many acts of cruelty.
  So what do we make of Jesus's advice to love your enemies and do good to those who hate you? It is something I would find very difficult to do if personally affected by a situation but I thought of it only this week when I heard James Foley's parents say that they found "no solace" in the death of "Jihadi John" and read that they have set up an organisation which, as part of its action, works to provide underprivileged youths with access to education. I don't mean to say that we should not take punitive action against terrorism,yet terrorism aims to bring social conflict and instability, and to instill a fear and hatred that then breeds more fear and hatred. Sometimes we have limited power over what others do to us, and no power to change what has already happened. The only thing within our gift is how we react and respond.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Jesus and all that jazz

The results into a survey by the C of E, Evangelical Alliance and "Hope" showing, among other things, that 40% of people do not think Jesus was a real person and that 59% of them find others talking to them about faith puts them off finding out more, really shouldn't come as a surprise- or at least not to any literature teachers. Most years I do a lesson on some basic Christian ideas that students are likely to come across in the texts we study. It starts off with a quiz tailored to whatever we are studying (Blake, Shakespeare, Marlowe) that checks students understanding of  basic concepts such as the Fall, the Ten Commandments, even hell and devils (think Dr Faustus.)
Now, we have a thriving evangelical church near to college and if you happen to have members of our Christian Union in class then this usually helps enormously. It is not unusual to find the whole class has a secular background though and these are some examples of things which have surprised me in recent years:

- A whole class unable to complete the sentence,  "Jesus told stories known as p________." Attempts included "prayers" and "preaching".

- Lots of students unable to relate a single parable. Attempts included the story of Noah's Ark as one of the parables.

- A class only able to come up with three of the Ten Commandments.

- A student who thought Jesus was crucified because he was a thief. "There were two thieves, Jesus and this other guy (couldn't remember his name) and they let one the other one off just because they felt like it..."

- Whole class who did not know about the 23rd psalm even when referred to as "The Lord's my Shepherd." We played it on Youtube, still all faces were blank (time for more repeats of the Vicar of Dibley perhaps?:)

- One student who asked,"Isn't sin meant to be something good? Like with Weightwatchers, it's a  treat for if you've been good?" Understandable perhaps.

What they are still pretty good on is the Nativity story, although it has a few additions such as the donkey, innkeeper and wife. Moreover, some students still have a fairly detailed knowledge, but , in general, including among articulate and able students, knowledge of key Christian beliefs, concepts and stories is poor and seems to have declined significantly over the last decade. In addition, there can be a resistance to any kind of religious ideas or content- which is a real problem when studying literature.When you ask them about RE lessons, where they are meant to cover the tenets of the major religions, you  often get responses such as:
" Nobody pays any attention in RE lessons","it wasn't a real subject", "it didn't make any sense", and " I switch off when it's anything to do with Jesus and all that Jazz."
Synod is apparently going to discuss the trend and look at ways to get the message across (without putting off the majority.) I think it may be a tough call.