Moving House

This blog has nothing to do with Lent, beyond showing the amazing possibilities in life if you believe you can. For me, it’s a trip down memory lane. Yesterday I saw this house on the BBC on-line news.

It is a 137 year old house in San Francisco which has been saved from demolition by its enterprising owner. Now it is on its way to a new site! Amazing? Well, yes, but I’ve seen it all before.

In early 1963 I was living in Lexington, Massachusetts which is an old town outside Boston. A very historical town because it’s where “the shot heard round the world” rang out on the morning of 19th April, 1775, heralding the start of the American Revolution. 

On one occasion while we were there I had to drive into Boston to pick up my husband and take him to the airport. A few miles out of the town, breasting (or perhaps chesting) the brow of a hill, I came upon a house in the middle of the road. I don’t mean a caravan or half a mobile home; I mean a whole house, complete with double garage and curtains in the windows! What’s more, after a few startled moments, I realised it was moving. At a snail’s pace it was proceeding down the road in front of me. Finally, the driver of the car behind me, who wasn’t in the state of shock I was in, overtook the house and roared away. With my courage in both hands I followed suit.

The next problem was my husband. ‘You’re late,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. ‘There was a house in the way!’ As an excuse it sounded pretty feeble. Fortunately, one of his colleagues confirmed that I could be telling the truth.

The Minuteman statue on Lexington’s Battle Green

Lexington is steeped in history, centred on the Battle Green where that fateful and fatal first shot was fired. Around the Green there are elegant pre-revoltion buildings like the Buckman Tavern, the Monroe Tavern and the Harrington House. One summer I acted as a volunteer guide on the green and my description of the young, wounded Jonathan Harrington crawling up the front steps to die in his wife’s arms reduced Californian tourists to tears! That was when I discovered Californian history is so completely different from New England history they could have been two separate countries. 

The Hancok-Clarke House on Hancock Street, Lexington, MA

Many years later I was back in Boston and decided to drive my daughter out to see our old house. From the Green I drove up Hancock Street on my way to Blake Road. This was a road I took almost every day when I lived there and on my right as I drove out of town I would pass another famous house — the Hancock-Clarke house. John Hancock and Samuel Adams, two of the leaders of the militiamen, had been warned to expect trouble. They were taking shelter with the Reverend Clarke in the house that had once been home to John’s grandfather. It is also the house where Paul Revere stopped to give warning of the approach of the Redcoats as he took his famous ride towards Concord. As I drove past this famous piece of history in about 1980 I again came to an abrupt halt. The house was on my left.

‘Why have you stopped?’ asked my daughter. ‘That house,’ I said. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It says it’s the Lexington Historical Society.’ ‘But it’s on the left! It should be on the right!’ I could see my daughter’s raised eyebrows in the rearview mirror. Clearly mother was beginning to lose it!

Time to phone a friend.

Yes, it was indeed the Hancock-Clarke house. Yes, it had been on the right hand side of Hancock Street as you went up from the town centre. Yes, it had been moved across the road — she thought a few years before; late seventies perhaps. But why? Why on earth would you move an ancient monument from one side of the road to the other?

Early in the last century it had been saved from demolition by being trundled across the road onto a piece of spare land. Seventy years later it had then simply been moved back to where it was when it had sheltered three American heroes: John Hancock, Samuel Adams and Paul Revere.  

Well, why not? Recent news suggests that Stonehenge was originally Welsh. Should we start agitating for the return of our stones? At least that would solve the problem of tunnelling under the A303.

Lent, Blue Peter Style

For readers outside the United Kingdom, I should explain about “Blue Peter”. The Blue Peter is a flag. It was flown from a ship in harbour to show that it was about to leave port and sail away. In 1958 it became the name of what has become the longest running children’s TV programme in the world. 

It was a well-chosen name. The programme aimed to sail the children watching it into other worlds outside the often severe limits of their own sitting rooms. It offered not only more exotic adventures, exiting everyday situations and an amazing number of things to do and make out of any oddments you might have cluttering up the house. Re-cycling, then in its infancy, took over where the “make do and mend” of the wartime years left off”

Animals, particularly cats and dogs joined the TV family to such an extent that John Noakes and Shep became household names. All sorts of animals made regular visits or became part of the family as pet-less children learned the ins and outs of animal care, and coped with mourning when well-loved characters died. There were all sorts of animals as well, including a turtle who joined the show regularly for 14 years. Then there was the visit of a baby elephant. That was the time the programme “went viral” in today’s parlance, when – to put it politely – if the elephant had been wearing a nappy/diaper he would have filled it!

A Blue Peter badge worn by proud watchers of the programme

What has Blue Peter to do with Lent? Several things. Like Lent it opened windows to new thoughts and ideas and shone light into hitherto dark, even frightening, places and situations. On a much lighter level it introduced a time honoured phrase that has entered the language. After cutting up plastic bottles, sticking yoghurt pots together, winding string or ribbon around this and that, one or other of the presenters would produce the finished item, securely glued, standing firm and true, and proudly announce, “Here’s one I made earlier.”

An Aloe Vera leaf and a sprig of a jade tree

I wonder how many “Here’s one (of whatever it may be) I made earlier,” there will be as a result of the Dean of Canterbury’s Lent Project? Poems, prayers, paintings, crafty items or even a Fairy Liquid rocket! Above is my latest effort. A leaf of aloe vera and a sprig of a jade tree.

And here are two I made earlier! Just look at the way the Aloe Vera is sprouting new plants all around the original leaf.

Silence, Study, Service

I did think of calling this blog “Shush”. It’s a word I use a lot because, even when sitting side by side, my granddaughters, aged 7 and 9, speak to each other in modified roars, as if still trying to communicate across a crowded classroom.

Three word slogans are popular at the moment. Did Archbishop Justin Welby start it with his wish that the Anglican church should be ‘Simpler, Humbler, Bolder”? Last Sunday, the last Sunday before Lent, Canon Philip Ursell, in an open church in Cardiff, St Martin’s in Roath, in his sermon, suggested the three words of the title — Silence, Study, Service — as a good guide for Lent.

Silence is perhaps the last thing people want to hear at the moment when so many are living in lonely isolation, listening to the radio, watching TV and talking to the wall. However, it caught my attention because I have been watching three programmes late evening on BBC Channel 4. ‘Retreat: Meditations from a Monastery’. These programmes seemed to take silence to another level; not just lack of sound but something positive.

” A servant with this clause  Makes drudgery divine: Who sweeps a room as for Thy laws,  Makes that and th’ action fine.” George Herbert. 

Have you ever been in an anechoic chamber? That’s the place to experience an utter and complete absence of sound. Alone in one, in the dark, I found it a terrifying experience. I ended up feeling my pulse and concentrating on my breath to reassure myself I was still alive!

Silence, in these monasteries, is the reverse. Apart from praying and singing in chapel and readings from The Rule of St Benedict during meals no one spoke. But it wasn’t just the lack of talk. I found myself listening to every other sound. The flip flop of sandaled feet in the long tiled corridors, the rattle of plates, the thump of kneading dough. Even a dripping tap and the slurp of honey filling a jar.

I now know why an iconographer was taking eggs from the kitchen

Study is a part of a monk’s daily life as is service. All kinds of service from the most humdrum tasks like cooking and cleaning to the beautiful work of an iconographer and a rosary maker. Some monks make their own clothes, others use carpentry, both creatively and DIY. One nice touch — the baker monk walked out into a wood to pick wild garlic, which he took back to the kitchen, pounded to a paste in a pestle and mortar, and created garlic butter.

I found myself more and more drawn in to this Silence. No radio, no TV, no chitchat.  Every task provided an opportunity for mindfulness and prayerfulness. The value of concentration was palpable. So much so, that as I watched a young monk filling the thurible with charcoal tablets sprinkled with frankincense I thought I could smell the incense.

I wouldn’t want to be without my hearing aids. I would miss the chatter around the supper table as we catch up on the day; I can still remember getting my first aid and suddenly hearing bird song. When noise gets too much I can cheat and take them out. Then it goes quieter. But it doesn’t come close to the profound and potent silence of the monastery.

The Dean’s Lent Project

Yesterday, Ash Wednesday, the Dean of Canterbury suggested a Lent Project. He calls us, his video watchers, his Garden Congregation, and his project is as simple and encouraging as everything else about his daily prayers.

The idea behind it is, naturally, taken from his garden. You take a little shoot and transplant it and care for it and it will root and sprout and become a plant in its own right. And don’t complain that you don’t even have a window box. The leaf off a jade tree or a leaf of aloe vera put in a jar of water will do just as well. In any case, that was just an illustration of the sort of creativity the Dean is thinking of.

First of all find a little notebook and down the left hand side of the page number the days of Lent. 46 days. 40 and 6 Sundays. Each day write down a word, an image, an idea, a person — something that’s on your mind. Now, do something creative with that word or phrase or whatever.

Simple!

Yes, it really is. You can use the talents you already have or find something to do that you didn’t know you could do. Thinking of a friend? Sit down and write to them on paper with a pen and POST it. When did you last get a cheering letter out of the blue through your letter box?  Write a poem. No, not something overwhelming like Milton’s Paradise Lost. A nursery rhyme, for example. After all, ‘Ring a ring of roses’ was thought to have been inspired by the Great Plague!

Painting? Well, drawing, then; that only needs a pencil and some paper. Nothing to see out of your window? Don’t make excuses — think Lowry and his stick men and women.

L S Lowry

You never know when some little thing will gain great importance.

My husband died just before Christmas and I have been amazed and heartened by the letters and messages of sympathy and condolence I have received. In this context one letter in particular stands out. At least 45 years ago Grete, the daughter of a colleague, needed a home for a few days and stayed with us. In her letter she remembered my husband’s kindness and then she said:

 “I must thank you for saving my life in lockdown. While I was staying with your family you taught me to crochet.”

That was certainly some shoot!

Yesterday, the Dean read Psalm 87 and verse 3. “Glorious things of thee are spoken, O city of God.” Talking of his project he quoted the last few words of that psalm. “All my fresh springs are in you.”

Now’s the chance for all of us to find some fresh springs. 

Ash Wednesday, 2021 Style

“One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth,” said Dorothy Frances Gurney.  That’s an encouraging thought for people who love gardens but, actually, it isn’t strictly true.  It’s one of those sweet, sentimental fallacies that can creep too easily into sweet, sentimental ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ type Christianity, as opposed to the ‘Jesus shaped’ Anglicanism that Archbishop Welby is now advocating.  That is something much tougher and more honest, and truly joyful rather than merely happy. 

Something else that isn’t true, though the bishops have been emphasising it during Lockdown, is the fact that we don’t need our churches, nor our cathedrals.  I beg your pardon, bishops; you are wrong!  I know perfectly well that God, being everywhere, doesn’t need man-made buildings — but we do. I certainly do. 

Today, 17th Feb. 2021, Ash Wednesday, the first day of what looks like being a churchless Lent. This is the closest I can get.

I can say my prayers at the kitchen table, just as Justin Welby offered the Eucharist in his kitchen last Easter.  I don’t need a Vicar and I don’t need to be ‘ashed’.  I don’t need pews, an altar, a lectern or a pulpit.  But I do appreciate being able to sit in a Sacred Space where quiet souls have been praying and repeating the psalms and meditating at least weekly for several centuries.  I don’t see visions and I don’t hear voices but I can sense an atmosphere of holy peace in the silence. 

Another thing that many of us are missing keenly is the singing.  In our Welsh church we have several members of various local choirs in the congregation so the singing is pretty special.  But it’s not just the music.  The words matter mightily.  With simple words and memorable tunes we repeat the words of Scripture until they are engraved on our hearts.

This morning was a case in point.  As one of the Dean of Canterbury’s “garden congregation” I listened to Psalm 87 v3. and 1 Timothy 6 v 12 and knew what they had inspired.  Even just reading these hymns and singing them in your head, in the church porch or at the kitchen sink, you learn a lot of the Gospels by heart without even realising it.  Which is a very good way to begin Lent.

Department of Gobbledegook and Obfuscation

I don’t know exactly where the DOGO is situated — perhaps in the depths of Whitehall or even, these days, on a windblown island in the Outer Hebrides. No, that’s not likely. People who live up there are tough, down-to-earth, realistic and clear sighted.

The Outer Hebrides where people call a spade a spade

However, even though I don’t know where that Department actually is I know it exists. 

Here is the proof:

“We also recognise that there is currently biological essentialism and transphobia present within elements of mainstream birth narratives and discourse. We strive to protect our trans and non-binary service users and healthcare professionals from additional persecution as a consequence of terminology changes, recognising the significant impact this can have on psychological and emotional wellbeing.”

Policy statement of the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust.

One sentence of a mere 35 words made to seem much more erudite by all those wonderful polysyllabics.

Surely this lilting prose must come from the same stable as that other Load of Lovely Flannel (Living in Love and Faith) from the Church of England that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago.

“Secure in its roots, the Christian understanding of marriage has been sufficiently supple to respond to changing cultures, and suitably rich in meaning to all God’s gift to be received in different ages even if its purposes have been lived out with great clarity at some times more than others.”

One clear link between the NHS and the C of E is the Bishop of London, Rt. Revd Sarah Mullally, who was Head Nurse before ordination and is the lead bishop on the Living in Love and Faith production.

essentialism* — [uhsen-shuh-liz-uhm]

*a doctrine that certain traditional concepts, ideals, and skills are essential to society and should be taught methodically to all students, regardless of individual ability, need, etc. (My emphasis.) In other words even if you are never going to be in a situation where you will ever have anything to do with a transgender pregnant parent you’ve still got to be taught what vocabulary to use.

I’ve put this definition in for the sake of any readers who are as old as I am and for whom the word doesn’t roll as smoothly off the tongue as I’m sure it should. It isn’t in my SOD (Shorter Oxford Dictionary) but that dates back to 1970. How quaint! 

I’ll try and translate what I think the NHS means with their statement. 

At the moment there’s a skill shortage in Maternity Units — sorry, perinatal services. The midwives (that term will have to go) and nurses who are there are superb at delivering babies but their language leaves much to be desired. 

“Now, Mother. Are you going to be breast feeding?”

Heaven forbid. Using that language is downright persecution.

“Now, parent. Are you planning to chest feed?” will be quite acceptable. 

Mother, father, sister, brother — those words will all be banned, too. Parent and sibling will do. I don’t know how you cope with uncle and aunt. 

Devil’s Dyke in Sussex. Expect this to be renamed sometime soon.

We are in the midst of a global pandemic like never before. Hospitals and all the staff in them are stretched to the limit. Money is tight. Now is not the time to engage the services of exponents of any sort of alternative language. Now is not the time to start talking about psychological persecution — ridiculously emotive language — as the result of terminological changes. How much did all this New Speak cost? How many ‘pregnant’ (probably a banned word) transgender and non-binary people are we talking about in, say, a year? Surely, all that’s needed, in those rare circumstances, is for someone to forewarn the midwife/midperson involved to watch what they say. After all, workers in midwifery units are well educated and highly trained. If they spot that the human being in the delivery room is sporting a beard they’ll catch on quickly enough that the situation will need careful handling.

Simpler, Humbler, Bolder

Taken from an advert for Premier Chrisian Radio, February 3rd 2021

The Most Reverend Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury was on Premier Christian Radio today.  During the interview he announced his new Jesus-shaped vision for the church in 2021.  (I presume he was talking about the Church of England.)  In the light of all he has learned since the start of the pandemic he has come up with the slogan “Simpler, Humbler, Bolder.”

Thank God for that, say I!  It’s been a long time coming but simplicity, humility and boldness in the Anglican church will be warmly welcomed by many, if not most congregations

I will particularly welcome simplicity for a start because I have just been struggling with some more of the “Living in Love and Faith” document, produced by an assortment of bishops and others.  When it came out at the beginning of November last year I tried to read the summary and then wrote an unpublished blog called ‘Loads and loads of flannel’.  That tells you what I thought of it at the time. 

Recently, being housebound, I have been making another attempt to get to grips with ‘Living in Love and Faith.’ That is until I got to the following sentence:

“Secure in its roots, the Christian understanding of marriage has been sufficiently supple to respond to changing cultures, and suitably rich in meaning to allow God’s gift to be received in different ages, even if its purposes have been lived out with greater clarity at some times more than others.”

Apart from being 50 words long it’s also overloaded with too many polysyllabic words.  You don’t find many 50 word sentences in the Gospels. I would suggest the Archbishop begins, immediately (eufous), re-reading St Mark.

I’m still not quite sure what, exactly, the writers were trying to say.  Perhaps that was the whole point.  In fact, I think the whole of ‘LLF’ is a skilful mixture of gobbledegook and flannel, continuing the softening-up process until we all accept Same Sex Marriage as part of God’s new plan.

At least the six bishops in the Church in Wales, always ready to jump on any passing band wagon, seem to have taken up two bits of Justin Welby’s slogan even before he announced it. In the past I have often found them too lily-livered, slightly pompous and skilled in the art of obfuscation. Just before Christmas, simply and boldly they announced: A Bill to Authorise Experimental Use of Proposed Revisions of the Book of Common Prayer.

Headline from the Church Times

They blithely acknowledge that Scripture and Christian tradition have previously believed marriage to be between a man and a woman. 

“However,” they say, “with new social, scientific and psychological understandings of sexuality in the last one and a half centuries, we believe that same-sex relationships can be understood in a radically different way, and that the teaching of Scripture should therefore be re-interrogated.”

On second thoughts, with a sentence of 42 words, nine of which have three or more syllables, perhaps they are not expressing themselves as simply as all that. It is a bold sentence at any rate.

I’d welcome humble, too.  As many readers of my blog will know I am opposed to Same Sex marriage in church.  I’m afraid to say I have met with no humility on that subject.  Far from finding “good disagreement” the LGBT+ Chaplain of this diocese takes the attitude ‘like it or lump it.’  Regretfully, I have had to lump it because no one even wants to engage in any sort of discussion with me; nor wish to find out why I think the way I do.

Lastly, Bolder.  Oh, please!  At least allow the bold ones amongst us to go into Church during Lent to pray (behind masks) and praise (internally) and meditate together if we promise to sanitise our hands and stay two metres apart.  Well, distancing won’t be difficult, given the size of our church and the tiny number in the congregation.

Since some cathedrals have been open for vaccinations, complete with organ recitals, there shouldn’t be any reason to prevent spiritual vaccination as well.  I, for one, definitely benefit from a god-shot occasionally.

At last, Justin Welby has spoken out in praise of the wonderful Dean of Canterbury. Dr Robert Willis now has 40,000 tuning in to his on-line services of Morning Prayer, which he has been holding in his garden every single morning since lockdown began. 

I hope his Grace watches the programme; he’d learn a lot. However, he made one mistake.  He mentions the Dean’s cats and other animals who “kept on making un-invited appearances.”  Nonsense.  The cats all come and go as they please — they are in their own home, after all.  Tiger, the three legged cat (he lost a leg to cancer a few months ago) is the only cat especially invited by the Dean to accompany him when he takes shelter from the rain in a greenhouse.  All the other birds and animals are invited in and often given breakfast. 

You have to be pretty bold to preach in front of a congregation like this!

Most actors will tell you never to work with children or animals.  There’s certainly no room for pomposity or arrogance when you’re surrounded by Winston, Clemmie and their seven little pigs.  It was an incredibly bold idea to think of sitting in a garden, surrounded by a menagerie, and simply preach the Gospel, straight to camera with barely a note.  His message is delivered with simplicity.  And the Dean, no mean musician and hymn writer himself, frequently emphasises the joy of simple songs and poems.  Gospel stories and psalms, translated into simple songs and poems, are easy to learn by heart and remain forever in your memory. The amount of interesting information the Dean slips in is impressive. He was the one who taught me (and I bet many others) the word eufous and thanks to him I now know the correct way to pronounce ‘pericope’. (I’d been saying perry-cope.)

Simpler, humbler, bolder.  Yes, Archbishop.  We’re with you, and the dear Dean, every step of the way.