And so in to 2017

My attitude towards New Year’s Eve this year was summed up rather well when I went to Asda this afternoon to buy ‘the boys’ – our 2 cats, Jarvis and Marvin – some cooked chicken. They like this as a treat, and whilst New Year’s Day lunch will feature roast beef, the boys just don’t like beef as much as chicken or turkey, so out to Asda I went.

I found myself in the checkout queue with a number of people carrying various bottles of champagne, sparkling white wine and Buck’s Fizz.  Me? Some chicken and a tub of Ovaltine.

New Year’s Eve has never been a big event at Pritchard Towers; typically it’s Jools Holland, drink the New Year in, then off to bed. This year it’s been reading, dozing, then suddenly noticing that it’s 2 minutes to midnight. Could we be bothered to drink the New Year in? Nope. But we did enjoy the thunderous roar of the fireworks around the neighbourhood – I decided that it was the New Year finishing off the Old Year in a fusilade of gun fire, with a final ‘kill shot’ coming from a large firework that shook the house.

No Jools Holland, no sparkly drinkies. This year we just didn’t feel up to it; I think we were just glad to get shut of 2016 as quickly as possible with as little palaver as possible.

I come to New Year’s Eve with a small collection of superstitions from my childhood.

I was very popular as a ‘first footer’ as an older child – I had dark hair (which apparently is good) and would be shooed out of the house just before midnight, armed with a piece of shortbread and a piece of coal. After the stroke of midnight, I’d be welcomed in to the house and the shortbread and coal were to signify that no one in the house would be hungry or cold in the coming year.

It was also important to go in to the New Year with no clothes drying around the house, and no pots waiting to be washed or washing in the washing machine.  The idea was that the state of the house would give an indication as to what things would be like in the coming year.  A sort of ‘start as you intend to go on’.

Both of these superstitions suggested some sort of ‘sympathetic magic’ in which what happened at New Year influenced the year to come, and if that’s the case my 2017 will be a mixed bag indeed. The first thing drunk in 2017 has been a cup of tea, the first thing done was to then put a hot water bottle in the bed. I then fed the cats, cleared up a small turd left in the bathroom by Jarvis, finished writing my intercessionary prayers for Evening Prayers tomorrow evening, and wrote this blog post.

On this basis, my 2017 will be based around tea, hot water bottles, cat-care, God and writing.

I could do worse.

Happy New Year!

Today you, tomorrow me

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is feed the cats, then make tea, then sit and allow some of my higher brain functions to come online, usually whilst browsing Facebook.  There then comes a point where abstract thought is possible and then I like to write.

The nice thing about the Facebook browse is that sometimes it gives me the idea for the day’s blog post.  That was the case today – I came across the phrase “Today you, tomorrow me” in a set of stories about people being given help by total strangers with nothing being wanted or expected – or even accepted – in return.

The phrase apparently comes from the Spanish; an entry on an ‘urban dictionary’ website tells us:

From the Spanish “hoy por tí, mañana por yo”, it is used to “justify”acts of kindness toward strangers.  For example:

“Thanks for helping me with my flat tire. Please accept this $50 as a token of my gratitude. ”
“No need. Today you, tomorrow me”

I guess it’s a more graceful response than my usual ‘Fuggedaboutit’!

I had to sit and think for a few minutes about it. Today you – today, you are the one needing help. Tomorrow me – tomorrow I may be the one needing help.  It’s ‘Pay it forward’ – I guess that it’s easy for us to think of such a gesture of kindness as a form of enlightened self interest, or spiritual insurance of some sort.  If that works for you, then go for it – help someone out because you never know when you yourself will need help.

As a Christian, I look at it slightly differently; for me, as a recipient of that help, I’m aware that I’ve done NOTHING to warrant it from the people giving it, except share the planet. That’s how we also look upon the love of God – we’ve done nothing to warrant it, but we get it.  And on giving help out, a Christian isn’t being helpful to get in to God’s good-books, but because the grace of God is working through them to  do good works.

However, you view it – it’s an excellent philosophy to live by.  I’ve benefited from the kindness of strangers over the years, and I hope that I have managed to give something back to other strangers.

I’ve also experienced incredible kindness from people who I do know – albeit slightly – when other people who I might have expected to offer help to me in difficult times have not been able or willing to do so.

Apart from the actual ‘getting me out of the mire’ gratitude I’m also grateful to all those who’ve helped me  in this way because they have added to my faith in human nature. They’ve also helped me to not be judgmental, and to remember the times when I was possibly not as helpful as I could have been.

Take a look at how you might be able to ‘pay something forward’ in your lives. You don’t have to have spare money, or even masses of time available. And it needn’t be a big thing. We have no idea how important the relatively trivial events of life may prove to be in the great scheme of things.

Today you, tomorrow me….

 

The knees…a Friday afternoon design….

When I started coding, over 30 years ago, the backup and restore code in one version of Microsoft DOS was quite grim.  In particular, it would allow you to backup your massive 10Mb hard disc (yes, 10 MEGAbyte) onto multiple floppies….and then fail when you tried to restore somewhere around disc 12 or 13.  After a while you got used to splitting your backups in to sets so that you never got near the magic failure number….

We used to joke that the code had either been written or designed on a Friday afternoon, when the software guys in Seattle were more worried about the weekend ahead than doing a good job.  I know this is grossly unfair; at the time I was working in a culture that had Friday lunchtime as the ‘go to the pub for a few beers and be chill when you got back to the office’ day, so I was probably projecting!

As the years have gone by I’ve still used the phrase ‘a Friday afternoon design’ as an indication that something seemed a bit botched or half-arsed.  And today I offer what is for me one of the major Friday afternoon jobs I’ve encountered, committed by evolution itself.  The human knee.  (Yes, as a Christian I am allowed to believe in evolution – I think that God keeps things simple where He can and evolution is a great way – usually – of getting an optimal solution for biological problems).

I have heard it said that the problems that human beings encounter with our lower backs and our knees are caused by 3 issues:

  1. The knee is prone to injury – partially due to (3)
  2. We in the west tend towards porky and so put excess weight on back and knees.
  3. We’re probably a million years or so early in wandering around on our hind legs, and so they’re not quite ready for it yet.

Well, there’s nothing I can do about (3) and I definitely suffer from (1) and (2). For the last 15 years – courtesy of an injury acquired playing rugby in my teens – my knees have been rather dodgy. They don’t bend as they should, they make noises that they shouldn’t, and they ache like buggery when it’s too damp, too cold, too hot – my knees are ‘Goldilocks Knees’ – they need everything to be ‘just right’.

I’ve had physiotherapy, and drugs, and these days get a lot of relief from exercise (within reason) and something I call my Turmeric Gunk which has been a God-send.  Despite appearances, you do eat this stuff, rather than smear it all over the afflicting joint….

My knees have provided comic-relief to numerous children; the clunking noise when I bend my knee has often been greeted with cries of ‘Do it again, Uncle Joe’….when the children concerned start getting clunky joints themselves, I’ll propel myself to them in my wheelchair and wheeze ‘Do it again!’ back!

They’ve also provided me with excuses as to why I can’t play horsey any more – the knees just won’t forgive me!

I was therefore amused and gratified at the latest US advertising campaign for Amazon.  It features a priest and an imman meeting up and working out the perfect gift for each other….

This has particular resonance for me; earlier on this year I was on placement as part of my Reader training at a ‘High Anglican’ church where there’s a lot of kneeling and genuflecting involved. If you’ve never genuflected, trust me – it’s hard going with dodgy knees – there’s always that thought that you might not actually manage to straighten up again!

I spent a few mornings with some serious strapping on my knees!

Perhaps I need to follow the advice from this advert and get some knee supports.  And whilst I’m down there praying, maybe I’ll just add a little comment to God asking whether evolution couldn’t have been directed a little to give us better knees…..

 

To Peace….

…and before everyone leaps up, glasses and coffee mugs in hands, and shouts ‘To Peace’ back to me, I’m not offering a toast here! I’m thinking that it’s about time we made ‘peace’ a verb.

Henri Nouwens had this to say :

“Did I offer peace today? Did I bring a smile to someone’s face? Did I say words of healing? Did I let go of my anger and resentment? Did I forgive? Did I love?’ These are the real questions. I must trust that the little bit of love that I sow now will be many fruits, here in this world and the life to come.”

I read this as saying that all those things – smiles, healing, letting go of anger and resentment, forgiving and loving are all wrapped up in some way in that first phrase ‘Did I offer peace today’.

We often define peace in terms of the absence of other things. Peace is what we have when we don’t have war or conflict; it’s when there is no noise or tumult, when there is nothing to disturb us.  Sure, we have ‘peace conferences’ designed to create peace, but even these are really about resolving the issues that lead to conflict.

The word ‘Shalom’ – a Jewish word – is often thought to mean peace, but actually has a deeper and richer meaning.  According to Strong’s Biblical concordance,

“Shalom means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.”

Some of that fits with peace, but there’s an awful lot there besides!

When Jewish people wish each other ‘Shalom’ they are packing an awful lot of good stuff in to that single word.  And it’s a word defined in things that are present, as well as things that are absent.

I think we need to start bringing some Shalom in to our own lives and the lives of people around us. We need to start ‘peacing’ – doing peace in our day to day lives.

For me, ‘peacing’ would be about the things from Nouwen’s quote above and the definition of Shalom. When we ‘peace’ we would be looking to bring love, healing, smiles and forgiveness.  We’d be looking to carry out actions or say words that bring about a sense of wholeness and completeness, welfare and safety.  We’d be wanting a sense of harmony and the absence of agitation or discord or conflict in relationships. And we’d be looking to do all we can to bring about a sense of peace and restfulness in a person’s life and relationships.

As a Christian, the start of the Holy Communion part of a service is that we all give one another ‘a sign of peace’, with words along the line of ‘Peace be with you’.

In Islam, the greeting “As-Salam-u-Alaikum” is used – (Peace be unto you”.  This is pronounced as “us-saa-laam-muu-ah-lay-kum”, if you ever want to use it.

The world seems to get nastier and more spiteful and small minded with each passing day; perhaps we all need to start peacing – and if we can’t do it with words (after all, it might seem a bit formal to say ‘Peace be with you’ to the mail man) maybe we need to start doing it with actions.

When we meet people, speak with people, pass people by – carry in our hearts and minds an attitude of peace and shalom.  Bear in mind whether we can give them any of the gifts listed above. And try to peace everyday.

After all, practice makes perfect, which is itself one of those traits of Shalom.

 

Due Diligence….

My reading habits – OK, I tend to read everything that’s put in front of me, from books to the backs of toothpaste tubes – lead me in to all sorts of places.  As part of my daily spiritual development I often read essays / blog posts from a number of Christian websites, and today encountered the following phrase:

a diligent person must learn to be neglectful

If you’re interested, the article it came from is here.  It’s quite an eye-opener, isn’t it?  I have to say that when I read it I did a little re-take and then started thinking.

What does the word diligence mean? It’s probably one of those words which we all have a similar but slightly different meaning for.  It’s one of those old words which carries with it a hint of adult responsibility and legalism.  We speak of being diligent in our duties and responsibilities; we have phrases like ‘due diligence’ that have special meaning in law and business.  But what does the word actually mean?

The best (to me) definition I found was :

constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.

I also learned that diligence is one of the seven heavenly virtues.

I should also point out that in much of what I do I am probably less than diligent. I can be diligent when I want to be or need to be, but let’s say it’s one of those aspects of my character that is still under development and, given that I’m now 55 years old, is likely to continue to be a work in progress.

To some degree I guess that if we do what we plan to do we’re all capable of being diligent.  Constant and genuine effort, exerting the body and mind over time and repeatedly.  The ‘persistent’ part of that definition is probably where I fall down – I’m usually capable of being diligent for a while but then what I call the ‘Oooh….squirrel’ moment occurs when I get distracted. Within this definition is also the idea of ‘focus’ – keeping at it, not being distracted by those squirrels or your phone or your social media feeds.

And then we have that phrase I found earlier this morning :

a diligent person must learn to be neglectful

How does this all gel together?

I need to be neglectful of my social media when I’m being diligent about doing something else.  I need to be neglectful of those distractions. I need to be neglectful of the niggling worries and anxieties that I may have brought to the desk with me when I started to write this piece so that I may be best able to exercise that ‘constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken’.

I’m currently attempting to be diligent with my writing – I’ve sent a time in my diary for each day at which point I will do 30 minutes of writing.  It’s a test of my own self-discipline and a desire to get creating again after some years of neglect. The diligence I’m exhibiting has positive behaviours for me to engage in – a set time, set place, stay there writing until the 30 minutes is up.  And it has things to ignore – or neglect – no social media, no faffing about getting tea or going to the loo, ignore the day job, ignore the money worries.

I think that being diligent involves a picking up and a laying down of things. The word diligence has a weight about it – perhaps it’s worth regarding it as a habit that can be practiced for and hopefully attained, at least to start with in small doses around certain aspects of our lives.  Being diligent in all we do would be great but I think for me, right now, un-achievable.  But if I can exhibit diligence in 30 minutes of writing here at my desk, I can also exhibit diligence in how I answer my emails at work, how I approach my daily errands, how I find new work. As the article I read pointed out, there’s a scriptural take on diligence which I also need to take on board!

Maybe ‘neglectful diligence’ is something we can all practice under a less loaded name.  Perhaps it’s the same as ‘focus’.

And on that, I need to diligently save this article and write for another 10 minutes.

 

 

Single Sex Marriage….

Well, you know what they say about fools rushing in where angels fear to tread….here I go.  Normally I don’t post too much on social issues, but this grew out of a Facebook post I made on a friend’s wall, and it seemed to be sensible just to put it here as well.

On the practical side, this is a badly thought out piece of legislation (next up will need to be changes in the law on divorce, (the current definitions of adultery and non-consummation as grounds are meaningless, for example, with regard to gay couples). I’m also concerned that the area protecting vicars / priests against possibly being sued for not wishing to conduct a same sex marriage is not watertight. And until the ‘civil partnership’ arrangement is made available to straight couples, we don’t have true equality – just a change in the law. As an aside, equality does not necessarily mean identity. I believe in fairness, but believe that being fair in society doesn’t mean everything has to be the
same for everybody. That ends up in a form of totalitarianism.

On a personal side, and from my Godbothering perspective, I’m one of these folks who believe that the ‘New Covenant’ between Christ and mankind superseded quite a bit of the ‘lifestyle’ sections of the Old testament, particularly Leviticus, so I have less hangups than some of my bretheren about homosexuality. I’ve pondered this issue for a long time, using the three pillars of the Church of England; scripture, faith and reason. And PLEASE don’t conflate this argument with women Bishops, as many have done. Different issues. I’m a big supporter on all levels of Women Bishops, less so of the way that the SSM issue has been handled….

My faith, based on a loving God and the redemption offered by faith in His son, is not affected on a personal level by this.

Scripturally, ‘the jury’s out’ and will be forever and a day. As is often pointed out we shouldn’t necessarily be using a text written in the Bronze Age (OT) and Roman times (NT) to determine the in depth rules of society today; we’re not a theocracy, after all. However, for those of us who do have faith the books are there and we take on board what’s in there as central to our beliefs. Unfortunately, as someone said the other day, ‘Jesus didn’t say anything about same sex marriage; then again, he didn’t comment on space travel either….’

My reasoning powers try and make some sense of this. As I’ve said, it’s a half arsed piece of legislation that will need some tuning before it’s put in place. Years ago there was a significant difference in society’s attitude to Church and Civil weddings – to the degree that many people didn’t regard people married in Civil Ceremonies as married. The issues here are going to be similar. Whatever is said in the eyes of the law, it may be decades before many people in society regard SSM Cermonies as ‘proper’ marriages.

The ‘straw man’ arguments about divorce rates, celebrity marriages, etc. are not an issue. Saying that a social and cultural institution is invalid to force a change to it that does nothing to address those problems is not an argument in favour of change. The religious argument here in the UK is purely because of the interconnected nature of Church and State; if the Anglican Church wasn’t the established religion, I doubt that there would have been a lot of the outcry. As it is, I personally feel that there are likely to be wider repercussions from this apparently civil legal change that will impact on the position of the Church in ecumenical terms with other Christian faith groups.

Bottom line is that I’m in favour of fairness and equality, but not in favour of the way that this whole thing has been done. It’s poorly formulated law, put in to being at a time when there are massive social problems on the horizon that really need to engage our body politic rather than this. The question of ensuring that those churches who do not wish to conduct SSM don’t have to is wide open; someone, somewhere, will push the case, I’m sure. It will have an impact on the relationship between the Anglican Church and State (I’m in favour of reducing ties, btw) and with the position of the Anglican Church with its relationships with other Churches, purely due to it being the Established Religion.
On a religious / scriptural level I can’t yet determine a view point, but on a social and cultural level – bad move at this time, in this way.

The word ‘marriage’ is a culturally loaded word, and the nature of the institution harks back to a time when it was effectively a means of ensuring property rights, inheritance rights, child care and social cohesion. These issues are less significant today in the West. This whole business seems to have been fought over the use of a word.

I have no intention of getting in to a debate / argument about this as I think that no words I say will change other minds, and other folks won’t change my mind as I’ve done a lot of soul-searching and study in recent months. I appreciate that some folks may regard me as a bigoted homophobe, and if so, well, just un-friend me in the most appropriate manner and I won’t be upset.

So…congratulations to all who’ve fought hard for this change, and to anyone whose life will be enriched by it. But on a personal level, I think it ill-advised and potentially massively divisive, and my conscience prevents me from embracing it.

As Martin Luther said “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God. ” I think that sort of sums me up on this issue.

 

 

Johnny Cash and me.

An early memory of mine is listening to my Uncle Idris play Johnny Cash songs on his guitar.  Particularly he did a great rendition of ‘Ring of Fire’, though without the Mexican trumpets, Mexican trumpeters being singularly rare in the town of Warsop in the 1960s. Back then, Cash was a big name, although I’m not sure that he was ‘cool’ – more mainstream.  And he became more known for his novelty songs like ‘A Boy named Sue’ and ‘One Piece at a Time’, and his TV show, than his more straight forward country / rockabilly songs.

Figuratively speaking, Johnny Cash wandered in and out of my life over the years; he showed up as a murderous singer in Columbo; I’d see his name on the credits of various TV shows and films and also became aware of his conversion to Christianity and his near constant battles with drug addiction.  I admired the guy; in attitude he reminded me of people like Neil Young – ‘not bothered what you think of me, I’m just going to do my music’ – in appearance he vaguely reminded me of some North American Indian version of my own father and uncles.

I loved his appearance in ‘The Simpsons’ episode ‘The mysterious voyage of Homer’, where, under the influence of “The Merciless Peppers of Quetzlzacatenango! Grown deep in the jungle primeval by the inmates of a Guatemalan insane asylum” Homer undergoes a spiritually rich hallucination in which Cash play’s his spirit guide, a coyote. By now I’d grabbed a few CDs of his music, and also read his biography, particularly intrigued by his conversion to Christianity and his claim that he was still one of the biggest sinners he knew.

With the ‘American’ recordings, he became something of a cool icon – the black dress, the  sparse musical performances – especially with the cover he did of the NiN song ‘Hurt’.  Even now, it’s a song that reduces me to tears.

This was around the time that I started taking a more serious interest in my own spirituality, a process that eventually led to my being confirmed in to the Church of England a few years later.  I started looking at Cash’s back catalogue – his spiritual songs, gospel music – and also finding out more about his life.  He was definitely no angel – but he was a man who was honest with himself and others – what you saw was indeed what you got, warts and all.  ‘Hurt’ is indeed his epitaph, but I often think that the lyrics to the U2 song ‘The Wanderer’ – which Cash sang for the band – sum his journey up:

I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents

And as he put it in his own song ‘Man in Black’:

Well, you wonder why I always dress in black,
Why you never see bright colors on my back,
And why does my appearance seem to have a somber tone.
Well, there’s a reason for the things that I have on.

I wear the black for the poor and the beaten down,
Livin’ in the hopeless, hungry side of town,
I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime,
But is there because he’s a victim of the times.

I wear the black for those who never read,
Or listened to the words that Jesus said,
About the road to happiness through love and charity,
Why, you’d think He’s talking straight to you and me.

Well, we’re doin’ mighty fine, I do suppose,
In our streak of lightnin’ cars and fancy clothes,
But just so we’re reminded of the ones who are held back,
Up front there ought ‘a be a Man In Black.

I wear it for the sick and lonely old,
For the reckless ones whose bad trip left them cold,
I wear the black in mournin’ for the lives that could have been,
Each week we lose a hundred fine young men.

And, I wear it for the thousands who have died,
Believen’ that the Lord was on their side,
I wear it for another hundred thousand who have died,
Believen’ that we all were on their side.

Well, there’s things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin’ everywhere you go,
But ’til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You’ll never see me wear a suit of white.

Ah, I’d love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything’s OK,
But I’ll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
‘Till things are brighter, I’m the Man In Black.

Shortly after my own confirmation, I was asked to think about my own journey to Christ, and who influenced me on the way.  Three names popped up – my Aunty Harriet, CS Lewis, and Johnny Cash.

 

Liberals and ‘acceptable’ bigotry

Vatican FlagThe last visit from a Pope to the UK before the most recent one was back in 1982 – I’m old enough to remember that one.  I was just finishing university at the time, and I remember doing some revision while the visit was on TV in the background.

But it was not a state affair – that is, the Pope was not invited by the Queen and was not given treatment accorded to a head of state. This time around, he is.  The visit has cost the taxpayer £12 million, and has upset a vocal minority in the UK who’re objecting to the papal visit with regard to:

  • The Holy See doesn’t meet the rqeuirements for a state under the Montevideo Protocols
  • The Catholic Church’s  beliefs on homosexual rights
  • The Catholic Church’s failure to deal adequately with paedophilia within the priesthood
  • The Church’s rejection of condoms causing the spread of AIDS
  • The Church’s support for segregated education
  • The refusal of the Vatican to sign various international human rights treaties, and instead form concordats with other countries, that have negative effects on human rights issues for people within those countries.

The full list is here.   And the list is totally accurate – the Catholic Church does need to get it;s house in order on a lot of issues, and at the same time the Vatican needs to review it’s links to other countries in the world.  As an Anglican I don’t have to believe in Papal infallibility; the Catholic Church and the Vatican must get their act together. 

However, it’s likely that very few world leaders could happily jump through all the hoops here.  I assume therefore that we’ll eventually see:

  • Protests against President Obama for continuing human rights problems at home and abroad.
  • Protests against President Sarkozy for his treatment of the Roma population.
  • Protests against the Dalai  Lama (who regards homosexual sex as ‘sexual misconduct’)

Will we see protests against these leaders? It may happen….who knows…but I doubt they would have the same amount of vehemence from corners of the liberal establishment  and press that this Papal visit has seen.  In size, the number of protesters has been quite small compared to the numbers obviously supporting the visit, but the media attention given to the protesters seems to have been disproportionately large compared to the amount of  support the protests have garnered.

What has really upset me, though, is the bigotry and sheer offensiveness that I’ve seen from people that I know personally; indeed, some folks have now been given a permanent leave of absence from my Facebook and Twitter accounts; it’s not that I disagree with their beliefs, it’s just the way those beliefs were expressed.  Indeed, I’ve heard comments that must come pretty close to inciting religious hatred from some so-called liberals and ‘progressives’, and whilst I can understand they’re angry about the attitudes expressed by the Pope and the Vatican, it’s worth them remembering the simple rule of thumb that ‘Two wrongs do not make a right’.

It’s been an eye-opener, to be honest; I have to say that seeing 18th Century expressions of ‘anti-popery’ made by people who surely regard themselves as civilised people living in the 21st Century was quite something.  Maybe teh liberal veneer on soem people is a lot thinner than they’d like to think.

All things

A Facebook friend of mine (and an author whose work I’ve admired for over years) Jessica Lipnack shared this article – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ron-currie-jr/things-i-learned-while-wr_b_659568.html?ref=fb&src=sp – it’s a good read. I particularly liked the bit about finding ‘Maggie May’ on the car radio – that sort of thing happens a lot in my life and over the years I’ve made lots of jokes about the role of coincidence (and later on synchronicity) in my life. It’s no accident, therefore, that one of my favourite episodes of ‘The X-Files’ didn’t involve Smoking Man, alien abduction or other nasties; it was a nicely done, low key story called ‘all things’ in which Scully had a set of experiences based around coincidence and synchronicity that explored the issues of letting go and moving on. It’s a great episode – also features Moby on the soundtrack, so check it out.

I came across the concept of synchronicity when I started studying Jung. Whereas no one has any problem with coincidence, I find that checking out someone’s thoughts on synchronicity are a good indication as to the open-mindedness of that person. Coincidence is literally that unrelated events that whilst they may appear to be in some way linked to an observer are actually happening in a way that is perfectly explicable with the laws of probability and chance and lack ‘connectedness’. Synchronicity is the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated occurring together in a meaningful manner. To count as synchronicity, the events should be unlikely to occur together by chance – Jung referred to the phenomenon as an ‘acausal connecting principle’ – doesn’t exactly run off the tongue….

My favourite example of Synchronicity was reported by Jung himself – during a rather heated debate with Freud about whether the phenomenon actually existed or not :

“I had a curious sensation. It was as if my diaphragm were made of iron and were becoming red-hot — a glowing vault. And at that moment there was such a loud report in the bookcase, which stood right next to us, that we both started up in alarm, fearing the thing was going to topple over on us. I said to Freud: ‘There, that is an example of a so-called catalytic exteriorization phenomenon.’ ‘Oh come,’ he exclaimed. ‘That is sheer bosh.’ ‘It is not,’ I replied. ‘You are mistaken, Herr Professor. And to prove my point I now predict that in a moment there will be another such loud report! ‘Sure enough, no sooner had I said the words that the same detonation went off in the bookcase. To this day I do not know what gave me this certainty. But I knew beyond all doubt that the report would come again. Freud only stared aghast at me. I do not know what was in his mind, or what his look meant. “

I’ve experienced quite a lot of coincidence and whilst few of my personal experiences have matched some of the more ‘out there’ ones featured in Martin Plimmer’s Beyond Coincidence – – I have had a few good ones over the years. Episodes of Synchronicity I’m not sure of – the one that immediately springs to mind was around the death of my Mother, although I’m aware of the sceptic’s viewpoint that at such times one seeks meaning in all sorts of things. My mother had been ill in hospital, in a coma, and it was purely a matter of time before she passed on. It was approaching Easter, and she died in the early hours of Good Friday, during a Lunar Eclipse, which I’ve always considered as being some how appropriate.

I’ve had many others over the years – I sometimes tell people some of the stories about me and coincidence / synchronicity and I start thinking that people reckon I’m making up tall stories! Another goodie involves our first cat – when we moved to Sheffield we were regularly visited by a black and white cat who used to sit and watch me work in our kitchen. At the time, I was negotiating for work with a magazine company based in Stockport and they suggested that an editor of theirs, who lived in Sheffield, should come and visit me. After a brief phone call, it transpired that the editor lived around the corner from me and we could see the backs of each others houses. When he visited, which coincided with one of the many visits of the ‘stray’ cat, we found that the cat belonged to him.

I keep an open mind on things like this; as a Christian I’m happy to see the presence God in all things, and I’m also happy to experience coincidence and synchronicity as well – maybe the latter is just well hidden Divine Intervention…

A millstone around their necks

Easter is the holiest time of the year for Christians – this year has been special for all the wrong reasons as well, though.  The recent stories around what appears to be institutionalised failings in dealing with accusations of and cases of Child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church in different parts of the world are the sort of things that make any decent people – Catholic or Protestant, believer or non-believer, recoil in horror from the initial breach of trust and then the ongoing failure of the institutions and organisations involved to deal effectively with the offenders.

The fact that some of the stories also allegedly involved a department of the Church that was the responsibility of the current Pope, then Cardinal Ratzinger, makes the whole situation so much worse.  The Pope himself has commented on the affair; the institution of the Vatican, on the other hand, seems to have made a total mess of every aspect of the business, and one can only hope that the legal authorities in the countries in which these crimes have taken place can get enough evidence together to pursue the whole business through the legal system, and clean house where the Vatican has failed to do so.

Because it is essential that this business IS cleared up as soon as possible; the victims need justice and if at all possible what compensation and restitution can be offered.  The Church needs to be able to show that it has acted, and needs to be able to start regaining the trust of ALL Christians.  Whilst I continue to have Faith in Jesus Christ, and faith in the Anglican Church as an institution, my trust in the institution of the Catholic Church – not, I should add, individual Catholics – is currently being sorely tried.

I feel that the Archbishop of Canterbury didn’t go far enough in his recent comments, particularly after the Pope parked a few Ecclesiastical Tanks on the Lawn of Lambeth Palace in the issue of women Bishops in the Church of England.  But that, as they say, is another story.

For me, any cover-up is unacceptable; the Roman Catholic Church can not pretend these things didn’t happen; the current sight of senior Vatican officials doing the equivalent of standing there with their eyes and ears closed, hoping the whole thing will go away, is the most un-edifying and un-Christian thing that could possibly be done, and I hope that if proof of cover up and conspiracy is found, all responsible will be bought to justice.

There is a Biblical precedent which I hope that the abusers and their apologists will bear in mind.  Matthew 18:6, to be exact.  The King James Translation – still the best, as far as I’m concerned – says it wonderfully.

“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”

There we go.  Millstones, anyone?