Sunday, March 23, 2008

Music that inspires - 6

And here's something for you to listen to and be inspired by in my absence: Gabriel's Oboe, from the film The Mission. When we were married, Carole walked down the aisle to Handel's, The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba - a great piece of music. But I have to confess that the most moving entree by a bride that I have ever witnessed was an East End wedding when this was the music chosen....beautiful and majestic!

Off on holiday

Carole and I were married on the 26th April 1986 - the same day that Chernobyl blew up! For our honeymoon, we spent a week in Devon and a week in Cornwall. Whilst in Cornwall we visited the beautiful little port of Mevagissey. The proprieter of a gift shop there presented us with a little pottery mouse that we still have to this day (though it's battered and lost its tail after 20 or so years of children playing football in the living room!). We're off to Cornwall for a week tomorrow morning, and we'll be staying at Hemmick Bay (in the photo), just down the road from Mevagissey. I've not packed my swimming trunks!

"He is not here. He has risen!"

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

How do you react to this photo? It makes me feel a bit sick. An electric chair. A gruesome implement of undignified execution.

How many of us would wear the image of an electric chair like this around our necks?

And yet so many of us wear a cross with little thought of what it represents: torture, agony, thirst, public shame...

And they crucified him (Mark 15:24).

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Music that inspires - 5

The recent unrest in Tibet has reminded me of another situation that's not been reported in the media for some time.

I've been listening, once more, to Walk On, my favourite U2 song. It's inspired by the example of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the Burmese National League For Democracy. She felt constrained to leave the comfort of an academic life in Oxford and return home to her native Burma, leaving her husband and son behind. She won the democratic election in 1990, but was placed under house arrest, and her movements have been severely restricted ever since. In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Even if you're not a fan of U2, listen to the lyrics on this song - they're really inspiring!

Before you listen to the song, ponder this overview of Aung San Suu Kyi's periods of detention (from the Wikipedia website):

Periods under detention
  • Arrested - July 20th 1989. Placed her under house arrest in Rangood under martial law that allows for detention without charge or trial for three years.
  • Released - July 10th 1995. Released from house arrest.
  • Arrested - September 23rd 2000. Aung San Suu Kyi is placed under house arrest.
  • Released - May 6th 2002. Freed after 19 months of house arrest.
  • Arrested - May 30th 2003. Following the Depayin massacre she was held in secret detention for over 3 months before being returned to house arrest.
  • May 25th 2007 - house arrest extended by one year.
  • October 24th 2007 - reaches 12 years under house arrest. Solidarity protests held at 12 cities around the world

And if the darkness is to keep us apart
And if the daylight feels like it's a long way off
And if your glass heart should crack
And for a second you turn back
Oh no, be strong

Walk on, walk on
What you got they can’t steal it
No they can’t even feel it
Walk on, walk on...
Stay safe tonight

You're packing a suitcase for a place none of us has been
A place that has to be believed to be seen
You could have flown away
A singing bird in an open cage
Who will only fly, only fly for freedom

Walk on, walk on
What you've got they can't deny it
Can’t sell it, can’t buy it
Walk on, walk on
Stay safe tonight

And I know it aches
And your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Home... hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one
Home... I can’t say where it is but I know I'm going home
That's where the hurt is

I know it aches
How your heart it breaks
And you can only take so much
Walk on, walk on

Leave it behind
You've got to leave it behind
All that you fashion
All that you make
All that you build
All that you break
All that you measure
All that you steal
All this you can leave behind
All that you reason
All that you sense
All that you speak
All you dress up
All that you scheme...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Adders about!

This adder was one of seven that I found this morning during a walk in the Maulden Woods area. The eye isn't clear, which is a sign that it's getting ready to slough its skin.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Surprised By Joy

Earlier today I came across this short video about C.S. Lewis' journey to Christian faith. I didn't know about the journey by motorcycle that he and his brother made to Whipsnade Zoo (not far south from here in Ampthill) for a picnic, and how it was a part of this journey to faith. Lewis later wrote:

'I know very well when but hardly how the final step was taken. I went with my brother to have a picnic at Whipsnade Zoo. We started in fog, but by the end of our journey the sun was shining. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did. I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. It was more like when a man, after a long sleep, becomes aware that he is now awake.'

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quotes for living - 6

Staying with the theme of mountains - and it's a good excuse for another of those stunning mountain photos - Simon closed his presentation yesterday evening with a quote from Eric Shipton, the famous British Himalayan mountain climber of a former generation, and something of a statesman for Mount Everest. It was Shipton who discovered the first abominable snowman footprints back in 1931 in the snows beneath Everest. Have they discovered any incontrovertible evidence, since, for the existence of the abominable snowman....not yeti!

Here's the quote, from his book Upon That Mountain, published in 1943:

'He is lucky who, in the full tide of life, has experienced a measure of the active environment he most desires. In these days of upheaval and violent change, when the basic values of today are the vain and shattered dreams of tomorrow, there is much to be said for a philosophy which aims at living a full life while the opportunity offers.

There are few treasures of more lasting worth than the experience of a way of life that is in itself wholly satisfying. Such, after all, are the only possessions of which no fate, no cosmic catastrophe can deprive us; nothing can alter the fact if for one moment in eternity we have really lived.'

Beyond The Void

'The climber who cut the rope!'

That's what he's famous for! And, this evening, Andy, Paul, Simon & I went to the Bedford Corn Exchange to hear Simon Yates as he told the story of his life as a mountaineer. He earned his nickname whilst on a climbing expedition tackling the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes with his friend, Joe Simpson (the photo above dates to this expedition in 1985).

We listened as Simon shared the story of that climb in a remarkably understated way. He and Joe had reached the summit the previous day and were now making their way down the precarious slopes when Joe slipped and broke his leg badly. Simon made the decision to try to save Joe by tying together two ropes and gradually lowering Joe down the mountain one agonising, strength-sapping length at a time. Simon was using a metal device to form a brake on the rope. The knot wouldn't pass through it and, so, whenever the knot was reached, Simon would tug on the rope and Joe would find a purchase on the snow or rock, relieving the tension so that Simon could undo the knot and re-tie it on the other side before letting out the rope again to it's full length. Then he would make his way down to his friend and begin the process again.

That evening a blizzard blasted the mountainside, but the friends continued to slowly make their way down the mountain. But as they continued, Simon suddenly found that Joe wasn't responding to his tugs to give him some slack so that he could undo the knot. He waited and waited. The blizzard meant that he couldn't see or hear anything. The rope remained taut. Simon had made himself a 'bucket hole' in the snow but, after an hour and a half of holding on and taking the weight, he found himself losing his strength and in real danger of being dragged off the face of the mountain.

There was only one thing he could do...and Simon became 'the climber who cut the rope.'

The next morning, he came across an ice cliff over the void of a crevasse, and it became obvious that his colleague must have been danglinging over the cliff with no opportunity of getting a hold on the mountain face. He called into the void, but there was no answer. Joe must have fallen to his death. Simon made his way back to base camp and spent a few days there recovering.

A few hours before breaking camp, he heard his name being called and looked out to find Joe making his way towards the tent. He had survived the fall and had spent three and a half days dragging himself down the mountain in a superhuman effort for survival. He was in a very bad way, but they managed to strap his leg in a foam mat, get him on a mule, and descend the mountain before getting him to a hospital in Lima where he responded to treatment and lived to tell the tale.

And, boy, did he tell the tale in his book, Touching The Void, which was later made into a famous film. Andy & Simon have both read the book, and told me how Simon's perspective, shared this evening, had put a totally different light on it. Fascinating!

It was an inspiring evening. I've always thought that mountaineers are a bit crazy. I suppose you have to be to a certain extent to attempt some of those kinds of feats. Hmmm - I wish I'd have been a bit crazier in my younger days, now!

Three Cheers for New Creation!

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope."

These words of the apostle Paul to the Thessalonian Christians are really helpful. Christians grieve at the loss of loved ones, as anyone would, but Christian grief is filled with hope, as opposed to being hope-less.

Yesterday, I spent the day at Westminster Chapel in London. Gary Habermas, perhaps the world's leading scholar on the resurrection, was there. And so, too, was Anthony Flew, formerly the UK's most well-known atheistic philosopher, who has since 'gone where the evidence took him' and changed his position to one of accepting the presence of God, though not the God as Christians know him at this time. It was fascinating to hear of the 'ding-dong' going on between Flew and Richard Dawkins at the moment, Dawkins accusing Flew as having gone senile. He certainly wasn't on yesterday's evidence!

The main reason I attended this event was to listen to Tom Wright (in the photo above), the Bishop of Durham, after reading his brilliant new book, Surprised By Hope. And he didn't disappoint. Surprised By Hope is an attempt to get Christians to recover, once more, the Christian hope of 'life after life after death' as opposed to the woolly thinking that has crept into the church over the years (escaping this earth and going home to heaven), let alone wider society ('Death is nothing at all...I have only slipped away into the next room,' and 'I am a thousand winds that blow...I am the gentle autumn rain' etc). As an amateur naturalist the thoughts of Creation being renewed really excites me. Tom writes about some of the images of this future bodily resurrection life found in Scripture. Reflect on these words from his book as Tom thinks about the marriage of heaven and earth:

'We thus arrive at...perhaps the greatest image of new creation, of cosmic renewal, in the whole Bible. This scene, set out in Revelation 21-22...(is the image) of marriage. The new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven like a bride adorned for her husband.
We notice right away how drastically different this is from all those would-be Christian scenarios in which the end of the world story is the Christian going off to heaven as a soul, naked and unadorned, to meet its maker in fear and trembling. As in Philippians 3, it is not we who go to heaven; it is heaven that comes to earth...It is the final answer to the Lord's Prayer, that God's kingdom would come and his will be done on earth as in heaven. It is what Paul is talking about in Ephesians 1:10, that God's design and promise was to sum up all things in Christ, things both in heaven and on earth. It is the final fulfilment, in richly symbolic imagery, of the promise of Genesis 1, that the creation of male and female would together reflect God's image into the world. And it is the final accomplishment of God's great design, to defeat and abolish death forever - which can only mean the rescue of creation from its present plight of decay.
...What is promised in this passage is what Isaiah foresaw: a new heaven and a new earth, replacing the old heaven and the old earth, which were bound to decay. This doesn't mean that God will wipe the slate clean and start again. If that were so, there would be no celebration, no conquest of death, no preparation now at last complete. As the chapter develops, the Bride, the wife of the Lamb, is described lovingly: she is the new Jerusalem promised by the prophets of the Exile, especially Ezekiel. But, unlike in Ezekiel's vision, where the rebuilt Temple takes eventual centre stage, there is no Temple in this city (21:22). The Temple in Jerusalem was always designed, it seems, as a pointer to, and an advance symbol for, the presence of God himself. When the reality is there, the signpost is no longer necessary. As in Romans and 1 Corinthians, the living God will dwell with and among his people, filling the city with his life and love, and pouring out grace and healing in the river of life that flows from the city out to the nations. There is a sign here of the future project that awaits the redeemed in God's eventual new world. So far from sitting on clouds playing harps, as people often imagine, the redeemed people of God in the new world will be the agents of his love going out in new ways, to accomplish new creative tasks, to celebrate and extend the glory of his love.'

Wow! Can't wait!

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sensory Intelligence - 5: Your Skin

I've been sharing Tony Buzan's thoughts about sensory intelligence from his book Head First. We've thought about an amazing array of facts concerning 4 of our senses: sight, hearing, taste and smell. I'm finishing this today with some facts relating to our skin. Buzan writes,

Your skin is the largest organ of your body.
It contains 200,000 temperature receivers.
It contains 500,000 touch and pressure receivers.
It contains 2,800,000 pain receivers.
This total of 3,500,000 receivers over the surface of your body is in addition to the multiple millions of receivers for your eyes, ears, nose and mouth.

Touch is directly related to your emotions. Touch is also a life-giving ability. Young animals and human babies who receive little physical attention in the form of touch in their early lives become unhealthy and fail to thrive. (How do you feel when you are touched by someone you love? Or when you are not touched by anyone, in any way, for days on end?)

The paragraph above made me think of one of my favourite Bible stories - the story of Jesus healing the man with leprosy.
This man came up to him and fell at his feet.
"Jesus, if you want to, you can make me clean."
Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, "I do want to. Be clean!"

I've always thought that the compassionate touch of Jesus was just as signicant as the physical healing. I guess that it may well have been the first time the man with leprosy had been touched for a long, long time. Years even! How must he have felt when Jesus touched him?

I'm speaking about the transfiguration at ABC tomorrow morning. There, too, we find Jesus touching his friends who were cowering on the floor following a manifestation of the glory and power of God. It's obvious that the touch of Jesus was very much a part of his healing ministry.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Quotes for living - 5

"Let go of what you think life should be so you can experience the life you have."

[Rhonda Britten, founder of the Fearless Living Institute]

I came across these words, this morning, and they've given me a lot of food for thought.

Yes, I want to live a passionate life now, but I also look to the horizon and continue to strive after what might be.

But I suspect that the context here is the all-too-common attitude that "life owes me something" which results in so many people simply existing with a chip on their shoulder, rather than really living with a sparkle in their eye!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The eyes have it!

I've been putting off visiting the opticians for some months now, despite the regular letters informing me that an eye-test is long overdue. But it all came to a head a few weeks ago when I sat on my glasses and bent them out of shape. I couldn't put it off any longer.

So, with Carole at my side for support, we walked through the doors of Specsavers - 'the UK's most trusted optician' - yesterday morning, ready for my 11.15 am appointment. We were a bit early so, after reporting in to reception, we checked out the overflowing racks of men's glasses. Carole picked out one pair after another, planting them on my nose.
"What do you think of these ones, darling?"
"Yup, they're fine."
"But don't you want to look at them in the mirror?"
"No darling, I'll take your word for it. Whatever you choose, I'm happy to settle for. Whatever!"
Shopping malaise was already sapping my energy and will.

At 11.15am we made our way to the waiting area. All of the seats were filled and a number of us were standing and waiting to begin our journey down the assembley line. Someone, somewhere, pressed the conveyor belt button.
"Yes, that's me."
"Please come and sit here while we check your details."
I sat in the chair next to the waiting area. I sensed everyone straining their ears to find out who I was...
"Mr Stephen Plummer of 14 Chandos Road, Ampthill, MK45 2LD?"
"Your birthday is 28th November 1960?"
"Yes." (ouch!)
"Are you on any benefits?" The people in the waiting area leaned forward. Carole gave her disgusted look!

Back to the waiting corral where I slumped into a recently vacated seat. An assistant called out another name, and an elderly man was allowed out of the pen. He sat down at one of a line of desks directly opposite where we were sitting. We all watched. He'd come to the end of the assembley line and was about to pick up his glasses. The assistant extricated them from a thick envelope.
"Oh, these are really trendy," she shrilled loudly. "Do try them on."
He proceeded to try them on whilst she instructed him to look at various points in the shop.
"Yes, I can see that," he would reply. She fiddled with his glasses to make sure that they were sitting right on his nose.
Everyone in the waiting area gazed at the scene whilst listening to the next woman in the chair to find out if she was on benefits!

"Mr Plummer?"
I was led into a dark room where I was instructed to place my forehead, here, and then look through a lens, there, with my left eye. A little cartoon house came into view. Then it was the turn of the right eye. That wasn't too bad. But it was simply lulling me into a false sense of security. Following further instructions I slid my chair to the apparatus next door. This was the one I was dreading, the Star Wars machine that robotically searches for each eye in turn before attacking them with a pneumatic blast. I felt the force. Ugh!

Back to the waiting area where I tripped over someone's feet. Time crawled by.

"Mr Plummer?"
The optician. I was led into his room and sat in the chair as he slipped various lenses into the gruesome apparatus that I was wearing whilst I told him whether the letters and the circles appeared better or worse. At least we were in private....until another assistant came in to ask him about a former patient. She looked over at me, an extra from some episode of Dr Who.
"Oh, that's alright."
But it wasn't.

I got on really well with the optician. He told me that he was one of 5 on the staff and examined the eyes of 18 or 19 people every day. No wonder this place feels like a factory!
Over the next 15 minutes or so, I got to know the far corner of the room between the ceiling and the wall really well as I was instructed to focus on it while he crawled all over me, checking the backs of my eyeballs. I could see the pattern of veins in the reflected light and felt sick.
"Are you going to faint?"
"I don't think so."
"Shall I stop?"
"No, just get it over with!"
He continued to look at my eyes from various angles, his face just a couple of centimetres away from my own. Every now and again he would breathe heavily down my ears. Ugh!

Afterwards he told me that he'd spent longer with me than he normally would because I was a good guy and he wanted to do the best for me that he possibly could.
I wished I'd have been horrible to him!

Released from purgatory, I staggered out to the main part of the shop where Carole and I were approached by the next assistant on the assembley line who told me just how much the glasses we had chosen earlier suited me. We sat at the desk while she measured something that came to 63 as I looked at, first, one of her eyes, and then the other. They were brown. I felt the eyes of the people in the waiting area boring into my back.

And then we had to pay. The full amount. Because I'm not on any benefits. The people in the waiting area already knew that.

I'm booked to pick up my new glasses next Monday at 2.05 pm. I'm assured that the process won't last for an hour this time.

I'm not looking forward to it. I'll have to sit at one of those desks in front of everyone while a young assistant asks me silly questions and makes sure that the glasses sit right on my nose. And, unfortunately, Carole thinks that they're really trendy!