Pro- or Anti- ?

Is it possible to be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israeli? Or indeed vice-versa?

Israeli/Palestinian Flags
Palestinian/Israeli Flags

Over the years, medical students from the Edinburgh’s Medical School have supported the international work of the E.M.M.S., the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society. In the late 1950s, my parents were two of the young medics who were due to be joing the team at the hospital at Nazareth in the Holy Land. Had they done so, then it is quite possible that I might have been born in Nazareth, and as famously – dubiously – quoted of Jesus: “What good thing can come out of Nazareth?”

Nazareth
Nazareth, and the E.M.M.S. Hospital

Sadly, the unexpected death of my grandfather meant my mother temporarily taking on his G.P. practice, and there was a change of plan – and India is where my parents subsequently ended up serving. My childhood and upbringing was less Middle Eastern, and more South Asian instead.

However, though I have not yet managed to fulfill my ambition of visiting the Holy Land (despite managing to wave that direction from both the Suez Canal and from Cyprus), this pre-natal episode has left an indelible mark on me, and a deep interest in the country’s history and culture. Nazareth remains a fascinating place; a predominantly Arab Israeli town with a population of 65,000, made up of aprox. 2/3 Muslim population, and 1/3 Christian. The Arab/Palestinian situation is a melting-pot of complexity that I cannot begin to understand, even if it remains such a draw.

And yet (as I sometimes comment to Jewish friends & colleagues) my boss is a Jew, and Jewish culture so permeates the Christian faith too. Much of the theological training that remains with me focused on it. I love discovering more.

Last week I came across a book review, with an Israeli/Palestinian theme, posted on a blog site. The review was a little heavy handed on it’s treatment of the book author’s position. But it was the subsequent internet flurry that worried me most, as various sides began to lay blame at each others door.

Pro-Israeli and Pro-Palestinian accusations were leveled.

It became unrepresentative, and unhelpful eventually, which is why I have not linked to such an unhelpful spat. In the end, I could see significant arguments on both sides. I wanted to be pro- both.

Does being pro- one side of a ferocious debate necessarily mean that one must be anti- the other side? Does that exhibit the appalling naïveté of a distant observer, unaware of the depth of the real issues? Or sometimes, can one be so close to an issue that we think there only is one way forward, and it has to be mine?

I am more Pro-Palestinian; and more Pro-Jewish, the more I hear.

Peace In Our Time?

Reflecting on the Northern Ireland Peace Process as PC Steve Carroll is buried…

Like many, I was shocked and saddened buy the reappearance of violence and murder again, after so many years. British soldiers, preparing to go on tour to Iraq the next day, gunned down as they collect pizza; a policeman responding to a call from the public.

One sign of hope this time, is that there has been almost universal condemnation of these killings. Even if some perceived a bit of a delay before some Republican politicians commented on the issue, Martin McGuinness’ and others position is unequivocal.

A number of years ago, I was in the bookshop of Westminster cathedral. An elderly English lady stopped me with her hand on my arm, and said

You look very like Martin McGuinness. Has anyone ever said that to you before?

The surprise must have been clearly evident on my face, because she continued:

I suppose you might not have heard that as a compliment…

 

Alastair Cutting
Alastair Cutting

Martin McGuinness
Martin McGuinness

 

I have often rehearsed that short interchange in my mind. At the time the comment was made, there were frequent ‘attrocities’, which were rarely condemned by the members of Sinn Féin, and I was more than a little uncomfortable with the comparison.

However as time moved on the Peace Process made real progress. Seeing Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness smiling – no laughing – together at Stormont remains an iconic image – a unity government was a dream that I was not sure I might ever see. Pray God, may the callous killing cease.

Ian Paisley & Martin McGuinness
Ian Paisley & Martin McGuinness

I don’t think I find the comparison of me with Martin McGuinness uncomfortable any more – though still a bit bizarre.

I still have hope for permanent peace in Ireland; and may Stephen Carroll, and the two young soldiers killed recently, rest in peace.

By Jiminy

‘scuse my French…

There I was, watching the 1939 Wizard of Oz, and suddenly Dorothy exclaims “Jiminy Cricket”!

Was I watching the right film? Had there been yet another random tv channel switching incident? (A frequent occurrence in a household with teenage girls, where I am only allowed ‘the gadget‘ after others have gone to bed.) Isn’t Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio? And which came first? Oz, or Pinocchio?

Jiminy Cricket

Which came first – what here is chicken, and what is egg? A quick glance on Wiki, and the slightly surprising answer is that Oz was out the year before the 1940 Pinocchio. But even that was not the first, as Judy Garland herself had used the same phrase in the 1938 film ‘Listen, Darling‘. Suddenly, I seem to be in to film textual criticism. Even earlier references apparently include the 1930 film Anna Christie.

Is it possible this expression ended up in the final edit through the casual use of the phrase by a teenage actress, and the director says ‘Yes, keep it in!”?

I had either forgotten, or maybe never really knew, that Jiminy Cricket was coined as an alternative ‘euphemistic expletive’ for that other JC. Not sure one should use a euphemism for his name. He seems happy enough for us to use it, with respect, as it is. Jesus.

Bring back Sunday Schools?

BBC4
Last night I caught a little of Huw Edward’s BBC4 documentary Sunday Schools: Reading, Writing and Redemption. (Available on iPlayer until 24 Feb 2009.) I expected it to be your average media dismantling of religion, but was surprised how uniformly warmly the various participants, general public or celebrity, were about their contacts with Sunday School, and how it had so positively helped form their characters.

One of the participants was Roy Hattersley, who I knew had been in the choir at a Yorkshire church I did a curacy at: Wadsley Parish Church near Hillsborough, in Sheffield. When I was there in the late 1980s, Roy’s mother used to regularly be seen walking her Yorkshire Terrier through the church-yard, and was always up for a chat. Great to hear that the work the churches have been involved in since Robert Raikes founded the Sunday School movement in 1780 has had such a longlasting and positive influence. “Long live Sunday School” said Bill Tidy.

Huw Edwards ended the programme, conscious of the demise of Sunday schools in all but the largest and most significant of churches now, by saying “as one of millions who benefitted from attending Sunday schools, I think Britian is much the poorer – and one day we will wake up and will realise what we have lost”. May it not all be lost…

Wadsley Parish Church © Elaine Pickard

The programme blurb:
Documentary investigating the radical impact Sunday schools have had on
British society. Their early pioneers upset local bigwigs and the state
by teaching the lower orders to read. By Victorian times, huge numbers
attended the schools and they even gave birth to major football clubs.
In the twentieth century they still had a rich influence on the
personal lives of people like Patricia Routledge, Roy Hattersley and
Anne Widdecombe. Huw Edwards discovers their forgotten history.

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Love in Valentine’s week

Just been checking the blogs, and I’m a little surprised no-one appears to have picked up on one of this morning’s Radio 4 Woman’s Hour items, featuring Stella & Stan Hagarthy’s surprising, and apparently God-inspired business and web-site, Wholly Love.

Wholly Love's website
Wholly Love website

Apparently, they have not yet had any endorsements from significant church leaders or organisations. I wonder who might be first in the queue?

Years ago, I remember the bishop who confirmed me, John Taylor, then Bishop of St Albans, noting the counties his See represented, introducing himself at Greenbelt as the Valentine bishop – the bishop of Herts and Beds.

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London, in Synod week

This week I have spent most of my time in that other ‘London Eye’, the circular debating chamber of Church House, Westminster.

Church House Westminster - London 'Eye'
Church House Westminster - London's other 'Eye'

I, and others, have commented and commented elsewhere especially on the General Synod Blog, so do look there for some of what Synod has been up to.

I take being an elected member of the Church of England’s General Synod quite seriously, for though I am not a delegate, expected to carry others views, I do try to sit in as many of the debates and fringe meetings as I possibly can.

However, being in London has given me a rare opportunity to walk along the banks of the Thames on a couple of occasions, and last night get a cheap mid-week ticket to a theatre production after Synod business had finished.

I sat with a married clergy colleague, slightly uncomfortably, but also with huge fun, at Alan Ayckbourn’s revival of his 1985 ‘Woman in Mind’.

Woman in Mind
Woman in Mind - Alan Ayckbourn - Vaudeville Theatre

Ayckbourn was interviewed by the Telegraph in the run-up to the West End opening of the production, with the marvellous Janie Dee in the lead rôle.

The piece is set in a vicarage garden, and is based on the life of wife of the vicar. She has immaculate garden, an exemplary family, a beautiful life. Except, as it transpires, much of the perfection is in her mind – the reality leaves much to be desired. Ayckbourn does not really explore the causes for ‘Susan’s’ mental illness, but looks at it’s outworking.

I sent a text to my wife saying I was at a play about a vicar’s wife slowly going mad – she responded with a text saying she could introduce me to many clergy wives for research, and that most clergy wives were slowly going mad. She added she was not joking; which though I already knew, I needed to be reminded of; especially in the week this clergy couple celebrated a silver jubilee of years since our engagement.

Ayckbourn’s play is perplexing, and I think probably a commentary on many professional people of our time, not just vicar’s wives. But the play is not without humour, or indeed hope. Note to self, may need to pick up dreamy immaculate white suit on the way home…

One further suggestion from a couple of colleagues was to try and get to the Byzantium Exhibition at the Royal Academy before heading home. More signs of hope.

Byzantium Exhibition
Byzantium Exhibition

Individual Surprises

Now and again I come across someone (or something) I feel I ought to have known much more about. Listening to the radio today revealed some fascinating insights into the life of Thomas Quasthoff – not to mention some good choices in music!

Thomas Quasthoff

Thomas’ superb bass/baritone voice is in no way compromised by the effect thalidomide had on his limbs before birth. Although a nurse identified his musicality before he was even a year old, his musical education was almost extinguished before it started, as the college would not accept him without an instrument to his repertoire, even though playing was physically an impossibility. A brilliant and talented character.

It reminded me a bit of Australian Nick Vujicic‘s incredible vitality and faith, after someone sent me link a few months ago

              

Even in churches, we do not always treat people with the respect and honour we ought, or spot the potential in them. A number of years ago Alyn Haskey was told that his cerebral palsy would prevent him from being ordained. Fortunately, after a change in perception, rather than a change in Alyn’s call, he has now been ordained in the CofE, and has an active peripatetic ministry based around the Midlands.

Rev'd Alyn Haskey
The Rev’d Alyn Haskey

At next weeks General Synod, I will be looking forward to catching up with several ‘alternatively abled’ friends, including Vera Hunt, Katie Tupling, and Pete Spiers, who have taught me much about wholeness.

Rowfant Grange station, and life’s hidden little treasures

I run a regular EBAY search on Copthorne local memorabilia. Recently it threw up a post card of steam locomotive of the LB&SCR (London, Brighton and Southern Counties Railway) – a Billinton E5 class (0-6-2T),  with the name COPTHORNE emblazoned down it’s side – it intrigued me. (If items like this come in for about a ‘fiver’, I try to pick them up to add to the village archive – it now includes the said postcard.)

The E5 locomotive named Copthorne
574 'Copthorne' in LB&SCR livery

As there had been a local railway line close to Copthorne, it led me to wonder if this loco had been on the Three Bridges to East Grinstead line. There was never a station at Copthorne, but Sir Curtis Lampson, (whose wife Jane’s idea it was to build Copthorne church) made sure that there was a halt built near their residence at Rowfant House. There is a thought that gravel used for the sub-structure of the track in this section came from Copthorne, and the land that was quarried for this became the site of St. John’s Church, which is why the church is built in a bit of a hollow, rather than on a hill, as one would normally expect.

It is astonishing how much detail there is available about things like this. It is possible to trace much of the history of loco like this, from it’s manufacture in 1903 through to discover that it was re-sprayed latterly as a British Rail engine (minus the ‘Copthorne’ sadly) finally ‘retiring’ in 1956.

The previous E5 'Copthorne' in black BR livery c1951
E5 Nº32574 in BR livery

Researching a little background, I found a lot of information about the Rowfant Grange station halt, including quite a bit of background to it’s closure, on the Disused Stations site, and another link to some additional photos of Rowfant station over the years.

Then I found that the station is far from gone, but alive and well and in active use – in a miniaturised sort of way. The station has been exquisitely re-created in 00 guage by Ian White, complete with Sir Curtis Lampson waiting for his train. Ian has an extensive and detailed webpage with many snippets of information, including dates of when and where his touring model of our little piece of local history can be seen in action.

Little hidden treasures of life.

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Women in Chichester

In the Chichester Diocesan cycle of prayer, we have been praying for the Team Ministry of Ifield, in Crawley, today. They are currently in vacancy, for a Team Rector.

Chichester diocese sometimes comes in for criticism over it’s perceived attitude to ordained women’s ministry. So it is with a wry smile that today we prayed for the Team Vicar, and two NSM priests on the Team staff – all three women. And we prayed for the parish Readers. Also all three women. So during the vacancy, the parish is being staffed solely by women.

It struck me that if the vacancy for a Team Rector was also filled by a woman, Chichester could be in a probably unique situation in the Church of England of having a women-only staffed parish. Now that might change some perceptions!