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Sabbatical, Day 50: On Not Taking Family For Granted

So today is Mothering Sunday – ‘not to be confused with Mother’s Day’, as Wikipedia says at the top of its entry. A time to remember our mother the Church, the Bride of Christ, as well as a time to honour those in our families who often more than anyone else have epitomised the selfless and sacrificial characteristics of love.

Today in the UK it is poignant to do so, given the death last night of Jade Goody, leaving her two small boys to remember Mothering Sunday as the first day of their bereavement each year. I imagine that if Jade could have hung on through today, she would have done. It is popular to talk of terminally ill people hanging on through certain events and then giving up. My father-in-law said he never wanted my wife and her sister to witness him die, and he slipped away just after they left visiting him at the hospital. Somebody else I know died thirty minutes after the midnight that signified the end of her husband’s eightieth birthday. 

But it is not always possible, and Jade Goody was taken from her sons at a most cruel time. When I heard of her death this morning, I had a deep sense that our children should never take their mother for granted. Right now, in their young ways, they don’t. I hope they never do. 

It has been hard to focus on Debbie today, because it is also Rebekah’s sixth birthday. And in a true sign of motherly love, although we gave her some presents and cards, Debbie has deferred the attention and focus of the day to our little girl. 

Rebekah with her '6' balloon for her birthday

Rebekah with her '6' balloon for her birthday

Here she is, taking great delight in the balloon we bought to mark the occasion. She derived pleasure from all her presents, large and small. She is still at the age where the cost of the gift is not the issue. Long may it last! 

Several relatives and friends sent money for her, so we put that inside another present, a purse, and rather naughtily took her Sunday shopping. Now that she is doing some basic addition and subtraction at school, we hope it will be an early lesson in financial management!

We allowed Rebekah to choose the venue for lunch out. To our relief, she didn’t opt for the children’s interminably regular haunt of Pizza Hut, but another low-cost venue, Wetherspoon’s. Student friends of ours see it as a great place for low-cost booze (surely a curse in our society), we see it as a good venue for cheap meals. OK, you can tell they’re not prepared from fresh on site, but when funds are limited, a location where the four of us can feed for £20 is welcome. We have developed a family grace for mealtimes where we thank God for each member of our family, as well as the food. We then amend it when there are particular things to be grateful for: today was one of those days.

Back home now, Rebekah is enjoying the first High School Musical film on DVD. She had acquired numbers 2 and 3 as presents, and is watching the first one again to get back into the story. I’m going to wrap up the blog post a little early today, because this evening I shall be packing for tomorrow’s drive to Lee Abbey, and helping Debbie sort one or two domestic issues before leaving. 

dsc_0041So I’ll just close with this picture of Rebekah from yesterday. Here she is, in her birthday sash, and wearing a princess crown, waiting with Mark to greet her guests at her pottery party at The Glazed Look.

Happy Birthday, little girl – it’s been six amazing years since that foggy morning when you came into the world courtesy of an emergency Caesarean when induction drugs were sending your heartbeat all over the place. Look at you now – kind, clever and fun!

Mum and Dad love you so much.

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Sabbatical, Day 46: Bozos In The High Street, Hope In The Papers

If yesterday was St Patrick’s Day, I hereby declare today Bozos In The High Street Day. Two visits to major stores convinced me of that. In both cases, centrally decided policies or actions crippled the ability of those ‘on the ground’ to help. 

First, I visited W H Smith to pick up the copy of Mission-Shaped Questions I had ordered from them with a gift token. Having also received vouchers for £5 off books costing £10 or more, I wanted to order one or two more titles. However, there had been a power cut in the centre of town. Smith’s had lost electricity twice. As a result, their barcode scanners still weren’t working, even though power had been restored to the shop. This meant that if I ordered a book, they wouldn’t be able to give me the £5 discount. For gone are the days when you could order something and leave a deposit: now they insist on full payment upfront. As a result, ordering the book without the discount meant they were no longer competitive and they lost my business. I have no quibble with the young woman who served me: she spoke to her supervisor to see if there might be a way around it, but there wasn’t. At a time when they have lost so much to online stores like Amazon and when the recession is making life even harder, their inflexibility lost another sale.

Second candidate for Bozo status: Staples. I make occasional visits to this overpriced store that claims to price-match its rivals. Usually, it’s when I desperately need an inkjet cartridge, I’ve forgotten to order online and I am humiliated into paying their prices. Other times, it’s to get craft resources for Sunday School. 

Well – one day last summer, I was in there on one of my desperate inkjet missions and I couldn’t find my Staples Reward Card. (Not that it had rewarded me then, nor has it since.) A helpful assistant said, “Don’t worry, I’ll issue you with a new one. Ring the number on the accompanying leaflet and head office will combine your two accounts into one.”

That made sense. Except head office refused to do anything. Today, I finally remembered to take all the paperwork back when I called to buy some coloured card for an Easter party. The local people are bemused by their head office. Rightly so, in my opinion. I can’t see how a local shop would have the resources to amalgamate accounts. All they can do is scan the cards and issue new ones. Someone somewhere else just can’t be bothered. If they can’t be bothered … 

…………

From today’s Guardian: why the World War Two poster ‘Keep Calm And Carry On‘ has become popular again. Two quotes from the article:

Alain Samson, a social psychologist at the London School of Economics, says that in times of difficulty, “people are brought together by looking for common values or purposes, symbolised by the crown and the message of resilience. The words are also particularly positive, reassuring, in a period of uncertainty, anxiety, even perhaps of cynicism.”

Dr Lesley Prince, who lectures in social psychology at Birmingham University, is blunter still. “It is a quiet, calm, authoritative, no-b*llsh*t voice of reason,” he says. “It’s not about British stiff upper lip, really. The point is that people have been sold a lie since the 1970s. They were promised the earth and now they’re worried about everything – their jobs, their homes, their bank, their money, their pension. This is saying, look, somebody out there knows what’s going on, and it’ll be all right”.

These seem reasons worth pondering from a Christian perspective. People want to hear a message that – in the words of Bob Marley – is “Everything is gonna be all right”, but there needs to be substance and reason behind such claims. Otherwise it’s wishful thinking. The Christian claim is that we do have substance behind our hope, and it comes in the Resurrection of Jesus. However, with such claims ruled out on principle, our society is left without substance at a time when hope is needed.

The common values and purposes our culture cherishes still remain those of economic idolatry. It seems to be taking someone of simple intellect like poor dying Jade Goody to be putting spiritual issues in the centre of the news. And yes, some of what she is reported to say or long for does sound like folk religion, but she knows she has such little time left and spiritual claims are clearly featuring highly in her concerns.