Monday, May 03, 2021

What does Jesus mean to me?

Yesterday in church we were asked, 'How do you think of Jesus?'

My answer was, 'I don't know.' On reflection I should probably have said a bit more. Like the fact that's it's a question I've been pondering for a few weeks. Ever since, in fact, a song was played in church that included the line, 'I have known you as a friend.'

People wrote their answers in the zoom chat and there were some that were sensible, some that were spiritual, and some that made me think, 'How exactly does that show itself?'

I must be a lot less spiritual than most people I think. Phrases that other people can reel off don't come easily to me. I'm a mixture of cynical - is that really true and meaningful to you? - and awed by their sincerity.

I struggle to think of God as father - though my head knows he is the ultimate and best - and I can't say I've ever thought of Jesus as friend exactly. Saviour yes.

But this morning I thought of what I should have said yesterday. 'Lifestyle coach.' On my good days he is what I aspire to be like. (On my bad days, well, let's not go there.) 

I can grasp a practical Jesus. It's the spiritual one I have problems with. And there's no-one to blame except me.

What I need to do is remind myself of something I wrote originally many years ago, not about how I view Jesus but what I'd be like without him.

If I hadn’t met Jesus, I wouldn’t be a drug addict, that’s outside my world. Neither would I have just sold my wedding photos to Hello for $2 million. I’d still be just me.

Two thousand years from now, two hundred years from now, there’ll be no-one who remembers me. My life story won’t form part of a treasured historical document. I won’t go down in the annals of the church as a great spiritual inspiration. Just like my body, my history will have crumbled to dust.

Meeting Jesus changes lives. Now you might well be thinking that I’m hardly a good example of that. But what if I hadn’t met Jesus? 

Then there’d be something missing — something that wraps itself around the helix of my DNA, that is as vital to me as the love that I crave. Most of the time I’m hardly aware of it and yet it’s always there, working for me, never against me, wanting the best for me, regretting when I mess it up but ready to wipe the tears and pick up the pieces. Again and again. A love force that can feel as real as the sun on my face or as distant as the North star. A hope that helps me to see the pinprick of light in the darkness. When I turn my eyes from in here to out there and I truly want to look and see, when I seek, then I’m found. Indescribable, inexplicable. 

My story’s not dramatic or heroic, it’s more mistake than miracle, more flop than flip. I’m not a ‘good’ Christian but Jesus seems to be able to cope with that. 

I could try and imagine where I’d be now if I hadn’t met Jesus but I don’t want to. Some places, like Skegness, just aren’t worth visiting.

Friday, April 30, 2021

A well-deserved award!

Yesterday began with the sad news of Paul's death; it ended with an acknowledgement of what Zac's means to the vulnerable in the community. It was started and has been led for twenty-five years by Sean Stillman who last night won the South Wales Evening Post Community Lifetime Achievement Award.

Well-deserved recognition for the best person I know.

I tuned in to watch the event online and it was so heartening. With three nominees for each category - such as Mentor, Carer, Fundraiser etc - we were given a tiny glimpse into the goodness of ordinary everyday people. People who quietly go beyond what's required of them in work, or who voluntarily dedicate great swathes of their own time to helping others in one way or another. 

In a world dominated by greed and self-interests of politicians and big businesses it was a timely reminder that the majority of people are jolly good eggs.

What I found especially touching was that Sean's nomination appeared to have come from someone who has benefitted rather than a peer. The other nominations were lengthy and pointed out the candidate's worthiness for this and that. Sean's nominator said, 'For the last 25 years, Sean has ran Zac’s Place in Swansea, dedicating his time to helping the vulnerable members of society and improving their wellbeing. On Tuesdays, he gives bible lessons and runs a small stall to support those less fortunate. On a Thursday evening, he gives meals to the homeless and provides clothes and extra help if it is needed or wanted.'

To be honest it was so simple I thought it unlikely that Sean would win. The judges obviously had netter sense than I gave them credit for!

Not that I'm affected by advertising but

Husband and I watched the excellent Unforgotten on ITV catch-up recently. Because we watch so little ITV for the first couple of episodes we found the adverts interesting. One in partiicular struck me. It was for BMW.

I can't remember exactly what the advert said but it mentioned the 'famous front grill'.

'Is it famous?' I asked.

'Yes,' said Husband, 'very distinctive.'

Since then I find myself spotting and identifying BMWs by their front grill.

Husband, of course, can tell you the make, model, and year, of an old car simply by the bend of its bumper. 

And it's an advert on the radio in the car that has also led me to action this morning.

I have a tiny cough. So tiny it could well be imaginary or psychosomatic. I am 99.99999 recurring certain that I don't have Covid but then the advert comes on in the car: 'It could be you! You could be one of the one in three people carrying the virus without knowing it!'

So this morning I popped along to our local collection centre and picked up a self-test kit. 

It's done now and I'm waiting my thirty minutes for the result. Assuming it is negative I won't be repeating the test in a hurry: I was retching before the swab even reached the back of my throat, and sneezing with it up my nose. It is not pleasant.

On the plus side I got to go on the stage at the Grand Theatre!*

P.S. A resounding negative result.

*That's where the collection site is.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Memories of Sandwich Board Man

Last night we lost another of our Zac's regulars when Paul Adams died. He had been in hospital for a few days but his death was unexpected and has been a shock to us all. We all have our memories.

Sandwich Board Man

He used to be a familiar sight in Swansea, standing on the crossroads where Mumbles Road turns into Guildhall Road. With his smile, his cheery wave, his sandwich board, and his message of God’s love, he brightened up the daily commute for many early morning drivers. Not all appreciated him, of course, but for those that did he was a little ray of sunshine on Swansea’s frequently grey days.

Years later when I started going to Zac’s I found out that Sandwich-Board Man was a regular there. His name was Paul but to me at least he'll always be Sandwich-Board Paul. 

I think the thing I remember most about him is his ever-present smile. The only time it slipped was when he was joking and he pretended to be serious. Or when he was engaged in serious engine talk with Nige. He was both predictable and unpredictable but his love for others, and his desire to see them saved, was real and genuine.

Yes, he could be exasperating! Often during a bible study he’d talk – I suspect - about something he’d heard recently that had affected him but bore no relevance to the topic of the evening. Unlike Sean who’d say something loving like, ‘Funny you should say that, Paul, because …’ and get us back on topic, I’d just be tapping my fingers impatiently on the bar. 

But he put up with me, in fact he did more than that. He was a constant encourager. Every time I led a study he’d sit there smiling, nodding, and afterwards inevitably said, ‘Well done, that was good,’ even though I had my doubts about the truth of that. As I always did. 

And he often talked about something I’d said in one study years ago about a rubber on the end of a pencil. Even I can’t remember what point I was making but it had stuck in his memory, and that in itself is an encouragement to me.

Like all of us he had his demons and flaws. He was a man of contradictions. His big ‘thing’ was ‘Faith not works’ yet he worked harder at being a Christian than anyone I know. He made an impact on many people. And I am confident that God will have greeted him with the words, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant.’

As long as no-one mentions pole dancers.


Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Mea culpa

So, last Wednesday, Monty who'd missed bible study the night before - for a football match of all things, shock, horror! - and the Swans didn't even win! - messaged me saying he was leading the study this week and checking how far we'd got. 'I'm doing chapter 12, is that right?' he said.

'Yes,' said I merrily, knowing we'd finished a chapter the night before.

Last night, at about half past seven (or 7.33 precisely as Monty corrected me), with study due to start at eight, I realised that the chapter we'd finished had been ten meaning we were on chapter ... eleven this week, not chapter twelve.

I had to break the bad news.

'Um, Monty ...'

But he is a star and an ex-teacher so pretty good at - I was going to say waffling but that suggests it was irrelevant but his words were great and appropriate. 

I'd have thrown a total wobbly if it had been me in that position!

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Always the bridesmaid

Looking through the photos to find some of John I came across a bundle of wedding photos. I was reminded that, at one time, I feared it would be 'Always the bridesmaid but never the bride,' for me. (I was, comparatively, very late to start going out with boys.)

1961, cousin Carol and Bob's wedding on 27th December, peach velvet puff sleeved dresses - freezing cold weather. Me, seated front left with cousins Lynne and Susan behind me.
Sue's wedding to Tudor. Lynne, me and someone else, looking rather like 'Three Little Maids from School.' 

Spencer's wedding to Margaret. Me on left, Lynne on right

Monday, April 26, 2021

Goodbye, Cousin

I grew up in a large extended family, my gran being one of eight surviving children. As my great-gran lived with us our home was the setting for family gatherings and get-togethers throughout my childhood.

I had lots of cousins, and I suppose we fell into some sort of vaguely age-related groups. My main group, by age down, was Howard, Lynne, me, and John, with the added extras of the slightly older Sue and Spencer on occasions.

And of my group I was closest to Lynne and John. We went on holiday together - a caravan on Gower - and to the beach together, Rotherslade being our favourite, mainly by dint of the fact that it was the closest to walk to.

But, as I said, we caravanned in Port Eynon too and once were enjoying the thrills of dune jumping when John realised he still had all his money in his pocket. Or rather he had had all his money in his pocket. There would have been good pickings for any metal detectors out that night.

As we grew older we all grew apart, different lives, different interests, but a good number of years ago - at least twenty I should think - I had walked to the main road to catch a bus to town. I was waiting at the stop when a car pulled in. I did my usual peering, 'Who's that?' - yes, I did it even then - and realised it was John. 'Want a lift?' he said.

It was only a short journey but for that time we chatted as if no time had passed. He was just as cheeky as ever. I'm not sure but that was possibly the last time I saw him.

Yesterday evening I found out that he'd died. And that I'd missed his funeral. Not that I could have gone with lockdown restrictions but I would have stood at the roadside and paid my respects. He was my little cousin and probably favourite cousin.

And he was another one of those about whom I said, in pre-lockdown days, 'I really must call in and see John one day.' My advice: don't leave it until it's too late.

Of the six of us I mentioned earlier, four are now dead, all cancer, all too young. Only Lynne and I remain, and we haven't seen each other for years, and our communication is limited to Christmas cards. I should make an effort. Will I?

1961 at another cousin's wedding. Great-gran, Great-uncle Jim, cousin Deanne, and John's mum, Megan.

Sue, Lynne, and John (Sue was John's sister). Actually they were all a generation higher than me.

Great-auntie Lottie, cousin Gareth, and John on my swing

If the tide was in, we swam. John at the bottom of the steps with his mum.

Cousins - Howard, Lynne, me and John, with the younger Stuart and Debbie in front

A hard life being stuck on a beach with four girls (including me who was taking the photo)

Early surf days

With me and friends. Honestly he was not a miserable boy! He must have just hated having his photo taken, I've never noticed before!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

I knew there was something else I wanted to say

The church notices come out on Fridays (email). The Friday before last I read that we would be looking at C.S. Lewis in the Sunday service. 'That doesn't sound very interesting,' I thought, so I skipped the meeting.

Imagine my emotions then, when logging on to the meeting this morning, the first thing I heard them say was, 'Today we'll be looking at the life of C.S. Lewis.' Phooey.

Well, I'm here now so might as well stay until it gets boring. 

But it didn't. 

In his biography Lewis is quoted as saying: "In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

Not exactly the moment of triumph or joy we tend to associate with times of conversion. Many of the stories we hear, people's testimonies, are dramatic and supernatural, and can make those of us with more mundane, 'It just sort of happened' stories feel, well, maybe mine's not genuine, or, even, I'm not as good as that person. So it was wonderful to hear a story with a difference.

So that'll teach me to assume. (No, of course it won't but it should.)

Shall I expressively dance for you?

Noticing the title of my last post, as I write this, I think to myself, interestingly enough I have just reached the bit in the book all about the making of Born to Run. Not a very interesting fact but true.

While sitting in the sunshine that is. It's beautiful weather again today. Yesterday Husband and I took GrandSon4 and GrandDaughter3 out for a walk to give their parents time to: work on his PhD; rest and recover from her first covid jab.

We walked up a big hill opposite their house. GrandDaughter3 was happy really even though she doesn't look it here. It was a seriously long walk for a two-year-old but she did it all by herself. In fact she is an independent little soul and doesn't like having to be helped.

Finding an old ruined house and bits of disused farm equipment simply made GrandSon4's day.

Here Granddad explains how a carburettor works. 

And today the other local bit of family is coming round for a barbecue. I do lovely family times.

* * * * * * *

Last night we  watched The Dilemma, described on Amazon as an insanely funny film. The critic must have been thinking about something else when he wrote it. But the previous night we watched The Mauritanian. 

Once I'd got over the shock horror of Benedict Cumberbatch with a Southern States drawl I thoroughly enjoyed it, although perhaps 'enjoy' is the wrong word. Definitely worth watching.

The treatment meted out to the 'hero', a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay, is beyond description. That it could be approved and condoned by the American government raises serious issues. And how the perpetrators could actually do it to another human being is - I am lost for words.

We've started looking for films to watch as we've finished all our regular series - except Line of Duty, which is only on one episode at a time. Giri Haji ended weirdly - is expressive dance a big thing in Japanese films? - and rather disappointingly. Both main characters have killed people but you sort of don't want them to be punished. Very mixed emotions.