Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Singing for a Saint

My friend, Barrie Hibbert from Adelaide, sent this story and blessing which deserves to be passed on for reflection on St. David’s Day, regardless of your race:

“Hollalluog… hollalluog ydyw’r un a’m cwyd i’r lan.”

No doubt the sound of those words echoed around the Stade de France rugby ground in Paris on Saturday night. Just in case you didn’t recognize it…it’s the last line of the first verse of the famous Welsh hymn and rugby anthem, “Guide me O Thou great Jehovah!” But unfortunately, either there weren’t enough voices to sufficiently inspire the boys in red…or the boys in blue were just too good on the night.

I was hoping for a Welsh victory to set me up for a good celebration of St David’s Day this Thursday (1st March). But all was not lost. When I turned up at Church last night, Rosalind Gooden was leading the service, and she had taken a Welsh theme for the evening. All the hymn tunes were Welsh…Aberystwyth and Ebenezer among them, but sadly not my two favourites, Crugybar and Calon Lan.

Ros spoke about the life and influence of St.David, and also the great Welsh tradition of poetry and music…especially hymn singing. She also talked about the four great religious revivals that swept through Wales, and deeply affected the life of the nation. Apparently, at one point so many coal miners were caught up in the revival that the prevalent habit of swearing virtually disappeared: to the extent that the pit ponies could no longer understand their handlers’ instructions! At another time, the police had so little work to do that they formed themselves into quartets and went round the villages singing the Gospel message!

I was sitting in the pew quizzically pondering how authentic such tales might be, when my eye caught a notice in the bulletin. It was an announcement of a special Welsh singing festival - a Gymanfa Ganu – to be held at Flinders Street Baptist Church next Saturday night. No danger of us overlooking St David’s Day this year! But my heart really skipped a beat when I read that the evening was to be led by none other than The Metropolitan Mail Voice Choir.

I smiled at what I assumed was a misprint. But then I remembered that years ago somebody told me about an unusual singing group, the Adelaide Postmen’s Chorus. They sang choral arrangements of such great hits as that moving wartime ballad, “Dear John” and the Elvis Presley standard, “Return to Sender”. Their standard encore, “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter,” always brought the house down.

There was a rumour going round at one stage that their choirmaster, Caradog Arwel Jones (aka “Jones the Post”), himself an Elder at the Welsh Chapel, was working on a musical setting of an oratorio using every verse of all thirteen of the letters of Saint Paul. Now wouldn’t that be something for a group of posties to sing about!

So perhaps the old Adelaide Postmen’s Chorus has gone up-market and re-named itself the Metropolitan Mail Voice Choir. All will be revealed on Saturday night. Meanwhile, to all my Welsh friends, and all lovers of things Welsh: 'Happy Saint David’s Day !'

Image: Google did not find a photo to match the Metropolitan Mail Voice Choir! Here's a photo of the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Generous Hospitality

In an address to seminary students about the essence of welcome and hospitality, David Enticott shares this experience of lavish hospitality:

Two years ago I found myself travelling on my own in the Scottish highlands in a small country town called Fort William.

After driving around the confusing one way streets, trying to find my accommodation, I parked at the right house after about 15 minutes of looking. There were some kids fighting out the front. The place seemed anything but hospitable.

When I knocked on the door no one answered, but after a minute or two a lady came from next door said: “Albert is on his way, he will open up for you.” In a few minutes Albert came. He showed me to my room.

Later that night we got talking. Albert said that his wife had passed away ten years ago. He kept the bed and breakfast going as a way to meet people, rather than to make money. Albert was a Catholic- he spoke about having craic (fun) with his priest and gave his secret for a long life- which he said was laughter. I shared with Albert that I was a Baptist minister back home.

The next morning when I went to pay the bill, he said that he would not accept anything more than ten pounds. He called it: THE CLERGY SPECIAL. Ten pounds would barely have covered the cost of the breakfast that he gave me—black and white pudding, sausages, bacon, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, a pancake and an assortment of toast, cereal and orange juice. The plate was full right to the edge.

Here was a 75 year old Scot making me feel at home. Albert held nothing back. His welcome was generous......

For generosity is always at the heart of any good welcome.

Source: David Enticott, Sermon, Whitley College Chapel, 27 February, 2007.

Image: Picture of Loch Linnhe by Fort William, Scotland

Sunday, February 25, 2007

I Shall Be Ready

In the movie, Mrs. Brown, Queen Victoria is in a deep depression after the death of her husband Albert when her advisers come up with an idea. They send for her pony to be brought to Balmoral, accompanied by a handsome Scot named John Brown. She is not interested in being cheered up, and is infuriated when she looks out in the royal courtyard to see John Brown standing at attention beside her saddled pony. Day after day she refuses to go down. Day after day he returns. Finally she sends someone to tell him that she is not now and may never be interested in riding. John Brown is unmoved. "When her majesty does wish to ride," he says, "I shall be ready."

Image: Poster of the film, Mrs. Brown.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Don’t Let the Past Imprison You In The Present

When President Clinton met President Mandela he stood outside the cell where Mr Mandela had been a prisoner. President Clinton said, “Mr Mandela I want you to know that the day you were released from prison I was watching on television and I noticed, as you came across the yard, the cameras focused on your face and before you reached the prison gates there seemed to be anger and hate in your eyes. I now look at the man of peace standing before me today. What made the difference?”

Nelson Mandela replied to Bill Clinton, “I wasn’t aware the cameras were on my face, but you are right. As I walked across that prison yard I did feel hate and I did feel anger, because I felt I had no cause to return to. My friends had been killed; I had been brutalised with others in prison and I wondered what on earth I was returning to.

But as I walked towards the prison gates, I heard an inner voice saying to me, ‘Nelson, you have been a prisoner on this island for twenty-seven years but you’ve always been a free man. And now you are going out into the wide world and they are setting you free. Don’t let your past make you a prisoner in the present.”

Source: David Coffey, Welsh Baptist Assembly, Cardiff, 2004.

Image: Nelson Mandela

Making People See Things Differently

In a description of the writer Arthur Conan Doyle, Julian Barnes captures the detective writer’s calling and his awareness of what he was seeking to do. Barnes says:

“As he [Arthur Conan Doyle] sat down at his desk to begin his draft, he felt, for the first time since Touie’s [his wife] death, a sense of the properness of things. After the depression and guilt and lethargy, after the challenge and the call to action, he was where he belonged: a man at his desk with a pen in his hand, eager to tell a story and to make people see things differently.”

Source: Julian Barnes, Arthur and George (London: Jonathan Cape, 2005), 256.

Image: Arthur Conan Doyle

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Changes We Survived

An unknown author born in the 30’s penned this statement on behalf of their generation:

“We are survivors! Consider the changes that we have witnessed:
We were born before television, before penicillin, before polio shots, frozen food, Xerox, plastic, contact lens and the Pill.

We were before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams, ball point pens, dish washers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners—and before anyone walked on the moon.

We got married first and then lived together. How quaint can you be?

In our time, closets were for clothes not for “coming out of.”

We were before house-husbands, gay rights, computer dating, dual careers and commuter marriages. We were before day care centers, group therapy and nursing homes.

We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, electric typewriters, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt and guys wearing earrings. For us time-sharing meant togetherness, a ‘chip’ meant a piece of wood; hardware meant hardware, in fact I still don’t know the difference between hardware, software and Tupperware!

In 1940, “made in Japan,” meant junk. Pizzas, McDonald’s and instant coffee were unheard of.

In our day, cigarette smoking was fashionable. Grass was mowed. Coke was a cold drink and pot was something you cooked in.

No wonder we’re so confused! But we survived! What better reason to celebrate!"

Image: Remember these old typewriters?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Saris and Shuttles

If you travel to the north of India, you will see the most magnificent saris ever made, and Varanasi is where the wedding saris are hand woven. The gold, the silver, the reds, the blues—all the marvelous colors threaded together are spectacular.

These saris are usually made by just two people-a father who sits on a platform and a son who sits two steps down from him. The father has all the spools of silk threads around him. As he begins to pull the threads together, he nods, and the son responds by moving the shuttle from one side to the other. Then the process begins again, with the dad nodding and the son responding. Everything is done with a simple nod from the father. It's a long, tedious process to watch. But if you come back in two or three weeks, you'll see a magnificent pattern emerging.

This is an image I always remind myself of: we may be moving the shuttle, but the design is in the mind of the Father. The son has no idea what pattern is emerging. He just responds to the father's nod.

Ravi Zacharias, Walking from East to West, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2006), 27.

Image: Colorful pattern on Ravi's book cover.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Let Justice Roll Down

On the outside wall of a synagogue in St. Paul, facing the Mississippi River, is a saying from the prophet Amos: “Let justice well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.”

Being attentive to the history of the river as a major transport route for slaves possibly suggested the need for freshening up the contemporary memory with such a reminder.

Whoever chose those words to be put in that place had an instinct for what is central to the prophet’s teaching. Those who drive or walk along the Mississippi River Boulevard can hardly miss the point.

May justice and righteousness roll through the land like the mighty Mississippi.

Source: James Limburg, Hosea-Micah Interpretation Commentary, 79.

Image: Mississippi River, near St. Paul.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

In My Father's House... Many Mansions

In an age when one's dream house is usually grander than where we currently live and heaven's accommodation is measured in mansions, it is fascinating to see a new trend in home design, where small is beautiful and a little box on the hillside is ecologically sensitive.

Check out some designs for your new home on earth in Bethany Lyttle's, Think Small, New York Times, 16 February, 2007.

Geoff Pound

Image: Tiny Home, Big View.

Dumbly Eloquent

Blind woman, Helen Keller, communicated in amazing ways.

She once said, “The hands of those I meet are dumbly eloquent.”

Image: Evocative hands.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Secret of Serenity

From Racket to Rest
Mr. Begbie once gave us a striking little novel entitled Racket and Rest. It is a story of two women: one of them is the wife of the hero; the other is his mother. The wife represents racket; the mother represents rest.

One Flutter of Excitement
Dolly, the wife, leaving her husband and child, pursues a hectic career upon the stage. Her life is one wild flutter of excitement. And, all through the book, the gentle old woman in the background murmurs her message of rest.

Seized by Suffering
After some years, Dolly is suddenly seized with ear trouble. An operation leaves her stone deaf. She returns, chastened by suffering, to her husband's home. His constancy is the wonder of all her days. She finds her child, Dorothea, grown into a tall and graceful girl.

Learning the Secret
Shortly afterwards the old woman lies down to die. Dolly feels that she cannot bear to let the tranquil spirit go without learning the secret of her restful and beautiful life. She begs her, since she herself cannot hear, to write it down. The dying woman, with radiant face, takes a pencil and tablet which rest on a table at her side, and scrawls the words: In returning and rest shall ye be saved: in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength. That sums up everything.

Source: F W Boreham, ‘My Scallop-Shell of Quiet’, The Passing of John Broadbanks (London: The Epworth Press, 1936), 16-21.

Image: A view of this morning's unusually white sunrise over the Arabian sea.

Sounds That Screech and Soothe

Sounds of the Seaside
Mr. Gilbert Thomas wrote to the British Weekly concerning an experience that befell him at a popular seaside resort. After a busy day, he was compelled to spend the night there and accordingly secured a room that promised him the rest he needed. But—

Almost as soon as he retired, people began to promenade along the passage past his door, even assembling in the vicinity to titter, giggle and exchange raucous inanities. Then he discovered that he was next door to the bathroom. Although an enthusiast for cleanliness, he somehow found no pleasure in listening to the ablutions of his fellow-guests.

Later on, a theatre round the corner disgorged its crowd of patrons on to the pavement and all the cars that had been parked in every alley and by-way woke up simultaneously. 'What a commotion! What maneuverings for position! What imperious hootings for right of way! What changings of gear!' Still later, a loud speaker vomited jazz, and, after this, the shunting of trains began. And then—

'Suddenly, after all these noises, there was—not silence. There was something better: there was sound. At first I could not think what that semi-distant sound—low and persistent—could be. I only knew that it was infinitely sweet and soothing and that it would have been equally welcome had it been nearer and louder. Then I remembered that I was at a popular seaside resort. I was listening to—the sea!'

Source: F W Boreham, ‘My Scallop-Shell of Quiet’, The Passing of John Broadbanks (London: The Epworth Press, 1936), 17-18.

Image: ‘a loud speaker vomited jazz.’

Friday, February 16, 2007

Seeing When The Time is Right

We speak about ‘striking while the iron is hot’ or knowing that the price is right. It is good to be aware of those times of special sensitivity in ourselves and in other people. Such perception is well illustrated in the following story:

“Western scientists have recently discovered that the human pupil size varies with emotion and if we are confronted with a sight that especially interests us (like a person or a shopping item), our pupil size will automatically increase. Such changes are small but they can be noticed by those who are especially observant.”

“Jade dealers in China have been aware of this for years. While presenting jewelry for the customer’s inspection, the dealer pays particularly close attention to the customer’s eyes, waiting for an increase in pupil size. When this increase is observed, the dealer knows that the customer is ‘hooked’ and they then set an appropriate price.”

Source: Tony Buzan, Make the Most of Your Mind, 76.

Image: The human eye.

Seeing Past the Labels

Dr. Stanley Jones told a man that he had accepted an invitation to give an address to a meeting of Theosophists.

“How on earth would you address Theosophists,” he asked Stanley Jones.

E. Stanley Jones replied, “I never address Theosophists. I always address men and women!”

This wise, seasoned speaker ignored outward labels and appearances and sought to speak directly to the human need, which is the same in Theosophists, communicators, shopkeepers or scientists. The same needs, fears, hopes, loves and desires jostle within us all.

Image: E. Stanley Jones

Hungry for Love?

Hal David and Burt Bacharach are familiar names to music lovers. What Rogers and Hammerstein were in the ‘40s and ‘50s, David and Bacharach were in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

But, of all their music, the single tune that captured people’s hearts more than any other was this song that sang its way into our loneliness and hunger for love:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No—not just for some but for everyone;

Lord, we don’t need another mountain.
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb,
There are oceans and rivers enough to cross…
Enough to last ‘til the end of time.

What the world needs now is love, sweet love;
No—not just for some, but for everyone.
It’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.

Image: Hal David and Burt Bacharach

Source: Charles R Swindoll, Dropping Your Guard, 114-115.

Keeping Up Your Practice

The leadership guru, Peter Drucker, writes about the importance of practice in any discipline (communication, management, planning, prayer etc.):

"To every practice applies what my old piano teacher said tome in exasperation when I was a small boy: ‘You will never play Mozart the way Arthur Schnabel does, but there is no reason in the world why you should not play your scales the way he does!”

Peter Drucker adds, “What the piano teacher forgot to add—probably because it was so patently obvious to her—is that even the great pianists could not play Mozart as they do, unless they practiced their scales and kept on practicing them.”

Source: Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive, 19.

Image: Practising the piano.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Getting On Side

A minister once remarked to Lincoln that he hoped God was on the president's side. No, Lincoln replied, that wasn't quite right: it was Lincoln's job to make sure he was on the Lord's side, for "the Lord was always on the side of the right."

In the wars of our own time, we can hope, too, that we will end up on that side, whether we come from the right, the left or somewhere in between.

Source: Told by George W Bush, National Day of Prayer, East Room of the White House, 2005

Image: President Lincoln

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

It's Never Too Late To Get It Back

Lester Burnham's (Kevin Spacey) offers these reflections in the opening voice-over in the film, American Beauty:

"My name is Lester Burnham. This is my street. This is my neighborhood. This is my life. I am 42 years old. In less than a year, I will be dead. Of course, I don't know that yet, and in a way, I'm dead already. Look at me, jerking off in the shower. This will be the highlight of my day. It's all downhill from here. That's my wife Carolyn. See the way the handle on those pruning shears match her gardening clogs? That's not an accident. That's our neighbor, Jim, and that's his lover, Jim. Man, I get exhausted just watching her. She wasn't always like this. She used to be happy. We used to be happy. My daughter, Jane. Only child. Janie's a pretty typical teenager: angry, insecure, confused. I wish I could tell her that's all going to pass...but I don't want to lie to her. Both my wife and daughter think I'm this gigantic loser. And in a way, they're right. I have lost something. I'm not exactly sure what, but I know I didn't always feel this...sedated. But you know what? It's never too late to get it back."

Source: American Beauty, 1999.

Image: Lester Burnham

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution?

Formerly pastor of the largest church in Australian and now a member of parliament, Gordon Moyes, reflects on a pivotal episode in his life. This is a story from his maiden speech in the New South Wales State Parliament:

Right from the earliest days I was challenged by a schoolteacher, a principal. When I had completed some gift of remarkable leadership in the life of the school which the principal did not understand in that particular light, he said to me that I had to make up my mind to either be part of the problem of this society or part of the answer. He indicated that I was not to leave the front of his desk, to which I had been called, until I had given him an answer. That man’s name was W. M. (Bill) Woodfull, who was the captain of the Australian Test cricket team during the “bodyline” series. He was a great leader of men. I remember standing before him in tears as a schoolboy and making the decision that I preferred to be part of the answer than a continuing part of the problem. Consequently, my wife and I, as teenage sweethearts, volunteered immediately and we started to serve in the inner slum areas of Melbourne—in North Melbourne, Kensington and Flemington.


Image: Gordon Moyes.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Hidden Gold

Dr. Ravi Zacharias often expresses his debt to F W Boreham. In Ravi’s recently published autobiography, God in the Shadows: Walking from East to West, he tells this story:

There is a beautiful story by F. W. Boreham [in which] he tells of a woman who was sitting beside him on a bus. As the journey progressed and the conductor came around to check the tickets, the woman was dismayed to realize that somewhere during the ride someone must have dipped into her purse and stolen two gold coins, along with her ticket.

Boreham reacts by saying how embarrassed he was because he happened to be sitting next to her and she kept giving him a look of suspicion. But thankfully, he said, the problem was resolved quickly when, digging her hands deeper into the purse, she found the coins. Promptly and with a red face she apologized, saying that it was her birthday and this was a new purse her daughter had given her. "The compartments of the purse were more elaborate and ingenious than she had noticed," he said.

Boreham, in his inimitable way, titled his essay "Hidden Gold," reminding the reader in the following words: "Now this sort of thing is very common. We are continually fancying that we have been robbed of the precious things we still possess. The old lady who searches everywhere for the spectacles that adorn her temples; the clerk who ransacks the office for the pen behind his ear; and the boy who charges his brother with the theft of his penknife that lurks in the mysterious depths of his own fearful and wonderful pocket."

Ravi adds, “Often we are not aware of how close we are to that which we need but we think we do not have. In His grace, God has placed some hidden gold somewhere in all of us that meets our need at a desperate moment.”

Sources: Ravi Zacharias, God in the Shadows: Walking from East to West (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan: 2006), 46.

F W Boreham, Mushrooms on the Moor (London: Epworth, 1915), 34.

Image: Ravi Zacharias.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

My Secret Valentine

Author, Robert Fulghum shares his favorite Valentine's Day memory:
"It sits on a shelf at the top of my closet. Once it was a shoebox, decorated for Valentine's Day and given to me by my oldest child. Its components are standard: Three colors of construction paper-pink and red and white-faded now. Aluminum foil, several paper doilies, three kinds of macaroni, gumdrops, jellybeans, some little white hearts with words on them (the kind that taste like Tums), and the whole thing held together with a lot of white library paste."

"This shoebox valentine is shriveled and moldy where the jellybeans and gumdrops have run together. It's sticky in places. But it's a repository of childhood relics given to me by my children."

"If you lift the lid, you'll know what makes me keep it. On folded and faded and fragile pieces of large-lined school paper are the words: "Hi daddi" and "Hoppy valimtime" and "I lov you." Glued to the bottom of the box are 23 X's and O's made of macaroni. Scrawled in several places are the names of three children. It's the product of love in its most uncomplicated and trustworthy state."

"The children are grown now. They still love me, though it's harder sometimes to get direct evidence. And it's love that's complicated by age and knowledge. Love, to be sure, but not simple. Not something you could put in a shoebox."

"No one else knows the sticky old valentine is there. Once in a while I take it down and open it. It is something I can touch and hold and believe in, now that there are no small arms around my neck."

"It is my treasure chest. And it stands for love. Bury it with me. I want to take it along as far as I go."

Image: Robert Fulghum

Source: Jack Canfield et al, Chicken Soup for the Father’s Soul (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications Inc., 2001), 36-37.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Developing Trust

When Pope John Paul II visited America he gave a press conference. One reporter asked how the Pope could account for allocating funds to build a swimming pool at the papal summer palace. He responded quickly: “I like to swim. Next question.” He did not rationalize about medical reasons or claim he got the money from a special source.

A recent study has shown that people would much rather follow individuals they can count on, even when they disagree with their viewpoint, than people they agree with but who shift positions frequently.

Image: John Paul II