Thursday, December 24, 2009

Mal's Christmas Message

As Christmas Day approaches, I've been revelling (as listener rather than participant) in lots of Christmas carols and other Christmas music whilst preparing for the big day. As a Christian, my central focus is upon the Christ child who grew up to challenge the secular and spiritual authorities of his day, proclaiming a discipline of selflessness, compassion, peace and humility. Although his spirit is still alive, it is all too frequently portrayed in a way which is both nauseatingly pious and uncharitable!

At times. it seems quite difficult to reconcile the wining and dining, which is an integral part of our Christmas celebrations, with the commemoration of the birth of a child in quite humble circumstances in an occupied Middle Eastern country but, I still manage to enjoy the celebrations. As I write, the large (11lb) chicken is roasting in the oven, a mixture of butter, garlic, pepper and chilli having been inserted beneath the skin. I've also been busily preparing both standard and gluten-free sausagemeat (with a liberal administering of onion, mustard and parsley) stuffing. Portions of chicken will then be placed in the steamer, along with sundry vegetables on the day itself. Ma belle has prepared the vegetables and the potatoes ready for par-boiling by yours truly, in a special herb and spice infused liquid, prior to roasting in due course.

I've also been diligently filling the sundry feeders for our gardens avian visitors, having first having scraped away the feeder's snow overcoats and, enjoyed a little walk with my beloved around a few blocks of the neighbourhood.

Beth, my elder step-daughter, together with her partner Mahmood, and his son Sina, will be joining us for Christmas Day dinner whilst Cathy and Ken (her partner) will be spending a couple of days in Barcelona. Of course Cathy will be coming round for her Christmas Dinner on Monday, with Ken calling around later to imbibe a few glasses of fermented grape juice. It's rather nice to be able to stretch out the festivities in this way. We are so fortunate to be able to celebrate in this way, whilst being all too guiltily aware of all those millions throughout the globe who struggle for subsistence.

My Christmas wish, as always, is for PEACE, HOPE and JOY, and a far more equitable distribution of the earths resources!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Calling

Christmas approaches and, a few lights and decorations adorn the interior of our house. Small nativity cribs, in the hall and dining room, remind us of the Christ in Christmas and, more potently, the nativity scene in our living room displays potential visitors barred, by a tall wall, from gaining access to the stable, telling of the situation that exists in that part of the Middle East today. The transformative event is centered on a small child born of humble parentage, not in a palace or in the fortresses of the occupying imperial power but rather in second rate guest accomodation.

Even the wise men expected something different, after all the seats of real power are always quite prestigiously situated. They stumble on their way but, meanwhile, the good news had already been broadcast to the sheperds and, they were the first to come to the Christ child. The men from the seats of learning are beaten to the post by these herdsmen. Values are turned on their head.

Sadly, it wouldn't be long before the wise and learned, serving the purposes of their earthly rulers, would distort this message, placing the Christ at the service of secular power rather than serving Him. A message of love and hope to the poor and humble becomes a religion of fear and subservience to ones earthly masters.

The child, born in humble circumstance, grew up to challenge the politics of greed, hatred and idolatory. Where he put the will of his heavenly father first, after his death and resurrection, he became the tool of the powerful who saw themselves as being God's representatives on earth.

Those who seek to follow the way of Jesus, who take up their cross, are likely to find little favour with either religious or secular authority. They will be tempted, at every turn, to betray their calling in order to obtain advancement in their place of work, told to be realists and not idealists. The call of Jesus is not for what he can do for me, but rather a challenge to us to serve our fellow men in the cause of justice and dignity.

As long as we stand by, and aquiesce, in the violence and injustice of our world we are kicking and bruising that child born in a troubled Middle East two millenia ago. I, myself, am a weak and wayward follower but, in Him I have my hope.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Sense of Betrayal

Yesterday morning, when my beloved was returning from a coffee morning she met two acquaintances who used to attend the church where we met. This church, in Harrogate, is a thriving CofE evangelical outpost, well attended by its middle class constituency, many of whom travel from their own parish, and across others, to attend because of the bold proclamation of the "good news". Doubtless others attend to help ensure a place at the highly regarded CofE secondary school in the (not too distant) vicinity.

When I say thriving I refer to bums on seats, house groups, womens groups, children and youth groups, regular Alpha courses and all the usual trimmings. The couple, who met and spoke to my wife this morning, told of their loss of faith. This loss of faith was due in no small part to what I would consider a betrayal on the part of the church.

The lady of the couple had suffered some mental health problems and, during this time wasn't always able (or feeling like) attending worship. Prior to this health breakdown they'd not only been regular attenders for worship, members of a house group, they'd also been participants in the church's away weekends. Once the mental health affliction struck, there were no visits or enquiries as to her health or their absence from either cleric or lay members of the church, not even from members of the house group. My first thought was that maybe the people in that particular church are shamefully unable to cope with the stigma of mental illness but then, I began to wonder whether it would have been any different had the ailment been purely physical in nature. A sense of loneliness and isolation is frequently accompanies a mental health problem and, when your "friends", "brother and sisters in Christ", neglect you that can only add to a feeling of alienation.

It's one thing to preach the gospel and offer your symbolic and ritual support to sundry worthy causes but, when it comes to hands on practice what hope is there. If one cannot care for those within their own church family, what expectation is there that they will serve their fellow man in society at large.

As a Christian, I would be most relieved if I could think that this was a one off case of neglect but, sadly, from my own experience I know different. This is a church with which I was vitally affiliated throught the 1990's and into the noughties; at different times involved in house groups as both participant and leader / enabler, even assisting on the Alpha course. From summer of 2000 until my collapse with M.E. in late 2003 I was caretaker / steward for this church. Having kept going through sundry ailments, serving many unpaid hours beyond those for which I was salaried, a series of collapses led to my resignation. At this time only condemnation was experienced from the clergy, for "letting us down", with very little consideration for my well-being. I suspect that the hyperactive vicar was ill-equipped to cope with illness, outside of any glaringly physical manifestation.

My beloved continued to attend this very well attended church, on her own, when I was no longer able to make it, being housebound for considerable periods. Her experience was one of loneliness. No-one ever visited or even made any enquiries as to how I was coping!


This posting should be read in conjunction with Matthew 25 vv. 42 - 45

Friday, December 11, 2009

Ringing The Changes

It was really good to receive a 'phone call from my physio, this morning, having heard nothing since August. The call confirmed my suspicion that she'd had a relapse, being a fellow M.E. sufferer, and consequently been out of circulation since August. Fortunately, she has now returned to work for a few hours each week, even though those few hours are already proving quite exhausting but, with a bit of careful management, she hopes to return to her normal hours in the new year. I'm now looking forward to the next call when she'll be arranging a visit to apply the magic needles (I'm talking acupuncture here) to yours truly. The treatment I've received, by this means, has proved most efficacious both in terms of pain control and re-energizing.

My second 'phone call of the day was quite unwelcome. Having given a second chance (disregarding their somewhat inflated prices) to 'Pieroth', the wine merchant whose reps visit one at home for a wine tasting, and placed an order for a case which we received in the past week, they decided to give us a call today to try and sell us some more.

The reason we'd previously given up on them was the high number of unwelcome canvassing phone calls, a reason which we had explained to them on numerous occasions. This time there will be no further chances, they can keep their product and stuff it where the sun don't shine. When will they ever learn?

Monday, December 07, 2009

Double Talk?

On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Obama's Defense Secretary, Robert M.Gates, said that under the plan, 100,000 American troops would be in Afghanistan in July 2011, and “some handful, or some small number, or whatever the conditions permit, will begin to withdraw at that time.” The intention, it now appears, is that the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces would only be starting from that date.

This sounds, to me, like a different message than Obama's West Point address last Tuesday, when he said that his administration would “begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011.”

Saturday, December 05, 2009

ME and my body

Yesterday morning, right on time, received a 'phone call from my GP. "It's good news and bad news", he said, "first, the blood tests showed no abnormalities". A mixed blessing that, at least nothing sinister has been spotted but, I'm no wiser as to the cause of my current downturn in the health and stamina stakes. "The chest X-ray was clear", once again a sense of relief as I start wondering what the bad news is. "It seems as if the symptoms you're experiencing are part of your ongoing condition. If things don't improve or, get any worse, don't hesitate to contact me but, there's nothing I can offer you at the moment".

The problem, and indeed danger, when suffering with a chronic neurological codition such as M.E., is that one tends to assume any extremely discomfortingly exhausting ailment they experience is simply part and parcel of the overall condition. One becomes so used to living with pain that their pain threshold is increased and, excruciating symptoms that would have previously been a cause for alarm are accepted as "normality". (This was very much the case around this time last year when, for far too long, I assumed that the extreme pain emanating from a herniated disc was yet another manifestation of my underlying condition).

Periods of remission are by no means unusual and, when these occur, the greatest danger then is to push oneself and, as a (sometimes belated) result find themselves once more painfully out of it. These are the times when I find concentration diminishing, tetchiness increasing and, that old (sadly familiar) enemy, sensory overload, recurring. The most frustrating thing of all is the impossibility of knowing if one is "ill", beyond the parameters of the resident disabling condition.