Yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent. I have blogged extensively on Advent in the past: I was ‘inside’ it- 4 weeks of trying to think about what it would be like when ‘kingdom come’ & all mourning, sighing and crying will be over. 4 weeks of trying to sing carols, eat mince pies, think of original and different things to say that are brief but not trivial. 4 weeks largely without meetings but with plenty of worship planning and carol services and …mince pies.
This Advent will be the first time since 1991 (in 1992, I preached my first ‘proper’ sermon: thinking about it now, people were amazingly tolerant) when I haven’t had to prepare anything: in that sense, I am ‘outside’. Whilst there will be Christmas activities in the places where I work and I may end up leading some ad hoc carol services, I will lead no Advent services and prepare no Christmas Services.
I hope I will experience it in some way: either by being in churches (I went to one of the last services at a small chapel yesterday: it was bitter-sweet)or making an attempt to read some Advent passages and not get caught up in the frenzy of ‘It is nearly Christmas’.
Because it isn’t: it is Advent-.
In one sense I will miss it, but in another sense I won’t: when I go to churches I will get to see what all the fuss is about- I am hoping I will enter into it in a new way.
I like stories. Stories seem to express more reality than anything else. This one is a keeper:-
Four young men sit by the bedside of their dying father. The old man, with his last breath, tells them there is a huge treasure buried in the family fields. The sons crowd around him crying, “Where, where?” but it is too late. The day after the funeral and for many days to come, the young men go out with their picks and shovels and turn the soil, digging deeply into the ground from one end of each field to the other. They find nothing and, bitterly disappointed, abandon the search. The next season the farm has its best harvest ever.
A parable told by Benjamin Sander (From ‘The Art of Possibility’)
I think I first noticed it when McDonalds trademarked ‘I’m lovin’ it’. Various questions arose in my mind like ‘Isn’t there a ‘g’ on the end of ‘lovin”? Or ‘What are you in the process of loving that you want to tell us as a present experience’. Or even ‘Wouldn’t the correct thing to say be ‘I really liked that concoction of too much salt and ground up bits of animal that a regular butcher would not dream of using?’
But I bided my time: surely no self respecting Brit in command of a modicum of grammar and even a soupçon of originality would not slavishly follow an American copywriter?
I was wrong.
My newsfeed these days is not complete without fellow 40 somethings telling me that ‘I’m loving the new pet/Jeremy Kyle/vasectomy’. I want to reply ‘What: actively at this moment expressing physical affection/holding romantic feelings for?’
The more sloppy avoid the ‘I’ and merely tell the world ‘Loving the new x, y,z’ or even (my particular bete noire) ‘Lovin the new a.b.c’. It’s not so much the bad grammar, the slavish copying of advertising or the cod americanisms that get me, but the sheer lack of originality…..
Here is a (simple) primer:-
‘I like Homeland’
‘I really like George Osborne’s sensible and compassionate politics.’
‘Wow! Alan Sugar, really made me think’
It is not hard, is it?
As I start to listen to my vinyl albums again, I realise just how much I was in thrall to progressive rock from the ages of 15-25. Give me complex songs played by over serious men about mythical beasts with scant reference to emotions and I am your man.
I suppose I have changed over the years: someone married me, stuck by me and altered me in a good way more than I deserve. I am learning the language of emotions, I am feeling more and I am learning to listen.
But; listening to my old records, I realise that there is still part of me that is enthralled by them and by that formative time of life.
I have several BJH records and they made more sense when I moved to their home town: Oldham (although they are more the Saddleworth side). I saw them live in 1992 (I still have the t shirt and it fits!) and still remember when I saw the lead singer doing an open air for a church in Saddleworth and the drummer shopping in Boots with his mum….
I could have had several songs, but this is one of the few songs that my wife and I both like.
This is a train?
I am going outside as I need a pint of milk?
I studied botany and then I got a job bee keeping?
None of these sentences make much sense and it is hard to get the sense across in writing as to what annoys me.
It is the creeping habit of speaking sentences in such a way that statements turn into questions by adding an inflexion to the last word.
I encountered it first in an excellent programme:-
I noticed that some people had started to use it even then, but now in certain circles it has reached almost epidemic proportions. In fact some people who never used it before are using it increasingly.
One day I may drop this mild mannered exterior and write a passive aggressive blog posting about it…
‘Dis iz th best time ive had eva’. What? What on earth does that sentence mean?
Let me confess dear reader: I text. I actually text prolifically. I try to ensure that what I say makes grammatical sense, although sometimes I have palpitations when I have improperly split an infinitive or use a semi colon where a colon would have sufficed. However, I can’t abide ‘text speak’ in people above a certain age. Particularly where I have to read, reread and read once more to try and understand what someone is saying.
We already have a form of language that conveys meaning with minimal ‘fluff’ and yet is easy to understand: it is called English.
Worse still, is when text speak is used in an email. I once worked with someone, who when you emailed them, replied back in text speak. It was all I could do not to reply back and ask ‘do you have an illiterate 11 year old in the house who replies to your emails?’
It is almost as bad as ‘this is you’re cat’. Actually, hang on; it is worse than that.
It is not ‘over their’, it is ‘over there’. Neither, if someone has a dog, is it ‘there dog’.
It is not hard is it? I mean, I had it drummed into me at junior school. I can take someone accidentally writing ‘thier’ as it breaks the rule I was taught in primary school: ”i’ before ‘e’, except after ‘c”- better to fail nobly than not to have tried.
But…you are a mature adult, you have an education and employment and you still can’t get the difference?
I really don’t want to know what you do when you attempt the possessive of ‘they’ as I won’t sleep…
In my first job, I used to work for a manager who had a habit every Friday. He would photocopy the receipts for the money we collected from washing machines in shared washing areas (this was the late 80s in a dinosaur council for which I was a housing officer), and hang them from a bulldog clip near our desks. The day after he retired, we took the clip down and threw all the receipts away. What he did was redundant ritual- it had no meaning or purpose and was completely unnecessary.
I think this most times I hear people use the word ‘basically’ at the start of a sentence; especially accompanied with another one of my bete-noires- ‘so’. Viz:-
-‘So, basically; what I did was…’
-‘Basically, this is the issue..’
Both sentences could be easily begun with:-
-‘What I did was’
-‘This is the issue’
(In the last sentence beginning you could say- if you felt the need to use the ‘basic’ sense: ‘This is the issue in its most basic form..’)
..and yet you shower your grammar with an unnecessary ‘basically’. Why o why o why?
In the words of the late, great F.S.Trueman (which will mean almost nothing to you if you don’t follow the ‘summer game’. If you use ‘basically’ so much, then I doubt that you do, basically.)
There is no need to use the word in this way. It is redundant. Stop it. Sorry: ‘so, basically: stop it’.
After the week that has just gone, not more can be said.
…how can you turn your guns on ordinary people and call it ‘heroic’?
…how can you crank up the fear of all representatives of one faith?
…why does this killing go on and on and on all around the world for innocents?
…why does being ‘moderate’ and ‘sensible’ involve planning more and more bombing without a plan?
…why do we give in to revenge?
…why do certain newspapers keep trying to stir up the hatred of those fleeing this violence?
We need a poem when words have given out….
I had a welcome service yesterday: 8.5 months after I started the ‘new’ job.
Part of that was my doing: I did not want any fuss or big occasion; I reckon being a chaplain means that you eschew the big occasion or announcement and just quietly get on with it. Also, the guy I use as a ‘spiritual director’ reckons I am still ‘detoxing’ from some church practices that I had become disillusioned with.
Another part was time and assembling the right people: I had to have a Methodist Chair of District and I wanted a Bishop that I had known for years (and respected), who has both a link to the village I live in and has a brief to support chaplains. Finding the same date that both of them were available on was difficult.
These occasions are small: people come from the NHS Trust that you work in, fellow chaplains, and people from local churches. I went for the nearest hospital to where I live where the chapel is pretty small.
As it was, people came from all areas of both my ‘new’ and ‘old’ lives (actually- there is rarely ‘new’ and ‘old’ in any change- both things intermingle), for which I am profoundly grateful.
A marker of the ‘new’ and yet something quietly affirming and yet powerful. Thank you.