Friday Music

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I ‘discovered’ this on a cheap cd I bought a month or two back; I’d not heard much about this singer.

This song immediately grabbed me with its story of a chance encounter. There is so much in that encounter: people taking time with each other, honesty, willing to learn from someone and not to talk down to them and then shining through that, a kind of everyday transcendence.

Where you wait and listen; often in unlikely places, these moments tend to happen. Most of us struggle with that ; we hurry, hear enough just to talk back, use people and mostly just stick to ‘safe’ encounters.

But when we try and live as I believe we are meant to, these moments of everyday transcendence are encountered more and more and we don’t feel so alone.

 

Blessing

To bless whatever there is, and for no other reason but simply because it is—that is our raison d’etre; that is what we are made for as human beings. This singular command is engraved in our heart. Whether we understand this or not matters little. Whether we agree or disagree makes no difference. And in our heart of hearts we know it.

(Br.David Steindal-Rast ‘Gratefulness the heart of prayer’)

I once read a book; I think it was by Henri Nouwen which talked about how there seems to be  so much frozen anger in the hearts of the righteous.

That phrase has stuck with me over the years; it seems to be true. Whenever I hear about another Christian group being set up in reaction to the perceived actions of another group, about large parts of the Religious Right backing Trump or fear and suspicion being engendered by another group about ‘the state of our Nation’ (which probably has more to do with a slavish and uncritical reading of the Mail and Express than any scriptural exegesis) I feel saddened.

And don’t get me started on ‘Christian Concern for our Nation’….

Whilst I would like to see a good deal more of the context of this passage, before I can fully take it in, to start with ‘blessing’ rather than ‘cursing’, ‘name calling’ or ‘suspicion’ seems good to me. Yes you might get it wrong, but I’d rather be wrong with blessing than with anything else…

Friday Music

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Long, long ago, when life was simpler and I saw things much more straightforwardly, I bought this album.

I still have this album and it is years since I have listened to it, however songs have their way of worming into your subconscious and laying dormant for years before-unasked for- sleepily reawakening.

I had the same experience with this song. I had a session with my spiritual director a week or so ago and was thinking about where I am now when this song resurfaced. What was a song of twenty something brittle self assurance became a song of 50 something acceptance: there is no right, fixed place, but there is a sense of ‘this is where I am and it feels good’.

And I am thankful for that.

Friday Music

I had one of those summer clear outs when you try and tidy things to give you the illusion of control. Then September hits and everything rapidly spirals to a point where it seems worse than before (I am married to a teacher and I have two senior school children).

As part of this, I moved the piles of CDS out of the car and replaced them with a smaller pile. The boxset of Leonard Cohen was moved inside: I will go back to his complete works but I am giving him a break for a while- too much downbeat louche ironic introspection does not always help me…

I am back onto a CD I got for my 50th in a attempt to broaden my musical palette which sometimes has too much in the area of ‘greys’. I had heard of this album for years and never thought to try it, and then I did and I was amazed…

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Cutting Loose

For James Dickey

Sometimes from sorrow, for no reason,
you sing. For no reason, you accept
the way of being lost, cutting loose from
all else and electing a world
where you go where you want to.

Arbitrary, sound comes, a reminder
that a steady center is holding
all else. If you listen, that sound
will tell where it is, and you
can slide your way past trouble.

Certain twisted monsters
always bar the path—but that’s when
you get going best, glad to be
lost, learning how real it is
here on the earth, again and again.

William Stafford. From: ‘Dancing with Joy’

 

Friday Music

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We were on holiday last week and my youngest son bought a CD. He has a developing taste: he will listen to lots of Capital FM (which I do not like), but he is also eager to explore (some of my albums have disappeared into the Triassic layer of the floor of his bedroom).

Anyway, he bought a George Ezra album a few days ago. Initially, I thought it would be just another Capital FM type artist (although the person had a real name and did not have ‘feat’ in the title), but then he played it and it was quite good: I wouldn’t buy it, but I would certainly listen to it….at least once a month on every alternate Leap Year.

I think he is worth keeping (my son, not George Ezra); I guess as he grows he will lead me into a few more new artists…

Party 2

Sometime about now, yours truly; after a short speech, will suddenly begin to play his guitar and sing. Few people know I am going to do this- my family do not know this.

One song, slipping into another and out again in the middle, that are songs of contrition, community, friendship and kin with the outsider: I have never liked the without regret, shiny ‘My Way’ type of song. Both will be played in a downbeat style.

I have never done anything like this: my guitar work is not great and my nerves are considerable, but you have to leap sometimes…

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50

Year ago I lived across the road from Werneth Cricket club in the Central Lancashire League. It was my first introduction to that league. Whilst it confirmed to me that there are few things finer and more evocative in life than watching cricket and drinking beer, it also introduced me to a new custom.

Every time someone made a half century was scored, someone came round with a hat for a collection. I learned to carry some change or at least the moment to disappear into the bar or the toilet.

There is no reason for that recollection, except I have reached that mark today. It has not been through a lustily struck six, an elegant cover drive for 4  or even a cleverly placed single backwards of square. Mostly it has felt like a mix between careful accumulation, wild slashes outside the off stop and dropped catches with the resultant scramble for a single.

It has been a long time since I looked like the picture above (mind you: it has been the same for my sister). , although the curious dress sense remains.

50: it is dead old isn’t it?

And 12…

The second half of life is not merely chronological, says Rohr;-

‘Some young people, especially those who have learned from early suffering, and some older folks are still quite childish.’

He means that those who evaluate their lives solely in terms of their achievements and successes haven’t really grown into the 2nd half of life. This resonated with me; I have been around those whose presence can jar- they only ever succeed or do well, others always come to them for advice or counsel etc. Sometimes I try and ape them…and end up feeling hollow inside.

‘The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently…. someone has to make clear to us that homes are not meant to be lived in- but only to be moved out from.’

Rich, thoughtful writing like this is to be savoured and paused over. In my 20s, my imagined future (50) was to have children who were established and away from home and a house that was almost paid off: I would be happy. Life didn’t turn out like that; it was more interesting- I have much younger children and do not have the permanence in accommodation that many of my contemporaries have. Nothing is guaranteed and this is….normal…healthy even.

Another quote:

Thomas Merton, the American monk, pointed out that we may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that our ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.’

My first book review

This is a long post: you can skip if it you want.

I reviewed the above book for a professional journal- my first attempt (I have subsequently been sent 2 more). The person who helped me to edit this review said I was ‘too kind’: maybe I was.

The author worked hard- obviously feels what she does, but I have seen too many people whose experiences have been ignored by an over ecstatic view of faith. I had to say something, but try to be graceful. The skilled reader should be able to read between the lines and see what I really think.

Louise Morse is a cognitive behavioural therapist who works as the media officer for ‘Pilgrims’ Friend’, a Christian charity that works with older people (http://www.pilgrimsfriend.org.uk/)  Across 10 chapters, this easy- to- read book offers practical advice for people on the dementia journey and their families, friends and churches. It aims to give spiritual (actually purely Christian) insights and hope. This is her 4th book in this area.

The consistent theme of this book is ‘hope’. In the opening chapter, Ms Morse aims to demonstrate how having hope, the insights of CBT and the Bible (‘Scriptural precepts really do work’)enable us to see situations that would usually give rise to despair in a different light.  For her, CBT (p18) is “basically applied scriptural common sense”.

In the following chapters she expands this idea and gives many practical examples of people she has worked with, both dementia sufferers and their families. She also gives a very good summary of the differing types of dementias. This is done in a style that is very easy for someone encountering this for the first time to assimilate.

In chapter 4, she moves on to ‘the diagnosis dilemma’ and gives a well thought out, nuanced view of the complexities of diagnosis. She also highlights societal views of the elderly and the subsequent gaps in dementia care. Some of this proves salutary reading.

She returns to her thesis of ‘Hope’ in the next few chapters. A central sentence here is:-

‘The preparation we make for old age will  … take us safely through the dementia journey’ (p70)’

She gives examples of recognising negative emotions and dealing with them as we approach old age. She shows how this can affect the perceptions of those suffering and those who surround them. This is widened to ‘learning to live the way God intended’ (p89) and there is evidence of a wide, though selective, reading of research, stories from around the world and biblical examples.

I think she is right when she talks about dementia friendly communities that connect, and there are many good, practical examples of how churches can nurture this both within and without their walls. There is also well thought out guidance on how to visit people with dementia. This section would repay repeat reading, whatever your theological view.

Caregivers are not ignored; indeed the need for a holistic view of dementia care is something that I warmed to. Caregivers are helped to see that they need to practice self-care and are given useful pointers as to how they might engage their family, friends and church community as well as their personal faith. Mindfulness is briefly discussed; the author has some reservations about the idea, but provides a useful alternative of ‘Christian mindfulness’ which she outlines in an appendix. I did feel, however, that there was an element of hubris in the statement ‘So I devised Christian mindfulness’ (p164). Some readers might find other examples of this in the book.

Inevitably, the book ends on a hopeful note, with  Ms Morse’s closing sentence  perhaps saying all that she has wanted to put across:-

‘Jesus will meet us at the point of deepest need, even in dementia, when all trace of Him seems to have gone from our world’. (p182)

Whilst there is much good in this book, I have some reservations:-

  • It is encouraging and helpful to read stories of those who have negotiated the dementia pathway and have positive experiences; however many who have experienced the tragedy of this journey could feel disenfranchised by the flow of more upbeat stories. I feel more could have been made of biblical themes of lament and suffering which acknowledge difficulty and unanswered questions.
  • Similarly, whilst the insights of CBT are helpful in encouraging us to see the same events in a different and more positive light, sometimes I feel that these insights can ignore or make light of very real pain or difficulties.
  • The book is deeply grounded in the Bible, which is helpful; however, there is a lot of ‘proof texting’ which does not always support the point being advanced. I would have welcomed a deeper exegesis of a smaller number of passages. Similarly, the author’s own theological views, advanced without reference to other perspectives, could make this book only applicable to a smaller segment of the Christian community than could otherwise have been the case
  • There are many asides in the book which may be more helpful in a conference setting and not always relevant to the force of the point being advanced. I found some distinctly unhelpful; for example, is the Welsh Assembly really the ‘last bastion of communism in the UK’ (p95)? After a while, some of these asides became distracting to otherwise heartfelt writing.

As a mental health chaplain I do not think I would buy it for my own use. Would I recommend it to anyone? Whilst I do not think it would meet the needs of a general readership, for those who share Ms Morse’s theological background it could prove helpful.  Nevertheless, Ms Morse has, through her speaking and writing, succeeded in raising awareness of dementia in a church context that has not always dealt well with this issue.