Friday, 26 November 2021

Finding things online

I never get over the astonishment at Google's capacity to find things I've lost.

If there's anything I don't know or I've forgotten, I ask as if Google were an actual person, and almost always find an answer — with a few supplementary questions sometimes, just as would happen in a conversation with a friend.

So last night while everyone else in our house was out at choir, I was listening to music in my room. Very rarely am I the only one home, and I dislike earbuds/earphones, and I don't like to disturb the others by playing music when they're home, especially in the evening when we've all settled down in our cells, so to speak — Thursday, being choir, is a good night. No one home but us chickens.

I was wandering happily from song to song, when I took a fancy to listen to The Soul of Man Never Dies. I looked it up and there were several versions on Youtube, mostly men, mostly American bluegrass — which I like but wasn't what I had in mind. 

I used to have that song in my personal collection of music. Back in 2012 when I downsized everything radically, I gave away my collection of CDs, first having moved the songs onto my computer. 

Time went by. I changed my computer, I changed my phone, and somewhere along the line I inadvertently set up a second iTunes account, when my email address morphed from Googlemail to Gmail. At some point when I got a new phone and went to sync my phone and computer, I could only go with the one account for music (obviously, to be synced) and thus lost the music I'd not bought on iTunes in electronic form but only moved across from CDs. In among it was the version I used to have (and loved) of The Soul of Man Never Dies.

I searched, but couldn't find it. So I thought back to when I first heard it, which was when we were living in Aylesbury. Tony and I moved there when we got married in 2006, and only stayed three years before moving back to Hastings at the end of 2009. It took me a while to get to know Aylesbury, and find where concerts happened and where the Quaker Meeting House was and all that sort of thing. I used to go to the lunchtime concerts in the church; they were free, so I went most weeks, but only went once that I can remember to the paying sort that happened in a little theatre in the evening — to hear the woman who sang The Soul of Man Never Dies. 

I remembered the concert, and the woman. I remember she said she liked Berocca (vitamins) which I'd never heard of and checked out later and didn't especially enjoy. But I couldn't remember her name.

I reckoned this must have been around 2007, to allow enough time for me to have got to know the town, so I did a Google search for "English woman folk singer Aylesbury 2007", and there she was — Kate Rusby.

So I searched again for "Kate Rusby The Soul of Man Never Dies" — which is how I discovered the reason I couldn't find it before is Kate Rusby calls that song Canaan's Land.

And here, for your listening pleasure, it is.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Thoughts on UK govt, and on new UK regs for health and social care

 I did not vote for the political party currently in power in the UK — the Conservative party. I have four strong objections to their modus operandi, which are these:

  • They are inherently dishonest — lying and deceit are routine in this party. I know there's a tendency for this always to be true in the corridors of power, but this government has taken this grave social problem to a whole new level.
  • They are corrupt to a degree that hobbles the society they are meant to govern. In the course of pandemic expenditure, about thirty seven billion pounds went on deals not fit for purpose and massive payments into the back pockets of political friends and donors. The responsibility for balancing the books in respect of this expenditure has fallen not on those who so mishandled the finance, but on ordinary people — including the poorest, whose income has recently been substantially cut.
  • They are committed to pursuing armed conflict as a business opportunity. Armed conflict is one of the two great drivers of the growing worldwide refugee problem (the other being climate change). Not only is war of itself a severe social scourge, but the UK government has a monstrously cruel attitude to those seeking asylum — while continuing to fund and escalate a primary root cause of refugees' destitution and flight from their homeland.
  • Above all, I have a profound object to the UK government's frivolous response to climate change. It is woefully inadequate. This is not just one problem among many we have to consider, it is a problem so frightening, vast and humanly universal that we must tackle it with all the strength we have. The survival of life on Earth and all human wellbeing depends upon it. Climate change should be front and centre of our political effort. In the UK, it is not.
Those, then, are my objections, and until I see some change on those fronts I will never vote for that political party.

In the UK, the current govt is rightwing, and the political Left is in opposition. 

In the last week, our govt has brought into law new regulations about health and social care, which have provoked a howl of outrage from the political Left. In this particular matter, however, my sympathies are not with the foundations of objection, and I wanted to use this space to explain why. My apologies to overseas readers, to whom this may be tediously parochial — I just needed to write more than would go on a Facebook post.

Under the new regulations, the first £86k of care costs must be funded by the recipient. After that, govt steps in with care provision.

The objection from the Left is that the rich are the ones who benefit from this because £86k may scarcely dent their resources, while it may completely clean out the poor.

In particular, the issue of UK house prices has featured in this discussion. 

The point has been made that in some parts of the UK (perhaps the NE) a small terraced house (US 'row house') might be worth, say, £90k, where in the SE the same kind of house would sell for £300k. Therefore, the argument goes, those in the NE are unfairly affected by the new regs, because if an elderly person has to sell their home to fund care costs (presumably moving into a nursing home) the £86k will leave them only a paltry £14k left over to leave their children, while those in the SE facing the same situation would have £124k left to pass on. 

£86k would buy one person about 18 months in a residential care home, which is where you'd have to be if you had sold your home to pay for care and had nowhere else to go.

But I am puzzled by the logic of the Left in this instance, and I wanted to explain why.

Let us leave aside for the moment the rich, who have large funds at their disposal — obviously they will benefit disproportionately from this, because the rich benefit disproportionately from everything; that's what being rich is all about. The only alternative is Communism, but that is an unattractive option which brings its own (mainly bureaucratic) inequalities. I personally have no objection to people being rich — wealth can be used for good as well as ill, and can fund imaginative and innovative projects that would otherwise never see the light of day — I just have a concern that those who are poor and struggling should be rescued and assisted from the public purse.

What bothers me about the response of the Left to the new health and care regs is that they are lumping together with the fabulously rich everyone who is not grindingly poor and — in particular — everyone who lives in the SE where property prices are higher.

To make my point, I'd like to imagine two identical families living in different parts of the UK — one in the NE, the other in the SE on the outskirts of London.

Each family is made up of a husband who is a teacher in the state sector, a wife who has been the main carer for their children and also works as a care assistant to make the family income go further, and two children. Miraculously, these people have escaped divorce and are with the partner they started with.

The family in the NE has to find, say, £90k to buy their home. For this, they have to put down a deposit of 10%, so they have to save £9k before they can start. This takes a while and they may need help from their family, but they manage it. The mortgage they need to take out will therefore be for £81k, and perhaps their repayments will be about £400 a month (I'm not sure of amounts but exactitude doesn't matter too much for the point I want to make). 

Some costs in life are region-specific, others are national. Care assistants are paid minimum wage wherever you live, and only those teachers who work in central London get extra for regional costs — otherwise the wages are equal across the country (as far as I'm aware; correct me if I'm wrong).

So the income of these two families is identical, but the costs are not.

The couple living in the SE, on the same income, has to find £30k deposit for their family home of the same size, and has payments for a £260k mortgage to find, which may be about £900k a month. They live where they do because that is where they grew up — where their friends and family and sense of belonging and their roots are. I cannot for the life of me see why the political Left thinks these people are better off than the ones in the NE with the same wages but much less to find to fund there homes.

Not only that, but one of the costs that tends to be regional rather than national is building maintenance and repair work — it costs a lot more in the SE. So the couple living in the SE, on the same income as the couple in the NE, is only just scraping by, where the couple in the NE can live relatively comfortably — in the same kind of house on the same kind of income. This means the couple in the NE has better opportunity to save for their old age than the couple in the SE. Even if they save £86k each to cover the costs of care up to the govt cap, they still won't have any greater outlay than the couple in the SE if that couple (in the SE) can save nothing.

Let's say each couple inherits £100k on the decease of their parents. If the couple in the SE use it all to clear their mortgage they still have a substantial monthly amount to find for the residue owed. The couple in the NE, by contrast, can clear their mortgage and put some by in savings towards the care costs of their old age.

They pay off their mortgages and they grow old. 

If neither couple has put any in savings, and both couples need to sell their homes to pay for care costs, it is true that the couple in the SE will have more to leave their children — but look, what sacrifices they had to make along the way to get that nest egg together! The couple in the NE have less to leave, it is true, but still the value of the house is enough to cover the cost of care and leave a little over — enough over to fund a substantial contribution towards a deposit for a home in that area, for their children.

I simply cannot see why people are saying it is the couple in the NE who is suffering from this arrangement. Both couples will have to sell their family home to fund the care, but the children of the couple in the NE have less to find to set themselves up with their own home, and the couple in the NE have had much greater opportunity to save for their old age than the couple in the SE. And both couples have the shelter of govt provision to fund their care after the first few months in a nursing home.

Further, if the issue is (as the political Left is saying) about leaving one's home as an inheritance to one's children, then do not those children also bear some responsibility, and have some opportunity, in this scenario?

The (now adult) children in the NE have had the same disproportionately advantageous opportunity to buy a cheap house, so are less likely to need help from their elderly parents' property investment. 

And couldn't the adult children help with the care of their parents, and so reduce costs, and maximise the amount of inheritance left over? 

Where the cost of living in a nursing home is about a thousand pounds per person per week, a carer will usually charge about £10 an hour. So for £140 a week, a carer could come in for an hour morning and evening to help with dressing and washing and putting a meal ready in the microwave, while the adult children could look after house and garden maintenance, getting in groceries, and clinic visits. As this will result in a hefty inheritance, that seems reasonable to me.

Since the adult children's own children will now have grown up and gone into the world, there is also the option of taking the elderly parent into their own home, thus further reducing the cost of care and making 100% of the sale of the old people's home available to the family.

I do know there are all sorts of reasons — divorce and step-families being a primary one — why people don't want to follow this course of action; but surely that's on them, not on the government?

It comes back to the same old thing — sharing our resources makes them go further; helping each other enriches us. Yes, we rely on government to create a compassionate society in which people can flourish, but we also have considerable personal opportunity to make our lives work — and that inevitably involves sacrifice, difficult choices, and spending time with people we may not like.

I personally don't regard that as government responsibility. that's the bit I have to do for myself. I want government to get on with carrying out its duties with transparent honesty, working to establish world peace, and creating strategies to tackle climate change.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Sources of joy — demonetising

 My mother was a complex woman, from a family with a lot of mental illness. She herself had suicidal depression and was under treatment for it her whole adult life. At the point of her death she was on the max dose she could have, but was still seized with anxiety and terror. But her personality, like everyone's, was many faceted. She also had (I know this sounds incompatible) a sort of casual insouciance — "Oh, it'll be all right," she'd say. And she found much of life funny; she laughed a lot. As well as that she was shrewd and careful (she made some seriously ill-advised decisions toward the end of her life, but I expect many people do), not miserly but never one to overspend.

She loved material things — her furniture and paintings, her clothes and china, her jewellery, her ornaments, her rugs and curtains, pretty much everything in her home, even her handkerchiefs and nightdresses. She loved her car. She liked doing ordinary domestic things — enjoyed driving around rural England buying things and going out for coffee, while she still could.

For all this you need money, and well-judged investment meant she reached old age with plenty of it. 

But it intrigued me that I never saw her look so truly happy as when she gave it away. She gave me and my sister some truly enormous dollops of money in the course of her life, and when she did so I saw more joy in her than anything else ever brought her.

St Paul said the love of money is the root of all evil, and we do well to pay attention to that observation, because it's true.

I personally find money more than useful — necessary. I know there are people who live entirely without money, and I esteem them, but I also notice they depend on the money everyone else has, to create the infrastructure in which they continue to participate. I mean, if you have a bad ankle break, it is money that makes it possible for society to work together with the end result of fixing your ankle — the manufactured and equipped ambulance and paramedics, the pain meds and antibiotics and surgical instruments, the surgeon and nurses and anaesthetist and hospital with its theatre and wards and communication system and lights and kitchen and plumbing and sheets on the beds . . . all these have to come from somewhere, which implies co-operation, and money is like a kind of machine oil that keeps everything working together. Without money, in that scenario, you'd have a lot of pain, you might die of blood loss or infection, and you'd probably have a deformed (and probably painful) foot for life. Even if you were one of the people who lives without money, all that would still be true.

So I don't even try to live without money, but at the same time I try hard to demonetise my life — to give things away, to share, to recycle and upcycle and swap and re-use and make things for myself out of stuff left over.

I have made hats out of dish towels, dresses out of old sheets, a bed base and shelves from a fence we replaced with a hedge that we grew from cuttings from friends' gardens. Our pets have been rescue animals, not bought from breeders. In my room almost nothing was bought from a shop, but made for me with love. I have a chair — a plastic garden chair a lady along the road was throwing out because she no longer wanted it. When I expressed interest she washed it up as good as new and brought it along for me.

I know we all need some money to get by, so I try to buy some things from small family firms — my warm winter cardigans come from the wool of sheep in the Pennine hills spun and knitted and sold by a small firm in Leicestershire. The meat in my shopping basket that will be delivered to my home on Friday comes from this farm in Staffordshire.

But some things — like the bread I'll be toasting for my tea in an hour or so — come from the big supermarket at the end of the road. Although it's a big corporation (Asda) it also has a very benign presence in the community, collecting for the food bank, and allowing schoolchildren to eat free in the cafĂ©, and helping generously with various community projects. There are two reasons I like to shop there — one is that the products are cheap, which makes my money go further so I have more to give and share; the second reason is that I can walk to it, so I don't have to run a car or even spend money on a bus. 

I believe in walking, and living simply, and owning little, and sharing what we have. 

So, although this may seem contradictory, I both accept the necessity of money and believe in demonetising my life. I think it's all there in that word "currency" — I see it like a stream flowing through the landscape for the nourishment of all the people and animals and plants on its banks (yes, the banks — where we keep a little set aside for the needs of our lives, and for contingencies).

I think security and peace and contentment can flow from having enough money to participate in society — but I think joy comes from demonetising; from giving, sharing, making things yourself, writing your own books and getting together to make music, growing your own food, making friends with wild creatures, gathering food from the hedgerows.

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Sources of joy — being loved

 One of the greatest sources of joy is being loved. It is comforting and makes me happy.

In the mornings, every day, my husband makes me a cup of tea when he makes his own, and brings it upstairs to me.

I usually wake early but spend the first couple of hours of the day doing things online or writing, so that means I have a cup of tea in bed every morning. Nettle tea is my tipple.

Here's my cup of tea from this morning.

But the thing is, there's more than just a cup of tea in that picture. It's a photograph of love.

Having a cup of tea brought up to me every single morning feels like the most amazing luxury — it makes me feel most extraordinarily loved and blessed. 

But then, there's the cup the tea is in. My youngest daughter saw it when she was living in London, and thought I'd like it, and bought if for me, because she loves me. I drink my morning tea from it every day. The tea is made with love and the cup was chosen and given with love.

Then there's the thing the cup is standing on. I asked my husband (he's a woodworker) if he would make me a little white cupboard to cover the electric sockets on the wall by my bed — I think electric sockets are very useful but also very ugly. So he did. He made it for me carefully and precisely, and put it on the wall for me, just because I wanted it and he loves me. And it made a dinky little bedside table right by my bed, perfect for my cup of tea. How lucky am I?

And then there's the wall, painted yellow — but not by me. A few years ago, my husband painted that room pale green for me, at my request, and it was lovely; but over time I decided it was not quite right — I wanted spice box colours. So he dismantle my wardrobe (which he made for me) and took out my bed (which he made for me) and unscrewed the socket cover that he made for me, and admitted my room all over again, in the colours I wanted — two shades of yellow and a shade of green, including the ceiling. It's perfect now. So my room is painted in love and furnished with love, and how blessed can one person be?

But look, there's also the calligraphy above the cup. That was made for me by my eldest daughter as an encouragement and affirmation of faith when our family was going through difficult times. It was her gift of love to me. I had it framed and hung it on my wall, and every day I see it and it reminds me that she loves me and made something beautiful for me, and that God loves me and has a shining path for me to walk in and I will not miss my way because his love over-shines me.

This — this love that surrounds me and upholds me and nourishes my soul, is a source of joy to me.

Who loves you? If nobody loves you at all, there are dogs waiting to be rescued. Dogs have so much love to give.

Saturday, 13 November 2021

Sources of joy — music

Well, I am very blessed to share a home with musicians, which means that on any evening there's a chance of the house having Mozart arias billowing around it as violin and flute duets — and that brings me joy for sure!

To participate in music is probably the most joyous of all. Here's the father of my children as a young man singing with the friends we lived with in York, and here are my children playing for a chapel Christmas coffee morning a few years ago.

A memory's treasure for me is the long-gone days of sitting round the table singing folk songs after supper — I am so glad I had that in my life, even if it has gone now. Norma Waterson and her family and friends singing together reminds me of those days. We still sing round the piano sometimes, and it's a wonderful thing that we have such a wealth of music online, and here are some of my favourites:

  • Just about anything by George Ezra — I love Budapest, Shotgun and this glorious video of Listen to the Man with Ian McKellen.
  • I love the music of Joni Mitchell, and I used to have her album Blue and listen to it over and over. My favourite song of all was Carey.
  • I love classical music too, of course, and Mozart is my favourite composer — just about anything by Mozart, but two favourites are the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute, and this aria from The Marriage of Figaro (though I wish Dame Kiri of the sublime voice wouldn't slide the notes so much). Oh, and there's the incomparable Laudate Dominum from Mozart's Vespers, sung here by Cai Thomas. When I was writing my Hawk and Dove novels, it was one of the pieces in which I soaked my soul. 
  • I love music from a variety of religious traditions — like the songs of TaizĂ©, or the Plum Village community, or the a cappella harmonies of Anabaptist choirs, or this long and beautiful chant from Robert Gass and friends which was the last thing my husband Bernard heard on this earth; his soul slipped free and left us just as it finished playing. He had the Mozart Laudate Dominum (above) at his funeral, and chose this to play as we bore his coffin in.
And there's so much more! It's like being able to get joy in a packet like butter or flour — you just open it up and there it is for you. 

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Sources of joy: colour

 I made a little poster out of these words that appealed to me.

That says exactly what I feel is my path for this present time.

If I ask myself what contribution I can make in these days of transition when the edifices of the past are crumbling and the future so scarily uncertain, I have to acknowledge the only things I can offer have this in common: they are all extremely small.

Every passing day brings urgent calls for money from people whose need is dire — those who have to watch their children starve, those who have no clean water (or even none), those unjustly imprisoned, those facing homelessness and destitution, refugees who have lost everything; also animals abandoned or tortured in vivisection laboratories and factory farms; and people trying to create a better future by regenerative farming and planting trees — all of them deserve funding, and what I have doesn't go very far at all.  

When it comes to activism and political commitment, again I can offer so little. I get tired easily and quickly, I have low energy levels these days.

But I think it is possible to keep faith with the purposes of God simply by maintaining a quiet radiance. 

I like this website about joy — they made a good video, which you come to if you scroll down the page. 

And then I saw this on Facebook today —

— and my heart immediately acknowledged the connection between gratitude and joy.

In years past I was somewhat sceptical of the whole follow-your-bliss school of thought, but I have come to accept that happy people are good to be around, and it is extremely hard to make someone else happy if you are not happy yourself. 

I also remember vividly how luminous and infectious was the joy I saw in others that first drew me to discover the presence of Jesus for myself.

So I think raising one's vibration and reaching for joy form an essential part of spiritual practice, and are a gift to others in days when so many are anxious and afraid.

Joy doesn't depend on money, status, power or success — you can just rootle about and find it like a pig looking for truffles, in the ordinary everyday circumstances of life.

But you can't be joyful if you don't honestly feel it — pretend joy has an uneasy artificiality in it; toothy grins and a bogus gleam in the eye are a poor substitute.Therefore, you have to look for sources of joy, in order to keep raising your own vibration so you have something to share. You have to forage for joy.

Giving this some thought, I reflected on what is a source of joy for me, and certainly colour is. I love colour. I like the sun on brick walls or filtering through stained glass. I like russet apples, and citrus fruits. I like the flames of a burning log on the hearth. 

Today, just for a brief while, the setting sun slanted across beneath the brooding grey November clouds to shine on the chimneys of the house opposite —

— and that shone a light of joy into my heart.

I particularly enjoy the colours of my clothes and the blanket on my bed. 

They make me happy.

So do my earrings.

I know these are only small and humdrum things, but so what? My whole life is. Just pausing to rejoice in them and give thanks, to wonder at the colour of fallen leaves and dawn light — even to delight in the colour of strawberry jelly made in a plastic bowl — it all helps raise the vibe.

For me, clothing is a really important part of this, because it's so up close and personal, and part of every day. I take a minute in the morning to deliberately choose my clothes for the day and lay them out on my bed, enjoying the textures and colours and how they look against my colourful blanket. And it makes me happy.

Colours — just one of many sources of joy.

Do you love colour too? Do you enjoy your clothes? Do you have a favourite colour?

Monday, 1 November 2021

Simplicity for social justice and the wellbeing of creation

Climate change is — and should be — claiming our attention.

Eco-responsibility is not a niche interest or a different issue from Christian holiness. 

If you know the Bible, you will have grasped that the early stories include God placing eco-responsibility on humanity in the Garden of Eden, and entering a covenant relationship with all creation (not just Noah and his family) after the flood.

You'll know, too, that social justice is inextricably entwined with love of God, and that this two-stranded thread of faithfulness runs centre and front in the Law and the Prophets. The two sins of Israel that feature repeatedly are apostasy and social injustice. Climate change has a social justice component, because it creates poverty and impacts most heavily those who are already poor. The plight of many refugees can very often be traced indirectly, if not directly, to climate change. For instance, the Syrian conflict that erupted into so ugly and prolonged a crisis, and made so many settled middle class ordinary people into refugees, can be traced back to roots in degradation of the land through climate change, that forced young men to seek employment in the cities to fulfil their family responsibilities of care and provision. It started that simply and ended in multi-national bombing and people strewn across Europe, destitute and persecuted, risking their lives under lorries and on the open sea.

If we are serious about the Gospel, we have to pay attention to climate change. In our day, loving the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our mind and with all our strength implies and includes eco-responsibility.

Two of the very best responses every one of us can make are simplicity and sharing. Neither of these requires wealth or technology of particular skills and abilities. Both should be foundational to our daily practice. This article, about increasing cost of living linked to increasing scarcity driven by climate change, makes very clear that our wellbeing as individuals and as a community will in the very near future depend heavily on simplicity and sharing. I think we would do well to pray every single morning, "Please show me how to practice simplicity and sharing today. Please lead me in the way of sharing and simplicity."

To add to that general thought, I'd like to offer one particular issue to think about today — microfibres.

As I'm sure you know, when we wash synthetic clothing it releases microfibres into the water, which find their way into the ocean — they are even in the Arctic ice and the remotest reaches of the deepest seas. From there they enter the water cycle and get into the body of fish, with the end result that they are also in our food and from there they get into our bodies. The bodies of animals, birds, fish and human beings have an increasing percentage of plastic.

In recent times, as I've grown older and found life more tiring, I've increasingly opted for clothing made of synthetic fabrics. I did know the damage it does, but I made that choice anyway. I've had to repent of that and go back to making natural-fibre choices as far as I can. But still my skirts have some polyester in as well as wool, and I wear nylon tights and my bras are made of something synthetic.

Going forward, washing machines (at least some, and I hope all) will be made with filters to catch microfibres and prevent them flowing out when we wash our clothes. There are also filters that can be retro-fitted onto existing washing machines.

But there is an easier, cheaper, less technical option we can reach for right now — filter bags for laundry. The one I have is about the size of a pillowcase and zips shut. You put any synthetic fibre garments inside it, and just wash them as usual — they can go in the machine or washed by hand, whichever you usually do. You fill the bag up to two-thirds, so the clothes inside can move about in the water and get properly clean.

Washing the laundry inside a bag extends the life of the clothes, because it reduces by a lot (about 85%) the breakage of fibres through the garment being tangled up with other things and bashed about in the machine.

When the wash is done, the clothes are hung out on the line as usual to dry, and the filter bag is zipped shut and also hung out to dry. Once it's dry, you unzip it and scoop out any fibres traded inside, putting them out with your household waste.

The bag I have is called a Guppy Friend. It's made by a non-profit organisation called Stop Micro Waste. They have some helpful advice about laundry here.

I got my Guppy Friend washing bag from Boobalou, but it's available from several online eco-stores (it's here on Peace With The Wild and here on Ethical Superstore), and seems to be the one most commonly recommended.

I thought £25 rather a lot to pay for a mesh bag — but I guess this is yet another benefit of practicing simplicity; it makes the money go further, putting expensive items like that within my reach. It is, after all, a lot cheaper than running a car. And it's also where sharing comes in. Because I live in a shared house, I can fold it up and leave it ready on top of the washing machine, so the other people in our house can use it when they do their laundry too — and it doesn't cost them anything; which is a small way of loving them.

Both for washing my hair and washing my clothes I've also gone over to using laundry strips and shampoo bars (I've linked to the ones I've been actually using, but there are all sorts to explore), to eliminate one more unnecessary piece of plastic packaging.

On the subject of plastic packaging rather than laundry, I'm also reluctantly accepting the wisdom of committing to getting my vegetables from a veggie box scheme — local veggies and no packaging at all (they collect the box and re-use it). I did this before but found it hard to keep up with eating all the veg, but I'm trying again. I get mine from Abel and Cole, and I'm also going to get my baked goods from them because they come in paper wrapping not plastic (these are delicious), and for my meat I'm going to buy their wild game, because their packaging is minimal and the animals have been the most free and natural they can possibly be. I can get eggs and bread from them too, but I like to get some things from local shops, so I'll get these on the high street mostly. And at the present time all our fruit comes from our garden, and our herbs for seasoning. I'm starting to think wistfully about oranges, but they'll be in season soon, and you can buy them unwrapped from most shops.

Sunday, 31 October 2021

The Campfire Church Ministry of the Word 31 10 21

I suppose there has always been a great deal wrong in human society. We can be compassionate and imaginative and heroic, but also cruel and greedy and violent beyond belief. 

If you read about the way King Leopold of Belgium treated the African slaves in the rubber plantations, or the tortures inflicted to extract religious confessions in the Middle Ages, or simply enquire into the treatment of pigs in meat plants and slaughterhouses, and the preparation of bulls for bullfights, I’ll hazard a guess the horror will never entirely leave you; it will be stamped on your soul like a brand burnt into slaves and domestic cattle.

We can look back on plagues and tortures, on slave ships and footage of shell-shocked soldiers, and be abjectly grateful for our boringly comfortable lives.

And yet we know, the stakes are even higher today. The greed and consumerism of the human race is in process of destroying our actual entire world. And in their hubris and cunning stupidity, governments and corporations seem to imagine greenwash is all that’s required.

And of course the miseries of the vivisection laboratory and the factory farm, the slave labour and the sweatshop, the predatory sexuality that snuffs out the happiness of childhood, the gross inequalities that require masses to live with despair so that the privileged few can wallow in obscene levels of wealth, the corrupt politics obtaining power through oppression and deception — not to mention the wife-beating and the gay-bashing and now the new feminist sport of persecuting trans women — these never end.

We are in a peculiar time of intensification, because the old order is dying — but tightening its grip because it is against its nature to let go. We are in a time of heightening authoritarianism challenged by grassroots rebellion, all around the world. The edifices of power are crumbling, and life in the rubble is uncomfortable. The opposite poles of government and governed are increasing characterised not by support and respect, producing harmony and peace, but jealousy and opportunism and antagonism. We are at war with ourselves.

Our proposed solutions to all that ails us are also polarised. In his budget this week, the UK chancellor announced with satisfaction that growth and employment is increasing while debt is shrinking: “Let there be no doubt, our plan is working,” he said.

Looking at the people living in vans outside the row houses of our urban streets, the people begging on doorsteps in every town, the increasing number dependent on food banks, the gradual starvation of our education system, our utilities, our transport infrastructure, our police, the discharge of raw sewage into the sea all around the coastline of our island nation, the disruption to food supplies and the the collapse of so many businesses under Brexit, I had to wonder what planet he is on.

But it intrigues me that the Brexit vote, and the vote between the political left and right, display — again — polarity. An almost even split.

So we are living in days of unrest when there is much to concern us, when a response seems to be required of us, when people are marching in the streets and crying out for support — and yet the clamour is not unified but polarised. The placards and flags of one  challenge those of the opposing side. Where there is no vision the people perish, but where the vision is present but intensely antagonist, there is ugliness, war, and dissension. Together, we stand. Divided, we fall. But we cannot unite when we see things so differently. And all the while, behind the scenes, opportunists turn circumstances of chaos and disaster to personal gain. But with climate change upon us, they have nothing to crow about. They too sail on this ship that is sinking.

What to do?

I put it to you that never was there a time when personal holiness was so absolutely required of us — to live with transparent authenticity and integrity the Gospel of Christ. By this, he said, will people know that you are my disciples; that you love one another. If you aren’t a hundred per cent sure what love is (there are, after all, many definitions of it) I suggest that it is effectually indistinguishable from kindness.

The Gospel of Christ, therefore, by his own definition, is not about being right but being kind. Christ calls us to love one another, and it’s an odd thing, but true, that we love most not those who have been kind to us, but those to whom we have been kind. That’s right. Being kind fosters love. Even if you don’t love someone much in the first place, you will love them more if you are kind to them, and less if you are not. It always works that way.

The way of the Spirit is not a matter of moral or theological rectitude — correctness — it’s about the authenticity and integrity that allows the mystery of the great I Am to shine through; being who you really are, living with such transparency, such simplicity that the light of your being — the flame of the Spirit in the sanctum of your heart — can be seen.

This is a time when we are required to hold our light steady, to keep our footing, to resist the whirl and spin, the cross-currents created by polar opposites. 

Now is a time when we do well to live so humbly and quietly, to become so lowly and so small, that we walk beneath the thunderclaps and clashes of the Titans, and make with our own feet a network of tracks of peace at the grassroots level. This is a time to live below the radar, to stay centred and keep radiating peace. Neither the practice nor the vocabulary of war is helpful in these days. Stay back from antagonism, from demonising others and calling them evil. Refuse to be drawn.

But that doesn’t mean doing nothing. Part of the strength of humilis, the lowly, unseen, simple life, is that it gives back to you the time and space to observe and notice and think and wisely choose.

If you live small and quiet and slow, if you hold fast to humility and peace, if you choose gentleness and kindness, if you stop to listen and have time to see, then you will be part of the generation of the new dawn that is surely coming. Your choice will, in and of itself, determine the world in which you live. 

And if we all do it, it’ll be a movement, and that is the way we change the world.

Anxiety, pressure, and hurry, are behind many of the poor choices we make. Ill-considered decisions made while we had too much going on to think straight — too many demands and commitments; fear of what others might think of us or do to us; self-imposed deadlines and targets.

In these days when the polarities are churning up the ground, make of it a ploughed field where you sow the seeds of peace. 

It doesn’t have to be anything important or big, it can just be about feeding the wild birds, or walking slowly enough for the little legs of the child whose hand you are holding, or choosing to buy milk from the farm where the cows are allowed to keep their calves, or sharing a cup of tea and cheerful conversation with someone whose political views are the opposite of your own, or putting a tin of baked beans in the food bank basket at the supermarket, or planting a tree, or giving your sleeping bag to Care4Calais, or buying your bread and vegetables loose instead of wrapped up in plastic, or washing your fleece in a special bag to keep the microfibres out of the ocean, or smiling to your neighbour and stopping to say hello. One foot in front of the other, one deliberate decision at a time. This is how we build the kingdom, this is the only way we have to change the world.

When I was a young woman, we had a rusty old van that had to be nurtured along. In the winter, it wouldn’t start, but under the bonnet was fixed a crank handle. You could take it out and fit it to a hole low down at the front, and use it to turn the engine manually. It was the only way to get it going in the cold.

Our small acts of faithfulness, practised every day in a lowly and authentic life, are our crank handle to restart the engine of this rusty old world and make it go a little further down the road.

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? [Micah 6.8]

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

"Fuss" and "fancy" funerals.

This may be just a UK thing.

I am seeing a lot of funeral related ads on TV at the present time. 

It might be because of Covid, or because I watch TV in the afternoon rather than the evening — like other elderly people I enjoy programmes about home renovations and the ambulance service, and mostly avoid dramas that can be described as either gritty or steamy. 

The ads about funerals jostling for space along with pleas from charities and recommendations for home/life insurance and equity release, are trending in the direction of what you might call "simple cremations".

The idea is that when you die the company will collect your body, take it away and cremate it. That's it. I don't know what they do with the ashes. You pre-pay this plan, so that there are no costs for your family to cover.

Having had a lot of experience with bereaved and dying people, and with officiating at funerals, I offer for your consideration a few comments.

The ads in question all show people saying when they die they don't want "all that fuss". A "no-fuss" funeral is what they want. 

Apart from "fuss" another word that features in most of the ads is "fancy". They don't want a "fancy funeral" with a fancy hearse. They want a simple cremation so their family is free to remember them and celebrate their life in whatever way they choose, without the worry of the financial burden a funeral would place upon them.

Let me say at the outset that, since my family are experienced at crafting religious ceremony, had I known of a firm that offered this option back when I pre-paid my funeral, it is probably what I would have chosen. So I am not against this form of dealing with the disposal of a body.

Apart from that, almost all else I have to say advises caution.

There is no need for you to leave a financial burden that will be a problem to your family, because you can pre-pay any funeral, not just a simple cremation that has no funeral service. My own funeral is pre-paid with Golden Charter — a belt-and-braces option, because Golden Charter works with independent family funeral directors, so if Golden Charter goes bust your chosen funeral director has to do the funeral anyway, and if the funeral director goes bust then Golden Charter must fulfil your pre-paid requirements through another funeral service.

Funerals are expensive, which is why pre-paying them makes sense — you peg the cost; but they are not, as some ads make out, "ripping off the public".

Every funeral needs the following people: 

  • two people to pick up the dead body at any time of day or night
  • a funeral director who meets with the family, implements your wishes and organises everything and takes care of you on the day 
  • a hearse driver 
  • bearers (four or six depending on the size of the deceased person)
  • a driver for any limousine you need (crematoria are usually on the edge of town and can be hard to get to for non-drivers, which many elderly people are, even if they used to drive once)
  • the receptionist at the funeral service who will take your initial call, make your appointment, look after you if you go to view the body, receive any flowers for the coffin etc, and be on hand if you need to call again.
  • the mortician
  • the crematorium office staff 
  • the person at the crematorium who looks after everything on the day — tidies the chapel, makes sure things run on time, clears the body at the end, looks after the electronics for music and monitors the chapel space
  • the people who actually move and cremate the body, or dig the grave (if it is a burial) and come back to fill it in when you've gone
  • an organist if you want to sing hymns — a live musician is infinitely preferable to singing along to a recorded backing track, and can provide any other occasional music with sensitivity 
  • the officiant, who will (should, anyway) also meet with you beforehand to carefully talk through exactly what you want for the ceremony, and help you to find any readings, music etc that you may be unsure about, and can guide and advise you about what will flow well and what may be best avoided (and why), and then will craft the ceremony for you, and officiate on the day
  • the priest/minister and verger and any other church staff (organist, flower-arranger, grave-digger, maintenance crew for the grounds, cleaners etc), if you are not going to the crematorium but only having a burial at a church
All these people are involved in a funeral, and all of them have to heat their homes and pay their mortgages and feed their families — and that's why funerals are expensive, not because funeral directors are ripping off the public. The rising cost of living means every single one of these disbursements rises every year, and that's why funeral costs rise all the time, and by quite a lot. Nobody is being ripped off, and if there are some things you don't want — a limousine, an organist, an officiant — you don't have to have them and if you don't have them you won't have to pay for them. Furthermore, all funeral directors take their share of what are sometimes called "paupers' funerals", where the deceased has no money and no relatives or friends — the bearers stand in as congregation, and the prayers and music and readings are carried out with as much care as if it were the funeral of the Queen. It's also traditionally the case that everyone provides their services free for the funeral of an infant.

Moving on, then, to what the ads say about "a fancy funeral" and "fuss".
This is, frankly, disingenuous marketing nonsense. 

Funerals are not fancy and there is no fuss.

A funeral can be quiet, simple and plain; dignified but not complicated. 

Life is changing all the time, but it remains true that most people feel the need to mark the passing of someone they love by laying that person to rest in a way that includes:
  • prayers or reflections in keeping with their spiritual outlook
  • sharing of tender and happy memories, skilfully expressed in some form of address, and also as family tributes
  • meaningful readings (poetry/scriptures etc)
  • music
  • silence
  • gathering
  • beauty
  • the solemnity of a ceremony in an appropriate space
  • a form of words to commend the deceased to burial or cremation, and to commend their soul to whatever is in keeping with the spiritual outlook of the deceased and the mourners
This is what the ads are calling "fancy" and "fuss", and in my experience these elements are helpful and supportive to bereaved people, and are a significant step toward healing the pain of grief and the ache of deep loss. Gathering with friends and family to commend a beloved partner or child or friend into the hands of God (or whatever is your belief), and remember the person they were and all that they meant to you is not making a fuss, for goodness sake. And to take their last earthly remains to the chapel in a coffin covered with flowers in the back of a hearse (rather than to the cremators in a body bag in the works van) is not "fancy".

The simple cremation ads suggest that if you dispense with all this fancy fuss, your family can remember you in the way they wish — and the ads usually show people larking about on a beach or drinking wine at a party. 

Really? That's an adequate farewell for someone whose death leaves you feeling as though half of you has died as well? Letting off a firework and drinking a glass of beer covers all you want to do or say if your adult child has committed suicide or died in a car crash? Are you sure?

If you, personally, do decide the most appropriate way forward for you is one of these advertised simple cremations, I still think you would do well to leave in place some kind of arrangement for a ceremony to mark your passing. 

The last chapter of my book Spiritual Care of Dying and Bereaved People (second, re-written edition with BRF, not the first edition with SPCK) gives detailed templates for funeral ceremonies to help you craft your own. That book is out of print now, and available only secondhand — Amazon seems to be more or less out of it, but there are some copies on eBay — but if you want a copy and can't get hold of one I can send you a PDF of the text.

A "simple" cremation may be the right thing for you, but think carefully before deciding — if there is anyone who loves you in this world, they will probably be comforted and helped at a time of painful loss by a thoughtful, appropriate, well-prepared funeral ceremony reflecting the spiritual outlook of the deceased and those close to them. The financial burden is indeed significant, so either pre-paying your funeral or simple cremation, or taking out life insurance (which should, but may not, cover it), is a responsible step that, in my opinion, everyone should consider.