Sunday, 30 November 2014

The New Pilot Inn

Looks empty doesn't it? The New Pilot Inn closed some time ago. I used to frequent it, and I still do, though these days in it's new incarnation as a refuge centre for the homeless and street people. They call it 'The Vaughn Centre ' now, and it does good work as the centre for the BRILLIANT Homeless Healthcare Team and GEAR, the Homeless charity that offers facilities for aforementioned fellow-citizens down on their luck.

My mum and dad used to play darts here. In my (very) late teens, I used to accompany them on match days, drink half a pint of cider and blackcurrant, and marvel at how my father could hit the bullseye and calculate what he needed to 'finish' in seconds. Mum, not so good at either, but a worthy member of the team anyway. I was never good enough to play in the team, but I could occasionally hit the board ...

Two weeks ago, I learned from my friend Tony Hipkins, who majors in holding Gloucestershire County Council to account for its provision for vulnerable people, emailed to say that GEAR has no funding to open the Vaughn Centre at Christmas this year. I shall find out why, in due course, to see if a fuss needs to be made about it, but in the meantime there is some cash to raise. £200, in fact.

Abigail and I went to church this morning. Not together, because she goes with with her mum and dad. When I arrived she was crying becauss she'd lobbed her pet dinosaur across the aisle and hit somebody. When mummy requested that she desist from such behaviour, Abigail took offence and started to howl. She's my granddaughter, and I love her to bits, but I know mummy is right, so Abs just has to get over it without sympathy from grandma.

Father Aidan gave me permission to make an appeal for a second collection for GEAR and Christmas, and I sit preoccupied through the Mass wondering what I am going to say, as the "Feed The World" angle has already been taken.

Abigail returns from Little Church, dinosaur trauma forgotten, with an activity book all about Advent. "Look grandma!" She announces, loudly, because that's her volume setting, and she reads, "No room at the inn!"

A light goes on in my brain:

"I'm not sure of what I'm going to say, because this is so close to my heart, (and here I tear up) but Abigail has just reminded me of when I was a teenager and used to go with my mum and dad to play darts at The New Pilot Inn in Gloucester, which is now a refuge for the homeless, and which can't open at Christmas this year because it has no money. Honestly, if the church can't open the inn door to the lonely and the lost at Christmas, we might just as well pack up and go home... "

Not sure how I ended up, but the result was a collection that raised far more than £200

That's Christmas sorted, now let's see what can be done for the new year ...



Monday, 24 November 2014

#MicroblogMondays:My Lovely Atheist

I wrote this poem for the men and women I care for who don't express their spirituality the same way that I do: It's OK. It really is:
My Lovely Atheist

If the god that pursues you
Is not kind
Does not welcome you
With Love
And open you to
Your great heart within
Or draw you to your

Which is to be Awake
And Compassionate

Then be
An atheist

Yes! Be an atheist
Until you learn to


Friday, 21 November 2014

The Reluctant Theist

I allow myself the luxury of an open mind. I probably wouldn't rate very highly on a scepticism scale, but I am an avid fan of good science and a fierce opponent of bad religion. Hence my title, "Reluctant Theist"
"Too much smiting" is my favourite comment from Bhuddist Jack Kornfield* on old-time religion. Couldn't put it better myself. For those of us reaching out to the concept of an Underlying and Benevolent Consciousness or "God", the 'smiter' of past generations doesn't do it for us. Neither does an emphasis on following rules when you're better off following your heart. Can't be doing with war, hell, revenge, cruelty, intolerance, bigotry, greed or self-agrandissement either. These afflict the good, bad and ugly, including, sadly, myself, and if this is what religion does, then we're better off without it.
That'll explain the 'reluctant' then. So why am I still a theist? Because there are some elements in the cosmos that are not discoverable by the scientific method. Goodness, philonthropy, gratitude, an urge to find a 'being' beyond ourselves, love, kindness, joy... . The list is as long as the first. Not quantifiable or predictable, but nevertheless essential to the well-being and survival of the human family.
My friend Margareta is dying. I sat with her yesterday and we talked of the approaching end. I read to her from a book by a renowned neuroscientist, Dr Eben Alexander, who died ( or his nuerocortex did, which is pretty much everything that makes us human), and on returning unscathed, tells a remarkable tale. A leader in his field, a Harvard professor,he had rejected all thought of Near-Death phenomenum as having other than a natural explanation. He now believes, with reseach to support him, that, "human consciousness is independent of the mind and the brain." Let him tell you the whole story himself. It could change your life by completely removing the fear of death. He emphasises what many Theists have always SAID, even if the living of it proved problematical for most of us:
You are completely and unconditionally loved.You have nothing to fear. You can do nothing wrong.
Here's the interview with Dr Alexander:
* Jack Kornfield source:
I'm listening to "Simplicity & Sympathy" by Jack Kornfield

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

My Very Favourite Title

It's good for adults to play. No, really, it's a scientific fact, and I know this because I've just finished 'The Science of Happiness' and there it was: Play. healthy and healing, a returning to the innocent self that's still in there and loves an outing now and then.

I sometimes play a game that makes my husband's eyes roll. It's usually prompted by an item I hear on the news. It's called, "I Want That Title". Picking the title is then followed by a lengthy explanation on how good I'd be at it. This is a great game for we Brits whose ceremonial life is generously sprinkled with wonderful, if slightly ridiculous, ones.

I have played with the idea of being, "Black Rod" "Silver Sword of The Bedchamber", "Grandmaster", "The Great Architect", "Lady In Waiting", "Her Holiness" ... and I have laughed my self silly at the implications.

But my very favourite title is, "Grandma". Last night I got to play grandma, and it was the most fun ever.


Monday, 17 November 2014

#MicroblgMondays: Important! Read Immediately!

What do you make of people with high self-esteem?
Not much, would be my reply, if the same self-esteem is founded on chasing 'worth' at the expense of others. Hey! I want you to know, that's not for me. And I thought I was being stupid! Who wouldn't want to feel great about themselves all the time?
Then I completed a course: 'The Science of Happiness' and learned a better way.
Cultivate self-compassion.
I am a puny, inconsequential, half-hearted, grumpy, selfish, foolish woman. Because I'm human. You know what? It doesn't matter. I am also capable of great love and fantastic acts of kindness ((And so are you!) Because I'm human. That matters.
For your children's sake, teach self-compassion. Show them how to love themselves as they love their neighbour. (We are universally more generous with others, than with ourselves.)
"At grandma's house, it's OK to win, but it's MUCH more important to be kind."
What you teach your children is who they become. Be kind. Firstly, to yourself.
If you are haunted by the inner critic who keeps telling you how awful you are, and I find this entity extremely destructive of my "self-esteem", try this:
"Freeing yourself from the Inner Critic " by Mark Coleman
PS Google 'self compassion' for more than I can write here.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Contemplative Prayer

Because I speak in tongues - not an unusual accomplishment for a Pentecostal, but slightly embarrassing for a Roman Catholic, someone asked me if I was a mystic! How I laughed! I am not.
The speaking in tongues began as spontaneous outpourings of love and gratitide, not even too sure as to Whom or What, when I was a child. Still is.
I have long since moved from noise, however mystical, to silence. I am learning ( who could ever say they have learned?) to open my heart and still my mind and observe, compassionately, what arises. It's a fantastic practise, neither easy ( or it wouldn't be worth the effort) ... Or difficult (or I couldn't do it) just liberating!
Imagine! Not having to work out what's best for me, you, the planet, the universe and ask God to do it. Instead, to wait, and stand under His knowing, and trust Him to let it be, and to let it be good.

Thursday, 13 November 2014


My friend Alex finally has it taped. Full, as usual of his exuberant excitement, he announced, "These people don't receive bacause they don't give. There's this church in San Franscisco that has people following the 2,4,7,10 routine. Church twice a week, ( forget), (forget), and give10%! They get £144. (I'm pretty sure he forgot this is £144 every two weeks. Surely?) That's enough to live on, they just waste it ... " Mike stopped him, and brought the reflection time back on track. I had just spent a harrowing thirty minutes with a homeless alcoholic who'd arrived at this place after being forced to watch her son be tortured and raped. Sometimes, this work is just too hard. I had no words for her, I just held her, and let her sob. I wasn't paying much attention to Alex.

That was yesterday. Today I am warm and comfortable, and having done all I can to let Michelle's nughtmare pass, I am returning to Alex's formula for getting street people into church.

I see several rather obvious flaws in his argument. If it had been a matter of arithmetic, wouldn't Jesus have thought about it first?

"You are Peter, and upon this abacus I will build my church!" No. The whole point of the gospel is to wake people up to the wholeness and fullness of life that is the discovery of the Kingdom of God (heightened awareness, full consciousness) that is within us all. You don't get there by acquiring a set of religious brownie points. You open yourself up to your suffering and to the suffering of others and let it teach you what is true. This is the foolishness of the cross. This is the heart of Christian teaching.

I do try playing the numbers game, and I always lose. Pray every day, go to confession once a month, and, and - all the other musts and shoulds that afflict religious people. Such nonsense just brings failure with attendant guilt and feelings of unworthiness and hopelessnes. Which might be preferable, come to think of it, to the pride and superiority that would ensue from succeeding ... Jesus was tender towards we failures, but awful towards the proud. I have to think of some way of letting Alex know I think he's talking out of his arse. I will, perhaps, tell him a story:

"About a year ago I met a funny looking young man who bore an uncanny likeness to Matt Smith. 'He's gone to park the Tardis' I remember saying when someone commented on his disappearance one day. He was burning with this vision for street people. He carried a notebook with him everywhere, he was determined to discover what our people needed. He wrote down what they said. He was listening.

Then he discovered a church in San Fransico who found a magic formula. He wrote it in his notebook, and now he he is telling people what they need. He has stopped listening."




Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Ice Cream: An Update

Somewhere in the back of a kitchen cupboard, there sits a rather beautiful chrome finish ice-cream maker. It was something I felt I must have some four years ago: I used it once, and it has been burning a hole in my conscience ever since.

Having confessed my materialistic lapse to my daughter, she found the solution: I should make ice-cream with her two daughters. "Chocolate!" (Rosie) "Lots of colours!" (Abigail. With the unrealistic expectations of a three year old.) To cut a long story short, we ended up with a delicious chocolate smoothie and a shocking pink slush made the conventional way i.e. with lots of elbow grease and frequent fiddling about in and out of the freezer, which means we may have ice cream for breakfast.

Ben and Jerry, here I come.


Monday, 10 November 2014

#MicroblogMondays: Glimpsing Fairies

This morning, at 6am, the sky was clear and the waning moon hung over the hedgerow. Low mist shrouded the bottom of the garden and it was possible, just for a moment, to glimpse fairies.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Something to Worry About?

I read The New Scientist for my news, I listen to the Diane Rehm Show for my opinions, and I practise mindfulness meditation to keep me sane.

So when I find something to worry about, I don't take it lightly.

If you have read this far, you are interested enough, perhaps, to read on, but I warn you, the subject is pretty boring. You may not even know that something of extraordinary importance is up. This deafening silence is quite deliberate. If everyone knew what was afoot, maybe we would all be worried.

Trade talks. Yes, I know, boring. the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is designed to remove trade barriers between the US and the EU and looks to be a good thing. Yes? Well, maybe.

I have two concerns. Number One: Democracy. The degree of Corporate influence in American democracy concerns me - thank you Diane Rehm - and here is a quote from The New Scientist that brings this to the fore:

"... The talks are being held behind firmly closed doors. If a deal is struck, it is most likely to be approved summarily, with little opportunity for public feedback.

So critics of TTIP's economics, as well as those worried about its deference to corporate interests are free to fear the worst. But whoever is right, the approach is wrong. * In democracies, pro and con should be aired not stifled. Talks as important as these should be in the open." **

I am not a fan of restrictive practices that stifle free enterprise and inhibit the growth of markets that are essential to the economic well-being of us all. What concerns me is my health, and the health and the maintanance of an eco-system that can sustain me in it. And you, of course. Here's the problem.

Number Two (God Help Us) Health and Safety.

(As an aside just think about the reaction, the 'God Help Us' bit. Why are we conditioned to roll our eyes at the very thought of Health and Safety legislation? Whose interests does our scepticism serve? )

The European Union has some vital regulation in place to protect the health of it's citizens and the integrity of the environment, that corporate interests wish to see gone.

Yes, there are some niggly bits of bureaucratic inteference in the right to poison me, or destroy my habitat, that business interests wish to do away with, but I do not.

I know that 'the corporate good' in America has allowed powerful interests (oil and gas spring immediately to mind) to gain exemption from regulations with regard to, for example, water safety. Aquifers in California (which is undergoing a severe drought) have been, and are still being, legally polluted by oil companies, because Dick Cheney, when Vice President, got them exemption from environmental legislation. Think about it! The biggest polluters have a 'get out of jail free card'! Nice one, Dick.

I know that in some states there is no data collected on the health implications of oil and gas operations, because it is illegal to do so. In others, the Environmental Health Protection Agency is so starved of funds it cannot do the science necessary to its operation.

Is this, the US model of protecting public health and well-being, really what we want? Will a 'trade barrier' up for grabs, and liable for dismemberment, be essential regulation to safeguard our health? That such delicate matters as the right to a healthy life are under discussion at the TTIP table probably explains why we're not hearing about it - in case we might object.

Well, I object.


PS: For the record, I am very pro-American. (Hi Darlene!) I know that many of my American friends are as concerned as I am about environmental issues. I am not denigrating the US way of doing things, just pausing to wonder if we want to do them here.

* Likely benefits of free trade are addressed earlier in the article

** The New Scientist Leader Article: November 1st 2014 page 5

Monday, 3 November 2014

#MicroblogMondays: The Last Mile

I am typing these few sentences lying on a makeshift bed in my friend Margareta's workroom. Sometime, this week, this month, Margareta is going to die and we, her friends, have dtermined she shall not die alone, and tonight, the  first watch, is mine. 

Margareta's heart is giving out, but not her spirit. Tonight we have laughed, and shed a few tears too. We shared sacred space with the Sacrament of the Sick and Holy Communion. We read our poetry together, and finally fussed over each other making sure the other was comfortable before turning in. Whatever the coming days bring, tonight has been memorable. A gift.