“I will love the light for it shows me the way; yet I will love the darkness for it shows me the stars” Augustine “Og” Madnino
“I will love the light for it shows me the way; yet I will love the darkness for it shows me the stars” Augustine “Og” Madnino
In the wake of the atrocious attack in Manchester last night, I feel have to say something. But like so many people today there are simply not enough words to express just how sad, shocked, upset, fearful, determined, defiant and united we feel as a city.
Mancunians are renowned for our understated attitude to getting on with things and coming together as a community to stand in the face of adversity. This isn’t the first time Manchester has experienced violence like this and I don’t suppose it will be the last. While that saddens and angers me, I am reassured by the resilience of my fellow Mancs in that we will carry on.
For those who are pointing the finger and trying to divide us, my message is that we are all children of the same God and we would do well to remember that. Darkness will never overcome darkness, only light can do that. Hatred can never overcome hatred, only love can do that.
For the people of Manchester my message is, stay strong our kid.
What is love? Why do we love? How do we love? How do we know we are loved? Why do we withhold love?
Love is the emotion that makes us human, and to be human is to love. Whether it is the romantic love another person, or love of a situation or an object or concept, we all experience love. We often talk about love and it is a word that drops into everyday conversation and it is obvious that love is a constant thread that runs throughout our lives.
But what is it? How do we define this emotion that drives us, motivates us, energises us and even sometimes paralyses us?
We can describe the feelings we get when we fall in love with someone – that giddy feeling we get when we think about them, that stomach clenching joy when they look at us, that constant distraction at the forefront of our minds when we imagine them going about their day, the counting down of the hours and minutes until we know we are going to see them again – but does all that accurately describe the true depths of the soul binding love we have say for our children? The intense desire to protect them from all the hurts and pain of the world, the deep-seated need to see them succeed, the celebration of all their achievements no matter how small and so on.
Paul wrote about what love is when he wrote his letter to the people of Corinth (click here for the full text) and if all these go a little way to describe the feelings of love, how do we go about showing it? I love my husband – of course I do – but sometimes, there are things he does that make me not like him very much. I’m sure the same is true in reverse and there will be things that I do that he doesn’t like me for even though he loves me. But how do we show it to each other? For many couples, love is shown is thousands of small ways as well as in big sweeping gestures. Take this weekend for example. My husband fully understood my desire to play with the band at a competition in Blackpool and he very unselfishly stood aside to allow me the time and space to go to rehearsals in the run up, and he willingly accepted that the time we would normally have spent together over the weekend was not to be this time. Not only did he put my needs first, but he wanted me to succeed and was proud of me for what I achieved too. But there’s more to it than that because he didn’t make me feel like I had to make it up to him, or that I somehow owed him for the time apart. I am not indebted to him for having some time to do something I wanted to do, and he would never make me feel that I am.
So what about love in the wider sense? What about love for our fellow human being? How does that work out?
Sadly, all too often, we fail to show that we love each other. We look for ways to score points against other people, or ways to cause division between them. There seems to be a constant desire to be in the right, and anyone not with us must therefore be against us. On any issue, there are lines drawn between people and love seems to take a backseat.
I find that troubling. If we take the premise that love is the most basic of human emotions and that every single human being on this planet is built to love and be loved, how can we go about our daily lives with our partners and families demonstrating love in myriad and wonderful small ways yet not show it to others on a bigger scale? If we can be generous to one special person, why do we find it so difficult to be generous to other people generally? I don’t mean generous in terms of giving money (to charity, to a homeless person on the street for example) but generous in terms of acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness, understanding and so on? How can we celebrate love between some couples yet not others? How can we recognise long-term commitment and promises of lifelong love between some partnerships yet not others? How can we allow some people time to heal after a trauma (rape victims, abuse victims and so on) and look after “our own”, yet not allow other people room in our country after fleeing from war, famine, cruelty and violence?
Love shouldn’t come with a list of conditions, and it shouldn’t be withheld from people just because they are not “ours”, or because they don’t fit in with what we see as deserving of it.
When this world has passed, and when all the material goods in our lives have lost their meaning, when all we have held dear has been lost, what remains is love. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could turn it round and put love for others first and foremost?
Love before judgement
Love before division
Love before fear
Love before indifference
Love before ignorance
Love before disrespect
Love before ego
I’m sure you could add a list of your own “love before….” words, and I am interested to hear your thoughts. Please leave me a comment below.
Over two days this week I have been involved in four funerals. When I say “involved” I mean that I have provided the music for one, delivered the eulogy and address at one, supported a friend who was delivering his first eulogy at another, and at one to mourn the passing and celebrate the life of a friend. It might seem that to go to four funerals in two days is a bit much, but to be honest, I found those two days a journey of personal and spiritual growth, and I have learned more about myself and the relationships I have with people around me after reflecting on the lives of the four people I said farewell to.
For the first funeral (Wednesday), my role was to play the music during the funeral of Daniel*. He was an elderly gentleman whose family had chosen to have a church service and burial, and his funeral was attended by lots of family, friends, neighbours and colleagues. He was a big Blue (a big Manchester City fan in case you didn’t know) and he was brought into church to the beautiful singing of Mel Torme and “Blue Moon”. In the congregation was Fred Eyre who used to play for City and who now provides match commentary on Radio Manchester. The tributes were read by Daniel’s friend, and by an 11 year old little girl, who lived next door to him. It was very moving to hear an 11 year old child speak about the gentle giant that Daniel was, and she brought me to tears with her emotional speech.
On Thursday morning I attended three services at the crematorium, one in each of the three chapels there. I had the privilege of giving my very first funeral address. It was for William*, who had died in October and whose family were unable to organise the funeral for him. I did manage to speak to a couple of people who knew William and I learned a little of his life and the manner of his death, and I drew on that information and the gospel message to be able to write an address for him. I didn’t expect many family members to be present, but as it turned out there were about 50 people there to hear the funeral service and to mourn William’s passing.
Straight after William’s funeral was the service for George*. My role was two-fold, first to be a support for my friend Nick, who was also delivering his first funeral address, and also to be a mourner for George who had only two distant family members there for him.
After George’s service was the funeral of one of my own friends, Bryce. He was a cornet player and involved in many brass bands over the years so the chapel was full to the brim, with standing room only at the back and down the sides. I estimated over 200 people were there for him today, and the tributes were rich and emotional, moving and joyful. The band played “Nimrod” as a piece of reflection music, which again was very moving, and there were lots of tears shed at the very end when Bryce’s own cornet playing was relayed to the gathering in a recording he made about 18 months ago of “Ave Maria”.
So, four very different funerals. Four very different people, and four different views of death and saying goodbye to them. When I look at them as a group of four, I see the differences that life throws up to us. One man drew a couple of hundred mourners, another drew just two; one man’s family had split down the middle and didn’t really know about each other – not because of any argument but by a simple drifting apart and not speaking to each other; one man had no family to even fall out with and was truly alone in the world.
The differences go on and on, but it’s the similarities that strike me.
All four men at some point in their lives had met with hardship and struggle. With health, with learning difficulties, with failed marriages, with family splits. They had all loved and lost in one form or another, and yet they still managed to survive into later years, to about 70-80 years old each.
Another similarity is that they were all loved. Love is love, and to me it doesn’t matter whether there are just a couple of family members and “staff” from the local church to mourn you, or whether there are 200 people and a big brass band gathered to send you off, the fact is that these men were all loved and were mourned.
But it’s not just love that we understand in human terms that these men experienced, they are loved by God our father who loves us all, no matter how lost or broken we may feel, or how messy and chaotic our lives may be, or how we view ourselves as failures and so on. The love that sustained these four men sustains us all too, and we all have the promise of resurrection in glory at the end of days.
Death is a great leveller, and I realised on Thursday that no matter what our life’s achievements are or what may try to accumulate in material wealth, we all end our days on earth here the same way.
*Names have been changed to preserve the privacy of the individuals concerned.
“The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds”. – Dalai Lama
Welcome to this week’s love-filled Hodgepodge. If you want to play along, please click on the badge below and you will be taken to the host site where you can get all the instructions and info on how to join in. Thank you Joyce for another great set of questions.
Here we go:
1. Create an acrostic using the word LOVE. If you’re unsure what an acrostic is click here.
Lying together quietly listening to the weather outside and simply being.
Opening your heart without fear of criticism or judgement.
Viewing the future through someone else’s eyes.
Empowering someone else to be the best they can be.
2. Does love really conquer all? Why or why not?
I’m with Joyce on this one. Human love, no matter how well meaning or well intended, cannot conquer all. We try to, but some circumstances and situations are just too big/deep/wide/difficult for love to conquer them. But God’s love is entirely different and yes, without a shadow of a doubt, his love will bring us through everything.
3. Tell us about a time recently, where you really put your heart into something.
I am currently putting my heart into a piece of writing I am doing explaining how I feel called to ordained ministry. The trouble is that it’s a very emotional process and not at all easy.
4. What’s your favourite fictional love story?
Niles and Daphne in ‘Frasier’. Theirs was a slow-burn love story for years and years, and when they finally confessed their feelings for each other…wow…those episodes are still my favourites even though I’ve seen them dozens of times!
5. Do you generally wear your heart on your sleeve, or keep your cards close to the vest?
I try very hard to keep my cards close to my chest, but my emotions and thoughts are generally written all over my face. I can’t hide anything.
6. What food says love to you? Why?
Tater Ash – or in posh parlance, ‘potato hash’. It’s a regional poor-man’s dinner of minced beef, onions, carrots and potatoes in a rich gravy which we have when it’s cold outside, when there’s not much food in the house, when we want to fill ourselves up on yummy goodness, when there are too many mouths to feed for the amount food we have available and so on. It’s one of those dishes that most people I know have grown up with and each family will have their own variation – some will put brown sauce in, some will add other vegetables, some will use Oxo stock cubes rather than Knorr etc. It is always the tastiest when a big panful goes around lots of people and we all fill up on bread and butter, pickled red cabbage and beetroot, and it speaks of love to me because it just reminds me so much of family, tough times and a drawing together to have a tasty but cheap meal.
7.When were you last ‘tickled pink’ over something? Explain.
I did an unexpected and unplanned Spoonerism when we were waiting for the Super Bowl to start the other night, and I asked Kevin ‘are we waiting up for this Bowler Soup?’ (bowl of soup). For some reason it tickled me pink and I nearly fell off my chair with laughter.
8. Insert your own random thought here.
Have you seen ‘The Jump’ on Channel 4? It has been billed as a bit of a “fun” show, where celebrities take part in winter sports against each other and those at the bottom of the leader board each week have to do an ‘air jump’ to stay in or get kicked out. I hadn’t seen it before this year but was aware of its reputation for being a bit brutal, but even so, I am shocked that this year – and only two weeks in – five, that’s FIVE celebrities have had to quit due to quite serious injuries. Linford Christie has torn a hamstring (fair enough, could happen to anyone doing an active, physical competition – think Strictly Come Dancing and the injuries people can get there), but Rebecca Adlington has a dislocated shoulder, Mark Francis Vandelli has broken his ankle, Tina Hobley has broken her arm in two places and dislocated her elbow, and poor old Beth Tweddle has broken a vertebrae in her neck (or back – the news reports conflict) and has had to have surgery to fuse the broken pieces together. Now this is a girl who has competed at several Olympics and is Britain’s top gymnast who has only just retired from competition, so for her to have an injury like that shows you just how dangerous this programme is.
There has been a viewer backlash, especially after Beth Tweddle’s injury, and the production team have allegedly been hauled over the coals by Channel 4 bosses to review their safety procedures, but it begs the question, how much is too much when it comes to ‘edgy’ and ‘dangerous’ activity in the name of entertainment?
I quite enjoy watching winter sports, but even I know that they are highly dangerous and those who take part have to have rigorous training before they compete, risking life and limb (literally) each time they hurl themselves down a snowy or icy slope wearing only a thin bodysuit and a helmet. If the professionals have accidents and hurt themselves badly (for example Lindsey Vonn – video below) then how can we expect mere mortal celebrities to get away with it in the name of Sunday night TV?
I don’t know what the future holds for ‘The Jump’ but I would be surprised if it is allowed to stay on our screens for this year, and I will be very surprised if it ever makes a return.