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.
I have been very remiss and not taken part in the Wednesday Hodgepodge for some time, and I am very glad to join in today. Thank you Joyce for your questions this week and I hope you feel better soon!
1. Describe love using all five senses-
Sight – my daughter’s face inches from my own when she deals with my chin. She must love me to do that.
Sound – a Christmas carol played in four part harmony by my husband, my children and me, together.
Smell – my putting up with…well, let’s just leave it there!
Taste – a cup of tea made for me by my children or my husband without me asking for it.
Touch – a spontaneous hug (both giving and receiving)
2. February is Canned Food Month. What’s your favourite food that comes straight from a can?
Heinz tomato soup. It reminds me of childhood and it is my go-to food when I feel down or ill, and it is a must have accompaniment to my mum’s cheese and onion pie. Seriously good soup.
3. A principal in a UK school recently sent home a letter to parents requesting they (the parents!) dress appropriately when escorting their children to/from school (basically saying please don’t wear your pajamas). You can read the letter here. It’s gotten a lot of publicity, both positive and negative. Your thoughts? And do/did you ever make the school run (or hit Starbucks, Walmart, etc) in your pjs?
Ohhhh this story made me so mad when it dropped! There are a couple of layers and subtext to this story so I’ll try and be brief with my rant. I understand that mornings are rushed for parents with primary school aged children, but it is no different now that it ever has been, and if mums of yesteryear (myself included) could manage to get ourselves and our kids up, dressed, breakfasted and out to school I really can’t see why modern mums can’t do the same.
But that isn’t the argument here. What has been happening for a couple of years now has been this creeping assumption that it’s ok to “dress down” in public. The parents of this school have not just been dropping their kids off in a morning while dressed in their pyjamas, but they have been turning up to parent-teacher meetings, school concerts, reward assemblies etc like that too. To me, it smacks of a total lack of respect for the authority of the staff at the school and if the parents have a lack of respect, how can they expect the kids to respect them either?
I am all for dressing comfortably – I have stomach problems and after several operations I can’t wear tight bands around my waist any more – but there are other, smarter, options than pyjamas. To wear pyjamas to school is pure laziness and there is no excuse I’m afraid.
4. Crew neck, V-neck, turtleneck, scoop neck…which is most prevalent in your wardrobe?
I can’t stand to wear turtlenecks AT ALL, and I have a mixture of crew neck and v-necked tops throughout my wardrobe.
5. I read here recently a list of four things to avoid so you wake up happier. They were late night snacks, hitting the snooze button, social media just before bed/upon waking, checking emails.
Are you guilty of any of these behaviours? Which on that list do you need to work harder at avoiding?
I don’t snack late at night (I’m not really a snacker to be honest), I only use the snooze button at the weekends when I have to be out of the house at a certain time and it only usually gets pushed once or twice, I am guilt of the social media thing (both at night and in the morning) and I don’t bother with emails until I’m at my desk. I don’t think I’m any less happy waking up in the morning because of social media topping and tailing my day but if there is anything to improve in my routine it would be that I think.
6. Share something you remember about a house you lived in as a child? Of all the homes you lived in as a child, which did you love best?
I grew up in a house that saw all three of me and my brothers were born in, and the best thing about it for me was when my youngest brother was born. It meant that I could have the boxroom to myself while my two brothers had to share, and the best BEST best bit was that my dad built me my own bed in it.
7. Your favourite movie based on a true story?
“The Great Escape”. I know it was only loosely based on a true story, but it is of my favourites of all time.
8. Insert your own random thought here.
Today is the feast day of St Blaise, a 1st century Turkish physician who is the patron saint of wool combers. When he was alive and practising, he healed both humans and animals before moving on to take care of spiritual healing as a priest. It is unclear why he was tortured to death, apart from his connections with Emperor Licinius, and he was beheaded after being beaten with hammers and hot metal combs. Sounds a horrible death and a bit extreme for someone who appears to be so gentle and to whom animals were drawn for healing and comfort.
As a crafter who uses wool regularly I will say a prayer of thanks today for his life and for his faith in the days around the time the Bible was being compiled by the first council of Nicea.
Just a little something to get my bloggy head on again! If you fancy joining me please copy and paste my post into your own (new) post, and replace my answers with your own. If you’d like to let me know how you got on drop me a link to your post in my comments and I’ll visit you in return. Here goes!
Three names I go by
Three places I lived
1. Higher Blackley
Three places I have worked
2. Forsyth’s (music shop)
3. Middleton Technology School
Three things I love to watch
1. Stormy weather beating on the windows
2. Running water – rivers, waterfalls, the sea
3. Candle flames
Three things I love to watch on TV
1. Strictly Come Dancing
2. Sport – especially football, swimming, snooker, darts, diving and cycling
Three places I have been
1. Holy Island
2. Niagara Falls
3. A vineyard in the Loire valley
Three things I love to eat
1. Cheese and crackers
2. Chocolate pastry twists, especially if they are accompanied by a cappacino
3. My mum’s shepherd pie
Three things I am looking forward to
1. Going to bed with its clean bedding tonight
2. Playing carols with my band tomorrow night round the streets of Todmorden
3. Having a day of pure writing tomorrow
Three things I did this year
1. Appeared on a TV quiz show (“The Chase”)
2. Played in the Royal Albert Hall with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
3. Delivered my first sermon
Three things I’m going to do next year
1. Write more
2. Blog more
3. Enjoy life more
Right – over to you. See what your list of 3’s will be!
This is an adapted transcript of the sermon I delivered this morning at St Peter’s Church in Blackley. I used a basket full of vegetables, a stock pot and a jug of water as props to help tell it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts if you would like to leave a comment. Thank you.
We all know that in order to live and be nourished, we have to eat food. It’s obvious really! The biological law of our humanness is dictates that without food, we will die a bodily death. And the spiritual law of our humanness dictates that without sustenance from God, we will die a spiritual death.
Take soup as an example. To make a pan of soup you need some ingredients – an onion, a couple of carrots maybe, possible a stick or two of celery for the base and then maybe some chicken or whatever.
When the law was given to Moses, he had a list of 10 laws, 10 instructions, or if we keep with the picture of soup, he was given a list of 10 ingredients. The laws (or ingredients) were there to help the Israelites live a full and meaningful life, being connected to God and to each other with rules about how they should manage their behaviour and so on. In Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 6: 1 – 9), Moses reiterates those laws. He was drawing close the end of his life at that time, and he was literally laying down the law again because it had gone a bit awry in the hands of the Israelites. By his assertion “Hear O Israel,” we can almost hear his desperation at their inability to keep it simple and stick to the basic law, the 10 commandments given to him many years earlier.
If we keep thinking of the soup analogy, they had taken the simple ingredients for a hearty and healthy soup, and in the manner of a Michelin-starred chef, began adding things that didn’t really make it a better soup, or a healthier or tastier soup, but added and added to the list of ingredients until there were more than 600 individual laws by which the people had to live.
Six hundred? Hang on a minute! From these couple of things (onion, celery, carrot, chicken) there came a whole host of extras – herbs, tomatoes, barley, lentils, garlic, seasoning, peas….
I don’t know about you but if you’re like me you have some worries about what you’re feeding your family and I do like to check what other people are cooking. Maybe online or in a celebrity recipe book to see what the latest way is to do things. My Gran has her own recipe for pea and ham soup, but I can’t imagine me ever cooking it her way, I would probably substitute the ham shank for a gammon joint, or the peas that need to be in soaking on a Friday for cooking on a Saturday would be replaced with something else. I might add different herbs – or extra herbs and on it goes. My soup wouldn’t be the same as hers and I would probably end up adding too many things that don’t need to be there.
Personally, I don’t actually like pea and ham soup so I’d definitely make something different, probably vegetable or chicken or something, and you will have your own ways of cooking it too. But the point is that it would still be soup. Still food to feed my family with to nourish them and in the case of my children, to see them grow up healthily. I could ask you all who read this about your own choices for including in soup and we could go on and on discussing about what should be in and what shouldn’t be in – garlic for tomato soup, yes or no?
Whatever decisions we come to, it is still soup.
But can you imagine what would happen if we ask Nigella, Ainsley Harriott and James Martin what they would put in their soup and tried to copy them. Can you imagine the confusion and the clash of flavours if we try to put in everything they said we should? All the things that we are told that are good for us in one pot? You’re only trying to follow the law, but how confusing!
Let’s just pause a moment here to think about what the law was for, and why they were handed down in the first place. God’s law was there so that people could be close to him, and to live their lives in fullness with him.
Spare a thought for the Israelites then, who only wanted to be obedient to God and be drawn closer to him. They ended up with so many laws that they lost what it was all about, they lost focus and they lost track of the very thing they were supposed to be doing, simply by overdoing it so much. It sounds odd to us, but can you imagine their confusion? “Do this, but do it then, not then. Do that, but not in that way, do it like this but only on a day when…” and so on. We see remnants today of those ancient additional laws. So, from the original commandment that we should observe the Sabbath, we have some people who are so keen not to do anything that resembles work from sundown on a Friday to a Saturday, even though it may cause them more hassle than by not doing it. From driving a car to tearing off a piece of kitchen roll, how are we brought closer to God by not doing these things? Yes, it is important to rest and to pray etc, but not to the point where you make life more difficult for yourself.
Mark tells us that Jesus came and took away all that confusion, that clash of laws, that stopped people living their lives as God wanted them to. (Mark 12: 28 – 34)
He made it perfectly clear to that scribe who questioned him about which is the most important law. Jesus didn’t choose a carrot, or an onion. He didn’t even choose the protein-rich chicken. He chose this – water.
Water is the thing that keeps all those ingredients together and defines a pile of diced veg as a soup – water. Simple, humble, everyday, water. Living, loving water from God our Father.
My soup analogy and the water is my way of drawing a parallel to the way Jesus explained the law. He explained that overriding all of the laws was the one about love. Love for God and love for each other. He couldn’t make it any more straightforward really.
All the rest of the laws, commandments, rest on those two things – Love God, love each other. If any other law were invoked, then we should look first of all at whether it stopped us doing either of those two.
Take jealousy for example. If we put love before jealousy it would put a different light on a situation say where the next door neighbour has a new car, and you were envious of him for it. By putting love first, we would be happy for him that he was in a position to enjoy a new car. But that’s not easy is it? We have all felt those pangs haven’t we? Sometimes mild, sometimes downright painful!
What about honouring our parents? Not so easy in some families, where family honour is the single most important thing in their lives. How does it work when putting parental honour first puts a barrier up between us and God? The teenager who has heard God’s call and wants to go to church, but the family honour, and the parental instruction is that we don’t go to church in this family. They’re all nutters who go there.
Jesus has the answer, and that is by putting love for God before everything else the solution is easier to find.
But we live in a world where it just isn’t quite that straightforward. There are very real dangers out there for young people who don’t or can’t live up to parental expectations. But we have to trust God. He is with us in all things, and he is faithful to us through every single moment of our being, and he will see us safe through to the other side.
If we love him, we trust him.
LOVE is the law that we need to live by most of all. It is LOVE that keeps us all nourished. LOVE is the commandment, the law that Jesus tells us is the one that holds it all together. Without love, we are nothing. Our love FOR God, our love IN God for each other.
To go back to the analogy I painted earlier, like a soup without water, if we don’t have love for God and for each other, we are nothing but a collection of dry ingredients. With our protective skins and outer shells intact, we are not actually joining in with this thing called life. We must be cut up and diced – maybe with a bit of seasoning – and totally immersed in the living waters, the love of God, for us to fully embrace his nourishing and life giving force.
It’s hard though isn’t it? We all know people and situations where it is difficult to see love, or show love. But we have to. It’s the one thing that God says we have to do. If we are not loving him and we are not loving others then we are not doing very much of anything at all. We stay in our little plastic bags at the bottom of the fridge and we don’t get transformed into something glorious as he wants us to be.
It’s difficult to burn soup – it can get a bit thick and claggy at the bottom of the pan sometimes, especially if we don’t keep it stirred, but if there’s too much going on, too many lentils, too much salt perhaps, how best to rescue it? We would add more water wouldn’t we? It’s the same with us and our lives. When we feel like we’re getting a bit claggy and overwhelmed with lots of unpalatable things going on, what do we need to do? More water, more love. More God, more love.
It doesn’t end with us simply being immersed in God’s love and being nourished by him. We have to show others what a joy it is to be a part of him, a part of his glorious creation and how our lives are blessed by him every day.
And how do we do that?
By love of course.
If you like Minions and you like inspirational quotes, head on over to DespicableMeMinions.org where you’ll find plenty more like this one!
It’s been a funny old year, but I am so glad to report that I have arrived at the end of it in one piece and with all my faculties intact. There have been some losses, some gains, some highs and some lows. A few notable mentions:
My Gran – my Gran passed away in February this year and even though her health had been suffering for some considerable time, it still came as a shock and her death has left a huge hole in all our lives. She was a wonderful lady whose love for others marked her out above everyone else. Gracious, cheerful, loving, hospitable, generous to a fault, she will be forever missed.
Education – I passed the first module in my renewed assault on my degree in June this year. It wasn’t a brilliant pass mark, but it was more than I was expecting and it has set me up to carry on with the two modules that I started in September. All being well and good, I will have my BA in June this year. My son passed his Grade 4 Bass Trombone with Distinction in March and he scraped through his Grade 5 in November. He might have done better if he had learned his scales, but hey, everyone knows that scales and kids don’t mix!
Work – I managed to earn some money this year by invigilating exams at my husband’s school, and I also managed to get a few hours supervising in the classroom too. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it paid a few overdraft fees so I’m not complaining.
Church – I completed my first year as an Authorised Lay Minister (ALM) with my church this year, and I am in a period of contemplation and prayer about what – if any – my next steps are. I have had an absolute ball at Messy Church this year. It has been fun, noisy, messy and challenging and I’m really looking forward to more of the same next year. I have delivered two sermons this year – one at our partner church in Blackley, and one at my own church. It was a bit strange, but also entirely natural, to preach to my “own”. I actually felt myself grow during the process of research, writing, editing and then delivering them and it’s something I may have a bit of a touch for. Let’s see what God’s plan is for me this year!
Finance – if you have seen any of my posts about this subject you will know that finances have been extremely tight this year. To be totally honest there have been several weeks where they have been non-existent and had it not been for my parents and my friends we would not have eaten for days at a time. We have cut back so far even on essential spending over the years that when the crunch came, we had no more to cut back on and so the only option was to not buy food. Or medicines. Or fuel. Or pay bills. Anyway, that particular storm has passed and we have got a financial plan in place that means while we don’t have any spare cash we can now at least pay for things like dental care and eye care. I can also pay for my medicine again, so we are ending the year on a high note as far as finances are concerned.
Family – you must know by now that my family is a barmy lot! We have had some great times together this year, including an impromptu roast dinner yesterday (aren’t they the best?!). We have played carols, watched the sunrise, played with a kite on the beach, been for bike rides, seen a wild barn owl, watched Santa’s sleigh pass overhead, fallen out with each other over daft things like “who left their trainers THERE??!!”, played a lot of games, listened to a lot of music, laughed a lot, cried a lot, missed each other a lot and generally got on like families do.
Music – I have conducted the band on top of the world this summer (OK, well perhaps not up Everest, but it felt that high to me after a 2 hour hike up to Stoodley Pike!), been eaten alive by the world’s most ferocious midgies (OK, perhaps not, but if you’ve ever been in Todmorden park on a summer’s evening you’ll know what I mean), played the Last Post at a friend’s funeral, arranged a Queen song for brass band that included the use of half a dozen bicycle bells, begun writing my own song (required for my music module for my degree) and made a start on a Christmas song for my friend Gill (I promise I’ll get it done for next year Gill!). I had the privilege of conducting my son making his debut as a soloist this Christmas and have cried at the sheer emotion of 20 toddlers singing Away in a Manger. It’s been a varied one!
All in all, 2014 has been good to me and I feel like the hard bits have made me stronger. It’s not often I can say that but this year, truly, it’s been a blessing.
My best wishes and my prayers to you dear reader and I will see you safe and sound in 2015. God bless you.