Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Fruitless Pursuit of Perfection

How are your New Year's resolutions doing?  Are they in tatters yet?  Perhaps not.  Maybe your new found self-discipline is lasting well, but please spare a thought for the rest of us and keep quiet about it!  Both Diane and I would like to lose half a stone each in weight before our son's wedding in May - but hey - in the light of all we have been through it doesn't really matter, does it?  Diane says 'there is hope for any woman who can stand in front of her mirror and laugh at what she sees!'  I think the same is true for men too.  Being at ease in your own skin is such a healthy place to be.  Mind you, I still want to lose that paunch!

Liz Jones, diarist and fashion writer for the Mail on Sunday, took a look back at her diaries since 1978 in last Sunday's YOU magazine.  She noted the same resolutions in many of them.  'Jog, Ex-foliate, Tan, Pluck' she wrote time and again.  'That just about sums up my life.  An endless, ultimately fruitless, pursuit of perfection.'  If that describes you, then I feel for you and for Liz, but surely life is more than that?  What we are in the body is not all that we are.  Whatever size we may be or however ugly we feel, we are made in the image of God and He delights in doing us good.  The greatest good is the experience of acceptance and peace that comes from finding His forgiveness and the inner beauty of a life transformed by His love.

Liz went on to say that in 2012 her list has become 'Filler, IPL, Botox, Teeth Steam, Full set of Lashes, Airbrush Tan, Hair Dye, Brazilian (must be to do with coffee!!), and Gel Pedicure.'  Now that's an expensive pursuit of perfection if ever I saw one.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Happy Birthday to a Great Lady!

What a day and a weekend it has been!  Diane has celebrated her 60th birthday in style.  Last Saturday evening she thought she was going to a quiet family meal out with Matthew, our son, and Sarah his fiancĂ©e.  As they welcomed us into the hotel they led Diane through a curtain to where they said their 'table' was.  Behind that curtain 35 relatives and friends lay in wait to greet her with cries of 'happy birthday' and 'surprise!!'  It certainly was a surprise.  Diane and I have never had a secret (except one other - remind me to tell you about it some time) so she turned to me with an exclamation that could have been mouthed by Hattie Jacques in the sixties sitcom 'Eric Sykes' - 'Oh Eric!'  I wondered if I would be spending the night in the shed.  It was very cold that night so I hoped not, and as it turned out all was well!  She was delighted and blessed by so many people who are dear to us both and we spent a wonderful evening just being grateful that we are both still alive!

Today (the 17th Jan) is her actual birthday and so the house is full of flowers, cards, balloons and gifts.  Some very dear friends, knowing her love of all things homely and made of china, gave her this tea set in which each piece is labelled 'joy' 'hope' or 'peace'.  Others have clubbed together to give her a travel voucher, so I don't know where she will end up!  All in all a tremendous experience and a great start to a new decade.

Our forties were really hard, marred by my serious ill health.  Our fifties were just as tough as we laboured together through over 60 hospital admissions and countless operations.  Boy are we looking forward to our sixties!  (You realise, of course, that I married an older woman - but not by much!).

Happy Birthday wonderful lady!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Independent or Free?

I am half Scottish - my late Mum was a Glaswegian.  They say that a Scotsman is a wit, so I am not sure what that makes me!  As a boy growing up in Guernsey I was very proud of my Mum's tartan and all things Scottish.  Hogmanae - what they call New Year north of the border - was always a great time in our family, with Mum making all kinds of efforts to have only a dark haired person crossing the threshold first in the new year - 'first footing' as she called it.  I would never do because my locks were pale, but I could substitute for the real thing as long as I carried in my hand a piece of coal!  Ah, halcyon days of pipers, drums, Scotch pies and Irn Bru (made from real Scottish girders of course).

What my Mother would have made of all this talk of independence if she was still alive I don't know.  Mum reckoned that the UK government was really run by Scots anyhow, and that Scottish oil from the North Sea paid all the bills in London already.  She would have wanted to be able to vote in any referendum on separation from the UK but I don't think she would have voted 'yes' - but I may be doing her a injustice.  You see, my Mum loved the Queen and anything to do with the monarchy.  She would have no time at all for the idea of an independent Scotland under a president, not even an elected one.  Maybe she would have tolerated an idea similar to that which obtains here in Guernsey where the government is independent of Westminster but loyal to the Crown.  Sadly, I can't ask her now.

Independence is the great longing that accompanies democracy, prosperity and development.  We see it manifest all around the world from Latvia to South Sudan.  Yet in some ways the developed world is less free and independent than it has ever been.  Great blocks of nations like the EU and OAU are letting go of huge areas of their sovereignty to have the benefits of belonging to something larger. In an increasingly troubled world we need one another. For me, that's one of the biggest reasons why I seek to be part of a local church, which in turn relates to a wider family of churches.  As one of Scotland's most famous sons, John Donne, said after all, 'no man is an island entire of itself'.

For the Christian, our loyalty to our monarch, Jesus Christ, means that we surrender our independence to Him, in whom we then find real freedom.  The great Scottish theologian and preacher George Mathesan, also born in Glasgow, expressed it this way...

Make me a captive, Lord, 
and then I shall be free. 
Force me to render up my sword, 
and I shall conqueror be. 
I sink in life's alarms 
when by myself I stand; 
imprison me within thine arms, 
and strong shall be my hand. 

My will is not my own 
till thou hast made it thine; 
if it would reach a monarch's throne, 
it must its crown resign. 
It only stands unbent 
amid the clashing strife, 
when on thy bosom it has leant, 
and found in thee its life. 

Monday, January 02, 2012

Fatter but not Fitter

Wow - was I ever that thin?  Diane hasn't changed a bit, of course, but did they feed students at Elim Bible College in the early 1970's?  I think not.

One of the joys of my recovery from the awful pain of chronic pancreatitis is that I can now eat without agony. Great when you are celebrating Christmas but not so great when New Year comes.  Now I definitely feel the pinch as my belt asks 'are you sure about this?' and there is a lot less view of my feet than there used to be. I reckon I am not alone in this.  The millions spent on the Weight Watchers' advert on UK TV testify to the commonality of this problem.  We are all getting fatter - well many of us are - but are we getting any fitter?  The difference is down to an increase in the weight of accumulated fat and fluid as against the weight of muscle tissue.  The former makes flab whilst the latter is 'fab' (still thinking 1970's!).

Then, how about my faith?  Is it flabby and tired or growing in effective muscle-weight?  What causes muscle growth in the Kingdom of Heaven?  Well, I suppose, much the same as in every other human realm.  Exercise and diet, all part of a healthy lifestyle.  Wait a minute though, exercise hurts.  It only does your muscles any good, apparently, if it does hurt.  Maybe that's why the experiences we go through that cause us to grow spiritually are all the painful ones?  Diet is all a matter of self-control.  No easy answers there then, no matter what the adverts promise us.  So maybe a good diet for my faith requires similar self-control: taking care about what I watch, what I read and who I mix with.  Mmm.

I think churches need to ask similar questions.  Are we getting fatter or fitter?  If congregations grow at the expense of other surrounding churches then they may just be getting fat!  What they need is more muscle-weight.  People of robust faith exercising it more!  And doing so in an atmosphere of love and grace.

So - what about you this New Year?  Fatter or fitter?