Saturday, 18 September 2010

I am not in the least bit sentimental!

Pictured above are four objects which have graced my home for many a year.

First: A needle pointed coaster which Hope Haug, mother of my friend Jay Haug, gave me as a Christmas tree ornament in 1976. I have treasured it all these years. It is now the coaster on which I place my cup of coffee or glass of water on a wee table, right next to the chair which I use for my afternoon reading.

Second: The "soccer loving monk" - a little pewter made paper weight which Irene Rokowski, (mother of my good friend Joe), brought back for me from the trip to Germany that she took with her husband Ray in about 1986.

Third: A "faux" cut glass ash tray which once belonged to my dear Great Aunt Maud. My Mum scavenged this from Aunt Maud's tiny flat in Birmingham. Great Aunt Maud was a simple soul. She had been estranged from her family for many years, but when she re-connected with her niece (my Mum) she became a family favourite.

Fourth: The nail care kit which my oldest sister Maureen gave me at London's Heathrow Airport on Friday 9th July 1976.  I was about to fly to Boston MA,  to become Deacon-in-charge at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fitchburg, MA.  Little did any of us know that my flight to Boston on that day would change my life. Ask me about that!

The contents of the nail care kit have been renewed, but the leather case is exactly the one which Maureen gave me. 

Maureen's eight siblings, her four children and their spouses, together with her six grand-children will attest that she is a fabulous sister, mother, and grandmother.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Protestant hackles!

Every once in a while my biblical and protestant hackles are roused.  So I need to remind you that  the tourist in the U.K. Joseph Ratzinger, (a.k.a. Pope Benedict XVI), is no more, and no less than the Bishop of Rome, (and a brother in Christ).

All of his other titles (viz:

Vicar of Jesus Christ; Successor of the Prince of the Apostles; Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church; Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province;  Servant of the Servants of God,  are either bogus or un-biblical.

“Servant of the Servants of God” sounds good, except that all Christians are called to this ministry of service, (and the “Popes” who bear this title act more like masters than servants!)

He is also entitled “Sovereign of the State of Vatican City”.  I cannot dispute the legality of this title because the “Lateran Treaty” between Mussolini’s Italy and the Vatican established Vatican City as an independent state.  I can only regret that countries such as the U.K. and the U.S.A. recognised this bogus state and accredited Ambassadors to the Vatican.  (Vatican Ambassadors to these and other nations are called “Papal Nuncios”.   All well and good I suppose, but I do remember that Jesus said that his kingdom was not of this world.

None of what I have written should be construed as being “anti-Catholic”.  I adore my Roman Catholic brothers and sisters, even as I abhor the un-biblical systems under which they minister.

At the same time I also adore my Anglican sisters and brothers, but I lament the multiplicity of titles, and gradations of authority which are given to our hierarchy.  

I also lament those efforts which are being spearheaded by the Bishop of Canterbury (a.k.a. the Archbishop of Canterbury), which, if adopted, would lead to the establishment of an international Anglican Church, e.g.  a “sorta” softer and gentler alternative to Rome.

A plague on both houses!
During his visit to the U.K. Bishop Joseph Ratzinger plans to “beatify” John Henry Newman (a.k.a. Cardinal Newman).   The British and American press seem to accept without question that the “Pope” has this power and authority to beatify - a step before naming someone as a “saint”.

As we used to say in England, this is nothing but “tosh”.  

 The Gospels according to Luke and Matthew are far more reliable in this matter. Their “beatitudes” have nothing to do with papal sleight of hand.  They have everything to do with humble people who love God and God’s world with a crazy passion.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


If I could teach my darling dog Penne to speak, I would start with five words.

I'd teach her to say "Michael, I need to stop".

That way I'd have advance notice of her "pee stops".

As it is she stops on a dime, with no warning,  And she stops firmly.  I am sure that one of these days her sudden stop will rip my arm out of its socket!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Mrs. Miniver (3)

Here is another hymn text by “Jan Struther” (the pen name for Joyce Anstruther 1901 -1953).  She is best known as the author of “Mrs. Miniver”.

Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy,
Whose trust, ever child-like, no cares could destroy,
Be there at our waking, and give us, we pray,
Your bliss in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day.

Lord of all eagerness, Lord of all faith,
Whose strong hands were skilled at the plane and the lathe,
Be there at our labours, and give us, we pray,
Your strength in our hearts, Lord, at the noon of the day.

Lord of all kindliness, Lord of all grace,
Your hands swift to welcome, your arms to embrace,
Be there at our homing, and give us, we pray,
Your love in our hearts, Lord, at the eve of the day.

Lord of all gentleness, Lord of all calm,
Whose voice is contentment, whose presence is balm,
Be there at our sleeping, and give us, we pray,
Your peace in our hearts, Lord, at the end of the day.

It is a sweet enough text, and is well matched to the tune “Slane” (the same tune to which we sing “Be Thou my vision O Lord of my heart”)

I have often enjoyed singing this text.  It has a nice sense of the rhythm of each day, and it does not contain the “class prejudice” of the other two Jan Struther hymns which I have reviewed.  (See my blog entries for Sep 13th and 14th 2010).

Of course it reflects a “working day” of 9 – 5 which scarcely exists anymore. My friends who need three part time jobs in order to pay the rent and put bread on the table could hardly imagine such an ordered day!

So as I sing it I am bound to remember the hard scrabble lives of many working class people for whom “waking, labouring, homing, and sleeping” are at random times during any particular 24 hours.

(In addition, I wish that the first stanza read “your hope in our hearts, Lord, at the break of the day”.  I rarely awaken with bliss!  If I am lucky I awaken with hope.) 

Incidentally, “Jan Struther” herself was an agnostic, but was also a regular church attendee.   In the “olden days” semi-agnostics or agnostics felt at home in the Church of England.  I am sad to say that’s no longer true.  I write as a semi-agnostic!



Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Mrs. Miniver (2)

 Here is another hymn text by "Jan Struther" which we were made to sing between grades/years 1 - 4 in the so called "Christian" services which were mandated in the schools of my youth. 

(I was in what Americans call a "Public School", but what English people call a "Council School" - i.e. a school which is funded and supervised by the local City or County Council).

Daisies are our silver,
   Buttercups our gold:
This is all the treasure
   We can have or hold. 

Raindrops are our diamonds
   And the morning dew;
While for shining sapphires
   We've the speedwell blue. 

These shall be our emeralds–
   Leaves so new and green;
Roses make the reddest
   Rubies ever seen. 

God, who gave these treasures
   To your children small,
Teach us how to love them
   And grow like them all. 

Make us bright as silver:
   Make us good as gold;
Warm as summer roses
   Let our hearts unfold. 

Gay as leaves in April,
   Clear as drops of dew–
God, who made the speedwell,
   Keep us true to you. 

Remember that those of us who were required to sing these words were children from the poorest neighborhoods.  We did not have a chance in hell to ever own gold, silver, rubies, diamonds or sapphires.  

So was "Jan Struther", aided and abetted by our local civic authorities , trying to convince us that daisies, buttercups, speedwells, roses, leaves and raindrops were as much to be treasured as the "real thing"?

Or were they "peddling" a civic religion which was full of good sentiment, but devoid of Jesus's words about justice, mercy, redemption,  and forgiveness.

Who knows?   

What I do know is this:

1. Some of my teachers were Christian Socialists (for which I am grateful).  They understood the fleeting value of "possessions", and the abiding value of God's creation.

2.  I liked to sing hymns  such as "Daisies are our silver" on account of their "nice tunes"!

3.  Jan Struther's words are little more than sentimental crap!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Mrs. Miniver (1)

Is my good memory a blessing or not?  I am never sure.   

What I know is this: that most mornings I awake with the words of a song, hymn, or gospel chorus racing through my mind.  Whatever the music is it remains with me throughout my early morning 2 mile walk with Penne.  

A couple of days ago I was “stuck” on a hymn we were made to sing in the “Christian” assembly which was mandatory in the British schools of my youth (1949- 1965).  I cannot even begin to imagine why this hymn came back to me.

Here are the words:

When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old,
He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold;
With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand
For God and for valour he rode through the land.

No charger have I, and no sword by my side,
Yet still to adventure and battle I ride,
Though back into storyland giants have fled,
And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.

Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed
'Gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed;
And let me set free, with the sword of my youth,
From the castle of darkness the power of the truth.

Of course the text is dreadful.  I think that I knew that even as I was “made” to sing it. 

It is dreadful, for various reasons.

1.      The text has next to no congruence with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
2.      It romanticises “knighthood” in an un-historic fashion.
3.      It is a “boy hymn”, and has no relevance for girls and women.
4.      It has no “points of reference” for working class/blue collar boys.

No wonder that Christian prayer as mandated in Council Schools (U.K.)/ Public Schools (U.S.A.) is such a silly idea.

“Enforced prayer” is always febrile prayer.

“When a Knight won his spurs” was written by “Jan Struther” a pen name for Joyce Anstruther.  She is more widely known as the author of the London Times series “Mrs. Miniver”, later made into a well loved movie. 


I’ll write tomorrow about another of her dreadful texts which we sang in school, and on Wednesday about one of her better works).