I often ask myself what the heaven is Church for? And sometimes the answer is, “You mean apart from making me feel good, guilty or foolish? The answer has to be, Not Much”
Then something really worthwhile happens, and I sigh with relief. I may be uncertain about lots of things I'm supposed to believe in, but THIS is really, really doing the stuff.
I am thinking about the churches in Gloucester and their response to harmful cutbacks in services for the poor. We've seen in Gloucester what happens in the health service when the resources are pared away until it can no longer cope. The hospital shuts down. Everybody hears about it, everybody cares, everybody gets mad, and the accountable officials have to defend their actions.
Sadly, not everybody cared, and very few people got mad when the Night Shelter for the homeless closed in February 2013. A few raised a shout when the Day Shelter went on January 3rd this year. Both, note, in winter, when they were most necessary. The County Council had a plan. When obliged, ie when a SWEP was called, they had a contract with Premier Inns to take the rough sleepers to their hotel in Cheltenham.
I doubt you know what a SWEP is. It's a Severe Winter Emergency Protocol. When the temperature is forecast to fall below zero for three consecutive nights, the Local Authorities have a statutory duty to provide shelter for rough sleepers. Except that a week ago when SWEP was initiated Gloucester County Council, and Premier Inns didn't.
You'll never guess why. In the first place there seems to be a lot of official bungling. Bearing in mind, the reason for closing the Night Shelter was because a robust plan was in place to ensure that no-one slept out in severe weather, it seems nobody at the official level knew who was eligible, where they were, and who was responsibile for getting the vulnerable into a place of safety. Because, basically, nobody in charge cares too much.
But the Christains know. At night they take hot soup and a sandwich to those on the streets, and during the day, the churches relentlessly hold the officials responsible for what doesn't happen when it should. A hero of mine is a wonderful man called Tony Hipkins, a volunteer who keeps on and on, quietly, graciously, kindly, asking “Who? What? Where? Why…?
On January 16th. Premier Inns, despite being under contract to do so, refused to take in the rough sleepers because – wait for it – they couldn't supply an address.(!) Or an ID. And the public servant responsible for finding shelter for these people said, ” Premier Inns have refused them, I have no further responsibility.”
There was nowhere for these people to go, except back onto the streets. In sub- zero temoeratures. Fortunately nobody died. Sadly, this isn't always the case.
I'm fed up with the softly, softly approach, so I am sounding off here, where all of 25 people will nod in sympathy or roll their eyes and say, “Here she goes again!” To the latter group I say,
It's time to get mad.
Somebody lives here. I took this photograph yesterday after leaving a fresh duvet. It's the doorway of an empty office block about three minutes' walk from Gloucester Cathedral.
You know, don't you, that I feel it incumbent on myself, from tiime to time, to keep you abreast of the latest news to hit the world of science, as reported in 'The New Scientist'? If you didn't know, you do now. I expect no thanks, I regard it as a public service.
A recent issue concerned itself with the topic of reality. More specifically. The length of the present moment. “Easy,” you might have thought, “A moment is a fraction of a second surely? Besides, ” – I think this too – “How can it possibly be measured?”
Turns out, it can. Furthermore, it's three seconds long. I was, and remain, flabbergasted. Three seconds seems like an age.
I am compelled to reveal more! Three seconds is the length of time it takes the sac of neurons we call the brain to construct reality from the mass of sensory data we feed it. Heavens to Betsy! What is going on up there in your head for that three seconds? Evidentiy we're not ALL floundering about waiting for reality to kick in, so the brain must be doing an amazing job of maintaining an illusion of dynamic continuity, and yes, an illusion it surely is. The brain gives us it's best guess, and we run with it.
My world turned upside down when I learned that I am more than 99% pure energy. Compress the nuclei of my atoms into a solid, and you get a lump the size of a grain of salt. Practically pure energy can get away with appearing remarkably solid, but there you are, it isn't, or anyway, not so much. Couple THAT with the three-second reality gap and Bob is no longer your uncle, because:
We are not, it seems, all that we seem, not by a long chalk,. We are pretty much pure illusion.
I was going to write about being a Storyteller. I glance up at the title and wonder how I'm going to get back to my topic. Dive straight in must be the best course, bearing in mind that I've wasted so much of your time getting here.
Whatever you think about yourself is a construct of reality based on your brain's best guess with the stuff that might be real enough once it's processed. You have three seconds every moment to intervene. What are the stories you have constructed to tell about yourself?
Look, I know I shouldn't be saying this, and please don't think I'm encouraging you to deceive yourself or others, but if your story doesn't bring you happiness, alter it.
At least give it a go. Reality is a highly questionable commodity, so don't be satisfied with what you don't want it to be.
I do not habitually listen to news programmes. I don’t say this is a good thing, it’s just my way of keeping in check the amount of sadness amd pain I’m subjected to, because, frankly, I just can’t take it. Sometimes, though, I feel I must.
Yesterday I watched an hour of news that was entirely concerned with the assassination in Paris, of the staff of the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, that were targeted for ‘mocking’ The Prophet Mohammed.
I found it hard. I wept. For the men and women who were killed, for the shocked people of Paris.. . But I felt I had to see it through, to bear witness to this latest manifestation of hate, intolerance and wickedness that some are capable of in the name of God.
I despair. Mankind has no need of a God, or a prophet, that inspires such grotesque acts of worship as this.
There is good news too. I see that many people, including Muslims, are speaking out, holding vigils, wearing Tee-shirts, writing blogs …. Saying to the perpetrators of this hate-crime, ‘Me too! You might as well take me to…. Because living in the world you want to bring about, wouldn’t be worth it.’
They can’t kill us all.
Yesterday I returned from a fabulous holiday with my family, now almost a clan, and here I am reflecting on the joys of the second half of life.
All that I will 'achieve' in the worldly sense is now behind me. I have more 'stuff' than I know what to do with, and no desire to engage in the duallist ding-dongs of the days when I believed it was better to be right than happy.
It feels like my ship of state is sailing over the horizon, but the journey holds no fear. I have found real and lasting things to love: precious time with my family, the pleasure of a country walk the fun of playing silly games with my grandchildren …
There was a point rounding a headland on the beautiful Somerset coast where I just stopped, drew a deep breath and allowed simple gratitude to well up. To Whom, I'm not sure, but for what? Well, at sixty-four, still being able to bump down the stairs on my behind in a race with my three-year old granddaughter that I didn't even want ro win.