How Do You Measure Up to a Wee Wummin?

My June column will be published today in the Scottish Catholic Observer. It concerns the Sixth Station of the Way of the Cross. Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

What would you have done in her place? Buy the paper this weekend and see what I have to say.

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British Values

Wee Michael

In a galaxy far, far away

The Tory Education minister wants all schools to teach British values. Every pupils should learn about what we, as a sociey, value in a person. He was supported by the prime Minister.

Mr Cameron said: “I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions – those are the sorts of things that I would hope would be inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.”

Surely we could add truthfulness to that list. I wonder why he left it out? I also wonder why the government think that schools are the right place for these values to be inculcated? Surely basic values are learned at home in the first isntance. Our young people can learn these values from the way our society operates. Take freedom for instance. Young people will see that we are free to express our views about anything and demonstrate in public in support of our views without interference or kettling by the police. Well, perhaps not.

Tolerance is a basic value we live by in the UK. We tolerate people’s religious beliefs and don’t penalise them for operating in accourdance with their religion like Catholic adoption societies who try to place children in hetrosexual families. We don’t force them to close, er, well apart from that kind of thing.

The rule of law is important in our society. So much so that we have a legal aid system that provides defence for people in court. We don’t stint on that kind of thing because the rule of law is one of our values. That’s right, isn’t it? Isn’t it? No? Oh!

The belief in personal and social responsibility is paramount in Britain. We can see that in the way that bankers who brought the economy to it’s knees were charged and brought to court. Those bankers who mad fortunes from wrongfull selling of PPI and caused the Libor scandal heve been charged for their crimes and jailed. Well they are going to be charged, tried and jailed then. Oh, they are not being dealt with by the law but the banks have to pay back the money, if you can catch them, well that’s surely personal responsibility. You are responsible for catching the bankers who have robbed you. Simple!

Respect for British institutions is a no – brainer. Who could fail to respect the police who shot the terrorist Jean Charles de Menenzes before he could do any damage with the explosives he was wearing in his puffer jacket, which he wasn’t wearing anyway and then lied about it when it turned out he wasn’t a terrorist. The officers in charge of the force were severely knighted as a punishment. We respect institutions like parliament where the ministers fiddle their expenses and give a short, cursory non apology and that’s an end of it. We must respec t the coallition government who stand up and admit that the problems we face are someone else’s fault.

I’m also interested in “anything else”, as in “private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.” What else is there? What does that mean, Sunday school, night school, card school? This isn’t just some vague waffle is it? Surely this is something we can learn to respect, just like Dave and wee Michael.

Another Great Read from Gordon Ferris

Gallowglass
“Gallowglass” is the fourth Douglas Brodie novel from Gordon Ferris. I confess I couldn’t wait to read it. I have enjoyed all the Gordon Ferris books so far and this one did not let him down.

It’s not every book that starts at the funeral of the hero. This one does and it left me with a feeling of regret. I’ve grown to like Brodie and the though of no more adventures left a gap. However the action in this story made up for that.

I love Ferris’ use of the post war Scottish landscape as the background to the stories. Those of us who came into the world in a post war Glasgow can relate to his locations. I don’t think these stories would work in any other place.

The book is fast paced and is literally a page turner – thought I read it on Kindle which is not quite the same as flipping paper over. The characters are believable and some, loveable. You will never regret starting this book and might share my sense of loss when it is finished.

My May Column – Simon of Cyrene

Way of the Cross 5

 

Simon of Cyrene is made to carry the cross.

 

Simon had come into Jerusalem, presumably to celebrate the Passover. He is mentioned in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In Mark’s gospel he is named as the father of Alexander and Rufus. I assume from that he was known to the disciples.

 

Simon was probably expecting to spend the festival with friends and enjoy the event in good company. He could never have expected that he would be accompanying a condemned man and playing a central role in his final walk to his death. This would be a very public role. He would not be in the background but would walk step by step with the figure of abuse. Simon would share the abuse.

 

Simon had come into the city for the Passover. He would expect to share in the Passover meal and the rituals it involved. He would spend the evening with his friends enjoying the singing, storytelling and catching up with all the latest news. Perhaps he expected to learn about the events surrounding Jesus. Instead he found himself right at the centre of the story.

 

I wondered why Simon was at the centre of this story. He was not one of the disciples. We never heard of him before this and he was never mentioned again. Why is he shoved in front of us so boldly? Who is he? Then it struck me. Simon is really me, or perhaps a model for me. He found himself in a difficult situation, much against his will, but he got on with it and carried the cross.

 

You must have found yourself in situations like that. You are busy; you have plans. Then you are called upon to help someone. Perhaps they ask for help or someone directs them to you. You may not know them or worse, you do know them and you don’t get on with them. What do you do? Do you help or do you walk away? Why should you be put in this situation?

 

You are busy. I know I am. Just ask my wife; when there is cleaning to do or dishes to put away then I usually have something important to do. There is so much to do and so little time. Sometimes we are too busy to get involved with other people, sometimes even too busy for God. Perhaps we don’t pray as often as we should. Mind you, there are those times when a prayer springs to our lips moments of danger or times of worry. We pray for help from the only really reliable source, God.

 

What do we expect in answer to our prayers? When that young guy in his sporty car cuts in in front of us and we feel that a collision is imminent we instinctively call on God. What are we expecting? Is it angel Gabriel swooping down and pulling the car away? When we are confronted with a difficult situation and pray for help do we expect God to pop in and sort it out? That’s not how it works.

 

What usually happens is that someone comes along and we find a solution. God answers our prayers by using other people to help us. The person who helps usually does not realise that they have been used in this way. It’s not unnatural to feel put out at having to help someone when you are busy. Even Jesus experienced this.

 

In St. John’s gospel we read about Jesus and his mother at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. As we all remember, the wine ran out causing a worry for the family.

When they ran out of wine, since the wine provided for the wedding was all finished,the mother of Jesus said to him, “they have no wine”. Jesus said, “Woman, why turn to me? My hour has not come yet.”

John 2: 3,4

Jesus found himself in the situation that many of us encounter. Despite his reluctance he sorts out the problem. Admittedly, I would be at a loss in turning water into wine, but rest assured we are never called on to help when we are not capable of sorting the problem out.

 

Simon’s example is, perhaps, an extreme one. He was made to suffer the abuse along with Jesus. Sometimes we can suffer similarly when helping someone who is regarded as bad or otherwise unworthy. How often have you heard someone comment on the lawyer defending a notorious murderer saying “How could they defend someone like that. They should be ashamed.” Defence lawyers can suffer in the same way as Simon did.

 

The same sort of thing can happen with those who help asylum seekers or speak up for human rights. They become associated with a group who might be looked down on. I recall speaking with volunteers who worked with the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. They were finding it difficult to recruit new members. They found that people would happily give money to help but didn’t want to be associated with the poor.

 

So, if Simon is a model for me, what sort of changes should I be looking to make in my life and my attitude to others? I think I need to start by asking myself if I am really willing to help others. Am I up for carrying the cross? When someone is in need of help do I notice? Am I blissfully unaware of their plight?

 

I mentioned the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul. The volunteers there, by joining the society, have made room in their lives for the problems faced by other people. How will I make room in my life for others? There are plenty of organisations in need of volunteers who are willing to help others.

 

Now you might complain that I am suggesting that we all need to change our lives. You would be absolutely right. I think that is what being a Christian is all about. Jesus came to change the world. He created a Church to carry on his work. So to be a Christian is to be someone who wants to make changes. The changes must start with ourselves.

 

A few years ago on a visit to Uganda our host told us we would be given a tribal name. This is common practice there. One woman followed us around and observed how we acted and what we did and at the end of the week there she gave us our tribal names. My name was Atwoki. I was told this meant ‘Leader’.

 

On further travels in the country we were asked for our tribal names and I responded with Atwoki. The reaction that brought convinced me that Atwoki did not mean ‘Leader’. Rather I suspect it means something like ‘grumpy wee bald guy’.

 

There’s not much I can do about the bald bit but I’m sure I could be less grumpy. When we all meet together in front of the throne of God and face our final judgement we might be assigned a name that reflects our performance here during our life. I’d be ashamed to stand there and be exposed as someone like Atwoki who is self-important. I’d much rather be seen like Simon who helped Jesus carry his cross.

 

Joseph McGrath

 

 

Remembering D-Day?

The 6th of June is remembered as D-Day, the day that allied forces forced a landing in Normandy that helped chande history – for the better. The media is full of D-Day. Newspapers are full of it, television replies with a barrage of interviews, film and re-enactments. This is seventy years on.

A few years ago I ment an old veteran in Dunbar. He claimed he was the oldest surviving veteran of the landings. I have no reason to disbelieve him. He told me about the celebrations of the sixtieth anniversary. He was one of a group of veterans who were taken to France to take part in the ceremonials. They were greeted by the world leaders. He recalled that the British leader responded to one of the veteran’s jokes as though he had been insulted. “No sense of humour”, the veteran concluded.

A politician would regard such a ceremony as above humour. It would be spoiled by trivia. The soldier might not agree. If they took the war too seriously they might never have survived. Dark humour helped many soldiers cope with the horrors they experienced on the beaches and beyond. It is the soldiers, after all, who are the only ones who can remember D-Day. They were there and experienced it. Those of us who were born after the war have only experienced the movies and they could not possibly convey the horrors, even if they tried.

How did soldiers cope with their experiences? The truth is many did not. Many veterans carried on with apparently normal lives after the war but nobody knew of the nightmares that blighted their lives. Some turned to the bottle. I had an uncle who had drink problems. He never spoke of the war but recently I learned he had been at Dunkirk and had fought his way from the Normandy beaches into Germany. How can we possibly understand the effects of war when we don’t know what really went on?I knew one man who flew Spitfires over France. His family didn’t see any significance in that. They knew little of what he did or saw.

The heroes of the European war were ordinary men. They went back to their ordinary jobs after the war and nobody really knew what it was like. They carried the effects into those ordinary lives and that has shaped our society in a subtle way. Some went into politics and had gained the wisdom to avoid wars where possible. Today we have politicians who only experienced war through the eyes of Hollywood. Is that why we have marched into so many conflicts in this new century?

If we want to remember wars then let it be a memory of the evil that is war and try to avoid it. The pomp and celebrations are all a bit late now. Let’s hope there are no plans for 2024.

Royal Coach – What’s the Fuss About?

The Monarch travelled to the State Opening of Parliament in a new royal coach.

You can see details in this BBC video.

There have been some complaints on Twitter which leave me puzzled. I admit that I think that a republican system would be better – more 21st century and all that , but that aside there is much to be said about the choice of vehicle.

The first thing you notice is that it has no engine. No petrol or diesel fumes to pollute.

It is, of course, horse drawn. I like horses, who doesn’t? Horses brighten up the place and since you have stables anyway , you might as well make use of them. There is a question of economy too. Petrol prices will continue to rise and, remember, oil is a finite fossil fuel. When the oil runs out the Monarch will still be able to get out to Tesco for the shopping while the rest of us will be on foot.

Some people are complaining about the cost, but there I must take issue. This is not a coach made entirely of specially grown new oak. It has been assembled, apparently, from odd bits and pieces from other old stuff they had lying around. It has bits of Henry VIII ‘s Mary Rose, Isaac Newton’s Apple Tree and Westminster Abbey incorporated. Now there’s forward thinking for you.

It’s not just a coach, it’s part warship, orchard and cathedral. Too snowy to get to church? Just have the service in the coach. Security issue? Just open up with a short broadside from the carronades. Of course while it’s sitting around it can be growing apples. It sounds like a bargain to me.

Now this could set a trend. Soon these Russian oligarchs will be foregoing their gin palaces in favour of their very own coach; all trying to outdo the royals. Think of the jobs that will be created there. All those horse shoes to be fitted, brasses to be polished, the economy will boom again.

Now if I traded in the Mazda for a coach, no road tax, no petrol – let the horse munch its way through the back garden, no MOT to worry about? Sounds like a plan!