Sunday, 17 November 2013

It was just a shopping trip

It was just a shopping trip

Returning from a normal shopping trip with my daughter; the car radio plays quietly while we are planning the rest of the afternoon and possible evening .  The dual carriageway is reduced to one through a series of cones. Therefore our slow pace gives us time to see the person on the bridge ahead which we are about to pass under. My first thought is to hope they do not throw anything onto the car, it’s that sort of area (self-preservation being my first instinct). The figure on the bridge moves to the metal fencing and she climbs over. A shock fills our car I ask Ruth to stop the car holding up the traffic behind us. We rush out.  Ruth on the phone, me towards what I now know is a teenage girl. I try to engage her in conversation.  I keep telling her my name and asking hers, she does not give it. The desperate dialogue is one way. In the background I can hear Ruth telling the police where we are. Above me the girl is so close to the edge of the bridge her solitary sobbing shape above me induces within me a complete feeling of helplessness. I cannot catch her.  I cannot hold her. I keep telling her my name, asking for her name. She pulls her hood over her head.  I can hear her crying. I have no idea what to do alone; below a bridge talking to a girl I have never met, urging her not to let go. What words can convince her? I don’t know. I pray as she moves closer to the edge. I wonder what I would see if she falls. I hear the sound of a car horn above, somewhere on the bridge. Two men appear behind her and above me, one a middle-aged man the other a young man in a track- suit, possibly just out shopping. The girl on the bridge is unaware they are there. She will not talk to me she just continues to cry, to sob so close to the edge of the bridge.  I try to reassure her someone is coming to help her. She is one step away from what we believe could be her death. I have no Idea what I am supposed to do or say, how can you know?  I am just aware we are so close to something tragic and frightening. The man on the bridge looks to me and I wave him forward. He moves quickly and wraps his arms around her helped by the young man she is pulled from the edge of the bridge. Taken by surprise she screams loudly to let her go, her legs flailing in the air. The girl is held firmly on the floor of the bridge above us until the police arrive. I hear her loud cries from below.  I have no idea what could have happened to take this young girl to such a state of mind that she would contemplate jumping from a bridge. It was just a shopping trip for us.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Tokens of Trust


Tokens of Trust by Rowan Williams

I have been deeply jolted to the importance of the role of trust in my life and the cost when trust has been missing. Many years ago I spent a long time at the top of a cliff roped and secured being encouraged to abseil over the edge to the bottom a number of feet below. No matter how much my highly competent friend encouraged me to trust him and the equipment, I could not. During the same period of my life it was my job to service the fire service turntable ladders, which meant climbing 100 feet to the top of them. This I did many times never without a sense of anticipation, trusting the mechanics and workmanship that had been carried out. But it is with people where trust is cashed out or held back, reaping rewards or crippling relationships.

I think the book has jolted me to understand my role as a professional truster
 As a stipended priest I am called to model to, and with, my community my profession of trust. As I reflect upon 13 years of my life lived in this community when trust has been at its best between us we have done something for the kingdom, not much but something.  It is true we have different levels of trust in our communities.  There is no one in my community that I trust more than my wife. I have trusted to her everything; my poverty, my fragile passionate love, my now and my future, most of my secrets and all of my hopes.  I would not inflict that weight of trust on anyone else the cost is too high.
Some of the relationships I have had in the parish have been fleeting but trusting. Strangers have trusted me with their secrets, others with their weddings, baptisms and funerals: Precious moments of privileged trust.
Others have not trusted, a working relationship yes, but not trust. I wonder when there is no trust then comes fear and self-reliance. I am aware when my trust is at its least I rely upon what I know and can do. And nothing much is built or done. Willams’ book reminds me the Father trusts creation to its people, the Father trusts the Son with the kingdom, the Father entrusts a fragile Church with the Holy Spirit. Jesus trusts us enough to go home to the Father.

I am asking myself why have some not trusted me and opted for something else, fear and control.  The lack of trust results in relationships that are fragile and unfruitful. I have noticed when trust is not common currency the phrase “God has told” (me) is used. Reflecting on the gospels I am not sure Jesus ever says “God told me”. It is the most non-Christian phrase in use today. It is used by fundamentalist to attack and disarm the enemy because there is no trust.

Some of my most painful experiences have been were trust has been broken. My natural tendency is to withdrawal my trust and be more self-reliant. But in the long term as the professional Truster I am not afforded that for long, because it cripples me. If I cannot trust my community how can I trust God?  I thank God for Willams’ jolt to remind me that to trust is not easy; not to trust is the other kingdom. Trinity 14 2013

Saturday, 17 August 2013

It was our Walk To Freedom

It was our Walk To Freedom

It was our Walk To Freedom tour day. All we knew is that we ended up on Robben Island so we could peer into Nelson Mandela' cell.  The tour bus is on time and the day starts well, a mini bus full of people we have never met before and will never see again. The guide talks us through Cape Town points of interest bringing us to the District 6 Museum.

The late morning brings us to the Langa Township where we come to a reception area not unlike many community centers I have visited on outer estates in England, where people are trying to do good work in challenging situations. We are given the opportunity to see some pottery painted by two township women with no sense of passion for their task. I have seen that look before on the faces of people serving fast food late at night near the end of a shift but not near enough. The corridors are littered with stuff made by local township artisans. This corridor I believe is supposed to instill in us a sense of achievement, a country moving in the right direction, but i feel none of that within me.
We are then introduced to our local township guide. I won’t tell you his name. I can’t add anything to his life so I should not take anything away from it as I am just another rich tourist passing efficiently through. He informs us we can take any photos we want but don’t give money; we will have the opportunity to do that at the end via him. He will judge who needs most of our money; I am already unsure of his generosity. I will not bore you with the whole hour tour; I will not do it justice. Our second to last stop brings us to a courtyard, filthy, not fit to keep you beloved dog in.

We are invited into one of the buildings where I am faced a young woman eating yogurt from as bowl, a young man possibly partner or husband and some small children running around the room. I think our guide is telling us about the lives of these people. I cannot remember beyond the look from the young woman. It is the look of a woman who is about to enter a contact with a man for sex whom she hates. I am guessing this as I have never done this transaction but it’s the closest I have come to prostitution. I register my and her discomfort with the guide but he has only one point left on his tour where he will offer us the opportunity to hand over guide money. The girl departs to another room leaving us in this filthy room, only now I feel soiled inside, as well as outside. I have come to a township and been involved in a transaction I am not proud of, that of being a voyeur of poverty.

We come to the next corner of the tour and the guide makes is last pitch to us. We are literally in the middle of a road. On one side of the road is an empty, fenced off, new houses built by the rich Banks that no one can afford; on the other side of the road is the bottom end of the township. It is a series of shacks with a shared water pipe and no toilets, literally a shit heap. We, the community of the tour bus, are now faced with a decision. What do we give him? How much is too much? How much to clear some of the guilt? I decide on some of money, feeling I am even closer to being involved in some sort of prostitution. I am the male with money and power; the girl in the room, I presume, has neither.


Thursday, 30 May 2013

Cape Town, I am not a bad person

I am not a bad person



While my wife is shopping  in Johannesburg  I decide to walk down the street to see if i can find a coffee. It’s called distraction therapy. In my peripheral vision I see an in coming beggar. Like all discerning white men i take evasive action and do a 180, too late in coming beggar engages me. Not to worry training seems to kick in, course of action is to ignore and look aloof keep walking and repeat silently “she does not exist” , dam it she is persistent. Not far to the shop were wife is engaged in therapeutic therapy, just a few more steps. Beggar unusually persistent right to the door she is saying something, she is making me feel uncomfortable, before the shop and safety dame it she touches me, I am not prepared for this physical contact this is not part of the training. I turn and acknowledge her, I even act surprised, she is better at this game than I. All my training is failed i am faced with a young black woman and her stink. Somewhere beyond the smell l is a request. It is the smell of her i have to overcome before hearing the request.” I want food”, is all I hear.  We enter into some sort of bargaining she wants me to take her to the supermarket to get something. That sounds dangerous i presume i walk round the corner and a gang will attack me. The street security people look on and they are willing to get rid of her, other’s  smile at me they know all my training failed and i am compromised by her persistence  her story and her stink. I am willing to take her to the fried chicken shop i see it as a compromise, but it is then she pulls of her coupe, she takes from her neck a pretty scarf. The beauty of the scarf hides a large ugly growth  and when i say large i mean large. Her mouth moves above the growth which she tells me is cancerous, she also tells me she wants cornflakes and milk from the supermarket as she finds it difficult to swallow. This poorly trained man carrying his principles and fear so well is unwilling to go as far as the supermarket. The one who carries the beautiful scarf that hides the growth that is as visually ugly that equals her stink. She tells me before i agree to buy the fried chicken “i am not a bad person”. No i believe she is not a bad person but she is black, poor, living in South Africa and sick and i am not. I push to the front of the queue and hand over as quickly as possible the amount of money that would buy me a semi descent newspaper at home. I point to the lady in need.  I exit as quick as possible back to the security of the shop and my wife. I am 20 rand light and heavy with my principles. “I am not a bad person”.A

Friday, 12 April 2013

Paris Brown


Paris Brown

According to the press Paris Brown the newly appointed17 year old youth police and commissioner has resigned. A good job too. How can we have someone who is ill thought out, homophobic and crude working for the police? It is a disgrace she should hold such a position paid for by the community. She has let herself down by using social media, that form of communication that seems to be so helpful until we press send before we think.
One moment. I need to say I am relieved that when I applied for my job as priest of Pype Hayes my new community did not trawl through every word i have ever said.  When I went to my training incumbent I felt compelled to tell him I had done many things in my life that I was not proud of. He assured me that these events would shape my life and ministry.
Paris Brown offered herself for public service a fine thing to do. The commissioner believed in the position and possibly Paris so much she was willing to give her £5k of her own money. There are so many things we can learn from this event.
Be careful what the crowd call for they are not always right, we need not be guided by the volume of the crownd.  Where was this girls mentor; her guide, advisor and protector. As a mechanic I had many apprentices and my role was always more than nuts and bolts,many times  mentor and friend.
And finally (there could be more) where is the new start in life? I am almost in tears writing this that at 17 years of age there is no new start no sorry can I start again tomorrow? The police force should have been firm and stood by their decision to appoint Paris. If I, like Paris had been held accountable for all i had said and done at 17 without a new start where would I be today? I am a very minor priest in a very minor parish serving my community. I thank God I was given the possibility of a new start to leave the shit, shame and mistakes of my life behind, for that I am eternally grateful. I wish we could say the same for Paris.  

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

I am not a bad person


I am not a bad person
While my wife is in the shop, I decide to walk down the street to see if I can find a coffee. It’s called distraction therapy. In my peripheral vision, I see an in- coming beggar. Like all discerning white men, I take evasive action and do a 180. Too late; the in-coming beggar engages me. Not to worry, training seems to kick in. The next course of action is to ignore and look aloof, keep walking and repeat silently, she does not exist. Damn it, she is persistent. Not long to the shop where the wife is engaged in therapeutic therapy, just a few more steps. The beggar is unusually persistent. Right to the door, she is saying something; she is making me feel uncomfortable. Before I reach the shop and safety, damn it, she touches me! I am not prepared for this physical contact; this is not part of the training. I turn and acknowledge her. I even act surprised. She is better at this game than I. All my training is failed; I am faced with a young black woman and her stink. Somewhere beyond the smell is a request. It is the smell of her I have to overcome before hearing the request. I want food, is all I hear.  We enter into some sort of bargaining. She wants me to take her to the supermarket to get something. That sounds dangerous; I presume I walk round the corner and a gang will attack me. The street security people look on and they are willing to get rid of her. Other’s smile at me; they know all my training failed, and I am compromised by her persistence and now her story. I am willing to take her to the fried chicken shop but it is then she pulls off her coup d’etat. She takes from her neck a pretty scarf. The beauty of the scarf hides a large ugly growth, and when I say large, I mean large. Her mouth moves above the growth which she tells me is cancerous. She also tells me she wants cornflakes and milk from the supermarket, as she finds it difficult to swallow. This poorly trained white man, carrying his principles and fear so well, is unwilling to go as far as the supermarket. The one who carries the beautiful scarf that hides the growth tells me before I agree to the fried chicken “I am not a bad person”. No, I believe she is not a bad person, but she is black, poor, living in South Africa and poorly, and I am not. I push to the front of the queue and hand over as quickly as possible the amount of money for her food [F1] that would buy me a semi decent newspaper at home. I point; I exit as quickly as possible, and go back to the security t of the shop and my wife. I am 20 rand lighter and heavy with my principles. “I am not a bad person”.