Why am I looking at you from this odd angle?
Because I think I appear flirtatiously cute catching your eye with a coy sidelong glance? Because I have a crick in the neck? Am I having a secret “Aha” moment?
It’s the only way I can get a photo on the webcam without a massive reflection on my glasses.
That’s why. In case you were wondering.
But that isn’t what I wanted to say.
There is this thing that has always bothered me.
I am a seriously frivolous person. I like cashmere and china and perfume and pearls. I like having tea here. All right, I’ve only ever been there once, I own two cashmere sweaters and I bought them both on eBay at a knock-down price – half the price of the cheapest you can buy in any shop anywhere. The only pearls I have were bought on eBay (ditto china) and they aren’t real. Because I’m not rich, just frivolous.
But as I attempt to weigh things up in my mind, I invariably fail to arrive at an accurate evaluation.
Am I disgracefully wasteful because I spend any money at all on Meissen porcelain and costume pearls on eBay – or admirably frugal because I get them for less than a fiver?
Same with dress. Are my clothes modest and plain because I wear grey and brown, long skirts and low heels, and avoid plunging necklines – or don’t they qualify because I wear v-necked sweaters (not crew-necks which I loathe with a passion – they make me look like my head’s been cut out and stuck back on) and my skirts are shaped not dirndl?
I don’t know.
Jesus told that story about the sheep and the goats. This is what he says – listen:
‘Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me.”‘They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or ill or in prison, and did not help you?”‘He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”‘Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’
(read the whole story here – though I expect you already know it well enough)
Hmmm. I have always been bothered by that story.
See – I havevisited someone in prison – but only once. Although I did used to be part of a chaplaincy-run Christian fellowship in a prison, so I did go into the prison every Tuesday for about a year. And some of the ex-cons came to live, or visit, or stay, when they were released or let out on leave. But all that was decades ago now. Though I do write to someone in prison.
And I’ve been a hospice and hospital chaplain, and as a pastor I used to visit folk in hospital quite a lot – because it was my job. But that was a long time ago now, too. I don’t visit friends much now – hardly ever – when they’re sick, nor my neighbours; but that’s because I live such a reclusive life I hardly have any friends and hardly know my neighbours.
If I’m chucking out clothes I send them to the charity shop, so I guess that kind of clothes the naked. Potentially. We did fill a couple of shoe-boxes forRomania. Sometimes I give some money to the church, or to charities, and some of those are for people who are hungry. I vote Labour, against my own inclinations, because the Left take care of the poor and the Right do not.
I try to make sure my family are OK. But then Jesus said this:
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
I could do a lot more. I could give a lot more. As a child in the convent I once worked in (a home for disabled children) said, on being rebuked by a nun who called her selfish: "I'm not!! I pray for the poor!"
I have heard many preachers say – it’s almost a pulpit mantra – that we in the West are all wealthy, we’re all rich. We have houses, we have cars, we have clothes and shoes. Yes, we do. But the houses are often bought on huge mortgages for which we are bond-slaves all our lives. The house I live in is paid for, but it took my mother’s, father’s, both grandmothers’, both grandfathers’ and a maternal great-aunt’s whole lives (and indeed deaths) to amass the money that paid for it. I do have nice clothes, but the skirt I’m wearing right now cost about £3.99 on eBay. And, oddly enough, I actually would prefer to live in a small hut off-grid in a field or a wood, but the English planning laws won’t let me do it.
I have clean water – no typhoid, no guinea-worm. I have comfortable shelter. I have transport. I have lots of books, and a computer and a telly – hey, I have such riches, suchwealth – I know. But no way could I afford to take a fortnight’s vacation on a caravan site or a different country or in fact anywhere at all except my own home. Average incomes in the UK are about £26,000. On a good year I might net about £10,000. I’ve never earned more than £16,000. So I can’t tell – am I rich or am I poor?
I am well, I am happy, I am grateful. Am I also complacent, and indifferent – insular and selfish? I can’t tell.
Will Jesus send me to hell for all the people I could’ve visited in prison and didn’t, or will I get through by the skin of my teeth for having visited the one or two I bothered with? Will the few sick people I went to see save me, or will I be damned for the many I could have made time for and did not?
I don’t know.
The people I speak to about this either say comforting, cheerful things to make me feel better, or else tell me it isn’t really like that. But if it isn’t like that why did Jesus say it is? And how could Jesus have thought it possible to divide up the good people from the bad people like you divide sheep from goats? Surely Jesus must know, the dividing line between good and bad runs through every human soul – and most of us most of the time can’t tell for sure where it is. You look at some vile psychopathic criminal and then you read about his childhood and suddenly you understand. Blaming people is pointless. Life doesn’t work like that.
So am I a very frivolous woman because I like cashmere and porcelain and pearls – or do I need to lighten up because I spend my whole time – all night sometimes – trying (unsuccessfully) to figure out things like this?
Oh – by the way; have you seen Rise of the Guardians? I won’t spoil the story if you are going to see it but haven’t been yet – but I so would have written a different ending.
(As in, this)
Same with this book. Wise. Impressive. 99.9% unread.
A rolling pin. Made redundant by domestic merger.
That was our kitchen clock. For months after it was gone, every now and then those of us sitting having breakfast would glance enquiring up at this blank space of the wall – like shrews (or is it voles?) that go on jumping over the space where the matchbox used to be on the floor of their cage.
Hmm. Maybe I should have kept that. No – I don’t think so though, because Alice sourced some superb books for medieval life background stuff (for writing novels, I mean), and besides, what can’t you look up online nowadays?
Ah – a beautiful print of Ben Ecclestone’s work, a painting of a dancer. So full of life and power, so vivid, his art.
There are just these four. I do recommend them if you can get hold of copies.
I gave these to the Hastings Friends for their library. I don’t think Quakers have much fiction as a general rule. Thee, Hannah, maybe, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
Another Irene Allen. A Quaker friend from Aylesbury meeting introduced me to these. I really enjoyed them.
Oh, Irene Allen’s Elizabeth Eliot books are so good – Quaker murder mysteries!
Such fab songs. If you don’t know them, check out Playing For Change on YouTube. Sogood.