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There may still be some folk who have yet to watch the Christmas edition of Downton Abbey so I won’t ruin it by revealing the story line.

Although chances are that someone will already have posted something on facebook and spoilt the treat of sitting down to view it at a later date.

It’s good to have a surprise in store.

I get really peeved when reading a book review and it becomes nothing but a summary of what the book is about.  What’s the point in buying a copy if a reviewer has already told us the plot?

I avert my eyes and cover my ears at the cinema when the previews come on; they show too much and if I do bother to watch a film that I have already seen previewed then the experience is less than what it could have been.

We need a surprise every now and again.

I long to read a novel, watch a movie or sit down to a soap without having a clue as to what is going to happen.

I guess it’s really an attempt to be childlike again; a time when life was so full of mystery; because as adults we often want to know the conclusion before we’ve even started the first chapter.

As a child I would try to guess what was beneath the Christmas wrapping, as an adult I am asked what I would like for Christmas.  The element of surprise has been taken out and the gift therefore less enjoyable.

As a child I marvelled at things I now take for granted.

As adults we like to be sure, to be certain, we somehow shy away from mystery, we think of the unknown as dangerous.

The inquisitiveness we had as children has given way to an adult scepticism of anything we don’t understand.

A New Year is one of those occasions when we are clearly reminded of the uncertainties in life.  There is no five minute preview of the 52 weeks ahead, of the twists and turns, of the characters who will play important roles in the drama.  No one can tell us how it will all pan out.  It is for us to step onto the stage of 2014 and find out for ourselves.  Maybe this is one of the reasons we spend so much in the new year sales or dull our senses with a little more alcohol than we would normally consume, because to reflect deeply on the uncertainty of our futures makes us feel vulnerable rather than excited.

As adults we know that not everything turns out like a Disney classic.

But the children of a century ago were prepared for an uncertain future, one that may be bleak for them and their families.  Their fairy tales didn’t always end well.  The stories they heard were often a preparation for the realities of life, a means by which they could come to essential truths, sometimes harsh and final, through the mystery of a make-believe world.

Today many seek to predict the future, for some the mystery of uncertainty is too risky to be left unknown.

Therefore, opinion polls seek to forecast the likely outcome of an election; customer surveys are used to predict consumers’ purchasing habits; and at this time of year our Sunday supplements will ponder the likely hits in the worlds of literature, cinema and music; there is a whole industry engaged in prediction.

But predicting the future is nothing new, it has a long history in almost every culture.

Some have read the stars, others palms or tea leaves at the bottom of a cup.  In fact they still do.

But guesswork and playing games with people’s lives is unhelpful to say the least.  Research has shown that rash and irrational decisions often take place when we are guided by such activities.

Of course we are grateful for the weather forecasts that prevented loss of life in the recent flood surge on the Lincolnshire coast and rivers.

However, one of the great riches of human life is the element of surprise, the unknowing, the uncertainty, the mystery.  Faith is all about trust, taking the next step without knowing for sure what lies ahead.

As I look back over the past year I realise that the occasions that brought me most joy took me by surprise, they could not have been predicted.  Also I am relieved that a year ago I didn’t know what the challenges of 2013 would be, had I have known what they would be those future challenges would have clouded my entire year and not allowed me to live without constant fear and anxiety.

So we are about to step into 2014; we are uncertain of what may lie ahead but we are expectant and hopeful.  As one of faith I know that in God I can expect anything, hope for everything and yet fear nothing.

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The Legacy of Mandela

7 December 2013

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We have had a long time to prepare for the death of Nelson Mandela.  This has afforded the media, politicians, religious leaders and commentators the opportunity to draw up statements and obituaries overflowing with superlatives.

Despite the time it will still have been a challenge to express the sentiment suitable for the occasion, though it’s clearly not been for want of trying.

Our newspapers are full of tributes from the great and well known while the lesser ones amongst us are in awe of what has been said.

However it is an even greater challenge to live out the legacy of one of the most inspirational human beings of the twentieth century. 

It’s not what Nelson Mandela said or achieved in South Africa that should concern us now but what he has inspired us to do in our own context that should set him apart from so many lesser politicians.

Nelson Mandela makes us believe in ourselves as part of the process of transformation.

In 2007 Robert, my younger son, and I stood in Parliament Square as President Mandela’s statue was unveiled.  Parliament Square of course is a historic site of political protest and demonstration, where for generations, the pursuit of justice has been played out in sight of the establishment. That sunny and memorable day, in a short speech, with the square filled with people, and others hanging out of office windows all around, Mandela recalled the occasion when forty five years before, in 1962, just months before his arrest and imprisonment on Robben Island, he and Oliver Tambo had visited London.  On exiting Westminster Abbey they stood in Parliament Square.  They looked around at the statues of the so-called great and good.  Then they half-joked that one day there may even be a statue of one of them!

Forty five years later, alongside the politicians and military leaders of centuries past, stood Nelson Mandela, cast in bronze for the centuries to come. He was now deemed equal to some of those who had shaped the most significant changes in human history; the American President who emancipated the slaves, and the British war-time Prime Minister who led the fight against fascism in Europe.

What was even more extraordinary about that day was that Nelson Mandela did not use his platform to extol himself; however justified he would have been in doing so. Instead, he was clear that he wanted his statue not to represent himself, but to be a physical remembrance of others; those countless silent individuals, who had stood in the crowds, marched in the demonstrations, some of them paying a great price in order to defy injustice.  He said, “We trust that the statue will be a reminder of heroes and heroines past, as well as an inspiration for the continuing struggle against injustice.”

And so I think that is the abiding image of Nelson Mandela that I have and will pass on to others; a great figurehead, but a humble one, who recognised that like all people everywhere, he was just one individual, and that it is only through the coming together of individuals in a community of equals, that the tide of history may be redirected in the people’s favour and injustice extinguished for the generations to come.

Transformation of our society is the legacy that Nelson Mandela offers us. 

If he could be a tourist dreaming of a statue in Parliament Square, go on to face a trial that would see him incarcerated for 27 years, and come out not bitter but gracious to lead his nation from apartheid to democracy and unveil that statue he dreamt of so long before then all things are possible.

There is an old Russian proverb that says “Live in the past and you will lose an eye. Forget the past and you will lose two eyes.” So we should remember the example set for us by Nelson Mandela and learn from his vision, so that no one should be blinkered or blind to the injustices and discriminations of our day.   

Nelson Mandela has taught us many things one being to look at our own context and work towards change.

In a nation where foodbanks have become the norm we must work for a more equal society.

In a nation where people are having to put on extra layers because they can’t afford their heating bills, where almost a million young people are unemployed, where those that work often do so for long and unhealthy hours and many are little more than slaves we must seek justice for all.

Neither our place of birth nor the school we attend, our gender or colour of our skin should determine whether we succeed or not in realising our aspirations. 

We may not all get a statue in our honour but we should all have the society that enables us to be fulfilled in life.

Lord Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi seemed to sum up all the tributes with this one sentence: “He permanently enlarged the horizon of human hope.”

breaking dawn

7 December 2013

Swanholme Dawn

Swanholme Dawn


The tension and significance beyond expression,
this finely balanced,
finely tuned, moment in time,
a culmination of words and hopes
about to be swamped in waters and blood,
the birth of dawn
after long pregnant night.
The frost-tinted leaves
stilled from the rustle
of the day that has passed;
the cry of the blackened rook
signalling the birth of light;
a stray of light
on darkened cloud
silencing the sound
of night-time
search
for sustaining food and freedom;
the clink of crates
that signify work
while others have slept;
the ticking clock
chiming the inevitable
never before but inevitable;
the increasing distant swoosh
not of celestial flight
but of transport
before and beyond
without delight;
the mundanity
and predictability
of a day that dawns
but of that day beyond words
the Word dwelt
and dwells today
in nature’s delight,
the ongoing onslaught of tasks that serve
and journeys
to God knows where
to here and there,
to hearts and minds,
to lives entwined
in tasks that overlook and fail to see
that in time has come eternity.