Witterings 2007

OK. So now I’m mad. After paying 50p for parking in Hampstead I’m now having to pay £40 for being 3 minutes late. Grrr. And I was in a good mood, thinking about writing this Christmas letter. Now how it’ll turn out is anybody’s guess. Stand back. The blue touchpaper has been lit!

The idea was to look back as all good witterings have done in the past. We did that at the Wood Green Mennonite Church a couple of weeks ago when they celebrated my being part of the community for 25 years. It was such a lovely gesture. Lots of stories. A book of contributions from most people in the church, and a special prayer time where everyone laid hands on me (mind you with 20 heavy hands pressing down on my shoulders I thought my knees were about to give out)!

I came to the church in the autumn of 1982. A couple of years prior to that I’d read this incredibly influential book called ‘The Politics of Jesus’ which has shaped so much of my thinking ever since. Just last month I read a book about the author John Howard Yoder by my former colleague Mark Thiessen Nation. It confirmed just how much the themes in the original book had taken root in my psyche (and not just mine but a whole wealth of folk from theologians to lay people). Since Yoder (no, not ‘Yoda’ of Star Wars trilogy fame) was a Mennonite from the US mid-west it is not surprising that I felt right at home in the WGMC, the only (English speaking) Menno’ congregation in the UK. 25 years on I still feel right at home, amongst wonderful people that I know love and care for me. So I’m grateful (even if I still have to pay the fine). And so far they haven’t objected to my guitar playing and song leading in worship. Funny how years ago I picked up a guitar and hid behind Andrew Kreider and wanted to be like him. Well that has never happened… but by the time he went to university (and was no longer there to hide behind) I at least was able to attempt to lead the singing without cracking up or drying up. OK there have been a few croaks in my time but no unforgivable bloopers.

Another book I’ve read recently was about the aftermath of the massacre of Amish school children in the little Pennsylvania farming community known as West Nickel Mines. You’ll remember the news from back in October 2006 where a known neighbour shot several girls at a one room school house for unexplained reasons. The book ‘Amish Grace’ explores the community’s shocking knee-jerk response of ‘instant forgiveness’. How grieving parents and relatives reached out to the bewildered widow of the murderer.

Despite reading a couple of books on subject I’m left with a mixture of feelings. Awe being a prevailing one. It seems those familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer ‘forgive us our… as we forgive those who…’ is so embedded in their life that there isn’t even the slightest hesitation before they practice what they preach. These ‘quiet people’ seem to know what it means to follow Jesus in a way that everyone understands.

True questions still remain: What do they do with their pain and grief? What do they do with their anger? What do they do with their rage?

One quote from the book remains with me, not from an Amish mouth, but from a reporter at the scene: ‘…our security lies in reaching out, not in striking back’. Thinking of quotes, another from Mark’s book comes to mind from Yoder’s words ‘…the Christian life is not a matter of rules, definable once and for all and for everyone, but of constantly living under the leading of God. The Bible’s prohibitions show us the minimum not the maximum level of obedience.’ Of course we sell the books at http://www.metanoiabooks.org.uk (do you think I’d miss the opportunity)?

Looking back… yes I’m grateful that Viv is still willing to skate with me after 6 years. True there’s been no further threat to her front teeth. She’s not afraid of anything (went to climb Mont Blank didn’t she in September with husband Neall. Mad!) But there has been the odd ‘tiff’!

There we were, Will and Vivienne watched by coach Emma. We’re working on some new steps for our free dance (this year we used some of Nina Simone’s wonderful music: Feeling Good and Love Me or Leave Me. Such great stuff to skate to). I think it was a forward inside 3 turn if I’m not mistaken (and I usually am). Unusual for her, Viv was having a hard time of it. She normally handles all the harder steps… e.g. twizzles and choctaws that I continue to struggle with, but that day, forward inside right three-turns were a struggle. Wanting to encourage (obviously) and offer a suggestion I began to open my mouth, but before anything came out there were these strident words ‘you say a single word and I’ll kill you’! Woooah!

Emma’s jaw drops.

Will backs off. Thinks… definitely time to keep quiet!

Then there’s this precious moment of silence…

Vivienne realises what she’s just said.

Vivienne goes bright red.

Anyway… I’m still here! Yeah!

Now we’re working on an Original Dance programme to some Irish country version of Hey Jude. Wonderful. And I’m grateful. There’s no-one else I’d rather skate with Vivienne! Honest.

Looking back… a wonderful highlight in the autumn was when Jack and Tami and her family visited from San Diego. Jack and I worked together on a project in South African in the early 70’s and then sailed across the Atlantic in his 36 ft. sloop Ganimore in 1974. Since then we’ve only seen each other a couple of times so it was extra special for them to visit. Sounds like it was a long time in the planning. Her parents had been thinking about what to do for their 50th wedding anniversary — and that was 3 years ago! So I was the beneficiary of their family travel celebrations.

Looking back… there have been the regular staff changes at the LMC as folk from the US/Canada end their terms with us. In February we said goodbye to Jim and Lois Bare (after he’d done his big Lands End to John O’Groates cycle ride), and welcomed Ed & Phyllis Shirk from Colorado.

And looking forward… I’ll be spending Christmas with family in Bristol. Mum’s there now (she’s 93) living 15 minutes drive from Liz. I’m trying to get down there every other weekend but haven’t done well lately. Was supposed to be there this weekend but still have the after effects of ‘man-flu’ as it is affectionately called in some circles.

We’re hoping to do an international competition in Germany in June if Viv’s timetable permits. Don’t have any holiday plans apart from that. This year’s was a week’s skating course at the former winter Olympic site of Garmische at the foothills of the beautiful Alps.

Blessings, Grace and Peace


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