Contemplating story time

The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that Michael Morpurgo, the former children’s laureate, has called on the government to reinstate ‘story time’ in all schools, saying children must have time in the day for contemplation without being tested.  He is concerned that children are introduced to books and reading merely to learn spelling and punctuation rather than to love reading or stories.  It is a concern I share, not just with regard to reading but about many aspects of our children’s education, where testing from an early age has become the norm.  As a governor of a local fantastic primary school I am thankful for the many teachers who manage to get the test results that satisfy some but who teach primarily because they want children to love learning and discovering life.

I am especially interested by Michael Morpurgo’s comment about the need for children to contemplate. He doesn’t say what they should or may contemplate but I think stories are a wonderful way to contemplate our own place in life, our dreams and desires, our hopes and our fears.  I think children often do this quite naturally when given space and time to do so, unhampered as they are by many of the pressures of life or other experiences.

As Advent approaches I find myself, as I do each year, reading once again the oh-so familiar story of the nativity, remembering that it is part of a bigger story of God’s love for the world and all people, and encouraging people to ponder their place in that story. Perhaps our carol services and crib services should be viewed as seasonal ‘story times’ which give people the chance to contemplate – to contemplate the story and their own story, their hopes and fears, or dreams and desires and their place in life and in that big story of God and the people he loves.

by the Revd Rachel Rosborough, Rector of Bourton-on-the-Water, Clapton and the Rissingtons.

Kindness when disaster strikes

Pauline BruntThe pictures and reports of the devastating results of Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines has been shocking. The loss of lives, homes, livelihoods and the cry for help for the basic human need for clean water, food and shelter, has touched hearts around the world. Thankfully aid is now reaching that country especially the cut off remote areas. The cry for help is being met, but the healing of the trauma people have suffered and rebuilding homes will take longer.

We could talk about why this is happening in the Philippines and elsewhere. We could discuss global warming, the problem of people living in areas of instability, providing defences and so on. These are all good and right, but it is the way we face and deal with the immediate aftermath of such things that begins to rebuild communities. What we immediately see after the shock and the trauma is people beginning to help each other. Those able to do so seek to make things safe, to help the injured and vulnerable, to rescue the trapped, to bury the dead, to comfort the bereaved, to find clean water and food, to make some kind of shelter. It is very practical and it is done in one’s immediate location. Across the area hit by the Typhoon people were getting on in their local communities whilst making the world aware that wider help is also needed and needed quickly.

We live on a planet which will experience devastating events, but we also live in a world where human kindness and generosity are seen and begin to bring healing and restoration. It is truly Incarnational.

by the Revd Canon Philippa Brunt, Vicar of Parkend and Viney Hill, Area Dean of Forest South Deanery, Diocese of Gloucester

Choose to be thankful

This time of year, my heart is back home in Utah.  My thoughts are all about Thanksgiving, a particularly American holiday.  The word evokes images of parades, family reunions, turkey, pumpkin pie – and of course – the ubiquitous thirty days of thanks through the medium of Facebook. In November, newsfeeds are flooded with status updates ranging from outpourings of love for family members to gratitude for One Direction (yes, someone did actually give thanks for boy bands).  Perhaps you sense a hint of cynicism?  Surely I should laud this seasonal gush of thankfulness?  And yes, you are right!  However, so many of these posts are swiftly followed by a string of trivial complaints.

Sadly, this is not a phenomenon that is unique to Facebook, it is something we encounter daily, and, shamefully, often coming from our own mouths (I must plead guilt).  In one moment we might express gratitude for our windfalls, appreciation for tenuous bounties: good health, falling in love, new jobs, or the birth of a child.  In the next moment, we pay no notice to the things that are going well, or worse, take for granted those things in life that are solid and dependable: the unconditional love of a parent, supermarkets and pervasive advances in technology.

Being thankful is a choice.  Next time you are standing on the precipice of a crisis, consider whether you are really having the worst day ever or whether you are simply ignoring the things for which you should be most grateful.  Instead of complaining that your smart phone isn’t running on the latest operating system, remember that you hold in your hand more computing power than was available for the Apollo 11 moon landing.  Instead of feeling inconvenienced by the teachers’ strike, be mindful of how fortunate you are that your children have access to free education; think of Malala Yousafzai who was shot in the head by Taliban gunmen for standing up for girls’ rights to education.  The next time you are exasperated with the plumbing, compare the luxury of clean drinking water to the deaths of over 8,000 people in Haiti since the outbreak of cholera in 2010.

Choose to be thankful this week and watch your whole perspective change.

By Anne Baynham, Education Administrator for the Diocese of Gloucester

It’s not religion that causes wars…

Richard MitchellOnce again this weekend, as a nation, we remember the dead of two world wars and many desperate international conflicts since.

The feel is a bit different this year, it seems to me, as momentum picks up towards a whole series of commemorations of the First World War over the coming four years. National groups and local communities are planning how we’ll do justice to a harrowing period of our history that we’ve never really come to terms with. We’re still living with the consequences of doomed youth and the waste of modern war, with the challenge to care for those scarred by war and for families torn apart by the death of loved ones who fight on our behalf to defeat the enemies of peace and justice.

This is tough stuff and I think we’ll need to steel ourselves over the coming months to face again and again something that’s not popular in our own success-driven culture; that failure in our interdependence with one another as human beings remains a stark reality for the world of today.

We remember past wars of the 20th century and sometimes think, with hindsight, we can see where mistakes were made that resulted in the deaths of more people across the globe than at any other time before. Then we’re confronted by our own century and, in the last two years alone, by the 100,000 people who’ve been killed in Syria’s civil war and our inability to stop it happening.

I’d say it’s not religion that causes wars, but human weakness and our inability to acknowledge it. Surely our remembrance only honours the past when we use it to change the future for the better?

by the Revd Canon Richard Mitchell, Vicar of Shurdington, Badgeworth and Witcombe with Bentham

What makes the news?

When sitting down to write this blog I looked up the BBC website to check the top news story.  It was a shared headline on phone hacking and the introduction of the royal charter on press regulation.  Not bad I thought, a good chew over the debate on freedom versus regulation, who shall guard the guardians, the bondage of will, memento mori, maybe (as this is a Christian blog) a little diversion into soteriology and the credibility of our salvation through freewill or predestination.  How would I shoehorn my thoughts into 250 words?

Then I remembered Lucy’s advice to link the blog to a popular news story, so I looked in the bottom left hand corner of the screen to see what the most popular articles were.  I read…

  • World faces global wine shortage
  • Qatar removes Zidane headbutt statue
  • Dell laptops have cat urine smell.

What wisdom to offer?

Drink less.

Don’t make false idols.

Buy a MacBook – they may cost more and do less but they look pretty and smell nice.

The gap between what the editors thought we should know and what we wanted to know is a stark reminder of the gap between what we would like people to be and what they are.  The distance between the person we would like to be and the person we are.  Do we want that gap exposed? 

By Benjamin Preece Smith, Diocesan Secretary