Sunday, 25 September 2016

Warming to my theme


When it comes to preaching, is it sermons from The Lectionary or discreet Themes that get your vote?

For many years a typical Sunday at church for me would involve listening to someone preach through either a theme or else a large chunk of a whole book of the bible. In the kinds of churches I attended, you'd be likely to receive a list of themes in advance, in the form of an attractive coloured leaflet, so keen people (yes, I confess I was one) could look up the preacher's theme that week. When it came to whole books (six week on Ephesians - hooray!) I don't know how the vicar decided which to choose, but, being a gently charismatic sort of Christian, I simply assumed they listened to the Holy Spirit on that one. Such innocent days...

Knowing in advance what was being covered gave you a sense of something systematic and was very stimulating. Need five weeks on being a Christian at work? No problem. Not read Habakkuk for while? Never fear, the preacher had it covered. Exodus would take longer, granted, but you get my drift.

I thought this was what happened in all churches till I started going to village church. At village church, I experienced a sense of fogginess and losing the thread, as week by week it wasn't immediately obvious why we were having, say, something from Matthew one month followed by something from somewhere else the next, with no discernible pattern. I was no doubt unobservant, unlucky or just very dense, but it didn't occur to me till I was training for going into the church myself, that there was a thing called a Lectionary and people simply followed the set reading each week and after three years, they would theoretically have heard the preacher steam through the whole bible. What a great plan! 

And there was more. I remember the first time someone turned to me in the theological college chapel to ask, nonchalantly, 'Which year are we on?' I looked completely baffled, thinking what planet is she on, clearly we're still in 2007. She eventually explained that the Lectionary readings rotate every three years: Years A, B and C. I was grateful for the enlightenment. There was clearly more to the C of E than first met the eye.

For the record, I will also always be extremely grateful to the person who patiently explained to me what a Canticle was for, and why it was that in The Daily Office, different bits of the bible were called, confusingly, different names, viz. Psalms, Readings, Canticles and The Gospel, though to me, they were all just 'a bible reading'. 

The first time I had to prepare worship for other ordinands, just following the Lectionary, and not around a theme, I confess I was completely at sea. It seemed so prosaic, so unimaginative, so non-creative. 

I got used to it.

So is it Themes or the Lectionary? Which is best? There's a possible tension between different churchmanship here. Are you more evangelical (themes) than Anglican (set readings)? Or are you the other way round? Honestly, I cannot rightly say any more. 

Since I've now preached twice through the entirety of Years A, B and C, I'm quite at ease with the Lectionary. In fact I have umpteen sets of sermons filed on my laptop under A, B and C. And they can even, in some circumstances (say it in hushed tones) be re-used. The Lectionary also has the wonderful advantage of relieving the pressure to invent the wheel every Sunday, which thinking up themes threatens. Even the most creative amongst us get tired. And preaching from set readings is a good discipline.

Another upside of the 'Common Lectionary' is the sense of solidarity with other preachers all over the country, even world, being formed around the same reading week by week, especially if you're in the Early Morning Sermon Club on Twitter, which is an attractive, yet for me, very scary prospect. Not being a morning person, this isn't really an option, but I like the idea of those clerics that are on Twitter at 6.30am on a Sunday, hurriedly writing their last minute sermons 'together'. It must be nice and communal. 

I suppose the downside of the Lectionary is that unless your parishioners go out and buy one themselves, or go online and work it out, people may well be sitting there on a Sunday morning quite oblivious to where we're at each week, preaching-wise. And as a feature of multi-parish rural ministry is multiple services in different buildings, your continuity can get upset anyway, which makes remembering where we are in the preaching pattern tricky. In point of fact, sometimes we can't even remember which building we're in, let alone which book of the bible we're in.

Tension between the Lectionary and discreet themes was highlighted in this week's Church Times column. The writer complained about the profusion of themed Sundays the church seems to be bombarded with - Sea Sunday, Education Sunday, Racial Justice Sunday, Homeless Sunday - to name a few. Glossy leaflets come through clerics' doors, or we get emails urging us to engage with whatever Sunday is coming up, and I have some sympathy with her frustration, up to a point. 

She lamented the 'agendas of a themed Sunday': 'they are a chance to put ourselves on the side of the nice and the good, to think well of ourselves by what has become known as virtue signalling'. A bit harsh? For although it might take more effort to depart from your usual reading, what themed Sundays say to me is, the Church has something to say on important topics that people on the fringe of the church also value. Themes like race, education and homelessness are bridges across which the less churched and the unchurched might walk. In all the writer's critique, there was no mention of the missiological possibilities of a themed Sunday. Instead the implication was that they were gimmicks. 

Mothering Sunday and Remembrance are themed Sundays and, though amongst the hardest in the Church Year to pull off well, are often those which are the most 'permeable', attendance-wise. You can invite someone to Mothering Sunday and it might just connect with them. You see people at Remembrance who might not otherwise come, because it's a theme we all understand. So from the point of view of mission, aren't themes advantageous?

The writer reserved special ire for 'new seasons'. Apparently there's such a thing as Creation Season now, something to do with the present Pope. Seeing as the threat of ecological armageddon is real these days, it would seem a good idea...

But there was a small concession in the aforementioned 'liturgical rant' (her words): Kingdom Season was at least welcomed as an 'opportunity to wear the under-used red vestments'. 

I admit, I felt mildly depressed. I had to ask myself, generally speaking, is my priestly heart beating that little bit faster at the thought of connecting, through a shared theme, with people outside the church

Yes. 

I had to ask myself, generally speaking, is my heart beating that little bit faster at the thought of wearing liturgical red? 

No. 

It's probably just me, but that's the truth. Maybe I'm not so Anglican after all...



Sunday, 11 September 2016

Dreaming of evangelism

Despite having been embedded in the rural church for 6 years I still dream about successful evangelistic programmes.

I realise this sentence needs a lot of what is trendily called unpacking.

First of all what is 'the rural church'? Rural is a bit of a 'catch all' phrase and much of what passes for rural is not very. Rural might not necessarily mean one working farm and a church in a tiny hamlet (that really would be the rural church) but 'rural' does imply a lot of pretty countryside. And when you have a lot of pretty countryside, you have expensive housing, for which a healthy salary may well be required. So the rural church might just as soon be a 'mixed commuter village' and it might therefore be near a station and a hub of shops and services, like the one I live in. So the answer to the question 'what kind of evangelism do rural churches do?' must have something to do with the context, as it always does. 

Because wisdom has it that the church 'does evangelism' differently in the rural set up. So I probably need to give up my dream of big evangelistic programmes, which may be a false one anyway. And yet...

There seem to be a number of reasons for thinking differently about evangelism in the (small) rural church. Firstly the style in rural/central ministry is to remain fairly close to the seasonal/liturgical year - it's the effect of all that countryside and our big gardens I think. 

So when we're looking for opportunities for sharing the Good News do we really need a 'programme', or are we more likely to look to Harvest, Remembrance, Christmas, and other seasonal times in which to share the message? Because we're supposed to be more tied to the seasons in the countryside. Though if you're upwardly mobile and can travel, you might be a village dweller who's nonetheless oblivious to harvest and who's no more likely to feel the need for church at harvest festival time, than someone living in the large town down the road. Mixed villages contain those who may not have grown up in the countryside as well as those who have, but even those who've lived in the countryside many years may have drifted away from the need to include God in the marking of time. So where does that leave rural evangelism?

Secondly, another factor in middle of the road/rural churchmanship is that the need for outreach/evangelism/sharing faith needs to be gently negotiated, and not assumed. The very fact that people are more likely to know each other in a smaller dwelling place means that calling out distinctions between those in the church and those outside is not seen as strictly necessary. After all, we're all in the same community together; some go to church a lot, some a bit and some not all. What's the problem? Is there any need to think about who might or might not be a believer? And yet, if we're all in the same boat, where does that leave evangelism, the fundamental challenge of Christ, to make disciples of all people groups?

Things are complex in the happily mixed middle. One meets plenty of people who are in fact quite 'connected' to their local church in their own minds ("the church is important in the community", "it's our church", "you're our vicar") whereas many who are actually physically there most Sundays may talk about a much closer link between belonging, belief and collective worship. What in fact is the connection? That you can be 'Christian' without ever connecting the word knowingly to the word 'Christ', is a strongly held position for a number of non church-goers, and so there's a need to clarify terms. But who owns the term 'Christian'?

Finally, evangelistic approaches may have something to do with numbers. There are fewer volunteers in very small congregations, so the 'manpower' needed to host, say, a 10 week course, with meal, IT projection, training beforehand, follow up afterwards, can seem overwhelming. In a previous large-ish church I attended, in a town, the expectation for evangelistic programmes was such that the Curate not only led every session of The Alpha Course, but also wrote all his own talks, even though he could have used the filmed material on offer. The meal was cooked by an army of older ladies, the hall set up every single week with chairs and tables, there were multiple group leaders, and even paid-for babysitting, so young parents could attend. The vicar didn't even need to turn up. This is the content of my dream in fact...

I hope my dream of evangelism doesn't entirely fade, though it may have to be re-imagined. Because if you aim for nothing, you generally hit it. I think what it boils down to is equipping the people of God for the mission of God. However, as the saying goes - not a particularly well chosen one, for my profession, perhaps - the devil is in the detail.




Sunday, 21 August 2016

Rio 2016 and the law of exponential blessing

Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio, where a particularly blessed Olympics as far as Team GB went, has just taken place.

The 2016 Olympics will soon be drawing to a close and I'm thinking of ditching the telly now. After such an uplifting two weeks of sport, not my normal hobby by any stretch of the imagination, with nearly everything I watched turning out pretty amazingly for Great Britain I can't imagine going back to a diet of depressing global news, wall to wall men's football and repeats of Midsomer Murders.

It was London 2012 that first alerted me to an entirely different discourse around British sport and our potential for national success at 'the greatest show on earth'. Up till then we were plucky losers with a modest number of famous medal winners - in Atlanta we were 36th in the medal table, in Sydney and Athens, 10th.

During the 1970s a minuscule number of Olympic names filtered down into consciousness due to their outstanding performances rising above the level of the physical, to something almost mythical - chiefly the diminutive gymnasts Olga Korbut, the 'darling of Munich' (1972) and Nadia Comaneci, who scored a perfect 10 in Montreal (1976). These two, rather than any others, stood out for me no doubt because in the 70s I did gymnastics at school. It was a bit like dance, and the only sport at which I gave even a vaguely passable performance.

But as for the rest of the Olympics of, say, the last quarter of a century, I'd be hard pressed to recall much. Here goes a random attempt, just using my very poor, very non-sporting memory, without the help of Google:

Seoul (1988) - Absolutely zero, though I did know one of the Chaplains. 
Barcelona (1992) - I remember the song - Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe.
Atlanta (1996) coincided with the early rising of our then 6 month old baby daughter, so a lot of swimming on at 5.30 a.m, and one very tired husband who got up every morning with the baby so I could lie in.
Sydney (2000) Splendid fireworks and Cathy Freeman's 400m gold.
Athens (2004) They couldn't really afford it. Paula Radcliffe's tragically incomplete Marathon.
Beijing (2008) I Started noticing that Track and Field have really exciting events, especially when Usain Bolt is winning stuff.
London (2012) Got very caught up in it this year, it being home territory; even went to two events, one with now 16 year old daughter; completely amazed that GB could actually win stuff, but assumed that was because it was on British soil and everyone was completely buzzed.
Rio (2016) Realised something amazing is going on, in this our most successful Olympics ever. Like London, people I've never heard of are getting so many medals for Great Britain that sometimes you miss one because you can only watch one chanel at a time. Come down every morning for breakfast and discover we've won more golds. Our medal total is 66 to date*, more than in London, across more disciplines, some for the first time ever, with actually fewer GB athletes than in London. Golds in swimming, diving, rowing, sailing, cycling, kayaking, canoeing, tennis, golf, taekwondo, dressage, gymnastics, show jumping, boxing, 5000m, 10000m, hockey, triathlon (may have missed a couple...)
Begin to scratch my head in wonder...

It's got me pondering about how success builds more success and what this means in terms of the spiritual, and that intriguing little verse in Matthew 13:12 - 'For those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance, but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.'

Seems a bit unfair of Jesus really. It's in the context of the parables and the one about the sower in particular. He seems to be saying that for those who 'get' him (who follow his teaching?) more understanding will follow upon what is already understood. Enlightenment will lead to more enlightenment. But for those who don't get it (don't get him?) the law of exponential growth will work backwards, and even the small something they did have will reduce exponentially to nothing. 

I might have got this wrong, but blessing appears to work like compound interest. Or Olympic success (even if that success is directly linked to funding. Of course it is - that's obvious). The more you have, the more you get, but exponentially. Blessing doesn't run along in a straight line, but goes up an increasingly steep graph. Maybe that's also what Jesus had in mind when he said 'I have come that they might have life, and have it in abundance' (John 10:10). I guess in sport it stands to reason that if you start from a successful beginning, with success to look up to, you can build even more success. If you come into a sport on the back foot, it'll take longer to build up to even modest success.

It reminds me of CS Lewis's concept of heaven and hell (purgatory?) in The Great Divorce (1945)Heaven and hell are not equal and opposite, though they appear like this to people at first. In the end of the book, those who have chosen the harder reality of 'heaven' over the grey laziness of 'hell', look down from their vantage point in a green grassy heaven, through a little hole in the heavenly ground, and see the whole of hell beneath them. What appeared, when they were there previously, to be a vast and sprawling grey town, is nothing more than a small reduced spot easy enough to fit into a puddle under their feet. Hell has exponentially reduced, while heaven is a place of endless and growing reality as people continue to travel onwards and upwards.

The 'law' of exponential blessing and growth may well apply to church life too. Churches where evangelistic courses have run, often report that the impact of running the course repeatedly is exponential. You can see this in the growth of the Alpha course across the UK and worldwide. Whether our Olympic success will continue to follow an upwards curve will be interesting to observe. There's nothing particularly 'fair' about exponential blessing - it just appears to be a fact. Whether after a certain point is reached, success begins to breed complacency might be an interesting tangent to explore, along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell's thesis in David and Goliath (2013), where disadvantage actually leads to a special motivation and hidden advantages. 

But for now, I'm basking in the feel good factor, watching repeats of Mo Farrar's races and the women's hockey team's winning goal, and sadly gearing up for next week's Midsomer Murders repeats.

* we ended with 67.






Sunday, 17 July 2016

Sarah's story


Sermon for Trinity 8.

Genesis 18: 9 - 10a. They said to him, ‘Where is your wife Sarah?’ And he said, ‘There, in the tent.’ 1Then one said, ‘I will surely return to you in due season, and your wife Sarah shall have a son.’

There was news recently that women over forty are having more babies than the under twenties.

Today’s story from Genesis introduces us to Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who was promised a baby at the ripe old age of 90.
In a year when we have celebrated another remarkable 90 year old woman, our own Queen Elizabeth II, it is time to trace God’s purposes through the 90 year old wife of that great patriarch Abraham.
Why do we do this?
Why do we trace the story of Sarah today?
We do it for the same reason that people trace their family history.
Your family history matters because it gives you roots.
Our faith in Jesus Christ is rooted in the Old Testament and the way God brought about his purposes through individuals who were flawed – just like he does through us.

So we go back in time today, back past Elijah and Elisha to the time of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, whose family story you can read in Genesis.
The names of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob tend to run off the tongue because they are the patriarchs.
But what of the matriarchs?
Sarah was the first of those, and her story today appears to be a classic example of how God cares about the individuals that are left out.
The sense of feeling left out of the story is something our new Prime Minister sought to address in her first speech on the steps of 10 Downing Street this week.
There is some evidence that many who voted to leave the EU felt left out of the story of the UK, the story of others’ prosperity and others’ opportunities, not universally shared
Those who feel so left out of the story that resentment and hatred are burning quietly away, have a habit of suddenly gaining the headlines, which can be a very sinister thing, as our TV screens show us.
So listening to those who are left out of the story may be the most important thing we can do.
In fact, as if to underline how left out Sarah actually is today, the Lectionary compilers, in their infinite wisdom, have actually themselves left Sarah out of her own story (the reading ends at verse 10a)*
Let’s have a look at that story.

Abraham is settled in the land God had promised him. However, 25 years have past since the promise of a son, and now he and Sarah are, to be blunt, past it.
Or as the bible delicately puts it, physically they are as beyond the kind of pleasurable activity that leads to the conceiving of a child, as Sarah is beyond the bearing of such a child.

In this hot Middle Eastern landscape, the shade of a tree in the middle of the day was absolutely vital.
Here we find Abraham in the heat of the day.
He sits at the entrance of his tent, master of all he surveys.
But where is Sarah?
We don’t know; we presume she’s in the tent kitchen.
Visitors arrive.
Abraham looks up and sees three men, who have clearly travelled far and must be sorely in need of refreshment.
Middle Eastern hospitality dictates that their feet must be washed, they must rest and they must eat.
We might recall Jesus washing his disciples’ feet at the Last Supper.
And here perhaps we have a little comedy going on: Abraham bowing ceremoniously to the ground as the three visitors approach.
Here are three extremely important men - commentators normally cite this visitation as a ‘Theophany’, an appearance of God in the Old Testament in the form of a man; the other two visitors presumably angelic messengers, also in appearance as men.
So this is no ordinary visitation.
Abraham bows down to the ground and asks that he might have the great honour of providing them with refreshment.
And of course, this is where Sarah comes in.
The scene I imagine is Abraham solemnly bowing to the men and being terribly polite and deferential and calm and dignified, then rushing into the tent and shouting for his wife to grab the ingredients for the baking.
He then runs to the field, slaughters a cow; the servant hastens to prepare it then reappears with the meal, suddenly all calm and decorous.
I looked this up and it probably takes 7 hours to roast a calf, so we might imagine that while Abraham and Sarah prepare the food the divine visitors sit calmly in the shade of the great oak trees, the sun slowly descending into the cool of the evening.
Abraham and Sarah have waited a long time for this intervention.
It always seems a long time when God plants an idea, a hope inside us, because then we have the do the work of waiting.
And waiting can be very hard.
Maybe you’re still praying for someone, for a situation, after 25 years?
After 50 perhaps…
Don’t give up.
God will bring his purposes about.

After the long, slow meal, the question. 
‘Where is Sarah?’
(Not sharing the meal, that’s for sure).
‘She’s there, in the tent’, answers Abraham
There, so often in the background, but now called forth by God.
This is her moment.
‘I will surely return to you in due season and your wife Sarah shall have a son’, pronounces the divine visitor.
*And that’s exactly where the Lectionary ends the story -
without Sarah’s own, very human, personal, very understandable reaction.
Because if we read on, beyond the set reading, we get her reaction: she laughs!
If we read on, we discover her in fact listening at the keyhole, metaphorically.
It’s classic picture of women in the Old Testament – listening at keyholes, off at the side, while the men get the main parts.

But God is no respecter of gender.
Thankfully the accounts of family life in Genesis are very human and touching, and honest, especially about the things that go wrong in families.
There is no attempt on the part of the writer at covering up her reaction – because our reactions reveal our hearts and God is interested in hearts.
If you’re interested enough to read on you will find Sarah’s reaction to God’s angelic promise of a son.
She laughs.
Her laughter is not the laughter of joyful acceptance.
It is not Mary’s may it be to me according to your word.
It is the laughter of someone who’s heard it all before.
It’s the laughter of a woman who’s seen it all before, but who’s not felt personally included in the story.
God’s promise was delivered to her second hand, via her husband.
But now it’s her turn to face the music.
After all, Abraham can’t have the son (God may do the impossible, but he generally respects biology).
It has to be Sarah who finds herself pregnant, not her husband.
It’s when things get personal with God that we finally feel included in the big story.
Because if God isn’t experienced as personal, he isn’t God.
So Sarah laughs.
She doesn’t believe.
In fact the text says ‘she laughed to herself’.
So perhaps it wasn’t even an audible laugh.
But God knew her on the inside.
The speaking visitor asks Abraham ‘why did Sarah laugh?’
This supernatural knowledge is verging on the spooky for Sarah.
The visitor wants to know, doesn’t she realise nothing is impossible for God?
But Sarah is now afraid.
She denies her reaction.
‘I didn’t laugh’, she says.
‘Oh yes, you did’, answers the angel.
‘Oh no I didn’t’.
‘Oh yes, you did’.
Oh no I didn’t.
It’s comedy again.
There’s no judgment though – just the observation that, in fact, she did laugh.
And then, a year later, Isaac is born.
And Isaac means laughter.
God takes her reaction and weaves it into the story of the patriarchs, the story of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and Judah, from whom would come the Lion of Judah, the saviour of the world.
By then, I imagine, Sarah’s laughter was joyful, unbounded, hilarious and full of gratitude.
From being outside the story, she was now in the centre fold.
God’s big story is so wonderful, so crazy, so expansive.
May we who are nurtured by the roots of our faith in the Old Testament stories of God’s people, continually find ourselves in the centre of God’s story, and especially if till now we have felt somewhat outside of it.

Gracious God,
Sarah laughed long ago.
You made her laugh.
You showed her
that there is no distance between her and you.
Please, God,
make us laugh, too.
Come close to us,
and let us see your miracles
in our lives.

Amen.

































Sunday, 10 July 2016

Factions, flags and Brexit

Painted at Llennerchwen, Brecon. July 2016.

Some things are best addressed by art and on a recent retreat I had the chance to respond to the political fall out from the UK referendum to leave the EU, by painting. All I can say is that it was very cathartic.

I was a Brownie Guide once, but even so it was noticeable how ignorant I felt about 'my' own flag, and also that my feelings about it were very complicated. Flags are about identity and I tried to imagine what will happen to the United Kingdom if Scotland and Northern Ireland decide that staying in the European Union is more important to them than staying in the United Kingdom. Sad and extremely regretful as I am about the 'Brexit' vote (and immensely cross about the mismanagement of the UK, the misinformation that the country was fed and the lamentable failure of truth and leadership that has ensued), this will be nothing to the feelings I imagine the break up of the Union will engender. 

However it's always the way, as you withdraw and ponder, that you find that things are not as black and white as they seem at first. Sometimes in a union, it is the dominant party that calls the shots about how identity will be represented. So for instance, the flag of St George, waved in certain contexts, would make me nervous about a kind of English nationalism that could be perceived as aggressive and isolationist. I don't identify with that sort of flag waving, English though I am. With regard to the Scottish bit of the Union flag, this was the bit I remembered quite well from being a seven year old Brownie (I've always been 'proud' of being a quarter Scottish, for reasons that are undoubtedly emotionally complex) so aged seven, I had a vested interest to remember that bit and forget the rest. I was ignorant of the St Patrick's cross and the fact he wasn't a martyr (there seems to be a lot of blood associated with the Union flag...) and I hadn't even realised that Wales isn't represented. I imagine a Welsh person feels a bit different about the Union flag for that reason.

One time I did feel especially 'proud' of being British (represented by our flag) was during the 2012 Olympics, but even then, it was because the London Olympics seemed to bring out the best of 'our country', i.e. hard work, determination, brilliant role models, sporting opportunity for those that might not have had it ordinarily, working together, celebrating our diversity etc. So these were the things made our country 'great' - and not some imagined former state of greatness (which may have involved oppressing other weaker groups).

So, the bleeding, dissolving Union flag. I hope I'll be proved wrong, but that is all I can imagine now. One 'Leave' will prompt another, and another. And because I was blessed with retreat time to ponder how I perceive my identity, both as a Christian, an English person (with Scottish blood) a Brit and, I hope, still a European, I also attempted a poem... 

How did we get the Union flag, what influences fed into it, and what might happen if we abandon it and everyone just makes their own? I couldn't (weirdly) summon any feelings towards the EU flag, though recently on Facebook I've noticed a version of it on some people's accounts that shows one of the stars in the circle weeping. Weeping, yes.

Factions, flags and Brexit. With all our political disagreements, and problems around connecting with people from different groups, and holding to some united vision with them (they're so difficult and so different, and some of them are so threatening, apparently, even though they have absolutely nothing; and some of the more dominant groups want to boss the others around, and we never do that, unless you count....ooops) it's going to be a lot easier if we all just create our own identity and have done with it. 

Isn't it? Or should flags be completely immaterial, if you're a Christian. Maybe the Quakers are right after all.





Brexit

I’m planning to fashion a brand new flag
one where the rivers of blood don’t run
as red as the cross suspended dead
on white, in the gap between triangles of blue
like the azure sky and the battle cry
when prayer to St Andrew came true
(that very un-Scottish apostle who left his nets
by the salt of the lake, for the catch would be human too).

My flag will do without the kiss shaped cross
- the crimson saltire: Patrick’s sign.
He wasn’t a martyr to the cause
like that most un-English gentleman, George,
and unlike poor St Andrew’s cross, he didn’t discover
that X marks the spot where you lose your breath.
He followed the faith, but not to death.

My flag will hang together by more than a thread,
its colours and shapes finely tuned like a song
both written and played and conducted by me.
Nostalgia will rule, like Britannia the waves
on my island divorced from the rest of the slaves.

I’ll have green for the ground and white for the clouds,
for the raindrops a shade of Welsh grey,
an umbrella will do for the crest; it’s the best
of the symbols when martyrdom’s put away.

I’ll be committee and board and king
and authority, parliament, judge;
there’ll be no dissent, no bullying head
or continuing historical fudge,
no union of parts with sharp edged hearts
no fighting, no promises broken
no mornings of doubt when luck has run out
and the food bank lady so softly spoken.

The red and the white and the blue, so nearly true
not to mention the gold on the blue. Stars in the heavens now
fallen to earth. Such flags all torn.
Can they be mended
now that something has ended?

For sewing together and piecing together is hard
like the ground when you fall by the hand
of a friend. Like guns when peace has come to an end.
So a flag of my choice is the only voice I can hear
as the papers fly up in the air
and the vote of the summer blows far and near.



CLA. July 2016.