Dachsund (from ‘Picasso’s Animals’)

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Sausage dog, long and looping.

A bridge, stretched between stout supports, bowing.

Your aeroplane nose flies west, somewhere I’ve never been,

connecting me to a dream she had of one of this breed –

but a breed apart – a dachsund that loved unconditionally,

and so could be taken to heart, unreservedly.

Cynophobic, she woke up wanting to have one.

Sausage dog (God spelled backwards), with your

pendulum ears sweeping down to earth,

you could make a vegetarian want to eat you.

Horses

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You stop to look at them,
on a morning when the ice imprisons the sun,
Their shuffle breaks the muddy glass of the ground.
And you pause and find they are already looking at you,
with a sorrow they will not communicate.
On the other side of the barrier,
spectators at an accident, or aliens,
compassionate, examining your frail and damaged flesh.
What future grief do they foresee?
What present tenderness?
The horses know and will not tell.
When you remember, and return to them again,
you will find them gone, distant, on the other side of the field,
guarding the secret that you never told.

Rafael

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New poem for my new nephew.

Rafael

Little star
Born in the morning
before the old, grey world yawned,
braced itself, drew a deep breath.

You appeared,
And who could contain a smile,
suppress the surprise of a beaming grin,
to hear of your cry, your waking the dawn?

 

Little star, little gift

Not yet a twinkle in your daddy’s eye

he wandered the restless world to find
some men poor, but with warm hearts and wide,
some were billionaires but mere beggars inside.
He travelled the glittering globe and knew
that all of its treasures couldn’t compare to you.


Que pasa
little man? To what will the planet come
before you are old, and what will you be?

How I wonder at your destiny…
But your mother knows: you’ve arrived at perfection.

Little star, you may soar high
but already posses a brightness, significance and worth
no learning, labour or luck can diminish or increase.

Our love for you will not grow or fade with age or size.
Relax in this knowledge throughout your time on earth

as you rise and shine and, as now, smile in sleep.

Death threats at college

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If you think religious oppression only exists in other lands, it is time to think again. Forget Dawkins’ mild, intellectual harassment of believers. I’m talking about serious, credible death threats issued to people of faith in England’s ‘green and pleasant land’.

One of my friends, an 23 year old Afghan man called Ali (name changed), attends South Birmingham college and has permission to stay in this country. One of his tutors there, a Muslim woman, engaged him in discussion yesterday in the ESOL class he attends. She asked him ‘what is your favourite day of the week ‘? ‘Sunday’, was his reply. Why? He attends the same church that I do in town and he enjoys the meetings very much. Ali converted to Christianity some years ago, whilst in England.

His tutor, surprised, asked him why he went to church as his mother country was Muslim and that meant that he ought to be a Muslim himself. She emphasized his responsibilities to the faith of his fathers and said that, as an apostate, he could be killed if he returned to Afghanistan. Under Islamic law, this is an appropriate sentence for a convert to any other religion.

At this point in the conversation, things took a sinister turn. Some Afghan men in the ESOL class had been participating in the discussion and, when the tutor mentioned Ali’s life being endangered if he returned to his homeland, they put it to Ali that he didn’t need to go to Afghanistan; they were ready to kill him right here. These men, from the Pashtun tribal grouping in Afghanistan, mean business. The Police have been informed, as well as his college, and we’re making provision for Ali to go to a safe house in the city where he will be reasonably secure from the prospect of imminent death.

The sad thing is that many people hearing about this event will dismiss it as a manifestation of a primitive and problematic sub culture that just happens to exist on our shores because of government migration policy. ‘Afghan tribes people always fight one another’. ‘Bloody asylum seekers’. ‘Look, religion causing trouble again.’

Such analyses are lazy and naïve. Much though I respect her stand for ‘faith’, Baroness Warsi doesn’t do us any favours if the message she puts over is that all faiths are the same. They are not, and the attempt to be a ‘defender of faith’, as Prince Charles described it, is as questionable in its helpfulness now as it was when he first voiced the idea. Some belief systems are benign, some are downright toxic. That is true of obnoxious pseudo-Christian groups who hate gay people as much as it does Islamic fascists.

The only faith worth defending is one that passes the test of enhancing and sustaining human dignity and free society and which places absolute value on the individual. Christianity does not persecute and kill ‘apostates’. The word is never used in the Bible in reference to people who convert to other faiths. Fundamentalist Islam does. In this strain of the belief, now current in UK, those deemed kufr – ‘coverers’ or rejecters of the truth – are rubbish, fit for disposal. The guys who threatened my friend Ali may be unsubtle, but they express something of the genuine contempt that this ideology holds towards people of any other belief system, whether Christian, Hindu or atheist.

Oops, I did it again!

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What do American actress Winona Ryder, celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson and footballer Steven Gerrard have in common? As well as being famous people, they have all been caught shoplifting at one time, Antony Worrall Thompson most recently.

What makes rich and famous people steal items that they can easily afford? It’s a mystery. Did you know that certain medications given to people with Parkinson’s disease carry a health warning ‘may induce shoplifting’? How does that work?!

It’s a mystery sometimes, the way we behave. Have you ever found yourself hating something you did or said? Paul the apostle certainly did. In one of his letters he cries out: ‘I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate!’

Paul identifies in himself an innate selfishness that twists his best intentions. This is what causes us to hurt those we love, act in ways we are ashamed of and let ourselves down. Christians know this as sin. Rich and famous sinners need the cure just as much as homeless thieves. The cure is a person; his name is Jesus, and his living, guiding presence in our lives is the answer to our deepest problem.

The parable of the bad Samaritan

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One image from the riots in London captures the haunting and pathetic nature of the events more than any other.

In the video clip, a dazed young man, profusely bleeding from a facial wound, is helped to his feet by another man while others stand around. As we watch the grainy CCTV imagery we hope the hurt man will get the hospital treatment he needs, we hope those around him will help him, that they are concerned.

They are. They are concerned to gain any valuables that they can from this wounded victim. They don’t want to help him, they want to help themselves to his stuff. As he stands there concussed, a man rips open his backpack and empties it of its contents. An ipad, or palm top, is taken out and the robber swaggers off.

It is the precise reverse of the well known parable of the good Samaritan, in which a wounded man is given aid by a stranger. We can call this incident ‘the parable of the bad Samaritan’, as it illustrates, not neighborly care, but selfishness run riot (no pun intended); selfish greed run riot in the most disgusting and predatory way.

‘Self will run riot’ – that is what the Alcoholics Anonymous handbook describes as the root of the alcoholic condition. It could just as well be used to describe the motivations of the hundreds of young men and women out for violent fun last night.

This is what Christians mean when we try and explain that dusty, old-hat, outmoded idea of ‘sin’. Sin has ‘I’ in the middle. It is self will running amok. It will burn your house, kill that cop; it has no concept of society or care for the vulnerable.

Sin expresses itself  in many forms, not all as in-your-face and newsworthy as the rioting. One thing is a common feature, however, of sin at work: sinners don’t want to acknowledge that they are sinners. Why should they? They are the important ones, and to hell with the rest of you; the weak, the innocent, the wounded. Self is all. Self is God. Self must be obeyed, and woe betide anyone who tries to stop me.

That, I submit to you, is the genuine heart of the bad Samaritan.

Love is a losing game?

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‘Love is a losing game’. So sang Amy Winehouse, jazz singer and celebrity, who lost her life recently at age 27. Whatever the official explanation for her untimely death, speculation inevitably centres on her drink and drug usage as a likely contributing factor to her demise. On one point all commentators agree; the loss of someone so young and so prodigiously talented is a waste, a crying shame.

Passion and loss. Reckless waste and love. It was passion that led Christ to the cross. What a pity it seemed, that such an inspiring figure, whose words carried such power, should die in such a seemingly senseless way. If the cross was the true end of Jesus of Nazareth, there’s no way that Christianity could have swept across the nations. Thousands of others died in similar blood drenched futility. No one remembered them.

No, what makes Jesus different is what happened next. History changed when, as the letter to the Romans puts it; Jesus was declared to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead.

There was no flower strewn grave, no token-surrounded shrine made by his mourning fans after he died. Jesus’ followers experienced something totally novel; their shock and sadness turned into amazed awe and overwhelming joy on meeting Jesus again.

This powerful awareness of resurrection life that Christians know leaves no room for hopeless despair. Christ has conquered death. Grief does not have the last laugh. Love lives on.

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