Friday 500 – Kitty’s first shoes

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Leo looked up at his office clock and then down again at his notes. There was no more time tonight for study, and besides, the work was proving too difficult to focus on. Writing a sermon on love in mid-February, when so many minds were hurting and hearts broken in his community felt like a huge burden. He was an unmarried pastor who had no expectations of a valentine’s card again this year, though he would dearly have loved to have received one. How could he possibly talk to the congregation about the meaning of love?

He shut down his computer, pushed the books to the back of the desk and stretched. Perhaps it would be better to get out, get some fresh air and pray. He put his coffee mug by the sink – he’d have to wash it up tomorrow, and locked up the vestry. It was already dark and somewhat damp out. He jogged to the car, then paused. He’d not made good on his promise yet to call on Edie, and she’d be lonely too at this time of the year; her first as a widow. He drove to a local corner shop, picked up a pretty bunch of flowers and knocked on her door. Her face lit up when she saw him, and after he’d taken off his Doc Martens they sat in her front room with cups of green tea while she talked about sorting out Jim’s clothes and the aching emptiness of her grief.

On his way back to the car Leo checked the time again on his phone. Time for a quick late bite to eat at home, he reckoned. But it had been a busy week; he wasn’t sure he could remember if there was anything in the fridge. He parked up in town and hurried over to a cash machine. Sitting in the shadows of a doorway nearby, huddled and hunched within a blanket was a homeless man. Leo recognised him. Jonno had had his problems, but underneath his issues he was a hurting person, and likely very lonely right now too. Leo knew Jonno didn’t like a fuss, so got a couple of burgers and a coke from across the street and knelt to hand them over. He patted Jonno on the shoulder, looked him in the eye and smiled.

Tired but grateful for small mercies, he munched on his own burger on his drive home. As he parked up his phone lit up. Two new messages. One from the music leader. Could they use a couple of the young people in the group this week? And could he finalise the song choices tonight? In easy keys, if possible?

And the second message, from his sister. Just what he needed. A photo of his young niece Kitty as a thank you for her birthday money and showing off what she’d got: a pair of pink baby DMs. Her first shoes. He laughed out loud. His sister knew him too well.

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Friday 500 -Babel

‘Hot, today, innit?’ said Nim to Ard one Monday morning as the white sun started baking the ground, their backs, their thoughts.

‘Very hot. Pass me those bricks mate, don’t hang about!’ Ard replied. ‘Any plans for this evening then?’

‘Not a lot, eat a few onions, drink my beer, usual stuff.’

‘Your wife burn the bread again today then?’ Ard joked. Nim rolled his eyes and dropped the bricks at his feet.

‘Watch it! I don’t want to have them falling off the scaffold at this height!

‘Next lot’s coming up. Get a move on!’

And there was evening. And there was morning.

‘Hoot, today, onnit?’ said Nim to Ard that Tuesday morning as the white sun started baking the ladders, their foreheads, their minds.

‘What?’ replied Ard. ‘Hoot? Hetta, doncha mean? Hetta dayday no-yes? Givvit me claycakes.’

‘Comcom?’

‘Claycakes, look there!’

‘Oh.’

‘Twilighting you foodalls dayday?’

‘Foodalls?’

‘Beer?’

‘Oh, beer! Beer happytum, laughyes. Here claycakes.’

‘Ow! You get blackbread dayday? Ha!’

‘Blackbread?’

‘Oi, watchdrop please. Not clever dropping here now. You strange dayday.’

‘Nexty nexty.’

And there was evening. And there was morning.

On Wednesday morning the white sun rose above the mountains, baking the bricks, the tools, the flies, before Nim and Ard arrived at the building site. Ard was hobbling and leaning on a crutch. Nim had hardly slept. His wife had been talking nonsense to him all evening.

‘Hoot, onnit?’ Nim said to Ard.

‘Hetta,’ Ard growled back.

‘Lookit yours leghand. Whatisit?’ Nim pointed to Ard’s foot, wrapped in rags.

Ard glared at him.

‘Claycakes me foot givvit, dimboy!’

‘Oh.’

‘Leghand yours paingreat if it now?’

Ard glared again. Nim turned and picked up a brick.

‘Up now woodroad to tippytoppy, mate.’

Ard growled again and started climbing. Nim followed, his bag of burnt bread swinging from his back. He would have to have words with his wife again. What was she thinking letting his bread burn every day this week?

And there was evening. And there was morning.

On Thursday the white sun rose high in the sky, baking the sand, the roofs, the snakes, before Nim got to the building site. Ard was nowhere to be seen. Nim loaded bricks on to the pulley and started climbing the ladder. As he reached the top he stopped for a rest and a quick drink. Nim opened his bag and looked inside. His flask of beer was getting warm. And something else was wrong. There was a stone instead of a loaf of bread. A large white stone. At least it wasn’t burnt, he thought. He took it out, scratched his head and dropped it over the side of the scaffold.

Far below, a cry of pain and indignation rang out.

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‘Donkeybread!’ said Nim to himself.He stayed up the scaffold for the rest of the day.

And there was evening. And there was morning.

On Friday, the white sun climbed again and hung, baking the stones, the fields, the dry mouths.

Nim packed his bag.

 

Friday 500 -Meanwhile…

A crowd assembles in the cold.

Meanwhile, on a street in Mumbai a man nods at his friend selling cigarettes as he passes on his late commute home. It has been five years since they exchanged a word, but both always acknowledge each other.

Meanwhile, in a practice room in Seoul a retired widow plays the piano carefully, diligently, arpeggio after arpeggio. She would love to meet a man. Someone to listen.

Meanwhile, a couple of boys coming out of a park with slices of pizza in Buenos Aires start running and are chased by a stray dog, who barks and tries to bite them. They dodge into a crowd.

Meanwhile, a man with a bullet wound in his hand arrives at a clinic in Kandahar and asks to see his son. The nurses ask for his name and call for a doctor.

Meanwhile, a girl of fourteen with three tattoos and long green hair shoots up for relief and escape in Naples, hiding behind the locked door in her bedroom from her grandmother. She doesn’t want to know how much she cares.

Meanwhile, in a prison cell in Darwin, the heat is keeping a twenty-year-old felon awake and he watches as the minutes tick past slowly. He wonders about his daughter.

Meanwhile, in a classroom in London, a teacher sits with a seven year old boy who has not been collected. This is already the third time this term.

Meanwhile, on a beach in Antigua a grinning man and his new bride begin a life together by initiating a flash mob, to the delighted roar of the congregation.

Meanwhile, in a poorly lit hospital in Syria a young mum screams as her baby daughter is born. Her husband is not there. The baby starts screaming too.

Meanwhile, on a golf course in Portugal a caddy flies into a rage as he discovers his wife playing with his friend.

Meanwhile, a boy in Guangzhou, tired from study and angry with his father, emails another friend asking about how to get hold of a gun.

Meanwhile, as their first date came to an end in Bucharest, a couple of timid schoolfriends embrace awkwardly and walk home separately. He’s keener than she is.

Meanwhile, a woman in Glasgow sits with her mother, spooning pureed pears into her mouth gently as if she were a tiny child. Her mother tries to talk and she wipes her face.

Meanwhile, an elderly man, sitting astride a moped in Benin, skids sideways as a goat runs loose across the road, knocking him off balance and breaking his arm in the fall.

Meanwhile, in a cafe in the Netherlands a toddler drops his ice-cream on to the grey brick pavement and screams out, causing heads to turn in his direction.

Meanwhile, in a brothel in Bangkok, a girl starts to cry when a man with a big European nose frightens her and refuses to pay.

Meanwhile, on a crowd in Washington DC the rain starts to fall.

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Friday 500 – Hibernation Station

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Greetings ladies and gentlemen of discernment and taste! So glad you are here.

Thank you for your interest in our new state-of-the-art luxury Hibernation Stations. Please do shake the snow off your feet, have a warm drink on us and allow us to show you around.

Everybody here? Lovely. And are you warm enough? The log burners are fully controllable and use our very latest app for minimal effort. Has everyone picked up their complementary organic mohair bedsocks? Wonderful!

Welcome then, to our handcrafted, artisan Hibernation Station Pods. Each Hibernation Station can house one person for a whole winter season. This room exudes an essence of frangipani and vanilla. As you can see, each pod is kitted out with all the best in Scandi warmth and hygge. If the bespoke fairy lights are too bright for you they can be adjusted at the touch of a button. Nothing is too much trouble. Do please come in and feel the softness of our leather recliners, angora cushions and silky bean bags in the reading zone. We have chairs of every description; our motto is that ‘everyone can relax in utter comfort’. You choose exactly what is right for you and changes can be made at very little additional cost.

Our comfort handmade fleece blankets come in a wide range of pleasing patterns and colours, specially chosen to co-ordinate and complement all the other textiles in the pod. In the oak bookcases you’ll find a wide range of relaxing books and gentle creative activities, all well-suited to winter living. Should you opt for one of our duo-packages, with space and provision for two people, you will also get a selection of quality slow-play board games.

You’ll see that there are no exterior windows and that there is no wifi access beyond your light and comfort controls. We don’t want the outside world to interfere with your rest. There are no harsh lights, only warm glows. We can supply candles, but these must be kept on the hearth, as within a very short time you will find that you enter a super-relaxed state.

Meals are provided three times a day and have been prepared to the highest standards by our team of international chefs. We specialise in warming soups and stews, roast dinners, freshly baked bread with crispy bacon and our award-winning range of hot chocolates.

Entertainment is not limited only to reading, crafting and listening to soothing music, but we can provide an unlimited number of David Attenborough programmes. We have taken out the nasty bits and any shots where animals die or are unsuccessful in finding a mate. Some are really quite short now. All can be viewed from your cotton-rich bed with quilted duvets, or from the large bubble bath in the en-suite bathroom. Treatments and massages can be arranged to keep your skin and muscles toned without the inconvenience of exercise; leaflets detailing costs can be found at the reception.

So, who is ready to make a winter reservation?

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Friday 500 – Christmas Pop Theology

Perhaps this is the year Chris Rea will make it all the way home in time for Christmas. We can only hope.

I like to listen in to the lyrics of songs. And, given that ‘Driving Home for Christmas’ is a popular non-religious Christmas song, I found it surprisingly full of hidden biblical references.

Consider the following extracts, and some interesting parallels:

I’m driving home for Christmas

The Israelites had to drive out the nations in the land before they could possess it. But perhaps that is the wrong sense. Think instead of Elisha, driving a pair of oxen as he ploughed a field. Was he driving homewards? Probably half the time. Events overtook him and he changed plans. Like Rea, we are left wondering if there was a satisfactory outcome to this slow march. Unlike Rea, Elisha stopped, killed his oxen, cooked them and feasted with his family, before heading off for a good long time. This seems as close to a portrayal of Christmas as I can find in the Old Testament. A biblical reference about the need for a good feast time with family.

I can’t wait to see those faces

This is clearly a reference to Joseph’s brothers travelling down to Egypt. The phrase ‘seeing’ a ‘face’ occurs five times in this story. The irony of course was that there was a lot of waiting to be done. Christmas always seems like a long wait. Until you reach adulthood in my experience. Then it comes round every twelve months, whether you’ve been naughty or nice. And twelve months come round a lot more quickly than they used to.

Well I’m moving down that line

David in 1 Samuel 17:48, running to fight Goliath. “As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet him.” A reference to the need for proactive Christmas preparations. David already had his ‘gift’ for Goliath and was ready to sling it over to him. Granted, the motive was not pleasant, but it was the thought that counted.

And it’s been so long

An invalid in John 5 had been a very long time waiting for his turn to be healed at the pool of Bethesda. This is clearly a reference to this passage. Jesus heals him anyway, despite it being a non-work day. Which goes to show that the wait is worth it, but you shouldn’t forget those who have to work over the holidays.

But I will be there

This reference is to the consecration of Solomon’s temple, where God tells him in 1 Kings 9:3: “I have heard the prayer and plea you have made before me; I have consecrated this temple, which you have built, by putting my Name there for ever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.” God’s presence is a rather significant part of Christmas.

I sing this song

There are many songs in the Bible, although I think the reference here is to Isaiah 44:23 where even the heavens, the earth, the mountains, forests and trees are all part of the choir. Choirs form a staple of Christmas and trees are now a prominent feature in many places to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Decorated and lit up, they too join in the great song of praise and glory.

It’s gonna take some time

This lyric refers to Nehemiah 2, where the length of his proposed journey from Persia to Jerusalem to shore up the city walls is discussed. Nehemiah is truthful. Partly because he does not have super-speed reindeer (he does have access to a donkey apparently) and partly because he needs an extended leave of absence.

Top to toe in tailbacks
Oh, I got red lights on the run

The levitical laws prescribed dabbing priests’ ear lobes and big toes with blood, which is bright red, just like tail lights. Clearly then, this is a reference to the priestly element of the Christmas story.

Get my feet on holy ground

Moses’ encounter with God at the non-burning bush is the obvious connection here. Rea sings about getting home in these terms, because he wants to be somewhere sacred and familiar. The message of Christmas is that the pitter-patter of little feet brings God nearer than ever before. We have the opportunity to really encounter God and his love ourselves.

And feel you near me

Immanuel, ‘God with us’, the classic Isaiah prophecy recalled at Christmas concerns God’s imminence and presence. Even when apart from loved ones, like Rea we sometimes feel the comfort of knowing they love us. Even when apart from God we sometimes recognise a piece of the divine Love, and when we are close to God we feel those pieces falling into place in our lives.

With a thousand memories

Psalm 105:8: “He remembers his covenant for ever / the promise he made, for a thousand generations”. Not just a thousand memories, but a thousand generations of memories. Which is figurative for ‘a very long time’, but nevertheless reassuring.

So, next time you find yourself stuck in a car, listening to this song on the radio about other drivers stuck in cars, have a think about the lyrics. Maybe there’s more I haven’t even spotted yet. Who knows? Or other Christmas pop songs?

In fact, I’ve gone way over my 500 words target for this week (I hadn’t posted so much lately so this one is longer), so it really is time I left this thought here.

Songwriters: REA, CHRISTOPHER ANTON

Driving Home For Christmas lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.