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Using Film with Older People by Stephen Kuhrt

UFWOPFresh expressions of church, and engaging people with film, are usually thought of as appropriate with young people. But they work equally well with older people too.

This booklet tells the story of one experiment using film with older people, and how it provided the opportunity for low key but very effective exploration of the challenge of the gospel—with the benefit of engaging in creative reflection on themes in contemporary culture. It includes specific examples of film clips and ideas, and suggests way to make this work for you.

Quotations:

An interesting postscript occurred when I was asked to reprise this talk at another church. The vicar there expressed appreciation at my coming, but also concern that I was presenting a rather exemplarist doctrine of the atonement—the idea that Jesus simply provides the supreme example of what we need to do to achieve our own redemption. I was grateful to him for highlighting a danger I definitely wanted to avoid.

Whatever the tragedies they portrayed, all of the films also presented the message that a path to restoration was still present and could be found par­ticularly through resisting selfishness and putting others’ needs ahead of one’s own. As in the previous session, this then made it relatively easy for me to go on and link this to the message of the God of grace revealed in Jesus Christ.

Judah Ben Hur as extremely muscular and strong and yet someone who is very much in need of God’s rescue. Signalled earlier in the film when he is given water by Jesus whilst being taken into slavery, this is further indicated by Ben Hur’s ongoing rage and bitterness at his nemesis, Messala, even after the Messala’s death following the chariot race.

Very much an action movie, and not without its flaws, Ben Hur gives a clear message of the limits of human strength and resourcefulness which is finally resolved at the point where Ben Hur comes to faith in Jesus at the cross, fol­lowing his family’s healing.

Even very short clips from films usually require a licence to be shown. Fortunately, many films are covered by the Church Video Licence (CVL), available through Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI), whose website contains a list of the film producers that it covers (www.ccli. co.uk). Churches often already have a licence from CCLI in order to repro­duce the words for hymns or songs in their services, so it is often simply a case of obtaining additional licences. The CVL fees for churches are based on the average aggregated attendance at the main Sunday service, but are very reasonable. Many older films, in particular, are covered by this licence as a result of their rights being purchased by companies other than those that originally produced them. But it is still important to check each one in case an additional licence is required.

Videos or DVDs used, and the clips selected within them, need be marked up clearly beforehand to make the session flow well.

This is probably the most important lesson coming from what has been re­ported in this book. Items of popular culture that resonate with people almost always do so because they reflect some measure of truth about the world in which we live and the human condition. This reflection is always somewhat mixed and flawed, but it is precisely this that necessitates a proper Christian engagement to bring further recognition of those aspects of our culture that should be endorsed and those which need to be questioned or rejected.

Relatively few Christians feel equipped to make such a nuanced response, with many showing a greater tendency to reject the things of popular culture completely, or uncritically accept them. Whilst evangelical Christianity used to be more associated with the former, the latter approach is more often becoming the case, particularly when it comes to relating to film and entertainment. The use of film within church groups therefore provides a very effective means of modelling a nuanced and critical engagement with the surrounding cul­ture

Such engagement with popular culture is also vital to evangelism, with the use of film providing a very effective vehicle for connecting the challenge of Jesus to where people are. Demonstrating an interest in and respect for what already connects or resonates with non-Christians will often generate a re­ciprocal openness to what a Christian perspective has to say into this context. This is often accompanied by a strong measure of surprise that Christianity has so much to say to the things of everyday life. The combination of posi­tive engagement with popular culture, and the prophetic critique of it, can be particularly attractive to those anxious to find an answer to the problems and confusion evident within contemporary society.

What is being promoted here is a theology of integration that refuses to ac­cept the sacred / secular divide bequeathed to us by the Enlightenment (often as strong within the church as outside of it) and is determined to show the relationship between God and every aspect of his creation.

In regard to theological reflection upon film, too much of this work is still largely in the hands of specialists writing rather worthy books for the minority of Christians (usually clergy!) who might buy them. What is needed to exploit the potential of film more fully, however, is non-specialists committed to trans­lating this approach into a more popular setting.

(Currently, websites that do this are largely American and obsess about nudity an swearing)

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A Spot of Bother – M. Haddon

ASOBThis book is generally enjoyable but I felt it was overlong. It can, however, be read in short bursts since most chapters are only three or so pages. All in all, however, it has that feel of a soap opera wedding: something’s bound to go wrong and it does.

One of our members suggested that there were stylistic similarities with the work of David Lodge.

It has a dated feel: Brookside stopped being broadcast a long time ago. Does anyone still buy Zipper magazine?

The key character, George, is well-portrayed: becoming cynical and out of touch as is typical for his age: ‘Human beings were not meant to be sealed into tins and fired through the sky by fan-assisted rockets.’ ‘…things changed. Mobile phones. Thai restaurants’. ‘The human mind was not designed for sunbathing and light novels ‘ He can cope with the notion of sexuality if is between men who have been without the company of women for a long time but is not keen on the thought of them buying furniture: sex without relationship seems preferable to him.

His son, Jamie is grateful that his neighbours are Christians: ‘you could say what you liked about Christians, but they didn’t yodel during sex like the Germans who’d lived there before.’ He enjoys hearing how some people had their clothes stolen at a nudist beach – always carry a rucksack.

There is a sensitive portrait of a gay couple by a straight author and he writes in convincing detail about a mental breakdown and the rational (yet ultimately unsuccessful) planning undertaken to avoid hurting others. The author must have done much research.

The arguing over toothpaste is a realistic portrayal of married relationships, as is the second-best which people settle for when cruising

There is one annoyingly ‘Mills & Boon’ style sentence: ‘she was melting into that dark behind her eyelids, the way butter melted in a hot pan, the way you melted back into sleep after waking up at night, just letting it take you.’ Also, to say that the only thing wrong with celibacy is the lack of sex is somewhat stupid and unfunny.

There is one loose end that annoys me: what happened to the tramp on the railway line?

Quotations:

“And it occurred to him that there were two parts to being a better person. One part was thinking about other people. The other part was not giving a toss what other people thought.”

“What they failed to teach you at school was that the whole business of being human just got messier and more complicated as you got older. You could tell the truth, be polite, take everyone’s feelings into consideration and still have to deal with other people’s shit. At nine or ninety.”

“You love someone, you’ve got to let something go.”

“At twenty life was like wrestling an octopus. Every moment mattered. At thirty it was a walk in the country. Most of the time your mind was somewhere else. By the time you got to seventy, it was probably like watching snooker on the telly.”

“… He had always rather liked emergencies. Other people’s at any rate. They put your own problems into perspective. It was like being on a ferry. You didn’t have to think about what you had to do or where you had to go for the next few hours. It was all laid out for you.”

“He really did not care whether he survived or not, so long as it rendered him unconscious and absolved him of responsibility.”

“It exasperated her sometimes. The way men could be so sure of themselves. They put words together like sheds or shelves and you could stand on them they were so solid. And those feelings which overwhelmed you in the small hours turned to smoke.”

“That was what it meant, didn’t it. Being good. You didn’t have to sink wells in Burkina Faso. You didn’t have to give away your coffee table. You just had to see things from other people’s point of view. Remember they were human.”

“The secret of contentment lay in ignoring many things completely.”

“He’d tried celibacy. The only problem was the lack of sex.”

“That was the problem, wasn’t it? You left home. But you never did become an adult. Not really. You just fucked up in different and more complicated ways.”

“At teenage parties he was always wandering into the garden, sitting on a bench in the dark . . . staring up at the constellations and pondering all those big questions about the existence of God and the nature of evil and the mystery of death, questions which seemed more important than anything else in the would until a few years passed and some real questions had been dumped into your lap, like how to earn a living, and why people fell in and out of love, and how long you could carry on smoking and then give up without getting lung cancer.”

“You could say all you liked about reason and logic and common sense and imagination, but when the chips were down the one skill you needed was the ability to think about absolutely nothing whatsoever.”

“It was true. There really was no limit to the ways in which you could say the wrong thing to your children. You offered an olive branch and it was the wrong olive branch at the wrong time.”

“Everything seemed suspended, in some kind of balance. Obviously someone would come along and fuck it up, because that’s what other people did.”

“How often did he feel it now, this gorgeous, furtive seclusion? In the bath sometimes, maybe. Though Jean failed to understand his need for periodic isolation and regularly dragged him back to earth mid-soak by hammering on the locked door in search of bleach or dental floss.”

“He had always thought of solitary diners as sad. But now that he was the solitary diner, he felt rather superior. On account of the book, mostly. Learning something while everyone else was wasting time. Like working at night.”

“She idly stroked his head in the way one might stroke a dog.”

“She understood now. You got married in spite of your wedding not because of it.”

“Ray was disappointed by the (Millennium) wheel. Too well engineered, he said. He wanted the wind in his hair and a rusty handrail and the faint possibility that the whole structure might collapse.”

“The Dordogne in 1984 was the nadir. Diarrhoea, moths like flying hamsters, the blowtorch heat. Awake at three in the morning on a damp and lumpy mattress. Then the storm. Like someone hammering sheets of tin. Lightning so bright it came through the pillow. In the morning sixty, seventy dead frogs turning slowly in the pool. And at the far end something larger and furrier, a cat perhaps, or the Franzetti’s dog, which Katie was poking with a snorkel.”

“After an Indian meal they went back to Jamie’s flat and Tony did at least two things to him on the sofa that no one had ever done to him before then came back and them again the following evening, and suddenly life became very good indeed.”

“The secret of contentment, George felt, lay in ignoring many things completely. How anyone could work in the same office for ten years or bring up children without putting certain things to the back of their mind was beyond him.”

“When he finally let the car it was because e could no longer bear his own company in such a confined space.”

“School might have been shit, but at least it was simple.”

“If he wasn’t careful he’d turn into one of those men who cared more about furniture than human beings. He’d end up living with someone else who cared more about furniture than human beings and they’d lead a life which looked perfectly normal from the outside but was, in truth, a kind of living death that left your heart looking like a raisin.”

“Maybe George was fooling himself. Maybe old people always fooled themselves, pretending that the world was going to hell because it was easier than admitting they were being left behind, that the future was pulling away from the beach and they were standing on their little island bidding it good riddance, knowing in their hearts that there was nothing left for them to do but sit around on the shingle waiting for the big disease to come out of the undergrowth.”

“At home he was reading Pet Cemetery, but reading that in public was like leaving the house in your underwear.”

“He sat on the tube knowing he was going to hell. The only way to reduce the hot forks when he got there was to ring Katie and Mum as soon as he got home.”

“What he felt mostly was a relentless, grinding dread which rumbled and thundered and made the world dark, like those spaceships in science-fiction films whose battle-scorched fuselages slid onto the screen and kept on sliding onto the screen because they were, in fact, several thousand times larger than you expected when all you could see was the nose cone. The”

“He wanted to make her feel good. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had done that.”

“Strange to discover that describing his fears out loud was less frightening than trying not to think about them. Something about seeing your enemy out in the open.”

“Never trust a man who doesn’t like animals. That’s my rule.”

“Most men wanted to tell you what they knew. The route to Wisbech. How to get a log fire going. David made her feel she was the one who knew things.”

“To be honest, I’m trying to maintain a Buddhist detachment about the whole thing to stop it taking ten years off my life.”

“Perhaps the best you could hope for was not to do the same thing to your own children.”

“Lord alone knows.” George stood up and dropped his empty mug into the sink. “The mystery of one’s children is never-ending.”

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Song of Achilles – M. Miller

SOASome of us knew little about the Iliad and were apprehensive when this book was chosen but we were pleasantly surprised at this moving, well-written story by an author who took ten years to write this, her first novel. One said, ‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Another, that she is a better writer than Mary Renault. (Though the trite phrase’ I am sorry for your loss’ leaps off the page as out of keeping.

The author is primarily an historian so the novel is straightforwardly linear with no modern gimmicks such as flashbacks: a period novel without heavy encumbrances which gives a feeling of what it would be like to be a Bronze Age warrior (and what is like to be a woman, of low status, disposable.)

The first part appeals to those gay men who like coming of age stories, with gradual self-discovery, a feeling of being ‘different’ ands tender, exploratory sex scenes, though this woman writer is a bit coy when it comes to describing ‘the action.’

Some found the interventions by the gods somewhat strange, though in our largely secular society, there are plenty of superstitious people who believe in similar things. The gods are, however, amoral and it is the narrator and gay man, Patroclus, who is the moral one and the healer (cf the shaman in other societies).

Some of us found it odd that Patroclus continues to narrate after his death while others viewed the whole story as having been told by the spirit of Patroclus.

Others wondered about the absence of Achilles’’ heel, though the author points out that, “There is no such thing as a definitive Greek myth.  Examine the tales of any hero and you will find at least half a dozen variations.

“Achilles’ most famous myth—his fatally vulnerable heel—is actually a very late story.  Our earliest account of it is by a Roman author, almost a millennium after the Iliad and the Odyssey were first composed.  During those thousand years a number of other stories popped up to explain Achilles’ seeming invincibility, but the Iliad and Odyssey contain the simplest: he wasn’t really invincible, just extraordinarily gifted in battle.  Since the Iliad and Odyssey were my primary inspiration, and since their interpretation seemed more realistic, this was the version I chose to follow.”  (See her story guide)

 Quotations:

“I could recognize him by touch alone, by smell; I would know him blind, by the way his breaths came and his feet struck the earth. I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

“Name one hero who was happy.”
I considered. Heracles went mad and killed his family; Theseus lost his bride and father; Jason’s children and new wife were murdered by his old; Bellerophon killed the Chimera but was crippled by the fall from Pegasus’ back.
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
“I can’t.”
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.
“I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.”
“Why me?”
“Because you’re the reason. Swear it.”
“I swear it,” I said, lost in the high color of his cheeks, the flame in his eyes.
“I swear it,” he echoed.
We sat like that a moment, hands touching. He grinned.
“I feel like I could eat the world raw.”

“And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone.”

“In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

“When he died, all things soft and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.
If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth.
As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong.
“Patroclus,” he said. He was always better with words than I.”

“There are no bargains between lion and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”

“He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

“He smiled, and his face was like the sun.”

“Achilles was looking at me. “Your hair never quite lies flat, here.” He touched my head, just behind my ear. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you how I like it.”

My scalp prickled where his fingers had been. “You haven’t,” I said.

“I should have.” His hand drifted down to the vee at the base of my throat, drew softly across the pulse. “What about this? Have I told you what I think of this, just here?”

“No,” I said.

“This surely then.” His hand moved across the muscles of my chest; my skin warmed beneath it. “Have I told you of this?”

“That you have told me.” My breath caught a little as I spoke.

“And what of this?” His hand lingered over my hips, drew down the line of my thigh. “Have I spoken of it?”

“You have.”

“And this? Surely I would not have forgotten this.” His cat’s smile. “Tell me I did not.”

“You did not.”

“There is this too.” His hand was ceaseless now. “I know I have told you of this.”

I closed my eyes. “Tell me again,” I said.”

“I have done it,” she says. At first I do not understand. But then I see the tomb, and the marks she has made on the stone. A C H I L L E S, it reads. And beside it, P A T R O C L U S.
“Go,” she says. “He waits for you.”

In the darkness, two shadows, reaching through the hopeless, heavy dusk. Their hands meet, and light spills in a flood like a hundred golden urns pouring out of the sun.”

“Odysseus inclines his head. “True. But fame is a strange thing. Some men gain glory after they die, while others fade. What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another.” He spread his broad hands. “We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory. Who knows?” He smiles. “Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”

“I am made of memories.”

“I feel like I could eat the world raw.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“But what if he is your friend?” Achilles had asked him, feet kicked up on the wall of the rose-quartz cave. “Or your brother? Should you treat him the same as a stranger?”

“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said. “He is worth more to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother. So which life is more important?”

We had been silent. We were fourteen, and these things were too hard for us. Now that we are twenty-seven, they still feel too hard.

He is half of my soul, as the poets say. He will be dead soon, and his honor is all that will remain. It is his child, his dearest self. Should I reproach him for it? I have saved Briseis. I cannot save them all.

I know, now, how I would answer Chiron. I would say: there is no answer. Whichever you choose, you are wrong.”

“Name one hero who was happy.”

“I found myself grinning until my cheeks hurt, my scalp prickling till I thought it might lift off my head. My tongue ran away from me, giddy with freedom. This, and this, and this, I said to him. I did not have to fear that I spoke too much. I did not have to worry that I was too slender, or too slow. This and this and this! I taught him how to skip stones, and he taught me how to carve wood. I could feel every nerve in my body, every brush of air against my skin.”

“I will go,” he said. “I will go to Troy.”
The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious death would drink his blood, and grow young again.
He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
“Will you come with me?” he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whipsered. “Yes.”
Relief broke in his face, and he reached for me. I let him hold me, let him press us length to length so close that nothing might fit between us.
Tears came, and fell. Above us, the constellations spun and the moon paced her weary course. We lay stricken and sleepless as the hours passed.”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”

“This, I say. This and this. The way his hair looked in summer sun. His face when he ran. His eyes, solemn as an owl at lessons. This and this and this. So many moments of happiness, crowding forward.”

“I stopped watching for ridicule, the scorpion’s tail hidden in his words. He said what he meant; he was puzzled if you did not. Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?”

“He is half of my soul, as the poets say.”

“Bring him back to me,’ he told them.”

“There was more to say, but for once we did not say it. There would be other times for speaking, tonight and tomorrow and all the days after that. He let go of my hand.”

“Achilles’ eyes lift. They are bloodshot and dead. “I wish he had let you all die.”

“You can use a spear for a walking stick, but it will not change its nature.”

“She wants you to be a god,” I told him.
“I know.” His face twisted with embarrassment, and in spite of itself my heart lightened. It was such a boyish response. And so human. Parents, everywhere.”

“He is more worth to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother. So which life is more important?”

“It is right to seek peace for the dead. You and I both know there is no peace for those who live after.”

“I would still be with you. But I could sleep outside, so it would not be so obvious. I do not need to attend your councils. I—’
‘No. The Phthians will not care. And the others can talk all they like. I will still be Aristos Achaion.’ Best of the Greeks.
‘Your honor could be darkened by it.”
‘Then it is darkened.’ His jaw shot forward, stubborn. ‘They are fools if they let my glory rise or fall on this.”

“I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”

“It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright were they dull.”

“We are all there, goddess and mortal and the boy who was both.”

“We reached for each other, and I thought of how many nights I had lain awake loving him in silence.”

“Patroclus, he says, Patroclus. Patroclus. Over and over until it is sound only.”

“I conjure the boy I knew. Achilles, grinning as the figs blur in his hands. His green eyes laughing into mine. Catch, he says. Achilles, outlined against the sky, hanging from a branch over the river. The thick warmth of his sleepy breath against my ear. If you have to go, I will go with you. My fears forgotten in the golden harbor of his arms.
The memories come, and come. She listens, staring into the grain of the stone. We are all there, goddess and mortal and the boy who was both.”

“I am air and thought and can do nothing.”

“That is — your friend?”
“Philtatos,” Achilles replied, sharply. Most beloved.”

“I shift, an infinitesimal movement, towards him. It is like the leap from a waterfall. I do not know, until then, what I am going to do.”

“When I am dead, I charge you to mingle our ashes and bury us together.”

“Afterwards, when Agamemnon would ask him when he would confront the prince of Troy, he would smile his most guileless, maddening smile. “What has Hector ever done to me?”

“What is admired in one generation is abhorred in another. We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory… We are men only, a brief flare of the torch.”

“Bury us, and mark our names above. Let us be free.”

“I lay back and tried not to think of the minutes passing. Just yesterday we had a wealth of them. Now each was a drop of heartsblood lost.”

“Go,” She says. “He waits for you.”

“I almost did not come, because I did not want to leave it.”
He smiled. “Now I know how to make you follow me everywhere.”
The sun sank below Pelion’s ridges, and we were happy.”

“As for the goddess’s answer, I did not care. I would have no need of her. I did not plan to live after he was gone.”

“Achilles weeps. He cradles me, and will not eat, nor speak a word other than my name.”

“This is what Achilles will feel like when he is old. And then I remembered: he will never be old.”

“. . .nothing could eclipse the stain of his dirty, mortal mediocrity.”

“He looked different in sleep, beautiful but cold as moonlight. I found myself wishing he would wake so that I might watch the life return.”

“The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”

“Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know is in dark or disguise, told myself. I would know it even in madness.”

“A surety rose in me, lodged in my throat. I will never leave him. It will be this, always, for as long as he will let me.”

“The greater the monument, the greater the man. The stone the Greeks quarry for his grave is huge and white, stretching up to the sky. A C H I L L E S, it reads. It will stand for him, and speak to all who pass: he lived and died, and lives again in memory.”

“If I had had words to speak such a thing, I would have. But there were none that seemed big enough for it, to hold that swelling truth. As if he had heard me, he reached for my hand. I did not need to look; his fingers were etched into my memory, slender and petal-veined, strong and quick and never wrong. “Patroclus,” he said. He was always better with words than I.”

“Have you no memories?’
I am made of memories.
‘Then speak.”

“I saw then how I had changed. I did not mind anymore that I lost when we raced and I lost when we swam out to the rocks and I lost when we tossed spears or skipped stones. For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough.”

“Those seconds, half seconds, that the line of our gaze connected, were the only moment in my day that I felt anything at all.”

“Her mouth was a gash of red, like the torn-open stomach of a sacrifice, bloody and oracular. Behind it her teeth shone sharp and white as bone.”

“Achilles makes a sound like choking. “There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.” His spearpoint flies in a dark whirlwind, bright as the evening-star, to catch the hollow at Hector’s throat.”

“There is this too.” His hand was ceaseless now. “I know I have told you of this.”

I closed my eyes. “Tell me again,” I said.”

“I began to suprise Achilles, calling out to these men as we walked through the camp. I was always gratified at how they would raise a hand in return, point to a scar that had healed over well.
After they were gone, Achilles would shake his head. ‘I don’t know how you remember them all. I swear they look the same to me.’
I would laugh and point them out again. ‘That’s Sthenelus, Diomedes’ charioteer. And that’s Podarces, whose brother was the first to die, remember?’
‘There are too many of them,’ he said. ‘It’s simpler if they just remember me.”

“The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered gleam of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious death would drink his blood, and grow young again.”

“Perhaps he simply assumed: a bitterness of habit, of boy after boy trained for music and medicine, and unleashed for murder.”

“and when he moved it was like watching oil spread across a lake, smooth and fluid, almost vicious”

“There is no honour in betraying your friends.”

“The flames surround me, and I feel myself slipping further from life, thinning to only the faintest shiver in the air. I yearn for the darkness and silence of the underworld, where I can rest.”

“When he speaks at last, his voice is weary, and defeated. He doesn’t know how to be angry with me, either. We are like damp wood that won’t light.”

“He knew, but it was not enough. The sorrow was so large it threatened to tear through my skin. When he died, all things swift and beautiful and bright would be buried with him.”

“And perhaps you should get some new stories, so I don’t fucking kill myself of boredom.”

“I know, now, how I would answer Chiron. I would say: there is no answer. Whichever you choose, you are wrong.”

“The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons.”

“Divine blood flows differently in each god-born child.”

“And as we swam, or played, or talked, a feeling would come. It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came. But it was neither of those, buoyant where they were heavy, bright where they were dull.”

“Perhaps such things pass for virtue among the gods. But how is there glory in taking life? We die so easily. Would you make him another Pyrrhus? Let the stories of him be something more.”

“I think: this is what I will miss. I think: I will kill myself rather than miss it. I think: how long do we have?”

“Later, Achilles pressed close for a final, drowsy whisper. ‘If you have to go, you know I will go with you.’ We slept.”

“The ship’s boards were still sticky with new resin. We leaned over the railing to wave our last farewell, the sun-warm wood pressed against our bellies. The sailors heaved up the anchor, square and chalky with barnacles, and loosened the sails. Then they took their seats at the oars that fringed the boat like eyelashes, waiting for the count. The drums began to beat, and the oars lifted and fell, taking us to Troy.”

“As if he heard me, he smiled, and his face was like the sun.”

“Who was he if not destined for fame?”

“I would know him in death, at the end of the world.”

“Our men liked conquest; they did not trust a man who was conquered himself.”

“Do you think Aristos Achaion fights in hopeless wars?”

“I have done it,” she says. At first I do not understand. But then I see the tomb, and the marks she has made on the stone. ACHILLES, it reads. And beside it, PATROCLUS.
“Go,” she says. “He waits for you.”

“He did not fear ridicule, he had never known it.”

“This is how I think of us, when I remember our nights at Troy: Achilles and I beside each other, Phoinix smiling and Automedon stuttering through the punch lines of jokes, and Briseis with her secret eyes and quick, spilling laughter.”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?”
“Perhaps,” Achilles admitted.
I listened and did not speak. Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise, I told myself. I would know it even in madness.”

“His fingers touched the strings and all my thoughts were displaced. The sound was pure and sweet as water, bright as lemons. It was like no music I had ever heard before. It had warmth as a fire does, a texture and weight like polished ivory. It buoyed and soothed at once.”

“They leaned towards him, like flowers to the sun, drinking in his lustre. It was as Odysseus had said: he had light enough to make heroes of them all.”

“Wealth and reputation were the things our people had always killed for.”

“He collects my ashes himself, though this is a women’s duty. He puts them in a golden urn, the finest in our camp, and turns to the watching Greeks.
‘When I am dead, I charged you to mingle our ashes and bury us together.”

“This and this and this.”

“And I wanted to be able to listen, to digest the bloody images, to paint them flat and unremarkable onto the vase of posterity. To release him from it and make him Achilles again.”

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, & our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other”

“Success in such a war as this comes only through men sewn to a single purpose, funnelled to a single spear thrust rather than a thousand needle-pricks.”

“That is — your friend?”
“Philtatos,” Achilles replies, sharply. Most beloved.”

“Indeed, he seemed utterly unaware of his effect on the boys around him.”

“Name one hero who was happy. You can’t.”

“The door snicked shut.”

“I have heard that men who live by a waterfall cease to hear it—in such a way did I learn to live beside the rushing torrent if his doom.”

“He was watching me, his eyes as deep as earth.
“Will you come with me?” he asked.
The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death. “Yes,” I whispered. “Yes.”

“Peleus acknowledged this. “Yet other boys will be envious that you have chosen such a one. What will you tell them?”
“I will tell them nothing.” The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. “It is not for them to say what I will do.”

“But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart? ”

“For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty?”

“He looked different in sleep, beautiful but cold as moonlight.”

“He is a mortal,” she says. “And mortals die.” “I am a mortal!” he screams. “What good is godhead, if it cannot do this? What good are you?”

“There was nothing clever to say, so I said something foolish.”

“We reached for each other, and I thought of how many nights I had lain awake in this room loving him in silence.”

“He is half my soul, as the poets say.”

“He is lost in Agamemnon and Odysseus’ wily double meanings, their lies and games of power. They have confounded him, tied him to a stake and baited him. I stroke the soft skin of his forehead. I would untie him if I could. If he would let me.”

“For who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough. I”

“I wish he had let you all die”

“An ugly man, with a face sharp like a weasel and a habit of running a flickering tongue over his lips before he speaks. But most ugly of all are his eyes: blue, bright blue. When people see them, they flinch. Such things are freakish. He is lucky he was not killed at birth.”

“I could have told him more, of the dreams that left me bleary and bloodshot, the almost-screams that scraped my throat as I swallowed them down. The way the stars turned and turned through the night above my unsleeping eyes.”

“Those seconds, half seconds, that the line of our gaze connected, were the only moment in my day that I felt anything at all. The sudden swoop of my stomach, the coursing anger. I was like a fish eyeing the hook.”

“Priam’s eyes find the other body, mine, lying on the bed. He hesitates a moment. ‘That is — your friend?’

‘Philtatos,’ Achilles says, sharply. Most beloved. ‘Best of men, and slaughtered by your son.”

“Pride became us—heroes were never modest.”

“The never-ending ache of love and sorrow. Perhaps in some other life I could have refused, could have torn my hair and screamed, and made him face his choice alone. But not in this one. He would sail to Troy and I would follow, even into death.”

“Divine blood purified our muddy race, bred heroes from dust and clay.”

“You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

“There was nothing in the world I wanted more than to know what he had not said.”

“The heat rose up my neck, wrapped fingers over my face. His hair fell around me, and I could smell nothing but him. The grain of his lips seemed to rest a hairsbreadth from mine.”

“He waits for you.”

“We cannot say who will survive the holocaust of memory.”

“One morning, I woke to find Chiron gone. This was not unusual. He often rose before we did, to milk the goats or pick fruits for breakfast. I left the cave so that Achilles”

“I did not plan to live after he was gone.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. ‘No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

“He is such a flood, I thought”

“It was almost like fear, in the way it filled me, rising in my chest. It was almost like tears, in how swiftly it came.”

“In the silence, I can hear Phoinix’s breaths, labored with the exertion of speaking so long. I do not dare to speak or move; I am afraid that someone will see the thought that is plain on my face. It was not honor that made Meleager fight, or his friends, or victory, or revenge, or even his own life. It was Cleopatra, on her knees before him, her face streaked with tears. Here is Phoinix’s craft: Cleopatra, Patroclus. Her name built from the same pieces as mine, only reversed.”

“Our mouths opened under each other, and the warmth of his sweetened throat poured into mine. I could not think, could not do anything but drink him in, each breath as it came, the soft movements of his lips. It was a miracle.”

“I do not know this man, I think. He is no one I have ever seen before. My rage towards him is hot as blood. I will never forgive him. I imagine tearing down our tent, smashing the lyre, stabbing myself in the stomach and bleeding to death. I want to see his face broken with grief and regret. I want to shatter the cold mask of stone that has slipped down over the boy I knew.”

“You are a better man than I.”

“She wears a cape, and it is this that undoes her—that allows her to be pulled, limbs light and poised as a cat, from her horse.”

“We were like gods, at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

“Even here, behind the darkness of my eyelids, I cannot name the thing I hope for.”

“I lay back and tried not to think of the minutes passing. Just yesterday we had had a wealth of them. Now each was a drop of heartsblood lost.”

“Divine blood flows differently in each god-born child. Orpheus’ voice made the trees weep, Heracles could kill a man by clapping him on the back. Achilles’ miracle was his speed.”

“Some people might have mistaken this for simplicity. But is it not a sort of genius to cut always to the heart?”

“Exile might satisfy the anger of the living, but it did not appease the dead.”

“I gaped at the cold shock of his beauty, deep-green eyes, features fine as a girl’s. It struck from me a sudden, springing dislike. I had not changed so much, nor so well.”

“You do not command me. The silence went on and on, painful and breathless, like a singer overreaching to finish a phrase.”

“True is what men believe, and they believe this of you.”

“Strange that such a small kindness felt like grace.”

“The rosy gleam of his lip, the fevered green of his eyes. There was not a line anywhere on his face, nothing creased or graying; all crisp. He was spring, golden and bright. Envious Death would drink his blood, and grow young again”

“There are no bargains between lions and men. I will kill you and eat you raw.”

“Name one hero who was happy.”
“You can’t.” He was sitting up now, leaning forward.
“I can’t.”
“I know. They never let you be famous AND happy.” He lifted an eyebrow. “I’ll tell you a secret.”
“Tell me.” I loved it when he was like this.
“I’m going to be the first.” He took my palm and held it to his. “Swear it.”
“Why me?”
“Because you’re the reason. Swear it.”
“I swear it”

“It seemed absurd even to think of it, foolish and improbable as a dream is by dinner.”

“But I would have the memory be worthy of the man.”

“who can be ashamed to lose to such beauty? It was enough to watch him win, to see the soles of his feet flashing as they kicked up sand, or the rise and fall of his shoulders as he pulled through the salt. It was enough. I”

“There are too many of them,” he said. “It’s simpler if they just remember me.”

“I let the pebbles tumble to the ground from my fingers, where they lie, haphazard or purposeful, an augury or an accident. If Chiron were here, he could read them, tell us our fortunes. But he is not here.
“What if he will not beg?” I ask.
“Then he will die. They will all die. I will not fight until he does.” His chin juts, bracing for reproach.
I am worn out. My arm hurts where I cut it, and my skin feels coated with unwholesome sweat. I do not answer.”

“I let the pebbles tumble to the ground from my fingers, where they lie, haphazard or purposeful, an augury or an accident. If Chiron were here, he could read them, tell us our fortunes. But he is not here.
“What if he will not beg?” I ask.
“Then he will die. They will all die. I will not fight until he does.” His chin juts, bracing for reproach.
I am worn out. My arm hurts where I cut it, and my skin feels coated with unwholesome sweat. I do not answer.”

“We were like gods at the dawning of the world, and our joy was so bright we could see nothing else but the other.”

“May I give you some advice? If you are truly his friend, you will help him leave this soft heart behind. He’s going to Troy to kill men, not rescue them.” His dark eyes held me like swift-running current. “He is a weapon, a killer. Do not forget it. You can use a spear as a walking stick, but that will not change its nature.”

“I will tell them nothing.” The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. “It is not for them to say what I will do.”

“His eyelids were the colour of the dawn sky; he smelled like earth after rain.”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?” “Perhaps,” Achilles admitted. I listened and did not speak. Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise,”

“There is no law that gods must be fair, Achilles,” Chiron said. “And perhaps it is the greater grief, after all, to be left on earth when another is gone. Do you think?” “Perhaps,” Achilles admitted. I listened and did not speak. Achilles’ eyes were bright in the firelight, his face drawn sharply by the flickering shadows. I would know it in dark or disguise, I told myself. I would know it even in madness.”

“…the sea was hidden by the house’s curve, but we could both hear it, the distant hiss of waves against sand.”

“…all the grace I saw then was his own: simple, unadorned, glorious.”

“My consolation is that we will be together in the underworld. That we will meet again there, if not in this life. I would not wish to be there without her.”

“This was the cruelty of adults. Do you understand?”

“hot and close. The walls were hung with deep-dyed tapestries and old weapons kept gleaming by servants. Achilles walked past them and knelt at his father’s feet. “Father, I come to ask your pardon.” “Oh?” Peleus lifted an eyebrow. “Speak then.” From where I stood his face looked cold and displeased. I was suddenly fearful. We had interrupted; Achilles had not even knocked. “I have taken Patroclus from his drills.” My name sounded strange on his lips; I almost did not recognize it. The old king’s brows drew together. “Who?” “Menoitiades,” Achilles said. Menoitius’ son. “Ah.” Peleus’ gaze followed the carpet back to where I stood, trying not to fidget. “Yes, the boy the arms-master wants to whip.” “Yes. But it is not his fault. I forgot to say I wished him for a companion.” Therapon was the word he used. A brother-in-arms sworn to a prince by blood oaths and love. In war, these men were his honor guard; in peace, his closest advisers. It was a place of highest esteem, another reason the boys swarmed Peleus’ son, showing off; they hoped to be chosen. Peleus’ eyes narrowed. “Come here, Patroclus.” The carpet was thick beneath my feet. I knelt a little behind Achilles. I could feel the king’s gaze on me. “For many years now, Achilles, I have urged companions on you and you have turned them away. Why this boy?” The question might have been my own. I had nothing to offer such a prince. Why, then, had he made a charity case of me? Peleus and I both waited for his answer. “He is surprising.” I looked up, frowning. If he thought so, he was the only one. “Surprising,” Peleus echoed. “Yes.” Achilles explained no further, though I hoped he would. Peleus rubbed his nose in thought. “The boy is an exile with a stain upon him. He will add no lustre to your reputation.” “I do not need him to,” Achilles said. Not proudly or boastfully. Honestly. Peleus acknowledged this. “Yet other boys will be envious that you have chosen such a one. What will you tell them?” “I will tell them nothing.” The answer came with no hesitation, clear and crisp. “It is not for them to say what I will do.” I found my pulse beating thickly in my veins, fearing Peleus’ anger. It did not come. Father and son met each other’s gaze, and the faintest touch of amusement bloomed at the corner of Peleus’ mouth. “Stand up, both of you.” I did so, dizzily. “I pronounce your sentence. Achilles, you”

“The islands looked all the same to me–high cliffs bleached white, pebbled beaches that scratched the underside of our ships with their chalky fingernails.”

“That is my mother’s lyre,’ I almost said. The words were in my mouth, and behind them others crowded close. ‘That is my lyre.”

“She was taller than I was, taller than any woman I had ever seen. Her black hair was loose down her back, and her skin shone luminous and impossibly pale, as if it drank light from the moon.”

“Perhaps one day even I will be famous. Perhaps more famous than you.”
“I doubt it.”

“You ask a question that philosophers argue over,” Chiron had said. “He is worth more to you, perhaps. But the stranger is someone else’s friend and brother. So which life is more important?”

“All I saw was his beauty, his singing limbs, the quick flickering of his feet.”

“I could smell the sea. It was everywhere, in my hair, in my clothes, in the sticky damp of my skin. Even here in the grove, amidst the must of leaves and earth, the unwholesome salty decay still found me. My stomach heaved a moment, and I leaned against the scabbed trunk of a tree. The rough bark pricked my forehead, steading me. I must get away from this smell, I thought.”

“He is giving a show, I know, of grace, of tolerance, and my teeth clench at the calmness in his tone. He likes this image of himself, the wronged young man, stoically accepting the theft of his prize, a martyrdom for the whole camp to see.”

“The never-ending ache of love and sorrow.”

“Chiron had said once that nations were the most foolish of mortal inventions. “No man is worth more than another, wherever he is from.”

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Still Praying? Simeon and Anna: Exploring Spirituality in Ageing – G. Keyes

SPOlder Christians have a significant contribution to make to our understanding of God but it might be difficult for other age groups to hear this wisdom. This study includes observations from older Christians and reflections on ageing from Scripture and Christian tradition, and offers a series of signposts which will open eyes to how older Christians see God.

Quotations:

Holman Hunt’s The Light of the World still wins devotion, as it did when it was first painted. It is deeply personal, but leaves little space for social con­cerns. Its sentimentality and lack of realism is often criticized. The original is in Keble College, Oxford. A later version in St Paul’s Cathedral hangs with unintentional irony near to the tomb of the poet, John Donne. The violence of Donne’s more aggressive God contrasts with Christ’s politely tentative knocking in Hunt’s picture. Both describe aspects of the full range of images of God being encountered by older Christians.

 In liturgy and private prayer, older people may experience prob­lems in finding new, more comfortable and pain free postures. They will have progressively less energy and concentration and be unable to see and hear as well as before in public worship. Many find the use of the senses in prayer, especially touch, compensates to a degree for these losses. Silence, as in some healing services, is valued, but worship can lack enough of this dimension. For some, familiar landmarks are missing. Services are too long and too wordy. Surprisingly, others see the importance of maintaining a creative balance between formality and informality in their prayer, both public and private. New patterns of worship become more accept­able, especially when seen on programmes like Songs of Praise. Many older people become less formal and leave behind inherited ways of worship and prayer; ‘it is still vital to keep a balance between creativity in prayer and the maintenance of a routine. Church-go­ing and prayer must be maintained so as to have something to fall back on in bad times, or as a basis for greater creativity at others.’

Pastoral neglect. Clergy and other ministers are expected by older people to be holy and prayerful, but are repeatedly reported to fail to go beyond the trivial when visiting. Older people are disap­pointed, feeling that tea, cake and church news are no substitute for talk about God. They are reluctant to initiate spiritual topics in the company of ‘experts.’

Loneliness is coped with better by those who pray. If human fear of self-giving leading to isolation is at the heart of loneliness, then prayer gives the sense of ‘never being on your own.

Misuse of the ‘power-house of prayer’ concept. The concept is generally rejected by older Christians or at best viewed with ambivalence. The idea that ‘older people can always pray’ allows other age-groups, even ministers, to burden them with prayer lists and requests. The rest of the church is not often not particularly prayerful, yet assumes that those with ‘time on their hands’ will pray for them! Many older Christians are great people of prayer, but membership of prayer circles for housebound former members, such as The Mothers’ Union offers,-needs careful selection if those who still find prayer difficult are not to feel unnecessarily guilty.

Christian adult education for older people is needed to overcome unhelpful distortions or emotionally charged emphases in earlier teaching, especially confirmation courses (with a stress on fasting before communion, imaging God as transcendent only). This can help by extending an understanding of what prayer is and by dis­covering pathways in prayer appropriate to the ageing process.

 It is easy to question God angrily about the mess he is making of giving us the gift of a more simple life! What sense or meaning is there in disability, strokes or painful, long-drawn-out conditions? Dementia can rob a family of a much loved personality, making her a stranger in her own home. Bereavement disrupts just when a couple’s life is freer from responsibilities, with more scope for enjoyment together. The ageing process can produce a tactical withdrawal from reality, and a preference to look back in nostalgia. Many older people wrestle on in isolating darkness, reluctant to share with others what they are going through. They are like modern Jacobs who, at the end of his middle age, came face to face with God.

 Older people looking back at their lives can see much changing for the worse, or not changing for the better! This can give a sense of hopelessness around intercession—why bother? What is the point? If older people are also perhaps looking forward to the future with anxiety or fear of illness and death, this can be paralysing to praying for others. In contrast, praying with honesty can enrich the whole community.

 In retirement, an Anglican reader-was concerned that his waning energy and concentration was changing how he prayed. He said he felt guilty about no longer being able to use the Office and other formal prayer. With a twinkle in his eye, he recalled the phrase ‘excused boots’ for sore feet from his Army days, and hoped God would not reject his plea of being ‘excused prayer’! In fact he was still very much a prayerful person, but needed reassurance that the ageing process had resulted in more spontaneous, short and personal praying which still counts with God.

Reflection 5: Eli, a Surprising Midwife for the Voice of God

This meditation has been used both with individuals and groups. It is designed to help the review process for all ages, but its use of imagina­tion may not suit everyone. The setting is the Temple. A large candle burns. The Rublev icon of the Trinity, its angels suggestive of the Ark in the Temple, might be used as a focal point, but its symbolism needs explanation. Pine incense cones burning around the room evoke the atmosphere of the Temple. Music (such as Taize) plays and then fades into silence.

Read 1 Samuel 3.4b-10. The Lord dwells here. Samuel is his servant and Eli the priest sleeps in an ante-chamber nearby, but he has become a marginal figure. He is losing both his physical sight and his insight into the ways of God. Samuel deals with the practicalities of their daily life. In the evening he closes the doors and puts out all lights except the great lamp of the Presence, which gradually burns away and leaves only darkness. Sometimes Samuel is very homesick. One day he heard ‘Eli is not just physically blind. He fails to see his sons getting rich from God’s work — always with a greedy eye for the Temple women and the best portions of the sacrifices.’

 That night the young Samuel sinks deeper into the darkness of his thoughts and the shadows of the Temple, but remains awake. The voice calls his name, J… Sh mu’el…Sh mu’el! Eli must need help. Samuel runs to see…They find they need each other. The voice of God could not be heard by Samuel and understood for what it was unless interpreted by the vacillating and weak Eli. The voice of God sounds to Samuel so like the voice of Eli. But surely not Eli with his lack of resolve to put right the obvious abuses of power through which his own sons flour­ish? Eli, who has lost his own grip on the will of God and prefers to lie low hoping that somehow the storm clouds predicted for him will pass by? This is beyond belief.

 Reflection 6: Now has God Called You?

(May be used as a conclusion to Reflection 5 or as a separate exercise.) For some, it may be directly hearing a voice. For others, it is in the beauty of creation or worship, reading his word, or music. He calls too in incidents in ordinary life, the way things unfold or, of course, a rich catalogue of people. Who have these been for you? Who was like feeble Eli in your life? Think especially of those people through whom God has spoken, and speaks, in your life, perhaps many years ago now. They were neither good nor bad. Some may have lived completely hopeless lives which were almost beyond their control. Their inability to do much about this did not stop God from using them for you as long as they were prepared to point beyond themselves to God. Through them, God transforms second-hand religion into seeing him face to face. Caught up in the web of their weakness, having failed their own ideals and ceased being people of vision, God still speaks through them.

Like Eli and Samuel, youth often needs age and experience to interpret the ways of God, even when his ‘midwife’ is deeply compromised. No parent in her right mind would entrust a child to the parenting of inef­fectual and vacillating Eli, for he was the weak head of a dysfunctional family in a disintegrating nation, hiding beneath his sons’ corrupt use of his power. Yet he gave spiritual birth to the young Samuel, who in his turn became the greatest of prophets.

Pause to give God thanks for these people in your lives. The figure of Eli should convince older people that to have an exemplary or holy lifestyle is not necessary to be used by God. Modern elders should not debar themselves from talking about God with the young for not being holy, good or wise enough!

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The Muppet Christmas Carol

TMCCBased on the Dickens story.

On Christmas Eve, in 19th Century London, Charles Dickens and his friend Rizzo act as narrators throughout the film. Ebenezer Scrooge, a surly money-lender, does not share the merriment of Christmas. Scrooge rejects his nephew Fred’s invitation to Christmas dinner, dismisses two gentlemen’s collecting money for charity, and tosses a wreath at a carol singing Bean Bunny. His loyal employee Bob Cratchit (played by Kermit the Frog) and the other bookkeepers request to have Christmas Day off since there will be no business for Scrooge on the day, to which he reluctantly agrees. Scrooge leaves for home while the bookkeepers celebrate Christmas. In his house, Scrooge encounters the ghosts of his late business partners Jacob and Robert Marley (played by Statler and Waldorf), who warn him to repent his wicked ways or he will be condemned in the afterlife like they were, informing him that three spirits will visit him during the night.

At one o’clock, Scrooge is visited by the childlike Ghost of Christmas Past who takes him back in time to his childhood and early adult life, Dickens and Rizzo hitching a ride too. They visit his lonely school days, and then his time as an employee under Fozziwig (Mr. Fezziwig from the original story, played by Fozzie Bear), who owned a rubber chicken factory. Fozziwig and his mother throw a Christmas party, Scrooge attends and meets a young woman named Belle, whom he falls in love with. However, the Ghost shows Scrooge how Belle left him when he chose money over her. A tearful Scrooge dismisses the Ghost as he returns to the present.

At two o’clock, Scrooge meets the gigantic, merry Ghost of Christmas Present who shows him the joys and wonder of Christmas Day. Scrooge and the Ghost visit Fred’s house where Scrooge is made fun of. Scrooge and the spirit then visit Bob Cratchit’s house, learning his family is surprisingly content with their small dinner, Scrooge taking pity on Bob’s ill son Tiny Tim (played by Robin the Frog). The Ghost of Christmas Present abruptly ages, commenting that Tiny Tim will likely not survive until next Christmas. Scrooge and the Ghost go to a cemetery, where the latter fades away, informing Scrooge that the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come will arrive shortly. A fog fills the cemetery, revealing the third Ghost, who appears as a tall, silent cloaked figure. While Dickens and Rizzo abandon the audience to avoid being frightened, the Ghost takes Scrooge into the future.

Scrooge and the Ghost witness a group of businessmen discussing the death of an unnamed colleague where they would only attend the funeral if lunch is provided. In a den, Scrooge recognizes his charwoman, his laundress, and the local undertaker trading several stolen possessions of the deceased to a fence named Old Joe. The Ghost transports Scrooge to Bob’s house, discovering Tiny Tim has died. Scrooge is escorted back to the cemetery, where the Ghost points out his own grave, revealing Scrooge was the man who died. Realizing this, Scrooge decides to change his ways.

Awakening in his bedroom on Christmas Day, Scrooge decides to surprise Bob’s family with a turkey dinner, and ventures out with Bean, Dickens, Rizzo, and the charity workers to spread happiness and joy around London. Scrooge goes to the Cratchit house, at first putting on a stern demeanor, but reveals he intends to raise Bob’s salary and pay off his mortgage. Dickens narrates how Scrooge became a secondary father to Tiny Tim, who escaped death. Scrooge, the Cratchits, and the neighbourhood celebrate Christmas.

The story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s repentance is still as strong today as it was when Charles Dickens first penned it.

Scrooge’s repentant heart takes to the immediate expression of gratitude. In the song “Thankful Heart,” he vows to express that thankfulness by helping anyone that he can. He promises to end their suffering (especially that caused by him) and lift them up as high as he once esteemed himself. And above all else, he is thankful that he has the opportunity to do so.

Beyond its wonderful moral lessons and a reverent nod to “the One who made lame beggars walk and blind men see,” The Muppet Christmas Carol is just plain fun. It feels fun. It looks fun. And it is spring-loaded with clever references and sight gags sure to amuse older audiences as well as children.

 

Jacob Marley: Why do you doubt your senses?

Ebenezer Scrooge: Because a little thing can effect them. A slight disorder of the stomach can make them cheat. You may be a bit of undigested beef, a blob of mustard, a crumb of cheese. Yes. There’s more gravy than of grave about you.

Robert Marley: More gravy than of grave?

Jacob Marley: What a terrible pun. Where do you get those jokes?

Robert Marley: Leave comedy to the bears, Ebenezer.

 

Kermit the Frog: It’s all right, children. Life is made up of meetings and partings. That is the way of it. I am sure that we shall never forget Tiny Tim, or this first parting that there was among us.

 

 

Ebenezer Scrooge: [in the graveyard] Must we return to this place? There is something else that I must know, is that not true? Spirit, I know what I must ask. I fear to, but I must. Who was the wretched man whose death brought so much glee and happiness to others?

[the spirit points to a headstone, Scrooge begins moving toward it, then turns back, frightened]

Ebenezer Scrooge: Answer me one more question. Are these the shadows of things that *will* be, or are they the shadows of things that *may* be only?

[the spirit points again at the gravestone, Scrooge slowly approaches it]

Ebenezer Scrooge: These events can be changed! A life can be made right.

[he clears the snow from the stone and reads]

Ebenezer Scrooge: [in tears] Ebenezer Scrooge! Oh please Spirit, no! Hear me, I, I am not the man I was! Why would you show me this if I am past all hope?…

[sobbing]

Ebenezer Scrooge: I, I *will* honor Christmas, and try to keep it all the year! I will live my life in the past, the present and the future. I will not shut out the lessons the spirits have taught me! Tell me that I may sponge out the writing on this stone!

[kneeling, clutching at the spirit’s robe]

Ebenezer Scrooge: Oh Spirit, please speak to me!

 

Ebenezer Scrooge: Christmas is a very busy time for us, Mr. Cratchit. People preparing feasts, giving parties, spending the mortgage money on frivolities. One might say that December is the foreclosure season. Harvest time for the money-lenders.

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Glory & B*llocks – C. Brown

GABI don’t know enough about history to know quite what to make of this, except to be suspicious of right wing attempts to control the history curriculum.

It deals with such issues as : was the technologically sophisticated longbow responsible for the landmark victory at Agincourt, or was it simply that the English are better in mud? When did Queen Elizabeth I learn that the Armada had capitulated – before or after she delivered one of history’s most inspiring and self-serving speeches? Why did Wellington meet his Waterloo on his return to London?

I had to look up ‘phaeton’ = a horse-drawn sporty open carriage

Quotations:

I discovered that, contrary to popular belief, the longbow was not responsible for the English (and Welsh) victory at Azincourt; that Queen Elizabeth I’s great Armada speech at Tilbury was probably an enormous exercise in spin; and that some who campaigned alongside Wilberforce for the abolition of the slave trade saw him as a hindrance rather than a hero of change. As I reflect in the Postscript, I was also reminded strongly how important that strip of sea between Dover and Calais really is. I was also surprised to find that, despite that natural fortress, we have been successfully invaded at least twice since 1066 — in ‘2’6 as well as in 1688.

The Victorians poured more scorn (and worse) over the head a sullied John, while polishing the image of their glistening hero. And they wilfully ignored the truth about Richard: far from being dedic to England, he only spent six months of his reign in the kingdom, si French not English, and squeezed as much money as he could fron people to finance the Crusades. He once even said he would have London, if he could have found a buyer. Richard set ‘new standard royal rapacity’, according to the historian Geoffrey Hindley.

John undoubtedly got a bad press from the monkish chronic of his day because of his seizure of Church assets. Tudor histor portrayed John in the mould of Henry VIII, who defied the Pope was destroyed by traitors around him.

In 201r, a campaign was launched on the Government’s e-petition wd to have Richard’s statue removed, because of the injustices he meted ot Muslims during his reign — three thousand were slaughtered outside the of the city of Acre alone. But the legend is hard to dent. In its first days petition collected a mere seven signatures.

Magna Carta had protected the civil liberties of the medieval elite, but Coke ingeniously asserted that it guaranteed individual rights to everyone, of every station.

The first myth was about numbers. Henry’s historians exaggerated the scale of his ‘miraculous’ victory at Azincourt, to show that Henry must have had God on his side. And the dispute about the size of the oppos­ing force still rages today.

The second myth was about the longbow. English victory was secur by a remarkable feat of arms, but there is much compelling evidence show it was the archers ‘bollock daggers’, axes and hammers that inflict the damage, not the longbow.

Finally, there is the myth of Henry V himself. Victory at Azincourt changed everything in Henry’s lifetime. He returned a hero, with his on the throne of England strengthened and his hold on his disputed possessions in Northern France consolidated. The death of so many French nobles paved the way for Henry to conquer Normandy within years of Azincourt. It gave the English control of large swathes of France, including Paris, for a generation.

`Like so many of Elizabeth’s actions,’ the historian Neil Hanson suggests: ‘the Tilbury appearance had been pure theatre, mere show, and the speech to her forces that has echoed down the ages was a sham, delivered r the danger had passed.” Historian Susan Frye, who has led the academic charge at the ‘myth’ of Elizabeth at Tilbury, has cast doubts the authenticity of her great Tilbury speech. ‘No reliable eyewitness account exists of what Elizabeth I wore or said,’ she wrote.’

Any journalist who has covered prime ministerial visits to the war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan can testify, however, that political leaders often deliver different versions of the same speech over a two-day visit. As one who has frequently covered such events, I find it unsurprising that several versions of Elizabeth’s remarks have been attributed to her. That should not mean that they were not delivered. She clearly made several pep talks to her men at Tilbury during Thursday and Friday, 18 and 19 August.

After all, the Spanish had arranged for a Catholic fanatic to assassinate the Protestant leader of Flanders, the Prince of Orange, in his own home in Delft only a couple of years before, and Pope Pius V in 157o had issued a papal bull encouraging Catholics to kill the rebel Queen, like a fatwa against her life. It was renewed by Pius’s successor, Pope Sixtus V.Thousands of printed copies of his papal bull calling upon her subjects to depose her were put on board the ships of the Armada for distribution when they landed.

Elizabeth was a genius at public relations for her own age. She nee to be, to survive the forty-five years of her long reign. Towards the with the population growing sharply from three million to four poverty increased and her Government responded by creating the state support for the poor, to damp down the threat of rebellion or riots. She dealt decisively with direct threats — even her favourite, Earl of Essex, went to the block after raising a rebellion against her she was a consummate politician. She was acutely aware, partic a woman, that she could only rule with the consent of her people. was careful to placate her Parliament — in her last address to Parliament  in 1601, known as her ‘Golden Speech’, she said: ‘There is no je of never so high a price, which I set before this jewel; I mean your love.

Elizabeth helped to create a Britain that is recognizable today independent nation, fierce in its defence of its identity. The defeat Spanish Armada in 1588 was truly one of the great landmarks of history. If her speech was a sham, I cannot help asking: so what?

Margaret Thatcher, then Conservative Prime Minister, put forward that rosy gloss on history in the 1988 Commons debate for the tercen­tenary of the Glorious Revolution. It had, she said, secured ‘tolerance, respect for the law and for the impartial administration of justice, and respect for private property. It also established the tradition that political change should be sought and achieved through Parliament. It was this which saved us from the violent revolutions which shook our continental neighbours and made the revolution of 1688 the first step on the road which, through successive Reform Acts, led to the establishment of universal suffrage and full Parliamentary democracy.’This fable has held for nearly three centuries. But she was speaking before her own hold on power was violently shaken by street riots in London against the poll tax in March 199o, which ultimately led to her downfall.

Tony Benn, then Labour MP for Chesterfield, rejected this version of events: ‘What happened in 1688 was not a glorious revolution. It was a plot by some people… to replace a Catholic king with another king more acceptable to those who organized the plot… Nor was 1688 the establishment of our liberties… Are we to welcome a Bill of Rights that says that papists could not sit in either House of Parliament?’

It is difficult to disprove Benn’s argument by showing that the over throw of James II by William III was a ‘popular’ uprising. In the absence of seventeenth-century opinion polling, there is no conclusive evidence either way to show what the ‘man in the street’ of Stuart England re thought about the arrival of William III. There were, of course, pock of Protestant protest, in Hull and in the West Country, in support William. The eye-witness reports suggest that William’s march from Brixham was welcomed by the general public in the towns thro which he passed, but behind the colourful show was a serious arm

In fact, William was so disappointed by the failure of more Ian gentry to join his banner in the first few days that he threatened to go to Holland. This gives credence to the claim by the Left that it was a by an elite of the landed classes. But that is not the whole story — J alienated Parliament, academics, lawyers and, fatally, the commanders of his army, particularly Churchill, who swung behind William. James found that juries would not convict those he accused of refusing to his pro-Catholic edicts. And we have Evelyn’s diary evidence that people prayed for deliverance from their Catholic King with a Protestant wind.

It is hardly unexpected that many ordinary people did not join his army. the West Country the trials that followed the Monmouth Rebellion e a recent reminder that they could end up on the gibbet if they joined other rebellion that did not succeed.

David Starkey has persuasively argued that William was the first mod-monarch. In his own country William was a Stadtholder, a ruler of the Dutch states but not a sovereign. William, acting like a chief executive for England plc, brought over to Britain some of the modern economic innovations which had made the Dutch a great trading nation, such as public borrowing and the creation of the Bank of England. This led to steep growth in Britain’s overseas trade and its status as a world power.

This was the part of the Revolution that was truly ‘Glorious’ for Britain. William also brought Britain into a stable alliance with the Protestant Netherlands, enabling him to challenge the power of France and change the balance of power across Northern Europe. In conceding a constitu­tional monarchy, he stripped away some of the mystery of royalty. He abandoned the practice of touching the sick for the ‘King’s Evil’, or scrofula (a swelling of the lymph glands caused by tuberculosis), a practice that had been revived by Charles II at the Banqueting House in Whitehall.

The coronation of William and Mary was quickly followed by constitu­tional reforms with a Bill of Rights, curbing the powers of the monarch for ever; the Triennial Act ensuring Parliament was automatically summoned every three years; and the introduction in 1697 of the Civil List, giving Parliament control over the royal expenditure as well as the raising of all revenue for the armed forces. However, as a Commons Library paper points out, the ‘Bill of Rights’ is a misnomer. It is not like the United States’ written constitution, nor does it set out individual rights. It was rushed onto the statute book to give legal force to the removal of James II for misgovernment, and then to settle the line of accession through the descendants of William and Mary, then through Mary’s sister Princess, Anne and her descendants. The bill was designed to curb future arbitrary behaviour of the monarch, and to guarantee Parliament’s powers over the Crown, thereby establishing a constitutional monarchy.’

philanthropic Acts of Parliament in British history was born out of a political fix by William Pitt to keep Fox at bay.

Wilberforce answered the case perfectly: he possessed the passion and patience to pursue the campaign in Parliament through setbacks and s, knowing full well he had Pitt’s support and counsel behind the scenes. The young Prime Minister knew Wilberforce was just the man. After his religious awakening, Wilberforce had threatened to give up politics altogether and, having become sickened by gluttony (Pitt was the habit of regularly drinking three bottles of port at a sitting, and re were lavish banquets to attend as an MP) and sin (Wilberforce bled at cards at Boodle’s and may have once visited a brothel), he had also threatened to cut himself off from his former friends. Wilberforce igned from his clubs — Boodle’s, Brooks’s, White’s and Goosetrees — Id a racehorse, cut down on his partying and limited his wine intake to o more than six glasses a day. Pitt, however, persuaded him not to give up his friends and his seat in the Commons.

At the time of his great personal crisis, Wilberforce also sought the advice of a charismatic preacher, John Newton. He was as unlikely a priest as it was possible to imagine, more an old sea-dog than dog-collar wearer. Newton had spent most of his life at sea, both in the navy after being press-ganged and serving on slaving ships. He was a former slave-ship captain himself, but had gradually undergone a conversion to God. It was only after a stroke that he gave up the sea and sought a new life as a priest. Newton had been accepted into the Church of England — after great difficulty — and had become renowned as an Evangelical preacher and composer of hymns

Wilberforce had go cautiously to maintain his own coalitions of support for abolition at Westminster.

Two days later, while recuperating at his home at the King’s racing stables at Newmarket, ones received a telegram from Buckingham Palace. It had been sent by a palace flunkey on behalf of Queen Alexandra, the Queen Mother. ‘Queen Alexandra was very sorry indeed to hear of your sad accident caused through the abominable conduct of a brutal lunatic woman. I telegraph now by Her Majesty’s command to enquire how you are getting on and to express Her Majesty’s sincere hope that you may soon be all right. Wighton Corbyn.’

Jones’s psychological wounds went far deeper than his physical ones. No one ever suggested Davison’s death was his fault, but Jones attended the funeral and claimed he was haunted by her face for the rest of his life. In i 95 t, he switched on the gas in his kitchen and took his own life. He was seventy-nine.

Had she lived, Davison would have been prosecuted for injuring the jockey. In the Home Office files, I find a memorandum to the Liberal Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna, which is brutally unfeeling. Mc­Kenna was a banker, and politically out of his depth in dealing with the delicate problem of the suffragettes. The note, written as Davison lay dying, reads: ‘The D of PP [Director of Public Prosecutions] says that if Davison recovers, it will be possible to charge her with doing an act calculated to cause grievous bodily harm to the rider of the horse.’ One is tempted to ask, what about the horse? Perhaps she should be prosecuted for that too.

The Pankhursts may have found it difficult to control Davison while she alive, but they made full use of her after her death.

Emmeline Pankhurst knew the value of propaganda. She even lied ut her own birthdate to enhance her image as a revolutionary — she frequently spoke about the inspiration she drew from being born on 24 y, Bastille Day, but her birth certificate shows she was born a day later.

In seeking a successor to lead Britain in its hour of need, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, later the Queen Mother, would have preferred the cool-headed (some said cold) Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, to the headstrong Churchill. But the aesthete Halifax (sometimes called the ‘Holy Fox’ for his love of hunting and his religious piety) was an architect of Chamberlain’s appeasement policy, and in May, the King and Queen still favoured appeasement; it was only during the Blitz that George VI and the Queen came to embody the British spirit of resist­ance. The deciding factor, however, was Labour’s refusal to work in a coalition under Halifax.

Halifax had enough self-awareness to acknowledge that he could not hold the country together for war.

Weapons like something out of Heath Robinson cartoons were imagined, and then produced. A makeshift tank trap, consisting of petrol tanks that would be exploded over a Panzer tank, was prepared for the main road from the coast at Shooters Hill to London. Nearby, a command headquarters for the resistance movement was established in the basement . Nearby, a command headquarters for the resistance movement was established in the basement of a local house. All over England, road signs and nameplates on station platforms were taken down to confuse the enemy, an idea hatched in Whitehall by occult author Dennis Wheatley, who was part of a ‘black ops’ deception team. It succeeded in confusing everyone.

Many believe the Battle of Britain was an ‘English show’, but it was in fact a multinational effort. In addition to pilots from the colonies, including one Jamaican, there were one hundred and forty-five Polish airmen, eighty-eight Czechs, thirteen French and seven Americans ­despite being banned from combat by their country’s official stance of neutrality. In this and other covert ways, Cameron was partly right that Britain had a valuable ally in America in 1940.

The switch in Goering’s tactics led to the Blitz on British cities, and the Blitz brought a new terrifying phase of the war, which increased the stoicism of the British people. But it also broke down barriers. One of the first lessons the besieged had to learn was that in war, the English reserve had to go. Everyone ‘mucked in’. They had to get used to being crammed together. Now every street was in the front line.

Beveridge proposed tackling what he called the five ‘Giant Evils’ afflicting society: Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. He proposed improved state education, council housing, a comprehensive national health service and a range of benefits to lift people out of poverty, paid for from a new National Insurance scheme. He also proposed ‘full employment’, with a target of no more than three per cent unemployment (the level is now 8.4 per cent). This was not intended simply as an act of altruism; those who question the cost of the welfare state today should remember that Beveridge believed full employment was the vital component in delivering the taxes that would pay for his proposed social benefits.

The Beveridge report sold one hundred thousand copies month; a special cheap edition was printed for the British forces. The figures were unprecedented and remain unequalled by the HMSO. In Nazi-occupied France, dog-eared copies of the Beveridge report circulated and shared clandestinely by the Resistance. Beveridge subversive because it provided a democratic rejoinder to fascist state ‘alism. In England, the report gave the people something else worth ting for, in addition to their patch of island in the North Sea. Churchill was reluctant to back the plan because he feared the cost uld be unaffordable. The bill for putting Beveridge’s proposals in place was then predicted to tally up to £I00 million (about £3.3 billion at today’s prices). The actual total today is £150 billion — and that is without accounting for the NHS. Diaries, written in a series of exercise books, by Norman Brook, the Cabinet Secretary, of secret conversations inside the War Cabinet reveal Churchill was furious with Beveridge, who wanted to do his own spinning of the report by briefing Parliamentary lobby journalists before its publication. Churchill rightly worried that Beveridge would bounce the War Cabinet into approving his report. The Prime Minister felt he could not allow that to happen.

a key part of the welfare state was built on a lie. Beveridge based his system on National Insurance Contributions (NICs), but universal state pensions were never funded by an insurance fund. State pensioners like to think they are getting back what they paid in over a lifetime of NICs; they have paid their insurance ‘stamp’ and are entitled to draw on the proceeds of their contributions in their old-age. It is a myth.

Beveridge described his new, universal state pension scheme as ‘first and foremost a plan of insurance — of giving in return for contributions benefits up to subsistence levels, as of right and without means test, so individuals may build freely upon it’. He intended that NICs would gradually build up a pot to fund the old-age pension over twenty years. However, the Attlee Government knew that its supporters in 1946 would not wait until 1966 to get the pensions they had been promised after the war; the Government went ahead immediately, by raiding the contribu­tions, without waiting for the fund to mature. That meant a key component of the welfare state, the state pension, was founded as a pay-as-you-go scheme rather than as Beveridge had outlined, as fully funded insurance.

Entitlement to state pensions requires NIC payments, but the state pension is in effect a massive, national Ponzi fraud.* Today’s state pension­ers are relying on the contributions of the people in work today; their own contributions have been spent on earlier generations of pensioners, and so today’s state pensioners are taking their benefits from the pensioners of the future. No one has called in the fraud squad so far because the contributions have kept rolling in. No political party is brave enough ­or stupid enough — to call a halt to this con trick. But with an ageing population, and a decreasing number of workers paying taxes to pay for their pensions, one day it may unravel.

  • Charles Ponzi, an American fraudster in the 192os, paid investors dividends from new investors, rather than from profits earned on stocks.

One of the best-kept secrets of the 1939-45 conflict is the number of strikes that took place while Britain was fighting the war. There were nine hundred strikes in the early months of the conflict, partly because communists in Britain refused to be bound by the calls for national unity until the Soviet Union allied with Britain in 1941. Bevin, a natural autocrat, responded by using emergency powers to ban strikes in the pits, in the factories and at the docks. He also upset Britain’s miners by ordering one in ten of those conscripted to fight, to go down the pits instead. Known as the `Bevin boys’, these conscripts stirred resentment among regular miners, provoking still more strikes. Three union officials were imprisoned and over a thousand strikers fined in the Kent coalfield in 1942. Thefollowing year, twelve thousand bus drivers and conductors, and the dockers in Liverpool, went on strike – a considerable embarrass­ment for Bevin because they were largely members of the Transport and General Workers’ Union.’4 In 1944, the strikes reached their peak, with over two thousand stoppages.

When Bevin introduced tougher anti-strike laws to settle the nation’s wartime production, Bevan fired back with a Commons rebellion. The Minister for Labour, he said, had provoked the strikes through ‘incompe­tence’. Immediately, Bevan was threatened; if he continued to criticize the anti-strike laws he would be kicked out of the party. He wisely avoided making himself a martyr. He was popular with the constituencies, and was running for a seat on Labour’s National Executive, which would give him more influence. And he won. That meant Attlee had to come to terms with the Welsh rabble-rouser.

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