For One Day Only – particularly the 11th

The Pioneers by Stephen Broadbent in Ellesmere Port, just off J9 of the M53.

For one day only

I thought I’d have some fun with numbers
today, (or is it 2day?), 11.ii.21, one month,
ten years after 11.1.11 when we launched
Headway with an image of one by one
forward-peering, prowed-standing pioneers
coupled for growing enterprise like two sides
of a coin, one complementing the other,
one complimenting the other, tied and tethered
in affection and imagination. One by one,
the perfect team, the first eleven,
the prime number no one can divide.

So it is, the perfect eleven, the perfect spell,
vowel, consonant, vowel, consonant bound
in rhythm marching time, beating heart time,
one two, one two, two one, one by one partners
like Noah’s passenger list and those first gardeners.
There is a second eleven, the mourning break,
the eleventh of the eleventh, when we remember
the one who stood with one and fell, along with
all the fallen ones, tragically flat lining
when one stood against one as betrayer,
the twelfth man making even eleven odd.

©David Herbert, 11/2/21

Headway is the title of a leadership programme I have been involved with.

Fruit for all seasons


Why would anyone come to Kelsall?
I know they come for the steam fair and the folk festival. But most come to Kelsall for the fruit, from Windsors Fruit Farm at Willington and Eddisbury Fruit Farm on the Yeld.
One of the greatest pleasures of my childhood was picking fruit – picking our own strawberries from the field, scrumping apples and gathering conkers. What added to the pleasure was the sight of the fruit – the colour of the apples, the texture and coating of the conker and the size and softness of the strawberry the ones that were just ripe enough.
No home is complete without its basket of fruit. Albert Einstein said: A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?
Well times have changed. Now it’s an ipad, an iphone and anything else apple!
But for the sick, one of the go to gifts is a basket of fruit. It is healthy, it is cheerful, it is thoughtful and it is tempting.
Paul (Galatians 5) presents us with two baskets of fruit this morning. One basket is full of rotten fruit: strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissension, factions, envy … and things like these. This is an everyday diet – many people only have bitter fruits which leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
The other basket is filled with good fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

These are of course metaphorical fruits. They are the fruits of people’s lives – what people have to offer through their seasonal cycle of being planted, born, growing, fruiting and going to seed.
The two baskets represent the harvest of two very different people – a good basket which anyone who is sick, or who needs encouragement would welcome. The one is the harvest of lifestyles which are self seeking: the other is a range of gifts to enrich relationships with real human quality that affects reactions and responses. They are the fruits of the very Spirit of God.
The Bible begins with fruit trees and ends with fruit trees.
There will be a time when the fruitfulness of God’s creation will sustain people in all the seasons of their lives. Revelation 22, the last chapter of the Bible, refers to the fullness of time with the river of the water of life flowing from the throne of God through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river, as at the beginning, so at the end, is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its each month, for all the seasons of life. And the leaves of the trees will be for the healing of the nations.

A sculpture was offered as consolation to the grieving, shell shocked people of Warrington after the IRA bombings that killed two young boys. It is by Stephen Broadbent and is at the scene of the litter bin outside Boots where the bomb was placed. It is the retelling of this vision of the work of God’s Spirit. The river flows through the middle of the street of the city, and on either side there are bronze plaques planted wither side of the river – twelve in all, each with their fruit to sustain people through all the seasons of their life, including the times when they even walk through the valley of the shadow of death. The one shown is for January, for a cold, dark, depressing and lonely time. The fruit offered for the season is JOY – and underneath the month Stephen has written the words “and the leaves of the trees will be healing of the nations” – every month, for all the seasons of our lives.
The Warrington sculpture, the hope and consolation that it represents, is the there and then of the promise found in Revelation in the here and now of violence, enmity and strife. It is a basket of spiritual fruit offered to a world that is feeling very sick.
Another basket of fruit was offered to a world of bitterness and anxiety by a mosque in York recently. Well it wasn’t so much a basket of fruit so much as the offer of a cup of tea and a game of football.

Apparently members of the Mosque heard that the English Defence League were gathering for a protest outside their Mosque – members of the mosque retaliated by putting the kettle on, invited the protesters inside, drank tea together and played football together.

But how does such fruit grow? How are some people able to offer such good fruit when everyone else seems only able to respond with anger, cynicism and despair?
The Bible is full of talk about fruitfulness. It begins at a fruit tree in the garden of Eden, and it ends with a fruit tree
Psalm 1 describes the process:
Blessed are they that have not walked in the way of the wicked,
Nor lingered in the way of sinners,
Nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.

Their delight is in the law of the Lord
And they meditate on this day and night.
Like a tree planted by streams of water
Bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither,
Whatever they do, it shall prosper.

Similarly Psalm 92. There the Psalmist suggests that
It is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord
and to sing praises to your name, O Most High.
To tell of your love early in the morning
and of your faithfulness in the night-time.
…… The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree,
and shall spread abroad like a cedar of Lebanon.
Such as are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.
They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be vigorous and in full leaf.

For the writer of John’s Gospel it is about being born again
The fruit of our lives can be the work and creation of the Spirit of God. It is the Spirit of God which helps us respond, react and hope with love. It is the Spirit of God which helps us to bear fruit in all the seasons of life, when faced with sorrow, disappointment, betrayal, enmity, jealousy. It is the Spirit of God which helps us to speak, act and think with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. It is through the Spirit of God we have a basket of fruit for a world that craves fruit – five a day – our neighbours, family, community and enemies.
Isn’t that a healthy lifestyle? Isn’t that a winning way?
How many pray for more strife, more jealousy, more quarrels, more factions? Haven’t we got enough of them?
How many pray for more patience, more kindness, more generosity, more gentleness and more self-control in their homes, workplace and community? My guess is that we may have an answer to their prayer: a basket of fruit for all tastes.

A sermon preached at St Philip’s Kelsall on June 30th 2013

Surplus of meaning

a work of art in the Cheshire countryside

It has been good to be involved in the development of an Arts & Faith Network (for the Diocese of Chester), and to be “breathing space” at Stephen Broadbent’s studio yesterday with textile artists, stained glass artists, wordsmiths, dancers, painters, sculptors, actors, authors, poets, cooks, singers, preachers and “makers of pretty things”. Until yesterday the Network hadn’t been much more than an idea shared by a few people and it was difficult to put into words what it was about and what could happen. Now it has got legs, is on the road, and has its own story – “the day we met at Stephen and Lorraine’s, when our exploration of the interaction of arts and faith was facilitated by Simon Marsh with background percussion of water overflowing into a pond…..”

The (overflowing) River of Life
sculpture by Stephen Broadbent
at Warrington at the site of a terrorist bomb explosion
which killed two children.

There were so many good things, including a wonderful rendition of The Rose by Simon (spoken, not sung), and, we discovered a “surplus of meaning” as we joined our own creative endeavours to those of others. Surplus of meaning doesn’t mean that there is too much – rather, there is so much. The meaning of our insulation block sculptures co-mingled with the meaning given to them by others, with meaning pinned to meaning. Of course, Ricoeur was right. There is a surplus meaning as one meaning gives itself to another, transforming itself in the giving. Nothing we can do, or create can provide an adequate container for our meaning. Meaning is so abundant it has to overflow. It overflows into convivial and meaningful community, good times, great company.

There are, though, those in whom there is no sense of meaning – including some in this emerging network who described the meaninglessness of past experiences. Is this where art and faith come together, making sense when we are oppressively or depressively crushed?

Simon Marsh and Sarah Anderson have both posted on the Arts and Faith launch.

Understanding Samaritans

Water of Life
Water of Life by Stephen Broadbent at Chester Cathedral
Photo by James Preston

Gordon McPhate, Dean of Chester Cathedral, preached this morning on the gospel for the day – the Samaritan woman – depicted in this sculpture. (The sermon is here from Curate’s Corner). Gordon described how a social worker won the trust of a difficult London community in a situation where so many before him had failed. He moved into his flat on the estate, but had no tools. He went asking for help – to borrow saw, hammer, ladders, screwdriver etc, etc. And that was it. He presented himself as needing help.

Likewise Jesus presented himself to the Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar – asking her for a drink. Jews and Samaritans despised each other – and men looked down on women. So this meeting of Jesus is remarkable. Jesus, a Jew, is asking a woman and Samaritan for a drink. Their relationship is captured perfectly by Stephen Broadbent. The woman is on top of Jesus. Jesus stands under the woman – and understands her to the extent that she is able to tell her friends “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”

Our social worker friend is in similar posture – as the one asking for help – standing under his neighbours whom his predecessors had quite possibly looked down on. Was the under-standing the secret of his success – plus the fact that his neighbours felt under-stood and needed?

Elizabeth Day has written a moving article in today’s Observer highlighting the predicament of those who are gay in Uganda by telling the stories of John Bosco and Florence Kizza. Their treatment has been abominable, not only in Uganda, but also by the immigration authorities in this country. They have been shown such little under-standing. The authorities have been tyrannical and overbearing – postures without understanding. We think we know so much till we stand under other life stories – and allow them to move us and shake us.