Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

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This Incredible Christmas Gift

In his famous play, Green Pastures, playwright Marc Connelly has the angel Gabriel walk on stage with his horn under his arm. He approaches the Lord who is deep in thought. God is troubled about what is happening on earth: So much anger and fighting, so much pain and sadness, so many people blindly ruining their lives. God is very troubled because He has already sent any number of prophets and special messengers, but His people just can't hear them.

Gabriel offers to blow his horn and bring the whole sorry mess to a quick end. But God takes his trumpet away. Gabriel presses the Lord about what He's going to do. And finally the Lord answers, 'This time,' He says, 'I'm not going to send anybody. This time I'm going myself!'

And that's what we're celebrating today: God has given us the best gift He had: His own son as our guide, our brother and our friend. And He'll never take His gift back - not for all eternity.

So what are we to do with this incredible gift? Take it in, all the way inside. Silently and simply speak His name, 'Jesus,' and know that no matter what, all will be well. All will be well!

I wish you all the blessings of this wonderful gift. May your Christmas be filled with warmth, love and hope.



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When Humans Meet Their Waterloo

I arrived at our ‘biggie’ supermarket this weekend mentally psyched for the general onslaught of weekend shoppers.

I absolutely detest crowds and my irritation only becomes compounded as I watch exasperated mothers making feeble attempts, (and failing), to negotiate with their children over the strategically placed sugar-drenched rubbish the stores set at eye level, designed to invoke these battles of emotional stamina.

And at the end of this foray is the always ever looming possibility that my exercise in controlled civility would have one final assault from the till clerk – the ‘Gloom Master’ herself!

Despite my exercise in trying to invoke a smile from the woman several weeks ago with my carefully selected floral bouquet, I’m sad to say the past few times I’ve been in her queue, she’s been the same miserable, warmth dissolving, spirit zapping person I first encountered. I do look at her with more compassion now, despite her irascible demeanour, but I must admit she hardly wins the ‘Miss Congeniality Award’ of the New Millennia

After collecting my trolley of bits and bobs I headed to the check out tills. Over the months I’ve conditioned myself to go directly to Gloom Master’s till. It’s not that I’m some self abasing glutton for kinky mental abuse, it’s just that I keep hoping (praying) that I’ll see a new spark in the old gal.

But surprise of all surprises, not only was Gloom Master not at her till, the entire register, belt, etc., was gone! In its place was a behemoth device containing electronic screens, numerous touch pad signs and a scanning device for the customer to use rather than the Gloom Master.

As I walked up to the device it welcomed me and invited me to scan my first item. And it guided me throughout as if I were some mindless amoeba, telling me to place the scanned item on the belt, scan the next item, and so on. With each item I scanned there was some form of interaction from ‘the machine.’ When I finished following its instructions, ‘the machine’ somehow sensed that I was finished and it 'invited’ me to select how I would pay. It announced the amount due; it took my card details, processed the payment, and issued a receipt.

And as I pulled the receipt from the printer, ‘the machine’ said ‘thank you for shopping with us today!’

There it was, the entire process of human interaction – precisely what we want in our interactions with sales clerks, all neatly wrapped up into a simple, concise, effective, and even friendly experience. (Ladies & Gentlemen, there's a fearsome foreboding here!)

And Gloom Master – Alice, the human with all her frailties and needs - where was she? Well, with the advances of modern technology, the store was faced with the ‘sad’ necessity of having redundancies. Alice was among a number of the ‘older’ employees who received a ‘nice’ letter (saying thank you, no doubt), explaining that their particular talents were no longer required.

It was probably my imagination as I looked down the dozens of tills still manned by humans, but it appeared that not one of them was over the age of 18.

Gloom Master Alice has indeed met her Waterloo. But truth be known; I’d always prefer her grumpy, yet very real, human interaction over a machine that says ‘thank you.’

Technology has achieved astonishing advances. But technology will never be able to replace humans interacting with humans. It’s that strand of fibre that holds lives together and gives us meaning to our own life.

Now, I’m just wondering…if I brought flowers to ‘the machine’ would it go out to dinner with me? I could tell it was trying to flirt a little.


Wanted: Part-Time Wife


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Rage Isn't An Excuse

There are some of us who carry memories, or visual images of experiences through our lives that are so dark, so horrific that part of our life’s pleas to God is to never have them cross our minds again. Ever.

For some, it can be the image of an auto or aeroplane accident, for others it may be the experience they suffered through as the result of rape, torture, assaults, war, domestic violence, the World Trade Centre; the list can seem endless. All of these events can engender the emotion of combined fear and rage.

The news of the Iraqi reporter who threw his shoes at President Bush is a clear example of the emotion of rage. Having been beaten and tortured himself, compounded by years of witnessing and reporting on the countless thousands of deaths of his fellow countrymen, and the displacement of millions of families, the reporter’s pent-up rage was unleashed at President Bush.

But as with almost everything else I have heard come from President Bush’s mouth over the past eight years, his obtuse response to the incident, in my opinion, was appallingly crass and yet another addition to an endless list of examples of his failures to show an understanding or empathy for people.

There’s a number of experiences and events to which I have been either a witness or victim, however you wish to perceive it, that haunt me in similar ways. And whilst I still haven’t mastered mechanisms to stop the images from surfacing at the most unusual times, I am able to metaphorically ‘re-file’ them instantly so that they do not impact my day. Perhaps they're meant to surface from time to time to help remind me of all the blessings we do have.

I am grateful that there have been very few moments in my life when I can truly say I have experienced the emotion of rage. And if I’m pragmatic about it all, I can honestly say that I have an understanding of the emotion and how it can, in certain instances, manifest in some people, just as it did with the reporter.

I’ve thought a lot today about the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan who have been fired upon. That probably wouldn’t provoke rage as much as it would adrenalin-fuelled fear. But possibly watching one of your fellow soldiers become hurt or killed most probably could cause the emotion of rage to manifest.

And when someone is possessed with the influence of rage, I imagine there are many instances where that individual, who might normally be well grounded and able to understand the cause and effect of their actions, might not be able to control the guttural visceral emotion that has overcome them.

But what happens when such behaviour is part of a pre-meditated, discussed, alluded to, and tacitly approved response? Is there such a thing as giving ‘permission’ to respond with rage?

I listened to a news article on America’s National Public Radio (NPR) regarding the court-reported actions of a US military interrogator who has been directly charged with the death of an ex Iraqi general. The interrogator had been assigned the task of securing information from the Iraqi. As I understand it, the Iraqi officer had been responsible for many deaths in the past by virtue of his rank in the Iraqi military. The article did not state whether there was any detailed evidence of the general having committed any specific acts of violence. But I have no doubt about his culpability.

The American interrogator’s defence is that the instructions he received from his superiors were vague and that he is a victim himself of mixed signals sent by US commanders over the treatment and interrogation of prisoners.

The facts, as reported by NPR, were that this US Officer placed the chained and handcuffed Iraqi upside down inside a wet sleeping bag, then wrapped the sleeping bag with bare electrical cord. This was presumably so that amounts of electrical current could be passed through the bag, although I heard no statement that this was actually done.

The process was designed to create maximum ‘stress’ for the prisoner, in the hopes that information would be obtained in the most expedient way. As the prisoner was entombed in the bag, the interrogator would lower the bag to the floor and sit on it, adding more stress to the Iraqi’s chest.

According to the court documents, the Iraqi kept calling out to God. Whenever this happened, the interrogator placed his hands over the Iraqi’s mouth and nose preventing him from breathing or speaking. The court testimony doesn’t say whether the Iraqi was calling out God’s name in fear. But one can probably assume.

The Iraqi died. The prisoner’s family filed a complaint alleging that their husband, father of three small children, had been tortured. Of course, there is never an admission to such things.

But now, the interrogator has been charged with the death of the general. The interrogator’s defence is that he obtained ‘permission’ from his commanding officers as to the tactics he would use. And therefore, he was following orders from his officers.

His commanding officers acknowledge that he had discussed the tactics that would be used. Apparently, it is an acceptable practice to place prisoner’s in ‘stressful’ positions in order to educe information.

The testimony continued for some time. And both the prosecution and defence raised the matter of rage and whether the interrogator was acting out of rage at any point. This, presumably might serve as a mitigating cause for his actions.

And indeed there had been rage on the part of the interrogator. When the Iraqi, inside the wet sleeping bag, stopped calling out God’s name and remained silent, the interrogator removed him from the sleeping bag. When he did so the Iraqi was smiling.

According to the testimony, this infuriated the interrogator so much that he poured water into the Iraqi’s mouth and nostrils. He was enraged ‘beyond control’ because his efforts had not been successful.

But the truth was that the Iraqi was dead. He had died whilst inside the sleeping bag, and his last words, or attempted words were for God to save him.

When the interrogator left his family to go to Iraq, I’m certain he never envisaged himself being in a position where he would deliberately torture someone. At least, Dear Lord, at least I hope not. And when the Iraqi general spent however many years of his life in the midst of totalitarianism at the hands of a madman and worked to make himself one of the alpha males in the Iraqi military – was it in order to survive despotism to ensure his family was safe, or was it due to the rantings of a dictator who feared the spectre of an empire attacking his country? I haven’t a clue.

All I do know is that whether it’s the Iraqi gentleman, the American gentleman, or the Iraqi reporter who threw shoes at President Bush, there are families somewhere who are mourning, who are trying to find ways to push into the recesses of their minds, images of humanity at its worst.



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Gloom Master Maintenance

It was a perfect morning for my clandestine activities. Saturday is ‘family day.’ It’s one of those days when I get to do what ‘I’ want to do. That sounds nice in principle, but it actually means changing the linens, hauling them off to the cleaners, dropping my daughter off for her early morning ballet class, doing the grocery shopping, catching up on paperwork, and answering a staggering number of emails. The afternoon is different. That’s when we make certain we have time as a family.

But the timing was perfect. As I dropped Mary off I decided to visit the florist and select some flowers for the Gloom Master. There were plenty of choices and I really struggled in imagining what flower would discretely say ‘you’re a miserable old git and it’s got to change now!’

I went for the daffodils. Some were still closed tight and I figured that once they relaxed and opened, they’d turn into a thing of beauty. I wasn’t certain that Gloom Master would be able to interpret the subtle nuances behind the gesture, but it was the best my half-functioning brain could rustle up before 9am on a Saturday morning.

Men are useless at things like choosing flowers. Most of us end up making our selections at the checkout counters of the local 7-11 or at a petrol station. And we’re probably hopeless at conveying messages that possess any sense of depth. Worse yet, when a woman receives flowers from a guy, it can more often than not mean the guy is guilty of something, or the relationship is just too new and he’s still chasing her. Oh, I hope I've never been that way! (Okay...perhaps once, maybe...)

My early morning attire was perfect for the position of a flower delivery person. I had on torn jeans, a flannel shirt, and a jacket that had seen better days - long before the chap who passed away left it to me. And my hair looked like Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

I took one of those blank cards that florists always have available and pondered over what I should write. I settled for ‘Alice, thank you for being so nice.’ I’m sure God was raising His eyebrows over that one! But I muttered to myself, ‘ just give me a second, you’ll see what I’m up to.’ The extremely patient florist kindly placed a ribbon around the flowers and wrapped them in paper. They were three bunches for £1.50. Fantastic value I thought. I bought nine bunches.

Daffodils have always been one of my favourites. As a small child I remember my grandmother helping me plant several in her garden. Whenever I came to visit her she would point out that the flowers in her garden were a result of my hands. It’s one of those childhood snapshots that remain in your heart throughout your life.

I pulled up to the entrance of the supermarket and did exactly what I hate seeing anyone else do. I stopped the car, turned on the emergency blinkers, and ran in to the service counter. I told the surprised clerk that they were for one of the till clerks named Alice. (I probably could have said 'Gloom Master' and they would have known who I was speaking about). The clerk was busy but she said she’d give them to her. I ran back out to the car and headed for the laundry.

After dropping off our linens I returned to the supermarket to do my shopping. As I entered the store I could see the back of Gloom Master at her till. Her flowers had been placed in a vase and were beside her register. There was already a steady queue of people paying for their weekend shopping.

When I queued up with the other poor souls who were waiting their turn for a dose of Miss Congeniality, I immediately noticed something. The woman was actually smiling! I won’t go so far as to say I heard her entering into any meaningful conversation with the two people ahead of me, but it was very clear that the woman wasn’t being the inveterate grump that she always was.

As she began to scan my items I said my usual ‘Good morning.’ She looked at me and smiled, but she didn’t’ respond. And then I said ‘those are lovely flowers you have there.’ The woman glanced at them, as she continued scanning my groceries. She said ‘ yes, they are lovely. I haven’t received flowers since my husband died. He always brought me flowers. We were married forty-four years’

The total appeared on the display and the woman, as true to form, didn’t tell me what the total was. But as I handed her the money, I noticed that she didn’t have the rock hardened face that she usually held.

This time I saw a sad, lonely, elderly lady who was adrift over the loss of someone she loved. I saw a lost and lonely woman who probably had nothing left to return to at home.

Perhaps the flowers did more for me than they did for her. Perhaps they served to remind me that anyone’s demeanour has an origin. Perhaps her behaviour was the only mechanism she could find as protection.

Next week, when I queue up at her till, perhaps I’ll see less of Gloom Master and more of Alice, the lonely woman who no longer has anyone to bring her flowers.

And that is what I should have seen in the first place.



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