God has no country

Donal Courtney in "God has no country"

Last Friday we went the Smock Alley theatre to see a dramatisation of Hugh O'Flaherty and the one-man performance was superb. To quote: The drama tells the story of Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, an Irish cleric in German-occupied Rome who used his Vatican connections to harbour Jews and escaped prisoners of war during World War II. Ultimately, he saved more than 6,500 lives.

The true story has also been dramatised so well in the 1983 film The Scarlet and the Black.

In the play Hugh explains how he knows injustice when he sees it, and hates it whether coming from the British oppressors earlier in his life, or from Germans or the Allies in the war. He says "what else could I do but save these people who came to me?".

But there is one other and a much easier and safer thing Hugh could have done - nothing! And I wonder which I would have done, coward that I am.


Community is...

... sharing a common vision?

In our circles the question is asked "what is your vision?" the implication being that God has given the community some specific raison d'ĂȘtre.

As I ponder this question I am of course aware of our links with certain other Christian communities across the world. A Google trail will turn up some good but mostly negative opinions of these communities, the negative ones being fairly obviously written by folk who have left with a large chip on their shoulder. Personally I do not identify with this sort of "vision". Back in Oxford days I agreed to be the OICCU "Rep" for our college for one year, but in order to do this I was told I had to sign my agreement to their Statement of Faith and this I refused to do on principle. Later, in my BBC Research days, I attended a baptist church and wanted to help out with young people's meetings. I was told I had to first become a "church member" and to do this I had to sign an agreement to their Statement of Faith. They would not budge on this requirement so I signed under considerable duress. Although since then I have not been asked to repeat this signing business, I hope you will surmise that I strongly resist and abhor being constrained into someone else's belief pattern.

When I consider the individuals in our community I do not find strict adherence to any particular denomination or movement in spite of the fact that every year we invite ministries from the aforementioned "links" for our annual convention. True, a common denominator is our Christian faith and obviously a desire to express this in our living together, but beyond that we are all different. Some have thought this a weakness but I rather think it is a strength. Although at the same time I wonder if there is enough cohesion to keep our community from self-destruction, which cohesion has to be that agape love that transcends human differences.


Community is...

...being thankful for meals that are other people's favourites but not my own.

Don't get me wrong - the cooking in this community is awesome: we have some very talented cooks. It has also become multi-cultural with a decided emphasis on Mexican. But the meal I am thinking of could not be described as foreign. It is certainly not my favourite, and yet I overheard someone observing that it was their favourite. There's no accounting for folk!


Where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us?

I feel a bit like Gideon must have. There are many needs that I thought God had placed on my heart and I have prayed for these for what I thought was earnestly and for a long time, yet I do not see the answers I expect. Even so, I am not yet going to stop asking: God isn't going to get off the hook that lightly! I know about the importunate widow.

William Blake - the angel of revelation

Now the angel of the LORD came and sat under the terebinth tree at Ophrah, which belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, while his son Gideon was beating out wheat in the winepress to hide it from the Midianites (who were oppressing Israel).  And the angel of the LORD appeared to him and said to him, "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour." And Gideon said to him, "Please, sir, if the LORD is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all his wonderful deeds that our fathers recounted to us, saying, 'Did not the LORD bring us up from Egypt?' But now the LORD has forsaken us and given us into the hand of Midian." And the LORD turned to him and said, "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?"

Gideon continues to be hesitant but ends up leading an army and saving Israel from her oppressors. You can read the rest of the story in Judges 6.

I too am weighed down by the apparent present day lack of the sort of "wonderful deeds" we are told that Jesus and the early church performed.

The difference for me is - where is the angel? 

Besides, I find myself reappraising many of my "Christian" ideals. Songs I sing with lyrics that now grate, like the hymn "I would love to tell you what I think of Jesus - since I found in him a friend so strong and true...". A lovely tune, and such endearing words, but I have become unsure about this "personal relationship" bit. Sure, I still pray for folk in need, still constantly ask God to make himself real to me, but I wonder about those times I thought I had "heard" God. Like: where is the angel? Don't get me wrong, I haven't trashed everything - I believe in God, etc. and that there was a man Jesus who made the supreme sacrifice for folk like me, and am happy enough to call him my Lord and would dearly love to hear his voice and know him as a friend - just that - where is he?

Having survived the morning meeting, had lunch and done various odd jobs I ran, barefoot as usual, not too far; swam briefly, possibly the last swim of the year; and stood, alone, on the shore and revelled in the beauty of the lake and the mountains on the far side. How thankful I am for this safety valve.


Why I cannot hear what you are saying

Several months ago, egged on by Others here, I submitted to a free hearing consultation in Newbridge. The man was thorough enough with his tests and concluded that I had considerable hearing loss and needed one of his hearing aids for five or six grand. He let me try one and showed that it improved my ability to hear quiet sounds. No brainer. But I was and still am not convinced that it would help much in a noisy situation which is where I suffer most.

Since then I purchased a small battery-powered gizmo - basically a microphone, amplifier with volume and tone controls, and earbuds. I improved the latter by purchasing the noise isolating kind that reduce ambient sound.

I suffer from tinnitus, which means that I hear constant "noise" in the higher frequencies. I'm in the lounge at the moment: Ali is sitting opposite me and talking to Caroline on the side. There is no-one else in the room. The level of my tinnitus noise is a little below that of their conversation, and I can make out what they are saying with no problem. But if they were speaking more quietly I might not because the tinnitus noise would mask theirs. Without doubt my gizmo would help in this case, even though its own electronic noise is quite audible to me.

In the praise in our meetings with its loud accompaniment (grand piano, drums, bass, trumpet, guitars), or at community dinner time (think 30 people with small children in a room with a low ceiling) another effect kicks in - my ears start to distort the sound to the point that it can become uncomfortable. When I use my gizmo it amplifies this cacophony and only makes it worse. QED. Even with the noise isolating earbuds which, frankly, do not isolate ambient noise very much.

Distortion is exacerbated when there are many sounds together, because the distortion mixes them up. Technically speaking the non-linearity of distortion can, from two sounds at different frequencies, create new sounds at the sum and at the difference of those frequencies - so two sounds become four, and four become... It is those additional sounds, I think, that make it so uncomfortable.

In the praise in our meetings I find I can actually hear better with a finger in each ear, because it reduces the level below that at which it distorts.

The undamaged human hearing is amazing. It can can distinguish about 10 graduations per semitone over 10 octaves (20Hz to 20,000Hz), and can safely detect sound levels over a 130dB range - that's a ratio of 1 to 10,000,000,000,000 times. And, of course, it is stereophonic so that it can spatially locate sounds.  In contrast the dynamic range of my hearing is severely limited especially at higher frequencies - I can't hear sounds substantially below the threshold imposed by my tinnitus, and sounds louder than an upper threshold distort and become uncomfortable. Which is strange recompense for someone who has commented on the present day departure from hi-fi.

For what it is worth, I believe my legendary Aunt Mary suffered in the same way - she used to plug her ears with cotton wool to reduce the discomfort.

Whilst people try to be understanding, there is without doubt more of a stigma over wearing any sort of hearing aid than, for example, wearing glasses. Kind of on a par with wearing no shoes. People say things behind you back, or give odd glances. Which is why I don't go around with a pair of ear defenders on (except when doing building work).


Minimalist running and Wicklow Gap

The beauty of running minimalist (no shoes, minimal clothing) is that I can be running along a beach or mountain track and, if an expanse of water affords, transfer to swimming and back to running without the tiresomeness of having to carry stuff, get dried and or change clothing.

For anyone wishing to emulate, I should add that running or cycling for too long in shorts that are wet with salt water will make the skin sore, and that drying oneself by running is inadvisable if the wind-chill adjusted temperature is below say 5'C unless you are much hardier than I am!

Which reminds me of my temperature scale:
below 0'C - freezing
0'C to 5'C - cold
5'C to 10'C - fair
10'C to 15'C - warm
15'C to 20'C - hot
over 20'C - tropical

This afternoon, after various duties, I cycled to the Wicklow Gap and back in record time in order to be back to enjoy a most excellent curry followed by plum crumble with Ali, and am now feeling suitably replete and worn out.


Corriebracks barefoot

The last time I tried Corriebracks was 5 years ago and I didn't make it to the top. Perhaps this defeat was what caused me to try again. Not that it is much of a challenge at 531m, except that you do have to get there if, like me, starting from home. And you do have to get back home afterwards, and it does have to be along a different route, and does have to be barefoot...

My track - 15.1 miles - anticlockwise

Corriebracks on the left, Church Mnt on the rights

Looked like it wanted photographing

The path over the gap starts as a narrow road

But becomes a track

Looking back, our lake in the distance

Looking forward, Church Mnt to the right

At the top of the gap looking down towards Donard

Top of Corriebracks looking East

Top, looking North towards home

Top, West towards Church Mnt

Cool sky and skyline

Cool Me

On the way down, same thingummyjig as in 2012 ascent

Perhaps foolishly I chose to return home via the King's River and lake shore. This entailed fording the river in order to avoid a nasty non-barefoot-friendly fence, and the river came up to my upper chest whilst wading smart-phone in one raised hand.  But the lake is very beautiful.

Back along the lake shore

Looking back


Community is...

...sharing the shower.

One of the folk here visits Kenya and Uganda several times a year to encourage the church there - he ministers not only in preaching but also in practical areas and reported after his last visit some of the needs - like people not being able to even afford soap. And yet when I step into our shower I have to negotiate vast numbers of shower-gels, shampoos, conditioners, women's under arm razors, those horrible fluffy wash poofs. Personally, in the shower I use water and soap, period, and anyway I like the shower enclosure to be free of ancillary stuff, more room for Me. I would not dream of leaving my shaving stuff in a communal bathroom: I can only imagine the cries if I did!


Community is...

Making house rules that everyone is supposed to keep but in the event it actually falls to a few to fulfil.

It's all too easy to say "please could everyone wash their own dishes at coffee time". But do they? Another one from days of yore - if you bring any personal food or drink to the table at community meal time you must offer it to everyone at that table. Such rules get lodged in the fabric of our mutual existence and revoking them never seems to be considered so, like case law, they accumulate. When new folk join the community of course they have no idea about these unwritten rules and no-one, it seems, thinks it important enough, or maybe we are too embarrassed, to present them with a list of do's and don'ts.



Today I ran around the (Kings River end of the) lake. I used to do this quite often several years back, but last year only once and this year only once so far. The lake has to be fairly low, and it needs a couple of hours of spare time. Implied is the swim across where the river enters the lake and, for me, this takes a bit of psyching myself up. But I managed it - I did not panic and I did not drown. The weather was interesting - there was rain about and several times it came down quite hard for 10 minutes or so. Which added interest, along with the mud and stones.

Back to a hot shower and cup of tea, and then Ali and I cooked fish and chips with supposedly petit pois (according to the packet) but they were quite hard work and certainly were not petit. For afters Ali had made me Blackcurrant Pie With Ice Cream and it was most excellent. Some folk here do not like blackcurrants, a position I find hard to credit as they are my favourite. But then the same people don't like gooseberries so I suppose there must be something wrong with them.

Thanks, Ali, for being so nice to me.


Showers of blessing

In the house here and the attached courtyard buildings we have a total of seven showers, over which I have some jurisdiction as the default plumber. I will call them Showers of Blessing because I love having a hot shower (plumbers have to test their workmanship) and showers are one of the great inventions of the modern age along with duvets and smart phones. When I was a child there were none of these, least-ways not where I lived. I remember vividly the discovery of duvets and what a pleasurable difference it made to sleeping and in the making of one's bed the morning after. I remember, also vividly, my first smart phone - actually it was a PDA thanks to a small legacy that my Aunt Mary left me - the amazement of so much functionality within such a small space, and the wonder of GPS (I love maps).

Back to the subject - three are purpose built showers and the remainder are over baths. One of my first pleasurable shower experiences (thus discounting the communal shower at school) was at Oxford. The "bath room" was in the basement of my staircase in the Rhodes building - this open-plan room housed perhaps three full length baths (bliss) and several showers of what we would now call the "wet room" type. The floor and walls were raw cement rendered. Those of you surprised at the lack of modesty - in fact one hardly ever had to share the room with anyone else and, if one did, who cares? I should add that in those days Oriel took only male students. Both showers and baths were fed with large pipework with good water pressure so a bath would fill in minutes and the shower - 3/4" hot and cold feeds, separate valves on each (none of this namby-pamby mixer-valve nonsense), feeding an enormous "rain" shower head - what more need I say? Compared to those paltry devices called showers now-a-days it was heaven. Sadly, I am fairly sure this facility has been removed as part of the modernising process. But I may have said all this before.

Back at home, we have recently remodelled what has been somewhat tongue-in-cheek dubbed "The Best Shower in Europe" (or BSIE) so that instead of leaking into the room below in spite of its low pressure, it is now a power shower and hasn't leaked yet. Give it time, I hear you saying.

Back to the subject - my most recent "fix" is to improve the electrically heated shower in the turquoise bathroom (EHSITB). Hitherto this has never been satisfactory due to low and varying water pressure, the water coming from a shallow-well pump with a pressure vessel. Anyone familiar with such a setup will understand. The rest of you don't need to, as the point I am making does not depend on it. The improvement has been to feed it with a preset mix of hot and cold from the pump that supplies the BSIE, thus increasing the pressure and giving the electric heating a sorely needed kick start.

I had naively assumed that anyone in the first world now-a-days would have used and be familiar with how an electrically heated shower operates. These horrible devices are typically not thermostatic and have two knobs - one has three positions selecting: neither, one or both heating elements, the other adjusts the water flow rate and thus, indirectly, the temperature. A knowledge of some rather basic Physics is implied in understanding this operation.

I had naively also assumed that anyone would realise that many shower heads (aka roses) have several spray settings e.g. fine spray, vigorous focused spray, etc.

I had naively assumed that folk would appreciate the difference between an electrically heated shower and a conventional shower control that is supplied with separate hot and cold feeds, and that the later is usually but not always thermostatic, and that "thermostatic" implies a device that tries to maintain a constant temperature.

Having told a certain person (well known to me) of my improvement to the EHSITB, she kindly volunteered to try it out. Her report was not negative but I quickly realised that she was in fact not at all familiar with electrically heated showers or their difference from conventional showers, and had no idea that most shower heads can be adjusted.

Which only goes to show that you should never assume anything.


Community is...

...being the first one up in the morning, going to the kitchen to make a cuppa, and finding tons of dirty dishes...


Community is...

...having folk around that will encourage me - will even notice - when I am feeling low.

Image result for depressed calvin


Community is...

...figuring how best to communicate with others who don't do email, or don't do Facebook, or don't think the same way, or who you know will misconstrue whatever you say.


Am I mad or is it The Others?

Went across the yard to get a screwdriver or something and this guy was repeatedly raising enormous weights and throwing them down - the ground vibrating under my feet with the impact. Later same gent upside down pushing his body up and down against a wall board in a manner that would have exhausted me in seconds. This evening I pass a girl on the stairs, panting with exertion, and dressed in strange garb, carrying a digital weighing scales for some purpose beyond my ken. We (the community at large) provided a room for Their equipment, but They have long outgrown that and taken over the byre (awaiting renovation) and want more. The byre is besmirched with ropes hanging down, boards against the wall, soft mats, strange steel frameworks, and of course a plethora of weights and bars. Not to mention the treadmill in the basement of the house proper. This fad involves a significant proportion of the folk who live here. I say "fad" because it is a relatively recent phenomenon. More recent than my barefoot running for example. Although I would deem even that fairly recent. I hope for Their Sake that it is more than a fad (because fads come and go).

Do These Folk really need to do all this stuff? Girls with muscular arms. It is an obsession far beyond my barefoot running. And it occupies so much time, time when I would have thought They had other stuff to do but who am I? And costs so much in equipment: and now we are glibly talking about spending a huge sum on a purpose built gym, though we have not finally agreed on that. And why do They have to wear such strange clothing to do these stunts? And how is it that when a job that involves lifting needs done, these Folk mysteriously are not to be found? I suppose at least this gives me the opportunity to exercise my own biceps.


Am I really a Christian?

The thing is... I don't enjoy meetings. And yet meetings are an integral part of at least our genre of Christianity.

I hear comments like how wonderful the meeting was this morning, how it lifted me up, etc. But I cannot remember that I have ever enjoyed a Christian meeting and I have been to a few in my life! As a child I could boast that I attended 5 meetings on a Sunday and several more during the week. I had just assumed that one was not meant to exactly enjoy them but that, rather like cabbage or going to the dentist, they were good for you. Don't get me wrong - I do not dislike singing, but I'd like it better if it were more musical. And I am sometimes encouraged by what is taught or preached, but the term "enjoyment" is not one that comes to mind.  Not in the same arena as, for example, experiencing the film Avatar in 3D, or listening to Bruckner's 8th, or eating a bar of Irish Cadbury's Dairy Milk (if indeed they still differentiate after the Kraft takeover)


Community is...

Community is living with differences that cannot be resolved.

One group says we should grow as much of our own food as is feasible.  Another group points out that it is cheaper and easier to buy produce from Aldi.  One person wants the heating set high, others want it cooler. Those with Latin blood love tortillas and spicy food, others yearn for spuds and two veg.

The thing is - how will I react to another's foibles? So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgement on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.


Castle Drogo


Whereas my daughter's blog declares it is to keep family & friends informed of my actions/movements on the other side of the world, my blog achieves the same end only as a sort of by-product. Which of course begs the question...

It is for this reason that I feel under no particular obligation to inform my readers how the past few weeks have been a wild succession of trips and food and late nights (this being my excuse for not posting). Due to the conjunction here of all four of my children and progeny, K visiting from Oz and J&R+ from AK. About which I may share more highlights some other time.

One of our many trips was to Castle Drogo on the northern edge of Dartmoor. It is or was a stately home built of local granite stone in a modernistic castle style and boasting a leaking roof. It is now owned by the National Trust who are graciously repairing the leaks at considerable expense aided by the entrance fees we were obliged to pay.

Temporary roof whilst leaks are being fixed

You can of course find out the details yourself - we found it amazing that anyone should have private funds to build such a structure and, having the funds, should choose to spend them in this way. The scale is colossal. A pity they didn't pay more attention to the roof design.

Consider carving this granite block - one of many!

In its day electricity was not widespread - but Castle Drogo had its own d.c. hydro generating scheme, electric lighting and even electric lifts.

The electricity distribution room

The National Trust is also restoring the hydro scheme so we had to check this out. We found an off-cut of the new cable and descended to the floor of the Teign gorge via the cable excavations.

3-phase cable - looks like low voltage

Is somewhere under my scantily clad grandson

The turbine house was obviously at the end of the cable, though the other side of the river. The next must-do was to find the weir. It turned out to be a local swimming hole and so I stripped to underwear and jumped in, my aim being to check out the new water extraction details on the other side.

The weir and fish ladder. I swam to the right.

This whole area is another of the many, many places I would love to explore more thoroughly sometime, but I am coming to think that my life may not be long enough to satisfy such desires. I would run, barefoot, the length of Teign gorge with swims whenever the mood took me.

OS map of the gorge

Why did the river decide to create this gorge rather than taking what would appear (in my next map) to be an easier and more direct route to the sea? Strange, but so far I have not found an answer - geology sites I have visited seem to take the present course for granted.

Course of the Teign river
Crown copyright and database right, CC BY-SA 3.0

Community is...

Community is...

...having three of my grandchildren living in the same house so that I can see them every day. But is also having my other four living in another community in AK...


Something called good

courtesy BBC

This guy Hartman who built and maintains a 25 acre theme park firstly for his disabled daughter, and now is free entry to any guest with a condition. He stands to loose a million dollars a year short of fundraising and partners. I don't know whether this man believes in God and you can talk about dead vs. spiritual works for all you like but I see in the actions of this man something good.