June 2008


Well – nothing good ever lasts forever – and the sabbatical is over! I returned to Temple Balsall yesterday to find everything in good order – mainly thanks to my wonderful colleagues. Some flowers from Sharon and Jen (as I told my American Friends – quite simply the best people England (and Wales) produces!) The fridge had some milk and the kitchen bread – what more does a man need? The cellar isn’t too far away – I wonder if there has been a party or two while I’ve been away?

There is a lot of paper – overwhelming if you think too much about it too much! The best way is to start at the top – handle one piece at a time and it gradually moves …. it has all been put in careful piles by Sharon and I think that a lot of people must have given up trying to contact me or they don’t love me any more. Lets see what July brings.

But it is the people and the stories and this community that lie behind the paper that I am most bothered about. Its great to be back because I love this place and want to see it grow and develop. And I am ever more committed to Temple Balsall becoming a model of excellence in the theory and practice of care for older people.

So here is to the future – but also for the time being a load of this:

 And a final word – thanks to all those who have kept faith with the blog – will there be more? Wait and see!!!

 Should we all be allowed to say what we want, and where, and about whosoever we want? What are the limits to free speech? And who should decide where these limits are set? If we set a limit of freedom of speech then does it follow that there will be an infringement of other human rights?

These questions are sparked by a debate I listened to in Chicago last month between a lawyer and a radical. It was lively but there was little meeting of minds or hearts. I wanted to stand somewhere in the middle, which when there is crossfire is about the worst place in the world to be.

Let us ground this in a real situation. An American soldier, killed in Iraq, is being buried in his home town. His family and friends are deeply upset. A right wing religious group decide to gain publicity by protesting against the liberal state over its acceptance of gay and lesbian partnerships. They contact a local TV station and position themselves near the church. The protest is disruptive and invasive. They claim the right to free speech – the family are left feeling violated.

So – everyone has a right to a view and to express it. But there is a time and a place and therefore a limit on the freedom. Hate speech can incite violence – and while the desire to have one’s view heard is a natural one (and upheld by law in most cases) there must be some kind of protection against the invasion of privacy. No one has the right to inflict emotional distress with words and actions that insult.

This is a fascinating area of legal and philosophical thought that embraces some fundamental questions about our life together.

  • What kind of community do we want to or choose to live in?
  • How much diversity of perspective can we tolerate?
  • If those in South Africa had not protested would they have secured equal rights?
  • Unless we have freedom to think and speak how are we to search for the truth?
  • Does our free speech ever diminish the human dignity of others by how we think or speak about them?
  • What kind of speech promotes the public peace?

This area touches on how we think about community and society – how we order our lives economically, socially, religiously even.

Words are dangerous. We should use them advisably! Free speech but with what limits?



Those regular visitors to my weblog will know of my interest and enthusiasm  in and for Art. A correspondent friend of mine reminded me of how elitist art can be – and I agree – making art accessible (and affordable) is a moral and social challenge. I would like to see a permanent space somewhere in Temple Balsall to show art and enable a wider group of people  to enjoy art and be enriched by it.

The Cambrian Academy is a modern building erected alongside an old Welsh Chapel at the top of an old lane in the lovely castle town of Conwy. Purpose built it was opened in 1993 – a compact ground area opens up into a spacious first floor with views over the river and town.

In the late 19th Century, North Wales, was home to the first artist’s colony in Britain. David Cox spent much time in Betws-y-Coed between 1884 and 1856 and by 1881 the Conwy valley became home to many painters.

Kyffin Williams became the Academy’s president in 1999 and was responsible for encouraging art in Wales. And – in pursuit of accessibility there is an excellent programme of engagement with schools and other groups including lots of art classes for those who wish to do rather than look!

My favourite painters? Audrey Hind; Mary Lloyd Jones; John Knapp-Fisher; Karel Lek and David Tress.

Take a look at their web site – www.racconwy.org.

My reading of old age narratives goes on (and on and on)! There is some productivity and much delight in the various way these characters think about the shape of age. I wish I had the capacity to think onto a computer – there is something about the movement of a pen across paper watching the words emerge that is a critical part of the creative process.

My least favourite pile of books deal with angry children who have chosen to write about their beastly parents! In a book called A Bill from my father a son writes about the financial costs of care regretting every penny of it. daughters vent their feelings over inadequate mothers in a frenzy of therapeutic satisfaction. One bishops daughter tells of her father’s sexual life with shocking detail – and is rewarded with the text becoming a best seller in America – I don’t think that religion was the selling point either!

What are we to make of this? I am blessed with good, kind, generous and loving parents. Of course I am aware that this is not everyones experience. Further I am not defending parents who fail to protect children. But – how do we define failure and once named what are we to do with it?

I don’t like people who choose the moral high ground. Beware of those who condemn and criticise others and never question their own judgement. They are dangerous people and there are too many ‘Christians’ who fall into this category.

We are all human. We all make mistakes. Some of our mistakes are more obvious than others. I believe that most people in  most circumstances do their best! There are some things beyond our comprehension – and we shall never fully grasp them try as we might. Taking time to understand before jumping into judgement is surely a wiser and more humane way of living and loving? Sometimes it is best to keep our mouths firmly shut!

None of us have or had perfect parents- and very few of us were easy, complete, problem free children! I expect that some of us were a bit of a handful don’t you think?

So – lets be easy and kinder – and learn to forgive our parents and their humanness and (small) falings – in the hope that we can nurture places where our failures are embraced with grace and patience.

I realize that part of the secret of spritual happiness is to nurture contentment with ones’ lot – and my lot is a good one – you would be surprised at what a short absence does to the heart’s affections! However that doesn’t stop me, from time to time, coveting things!

Have you ever come across a house and wondered what it would be like to live there? Are there places that you would like to live – or places where your mind wanders?

The sea has an enduring attraction and fascination for many of us. Imagine a house with breathtaking views over the sea tucked away below the hills – isolated but not too remote! Here is the road to Plas – Yn- Rhiw :

It is magical and has everything necessary for salvation! A large open hallway – a book lined dining area – a terraced garden leading down to the sea – and tucked below the foot of Rhiw hill overlooking the mountains of Merioneth. To the west is Aberdaron and the end of the Lleyn is four miles away. Sheltered but guarded by sea, fields, hills and sea. Perfection.

Here is the House:

Where would you like to live? What do we need from a house to make it into our home? If could could choose your final view on this earth what would it be?

Thank goodness for the Keating sisters who left this gem and much of the land around it to the National Trust for us all to envy and enjoy!!

I know that I am back in this country but part of me, reflecting on my sabbatical, is still in America. I have cards and letters from newly made friends asking when I am planning to return.

If you look back over my sabbatical blogs (March 26th – 30th) you will see my reflections on the International American Society of Ageing Conference. In one blog I expressed the vain hope that I might secure some support for a visit to the 2009 conference to be held in Las Vegas. I had a firm and amusing reply from the Church Treasurer. I wonder why!!

But seriously – wouldnt you like to travel to the States and visit all those places in the vast and fascinating country? My extended time in Washington and Chicago has given me a thirst for more! This is more than an evasion of responsibility – a desire to be a perpetual tourist – I shall spend part of my retirement on that trip – I am genuinely intrigued by this country and its cultures.

America is a new creation, a discovery of the modern mind, formed out of unnumbered dreams. First and foremost it is the dream of immigrants: first from Europe, then Asia, and them from the young Mexico and latin America. This diverse land and people is held together by ‘the American dream’.

This dream grew out of the English Pilgrim Fathers, and their deep passion for the Kingdom of God, the divine covenant of being a chosen people. This biblical vision became a reality with the American declaration of Independence of 1786. With the American constitution, the dream of liberty, equality, and the happiness of all human beings was meant to determine the first modern nation :

‘ We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’.

This is a dream proclaimed by all American Presidents – and the rhetoric will shape the battle for the White House this autumn. This is why American believes that it has a mission – it shapes their open and positive culture. America is a land of hope for all peoples, hope for a new  community of humanity.

Strong and attractive stuff – and in sharp contrast with much of the goings on in this country at so many different levels.

Now back to reality. How about a trip to the Mid West – or to the South – Alabama or Texas or to California or Florida – a retreat I say to explore the theology further? Dreams? Dream on James.

 On the 17th of May I wrote about a very remarkable book by May Sarton (At Seventy). You can imagine my delight at finding another journal by her entitled Endgame. One of the great things about living in a University area (Hyde Park Chicago) was the wonderful collection of second hand bookshops. Where better to spend some time wandering down the stacks of shelves. Because of space they stack them high here – and browsing requires some skill up a ladder. It is fine until someone bumps into the ladder – and it shakes!

This book takes us on nine years and gives an account of Sartons seventy ninth year.

And – as a result – it is a very different book. Sarton moves from third age to fourth age and charts the physical and emotional struggle with illness and diminishment. Her health is often her main preoccuption and she reflects on it without sentiment or meaning. It is – just – tough! And she tells her reader how and why it is so. Those who interfere with excessive kindness are given the brush off (rightly so) and the medics who are unable to sympathise and treat are brought to task too. Her illness is debilitating and she struggles to maintain any sense of energy or control. ‘ I am to settle, or so it seems, for a semi life, or a life of a semi invalid. This has been the struggle of the last months, to learn to accept that my life as a writer is probably over and to learn to accept dependence’ (page 14).

In all this there continues to be grace and life and wisdom. She reflects on the seasons withpoetic delight – and there are friends who ease the burden with cooked food and company. I like her definition of a root friend as one who goes back a long way and therefore a great many things never have to be explained because they are already known. (page 65). Despite the company there is loneliness and fear of severe memory loss. She struggles with depression but faces each task with courage. She knows death may not be very far away but shows no sign of regret or anxiety – or need to take refuge in religion!

There is a search for integration and peace which is in sight but never fully grasped. That seems right as life takes its course and we live with its (and our) imperfections. There are some splendid bits of her own and others poetry and reflections on her reading a variety of books. She is unafraid of telling us which writers have yet to master their art!

This is the testament of a bridge builder – a person who has gone deep and whose wisdom and humanity are the richer for these travels.

Another good book but a much harder one to read and ‘stay’ with because it challenges us all with some fundamental questions. And if you are in a second hand book shop half up a ladder – buy it before you fall off!

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