Thursday, 28 March 2013

Huggies At Easter!

I don’t know if you have ever found something surprising on your doorstep?

The day before Palm Sunday I opened the front door to find a box of 92 ‘Huggies’ which as you probably know are baby’s nappies.  There was no note to explain who had left them there or why so as you can imagine there was some anxious thought in the Manse as we tried to work it all out. 

It was on the Monday of Holy Week that all was revealed.  A gentleman from another congregation approached me before the service and confessed that he was the leaver of the nappies.  He knew about my connection with the Preshal Trust and thought I might be able to find someone who could put them to good use. 

If only he had left a note in the first place!  But in a sense it was appropriate to have an experience like that at Easter.  That was a time when explanations were needed for strange events.  The friends of Jesus had seen him tortured to death.  They went to His tomb the third day after this to find the stone at the entrance rolled away and the body gone.  They were completely baffled but soon there was an explanation.  An messenger from God was on hand to explain that Jesus had risen from the dead and very soon they would see him. 

This was the best news they could ever have at the time but it is the best news that has ever been received in the history of humankind.  Reflecting on the Resurrection years later the Apostle Paul described it as ‘the guarantee that all those who sleep in death will also be raised.’  The Resurrection of Jesus happened in time and in space and is God’s assurance that death is not the end but a way into a new existence where everything that has ever made us cry is abolished. 

On Palm Sunday I read a letter which many people found profoundly moving.  It was written by a young Iranian pastor named Farshid Fathi imprisoned in Iran for his faith.  He is in the middle a six year sentence but after that the future would still appear to be unclear.  When he heard of the the massacre of children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School he wrote a letter to the stricken parents in which he said:

‘I am sure these high walls cannot stop my prayers for you. Before this tragedy happened, I was thinking about my suffering that I'm going through because of my Lord Jesus Christ, especially being far from my lovely kids. But when I imagine how hard your pain is I forget my sufferings. Because I know by God's grace I will see my kids at the latest in 2017 when I come out from prison. But unfortunately you have to wait a bit longer. So I would like to express my deepest sorrow for your loss.
I believe we will have enough time in heaven with our lovely children forever. There is no gun there, there is no prison, and there is no pain.’
There were strange events on Easter morning but the explanation is the greatest truth we will ever come to know.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Fault In Our Stars

What is it like to be 16 and dying of cancer?

John Green explores this question in this sad, funny and challenging novel ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ in which we are drawn into the world of ‘cancer kid’ Hazel Grace Lancaster suffering from thyroidal cancer ‘with mets in my lungs’.  Green was a chaplain in a children’s hospital and was close to young people and their parents as they faced the challenge of terminal illness.  

I made a false start to this book.  I put it down after the first chapter feeling that there might just be too much pain for me to cope with but when I went back to it I was hooked by the ‘voice’ of Hazel.  It is the living voice of a girl caught up in something she cannot control, knowing the anguish her illness is causing her parents, cut off from other young people who are living in the mainstream, finding her friends increasingly among other young cancer sufferers.  At one point she reflects on how she has become distant from her former school friends:

‘ . . . three years removed from proper full-time schoolic exposure to my peers, I felt a certain unbridgeable distance between us.  I think my school friends wanted to help me through my cancer, but they eventually found out that they couldn’t.  For one thing, there was no through.’  

It is while Hazel is attending a Support Group that she meets Augustus Waters.  He is a charismatic young man who has lost a leg through osteosarcoma and soon he and Hazel are mutually captivated.  Augustus habitually carries a packet of cigarettes and will often place one in his mouth without lighting it.  He explains to Hazel:

‘They don’t kill you unless you light them.  And I’ve never lit one.  It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.‘    

It is this spirit which we see in Augustus and Hazel and in their relationship which drives the book and carries us through their experiences in what Hazel describes at one point as ‘the Republic of Cancervania.’ 

This is one of those books which when I finished it I wanted to start again.  From resisting it at first go I wanted to stay with it - or rather to stay with Hazel.  I don’t know if citizens of the  ‘Republic’ will be helped by this book but they may well find emotions and experiences faithfully reflected.  Someone once said: ‘A blessed companion is a book’.  I feel John Green’s book could be for many in the 'Republic' - or on the periphery - 'a blessed companion.'