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MEMORIES (Views from the Abbey 10)

According to Ken Galbraith, a Canadian economist (1908-2006), ‘nothing is so admirable in politics as a short memory.’ Memories appear to have indeed been alarmingly short in politics of late, but I am not sure it can ever be described as admirable! As a race, we humans so easily fall into the trap of forgetting our history. This is to our peril as we are in danger of not learning the lessons of the past and risk making the same mistakes over and over again. The writer Tobias Stone argued that most peoples’ perspective of history is limited to the experience communicated by their parents and grandparents, so 50-100 years. His theory acts as a warning: ‘without making the effort to remember, new demagogues will rise, votes will be extinguished, wars will break out. And new walls will be built.’ Evidently, science supports this hypothesis. The ecologist, biologist and mathematician Peter Turchin has pioneered the study of cliodynamics that looks for meaningful patterns in history. According to his recent study of US history, periods of violent, chaotic unrest, including major wars, were the inevitable result of a 50-year cycle that peaks every other generation. Several other historians have also found that going to war, voting for tyrants and exterminating each other happens in tragically predictable cycles. As Jo Ellison commented in a recent article in the Financial Times, ‘becoming complacent about our past can have dark consequences.’

November is the month of Remembrance. Armistice Day on 11 November also known as Remembrance Day marks the day World War One ended, at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month, in 1918. What began to mark the Armistice at the end of the first world war has been repeated every year since and on the nearest Sunday in acts of remembrance in communities and church services around the country. The anniversary is used to remember all the people who have died in wars – not just World War One.

Acts of Remembrance are not a glorification of war rather a remembrance of the horror of war and a determination that it will never happen again – ‘Lest We Forget.’ This phrase was first used in an 1897 poem written by Rudyard Kipling  called ‘Recessional’. The phrase occurs eight times; and is repeated at the end of the first four stanzas in order to add particular emphasis regarding the dangers of failing to remember.

‘God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!’

The poem is often quoted in Remembrance services and is based on the biblical concept of ‘being careful not to forget’ from such verses as Deuteronomy 4:7-9: ‘What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.’ The point being made is that if a nation forgets the true source of its success (the “Lord God of Hosts” and his “ancient sacrifice” of “a humble and contrite heart”) – whatever it trusts in, such as material possessions and military power, will be grossly deficient in times of difficulty, hardship and war.

Our memories are certainly selective. Jim talks about having a good ‘forgetory’ rather than a good memory. But maybe for our peace of mind our memories need to be short. We tend to remember only the good times like the famous song from Cats illustrates: –

Memories light the corners of my mind
Misty water-coloured memories of the way we were…
Memories may be beautiful and yet

What’s too painful to remember
We simply choose to forget…
So it’s the laughter we will remember
Whenever we remember the way we were.

There are, however, some things we need to remember no matter how painful. So at this time of year we remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice of the giving of their lives in war.  Jesus knew how easily we can forget. He gave us the Lord’s Supper, Communion, the Eucharist, whatever we choose to call it so that we will regularly remember his sacrifice on the cross for the sin of the world. ‘The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me’ (1 Corinthians 11:23-25).

Lest we forget.

Julia Binney

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EASTER PEOPLE (Views from the Abbey 9)

Easter 2019

John Foster tells how an enquirer from Hinduism approached an Indian Bishop. Unaided he had read the New Testament, and the story had fascinated him. In particular he was gripped by the person of Jesus Christ. He felt he had entered a new world. In the Gospels it was all about Jesus … his works, his suffering. In the Book of Acts it was all about the disciples of Christ … what they did, what they taught. They had taken the place Christ had occupied. The Church continued where Jesus left off. ‘Therefore’ this man said to the Bishop, ‘I must belong to the Church that carries on the life of Christ!’

When working through its call with integrity, the Church does indeed carry on the life of Christ at work in the world. There have been times during the last 2,000 years when the Church has lived up to being this kind of Church. There are parts of the world where the Church is growing phenomenally – China, South America, Africa – primarily because it is carrying on the life of Christ. We need to recover what it truly means, as Christians, to be an ‘Easter people living in a Good Friday World’!

This poignant expression, ‘We are Easter people living in a Good Friday world!’ was first coined by Barbara Johnson in her devotional book, Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life, and she should know. There was sorrow and tragedy connected to each of her three sons, her husband endured a long recovery from a near-fatal car accident and she fought cancer for six years before succumbing in 2007. She persevered through her life’s difficulties with faith and a strong sense of humour.

As Christians we are indeed an Easter people! We live this side of the historic and significant events of that first Easter. Christ has died, Christ has risen! As a result everything has been changed, for all time. A power has been released into the world sufficient to change everything, to change all of us, for the better! The Bible tells us that it was through the power of the Holy Spirit that God raised Jesus from the dead and that this same power also lives in us as believers. The Apostle Paul wrote that ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you’ (Romans 8:11).

But we live in a Good Friday world. Good Friday is a symbol for the darkness in our world. This is the time of year when we, as those who seek to walk in the way of Jesus, especially reflect upon his death on the cross. The cross was a means of torture and death used by the Roman Empire to keep the occupied territories in check. Jesus was seen as a threat both to the security of the religious authorities and the domination of the Roman occupiers. Good Friday remains a symbol for the violence of hate of our own time. What Jesus endured and experienced that first Good Friday perfectly portrays the kind of world we live in today; the brokenness, the suffering, the pain, the hurting, the rebellion, the deceit, the corruption, the hypocrisy, the sin, the unfairness, the victimisation and so on. Two years ago on Palm Sunday ISIS suicide bombers struck hours apart at two Coptic churches in northern Egypt, killing 44 people, injuring hundreds more and turning Palm Sunday services into scenes of horror and outrage. How many mindless, senseless acts of hate-driven violence have there been in the world since then? In March this year 50 Muslim people died in two shootings in Mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The man who perpetrated these horrendous murderous crimes attempted to find justification from the current hate-filled politics of America. Britain is still in the midst of Brexit negotiations. One of the appalling unforeseen consequences of a possible exit from the EU has been the legitimacy some seem to find from it for racial and religious prejudice. We live in Good Friday world!

As Easter people, we are called to live in the midst of this Good Friday world. During this Easter season, we remember that God’s love is more powerful than the forces of darkness. To be an ‘Easter people’, is a stance, a way of leaning into the world, hoping, trusting, believing that love expressed through forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, openness, welcome and non-violence will ultimately have the last word. Two thousand years ago hate and violence were overcome. Jesus died on the cross but rose victorious from the grave defeating the powers of darkness and all that which stands in opposition to God and his people. As Easter people, we continue to believe in the restorative power of God’s love at work in the world. As Church we continue to live out the life of Christ and his reconciling, renewing love in action. So despite all the Good Friday-ness of the world, as Pope John Paul II reminded us several years ago, ‘do not abandon yourselves to despair, for we are the Easter People, and “Hallelujah!” is our song!’

Julia Binney

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MURDER, MYSTERY AND MAYHEM (Loose in the Loire 4)

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I love a good murder mystery story. ‘It is the stuff of life!’ a fellow addict told me recently. Well, I wouldn’t go that far but everything from Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle to Dorothy L Sayers or J K Rowling make for good holiday or bedtime reading as far as I’m concerned. We have a couple more chateaux to visit before we come to the end of our short holiday here in the Loire, and both have ongoing stories of murder, mystery and sometimes even mayhem!

When we visited the Château de Chenonceau earlier in the week we were captivated by the story of the (understandable) ongoing rivalry between Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of Henry II of France, and the King’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers during the mid-16th century. Seized by King Francis I of France in 1535 for unpaid debts to the Crown, the château was given to Diane de Poitiers by King Henry after Francis’ death in 1547. Diane de Poitiers became fervently attached to the château along the river, and over the following years had a beautiful arched bridge built joining the château to its opposite bank and oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees. After King Henry II died unexpectedly in 1559, following a duel (what was a King doing fighting a duel?), his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de’ Medici took her revenge on Diane de Poitiers by forcing her to exchange it for the Château Chaumont. Queen Catherine then made Chenonceau her own favourite residence, spending a fortune on the château adding a new series of gardens and a grand gallery to the existing bridge that crossed the entire river. Quite naturally we wanted to follow up this story of mystery, intrigue (and possible murder?) by visiting Diane de Poitier’s new residence at Château Chaumont.

Château Chaumont was acquired by Catherine de Medici in 1550. Today, it is a beautiful place set high on a hill above the village of Chaumont overlooking the River Loire. We park at the top of the hill in the designated car park (we are glad we are visiting now and not in the height of summer when the château would be packed with tourists) and walk down through the beautiful grounds to the château itself. We are very pleased with ourselves in as much as since we are both ‘students’ (and have our student cards to prove it) we get a reduced rate for entry. The grounds are magnificent and the views amazing.

In 1550, however, Château Chaumont was not quite the place it has now become and was small recompense for Château de Chenonceau. Catherine de Medici did little to improve the place after she acquired it. History records, however, that whilst there the Queen entertained numerous astrologers, among them Nostradamus, before forcing Diane de Poitiers, to accept the Château de Chaumont in exchange for the Château de Chenonceau. Astrology in those days was very much considered a science – a way of divining the most appropriate way forward – rather than the kind of thing it has become for so many today. Julia and I have found that prayerfully seeking to know the mind of Christ, centring in on Jesus day by day, being guided by the teaching of the Christian Scriptures, and being sensitive to the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit, has been much more fruitful than reading your horoscope in the newspaper.

On our second to last day in the Loire we finally make it to the other château we want to visit, the one most local to us, the Château d’Amboise that we saw (from the outside) on virtually our first full day in the area and promised ourselves (like Jesus and Arnie) that ‘We will return!’ Built on a spur above the River Loire the château is very impressive rising, as it does, above the surrounding town. It turns out to be even more impressive when we get inside. Today we are early enough to go for coffee first. Our plan is to spend time looking over the château and then have a final lunch somewhere in Amboise. Once again, our student cards come in handy and we manage to save a few more euros that can now go towards the cost of our anticipated gourmet lunch!

Expanded and improved over time, more intrigue ensued when Château d’Amboise was seized by Charles VII of France in 1434, after its owner, Louis d’Amboise, was convicted of plotting against the king and condemned to be executed. However, the king pardoned him but took his château at Amboise as ‘compensation’. Once in royal hands, the château became a favourite of various French kings who developed it over the years. Other stories of murder, mystery and mayhem connected to this château abound. Charles VII died at Château d’Amboise in 1498 after he hit his head on a door lintel whilst playing tennis. Leonardo da Vinci came to Château Amboise in 1515 as a guest of the King, and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Lucé, connected to the château by an underground passage. When da Vinci died in 1519, he was buried in the nearby Chapel of St. Florentin which lay within the stone fortifications surrounding the property of the Château d’Amboise. After the French Revolution (1789–1799), the Chapel of St. Florentin was in such a ruinous state that the engineer appointed by Napoleon decided that it was not worth preserving and had it demolished. Some sixty years later (and 330 years after Leonardo’s death and original burial), the foundational site of the Chapel of St. Florentin was excavated and it a collection of bones were found together with an extraordinarily large skull, and fragments of a stone inscription containing some of the letters of da Vinci’s name. These were supposedly re-buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, where a large floor-level marble stone bearing a metal medallion relief portrait of Leonardo da Vinci and the words LEONARDO DA VINCI seem indicative of his final resting place. Henry II and his wife, Catherine de Medici, also raised their children in the Château d’Amboise, along with Mary Stuart, the child Queen of Scotland who had been promised in marriage to the future French King, Francis II.

Most interesting to us (as Protestant-Christians) however, is what has become known as the ‘Amboise Conspiracy’. In 1560, during the French Wars of Religion, a so-called conspiracy by members of the Huguenot House of Bourbon against the House of Guise (that virtually ruled France in the name of the young Francis II) was uncovered by the Comte de Guise and stifled by a series of hangings, which took a month to carry out. By the time it was finished, 1200 Protestants were gibbetted, strung from the town walls, hung from the iron hooks that held pennants and tapestries on festive occasions and even from the very balcony of the Logis du Roy. The Court actually, eventually had to leave the town because of the smell of corpses. A so-called ‘Edict of Pacification’ was signed at Amboise in 1563, between Louis de Bourbon (who had been implicated in the conspiracy to abduct the King) and Catherine de Medici which authorised Protestant Worship Services (but only in chapels belonging to Seigneurs and Justices) and stipulated such services could only be held outside the walls of towns. Neither side was satisfied by this compromise, nor was it widely respected.

Read what you will into this cruel episode of murder, mystery and mayhem but Amboise never returned to royal favour after this and at the beginning of the 17th century, the huge château was all but abandoned. Following the French Revolution, and the later rise of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, a great deal of the château was eventually demolished. Towards the end of the 19th century, however, a major effort was made to restore what was left of the château and eventually it was made open to the public and remains so today – an absolute delight and well worth a visit should you ever be in the area.

Whilst we were at the château, and looking down from the walls at the lively little town below, we saw several locals visiting one of the restaurants opposite. Now it is always a good thing when in France to go eat where the locals eat – you can then be certain that the food there is top notch. So when we concluded our visit to Château d’Amboise we headed straight for said restaurant. It was packed but fortunately there was one table for two available, so they were able to fit us in. And what a wonderful meal we enjoyed – great food, flowing conversation (in French) with the locals, lots of laughter (especially at us photographing every dish before we consumed it), and great service from the owner and her staff. A fitting conclusion to a wonderful holiday in the Loire before we packed the car in readiness for a long drive the next day up to Boulogne (where we stopped the night) and then back to the UK via Calais and the Eurotunnel. With all the murder, mystery and mayhem surrounding Brexit we wonder if will we ever be able to make such a trip so easily ever again?

Jim Binney


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A DAY OF REDEMPTION (Loose in the Loire 3)


We have come to the Loire primarily to visit some of the famous chateaux in this region of France … as well as enjoy some down time (after a somewhat hectic first few months in our new Pastorate at Abbey Baptist Church, Reading), and do some reading towards our doctoral studies at the University of Winchester. We know that we can’t visit all the chateaux because we are only here for a week, but Julia has a list of ‘must see’ chateaux that will give us a ‘taster’ for further visits to this part of France.

On our first real day here in Limeray we venture down the road to Amboise – we are not being too ambitious – there is an interesting chateau in Amboise, but we intend leaving that to our last day here. Having got up late we arrive in Amboise at just after 12.00 noon and look for somewhere for coffee. We find a nice restaurant where people are sitting outside drinking coffee and enquire if we too can have a coffee. We are given short shrift by a waiter who tells us in no uncertain terms that they are a restaurant not a café and directs us over the road to a somewhat lesser establishment (in his opinion) that will serve us coffee. I look at a couple sitting outside his restaurant drinking coffee and wonder why them and not us? I look at the various empty tables outside his establishment?  Perhaps this French couple have been there since 11.00 a.m.? Perhaps Brexiteers exist in France and not just in the UK? We can’t be bothered to argue and go over the road where we are given a warm welcome and enjoy a very nice cup of coffee. When we leave, we go for a walk around the town to get our bearings. We come back via the ‘restaurant’. The same couple are still there! The numerous empty tables are still there! What a plonker?

The following day we get up reasonably early … well early enough for us when on holiday … and head out to see the Château de Chenonceau. Julia first came here 50 years ago when she was 10 and recalls meeting a somewhat large spider (allegedly the size of a dinner plate) on the wall of the chateau kitchen. It is a remarkable chateau with an equally remarkable backstory involving Diane de Poitiers (the mistress of King Henri II of France) and Catherine de Medici (the wife of King Henri II) during the 16th century. Its setting is magnificent, and we have a great (if somewhat tiring day) exploring the chateau and its grounds. Julia revisits the spider kitchen and discovers that there is now no spider but a huge boar’s head in its place!

The following day we have designated as a ‘rest day’ … an opportunity to do some reading as well as resting. In recent years, whilst on holiday, we have developed a pattern of ‘one day on, one day off’ so that we don’t attempt to do too much in the course of a holiday and return to the UK more tired than when we left! We have a plan for the following day, however, which is to revisit Blois and see the chateau there. This is not our only reason for revisiting Blois, however. Eight years ago, we stopped off in Blois for a meal on our way back to the UK after an extended two-month holiday in the south of France. We found a seemingly nice restaurant, in a pleasant square, not far from Blois’ famous stone bridge. I have to say that it was the worst meal I have ever eaten in France. The square was packed with diners but none of received any food (even though we were kept waiting for ages) because the chef had had a row with the manager and had walked out on the spot?! Needless to say, we got no dinner to speak of that night and swore that we would never go back to Blois again.

Time is a great healer they say so we decided to give Blois an opportunity to redeem itself. We enjoyed a wonderful visit to the Royal Château of Blois – with another great backstory of intrigue and murder – and then went in search of ‘our restaurant’. We eventually found it and went in for lunch!? We had a great time! We were warmly welcomed. Enjoyed some good conversation (in French). And had a great meal! Blois is now our new favourite place! Oh … I forget to mention … Julia also managed to buy a new bag while we were there!

Jim Binney

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LITTLE HOUSE ON THE LIMERAY (Loose in the Loire 2)


After an excellent breakfast at our rather posh hotel in Montreuil we are back in our car and on our way to the Loire Region of France. Our destination is the small village of Limeray on the banks of the River Loire about 10 km from the much bigger town of Amboise. Back in the 1970s just about everyone’s favourite TV show was Little House on the Prairie, an American western drama television series (an adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best-selling series of Little House books) about the Ingalls family who live on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s and 1880s. Well we have rented our little house in Limeray where our intention is to spend a week resting, reading (background stuff for the doctorates we are working for with the University of Winchester), and visiting some of the wonderful chateaux that the Loire is famous for.

We have quite a long drive ahead of us, but we can’t get into our little house until 6.00 p.m., so we are in no rush. We take the scenic route rather than the motorway enjoying the beautiful French countryside. We are heading for Chartres where we plan to stop for lunch and then visit the famous Gothic Cathedral with its spectacular Labyrinth. We have been to Chartres before but have not been in the Cathedral for several years. We recall our first visit there with amusement. We were staying in a nearby campsite and drove into Chartres for dinner. We were tired and hungry after a long drive and rushed into the first restaurant we could find overlooking the Cathedral. I ordered steak and frites and made the mistake of asking for my steak to be medium-rare forgetting that to the French that means rare. Never ask for your steak to be cooked rare because that virtually means ‘raw’ by the way! I ate it anyway, washed down with a glass or two of red, and we had such a good evening that we somehow managed to leave the restaurant without paying the bill … only to be chased down the street by an understandably outraged waiter! Fortunately for us he understood that it was an unintentional error on our part and saw the funny side of it all. We not only paid the bill but gave him a good tip as well!

We arrive in Chartres later than planned but find a nice restaurant opposite the Cathedral that is still serving lunches. Fortunately, it is not the restaurant that witnessed the unpaid bill saga – that restaurant is already closed. We both fancy omelette and frites (this is a French speciality in our opinion) and really enjoy our lunch with the help of a fresh green salad and a glass of chilled white wine. After lunch we visit the Cathedral which is much larger, and more impressive, than I remember. There are various ‘treasures’ housed here but the thing I remember, and want to see most of all again, is the famous prayer Labyrinth set into the floor stones in the nave and recognised as one of the world’s most famous paths. Sadly, it is for the most part covered by wooden chairs, so it is not possible to walk it. Even so, it is impressive.

Surrounded in mystery, the Labyrinth is thought to be a representation of the spiritual quest of the pilgrim traveling to the Holy Land. Apparently, labyrinths like this began appearing in Europe during the 12th century, mostly in Italy. The Labyrinth at Chartres is approximately 42 feet in diameter, and there are many theories surrounding its original construction. It was most probably constructed early in the 13th century, but we can’t be sure exactly since no documents have yet been found, and an excavation in 2001 revealed nothing of any real significance. Nevertheless, pilgrims have been coming to Chartres to walk the famous labyrinth for thousands of years now, and the tide shows no sign of slowing. Although the labyrinth is partially obscured by chairs, it is traditionally uncovered every Friday from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. from the beginning of Lent to the end of October so that pilgrims can take time to prayerfully walk the Labyrinth. We are in Lent, but it is not a Friday, so the best we can do is stand in the centre and offer up a prayer or two.

We leave Chartres and complete the last leg of our journey to Limeray, only stopping once on the way to load up with groceries, etc. at one of those wonderful French hypermarkets. Our little house in Limeray is just what we wanted – quaint, rustic, set in the grounds of a small chateau where our hosts live, with open fires and plenty of kindling and logs. We soon have the fires lit and food on the table. The Ingalls family having nothing on us!

Jim Binney

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THE CERTAINTY OF CHANCE (Loose in the Loire 1)

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We are in the car whizzing down the motorway from Calais towards Montreuil our first stop on the way down to the Loire Region of France. We know we are in France because we are driving on the wrong side of the road and A Secret History by The Divine Comedy is blaring out from the CD player. We are familiar with this road (I don’t know how many times we have driven it over the last umpteen years), but we still ooh and ah over well-known landmarks. A Secret History is always the first CD we play when driving in France – it has become a sort of tradition – we know all the songs and sing along to them as we drive. It must be something to do with the daft words, the jolly tunes, and an over-the-top sense of freedom that comes from being on holiday – just 10 days this time exploring some of the beautiful chateaux that the Loire is famous for.

We had a great Worship Service at Abbey Baptist Church, Reading, this morning. Julia let me out of my box so I could lead the service for her, freeing her up just to concentrate on the preach. It was good to be back in harness together again. Although we have fluctuated somewhat as to who takes the primary leadership role between us, this has always been something ostensibly imposed on us by the various churches we have served (since Julia was ordained), we have always seen ourselves as a team in which neither of us is more important than the other. We have always reckoned (given our respective ages, illnesses, weaknesses, etc.) that between the two of us the various churches have got one good one out of the sum of our various parts. We are being somewhat facetious of course in saying this – we have discovered that there is a very real synergy at work when we are freed up to work as a team. It usually takes some time, however, for the various churches to get hold of this concept of team.

We are heading for Montreuil for an overnight stop because we know the place and have visited several times before. Our friend Gordon once owned a mill house/restaurant here and we stopped with him several times in days gone by. We recall a great storm one night which necessitated all of us trying, unsuccessfully, to hold the roof slates of his barn on in the high winds for most of the night. The last time we were here was to celebrate my birthday a few years ago when we drove across to France just for the day and had an excellent lunch in a rather old-fashioned hotel. I think it was the only place open on that day – well it was November I suppose!

Julia has booked us in to a rather nice hotel in the centre of Montreuil and we arrive just in time to settle in to our room – we are given a free upgrade because there are not many people staying here tonight – and then go down to the bar for a drink before dinner. We decide to eat in the hotel restaurant because it is late, and we can’t be bothered to go traipsing around the town looking for a suitable eatery. The meal is excellent – escargot, beef bourguignon, cheese, coffee – and, although there may not be a lot of people staying the night in the hotel, the hotel restaurant is full.

As we are finishing our coffee the couple on the adjacent table to us strike up a conversation with us. They are Belgians who live in Bruges and are in Montreuil for the weekend. We know and love Bruges, so the conversation flows effortlessly. We ask our new friends what they do for a living? Monsieur Poirot (not his real name) immediately takes the floor and regales us with tales of his life on the high seas as an engineer travelling around the world. Madam Poirot’s job in an office seems quite mild in comparison. The fun really starts, however, when he asks us what we do for a living. We are treated to a diatribe from Monsieur about the evils of Catholicism. We have encountered this problem before – the inability of people in countries where the prominent religion is Roman Catholicism to distinguish between the words, ‘Catholicism’ and ‘Christian’ – so we now describe ourselves as ‘followers of Jesus’ rather than Christians. Monsieur finds it difficult to find anything about Jesus to be critical about. Julia (who knows a lot about these things) gently explains the importance of the Church in the history of Bruges over the years and its influence in making Bruges what it is today. Monsieur is impressed. Madame wants to know about our church in Reading and what we are seeking to do. We talk to her about the holistic nature of the Gospel message and how we seek to serve God and our community in practical ways (such as helping to provide overnight accommodation for the homeless during the cold winter months) as well as spiritual, although coming to know Jesus in a personal way is at the heart of our Gospel. The Poirots are evidently enjoying the conversation and treat us to another coffee, but eventually it is time for them to leave. Monsieur Poirot thanks us for our stimulating conversation but maintains he remains agnostic. Madame Poirot, however, whispers to me on the way out, ‘I too am a believer!’

After a full day, and an excellent meal, Julia and I ready for bed. We get up from our table and are about to leave when a group of four Brits on a nearby table call us over. ‘We couldn’t help but overhear some of your conversation’ they say, ‘please come and join us, we have lots of questions we want to ask you …’

We finally get to bed sometime after midnight! Who says people do not have a spiritual side to them and are no longer interested in spiritual things? It has been an interesting day to say the least. I am reminded of one the title of one of the songs on The Divine Comedy CD we were listening to earlier in the day – The Certainty of Chance!

Jim Binney



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PLASTIC WORLD (Views from the Abbey 8)


In March we enter the season of Lent. Lent is a period of six weeks, 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter (the most important festival in the Christian calendar). Lent starts on Ash Wednesday, March 6th– the day after Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) on 5th. It is known as ‘Ash Wednesday’ because many western Christian churches hold Services in the course of the day during which Christians are marked on the forehead with a cross of ashes (that come from burning the palm crosses from Palm Sunday of the previous year). This is a sign of ‘Penitence’ or saying, ‘Sorry to God’ for any wrong doing and marks the beginning of ‘Lent Fasting’. Lent comes to its climax during Easter Week, the last week of Lent, which is called Holy Week. During the 40 days of Lent, Christians remember the time when Jesus went into the desert to fast and pray, following his baptism, before beginning his public ministry and ultimately fulfilling his divine purpose in taking human form – his sacrificial death for us on Calvary’s cross before his triumphal resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. During this time Jesus was severely tempted by the devil but was able to resist (Luke 4:1-13).

Lent is therefore seen, by many people, as a time for giving up things. It is one way of remembering the time Jesus fasted in the desert and is a test of self-discipline for us in the face of temptation. There are many foods that some Christians do not eat in Lent, such as meat or fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods. Some Christians just give up something they really enjoy such as cakes or chocolate or alcohol, so it feels like a hardship. People now may include a fast on television or social media or even their mobile phone. People also use Lent as a kind of ‘spring board’ to ‘take on something’ rather than just ‘give up something’. This may mean the breaking of a harmful habit such as giving up smoking and embracing a healthier lifestyle, or it could mean the taking on of other challenges. One example is the Church of England’s Lent Plastic Challenge.

As God’s people, we are to care for God’s good creation (Genesis 2:15). This is a vital part of God’s mission, known by the Latin term, the missio Dei, that we are called to participate in. The Anglican Communion’s Fifth Mark of Mission is ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’ We don’t have to be members of the Anglican Communion to buy into this – here is something that surely every Christian and church should take on board. Lent is a good time for all of us (whether Christian or not) to put this into practice in terms of our use of plastics.

Plastic is a wonderful substance but only if it is used wisely and recycled properly. Over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic have been produced since the 1950s. That is enough plastic to cover every inch of the UK ankle-deep more than ten times over. Just 9% was recycled. 8 tonnes of plastic is dumped into the sea every minute. Globally, plastics have reached every part of the world’s oceans with the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ thought to be six times the size of the UK.

We need to be more aware of our plastic use and this challenge could help us make some lasting changes. Have a look at the link http://www.churchcare.co.uk/Plastic_Free_Lent. Here you will find daily suggestions to give up single-use plastics – to reduce the actions which damage God’s creation. These include the following: –

• Give up disposable cups and drinks in plastic bottles
• Avoid over-packaged convenience foods
• Choose natural cleaning cloths instead of synthetic plastic ones
• Carry round your own reusable bags
• Use non-plastic containers for food
• Use a razor with removable blades not plastic disposable razors
• Use bar soap instead of liquid hand soap
• Check labels of toiletries as some contain plastic beads
• Avoid wet wipes – they contain plastic fibres that don’t break down

These are just some simple suggestions and you may have others to make. The question is, this Lent, what lasting changes are you going to make? Are you prepared to look at plastics in a different way? Try and list three things that you are going to commit to changing.

Julia Binney

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