Angela Wright has made novel use of the UK’s new Freedom of Information Act. Under the name "ilikemeninuniform", she emailed Hampshire police and asked to be told of "eligible bachelors within Hampshire constabulary between the ages of 35 and 49 and details of their email addresses, salary details and pension values". Her search for a man in uniform who might become her lifelong companion has left her intrigued but with work still left to do. The police replied that there were 266 eligible bachelors, of whom 201 are in uniform, but that they couldn’t divulge names or email addresses, as such information is exempt under the act.
There is a bitter sweet aspect to much of life. We catch a vision of how life might be and almost feel we have it within our grasp. Then something happens which makes it clear it may not be quite so easy. This can be an incentive to pursuing the goal with even more energy. Sometimes, though, it can lead to people giving up and even some anger that they have been so tantalized.
The anger that mounted against Jesus during the last days of his life may have had something of the same cause. He had offered new hope for his people, a new kingdom ruled by God, not by the Romans or the religious elite, and people had flocked to welcome him into Jerusalem. But it gradually became clear it was not that easy. There was work still to be done. People felt their own attitudes and life-style were being challenged. There was disappointment that the vision needed fleshing out in ways that were demanding.
Let’s today renew our commitment to our vision of how the world, and our lives, might be. Many will want to make that vision as similar as possible to Christ’s. Achieving it will be demanding but Jesus’ life, death and resurrection offer us an intriguing and enticing incentive to keep working at it.
A new statue of Martin Luther King is creating division in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. The town claims that it was here in November 1962 that the first version of the famous “I have a dream” speech was delivered. The statue, commissioned by the city council, has been widely criticised – the face isn’t right, the stance is too haughty, the expression aloof. But the artist, Erik Blome, says he deliberately wanted to portray a different side of the civil rights leader. “He didn’t spend most of his time marching and speaking. I wanted something that would show his quiet strength and intellectual side”.
Though there might be good reason for sympathising with those who question the accuracy of the likeness, the squabble is also about what the sculpture says about the man. The pen in his hand draws attention to the care with which those speeches were prepared and the rather pensive stance to the time he must have spent reflecting on the path he was taking and its implications.
Those around us today will be aware mostly of the public side of our lives. The way we go about our work, the activities we choose to become involved with, how we respond to events – these outward expressions of our personalities are what most people see. But they reflect an inner self from which this behaviour flows, a more private aspect to our lives that is the source of our actions.
As we remember the anniversary yesterday of Martin Luther King’s birthday, there'll continue to be different views as to whether Erik Blome’s statue captures the inner source of his courage and strength. But it might be worth us reviewing what nourishes our inner selves and making sure we give ourselves plenty of time for it.
The winning piece in the 11-16 age group in the recent Guardian/BBC Proms Young Composers Award was The Albatroz by Alexander Soares. Inspiration came to him, out of the blue, watching albatrosses while on holiday near Lisbon. Later, of course, he sat over the manuscript paper for the hard and detailed work of turning what he heard in his head into a real piece of music.
When Jesus was telling his followers how to handle anxiety, he told them to look around them*, at the birds, the flowers, the fields. These, it seems, were sources of inspiration to him.
Most of us tend when handling worries or struggles in our lives to keep our attention focussed on them. One of the ways such situations get to us is by making it very hard for us to think about anything else. Even when life is simpler, we often forget to look around us.
Where shall we look today for inspiration, as we deal with the challenges the day will bring? It may come out of the blue for us too. We might miss it, if our attention is too focussed on the detail, struggling to work out how to respond only with the resources we have inside us. So let’s make sure we look up and out at the natural things which surround us, as well as in. Let’s be open to the sights and words that come from outside our immediate situation. There’s often hard grind in dealing with what life throws at us, but the strength and vision we need can often come from completely unexpected sources.
* Matthew 6:25-34
Today Pope John Paul becomes the third longest serving pontiff. That is if you include St Peter whose 34 years are only unreliably attested. He will mark the occasion with a televised prayer meeting attended by young Europeans and designed to celebrate and emphasise the common heritage of the continent now that his long-time enemy, communism, is defeated.
He will pray, haltingly and barely audibly as he does these days, displaying as usual not an ounce of embarrassment at his broken state. If it is his, mostly conservative, encyclicals which over the 25 ˝ years have made most impact on the church and the world, it is his apparently courageous acceptance of old age and sickness which come over most strongly in his public appearances these days. A stark contrast with the cinematic good looks he enjoyed a quarter of a century ago.
Our actions, like the pope’s, will have their effect on the people around us and the institutions in which we operate. But who we are, and how we react to circumstances, will also speak loudly. Those who bear suffering with dignity and fortitude offer inspiration, and invite confidence in the human spirit.
Fortunately few of us are victims of Parkinson’s disease or even anything so debilitating. But we do have times of struggle and illness. These can often feel wasted. But even if they apparently have no value to us, the patience, grace and strength of will with which we deal with them can be a source of encouragement to others. They may disagree with what we say or do, as some of us will with the Pope, but courage speaks louder than words.