A Beat in the Underground


It was almost as if there was an Underground Station in the sleeping village of Longridge, Preston. It was a sunny morning, mid way to noon and we we’re on time for the approaching train. The underground station was the local doctor’s surgery. Busy, bustling and even sporting the red ticker screen signalling the next departure.

Laura and I weren’t really sure what to expect, it was the first time that we were to hear what a little heartbeat would sound like. Nervous excitement fits the moment perfectly as the Midwife tuned the hand held device. Then suddenly the distant, regular echoing beat jumped out of the speaker.

It sounded as though we were in the tiled tunnels of an Underground Station, with the faint pattern of a train running along the electrified tracks in earshot. The rhythm reverberated around the echoing space and what a sound it was. It was a joyful moment when for the very first time we heard the miracle of life that is being intricately knitted together. A few weeks earlier we had witnessed the grainy monochrome silent movie, the first proof of life. But now to hear the beat of a little heart was breathtaking, assuring and a sound never to be forgotten.

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Borrowed


A man called Joseph had saved up. He’d been working for years so that he could own this small, cold, lightless hole. It was more than a hole actually, it was a small cave outside the city of Jerusalem. The cave wouldn’t be used for decades to come. Dusty, silent and void, the cave would be a fitting resting place and tomb for him and his family.

Joseph was from a Judean City called Arimathea. On this particular day there were to be three crucifications up on the hill they called Golgotha. One of the men who had been sentenced had something about him. News of this man had reached Joseph and it had moved him, stirred him, unlike the story of any other. So the Arimathean came to an agreement with the authorities that he should give his cave, his families tomb to this man, the one they called The King of the Jews.

The tomb had been a mark of respect for Jesus of Nazareth. A gift. A gift that he had not expected to get back. But three days later the gift was returned. If you or I were to return a gift we had better offer an acceptable reason for the return. Joseph wondered the same and the reason for return was that the tomb was no longer needed. Joseph hadn’t realised but the tomb was only ever going to be borrowed.
Jesus, the Saviour of the World, had just meant to borrow the tomb for a few days, much to everyone’s surprise.

Jesus never owned a tomb. He used one that he had borrowed for a short time, but then moved on, in epic style I might add.

Are there things, circumstances or experiences that we are owning when we should only be borrowing them? The course of history would have run very differently if Jesus had owned the tomb that he had been given.

I know there are things that have weighed me down in the past, simply because I owned them. I held onto them, rather then returning them – “product not needed”, “unwanted gift.”
For the bad characteristics that you are just borrowing or the hurtful experiences that you’ve had, don’t worry about whether you have the receipt or not. Put them down, return them and walk away. From today, the rental period is up.

Awake in San Francisco


From the window I can see the bridge. Steel cables and structure spans between Northern San Francisco and The Bay. We are on the fifth floor, level with the bridge at this distance. It is little after 05:00 as the sun peers over the horizon, catching the windows of cars and trucks. They flash and flicker, ablaze with the glory of a new day. In the Chinatown district, the bridge I can see isn’t the famous Golden Gate Bridge, that is a lot shorter than this one and it is in the opposite corner of town. I am wide awake.

Leaving the apartment, camera clutched, I head in the direction of Union Square. Just a few hours ago these streets were teaming with life. The scents and sounds of Chinese cooking escaping every other doorway along Grant Avenue, well into the early hours. Red spherical lanterns provided a canopy of low hanging stars, stretched between launderette and takeaway, to a Chinese bank and back to a firework shop. But right now all is quiet.

It is already warming as I reach the corner of Grant and California. Parallel tracks stretch the length of the street, grooved like a ski jumpers run. The trolleys haven’t been seen along this route yet, so the whir of the motor beneath the track at the junction can be heard a couple of blocks away. It won’t be long before the iconic wooden trams are bustling through the city. There’ll be the outside ‘hang-ons’, laden with cameras and backpacks, maybe even a few commuters, lucky enough to find space on the smooth varnished benches. For now the roads and trolley routes are clear, so I stand in the middle of the junction. Snap goes the shutter and a brief whine as my camera processes an image. I look down at the screen. I look up again and then down once more. Despite the camera’s best efforts, it isn’t the same as the scene that I am experiencing.

The sun has been steadily climbing and it washes the full length of even the tallest buildings in yellow and orange. A dragon towers over the avenue, either welcoming or warming, it isn’t clear. Walking through a gateway and out of Chinatown. It seems that I’ve walked through a portal. The path immediately changes, the buildings are different. The streets become a modern metropolis; the sidewalks are spotless, freshly cleared during the night.There’s a coffee shop on the corner across the road. The unmistakable green siren, calling. It’s close to 06:30 in the morning and there’s a queue. Blue collars, suits and those only making use of the free ice cold water. Indulgent joggers stretch on the walls outside before walking home with a freshly brewed reward. Then there is me. The most wide awake, clutching camera and “four-tall-extra-hot-lattes-to-go”. It’s a common tongue in the morning search for caffeine.

The walk back into Chinatown changes once more. But it isn’t just the buildings and the artistry in the windows now. I am sharing the sidewalk. A jogger springs onto the road, maintaining pace in those neon running shoes. It was a near miss. A couple approach, six legs between them. As they near my position the one in charge of this morning stroll begins to cross the street. A cat crouches in the doorway of a restaurant, as crates of cowering chicken are taken inside. The cat unaware that she has the attention of an approaching dog.

The blocks pass and I near our apartment. I glance upward, past the fire escape clinging like ivy and the sky is light blue, not a single cloud. The quiet streets, a thing of the past. The sounds of the city crescendo. San Francisco is ready and waiting.

We Drop Stars


The 99c gift shop was the height of this part of town. The other units were an assortment of fast food counters and bars. The bright flickering of former Hollywood glory had all but dwindled. Art Deco was a faint memory, class and charm left town some time ago. Litter blows across the glittering sidewalk and hats lie in wait of loose change while impressionists pose for tips.

Yet all the while, stars line the walkway, meticulously positioned, one after another. Accolades and achievements in all five points of these extraordinary sidewalk gongs. Each one unique with a name we all know, imprinted with brass shields denoting the honoured trade or art. Icons of music, film and literary greats, even Jesus Christ has a star. This is the Walk of Fame.
The Walk of Fame lengthens with time. But mostly it is fixed. A lifetime’s career compressed into one square metre of remembrance.  A city remembers the greatest, the beautiful, the adored, whilst all around; the landscape rushes past. Shops, stalls and the most lowly businesses surround the glory of our screens and books.
 

We drop stars each day. In how we interact with humanity. Deeds and accomplishments far grander than the glittering memories of the Boulevard. The person we take it. The bereaved we counsel, the shoulder we offer. The landscape will constantly shift and change. Like new occupants of the units along 90027, people come and go, but like the sealed memories of yesterday, will we remain consistent? Choosing daily to be remembered for a life spent offered to others. Not in the promotion of self or similar meaningless agendas, but the most rewarding achievements of service.
 

Can our lives be studded with stars denoting icons of a listening ear, a cup of water or praying hands. The Walk of Service is less crowded than The Walk of Fame, but there is room for many more.

A White Shadow


A Beluga Whale will usually inhabit Canadian waters, staying in the Arctic regions, it is naturally camouflaged. The white whale takes its name from the Russian word ‘bielo’ meaning white and so we get Beluga. It takes eight years for the birth colour of dark grey to completely leave. Being such a different colour for the first part of its life means that it can travel safely. But surely this grey exterior puts it at a disadvantage?? Actually no.

An adult Beluga will swim at such an angle, above a young whale, with the effect that it looks as though the child is just a shadow. The shape, dimensions, characteristics of the child made it seem like it is nothing more than a shadow of its parent. The formation offer protection, it provides reassurance. It instils identity.There is a portion of scripture that says:

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High, will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” 

Psalm 91.


It poses these questions. Who’s shadow are we walking in? Is there someone, something, that we align our lives to. Are we in formation with a colleague, Father, friend?
Maybe our spouse or a mentor.
For some it may be God.

There are boundless opportunities for us to observe, align our lives and gain from walking in the shadow of others.

Pressure Cooker


He walked into the middle of the city square, and there he stopped. The square was busy, it was early Saturday afternoon. He had chosen it specifically because the audience needed to be large. And so he began to shout.

Now shouting is one thing, but right at that moment, shouting turned to rambling. There seemed to be a point at the start of this spectacle, but now any logical thought or process to a genuine concern was rapidly diminishing. The people in the square were there for all sorts of reasons; meeting friends, catching up, some were working. There was an awkwardness in the air.

The ranting was subsiding, like a pressure cooker running out of steam. Those sat at the café looked at each other across the tables; “is he talking to you, or me?” they questioned. It seemed as though his tirade was directed at everyone passing or seated on that bustling Saturday afternoon. There wasn’t a visible response from the hundreds of people witnessing this strange behaviour. Finally one person that knew the man faintly, put up one thumb, but didn’t say a word. No challenge, no encouragement or advice. Just the thumb. Then another two people raised a thumb and held it for a while. The man continued to stand motionless for a while before walking to the edge of the square and out of view.Slowly people went back to the conversation they were having a few minutes earlier. Not clear on what all that meant they tried to forget about it, feeling awkward, unsure of whether they should have said something?

The account seems so odd that you’ve probably dismissed it already, but this does happen on a daily basis. I’ve witnessed it multiple times. People can be drawn to services like Facebook and seem to offload and rant, but to no one in particular. I’m constantly reminded that our ‘online’ behaviour and actions are no different to our offline presence. We are a single person on and offline, our persona should be also.

Optimist Prime


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“Be an Optimist Prime, not a Negatron”, were the words on a Pin that my wife recently pointed out. I love all things movies and comics, so fusing that sentiment with the legendary Hasbro heroes made my day.

We can easily discount such a message but we do this to our detriment. I think there is value in recognising the link between the idea of good and evil; being Optimus Prime & Megatron, and the battle of the mind where we can choose to be positive or give in to negativity. We constrict and choke our lives when we let a negative perspective take over.

A culture where negativity in your organisation, church or family is the norm, creates an environment akin to a dank cellar. The air is musty, breath is shortend and shadows of unrealised fears lurk along the walls.

Let’s take steps to rise out of depths and fill our lungs with the cool, clean air in the street above. Positive mindsets and language lift us to a place where we can focus on the road ahead, with a clear, unrestricted view.

Be a Optismist Prime.