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Guilt, shame and forgiveness

“My mother decided, that within the family, we’d never speak about it.  We’d live our lives as though it simply never happened.”

In a very distressing story, those words were some of the most haunting.

Earlier this week, I was listening to one of my favourite podcasts, “Outlook” on BBC World.  The presenter was interviewing an Australian lady, Kelly Connor, who aged 17 had caused the death of a pedestrian in a road accident.  It was the kind of situation that could happen to any of us.  No recklessness, “just” human error.  And yet a person had died.

With all the best intentions, the family tried to continue with life as though the event hadn’t happened.  Yet Kelly could not live with her guilt and deep sense of shame.  In a very real way, she experienced what David describes in Psalm 32: 3+4:

When I kept it all inside,
my bones turned to powder,
my words became daylong groans.
The pressure never let up;
all the juices of my life dried up.

For decades, she lived in a wilderness.

She finally found some peace when she gave up on trying to keep what had happened a secret, and told first her daughter and then others about it.

I have no idea what Kelly Connor thinks about God and His forgiveness.  But listening to her, I hope she has or will experience what David describes in the rest of the psalm (verses 5, 1 + 2):

Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!

From wilderness to beautiful meadow.

If you want to listen to the programme, you can find it here.  It was broadcast on 14 May 2012.

This is the book she wrote about her experience: “To Cause a Death: The Aftermath of an Accidental Killing”, by Kelly Connor

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Just People

I love this picture.  Politicians getting caught up in the excitement of the footie.  In this case the Champions League final between Bayern München and Chelsea.  Even if you don’t know, you can probably guess which team had just scored here.

It is so rare that we get to see politicians as “real people”.  I guess it goes both ways – they want to portray a certain image, and we find it easier to judge and condemn when that’s all they are, just an image.

So it’s good to have this reminder that at the end of the day, we’re all just people.

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The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Maggie Smith – you can’t really go wrong with a movie featuring practically a Who’s Who of British actors!  That’s what a friend and I decided when we headed out to see “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”.  And we couldn’t have been more right!  What a treat!

Here is a brief summary of the plot:

A group of British retirees have outsourced their retirement, attracted by the less expensive and seemingly exotic India. They are enticed by advertisements about the newly restored Marigold Hotel and given false dreams of a life with leisure. They arrive at the hotel to find that it is not as advertised and, although the new environment is less luxurious than imagined, the retirees are profoundly transformed by their subsequent experiences.

I can’t even say what I enjoyed most.  There are the sights, the sounds, the colours of India!  Incredible!  The amazing acting skills.  The humour.

But what has stayed with me the most, is how differently each of the characters copes with being thrown into a completely alien environment.

Evelyn (Judi Dench), sums it up well: “This is a new and different world. The challenge is to cope with it.  And not just cope, thrive.”  And she does, throwing herself into it with gusto.  Taking on new challenges, getting her first paid job ever.  “India, like life itself, I suppose, is about what you bring to it.”  Can’t say it better than that!

Muriel (Maggie Smith) arrives in India with a lot of bitterness and racism.  Her initial encounters with India are summed up well by this statement: ““No thank you! If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t want to eat it!” She doesn’t venture outside the hotel for the longest time, and not just because she is confined to a wheelchair after a hip replacement operation.  Yet slowly but surely, despite herself, Muriel gets drawn out of herself by one of the hotel maids.  They don’t have a common language and yet the Sunaina somehow manages to break through Muriel’s defences.

Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Jean (Penelope Wilton) are a married couple, who respond in completely opposite ways.  At one point, Jean asks one of the other guests: “How can you bear this country?  What do you see that I don’t?”  And she never does see it.  Douglas, on the other hand, is always out and about, discovering the place.  How tragic that they don’t know how to communicate about what they are experiencing and why they are reacting the way they do!

Thinking back over times I have encountered a new culture, I can recognise myself in all the characters.  Sometimes feeling overwhelmed, just wanting to withdraw and hide.  Sometimes being cautious, but still venturing out.  And sometimes loving every moment it!  Lots to think about and learn here.

Finally, we have Sonny (Dev Patel, of Slumdog Millionaire fame), whose dream is to “create a home for the elderly, so wonderful that they will simply refuse to die.”  He is the eternal optimist, seeing challenges as opportunities, and not letting anything get him down for long.  It is fitting that the most well-known quote is something Sonny says:

“Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, then it is not yet the end.”

If you haven’t yet, go and see it!

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Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome! Or not???

Last month, CNN reported that apparently tourists find the French the least welcoming of all nationalities, while Brazilians are the most welcoming (you can read the full article here).  I have to confess to feeling a slight sense of relief that Germany did not top this particular poll 🙂 In fact, we only come in at number 4, behind Russia and the UK.

The UK???  Now they really had my attention!  I might be slightly biased but I’ve always found Brits to be incredibly friendly and welcoming.  And so encouraging and appreciative of even the tiniest bit of English visitors speak.  There are always exceptions, of course there are, but on the whole that’s always been my experience.

I wonder how people decide whether a place and its people are welcoming or not.  Is it dependent on whether or not things go their way?  Whether or not local people speak the visitor’s language, thus making things easy for him or her?

Particularly as tourists, we tend to come to a new place with so many expectations, and often with very little willingness to learn, to understand, to be challenged, to meet people on their turf.  No wonder things often go so very wrong!  A few things happen that confirm my preconceived ideas and suddenly I “know” that in [fill in appropriate country] people are rude/unwelcoming/arrogant/etc.

The article makes some very good points about differences in culture and values.

“The French are very protective of their language, and customers can get different responses for ordering in French or in another language,” said Lo. […] According to Yi, though queuing is a social norm in the West, it’s not a common behavior for Chinese people, “so [it] could be interpreted as being rude [by international travelers.] […] “[These waitresses] don’t have the confidence or language skill to handle foreign travelers. Sometimes, they’d rather avoid them,” said Lo.

So maybe the waitress I wrote off as being rude might just be feeling very insecure as I am making her speak a second language.  And the man in a shop in the Middle East might actually be showing me respect by not looking me in the face.

It’s not easy getting over my emotional responses to things but not treating people as just a colourful backdrop to my holiday experience (bit like a theme park) and instead remembering that I am visiting people in their home, as it were (even if I’m paying), is very helpful. There is so much fun to be had by adjusting my attitude!

OK, getting down from my soapbox now 😉

And yes, there definitely are rude people in each and every country!

However, I still don’t understand how the UK could possibly come in at number 3!

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I love colours and I love patterns.  But there is one colour that warms my heart more than any other.  It might technically be called lilac, but to me it’ll always be lavender.  Seeing it, instantly transports me back to the south of France and lovely holidays among the lavender fields and the picturesque villages.

I can almost hear the music and voices drifting down from the bar further up the hill as I sit out on the patio late on a beautiful summer’s evening.

I can taste the wine, the olives, the fresh baguette, the tarte au citron.

All this is evoked just by seeing the colour of lavender flowers.  No wonder the heart above hangs on my living room door.  I get to see it often there!

On a completely different note, the colour also reminds me of the large lavender plant I had in my garden in Birmingham. Not a plant that belongs in the Midlands but one that was thriving in this foreign soil, adding something special and unique by its very foreignness.

What a great image of a life lived in foreign lands.  Never totally becoming part of it, yet adapting to the new soil.   And in it all thriving and enriching what’s there.

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Great Little Berlin Moment #4

1 May in Berlin.  If you know anything about this city, you will immediately think of riots.  And sadly there is quite a bit of that going on as I’m writing this in the evening.

This morning it was very different, though.  Myfest is a great event that has been running for a few years, in order to reclaim the streets from those wanting to cause trouble.  I wish you could smell all the yummy food being prepared everywhere, a lot of it by local people!  Falafel, döner, köfte, etc etc.  Amazing!  And then the sounds!  A Turkish singer songwriter on stage.  A bit further along, Kurdish music and people dancing to it.  Away from the main square, there are more bands playing on different stages.  Most of them waaaay too loud for my liking!

Before all of this gets properly under way, “Together for Berlin” hold an open air service, to pray for the city and particularly for a peaceful day.  Very special!

This is the backdrop to my latest “Great Little Berlin Moment”.  After the service, a few of us decided to explore the area a bit.  In the church right on Mariannenplatz, they have some incredible pictures up, showing how the Berlin Wall went right through the neighbourhood, literally running maybe 20 metres behind the church.  We also read about a Turkish immigrant guy who spotted a piece of wasteland near his home, and decided to grow some vegetables there.  Turns out that piece of land officially belonged to East Berlin, but had ended up on the western side of the Wall.  Something to do with building the Wall in a straight line and not wasting ressources by building around that little plot.  Anyway, the East German border guards weren’t too pleased with Mr Kalin (that was his name) digging up their land but eventually, after a lot of toing and froing they let him get on with it, as he was a poor immigrant suffering under the Capitalist system and having to grow his own food.  Great story!

On leaving the church, we took a look at where the wall used to be, now turned into a very pleasant park.  Then we spotted a slightly strange looking building just across the street.  Lo and behold if that is not the same plot of land we had just been reading about!  And even more amazingly, Mr Kalin was there, sitting in his garden.  He is now very elderly and hard of hearing but we got chatting to his son who showed us around the little tree house/hut thing that his father built bit by bit, as and when he found some more wood.  Unbelievable!  A totally random hodge-podge of different materials.  I have no idea how it holds up but it does!

So that was my Great Little Berlin Moment of today!  Here are some pictures for you to enjoy and German speakers can read more here