Don’t Forget To Pull The Curtains and Put The Lights Out – Easter Thoughts – Part 2

In the recorded stories of Christ’s crucifixion the ripping from top to bottom of the 60 foot curtain veil in the heart of the temple is more than a bit of a gust blowing through. This massive curtain was only to be ventured behind by the most devout and on very few select occasions – access was seriously restricted, and denied to 99.9% of people, but it was all part of Israel getting it’s house in order with God and the limited access was understood and respected.
 
 When Jesus breathed his last all kinds of wierd stuff happened – including this curtain tearing in two. The way was now blown wide open as a result of Christ’s sacrificial death. Access into the presence of God was no longer for a select few on a particular date and time in a designated holy place. Intimacy with God – the seeking and granting of his gifts of forgiveness, grace, mercy, hope, justice, peace – came out of the confines of the temple and into a wounded world for real.
 
 The story of Easter – of Jesus the Nazarene – is not just for a religious few that have got it all together – it’s the stuff of revolution as the ‘temple courts’ are filled with the most unlikely. Bob Dylan picked up on a similar vein:
 
 “Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an worse An for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe An we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.”
 Bob Dylan – Chimes of Freedom, 1964

 
 Freedom had a price. Freedom is a gift.
 
 Luke 23:44-46
 
 Originally written for my personal blog, Sean Stillman
 
 
 
 

Easter Thoughts – Part 1

I’ve always been quite impressed with the response that G. K. Chesterton gave to the question posed by The Times newspaper, ‘What is wrong with the world?’ – the reply came simply as; “Dear Sirs, I am.”

To a greater or lesser degree throughout the history of humanity we have been unbelievably successful at defacing so much of what is beautiful, sacred and cohesive. The decay of a physical world and the prevalence of the law of the jungle extinguishes all but the most stubborn flickers of light.

But in the embers the Easter message continues to burn as ‘The prophet in rags gives hope to a fearful world’. Amid best mates’ betrayals for cash incentives, desertion and denials, kangaroo courts, and dodgy dealings the death of Christ was surrounded by people like us. Human frailty meets the eternal. Truth and justice collide with catastrophic and miraculous consequences in equal measure as Christ wrestles, prior to his arrest, with the question; ‘is this a road I have to go down – a cup I have to drink?’

At the heart of the Easter story there remains an ember that burns in the darkness – sparks of hope, flickers of light, shelter from the cold for ‘problems in the world’ like you and me.

Previously written on my personal blog, Sean Stillman

Is politics still about people?

As politicians and the media argue about who should take part in a TV debate, I find myself wondering what matters I’d like to put across if any of them roll up at my front door looking for a vote…
 
 I want to vote for a politician that with tell the truth, be humble enough to admit mistakes and who loves people more than power.
 I want to vote for a party and believes in a system that looks beyond four year terms and sees its responsibility extending to future generations.
 I want to see the young, the old and the vulnerable given priority when it comes to a duty of care.
 
 How can I trust in a government and a plethora of tax payer funded institutions, that have routinely been found to withhold and manipulate the truth, whilst turning a blind eye to outrageous behaviour that heaps coals on the fires of the suffering of vulnerable people.
 
 I want to vote for a politician that holds to virtues of truth, of grace, of mercy, of justice, of integrity, of kindness, of self control, of self sacrifice and dare I say, of love.
 
 Is it too much to ask? Are there any such people left with a hunger for what is right, rather than what they will get out of it?
 
 I’m not interested in your empty promises, your policies that shift around like the sand on the shore. I’m not interested in your spin, your posturing, your temporary allegiances nor the cut of your suit or your persuasive words on a TV debate. I want to know what I see of your soul when I look in your eyes, what motivates you to play with the freedoms of people, to make choices that can cause immense good or immense pain & loss.
 
 When you ask me what I would like to see, let it begin with a sense of deep sorrow from the seat of power itself, for the selfishness, greed, selective blindness and manipulation of the truth at the expense of those most vulnerable in our community. Then let it continue with a renewed commitment to do what is right and just, to love people more than the pursuit of wealth, to look to the needs of others, to govern from a heart of service not privilege and power.
 
 Have you ever thought of leading by example? Just a thought, before you post your propaganda through my door.
 
 Sean Stillman
 
 

Public Notice – Brian ‘Pete’ Burford/Boswell

Photo courtesy of Lee Aspland

The funeral of the late Brian Boswell also known as Brian Burford and also known as ‘Pete’, of Castle Square, Swansea, will take place on Weds 25th February 2015 at Morriston Crematorium at 3.30pm. .

Friends are warmly invited to attend the service and afterwards at Zac’s Place in George Street, Swansea, SA1 4HH, to share hospitality. His ashes will be interred, in a family grave, in the days following, in a private ceremony.

Out of respect to Pete and believing that this would be his wish, we would kindly ask members of the press to be respectfully non-intrusive during the day. No more comment will be made prior to the funeral. A written statement will be available after the service however, giving details of the service contents.

If you wish to make a donation in memory, this can be done via Graham J. Sullivan funeral directors, 77 Ty-Hedd Funeral Home Mynydd Garnllwyd Rd, Morriston, Swansea SA6 7QG.

These donations will be distributed among charitable projects with an emphasis on literature and the arts. Those who knew him well, will know this is in keeping with his passions and interests.

Is Anyone Listening?

A couple of winters ago I got a call from someone saying Pete was desperately down and needed some additional warm things. It was well below zero and the snow was falling onto packed ice.

I put the snow chains on the van and headed into the city as quick as I could and true to form I found Pete, huddled up peering out of his coat declaring that he was perfectly ok and had what he needed wondering what all the fuss was about.


(Photo courtesy of Lee Aspland)

Pete was as complex as he was introverted, as intelligent as he was sober and as stubborn as he was opinionated.

His stubborn refusal to engage with ‘the system’ infuriated me, and many others, only taking help if he believed it was truly benevolent, which to our community’s credit was often in abundance. If however, he thought anyone was receiving a salary for ‘helping the homeless’, they didn’t meet the criteria to be in his circle of support, despite their efforts and care.

To get close to Pete was almost impossible. You had to earn that right and it wasn’t anything to do with what you might offer of material gain or daily bread. There were no brief meaningful chats with Pete. You needed an hour at least before you even started.

A lyrical journey of sorting his predicament out, the struggles of a changing city around him, the ecstasy of watching Mo Farah win gold on ‘his’ wide screen tv in the square, reeling off Beach Boys and Mamas and Papas songs, the memories of being fit enough to play table tennis, the hypocrisy of government, society and the church and all the books he wants to store, were all fair game, for any that were invited into the intimacy of a private audience with Pete.

What Pete wrestled with was the same as most of us, the reality that life is often about loss. The loss of innocence, of opportunity come and gone, of loved ones unexpectedly departing and the loss of love thought won.

People respond and react in many different ways, for Pete, he chose to try and lose Brian Burford in search of only he knew what and why. But for all the muddle and the riddles, he carried something in his soul, a crusade and mission to make a point maybe. He was not a statistic, or even a legend, he hated that thought, but he wanted to say ‘something’ on his terms and he wanted ‘someone’ to listen.

On occasion Pete would say, “if I ever give this up, it won’t be in the winter, it will be on a warm summers day”, as if there could have been some far off possibility that it could happen and he was in control of it.

We ‘could’ build a monument of bronze 100 feet high, or we could pause, we could watch, we could learn to listen. If we want to build a monument in memory of Pete, may it be one that taps into the core of our soul that compels us to love without measure or want of any reward, to leave our prejudice behind, to live simply and gather only what we need. May it be a monument of substance in the life of our community that levels the ground and doesn’t place a persons worth on what we see with our eyes, but in the knowledge that we are all wonderfully made and indeed all very fragile.

Enjoy the dance dear friend, the embrace, the banquet and the mansion. See you later, I’ll be the one stood outside in the rain hoping you’ll let me in.

Here’s some Bob Dylan to close with, the lyric somehow seems appropriate.

Sean

‘Pete’s’ funeral took place on 25 February 2015. His ashes were placed on the grave of his mother, his step father and his younger brother. Robin Turner wrote a thoughtful piece in the Western Mail which you can find here.

Chimes Of Freedom – Bob Dylan

Far between sundown’s finish an’ midnight’s broken toll
We ducked inside the doorway, thunder crashing
As majestic bells of bolts struck shadows in the sounds
Seeming to be the chimes of freedom flashing
Flashing for the warriors whose strength is not to fight
Flashing for the refugees on the unarmed road of flight
An’ for each an’ ev’ry underdog soldier in the night
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

In the city’s melted furnace, unexpectedly we watched
With faces hidden while the walls were tightening
As the echo of the wedding bells before the blowin’ rain
Dissolved into the bells of the lightning
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsaked
Tolling for the outcast, burnin’ constantly at stake
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the mad mystic hammering of the wild ripping hail
The sky cracked its poems in naked wonder
That the clinging of the church bells blew far into the breeze
Leaving only bells of lightning and its thunder
Striking for the gentle, striking for the kind
Striking for the guardians and protectors of the mind
An’ the unpawned painter behind beyond his rightful time
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Through the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for-granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Even though a cloud’s white curtain in a far-off corner flashed
An’ the hypnotic splattered mist was slowly lifting
Electric light still struck like arrows, fired but for the ones
Condemned to drift or else be kept from drifting
Tolling for the searching ones, on their speechless, seeking trail
For the lonesome-hearted lovers with too personal a tale
An’ for each unharmful, gentle soul misplaced inside a jail
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Starry-eyed an’ laughing as I recall when we were caught
Trapped by no track of hours for they hanged suspended
As we listened one last time an’ we watched with one last look
Spellbound an’ swallowed ’til the tolling ended
Tolling for the aching ones whose wounds cannot be nursed
For the countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse
An’ for every hung-up person in the whole wide universe
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing

Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music

The Pro’s and Con’s of volunteering at Christmas

Christmas is a popular time for us to receive offers of help among the homeless and street community – maybe with helping at meals over this time. Quite often we have to turn away help and I hope in these few paragraphs it will explain why.

Please do not be offended if you have offered your help and services with us at Zac’s Place, or indeed to any other agency working with homeless and vulnerable people, over the Christmas period and not been given the opportunity to volunteer.

We appreciate people’s enthusiastic support and interest at Christmas time, but the reality is, helping out at a soup kitchen or drop-in centre can actually be very specialised work. It is not something that complete strangers can just drop in, in numbers and help out easily. Much of the work is with very fragile and sometimes unpredictable, volatile and chaotic people who respond to the support given to them best, when it’s built on long-term relationships.

At Zac’s place we have a very dedicated team of year round volunteers. One team of volunteers alongside support staff from the Wallich, open up at breakfast time 250 days a year. Another team of approximately a dozen volunteers staff our coffee bar and soup kitchen on a Thursday night which opens for 46 weeks every year.

In these, we work carefully in partnership with the City & County of Swansea rough sleeper’s task group, other organisations like the Wallich, Caer Las, Missionaries of Charity, Salvation Army, the Night Shelter, the Big Issue, prison chaplaincy and local drugs projects to ensure that the people we aim to help and support are looked after as best we can within safe boundaries of integrity and confidentiality.

Because of this, it is not easy for us to just open our doors to accept voluntary help for a single occasion to people who we simply do not know. Some of the people we support are very vulnerable and we would not want to expose them to any more potential risk than they already experience in daily life.

We and many of the other organisations in the city welcome volunteer support throughout the year. If you would like to support those who are homeless and vulnerable for other reasons, over the Christmas period, our advice would be to get involved with a project during the rest of the year in preparation, building up relationships and where there are specific ongoing needs for volunteers, financial support and other practical items also.

If the only time that you have available is over the Christmas period we understand this and would welcome other ways of contributing – drop in with some non perishable food tins with ring pulls , some toiletries or simply a gift of some jars of coffee and bags of sugar to keep the everyday wheels turning are really helpful things. New socks and underwear are always welcome – small pots of Vaseline to help keep trench foot at bay make a difference. Often when places of refuge are volunteer led, they are also donation funded – practical items are really helpful and will make a difference.

Thank you for your interest, support and understanding – with warmest Christmas greetings from us all at Zac’s Place

 

Sean writes from Ukraine

Visits to the Ukraine have always been rich experiences for me. There’s always an air of unpredictability about them.
 
 Back in 2006, I found myself locked in a police station, saw the A&E hospital department after a travelling companion was mowed down by a drunk driver and thought I was eating rat soup!
 I go there to encourage others, primarily my God’s Squad mates and their connected mission church community, (God’s Garage in Zhytomir), but I always return home richly blessed by them and their community. Their generosity, fortitude, resourcefulness, creativity and faith shine. Even more so on this visit with the dark shadow of what is happening on their borders with Russia. I spoke with guys fresh from the frontline, (still with ringing in their ears from blasts), others whose homes had been obliterated, heading west to safety and many more with a deep fear for what may come.
 This place and its people have crept into my heart over the years. I continue to pray for them and their nation and also be deeply moved by the work of God’s grace among them.


Here’s a pic with some of our friends there after a gathering at God’s Garage on Sunday. It’s a mission work significantly influenced by our efforts over the years and one that you as friends and supporters of the trust have had a part to play in.

Cookie

You saw life
 Through an alcoholic haze
 Staggering silhouette
 Bag in hand
 Talked in riddles
 Slept by the bins
 Ten year asbo man
 Keep movin’ on
 Through our doors
 You found a home
 A light in your eyes
 Of hope within
 Farewell Cookie
 Enjoy those hymns
 
 
 
 
 
 

Street Theatre Project

Gritty Productions in association with Wales National Theatre are running a pilot street theatre project a Zac’s Place this week.
 Stories from the street community, working with actors devising material for a presentation this Friday – small ideas that we hope will develop into a bigger platform. Wonderful to see the creativity out of chaos.