Archive for June, 2012


My cousin has sent me an excellent joke related to the recent fishing trip -

2 priests and a Rabbi go fishing and haul in 13 mackerel. At the end of the day they start to argue about how much fish they should keep, and how much they should give to charity.
The first priest says, “Look we draw a circle on the ground, climb this ladder and throw the fish down. However many fish land inside the circle, that is clearly what God wants us to give away. “
The second priest says, “No no no!!! Look we draw a circle on the ground, climb this ladder and throw the fish down. However many fish land outside the circle, that is clearly what God wants us to give away. “
The Rabbi says, “No no no no!!! Look we draw a circle on the ground, climb this ladder and throw the fish way up in the air, and what ever God wants he will keep. “

Thanks to @MightyErk

Using Time Wisely


We are making the most of the beautiful long mid-summer evening light here in Edinburgh. Yesterday at the end of our days duties I went for a spot of evening fishing with one of the other priests – we were fishing till 11pm and pulled in 13 mackerel.  It was a wonderful evening and will live long in the memory. With so many of us leading busy lives it is important to use free time well.  The psychologist Claudia Hammond has written a fascinating book, ‘Time Warped’,  about how we perceive time .  What I was struck about was her observations about the ‘Holiday Paradox’.  The phenomenon seems to be that you go on holiday for two weeks, packed full of new experiences, new places,  the days rush by.  However when you get back it feels as though you have been away for ages. This has an interesting impact on how we use our spare time wisely.  If you want your weekend to go slowly, pack it with new events and different activities but you will sacrifice rest.  If you use the weekend to rest then paradoxically it will feel as though it has gone fast. How we spend our weekend is important for many of us – particularly if we feel stretched by our jobs….

We often forget that time is man made, what Kant referred to as ‘Epistemological Spectacles’.  Time is the way we measure change, but instead of managing time, we often let time rule us. Reading Claudia Hammonds book is helped me to reflect on time perception. There is a very interesting passage about whether or not anxiety makes time pass more slowly or an incredible experiment by a young French man who chose to maroon himself in total darkness in an ice cave for two months.  Telescoping is another interesting phenomenon in her book, referring to the curious way that we often think that  significant historical events happened more recently that they did. For example  – if I ask when did Princess Diana die? Most of us would give the wrong answer – because we would say a more recent year………. (it was 1997).  This phenomenon is because of the illusion that the more clear a memory is then we think that it happened more recently.

As a result of this I hope to use my free time more wisely!

Worrying and Wonder


Hope you like the slightly redesigned blog. I had a two week break from blogging as I was coming back from India, seeing family and friends, now I am temporarily based in Edinburgh for the summer before my next appointment.

Fridays Gospel (below) for me speaks to the heart – about the importance of wonder and awe is that it takes us out of ourselves, it is the antidote of self-absorption.  I remember hearing a the story of a psychotherapist who was treating a patient for depression. Many different therapies were suggested and nothing seemed to work. As a last resort the psychotherapist suggested that the patient tried counting chimneys. It worked! Just the simple act of looking up increases the light to our brains and lifts our moods. For me this is why I love looking at the stars in a dark sky. People have been lying on their backs staring at the stars and creating patterns and stories about them since ancient times.


Worried! (Photo credit: photoloni)

The opposite of this is the curse of worrying – or as we use to pray in the mass – ‘useless anxiety’. When we worry it makes us self-absorbed and we stop looking up and lose that renewing energy of awe and wonder. I remember a wise women, a teacher at school, asking me ‘Tim what was the last thing that you worried about’ and I couldn’t remember…. and she just nodded at me… the point being if you’ve forgotten already it wasn’t really worth it in the first place.   She would often ask me why I looked worried, and so one day I could remember what I had been worried about. Aha! I thought, now I’ve got her! So when she asked me, I told her with a big grin on my face, I was worried about embarrassing myself at a district-level football game that I had been selected for.  ‘Did you embarrass yourself?’ she replied – no I sheepishly admitted – and she shrugged, she got me again!

Excerpt from  Fridays Gospel – Matt 6

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life,
   what you will eat or drink,
   or about your body, what you will wear.
Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?
Look at the birds in the sky;
   they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns,
   yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are not you more important than they?
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?
Why are you anxious about clothes?
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
   was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
   which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
   will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’
   or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’
All these things the pagans seek.
Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness,
   and all these things will be given you besides.
Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself.
Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Why We should Help


When chatting to people about the experiences of the last year, a depressingly common response is Why should we help? We have our own problems?  This I call the ‘Little Englander’ response but on the surface also it seems very reasonable.  The UK has the 6th biggest economy in the world according to the World Bank, India the 9th.  Surely this will change soon.  There have been criticism from both countries about the UK sending Aid to India.  Some Indians saying it is an insult, some British saying we should concentrate closer to home. Both are completely wrong in my opinion.  The British International Development Secretary, sensitive to such criticisms has said recently. “India itself has got 60 million children into school in recent years with its own money but more than 30 per cent of the world’s poorest people live there. There are states the size of Britain where half of all children suffer from malnutrition. We will not be in India for ever but now is not the time to end the programme.”  That is an incredible fact….. Of India’s 28 states, 10 have populations greater than 60 million.

The church punches above its weight in India particularly in its education initiatives and healthcare provision. However at times there can also be a siege mentality with the inter-religious balance so delicate. Catholics are regularly attacked and killed a terrible crime which is not well reported. Hostility, often due to forces of nationalism and fundamentalism, present warped representations of the church. Protestant fundamentalists do not help at times – with all Christians often viewed as the same by the Hindu majority.   Many communities may also be jealous because of the funding that comes from Catholics abroad.  The Indian Bishops at a recent conference released a statement on ‘The Church’s Role for a Better India’.However in this delicate climate – the church has already accomplished a lot, running 788 hospitals, many of them caring for HIV patients, a vast network of over 15,000 schools and colleges of which 54% of students are girls and 71%  are non-Catholics. It is clear that the Church’s network is doing a lot of good and unsung work for the people India. Catholic schools are the most prestigious regularly filling out the list of top performing schools. Because education is still a business in many places people are setting up schools to imitate Catholic schools. I heard  of schools called St Christs and St Jesus’s, of directors of schools insisting that all the female teachers wear habits like nuns. You regularly see in the matchmaking column of the newspapers, boasting of a girls credentials under the proud title of Convent Educated, or the prospective husbands having been Jesuit educated.  However theses works only thrive because of a woeful lack of quality and consistent provision by the state.

Philanthropy and giving by wealthy people is undergoing a bit of a revolution, courtesy of billionaires such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates (left). Warren Buffet has designed the ‘giving pledge‘ in an attempt to get billionaires to commit to giving the majority of their wealth away to charitable efforts. So far 81 have signed it including, laudably, the youngest Mark Zuckerberg and the great Elon Musk. Sadly, a wise and experienced Indian told me that philanthropy does not have the same status in Hindu thinking, echoed by this report in the Hindustan Times.  The philosophy of reincarnation dictates that your status in life, rich or poor  is deserved and there is little you should do to change it. In fact this meanness is reportedly also evident in Chinese billionaires who recently ducked a meal with Buffet in case they were asked to sign up to the giving pledge.   In my experience the happiest people I meet are the most generous, whether it be with their money or their time. The new generation of philanthropist lead by Buffet, Gates and Musk should be copied!

Reverse Culture Shock

The clock tower of Big Ben at dusk. The north ...


So I am back in London having left India with a heavy heart.  I seem to have stumbled into a weird collective hangover after a the 4-day holiday inspired by the Queens Jubilee. After an unforgettable farewell from the students and the community in Manvi I am mulling over the last few months.  On Sunday there was a nice ‘bridge’ to coming home – I was able to show some of the children the incredible scenes on the Thames of the BBC’s live footage of the Queens flotilla.  These kids from the villages were amazed at the sights and sounds coming from the UK, the colours of the boats, the Queen, the flags and the pageantry, their eyes were popping out of their heads! For me it was two very different worlds colliding, something I am now experiencing, reverse culture shock is an interesting phenomena. Being home again, surrounded by the familiar but slightly disconnected, I am enjoying a certain anonymity as I walk around, after having been stared at in many places in India and Philippines, although all of the attention was very friendly particularly from young women!  I will miss that but on the whole I prefer anonymity!

I hear the grass is greener in Aberystwyth…..

I have been chuckling to myself as today’s news headlines includes a story about the return of  traffic wardens to Aberyswyth after a year of absence. Their return has been welcomed after a year of ‘chaos’ resulting from bad parking!  – Aberyswyth has nothing on Manila or Bangalore!  I haven’t seen a double-yellow line for a long time and at least there are no cows wandering down the middle of the street. The temperature of 12 degrees has come as a bit of a shock after a year of above 30.  Although give me the choice of 45°C and 12°C, I’ll take chilly drizzly Britain any time! Something that always makes a big impact on me whenever I return home is how green the UK is, the plus side of so much rain! Luxuriating in a warm shower for the first time in 9 months is a wonderful feeling to be savoured slowly, but I will soon be taking that for granted.  It is amazing how quickly we take for granted the many luxuries that are not shared by the majority of the world. Broadband, reliable electricity, power showers, indoor carpets, it is amazing how quickly these luxuries become perceived as necessities, as the Pew Foundation recently researched.  Perhaps consumerism relies on that transition, so we need to be tied into buying and replacing or upgrading various bits of tech.

My experience over the last ten years of taking adolescents and university students to India and Africa is that reverse culture shock is a significant problem for some of them.  Coupled with the dynamic idealisms of the young and the limited amount of interest shared by their friends and family about ‘their’ incredible experience, it is wise to try and prepare them for the re-entry to their own culture. We always have a ‘debriefing’ session and a day of reflection to prepare for this. A useful resource for them is the novel You Can’t Go Home Again  by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940. Although the context is different, going back to small town America during the depression, the ideas are useful for getting young people to prepare themselves. The title comes from the denouement of the novel in which Webber realises: “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” The phrase “you can’t go home again” has entered American speech to mean that once you have left your country town or provincial backwater city for a sophisticated metropolis you can’t return to the narrow confines of your previous way of life and, more generally, attempts to relive youthful memories will always fail. It has been suggested that the phrase is sometimes spoken to mean that you can’t return to your place of origin without being deemed a failure.   

I tell the youngsters You can Go home again, in fact you must go home again, but understand that you  have changed. Be patient, try to understand why and when you get angry, but most importantly put into practice the things you have discovered about yourself and the world.  When you are in your mid thirties the reverse culture shock is not so strong – but it is still there. So I hope my life will become more simple, my patience more robust and my compassion deeper now I am back…… a stupid and dangerous thing to write on a blog, please don’t throw it back in my face when I fail!! 


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