Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

If you've stumbled upon here randomly, then I suggest you check out my biography and other pages.

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This famous poem was read at the end of my Grandfather's funeral just under a week ago, as part of the Jehovah's Witness contribution - it summed his character up perfectly, and I think, points to a Buddhist way of thinking that we could all do with at least a little bit of.

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!

--Rudyard Kipling


Goodbye Humble Joe

On Monday we finally said farewell to my Grandad, Jospeh Henry Grant. The service was split into two, with the first half being held at the Anglican church - according to the wishes of his wife, Norah, who wanted to ensure the community who knew him had chance to pay their respects. From there, he was travelled to the crematorium where a short memorial service was delivered by a cousin of mine, who is a practicing Jehovah's Witness (his immediate family are also mostly affiliated to this denomination).

Over the past two weeks I have crafted a journal-entry-turned-eulogy, returning to it at various points to add and amend. I now feel ready to publish this and share it with the world wide web, as a public record and celebration of his life. 

On Saturday morning, 3rd of November, I received an early morning phonecall at around 8.30am. It was my mother. She started immediately with, "I've got some bad news..." It's the kind of much-dreaded opener that often goes through your mind when someone close to you rings at an unexpected time. On this occasion though, having not spoken to my mother for a few weeks, it did not - I just assumed she was finding time to catch up in-between work and other family commitments. 

The news that followed was the passing of my grandfather, Joe Grant, at the age of 91 having suffered breathing difficulties the night before. I fell immediately silent, and my wife took over the conversation. The initial wave of sadness at this news was quickly mixed in with a growing sense of regret knowing that I had pencilled in to see him just the week before, during a week off work - but had found myself instead drawn back to the office to catch up on paperwork. It was easy, I guess, in that moment to quickly turn from grief over his loss to anger at myself, knowing that the window of opportunity to spend that one last treasurable time with him was missed. 

I ventured out for a run shortly after and took the time to allow the news to settle in further. I reasoned with my grief and anger, knowing my Grandad had led a long life and had died relatively peacefully, and knowing that the sense of a missed opportunity was not healthy to dwell upon nor something not readily felt by so many people who lose loved ones. We often look to our elder relatives as invincible, even as the years creep up on them, and it is all too easy to take for granted their temporary presence in our lives. 

On my return from the run and gradually over the weekend, a quiet, still sadness settled over us as a family. It was noticeably not an outpouring of shock and grievance at the time and manner of the passing as happened with my other beloved grandfather, Roy Jackson. It brought me to thinking that my Grandad would approve of this, that he would not want any 'fuss', that he would have considered himself as having a good Geoffrey Boycott-style innings - cricket lover that he was. 

My Grandad was in many ways an unremarkable man, leading an unremarkable life - at least on the surface. He was the classic working-class northern Englishman - I seem to remember he even wore a flat cap at one point, to protect his fair skin and bald head whilst out gardening tending to the tomatoes and tending to the pet rabbit Marmalade. He had worked ordinary jobs, lived in an ordinary house, drove an ordinary car and so on. But for all his ordinariness, taking time over the past two weeks to piece together and reflect on Grandad’s 91 years has brought, for me at least, many insights about life and what it means to be happy. The kind of insights you'd usually expect from reading some great figure’s biography. 

See, Joe Grant was a quiet, jovial man who spoke little of his life to his grandsons, and it was only in the last year or so that I gathered the courage to persist with getting to know a bit more of his life before I was born - with direct questions posed via a small whiteboard due to his profound deafness. My Grandad would often switch between reminiscing readily in response to my promptings, to dismissing them with a casual bemusement, "why do you want to know such things?" Often then Auntie Norah, his wife, would step in– and he’d look at her with a suspicious smile, not being able to hear but knowing she was filling in the gaps. 

I don't know if he had always been this reserved about his experiences and feelings about them, as I guess what a grandson sees in the man that becomes his grandfather, is very different to what the son saw, what the wife saw, what the father and mother saw, what his brothers and sisters saw, what his workmates saw, what his drinking pals saw, and so on. Certainly, it would seem many others had the same experience of this 'friendly man of few words'. 

What little I do know about my Grandad beyond his life as a grandfather is that he was born to a broken and patched up family living in the aftermath of World War One in Hull. It is likely he took the surname of his mother's husband, but took his first name and lineage from a businessman from Louth named Jospeh Kingswood - his mother's 'lodger' who is said to have died relatively young following a cut to his finger from a rose thorn (we can guess he caught tetanus). It seems at some point early on his mother was forced to abandon her youngest three sons, with Little Joe being placed in a Barnado's home. We could be judgemental about this but 1920s and 1930s England was a harsh place both in terms of economic circumstances and the social customs, which were not long out of Victorian times.

From there I am told he was fortunate enough, if you can call anything fortunate in this situation, to be rescued from the Barnado’s home by his elder sister after being scheduled to be shipped to Australia for a new life – he narrowly escaped becoming one of the child migrants which the Australian and British governments apologised to a few years ago due to the widespread abuse they suffered in their new homeland. As a young man, my Grandad, like many of his generation, was enlisted in the armed forces during World War Two and is said to have driven lorries across Egypt, Jordan, India and Burma. He recalled to me one day, very casually, how he had to dodge bullets whilst fixing his lorry as their convoy passed through Anzio, Italy, which I later found out was a relatively famous World War Two battle. My father recalls that he also once told a story of refusing his superior's orders to dig a trench because it meant certain death - and that he and his comrades escaped court martial because army officials recognised they had a point, it would have meant certain death. Another close call I heard just recently was the story of him struggling to get his lorry onto the army ship he was scheduled to sail on, resulting in an ear-bashing and a long wait for another, only later finding out that the original vessel he was due to travel on had been sunk by German bombers. Again, my Grandad experienced a morsel of fortune in a time of grave misfortune. 

The heroic side of Joe Grant is one I never really knew or recognised until a few years ago. To me he was just my big jolly grandfather who would come with Auntie Norah to babysit us every other weekend and give our parents a break - with faint memories of us bouncing on his belly. My Grandad, I suppose, could be described as a reluctant hero. He is said to have thrown his medals away from World War 2 stating that there was nothing to celebrate about war. He did not glorify his efforts against the Nazi Regime and their allies, but seemingly, nor did he make a show of his principles - it was just common sense. 

Having married his Elsie, and brought two sons up into the world, Joe is said to have left her, having fallen for Norah. It would be easy to be black and white in our judgements of this, more so having witnessed the bitterness that seemed to consume my Nannan Elsie until her final days. But it was before my time and knowing my Nan as well I did, I can see how they may have initially complimented one another - Elsie the passionate, perfectionist young woman, daughter of an over-bearing mother perhaps, with Joe the easy-going gentleman, son of no mother. And I can also see how they could have eventually found themselves in perpetual conflict, and all that followed. This is perhaps summed up by a second-hand story told to me just recently, of Joe and Elsie at one time attending Jehovah's Witnesses meetings together with their two children in tow - only to then suddenly stop going because Elsie argued for new clothes ahead of each big event, perhaps eager to support her husband and make a good impression with the various new faces, whilst Joe insisted it wasn't about materialism. 

But what has struck me over the past few years is how at peace my Grandad seemed to be. He seemed to harbour no ill will or worries, there was a sense of acceptance about him that I have not seen in many other people, if any. He was a man of simple tastes, he was a man who didn't indulge in luxury - he enjoyed watching sport on the telly, having a pint or so in the afternoon, and spending time with whoever was stopping by. Of course he would always insist also that visitors shared a pint or other drink with him. Interestingly it is these kind of people - the seemingly most simple unadventurous, unambitious folk - who are often the most cherished, perhaps because they radiate something the busier, striving folk don't. 

I think Grandad Joe's sense of contentment for what he'd got probably came from experiencing life as a child on the poverty line, and by the near misses he had as a young man. Grandad didn’t smoke or drink heavily, and he is even said to have had a full set of teeth – unlike most of his peers. But for all his wholesome living, it was ultimately Auntie Norah’s love and care – particularly in his final years - which helped him to keep going for as long as he did. Looking at how they were together, perhaps that's what the term 'golden' in 'golden anniverary' really points to - not the number of years the relationship has existed, but the condition of the relationship at that particular time of life. Around six months ago I remember my Grandad saying, again in his matter of fact way, that he was ready ‘to go’.

Again there was that something about him that said he had no nagging regrets and was grateful for the life he'd had. I guess he was blessed to reach such an age where you can feel like this, but I also think it was also testament to whatever it was beneath those old watery yet still sparkling eyes and that wry smile - a reflection of a strong inner substance which he didn't readily reveal too much of, but which you just knew was there. 

As I say, my Grandad was not remarkable in the way society views remarkable these days, but he was remarkable in many other ways. Much of what I have said about him today is through piecing together the little glimpses he gave me and those around him - some of it may even be legend. But one thing that comes from all of this is an indisputable fact - as my father said the day after his passing - "He was a good man." 

I feel blessed to have had Joe Grant as my Grandad, and my hope is that a little bit of him carries on into my own life. He will be missed.


Uniting Churches

Today I visited Heaton Moor United Church to participate in a Christening / Baptism service for a young relative. I'm not in full agreement with this practice, but living in the free pluralistic society in which we now do, nor am I passionately against it. Ultimately I feel it is more a public celebration of the child's birth and a public committment made by the parents about how they intend to nurture their child, rather than a constraint on the child's future faith who will naturally go on to make their own choices. I guess it could also be seen as a renewal of vows between the married couple.

The church itself is a fantastic example of a modern church building, interestingly with the main hall situated on the upper floor, and the service itself was inspiring.The minister spoke about the need for Christians to observe the world around them and think carefully about how they engage with it, neither rejecting it as wholly corrupt nor becoming swept along but its trends. The minister also, quite tellingly, made a point of saying fantastic buildings were not enough, we ourselves need to be conscious vessels of the Spirit.

Interestingly enough, the church is a partnership between the United Reformed Church and Methodist Church, and sits almost bang opposite the neighbourhood Anglican church. It struck me as I watched a small flow of people leave each church, that maybe there needs to be much more collaboration as church participation decline - perhaps like what we have see with the Uniting Church of Australia.

Finally, a quick note about hymns. The hymns from the service were a mixed bag played to an organ. I am certainly not all for Jesus praise bands blasting out guitars but do think the congregation should understand the hymns, and some quite franky, are well past their use-by date in terms of the language used. This in turn results in half-hearted congregation participation, a 'head down, mumble through it' response, which undermines the very idea of worship. I have since decided, having reflected on this, to make a note of hymns of hear that do rouse the congregation, should I ever find myself in the tricky position of having to select hymns. 'I, the Lord of Sea and Sky' was sung well yesterday and within it there is a relevant theology, the 'Almighty God' of the surrounding universe is also the 'still, small voice' that speaks to us from within.


Peace Sunday

What follows is a bit more rambling than usual but do try staying with me...

Today is Remembrance Sunday, a time for reflecting on those affected by violent conflict - primarily the soldiers who fought in the 20th century's total wars - The Great War and World War 2. This includes my grandfather, Joe Grant, whose body we are currently waiting to lay to rest.

It is also a time to consider the casualties of more recent 'limited' wars which continue to cause physical and mental damage to those involved. My thoughts today during the silence were particularly with the late Mark Evison, having recently watched a harrowing programme about his final days in Afghanistan, partly based on the war journal he left behind. They were also with brave Ben Parkinson who suffered grave brain injuries soldiering in Afghanistan - a stark reminder that the struggles of survivors with the scars of war are more than the physical, as terrible as these are.

As well as a way of sharing our grief and publicly honouring the fallen, the day also has a focus on prayers for a world of peace.

But is a peaceful world really possible? What do we really mean by a world of peace?

Ahead of today, during the week a colleague, providing an opening reflection to our staff meeting, spoke about Martin of Tours - regarded as a saint by the Catholic church and celebrated with a feast day on November the 11th - who, according to legend, rejected life as a Roman Empire soldier to become a Christian monk and missionary. The colleague looked to the weekend before, which featured Bonfire Night events, and the events of the coming weekend, reflecting that the week was about putting conflicts behind us and moving towards reconcilliation.

This resulted in me going away and taking some time to read up on Martin of Tours.

From my own background and perspective, it was interesting to note that the words 'chapel' and 'chaplain' derives from one of the various stories of Martin of Tours, in which he said to have given part of his cape to a beggar. The beggar, according to the legend, was Jesus Christ in disguise and this simple act of giving led to a spiritual awakening and renewed sense of purpose, including a rejection of violence as a way of action.

The piece of cape is said to have become a relic treasured by Frankish kings, carried with them into battle and housed in a tent known as the 'capella', with the clergymen who led services in it being called 'capellani'. This eventually became 'chapel' and 'chaplain' in the English language. Although Martin of Tours is said to have led fierce campaigns of proselytisation against Pagans and Arian Christians (forerunners to the Unitarian church and the Jehovah's Witnesses), it is perhaps significant that in Britain the word 'chapel' gradually came to regularly designate a dissenting places of worship as violent sectarianism subsided. The dotting of chapels across our landscape signified Britain's faith communities had finally agreed to peacefully disagree (in England, Wales and most of Scotland at least). In this, it is also worth highlighting that similarly Martin of Tours rejected violence, but nevertheless continued to engage in a form of conflict over ideas and practice.

Another point to note is Martin of Tours is known as 'The Bridge of Europe', due to the fact he is held in high regard by Christians of Eastern Europe primarily in his homeland of Hungary, and by Christians of Western Europe primarily in France where he is viewed as intimately connected to their development and struggle as a nation. It is of course not without deliberate significance that Remembrance Day falls on his feast day. For all the crises facing Europe in the 21st century, we can be thankful that our continent no longer resorts to violence as a way of resolving political conflict and that a greater sense of togetherness - no matter how begrudging and befuddled - has grown amongst us.

There are various threads of meaning we can pull from the story of Martin of Tours - and perhaps my encounter this week, as I find myself increasingly drawn into the Quaker traditions, was a reminder of the value of remaining open to other traditions, to other voices.

As it happened, I didn't make it to Quaker meeting this morning, instead spending some time at the local war memorial in communion with others as the local Anglican church led a service for the community - including the two minutes silence at 11.11am.

There may well be some Quakers, and other radical Christians, who view Remembrance Sunday as a glorification of war and possibly even something to discreetly boycott. For me, it was a short, simple service which allowed enough space for a diversity of views from the defenders of 'just war' theory to those opposed to any form of war to feel included. There was a greater Spirit and Truth brought to work than notional arguments, as important as they may be.

From there I returned home, and found myself stumbling upon the site Experiment with Light (a site I intend to spend a great deal of time on over the coming weeks) stopping at a document by Rex Ambler. In the first page of the document, there is a call to use periods of silent prayer to examine our lives, to allow for the 'ripping up' of those things that lead to troubles, and that this is a way that eventually leads to peace.

This brought to mind the story of Jesus overturning the tables of the temple (Matthew 21:12).

And from there, it got me reflecting further on the idea that some forms of conflict are not necessarily evil or destructive; conflict within ourselves and conflicts with others are often necessary.

Rather, it is the method in which conflict is pursued, in thought & deed. Our hopes and prayers for peace should perhaps not be for a world without any conflict, but a world without destructive and hateful conflict.

This past week I have felt tensions and opposition building in me, and have felt anxious about how to approach the points of conflict in my life  - how to express my views, how to challenge others, how to respond to their views and challenges - in a way that leads to something better.

Today was a timely reminder that the work towards peace is a personal, private project as well as a communal, public one - and that neither are easy roads to travel.

We perhaps all need to regularly take time to reflect on these things, and more than once per year.


Rest in Peace, Joe Grant

My Grandad passed away on Saturday. He was 91 years old. Today I shared a poem on AllPoetry.com about the last time I saw him. This follows a poem written over 6 months ago after an afternoon spent talking with him. He will be missed.

"Although death appears a dark hopeless passage, it leads back to the eternal spirit. Therefore death should be viewed not with despair. 
It is a turning over of a soul from our worldly time to the infinite. And this is our comfort, the grave cannot and does not hold them."  -- adapted from William Penn