Monday, December 31, 2007
"Lost in love and found in reason
Questions that the mind can find no answers for
Ghostly eyes conspire treason as they gather just outside the door
And every ghost that calls upon us brings another measure in the mystery
Death is there to keep us honest and constantly remind us we are free
Down the ancient corridors, through the gates of time
Run the ghosts of days that we've left behind..."
(Dan Fogelberg 1951-2007): Ghosts
For a while now I have flirted with this post
And at last (to my relief) it's here
This will be my last entry. Two years ago I started blogging 'to save on therapy' - these days it gives me more headaches than heart-filled moments of pleasure or hope. So, finally, this part of my journey is closing.
I have decided to finally put some bloody time into finishing the damn book I started after I finished my MA - I've given it a catchy title:
Asylum: Comfort for the Spiritual Refugee
Based on my thesis....it's a book of hope about my heart for those who live in the waste-lands and margins of spirituality, for the kind of inclusive community that brings the kind of solace and comfort that challenges, enriches and elevates our souls.
A Bruce Springsteen song profoundly moved me: Land of Hopes and Dreams. Based on an old folk song called ‘This Train’ that had often been performed by Woody Guthrie, this new song seemed to encapsulate the possibility of redemption for all those people who were beat up and broken on the wheels of living. Those people who struggled to find a spiritual home; those refugees caught in a divine asylum. It is a song that gives integrity and hope to the human spirit which aches from within the stress of the most desperate conditions, a song which gives an alternative promised land to the one most spiritual refugees meet; no abject hostility, no shame, and no destitution – just a place of belonging where sunlight streams, where we meet in a land of hope and dreams. In short it became a hymn to perseverance:
My final thoughts for this blog though are rooted in sad days, in the loss of those who should have had more years in the sun, in those we lost too soon. Two beautiful people who left this world so very recently. Jackie Bowell, wife, mum, sister, aunty who now leaves a huge gap in our family - a woman of grace, love, compassion, courage and spirit - whose greatest legacy I think was that she helped everyone she met, and she did that because she loved without condition. Put simply she embodied selflessness and that's why now, many feel a great chasm.
Then there was Mr Fogelberg - an artist whose music has shaped thousands and helped us dream and capture the hopeless romantic within us. His voice like velvet, his storytelling drew us to the mystery and struggles of love and life. His music, philosophy on life (particularly Native Americans) without any question changed my life during my travels through North America over a period of months in 1994.
Dan left us on December 16 at 6:00am . He fought a brave battle with cancer and died peacefully at home in Maine with his wife Jean at his side. His strength, dignity, and grace in the face of the daunting challenges of this disease were an inspiration to all who knew him.
Once more my friend Martin Wroe describes how I feel about death far more beautifully than I......
Death is so far away
that you can't see it,
(when you are a child)
and so close
you can almost touch it,
(when you are old)
we keep it waiting
at a polite distance
(not wanting it to interrupt our flow)
the end of everything.
Death is highly predictable
and, usually, most unexpected
disorganising your affairs
(and your marriage)
frustrating your plans
for your whole day
deleting the calendar
of the life you had organised
We spend our lives
hoping we will never die
fearing we will never live
wondering if there is a compromise
for making us wonder
what life is
our quiet companion
from the day we are born.
standing next to us,
waiting its moment,
a shock to the system
(particularly for the living)
the beyond which,
beyond which we do not step
a clean cut through the tangled fabric of our friendships
a pinpoint thrust in the heart of all that we love
a serial killer, refusing to admit
it has lost its sting
(Pointing, reasonably, everywhere for proof)
An everyday terrorist
Detonating unknown futures
Where nothing, no more, goes to plan
Attended by many words and many tears
And a singular solitary ache
Death leaves a scar in a place
not located by x-ray
not healed by conventional medicine
Death speaks a language all of its own
words from a tongue you never knew you had
the great unspeakable
failing to express
the great unknown
a frame hung
around our days
three score years and ten wide
600 million breaths deep
stepping back for a better look
This abstract expressionism
that is all our days
Death is life
(for a second)
Zooming into focus
a post-it note on your heart
Death is parting
Less them from us
Than us from them
Part of us had gone with them
We have become separated from ourselves
We will not be ourselves again
Not until this parting is over
Then we will also feel like ourselves
Death is punctuation
Death is not a full stop
Death is not a sentence
Death is the absence
(not of your life, just your pulse)
everything to be frightened of
and nothing to fear
a valley of shadow
fear no evil
Death is the limit of your sight
stretch out your hand
hold tight to rod and staff
by going to ground
In the ground is a mystery
Which you cannot see - it is hidden
Which you cannot hear - it is silent
a seed buried in pitch black
Of time and season,
Knowing, beyond knowing,
Of all that's ahead
You have to be buried
in order to rise again
The darkness covers death
it is always waiting
to be overcome
for the last time
Like never before
(The Sky's Window: Lines and lyrics in search of a numinous now - available at lulu.com)
Two years ago on January 1st I, and a couple of mates, went into the mountains for an ice climb to welcome in the New Year. We climbed Blencathra by Sharp Edge which, with its high exposure, is one of the most difficult ridges in the Lakes – throw in Freezing snow and ice and it became a veritable tour de force on a beautiful clear but cold day. I’ve been climbing trees for years but mountains are something else, still, the two guys who were climbing with me weren’t exactly novices.
I was sandwiched in between two Marines, my brother-in-law Craig, a Sergeant, who having served in Bosnia and Iraq (twice) last year called it a day because of his disillusionment with our presence there, and Darren (aka Swifty), who is one of only fourteen people in over a hundred years to be awarded the ‘Stand Hope’ Gold Medal by the Royal Humanic Society. He was given this honour for rescuing a man on the summit of Everest four years ago. Due to head for the summit some time during the following 24 hours his team became aware of someone in difficulty. He sacrificed his chance at the top of the world at 7,600 meters at Camp 5 to save another. It still is the highest rescue that has ever been made on Everest. Suffice to say, I was in pretty good company on the extremity of ‘Sharp Edge’.
Just yesterday though, the same close family who lost dear aunty jackie had to deal with a man who fell from this ridge - he fell a long way - in vain they tried to keep him alive, but his injuries were too horrific.
Just days after saying goodbye to a wife and a mum, this - in trying to find solace in the hills, more death. Sting was right...how fragile we are
When I heard of Aunty Jackie's passing I put down these words, ‘Last night felt the sky fall, and it just kept on falling, relentlessly out of my control.’ She was gone, she was gone to a place I’ve heard of, a place I’ve even allowed myself to dream of, even journey toward, yet in my dreams I always return, Aunty Jackie cannot. I talked with close friends concerning how we might best deal with this kind of loss. We concluded that just maybe we need to look into the void that remains, be still, and sit with that emptiness for a while.
This life we lead is not the kind that gives us any peace of mind. I’m not sure it was ever meant to. There are times when I find myself enveloped in circumstances which beg me to ask of God the question, ‘Why?’ Less cynical people might counter the question by asking ‘why not?’ I think, from a place that is not often visited, I know what they mean; but I am not in a place where I can neither say it with any conviction nor own it.
These things can’t be explained; why it happens, the providence of God and the mysteries of life and death are the very fibre of our faith. They were gifts of love and life, and so are we, let us not turn our backs on them. A friend penned the words that, ‘love is as strong as death, and many waters cannot quench it when it’s true.’ The bible talks of love being set as a seal on our hearts. These are beautiful and affirming words, until that love somehow seems to be erased in some fashion. There are those who now stand before the abyss, not knowing how to put one foot forward for fear of falling. I suppose the fear is that you just keep on falling, and that you’ll never make it back. Some journeys though are harder to make than others, and for the broken hearted who mourn, the journey may seem impossible.
Philip Yancey suggests that, ‘sometimes the only meaning we can offer suffering people is the assurance that their suffering, which has no apparent meaning for them, has meaning for us.’ Our real power lies in our brokenness and pain, and it’s a power that even the angels in heaven do not have. There is no rhyme or reason to it, but Jesus ruins our lives, yet out of those ruins he does make something more beautiful than we can imagine – it’s just a different kind of beauty than this world is ruled by.
Bebo Norman sang, ‘It was not your time, that’s a stupid line. A fallen world took your life.’ This is a hard truth to face though when the void you stand before is as wide as the Grand Canyon. Maybe that’s what living for a cause greater than ourselves enables us to do – to face eternity with the strength that comes from faith. For those left behind, somewhere deep inside, I believe there is an assurance, even today, in our culture of isolation and death, of hope in a Nazarene who embodies a bigger picture and a bigger love. My prayer is that we all have the courage to find it, regardless of what the journey holds. Jesus always had a very special place in his heart for the broken…and I do not believe for a moment that anything has changed.
Thanks for journeying a while with a vagabond and ragamuffin - just because I will not be blogging doesn't mean I won't be dropping by the gems that have amused, stretched and stirred my soul - who knows, I may even comment!
Grace and beer always.....and a very happy new year to all, from Australia through London, Belfast through to Canada and the West Coast of America.....I'll be seeing you!
Saturday, December 01, 2007
(Susan Segu: HIV +)
More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
Africa has 12 million AIDS orphans.
By the end of 2005, women accounted for 48% of all adults living with HIV worldwide, and for 59% in sub-Saharan Africa.
Young people (15-24 years old) account for half of all new HIV infections worldwide - around 6,000 become infected with HIV every day.
Of the 6.5 million people in developing and transitional countries who need life-saving AIDS drugs, only 1.3 million are receiving them.
AND....Global Military Spending now tops $1T
Not so long ago Donald Rumsfeld aimed critisicm at China's military spending, suggesting that; “Since no nation threatens China, one must wonder: Why this growing investment? Why these continuing large and expanding arms purchases?” A question he may well ask of himself. According to a report recently released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Global Military Spending topped $1Trillion in 2004. The United States accounted for 47 percent of all military expenditures, while Britain and France each made up 5 percent of the total. In all, 15 countries accounted for 82 percent of the world's total military spending. The BBC reported last month that Chinese military spending increased by 12% in 2004 to $25Bn - or one twentieth of what the US spends.
Makes me want to puke
The problem is not just about Aids it’s about poverty. As photojournalist Don McCullin describes: ‘this isn’t just a medical situation. It’s a combination of things. But the primary cause is poverty, which leads to hunger and despair.” Whilst in Tanzania a couple of years ago I met with a group of women (Susan being one of them), all of whom had tragic stories to tell, all of whom are (if still alive) living with full blown Aids, all of whom (bar one) would be leaving children behind when they die – this they said was the hardest part of living with the disease. I remember stopping writing when they told me this because there were no words to describe how I felt...
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
mercy is the road we walk.......
'The gospel no longer benefits the poor essentially. In fact, Christianity has now even become a downright injustice to those who suffer (although we are not always conscious of this, and certainly unwilling to admit to it). Today the gospel is preached to the rich, the powerful, who have discovered it to be advantageous. We are right back again to the very state original christianity wanted to oppose! The rich and powerful not only get to keep everything, but their success becomes the mark of their piety, the sign of their relationship to God. And this promts the old atrocity again - namely, the idea that the unfortunate, the poor are to blame for their condition; that it is because they are not pious enough, are not true christians, that they are poor, whereas the rich have not only pleasure but piety as well. This is supposed to be Christianity. compare it with the New Testament, and you will see that it is as far from that as possible.'
He penned these words quite some time ago....not much has changed really and it seems we don't learn much at all.
As I have always thought, the real fragrance of God is found in Gethsemene and Calvary....
...and maybe for the poor the gospel is good news because it is a sign of God's nearness...ironically when Jesus wishes were not met, and his own dad turned away....
Annie Dillard said that there is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. I think she may be right.
Talking of which, I forgot to mention - got a new job last week - I now work for Government (I hung up my chain saws). Ironic that it is I cannot say anymore than that as I've signed the secrecy act. Suffice to say, it's my journey into politics - the new chapter begins. 'Fix it from the inside; that's what the grown ups do'. Isn't that what President Santos said in the final episode of the West Wing?
My attempt at a good life, maybe this is my path....
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Maybe we should wear our broken hearts and battered idealism not like hard-won honours but open, weeping sores...maybe that unlocks the door that leads to freedom...maybe
"All our experiences are needs, dissolving when the needs are fulfilled. but the truth is, our existence, too is a need. We are such stuff as needs are made of, and our little life is rounded by a will. Lasting in our life is neither passion nor delight, neither joy nor pain but the answer to a need. The lasting in us is not our will to live. there is a need for our lives, and in living we satisfy it. Lasting is not our desire, but our answer to that need, an agreement not an impulse. Our needs are temporal while our being needed is lasting."
Monday, October 22, 2007
...this morning. it looked as though the sky was on fire....beautiful.
What is it Father O'Donohue says? 'Beauty does not linger, it only visits. Yet beauty's visitation affects us and invites into it's rhythm, it calls us to feel, think, and act beautifully in the world: to create and live a life that awakens the Beautiful.'
Sunrise may only have lasted but a few moments but it's memory has to be brushed away....
Amazing what mobile/cell phones can do these days.....
Friday, October 19, 2007
'There's a loneliness inside her, and she'd do anything to fill it in. And though it's red blood bleeding from her now, it feels like cold blue ice in her heart....when all the colours mix together to grey.'
(Dave Matthews Band)
I started this blog really for a way of finding therapy for my soul...so today, I preach to myself, my soul if you like. knowing that if i listen closely, if i have the courage to do so, i just may see the divine, and in seeing the divine, i may see others as i should, as they really are.... i may just also see myself.
the trouble is, am i willing to see the truth of who i am, the real me? for the reason i don't stop most of the time is because i do not want to see who i am - that person who lurks beneath...
they say the truth sets you free,
it also breaks you to pieces
'if i stopped
if i was quiet for a minute
if i was calm
if i was still
if i turned everyone down
if i switched everything off
if i ceased looking everywhere all at once
if i was silent
if i was still
if i stayed at home
if i didn't pick up the phone
if i was out even when i was in
if i was silent
if i was still
if i slowed
if i simply sat
if i stood on my head
and emptied out the contents
if i stopped
would you be there
would you speak to me
would i be able to hear you
would it be worth it?
if i stopped
would it be long enough?
if i was silent
would i hear anything?
if i heard something
would i know it was you?
if i did
would i be interested?
if i was
would i stop again?'
(Martin Wroe from 'When You Haven't Got a Prayer: A journalist talk to God')
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
"...other things talking in unkown tongues,
And notes of busy life in distant worlds
Beat like a far wave on my anxious ear."
I once heard a philosopher speaking about eternity, they defined it as 'an infinite extent of time, in which every event is future at one time, present at another, past at another.'
I found this an interesting definition, which caused me to think about how infinity looked. Does infinity have no beginning and no end? What is time that has no beginning and no end? And can time be defined without eternity or eternity without time? All good questions I thought to myself, (or maybe I need to get out more). I mean, could it be that eternity time is going on forever but in two different directions? The remarkable Meister Eckhart thankfully brought some order to my chaos. He suggests that the Biblical God gave His name to Moses as 'I am' and so concludes that this is indeed a most profound statement - further suggesting that it is the same as Christ saying, 'I am', that is, he is in eternity itself while Abraham is in time - therefore, he 'was' not 'is'. Those who live in the light of eternity always are and are never subjected to the becoming of 'was' and 'will be' (I know, it hurts my head too).
Eckhart concludes that 'eternity is the absolute present, and the absolute present is living a sono-mama life, where life asserts itself in all its fullness.
As i say, I probably need to get out more, but my thinking comes from thinking about the soul and where it resides and journeys to. Maybe our soul is the invisible geography that invites us to new frontiers? Mystic friend John O'Donohue speaks of the idea of expulsion being at the heart of birth (Eden). He begs the question, maybe the reason Adam and Eve left Eden was not so much that they were expelled but that they were banging on the door/gates to see what else was out there. That maybe the screams of a new born baby are the cries that long to be led back to shelter because they think they are about to die - the scream is 'let me back to shelter'?
And so maybe that's how we view death and eternity - because we only see it from one side
I don't know, not even sure what i'm trying to say. All i know is that this rambling is a search for, and longing for the real presence of the divine, that pure presence where we get clarification of our own blurredness so we can maybe enter into that presence of God. It seems to me both death and birth are closer companions than we realise.
As i've said before, too many of us i think neglect our minds and so never awaken our hearts....
Friday, September 07, 2007
My mind was called across the years
Of rages and of strife
Of all the human misery
And all the waste of life
We wondered where our God was
In the face of so much pain
I looked up to the stars above
To find you once again
We travelled the wide oceans
Heard many call your name
With sword and gun and hatred
It all seemed much the same
Some used your name for glory
Some used it for their gain
Yet when liberty lay wanting
No lives were lost in vain
Is it not our place to wonder
As the sky does weep with tears
And all the living creatures
Look on with mortal fear
(Beneath A Phrygian Sky: Loreena McKennitt)
A disciple asked his guru, 'How am i to attain peace when there is so much noise around this village? Every time I try to meditate, there's a rooster crowing or a child crying or a dog barking. I can't concentrate on my prayers.' The guru said nothing but took the man by the hand and led him into the forest. They walked for some time until they came across a small pool. It was a windy day and the surface of the pond had become choppy.
'What do you see in the pool?' the guru asked. 'It is troubled,' replied the disciple. His master then bid him dive into the pool, to the bottom. When he emerged from the water, his master asked him again what he saw in the pool. 'It is still and deep,' the man answered. 'So then,' said the master, 'you must learn how to pray from the water.'
Sunday, September 02, 2007
You know, words are elusive in the aftermath of such beauty. Moments of transcendance are now filtered by the everyday mundane - the juxtaposition of life I guess. Father O'Donohue once told me that the duty of maturity is to awaken one's mind and bring it home; he said that too many neglect their minds and so never awaken their hearts. I guess Greenbelt is such a waking bed, a place, an arena where we come back to the harbour of ourselves and ask who we are becoming. So often we are on the run from ourselves. Maybe if we were to sit down and travel to the heart of our own darkness and face our demons we just may begin to see that they don't quite have the power over us we once thought....
Fear can be like a fog and it's only antidote is love...something this festival is drenched in - a prophetic place of grace where God is illuminated in the mirror of our souls - a place of new frontiers - a landscape where we do not waste our hearts on fear anymore...but instead we look to hope, to possibility, before the euphoria of a thin place collides with the thick hard land of everyday life.
This year there was most definitely a fragrance of something that is in us and yet just out of our reach....
....my grace notes were
wonderful late night conversations with the lovely (want to take you home to meet my mum - she'd love you!) steve beautiful imperfect Pip belfast's delectable beauty Dr 'soon to be lost to the land of the free and exraordinarly brave' Higgins (not everyday you get a large pink brassiere thrown at you when you're on stage!!!!! the Woodie Guthrie of Wales, his side kick the beguiling Stewart Henderson< Ken, Big John Colin, Father 'O' himself and many more.... grace conversations 'that taught our hearts to fear, and grace...that fear relieved'
Talkin with an old prophet over crap hotel pizza (it didn't matter) and a bottle of claret, where I realised that we are not as strong as we think we are. I guess John (Smith) always seemed larger than life - a while back it seemed the only thing he couldn't do was walk on water (and I reckon he'd have got a fair way if he'd tried) - older in years now and awaiting tests on his return to Aus, I realised my own mortality because of his, and you know what? His fragility holds more strength than his Elijah like days ever did...someone who is most definitely on the side of the angels.
Pip describes him as a sensational singer and performer, real communicator rather than smug - flash - 'pretend-pro' performer. Michael McDermott was one of two acts I wanted to see - he did not disappoint. Wearing his heart on his sleeve he expressed an aching and a longing to find his place in this world through his own torture as a beautiful imperfect human becoming. A no holds barred artist - raw, real, sensitive, creative, beguiling and wonderful. Few artists reveal their true selves for fear of rejection, yet there was no bull-shit with this dear broken vessel. He embodied for me what Thomas Merton observes; that "The end of all seeking is purity of heart - a clear unobstructed vision of the true state of affairs,an intuitive grasp of ones own inner reality as anchored or rather lost in God. " A truly inspiring man who took me out of my comfort - thanks Dave for bringing him and for the introduction....look forward to seeing where the connection journeys....
Then there was the rather overweight kid who ran as fast as he could to give back a cool as hell teen god his daily diary that had fallen from his half way down his ass jeans (what is that about?) as he raced through the site on his scooter...not glamorous I know but it was a kindness I rarely see...I pray moments of grace come back on him tenfold...
My almost 'Greenbelt moment' (a bloody close call) was on friday morning as i was waiting in the hotel for a lift to site. I was sat reading when am man i recognised said hi. It was Mark Yaconelli, son of my dear messy departed friend Yac. I was sat in the very same place I was when I met his dad 7 years earlier. We hugged and exchanged a thousand words without speaking....when he left I sat and wept, his mannerisms, looks and rhythm of speech was uncannily like his father's....brought back memories of big moments....
* note, check out mark's talks - outstanding - he out sold everyone, and that has nothing to do with whose son he is!
Then there were my tears as I watched the L'arche community eat flesh and drink blood on sunday morning - they reminded me that the eucharist is the real presence where the veil comes down; the mystery where the balance between light and darkness is most apparent....No wonder Vanier and Nouwen learned so much there...
And on the final night, act number two on my wanted list - Duke Special - wonderful theatre, so original, affectionately funny and so bloody refreshing to see a band having fun on stage. They closed out the festival beautifully.
My 'Greenbelt moment' though came (as they always do) by surprise. It was Billy Bragg's fault entirely. In 'The Rising' on Saturday lunch time, Martyn asked Billy what, more than anything keeps moving and inspiring him to pick up a guitar; what had been his 'I have been to the mountin-top' moment. As the question was asked I instinctively remembered a few people he has worked/collaborated with - Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen and Roy Orbison sprang to mind - but no, none of them had shaped Billy more than a group of women from Weymouth who were terminally ill with cancer. Particularly a lady called Maxine, who loved Dolly Parton. She had breast cancer and had been given only a short time to live.
I guess we all struggle to say that which we need to to the ones we love the most, those who need to hear it. So often we are raised in silence, to do the 'right thing' and what I mean by that is we say nothing at all. The women who attended the song-writing workshops that Billy conducted at the Trimar Hospice in Weymouth during February 2005 had other ideas though. Mr Bragg was invited to take part in the project by Rosetta Life, a charity dedicated to helping those facing terminal illness to share their experiences through the medium of art, poetry, film or song. Every Friday morning for six weeks, he worked with half a dozen women who came to the hospice for palliative care as they fought against the effects of breast cancer.
Billy said that after a couple of weeks of talking about the process of song- writing and a few singalongs, the ‘Friday Girls’ began opening up to the idea of writing a song. Maxine Edgington had the clearest idea of what she wanted to do. In their first one-on-one session, she pulled a framed picture out of her bag and said ‘Look, I’ve been given six months to live. I don’t want to mess about. I want to write the song of this picture’.
When her condition was diagnosed in November 2004, Maxine’s thoughts turned immediately to how she would be remembered, particularly by her fifteen year old daughter, Jessica. Determined that Jess should have positive memories of her after the grieving was over, Maxine commissioned a professional photo shoot which produced beautiful images of mother and daughter smiling together, looking as if they had not a care in the world. This was how she wanted to be remembered. As Maxine said ‘Cancer is terrible, but at least it gives you the chance to put things right with those you love’
Billy performed the song and a few thousand people stopped and wept....the line that broke me was, 'The hardest part of living is giving back that which has been given.' hmmm....
...very much, heaven in ordinary...
So, i guess Gb is a place where strangers don't feel so strange, a thin sacred safe place for those who live in fear of themselves. And somehow it allows us to see that our lives are a beautiful mess, the way they should be...and that's alright, that's ok...because that causes us to kneel, and that my friends is surely the beginning of becoming whole...
I left this years festival recognising more than ever that God lies right here beside us in the gutter, whilst grace like a mother holds us closer than any mary could....my only disappointment was not getting enough space to chew that fat with such good friends as The Very gifted Mr Wroe Shirley Maggie Markus Cary Lovely Jude Pete (though we did manage a couple of organic beers) Rollins Beautiful Steve and the kindly Mog....and yet again I didn't manage to get to the bloody provocative and fantastically good IKON ....next year....please
....it's late tonight, but I raise a glass as it raises me.....the following shots are by the wonderful Andy - he is available for Ok weddings (and other glam occasions).....and can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, August 23, 2007
So in a couple of hours I get on a plane to join other great humans pulling together what I think is the mother of all festivals – Cheltenham Race Course every August Bank Holiday, for many, becomes the thinnest of places, and, (he says, with a hope resembling something the size of a mustard seed), this year will be no different.
There will be some 20,000 people drinking deep, many broken, some fixed (ish), quite a few lost, some found (ish), all searching, most wanting to cut loose and sing, and maybe just a few needing a secret and a quiet place, a place where their pilgrim dream can come alive. Whoever and however and for whatever reason we all gather doesn’t matter; what does matter is that we do make the journey, that we stand, sit, lay on the grass (or mud if the weather is crap) to learn, worship, drink, feast, but most of all, to laugh and cry…together.
Last year my great friend Pip and I compared the opening ceremony on main stage. The following was read by a beautiful young man who had been rescued from the children street gangs of Durban, South Africa. The wonderful Martin Wroe is the author...who else....
We are not on our own this weekend
We are together
We are not singing solo
We are a massed choir
We are not singing songs for ourselves
We are singing songs for each other
Songs of freedom
Because none of us is free
Until all of us are free
Songs of hope
About a movement of Jah people
Away from a land of war and greed
Away from a world policed by soldiers
From the heart of America
We are going to Exodus land
Where the song of redemption
Is not just for ourselves
But for our sisters and brothers in every country
From South Africa to the Lebanon
From the Middle East to middle England
From the West Wing to the West Bank
From the House of Commons to the House of Big Brother
Songs of freedom, anthems of liberation
At Greenbelt 06
The sweet melody of emancipation
To hear how the hand of the Almighty
Can free this world from mental slavery
From physical slavery,
From emotional, political and economic slavery
From the slavery of the self
Into the freedom of Love
The freedom of Truth
Who will set us free
Give us your help good Lord
To sing these songs of freedom
We want to be
One Love, One Heart
We want to
Get together and feel alright
Cus way down inside us
And way out beyond us
All we ever knew was redemption songs
Songs of freedom
Redemption to what we were made for
Loved into being for
Redemption from slavery and drudgery
From envy and vanity
Redemption from materialism and consumerism
From sectarianism, pessimism and
Where all of us are free
Where we can
Get up, Stand up,
Stand up for the rights
Of the people that Jesus Christ remembers
Even if everyone else forgets them
A song of
Redemption in the poor world
From slavery to the rich world
A song of redemption in the rich world
From slavery to false dreams
We want to hear how the hand of the Almighty
Can free this world from mental slavery
We want to
Get up, Stand up
And not give up the fight
A song about a world where
No woman, no man, no child
Does no crying no more
A song of redemption
where all people choose to
Walk humbly and
On the good earth
A song of freedom from addiction
To substances which are choking our planet to death
A song of redemption where
Every little thing’s gonna be alright
A song saying thanks and praise to the Lord
And we will feel alright
Saying let’s get together and feel alright
Cus our hands will be made strong by the hand of the Almighty
All we ever had
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom
All we ever had
One love, one heart
Let’s get together and feel alright
Give thanks and praise to the lord
And it will be alright
Give thanks and praise to the lord
Cus all we ever had was songs of freedoms
Time for our bones to be shaken...again
Here's a glimpse of this wonderful festival......more here when I return in a week
Friday, August 17, 2007
'There's little white lights everywhere
Your childhood dog in Dad's old chair
And more memories than my heart can hold
When Eva's singing "Fields of Gold"
...in my heaven.'
(Mary Chapin Carpenter)
I read a remarkable short story this week whilst in London Town. It was truly breathtaking, writing at its finest, story telling at its most intoxicating. Dana blogged, 'sometimes, (though when I think about it, this seems to have happened to me more than sometimes) you find a timely more meaningful little nugget left behind. Initially, you pick it up thinking it will simply be entertainment only to realize it has a lingering effect. The message from the story stays with you. The character slips under your skin. And you quickly realize your perceptions may have been nudged in a slightly different direction than you had anticipated........... Good thing I had already read all of Maeve's books. Out of the dozen or so sitting in the pile which I had never read, I chose the right one. Or it chose me......
I will not try to review it (the five people you meet in heaven: Mitch Albom) - that's the thing about a story, a parable; if you’ve got to explain it, don’t bother. Small stories with big points - they hold a strange dichotomy, part sad, part funny – culminating with the sting in the tail. Ben Okri suggests that the storyteller is one who inspires far more than the one who is inspired, the one who remoulds so that the world becomes transformed....Okri further suggests that ‘stories are the secret reservoir of values: change the stories individuals and nations live by and you change the individuals and nations.’ Stories are complex and may not be immediately self revealing, but may leave the listener somewhat undecided and needing to do further reflection and work.
For the record, I reckon the parables of Jesus are more persuasive than his miracles.....
so, here's a couple of paragraphs to wet you appetite....
'Young men go to war. Sometimes because they have to, sometimes because they want to. Always, they feel they are supposed to. This comes from the sad, layered stories of life, which over the centuries have seen courage confused with picking up arms, and cowardice confused with laying them down.'
'There are no random acts. That we are all connected. That you can no more separate one life from another than you can separate a breeze from the wind.'
Dovetailed with these gems Frank McCourt says that author Mitch Albom 'takes us to a new level; that no one is born with anger. No story stands alone. But it's the story itself, the life of Eddie, that will keep you up nights, because it's the story of anyone who takes chances with love and adversity.'
.....truly a tale to keep by your side when you are lost, a story you will return to again and again, because, as Amy Tan suggests, it possesses the rare magic to let you see yourself and the world anew...
Friday, August 10, 2007
...I awake having dreamed of this beautiful woman. A couple of years ago I was sitting in a bar in Dar E Salaam drinking Serengeti beer pondering the aching and longing of the regal and beautiful Africa...This is Suzan Segu, she is one of so so many whose life is now fucked beyond what you and i can imagine, she will die soon - she may have already - and leave 5 children... I wonder to what?
Here is another diary exract from the visit to East Africa...
Day 11: Shattered Life: HIV/Aids
Every day 8,000 people die of HIV. 3,000 children become orphans. 14, 000 more people are infected. Only 5% of HIV-positive people who need help get it and world governments spend US$2.6 billion on defence.
Today was the day I had been looking forward to and dreading. I had never before spent time and listened to the stories of people infected with the awful disease of HIV/Aids. Tanzania is among countries in Africa where there are reports of increased risks of HIV infection to women as a result of violence during sexual encounters with family.
This is not what I expected to hear (even though I wasn’t really sure what I would learn this day). We are informed of women and girls being raped by ‘husbands and sundry’. Stories of husbands sodomising spouses, and we are told of bad traditions, and other violent acts, all of which, fuel the spread of HIV infection to the innocent women we meet (and thousands more we don’t).
We are spending a couple of days with The Anglican Church of Tanzania (ACT), one of Christian Aid’s long-standing partners in this country. It is composed of sixteen dioceses throughout the country, and their development vision is a holistic one that calls for an integrated mission of the church to cater for the needs of all in the community regardless of race or religion.
HIV/Aids is one of the top priorities of the ACT programme. Their objectives are to increase awareness of the pandemic, particularly to train religious leaders (of different faiths) to teach the basic facts as opposed to the misconceptions most people have regarding HIV/Aids. Pastoral counselling and homecare is an essential part of the rehabilitation of people suffering from this disease. The dignity of humanity is of paramount importance. What is needed (and what we hear is happening) is that real, positive change is giving more power and confidence to women, which brings a culture of change that transforms relations between men and women within communities at all levels of society.
Through education and courage to challenge systems, which bring social and legal reform, a greater awareness banishes ignorance to the backwaters of culture and empowers particularly women in this struggle. In short it allows the praxis of the theology of hope. That hope, which from within this age of Diaspora, sets free self-surrender and sacrifice for an age that stands on the knife-edge of tomorrow. The work of ACT is giving birth to a remarkable self-realization for these broken women of Tanzania. From the misery of self-estrangement and hopelessness they now see a horizon of a new beginning – even from within their illness.
Yet when you look deeper into the reasons why? You realise that the problem is not just about Aids it’s about poverty. As photojournalist Don McCullin describes: ‘this isn’t just a medical situation. It’s a combination of things. But the primary cause is poverty, which leads to hunger and despair.” Neema takes us to Huduma Afya Maendeleo Kwa Watu Wanndishi Vinavyosababisha Ukimwi, which is a centre for Aids victims to gather together for support, education, friendship and love. These ingredients allow something very special to take place – dignity in life. We meet with a group of women, all of whom have tragic stories to tell, all of whom are living with full blown Aids, all of whom (bar one) will be leaving children behind when they die – this they say is the hardest part of living with the disease. I stop writing at this point because there are no words to describe how I feel.
Two years later? This issue, much like the Parable of the Good Samaritan I preached on a few weeks back, is not about charity...it's about justice. Am gonna say that again....it's not about charity, it's about justice.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
It's late and I'm drinking cold Corona. Here's a random thought - the essential contact of soul to soul between humans has disintegrated and all we're left with is a very cruel alternative.....just not sure what it is.....feels like I'm driving a stolen car... my soul is thirsty now, for the intimate embrace and understanding....truth is, it's too easily erased....
thanks to my friend Martin for saying my prayers....AGAIN
"So I'm just thinking to myself, right...
I'm thinking that John Lennon said,
'Imagine there's no heaven...'
But I'm thinking, 'Get lost, John - I think I
might imagine thre is'....
A place where the buses run on time,
and women walk safe after dark.
Where eating chocolate reduces cholesterol,
smoking is relaxing but doesn't cause cancer,
and you can't get headaches or hangovers.
I'm thinking of a place where nurses earn as
much as company chairmen,
policemen are liked but not really necessary
and teachers don't want to be anything else.
Where children run multinationals for fun
and grown-ups are sent to bed every time
A place where you can be busy
if you want too be,
but you can buy extra time when you need it
(from an extra time shop).
A place where you can go to sleep
when you're tired,
deep, deep sleep so you wake up feeling like
you've had a life transfusion
like your life has been heated up.
I'm thinking of a place where nobody notices
and species aren't endangered.
Where you've got all shapes and sizes...
but no one great or small.
Where people meet you
and don't even notice your bone structure
or your colour
because they're so struck by your soul.
Where they hear your spirit not your accent
and everyone knows that everyone's only a
this heaven is not a religious place.
I mean there'll be no Jehovah's Witnesses at
your door (who needs a witness when Jehovah's
down the road?)
and God won't be a rumour because he'll have
a front door.
You won't have to pray because you can talk.
There is no need for churches,
mosques or temples.
No one tells you how to live your life
because no one needs to.
There'll be no-streets of gold
or pearly gates or harps,
no big dad god and little boy god
on matching thrones.
but a place where every time you bump into a
you can feel a "because".
There will still be bad language.
Words like bomb and bullet and rape.
There will even be the odd four-letter word
But some words will not be able to be spelled
because these words will come from
an ancient language
no longer understood
occasionally studied but never spoken.
I'm imagining a place called heaven.
A place where you can eat chocolate
and fight heart disease,
take a long slow drag on a fag
to cure someone of cancer,
climg through the air on wings like eagles,
run but never get tired.
(Martin Wroe - When You Haven't Got A Prayer: A journalist talks to God, Lion Publishing, 1997)
ps, the shot was taken in Zanzibar
Monday, July 30, 2007
'The nature of love is this, that it attracts to beauty and links the unbeautiful with the beautiful.'
Only when the clamor of the outside world is silenced will you be able to hear the deeper vibration
(Sarah Ban Breathnach)
Paris has kindly honoured me with the Blogger Reflection Award. Thank you, I am seriously chuffed.
Here are my 5 reflective winners (this was not an easy task - there are so many good blogs that provide daily L5 musing:
Jen's word's and pictures feed my soul and nourish my heart like no other blog. What Jen has been through has claimed better souls than mine, but she is a remarkable human whose work always inspires and whose wisdom from struggles has been clean air in a world where most of the air is too angry to breath. She is out there on her own, no-one comes close
Pip is the Godfather of L5, deep, provocative conversations and reflections (like the one today 2 Aug 07 - if this doesn't draw you to the divine with tears, well, you don't have a pulse) that leave you breathless. He is my friend and mentor. I love him.
The Father is a dear dear human who, in truth, doesn't blog enough - but as musicians will tell you - when it comes to greatness, sometimes less is more. He is a sensitive, kind heart whose insight into the road less travelled is a constant inspiration to me.
Dana (aka awareness) is a Canadian fireball with the compassion of a carpenter who spoke love in riddles - she kind of does the same thing - A beautiful soul...
Anna is a remarkable talent - her pictures constantly evoke departures, take me on a journey of belonging and questions of beauty and love....sometime we don't need words
Now it's up to the five of you to nominate five deserving winners. The Blogger Reflection Award rules are: "This award should make an individual reflect upon five bloggers who have been an encouragement, a source of love, impacted you in some way and who have provided a Godly example. In other words, five dear bloggers whom, when you reflect upon them, you are filled with a sense of pride and joy... of knowing them and being blessed by them.”
Once you have chosen five bloggers, write at least a paragraph about each one; link this post, so others can read it and the rules; leave your chosen bloggers a comment, informing them of their award and place the award icon on your website
Inspired by my lovely friend, I re-read a book by Father O'Donohue that I liberated from his house last year.....
here is the wisdom of this remarkable mystic....
"While beauty gladdens our hearts, it makes us lonely too for what cannot be. True beauty is woven through the heart of life and is ever engaged with forces of ignorance, darkness, ugliness and negativity; yet domination and power are not beauty's way. beauty works from within these conflicts of forces and her brightening may or may not appear.
Where beauty seems absent she is often hidden and still at work in the slow industry of transformation. So much of beauty is not immediately apparent and indeed it could take a long time before it becomes visible. it often takes a lot of struggle and committed attention and generosity, even sacrifice, in order to create beauty. This work of beauty is slow and patient; it is the transformation through which the darkness of suffering eventually glimmers with the learned refinement of true radiance.
Ths soul that struggles for the emergence of beauty reaches towards God and labours on that threshold between visible and invisible, time and eternity."
Oh, to have insight like so.....the promise of possibility. I guess Dostoevsky had it right....'Perhaps it is beauty that will save us in the end.'
The boy above is Amos, he was seven when I took this photograph - he was one of the young boys who survived in the village i spoke of in my last post...he is beautiful, and one day may just live up to his names sake - i hope so......
It seems i have been nominated for another award...will be back later to comment and honour 5 others.....see told you i would
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
"Please do not leave us. We do no want to remain cripples, we wish to get up and walk."
Ok am bloody frusrated (what's new) I came across a picture on a disc the other day and remembered the aching words above before leaving West Africa a few years ago....thought I would blog a couple of days of my diary and I wanted to show you this regal woman called Lydia - well, sadly I can't the file is too big and when I downsize the image becomes poor (bugger!) - so instead you get another regal woman. I never knew her name, she sold bannanas on the street, and as we hit a red light in Tamale i bought some from her and quickly then took this shot.....she spoke no english, if only those eyes could speak...
There is something remarkably amusing about a journey to a remote African village which gives you more up’s and downs than a day out at Alton Towers. As we drive deeper and deeper into the jungle the small communities we observe begin to resemble the villages from my childhood memories of Tarzan films. A bus supposed to carry 8 people is carrying 15 to the isolated village of Agazo.
The people of Agazo have been driven from the land they have farmed for generations. An American Company bought the land and forced them to leave – the trouble with this is that these dear people have no concept of ‘owning’ land – land is a gift from God, not something that can be bought and sold. I reflect on how many indigenous cultures we have destroyed - have you ever wondered what a fence means to a nomadic people?
When Christian Aid partners Development Action Association arrived in the village the community, who had been threatened with legal action, retreated to a small clearing in the jungle. There the men would not speak to anyone, these are proud people – much more than their land had been taken from them. Huts were built and the villagers hid inside. Soon children became malnourished, and tragically some didn’t survive by the time DAA arrived. We were the first white people to speak in their village.
We are welcomed by the Chief with drumming, dancing and song. Then, as is custom, we settle in a circle under a tree to share food and stories. The Chief of the village tells us that their Cassava crops had been bulldozed half way through the season - they had been left with nothing – no crops, no land. We hear that Christian Aid (through the partnership) secured a plot of land, and helped with the acquisition of a grinding machine for the Cassava, enabling faster and more efficient processing of the crop, so producing a better quality commodity so becoming more marketable. This is both the genius and simplicity of Christian Aid – it is an invisible partner providing funds for local people to work their way out of poverty. The partners know and understand the people and the land, and as a consequence the projects have a very high rate of success. The people of Agazo are testament to this.
Our driver Samuel seems to be all things to all men. Not only is he a cook, he is also a mechanic, which comes in rather handy as our exhaust falls off with the weariness of the return journey. We finally arrive at our ‘hotel’ to find three French men and their landrover about to set off for Brazil via a big ship and the Atlantic. It seems these able fellows have driven from Bordeaux through Spain, Morocco, and the Sahara desert - then on into Senegal, the Gambia, finally arriving in Ghana. They were now having a few days rest before embarking on a trip that would take them around South America. Their enthusiasm is only marred tonight by the fact that they have run out of Claret – all the same they give me a glass – I am so pleased I actually think about kissing them, think I might have if it had been a better vintage!
We rise early. A 10 hour drive awaits us over the kind of terrain Chris Rea must have had in mind when he wrote ‘The Road to Hell’. We leave Kumasi for Tamale, heading for the Muslim north. As I gaze out of our window I see a weary, worn people desperate to carve a life out of this shanty jungle. This wilderness is claustrophobic. Every space is littered with steel, wood, tyres, bricks and crates – interspersed amongst this seemingly hopeless jungle are people’s homes. Bits of wood, mud and tin and stone thrown together are the ingredients of that sacred space called community. I’m beginning to understand that real poverty is not about having no home or no food and clothes. Real poverty is where there are no choices. As we drive through Esase, a dust village where children at best walk around in old dirty under pants, I realise that this community has been robbed of the greatest seed planted deep within each of us – choice. I have lost count of how many children I have seen with a lost distant look in their eyes. They look for a tomorrow that may never come, somehow dazed, confused and exhausted by their very existence.
Over breakfast this morning, on a small television with a coat hanger for an ariel, we were subjected to African T.V. evangelists. I fear once more the West is now beginning to bring a curse much greater than the greedy foreign policies and trade laws. It is the curse of pharisaic dogma born of the West’s prosperity gospel. For too long now there have been too many Pharisees and not enough prophets in the church. Few are willing to ‘stand in the gap’. The tragedy is that most of the Pharisees see themselves as prophets.
There is no quick solution here. Greedy foreign policy and corrupt Trade laws make for a bitter cocktail – but drink it the African people must. Trade should be for life; not profit at any expense, and the only way in which these people will find themselves living with choice is if rich multinationals in the West (and the list is long) understand this and the WTO restructure their rules so providing an environment which allows the developing world to shape their own destiny – the West must yield to an economic system where fair trade is the norm.
The last few days have not been about espoused theories, but rather about befriending people and allowing them to cause me to colour outside my lines. Pastor John explains that through the partnership new hope has been born and that ‘we love you because you first loved us…you first loved us in our poverty. Sometimes sacrifice is not measurable. The Saviour has come so that we, the poor, may live before we die.’ As we prepare to leave this painfully beautiful land a dear lady whose life and community have been transformed by the projects supported by the capital raised during Christian Aid Week shares with us a message for those back home. ‘Please do not leave us. We do not want to remain cripples, we wish to get up and walk.'
What was it that fella who worked with wood in Palestine 2000 years ago said? Love your neighbour as yourself? Something like that wasn't it.....
Friday, July 20, 2007
I know this might be a strange post on the back of me remembering my grandfather - then again I am strange. It's my article for the paper tomorrow, as usual blog land will have it first - helps me gauge the temperature...
It started with a sentence that might last a lifetime and has left me too tired for sleeping and too wounded to hurt. I reached page ninety-eight but can’t go on. Page ninety-nine will be a long time coming, and to top it all I am probably on a hiding to nothing writing this.
The day began like any other, with coffee as I boarded the train bound for Gatwick’s South Terminal, thanks to Apple, Louden Wainwright III, was singing into my ears, and I was enjoying the latest offering from one of my favourite writers, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Annie Lamott. That was until I got to Chapter eight.
The chapter begins with a confessional statement. ‘The man I killed did not want to die, but he no longer felt he had much of a choice.’ See, not your normal opening sentence in a book about faith is it? Annie then goes on to tell the story of a couple she calls Mel and Joanne. How a once articulate, strong, fit, comical man had become deficient, still functioning and resilient, but having to retreat to a place his mind and body had never inhabited before - like a wardrobe long empty of someone, gradually losing shape and purpose – had decided to cut short his stay on this earth.
Now, as I write this in an airport terminal, I have no clue as to whether assisted suicide is legal in California, but to cut a short chapter of her book even shorter – it has to be said, that (as Annie in a painfully beautiful way writes) Mel and Joanne agreed to Annie, through, ‘wily, underground ways’ coming up with a prescription that would cover enough pills (which included barbiturates) for a lethal dose - one evening a meal was prepared, goodbyes said and presents given before Mel called time and took a cocktail that put him to sleep, the kind from which he would never wake.
It seems assisted suicide laws around the world are clear in some nations but unclear – if they exist at all – in others. Just because a country has not defined its criminal code on this specific action does not mean all assisters will go free (am assuming Annie thought this through). It is a complicated state of affairs. A great many people instinctively feel that suicide and assisted suicide are such individual acts of freedom and free will that they assume there are no legal prohibitions. This fallacy has brought many people into trouble with the law. In America there have been - and are - retired doctors who will travel to different places to help dying people who are in great suffering to escape from their pain-wracked bodies.
It seems there is a growing opinion in most of the Western world that not having a choice is an abuse of civil rights. In the coming years I think we will find there will be a more welcome climate for law reform in the area of death and dying. The reason? It is fast becoming (for many) our ultimate civil liberty – the right to die in a manner of one’s own choosing.
Yet why is something deep within still feeling very uncomfortable and awkward about this subject? Well, I guess my theological response to it. For all my opinions, which sit left of centre, I can be pretty orthodox on some issues. I still believe that only God can make an end to human life since God alone is its creator. To live as human beings also means having the will to be healthy; to be man and woman as God has created us to be. The biblical witness does not describe any point at which a human life becomes deprived of sanctity because of disease or disability, nor does it suggest that the value of human life depends on an ability to perform behaviors deemed necessary for human relationships.
I recognize that this is an obscure, maybe disjointed piece of work – confused even; but then again I am if I am honest. I mean, what does it mean to be alive but not living? Is there a point where we keep people alive but deny them life? These are big questions to which I am not sure I have conclusive answers. Maybe the job of an artist is not to bring us to a point of conclusion or black and white answers; but rather a point of departure with questions. Maybe they are the invisible signposts and nourishment for the road ahead, maybe. So will I go back to the book? I think I will, Annie has done her job well – I am out of my comfort zone and I want to know where we go on the next part of the journey.
My final thought? Faced with the existence of human suffering, we are called to pattern ourselves after the ministry of Jesus Christ, to heal and to comfort. And that kind of compassion compels us to bring relief to those who suffer, but I think also believe we should pursue, not merely reject, the reasons they may give to justify a wish to die. Doing this we may uncover fears and witness the power of hope itself.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Sixteen years ago today we lost him.
A presence bigger and more full led him by the hand
to a different world.
‘Bid your troubled hearts be still’ we were told.
Meant well, but the void was too wide, the loss too deep.
His company was gone
My granddad finally could fight no longer and slipped
into a land where the grass, they say, is soft and green,
and the trees are tall and honey-filled.
The tears fell and fell and fell.
They fall now as I remember him with such affection.
His warmth and strength was infectious and so reassuring,
his faith so steadfast that I still reel back, it humbles
For years he hacked out the coal faces of South Yorkshire,
deep under ground with his bare hands.
Hands that were big and strong,
even in my later years as an adult mine were dwarfed
when he held them.
Then there was the playful mischievous side to Rex Chambers.
My father told me that he once emptied a carriage of a train
bound for Boscombe, convinced that it indeed wasn’t,
only to realise his mistake but to be too embarrassed
to admit to his error of judgement and so leave the majority
of the train bound for Middlesbrough instead!
Long before my time I have been told of occasions
where on holiday with the extended family
he would disappear without explanation for quite some time,
only to return to the beach with a supercilious grin on his face,
armed to the hilt with fish and chips for everyone…
I won’t go into his cooking experiments with ingredients
such as pigs trotters, bulls testicles and sheep’s brain!
I remember the man who worked from the early hours of the morning
until he fell asleep in his chair late at night.
I remember the man who could barely breath when he walked 5 yards
later in years having breathed in so much coal dust from the pit.
I remember the tears of frustration when he knew
his once strong body was beginning to really fail him.
I remember the man who on his deathbed asked his sister to
‘sing with him a while’ – the old rugged cross if my memory serves me well.
I remember a warm and strong man,
A trickster who enjoyed colouring outside the lines
And sixteen years ago today we said ‘see you soon lovely man,
see you soon…
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
Sunday, July 08, 2007
I have been busy with lots of things of late - hence not much writing - re-read this piece I penned for GB a while back - thought I would put it out there in blog land.....
I had a conversation with God this morning. It went something like this: “Sat at my desk, very low and slightly confused. What am I about, what am I really doing with my life, and God, what am I trying to say with these tears rolling down my face? I don't know really. Maybe it's just that life is in the end ordinary. Maybe that's your gift?”
Maybe I'm just being selfish. Maybe I'm behaving like a spoiled child who expects and expects and expects. All I know is that I need you, and you can't really be there for me - but I guess you know all about that don't you. That's why I feel as though I'm being selfish. I suppose nothing can come between our hearts and minds except me. I seem to be very good at psychological self-harm right now, tormenting myself with images and circumstances that just aren't there. I give birth to the seeds of insecurity in my head and then, stupid fuck that I am, I water those seeds and allow them to germinate and grow, and before I know it they overcome me and I can't cut the weeds back at all. I suppose it's all about how we lose ourselves.
I guess most of the time I run not from others, but from myself. I know the barriers have to come down, but I just can't seem to be able to do it right now. Through it all though, I love you, your not so good friend, Paul”.
Don’t panic, I’m not on the edge of something silly, merely having a rough morning, a time of insecurity and doubt. Year after year my demons come and pay a visit. Sometimes just for the weekend, other times they really do outstay there welcome. My point? Doubt and the psychological self-harm it can do, but more importantly what we do with that wound. There is a place where missing the point becomes the beginning of the journey into the gift of doubt. There is also a place where we internally self-harm ourselves so much that we self-destruct and become so dysfunctional it’s difficult to regain that which has been taken.
Recently I was sat in an airport lounge drinking a beer (or three) and pondering life. This always happens to me when I travel. I think it’s something about standing on the threshold of the unknown, the threshold of challenge and change. I say this because of late I’ve been feeling like I have been in the middle of a voyage of missing the point.
What? Well, I used to have concrete doctrines on most issues of life, but these days I have more doubt than assurance in my life of ‘missing the point’. Confused? Me too. Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel everything so deeply, wish I could be more content, it’s as if my heart is too oversized for my fragile thin skin.
Sometimes I wish my skin were thicker, that I didn’t feel the pain or yearn for compassion of those, who just like me, are confused about what it means to be a human being. A consequence of this confusion is, quite understandably, doubt. Now, I was raised in a tradition that frowned upon doubt; that saw it as a sign of weak (or lack of) faith. These days though I’m not so easily persuaded. I think we may be underestimating its purpose, and dare I say it, missing its point.
I think doubt is the fire that purifies our faith. Tony Campolo even suggests in his book co-written with Brian Mclaren that ‘doubt burns up the hay, wood, and stubble, leaving behind pure gold’. We all experience our own high and low tides of faith and understanding, our dark night of the soul, but I really think that expressions of doubt (where we are blunt with big honest questions, rather than a blind spiritual dishonesty with pap answers) allow unparalleled spiritual nurture and growth.
Pip Wilson wisely observes that, ‘Being with humans who cannot do anything else other than leak fragility is hard hitting. But it is far less hard work than being with humans who have a front of being 'together' and 'stable' - when really they are hurting just like the rest of us – the wonder’ of vulnerability.’ I think that’s why God likes honest questioning, why we should see doubt ultimately as a gift. After all, we all get lost sometimes.
Of late I have been so tired, exhausted, done in, worn out, basically, I’m pooped. Almost to the point where I don’t know where I’m headed for anymore – life seems to be something passing me by. I can see other lives being lived out, but they almost feel as though they are in some kind of parallel world, that I can see them but can’t reach anyone.
Winter is coming, you can feel it, autumn, it seems, has given up her fight for another year. The things of the earth they make the claim, as Bruce Springsteen suggests, so that the things of heaven may do the same.
‘Life is a funny thing’ my Grandma used to say. Now I understand that only years coupled with (and maybe because of) wisdom can birth and give understanding to such a seemingly glib remark. Yet the cradle to the grave is a peculiar journey, and one of the most difficult qualities to be found is something I call hopeaholism. I’m not even sure it’s a real word, but then if Shakespeare could make words up, why can’t I?
You see, of late one particular question has been biting at my heels. How does one shift cultural conscience to allow in the confusion and at times hopelessness of our world? Well, I have come to think that maybe doubt and hope are inextricably linked, maybe even two sides of the same coin. This is also a theological dimension that lurks deep within our souls, a dimension that surely must be explored if we are to see the other side of that coin. What if it is God behind all these doubts and disillusionments? What if this is God’s peculiar way of revealing mystical truths to his peculiar people? It’s as if God uses our disappointments to actually allow us to glimpse hope and so ultimately lead us all to the point of being hopeaholics.
Maybe the reason is that when we doubt. When we have questions, we are humbled – admittedly perhaps even a little pissed off – but moreover we realise that we are small and the mystery of God is much bigger than our finite minds and weak hearts can comprehend. The flip side to this is that when we are sure of things we stop questioning, and actually if truth be told, we become conceited. In my 35 years on this planet I have met very few people who can dovetail ‘knowing it all’ with humility. Ego’s are swelled when we (think) we know it all. Yet we are usually brought to our knees when we recognise and accept our place in the grand scheme of things.
So maybe when we have the kind of conversations much like the one I had this morning, when we feel so lost that we just can’t go on God just might have the space to whisper into our souls. And maybe that whispering goes something like this prayer of Jen Gray: ‘If I could, I would sneak into your head and sweep out all the crap of your past. I would give your mind a clean room, allowing the company of truth. And the truth is, and always has been; that you are not bad, and that you are not going to hell, and you are enough. You can choose today to beat yourself up or you can choose today to value your being and create some magic. I hope you join me on the magical side.’
God intrigues me. And I wonder if Jesus ever missed the point like I do, I mean, is it a sin to miss the point? Isn’t it part of being human - to get things wrong from time to time - isn’t that how we grow? Winter can seem long, dark and shapeless, but its lack of colour does make spring something so much more indescribable, doesn’t it? As an aside I also wonder if it’s possible that God ever feels lonely...or is that just a human thing?
I do though think about how much I have blamed God for my own poor choices, and I’m sorry about that. Yet I do find it ironic that it has been in those moments when I have known humility most. And here is my real point about missing the point, about doubt and failure – it seems God knows this is the most effective way to transform our character to that of his of her own. (Did you know that in the New Testament Greek - God the Father and God the Son are masculine, but God the Holy Spirit is referred to in the feminine, interesting is it not?)
I talk of missing the point not to criticize, but invite us all to consider ways in which we just might be ‘missing the point’ – to share our journey of rediscovering what it is we’re supposed to be about in following Jesus on this road we call life – and more importantly that we don’t beat ourselves up and psychologically damage our soul because of it. As I finish this column I sense a time of quiet and waiting, the air here in Edinburgh (which is where I was traveling to when I began all this) is cold and tender. So, in the words of artist Michael Leunig, ‘Let it go. Let it out. Let it unravel. Let it free and it can be a path on which to journey’ – the internal gift of doubt.
Friday, June 29, 2007
George Herbert suggested that 'Storms make the oak grow deeper roots' - I think he may have been right - many a storm has passed this way of late, (my dad says it 'poshed' it down - not sure what he means) let's hope he was....(right that is, I mean Herbert not my dad).
Of all the places I have travelled in this world, there is one that moves me more than all the others put together and it's right here in Guernsey.
Walking up the steps of Tower Hill has become a very sobering experience. About half way up the steps is a plaque and its inscription describes the terrifying events of a day in July 1556 when three women were burned at the stake. What happened that day is a chilling rminder of what any religious right is capable of when given total control and power over communities.
Why is it many people shy away from mixing politics and religion? What is it that causes so many to keep these two sides of the same coin seperate? One could argue that maybe some people only entertain small talk and don't want to engage in a conversation of such potential diversity that the party might be spoilt.
The other night such an occasion arose. I suppose with Mr Blair moving on and Mr Brown moving next door, politics was on everyone's agenda as the boys tucked into chillied beef with udon. With a few religious convictions thrown in, it wasn't long before strongly held opinions were flying across the table.
The big disagreement stemmed from my opinion that state and Church should always be kept apart. Some, due to their belief that faith does in fact have real political implications, met this with great indifference. I don't disagree: you only have to look at someone like Martin Luther King Jnr to see that there is an integral connection between faith and politics; it's just I firmly believe that religion should inform politics not control it.
My worry is that the religious right has an obsession with taking over the world and I for one don't think this is at all theologicallly sound. The Church should be concerned with how it seasons the world rather than becoming its self-proposed dictator. In other words I believe the Christian mission to be more about quality rather than quantity. My point is that the Church's missionary vision should be one of a kingdom, not an empire - a subtelty which the Church has not always observed (again I refer to the plaque).
The big difference is that, and we see this all too clearly in todays world, an empire seeks to increase its own power and territory; a kingdom (God's anyway) does not need to gain the world, for that world is already God's. For me, it's more about dwelling within and carefully moulding culture. Didn't Jesus liken it to yeast working through a batch of dough, or a seed growing in secret (back to Coupland again)?
One of the main reasons William Temple was one of the most remarkable archbishops Britain has ever seen was because he proposed a pattern for society based on kingdom not empire values (personal freedom and dignity under God). His vision was based on a new partnership between government and faith groups.
So, in our contemporary context, this means the Church would reach out in respectful partnership with other faith traditions, inviting a new dialogue between religion and state about social and political morality. As for democracy, I agree with Jim Wallis, that, 'the biblical view of humanity suggests power and decision making should be decentralised and accountable, not because people are good but because we so often are not.'
A renewed ecumenical community has the ability to assist governments with new visions for a society desperately in need of them. Historically, religion has been a source of guidance for spiritual values and a brush with transcendence should call us to accountability. I remember a while back some timely comments from Rowan Williams regarding his desire to inspire a moral sensibility with ethics rooted in a transcendent reality. His comments were kindom comments not empirical ones.
What I have no desire to return to is what Philip Jenkins describes in his book 'The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity' - that the hugely influential roles and church leaders now play in the internal politics of American and African states draws 'telling comparisons with medieval Christendom.'
And after once more reading the plaque on Tower Hill, I am not sure that is a journey I want to make.......
Sunday, June 24, 2007
Coupland may have written it....but i believe it, and it's my secret too:
"Now - here is my secret:
I tell it to you with an openness of heart that I doubt I shall ever achieve again, so I pray you are in a quiet room as you hear these words. My secret is that I need God - that I am sick and can no longer make it alone. I need God to help me give, because I no longer seem capable of giving; to help me be kind, as I no longer seem capable of kindness; to help me love, as I seem beyond being able to love."
(Douglas Coupland, Life After God)