Monday, May 28, 2007

whoever it was....

I don't know if you have ever been in that place where there are so many words vying for pole position that in the end no words will come at all... that's how I have been for a week now

these words of Rumi help my troubled soul this's all i have

'All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord, and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home.

This poetry. I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all'.

oh, and one more thing. I agree with Franklin, Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy

....through this world I stumble....sometimes sleep won't set us free....

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Never Gonna Happen Dinner

Mrs Merton used to say, "let's have a heated debate" - it seems the whole "Fuck it, you can come in" and gay issue has almost got us on her sofa (apologies for those who have never heard of the tongue in cheek chat show this side of the pond)

Anyway, it's got me thinking - I had dinner with a bunch of people I never spent more than 5 minutes with last night - 6 very different people than I would normally gravitate toward and our conversation touched on every topic from football to homosexuality and everything in between. In fact it was very Level 5.

And as I drink my Earl Grey this morning I wonder, if we could invite anyone to dinner who would they be. I was in London Town last week Hence the pics of Liverpool Street Station - they make a great tryptic, but I can't get them to line up side by side) and had a Brick Lane curry with 6 good friends, but I wonder if we could invite 6 people (alive or dead) who we have no real chance of dinning with, who would they be.....answers on a comment please

Here this morn are my six 'never gonna happen' dinner guests:

My grandma Elsie - she was so so warm, she died when I was out of the country and I never got to say goodbye, there is so much I would like to say to her - she would be sat beside me

Joan of arc - i would want to know more of those voices she heard...

Tom waits - surreal, off the wall - love his story telling, oh, and he could play the piano too

Mike yaconelli - my dear late friend, many times I have wanted his councel of late, sadly I have it no more

Desmond Tutu - I would give good money to see him smile and hear his infectious laugh

Helen mirren - oh my lord, i have had more than a crush on this woman since puberty, she can act a little too

So (now on my 3rd cup of earl grey), I wonder who you would invite...

ps, talking of dining with lovely people Jude sent me this pic of Mr Lawson and me having dinner, he was in Brick Lane on monday - as pip would say, he is beautiful

Sunday, May 13, 2007


I remember when I was in theological College the first piece of writing I was asked to accomplish was my testimony. I remember the fall-out from fellow students who couldn't believe they had been graded so low, because of the 'Damascas Road' conversion they had was only when it was pointed out that to us that it wasn't our stories that were being assessed but rather how our stories were being told...

Brennan Manning suggests ‘The question for all of us is what we will really aim at next. If all we are going for is placid decency, routine prayer, well-behaved worship, and comfortable compassion, then we have effectively parted company with the shipwrecked and have no fellowship with the pearl-finder.’

'I didn't go to the flea market the week of my abortion. I stayed home, and smoked dope and got drunk, and tried to write a little, and went for slow walks along the salt marsh with Pammy. On the seventh night, though, very drunk and just about to taking a sleeping pill, I discovered that I was bleeding heavily. It did not stop over the next hour. i was going through a pad every fifteen minutes, and I thought i should call a doctor or Pammy, but I was so disgusted that I had gotten so drunk one week after an abortion that I just couldn't wake someone up and ask for help. I kept changing Kotex, and got very sober very quickly.

Several hours later, the blood stopped flowing, and I got in bed, shaky and sad and too wild to have another drink or take a sleeping pill. I had a cigarette and turned off the light. After a while, as I lay there, I became aware of someone with me, hunkered down in the corner, and I just assumed it was my father, whose presence I had felt over the years when I was frightened and alone. The feeling was so strong that I actually turned on the light for a moment to make sure no one was there - of course, there wasn't. But after a while, in the dark again, I knew beyond a doubt that it was Jesus. I felt him surely as I feel my dog lying nearby as I write this.

And I was appalled. I thought about my life and my brilliant hilarious progressive friends, I thought about what everyone would think of me if I became a Christian, and it seemed an utterly impossible thing that simply could not be allowed to happen. I turned to the wall and said out loud, "I would rather die."

I felt him sitting there on his haunches in the corner of my sleeping loft, watching me with patience and love, and I squinched my eyes shut, but that didn't help because that's not what I was seeing him with.

Finally I fell asleep, and in the morning, he was gone.

This experience spooked me badly, but I thought it was just an apparition, born of fear and self-loathing and booze and loss of blood. But everywhere I went, I had the feeling that a little cat was following me, wanting me to reach down and pick it up, wanting me to open the door and let it in. But I knew what would happen: you let a cat in one time, give it a little milk, and then it stays forever. So I tried to keep one step ahead of it, slamming my houseboat door when I entered or left.

And one week later, when I went back to church, I was so hungover that I couldn't stand up for the songs, and this time I stayed for the sermon, which i just thought was so ridiculous, like someone trying to convince me of the existence of extraterrestrials, but the last song was so deep and raw and pure that I could not escape. It was as if people were singing in between the notes, weeping and joyful at the same time, and I felt like their voices or 'something' was rocking me in its bosom, holding me like a scared kid, and I opened up to that feeling - and it washed over me.

I began to cry amd left before the benediction, and I raced home and felt the little cat running along at my heels, and I walked down the dock past dozens of potted flowers inder a sky as blue as one of God's own dreams, and I opened the door to my boathouse, and I stood there a minute, and then I hung my head and said, "Fuck it: I quit." I took a long deep breath and said out loud, "All right. You can come in."

So this was my beautiful moment of conversion.'
(Anne Lamott: Travelling Mercies - Some Thoughts On Faith)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

In a dark time...disappointment with God

In truth I am unsure as to what has spawned this pondering – some nights I am kept awake by my thoughts, struggles, guilt, pain, and at times, if I'm honest, what seems my joke of a life.

I guess for Centuries we humans have been haunted by fundamental questions. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Is there a God? And more importantly if there is, how do we connect with that God? Theodore Roethke suggests to us that in a dark time the eye begins to see. For many of us the world may feel remarkably dark at the moment, and the idea that some deity may be ‘out there’ holding the ‘royal flush’ hand of life for us may seem a little distant. But in the same way a map never just shows you where you are, where you want to go, and how you get there, faith is more than just communicating verbally with a transcendent God. Faith evokes travel, exotic places and the allure of the unknown. The big question it seems is; do we deny ourselves the chance to hide from this?

Hope it seems is, in some sense, about how we invest universal spiritual acts and truths with particular meanings. In his painting, ‘Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?’ the artist Paul Gauguin seems to be wrestling between the often disorientating nature of human life and nihilistic despair. There is a wanderlust and disappointment in his questions which many of us will relate to. But here’s the thing. No-one truly understands ‘hope’ found in the light until they have had to remember it in the darkness. If the gospel is hope then it has to start reaching into those dark places we would rather not visit. Not just the geographic dark places; but those dark places of the soul where our resident demons and Pharisees cause havoc.

For within our humanity something Divine is at stake. It seems to me that God is hiding in our world and our task is to let the Divine emerge from our actions. Is it not true that all of us, at some time, have experienced moments in which we have sensed a mysterious ‘waiting’ for us? Maybe meaning is found in sensing that demand and responding to it in some way. This type of faith is essential for daily living. It is the courage and tenacity to move forward despite both darkness and disappointment. Leonard Cohn frames this concept beautifully when he suggests that, ‘there are cracks, cracks in everything; that’s how the light gets in.’ Rabbi Niles Elliott Goldstein even goes as far as to suggest that ‘if God doesn’t exist in the shadows as well as in the light, then God doesn’t exist.’ And if that makes us feel uncomfortable then I suggest we return to the Psalms, particularly 139.

The truth is there are no easy answers when it comes to explaining dark times and disappointment – there may in fact be no answers at all, and the last thing I want is to dampen anyone’s faith, but I fear we may be missing the point. For if we yearn for the power of the prophets - their signs and wonders – then we yearn for the wrong thing. For if the prophets teach us anything, they teach us how to articulate aloud our disappointments, our big questions, when we feel abandoned by God. For in essence they deal with the apparent silence of God, and within that they also include God’s response to their own disappointment from dark times.

Philip Yancey says that faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse. So emphasising that in fact we don’t love God because of what God gives, but rather for whom God is, and the darkness is a defining part of that.

Just maybe we need to spend less time thinking about what we see, and more time thinking about why we see it that way…

Sunday, May 06, 2007


maybe one day everything in heaven comes apart...maybe - theological leanings and preferences mean jack shit when horrors like this in the algarve occur

too tired for sleep and too wounded to hurt...

for madeleine...come on god, come good with this one...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

A Gay Cruise

I decided to start my column for the paper again - this is saturday's piece for the religion page - thought blogland might want a preview. i know i will receive hate mail again, but I believe in this stuff

this is us, we, you and me day we'll be home

ps, i had no image to put to these thoughts, so I pinched this from the great 'Banksy' - rest easy you all on this bank holiday weekend

‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’
(Marcel Proust)

Yesterday a cruise ship docked out in the bay. Nothing new about that I guess, but this ship is causing quite a commotion. To be accurate it’s not the ship but the people on it – all two thousand of them. Why? Well, for those who have been living on Mars recently they are all gay men.

And so once more it starts. I for one am tired with this debate; at least 40,000 people starve to death everyday, within much of the West, the poverty rate is on the increase, especially among children, and we have now begun to describe our societies as post-Christian. Yet it seems that most of the church are still preoccupied with an issue that Jesus doesn’t speak of in direct terms once – this issue though is not going away – so we must embrace it with the kind of sensitivity and compassion Jesus constantly showed to those who found themselves under Pharisaic judgement.

The biblical exegesis and moral theology that refer to homosexual behaviour has in fact caused a great deal of confusion (the story of Sodom has little to contribute to the argument - Jude says one thing, Ezekiel says something very different. Romans 1, is still, I admit, for many the most obvious defence of those against the rite of blessing for same-sex couples. Though I am now convinced that 1 Corinthians 6 refers to Temple prostitution, and 1 Timothy 1:9 has little to say about any loving commitment between two people). I have now come to question even more how far the contemporary expression of homosexual love in a committed relationship corresponds at all with the patterns of behaviour rejected in Leviticus and condemned by Paul.

I believe there are deep personal questions about integrity, honesty and justice which are barely being addressed by many in the evangelical community (of which I was a part for many years – I still think there is ‘good news’ to give). Homosexuality is not only, or even primarily, about sexuality. It is not even an ‘issue’. We are talking about people! When some Christians require others, as a test of orthodoxy, to make public statements about God’s law and to call all homosexual people to repentance, it feels to me like a high road to legalism.

Contrary to what some may think, I believe very much in the fundamentals of the Christian faith – ‘that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind’ and that, ‘we should love our neighbour as ourselves’. Jesus actually states that on these two commandments hang ALL the law and the prophets. He also says that, ‘whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you do unto me’. In other words, what was at the forefront of the mind and action of Christ was to serve the poor, help the widow and orphan, visit those in hospital and prison, work for peace and make known the good news of the gospel - sadly our unending debate on homosexuality does very little to alleviate the predicament of the poor.

With the current two opposing opinions there is bound to be some theological tension. In truth the two boats who departed the same harbour together a long time ago have veered away from each other – in other words they are sailing (and have been for some time) in different directions. Canon Gene Robinson once said that there have been gay priests and bishops for as long as any of us can remember – he at least is ‘just being honest about it.’ I realise that people are ‘desperate’ to be faithful to biblical text, but I can’t help but feel that there are too many stones flying around – and we do after all reside in glass houses!

Recently I heard someone a little more to the right of centre than I am say that the Bible called homosexuality an abomination (Lev 18:22). I have a few questions for people who think this to be true. I am interested in selling my daughter into slavery (Exodus 21:7), I wonder what a good price would be? Let me ask another. A friend of mine is a doctor and insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly says this person should be put to death. Touching the skin of a dead pig renders one unclean (Lev 11:7) – if they wear gloves can the rugby world cup still go ahead this year? And do whole communities have to come together to stone those who plant different crops side by side? I will end my point with this. Can I burn my mother in a small family gathering for wearing clothes made from two different threads?

So before you reach for the Christian platitudes, let’s dare to sift our own souls. Is there much there that is unhealed, unspoken, unforgiven? Faith in Jesus does not exempt us from traversing the deeper chasms of the psyche. Nor does it automatically protect us from the little deaths which rehearse us for the grand one. There can be no easy conclusion to this debate – I suspect that if we don’t weep as well as laugh, there will have been a failure somewhere.

Times of transition pass so quickly – they just seem to last a lifetime. It would appear, regarding homosexuality that we live in neurotic avoidance of its proximity. And yet without that ultimate transition, life becomes as trivial as a glossy magazine. Until we face our own demise, we lack real conviction and, more significantly, the capacity for love. As Australian biker Minister John Smith says, “At the end of the day, sometimes it’s more important to love than to be right.”

As long as people, on either side of the sexuality debate, continue to call down judgement on one another whilst ignoring ‘the least among us’, we will be calling down judgement upon ourselves. Or as my gran used to say…“stop chucking stones in’ glass ‘ouse” I hope the guys have a great cruise, and that the hospitality we show them will make a carpenter from Nazareth proud.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The Silence of God...

...can sometimes be deafening

'It's enough to drive a man crazy; it'll break a man's faith
It's enough to make him wonder if he's ever been sane
When he's bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven's only answer is the silence of God

It'll shake a man's timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And if a man has got to listen to the voices of the mob
Who are reeling in the throes of all the happiness they've got
When they tell you all their troubles have been nailed up to that cross
Then what about the times when even followers get lost?
'Cause we all get lost sometimes...

There's a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He's kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He's weeping all alone

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God'

(Andrew Peterson from the album 'Love and Thunder')

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Hollywood Shoot-Up or Divine Art?

I will not inconvenience you with details, but I haven’t been well the last couple of days. So to pass the time I have been watching films. I (don’t ask me why) just watched Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of the Christ’. He obviously had something on his mind when making this. It makes Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ look like something from the Disney Channel. I am not going to give any moral answers about this work of art; rather after my viewing this morning I’d like to ask some questions that may hopefully take us to a point of departure rather than conclusion.

Greenbelt Trustee, journalist and friend Martin Wroe was one of a large number of the media who went to a special screening of the film prior to its release. He described it as ‘the Gospel according to Mel Gibson, but you could be forgiven for thinking it was according to Quentin Tarantino.’ He continued that ‘it is a breathtakingly barbarous ninety minutes of cinema violence’. For anyone who didn’t know the film, co-written, directed, produced and funded in part by a modest $25m of Gibson’s personal fortune, follows the final twelve hours of Jesus’ life – his arrest, trial, torture and death. Martin observed that ‘the brutality is so graphic that in one extended scourging scene Jesus is rendered a lacerated, bloodied frame of flesh even before he was nailed to the cross. He is beaten with a leather strap barbed with metal which, when slapped over a table, sticks in the wood like spikes. His crucified torso is in shreds.’

Strong stuff indeed, but having watched it again I wonder is this just cinematic voyeurism or is Gibson offering celluloid violence in the service of an interpretation of truth? He insists he has set out to inspire, not offend, and even claims Divine assistance. ‘The Holy Ghost was working through me…I was just directing traffic. I hope the film has the power to evangelize.’ Herein lies my problem. It’s a trap so many Christians fall into when trying to straddle the twin cultures of a church stuck on pause and a world stuck on fast forward.

When it comes to art (and evangelism) explanations do not add much, they conceivably might diminish the power of the piece. Maybe artists (and Christians) should establish the habit of saying very little about their work. Surely silence is recognition of the influence of the art to speak for itself – a reserve I would find compelling and refreshing were it more evident. I was always taught that art has its own language, and I would propose the same principle applies to faith. I mourn the chronic determination of those Christians who provide a base commentary for every aspect of its observance.

Someone recently described to me their joy of meeting a ‘Christian’ artist. I understood her reasons but found her ‘joy’ infuriating. I will endeavour to explain myself. Writer Mike Riddell suggests that ‘good art arises from the human condition, rendering it translucent. It invites us to see, to overcome our blindness.’ So in that sense we could be forgiven for saying it is evangelical. But it is here, in my opinion, that Christianity predominantly misunderstands art. The scandalon for so much ecclesial meddling is contained in the word ‘message’. There is no such thing as ‘Christian art’. There is just good and bad art created by both those who profess faith and those who do not.

My point? When art is ‘employed’ it becomes a means to an end – so it ceases to be art, and becomes propaganda. Art is not a pronouncement, rather it is an invitation – a key to a locked door even? Am I really pushing the analogy too much if I suggest that faith is too? And so it is, when I recall the churches block-booking multiplexes, heaven bent on converting the heathen through Gibson’s film (evidently one Texan couple spent $42,000 on 6,000 tickets to give away to the ‘lost’) I get ever so slightly concerned. As my friend Riddell says, ‘Artists are the antennae for humankind; they do not create the signals.’

In concluding Martin Wroe said that, ‘in setting out to save the lost, Gibson may end up confirming the worst myths about Christianity as humourless, anti-Semitic, voyeuristic, death cult.’ I agree with him wholeheartedly that Christianity has never been ‘family viewing, it is an undeniable mystery at the heart of the religion that the sacrifice of one man, somehow changes history.’ But I also think we have seen too many re-runs of a handsome, blue-eyed Robert Powell, portraying unconvincingly what many agree is the most unthinkably violent way we ridiculous humans have ever thought up to kill one another. And for the life of me I’m struggling to see how we are expected to get a giggle out of that.

But what do I know? I suggest you see it (if you haven’t already), and make up your own mind. Would be interested to hear what you all think…