Thursday, August 23, 2007

Off to a thin place...

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

Redemption songs
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 songs
Redemption to what we were made for
Dreamed for
Loved into being for
Redemption from slavery and drudgery
From envy and vanity
Redemption from materialism and consumerism
From sectarianism, pessimism and
Loony fundamentalism
Redemption Songs
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
Do justice
Love mercy
Walk humbly and
Live generously
On the good earth
You have
Loaned us
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
Redemption Songs
Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom
All we ever had
Redemption songs
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
Redemption songs...

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

Eddie's heaven....

'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" 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

5am dreaming....

...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's about justice. Am gonna say that'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
they're rude.

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
their nakedness
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
mere immortal.

Of course
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.
No regrets
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
for example.
But some words will not be able to be spelled
at all
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