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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Monday, September 30, 2002The Lord's work
The Fire This Time arrived today, a timely and salutory reminder of the brutal US-led action against the people of Iraq, which has continued unabated since the military campaign of 1990, through sanctions and illegal aerial bombings, and which is escalating again into another devastating onslaught.
Uneasy listening, this aural documentary, with background provided by some of the best current sonic architects (Aphex Twin, Pan Sonic, Soma and others), but essential for perspective.
Salutory to hear how the religious traditions are so easily appropriated by men of violence - one of the most chilling voices sampled, for me, is the military man whose message to Brits at home, on Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, was "get out and ring your church bells".
The Lord's work is a contested arena. Another perspective came today from The Witness, magazine of the US Episcopal Church. Their current editorial asks, "What can we do or say to prepare Christians for life and witness in a country at war?", and whose features focus on 'resource wars' - a reminder of what this present crisis is really about. Oil.
Similarly, Sojourners today emailed an action alert to encourage concerned citizens to pray, mobilise, stay informed, network, and educate self and others about Iraq, U.S. foriegn policy, and the church's response to war.
God help these small contrary voices to keep on speaking into the unholy CBS/CNN/BBC babble. And exposing the reality which other voices occasionally let slip, such as George Kennan, Former Head of the US State Department Policy Planning Staff, who set the agenda in February 1948, the same year as the United Nations was born:
ÔWe have about 60% of the worldÕs wealth but only 6.3% of itsÕ population. In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction. We should cease to talk about such vague and unreal objectives as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.Ó
Sunday, September 29, 2002The anti-harvest
Outside in the dark of the churchyard last night, others had had what I call an anti-harvest, an orgy of destruction in which a whole row of saplings lining the path were snapped in half. I had to clear the shattered younglings to make a way through at 7.30 this morning. It upset me more than any other act of vandalism I'd seen on our vulnerable property.
Some would say this was just the latest act of tree-murder which has been going on in the area recently, as for a fortnight, demolition workers have moved into the school next door, ripping and tearing unwanted buildings to the ground in preparation for a multi-million pound makeover. Part of this rubble-raising venture involved hacking to the ground a long line of mature and sizeable trees, along our ajoining wall. They fell slowly, like - reluctantly. One marked its premature demise by twisting painstakingly in the air and bringing telephone lines down with it. The place looks naked without them. The loss is palpable; many have felt it.
Are these acts related? Caught up in Iain Sinclair's world of psychogeography I'm tempted to suggest they are. People have taken permission to tear down the area's trees. Some have committed this act as part of an 'improving' project. Others, on a Saturday-night spree. The permission came from - where? The consequence feels the same.
Saturday, September 28, 2002A vortex somedays
The post-food entertainment, Ian Davies's Films of Liverpool, helped me settle a little. Davies is an ex-council employee who rescued a whole archive of old films of the city, literally from a bin, some years ago, and who now, with the council's blessing, shows them around the city.
Nothing profound to say about them, but recognising the fashions and faces of the 1970s was a bit of a laugh and a bit of relief, and offers some perspective too. Death's a vortex some days and the city does change through the traumas of its people. But it's still there, no worse than ever - and often better. For starters, being reminded of the curly coiffures of Keegan / Souness and co tonight, I have to say, give me today's haircuts anytime.
Friday, September 27, 2002Telling it like it is?? Lights Out for the Territory, a tour through the London which doesn't generally get written about. Plenty of old churchyards on his 'V' from Hackney to Greenwich Hill and back along the River Lea to Chingford Mount. Part of his intention was to record the graffitti along the way, the mundane, the profane, and the insane - all signs of the twilight sort of life he relishes describing. The continuation, he says, of a city's argument with itself. Dark, sometimes difficult, but well-described and perceptive stuff.
Not unlike the work of The Caravan Gallery who I visited outside the Walker Art Gallery a couple of weeks ago. Artists Jan Williams and Chris Teasdale run it, and describe it as a mobile exhibition space in a specially adapted caravan (circa 1969), small and mustard on the outside, white walls and beech floor on the inside (like a 'real' gallery). The Caravan Gallery provides a unique setting for drawings, photographs and custom made postcards documenting the reality and surreality of life in 21st century Britain.
So their Liverpool postcards include 'Cool Liverpool', four shots of urban barber's shopfronts including Speke Hairport, Terry's Gent's Hairdressing (with smashed window and sign saying Business as usual), and the classic Slapheads Barber Shop; and 'Liverpool - Bin there, done that!', four shots of the city's notorious bright purple wheelie bins.
This is slice-of-life stuff with humour about it and is well-recieved in corners of the art world such as [A-N] magazine. Obviously not always quite so well-recieved by locals who naturally don't see their back entries as being fit subjects for picture postcards. To their credit the artists make themselves accountable by staffing the caravan and meeting the public, and indeed go further with The Caravan Gallery Surveys where visitors contribute to amazing statistics about British life such as:
99% of people surveyed would rather die than arrange a pre-paid funeral
17% of people surveyed have won meat in a raffle
30% of people surveyed have seen their parents naked
18% of people surveyed avoid their neighbours when out shopping
57% of people surveyed manage to kill house plants without even trying
Alan Titchmarsh is loved and loathed in equal measure.
Thursday, September 26, 2002Dialogue at the door of creation
Earlier in the week I was struck by reading A Fist in the Eye of God from Barbara Kingsolver's book Small Wonder (HarperCollins, 2002) and I based my school assembly around it yesterday. The thrust of it was simple - to point out the value in the traditions of religion, science and humanist ethics, suggesting that they all have their part to play in this serious discussion, and that we should combine their rich insights together to help us make the right choices for the well-being of our planet.
The only immediate response to that was from a group of Christian students who were concerned that I wasn't taking a literalist view of Genesis, and that I'd pointed out the value and worth of evolutionary theory. I hope the debate widens, and today was pleased to find in the current Ecologist magazine an advertisement for The Forum on Religion and Ecology.
This Harvard project claims to be "the first systematic effort to explore environmental questions from the perspective of ten of the world's most pervasive religious traditions. Engaging scholars in the disciplines of religion, science, economics, ethics, education, and public policy, this innovative research is helping us to understand some of the most complicated social and environmental projects of our time".
This seems a very thorough attempt to encourage dialogue which goes way beyond mere rhetorical appeals or simplistic answers and though it is still in its infancy the Forum has already produced what looks like useful material.
Kingsolver, who started all this off for me this week, describes herself as "a scientist who thinks it wise to enter the doors of creation ... with the reverence humankind has traditionally summoned for entering places of worship: a temple, a mosque, or a cathedral. A sacred grove, as ancient as time". I hope my creationist friends may come to share in the Forum's dialogue in the future; but more, that others who now dismiss religion for the feebleness of its contribution to serious contemporary debate, may also get to hear what's going down.
Wednesday, September 25, 2002Fiery Yorkshire Lover The Mirfield Centre over the coming months I was drawn by a name only vaguely familiar, by the prospect of an intriguing 'Richard Rolle Pilgrimage' next June.
Rolle, I discover, was a fourteenth-century English mystic, author of the Incendium Amoris (The Fire of Love), a work of spiritual autobiography written not for those already initiated in the mystic way, but for those "magis Deum diligere quam multa scire conantibus" ("seeking rather to love God than to amass knowledge"). So this work, written in 1343, in Latin, in Yorkshire, still resonates enough today to provoke a pilgrimage to the site of his hermitage in Hempole. I must read it. There's a few translations around, a brief web search reveals:
I cannot tell you how surprised I was the first time I felt my heart begin to warm. It was real warmth, too, not imaginary, and it felt as if it were actually on fire. I was astonished at the way the heat surged up, and how this new sensation brought great and unexpected comfort. I had to keep feeling my breast to make sure there was no physical reason for it! But once I realized that it came entirely from within... I was absolutely delighted, and wanted my love to be even greater.
Now, that is astonishing language, especially coming from a Yorkshireman....
Tuesday, September 24, 2002My new bag Blogger bag, sealing my identity as web diarist as now I'll be constantly wearing it over my shoulder.
In fifteen minutes time I will have packed it with a fresh-baked bread loaf, a bottle of Turning Leaf, an assortment of candles and various other accoutriments, and I shall be making my way to the other side of the parish to lead a simple communion service, round a friends table.
Seems appropriate - I got into blogging through the Greenbelt Christian arts festival; I blog often about life as one of God's odd clerics (still bemused by the role I find myself in, and that I'm in it); and also, lots of blogs are fed and watered by the things I talk about, hear about, see, feel, while around the place with friends.
So tonight at communion I'll raise the glass to bloggers everywhere, caring enough to share themselves in this digital space.
Monday, September 23, 2002The hand of the artist The Walker today. I wondered why - its title describes it, it's big, deep, dark, decribed by the gallery as narrow in tonal range, sombre in atmosphere, and rich in textural variation. Maybe it reflected how I felt (it being a blue Monday). Possibly it went deeper; perhaps that description describes me? More probably - this may be the crux - it comes down to football. It's a great Everton blue.
I enjoyed this year's John Moores exhibition, Peter Davies's winner [detail left, full image here] for its colours and its playful idea - its a 'mind-map', the sort of thing that makes you want to design your own. His is a mind map of the connections he makes around Andy Warhol. Watch this space for my mind map around, perhaps, Andy Gray.
Lots of colour in this exhibition - nice, bright, sometimes daring colour. Michael Ward's Pandemonium is a riot ; but in the end the one which most fascinated me was Ian Davenport's Untitled Circle Painting (red and deep pink), [right] a 122cm square of household paint on MDF - but so finely honed.
I was drawn in by the detail - looking at the lines of 'run' paint I couldn't work out how he'd done it - they run in different directions and overlap in different ways. I was drawn by the colour too - red but not LFC red. Now here's a thing. In an interview sampled on the online catalogue Davenport deviates from the temptation to waffle about his work, acknowledges instead the pleasure he gets from "the activity of making", from pouring or dripping paint, and says, "The hand of the artistÉ [is] like scoring a goal."
Sunday, September 22, 2002Shepherds, partners, lovers My talk at Compline tonight was brief and my body ached as I gave it, as it's been one of those days of non-stop services. Ten o'clock, midday, three and then six-thirty. With virtually no gaps inbetween this would have felt like liturgical overload were it not that it has been a day of rare celebration.
At midday we celebrated a couple's twenty-five years of marriage, a valued church couple who renewed their vows in a simple but special act of commitment.
Before that we had celebrated Leslie Bruce's thirty years in the priesthood. Leslie, a Holy Trinity man throughout his long life, was Liverpool's first non-stipendary minister, then called a 'worker-priest', and his parish ministry parallelled his work as a GP in one of Liverpool's more deprived areas, L8, through some of that area's worst times. He's shocked one or two patients over the years by visiting them in his clerical collar, causing them to wonder if their number was up. He's a sage and good-humoured old man now; and as a rookie priest I gain from working alongside him.
Then at All Hallows Allerton a massive service - to mark Archdeacon of Liverpool Bob Metcalf's retirement. Bob was Rector of Holy Trinity from 1975-1994. And Bob's ties with Trinity remain close. There were many Trinity folk at his retirement service today. And hundreds of others besides, for he and Rachel have had (to use James Jones' word) an extraordinary ministry in the parishes they've served and throughout Liverpool. Boiling down quite simply to being lovers of people, practical, pastoral and uncomplicated.
I got to know Bob a bit as a member of a group he chaired, recommending various projects for support from the Church Urban Fund. An enjoyable task enabling local churches with a concern for social justice to work out their concerns practically. And more recently he's been on the end of the phone when I've needed help and advice, constant and consistent.
So, having had quite enough church services for a while, thank you very much, nevertheless tonight I salute these people of committment - shepherds, partners, most of all lovers of rare quality.
Saturday, September 21, 2002Wire blog The Wire dropping onto my doormat, monthly. It's not that I'm in any way an expert in new and experimental music; not even that I really like a great deal of the artists featured as I can't take too much uneasy listening, though maybe I can take more than the average Atomic Kitten fan.
But I like the 'otherness' of the music world which The Wire opens up. It's refreshingly non-mainstream. I find it takes me interesting places, like Probe and Piccadilly and, when in London, Rough Trade. It introduces me to interesting people, like Jimmy Carl Black, who with Eugene Chadbourne is The Jack and Jim Show and who posted me from his home in Germany a copy of their live show Reflections and Experiences of Jimmy Hendrix, a very original take on some Hendrix classics (using a lot of banjo), including Zappa's Hey Punk.
(Soon I shall be emailing Chunky Records to order my copy of Gimme Dat Harp Boy, an album of classic blues etc which 'influenced' Captain Beefheart).
And following the hints and tips of The Wire means I have in my collection stuff which (I keep telling myself) will one day be useful for sessions of 'experimental worship'. The classic in this genre is Every Tone a Testimony - An African American Aural History, a fantastic collection of spoken word and music, speeches, poems, performances, by historically renowned African American musicians, writers, and activists.ÊIt's a rich resource, enjoyable and deeply moving.
In this vein my next purchase is The Fire This Time which "utilises narration, samples and contemporary music to deconstruct the Gulf War and illustrates the devastating effects of sanctions on Iraq. Featuring exclusive tracks from Aphex Twin and Orbital among others..."
And another one a bit like that which I already own is Random_Inc's Jerusalem: Tales outside the Framework of Orthodoxy, a kind of history-by-electronic-sound of that most complicated city. I was fascinated by it but Linda, who is by no means an average Atomic Kitten fan, and whose judgement I ought to trust, she having been in that city with Christian Aid recently, said it was just a noise to her. That's the world of The Wire for you.
Friday, September 20, 2002Illegality Stop the War Coalition. I give her a reassuring look; after all, in the scale of things the illegal activity she's currently involved in is minute compared to that being considered by Bush'n'Blair.
Of course, in politicians' hands the term 'illegal' becomes slippery. There is a new system of international justice, which came about with the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but it is under attack from the USA. They are trying to ensure that US nationals are exempt from ICC jurisdiction over genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The ICC will investigate and prosecute people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. The USA is attacking this new system of international justice by pressing states around the world to enter into impunity agreements not to surrender US nationals to the ICC. In many cases the US government is threatening to withdraw military assistance from countries that will not agree.
Amnesty International say that such agreements are unlawful under international law. They threaten to undermine international efforts to stop criminals ever again planning and committing the worst crimes known to humanity.
The contrast with rhetoric currently emerging from Washington could not be greater. I'm still naive enough to be shocked by the deceitfulness at play. Signed Amnesty's online petition in anger. Hope that nervous young woman gets a good attendence at her meeting.
Thursday, September 19, 2002If he meant that then he really is a genius
I'm blogging about Manchester again - this time because I hired 24-Hour Party People and enjoyed watching it this evening. It's not a great film. And although in it the Wilson character (Steve Coogan) states catergorically that it's not about him, it's about the bands, that's untrue. It is about him, as the catalyst for much of what made for the very lively music scene in that city in the early-to-mid eighties.
If he really meant to run Factory not as a business but as an "experiment in humanity" with money leaking all over the place through worthy but failed projects, with bands free to walk away from a non-contract written in Wilson's blood - then he really is a genius. Because in a strange way, it worked. Maverick outsiders got their big chance and some of them really shone. Culture was enriched. A whole 'scene' flourished. Personal failures and tragedy were never far away - the suicide of Ian Curtis, the drug wastage of Sean Ryder, Wilson's own marital misdemeanours - but this was all part of the rich tapestry of life in that place at that time, and the emphasis was on the life.
Why did he do it? van Nistelroy - because of his pure instinct for goal. No - Wilson. He did it because, he says, his fatal flaw is his civic pride. He knew his city could be a great centre for the greatest movement in music since rock and roll. Before the end, at the heyday of the Hacienda, he was proved right.
I bumped into Wilson - literally - at the Imperial War Museum of the North in July. He was in the entrance lobby of that amazing building filming for a Granada series called The Works, which over recent weeks has highlighted some of the current noteworthy people and projects in the arts world, North West. He hasn't stopped being a great advocate for what is indeed a rich creative seam not always, or grudgingly, recognised outside the region which spawns it.
Bit like a midwife then, Wilson. Helping outsider art blink into life. Nurturing it to greatness. Whether or not he meant to turn out like that, there is a touch of genius there.
Wednesday, September 18, 2002Looking after little ones
Probably it's feeling the responsibility of care in this age where there's so much sensitivity around that. How much more then, must young parents feel that, and far more than for one hour a week. The Nietzsche quote I lifted from Rachel Andrew's website. I met Rachel at Greenbelt, a fellow blogger on the soon-to-be-wound-down Greenbelt Blog 24/7. To our workshops in Soul Space, she added depth and reflectiveness, and on her website she's open about the cares and responsibilities of parenting. Tonight I raise my hands for those who look after little ones. May they hear the music.
Tuesday, September 17, 2002Looking ahead to Antrim
I am especially interested in how to pursue peace and reconciliation locally; tangibly. The church has been very good at educating people into militarism, not so good at peace education - and I hope to play a small role in restoring that balance. So I hoped to spend time among people who are working at conflict resolution, peace education etc, and to reflect what I learn from them back into my home situation.
The outcome is that Trevor Williams, the leader of the Corrymeela Community has invited me over to their Ballycastle Centre, for month beginning with a week of study with James Alison (see my blog of September 2) on 'The God of Violence' then taking in visits by all sorts of groups, working with families, schoolchildren, church leaders, college students and others on the themes of peace and reconciliation. And hopefully visits to people and projects in other parts of Northern Ireland. Through which I should learn a lot.
Maybe not as glamorous as the Third Year Project another colleague is proposing - to spend time in Canada "shooting women Bishops" (she's a professional photographer); nor as deeply academic as others. But through listening to many stories and seeing the consequences of people committed to building understanding and enabling reconciliation, it should be a rich experience.
Monday, September 16, 2002Weak
How to teach peace to children
In a place that's torn and bruised
How to bring food to a hungry
Girl who's battered and abused
How to build hope on housing schemes
Whose walls are being pulled down
How to find work for people of worth
When there's no work around
How to encourage cries for justice
When the law's not listening
How to build a people of prayer
When the air's full of sirens screaming
How to help love thrive in lives
Deprived of such a rare thing
How to get businesses started
In a place so starved of cash
How to look for a religion of love
Between popery and the sash
How to keep women out of jail
Who can't afford their bills
How to make strangers welcome
With race hate the root of all ills
How to fashion beauty
From faces lined with care
How to hold hands with the bedridden ill
Whose families aren't there
How to address the decision makers
Forcing changes from afar
How can the Spirit help us
Weak as we are?
Originally written for the Toxteth Team Ministry
Lay Workers Commissioning Service, 6th September 1996
Sunday, September 15, 2002The idea of local partners
And this afternoon back at our place, a strikingly different setting. We were open to the public for the Civic Trust's national Heritage weekend, our bright Georgian interior looking its best as the afternoon sun shone through the windows. Designed by Charles Reilly, first Professor of Architecture at the University of Liverpool, Holy Trinity's chancel was described by the celebrated architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner as "truly remarkable". And it's well-kept. Over seventy folks came through its doors and marvelled at it today.
The contrast I've described is only about bricks and mortar; it does not reflect on the faith or commitment of each of these congregations. It boils down to economics, which underlies all social exchange. Many of our parishioners would be scandalised by the thought of good folk fiddling the gas meter, but would unquestioningly use any means at their disposal to ensure they get their children into the 'best' schools. It's part of the same thing.
The question in my mind is massive because it exists in the interface between faith and politics, economics and spirituality. It is, how on earth could there be such a gulf between two worshipping communities physically so close together, and structurally linked as part of the same deanery? And how to begin to rectify it.
Suburban parishes often enjoy the benefit of links with 'mission partners' overseas. Having 'local partners' would be a far tougher proposition, would begin addressing the questions I've just raised. Questions which, of course, go to the heart of how our inequitable society functions. If it happened and was designed as a true and equal partnership, impacting on the people's everyday social and economic relationships, it would be revolutionary, real gospel.
Saturday, September 14, 2002A place where cultures meld Pennant Melangell, meeting up with other members of the Iona Community North-West England & Wales family group, at a place some of us already know and love, new to others. A peaceful place; and today a place of great light and warmth as the skies cleared and the sun poured into the steep and narrow Powys valley where centuries ago an Irish princess set up a holy house and a tradition of compassionate care which continues to this day.
Melangell is famed for once sheltering a frightened hare from pursuing huntsmen in the folds of her skirt; and the creatures of the ground and sky still seem to be aware that that wooded place is one of safety and welcome for them: it teems with creaturely life. And a cottage near the restored church is a Cancer care centre, where sufferers and others come for counselling, respite, and retreat.
We sat and drank tea and ate Welsh cakes, walked towards the waterfall at the valley head, and said prayers around the saint's shrine. And after the others had gone back up the narrow lane I stayed on awhile to enjoy the stillness and the sunshine.
Like many such seemingly 'peripheral' places Pennant Melangell is actually a lively centre, where people of all backgrounds and states of heart and mind, gather and exchange. Where cultures meld: the Welsh saint's story illustrates this; as does an icon I bought in the shop there. Created by a member of the Orthodox Community at Blaenau Ffestiniog, the icon is a version of Christ Pantocrator where the bible in his left hand contains text written in Welsh, in translation: ... love one another as I have loved you ...
And to complete the day's cultural crossover activity, I visited a favourite North Wales bookshop, Awen Meirion Cyf, on Bala High Street, and returned home with a new Cowbois t-shirt bought there. Cowbois design 'leisure wear for Celtic Gauchos'; I love their sassy statements even though I don't have the language to appreciate some of them. But I like to wear on my chest my semi-romantic idea that somewhere down the line I'm Welsh; so today's purchase carries the logo: Celtic Allstars - Art Must Become the Banner of the Proletariat. I love how that sounds even though I haven't yet unravelled what, if anything, it means.
Friday, September 13, 2002A reasonable state of mind New Statesman review of Roy Keane's autobiography today. This quote didn't redeem him for me, but did put some useful perspective on his misdemeanours:
"aggression is what we do ... I go to war ... You don't contest football games in a reasonable state of mind."
There is truth in this. I know as one who has 'contested' football matches from the terraces and found that even there, it's a challenge to keep a 'reasonable state of mind'. Even in the cool collectedness of blog mode reason falls away where football rivalry comes into play - as my last Monday's blog demonstrates.
Friends here, ardent Liverpool supporters (shame!!) tell me how angry their 12-year-old daughter gets when she hears the chants of the away fans at Anfield - "In your Liverpool slums", etc: "How do they know what it's like here - they don't live here?" she demands to know in tones suggesting that she would retaliate if she could.
Football is wrapped up in glitz, and sanitized so much of the time. At least Keane's outbursts, unpleasant though they are, do contribute a measure of truthfulness. Perhaps that's unsurprising considering that his co-biographer Eamon Dunphy, also authored Only a Game, his memoirs of being in Second Division Millwall's squad in 1973/4. It's an excellent insight into life inside the game, the fears and rivalries and pettiness rife between players, managers, directors, supporters, media. Painfully honest stuff.
The other good honest footy book I had was Simon Kuper's Football against the Enemy, an astonishing expose of crime, corruption and other shenanigans in the world game, which opened with an passionate explanation about why the Dutch hate the Germans so much (much more than the English do).
But I lent that out to an ex-work colleague and never got it back. Should never have trusted the robbing Man City fan. Oops.
Anyway, today I returned to a theme which has obsessed me ever since I first came across the phrase in a Mennonite pamphlet: How to teach peace to children. Returned to it because I spotted a book in News From Nowhere called Understanding the Human Volcano - What Teens can do about Violence. Starting from a recognition that violence is all around us (thanks, Roy) and that 'this bubbling core of violence influences all our lives' the author Earl Hipp says that 'the scary thing is that as these forms of violence grow, our denial grows too. We become desensitised to all but the most obscene acts ... we feel powerless. We may be tempted to believe we cannot make a positive difference.'
I think that's why I welcome Keane's honesty; because it's a first step towards becoming re-sensitsed towards counteracting the effects of violence in the local situation, towards learning how to teach peace to children. And probably, how to learn peace from them too.
Thursday, September 12, 2002Lawrence Revisited D.H. Lawrence.
Not at all popular, Lawrence, either. Not popular with staid religious folk who remember him as the author of Lady Chatterley's Lover, scandalous when written, unpublished until 1961 because of its sexual content. Not popular with the literary establishment of his day (or now, perhaps?) because of his working-class origins - the Bloomsbury set sniffed at him because he was self-educated. Not popular in the mining community of Eastwood, Notts, where the folks felt he misrepresented them. And not especially popular today, Frank reckons maybe because in his colourful prose he uses the language of the scriptures a great deal, which post-postmodern people just don't relate to.
All of the above, of course, make Lawrence fascinating material for study. Especially as the criticism about his sexual expressiveness failed to engage his concern to explore the reality of relationships in all their complexity, beauty and pain. Especially for faith-seekers still holding to a feeling that the scriptures in all their complexity, still have a language for today. Especially for those who (like many of us in the Toxteth and Wavertree deanery, which Frank looks after) have a concern with doing theology from what may have once been called 'working-class' experience, from outside power, with liberation perspectives.
Frank's buzzing with the insights he gained from his studying, especially in how Lawrence perceived the tyranny of capitalism, what we would now discuss in terms of the numbing effects consumerism / consumption have on our society, in his deep insights into marital reltionships, into how a religious outsider, described by T.S. Eliot as a 'pornographer', has so much of use to say to us spiritual pilgrims today. My sabbatical's a long way away yet. But meanwhile I may dust off Sons and Lovers because I'm sure as an undergraduate it didn't hold the riches for me which it seems it could do now.
Wednesday, September 11, 2002Holy night?
No silence tonight, too much to clear up before tomorrow's funeral. No stillness tonight, too much emotion to deal with.
And for once I'm peripheral to all of this. I'm just another neighbour, not the closest, not the best by a long way. Stripped of my usual clerical role, I'm confronted with hard questions about who I can be for them in their grief, if anyone.
While the old lady sleeps, healed at last, everyone around her is restless.
He is also a master of satire and the pictures he paints of his dysfunctional parishioners are unremittingly hilarious. Below, I quote an extract from the letter I received today. Unfortunately I have had to omit his audacious references to MothersÕ Union as I would fear for his life, if he were ever found out.
...... A lot of work has been carried out on the parish church over these last few months with such projects as the restoration of the bells. During this time of restoration it was discovered that a Latin inscription had been written upon the bells. It read, 'Pagani Dormire Per Hunc Temptate', when translated meaning 'try sleeping through this, heathen'. The four-hundred years old organ has also received a well-earned overhaul and now has added to its musical versatility a wah wah pedal and bossanova rhythm switch.
This year's summer fete was a resounding success. I manned the White Elephant stall, so called because people purchasing items from it will, like the white elephant, soon be extinct: as most popular items are re-wired electrical blankets, lethal toasters and I-wouldn't-plug-it-in-if-I-were-you kettles. The highlight of the summer fete was the finals of the inter-counties Mobile Library Demolition Derby. Fun for all the family.
My latest evangelical project which I can humbly say has been a storming success, is called 'cake aerobics'. One gently exercises through the lifting of cakes and then eating them; as fitness improves we progress to heavier and heavier cakes. I believe that this could be a real threat to the Weight Watchers club that is run at the Women's Institute Hall. ......
There are pages of this stuff. It's heavenly. Thanks, er, 'Dennis'.
(* please note, I've altered his identity to protect him from any potential comeback from irate MU members; he is named after a famous mass-murderer though.)
Tuesday, September 10, 2002Curiosity about curate-ing Greenbelt blogger friend ended an email to me today with the words, 'happy curateing'. Because the previous conversation had been about art exhibitions I at first read that as 'curating'. In reply to her I mused on this - 'curateing' is very like 'curating'.... discuss!!??
Well, one aspect of curating (in a museum, say) is ensuring that the ancient exhibits stay well-preserved and well-protected against any dangers the modern world may threaten them with. Ahem.
Another aspect of curating, however, involves using the imaginative gifts, liaising with inventive people to create something attractive, provocative, colourful, which people of all kinds will be drawn to. Ah.
I possibly just about balanced the former task-type with the latter today, but I worry and wonder about the way the scales tend to tip much of the time.
Last seen in July in a big marquee on Liverpool's waterfront, Elvis's return to his heartland was as good as anticipated. No need to write an elongated review here as professional music writers are raving about him elsewhere. At this late hour, just the need to acknowledge thankfully the width of his repertoire, his emptional range and his stage prescence. These things were perhaps epitomised in his choosing to close the show (at the end of his fourth encore) with the new-wave celebration 'Pump it Up' followed by the murderously slow 'I Want You', a gem of ice-steel jealousy. The contrast between these songs could not be greater, but Elvis made them work brilliantly together.
I owe most thanks to Elvis for being one of those artists who has not mellowed with age. Whilst with age I have learned emotional evasion and cultivated spiritual numbness, Costello has kept his edge, kept his emotional integrity, allowed his rage to wash through into the scores of songs which still engage the rawness after 25 years.
Monday, September 09, 2002Have a cup of tea, have another one the book I think I've discovered just why I warm to him so much, like what he's about, who he is. It's because we share something very deep and very special. We are both tea drinkers.
'For me', he writes, 'starting the day without a pot of tea would be a day forever out of kilter.' Well, that's how I feel too. Have done for as long as I can recall.
Drummond calls tea a 'subtle drug' by comparison to coffee which hits you between the eyes. But tea, nevertheless, is addictive. I'd not be without it. Why?
Maybe because it's central to my formative years. The heart of the family was my Nan's tiny kitchen and the focus of the kitchen was the ever-boiling kettle, the constantly-refilled teapot. That small room was where our folks dropped by, brushed shoulders, sorted out problems, shared laughter, got the news. All over a cup of tea, served in china cups. Nana had been in service; she knew the right way to present a beverage.
Even when I got to teenage and 'rebelled' I didn't leave tea behind. Never into drugs I nevertheless got into druggy music. This was the late 70s so the music was Steve Hillage (very English), and especially Gong, famous for their classic Radio Gnome Invisible Part 1 - Flying Teapot, a surreal triptych of songs about "a telepathic pirate radio network operating brain to brain by crystal machine transmitter direct from Planet Gong," according to forcedexposure.com. Despite this, there was nothing scary about their druggy activities when all they did was induce visions of tea-drinking afternoons and inspire the mantra, "Have a cup of tea, have another one, have a cup of tea..."
Then in 1988, in a doomed attempt at self-publishing, Jim Haywood and I put together a magazine of Christian satire, The Fire Bucket, the highlight being a page compiled by the fictional character 'Earnest Teadrinker' (who could heve been either of us, given our penchant for a pot of good old Yorkshire).
Jump a couple of decades and what do I do now? I live the cliche, 'more tea, vicar?' and live it gladly. I constantly find myself privy to people opening up in conversation and forms of everyday confession, often if not always with a teacup in their hand.
There's a PhD somewhere in the sociology (or spirituality) of tea-drinking. Someone else can attempt that, though. Me, I'm just going to put the kettle on. Fancy a cuppa?
Sunday, September 08, 2002Shake some web action
The mainstream media are shuffling into 'war' position; no point believing much they tell us about Bush/Iraq from now on. Despite this, church and trades union leaders are finding voice, getting confident, the 'alternative' media is lively, and the web is a good place to begin simple, effective protest. Time to send emails to MPs and ministers to register dissent.
(If you're unsure you're ready to do that just yet, please have a read of John Pilger's article which I've lifted from this week's New Statesman)
Saturday, September 07, 2002Don't be fooled by the title Bill Drummond once again tonight stimulates my perception of just what is possible when creative instincts get free reign.
Some people hate Drummond - the man who, as The K Foundation, burned a million pounds (yes, he really did). Whose other 'is it art or arrogant posturing?' episodes included distributing 6,250 cans of Tennents Super to the homeless off the back of a truck one Christmas Day, and an abortive attempt to hang two freshly-culled cattle from pylons above the Dartford Bridge (check out the sorry details in his book 45). His schemes could be called reckless (he's called them that) but they appeal to me because (like the Liverpool band he once managed, Echo and the Bunnymen) they're big, bold, unsure, provocative and ridiculous. Misguided perhaps but above all, honest endeavours.
His latest is described in How to be an Artist which I picked up in the Tate Liverpool shop today. It describes his becoming bored with Richard Long's A Smell of Sulphur in the Wind, a photograph of an Icelandic stone circle which he bought for $20,000 in 1995. Drummond narrates his resultant June 2000 odyssey, a tour from Southampton to Dounreay with regular stops to make a sales pitch to sell the artwork. His plan was to take $20,000 in cash, empty this money into a strongbox, bury the box at the centre of the Icelandic stone circle, photograph the scene, frame it and hang it on his bedroom wall where the Long original had been, giving it the title A Smell of Money Underground.
It's a travelogue of many encounters, with many musings along the way about life, nationalism, identity and art. Perhaps the pivotal question is the one posed to him one night in a venue at the heart of all things, The Hub cafe, Berry Street, Liverpool, by a woman who asked him, "Mr Drummond, are you trying to be an artist?"
I love all this because it's so far away from Saachi and that sort of 'art scene'. Perhaps his journey is pretentious in a different sort of way but it's done in a jeep among folk and in places well away from sophistication. It's a dialogue; and it's wholehearted.
No-one bought Long's picture off Bill Drummond so at 4am on 14 August 2001 he took a Stanley knife to it and cut it into 20,000 pieces, 11.2mm by 4.05mm, which he is now selling at a dollar each. Once I've finished the book (I jumped the third quarter so as to blog this tonight) I'll be sending off my pound coin to claim my piece, and eagerly awaiting the next episode of his travels.
Friday, September 06, 2002Fasten seatbelts - the Liverpool Biennial starts here European Capital of Culture in 2008 and whilst sometimes, walking its Big Mac box-strewn streets, that ambition seems laughable, at other times it seems quite fitting. Like now, days away from the launch of the Liverpool Biennial, a gigantic international festival of contemporary art which runs here until the end of November. I've just been on the website getting excited about it.
The bid is fitting - it's not the first Biennial the city has hosted and there's little doubt about Liverpool's contribution to the art world over the years. One of the Biennial's features is the John Moores 22 exhibition of contemporary painting, promoted as "the UK's most prestigious painting competition, showcasing some of the finest British-based artists, [and] displayed in the newly refurbished galleries at the Walker - national gallery of the North." It's now in its 45th year.
And one of the most-anticipated upcoming Liverpool arts events will be the opening of the new FACT venue, a centre for the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, part of the transformation of a previously derelict area of the city centre into the 'creative quarter', a building which holds cinemas and exhibition spaces for film, video and new media projects "alongside a set of resources, spaces, programmes and partnerships dedicated to the development of new and emerging forms of creativity".
All of this is exciting for us here. Whether we win the 2008 bid or not, it's good to be in a creative place.
Upcoming highlights I'm particularly looking forward to are Site-Sight, on Sunday 22 September, a Live Pool Pedal Powered Boat Flotilla which starts, intriguingly inland, at William Brown Street 'with fantastical vehicles'; Speaking Out of Turn, on Friday 20 September at which 'The Guerilla Girls' debate the question, "has the art of protest become saturated in popular culture?", and To the Glory of God; New Religious Art, 14 Sept - 12 Oct at 76 Seel Street, at which over 20 artists collaborate in the creation of a 30ft high architectural 'religious' model, with live performances. Sounds a bit Babylonian. Well, that's just three events out of scores .... can't wait.
(A briefer version of this post appears on the Greenbelt website)
Thursday, September 05, 2002Ikea catalogue v. Bible - the first lesson Ikea catalogue now has a circulation four times greater than the Bible's. This may provoke me, but doesn't really surprise me, for two reasons. On the one hand the proportion of active Christians in the population is quite low, and not all of us are great bible readers; on the other hand, the Ikea catalogue is delivered free of charge through the nation's letterboxes, courtesy of an evidently generous marketing budget. The Gideons can't compete with that.
My day featured both - an afternoon spent selecting bible extracts to run alongside themes for this year's Blue Coat School assemblies, punctuated by facing new decisions on Billy bookcases prompted by the 2003 Ikea catalogue dropping unexpectedly onto my doormat, only hours after Bulky Bob's had cleared a load of old furniture from my overfull living room.
Both tasks remain unfinished - thinking ahead through thirty-nine secondary school talks is an arduous task, to be continued tomorrow, and the catalogue is underneath the coffee table where no doubt it will serve as a point of reference every time I have a cd storage crisis (and begin to wonder again whether that old coffee table ought to be junked in favour of a Stenkulla?)
I shan't get into commenting on what these reading habits may be doing to the spirituality of the nation; bit predictable, that, probably. For now I shall revisit some of the themes which the school has given me and reveal what the Ikea catalogue offers us by way of enlightenment:
Theme: Starting Out; Ikea says: it's time to throw out those old, pre-conceived ideas of how much space you have, and instead to embrace 'cubic thinking';
Theme: Our World; Ikea says: with multifunctional furniture design, your world just got bigger;
Theme: Citizenship; Ikea says: assembling furniture yourself means not paying someone in a factory to do it for you;
Theme: Happiness is; Ikea says: more choice in store!
Theme: Achievement; Ikea says: by planning and imagination in equal measures, you can get the mix just right.
'One-in-four' statistic notwithstanding, I think the bible's still got quite a lot going for it.
Wednesday, September 04, 2002The Other Summit Resurgence offers some perspective this evening. Einsten, quite a clever bloke by all accounts, is quoted by Jonathan Robinson and Lucy Hinton. He says, "You cannot solve a problem with the same mindset which created it."
Their article (not online, so you'll have to buy the beautifully-produced magazine to read it) describes 'The Other Summit', a barren Soweto mountain outpost which has been recreated by the community there, "reclaimed and transformed into a creative hub fusing traditional and contemporary music, discussion, organic food, and sculpture and architecture made from 'waste'." A once dangerous dumping ground is now a place of beauty and people's livelihood, because they dared to use their imaginations and act on them there.
This simple story offers a real antidote to the feelings of frustration and trappedness at the agendas of the stuffed shirts who sit at the top of our TV news or share our pews. Accepting Einstein's words, to overcome these your mindset must accommodate freshness and challenge, you have to be imaginative. And I suspect that to keep the imagination alive you need to commit to wandering around outside - exploring 'The Other Summit' rather than feeling trapped in the stagnation of 'The Summit'; looking for Christ outside the church when the proponents of that institution seem to have lost him somewhere along the way.
Tuesday, September 03, 2002Poetic offering Today Programme got me onto this. It's 200 years to the day since William Wordsworth penned his sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge: "It's a celebration of the wealth, power and beauty of London, a city that looks significantly different now." I couldnÕt resist the occasion to offer my own revision:
Composed Upon Runcorn Bridge Sept 3, 2002 by John Davies (1962 -)
Earth shows nothing more fair than this -
if youÕve never ventured further from here that is -
Once youÕre through Queensferry youÕre into the hills of Wales
and this view doesnÕt compare.
These smokestacks wear their flashlights like
The beauty of the evening; silent spots
Scattered up and down the chemical towers
Open to the grey fields, and to the industrial sky;
All bright and glittering in the rancid air.
The sun looks splendid from here, though,
Setting across the Mersey Basin.
Ignoring the heavy goods vehicles, it is a place of calm
The river is slow and wide here: and lovely.
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
EveryoneÕs inside watching Eastenders.
Monday, September 02, 2002Theology beyond resentment Walt Brueggemann brought the OT to life for me like no one else had. Parish ministry equals theology-on-the-hoof, not always a bad thing but sometimes I wish the thrill would return and I'd long for theological reflection again as much as I currently anticipate episodes of Phoenix Nights.
Maybe James Alison will help. I certainly found Faith Beyond Resentment a stimulating read; today I'm about to begin Raising Abel, which should serve as a good lead-in to the autumn week he is leading at Corrymeela which is the next-thing-I've-got-to-look-forward-to.
I'm hoping that week will get off to a good start my diocesan 'third-year project' in which I want to research grassroots work on conflict resolution / reconciliation. It begins with a clergy retreat titled 'God, Violence and Ministry' and then goes into 'A non-violent God?' Corrymeela should be a good place to talk through these things. More blogs on this, no doubt, to come.
Sunday, September 01, 2002Challenging the lynch mob mentality Lies Damned Lies on their new cd. On my mind today the lynch mob which met the police van carrying Maxine Carr, the woman implicated in the murders of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and the lynch mob mentality which I've grown weary of hearing over recent weeks. From church people too.
In this week's New Statesman Theodore Dalrymple observes that "many of the adults in that mob were themselves responsible for the abuse of children: by neglect, by abandonment, by serial step-parenting, by alternating arbitrary discipline with gross overindulgence, by violence and all the other means by which contemporary British parents condemn their children to a life of asocial egotism and continual, sordid crisis." The "ersatz emotion over the death of two little girls", he writes, "is the product ... of profound and entirely justified guilt."
I had to use more temperate language in my sermon this morning, and so I attempted to challenge the the lynch mob mentality within the church by entreating our folks to revisit Paul's passage: "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." I told the stories of Gordon Wilson, the man who forgave the Enniskillen bombers as an example of one who had, and Tutu's Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa as a structural example. Asserted Tutu's maxim "Goodness is stronger than evil". Warned against our embracing the slow death of retribution. And a number of people thanked me for sticking my neck out; more than the usual 'nice sermon, vicar' respondents.
Oh, that we could all revisit justice in the spirit of Gordon Wilson, who facing the loss of his daughter in that bomb, said,
Those who have to account for this deed will have to face a judgment of God, which is way beyond my forgiveness ... It would be wrong for me to give any impression that the gunmen and bombers should be allowed to walk the street s freely. But ... whether or not they are judged here on earth by a court of law ... I do my very best in human terms to show forgiveness ... The last word rests with God.