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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, October 28, 2002
    Good blog
    I'll be posting irregularly over the next few weeks. Here's a good alternative if you draw a blank here: the weblog site of The Homeless Guy. His blogs carry authenticity and his character means there's no provoking any ridiculous guilt trips in the reader, he's just telling it like it is.

    Tuning up for a song
    So I've gone cross-eyed looking at the Michelin map of Northern Ireland, looking for clues in lines and symbols about what the month ahead may hold. The reality is, I've made plans for getting there, I've written a brief paper outlining my aims: "to explore themes of peace and reconcilation; to hear the stories of people involved in such work in their own situations, and to reflect these back on to my home situation", and I've packed my case. It goes against the rest of my life to be so unplanned. But I'm actually content to see what unfolds as my time at Corrymeela goes on. Easyjet - onwards and upwards!
      Pardon us
      that we will
      our end & forgive

      the poet
      his ambition
      to stand alone

      on a high peak
      the waste.

      Take the map
      from our hands
      which we take
      for the world

      & let us be
      where earth
      and waters meet

      & make, for you,
      a song.

      Jeremy Hooker - A Hymn to Demeter from Earth Songs (Resurgence)
    Sunday, October 27, 2002
    A remarkable bid for reconciliation
    Preparing for Ireland today I have been deeply moved by watching a video Roy Gregory lent to me, of a BBC Everyman programme which spent a year with Jo Tufnell and Patrick Magee.

    Jo Tufnell is the daughter of Sir Anthony Berry, one of the four people killed in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, England in October 1984 during the Conservative Party Conference.Ê The bomb was planted to kill and injure as many members of government as possible. She felt that she began a journey that day, of trying to understand why this had happened.

    One of the bombers, Patrick Magee, was sentenced to 35 years imprisonment.Ê He was released in 1999 under the Good Friday Agreement.Ê Jo Tufnell began communicating with him, and has met with him six times. Their story is an education in what 'finding peace' really means in our violent world.

    At the first meeting Magee apologised to her, but insisted that her father was a legitimate target.Ê She says that she understands what drove him to do it, but refuses to talk of forgiveness. "There's a lot of pressure on victims to forgive," she said.Ê "I think that's wrong.Ê Forgiveness sounds like something you do, and then it's done.Ê But for me it's a journey.Ê I can only really forgive myself."

    At their first meeting in Dublin in November 2000 Magee said, "I want to hear everything you have to say.Ê I want to hear your anger. And I want to share what I've been through and why I did it." He expressed his keen sense of injustice, that in 1984 violence was the only way he could see to make his political enemies listen - to "take the war to England".

    Jo Tufnell reflected, "My sense is that he felt through taking up violence he's lost some of his humanity. Now, with the peace process happening, it was time to redress the past."

    Jo believes her father would approve of her actions. "People don't have to stay with the hurt.Ê One way is to see humanity in people who would be your enemy."

    Jo and Patrick's painstaking journey involved hard listening and straight talking, of each seeking to understand the 'other'. Jo was faced with the sense that in trying to build bridges she may be betraying her family and friends, and others who suffered in that bombing. Patrick saw the human consequences of his political struggle. A subtext to their conversations was Jo passing on what her 7-year-old daughter said about their meetings. " Why are you meeting that bad man?" was her initial reaction, angered that Magee had killed her Grandpa.

    "She's still very angry," Jo said at their second meeting. "She asked me, 'Is he sorry?' I told her, 'Yes, he's very sorry that Grandpa had to die.' She said, 'Oh, does that mean that Grandpa can come back now?'

    "There's some truth in that for me, that 7-year-old wisdom. If we can talk now, and if I can understand what drove you to violence, and if I can hear it... why did my Dad have to die..."

    Their remarkable odyssey continued to a point where each confessed to having found personal growth and some form of healing through their journey. Magee said he was a pacifist at 15, only taking up the armed struggle when he saw that the political process gave no possibility for his voice to be heard. Looking back he told Jo that "Taking up violence meant that there was a cost ... it was at the expense of my humanity. Meeting you gave a chance for me to regain some of that humanity."

    And for her part, Jo said: "I don't see Pat as a bad man. I see Brighton as a result of many factors which are very complex. I suppose there's an idea that someone who's killed my father must be a certain way ... the truth is very different. We make people into perpetrators. And we all can be when the desperation gets too much."
    November's come early
    November's come early to the website. Having preaced my last sermon before leaving on placement for much of November, I've posted it up on the sermons page, and also the November Pic of the Month. I'll still be blogging for a couple of days and then whenever I can access a computer on my travels. (Hope this vicious wind subsides so the cables stay up in Antrim.)
    Saturday, October 26, 2002
    Road to - where?
    Iain Sinclair's Barbican presentation of M25 London Orbital was billed as "a parallelist performance in three-lane theatre". It was certainly very linear, one artist, speaker, performer after another taking their turn to do their particular thing relating to Sinclair's adventures or reflections at a particular part of the motorway. Or something. So it was a mixed bag, all of it at least 'challenging', much of it of the best quality - especially the leftfield music, Scanner's 'found sound' from the airwaves, WIRE's electro-punk assaults, and a marvellous bit of thrash-metal from Jimmy Cauty and cohorts dressed in fluorescent 'Motorway Maintenance' jackets on a smoking, flashlit stage.

    Sinclair's prose was rich as ever and a mixture of his usual demons (Reggie Kray got a look-in) and new observations (a brilliant line about Margaret Thatcher in a tryst with Count Dracula as she cut the ribbon on the London Orbital). His mates were wild and wacky, Ken Campbell especially, describing the arcane art of using the alimentary canal to draw in the spirit of a place, and they were at times wonderful, especially canal-boat-dweller Bill Griffiths, fine pianist and performer of some impressive English pastoral verse.

    It was an impressionistic evening. The one thing lacking was coherence. Maybe the subject doesn't lend itself to coherence - life on and around a mighty ring road. Maybe the richness and diversity of the discoveries these mavericks made, is good enough for now. Sadly through ill-health J.G. Ballard couldn't take part in last night's show. If he had, then maybe it would have been more intellectually 'together'. Sinclair leans heavily on Ballard when he begins to explore the significance of the road and the life it engenders. He niggles with Ballard's sixties statement, "The motorway landscape is where the future of England reveals itself - and that future is boring", suggests that Ballard has something when he insists that "Through repetition, boredom becomes transcendence". Reckons that "The M25 works - if you stay on it long enough. if you allow it to become the gateway to an alternative reality."

    The whole project is dark but also revealing, doomy but also prophetic. It's a rich and mixed-up insight into the 'alternative reality' in which many of us live and move today - the road, and the world of "off-highway shopping, gated communities, CCTV, mediparcs, Heathrow, low-concept executive housing, marinas..."

    To avoid Railtrack chaos I went East Coast to London, so drove back from Leeds to Liverpool last night. Pondering the contrast between the dream-world inside my Rover 214, and the fast, brutal metallic reality of the road while overtaking lorries through rain and spray. Working on a new idea. 'M62 Liverpool - Hull'. Actually, it is the most beautiful motorway in the country, walking alongside it would be a great journey. Passing through some of the greatest towns of England, and landscape rich with resonance, peaking at Saddleworth Moor, where Morrisey meets Myra and .... so on. Bill Drummond might do it, he's a fan. In How to be an artist he writes of how the M62 inspires him, especially "driving it east to west, at the close of day into the setting sun". But could such a project be as insightful as Sinclair's? He's a hard act to follow. (London Orbital is on Channel 4 on October 29, 11.40pm - 1.10am)
    Friday, October 25, 2002
    On the Sinclair trail
    I'm blogging from the easyInternetCafe on Tottenham Court Road. Day off - on the Iain Sinclair trail. Tonight at The Barbican Sinclair and friends including Bill Drummond, Scanner, Jimmy Cauty and other urban philosopher-geographers are presenting his M25 London Orbital, a show based around his travels around said circular. It's a one-off; seemed too good to miss. Chance also to meet up with Jonathan for a curates catch-up.

    So.. to get in the right frame of mind (I never arrive in London in a particularly together mood) I've decided, in best Sinclair fashion, to walk my way round London today. And already, the short mile between Euston and here, I've seen more, thought more (probably inhaled a lot more) than ever on the dead-zone of the Underground.

    London equals rush and too many inviting shopping opportunities to linger. More on this, no doubt, over the weekend.
    Thursday, October 24, 2002
    A life on the ocean waves
    The Round the World Yacht Race starts from Liverpool on Sunday. I took an hour today to have a look at the preparations at the Albert Dock, and arrived to find the crew of the Liverpool boat stocking up on their provisions for the year. Seemed to be an abundance of baby wipes and toilet rolls, a few boxes of corn flakes, a fair number of tins of mince, not really much variety by the look of it. Comfort in the form of shampoos, little else of note. An austere existence in store for these folk, it seems. Perhaps they'll restock in Cuba on 5th December at the end of their first leg.

    Fred tells me if you have a few grand to spare you can book a trip with them. Attractive idea: but on which leg - Hawaii to Hong Kong (6,000 miles) sounds attractive; or Mauritius / Cape Town / Salvador (5,800) perhaps. Now I remember how ill I get on the Liverpool - Isle of Man boat (80 miles) and think I'll stay on land. Or briefly, next week, in the air.
    Wednesday, October 23, 2002
    Mapping the month ahead
    The reading matter is piling up now for my Corrymeela placement which is less than a week away:Just now it's the latter two items that are engrossing me... maps of new places, to pore over and explore. The books will hopefully help my redundant heart and mind get spinning around the issues of reconciliation I'll be exploring with others at Corrymeela. In a way it may all turn out to be about map-making - reshaping lines of demarcation which divide, into paths which all can tread together. Hmm... should get some poetry to read there too.
    Tuesday, October 22, 2002
    Keep it brief
    Sifting through a load of old prayers I've written, for potential publication, I'm struck by how 'clever' and wordy my earlier ones were, especially the ones I wrote and performed at theological college, ever so tense and precious. But even last week's are wordy, wordy, wordy.

    Today I think the best ones are the briefest. Usually the ones done for all-age worship where everything is precied not to dumb-down but to pack-in meaning accessibly. Thus - pick of the bunch is the confession written recently with a computer theme:
      God sends us messages:
      when we receive them God makes our lives better
      when we delete them we make our lives worse.

      When your message says: "Love others" and we don't:
      Dear God, we're sorry

      When your message says: "Love yourselves" and we can't:
      Dear God, we're sorry

      When your message says: "Love me" and we won't:
      Dear God, we're sorry
      Help us to love you
      Help us to know you love us
      Help us to share your love with others. Amen

      Words of Forgiveness

      May God who is full of love,
      forgive you and free you,
      heal you and strengthen you
      help you to get the message
      and live the new life of Jesus
      in the strength of the Spirit. Amen.
    (Even that last bit goes on but that's the price you pay for having to be trinitarian)
    Monday, October 21, 2002
    "Look at that scoreboard. Look at the scoreboard. He's sixteen years of age. This doesn't happen..."
    From the last blog (profound) to an ecstatic email from Jim Weedon:
      Go into evertonfc.tv and log into the live commentary page, click last broadcast, fast forward to 1hr 45 mins and listen to the best 8 minutes commentary you will ever hear.
      If he doesn't sign, I will burn my share certificate.
      Rooney for England, Everton for Europe...
    Also profound. When I heard it tears filled my eyes.
    Do the poets' words carry any force for change?
      Sentient beings are numberless; I vow to save them.
      Consuming desires are endless; I vow to stop them.
      Bio-relations are intricate; I vow to honour them.
      Nature's way is beautiful; I vow to become it.
    - the four Bodhisattva vows modernised by Alan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder and Philip Walden illuminate an article on Buddhism and reverential ecology in the current Resurgence which popped through the door today. Popped through in timely fashion, to inspire a sermon for next Sunday which I doubt I'd have got anywhere with otherwise today, leaning heavily on Thich Nhat Nanh's Love Letters, extracted from Anger: Buddhist wisdom for cooling the flames.

    I struggle sometimes with Resurgence, "An international forum for ecological and spiritual thinking", because to someone concerned with such things but also conscious of realpolitic, it seems a bit too soft sometimes. It's beautiful to read and deeply inspirational, but can such thinking connect with realpolitic in any sort of effective way - that's the challenge.

    Or - do the poets' words (blog top) carry any force for change? Well, yes, they do, because they carry three vows - to save, stop, honour - statements of intent which demand positive action, along with the profound vow - to become nature's way - which anticipates activism from a heart deeply immersed in the very stuff being saved, honoured.

    From there, it's only a short step to, for instance, Democratic US Congressman Dennis Kucinich's major speech questioning the "war on terrorism" and his new Bill HR2459 which aims to create a Department of Peace in the US.

    From there the possibility emerges of, for instance, an Assembly of the Poor in Sian, a nonviolent people's movement which protests against the government's development policies, championing the ways of the old wisdom which sustained traditional communities for centuries, and still could.

    From there, because 'there' is at the very heart, deep quality emerges. It's mystical, yes, but that carries a power which can be translated into effective action. It's not that soft after all. Or, at the risk of sounding like a tissue-paper ad, it's soft and strong. So I am strengthened reading Resurgence. It provides encouragement to be part of the forum they promote, to find depth to sustain the struggle:
      Loaves and Fishes

      This is not
      the age of information.

      This is not
      the age of information.

      Forget the news,
      and the radio,
      and the blurred screen.

      This is the time
      of loaves
      and fishes.

      People are hungry,
      and one good word is bread
      for a thousand.

      - David Whyte, from the Resurgence anthology Earth Songs
    Sunday, October 20, 2002
    Incredible all right
    Today a straightforward Sunday - service, home, hone sermon, service, preach sermon, home. Still living on yesterday's glories, sorry that yesterday's blog had such a contrary conclusion, wishing it'd just remained a reverie on Rooney, re-watching the game twice (once before breakfast, once after lunch), and also glowing about another highlight of the past 24 hours - seeing The Incredible String Band at The Neptune last night.

    Paul and I could not believe it - once again we seemed the youngest people in a 'rock' concert audience. And the Band, back on tour after 27 years, seemed truly and almost magically ancient. Looking like the sorts of viziers, merlins, gnomes, jesters their songs conjure, when wizened old Robin Williamson, Mike Heron and Clive Palmer shambled onto stage it was a worry they'd make it through. All but Williamson sat down and stayed static; all spent the evening looking for their reading glasses and shuffling papers on their music stands. Poor old Clive kept taking what we assumed were essential 'comfort breaks' between songs, shuffling in that sideways way of a man badly needing a hip-op. Bringing a whole new interpretation to the expression rock and roll.

    ÒThe Incredible String Band were an inspiration and a sign.Ó said Robert Plant in 1979. They were out of the picture by then and I suspect that even though in their heyday they were championed by the Beatles, Stones, Syd Barrett, Marc Bolan and Donovan nevertheless they were always a bit peripheral. Their music's an amalgum of folk whimsy, committed British traditional, epic poetic, singalong blues and (probably the defining mood) chemically-induced daftness. But - what quality. What beauty. All of which, combined, means - what a wonder to see them last night.
      What a wonder to see them - still alive after doing all those drugs;

      What a wonder to see them - still fantastically creative;

      What a wonder to see them - still, by their evident generosity towards each other and understanding onstage, loving performing these gems, loving introducing new ones;

      What a wonder to see them - not bothered that they looked and perhaps felt so aged, instead trusting the music to carry them and the audience into worlds of light, energy, joy.
    Four old men and Williamson's missus (Birkenhead-Asian-born Bina) put on a most unconventional 'gig', and a real unexpected treat for us. But I guess that's probably what they always did, even back in the sixties. Even back then, when their legs could still hold them up for more than five minutes at a time, I'd guess they were just as laid-back and wonderful as they proved last night.
      Listen to the song of life.
      Its rainbow's end won't hold you.
      Its crimson shapes and purple sounds,
      Softly will enfold you.

      It gurgles through the timeless glade,
      In quartertones of lightning.
      No policy is up for sale,
      In case the truth be frightening.

      You know what you could be.
      Tell me my friend,
      Why you worry all the time
      What you should be.

    Saturday, October 19, 2002
    Lifted - by David Bowie's majestic performance of Starman on last night's Later;

    Lifted - by David Sheppard's descriptions of his stance against apartheid despite the pain of disagreement with his MCC colleagues in the sixties;

    And lifted - especially and massively - by Everton's unprecedented win against Arsenal this afternoon.

    The promise of Wayne Rooney already fulfilled days before his 17th birthday, with a fantastic strike that killed off the champs, their first defeat in ten months.

    Lifted by that despite it putting Liverpool at the top of the table.

    I noticed in the church mailing today there's a vacancy at the church across the road from the Anfield ground; the blurb says that "the proposed development plans for Liverpool Football Club add another exciting possibility and dimension for ministry". Pure speculation, of course, but, could, I wondered, an Evertonian cleric take on such a position? Possibility and dimension certainly, but shame also, to add to the conundrum. Surely you couldn't put heart and soul into such a place. And would God be so cruel as to call you there anyway?

    Well, on nights like this, generosity comes easily, town this evening will be buzzing despite the rain, and Walton Breck doesn't seem so Godless after all despite being in the shadow of that red-seat stadium the other side of Stanley Park.
    Anne and Anxiety
    On a midnight drive home from Robert & Joan's 25th Anniversary meal I put on one of the new Greenbelt 2002 seminar tapes which arrived this week - Anxious about many things? in which Ann Morisy and Phil Stone chatted through how we deal with anxiety, particularly in the church context.

    Ann said she reckoned we spend much of our lives organising ourselves against anxiety. I'm not convinced by that because I think anxiety can creep up on you unnoticed and only get dealt with after the explosion or breakdown, whatever. Or once you realise you're listening to psychobabble tapes in the car after an evening's pleasant wining and dining.

    But I agree with much of what she says - we spend much of our lives with anxiety. Clergy certainly do, but thankfully in our Toxteth and Wavertree get-togethers it's sometimes acknowledged; which cuts down on competitive talk ("my church is bigger than your church" kinda stuff) and allows for a bit of light relief along the way. Ann (being a Bootle lass, she would) also said that laughter is the proven antidote to anxiety, which justifies my intention to take time over the next 24 hours to catch up on this week's tv comedies.

    I can see how it may work - Coupling: deconstructs the intensity in relationships; The Office: enables a sideways look at working life, rather like the equally excellent Dilbert and all those other nine-to-five strips; and Peter Kay and The League of Gentlemen: they offer brilliant snapshots of the glorious silliness and incongruities in everyday people. Self included. So it's rewind ... relief.
    Thursday, October 17, 2002
    On Waldo
    [Blogging on from yesterday's theme...] What appeals to me about Wales and Welshness is the rich culture deeply embued with a sense of the peripheral, which gives it licence to be daring, different, critical, anarchistic.

    I lead the occasional service at our local Welsh Congregation although I don't have the language (they put up with my preaching in English, and in the hymns and Lord's Prayer I follow them half-a-word behind). And I find refreshment being among such nonconformists for awhile. It gives me licence to dig into the tradition - or at least, those parts of the tradition which have been Anglicised.

    And what a rich tradition it is. Reading the latest Planet [The Welsh Internationalist] today I gain energy from an account of the Quakers in Wales - still deeply involved in protesting for peace and justice, risking prison for putting their beliefs into practice at Greenham Common, Faslane, Menwith, and so on. And I'm drawn again into the life and work of the great twentieth-century Pembrokeshire poet Waldo Williams, who, the article tells me, withheld taxes as a protest against military spending, and as a consequence he lost his teaching job and had all his furniture seized:
      His effects were then auctioned - but his local Friends meeting turned out in numbers and bought them all back for him. The bailiffs could do nothing, as the meeting now owned the goods.
    On this day which has otherwise been taken up with anxious clergy meetings I returned to Williams' great collection-in-translation, The Peacemakers, and find it again, a source of strength and vision:

      He does not stand devising consummate design
      From our affliction. Look, he runs to us, and
      Secretly, with a secret may not be unlocked,
      Gives the help of his hand.

        (from 'Why I am a Quaker', 1956)

    Wednesday, October 16, 2002
    The Welsh thing
    This Liverpool Welsh identity thing I have rises to the surface on evenings like this one, where 'England settle for for a desperately disappointing draw' according to the headline writers but Wales - brilliant underdog Wales - 'grab a brilliant victory against Italy at the Millennium Stadium'. Hallelujah! - as the chapels of the Valleys must be singing; Hiraeth - oh, how I feel it tonight, that longing for home, that urge to be back in the land of my fathers to share that rare triumph with my people.

    The reality is, I'm a Davies and three or four generations back you'll find some Wrexham connections in one branch of our family. It does mean something to me, this Liverpool Welsh thing. It's not phoney but I have to admit it's a bit romanticised, it comes and goes and it probably means more to me when I'm living across in Liverpool than it did in those four years I've actually spent living in Wales... still, I won't linger over such sober reflections at this time of national rejoicing.
    Tuesday, October 15, 2002
    The mark of Cains

    Quick blog today as my evening begins very soon and consists of the onerous task of helping lead a meeting of our Men's Group. Tonight we begin at 6.00 because the occasion is a guided tour around Cains Brewery ending with beer and sandwiches, all-in for £3.75. It'll be a struggle but I'll get through it.

    Monday, October 14, 2002
    Territories at the edge
    David Sheppard writes about the 'inner city'. I'm with him, and I'm sure he'd agree with this niggle, but that phrase seems just a bit inadequate today, to describe the realities of the social and political urban landscape. A bit hackneyed (if you'll excuse the pun, Hackney being an example - it's hardly 'inner', it's out east, but its character fits Sheppard's descriptions of the areas of our conurbations which are lacking in resources, struggling, suffering, (old-fashioned word:) poor).

    In the years since he wrote Built as a City we've become far more aware of the poverty of outer estates, of pockets of rural deprivation, in addition to the difficulties of the inner cities. And trends in development seem to be turning back in favour of inner cities; my old Toxteth parish takes in recent riverside developments which transform it into a yacht-club paradise the far side of the dock road (with attendent problems and all sorts of issues - for another blog, not this one).

    The excellent www.spikemagazine.com today features an interview with Iain Sinclair (see previous blogs) on his new book London Orbital, which describes Sinclair's year 2000 walk around the M25. As the interviewer puts it:
      ... this was his unique project - to walk anti-clockwise around the motorway and the areas that it enclosed from Waltham Abbey, exploring the huge tranches of unknown territory that lay bounded by the M25 outside of the city centre. And in doing so, comprehending the scale of the invasion of commerce in these zones and witnessing, as it were, an invisible landscape disappear.
    One of his observations about what he found along the way concerned the recommendations of the Urban Task Force report, about housing for the South East, and the colossal amount of 'brownfield renewal' deemed necessary in and around the capital:
      "These seem to be projections made from a very privileged metropolitan standpoint about something that's going to happen 'out there', without true knowledge of just what actually is out there," he says. "The notion of decanting swathes of the populace into these amorphous nowheres, these liminal territories at the edge of the city is, I think, a nightmare prospect."
    Therein a hint about a new urban 'poverty' - or possibly old, dressed up differently: as the article continues,
      This, as London Orbital makes clear, is precisely what the city has always done with its undesirables and madmen. Sinclair - an altogether different kind of asylum seeker, but nonetheless wandering around, not knowing entirely where he is - says that he was amazed to find the French philosopher Michel Foucault's hypothesis about the optimum distance that asylums should be placed away from the city - 20 miles - so palpably confirmed.

      "I was dazzled by the Holloway Sanitarium [now Virginia Park] - the ultimate heritage - asylum conversion," he tells me. "The thing that disturbed me [about other asylum conversions] was the absence of memory - all traces of what had been there before had been cannily erased, including the name."
    So... no contradiction with David Sheppard, but enriching the discussion he engaged so well from the sixties to the nineties. Perhaps a new urban theology could adopt Sinclair's rich language, and build discussion around those 'territories at the edge'.

    Sunday, October 13, 2002
    Interfering Bishops
    Impressed with bishops today. One - David Hope for saying he's still a parish priest at heart and so is aiming to leave Bishopsthorpe palace to return to that role in a couple of years. What a great example.

    Two - David Sheppard just for being him - I bought his autobiography from our church bookstall today - a man with a rare passion for living up to Christ's bias to the poor, the one thing which inspired me to take Christianity seriously as a teenager and still fires me up today (little else in the safe, safe, church does). He put me forward for ordination. I was honoured.

    And three - the bishops who presented a sizeable and detailed dossier to parliament to underline why a military assault on Iraq would be so wrong. Janet Davies of the Sabeel ecumenical centre for Palestinian Liberation Theology told me she'd just found out about this, and it was news to me too. People complain about the church interefering in politics. Sounds to me they've produced something every bit as substantial as Blair's 'dossier' (whatever happened to that?) and likely to be more persuasive to anyone with a serious eye on world affairs. Keep on interfering - keep on role-modelling - men (and eventually women) like these three!!
    Saturday, October 12, 2002
    Zipped-up winners
    Good to see England dig out a win in difficult circumstances, the mud, the crowd, the crowd trouble, the first half Slovakian onslaught, the background of last night's shootings. Hasn't that part of Europe had enough rain of late? The England bench - Eriksson, MacLaren, Lee, Clemence - looked like a row of old-timers at a bus stop, dressed in their big grey padded macs with the greasy-stained look, zipped-up to their noses, standing dripping in the downpour.

    The goalmouths looked like the ones we used to play in at school: which I would try avoiding, not liking the cold and wet, but never could for long, being a right-back. Memory tells me I played football every day of my comprehensive school life, but I still hated it in the winter.

    Winter seemed to arrive here this morning, too. Chilly and very wet. The blues put off, though, by a successful end to our children's week with a loud thing called a 'praise party' run by a group of very enthusiastic young people from a neighbouring church, which, even though it's not my thing, was a good thing which left us feeling satisfied that what we'd been doing had worked well, lots of positives on which to build.

    I looked at the leader of Damascus Road, a guy called Matthew, bouncing and dancing and getting-the-crowd-going for a full two hours and recalled when we used to do similar things about a decade ago with our teenage 'Rolling Magazine' roadshows. My energy's long gone for that, I told Matthew, laughingly, later. But a different sort of energy emerges these days. A quiet one. One which tries to enable others to find their energy source and fulfil it. Something I'm working on. Never underestimate the determination of a quiet man: Duncan-Smith, Wilkinson, Eriksson, now Davies: there's a group to grace any bus-stop this week....
    Friday, October 11, 2002
    Super Lamb Banana still does it for me
    Another wander through the riches of Liverpool's Biennial today. At the Tate I suffered contemporary art overload - too many challenging video installations too early in the morning - and had to leave when confronted with Jason Rhoades' The Liver Pool, "an inflatable pool in the shape of a liver, with audio and pumping equipment, green peas, white virgin Styrofoam beads, salmon roe and white glue".

    Still, I managed to find interest in two approaches to filming the natural environment - Clare Langan's journeys through landscapes bubbling with frightening sulphurous life, colours more-real-than-real, "explorations", she says, "of mankind's brief and fragile existence, in the face of the apparrently limitless forces of nature", and Mark Lewis's beautiful films of Algonquin Park, Ontario, Canada [above], where humanity features as part of the quiet activity in the vast space of nature, a boat slowly emerging from out of an island mist, a group of ice-hockey players coming gradually into view in a corner of a vast snowscape. Beautiful.

    But the best art in Liverpool today, for me, was in the arena of the general public. Two things: Tatsurou Bashi's Villa Victoria [below] and the now-well-established Super Lamb Banana [left]. The Villa Victoria is the city centre's massive Queen Victoria Monument transformed into a real-life hotel room, on view to the public by day, on hire (at £100) by night, and sold out now till the end of its run late November. A fantastic idea, amusing (would she have been amused?) and one which has caught the public's imagination: imagine waking up with an eighteen-foot statue of Queen Vic at the foot of your bed. It's probably the most-visited Biennial piece, and one we'll all remember gladly.

    Taro Chiezo's Super Lamb Banana has enjoyed a recent repaint. She's pink, for one month only, this wonderfully provocative hybrid seen by tens of thousands on one of the city's main arterial routes each week. Pink to promote National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I muse, as I look fondly at her, whether Super Lamb Banana is becoming the latest icon for our city. She certainly eclipses the nearby Yellow Submarine for public interest, which speaks of an era well-past now (though still a major lever for our lively tourist industry), she's something relevant in an era of anxiety over cloning, GM crops, food safety, etc, and she's a symbol of new things happening in a city gradually reinventing itself, with some creativity and thankfully quite a bit of wit as well.
    Thursday, October 10, 2002
    Flashes of now
    Moments of sudden illumination. Like, at yesterday's school assembly, in mid-flow realising that I was standing talking to 300-or-more teenagers and they were, mostly, listening closely to me. As if my words meant something. It made me take my own words more seriously as I spilled them out of my mouth, projecting to the distant corners of the chapel.

    Attentive moments are rare. I spend so much mental energy either planning ahead ("who's this baptism couple I'm about to visit?") or retreading old ground ("I hope that couple didn't notice I'd forgotten their names...")

    Thank God for these occasional flashes of now. For light presence. The shock of truth. Today, walking alongside the park I noticed as if for the first time, that the autumn trees had a light of their own; without the aid of sun, they were shining. Stopped me in my tracks. Made me feel alive.
    Wednesday, October 09, 2002
    Big music in a small room
    I'm struggling in defiance of the urge to keep on planning, preparing, honing when I know that I ought to have an hour away from it before the evening pusch begins.

    So, as a distraction I have washing around the room the sound of Godspeed you Black Emperor, one of those out-rock collectives who remain defiantly anonymous behind artsy packaging and personnel interchangeable with others of the same ilk such as Kranky label-mates Windy and Carl and Bowery Electric, etc.

    It was the pictured graphic and the cd title that goes with it which finally got me listening to them, lift yr skinny fists like antennas to heaven!. David Keenan wrote of this Montreal group in The Wire recently,
      "Of course Godspeed rock (note for English readers: this is nothing to be scared of) - three loud guitars, two loud basses, two drummers - they understand the beauty of volume and power, that rock is most powerful when its trajectory isn't fixed, when it simply GOES. All that matters is the amount of revs you give it and the size of your runway.
    Though it's loud it can be oddly unintrusive; I find this stuff good background music, integrating noises off like the ever-passing traffic and half-lines of conversation from passers-by. Not as essential as it has been in the past when living next to noisy students and needing something to wash their Oasis out of my walls. And maybe that description of it is not complementary enough to the nine-or-so in Godspeed who put so much skill into creating these sonic booms, twitches and meditations which must get harder to integrate the more of them join in. I reckon though, for best effect they should be heard played in a dockside warehouse, or a large natural underground cavern, at very high volume.

    From the mouths of infants...
    I'm deeply involved in running a children's after-school activity week - highlight so far came yesterday:
      ME - "Can you tell me one of the Ten Commandments?"
      SMALL BOY - "Don't have sex when you're married"
    Tuesday, October 08, 2002
    A Prayer for Enemies
    Found this on Doxos v4 by Huw Raphael, who appears to be an excellent blogger in the Orthodox tradition...

    A Prayer for Enemies by Bishop Nicholai Velimirovich (a Serbian Orthodox bishop who opposed the Nazis and was eventually sent to the Dachau concentration camp)
      Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Enemies have driven me into Your embrace more than friends have. Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.

      Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world. Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Your tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

      They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world. They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments. They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

      Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish. Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf. Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background. Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand. Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep. Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out. Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Your garment.

      Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them. Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me: so that my fleeing to You may have no return; so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs; so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul; so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger; so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven; ah, so that I may for once be freed from self-deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

      Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself. One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends. It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies. Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies. A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand. But a son blesses them, for he understands. For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them. Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.
    Irish news - yesterday, today .... for ever??
    In anticipation of my Northern Ireland placement, coming round quite soon now, today I subscribed to the Irish News online. Just to get some picture of what's happening now. I'm under no illusions that by November I'll be fully informed. But I may have some reasonable questions formed by then.

    The first article I read was about a call to join in prayers for peace and reconciliation by St PeterÕs Church in Drogheda on Saturday October 12, a day of celebration for Oliver Plunkett, Òa tireless champion for peace and reconciliation and an ideal patron to adopt for peace in Ireland,Ó according to church spokesman Tommy Burns.

    This Plunkett sounds like someone I'd like to meet in my investigations into reconciliation in the NI context. Who is he? It turns out he is no more - but was a pastor at St PeterÕs, who was hanged, drawn and quartered in London following a trial for treason in 1681. Which reminds me of the failings in my first assumption: the 'now' in the question, "what's happening 'now' in Northern Ireland" has a very long lead-lag time......
    Monday, October 07, 2002
    The spirituality of the web
    Sometimes after blogging I go straight onto weblogs.com to see my name in lights but also to play a little investigative game of checking out some other weblogs listed there. Usually one or two names catch the eye and reward a look. One such is theoblogical.org which is devoted to exploring theological issues as associated with internet / new techology. Some good links from there, not least to an article in spirituality.com where writer David Weinberger discusses The spirituality of the web and makes the claim that the very architecture of the web "is" spiritual, even though he thinks that most of the creators of the Net are rational, non-theistic, secular humanists (like himself):
      Here's how I think the Web's architecture is spiritual: The Web isn't a pile of content. It isn't a collection of wires. Well, it is both those things but if that's all it was, it would be profoundly uninteresting. What makes it a web is the fact that it has links. That's quite literally what turned the Internet into the Web. But every link says, "Here's something I care about. Maybe you will, too. So, go away from my page and go visit this other page." Every link is a small act of generosity, of selflessness. And that's what I understand human spirituality to be about, at least to a large degree. Thus, the Web's architecture is spiritual.
    Weinberger feels that the Web is influencing a return to our best nature:
      I see it all the time! My email is filled with messages from people I don't know. (No, I don't mean spam.) Or from people I have only gotten to know through email. We talk about what matters to us. These are elevating not because they're high-minded, sober, responsible, thoughtful, eyes-gazing-upwards. Definitely not. They're elevating because the content that we develop through talking is eye-opening and not to mention it's often funny. The world I live in every day is greatly enriched not just by the presence of these strangers but by the "availability"Ñthe possibilityÑof these co-dwellers. Or take a look at weblogs. People writing about what they care about butÑmore importantÑlinking up with other webloggers, responding and continuing conversations. These relationshipsÑseemingly dry and mediated by a keyboardÑhave an emotional depth proven by the response of webloggers to one another during times of personal trial. Quite amazing.
    And his most interesting observation, for me, is about how the new communications may reshape ministry. He speaks of the Web as being the marketplace reborn, where people are put into direct contact with one another, hyperlinks replacing hierarchy. He sees organized religion as "certainly one of the tougher established hierarchies to crack!" but continues:
      I would expect that the Net will reduce the trappings of authority of ministries. E.g., if you email a question to your minister, don't you expect a more personal and revelatory answer than you might get in more formal circumstances? And won't Web sites pull together parishioners in ways that let them minister to one another outside of the structure of the church?
    Well, it's an interesting development, I hope it does help reshape some aspects of what we do as it works its way out. Particularly in terms of interacting with the younger public - like this site being accessible to those I preach at during school hours, the texts of my talks available to them to read, offering them the opportunity to re-engage with what I've said outside hours, challenge and discuss and hopefully help make meaningful conversations grow.
    Developing in your Christian faith in contemporary Britain seems to require you take a course. There are courses from the cocktail set called 'Alpha', courses from the more thoroughly thoughtful called 'Emmaus'. And others. The question begging to be answered is around whether people may be initiated into Christian life by other means. Some must be: working alongside other Christians on social action projects, perhaps. Being mentored by the poorest on those year-out placements which can turn young people's worlds inside out, beautifully.

    Our church runs on very suburban lines so the academic model still rules. Nevertheless today I was happy to sit with a group of colleagues and dream up a new series of get-togethers for people who've only been around the church for a relatively short time. It's a course, really. But one which will be shaped by interaction with those who choose to take it up. No great prior agenda except the concern to integrate people into the life of the church and primarily into the life of God. Whatever that means for them.

    We've discovered some good material from perhaps an unlikely source - the Millennium Dome. The videos that were used in the Faith Zone of that project have been compiled by Culham College and the National Society. They're short and lively presentations on the subjects of Church in the landscape, Jesus in the UK, Worship, Healing, Education, Justice, Freedom, Mission and a final section called Beginnings, a series of quotations from children about their world, God, their feelings about their own experience. We felt they'd be ideal discussion-starters for our nascent disciples. Look forward to trying them out.
    Saturday, October 05, 2002
    The city and the sea
    Funny girl, Kate Rusby. She stands there singing the sweetest of songs about a girl standing seven years at a quayside waving her lover off to sea and waiting for his return, and then goes into a banter about finding that, with age she's developing upper arm muscles. Distressing for her. She's a Barnsley lass who says that where she comes from they call this physical phenomenon 'Bingo Wings'. (Caused by years of holding bingo cards in the air claiming 'house'). And after all this hilarity she launches straight into another sorrowful song about lost love and longing.

    Paul and I were in St George's Hall, Bradford, to see her last night. An enjoyable flying visit across the Pennines. In her needlessly apologetic way Kate introduced one song about a sailor by saying, "Not much connection between Bradford and the sea..." but there I beg to differ because in my mongrel blood I am quarter-Yorkshire, my maternal grandparents being drawn away from the Bradford area to the then-bright lights of booming Liverpool at the turn of the last century. As so many were, either by the prospect of emigrating to start again in America or by Liverpool's commercial promises. Grandad Barker and his brother opened a shoe shop in Waterloo. As we drove through Shipley in the dark Paul asked me, "Do you feel at home now?" Well, maybe I could.

    Bradford's one of Liverpool's rivals for the International City of Culture 2008 bid. I don't know it well enough to comment on how serious a rival each is to the other. Their St George's Hall is a tidy Victorian theatre, great for a cosy gig like Kate's, but it hardly compares to the breathtaking Greco-Roman conceit which is our St George's Hall, considered one of the greatest neo-classical buildings in the world. If the judging was on architecture alone then surely we'd win hands down.

    But, 'city of culture' suggests a longer look at what's happening there now, among the people. And one thing Bradford has which Liverpool ought to but doesn't, is a vibrant multicultural life. Last night Bradford city centre had the beauty of celebration about it, shining and twinkling with all manner of colourful lights, draped around the major squares and thoroughfares in anticipation of Divali (Nov 4).
    Friday, October 04, 2002
    Blessed Curses
    Lighten up. It's Friday. Enough anti-war stuff, especially now it's now emerged that two-thirds of Americans are saying it's patriotic to question the war (according to Andrew Stephen). Instead, the much-loved Friday tradition of turning to the NS competition for relief and smiles. This week's especially good. Compers were asked to send in curses. There's something for everybody.
      Education snobs: May you see your children rejected by the University of Luton
      Money cheats: May you contract the sickness for which you are claiming sickness benefit
      Bloggers: My th vwls n yr kybrd dsspr
      Everyone nervous about their status: May you receive the full confidence of your board of directors
      And finally, any other world leader: May George Bush decide to change your regime
    Oh, back to that again. Well, a bit of light relief anyway.
    Thursday, October 03, 2002
    Under the fig tree
    I am frightened we are hurtling towards a war that will have unseen and unforeseeable consequences. For we will not only fight a wicked regime but enter a war that could devastate and destroy our friends. My mind goes back to a visit to Iraq in 1999. I was invited with others, including the Bishop of Coventry, to a lunch with a Christian family. At his table our host welcomed us, our Iraqi minders, secret police, and drivers. He took a large unleavened bread and broke it, sharing it with us and saying in Arabic: "Under God, we are all one, as we share this bread."

    Before the meal ended he beckoned me for a quiet word in his garden, telling me in a few hastily grabbed moments what life was like. It was not good: His action that lunchtime put him and his family in danger. "I am making this garden for peace," he said. "It is on the site of a bomb crater. Come and sit down with me under this fig tree."

    In that moment I reflected on the vision of the prophet Micah. "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, or ever again be trained to make war. But each one will sit down under his own vine and fig tree with no one to trouble him." Today I wonder what will happen to such people, to one who practices "loving his enemy" if war comes.

    - Peter Price, Bishop of Kingston, Southwark, in has speech at the anti-war rally in London on Saturday, Sept. 28: quoted in full here, and also in the current SojoMail.
    Wednesday, October 02, 2002
    Linda's just begun her Youth Ministry course at Ridley Hall; only two years after I left. Significant - the entire Davies generation gets an unprecedented, unexpected Cambridge education! It's less unexpected that it's a church education, though.

    I look forward to hearing how her Centre for Youth Ministry (CYM) course balances theology, churchy stuff and wider youth work principles. I've seen it on CYM's library shelves and I'd relish the chance to analyse Paulo Friere's Pedagogy of the Oppressed in our present missionary context, and to take steps, like I haven't for a decade, towards 'doing church' in the light of such liberation principles.

    I also look forward to hearing whether the food's improved and how CYM liberationists (should they exist after hours of dense and difficult Friere) respond to the oppressive college culture which seeks to crush the free spirit and introduce everyone to a croquet-playing comfort zone they feel disinclined to escape from.... or maybe it's only the trainee clergy who fall for that.
    Tuesday, October 01, 2002
    Essential snippets from Social Criticism Review
    Following-up yesterday's blog, some references to back up the argument about 'oil' and the ethical stance:

    Far from being the terrorists of the world, the overwhelming majority of the Islamic peoples of the Middle East and south Asia have been its victims - victims largely of the West's exploitation of precious natural resources in or near their countries. John Pilger
      Following the end of the Cold War, the United States seriously misread the nature of the world and the role of the United States in it. Instead of leading through diplomacy and attempting to set a good example, the United States has resorted most of the time to bluster, military force, and financial manipulation. Chalmers Johnson
    A war against Iraq has no logical connection to the tragic events of Sept. 11. Rather than diminishing terrorism, such an attack would further inflame anger against the United States and may well lead to more terrorist attacks. We have a right to wonder if the motive for war is not stopping terrorism but expanding US power and controlling Mideast oil. Howard Zinn

    The full texts from which these were extracted, and a wealth of other crucial reading besides, are collected in the excellent online library, Social Criticism Review.