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

    Friday, January 31, 2003
    Pic of the month - February
    Put my latest Pic of the Month up today. It's from the excellent rejesus site; well worth a visit for all sorts of reasons. Including ... new church... (which is becoming the theme of the week).
    Thursday, January 30, 2003
    Doing new church
    Characteristics of the new church (from Small Ritual):
      - portability/modularity/brevity
      - compactness/playfulness/interactivity
      - community/pooling/sharing
      - narrative/metaphorical/allusive
    I think IÕve spent a lot of today doing new church. First of all in fascinating conversation with people deeply involved in proposals to transform famous Liverpool landmark St Lukes from a bombed-out shell of a building into the Liverpool Peace Centre, housing a memorial to civilian war casualties, exhibition space and the ubiquitous cafe, as well as many rooms for educational and conference use, and (befitting a city-wide project) an interfaith space. There would be a particular emphasis on peace education supporting the city's schools in their developing National Curriculum Citizenship requirement.

    Prime movers in this are the city council and the local branch of the United Nations Association. Since the bomb took the roof off St Lukes the council have cared for it. And since the UNA are a ÔneutralÕ agency representing much of what is important in global peacebuilding, they seem ideal partners. But schools, faith groups, local partnerships and many others are keen to see this happen, and committed to working at it together. Modularity / interactivity / community / pooling / sharing: this exciting idea fits them all.

    And later, it was all narrative / metaphorical / allusive at a meeting of the Focolare, an international movement of people committed to bringing about unity, born, like the United Nations, out of World War Two. ItÕs a unity of all peoples based on Christian foundations but embracing all who seek solidarity.

    We are fortunate to have a number of Focolare folk living in community, locally. They are good friends to us, and this evening they gathered others from around the region to share stories and especially to Ôreport backÕ on a major conference in Geneva at which the founder Chiara Lubich, addressed the World Council of Churches.

    Theirs is a simple idea - to re-discover the Gospel and to put it into practice in their daily lives. They are ordinary people living ordinary lives but by their commitment theyÕve developed a new current of spirituality - what they call the spirituality of unity - Ògiving rise to a movement of spiritual and social renewal which is markedly communitarian in nature.Ó Their value to us locally is evidently shared wherever they are, because a speaker at the WCC highlighted it: they Òcreate opennessÓ between people. A rare and special quality.
    Wednesday, January 29, 2003
    On the mix
    ItÕs the season of the DJ mix, the compilation. This week IÕm enjoying MorcheebaÕs contribution to the Back to Mine series in which they offer their favourite and influential sounds for easy home listening. Amongst them favourite of mine, surrealist country singer Jim White, and plenty of the sort of trip hop, blues and psychedelia youÕd expect from Morcheeba.

    I have decided to avoid John PeelÕs contribution to the FabricLive series, because his blind devotion to lfc has finally diminished his musical sensibilities; it turns out heÕs ruined what would otherwise be an excellent collection of songs with drop-ins of commentary from ancient cup finals, and a full version of that sad old Marsden dirge the kop still persist in whining out every game. He could do with a few home truths but I doubt heÕd hear them from an Evertonian.

    Instead, four cheers for Rough Trade Shops whose recent compilations on Mute have been exceptionally good, exciting, enlightening. The latest arrived yesterday, Counter Culture 2002, which they describe modestly as Ósome of the things we liked most in the last 12 monthsÓ. ThereÕs 41 tracks, impossible to precis or categorise. On my first couple of plays IÕve had some unexpected Pixies moments - The Polyphonic SpreeÕs Soldier Girl Radio Edit has a Bossonova-like epic madness about it, and how good to hear Kim Deal on a return to form with The BreedersÕ The She. Among other highlights, the thrilling High Voltage by Electric Six, and the untrained children's voices of The Langley Schools Music Project singing Phil Spector's To Know Him is to love Him. Essential listening. I could go on. Writing about music isnÕt enough. LetÕs go listen.
    Neil who does various stuff on the web including the Greenbelt blog has invited me to sign-up to SquawkBox, his latest venture which is a a weblog commenting system. It enables bloggers to add interactive comments to their blogs. So you, the reader can become a contributor to the site. It's up-and-running now. If you run your own blog you may want to check it out; it's free.
    Monday, January 27, 2003
    Confessions of a teenage Marine supporter
    Web activity today included my linking to the Blue Coat School website so students can access my assembly talks and maybe interact; and adding to Other Writing an old footy article, Marine Biology, or Confessions of a teenage Marine supporter, first published in Offside! The When Saturday Comes Special 1989 (article includes some useful footy links and one useless footy link which I'm very pleased with). They were enjoyable days, writing for fun and a little profit as a student. Might try my hand at footy writing again sometime.
    Sunday, January 26, 2003
    Click on Small Ritual
    Following on yesterdayÕs blog about states of identity and belonging, IÕve spent awhile this afternoon in the excellent webworld of Small Ritual. ItÕs a beautiful and facinating world which is largely the work of Steve Collins, a guy from EalingÕs Grace church, home (they say) of Ôfresh vital worshipÕ.

    Small Ritual considers what Christian spirituality might look like in the 21st century, questions like what church premises might be or become, and contains a wealth of writings, polemic, opinion, theory, much of it SteveÕs own, some notable ÔothersÕ.

    As a taster, hereÕs a pic from the site, of Dreamspace, a public artwork by Maurice Agis which Steve visited in London. He describes it as "an 'environment', for want of a better word, half the size of a footbal pitch, made of coloured fabric held up by air pressure. The extraordinary lighting effects are due only to daylight shining through the material, and there is an abstract ambient soundscape which augments the atmosphere."

    Although it seems Óa bit BarbarellaÓ nevertheless it seemed like the medieval churches must have, to their visitors, a 'sensual otherworld',Óa deliberate attempt to model heaven.Ó

    Steve wonders, ÓWhat if our churches were as ravishing and playful as Dreamspace, were Dreamspaces too? Would people come into the church just for the pleasure of light and sound and space [dream on!]. But would the pleasure itself be the carrier of God, as much as we expect, say, the words of a preacher to be? Can sensual pleasure be spiritual experience - be a vehicle of evangelism?Ó

    On yesterday's themes, Small Ritual suggests that
      "Churches are part of a range of entities to which we can belong in some way, and by belonging mark out our position and identity in society: such things as charities, political parties, magazines, clubs, professional bodies, football teams, even some shops.

      We might call these entities 'network servers'. We plug into them for meaning, identity, community. We like to get small items periodically, badges of commitment, tokens of belonging."
    Today's mechanisms of belonging include magazine subscriptions, donations, wearing the clothes, selling raffle tickets, being in the audience, buying the CD, signing petitions, internet discussion boards, fan clubs, and voting. The question is posed: "What are plug-in church's mechanisms of belonging?"

    For more on this, the excellent What would Jesus wear? exercise and plenty besides, get off here immediately and click Small Ritual.
    Saturday, January 25, 2003
    Exploration and exploring
    At The Mirfield Centre today I had one of those Little Gidding moments. You know, the bit where Eliot writes:
      With the drawing of this Love
      and the voice of this Calling
      We shall not cease from exploration
      And the end of all our exploring
      Will be to arrive where we started
      And to know the place for the first time.
    It came during a day titled 'A New Belonging?', exploring how people today seek out their identity and spiritual humanity. And during the morning session a quote provided by Beverley McAinsh of The Living Spirituality Network helped me tell my story:
      "Future Christianity is generating itself from the lives of those who have fled to the margins" (Sr Wendy Beckett)
    In our small group I recalled how my 'exploring' began 'on the margins' of the church but was nurtured by a supportive 'centre' (parish clergy who gave us mavericks encouragement, advice, and space to do our own thing). And now that my journey had rushed me breathlessly into the 'centre' my task is to become one who will contact, support, and nurture those 'on the margins'.

    This is not a new thought but a returning to a good old one; and among many rich things said by the guest speakers today I was especially encouraged by a slight remark by David Hope, Archbishop of York. He mentioned a couple of 'signs of hope' in the way the church interacts with the world today - and one was Greenbelt.

    Greenbelt is, of course, the 'marginal' place which has energised my journey for 25-plus years; a community of creativity and inspiration. A place to dream and try, and fail, dream more and try again. It's somewhere which addresses in art and soul, so many of the questions we were grappling with today. How to make connections; how to 'earth' spirituality; how to 'travel light'; how to listen for God's voice among the artists and outsiders.

    Greenbelt's not the only space where this happens, of course, but it's the one which has most helped me. Good, today, to spend time in another but similar space, exploring how to change our language from the "discourse of mourning" at the decline of our structures into something positive and new, how to "inhabit the collapsing Temple" (James Alison) and to "keep [our] mind[s] in hell and despair not" (David Hope / St. Silouan).

    It wasn't a comfortable place, but as Rudolph Bora has said,
      "When the forms of an old culture are dying the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure."
    Friday, January 24, 2003
    The Cost of Living
    In a recent Times article entitled The United States of America has gone mad, John le Carre wrote,
      Last Friday a friend of mine in California drove to his local supermarket with a sticker on his car saying: "Peace is also Patriotic." It was gone by the time he'd finished shopping.
    ItÕs a wryly amusing observation, but also a reminder that itÕs tough being a peace activist anytime, and at this time it must be particularly tough being a peace activist in the States.

    So it was good to hear from Rose Marie Berger, Sojourners Associate Editor, after yesterdayÕs little gesture of support from this website:
      ÓWe have been working hard and sometimes feel tired. Your generosity allowed us to stop a moment and remember how grateful we are for the work God has given us and to allow our spirits to be refreshed and renewed in joy. Thank you.Ó
    Peacebuilding is a small world and Rose Marie knows Corrymeela and has warm memories of the Croi. Today also our Parish Magazine came out and I re-read my Corrymeela reflections published there, which included the observation that itÕs easy to dismiss peacemaking as being ÔsoftÕ and ÔunrealisticÕ, but thatÕs a harmful lie. In Northern Ireland I saw how it took a great deal of tough-mindedness and strength of character to build peace in divided communities. It's the 'weaker' ones who are content to throw stones over 'peace walls' (or brickbats across political arenas).

    I noticed how often conflicts are maintained when good (and not so good) people keep quiet, pretend everytingÕs ok, live a lie, and that itÕs those who are committed to breaking the conflict who inject reality into the situation, often at cost.

    We could, perhaps, call it The Cost of Living. ThatÕs the title of a book by author/activist Arundhati Roy, from which this excellent quote, following, Rose Marie sent me.....
      To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.
    Thursday, January 23, 2003
    Prophets of a Future Not Our Own
    Not much feedback from the PCC last night as I shared some brief reflections on my Corrymeela experience. It was the post- tea&biscuits slot. A few took home the sheet I provided with a text of Oscar Romero's, which we'd used as a kind of prayer in the Croi and last night too. Seems to sum up much of the spirit of peace workers everywhere. Tonight I dedicate it to Sojourners folks and other War is not the answer campaigners in the USA.
      It helps, now and then, to step back
      and take the long view.
      The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
      it is beyond our vision.

      We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
      the magnificent enterprise that is God's work.
      Nothing we do is complete,
      which is another way of saying
      that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

      No statement says all that could be said.
      No prayer fully expresses our faith.
      No confession brings perfection.
      No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
      No program accomplishes the church's mission.
      No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

      This is what we are about:
      We plant seeds that one day will grow.
      We water seeds already planted,
      knowing that they hold future promise.
      We lay foundations that will need further development.
      We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

      We cannot do everything
      and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
      This enables us to do something,
      and to do it very well.
      It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning,
      a step along the way,
      an opportunity for God's grace to enter and do the rest.

      We may never see the end results,
      but that is the difference between the master builder
      and the worker.
      We are workers, not master builders,
      ministers, not messiahs.
      We are prophets of a future not our own. Amen
    (by Archbishop Oscar Romero, activist for justice and peace, assasinated on March 24, 1980. Found on a Catholic Social Justice website)
    Wednesday, January 22, 2003
    On being helped
    In today's assembly I went on about how we're constantly being helped by people; often without realising it, often by people who don't know they're being helpful or possibly don't even want to be... and how all of that is an encouragement to us that we are helpful people, too. Thought that'd be a reasonable antidote to the "you must be helpful or else" type messages which the young people must hear repeatedly when that's the theme.

    So I was helped a lot today, perhaps most, massively by two young guys, strangers, who rang my doorbell this afternoon to tell me I'd left my keys hanging in the lock. How generous of them to do that. What a shock/relief it was to be in that situation. How different it might have been.
    Tuesday, January 21, 2003
    What Sound

    The other joy yesterday was listening to Lamb on the headphones most of the way there and back, their sound became so addictive.

    I don't really have the language to describe Lamb's music; I'll use what the critics have said - it's chilled-out, it's brooding, atmospheric, beautiful. Time Out said of new album What Sound, "A flawless blend of baffled beats and lush, soulful melodicism." That'll do me.

    I've liked them since I first encountered them onstage at Greenbelt a few years ago; yesterday it came to me that that's partly because their music carrys a positive spirituality. So it comes as no surprise to me to find them explaining on their website that the wonderful song 'Gabriel' is inspired by Islamic religious poet Rumi, and, according to lyricist Louise Rhodes, is about "having a big love for a particular human being, where you're just very glad that they're somewhere out there in the world."

    And there is ÔJust IsÕ. The blurb calls it a song of Ôspacious beautyÕ, which Louise wrote after returning to the rudeness of modern life after her first Zen meditative retreat. In it she describes a transformation, an epiphany: ÒItÕs about the process of letting go of the idea that weÕre in control of our lives, because at the end of the day, we are just these minute creatures afloat in this huge universeÓ:
      What kind of fool am I
      reaching into a world I thought I might have changed
      Somehow rearranged
      Yet here I am
      Stepping into the night
      Like a keenly sharpened knife
      Carving holes into my life
      When I know that ...
      What is
      Just is
      What is
      Just is

      You see IÕve been somewhere
      Not far away but such a different space
      And to sit in one place.
      And just when I thought I could take no more
      The bells started to ring
      And my soul to sing
      And I know that ...
      What is
      Just is
      What is
      Just is
    (To hear Lamb tracks, click here)
    Monday, January 20, 2003
    My Christianity has become compost
    Thirteen hours to Glasgow and back today, and inbetween an enjoyable meeting of the Iona CommunityÕs publications committee. Enjoyable because Wild Goose Publications consistently produce wonderful titles these days (check out their website), and itÕs a pleasure to play a small role in helping that happen.

    It means I get some interesting, occasionally even inspiring, reading, to do, and thatÕs what happened on the return train journey today when I had a book of ecofeminist liturgies to study and assess. I loved it, and among so much good material in it IÕve chosen ÔThe Spiritual, Political, JourneyÕ by Emily Culpepper to share with you, reader. So radically different from the view of Ôthe faithÕ and its future held by our churchÕs ÔmanagersÕ at present, itÕs lengthy but worth quoting in full I think:
      We were discussing the issue of connection to one's religious past. Knowing I no longer identified as Christian, one of the women asked,"But you do draw on it in some ways still, don't you? Would you speak of it as your roots?" I paused, searching for words. That phrase has never felt quite right to me. From the root springs the tree; they are a continuous growth. The ecology of my spiritual life is more complex than that, with moments of radical discontinuity and continuity.

      "Compost," I heard myself say. And again, with an increasing sense of satisfaction that at last I had found the apt metaphor,"Compost. My Christianity has become compost." It has decayed and died, becoming a mix of animate and inanimate, stinking rot and released nutrients.

      Humus. Fertilizer. The part of organic life cycles with which everyone gets uncomfortable and skips over in the rush to rhapsodize growth and progress and blossoms and fruition and rebirth. But in between is the dark, rich mysterious stage, when life decomposes into soil. It is a sacred time Ñ like the dark no moon new moon in my meditations, that liminal stage and dangerous essential passage between the last slender waning crescent and the first shred of a shining waxing new one.

      Compost. A pile of organic substance transforming into a ground, a matrix into which we must mix other elements for the next seeds to sprout. Other vital forces must wet and warm the matrix. And additional deaths, so inevitable in changing/living, will need to feed this ground.

      Humus. It is from this that we are named, human, to acknowledge our connection to the earth, the place where we stand in the vast living universe. If our traditions and symbols are truly part of living, then they are organic and will have rhythms of living and dying.
    Sunday, January 19, 2003
    Helpful city
    When I get travel expenses for a funeral I like to spend the small amount on something useful / memorable. So, remembering Albert Montague, today I popped into the Walker Art Gallery and picked up Liverpool - The First 1,000 Years, the city's fastest-selling book ever, a great 'popular' history and photographic odyssey through this city's life and people.

    Also trying to get my head around one of next week's assemblies, on the theme of 'Helping Others', this afternoon the two things came together. Reading the book and thinking of those who've gone before, and are still around, helping me to enjoy life in this place ...
      Those old Viking settlers who established Crosby (Old Norse: Village of the Cross) where I lived out most of my first 30-odd years;

      King John, whose desire for hunting created Toxteth Park, a deer forest which, though the deer have gone, remains one of the most beautiful parts of a scenic city;

      The nineteenth-century families whose names survive in our public places - the Holts, Bibbys, Rathbones, Billingtons and others who, ever public-spirited, invested so much in the placeÕs social and cultural infrastructure;

      Good old Kitty Wilkinson, one of the city's 'noble women' in the stained glass window of the Anglican Cathedral's Lady Chapel, who responded to the 1832 cholera epidemic by setting up public wash houses and the first public infants' school;

      Revd B.S. Chambers, who established the football team that would become Everton (first) then lfc (more about that in blog of Jan 1st);

      Those Architects, Giles Gilbert Scott and Frederick Gibberd, whose extraordinary twentieth century vision gave us two of the worldÕs greatest cathedrals;

      Roger McGough who, among many others, made Sixties Liverpool a place of vibrant poetry and creativity, suggesting to me in my nascent years the joy and wonder of word play;

      Margaret Simey, Granby's champion during the 1981 riots and for a long time afterwards, advocate of the people in the face of government meddling and Police Authority wrangling. She's 96 years old now and still going strong;

      Various publicans of The Grapes, Mathew Street, who not only gave Lennon and cronies a place to create in the sixties, and McCullough, Cope and co in the Eighties, but also provided friends and me with many enriching real ale, pie-and-chip afternoons down the years.
    These and many others have given of themselves to make the city of Liverpool the amazing place it is; offered what they had to help others like me 'live a lot' in this place. Ah - nice way to plan an assembly.
    Saturday, January 18, 2003
    ThereÕs not much IÕm too young for these days...
    "You ought to think about going on the radio," friends tell me ...
    "... after all, you've got a good face for it."

    Ha ha ha. But I have enjoyed my very limited encounters with radio studios in the past. The last one I was in was at Cambridge University Radio by invitation of fellow clergy-trainee Adrian who ran a 'world music' show. He invited me to bring in some of my 'world music' collection to play on-air, and I responded by having him play Tom Jones with The Cardigans performing Talking HeadsÕ Burning Down The House. Very eclectic I thought, a Pontypridd - J”nk”ping - Rhode Island crossover. I enjoyed it. But I doubt Adrian's ever forgiven me for that.

    IÕve been in the Radio Merseyside studios in the past to do interviews on their religious show promoting various projects, etc. Today I was there as one among 20 people interested in maybe taking on the occasional ÔThought for the DayÕ; it was an ecumenical, multifaith training session and very enjoyable.

    I learned that:
      Radio Merseyside has the largest number of local radio listeners in the country but when you broadcast you do it as if to just one - itÕs nothing like preaching or public speaking; its an intimate conversation;

      The Radio Merseyside catchment area is probably the most religious in the country in terms of church attendance, but thatÕs no reason for assuming that most of the listeners are familiar with religious jargon - plain talking, everyday language wins every time;

      The average Radio Merseyside listener is over 45 though at the time Thought for the Day is broadcast (morning drive time) itÕs a bit younger. IÕm with producer Wayne Clarke who said, ÒThereÕs not much IÕm too young for these days but listening to Radio Merseyside is one of them!Ó
    The Radio Merseyside religious broadcasting team seem to enjoy themselves doing what they do; the station editor Mick Ord was very upbeat about the stationÕs activity and future; I may buck the listener trends and start tuning in. Good preparation should I ever be asked to do a ÔThoughtÕ; and a favour to the BBC, bringing their listeners average age down significantly.....
    Friday, January 17, 2003
    Luna, nil - Laser, one
    Democracy in action! Liverpool Housing Action Trust (HAT) are commissioning a major artwork for Sefton Park, and this week they have been displaying the five shortlisted proposals at The Palm House, inviting comments from the public which will help determine the outcome.

    So, I spent lunchtime in that wonderful restored glass palace, chatting with the duty HAT man and other curious members of the public about the proposals on view. There are five:
      John AikenÕs marble-lined wall, internally lit and finely polished for maximum effect to passers-by;

      Jim BuckleyÕs cluster of trees illuminated by fibre optics attached to the branches, which move and grow with the life of the tree;

      Olaf NicolaiÕs brightly-painted but otherwise standard Adshel bus shelters - two, for each side of the lake (nowhere near any bus route);

      Elisabeth BalletÕs ÔPalindrome along the park sideÕ, a series of four-foot-high white capital letters along the park boundary spelling out Graham ReynoldsÕ poem ÔHymn to the MoonÕ:
        LUNA, NUL ONE
        MOON, NEMO
        DROWN WORD
        I GO
        FILL LABOR
        GO, FLEE FOG
        I DROWN
        O LUNA, NUL;
      ... and Andrew HolmesÕs laser installation, projecting to eight points around the park boundary, the signatures of each of the eight people whose statues stand at each point of the octagonal Palm House. They are explorers, discoverers, classifiers and cultivators of the natural world, some remembered, some long-forgotten: Andre Le Notre, Captain James Cook, Geraldus Mercator, Carolus Linnaeus, Charles Darwin, Christopher Columbus, Prince Henry the Navigator and John Parkinson.
    Which did I plump for as first and last choice? Last ought to have been the feeble bus shelter idea. When asked on his visit how the park authorities could deal with potential vandalism, Nicolai suggested, Òget tigersÓ. I donÕt think heÕs entirely serious. But I knew no one would vote for that, so opted to select the Palindrome last in case any others liked it enough to put it first. A nice idea, but (a) wrong poem - how about a Roger McGough? and (b) totally open to vandalism. (Albeit creative vandalism, perhaps - this being studentland, you can imagine drunken undergraduates ripping up the letters late at night and rearranging them to read, OWEN NIL ROONALDO TEN... for example ...)

    My first choice was Andrew Holmes's laser installation, which is entirely vandal-proof and an artwork which thoroughly connects the visitor to their surroundings and the heritage they carry. Who are these people whose signatures will light up the park approaches? Why are they the ones chosen to decorate the Palm House so proudly? What part have they played in the histories of Liverpool and the wider world? Can we learn from them, celebrate their achievements today? All these questions came to me while looking at the artistÕs plans today, and the HAT man said, have been a main topic of conversation with visitors all week.

    No surprise then, that my two choices were the majority ones among all visitors whoÕve filled in survey forms. Will democracy prevail from here? Please, HAT, donÕt let the bus shelters win.
    Thursday, January 16, 2003
    Understanding people and respecting them
    The phrase which does it for me today comes from John Simpson's portrait of William Howard Russell, pioneering nineteenth-century war correspondent who, for Simpson, epitomoised the best of his profession. He had 'an outsider's vision', was 'clear-sighted, sympathetic and unclouded by nationalism and imperialism'.

    This is the phrase about him which sticks:
      He never lost that essential radicalism that has nothing to do with party politics, and everything to do with understanding people and respecting them.
    This resonates after another clergy 'chapter' meeting, in which the small gathering shared quite deeply together some of our stories about joys and struggles of life in ministry. And again I've been struck by the wit and wisdom of some of the maturer heads who for years have ploughed their own, maybe maverick, furrow, avoiding being crushed by the machinations of our institutional politics.

    Instead, they just get on with trying to love and respect the people of their parishes, some of the most disenfranchised folk in our city, whose concerns are generally otherwise overlooked by church, state, city council. In our context, that is essential radicalism.

    (Click here for earlier blog on the church and 'the culture of managerial modernity')

    Wednesday, January 15, 2003
    Simpson gets personal
    Must be strange, if you're an unassuming sort of person, seeing yourself described in a major book knowing thousands will become familiar with you through those descriptions only. Today Dave & Helen sent me a welcome birthday gift (belated by six months but I'll let that pass), a copy of News From No Man's Land: Reporting the World by John Simpson. It's fascinating (a) because it's the BBC reporter's autobiographical account of his life in news journalism and reflections on how news is made, and (b) because accompanying him on his most famous journey, Tuesday 13 November 2001 when he took part in the 'liberation of Kabul', was someone I know - Dave's brother Peter, a senior BBC radio engineer.

    As one of Simpson's closest colleagues on his Afghan expedition Peter features throughout the book. I haven't seen him for years but feel I know him enough to see the accuracy in Simpson's opening description of him as
      "a quiet, peaceable man ... with a neatly trimmed beard which reminded me slightly of Napoleon III's, he nevertheless hinted at another side of his personality by driving a sky blue Morgan when he was in London."
    ... and the backhanded compliment:
      "beneath the greying beard and the gentle, slightly nerdish engineer's appearance there was real grit."
    On the evidence of the first chapter it looks a good read with personal interest thrown in. Tonight I'm mainly wondering how Peter must feel being revealed to the world in such terms in a best-selling book. And on at least one website too.
    Tuesday, January 14, 2003
    Enjoy 'Lite weapons' legitimately with George W
    Following up yesterday's blog , it's heartening to hear today of the conference of exporters of small arms and light weapons taking place in London this week hosted by the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Defence and the International Development department.

    The initiative comes from a UN meeting in 2001, when the international community agreed on the need to control the supply of both legal and illegal exports of weapons. "Today's meeting brings together 60 nations to drive this agreement forward." Claire Short said.

    Some reservations, however, about the frame of reference of their discussion. Foreign Office Minister Mike O'Brien said, "This meeting can make a positive contribution to the launch of the global work needed to tighten controls on small arms, so that they only go to those with a legitimate use for them."
Well, I want to ask, who on earth has a 'legitimate use' for these weapons? Anyone? And if those questions are too removed from the realm of realpolitic then here's another - who decides who's legitimate and who isn't? We know the answer to that - the most-armed President on earth...

Read what the Campaign Against the Arms Trade says about the Labour Party's "Britain in the World" consultation document on UK military exports.

Monday, January 13, 2003
Straight talking about war
Thankful today that Tony Blair has, somewhat belatedly, realised that "the trade in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons" threatens our security. Emphasis on the trade. Perhaps he and his colleagues in the DTI may overturn their addiction to trading weaponry worldwide, after this epiphany of his.

And to investing so much in it. In Coracle today I read Molly Harvey's Diary of a Jailbird, her unadorned account of a few days spent in Cornton Vale for the non-payment of a fine, "a continuation of my protest (peaceful and non-violent) against the British Government's possession of weapons of mass destruction". SheÕd earlier been arrested for taking part in a communion service at Faslane Trident submarine base.

Molly didnÕt take her decision to protest easily; her reasons for doing so are plain and profound:
    1. Trident is capable of destroying most of the Northern Hemisphere in 10 minutes. 30 million men, women and children would be wiped out. The effect of radiation would make much of the earth uninhabitable. I would be failing my children and my grandchildren if I did not make a stand against it.

    2. The cost of Trident is equivalent to spending £30,000 a day since the birth of Christ. Is this what we, as a so-called civilised society, really consider to be a responsible use of our money? I work in partnership with families living in poverty and social exclusion in Glasgow. I would be failing these people, whom I feel privileged to call my friends, if I did not make a stand against this obscene expenditure.
Comparing Molly's straightforward talk with BlairÕs doublespeak brings me into the realm of Poet Laureate Andrew Motion who last week took the unusual step of writing an anti-establishment verse.

As the BBC report put it,
    Motion's poem, entitled ÔCausa BelliÕ meaning the motives of pretext for war, highlights the division between country leaders and opponents of war because ordinary people struggle to have their voices heard.

    "The poem is not really concerned to address or question whether or not we should go to war, because we can't make a final decision about that until weapons inspectors find whatever there is to find," Motion told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

    "But it is about how I think we should be more candid when we are talking about what the causes of this thing are, what it is that is driving us forward."
Causa Belli by Andrew Motion
    They read good books, and quote, but never learn
    a language other than the scream of rocket-burn
    Our straighter talk is drowned but ironclad;
    elections, money, empire, oil and Dad.
Sunday, January 12, 2003
Al shal be wel...
Seven in the morning till ten-fifteen at night; maybe it's only one day a week but the church knows how to grind the last drop of life out of you, clergy, warden, volunteer, whoever. Hard at times to see any connection between the structures that do that grinding, and the meant-to-be life-affirming words we sing and say.

Glad then for an email from Opus Anglicanum whose John Rowlands-Pritchard is a wonderful illustrator and whose Julian of Norwich provides just about the right sentiment and visual stimulus to bring some redemption into the dark night.

Saturday, January 11, 2003
Strummer as educator - reprise
To complement yesterday's blog, and complete my Strummer tribute, here's some quotes from fans in The Clash: From Here to Eternity - Live which I borrowed from the library today:
    "Still the best gig I ever experienced. The Clash at the Colston Hall, Bristol in the Spring of '77. The 'White Riot' tour featured support from The Slits, Subway Sect and The Buzzcocks but The Clash's energy and synergy blew everyone away with their '' quickfire bursts of commentary on the socio-political climate of the U.K. in 1977. The crowd climbed over the seats, the bouncers were bemused and The Clash must have played each song in their repertoire at least three times during their frenzied set. We walked out of that hall believing that we could change the world." [Kevin]

    "Sometimes the audience would kick in at the same time as the band and you'd think, Christ, this is amazing!" [Pennie]

    "Hammersmith Palais 17/6/80. I was entering my final year of police college at Hendon. After yet another superb bash I was climbing back over the fence when I was challenged by an eager rookie. I decided to run for it and started off a chain reaction of sirens, klaxons etc. Well, to cut a long story short I am looking at a MET POLICE headed piece of paper which finishes with the words 'and on 18th June 1980 retired voluntarily'. My mother hated The Clash for years!!!" [Anthony]

    "New York Palladioum, Feb '79 - I was floored by the blistering energy of the playing and the wonderful songs, Mick's driving guitar, Joe's passionate delivery, Paul's aura, Topper's incredible drumming and the band's overall tightness. I was a 15 year old girl at the time and part of the NYC punk scene, but none of the U.S. bands came close to affecting me in the way that they did. Here was a band that understood me, who could present ideas and issues that made me think." [Eleanor]

    "The Clash were the most exciting band you could ever see. They made a joke out of modern rock bands. They had a conscience. They never sold out. Respect." [Alan]
Friday, January 10, 2003
White Man in Hammersmith Palais

I've written about Joe Strummer twice before. In Strait, the Greenbelt magazine of April 1986, I wrote an article tracing the decline of punk's 'radical' edge in the decade since its inception, writing,
    Pioneering punk publicist Mark P has said that "Punk died the day the Clash signed for CBS" (for £100,000 in March 1977).
I took Mark P's analysis on board suggesting that the big label took the Clash's pioneering raw energy "and convert[ed] it into harmless product".

In my-and-Jim's failed publication, The Fire Bucket in 1988, I reviewed a Strummer gig at Liverpool's Royal Court, in intemperate language which mimicked the singer's cause celebre that evening. The gig was a benefit for Class War, a "squalid organisation" devoted to "yuppie-bashing, Tory-bashing and police-bashing":
    In their serious moments they say 'we want to destroy capitalism and its class system and replace them with a free and equal society where people have complete control over their own lives'. In practice thay commit themselves to violence of all kinds in order to make their mark on their class enemies.
Strummer was mistaken to take the platform on their behalf, I reckoned.

Today Class War remember those gigs proudly: "The "Rock Against the Rich" tour was the biggest event or campaign ever put on by an Anarchist/libertarian organisation in this country," their website states. And if I could do the review over again today, I think I'd want to engage somewhat more deeply with what was going on, and give Strummer a bit more credit than hitherto, for caring about an organisation which may well have got a bit carried away at times with "kicking coppers" (my words again) but which had the serious aim of "bringing politics into all areas of people's lives" (CW website).

All this has been triggered by a phrase in John King's reflection on Strummer in this week's New Statesman. It's a personal article which concludes,
    For a lot of people who got nothing out of their school days, [Strummer] was an educator. I believe he changed the direction of a lot of people's lives for the better. He definitely had a big effect on mine.
The force of that witness is undeniable. And in retrospect I was wrong to leave Mark P's throwaway comment unquestioned in 1986, because Strummer's project continued through the time with CBS and on into 2002. In November Strummer played a benefit show for the firefighters' union; before his death he was working on a track - co-written with Bono and Dave Stewart - for Nelson Mandela's AIDS Awareness in Africa.

Back then, I should have paid closer attention to some of his words. In 1977's 'White Man in Hammersmith Palais' he set himself outside celebrity culture, siding with the outsiders as a champion of reggae, which was still marginal at that time, and expressing frustration with the music scene's political disengagement, be that "UK Pop reggae" ("onstage they ain't got no roots rock rebel"), Punk Rockers "too busy fighting", or, echoing Mark P's critique,
    The new groups are not concerned
    With what there is to be learned
    They got Burton suits, ha you think it's funny
    Turning rebellion into money
It's too easy to say anarchism's a failed project, too cheap to snide that Class War's epitaph will be, "I fought the law, and the law won", as I did after seeing Strummer in 1988. I forgot to appreciate how much the music thrilled me and the honest, earnest lyrics politicised me then and how much value they still have now. In a society where class is still a factor, inequality a massive issue and in which the 'majority' celeb culture still serves to disenfranchise so many.
Thursday, January 09, 2003
Where danger and opportunity meet
"The church has always been in crisis" says David Bosch in Transforming Mission. And that's a good thing to learn in this time of crisis, because crisis, failure and suffering are what it needs "in order to become fully alive to its real nature and mission."

Well, I'm glad of that insight, because it puts so much into perspective. It emerged today from discussions in the 'alternative' study group I'm in and while it sounds negative on the surface, it's not at all: as Bosch explains:
    "Let us also know that to encounter crisis is to encounter the possibility of truly being the church. The Japanese character for 'crisis' is a combination of the characters for 'danger' and 'opportunity' (or 'promise'); crisis is therefore not the end of opportunity only its beginning, the point where danger and opportunity meet, where the future is in the balance and where events can go either way."
Blimey. They never taught us that at theological college either. And while it leaves us in a delicate position Bosch insists that the vast shifts the world is going through now, are not the first; the church has been through them before and Transforming Mission takes us through them again so as to be well equipped to face the present crisis. I bought it at college; never read it. Till today. I think it may be unputdownable.
Wednesday, January 08, 2003
Something uplifting - or something understood....
Teacher to me before today's assembly: "Have you got something uplifting for us to start the New Year?"
Me: "Erm, well, more challenging, really."

I was conscious that today's talk, all about searching for peace in Bethlehem - then and now - was intense stuff. Featuring stories of army brutality and civilians hit by sniper fire, extracted from various Sabeel newsletters.

So it was a tough one for the listeners, and for me, wanting to assert small acts of giving and loving as signs of new possibility against the old regime of state violence. As to how relevant it was to the gathered young people, all I know is that at the end of my prayers for the peace of Bethlehem, the 'Amen' was perhaps the strongest I've heard from that gathering in my 30 months involvement there.
Tuesday, January 07, 2003
With permission, I reproduce a poem my nephew Michael wrote today based on Lewis Carrol's Jabberwocky. ....
    ÔT was home time and the slithy mums
    Did chat and natter in the playground;
    All mimsy were the toddlers
    And little babes outcried.

    ÒBeware the bully boy my friend!
    The hands that catch, the legs that trip!
    Beware his crony birds and shun
    The frumius satchelsnatch!

    He took his old school bag in hand,
    Long time the manxome boy he dodged-
    So rested he by the broom cupboard,
    And stood a while in thought.

    And as in dreamish thought he stood,
    The bully boy, with fists of steel,
    Came stomping down the corridor,
    And boasted as it came!

    One two! One two! He swung the door
    The old school bag went snicker-snack!
    He left it stunned and with itÕs bag
    He went galumphing back.

    And has thou slain the bully boy?
    Come to my arms my clever son!
    Oh frabjous day! Calooh! Callay!
    WeÕll have some cake for tea.

    ÔT was home time and the slithy mums
    Did chat and natter in the playground;
    All mimsy were the toddlers
    And little babes outcried.
Monday, January 06, 2003
Strong Love, Strange Peace
Pevsner calls it perambulating. He means walking about. And thatÕs what IÕve been doing today. Perambulating with Pevsner. Walking around with a copy of his Buildings of England - South Lancashire in my coat pocket.

Pevsner is oft-quoted at Holy Trinity when visitors arrive asking about the age and provenance of the place. "The finest work of these years in Lancashire was done by Sir Charles Reilly in Liverpool," he writes, "He was ingenious, versatile, and a believer in classicism. Witness his ... chancel of Wavertree parish church of 1911, which [grows] in stature the more one studies [it]."

I followed the railway into town, from here, where that great westward sweep begins, to Edge Hill where the line drops deep below street level and is swallowed up in tunnels and cuttings underneath the university all the way into Lime Street.

Perambulating with Pevsner -- follow the green line...

As I walked I remembered that Pevsner was writing in 1969, and of course some of the places he saw on his travels have changed or disappeared by now. Pevsner casts some light on those which remain, but he can't tell the whole story. Of St Anne's Overbury Street he writes:
    "A big church. Prominent w tower."
And he's right. It caught my eye from outside Tasker's DIY and drew me in. But the real story today is in the human traffic in and out of the place, the actvity of community care, as the church is a much-needed place of welcome and help for the area's many asylum-seekers. It was alive with people as I passed it today.

I discovered bits of Liverpool I never knew. On my runs to the hospital for last rites I bounce the car over speed bumps at 30mph down Crown Street, and have never had time to notice the great bit of public green space that links university to town just there, nor the wierd-looking brick thing which is, I guess, the "strange, big, bottle-shaped railway ventilating shaft" which Pevsner notes.

And I reacquainted myself with familiar friends. It being a crisp bright winter's day I felt drawn into the RC Cathedral, initially to use the loos but then to sit and soak in the rich deep colour of the place; not tangled up, but wrapped around in blue. Pevsner's not keen on the cathedral's exterior but says, "the interior is easier on the eyes and the mind." On days like today when the dark stained glass comes into its own, it is a uniquely satisfying place to sit. And, whilst removed, it's also deeply connected to the urban realities of its people, as demonstrated by a 'Covenant with the Poor' signed by Archbishop Kelly, and on display by a side chapel. A commitment by the hierachy to have the city's neediest at the heart of their obligations.

Homeward bound, I bypassed a young couple arguing aggressively at the 'tunnel' entrance to St James's Cemetery. She was determined to avoid walking through there; he wanted the adventure. Pevsner calls it "the most romantic cemetery in England", but it wasn't working for them. While stepping on in, I sympathised with her because it can feel like a spooky place. But it is remarkable, crafted in the 1820s from an abandoned quarry. When you're swallowed up in it, it seems as deep as the cathedral beside it is high. It's a neglected gem in the city, (even Pevsner said that in 1969) and recently the Friends of St James's formed "to work to improve the appearance of the area and encourage greater use of St James by both local people and visitors."

A bit rattled by the cemetery, I walked back along Windsor Street sensitised to the decay and violence of this part of Toxteth. A boarded-up old church, a car smashed in outside a dowdy tenement block, children playing aggressively, fire-lighting, stone-throwing, threatening. This is my old stamping-ground and I love it. Some words I'd read in Sojourners this morning returned to me - musician Bill Mallonee of the Vigilantes of Love said,
    "Are we going to war? Mr. Bush is making me nervous. I wish we could incarnate a way of peace that looks tough and beautiful. I try to pray the rosary daily for this."
Peace tough and beautiful. I wanted that for Windsor Street today.

Oddly, I didn't have Pevsner nor the Vigilantes of Love for company from there, as I took the last leg through the gorgeous south parks back home. Instead it was old maverick Larry Norman, whose Strong Love, Strange Peace entered my head and became a kind of prayer:
    Backstage I cross the middle ground,
    Curtains up, house lights down.
    I sing love songs and pass myself around,
    But afterwards some people say
    They thought I put them down.
    They feel so bad, it doesn't matter what I say,
    I hope tomorrow they have a better day.
    They seem so trapped, they need release,
    They need your strong love and strange peace.

    Reporters question me: is this a new direction for the young?
    How lamb-like their faces, how snake-like their tongues.
    They quote me perfectly then rewrite every word I speak.
    And go away convinced we are some new kind of freak.
    I feel so good it doesn't matter what they say,
    I hope tomorrow they have a better day.
    We're all so trapped, we need release,
    We need your strong love and strange peace.
Saturday, January 04, 2003
Sell Out
After all that heartsearching the other day, I succombed very easily to the EFC Megastore Sale this morning. As you can see.

Friday, January 03, 2003
Surfin' New Year's Day (almost)
Renewed my acqaintance with some old blog friends today. On theoblogical.org Dale Lature linked to some fascinating Wired articles connecting science and theology.

As well as that Jonny Baker is inspired about the same stuff as I was on December 31st, and Rachel Andrew makes a rich discovery - the Samuel Pepys online diary (follow his ÔblogsÕ day-by-day).

Meanwhile, on the Romford YMCA website Pip, in his latest Pearls of Wilson, declares, ÒI have decided to make my life an act of love.Ó And from Holy Trinity Cathedral in San Francisco, Huw RaphaelÕs reflections on a year in faith on Doxos v5 are profound in their honesty (as much of his writing is). Good surfin' friends. Good online company.
Thursday, January 02, 2003
New ways
    We are all of us made by war,
    twisted and warped by war,
    but we seem to forget it.
    A war does not end with the Armistice.
This quote from Doris Lessing greets the visitor to the Imperial War Museum of the North as they enter the main exhibition space. To read it you have to be standing beneath an AV8A Harrier fighter jet; alongside these words is a display case containing a metallic artificial leg, as worn by World War II amputees.

I revisited the museum today, with family. I could spend a lot of time there; it's a very provoking place. Lessing's observation informs the displays and ambitious multimedia presentations - war is seen as a given part of human life, a universal experience by which we are all affected.

The museum concentrates on how war has affected people in modern times, whilst sidelining questions about the prevention of future wars. Well, perhaps that's inevitable in such a place; today I suspended criticism about what was missing and instead engaged with what was there. And it got personal. Watching a film of the Manchester blitz on 23rd December 1940 we remembered a distant family member who had died there - and later we found his name and biographical details on an interactive archive of the local war dead. And reflecting on Lessing's words I thought about closer family, how their experiences of war had changed them and by extension, impacted on the rest of us. Especially the man after whom I'm named, my great-grandfather who survived the U-boat attack on the Luisitania in 1914 but who was, by all accounts, scarred for life by the trauma.

Kate Adie is quoted as saying: "Peace is the absence of war. You have to actively promote peace to avoid war." I criticise the museum for devoting so much of its presentation to a sort-of 'neutral' view of war, passing up the opportunity for peace education. But they do some groundwork along the way. The best thing about the place for me, is the building itself, which is fully intended to stimulate ideas about new possibilities in a war-torn world; Jim Forrester, museum director, writes:
    "Having seen our world shattered through the wars of the twentieth century, the question is whether we can rebuild something spectacular out of the pieces."
Architect Daniel Libeskind imagined the globe broken into fragments and the museum structure consists of three shards pieced back together. It's astonishing and wonderful, disconcerting (in that no surfaces are straight, everything connects at odd angles), and it is a sign written very large on Manchester's post-industrial skyline that, indeed, something beautiful can be produced out of the world's wreckage.

Libeskind's creation is physically thrilling, and there is also something spiritual about it: no doubt his intention, as his website makes clear, he sees architecture as a 'spiritual domain' which 'deals with the unspeakable'. I like what Marc Schoonderbeek writes about Libeskind's vision:
    Another way of thinking needs to be started, constructed with different methods and based on different principles. Our relationship with the Spirit should [be] reinvented from a different point of view, bearing in mind the experiences of the twentieth century. Although times are dark and complex, there is Hope and we might be at the verge of a tremendous creative era.
Stood on the viewing platform at the tip of the museum's air shard, Lancashire's cityscape spread out below and beyond, this seems possible. For that feeling alone, the museum succeeds.
Wednesday, January 01, 2003
Sons of St Domingo's - genuine community / corporate colony?
Culture shifts constantly, especially where football is concerned. This afternoon's new joke at Goodison was about Gerard Houllier's OBE - One Below Everton. But it's two now, after todayÕs results.

And culture shifts in other ways too. In the Megastore before the game I was most attracted to a t-shirt in the 'centenary' range which carries an understated logo, "St Domingo's 1878". It's one which speaks to those Ôin the knowÕ, a coded reference to the club's roots as a Methodist church youth team.

I like it because it's timeless - unlike the equally classy Rooney shirts which will date far sooner. And because on me it'd carry a certain irony - those without the code might wonder if that's my new parish, for instance. Or thereÕd be jokes about new style clerical wear for a 21st century C of E.

But I've not (yet) bought it (EFC's January sales start on Saturday), and may not, because of a feeling of slight revulsion at the branding of the club's history. What was once a substantial movement of local people, with its heart in the muscular Christianity of local Methodists led by a Revd B.S. Chambers, is now a corporate logo.

Of course, the club began to drift away from its roots early, becoming Everton FC in 1879, and the church ain't there any more, so why get upset, why not celebrate the origins and move on? I guess thatÕs right, but if IÕm carrying the logo IÕd like to wear it with a sense that it means something substantial, something involving but also greater than mere football. Something about an active, genuine, community rather than a corporate colony. And I wonder if thatÕs possible around a Premiership club in 2003. And would pulling on the St Domingo shirt be a step towards achieving it?????

(Historical notes with the help of Toffee Web - Everton History)