<-- Google Analytics START --> <-- Google Analytics END -->

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

    Friday, February 28, 2003
    Twenty-Third Turnoff and other wondrous things
    Twenty-Third Turnoff. What a fantastic name for a band. Led by a lost genius, Jimmy Campbell, their 1967Êsong Michaelangelo is apparrently a real psychedelic gem. And their name conjures so much in the minds eye - angst, rejection, classic counter-cultural stuff. Where does it come from? The truth is brilliant: Twenty-Third Turnoff were a Liverpool band and they were named after the 23rd turnoff from the M6, which goes direct to our home city.

    Just one gem from a whole evening of wonderful insights at The Bluecoat tonight, where Liverpool-born music writer Paul Du Noyer was in conversation, around his recent book Liverpool: Wondrous Place: Music from Cavern to Cream. It's a very informed history of a quite exceptional aspect of British popular culture - this one city's astonishing creative output over the past fifty years. It emerges from inside Erics to do some fascinating cultural geography; it hangs around the car park which is a 1970s city council's "tribute" to the Cavern, to reveal some details about the Beatles' Liverpool life unrecorded elsewhere.

    All this I got from tonight's talk. And a copy of the book, which I've yet to read. My last impulse buy before Lent (probably). There are more blogs on this coming, I feel.

    In tune
    Well, that's a first. Into Radio Merseyside today to record next week's Thoughts for the Day, which go out on the breakfast show after half-seven (and also at some other earlier unknown hour) Monday to Friday.

    That was enjoyable. Good to chat with producer / religious presenter Wayne Clarke who's got a background in among other things, Radio Greenbelt - he was there when it began, back in the early eighties when it was the first-ever event radio of its kind, a pioneer of what's now commonplace.

    In the best sense, Radio Merseyside also seems quite commonplace - in that it's a busy building full of chatty folks and does really seem to be a genuine local voice, a place where genuine local voices are made at home. And as all good community stuff does, it thrives because it's run by dedicated folk. Wayne works eighty percent for Radio Merseyside and is a Baptist minister thirty percent of his time, minimum. You do the maths.
    Thursday, February 27, 2003
    Light / Heat
    NickÕs an educated and gentle man so when he pushes a newspaper article through your letterbox on which he has written ÔJohn - if youÕd like your nose rubbing in the roots of evil...Õ, you take it as a sign of the serverity of these times. And buckle down to what will be hard but essential reading.

    In our search for light over heat in the present debate Nick has chosen to share an article from Chalmers Johnson in the London Review of Books. ItÕs a review of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers by Daniel Ellsberg. He writes:
      ÓThe subject of Daniel Ellsberg's memoir is the decadence of American democracy. The conditions he began fighting in 1969 are much worse today and far more dangerous to many more people. Yet central casting could not have produced a more perfect foil for the American imperial Presidency than Ellsberg. An infantry lieutenant in the Marine Corps with genuine battle experience in Vietnam, a PhD in economics from Harvard, and a defence intellectual employed by the Rand Corporation of Santa Monica, with the highest security clearances, Ellsberg is as good as the American system can produce in the way of a male citizen working in the foreign policy apparatus. His odyssey from Pentagon staff officer to the man who spirited 47 volumes of top secret documents out of the Rand Corporation, copied them, and delivered them to the New York Times and a dozen other newspapers is breathtaking.

      Ellsberg helped end the Vietnam War, but publication of this memoir now is not just a happy coincidence. The features of American government he documents - the cult of Presidential infallibility, the march of militarism, the executive's routine lying to the other two branches and to the people, and the cancerous growth of official secrecy - are just as relevant today as they were thirty years ago. The United States, even the world, desperately needs more Ellsbergs.Ó
    The article details at length all of the latter features of American government; it does indeed make sobering reading. It puts more flesh on the arguments and concerns of Tom and Christine Sine regarding the deliberate policy of empire in the US administartion; but it delves deeper into the psyche of the leaders who, in EllsbergÕs very considered view, become Ôhabitual liarsÕ, misleading their people and the world community not because of ÔpersonalityÕ traits but through 'an apparatus of secrecy, built on effective procedures, practices and career incentives, that permitted the President to arrive at and execute a secret foreign policy, to a degree that went far beyond what even relatively informed outsiders, including journalists and members of Congress, could imagine'.

    Searching for light is a noble pursuit, but in this climate, nigh-impossible to achieve to any satisfaction. Save us, though, from dismissive cynicism. Repeat: Õthe world desperately needs more Ellsbergs'.
    Wednesday, February 26, 2003
    Mystery Worshipper
    Reminiscing tonight, as a friend enthused about Ship of Fools and I realised that I'm so aged that I have a complete collection of the original SoF magazines from the early 1980s. Now they're entirely online, of course, and in my vanity I was drawn back to my fav. SoF page: this one, which features me (scroll down to the photo just above the heading 'Exactly how long was the sermon?' and there I am in the background). Strange feeling, knowing I've been at the same service as A Mystery Worshipper. Who are these shadowy figures? Will one be scribbling notes about my performance at next Sunday's 8am BCP?
    Tuesday, February 25, 2003
    Mustard Seed and Pax Americana
    Tom and Christine Sine have long been a source of forward, radical thinking from their Washington state base. Their books and talks have been consistent sources of challenge and inspiration to me over the years, in promoting radical discipleship and exploring something barely touched by the churches - "futures", using statistical trends and observations to propose new ways of doing church for the new emerging societies.

    They and their network Mustard Seed Associates do some valuable work online too, and today their concern is to get some debate going about 'the new doctrine of Pax Americana that underlies America's new more aggressive foreign policy':
      On September 20, the administration published a new more aggressive foreign policy in the "National Security Document." This new National Security Document declares that this is "... a time of opportunity for America.Ê We will work to translate this moment of opportunity into decades of peace, prosperity, and liberty.Ê The U.S. national security strategy will be based on a distinctly American internationalism that reflects the union of our values and national interests."
    They're asking us to give it a careful read & share it with others and ask their opinion of this new decisive shift in U.S. foreign policy. If you do, you'll find it is disturbing stuff - if you're disturbed by the prospect of "... permanent [U.S.] military and economic domination of every region of the globe, unfettered by international treaty or concern.Ê And ... a stark expansion of global military presence."Ê

    You can get onto this on their website.
    Monday, February 24, 2003
    Divine Intervention at FACT
    There we go. It's been seven years in the making. It cost £10m to develop, build and equip, and it's the first purpose-built arts project in Liverpool for over 60 years. And tonight I stepped into FACT, the cityÕs shining new cinema / multimedia centre for a first look.

    Although the dedicated folk at The Plaza, CrosbyÕs community-run cinema, keep ÔarthouseÕ films on their agenda, LiverpoolÕs not had a proper art cinema for a few years. So FACT is very welcome. And itÕs doubly welcome as part of the city centreÕs renovation, on the site of a derelict warehouse in a quarter of town which is being well transformed into a lively living and entertainment space.

    ThatÕs the official line, of course, and begs some questions. The council could do with speeding up the regeneration of outer estates like Norris Green, whose people are crying out for long-time promises to be fulfilled. But it is good to see the centre coming alive. And tonight it was good to see a quality film in a quality seat in a gleaming new building.

    Most FACT first-timers are seeing scouse director Alex CoxÕs made-in-Liverpool Revengers Tragedy which does look good with Christopher Eccleston and Eddie Izzard bringing the Jacobean horror-comedy bang up to date.

    But I opted for another, whose short run ends tonight, Divine Intervention, a darkly comic portrait of life in present-day Israel-Palestine. ItÕs very good, an odd mix of slice-of-life realism and astonishing flights of fantasy, directed by Elia Suleiman who also takes the lead role, a character (ES) based on himself. The blurb describes it well:
      ES is burdened with a sick father, a stalled screenplay and an unrequited love affair with a beautiful Palestinian woman (Manal Khader) living in Ramallah. An Israeli checkpoint on the Nazareth-Ramallah road forces the couple to rendezvous in an adjacent parking lot. Their relationship and the absurd situations around them serve as metaphors for the lunacy of larger cultural problems, and the result is palpable, bottled personal and political rage.
    You come out feeling the tension of the brutalised cross-border communities, and thrilled by some wonderful visual stunts, the most memorable perhaps being the balloon ES releases from his car which floats gently over the checkpoint guards, causing chaos and consternation as on it is printed the image of Yasser Arafat.

    In an interview, Suleiman said that Israeli cinephiles loved Divine Intervention. In the wider Israeli community it probably makes a few more more waves than that, but itÕs a treat. FACTÕs a Picturehouse cinema. If thereÕs one near you, thatÕs one art film worth seeing. For starters.
    Sunday, February 23, 2003

    Philosophy Football are aiming to raise £5000 for the Stop the War Coalition with sales of this very fetching t-shirt. Go on, it's less than a tenner.
    Saturday, February 22, 2003
    Count yer blessings

    Oh, yes. Hilarity prior to RadzinskiÕs great escape act today, at my usual spec on Goodison Road. As I opened the latest When Skies Are Grey my eyes lit on this classic.....
      Like all Evertonians we've been tickled by some of Gerard Houllier's comments recently. He's clearly losing it big time. We've even done a little feature in this issue called "The Wit & Wisdom of Toulouse LeplotÓ. But even we have been surprised by revelations in David Hill's Said & Done column in The Observer (09/02/03). Yes, believe it or not, M. Leplot has used the phrase "blessing in disguise" seven times this season. And here they all are:

      06/02/03 Liverpool 0 Palace 2
      "We don't like to lose but this could be a good thing for the rest of the season. It could be a blessing in disguise. We'll See.Ó

      29/01/03 Liverpool 2 Arsenal 2
      "You don't always get everything going your way in life but I believe my players have overcome the disappointments better than I have. This could be a blessing in disguise."

      26/01/03 Palace 0 Llverpool O
      "You learn more about your players. A crisis can be a blessing in disguise."

      15/12/02 Sunderland 2 Liverpool 1
      "I said to our players that our season starts now. We are still in the Uefa Cup, the Worthington Cup and the FA Cup. We're still in a strong position. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise."

      25/11/02 Fulham 3 Liverpool 2
      "I think we will see this period as a blessing in disguise. In fact, I like being down like this because you always learn more about your players from a defeat."

      17/11/02 Liverpool 0 Sunderland 0
      "This is something good about my team - once a game is fnished it's in the past. When you lose it's an opportunity to recover your focus, sharpen your energy. Time will tell - it could have been a blessing in disguiseÓ.

      25/09/02 Valencia 2 Liverpool O
      "There's no disgrace in losing to a good team - and it's better to lose the first match than the others that follow. This was a reminder of what is required at this level... and maybe it was a blessing in disguise."

      This week Rick Parry, Liverpool's Chief Executive was quoted as saying: "we are extremely happy with everything Gerard has done for us and we have absolutely no doubts he'll be with us for the foreseeable future."

      There is no disguising this blessing.
    The WSAG guys just think itÕs funny. Which of course it is, but for me, there's got to be a sermon in it too .....
    Friday, February 21, 2003
    from Small Ritual
    Thursday, February 20, 2003
    Testament to my failure..?
    Two great talks in two nights. Liverpool spoils you. Tonight, city community historian Steve Binns, in our church hall by invitation of The Wavertree Society to talk about the life of William Gladstone, four-times Prime Minister and contender for Greatest Merseysider.

    True to his reputation Binns was entertaining and insightful. He's made a lifelong study of Gladstone's exhaustive (and exhausting) diaries which record "every fifteen minutes of his life since he began them at the age of fourteen". And he's only part-way through them - "They'll be a testament to my failure" he jokes; his work is slowed considerably because it involves translation into braille.

    Steve's been blind from birth. Which makes his achievements in learning and communication all the more impressive. He's a twice-weekly contributor to BBC Radio Merseyside, he's tour guide at Liverpool Town Hall and St George's Hall, and he's much in demand for talks like tonight's.

    He tells jokes against himself like once pointing out a famous work of art on the wall at St George's Hall, only to be told by the schoolchildren he was addressing that there was nothing there, the painting had been removed for restoration. But he needn't - his learning and the style in which he talks wins him respect; he's one of those people whose life gently mocks the term 'disability'.
    Wednesday, February 19, 2003
    Radiating gratitude
    Interesting exchange on Steve TaylorÕs NZ Graceway site, in a blog titled Saddest blog entry IÕve ever read. Taylor quotes US church growth 'coach' Todd Hunter haunted by the perceived failure of "the celebrated approaches to Ôchurch growthÕ I employed my whole lifeÓ and left wondering Ówhy so many of us are on this upsetting journey of letting go of almost everything we've known regarding church?Ó:
      I once asked Eugene Peterson "why do you suppose my generation of pastors messed things up so bad" É He said ÒMost of you guys were not willing to be seen as unsucessful in the eyes of your peers, which in your era meant a rather mindless pursuit of numbers, growth and programs ran by professional managerial typesÓ
    Taylor writes: ÓThis guy has given his life to ministry and now sits there beating himself up about his cultural complicity. As well as admiring his vulnerability and courage, it leaves me with a some questions for all us so-called postmodern ie this generation of pastors; What might cause us to Òmess up so badÓ? What in .. [our] .. context might seduce us? I have a hunch that as we reflect on such questions, ToddÕs ministry might well become gift, not sadness.

    I think that's right. Certainly after the annual Liverpool University Anglican Chaplaincy Lecture which Rowan Williams delivered last night, an exquisite exploration on the theme, The Authority of the Church.

    Some - perhaps many - Ôauthority figuresÕ would approach that topic in such a way as to assert and bolster their own position. ThatÕs one ÔseductionÕ IÕd say to Steve Taylor we need to watch out for. Not Williams, though. Warm and seemingly relaxed in his own, and our company, his take on the churchÕs authority to represent God in the world, is to ask the questions,
      - Does it look as if weÕre listening to God?
      - Are we a people who look like weÕre being converted?
    What makes the church credible in conversation with the world around us, Williams says, is that we show that weÕre Ówilling to face the fact that we are not GodÓ, that we live Ótransparent livesÓ, which are Ógrateful not smugÓ:
      ÓA church that radiates gratitude has authority. It is serious ... but not too serious ... about itself.Ó
    Our business is to allow ourselves be transformed into people who can be believed, the church is to allow itself to cease being seduced into being a policeman and instead to concentrate on "letting God through".

    How far away all that is, from a Ómindless pursuit of numbers, growth and programsÓ. How liberating. Words of a great, and humble, leader.
    What've I gotta do to make Fergie love me?
    For great light entertainment, download Radio Merseyside's Snelly's version of Sorry seems to be the hardest word, a fantastic take on the Beckham-Fergie saga...
    Tuesday, February 18, 2003
    Bragg at Greenbelt - the news is out
    Billy Bragg's email newsletter has just confirmed it - The Bard of Barking makes his first ever Greenbelt appearance on Bank Holiday Monday, August 25th. Not before time, because while his theology will be quite different, his heart beats close to Greenbelt's when it comes to issues of social concern, a heart for the outsider and the ordinary struggling folk. The chemistry of that gig should be fascinating. I'm welling up already.

    Meanwhile, The Price of Oil, Billy's protest against US and British plans to attack Iraq, is being downloaded at an amazing rate from his web site. Almost 15,000 downloads so far - and the song has been circulated widely on the internet. If you haven't done so already, grab the free mp3 (5.6MB) and pass it on.
      The Price Of Oil

      Voices on the radio
      tell us that weÕre going to war
      those brave men and women in uniform
      they want to know what theyÕre fighting for.

      The generals want to hear the end game
      the allies wonÕt approve the plan
      but the oil men in the white house
      they just donÕt give a damn.

      ItÕs all about the price of oil
      itÕs all about the price of oil
      donÕt give me no shit
      about blood, sweat, tears and toil
      itÕs all about the price of oil

      Now I ainÕt no fan of Saddam Hussein
      oh, please donÕt get me wrong
      if itÕs freeing the Iraqi people youÕre after
      then why have we waited so long.

      Why didnÕt we sort this out last time
      was he less evil than he is now
      the stock market holds the answer
      to why him, why here, why now.

      Saddam killed his own people
      just like general Pinochet
      and once upon a time both these evil men
      were supported by the U.S.A.

      And whisper it, even Bin Laden
      once drank from AmericaÕs cup
      just like that election down in Florida
      this shit doesnÕt all add up.

      ItÕs all about the price of oil
      Ôcause itÕs all about the price of oil
      donÕt give me no shit
      about blood, sweat, tears and toil
      itÕs all about the price of oil.
        Music and lyrics by Billy Bragg, 2002.
        Produced by Billy Bragg and Simon Edwards

    Monday, February 17, 2003
    The Greatest Merseysider - must be Doddy???
    The BBC are asking us to vote in their poll to reveal the Greatest Merseysider. They provide a sample top ten, to provoke us into voting, I hope, rather than in seriousness, because there's only about three in there worth even a second thought. Non-starters, in my opinion, range from the faintly ridiculous (Ken Dodd, Cilla Black), through the really absurd (Lily Savage, Michael Owen - ha ha!!) to the frankly offensive (Edwina Currie). The real contenders must include John Lennon, William Gladstone, Michelle Lewis.

    If it ends up anyone other than Lennon, I'll be surprised. But the interest will lie in the peripheral votes; whether the likes of Michelle Lewis get included in the end list. I admit, I didn't know who Michelle Lewis was till I read the website today. A 20-year-old born with curvature of the spine and brain damage:
      Doctors told her parents she would never walk, but she proved the medics wrong. After a series of painful operations which began when she was seven, she learned to get around with the aid of callipers. She has since raised more than £1m for Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool. She finished second in the wheelchair section of the 2002 London marathon, and donated the £300,000 she collected to Macmillan Nurses. In the 2002 New Year Honours, Michelle was awarded the MBE for her charitable services to the community.
    It's folk like her who inspire us every bit as much as our proud memory of four-times prime minister Gladstone or world-changing lyricist Lennon, even though they only come into our lives more fleetingly.

    I really don't know who to vote for. The Merseysider who's been the most influential on me must be my mum; but I guess polls like this can't cope with such subtleties. Oh, blow it - I'll go for Ian McCullough. I know he would.
    Sunday, February 16, 2003
    Opposing War Is Good, But Not Good Enough
    On the back foot after yesterdayÕs peopleÕs show, Labour Chairman Dr John Reid has today pulled out the old slur that pacifism equals passivity: Òtaking no action against Saddam Hussein would signify a failure,Ó he said. And John Prescott said: "History teaches us that actions against humanity by evil people in defiance of international law cannot always be stopped by persuasion, by intellectual appeal, by economic sanctions or even dire threat."

    They can, however, be stopped by the application of international law, by popular opposition movements, by the use of dissenting media and other nonviolent means of undermining repressive regimes, all of which could be supported by Western governments with a bit of will and wit, in the present crisis.

    All this is pointed out by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall in an excellent article, With Weapons of the Will: How to topple Saddam Hussein - nonviolently. It is also supported by Falch A. Jabar who writes, Opposing War Is Good, But Not Good Enough. ÒGetting rid of the Ba'th regime in Iraq has been the cause of my life for almost a quarter of a century,Ó he writes, offering an analysis of the present situation rare in its insight, balance and, ultimately, positive nonviolent solution. This involves moves which will turn the 'ruling class-clan' against their leader:
      a) threatening Saddam with indictment;
      (b) giving him an alternative for safe passage at the same time;
      (c) sending a list of thirty or so of his aides who are persona non grata and demand that they leave the country with him;
      (d) encouraging this class-clan to oust Saddam into exile.Ó
    Plenty more where that came from. The short answer to the likes of Reid and Prescott today, is that pacifism doesnÕt equal passivity - that there are plenty of good, workable ideas around for taking action against Saddam Hussein whilst not failing the ordinary people of Iraq, the Kurds and the world community as a whole.

    Much of this has come from another excellent Sojourners initiaitive, just launched. TheyÕre calling it A National Teach-In on the War on Iraq. As part of their ongoing effort to offer creative nonviolent alternatives to war, they are organizing a series of teach-ins at colleges and in local communities through the week of February 24-28:
      A teach-in is an informational gathering designed to help individuals better understand particular issues of public interest. Students will explore complex issues surrounding the planned war on Iraq:

      Can Saddam Hussein be disarmed without war?
      What role can nonviolence play in bringing justice and democracy to the region?
      What are the real reasons for the rush to war?
      Will war lessen - or increase - the threat of terrorism in this country?
      What role should Christians and other people of faith play in efforts to stop the war?
      Are there alternatives to war?
    Sojourners invite us to organize a teach-in in our own places. UK included, I'd suggest - it seems a very good idea. But even if that wonÕt happen, itÕs still worth downloading the complete organizers' packet and related articles at Sojonet. ThatÕs where the earlier quotes came from, and this one from Walter Wink, which may give teeth to those back from Hyde Park wondering today if itÕs been at all worth it:
      ÒI donÕt see myself as a pacifist. I see myself rather as a violent person trying to become nonviolent.Ó
    Saturday, February 15, 2003
    Carry on the struggle
    Carry on the struggle: with the help of the many currently-active anti-war organisations.
    Evening prayer
    Say evening prayer.
    Media Workers against War
    See what's up on the Media Workers against War website, a good source of trustworthy information today as most days.
    Write your own Bush speech
    Not happy with the president's response to today's events? Write your own Bush speech using the fantastic lemonbovril drag-and-drop method.
    Stars and stripes have got me jet-lagged
    Return to the Peace Not War compilation to enjoy Alabama3's Woody Guthrie:
      sing a song for the asylum seeker
      for the frightened baby on some foreign beach
      you'd better bang a gong and pray
      they reach a safe harbour
    Face of Jesus
    Cast your vote on the rejesus which picture looks most like Jesus? survey. This may have nothing at all to do with the present crisis. It may have everything.
    If the war goes on
    Sing heartily wherever you are, John Bell & Graham Maule's If the war goes on.
    Listen to the Stop the War Rally - Live from Hyde Park, London on LoveMusicRadio, today from 1pm (highlights repeated through the weekend).

    Disarm Iraq Without War
    Sign up, if you haven't already, to the Disarm Iraq Without War statement from religious leaders in the US and UK.
    Targetting Civilians
    See and read how the previous US-led campaign against Iraq targetted civilians indiscriminately, with only 7% of munitions being guided.
    Morning prayer
    Say morning prayer.
    Not in our name
    Hear Tariq Ali's speech which coined the phrase "Not in our name", remixed by ADF Education and featured on the Peace Not War compilation.
    Friday, February 14, 2003
    Out on a limb
      Soon I'll be mountain bikin'
      Scattering those gulls
    That's what I wrote the other day because I've been tinkering with old machines passed onto me by parishioners clearing out their garages. Now my morning room looks like a cycle repair shop but I've finally put a working bike together and tomorrow I'll be out there, helmetless and defiant, out on a limb, exposed to all that the elements and the traffic throw at me. Not unlike those folks going on protest to London, those brave, wonderful, resourceful, vulnerable souls.

    Just now I'm out of the loop for mass protests, in the loop for silent vigils, so that's what I'll be joining in tomorrow afternoon, at Liverpool Parish Church. That and the bag of rice - it all helps.

    Thursday, February 13, 2003
    The Modern Antiquarian
    Working out holidays, I've decided on Kilmartin in June. Click on the interactive map and you see the attraction - it's a hidden, prehistoric, edgy place. 350 ancient monuments within a six-mile radius of Kilmartin village, 150 of them prehistoric, according to Kilmartin House visitor centre.

    I'm drawn to places like that (recently it's been Pembrokeshire Bluestone country) - partly for their isolation, and partly because of a fascination with landscapes marked by the inhabitants of previous millennia. I don't share all of Julian Cope's interpretations of such places (he's a bit "gnostic" for me), but some of his instincts, eg, "The past 2,000 years of Roman Christianity have set up within us a deep denial of this island earth".

    I enjoy chucking my copy of Cope's The Modern Antiquarian into the car on a summer's day and after wandering some lonely upland, returning to check out The Modern Antiquarian website to see what other visitors have written about the place I've just been.

    Refreshingly humbling to find yourself a tiny figure on a vast landscape, to know the 'civilisation' you represent is just one among many ways of life visitors to that place have lived over so many centuries.
    Wednesday, February 12, 2003
    Sleep of Reason
    Ten years ago the news broke about James Bulger's death; only a mile away from where I'd been working when it happened, the boys' route to their destiny taking them right past our office. "If only we'd seen them..." the thought still haunts.

    Remembering James today, and the impact his death had on society, I've put up here an essay I wrote while at Ridley, my 1999 meditation on the Bulger / Venables / Thompson case under the question, "Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed, nothing else." (Fletcher). Is this an adequate understanding of love and justice?

    To what extent can society love Venables and Thompson, I was asking, as decision day regarding their release drew close. We know what happened since; but fundamental questions remain. Tonight I've got to help a group explore how, on our Lent study course, we tackle the theme of redemption.

    We accept the redemption of time-served criminals such as Jonathan Aitken (establishment deceiver turned Oxford theologian) and Charles Colson (Nixon aide turned top evangelist) but not Venables and Thompson, or Hindley (despite her assertions about Christian conversion). Why the difference; what are the limits of redemption and who sets them? Do we really believe in the power and reach of love ... can we? dare we??
    Tuesday, February 11, 2003
    Blair/Bush debacle - the Rice Solution
    ThreÕs a lot of anti-war spam around, all well-intentioned but spam nonetheless. But I have found time to act on one which Linda posted to me: The Rice Solution. Send Tony Blair half a cup of uncooked rice in a small plastic bag, wrapped in a piece of paper on which you have written "'If your enemies are hungry, feed them,' Romans 12:20. Please send this rice to the people of Iraq: do not attack them."

    Enclosed in a small jiffy bag, addressed to Rt Hon Tony Blair, 10 Downing Street, London, SW1A 2AJ, and posted off with £1.06 worth of stamps - I reckon thatÕs a simple act which will impact. At least symbolically, which is how protest works.
    Monday, February 10, 2003
    Good questions
    So Lennon was right after all. Imagine there's no heaven - or hell. In ITV's The Second Coming the world is saved by the death of God... Thought-provoking stuff with the 'messiah' played with his usual intensity by Christopher Eccleston, and Lesley Sharp playing his lover/killer/redeemer with equal conviction.

    Great opening to the drama as a miracle makes Maine Road the epicentre of the coming armageddon; must feel like that to Kevin Keegan most Saturdays. The film did well in using Manchester and Mancunians as those 'chosen' to be there in those days - how it ought to be, probably - in the ordinary, among ordinary folk.

    I didn't mind seeing the drama putting an end to organised religion, but I wasn't convinced about the theology. But I think writer Russell T Davies left enough unresolved at the end to invite us to keep on questioning the "no God = all good" theory. If it's really all just down to us, can that ever work?
    Sunday, February 09, 2003
    Class of Langley, 1975
    I don't think it made the fortune of Hans Louis Fenger, nor his fame. But almost thirty years on, The Langley Schools Music Project has become a latterday musical gem. It's feted as underground - I bought it at Rough Trade - and 'outsider' music. But all it boils down to is a bunch of children singing Beach Boys, Beatles and Bowie in a school gym. Fenger, a music teacher responsible for a number of schools in rural British Columbia, dreamed up the idea of bringing the children together to perform contemporary songs using simple instrumentation, and recorded the results.

    It's attractive, simple, beautifully naive. Their choice of songs was perhaps inspired, becuase today we'd call all of them 'modern classics', or perhaps they just reflect the truth of Monica Lynch's observation, reproduced in the cd booklet: "If you wanna know if you've written a hit, play it for kids."

    Fascinating listening to this today, after last night's big church event, our 'Guides and Co Talent Show'. The girls and their friends had dreamed up the idea, spent months planning it, and weeks practicing their 'turns', mostly musical, pop, songs from the shows, various types of dance. It was the first of its kind in their experience, and they went for it with such enthusiasm that, I as MC, had to keep the show moving through no less than thirty acts.

    But that too, was attractive, simple, beautifully naive. We talk so much about involving the children in grown-up activities, and it is so often mere lip service or condescension. Great to let them leave us adults dependent on them for a change, as they led off and did things their way. Scary, too, for us on the interface between them and the audience: it had its moments, but it worked. A memorable occasion, and at ten, eleven, fourteen years old, memories go deep.

    In his cd notes Fenger says , "It would be great to see those kids again. I'll bet they remember every lyric of every song." It could become a sort of musical Friends Reunited for the class of Langley, 1975.
    Saturday, February 08, 2003
    Alive in the Library
    While I was enjoying a month's hospitality with The Corrymeela Community last November, Jan Sutch Pickard was taking a month's break from her role as warden of Iona Abbey. She spent it, unusually and interestingly, doing a sort-of pilgrimage of ancient texts - visiting libraries, pulling on special gloves to thumb through some of the most ancient and revered documents in our heritage, including the Book of Kells, and discovering the stories around their production.

    Jan's a poet and editor of some distinction (you'll find some of her work at Wild Goose Publications) and has a lovely eye for detail. She can make - and has made - a subject which could be grey and dusty, into something colourful and alive.

    I know this because at the end of November we met at Corrymeela, swopped a few thoughts about how our times had gone. And later I was delighted to receive some of Jan's poetic reflections on her month. With her permission, here's one of them:

      Just as the snowdrop needs frost
      to rest and to germinate,
      so libraries need silence:

      stacks of silent tomes
      hushed scholars
      whispered instructions
      slippered feet, gloved hands,
      muted computers.

      Sometimes libraries surprise
      with unlikely acquisitions:
      a snoozing tramp amid newspapers;
      eloquent love letters, penned
      by hands long since crumbled into dust;
      a harp not played in living hearing;
      mummy cases opened like Russian dolls,
      disclosing the child of an Egyptian priest
      clenched in an aching silence.

      What have these to do with books,
      and the lively faith of their makers
      whose daily work was sowing
      symbols across the page?

      What have these relics to do
      with meaning coming through
      like a green shoot Ð
      entering our minds like a flight of birds?

      Taciturn and tired folk, things worn out,
      exhale the dead air of a treasure house;
      meanwhile the held breath of a library
      is not the silence of death
      but of expectation.

      The books are waiting for what will come next:
      the books are waiting for the word to become flesh.
    Friday, February 07, 2003
    The walk across the park
      The walk across the park
      Seagull dodging
      Barking up the one tree still standing

      The walk across the park
      A green awakening
      The low road
      Windswept and perspiring

      The walk across the park
      Sociable pursuit

      The walk across the park
      Endangered pastime
      Soon I'll be mountain bikin'
      Scattering those gulls
    Thursday, February 06, 2003
    Five words which describe your life at the moment
    Once a month a very welcome eNewsletter arrives. ItÕs from Romford YMCA, more precisely from the desk of Pip Wilson, the General Secretary there. In past times, on overnight Greenbelt meetings, IÕve enjoyed Romford YMCAÕs warm welcome and good hospitality. It owes a lot to PipÕs philosophy, which is that everyone is a Beautiful Human Person.

    ThatÕs everyone who walks through the doors of that massive tower block on Rush Green Road - everyone, regardless of background, business, beauty or body odour. ÔU R UniqueÕ, Pip affirms. And that builds individualsÕ self-esteem; and it develops community, as the esteemed learn to esteem others too.

    Like all YMCAs Romford has the difficult task of marrying a Christian ethos to its major mainstream work but the philospohy does it, permeating the culture of the place. It means that the Ômanagement modelÕ is non-hierarchical because ÒPeople being told what to do doesn't help to develop peopleÓ(Pip). It means that the overriding principle Òis to build relationships and not to provide activities and programme which would be like a consumer organisation.Ó It means that Ôthe Christian wayÕ is promoted by Body, Mind and Spirit activities, in an experiential programme Òaiming to develop healthy relationships and therefore create dialogue and a cycle of learning.ÓÊ

    The websiteÕs full of peopleÕs stories from many whoÕve been affected by this philosophy, this approach, this commitment, seen themselves flower, flourish, as part of it. And it doesnÕt stop, thereÕs always more to explore, new ways to encourage people to open up. So, on todayÕs eNewsletter, a question from Pip:

      This is a question I have asked 54 people so far this year. Revealing indeed and fantastic discussions sometimes. See a list of some here.
    Pip invites you to write five separate words of your own on his Guest Book: Ógo on it will be good for you tooÓ. Or you could post them here using the comments link at the end of this blog.
      "We become fully conscious only of what we are able to express to someone else. We may already have had a certain inner intuition about it, but it must remain vague so long as it is unformulated.Ó (Paul Tournier from ÔThe Meaning of PersonsÕ)
    I've put PipÕs question in our parish magazine and will be asking people it over the next few weeks. And my five words, just now, are:
    Wednesday, February 05, 2003
    That's enough war for now
    Re. concern about letting my Gulf War fever spill over in public... In the end (to quote The Doors) I think I got the school assembly talk quite balanced - by talking about the just war theory. That I also got in mention of next week's mass protests being organised by the Stop the War Coalition is purely incidental.

    That's enough war for now. Normal blogs resume asap.
    Tuesday, February 04, 2003
    Quote for the day
    "It was the way we had over here of living with ourselves. We'd cut them in half with a machine gun and give them a bandaid. It was a lie, and the more I saw of them, the more I hated lies." (Captain Willard, Apocalypse Now)
    Monday, February 03, 2003
    Showing restraint in the face of the horror
    Seven hours on Virgin trains today gave me ample opportunity to experience The Fire this Time soundtrack on earphones, and it made the experience all the more searing. The lady opposite me on the way home, reading Maeve Binchy and being politely conversational, must have wondered why I was twitching, tightening up, probably looking very pained at times. I hadn't explained that I was listening to the destruction of Iraq over a fractured, at times brutal soundscape. And from time to time I wondered why I was putting myself through it - on my day off as well!

    The answerÕs inexpressible but somewhere related to the reason I regard Apocalypse Now as the most-essential film of all time, and KurtzÕs Óthe horror, the horrorÓ the best summary of war IÕve yet heard.

    As the reaction to all this brews inside, for the sakes of those whoÕll be listening in to my talks and sermons this coming week, I hope I can show a little restraint.
    Sunday, February 02, 2003
    Time again for The Fire this Time
    It's four months since I last blogged about The Fire this Time, a unique soundtrack to the Gulf war, an imaginative CD project telling it like it really was - and is - utilising quotes from all the key actors from Oliver North to Madeleine Albright, champion of the "deadly remedy" of sanctions against Iraq, illegal under international law:
      Three years in the making, The Fire This Time utilises music, narration and samples to deconstruct the Gulf war, reveal mass media propaganda techniques and illustrate the devastating effect that sanctions have had on the civilian population of Iraq.

      The album features exclusive music and mixes by some of the finest comtemporary electronic artists in the genre, including Orbital, Aphex Twin, Bola, Bass Communion, Michael Stearns, Higher Intelligence Agency, Soma, Barbed, Tom Middleton's Amba, and with additional music by Ashra, Pan Sonic, Speedy J and Kait Gray.
    As we seek to understand and debate the present situation, it'll be salutory but perhaps important to be reminded of these things; that's why I'll be listening to it again tomorrow while travelling to London for a Greenbelt meeting, and that's why I've made a link to it a feature on this page for the time being.
    Saturday, February 01, 2003
    Good spirits at Goodison
    Sun shone around Everton this afternoon. I arrived early and wandered along Goodison Road taking in the mood. Spirits were good. Gentle almost, though not passive. People going through their matchday rituals. At the chippie opposite the main stand entrance I reckoned some of those folk in that queue had been doing that for decades, could probably recall the price of cod before Bob Latchford grew his beard. Squeezing through the tea-and-cakes crowd in St Luke's Hall it seemed to me that those sat around the tables having been served by the dear church ladies, looked as 'at home' there as they would at home.

    Standing on the traffic island at the end of Gwladys Street waiting for Paul, Hal and Matthew to arrive, I read David Moyes' programme notes, which ended, unremarkably perhaps, "Finally, I'd like to welcome Terry Venables, Brian Kidd, Eddie Gray and Roy Aitken for this afternoon's match". Something about that impressed me deeply. How must it feel to be Moyes, a young man by his own insistence still learning his trade, to be the person offering hospitality on behalf of a world-famous institution, to men who are legends in the game. Thrilling, no doubt. Deeply, gently, thoroughly satisfying.

    And the dynamics of football mean that Moyes's gentle thrill and satisfaction spread around the club, penetrate all who share his blue passion.

    We have recently been where Leeds are now - in crisis. Which flavoured our satisfaction at winning another game and pulling up alongside Chelsea in the league table. Felt for Leeds today. Felt generous towards them in their struggles. As we walked out towards a twilit County Road after the game I thought, you can do that easily when things are going well.