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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Monday, March 31, 2003Quote for today
Sunday, March 30, 2003He's no pin-up ...
He's no pin-up ... but here (to keep Ben happy) is a pic of England's youngest and finest. First goal can't be far away.
Friday, March 28, 2003Over the Wall Heaven Up Here, I'm struck by the difference between the Bunnymen and U2, which always unsettled McCulloch himself: it's to do with their grasp of eternal mysteries, or in the Bunnymen's case, their failure to get hold of them, their failure to climb, as they put it, Over the Wall:
His tongue's involved with solutions
But the monkey on my back
Won't stop laughing
Hand in hand
Over the wall
Watch us fall
And your hopes of higher ruling
But the slug on my neck
Won't stop chewing
Hand in hand
Over the wall
Watch us fall
To end this misery
I'm walking in the rain
To celebrate this misery
What's that you say?
Speak up, I can't hear you
What do you say?
I couldn't hear you
Hand in hand
Over the wall
Watch us fall
Thursday, March 27, 2003Sound of the suburbs Interactive Tour of 'The Mendips', within a walrus's shout from here, reveals - nothing out of the ordinary at all. Just like so many other homes of friends and parishioners on and around Menlove Avenue.
Part of me feels awkward about that because I fall prey to a lazy view of rock'n'roll, that the best music is produced by outsiders, people from awkward, peripheral places, and The Mendips couldn't be more cosily suburban. But Lennon was an undoubted edgy genius, and this affirms the thought that art comes from what's inside the artist - which may not be that dependent on surroundings as I'm sometimes tempted to assume.
Paul DuNoyer's book shows that many other notable Scouse musical geniuses were raised in the leafy suburbs - McCartney, of course, also from round here, and the other one I'd always name as a true great (and so would he), Ian McCulloch, who comes from a house with a nice garden and named the Bunnymen's comeback album Evergreen.
This is comforting. Because though my artistic reach is tiny compared to these gigantic geniuses, nevertheless I like to be creative, get inspired (on the minimum wage) by lines like Babette's: "An artist is never poor". Put it out in poems and blogs and sermons. And I'm from the suburbs too. The Bunnymen posed for their second album cover pic at the bottom of my road, on Crosby beach. The record (a classic) was called Heaven Up Here. Nice one.
Wednesday, March 26, 2003Grace alive Babette's Feast
and reflecting on the nature of grace....
Tuesday, March 25, 2003A sort of reverence, a real looking
If you don't know what a Leunig is do look at Curly Flat, a Michael Leunig appreciation website. If an Emin is a mucky unmade bed full of self-revelation, a Leunig is a simple cartoon of a little man looking at a duck, pondering life deeply.
In my search for the perfect on-line Leunig cartoon to post to my laid-up nephew, I happened across a fascinating transcript of Leunig in conversation with Rowan Williams in Melbourne last year. Williams, as we know, writes a lot about icons. Those who know Leunig may be sympathetic to my view that his little people, appearing regularly in the Melbourne Age, are also icons of a kind. Icons like us. Here's a bit of their conversation.....
ML Yes, that is endangered perhaps, because it seems to me that speed is revered. And the problem is that certain human things cannot happen at speed. Can you love at speed, can love flourish at speed? That sounds glib, but the dreadful worry for me is that we tend to copy unconsciously our technologies. I think, for example, we imitate the way movies are edited. This cutting and close-up quick grab, this strange traumatic discontinuity, which we accept as normal, and we enjoy it because of its speed and its traumatising stimulus. And there we sit and expose our eyes, the windows of the soul, to this bizarre chopping up of reality. Now we say we can handle this, but I think one thing that's doing us great damage is this visual cacophony as a depiction of reality. The eye makes great meaning out of life, much more than we understand. It tracks this room as it looks around: as one point leads to the next point, there is sense being made all the time.
RW Let me come out - [I'm] a closet monastic! I think that the recovery of what that is really about is imperative for Christianity. And it's very easy to trivialise all that and say well it's about denial, it's about withdrawal. But there is [...] in the monastic tradition, quite a lot about seeing, about how you see. The word "contemplation" is just a long way of saying "looking". Now if the monastic tradition is about contemplation, it is about ways of seeing, and part of the monastic experience in the early church speaks of the whole practice of that life as an education in seeing. There is the looking at your own reactions, your own emotional rhythms, and the careful, truthful monitoring of those responses. Then there is the looking at the structures of the universe as patiently and faithfully as you can, to see what the rhythms are there, and feel those rhythms. And then if you are learning all that, then maybe, by the grace and gift of God, you end up aligning yourself, not only to the rhythm and pattern of the created universe, but to the rhythm of God's breathing in and out.
ML What you've said has made me think of reverence. It's about a way of looking. I notice children tend to have a natural reverence. It's what they like to do: to get down on their hands and knees and look very closely at things and be absorbed in them and that to me is a sort of reverence, it's a real looking.
Monday, March 24, 2003CAP Lent Challenge update Lent Challenge. I'd suspected it would from before the start of Lent. A week's holiday, planned well before taking up the Challenge, was always going to be tough, on the minimum wage. Well, it turned out to be impossible, actually.
Not that I lacked restraint - I know that from four days in London I could have come back laden with many books, cds, other sorts of gifts for self and others; I could have spent far more on food and travel than I did. Nevertheless I reckon I spent approaching £200. Which is four times my weekly income on the minimum wage. To pay for it I've decided I have to 'loan' - meaning that for the next ten weeks I'll be reducing my income 'at source' by £20. So now, till the end of this Challenge I'm down to £30 a week.
Well, perhaps I'll get by on that; use the car far less and the bike far more, keep learning economy shopping. But I'll have to stop doing what I just did today - wandering down Bold Street in and out of all my favourite shops. Way too tempting. I bet someone's written about the geography of poverty - how those excluded by low income from purchasing for 'leisure', walk different streets than those who think nothing of wandering down the shops, or driving to the Outlet Village, etc. Having spent an enjoyable week travelling the country, for the rest of Lent my geography will shrink....
Sunday, March 23, 2003Sun Rings / Awe Struck
[*edit, Oct 2008 - Greenbelt blog text added below as it's no longer available elsewhere]
Someone has stolen our awe away. It was the only word we had to describe the way we felt when we looked up at the sky and watched stars shimmer, glow, slide, collide. Those intent on filling the skies with weapons of mass destruction, have stolen the word 'awe' away this week. A holy, helpful word.
I claim it back. I do so having been awestruck in the realms of the stars, whilst sat on a comfortable seat at The Barbican last night.
This is why: a bloke in NASA has spent the last forty years using radio receivers to record the sounds which outer space makes, whistles, sirens and booms collected from hundreds of millions of miles away. Then, NASA commissioned Terry Riley and The Kronos Quartet to integrate these sounds with music of their invention. And lastly, the artists brought in celebrated ex-Greenbelt mainstage compere and top-notch live stage designer Willie Williams, to provide the visuals to complete a unique and strangely wonderful event.
It's called Sun Rings and it helped the awe return last night. Not least because although Riley insisted that his work was apolitical, he found himself lulled by the sounds and sights of space, into a meditation about our place in the vast cosmic mystery:
"Do the stars welcome us into their realms? I think so or we would not have made it this far. Do they wish us to come in Peace? I am sure of it. If only we will let the stars mirror back to us the big picture of the universe and the tiny precious speck of it we inhabit that we call Earth, maybe we will be given the humility and insight to love and appreciate all life and living forms wherever our journeys take us."
Good to meet up with some much-loved Greenbelters at the show last night, including one or two who saw photos of themselves up on Willie's massive screen. Good to be at something which seemed to me to be Psalm 8 on a massive, ultra-modern scale. Awe inspiring.
Saturday, March 22, 2003City life revisited
Salgado's photographs illumate his perception that the greatest growing cities are in Asia and the South, and demonstrate that while migration towards them causes many problems of overcrowding, infrastructure, etc, the new societies they host are marked by ingenuity, innovation, imaginative new ways to live urbanly. Taking David Dark's view of 'apocalyptic' (see blog March 12), Davis sees the boot stamping on the human face; Salgado hears that face speaking.
Certainly some life in this city this morning, as the shoppers mill on Oxford Street and around the corner people are gathering for the noon protest start, and police lines have formed. I'm off out of this cyberhall in search of ingenuity, innovation, imagination - everyday apocalyptic - in this place.
Friday, March 21, 2003At an urban hub considering the death of cities
At a time of war, and at a hub of activity, what does one do? Well, this evening I've been to church. I've just emerged from the gorgeous, bright white meeting space of the Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church. Didn't share communal prayer, however, well, not so's you'd notice. It was a meeting organised by the Socialist Workers Party, with Lyndsey German of the Stop the War Coalition. The main speaker was Mike Davis, author of Dead Cities, his latest in-depth exploration of how politics impacts the social geography of places we live, especially (him being American) U.S. cities.
I've read quite a bit of his stuff before, so wanted to hear what he had to say on his chosen topic The Empire of Fear: Bush's war at home. His thesis, in essence, is that U.S government policy committment to resource the 'war on terrorism' is causing "a meltdown of the urban public structures". As Washington diverts resources away from state budgets, so states begin to suffer and eventually local budgets diminish to the extent that infrastructures - physical and human - begin to crumble. In many places this is at an advanced stage.
He demonstrated this by showing how education was struggling badly in many states while the USA spends as much on arms as the rest of the world put together. He told us about recent protests where young people have taken to the streets to oppose war and try to save their schools, and I was struck by this, in the light of the recent protests here by young people. While the tired old politico heads, like those in church tonight, chew over these trends, it's the mouths of children that are beginning to find a radical voice.
The word 'awe' has sadly lost its holy beauty this week so I shall use the word 'amazement' to describe the impression made on me earlier in the day by Anish Kapoor's Marsyas. Amazement and a smile, at that massive blood-red membrane which literally fills the enormous inner space of the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall. You walk round it, under it, you're engulfed by it, it takes a good ten minutes to walk from one end to the other of it, at least half an hour more to get from top to bottom via the lifts, escalators and stairs. The building was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott who was also the architect of Liverpool's Anglican cathedral. And because he went for BIG STATEMENTS I'm sure he'd love Kapoor's monster creation which is flesh writ large: ‘I want to make body into sky', the artist said. He has.
But I spent the bulk of my day at another exhibition: Sebastio Salgado's Exodus at The Barbican. I've featured Salgado in my Pic of the Month collection in the past, because his documentary photographs of the teeming masses of humanity on the move are profound and without any hint of sentiment, nevertheless deeply moving. The photographer spent most of the nineties on the move himself, capturing on film people in over forty countries forced to uproot themselves to escape poverty and / or war or other deprivations. His book Migrations holds most of the pictures I saw today. But it's sixty-five quid and I'm still meant to be on the minimum wage, so that's out.
It may be out of your pocket too, but there's a very good taster on his website, where pictures are worth any words I could add to his great, and of course very timely work, as we hold in our minds eye all those Iraqis on the move today. Salgado, there with Rwandans on the run, on the road with Croatians and Serbs and Kurds at key moments in their recent histories: there's a man who knows what it means to live at a hub of history.
Thursday, March 20, 2003The road goes on and circles a bit
Now I'm in Tottenham Court Road easyInternet Cafe after our Greenbelt Soul Space annual planning soiree this afternoon at Julian's place, a wonderful flat in a converted Stockwell church. Lovely to be with a lovely group of folk, these Spiritual Directors who are well at ease with listening to others, listening to God, and so at ease with themselves. So they're great fun too.
So the odyssey of this week continues. This morning I went Colchester - Rayleigh by car (check it out on the map) and then Rayleigh - London by train. And it hasn't ended yet. Very soom I'll be off down the road to The Astoria to see Kirsten Hirsch's Throwing Muses in concert: probably fifteen years since the last time that happened (in a very sweaty side hall at Liverpool University Student's Union). Like Pensarn Harbour, though, I expect KH and co to have, if anything, got even better having travelled awhile inbetween.
Tuesday, March 18, 2003Dolwyddelan Days (reprise)
The slate roofs shone with glee
And all the sheep that I know
Sang this along with me:
Praise the maker of these gleaming hills
Praise the llyns, and bwlchs, and farms
Praise the sound of that ever-flowing stream
Praise the fire that calms;
Praise the table where we eat
Praise the conversation
Praise, o praise, these Dolwyddelan days
In this chapel-filled, praising nation
penned 26th February 1996, and still in the visitors book today
Sunday, March 16, 2003A little basket case Lent Challenge starts to kick in. My cupboards are as bare as they've been for a long time and I've been fighting myself about how, where and when to shop, perhaps putting off the inevitable, deep, deep challenge - to go out with just a few notes in my pocket rather than a more-than-adequate debit card.
Many Min. Wagers advised me to get to Aldi - cheap and not nasty at all - but old habits die hard. I ended up doing what I always do - dropping by Tescos after church today. NB: a different Tescos, mainly because I was at All Saints Stoneycroft this morning and the brand-new Old Swan branch is just around the corner en-route. Possibly also because this shopping trip felt different, perhaps had to be different.
A lower-wage route through the supermarket is a different route. It starts at the little basket stack rather than the trolley park, because I'm buying for just a few days ahead not weeks, buying enough to get by rather than chucking in anything which takes my fancy. And it avoids much that I normally hover over - the fancy pre-packaged meals (I'm no cook and I love their oven-ready stuff), the cd and magazine displays and the luxury yoghurts. Straight in and out sticking strictly to a precise mental list.
This necessarily trim shopping session was helped by my being away next week. I came out with less than ten items. And some of these are probably too extravagant. Smoked Ham (why not just ham?), Mandarins, and - the greatest excess - Shreddies (where the Tesco equivalent ought to have 'done', but I forgot to look). Boy, I've a lot to learn. And not much to eat in the meantime. I'm afraid I'll have to fall back on the Dolwyddelan Spar tomorrow after all.
Saturday, March 15, 2003Dolwyddelan days a-comin' Dolwyddelan, to that old cottage by the stream that's been such a good retreat so many times. Min. Wage means good sense for once - rather than spend time and money mootching around Welsh-language bookshops in Llanwrst, Llandudno, Caernarfon, I'll be taking my reading with me and making do. More than making do, really, with some good muso biography and political polemic, as follows:
Paul Du Noyer's Liverpool: Wondrous Place: Music from Cavern to Cream, in which Du Noyer "makes the connection between the decades, and traces the threads of artistic continuity, setting them in the context of Liverpool as a thriving metropolis Ð BritainÕs umbilical link with America and the countryÕs most notorious, controversial and inimitable city". I'm halfway through and loving it; and
Tom Nairn's Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom, "a retrospect of Tony Blair's recent New Labour plebiscite", a "corrosive polemic" arguing for democratic reforms to halt the break-up of Britain.
Friday, March 14, 2003Perspectives
Amazing how different perspectives can be. I talked about the Runcorn Bridge as the gateway to Liverpool, the place which always makes me feel, on passing across, that now I'm home. About the industrial beauty of Thomas Telford's majestic construction. He spoke of it as a great symbol of the Mersey, and we discussed the Mersey's significance, agreed about how good it feels to live in a city built on a great river, a city made great by a river.
We shared friendly and at times deep conversation, beginning (as so many things do) at the Bridge. It was only later, through another friend, that I discovered that this man had another perspective on the Runcorn Bridge, as yet unspoken. Some years ago, his young wife and baby lost their lives there in a car crash. He still crosses it often, mortal between the great steel struts arcing overhead and the wash of the mighty tidal waters below.
Thursday, March 13, 2003Eleventh hour is not too late Click here to endorse this plan to avoid war with Iraq. Tell President George Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan that Saddam Hussein can be disarmed without war.
(thanks Sojourners / Pete Sainsbury for the prompt)
Wednesday, March 12, 2003Everyday Apocalypse
The book's the product of much of this long-term work. Dark insists that 'apocalyptic' is less about mass destruction and more about "revelation". It's a more "watchful way of being" in the world. Dark sees apocalyptic insight in "the wisdom of popular culture", including The Simpsons, Beck, and Coen brothers' films, which, in their various ways, "expose the moral bankruptcy of our imaginations." Apocalypse is "an affirming yet honest estimation of ourselves and a call to other-centeredness in the here and now."
I'm frustrated that on the Min. Wage I can't make my usual impulse-purchase; I'll have to wait till Easter to read the rest of it. But the intro's meaty enough to be going along with.
Tuesday, March 11, 2003Resolution 1441 ERROR here.
Monday, March 10, 2003Barry Sheene - rest in speed Grinning jesting battler
In Suzuki black and red
Seven on his head
Hero of my biking days
Two wheels are all you need
Sheene the inspiration
For days of grit and speed
Pete's being the most recent and most thorough) I had a go. It only serves to further illustrate the unreality of my situation, living rent-free in a house three bedrooms too big for me. Or, being kinder, working from home in a house with study room and two spare bedrooms. And as rent on such a property would be at least £450pcm in this area (probably more as most rented properties round here are student houses) that's at least half my income.
I wrote yesterday that I realised my present lifestyle is unsustainable on mimimum wage. These latest calculations underline this starkly. No way I can lose half my income and survive, the way I live.
Anyway, given this debate and in the spirit of wanting to have a reasonably realistic experience this Lent, I've decided to take a ball-park figure and drop my income to £50/week. That brings me into line with a few of last year's participants, haven't seen any diaries for this year yet.
Saturday, March 08, 2003Lent Challenge - am I too well off on it?
I agreed, and explained to both that it reflects my somewhat privileged position of not having to pay rent - thus having far fewer deductions than most. Also underlines an observation I made when I looked at how much I currently spend in a week on bills, food, petrol, books, cds, leisure, etc - that my present lifestyle is unsustainable on mimimum wage. Take rent off £80 and IÕd be left with what - £20 maybe??
Jim wanted me to consider two things - one, dropping rent out of my weekly sum, which I said would just be a false figure, rather IÕll just keep on saving half of it the way I have begun doing, with a view to possibly borrowing back if need be later on in the month.
His second idea disarmed me - he offered to be my ÔservantÕ for the day, do housework etc, to illustrate conditions for low-waged workers. I couldnÕt have that, (a) because IÕd feel terrible having someone ÔdoingÕ for me in that way, and (b) because it seemed to reverse the challenge - IÕd be the ÔLord of the ManorÕ in that position. All food for thought, though, which is the idea really. Said IÕd contact Jim later on in the month to talk over how itÕs going. Thought for the Day quoting And death shall have no dominion. And ended with an exceptional performance at The Playhouse of Bob Kingdom's Dylan Thomas: Return Journey.
Kingdom might have been Thomas himself, he was that convincing. So much of what he said in the mode of Thomas on his fateful last lecture tour I knew already, from the recordings I filched from the English Department at Cardiff Uni while studying for my DT long essay, one of the most enjoyable and rewarding pieces of academic work IÕve ever done.
The performance included And death shall have no dominion and other greats such as Fern Hill, Do not go gentle into that good night, and a wonderfully entertaining rendition of The Outing.
What capped the evening was the twenty-minute post-performance ÔaudienceÕ with Bob Kingdom, to which half the (sizeable) audience stayed, and which was full of insights born of KingdomÕs seventeen years performing the play, honing it as heÕs gone, still seeing every performance as unique, still discovering new things about Thomas from the words and the audiences' stories as he goes.
KingdomÕs fist words about Thomas were that heÕs a ÕspiritualÕ poet. By that he meant one who made deep, profound connections between mortal beings and nature. I felt that too, earlier in the evening, when he recited a classic, The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, so physical I could hear the blood in my veins responding:
Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees
Is my destroyer.
And I am dumb to tell the crooked rose
My youth is bent by the same wintry fever.
The force that drives the water through the rocks
Drives my red blood; that dries the mouthing streams
Turns mine to wax.
And I am dumb to mouth unto my veins
How at the mountain spring the same mouth sucks.
The hand that whirls the water in the pool
Stirs the quicksand; that ropes the blowing wind
Hauls my shroud sail.
And I am dumb to tell the hanging man
How my clay is made the hangman's lime.
The lips of time leech to the fountain head;
Love drips and gathers, but the fallen blood
Shall calm her sores.
And I am dumb to tell a weather's wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.
And I am dumb to tell the lover's tomb
How at my sheet goes the same crooked worm.
Thursday, March 06, 2003Life on the Minimum Wage Church Action on Poverty I'm living off the equivalent of the Minimum Wage for the next six weeks. For me that works out at quite a liveable eighty quid; that's because I pay no rent - if I did, the story would be very different. Probably reveal that at present I'm living beyond my means.
That's part of the challenge - just to make those sorts of observations and face the questions they raise. Already I've had conversations about the rights and wrongs of taking on such a project - and about how some folk would love to have eighty quid to play with at the start of each week. I think I'll probably survive ok; have to stop impulse buying, bypass book and record shops, keep off Amazon.com, etc. The biggest challenge for me will be the week I spend on holiday - in North Wales (renting my friends' cottage is fairly cheap, but food from Dolwddellan Spar ain't), and then roving around Essex and London.
I've cheated a bit - ie, already booked accommodation down south - but even so I'm having, from day one of Lent, to save up for the holiday week. Otherwise my disposable will be disposed of very rapidly in the smoke. And it'll be interesting to see if I have to borrow (from the future, as it where) to make sure I get through. Debt's a massive effect of low income; I know that myself from times not too far past.
It's a false economy, I've no illusions about that - today I'm still living off a fridgefull of food bought on higher income, running a car two-thirds full of petrol, etc - but it's definitely thought-provoking. And a sign of solidarity with people on lower incomes who face a struggle to make ends meet all year round. I've been glad to share it on Radio Merseyside twice this week; wonder what the listeners think who have to budget this way all the time.
Wednesday, March 05, 2003Unpacking Eliot Ash Wednesday sermon. Wish I'd had more time to spend on the interesting challenge of unpacking T.S. Eliot for a congregation. Pic of the Month is finally up there for you to see. I must be quietly getting into holiday mood.
Tuesday, March 04, 2003Sermons, etc Link here.
(I know I've not updated my Pic of the Month yet. Bear with me - it's coming soon!)
Monday, March 03, 2003Brookie opening titles bring tears to my eye How Scouse Are You? game I discover I'm, by their calculation, a professional scouser: "You may think that you live in the greatest city on the planet but why do you have to tell everyone?" Guilty (Not guilty).
Sunday, March 02, 2003Praise the stuff of Wales Gwenallt) "[went] from shire to shire like the Gypsy of God, with the gospel and the altar in his caravan", Williams (according to the Church Times) rolled up in the car to be welcomed as Archbishop of Canterbury. He offered equally deep, insightful, gentle challenges in his inaugural sermon. We heard some of them this morning.
Saturday, March 01, 2003Because of Dewi Mirfield Centre were hosting a St David's Day exploration 'of how the saints, poetry and song of the Welsh spiritual tradition speaks to us'. Donald (A.M.) Allchin was the speaker and a lovely young woman Sarah Stanton provided music on the harp. A good day - depth, insight, gentle challenge, all in honour and 'memory' of good old Dewi Sant:
After the Sunday Mass before the first of March
To the crowd that had come to him to mourn his dying;
'Brothers and sisters, be joyful
Keep the faith and do the little things
That you saw and heard from me.'