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

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

    Wednesday, April 30, 2003
    A Smell Of Money Underground
    Bill Drummond was sold out at The Cornerhouse this week. Sorry to miss his performance. Well, for 'performance' read, 'attempt to sell off tiny fragments of an artwork which initially cost him $20,000, which he sliced into 20,000 pieces, at a cost of $1 each'.

    This is the man who burned a million quid. I've blogged about him before. He doesn't need my money, interest or support but he gets them all because he's another one who can't resist looking at life sideways-on. Which approach does instruct us how to be artist, of sorts, after a fashion, Bill.
    Tuesday, April 29, 2003
    I Dream of a Church
      I dream of a church that joins in with God's laughing
      as she rocks in her rapture, enjoying her art:
      she's glad of her world, in its risking and growing:
      'tis the child she has borne and holds close to her heart.

      I dream of a church that joins in with God's weeping
      as she crouches, weighed down by the sorrow she sees:
      she cries for the hostile, the cold and no-hoping,
      for she bears in herself our despair and dis-ease.

      I dream of a church that joins in with God's dancing
      as she moves like the wind and the wave and the fire:
      a church that can pick up its skirts, pirouetting,
      with-the steps that can signal God's deepest desire.

      I dream of a church that joins in with God's loving
      as she bends to embrace the unlovely and lost,
      a church that can free, by its sharing and daring,
      the imprisoned and poor, and then shoulder the cost.

      God, make us a church that joins in with your living,
      as you cherish and challenge, rein in and release,
      a church that is winsome, impassioned, inspiring;
      lioness of your justice and lamb of your peace.
    - Kate Compston, from Geoffrey Duncan, ed, Dare to Dream. Inspiration for closing reflections at tomorrow night's PCC.
    Monday, April 28, 2003
    Wobbly Church
    According to The Wibsite, the much-publicised Inflatable Church is due to make an appearance at the Christian Resources Exhibition where a series of Seminars will be held in it. I note from their website that an Inflatable Church costs £21,750 to buy. Temptingly low.

    Combined with the Inflatable Pub and Inflatable Nightclub which they also offer, you could turn your nearest bit of wasteland into "quite a centre" for a community still keen on wearing stilettos ("No problem with 'high heels', our church has a hard floor.") but - for obvious reasons - willing to lay off the ciggies while indoors. (All you'd need then would be an Inflatable Tesco Metro, to complete the wobbly civic centre).

    Actually, Wobbly Church provokes some interesting ideas. As the people behind Inflatable Church are keen to tell us, currently civil ceremonies can only be held in a church, registry office or specially licensed building. However, they tell us, soon the law will be changed so that the person conducting the ceremony will be licensed instead of the location. "Our church can then be used anywhere!!". Takes me back to Small Ritual's Characteristics of the new church, especially 'portability / modularity / brevity' and 'compactness / playfulness / interactivity'... Why not do church this way? Why not embrace wobbliness as a way forward?
    Sunday, April 27, 2003
    Kid Power
    On the Greenbelt blog yesterday I wrote on the same topic as here - the Iona Easter Experience. But used a different story:
      Last Good Friday a group of eight- to twelve-year-olds gathered behind a hillock as pilgrims on the annual Iona Easter Experience went walkabout, doing stations of the cross around the island. The children were performing one of the stations - typically provocative (for Iona), typically pertinent. As the pilgrims approached, they moved to the top of the hill and, holding high their home-made banners proclaiming 'Not in my name', they began chanting, "Don't kill Jesus, don't kill Jesus".
    That 'station' was especially pertinent after the surge of political protest which has arisen among young people during the current crisis. Kid Power, an article in the current Guardian Weekend, explores this, and goes way beyond the "they're just skiving school" slurs popular in the week war broke out and thousands of schoolchildren took to the streets.

    They did it under their own steam, though no doubt fired up by the wider protests involving such a cross-section of society at that time. The current wave of children's collective action bears many similarities with past youth protests, says Liverpool University's Michael Lavalette, who specialises in the study of popular protest:
      "They all happened in a particular context of general unrest across the country. In 1889, 1911, during the 1970s and again in the mid-1980s, over short periods of two to three weeks large numbers of children walked out of their schools." In 1911, for example, at the time of the Great Unrest, a wave of school strikes affected some 60 towns and cities across the country. The children walked out in protest at the brutal corporal punishment then meted out by their teachers, and called for free access to education for all. "Children were affected by the rebellious spirit of the age. Many had seen their parents out on strike. They were extremely well organised and quickly established a national set of grievances and demands."
    Today, pupils of Primrose School in Leeds don't have much access to politics, through 'normal' channels, but,
      "We'd like to have a say about our school and this area." says Jacob. "We'd like parks with no druggies in them. More stuff for little kids to do. There's so much wasteland round here that they could use. We need police to protect play areas and stop people stealing mobile phones. They should have cleaner streets and stop cars going so fast."
    What comes out of the article for me is the ability of young people organise themselves, promote their own agenda, do their own thinking. It's difficult to write about this as an adult without slipping into something like patronisation, but having taken this all in, this afternoon, I consciously drove my car more slowly, thinking of the youngsters around.

    Saturday, April 26, 2003
    Why was Jesus thin?
    'Why was Jesus thin?' asked John Bell in a workshop on Iona last week. David, Joyce and family were up there and tonight in our Iona Community Family Group shared the inspiration they enjoyed there. People misguidedly assume Iona's a nice quiet place to go and retreat from life. Couldn't be more different. It's a place where hard issues are dealt with face-on, where prejudices shatter as lights come on and people shudder into community. Where the sideways view counts. So why was Jesus thin? Just one among hundreds of provocative questions they enjoyed grappling with last week. Answers in the comments box please.
    Friday, April 25, 2003
    Precarious. Me, too hot'n'bothered or not bothered enough to borrow a stepladder, wobbling on a makeshift perch - armchair, window ledge, one hand clutching the bay wall, the other doing the work. I don't do DIY often but having brought the dodgy old curtain rail crashing down the other day in a hurry to see what had caused the crashing noises outside, and with evening meetings to host in that tatty old 'church only' front room, I got my finger out today, replaced the shoddy old plastic rail with a shining new metal one. It was close, but I survived intact.

    Precarious. Only took a second for that van to swing out of the side road here into the path of a bigger van, the cause of that crashing sound the other breakfast-time. Little boy got taken away in an ambulance, more shocked than anything else. Big van-driving men looked sheepish, spoke gently to each other. It was shaky, but they all survived intact.

    Precarious. Only took a second for a collision on the road home from the DIY superstore this afternoon. It'd been clear when I went through it fifteen minutes earlier; on my return it was a brutal scene, vehicles at all angles everywhere, sirens, lights, and young spectators vying for the best view by climbing walls, fences, and metal structures in the play area alongside. Hopefully all involved survived intact.

    Precarious. Precious. The two words are so close to each other. They both relate to humans going about our everyday stuff, close to falling, close to glory, always and everywhere precarious and precious.

    Thursday, April 24, 2003
      Crunching ginger biscuit
      Is like hearing soldiers tread
      Marching over gravel
      On the inside of your head

      Chewing a marshmallow
      Is nowhere near as loud
      It's the smaller, sweet equivalent
      Of swallowing a cloud
    - Stewart Henderson, from Who Left Grandad at the Chip Shop?, today's inspiration for next week's assemblies.....
    Wednesday, April 23, 2003
    Thinking about space
    "If you didn't like what you saw tonight, then you don't like football." Des Lynam's closing remarks after ITV's screening of Man Utd 4 - Real Madrid 3 (Madrid win 6-5 on aggregate), were typical tabloid TV, but apposite. It was a cracking game.

    Such on-pitch poetry took me straight back to an article in the current Harper's Magazine, Ajax is all about attack, by Jim Shepard, one of the best pieces of football writing I've read for a long time.

    He writes in the persona of Velibor Vasovic, Yugoslavian captain of the legendary Ajax team which won the club's first European Champions Cup in 1971. That Ajax team demonstrated a new way of playing which transformed European soccer, and which this evening, in elaborated and refined forms, we saw again. Shepard (as Vasovic) describes it beautifully:
      Few remember that before Ajax became Ajax, Holland's football record in internationals had been the equal of Luxemborg's. It took all of us - coach, Communist, and longhaired boys - all of thirty minutes that first day to realize that what we'd collected was a group of people who thought about space. The ultra-aggressive football in which players switched positions and rained attacks from every angle was worked through and worked out on that pitch over the next three years. It was a collective. During rest breaks we all talked. We all listened. Suppose we tried this? What happened when we tried that? We started letting midfielders and defenders join in attacks, and saw the ways in which forwards would have to support such flexibility by flowing back to cover. Position shifting came easily and provided opponents, once we started playing matches, with a chaos of movement and change with which to deal. The first Dutch word I really learned to speak was "switch."
    Funny, that word was quoted on the commentary this evening as being Steve MacManaman's first Spanish word learned on his move to Madrid.

    While opponents see this fluid football as a chaos of movement and change, spectators see it as a form of poetics, teammates as perfect geometry: Vasovic said of teammate Johan Cruyff, "He was a Pythagoras in shorts".

    Thinking about space. Switching. "Envisioning whole geometries." Football at this level transcends, inspires, and formulates lessons for life.

    Tuesday, April 22, 2003
    Gosh. Blog of the Week.

    I've just discovered that The Wibsite have made me their Blog of the Week. I am truly honoured.

    Monday, April 21, 2003
    Unhistoric acts
      ... the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.
    - these words may have been written in tribute to the artists collected in the Box of Trash, which has been on my player since a sortie into town this lunchtime ("You may as well come in," said the bloke from Probe on the phone earlier, "You'll only get bored at home." He was right).

    Hardly any of the hundred-plus artists in this low-cost 5-cd box are known outside the circles of collectors of 60Õs psych/garage music. I'd never heard of Diamond and the Higher Elevation or Teddy and His Patches before today. Their performances are unhistoric acts. Yet their influence goes a long way. Hearing the raw energy in their stripped-down sound, is a great antidote to the over-sophisticated, layered, self-conscious stuff we're used to today.

    So the George Eliot Middlemarch quote could easily be found in the Trash Box booklet. But it isn't. It's in the front of Richard Sennett's Respect: The Formation of Character in an Age of Inequality, which I'm just about to start reading. It's had a good press, this book. In it Sennett looks at the pivotal role respect plays in society. He argues that respect is the glue that keeps society together and a serious factor in social change. It's a novel approach to issues around inequality.

    In the Trash Box, The Split Ends sing about being Rich with Nothing, skint but wealthy in spirit. Sennet's argument is more sophisticated than that, (... how self-esteem must be balanced with feeling for others; proposing a welfare system based on respect for those in need ...). But perhaps there's a similarity of spirit. After all, Sennet's outlook has been formed through an 'outsider' musician's experience: as a young man living in a single-parent apartment in Chicago's run-down, race-torn Cabrini Green, Sennett learned to be a cellist; a hidden life if ever there was one, then and now.

    Sunday, April 20, 2003
    Easter Day
    It was a 5am start but probably too late in the day to catch the best of the daybreak. The birds were singing out Easter greetings all the way up to the churchyard. Eighteen of us turned up to add our hoarser voices to the chorus. Gathered between the blossoming trees, being themselves: "A tree gives glory to God by being a tree ... the more a tree is like itself, the more it is like him," wrote Thomas Merton.

    Then into town to do the Sixty-Second Sermon on Wayne Clarke's Daybreak programme at the laughably late hour of 8am... the day seemed half-over by then.

    A slow, meandering riverside drive back home in time to put the finishing touches to the next presentation: an Easter Day Meditation at the 10.00 service. Which involved daft games with a plastic chicken and unforeseen moments of quiet devotion for a large Easter-family-gathering congregation.

    And then home again, to collapse for the afternoon with Pebbles, Vol.1, raising my aching head only to perceive the identity of the 'top mid-80s band' performing the album's closing 'surprise track', a reworking of Action Woman by The Litter - McCulloch's cosmic-howling vocal easily gives the game away. I liked Easter this year.
    Saturday, April 19, 2003
    Liverpool launches Unsung Heroes
    First night of Martyn Joseph, Stewart Henderson and Martin John Nicholls' Unsung Heroes tour, in Mossley Hill Church, just down the road from here.

    No pecking order here, a nice collaborative event highighting the strengths we know each of these performers has in abundance, and particularly their passion for justice, strengthened by times they have each spent among people in some of the poorest communities in the world. Martyn's 2002 visit to the MST landless workers movement in Brazil featured prominently:
      "It was an amazing trip of deep emotion, rich experience and challenge. One of the moments I will never forget was by the side of the road in a place called Campos. There, at an MST encampment, I saw the reality of the struggle for a group of courageous people, intent on obtaining justice and a piece of land on which to plant crops, raise homes and build a community. I made a promise to them that I would do whatever I could to tell their story."
    His CD Till the End is part of that promise. It's raised £7,500 so far, for their cause. The Unsung Heroes tour will raise more, and will also help raise the landless movement's profile.

    On the day squawkbox.tv went awol, it was probably as well that GB blog comment king John Cheek was away from his computer, up here visiting in-laws. Good to recognise one of the Greenbelt online community in the unlikely surroundings of Mossley Hill.

    Earlier, Goodison's grandstands had been places of nasty verbal and occasional physical abuse during a fractious derby match. So it was good and healing to end a day of trauma at a perspective-shifting, affirming, very different sort of event.
    Friday, April 18, 2003
    I got your phone number written in the back of my bible
      Jack give me some money to pay my bills
      - All the dough I give you Holly
      You been using on pain pills.

      Jack will you call me if you're able?
      - I got your phone number written
      In the back of my bible
    CAP decreed that our Lent Challenge should end today; so, after this afternoon's Hour by the Cross I made my first visit to the new Borders @ Speke, to reduce my Wish List a little, with more than a passing thought, however, for those who, on this traditionally darkest of days, cannot see any light at all because they're so deeply drawn into the debt and exclusion that low-income living brings.

    Meanwhile, stuck on ambivalence about the USA. I'm with Lewis Lapham who in April's Harper's Magazine cites ten causes for dissent against the Bush regime:
      The dissenter is every human being at those moments of his life when he resigns momentarily from the herd and thinks for himself.
    - he quotes Archibald MacLeish. I won't list all his reasons for dissent, they're familiar (though his essay style rewards close reading). Except the one which most strikes me today - his angry debunking of Bush's statement, "We refuse to live in fear."
      .. of all lies told by the government's faith healers and gun salesmen, I know of none as cowardly. Where else does the Bush Administration ask the American people to live except in fear? ... Ever since [September 11, 2001] no week has passed in which the government has failed to issue warnings of a sequel. ... always it's the same message: suspect your neighbor and watch the sky; buy duct tape, avoid the Washington Monument, hide the children ...
    This message usefully squashes dissent of any kind, Lapham notes. And as "dissent is what rescues the democracy from a slow death behind closed doors", that's fatal.

    But I'm ambivalent because I returned from Borders (a U.S. shop) with a bagfull of life-affirming dissent and dissonance. And it's all American. Lapham's article from a quality liberal monthly, geek critique in Wired, hair-raising sixties psycho-punk from Pebbles, Vol.1, and the cd I've been aching for all Lent, The White Stripes' Elephant.

    Their administration may be arrogant in their power-frenzy, riding on the apathy and sloth of their fellow-citizens (Lapham's analysis) but Jack White and Meg White are rockin' as well as ever. Better, probably. And popping paracetomol won't dull any listener to their swamp-blues onslaught:
      You see the medicine
      You have no faith in medicine
    I've got faith in theirs. And how I'm smiling, with Stripes fans the world over, at their closing threesome with Holly Golightly:
      Jack I think you're pulling my leg
      And I think maybe I'd better ask Meg.
      Meg do you think Jack really loves me?
      - You know, I don't care because Jack really bugs me
    This stuff won't bring the government down. But put Elephant on, and the house ... is in grave danger of collapse.
    Thursday, April 17, 2003
    Interpreting stones
    Very sorry to read that 3rd Stone is suspending publication with its Autumn 2003 issue. Since discovering it on a sortie to Kilmartin last year I've been an interested reader. I'm not a drude like Julian Cope but I do enjoy wandering around ancient sites, wondering about the folks who've wandered them before - centuries before: people we don't really have a clue about, and hours before: people we must have something in common with, Modern Antiquarians all.

    Anyway, the website has some good free downloads, including this one: Christian Landscapes of Pagan Monuments which explores the way the Christian church has 'interpreted' megalithic monuments over the centuries. Basically making one of two choices:
      [either] a negative choice leading to neglect and complete destruction, [or] a positive choice leading to their assimilation and a continuing use of their locations.
    - that means either abandoning the stones to farmers likely to make barn walls out of them, or putting crosses on top of them to turn them into churches. But it's more complex than that and so interesting to read the ruminations of early councils on this issue, as illustrated by this from Pope Gregory in 601:
      "we have been giving careful thought to the affairs of the English, and have come to the conclusion that the temples of the idols among that people should on no account be destroyed. The idols are to be destroyed, but the temples themselves are to be aspersed with holy water, altars set up in them and relics deposited here. For if these temples are well-built, they must be purified from the worship of demons and dedicated to the service of the true God. In this way, we hope that the people, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may abandon their error and, flocking more readily to their accustomed resorts, may come to know and adore the true God."
    He presided over a more confident church, of course, than today's. Tempting though it may be to kick over the (pop) idols in the supermarket, it wouldn't be a positive (popular) move. But I quite like being around today having to step back from the likes of Gregory and, alongside our non-church neighbours, asking questions, seeking connections instead. Gregory again:
      "And since they have a custom of sacrificing many oxen to demons, let some other solemnity be substituted in its place, such as a day of Dedication or the Festivals of the holy martyrs whose relics are enshrined there ... They are no longer to sacrifice beasts to the Devil, but they may kill them for food to the praise of God, and give thanks to the Giver of all gifts for the plenty they enjoy"
    Well, is there really much difference, in essence, between the two types of practice? (Discuss)
    Wednesday, April 16, 2003
    Hot Days
      Hot days are hot
      Cold it is not
      The grass is green
      Butterflies are seen
      On hot days.
    - first poem I ever had published, in the school magazine in 1971.
    Tuesday, April 15, 2003
    This year's passion missive
    You have to think ahead in this game. So I'm on Easter Day now. Thinking of bright things to do with flowers and eggs at a sunny Sunday servivce. Having dispatched this year's passion missive tonight. 'Weep for yourselves', I called it. Sobering it was, too. What else could it be in these times - in a world "tangled up in violence, riven by war, demeaned by those devoted only to expanding their empires, protecting their interests, maintaining their borders".... If you can face reading the rest, it's here.
    Monday, April 14, 2003
    Hearts and souls and Memory Blocks
    Interesting project at the Museum of Liverpool Life today, called Memory Block. The spin says:
      Memory Block is a community arts project aimed at finding out what history means to people in Liverpool, through discussion and through art. It celebrates the different voices and memories that make up Liverpool's past.
    The Memory Blocks are clear perspex brick-shaped boxes which were given to 80 or so participants from all round the city, with which:
      to create their representation of their memories, using any medium they chose: lining it with pictures or photographs, placing objects, sculpture or writing within it, or using sound to share music or oral history.
    Some very interesting pieces, a real variety: from eight-year-olds depicting blue, clear-sandy beaches which I thought were lovely if romanticised views of the Mersey, but turned out to be memories of holidays at sunny foreign resorts, to sixty-year-olds illustrating the various stages of their life in sculpture and words.

    Many different cultures represented too, thanks to the carefully-chosen range of community groups involved. I liked the decorative wooden box containing a 'Memory Block' under the lid, in which were some precious Qur'anic verses, and Jewish teenagers' boxes full of scenes of family life, sacred and special.

    A local historian on Radio Merseyside this morning quoted city father William Roscoe from the 18th century, describing slavery as "the source of future ill". There were enough Memory Block references to our city's past involvement in the slave trade to affirm the truth in Roscoe's words - almost 200 years after abolition, it still casts a shadow over us. But it was encouraging to see far more by way of colour, inventiveness, celebration, in those boxes.

    I didn't notice much self-conscious Scouse humour in those Memory Blocks, though. Perhaps surprising from a city which has just voted Ken Dodd its greatest ever citizen (Red Rum came fifteenth. Hear Dodd's tattyfilarious acceptance speech here). But it seems when we're asked seriously to describe what our history means to us, the people of Liverpool put heart and soul into creating the answer.
    Sunday, April 13, 2003
    How the light gets in
    Too tired to be original; full of dark thoughts around my next preach: ÒDon't weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.Ó Found something fittingly gritty someone posted on the freshworship lentblog - "Anthem" by Leonard Cohen:
      Ring the bells that still can ring
      Forget your perfect offering
      There is a crack, a crack in everything
      That's how the light gets in.
      That's how the light gets in.
      That's how the light gets in.
    from Stranger Music: Selected Poems and Songs
    Saturday, April 12, 2003
    Winding up in Whalley Abbey
    Easter starts here, in a way: the big Palm Sunday services tomorrow, and a week of liturgical events. Knackering. But today was a good place to start - at Stuart & Michelle's wedding in Blackburn and the lovely Whalley Abbey. Good one, mix of meeting good friends and making good new ones. Work - I preached at the service - but plenty pleasure too.
    Friday, April 11, 2003
    One week to go on the CAP Lent Challenge
    One week to go on the CAP Lent Challenge and I've never looked forward so much to Easter Day. I don't think I've been especially hard up because I've lacked the discipline of others on this challenge; resorted to what so many folks do and survived by taking out 'loans' to cope with things like tomorrow's trip to a wedding in Blackburn. Well, I couldn't miss that, could I?

    But nevertheless the experience has been real enough to feel some of the reality of low income experience. Some of the major effects of this experience have been:
      Having to budget - this is a good thing, although of course it would be much better on a higher wage. Living on low income makes you more aware of the money that's coming in and what you're doing with it. You become adept at stretching it as far as possible. One drawback is that budgets really ought to have 'contingency' built in: on a low income it's not easy to 'put aside' for unforeseen demands. However well-organised the budget, that's where the crises begin...

      Getting into debt - the major feature of my Lent, this. I've only got through it by arranging (with myself) loans to cover extra, sometimes unforeseen, spending - that holiday in the middle week, birthday presents and wedding expenses. This says, on one level, I've failed the Challenge. I haven't managed to live on the minimum wage. And this is true. But I've willingly embraced this failure as something very true to life. So many people get into debt - and on low income that often involves being excluded by the 'mainstream' lenders and becoming vulnerable to 'loan sharks'. That's been the subject of other CAP campaigns and needs to continue to be a close concern.

      Diminishing opportunities - I've written during Lent about the geography of the low-waged (a smaller circuit than those able to travel without financial restriction) and about the different route around the supermarket (shorter and restricted to the 'value' shelves). Low income means not enjoying the luxury of being able to segue easily from the CAP website over to Amazon.com and buy a book that's just come to mind. It means thinking twice about every invitation out, even just for the odd pint. It means watching that old video from the back of the dusty cupboard because going to Blockbuster would mean missing a meal. It means spontaneity, generosity, charitability, all take a backwards step.

      Feeling trapped - I'm looking forward so much to the end of this Challenge, now. I'm making spending plans already, and I'm anticipating the pleasure of just being able to take off on my days off and enjoy the freedom of travel, eating well, taking in 'leisure experiences' without having to worry about what I'm doing. This reminds me of those times in the eighties when I was unemployed. The joy of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when a job came along. The desire to see that light was a constant for me then. The difference between then and now, is that rarely then, could I see that light. I was trapped in the tunnel and seldom felt I'd ever escape. I guess that's the low-income experience too.

      Clarity of vision - It's not all bad. Because when you're having to think harder about money you start to see clearer too: how financial systems work; the effects of government spending, as practiced and proposed; how much we waste on fripperies; how much we have compared to others in this and other countries. And so on. It's an education, being low-waged. No that I've any right or inclination to wish that sort of education on anyone. But I do have an urge to commit to helping those who have such thorough learning, to share their knowledge on as many public forums as possible, because they can teach so much to those of us who don't usually have to think very much about money.
    Thursday, April 10, 2003
    Seminal times
      "Saddam Hussein is a terrible person, he is a threat to his own people. I think his people would be better off with a different leader, but there is this sort of romantic notion that if Saddam Hussein got hit by a bus tomorrow, some Jeffersonian democrat is waiting in the wings to hold popular elections [laughter]. YouÕre going to getÑguess whatÑprobably another Saddam Hussein. It will take a little while for them to paint the pictures all over the walls againÑ[laughter]Ñbut there should be no illusions about the nature of that country or its society. And the American people and all of the people who second-guess us now would have been outraged if we had gone on to Baghdad and we found ourselves in Baghdad with American soldiers patrolling the streets two years later still looking for Jefferson [laughter]. "
    - Colin Powell, 1992, briefing journalists when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bush senior. (quoted in Tariq Ali - Re-Colonizing Iraq, New Left Review 21, May-June 2003)

    So it's not about bringing democracy then, Colin. As most of the Middle East already knows, convinced that the current illegal incursion in their region is motivated by pure economics (controlling oil) and cynical politics (advancing Israel's agenda).

    These are seminal times, and not for the reasons Bush Jr assumes. Recently he said, "They hate our freedoms". This rings as hollow as a rat up a Baghdad drainpipe tonight. Words like the following, from Franco Moretti in NLR20, ring truer:
      "Early March 2003, when these pages are being written, is ... a wonderfully paradoxical moment, when, after twenty years of unchallenged American hegemony, millions of people everywhere in the world have expressed their enormous distance from American politics. As human beings, this is cause to rejoice. As cultural historians, it is cause to reflect"
    - and to that last observation I would add, as theologians also.

    Wednesday, April 09, 2003
    Mending broken things
    Our Lent group ended on a rather sober note, talking tough around redemption (do we really believe in it, why are we reluctant to accept it in others, etc). Rediscovered a lost gem, though, to end the evening reflectively: the divine voice of Julie Miller, and the title track from her Broken Things album... great healing in these words:
      Broken Things

      You can have my heart
      But it isn't new
      It's been used and broken
      And only comes in blue

      It's been down a long road
      And it got dirty on the way
      If I give it to you will you make it clean
      And wash the pain away

      You can have my heart
      If you don't mind broken things
      You can have my life if you don't mind these tears
      Well I heard that you make old things new
      So I give these pieces all to you
      If you want it you can have my heart

      So beyond repair
      Nothing I could do
      I tried to fix it myself
      But it was only worse when I got through
      Then you walked right into my darkness
      And you speak words so sweet
      And you hold me like a child
      Till my frozen tears fall at your feet

      You can have my heart
      If you don't mind broken things
      You can have my life if you don't mind these tears
      Well I heard that you make old things new
      So I give these pieces all to you
      If you want it you can have my heart
    Julie's sleeve notes add: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit [Psalm 34.18]. Good news for those we refuse to redeem, or for us when we refuse to accept it for ourselves.
    Tuesday, April 08, 2003
    Greenbelt all-year-round
    It lasts just four days but I always felt Greenbelt was for all-year-round. Its an event so densely packed with experiences of the eye, ear, head, heart, that it takes a year to unpack it all and let it live. And at many points during the year it induces the urge to reproduce the festival experience - re-hear those seminars on tape, replay that band's cd, get the photos out, contact those Greenbelt mates.

    So it's good to see that the Greenbelt all-year-round experience is happening increasingly, like on the website with its blog, or the annual Angels weekend.

    One new Greenbelt all-year-round experience is particularly innovative and interesting. The Greenbelt Arts Prize, which this year linked to a project called "Lamentations", a Chaplaincy-sponsored, site-specific exhibition of photography and creative writing being staged by students of the University of Gloucestershire and residents of Leyhill Open Prison. Prizes were awarded for entries in photography and creative writing - strengthening the festival's links with local people and institutions, and keeping that all-year-round spirit going.

    Especially moved, today, to read a winning entry in the latest edition of Wing and a Prayer, from Stan, a Leyhill resident. If you read it you'll see why....
      Stan's Lament

      It was a beautiful sunset
      The sky was crimson, golden and purple
      There had been a shower and the air was fresh, crisp
      - anticipating
      In the dying light, indigo blue
      the fox made a dash, in pursuit? In fear?
      React, avoid, react and can't avoid
      Two tons versus half a ton - No contest.
      Collision somersault crush
      Three dead

      November 4th 2001
      Overtaking a line of traffic on a dual carriageway, and the lead car in an attempt to avoid a fox suddenly swerved into my path
      My near side front collided with his off side rear
      spinning him in the classic pitbull ... and he rolled over, somersaulted a ditch and hit a tree
      He was killed and I pleaded guilty
      I have five years to think about it he has none.

    Monday, April 07, 2003
    Inside Moyes
    The main reason for the Everton renaissance - David Moyes. Martin Baker's Moyes' Own Story in yesterday's Observer was entertaining and insightful, the writer's record of a week spent with Moyes, the week which ended in Everton's late, great win over Southampton.

    There's a cameo of Rooney being called up to the manager's office in a towel and a pair of flip-flops to be told off for a misdemeanour. There's that lovely quote in reply to a TV question about Gordon Strachan, the Southampton boss. 'Two young Scots managers, how do you feel?' - 'I'm certainly a lot younger than Gordon,' said Moyes.

    There's the young manager's description of his feelings on his elevation to the Premiership:
      'David Ginola, Duncan Ferguson and Paul Gascoigne, some of the biggest names in football,' he recalls. 'They were sitting on the bench, looking for direction. I thought, "Jesus Christ. What do I do here?" And then I thought I'd just better do what got me there in the first place. They seemed to think it was OK, what I did, after a while.'
    And there's insights into the steel of the man, as in this conversation between the Everton management team in Moyes's Merc on the way home from Celtic v. Stuttgart:
      An Everton midfielder comes under discussion.

      'The boy's got great talent,' Lumsden says.

      'He has. And he'd have been in my team until today,' Irvine replies.

      In training that morning the player had jumped into a tackle he was unlikely to make, lost it, and the opposition ran upfield and scored.

      'Yeah, I couldn't believe it,' Lumsden concurs. 'Massive hole there.'

      Another player has a great strength - the ability to blend better with others who undoubtedly have more raw talent.

      Moyes listens to the conversation as we bullet into the black Pennine night. He decides to leave an outstanding player on the bench for reasons of balance and blend.

      'It'll be hard on the boy, though,' says Lumsden.

      'Aye,' Moyes says, eyes fixed firmly on the road, 'it'll be hard.'
    Sunday, April 06, 2003
    Where Rooney's gifts come from
    Obviously Wayne gets all the plaudits, for another mature-beyond-his-years display, key to overcoming a powerful Newcastle side today. I watched him as he walked towards the Bullens Road stand to collect the ball for a throw-in, with a sea of dancing fans applauding him, chanting his name, and I wondered what on earth this youngster must be thinking.

    He seems level-headed enough, but even so, it must be astonishing to be all-of-a-sudden the object of such admiration and adulation, and to recognise the greatness in ones' self, which has come from ... where?

    Well, I've got a strong opinion on the answer to that question: his skill is divine. Look at the gifts Wayne's got and realise, afresh, there is a God; a generous, creative, footy-loving God.
    Saturday, April 05, 2003
    Pic of the Month
    New Pic of the Month just up. Wonderful, isn't it?
    The Joy of Being Wrong
      [John 9, the story of the healing of the man born blind] bears clear witness to John having understood as one of the first fruits of the resurrection the making available of the understanding that we are all wrong (blind), and that this does not matter. Being wrong can be forgiven: it is insisting on being right that confirms our being bound in original murderous sin.
    - James Alison in The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes (p.125).

    Pete's generous use of my Wish List has got me into this exceptional conversation today, once again, with Alison, a most original, liberating thinker. Impossible to summarise, but essential to recommend - especially at this time of year.
    Friday, April 04, 2003
    The dullest blog in the world
    I feel humbled. Having discovered The dullest blog in the world I know that nothing I write here will ever be even a shadow of such excellence.
    Lent Challenge update.
    On the CAP Lent Challenge it's been the toughest, tightest week. I'm holding on by the skin of my teeth. But my diet's suffering. If I had been really thorough about this exercise, and tried to reproduce real-life circumstances more accurately, I would have cancelled all my subscriptions and outstanding Amazon orders, substantially reducing the throughput in my letterbox. I would have also cleared out the food cupboards and started from scratch. As it was, I spent the first part of Lent exisiting on scratchings from the deeper regions of these cupboards, reluctant to get out to the shops to face the strain of restrained purchasing.

    That's changed in recent days as the cupboards now truly have become bare. And I've had to get out to fill a basket with plainer and cheaper goods, avoiding the slightest 'luxury' (like, no Radio Times, usually the first thing in my shopping basket - I've been using the listings on Teletext instead). Had a Shreddies scoop, though - special offer, two boxes for two quid. That'll keep me going awhile.

    I've previously mentioned the greatest financial challenge of minimum wage living is the restraint I'm having to put on my habitual purchasing of books and cds. I've found I'm not even going to the library (CD loans are £1 quid a week and often I'll borrow two, and a video at £2). One quite good side-effect of this has been my rediscovery of forgotten cassettes long banished to the bottom of the stack. I've been back in the eighties with Echo and the Bunnymen this week, it's been a joyful rediscovery.
    Thursday, April 03, 2003
    Topic #3 - Cities
    More city stuff. In London I stumbled into a newsagents on Oxford Street which was a dream for me, the mag-addict. It was stacked full of publications from all over the world, all subjects imaginable, many languages, many hours of potential avid reading. In normal circumstances I would have spent a fortune there. But on the Lent Challenge, the one thing I allowed my low-waged tourist self to buy was an edition of Topic magazine. Seven quid very well spent.

    They reckon it's the best new literary mag since Granta. Well, they would. And for all I know it is; I've never taken to Granta really. Don't know why. But Topic - produced out of Cambridge, UK, fully international in flavour, well, I've just about exhausted it now. Once I'm out of this financial straitjacket I may return to previous habits and whack off a subscription.

    As I said, it's more city stuff that got me into it. Each issue has a theme and cities is the current one. It's dealt with in a rich mix of ways, virtually all creative, with very few dull sociological pieces. You'll have to have a look for yourself at the articles freely featured on the generous website, but among those I particularly enjoyed were Robert B. Gilpin's colourful stroll around Mexico's city of MŽrida, Binyavanga Wainaina's sketch of Nairobi's art scene (a metaphor for wider changes in Kenyan society), and Brian Gallagher's engrossing docu-drama of his journeys in pursuit of the New York subway graffitti artist/diarist REVS (who leaves chunks of his life story on obscure sections of the city's underground rail tunnels).

    Reading Topic affirmed it to me again - city life's so full of variety and human inventiveness.
    Wednesday, April 02, 2003
    Getting the city going again
    Interesting meeting today at the Cathedral with Louise Hopkins, Director of Mersey Waterfront Regional Park and Jim Gill, Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision.

    These are people deeply involved in the regeneration of the city; good of them to spare their time to address a motley and non-too-sizeable gathering of clergy folks, sharing their visions and plans with us, inviting comments and (though it hardly got to this) discussion, debate.

    Louise has £9million with which to achieve her ambition; which is "for the Mersey Waterfront to become the North West's most enviable asset." She showed how the massive stretch of coastline between Runcorn and Southport is rich in natural, cultural, industrial assets, which are presently underutilised, vandalised, physically and socially disconnected from the region's inner areas. Her chief asset is her enthusiasm for her task, and for the area itself; and no doubt a fair amount of nous too. She has big visions. When it came to David Gavin's question about whether uniting the disparate communities in his parish (old 'Bread' streets vs. new dockland pads) was desirable and/or achievable, it was her new colleague, just arrived after years of inner-city community work, who had the practical understanding. Between them they inspire some confidence that we can get our waterfront(s) thriving again.

    Jim spoke more generally about the issues and challenges around regenerating the city centre. Again, many good ideas afoot. Some insights too - like, the Pier Head has never been a place which people visited, as such - rather its function is a place which people pass through - making the question 'how do we attract people there?' doubly challenging.

    Most of the discussion later inevitably centred around not neglecting the outer areas in our excitement about the much-vaunted 'return to the city', and gratefulness was expressed that the language of redevelopment used by these two included thought-out notions of human wellbeing, culture, community, etc. Barbara Glasson wanted the 'spiritual' to be in there too. I'd've liked a longer, broader, two-way conversation with more such folk involved, around these deeper issues. We may have to settle with what we got today. Which was pretty good really.
    Tuesday, April 01, 2003
    Sorry but I'm chillin'
    Today I'm enjoying Lamb's Fear of Fours and especially Little Things:
      There's so many things that we miss in our everyday lives
      We're so busy hustling, bustling chasing far away dreams
      We forget the little things
      Like blue skies, green eyes and our babies growing
      Like rainbows, fresh snow and the smell of summer
      We forget to live.

      Give us eyes like children so we live each day as others
      We're so sure we know so much that we forget to listen
      Then we wander freckle faced
      Like cheap thrills bad spill and constant consumption
      Like TV, CDs and cars that speak our names
      We forget to live.
    I wanted to translate those words into a talk for tomorrow's assembly on 'Choices' ... but it was either too obvious or too much like hard work, so instead I'm chillin' and they're getting a John Bell Meditation instead. Which will be equally edifying if not quite so drum'n'bass.