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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Monday, June 30, 2003The best of England London Orbital.
His powers of description are fantastic. Every paragraph is quotable. Take, for example, two passages describing breakfasts he and his walking companions had at different stages of their pilgrimage.
In an Italian coffee-bar in Waltham Cross Sinclair observes the women customers, 'Walnut-coloured leisure wives, still steaming from tanning beds. Metallic blondes with vivid nails. Very trim in fiercely pressed jeans.' Noting that 'Victoria Adams (Mrs Beckham, Posh Spice) ... tarty with class ... is a local', he continues,
We swill our mugs of near-coffee, lick our plates and congratulate ourselves on being somewhere we'll never find again; a morning epiphany among stacked containers, long sheds. The best of England: close to a canal path, close to allotments, close to a football stadium, faces deep into a (£2.50) 'big breakfast' in a culture that only does breakfasts.
Sunday, June 29, 2003Ways of coping
I sympathise with both instincts, and have the option of attending either event. The decision is made - I'm going to the barbeque, tins in hand. There are ways of praying whilst drinking; burgers and beer will do very well as body and blood for us tonight.
Saturday, June 28, 2003The Propaganda Remix Project Thanks to Dan Hughes for the link to this. His site's well worth a look too. See especially dogme03::vow of chastity.
Friday, June 27, 2003Benn's a treat Tony Benn is going to Glastonbury this weekend, to open the 'Left Field' stage. That figures. Well, if so then he's on a tight schedule in his present mission to take politics to the people, touring the country with pipe and flask seeking to energise the population to get up, stand up, be involved.
Tonight he's at The Phil. This afternoon he was at Wallasey Town Hall and I was there to hear him. Warm, generous and greatly entertaining, Benn's a treat. He's fond of saying that to carry on in politics he had to leave Parliament, and he truly hopes his "Audience with..." tour does energise the many who will go to hear him. He's very optimistic about the people's desire to engage in this way.
Hopefully we'll see a lot more of this sort of forum. And hopefully we'll see a lot more of Benn, too, although his health is beginning to let him down. Today he was struggling with a hearing problem. Among his humourous tales was the one of a heckler in one recent meeting who was very persistent but who Benn, of course, took on:
Thursday, June 26, 2003Committees of Hope Mayday, aptly enough, about getting Jim Hart on the web. This maverick historian, energetic champion of the poor, prophet not welcome in diocesan offices, has produced many writings which need exposure, because we all need to feel their rage, be purified through their fire. Well, step one achieved today as, with Jim's permission, I reproduce here his piece, Committees of Hope. Which, like the Wibbers etc, is great Christian satire. Mocks the way that toothless Church structures suck the life out of our involvement with the poor. As a member of the bishop's Urban Priority Panel I read this again to be challenged and cleansed.
Wednesday, June 25, 2003Give all your ideas away Howies catalogue arrived by post today. It's all online as well, but it's so much better to handle, thumb, sniff (Linda tells me my habit of sniffing new books is odd... oh, is it?) They are Cardigan Bay's third largest clothing company. Not only do they do great t-shirt designs, they lend out books to customers from their library, generally promote eco-awareness and celebrate being 'family'. Interest-a-plenty in the 'think' section of their site.
Howies are a real treat, sharing a refreshing sort of business ethics with others such as Obble from whom this bike bag idea came. Howies write:
Give all your ideas away. Not exactly a great business plan. But what happens if your plan isn't to make money. What happens if your business plan is to make friends. After all, money doesn't make you happy. Friends do. Obble was set up by four friends who had a love of ideas. One of their ideas was to start Obble. A different kind of brand. A brand that gives rather than takes. A brand that isn't designed to make money. We met David and Clare and liked what they were trying to do at howies. So we gave them an idea. The Bike Bag. It didn't cost us anything to come up with the idea and we gave it away. Howies made the bag and Obble made some new friends. Our website is built by another friend called John. We use it as a space to put our ideas and have fun. And as we make new friends, we ask them if they want to put some ideas on our site. And if anyone sees an idea they like, that they want to buy, we say ok. But don't pay us. Pay our friends. And they say, but that doesn't make good business sense. And we smile and say we know.
Tuesday, June 24, 2003Praising people's historians Stone Voices: The Search for Scotland, Neal Ascherson made mention of Gwyn Alf Williams, celebrated Welsh historian, author of When was Wales?, head history prof in my Cardiff Uni days.
It brought him back to me - the man Ascherson calls a "fiercely serious historian", who spat and stammered his way through the most engaging TV history series I've ever witnessed, HTV's The Dragon Has Two Tongues, in which he battled with the romantic visions of Wynford Vaughan Thomas, striving to locate "my people and no mean people" in a far-from-singular Wales, Wales and Welshness being "living and constantly changing things." These people, Williams wrote, "who have for a millennium and a half lived in [these two western peninsulas of Britain] as a Welsh people, are now nothing but a naked people under an acid rain." Ascherson observes that Gwyn Alf attempted to "open up quarries of the past which could serve to build a future". So he did. And with great passion.
Ascherson's mention made me want to re-read Gwyn Alf's seminal book, and made me also remember and give thanks for an equally committed historian, Williams' colleague then and my teacher, Dai Smith, now Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research and Regeneration) at the University of Glamorgan. Dai's Welsh History was a people's history, he took us (literally) into the valleys and coalfields of the ordinary men and women who shaped modern Wales, to engage with that shaping and their present plight.
In the mid-80s, myself an object of Thatcher's vicious social re-engineering, sitting in Cardiff pubs hearing Smith's clearly-stated and committed Marxist analyses was light and life for me. Cardiff was a cauldron in which I learned to think politically and apply it back home. I guess that's why I'm still a keen reader of anything that comes out of Wales along those lines. It's why I was especially drawn to an article by Dai Smith in New Welsh Review, 59, Spring 2003, in which he weaves the story of another great historian into the stories of those already mentioned here, and the story of Wales itself. He pays tribute to Eric Hobsbawm, not least for the values at his core, which I feel Smith and Williams also share (and which causes me to value them so highly): "an unrelenting hatred of anything that diminishes or disparages the ordinariness of humanity. ... This, I believe, is his true moral distinction amidst all the turbulence of passing political debate and mistaken loyalties:
Monday, June 23, 2003The anti-blog? Silicon Snake Oil. I bought it to celebrate my leaving computer programming for community work. Felt very virtuous. But that was 1995. Time for a rethink, perhaps. After a year blogging, time to take stock, assess the damage, celebrate what's healthy and good.
I'm onto this thanks to an Adbusters mention of Quentin J. Schultze's Habits of the High-Tech Heart: Living Virtuously in the Information Age. It may be a successor to Silicon Snake Oil, another hard look, by an insider, at what our embrace of virtual technologies is doing to us. Schultze argues that the earlier 'e-utopianism' which Stoll opposed has given way to a 'new pragmatism' about what the net can and can't do. The problem, he says, is that this is led by economics; doesn't necessarily "encourage reflection on how technology shapes - and sometimes distorts - our understanding of community and virtue."
Well, it got Christianity Today's reviewer deep into a discussion about "technological asceticism". Which was interesting. And although Dale Lature doesn't think Schultze goes far enough, he's been working on these issues every day for ages. Me, it's one book like this per eight years. So, I'll post this, then one-click. To be reviewed.
Sunday, June 22, 2003Mr Moyes and me soiree at old trafford at the end of last season. Paul, yours is in the post.
Saturday, June 21, 2003McIntosh joins the military Alastair McIntosh has had the unusual experience of being invited to address 400 senior military officers at the Joint Services Command and Staff College. He's here, says the course director, to make them think: "We're all here because we want peace. Our men and women seek peace just as deeply as you do. The challenge is how you achieve it."
These military thinkers say "we need people like [McIntosh] to remind us of the limits." It's a fascinating exchange for McIntosh, writer of the seminal Soil and Soul: People Versus Corporate Power, an environmental campaigner far more used to getting a sympathetic ear from his colleagues at Edinburgh's Centre for Human Ecology.
He describes it in the latest issue of Resurgence:
Friday, June 20, 2003Let John just get on The Independent asked me if I'd do a piece on the Jeffrey John saga for this weekend, but my two sermons had to take precedence. Besides, I really don't know if I'd have written anything helpful, I naively hope the sorry episode will fade away and the good honest man will be able to get on with his life and ministry humbly and well.
It would be excellent if instead of adding to the general dull hype on this issue, The Indy ran this piece from The Wibsite, Bishops try to stop appointment of 'former two-car owning Bishop'. Satire is definitely a good response to such shenanigans and this is very good satire.
This wasn't any old meeting, but a meeting which is always enjoyable, a different sort of gathering, once a month with Iona Community 'family'. Called off because folks are away on holiday or at childrens' school events or caring for dependents or ill through work excess.
If we feel so released from a time commitment to something we value and enjoy, I can't help wondering what all those other commitments are doing to us, the ones we have to keep even though we know their mediocrity demeans us, deadens us, fuses us in the mundane.....
Thursday, June 19, 2003Weep weep weep Michael Leunig:
Into the night
Weep onto a sleeping mouse
Weep naked underneath the house
Weep among the dying trees
Weep down on your hands and knees
Weep with angels when you sleep
Weep weep weep
Wednesday, June 18, 2003This week.....
Tuesday, June 17, 2003The Grotto
Suck up the sun
Into your bones
Then move on
Monday, June 16, 2003Meanderings in the Bible Belt The Polyphonic Spree: "Hey now, it's the sun, and it makes me shine"? Well, I've been shining today, as the sun spread clear rays of light over the lush lands of Cheshire's Bible Belt and I took a journey back to my roots.
Sat in the churchyard of Tarporley Methodist-Baptist Church as funeral bells tolled in the tower of the nearby Anglican Church. Ancient ritual. From my seat in that small, hidden garden I could read on nearby stones the names of two of the greatest women in my life. To my left, the grave of Harriet Ledward, a Scots presbyterian who married into Cheshire and combined the strictest moral code with a sharp and ready wit. To my right, the ashes of Jessie Davies (nee Ledward) lie with her parents and some of her fourteen brothers and sisters. My Nana. Now thirteen years in glory.
Besides mourners leaving St Helen's, Tarporley was active with shoppers taking their leisure in antique-sellers, delicatessens, high-class ladies' clothing establishments. It's that kind of place. Prospered in the heyday of Cheshire's salt trade; still prospers today as a home to the well-heeled commuters of Merseyside, Greater Manchester and the Midlands. That's why I call it the Bible Belt. God is thanked in this land of ease. The town's 'service industry' is truly blessed. As it always has been.
But the picture is deeper, of course. Because a 'service industry' requires servants. And the shop staff, like low-waged anywhere, no doubt eke out a living to feed their children in small council houses on a hidden edge of town.
Nana was a servant-girl. Served her time at some of the big Cheshire houses - Peckforton Castle, Capesthorne Hall, working for a while as a frightened young woman at a big house in the heart of London, before finding herself in service in Liverpool, where she met my granddad, a delivery driver, and made home and family here.
Her family's story illustrates the other side of the Bible Belt. The sun shines on the righteous and unrighteous alike, the wealthy and their servants. The long-lived and those who just pass by briefly. Shone on Jessie all through her 93 very blessed years. And on her brother Henry (d. March 1885, aged 4 months), sisters Elizabeth (d. May 1890, aged 14 months) and Alice (d. December 1890, aged 8 months), and brother George (d. June 1898, aged 13 days). Shone on Harriet's little daughter Edith Jean, killed by a truck in 1932, aged five.
We enjoyed visiting
Aunt Harriet as children to sample her potent sherry trifle. A fierce teetotaller, Harriet splashed the alcohol into the bowl lavishly, oblivious to the effect it would have on the trifle and its recipients. On those days out we often also visited nearby Beeston Castle, and so today I stood atop this sandstone peak, drop-jawed at what English Heritage justifiably call one of the best views from any castle in this country. Directly north, 22 miles distant, a clear view of Liverpool Cathedral. Sunwise across the Cheshire Plain, Jodrell Bank's glittering space telescope. The long blue rise of the Pennines thirty miles hence, The Wrekin to the south, and to the west another thirty miles - the lovely hills of Clwyd.
Kings haven't inhabited this outcrop for hundreds of years. But everyone who stands on its crest on clear days like today can rightly feel like a monarch. I'm sure Jessie and her friends would have sat there in their youth, gazing at the view. Chatting away like young women do. Servant girls, with the world most literally at their feet.
Sunday, June 15, 2003Struck by blue
Caught the fag-end of the Mersey River Festival tonight and came back with this Mersey sunset in my camera. Struck by so much blue. Take any longshot on any coastline and the land appears a sliver inbetween vastnesses of sea and sky. Even the brashness of this big city skyline diminishes in the blue. The little cruise boats and gigantic tall ships of this festival celebrated a transport mode now eclipsed by air. But it's still the blue that hosts humankind's voyaging. Slogan of Liverpool John Lennon Airport: "Above us only sky." Which is intended to be reassuring, liberating, awe-inspiring. It's good to be tangled up in blue.
Saturday, June 14, 2003New specs
Friday, June 13, 2003God gave us Life (have a Superlambbanana) New Statesman. He's right - whether that's The Beatles, the Erics scene, Hairy Records, Cream, or (I shudder to mention these) Jimmy Tarbuck, Lily Savage, we've consistently turned out folks whose gifts the chattering classes have snubbed but who have kept nations, galaxies, alive through their "classless, surreal and subversive wit." Great.
Hussey is an Erics survivor, one of those who in the early eighties saw the world coming to Liverpool, and not the other way round. "In a single week, you could watch the Clash, the Cramps, Joy Division, turn contemporary music upside down." This means he's qualified to affirm the city's slant on popular philosophy and politics:
Of course the doubt about the culture bid is that it'll promote nice sanitised celebrations which only show a small side of of this complicated city. I'm with Hussey in celebrating the Euro win, I'm well impressed with what's happening down on the waterfront today, but I'm also keen to be at one with the underside, the home of so much of our energetic culture. Keen to be at one with voices like the infamous Half Man Half Biscuit, whose take on our Euro cultural celebration I eagerly await, and who in the meantime offer many wonderful insights to the discerning listener, such as:
Than writing on the sole of your slipper with a Birol
On a Saturday Night instead of going to a pub.
Thursday, June 12, 2003Learning from Leunig This week's theme seems to be revisiting long-time valued sources of inspiration. I had a good
Michael Leunig day today, as you have to from time to time to keep your sanity and perspective. It was my turn to host the 'clergy chapter' meeting and to share some of my 'recent reading'. Well, I'm constantly reading Leunig. Looking at the cartoon ducks and subtly breathing in his very refreshing worldview.
Did a bit of the theology today. Found a good interview with him from the Melbourne Anglican saying many valuable things, among them, these which I happily quote without any more spin from me:
My work is often therapeutic because I often give expression to this inner voice. For example, I might make a small piece about a person oppressed and ground down by tiredness. This life is actually very exhausting. It doesn't give humans much time to contemplate anything. We are not resting ourselves and there is the feeling we have got to keep working and pushing really hard. So I draw the person running and running and running-for no apparent reason. And suddenly I find that I have touched on something that is perhaps universal.
I think we are all the time separating humans from God. This is what so much of the media and entertainment industries are actually driven by, this is how they work. It is as if there is a strange perverse pleasure the individual gets by being separated from God. You go to a movie and you live out some kind of ego fantasy about what you are seeing on the screen and you never dare face up to the actual empty bleakness of your own life.
[To put ourselves in touch with God], I think as Van Gogh said and St Francis would have said, we must find nature. Just to be in the presence of nature your feelings and 'little seedlings' start to awake. So if we disassociate ourselves from God we cut nature out, too. More and more we turn nature into a commodity, into eco-tourism. But we must integrate it into the way people live every day.
Wednesday, June 11, 2003Ancient and Modern Greenbelt garden party the other day triggered all sorts of ideas; half of today I've been recalling various strands of conversations from that afternoon, and realising once again how Greenbelt richly resources so much of the rest of life's activity. And in that vein, I've just been enjoying the music of Abbess, otherwise called Sue, on her mp3 site (currently disabled - let me know if you find it up and running). Sue emailed me today after a good chat on Saturday. She's been composing electronic worship songs for York's Visions collective for the past - what, decade or more? - as well as busily putting out some of Visions' ideas in books like Multi-Sensory Prayer.
Visions meet in St Cuthberts, one of the most ancient churches anywhere; and their approach is more modern than most conventional churchgoers could cope with. Which opens the door for unconventional churchgoers. Which is a very good thing. But, listening to the music again I'm struck by how much of it is inspired by the ancient - like The Sacred Three which is clearly a gem from the Carmina Gadelica, reloaded. And which I'd gladly use this coming Sunday - Trinity Sunday - if I were in a very different sort of parish.
Tuesday, June 10, 2003Buechner on Spirit here, anyway. It's ten percent me and ninety percent Frederick Buechner.
Monday, June 09, 2003Hail apocalyptic again Everyday Apocalypse, David Dark's book gazing on Radiohead, The Simpsons, "and other pop culture icons" through the lens of apocalyptic, a form of language which reveals the world as it really is, "shows us what we're not seeing" (Previously blogged about here). Dark writes,
I had time for Dark's apocalyptic today as a preamble to hearing the new Radiohead album Hail to the Thief. Dark is clear that they ooze apocalyptic, that their songs, far from being miserable (as popularly portrayed), are deeply revealing and ultimately positive - revealing the cracks in this technologically-driven era of mass consumption, their music is filled with a "hope and expectancy [which] might occasionally leave you with the same fright and invigoration that can accompany prolonged stargazing."
Well, Hail to the Thief declares some of that even in its title, and in its opening track 2 + 2 = 5 Thom Yorke screams out the apocalyptic agenda:
THERE IS NO WAY OUT
YOU CAN SCREAM & YOU
IT IS TOO LATE NOW
I am born again.
In a fast German car
I'm amazed that I survived
An airbag saved my life
You and whose army?
You and your cronies
Come on, come on
Holy roman empire
Come on if you think
Come on if you think
You can take us all on
And tonight I'm letting Hail to the Thief seep into me because it's stock-full of lament and hope in the face of today's Empire, today's Thief. One of the tracks, 'I will', is psalmic, and sums up this band's use of language. Could say, it's positively apocalyptic.
Lay me down
In a bunker
I won't let this happen to my children.
Meet the real world coming out of my shell
With white elephants
Little babies' eyes.
Sunday, June 08, 2003Pic of the Month Pic of the Month.
Well, this month's choice is finally up tonight. The delay and the choice share the same explanation - my recent Scottish holiday. And you'll see there's some parallels with Meg's work in JoLoMo's. It's just that that island coastline is so beautiful and, for those with skill in visual arts, so, so, inviting.
Meanwhile I've just discoverd that one of Meg's Blues mixed with Blue Room from Passengers forms a very lovely page on vurch.com, a 'virtual church' with some nice visual touches, meaningful prayers, thoughful articles and excellent quotes.
Saturday, June 07, 2003Family picnic Greenbelt was there, but nevertheless this afternoon Lambeth Palace gardens glimmered in the sunshine and smiles of many Greenbelt bods, past, present and ... most encouragingly ... future. Children and balloons everywhere. When current manager Beki asked us to turn to our neighbour and share what GB means to us we found it hard. Impossible to find a defining moment from so many, or a word that sums up an event which has filled our lives for so long.
I came out with the word, "family". Family because of the generations represented today by, on one part of the lawn, Soham philosopher and GB elder John Peck and on the other, an expectant Nancy Butcher with another little one on the way very soon. And family also because many of our friendships go deep enough and are strong enough to merit that metaphor. It's all been said before so I won't go on. Suffice to say that as always I find myself emerging from a soiree with Greenbelt folk feeling affirmed, enlivened, positively challenged, resourced, wanted, amused, encouraged. And with just about enough new energy to want to get back to the grey and try to stir some colour into it.
So busy talking I didn't complete my picnic. Ah, well, time now instead for a nice iced tea and a pack of Walkers. Thanks for today, excellent GB staff and co-workers. Thanks, kind, generous Archbishop.
Friday, June 06, 2003That old shirt Billy Bragg NPWA shirt got folk talking yesterday; today reading The Big Issue Scotland I'm onto Howies, whose shirts look very good - I like their Voted Blair Got Bush shirt among others.
But today I've had to say goodbye to an old favourite. The Greenbelt 1989 Art and Soul shirt. A classic Picasso-style design. It's been a bedtime winter-wear companion for some time; the design has faded but is still intact (some old shirt designs flake away, this one's just become easier on the eye over the years). But wear, tear and repeated spin cycles means the cotton's finally giving way. Touch it and holes appear. It's like a modernistic Turin shroud.
So this morning I held it up to the light, which shone through many tiny places, held it fondly and then with heartful silence almost banished it to the bin. When instead, inspired by love or madness, both perhaps, I instead popped it into the machine for one last wash. Once it's dried and ironed, I've decided I shall affix it to a suitable picture mount, put a modest frame around it, and keep it, prominently displayed. Like others do their old footy shirts, and I already do with old posters of events I've hosted, and pics of me mum, that sort of thing.
Tomorrow many of Greenbelt's hundreds of contributors since 1973 will meet up, in the gardens of Lambeth Palace no less, for a party in the sun (we hope) to celebrate thirty years of this unique event - a Christian arts festival without peer. It'll function as a pseudo-birthday party for me, as that milestone is today, and this year I'll celebrate my twenty-fifth Greenbelt. So I've booked my saver ticket. Washed the old shirt. Packed the rug.
Seems fitting all of this has come together this weekend. Celebration, commemoration intertwined. "God is really only another artist", said Picasso. "He invented the giraffe, the elephant, and the cat. He has no great style. He just goes on trying out other things." Here's to Greenbelt. And my old shirt.
Thursday, June 05, 2003Glasgow, city of culture
Liverpool's following Glasgow in being a European Capital of Culture (having got the vote yesterday). What did it do to the Scots city, having that title, I wonder (and will wonder out loud many times to Glaswegian friends between now and 2008)? Plenty of culture there today - as the Publications Committee talked about titles ranging from liturgy to global economics, landscape poetry to 'celtic' music, in our cramped fourth-floor office, buskers on the pavement down below kept our souls fed with a non-stop electric show of rock'n'blues classics (I later rewarded them with 50p); and, at lunchtime, I passed around my latest acquisition, a book called Football Haiku .. about which, more, some other time... now, bed.