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

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

    Sunday, November 30, 2003
    Pic of the month etc
    Pic of the month is up today. Breathtaking Aber Afon Mawddach ...
    And I've also posted today's Yaconelli tribute sermon, ie one which I shamelessly nicked off him ...
    Saturday, November 29, 2003
    The good folk of Liverpool were tonight holding a karaoke. It was in the form of a live floor show kindly hosted by Messrs McCulloch and Sergeant and their session men gathered for the event under the ancient respected banner of "Echo and the Bunnymen". All residents were invited; some opted for the fleshier venues this evening but enough turned out to fill the Royal Court with shoulder-to-shoulder leather jackets from the sloping downstairs free space right up to the traditionally damp seats in the gods.

    McCulloch stood stage centre, black suit, shades and back-spiked black spiked hair making him look all the way John Cooper Clarke; he shares that man's sass; but he lacks Clarke's clarity for it was impossible for audience members to understand Mac's mumbled instructions on most occasions except "This is one of our old songs which was so much better than all the other crap around at the time," an invitation for participants to join the celebratory Do it Clean, and "This is the best song ever written," which prompted a singalong to gentle Ocean Rain.

    Oh, how we sang, us ageing rock-and-rollers, mums and middle-managers, paunchy ex-punks, primary teachers and awol curates all reliving the alternative eighties, singing along to tunes which meant something thrilling then: "Spare us the Cutter" still has edge to those remembering singing it in 1983 not knowing whether they'd have a job to return to on Monday morning; "Crocodiles" still has bounce which most of us have lost. Like Paul said, it was just like the old days, except slower. The whole thing.

    Still, these songs were classy then and most retain that class. It means a lot to singalongaMac. Some gigs are escape mechanisms; some you go to out of curiosity. Others, full of music that hit you so strongly first time round that you retain it deep, deep, imperishably inside, ones like this, you go to rediscover yourself, reaffirm, reassert who you are.
    Friday, November 28, 2003
    Great quote
    "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd." - from Martin Wroe's Yaconelli tribute on the Greenbelt website.
    Thursday, November 27, 2003
    Out of Iona
    Jan's book is out. Subtitled 'Words from a crossroads of the world' and as poignant and as pertinent as that would suggest...
      There are voices in the street -
      not then and there
      but here and now -
      challenging the powers that be,
      putting the case for the powerless,
      in dialogue for reconciliation,
      picking up the pieces, sharing the crumbs,
      daring to speak
      with courage, with laughter, with faith.
      God hears those voices
      and God is in those voices -
      and there is healing.
      And there is healing.
    Wednesday, November 26, 2003
    Brands within a basket
    "Focus on Star Brands - Liverpool has been designated an 'attack brand' by NWDA. The Capital of Culture win has added further value to the Liverpool Brand. Faith tourism is a niche market with potential for Liverpool due to its outstanding architectural assets and history of settlement by numerous diverse populations. The 'Walk of Faith' brand is a slipstream brand within the basket of Liverpool brands. The designation of 2004 as 'Faith in One City' provides an outstanding platform to develop and trial Faith Tourism as an exemplar for the whole region."

    Either get depressed at this extract from a paper from the North West Tourist Board, or send it up and post it to Pseuds Corner. See it either as an example of marketing-speak trying to describe an aspect of the city's life in totally ridiculous terms, or as a theological document reducing faith to another form of 'branding'. Today our urban theology group held our first session on 'Capital and Culture - the Liverpool Experience', and this is how we began. If this reflects the mindset of those envisioning the city's cultural shape then there's plenty of material to keep us going, in the run-up to 2008. [PS: You're too late to send it to Pseuds Corner - I already have.]
    Tuesday, November 25, 2003
    "To me, the center of relationship with God is discovery. What gives my faith new life and energy is the experience of finding something new about God I didn't know yesterday" - Mike Yaconelli, from Tough Faith, 1976
    Monday, November 24, 2003
    About the weather
    Before heading home, I took an early-morning trip to Tate Modern to stand beneath The Weather Project's ponderous globe. Artist Olafur Eliasson is creating a microclimate in there every day of this year-long installation, via pipes and pumps sending out clouds. Being early the place was still fairly clear but in the odd light I couldn't help noticing that the floor was dewy-damp and that one person lying on it was holding up an umbrella.

    I got on the floor too - as did virtually every visitor, as did a group of junior school children who came in just after me and colonised the centre of the enormous Turbine Hall. Reason: Eliasson has made the ceiling a vast mirror - there's great fascination in laying down and seeing yourself way high, tiny beneath the vast misty space. In cathedrals you look into mirrors to see the ceiling, which comes down to meet you. Here, that experience is inverted/subverted as, utterly grounded, you watch yourself watching the weather, tiny in a clouds-eye view.

    The point of the thing is to encourage questions about how we see the weather; it does that well. As the fog formed in the gloom and I looked around me at people drained of colour by the mono-frequency sun (which renders all but yellow and black invisible), unfortunately it became a glum reminder of yesterday's journey through M6 mists and M1 torrents; as I looked at the back of my hands, they too drained of colour, I pictured them at the wheel again, and decided to set off home.

    Things brightened up from there though - I spent a good long time in the wonderful Tate shop buying stuff for me and Christmas presents, drove home in lovely afternoon sunlight, and back home ate in the light of a special candle - one I'd carried with me to the Yaconelli service, part of a pair, a spare in case one broke on the journey. Mike's light burning on again tonight. Burning kindly as I ponder fascinating questions Eliasson poses: How often do you discuss the weather? Do you believe the idea of weather in our society is based on culture or nature? Do you think that the weather or climate in any way impacts on your salary? In which season do you kiss your partner the most? In which season do you kiss someone other than your partner the most? If you could, would you like to control the weather?

    These remind me of something Pip once put on his website, which I printed out and stuck on the wall - lines from Somerset Maughan, who wrote:
      "For men and women are not only themselves. They are the region in which they were born, the city apartment in which they learned to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives tale they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poems they read, and the God they believed in".
    Indeed. And they are also the skies under which they walked, the weather they have enjoyed and endured....
    Sunday, November 23, 2003
    A day for Mike
    In London for Mike Yaconelli's tribute service at 'the Greenbelt church', St Luke's Holloway. A sizeable gathering sat, typically for Greenbelt, for the most part on the floor, feeling damp after soggy journeys. Good to be together to remember a man who made us all smile, laugh, cry, feel at many points in our lives. I said my little piece, as did many others, Meg shared her impressions of last week's U.S. tribute service, we lit candles, wrote messages to Mike, Karla, God. Afterwards Stuart, Michelle and I raised our glasses to Mike, fittingly, in an Italian restaurant, and we agreed that, pivotal to the service, 'Kite' by U2 seemed to fit the spirit of the man, the spirit of the day:
      I'm a man
      I'm not a child
      A man who sees
      The shadow behind your eyes

      Who's to say where the wind will take you
      Who's to say what it is will break you
      I don't know
      Where the wind will blow

      Who's to know when the time has come around
      I don't want to see you cry
      I know that this is not goodbye

      Did I waste it
      Not so much I couldn't taste it
      Life should be fragrant
      Rooftop to the basement

    Saturday, November 22, 2003
    The surprising world of !
    What are these - Plain Bob Minor, Grandshire Doubles, Restoration Triples, Stedman's Principle, Whirligigge, My Honey, Plain Hunt on Six? Answer - they're names from English bell-ringing, for different methods of ringing changes. I've been reading about them in Brian Eno's sleevenotes to his January 07003 - Bell Studies for The Clock of the Long Now. It's opened up a whole new world - The Surprising World of !. It's to do with change-ringing. Eno explains:

    "Change-ringing is the art (or to many practitioners, the science) of ringing a given number of bells such that all possible sequences are used without being repeated ... n bells will yield n! sequences or changes ... so 3 bells will yield 3x2x1 = 6 changes ... The ! process does become rather surprising as you continue it for higher values of n: 5! = 120, and 6! = 720 - and you watch the number of changes increasing dramatically with the number of bells."

    January 07003 is fifteen experiments in !, sequenced meditations around what sound The Clock of the Long Now could make to announce the passage of time. The Clock of the Long Now is not yet built - though a prototype is on display in the Science Museum. It's as much a concept as a timepiece, as explained by Stewart Brand:

    "Civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. The trend might be coming from the acceleration of technology, the short-horizon perspective of market-driven economics, the next-election perspective of democracies, or the distractions of personal multi-tasking. All are on the increase. Some sort of balancing corrective to the short-sightedness is needed - some mechanism or myth which encourages the long view and the taking of long-term responsibility, where 'long-term' is measured at least in centuries."

    The prototype clock, designed by Danny Hillis, has been built by The Long Now Foundation to explore the mechanism for a clock intended to keep time for 10,000 years. Hillis hopes that the clock, once built and installed perhaps in the Nevada hills, "if sufficiently impressive and well-engineerred, would embody deep time for people. It would be charismatic to visit, interesting to think about, and famous enough to become iconic in the public discourse. Ideally it would do for time what the photographs of earth from space have done for thinking about the environment. Such icons reframe the way people think."

    Eno's experiments take a sample of time - Saturday 1 January 07003 - and speculate what sounds the clock will be producing then. It's fascinating and lovely music. Gentle and spacious enough to offer time to reflect on questions The Clock of the Long Now raises, about how we see time, how we act in time. About the effects of adding a zero on front of the date (something Blogger won't permit just yet). About the very, very different time-view I'll step into this afternoon once I pull on my replica shirt and head off for a tense two hours at Goodison Park.
    Friday, November 21, 2003
    3rd Stone - the last, best
    Back in April I flagged up the coming sad demise of 3rd Stone magazine. An email fron Neil Mortimer today confirms it: "Hooray! At very long last 3rd Stone 47 is going to the printer tomorrow. As you know this is our last ever issue, and it's the biggest and best yet."

    So there's more than the usual mix of treasures on archaeology and folklore, including Stormy Weather: Treasure Hunters and the Devil; Fra/gmen/te/d me/gali/th/s; Geomagnetism: From dream incubation to dowsing; Science and Sorcery a millennium before Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett; Daddy Long-Legs: The shape-shifting Wilmington Giant; and Contending with Monsters: Satan, the Primitive and the Power of Place in 19th Century Cornish Folklore.

    A heady mix, coming at a time when our TV screens are loaded with archaelogical programmes which barely scratch the surface - I saw one the other night with an excitable bloke in a helicopter shouting in his co-pilot's ear about the Highland Clearances. Hovering noisily above wrecked Sutherland shielings he didn't seem to quite engage with the reality of those horrors.

    The difference between Time Team and 3rd Stone is that the latter manages to combine scholarly seriousness with the enthusiasts' eye for the absurd and the downright funny [download The Cerne Giant: A Long Standing Mystery for a fine example]. The TV stuff seems staid while 3rd Stone represents a vibrant, current community. After all, these are the folks who organised last year's Megalithomania! gig, a coming-together of archaeologists, smoochers, psychogeographers, Coil and other musicians-of-the-edge, antiquarians and a clergyman with a black cat: very impressive.

    I'll miss 3rd Stone when it's gone. But not before enjoying the last, best issue in the meantime. [Buy it from megalithic.co.uk].
    Thursday, November 20, 2003
    Strategic acquisitions
    Looking for new, or creative ways of thinking about things I sometimes turn to the pulsating brain of Brian Eno. Fiddling about on his website yesterday I was reminded that once he and Peter Schmidt produced a set of cards called Oblique Strategies. Each card carries a suggestion of a course of action or thinking to assist in creative situations. So I have made a strategic acquisition. Rather than a box of cards I have downloaded a desktop version. In future, whenever I'm in need of a bit of inspiration or a tangental suggestion one click offers me a line of on-screen advice, such as (three random selections):

    Take away the elements in order of apparent non-importance.

    What wouldn't you do?

    Look at the order in which you do things.
    Wednesday, November 19, 2003
    How we laughed, me and the Afternoon Group at the URC. Because I jettisoned my usual desire to do something very worthy and educative and had a Leunig hour instead. Which is actually very worthy and educative - but fun as well. Whilst reading "Dear God, We give thanks for birds..." I was reminded of yesterday's dilemma:
      "Especially we praise their disregard for the human hierarchy and the ease with which they leave their droppings on the heads of commoners or kings regardless."
    I had to smile at this, told the story at my own expense. And later, in one of many bright conversations triggered by something of Leunig's I'd read (teapots, pets, whistlers), Phil said that as I was talking about seagulls a prayer in Leunig style had entered his head. It was, "Dear God, we thank you that cows cannot fly."
    Tuesday, November 18, 2003
    "When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea," Eric Cantona famously said. No trawlers here; but always, in the park, someone scattering bread pieces from tatty carrier bags. And clouds of seagulls circling and flapping and screeching behind them. With plenty of grubby grey pigeons for company / competition.

    The park is a vast open green but activities like this make it hard to negotiate. The problem is in the size of the seagull-swarm and the desire to avoid - let's be frank - being crapped on from a height by these excited feathered vertebrates. The people who perpetuate this problem are usually the same ones whose canine friends mark the park with their deposits - doubling the potential for some sort of shitty incident to occur to anyone else innocently passing through.

    This is the downside - or the backside - of sharing one's space with animal-lovers. And people who buy bread just to chuck it at obese birds. And there is no obvious (compassionate) solution: walking on the path makes no difference as one thoughful old geezer regularly deposits loavesfull on the tarmac just by the entrance gate: it's unavoidable. I guess there's a lesson here about good citizenship. Sometimes it means having to be prepared to take other people's crap.

    [That was the talk on 'Citizenship' I won't be giving at school assembly tomorrow...]
    Monday, November 17, 2003
    All Our Dark Tomorrows
    Hardly saw light today. Even with four hours on the road, on a mission to buy Christmas presents in a distant town. Not expecting much light from the airwaves over the next few days, either. Bush's visit is likely to be discussed either in satirical tones or recycled Downing Street press releases, neither of these being sufficient to reveal the sick heart of this man's project.

    So, numbed by walls of drifting spray and lines of taillights under a leaden sky, my eyes were opened by a Bruce Cockburn apocalyptic filling my radio-purged car. You know who he's talking about:
      The village idiot takes the throne
      His the wind in which all must sway
      All sane people, die now
      Be lifted up and carried away
      You've got no home in this world of sorrows

      There's a parasite feeding on
      Everybody's bag of rage
      What goes out returns again
      To smite the mouth and burn the page
      Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows

      I can see in the dark - it's where I used to live
      I see excess and the gaping need
      Follow the money - see where it leads...
      It's to shrunken men stuffed up with greed
      They meet and make plans in strange half-lit tableaux

      Under the rain of all our dark tomorrows

      You've got no home in this world of sorrows
    Sunday, November 16, 2003
    Was the Cold War the Earth's worst eco-disaster in the last ten thousand years? The time has come to weigh the environmental costs of the great "twilight struggle" and its attendant nuclear arms race. Until recently, most ecologists have underestimated the impact of warfare and arms production on natural history. Yet there is implacable evidence that huge areas of Eurasia and North America, particularly the militarized deserts of Central Asia and the Great Basin, have become unfit for human habitation, perhaps for thousands of years, as a direct result of weapons testing (conventional, nuclear, and biological) by the Soviet Union, China, and the United States.

    This is a flavour of Mike Davis's latest opus, Dead Cities. It's the most exhilarating book I've picked up for a long time, and it's about what's really happening now. It starts with a prologue wading through the wreckage of the twin towers exploring the "globalization of fear". Chapter one explores the Native American Ghost Dance religion and its apocalyptic worldview (an apocalypse "is the alternate, despised history of the subaltern classes, the defeated peoples, the extinct cultures"), concluding that this worldview provides the means we need to make sense of the "terminal features of the approaching millennial landscape." And then onto chapter two, which is where we came in: and where no political system escapes his witty, compassionate, compelling gaze. Read on....

    Pentagon eco-freaks Feshbach and Friendly are ... unsparing. Bolshevism it seems, has been a deliberate conspiracy against Gaia, as well as against humanity. "Ecocide in the USSR stems from the force, not the failure, of utopian ambitions." It is the "ultimate expression of the Revolution's physical and spiritual brutality." With Old Testament righteousness, they repeat the opinion that "there is no worse ecological situation on the planet."
    Obviously Feshbach and Friendly have never been to Nevada or western Utah. The environmental horrors of Chelyabinsk-40 and the Semipalatinsk Polygon have their eerie counterparts in the poisoned, terminal landscapes of Marlboro Country.

    Saturday, November 15, 2003
    The Witness online
    I stopped subscribing to The Witness a while ago, not because I fell out with its "feisty, independent. provocative, intelligent, feminist voice of Christian social conscience"; but found, as with Sojourners, it's just that bit too American in its references and cultural 'take'. Meaning, I only read half of it, and that's not enough for a mag that comes halfway round the world to my doorstep. However good the other half might be.

    So it's good to get an email inviting me to subscribe to The Witness e-mail list. They've wrapped up 75 years of print publishing and are concentrating their efforts online from now on. I signed up immediately. And started with a thoughtful article by L. William Countryman, Dealing with Conflict as Anglicans: "Classic Anglicanism did not expect the church to have a detailed and certain knowledge of the mind of God. For doctrine, it was content with relatively simple and ancient formulae. It focused less on perfect orthodoxy than on maintaining the community of faith with its life and conversation." I'm happy to be keeping in that line.

    Friday, November 14, 2003
    High Tension Line
    Mark E. Smith to WOMAD audience, a week after Live Aid: "We're The Fall and we're from the First World."
    Smith to boisterous audience at a 1986 Manchester Free Trade Hall 'party for the unemployed': "At least we have something in common with you, for we too do nothing all day."
    "Satanists! Satanists!": audience at U2 Elland Road gig, 1987, pelting The Fall with bibles.

    In one respect, having read Simon Ford's Hip Priest: The Story of Mark E. Smith and The Fall I've learned very little: that's because there's no way Smith wants anyone getting inside his head, this enigma who admits to writing notes to himself saying 'Do not go round explaining yourself.' On the other hand, Ford's epic trawl through twenty-five years of this tangental musical movement contains a wealth of excellent cameos, such as those quoted above, where Smith meets the public and sparks inevitably fly.

    They're nothing if not challenging, this lot who use gigs as opportunities for writing new songs, whose muse I first connected with sometime in '87 when 'Hit the North' chopped through the radio speaker in my Cardiff student digs. The groove gets you first but then the words:
      Hit the North
      Manacled to the city, manacled to the city
      All estate agents alive yell down nights in hysterical breath
      Those Northern lights... so pretty
      Those big big big wide streets
      Those useless MPs
      Hit the North (Manacled to the system)
    As Ford says, here 'Smith encapsulated his feelings about the North/South divide: [the song], at once a defiant cry of outrage but also a proud identification with the song's 'savages'.' This was very strong stuff in those loadsamoney years, with our proud working heritage debased (destroyed) by Thatcher.

    The music gets you, if you like Nuggets-style garage sounds and off-the-wall experimentation. Smith's lyrics get you, if you like ripped-up reflections on contemporary mores, a kind of spot-on verbal graffiti. What also got me back then was what Ford calls Smith's 'powers of precognition'. Just as Smith released The Light User Syndrome where in one song he sings about Enniskillen and describes Manchester as a "powder keg", an IRA bomb hit Manchester city centre, devastating the city. The subject of the track 'Terry Waite Sez' was kidnapped just before the album Bend Sinister came out - the book reports that later, Waite's brother scanned the lyrics closely 'to see if there was any psychic clue as to where he might be held. There wasn't.'

    Another theme re-emerges here... William Blake, whose biography I finished last week. Smith's version of Jerusalem is hilarious, Blake's words sandwiched between two rants - the first against dogs and the last against the government:
      I was walking down the street
      When I tripped up on a discarded banana skin
      And on my way down I caught the side of my head
      On a protruding brick chip
      It was the government's fault
      It was the fault of the government
      I was very let down
      From the budget I was expecting a one million quid handout
      I was very disappointed
      It was the government's fault
      It was the fault of the government
    Smith apparently admitted to holding the greatest respect for Blake: 'I suppose my favourite work by him is "Ghost of a Flea". Ha ha ha ha! What a title! What I like about it is that it's just like a really, really grotesque painting. I like something grotesque in an artist.' Ford continues:
      They had much in common: Blake, like Smith, was single-minded and eclectic, an autodidact with idiosyncratic spelling and a keen interest in occult and esoteric systems of knowledge. Both found it difficult to establish long-term relationships because of their erratic behaviour and short tempers and both were resolutely anti-commercial. Indeed Blake could almost have been quoting Smith when he described commerce as a 'spectrous fiend'.
    One thing they did not have in common was London - Blake lived it, Smith loathes it. It's the Bury New Road or nowt for him, quite probably the only Hip Priest in Prestwich.
    Thursday, November 13, 2003
    John Coltrane - pure praise
    Sometimes life throws out wonderful surprises. There's Mark, in his own words a "card-carrying evangelical", vicar in a church where THE WORD is all. It's his turn to share some text, some reflection, with his colleagues in our Clergy Chapter meeting. What wonder, then, when he tosses aside the worthy-but-dull book on church growth statistics he's been studying of late, moves over to the cd player and puts on something radically unexpected and deeply moving - John Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Mark's been living with this music for a while, he says; tells us it's affected him deeply.

    No blog would do justice to the moments we then shared around Coltrane's modal jazz brilliance. Mark introduced it as an expression of Coltrane's spiritual searching, a piece of music which begins tentatively, choppily, to some perhaps chaotically, but gradually builds into a meditative pattern at whose climax the words come in: "A love supreme, a love supreme, a love supreme..." It's pure praise, and after it had faded, Mark read an extract from Coltrane's liner notes to us as a psalm:
      ... He is gracious and merciful... Thank you God.
      Glory to God... God is so alive.
      God is.
      God loves.

      May I be acceptable in Thy sight.

      We are all one in His grace.
      The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement
      of Thee, O Lord.
      Thank you God.

      God will wash away all our tears...
      He always has...
      He always will.

      Seek him everyday. In all ways seek God everyday.
      Let us sing all songs to God.
      To whom all praise is due... praise God. ...
    Tuesday, November 11, 2003
    Two short walks in the city centre yesterday, inspired by the excellent Exeter mis-GUIDE. Both using the same strict pattern: first right, second left, first left, and repeat......

    WALK A: From Central Library, William Brown Street - this took me into familiar territory, beginning with a short snake around the new Queens Square hotel / restaurant development (fake cobbles, stainless steel artworks celebrating Liverpool life), meandering up through the business end of town back down via the Mathew Street / Button Street warren and the concrete wash behind M&S and George Henry Lees, to the busy bus lanes of Queen Square. On the way I decided to observe women carrying cigarettes. There were five:
      Crosshall Street - a harassed-looking businesswoman (or perhaps a solicitor from the magistrates courts);
      Mathew Street - an Italianesque tourist in her twenties, at the door of the Cavern Shop with two friends;
      Tarleton Street - a middle-aged shopper struggling with M&S carrier bags;
      Queen Square - sunbed-bronze fortysomething shopper, long black coat, with her matching friend;
      Crossing Byrom Street by the tunnel entrance - student with a Meg White kinda look.
    I also made two detours in Queen Square:
      Music Zone - to get Pink Floyd's first two albums on cd at knockdown prices;
      The Tourist Information Shop - to price up the scale model SuperLambBananas (cheaper than the Tate) and cast a critical eye over their new ceramic Liver Birds (tacky)
    WALK B: From the car park behind William Brown Street (under Byrom Street flyover) - this was unfamiliar territory so more interesting to me, circling me around the housing estate on the site of the celebrated, late lamented Gerrard Gardens. The highlight was discovering, on Christian Street, this monument to building workers killed at work.

    Unveiled by UCATT's General Secretary George Brumwell on International Workers Memorial Day, 28th April 2002, it's Britain's first permanent national memorial of its kind. Looking up at it against a blue, EasyJet-scarred sky, it's impressive. Other observations included:

    Cars - noise and fumes as nowhere else in the city centre, experienced when walking beneath the flyover wall down Hunter Street (which no one ever usually does), the sheer impossibility of crossing Byron Street without faith or fear;

    Contrast - the Gerrard Gardens site, like so many other inner-city estates, quiet through impoverishment, people chatting in car-less closes while the city's brutal traffic thunders in the background, hundreds of vehicles per minute;

    Views - this is where land begins to rise towards the heights of Everton: here just higher than the city centre's tallest buildings, the perspective makes them seem to tumble together towards the river;

    Old buildings made new - a school now set aside for adult education / job training, a pub and a chapel now bases for unmarked businesses.

    Yaconelli tribute
    Greenbelt friends are hosting a Yaconelli tribute service at St Luke's Holloway on Sunday 23rd. Glad to say I've been given the all-clear to be there. More about it here.
    Monday, November 10, 2003
    Yaconelli's funeral

    Karla and the family evidently decided that Mike's coffin should be unvarnished wood, so folks could use it to express their tributes in marker pen. Godly graffiti which goes with him to the grave.
    Sunday, November 09, 2003
    Bookmark Jonny
    Thanks Jonny Baker for (unknowingly) providing me with a simple blog topic after a long draining remembrance/memorial Sunday. After a long time using blogspot Jonny's now blogging on his own site, here. No doubt it'll continue to be as essential reading as ever; and I'm glad that I'm not the only one risking censure this week because of rude words - the faint hearted ought not to click this link but if you're merrily cynical about Christian marketing campaigns you really shouldn't miss it.
    Saturday, November 08, 2003
    Out of Euston
    She was a bit drunk, Daphne, when she got off the train at Lime Street. Fair enough: it was her birthday. And out of Euston she and David had got chatting to the folks opposite. Who, once discovering it was a special day for her, opened the wine bottle and kept the supplies coming throughout the journey.

    What made it more special was that the bloke opposite turned out to have lived in the same road as Daphne, for many years, up here home in Waterloo. Same schools etc etc. And more special again was the discovery that Dave White is an artist. Does oil paintings of training shoes. Very subversive (discuss).

    He gave David his web address and we spent some time looking these designs up. This was all a few months ago now; so imagine my interest when I saw a Dave White design on front of this month's Creative Review. Had to buy it for David. And for Daphne, to refresh foggy memories of a good three hours on West Coast Mainline.
    Friday, November 07, 2003
    Cowbois' new catalogue arrived today and I'm drawn to this design. 62. Year I was born. It's only a t-shirt but it's a revelation to me. Makes me realise I was born at a time and in a place of revolution.

    What's the significance of 62 for Cowbois, proud young Welsh designers of a clothing range for postmodern Celts, bearing slogans like Vorsprung durch Celtique and Di Cymru ddim ar werth (Cymru's not for sale)?

    62 is the year the Welsh language movement was born. On 13 February 1962 the radical writer-campaigner Saunders Lewis gave the BBC Wales Annual Radio Lecture. Titled Tynged Yr Iaith (The Fate of the Language), Lewis used this stirring speech to declare that the language would die unless revolutionary methods were used to defend it. He wittingly and willingly ushered in two decades of nonviolent direct action to achieve these aims. Our mainstream histories neglect to recognise these events as such, but what Lewis sparked in Wales was nothing short of revolution.

    In the summer of 62 a Welsh language activist decided to ignore an English language summons to appear in court for allowing his girl friend to ride side saddles on his bicycle. At Trefechan Bridge, scores of campaigners sat down in the road to bring Aberystwyth to a standstill. Spurred on by a rising mood in the country, later in 62 a number of young people formed the pressure group Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg (The Welsh Language Society) which campaigned for reforms such as bilingual road signs and cheaper local housing. Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s hundreds of its members were imprisoned for breaking the law with nonviolent direct action.

    The consequences were profound - a limited Welsh Language Act was passed in 1967, a Welsh language television channel, S4C, was born in 1982. Every visitor knows about the roadsigns. Lewis's aim to make it impossible for local or central government business to be conducted in Wales without the use of the Welsh language, has also come to pass.

    What's struck me today is that I was born into this. Liverpool, a massive Celtic city, nurtured nationalism in its Welsh societies and churches in the early 20th century. Saunders Lewis himself was born in Wallasey - just across the Mersey from my own childhood home. There's Welshness in my blood; we always holidayed there; and the house my parents bought a year before Lewis's radio lecture belonged to a Welsh woman they knew who retired back to the land of her fathers. Hiraeth.

    And in latter years I embraced the conflict, choosing to live in Llanbedr in 82, a youth worker to village kids aggressive to outsiders (using language and on one occasion knives as weapons), later choosing Cardiff as the place to explore Welsh literature while putting to bed once for all any romantic notions of my own Welshness - too different from the rugby crowd, unmoved by that odd anthem, shamefully aware that my home city drinks water piped from reservoirs above drowned Merionedd villages.

    In the lounge of a big house overlooking Cardigan Bay I watched as S4C was born. Impressed on one level but more deeply torn because I knew I was missing many programmes on the all-English new Channel Four. Today I occasionally lead services at our local Welsh congregation. I preach in English and can only mime to the hymns and prayers which are led by Liverpool-Welshmen at my side.

    If I buy the shirt I'll embrace the conflict even more. The backprint bears a quote from Lewis's famous broadcast: I'd be walking around displaying words I cannot speak and do not understand. But I think I will buy the shirt. First because I like Cowbois, their vision and creativity. Second because I affirm the struggle, which the Welsh are winning with a vibrant, growing contemporary culture. And third because 62 is key for me, obviously. And I'm thrilled to have realised now, it's not just any old year. It's the year a revolution was born.

    Thursday, November 06, 2003
    Giving in to the orgy porgy
    Oh. Another good man passes. Neil Postman has died, I was told today. One of technology's greatest critics, whose Amusing Ourselves to Death deeply influenced me as a doleite studying for A-levels in 1985. We'd just been through the year of Orwell; a much anticipated year ("We were keeping our eye on 1984," Postman's Foreword began), but a year which disappointed because the jackboots of Big Brother hadn't descended. The book's doomy scenario of a totalitarian future wasn't fulfilled. Postman continued:
      When the year came and the prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares.

      But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another - slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

      What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny "failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions". In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us.
    Postman's book was about the possibility that Huxley, not Orwell, was right. And what a prophet he has proven. Only last night I was reading another intelligent American observer, Benjamin DeMott, in this month’s Harper's magazine. On 'Junk Politics'.

    Benjamin DeMott defines the junk politics of our current crop of leaders, evident in the speeches of the men seeking to be the next president. With words that offer no more than heartwarming trivialities intended to stir emotions, they avoid discussion of real issues. "What's needed for civil security is a new kind of primer - call it a tropological guide, call it a twenty-first-century political shit detector - aimed at fostering recognition of and effective contention against the stories threatening to undo us." Using quotes from the politicians, DeMott analyzes the "tropes" that demonstrate the current showmanship of politics. They are powerful; the only comfort his analysis offers is that Postman's perspectives survive after the man himself. DeMott's doing his work now:
      "The American democratic ideal called for universal, informed participation in the public square: acquaintance with the skills of argument, familiarity with standards of coherence, brains. The embrace by those in high office of dim-bulb diffidence tropes - macho brandishing of ignorance - trashes that ideal and draws down added contempt on political vocation.

      "Junk politics redefines qualifications for high political office; the chosen tropes celebrate pugnacity and eagerness to take on bullies. By any measure the most popular current political gesture is that of defiance. Defiance of what? Excessive specificity not required."
    Reading Pictures
    Sorry about the language, but I love the subversiveness of this, it makes me laugh. It is the work of Katy Dawkins, who "places graffiti into an authoritative arena, exploring the contrast between 'official' and 'unofficial' language." It's titled Interference, "from a series of interventions in public spaces. The original text is taken from nearby graffiti and rendered in the "official" visual language of signage."

    This accompanies David Crow's article Reading Pictures in this month's Creative Review. Head of Graphic Arts at Liverpool John Moores University, and about to publish Visible Signs, an Introduction to Semiotics. He writes:
      Much of our sense of who we are comes through our interaction with signs. We live in a world not of things but of symbols, a world where the symbolic value comes first. Our desires and our sense of our own identities are all moulded and manipulated by the signs and symbols that surround us.
    His mission is to introduce design students to the fundamentals of semiotics: "Basic semiotic theories are taught in most art schools as part of a contextual studies programme, but many students find it difficult to understand how these ideas might impact on their own practice." If the book's contents are as consistently provocative as Katy Dawkins' example, it'll be worth a look. Another one for the Wish List...
    Wednesday, November 05, 2003
    Keeping the hope
    Tricky, speaking on Remembrance. I had to do that today to three hundred 15-18 year olds. How to keep nonviolent principles whilst acknowledging the genuine beliefs of those who died fighting? And of some of those young people who possibly believe the same things too?

    I chose hope as the link - Remembrance works for those who live in hope, because those who died were motivated by the hope of a better world, something we can connect with as we hope for that too. And... here's the rub: if we're with Daniel Berrigan noting "the total inability of violence to change anything for the better" then the hope of a better world will move us away from military solutions towards other creative forms.

    That's neat. Standing on a cold Memorial Lawn next Sunday surrounded by flags and uniforms ain't so. But hey, I'll be trying even then, to keep the hope.
    Tuesday, November 04, 2003
    Heaven's firework display

    From Zam... the Northern Lights as they appeared on Iona while we were there the other week. The building is the Iona Community's Macleod Centre. Heaven's firework display, appearing quite often this time of year in that place of extremes, Iona - a hub of the world.
    Monday, November 03, 2003
    He was funny because he wasn't afraid of failure
    "I've often said Mike is the funniest human being I've ever known - at least he was the person who was funniest because he was intentionally trying to be funny. I secretly envied his gift [writes Robert Darden, Senior Editor of The Door Magazine].

    "But now that he is gone, why he was so funny came to me in a flash as I driving home from school. He was funny because he wasn't afraid of failure. Comedy is all about being fearless. If you censor yourself because you're afraid of what others may say or how others may respond, you'll never be funny.

    True comedy is experimental, emotional, dangerously close to the edge. Mike took risks.

    He was also the most fun to tease of anybody I've ever known. That's because no one laughed harder when you skewered him.

    These are dangerous traits.

    This is how I picture Jesus. Unapologetically, unabashedly, nakedly emotional. Willing to bare everything at any time for anybody, regardless of race, creed, gender, political party or sexual preference.

    Jesus must have been a riot.

    The world is significantly less raw and revealing now.

    The world is significantly less funny now.

    But heaven must be rockin' tonight."

    Sunday, November 02, 2003
    Fireworks and holy fools
    "The Fool, the artist, and the priest, are the victims of the radiance of life," wrote Cecil Collins. This weekend I've reflected on holy foolishness while staring at the night sky beneath a radiant firework display; I've tried cultivating holy foolishness among our holidaying parishioners in a programme of laughter and openness; and I've laughed my way to Shropshire and cried my way back, spooling over-and-over in the car cassette Mike Yaconelli and Stewart Henderson's Greenbelt 91 talk on Jesus the Holy Fool.

    How odd my previous two blogs fit so well together, the almost random choice of Collins and his vision of the fool with the tragically random, sudden loss of Mike, whose vision shone with the foolery of Christ, God's conjuror, one-liner supremo, master of comic juxtapositions. The fool, the artist, the priest: funny, each of these describe Mike Yaconelli.

    Juxtapositions, of course, is a word Christ and Yaconelli would never use - instead they'd tell an upside-down story to set off fireworks in their listeners' hearts and heads and have them howling in delight as their vision of life changed forever.

    I spoke of Mike in our closing meeting today, a holy time as folk shared more deeply in a group than they ever had in my experience of our church's life. And, apppropriately, I got it wrong. I said he was self-depreciating. Only later when someone asked me what I meant, did I realise I should have said self-deprecating. Not someone who wore himself down: no, stupid - Mike was never a wearer-down, always a builder-up. I meant someone whose vision included the lovingly-honed gift of being able to laugh at one's own quirks and failings. While keeping to the fore a wonderful sense of self-worth through knowing oneself loved by God.

    All this makes me remember the truth Yaconelli always held as self-evident: that laughter is heaven's language. Religion without fun is religion without God. There is scant comfort in losing Yaconelli save an awareness of the breadth and depth of the community mourning him, to which I gladly belong. But this weekend as our seventy shared fun and laughter, tears, tiredness and imperfections together, and in our songs and prayers put God at the centre, I felt Mike wasn't far from any of this activity. As his star shone above, I felt that in our humble little way we were keeping his holy foolish fire burning, gathered around a bonfire beneath the colourful flashes of an All Saints Day display.