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

    Wednesday, December 31, 2003
    New Year prayer
    Lord God,
    you have called your servants
    to ventures of which we cannot see the ending,
    by paths as yet untrodden,
    through perils unknown.
    Give us faith to go out with good courage,
    not knowing where we go,
    but only that your hand is leading us
    and your love supporting us;
    through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

    - from The Lutheran Book of Worship, quoted in this week's Church Times by Jo Bailey Wells
    Eric Shackle - better late than never
    Like most of his generation, he says, Eric Shackle used to regard the Internet as a fearsome monster rapidly devouring the world we knew. Then at the age of 79, he bought his first computer, studied The i-Mac for Dummies, and "began a new life".

    "Captivated by the magic of the World Wide Web, I began writing freelance articles about my discoveries. Some of them have been published by the New York Times, the Globe and Mail (Toronto, Canada), the Straits Times (Singapore) and the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) plus other newspapers and magazines around the world."

    Anyway today he's published a piece on me... gleanings from a couple of my blogs. I'm honoured. You'll find it here.
    Tuesday, December 30, 2003
    That was the year that was
    That was the year that was - my Christmas letter reproduced here. [The blog it refers to was my Cheshire reverie of June 16].

    Monday, December 29, 2003
    Quote of the Year - lest we forget
    "That war on Iraq was illegitimate... it was a criminal and immoral
    conspiracy. No provocation, no link with al-Qaeda, no weapons of
    Armageddon. Tales of complicity and Osama were self-serving bullshit. It
    was an old colonial war dressed up as a crusade for Western life and
    liberty, and it was launched by a clique of war-hungry Judaeo-Christian
    geopolitical fantasists who hijacked the media and exploited America's
    post-Nine Eleven psychopathy."

    - the righteous rage of John Le Carre. Pretty much sums it up.
    Sunday, December 28, 2003
    Card of the Year - Winner

    I love this, which came from the Turner household - artist unspecified. Its focus is an angel with fairy wings wearing a halo attached by wire to his/her head, a crucifix and stripey socks, and appearing to be standing on a levitating table. The angel's message to the crowned visitors is tremendous: "Here this. Jesus is the new King, but you Kings carry on." Not only very amusing but also a spot-on theology of empire. The angel has given me next week's Epiphany sermon. Thanks, angel. Thanks, Turners.
    Saturday, December 27, 2003
    Card of the Year - Runner-Up

    This unusual card is the outcome of a project called So Loved in Maidstone. An art installation inspired by the words of John 3:16 portraying Mary and Joseph in a contemporary setting reinforcing the Christian message of "God with us" (it says on the back).

    I like the idea. But I'm troubled a little by the detail. Look closely at the background, behind the woman in the stripey knitted jumper and the girl with the pink hat - there's a bloke there looks very, very like me. Shifty looking character sporting what seems like a clerical shirt and my well-worn Everton blue jacket.

    How could this have happened? I've never been to Maidstone in my life. To the best of my knowledge. And why am I seemingly ignoring the holy family - indeed why is everyone (bar the Ned Flanders lookalike to their left) seemingly ignoring the holy family? Also, why are Mary and Joseph keeping Jesus to themselves? Why is their family unit so clearly nuclear, so awfully semi-detached? I shall be seeking answers to these vital questions and more besides, from Jim, who sent the thing, during our annual get-together in The Volly this evening.
    Friday, December 26, 2003
    "Two of us wearing raincoats
    Standing so low
    In the sun
    You and me chasing paper
    Getting nowhere
    On our way back home
    We're on our way home
    We're going home"

    Old songs relived in flesh and blood on Mathew Street tonight, as on every night of the year. And I'm glad to have had Let it Be: Naked for Christmas to revive these songs in me, so fine, so ageless in their poignancy.

    "You and I have memories
    Longer than the road that stretches out ahead...."
    Thursday, December 25, 2003
    Welcome to the body, God
    Happy Christmas. In church this morning I recited Martin's excellent 'Flesh of our flesh' from When You Haven't Got a Prayer. And then said this ... the opening line is Martin's, the other words are mine:

    Welcome to the body, God.
    You were a baby once
    So we pray for all babies
    So wonderful in their creation
    But so demanding in their needs.
    Be with all babies,
    The loved ones and the unwanted ones,
    The well ones and the suffering:
    Come to them in their flesh.

    Welcome to the body, God.
    You were a growing child once,
    So we pray for all children and young people,
    Enjoying the thrills of discovery and learning,
    Suffering the insecurities and pain their changing bodies create.
    Be with them as they grow,
    The playful ones and the worried,
    The lively ones and those in ill health:
    Come to them in their flesh.

    Welcome to the body, God.
    You were an adult once,
    So we pray for all in the middle years of life,
    Enjoying or enduring the responsibilities of work, parenthood or partnership,
    Finding their bodies to be flawed,
    Sometimes in good form, sometimes in pain.
    Be with all adults,
    The fulfilled and the frustrated,
    Those in good health, those who are struggling:
    Come to them in their flesh.

    Welcome to the body, God.
    You had to face death once,
    So we pray for those in the later stages of life,
    And those remembering loved ones who have died.
    Struggling with enormous questions about their mortality,
    And what comes after for them and those around them.
    Be with all at the end of life,
    The fearful and the faithful ones,
    The patient and the angry ones:
    Come to them in their flesh.

    So we thank you that you came to us in the flesh,
    That you know what it is to be flesh and blood
    In all its joys and pains.
    Thank you that you will come to us now as we call you,
    To be with us in our bodies, in our lives.
    This is why we celebrate today, and give thanks.
    Wednesday, December 24, 2003
    Look out!

    "I hope you realise that when Jesus comes, he comes to people like you and me: who make mistakes, who don't do it right, who screw up, who do the stuff that maybe other people wouldn't do, they have more sense..." Mike Yaconelli, in the Youth Specialties tribute video.

    [downloads: mpg | realaudio | windows]
    He came down to earth from heaven - whaaaat?!
    Predictability and faith rarely coexist. What characterized Jesus and was his utter unpredictability. Jesus was always surprising his friends by eating at the wrong houses (those of sinners), hanging around the wrong people (tax collectors, adultarers, prostitutes, lepers), and healing people on the wrong day (the Sabbath). There was no Day Timer, no strategic plan, no mission statement; there was only the eager anticipation of the present moment. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to be the same as they were. His truth should be the same truth that they had spent centuries taming. But truth is unpredictable. When Jesus is present, everyone is uncomfortable yet mysteriously glad at the same time. People rarely like surprises - even church people - and they don't want to be uncomfortable. They want a nice, tame Jesus.

    You know what? Tameness is not an option.

    You take surprise out of faith and all that is left is dry and dead religion. Take away mystery from the gospel and all that is left is a frozen and petrified dogma. Lose your awe of God and you are left with an impotent deity. Abandon astonishment and you are left with meaningless piety. When religion is characterized by sameness, when faith is franchised, when the genuineness of our experience with God is evaluated by its similarities to others' faith then the uniqueness of God's people is dead and the church is lost.

    - Mike Yaconelli, Dangerous Wonder. Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild? - pah!
    Tuesday, December 23, 2003
    Poem in stone
    When Benjamin died after just two weeks of terrible struggle, I scribbled some words on the inside of a card and dropped them through his parents' letterbox, not realising the part they would play in what came after.

    Earlier this year Ian and Deborah erected Benjamin's headstone in Wanborough churchyard. On the back the stonemason etched my words. The photos came with today's Christmas card and letter.

    [More on the poem in my essay on poetry in worship, here]

    Monday, December 22, 2003
    Avoiding the Void

    "The pain was quite indescribable. At first I was screaming my head off and swearing like a trooper. And after a while I thought, 'There's no-one bloody listening to me.' So I stopped screaming and it was much easier. So I've learned: screaming isn't an expression of pain, it's a call for help..."

    - Joe Simpson, in Touching the Void, a painfully honest, deeply engrossing documentary about what happened when two ambitious young men messed up badly in the mountains, faced death - apart - but somehow survived.

    On the way out of the cinema this evening Bob told me that in the book of Joe Simpson's recollections of his three days of anguish in the high Andes, there's plenty of metaphysics. I found some in the film, too, though of the grimmest kind. Simpson describes the point where, lying inside a deep crevasse, separated from co-climber Simon Yates, his right leg shattered, he realised that he really had renounced the faith of his upbringing - he knew himself to be completely alone. Fully realised that life was all he had and that was about to end.

    He then tells us that it was not wanting to die alone which motivated him to try to escape that icy tomb; it was not wanting to die alone which made him drag his battered, dehydrated body through miles of killer rock and iceflow, to base camp. It was not wanting to die alone which caused him to cry bitter tears as he realised he was nearly there, but equally that his companion, two days ahead of him, would probably have left without him, assuming him dead.

    No afterlife, then, for Simpson, but the greatest regard for this life and the deepest need to share that with others. This film validates human companionship like few others I've seen. It also validates pop music, even the most banal: for in Simpson's delilrium on his descent, it was nothing profound which kept him moving, but Brown Girl in the Ring spooling around his head for hours and hours: "Bloody hell, I'm going to die to Boney M!" - surely one of the cinematic lines of the year.
    Sunday, December 21, 2003
    Football Haiku

    Yesterday's blog reminded me that many months ago I said I'd blog some more about a wonderful little book I found in Glasgow, called Football Haiku. It's an anthology, containing photographs of footie-playing Scottish schoolchildren wearing T-Shirts featuring texts in the form of 'football haiku'. These kids, and folk from all round the world (via email) had composed these wonderful verses. The haiku rules in this case were very simple - three lines, one word per line. Roughly.

    The project took place in the run-up to the last world cup and I love the results. Favourites include WEE GUY RUNNING; MEN SCREAMING SCORE; POSSESSION IS EVERYTHING; ANYWHERE WILL DO; POLYSTYRENE TEA CEREMONY; EE AY ADDIO; the inevitable THE BEAUTIFUL GAME, the memorable IT IS NOW and the definitive BIRTH FOOTBALL DEATH...

    [hear a 0:45 recording of Football Haiku extracts here]
    Saturday, December 20, 2003
    Verse and worse
    Steve and Jenny are inviting all who they send a card to this year, to enter a Christmas Haiku competition. Nice idea. Haikus are three lines, five-seven-five syllables long. I've had a go:
      no room at the inn
      last orders for all young sons
      born in the wrong place
        bethlehem roadblocks
        occupied territory
        peace, come to israel
      light a christingle
      turn on the christmas tree lights
      expel the darkness
    I'm not entirely happy with these. Possibly because I'm not sure haiku fits with Christmas that easily. Haiku is about precision and discipline; the Christmas story is a holy uproar, God turning the world upside down and inside-out as Mary celebrated so well in her 'Magnificat'. Haiku is about clarity and limitation; the way we celebrate Christmas is all mixed-up and open-ended. As Ronald Blythe puts it in his excellent Word from Wormingford,
      God must have special earplugs for Christmas. He sorts out spiritual joy from Saturnalia, and isn't all that surprised at their getting mixed up, humanity being what it is.
    I find those sentiments better reflect my feelings about Christmas today; feelings which make me applaud another kind of verse altogether, this from Richard Tydeman, published (with Blythe's piece) in the Church Times Christmas issue:
      The vicar was leaving the parish;
      He went round to say his goodbyes,
      But had rather a shock when one of his flock,
      A lady, had tears in her eyes.

      "Now there's no need to cry," said the vicar,
      "There has to be changes, you see,
      So you must be strong, and before very long
      They'll send somebody better than me."

      "That's all very well," said the lady,
      Despondently shaking her head.
      "But that's why I'm grieving, for when he was leaving,
      That's just what the last vicar said."
    Will I be using that more than once in my new year 'goodbye' messages? You bet.
    Friday, December 19, 2003
    "Yes, if they lose at Yeovil it could be curtains," I said, trying to share the concern of my lfc-supporting friends about the fate of Gerard Houllier.
    "You said that like you meant it," Gordon said. Well yes...
    "But look at yourself!"
    I was smiling from ear to ear.

    Empathy... something (like Round Three of the FA Cup) for the New Year.
    Thursday, December 18, 2003
    I don't know where they are
    His name was Perry
    He had a learning difficulty
    His father was a very mean man
    His father burned his skin
    His father send him to his death
    He was ten years old

    Her name was Naomi
    Beautiful round face, so ashamed
    Told me how to please a man
    After school in the back of a bus
    She was doing it every day
    She was eleven years old

    Her name was Sheryl
    Black hair, like an electric space
    She would pretty paint my face
    She was a very good friend
    Her father would come to her in the night
    She was twelve years old

    His name was Donovan
    He was a very good friend
    The cards were stacked against him
    He was selling cocaine
    The last time I saw him
    He was thirteen years old

    His name was Charles
    He said he was in love with me
    We were both fourteen
    Then I had to move away
    Then he begin to smoke crack
    Then he had to sell ass
    I don't know where he is
    I don't know where they are

    Cat Power: Names giving voice to the vulnerability of children so much in our minds this week of Huntley's life sentence, the vulnerability of children so much exploited at Christmas, the vulnerability of children so much at the heart of our nativity plays this week; and us adults' impotence and ignorance in the face of our complicity in child abuse.
    Wednesday, December 17, 2003
    Three men with beards
    Managed to get three men with beards into my Christmas talk at school today. Far less oblique than Sunday's blog, the assembly also featured a pregnant fourteen year old girl.

    Tuesday, December 16, 2003
    The St Kilda piano problem
    A news report this evening tells us of a discovery puzzling historians of the Scottish Islands: why the occupants of one St Kilda home possessed a piano. These islanders were the strictest presbyterians, for whom music was, well, let's be plain, evil. So evil they wouldn't have it in church even. But one family owned a piano... why?

    I put it down to my balloon theory: the impression I have that if you squeeze people too hard in one place then they'll burst out in another, like one of those thin balloons people make animals out of. If a community are so squeezed creatively, then it's inevitable that someone will burst out in song at an inappropriate moment, or keep a piano under wraps in the back shed for playing when the wind's blowing away from the manse.

    Now, in the Christmas New Statesman Richard Reeves makes a case for progressives / leftists, normally at odds with religion, to embrace it. For three reasons - because delivering policy means engaging with community leaders, who are often religious people; because religious ethics agree with left-of-centre objectives, especially social justice, poverty reduction and welfare; and because society needs communal values - and "values are what religions excel at".

    This affirms the journey I've been on most of my life, which is nice. The article also points towards an answer to the St Kilda piano problem:
      There remains, inescapably, a tension between individual freedom and traditional religion. As Grayling puts it: "In humanist ethics the individual is responsible for achieving the good as a free member of a community of free agents; in religious ethics he achieves the good by obedience to an authority that tells him what his goals are and how he should live." But it is possible to see that free agents might choose, of their own volition, to submit themselves to the commitment, community and discipline of a particular faith.
    Just as the crushing Christianity of St Kilda failed to kill the spirit of the free agent islander with the piano, so too the commitment, community and discipline of good religion can bring music to a tired, grey, brutalised political world.

    On Eddie and Gregorian chanting
    Just back from an evening with Eddie Izzard in Manchester. He's inimitable; not the sort of stand-up which depends on quick jokes with punchlines, but an unstoppable stream of surreal free-association which creates a gurgle of audience laughter which just keeps building through the set.

    Somehow tonight Eddie linked monkeys with monks and went into a routine about Gregorian chanting, a theme which kept recurring through the set. Eddie likes Gregorian chanting, for its very soothing qualities, and I shall never forget his diatribe against the common house fly nor its climax in the suggestion that it's the noise they make which is the really annoying thing about them.

    (I paraphrase): "Imagine if instead of that annoying 'zzzzzzz', flies could do Gregorian chanting (demonstrates sound, as flies might make it) ... if that could happen then instead of trying to get rid of them you'd be saying, 'are we having friends over for dinner tonight? Lets get a couple of flies in, to create a nice ambience in the dining room....'"
    Sunday, December 14, 2003
    Santa / Jesus / Sadaam
    We have captured a man with a big big beard.
    He has become our scapegoat.
    This is the man we blame for a loss of order in our world.
    It is his fault we are
    Fearful in our tower blocks,
    At war without enemies,
    At work without peace,
    At odds with strangers,
    Strangers in our own homes,
    Deep in debt,

    We have captured a man with a big big beard.
    He has become the excuse
    For our retail addictions,
    Preemptive judgements,
    Arms escalation
    And endless crucifixions.

    We have captured a man with a big big beard.
    His trial will not save us.
    Exposed in flashlights
    He may not look the man he was
    But others, more dangerous, still walk free
    Under cover of democracy
    And seasonal cheer
    Saturday, December 13, 2003
    Portsmouth 1 Everton 2
    Oh, tidings of comfort and joy: Everton's first away win of the season; and suddenly this dark evening (this dark winter) is injected with light.

    Friday, December 12, 2003
    Permission to be inspired
    Reading the latest Coracle today, a tiny phrase sprung out at me, nearly knocked my specs off. A simple line from the contributors biographies page: "Rosie Miles stayed on Iona in 1999 and has been writing ever since."

    It hit me because I remember that time on Iona in 1999. I was there too; spent it with Rosie and many others I'd never met before, shared that epiphany with her, shared her delight as all of a sudden words began to flow from her heart to her pen, to the page, to performance... too profound.

    It was a creative week for me, as well. I wrote a satire that week, on the church's double-standards in the way it discusses sexuality. And if I remember this correctly Rosie was one of those who brought my sketch to life, acting it out at a typical Iona amateur nite concert. Someone has a photo of our group rehearsing in the only 'private' space we could find in a Macleod Centre buzzing with creative activity - huddled in the downstairs bathroom.

    Rosie really did get the muse - her published work is consistently good (I included Godawful Bits in a blog last year). The bio goes on to say that "as well as on occasions trying to write in ways that hold the churches to account for how they treat lesbian and gay people she also has written blessings for cats and graces for mosquitoes."

    The Iona Community's centres do that to people, somehow, connecting them to the muse, making the island a place of inspiration for many who visit. It's part of the Iona Community's mission to find new ways to touch the hearts of all. Perhaps because of that, people there feel they have permission to be inspired. You don't get that in a lot of places. It's one big reason why I'll be signing up for membership for another year using the 'With Us?' card which also arrived today.
    Thursday, December 11, 2003
    Goodbye Hill View
    Northern Earth has been going a long time and reading it (as I did, for the first time, today) will no doubt go some way towards compensation for losing 3rd Stone.

    Northern Earth's subject matter is broadly known as 'earth mysteries', appealing to all those with an inquiring interest in historical landscapes, folk lore and custom, the unexplained, earth-based consciousness and spirituality...

    Plenty to chew on there; but some earth mysteries are very close to home, and I loved this little article they'd gleaned from a recent edition of the Yorkshire Post:

    A recent property survey has identified the most popular names people are giving to their houses nowadays. Top of the list is The Cottage, a position it has held for some time. In 2nd place is Rose Cottage, up one place from 1998, and displacing The Bungalow, on the way down from 1st place in 1993 and now in 3rd position. 4th and 5th are Coach House and Orchard House respectively. The biggest fall is The White House, down from 7th to 29th (what might that tell us?), while Greenacres went from 24th to 45th.

    Highest new entry in the Top 50 was The Old Post Office at no. 21, reflecting the growing popularity of closing down rural post offices. Other new entrants were The Stables, White Cottage, The Orchard, Primrose Cottage, The Granary, The Nook, The Old School and Honeysuckle Cottage - but it's goodbye to Hill View, Manor Farm and South View.

    House names in Northern England appear to relate more to topography and industrial history, while Midlands names were more agriculatural; Wales has a high maritime segment, and SE England fancies an apple and woodland theme.

    "There's surely social comment in there somewhere," they observe. Too right, many blogs worth. But tonight I don't have time; I'm off now down to the old bus depot, now a glitzy pub serving guest 'real' ales...

    [Link to house name story here - thanks to Eric Shackle for that]
    Wednesday, December 10, 2003
    Strategies for avoiding licking
    Well, I've done it. It was a hard slog but I've written 130 cards and envelopes today. Tried spending a few moments thinking about each person in a holy sort of way as I put their card into the envelope, but at times I admit distractions set in. Various vanities. Like re-reading my annual Christmas letter for the umpteenth time, searching high and low for any scraps of paper which might tell me the names of folks' children I've failed to remember, and working on alternative gumming methods which would be easier on the digestive system.

    When I worked as a casual in the DHSS (as it was then known) me and my mates had to gum down hundreds of envelopes each afternoon. Needless to say we soon came up with strategies for avoiding licking because otherwise we'd have been like walking gluepots by payday. My favourite method - which was speedy, too - was to cover my desk entirely with envelopes set out in layers so that each gummed flap was uppermost and adjacent to the next. In other words the desk was a sea of gum, to which I took a one-inch paintbrush dipped into water, moistening the whole lot in a series of swift moves and then, swifter still, sticking them all down before they dried off.

    This was a high-risk strategy. If it went wrong I was left with a hundred envelopes either ruined by excess water or having lost their gum, in which case I'd have to start all over again. Or sometimes in my haste I'd stick two envelopes together by mistake, or send some tumbling to the floor where various unspeakable objects (of a fluffy or foody nature) would attach themselves to the moistened gum.

    But when it worked, it was wonderful. The concentration, the energy rush, the emotion. I considered doing it today but was listening to a Yaconelli talk saying basically, church leader - take it easy on yourself [download here], which made me think I should approach the whole thing slowly and simply, one envelope at a time. Now, I'm sure there's a curious taste in my mouth. Which I feel only a shot or two of Talisker may expel...
    Tuesday, December 09, 2003
    The un-nice brand
    What happened to radical Christianity, the un-nice brand of Christianity that turned the world upside-down? What happened to the category-smashing, life-threatening, anti-institutional gospel that spread through the first century like wildfire and was considered (by those in power) dangerous? What happened to the kind of Christians whose hearts were on fire, who had no fear, who spoke the truth no matter what the consequence, who made the world uncomfortable, who were willing to follow Jesus wherever He went? What happened to the kind of Christians who were filled with passion and gratitude, and who every day were unable to get over the grace of God?

    I'm ready for Christianity that "ruins" my life, that captures my heart and makes me uncomfortable. I want to be filled with an astonishment which is so captivating that I am considered wild and unpredictable and ... well ... dangerous. Yes, I want to be "dangerous" to a dull and boring religion. I want a faith that is considered "dangerous" by our predictable and monotonous culture.
    Monday, December 08, 2003
    Explore Folklore
    Whether it's the weather causing me to be all wrapped up and introspective; whether it's the cautious seasonal relief of believing I've ended my Christmas shopping mission for the year; whether it's finishing reading the final 3rd Stone, whatever - today has a folky theme as Explore Folklore arrived from Bob Trubshaw's Heart of Albion Press and I rewarded myself for getting all the presents in, by purchasing June Tabor's latest cd, An Echo of Hooves.

    While Tabor's fine clear voice and clean instrumental backing brings old song-stories to life, Trubshaw's mission is to rescue folklore from, on the one hand, tired cliches about morris dancing and fifty-something folksingers, and on the other, dry scholarly approaches to folklore studies. "The rituals of 'what we do on our holidays', funerals, stag nights and 'lingerie parties' are all full of 'unselfconsious' folk customs," he writes. "Indeed, folklore is something that is integral to all our lives - it is so intrinsic we do not think of it as being 'folklore'."

    It seems to me Trubshaw's book will be an interesting companion in these winter weeks of trees and tinsel, parties and family visits.
    Sunday, December 07, 2003
    Not quite a letter from God

    It was all fields once. They must have built the church for the farmers, gardeners, grocers, and carters who serviced Croxteth Hall. Then, in 1928 work started on a 2,000-home estate in the area. The council moved people out of the city's awful slums to offer them new beginnings in lovely three-bedroomed homes. 'The Boot estate, named after the builder contracted by Liverpool Corporation in the 1920s, offered city slum dwellers some of the best examples of municipal housing in the country, well-designed homes with gardens in crescents and cul-de-sacs,' wrote The Guardian. 'The joke was that you had to have a letter from God to get a house there.'

    If so, it proved to be a dead letter for many. There were few amenities on the estate. The neighbours came from other, unknown parts of town. It cost a lot to travel from there. And as unemployment grew, over 40 per cent of the original tenants left before the estate was ten years old. The concrete houses turned out to be badly-designed: the metal used in construction started rusting almost immediately. By the late 1990s homes were declared beyond restoration.

    Then came promises of a completely new estate, well-designed, high-tech, a free computer for every home. Wide-scale demolition of Boot houses was well underway when the council pulled the plug on its £170m plans for the estate. The Housing chief resigned, uprooted residents screamed betrayal on every forum available. New promises were made. Two months ago planning permission was granted for 200 new homes. 'Boot estate on home straight' announced The Echo on Oct 29. Jack Mahon, chairman of the Boot Tenants and Residents Association, said: "I am the happiest man on Merseyside today - we have waited so long for this."

    The Church of the Good Shepherd is built on land familiar with being in a state of flux. From the rotations of agriculture and hunting which once sustained it to the changes and chances wrought by experiments in urban planning. Today it sits at the edge of an area where it seems every other house is abandoned, where those who have stayed so far feel vulnerable, those who've left feel betrayed. Such places can grow gifted, resolute people determined to help their communities thrive. So it is here, the Church and Community Centre a hub of activity each day, seventy-plus volunteers, hundreds of visitors each week.

    I have had a letter from the bishop, inviting me to take my place there as priest-in-charge. It's not quite the same as a letter from God, but that - and meeting the good folk there - have proved enough to encourage me to accept. I'll be licensed on 22 March next year, two weeks before the church's centenary.
    Saturday, December 06, 2003
    'Tis the Season
    Advent's well and truly arrived, as if you hadn't noticed. Preparing to go out on my second Christmas meal of the week tonight I'm struck by my laxity in setting up anything seasonal on my site. A quote of the day for instance. An advent calendar. Pics of electric lights flashing in night skies... I couldn't better Meg and Anna's efforts though, so, er, why bother? Have another mince pie. And check out 'Tis the Season, daily.
    Friday, December 05, 2003
    Let it happen here
    Dealing with controversy today, over the Parish Magazine. I've been mediating between whether or not to publish an article from Friends of Sabeel UK: Issues and challenges to the Churches - Israel and Palestine. It's a long list of Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights. Describing very plainly the physical and cultural carve-up of Palestine which is the Israeli government's mission.

    As I read this litany of checkpoint procedures, by-pass roads, refugee camps, home demolitions, curfews and water control I was astonished there could be any dispute about publicising this carnage. A modest mag article is surely the least we can do to alert folk to what's happening in what we so glibly call in advent, The Holy Land. Depriving people of their basic rights to move, work, shelter - horrendous - after all, we'd never let it happen here.

    But then I was stopped in my tracks by another article - this one in 3rd Stone, which made me realise history tells other stories. Depriving people of their basic rights to move, work, shelter is horrendous - and, in fact, we have let it happen here.

    Specifically, in 1665 when the Five Mile Act 'instigated a five mile exclusion zone around towns precluding those non-conformists dispossessed by the Act of Uniformity (1662)'. Avebury happened to be a little over five miles from a number of such towns. It thus became an official haven for 'Five Mile' refugees.

    The article, by Brian Edwards, details the way the refugees were received, a sadly familiar tale of suppression by those in authority , ie, 'the Anglican local establishment of squire, vicar and parish clerk', with a thankfully equally familiar tale of acceptance by indigenous parishioners who 'viewed the 'separatist' incomers as ordinary folk', dug graves for dissenters and even tolled the church bells for their loss.

    The article's main point was how, over time, the nonconformists changed the local landscape - ridding it of ancient sacred pagan stones; today Avebury is restoring some of these, and looking to a future where stones and chapels will stand together as witness to a people's complex cultural history. A history with the hospitality of ordinary folk at its core.

    Thank God for ordinary folk who then as now disregard the politicians and let their hearts and human decency rule their actions towards those violated by the powerful. Good to see that happening in the Middle East too, with Monday's unveiling of the Geneva Accord, a radical peace initiative drafted by teams of unofficial Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.

    According to The Guardian, at the accord's launch ceremony the former US president Jimmy Carter said: "The people support it. Political leaders are the obstacle to peace... it is unlikely we shall ever see a better foundation for peace."
    Bono credits church for leading AIDS fight
    "Christ's example is being demeaned by the church if they ignore the new leprosy, which is AIDS," [Bono said last year]. "The church is the sleeping giant here. If it wakes up to what's really going on in the rest of the world, it has a real role to play. If it doesn't, it will be irrelevant.''

    "The sleeping giant kind of woke up and is really playing a huge role in getting the job done. I'm amazed and moved by it, actually," [Bono, this week].

    Thanx Pip for linking this astonishing article from today's Chicago Sun-Times.
    Thursday, December 04, 2003
    Parking Spaces
    A BBC documentary last night revealed that Martin Parr's latest project is Parking Spaces - in which the obtuse photographer travels the world taking pictures of the last parking spaces available in streets and car parks. Is this eccentric? Parr was asked; "Yes, it's bizarre ... I don't know what I'll do with it yet ..." he replied, but did reveal the philosophy behind this piece of work: "It fascinates me that the one thing we're all looking for in life is somewhere to park the car."
    Wednesday, December 03, 2003
    Crawl Home

    Polly Jean and Josh having a tiff in a car. Seething new Desert Sessions Crawl Home video here.
    Tuesday, December 02, 2003
    Why Some Men Cannot Remember The Colour of Eyes
    Men are really listening all the time.
    Their wives see them staring at the trees,
    rivers, small sections of the garden, even sheds.
    This is because the stars reside there, the beginnings of days,
    the immense moments in the lives of insects, Leonardo
    assembling a kite in his mind.
    Of course they work to conceal this, hiding behind agendas
    and computers and sports results and men's magazines
    and big boy stuff, the serious equipment and the technical.
    They can see beyond the colour of eyes mosaics of minds
    that surpass words and even memory itself. The miracle
    of life can be encountered in a card game, on the lake's surface,
    In the second bottle of wine, in the recollection of the tree house
    in a garden that no longer exists. Thus bikes and cars and constantly
    purchasing the same shirt, thus that moment before the new
    joke is told, thus terrible ties and bird's eggs and staring through
    the immediate as if their dead fathers had just called to them.

    D.H.W. Grubb, Runner-Up, Cardiff International Poetry Competition 2003, from New Welsh Review, Winter 2003
    Monday, December 01, 2003
    When cities die
    Finishing Dead Cities today, and then reading various doomsday scenarios in The Ecologist I found it both frightening and fascinating what happens when cities die - when desolation hits them; and it's likely to hit all of them at some point in history.

    Frightening because, well, you think, it can happen here: within months of a nuclear strike or natural disaster this place could be unrecognisable, colonised by previously-underground creatures, swampland covering shopping centres, violent weather patterns battering famous old buildings to the ground, transport systems shot to pieces by subsidence; and so on. Not unrealistic, according to many scientists who've made this their study [eg, read Laura Spinney's Return to Paradise - download it here]. But fascinating also, because it's another reminder of our temporary hold on things. Mike Davis:
      The ability of a city's physical structure to organise and encode a stable social order depends on its capacity to master and manipulate nature. But cities are radically contingent artifacts whose "control of nature," as John McPhee famously pointed out, is ultimately illusory. Nature is constantly straining against its chains: probing for weak points, cracks, faults, even a speck of rust... Environmental control ... [is] an inevitably Sisyphean labor.
    I ponder if the trick in life is to reach a point where you become comfortable with your own temporary nature and the temporary nature of the world around you. We'll struggle to keep them alive and well but when cities die, will we accept their demise and happily leave the earth to rearrange things, happily let the plants and creatures reassert their claims on the places we just now call our own..?