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

    Monday, January 31, 2005
    The motorway spectres
    Pitching through air at eighty mph
    Little stars scatter on rain-specked windscreens
    As fields of phosphor rise beside the carriageway.
    We are consumed in chrome
    Each one alone
    Intent faces
    Illumined intermittently in headlight beams.
    We are ghosts on the highway.
    In limbo on the centre lane,
    Tricks of light in manic flight
    Escaping M1 hell
    For whom the M6 tolls;
    Each carried by four fast angels
    Spinning hubcaps through the muggy Midlands night

    [on driving back from St Albans with just The Gun Club for inspiration]
    Sunday, January 30, 2005
    Kingdom healing and the beautiful game
    Couldn't resist it. Hearing about tonight's programme on footy and religion on Channel Four, Hallowed Be Thy Game, I had to preach about it. Healing service. So it ended up entitled Kingdom healing and the beautiful game. I'm not sure about that, Ron, does it make any sense?
    Saturday, January 29, 2005
    Greenbelt is
    Lacking other inspiration and gearing up for a Greenbelt meeting Monday I did a Googlism on Greenbelt and these are the edited highlights - most of them quite true....

    greenbelt is eternal vigilance
    greenbelt is available for you to use alongside your own stories
    greenbelt is
    greenbelt is eternal vigilance the paradox of measure
    greenbelt is proud of its historic past and its innovative future
    greenbelt is a popular spot for many senior citizens
    greenbelt is handicapped
    greenbelt is to let young people experience it first
    greenbelt is a broad and varied band of green space
    greenbelt is one of our best kept secrets
    greenbelt is a site where online exhibits can be researched
    greenbelt is dependent upon the public
    greenbelt is a christian arts festival incorporating everything from films
    greenbelt is safe
    greenbelt is long
    greenbelt is geared to the twentieth century
    greenbelt is designed for business travelers
    greenbelt is truly a treasure
    greenbelt is for those who wish to escape
    greenbelt is less than a mile wide in most places
    greenbelt is rare
    greenbelt is awe
    greenbelt is granted
    greenbelt is 11
    greenbelt is about 30
    greenbelt is approximately 21
    greenbelt is a labour achievement
    greenbelt is a missing pearl in the necklace
    greenbelt is a lifesaver
    greenbelt is a precursor
    greenbelt is a favorite for joggers
    greenbelt is now available
    greenbelt is an island that lets us do so
    greenbelt is the uk's largest christian arts festival
    greenbelt is home to the largest concentration of rock
    greenbelt creates a boundary for development
    greenbelt is free
    greenbelt is $27
    greenbelt is a string of forests
    greenbelt is painted red
    Friday, January 28, 2005
    Halo over Barnsley

    When Will Alsop looks across the moorland wastes of south-central Yorkshire he sees a halo over Barnsley. The architect-provocateur has a vision to return the fallen industrial town to its roots. Starved of trade because of the proximity of Godawful shopping-sink Meadowhall, Barnsley can become again a market town at the heart of agricultural country. It's part of Alsop's vision of the SuperCity - stretching from Mersey to Humber along the M62 axis, and the focus of two floors of exhibition space at Urbis, which I visited today.

    What I like about Alsop's mad vision is its creative energy - the possibility of Northern English towns and cities erasing centuries of grim industrial parochialism and embracing bright new concepts. It's in the spirit of today's brightest musical creatives LCD Soundsystem, asserting "These are the parts of a terrible past / and these are the things we can live without - you've got to give it up / if you want to live it up". Barnsley as a Tuscan hill village. When you laugh at this, is it hopeful laughter, Alsop wants to know. Can you see a halo in those Dearne Valley clouds?

    What I dislike in the exhibition is that, despite plenty of talk about awareness of climate change etc, Alsop's idea of an eighty-mile-long city is based on the surely tired old idea of motorway ribbon development. What's new is that service stations become park-and-ride hubs, places of genuine quality where people will come to take their leisure. What's new is the idea of building up - rather than out - in the countryside, creating nodes of self-sufficient living for 5000 people which would rise out of the landscape, "objects of curiosity and wonder in the manner of the castles of the Welsh Marches." What's new is the idea which would revitalise Barnsley and other places - that shops and markets in the SuperCity would predominantly sell home-produced foodstuffs ('home' being within the SuperCity bounds). But all of this is based on structuring our lives along a 12-mile axis around the M62.

    Alsop seems a dreamer - he promotes the idea of imaginative solutions to urban problems. But perhaps he's also a realist. After all, for many of us who live here our lives already do depend on a commute along that grey and choked-up road (vast and green and lovely across Saddleworth Moor). I did today. And am likely to for the forseeable future.

    Anyway, today at Urbis I sat in a film booth sharing Alsop's vision with a couple from East Yorkshire and enjoyed playing around the interactive exhibits at the same time as a group of Manchester schoolchildren. So it seems that despite the tensions in Alsop's approach the exhibition will help us Northerners start to find new ways to debate our common urban future. Perhaps LCD Soundsystem (playing in my ears right now) also offer some shards of language with which to build:

    "Yr city's a sucker
    My city's a creep
    What we want is what you want
    What you want is what we want - is a case of - ha ha ha ha
    You have so much more space in which to - ha ha ha ha
    You have so much more time with which you - ha ha ha ha"

    Thursday, January 27, 2005
    Refugee Tee
    Sometimes this blog seems like just a glorified advert but I don't mind giving this a bit of promotion. The new tee from Philosophy Football is a representation of Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland made up of the names of almost 100 refugees from Isabelle Allende to Emile Zola who, they say, have made such a rich contribution to our culture. Just £9.99 with profits going to The Refugee Council. I like it, and although it's hardly t-shirt weather (sitting here in zipped-up winter cardy, two-bar fire glowing 30 inches away), today I bought it. Will wear it boldly during electioneering later in the year....?
    Wednesday, January 26, 2005
    Another turning point
    Reached another turning point today, realising that for the first time since 1980 I shall be missing a U2 tour this year. They're playing the same dates as my already-booked holiday, and unlike me, they're appearing nowhere near Land's End. Besides, today's ticket prices are £125 min, and though these are the artists probably more than any other who've defined the soundtrack to my world, I don't value one more night with them that highly.

    So instead I imagine I'll be rolling down Cornish roads with The Blues Explosion blasting my head: "This ain't the devil's music; but it feels like the devil's time..." Communing with the same tumuli as good ol' Julian Cope. And perhaps even sitting on the beach with earphones full of Pet Sounds. By comparison to an evening's shuffle between stadium carpark hassles for a faroff view of Bono, each of of these seem really quite appealing.
    Tuesday, January 25, 2005
    That's better
    After a down day, an up. The only disappointment today - front seat, top of the bus into town this morning, glancing down Hotham Street to see the sign on The Academy telling me I missed Julian Cope there last night. Hadn't known he was coming. Work would have caused me to miss it anyway. So I compensated for this loss (he's unmissable, truly) by getting onto Head Heritage and ordering his long-awaited, now just out cd Citizen Cain'd. Check out the song titles and you already know it's a winner....

    But the glory in the day lay herein:

    1. Waking up and breakfasting to the bountiful tune of Jim White's Borrowed Wings;

    2. Enjoying bus rides in and out of town;

    3. Punctuated by a fine day's training (on leadership through change) in the company of valued colleagues - the guy running four inner-city parishes and perhaps the city's most demanding hospital chaplaincy, The Women's, his day punctuated not unusually by an appointment presiding at the funeral of a child; a young curate, sharp-minded, creative, a stimulus; the senior colleague who a decade ago sensitively guided me along the route to ordination;

    4. Protracted phone conversation with a non-church parishioner booking a baptism and sharing spiritual insights so profound I ended our talk by saying, "thank you";

    5. A good hour in the home of one of those couples you wish were more around in the church but who don't find it in them to go all the time these days, just like I'd be without the grinding responsibility of office (I wonder if I'd go at all, as this seems to be where church really is)...

    6. A letter from Jan, just about to embark on an adventure as writer in residence at a London university, with her latest book of poems to engage and engross;

    7. Two glasses of red and an emotional Shameless before bed...
    Monday, January 24, 2005
    Blood and water
    Odd how you can work flat out all day, on many varied things, most of which you do ok. But come home at the end of it possessed by one small oversight - one thing you ought to have done but have not done - which makes the overriding impression of the whole day one of failure. What shall I do? I think take comfort in Woven Hand's haunting, moving, version of the traditional Down in yon forest:

    Down under that bed there runs a flood
    Bells of heaven I hear them ring
    Half run in water
    Half run in blood
    And I love my Lord Jesus above anything

    Sunday, January 23, 2005
    On coarseness
    When the guy's had a little too much to drink and he's on a rant it's easy to dismiss him. But at the party, the more I listened the more uncomfortable I felt distancing myself from what he was saying. It was about being shocked at the behaviour of motorists - the one yesterday who saw the old woman crossing but rather than slowing down, kept on, hitting his horn, and deliberately missing her by inches; the ones who bounce over speed bumps like they're not there, sending sparks flying from their chassis; and the ones who shout abuse at my friend, who, in his veteran cars, takes it nice and easy: "I take offence at being called a 'tosser' by someone I don't even know just for going slower than him."

    On the way home from the party I drove on the speed limit, little more, little less. To gain advantage over other road-users, a guy was weaving between moving vehicles across three lanes of Queens Drive. I was behind him at the lights and noticed his car sticker proudly saying, MANIAC. Before the next set one of those near-minibus big-tyred ozone destroyers cut me up from inside. At the lights I saw it was being driven by a tiny woman and bore numerous stickers saying CAREFUL - BABY ON BOARD and PREGNANT WOMAN ON BOARD.

    And in-car, on Five Live, late night talk show guests were debating the perceived coarseness and callousness of our society. Plenty of resigned agreement around the reality of that. I felt a bit shamed by all this, because I'm in it, and must contribute to it.

    It only came to me much later. I needed it. This:

    God help us to live slowly:
    To move simply:
    To look softly:
    To allow emptiness:
    To let the heart create for us.
    © Michael Leunig

    Friday, January 21, 2005
    Mona Lisa obsession

    Here's a thing; after all that fuss yesterday I rediscover the cd I'd forgotten I had of Hex Enduction Hour... Which prompted me to do a stock-take of all my Fall music. Turns out I've got just twenty of their 83 albums (or possibly 21 if I can locate Code:Selfish), still some way to go for the set.

    Is this unhealthily obsessive? Or an ok way to spend a day off? Well, I'm comforted, nay, moved by the discovery (in The Wittenburg Door) that obsessive behaviour has a good pedigree and can bring great rewards. They published this astonishing fact which awes me whenever I think about it - it took Leonardo Da Vinci TWELVE YEARS to paint the lips of the Mona Lisa...
    Thursday, January 20, 2005
    Fall out (with Amazon); Fall in (with the BBC)
    Fall minus - never again, never ever again will I pre-order a cd from Amazzzzon. Where the hell on my doormat is Hex Enduction Hour? I've seen it in the shops this week, touched it, held it in my hands and yet the copy with my name on it is still in the warehouse, allegedly 'Despatching Soon'. If I was Mark E Smith I'd probably write a song about the frustrating situation, call it perhaps Card-box bloc Tactik, with words like these - cue jungle drums and background heckling:

    'We are preparing for dispatch' - "Free Dons from Milton Keyne!!"
    'It is too late to cancel your order' - "Locked off motorway grid!"
    I've been un changed.
    I'm short changed-uh

    Fall plus - BBC4 are bravely premiering a documentary tomorrow titled The Fall - The Wonderful and Frightening World of Mark E Smith, "A special documentary looking at one of the most enigmatic, idiosyncratic and chaotic bands of the last 30 years."

    Amazing that they got "the belligerent and poetic Mark E Smith" to agree to this; the timing suggests it's a post-Peel trigger, a tribute to his favourite band. Some of the forty-plus ex-Fall members have been dragged back to tell their side of things, and some "key fans and critics including Paul Morley, Tony Wilson, Stewart Lee, promoter Alan Wise, original Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon, and members of Franz Ferdinand." But no mention of Jeremy Vine....?
    Wednesday, January 19, 2005
    Knowing our place
    I've been reading John Inge's A Christian Theology of Place this week, and it's fascinating for all sorts of reasons, not least that it's one of very few works on the subject of place. Not even the geographers, it seems, have paid attention to it. Which seems as fundamental an error as a Liverpool defender's sidefoot into his own net (though not as hilarious).

    The tide is turning, though, in favour of place being taken seriously, investigated creatively. Because despite all the noise about new technology rendering locations irrelevant, that is just one side of a complex phenomenon which points us back towards the importance of place. Inge quotes Edward Casey:

    ...the cataclysmic effects of two world wars, which have acted to undermine any secure sense of place (in fact, to destroy it altogether in the case of a radical non-place like Auschwitz); the forced migrations of entire peoples, along with the continual drifting on the part of many individuals, suggesting that the world is nothing but a scene of endless displacement...

    Displacement is, of course, all wrapped up with the importance of place to us. Elsewhere, Walter Brueggemann is concerned to address what he regards as a pervasive aspect of contemporary culture: the sense of being lost, displaced, and homeless. "The yearning to belong somewhere, to have a home, to be in a safe place, is a deep and moving pursuit," he writes. It is experienced by people from all sectors of society and even those who appear to be well rooted and belonging can experience profound dislocation.

    "The fact is," Inge insists, "that there is no such thing as a physical geography of anywhere divorced from its human geography, and even more so the other way around. Relph suggests that places are thus basic elements in the ordering of our experiences of the world. Tuan uses the word topophilia as the title for one of his books, a word which means, literally, 'place-love'. [This appreciation of place] develops very early, and ... this means that feelings and ideas concerning place are extremely complex in adult human beings growing, as they do, out of life's unique and shared experiences."

    There's a lot in this. Why else would Blogger profiles and the like cite Location as a key identifier of a person (mine, by the way, reads, Liverpool : in but not of the : United Kingdom).

    Here's an interesting exercise - consider the places which meant something to you as a child... and after a while, consider what they might mean now...
    Tuesday, January 18, 2005
    Oli on his way
    I have been sleeted on (if that's a word); I have been buffeted by icy winds. I have stepped through winter slush and walked stooped, Lowry-character-like, through these streets all day. Now, burning gas and cash in a glowing hot house I refute everything I wrote yesterday and declare: I'd quite like to be Oliver today, who just flew out to Buenos Aires, to begin a year's travels in South America. Must satisfy myself with reading what he gets up to here.
    Monday, January 17, 2005
    On noticing what we have already seen
    I was at one of those church do's the other night where a group of genuinely concerned middle-class folk listen intently to a person from the two-thirds world describing their life / work / situation. Listening with goodwill and grace but also with what can seem like an unwitting touch of condescension. In this case it was a teacher of mentally-handicapped children at a school in Tirunelveli, South India. She and her colleagues do fantastic work, though hopelessly understaffed and underfunded. And with such dedication and grace.

    Listening to her around the room, those who 'know' South India (they've been there on tour) nodded in faux-recognition at observations she made. Not me, though. And so over Bombay Mix and a cuppa Indian afterwards I felt I had to admit to one much-travelled colleague that I'd hardly been anywhere at all, outside of these isles. He looked aghast. I said, "But I've travelled a lot in my head." It didn't seem to convince him. But I'm comfortable with that.

    And, having reached the end of The Art of Travel I'm comforted by Alain de Botton's closing chapter describing Xavier de Maistre who - in the eighteenth-century age of exploration, when people were pumping out worthy tomes such as such as Journey to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent - famously wrote Journey around my Bedroom, a work every bit as thorough and descriptive as his much-travelled contemporaries. And far easier to accomplish, requiring only a pair of pink and blue cotton pyjamas for the journey.

    De Maistre was challenging the common distinction people draw between a 'boring daily life' and a 'marvellous world' outside. Trying to show that there are marvels in the mundane, if we look closely enough for them. Later Nietzsche drew on this idea to say,

    When we observe how some people know how to manage their experiences - their insignificant, everyday experiences - so that they become an arable soil that bears fruit three times a year, while others - and how many there are! - are driven through surging waves of destiny the most multifarious currents of the times and the nations, and yet always remain on top, bobbing like a cork, then we are in the end tempted to divide mankind into a minority (a minimality) of those who know how to make much of little, and a majority of those who know how to make little of much.

    And de Botton's conclusion follows through:

    We meet people who have crossed deserts, floated on ice-caps and cut their way through jungles - and yet in whose souls we would search in vain for evidence of what they have witnessed. Dressed in pink and blue pyjamas, satisfied by the confines of his own bedroom, Xavier de Maistre was gently nudging us to try, before taking off for distant hemispheres, to notice what we have already seen.

    There's plenty more on that, from all sorts of angles, in de Botton's excellent book. Plenty to encourage me to keep on happily travelling in my head, if not (as I don't wear any) my pyjamas.
    Sunday, January 16, 2005
    Mild and sheltered
    "The island is battered, the Post Office now cleared out from sand, fences blown over, boats in people's gardens along the village street... but here up at the Abbey we have been OK. We've had quite a few power cuts (even today), but mine has been a health cut - I'm still recovering from total wipe out," wrote the Warden of Iona Abbey yesterday. I love visiting Iona, but at other times of the year. This news makes me feel glad to live in one of Britain's mild and sheltered places.

    Do places create characters akin to their elemental nature? Tempting to suggest so. Iona islanders, for instance - rugged, windwept folks? It's a cliche, and I'm sure Alain de Botton would dispute it. Too close to the conceit that if you travel to a place it'll change the person you are. And it wouldn't apply to my description of Liverpool. Mild and sheltered we certainly are not...
    Saturday, January 15, 2005
    Cashing up

    If only I'd grown up with My Learning ATM from Family Christian Stores then I'm sure I'd be far better with my money than I am today.

    "Use a modern, familiar tool to teach traditional, old fashion values to the youngster in your home!" [thanks to The Wittenburg Door for the tip-off]. Family Christian Stores suggest that if I spent just $31.99 on My Learning ATM (Usually ships within 24-48 hours) I'd begin to account better. I'm not so sure.

    Tonight we got together as an Iona Community Family Group to do our annual accounting to each other for our use of money. It was salutory, for me. I pay my way, charitably. But I take a lot more than others do, and spend a lot on my own leisure pursuits. Could do with some wealth redistribution. Toy machines - or any other gimmick - won't change my attitude to money. But spending time with others talking seriously about it probably will.
    Friday, January 14, 2005
    Stuck on them

    In 1999 Billy Childish's then girlfriend Tracey Emin insulted his art as 'stuck, stuck, stuck.' She's not his girlfriend any more, and the art movement which took their name from her accusation has got its first major exhibition, The Stuckists - Punk Victorian at The Walker. Saw it today. It's bright, brash, provocative and quite good fun. The Stuckists stand for 'contemporary figurative painting with ideas'. And the walls of the Walker are full of them. I won't go on, you can see some of the pics and read more at the various links.

    But I did especially enjoy the wall devoted to The Stuckists' project to revile The Turner Prize. They oppose conceptual art, mainly because of what they regard as its lack of concepts. Stuckist co-founder Charles Thomson, who has 'spent most of the last five years promoting Stuckism, organising anti-Turner Prize clown protests and being accosted by Sir Nicholas Serota in Trafalgar Square', displays two of the finest examples of their protest art. One, in the typographical style of Emin, is a very colourful piece entitled, Is My Shoe Art?, on which the text reads something like,




    And the other speaks for itself. It is entitled, Sir Nicholas Serota Makes an Acquisitions Decision ...

    Thursday, January 13, 2005
    Poetry in motion
    The Art of Travel is immensely enjoyable. And Alain de Botton is winning me around to his point of view on the poetry of those places of isolation (service stations, hotels, airport lounges, train carriages) which Edward Hopper depicts so sensitively and I blogged about here.

    There's something in de Botton's memorable phrase, "Journeys are the midwives of thought." Something related to the constraints which home puts on you - about needing to get out somewhere different to begin to be able to think through what's going on in life. Something which places value on movement, and on places of intersection where we are anonymous but in a deep way share affinity with the others around us also travelling, also freed from the crushingly familiar to begin to open up like flowers, on their own, in their minds and hearts.

    So to de Botton it's satisfying to sit in a motorway services cafe glancing around at the other solitary figures there and enjoying a fellow-feeling of sanctuary and release.

    It's often said that our society's lust for motion is a kind of sickness. Alain de Botton challenges that. There's comfort in his perspective for the sort of people who "don't do quiet. / stillness," as Martin Wroe put it in When you haven't got a prayer. And for the sort of people who perhaps counter-culturally, value their own company.

    And it explains something I find in me - the need to travel to begin to unwind. Something I've felt a few times in this funeral-heavy week where, with Robbie Williams' majestic and supremely moving Angels still ringing in my ears I've found myself taking my leave from the crem and just driving for a while; with heavy heart, just driving.
    Wednesday, January 12, 2005
    From the Bang to the Leap
    Linford Christie officially unveiled B of the Bang today and explained the inspiration behind Manchester's massive metallic explosion: his assertion that he always leaves the starting block at the 'B of the Bang'.

    Good one. So the sculpture is an attempt to capture that special moment, which all sports have. A moment of profound and decisive transition - like where the football hits the net, the cricket ball the stumps, the cycle wheel crosses the line. It brought back to me the one and only thing I've ever written about rugby - for Ridley Hall's rugby-fanatical college secretary, inspired by a painting on her office wall depicting one of those decisive moments; a poem I called The Leap:

    ... after the run
    after the catch
    after the chase;
    after the last desperate lunge
    after the last gasp
    after the triumphant forward plunge:

    the leap

    through heavy air

    ... before the thud
    before the crash
    before the skid of flesh on grass
    before the pain of flesh on bone,
    before the sky, the heavens, the earth,
    before the thunder of the crowd:

    before the try

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005
    After the storm, the question about our humanity
    I like Alistair Burt's suggestion that local communities here seek to go into a form of partnership with a tsunami-hit community in Asia. What he actually said was, "People would feel greater empathy if local governments were to adopt a specific project in an affected area," and this feels like an idea with a measure of depth and long-term commitment to it. Wonder how the aid agencies view it - they'd be the ones to facilitate such projects.

    Also refreshing, the NS editorial which is a good sort of reactionary, the sort which makes you want to need to change things:

    It would be wrong to belittle the generosity of many westerners - often those who, by the standards of their own societies, are hard up - and wrong, too, to deny that it may be more uplifting to give voluntarily than to be forced to contribute through taxation. Yet the hard truth is that, if we really wish to help developing countries, we have to do more than deny ourselves a few glasses of wine. We have to pay more for the goods we buy from those countries; allow them more favourable terms of trade; forgive them many billions of pounds in debt; permit them to manufacture and sell cheaper medicines; require multinationals to repatriate more of their profits; welcome economic migrants more warmly; pledge a fixed proportion of our national income in aid for years to come. All these are within the power of governments, rather than individuals, and all would have uncomfortable implications for western consumers, western jobs, western businesses, western financial institutions and western economies in general. Do Gordon Brown and Tony Blair really have the courage to propose and see through such a programme? And would people vote for them if they did? In Britain, at least, we decided a century ago that private philanthropy was an inadequate means of alleviating poverty and achieving justice. But we still tend to think it perfectly acceptable for Asia and Africa.

    ... commentators have retreated in recent days into considering the mysteries of God's powers and intentions, in the spirit of Voltaire after the Lisbon earthquake in 1755. How can a supposedly omniscient and omnipotent but also benign deity allow such things to happen? Indeed, since tsunamis are described (admittedly by insurance companies, which are not the most reliable theological witnesses) as acts of God, do we have to face the possibility that the Creator willed this event? Or is it evidence that, if there is a God at all, he is a cold, uncaring, even brutal one, treating us as mere playthings of his moods? These are the wrong questions, and atheists have no business wasting their time on them
    [Believers also, I'd say]. It is far more pertinent to ask how human beings, particularly the more powerful and wealthy among us, can remain indifferent to a daily toll of poverty, disease and hunger that it is well within their means to end. The condition of Africa and much of Asia questions our humanity, not the divinity of a hypothetical God.
    Monday, January 10, 2005
    Another fine idea from Meg at meish

    How to teach peace to children
    In a place that's torn and bruised
    How to bring food to a hungry
    Girl who's battered and abused

    How to build hope on housing schemes
    Whose walls are being pulled down
    How to find work for people of worth
    When there's no work around

    How to encourage cries for justice
    When the law's not listening
    How to build a people of prayer
    When the air's full of sirens screaming
    How to help love thrive in lives
    Deprived of such a rare thing

    How to get businesses started
    In a place so starved of cash
    How to look for a religion of love
    Between popery and the sash

    How to keep women out of jail
    Who can't afford their bills
    How to make strangers welcome
    With race hate the root of all ills

    How to fashion beauty
    From faces lined with care
    How to hold hands with the bedridden ill
    Whose families aren't there

    How to address the decision makers
    Forcing changes from afar
    How can the Spirit help us
    Weak as we are?

    I wrote this in 1996 as a Toxteth community worker and for some reason it came back to me this morning
    Sunday, January 09, 2005
    Bang on

    Manchester's B of the Bang, from the papers, looks like a fantastic sculpture. Designed to make The City of Manchester Stadium look like something more than just a corporate construction in a windswept location, designed to counteract the old Olympic cliche which pretends that sport is about "people coming together in peace and harmony," its creator Thomas Heatherwick says, "Sport is not like that. The bottom line is aggression ... I wanted to do something that was as opposite to passive as possible."

    He's plain speaking about another aspect of this project, too, this taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa metallic explosion: "Cities are in competition; you don't just build a stadium because you need a stadium ..." And yes, this puts one over Liverpool and all our 2008 puff. But I'd like to enjoy it. Must get over to see it. Perhaps the next time we play Man City and, of course, give them the thumping they deserve.
    Saturday, January 08, 2005
    Good time again at St Deiniols. Finished writing my paper Towards an Urban Theology of Land (you'll have to wait till February to see it after I've run it past a group of urban clergy), and afterwards enjoyed reading On Common Ground by Francis Reed.

    Reed gives a run-down of the place of the commons in the English social and cultural landscape, his angle on it very clear from the opening salvo:

    The Commons tell a story of co-operation in human society and with the land (and of the gradual imposition of private interests), as fragments of the old 'cottage economy' in a present beset by totalitarian market forces and where the majority are outsiders in their own country.

    That's about it, really. And fair play to him. But this small book is bundled with excellent quotes and historical observations. Like,

    Let them not take in their commons, neither make parks nor pastures, for God gave the Earth for men to inhabit and not unto sheep and wild deer. - William Tyndale, 1525

    Therefore I say, the Common Land is my own land and equal with my fellow Commoners, and our true property by the law of creation. It is every ones, but not one single ones. - Gerrard Winstanley, 1652

    ('As with the small farmer or shopkeeper today, so with the cottager,') Somebody was after his property, with the noblest of motives and almost invariably in the national interest. - W.G. Hoskins, 1963

    The 1845 Enclosure Act made provision for land to be set aside for exercise, recreation and the poor in compensation for the loss of Common Rights. The provision for allotments to the labourer were rented at anything between 40% and 500% more than adjoining land, [and] they came to be seen as an act of charity rather than the fragmentary vestige of ancient rights. Often it was only the support of sympathetic clergy which ensured their provision...

    Liverpool is the largest of several towns and cities to stand on Common Land, in this case belonging to the parish of West Derby.

    Woe unto them that lay house to house, that lay field to field till there be no place... - Isaiah 5.8. Even if they believed in the 'woe', who would dare use such language today?

    Wednesday, January 05, 2005
    Watch this space
    I'm off to St Deiniol's again; to give the new Powerbook its first serious run-out and put to bed my first attempt at what I'm calling Edging towards an urban theology of land.
    Goal line technology installed at Old Trafford

    It's irresistible to say that such a blatantly incorrect decision could only happen between Man Utd goalposts. If they manage to finish one point above us this season - this is why.

    Tuesday, January 04, 2005
    So Much Wine
    I had nothing to say on Christmas Day
    when you threw all your clothes in the snow.
    When you burnt your hair, knocked over chairs,
    I just tried to stay out of your way.
    But when you fell asleep with blood on your teeth,
    I got in my car and drove away.

    Listen to me, Butterfly,
    there's only so much wine
    you can drink in one life
    and it will never be enough
    to save you from the bottom of your glass.

    Where the state highway starts I stopped my car.
    I got out and stared up at the stars.
    As meteors died and shot cross the sky,
    I thought about your sad, shining eyes.
    I came back for my clothes when the sun finally rose
    but you were still passed out on the floor.

    Listen to me, Butterfly,
    there's only so much wine
    you can drink in one life
    and it will never be enough
    to save you from the bottom of your glass.

    - seasonal brilliance by The Handsome Family. I've been serenading folks at traffic lights with this all weekend.
    Monday, January 03, 2005
    The Art of Travel
    I enjoyed Alain de Botton's documentary on The Art of Travel so much that today I have watched it twice. I've seen the book in the shops but till now passed over it; but his style and synopsis are so engaging I'll be searching it out pronto.

    De Botton's programme asked questions which no travel shows ever touch. Why do we go on holiday? Do our travels measure up to the longings that inspired them?

    His investigation was a delight. The mundanities of home well behind him, enfolded in the deepest luxury on a QE2 cruise he admitted the shock of "realis[ing] that I'd inadvertantly brought myself on holiday." Thumbing through a QE2 brochure with its pictures of tanned, beautiful people enjoying the wonderful onboard world he noted the reality that it's not them in those pictures, when you are on the cruise - it's you. If the underlying wish of travelling is to "get away from me," then it cannot ever be granted.

    Gazing from his cabin porthole de Botton muses, "We're all here sitting in our little cabins - little cells for pleasure. It's like we're doing time. We're not quite sure what crime we've committed, but we're doing time... holiday time." Brilliant.

    In opposition to the assumption that simply by moving from point A to point B we will automatically become happier, de Botton quotes Pascal who stunningly said, "The sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he doesn't know how to stay quietly in his room."

    De Botton enjoys travel, though, and his concern is to promote the idea that the places we travel to are less important than the state of mind we travel in. On every flight coming into a major city half the people will be miserable because they're coming home, the other half excited in anticipation, because they are visiting somewhere which to them is new and 'exotic'. But it is the same place they all travel to, and "what makes a good traveller, a fulfilled traveller, is less to do with destination, and more to do with their attitude towards it."

    De Botton champions those holidaymakers who tear up the guidebooks and break the mould, like the couple touring Holland's industrial estates and backlands in search of World War Two bunkers, whose vibrant curiosity has taught them "how to look around", and who teach us that "We should learn to nourish the shoots of our own wayward curiosity." And the couple from Sittingbourne whose caravan enables them to take seventeen holidays a year, none more than twenty miles away from home, their interest and satisfaction in their locale never exhausted.

    Using Edward Hopper and other artists of the 'mundane' to help explain his theory, de Botton encourages us to see all places as a traveller might. What some call non-places - hotels, airports - de Botton regards as oddly liberating places, places of "redemptive loneliness" where everyone shares their aloneness, with longings frustrated but at least, there, acknowledged.

    And inspired by the work of a German road-artist to see beauty and grace in the autobahn, de Botton offers another gem, which will do for now to conclude this little appreciation of his work:

    "Perhaps we don't stop to find many things beautiful on our journeys because no one has yet drawn our attention to what to look out for."
    Sunday, January 02, 2005
    Busting idols

    There is a sainted man wearing a chicken on his head on the cover of the new edition of The Wittenburg Door. This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows the mag and knows the man.

    The man is the late, loved Mike Yaconelli, of course, who founded The Wittenburg Door in the early 1970s. A magazine which almost uniquely combined religious humour and satire and interviews with cutting edge theologians and Christian authors, which they now say, "made it a mandatory feature in seminaries and church libraries, read and debated by literally dozens of pastors, priests, seminarians, and lay-people." In a recent press release the publisher Ole Anthony tells us,

    The magazine's editorial mandate was best typified by the early motto, "To believe greatly, it is necessary to doubt greatly." Popular features in the '70s and '80s included The Green Weenie Award, Brother Biddle, Dogs Who Know the Lord; Truth is Stranger Than Fiction and Yaconelli's meditative "Back Door" column.

    A few years ago they shortened the title. But this month they've reverted to the famous original. "Every time I'd be introduced somewhere as the publisher of The Door," Anthony said, "someone would pipe up, 'Hey, didn't that used to be The Wittenburg Door?' Or, 'Whatever happened to the old Wittenburg Door?'" So I'm throwing in the towel. Beginning with the January/February 2005 issue, we're going back to our old moniker."

    If you know yer Luther then you know that you don't spell "Wittenburg" like that. It was a mistake. But Yaconelli claimed that no one noticed the error until the fourth issue and by then it was too late to change. Typical of his sideways slant on all things spiritual.

    It's well over a year since his tragic death but the relaunched mag is full of stuff about Yaconelli. "In a sense, this is our belated tribute to Mike," editor Robert Darden said. "Mike and Karla were the heart and soul of The Wittenburg Door. We hope that we're keeping his spirit alive in the magazine. Mike was all about following the biblical commandment to 'bust idols.' When the magazine is true to its roots, that's exactly what we do best."
    Saturday, January 01, 2005
    Pic of the month
    My Pic of the month is a photo by Paul Bennett, in which the mid-Wales hills, peppered with snow in late December 2004, suggest to me an epiphany scene. Its big sky, smooth scape, small moon, openness and evening glow fits so well the mood at the turn of the year. It's a dreamlike landscape of strange possibilities. It's a view in which new things seem possible, a landscape inviting newness, where we may be standing today.