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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Wednesday, July 23, 2003Blog on hols
Jo Tufnell. Roy Gregory awakened me to this woman's remarkable story, and when I discovered that she was scheduled to speak at St Ethelburga's Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, Bishopsgate, earlier this month, I told him about it. Here are Roy's impressions of that event...
Jo Tufnell's journey of healing and reconciliation began with the death of her father, Sir Anthony Berry MP, in the IRA 'Brighton Bomb' in 1984. Jo has visited Northern Island on many occasions and has worked with groups of victims and former combatants. In November 2000 she met Patrick McGee, the IRA man convicted of killing her father. They developed a friendship and work together towards peace in Northern Ireland. The story of their meeting was the subject of an Everyman investigation on BBC TV.
Not that many were there at St Ethelburga's. About thirty I would think. I had not been to the Centre before and found it most moving that it was built on the spot of the old church destroyed by an IRA bomb in Bishopsgate in 1993. The building was a wonderful mixture of restored brickwork in a modern setting. I was impressed by the new stain glass window depicting St Ethleburga picking up the pieces of the old window destroyed by the bomb and actually incorporating some of the old glass in the new window. The outside of the building onto Bishopgate has been restored to its original look. It is now dwarfed by skyscraper monsters made of glass in the middle of the city of London. It was a beautiful setting to hear such an amazing story.
I found Jo Tufnell's honesty and intensity inspiring. She was quiet and shy and a completely non-celebrity celebrity if you know what I mean. Her emotional suffering was still apparent both in her manner and what she said. I did wonder at one stage whether she has endured more suffering by going the route she has by so often reliving the trauma - but then that to be her journey and she doesn't appear to have any choice. I suspect she would always be honest and intense about everything and would have lived like that whatever circumstances came her way. She spoke of her ex-husband as 'being unable to support her' and I suspect she would be challenging to know as a person.
She just told her story much of which I had heard before from the video but I found the intensity even more so in the 'flesh' than on the TV. She came across as very much a 'wounded prophet' who was still struggling with the feelings of befriending her Dad's killer and sometimes full of self doubt and fear. This appeared to be overridden by this need to know 'why' and somehow make her Dad's death mean something.
I found the group, who I presume were mostly from the peace centre, interesting. She obviously valued their support and she mentioned that some had helped her a great deal. I did, I think, detect an inward sigh at times when they wanted to extrapolate her experience and find principles for other places of conflict. Most asked questions, preferenced by a bit of adulation, in a rather long-winded way making their own speech. They did seem to want a hero and she seemed not to want to be one. I found it refreshing that she kept returning to her own journey and trying to walk that and kept saying that her only role was to help others walk their journey. She did often speak about creating a place of 'emotional safety' for people to tell their stories of involvement in trauma as part of their journey. She very politely and patiently replied to someone asking about her future 'relationship' with Patrick McGee that she 'had enough struggle having him as a friend'.
There was an interesting exchange with a curate who had served in NI as a soldier and felt Patrick McGee had been 'let off' by still clinging to believing in the justice of what he did. She dealt with this very well returning to the individual's walk and attempts to understand the enormity of the distance others might have to travel. She mentioned that for some IRA and Loyalists to see their past actions as wrong had taken them 'to the edge' and they needed to have a strong inner self to do that.
It was interesting to see how often she dragged us back to not blaming outside of ourselves but seeing our own stuff inside as part of the problem. She spoke amazingly of coming to a least to understand why her Dad was a 'legitimate target'. This mutual understanding did seem to be at the core of her own work. Not so much forgiveness but understanding.
I was pleased I went, not so much for any insights into peace and conflict, but to experience a person dealing with trauma and trying not to blame. It was inspirational to see a shy and somewhat fearful individual doing courageous things in spite of herself. She said she prayed but she wasn't sure to what but somehow hearing her was a spiritual experience of being in God's presence mediated by a human being trying to love. She said sometimes how hard it was to realise that the person that had caused her family such pain was a friend and that it seemed to get worse not better. Last year she said that she was shocked to realise that if Patrick died she now would have to grieve for him.
The irony of ironies - more pain now for the person who was responsible for the first. An insight into something of the nature of the cost of love and forgiveness.
Tuesday, July 22, 2003Two little booklets Existencilism, as recommended by Jonny and others who've seen his work close-up. The other, probably a tamer affair, but closer to my heart too - Thirty, the book which tells the story of Greenbelt from the very beginning. Forward-looking, ground-breaking, culture-shocking radical-edge Christians that we are, will we permit ourselves the cosiness of reminiscence as we pour over these pages and later in the month meet to celebrate the festival's very mature anniversary? Course we will.
Banksy says, A wall is just as good a place to publish as anywhere else. Greenbelt has said, effectively, that a pig farm is just as good a place to do art as anywhere else. A country estate to do theology. A racecourse grandstand to pray.
Monday, July 21, 2003me(ish) me(ish). A welcome read after weeks away.
... Holly Golightly collaborator Billy Childish interviewed in 3am magazine. He's also featured in in Flux #37, which I picked up today for holiday reading. Also bought Word, which had Weller on the front and Holly inside, with Gillian Welch, Bill Byson and the Super Furry Animals in a Welsh pyschedelic commune. Not sure if it's bad or sad to purchase a magazine on these strengths plus the prospect of reading an extended article on The Hay Literary Festival. But I've reached that point in life, as have many others, evidently, as Word, a risky publishing venture, is still on the shelves five issues in. Perhaps because rough edges meet there, oddly, too.
(Holiday reading? I'm half-finished already...)
Sunday, July 20, 2003Name your favourite rebels Sixty Second Sermon on Radio Merseyside; and a good plug for Greenbelt, too.
The talk was a celebration of rebels, ones with a cause, ones who follow Jesus, the ultimate rebel. So, as I spoke down the phone I primed myself for a question which might have followed: Name your favourite rebels...
The question didn't come but if it had, I'd have said the names which strike me today include Bill Bragg, of course, plus Henri Nouwen, who gave up a top career in the training of candidates for ministry to live in a L'Arche community alongside people with severe mental handicaps, learning and growing so much in the process, and similarly Bob Holman who dropped out of academia to embark on a life of applied Social Sciences, living in the tough setting of Easterhouse, Glasgow.
Both these rebels continue to share deep insights about their chosen lives in their writing (Nouwen posthumously, still a best-seller), and demonstrate the enormous creativity and value of a 'downward' path, a career plunge which has become for them the root of real life, the source of loving energy, fulness and fulfilment flying in the face of society's hollow expectations....
Saturday, July 19, 2003God won't like it...? The postman mustn't have slept last night. Meaning that I had a 7 a.m. start on one of the two days in a week where lie-ins are sometimes possible. So, a long breakfast with the items of the two parcels the postie delivered: Holly Golightly's Painted On and Paulo Freire's Politics of Education.
Very different theologies, these two. But both cut it for me, even over Shreddies. "God won't like it", says Holly, scratchy guitar, thumping bass, recorded in a shed. I'm not so sure. "Culture, Power, Liberation," proclaims Freire. They're both in the same business.
Friday, July 18, 2003Human After a day rooting in dusty cupboard drawers for long-forgotten receipts and missing statements, the dreaded tax return day, how good now, to be making towards Manchester for my second concert of the week.
Nitin Sawhney's Human has been in the disk drive while I've been tapping away at spreadsheets. Number-crunching ain't my bag; I'm worn; hope after Nitin's gig to be feeling a little bit human again.
[LATE UPDATE: Nitin had to postpone his show at The Lowry due, we were told, to "technical difficulties". How human is that? So instead Adrian and I spent the evening supping cool beer on the banks of the Ship Canal, talking footer and watching the girls go by from a table in the bright and airy Pizza Express. Summer nights in Manchester don't come much better than this.]
Thursday, July 17, 2003Liverpool: Capital and Culture
So after leaving The Pilgrim (where, over a £2.99 all-day breakfast, this was decided) it was straight off to News From Nowhere to pick up Zygmunt Bauman's Globalization: The Human Consequences and John Belchem's Merseypride: Essays in Liverpool Exceptionalism. Heavier holiday reading than expected?? Ahh, leave them till September...
Wednesday, July 16, 2003The changingman
A pneumatic drill and ripped up concrete -
A baby wailing and stray dog howling -
The screech of brakes and lamp light blinking -
The more I know - the less I understand
I'm the changingman - built on shifting sands...
Pulling faster all the time - powerless to warnings
If you feel the hand of God - can you guide it holy man?
But you are only flesh and blood - waiting too for judgement
Noel was "one of the most eccentric, dynamic and radical priests of the twentieth century", a champion of "English catholic socialism". In examining his life and work writer Mark D. Chapman argues that "liturgy divorced from life is turning the church into an esoteric social club" and makes an impassioned plea for "a style of worship that is integrated with the demand for social justice". His conclusion sounds like it's from another era, but hold it and investigate it awhile, you begin to grasp its power: "Life, liturgy and socialism live or die together," he writes...
This in turn took me back to Tim Gorringe's life of Alan Ecclestone ("Priest as Revolutionary"). Ecclestone was a student of Noel's, who devoted much of his ministry to working out his vision of Christian community (where there could be "no dichotomy between church and politics, church and daily life"), among the out of work miners of Frizlington and the steelworkers of Sheffield.
And that got me my final reward: a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which would seem bland if it weren't so profound:
but simply a human being, as Jesus was
a human being, profoundly this-worldly,
characterized by discipline, and the constant
knowledge of death and resurrection.
Tuesday, July 15, 2003Read the Archbishop this link to Rowan Williams' speech to Synod yesterday [full text here]. I don't know how the mainstream media have reported it (can't face their "church as soap opera" spin); it's best read as a whole, slowly and thoughtfully, because in calling for us to "keep believing in God's church" Williams reminds us that it is "God's", not ours. He gracefully portrays a church which has much to celebrate, even now, and gives a special mention to some of the activity taking place at the fringes:
... If we believe in God's Church, two things are more likely to happen. We shall find more courage to explore new styles of Church life and the patterns and protocols we need to keep communication going with and between them. And we shall be freer to communicate with each other."
Monday, July 14, 2003The Windfarm Angels News that the government is due to announce a big expansion in the amount of electricity generated from offshore wind power - thousands of turbines to be built off the British coast to generate as much energy as around six nuclear power stations - has been well-received by the likes of Friends of the Earth, and sounds good to me.
Someone else who will welcome it is Welsh poetess Sheenagh Pugh, whose poem The Windfarm Angels (New Welsh Review, 59, Spring 2003) celebrates the grace of their design and their 'gesture language', their murmurs and whispers as they turn. Unlike some people, she wouldn't be without them now:
so loud. Even watching a whole flock,
I have to strain to hear. Folk complained
- would you believe - about the noise,
so now they whisper. And some people
want them gone. I couldn't face that,
not now. I've got used to that presence,
that white embrace, being there
when I need it. I know all their haunts.
To think I might climb those hills one day
and find them empty. Jesus.
Sunday, July 13, 2003The sound of the ground London Orbital, and I'd like to share the music which has accompanied me en-route on Sinclair's psychogeographical tour around London's outer rim. This week I have been mostly listening to Jim Moray, who, with Eliza, Kate and others, is a young and exciting voice in English folk. These young people's acceptance into the mainstream signals the confidence and crossover-potential of the current English folk 'scene'. Radio Three devoted a whole evening to English folk a short time ago (hear it here), grappling with awkward questions about why English folk music is so marginalised, and playing lots of tunes old and new to celebrate its vitality and relevance.
"Yes, Chuck Berry was great. Yes, Bo Diddley was great. Yes, Harry Cox was just as great," said Tony Engle, head of Topic Records. Jim Moray's Raggle Taggle Gipsy was perfect accompaniment for Sinclair's encounters with the strange and oddly wonderful on the byways of Essex, Kent, Surrey. Encounters which enriched my understandings about what Englishness is. A thing far more complex, multi-layered, dark and mysterious than generally assumed, a thing which embraces the Beckhams and Bill Griffiths, the Afro-Celts and Ron and Reggie Kray.
Great that Greenbelt are showcasing some good English folkies this year; the festival may be onto something ripe, a rising awareness of something which may just help, in these times of confusion around national identity, to positively redefine what Englishness is. Barking bard Bill Bragg is engaged in this search for "a new England". Another man's journey worth joining in with.
Saturday, July 12, 2003In the rough and nearly there Loyola Hall, this afternoon, reading Iain Sinclair as he and his walking friends turned the south-eastern corner of the M25 London Orbital. In the rough beneath the Queen Elizabeth Bridge. They're going counter-clockwise, and began with a northerly walk from Hackney up the Lea Valley to Waltham Abbey. So now, crossing the Thames from Mick Jagger's Dartford, the end is in sight. One hundred pages to go. Short blog: I may finish it tonight.
Friday, July 11, 2003A vigourous form of apathy Paulo Freire, who for some time I've admired and wanted to engage with.
Tonight we got into the subject by discussing what makes us angry, and exploring why - what in our background and experience, our knowledge, our values and affiliations causes us to get angry about those particular things. The most entertaining and revealing set of responses came from a group who all felt that, actually, they don't get angry about anything very much at all... and made a case for that being the best approach to life. This, of course, was an introverts' charter, a celebration of introversion. And, most clergy being introverts (official - say Myers Briggs experts), most of us smiled self-conscious smiles as our colleague reporting-back on the group's behalf tried to fend off showing signs of enthusiasm about being laid-back, as he couldn't quite stop himself making a case for a vigourous form of apathy.
Wonderful, I thought, as I walked out of the conference room, by now well into introvert mode myself, and opted out of an hour in the pub, driving home instead, thinking deeply about these things.
Thursday, July 10, 2003Justice and joy joining hands The Polyphonic Spree at this year's Greenbelt. After all, lots of clergy go to Greenbelt to get away from all that and be among people dressed like real human beings for four days.
Although obviously, in my designer Everton shirts, I epitomise the event's counter-hippy couture I admit I've lost this argument, jester hats with bells on and stripey dungarees being the standard festival wear. But my real ambivalence about the Spree bumping up to Billy Bragg on Trade Justice night is that the occasion may lose some of its teeth. They'll be a fine spectacle for sure, but perhaps rose-tinted too.
This is the thing: I was all geared up for Greenbelt Monday going out on a good old Bragg campaigning high, Bill firing up the fifteen thousand to get out there and shake up our local politicians on trade. Now I fear what'll happen is half the punters will float away on a polyphonic cloud, only using their Christian Aid postcards-to-Tony to paddle through the air as they go.
I'm not worried that BB will be out-performed by P-Spree; very different styles, equally high class. I'm just hoping the crowds will stay to love him too, this one-man Clash, the man who kept the opposition going during the dark Thatcher years, (who, along with Greenbelt and little else kept me going during the dark Thatcher years), a serious trouper.
Perhaps the festival may invite them to come together - in the style of Bill's wondrous eighties roadshows. Ah, now I'm imagining justice and joy joining hands as Bill (robed, of course) invites the Spree back onstage for the great finale, his classic reworking of Route 66, A13, Trunk Road To The Sea. Now that would be heavenly. The perfect way to send the punters home (or at least, the ones heading over to Essex).
Wednesday, July 09, 2003Space in which God can act
But it wasn't wasted time. I lit candles for her and (echoing Leunig) for all "the lost, the confused, the unsure, the bewildered, the puzzled, the mystified, the baffled and the perplexed". For me, one of those. And as those candles flickered I sat down in a cool calm church with Soul Shaper, and some words of Henri Nouwen emerged to summarise the significance of this quiet hour:
Tuesday, July 08, 2003Born-again Beckham Becks is bigger than Jesus. "Only an act of God - or a born-again Beckham - can save the Church", Mohan asserts.... [source: Wibsite]
Monday, July 07, 2003The word in the world Annie Dillard. I wonder (yes, wonder) how her recent progress in painting has also helped her verbal powers of observation and expression flourish. How long before the wonder of nature and the power of words combine in her so she can echo Annie's deep poetry: "All day long I feel created. I can see the blown dust on the skin on the back of my hand, the tiny trapezoids of chipped clay, moistened and breathed alive."
And then I went to Borders and in the current Harper's Magazine I read a lengthy, thoughtful article by Jack Hitt, speculating on "the declining power of the sacred word to reach our hearts as something other than shibboleth" and the slow emergence of words born of environmentalism which are perhaps slowly replacing them: compost, which shares its roots with communion; off the grid, describing new forms of asceticism or monasticism; pollution - percieve how interchangeable that is in common usage with the older term, sin. For resurrected, read recycled.
Hitt's no anti-Christ. He's trying, if you'll excuse me, to dig deeper into just how we create meaning, express understanding, today. He suggests that Christ's use of language helps us in this search, a "stock of metaphor ... drawn from ... daily life - seeds, weeds, plants, farming ... daily chores ... family quarrels - intensely familiar dramas." Drawn from the same stuff with which Annie creates such powerful life-pictures.
Maybe my mum's new back-garden language is a sign of what's happening, subtly, to all of us. Hitt concludes:
Sunday, July 06, 2003Publication guaranteed Church Times tonight. Funny, having it taken out of my hands, wondering whether it will get published or not. If it doesn't it'll probably find its way back here. And that'll be fine. One of the beauties of blogging: if the server's working, publication's guaranteed.
Saturday, July 05, 2003Post Punk Danger. Do not take your afternoon nap in the same room as Rough Trade Shops latest compilation, Post Punk. This can cause extreme adjustment of sensibilities.
"Some of the finest moments from the late 70's and early 80's plus a smattering of new titles heavily influenced by the period - tracks from gang of four, the slits, pop group, james white, the rapture, futureheads "
I missed a lot of this first time round due to U2. Now they're firmly on the back burner, and my eardrums buzz....
Friday, July 04, 2003The back story Iain Sinclair is fond of using helps meet the challenge set at the end of yesterday's blog. He uses 'the back story' to open up conversation about the other side of things, what's below the surface, the (often seamier) underside of a tale. And the back story is usually more interesting than the spin presented in the mainstream.
So he describes the award-winning housing development Victoria Park with its 'Japanese minimalism ..., US hygiene fetishism, ersatz Regency drapes, Trusthouse Forte oil paintings' and recalls that this place was once the Holloway Sanatorium where 'socially awkward relatives of the well connected were boarded out: inconvenient pregnancies, mild eccentricities, boozers, society dope fiends...' Our appreciation of the place is so much richer for having this awkward truth revealed, though the developers may disagree:
Jim Hart and I got onto this today, chatting away in his Wavertree tower block flat. Soon leaving church politics behind, our conversation drifted around the city of Liverpool, spread beyond us nine floors down. Will the Capital of Culture activities be merely a city centre show, or will the organisers permit the outer districts to tell their back stories, will the local history groups, maverick politicians, dodgy comedians, goths and levellers get their platform? Poring eagerly over Jim's treasured copy of England: the Photographic Atlas we got into tales of lost towns and small backwaters whose characters mean so much more to us than the country's more celebrated places, and Jim revealed he's working on a journey alongside (but not on) the M6 to explore the back stories of such places. Based on his notion that the M6 (representing the mainstream) reveals little to the traveller, while the peripheral places reveal a great deal. A foundation for some innovative social theology.
This is so like Sinclair it takes my breath away. The back story, the peripheral history, the outsider's tale. Here is where truth shines. While pockets of smart scaffolding on the horizon herald the city centre's reconstruction, on a pigeon-wired balcony of an outer estate tower block marked for demolition, something profound happens, the back story shows the way, or as Jim would have it, the Word engages with the world.
Thursday, July 03, 2003When you've given all your ideas away Give all your ideas away, I blogged last week, quoting the refreshingly laid-back business approach of Howies and Obble. Could describe the work of a priest, or community worker, or medic, or civil servant - anyone who spends all their days digging for ideas to share, giving out advice - demanding, wearying tasks.
Tonight I'm wondering, what happens when 'all your ideas' amount to nothing, when they're all dried up, drained by a bedside vigil in Intensive Care, an encounter with two drunken young women, one near-suicidal, and so much conversation over parish cups of tea. When you've given all your ideas away, will new ones emerge? Howies and Obble are creative, free-thinking partnerships. The search is now on to find creativity and free-thinking within the church, to refresh, renew, overflow again.
Wednesday, July 02, 2003Aerial photo of my birthplace Bill Griffiths is a narrowboat poet and old mucker of Iain Sinclair's. Inspired by a map of origin on Bill's biographical pages, I've added an aerial photo of my birthplace to this site. Of particular interest, perhaps to our old Waterloovian readers, it's linked to my personal page....
Tuesday, July 01, 2003Pic of the Month The Propaganda Remix Project. And it's July's Pic of the Month: here.