Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin

Monday, January 16, 2017

"Isaiah’s Mountain" or the "House on the Hill"

More bad poetry, "inspired" in part by Isaiah 2 and 11 and a few local happenings... It may seem cynical and snide, but in comparison with the cynical behaviour of our political leaders at present it is a work of cheery optimism. And I DO look to scripture and particularly to the prophets for a vision of a different way of doing things; where the least and the lowest are lifted up and people on all sides work not for themselves and their voters/backers alone but for the common good.  That day cannot come soon enough.

Come, let us go up to house on the hill
The place of peace that we were promised.
The place where laws are laid down
Where people come from all the nations
To see how peace is made.
Where guns and minds have been decommissioned
Now that the war is over.

Where the terrorist sits
with those who refused to be terrorised
Where the innocent victim sits
With those who know that no-one is innocent
The fearful with the fear-filled
The gracious with the graceless
The hopeless with the useless
Where children play within walking distance
Of a nest of vipers.
They will not harm nor destroy
At least not deliberately

We hope…

The land was once awash with money
Pouring in from foreign fields.
We’ve now come to the end of the treasure-trove
Yet we act like we have money to burn.

But a day is coming when
The arrogant will be humbled
and the proud and lofty
Will be brought low.

Can’t come soon enough…


Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Not So Good News for 2016

I originally posted this on Christmas Eve... Now on New Year's Eve I've done a slight re-edit, as it seems an appropriate epitaph to an inauspicious old year, and a rallying cry for the new. It is also a year where I have blogged even less than before, not because it has become unfashionable (though it clearly has - supplanted by the 140 character tweet as the means of conveying opinion - not a format I was ever likely to excel in) but because I'm not sure I had much to say in the face of the momentous events of the last year - it seemed too much like Lear shouting at the storm on the heath... and I suppose there is a degree of that in this post... But I'm simply putting down a marker of how I feel, and at the end of the day that is what this blog has largely been about...  
I'm making no promises about blogging in the new year, but thank you to those who pay attention when I do... 

A year of untruth
And dis-grace.
A year of grieving for the famous
And a year of infamy,
Of public grief, but little else
For the poor and the powerless,
The vulnerable victims
Crushed between a callous dictator
and ruthless rebels
Both backed by chess-playing super-powers
Dealing death by remote control.
Another year of mass migration
Young men fleeing fighting and hunger
Pathfinders seeking peace and hope
For their families back home,
If they still have homes, or families,
Finding their way onto posters
Promoting dread and division,
A year of stark choices
Yes, No, In, Out…
More of the same or who knows what.
A year of democracy dragged through the dirt
Power to the people
Lies to the people
Contempt for the people
From those seekers after power
And those who want to hold on to it
At all costs.
Brexit Means What?
More money for the NHS?
Let’s make America great again
By building a wall, or a fence, or a line in the sand
By locking her up
Or giving free reign to grope her
Whoever she may be.
Another year of terror
Terrorists doing what it says on the tin
Delivering death by the truckload
And many other means
And political parties completing their job
By spreading the fear far and wide
Divide and be conquered by animosity and anxiety,
While the biggest threat to our existence
And all life on this wonderful world
Is downplayed or denied
As “a Chinese plot” or “Green guff”
While we burn money to heat empty sheds
And more and more homeless sleep rough
On cold streets,
Although the streets are strangely
Unseasonably warm.
We need good news for bad
A new year for the old
Grace and truth
Needs to take on flesh again.

the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’
Luke 2:10-14 (NIVUK)

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 (NIVUK)


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Light Breaks into the Dungeon of Doubt

A monologue delivered in place of a sermon this morning in the Agape Centre inspired by today's Lectionary reading of  Matthew 11: 2-19. 

(John huddled in a blanket... coughing)
The voice of one calling in the wilderness – prepare the way for the Lord…
Never were there more ironic words in scripture… They shaped my life… my ministry… I was ready to bring down the high and mighty to make the foundations for that highway in the wilderness… preparing the way for God’s chosen one… But honestly, I wasn’t really prepared myself… And to tell the truth I have felt more like I was in the wilderness over recent weeks and months than all those years in the howling wastes of desert around the Dead Sea… Was I right? Was he the one? Or was all I had done wasted?
I’ve had too much time to think… You would think I would be used to that given that I had spent years alone in the desert in prayerful preparation… meditating on God’s promises in scripture… But that was before, with something to aim for… But I hadn’t expected to end up here… Discarded by God… locked away in the depths of one of Herod’s many dungeons…
I suppose I had gotten used to the popularity… and the notoriety… Crowds coming out to me in the desert or down by the Jordan… knowing that I wasn’t afraid to tell it how it is… Calling them all to change their ways, including those self-righteous Sadducees and Pharisees… The only thing they could agree on was how much they hated me… But after all the years of preparation… from when I was child learning from my father and mother… it all seemed to be coming together…
My parents had always told me that I was special… doesn't every parent? But they said that I was a gift, not only to them in their old age, but to the people of Israel… You would think that would have given me a big head but they said that I was sent to prepare them for someone even more special… They even told me who it was to be… my cousin Jesus… We didn’t see much of each other when we were young… he grew up in Egypt and later in Nazareth… But I was weaned on stories of what had happened before we were born…
But later, as I went off to study in the desert, I heard that he was staying on in his father’s carpenter’s shop as his apprentice…
And I wondered whether my parents were right about him being so special… But then after years apart, I was preaching down by the Jordan… I saw him coming and I thought… “This is it… all that I have been preaching about is coming to be…” “There he is…” I said, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…” I was overjoyed… But even then the seeds of doubt were sown, when he came to be baptised by me the same as any other sinner! How could he take away sins if he needed them washed away himself… Yes I could have sworn that I saw the Spirit coming down on him like a heavenly bird and I heard God saying that he was his son and that he was pleased with him… but I really didn’t understand… I wanted to ask him all about it… But as soon as he appeared he disappeared again… headed off into the desert, leaving me where I was… And that was the last I ever saw of him... then everything started to fall apart…
Herod sent his goons to get me… I had been preaching against him and his adulterous relationship with his sister in law, Herodias… and whether it was him or her got fed up with what I had to say, I don’t know, but I ended up in here… One day preaching under the searing sun of the desert… The next in the dark and cold of a dungeon… But I suppose that’s life… I just hadn’t expected it… I wasn’t prepared…
And down here, in the dark, the seeds of doubt germinated… was he the one? Or was I wrong? Was my whole ministry a mistake? Had I wasted my life in the Judean wastelands? So when some of the few followers I still had came to visit me, I asked them to seek him out and ask him directly… Was he the one?
And they did… and they came back to me, saying that he had told them “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.” And I knew immediately what he meant… Isaiah… the same prophet who’s instruction to prepare the way had shaped my ministry, had promised that one day such things would happen, when the one anointed by God’s Spirit had come… And I HAD seen the Spirit come down on him… I HAD seen the beginnings of God’s coming Kingdom… I just hadn’t really recognised it…
And I still don’t really understand… I still wish I could be part of it… See the kingdom come in all its fullness… rather than languishing in here. Why could I not be out there working with Jesus to see it all accomplished? Where is God’s will in all this? Would I be a distraction? Would people still flock to me rather than follow Jesus? I don’t know… There’s certainly no fear of many following me while I am in here. Most people know better than to risk bringing Herod’s wrath down on their heads. He’s apparently not quite as bad as his father was, but his lover Herodias is part of the family… and she seems to have inherited all the old man’s ruthlessness… so I don’t think I’m getting out of here any time soon… at least not in one piece… even though Isaiah promises that the oppressed will be released when God’s chosen one comes… But that’s me and my doubts again…
Oh I don’t know… I don’t know what will happen with me… I don’t know what will happen with Jesus… I can’t see the future any clearer than I can see anything else in the darkness of this dungeon… But I hope and I pray that what my followers have said is true… That in what Jesus has done we see a glimpse of God’s coming kingdom… A kingdom where there is no more darkness, disease, death… or doubt.


Sunday, September 25, 2016

Recycled Earth Ball

In keeping with our ecological theme for our Harvest weekend at Belfast South Methodist, including a very successful mini-conference/conversation yesterday entitled "Enough is Plenty" organised in association with South Belfast Friends Meeting, I have "recycled" a piece I posted some years ago, a screen shot of an animation based on Olaf Skarsholt's prose-poem “Earth Ball.”


Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Psalm (?) for Sunday

The following is the responsive psalm we used to begin our 11am service today - although of course it isn't a Psalm at all but an adaptation of words from Deuteronomy.

Listen, O heavens, and I will speak;
hear, O earth, the words of our mouths.
Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew,
May they be like showers on new grass, 
like abundant rain on tender plants.
I will proclaim the name of the Lord.
Oh, praise the greatness of our God!
He is the Rock, his works are perfect,
and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong,
upright and just is he.
From Deuteronomy 32:1-4


Sunday, September 11, 2016

A Suitable Saint for 2016?

I've never seen a stage production of Shaw's St. Joan before, I did a dramatised reading of it when I was 19 at about 2 o'clock in the morning as part of a sponsored play reading... and I have seen Otto Preminger/Graham Greene's somewhat bloodless film many years ago (probably on a rainy Saturday afternoon when there was no decent sport on Grandstand and it was showing on BBC2)... As such I was not awake to the powerful resonances that this play has for the world in which we now live... But the production in Belfast's Lyric which I saw last night on it's first night brings them alive...
The director Jimmy Fay and adaptor Philip O'Sullivan have radically cut the play from a dramatis personnae of around 22 to one that could be handled by a cast of 7... However, they largely kept the structure and language of Shaw's play, choosing not to do it as an ensemble/agitprop piece a la the recent National Production, but they did loose the epilogue with its dream sequence (which the film confusinging turns into a prologue)... preferring to end with Warwick's line in the previous scene, which I personally think was a good call (though I won't spoil it for those who don't know the play)... The last scene they do perform is problematic enough... and sadly I don't think they entirely cracked it, which made for a weak end to a good production... However, I am not entirely sure how you could possibly make the epilogue work for a modern theatre audience... Did anyone reading this see the National Production? Review's seem to suggest they took the scissors to it too... How did it work?
There are points in the play where Shaw is at his didactic best/worst depending on how you look at it... and he is totally anachronistic (probably knowingly and unashamedly so) at times... Especially when it comes to the Protestant/Catholic debate, which is perhaps exacerbated by the excising in this script of the references to Hus and Wycliffe that were in the original... but that is me as a church history buff being pedantic... to most audience members it won't make a difference... And should in no way be taken as me being negative about what was a really worthwhile production. Some of the performances were superb (especially Lisa Dwyer Hogg as Joan and Tony Flynn as Warwick... and the best performance out of Alan McKee that I've yet seen), although some of the diction was poor. The award winning design and staging, set in an office, was appropriately jarring (I'll come back to that), though as often is the caase it didn't fully follow through on the iconic promotional designs. It was a shame it was only 3/4 full last night, and hope it gets the audiences it deserves for the rest of the run...
But let me come back to the play itself, which as I said, I have never properly seen before, and realised the contemporary resonances on my previous reading... It hadn't connected with me that it was written, not only in the light of Joan's 1920 elevation to sainthood, but the First World War, and the events of the 1916 Easter Rising, with Pearse's commitment to blood sacrifice and warrior-spirituality, and all that flowed from it... And so at the heart of this decade of centenaries it raises important questions about nationalism and imperialism, feminism (even though Shaw wouldn't have recognised the term) and male-chauvenism, individualistic protestantism and institutional catholicism, as well as the whole issue of the use of violence in pursuit of a supposedly righteous cause, both on a military level and a judicial one... The dynamic between church and state is perhaps more pertinent than when Shaw wrote this... And the reflections on the extremes of Islam, or as Shaw refers to it as Mahommedenism are chillingly prophetic... Is Joan, driven by her personal conviction to wage ruthless war (unmeliorated by the laws of chivalry) really the tragic heroine here? Or was she a 15th century Samantha Lewthwaite? Is she a suitable saint for 2016? 
Shaw's scepticism about faith is dwarfed by his understandable cynicsm about the church and institutional religion... An it is hard to gainsay when you look at the history of Christendom in its many institutional forms, from way before Joan, cosying up to the Empire under Constantine, calling for crusades, condemning Joan and then canonising her, blessing "big battalions" and small on both sides in mutiple wars, endorsing many despots as it suited them, creating the Inquisition, piggybacking on colonialism, right down to today and some of the dubious political alliances made the world over, not least the recent "evangelical" leaders' lauding "the Donald." However, Christendom is dead (or at best on life support) and the setting of this production, in an office with soaring glass windows and sharp suits, centuries away from the historic gothic castles, cathedrals and suits of armour we might expect... Because today the power lies not with church or state but in multi-national companies... That was why one of the key targets of Al-Qaeda 15 years ago today was the World Trade Centre... As potent a target as Orleans was for Joan nearly 6 centuries ago... I doubt that those who committed that atrocity will be lauded by many in the west in centuries to come in the way that Joan now is... She may have sought to avoid her own martyrdom, but she led many to their deaths, and advocated a ruthlessness in the pursuit of her "righteous" cause, in much the same way that those behind militant Islam (or the western response to such) do today. 
I haven't yet seen or heard any professional reviews of this, but this decidedly unprofessional reviewer thinks you should go see it if you have the chance... And  see if you think she is a suitable saint for 2016...

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Psalm for Sunday: Sing joyfully to the Lord

Its been a while since I posted one of these, but then again it's been a while since I posted anything at all, so here goes:

Sing joyfully to the Lord, all you his people;
Let his righteous people praise him as they should.
Praise the Lord with all the instruments you can muster.
Sing to him new songs and use all your skills to honour him.
For the Word of the Lord is trustworthy and true;
He is faithful in all he says and does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full to overflowing with his unfailing love.
from Psalm 33: 1-5