Archive for July, 2005

Holy impatience

It sometimes really gets to me just how much time we waste, messing around with our little agonies when we know what needs doing but just haven't the courage to do it. Look at the Anglicans, getting their purple knickers in a twist over the issue of women bishops! Having eventually got round to ordaining women, they're still wanting to avoid taking the final fence of making them bishops. They've spent 10 years living with 2 integrities. And yes, it is important to realise that some of those who oppose women bishops do so with integrity. I take that to mean that they're genuinely convinced that it would be wrong in God's eyes, rather than that they're simply being prejudiced and deliberately resistant to the Spirit. But to be sincerely wrong doesn't make it any less wrong! I spent 2 years in Ian Smith's Special Branch, convinced that what I was doing was right. The fact that I wasn't doing it because I was personally racially prejudiced, or simply enjoyed being a bastard, didn't alter the fact that I was deeply, tragically wrong. Yes, it is important to realise that we are on a journey. It is important – and gratifying! – to note that God is far more comfortable with the time it takes and the detours we make than we feel God ought to be. Yet it is vital that, while trying to take people with us, and "maintain the unity of the body in the bond of peace", we recognise the time when we have actually to make a stand and act upon what we believe to be true. The Anglicans will get there – but at great cost. That cost grows the longer the process. And they will lose people over it. Providing that is a self-selecting process – people leaving because they want to rather than are pushed out – then that's ok. In fact, it's something to rejoice over. Not unlike fell running with a rucksack full of rocks for training: there comes that moment when you've done all the slog you can or will, and you shrug the rucksack off. You feel as though you can run like the wind! Or is it the Wind..?

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26 July, 2005 at 10:08 am 12 comments

Overcast day, overcast soul

It's grey and gloomy and muggy here today. That reflects how I'm feeling. I don't want to live in a country where the Prime Minister – for whom I campaigned and voted in 1997 – gets up and, time and again, tries to silence criticism about Iraq. And does so by pretending that the only reason we have terror on our streets is because terrorists basically run around looking for excuses to blow people up, so that if it wasn't Iraq, it would be something else. What drivel! It's so ridiculous that it's risible. Yet, coming as it does from the Prime Minister, it's sinister. It means that there's not going to be any attempt to get rid of the root causes of terror on our streets. And the danger of not dealing with the real causes, but with made-up ones, is that things fester and get worse.

I don't want to live in a country where bombs go off because young Muslims are becoming radicalised because they're alienated, discriminated against, and because they look at what's happening in Palestine and Iraq and conclude that Britain and the USA are anti-Muslim and pro-Israeli. I don't want to live in a country whose policies contribute proactively to death and terror on the streets of Iraq and Palestine and which cannot then understand young people in this country wanting to do something to change things.

I don't want to live in a country where moderate Muslims have to be called in and paraded before society, both to say "See? Not all Muslims are evil!" and also, in a sense, to give account of themselves. I don't want to live in a society that is suspicious of Muslims rather than of terrorists because it assumes that the two are synonymous. I don't want to live in a country that spends most of its time and effort investigating whether there is something intrinsically wrong about Islam, rather than looking at its own actions in the Muslim world. I don't want to live among people whose working assumption (promoted by the media) is that the bombings show that all Muslims are fanatical, evil, violent fundamentalists, when the IRA never led them to ask the same questions about Christianity.

And I don't want to live in a country where the Daily Telegraph can run a front page showing Ken Livingstone in a line with two radical Muslim clerics under the headline, "These men blame Britain!" (Mind you, it would be nice to be able to live here without the Daily Telegraph!)If we have got to the point where we lump all criticism of the government under the same heading, and assume that critical voices are pro-terror voices, and silence engagement by suggesting publicly that it is the same as associating ones self with voices calling for British deaths, then we are deep, deep, deep in the brown smelly stuff!

I don't want to be told to "Go home, then!", either. I'm not saying I don't want to live here. This is my home. I want it to be a good place, though – a place where the logic of terror makes no sense at all.

22 July, 2005 at 10:59 am 3 comments

Permission to use The Dancing Madonna

Lis is happy to give permission for use of her photographs. Please just email her to ask and to let her know you like and want it! I'll try and trace the sculptor. I'd be glad to know, too, who found it helpful.

22 July, 2005 at 10:48 am Leave a comment

The Dancing Madonna

Isn't this stunning? It's the statue of The Dancing Madonna, from St Luke's Church, Duston. It was taken by Lis Mullen, minister of Carver United Reformed Church. It's something to meditate on. Look at the locked gaze between Jesus and Mary. Isn't the joy and thrill of the dance astounding? This is one of those pictures I can look at for ages. Thanks, Lis, for permission to share it here.

21 July, 2005 at 10:25 am 3 comments

The politics of the rabbit hole

So Tony Blair thinks there's no connection between the London bombs and Iraq? What he means, presumably, is that there ought not to be a connection. After all, it's no good saying there isn't when the network claiming responsibility give that as part of their reason and justification. But Blair is essentially suggesting that to buy into the notion that British foreign policy and presence in Iraq is linked to the bombings is somehow to buy into and justify the logic of terrorism. As though agreeing that the connection is exists is the same thing as condoning the response!

It's an argument totally devoid of logic but with enormous power to silence. It's cunning and insidious. If you watch the wider picture, you'll notice a smuggling operation going on. What presents is the need for the nation to unite in the face of threat, in the name of law and order and democracy. That is perfectly acceptable. But smuggled in is the insistence that "If you are really behind us in the opposition to terror, you'll proclaim as vehemently as I do ["I being TB] that there is no connection to Iraq, no motivation othere than sheer bloody-minded evil, no problem to be solved other than combatting terrorists who would have done this regardless of the war, and no problem with my government's foreign policy that needs to be addressed!"

The position he's taking here is an attempt to deflect and silence criticism of his pursuit of the Iraq war – a position morally bankrupt and responsible, to date, for the deaths of 24 864 Iraqi civilians. He mustn't be allowed to evade responsibility for that. We elected him – we owe it to the rest of the world, to the families of the dead in Iraq and London and to the very values Blair reckons are under attack by the bombers to hold him to account. It is the most effective contribition we can make to ensuring that the terror doesn't continue.

19 July, 2005 at 10:21 pm 2 comments

i’m church, therefore I blog

Interactive. Communication. Two keywords for plotting changing patterns in the way we relate these days. Remember BE (Before Email), BI (Before the Internet) and BMP (Before Mobile Phones)? It's difficult, isn't it? The organisers of Live8 were talking about how different it was organising the first LiveAid concert 20 years ago, and the one this month. The landscape of relating and communicating has altered beyond recognition.

I could have added "Information". That's how the Internet started – a global store of information. But it has become far more than that. It's evolved into a global communication network. Communication is now a far more fundemantal function of the Internet than disseminating information. The explosion of website design about communicating. It's not just a meatter of being "out there" on the web and being picked up by the search engines. It's about persuading people to spend time on your site. After all, if the only purpose was information, why not just post what are effectively A4 pieces of paper with the information?

What makes the difference between a good website and a great one? Between one that gets loads of hits and results, and one that doesn't? Increasingly (now we've got the notion of attractive design firmly in our heads) it's about interactivity. (Blogging enters from the wings, stage left, and takes up position centre stage).

Blogging moves us beyond merely reading what someone else has written to interaction and discussion. Follow a thread, join the discussion, and influence it. Your comment – your "take" – is likely to draw more people in. The discussion moves on and grows. It's not static.

I cannot imagine a church with any significant sort of online presence that, very soon, will not have its own blog. Imagine how it would change things! On Monday, the minister posts the texts for the week. People who are interested add their observations. They say what they find interesting, puzzling, relevant, archaic, helpful, problematic. They also suggest hymns (and of course, there will be few surprises there! Jo Blogger will suggest "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam" for the nth week running). They post names of people and situations they would like included in the prayers. On Wednesday, the minister gives a draft outline of the service and sermon, shaped in no small part by what has been posted. Again, there's opportunity for response and comment. Friday is "S" day.

Think about how much communal thinking and discussion has gone into the service. Imagine how many people will come to church having had a hand in what happens on Sunday! In time, it could be developed. People will be able to contribute written prayers, and suggest stories for the family slot. It would be a great way to encourage people to share their faith stories. And to get feedback on the service that's just been. People are inclined to be far more honest, open and personal when blogging. Our churches could become hives of communication, instead of everyone always complaining about being left out of the loop.

It astonishes me that the denominational centres of the churches don't have running blogs. Think of the potential for communicating the work of committees and getting real feedback and interaction. Consider how useful the URC would find a running blog about Catch the Vision. After all, if you want to find out what people are thinking, one sure way is the Letters section of Reform.

Of course, blogging isn't for everyone. But then, neither is picking up the phone, or writing to Reform. That doesn't matter. Some (many?) people will do it. We need to be looking for ways of making it easy for people to participate "where they are". The fact that many aren't yet online, or are unlikely ever to be, shouldn't stop us getting adventurous. Why must the church always be several steps behind, rather than leading the way creatively?

18 July, 2005 at 7:20 pm 3 comments

it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there …

Did anyone else see Amazon's 10th Anniversary Concert online yesterday, or catch the last chance to see it today? If you get this in time (today only!) go to www.amazon.com (ie the US site) and navigate from the ad on the RHS of the page. It featured Bob and Norah Jones – their two highest selling singers.

I felt profoundly sad, watching it. Dylan's getting old. He still makes music – wonderfully and generously – but his voice is going. Of course, there are those who maintain that he never had a voice, but that's to misunderstand what he does. There have always been three vital elements to Dylan – the lyrics, the music and the voice. Dylan uses his voice as an instrument to interpret his songs. He plays with his voice as others play a guitar or piano. If you've ever admired what Clapton can make a guitar do, and how he can change the mood or feel of something, then you'll undertand how Dylan does the same thing with his voice. He can snarl, sneer, beg, mock, woo, entrance, and terrify. Or he could. That's what makes the man so astoundingly versatile and infuriating. Dylan is probably the one perfomer who has always maintained absolute rights to his own music. He will change the tune, the lyrics, or reinterpret the songs radically. You never know what Dylan in concert is going to do with his songs. One of the audience's favourite games is "Guess the song" from the instrumental introduction. It beats "Who wants to be a millionaire?" for unpredictability!

This is part of what makes his music truly great – but not as others count greatness. Bob has never pandered to fans' demands to hear the songs again and again "just like on the record" (Lawrence, you're showing your age here, mate!) His songs endure because they mean constantly new things to Bob. Listen to "Just like a woman". The young Dylan howls and sneers. The older Dylan makes it drip with irony. My desert island disc selection would include at least two versions of "Like a Rolling Stone" – cos they're two different songs!

[I'm not going to miss the chance to observe that the enduring newness of his songs and the open-endedness and polyvalence of the lyrics – the ability to say something new and fresh in a different time and context – is pretty much how I think the Bible functions as Living Word. Nor am I going to miss the chance to invite you folk to come to Rock & Redemption at the Windermere Centre to come and do some serious theology through the music of Dylan, Cohen and Springsteen! But this is by way of parenthesis.]

So Bob getting old and losing his voice is much, much more than just an issue about what the singing sounds like. It means he's losing control over his own creations. His versatility gave him the means to reinterpret his work; to remould the songs; to say something new with old words. So it was heartbreaking to watch him limited by his voice. The spark was gone. The songs were singing Bob. I could hardly bear to listen to "Maggie's Farm", not because it was bad (it was!) but because he was powerless to do it differently. It might be ok to listen to Sir Paul struggling – and failing – to hit the notes in the classic numbers he did for Live8, cos it's wonderfully nostalgic. Audience memory does what the voice fails to do, and we hear "The Long and Winding Road" filtered through years of sameness. Not so with Bob. You can't sit there and smile indulgently, or wash away on a wave of nostalgia seeing His Bobness do the good ol' numbers, cos he's never done that and they've never been old! Always forever young!

It was all the more poignant because when he hit the harp, you could see the gawky young singer of 45 years ago. Dylan's always looked awkward and anally retentive when he moves to music on stage. As though there's an Elvis inside a wooden puppet trying to get out. But that just made it all the harder to watch.

His voice warmed up and gained in strength. "Blind Willie McTell" still gave me goosebumps. He dripped vintage bob-sarc at the pretensions of Mr Jones. "Lay Lady Lay" was great – I found myself wondering (as in full of wonder) at how an old man could sing a young man's song and make it mean something absolutely different but relevant. But then, I guess it isn't difficult to sing that particular number if you have a libido and a score card like Dylan maintains. When he donned his cowboy hat, he was in Love & Theft territory and completely at home there. He made that music for and with his voice as it is today.

He was generous with the harmonica. Now, I've always maintained that Bob uses the harmonica on songs that are really important to him. It's a cue for what matters. And he also uses it as a gift to audiences (Dylan's notoriously ungenerous to audiences, getting positively surly, curt and churlish with them as he's got older). So I rate his perfomance as generous. He gave what he had to give. He'd obviously refused to allow the cameras to zoom in on him. Oh, and he ought to have sacked his band – or rehearsed more! But he was generous. And none more so when he called Norah Jones onstage to do a duet with him – "I Shall be Released" (gives me a fresh set of goosebumps just remembering that!). Who can forget Bob Dylan and Joan Baez doing that one together? It was an anthem for a generation. They were its voice. And he gave it to Norah. He really did give it to her, because his singing was quite deliberately instrumental. You could see that Norah knew it, too. She didn't take it and try to own it – she did it beautifully, with just the right amount of deference and awe in the face of the gift's significance.

It's getting dark. And it's shaken me. Dylan is part of the fabric of my universe. Just as my world is constituted by the fact that my parents are still alive, and I don't have ultimately to stop the buck just yet, so it is with Dylan. I go to Dylan to be awed, and puzzled, and challenged. I go to hear Dylan articulate my thoughts and values, my dreams for the world and my anger at what's wrong. He says them far better than I ever could. His conscience has been a guide. And he's never rested – he's always pressing on, experimenting. His grasp of literature and the Bible and poetry is astounding and his range is monumental. So is his musical knowledge. He's like Mandela. He can't die – mustn't die – because memories aren't enough. Dylan's power is never only in what he's done, but in the vitality of what he's doing now and will do tomorrow. His tomorrow's are running out. Like those of my parents. And Mandela. And where then will be the voices that we desperately need to hear?

17 July, 2005 at 8:45 pm 6 comments

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