trying to walk the bread line

this morning
I’ve been reminded
(once again)
that we live completely
by the grace of God

as usual that part of the Lord’s Prayer
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
was the spark

each time a believer  we prays those words
they’re asking God to provide their daily nourishment
to give them enough for today
and they’re admitting that our daily bread
is a  gift of God’s grace
something we’re powerless to provide by ourselves
for it is a product of the soil, the rains, the sunlight,
that we can never provide
like manna in the desert

It’s  a reminder to myself
on mornings like this morning
that  when I want to lash out at things
to make my own way in the world
to be strong
to be he-man
to  seize the day
to grab my piece of the pie
that the Kingdom  works on different rules
and that this man should work on different rules as well

not that it’s easy
to trust
being on the bread-line

knowing that although you’ve bread enough for today
that tomorrow is a new day
and the day after that

there will be a lot of faith required down the line
and your faith is weak

each day you will pray
‘Give us this day our daily bread’
in faith and trust

do I have that much faith?

we had that those verses
from Matthew six
about not worrying about tomorrow
or the clothes you will wear
or what you will eat
and considering the birds
who neither sow nor reap
and to seek first the Kingdom
and his righteousness
read to us on our wedding day

it is a command of the way we should go

yet  seeking the kingdom
and his justice
in this economy is hard
so hard

writing and topping up your cv
seems to me to be like
playing ‘Top Trumps’
against your neighbour
and at his expense

if it’s true that we receive our daily bread by grace
(like we pray as Christians)
how does this competing for daily bread
(that seems to be the way the economy is designed to work)
come into it?

how do you walk the bread line?

it’s not about making money
it’s about making a living
yet it feels so hard to make a living
in this economy and culture
without engaging that culture and economy
on it’s terms and by it’s rules

on being an artist (even though I’m not)

I’ve been pondering what it means to an artist this week.

First up, personally I don’t really like the term ‘artist’. When I got married I was about to put ‘B&Q Customer Adviser’ ‘ down on my marriage certificate and my minister said ‘Put down artist’.
Well I did put down artist because during those days of getting married I did as I was told. He could have said ‘Put down pole dancer‘ or ‘Put down King of Sweden‘ and I would have.

So that’s what my profession is according to my  marriage certificate. But clearly I’m not an artist artist. The last time I studied art was third year at Cookstown High School at which point (and thanks to not saying what I’d really like to do and being guided by my well meaning parents saying ‘Well there’s probably more jobs in science) I ended up going down the science route, biology, chemistry and physics for A-Level and a degree (just about) in Environmental Chemistry.

There is no point regretting my decision, you make your calls and roll with them. But sometimes I do I guess.
I regret my decision when I don’t have the skill to draw what I see or what’s in my head or don’t have the craft to carry out something with finesse.

Some people have said ‘Well why don’t you go back and study art?’ but it just seems like a daft thing to do. Thousands and thousands of pounds to study something that will most likely never allow me to make a living and debt for years to come?No thanks.

It is hard though because I feel the need to create and make stuff deep in my bones, because it’s often easier for me than using words. That doesn’t mean that it’s easier for other people to understand me of course, just I find words and speaking hard sometimes. It doesn’t allow me time to reflect or ponder, which is also why I like blogging I guess. I’m allowed the reflection time that quick fire conversation doesn’t allow me.

I guess I was thinking about this in relation to how much you should promote or ‘push’ the stuff you make.  There is a gift like aspect to art but if you push it too much you can turn it into a commodity or  something a bit lacking in relationship.

The Gift‘  is a book which I’ve tried to read a few times, but it just bores me into giving up a few chapters in.  But these words sort of get to heart of what I’ve been pondering.

‘every modern artist who has chosen to labor with a gift must sooner or later wonder how he or she is to survive in a society dominated by market exchange. And if the fruits of a gift are gifts themselves, how is the artist to nourish himself, spiritually as well as materially, in an age whose values are market values and whose commerce consists almost exclusively in the purchase and sale of commodities’

Lewis Hyde, The Gift

I guess it’s that idea of how you can demonstrate gift and grace in a society like ours which is dominated by competition or trying to win the race for survival against your competitors or neighbours. I find that idea of ompetition hard.
For me, art should have a unique, gift like dimension to it but it feels like most of our culture and society is trying to crush that ideal out, especially with the recession. With the recession people seem to be trying even harder to compete and make a living as they don’t (understandably) want to be the losers.

I’ve been trying to make cards this week, they’re not masterpieces of Western art by any stretch of the imagination (far, far from it) but they are hand made and I try to make them funny or a bit different. To give myself a fair price for making them I might have to charge a few pounds extra to something out of Clinton Cards.

Yet to sell the cards to someone who doesn’t feel sorry for me I immediately feel like I have to compete on price with other people. Something of the gift idea is lost and is replaced by competing which I hate. I don’t want to compete with other people yet it’s so easy to do and there almost seems like no escape from it.

This gets me down. I’m not sure why.

Seek Ye First the Kingdom of Google, and it’s search results

As an experiment I thought I would do a rough survey of the most popular things people are searching for on Google right this moment here in Northern Ireland

I’m not sure how the search settings work with regions (or if the suggestions are what people really are searching for or what Google has said people are searching for), or if they are sponsored.

All I’m going to do is type in a letter of the alphabet in and record the words that Google suggests for that single letter. The first one that appears at the top is in bold..

Argos – Amazon – Asda – Asos
BBC – BBC News – BBC iplayer – BBC sport
Currys – CBBC – cool maths games – Club Penguin
Debenhams – Daily Mail – Dorothy Perkins – DVLNI
ebay – easyjet – ebay uk – euromillions
Facebook – Facebook login – Flybe – First Trust
Google – Gumtree – Gumtree Belfast – Google Maps
Hotmail – Halifax – Homebase – HMV
IKEA – itvplayer – imdb – isohunt
jobcentreonline – John Lewis – Jet2  – jobs ni
Karen Millen – kayak – kwik fit – Killyhevlin
Lottery – Let Me Watch This – Lotto – Liverpool
MSN – Marks & Spencer – maps – moshi monsters
Next – New Look – Northern Bank – Nationwide
O2 – Odyssey – O2 surprises – Oasis
Potassium – paypal – property news – play
Queens – QUB – Qol – Quiz
River Island – Ryanair – Rightmove – RBS
SEEK – Sky – Sports Direct – Sky Sports
Tesco – Twitter – Translink – Topshop
UTV – Ulster Bank – UCAS – UK Top 40
Virgin – Very – Vue – Vodafone
weather – wikipedia – – warehouse
xbox – xtravision – xe – x factor
Youtube – Yahoo – Yahoo Mail – Youtube Converter
Zara – Zoopla – Zumba – Zara UK

I tried this again this morning and all was the same except that SEEK, an Australian job site had completely disappeared. I found it sad though that it was there. Are people having to leave to find work in places like Australia, or wanting to leave?

A couple of other things to note.

Are people really using Google to search for Google?
Is there a big demand for cool maths puzzles out there?
What will be the next cool exercise regime after Zumba?

And why are people searching for potassium?

THE ECONOMY and what’s really going on?

Well it has been another week when THE ECONOMY has been lurking about the news headlines like a hooded terrorist of doom with warnings of Greek defaults and IMF slapdowns and worried looking politicians saying that we could be heading towards a double dip recession if they don’t get to grips with the situation. We could all be staring down the barrel of the gun! We’re in a dangerous period!

You never see world leaders as worried looking or sincere as when they come to discussing the state of THE ECONOMY and what they are going to do to create jobs and bring about economic growth.

It’s enough to tie a man up in knots because it doesn’t seem to make sense or is impossible to understand. News readers and newspapers throw about words that are designed to confuse people or be beyond the understanding of the ordinary man on the street. All a person may understand after all the big terms is that their pension has decreased by _% or that their job in under threat.

Do the politicians and economists even understand what is going on?

It’s almost as if we have created a global economic monster that nobody can control. And if we don’t throw it some sacrifices it’s going to eat us up.

THE ECONOMY seems to be the thing that will ultimately bring us prosperity and comfort, the thing that is our best hope for having a bright future.
It seems so powerful in fact that all other beliefs seem powerless to offer a different version to what is really going on out there.

From a Christian point of view we need to constantly put to death the belief that there are more powerful kingdoms than the Kingdom of God, something which we can only do as a church. We need to stand united in the belief that THE ECONOMY is not the most important driving force out there, especially during the week when we’re in the nitty-gritty of daily life, far from the congregation and swamped under bills that need to be paid or scratching around for job.

We need to be reminded what the reality really is. Often (I feel) we’re very quick to relegate the realities of The Kingdom to somewhere beneath the lies of the economy because our lives are so ordered to think that life is a competition with our neighbours, other nations, communities.
We shop around looking for the cheapest bargains, we pimp our cv’s up in an attempt to best our fellow job seekers in competing for a certain amount of limited jobs, we go on courses to give ourselves a better chance of beating our neighbour.
It’s hard out there, but it’s not the truth.
The Truth is a person, Jesus. We are to be following Jesus as we try to live lives in this me-first-fear-filled culture. The truth isn’t THE ECONOMY or TECHNOLOGY/SCIENCE/PROGRESS/WHATEVER!
The Truth is Jesus.
When we follow Jesus as brothers and sisters in our communities/church we are living life the way it’s meant to be lived.

When we live lifes of gift and self sacrifice,
when we speak the truth in love,
when we serve other people we are being true.
We should block our ears to what we hear on the radio, from the threats of the politicians that if we don’t do x or y the economy won’t grow and we’ll be in trouble.

We need to remember the truth of the real Kingdom being like a mustard seed.

all roads lead to New York (JP Morgan Chase)

This is one of these things that seemed like a good idea, then you realise after spending time on it that its not but have spent too much time on it not to finish it.
Somewhere in my head I got the phrase ‘all roads lead to Rome’ , a phrase that speaks of the might of Empire and the centralisation of power. And the roads to Rome were straight.At least I think they were.
So then I wondered if I could start mapping the roads to the capitals of power  in our world. So taking the top company on the Forbes list I did this map

It seemed to make sense at the time. It’s not accurate (I didn’t join up three places in Brazil, didn’t do Canada either), but the lines are meant to be from the offices I could see listed on JP Morgan Chase website to their HQ in New York.

I think its good to visualise where the power is centred, who the false gods and empires are that we may be living under so that we can live a different sort of life. That probably doesn’t make sense, but I’m wrestling with things and just flinging it out.
This I can imagine the wealth being filtered along these routes back towards the elites in ‘Rome’ as well.

the Road to Wigan Pier + pineapples

My hunt for used books ended up in me buying a battered copy of  The Road to Wigan Pier’ by George Orwell from a bookshop in Dundonald, mildly grumbling about the £3 I parted with to buy it. But  148 pages in and I’m glad I did buy it. Orwell may have been writing in the 1930’s, but much of what he is writing about unemployment and workers, or the British Empire rings today.

Well maybe not so much the British Empire, but other ’empires’. What about fruit empires for instance?

‘the high standard of life we enjoy in England depends upon our keeping a tight hold on the Empire, particularly the tropical portions of it such as India and Africa. Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation – an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little isalnd where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes’
passage from ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’, George Orwell


Everytime I take stuff out to the bins I am horrified by the amount of waste we go through, even as a couple who are trying to live a more sustainable lifestyle.
There is so much waste in our lives from packaging, so much that seems beyond our control. We need to eat and with lack of quality and variety in our local foods we need to buy whatever the shops supply, in whatever way the shops and suppliers package it.

There is another thing that worries me. What are we going to do when we’ve exhausted all our oil, or whenever oil becomes much scarcer especially when our homes are mostly heated by oil? We could us wood burning stoves except we live on island with no trees. Does nobody else worry about our lack of trees here in Ireland?

What are we going to use to keep old people warm when the oil is all gone?

At this time of the year charities who are doing good work to make the world a better place send out letters asking for money, with the paper piling up on the hall floor.

This morning we had a church breakfast this morning and our cereal was all packed in individual little cereal boxes and wrapped in individual plastic wrapping with the minimum amount of highly processed cereal possible inside each of those cardboard boxes and plastic bags
It’s a sin. But who do we blame for life getting this way?

Or is it OK?

Maybe even good?

There was an interesting and disturbing programme on BBC2 a week or so ago about the bottled water industry,an industry that has made it perfectly normal for water to be bottled in France and exported round the world, say to a store in Nashville, then kept cool in a fridge for  few weeks until some customer comes in to quench his thirst,
to say nothing of the plastic bottles that the water is kept in that is made from oil to say nothing of the fact that most of us have water piped directly into our homes and workplaces.

I’ve never been to Africa but in my minds eye I see a lady with a large water jar on her head trudging for miles to get a source of clean water every single day to water crops or to cook with or to drink.

Is that right?

Then we have large multi-national companies like Nestle and Danone, Coca Cola and Pepsi fighting wars over branding and sales, selling  a basic human right for profit, buts thats OK because the customer is king and wants it.

Last year we had a chance to holiday in Switzerland and one day we walked along Lake Geneva, past the Nestle Headquarters. I think it was a national holiday, which may have explained why it was so quiet for the headquarters of such a major multi-national company. It was weird. I had all this anger towards the company then walked past the building and just felt empty, that we are all locked in a runaway train that nobody seems to be in control of.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is incredibly complex in its problems and I don’t know what to focus on sometimes. ‘

And its doing my nut in a bit.

Dobbies Lisburn World

I’ve had a bit of a hump recently about the new Dobbie’s Garden World on the outskirts of Lisburn, which then turned into an even bigger hump about Dobbie’s Garden World when I discovered via a tip off from an elderly lady in the church craft group that Dobbie’s was actually owned by Tesco.

Is that the same Tesco that are going to make their already big store on the other side of town even bigger?

There at least 3-4 small garden centres close to my house that seem to have been serving the local community pretty well for the time I have lived here.
Suddenly a huge multiple garden chain opens on the outskirts of town, with a big car park and the people flock to it.

I’d be rightly pissed off if I worked at one of those garden centres, especially if (when?)business starts slowing down.

The same way I’d be pissed off if I owned a shop in Lisburn town centre. You can park for free at Sprucefield without fear of getting a parking ticket but in Lisburn you have to pay to park the car worried that a traffic warden is about to ticket you.

Tesco, Sainsbury, Marks & Spencers. Dobbies, B&Q, possibly a John Lewis, what is the story? Are we determined to make every medium sized town in Ireland and the Uk the same as the next?

A few months ago I listed all the shops on Lisburn Main St. There are so many stores that you can now get in any town in the UK or Ireland. Why do council’s not do more to encourage local business?
You don’t encourage local business by building a John Lewis on the outskirts of town, here or in Belfast.