dry wells

I am  tired despite returning  from a holiday at the beginning of the week.
We have family that live near Almeria and I had never been out to see them and where they live. So this year (and thanks to a kind Christmas present) we flew over to the south of Spain on the new, improved, nice and caring Ryanair for a week. Which is how we ended up spending a few nights in a nice Spanish village

This time last week I was walking around the beautiful Spanish village of Mojacar on a holiday.
If that sounds lovely you should also know that a fight with your wife is still a fight with your wife no matter if it’s a lovely village and knowing that you’re spending money in something that you don’t do very often but having a fight instead of making the most of it can make you pretty miserable.

So although it was nice to be away I’m knackered and didn’t find the holiday relaxing. Heat tires me and my inner Presbyterian couldn’t get the hang of the resting in the afternoon business.  I never got the hang of when you are supposed to eat lunch and dinner. The language as well.

scandanavia0005
That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy Spain and seeing where my nephew and niece live because I like seeing new places. Some might think that the endless acres of plastic greenhouses that supply Europe with tomatoes and watermelons are an eyesore but I find them interesting:-
Where are the getting the water to grow watermelons in the driest part of Europe? Are they going to desalinate seawater and use it? How is climate change going to effect this area and how is that going to effect my sister and brother-in-law. my nephew and niece?

Then  it starts boiling over into the problems with the world:-
How do people work inside those greenhouses in what must be phenomenal heat? Are the migrant workers treated fairly? Do you realise that flying on your Ryanair flight on holidays is contributing to climate change here in Almeria? 

The one thing I really wanted to do over in Spain was to see new colours and draw new things, to feel a surge of inspiration surging and to be creative again. I feel like any wells of creativity that I had have dried up, a bit like the countryside and river beds around Almeria. But I felt uninspired and too awkward to create. No paints, no markers, no skill.

On the way home from the airport I was complaining to H about the way people act on Ryanair flights. ‘There are schoolgirls having to walk miles each day to get clean drinking water and then there are 50 yr old men who throw their dummies out of the pram when an air hostess moves their hand luggage a few metres away to section 29A’
 I said ‘People are so fortunate to be able to go on holidays, they should recognise this and stop acting like they….etc etc.’

Of course I was doing the exact same the whole holiday, moaning about the heat and my lack of ability to order a tapas without embarrassment. There a kids sleeping in refugee camps tonight and I’m having a meltdown because I have to sit under a sun shade and it’s making me sweat. Saying that out loud seems to make perfect sense. I need to get a grip.

Yet I’m tired as well. And I also think that saying things like ‘We should get a grip because we have it pretty good compared to so many in the world’ is a bit arrogant (?) in a way or perhaps untrue. It sounds as if we’re not really that sick or needy and screwed up and under the thumb of oppressive systems which as a Christian I don’t believe. ‘The World’ or Kingdom of Death or however you want to phrase the way Satan works against us is an ever present reality. Just because I don’t live in a country that persecutes or oppresses Christians by throwing them in jail doesn’t meant that we’re not oppressed. Like the sense of hopelessness that I get from absorbing the ways of the world does a pretty good job of robbing me of vitality for life or for serving.

I was thinking about this sense of hopelessness  or why we complain in the face of so much privilege while reading Jacques Ellul.

‘One can prove to the members of our modern societies that our ancestors never enjoyed this much means, freedom, happiness, well-being, available opportunities, long life, culture, pleasure, leisure, communication, and dialogue, but one will never convince the person in our modern society that he is living in a little paradise’

Also:-

‘In the most pacified and guaranteed society which has ever existed, man is living in uncertainty and growing fear. In the most scientific of societies, man is living in the irrational. In the most liberal of societies, man is living ‘repression,’ and even hyper-repression. In a society in which the means of communication are the most highly developed, man is living a sort of phantasmagoria. In a society in which everything is done to establish relationships, man is living in solitude…’

 

 

sometimes I miss the blue hymnbook

I probably write the same things over and over again, like a bluebottle banging his head against the kitchen window and I’m not going to let that stop me doing it again.

Sometimes I just don’t know what is going on with my life, or more specifically with my church life, which can sometimes seem like my life.

Here I am living in a manse, in a pretty middle class area, married to a minister (a female minister), in a church that is mostly Methodist, where most if not all of the children are African-Irish, with lots of single parent families, and asylum seekers, and people from different parts of the world on the edge of an Irish speaking region, in a city that pulses continually with tourism and students and so on.
There is often a conversation going on in my head on whether all of this is great or terrible.
There is just too much coming at my senses sometimes, too much to get me thinking or reflecting or angry and frustrated.
Sometimes the frustration comes from just wanting everything to be in its place and organised and familiar, for people to be like a good old Presbyterian church of my past where you roll up and roll out no alarms and no surprises. It has happened recently that I’ve craved the grey suit and tie of my past, the efficiency of the soup lunch that has been served and cleaned up in under an hour, the same person sitting in the same pew for 40 yrs and no new faces, everyone living a few minutes away, the same old badly sung but familiar hymns from the blue hymnbook.

On the other hand it’s great because lots of my preconceptions about Christianity or the church are being challenged by the collision of cultures and by meeting people from around the world.
For instance my view of other churches and particularly the Roman Catholic church is being  gently prodded. I don’t remember meeting my first Catholic until I was about 10 yrs old. He was the neighbour beside where we briefly had a mushroom farm. He came over the fence with a football wearing a Celtic top and we briefly played football in a rushy field.
My next memory of meeting a Catholic was in the minibus going a cross community hike up a mountain organized by the RUC in 4th yr at school. All I remember is that despite being a Catholic she was cute. There was another cross community trip in lower 6th and a nun, Sister Rose was present. I was wary and kept my distance. So we’re up to 3 Roman Catholic experiences by 18. It was time to take things to the next level…

I briefly lived for a year with a bunch of Catholic in student halls at QUB, lads from Strabane and Derry. Yes, that is right. I actually lived with Catholics for about 9 months.
They took the piss out of me buying ‘The Daily Express’ (and rightly so) and asked searching questions like ‘Are you coming out with us tonight or are you going to hang out with your real friends?‘. By ‘real friends’ they meant the people I knew in halls from Christian Union, people like me and possible Christian snogs or links to snogs. Female snogs of course.

I escaped into a house with my real Christian friends in 2nd and 3rd year. Once a Roman Catholic girl in my chemistry class called Maria invited me into the Roman Catholic chaplaincy for a carol service or something. I am not sure if I even set foot inside the building such was my fear of the papists doing something to me. It was a no go area that large building on Elmwood Avenue. What happened beyond those doors was anyone’s guess but after reading Chick tract literature in my teens I was aware that it could only be badness.
Catholics where dodgy when it came to religion. About the same time an elderly man my mum did home help passed away and there was a discussion about how to go to the funeral in the chapel. I think my parents went but stood at the back of the chapel.
A ‘mixed marriage’ was something that was foreign to my experience.
Basically a Roman Catholic wasn’t really a Christian because they went to a false church and was a member of a false religion and a believer shouldn’t be yoked to a non-believer.
So I grew up with a deep rooted suspicion of Roman Catholicism that is almost part of my DNA and still flares up.

Yet that is being gently challenged. Nothing major has been said, no great event just watching for example the love of  some couples in ‘mixed’ marriages. Growing up in my evangelical Protestant circles with all the politics the impression was that these really where recipes for disaster, something bad or far from ideal. There are other things to challenge my thinking as well, but it’s not really the place to talk about them.It’s just good to be challenged.

One of the local ministers told us how he gets pissed off (not sure that those are his exact words mind..) about the missionaries,outreach types, church planters etc he encounters from time to time who say things like ‘We just want to bring Jesus to the west… ‘.
He gets annoyed because he is in charge of church which has been used since the 1300’s right in the centre of city. I probably thought the same last year. There where not many churches here, we could be missionaries to this city that needs a vibrant Christian witness.
Is this not an arrogant thing to think? That meant  for example I was discounting the large and active Roman Catholic church I can see from my bedroom window as being a church.  I walk past it multiple times in a week and rarely think of it as a church.
If I’m being honest I’m still not completely comfortable with saying it is. There are suspicions and issues and things that I think wrong.
But what makes a church or what doesn’t make a church? Why am I Presbyterian? What does it mean to be a Presbyterian here? Does it matter? Are you saying that your branch of Christianity is without its fault and heresies? And so on.

boundaries,

I’m currently sitting upstairs in my house avoiding the ‘home group’ (aka. growth groupconnect groupcare group,life groupfellowship groupsmall group, cell group) that is currently meeting in our home.

Part of me wants to go down and sit in the living room because I like everyone but part of me still doesn’t know how to sort  boundaries and if my wife being called to work in a church means that I am also called to work in a church by default.
I feel called to being an artist and would love to work at that now up here in my room. I don’t feel like there is ever enough time to get things sorted and who knows what I could come up with in the next few hours? 
If someone was on the rota at a hospital to work now they couldn’t come to home group.
I have to put myself on a rota of sorts and I know that I work best at this time of the day. So it would naturally be a good time to work on stuff. But I can’t concentrate as the people downstairs know that I’m upstairs and I know that they’re downstairs.  There is a guilt that I’m being a poor witness and a terrible minister’s spouse. It’s the boundaries. 

There is also a feeling sometimes that H is bringing her work home with her. Maybe it’s a little like a doctor bringing home his patients  or school teacher her kids every few weeks for a cup of tea and bun? Again it is OK but I find the boundaries in my head hard to manage sometimes. I know  church is a place where we should love each other and be open, where I am called to be a member and to love people, to be a friend and to worship. But I’m also an introvert who likes his own space, who needs time to reflect on things rather than sitting in a room rushing through an ice-breaker and 5 questions before working out how this applies to us to today and then praying and having a cup of tea and a bun. Even the way my beloved asks the questions in home group confuses me. Most of the time questions in the living room are asked naturally and without a small booklet. They have  context about what to have for dinner or’ what are you doing this afternoon?’ There is a certain tone of husband and wife just doing the day to day business. Then when home group comes it’s not the same tone and questions aren’t asked ‘naturally’ and it doesn’t seem so much to being my beloved but a minister, which confuses me and adds to the general feeling confusion or chaos but this time its not in the church, but in our home. It’s the trying to work out the boundaries or if there should be the boundaries and that sort of thing.

living

‘We have lost the testimony of a profound life, action which comes from the heart, which is the product of faith, and not of a myth, or of propaganda, or of Mammon! What matters is to live, and not to act.  In this world,this is a revolutionary attitude, for the world only desires (utilitarian) action, and has no desire for life at all. We cannot exaggerate the significance of the fact of being spiritually alive. We must cease to believe that life depends only on vitamins, hormones, and physical culture’

Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom

evangelicals autocomplete

evangelicals
Evangelicals are annoying.
Evangelicals are a cult.
Are Evangelicals a national security threat?
Are Evangelicals and Pentecostals the same?

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Are evangelicals declining?

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Are evangelicals fundamentalists?
Why evangelicals are fooled into accepting pseudoscience.
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Evangelicals are idiots.
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How many evangelicals are in America?

Evangelicals Josh Jones
Evangelicals Jerusalem
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Evangelicals Kristof

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Evangelicals who are masons.

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Evangelicals now Vaughan Roberts

Evangelicals are often distinguished by the following emphases..
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Are evangelicals for university professors more irrational?
Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail

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Are evangelicals voting for Romney?
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Evangelicals Youtube.
Evangelicals you don’t know.
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Evangelicals Zionism.
Evangelicals zip.

non fantasy-fantasy football league

It is such hard work for me to get my head around the fact that Christianity is really real and not some type of fantasy that floats around silently in my head.
If it isn’t something that I can pick and choose at depending on my mood,  if it is reality then that should colour all areas of my life which means that it has consequences for what it means to follow football or support Tottenham Hotspur

My love of football isn’t something that I can relegate to relaxation or harmless entertainment, much as I love zoning out in front of a match or talking about things on Facebook.
These are real men chasing a ball around a real football ground in a real city somewhere in the world. This game isn’t happening on TV, it is happening in real life. There are consequences. I choose to invest my time in watching a game instead of doing something else. My emotions can be lifted or cast down which might put me in a great mood or a grumpy mood. That mood might have consequences for my wife or the person in the shop who I might be grumpy with.

Tonight on my way into Galway I bumped into a lady from our church who said that she wouldn’t be able to go to home group tonight. I told her that I wouldn’t be at home group either as I was off to the pub to watch the Spurs vs Manchester City.

I don’t feel any particular sense of guilt of going to the pub and don’t think I sinned by having a pint of Stormy Port at the bar instead of cup of milky tea here.

However, there is a sense that my addiction to football might not be particularly healthy.
Way back in the summer I thought that this would be the season when I finally had enough of football. The  money involved in Gareth Bale’s transfer seemed to be immoral to me. How can one man be valued at so much? There is the whole business of television rights, and teams changing kits and the diving or players being mercenaries.

I was talking to a Brazilian student on Sunday  morning and she was saying that many people in Brazil are angry at the amount of money being spent on this years world cup when it could be used for so many other things.
FIFA seem like a creepy money making machine with all the money from advertisers and official partners.

But I haven’t time to go into all the complexities of that tonight  as its late and I don’t know enough about it.

Spurs got beaten by a very impressive looking Manchester City team who are playing very attractive, attacking football.  This famous quote from Danny Blanchflower comes to mind:-

“The game is about glory. It’s about doing things in style, with a flourish, about going out and beating the other lot, not waiting for them to die of boredom.”

There has been a touch of glory in the way City have been playing this season.

But where does glory fit into things such  as links to oppressive governments and human rights abuses?
Can we separate our support for a team from our support for the chairman?

Maybe I’ve got a case of sour grapes for if Spurs had won tonight I doubt I would have been writing this blog.   We’re owned by a billionaire tax exile so I’m not sure that I can take the moral high ground either.

At the start of the season I  said wasn’t going to get into football, but gradually I’ve become addicted.
Mainly it is because I have been lonely and getting into football has given me a reason to get out into Galway and meet people in a way that I find comfortable and enjoy.
I can admire the weight of Kun Aguero’s finish for City’s first goal or enjoy the tactical thinking from the managers and debate what is wrong with the Spurs midfield.

There is a dark side as well though.
I don’t know how to feel about the race for winning and getting the Champions League which is the race for money and power.  The old idea of clubs playing for glory seems to have gone and now teams  seem to  be more like brands looking for customers and new markets. Football clubs seem to be primarily about branding and selling themselves to the global market rather than any old fashioned notions we have of ‘glory’.

If I don’t like using Amazon or Tesco because of the way they have concentrated power to make money, why should I tolerate it with the teams I support?
If I try to buy local with my vegetables or am concerned about Fair Trade coffee why should my attitude to a football club be any different?

Should I try supporting my local football team instead of the global brands?
If I am concerned that farmers get paid fair wages for growing bananas should be concerned that people building football stadiums in Qatar for World Cups aren’t treated like slaves?

Danny Blanchflower might have said its about the glory, but it is more about the brand and money these days.  I’m not sure where that leaves me as a supporter or as  Christian.

industrial fishing

I found this  sitting in a bookshop  a few weeks back and have been dipping into it ever since (the orange book that is, not the vegetable peelings..)

DSCN1731

I skipped some chapters  as they didn’t seem to be that relevant to the world I live in.

When it was written in the mid 60s we didn’t have mobile phones and Twitter, instant digital communication in our pockets, ATMs, debit cards, Ryanair etc.  The population of the earth was 3.3 billion, now there are 4 billion extra people and growing.

It is a pretty good reminder of things I’ve been taught over the years,  from talks as a student to chats with people I know.
Reading it  now it doesn’t seem to engage with the world much outside the UK, which is was maybe to be expected. Perhaps before the computer revolution the world was less linked. I don’t know if the right term is globalization, but now we’re maybe more linked to people over the planet and not just those in the UK or Ireland.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by thinking about who is my neighbour and how am I to love them?
Assuming that everyone is my neighbour on the planet right now I don’t really know how to live wisely.
Do we have to make a sort of league table of things we care about a lot and then other things we relegate to near the bottom?

The problem is maybe praying those lines in the Lords Prayer of ‘on earth as in heaven’. The earth is so big! It is tiring trying to work it out. How do I change my actions in a globalized world to make it more like heaven?

An example of the sort of line which I would have accepted as being true when  I was student but now I am not so sure about is:-

‘The bounty of nature is there to be used and there is enough for all if only we have energy enough to lay claim to it’

I am not sure if there is enough for all, or at least enough for all living a typical Western diet with hunks of meat and driving cars.
There are 4 billion extra people in those 50 yrs since he wrote this book.  Does the planet have enough bounty to allow everyone to live even a modest western style lifestyle?

In some cases is there is even a bounty of nature left for people to use?
An example of that would be the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland.
Around the  60s when this book was written vast quantities of fish where being taken on an industrial scale and then the bounty disappeared.