we don’t have to live like herring gulls

DSCN2803The herring gulls are young and one of them has grabbed a large hunk of bread being thrown to feed the swans (even though you shouldn’t feed bread to swans).
Up soars the gull followed by a pack of 4 or 5 other herrings gulls, mottled brown and harrying the gull with the hunk of bread, twisting and turned over the Corrib and pecking at his feet until the gull drops the bread and the gulls descend to squabble and fight over it, grabbing the bread. The winner takes all.
The man in the coffee shop tells the lady that ‘people don’t care you so I don’t care about them, you have to look after yourself as nobody is going to look after you’ .
It’s the herring gull mentality in our systems of living and navigating life. Science might even say that it’s in our DNA. Screw them though.
I don’t have to live like a herring gull grabbing hunks of bread. We can share. We can give. We don’t have to out compete our neighbours. We don’t have to live like mobbing herring gulls.

being pushy

‘Honey, I want the heart, I want the soul, I want control right now

You better listen to me baby
Talk about a dream, try to make it real
You wake up in the night with a fear so real
You spend your life waiting for a moment that just don’t come
Well don’t waste your time waiting’

Badlands, Bruce Springsteen

I am always torn about these lines in my favourite Springsteen song.

On one hand I can often see life passing me by.

The Damascus Road experience doesn’t come, the moment when things turn around or the idea that makes everything click into place doesn’t come or happen. Hoping that you will see the light and be a changed man proves to be elusive.

So I get something of the frustration Bruce describes in this song.

You talk about dreams, you try to make them real, you are awake at 2.35am with a fear so real. Bruce nails my frustration and struggle with the badlands.

Yet there is something in some of the words that I feel uncomfortable with.

It’s that sense in the song of forcing things, of  ‘pushin’ till its understood’ or  wanting ‘control right now’.
It’s the sense of having to seize the day and fight things, of not accepting things the way they are, of spitting in the face of the badlands.

In a world that pushes us around and treats us badly we’ve got to push back even harder and fight it.

It’s that sense of competing, fighting and pushin’ that I’m unsure about.
Is this not part of the problem with society, everyone fighting for his slice of the pie and his proper place?
In the lines about-

‘Poor man wanna be rich
Rich man wanna be king
And a king ain’t satisfied
Till he rules everything’

I’m not sure how much I should keep pushin’ with stuff, how pushy I should be.
So while loving the song for describing my frustrations with life I feel unsure about the way Bruce is going to deal with it.

Talk Talk about competition

I just received a phone call from a lady in South Africa, ringing on behalf of Talk Talk which lead me to be unusually rude and grumpy with her unlike my usual bog standard ordinary rude and grumpy which I get when one of these phone calls comes down the line.

There are a few reasons why I  was particularly grumpy this morning.

1 It’s Sunday morning. Nobody ever rings on a Sunday morning so I heard the phone and thought ‘Oh…that’s unusual, I wonder what is wrong…

In the space of 5 secs my mind had run away to bad, bad news and instead I get a *pause*….bossy sounding South African

2 They sound bossy. They ring me and sound bossy. I try to allow for cultural differences, I try to allow for being stuck in a job that mightn’t be the most enjoyable and that they are just  earning a living, I try to put myself in their job but no matter how much I try to frame it  it just pisses me off. Stop ringing me up from the other side of the world and sneaking into my house!

There are other reasons as well too long and boring to write in blog post but main reason I was annoyed was that this  phone call from Talk Talk seemed to sum up some stuff I’d been thinking about this morning.

I keep coming back time and time again to the role competition seems to play in life and wondering about it all. But here was this woman  sneaking competition in the name of making profit into my home without being invited or asked.  She was forcing herself into my home and pretending that was OK.

Talk Talk are a company. Their main aim is to make profit, more profit than last year, to continually make profit and grow

( Incidentally BT  also rang this week looking to get us to swap from Talk Talk)

They run on competition and competing, which everyone seems to assume is part of life and something we can’t avoid, or get around.

Our whole society seems to be based on competition. Only this week I was in SERC and saw a message from some student push called ‘Get the Edge‘ flashing up on the flat screen TV in the canteen every few minutes. It’s a tough world out there, it’s a tough job market but if you get the edge on your neighbour you will have a better chance than him or her of getting that all important job. The college can give

‘ students advantages, skills and experience other young people take years to get.’

There you go. You can do better than other young people if you do what we tell you.

This is just the way the world seems to work. Competition rules so you had better do everything you can to get the advantages, skills and experience that other people don’t have. It’s a free for all but if you are hard working and clever enough you can get ahead of the rest of crowd. If you don’t get ahead it’s because you aren’t good enough really, you’re a lazy.
Doing a quick bit of Google I came across this article in The Daily Telegraph in which the chief executive of Talk Talk gives

‘.. .a serious pep-talk, replete with extended Star Wars analogies casting TalkTalk as the Rebel Alliance and its competitors at the Death Star. “Think of it like a political rally,” she says.’

That is exactly like the talks I used to hear in B&Q from our manager in which our job was to take out Woodies or Homebase, on how we had to take market share from our competitors and grow the company.  They were exactly like political rallies


So that is what I was forced (or rather chose)  to do as a foot soldier. My job was to be a member of the Rebel Alliance (laminate flooring and tiling division) aiming to take on the Death Star. Thinking back on it now perhaps I was probably more like a member of the Death Star blowing up smaller competitors.

It’s a competition out there and it’s impossible (or seems to be impossible) to survive if you don’t believe that. You will get left behind and trampled on. This seems to be the way of the world from phone calls from Talk Talk  on Sunday mornings to initiatives in the local college.




I finished a book about the environmental history of the 2oth century this morning and there is plenty of food for thought.
It’s seems to me that we will have reap what we have sown in big ways. Perhaps Sandy that is bearing down on the east coast of the US will be the new norm? More unpredictable weather events, rising populations, more degraded soils, less clean water.

In the 20th century mankind seemed to just charge and blunder on with no pause for thought about what might happen further down the road. There were profits to be made or nations to be built and protected in the name of economic growth.
The fuel that drove it was coal and oil. Humans couldn’t have mined and flown, transported without their fossil fuel driven machines.

Sometimes Christians have a reputation of not caring much for the environment, but the author makes the point that:-

‘If Judeo-Christian monotheism took nature out of religion, Anglo-American economists (after about 1880) took nature out of economics.
The growth fetish, while on balance quite useful in a world with empty land, shoals of undisturbed fish, vast forests, and a robust ozone shield, helped to create a more crowded and stressed one. Despite the disappearance of ecological buffers and mounting real costs, ideological lock-in reigned in both capitalist and communist circles…The true heretics, economists who challenged the fundamental goal of growth and sought to recognize value in ecosystem services, remained outside the pale to the end of the century…The overarching priority of economic growth was easily the most important idea of the twentieth century’

John McNeill, Something New Under the Sun

He speaks about the economic growth being by far the most important idea in the 20th century, the religion that almost every country (whether communist or capitalist) bowed down to.

It still happens. There was a smile of smugness on George Osbourne’s face that things are going in the right direction now that the UK is out of recession and the economy is growing again. But at what cost? The government who I think promised to be the most green government ever don’t seem to be showing much sign of that.


I was away last week and took some time to reflect, to think about life and what it should or shouldn’t be about.

The best word for life I could come up with was ‘flourishing’.

Life seems to be a tug of war between the kingdom of death and chaos,
between darkness and disease,
between the blackness that grabs you by the throat and wants to choke the life out of you (and your loved ones)

and (on the other side)
life and beauty,
a flourishing care and encouraging of my neighbour (human and non human)
to grow and bear fruit.
Or Jesus, to put a Christian spin on things.

So on one side flourishing, fruit and the other side death, murder, chaos monsters.

The command not to kill seems to me to be more than going out and shooting someone, it would suggest to me a deliberate action to take away somebody else’s life in it’s totality,  to stump their growth, to try and harm them.  A.A. Milne writes

‘The Church, we may assume, regards murder as a sin against God. In most cases murder is an attempt by an individual to end a situation which can only be ended by the removal of some other individual. The sole reason for the murder is that the death of this other will preserve or increase the wealth, happiness or safety of the murderer.’

I guess that so much of our economic life puts us into competition, violence and war with our neighbour.
As I’ve mentioned before and struggle with, applying for  jobs and hoping that I get it before the other applicants takes me to a place were I’m putting my/our wealth, happiness and safety before that of those who also applied.  It’s like a battle except that the strength of military might  is replaced with C.V. might.


Conscientious objectors have been on my mind today as I flicked through an anthology called ‘The Pacifist Conscience‘, an old Pelican from the 60’s.

One story in particular caught my attention. It was based on the experiences of conscientious objectors in a US prison during the 2nd World War and told by Harold Schoenfeld. In it he mentions one fellow prisoner

‘David Dollinger.’
Dave arose and followed him. David was a divinity student whose first act in prison had been against the segregation of Negroes. Walking into the mess hall he had deliberately stepped out of the white men’s line and sat at a Negro table. The mess hall is the most heavily guarded spot in a prison and the simple action took extreme courage. His punishment was swift and ruthless; yet afterwards, he had consistently opposed the Bureau’s racist policy along with the rest of us.’

thoughts on competition

“That most of us consistently fail to consider the alternatives to competition is a testament to the effectiveness of our socialization. We have been trained not only to compete but to believe in competition. If we are asked about it, we unthinkingly repeat what we have been told. Unfortunately, the case for competition, as most of us have learned it, does not stand up under close scrutiny … Most of all, the case for competition is based on a great deal of misinformation. Specifically, it has been constructed on four central myths … The first myth is that competition is an unavoidable fact of life, part of „human nature.‟ ..The second myth is that competition motivates us to do our best … {The] Third [myth], it is sometimes asserted that contest provide the best, if not the only, way to have a good time. … The last [fourth] myth is that competition builds character, that it is good for self-confidence.”14
Kohn, Alfie, No Contest – The Case Against Competition: Why we lose in Our Race to Win (Revised Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, New York, 1992), p.

better start running?

I’ve been troubled this week by something I read in ‘The World is Flat’ by Thomas Friedman, (a book which I’ve taken a natural dislike to it has to be said.)

He quotes a translation of an African proverb he once saw in some office somewhere in the world.
The proverb says

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.
It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion, or it will be killed.

Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle, or it will starve to death.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle.
When the sun comes up, you better start running.”

I’ve been tossing that about in my head all week because I’m not sure if it’s a bare statement of the way things really are on planet earth or if it’s lies from the pits of hell. I think of reflection it’s from the pits of hell as it denies us our humanity.

It seems to speak of a universe  based on competition with winners and losers, a confirmation that life is a race for survival between competitors,  which certainly seems to be  what the history of the world relates over and over again.

How many times do we hear our politicians or business leaders saying that we have to be more competitive in the global economy?
Or the value placed on education as a way to achieve economic growth.
If there is a course that is popular people compete to get on it,
if there is a good school in the local area parents will fight to get their children in it,
A-Levels, Degree, Masters, PhD, good job, make that cv look impressive.

‘It doesn’t matter if we are gazelle or lion, we had better start running’ seems to an inner law that drives humanity forward,
a law that is basically ingrained in our way of viewing the world.

Yet it doesn’t seem to sit right with some deeper truths about the Kingdom,
this rule of competing against your neighbour or this idea that we’re either gazelles or lions racing for survival because our survival doesn’t depend on us.  At the end of the day death still gets us anyway.

For a Christian survival depends upon the  mercy of God and grace,
upon something that is beyond our strength and human ingenuity,
upon a servant king and self sacrificial love which are all things that should be at the core of us, grace, mercy, self sacrificial love, service and justice for the weak.

If I run  it should be for those things


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