holy week thoughts

Christian’s believe this is the week that changed, is changing,will change the world, the universe, the cosmos.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding a donkey and by the end of the week he has been executed. He has been executed even though he has done nothing wrong. He has been executed even though he has done everything right.

It’s a strange week to reflect on because it really doesn’t compute with the ways of the world. Or at least that’s the way it seems to me. Just look at those pictures of people like David Cameron or Ed Milliband on the election campaign.
How Jesus does his business is the polar opposite to how the world does it business. Sometimes it seems to be the opposite to how the church does its business as well. (I’m almost expecting The Christian Institute to make an appearance in the narrative this week as Jesus is questioned by those in authority, Pilate etc.)

How does this week, Holy Week bring good news to the unemployed, the addicted, the poor, the person who seems to have it all together?  How does Jesus on the cross bring good news to people struggling with loneliness, despair, depression?

How does it all fit in with life in 21st century Ireland? If you’re convinced that Jesus changed the world by laying aside his rights and self sacrificial giving, by acting humbly and non violently how do survive in society?
The prayer that Jesus prayed this week that his disciples should be one has been bothering me as well because it seems like Jesus’ prayers aren’t being answered. I don’t feel at one with lots of his disciples. How can I be at one with churches I don’t like? Can I be at one with the Catholic church? Or can I be at one with the branch of the family I’m most familiar with? If evangelicals are seen by the world (unfairly) as a certain way or hold on to beliefs that I don’t agree with how do I be at one with them? If people from Evangelical Alliance seem to be saying that we should stand behind a bakery that doesn’t ice a cake and you don’t feel you should does that mean you’re not an evangelical?

There are lots of things that cause me distress in the world and wonder if Christianity is true.
But sometimes wondering how Christians are so fragmented is the thing that makes me wonder most. How can we all claim to follow Jesus, to be brothers and sisters and yet act like strangers for most of the time?
And of course I’m part of the problem because I don’t necessarily want to associate with certain churches. If they’re fundamentalist protesting football on a Sunday no thanks. If they’re going on about how Christianity is cool I’m not there either. How does this stuff work?

the pleasure of being sad

A good friend got us an interesting and appreciated Christmas present, ‘A Field Guide to Melancholy‘ by Jacky Bowring which I have been reflecting on and reading the past few days.


At one point on New Years Day I found myself alone drinking tea and reading this book, looking at a big lonely Christmas tree in a hotel lobby thinking that everything fitted together very nicely. It looked sad, purposeless, days numbered yet also beautiful in the first gloomy day of 2014.

At another point in Sligo I found myself trying to draw the hotel and getting really down that it just didn’t look right, that the lines where wrong and my colouring pencils didn’t match the colours, that I can’t capture things properly when drawing while simultaneously enjoying the whole process.

And yesterday in Cookstown I was getting sad about how the once thriving Saturday market in my home town has all but disappeared now thanks to M&S, LIDL, Asda, Tesco,Argos, Homebase etc while also taking delight in the nostalgia of what it used to be like (or what I imagined it used to be like).

In fact the more I’ve thought about it the past few days, the more I realised that I’m maybe just a sad guy at heart and maybe that is OK. Not all the time, but maybe as a sort of default setting that is part of who I am.  And perhaps 2014 is the year to accept that and even see the value in it instead of wondering ‘What is wrong with me?’ Maybe it’s just time to value the paradox of it all.

Although I found the book to be a bit dense sometimes I am grateful that someone has written a book casting sadness and melancholy as something that can be good, positive and even beautiful as it makes me feel like less of a freak.

So much of modern society seems to be about pursuing happiness or eradicating sadness which makes me feel out of place. It’s not that I don’t want to be happy more that I’m not so sure if I want to get rid of the dark, sad bits in me sometimes and that makes me wonder if I’m OK in the head as who wants sad, dark bits in them?.

There is one bit of the book that I keep thinking about:-

‘[However], psychiatric concerns cast the Field Guide’s advocacy of melancholy as a rich dimension of human existence into tricky territory, with global worries over the increase in mental illness – of an escalation of melancholy as madness. Writers such as Peter D Kramer are emphatic that depression as a medical illness should be eradicated, just as diseases like smallpox have been’

It’s something that I think about. Would I change my natural inclination towards melancholia if I could?

I don’t think I would.
One of the things that brings me joy in life is experimenting, creating and I although it also drives me crazy lots of the time I often feel at my most creative when I am down in the dumps, maybe even in some place beyond ‘down in the dumps’. As the book suggests perhaps that is the trade off.

It’s the paradox that although something might make me sad I can also feel extreme joy towards it.
I might feel alive and like I’m flourishing with creativity or appreciate the beauty in some sad work of art.
As the book suggest the lines seem blurry with many of these definitions, and I can only speak from my experience but I am not sure I would want the sad bits in me to be eradicated like smallpox as I am not sure how parts of me I enjoy and help me to love my neighbour wouldn’t also be eradicated in the process. Those bits seem linked.

There is a quote from Victor Hugo at the start of the book. Some part of me likes the idea of sombre joy.

‘Melancholy is a twilight state; suffering melts into it and becomes a sombre joy. Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.

unsettled

My youngest  brother and his wife left today for at least a year away from Ireland, to explore and have a change of scenery over in Australia (and if you’re reading this you’d better have a good time, stay safe and come back again…) so I’m feeling a bit sad and unsettled I suppose.

We took the Christmas tree down earlier and packing it up I was wondering if that was the last time we’ll have the tree up in this particular house. From the 15th January on H___ is free to be called as a minister with her own church. I’m not sure how to phrase that.

Obviously it wouldn’t be her church as the idea isn’t that she would finally be promoted to looking after her own church like passing a driving test and  finally being allowed to drive on your own more that congregations who are vacant and looking for a minister can start approaching her more formally and saying ‘Would you be interested in being our minister?’

This has the power to unsettle me a lot as I have no idea where we might end up. I think we’d both like to move to a church in the south of Ireland but this last few years have been so tough on us the idea of moving anywhere and wondering if it will be as bad as the last few years has the power to keep me up at night. And it has.

 

insecurity..

‘Constantly comparing your lot with others, especially those who have more than you, is not a prescription for feeling safe. IF you are always worrying about whether you have enough money and the right appearance, or seeking fame, you are digging a hole for yourself which can never be deep enough – the proverbial bottomless pit. You will have a nameless sense that there is something else you should be doing, a free-floating anxiety. You will be depressively running yourself down because you do not do as well as other, moving the goalposts if you do succeed. At the same time, you may deal with your sense of inadequacy by falsely building yourself up (exaggerating your wonderfulness in a narcissistic compensation and by desperate attention-seeking’

Oliver James, Affluenza

how can we sing our song in a strange land?

I has been on a bit of a downer this week after spending last week in and around Dublin.

There are many reasons why I feel down but the main one is that just don’t feel as creative here in Belfast-Lisburn, I just don’t feel as inspired and free to make things or see new possibilities and this gets me down. I try drawing but don’t want to experiment and then get stuck in a rut, a bad rut. I hate the stuff I do and want to rip it up (which I nearly did yesterday afternoon).
I try writing a song but can’t get past the first two lines.

That is not meant to be a slight on either Lisburn-Belfast, I guess you can’t help who you love. You can try and give it a go, a sort of arranged marriage of sorts but it might be a unhappy arranged marriage at that.

The light, colours, angles, are all wrong. Nothing seems to fit properly and the shadows creep in all the wrong corners.  Everything is green and overhangs the pavement.

flourishing

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)
resurrection,
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.