the stretcher

How much should you tell your computer? Tonight I don’t care.

Today was not a good day.  I don’t want life to be like this, but it is. It just is.

My girl is upstairs waiting for sleep to come, I know she is hurting, hurting so bad and what can I do? I can do nothing except what I usually do, be me stubborn and angry or angry and stubborn in the wrong way about things I can’t control, probably tilting at windmills, big wind generating windmills that don’t actually generate electricity or spoil the countryside or use more energy to make than they produce in their entire lifetime and there is always something isn’t there?

There was an old man who lived a few houses down.
He walked slowly along the footpath, I assumed on his way to the pub each day. In my head he was called Jim, hop along Jim.  He was lonely, or looked lonely. I knew he was lonely.

So what did I do?
I did nothing.  As usual I did nothing.

‘and at once I knew I was not magnificent’

The police stood outside his house today, then the white overcoats and face mask and on the way back from the shops a stretcher. I didn’t look. H___ wanted me to ask, but I didn’t.

As usual I did nothing. So I don’t know. But I suspect and that fills me with sadness. He was so lonely. Did he have any family?
Worse, you knew this or guessed this and what did you do?

Then there is THE ISSUE.
It’s there.
It can’t be ignored. And Jesus  and God and the Holy Spirit it’s killing us so can you cut me a bit of slack? Won’t us give us a break?

That’s unless of course you don’t really exist because it’s at times like this that it just seems so lonely and silent that I just can’t see it myself.  I tried to imagine you standing in the corner of the bedroom last week, what you actually might have looked like. I couldn’t do it. It was an Obi Wan Kenobi type hologram, a wisp of mist in the corner when what you want is a real and physical, for real flesh and blood, suffering yet risen reality. What I got was a shady corner of my imagination.

Or  a book, or books and letters and versions and exegesis and preachers and church on a Sunday morning with a pipe organ and red hymn book, blue ‘Glory to God’ and ‘The Source’ and cups of instant coffee in a soul less church hall with uncomfortable looking middle class people and  mention (probably) of The Queen’s Jubilee.

This is what we get. Jesus, it’s hard to believe.

How much can you tell the computer?

This much. And there’s more. But nobody will care.  It’s just lonely old men and the money you didn’t earn because you are you and there is no job that is good enough for you or suitable for you and you won’t go and work the production line of Moy Park chicken or something (because you’re busy tilting at big wind generating windmills or something)  and the work you do do is not valued as work because it’s not paid and competition and better train harder or ask the right questions and answer to prove that you are the most suitable person for the opening.

There is the money you forgot to put in the bank to pay for the rent that you remember about on a Saturday night on a special Bank Holiday weekend meaning that you will probably be charged by greedy banker, or something like that.  So you can work hard and still not get paid.

Thing is, stretchers and old men, banks, THE ISSUE, church of clay feet,me being me, entropy is not what I want defining and embittering me, or scaring me,  I don’t want that.

Miracle please…stretcher me through a hole in roof, I can’t do it myself.


dreading the wedding

Family wedding tomorrow, which I am dreading.

‘She’s feeding you well!’
‘Would you get that hair cut!’
‘So what are you doing with yourself?’
‘Did you ever get your driving test?’
‘Would you ever think of becoming a minister yourself?’

Basically I’ll feel like ‘the idiot’

Yes, family weddings, you have to love them.
When people come at me saying such things I feel instantly attacked and defensive yet without a backbone. Perhaps I should just brush such stuff off but it gets to me and leaves me feeling crap.

I know tomorrow that the first question that people who I haven’t seen in years, aunts and uncles, old friends etc will ask me is ‘Well, what do you do with yourself?’
It won’t be their intention to piss me off of course (I think) but it will undoubtedly go straight towards many of the hurts and insecurities I’ve had the last number of years, right to the jugular and doubts I’ve about myself.

They will ask me why I haven’t trained in anything to get me into what I want to do and I’ll either get defensive or brush them off.
I can see this discussion playing itself over and over tomorrow and each time it will feel like I’m getting a kicking, even if it isn’t anyone’s intention.

The reason I haven’t trained in any courses is that there have been no courses that I’ve seen around Belfast that I thought would help me do the sort of things I think God has called me to do. It’s often that simple and that hard.

Also, there is a general attitude of ‘up’ which gets to me as these are generally Christian people telling me to retrain or to get out there and kick some neighbour ass and prove that I’m willing to work much harder that my neighbour and am more worthy of a job than they because basically ‘I’m a better worker‘ than my neighbour.

I’ve said it before but I’m not sure how reconcile this all if  you are trying to be like Jesus.
Fundamentally I believe that we have everything we have because it’s a gift of God’s good grace.
This is why we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’.
It’s a recognition that God provides our daily bread.
Of course it’s our duty to work to get that bread, to gather the manna from the desert,to sow the seeds, harvest the grain etc etc.

But surely the way we look for work matters as well?
My relations (and you I suppose)  might think that it’s good to fight tooth and nail for a job, to do whatever it takes so that when we get a job we’ll be able to do good, but I tend to disagree.
That’s not to say that I’m not a bundle of sins and pride now either (because I am) but there is something about ‘up’ and trying to show that we’re more suitable for jobs than other people that doesn’t gel with the Jesus that I see in the Gospel.

I was re-reading this bit in Colossians Remixed and although it is talking about the education system it was making me think about how I’m supposed to live life

Interesting metaphor, isn’t it -“up”? …Wendell Berry has some comments on this metaphor….” Berry wryly notes, ” Well, I think that I hardly need to document the consequent pushing and tramping and kicking in the face” involved in getting to the top and staying there. He muses that perhaps “up” is ‘the wrong direction.” We would add that “up” is the wrong metaphor and misshapes the imagination of our young. Rather than instilling in them a desire to get to the top, to move up, we want to encourage our children to develop a sense of calling and service, including an awareness that this may require a process of downward mobility, a decision not to strive for the top but to care for those who are on the bottom’

That’s part of the problem. When I was in primary school I won a couple of awards for being bright so I guess that people like my gran, parents thought that their eldest boy was going to turn out to be a model citizen. Over the years they’ve watched that unravel until this point where he is flailing around and going to weddings like he is a bit of failure, hair too long, lazy and good for nothing.  Even when I did have a full time job as a church youth worker they seemed unimpressed because to them it was a waste of time or taking the mickey job. I used to hate it when an uncle would ask over Christmas dinner ‘well what do you do in a typical day?’ My brain would freeze over and I couldn’t give a coherent answer, which no doubt looked to him as if I did nothing.

Sometimes I think all that stuff they’re thinking about me about myself, I take all their words on board as well and get down in the dumps about it.

But at other times I’m content with who I am and happy in my own skin.  It’s just that I find it hard to communicate those sorts of things to them because I’m not great with off the cuff words over a vol-au-vent and glass of Shloer.

But all that wallowing in self-pity shouldn’t obscure the fact that tomorrow si about my youngest brother and his bride to be, a celebration of two becoming one.  Tomorrow we will celebrate and raise a beaker of Robinson;s fruit cordial in their honour. And perhaps there will be a sly gin & tonic or two consumed to deal with the relatives

if ever there was a night for doubt

The Plough is above the house tonight,
the most persistant ? hanging high in the night sky.
The question mark just hangs there prodding and poking me with doubts.

Is there nothing but a cold, dark expanse that we live into and try to make the best of and struggle through
or is there more to it,
is there really a maker and creator,
a redeemer and some big story that creation lives into and for?

Then I come back in because I feel scared.
I feel small and alone in the cosmos and if there is no God and no redemption, if we’re just randomly assembled chemical reactions then despair descends into my body and hangs me low.
Some claim that thought   spurs them to make the most of every minute and find comfort in the dark matter, but it scares the shit out of me. When I became a Christian as a teenager it felt like I came because I was scared of going to hell. Now at the age of 34 it sometimes feels like I’m a Christian because I’m scared shitless of what it means if there is no God.
And even though those stars in The Plough are light years away in a cold cosmos they seem closer  and more real than God, Jesus or The Holy Spirit are presently. They stars of The Plough might be distance but they seem real and weighty whereas God seems like ether and mist that floats around the head.
Except I know that when tragedy strikes  I’ll be crying out to God for help because I need to believe in miracles and hope, that there is more to life than death and chaos, that pain has meaning and that I won’t always feel so broken and hopeless.
So this night is a lonely night, but if ever there is a night to be lonely and doubt, to feel scared and alone it is tonight.
Tearing pictures out of an old Vincent van Gogh diary I noticed The Plough in one night scene and it made me feel not alone, there an understanding that we looked into the same night sky and saw the same thing.
And now that I think about it,with the full moon beaming through the living room window did Jesus look up at The Plough in Gethsemane, lonely in a way that is beyond understanding but at the same time in way we can understand?
For although I often have my frustrations and doubts, although I can’t make sense of great Biblical truths that theologians can make sense of I can make sense of a man lonely and doubting, alone and afraid and feeling let down by his friends. And the truth(which I believe) that this man is also God just about keeps me hanging in there despite the doubts and lack of faith.

fear and death in the north

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been fairly disillusioned by Christianity in recent years and that the disillusion doesn’t seem to be shifting anywhere fast.

And as I’ve mentioned before that is an unsettling place to be when you’re married to someone who is training t0 be a minister in a church.
There are just so many overlaps and confusions that it seems to become a mire that is impossible to escape sometimes.

On top of that there is an extra  layer of mire – Northern Irish, evangelical, Presbyterian, cultural baggage mire that I’m also having to wade through.

When I first lived in Northern Ireland I always  had my doubts but they where simply overwhelmed by the size my Christian bubble.  Any doubts I had got forgotten about in the rush to do church stuff or hang out with my Christian friends.
There was a hint of something different during my student days, especially around Queen’s  CU with talk about grace and about not wearing masks but it wasn’t until I moved down to Dublin in 2000 that I can say I experienced something approaching grace in practice as well as theory.

I experienced something approaching freedom in a spiritual sense and also culturally. I had never enjoyed Belfast as a city but always loved Dublin. Happy where the rainy afternoons spent in Bewley’s by the fireplace drinking tea and eating a rock bun.  It was an amazing time to be in Dublin, so many different cultures and languages on the 66A into town, the IFI showing foreign films, music and good friends.
In the churches/ places I worked I experienced a different sort of community and most of all I knew that I was accepted no matter what happened.
A simple way to put it was that it felt like home to me. A different sort of home, but in a really good way.

That’s not to say that I still didn’t struggle with Christianity or church, but the thing was that I felt that I was accepted and given space to wrestle with God without any expectation that I had to hit a certain standard or wear a mask. There was freedom to wrestle with stuff, to wrestle with God and that was freeing.

Fast forward to my current situation and that doesn’t seem to be the case. I don’t feel that freedom to wrestle and worst of all there seems to be a merry-go-round of Christianity that I am expected to jump on which is made even worst by being married to a minister who is near to finishing up.

But that’s a discussion for another day.

There are many reasons I have found it hard to fit in and don’t feel as free or as joyful, that Christianity is good news.
My more holy, biblical friends might be tutting and saying that it’s not our job to fit into  church or to be so individualistic, that the church is not a consumer choice and that we can’t be shopping around for the perfect church as there are none but I’m just about hanging in there with any faith I have so I’m not going to get too theological about things.|

There is the fear, life weakening fear that seems to hang over our churches and sneak about the pews up hear. Fear is like damp mist that drains any life out of so many people I see and has wrecked havoc with me and members or my extended family. Fear is all over the place, and fears seems to lead to control and abuse of power.
Or rather control seems to play into the hands of fear. Much of the religion I grew up with and have been witnessing again seems to be controlling things, about getting as many disembodied floaty souls to heaven as possible.
And this meant that you shouldn’t piss of the God who could send you to the flames of hell for all eternity, and the best chance of achieving that was to do what the minister said as he was the professional who understood what God wanted us to do the best.

Fear is coupled with death, particularly the fear of death and suffering. I honestly think this is the main problem with the religion I grew up with, this fear of death and of suffering and pain and of not hearing any or very little good news about how death is actually defeated.
Of course there is great suffering and pain in Dublin but up here the population seems significantly more obsessed with death.

So if there are two issues that I would love to hear more good news about it would be those two, the FEAR and DEATH. Those are the main components of the mire that has been bogging me down.

a Christian response to the car?

Yesterday I was goaded by a 16yr old girl who recently passed her driving test and wanted to know if I had got mine my driving license yet.

This young lady was about 8 or 9 when she heard about my knocking a cyclist over on my driving test in Dublin, an incident which resulted in the test merely being cancelled and rescheduled for another day. The cyclist was meanwhile thrown into the back of a transit van with her crumpled bike and taken home by builders. My driving tester took the rest of the day off in shock resulting in three other people failing to sit their test.

My driving tester also refused to drive the car back to the test centre as he wasn’t insured and gave me the option of either  leaving it marooned on traffic junction in Rathgar to be picked up later or driving it back to the centre despite having minutes before just knocked a lady over on my driving test.
Not wishing to bother Jim (my driving instructor) I  drove his Nissan Micra back  and then drove it back to Dun Laoghaire while he spoke to his brother, (a traffic cop) about who would be held responsible insurance wise if someone ‘theoretically’ where to knock over a cyclist in a dual control Nissan Micra on a bicycle lane.

Which is my way of saying that I haven’t had a great experience with driving and haven’t got my test yet at the age of 33yrs old.

There is a certain amount of shame attached to not driving I guess, especially when you see 16yr old girls half your age getting theirs. There is also a certain degree of freedom that I haven’t experienced. For instance if I wanted to go up to Ballycastle tomorrow  it would involve waiting for a slow Ulsterbus service or working out some other way of doing it with lifts or hitch hiking perhaps.
I couldn’t load the car up  withpaints if I wanted to paint, or put the guitar in the back if I wanted to write songs looking out over the Atlantic and listen to cool CD’s (or cassettes if you’ve a aging Nissan Almera like us) on the way up to Ballycastle.
I can’t give lifts for people and have to rely sometimes on others, sometimes on long guilt laden trips back from some far off place wishing that I could drive and give H____ a break.
The biggest fear I suppose is what will happen when the dreaded call comes through that so and so has been rushed into hospital or if you need to get somewhere fast.
How will you cope if you have to get there and you can’t just hop into your car and get there?
But I guess that those calls won’t be easy even with a car and a driving license.

So the odds seem fairly well stacked that I should have learned to drive years ago and that it’s a serious handicap to a full and fulfilled life.

Cars seem to be woven into the fabric of our society as a vital part of that society. So much of our lives revolve around the convenience of the motor car.
I was just watching something on the BBC news about people gurning complaining about the price and tax of petrol and oil and how it was disgraceful. For these people the ability to get around the place in their cars and lorries is a fundamental human right.

But here is the thing.
Cars and mobility aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be.  Maybe that’s a lie we’ve been sold by car manufacturers and oil companies over the years for them to keep the shareholders happy. I don’t know, I’m just throwing it out there or at least wanting to question why we’re so beholden to the car.

Here are some things from  ‘The Rough Guide to Ethical Living’ that we should at least take on board for consideration

– a typical car produces it’s own weight in carbon dioxide for every 6000miles driven
– exhaust emissions include a cocktail of carcinogens and fumes which according to the government are largely responsible for the airborne pollution that cause 25,000 premature death and as many hospitalizations each year in the UK
– more British people have died on roads since 1945 than were killed in World War II. In fact according to this website

‘By the year 2020 the World Health Organisation predicts that death and injury caused by the motor vehicle globally will increase by about 65% and become the third biggest cause of death.

the third biggest cause of death!

– new roads and cars consume huge amounts of resources  from countryside to oil.

Our thirst for oil is constantly putting us on a collision course with other countries and with the rest of creation. We have to drill more out of the way places and there are more people demanding oil so that they can live the lives that we have Westerners have been modelling for decades.

So more people, less and less oil.

Driving is going to get more expensive and become more and more an activity for the well off.

So yes, there is a burden of shame and stigma attached to me being unable to drive (at the moment) but should that be the case if we’re being loving to our neighbour, our global neighbour?

Perhaps we need to start thinking of ways to doing things.
Actually, we are going to have to start new ways of doing things because less and less of us are going to be able to afford driving a car in the future.

animal ASBO’s……. for real

Of course water shrews, water voles and otters don’t really come out at night to wreck havoc on the general public…….or do they?
Since I put the song up on Wed I have spotted this story on the BBC website about a rat biting a gentleman’s (well thats probably the wrong description for a man who was arrested for menacing his wife)………….um ‘delicates’.

And much closer to home  I was reminded of this story from a few years back of a stoat attacking an OAP in Co. Down.

Be careful out there….