goddisgoode

I like this bit in ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’ by Elizabeth David. It reminds me that a good loaf (or beer) is something to say thanks for, a gift of grace.

“In Chaucer’s England one of the names for yeast or barm was goddisgoode ‘bicause it cometh of the grete grace of God.’These words imply a blessing. To me that is just what it is.It is also mysterious, magical.No matter how familiar its action may become nor how successful the attempts to explain it in terms of chemistry and to manufacture it by the ton, yeast still to a certain extent retains its mystery.”

scorn

Unfortunately I’m becoming such a cynical, sneering scornful person especially perhaps with people in church or my particular denomination.
It is a horrible way to go with people (and myself) as Jacques Ellul reminded me last night.

Help me change.

‘To scorn is to condemn the other person to complete and final sterility, to expect nothing more from him and to put him in such circumstances that he will never again have anything to give. It is to negate him in his possibilities, in his gifts, in the development of his experience. To scorn him is to rip his fingernails out by the roots so that they will never grow back again. The person who is physically maimed, or overwhelmed by mourning or hunger can regain his strength, can live again as a person so long as he retains his honor and dignity, but to destroy the honor and dignity of a person is to cancel his future, to condemn him to sterility forever. In other words, to scorn is to put an end to the other person’s hope and to one’s hope for the other person, to hope for nothing more from him and also to stop having any hope for himself’

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

badlands
‘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.

st seamus and the house martins

The continuing weekend of  small time misery continues,
still in the midst of it all a moment of grace supplied by the birds,
a swirling flock of house martins flying behind the house,
darting and arrowing over the Lagan and trees.
Most days I mightn’t even notice,
maybe nobody else noticed or even cared as it’s not a big deal
but it was there out the window.

It reminded me of one of my favourite Seamus Heaney poems, St Francis and the Birds…

St Francis and The Birds

When Francis preached love to the birds
They listened, fluttered, throttled up
Into the blue like a flock of words

Released for fun from his holy lips.
Then wheeled back, whirred about his head,
Pirouetted on brothers’ capes.

Danced on the wing, for sheer joy played
And sang, like images took flight.
Which was the best poem Francis made,

His argument true, his tone light.

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

 

rainbow at easter

Today has been a strange day.
It’s the day when Christians gather to celebrate the rising and victory of Jesus over the grave, a day for celebration if ever there is a day to celebrate for a Christian.

Yet to put it simply, life still feels shit, the same as it did a few days before, in fact much blacker and horrible than I’ve had in a while. It’s a day of lead feet and an awareness of how ‘off target’ I’ve been with so much of my life, of confusing strength with being proud, of feeling let down by God while being very aware that I’m a let down as well.
In other words, I’m feeling crap and anything like celebrating despite it being Easter Sunday.

It’s hard. But you probably don’t me to tell you that as you’ll know that yourself, life is hard. This was going to turn into  another post about struggles and wrestling but I briefly  looked up from the computer and could see the tail of the rainbow out the study window. Some may put that down as a coincidence, but not me.
It happens on occasions that God whispers to me through creation, rainbows from windows and buzzards at the exact time I would need to see a buzzard, creepy crows and blackbird nests in the garden.

So yes, life is hard and I don’t feel like celebrating much, I often can’t see how the resurrection is going to help me find a job this week, or be a better husband, or why church is like grinding teeth sometimes or why the good news doesn’t seem very much like good news but today I’ll cling to the rainbow out the window, because it’s a whisper in the dark of something bigger, or perhaps it’s creation celebrating it’s future redemption and restoration and telling me it’s all going to be alright.

Useful Work versus Useless Toil

‘It is assumed by most people nowadays that all work is useful, and by most well-to-do people that all work is desirable. Most people, well-to-do or not, believe that, even when a man is doing work which appears to be useless, he is earning his livelihood by it – he is “employed,” as the phrase goes; and most of those who are well-to-do cheer on the happy worker with congratulations and praises, if he is only “industrious” enough and deprives himself of all pleasure and holidays in the sacred cause of labour. In short, it has become an article of the creed of modern morality that all labour is good in itself – a convenient belief to those who live on the labour of others.’

taken from Useful Work versus Useless Toil
By William Morris

‘I have come to understand that a person that a person can do nothing good oneself, that for a person to be glad, to be well-off even to be able to eat and drink and enjoy oneself in the press and change of daily life – all this is purely a gift of God’
Ecclesiastes 3:12, 13

‘Only when Grace covers the toil, the rising up early, the sitting up late, eating the bread you worried about providing, only under and out of Grace does work find meaning, and can a person go on content’
Calvin Seerveld

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.