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.

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’


‘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…’



human planet / island earth

I can barely watch Human Planet on BBC iplayer – its breaking my heart even though it’s beautiful. Perhaps it should be an uplifting experience  and you’re enjoying it, but I feel so sad, frustrated and a bit angry watching it. What can we do?

Tonight H___ and I watched a teenager from The Phillipines fishing 40 metres under sea with a plastic tube in his mouth carrying oxygen pumped from a rickity old compressor that could give up the ghost at any point (resulting in certain death) because the numbers of fish in the sea are dwindling and they have to push out further and to deeper depths.

Or the  bit where they film an uncontacted tribe in the Amazon.They film the tribe because it is better that they shoot and record them on film than somebody from a mining company shooting them.And on and on.

Of course there are stories of hope in the series as well, but the overall feeling that I get is that time is running out for these people or that traditions are being lost and that things need to change.
The sea levels are rising, the rainforests are being chopped down, the glaciers are retreating. Our machines and technology over the past few hundred years have allowed us to alter everywhere on the planet. We know that we’re an island in space and that there is only so much water for everyone, or fish in the sea or land to be used yet we trundle on  and I can’t see anything stopping it now and  in the end that depresses me.

And to be blunt, because late at night is often when my doubts about God and Christianity seep out – how is God going to pull this one out of the fire?

Of Gods and Men (and hope?)

H_____ really wanted to go to the cinema on New Year’s Eve and the film that she really wanted to see was ‘Of Gods and Men‘. I wasn’t overly keen to see it as it seemed a bit of  a downer for what is traditionally a day that doesn’t need any extra help to be a downer.
But it was either that or have a domestic downer around the streets of Dublin. So away to the cinema we went.

Coming out of The Lighthouse after watching the film I felt a strange sense of despair. It was a very well crafted film (based on  true story), dealing with faith and Christian suffering in a realistic way. I loved the scenes of the brothers farming the land, going to the market, going about their daily business of housekeeping and the good Christ like lives they lived day in, day out in the small rural village in Algeria.

Yet the final scene of the film, where these ordinary, good Christian men walk and trudge in  a line silently before disappearing into the mist and snow of an African mountain filled me with emptiness and left me despairing.
I don’t know how to explain it except its like they followed Jesus in life and to the cross and died, but where is the good news at the end?

It would be like watching  a very well made, thoughtful and beautiful film about Jesus and the disciples and the final scene of the movie was a beautifully shot image of Jesus being marched up Calvary to be executed then the credits rolling.
I’m not one for happy endings, easy answers and Sunday School but if the best we can aim for in death is a walking into some  beautiful, cold and silent Christmas card scene after struggling and living as best we could  in our community it doesn’t give me any sort of peace or hope.
What about a Promised Land, resurrection and good news?
Where was the hope?

matter matters

The breath of God is only one of the divine gifts that makes us living souls; the other is the dust…Forgetting that the dust, too, is a creature of the Creator, made by the sending forth of His spirit, we have presumed to decide that dust is ‘low’. We have presumed to say that we are made of two parts: a body and a soul, the body being “low” because made of dust, and the soul” high
Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace

Those words by Mr Berry have been making me think this morning on a bright and sunny morning here in Belfast.

Its such a battle to reprogram my way of seeing the world (especially as a Christian) into one in which the things outside my brain, the stuff I can see, touch and smell matters. Matter matters as NT Wright and others have said.

The thinking that on one side we have an earthly bleuuuugggghhhhhhh side that is dying and decaying and on the other a holy beautiful soul side that we must nurture and is going to float up into heaven when the earthly bit of us dies is so deeply ingrained in me that its hard to shake off.

Habits like always closing our eyes during prayer maybe doesn’t help. Its like saying the things we see or experience, our neighbours and people in church are only distractions from what really matters, namely getting in touch with God by using our thought and mind.

Yet God made the dust.
And as Wendell Berry points out later on in the essay, Christians have a responsibility to use the physical world that God gave us as a gift. Wood, stones, oil, ink, soil, everything. We are all artists as we’re reworking God’s great creation artistry.
As I type this I am watching workmen walking on scaffolding at the Central Lending library. One man is drilling a hole with a hammer drill into the wall, the noise annoying 3 men using the computers in front of me.
Another one is hammering and chipping away at brick
Some people would call them builders, which they are.
Yet they are also artists,  reworking the raw materials that God made with tools made from the raw materials that God also made.
Which means that we are all artists.
That means we have a responsibility to use all raw materials well, in a way that honours God and loves our neighbours. Which I think is exciting, but also demanding.

Plus its hard to live and remember.


If this world is really good and not going to be destroyed by God but redeemed and recreated,
if the body is good and matter matters,
if the Kingdom of Heaven actually started on this earth,
in actual history because of the actual physical resurrection of Jesus and we’re living out that story right now in our communities,
if we’re about the earthing of heaven
what does that actually mean in concrete real terms?

I’ve been wrestling with this issue for the last few years, ever since my Christian faith became constipated and all I could muster for weeks on end was the Lord’s Prayer. What does it mean when we pray

‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’?

another aspect of this is what does it mean to be truly human?

thy will be dung

what if we planted vegetables,herbs, flowers and had fruit trees on our church land instead of just lawns?
For one thing lawns seem to me to be about maintaining the status quo, keeping the grass nice and neat whereas vegetables and fruit are about producing  a crop.
You could give extra produce away to the needy, grow sunflowers for the sick and have communion over a soup lunch grown on the former church lawn.