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?

industrial fishing

I found this  sitting in a bookshop  a few weeks back and have been dipping into it ever since (the orange book that is, not the vegetable peelings..)


I skipped some chapters  as they didn’t seem to be that relevant to the world I live in.

When it was written in the mid 60s we didn’t have mobile phones and Twitter, instant digital communication in our pockets, ATMs, debit cards, Ryanair etc.  The population of the earth was 3.3 billion, now there are 4 billion extra people and growing.

It is a pretty good reminder of things I’ve been taught over the years,  from talks as a student to chats with people I know.
Reading it  now it doesn’t seem to engage with the world much outside the UK, which is was maybe to be expected. Perhaps before the computer revolution the world was less linked. I don’t know if the right term is globalization, but now we’re maybe more linked to people over the planet and not just those in the UK or Ireland.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by thinking about who is my neighbour and how am I to love them?
Assuming that everyone is my neighbour on the planet right now I don’t really know how to live wisely.
Do we have to make a sort of league table of things we care about a lot and then other things we relegate to near the bottom?

The problem is maybe praying those lines in the Lords Prayer of ‘on earth as in heaven’. The earth is so big! It is tiring trying to work it out. How do I change my actions in a globalized world to make it more like heaven?

An example of the sort of line which I would have accepted as being true when  I was student but now I am not so sure about is:-

‘The bounty of nature is there to be used and there is enough for all if only we have energy enough to lay claim to it’

I am not sure if there is enough for all, or at least enough for all living a typical Western diet with hunks of meat and driving cars.
There are 4 billion extra people in those 50 yrs since he wrote this book.  Does the planet have enough bounty to allow everyone to live even a modest western style lifestyle?

In some cases is there is even a bounty of nature left for people to use?
An example of that would be the collapse of the cod fishery in Newfoundland.
Around the  60s when this book was written vast quantities of fish where being taken on an industrial scale and then the bounty disappeared.

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 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.


economically inactive

I stumbled across the phrase ‘economically inactive’ for the first time, a phrase which pushed all the wrong buttons early on Monday morning and got me worked up.
It says a lot about something, I’m not sure what

‘The number of economically inactive people in the UK is measured by the Labour Force Survey (LFS) and consists of people aged 16 and over without a job who have not sought work in the last four weeks and/or are not available to start work in the next two weeks. The main economically inactive groups are students, people looking after family and home, long term sick and disabled, temporarily sick and disabled, retired people and discouraged workers.

I guess it winds me up because it is saying that if you don’t have a paid job and aren’t looking for one for whatever reason then you are not working. Or rather you are not working with a capital W, work that brings in a wage and contributes to the economy.

So if you are a looking after a sick relative or being a housewife with a few kids you are being inactive from an economic point of view, and that somehow is an undesirable state of affairs.

Perhaps I’ve just got a bee in my bonnet (my wife thought so!), but in my opinion this sort of terminology and thinking adds guilt and shame to people who should have no reason to feel as if they are not contributing to the economy (or THE ECONOMY) or being lazy.

If you are looking after a sick parent with dementia day in, day out for weeks on end you are working as much as the high flying businessman or doctor. We can’t let money or our wage define us, work is so much bigger than something we get paid to do

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.

trying to be the brightest

the gentle man said
that you would be ranked
from top to bottom
with the person on top of the pile likely to be offered the job
while the person at the bottom of the pile
the loser (although he was much too polite to put it like that)
the rank outsider
being unlikely to be offered the position

so one job
many applicants
one post
Why do you think you be the best person for the job?’

then the tug of war between what I should say to get the position
on top of the pile
and Jesus, Jesus pulling the other side of the rope saying
wash feet serve others first do unto others
or variants and the general all round craziness of the situation
of trying to finish top of the pile
just to justify that I’m not a layabout or to get extra cash
in a time of austerity

this is madness
a choice of trying my best to finish top of the pile
knowing that other people want the same thing
(or else they wouldn’t have applied)
to win the competition
and people will be happy/relieved for me
Good luck!‘ they wish me
Y9u’re as good as the next man!‘ they reassure me

yet what sort of reassurance is it?
because I’m torn between
two contradictions…

competition,Jesus and pacifism

Forgive me for what I am about to blog (I know not what I do) but I can’t sleep and the sky has brightened up in that gunmetal grey, Ulster way and here I am blogging at 4.37am ( which is guaranteed to lead to an mess of a post ) possibly with things I don’t really mean or sweeping statements that I may regret writing.
Anyway, I’ve thoughts on my mind.
Today I was thinking that if I loose my faith it’s probably going to be one of two things that push me over the edge.

Number One.
Suffering and pain, especially the silence of God in suffering and pain.But I expected that to be challenge.

Number two. What feels like the ‘unworkability’ of  Jesus’ commands in day- to-day life.

I had expected the first threat, the silence and feeling that God wasn’t there or was just a phantom.
But the idea that it might be the voice of God that pushes me over the edge is something that I’d never considered.

It may be the thing that wears me down because unbearable suffering and sorrow doesn’t happen every day,
but the day-to-day, (tomorrow morning when I wake up for example) does happen everyday, and it’s  in that day-to-day that I’m expected to live life,
and it is also in the day-to-day that a Christian is supposed to be living out commands such
‘..turn the other cheek
or ‘..give him your cloak as well
or ‘do to others what you would have them do to you‘. …everyday.

A Christian is called to follow Jesus.

How is a man supposed to mesh  this sort of crazy counter-cultural stuff in the dog eat world streets of Lisburn City?

How a Christian is supposed function in this panicking, worried and fearful atmosphere without compromising and keeping his holy bits for Sunday morning?

Every step seems to scream that life is a competition.
Well not every step, but large and very important segments of life seem based on competition such as the job market.

(Ah, another duel at dawn with my old arch-nemesis ‘the job market’.)

I’m looking for a job at the moment, or paid employment .

But the only way I can effectively obtain a job is by getting more competitive,  by sprucing up my cv and applying for jobs and hoping that I fill in my application form better than someone else,
or that I am more eloquent in an interview,
of competing and hoping that I am a stronger  ‘more suitable’ candidate that someone else.
My hope is to be more alert in spotting an opening or opportunity than someone else and force my way through the merest c rack, thereby proving my worthiness.

Or else what?
Just sit here and hope for a surprise phone call,
or for some kindly benefactor,
or to have a chance conversation with Ireland’s only urban farmer who offers me a chance to learn the trade on the spot,
or to try and risk it on some hair brained scheme?
No,that won’t work, life doesn’t work like that. You have to earn it and prove that you are worthy and better, a hard worker. Don’t sitting on your arse,  get out there and show the world what you are made off.

There might be a job in a very caring charity doing very caring work,
yet you have to compete for that position and prove that you would be a more caring person than someone else. You have to trample and gobble to serve.

Or to become a minister or pastor and tell people about God’s grace  and unmerited favour that you can’t  earn, (‘Only by grace can we enter etc.’)  you must  pass exams to prove that you can do it and earn your way in.
So  only by qualifications and high enough marks can you enter, only by academic gifts can you stand.

But is Christianity compatible with competition and competing?
Is it not something much closer to community and co-operation, with sharing and grace, with gift and service?

For example I might see a job opening and would like that job to earn some money and go on holiday, pay the rent, learn to drive.

But at the same time I also know that x other people would like that job as well so that they can go on holiday, buy the kids Christmas presents, get some dignity from paid employment etc. and that makes things difficult.

So what do I do if I am to  take that whole ‘do unto others what you would have them do to you‘ command literally, that whole bit about loving your neighbour as yourself seriously?

It almost suggests that I should go into the interview with a view to giving up my rights to the job. I might be equally well qualified, even more qualifed but if I am following a God who gave up his rights and majesty does that have implications for job hunting.

Or are there different levels of neighbour?
Like is it OK to compete and strive and fight and trample over your neighbour if you are doing it for the sake of your family?

To even voice that seems dodgy, the perceived wisdom is that of course you should do anything to protect and look after your loved ones, it’s your responsibility to provide. But who are our loved ones? Who is your brother, who is your mother?

I found this article earlier on  and it quotes from someone called Donald Hagner

“Love for one’s neighbour means acting towards others with their good, their well-being, their fulfillment, as the primary motivation and goal of our deeds”

I thought it might be the silence of God that would send me over the edge,but it might just as easily be the voice of God, the trying to build your house on the rock and not the sand.

Although he was writing about Gandhi and pacifism George Orwell expressed something of the practicality of Christianity in the real world.

‘In relation to the late war, one question that every pacifist had a clear obligation to answer was: ‘What about the Jews?Are you prepared to see them exterminated? If not, how do you propose to save them without resorting to war?’ I must say that I have never heard, from any Western pacifist, an honest answer to this question…’

It’s all very well having lofty ideals but how do you propose it working in real life?
Jesus, it’s all very well saying turn the other cheek or do unto others but how do you propose it working in real life?