seed sowing

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The weather lovely, the wind not too blowy, a morning for planting seeds in the garden.
So far I’ve planted chervil, land cress, leeks, stir fry greens, comfrey, courgettes and Chinese broccoli. I’ve got modules ready for some kale and lettuce and other seed packets/
I’ve been reading the instructions but now I’m ignoring the instructions and just planting seeds willy-nilly as it just feels right to be putting them in the soil today in any way.

I thought that planting my own vegetables and herbs might save money. But seeds, modules, cloches, wood for raised beds adds up and you wonder if it might not be cheaper to just buy them at the supermarket. Then there is the weeding (already!), and the snail holes and the watering. My soil seems so dry and now that I’ve actually started planting stuff it also seems poor.

Is it worth my while planting vegetables?

Putting kale seeds into modules quickly goes to thoughts about work and the economy and how bags of peas can only cost £1.19. How much fertiliser is being blitzed into the soil in fields in unknown locations to make the economics work?
The more I do stuff in the garden the more the economy doesn’t make sense. Machines might make farm productivity greater but how many men and women have they put out of work? Stuff doesn’t add up.
I could spend weeks planting vegetables and working hard but the price of cauliflowers or carrots tells me that my work isn’t worthwhile. That is if the value of our work is measured in euros or salaries. Which is a lie because the value of our work doesn’t lie in the valuation of Mammon. Or at least it shouldn’t.

And we pay too little for our food and too much for frivolities and trinkets.
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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..)

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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.

I, frustrated

I am really frustrated as I feel I can’t communicate things that are deep inside me to people in a way that they’ll understand or even want to listen. Someone asked me last week if I liked writing and I tried to explain that I found it really hard to write, it makes me feel exhausted and at any rate I don’t feel particularly gifted with writing.
Yet here I am writing I suppose. But it’s alright typing how I’m feeling, but when it comes to things like expressing things I believe are wrong with the world or injustice, or if I want to point out beauty  or hope it drains me.

The biggest obstacle is trying to lose the word ‘I’. I dominates, especially on a blog and it makes you feel selfish in your writing. I don’t need to use the word I as much as I do. I don’t want my writing or art to be about me, but I’m not sure how to produce it with including me in it. See what I mean?

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…

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

reflection on peeling spuds


Our lives are so busy and ambitious that we often look down on the menial tasks such a peeling potatoes. Often peeling spuds is beneath us, something from the soil that doesn’t really engage our brain and creativity, just a dirty ball of carbohydrate that needs work done to make it useful. I don’t have time for this, I’ve places to go and more important things to do than peeling some potatoes on. Will I stick on some pasta instead?

While peeling potato number 4 I was reflecting on how much work would be involved in peeling and preparing potatoes.
I had Wee Gran in mind, a lady of over 80 who would have much of her life preparing potatoes for the 11 children she raised and my grandfather.
Saying gran took 10mins for potato preparation and had potatoes 6 times a week that would be an hour in potato preparation per week.

That would be 52hrs of potato preparation a year. Gran has been peeling spuds for well over 50 years. Someone like my gran could easily have spent a working year of her life just peeling potatoes.

I guess that while I’m peeling these potatoes I’m wondering on whether our generation has undervalued the dignity and work in household chores or if our lives are just too speedy to even consider such things.

fairness and unemployment and gospel and competition

I’m sitting here in my study eating a bowl of unsweetened muesli and listening to ‘Thunder Road’. There is a gale brewing up outside and I’ve the blues.
I’ve spent the last few days putting some books online to sell and drawing pictures for them and now I’m trying to tackle a job application form for a job I actually would like to do and think I could do well.

Yet I know that even if I muddle my way through filling in the application from that I’m unlikely to be considered for the post due to missing some of the essential criteria.

This is work, but it’s work that is unseen and unpaid. I thought the same thing peeling some muddy clogged spuds the other night. It took me a good 15mins, unseen in the kitchen to prepare the potatoes for the dinner, then extra time to prepare dinner for the two of us and time cleaning the dishes after, all of it work and all of it unseen and unpaid.

This is the story of millions around the country at the moment, working away but counted as unemployed and in need of finding ‘work’. And this has also been the experience of many a house wife who  somehow isn’t classified as a working mum.

It’s madness when you start to thing about it. Work shouldn’t be defined as something that you get money for doing. Especially from a Christian point of view. Yes, everyone is to earn their keep but does that have to equate earning money?
I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m trying to justify my own lack of desire to go out and fight tooth and nail for a job, pitting my wits against my fellow man and out do him just so out two unit family will survive above all other families. Yes, of course I could fight and scrap for a job and then share stuff but do the means justify the ends? That has been the argument from so many sensible people I know but I don’t see how that is the case. You can’t try trample over people just so that you can then be like Jesus when you get to the top.

I see this and any application form as really a battle of wits against all my unseen competitors. And so I have to make sure that I gain an advantage by proving my worth. All those tips about what to say and what not to say to give you the best chance, all those courses and training you should go on to give yourself a better chance, the way you should dress, the impression you should give, the techniques….it’s all a very wordly way of going about things.

Can you imagine if there was a job going in Bethsaida Tesco and the disciples and Jesus really needed the job to mak ends meet?

So there’s the disciple doing good deeds, then going home (or wherever they were staying) and trying their best to sound like they would be better at the job that the other disciples on a piece of paper, then sending it off to the HR Manager?

This doesn’t see to fit in with the kingdom of God and the upside-down kingdom, the first being last and serving your fellow man.Yet this undoing your fellow man and lurching after the one job in town seems to be accepted as just the way things are….well I thought the Gospel was the way things where supposed to be?

Of course the person doing the judging may pick the person best suited to the job but it’s still this competition  to prove my worth and be the best that seems anti-Gospel. Especially when the fact is that there just aren’t enough paid jobs for people to do.

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.