Tuesday, July 26, 2016

This Idiot's Guide to Casting off Burdens

A current toddler library favourite is The Snorgh and the Sailor - all about the joys and discomforts of realising you are living half a life. The Snorgh thinks he's content in a solitary, repetitive existence until a stranger tells him an exciting story. After that, there's no escaping the dissatisfaction.

Is the stranger helping or doing him a disservice?

In Exodus, Moses leads the Israelites out of cruel enslavement in Egypt. Once they get clear of it, they long to have it back. At least in bondage, somebody told them what to do and where to go.

It can be hard to tell which are our crosses and which are our heavy yokes. We are invited to carry the one and cast off the other in our search for truth and freedom. But first we have to decide which is which.

Currently disillusioned with my political party's leader and oft-times hurt by church leaders' love of control and power, here are a few ideas:

Freedom is only found in community
A free community knows equal, multilateral relationships and is not in thrall to an elite or (worse) an individual leader
Freedom is more often found in change than in consolidating the status quo
Freedom avoids celebrity worship

Freedom is comfortable with difficult strangers ......
..... especially those telling unsettling stories.
Freedom has no truck with 'should'.
Freedom will look just as good to one person as it does to the other - there are no a priori winners or losers
Freedom beats safety every time - though usually the latter is blindingly tempting.

Perhaps we can never be 100% sure whether our choices will set us free. When I'm at a total loss to know, I'd like to err on the side of doing what makes me feel most vulnerable.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Just now I am reading Flaubert's Parrot.

The novel is partly about how every communication is subjective. For example, a dating profile will always reveal a stereotype and not a person - 'They aren't lying .... but they don't tell the truth'. You are forced, in choosing to put your experience or self into words, to be false. Because language is at best a partial form of truth.

I tend to like a person in reality but find their facebook persona dreadfully irritating. Whether they present as a political campaigner, sharer of woes, advocater of positivity, a great wit, silent observer, perpetuator of selfies, memes and daily minutiae, I become dismissive much too easily. And no doubt it happens the other way around. (Or maybe I'm just particularly judgemental.....)

With the blog, I fret about the fact it only ever expresses tiny and necessarily skewed perspectives from my thought life. It isn't a summary of who I am - though in publishing it I become vulnerable to that misinterpretation.

In our society, we are less and less exposed to necessary personal interactions. We can even shop without a single conversation, if we wish. Recent political events show how bad we are at having conversations.

In our churches, increasingly and in worryingly similar vein, words are given priority over relationships. Want an evangelical church? Want a liberal church? Want an organ? Want social action? Open your laptop, check the websites, see which ones provide the items on your shopping list, then go along and compare the reality unfavourably with the sales pitch. Whatever happened to people defining the place?

Churches - and neighbourhoods - are stronger when they discover their ever-changing identity in real relationships. The more we try to fence ourselves of from reality-altering interactions, using words, the more false and fragile our identities become and the less genuinely truthful we are able to be.

In communicating, we need to remember the limits of written words. Pop next door. Chat openly with someone you know voted differently to you in the EU referendum. Scrap or abbreviate your statements of faith and policies.

And, in listening, let's remember every statement someone else makes is only a partial or even false utterance. That sounds a bit negative - but, actually, don't we do ourselves a favour if we  approach facebook updates, blogs, headlines and church websites as we might a dating profile? Let's look at them with a twinkle in our eye, assuming they are at least a little bit false......

.....but also assuming that there's someone real behind them who we'd really like to meet.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Blokes and Brexit

Well. We are having a bit of a time of it, wouldn't you say?

The shameful, nasty Brexit campaigns (both sides behaved badly. Farage, The Express, The Daily Mail and The Sun were, as usual, vile). The heartbreaking assassination of Jo Cox. And now the fallout from the Leave result: Labour and Conservatives falling apart; other European nations, as well as friends further afield, shaking their heads and wringing their hands.

What angers me most about the news post-referendum is how quickly it revealed that those who worked so hard to manipulate us to vote with them did so for the fun of it. For the thrill. So that they can guffaw over their next pint about how they got the nation to eat out of their hands (having left someone else to clear up the mess.) About how the other bloke with the smaller penis is now crying into his cornflakes.

And it was all blokes. This episode has been about powerful men dealing with powerful men. Looking to appear stronger. Boosting their egos. Trying to be Alpha. Playing with the little people they love to control.

The only high profile female to feature in this sorry chapter did not seek her fame. She just died while doing her job very, very well.

Of course, women can behave equally badly. But they haven't been doing so in evidence this time. Cameron, Johnson, Gove, Farage, Dacre, Murdoch and Desmond et al. played their petty little machismo games. They scoffed and backslapped and competed, and then pretty spectacularly buggered off, completely unconcerned with the little people they had trampled on. Posh / The Riot Club - by Laura Wade who happens to be a lady - says it all really.

And now we find that the only political leader who looks remotely credible is Nicola Sturgeon. And she'll be stuck behind an international border before long.