Fragile circles of life

All around us, life is circling.

Some circles are big, some very small.

Insects that live a whole life in one of our days. Breakfast sees the end of childhood, lunch the weight of middle age responsibility, tea time the creaking of age, and with night, the sleep of the dead. Until the next generation comes into being.

Or consider the life of these tall trees.

Each slow forming ring of growth, evidence of their elevation over our own anxieties.

Each falling leaf layering the soil, laying down the food for the coming spring.

Each spreading branch offering the arm of shelter to a thousand lesser creatures. And me.

Seeding slowly and deliberately.

But even the tallest trees

Will one day


And what of us?

What of our life time? We tend to see our journeys as linear. Even then, perhaps we are comfortable with the now, less so with the tomorrow, and the future is a foreign country, were be dragons.

Away we go, off into middle distance – always forward, but often acting as if we are standing still.

But we are born not to die,

But to live.

To trace our own arc through this space of ours –

To windmill wide and open,

To love this life

And let it love us back

Perhaps unlike any of these other circles, we humans have this gift (this curse) of knowing

Knowing and seeking to know more

Seeking to connect and to overlap these circles-

Seeing where they depend one on the other

Seeing where they smash into one another

Vulnerable to the sharp jagged things

But capable

Of such joy

Liberation theology, Capitalism and Communism.

For years I have heard stories about the Roman Catholic clerics who defied the worst despotic regimes of South America in the 1060’s and 70’s. Bishop Romero gunned down in his Cathedral, Priests and Nuns who chose to live alongside the poor and oppressed, and to try to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Out of this melting pot was born a new way of understanding the words of Jesus, known as ‘Liberation Theology.’

Pope John-Paul spoke out against this movement. He grew up in so-called Communist Poland, and liberation theology sounded too much like communism to him. As a social sciences graduate who was also a Christian, the critique offered to Western Capitalism by socialist writers, and even by old Marx himself always resonated with me. I think it was CS Lewis who called Communism a ‘Christian Heresy’.

The 1980’s and 90’s saw an end to the old ideological divides in Europe- everyone became a free marketeer it seems. The Labour party in Britain stopped talking about ‘poverty’, lest it scare off the middle class (Bourgeois!) vote. Instead we talked about educational attainment, and ‘social exclusion’.

But, as Jesus said, the poor are still with us. A recent WHO report has pointed to the growing health inequalities in the UK, and commentators have raised again the issue of inequality of income as the main causal factor.

And if we look broader than the boundaries of my own country we see global economics are managed by the ‘free market’- but in this system, as in all others, there are winners and losers. The system, say many, is rigged against those who have not, in favour of those who have.


Liberation theology is a Christian movement of protest and support for the poor. They would point us to the words of Jesus – yes the poor may always be with us, but our best service to Jesus is to serve the least.

  • The call is to see people. And to see them as the beloved of God.
  • The cause might be varied – but as Mother Theresa put it, “We rob our brothers by all that we own”.
  • The solution is to learn how to love – and to live this out wherever you are – in the slums or in the boardroom.

Here is a definition culled from the good old BBC (from here.)

“Love for the poor must be preferential, but not exclusive.”Ecclesia in America, 1999

Liberation theology was a radical movement that grew up in South America as a response to the poverty and the ill-treatment of ordinary people. The movement was caricatured in the phrase If Jesus Christ were on Earth today, he would be a Marxist revolutionary, but it’s more accurately encapsulated in this paragraph from Leonardo and Clodovis Boff:

“Q: How are we to be Christians in a world of destitution and injustice?

A: There can be only one answer: we can be followers of Jesus and true Christians only by making common cause with the poor and working out the gospel of liberation.”
Leonardo and Clodovis Boff

Liberation theology said the church should derive its legitimacy and theology by growing out of the poor. The Bible should be read and experienced from the perspective of the poor.

The church should be a movement for those who were denied their rights and plunged into such poverty that they were deprived of their full status as human beings. The poor should take the example of Jesus and use it to bring about a just society.

Most controversially, the Liberationists said the church should act to bring about social change, and should ally itself with the working class to do so. Some radical priests became involved in politics and trades unions, others even aligned themselves with violent revolutionary movements.

A common way in which priests and nuns showed their solidarity with the poor was to move from religious houses into poverty stricken areas to share the living conditions of their flock.

I believe that Jesus always had a bias towards the weak and the poor. Any reading of the Sermon on the Mount has to twist theological somersaults to deny this. And I can not subscribe to the idea that International Capitalism, propagated with such enthusiasm by the ruling Christian west, will have much currency in the Kingdom of God.

But neither do I have any faith in a coming Marxist utopian revolution. I would rather hope for Christians who plant hope and beauty in the broken places.

Where the poor people are.

The challenge is for the rest of us to find out what that means for us.

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Church abuse 3

I have posted previously about abusive situations in churches (see Church abuse and church abuse 2.)

I felt justified in focusing on such negative aspects of the people of faith as I keep coming across people who used to go to church. When I ask them to tell me their stories, my heart breaks. I have had two conversations in the last week that trod the same path.

But lest it seem as though I just want to bash church- here is something that I hope will redress the balance…

Another film from America, called ‘Lord save us from your followers’ explores the image that Christians portray to the wider US nation and finds evidence that Jesus is at work…

For more info, and a download for the film- check out this link.

Here is another short trailer…

Ordinary Radicals film

A new film is being released in the USA, trying to get to grips with emerging Christian movements across America, called ‘Ordinary radicals’ check out information and trailer clips here– looks interesting…

Not sure whether it will be released over here, but I think we will be able to download it when it is released.

This is the synopsis;

In the margins of the United States, there lives a revolutionary Christianity. One with a quiet disposition that seeks to do “small things with great love,” and in so doing is breaking 21st Century stereotypes surrounding this 2000 year old faith. “The Ordinary Radicals” is set against thie modern American political and social backdrop of the next Great Awakening. Traveling across the United States on a tour to promote the book “Jesus for President”, Shane Claiborne and a rag-tag group of “ordinary radicals” interpret Biblical history and its correlation with the current state of American politics. Sharing a relevant outlook for people with all faith perspectives, director Jamie Moffett examines this growing movement.

As Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw write in the book, “This is not a set of political suggestions for the world; this is about invoking and embodying the alternative. All of this is an invitation to join a peculiar people- those with no king but God, who practice jubilee economics and make the world new. This is not the old-time religion of going to heaven; this is about bringing heaven to the world.”

Featuring Interviews with: Becky Garrison, Shane Claiborne, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Rob Bell, John Perkins, Brooke Sexton, Michael Heneise, St. Margret Mckenna, Logan Laituri, Zack Exley, Aaron Weiss and many more Ordinary Radicals.

Here is a taster…

Canoes and wilderness- a perfect combination for the soul…

Will and a Loch Eck Cranog

Will and a Loch Eck Cranog

Living where we do, within reach of wonderful lochs and mountains, is such a blessing.

A few years ago, we bought an old beaten up ex-outdoor centre canoe. It still gives amazing service. I slap on a bit of filler around the wear points on the hull every now and again, but on the whole, it seems indestructable.

We have taken it out to the islands of Eigg and Gigha, and paddled many lochs and rivers. We have been buzzed by sharks and dolphins, paddled through packs of slightly scandalised seals, and used it for canoe-camping trips and beach barbecues.

I think the kids take it for granted a little. I sometimes have to persuade them it is a good idea. Michaela has never been totally comfortable in it- despite the fact that we have never once capsized. It can feel very exposed however when the wind and rain whips in, and it is very difficult to make progress if you are heading into the weather.

But canoes get you to places that few other forms of transport can- and their quiet, sedate way of achieving this means that are much more likely to encounter wildlife.

I came across the following clip which kind of dwarfs our humble little adventures. Enjoy…

Acts of the Apostles- whatever happened next?

As I have mentioned previously (here) we have begun a study in our group called ‘Exilio’, which combines a study of a Book called Exiles by Michael Frost with a study of the book of Acts.

The whole thing is intended as a way to consider the nature of the life of faith in this post- modern/Christendom/enlightenment western world that we live in.

One of the exercises given to us has been to read parts of Acts in a public place.  This places the stories of the first followers of Jesus firmly in our own context in a quite powerful way. The stories of these Christian communities forming and storming, living and loving in their own imperfect imitation of the Jesus way…

It set me thinking… what happened next?

We know a little- through surviving fragments of history. We know that the stories of Jesus spread like wildfire through the Empire of the Romans. We know that to be a Christian was often to be considered a dangerous subversive, and to be subject to state censure and persecution. Far from eradicating this plague of proselytisers we know too that the very capital of the Empire became the hub of an underground network.

And in some cases, this network was literally underground! Christians from the 2nd Century until the adoption of Christianity as a state religion in 380, made miles of tunnels in the soft Volcanic rock below the city of Rome- where they were thought to meet in secret, and to make shrines to dead martyrs.

Here are some of the symbols left like boy-scout patterns for others to follow;

What was it like to live in those times? What did Jesus mean to these people that he would become the centre of their lives- at risk of everything?

How much of our their world view, their understanding of God, or their doctrine would we recognise today?

But how much could we learn from them?

Here are some more of the marks they left- Adam and Eve, and Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

What marks will our generation of Christians leave behind?

Loch Fyne, September

Loch Fyne II by antsplan.

September is upon us.

The kids are back at school, and this weekend, Dunoon is askirl to the sound of massed bagpipes as the annual Cowal Games begin. The year is turning, and I always feel a tinge of sadness coming like the premonition of winter…

The colours of autumn are already seen in the tops of the oak trees around beautiful Loch Fyne.

Which turns me all poetic;


The water moves like light on glass
It slides in silver strands
Stretched out by tide
Underlined by the wake
Of a fishing boat
Pulling a wave that shines and rolls
Like a whales back

And for a backdrop
The low sunlight
Makes sepia the ancient hillside
Here kissed by gold
There deep in the shadow of a summer almost gone

Above the ragged hill farm
Dogs hurry sheep to lower ground
Flowing like beads of mercury over the folds of ground
Until a corrugation funnels them out of sight
And the hills are empty for their passing

In the moment
I take nothing for granted
I close my eyes
And blink back a tear
Blown out by a cold wind
And try to pixelate

September 2005, Loch Fyne.

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Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven…

Come with me my loved oneslet_the_earth_rejoice_bmug.jpg

Come into this Kingdom of mine

Shake free your feet

From concrete shoes

And dance

With me

Let me speak some tender words my loved one

For my heart is laid

Wide open

Ventricle and clavicle

Could easily be


Hear my distant voice

Dancing in the mountains

My music in these flowers

And flowing in the fountains

Come away with me my love

In this hillside let us…



Apple of my

Shining eye

Lily of my valley.

Favourite word 3- ‘indigo’


Another lovely word.

I think it reminds me of something half remembered from primary school- a reading set of books that only the keen readers ever progressed to taking home.

Or an ink pen whose innards bled blue blood all over my fingers.

It describes colour, distance, depth. It contains a promise of space beyond space- like a night sky.

Gregory of Nyssia, a 4th Century mystic, likened the move towards God as to a journey into holy darkness. He suggested that the deeper and further we go, the more darkness we find in the light. For him, God is unknowable- a dark purple mystery, drawing us on- calling us to explore further and further…


In we go.

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In an earlier post, I said this…

I loved Seth Lakeman’s set on Saturday evening- he made me proud- not sure what of exactly- perhaps that English-ness thing again.

A trip down south set me thinking again about my roots, and the nature of our heritage in these wonderful islands.

I have struggled to feel fully at home anywhere- at least in terms of geography. I am Northern English, if anything- and that is a different thing from Southern English I can tell you!

But my father is Irish.

And I live in beautiful, proud Scotland.

But still, I remain… English.

This comes to me in subtle ways. In gentle landscapes and rugged hills misted with rains and quartered off by ‘dry’ stone walls.

In a love for cricket in all its skillful grace.

It is wrapped up in stories of working men trespassing in the Penine hills in defiance of the landowners- claiming the gritstone for their weekends and their children’s picnics.

Of the Levellers and the Luddites and the Chartists.

Of the Methodists who formed the labour movement with their English kind of revolution.

It has nothing to do with this

or even this

Perhaps most of us encounter our roots through our cultural connection- perhaps above all things, through music. Perhaps that why I enjoyed Seth Lakeman driving folk music at Greenbelt so much. Despite him being a Southener, his music, rising as it does from working class South West England, communicates something of the history that connects me with who I am, and where I came from. My Scottish friends can not understand this- any more than I can really ever become Scottish.

One of my favourite bands is another West country duo called A show of Hands. They wrote a song that captures something of this. Here’s a you tube clip of their (somewhat naff!) video. Song is great though…