Hope for recovery…

I spent an afternoon meeting with some people who came together to discuss the establishment of a Recovery Network for people who have experienced mental ill health in Argyll.

The Recovery movement is one of the most exciting things to happen within the mental health world for years. It is a grass roots movement, turning the power relationships in psychiatry upside down. It’s persuasive idea is that we need to stop doing what we are doing, because it is not working- rather we need to equip, empower and inspire people towards control of their own choices and decisions towards building real and meaningful lives.

I was reminded again yesterday of the word HOPE.

Because recovery does not depend on the presence or absence of illness- for most people mental health ebbs and flows. For some of us, this ebbing and flowing can be more severe.

But recovery very much depends on the presence or absence of HOPE.

And where hope is being raised, it makes visible to me a kind of humanity that make clear that we are beautiful creatures, made a little lower than the angels.

But let us make no mistake- hope is a dangerous and scary word. It contains all possibilities, but also the danger of disaster and failure. It is something that we need to hold on to firmly but tenderly, like a bottle of nitro-glycerine.

And we need to acknowledge that for many, there is a recovery journey that begins first in daring to use the word again…

Here is a little more Foy Vance-

If theres one thing that I know
It is the 2 shades of hope
One the enlightening soul
And the other is more like a hangman’s rope
Well it’s true you may reap what you sow
But not that despair is the all time low
Baby, hope deals the hardest blows

There was once someone I loved
Whose heart overflowed his cup
And his shoes got covered in blood
Oh but he never knew cos he only looked up
Well he was in trouble and so
Had known pain more than most I know
Yet it was hope that dealt the hardest blows

And the girl that holds the hand
Of her somewhat distant man
Though she did everything she can
Still his heart set sail for distant lands
And she wonders sometimes if he knows
How she feels like a trampled rose
Baby, hope deals the hardest blows

Well some people think their sin
Caused the cancer thats eating into them
And the only way that they can win
Is by the healing of somebody’s hands on their skin and praying
But when the cancer does not go
Baby, hope dealt the hardest blows

And now all these truths are so
With foundations below them
They were dug out in a winter’s cold
When the world stole our young and preyed on the old, well
Hope deals in the hardest blows
Yet I cannot help myself but hope

I guess that’s why love hurts
And heartache stings
And despair is never worse
Than the despair that death brings
But hope deals the hardest blows, dear
The hardest
Hope deals the hardest blows

Greenbelt 2010- ‘Here comes everybody’

I spent a few hours yesterday making a start on constructing something for Aoradh’s worship collaboration at Greenbelt festival.

We are working with Safespace and Sanctus 1 to plan a day long worship event around the general theme of community- the people we journey with- with the title of ‘Here comes everybody’ after a Clay Shirky book title.

Part of this involves setting up a big loom in the middle of the room, and getting people to weave their communities into a tapestry- writing names on strips of cloth. Something like this I hope-

The horizontal lines will represent the presence of the Spirit of God- the attributes and fruit of the Spirit. The horizontal ones represent the communities and individuals that make up our lives.

I have been using saplings that I cut last year-

Cleaning and notching them-

And starting to construct two large frames that I will set up like a big artists easel.

It is a lovely thing to do- to take some bits of tree and construct something lovely and functional- with a view to allowing others to worship.

I’ll let you know how things go…

Scotland- top of the cocaine league…

A story on the news this morning described a recent UN drug report which placed Scotland in the premier league (you could say the world cup) of drug using.

The study found 3.7% of Scots aged 16 to 64 use the drug each year, and that we have a thriving criminal network supporting its sale.

Which raises the question- why here? Why now?

What is it about our society that sustains and encourages drug use to this level?

And what might stop us wanting to escape reality in this way, and be more fully alive to this beautiful place, full of beautiful people?

Answers on a postcard to Alex Salmond…

Solas festival…

We had a lovely day at Solas festival yesterday. Well- mostly lovely anyway.

Solas is a brand new festival held at Wiston Lodge, near Biggar. It is inspired by Greenbelt festival. A few of us from Aoradh went down, and we did ’40’ again, and set a few worship/poetry things. The festival was fairly small- a few hundred attendees. It felt a bit like it was looking for itself a little- not quite sure where it was coming from, but definitely heading somewhere…

’40’ was a bit of a disaster. The organisers had allowed no set up time, and inevitably we had technical problems, which meant that the soundscapes did not work. Also the room was really noisy as the rock band playing outside the window drowned us out. The end result was that we got all hot and sweaty and nervous- with me running around trying to get the sound to work whilst also reading one of the parts!

I have since been in to hospital to have my buttocks surgically unclenched because of the severity of the embarrassment.

But the festival was good. Lots of great music, and interesting discussion. And it was really lovely to be with my friends in a new context- meeting some folk that we new, but also lots of others for the first time. This is the real value of festivals for me- the chance to meet people and allow new things to grow.

I enjoyed Yvonne Lyon as ever- and loved Juliet Turner too.

As for the talking- I enjoyed listening to Richard Holloway, retired bishop and author. He spoke really well about his appreciation of the wide wobbly spectrum of faith- from hard religion, through softer forms right through to militant atheism. Holloway himself appears to be wavering around a faith that does not require God- but remains grateful for the inherited traditions.

He also told a story about his early love of Mysticism, particularly the work of Thomas Merton. This love took him on a retreat where he sought to deepen his understanding of the search for God through contemplation and mystical experience. However it seems that things did not go well- and Richard Holloway remembers the Roman Catholic priest who was his spiritual director saying something like this- “Don’t be bloody stupid, you are never going to be a mystic- you are a writer. You need to worship with a pencil in your hand.” That made me smile ruefully!

I also listened to Labour MP Douglas Alexander, former Secretary of State for International Development. He was slick, but impressive- a future leader of the Party perhaps? Another son of the Manse who is destined for great things.

Michaela was impressed by Alistair McIntosh– unfortunately I missed most of his talk.

Here’s hoping that the festival survives in these rather challenging economic times. Lord knows, Scotland needs the opportunity to celebrate a different kind of religion…

One of the Aoradh crew uses crutches- she has Lupus, and like most people of faith who have long term illnesses, she has had a long journey in dealing with the God who heals, but has not healed her. Helen is a lovely optimistic person, who now sees each day as a gift from God, and does many things despite the pain that she gets when she moves, and the potential long recovery time afterwards. She arrived at the festival field, and within minutes a man came up to her and asked to ‘pray with her for healing’. She politely refused, explaining that this was something that she had kind of thought to do for herself over the years. We later laughed- but it was not funny really.

It was an insensitive thing to do, but what surprised me was that this kind of way of faith is present within a festival like Solas. It is a kind of faith that many of us have experienced in the past, but have been grateful to leave behind.

It is not fair to sum up a whole festival by this one encounter- after all, we are all capable of doing some daft stuff in the name of Jesus- and this man is probably a nice and well meaning bloke. However, I do think that is kind of sums up where we are in terms of developing new kinds of church in Scotland. New developments like Solas are small, fragile, and tend to be an amalgam of people with quite disparate views- who are forced together by expediency because ANY new Christian thing is worth being part of.

There is a danger that the ticking time bomb of doctrinal warfare is always about to explode.

I am sure that the organisers of Solas this year have had a rocky road.

Pray for them- and it.

Reviewing the back catalogue…

I am doing some work on a new collection of poetry.

I have been writing poetry for many years- with spikes and troughs of productivity. I wanted to do something with some of the things I had written. It is hard work though- I find looking at things that I wrote a few years ago quite hard. The emotional meaning that they bring to me is muted by the passage of time, and for me poetry is perhaps above all an emotional thing.

Others may focus on the technical and cerebral aspects of poetry, but I think I am a bit too lazy for all that stuff… although I tinker a bit on the edges.

So rather than doing what I should be doing and organising and editing, I am writing new things.

I did come across this the other day though-



At the end of it all,

When history finally catches up with its vanishing point

What elements of you and me will still carry meaning?

Are we really no more than a knot along an evolutionary string?

Perhaps near the end

But then again, what a conceit that is-

Maybe we are nearer the beginning


Will all things pass,

Or are we elemental

Like the carbon molecules that mould us?


What might survive?

Poetry singing in the soul
The flicker of a rising sun
In an old man’s eyes
The heart stings of hope
And the passing of glances
From father
To son
For what value have frescoes?
But the truth they speak
Is in the filter
Of the eyes
They fall on

I am brought back to the Bible

Like a phantom itch in a missing limb.
To the cynical meanderings of the writer of Ecclesiastes.
And the beginning of it all in Genesis.
The end described in the wild narcotics of the Apocalypse of John.
And I stand still on the promise of a new kingdom
Here on the earth

But interconnected with a mysterious elsewhere

And the soft uncertain space


Up in the air film, and a bit more on community…

I have just watched this film.

It both depressed me and uplifted me at the same time.

The film stars George Clooney, playing a narcissistic travelling businessman, who is paid to fire workers all over America. He lives in a world without any unnecessary connection. A world that is soon to be replaced by video calls.

Along the way he gives motivational speeches to other businessmen- in which he asks them to consider what is in their backpack- all those trappings of modernity that anchor them to place and time, and restrict their freedom of opportunity. All those relationships that tie us down.

He is a kind of metaphor for post modern fluidity and disconnection.

And I think it depressed me because it is a culture and an industrial environment that is familiar- even in the public sector. A world where value is placed only on efficiency and personal goal attainment.

And it is kind of the antithesis of everything Jesus calls us to. He seemed to call us to a way of being in which living sacrificially for others is the measure of the value of a life- and in being connected to others in deep and interdependent ways.

And to celebrate this in community.

Of course, that is the point of the film.

And because it was made in Hollywood, and not by anyone Italian, French or called Ken Loach, then Clooney has an epiphany, involving his rather kooky family, and a romantic association of his own.

Then the existential/romantic crisis.

And the final resolution- which I will not spoil- watch the film!

It reminded me again of the counter culture of the Kingdom of God.

And the hope that we, the Agents of the Kingdom, might display a different way of living based on this other culture, and fed by the fruit of the Spirit.

Foy Vance- step forward and take a bow!

One of the guys at the recent network meet up was a musician called Foy Vance. I had not heard his music before. He did a great turn at a party on the Saturday night- knocking out credible versions of random songs gathered from the other guests. It was great fun.

I thought I should check out his stuff, and ordered a copy of this album

Just been listening- and it is simply brilliant.

Recorded mostly on portable gear, it is spare, poetic, tender and beautiful.

And this song made me cry-

There’s a man in the corner and his clothes are worn
And he’s holding out his hand
You could see in his eyes as the people walk by
He knows they don’t understand

Ya see they just think he’s gonna take their money
And go and spend it all on dope
Then a man stopped by and I saw a smile inside him
As he gently whispered hope

Well the tramp started to cry, just kept saying,
“Why? why? why?
Could you see I’m a dying tonight
Well I’m 32 and I’ve got this one pair of shoes
And a bad taste in my mouth
I think it’s clear to see that even God don’t love me
Or else why would He leave me this way.”

Then Gabriel just smiled and said be peaced my child
Salvation is here today

He got up to his feet and he sang Hallelujah
People were turning around in the street
He looked them in the eyes and he sang,
There’s someone here that you gotta meet
Someone you just gotta meet.”

When the vagabond turned around well without a sign
Gabriel just smiled and disappeared
Then he looked to the crowd and they were laughing out loud
But he could not see them fore tears
When his vision came round
There was a young girl on the ground
I knew she was fine and hard to cope
She never was a fighter until he laid beside her
And gently whispered hope

They got up to their feet and they sang Hallelujah
People in the street were turning around
They looked them in the eyes and they sang,
There’s someone here we have found”
They sang,
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah
We are the voices crying in the wilderness
Hallelujah, Hallelujah.”
The people in the street started their sins to confess
And a chorus of,
“Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Every knee will bow and every tongue confess
and the voice of one crying in the wilderness
Hallelujah, Hallelujah”