I like this word- it was coined (I think) by one of our friends- to sum up that formal-collective thing that you will find in churches and all other places managed by committee. It is used as an adjective- as in “I am not clubbable.”

And in many ways, I am not. I am fine with ritual, but hate stuffy formality. I love a good conversation, but find making small talk very wearing. I love to meet with my friends and dream big dreams but once these things become filtered through bureaucracy I have no interest. I think we are at our very best in community, but often find communing hard- it can strip you bear.

I have found the churchy kind of clubs to be particularly challenging- as all of the above mixes in with a certain kind of external ‘righteousness’ and ‘correct doctrine’ and ‘spiritual maturity’. This kind of rather intense clubbability can suck you dry- it can become all consuming in its demands of time and energy. It becomes a vortex into which life hoovered up to the exclusion of anything outside its gravitational pull.

I had had enough of clubs. I wanted to freestyle for a while- to adventure in company, not just to retire to the bothy and sing songs of the adventure of others.

Strange then that I now find myself a member (or about the become a member) of two local clubs- cricket, and (as of tonight) bee keeping.

I am sure that both will have their challenges- relationships and internal tensions- but the interesting thing about both, is the richness that they bring into my life. Both seem to give me more than I give out- they facilitate, encourage and enable. Members of the clubs seem to delight in sharing knowledge and offering advice- not so we might be just like them, but rather so that something that they are passionate about might have a life beyond.

Both are about sharing an activity- having a praxis in common. They are much less concerned with theory and doctrine. But that is not to say that theory and doctrine are not there or thereabouts- rather that these things are downplayed, and absorbed through contact with wider example.

So it is soon obvious that playing cricket is all about a certain kind of sportsmanship- some things are simply just not done. If you are out, you are gracious in defeat. You look after the inexperienced players and when competition becomes too heated, someone has a quiet word.

And through beekeeping, it seems that we learn patience. This is no overnight process.

Hmmmm. Perhaps I am clubbable after all.

Churchill’s faithful black dog, and why we might be grateful…

I wonder if anyone heard this last Sunday morning-

(The programme blurb-)

“For a couple of days in May 1940, the fate of the world turned on the fall of a leaf” says John Gray. He outlines the strange conjunction of events – and the work of chance – that led to Churchill becoming Prime Minister.

He muses on how Churchill was found by one of his advisers around one o’clock on the morning of May 9th “brooding alone in one of his clubs”. He was given a crucial bit of advice which may have secured him the job. What would have happened Gray wonders if he hadn’t been found and that advice – to say nothing! – not been passed on?

He also ponders whether it was it Churchill’s recurring melancholy which made for his greatness? “It’s hard to resist the thought that the dark view of the world that came on Churchill in his moods of desolation enabled him to see what others could not”.

“Churchill had not one life but several” says Gray. Without them all, “history would have been very different, and the world darker than anything we can easily imagine”.

Interesting for several reasons- the obvious historical one- the other leading candidate for Prime Ministership (who most MPs wanted) probably would have sued for peace rather than fought on against Hitler. As a pacifist, I would have supported him in this- but the end result of Churchill’s influence on British politics at this time was war- and history has rather sided with him on this one…

The other reason however is related to how we understand depression.

Churchill was stalked by what he called his ‘black dog’ all his life. He was prone to black moods and fits of despair- it separated him from those around him, and made him different.

Depression is a terrible thing- it destroys lives. But Depression is not only a terrible thing- and those who journey with the black dog often achieve a level of insight and depth of understanding that others do not.

Depression in this sense may actually be a means of equipping us for life.

Some time ago I wrote a post on why I found all the obsession with positivity rather difficult. All those shiny happy invocations to will ourselves to ever greater heights. Here it is- entitled ‘In which I find myself reacting against positive thinking’. This is really not because I believe that to be miserable is good, and that we are all doomed (although perhaps we might be when I come to think about it.) Rather I believe that we start from where we are- and I am sick of people telling us to be someone else.

Human life is made up of light and shade- and as well as pure white there are many shades of grey. My experience is that most art emerges from the shadows- most creativity is achieved through adversity- and perhaps great statesmen also need a hinterland…

Let the grand correction commence…

Today we heard from the Labour leader.

I find so little to celebrate in what he said, or the way he said it (so said the Guardian– “Miliband’s pedestrian, drooping delivery did no justice to the ambition of his argument.”)

In saying this, I feel sad. Sad that once again I am writing out of negativity not from a position of hope. Sad too that the party I have roughly aligned myself with all my life appears so bereft of ideas.

A swipe at the Tories, the bankers and Southern Cross care homes- then a strange promise that people who work hard or volunteer will get preferential allocation of social housing. (Sounds a bit like ‘the deserving poor’ to me.) But at least ‘I am not Tony Blair (awkward pause…..)

I have been asking myself what is missing- and I think it is this- a visible value base that comes from a passion that is not merely manufactured, or self consciously media friendly.

I have also been thinking a lot about just how bankrupt our political/economic system seems to have become. When did commerce become capitalism, and when did capitalism become turbo-capitalism? How did the survival of our affluent way of life come to require the addiction of a whole nation to the accumulation of ever more stuff that we do not need?

And perhaps the most important question; what might be an alternative way of ordering our collective economy?

Ed Milliband’s father, the late great Ralph Miliband, was a Marxist Sociologist whose writing was an essential part of my student days. For a while, my hope was for an egalitarian socialism to take gentle hold in our country- mixed in the very British way of changing slowly whilst still holding on to idiosyncratic anachronisms- because it is better to accommodate and compromise rather than to revolt and overthrow…

But it seems that at least for now, ‘Free Market’ Capitalism has cleared the playing field of all opposition. The Berlin wall has been reduced to the dust of folk memory.

And in the middle of all this economic mess, Capitalism (despite being the cause of so much difficulty) continues to present itself as the solution.

I am no longer a political ideologue. All of that was killed by Blair and middle age. But still, where are the critical voices? Where are those who bring hope for change- for better ways of living that are not geared towards entrenching the global inequalities that condemn the poor south to be one large sweatshop for our supermarkets and high streets?

Do we need more riots? More kids in hoodies running away with box-fresh trainers and security tagged x-boxes?

As someone who tries to follow Jesus, I am ever more conscious of the way he had of standing as a faithful, hopeful, critic of the way we live. This is not the same thing as condemning and rejecting- rather it might mean that we should seek to participate, whilst at the same time hoping for better.

Hoping for voices to be raised that offer an alternative- that start not from a position of protecting the status quo, but instead long for justice for the global poor, and a sustainable, honest and healthy way of life for the rest of us. Looking for love, Grace and beauty, then seeking to nurture it.

Little of which did I hear today in Milibands speech. But perhaps there is time yet…

Time for a song I think…

Cornflakes are noisy apparently…

We called in to see this exhibition, part of a collaboration in the Burgh Hall, Dunoon. It is there for the rest of the week- go along if you get the chance…

Soozie, a local artist (and nice person, based on our wee chat!) is making art that emerges from a dramatic change of life- a cochlear implant.

I love meeting people who are on journeys. They see things with new eyes- or in Soozies case, hear them with new ears. It made me think again about how much of the time we all spend in an artificial bubble- insulated by constant electronic static from the lovely things all around us. To speak to someone experiencing these things anew is a privilege.

Soozie has a blog, charting her experiences- here.

Fiddle flash mob, Kelvingrove…

Emily spent a day doing some fiddle workshops in Glasgow yesterday- and they decided to invade Kelvingrove gallery/museum in a kind of flashmob event.

Michaela had just enough power on the battery of her camera to record this- but we managed to miss getting Emily in frame at all!

I love simple creative flashmobs- the pleasure that they give to people. I suppose there has to be a limit to them or it will all go a bit mad. The staff in Kelvingrove certainly thought so- they only managed a couple of tunes inside.

The shadow of John Knox…

We tried to visit Glasgow Cathedral again today. The last time we were turned away as the Cathedral was ‘about to close’. Today we were turned away again as there was a service ‘about to start’ (the service was due to start in an hour.) It is not really fair to generalise from this limited experience, but we certainly did not feel welcome.

Perhaps we look like heretics?

Above the Cathedral, on the top of the hill that is Glasgow Necropolis, stands the John Knox monument- a reproachful finger wagging against the sky.

The Cathedral only just survived John Knox’s reformation. Stripped of all it’s ancient finery- its statues and pictures, along with all objects associated with ‘Popery’, but still the mob tried to burn it down- held back only by the Guilds men.

So was unleashed a time of repression in the name of freedom and violence in the name of peace. Driven by fervency and ‘truth’- religion used as a political meat tenderiser.

Did anything good come out of reformation? Was it necessary? Was it inspired of God- commanded by his angels and energised by his Spirit? My current answers to these questions are- Yes. Not sure. Don’t think so.

We used to talk of reformation being constant- it was not a one off event following which we had achieved Christian nirvana, but was rather a process of constant engagement with the refiners fire. This always seemed to be an aspirational thing for the most part however- that moralistic therapeutic Deism thing again.

My ambivalence about the Reformation is more in relation to my hope for a new kind of gentle reformation- a change again in emphasis, away from right belief and correct religious practise, towards the…. other. A kind of faith that inspires us to be agents of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness. And none of these things should be subordinate to pious correctness.

John will turn in his grave.

Or perhaps he will look at the course of his own reformation, and agree with me.


A big bite of Auden…

I discovered this poem recently by W H AudenHorae Canonicae…

I have not read a lot of Auden- although we have all heard the ‘stop the clocks’ poem used to such brilliant effect in ‘4 weddings and a funeral’-

Even though this poem has had such over exposure, it still reeks with emotion and grief- and manages to put something into words that we all instinctively feel to be ‘true’.

What I did not know was that Auden was a Christian- both his grandfather’s were Anglican ministers, and although he lost his faith as a boy, he found it again in later life, thanks to encountering the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr and partly too because of the influence of Charles Williams.

Auden lived a life in interesting times- the clash of great ideologies, and the world war. He was a socialist Englishman who lived in New York, eventually becoming an American citizen. He was gregarious loner and a gay man who longed for the sanctity of marriage.

And he wrote beautiful, sublime poetry, including a collection of poems based around the canonical hours– called ‘Horae Canonicae’.

So here is a slice of it. You can read the whole here.

Anywhere you like, somewhere

on broad-chested life-giving Earth,

anywhere between her thirstlands

and undrinkable Ocean,

the crowd stands perfectly still,

its eyes (which seem one) and its mouths

(which seem infinitely many)

expressionless, perfectly blank.

The crowd does not see (what everyone sees)

a boxing match, a train wreck,

a battleship being launched,

does not wonder (as everyone wonders)

who will win, what flag she will fly,

how many will be burned alive,

is never distracted

(as everyone is always distracted)

by a barking dog, a smell of fish,

a mosquito on a bald head:

the crowd sees only one thing

(which only the crowd can see)

an epiphany of that

which does whatever is done.

Whatever god a person believes in,

in whatever way he believes,

(no two are exactly alike)

as one of the crowd he believes

and only believes in that

in which there is only one way of believing.

Few people accept each other and most

will never do anything properly,

but the crowd rejects no one, joining the crowd

is the only thing all men can do.

Only because of that can we say

all men are our brothers,

superior, because of that,

to the social exoskeletons: When

have they ever ignored their queens,

for one second stopped work

on their provincial cities, to worship

The Prince of this world like us,

at this noon, on this hill,

in the occasion of this dying.

Kilmory Knap Chapel, and the ancient carved stones…

Some photos of a recent trip to Kilmory chapel, out along Loch Sween.

It over looks the island on which our last Aoradh wilderness retreat was held in May, but I had never been there before.

This Chapel was built in the early 13th Century, as an outlying chapel of Knapdale Parish. It fell into disuse some time around the reformation, but continued to be used as a burial ground.

It now houses a collection of carved grave stones collected from the graveyard- carved by masons on Iona, Loch Aweside and elsewhere. Many of them are glorious medieval 15th C works, with intricate knot work, or effigies of knights now long dead.

There are also standing crosses, carved with hunting scenes on one side, and a Crucifixion scene on the other.

But the most evocative stones are the early Christian ones- which marked the graves of people from the days of the missionary Celtic Saints- whose footsteps are everywhere hereabouts.