Emily described a news clip she watched the other day- a mother grieving the death of her son, a Jihadi martyr. The poor woman seemed to veer between terrible loss and the cultural sponsored celebration of his violent death.
The terrible contradictions stayed with me.
All those mothers who are told that God is pleased with the death of their sons. Two thousand American and British mothers in Afghanistan. Twelve thousand Afghanis.
The proud, rich culture of Afghanistan is of course well used to war being waged on its soil by foreign invaders; Persian, Greek, Indian, Russian, British, American. The scarred land becomes fertile ground for the raising of revolutionary warriors, but this is not the point of this piece.
Afghanistan is also rich in the tradition of poetry- Ghazal’s have been written there for millennia recording the human conditions- both the pain of loss/separation and the beauty of love in spite of all the pain associated with it. It should then be no surprise that the Taliban in modern times still tell the story of who they are in poetry.
There is of course, much war propaganda arising from Afghan recent history;
Moscow still owes us blood,
I write the terms of my debt on the chest of the arrogant.
They will ride the white horses in the red field,
Then we will install the white banner on the Kremlin’s chest.
The day of red blood will become red with the Red’s blood,
The knife that is stuck into the Chechen’s chest today.
My enemy, go and read the history of heroism,
There is a page written about Macnaghten’s chest.
The Pharoah of the time send arrows everywhere, These arrows will finally strike Washington’s chest.
Amid all the glorification of death and the calling for the blood of the foreigner, there appears to be some hope;
…a great deal of this Taliban poetry will be comprehensible to western readers who are unable to understand Taliban ideology. The major themes are recognisable, even universal, and the dominant form is the ghazal, or love lyric, which links the Pashtu language to the classical civilisations of Persia and India. The poems describe a land of mountains and pines, each stone a ruby, each bush a medicine, and of laughing blossoms, dancing tomorrows, of twilight arriving with its lap full of red flowers (a poem called Sunset, reproduced here, reads more like a product of a Zen monastery than of a Deobandi madrasa).
What is interesting is that the Taliban’s official face and past practice has been so fiercely anti-Sufi, anti-historical, and seemingly anti-culture. This book provides an entirely different outlook. Indeed, in their rich memory of 19th-century British invasions, of Afghan folklore and Islamic heroism, the Taliban poets seem more awake to history than we are.
As well as raillery and satire against the foreign enemy and its local servants, there is self-criticism aplenty. “Humanity has been forgotten by us,” writes one poet. “And I don’t know when it will come back.”
(From the Guardian.)
Poetry will do that. It can not be tied for ever to narrow ideology- it has to fly. Let us celebrate the open hand over the clenched fist. The space forced open by love in a wall of hate- wherever we find it.
Back to the news story that Emily told me about. Here is my own response in poetry;
They tell me his death was holy and so I should rejoice
But what care I for dancing now?
He is dead
Tender flesh of my sucking flesh
Is now blown by foreign flies
He is dead
They tell me that his death had purpose
But once his life was all the purpose I ever needed
He is dead
So what care I for all those virgins whom I will never meet
And will never bear my grandchildren?
He is dead
They tell me his name will be written in the book of martyrs
Sorry to mention product, but Emily has been setting up an Etsy store for some of the driftwood carvings I mess with in my shed in times of contemplation. She is photographer, copywriter, the lot and is doing a great job.
There are only a couple of things on there so far, but if you are in the market for some beach art, then check it out.
As I climbed a ladder to paint a patch of re-rendered pebble dash on the outside of our old house, my thoughts were strangely on my former employment- all those years of social work. It has been just about two months since I took redundancy from my post as Mental Health Area Manager- which is something of a surprise- where did all the time go?
Time is a precious commodity- this is the longest period of my adult life without some kind of paid employment- even as a student I was so skint that I always had to find some work in between terms. I am acutely conscious of not wanting to squander these weeks of rest and recovery before the next chapter of my life can begin.
My hope was that the redundancy payment will give me some time to do the following;
Recover from what has been an exhausting, stressful and even damaging job.
Go on holiday somewhere.
Transform two large en suite rooms in our house to offer bed and breakfast accommodation.
Plan retreats, activity/craft breaks at the house, using our B and B as well as a holiday cottage.
Hope that the recharging of the batteries might result in me finding some part time work within the social work field that will allow me to continue to do the above things but have enough money to live.
How has it gone then?
Well, it took quite a few weeks (with hindsight) to ‘stop’ after all the madness preceding. I found myself, weeks after I left work, driving back towards Dunoon thinking about all the stuff I had yet to sort out in work. There came a point however, about four weeks after I left when I realised I no longer felt ill. I should add that I had not previously realised that I did feel ill. It was as if some pressure had been released out of my system and everything was working a little better. Long term exposure to high levels of stress is a terrible thing.
We managed a few days away, down in Northumberland- a place we had not been to before. I have also played a lot of cricket for both Innellan and Greenock clubs, and the chance to run around a field for a while playing a game I love has been like a holiday too.
The work on the house is now well under way as can be seen above. The biggest single task has been to fit an en suite shower room, and it is now finished;
My perfectionist friends will point out the rather irregular tiling in places but nothing in this old house is straight, so perfect finishes are simply not an option. I think it looks great though and is very usable.
The planning of retreats- well we are not there yet, but Michaela and Pauline’s craft workshop business is going great guns and already people are asking about the possibility of staying over in the B and B, which is just what we were hoping for.
If I were to pick one thing that I wanted to find time to spend doing, it is this. However, as yet, it has not happened really. I think this is partly about discipline, making a slot each day- but this kind of way of being creative has never really worked for me. Inspiration may be 70% perspiration but it still requires the nurturing of an idea. I have a project in fragments at the moment, waiting for the glue that brings them together.
Will has been attending a Christian youth club being run in Dunoon by some mates of mine. He is loving it- that lovely combination of chaos, faith, music and food.
They gave him a Bible the other day and it has been sitting on our coffee table staring at me ever since- this one;
It is entitled ‘God’s Game Plan- the athlete’s Bible. Game Ready- get up, gear up, step up.” Inside are Bible references carefully chosen to support the athlete in areas of competition, performance and ‘game plan.’
Everything about it makes me cringe. The marketing exercise, the easy use of selective scripture as ‘performance enhancement’, all that ‘Jesus can make me a winner’ stuff- the mashing up of the message of Jesus with the American Dream.
Then there is this idea of ‘God’s Plan’- some kind of golden path that he has laid out for each of us, which we then have to discern through the application of good Bible study, and woe betide us if we stumble off it. I think this is a damaging idea of who God is- rather what I hope for is a God of new starts, of hope, of encouragement for us to live beautiful lives committed to the love of others.
But I said none of this to Will- he loves his new Bible. I am also very grateful to those folk who chose it for him as something suitable and encouraging.
Also, because we are not attending ‘Church’ regularly these days (as distinct from ‘church’) it is great to see him involved in other things. I remember a conversation years ago when we were discussing how we might best introduce our kids to the great mysteries of faith within the context of ’emerging/missional’ small groups. We all had lots of anxieties about whether we might be somehow depriving them of something important by being outside a large structured formal organisation, with Sunday schools, youth events and a group of peers going on a similar journey.
The conclusion we reached then was a series of questions going something like this;
Do these structured institutional means of creating faith in our young people actually work? Do we create adult disciples? Research might indicate a low success rate over the last few decades. (See summary of Church attendance figures here.)
If we as adults are modelling a dissatisfaction with those organised structures – the typical drive home deconstruction and the sharing of frustrations. What does this teach our kids if we are not prepared to work for something new, something honest and true to who you are as individuals and family?
Is it time for we parents to take responsibility for making a spiritual journey with our own kids rather than handing that responsibility to others?
Finally, we noted that in this fractured, post modern, mass communicating world, people (particularly young people) rarely have one source of information on any given subject. Rather there are multiple sources of information, from a range of physical, virtual and on line media. So it is with information about God. We might seek to control this – to make sure that information given corresponds to our own orthodoxy – but the best we can hope for is to keep channels of discussion open about all those many strands that bombard us.
So it is with our kids. They are asking their own questions about faith- assisted (hopefully) by our example, participation in Aoradh events, as well as formal (even Evangelical) events like Christian camp weeks, and youth clubs like this one. And if this means that he is exposed to the kinds of religion that I have found difficult then so be it- I need to just trust that it is is all in the mix.
Because God’s game plan is after all beyond my understanding.
Michaela and Pauline have been running lots of craft course over the past few months, under the guise of Blue Sky Craft Workshops. (They have a FB page here, website is under construction.)
Recently they have run a whole series of introductory pottery courses- hand building, using the wheel and generally having fun with clay. These have been a roaring success- I was particularly pleased to see how much our lovely ‘Scottish Grannie’ Netta enjoyed her session yesterday- see the picture above and below.
Pottery in particular is one of those things that seems to transcend age class and gender- most people enjoy the feel of clay in their hands!
If you are interested in giving it a go, it might be worth considering a holiday break up here in Dunoon. It is often a lovely weather up here in the Autumn, as the Argyll forest gets all golden and busy with red squirrels preparing for winter;
Michaela took this photo yesterday morning from our house;
If you fancy a trip to see this place for yourself, we have a holiday annex which sleeps 4, and in the next couple of months will also have two en suite bed and breakfast rooms.
Or if you drop me a line, I can ask Michaela to add you to her mailing list for the wider craft workshops and it may well be possible to co-ordinate a wee trip here around them- felt making, learning how to use sewing machine, jewellery making, christmas cards, Christmas wrapping with a difference….
Deliberately provocative (and not original,) but hopefully with good purpose…
I was listening to my MP3 player on ‘shuffle’ mode as I was working the other day. If I am near by and a song comes on that I do not want to listen to then I will press skip- as I rarely get round to deleting anything, and there is a random accumulation of all sorts of stuff on there. However I had hands covered in tile cement and so was stuck with whatever song emerged.
In this case it was Third Day, singing a song called ‘Anything’. I have confessed previously to a past leading worship music. I was that bloke with an acoustic guitar whipping up soft rock anthems. Third Day were an American Christian band that did a couple of worship albums that I really liked 10 years or so ago.
So much has changed since then for me however in terms of how I approach worship generally, and worship music particularly. Some of this can be summed up in this song – here are some of the lyrics;
And I want to hold You
Even though You can’t be held
Because You’re so much more
Than everything I’ve ever known
I’d give anything
I would give anything to hold You
This song is one of many worship songs that are themed around intimacy with Jesus- and to the ears of the uninitiated, they seem to have lots in common with the language used in popular music to describe sexualised love.
A couple more examples that many of us will have sung many times. Both of them I have really loved singing in the past;
I sing a simple song of love
To my Savior, to my Jesus
I’m grateful for the things you’ve done
My loving Savior, my precious Jesus
My heart is glad that you’ve called me your own
There’s no place I’d rather be
In your arms of love
In your arms of love
Holding me still
Holding me near
In your arms of love
Then there is this one;
The simplest of all love songs
I want to bring to you
So I’ll let my words be few
Jesus, I am so in love with you. Matt & Beth Redman
To be fair, Redman appears to have been thinking about this himself, although I do not really think that this is a ‘bloke’ issue alone;
Am I being unfair do you think? All these things have to be viewed within context. If our primary (even only) expression of worship is contained within church services, then the cultural carrier of our understandings of who God is, and how we should relate to him, will be the music that we sing, and the cultural references that drive this stylistically will be all the love language that we hear in the charts.
However, I no longer primarily worship God through large gatherings, and all this erotic Jesus love language seems rather odd from a distance.
Does Jesus require this kind of devotion in our following of him? Does he value it? Does it make us better followers, more inclined to live as Agents of the Kingdom of God? Or is it a bubble of sentimental excess that has little relevance to real life?
The ‘bloody’ bit of the title of this piece by the way is suggestive of another dynamic of all these love songs- the climactic event; the consumation of the relationship, is the death of Jesus on the cross.
Once again is there anything wrong with this ? It too has to be understood within the context of a theological monoculture of substitutionary atonement. The young man whose blood had to be spilled to save the few, the carefully selected beautiful few, who have this special individual relationship with their saviour.
Except I find myself outside this context too. The narrowness of the understanding feels wrong, feels distorted, feels like ‘God made to make me feel exclusive’. God made to be mine and not yours.
Whatever the theology, there are other songs to be sung. Songs of deliverance, songs of protest, songs of lament, songs of community and songs of hope in the presence of doubt and fear.
Songs calling us to love-in-action, not just love-in-abstract.
Wow. I am still digesting the songs, but the music is simply stunning.
I am a sucker for a certain kind of Americana- the edgy bluesy folky stuff. I can even enjoy a bit of country so long as the twang and yee harring is kept under some control- but the production and the musicality of this is wonderful.
Here are a couple of clips;
And I mentioned that mandolin. It is everywhere in the songs- hitting blue notes and accenting everything. As someone who has tried to play mandolin, I stand in awe.