Return to Kanyini…

A few years ago I wrote about this film on TFT;

Back in 2008 I wrote this;

The concept of kanyini has been brought to us by a beautiful man called Bob Randall who grew up as an aboriginal boy on the outskirts of a cattle station in central Australia. His father was a farmer of Scottish extraction, but appears to have had no concern for him at all. Like 50,000 other black kids of mixed race (between 1910 and 1970) he was forcibly removed from his mother, and sent to school hundreds of miles from home. He was forced to learn the rules of white culture- the clothes, the way of life, the religion. He learnt to appreciate the contradictions between the words of Jesus, and the actions of these, his followers. Since then, he has been a welfare worker, a songwriter, and author, and now, works with Australia’s black community.

To be a native Australian in these times is to be part of a community with huge problems- health, crime, substance misuse, soaring suicide rates. It is a community living in the shadows of the sky scrapers of new Australia, but also in the shadow of genocide, in which everything ans almost everyone who was part of the oldest culture in the world was all but destroyed.

It is also the story of a Diaspora of westerners (particularly Celts from Ireland and Scotland) often still under the shadow of their own experience of oppression and injustice, who become in turn the oppressors, murderers and rapists of a whole culture.

It is their story, but it is also ours. It is the story of what happens when we become disconnected from who we are.

Because to hear Bob Randall speak is to feel the pull of something wonderful. He describes a culture where people are connected to land. Birds, trees, all living things- they are family. The proof of this connection is that we are… alive! And because everything is connected, everything is OURS, not MINE. Everything is already created in a perfect state and our job is to become part of it.

Bob describes his memory of life as a kid like this;

These were beautiful people, because they lived in a beautiful way.

Bob’s concept of Kanyini feels right. It has simple truth- and seems to encapsulate the idea of community as I understand it should be. It has 4 components;

  • belief system

  • spirituality

  • land

  • family

I am reposting this partly because I found the film in full (as above), but also because I think that this list is a good one to consider as we look again at the year to come this is a good place to start.

If life for the people in this film started to unravel as they lost connection with the things above- might the same be true for us?

How do we challenge this, for ourselves and our communities? Our connection to something we can believe in/live for, our connection to the divine, our love of where we are located, our existence within an extended family (whether or not we have blood ties.

May 2013 be your year of Kanyini.


red walls

Life is too short for magnolia

Let’s splash the old walls with new paint

Mix me purples and blues

Like a two day-old bruise

And gold like the robes of a saint


Where does it come from, magnolia?

Not from the wild places I’ve been;

Brown eggs in a nest

Bright robin red breast

And oceans of deepest sea-green


What is the point of magnolia

When rain is by rainbows replaced?

It’s the space left behind

When colours go blind

It’s like life being leached from a face

Imagining something better…


The lovely low days between Christmas and New Year offer to some of us the privilege of a bit of stock taking- asking those important questions about where we are now, and where we might be going.

I have been doing a lot of this of late, and will be doing some more- but one thing I am increasingly convinced of is the need to consume less, to make more with my own hands, to produce, to craft and to live more simply. Unfortunately over the past few weeks this has actually meant repeated trips to consumer-hell; IKEA and other temples to Capitalism. This is because we are setting up a guest house in a relatively out of the way corner of Scotland, and there are only so many things that you can knock together out of driftwood. It feels very wrong though.

I came across this today;

“But even in the much-publicized rebellion of the young against the materialism of the affluent society, the consumer mentality is too often still intact: the standards of behavior are still those of kind and quantity, the security sought is still the security of numbers, and the chief motive is still the consumer’s anxiety that he is missing out on what is “in.” In this state of total consumerism – which is to say a state of helpless dependence on things and services and ideas and motives that we have forgotten how to provide ourselves – all meaningful contact between ourselves and the earth is broken. We do not understand the earth in terms either of what it offers us or of what it requires of us, and I think it is the rule that people inevitably destroy what they do not understand.”
― Wendell BerryThe Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays

Which chimed with something else…

I read somewhere that Journalist Mark Hudson proposed 4 stages in our relationship with stuff;

  1. Wanting it all– life is about seeing stuff, wanting it, collecting it, playing with it, wanting the stuff other people have that is better than ours.
  2. Getting rid of it all- As we head out into the world, we no longer need all those treasures of our childhood- we put it in bags, lofts and dustbins. Experiences become more important
  3. Buying it all back again- We crave the stuff we used to have, and the feeling of security, pleasure and fulfilment we get from surrounding ourselves with walls of stuff.
  4. Getting rid of it all again. As we get older, we become more discerning about the stuff we want to hold on to. And we begin to worry about all the sorting out our kids will have to do.

And of course, we can not take it with us on the next journey. How many journeys to the tip and the charity shops will we all be making in the next few days?

The problem is- how on earth can we do it differently- how can we live a better way of being?

Time for another quote;

“We have to create culture! Don’t watch TV, don’t read magazines, don’t even listen to NPR. Create your own road show  The nexus of space and time where you are now is the most immediate sector of your universe, and if you’re worrying about Michael Jackson or Bill Clinton or somebody else, then you are disempowered, you’re giving it all away to icons, icons which are maintained by an electronic media so that you want to dress like X or have lips like Y. This is shit-brained, this kind of thinking. That is all cultural diversion, and what is real is you and your friends and your associations, your highs, your orgasms, your hopes, your plans, your fears. And we are told ‘no’, we’re unimportant, we’re peripheral. ‘Get a degree, get a job, get a this, get a that.’ And then you’re a player, you don’t want to even play in that game. You want to reclaim your mind and get it out of the hands of the cultural engineers who want to turn you into a half-baked moron consuming all this trash that’s being manufactured out of the bones of a dying world.”
― Terence McKenna

I don’t know much about this bloke- I think he was a bit of a Hippie ‘herbalist’, but I find myself in agreement.

I am longing for life that does not conform to the same tired, self destructive, addictive patterns. Not just talking about this kind of life- but actually starting to live it, now, in the new year, 2013. Because how much time is left?

Next year is going to be our year of new beginning. I am not exactly sure how this will go, but let the wild rumpus begin…


My mate Andy has too much time on his hands!

Find him some DIY to do Clare- quick- or at very least some dishes…

Otherwise he will post yet more embarrassing video clips of me on YouTube.

This (I think) was taken clandestinely during one of our ‘wilderness retreat’ trips. Dancing is not usually encouraged, but I must have come over all 1970’s.

I am looking forward to spring though- Christmas day is past, and the uphill climb through the hard soil of winter can begin…

TFT Christmas card 2012…


Sometimes darkness lies with open arms

Casting no shadows;

No zones of jagged uncertainty

The folded black is bosom-soft

An iris around the eye

Could it be that dark is not opposed by light

But is the place where light is falling?

For the night is not defeated by starlight-

It is anointed.

At the edge of this suburban half light

Beyond the reach of neon

Darkness is waiting

Like pregnancy

For light to be born



May you be richly blessed this Christmas.

Michaela talks about the Timebank!

I am very proud of Michaela- and so here is a chance to show you some of the things she does in her day job.

Recently she was speaking about a local project she has been working on- a local Timebank. (You can watch her whole presentation here.)

The bloke from the NHS talking on the video seems to have totally missed the point- the emphasis is not on ‘services saving money’, or ‘sick’ people doing something to make them better- rather a Timebank is a level playing field to allow everyone to build community connections- where everyone can contribute.

We joke in our family that the first ‘exchange’ of time in Dunoon was a few years ago when Michaela came home with a rusty Shopper bike and told me that I was to make it work again. And they were off! It has become a really great local programme, with some fantastic stories- including a whole wedding- flowers, photography, cars, catering- all arranged through time exchanges! People have some amazingly diverse skills to offer- translation of a document from Russian? No problem. Fix a computer? Easy. Proof read a document? When do you want it finished? Others have involved an older lady who learnt how to write properly using her handwriting skills on certificates, or another person teaching woodcraft skills. It is great.

Michaela would never agree that a lot of this is down to her- she would point to all the others who have worked so hard to make it a success- but I know different. She is just one of those people who makes other people feel safe and included, and by her own dedication makes other people stick in there.


More than plastic…


So I was watching one of those films. You know the

kind: cheaply made-for-TV at Christmas time. Full of cute kids whose

families are being squashed by the weight of some

manufactured crisis. Then despite my (long nurtured) defensive

cynical screen, I am punctured by goodness;

skewered by grace that grew where even the trees

are plastic. I can offer no excuses except to say that

like fake glitter on the surface of snow the hidden

heart of this angel-beast is shaped

towards love.

We laugh at the Mayan apocalypse junkies, but…



…we Christians have plenty of our own End Of The World doomsday predictors. Check out this list.

On the day when at very least the prediction made by the Mayan calendar that the world will end has been proved to be a slight miscalculation, it might be useful to reflect again on that word eschatology (not to be confused with Scatology) defined by Wikipedia as follows;

 The Study of theologyphysicsphilosophy, and futurology concerned with what are believed to be the final events of history, the ultimate destiny of humanity — commonly referred to as the “end of the world” or “end time

Note that this is serious business to many theologians in particular. It is big bookshelf time. Big argument time. Big business time. Why? Particularly when the subjects of study have little to do with the environmental/political/economic/social crises at the end of our noses, and everything to do with esoteric texts written thousands of years ago.

It is perhaps ironic that many commentators on the book of Revelation (the source of a million Christian predictions of apocalypse) have a very different understanding of the text, pointing out that it was one of many pieces of ‘apocalyptic literature’ of its time- a style of writing that used mysterious and ritualised language to shine light on the culture of their day. People reading the text under Roman occupation would have had a totally different entry into the language and imagery used. They would know who the Beast was, and the meaning of ‘Babylon’.

In this way, the coming apocalypse was a warning to people to take a long hard look at who they are, what they are becoming, and to refocus on a life that is in service of the Kingdom of God.

It was not a description (thanks again to Sharon who coined the phrase) of how God is going to use his great big hoover to suck his chosen few from a doomed and despicable world up into his heavenly fall out shelter.

The apocalypse that the followers of Jesus should concern themselves with is a daily occurrence. It happens always in the shadow of Empire as forces conspire to promote greed and power mongering.

Of course I could be wrong, it is not yet Mayan high noon. I kind of thought that if I am wrong no one would be around to laugh at me though…




Reflections on the census- the end of Christendom…

a church under reconstruction?

So, there have been a number of articles and opinion pieces reflecting on the recent 2011 census data, and what it tells us about the nature of religious belief in the UK. Here are some of the head liners in case you missed them;

• The number identifying themselves as Christians is down 13 percentage points. In 2001, 72% (37.3 million) called themselves Christians. In 2011 that had dropped to 59% (33.2 million).

• Interestingly, Christianity is not down everywhere. Newham, Haringey, Brent, Boston and Lambeth have all shown increases in the Christian population.

• The number identifying themselves as having no religion has increased by 10 percentage points from 15% (7.7 million) in 2001 to 25% (14.1 million) last year.

In response, Humanist Nick Cohen, writing in The Guardian, said this;

The number of people who say they have no religion jumped from 15% in the 2001 census to 25% in 2011. If the remaining 75% were believers, this leap in free-thinking would be significant but not sensational. But those who say they are religious are not faithful to their creeds, or not in any sense that the believers of the past would have recognised. Church attendance is in constant decline. Every year that passes sees congregations become smaller and greyer…

…When millions of people tell the census takers they are “Christians”, therefore, they are muttering the title of a childhood story they only half remember. What is more, their spiritual “leaders” know it. Long before the census figures were in, you could hear the screams that always accompany ideologies and institutions history is leaving behind…

…while everything is changing in British society, nothing is changing in the British establishment. England still has a “national” church – even though in 2010 its average weekly attendance was down to 1,116,100 (or 1.8% of the nation’s population). Twenty-six Church of England bishops are automatically granted seats in the House of Lords to support or oppose any legislation they please. On top of the decaying heap sits Elizabeth II: a grumpy priestess-queen, who in theory at least is the state religion’s “supreme governor”. In the education system, almost one-third of state schools are run by religious authorities (and Michael Gove will ensure that number will rise).

This humanist perspective is not without merit. Much of the institutions of religion in the country are indeed relics of a time when religious power was inseparable from the power of the State. Church and Government were connected by bonds at every level. The Church marked out comings, our joinings and our endings. The shape of the religious calendar became the shape of our working life. The very law of the land was approached through (an often flawed) Biblical interpretation.

But this link between ordinary people and institutional Church has been in decline for years. Perhaps the last vestige of this kind of Christendom in the life of the UK was that people who otherwise had no connection to Church, and no active faith journey, would still describe themselves as ‘Christian’. People did this almost by some kind of inherited instinct. The be Christian was to be decent, British, middle class, well mannered, one of ‘us’.

However,  the rigidity exhibited by some parts of the religious hierarchy is increasingly at odds with the culture that it is part of. There are the totemic issues- homosexuality, gender equality. There is the lack of a critical or analytical voice in a time of consumerist economic meltdown. There is the swing towards ultra conservatism in the Catholic Church, and all the sexual abuse scandals that diminish all organisations of faith.

The time for hand wringing and desperate attempts to preserve what Church used to be is long gone, although there are still people who have a passion for preserving the traditions of our institutions. And perhaps we should be grateful to them as they are a repository for our organisational memories. Without them, we lose our connection to tradition, and all the rich variety of previous experience. But it is not enough for faith to be in a museum cage. It is not enough for faith to be an abstract historical curiosity.

I have been chewing on what this might mean for those of us who still try to follow in the way of Jesus. Here goes;

Lies and Statistics.

It is perfectly possible to understand these figures as a reduction in nominal Christianity. A reduction in people identifying with a label that has no relevance to life. In this sense, perhaps there has been no real change in the last ten years- apart from the words we chose to describe ourselves with.

The word ‘Christian’.

It is however significant that people no longer what to wear this as a badge. It is a devalued word, a word that appears to have gathered to it lots of connotations that people have less use for. Ideas of stuffy right-wing judgementalism. A word that has no relevance in the here and now. It is a word that even I use to describe myself with some discomfort. But a decision to walk in the way of Jesus is not an easy choice- he was very clear about that. It is a decision to make an ever new daily adventure, and this is so much more than wearing a comfortable middle class badge.


The Church is not the place where God resides in these islands- rather he lives in us. The Hebrew Temple was replaced by the human heart. He took on flesh and dwelt amongst us. In and over and through. Along with us and despite us. In the cracks of everything we are. This is not a numbers game- who cares how big your corporation has become?  This is now to be tested in new ways, in a new context.


At some point, probably around the time of the Roman Emperor Constantine, the Church became an instrument of the state. The mission of the Church was the mission of the State. God was co-opted by the people in power. We then spent Millenia trying to disentangle the mess of this- movements would rise, then they would fall, or become assimilated. But perhaps we are now in new territory- the mission of God can be set free again in the minds of we his followers. It is not to the strong that the Kingdom belongs, but to the week, the poor, the broken.

Finally however, I find myself taking a more sociological perspective. If nominal religion anchored in the State is in decline this may be no bad thing for faith- but I still wonder if it may be a bad thing for the State.

The Church contains us, or used to. Old Emile Durkheim captured this well- he suggested that people need to be part of something bigger- to be integrated and linked and that when this begins to break down the end result is anomie (a lack of social norms) leading to a time when the anchors and moorings that hold us together are gone.  He believed that anomie is common when the surrounding society has undergone significant changes in its economic fortunes, whether for good or for worse and, more generally, when there is a significant discrepancy between the ideological theories and values commonly professed and what was actually achievable in everyday life- which to my mind describes British society in 2012 pretty well. (There is a great article discussing some of these ideas here.)

Durkheim thought that religion was one of the key social mechanisms that created these bonding social norms. However, he also thought that these old bastions of society where in decline- that the institutions of faith were dying. However at the same time he also thought that they were being replaced by new forms of sacred passions.

The question is- where are these to be found in our society? It is easy for cynics like me to rail against consumerism, ephemeral celebrity entertainment and post modern fluidity of connection and belief, but the story is more complicated.

There is a groundswell of goodness in British society. Some of is might well have roots in Christian traditions and ideas, but we see a turning towards simple living, small community life, and a rising up against the power of the big banks through the Occupy Movement.

We the followers of Jesus always have to find our own mission, our own Peregrinatio.  Here is my prayer for the journey;

Lord stain me with salt

Brine me with the badge of the deep sea sailor

I have spent too long

On concrete ground.

If hope raises up these tattered sails

Will you send for me

A fair and steady wind?