We pulled off the M1 to spend some time at the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park on our way back up north recently. If you get the chance to go- take it. Even if you do not ‘get’ big blocks of stone/bronze with cheese holes. There will be plenty more that will intrigue you…
I am addicted to words as my primary means of creative expression. Sure, I like to shape things from wood, but these efforts are not ‘art’. If anything they are therapy, with the wood shaping me as much as the other way round. The language of sculpture is one that intrigues me, but mostly excludes me. All the more reason to take some time in the midst of the sculpture park. We did not have enough time really- you need days, and we only had a couple of hours. We will return!
The Chinese dissident artist (are all artists not dissidents?) Ai Weiwei was given a space in and around the old estate chapel. His pieces included a room full of chairs and a giant tree cast in iron and loosely bolted together. They told a powerful story, even to a philistine like me, of a culture whose emphasis on the collective to the exclusion of individualism might have become a terrible heresy. The great famines and purges in which hundreds of millions of Chinese people have died or been imprisoned hangs over the art like a cloud.
We are just unpacking from our road trip down to Greenbelt (topped off with a visit to family and a few hours spent at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.)
Greenbelt was great- new site was lovely, if a challenging place to get camping gear on and off (they must improve this for next year.) It has much more space and landscape interest than the old one.
Absolute highlight for me was meeting up with so many of the poets from the new Learning to Love book. The readings, even at 9AM in the morning, went really well- in fact they felt very worshipful, particularly with Harry Baker and Chris Read’s contributions- their new EP ‘But in Silence‘ is an essential download.
I saw/heard very little this year- I spent far more time in conversation- including laughing a lot in the Jesus Arms with David and Mary-Lee, seeing our lovely old friends and former neighbours the McGoos and generally catching up with many people who Greenbelt gives me the pleasure of connection with.
Musical highlight for me would be Lau- who were simply brilliant, weaving folk magic from the mainstage.
I did not hear any of the main speakers- could not get into their venues, so need to download talks.
Main communion event made me weep. I think one’s bladder moves closer to the eyes as we get older. A field full of people singing gently, passing communion…
Looking forward to seeing old friends, and immersing myself in some new ideas and new music. I have been too busy to decide exactly what new ideas/music, and will probably default to my usual method of wandering around and seeing what I encounter.
Proost began as a vehicle to make more widely available materials being developed by creative people whose work would otherwise go unnoticed. It has developed into a kind of collaboration between all sorts of artists, writers, poets, film makers and musicians.
Proost has been searching for a different kind of Christian poetry that does not shrink from pain, from ugliness, from doubt. Poetry that questions, holds us account for our actions and is skewed towards the weak and broken. Poetry that is shaped from love. Out of this search came a collection of new poems, some of which will be heard for the first time at Greenbelt 2014.
Among the Proost Poets is Harry Baker who has collaborated together with musician Chris Read on a new collection, But In Silence, of contemplative poems/chants/prayers backed by some members of Emily and The Woods.
At first, I thought “So what?” It is no big deal any more surely?
Then I thought, it IS still a big deal for some- and it certainly must be for her, whose courage I salute.
I hope that people on all sides of this question will listen to what she has to say and hope for the very best for her. I hope to that some more people will be set free to live life in all it’s fullness.
I cried when she spoke her last sentence “God loves you exactly the way you are.” I cried because most of the people who say that do not mean everybody, and certainly not Gay people…
“We think this book typifies the reasons why Proost exists. It’s promoting people’s art and creativity. It’s giving people a voice and it’s sharing those voices with a wider audience. It’s almost an incredible good and very moving collection of poems. For those reasons we think it’s a fantastic resource and hope you’ll visit the site and pick up a copy.”
Here’s a poem to give you a flavour by Sheena Bradley
Before, I was not
And now, I am
In this place and at this time.
Rain, hail or shine I will hold up my head And bloom…
And not just so that I might be seen, That I might be admired
No, I do not need your praise.
Celebrated or unnoticed Until I’m trampled or I fade, For fade I will
I have been thinking about our (often hysterical) response to the growth of Islamic extremism/militancy/activism/fundamentalism. Religion (particularly the religion of the other) as always portrayed as a force for bad, a force for evil even. It is impossible to envisage a militant Islam that sweeps into an area an brings good things. I am afraid I can not comment in any detail about the degree to which this might or might not be true now, but I do think we would do well to consider our own history…
A good place to start might be to look back towards Wat Tyler and in particular, John Ball, key figures both in what came to be known as The Peasants Revolt. There is a great programme by Melvin Bragg dealing with this period available on the I player.
The Key thing about the Peasants Revolt all the way back in 1381 is that the ideology that brought about a mass consciousness towards change was simply this- Christianity. It ended in dreadful persecution, mass hangings and a re-assertion of the power of Kings and Bishops and Lords, but it also changed the political landscape for ever.
What we know about John Ball is mostly told from the perspective of those Kings, Bishops and Lords that survived the Peasants revolt, but there is no doubt that for him, Christianity had only one logical outcome- something that we might recognise as an egalitarian state of equality re-envisioned by Marx. Rather than the opium of the people, religion was like gun cotton. This was the cry of ordinary people; When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?
Here is an excerpt from one of John Ball’s sermons, used to convict him of sedition;
‘Ah, ye good people, the matters goeth not well to pass in England, nor shall not do till everything be common, and that there be no villains nor gentlemen, but that we may be all united together, and that the lords be no greater masters than we be. What have we deserved, or why should we be kept thus in servage? We be all come from one father and one mother, Adam and Eve: whereby can they say or shew that they be greater lords than we be, saving by that they cause us to win and labour for that they dispend? They are clothed in velvet and camlet furred with grise, and we be vestured with poor cloth: they have their wines, spices and good bread, and we have the drawing out of the chaff and drink water: they dwell in fair houses, and we have the pain and travail, rain and wind in the fields; and by that that cometh of our labours they keep and maintain their estates: we be called their bondmen, and without we do readily them service, we be beaten; and we have no sovereign to whom we may complain, nor that will hear us nor do us right.’ John Ball, in J Froissart, Froissart’s Chronicles (1385) translated by GC Macaulay (1895)
Ideas are dangerous- religious ideas are perhaps more dangerous than most. But when faced with such manifest injustice and inequality, how we need dangerous ideas. How we need troublesome priests and prophets who will challenge us to take another look at ourselves.
There is a famous song about John Ball, written by English songwriter Sydney Carter, who also wrote other Christian standards such as ‘The Lord of the dance’, ‘When I needed a neighbour’ and ‘One more step along the world I go’. Here is one of my favourite (and avowedly atheist) musicians singing it;
We are just back from a trip out to the MacCormaig Islands with a group of friends along with their kids. The idea for the trip arose from discussions about taking young people out to experience wild places, away from electricity, screens, amenities.
The island we chose was one that offered some protection from the elements (and as it happens, the midges) as it had a well maintained bothy. It is also a little less wild than some- having generally less severe terrain. It is not without interest though- having an ancient chapel, a hermits cave and a beautiful cove ideal for swimming. We were accompanied by a pair of otters, seals and countless sea birds.
It worked. All out kids, ranging in age from 6 to 14 seemed captivated by the place, despite the challenges of weather, wet boots and of course the midges.
I will reflect on this some more in the future, but for now, here are some photos;
Will and I are off on a lads trip. I have been so busy over the last weeks that it feels like such a desperate need to get away from things for a while.
We are going to play cricket away down in Carradale, near Campbeltown, on Sunday, weather permitting. We are then camping out somewhere before meeting a group of friends of mixed ages and heading off by boat to a deserted island for two nights.
This is a bit of an experiment really- in taking our kids out into the wilderness, away for the possibility of any kind of screen based infotainment. To be fair, Will is really looking forward to it, but it is likely to be a shock to some. The island we are going to is the same one on which we have led ‘wilderness retreats’- this one in fact.