Michaela brings up her half century…

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My lovely wife is 50. Wow.

Yesterday we had a party in the garden. The weather was kinder than it might have been, but we were still grateful for the loan of a marquee from some friends. We planted 50 trees and spent the whole day outside, playing music and eating good food (mostly thanks to friends too!)

It was a lovely, lovely day, full of most of the best things my life contains, with Michaela at the centre.

Thanks so much to those of you who came. Those that could not, there will be other times for us to meet soon hopefully…

Martin Luther King; revolutionary whose searing oratory has been sanitised…

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I can’t listen to this man without weeping; the way his voice is drenched in the power of emotion; the poetry and music in his cadences; the old-time-revival preacher style that then hits you with a sucker punch – this man lived and they killed him for it.

I watched Selma last night with my 17 year old son. He knew little of the story or the historical context that King lived through. Afterwards I found myself talking to him about what I knew of it all and to my shame, I felt a certain nostalgia. How could this be? I am not black and have no rights whatsoever to claim any connection to the struggles for freedom that black people have endured in the USA for generation after generation. What I was doing was making a pet of my own personal MLK – a bit like my own personal Jesus. MLK exists in that place of modern sainthood, from a simpler time when good stood up to evil and triumphed.

Or did it? What was King actually fighting for? What was that ‘promised land’ that he so powerfully evoked in all those speeches? What was he dreaming about?

More pertinently, what would he make of the rampant inequality that still exists between black and white people across the planet, but in his own country too? What would he make of how those who he described as ‘poor whites’ are still sold a lie that at least they are better than… in the USA perhaps it is still black people, but we could substitute refugees, Moslems, benefit scroungers, etc etc. King saw this kind of invective as the way that rich people stopped us all lifting our heads and believing in something better, something that God was calling us towards.

This article in The Guardian today says it all;

This week, the US will indulge in an orgy of self-congratulation, selectively misrepresenting King’s life and work, as if rebelling against the American establishment was, in fact, what the establishment has always encouraged. They will cite the “dream” speech as if it were his only one – and the line about wanting his children to be “judged not by the colour of their skin but the content of their character” as if it were the only line in it.

In so doing they will wilfully and brazenly omit the fact that before his death in 1968, King was well on the way to becoming a pariah. In 1966, twice as many Americans had an unfavourable opinion of him as a favourable one. Life magazine branded his anti-Vietnam war speech at the Riverside church, delivered exactly a year before his assassination, as “demagogic slander”, and “a script for Radio Hanoi”. Just a week before he was killed, he attended a demonstration in Memphis in support of striking garbage workers. The protest turned violent and police responded with batons and teargas, shooting a 16-year-old boy dead. The press and the political class rounded on King. The New York Times said the events were “a powerful embarrassment” to him. A column in the Dallas Morning News called King “the headline-hunting high priest of nonviolent violence” whose “road show” in Memphis was “like a torchbearer sprinting into a powder-house”. The Providence Sunday Journal called him “reckless and irresponsible”. He was back in Memphis supporting the strike when he was killed.

MLK was hated not just because he was black, but also because of his political stance on things like the Vietnam war and poverty. These led him to the same inevitable conclusion that many activists have come to; in order to improve the lot of individual groups, you have to look in detail that economic power structures that are keeping the status quo. You have to look at the nature of Capitalism itself. This from the same article;

“We must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society,” he said in August 1967. “There are 40 million poor people here, and one day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising a question about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy … when you deal with this, you begin to ask the question: ‘Who owns the oil?’ You begin to ask the question: ‘Who owns the iron ore?’ You begin to ask the question: ‘Why is it that people have to pay water bills in a world that’s two-thirds water?’”

It is an interesting question; what would MLK’s legacy have been, had he lived? Would he have a achieved greater things, or would his star have inevitably fallen? There is after all some indication that it was already falling even before the fateful bullet. The point is however, that he died. Ever since then, people have used him to illustrate a version of history that made sense to them.

Like Jesus, MLK sought to be God’s revolutionary. Like Jesus, perhaps he knew that this was not going to end well. Like Jesus, the power of his ‘rightness’ ultimately (if grudgingly) was accepted by the culture that he came to, but with conditions. Only some of what he said was accepted. His words were applied to illustrate a version of America that could make people believe that it was indeed the promised land, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The article again;

So in life, King’s one-time contemporaries struggle, as he did, with a white America that is dismissive and a black America that demands more than their movements can deliver. In death, the struggle is to ensure that King’s legacy isn’t eviscerated of all militancy so that it can be repurposed as one more illustration of the American establishment’s God-given ability to produce the antidote to it’s own poison.

MLK was a remarkable man, born into remarkable times. He achieved much, but also far less than he hoped and longed for. There is no promised land, just people who still have a dream that it might yet be brought a little closer.

50 years after his death, I am going to remember him as a revolutionary peace maker, which is a title redolent with irony because it is a contradiction in terms. Jesus turned over tables remember?

A day of poetry and clay at TIG gallery…

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I wanted to give a plug to this event which is part of our exhibition at the lovely TIG gallery, tucked away in the village of Tighnabruaich, overlooking the Kyles of Bute on the Cowal peninsula. (If you have not been to this part of the world, you really don’t know what you are missing!)

Poetry & Clay Workshop for Adults

Saturday 14 April, 10.30am–3.30pm

Cost £50

Phone 01700 811681 to book

A day out to think and create. The session will start with a trip to the beach to reflect, relax and gather some inspiration. Participants will then be guided as to how to turn thoughts, images and beach finds into poetry and words, before pulling all this together and creating a ceramic poetry piece with images and words.

All tuition and materials are included along with tea and cake. Please bring a packed lunch.

This will be the second time we have run this workshop, which combines two simple ideas- the forming of words which are then fixed into clay. The last time we were blown away by how lovely and profound the process was…

We will bring your creations back to the pottery, where we will dry them, fire them, glaze them, then finish them and get them back to you as a memory of a day that will last forever.

It would be lovely if you could join us…

 

Easter…

Here, the day is appropriately beautiful. Everything is growing new shoots. Dear friends, this may not be true where you are, but Easter is not a matter of changing weather, it is a statement of hope. May your Easter be another new start where hope rises…

This cross was scratched in a hermit’s cave on Eilean Mor, the McCormaig islands, some time around one-and-a-half thousand years ago. The monk who scratched it lived in a different world and used different languages and concepts to understand the God who died and rose again. The differences do not matter to God, so why should they matter to us?

ancient cross carved inside the hermits cave- 7th C

 

The death of God

 

It is said that on the cross, the Wrath of God was

Satisfied; as if the stretched-out slaughter of his

son was the only thing that could turn his mind

to mercy; as if it could not be remade without

blood being spilled; as if the only way to satiate the

violence of God was through the torture of his own son.

Or perhaps that only ever made any sense in the mind

of religious men; perhaps it was never about the deployment

of heavenly legalistic strategy after all; perhaps it was a last

desperate act, when all else had failed, by a God whose

only surrender was to the way of love.

This is the God I reach for; the God I would live for is

indeed the one who died for me – not to ensure my escape

from the fires of hell, for why should I escape (through a

technicality) that which I deserve as much as the next man?

Rather this is the God who stretched his arms so wide that they

reach around everything that ever was and ever will be. He stretched them

around me.

 

 

 

The God who died…

 

Ancient graffiti, stave church, Norway

What is this thing we call God? What better question for Good Friday?

My half-grasped concepts of the divine have ebbed and flowed, sometimes receding so far as to be out of sight, whilst at other times exploding into almost painful transcendence.  I have to own the fact that all of these concepts I have held are wrong– if not in entirety then at least in that they only contain a glimmer of gold amongst all the rusty iron. Some of this iron has stained me, even though I threw it as far as I could.

The biggest stain I bear was an inevitable consequence of being immersed in the Evangelical worldview throughout my childhood and early life. Within this world view, God is seen as the harsh unyielding judge, ruling the universe against the heavy yardstick of sin. This God sent his son as a softer version of himself to speak softer words of love even though in the end he had to die in order to make his point because of our sinfulness and unworthyness. We can escape this God’s wrath only on a technicality because this God will only accept perfection. Anything less will be burned for eternity in pain and anguish.

Regular readers will not be surprised to hear that I have fallen out with this concept of God. I hope this God does not exist. I believe that this God is not worth believing in.

But if so, what God does exist? Perhaps, like me, you have been stained by the the God as described above, so much so that you no longer have any concept of God. If so, I would understand. I am not ready to let go of the divine just yet however.

The glimpses I have that are still meaningful to me go something like this;

God is that from which all things flow.

God is the life in everything.

God is that that binds everything together, despite all that tries to force it apart.

God is not bound by law, but God is in essence love.

Perhaps the whole universe is actually contained in the mind of God…

What might this mean for we humans? I do not think that we have any right to capture the truth of God and lock it in any one religion. Rather I think that The glory of God is a human being fully alive. (St. Irenaeus of Lyon). To be fully alive means being connected, because that is what we were made for. All sins are ultimately sins of separation from this connection. Once broken, everything starts to come apart. Sadly, exclusive me-first religion is guilty of breaking this connection as much as anything else, which was probably why Jesus had so little time for it.

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Talking of Jesus this good Friday, the follow on question from the one above is this; why did God have to die? What did the death of Jesus achieve? It is said that on the cross, the Wrath of God was satisfied, as if the stretched-out slaughter of his son was the only thing that could turn his mind to mercy; as if the mind of God could never be remade once fixed. Perhaps this only ever made sense in the mind of religious men.

Perhaps God still needs to die in order to kill narrow judgemental religion, just as he did back then. Perhaps then we might come to see that the way of love requires first that we notice the sins of separation and seek a different kind of repentance – one that honours death by seeking life in all its fullness.

Or life in all its connectedness.

 

Our exhibition…

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After a few months of stress (particularly on M’s part) today we had the great privilege of setting up our own solo exhibition at the very lovely TIG gallery.

Check out details here.

We have a preview from 10-4 on Saturday for any who are in the area.

Here are a few teasers;

The sin of separation…

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We are curious creatures; we are made for community and define ourselves by separation. Some more than others.

Perhaps the nature of our innate dichotomy is more obvious in village life. The division between those with whom we commune and those we studiously avoid is so much more immediate.

Perhaps it is more obvious in me. When I was young, despite my natural introversion, I threw myself into social activities because I considered them a moral obligation; a way of being a better human being than I knew myself to be. I even chose social work as a profession/vocation. Life was about building bridges between me and other people, particularly those in some kind of need… I am older now though and increasingly reclusive. Finding energy to reach out is harder. I am in danger of retreating behind my garden hedges and being just another one of those people living a small life centred around me and mine.

It is not enough. There is so much more.

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I was thinking again of those stories from the beginning of the Bible from the much-abused and theologically weaponised book of Genesis. Forget the creation myth for a moment and the meaning it may or may not contain. think instead of the strange stories that immediately follow on in the first chapters. The man and the woman naked before the eyes of everything in Eden. How they came to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and it forced them first to cover up, then pushed them outwards, East of Eden, where we remain, wondering if it might ever be possible to go back to the garden…

Perhaps you already see where I am coming from? Perhaps it is all about the sin of separation. Separation from the wild. Separation from the one-ness of all things because we thought we were above all that.

The stories in Genesis go on to describe how the separation grew wider because we also separated from one another; Cain killed Abel and rather than walking on the land, we started to own it, to build our cities on it. To raise up our empires on it. The measure of man was no longer found in connection but rather revealed in accumulation.

But back to me. Back to my own sin of separation. It is not enough to make my own personal Eden behind my own high hedges. Rather I need to consider again the call of the Spirit towards constant creative repentance. Perhaps this means burning some hedges (or at least chipping them to avoid smoke-fuelled conflict.) Certainly it must mean closing the gap a little when I find or make the opportunity.

Rainbow, kyles of bute

Sometimes this can even be fun. Part of my gap-closing has involved becoming a director of the local community development company and we hit on an idea around the sharing of tea. Apparently, these wet acidic conditions on the west coast are good for growing the stuff. Who knew? What better analogy for community than the communal growing of tea bushes? We are starting out on a journey towards getting people to use a bit of their personal Edens to grow things for the common cup. If it works, perhaps we can share one.

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