TFT Christmas card, 2016…




Baby, breathing


A madman ascends to the gilded throne

The whole Empire convulses

A star tumbles down from the Eastern sky

Appalling portents in every Facebook feed

For we are, it seems, all doomed

(Apart from the celebrities)


Meanwhile in an alley behind the Chinese takeaway

Joseph and Mary are bin diving

Because nothing is made from wood these days

And they have no plastic

Mary wonders where they will lie

There are no stables in this town


It was always this way my friends

Just when hope was almost lost

When joy was replaced by mass distraction

And peace replaced by fear

Love comes down

Like snow


Like the soft sound

Of a baby















The people of Aleppo…

During our on going clear out pending next weeks house move, I came across a picture that Michaela bought for me a few years ago. We had agreed to only buy presents from charity shops and she had found a watercolour print- a series of quick wet into wet sketches, entitled ‘the people of Aleppo’.


Of course, since then the picture has a whole new level of significance.

A couple of friends sit chatting on a park bench whilst someone takes home the shopping. An old man reads the newspaper while his friend pauses to chew the fat. Women walk home arm in arm and everyone lives outside in the sunshine. Life is ordinary, and all the more beautiful for that.

What happened to these folk?

Did they all survive, or are some still buried in the rubble of their former houses? Outlasted by this portrait done in happier times?

Have some fled and become refugees, scattered across a European landscape increasingly hostile to their presence?

Are some still there? Sheltering in cellars. Starved. Fearful. Awaiting the retribution of the approaching government troops.

Have some become heroes, rescuing others as part of the White Helmet organisation?

We will never know, but spare some thoughts friends for the people of Aleppo, who find themselves at the centre of a power play that they can never win. May they survive, somehow, to a time when they can once more sit in the street with no fear of bullet or barrel bomb.

I searched for the artist, Lucy Willis, and discovered that she is selling prints of this painting and others via Oxfam in aid of the people of Syria. Check this out here, as these might make fantastic Christmas presents.



The second simplicity…


I should be packing, but here I am again. I felt compelled to reflect on one of Richard Rohr’s meditations that landed in my inbox like manna. If you have not heard of him, you might like to check him out here, via his Centre for Action and Contemplation website.

Richard Rohr speaks of the one-ness of all things; the hope that we might come to understand ourselves not as individual units of consumption, satisfaction and distraction, but rather as held in a relationship with all things.

Today he used this wonderful phrase ‘the second simplicity’, which he defines like this;

As we grow spiritually, we discover that we are not as separate as we thought we were. Separation from God, self, and others was a deep and tragic illusion. As we grow into deeper connection and union, the things that once brought meaning and happiness to our small self no longer satisfy us. We tried to create artificial fullness through many kinds of addictive behavior, but still feel empty and nothing, if we are honest. We need much more nutritious food to feed our Bigger Self; mere entertainments, time-fillers, diversions, and distractions will no longer work.

At the more mature stages of life, we are even able to allow the painful and the formerly excluded parts gradually belong to a slowly growing and unified field.  This shows itself as a foundational compassion, especially toward all things different and those many people who “never had a chance.” If you have forgiven yourself for being imperfect, you can now do it for everybody else too. If you have not forgiven yourself, I am afraid you will likely pass on your sadness, absurdity, judgment, and futility to others. “What comes around goes around.”

Many who are judgmental and unforgiving seem to have missed out on the joy and clarity of the first childhood simplicity, perhaps avoided the suffering of the mid-life complexity, and thus lost the great freedom and magnanimity of the second simplicity as well. We need to hold together all of the stages of life, and for some strange, wonderful reason, it all becomes quite “simple” as we approach our later years. The great irony is that we must go through a lot of complexity and disorder (another word for necessary suffering) to return to the second simplicity. There is no nonstop flight from first to second naiveté, from initial order to resurrection. We must go through the pain of disorder to grow up and switch our loyalties from self to God. Most people just try to maintain their initial “order” at all costs, even if it is killing them.

As we grow in wisdom, we realize that everything belongs and everything can be received. We see that life and death are not opposites. They do not cancel one another out; neither do goodness and badness. There is now room for everything to belong. A radical, almost nonsensical “okayness” characterizes the mature believer, which is why we are often called “holy fools.” We don’t have to deny, dismiss, defy, or ignore reality anymore. What is, is gradually okay. What is, is the greatest of teachers. At the bottom of all reality is always a deep goodness, or what Merton called “a hidden wholeness.”

I love this. Not because I think that I have yet embraced this deeper sense of who I am in my second half of life. I can lay claim to no great maturity, and have more than my fair share of mid life complexity. However I know that in these words there is such hope.

Not just hope for a life of some kind of Zen like personal satisfaction, for what is the point of that, but rather a hope for all things, that at the end of all things, there is a wholeness that holds everything.


They sail away don’t they?


My daughter is 21.

Let’s leave aside all the talk of the speed time passes and seems-like-yesterday…

But then again, I am less immune to nostalgia than most, particularly where my lovely lass is concerned. She has overcome a whole raft of challenges already in her young life and somehow stayed loving, creative and hard working… my pride in her is a deep well of goodness.

One of those aforementioned challenges is dyspraxia and yesterday, on her actual birthday, she exited the house too enthusiastically and came a mighty cropper, ending up in casualty. She is now stretched out on our sofa unable to walk because of a horrible cut to her knee. Not the best way to spend your birthday. We can only ope that she will be healed up in time for our house move, or we will have to find a large roll of bubble wrap.

Come to think of it that is not such a bad idea…


Our present to her was rather symbolic. She loves sailing, so we have managed (via the help of a number of friends with Towbars- thanks Andy!- and driveways- thanks Moseleys) to purchase and secrete a sailing boat as a 21st birthday present. To be more specific to those who are into such things, a very old (1964) Mirror sailing dinghy.

Because they sail away, our kids. Slowly perhaps, but their horizons will always be different from ours. The boat is small, and the ocean vast, so forgive me the fears that linger on this old landlubber but there really is no other way. They must sail away.

By the way, this was taken pre accident yesterday on the Argyll Riviera.


Kate Tempest on the process of writing…


Anyone who writes things will get this. It is a bit of a conversation between Kate Tempest and Fleabag writer author Phoebe Waller-Bridge. You can read the whole interview here.

PWB Can I ask you, Kate, writer to writer: do you ever write something and go, “Smashed it, that’s brilliant, I’m keeping that, that’s amazing.” Does it get to the point where you can step back and go, “That’s a really good piece of writing” or, “That’s not such a good piece of writing.” Or do you just write it all down and not think of it critically?

KT It’s not like, “Wooh, I’m smashing this” but sometimes everything else disappears, and that happens very rarely. The rest of the time, it’s you writing when you don’t feel like writing, writing when you hate everything that’s coming out, forcing yourself to engage with the idea that it’s going to be shit no matter what you do, and trying to kind of break through that because of a deadline, or because you know that it’s very important to continue. This is what enables you to be a writer.

The difference between a writer and someone who dreams of being a writer is that the writer has finished. You’ve gone through the agony of taking an idea that is perfect – it’s soaring, it comes from this other place – then you’ve had to summon it down and process it through your shit brain. It’s coming out of your shit hands and you’ve ruined it completely. The finished thing is never going to be anywhere near as perfect as the idea, of course, because if it was, why would you ever do anything else? And then you have another idea. And then these finished things are like stepping stones towards being able to find your voice.

The thing is, everybody’s got an idea. Everybody wants to tell me about their ideas. Everybody is very quick to look down on your finished things, because of their great ideas. But until you finish something, I’ve got no time to have that discussion. Because living through that agony is what gives you the humility to understand what writing is about.

Trump, exclusivism and my journey towards universalism…

rainbow church, Dunoon

There is a persistent message at the heart of the socio-political narrative that underpins movements in the world at present, and it might be defined as ‘me first.’ You can see it clearly in the drive towards Brexit, and the rise of the right wing ‘make America great again’ rhetoric of Trump. It taps into the fear of the rest of us as we watch the overall pot that we feed from shrinking and as outsiders seem to be massing at our borders.

The zeitgeist seems to be that we need to look after our own, because we are special. The ‘others’ are less worthy. Their needs are less valid.

The result is a kind of retreat into gated communities, guarded constantly against contamination by the unworthy, the ungodly, those who need hand outs and are too feckless to stand on their own two feet.

This thinking also seems to extend into environmental thinking. Measures that suggest that we should make sacrificial decisions in order to prevent climate change are dismissed intellectually and morally, as they are not putting ‘me first’, and anyway the Chinese made it all up didn’t they?

This kind of thinking may yet result in war. Monbiot certainly thinks so- he said this in the Guardian a couple of days ago;

Governments across the world are making promises they cannot keep. In the absence of a new vision, their failure to materialise will mean only one thing: something or someone must be found to blame. As people become angrier and more alienated, as the complexity and connectivity of global systems becomes ever harder to manage, as institutions such as the European Union collapse and as climate change renders parts of the world uninhabitable, forcing hundreds of millions of people from their homes, the net of blame will be cast ever wider.

Eventually the anger that cannot be assuaged through policy will be turned outwards, towards other nations. Faced with a choice between hard truths and easy lies, politicians and their supporters in the media will discover that foreign aggression is among the few options for political survival. I now believe that we will see war between the major powers within my lifetime. Which ones it will involve, and on what apparent cause, remains far from clear. But something that once seemed remote now looks probable.

I hope he is wrong, but this rather bleak view of the arc of world affairs has some historical backing. Wars emerge in times when unfettered self interest is inflated by the politics of fear. Add in a dose of scrabbling over scarce resources and the end result is war.

america, religion

Religion has a key role to play here also. Remember that even as religion is a declining force here in Europe, it remains a vital engine in American politics. More pertinently it is of growing significance in the wider world, particularly the Islamic world, but also the rise of Christian fundamentalism in Asia and Africa. Religion, no matter how much followers might declare it’s purity and accordance with divine texts, does not exist in a vacuum. It both influences and is influenced by the politics and defining social circumstances of the time.

We might ask then how it is possible for Christianity to co-exist with me-first politics- surely the two concepts are entirely incompatible? The defining text is perhaps the great Jesus manifesto of the Sermon on the Mount. How can anyone claim to be a follower of the man who gave us these words and at the same time want to build a wall between themselves and the desperate need of their neighbours?

It is almost as if the exclusivism demanded by our religious creeds is part of the very problem that Jesus came to challenge. Jesus who loved sinner and saint alike, who was prepared to cross and barrier of race, gender, religion in the name of love. Jesus who told people of other religions that ‘their faith has saved them’.

Which brings me to the point of this piece. A few years ago I wrote a piece on this blog in which I (almost) came out as a universalist. I said this at the time;

For most of my Christian experience, people who held universalist views were on the slippery slope to damnation, if not already in free fall into hell. Universalists believe that God’s plan of engagement with the salvation of creation includes the aim to save EVERYONE- not just a selection of (most of) those who said the sinners prayer and so escape the fate of the apostate majority.

I know a lot of folk whose position has shifted on this- who have started to believe that the discussion about what the Bible might have to say about this issue is simply not closed

Well my position has continued to shift. Many of my friends will disagree vehemently with me on this, but here goes.

I believe that God is not bound by any particular religious creed.

I believe that we have to always remain open to the other- to listen, to understand, to learn and even to be changed by the practices and beliefs of those outside our immediate understanding.

Christians, of any kind, either side of the Atlantic, are not ‘better’.

The New Kingdom that Jesus talked about does not exist within any earthy dominion. In fact, as best as I can understand it, the whole point of this new kind of Kingdom is that it is a rejection of the whole idea of kingship, and suggests a simpler way of love and the unity of all things, both human and the wider world we live in.

Today I read the something by Richard Rohr, who said this (after a couple of pithy quotes);

If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race. —Huston Smith

For those of us living in the 21st century—an age of globalization, mass migrations, and incr

The divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, inter-religious dialogue, and spirituality in particular. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (remember that re-ligio means to re-ligament!).

Many teachers have made the central but oft-missed point that unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained—and yet overcome! You must actually distinguish things and separate them before you can spiritually unite them, but usually at cost to yourself (see Ephesians 2:14-16). And this is probably the rub! If only Christianity and other religions had made that simple clarification, so many problems—and overemphasized, separate identities—could have moved to a much higher level of love and service.easingly multi-religious and multi-ethnic societies—mutual understanding and respect, based on religious pluralism rather than religious exclusivism, are extremely critical to our survival. The insights from the perennial tradition have much to contribute in developing and strengthening multi-faith relations. Its insights help to combat religious discrimination and conflicts between and within religious traditions, and to develop more pluralistic paths of religious spirituality. Today . . . we see scholars and spiritual teachers forging new, more inclusive spiritual paths that recognize other religious traditions as sources of insight and wisdom. They are informed by the teachings and spiritual practices (meditation and contemplation) of multiple religious traditions. —John L. Esposito

The divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, inter-religious dialogue, and spirituality in particular. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (remember that re-ligio means to re-ligament!).

Many teachers have made the central but oft-missed point that unity is not the same as uniformity. Unity, in fact, is the reconciliation of differences, and those differences must be maintained—and yet overcome! You must actually distinguish things and separate them before you can spiritually unite them, but usually at cost to yourself (see Ephesians 2:14-16). And this is probably the rub! If only Christianity and other religions had made that simple clarification, so many problems—and overemphasized, separate identities—could have moved to a much higher level of love and service.

Ideas matter, whether we chose to acknowledge them or not. Religious ideas matter even more, not just because of their meaning, but the power they have to shape whole societies, for good and ill.

I refuse the exclusive me-first religion of Trump and his ilk, in the same way that I refuse the exclusive me-first religion of the Islamic fundamentalists. However, if I am to remain open to the Spirit that is in all things, I must accept that difference is precious but also has something to teach me, rather than requiring me to dismiss, to resist, to declare ‘evil’.

Final words go to a local hymn writer, George Matheson (1842-1906, writer of that great Victorian Hymn ‘O love that wilt not let me go’. He was the rector of the church in Innellan (we are about to be neighbours) for 18 years. It is now known as ‘The Matheson Kirk’ because of the legacy he left. He wrote this hymn;

1 Gather us in, thou Love that fillest all!
Gather our rival faiths within thy fold!
Rend all our temple veils and bid them fall,
that we may know that thou hast been of old;
gather us in.

2 Gather us in: we worship only thee;
in varied names we stretch a common hand;
in diverse forms a common soul we see;
in many ships we seek one spirit-land;
gather us in.

3 Each sees one colour of thy rainbow light;
each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven;
thou art the fullness of our partial sight;
we are not perfect till we find the seven;
gather us in.

4 Some seek a Father in the heavens above,
some ask a human image to adore,
some crave a spirit vast as life and love;
within thy mansions we have all and more;
gather us in.