3 again…

toy train


3 again


Christmas came, then went

Leaving me overstuffed with sweet things


My son has ridden out

On his new bicycle

Tweeted it on last years tablet

Gangled his long limbs into new jumpers

Rolled his old-fashioned eyes at jokes

Smiled his easy way through slow days

Stretched on the sofa

Unlike me, oblivious to the time

Swiftly passing


Today he found a box of old toys

Spent two hours slotting wooden rails into pleasing curves

Marshalling brightly painted carriages

Careless of the dead battery in Thomas the Tank’s engine


Between Christmas and the turning year

There should always be a window

Where we can be three again



TFT goes all seasonal…

Last night we had our first proper Christmas celebration- a lovely evening with friends from our old ‘house group’- reading, praying, sharing gifts (a secret santa kind of thing) and even singing the odd carol. Michaela had planned a ritual involving listening to U2’s song ‘Peace on Earth’ (uncharacteristically dark and mournful for her!) and also re-lending some money our group had invested with Kiva.

Earlier we put up Christmas decorations. To prove it, here are some (slightly cheesy) photos!

Ad venting…



We are all caught up in the Christmas madness again. Over the last few years I have railed and moaned about all the wasted money and fake snowflaking. I will not do that this year- partly because it has been said, but also because it is better to start closer to home.

However, I always find myself conscious of those who are outside the plastic bubble we make out of Christmas. I suspect that Jesus would be too. That is what this poem is about;


Ad vent


Who can ever expect the unexpected?

For what is hope to those from whom hope has been taken?

Why promise light but leave us in darkness?

I stand in this shit of tinsel and trimmings


The bells are not ringing


I live in the space between

What is

And what may never come.


The relationship between materialism, happiness and Christmas…


There are some things that all the worlds religions kind of agree on- almost as if in the distillation of spiritual wisdom of the the millennia, certain concepts were inescapable. One of these is our attitude towards possessions. Quite simply, they are more often than not regarded as an obstacle to enlightenment, not a path towards it.

Perhaps the most hard core religious response to the accumulation of wealth and possessions was Jesus- we all know the biblical passages and the perenthetical BUT we have added on to each and every one of them. It remains one of the great human paradoxes as to how Consumer Capitalism has been able to grow in a western culture dominated by Christianity- not just in spite of our faith, but almost because of the way we live it out. We have come to believe that Jesus is at heart a white middle class respectable home owner.

visa cross

There was a brilliant article by George Monbiot in The Guardian yesterday that opened all this up again for me. He took a long look at consumerism, sharing some research about the impact of materialism on well being, sociability and mental health. He pulls no punches; Worldly ambition, material aspiration, perpetual growth: these are a formula for mass unhappiness.

Monbiot quotes a lot of research into the impact of materialism- here are a few examples;

There has long been a correlation observed between materialism, a lack of empathy and engagement with others, and unhappiness. But research conducted over the past few years seems to show causation. For example, aseries of studies published in the journal Motivation and Emotion in July showed that as people become more materialistic, their wellbeing (good relationships, autonomy, sense of purpose and the rest) diminishes. As they become less materialistic, it rises.

In one study, the researchers tested a group of 18-year-olds, then re-tested them 12 years later. They were asked to rank the importance of different goals – jobs, money and status on one side, and self-acceptance, fellow feeling and belonging on the other. They were then given a standard diagnostic test to identify mental health problems. At the ages of both 18 and 30, materialistic people were more susceptible to disorders. But if in that period they became less materialistic, they became happier.

In another study, the psychologists followed Icelanders weathering their country’s economic collapse. Some people became more focused on materialism, in the hope of regaining lost ground. Others responded by becoming less interested in money and turning their attention to family and community life. The first group reported lower levels of wellbeing, the second group higher levels.

shop window

These studies, while suggestive, demonstrate only correlation. But the researchers then put a group of adolescents through a church programme designed to steer children away from spending and towards sharing and saving. The self-esteem of materialistic children on the programme rose significantly, while that of materialistic children in the control group fell. Those who had little interest in materialism before the programme experienced no change in self-esteem.

Another paper, published in Psychological Science, found that people in a controlled experiment who were repeatedly exposed to images of luxury goods, to messages that cast them as consumers rather than citizens and to words associated with materialism (such as buy, status, asset and expensive), experienced immediate but temporary increases in material aspirations, anxiety and depression. They also became more competitive and more selfish, had a reduced sense of social responsibility and were less inclined to join in demanding social activities. The researchers point out that, as we are repeatedly bombarded with such images through advertisements, and constantly described by the media as consumers, these temporary effects could be triggered more or less continuously.

third paper, published (paradoxically) in the Journal of Consumer Research, studied 2,500 people for six years. It found a two-way relationship between materialism and loneliness: materialism fosters social isolation; isolation fosters materialism. People who are cut off from others attach themselves to possessions. This attachment in turn crowds out social relationships.

As we read these studies, we instinctively know them to be true; there are no surprises here. Perhaps this is because of some kind of spiritual residue left in our psyches from all those religious people who made these discoveries previously. Perhaps also each generation has to learn it anew.

However, we in the West are more than pilgrims who have wandered off into some consumer-bog, we have become hostages.


A few years ago I read Pete Ward’s excellent book ‘Liquid Church’, in which he suggested that  ‘rather than condemn the shopper as materialist Liquid Church would take shopping seriously as a spiritual exercise.’ What Ward was seeking to do was to get the church to engage fully with the culture we are part of- to flow in its veins. I found this idea very helpful at the time- it enabled me to move from a fixed blinkered position which saw culture dominated by consumerism as universally bad (despite my full participation within it) towards a deliberate attempt to read culture through its patterns of acquisition. So if you look hard at lots of the advertisements we are bombarded with you will start to see the yearning behind the selling. What the advertisers are trying to do is to connect us with something beyond the physical aspect of the object, into the meaning it brings into our lives- so a car is not a good piece of engineering, it is a symbol of freedom, of self expression, of celebration of our lives.

Having understood this however; having looked again at our culture through its predominant consumer characteristics, where does this take us? I am more and more convinced that it takes us towards one thing only- the need to become engaged critics. Enraged critics even.

Let us turn over some tables in the temple.

Which brings us to Christmas again.

I know, I know, the calls to make Christmas less consumer-driven are getting a bit old. I have been banging on about it on this blog for years. Lighten up a little! Have some fun! There is nothing wrong with spending a bit more at Christmas after all.

Except, as our religious forefathers knew, and as Monbiot has underlined, let us not kid ourselves that any of this is making us happier. Let us not suggest that buying lots of stuff (even for others) is making us more sociable, more loving, more empathetic, more caring.

Rich and poor alike are caught up in this addictive destructive cycle. What would it mean to be clean?

What would it mean to be free?

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.

Aghhh. Shopping.

out of town shopping precinct

Now is the time for all good people to make a pilgrimage to an out of town shopping centre.

We will drive to a massive windy car park, and stare wistfully at the beckoning horizon, as we prepare to enter the zone of artificiality.

The temperature will be controlled to allow us to just about keep our coats on. The music will twitter in the distance with some kind of seasonal faux-bonhomie. The walls will be tastefully decorated with carefully designed Christmas blandness.

Each shop you enter will be selling more or less the same thing, with a slightly different labels. The music will be louder, and every step you take will have been carefully planned to maximise your market potential.

Not us though.

Michaela and I made our Christmas shopping trip last week- we took a trip into Glasgow which is not something we do often. Despite our determination to ‘do Christmas differently’ (mentioned ad infinitum on this blog) some shopping is still necessary, so we decided that we might as well have a day out together.

We went to a famous old shopping street called Byers Road- and revealed our country naivete by trying to buy some food from Subway only to then realise that it was actually a subway station.

Byers road is full of vintage clothing and charity shops- which have moved into the spaces left as the major chains have moved out of town into Bland Land. Instead of bemoaning the death of our city streets however (which would be disingenuous as they are clearly nor ‘our’ city streets) Michaela and I visited all of the charity outlets. We immersed ourself in bric-a-brac, delighted in stacks of old LPs, and a strange mechanical pencil sharpener made in the old East German Republic.

We also bought presents for the Kids- and I suddenly felt a deep sense of pride that I was able to be sure both of them will be delighted with what we have bought.

That is not to say that there will not be over consumption in our house at Christmas. It will be full of far too much stuff as we celebrate the coming of Jesus into poverty. We will over eat, over drink and stay up late watching pointless films. But if shopping is required at all, this is my preferred kind…

Buy Nothing Day…

This Saturday is Buy Nothing Day!

We are being asked to consider our immersion in the stuff of commercialism and over consumption as Christmas approaches, by stopping buying stuff for one day.

It might be harder than you think.

It’s time to lock up your wallets and purses, cut up your credit cards and dump the love of your life – shopping.

Saturday November 24th 2012 is Buy Nothing Day (UK). It’s a day where you challenge yourself, your family and friends to switch off from shopping and tune into life. The rules are simple, for 24 hours you will detox from shopping and anyone can take part provided they spend a day without spending!

Everything we buy has an impact on the environment, Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of consumerism. The developed countries – only 20% of the world population are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage, and an unfair distribution of wealth.

We know all this of course- we the middle class, the former activists, those tired by the tension between a moral imperative and western lifestyle.

Will one day make a difference? This is of course up to us- but we have to start somewhere…

I liked this from the Guardian;

So perhaps it’s time for a new kind of materialism, based on an economy of better, not more: one that is rich in the good-quality work created by providing useful services, that makes things which last and can be repaired many times before being recycled, allowing us to share better the surplus of stuff we already have. It is emerging now in things ranging from furniture to tools, cars, fridges, clothes and food. “Repair, reduce, re-use, recycle”, long a mantra of green economists, could be the basis of a new economic model that performs the neat trick of boosting demand without increasing consumption


It is coming- the ringing of the tills and the twinkling of the plastic stars. The singing of the Santa Claus songs and the pressure to eat and drink till we burst.

At some point over the last 100 years- somewhere between Dickens and and ‘A Muppet’s Christmas Tale’ (fine film though it may be)- we were occupied by forces of the Empire. It happened whilst we were looking the other way- distracted by another shiny gadget.

Don’t get me wrong- I have nothing against secular festivals- in fact I think there should be more of them. Anything that brings us closer together and celebrates our humanity is good as far as I am concerned, and you could argue that our Christmas took the slot in the year previously occupied by pagan feasting.

I do however feel a slight tinge of irritation at the fact that Christ gets hardly a mention in the representation of Christmas in popular culture. The icons that survive are ones that seem to me to fit in with the Disneyfication of it all- the tree, snow, twinkling lights, Santa Claus and of course, the giving of gifts. Lots of gifts. There is some mention from time to time of the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ uttered in films by some bloke in a red suit and a stick on beard. As far as I am able to understand this usually involves believing in Santa, being nice to your family and consuming lots of Christmas product.

And there is the rub- the consuming of product.

The incredible pressure exerted by the massive Capitalist machine to suck us all into a vortex of buying, eating, drinking. The system depends on it. Without strong Christmas sales then the whole edifice (already rather rickety) will come tumbling down. So do your bit- credit cards out boys and girls, lets take one to preserve our way of life.

How we Christians continue to live with the contradiction of celebrating the birth of a man whose whole life was a warning against storing up pointless possessions on earth is always a matter of amazement and guilt for me. Jesus- the man of poverty who told his followers that they did not need two shirts for their backs.

More importantly, a man who spoke more about one issue that almost any other- our individual relationship to money. The camel and the eye of the needle, the widows mite, the alabaster jar, the sermon on the mount, rendering unto Caesar etc.

Then there is the matter of exploiting the poor- doing unto the least of these. All those factories in far off places paying peanuts. All those brand names stitched on by people whose whole yearly salary amounts to less than one shoe worn by a pampered western foot. The trade circle controlled by those who have at the expense of those who have not.

All celebrated at the feast of Consumermas.

The older I get, the less willing I am to attend this particular feast. Call me rude, but I have another one to go to- a simpler one. Less shiny, costing far less money, connected with something far more important.

You are invited too.

I mention this friends, as once again, we will be thinking about the shopping. We will be wondering what we can afford, who we feel an obligation of love, friendship or duty towards. It will feel like a power over us beyond our control.

But it is not.

Stop consuming. Share life, share love, share time. Make stuff, gather with friends and do the ‘secret santa’ thing. Give stuff away that you no longer need. Buy gifts only from charity shops ( a great idea Samir!)

Start your own Advent Conspiracy.

Find silence in the clamour of another crap Christmas number one endlessly replayed. Celebrate mystery and light in the middle of darkness.

You have to start somewhere- Consumermas is coming, and will not let you go easily, or without emptying your wallet.

The back-to-work-after-Christmas Hakka…

The house is now empty after a wonderful time spent with friends over New Year. We always take a group photo, which always seems to be a record of the development of our kids, and the increasing decrepitude of we adults-

The other thing this photo reminds me of is the end of another Christmas/New Year break. A new year is upon us, and work begins again.

This year may (or may not) bring changes, but for now, the grind will grind on.

Andy and I were laughing about the feeling of needing to psych up for work. Almost like the New Zealand rugby team performing the Hakka-

So, by way of my own little hakka, I wrote some words. Imagine them being performed by men like those above.



Scowl me out that stress-face

This holiday must fracture

Stoke the furnace, sound that bell

This man must manufacture



Scrape the windscreen, warm the car

Before we once again commute

What was that bloody password?

I must again reboot



A million unread  e-mails

Have scleroted up my in box

The undrunk mug of coffee

Is waiting for a detox



There are those who are waiting

To mire me up in memos

Their words have little meaning

And even less good purpose



I should have been a cave man

His was a better planet

The things we folk must do

To slay this seasons mammoth



Smash some windows, kick some cats

Shout at the television

Tomorrow we must rise again

To earn some long division