The new 3 R’s we are teaching our children…

williams wave

I had a conversation with Will last night about camping. He was wanting to go to a small island, by canoe, in February. I suggested that the canoe was probably not a safe means of transport to get to the islands in question (right out to sea in some fast tidal waters) and also February might be a bit cold. As I said these things, I felt like I was damaging something precious- some kind of freedom, adventure, companionship that might easily be stolen by time, or the internet.

It started a discussion between Will and I about what we would like to do- as well as planning some camping trips ourselves, we revived an old idea of organising a trip for adult/child pairings along the lines of one of our wilderness retreats.

Today I was reading something George Monbiot wrote on a similar theme. He was writing about the way that our relative freedom from oppression, slavery, poverty, war has seemed to lead us towards LESS freedom- we become obsessed with a kind of freedom to consume, to shop. We talk about our consumer rights as if they are laws of the universe, a bit like gravity.

A couple of quotes that rather hit home;

Almost universally we now seem content to lead a proxy life, a counter life, of vicarious, illusory relationships, of secondhand pleasures, of atomisation without individuation. Those who possess some disposable income are extraordinarily free, by comparison to almost all our great-grandparents, but we tend to act as if we have been placed under house arrest…

…Had our ancestors been asked to predict what would happen in an age of widespread prosperity in which most religious and cultural proscriptions had lost their power, how many would have guessed that our favourite activities would not be fiery political meetings, masked orgies, philosophical debates, hunting wild boar or surfing monstrous waves but shopping and watching other people pretending to enjoy themselves? How many would have foreseen a national conversation – in public and in private – that revolves around the three Rs: renovation, recipes and resorts? How many would have guessed that people possessed of unimaginable wealth and leisure and liberty would spend their time shopping for onion goggles and wheatgrass juicers? Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chainstores…


Returning to my discussion with Will- how might we start to raise the eyes of our kids above Monbiot’s three R’s? I suppose we might start with the big W. (Wilderness.) Here is Monbiot again;

Could it be this – the immediate satisfaction of desire, the readiness with which we can find comfort – that deprives us of greater freedoms? Does extreme comfort deaden the will to be free?

If so, it is a habit learnt early and learnt hard. When children are housebound, we cannot expect them to develop an instinct for freedom that is intimately associated with being outdoors. We cannot expect them to reach for more challenging freedoms if they have no experience of fear and cold and hunger and exhaustion. Perhaps freedom from want has paradoxically deprived us of other freedoms. The freedom which makes so many new pleasures available vitiates the desire to enjoy them.

I am not sure Will and I are quite ready for ‘fear and cold and hunger and exhaustion’, but there does seem to me a real need to get out of our digital comfort zones.

To leave behind the wide screens and look instead to the wide horizon.

Come with us if you like…

Do you love your country?

This was the question asked of Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger by MP Keith Vaz whilst he was being quizzed about the papers exposure of what western security forces were doing in our name to spy on ordinary people.

The story of how a former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has exposed the shady practices of our security services is a rather fascinating one, but I find myself lingering on this question- “Do you love your country?” 

It seems such an un-British question. Love of country seems to be a prerequisite for anyone involved in public life in the US, but not here. We are usually slightly embarrassed by such displays of public patriotism- such things belong to an age of imperialism, or perhaps to the extremism of the English Defense League.

I have not even heard friends who are fervent supporters of Scottish independence say that they love their country- not through lack of passion and commitment I am sure, but rather because most of us are simply not sure what such a phrase might mean.

Does it mean blind unswerving partiality and loyalty to everything that our country contains- north or south of the border? Does it mean being prepared to die to ensure that our ascendancy is continued or enhanced?

Does it mean a love of place- the shape of the land and the history contained in each and every stone?

Does it mean a love of SOME parts of what might be contained within ‘country’, and even a loathing of others?

I have written some musings about how we might describe a ‘good’ country before, and said this;

I am British- somewhere inside. I find this difficult to define- as an English/Irishman living in Scotland. I am grateful for the gentle green climate of these beautiful islands, and for the slow pragmatic evolution of our welfare state.

But (in the words of many a school report) we could be doing better…

Does this mean that I love my country? I think the word love is meaningless when applied to something to huge, so complex. I love my wife, I love my kids, I love vinegar on my chips and cricket bats and Bruce Cockburn’s music. But my country?

I think the job of my country is to provide the graceful just framework for us to learn to love each other better. As soon as we start with the flag-worship nonsense too much gets hidden in the shadows.

Well done The Guardian for making this clearer.



Good conversation yesterday evening about freedom.

In many ways it was a return to this quote-

 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 8:32

In a previous post I focused on the ‘truth’ thing- but there is also this word ‘freedom’. What does it mean to be free? What did Jesus mean by freedom?

The traditional evangelical view is that Jesus was meaning freedom from the consequences of our sin. Except that the context of the passage from John’s gospel seems to suggest that rather than trying to solve the ‘problem of sin’ Jesus was trying to solve the ‘problem of the sin police’. Check out the full passage- coming as it does in the wake of how he brilliantly turns aside the traps the Pharisees set for him- and how he focuses instead on the potential collateral damage of their theological/political debate- a woman who was accused of adultery.

So in this discussion, Jesus is interested in freeing people from the hard unyielding unloving religion. Freedom in the context then is- what? No religion? I think there is a strong argument for this- but certainly I think we can say a different kind of religion- one where the outer person is less important than the heart of the matter, and where the weak and poor are always to be preferred to the powerful and rich. A kind of religion that turns the tables on the easy assumptions and compromises made by the movers and shakers of our times.

In housegroup the other night we listened to Aung San Suu Kyi speaking about obtaining freedom (One of the Reith Lectures- you can listen again here.) This was an inspiring account of lives lived in the very face of oppression. For Suu Kyi and many of her colleagues, freedom is not an abstract concept (even though she speaks too about freedom of the Spirit) but is a real place of longing,  seen through Burmese prison bars. She described the courage of those who continue to work for freedom from oppression- how it was not the absence of fear that motivated them, but rather a sufficiency of courage in the presence of fear.

But we in the west, we take this kind of freedom for granted. We often move onto discussions about an extension of this freedom into all sorts of casual consumer choices- the right to a good holiday experience, or the freedom to chose what time our hospital appointment should be.

Which kind of leaves me wondering whether the kind of freedom we need is not physical- but spiritual.

Perhaps freedom is not just about the bringing down of a wall, or the overthrowing of a dictator- even though these events might be ones well worth working and hoping for.

Rather freedom is another one of these things that we discover on the journey- it is not an end in itself, but in seeking to live a life according to the rules of the New Kingdom, we find that the shackles tend to loosen and fall away.

Against such there is no law…


A continuation of some stuff based around the list of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians chapter 5.

This poem kind of nods at all the fruit Paul mentions.

You can see the others by clicking on the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ category on the left.

Love is not against the law
Although in judicial circles
It is not encouraged

But where the Spirit of the Lord falls
Love is between us like oil on bearings

Joy is not forbidden
But wherever it breaks out
It is fragile
Like a bubble
In a pine forest

But where the Spirit of the Lord rests
Joy beats like a dancing drum in the middle of us
Calling us to dance

Peace is never prohibited
But like a dove above a shooting range
Its flight is fraught with danger

But where the Spirit of the Lord lives
The boundaries we keep are soft
And we are learning how
To forgive

Patience is permitted in most places
But only if you use it quickly

But where the Spirit of the Lord lingers
Patience is like the summer sun
Drawing out the sugars in the ripening fruit
Sweetening the harvest

Kindness is condoned even in the most unlikely places
But it will win you few contracts
And is not conducive to

But where the Spirit of the Lord comes close
Kindness kind of follows after

Goodness will not result in a jail sentence
But neither will it pay its way
In the global village superstore

But when the Spirit of the Lord smiles
Goodness becomes the common currency
Gentleness is no crime
And in many places it is a clinical necessity
But it is easily overlooked
In the shadow of another conquest

But where the Spirit of the Lord draws near
Then hands all rough from hard works
Become softened to hold
And to heal

Faithfulness is never a traitor
Yet we live like weathervanes
Spun by the seasons
To face the prevailing winds

But when the Spirit of the Lord moves
Promises no longer require the threat
Of legal recourse


Self control is thundered from the pulpit
But just in case the message falls on deaf ears
We deploy the secret pew police
Rule books at the ready
Swinging their
Truncheons of truth
To crunch the knuckles
Of the apostate

But when the Spirit of the Lord comes amongst us
There is a perfect law called…


Emily and Will, somewhere in Wester Ross, 2003

Emily and Will, somewhere in Wester Ross, 2003