Monday, 26 March 2012

No image, no passion - why this liberal continues to stand up for Jesus

Christ as the Good Shepherd (4th cent. AD) Museo Epigrafico, Rome 
Click on the following link to hear the podcast of this post and/or download an mp3 (see bottom left of the page): No image, no passion - why this liberal continues to stand up for Jesus - 25 March 2012

I both need and want to give this address today. I need to because this week the continued need to visit my wife, Susanna, in hospital meant that I simply ran out of time to write a new address and could only revise an earlier one. I want to because what I say here forms the central, simple thing I try to encourage us as a church to do. All the other more complicated stuff I say is to help remove key intellectual philosophical barriers that stand in the way of a meaningful reconnection with the radical Christian tradition in which our group of churches stands.

This address was born out of the fact that for many liberals religion has become simply a theoretical idea – always on the drawing board but never actually lived, tested and made visible in the world. As our reading of “At the Smithville Methodist Church” by Stephen Dunn eloquently showed many of us have developed crippling fears particularly about our own community’s model of the ideal religious life – Jesus of Nazareth. – in whose footsteps we used to have absolute confidence in following in our ongoing attempt to live appropriately, fully and passionately in the world (see 1 Peter 2:21 below the poem).

At The Smithville Methodist Church by Stephen Dunn

It was supposed to be Arts & Crafts for a week, 
but when she came home 
with the “Jesus Saves” button, we knew what art 
was up, what ancient craft. 

She liked her little friends. She liked the songs 
they sang when they weren't 
twisting and folding paper into dolls. 
What could be so bad? 

Jesus had been a good man, and putting faith 
in good men was what 
we had to do to stay this side of cynicism, 
that other sadness. 

OK, we said, One week. But when she came home 
singing “Jesus loves me, 
the Bible tells me so,” it was time to talk. 
Could we say Jesus 

doesn't love you? Could I tell her the Bible 
is a great book certain people use 
to make you feel bad? We sent her back 
without a word. 

It had been so long since we believed, so long 
since we needed Jesus 
as our nemesis and friend, that we thought he was 
sufficiently dead, 

that our children would think of him like Lincoln 
or Thomas Jefferson. 
Soon it became clear to us: you can't teach disbelief 
to a child, 

only wonderful stories, and we hadn't a story 
nearly as good. 
On parents' night there were the Arts & Crafts 
all spread out 

like appetizers. Then we took our seats 
in the church 
and the children sang a song about the Ark, 
and Hallelujah 

and one in which they had to jump up and down 
for Jesus. 
I can't remember ever feeling so uncertain 
about what's comic, what's serious. 

Evolution is magical but devoid of heroes. 
You can't say to your child 
“Evolution loves you.” The story stinks 
of extinction and nothing 

exciting happens for centuries. I didn't have 
a wonderful story for my child 
and she was beaming. All the way home in the car 
she sang the songs, 

occasionally standing up for Jesus. 
There was nothing to do 
but drive, ride it out, sing along 
in silence. 

1 Peter 2:21: For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered [or died] for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

I remain convinced that in both secular and religious liberal, left and progressive circles we need to recover our model (and it's a model which, thanks to Nietzsche, Heidegger, Vattimo, Caputo et. al. no longer needs to be under-girded by a traditional monotheistic metaphysics). The best simple way I can show you why is through an example drawn from my work in teaching people how to play jazz and, particularly, jazz-bass. One of my own role-models in this domain was Chuck Israels especially as I encountered him with the great trios led by the pianist Bill Evans between 1961 and 1966 (there's a video of this trio at the end of this post). Israels’ summarises an experience many of us working in this field have had:

Over the years, as I have assumed the role of “Jazz Educator”, both within and outside of “institutions of higher learning” . . . I have learned to ask [of students] a revealing question. “Who is your favourite musician?” It is remarkable that more often than not, I get no clear answer. There is sometimes a period of uncomfortable silence broken by occasional throat clearing noises, while the prospective student searches for a name or perhaps tries to guess what name might create the most effective impression. Sometimes an embarrassed silence yields nothing and occasionally there is an equally uncommitted claim to have listened to and liked “everything” (from An Unpopular Perspective on Jazz Education).

Like Israels, every year a number of such students stand before me claiming to want to play jazz but who know absolutely nothing about the music or who claim to “love it all’ but who are unable to point to any specific example of the music. What is going on? Well, despite the obvious negative aspect of this, Israels believes (and I agree with him) that the student is in fact motivated by something very worthwhile, namely, the ‘idea of the potential pleasures of performing with and for other people, with the attendant rewards of attention and shared activity.’ These are, he notes:

. . . worthwhile values and have served as a part of the motivation of many artists. But this is a broad image which is insufficiently concrete to serve as a focus for attainment. There is no clear place to begin and the mentor is reduced to helping the applicant to find something to love. Get a model. Find a prototype. Without this there is no image and no passion (from An Unpopular Perspective on Jazz Education).

After twelve years of experience I know intimately that people who come to check out a liberal church tradition such as this are motivated by the many worthwhile ideal potential gains they feel such a community should offer – a certain sense of mental and spiritual stability and insight, a sense of belonging to a liberal community with an over four-hundred year history of radical praxis, as well as an exciting and creative openness to the plural, complex and contingent nature of our world. But, good as this is, this general feeling is such a broad canvas that, alone, it is wholly ‘insufficient to serve as a focus for attainment.’ If an individual church or minister allows people to remain at this general level there is simply no clear place for a person to begin to learn how actually to be religious liberally.

As mentor – whether as a music teacher or minister – I often find my role becomes in the first place to helping people find something to love, to get a model and find a prototype.

In the case of my music students I have to give them some recordings and send them away to listen to them and, when they find something there they actually like, to come back to me so we can begin the first important step, namely, the task of imitating that model and of figuring out how that player is playing the things he or she does (if you’re interested my great female role model was the wonderful Carol Kaye). To the disappointment of many of them this turns out to be hard work, a work which takes, I’m afraid, years to complete. But, if a student hasn’t got a role model about whose playing they are very excited then they will have ‘no image and no passion’ and what is already a huge task quickly becomes far too great to see through to the end. That student will either give up or, if they keep playing, will drift around at the general level of wanting all the fruits of being a jazz player without doing any of the required foundational work and, in consequence, they’ll turn out to be directionless players with no substantial grip on anything real about the music. At best they will be mediocre players and, at worst, they will experience feelings of utter frustration, hopelessness and failure. To get out of this bind one solution some of my students try to employ is to start to believe that the good players simply have had something like magic dust sprinkled on them at birth. (We know many religions argue that this is true of their founding figures).

All of the above is also true in many liberal religious circles; merely desiring the fruits of a liberal religion without, at the same time, seriously seeking to follow the religious prototype or model of that faith-in-action means a person will never get a real grip on what they need to be doing in their own religious life. Everything will remain terribly unfocused and unfulfilling; there will be no attainment and no progression. At best they will be mediocre in the matter of living, at worst they will experience feelings of utter frustration, hopelessness and failure to live the abundant life which Jesus promised could be ours.

It is true, of course, that there are other models or prototypes one might follow other than Jesus and I am not making here some covert claim for his absolute uniqueness and value over all other great religious teachers it is simply that Jesus is our particular family of faith’s trusted primary model and the one in whose footsteps I try to follow as a Christian minded to take seriously the post-modernist situation - cf. Caputo's What would Jesus Deconstruct).

Now, I am aware that some people may seek to resist the message of this address because they believe it would tie them down, unduly restrict them. But a model only ties and represses when it becomes fixed, merely to be slavishly repeated without variation and creativity (often thanks to a poor teacher) – but this is not a true model. The true model frees us because it is precisely in the process of firstly modeling oneself on something tangible that we are helped to be able to push out into the real world to test and experience reality ourselves. The conception of following Jesus I have in mind is much more like the exciting, fruitful and open relationship I continue to have with my musical heroes than it is like the rigid, dogmatic relationship envisioned by the Christian right. It was only by in the first instance imitating my heroes that I learnt how to move from a vague idea or theory about how to play jazz to actually playing jazz. Today I don’t sound precisely like any of my heroes but without imitating them in the first place (which is always already repetition with difference) then I simply could not have begun to become free to be me, Andrew Brown, jazz musician.

However, once you have pushed out authentically into the world you cannot then simply bequeath this to others who follow you (such as our children or new members of a congregation) with no cost or effort on their behalf for this kind of truth cannot be said only shown. You must offer them a good and powerful models to follow themselves and make sure it is attached to wonderful stories. In music I offer up Miles Davis and the wonderful story of his journey from the ‘Birth of the Cool’, through ‘Round about Midnight’ on to ‘Kind of Blue’ and then to ‘Bitches Brew’ and beyond; I tell the story of John Coltrane and his move from Miles’ bands of the 1950s on to ‘A Love Supreme’ and the wild ecstasy of ‘Ascension’; I tell the story The Beatles and the wonderful story of their transition from ‘Please Please Me’ to ‘Sgt Pepper’. In this pulpit I try to offer you a variety of models to learn to love but my primary focus remains centred on the example of Jesus and the wonderful stories about him that we have inherited.

The tragedy of Christianity as an institution was to turn Jesus from a startling and inspiring human model into a dead, dogmatically held metaphysical theory about the world. Standing up for this latter kind of Jesus – with its associated slavish support of the institutions that support these theories – that is something I remain profoundly uncomfortable about. But, unlike the parents in Dunn’s poem, we don’t have to drive on, ride it out and sing in silence – no! We can show our children (and ourselves) how to sing another kind of song.

The genius of our liberal Christian tradition was to see that when Jesus was followed, as a true human exemplar, he inspired and enabled a person to begin to experience, not a pale imitation of Jesus’ life nor that of some religious institution, whether the Temple or the Church, but their own complex contingent life in all its fullness – the only life any of us can experience.

And the truth is we don’t have to become crippled with worry about standing up for Jesus because, when followed with imagination, intelligence, wisdom and some real anarchic rebelliousness (as we try to do here), following in his footsteps still provides us with a practical way of entering fully into the world beyond all theories and beyond all formal religions. (It’s vital to see here that taking Jesus as a model need not be tied to any particular kind of Christian metaphysic or belief.) And, if we take care to learn and sing our own song properly, we can truly begin to help our children and ourselves stand up for Jesus in our own authentic ways as truly free sons and daughters of God.


Here's a video of Chuck Israels' performing with Bill Evans (piano) and Larry Bunker (drums):

Sunday, 18 March 2012

"Language is the house of being and in its home man dwells" - A Mothering Sunday meditation

Madonna di San Sisto - Raphael
Click on the following link to hear the podcast of this post and/or download an mp3 (see bottom left of the page): Language is the house of being and in its home man dwells - A Mothering Sunday meditation - 18 March 2012

One of the most powerful aspects of good mothering (and remember good mothering can be offered just as much by fathers, siblings, friends and strangers as it can by mothers) is the ability to speak just the right and supportive word in an almost infinite range of specific and ever-developing situations which, even as it supports, guides, teaches and, to some extent, imposes upon a child certain rules about how to negotiate the world well, it is a word which must remain open enough so that the child can leave behind those same supports and rules (the right words spoken to this or that situation), stop doing what is merely generally done, and slowly begin to push out into their own, authentic experience of the world.

This thought clearly relates closely to the matter I was speaking about last week when I pointed out that our being is tied to the Word and not to the number and that it this primordial fact which allows us to address our fate. This ability allows us, where and when necessary, to make our protest against all forms of closed, absolutist dogmatisms that would seek to deny us this freedom.

To recap, I reminded us that in our own liberal Christian tradition we can still say along with the writer of the Gospel of John that "in the beginning was the Word" (John 1:1) because, we know, if only we can hear it, that there is always the right word to speak, the one properly required for this sentence or this situation (I include here the felt, silent word to oneself which simply says "be still"). But, and this is the vital point to realise, this same Word has also revealed to us that it "is the word properly required *only* for this sentence, not for the next or the next. It is the right word, the only right word; but it is not the Word of the Lord, nor of any of the Philosophical Fathers (James C. Edwards, The Plain Sense of Things, p. 234)."

The Word gifts us a recognition of our own being which allows us to see that we are always already within language - it is the medium of our lives and through it we are given an intelligible and meaningful world in which it is possible to contribute to the accomplishment of the most abundant life both for ourselves and others. Our liberal tradition has come to feel that we accomplish this life best, not by forced coercion, but through the Word, by persuading each other in various ways, with arguments, programmes and petitions and also, at the right times, with commands, prohibitions, resolutions and decrees. The aim always being to embody the right Word, to incarnate it, in all our actions - the Word made flesh. (It's important to realise throughout this address that I'm only talking about what it is to be the kind of beings we are).

I hope you can see that this is an understanding of the Word and, therefore, God, that is radically different from the transcendent God or Lord of both traditional monotheism and the philosophers. It is to understand God as unfolding event and not as a supreme being.

My opening words about one important aspect of mothering will have revealed that I find this insight about the Word has a particular bearing upon an underlying meaning of Mothering Sunday.

But Mothering Sunday is not just about individual good mothers as we have experienced them either first- or second-hand (that's what the 'Mother's Day' bit of the day is about) but also about a kind of corporate mother and mothering. Mothering Sunday is the day upon which, traditionally, we either visited or sent gifts to our mother church and its associated community wherever and whatever we thought it was. This earthly mother church was a symbol of, or even portal through which we could glimpse the heavenly Jerusalem above which, as you heard in our reading (Galatians 4:21-31), Paul thought was symbolised by Sarah - and she, he thought, was our mother. This idea later came to rest for our culture more securely in the image of the Madonna beloved of Christians and Humanists alike (I chose the particular image of Raphael's Madonna di San Sisto not only because of its obvious religious resonances but because it was also a key symbol in Auguste Comte's "Religion of Humanity").

Anyway, Paul is speaking here of a common and understandable hope most of us will have felt at some point in our lives that behind our transient world, a world in which all actual mothers and all actual individual instances of mothering die, there lies a permanent, foundational mother and mothering to which we can turn in our moments of greatest need.

However, in our own time, such a hope is for many people, to be blunt about it, impossible to hold. That this is so should come as no surprise because, as a culture which has passed through a world-view shaped by the Enlightenment and the various scientific revolutions, the way the world shows up to us today means the whole idea of there being an actual, distinct, perfect heavenly realm or city separate from our own - let alone a supreme divine being occupying the throne of such a heavenly city - vanishingly unlikely.

So it would seem that many of us today cannot share Paul's hope in the reality of a heavenly mother or city. But I think there is a way of touching something that is for us meaningfully *like* Paul's heavenly mother or city but we can only touch it insofar as we keep from thinking metaphysically or theologically.

One way to start seeing *this* world differently is to consider the well-known announcement that "Language is the house of Being", that "in its home man dwells" and "those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home" (Martin Heidegger, Letter on Humanism 1947).

How does the world begin to show up to us if we start to live deeply with the thought that our secure 'heavenly' mother church is language itself, the very house of Being?

As I said, we know that language is always already there for us. "Out" of it shows up our being, in the sense that language helps us see that we *are* the kinds of beings we are, helps us to see that there are other kinds of being (entities) around us, that helps us articulate what, out of all of this incredible complexity and diversity, shines and shows up for us as having meaning and worth. In this sense language, as itself and before it turns into actual words, sentences, poems and novels, seems like it is "above" us and has, therefore, the feel of something we might still, at least poetically and metaphorically, want to call "heavenly" or "transcendent."

And what happens if we start to consider the thought that we come to know we belong to this mother church whenever we become conscious that we are creatures called and supported by language to seek the right word for this or that situation just as is required for good mothering?  When we think and create with words like this do we not become the guardians of this house of Being?

On this day we need, as far as we can, give straightforward thanks to our mothers and for all the acts of mothering we have received in our lives and, of course, to give thanks that she was our open portal into the world.

But, as I have been intimating, there is also a need to give thanks for a mothering that is more corporate and on Mothering Sunday it seems to me that we can continue to visit something *like* Paul's corporate, heavenly mother church by making a conscious attempt to "go" to those mysterious "places" where we can see that language is, like a heavenly mother, always-already at home and there for us and she is always-already appearing on the cusp of a word's formation, on the cusp of a poem's writing and on the cusp of our own and our world's being.

At those strange, eternally creative mothering "places" - "the open aperture[s] that makes possible the very appearance of existent things" (cited in Vattimo, Gianni, The Responsibility of the Philosopher p. 11) - it seems entirely appropriate for us to give deep and grateful thanks, firstly, for the mysterious and extraordinary fact that we are, in fact that anything at all is and, secondly, that we are gifted with the possibility of talking with each other about it. This open aperture, this cusp, this understanding of a heavenly mother or city is notoriously hard to talk about - as hard as it would be for a fish to talk about water - but, as I wrote these words, it suddenly seemed obvious to me that it is precisely about this "place" that e. e. cummings is trying speak and so, with his words, words which seem to me to be right for this moment now, I conclude:

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any - lifted from the no
of all nothing - human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Monday, 12 March 2012

Upholding the freedom to address our fate in the face of the annulment of language

Francis David using the power of words to address our fate 
Click on the following link to hear the podcast of this post and/or download an mp3 (see bottom left of the page): Upholding the freedom to address our fate in the face of the annulment of language - 11 March 2012

There are many things I could have chosen to speak about today connected with the difficult and occasionally very distressing time my wife Susanna had last week before she was admitted to hospital where she is now comfortable and in good hands. Something connected with pain and its place and role in human existence, as well as how we deal with it both physically and psychologically was high on my list of possible subjects but it has proved too difficult to compress what I feel I need to say in the time I had to write this address. I will simply have to work more on that text before it sees the light of day.

But for three reasons another subject also emerged and shone. Firstly, and most immediately because so much of the talk within the hospital setting (when you are away from the most immediate medical matters) is about how bottom-line numbers rule nearly every aspect of life. The way the health service seems now to be structured, and even understood, is through the medium of economics.

Secondly, there was the fact that the news this week was full of the economic restructuring of the Greek economy. A centralised top down move that has torn to flinders all normal democratic processes.

The third reason relates directly to who we are as a religious community. As I'm sure all of you know, since our tradition's birth in Poland, and in Hungary and Romania during the Radical Reformation of the sixteenth century, we have stood foursquare against all forms of absolutist dogmatisms. (That's what's depicted in the picture of Francis David found at the top of this post) As I sat with Susanna over those four days in A&E as she drifted in and out of morphine induced sleep I had a long time to reflect on a very dangerous form of absolutist dogmatism present to us today. It is about this danger that I wish to remind us.

We may begin by observing that when you are in hospital - or any social entity - it is clear that it is made-up of people commingling together who have real feelings and needs which are only able appropriately to be attended to through the medium of language - i.e. by talking to each other, finding out what's showing up to people as being of concern. This is true even when technical diagnostic apparatus is in use because in the first place a patient has to tell a doctor or nurse about this or that pain which, in the second place, gives a clue about what piece of kit should be used and for what purpose. The results gained thanks to the technology then need to be communicated verbally to patient and doctor alike and a decision needs conversationally to be arrived at about how to proceed. This process is only possible through the medium of language.

So, for all the technical knowledge and apparatus being used, a hospital can be said to function primarily in the medium of language. All of a hospital's activities (and the meanings that we associate with these activities, whether good or bad) emerge and shine forth from out of the primordial medium of language.

On the other hand, the modern economy (I stress modern because I don't think what I say below always was the case) has become understood to have emerged, not from the creative medium of language, but from the medium of numbers. Of course language is used by economists but the tacit belief has developed that beneath the confused and subjective froth of human language there lies an objective, secure and solid numerical foundation.

So, we may say that the economy operates with numbers whilst a hospital operates with words. In places like hospitals (and a church like this) we proceed, as the art and media critic Boris Groys notes, "with arguments, programmes and petitions [and also] with commands, prohibitions, resolutions and decrees" (Boris Groys, "The Communist Postscript" p. xv).

But, as Groys goes on to observe:

"So long as humans live under conditions of the capitalist economy they remain fundamentally mute because their fate does not speak to them. If a human is not addressed by his or her fate, then he or she is incapable of answering it. Economic processes are anonymous, and not expressed in words. For this reason one cannot enter into discussion with economic processes; one cannot change their mind, convince them, persuade them, use words to win them over to one's side. All that can be done is to adapt one's own behaviour to what is occurring. Economic failure brooks no argument, just as economic success requires no additional discursive justification. In capitalism, the ultimate confirmation or refutation of human action is not linguistic but economic: it is expressed not with words but with numbers. The force of language as such is thereby annulled" (ibid. p. xvi).

Here I can return to my earlier point about this church standing in the tradition of the radical reformation and its challenge to all forms of absolutist dogmatisms. Groys' words, alongside what I was seeing in the hospital and the economic news, reminded me forcibly that we have entered a dangerous time in our history when we are experiencing a concerted effort increasingly to structure our whole society in economic terms - in terms of numbers and bottom-lines with which we are not allowed to talk let alone argue against. We face a system that is clearly no longer interested in our human fate but only in its own relentless, impersonal unfolding. Even the people who developed the complex mathematical algorithms that lie behind our modern financial system don't fully understand it and certainly have no real control over it's ultimate behaviour. Our politicians are clearly even more powerless and they look at us (like rabbits proverbially blinded by headlights) and say, there is no choice - just look at the numbers. Following an acronym from Maggie Thatcher's days TINA they say - There Is No Alternative. And we are told that all they, and we, can do is to adapt our own behaviour to what is occurring. It goes without saying that despite the rhetoric that "we are all in this together" the actual adaptions (by which we mean for the most part the cutbacks) which are being made are those which suit precisely the same few people who have always benefited from the drawing of bottom lines and the counting of numbers. The king was in his counting house counting out his money and he, and his like, are still counting out their money. The rest of us are simply told to be quiet and put up with the pain because that's just the way the universe is.

But isn't this uncomfortably close to the situation we rebelled against in the Reformation? Then we simply did not believe that God had ordained the universe in the way the elite told is it was - a way which kept the few wealthy and free and the majority poor and bound and we refused to accept a way of being that denied us the right to question the so-called ordained order or freely to explore alternative ways of being. We discovered in our protest that the Word - the Gospel, the Good News - told us something else, told us something powerful about human freedom, justice, mercy, kindness and of a self-giving love that had the power to break down all artificial human barriers that kept us from being brothers and sisters one to another and co-workers with God.

It is important to see clearly that the very thing which constituted us - made us who we are - was a way of being that could only be shared and developed conversationally. The Good News had first heard by us and then told to others who, in turn had to listen and reflect it and only then, as it was understood by them, could they then tell it to others. The authority of the Gospel was only found in the telling, the persuasive power of the words expressed and the manner in which it was delivered. It was ever thus - remember Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus simply "taught with real authority — quite unlike their teachers of religious law" (Matthew 7:29). It was just him and his teaching. Anyway the point is that once listened to the Good News could only be spread by being talked about, reflected upon, told again and again to those who followed and then modified, reshaped and creatively reimagined by community after community.

It seems indubitably true that for us in the beginning was the Word, a Word which was always-already being incarnated in human actions and behaviours. Of course, we know that at many times sizeable groups within the Christian tradition as a whole have succumbed to the temptation to turn this free, creative, conversational Word into an absolutist dogma but the Word itself has never allowed those attempts ever fully to succeed. We are living proof of this and, as I have explored on a couple of previous occasions, in our own liberal Christian tradition we still say that in the beginning was the Word because, we know that, if only we can hear it, there will always remain the right word to speak, the one properly required for this sentence or this situation. But, and this is a vital point to realise, this same Word has also revealed to us that it "is the word properly required *only* for this sentence, not for the next or the next. In it's place it is the right word, the only right word; but it is not the Word of the Lord, nor of any of the Philosophical Fathers (James C. Edwards, The Plain Sense of Things, p. 234)."

The Word for us is, then, the strange primordial truth that we are always already within language - it is the medium of our lives and through it we try to achieve the most abundant life for all as we persuade each other to embody the Word, by incarnating it in all our actions and turning it into love. As the writer of 1 John unfolds the process: "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action" (3:18).

This kind of open, creative, conversational, embodied understanding of the Word which can persuade us into incarnating love is what keeps open for us the possibility of remaining free from all dogmas and, where oppression begins again, gives us the power to protest.

It seems to me that our commitment to this free, creative, divine and incarnated Word insists that whether or not we are pro- or anti- certain kinds of general austerity measures we must all stand up against the dogmatic economic absolutism that says we have no choice but to make our decisions under absolutist rule of the God of capitalism - numbers.

We most certainly do not for we are sons and daughters not of the number but of the Word. Please remember this and do not forget to speak out for human freedom.

Friday, 9 March 2012

The Old Year - final mix

l. to r. - Dave, Kev, Andy, Russ
As a few of you know one of the bands I'm in, Riprap, is due to have a new CD out very shortly, so here's a taster of a finished track. Click on the link below to hear it at Soundcloud:

Old year-final mix 

Kev (the composer and saxophonist) says:

Final mix of the Old Year for the upcoming Cd, recorded in Cambridge, January '12. This started life as a spacious, dark minimalist setting for a Seamus Heaney reading; a sort of dark children's song, but Andy suddenly came up with a bass line at the end of the session....

this piece is dedicated to an old friend, bandmate and housemate, Ray Brunelle.

Kevin Flanagan (soprano sax)
Dave Gordon (piano)
Russ Morgan (drums)
Yours truly (bass)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

A plea to you all to support the National Health Service and a few pictures of a ride to Strethall to see the Anglo-Saxon chancel arch to cheer you (and me) up

The Guv'nor and a finger-post
Apologies to regular readers of this blog but there's no address this week. A member of the congregation and friend, Irish Sirmons, very kindly took the service this Sunday (at very short notice) as I have had to take some time off to be with Susanna, my wife, who had a couple of emergency admissions (i.e. 999 calls) to hospital for pain relief because of a chronic knee condition.

Profuse thanks come from both of us to the two excellent ambulance crews who got her to hospital in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner, the Accident and Emergency ward staff at Addenbrooks Hospital and the various specialist doctors who came to see her. Thank God for the National Health Service. Whatever else you take from this post please remember the current British Government MUST be stopped from their continuing attempts to privatise health care. I'm a member of the Faith Workers section of the union Unite and I'd encourage you to take a look at the following union campaign web-page:


Thanks, too, to Ryan and Irish for their help, particularly on day of the first admission, and also to members of the Memorial Church for their expressions of love and concern and for organising everything to do with the monthly congregational bring and share lunch which was held today.

The day before Susanna's first admission I went on a lovely ride out to Whittlesford, Duxford, Hinxton, Ickleton, Stethall and back to Cambridge on the Guv'nor. Remembering these lovely landscapes whilst in A&E was a great help - a reminder (if any were needed) of the healing power of nature. They are not in chronological order.

Hinxton - Red Lion pub
Looking west towards Ickleton Granges

Looking north west from the top of Coploe Hill

Looking east towards Littlebury - the open road beckons . . .
Looking north near Duxford Grange House
Looking north near Duxford Grange House - with a forties-esque filter. There was (I think) a P-51 Mustang flying around and it put me in mind of that very distinctive 40s colour film stock. This isn't quite right but, you get the idea.

Looking north-east towards Chishall

Looking north-east towards Chishall (again with the same filter)
Looking south from Coploe Hill towards Strethall - the open road beckons some more . . .
Looking south near Barkers Farm Duxford
The Anglo-Saxon arch in Strethall Church - said to be "one of the finest examples of Anglo-Saxon workmanship in smaller parish churches."

Inscription in Strethall Church
 The translation, after a fashion, of this is:

Whoe'er ye be who think on Margaret Siday's fame, 
food now for worms, though once a buxom and religious dame. 
Pray to God as I pray thee, he may give me sanctuary.

On the bench you'll see below, by the church's south door, I sat down and ate my lunch in the very warm sun. It was such a lovely moment of emergence from the dark of the winter months that there and then I wrote a good part of an Easter Sunday address. It's too early to say whether I'll actually give it but with the intimations of mortality that this inscription brought upon me coupled with the fact that this was spring rising and I was in graveyard attuned me to Easter themes. The two nights in A&E which followed also, naturally, brought further intimations of mortality.

Strethall Church and farm

Strethall Church window in south wall of nave
Strethall Church
Whittlesford Pit 
Whittlesford Pit 
Whittlesford Guildhall