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Sweet Thing.

“And I will raise my hand up
Into the night time sky.
And count the stars
That’s shining in your eye.
Just to dig it all an’ not to wonder why.
That’s just fine.
And I’ll be satisfied
Not to read in between the lines.
And I will walk and talk
In gardens all wet with rain
And I will never, ever, ever, ever
Grow so old again”.

From “Sweet Thing” by Van Morrison.

Is it just me, or does the pace of life step up a gear every December?  A constantly growing “to-do” list of presents to buy, places to be, people to see…all before we collapse into an exhausted heap come the holidays or the period when we get our space back to ourselves.

I seem to be juggling a bunch of things at the moment.  For the most part they are good things – things I am glad to be a part of.  I am looking forward to laying some of them down in coming weeks though…

Karl has talked a lot about the speed at which God moves.  Is it faster than the speed of light or sound?  Yes.  Is it slower than we often want?  Yes.  Is it at the speed of life?  Yes.  Is it at the speed of love?  Yes.  What is that?

Last night on my way from the office to another appointment I blew a puncture on my bike.  It forced me to stop – to think – to walk and talk with God.  When I looked beyond the Christmas lights, I noticed that the sky was clear and the moon and stars were bright.  The air was cold and sharp (0.5 degrees) and it was strangely refreshing and invigorating.  I dropped my agenda and was in a much better head-space when I arrived at my next destination.

Sometimes we just need to slow down.  Maybe the speed of love is 3 miles per hour.. That is the speed we walk at.

My next stop was to inhabit a, somewhat, secret place and just to be still.  To think, to reflect and to pray.  The two of us who met had a really useful bit of time out as we turned our eyes away from ourselves and towards others for whom we are grateful and to whom we would love to be good news.

Take Down The Union Jack.

“Take down the Union Jack, it clashes with the sunset
And ask our Scottish neighbours if independence looks any good?
‘Cos they just might understand how to take an abstract notion
Of personal identity and turn it into nationhood.”

From “Take Down The Union Jack” by Billy Bragg.

So, one of my friends has challenged fellow bloggers to do a post to celebrate St Andrew’s Day.  She asked those who are Scottish or have lived here for some time to reflect upon it.

The fact is I was born in Northern Ireland.  I lived there only for a few weeks and from the age of 4 I have lived in various parts of East Scotland.  Practically all of my defining memories are of times spent in Scotland and my identity feels Scottish, even though I write “British” on official forms. 

My first football kit was the Scottish strip for the Argentina 1978 World Cup.  My daughter turns 5 tomorrow, loves playing football and was born in Scotland and is about to receive her first Scottish kit as a present.  It feels like the passing of a baton in an attempt to discourage all the rubbish that goes with team colours at such a young age. 

I saw Billy Bragg play a gig in Glasgow last year.  He had recently written a book exploring the notion of patriotism, national identity, Britishness and multiculturalism in the light of the BNP securing presence in a by-election in his former home of Barking, Essex.  I wondered how the songs and stories of Englishness would be received by a Scottish audience where there can be such ugly hostility and dislike for the English in certain circles?

One of the thing that stuck with me was when he explained that if Scotland did vote for independence, then by default England would also be devolved.  Now, that opens up a whole other bunch of issues and politics.  He then went on to applaud some of the things that the Scottish Government has committed to and some of the potential we could offer as a nation.

I was chatting at length about these ideas with a couple of guys on a surfing road trip a few weekends ago.  So many of us are bored and disillusioned with politics and feel torn between voting with our conscience (politically and environmentally) and voting tactically in the next general election in 2010.  We discussed the prospects Scotland offers for a new social and ideological order.  A future of co-operatives, self sustainability, harnessing of renewable energy initiatives, an end to nuclear power stations beyond their current lifespan. We explored the frustration caused by us taxpayers having to bail out the disastrous state of Royal Bank of Scotland and the Lloyds Banking Group takeover of Bank of Scotland.  We talked about the difference between a sense of belonging and hope for the future contrasted with the often narrow dogma of Nationalism.  We talked about inclusion and exclusion in society, immigration and community.  We talked about the systems established in Scandinavia, the rate of tax and the quality of education, healthcare and work/life balance… It was one of those conversations where lots of views were opined and your mind was stretched to grasp new ideas and concepts…I love those discussions – especially as we looked out the minibus windows toward silhouetted glens with the stars coming out and the sky reflected perfectly in the lochs…

So what do I love about Scotland? – The manageable size of the cities; the fact you can get from one city to another or to the countryside quickly; the scenery; the accents; the proximity to the sea; the buzz; the seasons; decent tap water; the fact that Irn-Bru outsells Coca-Cola; the pride of wearing a kilt which has family history from my mother’s side; the sense of identity; the prospects of a renewables revolution…

What do I dislike? – the bigotry; the anti-English attitudes deeply held rather than a culture of respect; too much rain at times; the fact that global warming has all but destroyed the Scotish ski-season in the space of 25 years; cycling home from work on cold, windy and wet nights; the fact that we only ever top the league tables for things like heart disease, obesity and abortion rates…

What is our soundtrack? – please spare me the bagpipes or “Flower of Scotland” – give me some Belle & Sebastian, Teenage Fanclub, Aereogramme, Biffy Clyro, calamateur, The Delgados, Mogwai, Jesus & Mary Chain or Cocteau Twins any day…

Where is it best captured on film?  Save me “Braveheart” and watch “So I Married An Axe Murderer“, “Gregory’s Girl“, “Highlander” or “Restless Natives” instead.

As regards haggis, Douglas Coupland recently made me question my love of vegetarian haggis by asking why they try to make vegetables have the consistency or illusion of sheeps’ innards?

Oh and I wish I had a proper appreciation of whisky…

The One I Love.

“This one goes out to the one I love”.

From “The One I Love” by R.E.M.

One of the best books I have read this year is “Blue Like Jazz” by Donald Miller.  The passage below is probably the most beautiful thing I have digested in years.  It comes from a monologue for a play Donald Miller wrote called “Polaroids” which recounts a man’s life from birth to death. 

In the play the man and his wife experience tension after their son dies in a car accident.  Don Miller was originally going to portray the ugliness of divorce as a result of this tragedy.  He changed his mind, however, after a deep and meaningful conversation with one of his married friends whilst sat on the roof of a house.  

The reality is 50% of marriages in the UK end in divorce or separation.  I have friends who long to be married more than anything in the world.  I have other friends who wish the reality of their marriages was different to their daily experiences.  And, yet, there is the mystery of marriage being symbolic of something so much bigger.

“What great gravity is this that drew my soul toward yours?  What great force, that though I went falsely, went kicking, went disguising myself to earn your love, also disguised to earn your keeping, your resting, your staying, your will fleshed into mine, rasped by a slowly revealed truth, the barter of my soul, the soul that I fear, the soul that I loathe, the soul that: if you will love, I will love.  I will redeem you, if you will redeem me?  Is this our purpose, you and I together to pacify each other, to lead each other toward the lie that we are good, that we are noble, that we need not redemption, save the one that you and I invented of our own clay?

I am not scared of you, my love, I am scared of me.

I went looking, I wrote out a list, I drew an image, I bled a poem for you.  You were pretty, and my friends believed that I was worthy of you.  You were clever, but I was smarter, perhaps the only one smarter, the only one able to lead you.  You see, love, I did not love you, I loved me.  And you were only a tool that I used to fix myself, to fool myself, to redeem myself.  And though I have taught you to lay your lily hand in mine, I walk alone, for I cannot talk to you, lest you talk it back to me, lest I believe that I am not worthy, not deserving, not redeemed.

I want desperately for you to be my friend.  But you are not my friend; you have slid up warmly to the man I wanted to be, the man I pretended to be, and I was your Jesus and, you were mine.  Should I show you who I am, we may crumble.  I am not scared of you, my love, I am scared you me. 

I want to be known and loved anyway.  Can you do this?  I trust by your easy breathing that you are human like me, that you are fallen like me, that you are lonely, like me.  My love, do I know you?   What is this great gravity that pulls us so painfully toward each other?  Why do we not connect?  Will we be forever fleshing this out?  And how will we with words, narrow words, come into the knowing of each other?  Is this God’s way of meriting grace, of teaching us of the labyrinth of His love for us, teaching us, in degrees, that which he is sacrificing to join ourselves to Him?  Or better yet, has He formed our being fractional so that we might conclude one great hope, plodding and sighing and breathing into one another in such a great push that we might break through into the known and being loved, only to cave into a greater perdition and fall down at His throne still begging for our acceptance?  Begging for our completion?

We were fools to believe that we would redeem each other.

Were I some sleeping Adam, to wake and find you resting at my rib, to share these things that God has done, to walk you through the garden, to counsel your timid steps, your bewildered eye, your heart so slow to love, so careful to love, so sheepish that I stepped up my aim and became a man.  Is this what God intended?  That though He made you from my rib, it is you who is making me, humbling me, destroying me, and in so doing revealing Him. 

Will we be in ashes before we are one? 

What great gravity is this that drew my heart toward yours?  What great force collapsed my orbit, my lonesome state?  What is this that wants in me the want in you?  Don’t we go at each other with yielded eyes, with cumbered hands and feet, with clunky tongues?  This deed is unattainable!  We cannot know each other!

I am quitting this thing, but not what you think.  I am not going away.

I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer.  I will love you, as sure as He has loved me.  I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me.  And I will do this to my death, and to death it may bring me.

I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God.  I will stop expecting your love, demanding your love, trading for your love, gaming for your love.  I will simply love.  I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again.  I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again.

God risked Himself on me.  I will risk myself on you.  And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then and only then understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us”.

This one goes out to the one I love –  happy 12th anniversary.

The Sound Of The Crowd.

“Get around town,
Get around town.
Where the people look good,
Where the music is loud.
Get around town,
No need to stand proud.
Add your voice to the sound of the crowd”.

From “The Sound OF The Crowd” by Human League.

My daily working life involves gathering and analysing evidence, forming opinions and offering professional advice.  My days regularly involve preparing for meetings with clients, investors or stakeholders whose actions may be influenced in part by what I bring to the table.

Yesterday I had a board meeting with a difference.  My preparation involved taking cover in an underground carpark, dispensing with my suit and trying to avoid suspicion from other carpark users and ensuring I was out of sight of any CCTV cameras. 

A couple of minutes later, I emerged back into the natural daylight to be greeted with strange looks from those wandering about Holyrood Road, Arthur’s Seat and Our Dynamic Earth.  Soon a little crew of like-minded individuals had gathered, all looking a little like fish out of water in the shadow of the Scottish Parliament building.   

Was it a flash-mob?

Was it a publicity stunt?

Was it a demonstration?

What was it all about?

Find out here.

Metal Heart.

“I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind
But now I see.
How selfish of you to believe in the meaning of all the bad dreaming

Metal heart, you’re not hiding
Metal heart, you’re not worth a thing”.

From “Metal Heart” by Cat Power.

Cinema seems to have witnessed a resurgence of 3-D films over the past year.  Something that I thought had been ditched in the 1980’s seems to be being re-explored as a means of pulling us further into the stories that unfold before our eyes.  Is this a fad aimed at children or will we see cinema forever altered by revisiting ideas from an earlier age?

3-D cinema is designed to bring depth.  Everything literally takes on a whole new dimension.  We may feel self conscious or look silly with those 3-D glasses on, but when we are with a group of people with a similar focus our awkwardness seems irrelevant and our resistance dissipates instantly.

How often do I walk through life, caught up in my own little world, missing a whole other realm?

How often does my desire to fit in prevent me from seeing things as they really are?

12 Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.[a] All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely”. (1Cor 13:12 – NLT).

It has been a priviledge in recent weeks to be assisting in leading my first Alpha Course.  It has been interesting to discover what the tenets of our faith are seen to be.  It has been inspiring to see the giftings and genuine love of HIWWC as she leads the sessions.  It has been refreshing to hear peoples’ ideas and experiences and to have a place where those are validated and listened to rather than the leaders doing most of the talking.  It has been a joy to see people begin to “get it” or nudge a bit closer with no-one ramming an agenda, but, rather, simply, holding out an offer. 

I have loved to hear questions asked, clarity gained and to catch even glimpses of lives taking on a whole new dimension and people gaining a different perspective and, perhaps, in time, a fresh world-view…

Come Home

“After thirty years I’ve become my fears.
I’ve become the kind of man I’ve always hated.
I am pulled apart, and my swollen heart
Has flipped out of the pan into the fire.
I am in love insane with a sense of shame
that I threw stones at the condemned and now I’m slated.

And I don’t believe you’re all I’ll ever need.
And I need to feel that you’re not holding me.
But the way I feel just makes me want to scream.
Come home, Come home, Come home
Come home, Come home, Come home
Come home, Come home, Come home”.

From “Come Home” by James.

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I tend to write a lot about journeying through life.  We are a disparate generation and so nomadic at times.  Many of us have moved around as we grew up.  Many of us left home to study and had our first real sense of freedom.  We have nostalgic feelings for those times and places and, even then, many of us only spent term time in those cities.  We moved on to wherever the job opportunities were and often we relocate due to employment.  We rarely return to where our family trees were rooted and we wonder why we find it hard to belong?

Sometimes there comes a point to put our roots down.  To soak things up and get the nutrients we need to really contribute to life.

Or as Karl said on Sunday, “If you’ve got the fruit, you’ve got the root”.

The one story that has stuck with me more than any other this year has been that of the Prodigal Son.  It’s one of the most famous stories in the Bible.  Yet, on several occasions and in several places I have been reminded not so much of the Prodigal, but of the tale of the older brother.  Maybe it’s because I am an older brother, but something has resonated and struck a chord with me.

Maybe like the older brother I have spent my time staying close to the Father’s house and busying myself with the Father’s business.  Those may not necessarily be bad things, but the older brother neglected his role of being a mediator – of going and looking for, redeeming and saving that which was lost.  He failed to bring his sibling back from the far land.

I don’t know if the far land is metaphorical, spiritual or geographical.  Maybe it’s a combination of those attributes?  Maybe my focus, whilst well intentioned, hasn’t always been where it should be?  Who is my brother?

Whilst at the Tubestation in Cornwall the other week I came across a great photo of a typical sign outside a church.  The words, however, were atypical:

“When the Father’s house is filled with the Father’s love the prodigals will come home”.

Winter, winter.

“Winter, winter on the way
bitter cold she bring.
Winter, winter on the way
hard and deadly thing.
Winter, winter on the way
everybody sing.
Winter, winter on the way
and after winter…”

From “Winter, Winter” by The Waterboys.

I love this time of year: steam from nostrils; condensation on windows revealing messages previously scribbled with damp fingers; sharp inhales of breath; senses feeling more focussed; stars seeming brighter and clearer by night; striped scarfs, cozy gloves and wooly hats; my rediculously padded parka jacket that instantly makes me feel like an extra from The Empire Strikes Back; the heat of my cheek from an open fire; hot, wholesome, soup and a glass of Merlot.

It still feels like early November, but I know the remaining six weeks or so of the year will disappear as they always do.

So this afternoon it was out with the old bike to retune it to face the daily commute through the colder months and into the garage with the new model to preserve it from grit, rust and corrosion.

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We plucked the last of the apples from our tree and harvested the remaining vegetables from the garden.

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It was nice to look back at the glow of the house lights from the darkening garden.  It was good to take stock, to recognise provision – to rest and be thankful…


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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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