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For the purposes of this blog, I really wish I could remember who said something along the lines of ‘he who has books has everything’!! 

 But I can’t.  And anyway, I’m not sure I quite agree.  But I often do look at my sagging book shelves and wonder about each of the different worlds that are locked up inside all those covers.  

Books sit there so quietly and innocently but sometimes it’s almost as if, if you attend closely enough, you can just about hear a thousand voices living out their stories and ideas in a corner of the room.  All you have to do to unleash a world is pull a book off the shelf and turn a page.  You might regret it.  You might find you’re not at all interested in that world and decide to lock it all up again with a snap of your hands.  Or you might become someone a little or a lot different, perhaps almost without knowing it.


Well, my most recent new world has been that of James Alison, as he takes on and develops the theories of Rene Girard.  I don’t fully understand a lot of what I read, but somehow it’s got right under my skin and I know there’s something important there.  So I keep going back to that world and trying to see a bit further in the presently dim surroundings.  Sometimes I’m treading quietly, trying to be a curious but patient and unobtrusive explorer.  Sometimes it feels like I’m rattling the doors in frustration.  But for now I keep returning and every now and again it’s like I find a street light and I suddenly see for a while.

So I wanted to write down here what I could see before I moved on.

To give a little (very sketchy) background, Rene Girard seems most famous for his theory that human beings desire in imitation of another.  For something to have value or interest to us, someone else has to have given that thing their value or interest in advance.  That might not seem so earth shattering, but this theory of desire means that we end up desiring the same things as our model, until eventually that model becomes a rival for us.  Girard believes that this rivalry builds to such a fever pitch in human communities that eventually a whole community turns on one scapegoat, genuinely believeing that all this conflict is the scapegoat’s fault, and murders that scapegoat.  From here a sense of relief and peace emerges and the community begins to attribute that peace to the murder.  It starts to deify the scapegoat and set up laws and prohibitions, as well as rituals which repeat the original murder or sacrifice.  This is a way of keeping peace amidst communities which are always in rivalry.  In other words, culture begins to emerge.

This may all sound a little far-fetched, but the more I read and understand the outworkings, the more I am convinced.

Girard was not a Christian when he first began developing his ideas, but he did see the pattern of desire described above traced throughout myths, legends and much literature including the work of Shakespeare, whom he still believes was very aware of the pattern.  However, when he turned to the Old and New Testaments, Girard realised that this was the only text which actually worked in the reverse.  In this story, rather than siding with the culture, God was gradually revealing to culture that he sides with the victim, that he has no part in this murder or the sacrifice which seems to us as though it is appeasing God and bringing peace.  The story culminates with the cross, with God as the victim himself.  And not merely any old victim, but one who returns after death with no hint of vengeance or the tit-for-tat game that characterises human imitation (or ‘reciprocity’ as James Alison calls it). 

This really does, I feel, have huge implications for the meaning of the cross, and perhaps more importantly than mere doctrine, for how we live our lives as a result of the meaning of the cross.  Plus, how do we see God as a result of this?

But what struck me today was something a bit different.  I was listening to an interview with James Alison and someone made the comment that humans don’t only ‘sin’ by desiring or coveting what another desires and therefore entering into rivalry and violence with ‘the other’.  We also, for example, sin by omission in not caring enough about another’s needs.  To this James Alison replied that the problem is not so much what we do, but who we are.  We all think we come into this world as an already formed ‘I’, or at least as an ‘I’ who is hidden inside and will slowly emerge as we mature and grow.  There is some truth I think that we have specific genes and personality traits that slowly emerge.  But what’s also true is that our ‘I’ is formed by our total imitation of others.  We only ever learn to speak because we imitate.  We all have to imitate someone, including their desires, in order to even come into being as an ‘I’.  If you like, we basically all have to be disciples of someone in order to come into being.  We are extraordinary imitating machines and so the ‘I’ that we become is a result of, and heavily entwined with, the imitation of others, without us even knowing it. 

James Alison likens a human to one of those glass balls in a fountain sculpture, which appears still although it is supported and held up on a constantly moving jet of water.  The ball would not even exist where it is and as it is without the ‘behind the scenes’ jet of water.  And whilst we tinker around trying to fix things about the ball, what God wants and needs to do is to sort out the jet of water, which represents our imitation and therefore the rivalrous desires that we have.  Another way of looking at it is that we muck about with the software of our behaviour, the symptoms if you like, when God wants to access us at our hardware, our desire and our imitation.  This will automatically alter our software.  And that’s just the start!

Well, if I haven’t baffled you already and you’re at least a little intrigued by this landscape, look out for a few more street lamps to come!               

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I wanted to post this picture to pose the question ‘what reaction does this create in you?’

It’s Jesus washing the feet of world leaders like Angela Merkel, Kofi Annan, Tony Blair and, yes, even Osama Bin Laden.

Just before Jesus washes the disciples’ feet in the bible, it says that Jesus knew the Father had put all things under his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God.  The next word is ‘therefore’.  Therefore, he knelt down and washed feet.  It’s like this is how he tries to illustrate what he does with all the power.

I guess the picture is really asking, ‘well, what do you think God’s actually like?  Is God really like this, exactly like this?’  How does this image make you feel?  Like it’s unfair, unjust, blasphemous?  As though it can’t be right and that Bin Laden ought to be punished rather than served?

The picture was actually designed as a poster to advertise a conference in the USA about God’s character.  It triggered such an outcry from Christians that the church that was going to host the event cancelled it and the organisation had to move the conference to a secular location (which, typically, had no problem with the poster!)

It’s true, it’s a hard hitting picture.  For me, I find it particularly difficult to imagine Hitler there and Jesus washing his feet after all that he did.  Even worse, what if Jesus was washing Hitler’s feet and Hitler wasn’t even sorry for what he’d done?!  And yet, here’s the thing – Jesus washed Judas’s feet, knowing Judas was about to betray him.  Then Jesus went and healed a guy who was coming at him with a sword.  And later still he went the whole hog and allowed his life to be taken in the most gruesome way for every person under the sun while they were still spitting at him and not at all sorry.  Now, if he did that last part for everyone then why would it be odd to think he might wash their feet for them?

Christians say they believe that Jesus was and is God, that he represents to us the image of God fully.  Paul writes that Jesus was the radiance of the Father’s glory and the exact imprint of his very being and Jesus even said ‘if you’ve seen me you’ve seen the father’.  The trouble is, those same Christians then go on to say that apart from just being like Jesus, God is also like this and also like that, adding on to Jesus or taking away from him.  In particular, they feel an obligation to say that God is all the ‘omnis’, you know, omnipresent (all-present), omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing) and possibly also that he never changes, is free of any happiness or sadness and is so ‘holy’ that justice (punishment) must at all costs be served and he can not look upon any evil.  It’s like these things are just obvious and go without saying.

But they’re not and they don’t.  Where did these ideas come from?  When you read the bible you find a God very different, one who cries and laughs and hurts and gets frustrated, and constantly gets his hands dirty amongst all the ugliness of the world.  Imagine how differently we’d think about God (and feel about him?) if we scrapped all our preconceptions and just started again by focusing solely on Jesus?  Imagine if he was our one and only guide for what God is like rather than our personal life experiences or Greek philosophy, which has shaped our culture and religion so deeply.  God might just start to look like the man on his knees in the picture.

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Last blog I ended by highlighting that in the story of the Prodigal Son, the younger brother ‘leaves home’ by literally departing, but also by the way he then goes on to live (his ‘badness’).  But, the older brother also leaves by carrying out slavish goodness.  He’s driven partly by fear but also by hope of getting wealth rather than by any kind of love for his dad or family.  It’s all about tit for tat with him – total justice.

Timothy Keller notes a number of ways in which a tendency to be like the older brother can be recognised (ouch!).  The first is a deep sense of anger and resentment when life doesn’t pan out the way you might think it should by rights.  Questions like, ‘what have I done to deserve this?  Where did I go wrong?  Have I displeased God?’ get asked.

The second is a slavish mentality.  ‘All these years I have slaaaaaaaved for you’ says older brother.  Duty through and through, no joy or love or pleasure in seeing the father pleased.  It sounds like he feels forced and pushed into what he’s doing.  Like a slave, his motive to do good is fear (any bells ringing?  Definitely some for me).  Tim Keller again:

‘It’s one thing to be honest and avoid lies for your sake, but it another to do so for God’s sake, for truth’s sake, and for the love of people around us…..Honesty born of fear does nothing to root out the fundamental cause of evil in the world – the radical self-centredness of the human heart…….(Elder brothers) are not really feeding the hungry and clothing the poor, they are feeding and clothing themselves’.

The third characteristic of elder-brotherness is a lack of assurance of the Father’s love.  Life going wrong leads to questions about ‘what I’ve done wrong’.  Criticism is devastating not just unpleasant.  Unrelenting guilt is prevalent.  Prayer is dry and more like a conversation with a business partner than a lover.  Prayer happens to try and control the environment rather than to get more deeply into an on-going relationship.  Is it any wonder the younger boy wanted to get away?  Most of us would probably think ‘I’m not as bad as all that, I don’t have all those issues’!  True, true.  But I know first hand it’s possible to be older brother-ish!

Even though both sons are wrong, the father cares for them both (yes, even the older son) and wants them back in the family.  He pleads with his son.  What a word for God.  Can you be more vulnerable or seemingly pathetic, and less dominant?  How humiliatingly loving and patient, to plead.

In order to come back to the Father truly, what was needed was not just a ‘sorry’ for a list of specific wrongs.  I guess the younger son could have said sorry and then gone away again and lived a fairly moral decent life somewhere else.  I’ve always wondered how the story would have gone if the young son took his inheritance and then went and lived quite a nice good life in another city?  What if he hadn’t wasted it and lived a scandalous life?  Would Jesus have had a point?  I mean, it’s not a choice of  ‘with the Father = good life’ and ‘without the father = bad life’ is it?  Or maybe it is?  I guess (from the story) what God sees as being ‘saved’ is being a living active part of his family, sharing in it’s daily life and love rather than simply being good.  Maybe without that love and living connection, all goodness eventually dries up and becomes loveless and empty anyway?  To truly become Christians we must not just repent of things we have done wrong but ‘must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right’.

It reminds me a little of the parable of the workers where, at the end of the day, those who started work first get paid the same as those who started 3 hours later and those who started 3 hours later still.  HOW UNFAIR!!  Yes, it truly is.  This story used to get my blood simmering just a little 🙂  But now I’m seeing a bit more that God wants everyone in his family and enjoying the blessings that that brings, and it doesn’t matter to him at what point they decide to join in, as long as they do.  And if those who are already adopted want their siblings to receive less because they joined later, then they have never fully understood what it means to be part of that family themselves.  But it can be a terribly bitter pill to swallow sometimes.

In the days when Jesus told this story, it would have been expected that the elder son should go out and search for the younger son to bring him back to the family in such a situation.  But he didn’t.  But Jesus (our older brother) did go out from the father’s house to search and find and bring home.  In fact, in doing all this he paid what was necessary to make it happen.  Personally, I think it’s sooooo important that this payment is not seen as a payment by Jesus to God on the cross to deal with God’s standard of fairness/holiness or worse still, God’s anger.  In the story, what did the elder brother pay?  Well, he had to accept that half of the original family estate was gone.  Then he had to accept that his little brother now was an heir to half of what was left (rightfully his) and use some of his rightful property to give him a feast and reclothe him.  Plus there was, I’m sure, a huge cost to his reputation.  He paid a lot.  How else could his brother be a true family heir again?  It was completely unfair.  No wonder he didn’t want it to happen.

But Jesus didn’t mind at all.  He cared more about his family than the stuff.  Although in his case, there was a lot more to suffer than some lost stuff.  Therefore it’s also important to realise that there’s never forgiveness and reconciliation without someone paying for it.  But it’s not the kind of ‘paying’ we tend to think.

By the way, don’t you just love the father’s sentence, ‘My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours’?  It’s one of my favourites in the whole bible.  It’s as if, in the middle of pleading, the father is confused and incredulous (and hurt?) to realise that the older son thinks it’s all about ‘things’.  ‘All my things are yours anyway, what are you worried about?  You could have had any of it, why did you think I was withholding it?  That’s not the point at all, you’re brother’s back!’  When I’m struggling to like God and see him as selfish and glory-loving, I think of this sentence.  ‘It’s not about me, it’s not about stuff.  It’s about our family’.  Actually, if the father had insisted on justice, the older brother in the story (not just the younger) might have ended up with a lot less than he could have had, had he left the father to his generously un-just ways.

Interestingly, at the end of the story it is the older son who shuts himself out of the party.  It is not the father who closes the doors.  And this tallies with a point that people often make, one that sometimes tries to pull the rug out from under my feet when I’m feeling confident in God’s love.  How are we ever going to be motivated to make progress in the task of becoming like a true family member without the fear of hell and the reward of heaven?  I mean, maybe the motivation of religion was a bit negative but at least it seemed to work!  If you want the rat to make it through the maze, you have to show it the cheese!  Timothy Keller again………..

‘But if, when you have lost all fear of punishment (or hope of reward?) you also have lost all incentive to live an obedient life, then what was your motivation in the first place?  It could only have been fear.  What other incentive is there?      Love’.

(NB – Steve Chalke, founder of the charity Oasis and ex GMTV presenter amongst a huge number of other things (including ‘man who used to live down the road from me’) has written a great chapter on forgiveness in his book ‘Apprentice’, which includes discussion of justice and fairness.  He has also written a fantastic, easy-to-read article about the meaning of the cross and the problem of the penal-substitutionary model, which I mentioned here.  It seems to fit well here with some of the ideas about justice so if you fancy reading it, you can find it at www.adrianwarnock.com/chalkeoncross.pdf I personally breathe a sigh of relieved relief when I read things like this!

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All these excerpts are taken from ‘The Divine Conspiracy’ by Dallas Willard

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I’m amazed by what camera modes can bring to paintings and pictures.  This truly looks to me like a sunset and, if you look at it at different angles, the light seems to change – thanks camera!

The image and message I was trying to portray in this picture was one that Dallas Willard described in his book, ‘The Divine Conspiracy’.  It made a real impression on me then and has stuck with me ever since.  Hopefully you can work it out from piecing the pictures together.

‘pear juice’

‘apple juice’

‘The keeping of the law turns out to be an inherently self-refuting aim; rather, the inner self must be changed.  Trying merely to keep the law is not wholly unlike trying to make a pear tree bear apples by tying apples to its branches.’

Does it make any sense yet?!

Well, the idea is that if we simply decide to change our outward behaviour/appearance to make it ‘good’ (because God, society/parents/religion/the preacher etc tell us so) but continue on with the same old insides and heart, then we are like a pear tree trying to be an apple tree by simply pulling off the pears and tying apples onto its branches.

The only way for an apple tree to truly be an apple tree, is for it to be one on the inside, in its depths.   Then apples will naturally grow instead of pears.

If we are rooted and anchored firmly in God’s love (his Spirit?), then this love will flow up into us, will transform our insides and our hearts so that ‘good fruits’ can begin to blossom as a natural result of the person we really are (with our collaboration of course – the Spirit does not turn us into robots)!  And love fulfils the whole law.

So seemingly simple.  So true.

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Over the last few years, my beliefs about God, Jesus, Christianity etc have changed a huge amount, so much so that it sometimes feels like a complete re-conversion.  The experience has made me wonder what other important perspectives and wisdom I am currently oblivious to but might one day ‘see’.  It’s really hard having all your ideas thrown in the air and then trying to put them together again somehow.  What you based your life on gets pulled out from under your feet and things become very insecure.  But a lot of good has come from it so far.

It all started with a niggle.  That niggle had probably been there all my life but a few years ago it suddenly erupted into my consciousness.  I couldn’t hide it anymore.  I think what it all boiled down to was my anger at God for being boss.  For being the one not only who gets to call the shots and demand all the honour, but who also enjoys the fact that he is supreme and dislikes anyone who tries to muscle in on that.  Obviously, deep down I knew it wasn’t this crude (and the God I knew more personally wasn’t like that really), but basically that was the nub of my frustration taken to its extreme.  You might think my thoughts were immature and dumb but I think that the underlying sentiment is what gets taught/implied in church a lot of the time, even if not in so many words.  I was sick of it.

But, I had this strong sense that Jesus kind of knew what he was talking about and had the key to life the way it was designed to be lived, as if he was in on a secret.  I felt compelled to read the story of Jesus from start to finish without stopping to try and understand him better.  So often bits of passages in the bible get picked out and read totally out of any context and if this doesn’t lead to outright errors, it often just isn’t helpful for understanding what was really going on.  So I picked Luke (seeing as he was a Dr and therefore somehow I trusted him more!), sat cross-legged on my bed after work and started plowing through.

What struck me undeniably was that Jesus constantly talked about his ‘Kingdom’ coming.  That seemed to be his message, which is quite different to the one that tends to get pushed in Christian circles, ie, that you are bad/do bad things and thus need to receive forgiveness from God, which you thankfully now can because Jesus has taken the punishment on the cross for you – eek!)  To be honest, that second message never made much sense to me.  When I was 14 I helped at a Christian holiday kids club at easter and we watched a cartoon of the easter story-Jesus’ crucifixion.  Afterwards the leader said to me that he could tell I was deeply moved by what God had done for me because of the look on my face during the cartoon.  Inside I was thinking ‘heck, I was distraught for poor Jesus but pretty mad at God for doing it to him.  And for thinking it should have been me.  But I’m glad you don’t know that!’

Anyway, back to Jesus constantly talking about his kingdom arriving….  I began to realise so many things more clearly and hope to explore these more in future blogs:

1,  When Jesus talked about a ‘kingdom’ coming, what he meant was that God’s rule was for once actually becoming established.  Where Jesus was speaking and acting things were getting done the way God always wanted them to, such as in healings and caring for the poor.

2,  This kingdom was not a ‘pie in the sky when you die’ one but a real physical one on this earth.  Therefore what you do here on earth is not just getting you ready to ‘go to heaven’ but is actually helping (or hindering) heaven (ie, God’s rule) coming to earth.  In a very real sense, God isn’t concerned about whether you have prayed a prayer to ask forgiveness and then gone on your merry way, but whether you are ‘giving a drink to the thirsty, visiting those in prison, caring for the sick’ as Jesus himself says.  What you do here really matters and will last on to eternity if it is in keeping with Jesus’ Kingdom.  NT Wright has written some fantastic stuff about this, a good starting point being his book, ‘Surprised by Hope’.

3,  The essence or ‘rule’ of this new kingdom all comes down to love.  However basic (and dull?) it sounds, I really started to have scales fall from my eyes on this and it excited me!  I mean, Jesus even says (later repeated much by Paul) that all the law and the prophets boil down to love.  In other words, you can read the entire Old Testament inside out and keep to all the big and little laws but it’s all only there in the first place to help us to love.  If you love, you have fulfilled the whole law – that’s mind blowing and totally liberating!  It also started to release me slowly from the fear that God is self-centred and interested in his own glory.

4,  To carry this point on a bit further, while Jesus is teaching people up on a mountainside, he says ‘you have heard it said “love your neighbour and hate your enemy.”  But I tell you:  Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven.  He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get?  Are not even the tax-collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect then as your heavenly father is perfect.’  Again, is this not mind-blowing?  I mean, firstly, the whole ‘eye for an eye’ thing and ‘love your neighbour, hate your enemy’ mentality comes from the Old Testament, from God.  So how come Jesus is suddenly overriding that?  More than that, he is actually saying that God loves and blesses unconditionally, regardless of whether someone deserves it or not, and if you don’t do that then you can not call yourself a child of God.  There is no family likeness!  But aren’t we used to assuming that God is ‘fair’ and ‘just’ so he repays according to how we act and what we deserve?  That if we do evil he will repay us with some kind of negativity?  Isn’t that what we think should happen?  Tit for tat.  It seems Jesus is equating God the Father’s perfection not with moral perfection and lack of any moral blemish, but with loving perfectly, unconditionally.

And don’t forget, Jesus knew full well about enemies, he wasn’t being naive and unrealistic.  He was talking to Jews who were at the time being ruled over (often barbarically) by the Romans, who were an occupying force.  Imagine Hitler winning WW2 and occupying Britain, it’s the same sort of scenario.  Jesus knew about real life enemies and was still saying ‘love them’.

5,  The reason I think God is able to act this way is because he realises firstly that trying to overcome darkness with darkness is just ridiculous and counter-productive.  But secondly, that fear and coersion may be able to curb and improve someone’s behaviour but they can not change someone on the inside.  Only love can do that.  Laws, coersion and punishment can stop you beating someone up but can’t stop you hating them and wanting to hurt them.  Fear of what others might think could stop you having an affair but wouldn’t stop you wanting to or day dreaming about it.  Jesus’ words focus so much on the importance of inner motivation and the type of character you have as opposed to how you’re seen to be behaving.  The unconditional love of God is the only thing that can affect inner change and free us to be able to love unconditionally as well.

6,  Therefore, laws become virtually obsolete.  If you really are filled up and perfused with love, you won’t need the law to tell you how to act because it will come much more naturally.  Laws are good in so far as they point you to how you should be acting, but they have no power to help you act this way.  This is a great example of this idea I heard from Greg Boyd (www.whchurch.org).  Imagine a man who is told that if he can convince a woman that he is a fantastic husband and to stay married to him for 5 years then he wins a million pounds.  This man then sets about finding out all about ways to act romantically, behave lovingly and generally convince a woman he is a great husband.  She marries him.  But eventually this woman of course begins to realise that this relationship is not real.  It’s too scripted and perfect.  There is no real love.  In actual fact, although her husband looks like a perfect husband, he really is only acting this way to gain money for himself.  He doesn’t really love her at all, it’s all about him.  This is sort of what it’s like when we behave morally but only so we can gain good things for ourselves such as a place in heaven or escape from punishment.  There is no real love or concern either for God or for others and it’s selfishly motivated.

7,  This difference between law and love is the difference between having a contract with someone and having a covenant with them.  God always makes covenants with us, not contracts.  But more on that later…………

These are some of the things that started to jump out at me as I read Luke and they’ve become almost like precious stones to me.  But they were only the beginning – man, it took me long enough to get there!  There’s lots more to talk about, some things that have brought clarity and others that have made things muddier again.  As my blogging goes on I want to explore these things, if only for my own sake, but I hope you find it helpful too!

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Song in the Wood

This way, this way, come and hear

You that hold these pleasures dear;

Fill your ears with our sweet sound,

Whilst we melt the frozen ground.

This way come; make haste, O fair!

Let your clear eyes gild the air;

Come, and bless us with your sight;

This way, this way, seek delight!

-John Fletcher

Recently I stumbled across this old poetry book, hidden in a box wedged under my bed.  But I recognised it straight away.  It was given to me by an older lady who I used to live next door to as a kid – Mrs Shelton.  She lived with her brother and they had a big, clumsy looking caravan that spent most of its time on their drive with bricks wedged against the wheels.  But I desperately wanted to play in there and have it as my secret place, so, as only a kid could, I wrote her a letter asking her about this and posted it through her letter box.

All credit to Mrs Shelton, she wrote back to me and said she didn’t wish me to play in there on my own (!) but that she would happily spend time in there with me whenever I wanted.  Mostly we just pretended to cook and I rearranged her caravan cushions a lot.  But on one occasion she gave me the old brown poetry book, ‘This Way Delight’ and sometimes we sat and read it together.  I loved it from the beginning, partly because it smelled like ‘old book’ and had that musty, yellowed, age-old wisdom look about it.  But mostly because it suggested magic and mystery by its title and was full of charms and chants that conjured thoughts of hidden fairies and secrets, if only you could see them.  20 years later I still find this book sort of whisperingly magical, a pathway through a thick hedge into a world I always suspected was there.  Here are some of my favourite verses that  conjure untold stories and images, beginning with ‘The Listeners’……….

The Listeners

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller, knocking on the moonlit door;     

And his horse in the silence champed the grasses of the forest’s ferny floor:

And a bird flew up out of the turret, Above the traveller’s head:

And he smote upon the door a second time; “Is there anybody there?” he said.

But no one descended to the Traveller; No head from the leaf-fringed sill

Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes, As he stood perplexed and still.

But only a host of phantom listeners, That dwelt in the lone house there

Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight, To that voice from the world of men:

Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair, That goes down to the empty hall,

Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken, By the lonely traveller’s call.

And he felt in his heart their strangeness, Their stillness answering his cry,

While his horse moved cropping the dark turf, ‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;

For he suddenly smote on the door, even louder, and lifted his head:-

“Tell them I came, and no one answered, That I kept my word”, he said.

Never the least stir made the listeners, Though every word he spake

Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house

From the one man left awake:

Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup, And the sound of iron on stone,

And how the silence surged softly backward, when the plunging hoofs were gone.

-Walter De La Mare

(I must admit, I see myself as Anne of Green Gables reciting ‘The Highway Man’ so dramatically when I read this!!)

Explanation on Coming Home Late

We went down to the river’s brink

To of those clear waters drink

Where the fishes, gold and red,

Ever quickly past us sped.

And the pebbles, red and blue,

Which we saw the green weeds through

At the bottom shining lay:

It was their shining made us stay.

– Richard Hughes (aged 7)

I so understand where Richard was coming from!

Overheard on a Salt Marsh (how could you not want to listen in on that?!)  

Nymph nymph, what are your beads?

Green glass goblin, why do you stare at them?

Give them me.


Give them me, give them me.


Then I will howl all night in the reeds,

Lie in the mud and howl for them.

Goblin, why do you love them so?

They are better than stars or water,

Better than voices of winds that sing

Better than any man’s fair daughter,

Your green glass beads on a silver ring.

Hush.  I stole them out of the moon.

Give me your beads, I want them.


I will howl in a deep lagoon, For your green glass beads, I love them so.

Give them me.  Give them me.


-Harold Monro

Lady will you come with me into

Lady will you come with me into

the extremely little house of

my mind.  Clocks strike.  The

moon’s round, through the window.

as you see and really I have no

servants.  We could almost live

at the top of these stairs, there’s a free

room.  We almost could go, you

and i,  into a together whitely big

there is but if so or so

slowly i opened the window a

most tinyness, the moon (with white wig

and polished buttons) would take you away

and all the clocks would run down the next day.

-E. E. Cummings


Do not fear to put thy feet

Naked in the river sweet;

Think not leech, or newt, or toad,

Will bite thy foot, when thou hast trod:

Nor let the water rising high,

As thou wad’st in, make thee cry

And sob; but ever live with me,

And not a wave shall trouble thee!

-John Fletcher

All that’s past

Very old are the woods; and the buds that break, Out of the brier’s boughs, when March winds wake, so old with beauty are – oh no man knows, through what wild centuries roves back the rose.

Very old are the brooks; And the rills that rise, where snow sleeps cold beneath the azure skies, sing such a history of come and gone, their every drop is as wise as Solomon.

Very old are we men; our dreams are tales, told in dim Eden by Eve’s nightingales; we wake and whisper awhile, but, the day gone by, silence and sleep like fields of amaranth lie.

-my old friend, Walter De La Mare

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know, His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here, to watch his woods fill up with snow.

my little horse must think it queer, To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake, The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake, To ask if there is some mistake.

The only other sound’s the sweep, of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.

-Robert Frost

The Way Through the Woods

They shut the road through the woods seventy years ago.

Weather and rain have undone it again, and now you would never know, there was once a road through the woods, before they planted the trees.

It is underneath the coppice and heath, and the thin anemones.  Only the keeper sees, that, where the ring-dove broods, and the badgers roll at ease, there was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods of a summer evening late, when the night air cools on the trout-ringed pools, where the otter whistles his mate, (They fear not men in the woods, because they see so few).  You will hear the beat of a horse’s feet, and the swish of a skirt in the dew, steadily cantering through the misty solitudes, as though they perfectly knew, the old lost road through the woods………

But there is no road through the woods.

-Rudyard Kipling

Thank you Mrs Shelton.  I wonder where you, your brother and your caravan are now?

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When I was 19 I visited Vienna, Austria, on a last minute trip with 3 Swiss cousins and a friend.  We slept all night on the train as we travelled from Switzerland to Vienna and arrived a little worse for wear, but as vigorous people in our late teens we shook it off pretty quickly!

On one occasion we went to see the ‘Kunsthaus’ (Art house) designed by the artist Hundertwasser.  To be honest, I didn’t have huge expectations but as soon as I saw the exterior of the building I was hooked!  Hundertwasser was a real character.  For starters he changed his name to ‘Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser’, which translates to ‘Peace-kingdom Rainyday Darklycolourful Hundredwater’!  He started off painting pictures but then moved into architecture, hence the Kunsthaus.  He believed every person should be able to reach out of the windows of their rented accommodation and paint as far as they could reach with a long brush so as to show the world that he or she was unique to the ‘imprisoned, enslaved and standardised man next door’.

His main principle seems to have been a return to the more natural and a sort of blending of the human with the environment (although his colours were definitely not especially natural!).  He found many modern buildings bland and hideous and called straight lines ‘the Devil’s tools’!  Instead he preferred spirals, which you see in so many of his designs (spirals seem to be an  ever-present part of my own doodles!)

I remember that the Kunsthaus floors were uneven and wavy because Hundertwasser thought that flattening and paving over floors sanitised nature and distanced humans from it.  He liked to walk bare foot over his floor-sea and feel it.  He called uneven ground a ‘melody to the feet’.  His rooms often had trees growing within them branching out of the windows and his rooves were regularly overgrown with grass and plants.  Again, the idea was to belnd in with nature and even provide natural sound-proofing and insulation.  When you live amongst so much grey-ness in the environment like I do (be that grey skies or buildings!) it is a joy to walk around a living, breathing building which soars into the sky like a rainbow!

Besides all this I just find his work often (not always!) attractive to look at, especially because of the bright colours he was unafraid to use (including gold), the bold forms, the tightly packed lines, the great detail and the use of black edges to really bring out the colours.

Oh, and one other lasting memory of Austria was the best, most hilariously serious TV dating programme I have ever seen!

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The wonder of space

I’ve decided I’m going to have to come back to the political questions as otherwise I won’t be able to blog about anything else in the mean time!

I’ve been thinking about space- astronomy, the solar system and the universe.  This topic has always fascinated me from the point of view of science but also art and imagination.  How can it fail to bring you to awe and send chills down your spine?  It is so hostile out there, so toxic, so vast, so deathly unconscious.

Mars is next to us, just slightly further away from the sun.  Apparently, because it’s smaller than the Earth, Mars lost its inner heat to the atmosphere much more quickly long long ago, like a hot cup of tea in a cold room.  Conseqently, Mars’s inner heart beat died, the volcanoes dried up and the planet geologically ground to a halt.  The landscape is still marked with grooves where lava once flowed, like an old man’s furrowed brow gone cold.  What would it be like to walk along those grooves, the only living thing, noiselessly treading the dust?

Venus.  Venus is intriguing.  The bright shining North ‘Star’, named for its beauty.  But the beauty is deceptive.  Venus is like Earth’s evil sister, a good girl gone bad.  Because she sometimes appears deceptively as the morning star, she is occasionally referred to as Lucifer.  This sister is in so many ways like Earth – about the same size and of a similar chemical composition.  There were high hopes for her, but she veiled herself in thick, oppressive cloud and beneath that, nothing can exist.  Venus is violently inhospitable.

If it were possible, what would it be like to roam the gentle plains and walk the empty ocean floors where once, torrents of water surged, crashed and boiled away?  Feel a gentle breeze that brings relief to the ghostly stillness?  Pass through every season of the year before a day has elapsed?  Watch the sun rise in the West and take an age to set in the East.  What would ‘day light’ even be like?  So intense due to the proximity of the sun?  Or an eerie twighlight beneath the impenetrable cloud?  Or something unimaginable to people who have never seen it?  Why did Venus not turn out like her sister?  Probably because she spun so slowly on her axis that she clung onto the Carbon Dioxide and other, unsavoury gases produced by her volcanoes.  These dense gases in turn allowed the sun’s rays in but not out again, and so Venus grew hotter and hotter in a dramatically excessive demonstration of global warming.  Now she is hot enough to melt lead and the pressure of her atmosphere would drive you like a nail into the ground.  Lightning storms flash continually in the bitter clouds high above and acid rain pours down, vapourising suddenly before hitting the ground.  Venus is an awesome but desolate woman.  And, but for slight differences, Earth could have taken after her.

Between Mars and Jupiter lies the asteroid belt, littered with rocky debris.  Asteroids appear a constant threat to the Earth as you watch her swim slowly through a sea of rocky dots on a computerised screen.  At one time it was thought that Jupiter was the Earth’s great protector, dragging asteroids in towards himself and thus deflecting them from a collision course with the Earth.  But now even this giant turns out to be a false ally, often hurtling objects directly at us due to his almighty gravitational force.

Over time it has been discovered that Jupiter has up to 63 moons.  One of these, Io, is unexpectedly alive and exotic.  In mythology, Io was a nymph and priestess to Hera.  The God Zeus seduced her and then turned her into a heifer to prevent discovery.  Her mistress, Hera, sent a maddening gadfly to bite her and thus she wandered tormented throughout the world.  The naming of the moon Io was prophetic.  She is tormented, covered in volcanos and lava lakes over 180km wide.  These lakes are bubbling cauldrons of blazing magma, a beautiful but hellish vision.  The very yellow, sulfuric surface of Io shifts and moves and  plumes of sulphur and sulphur dioxide spew out 500km into the sky, raining down as sulphur snow.  If it were possible to know, what would this sound like?  Io and 2 other moons regularly line up together and this gives Io a frequent gravity kick, which jolts her into an elliptical orbit of Jupiter.  When she is furthest from Jupiter and his gravitational pull is weakest, Io stretches out.  When she is nearest to Jupiter, she contracts, a solid mass of rock being squashed like a sponge ball.  This constant movement generates massive heat, which is what drives Io’s frothing lava lakes.  This heat source is completely different to that of Earth, or to the burning heart of Mars which grew cold.

It’s possible to go on imagining and describing and wondering like this forever.  For now, it amazes me that by changing details about a heavenly body, an entirely different environment develops.  Is the planet smaller, bigger, closer or further from the sun, orbited by other bodies with a gravitational force, spinning slowly or quickly?  In every case, the laws of physics play out naturally (some might say predictably, for those who are smart enough to make such predictions).  The solar system is a laboratory, testing out the type of environment that certain conditions produce.  The more you look, the more you feel so very fond of Earth.

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Today I went to a hustings meeting to meet and hear the views of local political candidates in the run up to the UK election.  I’m not particularly politically minded, and not because I don’t trust politicians and think they’re all in it for themselves.  Actually, I admire a lot of politicians for the hope they have to make society better and the conviction that this is worth working hard for.  I think this is a good dream.

But, like a lot of people, I suspect that there is no longer a lot of difference between the parties and that it makes little difference who is in power.  Is any party going to have the guts to make difficult decisions and changes that will be unpopular in the short term but crucial in the long term if it means they are likely to lose popularity (and therefore probably power)?  Why are parties always discrediting the others and trying to make themselves look better by putting others down?  When individuals do this generally we know it’s because they’re insecure.

My other reason for maintaining some distance from politics is my uneasiness at fusing religion with politics.  I would say I am a Jesus-follower, although my journey of faith is far from smooth and I have doubts at least every other day to be brutally honest (I’m sure there’ll be more to come on that!)  Still, I believe Jesus was onto something and I have an insatiable drive to keep pursuing him and questioning.  It astounds me that Jesus never passed comment about the Governent of his day or tried to persuade his followers to lobby leaders or pressure them into passing certain laws or abolishing others.  He never demonstrated outside the abortion clinics of his day for example or tried to put pressure on Roman governors to introduce fairer, less violent laws.  Instead of advocating a power-over approach, coercing people into behaving a certain way, he spoke frequently about (and demonstrated) power-under.  He encouraged people to change the world by radically loving and serving it themselves, not expecting Governments to do it for them.  Jesus’ message seems to me to have been political because its outworking would change the world, but in a totally different way to governments, slowly but surely and from within (like a mustard seed, hence this blog’s title!)  I know this seems naive, unrealisitc, simplistic and possibly ineffective (or not effective quickly enough!)  But I think that is our human way of viewing things because we find it hard to leave the outcome to God.   And I believe the means of achieveing something, even a better world, are just as important as the ends to God, if not more so.  Shane Claibourne has written about this brilliantly in his 2 books ‘The Irresistable Revolution’ and ‘Jesus for President’.  Also, Greg Boyd (a very down to earth American pastor) did a great series of teachings on this idea at his church in 2004.  The series is called ‘The Myth of a Christian Nation’ and can be found under ‘sermon resources’ at http://www.whchurch.org.   It came out of his intense frustration at being constantly harrassed by political parties to persuade his congregation to vote a certain way in the Aerican elections, as if there was only one God-ordained, God-sanctioned way to vote.  As if God was on the side of some parties and not others.

However, despite my misgivings about politics, I am grateful that people, fellow-women, fought and died for me to be free to have my say.  I also believe that the Government can make life a lot fairer, more just and peaceful for many people.  Thus it is possible to serve people and the community by working in and through Government, though power-over can never transform people’s hearts.  Therefore I want to vote and as things stand I have no clue who to vote for, even after the hustings.  If anything, after tonight’s meeting, I am more aware of how ignorant I am about a lot of important topics.

I also had this realisation today while talking to a good friend who is PA to Lord Sainsbury.  Lord Sainsbury is currently stuck in Tanzania because of the volcanic ash cloud!  He is there to help find ways to make Tanzania’s cotton industry far more profitable and efficient.  My friend was making the point that Tanzanians (and many people from other African nations) need to be able to sell their produce abroad to make a profit and it is this money that will gradually help African nations go through the process of mechanisation and development, which the First World has gone through.  Therefore, whilst we might think that it is better and more sustainable/more environmentally friendly for us here to buy all our goods from local sources, this may in fact be harming developing countries.  He has come to this conclusion from first hand experience.  Once again, it highlights how everything is so interconnected and solutions are never simple.

I would like to be more knowledgeable about this world!  I don’t know how to realistically achieve this aim alongside all of life’s other demmands.  But next blog I’ll try and think through some of the questions asked (and answers given) at tonight’s hustings.

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