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The first and second truth

Posted by Simon Parke, 17 July 2019, 9.28am

Let us talk about the first and second truth.

The painter sets out with a vision for their picture. This is the first truth and the energy to start.

But soon the truth withers, it isn’t enough, the wheels come off the venture.

And in the creative crisis, and from the disturbance experienced, emerges a deeper and more powerful current.

This is the second truth.

I was once told to begin sermon preparation on Monday for the following Sunday.

‘The first truth will appear soon enough, but you need to get beyond that, Simon. By Friday, the second truth will have emerged,’ they said. ‘The first truth is interesting; the second truth is life-changing.’

Pilate famously asked ‘What is truth?’ - but did not stay for an answer and it is the same today.

Someone says, ‘Simon – you did a day with us last year on human growth. Could you do it again this year - but in an hour?’

We want our answers quickly, which really means, we just want the first truth. The trouble is, though, if we don’t get beyond this, everyone is wasting their time.

The first truth is often presented as the solution. The second truth is the realisation that the solution doesn’t solve anything. It has been too quickly imposed.

The first truth can be arrived at in the head, and leaves little disturbed; the second truth is experienced in the body, and may leave much disturbed.

The first truth merchants can be smart, but they can also be glib. (Politicians, lobby groups and preachers take note.)

The first truth is a headline with no roots to grow into anything. It’s information, it’s slogan, it’s declaration - but it’s not life.

Pilate asked ‘What is truth?’ – but did not stay for an answer.

We can, however.

The first truth is a doorway - not a destination.

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The Nine Rooms of wellbeing

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 July 2019, 5.49am

The Dead Sea scrolls were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in caves near the Dead Sea.

In one of them, people are pictured as consisting of nine parts of light or darkness; or a mixture of the two.

The fragment which survives tells of two people. One would be considered a fairly good person, with six parts light and three parts darkness.

The other is less attractive, with eight parts darkness and only one part light.

This is the context for Jesus saying, ‘Let your whole body be full of light, having no dark part.’

And perhaps here is an invitation to wander kindly through the rooms of our inner house. It could be a summer meditation. 

We will push open doors, (no room out of bounds) to check we’ve opened the curtains, that light is allowed in.

The rooms will vary a great deal; some lovely.

There will be some dark rooms inside us also, but they need not always be this way. It is good that we look inside; or at least open the door.

Discernment is knowing when we speak from the light and when we speak from the darkness. We will do both.

Freedom is fearing none of the nine rooms.

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The mysterious case of the sleeping pharmacist

Posted by Simon Parke, 12 July 2019, 10.36am

I’m going to the pharmacy in Pefkos, on the island of Rhodes.

It’s usually a busy (and expensive) place, gorging on the English and their holiday ailments and conditions – sunstroke, mosquito bites, scorpion bites, toothache, pregnancy tests, sleep deprivation, anger management courses, blisters, heart burn, over-eating, over-drinking or simply too much exposure to other family members.

Surprisingly, however, on entering, I discover the place empty both of customers and pharmacist.

I wait alone for a while, enjoying the air conditioning and admiring the well-stacked shelves – pills, drugs and ointments for every occasion.

After a while, another man enters. Now there are two of us waiting – in silence, of course. This is a shrine, after all. And we’re good at waiting, we’ve spent most of our lives waiting, it’s OK.

Behind the counter is a short corridor, and a door. Above the door it says, ‘Laboratory – Non Access.

About five minutes have passed when we both raise our eyebrows at each other, and I decide to go down the corridor.

On reaching the ‘Laboratory – Non Access’ door, I step through…. and in the half-light, discover a body.

There’s a body in the laboratory and it’s lying at my feet.

My first sense is that they are dead. Oh my goodness! Am I on holiday in Midsommer? 

‘Are you OK?’ I ask quietly. No movement. I bend further forward and ask again. ‘Are you OK?’

Sudden movement and the body moves, a man in his thirties, pale and surprised.

‘It’s OK,’ I say, wishing to reassure. I’m not sure he knows where he is, or who he is, and he steps back from me.

But as he gathers himself, I can see consciousness returning slowly. He looks around and begins to remember he’s a pharmacist

‘Yes,’ he says. And now I think he also remembers that he runs a shop. And perhaps I am a customer? So I back slowly out of the door and back down the corridor as he staggers forward, still a little uncertain on his legs.

Now he is behind the counter.

‘Are you sure you’re OK?’

‘What would you like?’ he says, ignoring me. 

Well, mainly I’d like to ask him why he was playing dead in the laboratory. But the story of the sleeping pharmacist must remain a mystery.

Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him?

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A seagull marriage

Posted by Simon Parke, 29 June 2019, 7.23am

We have two seagulls, Peter and Mrs Peter; they’ve been together awhile.

I don’t know if they’re in love, but they work together to get things done.

They live on our roof and have lived here longer than we have.

This is their house, which they defend daily from other seagulls and rooks.

And we are regarded as staff. It’s like Upstairs, Downstairs. They live upstairs, we live downstairs – and provide for them.

Every year, their coming together produces three offspring. They grow up on the roof, without any nesting.

While they are growing, Peter and Mrs Peter are very insistent about food. There are no days off for the staff, and they will bang on the windows with their beaks if service is slow.

I write this with Peter looking into my office, from his wall place.

He’s disappointed.

We sometimes think Mrs Peter should leave Peter. He can be very aggressive over food; and occasionally attacks her neck with his beak.

He struggles to share.

But they work together to control the skies over their roof; particularly when there are young around.

Not everyone likes seagulls. Like humans, they are ruthless scavengers for food.

And they are very nervous, and therefore aggressive, when they have young to protect.

Though Peter and Mrs Peter are never aggressive towards us. And when children come to stay, they come down and say hello – happy to be pleasant to the staff’s children for a while.

It’s what Lords and Ladies of the manor do.

Sometimes Peter comes inside the kitchen, if the door is left open. I suppose its good to see how the servants live.

The other day, he continued on while we were in the garden. We looked across to the house, and saw him looking out at us from the front room, standing by the piano.

They are big, seagulls.

‘They are so big!’ say people when they see them close up.

And, ‘Aren’t they called herring gulls, technically? I read that somewhere.’ (Yes, they are.)

They’re not very good parents beyond the early days of survival. Most of their offspring are killed by foxes. They come down off the roof too early, before they can fly properly, and can’t get back to safety.

But some survive, and make marriages for themselves. Seagulls stay together, through thick and thin.

I’m not saying it’s right; because sometime the behaviour is pretty thin. But to be honest, they couldn’t give a hoot about the opinions of staff.

They were here before us and we know our place.

Staff should always know their place.

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What is therapy?

Posted by Simon Parke, 24 June 2019, 1.49pm

You go to a house with a friend.

You go inside the house and your friend stays outside, but in contact.

You work your way through the house, describing each room to your friend, who listens carefully.

They can’t see anything themselves; you are their eyes. Though they can ask questions, which helps you notice things as you go from room to room.

It’s amazing what can remain unnoticed on trips round houses.

And because they’ve seen houses like this before, your friend can also tell you where some of the light switches are.

They are not always easy to find; and it does help to be able to see.

And if some of the rooms are a mess, or you trip over some rubbish, it can be reassuring to have another saying you don’t need to panic.

And this is therapy.

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On having stones piled on you

Posted by Simon Parke, 24 June 2019, 12.58pm

I see the strangest thing today.

At the shopping mall, I watch a crowd of people place stone after stone on a woman’s body, crushing her.

The woman is alive and struggling, though no one seems concerned. I run towards them.

‘What are you doing?’ I ask.

‘Nothing,’ they reply. ‘Just a normal day.’

‘Just a normal day?! But what about the stones?’

‘What stones?’ they exclaim with genuine surprise before continuing with their work.

We are equally blind as we load others with our agendas; with what we want from them.

And each desired outcome laid on them is a heavy stone on their soul.

If we are to practice one thing today, it could be stone-removal, as we allow people to get up and go free.

There’s still time to save the woman in the shopping mall.

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Young again!

Posted by Simon Parke, 20 June 2019, 3.27pm

If we are to make the world young again, we must start with ourselves.

We must allow ourselves to be young…which is great relief all round.

We can at last stop playing the expert or the canny observer; we can skip free of our tired knowing and false impressions.

We have become old, bent and stupid with our supposed knowledge.

Our take on everything is wrong.

We have ceased to live and learn; instead, we live and confirm our cracked patterns of understanding.

And don’t laugh, but we even believe ourselves consistent; which takes fantasy to a new level.

But how lovely to let go of all this! It brings fresh light spilling into the room, the smell of the sea!

How nice it is to be young again! You can’t help but dance; or at least skip a little.

And who knows - perhaps the world will join you?

Though this is not guaranteed.

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63 Up - a review

Posted by Simon Parke, 17 June 2019, 11.51am

‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man.’

It is a quotation attributed to both Aristotle and Ignatius of Loyola.

(And quoted by such varied luminaries as Pascal, Lenin and Kipling.)

But is it true? That’s what 63Up is trying to discover.

63 Up is the TV documentary which started out, in 1963, as 7UP.

It has followed the lives of a group of people born in 1956, starting with their seven-year-old selves, and then returning every seven years to see how things are going.

Some started life in children’s homes. Others began in the most socially privileged settings.

Some in East End council flats; others, Westminster/Oxbridge-bound.

And the question: does anyone really change?

It is gripping viewing as we follow the twelve or so lives of those remaining in the series. One has now died – the determined East End Lynn who became a much-loved children’s librarian.

I believe a couple of others have opted out of the series. One spoke of it as the ‘poison pill’ they have to take every seven years - and many viewed it as a challenge.

And we can understand that. Being faced with yourself is a challenge. So there’s bravery to them all for hanging in.

There are sad stories and beautiful stories. I found the most peaceful lives were those of the two Barnardo’s boys, Paul and Symon, who have stayed in contact and seemed most comfortable in their skins. Symon, one of them, has now fostered over 130 children.

While amazingly, the emotionally-fragile and often homeless Neil survives and offers himself in service to the world. (Lib Dem councillor and a Reader in his church)

He once said that if he didn’t have film evidence showing him as a cheerful child he wouldn’t have believed it. But then sometimes childhood pain takes a while to work through into our consciousness. There is much that is hidden from view in a seven-year-old.

Life has been a struggle for them all in different ways; but those who started rich have remained rich, this is clear. The posh stay posh.

Society is still about who you know rather than who you are. We need others to give us breaks…and money/influence helps that significantly.

The fascination of this programme is not difficult to understand.

The documentary – which was once voted the greatest documentary of all time – is a meditation on our own ordinary lives: childhood, hopes, work, marriage, children, divorce, disappointment, fears, breakdown, ill health and death.

My life is here in these peoples’ stories; though I might live the issues differently.

And does anyone change? 

Certainly the programme reveals the power of the hard-wiring of childhood, and the patterns of behaviour that emerge from that. Most of those taking part assent to this truth. They see themselves in their seven-year-old still.

To that extent, Aristotle was right. The child at seven has much of their future in their body already.

But there’s more to it than this.

Participants in the 63UP adventure have largely come to terms with their lives in one way or another. They don’t necessarily change much; but they learn how to survive in their skins.

And survival is important… but we won’t mistake it for growth.

And there is growth here as well. Occasionally, someone transcends where they started; achieves something they know their younger self could never have done - like Barnardo Boy Paul building a new life in Australia, with a thirty-seven year marriage still strong.

(She was first drawn to him because he had a cute bum in shorts. Not traditional marriage preparation.)

That Children’s Home boy, who feared everything, has travelled a long way. He is much less fearful now.

My sense is that Aristotle is only half-right. Our story is powerfully-started at seven…

... but it doesn’t end there.


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Jo Brand's joke

Posted by Simon Parke, 13 June 2019, 1.05pm

Jo Brand is in the news for a joke she made on the radio.

It sounded like a ‘spur-of-the-moment’ gag, in which she criticised milk shakes being thrown at ‘nasty people’ - and recommended throwing battery acid instead.

She immediately reassured us that this was a joke, and affirmed she’d never do it - but the deed was done and the reaction immediate, starting with Mr Farage.

My issue with the joke is that it isn’t transformative - which is the stuff of all great comedy.

Comedy dismantles with savagery; comedy exposes and dissects with accuracy; comedy exaggerates with purpose. This is how comedy proposes change.

What comedy doesn’t do is propose answers - whether its the throwing of battery acid or anything else.

Answers aren’t comedy’s role…which is why comedians don’t make good politicians, it’s weak on policy.

And Brand’s answer, of course, is less than adequate: it’s emotionally dead, it’s lazy, it’s a loss of vision…very similar, in fact, to the nasty people’s answers.

Long live Jo Brand.

But let’s keep comedy transformative - dismantling, dissecting and exposing.

Answers are not its brief. 


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What is prayer?

Posted by Simon Parke, 11 June 2019, 5.42pm

What is prayer?

Prayer is stopping

Prayer is stopping rather than starting

Stopping rather than doing

It is stopping talking

Stopping thinking

Stopping lighting candles

Stopping list-making

Stopping asking

Stopping all attempts at control

Stopping reading

Stopping repressing

Stopping narcissistic worry

Stopping manipulation of the world

Stopping the should and the ought and the latest technique

Prayer is stopping

No more and no less, prayer is stopping

Stopping to listen to the vulnerable truth of your beating heart

To listen to all that your breathing brings to the surface

Breathing in and breathing out, we are stopping to listen

Like Mary, pondering… not solving…

In time, prayer may become many things

But first, the most difficult of callings - beyond thought, beyond words, the letting go, the putting down, the opening up

Yes, first, we must actually….

...stop…the ultimate dare


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