October 31, 2011
Are Arsenal fans a health and safety issue?
Coming to the book launch tomorrow?
Very probably not in which case you can stop reading.
But I've just realised there's an Arsenal match tomorrow night and The Coronet pub tends to be full of fans until shortly before kick off.
So between 6.30pm - 7.15pm, we may be swamped by deleriously happy Gooners, reliving their 5 - 3 defeat of Chelsea at the weekend. It could well be a book launch in search of a chair, let alone a table.
You may want to delay your arrival a little, until they've all wandered off into the night towards the Emirates stadium; though if you're a Gooner, that may actually be the best bit of the whole evening. Talking with like-minded people about the serious business of Arsenal rather than some rubbish book on - what was it about? - oh yes, solitude.
Give me the crowd! I can lose myself there!
Solitude's for Nobby No-Mates, isn't it?
A beautiful Poppy
Back in the blogging saddle after a week away leading a retreat at Abbey House in Glastonbury.
More on that anon, but for now, some 'hot off the press' family news: at 6.30pm, October 30th Poppy Louise was born and I became a grand father.
She weighed 6 lbs 13 oz but is confidently expected to grow.
I'm bearing up well, thank you.
October 20, 2011
Jesus the Comic: marks out of ten
The nation today debates the comedy of Ricky Gervaise after he used the word 'Mong' as a term of abuse, with faces to reinforce his point. So we take the opportunity to take a quick look at the work of another comic master, Jesus, and give marks out of ten.
The best comedy exposes rather than abuses. It exposes hokum, hubris, self-deception and twisted power.
So how did Jesus do in perhaps the most famous stand-up routine in the history of the world?
1) He could do straight abuse. He called Herod a 'fox' for instance. On one level, it's a fairly cheap shot as is all abuse. But we must mark him up for bravery, because making a joke against Herod was the 1st century equivalent of making a joke against Islam today. And of course Herod was twisted power personified, so 7.5 out 10 overall.
2) Jesus borders on a racist/sexist joke with the woman of Tyre. She isn't a Jew but even so she begs Jesus to heal her daughter. The story emphasises her desperation but Jesus just asks her if it's right to throw the children's bread to the dogs? So where's the comedy here? The Woman of Tyre is a dog because she's not Jewish? OK. Perhaps he's testing her to see if she's really serious; he did that sometimes. But my sense is that she's been tested enough by life so 2 out of 10 for this one.
3) Jesus calls the Pharisees 'white-washed tombs'. This is abuse again but very clever stuff. It's such a bleak and killing image which really gets to the nub of the religious enthronement of outward appearance above inner truth. This is an assault on hokum, hubris, self-deception and twisted religious power. A full house and so a very liberating 9 out of 10.
4) On another occasion, Jesus suggests that it will be 'harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle'. Another memorable image which provides a shocking take on the ephemeral and debilitating effect of financial power and indulgence. I can't give it less than poor-affirming 8.5 out of 10.
5) Possibly my favourite of Jesus' jokes. A woman caught in adultery is about to be stoned - not the male obviously, just the woman. Jesus watches on like 'the stranger in town' and then as the stone-gripping hands are about to launch their hate and fear, he says 'Hold fire a sec - and let the one without sin be the first to throw.' Here's a brave joke - they must have hated him for it and could well have turned on him - that changes a moment in history, saves the life of a human and exposes deep psychological sickness in religious and male society. 10 out of 10.
6) 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do.' Words said by Jesus on the cross about his murderers, both active and passive. It sounds like a joke but in fact he's dead serious so it's not included under the comedy umbrella. And for different reasons, neither are Ricky Gervaise's 'Mong' jokes.
Solitude - The Film
I'm not sure that Hollywod is quaking in its snake-skin shoes.
But 'Solitude - the Film!' is now showing on youtube and the homepage of my website.
As you may know, I've asked people to show restraint and purchase the book online on its publication day which is All Saints Day, November 1st. Some have been good boys and girls and held to this - delayed gratification - and the kingdom of God is theirs.
Others have been a bit cheeky and incorrigible and ordered already. But the kingdom of God is probably theirs as well in all honesty, because it takes all sorts.
(And it's now available on kindle which makes it even more tempting. Oooh, I've come over all cheeky and incorrigible!)
But enough of the film stuff and with a sigh of superior disdain let us hasten to higher things. The Man Booker prize eluded me again, sure, but I have been invited to speak at the Peckham Literary Festival at 7.00pm on November 20th.
(Yes, yes, 'Only fools and horses', birth place of Rio Ferdinand, etc. I know my place.)
It actually takes place in a shop (details on site) and I'll be speaking about 'Shelf Life' - my tales of life in a supermarket.
The good news is that I'll be joined for banter on stage (or between the aisles) by Jamie Minoprio who is an award-winning screenwriter. Jamie is taller than me, younger than me, better-looking than me and certainly a great deal funnier.
So Peckham is ecstatic.
I like happy endings.
October 17, 2011
It's part of the free lance deal.
Just as we kiss alot of toads in order to find our prince, you have to pitch alot of ideas to get one off the ground.
By 11.00am this morning, I had made seven different pitches: some large, some enormous, some quite small.
All had taken time to prepare and the likelihood is that all will be rejected or ignored. But as I say, this is the free lance deal. And sometimes, of course, the toad does turn into a prince.
I remember when I pitched the 'Shelf life' idea to the Daily Mail. I was later told by an insider that they rated my chances 10,000 to 1. I'm glad I didn't know that or I wouldn't have bothered. As it was, the column ran for 18 months and saved my financial bacon at the time.
Will my pitches this morning lead to anything? Who knows? But having spent so much time taking the future seriously - always dangerous - I must now return to the present where all is quite well.
The doves of possibility have left my hand and I can no longer care for them or concern myself with them.
So I make some tea and return to silence and the caverns of emptiness. This cave shall be my home as the doves flutter and fly beyond my knowing.
Sometimes they return.
Sometimes they bring friends!
But for now, perhaps some chocolate with my tea...
October 15, 2011
Holding the baby
A nice moment.
I'm sitting here beneath a blue London sky holding a copy of my latest book 'Solitude - recovering the power of Alone.'
Not literally, obviously. It's hard to hold a book lovingly and type at the same time.
But it arrived in the post this morning - fresh and eager - and it's an exciting moment.
It's published on November 1st but Amazon may well be sending out copies before then. They don't seem to take any great notice of publishing dates. Apparently its up on Kindle/Ipad etc in a couple of days.
But as I hold this surprisingly chunky little baby for the first time, some edited words from the book in celebration:
''And silence, like a poultice, comes to heal the blows of sound,' writes Oliver Wendell Holmes and we know well the blows of sound.
The blows of sound vary. It may be the cruel or thoughtless words of others. We shrug them off but they leave their brusing inner mark beneath our tough exterior skin. Or it may simply be the noise of demands - the demands of others, the demands of life or the demands we make of ourselves from which we find no escape.
But silence like a poultice comes to heal the blows of sound if we dare to switch off our radio or our music or our smart phone. We notice our breathing again, the steady rise and fall of our chest and find our scattered selves gathering again as one person.
The blows of sound pass through us, like ghosts on the run.'
I hope it's a good weekend for you.
October 13, 2011
Smug, conceited, arrogant
Dear oh dear!
And indeed, golly gosh!
Nearly one third of respondents in last week's Church Times 'Question of the Week' answered 'Yes' to the following strongly worded enquiry:
'Is your vicar smug, arrogant and conceited?'
That's 33 people out of a 100 saying 'Yes' to a truly damning assessment of the figure at the front. Such hate and disillusionment in the pews!
And obviously as an ex-priest, and therefore in the clear, I'm feeling pretty smug, arrogant and conceited about this.
October 11, 2011
No crystal stair
I was thinking today of a poem by Langston Hughes.
It's in a book of poems called 'Soul Food' published by Bloodaxe, full of different poets and highly recommended. It was was given to me by a woman who came on one of my 'Beautiful life' retreats.
The things we do live on in ways we can never imagine; and certainly Joan's gift to me in 2008 has.
Here's the bit I was reflecting on today:
'Life for me ain't been no crystal stair.
It's had tacks in it,
And boards torn up.
And places with no carpet on the floor -
October 10, 2011
The brass band in the park
I was talking with my son the other day.
He was describing a brass band in the park. He had come across them by chance, a teenage brass band from another country, playing beautifully. He was particularly struck by the soulful trumpet playing.
And the effect of this band? The effect was to take him to another place. The music and the moment took him somehwere else, somehwere other than himself and for that moment made of him a bigger person, a braver person and a hero of light.
And this is what the best music, painting or writing does, surely? It meets us on the plodding road and surprises us. It lifts us out of our own little echo chamber, so closed and dull, and offers fresh and energising air; new sounds, sights and ideals.
We are strong again. We'd forgotten but now we are reminded: we are heroes of extraordinary worth and the ground beneath our feet no plodding road but a highway of adventure.
Some call this art; some call this grace.
October 06, 2011
I was speaking with the Daily Mail yesterday about a piece on stress.
It is now the No.1 reason for not turning up to work apparently and I was suggesting a piece I might write.
And then before I can write a word, stress finds me. How?
As some of you will know, I was recently offered the chance to create a mental health project in a beautiful setting in Sussex.
We were going to call it 'Pictures of Eden.' I have been wanting for some time to create something physical again and look after a community again.
The 'Pictures of Eden' project seemed just the thing. A blank slate for all sorts of challenges and adventures and the offer came from nowhere. What could possibly go wrong?
So yes, much excitement. But the venture has died before flying, due to the circumstances of the backer.
It has not been an easy decision but too many problems emerged in discussion to make it a viable adventure for me.
The outcome has hit me hard. A dream briefly given has now been taken away, so in a confused state, it's back to square one on the snakes and ladders board. I had high hopes of creating something again, but on this occasion, it isn't to be.
So for now, I return to my emptiness, the space vacant once again. And that's OK - and if it doesn't feel like that now, it will be, because our inner space is endlessly inventive.
Sometimes we celebrate the fact that we're great survivors; and other times we note only how fragile we are.
In the meantime, I'm looking mainly at my sense of self-pity, which is always present in stress.
I'm noticing the anger that is part of the self-pity; but also looking at the sense of loss. What am I mourning? And what deficiency in me is now exposed to the light?
I'm also inviting myself to take responsibility in the new circumstances, rather than drifting into discreet blame mode.
Like an iceberg, there's much below the surface with self pity.
I'll still write about stress for the Mail; but I'll write as one still in recovery. Tomorrow I will cobble some words together and they will appear on Monday. Perhaps they'll include self-pity, we'll see.
But they will at least be words drawn red hot from the furnace - which is the best origin for words.
And also from the furnace: Peace to you tonight, for your life is harder than mine.
October 04, 2011
The pros and cons of taking the bible literally
There are some who say you will go to hell if you do not take the bible literally.
But a recent news story reveals that taking the bible literally can be its own version of hell.
Last weekend it was just another Sunday sermon in the Italian town of Viareggio. The priest was reflecting on Jesus' words: 'If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away,' when British-born Aldo Bianchini decided to do just that - he stood up and gouged out his eyes.
Witnesses say he 'tore at his face' before screaming and collapsing in a pool of blood. 'To do something like that requires superhuman strength,' said the surgeon who treated him.
Father Lorenzo Tanganelli of the church of Saint Andrea said that he'd never seen so much blood: 'There must have been 300 people at Mass to begin with and we were lucky that one of the closest people to him was an off-duty paramedic.'
Well, praise for the Lord for that, eh?
October 02, 2011
How does your garden grow?
When I was very young I was given a very special gift: a garden all of my own. However I was too small to tend it myself, so the grown- ups around me took over and planted all sorts of plants.
Some of the plants I liked very much and others I wasn't so keen on.
There must have been some hidden seeds because sometimes flowers just appeared. I often liked these colourful wonders which just felt right; but sometimes the adults told me they were weeds and made me pull them up.
Over time the garden became full of all sorts of growing things and gradually I realised there were many that if I had the choice, I would not have chosen for myself. It felt like someone else's garden so I began to lose interest in it and went there less and less often. With no one visiting or taking care, the plants grew and tangled with each other until the place became overgrown and wild.
As I grew up sometimes I thought of my garden. There were times when I felt like it was calling to me and I remembered that I had spent some happy times there. Long gone now, of course, but definite memories and good.
I realised then - who knows how it happened? - that I wanted to find my garden and somehow claim it back. I wanted to take care of it again and keep it clear and healthy and so I returned to it and started to prepare the ground.
However my garden had become quite a wilderness, full of dark places, and many times as I worked I became frightened of what I might find. On occasions like these, I would stop work until I was feeling a bit braver.
Sometimes I cleared a space and then became disillusioned, lazy even, and then the space I had made would become overgrown again.
But the garden kept calling me and gradually I managed to take control and the space began to look cared for. I became aware of the plants that grew there: aware of the heathy ones I wanted to keep and the unhealthy ones that really needed to go.
The more I worked on my garden the less unwanted plants appeared from within; though I still had little control over seeds that were blown in from other places - and how they blew! Sometimes these seeds took root, especially if I had been away for a few days.
Soon I realised that I needed to be willing to put on my gardening gloves and visit my garden every day, even if it was just for a short time, although longer visits were definitely best.
My work paid off and now I can mostly enjoy spending time in my garden amongst the beautiful flowers and shrubs that are growing. I even enjoy inviting others to share my space and when I say goodbye to them I make sure that I plant the good things they brought with them and burn any unheathy seedlings before they get a chance to take hold.
How does your garden grow?