Thursday, June 28, 2007


I’ve let myself be too busy of late. Not blogging, not taking photos, not listening to music. Sure, all those things can become addictive, can take up too much time. But all work and no play makes Jack a dull lad. We’re made to live in a rhythm of rest and work, recreation and creating.

So I’ve got out my iPod Shuffle for the first time in a while. There’s not much on it at the moment: 4 albums, nothing new, mostly early 90’s. Annie Lennox’s haunting Diva; Suzanne Vega’s quirky 99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees; Crowded House’s compiled Recurring Dream; and U2’s pulsating Achtung Baby.

So, what should I add next?


End Of An Era

It always feels a little strange approaching the end of a season at work, whether one is sad or glad to be going. I have 12 shifts left at the sheltered housing scheme, and 16 shifts left at school. Before the end of July I shall officially be ‘between jobs,’ and won’t hear on what I hope to be doing next until August. So I feel for Tony Blair, who stepped down as Prime Minister yesterday, after ten years in office. Last night must have felt strange – at least wherever he was, it’s unlikely he had to put up with flooding and a power cut! I may disagree with so many of his decisions, may dislike him as a political leader; but I feel for him as a human being.

As Tony and Cherie left Downing Street for the last time, and got into the car to go to tender his resignation to the Queen, Cherie turned to the assembled reporters and quipped, “Good bye. I don’t think we will be missing you.”

That was…graceless.

There’s something very satisfying, in the short-term, with getting-in the final word; with getting things off your chest as you walk out the door; saying what you really think, knowing you won’t be around to face the consequences, that someone else will have to pick up the pieces. Satisfying, but destructive – and not just for those to whom such remarks are directed, but also to the one who makes them…

Memo to self: learn from past mistakes; that stuff you could say, that way you could say it, just because you can…don’t; just don’t.


Honey, Get The Canoe...

It is often said that Sheffield is a city built on seven hills. That’s a grand statement, referencing, as it does, ancient Rome. And it glosses over the corresponding geographical feature: valleys.

Sheffield is also a city built in several valleys, through which flow five converging rivers: the Rivelin, the Loxley, the Don, the Sheaf, and the Porter Brook. Indeed, the root of the name Sheffield is Sheaf Feld [flood plain], ‘the flood plain of the river Sheaf’ [and not, as the city and the university coats-of-arms with their sheaves of grain would suggest, Sheaf Field, or ‘field of sheaves’]. So when, on Monday, we had in twenty-four hours the average rainfall for the month of June, the city went back to its roots, lived up to its name.

As features formerly known as roads became rivers and lakes, the local news called the unfolding events an unprecedented tragic disaster for the city. But that is because they come from 40 mile up the road in Leeds, and hadn’t done their homework. Disastrous, yes: for the economy of the city – it is frightening how dependent we are on electricity for doing business, and there is talk of scheduled power cuts for weeks to come while flooded sub-stations are repaired – and for those whose homes have been ruined. Tragic, yes: at least for the families and friends of the two people who lost their lives in the water. But unprecedented, no: the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 claimed 270 lives; and destroyed, totally or in part, 415 homes, 106 factories and shops, 64 other buildings, 20 bridges and 4478 cottage/market gardens. My daughter’s school puts on a play commemorating it every year. The play fell this week, with added relevance…

Living high up on the side of one of those seven hills, we weren’t at risk – or even aware at the time, while across town people were being airlifted by helicopter from their workplaces. But three of the disabled adults I work with were stranded in a car all Monday night, unable to get home after attending a regular social group earlier in the day. Friends of ours have had their businesses flooded out. And friends of ours living down in Hillsborough – in one of the valleys, where we used to live – saw a lot of water. Hillsborough was shut off by the police on Monday. We drove through on Tuesday evening. The water had been moved on – you’d hardly know it had been there – and the only damage we saw was a collapsed retaining wall in front of B&Q. Not a great advertisement for a DIY store ;-)

There is still significant flooding in much of the surrounding region, and other parts of the country too. They are forecasting more heavy rain at the weekend.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Post Re-instated

Having spoken with the person who felt so uncomfortable; and having listened to comments by Andrew Hamilton and Ben Askew, both of whom I respect greatly; and having made a few minor clarifications to my original post, I am re-posting “I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You” along with a comment that was added to it at the time:

I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You

I’m not sure how this will end up coming across, but I’m trying to get at something significant in the dynamic tension between ‘falling in love’ and ‘loving someone.’ Let’s start by defining these two phrases. Gary Chapman (author of The Five Love Languages) cites M. Scott Peck’s claim that ‘falling in love’ is not really love at all, because 1) it is not an act of will or a conscious choice; 2) it is effortless; and 3) the one ‘in love’ is not genuinely interested in fostering the personal growth of the other person. In contrast, then, ‘real’ love is an act of will, a conscious choice; involves effort; and is concerned with fostering the personal growth of the beloved. Peck concludes that falling is love is “a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behaviour…the temporary collapse of ego boundaries…which serves to increase the probability of sexual pairing and bonding so as to enhance the survival of the species.” [Chapman, pp. 33, 34]

But I’m not convinced that ‘falling in love’ is confined to the sexual aspect of relationships; indeed, I’d suggest that aspect can be entirely absent. And I’d suggest we can, at least in some circumstances, reframe Peck’s third point from the ‘negative’ “not interested in growth” to the ‘positive’ (though flawed) “seeks to preserve the other person as they are.” Let me also add that, in its concern to foster the personal growth of the beloved, loving someone cannot include coercion or be deterministic and remain love.

Is it not true to say that, in the majority of cases, parents look at their baby and fall in love? That this is an essential mechanism for the survival of the species, not now in terms of creating new life but in terms of caring for a life utterly dependent on, if not it’s biological parents, adult humans? That where this ‘falling in love’ does not take place – as it does not, for all manner of reasons – this is considered a problem? Is it not true that parents fall in love with their children at various stages of their development; and that negotiating the tension between ‘wanting them to stay like this forever’ (being in love with them) and wanting them to grow to maturity (loving them) is the process by which children, hopefully, grow up neither ‘too soon’ nor ‘too little’?

I’d say that I fall in love fairly frequently. That I fall in love with women other than my wife – and that I don’t want to have affairs with them; I don’t ‘fancy them’ or objectify them, but find their company an effortless pleasure. That I fall in love with men – and my heterosexuality is not called into question; but that there is something about their personality that is attractive, causing me to want to spend time getting to know them. That I fall in love with other people’s children. And as someone who currently works in an infant school, and who is seeking to be ordained, living in a culture where paedophilia is a high-profile concern, that is the most risky admission of the three. But in fact the urges of a paedophile are radically different from falling in love with a child: the one is predatory, involving both choice (targeting) and effort (grooming), and seeks to consume; the other is involuntary and effortless, and seeks to protect from harm. In my defence – if defence is needed – I’d simply point out that I know several people who have fallen in love with my children, and it causes me no concern. We have no choice over who we fall in love with; but we do have a choice as to how we respond appropriately. Each week-day lunch-time, I supervise children in the school playground. Whenever a child falls over and hurts themselves, I experience a completely involuntary reaction: the sensation of my blood ‘dropping’ inside me. And then I make a conscious decision: to go over to the child, and clean and cover the graze with a plaster.

I believe that God both falls in love with us, as we are; and loves us, fostering growth.

Perhaps being ‘in love,’ emphasising the positives and being temporarily blind to the negatives, is to celebrate what God has already done in another’s life; and ‘loving’ them is to celebrate what God is yet to finish?

My gut instinct is that, just as in raising children, in the nurturing of Christian community the dynamic tension between being ‘in love’ and ‘loving’ is significant. Most (all?) of what I’ve ever heard focuses on the ‘loving,’ even to the point of telling us we don’t have to like each other, so long as we love each other! Perhaps it’s just that (contrary to popular belief) I’m a Myers Briggs “F” (Feeler, as opposed to Thinker), but I can’t help thinking we’re missing something. I’m not sure I’m any clearer than I was when I started typing, but…

May be I’m wrong in this. May be I’ve just stumbled into a minefield that only exists because I laid it myself; and may be it will explode in my face. But then again, may be not…

On 14/06/07, That Hideous Man commented:
Is the English languauge the only tongue to have only one word for all types of 'love'?
Do many (most/all?) other languages not benefit from having their discussion of such matters conducted with a more nuanced understansding of loves - and we are hampered by have one huge, lumbering catch-all term to contend with?

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Post Deleted

I’ve taken the unusual decision to remove a post I added to my blog yesterday, in the light of feedback.

I am not afraid to post on controversial matters; or to question received understanding; or to write things that may cause some people to feel uncomfortable (and hopefully think differently as a result – I don’t write simply to make people uncomfortable); or to throw out there into the public arena something that I have not fully thought through first, so it can be developed by the response of others, as opposed to crafting an unassailable argument. I am not afraid to take such risks.

But when what I write is misunderstood, by people who generally try to understand me, I have to say, “May be I wasn’t able to communicate what I wanted to communicate.” And in that situation, it is sometimes better to give up, than to carry on attempting to clarify what you were trying to convey. I guess it depends on how important the matter is to you in the first place, and in this case I’ve decided to delete what I wrote. But so as to be accountable I wanted to acknowledge that a post has been removed, and give the reason why.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Millennium Bridge

Another thing I did in London was to walk across the Millennium Bridge, which spans the Thames between St Paul’s Cathedral on the north and the Tate Modern on the south; and to take photos facing in each direction, after Jonny Baker. Jonny had shown the photos he had taken on the bridge when he came to Sheffield for the first Sheffield Blah… recently, and had spoken of how it illustrated the tension he feels in being called to bridge church and culture, mediating a conversation that would be beneficial to both sides.

I had stood outside St Paul’s, but couldn’t bring myself to go in. I just couldn’t hold what I saw with what it means for me to follow Jesus as I see him in the Gospels. Rather, I saw a statement of civic defiance – which, indeed, the un-hit dome of the cathedral potently was during the Luftwaffe bombing of London in the Blitz. On the other hand, I went into the Tate Modern, and found it a strangely empty experience: literally, one hall used for occasional installations was empty, another was closed; symbolically, the building was a void, devoid of ideas (not entirely, obviously). So I walked to The Hayward instead, and found something that resonated with me there…

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Kelvingrove Crosses

On the way to Sutherland, we stayed with my sister and her family in Glasgow, and went with them to the recently refurbished Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. The Kelvingrove operates the enlightened policy of allowing photos: in return for a flawed image (reflected lights; people obscuring view) that records your presence there in a way a pristine postcard never can, the museum gets an incredible volume of free advertising.

The Kelvingrove is famous for Salvador Dali’s Christ of St John of the Cross, hung at one end of one of the long sides of the upper gallery that runs around the building. Another image, a bold self portrait by a current artist, has been hung at the corresponding end of the other long side, so that the two images mirror each other. It makes for a fascinating juxtaposition…


Thursday, June 07, 2007

Event Horizon

The public installation Event Horizon continues Gormley’s exhibition beyond the bounds of The Hayward, being composed of 31 casts of the artist’s body placed on rooftops within a certain radius of the gallery and on both sides of the Thames. As you approach the South Bank, you become aware of a figure standing on the sky-line; then another, and another…Again, I’ve added a Flickr set.

These still, silent sentinels spoke to me of unseen angels looking down on the city; just beyond our range of vision.

They also spoke to me of suicides, about to jump: lives equally lived just beyond the range of vision of those going about their everyday business – for so often, when someone kills themselves, those who lived around them say, “I had no idea they felt so isolated…” And it made me think that no life should be lived just beyond the range of vision – someone’s vision – and that, perhaps, we need to stop and look around us more often than we generally do…


Blind Light

So seeing as I had to be in London yesterday, I went along to the Antony Gormley exhibition at The Hayward in the afternoon. Gormley is a fascinating sculptor, whose work often explores the incarnate nature of our experience of life, and de/constructs the relationship between the body and the space around it.

Blind Light is a large perspex room filled with a dense fog of water vapour and flooded with white light. Visitors can walk all around the outside – seeing anyone inside who is also walking along the wall – and also enter the room through a single entance/exit. Stepping into the mist is immediately disorienting: visibility is restricted to two feet at most, and the sound of voices – a maximum of twenty-five people all allowed to be inside the room at any one time – is also distorted. Bodies suddenly appear out of the mist just before they bump into you.

Being inside Blind Light was a profound physical experience of the spiritual reality that we walk by faith and not by sight; and in particular of the ideas Pete Rollins has written about (held in paradoxical tension with ideas concerning the experience of the absence of God) of the hyper-presence of God, and the fact that we must walk by faith not because we have been left scrabbling about in the dark, but because the self-revelation of God floods our senses (see the Transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-13//Mark 9:2-13//Luke 9:28-36, also involving a dense cloud of mist and very bright light).

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Tracing An Arc, Part 2

…so I booked myself into The Priory in London to recover. Okay, not strictly true. But I did have to go to The Priory – which is where British celebrities go to deal with their addictions and the inner demons that fuel them, where Amy Winehouse has in mind when she sings, “They tried to make me go to rehab; I said, no, no, no!” Apparently this is standard practice for anyone who is applying to be ordained in the Church of England who has any history of depression (I have, as a teenager), so they can be assessed by a consultant psychiatrist.

Walking down the long driveway, overnight bag in hand (because it was a morning appointment and I stayed in London the night before), was a surreal experience.

In case anyone is wondering, they had no concerns.

Tracing An Arc, Part 1

We holidayed at Clachtoll, in North Assynt, Sutherland, the far north west of Scotland. Beyond the range of mobile phone signals. The campsite is right above the beach – and what a beach! I’ve uploaded a set of photos on my Flickr pages.

The rocks here are the oldest in Europe, and, at 500 million years old, among the oldest anywhere in the world. And you feel it. It is a strangely beautiful stark landscape, scraped by ice and (more recently and today) by sheep; scarred with over 200 small freshwater lochs, all containing wild brown trout; scattered with many hundred Red Deer; and, soaring above it all, home to the Golden Eagle, our largest native bird. The children and I had not been here before, but Jo had holidayed here year after year as a child. I loved looking at the mountains – Suilven, Quinag, Stac Pollaidh: a landscape that can’t be tamed, has not been harnessed (though there is talk of wind farms); that exists for its own sake, and for God’s pleasure, and forces us to recognise our limits and take only pleasure too…

We were joined, in their massive new motorhome, by my in-laws, along with Jo’s sister and her family. Which would have been lovely, had they not brought a gastro bug with them…I’ll spare details, but suffice to say it felt like I did a lot of looking after sick people, and we eventually got home shattered…