Thursday, 16 February 2017

Finding the balance

We augment and consolidate in our lives whatever is the focus of our thoughts. We travel in the direction of our thoughts.

I pay attention to the whirling and eddying of present political turbulence. I heed the injustice in our treatment of refugees – the abominable decisions of Britain’s home secretary (and my own MP) to renege on the promise of a British home for 3000 child refugees, and also to deny access to our islands to disabled refugees. Such things, they do not go away, they are not so lightly dismissed. There is a justice built into the nature of things, and what we have done will surely find us out, for God is just, and God – not the British government – determines the course of our destiny. This will come back to us one day. If today we cannot see clearly enough the sorrow and grief and destructiveness of war, the desperation of the destitute, then one day it will be writ more plainly in our lives, so we cannot fail to get the point.

And I pay attention to what human beings are doing to the Earth – our grandmother and our home. After the Spirit of God and the Word of God in Christ, the Earth is our first ancestor, and we owe her the honour due an ancestor – “honour thy father and thy mother, that it may go well with thee, and thou mayest dwell long in the land”.  Unless we honour the Earth our grandmother, we will not have long to dwell here. I cannot fathom what our politicians and grand corporations imagine will be the result of the fracking, the oil spills, the pollution of land and air and sea. Surely they know enough science to understand that oxygen, an element, is finite and its balance with the other elements must be tended? Surely they know that we, made so much of water, need clean water to drink? Surely they grasp that if you reduce the cities of the world to rubble with your war machines, poison what you haven’t extracted for your consumer items in your pursuit of growth economics, inject poison into the aquifers – then you too will be gripped by the turmoil of fear and pain. “For these,” as Jesus said, “are the beginning of sorrows.” Dead right.

I watch and I listen. But I try not to put my focus there, because how futile and absurd my life would become if I looked so intensely into the ugliness and evil that I missed all the beauty and the good.

So I look at this

and this

and this

and this

and this

and this

and this

And I thank God who has filled my life with blessing – so much beauty, so much gentleness, so much health and kindness and creativity and tenderness and laughter and love. How blessed am I, who have all these wonders shining around me like the colours of the dawn. How blessed am I in family life, in the snowdrops, in the soft carpet of moss, in the singing of a bird at dusk, in the fall of rain, in the firelight, in the travelling moon, in the curve of a child’s face, in the quiet of night, in the fresh cold sea air. How blessed, how immensely blessed in sharing, in loving, in doing what little I can to bring good into the world.

Friday, 3 February 2017

A grief

I feel as though I have lost England.

All my life long I have loved England, really and deeply, as though England were a person as well as a place. The sheep and cows on the hillsides, the woods and heaths, the fields of barley and beans, the rivers and ocean bounds, the craggy moors. And I have loved the stolid English people, cautious and quiet, their dry humour and conservative ways.

I have loved our Queen, sustaining and championing the work of so many artists and artisans, growing her beautiful organic garden with its bees, right in the heart of London, speaking out for the Christian faith and the importance of family life. I have loved Prince Charles, advocating for tribal peoples, for wilderness, for traditional crafts and architecture, and Earth-friendly farming.

But something has changed in me since our Prime Minister Theresa May came to power.

For a long time, I have felt growing dismay at the socio-political development of our national life. It began for me with the Iraq War. With such hope and joy I listened to Tony Blair’s speech when he was elected Prime Minister – he was a compelling orator. I felt horrified and ashamed when, despite thousands and thousands of people protesting all over Europe, he bullied through his alliance with US powers and took Britain into that doomed, inadvisable and unjust conflict. Its bloody outworking and legacy are to our lasting shame.

When David Cameron was elected Prime Minister, I felt deeply disappointed. Mine has always been a Labour vote – not for myself, because my own values are similar to traditional Conservative ways, but for the poor and vulnerable in our society. To my mind, the work of government should be directed towards creating and maintaining peace and stability; you cannot do that without lifting people out of poverty, offering permanent help to the frail, caring for the sick and aged and the little children in their families.

Cameron’s time in office took my disappointment down into something altogether darker and deeper – not so much because of him, because I perceive him as a weak and malleable individual, but because of George Osborne his chancellor. Under Osborne’s financial leadership, Britain was run not as a nation but as a business. Those in power (the rich, and central political figures) were its shareholders creaming off the profits, while the people and the land were its human resources and stock of commodities. That administration did not love Great Britain. They were there to take what they could while they could, and they did not care who suffered as a result.

When Cameron’s government secured the vote to bomb poor, battered Aleppo – the jets waiting on the runway as the vote was taken – and George Osborne chortled “Britain’s got its mojo back,” as the bombs fell on the children who play in the rubble, I thought we had surely reached our nadir.

Then, on the back of a campaign distinguished by nothing more worthwhile than blatant, transparent lying, we had the Brexit vote. And then we got Theresa May.

With Amber Rudd watching over environmental affairs, we can expect our precious and ancient hills and hollows to be fracked mercilessly, the waters poisoned and the bones of the land broken. We can expect the badgers to be slaughtered without pity. We are seeing our newly rising sustainable energy industries down-graded and disregarded, and a colossal nuclear installation agreed for our coast, despite the increasing turbulence and rising sea levels coming as the climate changes. Japan also has nuclear installations on their coastline (as we do already, too) and every day shows why that’s a bad idea.

The UN is calling UK treatment of its sick and disabled a humanitarian crisis under Theresa May’s watch. The health service is being systematically dismantled. Regulations are in place to deport all overseas nationals who earn less than £35K pa – so that would be all the chefs and staff of the little Italian and Turkish and Indian restaurants, all the Polish builders and plumbers, many of the care assistants in our nursing homes, much of our staff in hospitals – and so many other areas of work. It will tear up our beautifully diverse society by the roots, creating mayhem.

Meanwhile, under the savage and relentless cuts in government support to the poor, disabled, chronically sick and vulnerable, homelessness and poverty are steadily increasing, family life is de-stabilising, and wealth is transferring away from the increasing numbers in poverty to the rich élite. The trickle-up approach to economics.

And what can we yet find money to buy? Nuclear missiles.

This morning, I noticed something in myself that has been happening for a while without my really being aware. I have stopped loving our monarchy.

I have always delighted in the monarchy – its dignity and gravitas, the splendour of state occasions, the standards of excellence, the focus of national life. I loved our Queen and felt so proud of her.

But, it’s one thing to love pomp and ceremony while the people are fed and housed, the children cared for, the refugee welcomed, the vulnerable supported and the sick treated – it’s quite another when all that is tossed aside. Wealth and status become ugly and shameful when homeless people die of cold in the streets and old people die on trolleys in hospital corridors. Monarchy is no longer something lovely when the land is sold to be poisoned and destroyed for comparatively worthless money. There is no amount of money can sustain and nurture us better than the living Earth – and to think it can is not even an illusion, it’s just stupid.

Theresa May and the rapacious cabal around her have done this for me: they have taken my Queen and turned her into a rich old woman in a hat. They have stamped on my England. They have taken the land of the free and turned it into a stock cupboard. And to whom do they look for their next fix of money, money, money? Donald Trump. May God in his mercy defend us from our government. Whatever can we do?

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Bathroom window at sunrise

Living with artists is a wonderful thing.

Because when you potter along the passageway at sunrise it looks like this.

God made the sunrise, and I live with him. Alice made the stained glass, and I live with her.

Makes my heart glad.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

Another facet of setting your house in order

It’s the week of prayer for Christian unity, and I think in church this Sunday we might expect to hear sermons urging us to bury our differences and unite as one family in Christ.

I have a problem with burying our differences.

It’s something I’ve now been urged to do several times in my life. When someone has done me an injustice, then later wants to pick up the relationship and proceed as if nothing had happened, let a friendship begin or resume, I’ve been encouraged (by the irenic spirit who travels through life at my side) to forget the past and embrace the nascent signs of positivity. But I won’t. I won’t build the walls of the house on top of a dodgy and inherently fragile – even fractured – foundation. We get the foundation right first, them we build, is my approach.

I have had the opportunity to work as a free-church minister alongside Church of England clergy, so have stood in a position to perceive their insistence on securing and maintaining a position of advantage – even monopoly and supremacy. I have observed as the Church of England secured and defended (in prisons, hospitals, hospices, colleges etc) paid chaplaincy posts, insisting that these pass on through a C of E dynasty. The free-church ministers could participate in the chaplaincy teams, yes – as volunteers. Chaplaincies often pay better rates than parish ministry.

Where I live, it was once the custom that when someone died and had no especial church affiliation, but their next of kin requested a Christian funeral, the selection of officiant was left to the funeral director chosen by the family. In the early noughties, the C of E woke up to the reality that here was an area of monopoly they had neglected. So they – with no consultation except among themselves – informed the crematorium staff, and the various funeral directors in the neighbourhood, that in future there would be a rota of C of E clergy attached to the crematorium. In case of someone dying with no particular religious affiliation, it would now be the duty of the crematorium or funeral director to select and officiant from the rota of C of E clergy. This, in my view, is more than inappropriate – it is profoundly unjust.

I have the same problem about burying our differences as I have about digging in the weeds when preparing a vegetable patch. If you dig them out – take the trouble to root out all the weeds, your veggies grow in a clean patch. If you dig them in, you get veggies but also a forest of weeds all watered and fed by the care you give the patch as a whole.

So I am not in favour of burying our differences. To do so always tips the balance in favour of the greedy and unjust. It’s like a parent who intervenes in an argument between to children, when one has taken the other’s sweets or toys, and is interested only in that there is a fight, not why there is a fight.

I am always, without exception, willing to try and understand the point of view of people who have something against me, and I am always willing to settle our differences. But I will not bury them. They might not be dead.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Simplicity Weasely Style

A couple of posts ago I wrote a piece called The Four Minimalists, thinking about different approaches to living simply. In the comment thread, Heather wrote this:
            I find myself confused. I found the de-cluttering process hard going but cathartic, as if I had streamlined my whole body by getting rid of unwanted 'noise' in the house. But now, as I come to the end of the journey I am starting to feel that I need to do something to make it reflect back our personality, which is something of my new resolution. Perversely, there is a part of my that longs to have Molly Weasley's house!”

I know just what she means.

KonMari (I love her!) has taken the de-cluttering world by storm, resulting in social media abounding with before-and-after photos of homes pared to the bone. Kitchens with nothing on view but the fitted cabinets. Living rooms with a couch and a TV. And maybe a plant. Hallways with a small corner cupboard supporting an ornament. Maybe. Or just the cupboard.

I guess what happens is that after a while people settle back into their space, and it begins to feel homely again.

I thought I’d share some pics of the living space I share with the Badger, to propose an alternative take on things – a fusion of minimalism and simplicity without necessarily being very tidy or even all that clean. It needs dusting right now, and I have done nothing whatever to tidy it. But it looks okay because we haven't enough stuff to make a mess.

He and I have a small attic apartment in a house where four other people live. Space is at a premium, so it’s no good accumulating stuff. I am into minimalism, because I believe in it passionately as the gateway to sharing, part of my spiritual discipline, very freeing – and because I don’t like housework and ‘stuff’ does my head in. The Badger is different. He is willing to live as simply as our situation requires of him, is willing to share all he has with as many people as it will stretch round, but has no special feeling for minimalism as a guiding star. In fact he rather likes collections – his collection of books, his collection of CDs, his collection of elephants being only examples.

So this is how we live.

On the way up the the narrow winding stairway leading to our attic you come to the turn, where we have what we call our ‘archive’ (because that’s what it is). All the files relating to church and home records are there.

Moving on, alongside the stairway is a narrow shelf. The Badger has fixed a mirror to the wall there, which acts as my dressing table. You can just see the corner of our laundry bag; it hangs in the stairwell on a hook fixed into the outside of the banister rail.

At the top of the stairs is a landing, an ante-room to our main room. That’s where we sleep.

In our main room we have a sitting area with the shelves for the Badger's books.

Opposite is the wardrobe the Badger built for me where I keep my clothes, and his study corner.

The rafters are handy for drying towels.

The Badger and I both work from home, and he’s a publisher, so at any given time he has a stack of papers by his desk. A printer is vital to what we do. So is a waste paper bin. The step stool is essential for opening the windows.

I have books too. The bottom shelf has mine, and along the top are the papers for my mother’s care and my Methodist Circuit resources.

I have a study corner of my own.

We also have some kitchen stuff in a box room improvised into a kitchen. We don’t need much – a fridge, a mini-cooker, a table and chairs, some storage shelves (the Badger made them). There’s no sink, but that’s no big deal. We get water from the bathroom and wash up on the table top.

So this is not Konmari territory, it’s a bit sloppier than that, but it is living simply, with all the advantages of minimal housework, space-sharing, frugality and earth-friendliness. And my minimalism nests like a Russian doll inside the Badger’s simplicity. If we both had the number of belongings he has, we wouldn’t fit in our space. He’s very fair minded and kind, so if I had more things he’d trim his possessions to accommodate them; but as I haven’t, he’s glad to keep his bits and pieces because he likes them. Some of our things are mine, though; the round table and the big rug, the coverlet and the little table at the foot of our bed. I do have some stuff, and he doesn't have much. And the Badger is buying me a comfy blue armchair to sit in, but we haven't got it yet. I generally like to get second hand or homemade things, but the armchair is coming from Ikea, because our staircase is too small to get an already-made chair up.

Mindset is part of all this. If we had to move into somewhere smaller still, we know how to do it. He’d transition entirely from books to Kindle, from CDs to i-Tunes, say a sad goodbye to his elephants and small store of memorabilia. I’d pare down my wardrobe a little more. But meanwhile, as we have thought long and hard about what we own, and like our place to look like a home not a prison cell, this is how we do things. If these photos come up big for you (I don't know if they do), you'll see that what the Badger has there on that unit where he keeps his socks and undies is a bottle of whisky and a bottle of cough medicine. Not ideal, I know . . .