Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dr its a strange Love

or I how learnt to stop worrying and love .......


Writing-she’s got me; I have the sickness and am not sure what to do with it. Part of me wants this life of spending time in coffee shops and log cabins and small rooms with desks. Having time for people and place and knowing what it is to live that life more abundant. It means rejecting the dominant paradigm of middle class existence, a secure income and all those oh so lovely benefits that come with full time employment. And part of me is scared. Scared because she is a harsh mistress – demanding time and attention and loving. She demands it every day, and that’s the test – she demands it on the days when you don’t love her, when you cant feel any inspiration, when the dryness inside sits there and mocks you, and your inner voice laughs at your pretensions of sharing your thoughts and dreams with the world. Even on those days you have to tend to her. It’s a calling, a curse as much as a blessing and not to be entered into lightly. If you take her on, your life will change and she will hound you with her demands. She will expect gold and diamonds and precious things from you. And that’s ok, because some days the Oran Mor – the rhythm of life is there – you can taste the wind, sense the rain, breathe with the trees and for a few seconds you grasp that divine beauty and you try to put it into words. A few pitiful words that don’t do justice to the vision that you had. You write through a glass darkly but there is still a hint, a scent of Eden and what was lost all those years ago.
She also demands something even more precious, and that’s time. She wants some of your day every day, she expects the best years of your life. And here’s the hardest part, she promises nothing in return. Not success, not even fulfilment, hell not even publishing of your pitiful efforts. Aye Hamlet there’s the rub.
Why do it? Why quit your job and lock yourself away from society to follow this insubstantial dream, this ethereal hope, which may turn out to be no more lasting than a fart in the wind. Simply put you don’t have a choice. It’s like falling in love. You can’t help it; you can not turn of the attraction, even when it’s the wrong choice. And he hasn’t lived who hasn’t made the wrong choice in love and suffered for it. Hell I’m still doing that and its like my old professor used to say – “the only thing we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from history.”
There is only one thing to be done and that’s to untie yourself from the mast, dive into the raging torrent and swim towards that siren. I’m not saying you wont drown, in fact that’s the most likely outcome, and even if you reach the island who’s to say you wont get smashed to pieces on the rocks. Ultimately the only way to stop that seductive chorus is to swim towards it.
This will be my last blog posting for a couple of weeks as I’m going into a wilderness so wild it is without internet. I’m heading off to a remote cabin in the woods to wrestle with the bitch and see if we can’t produce something beautiful together. Some days I will win and some days she will kick my ass. I may drown yet so if you haven’t heard from me by the start of March, please, please send out a search party.

Friday, February 15, 2008


"Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things and no good thing ever dies."

There are not yet enough things that make me cry. Its part of my Stoic Ulster Presbyterian upbringing, one which was ever distrustful of displays of emotion. But as I get older more things sneak in under the wire and let those emotions out. And it’s a mix of things from the usual births and deaths to gratitude while sitting round a table with good friends breaking bread, sunrise over a Vietnamese beach, an episode of the West Wing, a story by Frederick Buechner, a poem by Hopkins, a smile from the right person at the right time. And I cry as often over beauty as I do sadness and there’s one scene in one movie which is a sure bet, gilt edged guarantee to break through my cynical journalist mask and without even realising it my face is wet with tears.
It happened again last night at the Lenten film series at Downtown Presbyterian Church. The feature was “The Shawshank Redemption” and in a story packed with gems the scene that gets me every time is when Andy Dufresne the almost Christ like central character finds a record of Mozarts Marriage of Figaro. He locks himself in the Wardens Office and plays the track “Che Soave Zeffiretto” over the Prison loudspeakers and suddenly everyone in that grim dark place stops and listens. But enough from me, it is best described by Andys best friend Red played by Morgan Freeman. Click on the title above to watch the scene on You Tube – I haven’t quite worked out how to embed yet or just enjoy the words.

"I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don't want to know. Some things are better left unsaid. I'd like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can't be expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a grey place dares to dream. It was as if some beautiful bird had flapped into our drab little cage and made these walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free." - Red

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Lonely Art of Writing (and faith)

A man sits in the grand reading room of a public library. Its a public library in a major American city so slightly richer and more grand than the British variety. It seems like it should be perfect for writing. There are high ceilings, impressive corinthian columns and suitable quotes. The walls are unsurprisingly lined with books and the long polished wood tables are empty but for the individual silver lamps. The man stares at his computer looking for inspiration but none comes.
All he can think of is the Church sign that he passed earlier while cycling in East Nashville, which simply said " DONT MAKE ME COME DOWN THERE. GOD. " Not sure which version of the Bible they found that quote in but it makes him wonder what sort of God they believe in and if by any chance its the same one that he believes in. He has been reading Frederick Buechner recently drawn to him by his honest treatment of doubt as an integral part of faith. CS Lewis said that 'doubt is the shadow cast by faith' and the man resonates with that. In fact he wonders if God even doubts himself sometimes ? Like most of his thoughts though, they are not original and it turns out, that GK Chesterton got there a long time ago. In Orthodoxy he says the New Testament portrays a God who, by being wholly present in the dying cry of Jesus of Nazareth, even doubted and questioned himself. Thats the kind of God the man finds himself believing in and praying too while sitting in a public library staring at his unfinished novel on a computer screen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Perception, Imagination and Reality

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” Oscar Wilde.

In Nashville and pondering the differences between what we imagine, what we perceive and what is real. This works on a number of levels and not always in a good way. I think all of us can fall victim to the tyranny of imagination and expectation. When we build up an idea of what someone or something is or could be to us then look out reality. Reality can never match the power and majesty of the imagination and the perfection we have dreamed off. Real life is harder and messier and takes more courage to face with our eyes and hearts open.
This also works in our perception of ideas and theology. I’ve had that challenged this last 10 days by visiting church. A church that at least in theory, by splitting from its denomination is on one particular side of a current hot potato issue in the church. One of those big issues that we all like to fixate on while ignoring the overwhelming message of scripture which doesn’t say much about it at all.
But lets not get into that now. Instinctively I find myself on the other side of the argument from this church, but friends I’m staying with were going there and enjoying it and so I’ve gone along and had my preconceived notions challenged. I’ve enjoyed the services and met some interesting people, people who are exploring ideas in an honest and sincere way. And not just the kind of ideas I would expect. I was expecting conservative but have seen a wide range of opinion and some good answers to my questions – Hey I even met one person who is reading Pete Rollins book – How Not To Speak of God – and enjoying it and digging the Eckhart inspired constant deconstruction theology. And that’s good enough for me.
So I’ve been pleasantly surprised and challenged about my own perceptions. My friend JDD is currently working on a book about the sacredness of questioning everything and he describes it thus – good questions make new worlds possible, let in the air …….and create conspiracies of hopefulness. There’s way more good stuff in there but its not published yet so no more quotes - buy it when it comes out.
And my conclusion is to please answer that summons to sacred questioning , keep talking and have the courage to get beyond perception. My life is richer this past week from asking questions, the answers to which revealed that my expectations and preconceptions were quite simply WRONG.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Contemplating Tornado's on Ash Wednesday.

Yep this is gonna be a happy one you can tell. Last night we had a gentleman’s whiskey night at Trevor’s. As we sat eating cheese and drinking some fine single malt, the tornado warning sirens went off and the storm moved in. Married men called their wives, the TV was turned on and we followed the progress of the storm. Turned out we were safe even though one bolt of lightning hit the alleyway directly across the street, scaring the crap out of Trev who was standing on the porch at the time. For us it was quite an awesome, exhilarating experience but elsewhere in the country people were dying, 50 at the last count.

Today is Ash Wednesday in the church calendar and for me its always one of the most poignant service’s of the year as we are forced by its very nature to contemplate our own mortality. Julie Lee and I went to the noon service at Redeemer and Father Mackenzie talked about the people who had died in the Tornado and reminded us all that we were going to die. And its sobering going forward to kneel at the altar and for him to anoint you with ash and say “from dust you came, to dust you will return.”

Perhaps the only thing that made it bearable was that the act of penitinence is quickly followed by Eucharist. The Anglican liturgy is always close to my heart but on this particular day it seemed more life affirming than ever, drinking the wine ….”the blood of Christ keep you in eternal life.” Amen Let it be so.

As we walked out shriven and redeemed, Julie said – “Thanks, I needed that service today.”

And all I can say to that is, me to!

In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Companion,