Couldn't have said it better myself...



"We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are."

Anais Nin




Wednesday, May 27, 2009

FCB or ABU?


Well, did you watch it tonight? Were you disappointed? I was... I really hoped that Deborah would crash and burn, or given the result of the task, that Lorraine would get the order of the boot...

Sorry? Am I at cross purposes here? Oh, you thought I was talking about the Champions' League Final. No, I was watching Suralan put his minnions through their paces on a Shopping Channel challenge. I had absolutely no desire to watch Manchester United against Barcelona. Had my beloved Liverpool got through to the final I would perhaps have re-arranged my evening accordingly, but I dreaded watching in case Manchester United won...

I have such antipathy towards Manchester United (like many others if the response on Facebook to last night's result was anything to go by), that some might assume that I am a fully paid up member of the “Anybody but United” supporters club… I’m a bit like that in international sport too, where, in both rugby and football I will support almost anyone playing against England… Come on the Ba-Bas on Saturday!
However, I say that with no sense of pride, because in sport as in the rest of life, to be defined by who or what you are against is very negative. Defining unionism as opposed to nationalism. Conservatism as opposed to socialism. Protestantism as opposed to Roman Catholicism…

We've had far too much thinking of that kind here in NI. A thinking that has produced hard-wired division in the hearts and minds of the people here and which has fed so many brutal acts down through the years... Including last week-end's barbaric murder of Kevin McDaid in Coleraine... Killed by a Ranger's-supporting protestant/loyalist mob, because he was a Celtic supporting Catholic and therefore a republican who deserved only death!

Mind you they are only following in the time-honoured logic of people from both sides of the Catholic/Protestant divide, not only here in Ireland, but all the way back to the reformers themselves, who had no qualms about executing papists in excruciating ways, and lived under constant threat of similar treament by their religious and political opponents.

Yet as a Protestant I prefer to think in terms of the original meaning of the word: pro- meaning for, and testare – meaning to testify… What are testifying in favour of?
And in all branches of the church today many people would have us define ourselves in terms of what we are opposed to: gay marriage or ordination; gambling; drugs and alcohol; sex before marriage. Some of these may be legitimate issues, but we should not be defined by what we are against, but what we are for.

We are people of the Gospel… Not the bad news but the Good news.

And the good news last night was not that Manchester United lost... but that Barcelona won!


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Irreplaceable You



Well, at last, after 12 weeks (with 6 of those weeks spent in the garage) my faulty car was replaced by a bright, shiny, newer model with fewer miles on the clock and a couple of extra bells and whistles. There wasn't that much wrong with old Wesley (not named after the illustrious founder of Methodism, but because of the registration plate which began WEZ), just a warning light that kept coming on for no diagnosable reason, but the chief salesman was eager that the good name of his company should not be besmirched and so he offered me a deal which was WAY to good to pass up, and so on Friday last it was goodbye Wesley and hello Ruby, who is a nice shiny Rubi (sic) red.


My wife and children preferred Wesley's colour, which was darker and less flashy, but a few days in they have been completely won over.


This time last week I went to a special evening with our Rainbows Unit at church (4-6 year old girl guides for the uninitiated), where they were presenting a cheque for some money they had raised to go to a head injuries charity, to honour their former leader who, last year, was unexpectedly stricken with a brain aneurism, which has left her with severe handicaps. She was, however, there to accept the cheque on behalf of the charity, and as I was chatting to her before hand she was saying how delighted she was to be there, but also how interesting it was to see how things go on without you. I was at pains to emphasise that it wasn't easy for those who tried to fill the gulf after her sudden departure, or for the girls, but that it was also a tribute to her that those whom she had mentored for so long both wanted, and were able to carry on at all. But I could understand the bittersweet nature of it all.


Then today I was handed a dossier on the Church intern that we hope will be joining us from the Presbyterian Church USA in September, replacing the wonderful Hannah who will be leaving in July. The description of the new intern suggests that she will fit well into the church and community programme, but it won't be Hannah.


As a Methodist Minister, serving in one place for a limited time before being moved elsewhere, you quickly discover that you are not irreplaceable. Indeed, in terms of the church we are all, as someone wiser than I once said, like a hand in a bucket of water, or at best a bucket of sand... When the hand is removed its place is filled with either water or sand. Organisations, including the church, continue on, with new people bringing new skills and emphases. And just like Rubi replacing Wesley, soon people move on.


It is good to know that in organisational terms we are not irreplaceable. No person should be bigger than an organisation and especially a church.


But we are not simply cogs in a machine, or electrical components in the innards of a car's engine. Our fingerprints, retina and DNA point to a deeper uniqueness; we are individual human beings who leave our imprint indelibly, for good or ill, on the hearts and minds of the people we encounter and on the heart of God... There can never be another you or me...



Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Haircut



This has been doing the email rounds for aeons, but never has it seemed more pertinent:

One day a florist goes to a barber for a haircut. After the cut he asked about his bill and the barber replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.'

The florist was pleased and left the shop.

When the barber goes to open his shop the next morning there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen roses waiting for him at his door...

Later, a cop comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The cop is happy and leaves the shop.

The next morning when the barber goes to open up there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen donuts waiting for him at his door.

Later that day, a college professor comes in for a haircut, and when he tries to pay his bill, the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The professor is very happy and leaves the shop.

The next morning when the barber opens his shop, there is a 'thank you' card and a dozen different books, such as 'How to Improve Your Business' and 'Becoming More Successful.'

Then, a Member of Parliament comes in for a haircut , and when he goes to pay his bill the barber again replies, 'I cannot accept money from you. I'm doing community service this week.' The Member of Parliament is very happy and leaves the shop.

The next morning when the barber goes to open up, there are a dozen Members of Parliament lined up waiting for a free haircut!

Cheers

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

We Foster, we Obfuscate, we Rationalize...


I've kept quiet about this, both on the blog and in real, face to face conversations, largely because I don't want to get caught up in the baying mob brandishing pitchforks and blazing torches that currently seem intent on storming Westminister as if it is a latter day Bastille.
I do think that it is a bit rich that the Daily Telegraph has led this (chequebook-fuelled and sales-boosting) crusade to clean up British parliamentary democracy (and don't start me on the Daily Mail jumping on their coat-tails), given that the Telegraph is owned by two charmers who live in tax exile and recently threw a lot of employees/voters on Sark onto the dole because they didn't vote the way they wanted them too in their first free elections in 450 years. The Barclay brothers - arbiters of democracy... I think not...

This is a much more complex issue than the media would have us believe. Some of the claims that have been ridiculed (mango sorbet is one that springs to mind) would look just as ridiculous if lodged on any employer's expenses claim, yet may be entirely legitimate. I also doubt that fixating on poor old Michael Martin, the Speaker of the House, is a good idea, because he is a symptom rather than a cause of the problem, and many of his actions regarding opposition to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act may not have been purely selfish (although he seems to have had a lot that he might have wanted to keep schtum) as he has a constituional obligation to defend the members of the House (even if they are a bunch of coniving, self-seeking miscreants) from outside interference... although historically that refered to interference from monarchs who might string-up annoying politicians, rather than from media scrutiny. Nor is Gordon Brown's preferred option of an Independent Auditor a particularly good idea since it would enable them to bury everything again, free of the annoying Freedom of Information Act, since it doesn't cover independent agencies! But neither is David Cameron's current campaign for an election NOW... Much though I would personally support removing the whole lot of them and barring anyone who actually wanted to be elected from being on the ticket, the current disillusion fostered by both this expenses furore and the economic disaster we are in the midst of, will play directly into the hands of fringe lunatics like the BNP and UKIP. And as for putting MP's allowances into the realm of Expenses under the Inland Revenue returns... long and hard experience of Self-Assessment suggests that way madness lies...

So my suggestion... everyone take a big deep breath. Breathe in.... 2... 3... Breathe out... 2... 3... Then, after we've calmed down, keep concerted pressure on the political establishment to clear up this mess in a transparent and equitable fashion that does not radically upset centuries of democratic evolution in this country.

One area that certainly needs sorting out is the whole business of double, triple and even quadruple jobbing that is possible with the proliferation of layers of government in recent years. In a time of unemployment it certainly seems unfair for one person to be able to hold down more than 1 well-paid job. I'm not pointing the finger at anyone in particular, but I think that Scrabo Power has it taped!

But actually, moat-dredging, tennis court-heating and multiple home-juggling included, the self-seeking chiccanery of our elected representatives is as nothing compared with many other so-called democracies. That isn't an excuse for letting our crowd of crooks of the hook, but an appeal for perspective. Also a recognition that MPs are no different, in many ways, from the rest of us. Looking out for ourselves. Never admitting we are in the wrong. The illegitimate children of Margaret Thatcher and Gordon Gekko, and great-great-great-great (repeating) grandchildren of that apple-grasping Adam and Eve, who weren't even satisfied with Paradise!

And with that in mind I end with reference to another democacy that has had more than its fare share of scandals among its elected representatives down through the years. The USA. First from the source of most of my wisdom on things political; that fairy-tale of how we would like things to be in the corridors of power... The West Wing. In this case the episode H. Con 172 where President Bartlett is facing a motion of censure for concealling his Multiple Sclerosis. (And before people start accusing me - with some justification - of being a complete West Wing nerd, I just happened to be watching this episode last night with my wife...) He is telling Leo why he should accept the censure:

"There's another reason. . . . I was wrong. I was. I was just, I was wrong. Come on, we know that. Lots of times we don't know what right and wrong is. But lots of time we do. And come on, this is one. I may not have had sinister intent at the outset, but there were plenty of opportunities for me to make it right. No one in government takes responsibility for anything any more. We foster, we obfuscate, we rationalize. 'Everybody does it.' That's what we say. So we come to occupy a moral safe house where everyone's to blame so no one's guilty. I'm to blame. I was wrong."

If we were to hear, and be prepared to admit, that more clearly and more often, it might help.

PS. In the Radio Times this morning (that organ of profound political comment) I found Barry Norman waxing lyrical about James Stewart in "Mr Smith Goes to Washington" which finds him as a naive Junior midwester senator taking on the vested interests on the hill. In conclusion he said that if Jed Bartlett were president and Mr Smith the Speaker then the US may have been very different over recent years. Perhaps they might be models for future holders of high office here as well?





Saturday, May 16, 2009

Guilt and Gratitude



Another apple that fell almost fully formed as I listened to Karine Polwart in her concert last week... in this case I don't know exactly which song or line prompted it...




I carry guilt and gratitude in equal measure
Both generally ignored
For different reasons
While I get on with life

Guilt when I read of the poor of the world
And watch the wars waged on prime time TV
Gratitude when I consider
The prosperity and peace I enjoy

Guilt when I hear of the struggles
Of previous generations
Gratitude when I consider
The comparative ease of my life

Guilt when I look at the legacy
we are leaving to our children
Gratitude when I consider
The world into which I was born

Guilt when I speak to the victims
Of our recent local conflicts
Gratitude when I consider
The few miles and education that kept me and mine safe.

Guilt and gratitude
Pointless if periodic
Prompting swift, if heartfelt, prayers
But making no difference
To a life lived now
And in the future

David A. Campton © 2009


Friday, May 15, 2009

Sea and Star


This is "an apple" that fell, almost fully formed while I was listening to Karine Polwart as she sang "You and I and the Sky" at her concert in the Black Box last week as part of the Cathedral Arts Festival. This may make it seem that her performance was so bad that I was day-dreaming my way through it, but far from it. The poetic quality of her songwriting allied with the haunting beauty of her voice is truly inspirational. Like any good art it sparks off tangential creative impulses in others who are receptive, and this song, indeed the whole concert, did such for me. The song above is actually about a love affair between the boat "The Maid of the Loch" and Loch Lomond on which she previously sailed, before being laid up at Balloch. It prompted the following poem which, I suppose could also be understood as a love poem, but which primarily expresses something of my developing understanding of faith as journey, rather than as something which, a la the BB hymn, we anchor ourself to... (I always was a Scout rather than a BB-boy!) I make no claim to my poem being as good as Karine's song... but then, to compare my writing with hers, would be setting the bar fairly high...


You’re the sea on which I sail
Uncharted and unfathomable
Unpredictable and incomparable
You’re the stars by which I steer
By day blazing your way
across the arc of the azure sky
By night the pin pricks of light
That puncture the darkness
You’re the wind that drives me on
Beyond the horizon of my understanding
From which there can be no returning
And when my journey is done
You’re the safe harbour
Where,
finally,
I can drop anchor…
David A. Campton © 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Where do Poems Grow?


The BBC are currently gearing up for a series of poetry-themed programmes over the next few weeks. I don't know what prompted it, whether it was the appointment of the new Poet Laureate or whatever (Clive James has written a superb piece in the light of Carol Ann Duffy's appointment for Radio 4/BBC Magazine), but I look forward to tuning in to a few of the programmes. I'm partial to a bit of poetry, particularly where it reflects a spiritual engagement with the world: be it the dense metaphysics (combined with sexual frisson) of Donne, the surreality of Blake, the interweaving of modern Irish interests with classics to be found in Heaney, the earthy spirituality of Woodbine Willie in the face of the horrors of the western front, the more contemporary and popular, yet no less potent work of Stewart Henderson or Godfrey Rust, or, of course The Psalms...

I have often used poetry to reflect on different issues myself, from the years when teenage angst overflowed in pages and pages of truly awful free-form poems. I am probably not much better now, but at least my emotions are not quite so exposed to the world in the few poems I compose these days. I am not, never have been, and probably never will be a disciplined poet. The most disciplined I have ever been was in writing a song for a friend... to a deadline... Not an experience I want to repeat in a hurry. But in that case and in every other case of poetry that I have felt in any way proud of, I have not had to work very hard at the core elements of the poem; the broad themes, imagery, even the phraseology. They have sprung fully formed from my head onto the page, like Athena springing fully armed from her father Zeus' head. In some cases that is because the phrases I use are, I will freely admit, little more than cliches. In other cases I have unashamedly stolen them. Found them in one context and thought "I can put that to better use". But occasionally they seem to come from nowhere.

Recently I have been reading "Small Wonder", by Barbara Kingsolver, the novelist, essayist and poet, and in that anthology of essays she describes her reluctance to call herself by the third of those descriptions, and that it is not simply because poetry doesn't put food on her table. She says:

"I rarely think of poetry as something I make happen; it is more accurate to say that it happens to me... I've overheard poems, virtually complete, in elevators or restaurants where I was minding my own business... When a poem does arrive, I gasp as if an apple had fallen into my hand, and give thanks for the luck involved. Poems are everywhere but easy to miss. I know I might very well stand under that tree all day, whistling, looking off to the side, waiting for a red delicious poen to fall so I could own it forever. But like as not, it wouldn't. Instead it will fall right when I'm changing the baby, or breaking up a rodeo event involving my children and the dog, ort wiping my teary eyes while I'm chopping onions and listening to the news; then that apple will land with a thud and will roll under the bed with the dust bunnies and lie there forgotten and lost for all time. There are dusty, lost poems all over my house, I assure you. In yours, too, I'd be willing to bet."

Yup... Buried under clutter... Wedged between books... Mouldering at the back of the fridge... and stuck down the back of the settee with £3.76, a button and a pen.

Do yourself a favour. Look out for falling apples. Listen up and write them down.

And give thanks to God for another gift of grace...



Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Life... Don't Talk to me about Life...


Counters
This is just a brief placeholder to note that I haven't gone away... much though some would like me to. It's just that life has gotten in the way of creative thought recently...

It all started with trying to get away for that week-end in London... I think any final reserves of physical and mental energy were rung out of me at that point... Then there was the crazy run in to Easter... 16 events to prepare for in one week... but then as so many of my "friends" point out (each one believing themselves to be totally original) it is my "busy time of year". They will encourage me with similar words in the run up to Christmas...

By Easter Monday I was only capable of sitting in a corner and gibbering... But I had a few days off that week which I spent with my family and totally away from computer and phone, and that was good.

But in the background have been physical problems (the joys of getting older but forgetting that fact on the football pitch) and an ongoing issue with the car I bought 2 months ago.

I chose the car (a SEAT Altea XL diesel for anyone remotely interested) partly because of recommendations as to its reliability, but of the 9 weeks I have owned it, the garage that I bought it from have had it for 6 of those weeks. I could fill this blog with reviews of the entire SEAT range now... (don't buy the Ibiza Ecomotive, for example... it may save the environment, but you will suffer from deafness within months because of the lack of soundproofing around the engine in the pursuit of greater economy)... and I cannot praise the persistence of the garage in question enough. They think they have sorted the problem now, but are so aware of the problems caused that they have offered me a "goodwill" deal that I am probably going to take.

Also, today I meet with a health professional who, I hope will be able to deal with my injury and help assess why it keeps happening... So hopefully after today, I might begin to see life getting back to "normal" again, whatever normality is.

But actually, that's part of my problem... I cope with the abnormal... the major crises of life and work... relatatively well... It is the mundane, ongoing, niggly problems that wear me down and send me into a spiral of despair. And I wonder whether that is true for others...

It is Thoreau who is reputed to have said "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." He certainly said the first part in "Walden", but I can find no accurate citation of the second part of this much quoted bon mot... Yet it is the second part that perplexes me...

I wonder how many songs, poems and creative urges I have buried throughout my ministry. And I mean physically buried in cold dark earth. People who simply had to get on with the everyday business of living, without a creative thought ever getting the chance to bloom... Living until they died, but never fully knowing the joy of life. This is Christian Aid week, and famously they claim, as the image on this page affirms, to believe in life before death... Do we? Or is existence the best we can offer? Life deferred?

Jesus said that he had come that we should know life, and life to the full... I know, and have taught that when he said that he wasn't promising a life full of ecstatic, "mountaintop" experiences... But the key is finding out what that means in the everyday experience of sitting at a desk 9-5, paying bills, coping with niggling aches and pains...

A life of quiet desperation or life to the full?