Couldn't have said it better myself...

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

Anais Nin

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Psalm for World Church Sunday

I haven't posted a responsive Psalm for a while, but this is one we a re using in tomorrow's 11am service at the Agape Centre, when we will be reflecting on what the Apostle's Creed says about us us believing in the "Holy Catholic Church", and how teh Methodist  Missionary Society helps us to be a more effective part of the catholic or universal church.

Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvellous deeds among all peoples.
Honour the Lord, all you families of nations,
Honour the  Lord for his glory and strength.
Honour the Lord, giving the glory due to his name;
bring your offerings and come before him.
Worship the Lord in his holy splendour;
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns.’
he will judge all people with equity.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
From Psalm 96


Thursday, February 19, 2015

The God of Carnage and his Wolfish Worshippers

Yesterday on facebook, my friend Ali White, who is one of the actors in Prime Cut's production of "The God of Carnage", plugged the last few shows by posting:
"Four more chances to see God of Carnage in the MAC in Belfast if you fancy it. It even made David Campton laugh and if that's not a recommendation of hilarity I don't know what is."
As I commented, I'm not sure whether that is a compliment or an insult... but to be tagged by Ali is flattering enough, and given that she is basing her comment on my carefully cultivated image as a grumpy old man (indeed Ali first knew me when I was a grumpy young man), I suppose it is a fair comment...
Because I did laugh... loudly (loudly enough for Ali to identify my laugh)... But I was genuinely disturbed that I had found it funny, because in many ways there is nothing funny about it. Indeed as the play began I felt slightly ill-at ease given that it begins with the repercussions of a violent encounter between two children, and this week had one young person in Enniskillen being arrested for the manslaughter of a younger boy in a playground altercation.
I also couldn't disengage my "drama-nerd" circuit and was wondering why the director hadn't changed the Parisien placenames to more local ones... But as the play went on an the nice, middle-class sniping spiralled downwards into Neanderthal brawling (both verbally and physically), I was drawn deeper and deeper into the mess of it all, and I laugher louder and louder.
But I was still asking myself, after the show ended, why a show which exposes the superficiality of polite society and has such a cynical view of human relationships, left me smiling at the end...
Part of it was that it was because it was so well acted and directed - and the director made the right decision in keeping in the Parisien placenames, because it prevented me and other members of the audience from righting off the attitudes and behaviours of the characters as being "typical of people from that part of town." Instead there was plenty for everyone to identify with in all the characters... although I particularly, and uncomfortably, identified with Michel, the middle aged self-confessed Neanderthal, played with his usual guto by Dan Gordon...
Good plays, well staged will usually leave me with a smile on my face... but not all comedies will leave me thinking for as long as this one has... It was not just Ali's post on facebook that prompted this post... It has been percolating since I came home from it on Tuesday... and it was probably exacerbated by the 5th episode in the wonderful "Wolf Hall" that I watched last night...
I didn't really enjoy Hillary Mantel's books... I just couldn't get into her idiosyncratic approach to dialogue... But in a dramatisation all that problem is removed... And the combination of a compelling story and superb performances, especially by the mesmeric Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell has left me transfixed week after week... And yet there is little to commend in the actions of many of the key players in this story. As another actor friend Roddy McDevitt, who knows and admires Mark Rylance said:
"Everyone loves it... Clearly there is something deeply dodgy about it... Sympathy for psychos... It somehow validates our murderous present day rulers..."
In the book Wolf Hall Cromwell refers to the Latin phrase "Homo homini lupus est" meaning "man is a wolf to man" in reference to how other courtiers preyed on his master Cardinal Wolsey... And this could be a subtitle to the whole story (including the third part of Mantel's trilogy which is yet to be inflicted on us.
Normally I find little joy in such stories... I avoid gangster stories (and is the story of the Tudors not a gangster story with codpieces and stockings?), and don't enjoy soaps, and thrillers that seem to wallow in the grimmer side of human existence. It's not that I am squeamish. It's just I see enough of it in my day job without watching it on TV, film or indeed the stage... For exactly the same reason I don't tend to watch Question Time or listen to Nolan... I don't enjoy watching people tear each other apart wolfishly, worshipping the God of Carnage who has an insatiable appetite for human sacrifices. But "The God of carnage" and "Wolf Hall" both point to our tendency to worship this cruel deity... whether we dress him up in Biblical clothes or deny his existence (or the existence of any deity) as nice modern secular middle class people tend to do these days...
I have no time for middle-class pretense and pretensiousness and the moralising that often comes with it... Nor do I have any time for the fanaticism of those who are so certain of their belief (or non-belief) that they will seek to destroy (physically or intellectually) those who believe differently.
I seek to serve a God of grace... revealled in Jesus of Nazareth, who reserved his anger and ire for those who used religious and political power to profit from and oppress others; who was prepared to die for others but not kill others... Not a wolf, but a lamb...
But a lamb wouldn't last much longer than a hamster in the plot of "God of Carnage"... Go see the play to understand that reference... you now only have 3 chances to see it... You will laugh, but you might end up asking yourself "why"?


Outside, the Garden

A piece of doggerel inspired by some bird watching, preparing a Bible study referring to Matthew 6: 25-27, and a song I heard on Monday night sung by Steph Geremia of the Alan Kelly Gang, who were supporting Eddi Reader.

Outside is the garden
with birds on the wing
and trees coming into leaf
offering healing for the soul.

Outside is the garden
beyond two panes of glass
observed but not experienced
watched but not walked in.

Outside it the garden
and no sword-wielding angel
stands barring the way 
to this small suburban Eden.

Outside is the garden
but you toil on, brow furrowed
ploughing through paperwork
in self-imposed exile.

Outside is the garden
but inside your central-heated
double-glazed bubble 
thorns and thistles throttle green shoots.

Outside, the garden...


Saturday, February 14, 2015

An Older Song

Today is a day when we celebrate love, although all too often what is described as love is little more than lust. But all genuine human love is an echo of the God who is love, and who has loved us with an everlasting love that is greater than any human love we could imagine. I originally wrote this performance poem for 2 voices, male and female, for an event in May 2007 run by the Down District of the Methodist Church in Ireland, staged at the Waterfront in Belfast, celebrating the Life and Work of Charles Wesley, born 300 years previously. It is based on numerous passages of scripture, especially the Song of Songs and the First Letter of John.

A night for singing songs…
Old songs and new songs
All based on an older song…
THE song…
The song of all songs
The song of a lady for her lover
The Lord for his beloved…
A song which began before creation…
A song of love which called light into being
A song of love which breathed life into clay
A song of love which gave us liberty…
Yet pursued us when we went astray.
I have loved you with an everlasting love…
I have been eternally faithful to you.
If only I could say the same.
Yet I have not loved you as I should;
I have not lived the life I could.
I have sought out the shadows
Rather than living in your light
Yet still you love me… Why?
I am love…
No more…
No less…
And you were created to be loved.
To be loved and to love…

Yet love turned to lust
For luscious fresh fruit
For knowledge, for flesh,
For riches, for power
For fresh tasting morsels to devour…
Love became lust;
Lust became lechery;
Liberty became license
License became lawlessness.
In my love I wrote to you…
I was too busy to respond…
In my love I sang to you…
You weren’t singing my tune…
In my love I sent my son to you…
Our Son…
Son of Woman
Son of God.
Light in place of darkness.
Life in place of death.
Yet in our liberty we made our choice
Death in place of life…
Darkness in place of light…
My Son, My Son, my one and only Son.
Sent so that you should not be lost
But might be set at liberty.
Even me?
Even you.
Believe me… And live…
Believe me… and love…
Live in my love…
Love as I love you…
Love my beloved
Love one another
Love those who love you
Love those who hate you
Love the loveless
Love the unlovely.
And this is love…
Not that I loved him…
But he loved me.
Loved me…
Loves me…
And always will love me…
Loved me into life…
Filled my life with love
Filled to overflowing…
A love that brings light;
A love more constant than the sun.
A love that brings life;
A love that is stronger than death…
A love that brings liberty;
Yet a love that will not let me go…
A love without limit…
A love like no other
that I want others to know…
I am my beloved’s
And he is mine…
The big day is coming…
And everyone is invited
Come home with me…
I go with my lover…
The tables are ready and waiting
and over the door is a banner saying
“I love you!”

A night for singing songs…
Old songs and new songs
Come, step into the spotlight of his love
and sing a song forever old,
forever new
of Light and life
of liberty and love.

© David A. Campton 2007


Friday, February 6, 2015

Songs to Sing on the Journey

I've just started re-reading Dave Tomlinson's reflections on Psalm 23 entitled "I Shall Not Want" and towards the beginning he says this of the Psalms:
“Anyone who reads the Psalms systematically, rather than simply dipping into the old favourites, soon discovers that they aren't all as calming, reassuring and comforting as Psalm 23. Some are dance numbers (literally), others are blues songs, some are pretty disturbing in their tone, and a few are downright obnoxious!” Psalm 137, for example, opens with the line immortalized by Boney M: “By the rivers of Babylon; there we sat down and we wept when we remembered Zion.” But don't let the catchy tune and the dance rhythm deceive you: Psalm 137 is a moody lament from an angry soul who has been abducted and forced to live in a foreign land. He's thoroughly fed up. But it gets worse. As he looks on his oppressors, his anger boils: 'Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!'
You can see why Boney M chopped that bit.
But hang on. It wasn't us who were taken hostage; it wasn't our children who were slaughtered by an invading force; it wasn't our homes and belongings that were looted and burned; it wasn't our dreams that were shattered…
The Psalms do not simply offer happy-clappy, sanitized religion; they voice ecstatic joy, passion, disappointment, pain and grief. This is gut-level religion, a spirituality acquainted with the dark sides of life as well as the seasons of 'sweetness and light'. The Book of Psalms expresses honest, gut-level, straight from the hip human experience passing through the varied seasons of life.”
Last year as part of the 4 Corners Festival we staged an event on "Listening to your Enemies" at the Skainos Centre in East Belfast that got the sort of media coverage that was absent for the rest of the festival... sadly it was for all the wrong reasons, as some in the local community (and further afield) objected to the involvement of Brighton bomber Patrick Magee, and there were violent protests outside the venue.
We cannot undo the past... whether the past of our province, or last year's event at Skainos... But we can seek to move on. And as part of that process, for this year's 4 Corners Festival Linda Ervine, director of EBM's TURAS Irish Language programme, has devised an evening with the Scots Gaelic Psalm Singers entitled  'SLIGHE NA BEATHA’ 'THE PATH OF LIFE', with the title taken from Psalm 16 v11:
‘You make known to me the path of life’
This journey through the Psalms, explores the various stages of grief including anger and despair before moving towards healing, forgiveness, acceptance and hope, helping us to reflect on where we are in Northern Ireland 16 years after the Good Friday Agreement, and one year on from last year's 4 Corners Festival event. It offers an opportunity to lament aspects of the past but to look forward with a sense of assurance and purpose. Come along and join in the journey at 7pm tomorrow evening.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Re-Imagining our City...

I didn't manage to get to last night's 4 Corners Festival event "Imagining a City Without Walls" with journalist Vicky Costtick, which I was frustrated at given that some of the most formative years of my ministry were spent straddling the peacewall between the Springfield Road and Woodvale, but I did manage to get to this evening's "3 Mayors for 4 Corners" event in Fitzroy Presbyterian (it had to be moved from the Ulster Museum because so many people wanted to attend, a pleasantly recurrent problem in this year's festival). At tonight's event Christ Wilson sang a number of songs, to punctuate Steve Stockman's impersonation of Eamonn Mallie interviewing the three most recent Lord Mayors of Belfast, Gavin Robinson, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and current incumbent Nichola Mallon. But he began and finished the evening with the song he wrote for the launch of the Festival in City Hall a couple of weeks back, based on Steve Stockman's response to John Lennon's "Imagine"...

maybe there is a heaven
where wrongs are made right
not some ethereal answer
a place where dark becomes light
what if there is a heaven
a place where neighbours are loved
where captives are set free
but it’s here not above
Image this city without walls
Image a grace with the power to make them fall
and love, love reigns here
oh love, love reigns here
there just might be a heaven
a place where the blind get their sight
a place where every person
finds purpose and life
what if there is a heaven
a place of tangible hope
where every weary traveller
finds rest and love
Image this city without walls
Image a grace with the power to make them fall
and love, love reigns here
oh love, love reigns here
Steve Stockman and Chris Wilson

This in turn set me thinking of that dialogue that I have posted a number of times now, contrasting a vision of our city with John's vision of a heavenly city in Revelation:

JOHN: And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, clear as crystal.
EVERYMAN: I stood on top of the Black Mountain and our city sat in the hollow of the hills, cloaked in smoke and mist.
JOHN: The city had a great, high wall with twelve gates and the wall was made of jasper, and the city of pure gold, as pure as glass, and the foundations of the city walls were decorated with every kind of precious stone.
EVERYMAN: There is no wall around our city, but plenty snaking through it, Those walls are made of concrete and steel and razor-wire and their foundations are fear and bitterness.
JOHN: I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it.
EVERYMAN: I saw a city filled with churches, some full, some empty… pinpricks of light in a dark city… The faithful huddled inside, hands clasped in prayer, or raised in praise… and the doors bolted for fear of the world outside…
JOHN: On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. The glory and honour of the nations will be brought into it.
EVERYMAN: A city of which welcomes others but is at war with itself…
JOHN: Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life.
EVERYMAN: For every life a name, and every name on a list. On monuments, on computers, in little black books, alive and lost and somewhere in between… hit lists, black lists… lists of the unclean, unsound and unforgiven… Those whom we keep outside…
JOHN: Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
EVERYMAN: The River Lagan cuts through our city like a scar… But there are other scars that criss-cross our city… Some can be seen… like the stark walls… but others are hidden in human hearts. And we are all on one side or the other… The River that gave birth to this city, the Farset, is hidden, buried beneath its streets… And the trees of this city bear no fruit… indeed their leaves fall prematurely to the ground to be blown down the streets, to form drifts of decay… This city seems cursed…
JOHN: No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

I wrote that back in 2002 for an event by New Irish Arts based on Revelation and I have continued to tinker with it since then, and continue to dream of and work a city that reflects that vision from Revelation just a little bit more. With the leadership of politicians like our 3 most recent Lord Mayors we might just get there.
That vision sees the heavenly city providing "healing for the nations" and tomorrow night at 7.30pm 4 Corners considers what that might look like in "Imagining a World without Human Trafficking" at Fitzwilliam and McCrory Presbyterian in North Belfast, whilst on Thursday we try to give form to the welcome to others as City Hall hosts a Feast for Refugees. If you want to donate to this act of generosity you can do so here...
Then this coming Friday for the first time New Irish Arts will perform in west Belfast in Clonard Monastry, bringing their programme based on the events of the first world war... There are still tickets to be had either here or on the door...
These are just some of the remaining 4 Corners Events aimed at stimulating your imagination as to how we might reshape this city, and indeed world...


Monday, February 2, 2015

Art and Imagination pointing to a Way out of the Woods

Over the course of the past few days and the opening events of the 4 Corners Festival I and others have been exploring the role of imagination and especially the arts in looking at new possibilities for this society, the world at large and the relationships of the people within it. It has been truly stimulating, and I hope that the rest of the week's events will be equally so... And I suppose it was with those thoughts in mind that I went to see the film version of "Into the Woods" yesterday afternoon. As I wrote elsewhere, I've never seen the original stage show and whilst the film made me wish I had, it doesn't necessarily mean that I overly enjoyed the film.
Whilst it was replete with special effects, it wasn't particularly filmic in its scope, betraying its stage origins too obviously, and although the performances were generally excellent, especially the youngest cast members and Emily Blunt (actually unlike other reviewers I thought that Meryl Streep was the weakest as an over the top witch) they lost their energy in the second half. 
This was particularly disappointing as it was the second half that really made me think. The first part is an artful weaving together of several classic fairy tales, with Sondheim injecting a black humour more reminiscent of the original Grimm's tales than the animations previously produced by Disney, who ironically also produced this movie. But the second half reminds us that in the dark of the woods things don't always turn out happily ever after, even if your wishes come true. It asks questions about what is the difference between being good, nice and right, or charm and sincerity? And whether forgiveness can be extended to giants who have done enormous harm... But sadly, by the time the film gets to this point it has lost much of its early pace and humour, meaning that it ultimately dragged its way towards its conclusion.
Christian faith is all too often painted as a "happy ever after" fairy tale that ignores the ogres and the witches and the wolves believing that everything will work out OK in the end. Stephen Fry over the weekend got a lot of publicity for his atheism-101 rant against the author of such a tale... He cannot believe in a God like that. And neither can I. But this is not the Christian God that I read of in the Bible. I read of an author who actually becomes part of the story and encourages us, not to escape into fairytales, but uses stories to help us understand the nature of God and point to a way out of the deep dark wood. Those stories do not necessarily provide all the answers, indeed, like the second half of "Into the Wood" may actually prompt more questions, but those questions should then prompt us to think further, to use our imaginations to weigh up other possibilities and opportunities...
Sondheim uses story and song... And Christian tradition has a wealth of both... But within Christian tradition, all too often we restrict our imagination to recycling the classics... Michelle Marken at St. Malachy's last night used Shakespeare to raise profound questions about faith and society. Now I love Shakespeare, but I would hate it if in the theatre that was all we were allowed to stage... It would ultimately cramp our imagination... But thankfully that is not the case and the riches of Shakespeare stimulates the creativity of new generations of playwrights, authors, actors, musicians, painters and filmmakers... Just as the stories of the Brothers Grimm stimulated Stephen Sondheim and he in turn stimulated the makers of the movie I saw yesterday.
The stories within scripture, the lives of the saints, the icons, sculptures, hymns and sacred songs of the past, together with the creativity of artists in the so called secular world, should stimulate our imaginations to paint, and sing, and write of new possibilities, indeed of things as yet unimagined, except in the mind of God... 
Steve Stockman suggested last night that traditional protestantism has been robbed of much of the rich possibilities of the arts by the iconiclasm of the reformation and puritanism, and the scientific reductionism of the post enlightenment era... This has led us, sadly to undervalue the arts not only within the church but in wider society too. 
We need to reclaim what was stolen from us, and prevent then being stolen from generations to come...