tag : bright yellow-green apples: June 2005

"I see little point in persisting in a discussion with one so obstinate as you" Martin White

Thursday, June 30, 2005

the right space

figure 13.9. get behind me

There’s talk of revival. But you needn't to put your hands in the air quite yet, rather Ash has given some fairly pugnacious thoughts on notions of revivalism, a scattering of intresting reflections.

By sheer coincidence, I’ve been reading an Open University study document called Women, Community, and Evangelicalism in 19th Century Britain – in a village carnival of all things. A couple of the essays discuss the early formation and development of Methodism, and the perceptions of what God was up to in it. There’s a fascinating contrast revealed between such founders as the Wesleys and some later participants who took the movement on. The latter included some very excitable preachers, who deliberately sought to provoke a state of high agitation in communities – drawing on any rhetoric and local issues that might push people in a religious hysteria through which they could gain converts to the Methodist chapels. The former were definitely quite averse to this approach – they took their gospel message and divine inspiration around the country, but sought to establish settled congregations that would live and integrate a long term (much as I hate the word in this context) sustainable life within the communities. They were trying to encourage an approach of continuous, organic, reformation - religion lived always anew. Funnily enough John Wesley – to whom so many Protestants, from Charismatics to Anglo-Catholics look with admiration - noticed how a crash revival soon followed into a drop in involvement as the mad enthusiasm abated, and people found a hangover with the loss of excitement and enthusiasm.

Ruth Ann’s been considering notions of space, with some possible implications for religion. There’s something very persuasive about the idea of trying to create the conditions in which people might grow and encounter God, without overly structured direction and layers of constructed meaning by others being placed on them immediately. Superficially at least, this would seem to support the approach of the freely radical revivalists, who shunned the denominational structures of institutionalised Methodism to deal with communities ad hoc. After all, they didn’t bother with consciously ecclesiastical belief, it was individual souls that were their focus. But I’d suggest the whole ‘crisis’ kinda approach - where people are in some way induced along the desired path of responce to thier gospel into the desired outcome, and thus each person finds conviction - is actually quite antithetical to the positive developmental space. It’s pretty close to abuse, to push people into pre-conceived notions of what a right spiritual result is – perhaps even bypassing the creatively sensitive work of the holy spirit. And to conceive the moment of encounter with Jesus Christ simply as an isolated revelation, for each single unit, misses the point of our faith as a relational one. Space is not the same as introspective spiritual masturbation.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

must try harder

figure 34.1.let's walk at the speed of sound

It's a year since I started this site, as you can see. Feel free to light some candles or have some cake, then tell me off for not keeping to the aims I set at the begginging!

For any musos out there, there's a fun piece in todays' Guardian Friday review, about songwriting. It's marvelously bitty, and has a good go at various bands. The satisfaction is spoilt only rarely, such as when Radiohead are dissed - cos, as anyone who knows me even loosely will soon find, I think they're utterly fabulous.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

no-nonsense fantasy

figure 12.8. how many different dæmons grow in an english country garden...

So I finished the whole Dark Materials set, in pretty good time. There's reams been said about the stories, so I'll try and keep this short. I also don't want to ruin the plot for those of you who haven't got in yet - so we'll keep this general.

One of the central threads to his books - about searching for the liberation to live a whole life, a life free of oppressive and destructive forces - is artfully told. The peoples and creatures, drawn into the many struggles and dreams, are often sympathetic and wonderfully compromised characters - that you could imagine living with at any time. The worst of them find redemption of some sort, and the best are deeply flawed and sometimes unlikable. As a mythological tale for our times, it generously lives up to the need for a realistic vision that's relevant to the reader's contemporary concerns - yet outside of being tied to just one time. Because he's managed to flit easily between various interrelated worlds, the layers of meaning and metaphor, fantastical and everyday, can integrate gracefully. Like a spatially playful painting, there's no clunkyness in plot devices to try and drag one with the other.

But contained within this integration of fantastical vision and everyday observation there is also one of the big letdowns of these books. The Church, in it's various guises, is presented like some monstrous conflation of all that The Humanist Society might trot out against religion - it's basically a callous, violent, and enslaving, institution. A monster, perhaps the only unredeemed character in the stories. In interviews Pullman's claimed that this is merely an artistic thing, and the story happened to come out that way. But when so much care has been put into telling a rich and clever interweaving of different worlds, this strikes me as a little disingenuous. He's clearly a very gifted storyteller, but even someone of his calibre might have their weaknesses - and in this case a slight reflex to crudely make a polemical point.

Despite the 'free Pagans good/enslaved Christians bad' kinda dichotomy, and numerous little moments that grate (but which I won't say for fear of revealing stuff to those who haven't yet read the books) they were pretty much enrapturing. He's an envangelist for telling stories, and that should be celebrated over all else. There's enough mystery and unresolved tension as I raced towards the end - sanctimonious as it so nearly becomes - to keep me mulling, and satisfied by how involved I could be in the tale. It has none of the pompous arseyness of most fantasy writing, on the whole being stripped of superfluous nonsense like detailed histories and wearisome songs. It's been compared to Tolkien, but I'd say it's more like Terry Pratchet - minus the jokes - in being quite tough and direct. All in all, a no-nonsense bit of fantasy fun with a touch of wonder about the world.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

bizzarre venture

figure 45.7. " you know we're reinfourcing the dominant male stereotype"

I've finished The Amber Spyglass, and I'll be coming out with some review soon. For now, let's cast our literary net a little wider. There's a rather twee little article about Thomas the Tank Engine, with the wonderfull summerisation:

"The stories themselves are plain little things, with...four basic plot lines: Troublesome Trucks, Proud Engine Gets His Comeuppance, Small Engine Shows His Worth, New Engine Is Shunned (And Then Wins Friends)."

Is this not a metaphor for the span of life experience, writ small?? For fun, I suggest you check out the socio-cultural analysis of the stories, it's a truely bizzarre venture.

Friday, June 17, 2005

and chosing

figure 5.1. pot luck

I'll say that Martin's note about trying to deal with lots of ideas, and fixing on some that actually really mean something, strikes a chord with me. Though in my case it's something around the level of at least 150/200 more or less finished pictures in the last half year. So I've had a tremendously difficult time picking out 5 that really show the extent of what I get up to, to send off with my application form to the organisers of The Wirksworth Festival. Yes, I'm entering with the intention of showing work in it like I did back in 2001. It could be fun, and certainly was before - there's a really exciting atmosphere around for the weekend, with all sorts of interesting people showing in locale houses, shops, pubs. There's a lot of twee rubbish too, as might be expected in an area with a lovely landscape, but I like wandering around and chatting with people about what they do. It's beccoming ever more important and notable by the year...here's hoping.

Am I the only one getting slightly concerned about the unfolding spectacle of Live 8 - or to put it more accurately "the Bob Geldof show"? His latest intervention seems to show him on an ever more erratic and melodramatic curve. After calling for a 'new Dunkirk' and a total boycott of ebay, where might he go next? Whatever happens, it seems to serve a greater act of mixing the important issues up with personality profiling and cartoonish headlines. But if it pushes any sense of anti-povetry talk onto Radio 1 news, maybe there's some sense to the madness.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

fashoned some new

figure 2.3. double edged

The walk was, as I hope Ken and Ruth Ann also found, a very stimulating experience. We went round with Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Christian Scientists, and Jews. I don't know enough of the discussions and politics of it but - in spite of, or maybe perhaps because of, the majority of us being liberalish Christians - there was a distinct hole where a mainstream denomination might have been. It certainly seemed an oversight, by any estimation. There was some wonderful food shared, and things expressed. The highlight for me was such a small thing, in a way. We were in a Hindu temple, and while the talk was being given they were decrepitly trying to find someone from the community to play drums while a prayerful song was sung. In the end, a Sikh guy went up and obliged - providing expert accompaniment, apparently off the cuff. It seemed like such a good metaphorical lesson for religion in general, such instinctive harmony alongside distinctiveness.

On to less sentimental gushing. On the train journey back today I read the second of the Philip Pullman books. It was better than the first in many ways, as a story it had more racy umph and more varied telling - yet tighter. I suppose we're now more familiar with the story's background. He's got a good eye for bringing in whole swaths of interesting creatures and ideas and figures into the stories, adapting them with a sharp edge of new motives. It would almost seem churlish to point out how formulaic he sometimes is. We have segments where one person enters, does thier thing for a while, and then leaves suddenly - according to thier plot usefulness, rather than a real drive. As the comments here have indicated, he's pretty clear and unambiguous that the Church is bad and the pagans good. That if God is done away with, bad stuff will stop. When he puts so much into drawing such brilliantly compromised characters, to find such an easy underlying polemic is a tad disappointing. But I hope and pray that the last instalment'll salve my fears of a wasted new mythology.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

a tale of two

figure 45.1. true lies

Yes, so I've finally got MIA playing in full after ordering it ahead of my cool friend who normally gets this kinda thing before me. The shame of it for her, behind with the zietgist! It's a wonderfully colourful and exhuberent synthesis of world music, reggae, grime, hip-hop. Thus maybe quite different to what the coming Live 8 concerts promise to be, according to the critics. I do wonder about this, and will leave any points making till later. But hopefully all of you, who're able, will be heading up to Scotland for the big demo coinciding with the G8 summit this year. It could be fun, it could have an effect.

Yes, I've finally got onto reading those Philip Pullman books with Northern Lights safely raced through this week. The stories have an easy quality, that just flows, and they kinda tell themselves through the immagery. Like the Just So Stories, but more political - in a loose way, that might fire people's imagination rather than either telling them what to think or dulling thier imagination by sticking to parochial lit light themes. Good for him I say, such oblique wonders are better than silly Richard Dawkins polemics any day.

Right I'm off to bed, and later to join Ruth Ann and Ken at the great Southampton Interfaith walk on Sunday. Toodle pip...

Monday, June 06, 2005

or maybe

figure 6.8. the new temple?

I couldn't believe it when I heard wind of the concept in a review, so clichéd and obviously satirical it seemed. But no, there really is a tv show called spirituality shopper. Oh deary me, I suppose it does help to shine a damning spotlight on the way some people seem to approach the whole of life - as a commodity, and a thing you can pick off the shelf. Some readers will know that I often return to thinking about consumerism, identity, and faith at intervals - and it'll be no surprise that I thought Giles Fraiser's characteristically pugnacious critique was both helpful and stimulating. I missed the first show tonight, but will try and catch it next week so I can actually have a more informed view. After all, the world can do without another Christian Voice-a-like!

Ruth Ann's given some comments here. There are aspects of the views that I find very sympathetic, and would affirm - anything more devolved, liberating, open source or whatever, is to be encouraged. To some extent, there does need to be a greater appreciation by religion of this important aspect of our contemporary situation. There needs to be the spirit of the Pharisees amoungst us, who managed to deveop religion to bring a sense of the divine in every part of life. But, it's precisely because of my wish to see religion that's empowering that I'm a little concerned. I am extremely wary of any shift in religion to take up the clothes of shopping. Ultimately it's an act of selecting, and is done according to what you can purchase. It's an act which is conducted on the basis of how much you have to spend. And there are plenty disadvantaged in this world - few are actually part of the ultimately leisured class, who can spend lots of time and resources in casting around. To those with the resources, this 'revolution' is very seductive - and claimed as liberation. To those who might not be in such a position, to flit around picking little bits, it's going to exclude them just like many of us are unable to enter a world where you can chose one kind of ipod or another.

I'd encourage anyone to explore as widely as possilble, and to adapt and adopt where they find encounter. But I'd hope that this was done with at least some notion of community and relationship, with a context in the cultures and stories in which it rests. I can read my Rumi poetry, and as a Methodist I'll probably find some visions of the divine that are a revelation to me. But I cannot make any pretence that it's religion in the spirit of the prophets and visionaries to go around chosing what bits I like. I may well miss some of the more inconvenient and challenging aspects along the way. We all do that a bit, of course - casting God in our own face as much as visa versa. Though with all elements of religion packaged up in self contained units - a bit of funny dance, and bit of a prayer, a kind of meditation - it can just be a lifestyle choice, easily adopted and easily dropped. Like putting on a red bracelet and buying bottled holy water. Questions must be asked of ourselves.

Gile's article also given me some thinking to do, as my shrine sits under my bed wrapped up and packed away safely. What do I actually have it for? Is it to retreat into my own little world of self-indulgence? Can private devotion, and personally idiosyncratic religion challenge me sufficiently? Can I adopt the most sympathetic of the other, and retain a coherent faithfulness to the best of my own, without just acting like it's a few brands of breakfast cereal? Am I asking rhetorical questions? I need to work on how it might ensure I don't simply develop into a consumer who picks little bits and never respects the whole - especially given that my main institutional involvement is back here in Derbyshire with my lifelong chapel, and I'll be running off when I get the chance...maybe this aparently unconnected poem I wrote absent mindedly this morning is opportune, or maybe not...

oh you'd like that, wouldn't you

where are the monks? where are the crowds
that were wild standing at the window?
where are their rosary beads blue in
the morning light? where are the seas of glass
on which stalk many-eyed heavenly beings,
crying their urgent praise and prayers?

england's polite lands no longer welcome them so much,
or open their doors to anything
other than a card box ascribed with tailored symbols
of happy spending and tidy adornment
it's near a self-confessional world, and we all admit
style desires of shelf-gained imagery

Sunday, June 05, 2005

beautiful blues

figure 45.7. where search

They were right. Blinking Lights and Other Revelations is a very fine album. It's rather grandiose in ambition, being one of those two disk thingys. Could even be indulgent, in a scary world. But the way E manages to conjour such beauty from the tradgedy he's gone through continues to be inspirational. Few of us can claim that level of terrible experience, and yet I'm sure there's example for us with our every day issues and sadness.

every moment's built to last
when you're living without a past
in a magic world

If I get to do student radio, I'll have to play a track from it. Yes the chances of getting to do the first stage of my university wishes, as expressed here, are becoming again more tangible. I now have the chance of a further education loan, or maybe some involvement from these boffins. So I've started thinking of what to read in advance, what societies I might throw myself at, and what tracklists I might play. Though not in the god-awful Nick Hornby sense, as Steve Lamaq so well dissects in this little piece about mix tapes. It's all ever so exciting, the chance to get studying and find a whole life again - rather than the slight sense of limbo Matlock continues to give.

So there's progress in life, and now at 22 I feel reassured that I might have a thread to follow. Where it'll lead is anyone's guess, but I'm ready to make the most of it this time - and not take anything for granted. If it goes as I've been hoping, then roll on the autumn!

In other news, I'm still intrigued by the anonymous commenter in my last pc entry. I haven't worked out who it is yet - and any clues would be welcome, because I like pondering little mysteries.