tag : bright yellow-green apples: August 2005

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

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"a kind of faith in drag"

figure 45.1. growing themes

Greenbelt was a resoundingly enjoyable weekend, as ever. Well, mostly. It was given an extra tinge of unwelcome drama the first night, when I lost my tent. After wandering around like a homeless bat for a couple of hours I finally gave in and, wrapped up in kid's trade justice banners, slept in one a marquee. Things improved significantly from the next day, after refinding my stuff and meeting pretty much everyone I know somewhere along the way.

I missed Dave Thomlinson's thoughts, and the great Archbishop Rowan wasn't there this year, so the highlight cam from unexpected quarters. I like suprises. The series of talks given by Betty Spackman hit just the right tone - eccentric and rambling, but packed with countless little germs of ideas. I suspect the things she came up with will be mulled over here during the next few weeks, as with other stuff about pacifism & war, and internet faith, and social activism, and [pre-]modern spirituality, and commercialisation of worship.

Anyway, one of the main themes our Betty explored was how kitsch is such a pervasive feature of our modern Church. She tried to draw a distinction between relics, and other Christian material things, and kitsch materials. Relics sit with the stories that we have (the gospel etc.), making sense within the kaleidoscope of diverse symbols that communicate our ideas visually. Kitsch items, on the other hand, are inherently limiting - in that they pare down the possibilities of a visual exploration of our faith to a few assumed types. The angels are all so often cute and sugary, for example - precious, even.

Being twee is no bad thing per say, but if it's about making Christianity safe and reassuringly predictable, then kitsch can mean the repression of life in all it's fullness. She made a stirring call for all involved in the arts, to freely play with our Christian narratives however we might feel called. To go where it seems right, and let the creative act do the talking. It's up to God to work out its implications of our artistic output in other people's reactions, rather than for us to assume and control how it might be taken.

On the first day, before my whole tent fiasco, I happened to glance at the short grass by the entrance to the site. Here I spotted a little plastic tab. It was a scrabble piece, with the letter A on it. Thought fairly mangled and dinted, I still thought it worth picking up. I've carried it with me, and will probably add it to my shrine - when that comes out of hiding. Though I'm trying to work out what the significance might be...

Friday, August 19, 2005

mug shots

figure 45.1. look closer

He's done it again. It seems that Jesus' endless capacity to appear in the most incongruous of places has thrown up a new sighting - this time on a hawthron tree. I can't help but think it shows an impressive degree of imagination in those who discover them! To conjur the face of Christ in a smudge of mossy or burnt toast must take quite a particular outlook.

Perhaps more conventionally, I've been keeping an eye on this website as it's been building up - a catalogue of images of Christ through the centuries. A particular favourite of mine is the guerrilla Christ, as a highly charged and political piece, though I suspect there's some controversy about it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

weeds II

figure 51.2. we are weeds, vegetation

Right, here’s another attempt to have a muse on the quote I was asked about by our Anderson a week or so ago:

"Unless we know the difference between flowers and weeds, we are not fit to take care of a garden. It is not enough to have truth planted in our minds. We must learn and labour to keep the ground clear of thorns and briars, follies and perversities, which have a wicked propensity to choke the word of life." (Clyde Francis Lytle)

Lytle has clearly based his thoughts on a parable of the weeds. To the original audience of the parable, it would make a great deal of sense. They were very close to agriculture in a direct way, and could see how their everyday lives depended on good harvests – the imagery he used to describe the gospel, as wheat, was perfectly tailored to connect. But what of us, here and now?

The quote has apparently worked on the basis that it’ll speak to us in the same way, with a little tweaking to apply to the genteel times (gardening was becoming seriously popular in the 1800s). This thinking essentially starts with the assumption that a garden has clearly demarked cultivated plants, the gospel of Christ that he’s planted in us, we are to care for. And that it has identifiable weeds, the heresies, fears, and hates of what runs counter to Christ, that must be checked. And in a way, it’s helpful - for here we have a dynamic vision of the truth, as a growing thing that develops and flowers as we’re involved with it. Andy has some fantastic thoughts on this view, if I could but find them (it’s best to ask him yourself).

Perhaps I see this differently than those for whom the imagery was first meant to speak to. From my perspective as a horticulturist, I’d like to be able to play around with these two images a bit more. Especially when we live in an age of naturalistic gardening and conservation, when there’s an effort to care for plants that another age would cast off as weeds. Demarkation isn't so easy now, with farmland purposefully set-aside for native flora, and cornflowers like poppies grown in our gardens. What if the very weeds themselves were actually the gospel of Christ, a sign of new life in God? Imagine that the divine is actually found in the wild and exuberant fecundity of the native invaders. Imagine that they’re actually bringing some unpredictable life into the ordered rigidity of human control. Imagine that they're actually sweeping in with purposeless colour, to upset the utilitarianism of a starkly managed field. Different times, perhaps.

About a year ago, I wrote a poem that tried to communicate some of this. I can’t remember if I’ve flagged it up before, but here you go anyway:

weeds or what is the kingdom of God like? what shall I compare it to? or a tale of the spirit and the system

"Under the weeds Act 1959 the Secretary of State may serve an enforcement notice on the occupier of land on which the injurious weeds are growing, requiring the occupier to take action to prevent the spread of injurious weeds."

They’re so variable, irregular outlines and
asymmetrical roughness of touch.
Yielding attractive multi-branched splendour,
they just keep on going, sending up shoots.
Common and perennial in breadth, an
abundant feature that spreads with vigour.
It’s on the frequent waste ground that one commonly
finds they’re most troublesome
[doorsteps and street corners their home]
Variability, defying uniform standards,
a nuisance because they’re designed to grow.

"weeds in general are characterised by a capacity for prolific seed production, remarkable in relation to their size, which enables them, rapidly, to colonise the open situations they mostly frequent."

Fertility is good, they are numerous spreading;
fecundity at the margins opens one by one.
They quickly become agencies for dispersal,
copiously strewn over long distances by the wind,
carried well from the rapid distribution to colonise
bare ground or areas sparsely occupied by
consistent formality and cultivation.
Divided from the main part, but separate. And unique.
Longer distance carried which gains rapid expansion,
those that’ve been distributed by one
agency may be further carried by others.
A great green fire, the viability of the prolific
split-apart seeds appears to be marked.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

a matter of protection

figure 49.0. reality, filtered

I know I said I'd be exploring the imagery of gardens before I ran off on holiday, and knock out some comments on some of your own sites, but recent news couldn't be left without comment of some sort first.

It seems that matters are moving fast with the government. They're proposing to deport foreign nationals who 'preach hate', and were apparently floating the idea of treason threats against them - though the latter is said to be less likely. Now my instinct is to worry somewhat about freedom of speech, and to talk about needing an open debate to talk extremists down. But perhaps I need to question my reflex for a minute? As far as can be ascertained, this is basically focussed about a phenomenon whereby Muslim clerics are imported from other countries, who have a particularly greater propensity to extremism. Or at least a questionable view of our country's cultures and society, and how Muslims are to respond to it. Fairly dos, it might be said, let's go and have it out in a reasonable way - and prove them wrong by sound argument.

But from what I gather, their particularly malignant influence is actually more difficult to pin down and confront. A lot of what might be described as dysfunctional Islam, that which involves inducing people into considering violence, is to be found amoungst young impressionable people who're untouched by the mainstream communities for whatever reason - rather than the open spaces of careful public debate. Those who're disaffected will, apparently, be more likely to fall alongside a hardliner who speaks with 'authority' - who talks their alienation in colourful religious mettanarratives. How better to find purpose than to be confirmed that your alienation is actually something purely divine in source, that it's an expression of your sanctity as an exemplary follower to feel antagonism to your society? And that the consequence of such an identity is that you must strike back at the world?

Perhaps some pragmatism might be allowed here. If there are a few people at the margins who're difficult to bring out into an accountable space, and whose activities deliberately stray around the edges of discussion at all - then faced with the reality of what they're doing, perhaps the only way to immediately safeguard the young people being abused by them is to remove the hardliners from their opportunities. There are a thousand caveats I could give. To ensure against any unfair focus on the problems of parts of Islam, without a balanced sense of perspective. That the mainstream cannot be let off the hook, by targetting marginals for action. Against any chance for a Mail 'send 'em all home' line. To wonder where the Government is likely to go with another draconian line of thinking, it's general instinct to ban, enforce, and lock up.

Those hardliners likely to be hit by the proposed laws seem to be so entrenched in their faith of disaffection, that they will always have some reason to draw others along with them in opposing the very notion of their society's existing - many victims who could know better otherwise, with the right influences. Essentially, the abuse of those who're vulnerable - and any potential resulting implications for the rest of us - might be partially dealt with by the laws. That much I cannot deny, as the most heartfelt libertarian.

Friday, August 05, 2005


It's a family holiday to Anglesey's Holy Island next week. But I might well have to follow them on wednesday, as Mary is visiting my home town on Tuesday - which would be a crime to miss. So this might be my last entry for a wee while, or it might not not. In the meantime, I'll leave you with my threatened shortlist for the 'PL alternative to the Mercurys prize'. If you don't have any of these, I suggest you get hold of at least one cos they're all amazing! The week's game can be to try and guess which two are already the strongest contenders to win...

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus.
The Concretes – Concretes
Tom Waits – Real Gone
Gorillaz - Demon Days
MIA – Arular
The The – Infected
Mylo – Destroy Rock and Roll
Eels - Blinking Lights and Other Revelations
Low - The Great Destroyer
Bjork – Medulla
Roots Manuva – Awfully Deep.
Soulwax – Any Minute Now

Thursday, August 04, 2005

explicible (sic)


figure 39.0. they

The Conservatives have caught my eye again - I hope I don't seem like I'm developing an obsession, after tories and faith fairly recently. But it seems as if a couple are being half sensible at the moment in what they're saying. Just.

I'm referring to Dominic Grieve, a tory who had the gumption to come out and say the London bombings are "totally explicable in terms of the level of anger". This seemed all the more so, in the light of reactions. People leapt on him for condoning terrorism, for giving succour to evil people, and so on. In fact I heard a very odd exchange on the radio this evening, with Boris Johnson (bumbling in support) set against Peter Hitchens (spitting in rage) in discussion. When so many people seem unwilling to face up to the background this violence rests in, as if trying to understand something is the same as approval, his words are a welcome note. They have a sanity the pseudo-lefty 'get out of Iraq and we'll be alright" rhetoric is lacking - I don't think causality is a simple matter, and yet I don't think this is a simple isolatable crime that doesn't need wider reflection. I hope he doesn't face the same fate as Jenny Tonge.

Monday, August 01, 2005

satisfied to

figure 45.5. at the end of the street

Two quotes, that could have a similar inspiration in mind.

The first is from an article in todays Observer, discussing what the author thinks are the implications of new media - such as mobile phones, ipods, and these ubiquitous webloggs:

"As the proprietor of MeWorld, your privileges extend beyond access to everything and selections of anything. You get to be the creator - and the star performer. Actual reality shows and personal blogs are only the most obvious manifestations of the democratisation of celebrity that the multiplication of media venues made possible."

It disturbs me a lot, to think of this side - that so much might be invested in creating our personal worlds, places of our own fancy. And that indwelling media in some ways might lead to strange relationships - where people are filtered according to whims and desires. Our mores. I'd hate to loose the unpredictability and uncontrollability, that comes from looking at things other than through a plastic device. Something to keep an eye on, there.

The second is from Summer in Algiers, a beautiful collection of short writings that're published as part of the Penguin 70th anniversary. This is the title piece, moving through the town that concerns Albert Camus:

"The loves we share with a city are often secret loves. Old walled towns like Paris, Prague, and even Florence are closed in on themselves and hence limit the world that belongs to them. But Algiers (together with certain other privileged places such as cities on the sea) opens to the sky like a mouth or a wound. In Algiers one loves the commonplace: the sea at the end of the street, a certain volume of sunlight, the beauty of the race. And, as always, in that unashamed offering there is a secret fragrance. In Paris it is possible to be homesick for space and a beating of wings. Here, at least, man is gratified in every wish and, sure of his desires, can at last measure his possessions.

Probably one has to live in Algiers for some time in order to realize how paralysing an excess of nature's bounty can be. There is nothing here for whoever would learn, educate himself, or better himself. This country has no lessons to teach. It neither promises nor affords glimpses. It is satisfied to give, but in abundance. It is completely accessible to the eyes, and you know it the moment you enjoy it. Its pleasures are without remedy and its joys without hope."

This captures the experiences of a place, with all it's serendipity and discovery -even in somewhere loved as a familiar - so well. It reminds me to be eager for surprise, to be careful never to allow myself the final arbitration in all that life might be, and what it might involve for me. Because I could miss the strangest of 'the other', the intensity of what might be brought.

Today’s lesson? You guessed it - get out more! Luckily I’ll be gardening for much of the week...