People Watching…

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Last week was about thinking about the underlying reasons for writing, this week was starting off on the journey towards sharpening our powers of observation, the idea being to hone our ability to find stories in the quotidian.  A city-centre eatery late one night was my muse.

***
It is a little after 8.30pm when the smell of French fries wafting in through the door draws me in. The first thing that strikes me as I stride through the door is how empty it looks, the bulk of the two-storied structure being cordoned off, with only the small section to the right of the counter open for use. I find the emptiness surprising given it is next to a major bus station and right in the centre of town. As I wait for the chance to order, I find myself behind three people, all decked out in the garb of people dressed to brace the cold, with the brightly coloured logo of a food delivery service gracing the insulated bags they hold.

A few feet away from the space I find for myself and my tray are three men with youthful faces, chattering away in a language which is not English, possible South East Asian if I were to hazard a guess. Their half-eaten burgers suggest they’ve been here a while, given how much of their time is spent in conversation interspersed with raucous laughter. When they are finally done, one of the three gathers up their trays and proceeds to empty them into the bin and then they leave, taking their mirth with them. Clearly close friends, or people connected by a shared lived experience I suspect.

Apart from them, the only other people in the room are a group of much older people – 2 men and 2 women occupying the central tables and someone sitting alone, sipping from a cup looking out onto the streets. Of the four, the woman who looks the oldest is slouched in her seat, hands folded together in her lap, two shopping bags beside her, listening it seems. Across from her a younger man with hair the same ginger colour as hers sits, leaning in, several discarded sachets of milk at his elbows, gesturing wildly. Between the accent and my hunger, I can barely make out what the subject of their conversation is but the name of the suburb to the south of the river comes up several times. Maybe a family squabble then, or given the reputation the small town has for being a difficult place, maybe an appeal to the matriarch of the clan for an intervention. All I can see of the fourth person are feet clad in streaked sneakers, the upper body obscured by a heater.

When I steal a glance at the group on my way out, I find the fourth person is fast asleep. Maybe, I have misread the situation after all.

Lift Off

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

One of my objectives for 2020 is to complete a Creative Non-Fiction course, which is how I signed up for the National Centre for Writing’s Start Writing Creative Non-Fiction course. Once a week, or so, I’ll drop a few thoughts on exercises completed, thoughts and progress on here. Here goes the first one.

***
The focus of this first week has been pondering the question ‘why?’, exploring the motivations for taking on the course, and perhaps the underlying book project which it is assumed one is working on. For me, the course is an attempt to go beneath the surface and understand the techniques behind good writing, in keeping with the theme for this year of Delving Deeper. Progress on that elusive memoir, The Small Light in Things. will be a very welcome bonus.

In my head, The Small Light in Things will focus on the last ten years of my life, ones in which I upped sticks on the cusp of turning thirty and began life anew on a new continent along with all the change that instigated. It will be a story of surviving – of navigating a culture shock, the first tentative steps on a journey of evolving faith and changing, by degrees as it were. It might be cathartic, or not, but my hope is that I get to properly process all of this with hopefully the benefit of some distance and detachment.

Three books come to mind as exemplars of what I am trying to achieve here: Teju Cole’s Every Day Is For The Thief, Richard Rodriguez’s Hunger of Memory and Etgar Keret’s The Seven Good Years, all of which reflect on times of change and evolution with the benefit of some distance. What resonates with me in these books, particularly Every Day is For The Thief and Hunger of Memory, is the lived immigrant experience -both in the other country and in the country of birth. Time, life and the experience change us in ways which are not immediately obvious, that is what I’m hoping to tease out from the past ten years of my life.

Garden Spot

 

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For The Sunday Wednesday Muse Prompt, Garden Spot. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash. A nod to the still vivid memories I have of being dragged off to our family farm by my parents in those dire, dark SAP days.

**
First comes the rain,
and then the wakened worms which turn the
hard, sun-baked soil into compliant mulch.
Grain by grain, leaf by leaf
the beauty of Symbiosis begins
to rear its head, the cycle of death
begetting life and sustenance for the things
we must ingest, for which with backs bent
beneath the blazing sun we labour;
the reward of another day survived eked out
from the hard, earth.

I Write Because…

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

One of my earliest memories of doing stuff with my mother is of a newspaper cutout, sheets of paper and her sitting beside me encouraging me to apply whatever iota of critical thinking I could summon to whatever was the task of the day, usually some Close Up essay competition or the other. I don’t recall us ever submitting any of those, the discipline of wrestling thoughts into semi-coherent arguments perhaps being the point of the entire exercise. That sense of writing as a vehicle for thinking aloud about a subject is one that has stayed with me over the years.

I would like to say that this search for (small t) truth at the nexus of a subject is what motivates me to write but that would be bending the truth somewhat. That is partly the truth of course, but it is the sense of being curator of my own little corner of the internet, and the probability – however increasingly minuscule in this world of SEO and algorithms – that makes me write publicly. I have known the delights of minds connecting over a turn of phrase deliciously delivered and also the angst from forlorn pages which have seemingly disappeared into the great void of the internet. Be that as it may, that is a drug, the lingering memories of a past hit drawing me to write again and again in hope.

The Writer Is….

…Neither saint nor Tzadik nor prophet standing at the gate; he’s just another sinner who has somewhat sharper awareness and uses slightly more precise language to describe inconceivable reality of our world. He doesn’t invent a single feeling or thought – all of them existed long before him… He’s here, at our side, buried up to his neck in mud and filth.

The Seven Good Years: A Memoir, Etgar Keret

 

Reflecting on the Scottish Referendum: A Call to Social Justice

A few months ago, people across the length and breadth of the nation of Scotland went to the polls to answer the question, “Should Scotland be an independent country?” At stake was the very future of the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s place in it. On one hand, the governing Scottish National Party staked its reputation on a ‘Yes’ vote, alongside the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Socialists under the aegis of Yes Scotland, whilst Scottish Labour, the Scottish Conservative Party, and the Scottish Liberal  Democrats took a pro-Union Stance under the Better Together banner.

As the vote count came to an end on the morning of September 19th in victory for the Better Together campaign, what became clear was that the keenly contested campaign had revealed deep fissures in the very fabric of the Nation. The romance of nationalism and the historical antecedents notwithstanding (Scotland as a distinct entity has existed in some shape or form since about 840 AD and 2014 was the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn which saw the English army defeated by the forces of King of Scots Robert the Bruce), economic considerations, fair and equitable distribution of wealth and protecting access to the NHS in the face of the (real or imagined) threat of its privatisation featured strongly as a subject of contention.

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The HAVES vs HAVE NOTS narrative seemed supported by analysis of the voting patterns which showed strong correlations between greater unemployment and support for independence, and age above retirement with support for staying with the Union (perhaps due to concerns over pensions).

The immediate aftermath involved clashes between Unionists and independence supporters. As recently as October, a pro – independence rally in Glasgow still managed to attract over 6,000 people, perhaps indicative that even the passage of time has done little to soothe the sense of grievance a significant proportion of the nation still feels.

The challenge going forward therefore is one of reconciliation; recreating a sense of togetherness and genuine belief in all and sundry that the nation belongs equally to everyone – rich, poor, old, young and old alike. That sense can only be fostered by delivering on the sound bites trundled out by both sides of the campaign, mainly a fairer, more productive, empowered Scotland.

There is an economic argument for a fairer, more egalitarian Scotland. Equal opportunities and lower unemployment will deliver greater productivity, and enable more people contribute to the state in the form of taxes, rather than constitute a drain the system.

There will also be benefits, purely from the perspective of enlightened self-interest. It stands to reason that crime, social delinquency and violence are likely to drop as more people are gainfully employed. Those who are not, if they have access to the opportunities to improve and are catered for the interim will also see less of an incentive to crime.

The arguments for social justice go beyond secular and economic ones; there is also a biblical imperative. Passages like Deuteronomy 15:11 –  For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’, being a case in point.

Time and time again, the call to ‘do good and seek justice (Isaiah 1:17), not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor (Zech 7:9,10), defend the rights of the poor and needy (Prov 31:8,9), to do justice and love kindness (Micah 6:8) and protect the resident alien, the fatherless and the widow (Jeremiah 22:3) are repeated throughout the Old Testament. When Israel failed to heed this call, they were punished severely by God (Amos 5:11-15, Ezekiel 16:49,50).

Elsewhere a social justice component is explicitly commanded as part of true and acceptable worship – knowing the rights of the poor (Proverbs 29:7), letting the oppressed go free, sharing bread with the hungry and homeless (Isaiah 58:12) as well as visiting the orphan and the widow (James 1:27).

Jesus himself, after being tempted and returning to Galilee in the power of the Holy Spirit chose to reveal himself in the Synagogue in his home town of Nazareth by reading from the passage in Isaiah which spoke of his mission to proclaim the good news and set at liberty those who were oppressed (Luke 4; 18, 19). Beyond that, he also highlighted acts of kindness as one of the things we will be judged by at his return (Matthew 25:31-46). The Apostles also weighed in in their writings – John enjoined us to love not in word but in deed (1 John 3:17,18), Paul in distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality (Romans 12:13) and James to treat all without partiality (James 2:1-4)

The danger of all this is to end up flying the flag of social justice, for its own sake alone, as an end in itself or as an opportunity to ship sounds bites, hog the limelight and portray ourselves as good citizens. However as Christians, everything we do on earth occurs within a context – that of being Jesus’ hands and feet on earth, utilising the resources, skills and time that he has given us to further His kingdom. In these days in which the popular narrative is one of the death of the church and its increasing irrelevance, being champions of social change, in our communities – our next door mission fields – may well be one way that the tide can be turned, providing a door of opportunity to ‘do all for the Glory of God’.

***

Originally written for my Church Newsletter, reproduced here for archival purposes. 

White paper….

I want to cover you
With words. Ink dots
Jumbled together
Until they blur
Into a scrawl, confused
Like the light
From a thousand scattered beads

I want to hide myself
Within the haze
Of my re-memory –
To somehow, between life
And the afterglow
From my tired brain,
Re-create the time and space
That reality stole.

But your blank, pure
Whiteness mocks me,
I find the things
I want to say don’t come

Between you and I –
And the pregnant silence
Of fitful contemplation
Is a wall
Of all the things
I may never,
Ever say.

The Story Behind The Song: I Could Sing of Your Love Forever – Delirious?

Back in ’94 when Delirious was still the house band for The Cutting Edge, a local youth event run by the Arun Community Church in Littlehampton, doing music full time didn’t look feasible, nor was the possibility of multiple Dove Awards and a Grammy nomination. In fact between leading worship at the cutting edge events and keeping up with a hectic schedule of gigs across the UK, the group that would become arguably the UK’s greatest Christian contemporary music exports had to hold down day jobs to keep things ticking.

Song writer Martin Smith recalls being inspired by the seaside of Devon during a family holiday:

We were on holiday as a family. We were in Devon, staying in an old farmhouse. It overlooked the sea and the hills and the mountains. It really was, sit on the edge of a hill, pre-kids, being able to dream a bit more, I grabbed an acoustic guitar. That song just wrote itself in about five minutes.

Almost twenty years since then (seventeen since it made the cut on 1997’s Cutting Edge), it is a song that has consistently ranked amongst the most influential, and widely sung, praise and worship songs, been covered multiple times by artistes as diverse as Mercy Me, Sonic Flood and Hillsong United. Smith, now a solo artist since the disbandment of the band in 2009 still continues to be surprised by how much a simple song, cobbled together in five minutes continues to bless lives around the world. That is perhaps one of the more compelling themes of the Gospel, God’s Providence and Sovereignty in choosing to use things which are not the greatest or brightest and which do not have the greatest back stories to great effect.

Links: 07 Oct 2011

  1. Nigeria turns 51, bloggers go on the charm offensive with 419 reasons to love the country. My moan from 2009 still stands regardless.
  2. The 216th Mersey side derby is ‘ruined by the referee’. The inevitable comments about ‘foreigners’ follow.
  3. More from The Good Men Project – traditional gender roles
  4. Amanda Knox walks free – justice or a travesty?
  5. For better, for worse, until two years doth us part?
  6. In her b(rea)st interest? The $1m dollar insured boobs
  7. Shell complicit in military excesses in the Niger Delta?
  8. What’s in a number? Nothing, says the Good men Project.
  9. How the discipline of blogging is a stepping stone to become a good writer.
  10. Giving women the visibility they deserve?
  11. Steve Jobs passes – TIME’s official obituary.