On needing to be opened by the wonderful

Help comes
When you need it most
I’m cured by laughter
Mood swings – not sure I can cope
My life’s in plaster (In plaster)

May your mind set you free (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on
May your mind let you be through all disasters (Be opened by the wonderful)
May your heart lead you on

These wounds are all self-imposed
Life’s no disaster
All roads lead onto death row
Who knows what’s after

May your mind be wide open
May your heart beat strong
May your minds will be broken
By this heartfelt song

(and this is a very good description of the left-brain’s need for the right-brain…)

MC roundup 1/24

Many years ago I regularly blogged about the media that I consumed, principally films, but also books and video games and so on. There was a point when this occasioned comment in my then parish – and by comment I mean criticism – so I stopped doing it (writing about it, not consuming the media!). However, much water has passed under the bridge since that time, I am different and my situation is different, so I want to get back into the habit of making notes on the media I consume, all as part of the process of living more mindfully. So this is what I have consumed since Christmas…

Following a tip-off at a blog I follow here (and yes I watched that Netflix film just before Christmas) I purchased John Birmingham’s End of Days trilogy. I really liked this, a good story with believable characters that was well paced and laugh-out-loud funny at times. So I’d happily recommend it. The one qualm I have is a qualm that applies to a lot of dystopian fiction, which is that the collapse is presented as sudden and all-encompassing, whereas I tend to see the collapse as proceeding in a more ‘rolling down the staircase’ mode, ie a drop, then stasis, then another drop (the first was 2008, the second was 2020, there will be another along soon).
As part of my research into Islam (for my series on the public-facing blog) I read Jayne Senior’s ‘Broken and Betrayed’. Senior was a youth worker in Rotherham and the principal whistle-blower about the systematic abuse taking place there. This was a really good and easy read (although I skimmed some of the darker details) and you find out much more about her as a person. You also end up despising the bureaucracy that let the abuse continue for so long. There is a lot in common with the Post Office scandal that is receiving attention at the moment; at some point I may write something substantial on that aspect, using McGilchrist’s hemisphere’s to unpack what went wrong (I use the phrase ‘left hemisphere capture’ to describe it). In any case, if you want to understand what happened in Rotherham, this is strongly recommended. I’m delighted that she was honoured for her work.

Saltburn – four out of five (film ratings explained here). This was a highly polished turd; I don’t think I have disliked a film quite so much in a very long time. The thing is, in so many ways it was an extremely good film – visually stunning, excellent acting – but it lacked integrity in two really important senses, a) it was incoherent as a plot and b) it had no moral centre. I think you can get away with one of those, but not with both. I’m glad I’ve seen it – I can take part in the conversation – but I shall not be watching it again. I do love Rosamund Pike though!
Chariots of Fire – watched with my eldest as he hadn’t seen it, and it must have been at least 20 years since I had last seen it. A real palate-cleanser after Saltburn. Just superb. 5/5

When on my own I am rewatching the new Dr Who, and have reached the end of season 4 (oh Donna!). Midnight was an excellent bottle-episode that could be used to teach Girardian anthropology! And River Song… sigh.

Also: have been slowly replaying the Dragon Age sequence, in preparation for the release of Dreadwolf. I still think the way demons are presented in DA is the most theologically sound that I’ve come across!
Also: I think I’m addicted to Civ 6 – but I won’t mention that much 🙂

So that was 2023

Well now. What a wonderful year. Can I have another one please?

A year of solid progression at work, and with the PhD.
A year in which I started writing properly again – outward facing stuff on the substack, personal musings here.
A year dominated by the sabbatical – and in which I listened to a lot of James!
A year in which I had some proper quality time with each of my children.
A year which finished with my getting engaged
God is good.
I am filled with optimism, excitement and determination for 2024. Avanti cosmos!

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022.

Tearing down the hedges

Recently at Morning Prayer I read Isaiah 5, which describes God’s judgement upon faithless Israel, and it gives this description of God’s wrath:

“Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.”

I keep musing on the link between boundaries and holiness. We see, daily, more and more evidence of the collapse of virtue in our society, the moral bankruptcy that causes chaos and disorder. So I think: is the lack of boundaries a result of this collapse, or does the collapse flow from the removal of the boundaries? The hedges around the West have been destroyed and now we are being trampled. We are in the place of After Virtue – and, as the man said, the barbarians have been governing us for quite some time.

How to rebuild the boundaries? How to reclaim virtue? This has been my avatar (or one of them) for a few years now:

Of low moments

So, I have my low moments.

On Saturday night I came across this reel on Instagram which well articulated how I was feeling. I found it comforting, in the same way that I like Leonard Cohen’s songs which many people find miserable! It helps me to understand and gain distance.

That morning I had read my friend Jamie’s discussion of accidie (acedia), that rang many bells with me. It’s good to be reminded of the perennial struggle with our demons, and accidie is certainly one of mine. So perhaps the demon of despair had been roused to attack because Jamie’s post had let some light in past the accreted crust of accidie. There was certainly no reason in what had happened that day for me to feel low, quite the opposite in fact.

Anyhow, on Sunday morning, during the intercessions (read by a colleague) I was reflecting on the struggle, and just at the time when I was doing so the intercessor prayed for those ‘close to despair’, and I laughed (inwardly, of course, I am English). It was as if the Lord was channelling Delboy and saying ‘you plonker Rodney!

I don’t believe in coincidence. Either all is meaningful or nothing is. So the Lord gave me a poke, and blessed be the name of the Lord.

Something quoted in Jamie’s post: Finally, the essential remedy is perseverance, in Greek hypomonē, which is a very active thing. It is an appeal, an increase of fidelity. When you are in a tunnel and you see nothing at all, it is advisable to remain near the handrail; otherwise, without noticing it, you will wander off and get turned around. The handrail is fidelity to one’s rule of life. Perseverance sometimes consists of remaining without doing anything, or else, on the contrary, doing everything that one did not think one had come to do. But ultimately, little matters. What does matter is to endure. As another saying puts it: “If you are hungry, eat; if you want to sleep, sleep; but do not leave your cell!”

The handrail is fidelity to one’s rule of life. Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Once more!

On the need to understand the gospel

Here is a confession. I struggle with some of the language used around the gospel.
(OK, not much of a confession)

So I came across the above image on Twitter, with the tag-line “Believe on the Son for everlasting life”.

Now before going further, I should clarify, I think this is true. I do think that if we believe in the Son then we have everlasting life (I’d rather say eternal life – everlasting is a bit too much of a Protestant emphasis for me).

What challenges me is that, whether it is simply a matter of temperament or philosophical training (I feel like an honourary Missourian) – I really need to know the answer to the question ‘why?’ In other words, why believe on the Son? How does it work? What am I being saved from? (As Florence sings: He died for what?)

The thing is, there is an answer to that question. Jesus died to save the world from the power of the evil one. Salvation is to be set free from the fear of death and those who resort to the fear of death to get their way, ie the prince of this world and all those who conform to the ways of the world. To believe in Christ is to know a peace that this world cannot give – and so on and so forth.

There IS an answer to my questions in other words. It’s just that I find those answers more compelling than ‘believe in Jesus!’ – however true I also think that to be.

Such are my musings this day.

All that music has meant

Possibly my favourite Wittgenstein remark (of at least 20 contenders for that title): “It has been impossible for me to say one word in my writing about all that music has meant to me in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?” (that’s from memory, so may not be word perfect)

I feel the same way, always have. Yet one of the wonders about McGilchrist’s work (I’ll be referring to him a lot this year) is that it provides a way of getting a handle on what is going on. Put simply the form of attention that we give to music is an attention rooted in the right hemisphere, whereas the critical thinking about it is rooted in the left hemisphere.

I think there is a moment in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance where Pirsig is discussing jazz and gets told ‘man, if you have to ask the question you won’t understand the answer’.

So music for me – and, more broadly, poetry, humour, fantasy, immersion in nature, also worship (liturgy) when it is done right – all these are ways of immersing myself into the more deeply human forms of life; or, to phrase that from the opposite side, they are ways of escaping the tyranny of the discursive, detached, verbal intellect, the left-hemisphere forms of attention.

In a word, music is a major part of how I pray, how I bring balance to my emotional life. Whereof one cannot speak 😉

I don’t listen to classical music half as much as I used to, although I expect that to change back again over time. I discover that I really enjoy jazz, and I really, really enjoy live music. At the moment I am discovering the band James – one of their songs will be written up as the ‘song of my sabbatical’ in a few weeks time – but this one is rather good, with a very clever video:

Spiritual journalling

My writing output here has, in the last few years, declined to almost nothing. I put that down mostly to being depressed since 2009 or so (and that depression fed into further trauma which made more depression and so on). Yet I’ve been moving in the right direction for a few years now and this sabbatical has really accelerated that process. I feel able to write again.

I am on substack here and I plan to use that avenue for work-related, ‘public’ writing – so material related to my PhD research, church issues, and commentary on cultural collapse. (Some of the PhD work can’t be published yet, but when it can be it will go there).

Here I plan to resume my spiritual journalling, as I think that will help me emerge from my long melancholic slumber; hopefully it will also allow me to be more gracious in my writing as a whole.
I am minded to try and write something every day, sometimes – often! – something very short, but we shall see how it goes. There will be a little cross-posting with the substack, but not much.

For now, here is a picture, which I think is a fair representation of where I am ?

So that was 2022

Well now, that was quite a year – some exuberantly joyful moments, some soul-crushingly dark moments, overall simply one of the most intense years of my life.

All the usual things apply – didn’t achieve all I wanted, didn’t lose weight, didn’t get fit, didn’t read as much as I wanted blah blah blah. That’s not really what I want to talk about though.

Over the last ten years I have greatly enjoyed watching and re-watching the TV series Breaking Bad, which documents the fall from grace of Walter White, a chemistry teacher who in response to a cancer diagnosis turns to the industrial production of methamphetamines to pay for his hospital bills (only in the United States of America is such a concept plausible). A pivotal moment in the story comes when Walter rejects financial support from friends. As with great literature, this choice is presented in an understandable way, and is not a wholly wrong choice, but it is at heart an assertion of Walter’s pride – and it is that pride, and the outworkings of that pride, which is the essence of the story and what I have been reflecting on in my own life.

‘Until that moment I never knew myself’ says Austen’s Emma, at the moment of crisis and anagnorisis. My last few years have been increasingly stressful – changing home and work, divorce and years of legal strife, redundancy, and the consequent correlated ill-health that one can expect from such things – and like Emma I find that these strains have increased my self-knowledge. Most especially, I have come to a greater awareness (I dare not say a full awareness) of the way in which my actions over many years have been an outworking of injured pride. I know much more about narcissism than I ever expected to.

Yet I am not Walter White, despite having identified so strongly with him in previous years. Most especially, in my darkest and most desperate moments, I have found that I have family and friends who love and support me, no matter how much of a plonker I’ve been, and from whom I have received, especially this year, remarkable blessings, practical, moral and spiritual. I am grateful to and for them.

In contrast to Walter I believe, I hope, that my experiences of breaking over the last several years – what I sometimes think of as my ‘decade of disaster’ – is ultimately becoming an experience of breaking good. The Lord is teaching me a proper humility – not an abasement, not humiliation and self-abnegation, but a sense of the truth of who I am, and a sense of who I am in the midst of a web of relationships. I find myself frightened to experience a sense of obligation towards others that have been generous towards me, and then I ponder what someone lovely said to me, “That’s what friendship is mate,” and I relax.

So I find that my journey this year has been one where the injury to my pride is being healed by a sense of gratitude, to my family and friends, and to God for never letting me go despite how far I wander from the path. There is much further for that process of healing to go, but my children are healthy, I enjoy my work, I’m actually doing my PhD (!), I have a roof over my head and food and wine on the table, I have a sabbatical next summer to look forward to, and so I am minded to say… I have found Felicity in my life

“Forgiveness is letting go of the hope for a better past”

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021.

So that was 2021

For the first time, writing this on New Year’s Day, not New Year’s Eve!

2021 was dominated on the outside by structural things: getting divorced and being made redundant (which took effect in January). Divorce is something that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but I believe it can be a lesser evil. Some things still to be worked out, and it is by far the major remaining stress in my life, but I expect 2022 to see the end of the process.

Redundancy has been a gift from God; most especially the gifts of time and simplicity. I am so much calmer than I have been in years. Parish work is a blessing – and I hope that I have been a blessing – and it is so very different to my Mersea experience. I think it’s actually going to be possible, maybe… mostly possible(!) for me to be a priest here. Lots of work to be done, including some structural issues and the impact of Covid etc, but I am looking forward to 2022 in work terms.

I stood for General Synod! Came fourth out of eight, and just missed a place, which I thought was quite good (and I think our elected candidates are good which also helps).

I am also very much hoping – will learn in the next week or so – whether I have been accepted to do a PhD at Bristol. I have twice before tried to do a PhD (and one other time came very close to starting one) so I am very conscious of this being an arena of previous failure for me. Yet this is an itch that has persisted for thirty years, and it seems to be an auspicious time. I am most especially delighted that my hoped-for supervisor seems genuinely interested in the topic, and isn’t seeing me as a way to get the academic statistics and bureaucracies turning over! So I hope this will come to fruition, and if it does, the blog will see a lot of related output.

As will my substack account – go here.

Other things – I’m still chipping away at my WSET Level 3, having postponed the exam twice – will now take it in March 2022 which is a year later than planned! Need to do the work…

I am more and more conscious of my deafness, and I have a nice new wireless hearing aid that I am using more and more often. Doesn’t solve every issue, but there are contexts where it really helps.

Had some excellent time with friends and family at different points in the year; I remain conscious of how much I need them and rely on them.

I have become quite unfit in the last few months, but I expect that to change quite severely over the coming year. One of the best things that has happened is that, as of now, two of my children have returned to live with me, which was unexpected and delightful in equal measure. Eldest son is something of a physical fitness enthusiast, and so I now not only have a basic gym in my garage but I have someone to push me into using it regularly! I am greatly blessed.

So I don’t know what 2022 will look like, but I’m hopeful. I’m a disabled, weight-challenged single parent in precarious employment but I’m also, for the most part, immensely peaceful and happy to be who I am.

Thanks be to God.

Previous years: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.