The Monday morning question

The whole globe is shook up, so what are you going to do when things are falling apart?

You’re either going to become more fundamentalist and try to hold things together, or you’re going to forsake the old ambitions and goals and live life as an experiment, making it up as you go along.

Perma Chödrön as quoted by Meg Wheatley in Finding our Way

Risking self in learning

“Learning is not a process from which the learner can stand aloof, remaining fundamentally unchanged, as the possessor of her knowledge.  Rather, learning – if it is true learning – is a process in which the learner’s present understanding, her present configuration of desire, her present way of being in the world, are at stake. It is a process in which the learner’s relation to the object of her knowledge, and so everything that she has invested in the present form of the relationship, are placed at risk.  Yet the Gospel proclaims both that the learner must take such a risk with herself, and also that she is safe enough to take it.  Held by God’s lavish mercy, the learner is freed to take the risk of an ongoing kenosis that is the form of her journey deeper into God’s own knowledge, and the proper form of learning.”
This is the quote which comes as the PS in Friday Mailing. Friday Mailing is a useful compilation of resources for adult education produced by Joanna Cox and Tim Ling at the Education Division of the Church of England. (Contact Joanna Cox if you want to subscribe). This quote is from Mike Higton’s A Theology of Higher Education,  (OUP 2012), p 158. It applies to all disciples. (The book may be out of reach cost-wise. £71 at Amazon. OUCH).

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royal exchange, london
In Leaving Alexandria Richard Holloway recalls Virginia Woolf’s tract Three Guineas  (originally published in 1937) in which she contrasts the private house (woman’s sphere) with public life (man’s sphere):

Your world then, the world of professional, of public life, seen from this angle, undoubtedly looks queer.

At first sight it is enormously impressive. Within a small space are crowded together St Paul’s, the Bank of England, the Mansion House, the massive if funereal battlements of the Law Courts: and on the other side, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. There we say to ourselves, pausing, in this moment of transition on the bridge, our fathers and brothers have spent their lives. All these hundreds of years they have been mounting those steps, passing in and out of those doors, ascending those pulpits, preaching, money making, administering justice. It is from this world that the private house … has derived its creeds, its laws, its clothes and carpets, its beef and mutton. And then, as is now permissible, cautiously pushing aside the swing doors of one of these temples, we enter on tiptoe and survey the scene in greater detail.

The first sensation of colossal size, of majestic masonry is broken into a myriad points of amazement mixed with interrogation. Your clothes in the first place make us gape with astonishment. How many, how splendid, how extremely ornate they are – the clothes worn by the educated man in his public capacity! Now you dress in violet; a jewelled crucifix swings on your breast; now your shoulders are covered with lace; now furred with ermine; now slung with many linked chains set with precious stones. Now you wear wigs on your heads; rows of graduated curls descend your necks. Now your hats are boat-shaped, or cocked; now they mount in cones of black fur; now they are made of brass and scuttle-shaped; now plumes of red, now of blue hair surmount them. Sometimes gowns cover your legs; sometimes gaiters. Tabards embroidered with lions and unicorns swing from your shoulders; metal objects cut in star shapes or in circles glitter and twinkle upon your breasts. Ribbons of all colours – blue, purple, crimson – cross from shoulder to shoulder.

Even stranger, however, than the symbolic splendour of your clothes are the ceremonies that take place when you wear them. here you kneel; there you bow; here you advance in procession behind a man carrying a silver poker; here you mount a carved chair; here you appear to do homage to a piece of painted wood; here you abase yourselves before tables covered with richly worked tapestry. And whatever these ceremonies may mean you perform them always together, always in step, always in the uniform proper to the man and the occasion.

The photo is of the Royal Exchange in London by Synwell

About Grace

Do we know what it means to be struck by grace?

It does not mean that we suddenly believe that God exists, or that Jesus is the Saviour, or that the Bible contains the truth. Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness.

It strikes us when we walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life. It strikes us when we feel that our separation is deeper than usual . . . It strikes us when our disgust for our own being, our indifference, our weakness, our hostility, and our lack of direction and composure have become intolerable to us. It strikes us when, year after year, the longed-for perfection of life does not appear, when the old compulsions reign within us as they have for decades, when despair destroys all joy and courage.

Paul Tillich.

quoted by Holloway, Richard (2012-03-01). Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt (Kindle Locations 1668-1674). Canongate Books. Kindle Edition.

Touching rock

This is from an earlier post I wrote after reading John Hull‘s incredibly moving and honest account of the onset of his blindness, Touching the Rock. He refers to the “thousands of tiny accidental happenings” which led him along the path to blindness. According to Hull, faith transforms such accidental happenings into the “signs of our destiny” by “retrovidence” rather than “providence”.

He describes his stumbling on the altar at Iona Abbey during his stay there in 1986, through which he became a WBS a “whole-body-seer”. Here he sees things for himself, sees through his blindness, and discovers how he can see things through. His seeing is full of feeling and emotion as he touches the rock.

Altar at the Iona abbey
Altar at Iona photo by Calypso Orchid

“After several nights, I discovered the main altar. I had been told about this, and I easily recognised it from the description. It was a single block of marble. Finding one corner, I ran my fingers along the edge, only to find that I could not reach the other. I worked my way along the front and was amazed at its size. The front was carved with hard, cold letters. They stood out baldly, but I could not be bothered reading. The top was as smooth as silk, but how far back did it go? I stretched my arms out over it but could not reach the back. This was incredible. It must have a back somewhere. Pushing myself upon to it, my feet hanging out over the front, I could reach the back. I did this again and again, measuring it with my body, till at last I began to have some idea of its proportions. It was bigger than me and much older. There were several places on the polished surface which were marked with a long, rather irregular indentations, not cracks, but imperfections of some kind. Could it have been dropped? These marks felt like the result of impact. The contrast between the rough depressions and the huge polished areas was extra ordinary. Here was the work of people, grinding this thing, smoothing it to an almost greasy, slightly dusty finish which went slippery when I licked it. Here were these abrasions, something more primitive, the naked heart of the rock.” (P 163).

As a post-script, he writes: “God is many and yet one, and in God there are many worlds yet one. God does not abolish darkness; God is the Lord of both light and darkness. If in God’s light we see light, then in God’s darkness we see darkness. If a journey into light is a journey into God, then a journey into darkness is a journey into God. That is why I go on journeying, not through, but into.” (p165)

Now quoting

Like many I like to include a bon mot  at the bottom of my emails. Currently I am quoting Janice Price from World-Shaped MissionShe writes:

It is important to make ‘difference’ the beginning of the conversation not the end.

I like quotes but can never remember them (or jokes). Hence The Jog – so named originally because my running was its inspiration. Now it is more of a jog to my memory.

I like this quote about quotes from Havelock Ellis (great for student feedback, I think):

It is the little writer rather than the great writer who seems never to quote, and the reason is that he is never really doing anything else.

Turning stones

Stone Tower III

How far skims the stone on the water?
big bounces, many bounces,
final skip
each stone weighed with outstretched arm
for howls of laughter
for cries of pain.
How deep gashes the body with violent pelt?
Turning stones on the one hand
to the other
turns random stones
from arsenal to cairn no stone unturned

Richard Beck posts a quote from a recent interview given by Sr Joan Chittister for the Jackson Free Press. The question was:

“So, as a woman of faith, as a monastic, how do you see your role and the role of other people of faith in the world?”

Sister Joan’s reply:

It’s a simple one: To see injustice and say so, to find the truth and proclaim it, to allow no stone to be unturned when it is a stone that will be cast at anyone else. It’s just that simple. There is nothing institutional, organizational, political about it. It says: “Where I am, you may not harm these people. You may not deride them; you may not reject them; you may not sneer at them, and you certainly cannot blame them for their own existence.”

Shard Villa (1872-1874) - stone megaphone detail

Photos by Keith Bloomfield and Don Shall

Friends Meeting


Witton Church Council had their first “awayday” yesterday and used marbling to learn about  flow, influence and interaction. We decided that it doesn’t take much to make something beautiful – just a lot of flow and some interaction. We used straws to blow the ink, and we realised that in our lives there is a time to blow, and a time to refrain from blowing. For everything there is a season. Though marbling may seem a bit random, it actually isn’t. It’s just that the outcome is unpredictable, and is, thereby, a good reflection of life which refuses attempts to control and regiment it.


It was a great pleasure to be involved with facilitating the day. Together we explored “the ground on which they stand” – a question that had more significance than I was anticipating. Northwich is a place undermined by salt works in which subsidence has been a problem. St Helen’s Church, apparently, is the only house built on rock. The day was full of encouragement as they explored how they would step out from the ground on which they stand – and they built up a good head of steam.

This was a cheerful group of “friends” who met at the Friends’ Meeting House in nearby Frandley. The house dates back to the early days of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends. George was born in 1624 (at Fenny Drayton, near Leicester) and travelled the country preaching as a dissenter. Along with other dissenters Fox had several periods of imprisonment as he challenged religious authority and the attempts to crush the movement that he had started.


Fox appears to have preached at Frandley at 1657, when he was 33. He resisted the idea that religious experience was limited to ecclesiastical buildings. He refused to call them “churches” and referred to them as “steeplehouses” instead. He knew that God meets people in their heart of hearts, and preferred Friends’ meetings to be in the open air. There is a plaque at Frandley of the oak tree at which Fox preached to the gathering of Friends.

William Gandy is reputed to be the founder of the first local “society”. He farmed at Sevenoaks in Frandley. Interestingly there is a plaque on the meeting house commemorating the planting of seven oaks to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 (sounds like the local Friends had become friendlier to the monarchy with the passage of time).

The PCC decided it was their spring. The “Witton Spring” may not have the same ring to it as the Arab Spring, but we did have some thoughts from Friend and Quaker, Parker Palmer.

In my own life, as winters turn into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.

Some quotes from George Fox – maybe from under the oak:

The Lord showed me so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts … his people were his temple and he dwelt in them.

Why should any man have power over any other man’s faith, seeing as Christ himself is the author of it?