Resilience and efficiency

ImageWhen I had a study I wished I worked in an office. Now I work in an office and I wish I had a study. (Interesting that I use the verb “work” only in relation to the “office”). I was shy about the “study” because I didn’t think it had the street cred of the offfice. Like many of my peers I referred to my study as the office. Now I find myself fighting for the place of the study in ministry which seems to have less time for it.

In a recent blog post, Sam Charles Norton has some wise words as he contrasts efficient and resilient systems. An efficient system “is one in which each resource is being utilised to the greatest possible extent.” We love efficiency and worship its icon of the (upwardly mobile) graph which is the prerequisite of any office wall. Norton suggests that the Church of England is hell-bent (my words) on a drive towards efficiency which is (mis)-guided by a spirituality “which is based upon a fear that all that seems to be going wrong will continue to go wrong.” According to Norton, we have forgotten what it means to believe in God. “The Church of England will only be saved by those who are not consumed with conviction about how to save it, and who sit lightly at the prospect of the Church of England not being saved – simply because they are utterly committed to the sovereignty of the living God, and they trust in his provision, rather than our own choices.”

A “resilient system” is what the Church of England has been as it “has emphasised the importance of the local and the different, the queer and the inefficient”. Resilient systems have resources within them which enable them to withstand shocks and trauma.  These “unexploited” resources aren’t built or stored in offices. That would be too inefficient. Many of our offices stand empty with their enterprise blown away by the latest economic shocks to the system. Offices are only open for business and efficiency. They are closed to resilience and their house is blown down with but one puff.

“Happy are those who delight in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all they do, they prosper.” (Psalm 1).

Goblin Market

Goblin Market, Goblin Market.

Goblin Market is a remarkable poem by Christina Rossetti. I love this video version because of its pace, images and soundtrack. The words are here. Christina Rossetti was a volunteer worker for over ten years at a refuge for former prostitutes (St Mary Magdalene “house of charity” in Highgate, London), and this experience pulses through the poem.

Rossetti is also well known for writing the words of the Christmas carol, In the bleak Midwinter, (here sung by Alison Crowe). The carol ends with the question “what can I give him, poor as I am?” This is a profound and everyday question. What can we give when we think we have nothing to give? Gift shops have ideas with price tags for those not so poor. Their buyers may wonder what they can get away with. The receivers of such gifts may pass them on to others as something unwanted. What they wanted was something of themselves.  Something that comes from the heart: something that is wholehearted.

What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a wise man, I would play my part; Yet what I can, I give him: give my heart.

For posing the question and for her wholehearted responses  – we give thanks today, a feast day for Christina Rossetti.

The image is Come Buy, a wood engraving by Laurence Housman (1892) scanned by George Landow.



For the first time in a long time I have been having to stand my ground. This is because of an inter-personal, intra-departmental boundary dispute. In other words, we are not sure what we are each doing. This is not a major international incident, though there are significant tensions at the border. We don’t know where the boundaries are supposed to be, and because of that we haven’t worked out how we live together at the boundary.
The damage of borderlands is beautifully brought out in a poem I have just read by Gloria Anzaldua – who describes herself as a “chicana dyke-feminist, tejana patlache poet, writer, and cultural theorist” and “as a border woman [who] grew up between two cultures, the Mexican (with a heavy Indian influence) and the Anglo (as a member of a colonised people in our own territory). I have been straddling that tejas-mexican border, and others, all my life It’s not a comfortable place to live in, this place of contradictions. hatred, anger and exploitation are the prominent features of this landscape”. (The photo is by Brian Auer)
Here’s the poem – as I read it in Edward Soja’s book, Thirdspace:
                         I press my hand to the steel curtain – 
               chainlink fence crowned with rolled barbed wire –
        rippling from the sea where Tijuana touches San Diego
unrolling over mountains
     and plains
              and deserts,
this “Tortilla Curtain” turning into el rio Grande
      flowing down to the flatlands
           of the Magic Valley of South Texas
      its mouth emptying into the Gulf.
1,950 mile-long open wound
                     dividing a pueblo, a culture,
                     running down the length of my body,
                         staking fence rods in my flesh,
                         splits me   splits me
                         me raja   me raja
                                                                               This is my home
                                                                               this thin edge of
                       But the skin of the earth is seamless.
                       The sea cannot be fenced,
             el mar does not stop at borders.
       To show the white man what she thought of his 
                   Yemaya blew that wire fence down.
                     The land was Mexican once,
                          was Indian always
                              and is.
                         And   will be again.

Member of the Board (of ironing)

>Thinking family – a domestic task which has spanned the years of our family has been the ironing. I have been the one who does the ironing – and it has been the mindless job I have been doing on Sunday evenings when I’ve been too tired to sit still. Seeing me through that job has been my i-pod, and before that CDs, and before that vinyl and before that those tapes that were forever getting tangled up. But the music doesn’t change. I wonder if it’s generally the case that the music we love in our (late) teens becomes the themes for our whole life. So for me James Taylor still puts a crease in the trousers. Paul Simon still gets the t-shirts ironed. Kirsty MacColl gets the socks paired. There are interruptions to the ironing routine. Old favourites produce new albums, so the steam of the iron has played percussion to Graceland since 1986. Presents provide interruption (this Christmas: Seasick Steve and Mumford & Sons) and new tracks get followed. Katie Melia smoothes, while ironing to the world music of Freshlyground, Orchestra Boabab and Youssou N’Dour seems positively exotic.

Ian Bradley
and David Adam (and many others)point out the prayer themes of Celtic spirituality. Such spirituality prays through all the domestic routine, including fire lighting, getting dressed (patrick) and milking the cow. I have to say that I have been so slow to realise the lost opportunities for prayer when ironing – prayer for the family and the occasions when they will wear the particular clothes – the meetings, the tests, the nights out, their friends, their confidence and their love. Never mind. There will be more ironing next weekend. (Thank you Natalie Maynor for the photo of Ironing Board Sam)


Resurrection: Borgo San Sepolcro

Today it is time. Warm enough, finally,
to ease the lids apart, the wax lips of a breaking bud
defeated by their steady push, hour after hour,
opening to show wet and dark, a tongue exploring,
an eye shrinking against the dawn. Light
like a fishing line draws its catch straight up,
then slackens for a second. The flat foot drops,
the shoulders sag. Here is the world again, well-known,
the dawn greeted in snoring dreams of a familiar
winter everyone prefers. So the black eyes
fixed half-open, start to search, ravenous,
imperative, they look for pits, for hollow where
their flood can be decanted, look
for rooms ready for commandeering, ready
to be defeated by the push, the green implacable
rising. So he pauses, gathering the strength
in his flat foot, as the perspective buckles under him,
and the dreamers lean dangerously inwards. Contained,
exhausted, hungry, death running off his limbs like drops
from a shower, gathering himself. We wait,
paralysed as if in dreams, for his spring.

(Piero della Francesca’s Resurrection hangs in the
civic hall of Borgo San Sepolcro, Tuscany.)

Confessions of a Jogger

>Another crisp day for a run – like skating on ice. A bit greedy this morning, trying to run further than I could, and halfway round thinking what a long way there still is to go. That’s always dangerous. The thought comes with tiredness and the temptation is to up the pace and get it over with. Far better to take care with each step and to get there in the end. Who siad life’s a marathon?