Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Foolscap - a poem


The blinded window,
like a discarded page of empty, lined and yellowing
foolscap, says nothing,
but stares balefully back, while

the silhouetted money plant
is an elaborate blot of inky black and messy
coinage, worth little,
but for curiosity, when

the lights from a passing bus
flicker the length of the page
and make it a window again.

Since it has been said that
what you see in split ink,
(tealeaf like?) is a window to the soul, and
since the page is blank and yellow, and
since the money cannot be spent, and
since the light was there and gone -

why should I rise?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Goodness doesn't know

Yes, goodness knows
The Wicked's lives are lonely
Goodness knows
The Wicked cry alone
Nothing grows for the wicked
They reap only
What they've sown…
Last week I went with my family to see the musical Wicked.

It has some fab tunes (by Stephen Schwartz of Godspell and Prince of Egypt fame) – and, more than that, a thought-provoking story. The musical is based on the novel by Gregory Maguire, which is in turn a subversion of L. Frank Baum’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the iconic MGM movie that has taken audiences over the rainbow and along the yellow brick road since 1939.

Avoiding major spoilers, let’s put it like this. The story takes that gloriously 2D baddie, the Wicked Witch of the West, and tells her story in a way that turns it on its head. Villainess becomes heroine. The witch, Elphaba, is a sparky, inventive and idealistic young woman with a gift for casting spells. But she is rejected for being different (in this case ‘like a froggy, ferny cabbage…unnaturally green!’) Sealing her fate, Elphaba falls foul of Oz’s corrupt political masters who play on general ignorance and fear to spin her as an enemy of the people – hence the version of the story we see on our TV screens every Christmas Eve. The way the plot manages to twist and turn all those familiar motifs – from scarecrow to broomstick to ruby slippers – is truly, well, wonderful.

The show opens with a spectacular musical ensemble as the citizens of Oz celebrate the witch’s recent death. (You can listen to it here, with lyrics here.)

Forget ‘Ding dong the witch is dead’ – this number, with its blending of major and minor strains, is musically ingenious, and here’s why. Remember Lewis Carroll’s poem, Jabberwocky? The genius of this poem is that the first verse, complete with all its made-up words, is identical to the last verse – but means exactly the opposite. The first verse is sinister and menacing, the last verse – though using exactly the same words – is joyous and celebratory. Well, Wicked’s opening works similarly (though in reverse). The opening number is a joyous celebration of the witch’s death. The closing number is the same song – but now the minor tones come to the fore and it takes on a sinister, even tragic feel, and the words become deeply ironic.

The reason? In the interim we've ‘got to know’ the witch. We've been told her story. We understand her. We love her.

So now we cannot celebrate her death, but only mourn her as a terribly maligned scapegoat.

It strikes me that Wicked has a thing or two to teach us about prejudice and scapegoats. Those who seek power – political or religious or social – need scapegoats. They need someone to blame, someone to direct the fear and hatred of the populace toward. Hitler and the Jews is a very obvious example – but there are examples closer to home.

Fear the immigrant. Fear the gay. Fear the scrounger. Fear the Muslim. Fear the ‘other’. Et cetera. Fill in the blank according to your brand of prejudice.

It leads to soundbites and spin at best, violence and persecution at worst. ‘Goodness knows’ (that is, of course, we know) ‘the wicked deserve everything that’s coming to them’.

Until you get to know them. And then you discover that – who’d have thought it? – they’re human too. And sometimes, they might just have a thing or two to teach us.

So, my reflection for today: don’t judge others. Get to know them. Hear their story. Grow to love them and they'll no longer be ‘them’, the other, but part of the big ‘us’ that is the human race.

Don’t judge others. And certainly not by the colour of their skin – even if it’s green.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vote Jesus

I want us to be a Green Party church, not a UKIP church.

(I’ve broken the law of polite conversation: never mention politics or religion. And I mentioned both. D’oh.)

What do I mean, anyway? ‘Green Party church’?

I went to the Green party conference this week. Just one day (the last), for two sessions – Q&A with the leaders and a plenary. It was in preparation for an event in just over a week’s time – Natalie Bennett, the Greens’ leader is speaking at the Northampton Jesus Centre.

I’ve never been to a political party conference, so it was a fascinating experience on that basis alone. And I suspect the Green Party may be more interesting than most. Still small enough to have the feel of a sparky group of activists yet with a real enough political platform to feel like a credible party, it was an interesting blend of people. Fair few eccentrics. Quite a few beards. High proportion of LGBTQ people (the kind you don’t need sophisticated gaydar to spot). A number of disabled people. Mix of social classes. A guy from ‘Occupy’ who looked like Jesus.

Old and young. But especially young. Lots of young people. Young people engaging with passion; young people speaking with conviction; young people putting forward motions, debating with the facts at their fingertips, pursuing their urgent points with eloquence.

21st century Jesus?
Furthermore, I noted lots of what some would call – not me and certainly not them, but some – ‘political correctness’. I’ve mentioned the range of people. Then there was the moment when questions were temporarily only allowed from ‘those who gender-identify as female’. There was the respect shown – along with the sense that there was nothing unusual about it – when a young man with a severe speech impediment brought a motion.

It all had a fresh feel, of a future of possibility, of a world worth fighting for. It was forward-looking, aspirational. There was also a strong sense that everyone had a voice; everyone would be listened to; anything could be brought to the table.

Now for a frank admission: it made me envious. I want the Jesus movement I’m part of to attract sparky young activists like these. Lots of them. I’m desperate for us to be a magnet for those with imagination, passion, drive. And, yep, we could do with a few big brains, too.

We have our eccentrics. We have our beards. I love them. They make us us. I love the young people who have grown up in church circles and owned its vision as theirs.

But oh God, send us an army of youngsters from all over the place, too. And let us honour their new voices, be open to their fresh ideas, not have ‘off the table’ taboos. Let us work out our passions and priorities through dialogue and debate, listening and loving the other.

The Green Party, like any other party, has to define its policy. That was what the plenary sessions were all about – agreeing on and finalising policy. Policy, by definition, doesn’t mean ‘anything goes’. But that policy would be reached through listening and openness working together with leadership and vision.

I like that.

I long for that.

At the GP conference, a speaker said, in passing, ‘UKIP’s main support base is older, less educated people; the Green Party’s main support base is younger, more educated people; so the future is ours!’ It got a laugh, a small cheer, a ripple of applause.

The implication was that UKIP represents the defensive views of a dying breed, hanging on to prejudices largely out of fear of change, whereas the Greens represent the aspirations of the rising generation based on hope and imagination.

I leave the political judgement to you, dear Reader. But as I consider our church and movement – we could go either way. We could cling onto safe old views and fear change. We could dismiss justice as ‘political correctness’, park power firmly with the status quo.

Or we could open our ears and our hearts to a fresh word for a fresh time from a fresh generation.

I’m getting older. I have to face it. I’m older than Jesus now (he’s 33 forever). Young people like him tend to tip tables over, tend to hang out with the wrong people, tend to say what sounds like our worst nightmare and keep saying it.

Bring it on, I say.

Vote for change. Vote Jesus.