Monday, 22 January 2018

Faith and creeds

The thing Jesus didn't do was start a religion.

His teaching was all about how we treat one another — encouraging us firmly towards kindness and understanding, trust and simplicity, humility and mercy.

When the zealous tried to make him their leader, he took off. When they tried to elevate him to leadership he found a donkey, the ordinary man's humble steed, to say, "Yes, okay, but this kind of leader." When they called him "Master" and "Teacher", he accepted the accolade as accurate, but took a towel to wash their feet and said, "Like this."

He consistently pushed against the boundaries and challenged the strictures of the religion in which he was raised. No healing on the Sabbath? Really? Why not? No women in here doing theology with the men? Why not? Give family priority access? Why? Anyone can be my family. Not go to tea with a tax collector? Why not? Don't let that woman touch you? Why not? Throw stones at her? Why? Haven't you done things you're ashamed of too?

His criteria for godliness were nothing at all to do with doctrine, and were all about helping other people, generosity, acceptance, and a childlike spirit.

He lived in radical simplicity and the Spirit flowed through him in massive power for healing, sanity, and for bringing peace not to human beings only but across the boundaries of species: life listened to him and believed him. He lived with 100% authenticity and as a result could do what we call "miracles". Miracles are thought to be a suspension of the laws of physics, divine intervention into quotidian reality; actually they are incorporated into the realm of physics but are kicked into touch by hypocrisy, lies and constructed personas. When he said we could do even greater things than he did he wasn't kidding, but we hobble our capacity by our failure to live, speak and recognise truth.

After Jesus came Christianity, which does and does not have anything to do with him. About 300 years after Pentecost, the Council of Nicea nailed things down into a creed. But creeds are to faith what Tupperware is to manna. It goes off. Faith in Christ can only be lived, it cannot be formulated. As soon as you organise it, tabulate it, set it as dogma and doctrine, it ossifies, it goes schlerotic, it turns into something else.

Christianity, as organised religions go, has the capacity to be something very beautiful. As a faith system it has done a lot of good. It has also acted as a huge cloak for abuse and torture and caused untold misery of course, but that's people for you — it need not have done. Christianity remembers Jesus, talks about Jesus, points toward Jesus — at its best; it does also systematically trash everything Jesus ever stood for, sometimes.

But Christianity is not and never can be a substitute for knowing and walking with Jesus. That is something completely different. The creeds and leadership structures, the buildings and denominations and training schemes and accreditations and synods and imprimaturs and validated liturgies are all very well if you like that sort of thing, but in the end they are not the real deal.

"He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." It doesn't need a book, a set form or a certificate. It's all, entirely in your heart, or it simply isn't real. 

Thursday, 18 January 2018


I used to like watching what the media call "gritty dramas". I loved Prime Suspect, and vivid in my memory from ages ago (2010?) is Criminal Justice II; but I think my absolute favourites were The Bridge, and Happy Valley by the unbelievably talented Sally Wainwright.

I still hold those levels of writing, directing and acting in the highest esteem, but increasingly these days I find I cannot watch them. It feels as though too much of the world's sorrow is already inside me and I have no space for any more.

Sarah Lancashire starred in Happy Valley — she was brilliant — and right now she's starring in another gritty drama on UK TV, called Kiri. It's about a tragic situation where a social worker allows a child an unsupervised visit with grandparents, and the child is murdered.

I watched the first episode with the Badger, and then the second one aired last night, straight after Love It Or List It with Phil and Kirsty. 

Just at the present time I'm scrambling to finish writing a book. It has to be in to the publisher in March, and meanwhile that same publisher will any day now be sending me someone's novel to edit that carries its own deadline. 

Our household is made up entirely of quiet people (they do play French horn and trombone and bodhran and flute and violin and piano and harp and oboe and recorder, but the people themselves are quiet), but even so daytime requirements can be . . . turbulent. Writing goes best when I start early in the morning. I often wake around half-past three or a quarter to four, and I can get a solid chunk of work in if I start then. This has a knock-on effect of course; by half-past seven or eight in the evening, I'm often ready to turn in. I fell asleep in my armchair (not a pretty sight) before Phil and Kirsty finished, and there was no hope whatsoever of watching Kiri.

So it was my intention to see Kiri on catch-up TV; the first episode was so good.

But — does this happen to you? — sometimes you can notice-but-not-notice some reality of life. And wanting to watch Kiri made me consciously aware of something I'd noticed but not noticed for a long time. 

I couldn't watch it by myself. It has too much trauma. 

I sat and thought about this, considered it, played it through in my mind, asking myself why I wouldn't watch Episode 2 by myself if I saw Episode 1 with the Badger and thought it was great. 

And I became aware that when I sit in the same room with the others of my household, there's a kind of ectoplasm — like squid ink in the water or smoke rising from a slow bonfire or steam from a wet fence when the sun comes up — a subtle presence / ambience / aura / atmosphere exuded by the other person; an emanating strength. Being with them strengthens me.

When I write that down it doesn't read as astonishing at all. "Yes," you may think. "Of course."

But I hadn't really thought about it before. 

Such influence as we have upon one another! Its negative aspects are much discussed, of course — the effects of mental cruelty and psychological/emotional abuse in gradually eroding a person's confidence and self-esteem. Yet the positive aspects, less so; especially given the emphasis on individualism in contemporary society.

But in our household all of us find strength and hope and courage in doing things together. Even something as simple as watching a programme on TV in which a person suffers and is broken down, torn by distress and unkindly treated by their fellow human beings. Even though I know it's only a story. I need the quiet, steady strength of someone sitting beside me to be able to bear watching it.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Eating simply

A maxim that serves me well: "If in doubt — simplify."

I have yet to find a circumstance it doesn't improve.

It works extremely well for healthy eating.

Veganism is trending, as more people find out exactly what animal husbandry and slaughterhouse practice means in real terms. Recipes for nut loaves and many kinds of dips abound — and aquafaba has recently become a thing.

I care passionately about the welfare of farmed animals, and I would love to be vegan, but I'm one of the many people who don't do well on vegan diet. The problems are not so much those usually raised about sources of calcium and protein and Vet B12 — those things have been well addressed long ago. Less often flagged are dietary aspects like copper and zinc. Copper abounds in veggies, while some types of zinc required to metabolise copper come from animal sources. So unless you have that type of zinc, you can end up with both copper starvation because you can't metabolise all that copper in your veggies, and copper poisoning because you ingested all that copper in your veggies. I've concluded that my way forward is lots of plant-sourced food with a small amount of animal-sourced food. The question is, what?

A few years ago I began to ask myself seriously what I came here to do — what do I need to put into my life so that I could make peace with the idea of dying when my time comes? What will make me contented now and also content with the certain knowledge that I must lay it all down at some point, possibly without warning? What will make me both happy and free?

Simplicity bordering on minimalism/essentialism is, for me, the answer. To own as little as possible, to have as uncluttered a schedule as possible, and to have vast tracts of time for thinking and looking and wondering. 

What has made me happy in this particular day? Looking at the slow, drifting flames in the wood stove. Looking at the colour of wet bark. Looking at the diamond clear drops of rain hanging from the twig-ends of the greengage tree. Standing guard against seagulls while the crows — who rejoice my heart by trusting me — eat the breakfast I put down for them in the garden. Walking in the rain. Soaking in the bath.

These are simple things. Not free — crow food, firewood, accommodation, hot water, these cost money; but not much.

It also makes me happy to push gently into grace/gift economy, so that less and less of what I do is about money. I still have to receive an income to pay my way for utilities, food, clothing, travel, books, stationery — the basic things — but I have reached a place where what I am paid for I would do anyway; I receive payment for it but I don't do it for the money, if you see what I mean. And where I can give away what I have, and work for free, I do that.

During 2017 I was ill quite a lot of the time. My own fault; I'd drifted from the diet that safeguards my health. I'd actually reached the point where I felt so ill so much of the time that I hardly had the energy to do anything, and was quietly waiting out the remainder of my time on Earth waiting for it to be over.  That could have been a mighty long wait as I didn't have any illness as such — well, only things like fibromyalgia, swollen ankles, acid reflux, a venous blood clot, dizziness, exhaustion, depression, chest pains, breathlessness; all the usual suspects. Somehow as the autumn ended I managed to get back into eating right, and slowly wellbeing has returned, such that I can write again and go for walks and generally feel more alive.

But something that is not on my To Do list now or ever is complicated cooking. My housekeeping has to be simple. Frankly, I didn't come here to make nut loaf. It has to be way simpler than that.

What I find most effective — and cheapest too, and the most ethical — is the simplest food of all. Eating what Alice and Hebe call "ingredients".

Fruit, vegetables, beans, some grains (not wheat, for me, but quinoa, brown rice, rolled or steel-cut oats), nuts, herbs, seeds, oil, spices. Just steamed, boiled, fried or baked. Quick, straight-forward. Ten-minute cooking. 

I thought long and hard about the animal sources. Dairy foods make me ill (and are both complicated and cruel to produce), and you know, I find I really can no longer fancy eating somebody's leg or liver. I mean, it just seems very strange. There's a place near us where rescued battery hens find a home, and I get eggs from them. I eat fish about three times a week. This seem to me the simplest type of animal source foods. To lift a fish from the sea and kill it swiftly is less complicated than raising a whole cow or sheep for a year then slaughtering it, butchering it, packaging it, retailing it. I feel so sad for the fish, but it got to live wild, at least. To eat an egg is simpler than eating the chicken. The rescue hens part is important to me, because I'm no fan of gassing male day-old chicks in large batches. Is that what we came here to do? Seems improbable. The rescue hens eggs also come direct from the gate of the house where they live, which happens to be next door to the chapel where I worship, and they happen to cost less than half the price of supermarket eggs as well. Stacks up well — no food miles, no packaging (you take your own), low cost and high welfare. I need only an egg or two each week.

On this very simple and basic diet I do amazingly well, and it makes my money go further. Simplicity ramifies into every aspect of life to improve healing and wellbeing for the individual, the community and the whole of creation. My breakfast today was porridge made from a handful of rolled oats cooked in oatmilk with a pinch of sea salt, combined with the fibre left over from a glass of home-made apple and carrot juice — some from a late-fruiting apple tree in our garden, the rest organic produce from the supermarket. Supper will be a jacket potato, cabbage, fried onions and black bean hummus. Followed by an orange. Couldn't be easier or more delicious. I recommend eating simply. It kind of works like fractals, making a corresponding wellness in my body and the body of the Earth which my body also embodies. Food for oneness, or something.

The picture at the top, I took back in the spring — of ramsons picked wild nearby for our salad. Another month and they'll be up and ready to pick again. Makes me happy.