Ever got fed up with the usual schmaltz on your Christmas cards?
Ever thought about the fact that the Christmas story is also a refugee story?
Its tough to celebrate one refugee refugee story while ignoring thousands of others though, isn’t it.
As part of my Alternative Advent project for this year I’ve commissioned some ‘alternative’ Christmas card images, to remind us of the blood and guts in the original story and to raise some cash for refugee charities.
Artwork is courtesy of Dean Rankine (Simpsons comics), Steve Beckett (The Beano), Stu McLellan (book illustrator) and Siku (The Manga Bible), and profits will be handed over to Safe Passage, a charity which works with refugee children.
There are about 80 million “displaced people” around the world today, and the United Nations say that more than half of all the world’s refugees are children. That’s a huge number however you choose to look at it, it works out around one percent of the entire world population.
Christmas is a refugee story, and Jesus was a refugee. His family fled when they knew that soldiers were on their way to kill him, it’s an experience that too many (any is too many, but in this case we’re talking millions) children and their families continue to have.
Tripp Fuller, the American founder and host of the Homebrewed Theology Podcast can take credit for advancing the understanding of more than just open and relational theologies among a portion of the Church. He should, however, surely be particularly recognised for his work popularising the work of amazing Process theologians such as John Cobb and Catherine Keller among his contemporaries. He is currently working in Edinburgh University on a project which addresses the apparently conflicting worlds of science and faith.
In this book Fuller demonstrates his own theological prowess, cleverly drawing out the theologies of others to develop a holistic Christology of his own. Fuller has an impressively broad frame of reference, having developed a deep understanding of and respect for the work of a range of theological thinkers and ideas. He pings off names both familiar and perhaps less familiar to progressive Christians on both sides of the Atlantic, and places them into discussion with their interlocutors. His writing is in places passionate, but remains clear and well expressed. At points he executes a really neat turn of phrase that will leave you wanting more.
Much like the rest of his work, which seems to be aimed at bringing together apparently diverse strands of thinking, the book is primarily developed around the dialogue between pairings of theologians. Throughout Fuller seeks to extend apparently contrasting approaches to develop something which he says is lacking from much contemporary theological discourse, a clear answer to the Christological question from the perspective of an informed ‘liberal’ Christianity. I agree that this is a live issue.
Where there are problems in the book, they are not due to his theology – unless that is you take ‘open and relational’ to mean something other than broadly process oriented, a mistake few serious theology scholars are likely to make. Even if that were the case, it’s unlikely that one would have room to take meaningful issue with the quality of his thought or the accuracy of his representation of the work of others.
At times though I felt there were terms which would have benefitted from some clarity of definition: I’ve already mentioned the word ‘liberal’ for instance, and I found it to be used generously but without clarity of definition. My view is that it is not so clear in its definition (at least not in the UK) as to pass entirely without comment. One might argue that in this case the meaning becomes clear in its context, but I think that some clarity on it from the start would have been an advantage. A smart editor should perhaps have picked this up. My other criticism is linked: I also found that the occasional textual editing error crept into the book – a minor issue perhaps, and maybe not even worthy of a complaint, but these errors of formatting and grammar were enough to occasionally catch my eye and thereby my attention.
That leads me to my main point about the book – this is serious theology, it’s not a book from which you particularly want your attention to be distracted. However, it’s also readable, Fuller sweeps the reader along very well, and through some reasonably complex territory. He does this partly by flicking back occasionally to short and pacey sentences, in places as short as just one word, and repeated mantra type phrases such as: “Christology is a disciple’s discipline” or “Christology is a disciple’s dogma”.
Ultimately, in his own development of an articulated and articulatable open and relational Christology, Fuller reiterates his initial challenge: that such an endeavour must be able to take into account the historical Jesus, the existential register of faith and the metaphysical ‘referent’ to God. In doing this the reader comes to realise that of course Fuller has already given them the answer they seek in his title, his Christology concerns the idea that God invests God’s self in the world. As this ‘divine self-investment’ occurs God receives back into God’s self “all that the world becomes” – ‘so far, so Cobb…’ one might say. Fuller expands on this however, developing on the idea that God shares in the travails of the world such that God too needs salvation. Here Fuller answers not just the question of what it means to call Jesus the Christ, but also Joan Osborne’s more personal and experiential question: ‘what if God was one of us?’
There is a lot to love about this book, Fuller has a beautiful way with phrasing and his comprehension of and elucidation of the work of some brilliant theologians is superb. I think I will be returning to it quite often. It isn’t necessarily a book that evangelicals will love, I feel, but for those drawn to an open and relational approach to Christianity, this may well provide the answer they need to the Christological conundrum.
In his feature length film ‘Hosea’, writer director Ryan Daniel Dobson adapts the ancient story of Hosea, an axial age Jewish prophet, for the twenty first century. The original story is one of destruction and redemption, and this new take follows a similar path, but with added complexities. Crucially, rather than foreground the ‘usual’ principal character, Dobson has placed at the centre of his story the complex and meaning-laden existence of Cate a woman whose story is intended to parallel that of Gomer in the original.
Where the book of Hosea is more interested in the prophet than his troubled wife, this film is really Cate’s story rather than that of her husband. Replete with stark and disturbing themes of abuse, exploitation, self harm, addiction, and intimate partner violence, Hosea as a film and Cate as a character hold up a cracked mirror to contemporary society. Pleasingly, Dobson deliberately pulls back from offering the usual easy answers that one might expect in this sort of story, without allowing spoilers into the review I can still say that even the ending defies the conventional narrative expectations.
Cate, played by Camille Rowe, is sensitively cast and played, with some strong supporting actors in Josh Pence (particularly good) and Avi Nash among others. Her strength and fragility are at the core of the story. There is always the danger in a film like this of ending up in cliche territory at least once or twice, but my feeling was that Dobson’s script steered clear of this. There’s perhaps only the vaguest hint of polemic in his writing, although some messages come through clearly – particularly around mental illness and exploitation. The intent though seems to be to spark discussion rather than offer predigested answers, and there’s a lot to draw upon in the film: issues of religion and culture, sex and intimacy, substance abuse and mental health all spring readily to mind. Beyond that though the story explores what it really means to reconstruct, and what it means to be damaged (and indeed to damage). It asks us why we are so desperate to save things in a particular way, what is it that gives us the right and the privilege to tell others how their lives should be lived.
Hosea – the film – is really a parable, a story which lends itself to considerable amounts of unpacking and discussion. It’s a religious story for a post secular world, which turns a gentle but unflinching eye back toward the viewer.
Due to the themes and content, it’s rated 18+, and it does contain triggers and scenes which some viewers may find disturbing. Recommended.
Thomas Jay Oord is a serious philosophical theologian with a common touch. He’s able to articulate complicated ideas and subtle concepts in simple language which scratch where the average reader itches.
God Can’t, published in 2019, proved to be popular with readers precisely because it put into accessible terms the kind of ideas that Oord has been expounding for some time, namely that God does not sit idly by while the planet burns and humans kill one another refusing to act except by occasional whim. Rather than refusing to act “God can’t”, Oord insists.
God Can’t, and its now companion piece God Can’t, Q&A (published in 2020) are aimed at readers who want to reconcile their conviction that somehow God is “real” with a growing body of experience that says things aren’t the way they should be. Tellingly Oord foregrounds the experience of real people, using small case studies in the former, and reflecting on readers’ questions in the follow up. He does this to great effect, and does his very best to avoid the usual dodges employed by confessional theologians – taking aim particularly at the “it’s a mystery” trope favoured by those who struggle to articulate or justify why a good God might allow or even ‘ordain’ suffering.
In 2015 Stephen Fry launched in to a blistering televised critique of the interventionist God who chooses not to intervene. The video went viral, Fry had articulated the basic problem with so much of popular Christian thinking – effectively that the God who allows unspeakable torment of blameless creatures is some sort of monster.
What Oord exposes is that there is an alternative view of God which takes seriously this critique and offers a plausible alternative. Along the way he also points out other problems with the idea of an omnipotent deity. “Its hard to feel motivated to solve problems an allegedly omnipotent God could solve alone…” he muses, putting his finger on the reason why so many Christians smile blithely in the face of climate catastrophe and political despotism.
At times the writing is almost preacherly, reflecting the pastoral vocation that competes for time with Oord’s academic work. Indeed it is perhaps this vocation which has caused problems for Oord in the past, he has previously fallen foul of institutional powers that be which objected (unjustly) to his deeply pastoral theology. He falls foul too of those who think that he is saying that God is entirely powerless – but that’s a shallow reading of his thought. God, according to Oord, is still ‘al-mighty’ but needs our cooperation in order to effect change. Love never coerces, he argues. Here he is squarely in the realm of neo Whiteheadian Process theology as he begins to talk about ‘indispensable love synergy’ and even refers sparingly to the ‘lure’ of God among other less technical metaphors. Perhaps this area exposes one of the potential weaknesses in his theology (shared by some other process theologians) the insistence that at times even individual cells in the body might respond to God’s loving lure. This kind of explanation is given here and in other similar literature to explain some ‘healing miracles’ and other unexplained answers to prayer. Personally I find this panpsychist explanation not to be entirely convincing, and worry that it verges too closely to the ‘mystery’ argument which Oord does so well to dispense with.
Confessing Christians, particularly those who take a ‘high’ approach to the Bible, will appreciate his approach. Those who take a more literary approach to Biblical texts might find his reading of certain passages a little over worked. This does however make him an excellent interlocutor for evangelicals looking for a better way to understand the God of their upbringing, and crucially it doesn’t spoil the great thinking or writing.
In “Q&A” Oord tackles some of the obvious questions which arise from his first – If God can’t, then ‘why pray?’ for instance, and questions about the afterlife among a variety of others. Here again some readers will struggle with his adherence to what I would term ‘Biblicism’ (his apparently literal approach to the virgin birth for example) but he remains entirely coherent in his argument, and sticks closely to his brand of Christianity without ever making exclusive claims to truth. Perhaps at times the conversational tone he employs, which makes the books so readable, isn’t quite adequate to the task of unpacking complex ideas, the nature of God for instance would perhaps be better tackled in more technical language. This might have assuaged some of his critics, but it would also have defeated the point of the exercise.
Throughout the books he advances an idea of God which is panentheist and kenotic, but he does this in a personal and personable way which manages not to alienate or confuse the average reader. His tight prose keeps the reader moving through the books and his consistent recourse to ‘every-man’ stories from his friends and readers means the whole thing remains firmly rooted in the day to day realities of life.
I would have liked him to reject some of the problematic approaches to the Bible which lead many to adopt the erroneous view of God which he spends so much of the book addressing, but perhaps it’s more powerful for his not doing so. Again his pastoral heart is evident as he takes the beliefs and concerns of the reader seriously, and addresses them from a place of love and respect.
Steve Aisthorpe’s new book ’Rewilding the Church’ takes as it’s starting point the enduring fascination in contemporary society for rewilding, a process of returning large tracts of countryside to a more ‘natural’ state in an effort to bring back lost bio-diversity and species rich habitats. Aisthorpe lives in the Scottish Highlands, the Shangri-la of many rewilding devotees who see the mountains and glens as an ideal locus for their efforts. He also works for the Church of Scotland, a historic denomination which faces many of the problems that other denominations do – declining church attendance and challenging issues to do with ministerial recruitment and elderly buildings. An accomplished researcher, Aisthorpe has done fieldwork among those who, while professing Christianity, no longer attend church. This provided the material for his first book ‘The Invisible Church’ and further research has been added to contribute to this one. Aisthorpe has found favour within the Fresh Expressions movement, which in some cases seems to me to serve as a thinly veiled attempt to get people ‘back to church’ – that’s not his approach though: ‘I am certainly not suggesting that anyone should chase after people with the intention of corralling them into homogenised congregations!’ He declares. Aisthorpe as a thoughtful and creative missiologist seems to recognise the opportunities posed by the changes in society that are reflected in this shift away from ‘how things have always been done’ as well as facing the challenges they present.
His book is a good read for those who like me are keen for Christianity to move away from it’s religious trappings and to return to a more fundamental focus on the teachings of Jesus, Steve and I may disagree on points of Christian doctrine, but we’re in full agreement there. He is what some would call a ‘loyal radical’ speaking uncomfortable truths from within the fold of his historical church home. This is recalled throughout the book, not least when he remarks that the church has many unloving critics, and many uncritical lovers, what it can always use, he remarks ‘is some loving critique’. Among other things, Aisthorpe calls for an approach that values simplicity over complexity, he also calls for a place to be found for doubt, questioning and journey ‘Churches perceived as standing for certainty, dogma and fixed practises are no place for pilgrims’ he notes. A lifelong adventurer and outdoorsman, he calls for an ecclesial outlook which values adventure, innovation and exploration.
One of the things that rewilding is famous for as an ideology for its call to re-introduce apex predators as a way of dealing with pests. Aisthorpe stops short of this, but does call for the culling of invasive species like busyness and fear – perhaps this is where he could have gone further, there are other invasive species I’d like to see culled that are much more human than this. My feeling is that he has pulled his punches here a little, however his call for a more contemplative, inclusive and welcoming spirituality is certainly deeply welcome. The book is peppered with quotes which demonstrate the breadth of what I think is his own inclusive and open small ‘e’ evangelical Christianity. As well as frequent Bible references he draws upon a range of popular authors, from Henri Nouwen to Rob Bell, as well as new pieces of field research to make his point. He wants to see a church that is more Jesus shaped and effectively says that unless we loosen our grip on it and allow ourselves to be guided (or lured?) in a spirited direction we will continue to see catastrophic collapse in the church as in our natural environment. “If you want to rewild the Church” he says, “don’t promote mission strategy and teach church-planting tactics. Instead foster a trust in Jesus and nurture a deeper love for those he brings across our path.” Ultimately Aisthorpe believes that God is rewilding the church, the question is whether we try to resist this, or fall in step.
Steve graciously agreed to answer a couple of questions I had about the book – or rather about the concept of rewilding as it applies to the church…
Q: One of the most enduring critiques of rewilding is that it fails to take account of lives and livelihoods in the current landscape. What do you say to those who like ‘church as it is’ and don’t want to see it change?
Authentic Church arises out of our responding to the call of Jesus, ‘follow me’. No blueprint or road map exists. Yes, we can discern certain trajectories and get fleeting glimpses of the destination, but his call is an invitation to join a holy adventure. So the Church is always ‘an interim Church, a Church in transition’ as Hans Kung put it. To go back to the rewilding metaphor, if something carries the label ‘church’ but is committed to remain unchanging I would suggest that it is time for a radical reintroduction programme! Just as the reintroduction of a keystone species impacts the whole ecosystem, individual disciples and any expression of the Church need to allow the one C.S. Lewis called ‘The Great Interferer’ to transform and regenerate the landscape.
Q: A significant barrier to rewilding is the question of ownership, which resolves to ‘money and power’. The church is home to the same issues, how do we tackle that? And how do you approach that personally from your position within a historic denomination?
I live in a valley where the owners on one side manage the land as traditional sporting estates. The land there is managed to ensure that optimum numbers of a very small number of species (deer and grouse) are available at key times of the year. In contrast, the landowners on the opposite side of the valley have entered into a shared commitment to a 200 year plan to rewild the landscape. Ownership makes a huge difference, but it can work in different ways. There are real choices and occasionally owners make courageous, personally sacrificial and radical choices. When it comes to the Church, this is the time for such courageous choices.
Having said that, whether in land or church, I am convinced that ‘small is beautiful’. See below! In my first book, The Invisible Church, there is a cartoon by Dave Walker which pictures a huge ship named ‘The Church Unchanging’. It is sinking and surrounded by a haphazard host of small vessels, life rafts etc. To me, this sums up the current situation. Where ‘ownership’, power and money are centralised in large institutions, this is the time for divesting, decentralising, refocusing resources on the emerging etc.. Personally, working in ‘a historic denomination’ I want to be part of God’s rewilding: subverting traditionalism (not to be confused with tradition, as explained in the book), fear of change and the veneration of things that have ‘always been this way’ wherever I find em – and encouraging and celebrating the faithful rhythm of listening and responding to the one we follow – whether that looks ‘traditional’, innovative or whatever.
Q: Rewilding really requires scale in order to take hold. Just making a hole in your garden fence may encourage biodiversity but it isn’t the same as ‘rewilding’ – how do you address the problem of scale when you’re encouraging people to think ‘small’?
The question of scale is an interesting one. My observation is that God’s rewilding of the Church is reflected in a simplification, a flourishing of the small and simple and the rapid decline of the large and the complex. While the increasing interest in cathedral worship is one of many indicators that large institutions will continue to be part of the overall biodiversity that is the Church, there is no doubt that the overall balance is shifting towards the small and the simple. Rewilding the Church will involve a revolution of small things. The Church (and that includes us, because we are the church) needs to recapture a sense of its identity as the global body of Christ, but also foster the small and local, where Christian community can be sufficiently agile to respond to the Spirit’s life. If all you are able to do is the ecclesiastical equivalent of making a hole in your garden fence, do it! Who knows where it’ll lead!
It took some time for the Christian canon to be agreed, but eventually it was – sort of. Except that it wasn’t. Different branches of Christianity ended up with slightly diverging sets of texts, but there were some key similarities – in particular there were the gospels.
Four short books, each of them on the same subject, each with the same (or very similar) set of characters, and crucially with the same central story arc. There’s really only one problem with these four texts – they’re all different.
The gospels somehow reflect the wider Bible in microcosm, written for different audiences, from different perspectives at different times and in different places – of course they were going to diverge. Of course. Duh.
This is the pattern of Christianity, indeed its the pattern of the Abrahamic religions more generally, they are multiplicitous. They are multivocal. These are people of story – people caught up in something that draws them towards a greater goal. They don’t need to agree on the details, they are travellers on the same road.
When I started to think about the “Liturgy in a Dangerous Time” project, I knew that if we did it, it would have to represent that truth somehow. In a very small and very imperfect way, it would need to acknowledge that there are various points of view, even in one small corner of Christianity. So it was important straightaway to try and ensure that a range of voices were included, not to represent different ‘sections’ of the church as if one person could hope to speak for thousands of others, but to be honest about the fact that we don’t all agree on everything, and no more should we. As a former chief Rabbi once put it, “in heaven there is truth, on earth there are truths.”
This can make it difficult to curate, you have to avoid placing jarring perspectives too closely without thinking carefully about them, and it remains important to not try to qualify or edit people’s contributions, let them stand, so that people can hear them from their perspectives.
After all, the gospel writers didn’t agree on everything, there are clear differences (from my perspective at least) in the way that they understood Jesus, how they wrote about him, and what they expected to happen next. And we, the readers, some 2000+ years later don’t agree on how they saw things, after all, it would be extraordinary if we all agreed on much beyond the absolute basics. And lets be honest, we don’t even agree on them.
While the lockdown has been on, here in the UK, some groups have begun to argue with each other about their sacred beliefs, is a Eucharist performed at a kitchen table valid? Should priests be going into church to pray? Is the church in retreat, or is it entering a new era? Of course people have different views about this, people disagree about everything – everything! Important things and unimportant things. We even disagree on whether things are important or not.
The point is not to try and achieve a homogenous set of views, as if we will all arrive at a place of consensus on these issues given time (we can’t even agree on what should or shouldn’t be in the Bible, never mind what the words mean), rather we should accept that our views are plural, and in so doing, celebrate it. We are one people, but people is plural. We have many voices, we have many perspectives, this is to be welcomed. Many of the greatest evils in history have been accomplished because of a wish to remove plurality, to get rid of difference, and to enforce a single point of view.
By engaging positively with our plurality* we begin to recognise it’s beauty, we come to see that we can see much more if we look at things from a variety of perspectives. As long as it continues, Liturgy in a Dangerous Time will try to include various perspectives and approaches, from conservative to progressive, from protestant to catholic, from kitchen table to high altar. Because that’s who we are, and that’s what we’re like.
*I’m not unaware of the fact that the very pluralism of this approach is itself indicative of a particular stance, but at least it’s a generous and accepting stance, one that welcomes the wisdom and insight of others, and gently asks them to recognise that others have important things to say too.
Self isolation is not something we’ve just invented, for millennia people have taken themselves off to quiet places and spent time on their own, in some cases considerable periods of time on their own. One of the things that many self-isolators have come to find valuable, is the practise of meditation.
Whether you’re a voluntary or involuntary self isolator, you too could learn a simple meditation practise, which will help you remain calm, focused, and more ready to face the challenges of confinement.
I’ve been teaching various kinds of meditation for years, and practising meditation myself for even longer. There are many types of meditation, some more elaborate than others. Below is a very simple meditation practise which you can use wherever you are. Regular meditation practise will not only help you control your emotions, meditation has been shown to have significant physical benefits too – including lowering blood pressure. Can’t be bad.
So make the most of this opportunity, begin a meditation practise now, and build a habit which will help you through the rest of your life.
Just a note – meditation is simple, very very simple, but that doesnt make it easy. In fact it’s hard. But it’s worth continuing, because ultimately it’s not about getting ‘good’ at meditation, it’s just about doing it.
A simple meditation practise
The point of this meditation practise is not to fill your mind, but rather to still, quiet, or empty it, to not be actively thinking about things. To create a bit of quiet space in your very busy and noisy mind. To to do this, we’re going to use a simple repeated word form of meditation.
Step One: Find a reasonably comfortable and quiet place to sit. I encourage people to use a straight backed chair, most of us have one of them, a dining chair will do. Some prefer to sit on a cushion, or on a couch, or to use a kneeling stool. My advice is that you don’t want something too comfy – or you might just drop off. You also don’t want something which will grow uncomfortable after a few minutes. You need something that will help you keep a straight spine, as this will help you to breathe easily.
Step Two: Decide on the length of time you’re going to meditate for. I advise people starting out to go for something like ten or fifteen minutes, often the first five minutes is the hardest, so if you only give yourself five minutes, then you only do the hard bit. When you’ve decided a time, then set a timer of some sort to alert you, try not to use a harsh sounding alarm which will startle or jolt you, there are lots of timer apps you can download if that’s your thing. As you get used to it, you may find that your body will let you know when the time is up.
Step Three: For this meditation, you are going to need a word. For your first time, I suggest using ‘still’. What you’re going to do is silently repeat that word in your mind, ideally on your ‘out’ breath. So breath in, then as you breath out repeat your word: “Still….” In future sessions you may want to choose a different word, try not to choose a word with too much meaning, or else you will find it becomes a distraction. Simple words are best.
Step Four: Sitting on a straight-backed chair, with your feet flat on the floor, lay your hands gently in your lap. Don’t cross your legs. Then allow your eyes to close, but softly, don’t screw them shut. I sometimes meditate with my eyes open, but I think this is harder for the beginner, so I advise new meditators to start with their eyes shut.
Note: When you sit, you will find a number of things start to happen. You may for instance find you have an itch, the nose, the ear, the shoulder… the temptation is just to scratch it and return to the meditation. My advice is just to ignore it, it will go away. If you scratch it, another itch will appear, then another… As you sit, you will find a lot of thoughts start to float through your mind. There are three “don’ts” that I advise people here.
Don’t resist any thought. If you try and fight a thought, you are actively thinking about it. So don’t try and resist a thought that comes into your head, just accept it’s there, and return to your repeated word.
Don’t retain any thought. Some thoughts will seem like brilliant ideas, or important things to remember, and you will want to hang on to them, don’t do it. Let the thought go, return to your word.
Don’t resent any thought. Sometimes you will find yourself so bombarded with thoughts and ideas, that you’ll start feeling dis-spirited and fed up, you will start to resent all those thoughts that are mucking up your meditation practise. That too is a mistake, because it in itself is a whole thought process. Accept that all these thoughts are there in your mind, and then just return to your word.
Step five: So you’re sitting in your chair, you have a word to repeat, you have an amount of time, now just begin. Press start on your timer, and then gently close your eyes, let your breath become regular and settled, and once it is, start repeating your word, try to do so on every out breath. When your meditation session finishes, don’t rush off, allow yourself to pause, feel grateful for the time, maybe take a sip of water to help ground yourself again, and then move on to the practical tasks of your day. Ideally aim to do this in a regular slot, according to what you think you can manage. Any meditation is better than none, an unmanageable schedule is not a good idea, be realistic and develop a practise that is helpful and sustaining for you.
Repeated word meditation is not a practise that suits everyone, if I have time I will either write some more instructionals with other meditation techniques, or record some podcast style tutorials which will help people who find they just can’t get on with this. However, I believe that given time, this is a technique that can be used by more or less anyone in a wide variety of settings.
A short break from the usual light hearted blog posts to let you know about my lent series on ‘deconstruction’ which starts on the 26th of Feb. I will be using my regular ‘weekday meditations’ email series to explore the idea of deconstruction, what it is, why people go through it, what to do if you find yourself in the middle of it, all that good stuff.
Touching on issues of social control, power, loss, love, failure and other good stuff. You can sign up here, (it’s free and I won’t misuse your data) I’m also aiming to produce some supporting material to go with it as we go along…
“What are those red things in the hedge?” “No idea.” “Come and look – there are two red things in the hedge. They look like… chillies.”
We’ve been promised a storm, and I’m awaiting its arrival at the living room window. But my attention is not on the scudding clouds or the leaden sky, I’m transfixed by the two red things in the hedge.
“I know what they are, or rather, what it is!” “What?”
As I look at the two strangely shaped red things I have a sudden memory, to a summer day when I was enthusiastically clipping the hedge. I was armed, as usual, with not with just one, but three different types of cutting items, a standard pair of garden shears, some loppers to cut back the bigger branches, and a small pair of secateurs. With red handles.
“It’s my secateurs! I’ve found my secateurs!” The lack of response is a little aggravating. But I continue enthusiastically nonetheless. “The red things, they are the handles of my secateurs, I must have balanced them on top of the hedge…”
The discovery is both pleasing and discouraging. How am I that person who loses a pair of secateurs in a hedge? I then begin to idly wonder how many pairs of secateurs are lost in hedges on a regular basis. There is no way I can tell, so I guess that it happens a lot.
“Didn’t you do this with a trowel too?” The question cuts through my reverie, and I am forced to face facts. “Do you mean the trowel I left in the bag of ericaceous compost?” A year or two ago I unwittingly ‘overwintered’ a trowel in a bag of ericaceous compost. I had discovered it in the spring, when I had cause to get some compost out of the bag.
“That trowel was lovely and shiny when it came out of the bag…” I remember that I thought this could be a good way to store tools, the acid in the compost had agreed with stainless steel of the trowel leaving it gleaming. I had however chosen to stick with a mixture of sand and oil for garden tool storage. Buying expensive bags of compost just to stick tools into seemed like a waste. Looking at the red handles of the secateurs I wonder if I’m likely to consider a hedge a good place to store cutting items. I suspect not.
Staring out of the window, I make a mental note: “Don’t, under any circumstances, let anyone find out about this.”
FIVE HOURS EARLIER
“Of all the types of rock,” drones the bore, “I like punk the best.” Of all the types of rock? I give him a look which says, “you clearly know nothing about music.” But despite this, he carries on regardless. Soon I know his opinions on everything and they are more or less uniformly deplorable.
I choose to break in to his monologue with a left field idea: “If you don’t have a lanyard,” I ask, “do you even have a job?” This throws him, and leaves him searching for words, thus clearing the way for me to the exit the conversation without having to engage in an act of violence – something I had hitherto found myself almost ready for.
The conversation now effectively over, I’m now able to mingle, which is something I’m keen to avoid. Instead I make my way to the kitchen where my wife is holding a mason jar with home made pickled cabbage in it. Her arm is outstretched and she has the appearance of an actor playing Hamlet, holding the skull of Yorick. On the outside of the jar there is white substance which she is looking at suspiciously. “That looks fine.” I say. “It’s just a chemical reaction.”
She continues to look at the jar, before swivelling her head to turn a laser like gaze on to me. “You have a way of saying things,” she says, “which makes it sound like you know what you are talking about, but when you think about what you’ve just said, they don’t make any sense.”
I am undone. Bluffing has got me all the way to 43, but now what? The smokescreen has at last been pierced, and people know. They know.
I’m still thinking the same thought as I stand in front of the window. How many other people know, maybe they all know. Or maybe only one person knows. How do I know?
I’m still standing there thinking the same thing when my wife comes in to the room. “Everything ok?” She says. “I was just thinking,” I reply. “I was thinking that at times like these, I wish I had listened to what my Chemistry teacher used to say.” “Why?” She asks. “What did she say?”
I turn to her with a baleful gaze. “I don’t know. I didn’t listen.”
Original image by Fidlerjan on Morguefile.com Used under Creative Commons.