last night jen and i went along to the uk slam poetry final run by farrago in london. a slam is a type of event rather than a style of poetry where each contestant gets to perform for 3 minutes. judges then give scores and contestants then go through to the next round and then get another 3 minutes slot. last night's contestants were made up of people who took part in an open mic early on in the evening and then winners of previous slams (london, south of england etc.) and there were contestants from scotland and wales. anyway the BIG NEWS if you didn't see it on my twitter or facebook is that our very own harry baker won so is the UK poetry slam champion 2011!!
it was a complete delight earlier this year to have the treat of listening to iain mcgilchrist speak on the brain. there are not many times i have sat in the presence of someone whose gift is clearly to research for their whole life and further you think that is exactly what they should be doing. he has written a book the master and his emissary which explores the brain and the two hemispheres. this book has very much reawoken interest in this area. i have been meaning to blog about it for quite some time but my notes were excessively complex so how to blog? well having delayed and delayed has proved to be a good idea because it turns out there is an RSA animation of him summarising the work. it is a bit complex in places but honestly pour a drink and sit back for ten minutes and think about what he's saying and what it might mean. i am very intersted in this idea of two kinds of attention - one that is focused and grasping and nailing things down, and one that is unknowing and broad and intuitive. what might that mean for the kinds of theologies and spiritualities we see played out in the christian church for example?
so it turns out that with my naive suggestion i am not the only one thinking that dealing with the obscene salaries is a serious issue. i had suggested setting a salary cap above which people could then earn more and choose whether to invest it in arts, health, charity - something on the lines of transformation for good. doing so would overnight change our economics. this idea wil not go away out of my head. in fact i am getting more and more wound up about peoples' so called earnings and their supposed individual right to such earnings. i enjoyed the letter in today's guardian from les farris which said
Can we stop referring to "earnings" to describe the ludicrous sums looted from the economy by "top" people. The terms "trousered", "pocketed", "walked way with", "snaffled" or the simple "received" would be more appropriate. Nobody "earns" those levels of income.
that about says it! a report has just been published on high salaries and how they have escalated in the last 30 years so that the gap between high and low earners in a companby is wider than ever. in barcalys for example it is 75 times with top earners getting 4.5 million pounds in a year - yes a year. why do we tolerate this as a society? is this the sort of world we want to live in? it's completely absurd and indefensible.
the reason i mention it again is partly because of the report but also this indicator in companies of the differential in pay as a multiplier of the lowest to highest earner. a friend lis at grace pointed out that there is quite a discussion in places to suggest that a good move would be to curb this at 20 times. this still seems huge to me as someone who works in the charity sector but i guess it would be good to see footballers at chelsea earn a maximum of 20 times the recepionist or equivalent! it's certainly a step in the right direction.
the phrase i keep coming back to from st pauls occupy protest is the phrase another world is possible which is on tape all round the camp. in this area it surely is!
luke bretherton has written a good reflection on the occupy movement at st pauls
rowan williams piece in the financial times was wise and thoughtful as ever
and jonathan bartley of ekklesia muses on why the danger isn't over
the greed creed at asbojesus is still probably the most insightful of the lot!
the only thought i have to add to the debate is a naive one...
why not just cap salaries all round? does anyone need to earn say more than 200k in a year? set the level at whatever level you like - equivalent to the prime minister's salary maybe (150k)? or 400k if that makes life simpler? that would shift everything. footballers, bankers, investors, etc etc would all be able to earn enough in a year to buy a small house - does anyone need that anyway?! and there would be huge amounts of money to invest in the poor, in employment, in the arts, in charities and non profits and so on. i know it's naive but we have to address the fundamental problem of obscene disparity and greed. why not have a society that values something other than individual 'success' and 'achievment'?!
i have been reading several books by gerald arbuckle. tim dakin, the cms community leader, is a big fan of his writing and particularly his notion of refounding that I'll come on to in a later post. it's tim's enthusiasm that got me reading arbuckle. he draws on anthropology to look at the processes of change in relation to organisations, cultures and the church and the sorts of leadership that might be either required, necessary or a gift in the process of change. one of the simple axioms he uses is the new belongs elsewhere. i don't think this needs too much explanation! but I will give a little…
every organisation has a culture, a status quo. inevitably lots of people like it the way it is either because of vested interests or fear of what change might bring. but unless an organisation or church cultivates innovation it has no future - innovate or die might be an extreme way of saying it. in every culture there are always those who are innovators, who see the world differently, who dream new possibilities and they need to be encouraged to dream their dreams. however if they are put in an environment with the guardians of the status quo, the chances are that they will put a lot of their energies into justifying themselves, and be under constant critique which can sap a lot of energy. that energy would be better served going into the new. so the smart tactic for newness is to create space for the new to grow elsewhere, alongside the old, away form the status quo. in refounding the church: dissent for leadership arbuckle says
The axiom means that a refounding project should not normally be placed in the midst of existing works/structures, where prophetic people would be under constant critical assessment by members of the community and required to waste invaluable energy apologising for what they are doing.
you see this in many areas of life and culture. reflecting on the newness that has emerged in the church in mission it has been a lot more fruitful where the new has been elsewhere - starting a new congregation alongside the old, or on the margins, or in someone's home. alternative worship communities flourished in precisely this way. beth keith has done some research into pioneers experience in the church and this bears this axiom out in startling fashion. and yet in many places the church is doing precisely the opposite especially when it comes to those who are ordained as pioneers. they are very often being put into structures and positions that require them to do lots of the old in those structures and the new out of that. this is a really hard ask. i won't say it's doomed to failure but I have huge questions about it. i assume it's for reasons that are to do with a mix of economic and imagination. last week i met lots of the guys involved in venture fx, a project in the methodist church to recruit and fund around 15 innovative projects in mission over 5 years. i loved the people and they seem to have got this right. their guys are being set free to do the new elsewhere. the c of e could learn something by watching. this axiom is also why together with cms i have sought to create a pathway for training pioneers that is in a different space, elsewhere and i believe that tactic is enabling us to create something genuinely innovative (i hope anyway - we're certainly not having to spend our energies fending off critique).
of course jesus had something to say about his in his story of old and new wineskins - the new belongs elsewhere...
this does of course raise a question. how elsewhere is elswhere? i'll say more about this in future posts. but I am not suggesting this means leaving organisations or cultures or denominations though that is a possible tactic. in my experience the track record of that trajectory is depressingly familiar with those who leave proclaiming themselves as the new prophets/radicals who twenty years later often look rather dogmatic and controlling, and is really ony a last resort. though I appreciate certain contexts may leave little choice. rather the elsewhere is about space to dream the new on the edges of what already exists.
i love creativity, and in particular have always had a lot of interest in how change and newness come in organisations, in my own life, in communities i am part of, in society, in traditions and in church. the series of talks i gave at breakout were really on this theme come at through the lens of the prophets, and prophecy. but i thought i'd pick up on a few of the ideas i touched on and distill them down into blog sized bites (or should that be bite sized blogs?!). the first is actually the very last thing i spoke about which never got recorded on the talks because i forgot to press play on the recorder after the last discussion time!...
stephen johnson in his book where good ideas come from talks about ‘the adjacent possible’. he suggests that at any given moment (he uses evolution as an example) certain possiblities exist as a next step or door that it’s possible to go through.
The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a mapof all the ways in which the present can re-invent itself.
people tend to think of innovation or newness as coming from nowhere - a eureka moment, makng a great leap but actually the edges of possibility are more finite. but once you go through the door at the edge of what's possible, there is a room with another series of doors and so on. change and possibilities are quickly multiplied.
The strange and beautiful truth aboput the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore those boundaries. Each new combination ushers new combinations into the adjacent possible.
so he says that out of the priomordial soup it was inconceivable that a sunflower would appear before a lot of prior possibles have taken place. i think this is a very helpful metaphor. johnson suggests it’s also why you get what is known as the multiple - several people come up with the same idea at the same time in different parts of the world. the advent of communication technology with its always on connectivity has heightened that possibility.
applying this concept of change and newness to the recent developments in mission in the western world is quite interesting. i'm not sure exactly how you would plot it but in my own story the doors went something like relational youth ministry - stories of cross cultural mission - seeing our own culture (postmodern) as a mission context - alt worship - emerging church - fresh expressions - missional communities - new monasticism - pioneering etc... that all makes it look very linear which it's not. but my point about it is twofold i suppose. one is that at this moment there is an incredible amount of adjacent possiblities that just were not there twenty five years ago and that's easy to forget! and secondly it's helped me understand sociologically why multiples have happened - things emerging in several places in the world at the same sort of time.
it is also worth pondering that some adjacent possibles break open a huge new set of possibilities. in terms of the line above, from my point of view the adjacent possible of making a connection between insights from cross cultural mission overseas in relation to our own context was the adjacent possible that i am still in many ways exploring and has led to almost every innovation or change i have been involved in since.
so what adjacent possibles are you standing on the threshold of?! go and push through them...
the whole of stephen johnson's book is excellent - i read it back in july but it's indicative of my life that i haven't reviewed it yet. the other notion i particularly liked is that of the slow hunch - ideas have often been around for quite a long time at the back of the mind percolating away. i actually blogged about this before i had read the book... there's a good ted talk with stepehn johnson, and an interesting guardian article that expands on the adjacent possible.
mirazozo is a colourscape construction lit solely by daylight and designed by architects and kept up by being filled with air pumped in and through it. chilled sound plays inside and it's delightful. these photos are all taken on my phone which couldn't seemingly handle the colour saturation but i rather like it because of that... i encountered it at edinburgh festival.
ron arad's curtain call at the roundhouse is totally brilliant! it is a huge curtain made of translucent elastic/plastic tubes that form a huge circle inside which movies are projected onto in the round. a bundle of artists have been commissioned and together make up two hours of material that plays through. the challenge for the artists i assume is how to make the most of the context - a huge round screen. greyhounds racing round, a huge circular piano keyboard, wonderful immersive animations and patterns are some of the ideas on display. my favourite and seemingly quite a few other peoples is david shrigley's walker who simply walks round, pauses and sighs i took a little movie on jen's camera which you can see above.
and you donate what you can. the roundhouse us one of my favourite venues in london and this seems a perfect way to celebrate five years since it's relaunch. it works perfectly in the space. the evening we were there there was also a performance of experimental music and projections and various things are going on like that. you must go and see it if you have the chance - it's on ujntil 29 august i think. belgos is over the road so a couple of belgian ales with joel made for a perfect night out in this wonderful city london...
a plus was that there didn't seem to be any embargo on taking photographs which made a refreshing change. the screen of course is the envy of alt worship groups everywhere - what could be a better environment for worship?!
as well as the david mach exhibition i meant to say i had visited a bundle of exhibitions in the edinburgh art festival which i really enjoyed. a particular highlight and surprise was stumbling across lineage at edinburgh printmakers (partly to get out of the rain) and absolutely loving the prints by all the artists but julian opie in particular. he had these lenticular landscapes that were amazing - a kind of three dimenisonal print. this page doesn't even begin to give the impression of what they are like but you'll get a vague idea of the effect here.
then the other part of edinburgh i discovered was some of its brilliant coffee particularly as it seemed to rain for virtually the whole time i was there so i needed shelter! there are quite a few independent coffee shops - but my recommendations would be for a place to sit and have breakfast urbanangels, for a cheap lunch and good vibe and decent coffee black medicine, but for simply the best coffee you will get in edinburgh artisan roast is in every way totally amazing! no idea how it rates on glasgow's best coffee, but this article helped me out in edinburgh...
(oh and yes i did visit some comedy shows, free fringe and all that!...)
heading off to field day festival having opted put of big chill this year. looking forward to seeing all the jamies - blake, woon and xx and jon hopkins along with a bundle of other leftfield stuff
harry has been doing poetry at various spoken word events round london over the last year. at one of the evenings run by tea fuelled art the monies raised on the door go to a creative project. not sure exactly how it came about, but they put money from one night into making a video with harry of one of his poem's - 59. it's quite brilliant (if you'll forgive the proud dad perspective...).
i did two training sessions this week on blogging. there were quite a few people there interested in starting a blog who were not interested in getting too techy or anything. the first session was terrible in that i couldn't get online for the only time the whole week. but in the second we started a blog on blogging for beginners and it occured to me that if i tidied it up it might be useful for other people and might be something for the first group to make up for the rubbish session i led! it is and will remain only ten posts in total - i don't intend to expand upon it. and it's also just on setting up a posterous blog and nothing else. and it's aimed at people with not too much tech knowledge. anyway it's here
this is tracy emin's neon sculpture beneath the huge stained glass window in liverpool cathedral. when she visited the cathedral she sensed the presence of christ or so it seems... it's in pink but i quite like this black and white. this is a photo that is included in a booklet 'awesome and intimate', a spiritual trail guide round liverpool cathedral that has just come out. together with a friend dean, we were invited to create a spiritual trail round the cathedral and take photographs for it. this has now been produced into a small booklet with a series of photographs and ten reflections/meditations with a map to guide you round. you can pick it up for free if you visit. the thinking behind this is that often people visit and can get a heritage tour which is all fine and good but it is also a spiritual place, a space for reflection, quiet and prayer. if you visit let us know what you think.
i'm writing this on the train wending it's way through the north of england en route to london with a bleary post festival look and feeling. i figure that if i don't blog now it may not happen as a busy week lies ahead...
for several years people have been dreaming of a festival in scotland along the lines of greenbelt and finally last year it was birthed as solas. i went along for the second festival with jenny who was speaking and harry who was performing (rather than me being left home alone)! it has been a quite magical experience. i guess around 5 or 600 people were there and that smallness made it easy to access everything and for a real community feel. there was a big top for a main stage and a few smaller tents with talks and workshops, as well as lots of creative things around the site. the artists were all excellent and it had a real scottish flavour throughout. i have actually come away wondering if every other scot can play the guitar and sing soulful songs as the open mic slots in the glad cafe brimmed with so much talent. it's hard to pick out highlights but rory butler a 20 year old debuting on main stage has got whatever soul is - reminiscent in places of john martin. the butler household is clearly quite extra-ordinary as the rest of the band were family members and the album released at the festival was produced by steve butler (one of whose albums i must have bought 25 years ago).it's wonderful to see families where artistry is somehow just in the air they breathe. then adam stearns was the other complete unknown who bowled people away with his quirky inimitable style. i say the other, but harry also went down incredibly well which was amazing to see.
but it's the essence or spirit that's at the heart of solas that is what makes it special. it's quality, but open and warm and generous and infused throughout with irresistible faith. the team who put it together give of time, money and energy to pull this off. it's fragile but I hope it can ride the challenges of early years and inevitable challenges of finance and gaining support to become a regular fixture in the scottish landscape. something really special has emerged - go along next year. even the weather worked out. i confess I was checking the bbc predictions of heavy rain with despondency ahead of time but aside from a couple of showers it was dry and the sun shone which was a great blessing.
the early years of this sort of thing are particularly exciting i think and it made me wonder what the first greenbelt or big chill was like. and there are little things that i loved. one was the lack of a big commercial feel - artists cds were sold on a small table at the back, corporate sponsors weren't having big slots or plugs. volunteers contributed to their tickets. the communion service was so simple - it was delightful. children just felt part of things rather than separated off.
i was also thinking of the wild goose festival kicking off in the usa and hope their debut was equally magical. i'll add a few photos to flickr when i get back and find a spare moment.
[update - that spare moment has come - a few photos here - solas 2011]
thanks again to the guys at kore for the link in their e-mail (which i've also spotted in creative review) to the work of candy chang. the idea is simple - spray paint before i die i want to... on a wall and leave space for people to fill in the blanks. there are a lot of other great ideas on her site which are along similar lines encouraging people to express their hopes, dreams, wants, longings - whether on walls, posters, pavements... i am making this a worship trick as there is so much moving worship into public space i am sure someone will manage to do something similar - no 6 in series 4!
lateral action reflects on don draper and creativity - if you've not seen mad men this may not mean a lot. i resonate with the sense that when things are collapsing imagination is the least important, most important thing there is. there are lots of other ways in which perhaps don is not such a great role model!
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where i come across creative ideas, liturgies, movies, music tracks, service outlines or anything that strikes me, i add them as worship tricks. i started these in april 2002 when i first began blogging and they have built up over the years so that i am now on the third series. this has proved a pretty popular feature of the blog.