Welcome to Life in 361˚. This blog is an 'open journal' - a space where I keep notes on bits & pieces I come across day-to-day - including books and articles I've read that I feel are worth sharing, interesting pictures and photos (I'm a visual learner, you see), random musings - and anything else that happens to catch my eye or ear. It also acts as a kind of 'open experiment' in terms of developing my views and writing skills - and networking with other people of a like-mind.

If you've stumbled upon here randomly, then I suggest you check out my biography and other pages.

Please Note: This site, and the social networking profile pages connected with it, reflect my personal interests & views which do not necessarily represent those of organisations I am affiliated / associated with.

27/12/2016

Silent Love

I happened upon this today and found it to be moving. I wonder if the 'you' depends on the reader - a lost loved one, someone you admire (not necessarily romantically) or maybe even God?


“I choose to love you in silence…
For in silence I find no rejection,

I choose to love you in loneliness…
For in loneliness no one owns you but me,

I choose to adore you from a distance…
For distance will shield me from pain,

I choose to kiss you in the wind…
For the wind is gentler than my lips,

I choose to hold you in my dreams…
For in my dreams, you have no end.” 

― Jalaluddin Rumi

24/11/2016

Giving Up The Ghost

I mentioned recently how I had embarked on studies back at university - a doctorate to be precise. It's been a positive experience in the sense the doctorate programme I joined was really well-designed and well-supported. I also briefly met some great colleagues and fellow-researchers. I also enjoyed the content... it was technical, challenging, mind-bending even - but nothing to fear.

But I am now admittedly talking about this adventure in the past tense rather than present or future. This is because I have faced a growing 'reality check' regarding how much workload, in terms of hours of the day, that I can take on. This is in the full light of my day job and family life - and the need for good mental health.

To reach this difficult decision - this acceptance I cannot practically do something I really wanted to do - I have sought the advice of a few trusted people in my life. In particular, I have spoken with one person I consider to be a soul friend, over a chinese buffet meal funnily enough. 

I also consulted 'Imitation of Christ' by Thomas Aquinas - or, arguably, it consulted at me in that I flicked through it casually one day and arrived at a section that seemed to speak directly to me and rebuke me in one fair swoop. The passage reads as follows - with the most cutting bits highlighted:

"COUNSELS ON THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

'HE who follows Me shall not walk in darkness,' says Our Lord. (John 8:2)

In these words Christ counsels us to follow His life and way if we desire true enlightenment and freedom from all blindness of heart (Mark 3:5). Let the life of Jesus Christ, then, be our first consideration.

The teaching of Jesus far transcends all the teachings of the Saints, and whosoever has His spirit will discover concealed in it heavenly manna (Rev. 2: 17) But many people, although they often hear the Gospel, feel little desire to follow it, because they lack the spirit of Christ (Rom 8:9). Whoever desires to understand and take delight in the words of Christ must strive to conform his whole life to Him.

Of what use is it to discourse learnedly on the Trinity, if you lack humility and therefore displease the Trinity? Lofty words do not make a man just or holy; but a good life makes him dear to God. I would far rather feel contrition than be able to define it. If you knew the whole Bible by heart, and all the teachings of the philosophers, how would this help you without the grace and love of God? `Vanity of vanities, and all is vanity,'(Eccles. I: 2) except to love God and serve Him alone (Deut. 6:13). And this is supreme wisdom - to despise the world, and draw daily nearer the kingdom of heaven.

It is vanity to solicit honors, or to raise oneself to high station. It is vanity to be a slave to bodily desires,'(Gal.5:16) and to crave for things which bring certain retribution. It is vanity to wish for long life, if you care little for a good life. It is vanity to give thought only to this present life, and to care nothing for the life to come. It is vanity to love things that so swiftly pass away, and not to hasten onwards to that place where everlasting joy abides.

Keep constantly in mind the saying, `The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. '(Eccles. 1:8). Strive to withdraw your heart from the love of visible things, and direct your affections to things invisible. For those who follow only their natural inclinations defile their conscience, and lose the grace of God."

On Personal Humility

Everyone naturally desires knowledge, (Aristotle, Metaphysics I,1.) but of what use is knowledge itself without the fear of God? A humble countryman who serves God is more pleasing to Him than a conceited intellectual who knows the course of the stars, but neglects his own soul (Ecclus.19:22). A man who truly knows himself realizes his own worthlessness, and takes no pleasure in the praises of men. Did I possess all knowledge in the world, but had no loves how would this help me before God, who will judge me by my deeds?

Restrain an inordinate desire for knowledge, in which is found much anxiety and deception. Learned men always wish to appear so, and desire recognition of their wisdom. But there are many matters, knowledge of which brings little or no advantage to the soul. Indeed, a man is unwise if he occupies himself with any things save those that further his salvation. A spate of words does nothing to satisfy the soul, but a good life refreshes the mind, and a clean conscience (I Tim 3:9), brings great confidence in God.

The more complete and excellent your knowledge, the more severe will be God's judgement on you, unless your life be the more holy. Therefore, do not be conceited of any skill or knowledge you may possess, but respect the knowledge that is entrusted to you. If it seems to you that you know a great deal and have wide experience in many fields, yet remember that there are many matters of which you are ignorant. So do not be conceited,(Rom 11:20) but confess your ignorance. Why do you wish to esteem yourself above others, when there are many who are wiser and more perfect in the Law of God? If you desire to know or learn anything to your advantage, then take delight in being unknown and unregarded.

A true understanding and humble estimate of oneself is the highest and most valuable of all lessons. To take no account of oneself, but always to think well and highly of others is the highest wisdom and perfection. Should you see another person openly doing evil, or carrying out a wicked purpose, do not on that account consider yourself better than him, for you cannot tell how long you will remain in a state of grace We are all frail; consider none more frail than yourself."

Funnily enough, I had this inclination of heading along the wrong path, having read Ernest Hemingway's 'The Old Man and The Sea' (which I wrote about this summer) - the image of the fisherman returning with a worthless carcass after a gigantic struggle, his life-force arguably misspent, has hung with me these past few months. But perhaps I needed more than a metaphor and that's where 'Old Tom' stepped in!

I could go into a long-winded analysis about this chapter of my life - my various motivations for it in particular. But there is no need really - I have no regrets about embarking on this short-lived journey and maybe one day I will return to it.

16/10/2016

Peace of mind?

"There seems to be something close to a peace of mind industry out there, complete with its own sales force. Nothing makes me want to cancel my life insurance like those smug inhabitants of magazine adverts and billboards, lying back in hammocks or staring out at the ocean, at peace with themselves because they have the right kind of insurance policy, or pension scheme, or investment fund."

I listened to a great piece on Radio 4 today, by chance, on 'Peace of Mind' by Michael Symmons Roberts - above is one of the cutting opening lines. He explores the different aspects of 'peace of mind' and, as far as I understood, settled on the idea that to be at peace is to be living constructively both for yourself and others - though not necessarily conflict-free or noise-free. 

01/10/2016

To be free-range


I recently read the book 'Why look at animals?' by John Berger (available free online if you look around hard enough). It's a fascinating read but also one that, to use a term I've recently encountered in academia, creates 'disturbance'. It has certainly left me considering certain aspects of my lifestyle - particularly my consumption of meat, but also how I cultivate the garden, how I look after my two pet cats, how I approach my work with educating young people via my day job.

This write-up more or less sums up much of what I took from the book:
In a roundabout way, the book taps into a conversation that I have started with a friend, someone with the same longstanding affiliation to Unitarian Christianity, about the experience we both share of being wanderers - of somehow being 'free range' in our mentality, a mentality that never really allows us to become too immersed (or excuse the pun - 'cooped up') in churches, societies, political parties and so on.

It is a restlessness that is both potentially creative and destructive. And I have found, both in recent times and as I cast my mind backwards to events over the years, it can be a threatening position for those who have built their nests (another pun!), be that the self-declared conservative types or those who go under labels such as 'liberal' (yet nevertheless exhibit similar traits).

Hopefully I'll be able to write more about this later, but for now this blog post and this little book - this point in time - marks the start of what might be a new conversation, an exploration that might lead me, and quite possibly my good friend, in new directions.

14/09/2016

A Garden Pew

I was asked recently, "How's your church life?" I gave an answer that, yes, I was attending church but I was finding it painful - a process, a going through the motions, a chore even - rather than something deeper. This is no disrespect to the people I worship alongside - it is their warmth that ultimately keeps me going - but I am finding the style of worship (the 'hymn' sandwich) to be the painful part which I tend to just endure.

Away from church I have been spending more time in my garden, both on Sundays and other days of rest. I have worked tirelessly on the garden these past few years, learning as I go along. It has become something of a passion. Although I did not start with any vision greater than 'tidying it up', I have focused in particular on a garden for wildlife. 

By chance, I have also been given a church pew which I have restored and placed at the head of the rear garden, looking outwards. This has created more opportunities for reading and meditation, for contemplation of the divine - more than I seem to find at my local church.


These past few weeks, as the strange month of September - with its last hurrahs of summer, with its early signs of the coming Autumn, with its hazy morning and evening light - has seen me continue this longing to simply sit in quietude. 


I have also been drawn to the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, namely his essay 'Nature'. I do not intend to read his works page to page - like many Unitarian preachers of his age, he is wordy to say the least. However, I am struck by little pieces, as much as his works can be dipped into.

In particular, I have loved reading and re-reading this passage:

"To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime. Seen in the streets of cities, how great they are! If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown! But every night come out these envoys of beauty, and light the universe with their admonishing smile.

The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence. Nature never wears a mean appearance. Neither does the wisest man extort her secret, and lose his curiosity by finding out all her perfection. Nature never became a toy to a wise spirit. The flowers, the animals, the mountains, reflected the wisdom of his best hour, as much as they had delighted the simplicity of his childhood. When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects. It is this which distinguishes the stick of timber of the wood-cutter, from the tree of the poet. 

The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet. This is the best part of these men's farms, yet to this their warranty-deeds give no title. To speak truly, few adult persons can see nature. Most persons do not see the sun. At least they have a very superficial seeing. The sun illuminates only the eye of the man, but shines into the eye and the heart of the child. 

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood. His intercourse with heaven and earth, becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature, a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. Nature says, — he is my creature, and maugre all his impertinent griefs, he shall be glad with me. Not the sun or the summer alone, but every hour and season yields its tribute of delight; for every hour and change corresponds to and authorizes a different state of the mind, from breathless noon to grimmest midnight. Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece. In good health, the air is a cordial of incredible virtue. Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear. In the woods too, a man casts off his years, as the snake his slough, and at what period soever of life, is always a child. In the woods, is perpetual youth. 

Within these plantations of God, a decorum and sanctity reign, a perennial festival is dressed, and the guest sees not how he should tire of them in a thousand years."

Amen.

20/08/2016

The Fisherman and The Pianist

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I am currently on sabbatical from my day job. And following the intensity of the Brexit debate - and with a view to September where it is likely I will return to postgraduate studies on a part-time basis - I have made a conscious effort to 'lighten up' in terms of my reading and thinking.

On preparing for a trip to Central Europe, I had a look through my books - currently boxed up in the attic due to house renovations - and I had a good scan around Waterstones, on a relatively rare trip into Manchester city centre. With 'lightening up' in mind, I cast the theology, history and political philosophy books to one side, insteading picking up a few novels.

I also opted, as much as possible, for smaller novels. This is partly because I have not read a book from cover to cover since last summer - instead tending to dip in and dip out out of books, a reading habit which I believe has been encouraged by internet reading.

The two standout books, from around half a dozen that made the shortlist, were 'The Old Man and the Sea' by Ernest Hemingway and 'A Life's Music' by Andreï Makine.


Ernest Hemingway's story, his last published work during his lifetime, tells the tale of an old Cuban fisherman named Santiago who - following a period of failure - sets out ostensibly for one last big catch. In doing so he goes out further than any of the other fishermen, who had largely taken to mocking him, into the deeper, more dangerous seas. This leads to the old man essentially 'half-catching' a huge marlin who he proceeds to struggle with over a number of days, in a fight to the death. 

The old man narrowly prevails and, exhausted, attempts to bring his haul back to shore - with an eye to both feeding himself and restoring not simply his pride (the dangers of which he is acutely aware, expressed during his monologues) but his deeply held identity as a man of the sea. This in itself brings around further struggles, as the towed corpse of the marlin attracts sharks which progressively destroy its fleshy bounty. The final image - one I have found has lingered with me for the past few weeks - sees the old man laid face down at home in a deep sleep with his arms stretched out and palms facing upwards, possibly in a coma, whilst being tended to by his young protégé Manolin (for whom Santiago has laid down a powerful marker about how to live). 

The catch, now a skeleton following the successive shark attacks, is applauded by the locals who recognise its inherent magnitude - regardless of its apparent loss - but significantly the passing tourists confuse it for a large shark or whale hinting that the old man's legacy is already being distorted and diluted. Yet, in his comatose state, the old man returns to a dream of lions playing on the beach - a pleasant dream he has had since his youth - suggesting he is somehow re-fulfilled or regenerated spiritually.

For all of my attempts to eschew more serious reading, I have since learned from reading about this novel, that it is in fact embedded with Christian imagery in terms of the old man's wounds to his hands, his Calvary-style carrying of his mast up the hill to his home and that final powerful image. The story also can be analysed as a commentary on nature, on the interplay between life and death, on humankind and the planet earth.

Having read 'The Old Man and the Sea', and from there 'The Shadow of the Wind' by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (which I will not comment on at this point, having not really enjoyed it), I moved on to 'A Life's Music' by Andreï Makine. Again, this was a short novel - a novella - coming in at around one hundred pages.


'A Life's Music' is set within a small, obscure train station in the Ural Mountains around 1958, on the western edge of Siberia, at a time when thousands were being released from the gulags of the Russian Far East. The train station itself is described by the narrator in detail, as a passenger waiting for a delayed train, staring at other passengers and the cold, near-on inhospitable environment in which they are marooned - perhaps a microcosm for Communist Russian as a whole.

What follows is a conversation between the narrating passenger and an older man, dressed in such a way he first appears to be what we in the West may label as a 'tramp', 'vagabond' or 'down and out'. The conversation becomes a retelling of the older man's life story.

The older man, Alexei Berg, recalls his childhood as son of prominent artists and his own development into a pianist of great potential, bringing him to the night before his debut performance at a factory. Already aware of his family's precarious position as possible targets for purging - due to their place amongst those deemed to be dangerous intelligentsia - he arrives home to see, from afar, a member of NKVD (pre-cursor to the KGB) stood at his kitchen window. 

From there, he flees to Ukraine to seek refuge with family. It is 1941 and his journey westwards collides with the Nazi's push eastwards. In the carnage that ensures, Alexei takes the identity of a dead Soviet soldier and finds himself, whilst safe from the hand of Stalin, thrust into war. What follows is Alexei essentially becoming less and less of the pianist he wished to be and more and more of 'homo sovieticus' - gaining honour for his courage in battle and a seemingly privileged position as loyal-yet-robotic driver for one of the Red Army's generals.

But, what initially seems an insignificant development as Alexei watches the daughter of the general learn to play the piano, leads to an explosive climax in which he reveals his true self. All we are left to learn, from there, is Alexei was forced to joined the ranks of Gulag victims for at least a decade.

As with 'The Old Man and the Sea', there are so many points of reflection that could be drawn from 'A Life's Music' - both are stories that seem to sit on the mind for weeks after reading.

What I have personally drawn from both is that humans must each individually uncover our true self, what it is we truly wish to become and be, as interconnected yet unique sparks of creativity within the universe. For the Santiago, it was a life out at sea. For Alexei, it was a life in front of the piano. And in this continuing uncovering and re-uncovering of the true self, we must be willing to face fear, discomfort and possible ruin.

If we think about it, this is the age-old path of the hero - be that Jesus, the Buddha, Gandhi, King or Mandela. 

As I approach the next yearly cycle of work, as I weigh up a potential return to university studies which will require a significant commitment and may well change my career direction in the long run, I have found - for all my intentions to 'lighten up' - that these two stories have carried some serious messages. 

In the words of Ernest Hemingway, 

"Now is no time to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do with that there is..."

16/08/2016

Brutalist memory lanes

I have just watched this short video on the BBC website about the Park Hill estate in Sheffield which has triggered many memories. It provides a snapshot into some of the urban regeneration taking place in Sheffield, and the wider English north - although I happen to believe that much of the English north, in terms of real, aspiration-enabling industry, has been for all intents and purposes left to stagnate.

Old meets new...

The Park Hill estate in Sheffield holds a fascination for me, ever since they decided to really push forward and renovate it, rather than demolish it, around a decade ago. The fact is the hand of local government was forced into renovating, because this awesome monument to 1950s and 1960s Sheffield's brutalist architecture - this legacy of a once progressive and assertive policy of slum clearance - was given Grade II listing in the 1990s.

I never really had the Park Hill on my visual landscape as a kid, it was the other side of the city and my voyaging outwards from my home in the Rivelin Valley area more often than not tended to be towards Derbyshire. I always remember the time I cycled around six miles, alone on my BMX, from home to the 'Welcome to Derbyshire' sign and it felt like I had journeyed to another country. I was excited and scared, and quickly turned around fearing I would become irretrievably lost. I was probably thirteen at the time and I am sure my parents wouldn't have been happy at just how far I'd travelled, as much as they allowed us freedom to roam the local countryside during the summer.

But the Park Hill did have a smaller sibling, the Kelvin Flats, which I would pass by every time I caught the bus into what we called 'towun' - Sheffield's city centre. The Kelvin Flats was a place of which many horrific tale was told amongst us children and some of the adults around us. We heard stories of thuggish muggers, tragic jumpers and malicious throwers (namely the tale of people throwing TVs off at passers-by below). At school, any fellow pupil 'offa Kelvin' was immediately deemed to be 'hard' and would be looked upon with a mix of fear, admiration and pity. So in many ways it was a morbid fascination to begin with.


Having said that, brutalist architecture was also part of my everyday environment as a child. It wasn't just the brutalist monoliths of Park Hill, Hyde Park and Kelvin that made their way onto Sheffield's horizons - many of the outskirts of the city had brutalist-inspired social housing estates, which our privately owned semi-detached was nestled amongst. These took the form of tower blocks set amongst maisonettes.

The tower blocks seen here were renovated around twenty five years ago, with red-brick cladding added...

Even then I had an understanding that there was some kind of divide between the pockets of privately-owned houses and these swathes of concrete houses. It was a visual demarcation as much as a social-economic one - the stark difference between the pockets of reddish-brown bricked traditional-looking houses and the swathes of light grey flat-roofed housing. 

Interestingly though - as much as I probably knew even at such a young age that my close friends in these houses were technically 'poorer' than my family and our privately-owned semi-detached house - I was often the poor relation, as I came from a similar lower income household but with six children to feed rather than one or two (on top of a more expensive mortgage to pay, I guess). This status would manifest itself in our less-fashionable clothes (a source of periodic bullying and ostracisation at school), a lack of a car for many years (another source of mocking), a lack of pocket money (resulting in some petty shoplifting followed by some severe tellings-off), a lack of the latest games console and so on.

But when it came to the summer holidays, the fact we all spent most of our days in the nearby parks and woodlands was a leveller-of-sorts. All you needed to get on during these days was a football, some hands for climbing trees and catching pond life, and when we felt more daring, a box of matches for a campfire. So as much as there was deprivation in various forms (though not necessarily outright poverty), we were blessed by Sheffield's 'golden frame'.

The Kelvin flats were demolished around the early 1990s and I remember vividly how the rubble - previously thirteen storeys high, making up a thousand dwellings - was rumoured to have been used partly to fill in the 'Hole in the Road' ('oil in't road'). 



The Hole in the Road, much like the Park Hill, was an iconic (yet increasingly-dilapidated) feature of Sheffield - so much so that there has even been a local folk song written about it.

There's also a lego version, which perhaps helps those who don't come from Sheffield perhaps visualise it a bit better.

I'm refusing to get too serious with my writing on this blog at the moment - this is deliberate, as I am meant to be on sabbatical. There is much I feel I could say as a result of reflecting on my trip down these brutalist memory lanes - about how my own life has in some ways radically departed from these roots (something that generates mixed emotions), how Sheffield (and other northern towns and cities) continue to struggle with poverty in the hangover of Britain's imperial boom, how many Sheffielders I know feel increasingly feel alienated by globalisation. But I'll perhaps leave you to reflect upon all of this yourself - and I always appreciate comments from the handful of people who read.

Here are two poems which may help also:

'Change' by Kathleen Jessie Raine
A poem, I feel, about how change can be opportunity masked by fear...

Change 
Said the sun to the moon, 
You cannot stay. 

Change 
Says the moon to the waters, 
All is flowing. 

Change 
Says the fields to the grass, 
Seed-time and harvest, 
Chaff and grain. 

You must change said, 
Said the worm to the bud, 
Though not to a rose, 

Petals fade 
That wings may rise 
Borne on the wind. 

You are changing 
said death to the maiden, your wan face 
To memory, to beauty. 

Are you ready to change? 
Says the thought to the heart, to let her pass 
All your life long 

For the unknown, the unborn 
In the alchemy 
Of the world's dream? 

You will change, 
says the stars to the sun, 
Says the night to the stars. 

~

'The Road Not Taken' by Robert Frost
A poem, I feel, about the human tendency to look back - and a warning to not place too much meaning on past events, particularly on those tinged by regret...

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

15/08/2016

Back from Central Europe, again

My wife and I have just arrived back from our summer trip to Central Europe, taking in Bratislava and Vienna via the Danube. We have developed a bit of a love affair with this part of the world over the past few years, having visited the Czech Republic, Croatia and Bosnia, Hungary and Switzerland. This latest sojourn was every bit as enjoyable.

It was a tale of two cities really. Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, is a much smaller and humbler capital than say Prague or Budapest - and certainly less so than Vienna. 

Prior to arrival, we had read some poor reviews about Bratislava as a cityscape, focusing on the concrete legacy of Soviet Union dominance when it found itself forcibly named as the Slovak Socialist Republic and locked into a federal union with the Czech Socialist Republic. Since 1993, Slovakia has been an independent liberal democratic republic, largely in the mould of its Western European neighbours, and a member of the European Union since 2004. In turn, it has invested heavily in restoring its 'Old Town' - its cultural heart - on the one hand and and its commercial districts on the other.

We loved the city as a whole and were we to consider moving to Europe for work, we both said we would not discount it as an option. Yes, there is clearly a legacy the country is still dealing with but there was also a entrepreneurial and creative spirit in the city - summed up, for us at least, by its Danubiana project (we are not modern art fans but this was a great way of doing modern art for the non-believers).







Vienna on the other hand has all the pomp (and more) of a former imperial capital, having been the centre of the Habsburg dominion and a centre of the Holy Roman Empire. We were quite taken aback with Vienna, just at the sheer number and scale of palaces, cathedrals, theatres and so on. Indeed, we became a little weary on a second day of sightseeing and made efforts to explore the different sides to Viennese city life - taking in the Therme Wien spa area, the Vienna Hills (including Kahlenberg, a key point in Vienna's defence during the second siege by the Ottoman Caliphate) and the traditional market areas slightly out of city centre.




We went to Bratislava and Vienna for a break, so I will refrain from slipping into any political or religious meanderings - but suffice to say we were enriched by more than just sunshine and good food from these visits to our European neighbours.

02/08/2016

Church of Christ, Church of Nature

I'm journeying to Central Europe in the next 24 hours, taking in Slovakia and Austria, and just wanted to put on record two quotes I've stumbled upon these past two days:

"Amid the decay of creeds, love of nature has high religious value. This has saved many persons in this world — saved them from mammon-worship, and from the frivolity and insincerity of the crowd. It has made their lives placid and sweet. It has given them an inexhaustible field for inquiry, for enjoyment, for the exercise of all their powers, and in the end has not left them soured and dissatisfied. It has made them contented and at home wherever they are in nature — in the house not made with hands. This house is their church, and the rocks and the hills axe the altars, and the creed is written in the leaves of the trees and in the flowers of the field and in the sands of the shore. A new creed every day and new preachers, and holy days all the week through. Every walk to the woods is a religious rite, every bath in the stream is a saving ordinance. Communion service is at all hours, and the bread and wine are from the heart and marrow of Mother Earth. There are no heretics in Nature's church; alt are believers, all are communicants. The beauty of natural religion is that you have it all the time; you do not have to seek it afar off in myths and legends, in catacombs, in garbled texts, in miracles of dead saints or wine-bibbing friars. It is of to-day; it is now and here; it is everywhere. The crickets chirp it, the birds sing it, the breezes chant it, the thunder proclaims it, the streams murmur it, the unaffected man lives it. Its incense rises from the plowed fields, it is on the morning breeze, it is in the forest breath and in the spray of the wave. The frosts write it in exquisite characters, the dews impearl it, and the rainbow paints it on the cloud. It is not an insurance policy underwritten by a bishop or a priest; it is not even a faith; it is a love, an enthusiasm, a consecration to natural truth."

(ht: 'A Day with John Burroughs' - Reverend Andrew Brown, CAUTE)

"One of the greatest teachers in the Celtic world, John Scotus Eriugena in ninth-century Ireland, taught that Christ is our memory. We suffer from the “soul’s forgetfulness,” he says. Christ comes to reawaken us to our true nature. He is our epiphany. He comes to show us the face of God. He comes to show us also our face, the true face of the human soul. This leads the Celtic tradition to celebrate the relationship between nature and grace. Instead of grace being viewed as opposed to our essential nature or as somehow saving us from ourselves, nature and grace are viewed as flowing together from God. They are both sacred gifts. The gift of nature, says Eriugena, is the gift of “being”; the gift of grace, on the other hand, is the gift of “well-being.” Grace is given to reconnect us to our true nature. At the heart of our being is the image of God, and thus the wisdom of God, the creativity of God, the passions of God, the longings of God. Grace is opposed not to what is deepest in us but to what is false in us. It is given to restore us to the core of our being and to free us from the unnaturalness of what we are doing to one another and to the earth.

Christ is often referred to in the Celtic tradition as the truly natural one. He comes not to make us more than natural or somehow other than natural but to make us truly natural. He comes to restore us to the original root of our being."

(ht: 'Knowing the Celtic Christ' - John Philip Newell, Heartbeat)

I think these point a little to were I'm at in terms of theology right now - not necessarily any kind of departure from my long held panentheistic view but another way of explaining it, I guess.

As it happens, I am not intending to take any great theological reads with me on this journey - or any overtly political reads (given the intensity of debate since the vote to leave the EU). This is deliberate, part of a desire to switch off from more complex thinking. I'm taking a few fiction reads with me and anything of note, as with years gone by, will no doubt get a mention in future posts.

31/07/2016

A Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne

It's the start of the summer break for me. Time to spend extended time away from the day job. I'll be returning in September potentially to new challenges, having had an offer (possibly two offers) to return to university and continue my studies. In some respects I am at a crossroads, having to weigh up what is important to me (and those closest to me) - having to think long-term and short-term at the same time, which is difficult.

For now though, I intend to switch off a little - allow the quiet to make things clearer.

The first stage of this was a camping trip to Northumbria. I have long held on to a wish to visit Lindisfarne - also known as 'Holy Island' - and last week this is what I did, taking in a number of sights and walking the 'Pilgrim's Way' with my youngest brother.



The 'Pilgrim's Way' is a 5 mile long route  across an expanse of sand dunes (only accessible at low tide) between the British mainland and Lindisfarne - a 10 mile round trip in total. In places it is muddy, hard-going and desolate - it is also apparently dangerous in places, should you end up too far away from the ancient wooden posts marking the way and end up in a patch of quicksand. But to be walking a route used for time immemorial provides a sense of significance.


The island settlement itself is also fascinating - not least the fact it faded out of religious significance and served primarily as a fishing village for the past few centuries. There's something inherently intriguing about British island communities, I find. Perhaps it's the sense of slight detachment - they're linked to the British mainland but not as easily caught up in our culture, a natural haven for dissenters I would think.


Aside from musing at island life, a big highlight on Lindisfarne was visiting The Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, which sits next to the old priory ruins and celebrates many of the pioneers of the ancient English church. What strikes me is the fact that whilst the early pre-Roman church had strong roots in Northumbria, casting 'downwards' across northern England, it was nonetheless very much a decentralised and organic movement - and diverse in the sense it brought together Celtic and Anglo-Saxon believers. This was followed later by centralisation and institutionalisation brought about by the coming of the Roman Catholic church to Kent, casting itself 'upwards' across England, culminating in the 664 A.D Synod of Whitby which brought Christians together essentially under one church roof. Of course, going on a thousand years later we then had the Protestant Reformation which brought about a whole new diversity of Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers and Unitarians, amongst others - these in turn became institutions in their own right and now face decline, extinction even.

This reminds me of James Martineau's observation in 'New Affinities of Faith' that the Holy Spirit appears to go through cycles, of upsurge and fossilisation. It makes me wonder about what will become the Movement(s) of the Spirit for today's world? Maybe it is already happening, and I just haven't recognised it?

What also struck me - on a much simpler level - was the way the tourists visiting The Parish Church of Saint Mary the Virgin seemed inclined to just sit and pray in the pews. Others had taken to writing prayers for the evening service - one had written in the visitors' book how they had driven there six years ago, sporadically in a fit of despair, and felt the visit triggered a turning point. It was an experience unlike the many other old churches and cathedrals I have visited where tourists spend most of their time looking through the lens of their camera phones. Maybe this part of the world is truly a 'thin place', a place where God's presence is somehow most keenly felt, having been a focus for pilgrimage and prayer for so long?

Whilst on the island, looking out back to the mainland, myself and my brother both commented on the relatively faint yet strange howling, almost singing, that appeared to be travelling in on the sea breeze. We assumed it was something to do with the currents of air whirling their way over the sand dunes. However, on our return trip, we observed the sound was emanating from a few hundred moving black dots in the far distance - it turns out Lindisfarne is routinely serenaded by a choir of grey seals! 

I have little else to say about this trip other than it was everything - in my holding on to that wish to visit - that I hoped it would be. I haven't come back in any sense particularly more enlightened but I have come back a little bit more enriched...

28/07/2016

Theologies of the Spirit

I've long given up on trying to put together or uncover any comprehensive theology. But this talk, given by Unitarian minister Reverend Jo James, probably sums up as much as possible (and much better than I could ever muster) where I am at - albeit with perhaps a greater lean towards Christianity.

16/07/2016

The New Old Church

I've already posted a little (from what I remember) about my affinity with the so-called 'Celtic Church' movement. I want to say a bit more here.

I have long been a 'Searching Christian' - taking on various labels such as Unitarian, Quaker, Friend, Non-Subscriber, Free Christian - as I've made my way through denominations (and their own internal factions). At least half of this search has been theological, trying to work out my beliefs - since around the time of my awakening to theological issues around 2000/2001, having been a Christian since childhood.

But, from my time way back in 2006 (where I found myself attending a Zen Buddhist group) to now, there has been creeping in of questions around praxis. By praxis, I mean worship - how we gain inspiration from / insight into the divine - and running alongside that service - how we express our faith by doing good out there in the world.

This lead me initially to the Quakers in 2010/2011, though I departed last year (with a heavy heart because it meant leaving people I cared about) for a number of reasons - not least my observation that they were drifting the same way as the Unitarians in terms of their erosion of theology / vision in the name of a vague pluralism, their intellectualism and their intense, unquestioning adherence to middle-class left / Guardianista causes. I have said enough about this on this blog but, having 'done battle' already in the Unitarian denomination, I simply wasn't willing to get involve in another lost cause.

In turn I have found myself attending the church down my road - a two minute walk away. It is a Methodist church and my initial contact with them came about because they supported me with a community action project I've been involved in for the past 18 months. I have found them to be a church community that is unpretentious yet caring, Christ-centred but with latitude. They don't make grand proclamations about their adherence to social justice issues, they just get on with it - be that providing support for our road safety campaign and a previous campaign to save a park from being sold off to developers or collecting for refugees or the running of a weekly group for vulnerable adults with learning difficulties. This is certainly a big part of praxis I was looking for - the same praxis I had witnessed at Oldham Unitarian Chapel (too far to travel to each Sunday).

But there is still that question about worship and I have be honest, the hymn sandwich worship at this local church is more of an ordeal I put up with rather than something I look forward to. I am part of a small group called 'Faith Conversations', bringing together Methodists from across the area, and it is interesting that - apart from the theological debates - the issue of how we worship comes up regularly. Many of the group feel the same - the traditional service doesn't cut it for them but nor does charismatic worship, which is certainly a feature in some of their growing churches.

It has struck me, over the years, that there are many Christians searching for a new way of being and doing within their churches - and whilst the growth in charismatic churches mixing Alpha Course theology and Hillsong-style worship clearly offer a model for growth, it cannot be the only model of church for all personalities.

For me, I am increasingly drawn in private to 'Celtic Church' worship, which mixes contemplative music and chants with prayers. Here are two of my favourites...




In terms of theology, what is also worth noting is 'Celtic Church' expressions tend to have a distinctly panentheistic flavour - a position I have held ever since reading Marcus Borg's 'The God We Never Knew' around 2005ish. From the few books I have on the 'Celtic Church', I was also pleased to read recently about 'pelagianism' - drawn from the teachings of Pelagius - which goes against the traditional Christian ideas around 'Original Sin'. I have long thought 'humankind is not fallen, it is yet to rise' and this seems to have some consistency with this view.

This is where I'm at right now. They still feel like forays but this summer I am planning a camping trip to Scotland, primarily to climb Ben Nevis, and it might just be that I find my way to one of the 'Hearts of the Celtic Church' by re-routing to Lindisfarne or Iona...

09/07/2016

Aftermath and Opportunity

We are now two weeks into Britain following the vote for 'Brexit'. We have also just received the damning verdicts of Chilcot.

It is interesting (and dismaying) to me the scale of the outpouring of grief, rage, condemnations, scaremongering over 'the state of the nation' following a democratic decision to leave the current European project compared to the truth emerging about the Iraq War (or for that matter, the truth which emerged from the second Hillsborough  Inquest).

I have been reading around all sorts of newspapers and blogs, as I usually do. In fact, so much so that I have had to, at times, actively switch off. In particular I have shared these articles with friends:

Ultimately, I stand by my decision, after much deliberation, to go with the 'Brexiteers'. I have had debates with those family and friends in opposition to this, and have been accused amongst other things of lining up with Nigel Farage and Michael Gove along the way. My response, even before the Chilcot Inquiry Report, is, "Well, if I'm lining up with Nigel Farage and Michael Gove, and all they stand for and how they behave, then I suppose you line with Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson." Although I am guilty as the next person here of point-scoring, I suppose the point I really want to make is we need to listen to one another, not reduce one another into camps.

As I see it, the two threads running through vote for Brexit and the Chilcot Report is the divide in the UK between the socio-economically comfortable and the socio-economically uncomfortable, and that this also has a class-cultural dimension to it (and I would argue it is not defined primarily by race and religion as the far-right would have us believe). I believe this 'unhappy Britain' is made all the worse by a democratic system that stifles plurality and promotes technocracy.

I don't believe the poor are simply poor simply because of their choices. I don't believe British democracy in its current form is 'fit for purpose' in terms of bringing people from all backgrounds into politics, whether that be as politicians, as activists, as confident voters.

I don't hold up Jeremy Corbyn as the new messiah, as some seem to do. I agree on a number of issues but I also think certain aspects of his political instincts are deeply flawed. I remember how a friend, involved with the Labour Party in Northern Ireland, told me how in the run-up to the General Election in 2015, two Labour MPs visited the province. According to what he told me, one landed in Belfast and went straight to speak with activists at the Labour office, the other landed in Belfast and went straight to speak with activists at the Sinn Fein office - the first was Andy Burnham, the second was Jeremy Corbyn. But, having said this, I like what is happening with Corbyn because I think he represents something greater - just as much as the kickback with Brexit, he potentially represents a growing resurgence in the democratic spirit, perhaps a little of the Chartist spirit of old.

I believe now is a time of opportunity - and although that may come with anxiety, upheaval, trials and tribulations - it is a time we might radically re-shape our country for the better.

26/06/2016

Voting with Mr Benn

This past week just gone I turned 36 years old. It passed really without thought - a cursory glance at the past ten years, where I was at compared to now, and then further backwards to roughly fifteen years ago, again with a casual comparison. The verdict I drew from this sort-of mental time travel is, "Yes, there have been some very tough times, but I have ultimately been very fortunate." For this I am thankful.

I think, though, when I look back to being 36, I might look not at my own life in such personal terms but at the momentous political changes that coincided with my birthday.

We have seen a majority within Britain vote to leave the European Union - based on the highest turnout since 1992, we have seen the resignation of a tearful Prime Minister, we have seen a second move towards independence by Scotland and the resurrection of the question of a united island of Ireland. As I write this, we are also seeing political figures like Tim Farron and David Lammy openly call for a referendum to be ignored by Westminster whilst other political figures try to depose Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, arguably the first leader of a major British political party to obtain that position by a mass vote. We've also had the awful murder of Jo Cox although I think we have yet to discern if this was really down to the referendum or the longer-term malice of Neo-Nazi militants (sometimes overlooked due to the issue of Islamist militancy).

I started off instinctively leaning towards voting 'Remain'. In particular, I remembered Mark Makowzer's opening chapter in 'Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century' where he highlights how the civility and democracy of Europe - and many of the current borders which define nation states - are all very recent developments, and in many ways, tentative developments. Makowzer quotes Czech politician Thomas Masaryk who describes 20th Century Europe as 'a laboratory atop a vast graveyard'. It is a quote I have held on to and one I have been to known to paraphrase to others as a way of explaining my support for the European Union - 'Europe is an experiment in peace and shared prosperity, in reaction to a succession of bloodbaths...'

I also referred to William Ellery Channing and other 'Classical Unitarians' of 19th Century America - their optimistic belief not in human beings as fallen angels, as much of traditional Christian thinking suggested, but in human beings as rising apes. My reasoning for supporting the EU was ultimately based on a belief the EU represents the natural evolution of human beings from troops to tribes to fiefdoms to kingdoms to nation states to empires to commonwealths - with the ultimate goal being a united world.

I also must admit that the idea of 'Brexit' also caused me to reflect selfishly. I very much enjoy the sense of the wide open lands of Europe on my doorstep - not just for holidays, but the potential of work and a better lifestyle. As somebody deemed to be well-qualified (lots of letters to my name) and with an 'in-demand trade' as an educator, there is great possibility for me to find employment in the major European cities - and I have explored this in the past year, keeping an eye out for jobs in British schools.

So it all made sense I should vote 'Remain'.

But something changed along with way, as I watched the debate play out. On the 'Remain' side we seemed to have David Cameron, George Osborne and a coalition of 'The Satisfied' leading the charge - career politicians (from all sides), celebrities, big business, international bureaucrats and so on.  Their main support also seemed to clearly be drawn from the middle and upper classes - this would include much of my work colleagues and social circles.

Then, on the other, we seemed to have at the top again a host of millionaires and career politicians like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove leading the charge for 'Leave'. Yet, noticeably, several rungs below there seemed to be a working class demographic - and, through conversation, I learnt this would include most of my family.

So I had to ask the question, why was it my father - a union man, a man who hates Tories and has long referred to Thatcher as 'The Bitch', a man who says 'Farage is just a different type of Tory', a man who has previously told about how he would sometimes have standing rows / near-on fights with racists in Sheffield pubs in the 1970s as they vented their scorn for 'Pakis' - why was it he was ostensibly lining behind politicians and the ideology of entitlement and empire, something he has been at odds with all of his life?

What followed then was a period of watching, reading, listening and serious reflection. I then happened upon this map:


And from there, I kept thinking back to a news report I had seen - one that at the time I had probably shook my head at or had given a disapproving 'ain't that sad' comment to but had then let pass me by. It was a BBC news report showing the wide disparity in life expectancy across the UK - it involved a visit to Stockton-upon-Tees in north eastern England, where life expectancy is 24 years less than Belgravia in London.


From there, I found myself arriving at a left-wing critique of the European Union - one which says the idea of a 'Social Europe' is largely a myth, one which says the passing of power to Brussels has damaged self-determination (the fundamental driver of social democracy) in Britain. I found myself drawn particularly to the late, great Tony Benn - a figure who was very much on my 'political landscape' as a child growing up as I did in Sheffield, with him serving as MP for nearby Chesterfield. 




I then happened upon this speech from the late Peter Shore, who I admit to knowing nothing about previously:


And as I spoke further with my father full of scorn for Johnson versus Cameron as 'The Tory Stageshow' but nevertheless resolute to vote 'Leave' and as I reflected upon my two youngest brothers, both non-graduates on low wages - one on a zero hours contract, the other a qualified Parts Advisor made redundant recently without compensation and handed a 'take it or leave it' driving job by the same company that often involves 12 hour days driving the same boring delivery route - as I thought about these brothers and their struggle as young working men to get any kind of decent rented housing and with no chance of buying a home - it struck me, that an uprising of the 'Peripheral English' was in the offing.

As I reflected further on the experience of my parents and one or two aunties and uncles, burnt as they were by the endowment scandal and working dull, manual jobs into their late sixties to claw back some equity, relentlessly worked until infirmity, I realised there was a 30 - 40 year old question about the system here. Not just the EU system, but the Westminster system - intertwined as they are.

From Thatcher rolling back industries that built modern Britain, leaving those towns centred on them without any replacement industries because 'there's no such thing as society' to the New Labour years where personal debt was promoted as a way of 'getting on' in life and then the banker-based crash followed by merciless austerity, this reckoning was about much more than the EU.

I have mentioned the late progressive theologian Marcus Borg on this blog before - he has shaped much of my theological thinking and wasn't afraid to embrace the overlap between religion and politics. Marcus Borg explains repeatedly in his books that there is a political dimension to the Gospels, that from the Nativity Story to the Book of Revelation, the stories on offer are more about metaphorical treatises on the human condition than fantastical literal happenings. Specifically, they talk at length about the human struggle against political, economic and religious empires - domination systems - that kill our capacity to be creative and contented  beings.

It might be hard for 'The Satisfied' to understand this - in this internet age, we are all at risk of living in our 'filter bubbles' - but for many, there has long been a real sense of powerlessness as unions have been rolled back, as political plurality has been increasingly stifled by the triumph of  Blairism and an unreformed electoral system.

For people like my father, it has resulted at times in him simply becoming despondent at face value - accepting of the drudgery, with the political passion of his youth reduced to a pilot light. For one of my youngest brothers, he's never voted and doesn't see the point - £13000 - 15,000 a year, 12 hour days, wrestling with periodic redundancies and bouts of unemployment - that's pretty much his lot for life as a non-graduate. For my other brother, he too struggles on as a non-graduate but carries both anger and cynicism - believing the system to be so completely rigged he periodically entertains a number of conspiracy theories (not as far fetched as you might think).

But it's not just my family. I've worked for 13 years now primarily with young people and their families on the bottom rungs. It's very easy to slip into easy / lazy narratives of 'they've brought it on themselves' and 'this is just how it is, they're just not very clever people' - but it's much more complex than that. Dieing 24 years before your countrymen and countrywomen is not simply about poor lifestyle choices or a lack of hard work and talent.

Much has been said about young people versus older people in the referendum. But I would argue this is possibly a false dichotomy (given the relatively low turnout amongst the non-graduate young). An overriding tension for the young people I work with is the culture we live in is carries a great promise - travel the world, buy a new car, get yourself on the property ladder, look good, hang around with good-looking people at the latest restaurant or bar, fall in love, build a home - yet it simply doesn't match their reality. For most this failure to grasp what they're apparently meant to grasp leads to a passivity, a helplessness, whereas for some they take my brother's view that the system is somehow unfairly rigged - but unlike my brother, the boys don't engage in theories, they engage in knives and guns. This is what I saw first-hand in Liverpool and Sheffield - young men way off the A-C GCSE 'rite of passage' and with no chance of the graduate route, the route to getting your designer trainers, your car, your love-life, your sense of self-worth, was through membership of gangs. In Liverpool they had guns, and when I moved to Sheffield in 2008, they had bats and knives - these have now also been upgraded to guns. Meanwhile the girls offer up their bodies, often lured in initially by a glimpse the great promise - much has been made of 'Muslim gangs' in the recent scandals of Rotherham and Rochdale, but there has been not enough about the economic vulnerability of the girls caught up in it. We think these things happen amongst bad people 'over there' but these things spill out - the safety of children on our streets is more important than their ability to do a gap year without a visa.

And then there's the migrant issue. Migration is not necessarily about race and culture (although I don't doubt there is an undercurrent of alienation and xenophobia around 'the other' arriving in numbers), but one ultimately of economics - more competitors in the rat race, more demands on the welfare state. I have yet to see any credible plan to address how we build infrastructure for a yearly population increase of 300,000 to 500,000 - or how we will protect our environment (one of the most encroached upon environments in Europe) in the process - that kind of worry is not racism, it's hard economics (expressed by many across racial lines). And it's clear that the neoliberal answer of 'it will all work itself out through the market' isn't cutting it with Joe Public.

It is this sense of powerlessness matched with this multi-faceted sense of economic insecurity that has led to a giant molotov being built up amongst the politically-minded working classes - a giant molotov that has just needed a spark. And being offered the first real political choice in 20 - 30 years was going to be that spark.

Much has been said about the nastiness of the 'Leave' campaign and certainly there was a 'pull up the drawbridge' undertone to it all - matched with the fanciful notions, as peddled by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, of Britain somehow recovering its past 'Rule Britannia' glory.

But the 'Remain' camp are equally guilty of being misleading - and in George Osborne's case, directly threatening - in their roles as prophets of doom and gloom.  As Owen Jones noted this week, the fear of economic insecurity doesn't work with people who've lived with economic insecurity for years and years. And just like the 'Leave' camp's ignorance to the plight of refugees fleeing war, the 'Remain' camp were also guilty of simply not 'getting it' - selling a 'European Dream' in which we can all travel, work and play together to people struggling to make ends meet at places like Sports Direct.

So I reflected on all of this, searched my soul, and decided to change my stance which had already gone from 'Remain' to 'undecided' and then to 'abstain' (believing for a time it was a false choice that would change nothing).

And so, it was with a heavy but ultimately resolute heart, I made a fairly last minute decision to vote to 'Leave' - to actively side with the struggling classes, to bring to attention 'The Unsatisfied'. I realised it was a risky decision - it was certainly safer for me personally to go with vote 'Remain' - but I could simply not in good conscience validate the status quo, which is what a 'Remain' vote would ultimately have done.

I did so because ultimately, whilst I still believe the European Union is a noble experiment in peace and prosperity - and whilst it has largely (though not fully) succeeded in creating peace for all - I cannot but think it has failed as an experiment in creating prosperity for all. And it cannot be reformed in a meaningful way - not just for Britain, but for the crippled economy of Greece, for the unemployed young of Spain and Portugal.

If we look at that map I shared again and compare it to the regional breakdown of how people voted, it was clear I wasn't the only one. The map showing economic deprivation correlates with how Britain voted - there is the Scottish and Northern Irish Catholic 'anomaly' but they vote on the back of long-held grievance towards Westminster, therefore seeing the EU as an enabler rather than a blocker to their self-determination. The map also points to the failure of the EU in bringing prosperity to the entire continent and it is no surprise to me that other countries have nascent 'exit' movements.



Talking to my father last night over a cup of tea, the mood was not gleeful but sombre and serious. I agreed with him that Brexit is just the start of it. Because Brussels has failed in-conjunction with Westminster - and now, it is the status quo of Westminster that needs to be rejected also. And this is why I don't fear Scottish independence - in fact I welcome it, because for many Scottish, Westminster is what Brussels is to the English north and midlands, a limiter of their own economic self-determination, their own dreams of social democracy.

So my vote was made because I have come to believe everything must change. There is risk, yes, there will be twists and turns, yes - and yes, we will have to make sure the quest for economic self-determination does not slip into rabid nationalism. But for me this is about that old hymn 'Jerusalem' which we often forget talks as much about swords and chariots of fire - about struggle - as well as our green and pleasant land. There can be no 'keeping the lid on it' now - whether we ultimately stay or leave the EU, the Chartist / 'Old Labour' genie is back out of the bottle, a genie that Farage and Johnson will certainly not be able to tame.

Voting for 'Brexit' is not a magical bullet - I still wonder if I'm one of the turkeys that just voted for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas! - but I hope and pray the state of flux it brings can be used for the long-term good.

I'm a social democrat.
I'm a republican, based on principles of meritocracy.
I'm a liberal Christian, believing I must try to be open-hearted - emotionally connected to the experience of others - as much as being open-minded and intellectually-engaged.
I'm a 36 year old lucky enough to have 'fluked it' into a secure career, to have broke the glass ceiling of my roots - but I see well those who have not.