On taxes, nose hair and love

Intergenerational strife is not new, and while social policy change is important, Jesus models a different way of being. Life as a follower of the One who is described as the Alpha and the Omega, beginning and end, is radically counter-cultural, as illustrated in John 13. Thought for the Day this morning followed the release of the New Generational Contract proposed this week by The Resolution Society.  As ever, you can listen again here by scrolling forward to 01:23:00 or simply read it below. Thanks are due to my good friend, Ali Laing, whose quote is used (and exaggerated somewhat!):

Good morning.

I was in a meeting yesterday with a friend who has just had a significant birthday.  “I’ve never been more interested about my hair cuts than I am now I’ve turned 40,” was his main complaint, “And don’t get me started on my nose hair.”

Each generation has its own troubles.

A report released this week by the Resolution Society proposes reforms to help young adults facing stagnant wage levels and the housing crisis. Meanwhile, older people in our society are dealing with care bills, NHS waiting lists and social isolation and the Gen X’ers in the middle are time-poor and emotionally and financially stretched by their responsibilities.

Each generation has its own troubles

Proposals for the ‘New Generational Contract’ include giving a one-off payment to help get under-25s on the housing ladder, introducing a new property tax to target more affluent homeowners and taxing earnings for those over state pension age. Of course, social policy should always be open to review, but there’s perhaps a deeper issue at work here.

Human beings exist as part of families and communities. And families and communities help one another out. Tax and tax reform is part of how society makes decisions, but there is also a deep societal need to reconnect old and young, to create community where there is none, to share our resources and learn to love our neighbour a bit better. Across the generations we need to work together.

During the meal known as The Last Supper Jesus reminded his disciples that following him meant living radically:

‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

Tax breaks are practical to redress any economic imbalance, but practical love for other people will also bring radical change to a world that can be a lonely and anxious place for people of any age.

Advertisements

Flatpacks, meatballs and seeking God’s kingdom

IMG_1392

I’ve blogged about Minimal February before, but was reminded of my bid to declutter when I heard that the founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, had died over the weekend. His store has contributed to a good chunk of the stuff I’ve accumulated, but I’ve also appreciated his eye for design and imaginative storage solutions! I’m planning to declutter again this February. If you want to join in, just get in touch. Meanwhile, you can listen again to my Thought for the Day here at 01:22:02 or you can read it below.

Good morning.

Three years ago, I took part in the Minimalism Game with some friends. Every day in February we decluttered. One item on the 1st, two on the second, and so on until by the end of the month we’d removed 406 things from our homes and our lives. It was sobering to realise how much unnecessary stuff we had all accumulated.  And I’m planning to do it again this year.

The founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, who has died aged 91, had a simple philosophy. According to the company’s website, he ‘wanted to create a better everyday life for the many people’. If you’ve spent hours constructing flat-pack furniture with only a stick man drawing and an allen key for company,  you may not agree, but there’s no doubt that Swedish design, affordable basics and self-assembly goods have revolutionised how we live.

Kamprad began his business aged 17 when his father gave him a small amount of money as a reward for doing well at school in spite of his dyslexia. Whatever you make of his bookcases and his meatballs, it’s highly likely that Scandinavian design principles have impacted the places you live and work over the years.

How we think about material objects has a huge bearing on our lives. Jesus makes a clear link between worrying about what we wear and what we eat, and having the freedom to enjoy the life that God gives us. He tells his followers not to run after the things they think they want, but to seek the kingdom of God, and trust in his provision.

Many of us live in an anxious tension between wanting more stuff, and feeling overwhelmed by all the possessions we no longer need, so the idea that each day has enough trouble of its own rings true. How can we be free of this trouble? Seek God’s kingdom, says Jesus.

That doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t care how we dress or what our homes look like, but it means living with consideration for others and the planet. Thriftiness, sharing what we have, freeing ourselves from clutter and reducing our consumption are all means of creating a better everyday life. Seeking something more than stuff frees us from the worry that ensnares our hearts and robs our peace.

IMG_1393

Final Foolish Thought of 2015

IMG_8286This morning the Creative Fool was alive, awake, alert and relatively enthusiastic about the fact that she was on Thought for the Day at 7.22am on BBC Radio Scotland. Today was slightly different from usual as, having moved to Glasgow at the beginning of December, I was able to do my thinking in the studio with the presenters rather than patched in from a broom cupboard in Edinburgh. The text of what I said is printed below, and you can listen again by following the link and scrolling to 01:21:25.

Good morning.

I’ve just moved house and am in the middle of unpacking boxes and learning how things work in the new place. For the first time ever, I know exactly where my Christmas decorations are stored. The annual ritual of hanging favourite tree baubles, coupled with the practical business of settling in, has made me reflect on the importance of meaningful objects and the experience of being a stranger in town.

The British Museum, which houses around 8 million meaningful objects has recently been given the Lampedusa cross, a simple wooden artefact made from a ship that sank off the Italian island in 2013. Onboard were over 500 refugees, many of whom had fled persecution. Only 151 people survived and a local carpenter decided to give each one a cross as a symbol of hope. The cross now on display in the museum is not ornate. Made from peeling yellow and blue driftwood its origins as part of the ill-fated boat are evident and yet, with its rough wood and worn paintwork it carries a beauty by dint of its meaning.lampalusa

Explaining his final choice for the museum, the outgoing Director, Neil MacGregor, said, “We have acquired many wonderful objects, from the grand to the humble, but all have sought to shine a light on the needs and hopes that all human beings share.”

The Lampedusa cross is a meaningful symbol of our time, and, as we near the end of a year that has seen unprecedented levels of human migration across the globe, it is good to be reminded that hope is the fuel for human endeavour.

Christmas is the story of God coming to earth as a human being. The hope of grace born in the frail yet solid form of a refugee baby. And as I’ve tried to work out how to live in a new place, I’ve been struck forcibly by the enormity of Jesus’ incarnation. The riskiness of laying aside the glory of heaven to be born in a stable to a teenage mother and the sacrifice of becoming subject to poverty speak of the lavishness of God’s love for us. Like the Lampedusa cross, the incarnation is not ornate. The reality of God being born into suffering, and ultimately his death on another cross, means that Christmas is a meaningful symbol of hope for all. That’s good news in the midst of the baubles and the boxes wherever you live.

That’s me done thinking for 2015, but I look forward to doing more foolish thinking in 2016!

Inside, Outside, Underneath My Skin Worship

IMG_6852I went to a gig last week.

So what, you say? Well, partly because if I have spare time and money I tend to go to the theatre, and partly because I secretly find the whole process of gig-attendance quite stressful, and mostly because I’m now middle-aged, it’s an unusual occurrence these days.

On a side note, the stress is usually about the unknown nature of the whole experience – gigs don’t have definite start times, you’re never sure what to do with your stuff, I never seem to have the right clothes, and if, like me, you’re a visual person you never really know where to look when the music starts. When you analyse it, the whole experience is actually quite weird (and this from the woman who has quite happily spent 3 hours wearing a mask running around a warehouse in the pursuit of an immersive theatrical experience). Twice. If that has piqued your interest, you can find out more about Punchdrunk here.

However, I digress. Once I had figured out what to wear and made my peace with having to cart my handbag around the space all night, I began to look forward to seeing one of my heroes on stage again. Martin Smith was the lead singer of Delirious?,  a band whose lyrics and music had always stirred something deep within me. Somehow,  when I listened to them in the car, experienced them live in a huge crowd or lay on the floor at home allowing them to speak truth over me, I connected with God in a way that wasn’t ethereal and detached, but raw and truthful.

In a sense Martin Smith and his band provided a soundtrack to my 20’s, so:

I’ve walked down a road where the devil’s been
Where the kids have seen things they should never have seen
And the ancient stone knows the deeper tale
About a bloody game, they called the holy war

Heaven is my home and there’ll be no shame to bear
Heaven is my home and there’ll be no refugees

(Mezzamorphis, Heaven)

resonated, because sometimes I needed reminded of the heavenly home that was waiting for me, and for the children I worked with who had seen things they should never have seen.

And later, when I left home, work and all that was familiar to pursue a crazy path of drama training in the big smoke, it helped to remind myself that:

You, still captivate me, fascinate me
You still captivate me, saturate me
You still captivate me, liberate me
You still captivate me

(World Service: Inside, Outside)

So, although I was looking forward to experiencing the God’s Great Club tour, I was a little apprehensive that I might be disappointed. Maybe Smith would have lost that magnetic stage presence and the middle-aged Edinburgh crowd would shuffle home feeling sad that our glory days had passed. In the event, despite the handbag-carting and the oddly bright lighting, we were not disappointed. He still had it. Our glory days were not past. We could still be history makers in this land, speakers of truth to all mankind.

IMG_6851As I belted out the classics and allowed my heart to melt to some newer songs, I reflected on why I respond to this music. It’s not just that Martin Smith has an ease and energy when he performs that make for a good night out. It’s not just that the music is written to stir a spiritual response.

It has something to do with integrity and the presence of God.

It has something to do with lyrics that connect with the heart of humble worship before God and the desire to be part of something bigger and better. These words and this music tell my story and God’s story.

The evangelists among us sometimes get frustrated with worship music. We want to be out there telling people, not hanging around with a bunch of Christians singing mushy songs. It’s fine for the prophets, pastors and teachers, but we want to get active. Now. There’s not a minute to lose. Of course, that’s a gross exaggeration and a dangerous path towards self-reliance, but those of you who have a gift of evangelism will understand what I’m talking about.

What Martin Smith has always been good at is speaking truth about God to the hearts of people who love his world. He’s a missional worship leader in the sense that his songs allow us to tarry in the place of awe and wonder, but don’t let us wander into a place of safe introspection. Look on God, then look on his world. Mission is the response to encounter. Music to the ears of those who long to see God’s kingdom break into the world of need and shame.

If not us who will shout
Your song of praise
For every soul to be saved
in Jesus’name
So we must keep the faith
not backing down
We must live the faith
This is our time

(God’s Great Dance Floor Step 2: Keep The Faith)

I’m glad I went gigging on a chilly Tuesday evening, because I left having met with God in an underground vault off the Cowgate and with a renewed sense of God’s call to his world. And a deep gratitude for guys like Martin Smith who continue to speak truth to my generation, and those who come after.

And like the Creative Fool that I am, I left wanting to us all to be able write, perform and worship like that. Who else wants to join me and make some history?

Learning to breathe on both sides

stadtbad
© Berliner_Baeder_Betriebe

I went swimming yesterday.  Sadly the pool I frequent doesn’t look as grand as the cathedral-like Mk Berlin Stadtbad, but I always leave feeling as though my soul has been restored. Recreation in the true sense has taken place as I plough up and down the slow lane. Recently I’ve been trying to reeducate myself in breathing. Since I learned to swim front crawl (about 36 years ago) I’ve always breathed to my left. It feels natural and “right” to do this and I’ve swum miles without ever feeling the need to look to the starboard side. Now, though, I want to shake things up and learn some new technique so I’ve decided to alternate my breathing between the left and right side. Easy, right? Nooooo! It’s difficult to break the habit of 36 years and I’ve had to analyse how to take a breath in order to avoid a mouthful of chlorine and a lungful of panic. It’s hard work. It doesn’t feel natural. But yesterday I began to feel I was getting it, and I had a minor sense of triumph. Noone else would notice but I’d spent some time making a radical change and I’d broken some bad habits. Hopefully my front crawl will be more elegant and efficient as a result.

Which is all good and well, but what does it have to do with creative foolery? I’ve been thinking a lot recently about missional discipleship and asking some hard questions about what it looks like to live as a creative disciple of Jesus in the 21st century. And I think relearning how to breathe has something to teach me. I want to be a more elegant and efficient performer, writer and disciple of Jesus, but it doesn’t just happen without working at it.

First of all, you have to decide that you want to change. It’s easy and comfortable to keep doing what you do the way you’ve always done it. This is true whether when it comes to making a lazy acting choice, writing a sketch with a predictable outcome or assuming that by “doing church” a certain way people will somehow find their way to Jesus. Creativity is often about not making the predictable, familiar choice, but choosing something different. So, the best actors are the ones who captivate you with their bold physical and vocal choices and the best writers are the ones who surprise and delight with the unexpected. And the most creative disciples? Perhaps they are the ones who remain open to the new things that God wants to do, and sense that there is reward in breaking old habits. Jesus talked about the new wine of God’s kingdom requiring new wineskins. It’s a bit like breathing in a different way.

Of course there are good habits too. So, when I breathe to the left, I do it well. I’ve been practising it for the last 36 years. And, in finding a new rhythm, I have discovered that I need to recognise and learn from the good. This is about the discipline of creativity. In acting, the performer’s body  is their instrument, so there is merit in maintaining good habits of physicality and vocal training, of staying open and responsive to other performers. In writing there is the discipline of structure, form and language that creates the freedom to express depth. For the missional disciple, there is the rhythm and discipline of intimacy with God. I have nothing to offer the world if I do not start from the place of prayer, Bible study and listening to the voice of the Spirit. And these practices take discipline, especially for activists who wake up with 12 ideas of how to change the world before breakfast. It’s no good just rushing in with a good idea and hoping God will bless it. It leads to failure and disappointment. So to become an effective creative missional disciple there are some habits to break and some new habits to establish. Habits we can learn from ancient rhythms and practices. It doesn’t feel natural at first, but the more we do it, the more we create from a place of security, intimacy and clarity.

And finally, there’s something about risk. I wasn’t likely to drown in my local swimming pool – there’s a lifeguard, it’s not very deep and I could always put my feet down – but if I want to push myself in my creativity and my discipleship then there are lots of risks involved. The risk of failure, of looking foolish, of being misunderstood. Why go to the places I would not previously have gone when I can play safe and stick with what I know? The older you get, the harder it is to avoid risk-proofing your life. But that’s not picking up your cross and following. That’s not leaving everything for the sake of the one who died for you. That’s not living a resurrection life. So, I want to push myself as a performer, stretch myself as writer and live an adventurous life worth imitating. It might be risky. There might be failure and foolishness. But I want to push out into deeper water…

The Creative Fool speaks up…

FullSizeRenderHaving flirted with various forms of blogging and communication over the years it seemed sensible that at last the fool should speak up. So here I am.

I work for a company called Foolproof, and we like to think we have things to say that you might want to read. I’d like to make you laugh, cry and think about what really matters in life. That’s the job of the fool.

Why the fool? Well, historically, the fool serves as the truth teller in the royal court. Through jokes, tricks and comedy, the fool has the power to challenge and provoke with impunity. The fool is a clown who bursts the bubble of pomposity and challenges the accepted norms.

Meanwhile, in the Bible, Paul speaks about the foolishness and wisdom of God:

“Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe…For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”
1 Corinthians 1:20-21, 25

At Foolproof Creative Arts we want the foolish things to challenge and provoke our culture. We believe that we have been given a foolish upside-down, creative message to share about a God who chooses lay aside the riches of heaven to get involved in our lives.

So, if you’re the kind of person who slips on the occasional banana skin, walks into the odd lamp-post or spills their drink down their front when checking the time, then read on, because I think you’ll like our foolishness…

Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me
Love, in fear, in hate, in tears

(Sit Down, James, Rough Trade Records)