Laetare: #plent growth so far

So, I’ve been sowing some seeds each day in Lent. Some of them have failed; some I’ve planted on outside, where I try to protect them from the voracious ravages of “Brother” Snail. Some are still indoors in their pots.

I can’t find an easy way to put all the pictures in the blog I’ve been keeping at tumblr, so I’ve uploaded them here instead.

And one final photo, not from the #plent project, but pleasing all the same; the bud on a fig tree:

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What I am planning for Lent…

No, not the music — more on that anon. I’m planning something else.

I’m planning on sowing, each day of Lent, some seeds for edible plants. I’ll be posting pictures to Tumblr and those will turn up on Twitter; once a week I’ll try and do a summary post of some sort, which I’ll link to from here and FaceBorg and various other places for those of you who aren’t into Twitter.

Do feel free to join me, and whether you do or not may you have a blessed Lent.

It’s Up To Us to Change the Narrative

I was thinking the other morning about community size, economies of scale, and our perception of other people as human beings worthy of care and respect. In larger communities, where everyone doesn’t know everyone else, the media have quite a lot of power over how we see one another. And now Cameron’s government have passed the Welfare Reform Bill.

I don’t know whether the Daily Fail, the Sun and so on have always vilified the poorest and weakest in society, those reliant on others for help for whatever reason. I struggle to take such articles seriously, as I don’t quite understand how intelligent people can believe them. But I know that the advertisements about benefit fraud, which I started to notice under a Labour government, seemed to be a sign of something very wrong with the way we perceive one another and the way we speak and write of one another. I’d like to remedy that.

In my head, I’d like there to be some requirement for legislators to work with those who their laws will affect the most. I’d like those legislating about welfare reform to work with people who don’t have much money and with the disabled for a year before being allowed to make changes which will affect them. I’d like those who would further privatise the NHS (yes, further privatise — this has been going on for a long time, too) to think about what it might be like to need medical care and simply not be able to afford it, as well as looking at the cost-effectiveness of various systems.

But I think the propaganda may be so strong and so widespread that it can override even personal contact. Victim-blaming happens at all levels, and contact doesn’t always help.

As an example of that, for every GP I’ve had who has been helpful and supportive regarding my own health conditions, I’ve had another who doesn’t think there is anything physically wrong with me. This has led to delays in diagnosis which were mentally very distressing, not to mention physically risky. I remember being told my chronic pain was due to depression, and in the next appointment two weeks later being told I wasn’t “really depressed”. It turned out to be more complicated than that, of course.

Now, GPs aren’t stupid. They’ve been through medical school, and you do need quite a few brain cells to rub together to get through successfully! And they work with people. Yet they still do victim-blaming, even with an articulate patient with good levels of self-awareness. So I have to conclude that the problem we face isn’t one of intelligence or of contact.

I’m inclined to think that instead, the problem is one of narrative. A dominant narrative in the society in which I live is “You Make Your Own Life”. It’s an attractive narrative, because it seduces us into thinking that we can keep ourselves safe, that no matter how bad things get we’ll be OK because our efforts will be effective. And it’s a comfortable narrative for as long as health and wealth hold out, because it absolves us of the responsibility for the plight of anyone around us, even if we’re directly abusive toward them. After all, They Make Their Own Lives, too. And it’s slippery, this narrative, because we do seem to consciously choose our actions, we do think about consequences, some of our efforts do pay off. So obviously we must be in control of our circumstances!

But it’s wrong. You don’t Make Your Own Life. I don’t Make My Own Life. Not entirely, and the wealth of self-help literature out there might be just a small hint that none of us do.

Now, I don’t believe in full environmental determinism, and I do believe in free will. We always have a choice in how to respond to our situation. But we make this choice out of limited options of varying acceptability, and with limited foresight. Every choice includes risk. We don’t get to decide on our circumstances, our limitations, any more than we get to decide on our biological parents. And there is no isolation: all of our choices affect everyone else, and all of everyone else’s choices affect us, to some degree. We exist in a networked community with 7 billion interdependent active members, as well as countless previous members whose legacy still forms our environment. We don’t make our own circumstances, and our circumstances affect our choices. We make our own choices, but we don’t make our own life.

Yet this is the dominant narrative! The poor are poor, we’re told, because they don’t sufficiently desire wealth to take the necessary action to acquire it — so we must change the incentives by lowering their benefits to make them hungry for work. (Literally.) Never mind the economic reasons why this won’t actually help (people who don’t have enough to eat will spend less, not more, and the economy will suffer further as a result, with fewer jobs and lower productivity…), the poor are poor because they choose to be poor and therefore they deserve to be poor. The disabled are obviously only suffering disability, we’re told, because being disabled is a pretty good lifestyle compared to hard graft. So we must change their incentives by taking away what support they have and then they’ll learn how to “adapt” to their conditions. As for the sick and the elderly, they wouldn’t need so much medical care if they took proper care of themselves, so we’ll cut the NHS: that will encourage them to develop healthy habits!

Gentle readers, this is all preposterous. People don’t choose to be poor*: if you don’t have enough money to live on, getting enough of it is not trivial. People don’t choose to be disabled: in case you hadn’t noticed, blindness, deafness, wheelchair use, and long-term illnesses are things that happen to people, not lifestyle choices. People don’t choose to get sick: if they did, would anyone ever suffer from a common cold? People don’t choose to get old, despite what the beauty creams would have you believe, and nobody has the intention of aging badly.

But these atrocities are what the “You Make Your Own Life” narrative leads to. This narrative has made our society sick, so sick that we’re now actually doing the things in the last-but-one paragraph. Yes, I said “we”; whether or not they do so with our full support, the government act on our behalf.

I think we face two challenges here. One is to ensure that the vulnerable among us still receive care; this is going to be a massive effort, and I’m sure one at which we will fail in some cases, but we do have to try.

The second challenge is to find a better narrative and, somehow, make it supplant the one I’ve been talking about. We need a narrative that is more attractive than the idea that each of us can save ourselves, more comfortable than the idea that other people’s problems are nothing to do with us.

I haven’t found such a narrative outside of religion; the closest I come is the idea that we are all children of God and therefore worthy of respect and care and love regardless of our circumstances. But the “You Make Your Own Life” narrative is so pernicious that sometimes it actually invades religion, turning into “If you are ill/poor/old/disabled/unhappy it’s because you didn’t pray enough/love God enough/do what we say God wants.” Grace becomes the means by which we are wealthy and healthy and favoured in this world, rather than the mystery which prompts us to help others. Ugh! This caricature is not what we need. On a deeper level I think religion does have a lot to offer, but simply making a more religious society won’t solve the problem unless we can also purge religion of make-your-own-life-itis.

I believe that human beings have automatic worth, not based in ability or achievement or economic activity but personhood. I believe that human beings are interconnected and interdependent, each contributing to but not controlling our own wellbeing and that of everyone else on the planet. I believe that if anyone suffers at the hands of another, we are all much worse off, and when we work to help one another we all gain.

I believe it is urgently important that we make sure everyone knows this, especially those in power and those who will be in power in five or ten or fifty years. And because of the stickiness of the existing dominant narrative, it’s going to be an uphill battle to do it.

Now what?

*Edit 12/04/2012: It has been pointed out to me that some people, usually those who are members of a religious order, do choose to be poor, at least in terms of material possessions. If any of them would like to comment on what their overarching narrative is, and how we might replicate such a narrative in wider society, I would be grateful. I think many people today crave such simplicity, but mostly those who are well-off enough to choose what they would give up.

Flash Compline, Monday 23rd January

There will be a Flash Compline service at 9.00pm on Monday, 23rd January, in the gardens of St Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, near Liverpool Street tube and mainline stations – here’s a map

Music: We will use this setting of Compline.

We will have a small number of spare copies, which you can purchase for £2 if you want to keep them, or borrow if you don’t. Don’t worry if you aren’t a confident singer — follow along with the text and see what you can pick up. Everyone is welcome. If we don’t have enough confident singers we can always say the liturgy instead.

This setting uses the words from Common Worship Traditional Language Compline. Various smartphone apps for this exist and it is also available from the C of E website on the day, if you’re worried we won’t have enough music or you’d rather just use the words.

You may wish to bring a torch or book light.

PLEASE ARRIVE QUIETLY AND DEPART IN SILENCE.


@FlashCompline on Twitter
Flash Compline on Facebook

If you buy my music, I will make more.

If you liked the Twelve Days project and you’d like to support me in making more music, the album is now available to purchase from Bandcamp. You can pay as little or as much you like, and you can download the music in a variety of formats (including FLAC and .ogg). The recordings themselves are still under a CC BY-SA license, so having downloaded the album you can put it on USB drives and give it to all your friends or even burn it to CD if you want to. You can also make derivative works, whether that’s using the music as a soundtrack for video, using it in liturgy in some way or a mash-up with your favourite banjo track. As long as I’m attributed, you’re free to do what you like with it.

If you buy my music, I will make more.

On great works of great faith

He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’

This isn’t an easy verse.

Why, why is our faith so small? I’ve never moved a mountain; certainly even things I find rather more realistic are sometimes very difficult. I want to believe that nothing is impossible, but the balance of evidence seems to indicate that much is.

This verse seems to be saying “believe harder, have more faith, and things will work. And if they don’t work, well, you just aren’t believing hard enough!”

But I think that’s not the point. I think that’s something we read into the text.

I think faith is a gift, rather than an obligation. Oh, I’d make a rubbish Calvinist, to be sure. I don’t get on with the idea of predestination, and the implications I think it has for free will. But the Spirit blows where it will, and some are given great faith and others none at all, and I think it is a mistake to tell ourselves that we can believe harder and somehow force ourselves to have greater faith. Rather, greater faith is something we pray for, and accept if it is granted. I’m reminded of Psalm 80 — turn us again, O Lord, and we shall be saved — and of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened or softened by God.

What is actually required? Are we asked to have faith? Yes, actually. And the great works of great faith are held out, carrot-like. But we aren’t told that we must have faith so great that it can move mountains. We’re simply told to have faith in Christ, as a sort of extension of our faith in God. I say if we’re listening, if we are giving these words any weight at all, that in itself is already an act of faith, however miniscule. So stop berating yourself for not having enough faith. You are a flawed and marvelous human being, a beloved child of God, and you do not have to be perfect.

What else are we told is required of us?

Love God. Love your neighbour as yourself. These two are so important that Jesus says they are the basis of the entire Law and Prophets — the Law and Prophets being the bulk of Jewish biblical canon at the time. I try to do them and I fail every single day. It’s that “flawed human being” thing again.

What else?

Eat, drink. Do this in remembrance of me. Gladly, though it isn’t always easy.

Pray in this way.
I can just about handle this one, if what Jesus means is the formulaic pattern of the Lord’s Prayer, which I have known so long I cannot remember learning it. But that business of forgiving others is quite sticky.

Judge not. This, too, is non-trivial. I can but try.

Love one another as I have loved you. That’s a tall order; it applies to more than just washing one another’s feet. He tells us to love one another as he loves us and then he goes and gets himself crucified! We’re meant to follow the example. If this isn’t daunting I don’t know what is.

And yet…I have seen countless examples of what I can only call sacrificial love. I have heard the joy of judgments overturned, reconsidered. I have felt the warmth of forgiveness rising out of prayer and I have tasted sweet living remembrance, whether you want to call it sacrament or memorial, body and blood or bread and wine.

Are not all of these mountains moved?

Twelve Drummers Drumming

I wonder if the “true love” in the song remembered to get a gift receipt.


Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vitraj_Crkva_Gospe_Trsatske_2.jpg

I was feeling indecisive, so you get something of a baker’s dozen. Think of the second track as a sort of bonus track, or save it for the Epiphany tomorrow. Either way is good.

I wasn’t planning on singing this first one, but the tune for this American version of the Joys of Mary is fantastically haunting. I’d love to do it again properly when I have a bit more time.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F32165111%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-rcCEW&secret_url=true The Blessings of Mary by artsyhonker

The very first blessing that Mary had, it was the blessing of one:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could live a father’s son;
Could live a father’s son; like Emmanuel in glory
Father, Son and the Holy Ghost, through all eternity.

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of two:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could read the Scriptures through;

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of three:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could set the sinner free;

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of four:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could live for evermore;

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of five:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could bring the dead alive;

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of six:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could heal and cure the sick

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of seven:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could conquer hell and heaven

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of eight:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could make the crooked straight;

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of nine:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could turn water into wine;

The very next blessing Mary had, it was the blessing of ten:
To think that her Son, Jesus, could write without a pen;

The next tune is also American, arranged by William Walker. The words to the first verse are anonymous; the rest are by Reginald Heber, and you might know a very different tune to “Brightest and best of the songs of the morning.”

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F32155542%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-MVEtM&secret_url=true Hail the blest morn by artsyhonker

Hail the blest morn! See the great Mediator
Down from the regions of glory descend!
Shepherds, go worship the Babe in the manger!
Lo! for his guard the bright angels attend.
Brightest and best of the songs of the morning,
Dawn on our darkness and lend us thine aid;
Star in the East, the horizon adorning,
Guide where our infant Redeemer was laid!

Cold on his cradle the dewdrops are shining,
Low lies his bed with the beasts of the stall;
Angels adore him, in slumber reclining,
Wise men and shepherds before him do fall.

Say shall we yield him, in costly devotion,
Odours of Edom and offerings divine,
Gems of the mountain and pearls of the ocean,
Myrrh from the forest and gold from the mine?

Vainly we offer each ample oblation,
Vainly with gold would his favour secure;
Richer by far is the heart’s adoration,
Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.

Eleven Pipers Piping

I suppose the Lords-a-Leaping and those dancing ladies have some appropriate music, now, at least.


Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Adoration_of_the_magi_st.michael_toronto.jpg.

It seems that the version of this I have has rather more verses than standard. That’s alright, it will give you time to learn the refrain if you’re singing along.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F32163923%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-ps6X5&secret_url=true Puer natus in Bethlehem by artsyhonker

Puer natus in Bethlehem, alleluia,
Unde gaudet Jerusalem, alleluia, alleluia.

Refrain: In cordis jubilo Christum natum adoremus,
Cum novo cantico.

Assumpsit carnem Filius, alleluia,
Dei Patris altissimus, alleluia, alleluia.

Per Gabrielem nuntium, alleluia,
Virgo concepit Filium, alleluia, alleluia.

Tamquam sponsus de thalamo, alluia,
Processit Matris utero, alleluia, alleluia.

Hic jacet in præsepio, alleluia
Qui regnat sine termino, alleluia, alleluia.

Et Angelus pastoribus, alleluia,
Revelat quod sit Dominus, alleluia, alleluia.

Reges de Sabâ veniunt, alleluia,
Aurum, thus, myrrhum offerunt, alleluia, alleluia,

Intrantes domum invicem, alleluia,
Novum salutant principem, alleluia, alleluia.

De Matre natus Virgine, alleluia:
Qui lumen est de lumine, alleluia, alleluia.

Sine serpentis vulnere, alleluia,
De nostro venit sanguin, alleluia, alleluia.

In carne nobis similis, alleluia,
Peccato sed dissimilis; alleluia, alleluia.

Ut redderet nos homines, alleluia,
Deo et sibi similes, alleluia, alleluia.

In hoc natali gaudio, alleluia,
Benedicamus Domino, alleluia, alleluia.

Laudetur sancta Trinitas, alleluia,
Deo dicamus gratias, alleluia, alleluia.

Ten Lords-a-Leaping


Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:%27%27_Nativity_%27%27_.JPG

A pretty little carol, which, like “Away in a Manger”, I’ve only ever heard sung to a different tune than this one.

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F32167300%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-kdTAK&secret_url=true A virgin most pure by artsyhonker


A virgin most pure, as the Prophets do tell,
Hath brought forth a baby, as it hath befell,
To be our Redeemer from death, hell and sin,
Which Adam’s transgression had wrapped us in.

Refrain
Aye, and therefore be you merry,
Rejoice and be merry,
Set sorrow aside;
Christ Jesus our Savior was born on this tide.

At Bethlehem city in Jewry a City there was
Where Joseph and Mary together did pass,
And there to be taxed, with many one more,
For Cæsar commanded the same should be so. Refrain

But, when they had entered the city so fair
A number of people so mighty was there,
That Joseph and Mary, whose substance was small,
Could get in the Inn there6 no lodging at all. Refrain

Then were they constrained in a stable to lie,
Where horses and asses6a they us’d for to tie;
Their lodging so simple they held it no scorn,
But against the next morning our Saviour was born. Refrain

The King of all kings to this world being brought,
Small store of fine linen to wrap him was sought,
And when she had swaddled her young son so sweet,
Within an ox manger she laid him to sleep. Refrain

Then God sent an Angel from Heaven so high,
To certain poor Shepherds in fields where they lye,
And bade them no longer in sorrow to stay,
Because that our Saviour was born on this day. Refrain

Then presently after the Shepherds did spy
A number of Angels that stood in the sky;
Who joyfully talked and sweetly did sing,
To God be all glory our Heavenly King. Refrain

Nine ladies dancing


Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sonnenaufgang_mit_As.jpg

From the rising of the sun to the ends of the earth, let us sing of Christ the Prince,
born of the Virgin Mary.


Image from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:A_solis_ortus.jpg

https://player.soundcloud.com/player.swf?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F32167396%3Fsecret_token%3Ds-fUUk8&secret_url=true A solis ortus cardine by artsyhonker

A solis ortus cardine
Ad usque terrae limitem
Christum canamus Principem,
Natum Maria Virgine.

Beatus auctor saeculi
Servile corpus induit,
Ut carne carnem liberans
Non perderet quod condidit.

Clausae1 parentis viscera
Caelestis intrat gratia;
Venter puellae baiulat
Secreta quae non noverat.

Domus pudici pectoris
Templum repente fit Dei;
Intacta nesciens virum
Verbo concepit Filium.2

Enixa3 est puerpera
Quem Gabriel praedixerat,
Quem matris alvo gestiens4
Clausus Ioannes senserat.5

Foeno iacere pertulit,
Praesepe non abhorruit,
Parvoque lacte pastus est6
Per quem nec ales esurit.

Gaudet chorus caelestium
Et Angeli canunt Deum,
Palamque fit pastoribus
Pastor, Creator omnium.

Gloria tibi, Domine,
Qui natus es de Virgine,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula. Amen.

Translation into English available at CPDL.