Saturday, 8 September 2018

Love Hurts


Whilst there's truth in it I slightly disagree with the quote attributed to Liam Neeson in the image above.

Love opens you up, it opens you up to yourself and to other people. If you love someone you start to feel their pain, that's empathy. Everyone hurts. You can't love someone without feeling pain. And it opens you up to yourself. If you've been numb, dulled yourself to your own pain, then love will hurt. The difference is that it's a good hurt, it's the hurt that brings healing. Love allows you to accept and to let go of your pain. So love definitely hurts, because life hurts. It's just that there's beauty in it too and the beauty does actually make it worth the pain.

A deeper secret. The healing comes not from being loved but from giving love. Often of course it's only through being loved that we're really able to feel love. Because love itself is so beautiful we can't help loving it. We respond with love and that's how we find our healing, how we unfurl and our own beauty is revealed. The beauty that's in everyone. Who we really are.

To be able to love is the most beautiful thing in the world. Worth living for and maybe even worth dying for. We only find it in the struggle to be free. We're freedom fighters. The fight is the freedom and the freedom is the fight.

I don't think you die if your heart breaks. I think you die if you don't let it break.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Two Tales of the Ancestors: Boudica, the Glorious and Tragic Warrior Queen of the Britons


Those who simply want to love, must in the end become warriors.
This is a tale of the ancestors, or at least it's my version of a tale of my ancestors. It has some truth in it of a literal kind and truth of other sorts too. It's my version of a tale told to me by Natasha Harlow, so the good parts are hers and the misunderstandings are mine. Hopefully she'll correct the more egregious of them.
It's a tale of legends and lies, of glory and tragedy. It's a tale of Europeans of old. It's two tales wrapped into one, or at least two versions of one tale. The tale is the legend of Boudica and the Roman occupation of England and Wales.
Towards the end of the Bronze age, around 2450 BCE is the current best guess (the bronze age is charted as ending around 800 BCE) a people walked across Europe and then made their way into England. It seems like they entered mostly unoccupied land. The archaeological record tells a tale of a mass depopulation event, with about 90% of the population disappearing, but with no evidence of large scale battle or invasion as was previously assumed. It seems likely that epidemic or other disaster wiped out most of the presumably Neolithic Britons.
The people who followed we now, much to the irritation of anthropologists, call the Celts and they went on to live in most of the British Isles. Modern genetic evidence tells us that these people did share a common bloodline but there is little to no evidence supporting the idea of a single "Celtic" culture and tradition across the geography and time of the Celts. What we call Celtic culture is a largely modern invention incorporating Norse and medieval art and ideas as well as disparate elements of culture spanning the whole era of English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish history. So the Celts were a people with a common genetic inheritance and bloodline, but not a tribal identity or a people in the way we might imagine them to have been. The Celtic era is so compelling a part of our history not least because of the Romans and our glorious tribal warrior Queen Boudica.
The Romans came for us several times. First was Julius Caesar in 55 BC and 54 BC. We mostly held him off. The version I've heard is that the Celtic warriors of the time were experts with the sling, a ranged weapon. They could keep the Romans at a distance and hold them off. By 43 AD the Romans were back under Claudius. One version of the story is that by then they'd developed new military technology, the turtle. With a legion of Roman soldiers, all carrying large metal rectangular shields, they formed an impregnable unit. The legionaries in the front held their shields to the front, the ones on the right held their shields to the right, the ones at the back to the back, at the left to the left, and everyone in the middle had their shields above them. The turtle was impervious to ranged weapons like the sling and the Romans could get close enough to slaughter the Celts.
The Romans conquered Wales, but got as far as the Picts in Scotland and reversed direction pretty hastily. They built Hadrian's wall to keep the Scots out and settled down in England and Wales. The Roman technique for occupation was brutal demonstrations of force to quell the populace and then forcing the existing ruling classes to administer their rule, enforce their laws and collect their taxes. Pax Romana.
The existing religious authorities were a problem however. For a spiritual cause people might fight even a hopeless battle, and might even find the courage to win. So the Romans set about slaughtering the indigenous religion of Britain and killed all the Druids. The Druid religion, a pagan religion of the earth, was an oral tradition. The only thing that is known of this religion is what was told to the Romans by one traitor Druid who spilled their secrets. The Romans tell of a bloodthirsty religion of human sacrifice, their excuse for killing them off. The modern Druid revival, for there is such a thing, is based on a re-imagining of the Druid religion alongside the European Occult revival of the 17th century and has virtually nothing to do with the original and now-lost-to-history traditions.
The tale that we get handed down to us by history, via the Roman historians Tacitus (one of the very few sources outside of the gospels to confirm the existence of Jesus Christ whilst saying not very much about him and nothing at all flattering) and Cassius Dio, is that an English rebellion started in Norfolk whilst the Roman occupying legion was busy in Anglesea in Wales putting down the Druids.
The people of this time and region Tacitus called the Iceni people, ruled by a tribal warrior Queen called Boudica. Both the Iceni and Boudica are pronounced with the latin hard-c. Ick-ay-knee. Boo-dick-a.
The legend is that some Roman soldiers had Boudica flogged and raped her daughters. Outraged she roused the people and raised an army of 100 000 Iceni warriors. They marched on and burned and sacked the Roman strongholds of Colchester, Verulamium (St Albans) and London. It took a week for the news of the revolt to reach the legion in Anglesea who turned from butchering Druids to face Boudica's army.
Ten thousand battle weary Roman soldiers versus one hundred thousand blood thirsty and victorious Celtic warriors fighting for their freedom. But, as the legend tells us, the Romans were not just hardened they were clever. They trapped the celts, somewhere near the A5 (Watling Street, an old Roman road going from London through St Albans and all the way to Wales) in a an area with dense woodland on either side. The Celts had their chariots and supply lines behind them and the Romans had shields and a marching formation. The Romans and Celts met as two lines. With every other step the Romans would push forward with their sheilds. This pushed the Celts onto their back foot, pressed back by the Romans. With the next step the Romans would thrust out with their swords and then push forward again with their shields. In their hobnailed boots they marched through the lines of the Celts slaughtering them by the thousand. It turned into a rout, but the Celts were trapped by their horses and carts and chariots behind them. They had nowhere to run and the legend tells us that only a few thousand escaped from the one hundred thousand brave warriors who marched on London.
Boudica herself escaped, but having watched her countrymen put to the sword and her dream of freedom for her people smashed she killed herself with poison. Our glorious and once victorious tribal warrior Queen now tragic. But what a legend.
The only problem with this version of the story is that the only evidence that it's true is the story itself. There's no other record of Boudica. There's not even any evidence that Iceni people existed but it seems more likely that they were a Roman administrative region rather than an idigenous tribal identity. The archeological record of the era shows no distinguishing regional marks that would suggest a tribal identity unique to the area. What's more, aside from the sheer unlikeliness of moving an army of one hundred thousand people around, there's no mass depopulation event in the record. There's no burial ground. There's scant evidence of a battle ground (although various places are suggested).
What we do know is that around 70 AD the three Roman cities were attacked and partly burned in uprisings, possibly several times, but there's no other evidence to support the existence of Boudica and a mass revolt of the kind described by Tacitus and Cassius Dio (who wrote after the events anyway and is considered a secondary source).
So here's the situation. There have been uprisings in occupied England. One version of the story, a story that travels back to Rome and to the other occupied lands, could be that the revolting English nearly threw out the Romans and took back the country but the Romans only just put them down. Here's an alternative version. One hundred thousand bloodthirsty and victorious Celtic warriors, fighting for their lives and their freedom under their glorious Queen, were slaughtered by a single legion of battle weary Roman soldiers. That's a much better story. Don't you want it to be true?
If you make your story a legend people will tell it for you. The tale of Boudica, unfortunately, looks very much like Roman fake news.
I tell this tale as an enthusiastic amateur who loves story telling. I find this story so compelling because Natasha's approach to history is via empirical archeology. Or rather it's an empirical approach to history based on archeology. Not, what is the story we have been told about history but what story does the evidence of the past actually tell us. She forms theories about the past that can be tested by referring to the evidence we have. This matches the approach that Katie Fox uses in her books like "Watching the English", where she devises theories about the behaviour of people living in different cultures and then comes up with experiments to verify or disprove them. Empirical anthropology. It also matches the approach that Daniel Kahnemann takes to understanding the psyche in his work like "Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow". Devising theories about the operation of the human mind and experiments to verify or disprove. Empirical psychology. The soft sciences, like sociology and psychology, are much harder than the hard sciences because people. The scientific method can still be applied however and I really enjoy the way that Natasha applies it to the period of the Roman occupation of England and Wales and the legends of that time.
Applying the scientific method and taking Boudica as the hypothesis we sadly come to the conclusion that the tale is only a myth unless it can be proven. But all is not in vain. The Romans ruled much of the world through the legend of the might of the force of Rome. That legend persists to this day. In slaying the legend of Boudica we get to also lay to rest some of the legend of the might of Rome. Natasha found in her archaeological digs around Norfolk artefacts of Iceni origin incorporating Roman technologies and techniques. The Romans, brutal acts of oppression aside, lived alongside the local populace and were primarily interested in trade and peace. In laying down her life once again we are freed from the grip of the legend of force, we her people are grateful again for the noble sacrifice of our warrior Queen thousands of years after it all never happened.

"I can walk through and around some pretty serious messes without disturbing them, or even barely acknowledging their existence. It is through years of determined practice that I have acquired this valuable life skill, of being able to ignore a big mess and pretend it isn't there. It has served me well thus far, so into the brave and bright tomorrow we travel. Blissful ignorance and all."

Friday, 20 July 2018

Leaving the Past Behind: Christian No Longer

It isn't always possible to feel innocent. It's always possible to become innocent.
For a couple of years I identified as a progressive Christian. Progressive Christianity is a broad church, with as many meanings as adherents, but for me the essence was the understanding of the teachings of The Christ (particularly as explained by John) that God is love. And all the rest is window dressing. The Bible is a library of books written by fallible humans over thousands of years. It is full of beauty, horror, contradictions and myths showing part of the unfolding of the relationship between humanity and the divine over the span of its authorship.

Unfortunately the term Christian comes with a lot of baggage, both my own and other peoples'. To most people to tell them that you're a Christian is to tell them that you ascribe to particular patterns of behaviour and beliefs, some of them ridiculous and some of them awful. I no longer want to be associated in any way with the horror perpetrated in the name of Christianity.

The bottom line is that everyone who identifies as having faith has their own religion. Their own particular way of believing based on their own experiences and personality. So even if you think you're pretty orthodox your faith is personal.

So I believe what I want and I call it what I want. I don't know what I call it but I don't think calling it Christian any more is helpful to me, and whatever I believe it's so far from what most people call Christianity that I don't think it's helpful to other people either.

I still find transcendent experience in the worship of The Christ. Christian worship, at its best, is a wild and abandoned adoration of love. A revering of love as sacred and holy. A recognition that the highest love is sacrificial, a life laid down in the pursuit of transcendent beauty that can be found anywhere and in anyone if you know how to look.

I'm still fond of saying that the only part of the bible anyone really needs, and honestly the world might be a better place if this was all we had, is to be found in the first letter of John. Chapter four and verses 7-9 or something like that.
Dear children, let us love one another for love comes from God. Everyone who loves knows God, and is born of God, because God is love.
So wherever love is at work that's God at work. Because God is love. Love is my God. I love love, I adore love. Worth living for and worth dying for and nothing else comes close. And love *is* everywhere, so God is everywhere. Hidden in plain sight.

So, your mission and my mission, should we choose to accept it, is to help people believe in love again. To have faith in love. I believe with all my heart that love heals, love saves, love transforms and love wins. People lose hope, and lost hope makes people bitter and hard. Demonstrate that love is real, that love works. No point in talking about it, that counts for nothing. It doesn't even matter what you believe. What matters is how much you love. Jesus even said as much, according to the gospels.

Matthew 25, verse 34 on. Look how little is has to do with what you believe or think you believe.
34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
41“Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons.g 42For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
I've removed the word "Christian" from most of my public profiles. Having identified as a Christian for almost all of my life that feels like a big deal.

Despite all the problems of my last church they taught me something beyond value. The understanding that the teaching of Christ is that the kingdom of heaven is now and that it's found in shared lives. That's still good news and it's still worth living for.

Just over a year ago I wrote the following about my faith and how I see God. I still believe.

I wrote up some of the parts of the Bible I particularly revere and find beauty in:

I love you. I love God in you. 



""Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die" is a conflation of two biblical sayings, Ecclesiastes 8:15, ‘Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry’, and Isaiah 22:13, ‘Let us eat and drink; for to morrow we shall die.’"

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Chasing the Dragon

Your greatest work of art, of course, will be yourself.
Heroin, like most of the other strong narcotics I've tried, had no effect on me the first time I've tried it. Until my naivety was crushed along with my spirit my only association with heroin was watching the Zammo from Grange Hill (a BBC TV kids program) descend into addiction, eventually caught with smack in his calculator when he wasn't even going to a maths exam! Zammo chased the dragon and got a smack on the nose was the graffiti found in Grange Hill school the next day.

Like Zammo I chased the dragon, and it did nothing the first time. Chasing the dragon is vapourising the heroin by heating it on tin foil and breathing the fumes with a funnel usually also made of foil. The first time was with the friends of a girlfriend in Cambridge. She was a lovely hippy called Sharon, and as far as I know is the only woman to ever flee a city to escape me. She ran away to Manchester. True story. This was all a long time ago.

The second time was with a beggar called Jesse. He had long dreadlocks and a large good natured Alsatian dog. He wasn't homeless as he had a bare room in the YMCA hostel in the centre of Cambridge. It was there I chased the dragon with him. I was mad and homeless at the time. I thought I'd been enlightened and was the archangel Michael. Ah well, it's a way to pass the time.

We smoked the heroin together and then went out into Cambridge city centre to beg. He stood on a street corner and I sat down on the pavement and closed my eyes. It felt like the pavement folded over me and the world ceased to exist. Along with all my problems and the weight I was carrying. I was floating over mountains of evergreen trees. The mountain and the trees were the green of green screen monochrome computer monitors. I floated merrily.

I can see why it's so addictive. I did follow Jesse around again in the hope of more heroin but he left me looking after his dog and then shouted at me for losing him when he returned.

Not long after that I was picked up by the police and taken directly to Bedford prison for breach of a civil injunction, undoubtedly saving me from heroin addiction in the process.

But that's another story.


"People think they're so grown up. Why would you ever want to grow up? You can be smart and sensible without having to do that."

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

A Collection of Short Poems: Here I Sit, The Cult of None, Just Keeping Quiet, Does Christmas Exist, A Tribute to Linux and more

There's nothing like the a cheeky grin from a child you don't know for cheering up the soul
A collection of short poems from the last few months.

For more of my poems give these pages a whirl:


Didn't There Used to be Magic


Didn't there used to be magic?

When you were five the world was magic.
And then gradually, the magic fades.
But it hasn't gone, it's still there.

When you were five.

A Short Poem by Irina Foord


Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
We're weird,
Just like you!

Free to Fly


Free to fly
To soar and roam
For a fire burns for me at home
That I can see as far away
As infinity.
I know my way back
For wherever my mind may go
My heart stays here
With you.

Here I Sit


Here I sit amidst the wreckage of my life.
What pretty ruins I have made.
I always loved a broken down castle,
I just never imagined I'd be one.
All we need now are sound and lights,
And we have a show.

Just Keeping Quiet


Just keeping quiet,
Playing it safe.
Hoping nothing too terrible happens before we all die.
Wrapped up in my kids,
They're my whole world.
Although one day they'll leave,
Because everyone does.

I'll keep taking the pills,
Doctor knows best.
So help me pretend
That everything's fun
Keeping up that big wall that keeps out the world
But blots out the sun.

The Cult of None


The Cult of None
And no-one is in it
Plus anyone else who wants to be,
But no-one is definitely in it.
So it's entirely true to say that no-one is in it.
And you can join
But no-one knows how.
So that's how, you ask no-one.

If I Could Hurt You


If I could hurt you, that gives you power over me.
For I will try hard not to hurt you.
But I will also try to learn the difference,
Between you hurting you,
And me hurting you.
And I will try to remain innocent.

Love is My Home


Love is my home.
Where I belong and where I'm set free.
Where I'm made whole, made me.

Love help me to love.
Love help me to care and help me to help.

Love I hurt. Help me to heal.
Help me to walk with my heart open
To live with my life open
To seek you out
With all my heart
And in all I do.

I've seen you love
And I cannot turn
Nothing else can capture me
As you have captured me.

Love Lives


Love lives.
Let this be the song of my life,
The message I bring through silence and the cry of my heart.
Let my heart break with those who hurt,
Let my soul be glad with those who are lifted up,
In all things may I be grateful.
For all the grace and mercy I've been shown,
For all the goodness in my life,
May I never cease to rejoice.
If I can bring hope, if I can bring joy,
Then my life has meaning.
And I am happy,
For love lives.

Does Christmas Exist


Does Christmas exist,
Is it real,
Is it even a thing that can be?

Where does it live,
where is its house,
Can you eat it or smoke it or touch it?

Is it all in your head,
is it all in your mind,
in the sky,
just a myth or a legend or tale?

Perhaps that misses the point,
and a thing that is thought,
that is shared,
and enjoyed,
is as real a thing
as a thing can possibly be.

Nautical Nonsense


If nautical nonsense be something you wish. 
Irrepressible joy. 
Come and admire this impossible world of absurdities we have created. 
Isn't it fun. 
Come and revel and frolic. 
Spongebob Squarepants
Or squongebob sparepants as I call him. 
Much to the annoyance of my daughter. 
Who takes her ridiculousness 
Very seriously. 
And why shouldn't she?

A Tribute to Linux and Open Source


Talking to a friend about my current pain with Ubuntu and our company VPN and he tried to lure me, once again, back to the dark side of Mac OS X. I think my complaint, which is also my reason for staying, was accidentally in the form of a poem.

So I need to look at starting openvpn myself and passing in the password - I have the cert and the config file
so it's just annoying
but I'd still rather be on Ubuntu
it's like an old friend now
I hate it in many ways, but I have become rather fond of that love-hate relationship I have with it
and I'm reluctant to part with it.

It so wants to be good and it so isn't
which is just like me.
I can totally relate to it 
so dissatisfying in so many ways, 
but so much the right idea.


"Now is where infinity meets in the middle. The infinite stretches before us and gapes behind us. The point where they touch is now."

Ignorance and Intuition

"The measure of intelligence is the ability to change" -- Albert Einstein
Stupidity and ignorance are not the same thing. In fact I reckon they're kind of the opposite of each other.

There is an infinity of things that each of us doesn't know. So just being ignorant, not knowing things, can't possibly be the same as being stupid. No matter how clever you are, no matter how much you know, there's still an infinity of things you don't know. And a lot of what you don't know will seem blindingly obvious to other people, and they might think you're very stupid for not knowing.

What's really stupid is not knowing that you're ignorant. We're all ignorant in so many ways, so I reckon the first step of being clever is acknowledging that. Know, as much as you're able, what you don't know and be willing to learn. And that makes you pretty clever. Being able to learn. If you're able to learn and to change and to grow then you're not stuck.

Being stuck is the worst thing in the world, so don't be stupid. Be ignorant. Be willing to learn.

There's an interesting corollary between ignorance and intuition. Intuition is not quite the magic innate understanding that some people think it is. We all start life as blank slates, not knowing very much at all but with the ability to learn. The only thing that is intuitive, innate, is the nipple and the breath. We're born knowing how to breathe and to seek out food, and that's about it.

Intuition is where your subconscious minds prompts your conscious mind about something. Either it's a response to an external stimuli that you didn't notice consciously, but notice the unconscious response to, or the result of thought processes (possibly emotional thought) where you're not consciously aware of the process but notice the result (typically the feelings).

All unconscious behaviour is learned. Watch a child learning to walk. All that tortuous balancing and adjusting of weight and movement of limbs has to be learned. When a toddler makes their first unaided steps it's a huge achievement and a massive conscious learned effort.

Fast forward a few years and all of that behaviour is completely unconscious, habitual. You're no longer aware of the continuous micro adjustments you make as you walk. The same is true of driving, or any habitual activity. This includes human interaction and emotional behaviour. It's all learned, but through constant application you no longer need to think about it. It becomes entirely intuitive.

The danger is that you forget that it's all learned behaviour and think that it's innate. People with different emotional responses, or underdeveloped emotional responses in any walk of life, are clearly stupid. They don't have the same innate and intuitive behaviour patterns as those around you. These learned behaviour patterns are highly culturally influenced, you will have learned them from those around you as you grew up. That doesn't make them right, it just makes them normal. Other cultures may have very different behavioural patterns in the same area, and someone from a different culture may find your behaviour very odd and hard to understand or learn. They'll seem stupid. They don't know what, as far as you're concerned, everyone knows. You've likely forgotten that what appears intuitive is actually learned.

Don't mistake ignorance for stupidity.

The flip side of this is that intuition isn't always right. Intuition is the result of the operation of the mind in ways that you're not aware of. Your intuition may be very good, if you train your subconscious (habitual behaviour and awareness) then it can be a useful tool. But it's not gospel truth, it's just you.


"Who do you think you are, who do you think you are? I think that's a fair question to ask of anyone, so long as you're willing to believe the answer they give. You don't have to believe it, but I think you have to be willing to believe it."

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Anti-depressants and SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome

The iris in your eyes is a ring muscle, a sphincter. Making the eyes the sphincter to the soul.

I was on antidepressants for about six or seven weeks this year. I was on the lowest normal dose, 50mg daily, of Sertraline. It's from a class of antidepressants called SSRIs, Selective Serotonine Reuptake Inhibitors. The most effective one, normally prescribed first in the UK, is called Citalopram. This is the one most of my friends on antidepressants are on. Citalopram has a reputation for being the hardest to come off of the common SSRIs.

SSRIs work by raising the base level of serotonin in the brain, by reducing the ability of the body to re-absorb serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone responsible for love, happiness, and it turns out capacity to actually feel like doing anything.

Antidepressants helped me for a little, but I sort of came off them by accident. A friend of mine suggested that her experience of life was flattened by antidepressants. Another friend described it as "letterboxing the emotions". The low isn't so low, but in compensation the joys and pleasures of life are flattened too. I wondered if this was true for me, I thought it might be so I stopped taking them a few days in advance of a Bufo Alvarius healing ceremony I attended. It was excellent and helped a great deal.

A week or so after I thought maybe they would help again, so I took one to restart them. Within a few hours I was hit by an incredible physical stress, to the point of vomiting, some anxiety and other physical symptoms involving the expulsion of fluid from the body with comparatively tremendous force. At first I thought I'd given myself nicotine poisoning, or was suffering from stress to the point of physical sickness (it felt like that but the anxiety I experienced, whilst elevated, didn't warrant the great physical stress and turmoil I felt) or maybe illness? Benjamin had a twenty-four stomach bug shortly after.

With a little bit of research I came across SSRI Disontinuation Syndrome, which is experienced by between twenty and eighty percent of those who just stop taking an SSRI. It can also be triggered by restarting them after stopping. Like I'd done. Basically you get all the possible side-effects of antidepressants in one go. That's what it felt like anyway, it was pretty awful. But it only lasted one day, and whilst they helped me I'm not taking antidepressants again.

I'm pretty sure I'm through the worst of my own causes of lowness. The inner conflict, diverting my psychological resources with incompatible pulls, has mostly resolved in various situations of my life. Particularly the ones that have been a cause of major emotion trauma over the last year or so. Things will remain difficult, that's for sure, but I get to pick what kind of difficult.


"The best quality a person can have is courage. Because with courage you can get most all the other qualities anyway.

The great news is that you only need to start with a tiny bit of courage. The more you use it the more it grows."

I'm a Rambling Man

Living in a world of weird coincidences. That's what Jung called synchronicity and Gaiman calls magic.

A couple of tales from my travels. Both from flying back from the US to the UK via a layover in Iceland.

Iceland Air

One of the things I like to do on a transatlantic flight is make friends with the flight attendants, in lieu of sleep. They're usually bored and not many people treat them like humans, so it's a good chance to make a friend you'll never see again.

All of the Iceland Air employees, all 4000 of then including 1500 flight attendants, are Icelandic. It's not a requirement, just the way it is. The whole country is only 300 000 people or so, not much more than the population of Northampton depending on how you count. I asked Selma if she was from Rekjyavik, and then suggested it was a dumb question. If you're from Iceland you're probably from Rekjyavik right? I wasn't far off, about two thirds of the country live there.

Her husband is a programmer, and something like half the country's energy output is now being consumed in the mining of bitcoin. So I told Selma tales of cryptocurrencies, and how it is a scam but they might persist anyway and of how someone had the bright idea to put a programming language into the transactions and called it Ethereum. I can't imagine that turning out to be anything other than a hilarious and disastrous mistake.

She told me a little of her people and the Nordic history of Iceland.

I also told her tales of my people, Roman invasions and the Celts and the legends of Boudica. No-one it seems, outside of the UK anyway, has heard of our glorious and tragic tribal Queen. Not that she likely existed, but I'm a story teller and what a story, what a legend. Don't you just want it to be true? If you're going to write fake news, as the Roman classicists did, then write a legend and everyone will tell your story for you.

The Finnish


Rekjyavik airport exiles smokers and vapers to an unadvertised and dingy hole. But at least they provide somewhere and we still seem to manage to find this corner and congregate in cheery resilience around our addiction.

There I met an interesting Finn called some approximation of Jopper. After he told me his profession I told him I had little preconception of what a dockworker looked like, but if I had to imagine one I'd imagine him. Except with a good streak of Goth biker thrown in. We bonded over a love of vaping and the sigil of Mjölnir we both wore round our necks. His was far more ornate, an engagement ring he called it. So we swapped life stories.

He'd worked as a labourer on the Helsinki docks for more than a decade. A job normally requiring the fire of youth to do, and most people only did it for a handful of years before moving on. He is a socialist and union official, president of a free thinkers society in Helsinki and running for parliament.

He told me of social democracy in Finland and also of the fierce drinking culture. There are only three ways to lose your job on the docks; stealing, smuggling or drinking. If you lose your job from drinking it's better to tell people you've been in prison instead because to lose a job on the docks from drinking everyone knows exactly how bad your drink problem has to be.

I told him of going mad and selling bricks for ten years and teaching myself to program and that it was through open source and the Python community that I'd made a career. He knew all about Open Source as Finland is the home to Linus Torvalds and the homeland of Linux. I told him that as a socialist who voted green, my take on socialism is that it's not something you believe in but something you do, how I try to live my life. I said I was a hippy, hard to believe though it may seem. He replied that likewise no-one would ever guess he was a biker.

In these two greybeards the fire still burns.

Jopper told me of drinking wine after a sauna in the perpetual daylight evenings of Finland and of the rise of the far right and the problems of violence associated with alcoholism.

As we parted ways, and as a staunch atheist, he gave me a traditional blessing from God. Or perhaps from gods. Hard to tell as I don't speak Finnish.


"Deep in the throes of madness my parents came and found me, goodness knows how, whilst I was homeless in Cambridge. They bought me pizza. My mother tells me that I firmly maintained that I was fine and it was the rest of the world that was mad. I'm still convinced I was only half wrong."

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

The Role of Abstractions in Software Engineering

An abstract representation of a concrete apple
This is the text of a lightning talk, a five minute presentation, given at PyCon 2018.

This is an abstract talk. There isn’t time to give examples but I hope that the application to the day to day challenges of the practise of software engineering is clear. The only theory worth a damn is the theory of the practise. This is a talk about the role of abstractions in software engineering.

Programming is all about the use of abstractions. We often say that the fundamental language spoken by the machine is ones and zeros. Binary. This isn’t true. Ones and zeroes are an abstract representation of the fundamental operation of computers. It’s a way of representing what central processors do in a way that can be understood by people.

The actual language spoken by computers is the electromagnetic dance across wires and etched silicon, choreographed by the beating of a quartz crystal at the heart of the machine.
Ones and zeroes are a representation of that dance, understandable by humans in order for us to reason about the behaviour of the system.

That’s a very low level abstraction. Very close to the actual operation of computers, but very hard to work with. The next step up is assembly language where we use mnemonics, symbolic instructions like JMP for jump, to represent these patterns of ones and zeroes. We can also use human recognisable labels for memory locations instead of numbers and allow the assembler to calculate offsets for us. Much easier.

Next we have languages like C and then right at the very top we have Python where each construct, a print statement for example, may correspond to as many as millions of the lowest level operations.
Computer programming is communication in two directions. Programming provides a language the computer understands, and is able to execute deterministically, whilst also communicating with humans so they can conceptualise the behaviour of the system. A programming language is a set of conceptual tools to facilitate that communication in both directions.

The art and craft of software engineering is taking the conceptual tools that programming languages provide and using them to solve real world problems. This is the difference between science and engineering. Science is the theory, engineering is the application.

In order to be able to do this we have to have an understanding of the problem domain. We conceptualise it. We think about it. Software is easy to understand and maintain when the abstractions you build map well to the problem domain. If the way you think about the problem is close to the way you think about your software then you have to do less mental translation between the problem and your code.

Joel Spolsky talks about the law of leaky abstractions. Any abstraction that maps to lower level operations in the system will leak. At some point something will go wrong and you will only be able to fix it by understanding the lower level operations too.

I’ve heard it said, and it rings true, that a good programmer can hold about ten thousand lines of code in their head. So if your system is less than ten thousand lines of code, even if it’s terrible code, you don’t need to build higher level building blocks to hold it in your head.

An all too common situation is that a system becomes too complex to reason about, so an engineer decides to create abstractions to simplify how they think. So they create black boxes, abstractions, in which to place the complexity. These type of abstractions conceal complexity. So now you don’t have to look at the mess you just made.

You can reason about your system with your abstractions, but in order to understand the actual behaviour (at a lower level) you need to go digging in all that dirt.

Instead of concealing complexity a good abstraction will explain and point you to the lower level operations. Good abstractions simplify and reveal complexity rather than concealing it.
We can also use this kind of reasoning to think about product and system design. What user experience are you providing, what’s the user story? Your users also think about the problem domain using conceptual tools. The closer the abstractions your software presents to your user map to the way they already think about the problem the easier your software will be to use.

And here we come full circle. If the way you build your software maps well to the problem domain then it will be easy to reason about and maintain. If the abstractions you present to the user map well to the problem domain then it will be easier for your users to think within your system and it will be more intuitive to use.

So abstractions matter. They’re the raw stuff of our world.

You can watch the presentation, from the Saturday afternoon lightning talks, four minutes into this video.





Friday, 4 May 2018

Prunes and Funerals


Does your life tell a story? Tell me your life story.

I was enjoying a sweet treat of prunes and dried apricots with Delia last night and she remarked that prunes reminded her of funerals. She still likes them though.

Delia grew up in a medium sized town in Romania called Roman, in the North East of Romania in the poorest region of the country called Moldova and bordering the country of Moldova where they also speak Romanian. 

Until Delia's mother fell into a bleak depression lasting several years both of Delia's parents worked. So Delia was a latch-key  kid even from her primary school years. Delia's father worked in the local chocolate factory under the communists. Money was tight for everyone so much of the economy ran on a barter scheme. A visit to the doctor or hospital was free, except if you actually wanted anything doing (like your sheets changing or you wanted feeding during a hospital stay) bribes were required. This minor corruption became so endemic that it's still prevalent. We gave our first ever bribe on a train ride from the nearest city back to Roman. Working at the chocolate factory provided a regular stream of bags of flour and cocoa and pats of butter that not only provided enjoyment for family and friends but were a useful source of bribes. That was until Delia's father lost an eye in a chocolate factory accident. No the eye didn't end up in someone's chocolate, and he was pensioned off on a reasonable pension. But that's another story.

Delia's mum was so determined that Delia would have an education that Delia grew up without toys but books instead. She was the first in her family to go to university and completed a degree in Romanian and English Literature at the prestigious university of Iasi. She lived in student accommodation and her parents would regularly visit to provide food and a small amount of money to live off. 

As a child during  the three month summer holiday Delia and her young aunts and cousins would run wild in the countryside staying with her grandmother. They would roam the woods and fields, staying out late until Bunica called them in to sleep top to tail all in the one enormous bed with grandmother in a two room cottage. Apparently Delia's father slept in the same bed as his sister until she left to get married. A different culture, a different way of life.

Delia's grandmother lived the traditional way. Subsistence farming, outdoor toilet, getting up at dawn. She dried plums for the winter and stored the prunes in her loft. They would be brought out as a special treat and served on a stick instead of sweets at events like funerals.


So prunes remind Delia of funerals. And running free in the countryside as a child, afraid of nothing and no-one except her mother. And she still loves them.

"Compassion is the deepest pleasure. Tune the pleasure principle into this and your own animal drive will compel you into goodness."

Monday, 12 February 2018

A Very Short Love Letter to Agile

We rejoice in the ambiguity, for in it lies redemption
I love the word rigour. It conveys either, or both, strict discipline or something that was really hard work.

I've found the rigorous application of theoretical principles a really useful way of learning those principles. Learning what they really mean, and what those principles are good at achieving and what they're not good at achieving.

I've been rigorous in my discipline in meditating. I've meditated for an hour a day, generally six days a week, for a number of years now.

My trade is as a software engineer, a computer programmer. I taught myself to program by becoming really passionate about it. What you love you learn. I learned the art and craft of engineering in my first professional job, at a small startup in London called Resolver Systems.

There, for the four years I worked there, we rigorously applied the principles of Extreme Programming, a strict variant and really the progenitor of the "agile" movement. The goal is engineering processes that make the development process agile and fluid, able to change direction quickly and able to check that it is continuously delivering value in the work being done, whilst also creating the software in ways that ensure as much as is possible you are creating a quality and useful product.

This includes full Test Driven Design (often now called "test first" in a great misunderstanding of the value of TDD), with a full test coverage from unit to functional (full stack). We had about three to four times more test code than production code. We built a beautiful thing.

It also included full pair programming. So for four years we worked together and thought together and learned together. The product failed, unfortunately, an idea ahead of its time. With Python finally being added to Excel as a scripting language it's possible that the idea of applying proper engineering principles to the creation of complex spreadsheets may have its day after all.


"You have to see the abstraction and see through the abstraction. A lot of how we understand modern life is through the use of abstractions. Money being the classic example of course."

Friday, 9 February 2018

IAO I Adore Thee: The Names of God


Something of an experiment, a bit of spoken word. Here I read a favourite of my poems, mercifully short, and explain what it means to me. It's on one of the names of God.

IAO I adore thee, magickal thou art.


"Seeing this world as evil and doomed is the substantial part of the gnostic heresy that Paul warned against. It leads to horrors."

My Dragon is Growing

Working out what the work is is the work.
My dragon is growing. The consciousness of an animal is not fundamentally different from that of a human, we are after all merely a different kind of animal. So it's fun to observe and try to understand the lizard brain.

Sapphira's body and brain are different, with much more behaviour "hard wired" and instinctual rather than learned, but nonetheless her conception of the world and her surroundings exist in her imagination. By watching how she sees her world and interacts with it, by becoming part of her world and interacting with her, I can start to feel how she sees her world. She is a hunter. She kills and eats her prey without compassion or mercy. It is her nature. Nature itself is red in tooth and claw, and just as we do she partakes of that nature.

As I am part of her world, she is also part of mine. I live in her imagination and she in mine. Our worlds intersect. And in my imagination she breathes fire. The part of her that is alive in me is very fierce indeed. This I see in her and into her. Sapphira the wise.

My other hunter, Rosie the cat, walks the night. Rosie and Sapphira have an interesting relationship. Sometimes they spend hours just looking at each other. It seems to me that they get on fine, but still, Rosie would kill Sapphira if she could. It is merely her nature. So I try to show Sapphira the place in Rosie's mind where she is afraid, my little fraidy cat. I teach them both not to fear. I don't think they want to tangle with each other, not really. So instead they sit and watch, and dream of each other.


"Beauty is a mind virus. You have to choose whether to let it change you or to kill it. You can't know real beauty and not be changed."

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Understanding Holy Texts: A Curse, A Dead Lion and War in the Bible

Psychological force and spiritual power are not different things.

A Dead Lion


The topic of how to read holy texts, what kind of truth they contain and how to find it, is a difficult one. This is most true of the Bible of course, there is no book more misunderstood nor so misused.

I love that the Bible itself teaches you its nature. The two different creation myths of genesis one and genesis two, written at very different times and in different styles, contradict each other on the order of creation. If you try to read them as historical truth rather than spiritual poetry then they can't both be true. Similarly the two accounts of the death of Judas in the New Testament contradict each other. They can't both be literally true. So the Bible itself teaches that literalism is not where its truth is to be found.

This is the sort of truth I find in the bible. Recounted here without bothering to check any of the details.

I just remembered one of my favourite bible verses. It so applies to the wreckage of my church right now: "Out of the strong comes forth sweetness"

It's from the old testament, from the story of Samson I believe. He's wandering out in the wilderness, as you do. That's as much of that bit as I remember.

And he finds this dead lion. No backstory here as far as I know. Just a dead lion. Inside this corpse (nice story) is a beehive. No idea if that's plausible but that's the story.

So Samson breaks open the hive and eats the honey. And that's what he says "out of the strong comes forth sweetness".

Most bible stories are like that. They don't really make a whole lot of sense. But sometimes they make a powerful point. An image painted in words, long ago, that resonates into our world now.

My old church thought it was so strong, impregnable. And now it's so broken.

But out of it are these beautiful people, some of them so hurt. But many of them have genuinely lived for years trying to love and serve other people. And those of us who went through it together. We've been through so much together, we've seen so much together. We have such a strong faith and such a strong love for one another. And we're all so hurt.

It's so funny. Such a weird unexplainable set of circumstances. So hard to describe and talk about. So bad in so many ways!

And really, some of it so exhilarating as well.

A Curse


The Bible is full of interesting stories, most weird, some terrible and a few really beautiful.

Given my apocalyptic bent I've always been fond of Ezekiel's curse against the city of Tyre. There's nothing quite like a good curse to warm your old cockles. And you never know when a time-tested powerful curse will come in handy.

Tyre was in fact attacked by King Nebuchadnezzar, although historically it's doubtful that the curse was fulfilled exactly as Ezekiel gave it.
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves. 
They will destroy the walls of Tyre and pull down her towers; I will scrape away her rubble and make her a bare rock. Out in the sea she will become a place to spread fishnets, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. She will become plunder for the nations, and her settlements on the mainland will be ravaged by the sword. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
...
They will plunder your wealth and loot your merchandise; they will break down your walls and demolish your fine houses and throw your stones, timber and rubble into the sea. I will put an end to your noisy songs, and the music of your harps will be heard no more. I will make you a bare rock, and you will become a place to spread fishnets.

If you dig this kind of thing you should check out Lamentations. It's just awful.

"Your own horror take you, your own nightmare devour you" is still the best curse I know. And as the recipient does it to themselves there are no ethical issues with it.


War


The hardest parts of the Bible to draw useful meaning from are the parts that describe the angry, vengeful, tribal war God who seemingly condones genocide and every atrocity to free the children of promise.

I love the work of Steve Chalke in this area, particularly his pamphlet "Restoring Confidence in the Bible" which has done just that for me and countless others in the Progressive Christian movement (Christianity without the awful bits).

However, there is an alternative and darker reading that may still have value. The climax of the Bible is the Revelation, which amongst other weirdness describes the final battle between good and evil and the ultimate victory of good. This theme of us joining a war that is already won is a theme woven all through the Bible. The way of war that fights having already won is The Way of the Risen Lord. Much of the early parts of the Bible are a manual of war.

Jehoshaphat orders the worship leaders to be placed at the front of the army, and the enemy is defeated before they arrive.
After consulting the people, Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the Lord and to praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army, saying:
“Give thanks to the Lord,
for his love endures forever.”
As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated. The Ammonites and Moabites rose up against the men from Mount Seir to destroy and annihilate them.
Elijah, prophet of God, slaughtering the prophets of the evil religion of Baal.
Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you have turned their hearts back.” Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.” And Elijah said to them, “Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.” And they seized them. And Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon and slaughtered them there.
Isaiah, prophet of God, calls on the Angel of Death and tens of thousands of Assyrians are killed.
That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there.
Deborah, prophet of God, leads the Israelites to victory.
Now Deborah, a prophet, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time. She held court under the Palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim, and the Israelites went up to her to have their disputes decided. She sent for Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you: ‘Go, take with you ten thousand men of Naphtali and Zebulun and lead them up to Mount Tabor. I will lead Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army, with his chariots and his troops to the Kishon River and give him into your hands.’ ”
...
Then Deborah said to Barak, “Go! This is the day the Lord has given Sisera into your hands. Has not the Lord gone ahead of you?” So Barak went down Mount Tabor, with ten thousand men following him. At Barak’s advance, the Lord routed Sisera and all his chariots and army by the sword, and Sisera got down from his chariot and fled on foot.
Barak pursued the chariots and army as far as Harosheth Haggoyim, and all Sisera’s troops fell by the sword; not a man was left.
Elisha, prophet of God, commands the armies of heaven.
When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked.
“Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
And many more of course. The interesting point I draw from this final story of Elisha is to notice that an army of horses and chariots were the state of the art in military technology at the time. I wonder how the armies of heaven appear now.


"The reality of perfect love is the best possible idea. And therefore it must win, simply because it is better in every possible way than any other idea that might stand against it. If it were even possible to only imagine it for an instant, then it would exist. And then it would have to win. It would have been foretold."

Monday, 5 February 2018

Authority and Today's Pain

If you make decisions you can feel proud of then you're able to respect yourself.

Authority


I like having authority figures in my life. Not the kind of authority where people decide who is in charge and that they have the right to tell you what to do. That's delegated authority and it generally becomes awful because it's too easy for self interest to take over. I recognise that authority when its wise to do so, but I don't like it.

The authority I like is to find people in my life who know more than me on a topic, and who demonstrate in practise that they do. They're not hard to find, I doubt there's a single topic where I know more than anyone else in the world. There's always someone, somewhere, who knows more. I will then consider them an authority on the topic and be more likely to believe what they say, including within the area of ethics and morality. It's very easy to hurt people and it's very nice to have people in your life, or in a situation, where you feel you can trust their advice. It can help you avoid hurting people unnecessarily and hurting people is really bad if you can avoid it.

I still make my own decisions, I still act on advice or follow rules because I've considered it and think it's good advice. Not taking personal responsibility for your decisions and owning them, letting other people tell you what to do, can mean you make bad decisions and hurt people without realising it (we all do it anyway to be fair) and its still your fault even if you let someone else make the decision for you. Be a human, not a part of a machine that no-one is really driving.

Part of the fun of any social situation is working out what rules of behaviour people seem to be following, what's the sense of group identity at work? You don't always have to follow it, sometimes it's bad. But where you do follow it it's easier for people to interact with you because the code of social conduct provides a framework for people to know each other safely. The rules of conduct, in a good community or setting, will help you to avoid hurting people. This is why consent is such an important topic in many modern communities, because so many people have been hurt because we haven't cared enough about consent.

Today's Pain


It's really interesting how a pain caused by external life circumstances brings back similar pain from the past. Like it touches the same part of your soul.

If you haven't dealt with the pain of the past and aren't willing to face it then you won't be able to face the pain of today. You won't be able to cope with the same pain in other people either. If you recognise your pain in another person empathy will cause you to feel that pain. If you're subconsciously blocking yourself from feeling that pain because you're not yet ready to deal with it then you will have to shut out people with the same pain, or at least that part of them. You won't be able to really see it and you can't help them even if you know they're hurting. The ugly part is when we rationalise shutting out the other person in a way that doesn't require us to admit to ourselves that we can't cope. We often do that by finding a way to blame, to judge, the other person.

If you are willing to face yourself then the pain of today, as inconvenient as it is, can be used as a powerful tool to uncover the pain of the past. Use your pain wisely. It is a sharp tool.

If you don't deal with today's pain honourably then life, the normal operation of your unresolved subconscious, will just engineer circumstances one way or another so you can have another try. Best just to give in as quickly as you're able.


"Given what we know about DNA, we're all just a jumbled up mix of everyone else anyway."

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

The great I Am

We're in time and there's enough space.


A short poem, "The great I Am" on the rhythm of love. The last line is from a song played whilst I was on a meditation retreat last weekend.


The great I Am

Your love is real. Your love is you.

Everything you are is expressed in everything you do.

As we love one another we are alive within each other, members one of another. If I love you then you live in me, part of your life is in me and part of my life is in you.

And as you go and love, your love is in and moving and active in everyone you know and touch.

And we were formed, both genetically and psychologically, from all that came before. Who we are is formed from all those around us who have loved us, and they in turn were formed from those who loved them. As we love, the love we were given is passed on and grows and changes as we and everything else grow and change.

So love lives on.

The stars whisper, you never die.


"I dream of the armies of heaven. I know of no dream more fun."

Friday, 12 January 2018

Marriage

How many different ways can you say I love you? An uncountable infinity.
My wife has many qualities. One of the best is that she is a completely safe person to like. If you really see her, her personality and nature, it's really easy to see that it's completely safe to be friends with Delia and that she'll be a true friend where she can and do you no harm. Over the years and across the world in our adventures together I've met many of her friends that she's collected through the decades. They include some of the most extraordinary and impressive people I know. It seems that for them, at what was often a hard time in their life, they found someone they knew would be a friend. When I've been with them it's clear how much they love Delia and how much she's meant to them. That's such a precious thing, it makes Delia very beautiful. That's a quality of love I value very highly and will try to be true to as much as I'm able.

A big part of Delia's secret, as with many of the most beautiful people I know, is that she lives a life where she genuinely puts other people first. Often to her cost.

I've been thinking a lot about marriage recently. It seems to me that in the modern conception of marriage, or at least in the practise of marriage which is the reality of the conception of marriage, there is an aspect which enslaves women. I also see how that has been a part of my marriage. I'm very sorry Delia for where that's been true. I don't want slavery to be any part of my life or my marriage. Nor part of my friends lives either.

I can quite understand why any woman, or any man for that matter, would decide they didn't want anything to do with marriage. I personally still see great value in it but I don't mind if people don't get married, that's their business.

Slavery is a great evil. It appears that many people, both "conceptually" and in reality of course, live as slaves. How awful.

The good conception of marriage is, in as much as you're able and in as much as you're able is all you have to give, a lifelong commitment to love. This I think is such a good and powerful love, a love that says "I won't give up". It doesn't take a marriage to have that kind of love and you can have that kind of love for loads of people. In fact, I think that's the only real love anyway. Love is committed, love tries to never give up.

That can be really hard to work out sometimes, to work out in practise what it means to be true to love. But it's so beautiful and if you can get in the right groove so fun to work out.


"Ganesh is the archetype of the engineer. The remover of obstacles. You could see this as making the engineer a spiritual caste. The mathematician and the scientist may technically be smarter, but the engineer engineers them too and they are smart for good. Don't be concerned about engineering, it's just how humans work."

Leaving the Jesus Fellowship Church

Gloom. In the half light, where people forget themselves, you get to see who they really are.


I was part of the Jesus Fellowship for more than twenty years. I arrived as a broken man on the tale end of more than a year of homelessness and psychosis. Being at New Creation Farm and part of the Jesus Fellowship saved my life.

Part of the message of the church was love, commitment, the kingdom of heaven and sharing lives and possessions. Those values resonated in me as the things that I valued most in life and how I wanted to be.

Over those twenty years I've been on my own journey, as everyone is. I've arrived in a very different place, with very different beliefs (although many fundamentally the same depending on how you express it) than the beliefs I took on.

I've struggled with my involvement in the church for a long time. In practise a lot of it seemed so unloving and judgemental. The decision was finally made for me a few weeks ago when a preacher at the Jesus Centre on a Sunday morning stood up and preached a message saying that the root of depression was self pity and self pity was from the enemy.

I got up and walked out. Not the strongest of responses I know but I couldn't see to do anything else. Lots of of people saw how awful it was too of course.

An apology was made, about four weeks later by someone else and I wasn't present. The apology was for implying that self pity was the root of depression. The apology didn't match the events of course. That same preacher up until a few months ago would regularly preach hatred for Islam on his Facebook page. A few weeks on and he was preaching again at the Jesus Fellowship.

I just can't have anything to do with that kind of religion any more. It's not the whole story about the Jesus Fellowship. The values I fell in love with are still there and the most beautiful people I know are part of that church, or attend its meetings from time to time. That dead and horrible religion is part of the whole truth about the church though, and I can't be a member of a church where that's even part of its message.

That's why I'm no longer a member of the Jesus Fellowship. Getting to this point though just about broke my heart. I love to be committed and stay true to my word. It's just not always possible if you're really going to be true to love though.

I'm considering other churches in the area where we live. I've lived in and around Bugbrooke for more than twenty years now, coming up for fifteen of those years as a married man. I've made one brief visit to the Vineyard Church in Northampton, who seemed like such lovely people, I'm not entirely sure they'll cope with me, but they really looked like the sort of people who would give it a try. That's as much as can be asked I think, I'll see how it goes.

They're "bible believing" which is worrying, but of itself forgivable. I think I'll give it a go and see what happens. I don't think I'm likely to join another church as it goes, but I'd like to attend and make friends.

They seem like nice people. It's quite easy, and very pleasant, to be friends with nice people if you can be careful about their sensitivities. Particularly when it comes to religion, but generally too, it's not always possible to be careful with peoples' sensitivities. Sometimes people want to hang on to harmful ways of being or thinking and it's very hard for me not to confront that when I see it because I genuinely think people will be happier letting go of the nasty stuff and I really feel like I ought to show that to people. Sometimes that makes people very angry which is very hurtful because I don't mean anything bad by it.

Having lived, by my own measure, quite a difficult life I've learned to really appreciate the value of nice people. I didn't when I was younger, and to that extent (which was a large extent) I wasn't a nice person myself.

I don't consider myself a member of the Jesus Fellowship any more, but I'll still go to some of the worship events. The most beautiful people I know are part of that church or attend from time to time.


"No-one thinks that faith itself is a bad thing, the big question is what do we put our faith in? I'm a big fan of the application of the abstract. How about we have faith in faith?"

Friday, 5 January 2018

Fundamentally Speaking

I don't think you die if your heart breaks, I think you die if you don't let it break.
I've been thinking a bit about fundamentalist Islam, coming from the context of having grown up within a culture part of which identified as fundamentalist Christian. This had both good and bad meanings. Being totally sold out to what you believe in is not itself a problem.

It strikes me that fundamentalist Islam and fundamentalist Christianity, certainly in the bad elements, are basically the same religion just with some of the names and details swapped around a bit. The same conviction that they are right and others are wrong, and that because you're right anything you do in the pursuit  of that right must be right.

These religions, like any belief system, are a world view as well as a set of beliefs. Mostly people think they're good and not evil (except in their darkest imaginings of course, which we all have). So we rationalise our behaviour by forming a worldview in which our actions are good and right. Or, the way we see the world makes it seem like we're making the right choices. These two amount to the same thing anyway, we rationalise ourselves.

The thing is, in Western culture, we've mostly broken the power of the evil version of Christianity. The wildest of its claims have been shown to be so obviously false that more and more people have just seen it. It's harder to be taken in by it.

There is an evil Islam and there is an evil Christianity. I've seen them both. There is a good Christianity, and a good Islam that we can happily live along side of. I've seen them both and they're all just comprised of people. Normal people.

So the way to deal with fundamentalist Islam, like we're dealing with Christianity is to shed some light on it. We have to be standing alongside those in Islamic communities who are doing just this. That means people have to be able to listen to us, able to really see us and not be afraid of us. That can only happen if we're willing  to live alongside the good Islam. If we're not, if we're in a perpetual state of psychological war with Islam because "it's all bad" (actually because we're scared) then that will only happen more gradually.

It's a journey of course, it is actually quite a different culture and way of seeing the world than the one many of us are used to. That means there's stuff we can learn. New ways of seeing the world are useful.

Even if you disagree with me, the only way to win anyone in any meaningful way is to genuinely love them. So first stop caring about how much you disagree with them. That applies to me as much as to anyone else.


"You can be good without being right. You have to choose to let your goodness make you right. And it starts with accepting that you're probably wrong.

I know I am wrong in so many ways, but I'm willing to be right wherever it may take me and whatever it may cost me."

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

My Second Best Story from 2017, and other tales

The shadow self is still just you.

My Second Best Story from 2017

One of the things I learned from my failed experiments in adulting at university was the value of story telling. I don't mean in any mythological sense, nor folklore nor even small tribe oral tradition (those stories your mates tell which you've heard a hundred times but are still worth listening to). All of which I value. I just mean how much fun it is to have an appropriate story for a situation when you're with people. I learned from the best, a good friend who always had a good story to hand. I was inevitably torn between enjoying the story and being jealous of how much more fun it must be to be the one telling the story.

Better even than good story telling is story making. If you want to have good tales to tell you'll have to go out and make some stories. That's my one great consolation when really bad things happen, at least I'll probably get a story out of it. I think my best story of 2017, although there are a bunch to choose from, is my sort-of-gunpoint-encounter with the police in darkest Ohio, deep in Amish country with the hippies. My second favourite, useful for making any social situation awkward, is how my testes are so impervious to modern science that it took two vasectomies to silence them. The normal response to this story is to ask how I found out the first one had failed, was it Benjamin?

First of all he's nearly three, secondly how rude! Benjamin is almost entirely not a mistake thank you very much.

It doesn't work like that. Cutting the cables doesn't empty the tank, so to speak. So after the operation (pretty much entirely painless both times in my case) they check to see if it has worked. Even a year later I was still not firing blanks and the likelihood is spontaneous cable re-joining, which apparently whilst not common is still a thing.

There you go. My second best story of 2017...

Delia and the Mind Reader

Here's one of Delia's stories from the tale end of 2017. At least part of it anyway.

At Decompression, the London Burning Man event we went to, Delia spoke to a mind reader. And this mind reader told Delia her mind. She didn't tell her her fortune, her future or her thoughts but she told Delia who she thought Delia was, her heart and mind, and she was mostly right. The mind reader told Delia some of the secrets of her heart.

Delia asked me how I thought she does it. I think it's the most natural thing in the world, but actually being able to do the most natural thing in the world is so vanishingly rare that it seems like magic!

If you're willing to say what you see when it comes to people, to speak your mind and be an honest and faithful mirror, then as you practise saying what you see - being honest about who you think people are - then you simply get better at being able to see people. The more you trust your own mind and speak it out the better you get at knowing your own mind. You listen to yourself more and your doubts and fears less. The downside is that you have to be willing to be wrong, and you'll be wrong plenty, and speaking your mind in the face of disapproval from others (real or imagined) can require courage.

A big part to being able to really see people, to really see who they are, is giving people space to show and tell you who they are and being willing to believe them. That means dropping judgement, who are we to judge anyway? We don't know how people were shaped, the experiences they've had and the world they see, so we don't know their motives. What we do know is how often we've been wrong. The other part to being able to see people is liking people. There's not much better than good people and in my experience most people I meet are either good or want to be good, which is about the same really. We're all a funny mixture. If you like people they'll be much happier, much more able, to show you who they really are. Another way to put it is that compassion and love work. People are able to be themselves in the presence of love and compassion, and that's so healing because being able to be themself is about all most people need (psychologically speaking). This, incidentally, is the substance of how the truth will set you free. Truth, spoken as love.

When you really see people, when you're willing to tell people what you really see in them, it can seem like magic. It's not, it's completely normal, it's just that not many people do it.

The lovely consequence of this is that you can be understood, and in being understood you can understand. That's communication, true communion of the heart and spirit when we know and understand one another and have grace for each other for we know ourselves too.

If you see someone's heart you can tell them their heart.

Love at First Sight

On the topic of the heart, and in contrast to my beliefs in my younger days, I do now believe in love at first sight. Several times I've had the experience of meeting someone for the first time and thinking I've seen who they really are, and loving them and being loved back, and been right. I've been wrong plenty of times too, and there are many people hard to see at first (my failing and lack not theirs) that I've learned to see and to love over time. Falling in love with people, just about everyone I can, is one of the things I treasure most in life.

One of the greatest lessons of my life is how to love people without letting them hurt me, and how to deal with the pain when they do. Eventually you just go away, but you let it hurt you. If you feel the pain you can still feel your love and the love is worth it. Being able to love is the best thing in the world. If you're not afraid of the pain then it's safe to love.

The Shack

This is about a story from someone else that I enjoyed. Delia and I watched The Shack together last night. A rare evening where the kids were both in bed early enough for us to watch an entire movie. Overall I liked it.

It's fairly ideology heavy, which would normally be enough to make me react a great deal. However the ideology in The Shack isn't doctrine but is on the nature of the relationship between people and God.

I think it suffers from a problem I see generally in the Evangelical understanding of spirituality, in that it externalises God and the work of God too much. This is a misunderstanding that largely comes from not actually seeing a great deal of God. That's even allowing for the limitations of the screenplay format.

But I think that what they depict, and attempt to depict, isn't wholly wrong it's just that it's only part of the story. (The "judgement" scene stepped over the line on ideology and cheesiness I'm afraid, but hey nothing's perfect.) Within that there's beauty in the way they portray God communing with people. There's such a lot of genuine goodness in the movie. The people who made it clearly believe in and long for goodness, and it carries real warmth and compassion for the human condition. For our frailty and pain and our potential for beautiful love. It also seems like the film makers aren't trying to say that they have all the answers, it's an exploration and some ideas, and they'd like us to think. I don't have any argument with that. I liked the film.

Enemies

Be willing to have enemies, be willing to be angry. Life's more fun that way. If you're not willing to have enemies you limit yourself from experiencing the full richness of life.

The truth is that you probably have enemies anyway, people who are against you or speak against you, so you might as well be willing to recognise it and admit it.

Have compassion on your enemies, for then you will see their weakness.

Endless Hills

Everyone has a happy place, right? My happy place, only recently recalled, is from one my favourite to visit from my boyhood. A part of the Goyt Valley in Derbyshire, Buxton side I think.

After clambering down treacherous wooden and over-wooded steps we would reach a wide and bubbling river, bordered on one side by woodland. It was far enough from civilization that no cars could be heard and had stones washed smooth protruding from the river large and flat enough to be picnicked on. A tiny idyll.

Beyond the river were rolling green hills. As I scrambled up these hill, usually alone with myself, the only non-green in sight was an occasional sheep and the line of blue sky as the horizon above me. Because of the way the hills rolled and curved the horizon above was rarely the peak, but just another undulation in the hill. Finally reaching what seemed like the summit would reveal more identical hillside beyond. A never ending cascade of grass, only to be enjoyed never defeated.

I like to visit sometimes in my memory and feel again my happy place, endless hills.


"To all who I once loved, and who once loved me. I still love you. I mourn and I grieve for the ones I have lost."