Sunday, October 30, 2022

An Epic E-Bike Eclipse Excursion in Espana?


 For the past couple of years I've had my mind on a possible adventure on the continent - more specifically I've been looking at the prospects of travelling a route along the ancient pilgrim trails that lead to Santiago de Compostela. In short I'm aiming to do the Camino de Santiago or in English, the Way of St. James.

The Camino in case you didn't know is a network of pilgrimage trails that leade to a church in northwest Spain. It has been a journey (I wouldn't call it a destination, as any person with an ounce of spiritual enlightenment will tel you that pilgramage is never solely about the destination), since medieval times. However here in the uk, it has found a new lease of life since the Camino adventures of some celebrities have been televised on the BBC, and even more recently the former children's TV presenter and accompilshed artist -Timmy Mallett, went on his own Camino and documented it in his book. You can read about it and his motivations behind his pilgrimage briefly on his website, or even better buy his book and get the full "Utterly Brilliant" lowdown. It is Timmy's journey that has provided me with a lot of my recent drive,,, largely because he used an E-Bike and as I'm not the most active person (at present), and if my current plan bears fruit, I'll be off on my intended journey in the height of summer... and as we have seen this year the climate in Europe in August has proven to be capable of being deadly. I have had to conclude that to avoid becoming barbecued and dessicated, I'll need to make my own journey a two wheeled one.

So why do I want to go in August when the height of Camino seasons tend to be in May and October?

Well, my plan is to travel on the Camino in 2026, because this is a year of total eclipse. It will also be in the week of my late father's 86th birthday and 30th year in my employment in my current job (in fact fate has so far been kind to me in my planning as the days of annual leave entitlement I have accumulated due to COVID lockdowns in the past two years have led me to having so many that I have been afforded the opportunity to use them in a one-off sabbatical (which is kind of fitting, given the old tradition that a 30th year in employment somewhere is something to celebrate).

However I'll obviously need to make preparations.

Where am I going to start; how long will it take to get there and back again; where will I stay; what budget shall I set for an appropriate bike; what spec will I need; finally, how should I go about training (terrain and length of bike journeys preceding to increase fitness and route readiness?

All of these questions and more, I hope to explore in the months and years leading up to what I hope will by *my* Camino.

Watch this space.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

"You Never Knew"

You never knew...
How dark was my night;
When you extinguished a torch held too long and crushed childhood dreams.

You never knew...
How disappointed I was in you;
When I had grown a little and gained self respect, but a moment's flirtation at an inappropriate moment surprised and annoyed me.

You never knew...
How proud I was of you;
When you had willingly contemplated a much harder path for a divine purpose, even though it seemedto my mortal mind to be a waste of temporal material.

You never knew...
How happy I was for you;
When in backing down from the most extreme aspect of that path, you carved out a new road for yourself, filled with hope and promise of future blessing.

You'll never know...
How I have watched from a distance;
Your harsh struggles with the brokenness that has accompanied those blessings, you have come to be respected in my eyes.

Until that Day before Almighty God to whom all thoughts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hidden, when we all know fully - even as we are fully known...

You'll never know.


Saturday, October 15, 2022

Cobwebs

Revisiting my blog after what seems like an eternity, is a surreal experience. Even logging into the platform that hosts it reveals much has changed  (although thankfully the fundamentals seem intuitive enough and the editor visuals seem largely cosmetic).

I'm minded to think of my childhood haunts on the edge of Cold Comfort Woods in Alcester - they too, were sanctuaries of mine.  I'd usually find a place alongside the Spittlebrook that ran alongside the dirt track leading to the woods that was lined by trees. The gentle flow of the stream coupled with the wind softly blowing the btanches were a  source of tranquility and a place for me to mull over my thoughts... much like this place was when I first set it up.

Here's the thing though; from time to time I neglected those places for one reason or another (busy school or work schedule, places to go and people to see), but I always came back... I never forgot them.  Sometimes I'd have to clear the place out and make them accessible by pushing through thorns and brambles, or occasionally get a helping hand from mother nature where deer had crossed the stream from the other side and forged new places I could use.

I guess that sometimes this place can be like that. I may go away for long periods be it through distraction, priorities or being lost in my thoughts.... but it always here.  My reasons when I come back are diverse (on this occasion I want to voice my thoughts  on a topic and I want to see where it will end up if I just push the big red button and publish it.

Sometimes when I do, like an archeologist it feels like I've stumbled through a cavern or underground tunnel that breaks open into the works I have fashioned in this place... the whispers of words I have spoken or pondered in the past... the treasury of memories and dreams long forgotten, and the echo of hopes resounding off the walls.

But they aren't forgotten... they are always waiting for me and whoever wonders among them, only slightly veiled beneath the surface and awaiting rediscovery.

Even now I'm reminded about a piece I wrote several years ago concerning digital footprints and how what we write online might be here long after our time in some format... and that our words are a witness to our thoughts and feelings... that how we may think time and tide erase those things and consign them to the shades of lost memory... science has proven that even prehistoric footprints can be recovered.

So here I am again weilding my machete and chopping dow overgrown roots and branches, brushing off the dust and uncovering all the things that went before... thinking what needs to be added next. Sometimes I think a refit helps these processes, like the Doctor's TARDIS having different "scrensaver" modes.

Let's see what the future holds.



Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Hammer on the Horizon

No your eyes do not deceive you, yes I really am writing a post after so long. Where have I been for so long? A question for another time I think.

The reason I am writing this latest post is with regard to the coming election. When I consider all the probabilities and potential outcomes, and the current fractious and fragmented state of the electorate... I have deep concerns. Who do I think will win? Well, in some ways I don't think it will matter.

"What?" You cry. "How can you say something as important as this won't matter?"

Let me try and put some flesh on the bones I am dangling in front of you with that odd statement.  There are two instances in the Old Testament that have been on my heart of late.  The first is from the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah's calling was a hard one.  He was born into a time when the people of Judah were spiritually and morally going astray... and yet, the same people buoyed by recent blessings received under a prior godly king, believed they were on the cusp of a revival. Those appointed as prophets engaged in backslapping and proclaimed how in the dreams that they had experienced, everything was going to be rosy.

But God - the only person who mattered, saw things *very* differently. And into the midst of this mutual appreciation society, he sent Jeremiah... to stand against them and say that far from a revival, a hammer was coming to the nation of Judah...a hammer that when it fell, would bring ruin and exile.

In the final analysis, it was Jeremiah who was proved right and his opponents who were revealed for who and what they are.

The second instance in the Bible that came to mind, was an incident in the reign of King David. David - the man after God's own heart, had an uncustomary blip in his confidence and decided to tot up the number of fighting men in the land -he took his trust away from God and placed it in mortal strength.  Pretty soon after this, his conscience nagged at him and he sought to make amends... in doing so, he received God's discipline:

Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer. ‘Go and tell David, “This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.”’
So Gad went to David and said to him, ‘Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.’
2 Samuel 24:11-13 (NIVUK)
The reason these two moments resonate so deeply with me at the moment is because I feel that Britain is in a similar position. We have false prophets on the hard left and hard right, who promise great things if we but follow and endorse them... and yet they remain wilfully oblivious to the great harm their respective trajectories hold in store for us. Yet we have vast swathes of the country who are ready to sign up wholesale to them... just because of vague unrealistic empty promises and falsehoods.

And this is why I feel it "doesn't matter". Of course what happens to the country matters... but if something is rotten at the core of our society, then that has to be dealt with first. We became proud and arrogant as a whole... but a hammer came and broke the whole... yet the arrogance and pride remain - in opposing factions. They still need dealing with... and that requires humility.



Fortunately for David, he was equipped with that quality. His response was as follows:

David said to Gad, ‘I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.’
2 Samuel 24:14 (NIVUK)
Though he feared for his own well-being, he decided to let God determine his fate. God subjects David to the briefest of the punishments, but many people die. God even relents when plague reaches the borders of Jerusalem. Shortly after this, David finally accepts the need to make amends falls solely with him, because the burden of his mistake is his alone.

And are we not in a similar situation. The three outcomes - Tory majority, hung Parliament and Labour majority. Each have a heavy price to pay if they come to pass.

Yet we as a nation don't have the humility to prostrate ourselves before God and admit how our pride has harmed us internally, and now that we are at loggerheads... cuts us openly too.

There is a crumb of comfort in this though.  Should we accept what we have done to ourselves, our nation and one another and seek God's help... the seeds of true renewal and revival can be sown.

God instructed David to buy some land in Jerusalem, build an altar there and make a sacrifice of repentance. It ended the crisis... but more than this, that altar became a deposit for something greater.

It was on that very spot that the great Temple that represented God's presence among his people, was eventually built.

My hope and prayer is that if we turn our eyes away from our own arrogant ambitions for the country, and acknowledge our collective need for God again, that when the mess that is coming our way subsides, something unimaginably far greater will grow and stand in its place.

Whichever way you vote on Thursday, do keep in mind the need to tend this nation's deeper wounds... the ones that can only be healed by God.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

CROSSover: Jesus & Darmok

I've recently started binge re-watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix.  For some reason I decided to rewatch the other Star Trek spin-offs first... so like Eric Morecambe, I'm playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

That last sentence is actually a useful metaphor for what I want to talk about today.  It's all about people behaving in a completely alien fashion, and how it bemuses us, possibly angers us and how we need to overcome that hurdle if we are to move beyond that.

So, in the TNG episode "Darmok", the Enterprise crew encounter a species known as the Tamarians/Children of Tama, who are desperate to open a dialogue with the Federation.  Great, no problem... except there's a catch; while the universal computer can translate all the relevant words into English... it can't make sense of how those words are utilised by the Tamarians in dialogue. All prior attempts at communication with the species have failed and no working relationship has ever been achieved.
Picard struggles to understand the Tamarians in the TNG epsiode, Darmok.

It turns out that the Tamarians speak in metaphors and use short statements from their mythology to convey the literal idea they wish to express. In the episode, the Captain of the vessel - Dathon, takes the radically unusual initiative of beaming himself and Captain Picard (the latter against his will), onto the planet surface to fight a creature in circumstances akin to those from Tamarian mythology.  The idea eventually works... but does so at the cost of his own life and all the while, as Picard is struggling to understand and establish a dialogue... the situation in space between the two starships, deteriorates and culminates in a brief firefight.  When the Enterprise is finally able to retrieve Picard, he hurries to the bridge and finally manages to speak to the Tamarians using what he learned from the encounter on the planet.  The possibility of friendship finally exists between the Federation and the Tamarians... as they finally have a way to communicate.

This got me thinking about today's epistle reading, particularly the last verse:
"The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross."
Colossians 1:15-20
 Scripture tells us that God's ways - like the Tamarians with the Federation, are completely foreign to us:
""For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.""
Isaiah 55:8-9
If you read the Bible it becomes very clear that humanity has struggled over the millennia to have a proper dialogue with God.  There are a few touched individuals through the ages who are blessed with the ability to convey or interpret God's messages in prophetic manner but the struggle to grasp what God's agenda is, is often a very real one as from a temporal perspective, his motives don't always seem consistent... because of our wrongdoing, our sin... we look at the world through a limited perspective that is tainted by our selfishness. In order to overcome this language barrier, God - like Dathon, took the extraordinary step of allowing his fullness to dwell within the confines of the full human experience.  However even then, in the Gospels... it becomes painfully apparent that the people he lived among struggled to understand the message he brought. You can clearly see Jesus acknowledgement, acceptance and even frustration with this at various times in the Gospel narratives.

Something even more radical needed to happen for God to be able to get through to us.

And that brings us once again to the cross.

There are many ways to look at Christ's sacrifice on the cross and I think some people (foolishly) fall into the trap of stating it means only one of those things... at the expense of the others; to do so, I think, means we miss out on the fullness of the message. To apply human psychology to God's reasoning for acting as he did... is to make the early mistakes of the Federation in dealing with the Tamarians - it is to foolishly use our own mindset to try and understand what somebody else (in God's case, infinitely higher and deeper), is saying.  Some theologians have argued that the idea of God punishing Jesus for our sin is "cosmic child abuse"... but that is to entirely miss the point of Jesus's nature. If the fullness of God is within Christ... then it is not about God projecting His anger onto a wholly separate child, it is about Him taking responsibility for what angers Him, upon Himself. It is also to deny the gravity of our situation... God has to take extraordinary harsh means to deal with a situation we are utterly incapable of dealing with in our own strength.

But I want to look at one thing Jesus' sacrifice does, that is echoed in that Star Trek episode... and that is that it provides a "Eureka" moment. Regardless of any physical functionality behind Jesus' death, when we step back at look at the simple facts - that God, believing us to be unable to save ourselves from a very real danger that he perceived... decided to send himself in the form of his Son, to alert us to our circumstance and confront us with the fullness of divine love, set against the heart of human darkness; we are presented with an opportunity to recognise and respond to that love.

Humans respond to love - when somebody (known or unknown) does something moving for us as an act of love in any form, we are burdened to respond. We might find it inappropriate or incompatible with how we feel, and choose to reject it... or we might change our behaviour or circumstances to acknowledge or even embrace it... but love always by its very nature, demands a response.

When Jesus died on the cross and revealed his reasons for doing so, we were confronted with the depth of God's love.

If we choose to embrace that love... the door is opened. We begin to speak God's language - the Holy Spirit is available to us, in a way that before Jesus death... just wasn't possible.

But it all starts with a single, audacious and extraordinary event instigated by someone who seems alien to us.

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.

God and humanity at the foot of the cross.
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