Vacant Earth

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Fragile Earth by Mixtaped Monk (also known as Arka Sengupta) is one of my favourite independent albums of 2018; I loved it the minute I first heard it.

I’ll let him describe it: Imagine waking up one day and discovering that there are no human beings present around you. You have all the essential supplies of the world at your disposal. But you are left to fend for yourself. What would you feel? How would you react? What would you do with your time? How would you lead the rest of your life? Will you accept your fate? Or would you ceaselessly search for others like you?

Inspired by a dream a dear friend of mine had once, “Vacant Earth” tries to answer the questions mentioned above. Through sounds (and their associated emotions) the album tries to relate the story I imagined, with me as the protagonist, when my friend had first told me about her dream. Sonically, the album borders around post-rock, neo-classical and ambient music.

Note: You can see all my favourite albums in 2018 here.

I, Daniel Blake

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Although I’d seen it before, I watched I, Daniel Blake with Naomi (watching for the first time) last night. Like the first time, it made me sad and angry in equal measure, as well as bringing tears to my eyes.

Daniel is unable to work because of his health situation, and he has to battle a welfare system that should work for him, but which in reality works against him. There is one lady (within the system) who tries to treat him with dignity and help him, a little like a flower growing through a crack in hard concrete; sadly, the weight of the system comes down on her, like a heavy boot.

He makes profound statements of his humanity in two very powerful scenes; one depicted above, the other in the final scene (which I’ll leave for those who haven’t seen it). This is a must-see movie (directed by Ken Loach) if you have a heart for the vulnerable within our society and our common humanity.

Bowie at Glastonbury 2000

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There’s not much that hasn’t already been said about David Bowie, who was taken from us three years ago and who would have been 72 years old today; but I didn’t want the milestone to go unmentioned.

I’ve always been fascinated by his music, his creativity, changes of style, his collaborations, and his determination to set trends rather than follow them. An example of the latter is that while punk was happening, he was at the Hansa Studio in Berlin crafting a totally new sound for what became the Low album.

While working in the office at home today, I enjoyed listening to David Bowie’s Glastonbury appearance in 2000 on Spotify. There’s a great selection of his songs, some of which (for example, Hallo Spaceboy) I prefer to hear live. I well remember watching his set at the time on television, one of the truly great Glastonbury performances.

Epiphany Chalk Inscription

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In our worship meeting on Epiphany Sunday, I asked the congregation (from North Shields, Shiremoor and Wallsend Corps) how observant they were. This was because I had chalked something outside the entrance. But what does it mean?

Well, it’s an ancient custom in the Christian Church, especially amongst the Eastern Traditions. Chalk is blessed for everyone in the parish, and this is then taken home, and used to make this inscription on or around the entrance to your house. This is a sign of the Christian faith being lived in that home, and a sign of God’s blessing. 20+C+M+B+19.

You might have guessed that 20 & 19 refers to the year, but what about the C+M+B? The three letters have two meanings: they are the traditional names of the three Wise Men; Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar. They also abbreviate the Latin words, Christus Mansionem Benedicat, ‘May Christ bless this house’.

It’s a way of witnessing to the world that in all our comings and goings in 2019, we will always be in search of the truth found in Jesus, the Word made Flesh, who the Wise Men search for by the light of the star.

New Every Morning

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In addition to my daily Bible reading, reflection and time of prayer, I now have two years worth of poetry to read (specially selected for each day of the year) thanks to two very thoughtful Christmas presents. You can read about them here or click the picture. This poem by Susan Coolidge has been used in a UK hospice to bring comfort to patients, and is clearly suitable for the first day of a New Year, and the title also calls to mind Bible verses from Lamentations 3:22-23Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

See also Second-hand presents? Discuss!

To Do List For Any Year

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I had a burst of creative energy before settling down last night, so I scribbled all my thoughts in a notebook and added to them (or amended them) several times before finally getting off to sleep. They were inspired by a number of negative things I had read or seen during the day. These are all things we can all do at any time to make the world a better place, read them below in a more coherent and better-organised list.

Build bridges, not walls.

Seek to understand others.

Talk to someone of faith, another faith, or no faith.

Visit a mosque, synagogue, or another place of worship.

Talk to someone of a different political persuasion.

Listen to children.

Don’t define others by race, colour, gender, sexuality, faith/no faith, or politics.

Visit a food bank or refugee charity.

Value everyone.

Celebrate and embrace difference.

Value cooperation.

Question everything.

Challenge fake news.

Value integrity.

Oppose all injustice, stand up for truth.

Be less judgemental.

Encourage others.

Understand mental health better.

Forgive willingly.

Say sorry easily.

Love unconditionally.

Be generous in spirit.

Smile more and talk to strangers.

Make a difference where you are.

Please feel free to add suggestions to my list.

Resolutions anyone?

New Year's Resolutions

It’s said that New Year resolutions are a to-do list for the first week of January; we might smile, but many a true word is spoken in jest.

I asked some friends on Facebook for their thoughts on New Year resolutions, and I received some interesting responses:

I don’t bother making them.

I made one many years ago, it was never to make any more. I’ve stuck to it.

I make the same one every year and break it at that exact moment. I resolve to not make any New Year Resolutions.

Are they not just a bit of a joke? I’ve never taken them seriously. I find making small goals throughout the year is a lot easier.

I see them as a declaration of good intent, sometimes purposeful but often lacking in any real commitment.

If you want to achieve something, and you are serious about it, simply set the goal whether it is New Year or not.

One of my friends followed up their initial comment with these helpful words:
I do see January as a time to start afresh and perhaps pick up things that have been dropped throughout the year. So, for example, I’m planning on starting running again having let it slip through autumn and winter. But I don’t like the pressure of New Year resolutions and the feeling of failure for having set unrealistic goals because of the apparent expectation of society to do so.

If we are going to make resolutions, we need to be realistic and set achievable goals, describing them in specific terms. Maybe large goals are best split into smaller ones, with a planned starting date and time period. It might be helpful just to focus on one or two things, rather than a whole list. Ultimately it’s about aiming for things that are important to you, not what you think you ought to do or what others expect of you. See also here.

As for my resolutions, get back into the habit of running and aim for better sleep.

Thank you Hannah, Tris, Leanne, Mark, Paul, Stephen and Emlyn for your thoughts.