11Oct '11
7Jul '11
Dresden after bombing

Dresden Sonnet

Our Dresden lives can be rebuilt with stone
Reconstituted from the stolen years
Our past dictators can be overthrown
And grey eyes dried to weep afresh new tears
The cry for vengeance, seeking teeth for teeth
Must now be silenced, if we will be free.
Which target should our hateful rage receive?
Some bombs were dropped by them and some by me.
The city, razed, a rubric for tomorrow
Surviving, let us then those years condemn:
Do not in smoking ashes sit and wallow
But rebuild,and build, and build, rebuild again.
When Second Temple spires scratch the skies
Let prayers, forgiving our oppressors, rise.

Dresden was carpet-bombed by the Allies near the end of WWII.  “If it had been any other city, it would have slid into obscurity,” writes journalist Tim Hughes.  “But Dresden is not any other city.”  It has been painstakingly reconstructed, block by block, brick by brick, from the old stone left in rubble by the attack.

This seemed to me an excellent metaphor to use for the hope of personal restoration which I believe is central to the gospel of grace.  “History does not determine destiny” as my pastor often says; and if that is to be true for our lives, then a period of difficult, perhaps painful rebuilding must take place, and forgiveness is essential to make that process a success.

I decided that the English Sonnet would be a good form to use for this work as it requires a methodical, measured approach to get the metre and rhyme structure just right – you can’t just throw the words together.  It takes time, effort and determination – just like the personal restoration I’m trying to describe, and seeking to live out myself.

Image Credit: Wikimedia commons

5Jul '11
A pair of very worn-out shoes

Miserere mei

Call me Judas
Call me Judah
Call me Samson, Saul, or Cain
Call me Pontius or Serpent
Call me every evil name

Let me wander unforgiven
Through the cursed land of Nod
Let me seek but always circumvent
The purposes of God

I am David watching rooftops
When I should have been at war
I am Lust and Greed and Gluttony
Always wanting more

I am not proud; I am Pride
Diotrephes, the First
I am Pharisee and Rabbi
A Hypocrite; the worst.

Too late.
Never too late!

Have mercy on me, O God,
in your steadfast love;
Cover my transgressions
Your compassion is enough.

I bring the only sacrifice
That could ever compensate
A broken and repentant heart:
Thank God it’s not too late.

So…

Call me Matthias now, not Judas
Chosen, in his place
Added, underservingly
I serve the God of grace.

This poem grew out of a friend’s Facebook post: “Rachel in the Bible was named after what she did, if you were named after what you do, what would your name be?”. The first thought that popped into my head – almost certainly from The Accuser – was “Judas”. Then I remembered the first line of Moby Dick (“Call me Ishmael”) and came up with this.

The “Too Late / Never too late” comes from Doctor Faustus, which I went to see at the Globe last week – it had a profound effect on me and I’ll write something about that soon.  The Doctor has sold his soul to the Devil for twenty-four years of pleasure; he considers turning back to God but a demon tells him it’s too late.  “Never too late, if Faustus will repent” is the angel’s reply, and the message of my poem.

… and the title comes from the opening of Psalm 51, David’s heartfelt cry of repentance after his sin with Bathsheba.  Miserere mei Deus… Have mercy on me, O God.

Image Credit: Flickr user mcandrea

26May '11

Ragamuffin Men

UPDATE – here is a Video of me performing this poem at Greenbelt 2014!

I’m the ghost of a not-dead man
A waste of space, an also-ran
A failed attempt at something great
A player caught in fools’ mate

A man who saw the truth, and yet
Risked everything and lost the bet
A swine who took his pearls and
Cast them into sinking sand

A battery, flat,
A dieter, fat
An eaten hat
A deaf bat
A dead cat
A pointless worthless careless loveless good-for-nothing rat.

BUT

I’m the child
Of a not-dead God
Who comforts me
With staff and rod

Whose love will never ever end
And in whose hands I’ll break, and mend
And who, despite our flaws intends
Into this broken world to send
Such punched-up patched-up stitched-up love-struck
Ragamuffin men.


This was the first poem I ever wrote that I was even remotely happy with.  It arose out of a personal journey – after my decision to follow Jesus, after my failed attempt to plant a Church in North Sheffield, and after a period of mental disorder that followed.  Instrumental to that journey was a book, The Ragamuffin Gospel which my Pastor lent me… this poem is reproduced in one of his books, Moving Beyond Mediocity.

 

25May '11

The Star Wars Bible Tapes

I saw this comment on Reddit (contains swearing) in which a guy tries to explain different Bible translations and versions by using Star Wars.  As Roy Walker would have said, “It’s good, but it’s not right” and so I wrote a detailed response which I’ve reproduced here.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it :-)

 

Han-shot-first-cropped

Let’s talk about whether Han shot first.  Imagine an archaeologist – let’s call her Marjorie Texas – from the distant future, where Star Wars is long-forgotten.  She discovers an archive of old VHS tapes and lovingly restores them to playable condition.  There are several copies of the 1997 release of Star Wars.  Marjorie sees Greedo fire the first shot.  She finds some comments about an earlier version, but she’s under pressure from her boss to get her work finished, so she goes with what she has, since there’s so many copies of this one.  There’s still a few frames missing, but she fills in the gaps with a rather Vulgar thing called the Star Wars Holiday Special.

A future filmmaker, Keith Jones, takes Marjorie Texas’ work (the MT) and translates it into the language of his time, and re-films it.  He makes a few mistakes in his translation but it’s mostly alright – and for years the Lucasians (split off from the Georgites in the Great Explosion, or Reinformation, depending on your point of view) base all their belief and practice from the Keith Jones Version (KJV).  It’s beautiful renderings of classic lines – “I findeth thine lack of faithe, dithturbing” – shape the fabric of society.

Centuries pass.

Then, a group of other archaeologists – let’s call them the Nest of Archaeologists (trust me) – are concerned about the massive caches of old tapes that have been found since the MT was created.  Most are beyond salvage, but some fragments can be restored.  By and large they’re identical to the MT, but in a few places, they’re different.  One is particularly puzzling – a scene where Han shoots first.  After painstaking study they prove that these tapes are older than the MT and the NA people conclude that in fact Han did shoot first.  They apply the same processes to every frame of every source available to them, producing ever-improved representations of what The Lucas originally intended.  Eventually they’re able to declare this process to be effectively complete – after 27 revisions, they release a (untranslated) work they call NA27, complete with detailed notes they call an “apparatus” that indicates which tape they used for each frame, and why they chose it.  They weren’t the very first to do this – groups like the Westfield Horticulturalists for example had done so almost a hundred years before – but scholars conclude that the NA27 improves on the WH version of the tapes.

A committee of filmmakers, the New Internationalists, decide to create a new translation, mainly because most of the words used in the KJV don’t make much sense to modern readers, so people aren’t as interested in Star Wars as they used to be.  They naturally decide to base their work on the same “eclectic” approach as the NA group, using the best tapes available to them.  Their “NIV” takes the GL world (both the Georite and Lucasian branches) by storm.

Other groups and committees do the same thing – the Gould Nose version, for example is noted for its artistic illustrations beside the main tapes more than its stilted translation.  One man, Youjean Petrison, takes the original tapes and reinterprets them in a way that makes the Message of the Tapes come alive to many people – but often it’s hard to match dialogue to the original.

Splinter Groups – like the Joda’s Witnesses – create their own translations, picking-and-choosing which tapes support their views, and then making them say what they like, and the Church of Luke Skywalker of Latter-Day Midi-chlorians use other films as well as The Original Trilogies… they’re also quite fond of Battlestar Galactica, but that’s for another post…

The NA people keep working (they’re almost up to 28 now) and another group, the Society for Bespin Literature, repeat the entire process and give it away for free.

Meanwhile new translations come and go, and modern Lucas-followers have a massive choice about which versions of the film to watch.   Some insist that only the KJV is right, and argue that since George obviously wanted us to have his film, he’d make sure that the version we had was correct – but most people just pick the version they like, or the one they first watched.

And so, a long time ago… in a land far, far away… an epic story of Fall and Redemption shapes a society; and it still changes lives today.

——————

Marjorie Texas = Majority Text

Keith Jones = King James Version

Westfield Horticulturalists = Brooke Westcott and Fenton Hort

Nest of Archaeologists = Nestle Aland – Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland, inter alia

New Internationalists = New International Version

Gould Nose = Good News Bible – also see illustrations

Youjean Petrison = Eugene Peterson – The Message

Society for Bespin Literature = Society for Biblical Literature

my original reddit reply

Image credit with thanks

epic story of Fall and Redemption = a presentation of the real good news about Jesus from a contemporary Church

 

 

19May '11
6d7f6-hughlaurie12-scaled500

Hugh Laurie, Buckaroo Banzai and the Art of Being Awesome

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Right now, I’m listening to Hugh Laurie‘s  surprising blues album, “Let them Talk” and apart from enjoying it like a half-empty bottle of my favourite single malt, it’s making me think of Buckaroo Banzai.

Huh? Do wot? Buckaroo Banzai is one of those “so terrible it’s great” films from the eighties… about a race-car-driving particle physicist gunslinger who happens to be a rock star.  And a brain surgeon.

It’s utterly ridiculous and hasn’t aged well at all.  With dialogue like, “Buckaroo, the White House wants to know if everything is OK with the alien space craft from Planet 10, or should we just go ahead and destroy Russia?“, it was crazy when I was nine and it’s even worse now that I’m thirty-five (thirty-six next month, natch).

 

But it’s the impact that this film had on me when I was nine that matters, because here’s what it taught me: you can do anything.  It said, “don’t let the world put you in just one box.”  It said, “You like flower-arranging and skydiving? Fine!”  It taught me, “You don’t have to be just an X, Y or Z – you can be all three!”  I learned, “You can be utterly awesome!”

Buckaroo

Buckaroo with his entourage – each one a multidisciplinary paragon of awesomeness in their own right

 

Buckaroo Banzai was a hero, and a fictional one at that; his awesomeness is just words in a script (though some of those were pretty great, as these quotes show).  And I know it’s unrealistic to reach the highest level in as many fields as he did – isn’t it? How about Brian May, PhD – the Queen of Astrophysics  ? How about Tony Robinson, the Baldrick who makes archaeology cool ?  Or any of these amazing Polymaths  ?

Hugh Laurie’s a great actor who represented Great Britain in a world rowing championship, dated Emma Thompson , is an OBE and now has a truly outstanding blues album.

 

   “Sometimes you need to believe you’re ‘Einstein, James Bond and Batman, all rolled into one’ .”

Take this with a pinch of salt – it’s a self-affirmation from a man who oscillates between awesomeness and uselessness – but it’s true, from a certain point of view.  When you’ve spent as long as I have believing the Bad Things about yourself… sometimes you need to believe you’re “Einstein, James Bond and Batman all rolled into one”… so:

Matt Saunders is a harmonica-playing world-class sysadmin and poet, who knows Latin, Greek and French; a theologian rugby hero awesome Dad of four, who married his first love, and knew he would the day he saw her;  an unforgotten teacher, conference speaker; a genuine Geek-of-all-Trades who learns calculus for fun and eats programming languages for breakfast; who stayed at his post in a hopeless church planting situation for six years; a man who’s beating obesity, battling inferiority, holding out for destiny.

I’m awesome, and so are you – and the Best is Yet to Come.

 

 

19May '11

Geek Code

The world has moved on a long way since the Geek Code was well known, but I still feel a fondness for it, and periodically revamp mine. I feel perfectly qualified to use the GAT designation, though GFA and GJ are a bit of a stretch. Mind you, I love to read about art history, and I watched every episode of LA Law, so maybe those are OK too ?!?!

----BEGIN GEEK CODE BLOCK-----Version: 3.12GAT d s-:+ a35>36 C++++$ U++++$ P+++$ L+++++$E--->+ W+++$ N+++ o+++ K- w--$ O- M++@??V- PS+ PE-Y++ PGP++ t+++ 5++++ X- R-@ tv+++>!tv-- b+++DI++++ D- G++ e++>++++ h++ r+++ y++++------END GEEK CODE BLOCK------
Geekcode-qr

Decoded, for the lazy or confused

17May '11

The Post- Dinner-Table Church

 

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A friend asked on Twitter today, “#21stCentury #church – how does it speak to those with sky tv but no dinner table?” and I’ve been chewing that question over all day – especially since I work at Sky TV, and rarely use our dinner table!

Steve’s question is hugely important, because The Church makes me (a Christian for twenty years) scared to admit that my family almost never eats together around a table with the telly switched off.  It makes me ashamed that we aren’t the perfect Pleasantville, cereal-packet family.  It makes me want to pretend that we are exactly that, and wearing the mask gets very tiring. The Church makes me feel a failure as a husband and father, and maybe that’s what I am; but I can tell you now that if I faced that attitude as a complete outsider, it would keep me away and give me another excuse to stay home and crack open another can of Stella.

Here’s the thing: change in society is inevitable, irrestible and mostly irreversible.  If we insist that those who want to follow Jesus must return to a way of living that society has by and large abandoned, then we may as well beat our iPads into ploughshares and live just like the Amish.

The world has moved on. I remember reading  Family and Kinship in East London back when I was doing A-Level Sociology (yes, I’ve got an Ology ).  It described the rich networks of community and family support that connected the people of Bethnal Green in the Fifties.  It seemed a million miles away from my own experience as a child of Eighties Britain.  It’s even further away today.  A group of people who follow Jesus will naturally develop some noble characteristics of a community like that, but if domestic perfection becomes a barrier for entry, we’re missing the point of Kingdom.

If we add extra rules, regulations, expectations and norms on top of what biblical Christianity really requires, then we’re just making it harder for people to turn to Christ.  It’s great to eat with family and friends.  Jesus did it, the early church did it, and I love to do it.  But it’s not the basis of my salvation.  I won’t go to Hell because we don’t have dinner-table Heaven.

The world has changed; the Good News hasn’t.  The challenge for the 21st Century Church is to present the opportunity for salvation and all its positive change without insisting we live in the past.  The Church does speak to those with Sky TV but no dinner table – it says “you’re not good enough to join us”.  Let’s break out of time-warp pseudo-Christian subculture, and preach the Gospel of grace to the ragamuffin failures in our post-postmodern, post-Church, post-dining-table world.

 

9May '11
archer drawing bow

Quiver

I had everything all figured out.
I was to be God’s muscle.
I was to be God’s clout.
If He had a problem
That no-one else could fix
His plan would come together
With my rhetorical tricks

And Giants would fall by my silver tongue
Scholars posthumously count me among
The greatest, the brightest, the smartest, the best
I’d work seven days without needing to rest
The churches I’d plant, I would water and feed
Before moving on I’d train leaders to lead)

My signs-and-wonders ministry
Recognised by all my peers
Set apart, released, set free
I’d bury deep my secret fear
That the author of my glory
Would one day want it back
My peacock-feather competence
Was just a circus act.
My animated preaching
Just papered-over cracks.

Oh, I was to be God’s eagle! But
He wants me to be his… Sparrow?
I wanted to be God’s archer;
He’s called me to be his arrow.

And it’s not how sharp, or straight I am
I am not the anchor-man
My skills weigh just a milligram
In the balance of my heart.
No it’s how sharp and straight he makes
My life through every turn it takes
He slows and he accelerates
The milling of my heart.

So I will submit and endure and enjoy
The making and breaking,
The purge and the trim
For as archer, it was really just about me
But as arrow, it’s all about him.

And though I feel obscured, inert
I am the master Fletcher’s work
And so I wait, concealed, alert
Till his nail-damaged hands
Seek me on his back.

And ready, perfected, or useful at least,
Learning to wait but yearning to go,
I’ll stay hidden in his quiver
Until he draws his bow.

I wrote this poem a few months ago in response to Isaiah 49:2 which says, “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.”

David Shearman often talks about this verse and ironically it was his book The Unstoppable Church (see my recent poem of the same title) that I was reading when I wrote this one.

For those who don’t know me personally, my sixty-second biography is: studied at Mattersey Hall Bible College, fêted as a man with enormous potential, Church planting in North Sheffield for six years, failed in almost every way possible, and now struggling to keep a right spirit while I see everyone else “living the dream” – but God has promised me: “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Image Credit: Flickr user michaelpollak