Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Letter to Seth (Gen 4 & 5)

Dear Seth

A short letter to you and to be honest most of it is going to be a bundle of thoughts and questions.

The first one is what was time to you? I am guessing it must have been very different to what it means to me. After all I am sure you didn’t really live for over 900 years. That would be like someone who was born just after William the Conqueror still being alive today and I just don’t think that could be the case. It's why todays image is Big Ben, the key time piece we have in the UK. Time seems such a big part of this passage.

And how did it feel being the replacement son? After all Gen 4:25 says you were born to replace Abel.  Did you feel some kind of responsibility to live up to a set of unreal expectations as a result of all that? And what was said about Cain, obviously he had gone away but was he still cherished or did the rest of the family hate him. It's sad but I am guessing that violence was much more a part of everyday life then from the way Cain says in Gen 4:14 that he is likely to be killed by whoever he meets and God needing to put a mark on him so he wasn't killed.
I love the idea you were one of the early members of humankind. I’ve only just discovered Gen 5: v 1&2 reiterates what was in Gen 1 about male and female being created in the likeness of God.

To me it tells me that there was a divide even back then between cultures which were more and less patriarchal. As I read these chapters the divides become more pronounced than I had previously realised by focusing on these aspects of language. Was that what you experienced? Was there a divide and where did you and your people come in, because you seem to be a bridge between the narratives.

The genealogy thing is interesting because it seems that some of you were marked out for mention amongst many other brothers and sisters. Did you have record keepers who traced your blood lines through or were you the names which elders passed down orally and who kept in the collective memory?

Gen 5: 3 is interesting when it talks about you having a son in your likeness. I guess that reiterates that we are the children of God because we are made in his likeness.

Finally, just to let you know your name is one which has been passed down the generations and is still in use today. You seem to have captured the imagination of people somehow…either that or it is a good biblical name which is easy to spell and so people have stuck with it.

Monday, 27 July 2015

A Letter to Eve (Gen 1- 3)

Dear Eve

This is the first letter I am going to write in this project and so I guess a bit of explanation will be required. I have a blog called learning from Hagar and Co but too little of it has been learning. To try and remedy this a bit and because I want to develop my study of the bible and people like you I am going to be exploring different people I encounter in the bible by writing them letters.

These letters will contain my questions and thoughts. I’m also going to try and include an image which seems to fit with your story so you can see we associate with you.

As I say Eve yours is the first one and it is one I begin writing with some trepidation. You see there is a problem I have with you which I don’t with most other biblical characters. I don’t know if you’re real. Your story is the creation story and I am certain that that happened somewhat differently to how ancient storytellers have recorded it. I also know what is written about you comes from the combining of different creation myths from different cultures. Yet…..I want you to be real. I want you to have existed in some form and your story to be based upon a real person who’s reputation was such your story got passed down orally by different cultures before it was then written and refined by editors with their own agendas.

I like the idea in Genesis 1:27& 28 that you were part of God’s creation of human kind where all were made in his image and blessed by God to be fruitful and to multiply.

I wonder what exactly God said to you about looking after the earth and all that was in it. I imagine that it was a more in-depth conversation than we have recorded and he was more caring than the tone of these verses can sometimes suggest to our generation.

The description of your coming into being in Gen 2 and the verses around it are a real problem for me. Not because of what they say as much as what others have done with them. Gen 2: 22 – 24 have been much misused I think. I hold on to the Gen 1 version of you coming into being where you were created equal rather than a subordinate creature made out of Adam’s rib. I think it’s great you had a man to share your life with. Only thing is now people take those words and focus on the male and female bit too much and I know too many people who get hurt by that. Not your fault I know…..I guess you’d probably be dead angry if you knew how people were misusing your story for hate when your life is a symbol of so much which is good as well as a warning….well we’ll get to that later.

I love the idea you were naked but not ashamed. To me it shows that you were created to be confident and free, just as you were.

But then we get to the garden. I’d love to know what it looked like. I’m sure it was more amazing than anything I could ever imagine. But then there is the incidence with the fruit. The first recorded wrong choice we have if we’re taking the books of the bible chronologically in the order we have presented to us rather than the order they were written.

Why did you make that choice? What exactly happened then? It’s too complex for me to even start getting my head around in many ways. But I guess it shows a key part of what it means to be human, we have a free will and have the freedom to make bad choices as well as good ones.

We often associate apples with the fruit you ate, although your story in the bible gives no indication of that. That’s why I include it as an image today, although I know that like so much we lay on top of the text the apple is associated with you only because it is easier for people to connect with than some random fruit.
I don’t quite get the nakedness thing and why suddenly that becomes bad. I mean if everything in the garden was good before we got evil and you were naked then surely being naked was ok. But….you recognise it as bad. I guess that it is probably symbolic of shame and lack of self esteem entering the world with evil. We still struggle with all sorts of body image problems today and debates about what is good and what is not.

I have to admit when I see your conversation in the garden with God after you ate from the fruit and recognise your nakedness I find it both tragic and hilarious. It was tragic that God becomes angry and feels the need to punish you for a bad choice but at the same time it is kind of funny how you start shifting the blame around.

I know this is passage is about showing people choices have consequences and bad choices can have lasting impacts as well as trying to provide explanations to primitive societies about natural phenomena but I still struggle with it. You see childbirth and period pain seem to come from this as do the fact work for many is hard. It also makes patriarchy biblical when it says “your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you”.

I really struggle with that because I don’t see God like that. I can’t come to terms with this vengeful being who endorses patriarchy as a punishment for a wrong choice. It doesn’t fit with the God I know or the God who I see working through women as well as men in the Old as well as the New Testament of the bible. Rather it seems to fit with the political agendas of those who seek to justify the oppression of women.

I like the way your name means the mother of all who live and the picture of God making garments for you, perhaps teaching you how to sew enabling you to share those skills with others. As God sends you from the garden to prevent further pain coming and to protect you from more bad choices I just see sorrow, yet a sorrow deeply rooted in God’s love for you.

I think this letter is becoming a little long and so I shall stop here. They have put chapters in our bible and finishing here is convenient as it takes us to the end of Genesis chapter three.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Young 'Uns....Another Man's Ground Review

If you are a folkie you are probably aware of The Young ‘Uns who were the winners of this years best group award at the Radio Two FolkAwards and this April released Another Man’s Ground their third album. I had a broad awareness of them but receiving the CD out of the blue as a surprise random gift from a friend bought them fully into my consciousness. It was a well chosen prezzie and as you read the review which follows bear in mind it was written by a totally unrepentant folkie.  

It is an album which mixes original material, with traditional tunes and more contemporary covers.

The first track is Jimmy Go Down to Your Uncles and it is a beautifully harmonised piece which has something of the Dubliners about it.

One of the two stand out songs is the second song You Won’t Find Me on Benefits Street. This combines left wing traditional folk with a contemporary theme. It is apparently inspired by a group of Stockton residents who chased off the makers of the reality TV show; a programme which has given rise to many complaints about the stigmatisation of the poor. As with the best folk songs it combines humour, politics and storytelling.

The Streets of Lahore is another lyrical tale but one with no humour just a stark message to those who believe that honour killing is ok. It tells the story of Farzeena Parvene who was killed on the streets of Pakistan in 2014 in an honour killing which took place on the streets of Lahore.

The tone is lifted by a wonderful version of Billy Bragg’s Between the Wars. This is clearly sing-a-long time and much of the album indeed sounds like it would work best with a bunch of friends listening together late in the evening with a few glasses of cider, wine or ale on the table.

The Drift From the Land tells the story of those who move from the rural countryside to the industrial town through rural necessity. It is in some ways a generic folk modern folk song theme and is probably the weakest song on this strong album. That said, it’s certainly not a chore to listen to with it’s clear vocals and harmonising. I’m sure it probably works really, really well live and loses something on a recording.

Private Hughes begins brings in piano and has a different sound to much of the material here. It is a gentle and lilting tune with a sweet but melancholy theme.

The slight drift into mediocrity which the previous two tracks give is well and truly broken with Tom Paine’s Bones which is an amazing tune. It is a great song with beautiful lyrics and more of a danceable beat. The lyrics of this song by Graham Moore are catchy and more Braggesque in style.

The Brisk Lad is a traditional tune which sounds really contemporary. It has a warm feel to it.

Waiting for the Ferry finds the piano back in the mix and again you find yourself feeling like you should be snuggled up in front of a fire or chilling outside of a tent as you listen. It’s the sort of track which gives you a hug as you listen.

Then it is on to School Days Over which is a Ewan McColl cover. It is another sing along tune which pays homage to the more modern tradition which they have come out of and really shows off their harmonising and strengths of their unaccompanied voices.

There is almost break as they go into Tenting Tonight, a strong peace song. This tune has that feel of folk which is almost like gospel and it almost sounds like a hymn being sung. This is not surprising as it has its roots in the American Civil War.

The peace theme and quasi religious feel is continued in Brewster and Wagner, although this is a darker song in tone. The album ends on a note which underlines what is so good about this group their ability to sing unsentimental lyrics in a way which is beautiful and touching.

Really glad I encountered this album which comes into the get it if you are a folkie and try it if you’re not category. Now just need to catch them live some time. I’m not going to make it to Folk East in Suffolk to see them….but if you can get along I highly recommend both the festival and the band to you. 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Go Set a Watchman Review

Ever since it was announced that a second Harper Lee book was to be published debate started to surround the book. Firstly, should it have been put out at all or was an old lady being exploited. Then when more was known about the book the discussion began to grow because Atticus Finch, inspiration to many equality activists, was apparently a racist. The latter led to serious debate on Channel Four News whilst the midnight release of the book also hit the news. So what is Go Set a Watchman like? Is it actually worth a read?
Well, I think the fact my daughter book the book on Wednesday and by Sunday evening it had been read by two of us and was ready to go on to a third person says something in itself. The interest we had in the book is not surprising bearing in mind the media frenzy I have already referred to and the fact that both of us had studied To Kill A Mockingbird for GCSE, over 20 years apart, and it had left an imprint on us both. Yet, that is not enough to account for the speed with which we devoured the book. It holds ones attention and is highly readable because it continues to raise questions you want to know the answer to throughout.

In this review I am assuming that you have a knowledge of To Kill A Mockingbird, simply because I don’t know anybody who doesn’t. If you happen to be the exception I would suggest you read that first.
This was written before Mockingbird and is rawer and in some ways more uncompromising. Set in 1950’s rural Alabama the geography described is somewhat alien to some of us, yet the central themes continue to reoccur in one form or another and that is why I believe that this book is not only a good read but a crucial read to engage with. The fact it is a sequel but written previously to Mockingbird does mean one feels occasionally that characters who were in that book are occasionally squeezed in with awkward explanations of why they are not key characters within this text.

Firstly, there is the theme of racism placed centrally in the book which seeks to explore the complexities of a time of change when the civil rights movement was growing from the viewpoint of the time itself. The use of the N word throughout jars in a book published today, but sits perfectly in a book written in the past.

Reading the book one is forced to ask what is racism, who is racist, how should it be dealt with and are what are the problems of being colour blind when it comes to race and ethnicity.
Alongside this and intertwined with it are issues of how one relates to their aging parents and how does the young adult who has escaped a suffocating environment deal with family when they return. The description of Atticus’  

Then there is the question of how the person coming back home deals with the change they will inevitably encounter when they don’t necessarily expect that change.

There is also the key them of class division and attitudes towards those labelled as “white trash” and the barriers put in the way of those so defined.

Religion also plays a part in the book as a recent Huff article explained. There was a part which I found particularly amusing regarding a change in structure in the local Methodist Church and the debates around music. It was so funny because 60 years on and thousands of miles away it could just as likely happen today.

The way in which the church can help maintain social control and the hypocrisy sometimes involved is also highlighted in a wider debate which the book contains about the place the collective conscience should have in society.

There is also a love story within the book which echoes of reality rather than sentimentality.

Was I glad I read it? Yes, as I indicated it was a very good read. Did it disillusion me? Yes, but in a good way. By the end of the book I understood why the book had to be written in the form it was and why it may have been a good thing that a purely fictional character, who we could invest so much in simply because he was a literary creation rather than a real fallible person, was shown not to be what we as a society had made him.

Did I feel comfortable at the end of the book? No, of course not. It is not a “nice” read, it challenges and confronts but in my mind it is no bad thing when one is forced to think by a book.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Dragon Boating....Part of Creating My Shining Year

I went dragon boat racing on Saturday with work, at Caldecott Lake in Milton Keynes. It was great fun and whilst we didn’t win, because we were racing against very experienced teams, as a scratch crew we did get a trophy.

For me it was a huge thing taking part in this activity and being part of the team because it meant coming way out of my comfort zone and also overcoming a lot of unhelpful messages in my sub-conscious… least I don’t do sport, especially not team sport.

You see when I was at school I was one of those kids who just didn’t do sport well. I was one of the couple of people left at the end of choosing teams and, well, you get the picture. I’m also a natural introvert which doesn’t always help when it comes to team events.

So you see it took a lot for me to dragon boating this weekend and I want to spend a few minutes reflecting on what I got out of the experience, besides sun burn where I didn’t quite get the sun cream all over and some stiff muscles  the next day.

First off – I discovered that the world of sport is so much bigger than the team sports we got to do at school. This might sound obvious, but like lots of people my knowledge of sports is limited. If you get out there it’s possible to find all sorts of things to try which you might not have known about before.

Secondly, if you don’t put yourself outside your comfort zone you never get to find out. Signing up to this seriously put me outside my comfort zone. I was really scared that I would never be able to do it and that I would let everybody down. Yet I was part of the team doing three 200m races and two 500m.

Thirdly, it really does help you do these things if you set yourself goals to work towards.

I’ve briefly mentioned before that this year I am using the Leonie Dawson Life and Biz workbook….Create Your Shining Year. Part of this involves two key exercises. One is coming up with a list of 100 things you’d like to do in the year. Note….this is not 100 things you will necessarily do but 100 things you’d like to do. Another is setting goals for each month, thinking about how you are going to achieve these and reflecting on what you have achieved including unplanned successes...this I’ve found can help some of the 100 things come to fruition. The workbook also gives you strategies for helping you achieve a balance in your life and thinking about health and spirituality alongside the rest of life. I’ve found this really helpful in getting me to focus, dream and look outside my comfort zone in a way which sees things getting achieved.

Dragon boating was one of my dreams and goals. I wanted to get out there and take part in this activity with people I work with and I did it. More than that I found out it was brilliant fun….so what’s your dream? Just go for it!