comedy hedge fun(d)

23 06 2011

I have a heavily suppressed competitive streak. People who rarely win tend to suppress it. Even deny it. I support Liverpool, so I guess that’s understandable. Now I am a regular runner the competitive streak peeps out a little more… though hopefully any (small) victories I have are tempered by the knowledge of what it is to regularly lose. I said hopefully.

going supersonic...

Recently I took part in some leadership training. Part of this was a day run by someone from an unfamiliar world to mine. As an inverted snob I have to make a special effort with the office-based chinos-and-polo shirt chaps, especially when you think they might actually play polo. Anyway, this friendly man with an elusive job description led us in a series of (admittedly great fun!) outdoor puzzles and games in order to stimulate our team-working brains and teach us lots of things that were quite obvious.

That many of us are not primarily motivated by winning. That competition doesn’t always work.

This wasn’t his aim.


He put us in boys & girls teams and set us the task of completing a jumbo jigsaw puzzle as quick as we could. He was very excited by the thought of a competition. We, on the other hand, were excited by the fact he had included “fun” on his list of essential factors in a team. So we decided to include in our timed puzzle challenge a comedy run from the nearby hedge. It was a sunny day after all.

This bothered him. But it will slow you down, he said.

Yes, we replied, but think what fun we’ll have!

We were both right. The girls team figured out a more efficient way of building the puzzle. It seems working in silence and the absence of a comedy run makes building quicker. But they looked so serious! We were actually not far behind them, and yet seemed to have a lot more fun. And winding up polo-man far outweighed the cost of not winning a little made-up competition.

We could draw many tenuous sweeping conclusions from this experience. I just throw it into the current political obsession with competition and market-forces being the solution to all problems. Competition may be the core motivation for a certain type of human in a certain type of environment. Like the ones in power. Wealthy successful white men love a competition especially when the dice is loaded so they always win. See banks. See Serco. See power companies. See privatisation.

Competition is not everyone’s motivating factor. Plain efficiency is not everyone’s aim. Think of farming – when efficiency becomes the primary motivation over love, care and time then the land starts falling apart and needing artificial help to stay productive. Like over-used fields many of us are needing artificial help to stay productive, in the form of tablets or alcohol or therapy. This is not  life in balance. This is not how we are meant to be.

Let’s not get drawn into constant competition to generate the mirage of perfect efficiency. We are all humans after all. There is no such thing as an economy, just humans relating to each other. So if you are a boss, if it is up to you, I invite you to lead by example and institute the comedy run today.

You may even find people work harder. I’m sure they’ll be happier.


eminem’s window pain

16 06 2011
Love the Way You Lie

Image via Wikipedia

Domestic violence and abuse is one of the taboos of our society. And though many chart songs are peppered with throw-away lines of misogyny, few cover the real issue of domestic violence as fully as Love the Way You Lie by Eminem ft Rihanna. This song first came to my attention as I hummed along to it on the radio before I realised what I was singing about; then when it was requested as the song to end a funeral on, I looked it up more fully.

Culturally this song, and the music video, are so significant and yet passed me (and probably most of us) by. The song tells the story of a young couple in crisis, in which love is confused with passion and sex is confused with violence. To understand what I mean, you have to watch it. It’s only when you get to the last verse you realise why Rihanna is singing about burning. It isn’t a metaphor. Funny this doesn’t come recommended by the HTB Marriage Course.  

The couple begin by arguing. It seems they do that a lot. It seems they both hit each other, and the pain and the passion get all mixed up and ends in violence or sex, or both:

As long as the wrong feels right it’s like I’m in flight
High of a love, Drunk from the hate
It’s like I’m huffing paint
And I love it the more that I suffer, I suffocate
And right before I’m about to drown
She resuscitates me
She f****** hates me
And I love it

But then it all become too much and the woman begins to leave. This is a shock to the pride of the man who realises he loves her, and realises he has done wrong by snapping:   

Wait. Where you going?
I’m leaving you
No you ain’t
Come back
We’re running right back
Here we go again
It’s so insane
Cause when it’s going good
It’s going great
I’m Superman
With the wind in his bag
She’s Lois Lane
But when it’s bad
It’s awful
I feel so ashamed
I snap…

I laid hands on her
I’ll never stoop so low again
I guess I don’t know my own strength

So the apologies begin, fuelled by a sense of shame and helplessness. I shouldn’t have done this, you shouldn’t have done that. This is shifting blame, dodging guilt, not whole-hearted forgiveness.

The story continues with a confession – a confession that their emotions have begun to define how they feel. This is one of the greatest pitfalls of our culture, where how I feel in the moment defines me and justifies my actions.

You ever love somebody so much
You can barely breathe
When you’re with them
You meet
And neither one of you
Even know what hit ’em
Got that warm fuzzy feeling
Yeah them chills
Used to get ’em

But those fuzzy feelings have begun to wane:

Now you’re getting f****** sick
Of looking at ’em
You swore you’ve never hit ’em
Never do nothing to hurt ’em
Now you’re in each other’s face
Spewing venom
And these words
When you spit ’em
You push
Pull each other’s hair
Scratch, claw, bit ’em
Throw ’em down
Pin ’em
So lost in the moments
When you’re in ’em
It’s the rage that took over
It controls you both
So they say it’s best
To go your separate ways
Guess that they don’t know ya
Cause today
That was yesterday
Yesterday is over
It’s a different day
Sound like broken records
Playin’ over
But you promised her
Next time you’ll show restraint
You don’t get another chance
Life is no Nintendo game
But you lied again
Now you get to watch her leave
Out the window
Guess that’s why they call it window pain.

Life is not a game (or a film, or a music video) and the consequences are real.  And life-long. Violence begets violence. Children who see it will repeat it. It cannot be turned off. Take responsibility. Speak truth. The abuser lies and lies again; they have to. I promise I won’t do it again, etc… And they do. And because he lies, she leaves. He loses control, so she takes control and leaves.

But this cannot be. Because the abuser must be in control. So he tries a new tactic. We’re in this together. It’s your fault as much as mine. You made me do it.

Now I know we said things
Did things
That we didn’t mean
And we fall back
Into the same patterns
Same routine
But your temper’s just as bad
As mine is
You’re the same as me
But when it comes to love
You’re just as blinded
Baby please come back
It wasn’t you
Baby it was me
Maybe our relationship
Isn’t as crazy as it seems
Maybe that’s what happens
When a tornado meets a volcano
All I know is
I love you too much
To walk away though

At this stage the abuser believes it. They are usually convincing. He continues, but notice how as he doesn’t get his own way, as he fails to convince, the lies tie themselves in knots and the truth comes out:

Come inside
Pick up your bags off the sidewalk
Don’t you hear sincerity
In my voice when I talk
Told you this is my fault
Look me in the eyeball
Next time I’m pissed
I’ll aim my fist
At the dry wall
Next time
There will be no next time
I apologize
Even though I know it’s lies
I’m tired of the games
I just want her back
I know I’m a liar
If she ever tries to f****** leave again
I’mma tie her to the bed
And set the house on fire

And so the truth is out. And so the chorus finally makes sense. The ironic “I like the way it hurts”, and “I love the way you lie”. As the house burns.

Just gonna stand there and watch me burn
But that’s alright because I like the way it hurts
Just gonna stand there and hear me cry
But that’s alright because I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie
I love the way you lie

This is the myth so many men live under; that secretly women enjoy the pain, that it is being a man to be an abuser.  That it isn’t abuse at all, it’s just life. And that if you want to end something you must destroy it.

What is our response to this? We may want to dismiss this as an irrelevance, because it’s not like our young people are listening to the lyrics or learning life from videos. Well the statistics are this:

The song won the Best Rap/Hip-Hop Track award at the 2010 Teen Choice Awards. As of December 2010 the single had sold over four million copies in the United States alone, and was the best-selling single of 2010 in the United Kingdom… As of February 2011 the song had sold 4.58 million downloads in the United States aloneand 9.3 million worldwide.

We do have a response. Our response is that any violence in the home is unacceptable. Why? Partly because we are human and it’s just plain bad. But our overarching reason is that we know love, and this is not love. Love is self-giving, self-sacrificing. As Mumford & Sons put it, love does not dismay, betray or enslave you, it will set you free. Jesus attitude to women was radical and culturally dangerous. Paul’s encounters and writings about women continue this. We are about freedom, we are about being freed from oppression. The worst of all situations can be transformed without being destroyed.

This means we have to make a stand. It begins with us. When we feel the temptation to raise a hand to our children, to our wives, to our husbands, or whoever, we need to remember this. Our emotions do not define us, nor do they justify our actions. That is the role of love. Love is patient and kind. Love is truthful. Love keeps no record of wrongs. Love transforms, it does not destroy. And if we turn a blind eye to this, we need to read Isaiah 58. And if it is happening to you, we need to find a way to support you. Because if this is happening in our communities, we are responsible.

We need to tear the curtain in two and look through the window pain.  

If you want to carry on this theme, you can listen to Love the Way You Lie Pt II, sung by Rihanna as a response from the woman’s perspective here:

a gentle clearing of the throat

10 06 2011

prayer is so often like a careful excuse me
bravely ignoring the ‘do not disturb’ sign
but only to quietly slip a note under the door

or it’s like a gentle clearing of the throat
to draw attention
without causing tension
or making a scene


prayer feels like it ought to involve
some shoving and
some flouting of the rules
some yelling because we should be telling it like it is
not quietly murmuring
but loudly stirring
earnestly yearning for God to hear
to act
to reach from his pedestal
to change all that is cruel and heartless and human

because his name means God with us
because prayers mean God help us
our cry is say something to us

yet in this moment of tension
shouting and pleading
we pause…

and in faith are conceding, of course,
to hear
we must listen.


this is an edited version of a poem that first featured in rants in your pants

the forest-tree commission

5 06 2011

The ascension is a funny old thing. Possibly the most important thing in the world. Well, apart from the erm, incarnation, crucifixion, resurrection and other rhyming words. Anyway, more on that here. Today I thought I’d try a different way to explain how the ascension means Jesus is King of the world when it looks like he’s out to lunch. And it’s all tied up with the Great Commission

Chequers Tree (© Andrew Dunn)

There was once a man who bought a forest. He paid a huge price for this forest. But people laughed at him. Because it wasn’t a forest, it was vast wilderness. There was nothing growing except some weeds and scrubland bushes.

 His friends tried to help. This is not a forest, they said. To turn this into a forest why not take some mud from the ground, and fashion it into the shape of a tree. They showed him. The clay tree was rather impressive. But it did nothing. It did not grow, it did not seed, it didn’t even blow in the wind. In fact, soon it dried out and crumbled to the ground.

They had another idea. Then they suggested he take some of the weeds and bushes and twist them together into the shape of a tree. It was rather impressive. But it did nothing. It did not grow, it did not seed, it did blow in the wind but the wind dried it out and it soon crumbled to the ground.

Smiling, the man took 12 seeds from his pocket. Oak. Birch. Ash. Cherry. Pine. Holding them he imagined all his land covered in this rich mixture of trees. This will make a beautiful forest, he thought to himself.

 He set to work. He dug a small hole, and in the centre of his land he planted the acorn. Then he planted all of his seeds across his land. He gazed across the wilderness. It looked no different. Give it time, he thought. He watered his seeds.

 Some people came by. They laughed at him: how’s your forest coming along, they mocked. I can see a beautiful forest, he said. Most people laughed, and moved on. Some, however, stayed. They were… intrigued. The man and his new friends watered them, tended them, protected them.  And as time went by, the seeds began to grow.

Soon, when the 12 trees blew in the wind, they dropped their own seeds. Some of these seeds landed in good soil, and began to grow. Other small trees grew around the now established original 12 trees.

When this began to happen, the man told his friends he needed to go on a journey to oversee the growth of the forest. He needed to see the big picture. He told them that he was still the owner of this forest, and was entrusting them to tend it.

But it’s not  really a forest, they said, it’s a huge area of wasteland with a few trees in. The others are right.

It will be a forest, he replied, and I want you to tend the forest from its central oak through the wilderness to the edges of my land.

So the man who owned the not-yet-forest entrusted its growth to his friends, whom he had taught. As time went by the trees became a copse, and the copse a forest. There were big trees and small trees and clearings, and the forest attracted birds and insects and animals of all shapes and sizes.

Over time the man’s friends passed on their knowledge of tending and growing the forest to their children, and their children… and so the trees grew and grew and grew.

It turned out that the man really had bought a forest after all.

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