Friday, 25 September 2009


My next visit on my pilgrimage of Rothko’s work was to The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art today which cost $15 to gain entrance.
They have a number of Rothko’s but only one on display unless I missed a room. Here is a link to the one I saw ttp:// . The main dominant colour is orange hovering above a blue block all placed on a deep red/maroon. It was the only Rothko in the room sharing a space with other modern art. This piece on its own seems not so boastful as the clutch of his work at the LA MOMA. In total I spent about 30 mins in front of it which was rewarding. I am unsure what it meant spiritually. But as I pondered I was joined by two other people. We were united by the work the silence and the experience we seemed to be informed enough without engaging with each other. I was wondering how different an experience this was in comparison to church for many people. We were after all in a new sort of cathedral. Here the gods of the art have their holy relics of work not to be touched. Here we come to engage and worship. Here we come to open ourselves to be taken to a higher plane. Here we hope to find meaning to our lives. This is a proposition or observation not my belief. But here there is no bread or wine, here there is no forgiveness, here there is no redemption. Only experience and God.

Two conversations from two very different places

I was looking in a very swanky art gallery this morning the sort of place you are supposed to buy the stuff. I have a wide ranging conversation with the manager about art which is for another time but he says that in divorce 50% of everything is a lot.
Latter in the day as I come out of the local store there is a man, always black, holding an empty paper cup and he is not looking for coffee. The black man and the paper cup have become for me the very image of broken American capitalism, not because of this one single smelly human being holding this cup but because there are so many of them. I place a single dollar bill into the empty cup to buy his story. I ask why he is not working, I presume the story is not unusual and here is the link with the start. The answer to my single dollar question is, my wife left me. For this man with the paper cup it seems that 50% of everything is a 100%. The art dealer believed that giving half your kingdom away for something was not worth it, whatever it was.
Now I have no idea if the man with the cup and his story is true, I have even less insight as to know any of the in’s and out’s of this man’s broken marriage. But what seems evident is the man with the cup stands in front of me with less than 50% nothing. Which is probably not mathematically possible. Neither does it seem possible for so many street corners to have so many empty cups all offered in a similar manner to this one that had received my single dollar bill. On another street corner was a lady in a wheel chair with another cardboard sign flapping in the wind. I was too embarrassed to read it all but I read the words; please, Jesus and love I think. Then while I waited with the others for the traffic lights to change to offer a good reason to move on, a young man took out from his bag his lunch. It was like the many I had made two pieces brown bread in cellophane. He passed them to the user of the wheelchair and she accepts. There was no conversation she carried on reading she did not seem to smell or have filthy unshoed feet like many do. The man who gave his sandwich unlike my single dollar bill did not want a story.
I am not sure how to respond to all these empty cups. I am disappointed and shocked the United States of America has so many empty cups on offer in such a beautiful place as San Francisco, in such a beautiful place as the USA. I am not informed enough to know for sure but my realism seems to tell me this man and the many who offer cups all across this beautiful country will benefit little from the hope and change that has been spoken of by its visionary leader.
50% of a fortune is a lot 50% of everything for some is 100%.

SF 3 Roomies

I come to the last night in SF before Erin comes.
My four bed dorm has been a place of change we started off with 1 Minnesota man, 1 French man, 1 Australian man and me. Then we lost Minnesota man, then Australian went to LA, in comes a man from Australia I think, I only hear him arrive during the night and see him when I get up, oh yes and his girlfriend. So sometimes of four bed dorm is more. Then comes Hong Kong man whose opening question me is, have I seen cockroaches? I give him a firm no. He seems to boast tonight he has seen a cockroach in the room. I tell him I did not need to know that and thank God I am on the top bunk unless these little buggers can fly jump or climb I am safe for the last night. If I am not mistaken Frenchman is still with us, I never know until 1 or 3 o’clock in the morning. Tomorrow English man leaves and will be replaced by .............? The Common Room here is like a multinational student room and most people have a lap top of some description. They spend hours in solitary fixation with their screens. And people come and go all daylong from and to all points of the world. These people travel the world like it is a small country with a sense over confident ease. Being here reminds me what a parochial local life I normally live 95% of my life within viewing distance of the Midlands Today. Did young people always do this or will this generation of people see and experience the world in a different way. They shrink it with travel and pull it tighter with their/our instant communication. Their photos are seen by friends and family back home before them or their bills are greeted back into their parochial life.
Tonight before dinner I was coming out of a shop on the corner of Post and Sutter opposite Macy’s and I am greeted by a shouting and whopping. Outside there are hundreds and hundreds of bicycles of all descriptions, all ridden by what seems the full spectacle of humanity. They are part of a group called who gathers in cities across the world to demonstrate the power and presence of bicycles on the roads. They are escorted by the San Francisco Police Department on their Harley Davidson’s. You can see why San Francisco is seen as a progressive city.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

SF 2

This sort of community living in a hostel is something fresh for me. This morning I made my usual journey to the bathroom which is a shower, not the rest room which is the toilet, which you don’t do much resting in, when I saw rest room I imagined a group of people relaxing after a tough day but it was just me not resting. Anyway back to the bathroom which is the shower. I strip to my fine shower physic and look into the cubicle and before me is a disappointing sight. Where the empty shower tray should be is a shallow pool of used water. I could tell it was used because all of the different coloured hair floating lazily in the pool. This has gone beyond the odd pubic hair this is like a hair revolution below me. So I retreat in search of another shower which I find successfully.
The common room here is a bit like the United Nations with people from all over the world. There is the man who always wear’s cycling lycra which he designs himself. Then there is a man with tattoos who is a very cool looking guy, Australian, Austrians, and Japanese and of course English. You can sign in for dinner for $5 which is ok and very cheap. Spent dinner last night with a guy from England and another chap from Canada all of us over 50 which I did not think would happen, I presumed everyone would be under 25. The Canadian travels regularly to England to see the industrial towns of the North of England. We sat talking about Belper and Stoke on Trent. The whole experience is a bit like a camp, which will only mean something to a few people.
Many conversations are a bit like where is john? Oh he is off to LA today then to Las Vegas Fiji, New Zealand a month in Australia. Have you seen Jenny? oh she is off to Yosemite then the Grand Canyon, afternoon in LA the then to Central America to do the ipie chepy trail and then The Black Country Museum in the West Midlands. I am joking about the last one. Some of these people often do not seem to know how to get their clothes on the right way round but are capable of travelling the world without too much trouble.
So for someone who does not often go farther than Walsall it is a fresh experience for me but how people do this for months on end I do not know. And I am not sure how many travel experiences you can go through before they all merge into a stew of travel. How does bridge experience stand out from another one skyscraper from another who did you meet on what continent? My new thinking is travel experiences should be like expensive well cooked meals, separated by time and beans on toast.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Oh what a night SF1

Do you remember the song from I think it was The Four Seasons Oh what a night? Well for me it is the same expression for a different reason. Made it to San Francisco 10 0clock at night and chickened and got a cab to the hostel. I am in a four bed dorm with three other guy’s they also have mixed dorms but Erin said No No No. Who do you think uses the prayer Please God don’t let me fall? Mountaineers, wire walkers scaffolders, no me lying on the top bunk I am last in the room so I get a top bunk. The last time I slept on the top bunk I was 8 years old now I am like granddad in the room they are so young I am not sure whether to go to sleep or read them a story. At some point in the long night alongside the fear of falling out of bed I loos my pillow, it has fallen to its death thousands of feet below it is my only comfort apart from second hand sleeping bag. I think I am the only one in the hostel in a black two piece pair of striped pyjamas. Not sure if I will have to go and get a pair of those trendy boxers Beckham wears (David not Victoria) that give you a carved like set of stomach muscles. I have no way of knowing what time it is, as it is the first time in 40 years I have been separated from my glasses, so I wait and not sleep much. During the not sleeping I listen to the snoring of men. The sound moves around the room like a cricket in a field but this is more like a series of diesel generators at a travelling Fair. During the night someone gets up to do something (I thought it was men of a certain age did that)I am at the point of asking if he can get my pillow but stop myself fearing the request might be misinterpreted for something else. I wake in my bed to my relief and not on the floor or hospital, I throw my feet over the edge of the bed and wonder who is going to lift me down I could be up here all day. My shoes from this height look like a child’s slippers. The last time I was looking at a drop like this I was securely harnessed to another climber. The next trick is to get from black stripy pyjamas to underpants without revealing what is only open to view either by either medical or marital personnel. Accomplished. Jesus must have been joking when he said he had no bed right?
I stand in the middle of the dorm with a deep and lively memory. It is of a hotel in Bruges Erin and I went to for a wedding anniversary. Egyptian cotton sheets, turn down, chocolates on the bed, four soft pillows, white fluffy towels, bath robes and no one else but me farting in the room.
I’m off to walk the streets of San Francisco.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Out of LA

$1.15 gets me out of down town LA on the bus. I am pretty certain it’s the 333 I need to get to The Amtrak station. So up comes the bus and I better ask the driver, are you going to Amtrak? It’s says Union Station on the front is the quiet and impatient reply. I dare to try one more time. So that is where I get the Amtrak line? It says Union City on the front of the bus. To put this encounter into perspective I have spent a good amount of time this morning committing the day to God in prayer, give me eyes to see and ears to hear; people and land to engage with, you know the everyday stuff you all do. But now I have a tension within me I am contemplating poking him in the bloody eye and hoping he has hemeroids. But I duly offer my $1.25 into the machine (by the way that gets you any were in the city one way, you do the math). To balance this event another story that might help reflect the difference between NY and LA. On the subway in NY I swiped my subway card and realised I was on the wrong side of the station; the result is the card is suspended for 20 mins. So I go over to the man in the office and say I am a daft tourist and explain what I have done. His response. You are not a daft tourist, you are a tourist and you spend a lot of money in NY you go right on through and have a nice day, and he opens that gate to the correct platform and we go and spend dollars.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

LA Metro

I found the metro today so I took off to Hollywood. If you are ever given the choice of going down Hollywood drive or saw of a toe of go for the latter.
On the metro came 3 young girls with their children all between 3 and 16ish (age). It is my presumption they were related but I could be wrong. But I imagine when the older girls were say 3 years old their mommy must have taken them to one side and said. You need to speak up, speak loud, speak without taking a breath and don’t mind whatever anyone else thinks. They invaded the carriage and drowned out the sound of the metro. It was like towing an empty skip behind the train. The younger girls looked at their moms and i could imagine them thinking how am i going to do that for the rest of my life. I got off the metro and I could still hear them as the metro pulled out of the station.
Down the road from where I am staying there making a movie. The road is closed biker copes at all points and numerous of film wanabees with radios telling you the road is closed and you need to go round the block. What is interesting is that it is 90 something hot and they are making a scene in the rain. The film company has fitted some sort of sprinkler system to the roofs of the building so when the director shouts film, cut or go rain appears from the sky. They are advertising on TV here in Las Angeles to save water and there are literally truck loads of rainwater waiting to be sprayed onto the streets.

Rothko on the train

Once again as predetermined the daylight has disappeared from view. All the references points of the day have disappeared, it is nothing new it. The deserts are still there as are the mountains this action of diserpierience is not recorded on the news. The clouds still do their lazy work unseen by me. All the signs and information that help frame our daily lives are now hidden by the darkness. The darkness in itself is not bad it is what is carried out underneath its cover and that we are foolish to believe God is blind in the night desert.
This is Rothko’s trick and I use the word trick in a positive fashion.
When my wife and I went to Amsterdam to visit some of the museums there I used the word trick for the first time. I felt that a small number of great artists discovered a trick with their profession and used it, perhaps the use of light. Others artists would then follow mimicking the trick within these great masterpieces. I digress to demonstrate my ignorance and foolishness suggest this to my wife.
Rothkos; trick is to remove everything from your view, that is why he wants us so close to his work. Like my view of the dark desert tonight Rothko demands we encounter nothing but his work or experience as called them. Staring into Rothko’s dark works is risky
In some ways he is a prophet like figure calling us to deconstruct what we have in order to rediscover or be discovered by the true substance, God.
Rothko acts like a god like figure who like Yahweh has the power to remove the day and hide all those so restricting reference points. Who would not want to slap the face of those endless overweight cherubs that only give God a bad name.
As I look out the window of the dining car charging through to the invisible desert in the reflection of the glass I can see me and my fellow passengers. If Rothko’s work were glazed we would always be seeing ourselves and your neighbours in his work. As Richard Rohr say’s ‘we are not that important’ (although we believe we are).
My desert experience in india

leaving Houston

Leaving Houston sorry i missed this one
As we left Houston last night the lights of the skyscrapers stete themselves against the darkness of the Houston night, and playing on the MP3 Tom Waits (see Mike O for recommendations ). When I enquire in Houston where the Amtrak train station is people looked blankly. Bus drivers had a vague idea it was somewhere in that direction. It was the same situation with church on Sunday. But here is the rub on both occasions you could see the church and the station from the bus stop i got off from. A geologist from Venezuela informs where the train station is, he thinks.
The train station is like an old style petrol station on an A road in England and this for a city the size of Houston. They tell me the old station was a fine place, pulled down for the new Baseball stadium. So w here have a station that only gets 6 train a week 3 to Los Angeles 3 east, it’s hard to find, the locals don’t know where it is and it has no sign posts. Perhaps that is what the train represents in modern America; it’s for the geeky and the poor. The fly quick eat fast have no need of this outmoded form of transport
But it moves across the landscape with a great sense of pride and confidence the horn constantly announcing its coming, warning you to prepare. It comes down your high street literally and through back yards and across deserts. The train is like an older man who has been to war, achieved much in his youth and in his middle years. He is the sort of man you would buy a beer for like the retired policeman I had dinner with.
While European trains are striving to achieve 300 kmph this old boy tops out at 70mph and much of the time a lot less. But the train staff inform me this train during the summer is sold out sleepers and all, so this is a good time to come. So maybe this form of travel will always have a place in the USA.
I will sign off with a few train facts. The train timetable tells you the time of departure and arrival and how many miles it has travelled. So form New Orleans to Los Angeles the stretch I am covering is 1995 miles. New Orleans to Houston is 363 miles and it took from 12 lunch time to 10 o’clock the same evening. Without a time table in front of me that I think is less than half the speed UK trains. That is like travelling across USA on UK bank holiday engineering works scenario and everyone is happy.

Saturday, 19 September 2009


I spent most of today at the museums first the MOCA The Museum of Contemporary Art. The main reason for going was they had a collection of Rothko paintings all gathered in one space. My first encounter with the work of Rothko was a mistake I wandered into the Rothko room at the Tate Modern in London, never been the same since. You can look them up on the internet to see them. But I sat looking at this work and after about 30 mins I thought something was going on. You know that deep down tingling or striering sensation, like when you are connecting with something bigger than yourself. That feeling you find it difficult to put into word, a piece of music, a view, looking at one of your children doing nothing but being. Knowing that the person you are with has made you more than you would be apart. They don’t make much sense on paper but they are the moment. My experience with Rothko at that point in time fell unplanned into one of those categories. I am not one of those arty types. I am a mechanic from Aston who happens to be a priest who wondered into a room because it was quiet. And now I find myself travelling around the richest country in the world looking at paintings by a man I will never meet.
So here at MOCM I am delighted to be in a room with a number of Rothko’s but it is not the same as before. They fell like a collection. If they were music they would not be from the same album. It is great they are here but they feel slightly boastful. You know when a room can have too much in it because you can afford it, or a garage with too many sports cars. Maybe one thing to learn from today is that the experience comes to you, you cannot control it. As we say in church it is an action of grace, undeserved and unearned.
Its a long way to come and a lot of shity showers to wash in to find that out.
Remind me to go on about the painting can’t become the substance. Oh and the two old Jewish ladies at the theatre.

The bus

The bus
I have spent quite a lot of time on the bus whichever city I have been in1 and most of the time I am the only white guy on the bus. The bus is the next step up from those guys and gals who live on the bench’s or push a shopping carts. I have to say i never felt threatened o the bus here but yu do travel with God’s interesting people. The very poor who should not on the bus get on at the back so they don’t pay.
The drivers are interesting and come in all forms the women are usually matriarchal powerful types who need the big bus to carry the ego and personality they dominate with a sense of power and bueaty. Asked one just to make sure does this bus go to the concert hall you know the Disney building. Now if you know anything about building this one you will have seen and if you don’t know anything about buildings you will fg o ho that one. It a large concert hall build of twisted steel it is a world class magnificent building. Back to the bus so i ask does this bus go past this building? There was one of those silences were you think did i ask to sleep with here or ask for directions. The answer comes in a slow LA drawl “I go to the top of the hill”. There was nothing else i could say if i asked another question she would have eaten me. I n=move down the bus a defeated and humiliated man. I get of three stops time outside the world famous Disney concert hall.
Coming back from Venice beach was school out time this but driver on first impression was approaching retirement waiting for pension. When we arrived at the school bus stops he ordered all back of bus way form the door on one at a time and only if you show your pass, in a sort of ex Vietnam war veteran style. He ordered people away from the inside door. He ordered one guy to stop playing the music to loud on his i pod another guy remonstrates with him and the driver orders him off the bus,. The guy who was thrown off had no music.
Then last night coming home from the Los Angeles County Museum, we are travelling with Mr it s the need of the week Mr cool. No one pays and spends most of the journey asking a women passenger to go out with him. The buses are funny places full of poor people.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Venice Beach

Venice Beach
Venice Beach reminds me a little of the scene from the film Apocalypse Now were Martin Sheen makes it to the top of the river and finds all the solders that have just dropped out of the war. Here it seems like all sorts of people who have dropped out of life alongside the beautiful people of course. I want to throw something into the sea as a marker of the furthest point of my journey but not sure what, I seem to need everything I have. Advice, always on a journey pack something to throw into the sea as a symbolic action of leaving something of you self behind and moving on. (Not the laptop). A middle age man passes me on a child’s bike holding a sign saying ‘for sale for weed’. As I walk I take a photo of another somebody but now a nobody on a bench wrapped in a sleeping bag and it must be a 100 degrees something today . Out the corner of my eye I notice an orange dress pushing a bike there are so many bikes here. I kneel, take the shot and move on. The nobody is completely unaware of my presence; I know nothing of its story under the sleeping bag I know not if it’s male or female. Who is this forgotten nobody, someone’s child? Did they make it through school, fail a marriage, loos its job? Does this nobody under the sleeping bag have children? What drives someone to say I am giving up this air conditioned car dollar centred life for a sleeping bag in Santa Monica?
The orange dress begins to tell me off. Is this how Californian women pick up handsome Englishmen? She discovers I am English and she we walk and talk for a while. The orange dress is a writer actor and yoga teacher, me just a priest with no work to do but listen. She is highly vexed why so many people who are not cared for here in this dreamland of Los Angeles. For me here I have seen more people with their heads in the street bins or pushing a shopping trolley that carries all their life. Or perhaps the numbers are not that different maybe the difference is that it is here. The place of dreams. Many years ago I went to India for a short time I have no wisdom on the place but both Mumbi (Bombay as knew it) and LA feel very similar to me. Both are places of dreams in both places you can be somebody or nobody.
Sorry to end on a downer

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

LA 1

just arrive in LA. let me tell you the difficult bit of travel always seems to be getting from station to hotel on public transport. arriving at the hostel/hotel i discover i have lost a sandle i must have had them 5 years. i was trying to be cool and straping them the back of my rucksack.
im thinking of lobying Birmingham city councuil to plant palm trees on the Tyburn Road they transform the landscape and we could all listen to Hotel California in the 67 bus.
room is not ready yet the loby is trendy and has a young feeling abut it hope the room lives up to the entrance.
now let me see i have two priorities
1 find a church
2 find where the womens voleyball is playing tomorrow
better get a shower first

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

leaving Houston

Leaving Houston
As we left Houston last night the lights of the skyscrapers stete themselves against the darkness of the Houston night, and playing on the MP3 Tom Waits (see Mike O for recommendations ). When I enquire in Houston where the Amtrak train station is people looked blankly. Bus drivers had a vague idea it was somewhere in that direction. It was the same situation with church on Sunday. But here is the rub on both occasions you could see the church and the station from the bus stop i got off from. A geologist from Venezuela informs where the train station is, he thinks.
The train station is like an old style petrol station on an A road in England and this for a city the size of Houston. They tell me the old station was a fine place, pulled down for the new Baseball stadium. So w here have a station that only gets 6 train a week 3 to Los Angeles 3 east, it’s hard to find, the locals don’t know where it is and it has no sign posts. Perhaps that is what the train represents in modern America; it’s for the geeky and the poor. The fly quick eat fast have no need of this outmoded form of transport
But it moves across the landscape with a great sense of pride and confidence the horn constantly announcing its coming, warning you to prepare. It comes down your high street literally and through back yards and across deserts. The train is like an older man who has been to war, achieved much in his youth and in his middle years. He is the sort of man you would buy a beer for like the retired policeman I had dinner with.
While European trains are striving to achieve 300 kmph this old boy tops out at 70mph and much of the time a lot less. But the train staff inform me this train during the summer is sold out sleepers and all, so this is a good time to come. So maybe this form of travel will always have a place in the USA.
I will sign off with a few train facts. The train timetable tells you the time of departure and arrival and how many miles it has travelled. So form New Orleans to Los Angeles the stretch I am covering is 1995 miles. New Orleans to Houston is 363 miles and it took from 12 lunch time to 10 o’clock the same evening. Without a time table in front of me that I think is less than half the speed UK trains. That is like travelling across USA on UK bank holiday engineering works scenario and everyone is happy.

my life is not about me

My life is not about me
There is a story doing the rounds that is something like this.
An Australia priest was walking down the road approaching the church, dog collar a glowing. Someone shouts across the road to him “say one for me father”. Before the possible humorous request had finished it plea the priest responds “say one yourself you lazy bastard”. I must try that in Pype Hayes.
The other night i had dinner with someone on the train we exchanged emails and latter in the week i receive an email (which is more than i am getting from my family). Anyway part of it contains a request to pray for someone, to which i do and are.
Richard in his chapter you are not in control uses the phrase ‘My life is not about me’. This phrase seems to make sense of a prayer request on a sabbatical.

Highs abd oh so lows

Highs and oh so Lows.
Before I got on this train I have been having just one meal a day. And have felt great. I could tell you about the highs like people i meet scenery which is amazing but I should also tell you a little about the lows.
Because I have booked a bedroom on the train I get three meals a day as part of the package had something to eat last night I the dinner not sure what it was, but. I have been to the loo this afternoon and blocked it up. These are nice clean usable loos. So I am faced with a dilemma get out of there quick and blame someone (obviously and American) else or try to move the situation on. I choose the latter and have been in there so long I think we passed through a good part of Texas. I hope there is enough water left on the train for the journey.
Wonder what’s for dinner.

Dinner with the cops

Just got into El Paso and found wi fi on the station
Dinner with the cops
They announce on the train they will be offering ‘community seating’ for all meals. That means if you don’t bring your friends or family you share a table with any psychopathic murderer. in reality you get to meet some nice and interesting people. Last night was dinner with the cops. My community eating partner was a retired policeman who spent a number of years on those iconic Harley Davison’s. He was the guy in the cool shades who would switch on those flashing lights and zap you with the siren and would announce in reality what we have heard a hundred times in the movies “step out the car sir”. He did not mind that he carried a gun but seemed more accomplished by the fact that he had never had to use it. As an officer he has escorted 3 Presidents and a king. He was taking the train to LA and back to see his beautiful country.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Houston 2

Houston 2
I feel I have to qualify my narrow and short observations of Houston. The streets are wide and straddled by enormous skyscrapers whose reflection from the sun blinds you. With very little human activity on the streets and the whirr of the metro it is sort of futuristic without soul. So I go to Maces and then I find a tunnel. And lo and behold there is a whole section of Houston interconnected by a series of tunnels; it is a bit like what the American army found the Vietnamese had dug beneath them. It is possible to move from one sky scraper to another from one district to another via a series of air conditioned tunnels lined with places to eat. I know I sound a bit like a boy up form the country for the first time shouting ma ma they have electricity and toilets here. But the rub is you drive to work in your air conditioned car into the car park (which I don’t think is air conditioned) thru to the air conditioned office. You then take your break walking the interconnected tunnels choosing where to eat and shop, finish your day driving home the air conditioned car to the air conditioned home. Now here is the rub, rub. The pastor on Sunday was talking about creation Genesis 2 and Sabbath. (You can get the sermon on line) but is this was involved in creation they would concrete over the lot and build another Garden of Eden underneath. I don’t blame them two blocks in the sun here and my underpants a like a cloth for washing down the car with. The shiny clean people with the pressed shirts and skirts are below and the dirty poor are above, I have not been approached for money below because like all Malls here and at home they are private spaces and you can be easily ejected. So finally i take with me how can you have a theology of creation and caring for it when you’re so disconnected from it? And how do I need to change my lifestyle. (I am not sure we at home are any better)

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Houston Evening

Houston Evening
Went to the Episcopal Cathedral of Houston for worship this evening, not a bowling alley in sight. But what is interesting is I have been to church each Sunday of my sabbatical and only twice have i received communion. It was an all woman lead service. We 20 or so gathered in the side chapel sang 3 Hymns but only 2 verses from each hymn. A large happy smile appeared on my face when we prayed for Rowan William’s it reminded me of the unity and difficulties we have in the Anglican Church. I thought of the times i would pray for him in my chapel in Pype Hayes, you know he is a very prayed for person.
In all my born days i never thought I would write this next bit. The liturgy of the evening was an antidote to the thin vocabulary I have experienced in my own life and on my travels during worship. At one place we sang Jesus is my friend over and over again like a football chant. Friends; we forget them, disappoint them, lie to them, avoid them, use them, keep them at a distance on Facebook, sleep with their partners. Friend is not a good metaphor for someone who asks so much of us and will not do any of the above. It is for Sunday School. I have enjoyed the day immensely. I must tell you about the train from Houston better say compline.
If you would like a spiritual trick here is one, go to this webb page it will give you a short service for putting the day to bed. I am using it each evening.

Houston Morning

Houston morning
Getting out of the station was a bit tricky it was one of those dark late nights in a town you have never visited. I eventually shared a cab to my hotel with some guy going my way.
The experience of the morning tells me the city is a soulless place with streets as wide as the Aston expressway and far too straight for far too long to be interesting. You think why did they not put a bend in the street? Then it struck me there was nothing here before or nothing of any note so you don’t have to go round it. The lady on the hotel desk tells me no one is born here they just end up here. It is not completely true but it feels right it does not feel like a town you want to be born in. Interestingly it is the only city I have been asked for money by people on the streets, and felt somewhat threatened by their poverty and request.
Before I came away I did some research for a church to attend and I found Houston’s First Baptist Church, look them up if you like this you won’t want to come to mine. I had to be determined to get there first on the bus then walk. For complicated reasons i missed the first two buses, although i was at the bus stop when they came, the girl on the hotel desk (not actually on it) thought I was Bear Grylls taking on such a huge task. $1.25 as opposed to $30 in a taxi.
I now when I say the place is big i mean it is fucking massive I mean very big like say The Birmingham Symphony Hall, but bigger, yes bigger. Let me put this into context my church when I went there it had no toilets in the year 2000 no toilets. This place here has a freaking six lane bowing ally i am not kidding a six yes 6 lane bowling alley. I am not even sure Jesus bowls. To use all the toilets in the complex you would have to have the runs for a year. It has got a basket ball court, no it has 2, everyone gets an office, a book shop bigger that most in any English provincial town centres.
This car park is bigger than Asdas at Minworth (i know that is a local, reference point but the next time you go to a major supermarket look at the car park and this one here i bet you a free bowl down the alley this is bigger) here is an even better one. Occasionally when we have a big or a special service i say a hundred people I ask Don to save a space for the Bishop if he is coming, so Don has been my car park man. Do you know who direct traffic here? The police. No I am not going mad the Houston City Police guns and all are on the car park directing traffic for Jesus. I can only get the local bobby to come when the bloody place is burning down or the kinds are running on the roof. I kid you not i am the only person out of say four yes 4 thousand, who is walking to church. I suppose i could have got shot for walking to church. That would please Jeremy Clarkson. The environmental factor of going to tell our Lord Jesus we love is phenomenal. Every time they have church here some sheik in the Middle East must send the pastor a gold watch. I am not sure how much more I can tell you without throwing myself out the hotel window. Now I know these are my brother and sisters but I am not sure I belong here. The service takes up the normal pattern song song song song collection sermon song alter call dismissal (with ordination of deacons thrown in)
I think this is my final point. Occasionally when I preach I use a visual aid, you know the sort of thing Jesus call us to walk a difficult road, so I pull out a pair of walking boots. Then go all the way out and get some slippers to say following Jesus is not like this but like this. (unless you have bunions or hate walking which thinking about it covers the elderly and the young not a good visual aid) Well when the pastor came to do his sermon, oh and don’t forget there is a 9 a 11 and a 6 o’clock service. As the pastor says his opening prayer, scenery from the roof is lowered into place within 20 seconds a mock house forms is on stage, just like any theatre, and thought I was clever with some bloody walking boots. You know what’s even worse poor old Jesus only had stories, parables, oh and a few miracles. There is more but I will go and make coffee now. Please continue to pray for me.

Friday, 11 September 2009


Hotel rooms
Chocolat hostel is where we stopped in New York for $64 a night twin room. Picture that room you have somewhere in the house you think if you clear, it paint, and put up shelves you could store stuff in it. That’s our bedroom without all the work but with a steel bunk bed and window that does not close. The hall to our suite reminds me of a scene from the film Taxi Driver where Travis Bickle lives. We are on the 6th floor the lift only works 50% of the time. its really student accommodation so what a 50 year old is doing hear i have no idea apart from not letting the daughter get above her station to early in life.
The bathroom which is shared with half of the 6th floor is interesting. Margaret Thatcher was recorded as saying “if you’re still on the bus at 40 you have not made it in life". Well here is a new take on that view. If you are in a shower that is not yours at 50years old and you’re not sure who that pubic hair belongs to, reflect on life. But having said that I did enjoy my stay there.
So I am here in Houston flat screen tv, clean sheets, towels all the items normal people expect and no elderly lady sleeping next to me.
Having said that i did enjoy th
I hope I have not peeked to soon, don’t tell Erin I could have upgraded to a suite for another $25, I did not honest. I am booked into another hostel in LA.
if you dont usually pray start praying for my next accomodation, i would be greatful,

New Orleans

New Orleans
Ok i need to trust you not to tell Erin the next bit of information, it’s not that she will mind but she will want it as part of her trip and i am not sure there are any left. After my interesting night on the train from NY to NO I have booked a bedroom on the train for the Houston to LA trip that’s 2 nights. I am too old and disorganised to be sleeping in a chair with older ladies from the south or the north or anywhere I suppose.
A friend of a friend Gary meet me at the New Orleans station and took me to dinner so first I want to say thanks to Gary for the southern hospitality I had gumbo for starters and catfish and shrimp aren’t I a brave boy. We walked Bourbon Street, viewed were the slaves gathered for their day off, went to the cathedral; saw the Great Mississippi steam ships and all. To give it a contemporary feel you can also see the Navy ships re stocking for the troops to go out to the gulf. Gary tells me this is the only catholic city in a Bible belt enclave of the South.
Ps if you want tickets for the NO NFL football they start at $150 this is not a cheap sport to follow.
An interesting but indefensible point about the slaves. On a particular day the masters/owners would give the slaves some part of a particular day off and they were allowed to gather together at the park and they would sing and play music. They shared their different drumming patterns and musical influences from across Africa. Partly thru this activity of gathering black music began its influence upon the wider world. The interesting point for me is through this inhuman activity of slavery, Sabbath was recognised, and through this Sabbath was the creativity of music. Perhaps to have seen this event in New Orleans would be like watching the Israelite captives in Babylon singing of their loss at the river. We ignore to often the value of that that comes out of pain, personal and corporate. But Iam still having a bedroom.
Last note for this blog. Would you believe it I have a bloody cold and a sore throat.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

NY to NO

Leving NY felt a relief to leave behind the chaose and consumption
The train travles thru a long tunnel and its like being on a Disney ride, from the darkness being ejected to the outskirts of the city and all the mess and poverty that is the make up of many city edges,

The night was poor. As you leave Washington you see the usual landmarks seen so many times on the tv. Then it’s just hour after hour of darkness and small towns without the aid of the lights of Times Square. The beauty of North America is not to be seen on this portion of the trip.
I have dinner in the dining car southern fried chicken seen as I am travelling to the south. I am placed with an Australian couple they have a bedroom. It is not until about 3:30 in the morning that I am jealous. Train seats are good but a lie down bed they are not. I am seriously thinking of damaging the budget and trying to get a bed for Houston to LA trip that’s 2 nights. We chatted about the difficulties both countries seem to face at the moment, their, Aboriginal issue and our National Health Service. We drank Australian wine.
It a bit strange at the moment I have no phone and no internet so i feel a bit cut off. The night is not about sight but all about sounds. People on the phone for hours talking nothing but nonsense, one way conversation for no ones benefit but their own. Coughing, sneezing and snoring, the air assisted doors pushing banging and returning. A change of guard requiring another look at my ticket. And the quiet complaints about the homeless man in our car. I thought we were all homeless tonight. Through the night I am never sure if I will have to sacrifice my double seat to another passenger. I finally get to sleep and some lady apologises to me as I am sleeping in here seat, so I surrender the luxury of a twin seat.
We are now leaving Birmingham Alabama
I am aware in the night, strangely aware of another person’s back resting on mine. Now when you have been married to the same woman for 25 years there are certain habits you take for granted? The habits are part rewards for giving everything to each other. It took me just a few seconds to realise that I better not take advantage of one of the many benefits of marriage. I stayed myself and inched just a fraction towards the window and safety, for her and me. And I dream a little less deeply.
We stretch our legs at Atlanta .My new found seat friend and i talk for a long time she has be to visit her children and grandchildren.

the bridge

The bridge
Well my week in NY is over and iv begin my trip round the USA on Amtrak. When i ask myself where am I going? I think Boston is only 4 hours up the track. So why should it take 5 weeks? Perhaps I will find out, maybe I will not. I did toy with the idea of going to Europe not USA but i realised without Erin’s bit of French I would be lost, literally. I am not sure I am any less lost now. So many people in the service industry seem not to be able to speak English, and of course I don’t speak American.
Last night I handed over Ruth my daughter into the hands of BA for her flight home. This year has been a year of privilege for me. In February I came to NY with Daniel my son for a few days. I suppose you can go anywhere but just to be away from what you do and asked to be for a while with someone who is precious to you is a privilege. And I have had the time this year to do that with Daniel and Ruth my daughter. I am more aware of the memories I have when I came with my father many years ago.
On the train back to NY it seemed so quiet. I decided to take the subway to Brooklyn Bridge and walk the bridge to see the lights of the financial district. It is an amazing site seen many times in pictures and films. I wonder how many lights are burning before me I and I ask myself what difference does it make when I am at home if I turn the toilet light of when finished? But believe I have to respond positively to the bit of creation God has entrusted to me.
The walk is very windy, not me, the just the weather and exposure, and very noisy with all the traffic pouring out of Manhattan. Then there is the noise of the runners and the crazy cyclists on the wooden floor of the bridge. The boards chatter depending on the speed of the cyclists the fat lazy ones get little response. Those lean, mean, fast city boys and girls get a drum roll sound from the responsive wooden boards.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Rugs are Mountains and caves

Rugs are mountains and caves
I was in a rug store once, it was sort posh for us.
We were doing the adult thing ruling the rugs in by style, size, colour and desire. Then ruling them out by price, we have found it a good efficient process. Perhaps Erin and I should keep this as one of our values of life. We were asking very practical question of each other and the staff. Rugs were in piles of perhaps twenty or more. So if you like the one at the bottom the staff would flip them back and pull out the one you were going to rule out by price. But in these situations I am easily distracted and my eyes began to wander to a young child perhaps 4 or 5 years old. This child knew nothing of rugs; hand tied, colours, size, durability or price. But then that is not what the child saw. He saw mountains ranges. He struggled to the top of the mountain and expressed to the whole of the rug department he had conquered the mountain. With his newly discovered confidence in his mountaineering ability without any support team make his way to another mountain. Not fully fulfilled offered by height the mountains he turned to caving. The boy discovered that if he flipped the rugs over you get a cave to climb through, this he achieved without the aid of ropes or wet gear. This boy had been taken with his parents shopping for rugs they had gone to the same place but saw and experienced something very different. Soon it was time for us to make a compromise on a rug between desire and budget and the parents to take their explorer of for his afternoon nap.
Often in life we adults see rugs and children see something much more exciting, Jesus knew this. Unless you see or approach the Kingdom of God like a child he said. Not childishly but with energy, not childishly but with fresh imagination, not cynically but with a new way of seeing. The next time we see a pile rugs maybe we need to rethink what is before us.

New York Sunday more

Sunday after noon
Its Monday labour day and im in Bloomingdales coffee shop writing while Ruth shops
Let me give you some figures on Brooklyn Tab church as we New Yorkers call it. Started 12 noon finished 2;15, more than 3000 people, choir 120 people with 2 leaders 5 people co lead the service 1 preacher. We worshiped in song for 45 min then the notices. Preacher started 1;15 then finished with an alter call at 2;15. This was the second service of the day the 1st at 9 and then back at 3 for a lady teacher and a gospel service at 6. We left exhausted at 2;15 to buy the music from their bookshop.
As I sit in Bloomingdales someone on the staff asks is this a return item? The lady in charge is a beautiful greying black woman and from across the shop floor orders the guy to put it down , three times . She carries this out in such a commanding manor I almost wet myself and throw myself to the shop floor and own up to her everything I have ever done wrong in my life. There are so many New York women with attitude.
Back the Brooklyn Tab.
This was without a doubt an awesome experience, if you like this sort of worship, and I did it is a glimpse of heavens worship to come, experienced today. There was no sense of embarrassment when it came to the offertory/collection, we were asked to give generously. Maybe this is one answer to the question, how will we do church in the poor areas in England? Dig deep and pay.

New York Sunday

Part of the reason for this trip is to see and experiences new things. So this Sunday morning being a good Anglican Priest I went to the synagogue, yep Rabi Nigel. There is a whopping great building just down the street from where we are staying. I was unsure how I would be received but they were a welcoming lot. During the service they told me where they were in the book and the man sitting next to me was happy to explain what was going on. He told me about the use of the psalms to prepare for the main reading and prayers then leading onto to the conclusion. It was an interesting experience using the Hebrew scriptures (old Testament) and not just jumping to the conclusion that there were about Jesus. There were about 20 people in the congregation meeting in a room something like a lady or side chapel. I was there for 8 in the morning yes in the morning and after tea and croissant.
When were walking the previous evening I saw a couple coming out of an apartment and by the way they were dressed presumed from my limited knowledge they were Jews. He had the whole cool thing with the hair hat and coat. So I stopped the man to ask them if I could join them tomorrow. They were a little surprised but said yes. The problem being I think I went to the wrong synagogue. Because where I ended up they were where wearing shorts etc and a woman lead. The experience reminded forcefully how we as Christians forget our Old Testament roots. At the end of the service I was introduced to the rabbi, a young American man. When he could see I was interested got out the scrolls to show me. During the service he was the person who blew the horn, ask me more about that.
Then we took the subway to Brooklyn to The Brooklyn Tabernacle Church, well that’s another story, thanks for the advice Franci.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

WBGO Radio Jazz

WBGO radio jazz
If you have internet may want to share with me a radio station i found WBGO Newark. This what i listen to trying to get to sleep. It a challenge when people are on the roof shouting about the ice cream they have eaten all this at 3 in the morning

I saw Linel Richie on the subway

I saw Lionel Richie on the subway.
We were returning to our luxury (more about that latter) today on subway 1 it takes us to 103 street. For one week we are upper west side people, not the bloke who lives by the Bagot pub. But I digress. Lionel gets on the train as we pull away from Times Square he introduces himself to us all. He does not own up to being Lionel R but he wishes us a good Labour Day break and begins to sing ‘Easy on a Sunday Morning’. His voice is not what it was back in the days when I desperately and inadequately would attempt to get to get a girl on the dance floor for that last slow grope I mean dance. Today there are no Commodores with him, it’s a solo gig. He is a bit less well presented than remember him on the TV, he is greying and is need of a shave. At the end of the gig which I may add was only one song, he reveals a small paper bag that once carried a burger and small fries. The only thing in the bag now is the smell and the grease of what was once a fine meal but poor man’s meal. He offers it around the train I’m sure he not willing to share any fries that maybe hiding in the creases of the fine bag. My guess at this point usually in Lionel R show people would be on their feet clapping and cheering. Many maybe embarrassed remembering where they partook in giving or receiving their last night dance/ grope. But no such honour is placed upon this Lionel. As much as he is sure in his performance we are embarrassed in equal proportion. Here in this land of opportunity I have no defence. I allow the bag to pass me by. At home I hide behind the assurance of my giving to the local homeless charity. I look at the other black people on the train, are they disappointed that it could all come to this? Opposite me are what I believe are mom and daughter. Mom has her hand rested on daughter’s thigh for the whole journey; it is an action of love and connectedness that is only broken by her financial addition to the greasy bag. Lionel moves out of the carriage to his next gig.I listened and gave nothing, fucking principles.

salty bacon

Salty bacon
My wife tells and also shows me this thing about salty bacon.
If the bacon comes a bit too salty, this is like a leg not a rasher you put it into a container of cold water and somehow the salt is drawn out of the meat, this allows the full flavour to be experienced. This action takes away that Pha tast in your mouth. I have to say that is how I have felt more than recently, like a salty piece of bacon. The last month of no parish responsibility has been a bit like being in a bowl of cold water. It has been a time where some of the bitterness has and is being drawn out this large piece of bacon. I did not plan to be salty or bitter it just seemed to happen over time, bit bit, sinew by sinew the salt and bitterness seeped into my life. I have concluded at this point in my life I am inedible. Nigel is not fit for human consumption. That makes me sad no proper sad. One of the spiritual strands of my life in Pype Hayes has been to try and flourish in the parish in the calling, to flourish not just survive. After all am I not a spiritual role model? But it seems i have failed on this culinary point.
The background to this spiritual thriving is the Genesis creation story and the two previous vicars before me who both left Pype Hayes spiritually and physically drained. I do not want to be physically and mentally drained. i do want to be part of the good stuff in the garden that is Pype Hayes , so God may look and say that looks good and Nigel is not too salty either.

Number 16 Red Brown and Black

Number 16 red brown and black RBB
Its Friday night and its free at the MOMA. This begins my spiritual pilgrimage of Rothko’s works In other words me arsing about in museums. I found three of Rothko’s works number 13, number 10 and Red brown black. If you go on the MOMA webb site they should have some images. In my dissertation on Rothko one of the reasons for choosing him was he belong to the Abstract Expressionists School of painters. The title sounded so intellectually up itself it thought i would explore what it meant. What i discovered is if the painting or the image is entitled “giraffe” you can be sure there is no giraffe, or anything like a giraffe anywhere in front of you. But back to Friday night in New York. There are times when i think Rothko is taking the piss and other times like the Red Brown and Black when i think he is onto something spiritually for me anyhow. Time in front of this RBB today made me smile. It would have been nice to do complin (night prayers) in front of this piece but the MOMA tonight is like New York itself frenetic. That is the price you pay for coming on Friday evening its free entrance, cheapskates. Both places the museum and the city are like spending time in a spin dryer with the lid down they dry you out so you need to go somewhere else to get untangled.
Highlight so far is the walk thou Central Park on some Morning it was quiet, restful place with plenty of space. Best and worse space Times Square so many people selling taking sitting walking running driving all sweating.
We have also been to a show on Broadway Ruth forced me to go. We went to see The Lion King
I must say i don’t know how to you would hold a quiet spiritual life here. I am reading the book of Esther at the moment; she teaches us how to pray.
Ps watched New York boy come home last night straight onto his roof and out with the laptop. He needs to get a life.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Why did we come?

Why did we come?
You know the old story for people of certain age you, get to the top of the stairs and could not remember why you went up the stairs. Well here is another observation i was walking through Heathrow Terminal 5 the other day passing the oh so many shops the only one being in my price range was WH Smith . it struck me do people really get the cheapest seats on a plan and then think oh I need a bag its only £500 or that shirt will be handy its only £200? I digress, as we made our way past the many shops Ruth observes that it does not seem obvious that we are waiting for a plane. Terminal 5 happens to be a shopping centre (precinct as we used to call them) were you just happen, if you remember, to leave in a plan.
In visiting 5 churches before I left for the USA I came away from almost all of them thinking and feeling, why did I go? It was like being at the top of the stairs. I write this not as accusation but observation of the church’s I visit but as an observation of my own church and without excuse of myself also. Of the services I went to 4 out of 5 were not communion and in only one do I remember using any form of confession. These visits say something of the church’s I visited but also something of myself. I went expecting some form of encounter with the living God. I thought other churches had him and perhaps my own church did not, maybe God like me was tired and was off looking for himself. Now that is a strange thought .It does cause me to reflect on why do we ask people to come to church? What are we inviting them too? Maybe it’s; liturgy, friendship, efficiency, bread and wine, coffee, singing and all those reasons are fine I suppose. But if there is no expectation of an encounter with God by leaders and those being lead then perhaps we are having a collective top of the stairs moment. Maybe we can only do one thing well and then be reminded God will come. To sign of i will paint the picture its 7;30 in the morning and im sitting on the window sill of our hostel corridor. The sky is cloudy blue and we expect a temperature of+60 today im looking over the houses of 103 street. From here we can see New York boy, most nights he sits on his rooftop garden doing something on his laptop, he looks very cool would not look so cool in Pype Hayes.