Why Christians should celebrate the summer solstice

stones07-solsticeThis week the summer solstice rolls around – on June 21st we will have the longest day and shortest night of the year. On June 22nd we begin the countdown to winter once again.

As part of Oasis Church Grimsby we’ll be celebrating the summer solstice with a forest church gathering. Very informal, as all of our gatherings are, and marked no doubt by the familiar sound of children tearing around and having fun, we’ll get together in a small piece of woodland and share some life and friendship together. If the weather is kind to us, we will bake some bread on a barbeque or open fire.

Fire has been part of solstice celebrations for many many years, since before the development of Christianity in fact, the primal force of the flame reflecting something of the power of the sun – offerings made into the fire whisked upwards towards the heavens on a thermal draft. Back in those times, clever people built stone structures which were perfectly aligned to the light of the sun on these special occasions, and the day itself was believed to have a propitious magic.

The solstice was also seen as a new year, and celebrated as such. As a time of transition, offerings were made to thank or appease relevant spirits who might be able to affect harvests, water supplies and the welfare of animals. In our more ‘rational’ age such spirits have largely been forgotten, with solstice celebrations being left to those perceived as oddballs and refuseniks.

But I think that more of us should celebrate the solstice. In particular I think that Christians should celebrate the summer, and winter solstices.

One reason for that is that I think its a very good thing to reconnect ourselves with the ancient patterns of the world, it’s healthy for us to find ways of making a connection with the earth.

Everything we do and interact with these days is alienated from the earth, we buy bread that comes neatly wrapped in a plastic bag, we buy clean vegetables and packaged meat from supermarkets. We clean our teeth with a mysterious paste that comes out of a tube, our clothes although often made from plant fibres, bear no resemblance to the raw materials they contain.

Our alienation is almost complete, were it not for walks in the country, gardening, and so on, the only way we would experience the natural world would be through our televisions. I generalise of course, lots of us are much more connected to nature than this, but you get my drift.

The word ‘solstice’ is a compound of two Latin words, ‘sol’ meaning ‘sun’ and ‘sistere’ meaning to ‘stand’ or ‘halt’. It’s a time when the sun seems to stand still, to hang in the heavens for an unusual amount of time. And its a time when we humans can be still too – when we take time out of our alienated lives to be thankful for the  world we live in. To be thankful for the fruitfulness of the earth, and the life that comes from the sun. Some say all life comes from the sun, and that’s more or less true – plants have life because of photosynthesis, creatures have life because they consume plants, or consume creatures that consume plants. More or less all life is viable only because of the sun.

So yes, I believe it’s a good thing to celebrate the solstice. Christians in particular should celebrate the summer solstice and give thanks to the great spirit who they understand as the maker of all things, including the massive ball of incandescent gas which we know as ‘the sun’.

But lets not make it exclusive, non Christians should celebrate the summer solstice too, indeed we should all do it. The mid point of summer has arrived, it’s a special time. Give thanks to God, the universe or whatever you believe in, or if you prefer, just think happy thoughts. The sun gives us life, and this is it’s high point, we should celebrate it.

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Food and money

raspberriesI am almost at the halfway point of the fast, after tomorrow there will be fewer days to do that have already been done, and the golden moment when I can eat again will be approaching rapidly.

Of course there is still some way to go, twenty days is not a short amount of time to fast.

But yet again this highlights to me the immense privilege I have in such a defined period of not eating.

I was able to prepare for it, take it on as a mental and physical challenge, and then look forward to a definite ending point.

I am also able to reassure people that: ‘If I get ill, I will stop’. All the while knowing that the likelihood of me falling ill is remote in the extreme.

As I have noted previously, those who go without food for reasons of poverty have none of these advantages. And the likelihood of them falling ill is significantly higher.

Another startling thing I have noted during this fast is the link between food poverty and crime. It is obvious when you think about it – we’re existing in a place of plenty, where window displays scream ‘consume consume’ and most people’s cupboards groan with edible things from all around the world.

For the hungry man or woman it must seem incredibly tempting to pocket something.

And that is happening – to a much greater extent than before. In North East Lincs the rate of shop thefts which are just food, has gone up to a massive 46%. In my book, that is as close as it needs to be to half of all shop thefts.

The police say that the vast majority of these crimes are due directly to food poverty.

And it’s not just here, a quick web search throws up stories from around the country about people who have been arrested for shoplifting food, often petty things like the man from South Shields who stole a pot noodle and a chocolate bar after a relationship breakdown left him homeless and broke. Or the down-on-his-luck teenager from Galashiels who stole muffins worth £2.00 from Asda. While the first was let off, the second received a four month sentence.

It’s not quite Jean Valjean territory – but we’re heading in the right direction.

Police have now been warning some time, of the rise in shoplifting from first time female offenders, all the more notable given that shoplifting is a male dominated crime.

One study in an area of Northern England showed that officers had stopped 26 first-time shoplifters, compared with five the previous year. Twenty of the people arrested were women, and 11 of the 26 incidents were low-value, food-related thefts.

A nationwide crime survey revealed a 4% rise in shoplifting, amid an overall 10% drop in crime.

For all the talk of economic recovery and budget giveaways, there is still little sign of any let up in the hardship faced by an increasing number of single people and families who are finding a way of scratching an existence amid the empty cupboards and grumbling stomachs of austerity Britain.

And that means that more and more desperate people will commit criminal acts, often while operating on low blood sugar and going through difficult and deeply unpleasant withdrawal symptoms from food.

I certainly accept that until the financial problems in our country are sorted out, there will be no end to this crisis, but whatever one’s approach to this matter, it is obvious that many people need help now, and they aren’t getting it.

Subversive Parables

talents-page1.inddYesterday I was privileged to be with a great group of people who work for or are linked with Together For Peace in Leeds. We looked at an on-the-ground attempt at peacemaking in communities, and reflected a little on some of the thinking that has helped us on our individual and collective journeys.

One guy who came in for a very honourable mention was William Herzog, who’s book ‘Parables As Subversive Speech’ is a really helpful piece of work.

The discussion reminded me of a comic project that the mighty Steve Beckett and I collaborated on a few years ago for a magazine called ‘A Pinch Of Salt’. It was a Herzog inspired version of ‘The Parable of the Talents’. Download and enjoy.

talents-page1 and talents-page2

3 reasons you must NOT take a day off

Important: You must absolutely not take a day off. To take time off is wrong, surely that’s self evident. But in case it isnt, here are three reasons which will settle your mind for sure.

1) If you take a day off, other people might notice. And if they do, they will think you are lazy, weak, and unproductive. It’s very important that other people don’t think that about you, much more important than you having rest. Any fool knows that what others think matters much more than your mental, physical, emotional and/or spiritual health – so don’t give them room to doubt you.

2) If you take a day off, you might start to realise that it’s helpful to have rest as well as work, and once you start doing that, you may end up having other time off – or pacing yourself more effectively through the working week.

3) If you take a day off, you may realise that the world does not stop turning, just because you didn’t do any work today. In fact, the world may seem that bit more beautiful, given that your seeing it with eyes which aren’t totally preoccupied with work matters.

Productivity matters people, being productive is much more important than being healthy and happy. Remember that.

NOTE: This particularly relates to people who work from home, who are obviously skivers anyway.

 

Interested in simplifying your lifestyle?

If you are interested in digging deeper into simplicity, decluttering your life (physically and metaphorically) and living altogether more lightly – you should look at the Breathe Network.

Breathe is effectively an online network of people who are dealing with the intersection of physical simplicity and spiritual richness. It dubs itself ‘A Christian network for simpler living’ and if that sounds like your kind of thing, I reccomend you head straight over there and have a bit of a look around.

Its not all online either, the ‘Enough‘ gathering in October is an attempt to bring together like minded folks for some face to face discussion and friendship.

HT to James for tipping me off about them in the first place.

And (shameless plug alert) if community living and simplicity are part of the way you are thinking of walking these days, yo ucould do worse than read my book, ‘Totally Devoted‘ which looks at a number of intentional communities active in the UK today.

Electric dreams

Ok, despite my anti-consumer credentials, I must admit that I have become a small time fan of electric vehicles.

I have become more convinced over recent months that electric cars, vans and motorcycles are an important part of a cleaner, greener future. I dont mean that we should all just jump in to electric vehicles to do the school run – there needs to be more walking and cycling generally, and better use of public transport.

One of the things I like about living where I do, is that many people dont have cars, they cant afford them. So they make better use of bikes and legs, and of buses too. I often see the kind of sights I used to only associate with trips to India and other developing nations – incongruous loads balanced precariously on push bikes. I’ve seen all kinds of things carried on handlebars and cross bars, including more than one passenger, bags of compost, vacuum cleaners and in one memorable case, a large road sign.

But reality is that we cant expect to do everything by bike or on foot, it’s simply not going to happen – and in many places we can’t always rely on public transport either.

So realistically there needs to be a ‘mixed economy’ of transport solutions – for us that involves public transport (we took the train from Grimsby to the south of France this year – great way to travel and amazingly cheap in comparison with car or train) and also some car hire (for longish car journeys where train or bus travel doesnt work for one of various reasons).

That’s why I’m basically in favour of electric  vehicles, be they motorbikes which you can charge up in your house by plugging them into to your mains supply (8p per charge, up to 30 miles range, 25mph all the way, ideal for a commute) or larger vehicles.

Certainly at the moment there are various problems with the electric vehicle industry, they are basically cost, range, speed, charging, and power generation, but I think these are on their way to being tackled.

Cost – the new cars are out for around £15,000 – £30,000 which is a lot, but as things progress prices will come down for sure. You can buy an electric scooter/motorbike for less than £1000.  Prices are bound to level out as other factors are sorted out and demand increases.

Range – the cars will go about 100 miles on a full charge, which isnt far enough for many people, although with average journeys being somewhat less than 20 miles, its surely enough for many of us. The scooters will go for about 30 miles, which is plenty for getting around town. The likelihood is that solutions will be presented before too long in the shape of places where you can simply swap out your battery, just as if you were filling up with petrol. That and better battery technology should mean range becomes less of a problem.

Speed – the electric scooters on the road are generally not getting up to 30mph, topping out about 25mph; the cars with their bigger batteries are apparently hitting 85mph+ which is pretty impressive. To be honest a push bike around town will go at about 25mph tops for a person of average fitness, wheras the scooter doesnt require any level of fitness – and will maintain its speed for the whole journey (except going up hill). So, this thing of speed is not really an issue, its simply a matter or perception and expectation.

The elephant in the room is power generation, if we’re just burning coal to power these electric vehicles then they are basically powered by fossil fuels – so what’s the difference? In the first place these vehicles are technologically advanced, and use less power than a conventional car, so in the first place they are estimate to equate in terms of emissions to the most fuel efficient of petrol/diesel cars. In the second place, the UK is rapidly developing its renewable energy sources, and before too long there should adequate to good supplies of wind power, enough to allow us to run electric vehicles at considerably less carbon cost.

The big question for me is about tax – at the moment electric scooters are tax exempt, and electric cars are considerably cheaper to tax than their petrol counterparts. But if there’s a big shift, the government are going to need to raise their vehicle tax revenue some how, and a considerable amount of the cost savings one can gain from running an electric vehicle will be cut back. There is also an issue of second hand vehicles, unless the batteries are standardised, and one is able to swap them in and out as per the above – people arent going to be keen on buying a second hand electric car as they will know the battery is likely to be pretty ropey.

So yes, I do think electric vehicles are part of the solution to our transport needs, and I think we need to invest time and money into developing them – they arent the panacea, they wont cure all ills, but they are part of the solution for sure.

Then, perhaps, we will indeed be together, forever in electric dreams.