Tough Love 2

(Grabbing some rest in Jaipur, India)

This post begins with a poem I’ve published previously but I’ve reworked it and here it is in a revised form. It sets the scene for the rest of the post.

Tough Love 2

Madness swells and seeps under doors.

The darkness in each of us seeks out its own.

We are blind mice

feeling for the exit

in a warehouse stalked by cats.


The anger of a thousand stolen childhoods,

shames inaction and smashes every excuse

for child sexual abuse.

Aromas of respectability become the stink

of yesterday’s household garbage.

Exposed and stripped of defence,

failed shepherds

spread their hands

and evade responsibility.


Transitioned into care,

yesterday’s people outlive their usefulness.

Independence reigned in to a choke hold.

Dignity denied them by others’ decisions;

all legal, sensible, faux compassion.

The children who consign them there,

confirm their own decline

in turn and in time.


A termination

on the strength of a prenatal scan.

Imperfect parents will try another time

for a perfect child.

This one flawed;

airbrushed out of a family’s history.

Binned as biological waste;

the child spared, at least,

the obscenity of parents like these.


Fragments of a hundred butchered innocents

lie on a hot black road;

litter left by soldiers of Allah.

An unfinished jigsaw of heads and limbs

sorted and ripped by beaks and talons.

Forget love and kindness.

Cruelty and violence are the price

of entry to paradise.

Who’d have thought?



love is not set aside for the greater good,

explained away by self interest,

dishonoured through selfishness,

or perverted by pustulant ideology.



people can be

who they were created to be.



“Somewhere love is not set aside . . .

This is an article of faith for me and my reason for writing this post. Somewhere there is a place where love is not set aside in favour of chasing other goals. A place where people can be safe and free to be who they were meant to be. I understand that place to be the kingdom of heaven; not a place in the sky with clouds and harps, but the kingdom of heaven right here, as Jesus described it.

I seek that place, and I’m committed to doing what I can to help the world be such a place. It’s not there yet. Not even close. The world continues to be a place where evil roams free, even as patches of light and hope shine through, giving hints of what might be possible.

(Friday afternoon drinks. A small patch of light and hope in the world.)

What sort of world do we live in?

The worlds of our parents and grandparents are gone, and to be honest, they were no more idyllic than ours is, just quite different. We would have to look hard now to find any of the things they would have seen as givens. Automatic respect for authority figures; heterosexual marriage and mother-father families being the norm; Sunday observance; social sanctions attached to divorce, and promiscuity, to list just a few.

In our world authority figures do not receive automatic respect. Their decisions and pronouncements are challenged routinely and defied openly. Marriage is no longer exclusively heterosexual, and marriage itself shares the stage with a variety of arrangements of varying formality. The term ‘partner’ is used in preference to ‘spouse’.

Social sanctions are now applied for totally different reasons than they used to be. Divorce remains an unpleasant, damaging experience, but no longer carries the social and legal sanctions it once had. Promiscuity is now celebrated and assumed to be the norm, although some interesting ethical acrobatics are needed to avoid being caught up on the wrong side of ideology (#metoo).

Not that such changes are all regretable. Easy divorce has had an upside for some people trapped in intolerable circumstances, but the proliferation of divorce has shaken families and weakened our culture. We like our Sundays the way they are. Not so much days of rest anymore, but still we enjoy them.

Promiscuity? We are saturated with messages, overt and subtle, that a promiscuous lifestyle is normal and desirable. Does experience tell us that promiscuity leads anywhere beneficial, or that widespread promiscuity is something any society can be proud of? Seriously

While some of us view these changes with some sadness, many more celebrate what we see as the overthrow of oppressive structures and traditions. Some of us are in both camps. We see the dishonesty, the hypocrisy and the injustice threaded through the institutions of earlier generations. We also see and give credit for the stability and the meaning they gave to people’s lives.

Turning our faces away from traditional values, we might have believed that by doing so we would be free to live more honest, moral lives.

Is that what’s happened?

Convincing ourselves more enlightened than our forebears, embracing our whims and preferences as the guiding moral compass for our lives, we have put ourselves at the centre of everything.

How’s that going for us? Sweetness and light is it?

Lest you think you smell sanctimony, I have more than enough to regret and be ashamed of. I listened to the whispered silky justifications, I was seduced by the promise that it was all about me. As long as I wasn’t hurting anyone, I should have been free to do what I liked. I had no right to judge anyone anyway. After all, aren’t right and wrong so passé? Surely such old fashioned ideas belonged in an earlier time? I remember one self assured woman correcting me for using the word ‘adultery’. “Do they still call it that?” she asked mockingly.

It occurs to me that’s what the western world has come to believe. By changing the language, the social mores and traditions, we consider we have moved to a higher moral plane. We have rewritten the moral code to suit our own preferences and we are free to do that which we are inclined to do. But does it change human nature, or does it make us the fools, blind to predictable consequences?

So, yes. There was much to condemn in the values and mores of the world of our parents.

There is much to be thankful for in new ways of looking at the world and in the lifting of oppressive, hypocritical laws and practices, but have we have got it right yet

Living life as an extended pursuit of indulgence, freedom to make our own choices, our own happiness and fulfillment, as if we were not dependent on others and they on us, has become the reason for being for many of us. Our pursuit of personal fulfillment can see us dismiss the trail of hurt and damage we leave behind, if we think of it at all, as collateral damage, regretable maybe, but an acceptable sacrifice for the greater good (our wants).

Be true to yourself.

Don’t judge.

Follow your heart.

If it feels good, do it.

No one has the right to tell you what to do.

Each of these memes contains some truth, but that does not mean they are the whole truth, or that they are the best way to organize our lives

For all the ways we are encouraged to think of ourselves as free and uninhibited, are we as free as we think? In our culture diversity is seen to be a self evident good; except of course, diversity of thought. Try expressing reservations about some of the memes above and note the reaction

So how do I go about countering a worldview that’s seduced the western world so thoroughly that many people now see it as self evident, beyond questioning? A big ask, I know.

It’s just when you stop, step outside, and look around, you realise that it’s a seductive facade. It’s a lie. An attractive and seductive one, but a lie nonetheless. One leading us away from the kingdom of heaven I mentioned earlier; the place where love is not set aside; the place where we can be fully human.

We are more than our cleverness, the nastiness we cultivate, the selfishness we flaunt, and the misery we ignore. These things do not define who we are.

There is an answer of course. There is a path to follow. So many of us have rejected what we imagined was the Christian message. We rejected a caricature. The established church has much to answer for in that.

The Christian gospel is far more shocking and subversive than any adolescent arrogance could have imagined.

Maybe it’s time to look again with adult eyes at Jesus and to weigh his message in the light of your experience. Like me, you may be blown away.


All Sorts of Believers

What truth will raise you
above bigots, beyond hate;
apart and superior
to all with a different take?

Might you find it in a sacred book,
or some mystic’s secret locker;
your own personal dragon slayer
and conversation stopper?


imagine rights and justice,
deliverence for the poor,
and imagine others never stood
on a pedestal as sure?


join the righteous and enlightened,
freed from superstition.
Deify science, misrepresent it
and fight all opposition?


blind to your arrogance;
oblivious to your prejudice;
jump to condemn
the truth quest in others.

Start a truth collection.
Grasp and shape your prize.
Gaze at its reflection;
watch the ugliness rise.

Yet More Poetry


Beach Walk

Grieving for a father
who was never there.
Missing a man
who couldn’t share
himself in moments
as (I hear) other fathers did.

Already gone before he’s dead
All that we should have said
We cannot now, nor ever.
Dementia snapped the only thread
of a link that never ripened.
He could not do father, nor I son;
both of us too frightened.

I stand and gaze at winter waves,
their foamy sunlit diamonds,
and wonder why I feel such loss.
He was never destined
to stay and care and nurture me;
the child man dad who left me.

I wondered what it was he loved
all those years ago.
Can a son ever know
things a father cannot show?
I walked away and knew it wasn’t me.
Perhaps he wanted to be free.

Beyond the grief; behind the frown;
the hurt and shame,
pushed so deep down,
has long since ceased to matter.
You once were dad and I was son.
All else is only chatter.

Two more Poems

Gazing at Buddha

A small Buddha

sitting calmly

in the morning gloom;

taking shape in early light.

The black resin idol,

composed and serene,

stares past me

to where I cannot see

and cannot go.

Sitting impervious,

untouchable, inanimate.

Its atoms no more or less exceptional

than the miracles dancing

in my bones.

We share that at least.

I look through Christian eyes

and see in you nothing to recoil from.

You are not the risen Christ

but you point me to him.

I think of people you inspire

and warm to them;

if not brothers and sisters; my friends.

A model of contentment.

Untouched, transcendent,

you exist in harmony with all things

just as I do not.

You don’t manipulate, obligate,

retaliate, pontificate or desecrate.

You simply are;

take you or leave you.

Many kinds of Hell

Tell and retell

the tired tales that serve us well.

Grievance, grief, remorse, regret.

The mind recasts, renews

pasts more wisely left;

that stunt and choke a soul.

Private little hells,

factory fitted,

home delivered.

Deep thought pits

with vertical walls

and slippery bits.

Everyday hells;

returned to habitually,

invoked mindlessly.

Repeated insanity,

drifting endlessly,

clung to hopelessly.

No images from Dante;

mostly less heroic;

not the least bit romantic.

Hells up close and personal.

Tawdry, tragic, ordinary

hells right here and now.

Many kinds of hell

in the stories we tell.

Real, imagined,

accepted, denied.

Each resonating

with the shriek of a shackled soul.

Thoughts Unsought

(Inside the Thousand Buddha Cave, near Luang Prabang, Laos)


Where are thoughts we no longer think?

Forgotten fragments of an earlier us

who breathed

and knew differently.

Links to an earlier self;

tumbled in memory, frayed, misplaced,

saved by random connection

of an unexpected smell, or taste.

Is there a place where old thoughts go?

A graveyard somewhere out of mind?

Is there an archive for them,

uncatalogued, unsigned?

Do past thoughts persist?

Where do they stay

when they’re unremembered;

with passing days?

Off the radar and out of mind,

unsummoned, bypassed,

do they wither and die

like cut flowers on glass?

Those ghostly constructs

that earlier selves spun,

elude us and withdraw,

leaving the question:

Just who are we after all?

Plea to a Zealot

I am not you.
I see what you see,
but I see differently.
Let me be.
(A Garden in the Alhambra Palace, Granada)
I do not need
to think like you,
but I might need to hear
what you have to say.
Don’t exclude me
or demonise me.
My heart beats as yours does
and I breathe as you breathe.
We touch the same air
and live in the same streets,
but you look ascance at me.
You question my sincerity and motives,
as you preen in the righteousness of your own.
(The anger of zealots expressed on a church wall in Granada, Spain)
You float through life in a bubble
self referencing,
self affirming,
convinced of your moral superiority.
I believe
as sincerely as you do
but hold a different truth
in my heart.
Mine is as precious to me
as yours is to you.
We flatter ourselves
that we own the truth.
Maybe if our truths have no room for each other
there is no room for either of them?
If what I value makes me unworthy;
If how I see things excludes me
from your regard;
then so be it.
I will let you be.
(Embossed door of the Sagria Familia Cathedral in Barcelona)

The End of Me – A poem

Inside the Red Fort at Agra, India
A good place for reflecting.
The End of Me
Arms folded,
wrinkled chin,
I watch the world
bump and spin.
If only they'd listen . . .
except they don't.
They won't.
Smug, safe
in a careful paradigm,
I tune out opinions
that threaten mine.
In an echo chamber
my of my own ideas
I beam
when I'm validated.
Could it be
I've begun
to worship myself?
. . . . . .
Maybe the end of me
is the beginning of us?

Tough Love

Madness swells and seeps under doors.
The darkness in each of us seeks out its own.
We are like blind mice
feeling for the exit
in a warehouse stalked by cats.
A thousand stolen childhoods rise up in anger,
shaming hypocrisy and demolishing excuses.
Childhood sexual abuse:
The perfume of privilege turns to the stink
of yesterday's household garbage.
Stripped naked of all pretension,
emptied of respectability,
the gatekeepers only now
turn around in confusion and sorrow.
Transitioned into care,
yesterday's people outlive their usefulness.
The boundaries of independence
tightened in stages to a choke hold.
Those who might otherwise have loved them
steal their dignity;
legal sensible, faux compassion.
Unspoken sadness for their children
who consigned them there;
who plan
and confirm their own decline
in turn and in time.
A termination
on the strength of a prenatal scan.
Imperfect parents will try another time
for a perfect child.
This one flawed;
airbrushed out of a family's history.
Binned as biological waste;
the child spared at least,
the obscenity of having parents
like these.
Fragments of a hundred butchered innocents
lie on a hot black road;
litter left by soldiers of Allah.
An unfinished jigsaw of heads and limbs
sorted and ripped by beaks and talons
like the hands of bargain shoppers at a Christmas sale.
Forget love and kindness.
Cruelty and violence are the price
of entry to paradise.
Who'd have thought?
love is not set aside for the greater good,
explained away by self interest,
dishonoured through selfishness,
or perverted by a pustulant ideology.
Love that is not obedient or predictable,
but wild and radical,
risky and frightening;
waits to lead the way
out of darkness
into the light.

Poems that tumbled out

Hope you find these interesting. They just sort of tumbled out, without a lot of sweat needing to be expended. The first three are new, while the fourth is an older one that I have revised a bit.
All photographs were taken by me on a recent trip through Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.
He's not free.
He's known that for some time.
Bars of steel reveal themselves
each and every time
he makes for the exit.
His will crumbles and the wheels fall off
every single last motherless undertaking;
each and every time
he finds himself back at the start,
never having taken a step.
He suspects he is being mocked,
by something or other;
an enemy and malevolent.
Is it spirit? Corporeal?
Is it himself?
It doesn't use words.
It doesn't have to.
It has him pinned,
just like a museum wasp,
except he can still move around.
Toxic People
Toxic people
snatch away your love
and use it on themselves.
They leave you drained and smaller,
wondering if you're the problem.
They smirk
and sell you the lie
that their approval matters.
Using it as a blackmail weapon,
they withhold it at their whim.
Toxic people do not care about you;
only themselves.
To them, you are a mirror to preen in;
nothing more substantial
than their reflected self regard.
They use put downs
aimed at your vulnerable places.
They intimidate and fight dirty.
Perhaps you shrink from confrontation,
living the life of a well behaved pet?
Toxic people hand you contempt,
but the only power they have
is what you allow them.
The thing they should fear most,
is your self belief.
Be kind to them
as you learn you have the power
to repay cruelty with love.
Wish them well
as you walk out of their lives.
(I thought it best not to include a photograph of a toxic person. It would be insensitive, and besides, such people intimidate me.)
(Sorry, no elephant photos either)
The Elephant in the Room
Years of flight from unfaced hurt.
Papered over, smothered,
controlled, coralled by scripted games.
Creeping sullage unresolved;
seeps outwards and upwards
to colonize, inflame, infect
a child sobbing silently.
Be cute, cool, superior.
Wear the mask.
Cling to mode.
Craft the scene.
Surround yourself, a queen,
with props and mirrors.
Avoid the shame, run from pain.
Close the gate and lean on it.
Deeply pierced, and not accepted.
once and serially rejected.
Pain first uncomprehended
grew by years untended.
Pressure rising;
beast writhing within.
Unstoppable, insatiable.
Fed on anger unshowable.
Now cracks appear, unsealable.
Confronting, embarassing.
News flash: The elephant is visible.
Love comes unexpected

The inner child sits cross-legged,
fists clenched;
cries self regarding tears
and casts around
to fill an inner void.
He and she fake love
unworthy of the name;
a toy tossed and turned
with giggles and delight;
but soon mundane, discarded,
out of sight.
The inner child is unattractive;
shoved down, concealed, addictive.
Can't grasp the concept
but stops to wonder
as another looks on
and touches tender.
Pursued as a missing piece
to compensate,
love is featherweight.
Aimed at conquest, it misses the point;
just play acting;
dressed up in big people's clothes.
Love comes unexpected,
outside of games,
A tap of insight
reverses the me-you order
and bids entry to life.
It surprises, and evades our grip.
Simple as today;
mysterious as eternity.

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