Friday, November 02, 2007

With Great Power There Must Also Come - - Great Responsibilty!

Before I had ever heard of the X-Men, I discovered Wolverine, in a Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Gamebook (which is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but with added die-rolling, to make it even more hip). I read the tome, which I believe was entitled 'Night of the Wolverine', when I was about nine or ten years old, and for a long time after that I found the mutant they call Logan to be a character that I could relate to, and more so than almost any other superhero.

Now, I don't smoke cigars, wear sideburns or have 13-inch retractable metal claws, and neither did I when I was ten. Admittedly, I've never broken a bone (except possibly my nose), but it's unlikely that my skeleton is near-indestructible. What I share with Weapon X though, is my nose: as far back as I can remember, I've always had a potent sense of smell. I remember sorting through some old books once and recognising them not by their title, but their odour. As a child, I would find myself the only person in the room to be repelled by the awful stink of a person's sneeze (especially my older brother Tim's, whose reeked the most). But the times have been few and far between that my gift has been of any significant use. On one occasion in Norway, we took the youth out for a midnight game of capture the flag, and I found that I could successfully track and chase down those members of the opposing team who were more liberal in the application of their chosen fragrance. But while that may be useful in the context of a wide game, it has no long term repercussions. I have wondered if this talent of mine is little more than an interesting quirk. That is, until last weekend, when my nose saved a life.

It was noon on a grey October Saturday, and I was walking along Loughton Way to meet Tim. Unusually, I didn't have my headphones on, and so as I passed one of the semi-detached council houses that lined the long street, I heard the sound coming from an alarm inside. As I drew closer, I realised that the noise was in fact being made by two different smoke alarms. And then came the Wolverine-inspired moment my nose was made for: my head remaining static, I sniffed the air.

The smell of burning food was unmistakable, like burnt toast, which is not something to ordinarily be worried about. Two things concerned me though. I could smell the smoke all the way from the pavement, so it had to be more than just toast. And there on the doorstep sat three empty bottles of assorted alcoholic drinks. The alarms continued.

I rang the doorbell, and knocked on the door, with no response. So I dialled 999. Shortly two fire engines pulled up and I explained to the fire fighters what had happened, only with less detail and melodrama than I am using as I write here. They went around to the back of the house to find the kitchen door unlocked and, entering the smoky kitchen, found the cause of the alarm: an oven that had been left on all night. Actually, to be fair to the oven, the ultimate cause was staggering down the stairs, bleary-eyed and in great confusion at the sight of so many fire fighters in his house.

Leaving him to aerate his home for a good week or so, they came back out to me, grinning at his comedy gormlessness and no doubt grateful that the call-out wasn't for a more serious situation. I turned and headed over to Tim's car, which had now arrived, and allowed myself a smile. Without thanks or fanfare, without a uniform or a mysterious alias, I felt myself arrive. Every superhero has an origin story, and every origin story has a moment of truth, when the hero's abilities are first called upon. Perhaps this was mine, and if so, I had used my power with great responsibility.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dan in Transit

I am near single-handedly fulfilling London's daily carbon emissions limit. With infuriatingly frequent assistance from the Blackwall and Rotherhithe tunnels - in the form of their almost daily closure - I am regularly making like Tiger Woods at the tee, and driving a long way.

But that's not the only way that I find myself in motion; I have a temporary place to live and a temporary job, and even the car that I use to choke Mother Earth to within an inch of her government-authorised carbon limitations is borrowed. I haven't lived in one place for more than a year since I left Loughton for University in 2002 (and there's a clue in there, incidentally, about whether or not I stayed the course of higher education).

And I love my life of transience. I'm sure there will come a time when I'll feel the gravitational pull of one particular place, and then I'll know to settle down - there's no point trying to fight gravity, after all. But right now, I love meeting new people, finding myself in foreign surroundings, and doing things that I've never done before.

I like Jack Kerouac's description of Mississippi Gene's life in On the Road; it speaks to me:
'...crossing and recrossing the country every year, south in the winter and north in the summer, and only because he had no place he could stay in without getting tired of it and because there was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars, generally the Western stars.'


Monday, February 26, 2007

Trusting God (Part One)

Not that long ago, I spent ten months abroad, as patrons of my last blog will already be aware. I’d been asked if I was interested in working with a church in West Norway and, having prayed about it, I felt that God had plans among those fjords that He wanted me to be involved in. So I crossed over the North Sea to Arna, a small town just the other side of the mountains from Bergen. Arna is, like Norway in general, a pretty good-looking place, especially to an Englishman's eyes. Granted, it will never be a dream holiday destination for the individual who doesn't appreciate constant rain, but - putting that to one side - the surroundings are stunning. They afford one of the great benefits of life among the mountains and fjords: the feeling of living in a scene from Lord of the Rings.

There was a lot of scenery to take in on my first day, as I was driven from the airport to meet the youth group, the church, the people I'd be living and working with, and the family who were giving me a place to live. There were thoughts flying around in my head and, beginning in a state of disorientation, I was steadily coming around to a pressing apprehension. Between leaving my home to fly to a foreign country, being introduced to endless new faces and considering with increasing frequency that maybe I wasn't called to or cut out for this, I was having serious doubts by the time I got back to my room. I saw a youth group with an incredibly talented and committed team leading them and I felt like it would be hard enough to make a significant contribution in such company, even if I spoke the native language. The feeling that I'd made a mistake was getting stronger the more I considered it, until I became near enough convinced that I needed to get right out of Norway as soon as the opportunity arose. I thought about friends back at home; one in particular, who I was sure would give me good, strong advice to return to London. It was a massive effort not to ring and receive that encouragement to go.

But there was one thing that made me decide to stay and give it a try; the reason I came to Arna in the first place was that God spoke to me. If He'd sent me to Norway, then He must have had a reason for sending me, and just because the reason hadn't become apparent in the first few hours of my being there, it didn't give me any good reason to doubt Him.

The Bible says that 'faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ', which means that once we've heard, our faith should have arrived. Hearing should be the hardest part; upon finding out what God is saying, what other option is a reasonable alternative to trusting Him? Too often, though, people like me take their eyes off the things God has told them and focus on their own circumstances. But circumstances have nothing to do with faith. In fact, 'faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.' Look at Abraham, one of the great Heroes of Faith: God made a promise to this wandering, childless, old man that his descendants would be countless. And even though his wife had long since exceeded her child-bearing date, even though the nature of the promise - one which could never be fulfilled in his lifetime - meant it was about as far away from the reality of his circumstances as could be, Abraham trusted God.

Of course, he never got to witness the full realisation of what God told him, but he did see the first fruits - his son, Isaac, who
fathered Jacob, whose sons were the beginnings of the tribes of Israel. The Bible says that people like Abraham 'died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.'

While I may have felt like a a stranger when I arrived in Norway, I didn't have to wait a lifetime to see God prove His word to me. And that encourages me in times when I can't see clear purpose in my life; I know that if I just rest my weight on what Jesus is saying, then I will receive the promises, sooner or later.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007


I am not a person who rushes making big decisions. I don't think this is true for everyone, but in my life a fairly significant choice will have to be made, on average, about once a year. My reaction is pretty consistent every time; I decide to take some time to pray, I pray, and then I fester. I wait for ages, partly pondering, partly hoping that the decision will be made for me. I think I know some of the reasons for this behaviour, but that's a whole other post right there. The point is, I don't make the big decisions in a hurry.

So when I chose to return from Arna to England in the summer, it was with a conviction that it was the right thing to do - that God had some way in which I could be useful to Him here. But that isn't really the way it's gone down so far; since September I've probably experienced the least productive four months of my adult life. I don't want to go into detail or try and analyse it here, but it's fair to say that the blogosphere hasn't been missing a great deal in my absence.

Adaptation, a film written by Charlie Kaufman, is (in part) a dramatisation of the writer's struggles in adapting the screenplay of the film, from a book about orchids. At one point, when Kaufman is at his most overwhelmed, despairing at his lack of productivity and inability to focus, he has a vision in which the author's photo on the dust cover of The Orchid Thief starts speaking to him. Like some kind of Native American spirit guide, but in hardback form, she counsels him, helping him see how to move forward. She makes him realise that he needs to draw his focus away from the situation as a whole and focus on the smaller issues, one at a time.

And that's sort of how things worked out for me. I didn't get a mystic vision from the bookcase but, one by one, things have begun to fall into order. Relationships that had depreciated in my time abroad have revived, thanks to the support of old friends. Tim and Vikki's wedding helped me to see again how valuable my family are - especially my parents, brothers and new sister. I've also managed to come by steady employment, a house to live in that's near my new place of work and a car to travel between the former and the latter.

It's a good start, and quite a leap from my situation a month ago. I still can't see too much of the path ahead, but I am looking forward to walking it, which is not something I've been able to say with confidence for a while.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Inaugural Post - Mashup Special!

Partly in celebration of the commencement of my handsome new web log, partly because I don't have the time to write a post right now and partly because I love you, here are three mashups I created a while ago for you to listen to.

Doo Woop (Those Principles) is the a cappella from Lauryn Hill's Doo Woop (That Thing) running over the top of Principle's Office by Young MC, a track on which Flea guests, so keep an ear on the bass line.

Toxic Criminal is a meeting of Britney's Toxic and Michael Jackson's Smooth Criminal - together at last! It's a bit long, so apologies for that.

And lastly, The Nicest Song Alive is a blend of Lemon Jelly's Staunton Lick with Alive by the Beastie Boys. It was far from labour intensive to pretty much just stick the a cappella track of the Beastie's rap over the original Staunton Lick, but it just, in the words of MCA, sounds so nice.

I can't bring myself to post the Blur Vs Blu Cantrell and Sean Paul abomination I created. I hate it more than almost any song I've ever heard so there's not much chance of anyone else appreciating it. Not that the three I've posted are all that great, but gosh, they're the best I've got. Let me know what you think.