Behind the blog title: explaining broken cameras & gustav klimt



For more than two and a half years I’ve been writing in this space with the label Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt above my posts. And I’ve probably not done enough to explain it. I’ve roamed around the topics inspired by it, and thought one day I would offer an eloquent explanation. This is not that day, but perhaps an explanation of any sort is overdue.

The questions often come, enquiring what it’s about, what informed it. Whether there’s a reason behind the cryptic title.

The truth is a combination of the spontaneous and the profound.

The spontaneous is that on an early August evening in 2011 I decided to start a blog. I was annoyed about something someone had written on the internet – a trait that has become far too common in my blogging experience. And I wanted to write something in response. I had no platform, no place to put my words, my concerns, my disagreement. So I set up a blog and the following morning posted for the first time.

The title was what immediately came to mind. I put it in the wordpress title field and have stuck with it.

But the reason I plucked for this obscure combination of words has a longer history. To a week and a half spent in Alpine Europe a few years before.

I went away, I took some time out, I travelled, visiting 5 cities in 10 days. And I wrote. I wrote a lot, from the first evening I arrived under a lamp while sat on a park bench in Salzburg, to coffee shops and McDonalds and a hostel in Geneva while watching Million Dollar Baby.

I got home with pages scribbled, then put onto a computer and the word count clocked in at something a little over 12 000. And the title I gave to that compilation was Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt.

I’ve played with those words since, toyed with whether there might be something more to them, or if they were potentially part of something bigger. But mostly they were a wrestling of faith. Of finding words to explore what I was thinking and feeling and experiencing. Words to give voice to my hope and my dreams and my fears and my hesitations.

And two motifs came to the fore to describe the way I experience my faith coming to life and bringing life. A broken camera and the work of Gustav Klimt.

On only the second day of my trip I broke my camera. In fact it wasn’t even mine, it was my parents, borrowed for the trip, to take photos of the places I was visiting, the architecture, the cathedrals, the castles, the beautiful rivers winding through ancient cities. But I broke it.

I spent that afternoon in a melancholy mood in Vienna. I was disappointed, that something could go wrong so quickly. I had put so much hope in having a great trip and my way of recording it and giving witness to it to other people, was dealt a brutal blow. I walked through a grand park to the north of the city centre and I reflected on things going wrong.

I have sometimes had this arrogance that I could do anything if I set my mind to it. I could be who I wanted, achieve what I wanted. And then things began to go wrong. I didn’t get the job I wanted, I wasn’t sure who I was or what I was doing. And I broke a camera.

Sounds ridiculous. It was.

But if God can speak to Balaam through a donkey he can speak to me through a broken camera.

Things go wrong, that is part of life. And as much as our faith is about following Jesus and growing in likeness, it is also doing this in a context where things go wrong. Living out faith in a broken world.

The last day I was in Vienna Gustav Klimt got me thinking about beauty. Before I went away I had been chastised for never having visited an art gallery. I was not particularly bothered about this, I had never been very interested in art. But as I sat in the garden of the Belvedere Palace, quietly miffed it was an art gallery and not a museum, I realised I would be in for even more of a scolding if I only did not go somewhere because it was an art gallery. So I walked through the doors.

From the little I know of art, I knew I liked Gustav Klimt’s paintings. As I looked at ‘The Kiss’ I tried to work out why this was such a magnificent piece. It is one of his most famous, and from the case it was housed in, most expensive paintings. But it shouldn’t be any good. It does not provide a likeness, the colours are all wrong; I couldn’t even find any deep symbolic value. Yet somehow this chaotic collage of gold leaf, silver and oil creates something quite incredible.

Some time ago Portsmouth University advertised its courses with the slogan: “What comes after the Internet?” unfortunately the answer does not lie in any of their courses, or those of any other university. Innovation cannot be taught only inspired and encouraged. Likewise, beauty is not located on a map, there is no guidebook, no x marks the spot. Beauty may be captured but it cannot be controlled. Something truly brilliant and beautiful, existing on the very brink of chaos, is so finely tuned the faintest shift can lead to disruption and failure.

Beauty exists on the edge of chaos, in places that don’t make sense.

Faith is worked out in a broken world.

Hence Broken Cameras & Gustav Klimt.

Wearing two coats: writing, vulnerability and preparing for Cambodia

Antique Compass and Map

I’m going to Cambodia next week. On Monday I’ll board a plane and head east, far beyond anywhere east I have been before. I have been south, to Africa a couple of times, and West to the US and Canada on one trip. That may make me well travelled, especially when I add in the multiplicity of European destinations I’ve clocked up, but I feel like a novice.

I’m heading to a new part of the world, a place I am unfamiliar with, a place new sights and sounds. But also a place that is not as far away as I might imagine. It took me 12 hours to drive to the Highlands of Scotland, in less time I’ll have flown from Heathrow to Bangkok. I’m not planning on working while I’m away, but I could. It’s a cliché to say that the internet has made the world smaller, it has in that I can travel far away and maintain contact, but the world is as large as ever when I think about the differences I am sure I will encounter.

The thing that has made the world smaller is why I’m going to Cambodia. And the fact that the other side of the world is still far away from the life I inhabit, the places I walk, the people I meet, the work I do, that’s why I’m going there to write about what I see.

And I am more uncertain about writing than I’ve ever been before. I’ve written vulnerable posts I’ve had to wince as hitting post, I’ve written complicated pieces where I have struggled to articulate clearly the points I want to make. But recently I’ve struggled to write at all. Yesterday I reminded myself I can write to demand when a piece needs conjuring up at minimal notice.

But this morning, as so many recently, the words won’t flow.

I’m travelling across the world to write, to tell of what I see, to be a story teller, and I switch between three different devices as though that will make the writing any easier. The irony of a wealth of technology to communicate the effects of poverty and the need for assistance does not escape me. But it is also a distraction. I could probably write eloquently about the digital divide, I could postulate about the rise of technology in a country still haunted by poverty. And maybe I will.

But that would be to avoid admitting that I am afraid of not having the words.

Vulnerability come in layers, there are the ones we are willing for the world to see, and those we wear and disclose in order to avoid having to expose the vulnerabilities that are closer to our skin.

It struck me recently as the clouds rent and the rain poured, I went into my bag and pulled out the waterproof I stash there semi permanently, at least these past few months I have. I was only going to get some lunch but the coat I already had on wasn’t made for this job. It stops the wind and keeps me warm, and it can cope with a little rain. But this wasn’t a little rain. It was a torrential downpour, and anyway, my regular coat doesn’t have a hood.

I didn’t go to the trouble of taking off my coat and replacing it with the waterproof, also, I would have had to cram the bulk into my bag. So I pulled one coat on top of the other. And yet I realised this was a silly thing to do, so as I approached the office on my return I took the waterproof off once again as the wind howled and the rain fell so fast it hit me twice – on the way down and as it bounced off the pavement. I returned it to the pouch in the bottom of my bag so I only had one coat to take off, the normal thing to do, the usual shield of protection we are happy for the world to see.

There’s respectable Christian Sin. The sort of things you’re happy to confess at small group, where you’re willing to accept you don’t always live up to the standards, you, or God, would have you live by. You don’t read your Bible often enough (disguising the fact you don’t read it at all). I don’t have a regular prayer slot in my day (disguising that the last time I prayed with any passion was when one of my family was ill). You struggle with greed, I suffer with control freak tendencies. I work too hard, you’re too busy with church activities.

These sorts of things, the sort of confessions and vulnerabilities it is useful to have up your sleeve and combined with sufficient empathy to engender openness from others following demonstration of your own.

It’s when vulnerability is a fraud, when it is a device. Even writing this, about my fears of going to Cambodia as a writer, could be seen as an exercise in expectation management. Like when Leo McGarry is worried he’ll crash and burn in the Vice Presidential debate in the final season of the West Wing, he lets it be known how bad the prep is going, and that takes the pressure of him, and when he does well he wins all the plaudits.

And yet. And yet taking off that next skin is not easy. I almost wrote final skin, but I could not be arrogant enough to think there are no more layers I still shield behind. This is a skin that I wear because it protects me. I am precious about my writing and when it provides affirmation it reinforces its importance. When it seems hard that affirmation seems missing.

When writing is a side-line, a hobby, an extra, it is dispensable, if I struggle I leave it to one side for a couple of months. But with this trip, this bloggers trip, writing is integral, and the expectation mounts.

While I’m out there, I’ll be posting here and in various other places, but you can follow my and my fellow travellers’ writings all at

Back to blogging


For three months I stopped blogging. To be honest it was a shorter break than had in mind when I stopped. But then I was picked to go to Cambodia with Tearfund, and a blogger who doesn’t blog is a bit of a conundrum. So I’m back and I’m not sure what I’m going to write about.

What I liked best about the break was not feeling the pull to write and respond to whatever the controversy of the day may be. I let provocative statements pass me by, I ignored the posts piling up as everyone who was anyone had their say and cast a verdict that something was good or bad, but rarely nuanced and complex.

I cheated a bit, I wrote plenty during these months, it was less of a writing break and more of a publishing break, and even then I posted a couple of pieces in other places.

And I return without words to fill the pages. I find sadness in my heart where there should be joy. I have stress when I would choose peace. I have tiredness plaguing me while I’m awake, and rest is a weary struggle.

Words that offer too much are empty. Posts that promise perfection or a life gilded with abundance fail to lift me. They stoke the pearls of cynicism grafted together as salt mixes in the wound.

I wrote a lot about relationships, and the readers liked it. The posts got noticed, especially when I addressed the thorny question of why guys don’t ask girls out. But I’m single and the constant flow of communications about relationships when I wasn’t in one cut deeper than I realised. It became a way of inoculating myself against the pain, it became a deflection, a device. It became a meta thing, the way we sometimes do, of distancing ourselves, and distracting from doing something about an issue by talking about it. I talked about relationships and friendships over social media and the hole I felt they left.

And then I went to Northern Ireland last weekend with nothing planned, but filled by connections on social media, I saw friends old and new, I visited places I wouldn’t have considered, and did things I really shouldn’t have. I went for some time on my own, that and having to be there for work on Monday, but when faced with the offer of dinner, entertainment and company I couldn’t turn it down.

I need people more than I know. I play into my introversion, the times I like alone, the space I give to think and process and work out what is going on. But I’d ditch it all for time spent with people who I care for and who care for me.

It was suggested to me that I stopped blogging because I was in a relationship and therefore thought it inappropriate to chronicle it. Were the former true the later would probably also apply, but alas, it is not, nor was, the case.

Yesterday was designated as ‘singles day’ in a certain segment of the American Christian blogosphere. A mum’s blog hosted a link up where singles, or their friends, siblings, even parents, posted pieces describing, with pictures, how wonderful they are and why you should get in touch. It’s sort of a pop-up internet dating site. A friend has written a post for me but it’s not online yet, I’ve got cold feet, I may post it on here. We’ll see.

It’s about vulnerability. That point when you look at your skin and feel it’s about to crack, when you consider your hopes and they are more fragile than a Fabergé egg. I don’t want to post it because I don’t want to know what people think.

And I think perhaps I am as scared of acceptance as rejection. Rejection I am used to, if no one responds then it leaves me with nothing to do, but console myself and hope for something better in the future. A mystical future that is detached from reality.

But if someone emails me, if someone says, ‘hey, I’m interested’, then I have to do something. I can no longer pontificate from my perch of opinionated singleness. I can no longer stay above the fray. Or pretend I am above the fray. If someone gets in touch, am I ready to respond? Am I going to respond? I don’t know.

Maybe I am scared. Maybe I am too used to being single. Maybe I am too picking. Maybe I don’t want to be in a relationship, even though at least ostensibly I would say that I do.

I’m back on the blogging wagon. We’ll see where it goes. I’m excited for March and sharing stories from Cambodia, and I’ll continue to write about the eclectic mix of subjects I always have. And if you ever want to write a guest post, just get in touch. 

Hitting the pause button

single contact person

I thought it would be good to write a spectacularly emotive piece today. I wanted to conjure up sentences that flowed smoothly together building up into a powerful picture.

But actually, the fact I cannot illustrates my point far better than they would.

I am tired. I am exhausted. I am doing too much. I am stopping blogging.

Yesterday was an abnormally busy day. I started writing that day’s post, on why I was giving up on my fundraising drive. And ended it writing a guest post for the God and Politics blog on the ludicrous new report out from the National Secular Society. And in between worked flat out.

That’s one day, and an unusual one at that. But I have realised I need space. I read yesterday on a slightly feminine blog about the need to keep the margins of life clear. My life has no margins.

I have tried, in these last few weeks, to find some smidgen of space to assess my busyness and what I can do about it. Except I haven’t had the time to

I have found I have not given to my relationships what I would like to give to them. I have avoided entanglement opting instead to keep things simple, superficial and easier to withdraw from. That’s why I wrote on Wednesday about the challenges I find with blogging and tweeting and the social side of social media. I don’t want to make claims that are too wide or accuse others where it is me at fault, but I have found it oppressive.

Sometimes I want the world to stop. Sometimes I want to pause the internet. I want time to think, work out how to respond, what to say and how to say it sensitively and clearly. Unfortunately I don’t have that power.

I need to spend time with people building relationships, not spend time writing about relationships.

I find it hard to know when to engage, when to step back, when to fight with all my might and when to ignore the latest controversy that would barely break the surface if it wasn’t for the response it generated.

The pressure to write a few times a week to keep the traffic levels up, to mix in stuff I know will get hits with the mellow thoughtful pieces read by 17 people. The challenge to be the spokesperson for Christian guys on relationships issues (next Sunday I think you’ll be able to hear my thoughts on singleness and the church for various local BBC stations).

It all became too much.

So I am walking away. This blog is officially on hiatus. I don’t have the power to pause the internet but I can pause writing and responding. And when I say officially I mean I have decided not to blog for a while. There’s really nothing official about it, I haven’t asked anyone’s permission. For how long I do not know, probably at least a few months, probably six. (But may change my mind if there’s something I really really must write about…)

I am taking the self imposed burden to write off my shoulders. And I hope to free up some space both in my mind and in my diary.

I’ll carry on writing, I owe a couple of people guest posts I promised months ago. And if you want me to write something I’m happy to consider it. But I have assessed my priorities, and I have decided that right now, this blog is not one of them.

I’m also contemplating a medium term break from twitter, but not quite ready to go cold turkey on that one yet!

Writing and wronging: learning lessons as I go along

Jan Feb 2012 002Recently I have rather gone off blogging.

There’s a lot I could say, I’m fascinated by the current resurgent feminism that is highly active in many Christian circles. I want Christians to have a grounded, reasoned, theological and compassionate understanding of equality. And I want it to make a difference.

I want Christians to have confidence in their beliefs and not fear their doubts. I could write a lot more about that.

I want the church to be a place where we stand close enough to each other to see the pain in the eyes before words need to be said. When tears are greeted with arms wide open and not a shrug of the shoulder.

I want the church to be a home for the fatherless. A refuge for the widows. A community for the lonely. A sanctuary for the forgotten.

I want the church to be united.

But that doesn’t mean I want dissenters to be silenced. I’m sure I’ve been guilty at times of playing the unity card. You know the one, a bit like the race card, the good intentions, honourable goals, but brought out to end a conversation

Unity is not unity if we stop those who we disagree with from speaking. That’s uniformity.

* * *

I was asked what my blog was about, and a friend kindly explained it was about how we should ask more questions. But I also remember that the question is not the end.

I think doubt is a good thing. I think it is what provokes us to think again. It reminds us of the seriousness of what we are doing. The act of doubting and looking for reassurance is the act of remembering that we are not alone.

Once I was in the depth of my most serious doubts about God’s existence. I was on a train, I was lost in my maudlin thoughts. And I was arguing with a God I was ready to consign to the heap of non-existence. And then I realised. I was arguing with God over whether he was really there. I granted him enough status to engage with, but I only wanted Him on my terms. I wanted a god I could define, a god I could control. A god that was not a god at all.

Because God is not at our whim. But nor is he distant. For a long time I had an image of God as standing behind me, with his arms wrapped across my chest. And I didn’t like it. I wanted to get in the face of God, I thought that was the pinnacle of worship. I thought that’s what a good encounter with God meant.

But if I am looking in God’s face then I am facing a different direction to him.

* * *

Writing is not a status game. And living a life of worship is not about status. Or perhaps more precisely it is. It is about being downwardly mobile, constantly seeking to get closer to those who are in the greatest need.

I had a difficult entry into blogging. The stats for my first month took a while to top. And even then only by a month of dedicated writing on relationships last summer. I’m told my honesty and vulnerability are what makes my writing worth reading.

But being vulnerable is hard work. There are mornings when I head into work exhausted from pouring everything onto the keys. From saying words I know others are saying in the quiet huddles and furtive asides. Words that they think shouldn’t be spoken because they’re not spoken out loud. But when they are said under the breath of so many people they need to be given oxygen.

That’s why I write about relationships, it’s why I try and get to grips with things I struggle to live out myself.

It’s why I’m looking for the words to explain the challenges so many face in living a life of faith.

Sometimes there’s also a place for a bit of controversy. Sometimes I don’t agree with something. I may be on my own, my views might be wrong, they might be unfair, they might be misinterpreted, they might be used in a way that I would prefer they were not. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak.

Because unity requires honesty. If the body of Christ is to be more than a nominal label we apply when we want to, then disagreement has to be engaged with and not sidelined.

Last week I wrote a post and lost a night’s sleep. I disagreed with someone, and they disagreed with me back. I think that is okay. I don’t mind someone disagreeing with me. But something in me wanted to keep the peace, I didn’t want to cause a ruction, I wanted people to like me and I was afraid that publicly disagreeing might mean that some people didn’t.

I’ve mentioned being close to packing in placing words I scribe in this place. And I’ve been told not to do so. I like the affirmation I get, I like the kindness of friends and the support of strangers. It’s a nice ego trip but it’s not enough.

I will carry on writing hard things and I ask you to be my editors. To tell me when I cross the line, to share wisdom that I do not have. To encourage me and to call me out. The words may be my own but I want to learn more, and I need you for that. In the work we do we have supervisors and managers, in church we have leaders and support, in our family we have each other.

When we write we are also part of a community and we need each other. I certainly need you.

Vulnerability hangover

You lay it all on the line, you write until you bleed. You throw every ounce of the aches of your heart onto the page.

Long words do not impress. Vain self image does not fool anyone. Writing that seeks only to serve your self is a window to your soul. But how often am I tricked into thinking that if only I can find the right formula of words everything will be okay? How often do I want to set everything straight with carefully measured lines, and compassion bleeding onto the page?

Words can make a difference. Words, arranged in a form to provoke emotion; words, designed to force the hairs on your arms stand on end; words, that convey far more than their simple meaning. Words, that drag the beating, screaming, reluctant, truth out of the dark and into the light.

When I write I want to write with integrity and I do not want to hold back. I’ve written about this before elsewhere – it’s the process of stripping away the layers that shield us from the affrays that bombard, but also hide our identity behind their strong defence. We get so good at protecting ourselves, I get so good at protecting myself I forget what it is I am trying to shield from the storm.

I lift my eyes and wonder what I have been fighting all along. I wonder what I have been fighting for. I wonder, what is left of the heart that cries.

Last week I first heard the term ‘vulnerability hangover’ – I can’t remember from whom, and then I encountered exactly what it meant. I posted some raw thoughts, after waiting most of the day agonising over whether to hit publish. But the next day it hit home. I had written that I didn’t feel like going to church, and yet I was due to walk through the doors in a few hours time. I had already decided that I would feel the eyes piercing into my soul as I sat or stood, as I lingered and listened, as I paid attention, or paid lip service to the norms.

The vulnerability that had fuelled my words would not leave me alone. I spent most of the day before heading to church in a daze, I wrestled with why I was going – was it simply to keep up appearances? The kind words of many, both in public and private, convinced me that I was right to say what I had said, but that did not make walking through the doors any easier. In the same way I want the words I write to accurately convey what I am feeling and doing, I likewise want my actions to match the words I write. I do not want to simply promote a facade of vulnerability that only adds another layer to my distorted self-image.

I had a vulnerability hangover. It took away any words I might have to share, I tried to talk to a few people but I was spent. I had no appetite to write any posts this week.

Jesus safe tender extremeFor most of this week I have had a simple refrain from an old hymn in my head. It provided tonic for my soul. I first encountered the words in the final lines of a book by Adrian Plass, ‘Jesus – Safe, tender, Extreme’, I didn’t remember the context until I pulled it off the shelf to check I’d not distorted the lines in my mind. He closes his book talking about a friend who has recently died:

Do I have a 100 percent belief in her resurrection and eternal life? I have a 100 percent desire to have that much belief. I have a hope that burns inside me, It sometimes flickers. I have been promised that one day I shall go home to the Father’s house. I guard that promise, but occasionally I forget where I have put it. I have a love for Jesus that has survived all the obstacles and pitfalls that have threatened to distract me from him since I was sixteen years old. I have in my heart the words of a song that continues to comfort me today as it comforted me then:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in his wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of his glory and grace.

I think it’s going to be all right.”

I have nothing more to add. Except to say, the refrain isn’t all there is to this beautiful hymn.