I should’ve written this piece weeks ago. But I’ve found it tough to put my thoughts into words.
Ordinarily I don’t use this platform to talk about personal relationships or issues, or even to mark the passing of individuals in my life.
But, as my friend Mark was very much a part of this site and a significant online presence in relation to both this site and the old blog, it felt more than necessary to say some things about him.
Given that Mark was a long-time reader here, he might like the idea of having one of these articles actually be about him. Then again, Mark didn’t have too much of an ego, so maybe not.
Some of you who’ve maybe been reading this site (especially from the old ‘Bedlam’ days) for a few years might be familiar with Mark. He used to comment on articles a lot. During some periods, he was probably my most prolific commenter. If you trawl the Burning Blogger archives, you’ll inevitably come across a lot of Mark’s contributions.
I used to comment over at his humble platform, Truthscoop, too when I could.
In fact, when the Burning Blogger of Bedlam was deplatformed by WordPress in 2019, Mark was the first to use his own site to sound off about it and give others a place to react.
During that same time, the two years or so that I had no website, Mark and I had in fact planned to launch a podcast together. We planned it, I wrote some ideas, he even came up with graphics and logos. But it never quite panned out.
I wish it had though: Mark needed to be heard by more people.
But when I launched this site, Burning Blogger, in April 2021, I invited Mark (along with our mutual friend, James from Crimes of Empire) to join me in a podcast on YouTube to mark the occasion. Anyone who listened to that chat (it’s still on YouTube) would’ve heard his voice, as he waxed lyrical on the failures of the Occupy protests or pondered moving away from webpages and back to printed matter, among other things.
My friendship with Mark started really from him reaching out to me after he’d been following my content for a while.
It was the articles on false flags that really caught his interest to begin with. Soon enough we were chatting regularly on Skype, sometimes for several hours at a time: discussing ‘conspiracies’ and agendas, debating the shortcomings of the left/right paradigm, musing about religion, trying to envision social or political solutions, and more.
Often we disagreed on things. And that was good. Sometimes we *really* disagreed on things. And that was good too.
Sometimes he got so engaged, so passionate, about something that I marvelled at his energy levels. Sometimes, several hours into a discussion, I would complain to him, “Bro, I need to go to sleep – enough!” But he would still be going, pontificating sincerely and tirelessly about some theory, some righteous cause or some wacky idea.
But that was Mark. He had an energy that I just didn’t, and don’t, have.
And most of that energy was channelled towards a pursuit of justice and solutions: for society, for human beings, for the betterment of the human condition. And a visceral dislike that he had – and many of us feel – towards perceived injustices in our society, and towards perceived imbalances and perceived corruption.
Whereas some of us maybe feel that stuff on some kind of intellectual level or in a compartmentalized kind of way, Mark felt it burningly, impatiently: that’s where a lot of his energy was. Sometimes I wondered if he was feeling it too much, cycling a little too much energy and feeling too much raw outrage to manage.
But, I don’t know, maybe it’s people like me who don’t feel that stuff as strongly as we should.
Maybe Mark had it right. Whereas I have my long bouts of apathy or resignation, Mark always seemed to be buzzing with energy and intent – at least whenever I spoke to him.
I was actually stunned when I realised he was a whole twenty years older than me – the way he came across, the energy and rawness, I’d always assumed he was closer to my age. He didn’t seem to have any of the jadedness that often comes with age.
He spoke like a young dude too: he called me ‘bro’ all the time. And he was way more tuned in to contemporary youth culture than I am.
The image here is Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and anti-Nazi dissident. It was the thumbnail Mark sent me to use as his link when I wanted a permanent link to his site on my old blog. I had no idea who this was and had to look it up.
Mark knew he wasn’t going to change the world. I think he knew he was mostly a voice crying in the wilderness: but that’s what so many of us are, whether we realise it or not.
That reference there to John the Baptist is actually very appropriate: as more than anything else I can think of, the image that best captures Mark to my mind is that of a modern day, wandering preacher: but with a punk rock twist.
Like, you’d have to cross Johnny Rotten with John the Evangelist or something like that. A ‘punk evangelist’ seems right. I had thought about calling him ‘Mark the Evangelist’, but I understand that name is already taken by someone from two thousand years ago.
And of course not ‘evangelical’ in the gross, modern way with its negative connotations: as deeply as Mark embraced his Christianity and as extremely well versed as he was in theology, his Christianity was very personal to him, filtered through the prism of his own personality and lived experience.
Mark was from the original punk generation and seemed to have never lost that: so even his Christianity was highly unique to his character. Sometimes I found it funny listening to this dude with an East End cockney accent pontificating learnedly about some complex theological argument, while in the next breath telling me about what the punk days were like or asking me what I thought of Joe Strummer.
Or telling me about his time in New York, where he was immersed in the emerging hip hop scene.
Or about the 40 minute phonecall he once had with Tony Benn back when he was devoting his energies into help homeless people.
There’s probably a bunch more stories like that, and I’m sure I only heard a handful of them.
He was an interesting guy. And lived a lot of life. A lot of lives, actually: as an activist, as a social worker, a music producer, and several other things besides.
Even at the end, he was still full of ideas. And energy.
I’ve heard one of the last things he’d talked about doing was printing paper copies of John’s Gospel to hand out to people. I actually remember him floating that kind of idea to me two years ago, as well as possibly writing a new, alt evangelical text. I remember rolling my eyes at it.
But again, Mark had a burning desire to do things: to get out there among people and inspire thoughts, provoke debates or spark ideas.
And he was a hands-on type: he was happy – maybe happiest – interacting with people, even random strangers, out in public and sharing thoughts and ideas. Again, I think he would’ve been quite happy in 1st century Judea, wandering from town to village and engaging in religious or spiritual arguments, sleeping under a tree or eating whatever he could fish from the lake.
Like I said, I don’t know where he got that energy. And like I said, a punk evangelist. A unique sort of spirit.
I had actually not spoken with Mark for probably over a year. Mostly because he had become very difficult to reach once went up to the Scottish Highlands. He’d talked about seeking out a back-to-the-land, tech free kind of existence for a while.
I know from reading some of his last posts that he was particularly disillusioned with modern tech and with screens (and was especially concerned about young people’s relationship with smartphones and the web). The days of the pandemic and the accompanying psychological warfare was also something I feel he didn’t entirely get over.
From talks I had with him, I know he had a desire to get away from the noise and reconnect more fully with wild nature.
In fact the last message I had from him was very simple, and with hindsight a little bittersweet. It simply said, ‘Off for solitary times and a different kind of life. Holla at me as/when and we’ll chat…’
I’m not sure exactly what he was looking for up north in the Hebrides. But, spiritually, I can maybe have some sense of it. And I hope he found some of it while he was there.
Anyway, I’ll finish this now. I just had to write something here in honour of a departed friend. And it’s taken me a while to find words.
Mark Elston’s passing was announced on September 14th, after he was found by police in the Ness area of the Isle of Lewis, after a one day search. His death was covered in some news outlets, including this one here which includes really nice statements from his partner, Sara.
There are also some very nice tributes to Mark here.
Mark’s main website, Truthscoop.net, is still online. I’m not sure how long it will remain up. A lot of his thinking and contemplations are preserved there: spanning everything from religious contemplations and musings on society to the dark days of the Covid lockdowns.
The podcast I recorded with Mark and James is also still on YouTube here. I actually have over an hour’s worth of additional raw audio of our conversation somewhere, which I intend to post to YouTube as soon as I can find it again.
James has also published a tribute to Mark at Crimes of Empire here.
If anyone remembers Mark or wants to say anything about him, please do leave a comment below.
I’m not very good at this sort of thing, so I hope Mark would be okay with what I’ve shared about him.
More generally, for anyone reading this: I know this probably doesn’t need to be said, but if you’ve got a friend or relative you haven’t heard from in a long while, think about reaching out, getting in touch, just to see how they’re doing.
But here’s to Mark. You’re already being missed, brother.