Saturday, 29 December 2012

Guns Have No Conscience

I worked for one exhilarating year at Eastgate Elementary School, in Bellevue, Washington. (1977/78) Darlene and I used to breakfast every Friday morning, before school,  at Denny's. I remember two things distinctly. While I tucked into pancakes with syrup, Darlene would choose a hamburger for the protein... And Bill, a State Trooper whom we breakfasted with, wore a gun. Properly holstered, but nevertheless an item of  morbid fascination for me.

I had never been anywhere close to a gun before, and exercised a preference for sitting on the OTHER side of it!

 I am neither for or against guns, anymore than I am for or against pitchforks, or ploughshares, come to that, and I have been reluctant to comment on the terrible massacre of the innocents at New Town, Conneticut. Better to weep, than attempt to make  sense where sense cannot be found.

And yet, and yet. I listen to the debate over gun ownership with growing dismay. Who in their right mind would want to own a military-grade assault weapon? Such people call forth exactly the same reaction as I give when a souped up Porsche cuts me up on the B1425 - Imagine it, I'll not own up to it...

I want to get beyond dismay, disbelief, apprehension - every feeling called forth by the gun culture which is far more of a threat to most Americans than the Taliban - and grope towards a new way of thinking about this issue that won't bring us  back to yelling at one another.

This is what I think:

There's no talking to nutters, and probably no easy way of stopping them getting guns.  In perpetuating the two most recent tragedies, both murderes used guns legally obtained by someone

Sensible people own guns because it is legal and acceptable to do so. Let's work on making it less acceptable to sensible people.  Like picking your nose in public.

It may be your right to own a gun. Generously and vocally choose not to.

Distance yourself from gun owners - statistically speaking, you're safer.

Look at the rating offered by the NRA for your representatives. Campaign and vote for those with an 'F' rating.

Invite your faith community to regard the ownership of  weapons as anathema to the Prince of Peace. And talk about it. Get it  up there with abortion and marriage.

Turning the other cheek, my friend, makes reaching for the hand gun pretty much an impossibility. Unless you have it strapped to your head, of course.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Word Was Made Flesh...

The Word, my deepest love,

Is YOU -

In the

Gentle breeze

Soft Snow

Fragile things.
With wings of gossamer

And the red-toothed lion.


In the child I carried, and gave birth to

In the flowers on my window sill

The man I love,

And ME.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

None Of My Best Friends Are Gay

I am going to be brave. When the Pope says that proponents of gay marriage are enemies to peace and justice in our world, he is wrong.  Just about as wrong as he could be, in my opinion.

Gays wishing to marry one another are not strapping explosives to their chests and walking onto buses, or proposing laws (as in Uganda) that homosexual men and women  be put to death. Neither are they scouring the Internet for anthrax spores, or blocking all attempts to slow climate change...

Surely, these are far worse threats to 'justice and peace'?

I am saddened, because I believe in making statements like these, a man of God legitimises the persecution of the gay community, and persecution is what REAL sin looks like.

Attitudes to gay people are coloured by two different kinds of prejudice. Voluntary separation, and culpable ignorance.

I own up to the first. I didn't know that I knew any  gay people until twenty years ago, when a parent of one my students came to explain that she was leaving her husband for another woman. I confess, I was shocked, and had to struggle not to show it. I wrestled with the problem, MY problem, for some time. Was Jane a different person? No. She had become a friend, and her sincerity, warmth, generosity and humour hadn't changed. She  is the person now, that she was before she came out as gay. Light  and shade, good and bad, just like me. She hadn't changed towards me, and I saw no reason whatever to change towards her.

My daughters told me about their friends who were gay, and they taught me that to judge anyone by their sexual orientation was a foolish, unenlightened and cruel thing to do. In my heart of hearts, despite what Christian fundamentalists shriek from their foxholes, I know that rejection and persecution of gay people is WRONG.

The second prejudice is driven by culpable ignorance. Neural science and the science of genetics are demonstrating that homosexuality is NOT unnatural, it is NOT purely a 'lifestyle choice' and it CANNOT be 'corrected' by prayer or reorientation therapies. The facts are out there, published in mainstream scientific journals, and to ignore them in order to hold on to prejudice and fuel persecution is unconscionable.

I plead with all people of faith to take a long hard look at what they believe about gay people. If it tends to hatred, think again about the 'lifestyle choice' of the Prince of Peace, who sought out those whom everyone else marginalised, rejected and persecuted.

Perhaps for some of us it would be a good move to declare gays our enemies, then, for God's sake, we'd HAVE to love them...

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

We'll All Go Together When We Go...

Wendy and I were pretty good quizzers. Our team of two won the inaugural Quiz at The Jolly Brewmaster pub in Cheltenham. It was a close run thing ... We drew with the Team Of  Four who regularly beat us from then on ( We couldn't do the Sport Questions). Wendy happened to know that 22 carat gold is as pure as we can get. We won T shirts with bottles of beer on them.

We never wore them.

Our conversation ranged over a variety of gloomy topics. I'm not sure why, I am generally very optimistic We had worked out though, that living in our end of the twentieth century was as good as it gets. We are both comfortably off, our children are all well and happy - as are we - and we benefited from safe childbirth and have flushing toilets. These things came to the top of our list of must haves.

The List of Apocalyptic Events began in 1990 on reading in the Independent that a tongue of ice was melting somewhere near Norway, and the melting of this might cause the Gulf Stream to stream no more. Our climate would then veer towards the Scandanavian, which is great if you like snow, which I do.

I believe this particular event is no longer considered terribly likely, but it stays on the list because it was the first.

Since then, we have added asteroid strikes, super volcanoes, bits of an island in the Atlantic falling into the Atlantic, Global Warming, earthquakes bioterrorism and nuclear warfare.

What we noticed with regard to practically every event, was that 'it' was anything  thing up to 10 000 years overdue.

Should nuclear warfare and bioterrorism be considered 'overdue'? Possibly.


Thursday, 6 December 2012

A Different Kind of Cowardice

Waiting for our street friends to arrive for coffee and pasties, I idly picked up a pamphlet, put out by  a fellow- Missioner, on Intelligent Design. A mess of pottage, a curate's egg, a load of cobblers, describe it as you may, it's a potent mix of poor theology and worse science.

 I am ashamed of my cowardice. I left it unchallenged.

Some of my best friends are fundamentalist Christians, convinced that God created the Universe a few thousand years ago by an interventionalist, simplistic process that got everything here, as it is, in six days, period.

Why, knowing this is nonsense, flying in the face of biblical texts and scientific discovery, do I keep quiet?

What's the point of arguing the point? Those wedded to creationism, rather than intimate with the Creator, will not be persuaded by any argument I put forward, but this is just an excuse.

I start with a disadvantage. These friends had trouble accepting that I, as a Roman Catholic, could possibly call myself a Christian at all. I have problems with this myself, from time to time, when reactionaries in my church do something stupid, but I stand firm. You see, the Roman Church is capable of humility, and of learning from it's mistakes. Some of which are hardly excusable, so I'm not going to try, among them, censoring Galileo.

Galileo was recently rehabilitated. Recently! Truly! Better late than never, GG!

So, bible bashers, why do I believe my position as a a 'believer' in evolution by national selection, is compatible with my Christian faith?

What does the bible actually say? Well, firstly, only that God rested on the seventh day - not that he retired... Secondly, in God's own words:

Genesis 1:24, 26 God said, “Let the land produce all kinds of living creatures. Let there be livestock, and creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals. Let there be all kinds of them.” And that’s exactly what happened. " (NIV translation)

" Let the land produce.... " a succinct description of evolution, if you ask me, and a remarkable insight for a Bronze Age culture.

The Catholic Church has, nowadays, a sensible view of science. Rather than oppose it, the church engages with it. Many great scientists are Catholic - some, like Fr George V Coyne, director of  the Vatican Observatory in Arizona, are priests. I expect, if you're celibate, you have the time and the energy to get doctorates in theology AND astrophysics...

I don't agree with all church positions, especially on human reproduction, but  I think Fr George has this right:

“God in his infinite freedom continuously creates a world which reflects that freedom at all levels of the evolutionary process to greater and greater complexity. God lets the world be what it will be in its continuous evolution. He does not intervene, but rather allows, participates, loves.”
Why don't I tell my friends hooked on Intelligent Design that I think they're stupid? Because they're my friends, I guess.

Men Working

I received this mail from my friend Wendy. it made me smile, if a little wryly:

'I saw an amusing thing from my bedroom window the other day. Three trucks drew up, and four men got out, all dressed in yellow jackets.

One started stamping on a small area near the front wall of next door but one. Then another man handed him a drill, and he began to drill. Other men took turns to get a wheelbarrow out, then a rake, then a broom, then some asphalt, hten a watering can, then a stamper machine. The first man, after he had broken up the area - only about a foot square, took all these offerings in turn. The man who brought the asphalt in the wheelbarrow kept going back to the truck and putting more into it from a big sack. Eventually, the area was filled and stamped to their satisfaction, and they all departed in their three trucks. It would have made a very funny film - almost balletic in the way they took turns handing the tools to each other..

Nothing was taken out or put in the hole, and when they left it all looked exactly the same as before.

Sent the account and pics of the workmen to Martin Horwood, our MP. Got a reply from his office from one David Fidgeon, asking if I could tell where the trucks came from. I enlarged the photos and one had "Highway Maintenance" on the back.

I got a reply immediately which made me laugh: - (I had apologised for "Love Wendy" which had got attached to my mail from where I sent it to friends.)

Who would be so churlish as to complain about being offered a bit of love!

We will contact Gloucestershire Highways and see what they say.

David Fidgeon

So I replied that a bit of love was always welcome and wished him a Merry Christmas!

See you on Monday.

Love Wendy.'


Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Do As Your Father Tells You

 I knew my father was dying, maybe with days left to live, and I was due to fly to South Africa to introduce my English family to my African one. 'You go' He was insistent, but I couldn't make up my mind what was the right thing to do.

Dad organised his death quite wonderfully.  He had suffered with shingles for two years, and now cancer ravaged his body. We had the morphia in the house and the nurse's number ready to administer it when necessary, but dad had no pain. This is not uncommon apparently.  I was undergoing instruction for reception into the Catholic church and this particular evening I was setting off for the party at the end of the summer session. Bottles
chinked in the bag I was carrying.  'I'll have some of that champagne!' my dad whispered.

To this day, I'll never know how dad knew I had sparking wine in that carrier, but so it was.  Dad had never had champagne, which this wasn't, but still... and I was a bit
worried because of his diabetes.  The doctor laughed.  'Give him whatever he wants, its too late to worry about diabetes!'

For the last two weeks of his life, my dad subsisted on sweet sparkling wine.  Knowing where this was going, he signed a living will that stated that he wished to cease taking insulin and that when he went into a diabetic coma, he was not to be resucitated.  The doctor spoke to him privately about it and took a copy away.

I couldn't quite go through with it, when the nurse told me he was comatose I asked her to administer a dose of insulin to ask him one last time.. 'This is it dad.  Are you sure this is what you want?  He nodded, and I let him go.

I was due to fly out the next day.  I had agonised about this for weeks.  Jeanette said, 'Just for once, why don't you do as your father tells you?'

I sat next to dad working on his computer, I had one last service to perform for him.  I wrote his eulogy. I printed it off, and read it to him.  I told him what a wonderful man and great father he was, I told him how his principles and direction had shaped my life, and how I would miss him. I read it to him, and exhausted I went to bed. I prayed my final prayer for my father, 'Lord, when your work in him is complete, take him home,'

I then fell asleep.

Less than an hour later, Ray came to wake me up.  'Dad's gone' he said gently. He then went on to say that he'd waited twenty minutes before coming to tell me to make sure - 'because of Aunty Ethel'.

(At mum and dad's fiftieth wedding party, aunty Ethel fell over drunk, and I, also a little merry, couldn't find her pulse, and declared her dead... At which shocking news,
Ethel promptly sat up!)

Dad wasn't going to sit up though, or relive the story of Ethel's untimely demise.

Doing what my father told me, meant flying to South Africa. I celebrated his life with a community whom he had supported, and who sang for me, a song of love and hope
for this amazing man.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Giant's Castle

Giant’s Castle 28th October 2006

The minibus rattles and crunches over the unmade roads that lead from the Jo’berg to Durban Highway to 'Giant’s Castle' resort in the Drakensberg  Mountains that lace between Lesotho and Kwa-Zulu Natal. 

The afternoon sun slips intermittently between the mountains, reddening as it dips, casting lengthening shadows and giving rise to the fear that this group of twelve head teachers, on a break , wouldn’t make their destination before nightfall.

We amble through small villages, each a cluster of thatched mud-bricked roundhouses, each with its own lush garden, each connected to the next, to the river, to the road, by a network of well-worn paths that snake over the landscape like cracks in a glaze.

Sharp scrutiny of the sky and the bush are rewarded with sightings of various unidentifiable antelope leaping from view, and a brace of eagles riding the thermals.  Each is inevitably accompanied by a shout of excitement from the spotter and a collective groan of disappointment from 
those who’d missed it.

 Driving erratically, climbing steadily, we arrive just before dusk. The thatched cottage I share with Maxine, is simply furnished in a faux-African style that is both austere and comfortable.  Greedy for light, I make the hastiest of preparations for the evening meal, and step out into the cool, brief evening, within minutes of setting my cases down.

The air is moist, with an abrasive tang of wood smoke and as I turn my face towards the peaks, I draw in a deep, deep breath that is rewarded with the faint aroma of an exotic bloom, one that I  shall ultimately fail to identify, that will, within the hour, offer a feast of nectar to the night-feeding insects that emerge with the stars.

‘I’ll leave at five, it should be light by then, walk for two hours, then turn around and come back, I’m not bothered about breakfast. I’m going to make the most of the few hours we have here. ‘
‘Remember, the bus leaves at ten!’  Maxine calls back, as she makes her way over to the restaurant for pre-dinner drinks
Magic!   My fifty-sixth birthday dawns, and its magic.  

Stepping out onto the deck, my ears are assailed by the high-pitched ‘zing-zing-zing ‘ of an orchestra of bush  crickets that were awake long  before I was.  Instead of staying with the moment, I rush off to pick up my voice recorder. Predictably, on my return, the cacophony has 

Shrugging off disappointment , I walk briskly down to the trail that will take me to the caves where, centuries ago, the Bushmen sheltered.  There are no physical traces of them now, apart from the stunning cave paintings that are sacred testimonies to their nomadic lives. They were 
daubed with skill, by the light of firebrands,  in the colours of the earth; yellow ochre, blood red, chalk white and charcoal black. Here are ghostly eland, masked shaman and birthing women, each pictogram carrying meaning that can only be guessed at by most modern observers.

Not for my eyes though, not today.  I shall be leaving for the airport at the precise time that the caves, safe behind their steel barricades, open to the public .

The mountains, stark companions on my solitary walk, are  swathed in mist. The strengthening sun energises it with a golden glow, so unearthly, I catch my breath in wonder. The path is an easy meander, a slow descent for about an hour to a river basin where a fast flowing stream stays a moment, in a hollow, in a glade, before pouring over a lip and hastening on to meet another wanderer far  below.  

Here I rest, reveling in the beauty of the place.  Across the valley, bare of trees, the precipice is radiant in 
full sun. I am warmer too, so I remove my jacket and drink deeply from my water bottle.  I listen for the chatter of women and children, pausing here from root-digging, berry-picking, to refresh themselves.  I am being fanciful; nevertheless, I sense that their laughter is only just out of hearing.

My walk is not without purpose.  I have photographed many of the flowers that I have discovered (all but one, unknown to me) and before I move on, I pull out my field guide to check them out.  I amuse myself by allowing the !Xhosa names to roll over my tongue, iqalaba, (sugar-bush) isichwe, (candelabra flower)umsobo wesinja (sobobo berry). 

This day, this time, this place.  Pure gift.

How Not To Get Mad

My brother, in his youth, left the British Communist Party because it wasn't left wing enough, and then by a series of possibly random events, largely to do with disillusionment, became a Born Again Christian. He is very happy in his beliefs, and generally comforted by them, which makes me happy too, because I love him.

Aaha! Aaha! I used to say, with the arrogance of a woman who knows the answer, when I read Pilate's, 'What is truth?' Now I am as convinced as I want to be, that Pilate was on to something.

Pontius, I don't know.  I used to know, and thought it extremely important that everybody else did too. Perhaps, if he'd lived as long as I have, Pilate would have saved his breath to cool his porridge. You can just make it up as you go along. As long as you can convince yourself, you can believe whatever you like and get away with it. Once I discovered this particular construct, I let go of a lot of junk that never made an iota of difference to me or anyone else, except as the means of separation from others, generally with the aim of engendering superiority.

I remain  a theist. As a theist I began a journey out of certainty, and I like it here.  Many of my friends are theists too; ready to stand up and be laughed at, though there are still enough of us to count. I'm not even a serious doubter. I say the Nicene Creed with fervour, and pray every day, but there's a growing list of things that I don't believe in, which can be summed up as anything that makes me mad at you. 

I'm through with being told what to believe, and to return the compliment, I won't tell anyone else what to believe either. Except, perhaps, my brother... .

So my brother wants to engage me in a little Dawkins-bashing.

'Dawkins, I say to him, 'Is entitled to be as disagreeable, contentious, angry and dismissive as he likes.  YOU are not.'

The Christ didn't say, 'Worship me.' He said, 'Follow me.'

Go on, I dare you.

Think: Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.