Tuesday, 7 August 2018

The original conversion story...

This will soon be published in an anthology of Catholic women's stories. It got heavily edited along the way, and while I might understand why, and it's a voice that fits the book, it's not MY voice. It doesn't flow as well, it doesn't say what I mean (I'd never call my parents' faith 'lukewarm', that's NOT what I mean by 'culturally Muslim', the editor put an exclamation point when I meant the tone to be dry), but it will do. The title feels so far from the emotional essence of my story, it reminded me of listening to someone as they talked about me to a group and thinking, 'You really don't know me at all, do you?'

Don't get me wrong; I'm incredibly grateful. I am thrilled to have the story out there to a fairly wide audience: but whilst anyone who reads it might catch glimpses of me, they will never quite catch me. Whoever reads this will be able to hear me. To quote a song from The Greatest Showman:

I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I am meant to be - this is me.
Look out because here I come and I'm marching on to the beat I drum:
I'm not scared to be seen, I make no apologies,
This is me.

So if it's me you want to hear, tolle lege:

“Daddy, daddy, you left Mommy in there!”


No response from the head I could see resting against the driver’s seat, so I repeated myself relentlessly as he drove off unheeding. As the cry reached its desperate crescendo, my 5-year-old eyes popped open and I found myself staring at my bedroom ceiling.

 A dream. Of course. Even my kindergarten self knew how unlikely it was that we’d stop at the Catholic church that fascinated me every time we drove by it, let alone my mother getting out to actually walk in. However, none of that stopped me from telling my father, every time we drove past the church for weeks afterwards, that he had left my mother in there. 

He finally turned to me in exasperation, “We’ve never been in there. We are NEVER going into a Catholic church or any church. Ok?”

Speak for yourself, Father.

As time passed and the dream receded into the background of study, Islamic Saturday school, struggling with a deeply dysfunctional family, an uncle’s sexual abuse, one might think that the fascination with a strange church might disappear into the depths without a trace or hope of return.

Instead, it turned out to be the faint, early glimmer of my road home.

No matter how far away I seemed, seeds of Catholicism found me. My paediatrician mother would get copies of Bible Stories to put in her waiting room and I would devour them before they left the house.  In 1978, young me rejoiced when John Paul I was elected and sobbed when he died. Oscar Romero and Denis Hurley were my first clerical crushes, causing a subsequent priest friend to wryly observe, ‘No wonder the rest of us have disappointed you.’ But above all, even as a child, it was where I found home – my closest friends were Catholic, and the love I received from them became my first taste of sanctuary.

But those seeds could so easily have fallen by the wayside, on stony ground, or amongst thorns, where they could have been easily lifted, scorched, or choked. It took a long time to realise that I drew the road to me as much as the road drew me to it.

My parents believed in God because they were told to. From the time I was very young, I could feel God brushing against my skin in all things – I’d even talk to dust particles as if they were sentient. That sense of an immanent God clashed with the Islamic concept of a God far above us who required submission.

That wasn’t the only point of discord. I grew up in an immediate family that viewed other people as objects: to use and discard, to step over on the way up. At best, my parents’ Islam was cultural, but was far more often a means of control, especially over a girl who had the nerve to yell back at her raging father. Somehow, in the midst of it all, I had an unshakeable sense that ‘this isn’t how you treat people’, that you sacrifice yourself for that which is greater than you are: a child, the many, to end the suffering of others, for the One. Even before I had any clear idea who He was, I understood why Jesus was on that cross. He felt like a kindred spirit.

Eventually the rift between Islam’s theology and my innate understanding became too great, and in my adolescence, I lapsed, with all the requisite snark of a Generation Xer. It wasn’t until I moved out after my mother juxtaposed ‘arranged’ and ‘marriage’ in a sentence (I didn’t tell them I was leaving, but I did leave them a note on the fridge) that I felt safe enough to do something other than rebel.

The path picked up with my lab colleague, Janice Briscoe, a convert to Catholicism, who, on hearing my childhood dream, muttered, ‘He DID leave your mother in there.’

‘What?’

‘Never mind.’

I worried at that throwaway remark for years, during which time the two final parts of my journey slotted into place: my time as a teacher at the Hebrew Academy, a Modern Orthodox Jewish school, and my friendship with Anni.

In September 1992, I walked into Hebrew Academy with great trepidation because I knew it was reasonably obvious I’d been a Muslim. I need not have worried: it felt like home within a week. For four years, my work world was a school in which the sound of prayer punctuated the rhythm of the day; wonderful, warm staff who invited me to their Seders, Purim services, and cantorial concerts; cheeky students who patiently explained rabbinical commentary; rabbis who argued in hallways and became good friends. I became immersed in a religion that was grounded in daily life, one that was a way of being, not just an identity ritual or something to learn on a Saturday. To this day, this homegoy™ (my friend Dorothy’s term for her non-Jewish friends) can feel the rhythm of the Jewish liturgical calendar in her bones.

I joke that I nearly converted to Judaism, but bacon and shellfish got in the way. That’s not quite true: it was that kindred spirit, Jesus, who did.

October 1992 brought the final step in the road, befriending my sister from another mister, Anni, a fellow Renaissance Festival dancer, whose parents took me in as if I were their long lost eldest daughter. Wrapped in that love, I learned that American Catholicism was as much about boisterous affection, fuzzy toilet seat covers, pictures of Our Lady and the pope, and ‘tuna casserole Friday’ as it was about going to church. It was with Anni that I discovered the joy of Latin mass in the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception’s crypt church, where I was able to articulate my sense of the sacraments as being Heaven kissing our lives on Earth, invisible love made visible. It was about telling Anni, ‘The guy I’m dating just asked why I don’t become Catholic,’ punctuated with an eye-roll.

I could have saved my eyes the exercise. When my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 1993, I suddenly realised that I needed a spiritual community, somewhere to fall. In one of our numerous phone calls, I said to Anni, ‘If only I could become Catholic.’

‘You can,’ she said.

My squeal of glee left her ears ringing.

RCIA had already started for that year, so I joined the next one in September 1994, becoming Catholic at St Michael’s, Mt Airy, MD (USA) on 15 April 1995, baptised by Fr Mike Ruane and confirmed by Bishop Frank Murphy (RIP).

That’s all she wrote? Hardly. As a wedding is to a marriage, so is a baptism/first communion to a faith journey. Eighteen months after that, I left the cosy world of being a Eucharistic Minister at  St Mike’s to come to Oxford for an MSc and stumbled over a church which had a Sunday 11am Latin mass. I rejoiced – a seamless transition, a church that would be a home here.

Let’s just say it was about as smooth as a Himalayan mountain road.

English Catholicism’s victim mentality jolted me, coming from an unselfconscious American Catholicism, as I noted most of those who played the victim were not recusants, but converts whose ancestors had been on the right side of history. The victimhood led to insularity, leaving parts of the Church suffocating. The reactionary right wing baggage that accompanied the Latin (and later, the return of the Tridentine) mass went from a stream to a tsunami, leaving those of us who were committed to Catholic social teaching yet loved a smoking (only incense, I hasten to add) high liturgy betwixt and between. The ‘male servers only’ and ‘no EM’ rules left women out of the sanctuary except to read. Any argument was met with a mocking ‘You’re just an angry feminist.’ Shades of my emotionally sadistic father were omnipresent.

But as with a butterfly beating its wings against a chrysalis, growth needs resistance, and that resonance turned out to be a blessing – the space to push against the patriarchy as an adult with the resources to do so helped heal the child who couldn’t. Whether it was in my particular church, or more broadly with the growing neoconservative traditionalist movement encouraged by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, staying and pushing forced into clear relief what mattered, stripping my faith right back to the essentials: my relationship with God, my unshakeable faith in the events of Holy Week, my belief in the sacraments (particularly the Real Presence) as emanations of the holy into the mundane, my commitment to our social teaching, the oneness of G-d’s creation.

That faith keeps my feet on the pilgrim road, my conversion new every morning, my prayer one with Charles Wesley’s:

Ready for all thy perfect will,
my acts of faith and love repeat;
till death thy endless mercies seal,
and make the sacrifice complete.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Maundy Thursday 2018 (Father, forgive them)

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Right now, there’s a lot in the world that seems unforgivable, isn’t there? And isn’t it nice to have that get out clause from Our Lord?

For they know not what they do. But what if they DO know? The Trump voter, the Brexit voter, all who voted their spitting rage, hatred of other, leaning into ‘rivers of blood’ style xenophobia and racism, then disingenuously stood back, claiming ‘economic anxiety’ or ‘sovereignty’ while vulnerable groups and entire nations suffered the consequences.

How delicious was it, then, when they began to suffer? When steelworkers didn’t get those promised jobs? When they suddenly realised they were going to lose their healthcare? When they realised that whoops, much of the funding that held up their deprived communities came from the EU? How tempting to say, ‘No job from Trump? What, now you want a handout from the social safety net you wanted to slash? Here’s a bowl, there’s the street.’ Or ‘Oh, the radioactive isotopes your child needs are in short supply because we’re out of Euratom? Well, they don’t deserve to suffer, but because you decided that they and every other cancer patient should, so you could vote your hate, you deserve every ounce of unmitigated suffering coming your way.’ Or a personal favourite, ‘I wouldn’t cross the street to pour a glass of water on him if his guts were on fire, but if I had accelerant, I might just run.’

After all, Jesus gave us that out, right? No forgiveness because they knew exactly what they did. Never mind that denying them aid and forcing them to beg or using a child’s suffering as a vehicle for revenge makes us uncomfortably like them.

They know what they do. Just like my father did, just like my uncle did. No quarter given. They knew.

Don Henley’s 1989 song, The Heart of the Matter, nudges at that certainty:

These times are so uncertain
There's a yearning undefined
People filled with rage


Times so very like our own. But wait. A yearning undefined? People don’t know what they want? And what do we know about ourselves filled with rage, in the grip of that inferno of anger, aware of nothing but the object of our hate and our need to tear it down, completely blinded to everything else from the people around us to the consequences of our vengeance? Do we know what we do then?

And if not, what about them? How do we arrange those three words? They do know or…do they know? Now not only are the times uncertain, so are we.

Henley goes on:

We all need a little tenderness
Or how can love survive in such a graceless age?


Tenderness, which might lead to compassion and forgiveness? Don, who do you think I am? Our Lady? Jesus? Thanks for the lofty thoughts, but where are we supposed to start?

Let us begin by teasing out what forgiveness actually is: it is not forgetfulness. It does not allow someone to hurt us over and over again. It does not deny that a wrong was committed – for if nothing was wrong, there would be nothing to forgive. Forgiveness does not ignore the degree of the offence or the hurt caused. Forgiveness does not forgo consequences: reparation, loss of relationship, withdrawal of privileges. Forgiveness is not reconciliation, though it may open the door to it.

Forgiveness is rooted in the Latin perdonare, later in the Germanic for and giefan, which mean ‘to give completely, without reservation’. So forgiveness is completely giving release from retribution. Forgiveness is about letting go of the anger and ensuing bitterness about what happened to us. Forgiveness is about, over time, being able to be less angry, then neutral, then perhaps being able to wish the other well, even if the relationship never resumes. Above all, forgiveness is a process, not a fixed point.

Unforgiveness freezes us, locking us in stasis, making it impossible to move or grow. So perhaps if we cannot begin by asking to be able to forgive, we might be able to begin with these words from the Veni, Sancte Spiritus: melt the frozen, warm the chill.

The thaw often begins with allowing feelings beneath the frozen anger of unforgiveness to surface, the moving water of tears of pain, grief, betrayal, loss, but also the water of life: I'm learning to live without you now - but I miss you sometimes. For example, my father is an emotional sadist with a tendency to physically lash out, veering between a complete lack of affect and towering rage. When I told him his brother had sexually abused me for 4 years, he had exactly 6 words: It doesn’t matter; it's not important. Plenty of pain, grief, and betrayal there. Plenty of reason for a hard, frozen exterior to survive him. So it took me decades to come to the surprising realisation that tearing myself away from him was not painless and didn’t bring unmitigated relief and happiness. I found myself grieving, empty, bleeding, and yes, missing - not him, per se, but a father, one who knew and loved me from the moment my arrival on this planet was expected – a realisation that propelled me towards letting go – and healing.


So the first step in the process of forgiveness is acknowledging that we miss what is ruptured, our hurt and its depth, listening to it, making space for it, letting the running water cleanse it, and bandaging – or protecting – it while it heals. The next step is beautifully summed up in the line:

The more I know, the less I understand
All the things I thought I’d figured out, I have to learn again.


We must have the courage to be curious, to be uncertain. To look again at what happened, to wonder what I missed, if what I thought I saw was the whole story. I missed the horror and trauma of Partition till I came to the UK and saw the documentaries. For decades, I didn’t know my father had lost 2 sisters and had been so close to one he never again said her name after she died. That knowledge made me realise how little I understood the man I’d grown up with, which allowed for a sea change in perception when I talked to a friend after seeing a picture of my father at 20:

Me: You know, he might have been saved. Here, he just looks wary, sad – angry, yes, but not irrevocably so. (Friend: Mmmmmm.) That just doesn’t jibe with the man I grew up with. You know what else doesn’t? (Mmmmm?) There was this time my cousin brought her baby girl with her, and my father just grabbed the baby, held her tight, closed his eyes and wouldn’t let go. I was like, hey, I WAS HERE, REMEMBER? WHAT ABOUT ME?

Friend: I’ve wondered about that since you first told me. Do you want to hear what I think? (Of course.) What if it wasn’t that you were unlovable or that he was incapable of loving you? What if he saw this baby girl and didn’t dare love her? And what if you grew up more and more like his sister, then everything came into play – the fear, the grief, the rage, and he had to push you away? Or he had to try to make you not like her?

What if indeed. And suddenly, all the things I thought I knew, I was learning again. That staying open, that willingness to give up the story we tell over and over, that admission that maybe it’s more complicated may feel frightening, even blasphemous, if we subscribe to a theology where we believe G-d has spoken His final word or if we’ve come to religion for the exoskeleton of certainty. But we must remember what G-d’s final word said as He ascended: Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. He is here, working with us, through us, to redeem His creation.

And He redeems us by adding that meltwater, the water of our tears, to our clay and reshaping us, even perhaps making it possible to look at an incredibly painful situation and reflect:

I thought of all the bad luck
And the struggles we went through
And how I lost me and you lost you


Because perpetrator or wounded in any situation, we are all lost. Not one of us, no matter how much we plan, how good we are at looking into the future and gauging consequences, how many pro and con lists we make before a decision, know what we do, because we cannot see it all. Not you, not me, not the Trump or Brexit voter, not the colleague or family member who makes you consider jail time, not my father, not Judas. Maybe a little tenderness, such as that we would give a child, is in order.

To put it another way, as Rachel Remen relates what a rabbi once said on Yom Kippur after his 1 year old daughter grabbed his nose, his tie, and his glasses during his sermon: “Think about it. Is there anything she could do that you could not forgive her for? And when does that stop? When does it get hard to forgive? At three? At seven? At fourteen? At thirty-five? How old does someone have to be before you forget that everyone is a child of G-d?”

And speaking of children of G-d, it’s time to get back to his Son. What a week he has had: adored on his arrival in Jerusalem, betrayed by one of his own, denied by the man he planned to be the rock on which to build His church, agonised by doubt, mocked and spat upon by those he preached to and healed, feeling abandoned by everyone, even His Father. What must have been going through his head as he was stripped, beaten, carrying and then nailed to the cross? I can’t help but wonder, before this first word passed his lips, if it was something very similar to Don Henley’s reflection on the subject:

I've been trying to get down
To the heart of the matter
But everything changes
And my friends seem to scatter
But I think it's about forgiveness
Forgiveness
Even if, even if you don't love me anymore.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

I thirst (Maundy Thursday 2017)

He has sweat blood, he has been betrayed, tried, and scourged. He has carried his cross, fallen, been nailed hand & foot, and been raised up to die in one of the most excruciating ways possible.

He has forgiven his murderers, promised a thief paradise, given the care of His mother to a beloved disciple. And he has, in these last moments, felt the loss of that presence which has been closer than His nearest human breath throughout his ministry.  

Utterly alone. Forsaken. And now, ‘I thirst.’

There is a primal need to thirst, a yearning, a desperation. We are, after all, creatures that are 2/3 water. What those of us who have done a Ramadan fast – especially in the summer – remember is not the hunger, but the desperate need for water. That is why what I call ‘intermediate forms’ of fasting allow liquid as they deny – or curb - our food.

Think about the words we use when we have nothing left: our tank is empty; we are spiritually dry; someone is ‘dried up’. It is no coincidence, I think, that early Fathers sold everything and fled to the driest place on Earth, the place that would keep them right on the edge of death, to face their demons and strip right back to the essence of their relationship with G-d.

Thirst is bone deep; thirst is need; thirst is a desire for life – even from the cross. And Our Lord’s thirst isn’t a passive thing: it is not ‘I am soooo thirsty,’ or the Spanish ‘Tengo sed’ – ‘I have thirst.’ He thirsts – it is active; it is a desire on the hunt.

But for what? He physically thirsts, clearly – Jesus was fully human, and it had been…rather a tough day so far, with the words of the Psalmist to fulfil before it was accomplished.  Thus, the vinegar on a sponge. But, as always with Our Lord, there is so much more.

Just as we use thirst figuratively: we thirst for knowledge, thirst for righteousness, thirst for justice, so does He. But again, for what? Augustine offers us a possible answer in a phrase I saw every year during Lent when I regularly attended the Oratory: sitit sitiri – G-d thirsts to be thirsted for. Perhaps. But there is something unsatisfactory in this – this mutual longing feels incomplete; it lacks connection; it smacks of unfulfilled relationship – and no little emotional manipulation. Thirst for G-d or else YOU are dehydrating Him!

But if we flip back to earlier in the gospel of John, we get a glimmering. Picture the scene: a hot day in Samaria, a well, and a woman approaching it to draw water for her family. A young man sitting there commands her, “Give me to drink.” Left unsaid, “I thirst.” We all know her response, “Seriously? You, a Jew asking me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” (Not quite KJV, but still.) His response is an unexpected one: If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.

The therapist in me loves this line, because when someone tells you what they would give you, more often than not, they are telling you what they want from you. Jesus will give us living water, and there is a not-so-faint echo of the later And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament. 

Our Lord doesn't just thirst for us to thirst for him. He thirsts for us.

The us He knit together in our mother’s womb, the us He dreamt we would be when He created us. The us that not one of us could create, but that these fragile bodies of ours contain. As Dag Hammarskjold said, “I am the vessel. The draught is G-d’s. And it is G-d who thirsts.”

Ah, we may think, great! The draught is G-d’s, I am the vessel, there’s this whole pour your life out as a libation thing. All I have to do is be like the guy in the parable of the talents who puts the talent in the ground and gives it back to the Master unchanged – conveniently forgetting just how well that worked for him.

But there’s a catch. We have this treasure of G-d’s draught in earthen vessels. And earthen vessels have a habit of leaching and changing that which they contain. Every choice we make through the free will granted us changes the draught of G-d’s contained within us for better or for worse, makes it bitter or sweet.

Oh, we think, I’ll ignore the niggle of my conscience just that one time. I can’t forgive him, so I won’t try. I’ll miss out that little kindness. I’ll tell that little lie. I’ll keep quiet about that wrong I know is happening, someone else will take care of it. But those ‘slips’ become habit, and many littles soon become a tsunami of sin. Or, as @absurdistwords once noted in a Twitter thread, you can only play Devil's advocate for so long before you realize that the Devil actually has you on retainer.

And so often, it is more subtle than that, isn’t it, especially when you’re working for the Church? Of course twisting that person’s arm was the right thing to do, it was for G-d. Of course I know what THEIR spiritual path should be, all the while ignoring how far I’ve come off course. I was right to ostracise them, they’re a heretic. The obsession with bums in pews whilst neglecting the souls of those sitting in them. I was right to offer fraternal correction in public, his humiliation is G-d’s will. The creeping spiritual arrogance, the pride that we, at least, are doing G-d’s work. We would do well to remember Hammarskjold’s admonition: It was when Lucifer first congratulated himself upon his angelic behaviour that he became the tool of evil.

Or, to put it in Holy Week terms: Where in our journey do we avoid reaching Golgotha, refusing to get up the first, second, or third time we fall? Where do we demand the resurrection without the crucifixion, or, playing the martyr, refuse to allow G-d to take us down off our cross, so He can move us from crucifixion to resurrection?

So now what? Are we to despair? Is it impossible for us to sweeten this draught? Will we forever embitter it? Again – can you tell I’m currently reading Markings? – Hammarskjold points the way through the prayer Our Lord taught us:

Hallowed be thy name 
*NOT MINE*
Thy kingdom come
*NOT MINE*
Thy will be done 
*NOT MINE*
Give us peace with thee
Peace with men 
Peace with ourselves
And free us from all fear.

Free us from fear? Ah, now that might be a way forward, since all sin is, somewhere, based in fear. But how, in these darkest of times? 1st John tells us: perfect love casteth out fear. But how do we poor humans find perfect love? By falling into the arms of the one who spread them on the cross for us.

Relying on our own meagre human resources, we will soon make the draught undrinkable. But through surrender to Divine will, we become the finest vintage imaginable, the one He intended us to be. And then, He can lift up our vessel and quench His thirst: not by drinking as we drink, but by putting it to the lips of our thirsty neighbour – the sick, the poor, the refugee - those lives He means us to touch & heal, pouring out our lives as a libation until it is accomplished. 



Sunday, 8 January 2017

Reflections on a high school commencement address & today's politics, or, where a Republican senator hands me a guiding principle for life

I woke up this morning thinking about someone I haven't thought about in decades - John Danforth, retired Republican senator from Missouri. As the morning went on, I thought of him more, not less.

Weird, huh? Maybe not so much, since he was the father of D.D. Danforth, who was in my year at school - so yeah, my dirty little secret, for those of you who might not have guessed, is that I went to a posh private school, alongside the daughters of senators and kings (Hussein of Jordan).

I'll never forget seeing him come to school, taking the steps 2 and 3 at a time from car park to the main door of the school. My 'Hello, Senator!' always met with a smile and gracious 'hello' back, no matter how much of a hurry he was in. I liked him; even in our brief encounters, you could feel the integrity and the calm around him, the exact opposite of my father; I often wondered what he'd be like as a dad.

Those occasional brief encounters occurred for years - then, he spoke at our graduation...and it changed my life. I had that commencement speech on my wall for years, with sections underlined and starred, until it fell apart; I'd love to have it again now. I'm pretty sure he began with congratulating us, telling us how we were all being applauded, and rightly so, graduating was quite an achievement. But then.

Then.

He told us that we would be applauded throughout our lives, but our real job was not to seek that applause. *Our real job was to go out and GIVE it - to everyone around us: our friends, lovers, children, colleagues.* His last line was for us to go out there and 'Start clapping. Never stop.' I can't speak for anyone else at our graduation, but I could feel the electricity of truth run through me and, in that moment, I swore I would do that; that I would hold up those around me however I could. That principle was diametrically opposed to my parents' 'People are commodities to be used for your benefit,' but John Danforth's speech spoke to MY integrity; it pointed due North and let me find my way.

This morning, it struck me: *one of the guiding principles of my life was handed to me by a Republican senator*.

And I finally understood - I'm not just incandescent with rage, I am grieving. I am grieving the loss of men like John Danforth from our political scene. The loss of the Republican party that could be home to men like him. The loss of our common vision for a better nation and world, even if we disagree on the how. The loss of our ability to trust and talk to each other, to reach the compromises we need to go forward.

I am a diehard Dem - but had John Danforth run in 2000, I can't say whom I'd have voted for. And had he run and won, my heart would have been happy - because I would have known I could entrust my country to the hands of this man who understood the meaning of service - not just as a senator, but as a priest.

That is what we all need to move back towards, whatever our calling in life - a sense of service, an orientation towards the greater good. Haven't our decades of obsession with ourselves shown us that selfishness leaves us empty and brings disaster upon our heads? That connection and service bring us joy? That we need the balance of turning inward for contemplation and self-examination, then turning back outward to offer the fruits of that contemplation as service to others, to pour out our lives as a libation, and in doing so, move the world towards wholeness?

And where is that sense of service more needed than in those who serve our communities and nations? Even if they differ in the how, the why - the greater good of humanity - must be the same. So let us commit ourselves to unseating those obsessed with exalting themselves and oppressing others and seating those committed to the greater good - whatever their party affiliation.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Goodbye, 2016

Dear 2016,

Damn, you were brutal. We should have known what was coming when you took David Bowie 10 days into the year, with Alan Rickman to follow 4 days later. You certainly started as you meant to carry on, because 3 months later, we lost Prince.

And just when we caught our collective breath, you'd strike again. Two months after that, Brexit, a month later, a deeply insecure, unknowledgeable, shrill, mean-spirited PM took over from a rather thick, self-absorbed one.

Then, the US campaign: filthy, mean-spirited, hate-mongering, feeding the rabid hatred of those - on the left and right - who blindly wanted to tear down the (granted, broken) system with no thought of building another.

Surely, we thought, surely, restraint and moderation would win. Surely, experience, the steady hand, the imperfect yet qualified candidate would win.

But oh no, 2016, this was your 'hold my beer' moment par excellence, wasn't it? No moderation here. YOU, who took our legends and gave us Brexit, were certainly not going down the middle road. Extremism won.

Hate trumped love.

And in 2017, we are going to have to clean up the devastation you left behind.

But I have one thing to say to you: thank you.

Yes, you read that right, thank you. You hurt like f*** right from the beginning in the places where it would hurt the most: you took those who stood for and exemplified diversity, who spoke loudly that diversity was our strength, that we may be many parts, but we were one human body, and you left us those like Theresa May and Donald Trump who screech like harpies in favour of hate, division, a smaller mind and a smaller world. You were one fucking cunt of a teacher.

But though I'm going to tell you to get the hell out and not let the door hit you on the way out, I am grateful for you. You were our true mirror. Theresa May, Donald Trump, the Tories, GOP, Putin and his ilk - they didn't arise in a vacuum: they are who we have become.

They are who we become when we allow our points of view to dictate facts, rather than facts to inform and challenge our points of view. They are who we become when we are afraid of those not like us, when we are afraid of change, when we are afraid to move past what we know. This is who we become when we are only for ourselves, forget how to serve, and harden our hearts against those in desperate need. When we choose style (Dale Carnegie has a shitload to answer for) over substance, appearance over character. When we do a little learning, rather than drinking deeply of the Pierian spring. When we resent and deny expertise. When we no longer take the time to listen to stories: each other's, our cultures', the archetypal.

Had we been on track, had we allowed minor corrections, had we been looking at what was true rather than looking away, you would have been an altogether different year.

But we weren't. So you had to be our prophet and our massive correction to give us a chance to return to the dynamic balance, the homeostasis, that defines the universe.

So again, thank you. Thank you for opening our eyes. For showing us that we have strength and fierceness we never thought we did. For shaking us out of our torpor and complacency into full wakefulness to know and fight for what we hold dear, for those things so much greater than us: love, compassion, true freedom, unity. We will always be stronger together.

You reminded us that growth needs resistance - and often demands that we ARE that resistance. We will heed your clarion call, and we will fight. Because in the end, love WILL trump hate.

You have given us clearer sight, more open - if more scarred - hearts, renewed our profound commitment to love, truth, justice, mercy. You have brought us a chance to Deepen (see Madeleine L'Engle) at last.

We stay awake and stand ready at the Gate of the Year. It may be dark, but day WILL break. Let it open.

We release you in love, with thanks - and move fearlessly into 2017, whatever it may bring.

Fare thee well: we may have cursed you from here to the Eagle Nebula, but we couldn't have done without you - much as we hate to admit it.

Sincerely,
Me

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Why 'nice' and 'civilised conversation' don't work in a Trumpian world

Ok, it's now time for me to go public about the 'empathy and being nice to Trump and his supporters, because we're civilised, good people and that's how everything works. You sit down and talk things out calmly, mediate, blah blah blah. Don't be meeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnn!' narrative that's going around normalising him - and them.

Fucking BULLSHIT.

If you don't want to listen, if you want to dismiss me as angry, dismiss this as a 'oh that's her' rant, if the ferocity makes you uncomfortable because you need your nice little ordered world, then walk away from this entry. Because it's not MY job to make you comfortable on MY wall. You can look away. I'm not going to be other than I am for you.

My father is a manipulative, emotionally abusive, sadistic waste of carbon molecules, with much in common with Donald Trump and many of his supporters. I spent my *entire childhood* and part of my adulthood navigating that. I got called a 'whore' at the drop of a hat, and worse than that free with my breakfast cereal.

Here's what I learned. *You can't talk to people like my father, Donald Trump, or those supporters*. Any time you try civilised conversation, mediation, negotiation, they think you're weak. They see it as a way to fleece you, manipulate you, take you for everything you've got, mock you, gaslight you. Normal relationship brokering is off the table because they do not share your worldview or your moral centre. People are commodities to them, to be used and then thrown away. So cut the 'let's talk nice to them' narrative and talk to them in a way they understand.

You know what my father understood? He understood me kicking back when he pulled my hair. He understood my yelling at him at the top of the stairs when he had gone too far. He understood my moving out with 2 bin bags, my throwing him out of my flat when he showed up, and my not giving a f*** about what he was going to tell his mother about her 'good granddaughter'. He understood my giving the car back when he threatened to report it as stolen when I went to visit my cousin and her husband. He understood me not speaking to him for the last 12 years. So, as you can see, the ONLY thing he has EVER understood, the ONLY thing that got through, was figuratively putting him up against the wall and getting in his face.

Because what my father values, what *Trump* values, is overt strength - and the balls to shove his face in it. (Interestingly, an ex white supremacist on Twitter said if people had talked nice to him, he'd still be a white supremacist. It was people getting in his face that forced him to change.)

There's no room for nice here. No room for softpedalling. No room for safe spaces - nowhere is safe now. What there is room for is love: ferocious, protective, powerful love that will go to the wall, go any distance to protect the beloved - the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of others' teeming shores. We take the homeless, tempest-tost and give them sanctuary. THAT is who we ARE, what we fight for. The people, every last one of them. Yes, even those we need to put up against that figurative wall because in their pain and blind rage, they are trying to destroy what is most precious in our humanity. Just as I can recognise my father's awfulness arises from unresolved pain and grief and feel for it - even as I don't give him an inch - so can we understand and feel for those we must fight. But understanding and feeling for them does not mean we do not hold them accountable, that we do not hold them against that wall and get in their face with every means at our disposal: the legal system, protest, a press that fearlessly speaks the *truth* about what's happening, our vote.

We are walking in the dark, and we must light candles to find our way and give us light till the dawn returns. But don't wave a torch around and tell me it's the sun. Let the *truth* be your light, however frightening you find it.

Friday, 8 July 2016

To America, after last night in Dallas

Dallas.

Sorrowful, yes. Shocked, no. Where justice is denied, vengeance will follow. Everyone should have seen this coming - the officers guilty of every incident of police brutality; police departments that don’t train officers properly, then mindlessly protect them for wrongdoing; the Internal Affairs sections, lawyers, and grand juries that let murdering police officers off the hook; policymakers. Everyone. This was the natural consequence of a series of actions and lack of a fair, just response to them. This is the consequence of denial.

But perhaps we didn’t expect THIS. Perhaps we expected the police officers known to be guilty in notorious cases of brutality to be executed. More likely, we expected a mass shooting or a bomb at a police station, or police killed by angry demonstrators. Typical American style, thoughtless violence. Terrible one day, forgotten the next.

This was something completely different.

This was horrifyingly elegant - in its timing, in its execution, in its symbolism - using police and military tactics against men in uniform. There was intelligence behind this: resourcesful, strategic, patient, coldly angry. Not the hotheaded anger one expects of Americans that lead to many incidents of one-off violence.

Cold rage. One that recruits men who can lie in wait for hours, picking off their targets. One that may have placed a number of bombs around Dallas - and even if they haven’t, a member (one trapped by police, no less) had the presence of mind to say they did, so police are wasting resources trying to find those bombs after the chaos. One with members who escape in a black Mercedes. One that can wait for the right time and place to execute its plans.

Welcome to a homegrown terrorist cell.

Because you see, where there is a large reservoir of swirling, unresolved emotion, eventually an organising mind, a seed crystal, will emerge and draw that reservoir to it, creating a structure. A structure with a function. And that function will, for good or for ill, channel that emotion to a particular purpose. Whether it’s Martin Luther King or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, that mind will come and draw like ones to it. That mind is here, and the energy it draws is the endless, deep rage of those who have been done wrong and who have not been heard.

You are coming to the last exit off this highway, America, the last chance to come off, turn around, and deal with this before it is dealt with for you. Because you ignored all the earlier exits, this is going to be incredibly painful, long, and difficult, but it must be done. To paraphrase a favourite song: you missed the stop sign, took a turn for the worse. Then you went rushing down that freeway, messed around and got lost, you didn’t care…

…and now too many of you are dying to get off.

Stop dying. Start living. You are a country with a beautiful dream that has turned into a horrible nightmare. Wake up, America. Wake up and face your demons. Because only then can you become the Republic for which your flag stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.