Saturday, 28 October 2006

The letter Q...

Whilst on IM with a good friend of mine, we qame up with:

Quail Qaesar,
Quite qute questing queen qoala quintuplet quorum
qourageously, quietly quaffs qoqoa queerly, quickly, quixotically,
quasi-qooqily qonqing qoqonuts qoyly,
qrying 'quack quack' qooly,
qooing qutesily,
qalmly qicking quavering qats,
quibbling quirkily, quintessentially,
qapering qhaotiqally, quivering...'

I'm qoming out of the qloset...I love the letter Q. I always have - when I watched Sesame Street, I was thrilled when it was sponsored by the letters q and x or z. Qs just looqed so perfeqt, with that tail in both the qapital and lower-qase versions. It's also the sound it represents, I think - partiqularly in Urdu/Punjabi and Semitiq languages - that 'k', but further baq in the throat...I just loved the way it felt, the way it sounded, how nice it was to be able to do it.

And part of it is my penchant for the underdog...q's just don't get used nearly enough, and only before 'u's - hence my being a founding member of the Qoppa resurreqtion society and my love of transliterating anything from Hebrew, Urdu, Punjabi, Arabiq with the letter 'qaf'.

Queer, I know.

But Q is...exQuisite.


Friday, 27 October 2006

Practically perfect preaching...

This week's sermon award goes to one I didn't even hear - my friend Jan came in and asked if I wanted a copy. On hearing who had preached it, my response was "Absolutely!" I'd heard about it briefly during coffee last week and had been intrigued, but didn't want to bother said Father by asking for a copy, though I was hoping against hope that I'd get to see it at some point - or work up the courage after term to ask for a copy...and Wednesday, it falls into my lap. There IS a God.

From my clerical friends, I know that the reading that strikes fear into the heart of the most seasoned preacher is the one where Jesus speaks on divorce...what do you say that won't re-open painful wounds for your divorced/divorcing/separated parishioners, especially when the teaching of the Church is so rigid? It often inspires courage, as it did with one of the MiB up the road 9 years ago, when he preached about the "Church needing to learn"; too often, though - and understandably so, I guess - it becomes an excuse to trot out a defence of the Church's teaching on divorce. It was on this reading that Fr "Current prior, pro librarian" preached his sermon a couple of Sundays ago.

Fr. Prior is, bar none, my favourite preacher...and that says a great deal, not only b/c he is part of an Order known for its preaching and his house presents a great deal of stiff competition, but also b/c I'm a tough Catholic customer. I dislike lazy sermons, sloppy arguments, browbeating, thoughtlessness, any of that. Start off poorly and you'll either lose me or put me in a pugilistic mood - I can't tell you how many sermons I've mentally taken apart by about 6 minutes in. Never, in the years I have heard him preach, have I gone either way during one of Fr Prior's sermons.
It's not because I tend to agree with him, though that probably plays a part in my feeling safe enough to open up and listen; my ideologically diametrically opposed friend and I both have hung on his every word. Nor is it because he has a rich, deep voice that is a pleasure to listen to - rivalled only by the ex-Master of the Order and one of his younger brethren now preaching and teaching elsewhere.

No. It's because his sermons remind us that things aren't always what they seem - from nightmares to language, anything and everything is an instrument in getting you to look at things from a different angle, more deeply, with a greater awareness of the nuances and complexity of our faith. Every time I hear him preach, at some point I think, "I didn't know that! How qool!" or "OOOOO, looking at it that way means NOT A and B, but Q, X and Z. Which then leads to..." His arguments are always tight and elegant, and he challenges us and shakes us from our comfort zone - but always with warmth and humour. He reminds us that we can never stay still, that we ARE a pilgrim Church, we are called to grow and move forward to God, we need to be pushed - that faith is ALIVE; it grows and changes. And that is as it should be.

So, how did he approach the ever-so-scary readings? Oh, I wish I could just type all three pages here, but I can't. So I'll try to summarise, using his words where possible. He began true to form:

"What Jesus has to say about divorce in today's gospel will strike many as a hard saying: one that might seem to justify an inflexible stance by the church in the face of the irretrievable breakdown of marriage. But we may be mistaken if we suppose that the meaning of these words is immediately obvious: that Jesus is laying down a simple and categorical law. After all, not much of what Jesus said was immediately obvious. Indeed, earlier in his gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus spoke to the people in provoking riddles, and did not speak to them except in riddles."

He goes on to say that "whatever their theories about marriage may have been, both Jews and Gentiles saw marriage as a human convention designed to achieve certain advantages..."
and moves to take that view apart by taking us back to the Garden of Eden - "God's purpose, Jesus says, is to be found in our first reading, about the making of the earth creature - adam. [in my head, I gave it the Hebrew pronunciation]
"When we turn to that narrative, the first thing we learn about this earth creature is that he is defective. That is very surprising - certainly a clue that all will not be what it seems in this story."

Now we move on to God's realisation that the earth-creature's being alone is a mistake, and he desperately makes creature after creature to ease Adam's loneliness ("We have a picture now of God rather like an anxious parent...") - sans success until he takes one of Adam's ribs and creates for him "a companion and partner who was his equal."

Wow. I mean, purely and simply, WOW. I, personally, have never heard Genesis interpreted in this way - and I've had the benefit of hearing at least a couple of interpretations from clergy of each of the Abrahamic religions. This blew me away - it made sense, at last. It was like a kaleidoscope turning and a pattern falling into place. But it got even better...

"Where our version has Woman and Man, the Hebrew has the same word in feminine and masculine form - isha and ish. And to emphasise the complete equality of the two, the chapter ends, "and the man and the woman were both naked, and were not ashamed." He then spoke of veiling - crossing Jewish, Christian and Islamic cultures, and quoting St Paul's (heinous) verse on woman being the reflection of man, he said, "The veiling of women, in other words, is a symbol of their subjection and inferiority to men. But in our passage from Genesis, the woman is naked, and not ashamed. She is no sense inferior or subordinate to the man, both are equal." It probably IS a good thing I wasn't there on the day - at this point, I might have gone up to the lectern and HUGGED him for that.

Now, we part ways briefly - but only b/c of my personal view. His argument remains solid as he says that Chava's eating the apple ruptured that equality, making her subordinate to man as per God's words. I still tend to think of the story of the Fall in archetypal terms, and original sin is still a big issue for me - but it's MY faith that's at issue at this point - his worldview and argument remain completely coherent.

And the end...well, again, I'll let him speak for himself:
"But in today's Gospel we find Jesus telling us that we must not be content with this consequence of sin, telling us that we should not just reject divorce, but the human convention that marriage became as a result of sin, and pointing us back to that first moment of equality, to the union of equal partners described in the book of Genesis. It is only a union of that kind that can be described as having been joined by God, and therefore indissoluble by man: a union in which each spouse recognises the other as an equal human being and strives for the full flourishing of that partner and companion. Such a union, and only such a union, is fit to be called a sacrament of the new creation, a participation in the work of Christ, who restores, renews and remakes out humanity so that it comes to be as God intended it to be in the beginning."

Amen. I told you it got better - if only you could read it all, b/c the story-telling in the middle is as lovely as everything I've quoted here. And if you're reading it, Father, drop me an email and I'll correct anything I've misrepresented. Just noting the craftsmanship involved in its structure is a pleasure. And if you thought this was good, you should have heard him during Holy Week. Chills up spine kind of preaching.

And to boot, I can think of few other people I'd rather have at my back if I were in real trouble. He's one of the rare people that I've trusted immediately and completely. Doesn't suffer fools gladly, but endless patience if you have a real problem. The kind of person you'd leave your 3-year-old with for an afternoon without a second thought - but you might get a gourmet cooking lesson when you take her home. Always teaching, preaching, fixing, listening...all the things good priests do.

My only reservation is that he's an Aussie that doesn't follow the cricket (hard to believe, I know), so I won't get to test out the theory that Aussies ignore a sporting contest when they're losing. So if, in the middle of the Ashes, he comes up to me and wants to talk about the frog jumping contest in Alice Springs, it won't be because we're winning; it'll be because he's actually interested in which frog won. The rugby, I suspect, might be a different matter...(*she ducks and runs*)

But seriously, Father, this one's for you - thanks for everything you do for all of us, all the time.

Monday, 23 October 2006

The Garden of Eden - a prequel, wherein God and Satan strike a deal...

God: Lucifer...Lucifer, where are you?

Satan (thinks): F*** off. You made me like this. Don't come playing all "benevolent Creator" with me.

God: Lucifer...oh, there you are. Pray tell, what are you doing?

Satan: I believe, Lord, the colloquial expression would be "eating dirt".

God: Oh yeah, sorry about that. Had to make an example of you, see. Couldn't have the others thinking they could get away with it.

Satan: Yeah, got that. Thanks a bunch. What do you want?

God: Listen, I, erm, need your help.

Satan (interested): Oh really? And what the, Eden, am I supposed to do from down here? I mean, all-powerful Lord, what is it that the three aspects of you can't manage without humble little me?

God (squirming): Erm, I want to lose Adam and Eve.

Satan (eyes widening, slithering closer): REALLLLLLLY? I'm all ears, erm, I mean vibration sensors.

God: Look, they're not really meant to stay up here. There's no resistance; they need to grow. Adam's getting a beer gut and Eve is becoming vain...and as for their lack of character, oi vey. I saw it and it was good, but they're boring me to tears now.

Satan (slyly): So, what is it you want me to do? And what might I get out of it?

God: Sand dunes of dirt to eat?

Satan: Hmm. Sounds like the Ruach has deserted you. Not inspiring. Take two.

God: Hmmm. Ok, ok, you get to be a trickster - introducing an element of chaos, and a bit of temptation to keep things interesting. I'll also throw in your own real estate, with hierarchies of demons to mirror the angels you were in charge of, 'cos you'll need the help. The paperwork will be murder.

Satan: I'm listening.

God: I've already tried. I told them that they can't eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Satan: AND THEY'RE STILL AVOIDING IT?? WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE CREATURES OF YOURS? Send them back to the workshop and get a refund.
(suddenly comprehending) Ah.

God: Yeah. You see the problem.

Satan (thinking): Hmmm. Has the Ruach run out of ideas?

God: Free will is a sticking point here. I can't exactly cajole, coerce, strongly suggest...

Satan: So you need an external agent.

God: Whatever it takes; just get them out of the damn garden.

Satan: Right. They're your creations; any suggestions on how to approach this?

God: I'd go for the woman. She thinks for herself, which is more than I can say for that lump of clay currently developing a beer gut.

Satan: You know what that means, don't you?

God: That men will rule the earth, subjugate women and have a monopoly on organised religion?

Satan: Yes. You sure you want to do this?

God: Absolutely. It'll make things more entertaining: the women will rise up over time and take their rightful place - on top - in the bedroom and the boardroom.

Satan: Are you SURE?

God: Or men will make the human race extinct. Doesn't matter; we'll start again.

Satan: Can I be an angel again then? The brightest of them all?

God: Of course. Just remember to bow when I ask you to, next time.

Satan: My neck's a little stiff...

God raises a celestial eyebrow

Satan: Ok, ok, you're on. It's a deal. Oh, and Jesus?

The Son: Yes?

Satan: I'll see you in Hell.

The Son: Wouldn't miss it.

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Racism on the underpass...

This morning, as I approached the underpass I've used for nearly nine years now, I saw something I've never seen before - a silver swastika painted on the downhill pavement that leads to the underpass. As I looked at the walls, there were silver messages of hate everywhere - "I hate Pakies me", "Kill Pakies", "F*** Pakies" [the creativity was amazing], "NF" [National Front - a far-right British party opposed to immigration and multiculturalism], "BNP" [British National Party, which "stands for the preservation of the national and ethnic character of the British people and is wholly opposed to any form of racial integration between British and non-European peoples."]

My instantaneous reaction was shock, before my lips compressed into the cold, controlled anger that meant I would detach from any horror, fury or fear that I might otherwise feel, especially two days after seeing pictures of the unspeakable horrors at Belsen. Instead, my detachment allowed me to note the absurdity of certain things:

  • The swastika was left-facing - not the exclusively right-facing one used to represent the Nazi party and the BNP. If you are going to use an offensive symbol, have the grace to get it right.
  • The irony of using a symbol that has a huge positive significance in *my* ancestral culture against me - it has been on Hindu and Buddhist temples for millenia. It is derived from Sanskrit -"su" meaning "good", "asti" meaning "to be", "ka" being a diminutive. [Or "tika" meaning "little thing" or "mark"] So a swastika means "to be good" or "good little thing". In my ancestral language, a**hole.
  • As repelled as I am by the idea, Hitler adopted it in admiration of the Indian Aryans. Of which, as a Punjabi, I am one. Compare my genetic markers with yours, and you'll find that in terms of what's important in your small-minded, racist, evil idea of "racial purity of the Aryan race", I win.
  • If you're going to complain about how "furriners" never learn the English language, do feel free to use it properly: the correct spelling is "Pakis" and the correct grammar is "I hate Pakis".
  • Do you ever eat a curry? Shop on Christmas Day at your corner shop? Go to the hospital or the doctor's surgery and see a South Asian physician or nurse? Without multiculturalism, you'd have none of that.
Ok, I'm not so detached anymore. But nor am I going to stop walking through the underpass I have walked through for nearly nine years. I'm not giving him that kind of control, and I believe that those who graffiti don't often do. But am I going to be more careful?

You bet.

Friday, 13 October 2006

Once an addict...

...always an addict. "Hi, my name is Irim, I'm an INFJ and an Enneagram 2w1 or 8w9 depending on the day, and erm, I'm a self-discovery test addict."

In unison: "Hi, Irim"

I've been trying to limit myself, but seeing Jacquetta and Reiza Mara (you're right, CJ, I love her blog and definitely feel a kinship with her!) had done a few broke my resolve:

Your Quirk Factor: 72%

You're so quirky, it's hard for you to tell the difference between quirky and normal.
No doubt about it, there's little about you that's "normal" or "average."
How Quirky Are You?

Your Element Is Water

A bit of a contradiction, you can seem both lighthearted and serious.
That's because you're good at going with the flow - but you also are deep.

Highly intuitive, you tune in to people's emotions and moods easily.
You are able to tap into deep emotional connections and connect with others.

You prefer a smooth, harmonious life - but you can navigate your way around waves.
You have a knack for getting people to get along and making life a little more peaceful.

Such an INFJ addiction! Must stop... not a bad assessment though. I LOVED these two questions:

"You openly express opinions that are unusual, controversial, or just plain old strange."

Moi? Nah, never.

"You say things purely for shock value."

Wouldn't dream of it. I'm, erm, shocked that you'd suggest it.

*Pounds table* *Wipes eyes* Ah, that was good. Guess they appeal to the 8w9 in me - the "challenger/leader" with a "peacemaker" wing (go figure). What's really funny is that I looked up ideal mates for my enneagram type of the day - and it's 2w1. I should marry...myself.

No wonder I'm still single. It's all becoming so clear now...

Nobel Peace Prize

Whilst chomping down on a chicken wrap, I've just checked the BBC website for the Nobel Peace Prize winner...and wept for joy.

Many, many congratulations to the Nobel Committee for showing courage and integrity in choosing an unknown Bangladeshi who has done more for the world's poor than all the yammering rock stars and politicians put together.

I nearly wept with shock and horror when I saw that George W. Bush and John Bolton had been nominated. I rolled my eyes when Bono and Geldof were nominated, but better them than Dubya or Bolton the Bellicose. Speaking of the latter, get this (pay attention, Alanis, THIS is ironic) - Bolton was nominated by a Swedish *LIBERAL* party leader (virtual Heimlichs as needed - Per Ahlmark, left of centre, my a**) for:

"their repeated warnings and documentation of Iran's secret nuclear buildup and revealing Iran's "repeated lying" and false reports to the International Atomic Energy Agency." (Wikipedia)


Oh yeah, you're right-wing - probably not.

Above all, shame on the Nobel committee for *accepting* such a nomination.
It's enough to make one want to pray for a meteor to strike the Earth and hit the reset button. "Human race beyond redemption, evolution: take 2."

But with God's hand centimetres from the reset button, the Nobel Committee comes to our rescue and presents the Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus, professor of economics at Chittagong University in Bangladesh and the pioneer of microcredit - the lending of money to entrepreneurs too poor to borrow from a traditional bank. 97% of his borrowers are *women* - so often disenfranchised in the Third World. In fact, his first loan was $27 of his own money to a group of women making bamboo furniture in a nearby village who needed to repay loan sharks, since traditional banks wouldn't touch them with a, erm, bamboo pole.

Since then, his Grameen bank has made $5.1 billion in loans from 2185 branches, with a recovery rate of 98.45%. How has he managed that without collateral? By creating support groups where individuals act as supporters and co-guarantors for eachother - every group of five is loaned money, but they are denied further loans if one person defaults. His borrowers own 94% of the bank. More than half of his borrowers have pulled themselves up out of poverty by their bootstraps, doing what Band Aid and the West have failed to. He has done in practice, through the simplest of ideas and a real understanding of the culture and needs of the people he serves, what the big boys like the World Bank couldn't.

HSBC, eat your heart out - and meet the world's true local bank.

I don't say this about South Asian men terribly often, but I could HUG him. He makes me proud to be able to claim him as one of our own. And so, Professor Yunus, I raise my glass of lhassi to you and say "Masha'Allah!"

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Further canon law...

"The Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office is seriously alarmed about the ever growing practice of
so called artificial onanism, which consists in having recourse to the use of various chemical and mechanical
devices to rob the natural act of generation of its power to beget new life." --Canon Law Digest, v. 5, p.

Initially, having taken 'onanism' in its more common current usage - i.e., masturbation - I thought, "How forward
looking of the Catholic Church! Already concerned about sex toys such as vibrators, inflatable dolls, etc. taking the
place of "lie back and think of England" sex in 1955! Wow!" Then I remembered who Onan was (look it up, says the
librarian sternly, looking over her specs), and realised that it was about artificial birth control such as condoms, etc.,
rather than, as a good male friend put it, "getting off at Gateshead." *Sigh* All that excitement of discovery for

And, unusual for canon law, I found a very ambiguous dedication at the beginning of v. 2:

"To the queen of the Society of Jesus"

To quote many of my teachers: Be specific.

Monday, 9 October 2006

Canon law

I am currently cataloguing The canon law digest : officially published documents affecting the Code of canon law, 1917-1933 by T.L. Bouscaren (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1934). He has collected a series of question & answer sessions, as well as illustrative cases, to help priests undersand and interpret canon law. It makes it more...digestible, as it were. Well, this case on p. 518 certainly did:

Null (i.e., marriage declared invalid) - AAS 13-54
"Chinese girl, 13, in 1900, married Chinese man, 30, who was semi-fatuus [fatuus: L, foolish, silly, idiotic]. Evidence showed he did not understand nature of marriage. Rota quotes Gasparri, n. 881, on degree of discretion needed for matrimonial consent. "Simple use of reason is not sufficient." Man really was an idiot. A clear case."

Sometimes, the Catholic Church is succinct, correct, and says far more about the human condition - and itself - than it ever intended to.

Sunday, 8 October 2006


I knew if I blogged long enough, my cool, cynical facade would be shattered. Was sent this and loved it:

We Send You Our Blessings

Schmaltzy, American, saccharine, I know, I know. But the sentiments are true, and the pictures are beautiful.

May you all be blessed.

Friday, 6 October 2006

Bahkra (goat) bemusement...

Last night, I was online with a friend I'm going to visit in London this weekend. One of the wonderful things about our friendship is that he spent several years in Pakistan (he's English), so he understands a side of me that none of my other close friends quite get, b/c they don't know the culture. I can go to him with all the family/cultural stuff I can't take anywhere else. It turns out that one of his Pakistani friends is visiting this week and we're meeting him at the pub Saturday evening.

Of course, our conversation often turns towards Pakistan, and last night was no exception. I was complaining about not being able to find anywhere lay a jumper to dry flat, especially since the cats have taken over the dining room - he had an easy but untenable solution (no, it *wasn't* the microwave - you know who you are). Then he said, "Isn't it funny how Pakistanis don't have pets?" That took me back...

It was December and I was six. My parents reckoned it was ok to take me out of school for a month, and we were in Pakistan, currently at my dhadhi's (paternal grandmother) house in Sahiwal (southeastern Punjab). One cool morning, I walked out and found a goat tethered to our neighbours' 'tree'. I went to pet it - I remember horns bumping against my upper chest/shoulders, so it must have been a billy goat rather than a nanny goat. Whilst the adults were busy, I went out and petted and talked to him - he was white with black patches all over. Over the course of the day, he stopped butting quite so hard and seemed quite happy with my fussing over him. The adults took note and let me feed him. By evening, we were best mates.

The next couple of days followed the same pattern. On the third morning or so, he was gone. I was devastated and asked everyone where he was. I was told that he had run away, and I asked if they would look for him, if he was ok. Of course, they said.
(My friend's oh-so-sensitive male response at this point in the story? "Nah, it had been slaughtered.") Dusk fell, and after a day's play, I asked what was for dinner. My Baji (a term used for older female relatives such as sisters and cousins) Shaista showed me the pot she was cooking in, and I thought I saw a goat's head. I thought, "It's HIM!" No, I reassured myself, the adults wouldn't lie to me. It wasn't my goat. I ate dinner with a clear conscience, but was puzzled when I tried the meat and one of my parents said in Punjabi, "She ate it; she doesn't know." But every now and then, for the remainder of our stay in Sahiwal, I kept an eye out.

Later that night, blissfully unaware of my betrayal of my horned friend, I was being fussed over by one of my older male cousins who'd come to visit - I'm the oldest on my dad's side, but I'm one of the youngest on my mother's; Mohsin is a good 14 years my senior - and I told him, with all the gravity that only a six-year-old can muster, that I was convinced there was nothing in people's heads, b/c you could hear if someone whispered in one ear and you were at the other. "Let's try it," I suggested.

Mohsin swung me up, and I said, "Daddy, daddy, say something!" I listened intently at the other ear.
"Helloooo, Mohsin!"
"SEE!" I said triumphantly, with complete disregard for my elders and male authority. "You have nothing between your ears!"

In my defence, you may as well start as you mean to carry on.

Funeral matters, pt. 1

It occurs to me I haven't delivered a true rant yet, and I promised you one at the beginning. Here goes:

I went to a friend's funeral yesterday - not a close friend, but someone I knew from church - she was the one person who knew that the one time I got up and walked out of a sermon, that was EXACTLY what I had done, not gone to the loo. She was a lovely person who had been diagnosed with a bone disease and had spent a lot of time in hospitals when she was young, and was in some degree of pain most of the time I knew her. She grew up, married, had kids, sang for the noted Anglican choir down the road before her conversion (you could tell where they were yesterday - fabulous), converted to Catholicism 12 years ago and created her own story, as we all do. She had a wicked sense of humour and could always leave me in hysterics when describing the performance of the choir during mass. It would usually begin, "That doesn't sound like any Byrd I've ever heard..."

Her funeral yesterday was simple - it was essentially the 10am English mass (though she attended the 11am Latin on Sundays) with "Dear Lord and Father of mankind" as the opening hymn and "Soul of my Saviour" as the communion hymn, and, of course, the Order of Christian Funerals instead of the usual liturgy.

A few things ruined it for me:

1. Ok, it was the 10am mass, a public one. But IT WAS SOMEONE'S FUNERAL. As soon as you see that, PLEASE walk out, and leave the mourners to their grief. Attend a different mass, or don't attend one that day - it's not going to kill you. I always get rebuked by Catholic priests about this - "The requiem mass is to pray for the dead, so it doesn't matter, the more people who come to pray for the dead, the better." I disagree. It's as if they don't want to acknowledge the pain and grief of the survivors, almost as if they're saying the survivors SHOULDN'T grieve, and if they are and want a private funeral mass, they're being selfish or aren't spiritually advanced enough. Newsflash: Grieving is a healthy, normal, HUMAN process, and it is necessary for moving on. The funeral plays a big part in that - it's a ritual that lets us say goodbye. Priests forget that the 'stranger praying for someone's soul' isn't doing that - they're a voyeur, much the same way people rubbernecking at a traffic accident are. And as for the voyeurs who don't have the grace to sit at the back inconspicuously...

2. The person whose mobile phone went off TWICE...the second time AS SOON AS SHE REFUSED THE FIRST CALL. TURN. IT. OFF.

3. The parish regular (C.S. Lewis' secretary for SIX months and he's STILL cashing in on it) who walked in AND SAT AT THE FRONT. AND DIDN'T EVEN MOVE WHEN MEMBERS OF THE FAMILY NEEDED TO SIT ON THAT SIDE BECAUSE THEY'D RUN OUT OF SPACE ON THE OTHER.

4. The celebrant's sermon:

a. He began by mentioning her "physical difficulties", and saying that we all had physical difficulties as we get older. Maybe I'm being a bit pc, but I can't imagine that after having had a healthy youth, anything that I go through physically would be comparable to what she's been through for as long as she can remember. And I think it might have been better if the sermon had focused on *who she was*, and given us some personal anecdotes.

b. Then went on to say that her spiritual difficulties were even greater. That made me very uncomfortable. It's not my - or anyone else's - business. And even if I did know, I'm not convinced the funeral is the place to bring it up.

c. He quoted,
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

That was in the reading. Then he said, "And I think she found that rest here, worshipping in this church." Not "the Catholic Church" or "Christ's Church" or "the one Church". Honestly, she found peace in her *conversion*, not a particular church - it's a *universal* church, and wherever she was, she'd have found her rest in that.

d. Then came the Catholic triumphalism..."People see the Catholic Church and don't like it. They see authority and are frightened by it..." and so on. I get really frustrated by Catholics (clerics in particular) singing the "Church wonderful" tune, and dismissing anyone who's critical of it as being unable to see the truth. People aren't afraid of the Church's authority - what they see, what they feel, is a Church that clutches the way a controlling parent does when they feel they've lost their child: berating, bemoaning, using guilt and tightening the rules to hold on to what is slipping through their fingers. Rightly or wrongly, what people saw in 2002 was that the first instinct of an institution pledged to protect the vulnerable was to protect itself. I don't mind people thinking the Church is wonderful - obviously I do or I wouldn't be here - but I DO mind people refusing to see its dark side and excoriating anyone who does. Just as you only truly love someone when you know and accept both their light and their darkness, you can only love an institution when you know its strength and failings.

And the funeral needed to be about the deceased and comforting the family, NOT about how wonderful the Church is, or how wrong people who don't accept the Church are - a good number of mourners were non-Catholics. That was a bit below the belt.

e. And then, when he went on about how she seemed to have been there as long as they had been at the parish, he said, "We've been here 16 years, and now I can't remember when she converted..." and looked to one of the chief mourners to give him the answer, "12." Easily solved - look up the records when you're writing the sermon.

He needed to have taken the time to craft a thoughtful, pastorally sensitive sermon.

But there was a real moment in all this: Jim, who helps put the hymn books away after mass, and used to carpool - and giggle like mad - with her every week. When he choked up during the first reading, I welled up. Afterwards, as I headed back to work, and passed him watching them put the coffin in the hearse, pale and set apart, eyes bright with unshed tears. I touched his shoulder and got a soft, "How are you, love?" and hugged him impulsively, asking, "How are YOU?"
"Fine, I'm fine."
And I hugged him again, saying words I never use unless I mean them: "Love you."
As I walked away and looked back over my shoulder, he was crying.

Aspects of the funeral may have left me cold or angry b/c of what I saw as other people's selfishness on a day that demanded self-giving. But it didn't matter - God was there, in the person of someone who had loved her unconditionally.

Requiescat in pace.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

The horrors of revenge...

Yesterday, on a quiet, early autumn day - the feast of the Holy Guardian Angels - in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania - known as "Amish country" - a place where you can see buggies on the road, one room schoolhouses and hex signs on barns (and have THE BEST shoo-fly pie EVER) - 32-year-old Charles Carl Roberts stepped into a one room schoolhouse in the until-then aptly named town of Paradise, told the adults and the boys to leave, and barricaded himself inside the school with ten young girls, whose feet he tied using wire or plastic cuffs.

He went in prepared for a long siege - pistol, rifle, shotgun, 600 rounds of ammo, change of clothes, food. He'd made a checklist. He'd clearly prepared carefully for this day, rehearsed it in his head - then the police arrived and tried to make contact, but couldn't. He tried to tell them to back away, but as the message was being relayed through an operator, he opened fire on the girls, shooting them all in the head. Five are dead - one family has lost two daughters, another has one dead and one injured - five fight for their lives, with a six-year-old in critical condition. A six-year-old. One child died in the arms of a trooper.

The race was then on to find out why, how this unthinkable, horrific act could have happened. What was going on in his head? How could he have gotten so much ammunition? Were there any signs that this was coming? Could we have stopped it? The questions keep coming.

I have to be honest. Despite my fascination with people and my love of analysing their motives - comes with being an INFJ - a huge part of me doesn't give a damn why. What he did was so horrific, I hate him almost beyond anything I've felt before. That part of me is *glad* he's dead, and is only sorry because he shot himself, and the policemen didn't get the satisfaction of taking him out. I don't want to know; I just want him suffering what he put those girls through, over and over and over again. For eternity. With *no* hope of redemption.

In that part of me, I see him, his darkness. And I realise that every single one of us is capable of every heinous act we see committed - our triggers are different, how far we have to be pushed is different, but we all have the potential. I remember a friend once saying that if anyone hurt her brother, "F*** redemption," she'd go to any length to get them. And I know that I'd be the same if anything happened to anyone I loved - I'd be capable of turning my back on redemption and turning into the monster that person would never have wanted me to become.

Hate is blind. So I have to open my eyes and do what I do with everyone else...listen and find out why. No matter how much I want to weep every time I think of the little girls, alone, terrified, unable to comprehend what is happening to them - feet bound, lined up in front of the chalkboard in a place that had been safe just a few hours ago - their families, *his* family. I - no, we - need to look into the darkness and understand why.

Bits and pieces are coming together now -
he finished his night shift at 0300, walked his kids to school at 0845 as he did every morning. Yeah. HE HAD KIDS. A father did this. One with children the same age as the ones he killed. He left suicide notes for his family, claiming a 20 year old grudge, admitting to having sexually abused a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old family member at that time. He and his wife lost a daugher, Elise, 20 minutes after she was born in 1997. Here is an excerpt from his note to his wife:

I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate towards God and unimaginable emptyness it seems like everytime we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger.

I could understand that, feel for it, if he had taken his children to school, walked into the woods, and put a gun in his mouth. Devastating as that would be, he would have taken the only life he had a right to take (all with religious convictions - I know that's debatable) - and his obvious pain and anger would have made it understandable, forgivable, despite the shattered lives left behind...especially those of his children.

But he PLANNED this. All the items I mentioned above...and, oh God, "restraint kits" and *KY JELLY*. Yes. You read that right. He bought the zip ties at 0914 and went to the school. His note is filled with anguish, and yet he methodically planned the abuse and murder of young girls. When he walked his children to the schoolbus to make sure they got there safely, he knew what he was going to do, and had the presence of mind to stop and buy zip ties so he could bind the girls' feet (I found one website which even advertised the fact that law enforcement used them as handcuffs). This was premeditated with a coldness worthy of any predator found in Patricia Cornwell. The dissonance here screams so loudly, even the most insensible to human emotion can hear it.

Psychologists say that paranoia, despair and anger are the three components
in 'revenge' shootings. In Roberts' life, we see all three. In addition to what I've already mentioned, apparently he'd been having dreams about molesting again. He talked about revenge for a 20-year-old incident, which now appears to be the molestations. It seems as if he was afraid, even paranoid, that he'd do it again.

But wait. Revenge is about having been hurt by someone - most revenge shootings are about having been fired or bullied or ignored or cheated on. They're not about "I'm afraid *I'll* do this again." If you actually take responsibility, then the most logical course would be to remove *yourself* from temptation or from the world - suicide. You don't hold children hostage, and you most certainly do *not* make preparations to do the very thing you're afraid of doing.

I've often wondered if paedophiles blame their victims for tempting them. If he believed that they tempted him, made him do it, made him this horrible person, then a revenge shooting makes terrible, twisted sense...and part of that revenge might be to make them suffer before he killed them.

We don't have all the pieces yet, and we may never have the full story. But every act - terrible and good - is a mirror for us all, since society shapes every individual. In this man, this killer, we see ourselves: our anger, despair, paranoia - and our emptiness that comes from increasing isolation from eachother and the belief that things can fill the void that only love - of God, ourselves and others - can.

And as for revenge - the best revenge is going out there, living, laughing and loving...knowing that the bastards didn't destroy you or who you were meant to be. It doesn't matter if they don't know - you do...and if you're honest, revenge is never about them. It's always about *you*.

Enough. It is time to grieve alongside the families, friends and community of those little girls who died and those who still fight for their lives, as well as the family, friends and community of Charles Carl Roberts, all of whom must be in pain we can't even begin to imagine.

Above all, it is time to pray for all the dead - if the Amish can begin the struggle to forgive, both by proclaiming its necessity and spending time with the killer's family (as the teacher in the schoolhouse, Emma Zook, has), then so can we:

Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,
et lux perpetua luceat eis.

In paradisum deducant te angeli
in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem.

HaMakom yenachem et'chem b'toch shar avay'lay Tzion vee'Yerushalayim.