Tuesday, 29 May 2007


A friend on Facebook (not named Tim) has this as his profile picture, and I laughed so hard, people must have thought I needed the men in white coats.

Most of you will know the reference, though that wasn't what made me laugh. I immediately thought of my quite controlled, rather authoritative (occasionally -arian)
friend Tim, who would never have a discipline problem in the classroom. Almost ever. He is capable of that kind of presence.

For those of us who count him as a friend, his wicked sense of humour prevails over the surface dignity...most of the time.

And when we need to remind him to slow down and take himself just that wee bit less seriously, there are pictures like this.

As Tim would say: "Fan-tastic."

Monday, 28 May 2007

You know you're kindred spirits when...

...you can exchange texts like this.

Background: I was eating chicken with chickpeas ("Murgh chana") at Masala in Dorchester last night when I noticed a perfect little ring of onion (as opposed to a battered 'onion ring') fitting snugly over a chickpea.

I texted: "Is thinking that a tiny ring of onion fitting over a chickpea makes it look like the tip of a circumcised penis normal, or am I just hopelessly naughty?"

46 minutes later, he replied, "Surely an UNcircumcised penis? The chickpea presumably is the glans...Happy birthday, btw!"

Monday, 21 May 2007

Finding Judas

Thursday night's "House" episode packed a kidney punch for anyone who is the friend, lover or relative of an addict. Our favourite television doctor, brilliantly portrayed by Hugh Laurie, a Brit who can do an American accent without sounding like he has a wasp in his mouth, is rapidly approaching the bottom of his downward spiral of (prescription) drug addiction. The sharp jabs we've forgiven because he was trying to save lives, the cynicism that amused, the crustiness that we suspected was an overlay for real humanity - all crashed over the line into irredeemable nastiness in the last episode.

Dr. Gregory House was an asshole, and I wanted nothing more than to pull him through the television and beat him up to within an inch of his life to make him see what he was doing to the people around him, especially those who cared about him. I'd have been equally happy if Lisa Cuddy, to whom House utters the unforgivable,
"Good thing you failed to become a mom because you suck at it," had done it for me.

Someone on that writing team knows what they're talking about.

Nowhere is that clearer than in the depiction of how House's addiction affects everyone around him - from the pharmacist who dispenses his prescription to his best friend, James Wilson. House's unpredictable bursts of anger; his life revolving around obtaining the object of his addiction at the expense of everything else; the waning of his gifts; his inability to apologise when he realises he's gone too far will be eerily familiar to many. So will the portrayal of others walking on eggshells; involuntarily flinching away at his approach; their impotent rage; their loyalty, even when the person they became friends with or looked up to has disappeared down the black hole of addiction.

People who have never been close to an addict offer sweeping, facile advice: "Well, just stop spending time with him/her." "TELL THEM what they've become." "Why are you still friends with them?" Of course they need to hear the truth, but what good will destroying an already fragile ego do? And are you telling the truth out of love or to vent your anger and eliminate your own guilt? If they're not ready to hear it, will it do more damage than good?

However, staying with an addict shouldn't bring automatic applause. There are times when walking away and letting them fall is the best thing to do. The reasons for staying with your child, lover or friend aren't always noble. Sometimes you're afraid to leave because you don't know what else to do; sometimes you need to save someone; sometimes you feel guilty. Often, it fills a need to avoid your own pain. There are reasons some people are addicted to taking care of addicts.

That's not to say that one shouldn't stay for love or friendship: if you can keep your sense of self and firm boundaries, enter their darkness without being sucked in, and if you can still find the person you care for, then don't move an inch. Be searingly honest with yourself: motives are rarely pure, and this is no exception. Knowing that, if you honestly want to stay and can do so without losing yourself and becoming a martyr, you deserve that applause.

But remember: *if* they ever come out of the addiction - and it is only ever an *if* - you'll be building a new relationship. Your friend will either choose another addiction or will grapple with the underlying pain and be transformed. The shift in interpersonal dynamics will register a 10 on the Richter scale. No matter how patient, how caring, how understanding you've been, it will all matter: every lie; every broken promise; every time they were too self-absorbed to be there for you; every time they went for the jugular and never apologised because they couldn't remember what they'd said. Whether you admit it or not, you're hurt and angry. That can become a permanent barrier in the relationship if it isn't resolved with honesty and love.

But before that day comes, it's likely that even the strongest camel's back will break.

It is here that the scriptwriters' brilliance came through twofold: first, in the title, "Finding Judas". Aside from the obvious allusion to betrayal, it throws up real questions about Judas' motives: did he feel that Jesus was getting addicted to the power given him? That the attention they were drawing would bring about the extinction of their race? That he didn't go to the high priest out of greed, but because he felt he was acting for the greater good? Did he feel he was being faithless to be trustworthy?

You've started to believe
The things they say of you

You really do believe

This talk of God is true.

And all the good you've done

Will soon get swept away.

You've begun to matter more

Than the things you say...

Listen, Jesus, do you care for your race?

Don't you see we must keep in our place?

We are occupied; have you forgotten how put down we are?

I am frightened by the crowd.
For we are getting much too loud...
And they'll crush us if we go too far.
If we go too far...

Listen, Jesus, to the warning I give.
Please remember that I want us to live." -Jesus Christ Superstar

This interpretation of Judas' motives makes it particularly appropriate that the person who goes to the detective investigating House isn't Chase, whom he punched; or Cuddy, whom he ripped into. It's his best friend, Wilson - the nice guy, the empathetic, caring one who didn't turn when his assets were frozen and his practice shut down by his refusal to incriminate House, but who had finally had enough when other people were really getting hurt.

We see him step into Detective Tritter's office, take a deep breath and say, "I'm gonna need thirty pieces of silver."

And one day, so will most of us.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

One gospel, two sermons...

This weekend, I had the experience of listening to two sermons on one gospel reading. I went to mass twice (polishes halo, checks horns to see if sharpening needed) - last night as a scheduled reader, this morning as a dutiful Catholic.

The gospel reading centred on the line, "Love one another as I have loved you."

Last night's sermon was given by an expansive American priest - his heart was in the mass and in the sermon and it showed. He started off by calling it a nearly perfect gospel reading: the only factor marring it was the timing - Judas had just left to betray Jesus. He then went on to state that loving one another as Jesus loved us wasn't the fluffy proposition it is often suggested to be, because loving as Jesus did meant following the way of the cross, not as in "my cross to bear", but dying those little deaths. He told us, "Think of the people who make you crazy." And he told us that loving them as Jesus loved us means explaining something to them one more time, listening to that problem one more time, letting them push us out of our comfort zone one more time: not rolling our eyes or whingeing behind their backs, but really being *present* for them in that time, in that place. And he even pointed out that when we talk to God, we might sound just a wee bit like those needy people we go on about (squirms uncomfortably).

It was a *wonderful* sermon. He acknowledged our feelings of annoyance and dislike as being human, but told us that we needed to move through them to something bigger, to seeing Christ in each one of those people that make our lives difficult. What made it really work was that it was something he was passionate about - and he was right in there with us. It was a sermon that said, "You're human, feeling that way is normal, but we're here to love one another, so push through it." It left you feeling ready to do just that.

Today, Fr Voldemort, in a sermon that would have kept Freud and Jung busy for months, went on about how, instead of feeling distressed when we feel nothing at church, we should feel relieved because "We shouldn't trust our feelings. Feelings are subjective." Well, so is your opinion. Frankly, my feelings have told me far more about what is really going on than my head ever has.

Love is action, he said. Not untrue. He used Mother Teresa as an example: "She found the poor repellent. But she reached out to them anyway." Now, I don't know if anyone else has a problem with this, but I do. You CANNOT see Christ in anyone *if you find them repellent*. They are mutually exclusive states. Love does not mean feeling a tight bond with someone, true, but it means that *you understand that they are a child of God* and acknowledge that in them - which means you *feel* respect, openness, interest in who they are and the stories they have to tell. Being repelled by them is in direct opposition to being open to them - love is far more than doing what you're supposed to. Mother Teresa has just fallen at the first hurdle to sainthood, and you've fallen into a Kantian fallacy, Fr V.

After that, on to the liturgy. "That is why we should guard against making our liturgy exciting and entertaining." London Oratory Choir, darling? They qualify as 'entertaining', and I know you approve of them. Followed by one of the best lines of all time:


Leaving aside the argument that "daily life is your temple and your religion" (Gibran) and all you do for God should be done with love, warmth and joy, what is the resurrection about? Joy. So, really, yes, we are there to *celebrate* Christ, re-present Him in the Eucharist and enjoy our fellowship, whether we choose evangelical services or a Latin Mass.

To round it off, Voldemort destroyed his entire argument by using Our Lady at the foot of the cross as the ultimate example - even using the phrase, "a sword pierced her own heart". News bulletin: *FEELINGS* DON'T GET DEEPER THAN THAT. Her grief must have been beyond anything someone who isn't a parent can understand. And even though she *loved* her son (with feelings, just to clarify), she *let him go* and engaged with everything his life brought her: joy, worry, the everyday blessings and the sword. She felt every inch of it, and was transformed as a result.

And don't you think that *Jesus* felt that love for us? In what moment in the Gospel do you see him repelled by the poor, the lepers, the adultress, the marginalised?

THAT is your mistake, Fr V. The way to love is to *engage* your feelings, not deny them, as you do, and insist that we should. The way to love is to grow *through* them: the anger, the pain, the hurt, the joy, the grief that are all part of our human experience, and rightly so. "Doing it anyway" should be a stage, not a way of life. Spiritual dryness, the same. To be fully human, we need rain to grow - and we need to be that rain for others.

Of course, this sermon took this particular angle because it is Fr Voldemort's way of being, his particular struggle. And to him I would say this: because you hold feelings in fear and contempt, your feelings own you. Every day, more of the anger leaks out round the edges of that cool surface persona, and takes away a little more of the man you could become. Don't let it destroy you.

I know you don't want to hear it, that you will dismiss it. But I say it because you are my brother in Christ, and even though you drive me crazy, I'm feeling the love right now...

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Who am I?

Picked this up from CJ...figures the celebrity I'd look most like is a man...