Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thomas Merton

I found these words of his today, and they moved me.

“Contemplation cannot construct a new world by itself. Contemplation does not feed the hungry; if does not clothe the naked…and it does not return the sinner to peace, truth, and union with God. But… without contemplation we cannot understand the significance of the world in which we must act. Without contemplation we remain small, limited, divided, partial; we adhere to the insufficient, permanently united to our narrow group and its interests, losing sight of justice and charity, seized by the passions of the moment, and, finally, we betray Christ. Without contemplation, without the intimate, silent, secret pursuit of truth through love, our action loses itself in the world and becomes dangerous.”

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


An idea promoted last week by the Daily Telegraph was of a new club for people who are so proud that they haven't done things most other folk have, like seeing the Sound of Music, that they want to announce it to the world. The Society of People Who Have Never . . .

Before you too easily dismiss this as so much sanctimonious drivel, let me assure you that this is not necessarily the case. I myself, as one not given to sanctimony, and dwelling permanently far above the realms of drivel, have been known to list my 'nevers' with touching humility.

Never have I bought a lottery ticket, withdrawn cash from a machine, owned a microwave, carried a mobile phone, sent a text message, smoked pot or donated blood. Not because I believe any of the aforementioned is morally wrong or that not having done them makes me more acceptable to the great God above. I just haven't got around to or wanted to do them. One day I might. But then again I might not. The reason they are on my list is that they are things that most people, as far as I can tell, have done.

I think it's about who we are, and how we define ourselves. It works the other way round, in terms of what we do and have done. For instance I have often thought that I must be one of a very small minority of vegetarian (I count this as a positive) Anglican priests, who read the Guardian, vote Labour, support Israel, and follow my local Speedway team, the Belle Vue Aces.

Not that I want to start a club or form a society. Like Groucho Marx, I don't want to belong to any group that would have people like me as a member.

Making Kendal Smile

Not, as you might think, a Cumbrian local council initiative for the forthcoming festive season. It's one of Stephen Jacobs' interests, listed in his CV for Society Guardian.

Kendal is the name of his foster grandson. It made me aware of how much of my time is spent trying to raise a smile on children's faces - and not just children.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Attention deficit

Stewart Dakers in a recent Society Guardian article (November 22) offers some useful observations about certain kinds of children in need.

Among them is Harry. Harry needs someone to help him cope with his mum who keeps cutting herself. Then there's Del, who thinks that it's his fault that his father smacks his mother, and tries to get his dad to hit him instead. Others include Lee, who needs an assessment for a statement of special educational needs, Joleen, who can't understand why her mum, who has nasty breath and gross legs, causes her so much shame, and Chardonnay, who isn't even born yet, but is suffering from the effects of the things her mum is taking to relieve the pains of pregnancy, not least that her partner finds her less attractive and is therefore boning her best mate.

"none of this lot got anything out of Children In Need. Kids like this are not easy-fix material. They are not sexy. The Celebrity Get Me Into Here egofest of the charity calendar simply does not connect. Not in the way it's meant to.
These kids are all victims of institutional adult attention deficit. Like Wayne - sorry, just one more - an angry young man because he doesn't get any attention and never has. On the few occasions his parents play with him, they look well glum until someone calls them on the mobile, and then their faces light up. They don't seem to have time for him.
Something's familiar, right? His mum and dad sound just a tad like ... exactly, all those self-regarding entertainers strutting their self-promoting stuff, their egotism and ambition obliging them to undertake a lifestyle in which attention to self radically reduces attendance on others, including family.
Children have one need above all: attention. Attention deficit is an adult incompetency, a flaw in a culture that views children as commodities - "pass the parcel" kids shuffled between separated parents, designer babies to complement the Jacuzzi, therapeutic Tamagotchis to repair relationships, cradle-candy for the fanzines, pirated "treasures" to create the ideal "rainbow" family. These are victims of institutional child abuse, and it is not a postcode problem. Single parent or double income, council flat or suburban ranch, social housing or stately home, on benefit or on a roll, all produce their share of children in need.
So next year, let's make it Grown-ups In Need: competition between CEOs trying to fill in benefit application forms; the Price Is High, in which Whitehall mandarins guess the cost of clothes; Question Time, with ministers tested on their knowledge of the systems they run; the Weakest Link, with celebrities eliminated on the basis of the time they spent with their children in the previous week.
It could have the phone-in format, with a scoreboard, but instead of money being counted it would be unanswered letters of application, delayed appeal hearings or frustrated welfare visits.
It would be the same show, with the spotlight on those who direct the damage and ration the care. Network the victims with the abusers, confront those who supervise the pain with those who experience it. Generate some bloody anger. Put childcare on trial. It would be extraordinary TV, and might just make a real difference to Wayne, Harry, Chardonnay, Del, Lee and Joleen."