Thursday, December 25, 2008

A better tomorrow

Two things that taken together would, I think, change the world for the better:

First, that each person should wear two badges, one showing their total annual income, and the other their total capital wealth.

Second, that all police officers should be dressed in pink.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Pope attacks blurring of gender

This (as David T reminds us)
from a man who WEARS A FUCKING DRESS!!

Memo to Catholics

Your leader is a hate-mongering lunatic.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Killing gay people is not funny

Many people were recently amused by the shoe throwing antics of journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi. According to his brother, al-Zaidi’s actions were ’spontaneous’ and meant to ‘humiliate the tyrant’ George Bush. The New York Times reports that al-Zaidi has become a ‘hero’ in the Arab world.

But once again, has Azarmehr of the excellent ‘For a democratic secular Iran’ blog hit the nail on the head:

What would have happened if the Arab so called journalist who threw his shoe at President Bush, as he claimed ‘for all the mothers and orphans of Iraq?’, had thrown his shoe at Saddam Hussein? For Saddam certainly made thousands of mothers mourn for their sons and thousands of Iraqis had become orphans as a result of Saddam’s massacres.
If Muntazer al-Zaidi was critical of Bush’s policies, as he had a legitimate right to, he could have posed them as questions during the press conference in a civilised manner, something he would have never dared under Saddam.Al-Zaidi is apparently a supporter of Muqtada al-Sadr, the Islamist extremist.
Al-Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army, is a disgusting clerical fascist outfit with a particular love for killing gay people, as Peter Tatchell reported in 2007:

The Madhi Army has been involved in the torture and execution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Iraqis – and many other Iraqis, especially women, who do not conform to its harsh, perverse interpretation of Islam … Muqtada al-Sadr’s men have adopted a new tactic, borrowed from the Iranian secret police. They are posing as gays in online chatrooms, in order to lure gay men, arrange dates and kill them.

Monday, December 15, 2008

This could smart a bit

You may remember how a few weeks ago Mrs goodfornowt announced that she didn't mind me having a little prick. Well how that woman has changed! She now wants me to have a second prick.

So it's back to the doctor today. Wish me luck!

Monday, December 08, 2008

Sweet relief

The guest of our soul knows our misery; He comes to find an empty tent within us - that is all He asks.
St Therese of Lisieux

The power of story

Went to a debate last week at Manchester University. Martin Amis was in the chair. Also taking part were John Gray and Adam Phillips. Deep stuff.

John Gray was mourning the passing of reading books. He quoted research which suggests that the very act of reading alters the brain, presumably in a good way. It seems that digital technology is likely to lead to other, less welcome, cerebral developments. The feeling was that we are in danger of losing a great literary tradition upon which our whole civilization had been securely founded.

It occurred to me though that literacy has itself only lately been added to our cultural landscape and has until recently been the preserve of a privileged few. Oral tradition and the art of story-telling have been more formative of our enlightenment.

Andrew Spurr reminds us of the need to offer counter-stories to the Playstation generation.

There is an old saying that God invented humanity because God loves stories. In the tradition of the Hebrew people, there was a prohibition against rendering their God in the plastic arts and so they went to town on narrative and thoroughly delighted in it. The Hebrew sacred texts are story and counter-story describing worlds and the God who is active in those worlds. If you are familiar with the world painted by the Deuteronomist, that you get what you deserve, and God rewards the righteous, then the Book of Job comes alive as a counter-story, protesting that ill-fortune falls on the righteous too, and the reasons are hidden in the depths of God.

The Christmas stories are counter-stories. They are stories which are holding out for a God and a world which will work differently to the one in which the storytellers live. Matthew uses the Moses story, and Luke the call of Samuel, to tell their listeners that the God who was present in these classical tales is present in Jesus of Nazareth. We know that the Christmas stories are counter-stories because they use words for Jesus of Nazareth which the early audience will have associated with Augustus Caesar. Caesar was Son of God, Prince of Peace, and our Christmas birth story writers are say that Jesus is these things, in other words, Jesus is, Caesar is not. Caesar’s Roman Peace is fine if you are Roman, and so long as Caesar has the biggest army. The peace of Jesus of Nazareth is about seeking out those who do not benefit from Roman peace, and including them at life’s table. Our Christmas stories are asking us whether our God is more likely to be found in a Roman palace, or a cow’s feeding trough.

All of this is commonplace for first year students in Biblical studies, I’m saying nothing new. But over the last several years my worry has been that we have lost our grip on the power of story. When you clear our public spaces of religious stories (particularly those pressed into
the service of worldly interest) you are not left with a pristine post-Enlightenment space. The power of stories is that they are ways of inviting us to consider who we might be, they invite us to make lives in the worlds they describe, and they invite our loyalty and our resources. This is too much power to be left unfulfilled.

Into this space come the storytellers we know, news organisations, spin doctors and advertisements, each seeking to frame the world and our place in it. With the technological gap between generations, the worry is that our children are being formed by stories told by Nintendo, Sony and the like. After school our children step into virtual worlds which are laid out before them. They can progress through these worlds with the purchase of each upgrade, and they are being encouraged to acquire skills which will help them be promoted through the moral universes the games companies have described.

All of this goes by stealth because this happens unsupervised. Work-weary parents may even be grateful for the diversion. Narratives are being quietly assimilated, and these are shared in the schoolyard, and young friends measure each other by their skill and knowledge in worlds barely guessed at by those who have the care of developing the next generation.

We need to dispense with the tinsel-and-teatowel Christmas and recover its visceral power in the world where the story was first told, a world which was about brute force and malnutrition. We need to rediscover the power of telling stories of a God which runs counter to the prevailing
values of the day.

If we can recover Christmas as a counter-story in its own day under Rome, we might want to start telling new counter-stories about the God we believe in, in our own day, to the Playstation generation.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

God in ordinary


doesn’t have to knock

use the front door key

doesn’t check how clean the house is

knows how to use the kettle

and where the spoons go

washes up

is content to sit

and chat about issues

of no importance

or just be quiet

Andrew Rudd

Thursday, December 04, 2008

We, the ordinary people of the streets

I have Sue at Discombobula and Barbara at Barefoot Toward the Light to thank for this. It's a quote from Madeleine Delbrel. I have spent most of my life and a great deal of effort trying to escape ordinariness of one kind or another, but chiefly in myself. Religion and spirituality have often been my means of escape. But these words remind me of something that first drew me to Christ a long time ago.

"We, the ordinary people of the streets, have the distinct impression that solitude is not the absence of the world, but the presence of God.

"Our solitude is the encounter with God everywhere. For us, being alone in a crowd is participating in the solitude of God.

"God is so great that there is no place for anything else., everything is within God.

"For us, the whole world is the meeting place with the One whom we cannot avoid. We encounter God's living plan right there on the busy street corners. We encounter God's splendor in the laws of nature and science. We encounter God's imprint on the earth. We encounter Christ in all these `little ones' who are his own, the ones who suffer in their bodies, the ones who are bored, the ones who are troubled, the ones who are in need of something. We encounter Christ rejected in countless acts of selfishness.

"How could we possibly have the heart to mock these people or to hate them, this multitude of sinners of whom we are a part?

"Godly solitude is the love of people, it is Christ serving Christ, Christ in the one who is serving and Christ in the one being served. How could such activity be for us a distraction from God or mere busyness and noise?

"We, the ordinary people of the streets, are certain we can love God as much as he might want to be loved by us.

"We do not think love will he something extraordinary, but something all-consuming. We believe that doing the little thing in union with God is as loving as our greatest activities. Besides, we are unaware of the size of the measurements of our own activities. We know that everything we do can only be small and everything that God does in us is always great. And so we go about our activities with a sense of great peace.

"We know that all our work consists of being at peace, one with God, while not avoiding the very things that need to be done. Basically it is letting God act through us. ...

"It matters little what we have to do, pushing a broom or a pen, speaking or listening, sewing a dress or teaching a class, taking care of a sic person or tapping away at a computer.

"All this is the meeting place of God, minute by minute, the very place where God's love is revealed."

Happy crappy Christians

Norm has been visiting his mum. But he can't stop blogging.

Notes from the Holy Land

While I've been in Israel I haven't had time to do much blogging. Tomorrow I'm travelling back to England, so radio silence is about to set in at normblog. I hope to resume on Thursday. Meanwhile, leaving Israel, I give you a couple of Israel-related links.

1. Here's an item about some happy clappy Christians, evidently unfamiliar with some of the less salubrious aspects of the history of Christianity, teaming up with a group of Jews, evidently unfamiliar with some of the less salubrious aspects of the history of Christianity, to rewrite a few Christmas carols as attacks on Israel.

2. Then, here's a detail from Mumbai:

Asked specifically if he was talking of torture marks, he said: "It was apparent that most of the dead were tortured. What shocked me were the telltale signs showing clearly how the hostages were executed in cold blood," one doctor said.

The other doctor, who had also conducted the post-mortem of the victims, said: "Of all the bodies, the Israeli victims bore the maximum torture marks. It was clear that they were killed on the 26th itself. It was obvious that they were tied up and tortured before they were killed. It was so bad that I do not want to go over the details even in my head again," he said.

Put together a Christmas carol about that, why don't you? (Also here, here and here.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dying is a bugger

NHS Blog Doctor has this to say:

Dying is a bugger.

It is unpleasant. It often involves discomfort. It is the loneliest experience you will ever go through. It is heart-breaking for you and your family.

It is a real bugger.

But let us not sweep it under the carpet and rush you off to the hospice where death can be processed and packaged. Out of sight. Out of mind.

Hospices remove death from life. They sanitise it. We have already removed birth from life in the UK. Obstetric medical services are currently set up so that no one in their right mind has a home delivery. It does not have to be like that. Now the same is happening to death.

Be realistic about dying. It is not pleasurable. It is not fun. There may be some physically painful times, though these can nearly always be controlled medically. There will be some emotionally painful times. These can not be controlled so easily. You will be sad. You will be lonely. Ideally, you will be at home, surrounded by your family, supported by the family doctor, the district nurses, the Marie Curie nurses and the local vicar or priest. If that is not possible, you will be in the hospice.

There will be some bad times. Times of deep sadness and despair. There will also be some good times, some quality times. Not in any transcendental and philosophical way, but in terms of precious time spent with family and friends.

Whatever else is going on, that is too good to miss. Do not throw it away. And do not ask me to help you throw it away.


Alert as I am to every opportunity to redefine negative stereotypes and champion the culturally despised, I was yet surprised to find that Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland can be icons of liberal society.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somalia born feminist writer was interviewed by Johann Hari.

Somali culture began to demand that Ayaan too become a submissive woman who scrubbed away her own personality and sexuality. When she was five years old, she was made "pure" by having her genitals hacked out with a knife. It was a simple process. Her grandmother and two of her friends pinned her down, pulled her legs apart, and knifed away her clitoris and labia. She remembers the sound even now - "like a butcher, snipping the fat off a piece of meat." The bleeding wound was sewn up, leaving a thick tissue of scarred flesh to form as her fleshy chastity belt. She could not walk for two weeks.

Ayaan soon realised that in a culture so patriarchal it could not tolerate the existence of an unmaimed vagina, "I could never become an adult. I would always be a minor, my decisions made for me. But I wanted to become an individual, with a life of my own." She heard whispers of a world where this was possible by reading novels. For her, even poring through Enid Blyton and Barbara Cartland seemed transgressive, because they depicted a world where boys and girls played together on the basis of equality, and where women chose their own husbands, rather than having them forced on them by their fathers. Imagine a world so patriarchal that Barbara Cartland seems like a gender revolutionary.

Is Richard Dawkins missing the point?

S O Muffin thinks so.

Religion doesn’t make you moral, and doesn’t make you immoral either. Religion (or, for that matter, any “sacred text” – Das Kapital will do) gives you an excuse to be what you anyway intend to be. If you want to be a complete bastard, kill the infidels, take away their land, fly airplanes into their buildings, stone 13-year old girls, hang gays off cranes at the market place, bomb abortion clinics – with little effort you’ll discover all the right sacred quotes to salve your conscience and persuade you that what you are doing is the will of god. However, if you want to spread peace and understanding, comfort the sick, help the powerless, build bridges, reach to your enemies, be a mentsch – well, also then you’ll discover, with equally little effort, all the right sacred quotes to “justify” your actions – if there was any need to justify them.

The true dividing lines are not between religious and atheists. They are between bastards and the mentsch, of all creeds and none.