Sunday, 28 August 2011

Oddbabble Splits in Two

I know it's irritating when people do this, but I'm moving my blog. In fact I'm splitting it in two. All the Christian stuff is going here (including all the Christian stuff to date), and all the random stuff is going here (including all the random stuff to date). As a special introductory treat, the Christian one has the 2nd part to the Delight Yourself in the Lord post, and the daft one has a poem about needing a wee.

I'm splitting the stuff up because I thought it made more sense to have one blog for one thing. If someone reads my stuff because they enjoy thinking through how Christianity works in the real world, they may find it irritating to be interrupted by posts about cheese, Germans or poo. If someone reads my stuff because they enjoy thinking through cheese, Germans or poo, they might find it irritating to be affronted with a post about the Christian response to suffering. If you enjoy both, they will be clearly linked to one another so you can easily follow both. If you are friends with me on Facebook, they will both be fed to my Notes feed (once I figure out how to do that).

This also hopefully marks a fresh start when I will be blogging regularly again - going through my old posts has inspired me by reminding me that I agree with everything I say. If I wasn't me, I'd totally read both my blogs. I invite you to dig through the archives if you need distraction from something you ought to be doing instead.

Oddbabble: Signing off from here and regretting going over to WordPress because it is much less geared towards people who can't do stuff on computers.

Monday, 25 July 2011

A Plea for Compassion for the Addicted

I was sad to hear the news of Amy Winehouse's death. Sad that a life had been cut short so young. Sad that a raw and rare talent would not develop any further. Mostly sad for her grieving parents facing one of the worst pains a human can endure: outliving their child.

I had assumed that this response would be fairly universal, so in my naivety I was shocked to read comments, some from friends, implying that her death was deserved, self-inflicted, or that somehow because she was a celebrity and an addict, her death wasn't even a tragedy.

I find this lack of compassion very hard to understand. I can only make sense of it by putting it down to ignorance. Ignorance, thankfully, is curable. Here is a very short blog post* to make absolutely no difference to that ignorance because no-one will read it, but one which will make me feel a little better for having written it.

When a person becomes addicted to something, whether that is to a substance like alcohol or drugs, or a behaviour like gambling, sex or self harm, it is in simple terms, a coping strategy. A way of self-medicating against some kind of pain. It is not simply a case of someone choosing not to say no to something naughty but nice when they really ought to, like a greedy child who keeps eating too many sweets.

Let me help you to stand in the shoes of an addicted person. Imagine the thing in your life that brings you the most comfort and peace. The thing, behaviour or person in your life that helps to make things feel OK for a bit. That thing will necessarily be very precious to you. That is your coping strategy. If your strategy is harm free then you are blessed. Not everyone has access to those things though, and some of those things are not powerful enough to do any good for some people.

Now imagine or remember the most painful emotional thing you have ever experienced. Mix that feeling together with your greatest fear. Multiply it by maybe 10 (or more if you've lived a fairly charmed life) and then imagine it's a permanent feeling that won't go away.

What will you do to help make that feeling less horrible for you? I'm guessing you'll reach for that trusted thing, behaviour or person. I'm guessing that won't solve the problem but that it will bring you some comfort. It'll make the pain a little more bearable. It might numb that feeling a bit or help you to forget it for a while.

Now imagine that whenever you used that thing (hugged that person, bent that ear, read, listened, ran, whatever) you experienced some negative pay-off. It wasn't as bad as that awful feeling but it was still significant enough to be concerning or debilitating in a way that made your friends concerned about you.

So your friends tell you that you have to give up your special, comforting thing. You try because you know your friends are right, but the trouble is they don't understand how terrifying it is when that feeling comes back. That horrible pain that won't go away. They don't understand the courage that it takes to face that feeling is more than most people will have to muster in a lifetime, and that that courage has to be taken every time you say no to that comforting thing. Every time, you are having to be brave enough to face your most terrible fears and feelings, and there is no-one that can do it for you.

People spoke of Amy (and others like her) as having a choice to say no to her addiction. Some choices are harder than others. Yes, there is some weakness involved in not saying no, but do you judge the lamb in the jaws of the wolf for being weak? How many wolves have you had to fight?

I don't know what Amy or any other addict was numbing or hiding or self-medicating. Often the addict doesn't know themselves. We can be fairly sure though, that if we have never found ourselves needing to cut, shoot-up, gamble until we have nothing left or drink ourselves unconscious, then we have probably never felt the things that those people are afraid of facing.

To that, our response should be gratitude for our own blessed lives, sheer admiration for anyone who has the courage to say no to the comfort and yes to riding out the pain, and compassion for those who weren't brave or strong enough to make that 'choice', when we have never had to test our own courage that way.

Oddbabble: They tried to make her go to rehab but she wanted to concentrate more on working with children for the time being.

*It is of course not a comprehensive study on the complexities and variations of addiction, but rather an exercise in teaching compassion by seeing things from the inside through creative means.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Delight yourself in the Lord...Part 1

For the first several years as a Christian I used to indulge in a secret fantasy that I rarely admitted to anyone. I used to dream that somehow, I would receive a telegram from heaven saying "No-one's Home". I would dream about how my life would be different if I wasn't a Christian, and wish I wasn't so darned wholeheartedly convinced that it's actually true.

Recently I found my mind slipping once again in the direction of wondering how my life would be if I wasn't a Christian and I realised something that worried me at first. I realised that my life wouldn't look all that different if I got that telegram. It worried me because I thought "This is not a good sign. There ought to be a real, measurable difference between the life and values of a Christian and someone who is not" and began the usual panic that regularly befalls the over-sensitive Christian, wondering if I had ever been born again at all.

However, as I thought it through I realised that it was not because my life hadn't changed since I'd become a Christian (that genuinely would be a reason for alarm bells to ring, as a Christian life without regeneration and transformation is one that needs to be examined). The difference was that I had changed from a position of hating God's laws to loving them and agreeing with them. Psalm 119:97 says "Oh how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long." I realised I had come to a point where that had actually begun to make sense to me. Along with the verse below that stares me in the face every morning when I eat my breakfast:

"Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" Psalm 37:4

I used to look at the verse and think "I know what the desires of my heart are, and I'm 100% sure God isn't about to give me any of those." What I didn't realise is that God doesn't deny us our desires, but he changes what our desires are in the first place. If I got that telegram, my life wouldn't look much different because I am convinced of the rightness of the way that God says life should be lived, to the extent that it would remain right even if it was earthly, not heavenly wisdom.

What this means in practice is that I am now a far more 'cheerful giver'. It's much easier and more pleasant to give a gift that's deserved, that the recipient has asked for to someone you love than it is to give something you love, to someone you bitterly resent for asking for it. Even and especially if the gift is very, very expensive. Either way the recipient gets the gift, but the latter is far more civilised for all involved.

Of course I am not saying that everything I do is in agreement with God and I am almost indistinguishable from the living Lord Jesus himself. All I am saying is that for far more things than before, when I do, think or say something that is wrong, I agree that it was wrong. I guess you could say it's like growing out of adolescence. As a teenager it drove me mad that my parents told me what I could and couldn't do. I was a comparatively obedient teenager but my obedience was not in line with my desires or personal judgement. As an adult, I'm still tempted to do many of the things the teenaged me was fond of, but I am able to see for myself why those things are not what's best for me. There's no-one making me make those choices anymore, but now I choose to make them (most of the time). The results are almost the same but there are far fewer tantrums and slammed doors.

This in turn made me realise something else - something that totally crushed my pride. You can read about that in Part 2...

Oddbabble: Thinks that serialising her posts will increase her readers exponentially.

The Emperor's New Clothes Are All a Size Zero

This is an article I wrote for a zine called Fatty. I would like to precede it with the disclaimer that I am not talking about people who are unhealthily overweight, and I am certainly not making a comment about eating disorders which are another thing entirely. This is just about stupid women. Enjoy.

There has been a peculiar spell cast over Western society. Not the good sort like your kind, fat, fairy Godmother might cast. It bears more the mark of your archetypal scrawny witch. It’s a powerful spell that infiltrates women’s minds, men’s trousers, our purses, our time, our conversations and many, many miles of tedious print on the pages of glossy magazines.

I work in primary schools – an environment almost entirely populated by females. In every staff room I walk into I hear the conversational evidence of this spell’s effects. There are unspoken, unbroken rules about what you may eat, your attitude to it and how you may talk about it. There is a strict script in which women must agree that calorific or fatty foods are ‘naughty’ or ‘wicked’. A tacit assumption that any pleasure derived from eating must be paid for with guilt. And an apparently unshakeable rule that all women MUST be thinner than they currently are, regardless of their shape, size or weight, and with absolutely no connection whatsoever with their level of health. I hear conversations governed by these rules replicated over and over in every school I visit. Each word of it drips with socially constructed, oppressive lies that have been repeated so many times in so many ways that it has become accepted as Unquestionable Truth.

The last time I was in a school staff room at lunch time, I was invited to join in with one of these scripts with a woman I hadn’t met before. She was the dance teacher and she was eating a low fat yoghurt. I refused to follow the script at every opportunity. The conversation went as follows:

Dance Teacher: “I’m trying to eat this slowly but it’s so difficult.”

Me: “Why are you trying to eat it slowly?”

DT: “So I don’t eat as much!”

Note her surprise that I didn’t already know one of the Universal Laws of Eating for Women.

Me: OK.

No, I am not going to say “What are you talking about! You don’t need to lose weight, you’re so skinny!” because (a.) this would mean I believed it was a compliment to call someone skinny (b.) I would be stating the eye-bleedingly obvious to completely deaf ears rendering the statement pointless (c.) it is a very core conversational rule and therefore I must break it and (d.) because it would trigger the inevitable cyclical exchange “No, I’m not skinny you are!” followed by “Don’t be ridiculous, you’re the thin one here!” followed by very slight variations of the same until one of us dies.

DT: “I keep trying to eat less but I just keep getting hungry.

Me: “I guess that’s your body telling you that you’ve burned some energy and it needs replacing.”

DT: “But I haven’t burned any energy!”

I say nothing, thinking that this strikes me as extremely unlikely given that her job title dictates that she has spent the morning dancing and attempting to keep control of 30 or so small children.

DT: “It was awful last week, my husband gave me a whole box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day.”

I know I am expected to agree that this experience is worthy of the word “awful”, but I will not concede. Instead I say the logically more appropriate:

“How lovely of him.”

DT: “It was terrible though, they were these really rich, delicious truffle things. I ate loads of them.”

Again, I am aware that I am required to declare that something “rich” and “delicious” is lamentable and that she is to be pitied above all women. Instead I venture the controversial:

“They sound gorgeous, lucky you.”

She gives up at this point because it’s clear to her that I don’t understand The Rules, not to mention the fact that as we are speaking, I am stuffing my face with normal food at normal speed, without apologising or self flagellating.

As the Emperor in the fairy tale parades around as a naked imbecile, the crowds congratulate his apparel so many times that even they become convinced that there are enviable fabrics and stitches in front of them. As women nod and agree with each other that these are The Rules, they forget that there may be another way of looking at themselves. They are voluntarily living in a prison where the door isn’t even locked.

I'm Sorry I'm a Christian

For those one or two readers who are not friends with me on Facebook, or who missed this first time around:

I'm not clever enough to work out how to add the actual video here, but please follow this link for the rest of this post to make sense.

A friend, responded with this:

"That's powerful stuff. Challenging but quite negative. Does it describe how you feel about Christians you know?"

This was my response:

I posted it because a lot of people I've spoken to see Christians in this way, so I think it's healthy for Christians and non-Christians to hear something like this. This is the reality of the context that we're witnessing into - when I say "I am a Christian" these are the assumptions that people may make about me. Though this is more about the people with the loudest voices or the biggest placards than individual Christians I might know personally, I do think it's important to acknowledge that these are things that sincere and often genuine Christians have done, and I think there’s a place for saying sorry for being part of the same body that has done these things. Not for the sake of being negative, but to have some authenticity about our failures and hypocrisy and to point out, as the poet does, that this was not how Jesus conducted himself. I long for people to associate the word Christian with Jesus’ radical indiscriminate love and compassionately spoken truth but the tragic reality is that many people don’t. I am a part of the reason for this too.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Some Lessons I've Learned Lately about Love

A friend told me this story about himself.

He had just started at Bible college and after the first lecture he went up to his professor and said "This book tells me I'm going to hell because I'm gay. Tell me why."

There are 101 things his professor could have said to him. A professor of theology might have turned to several passages in the Bible, and begun some kind of exegesis. What he said was this:

"This book tells you that God loves you."

That was all that he said. He didn't add anything to that, or explain it, or give a caveat or a reference or anything else. He didn't need to because his sermon was completely self-contained and accurate. My friend was blown away by this and completely transformed - it hit him right between the eyes that he would always have this bottom line: God loved him. No ifs, no buts, no ands. God loves him.

So my friend's professor taught me a wonderful, simple lesson about love.

The Bible college was a residential one and my friend had to share a room, like many other students. He was sharing with a young man who thought he knew a lot about a lot of things. Reader, you may have met one or two young men like him. The room mate shared a lot of opinions about homosexuality that hurt my friend, for example that it he would never let a child of his go to a Sunday school class that my friend was teaching, because my friend was not safe to be in contact with children.

When I hear people say things like this, my reaction is to first get very angry and then to write them off. I define that person as ignorant and hateful and resolve to no longer be in contact with them. But my friend is different to me because he had learned a very simple lesson about love that had changed his life. My friend was angry with him and told me that often it was very hard for him not to punch his room mate in the face. I empathised. But, he said, but he also knew that he was loved. And that made it difficult for him to hate. He was so convinced and changed by this heart knowledge of his status as an unconditionally loved person, that his instinct to love this person was stronger than his instinct to hate him. Not because he thought he ought to love him as 'the right thing to do' but because his knowledge that he was loved compelled him to love this guy, and to keep coming back to this point again and again, even though he was hurt by him again and again.

I was bowled over by this.

It highlighted a couple of important things for me. The first is that although I completely agree with my friend's professor, I think I don't really believe it for myself deep down. I understand that I am loved by God and that there is a full stop at the end of that sentence, and no other sentence is needed. But I always like to add my own but, or my own and. God loves me but he also hates me a bit and expects me to do more than I ever possibly can and when I don't, he hates me a bit. But yes, he loves me. Or God loves me and it's because I don't do this thing. Or God loves me and it's because I am so this and so that. I think the fact that my friend didn't add his own but or and, is the reason why his life was changed by it and he was able to love his enemy. I think my buts and ands are what makes me withdraw from my enemies and write them off.

So the second thing I realised is that my dogged refusal to accept this unconditional love thing has meant that I'm very bad at loving. Because loving means staying and not running away. I am about to join a new church and I've realised that part of the reason I've taken so long to choose one is because I don't want to take the painful risk of committing to love. I have been hurt by a lot of people similar to my friend's room mate and I have seen a lot of friends hurt by his kind and my instinct is to think that Christians are often not very nice so I'll withdraw. But I also know that being part of a church means that I am called to love people - that's sort of the point of it. And some of those people will think they know a lot about a lot of things and will say things and they will hurt me and I want to be someone who stays and loves them. And the reason I want to do that is because it's sinking in that I am loved and then there is a full stop. And that full stop is starting to make me want to be brave and love others with my own full stop. I think that's probably a better attitude to join a church with than the one I've had of late.

Here is a link that has helped me to soak in the full stop: Everyone everywhere needs to know this.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Unjust Desserts

Anticipation can be a delicious thing. Especially in the context of one of my favourite hobbies: eating.

I love those moments between savouring the savoury and knowing there'll soon be the sweet full stop of a pudding. There is only one thing that can ruin these wonderful few moments and that is the fury, rage, sorrow and injustice I experience when someone misinterprets the remit 'pudding' to include the revolting non-dessert that is crumble. It's a lot like waking up with a buzz of excitement on the morning of your birthday, only to have your parade rained on by being given a cow for someone in Africa as your main gift. Yes, broadly speaking it is a present. Yes, morally speaking I should be pleased. But there doesn't seem to be any chocolate happening here and that's really my point.

Allow me to explain.

The definition of a pudding is something sweet and delicious. In order to achieve the status of sweet deliciousness, one or more of the following must be present as a primary ingredient: custard, chocolate, cream. Did you see boiled up old fruit there? No. Did you see broken old bits of biscuit? No. All crumbles are therefore wrong, but there is nothing quite so heinous as the inclusion of leaf stalks into a pudding. That's what rhubarb is friends. It's a little known fact that most of a rhubarb plant is actually poisonous. That's God's way of warning us that eating it is wrong.

Somebody give me a custard injection.

Oddbabble: When she's queen the dictionary and the law will reflect these truths.