Sunday, 22 June 2008

Mugabe's 'Genocide'

'Genocide' is a very strong word which fortunately remains relatively untouched by media over use. For MDC officials to conjure up the images of 'Genocide' is entirely fitting, given the utter horror of Mugabe's brutal reign.

I remain shocked that it has taken so many years for the international community to fully understand what life is like in Zimbabwe. My stays in 1997 and 2001 taught me much about the constant level of fear that ordinary Zimbabweans, both rural and urban, have to face on a daily basis. I cannot understand why it has taken so long! Obviously the situation is more severe now, but it is only marginally more so than during previous elections - the last three of which were also stolen and corrupted.

How many more people will have to die - beaten, raped and burned to death?

I fully respect the MDC for making the torturous decision to withdraw from the campaign for the sake of Zimbabweans, not wanting them to continue facing such tyranny. Mugabe will claim victory but in reality (if he has any grasp of it), his regimen is doomed - at least this is my prayer!

Enough is enough.

We really are on the verge of yet another Genocide and if our humanity is worth anything, we must act - in any way we can!

More importantly - we must make the Zimbabwean voices heard!

Friday, 13 June 2008

Lions for Lambs

OK peeps,

I just watched this film starring Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tom Cruise.
It is a must see!

If you know me, you will know that the political world view portrayed in the film is what makes me like it. It is a complex interwoven political thriller / drama, taking a look at the 'war on terror', the media, politics and personal responsibility in the US, but it echoes loudly into the British context. It is far from being a balanced exploration and does come with a heavy bias - but frankly all that actually means is that it says something and means to say it.

Films like this keep my mind active whilst my body tells me to rest.
It does also inspire me to know more - to guard against ignorance and to actually get involved rather than just railing against all that is wrong.

So - watch it and see what you think!

Watch the utube clip - left.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Just Coping

Being long-term ill or disabled is a real challenge, not least because alongside any direct symptoms you also have to cope with new societal prejudices.

The language of ‘winning battles’ with regard to illness, has always bothered me. People coping with cancer are very frequently described as ‘battling’ the disease. If they are successfully treated and go into remission they are described as ‘winning the battle against cancer’. Media or public reports if someone dies of cancer will often include the phrase: ‘after a long and courageous battle they lost their fight’ – implying a wilful weakness on their part.

I understand the sentiment but deeply resist the metaphor. Very simply the language of warfare is totally inappropriate for those suffering illness. In a war there are winners and there are losers (in my own opinion, in war, everyone is a loser – but you get the point!). Winners are seen as strong and courageous, losers as weak and cowardly. To use this language is to risk pushing the comparison to adverse extremes, perhaps imagining that those we perceive as losing their battle or not fighting hard enough, are weak and gutless.

As I said, I do understand the sentiment as we should admire those who we see coping with great strength and fortitude, but I get very cross when I hear outside observers judging the ill and disabled if they are deemed to not be coping well.

On the flip side, I also understand how annoying it can be to hear someone going on and on about how ill they are or how little they can do. I remember a friend of my Mum who was forever complaining about her many problems, in stark contrast to Mum who suffered (really suffered!) in silence. I'm not extolling the virtues of suffering in silence as we are being encouraged by psychologists to be honest with ourselves and with others about our emotions and feelings, but the truth is that are patience runs thin very quickly.

Speaking of psychobods, I know that part of the reason I am writing this and part of the reason why I get so annoyed when I see people using the language of warfare, of winners and losers, and when they judge those who are vocal about their suffering, is that at times I feel judged and I feel weak and overcome because of my illness. I judge myself by how well I feel I am coping.

I have suffered with chronic lower back pain for almost 10 years now. It has gradually got worse and now includes pain and pins and needles radiating into my left leg which means that I use crutches to help me get about. I have Degenerative Disc Disease affecting L3/4, L4/5 and L5/S1 and I need a 2 level Artificial Disc Replacement – not available on the NHS at present. The constant and extreme pain severely limits my mobility and my days are spent trying to get comfortable.

The stories of people who fight on and show great courage do inspire, but they also make me feel weak – this is despite the truth that I do what I can. Even knowing that I do as much as I can and that I remain positive and hopeful, I am made to feel as if I should be climbing a mountain or doing a 20 mile run for charity. Then I would be described as ‘courageous’ and ‘winning the fight’, and I could look back on this period as the time I ‘overcame’ my physical problems.

Despite the fact that I am on Income Support and have just applied for Disability allowance, despite the fact that my pain is overwhelming, has stopped me working and means I go out maybe once a week, despite the fact that small tasks make me tired and I am often incontinent at night – despite all this I know that I am strong and that I cope in the only way I can.

I don’t want any awards for winning the battle against Degenerative Disc Disease, I can’t and don’t want to do a bungee-jump - I just rest in the knowledge that I have got through another day and that for countless millions and I, this is the greatest of challenges. Getting through the day will never win any awards - its not public enough, but it is no less courageous and the sufferers are not weak because they can't climb the highest mountain or trek the Andes.

We all cope in the way that we can – in the way that gets us through, and we should be far less judgemental towards others because everyone who suffers (which is everyone) will do what they need to do. Some do run or jump out of planes, and some write and read and think, and some rest and lie down. Some are quiet and some speak of their pain. Some surround themselves with family and friends and some hibernate – but we all cope.

Yet again the wonderful idea of being 'normal' and being judged by that standard, strips us of all that gives us strength. We judge and are judged by our relation to the norm and we miss the beautiful point that we are all unique and loved and strong and whole.

I’m not fighting a war. I’m not involved in some triumphalistic battle between good and evil.

I am coping.

I am getting on with my life – just as it is,

and I invite you to rejoice with me,

to cry with me,

to scream with me,

and to dance with me.

Just be there and cope with me,
but don’t judge me!

Maybe then I will stop judging myself!

Friday, 28 March 2008

Mugabe MUST go!!!

ap_zimbabwe_070606_msThis will certainly be the shortest comment I've made to date!

The title says it all - Robert Mugabe, Tyrant of Zimbabwe, must go!

I have no doubt that the vast majority of people will or would like to vote for the MDC, but equally I have no doubt that the delusional Mugabe and his ZANU-PF will steal tomorrows election like they have the last three.

His wilful destruction of a nation, an economy and a people is more than enough to see him on trial for Abuses against Humanity, but again, realism strikes. Maybe I can rely on some hope that he will be condemned to the history books sooner rather than later.

The United Nations should hang its head in shame, as should all free thinking people, for not standing alongside the oppressed, the raped, the murdered and the disposed.

Long live Zimbabwe.

God bless Zimbabwe.

May she regain her strength and her beauty.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Love one another: A Pluralist View

During this Lenten season my local church has been using a study course called 'Love one another', which seeks to explore this core Christian belief by looking at relationships in the family, the church, the community, the environment and with God.

In week 3: the Community, we were asked to discuss the question 'How do we relate to other faith communities in love without compromising our Christian faith?'

The group represents a broad spectrum of Christian traditions, including United Reformed, Methodist, Moravian, Anglican, and the New Testament Church of God Pentecostal. When considering the question of relationships with other faiths, there is one troublesome biblical quote that always rears it's head: 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me' - John 14: 6.

The discussion then took on a rather philosophical air, but was brought back to earth when we were asked to think about our daily interactions with people from different cultures, faiths, experiences etc.

How do we engage with different people?

Very simply, the majority of people replied that we should and do try to treat all people with respect, openness, compassion and with the ability to disagree in love.

But, now I get to the point!
I'm sure that most people do try to treat those they meet in this 'loving' way - but I am also sure that our underlying faith and belief claims do have a profound influence on how we treat each other.

  • If I say that the UK is the greatest nation on the earth - this can make me believe that all other countries are lesser and even against us.
  • If I say Men are better - this can make me feel negatively to Women.
  • If I am told that Immigrants are taking all our jobs - how do I feel about all migrants?

We cloud our own minds, or have them clouded by the media, or faith, or upbringing - we make massive assumptions about those around us - especially when we think that we are right.

When we use truth-claims to express our belief that our own faith is the only truth and the only way to God, this most certainly does influence how we view the people we know and meet.

Obviously there are various different ways of understanding the John 14: 6 quote, but one dangerous way is to say that only certain Christians have it right and that every other faith or ideal is simply wrong. This can mean that those who espouse this way of thinking will view others with a certain arrogance, with pity for the dammed, or with a loving, if superior, desire to convert and save.

Christianity is not the only faith in which texts and dogma have been used to exclusivist ends, but there is an ever increasing number of people who are seeking to make sense of a world in which there is brilliant diversity and difference.

The question is being asked, 'Can only one faith be right?'

If we say yes, I wonder if this understanding expresses our experience of God and would it relate to the world around us? prism-and-refraction-of-light-into-rainbow-2-AJHD

For me it most certainly would not.
The very fact that there are different ways of approaching and interpreting our religious texts, means that we rightly struggle to talk of 'truth' - let alone a universal truth!

John Hick's 'The Rainbow of Faiths' explores these issues and includes a picture of refracted light on its cover, visually displaying the beautiful diversity of life.

Inter-faith dialogue is, at the moment, dominated by the focus represented in the question: 'How do we relate to other faith communities in love, without compromising our own faith?.

I am sure it is possible to engage in interfaith dialogue whilst 'agreeing to disagree'. The individual faith communities can still keep hold of their own exclusivist beliefs - but I have serious questions about how helpful or loving this is.

Surely, part of the joy of our relationships and interactions with each other is that we may be changed as a result. Interfaith dialogue which persists in the individuals seeking to keep hold of exclusivist truth-claims does not allow for change.

The only reason we seek dialogue 'without compromise' is that we are somehow scared of what it might mean to experience 'change' in our faith and beliefs. This exposes our inner voice which thinks we are right and they are wrong.

Obviously there are varying degrees of this - but a persistent desire to avoid compromise with other faiths, only serves to preserve our belief that we hold truth.

Personally, I have to understand that my faith is true for me and for those with whom I share and practice my religion. It is also true that within my religion there is not one truth, but a broad spectrum of diverse beliefs. Who am I to say I hold the truth over and above my neighbour?

Some would say that God's divine revelation in Jesus the Christ gives us that right, but different faiths and ideologies give different and equally exclusive answers. How do we react to this fact? Should we just become more dogmatic and shout down the claims of others? Or should we take a risk, and ask questions of that exclusivity?

All too frequently we see those around us as 'the other' - as unacceptably different from us and as those who do not hold our truth. This inner voice, perpetuated by our exclusive and 'true' beliefs, does have an impact on how we view others. The evidence of our lack of inclusive and diverse openness is all around us and, I believe is the cause of much suffering and pain.

Put simply - I pray for the grace to allow my inner voice, my deepest beliefs - to be wrong.
Only then may I be open enough to encounter the incredible diversity of the world without seeking to make everyone in my image.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

Kenya - and the rest of us


For the past few days I have found myself asking – ‘where did this come from?’.

Past experience from trips to Zimbabwe has taught me that tribal espousal is not far below the surface in many parts of Africa, but Kenya seemed so settled and successful that I had no idea that the situation was the same in this quiet corner of the globe.

I like to think that I pay some attention to world events and that I am not na├»ve about political undercurrents, but still I have found myself asking ‘where did this come from?’.

To be honest I am glad that I am still distressed by media reports of humanities inhumanity. We see it so often that my deepest prayer is that we do not become desensitised by it.

Yesterday evening a young woman recounted her escape from the church which was set ablaze, only to have the three year old child she was clutching thrown back in to the burning building.

Not much makes me furious – this does.

How can someone get so wrapped up in their own struggle for freedom and justice that they seek to destroy those they name as being responsible?

Yet again it is those things that divide that prompt our actions: race, class, gender, sexuality and in this case, tribe.

Not one of these should ever have such high authority that it leads to senseless and brutal loss of self control. We are far to use to dehumanising those with whom we share little in common and those we know little about. It enrages me – but I pray never enough to prompt me to kill or to stop listening to the voice of ‘the other’.

A few years ago I found a poem by Wendell Berry entitled: ‘Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.’ Not an obvious title and I’ve no idea where I found it, but there is a line and sentiment that has stuck with me since:

‘Be hopeful and joyful, though you have considered all the facts’.

When I see or suffer humanities horrors, it is this phrase that leaps to mind.

I have considered the facts; seen them with my own eyes, experienced them and like all of us, I will go on being confronted with the facts of life, disturbing as they are – yet I remain hopeful. Each confrontation with shocking divisive horrors only serves to makes me more committed to remaining actively and noisily hopeful.

Pray for all who face humanities atrocities;
that hope and joy will not be lost.