Tuesday 18 December 2018

Oh Come All Ye #Humanists and #Atheists, build your altars, it's ChristMass time!

I'm advising all my #humanist and #atheist friends not to celebrate Christmas given that this is the festival where believers celebrate the birth of Christ, who we believe was God incarnate in human form. ChristMass=Mass for Christ. Yes, that's the critical mass. Yes, hard to fathom, but fully God and fully man. I shall stop short of explaining the theology of the incarnation lest I either baffle you, cause you to scoff or participate in your salvation - though I haven't time to disciple you. Instead I suggest humanists and atheists erect an altar to themselves. Having ruled out God worship, they are left only with themselves or other humans to look to for moral guidance. As they Trotsky down the path of Totalitarian no return, they might stop to garland their images with flowers. Alternatively, they could tune into Catching Up with the Kardashians (none of them look like themselves, and for good reason btw) or watch The Real Wives of Wherever.

Okay I jest, but you get my gist right? I was, for the first time in yonks, reading the Sunday papers last week. In the Times magazine, I was amused to read the #humanist Alice Roberts trying to make excuses for sending her son to a C of E school. I was even more amused to read of the letter her believing mother sent in to the Times decrying her unbelieving daughter's "antagonistic" actions in leading a campaign to end state funding for faith schools. Oh the irony! And Alice is a science person too. None of her actions add up. One wonders if she can. Her offspring will be able to however. C of E schools are some of the best of the bunch and are usually frequented by just Alice's sort of interfering and highly hypocritical liberals, usually the sort who are saving money on private primary education so that they can tutor their (usually spoilt and obnoxious) offspring into the clutch of private schools in London. The ones that are afraid their kids are too dim to make it via tutoring, put them into private education early.

And now for my own (small...) hypocrisy confession: I speak from experience - my son went to a C of E state primary. I was not able to get him into a single state school in my area, for secondary school and so panicked and put him in for 2 private exams for which he was not tutored at the last minute, and for which he did not stand a chance. To this day I regret being such a weakling, (yes, and arguably, albeit momentarily, a hypocrite!) and not waiting for a place to become available and teaching him in the meantime. I can hear his words now: "I grew up on an estate Mum. I'm not going to a private school. I'd hate it." Days later, he was offered a place at a new Christian Academy miles away, which we accepted even as I kicked myself for wasting my money on the 2 exams - it's a bloody racket, I tell you - just not tennis; but the pressure on parents is immense. He's a very bright boy and a brilliant artist (obviously!) who was called for interview at UCL and Goldsmiths, but chose Chelsea; he dropped out after a year and I supported his reasons for doing so. He is preparing for his 4th exhibition; composing and producing music, whilst working 2 jobs and making appearances in The Crown. Who says you need uni, or mainstream school for that matter? But I digress.

Labour's Diane Abbott sent her son to City of London School. I think her excuse was to keep him away from gangs. Drugs are rife in London private schools - supplied by gangs that use children as 'runners.' There is no escaping some stuff. I am resisting conveying some spine tingling and ultra-hypocritical gossip about someone senior there...ooh...it will be in a book one day, though names of course, will be changed. There is you see, so much hypocrisy surrounding schools in London, you see. This is not entirely the fault of parents, horrid as so many of them are. I know a good number who would diss the whole faith system, but, when their kids were unlikely to get into any of the top schools, there they would be, eating communion off a plate to get into the only decent girls non-fee paying school in central London. There is a scrum for schools you see, a rugger scrum - only the middle classes get the places - which is selectively humanist don't you think? Something needs to be done and banning faith schools isn't going to help. C of E schools help the non-middle classes get ahead as well as the middle classes. Don't ban faith schools. Fix the system that makes hypocrites of us all - or give 'them' a mother of a thrashing - metaphorically speaking, of course.

Wednesday 12 December 2018

God is in #MeTo

Christmas is coming and I am dwelling on spiritual matters. Not least as I have just had some interaction with a member of my husband’s family who professes Christianity, yet makes members of my mother’s family look good – suffice to say this person looks ‘nice’ on the inside, says all the right things (in church anyway; not to me), projects a caring persona (as long as you agree with everything this person and spouse espouse from their pulpit; plays in the church band etc., but is ugly on the inside. This person is married to a ‘leader’ in the Pentecostal Church – a church I once attended in a school building in London. In Christianity, as in many institutions, what you ‘see’ is not what you get, but it took me a long time to come to terms with this – 15 odd, yes very odd, years. I should say from the outset that I have also met some wonderful, sacrificial, genuinely wonderful people inside (as well as outside) the 4 walls of the church that I am slightly in awe of given how much they put their money where there mouths are, so suffice to say, my experience is mixed – heck humanity is mixed.

Though I came ‘out of the church’ as in stopped being a member of a church that met in a building, in 2015, I believe in God. I try to follow Jesus. I fail a lot. I swear; I rant; I get things wrong. Often. I don’t call myself a Christian, because I find it hard to identify with the plethora of meanings that the word throws up. I don’t attend church because having been through the Catholic Church as a child, numerous Pentecostal and ‘house’ type churches, and through the Anglican Church, I have come to the conclusion that I do not belong in the walls of a church. However, for those of us who believe in the (to secularists) quaint notion of God and in the bible, our belief is that the spirit of God resides in us (you have to invite him in – I won’t try to explain the theology of incarnation here; you can look it up if you’re interested,) and therefore we, and not a building are the church.

I ‘became a Christian’ in 2001. My parents and sister were members of a house church (it was a cult frankly). There was a cult leader and a sidekick – one of my siblings married the cult leader as a teenager. I was a teenager at the time too. I had recently left home and was travelling the country and the world modelling. The cult members in my family spent a fair time trying to terrify me into Christianity. It partly worked. The notion of hell petrified me. I had a sense that ghastly as it was to contemplate, it might be a real place. I was in the fashion business. I had lots of gay friends. I knew they weren’t welcome in the church, so I was pretty wound up and ranty on their behalf. I began studying world religions and esoteric things – for which I seemed to have a knack – the Jesus thing kept coming back. Eventually I succumbed in 2001 and that in itself is a saga that I will relate but not now.

Back to #MeToo. Not only did I come out of the church in the summer of 2105, I also came out of my (mother’s) abusive family in the winter of 2015. My mother’s semi-final (cutting me out of her will was her grand finale) act of cruelty proved to be my tipping point. My experience of organised religion is that it is often (and consistently in my experience) and abusive structure (with some good elements within it) that is disconnected from the world. I knew when I made the decision to leave church and family, that God was in it. I sensed very clearly in my spirit that God was against all abuse and that we were going to enter into a time when these institutional abuses would no longer be tolerated by society. I told one of my key abusers this when I met with him so that he could crow over what he and other abusers had achieved with my mother’s will. Soon afterwards #MeToo broke out. The God I believe in is in that movement. The God I believe in does not live in the 4 walls of a church. Like Jesus he is down with the people, out there, in the world.

When I came out of the (in my experience) abusive settings of church and family, I was able to recapture my true identity that I had been required to leave at the door of both. I am not just over the third anniversary of my mother’s act that led me to say that I would never again go back to my mother’s family for punishment – my being there enabled and sanctioned it. The previous summer, I had done the same with the church. The three years since, I would hate to repeat; I have needed extensive treatment to heal. I am now mentally stronger and despite being treated with chemotherapy for the cancer that was, thankfully, cut out, I can honestly say, I’ve never been stronger. I am free.

Monday 3 December 2018

#Cathartic #Writing

So back to writing. Let’s look at catharsis. I began writing poems and stories at a young age. In Zimbabwe we had writing competitions that were called, wait for it, given I now live in Wales: Eisteddfods! These must have been instigated by Welsh pioneers (can I still use that word?). Through these poems and stories I was able to exorcise the monsters of my imagination. At other times I wrote poems about cats. Because, though I loved them, I was allergic to them. Thus, in writing I got to excavate as well as celebrate.

It is the excavation I am going to dwell on here. As a young child, I quite literally lived in my imagination. I was a solitary kid that did not make friends until I was six, when Caroline from down the road became my best friend. I grew up during the war for independence in Zimbabwe. There were attacks by the ‘terrs’ – terrorists - bombs going off in the city and people being shot away on the farms. Growing up in a fractured family where all sorts of things were going on under the carpet, there was plenty of material to deal with, and deal with it I did, through constructing imaginary worlds where the monsters were dispelled. I devoured Enid Blyton books and then recreated the narratives for myself and played them out in the trees in our garden. I often recreated my own world, often imagining a place where adults did not exist. I would imagine being rescued in a small sports car driven by Anthony Puffleadies (that’s the phonetic spelling of the Greek name of a blonde, blue-eyed boy who was to rescue me from the world I lived in and take me to another, more civilised place ruled by small people; I was in KG2 at the time, as I recall).

Narratives: changing and constructing narratives began early and have remained with me. As I grew up, the imaginings, poems and stories developed into the keeping of journals where all sorts of thoughts and feelings were worked out: a cathartic exercise I still engage in, thought the keeping of a daily diary stopped when I began to write ‘seriously’ in my thirties and was published for the first time – as a journalist, and later as an author. When I became a Jesus believer in my early thirties, I began keeping prayer diaries, in which I worked out what I believed and what I didn’t. I find that writing literally helps me to work things out – out of my system. When I taught writing to women that were in recovery, I taught them to write ‘unsent letters,’ letters to people that had hurt them that were burnt, ripped into small pieces or screwed up and thrown into the waste paper bin. I practised this technique myself – via email – but this is a dangerous practise on more than one occasion I have accidentally sent them – usually to my mother. Stick to paper for this technique.

All of these outlets help. I could not have got through my life without the transforming power of my pen. I have ‘writed’ all sorts of wrongs through my writing, from the personal (former family events that have been painful) to the socio-political – in #AftertheRains. When I studied psychoanalysis I discovered what I was doing with what mysteriously floated up fro the depths to the surface of my imagination, was called ‘displacement.’ Placing people and events where I felt they belonged, can have the effect of these events actually happened. Bonkers, but true. One can really write life ‘true,’ true for you: true, as things should be. Authentic writing always holds painful truths in its fascinating amber.