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I hope you find motivation here, to read books that will change, inspire and entertain you.

 

Why justice should win over redemption here on earth.

Redemption is eternal but justice is temporal. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Joanna Moorhead’s article in the Guardian on the 16th of August suggests otherwise. In it, she considers the recent decision by the royal commission on Australia to recommend that priests who fail to report abuse disclosed to them in the confessional should be criminalised, and decides that this is wrong. “Even for child abusers, confessional confidentiality is sacrosanct” her headline reads. , Even as she acknowledges that child abuse is among the vilest of crimes she also seems to think that child abusers also have the right to privacy. Really?

It is exactly this sort of retreat into religious privilege that nullifies the argument. It is also the reason why so many people turn away from the very church she is trying to defend, because it promotes the stability of the church over the dignity of the human. For a Catholic to escape justice by confessing their crimes to a priest, whom we are told, “Deputises for God” and thus is able to pardon sin is reprehensible. The fundamental Christian belief that we can all be forgiven is not undone by facing earthly justice. If it was Alpha for prisons would not be so popular. Perhaps it is my ignorance of Catholic theology that leads me astray here, (and if it is, then I will be writing to the Pope asking him to reconsider this loop hole that allows people to get away with myriad crimes) but generally, Christian soteriological theology is predicated on the concepts of justice and mercy. The whole point of the cross is so that one can experience God’s mercy in the next life, not to escape justice in this one. The mendacity of an approach that substitutes one for the other is wrong, and one of the foundational reasons why child abuse in the church itself has been so endemic for so long.

“Too deny” [that a child abuser can be forgiven] “is to deny our humanity” Moorhead continues. Again the tendentious use of concepts here is breathtaking. No one denied this. However, this is not what the decision by the royal commission is about. That decision places responsibility on priests to assist the authorities in protecting the vulnerable, when they receive information that could do so. Moorhead’s argument is about heaven and hell and represents a conflation of two very different matters. A sin is not the same as a crime. As a caveat, I must address the fact that many things that were considered sins in the past have since been decriminalised as secularism separated the church and religious edicts from the criminal justice system.

Sin however, belongs to God and his standards of morality, but the definition and punishment of crimes belong to us here on earth, so that this shared space can be safer for all of us. Of course, there are subject to change as society evolves, but I shudder to think of a progressive society in which child abusers can escape justice or paedophilia is normalised. Thus, while God may have it in his heart to forgive sin, crimes should be punished, and criminals should face justice. In the case of child abusers, they should be known to the local community so that other children can be protected. The premise that we should take it on faith (no pun intended) that “the penitent is truly sorry and genuinely intends not to commit their sin again” is ridiculous. Using this faulty logic as a point of departure, we can extrapolate that in the regular, secular justice system, a serial killer could hypothetically walk into a police station, say “I’m sorry detective, I killed a girl, and buried her body in the woods, but I promise never to do it again”, and be let off. Is this a straw man argument? No, because what is happening in the church has power over people’s lives. The priest stands for God, the purveyor of all justice, and let’s people off, at once police officer and judge, so as long as priests are allowed to do this, and let people go in peace, then in a secular justice system, the detective/ judge would also have the same obligation to use her powers to let people go. Who would live in such a world? The mind boggles.

How could Joanna Moorhead write this article, in 2017, post Jimmy Saville? When we know now that there were people who knew what he was up to, who remained silent for reasons best known only to themselves? It is morally wrong to protect abusers of vulnerable people simply because they belong to one particular community, be it a religious one, or a community of the rich and famous like Jimmy Saville. Where a priest is the one bestowing immunity on someone because of religious privilege, then yes, they should be criminalised. Where is the outrage on behalf of the 8 year old who has suffered at the hands of an adult who should know better? Where is the priestly concern for a baby parishioner whose world has been torn asunder by this violation from ‘the redeemed’? Where is the concern for other children who might be affected in this way? Where is the theology to cover them? Why is Catholic theology seeking to circumvent the laws instituted to protect them?

In separating the “wrong from the wrongdoer”, primacy must be given to the wronged. The survivor of child abuse must be told, in words and deeds that their suffering matters, that they are valued, and that they will henceforth be protected. To hang justice on the hook of “sincere penitence” is callous to say the least. All this, and I have yet to even address the inequality created by this system whereby Catholics can ostensibly get away with murder by saying a few words to a man in a box. Those of different religious traditions, or none, do not have this option. Justice should undo the inequalities created by humans in their interactions with other humans. To take that away from little children and other vulnerable people who cannot fight for themselves is a sin, and a crime. While those priests and child abusers maybe absolved of their guilt by speaking to other priests, and thus save their eternal souls, their bodies deserve to spend significant amounts of time facing human justice, away from other vulnerable people, thinking about what they did.

Redemption, as I said previously, is eternal, but it’s also optional. Not everyone believes in it, or wants it, but justice is temporal, and we should all have access to it. For those who do not believe in eternity, justice here on earth is all they have, and that should not be taken away from them because of some shoddy argument that equates two very different things, in an effort to make it easier for certain, very bad people to get away with their foolishness. The church has robbed a lot of people of temporal justice under the guise of redemption. The buck stops here, it hasn’t before, but hopefully, thanks to this decision in Australia, forthwith, it always will.

Sometimes the chemistry is just wrong.

As much as I love reading, I am very much aware that occasionally, reading has led me astray. One day I will write about how Enid Blyton and Arthur Ransome ruined England for me by raising my expectations far too high. It’s been 19 years and not one invitation to go sailing or solve a mystery and then drink pink lemonade, but as I said, that’s for another day. I would like to walk you through my travails brought on by another book. I will set the scene so that you can see why I am advising caution when reading books, don’t just be taken in dear reader, be wise.

Imagine me then, an earnest student, sitting in a year 9 science class, waiting for something to happen, because of this bunch of lies that I had read which made me think that chemistry classes would be far more interesting than they were. The science classes were fine, considering the kind of school it was. However, I was foolish enough to think there would be more “experiments”. There weren’t. In fact it was all just balancing equations and learning about different elements, and the numbers attached to them, and then balancing the equations whenever these elements had a meeting with one of their friends. An easy way to get marks was to remember that every reaction in physics gives off something + heat and in chemistry, something + water, but who really cares if the heat isn’t Vesuvius levels and the water apocryphal flood depths? Anyway after waiting ages for something other than the balancing of equations to occur, the teacher, a big guy with a pervy Greg Davies vibe, if I remember correctly, tells us that we will finally see some action.

The moment I had been waiting for, yes! “This is Caesium,” he said, “one of the most active elements. It’s found in the bottom half of group one. Put on your goggles class”. All the drama, we expected big things. At least I did.

Then, dramatically, with a health and safety approved flourish, like a magician going for the big reveal, (in front of a group of skittish magic fans), he cut a small piece of the Caesium. I say a small piece; I mean a sliver, a shaving even of this precious element that would spice up the day’s lesson. The hangnail of Caesium duly cut, it was thrown/placed carefully into a bowl of H2O, and then it happened. The action! It started whizzing around frantically as we all looked on, a class of 20 plus students, riveted for once, willing this speck to submit to our mental alchemy and become and stick of dynamite and blow up. (Again, maybe just me.)
There was a flame – ooh, we all breathed, hoping it was just the beginning- and then it went out. Aaah. So began my relationship with the anti climactic series of empty promises that was Chemistry class.

Nothing really happened, even when we handled so called dangerous substances they were safe. The HCL was 0.01mol, which meant if you got it on your hand it might itch, but nothing like Tyler Durden causing a serious chemical burn on a right hand. Cue more balancing of increasingly complex equations; measuring things, and balancing of measured things. I just wanted to see something catch fire. Would we never see something go up in flames?
“Flames- no never, next year we’ll teach you how to do risk assessments for your own experiments to ensure that nothing ever catches fire. Nothing will ever catch fire? Oh be still my aching heart. Abandon hope all ye who enter here (an ironic quote considering the context- but I don’t know who will get it) – nothing was ever going to catch fire. “So what’s the point”, I wondered? I cut up a frog and a heart in biology, ran electric currents through my body to change my hairstyle from regular to up do in physics and this chemistry man, with all these exciting chemicals that we could be mixing like cocktails was telling me nothing would ever catch fire. What’s the point of chemistry if not fire? Fire from elements such as Francium and Caesium in a vat of Hcl (0.01 mol, we’re not trying to start the apocalypse here). Fire from crude oil, refined into petrol and diesel, or fire from gases like methane, (CH4 to you uninitiated) fire everywhere- in books. Oh the impotent frustration of a secret pyrophile forced to look at fire- in books, about how NOT to do chemistry. I was forced to balance equations for reactions that I would never get to see in real life. Books, books, books

And what led me here in the first place? What made me think chemistry would be fun? A book! Can you believe it? A book.

“The ogre downstairs” by Dianne Wynne Jones to be precise. She has a lot to answer for. In this book, and look, I am not crazy; I know a lot of these things obviously can’t happen. I have flicked through Michio Kaku’s “Physics of the impossible”. I know that a splash of some obscurely named substance will not give me the ability to fly, the way it did with the characters in the book. I wasn’t expecting that from chemistry, I know that if some boffin somewhere manages to do that NASA will be on that patent like a shot. I am not expecting toffees to come to life and drape themselves over the radiators like lizards (this would freak me out.) Neither am I expecting pipes to come to life, and squirm when used for smoking, but come on, one little explosion. Or at least some smoke, or some dangerously noxious smells, (not sulphur, that’s a cheap trick, even an egg can do it)

This book made chemistry sets seems amazing, and I just wanted a part of that from my classes. I got nothing; the most amazing things I have ever seen in class were copper sulphate and potassium permanganate solutions. Amazing colours but not dangerous, not really. Nothing ever was. Except the balancing of equations, I was always on the edge of a cliff with that. Sometimes books lead you astray, they create worlds that you can never inhabit, but I expected more from science if I am being honest. Surely the difference between science and magic is that you can create exciting new things using the boring things around you in science? A little bit of this, a little bit of that, and see what happens. My experience is disappointing on this front. Reading this you are probably thinking that’s for the best because I am still alive, but meh, I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

It’s too late for me, but I just wanted to warn you that as much as books are friends not firewood, sometimes they are just full of damned lies and shattered dreams. Read this book and be inspired, but remember, it might make science (and life) boring.

 

On my husband’s (possible) midlife crisis

I skip ahead a decade or so, and imagine my life at 40. I am a late bloomer and so this may come to me later in life, but sooner than expected I suppose, so if I am being generous then I will say two decades. Two decades from now, if I get married, (and the chances aren’t looking too good), my husband might possibly go through a midlife crisis. To begin, what on earth is that about? What is a midlife crisis? This is my initial response, and I am tempted to make a flippant remark about the whole thing and put it down to the whole man flu thing and say, “those people are so weak, they really can’t be depended on for anything”. However, after being told that I don’t trust men (possibly true), I would like to be perceived as compassionate and understanding, and so I will try to engage with the whole thing.

So then, from what I see, at a time when a man should be leaning back, easing into life and getting ready to get to know his wife again, to wash his hands of his children, send them off to uni and be free, he all of a sudden gets this spurt of energy combined with Dawson’s Creek type angst which drives him to re-live all those years in his late teens and early twenties when he chased girls who were out of his league, and generally made an ass of himself. This time though, he has the money to persuade these women that he is a viable option, at least for a while. Alright, but why?

The fear of death? Erm… okay? Doing silly things makes you feel more alive? Okay, if you insist, but why this, why the young women and fast cars? Why not climb Everest, why not take go for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Why not do something that the whole family can come and watch you fail at, like pottery? Why not go zorbing and take your wife along? Perhaps this tendency towards younger women is fuelled by the desire to be seen as a virile man? Erm, well your virility is what made those kids eating up my food in the kitchen and taking great big chunks out of my healthy bank account with their demands for diapers, bicycles and clothes. Three of them dear, I think we can all agree on your virility. Perhaps it is the desire to be seen as attractive by young women?  This is where I lose all sympathy, faced with the more ridiculous examples of this desire, from the Minister who was caught out sending pictures of himself to a much younger woman, to the countless men who marry much younger women to sustain them in their twilight years.

I read Mariama Ba’s “So long a letter,” during my early teens and the sense of sadness of a woman faced with losing her husband to an infant has never left me. I reread it a couple of years back and some details came into focus. Most importantly, the infant in question was in fact her daughter’s best friend, a girl of 19 from a poor family, whose parents saw an opportunity and took it. Looked at this way, how did Mawdo Ba, the husband feel when he saw his in-laws, people of a similar age, essentially sell their daughter so that they, through her, could have an easier life? How many young women who end up with ridiculously older men make this choice, and should those men who exploit this lack be held to account? If, in the event of a midlife crisis, my husband runs off with a younger woman who at least is established, and of an age to know who she is as a person, e.g. if we are 60 and she is 40, then I will assume that perhaps it really is love. 20 years, when you are both really grown up is nothing in my view, but for a man of 50 plus, to take up with a 19 year old is a cruel vanity. It hits everyone, his children, faced with a step mother who is perhaps too young for them to even play with, for the wife, cast aside for firmer breasts and an in depth knowledge of Snapchat and Instagram, for the young girl herself, forced to “interact” with a 50 something old body, that might not be in a great state, and for the man himself, who is at once envied and a laughing stock.

Mawdo Ba’s decision to marry a girl young enough to literally be his daughter has no dignity, for anyone. Additionally, it robs him and his longsuffering wife, of the possibility of a friendship, at a time when they need it the most. It must be difficult to grow old alone, especially at an age when you were preparing yourself to be with someone. To grow old alone, without ever having known companionship must be different because you develop coping mechanisms.  However, to raise a family, and then watch it torn to shreds by the actions of some avaricious toddler and a thirsty old man with more money than sense, is a real shame.

So long a letter remains one of the defining books of my youth, beautifully written and heart rending. It’s a testament to the strength of a woman, writing her pain and leaving it on the page, and facing life head on, even when stripped of her dignity and her worth. I do not think I would have the same courage if faced with the same fate. I certainly wouldn’t be writing letters, although, on second thoughts, perhaps I would.

Very long letters. From prison.

Misdirection and Misappropriation

So this week started with a huge furore about the omission of the word ‘Easter’ from an Easter egg hunt organised by Cadbury’s (the chocolate people) It turns out that there is in a fact a book to help us forward with this so called problem. The Bible! Having perused the gospels, making use of my theological training to question the text, and really get to the heart of the matter, I found that actually Jesus was not busy hunting down Easter eggs like Pokémon while on the cross. Apparently he had other things to do.

This suggests to me, and I may well be wrong, but it does suggest that perhaps Easter egg hunts are not integral to the overall meaning of Easter. At some point in history there was a conflation of the two until one day we all associated chocolate eggs with the brutal death of a man claiming to be the son of God on a crudely crafted cross.

What exactly are you fighting for here Mrs May? Surely the whole thing takes away from the origins of the whole Easter thing, and it might actually be a good idea to separate the two and let those who want to contemplate the possible death and resurrection of the Messiah do so, while those who want their children’s teeth to drop out also do the same? I mean essentially Easter has now become a more PG Halloween for Christians. It’s a pointless exercise. Let it go. It doesn’t affect Christianity at all. Christians need to stop fighting for the right to be largely irrelevant and maybe just get on with doing things that might actually be life changing instead. This woman was in Saudi Arabia, with the opportunity to speak about countless human rights violations, or about building a task force supported by the not insubstantial wealth of the Saudis to help smaller countries such as Lebanon deal with refugees. However, she found time to complain that as a Christian, she felt that children should be able to refer to ferreting chocolate out from random bushes, a Christian occasion. Okay then, a judicious use of taxes, travel all that way and then talk about chocolate.

Really?
Can we not please?

Just, no!

On perseverance, with Ayi Kwei Armah

“Those who are blessed with the power,

And the soaring swiftness of the eagle

And have flown before,

Let them go.

I will travel slowly,

And I too will arrive.

And have climbed in haste.

Let them go,

I will journey softly,

And I too will arrive.”

There are times when my quixotic attempts at living life to the fullest fall flat. Usually my first instinct is to succumb to depression. Fortunately I have quite a short attention span, especially when it comes to boring things and so my next instinct is to encourage myself. I have generally given myself good reason to trust my judgement, and so I have to remind myself that just because it hasn’t worked this time, or just at this moment, that doesn’t mean that there will not be a great moment somewhere down the line when I will be vindicated.

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah holds my go to mantra. Even though I have yet to finish reading the book, there is in this book a passage that I find particularly uplifting. Written as the lyrics of a song that the protagonist hears on his way somewhere, (I don’t know where, didn’t read the book) these words remind me that even when I feel that all is lost, it generally isn’t. They remind me that when things don’t seem to be moving they probably are. They remind me to keep breathing, and anyone who knows me knows that I am given to hyperbole, (sometimes just for fun) and so trying times do generally push me over to the overly dramatic, “No, I can’t leave me here, save yourself” type of nonsense that expends much energy without giving anything back. This passage is the message from ground control, saying hey, it’s okay. It’s the message I get in my ear when I feel lost at sea that reminds me that the wind and waves haven’t won before, so there is no need to start now. It reminds me to be myself, and to let that be enough.

Occasionally we need to hear that message- to be reminded to run our own race, at our own pace. Sometimes I just need to remember that even if I was an animal, I definitely wouldn’t be a cheetah, I find running pointless- as a cheetah, this attitude would see me starve to death. I like swimming and flying though, so perhaps if I was an animal I would be a goose, or on my best day, a swan, maybe.  However, no one sits around comparing star athletes to geese, it’s just not sexy, but maybe that’s me. A not sexy good swimmer who likes to migrate for the winter! I’ll take it, I can make it work, if I remember that there are those who are eagles, who have flown before, who have done more than I have, in a shorter space of time, in more elegant or impressive ways, because they are eagles, or cheetah’s or killer whales, and I am a goose. Instead of wishing to be an eagle, or a dolphin, or a cheetah, I really should focus on being the best goose that I can be.

I don’t think I am a goose either though, that’s still a few glamour levels above my station perhaps.

There is, you see, in the juxtaposition between my visionary ambition and the awareness of my limitations, a sort of humiliation, and a sort of pride. I am proud to still be going where some might have given up, I am glad that my vision is still grandiose, and most times beyond me, but on the other hand, I am brought low (original meaning of humiliate) by my own vision. I am nowhere near where I thought I would be by now. I am therefore at once a nothing and a something, a Schrödinger’s cat of potential.

In reality I am perhaps more like a dung beetle. This underestimated creature frequently does far more than its tiny little body would suggest. One type of dung beetle can drag 1,141 times its body weight, which is apparently the equivalent of me pulling six double decker buses. I like this beetle, more than the goose, even as I acknowledge that it is not a white tiger, the coolest animal out there. However, I would love to able to do 1, 141 times more than what the circumstances of my birth dictate for me. I would be very happy with that. If, as I suspect, I am not like those who have been blessed with the power, and the soaring swiftness of the eagle, and I will never fly, nevertheless, if I continue to travel slowly, I too will arrive.

I will arrive slowly, doing something incredible, yet perhaps, not something that anyone else has much use for, as much as the dung beetle feat is impressive, how many of us really care? If someone told us they had a pet cheetah and the other said they had a pet dung beetle, with which of the two would we be more impressed? I can hear all the puns denigrating the poor dung beetle now.

So perhaps my legacy will not mean as a much in the world out there, but I will have journeyed softly to accomplish it, (and accomplish it I will). I will have taken my time, been patient, headed straight for my goal, despite obstacles, used the milky way for navigation, like a pirate, and in the end, perhaps when everyone else doesn’t even remember the race, I’ll turn up. (I have actually done that before, one sports day when I was forced to represent my house and run the 800 metres. I arrived just as the next race was about to start).

Sometimes, it’s enough to remember that you are still moving, that the journey may be slow, but the feats that you accomplish along the way may well be mind-boggling. I am travelling slowly, but one day, I too will arrive.

In the meantime, I should probably head to the gym, those buses won’t tow themselves.

 

There’s a book for that

I love to read, and sometimes when I find myself in new or unusual situations, I think back to one of the books I read. I find parallels between things that I read years ago and events happening in the present. I am often castigated for my use of references that no one understands or for speaking  tangentially. What people don’t seem to realise, is that in my head, it all links up. I see something and I think, hmm, I bet there’s a book (or movie, or random quote) for that. For the purpose of this blogamajig I would like to focus on books, to write about all the wonderful books about there, and why you, dear reader, might want to pick one up.

There’s a book for nearly every human situation, because books, most of them, were written by humans. I say most to exclude that one random one that some over achieving stapler wrote somewhere, but I think humans do generally do books better than staplers. I bet there’s a book for that reference too.

I hope this blog leads you to read, there are wonderful worlds to be explored that fell out of the pens of some very interesting people. Jump on in.