Friday, November 27, 2009

Ireland's Gulag

The following is copied and pasted from my friend's notes on Facebook. I am pleased to reproduce it here in light of the news from the BBC today that the Vatican ignored calls for information regarding clerical abuse.

This is the piece that I wrote for Ikon's 'Pyrotheology' event, which was initially presented at the Black Box in Belfast in June '09 and then again at the Greenbelt festival on 28 August '09.

The piece was read by ______ at Greenbelt, who did a beautiful job. Her voice is low and warm, and she gave it a dignity and gravity that was quite different to how I had read it at the Black Box event. I view her performance of it as a decidedly moving cover version. In musical terms, it sounded a bit like Suzanne Vega covering 'Know Your Enemy' by Rage Against the Machine.

One further comment: while this piece is certainly concerned with a specific monumental failing on the part of the Catholic Church in Ireland, it is not intended as a blanket condemnation of the Catholic Church in particular or Catholicism in general, both of which have nourished my spiritual life immeasurably. Every tradition has failed to live up to the vision of Jesus (yeah, even yours...), and each tradition needs to search its collective soul for how to respond to those failings. The grace of Jah is wide enough for all of us.

So here is the piece:

The clerical child abuse scandal within the industrial schools run for decades by the Catholic Church in Ireland have for years been an open wound for many Irish people, whether they be Catholic, lapsed Catholic, never-Catholic, or would-be Catholic.

Now, thanks to an independent government report that has thrown light onto the devastating full scale of the child abuse-

over 800 known serial abusers;

over 200 Catholic institutions;

over 35 years;

abuse not accidental, sporadic, or opportunistic;

not a tragic failure of the system, but, horrifically, the system itself-

we understand why the scandal is being referred to, I believe without an ounce of hyperbole, as ‘Ireland’s gulag’ and ‘the map of an Irish hell."

Reading the Government Commission documents (and I have read them), I feel as if I have stared the antichrist full in the face. I feel that I now know why someone as compassionate as Jesus would suggest such a cruel and unusual use for a millstone. I have never been so sad, sick and enraged. I feel the inner scream that many Christians have heard ring in their heads when their fellow Christian’s fingers have been found stained with the shit of the Crusades, anti-Semitism, martyrs, slavery, imperialism, Auschwitz, Rwanda, unwanted Irish children, or simply a failure to stop the destruction of the ‘least of these’, whether they were across the world or down the road.

In the case of these decades of unwanted Irish children, many now in their damaged middle age, The Church’s reaction has been, I believe, the very embodiment of the word ‘inadequate’. There has been silence, and where there has not been silence there has been noise; obfuscation, platitudes, and rationalization, making many of us, heads cradled in our hands, beg, please in the name of Christ will you SHUT UP AND FUCK OFF!!!

What would happen if, as one, The Church said, “We have sinned; we are sorry; we humbly repent, and as penance, we will shut ourselves down, collectively give up our vocation, sell all we have and give it to the poor and the abused. God forgive us. God bless you. Goodbye”?

The Church would end.

But through its self-destruction, through this self-immolation, I wonder if, in time, the Church might be reborn.

I believe that many Irish men and women who had abandoned the Church for decades, dumfounded at this sudden moment of... I don’t know, Christianity?- would say, “That’s what I’ve been yearning to hear.” Those of us who weekly drag our own selves dejectedly to the 11am Service of Holy Eucharist, now that there wasn’t one to drag ourselves off to, might feel a new stirring.

Over time, as has happened on these islands for millennia, men and women would feel the call of God. They would pray and they would serve. They would heal each other’s bodies and souls. They would to meet together over bread and wine and feel God in their midst. And each morning, as the first of us did, they would face the rising sun and worship the three-in-one, singing,

“As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be.”

And they might think of keeping a sledgehammer, a can of petrol, and a box of matches readily at hand... For the next time.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sleep, Eat, Party

Went to see this play by Damian Gorman last night and very quickly realised that I'd never seen a Northern Irish transgendered person represented on stage before (or in a book, or on TV, or anywhere really), let alone a teenage transgendered person. But it wasn't only this which blew me away. What a wonderful and sensitive treatment of some of the issues facing young people in Northern Ireland today; drugs, alcohol, parenthood, suicide. That afternoon I had read a news article reporting that Sir Reg Empey had compared young unemployed people to 'vampires' feeding off society, adding that they live off their parents' money and only want to 'stay at home watching TV with mummy' (so not only are they feckless, but their mothers too, of course). Today I will email Sir Reg and encourage him to see this play.

I LOVED that the play focused on things from a male point of view without vilifying women. The whole thing rang so true; sexism against women affects men too- it teaches them that 'real men' don't talk, don't love, don't take responsibility, don't 'act like a girl'. It is so refreshing to have someone really get this in Northern Ireland. It gave me hope.

Please go and see it if you can. Click here for details.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Childbirth and the Eucharist. Remembering.

This is my piece from last night's ikon gathering which was entitled 'No Bodies and Our Souls'.

How much of what we experience of our bodies comes from the memory of the experience as attached to the particular words and selves we have learned? Perhaps that is impossible to answer; like trying to describe a moment which is beyond words to the point where the most vivid memory of it only brings a feeling to mind. So the description I am about to attempt is beyond inadequate and yet, again and again, I am compelled to try to describe it.

I sometimes imagine that the compulsion is down to my angry mind needing to own tha event which was so far out of its control that I could not even hear it at the time. How frustrating for my mind, which had convinced me so well for so long of its power and authority so suddenly have me in thrall to another. I could only hear my body. And it was screaming.

I have heard people talk of giving birth as an 'out of body experience' or a spiritual experience. Something takes over and performs a bloody and painful miracle. It felt as if it was not me but someone or something beyond me; intervening. Life happens, all of a sudden. There is yelling and then crying and laughter.

But it was not a spiritual experience. It was the opposite. A total body experience. A completely human experience. Just one that was so unusual that my mind had been shocked into silence for the first time ever. I realised then that it was not God who was beyond me, it was myself. I am beyond me. More than I realise. And, because someone I will die, more than I will ever realise. Perhaps it is possible to lose God and gain God in the same word-becoming-flesh moment. You can lost control of your body like that, but then, who is your body if it is not you? You are then in control but also not in control. Beyond words, who are you?

Consider that the younger a person is, the more spiritual we deem them, the more connected to God. They who have no words, who are not aware of the boundaries between others and themselves, their bodies and the universe. Our minds will not let us remember this. But perhaps our bodies have no forgotten.

When we break together we do it in remembrance of the spirit-made-man and our minds say, get up, take the bread, say Amen. But, as you swallow, feel how little control you have. Your body may accept the bread, may digest it, may glean the goodness from it, may expell the rest. This is beyond words. This is the sacrament of word made flesh. Feel where your words end and your flesh begins. Your helpnessness, like a baby. Your power, your connection to the universe. This is your body. Do this in remembrance.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Sometimes a Man Aims High...

It is National Poetry Day. Happy National Poetry Day! :)

If you want to read some of mine then check out the 'Poems for Adam and Eve' link on my links section.

Here's one I wanted to share for today:

'Sometimes' by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail.
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.

A people sometimes will step back from war,
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.

Sometimes our best intentions do not go
amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen; may it happen for you.

I used to have this poem on my classroom wall when I was a teacher. Today I remember it because this month has been difficult so far. Most of all because of the recent death of an ex-colleague of mine. Mick will be sadly missed in our local community and by me, and Ian and Ana who loved him. It's not fair when people die too young.

I remember this poem because when you have one of those weeks when disappointments and difficulties pile up it helps to acknowledge that sometimes things go right as well. This week the news broke that a group of people, including myself, had been successful in complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority regarding a local business's horribly sexist and degrading ad campaign. The advertisement has been banned, but more importantly there is now the hope that in future someone might think twice about airing their out of date, misogynistic 'jokes' for profit. Or that women might feel like it's worth speaking out about what isn't OK. Sometimes things work out. Sometimes a woman aims high, and all goes well. We hold on to that.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Hierarchy of Meaning?

This from the BBC the other day: a study showing that 40% of 'tweets' are 'pointless babble'.

Aside from the fact that I have major issues about how a 'study' of this sort could possibly yield results that include statistics claiming insight into the 'pointlessness' of any attempt at communication (I'm not a scientist by any stretch of the imagination but that sounds suspiciously like nonsense/made up science to me), I want to focus on one part of the study quoted by the BBC:

'those dubbed "pointless babble" were of the "I'm eating a sandwich" type'

Good of them to at least define 'pointless babble', but I want to look at that a bit more, because I've been an English teacher and I think I can speak with some authority about 'pointless babble' (my own included).

I want to consider something which is very important to communication in general. Something called 'context'. Furthermore I want to introduce a brand new concept: 'subtext'. What's that? 'Subtext' has been around for ages? Oh well, I guess there is really nothing new in the world. Henceforth, you may regard this entire post as 'pointless babble' since it has undoubtedly all been said before.


'I am eating a sandwich'. Devoid of meaning, of course. Let's put it in a number of 'contexts' and you can work out the 'subtext' for yourself:

1. I have eaten only junk food and cakes for the past year. I am worried about my health. Today I went to fruit and veg shop and bought a tomato and a lettuce. And now: I am eating a sandwich.

2. I am struggling with anorexia and have hardly eaten anything since Tuesday. Today (on twitter) I made a friend who has similar struggles and we decided to try and help each other. And now: I am eating a sandwich.

3. I have struggled my whole life with issues around my body image and eating. In public I pretend I hardly eat at all but in secret I gorge myself which is why I am overweight. Today, for the first time, I will admit that I eat food. I will come out as an eater. I will notice people's non-reaction as I tell them: I am eating a sandwich (I hope they are fooled into thinking it is just 'pointless babble').

If you 'do' twitter (and if you don't possibly none of this makes any sense to you, apologies. To you the 'PB' label might be applied to this post perhaps) you will know that some tweets that you read mean more to you than others. You will realise that what you yourself tweet is sometimes more meaningful to you than other tweets. What you can. not. possibly. gauge, is how your tweets are received by everyone reading them in their own personal 'context'. What you find banal could very be right at the top of the 'meaning hierarchy' for someone else. Only writing in wingdings could really ensure an all round 'pointless babble' score.

I think what this report comes down to is a lack of understanding married with a dose of snobbery. Who gets to decide how people communicate? I guess I feel defensive about twitter because I use it, but also because I can see how good it can be for people. How people can support each other through it. How easy it becomes to see that there is no hierarchy: that everyone only gets 140 characters, that sometimes I find Stephen Fry boring (gosh, I guess that means he's a real person), that having a bunch of messages saying 'have a good holiday' when I'm about to leave the house really feels good because no one had to say that.

If this is pointless then count me in with the babblers. I like words, so sue me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Looky over there ----->

It's some lovely music from Sarah Masen and you can have it, for free! Or, if you think it's totally ace and you'd like the artist to have some of your money, you can give them some.

Check out the title linkage for more music. I approve of this, lots and lots. Anyone know of a similar thing for writing/stories? Would be interested.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Stuff Christian Culture Likes

This website is funny. Particularly if you have encountered/ been a part of/ are still a part of evangelical Christian culture. I liked the post about having a man-crush on Bono. But also the one I've linked to, which is about getting rid of all your best (/'evil') music. I can only remember doing away with a pretty good album by The Cult. But I do remember quite vividly walking away from a lecture about backwards masking and the evils of rock music thinking, 'Wow, Led Zeppelin, they're pretty good!'. I later found a parental copy of 'Led Zeppelin Volume II' in the roofspace and leanred how to play 'Whole Lotta Love' on the (classical) guitar that belonged to my mother. These days you don't have to work too hard to get rid of your music, itunes will regularly delete it all without asking you :)

Thursday, July 02, 2009

A Little Late

But I always am. Just remembered about this this morning and thought it was worth posting. Definitely worth listening to until the end. Whatever you thought of him, well, tunes like this speak for themselves. And Foy Vance is wonderful.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Not In Our Town

Just got word of this. Pass it on.
The School of Education at Queen's University, Belfast and Facing History and Ourselves are running a special seminar to provide an opportunity to discuss community responses to racism and sectarianism. This is part of our response to the recent hate crimes in Belfast and beyond.

The seminar will include a showing of the PBS film Not In Our Town which chronicled the response of a US town to hate attacks and encouraged the development of community responses to hate crimes. This will be followed by an open discussion on how we might respond to racism and sectarianism, with particular emphasis on the role of educators and youth organisations.

The seminar will run from 12.30pm to 2.00pm on Wednesday July 8 in the Cathcart Room, School of Education, 69/71 University Street.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


Clearly the sunshine has gone to my head as I feel compelled to do a little blogging....

In the shed, door open, supervising many kids playing in Ana's paddling pool. It's nice to have a good excuse not to be inside working.

Anyway, went to see Anthony and the Johnsons last night. Spur of the moment decision made about an hour before I had to leave the house. You know what's lovely? Being in Belfast, the city of so much bigotry and hurt, surrounded by hundreds of people applauding the beauty of this wonderful transgender person. You won't hear about that on the radio.

He sang this one last night and I thought it was particularly good. I am dedicating it to Mags, my sister, and I do wish for all her dreams to come true. Ana is looking forward to a new cousin at the end of the year and we are all delighted to be thinking about a new life. It's also dedicated to sister Peterson whose visit we very much enjoyed last week. Thanks for bringing Glen to meet us P, so great to have you both; we were blessed, not only by your Scandinavian liquorice but also your stories and wisdom, not to mention child entertaining skillz.

Love to you three from us three. xxx

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Interesting that something for which I really have no words should propel me back into the blogosphere. Anyway, if you're near Belfast, Derry or Newry think about coming along to this rally tomorrow (Wednesday) at 1pm. Whatever anyone says, this kind of thing does make a difference.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Interview Game

Thanks to Niki for helping me think of something to blog. I am unwell at the minute (again) but on the mend. Let me know if you'd like to be a part of this (see rules at the bottom) and I will inspire you to blog as well!

1. What was the single most happy day in your life?

I don't know. I've had lots of happy moments but not sure about a day I would remember as most happy. I think I would trade the moments over the days though: birth of Ana, finding the free champagne on honeymoon in Barcelona, cocktails in Barcelona, arriving in Granada, walking in the hills, millenium New Year in a remote cottage in Donegal, and several moments of meeting some wonderful people (insert your own name here).

2. Do you think social networking sites (like Facebook) have brought people closer together, or pushed us farther apart?

Neither. I'm not sure people should give too much thought to Facebook. It is what you want it to be and if you don't like it you shouldn't bother with it. I've found it really useful for keeping in touch with people who are far away- especially family- so I guess it has brought me closer to them in that way. And there have been several of the kind of happy moments listed above that have come about (by nesscessity, or maybe not) because of facebook (like Peterson's visit last year) and I am very grateful for that.

3. Do you think that the journey can be the best part of the trip?

Not sure. The train journey from Lyon to Chambery was memorable but the food in Lyon and hanging out with my friends in Chambery were really wonderful so it wasn't the best part of the trip. I guess you could say that everything is 'journey' really- there is only journey.

4. Have you ever been shopping to make yourself feel better, and then come home feeling worse?

Almost every time! However, I am recently beginning to appreciate ways to better retail therapize! When it's good it's very, very good :). My main tip is, dress up to go shopping- and drink some Prosecco while you're out and about- don't rely on the shopping itself to make you feel good because changing room mirrors often suck!

5. How many hours on average do you sleep per night?

Not enough at the minute :( I usually need a good 8 hours if i can get it.

Thanks Niki- I enjoyed doing this. Good questions!

So there you have it... here are the rules.

•Leave me a comment requesting an interview.
•I will e-mail you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
•You then answer the questions on your blog.
•You should also post these rules along with an offer to interview anyone else who e-mails you wanting to be interviewed.
•Anyone who asks to be interviewed should be sent 5 questions to answer on their blog.
•It would be nice if the questions were individualized for each blogger.