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.