Friday, November 05, 2010

in need of solid ground

Tonight there's a Being live streaming event on Mindful Eating. November 5; 7.30pm EDT (that's 11.30pm in GB/IRL since the clocks have already gone back). if you can't watch tonight it'll be available after. 
Being are encouraging folks to embed it on their own sites and blogs. so i'm doing it here. this is exactly the kind of conversation my soul needs at the moment. 

well it's been a quiet few weeks on these pages, i'll admit. mostly due to it having been a very busy few weeks offline. a mountain of boxes and art work and a couple furniture pieces are now on their way across the sea; potential new tenants have been to view the apartment; i leave for Nashville in 12 days. was up in Belfast last weekend and the 'au revoir' was harder than i expected.
i've not felt much like writing from this strange liminal space in which i find myself. some days i'm excited and others, nervous. and much of the time i'm somewhere in a sleepless place in between. the flat is mostly empty and there's just a few bits 'n' pieces to sort out next week before the move, which i'm anticipating will be an all too long and anxious day of travel with a massive emotional collapse at journey's end. the immensity of moving gets more overwhelming by each passing day. and i'm thankful that when i arrive, Joel and i will have a long weekend together at home in which we can draw a deep breath or two.

Amidst the frankly life-sapping polarized discourse of the US midterm elections, yesterday i resolved to keep my news intake to the bear minimum as the media noise has become for me a source of increasing fracture and disconnect.
i've been increasingly seeking that which is for something, rather than against and i've resolved that my first year in Nashville will be centered on being family and focusing on quality friendship in our immediate community over the quantity of social networks. right now, bigger doesn't feel better. i'll be searching out opportunities for collaboration and enrichment in all things particularly local, seeking out positive and creative activities in the neighborhood that i can engage in. paradoxically, perhaps, and only perhaps, as i move into a far far bigger country i plan to keep my world quite small until i find my feet and achieve a sense of mindful and steady rhythm.

Being continues to be a great companion in that search for sanity and for-ness... they did a great job hosting a conversation on Pursuing Happiness between the Dalai Lama and other faith leaders last month. Rabbi Jonathon Sacks' contribution really spoke to me and i find myself still processing why his words were the ones with which I found connection...

It led to an interesting conversation with my father the other night, who seems to be wrestling with similar issues to me this season - of feeling increasingly frustrated with the Reformed tradition (i.e. Presbyterian, not Jewish) and its apparently constant need to make the New testament fit with the Old, or rather, fit the Old with the New. in other words, constantly reading the Old Testament in light of Christian doctrinal lens rather than allowing Hebrew texts to stand for themselves. he's been coming up against this mental jigsaw of a Presbyterian habit in an ongoing congregational study of Deuteronomy, while i've been trying to gain a deeper understanding of the doctrinal assumptions and assertions in Reformed marriage rites as Joel and i prepare for our vow-making next month. seems like we're both feeling like frustrated square pegs in round holes right now.

i'm looking forward to hearing the upcoming Being episode on November 11, that will feature a one-on-one conversation between Krista Tippett and Rabbi Sacks on Dealing with Difference.
something in his perspective in the Happiness conversation left me feeling both comfort and a sense of grief that i've been brought up in a tradition in which faith is all to easily defined as certainty, which never seems to make it easy at all and treats Jesus like he was a Christian rather than the Jew he was.

allthesame, i'm looking forward to getting to know the community at DPC better, and i also am interested in getting to know our neighborhood church, which is just around the corner, is arguably the most socially progressive & integrated church in Nashville and seems to be doing a lot of positive work for those most in need around us.

and i'm looking forward to seeing what creative ways Joel and I come up with to the weave the Advent theme of waiting for all that is yet to come, the beginning and becoming of our marriage and the real need to simply be and take time to rest together in our togetherness. that's quite a mix and i'm aware we are both needing calm, space and quiet despite the sense of hectic-ness that so often accompanies the approach of Christmas.

Peace be with you,


p.s. i joked with dad that it is perhaps Rabbi Sacks' looking so like him that left me predisposed to his wisdom. insert here a dad-joke that he would have expected any such similarity to produce the opposite effect. only a yarmulke between 'em...

Chief Rabbi

Chief Pops (with Joel)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Know Hope

this is extraordinarily powerful and speaks for itself.

IF YOU NEED HELP or want to support others click on these links:

For LGBTQ people, parents, families, friends, allies needing ongoing friendly support or wanting to give it to others: PFLAG's homepage; find your local PFLAG chapter here

spread the word, spread the love, spread the justice


Friday, October 08, 2010

highly recommended, the map of faith

click here for the map of faith - a piece curated by my dear friend cheryl lawrie over at
[hold :: this space]

to my mind and heart this is one of the most breathtakingly simple, yet deeply evocative and beautiful pieces of theopoetic art i've seen in... well, a very long time.

i know i'll be returning to it again and again. definitely one for the wall. 


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

the breadcrumb trail, or redux, remix, remember

-- if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing.
-- if I am without love, I am nothing.  
-- if I am without love, it will do me no good whatever.

- from 1Corinthians 13:1-3, The Jerusalem Bible

First, an update on the previous post. I went to the US embassy yesterday. It was a very strange experience that left me facing the harsher realities of my own privileges... of race, nationality, gender, religion, language, education, wealth... both Joel and I were very mindful last night that we are being afforded an opportunity others are not. I witnessed two people being turned away. It's not something I've been wanting to dwell on too much today, as yesterday it made for some mixed emotions that were very hard to reconcile. I was so relieved but my heart felt heavy. Yet it's also something I don't want to forget and I have no doubt that we will return to it down the road. Over the weekend Joel and I got chatting about a potential art project I'm thinking I might work on once I'm settled. Right now it's just embryonic ideas bouncing around but it might offer some space and opportunity to process and express what yesterday provoked in me.

Anyhow, the big news is my own application was successful and the embassy now has my passport and I expect it back sometime in the next week, accompanied by a visa permitting me to enter the US and marry Joel. I plan on emigrating to Nashville in mid-November.
I am delighted. Truly. And totally exhausted. I'm collapsed on cloud nine in a heap. So this is a day of rest and no small measure of gratitude for some peace and pause amidst all the excitement and busyness.

And so, with Nashville now so close, and in need of rest, it's seems appropriate and timely that this is something of an update on an even older post...

Back in July, I traced here some events of the past few years... of how the friendship of Pádraig and an old Irish phrase led to a little handmade Christmas card which became a tattoo which became musical collaboration and spoken reflection and then more recently the phrase became a post by Pádraig on Speaking of Faith which became a tweet...
that one simple phrase just keeps slowly and carefully weaving back and forth and being passed on from person to person. It keeps inspiring as it moves and being mixed with other themes along the way, as all the best words are and can be, so that it finds new deep meaning to each person who holds it. And well... that brings us to today.

Charlie and Stephen, who played so tenderly back in Oct '08, are in a band called Jars of Clay. Last Christmas Stephen mentioned to me that he'd been really inspired by that old Irish phrase and he'd been thinking about it a lot. So much so he and his band-mates were developing a new project called The Shelter. A couple of weeks later he burned me a CD with some initial recordings on it including the title track. I was a bit lost for words. August rolls round and I'm hearing it performed live at greenbelt with the audience singing along. I was even more lost for words. The title track is something quite beautiful.

Today the band's new project is launched... to the list of incarnations, this one line of Irish wisdom has now become an album...

As I said back in Oct '08, I believe art, like community, is akin to the hare's corner, a traditional patch of long grass left uncut to shelter the hare at harvest time and also to the small places in Ireland that are keeping the Irish language alive in all its beauty. What we create as artists and who we are as community can both I believe be shelter to one another from the reaper's blade... from the storm. 

So, here's a whole new path opening up off that breadcrumb trail... what these four humans offer here in this short video is really tender and beautiful and I have no doubt they are going to inspire many with what they share. I certainly hope so. Who knows where others might take it, how they'll remix it, what other paths will open up in other places...

I wish them well in this. This is an exciting day for them and likely a daunting one - it always is when you're putting out into the world something you've poured yourself into - it's a vulnerable act. But its theme also seems very linked up with their commitment to causes close to their hearts. I'm not sure if I ever got around to mentioning it here but I wrote a piece for Speaking of Faith's  Being's blog about greenbelt, which was an incredibly humbling honor. The show has been such a source of enrichment for me and so many people I know these past few years. Just this morning Joel was mentioning his favourite episode and how valuable it is to have the opportunity to hear and learn from such a diversity of voices & perspectives. I got to meet Steve's band-mate Dan for the first time at the festival and he offered a really positive contribution through a panel discussion on musicians and social activism. I incorporated some of his thoughts into the piece as I found it really insightful and encouraging for anyone interested in both creativity and social justice. 

We need each other, and we can each be shelter to another human in any moment where we choose to be truly present to the other. What is presence? It's patience, kindness, it doesn't judge, it listens with humility, compassion... it's Justice.. it's Love  - and heaven knows there are days when one has to wonder if any of these has any currency left in this world. Being present, being shelter to others is for me what the currency of being uncool is all about. May I keep trying harder every day to embody it just a little better... which is why it was worth tattooing - because I want to be constantly mindful of what matters most in this messy sacred journey of being human.

Here's to the audacity of truth's persistence and the constancy of what matters most... May these words keep passing from soul to soul and may we hold their message always at the centre of our becoming-community and be their embodiment, so that we may be a 'welcome' for every stranger we meet.

This is a link to the band's site where you'll find more about the album. I look forward to hearing the whole thing. If you scroll down on this page and you'll see some reflections on the theme of The Shelter, including some as-always incredibly beautiful words from Pádraig, without whom this little trail would never have begun...

in these moments, Ireland and Nashville don't seem so far apart.



Sunday, October 03, 2010

the soul was not meant for systems

it's been several weeks since i've written anything. all is well (relatively) but the last 3 weeks have been busy and a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

shortly after my last post i had my medical for my visa. it went well and i immediately put in a request for an interview at the embassy. i didn't expect to hear anything for many weeks. 2 days later i got a call saying there had been cancellations at the immigration unit and would i be available for an interview on the 4th october. i said yes. but that's meant me suddenly needing to get my moving plans into some kind of action but with no guarantee of when that will actually happen. we've been pencilling in potential travel dates and wedding dates and researching shipping arrangements and completing yet more forms.

the K-1Fiance(e) Visa is technically speaking a non-immigrant visa but is processed as if it were an immigrant visa. in short, this makes for a very confusing process. i can honestly say i have no idea if i have everything in order for tomorrow. i hope i have, but the information i have been given is contradictory and confusing to say the least. my best guess is that i've been sent documents by the embassy that are out of date and don't apply to the kind of visa i am seeking. trying to interpret what i was sent and reconcile them with the instructions on the embassy website has been a labyrinthine nightmare. dad, joel and i have spent hours trying to make sense of it all. it's been emotionally exhausting...

so, with a pile of things i'd like to be writing about stacking up i've had little mental or emotional energy to do anything more than keep in touch with a few folks via twitter. i've tried writing several times but it's just not in me at the moment. but i hope to come back to some themes in due course.

today will be spent trying to get my pile of documents ready for the interview at the embassy and staying as calm as i possibly can. tomorrow genuinely can be classed as one of the most important days of my life without any hyperbole and this interview the most terrifying by far.

in a little over 24 hours we will either be ecstatically happy and booking flights to the US and confirming our wedding date with the church or we'll very disappointed and having to wait for who knows how long til my application meets all the requirements. i hope beyond hope in that eventuality the delay will only be a few weeks. i know others have thought they had crossed ever t and dotted every i and then faced delays they never saw coming. despite keeping all our plans very provisional and tentative til after the interview, i've started packing up by belongings, giving stuff away to charity and organise the belongings i plan to ship to Nashville. i am surrounded by boxes. it's been chaos in the flat the past couple of weeks.

so naturally enough there's been a lot of uncertainty and unknowns. please G-d by tomorrow afternoon we'll have a clearer sense of when i'll be able to move and can make firm plans. skype is great and i am truly grateful for having access to the technology that means i can see Joel for several hours a day. but when one is feeling anxious and stressed one feels the distance of not being able to just sit side by side and feel the comfort of the other's physical presence.

it's odd, this process in some ways reminds me of the legal divorce process. one is dealing with a system that is not interested in the emotions of a situation. it's utterly distanced from the human experience being undergone. and yet the emotions of that experience are very hard ones. in order to marry this person you have to be forcibly kept thousands of miles apart. i understand why they make this such a difficult and expensive process. i really do. it would be all to easy to abuse it and use it as either an easy way into the US or for human trafficking. i get why the system has to be dispassionate. but not a day goes by that i wish there was a sense the system had an ounce of understanding about what it is they are asking of applicants. to be separated from the very person one wants to be with and building a life with - by thousands of miles and in many cases by entire oceans and continents. it makes no difference which way you try to do this, as there are several routes one can take - months of enforced separation is unavoidable.
it makes me realise the humanity in the Canadian rule that families should not be separated by immigration processes. this process has been a very different one to that which my brother went through when he married Miriam and moved to Toronto. there were long hard months where he could not work and was waiting to hear from the powers that be but he was able to be legally there in Toronto with her the whole time before and after they were married until his case was processed. i know there are good reasons why this process is different and i feel no ill will for that stricter process, as it potentially protects human rights of others who are far more vulnerable, particularly women, but i also think there is a human cost to keeping families apart that is all too easily overlooked... and both joel and i have since we got together understood ourselves to be nothing less than a family.

and while i consider ours to be a little sorrow compared to what others are going through at the moment, and i am very mindful that same sex couples don't even have the right to this immigration process that is available to us, the constant state of stasis has weighed heavy on some days. i want to be strong for joel, who is incredibly busy with work at the moment. i want to be strong for my dad and my step mother who have been through the mill these past six months with her illness. although that situation is really improving and that is a huge relief to us all. but am also aware that this is me planning to move 4,000 miles. it will be hard to say goodbye. and we're all mindful of that.

so, i don't want to be complaining, and i want to keep things in right perspective. but that's the reason for my silence on here of late. the one thing i can say is Love is certain. and that is our strength right now. and i do believe that this process will prove to make us stronger as a team in life rather than weaker. we've had to pull together across the miles and remain firmly focused on our togetherness and having no emotional distance between us. we're learning good lessons together and learning how we each process and react to external stresses and things not in our control. and i'm glad to say that although there have been some tears, we've never once argued about it and have stuck firmly together. i am deeply grateful for that. i know Joel has had to experience moments with me feeling completely overwhelmed by the lack of control the circumstances create and his ability to transcend physical distance and connect is a gift beyond measure. i have experienced deep Love in those moments.

i hope that from tomorrow i will no longer be responding to the questions, 'so when are you emigrating and when are you getting married?' with 'i don't know...' - i'm so ready for this limbo to be over...

right, i've some vital final preparations and errands to run. better get to it.

i hope this finds you well and getting what you need wherever you are.



Sunday, September 12, 2010

A Ritual to Write to Each Other

or, 'this is how it happened...'

12 months ago today, on the 12th September, my friend Joel was on his way to a family wedding in Texas.
In the preceding days, or indeed months, Joel and I had been discussing (through emails that were growing increasingly frequent and fervent) the idea of 'the canon' and maps, fidelity, Ray Bradbury's wedding vows 'to always love dinosaurs', wonder, Mary Poppins, comics, hegemony, genre, and Michael Chabon's idea that everything is a sequel to The Aeneid - all our ideas over the weeks were being added to a mental wiki - in which nothing gets left out and everything is interlinked...

The night before he'd been out for dinner with Gail and given her Chabon's Maps and Legends as a birthday gift and after cycling home in pouring rain, wrote to me about a poem he found on the Writer's Almanac - A Ritual to Read to Each Other by William Stafford, which opens,
If you don't know the kind of person I am
and I don't know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

I woke to that mail and sitting at my writing desk, just as I am now with my coffee, I sent Joel a response to say I'd discovered from Garrison Keillor on that morning's Writer's Almanac that Joel's nephew and bride were getting married on the anniversary of the marriage of Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, whose story is equal parts tragic and hopeful and the source of some of the most famous lines in English romantic poetry... I continued...

They also have significance because they surely are now living happily forever in the land that was created and everyday grows and breathes with the words and spirit of personal correspondence. A part of the canon-map that is as real and true and significant to that world of words as the terrain made from poems or audio-plays or novels.
(I like to think it is reached by mail coach. And to reach that genre one passes through cities built with office managers' post-it notes  and memos. cities which are saved from being eternally grey cold edifices because they are decorated by notes from loving spouses and children's paintings sneakily slipped into briefcases on Monday mornings.
The city parks trees are made of quotes and ideas and vacation postcards stuck on fridges. And standing atop soap boxes on the street corners, orators entertain and inspire passers-by with recitations of mottos on fridge magnets - no longer tired cliches ('Life is too short to drink cheap wine!' 'Bloom where you are planted!' 'Jesus is coming. Look busy!') but spoken each time as if it were the first, and heard with eternally new ears.
And the land beyond - that is built on personal letters exchanged between families and lovers and friends and strangers kept apart by distance, and estrangement and war and prison walls - is spoken of by those who visit it as the most breathtaking place they ever saw:
Carved from such raw, unedited, deep emotions of love and fear and patience and hope that its majestic beauty is almost too much to bear. That's the place where Elizabeth and Robert dwell. Although they continue to traverse the map when they head out together on poetry tours each spring.)

A few short hours later, after little sleep, his shoes not yet dry from the cycle home, Joel woke in Nashville, and rushing to get to the airport for his flight to Dallas, he wrote a mail that irrevocably altered everything, closing with,

'Love, which I'm using very cary-fully, and which is definitely changing my life'

I replied with a 'holy crap, Batman' and from there we acknowledged we had been shifting into a realm of togetherness beyond friends and never wanted the conversation to end...

4 months later to the day, on the 12th January, 2010, (although the date wasn't intentional), we got engaged. Again by unintentional coincidence, 6 months from this day, on 12th March, 2011, we'll be holding a service of celebration and throwing a party for family and friends.
[We hope and pray somewhere in the interim I'll have been issued a visa, emigrated and we'll have gotten married. I have a frock for the occasion and we're remaining zen about the unknown-ness of when that's actually going to happen.]

So, Happy Anniversary, Joel. I'm so glad we paid attention & didn't miss our star...

Sonnet 43: How do I love thee, let me count the ways

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. (Public domain.)
(Image of my fridge I sent to Joel on 3rd September, 2009 including a Dr Who quote Joel had shared with me.)

Feeling deeply blessed and gratitudinal...


Wednesday, September 08, 2010

some gb10 snaps


(i'm sticking these lovely greenbelt photos by my dear friend, and photographer, Colin Fraser Wishart up here because i need a url link for them elsewhere.)

Sarah - the - Willow, beautiful


Cary & Jayne embrace the new era ahead; Tiny Tea Tent; on Cary's hen night
Colin & Cary - photo taken by Geoff Little with Colin's rather impressive camera
Padraig asks greenbelt, How do you spell Hell?

hope you are all well.


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

home from the 'belt

alright, this'll be a very brief update for now.

back from greenbelt. great weekend. came home to find my step-mum is back in hospital. haven't had a chance to process the weekend but there was loads of good in there and i'm looking forward to writing about it as i get my thoughts together and my muddy laundry done.

despite coming back to family concerns, that doesn't take away from the fantastic-ness of the weekend. i was loved by an amazing group of friends, who threw me a hen party on Saturday. hoping i'll have photos to share at some point. left me feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. made new friends; heard some inspiring ideas; heard good music; and spent much time just hanging out chatting and laughing...

Camp Fury HQ. home to 14 of us this year. plus a few guests at every meal too.
Padraig & Jayne discuss leftovers. Stephen grins.
the view from the 'Soul Space'.

time to wash the field off...


Sunday, August 22, 2010


Well, this is a delight of a dilemma... starting 3 amazing books all at once and then being caught between them.

First up, recommended to me yesterday by the lovely photographer and gentle human, Colin Fraser Wishart; he spoke so beautifully of it, i immediately bought it. the foreword is worth the cover price alone. just sublime... Just Kids by Patti Smith.

Temperence by Cathy Malkasian 

Was browsing the graphic novel section on Wednesday having just handed in my thesis to school & was relishing the relief & my only purpose being pleasure... read the back cover of this and didn't even look inside -- walked straight up to the counter and bought it. the line, [the society] Blessedbowl is a cultural convergence of lies, memories, stories, and beliefs did it... the insides are proving to be worth the impulsive purchase.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Joel's gifting me the graphic adaptation to mark the end of my MA & proving once again his awesomeness on several levels with it. so i'm getting the original novel in before it arrives. needless to say, my penchant for dystopian futures is being rewarded. the man really knows how to turn a phrase.

(the soon-to-arrive graphic adaptation)


going on my wish list...

Batwoman Elegy. Briefly skipped into Forbidden Planet in Belfast and found this. i'd love the deluxe edition but (for nothing more than idiosyncratic aesthetic reasons) i'd prefer to read this in softcover than the currently available hardcover. will have to do some digging around to see if the softcover ed is planned with or without the extra material from the deluxe ed, which includes an intro by Rachel Maddow intact. otherwise might have to settle for hardcover.

eenie meenie mynie mo...


Thursday, August 19, 2010

if only I read the 'parable of the good Samaritan' like it meant something

I want to preface this by saying very clearly that i have been guilty of not paying enough attention to the crisis going on in Pakistan right now. Joel, however, has been following the news and so he's been taking the lead on us responding. So, I'm not resting on any laurels here, believe me. Quite the opposite in fact.

This is a confession of sorts... not a beating myself kind of confession, but a serious look at my need to be a better neighbour. i've been wrestling with this all week. good thing greenbelt is approaching. i need a good kick up the arse of my so-called faith.

My doctrinal beliefs may be heterodox, if not even my most measures heretical, but when it comes to Luke 10: 30-37, i read it very straightforwardly. i don't think it could be clearer. and i think the entire Bible could be summed up in the lines, "Jesus says, 'Go and do likewise.'"

But it's so easy for me to skip over that bit. I'm jotting it down here so i can see it. But I know others will likely see it. so please know i'm not casting stones at anyone. I'm looking at the stones i'm carrying. This stone is the one that signifies my persistent ability to just walk on by...


Charitable giving is something Joel and I have discussed a lot -- way back in our friendship it's been a theme. In large part those conversations arise because, (aside from the fact we talk everything through at great length anyway - we're never short on conversation; and aside from Joel's personal commitment to humanitarianism) I worked for 4 years in a large emergency aid and development organisation. I walked away from that world having learned I'd never change the world, my impact was limited as an individual and even more: the degree to which charitable giving and disaster relief raises very complex issues.

Now, as we discuss and make charitable donations as a couple, we talk about why we are going to do it; any concerns we have about how it will be spent; the priorities of the charities in question; our own concerns about specific groups in need in a situation; whether we  could or should be thinking about other groups in need that are getting less attention or we overlook and so on...

As a result of seeing things from the inside, I think one should always give where possible to those who are working with others in collaboration, not on their own as lone responders.
Disaster emergencies are by their nature chaotic and they need leadership and co-ordinated professionalism. Otherwise problems risk being exacerbated.
I always want to be sure I'm also giving to  those who've learned from their mistakes as well as successes.
By giving to agencies who are linked with others, and with a lot of experience, there's at least the likelihood that they know what they are good at and let others use their expertise, rather than trying to be all things to all people. There is nothing heroic about getting in over your head. The big co-ordinated efforts in a place like Haiti or Pakistan needs to be backed by the organisational capacity to be around for a long time if needs be, while building up the capacity of smaller, local organisations to be in it for the long term as needs change.
There's a difference between first response and then recovery and, beyond that, sustainable development and in this phase, the needs are urgent and require a lot of expertise and cash to procure and distribute supplies.

So I've spent time today getting a more comprehensive grasp of the situation and looking at the response so far. One thing is clear: what's going on Pakistan is frightening and the situation is one that has humanitarian but also geo-political ramifications.

If you too are in a position to give, please consider it. There is some useful information and the opportunity to donate over at UNICEF (USA), through whom Joel and I are channeling our support. The UK site is here. (UNICEF is part of the UN family but relies solely on public funding and does not receive UN funds.) By no means are they the only organisation responding. But they are working with the other UN agencies and have a long history of experience with working with women and children -- focusing on their particular needs for disease prevention, personal protection & shelter. They have quite rightly focused on clean water distribution, disease control and makeshift shelters. That there are now signs of cholera outbreak in some areas is proof of why that's such a vital priority. If you are unsure of who to give to, or odn't have time to research your choices, use that link. UNHCR, The International Red Cross and the DEC in the UK are also responding.

Both women and children are highly vulnerable in crises like these and UNICEF, like the UN, is rightly concerned that this emergency is not garnering the international humanitarian response it should. The scale of money needed to meet the immediate needs in Pakistan is staggering. Much more is needed. Even if you can't give much, then at least spread the word and encourage others to give to one of the aid agencies involved.


When Joel and I talked about Pakistan & UNICEF last night, I commented that one of the reasons for the lack of adequate attention was that many, just like me, were too distracted by the escalating 'debate' in the US over the Park 51 community center in Manhattan. After our conversation i saw this article, and I was reminded that not only is one a distraction from the other, but they are actually interlinked...and I am grateful that by Joel's compassion and witness to others' suffering, I am reminded that being a good neighbour is not a passive act...


What follows has quite a lot of connection to my thesis, or at least, one concluding theme of it...
it's about what happens when we make an idea more important than the embodied human and we don't allow another their freedom. It's about how far one can slide... until you are torturing someone to free them... it's also about how violence betrays justice... and how easy it is to end up being no different than one's 'enemy'... about how we can hide behind ideology and forget what it means to be a loving human being...


In my distraction I have thought a lot about how misleading the "Ground Zero Mosque" debate is. That name alone is a falsehood. I was really struck last night by this audio, response and discussion over at TNC's blog - which centre's on Howard Dean joining the debate and putting forth a position that leaves many people confused, especially those who are considered 'liberal'. The issue for me is not Dean's political posturing. I think he comes to the wrong conclusion. So I've been thinking through why this is all so troubling to me - why it has to be a non-partisan issue & why I think so many of us are getting so very far from where we need to be...


The only word I can find that adequately describes how I feel about this whole sorry debate is disbelief. I could add despair...

More than once this past couple of weeks, I've found myself thinking of Jon Stewart and his feature, "I give up". The furor over this community center has had me throwing my own hands up several times. But I actually think one has to be braver than that and recognise that one can live with hope - by embodying it and speaking it and choosing to be for good in the world. So, this is not about being against a side in a debate, it's about working out where the good exists.

I believe that this is about more than just the victims who died on 9/11 or one community center. As I experienced it, 9/11 was intended to terrorise and thus victimise everyone with access to a television, radio, to newspapers, and the internet.

That this media debacle is what goes for 'reasonable discourse' is shameful. But it's also  frightening - because opposition to the center's location is not a response that rejects that terror, it is to allow the message being sent via violence to have currency.

That this whole sorry episode is because of the development of a Muslim community centre that plans to encourage community dialogue & embrace diversity, while meanwhile there is no substantive public outcry in response to a supposedly Christian church in Florida publicizing a "Burn the Koran day" to commemorate 9/11, frankly, speaks volumes.
Perhaps I am naive, but shouldn't any outcry be over the latter of those 2 events rather than the first? It says, to me at least, that we really have (at least collectively) learned little (yet) from 9/11. And I include Europe in that. For the sentiments are the same in public discourse about pluralist society. And it's not anything new. We've been doing this in the West over and over and over for a very long time indeed...

It's the frighteningly familiar tones of "Yes, *they* have rights but just not *here*. Oh, it's not that we're racist or bigoted, it's just that these are sensitive issues... someone might be offended, and so we can avoid that offense if only *they* could be to be more sensitive."

What? Sensitive like *us*?

There are many reasons why that is problematic, and why we should remember history and remember that others, even the worst, most violent others, are actually like *us*. The lesson of history is rarely, 'despite the fact these people did normal everyday things and maybe had moments where they seemed rational, they were in fact despots and murderers'. But rather it's the lesson that, 'despots and murderers are not a special class of human being that we can push away. They are, in fact, very much like *us*. And we should be mindful that *we* therefore are like *them*.'

I do not dare speak on behalf those who lost loved ones on that day. I cannot imagine how horrific an experience it must have been and continues to be. There is clearly a lot of grief, and each of those who did lose someone is entitled to their perspective. But to suggest that a Muslim community centre in Lower Manhattan is 'insensitive' to the memory of those 9/11 victims, & the wise decision is to move it, does not in truth honour those victims... because that is not what building peace looks like.

Beyond "rights", (which are designed to protect people because of our persistent inability to do the right thing for others), there is "values" and there is "ethics" - there is our ability to live out of a place of compassion. The very thing that might begin to honor the memory of all people who lost their lives on 9/11 would be to put our "values" where those "rights" are. To do more than just tolerate diversity but to stand up for it. I believe that's what Mayor Bloomberg was speaking to.

This rhetoric of, "what's the wise thing for them to do?" misses that point. It's asking the community building the community centre to be wise, not whoever 'we' are to show wisdom. And that is not how peace-making works. Peace is not built on mere tolerance or respecting of rights -- peace building happens when one person looks at their own responsibility and stands up for the human dignity of another - particularly when in doing so one is refusing to demarcate the other as an "other" at all, let alone as their "enemy" - to treat their neighbour as they desire to be treated.

This talk of, 'They have a right to build it but is it wise given the sensitive to victims' families?' is the same rationale as 'equal, but separate' -- suggesting that it's reasonable to ask folks to move away a few blocks so that no one is offended by their presence is the literal embodiment of wanting to ideologically, socially and politically push those people away. It is a profoundly dangerous kind of discourse. And it is the opposite of peace building.

'Supporting' this community center is not simply a matter of rights being upheld. It's not just that it is 'insensitive' to equate all Muslims with terrorism by suggesting the mere presence of Muslims in a community is 'insensitive to the victims of 9/11'. And it is deeply insensitive to infer that guilt-by-association. This 'they have rights but is it wise and sensitive?' rhetoric, even the most 'reasonable' sounding version such as from the likes of Howard Dean, is just not good enough.
What is desirable, needed, is not just the 'right' thing to do, or the constitutional thing to do. What is needed is the peace-building thing to do, the wise thing to do, the very thing that says we are learning out of a place of trauma and grief caused by violence. That which says, what the perpetrators of 9/11 stood for is unthinkable to us. The center itself, the community that gave it license to develop the property, Michael Bloomberg, and all those that support it recognise that celebrating diversity and working together in community is an act of hope, that builds a better community. That is what repudiates violence.

There are moments when this debate makes me feel like my head will explode. But when I think about the people involved, I end up thinking it's more than anything just heart-breaking. I feel a sense of shame when I consider that there are Muslims fasting and celebrating during Ramadan and this is what media and political discourse has descended to. It may not be open bigotry, or hateful on the part of those who want a 'sensitive' response, but it is far from reasonable. And even farther from embodying peaceful compassion in a diverse society.

I am not without hope. But it is clear that there is a very long way to go if anything is to be learned from 9/11 that will actually transform this world for the better. That the scapegoats right now are people that want this world to be a more peaceful place is ironic to the point of sickening.

This should be a non-partisan issue. I never thought I'd see the day when people on diametrically opposed side of the political debate, like Palin and Dean, were arguing for the same thing. Yet rather than that being a good thing it would turn out to be both: upholding the rights of others but denying them dignity. By allowing this debate to go on makes this world *less*peaceful and more divided.

*This* is how violence wins. How are we ever going to learn?


The words of Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf might be a start. This piece by Hendrick Hertzberg too.

and Speaking of Faith is once again offering a Ramadan series - 30 days, 30 voices over at their blog. Each day a different Muslim offers their personal story and perspective for each day of Ramadan. There is a need to listen...

Adan Onart's contribution was a deep highlight for me last year, and I have thought of him again and again as 'reasonable' people ask 'moderate' Muslims to be 'sensitive' and make a 'wise' decision...


"They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me and by that time no one was left to speak up."

"Pastor Martin Niemoller's words are well known but their context is not well understood [...] In quoting him, I make no direct comparison between the attempts to suppress the building of a Muslim religious center in downtown Manhattan, and the unimaginable nightmare of the Holocaust. Such a comparison is ludicrous. At least it is, now.
But Niemoller was not warning of the Holocaust. He was warning of the willingness of a seemingly rational society to condone the gradual stoking of enmity towards an ethnic or religious group, warning of the building-up of a collective pool of national fear and hate, warning of the moment in which the need to purge, outstrips even the parameters of the original scape-goating, when new victims are needed because a country has begun to run on a horrible fuel of hatred — magnified, amplified, multiplied, by politicians and zealots, within government and without.
Niemoller was not warning of the holocaust. He was warning of the thousand steps before a holocaust became inevitable. If we are at just the first of those steps again — today, here — it is one step too close." - Keith Olbermann.

We need to step back. This so called debate is indeed one step to close. There may be a 1000 steps from here to there but that's no excuse.

I'm recommitting myself this Ramadan to listening better, to understanding better what the Abrahamic tradition, (of which all Jews, Christians and Muslims are a part) teaches about non-violence, compassion and peace-building; I need to be a better witness to those values; I want to transform my thinking so that I don't ever dare countenance the virulent idea that Islam is a homogeneous bloc without diversity, nor confuse peaceful people in my mind with terrorism.
Because the failure to do nothing, to say nothing, to not counteract rejection with words of friendship is just not good enough. We should have worked that out by now. I hope we'll all learn. If I have any hope it's because, even though I can't make others change, I can change. I need to be a better neighbour  -- with more than passivity, more than frustrated despair.

I'm glad & deeply grateful that I'm able to go to greenbelt to be humbled and inspired by others' examples and to get ideas of how I can respond better than I have been of late. I need to embody a lot more hope in my daily life.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

c'est finis

can't quite believe it but the thesis is finished. nothing left to do but drop it into the university & deliver about 20 books back to the library over the next couple of days. most of which i ended up not using. typical. ah well. no matter.

Am looking forward to collecting it tomorrow from the binding store in its shiny hardcover with (frankly ridiculously pompous) gold lettering with the title meeting university specified minimum font size (btw, that's 24pt/8mm for those who are similarly exacting) part of me is sorely tempted to get my red sharpie out and scrawl V's symbol across the title page as an act of protest. (don't worry, it's an easily controllable part)

missed a night's sleep on sunday night. i think it was sunday... is this tuesday....? yes. sunday. slept like a log last night but feeling knackered all the same. but am looking forward to giving the flat a major clean and tidy and getting ready for greenbelt. which is quite unfathomably next week.

have been for some much needed groceries and about to prepare a steak sandwich, which
1. is a rewarding treat,
2. doesn't require me to stand over the stove for long,
3. requires neither editing nor accurate citation and inclusion in a bibliography in the chicago author-date style as per university regulations. oh wait... hold on. nothing in my life requires that. thank. you. Jesus.

still, it's not been too painful a process. and i've enjoyed great swathes of it. and i'm pretty pleased with what i'm handing over. which matters to me more than any grade.

i'm looking forward to going back to reading comics for the sheer unadulterated pleasure.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

ducking out of sight for a week

For "a short, concise, easy-to-understand (and obviously supportive) description of Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the kind of thing you can send around to those of your friends and family who aren't compulsively reading blogs ... and those who aren't as familiar with the case" check out this link .

For a downloadable PDF of the full ruling itself - all 138 pages of it - check out American Foundation for Equal Rights. 
The entire thing is a page turner and very clearly written (i.e. you don't need to be a lawyer), but the pages 135-8 are the remedies and conclusions if you are short on time.

i think this will prove in time to be a landmark case in US history. despite closely following the case when it was court, i'm still nothing short of staggered by just how blistering an overturn it is: the ruling is meticulous in explaining its findings (that the plaintiffs brought 'overwhelming evidence' and the defendants brought 'opinion' 'without basis in reason'). it has been very carefully written to put as much factual evidence (or indeed lack thereof in the defendants' cases) on record as possible and that will have significant impact on how the case is handled in appeal.

which all amounts to why it's such a page turner. like many others, one almost feels sorry for the Prop 8 proponents as one reads the ruling. in some ways it reminds me of the Scopes trial.

anyways, despite being pleased rejoicing with whoops and fist-pumps at the ruling, and hoping this energises the campaign for full marriage equality with a boost of confidence (given the long road of more legal battles to yet come), i've got a sizeable thesis workload and rapidly shrinking time to complete. and this has all been way too distracting.

so, this is me marking a momentous moment in US civil rights history, and signing off for probably a week so i can make a mental break from t'internet, trusting the world won't collapse if i'm not keeping an eye on it for a few days and focusing solely on the task at hand. this is the final push. and everything i've been thinking about V for Vendetta for the past year is pulling together into something like a coherent argument on the page. or at least, it's getting there. but there's a lot to do in this next week and i need every hour i've got.

(i am close to switching off the internet entirely. although Joel may beat me to it, having watched me scour over every last drop of reaction, analysis and discussion of the last 24 hours. my love of political analysis is only matched by my lack of discipline.)

see you soon. be well while i'm ignoring whatever else is going on. over and out.

love the one you're with,


Wednesday, August 04, 2010

for the time of necessary decision

as we await the Prop 8 decision in San Francisco...


for the time of necessary decision
by john o'donohue

the mind of time is hard to read.
we can never predict what it will bring,
nor even from all that is already gone
can we say what form it finally takes;
for time gathers it moments secretly.
often we only know it's time to change
when a force that's built inside the heart
that leaves us uneasy as we are.

perhaps the work we do has lost its soul
or the love where we once belonged
calls nothing alive in us any more.

we drift through this grey, increasing nowhere
until we stand before a threshold we know
we have to cross to come alive once more.

may we have the courage to take the step
into the unknown that beckons us;
trust that a richer life awaits us there,
that we will lose nothing
but what has already died;
feel the deeper knowing in us sure
of all that is about to born beyond
the pale frames where we stayed confined,
not realising how such vacant endurance
was bleaching our soul's desire.


You can find this blessing in John's book To Bless the Space Between Us*

i've nothing really to add as we watch the clock and wait...
but i pray,

May justice come. If not today, then soon. Many have waited too long already. 
We are on a threshold.... a richer life awaits.
May we have Hope.

* Published under the title, Benedictus in the Ireland and Britain