Solstice thoughts (where everything is either horrendous or hilarious depending on your POV)

Blimey. It’s been a while. To be fair, I have been writing a dissertation, doing an actual ‘proper’ job, and hosting a podcast. These all require a significant amount of neurodivergent/creative bandwith. All good, creative, purposeful things.

photo taken while I was still feeling hopeful!

Into the mix, however, is a broken collarbone which has YET TO BE FIXED because of two (two!!) cancelled surgeries. The first one was cancelled when I was in the hospital, already wearing the surgical gown and DVT socks, and with an arrow sharpied onto my left shoulder. This might have been hilarious if it wasn’t after six months of waiting. Then there was the 18 hours of fasting and working myself up into enough of a lather to actually be able to go to the hospital in the first place! What is everyday to the people who fix collarbones, is a really big deal to those of us who need them fixed. And some of us have brains that don’t do these sorts of things very easily.

The second cancellation – just this Monday past – rather tipped me over the edge. Today is Wednesday. I am still over the edge. And since I am already over the edge, why don’t we add having no running water into the joyful blend of Solstice cheer and Christmas preparations? Yes, why not?

Let them drink… sweet sherry and prosecco!

The thing is… these things are happening to me, and I could – quite legitimately – feel personally aggrieved. Which, I do. But I am utterly, seethingly livid about the bigger picture. Yes, it’s personal, but the personal – as my feminist forebears taught us – is political.

Friends, let me present to you: The English health service. And the English water network.

The NHS because of – God – where do we even start? Yes, I am anxious and stressed and still in pain because my operation got cancelled. But it got cancelled because staff called in sick. There is not even a nanometre of leeway in the NHS to accommodate that. Chronic staff shortages, underfunding, Brexit, and a (Not even very covert) push towards privatisation have all taken a massive toll. It is on its knees. And people wonder why nurses are striking?

Not even the USA has private water, that’s how bad it is!

And the water! My God the water. England and Wales have a privatised water supply and networks. This is monopolized (quite legally btw) by a few companies who fail to invest in infrastructure so that rainfall causes flooding, burst water mains cause havoc (and NO RUNNING WATER FOR CHRISTMAS) and raw sewage is constantly released into our rivers and seas!

If I am pissed off about my own personal circumstances, it pales in comparison to the level of seething rage I feel at the immoral erosion of these two fundamental basic human rights.

Things really are a bit crap. Let’s not pretend they’re not.

And tonight is the Solstice, and I came on here to write something spiritual and hopeful and, well here it is! We can laugh about that surely? There comes a point – when everything is just a bit shite – when all there is left to do is acknowledge it, maybe indulge in a bit of dark humour, and surrender all and any control we imagined we had. This does not mean giving up the fight, only that there are fighting days, and there are surrendering days. There are times for rolling up our sleeves and doing everything we can to make things better, and there are times for filling a hot water bottle (perhaps with boiled rainwater!) and hiding under a blanket.

So into this longest, darkest night of the year, I offer this meditation:

Everything is a little bit shite, and that’s OK. Joy and Peace and Love and Hope still exist.

And a Blessing:

May you feel the deep Peace of Winter’s stillness; the cocoon of Love that surrounds you in the darkness; the joy that bubbles up from the depths of your soul; and the Hope that lies in something bigger than all of this, and all of us.

Sending Love and Peace and Hope and Joy out into the ether for all of you who are tending anything painful this Solstice.

Jude xxx

Themes Biblical, Compassion and Zero Tolerance

I am lying, awake, irritated by the sound of the neighbour’s central heating exhaust and worrisome thoughts about the ‘biosecurity’ of our ducks’ pen. (As if things weren’t bad enough, Avian Flu is on the march as well) I have been reading a book for my Theology course which tackles the morally ‘problematic’ texts of the Old Testament, the bits that seemingly advocate violence, rape, slavery, homophobia, genocide… One suggestion, and I suppose an accepted understanding, is that things are better than then. That we have somehow evolved to be more morally mature.

I am not so sure.

It’s not just central heating and ducks that are keeping me awake. The escalating rise of Covid infections; the health service (that I work for) on the brink of overwhelm; an attempted fascist coup in the United States; the many unfolding ramifications of the shit show that is Brexit, as well as all the other global atrocities, such as the ongoing crisis in Yemen. Plague, war, division, exile, genocide: these themes are – quite literally – Biblical. Not to mention misogyny, homophobia and racism, it’s all still there. Human beings have never really stopped inciting or exacerbating this crap.

Of course, it wasn’t God doing all those things in the Old Testament, it was human beings! God was the justification, or at least the way in which they made sense of it all. And it is human beings who continue to behave the most jaw-droppingly appalling ways. Sadly God is – for many of them – still the justification.

If God was the kind of God they seem to think God is (and I don’t believe in that God) I think God would be rather pissed off.

Violence done in the name of God is a common atheistic argument against religion. And I see the point. Except for all the ways in which religious people (many more than those who commit violence) promote peace, love and unity in the name or practice of their faith. Human beings also behave appallingly in the name of other things that are not religion. Violence is about people. As we are seeing in the USA at the moment, God has been invoked in ways that many people of faith find deeply disturbing and offensive. And it’s not OK.

I said today on a social media post that neutrality is no longer an option. I was talking about the unspoken but generally accepted rule that religious leaders should stay away from the subject of politics. Particularly those who preach. This is in the week following an insurrection in which people were visibly and prominently wearing and carrying emblems and insignia that glorify white supremacy, antisemitism and genocide. That isn’t politics, it’s immorality. And if there’s one thing that religious leaders are qualified to comment on, it’s morality. I have been heartened to see many taking a stand on this. Calling for more than unity, namely: action; accountability; and zero tolerance of the kind of bigotry and hatred that history has taught us does not end well for anyone.

In truth, the Bible has many more passages in its entirety that promote the themes of liberation and social justice, as well as love, hope, faith and unity, than the other more troublesome parts. Taken as a whole, it gives a lot of hope for humanity. Love and compassion are the overriding themes of most faiths, because, despite our worst behaviours, love and compassion are also the overriding instincts of human beings for one another. Hope is possible because we know this is what we are capable of, and what most of us actually want and value.

Love, Compassion, Unity, Hope. Yes, but does this mean tolerating fascists? Most definitely not.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jnr.

The Magi and the ‘bad’ year

Today is Epiphany, The date when Christians in the Western Church celebrate the arrival of the Magi, and with them the manifestation and revelation of The Christ – the Light of the World – to the whole world. Who doesn’t know and love that story of ‘wise men’ and their gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh?

It is also a New Year, and a time for reflection. Although there are other transitional times throughout the year that lead us to reflect on what has happened, New Year feels, for reasons of new calendars and psychological blank slates, more significant. It is especially true this year, following the year that will forever (or for a long time at least) be synonymous with the lockdown. It was, in many minds, a ‘bad year.’

And yet, three days into 2021, not much has changed. In terms of the Covid situation, it is actually much worse. Does that mean 2021 is a ‘bad’ year too? When it’s only January 3rd? Or does more of it have to be bad? A relatively arbitrary historical imposition of a twelve-month pattern aligns with a strange notion that moving from one day to the next will somehow make things different, better. Why is a year deemed good or bad depending on specific events that have happened during the past twelve months?

Of course, this is mostly subjective. Individual experiences in any given year are all very different. There are other calendars – Chinese, Hebrew, Islamic, Ethiopian, Persian – which have different ‘New Years’. Not only that, ‘bad’ things happen to people all the time, all year round. All sorts of terrible individual, social and geographical traumas. There are people in war zones, in refugee camps, in situations of domestic violence. The difference I suppose, is that Covid is happening to all of us. And in the year where a bad thing happened to all of us, it is tempting to think that 2020 was the culprit. In reality, it was the Covid that was bad, not the year.

As a child, I remember adult family members toasting New Year with a unanimous agreement that the current year had been tragic/depressing/full of disaster/maligned with bad luck and that they hoped the coming year would be better than the last one. I found it strange and troubling, thinking of all the other – good or just neutral – things that had happened and wondering why it was the bad thing that had made the year what it was.

I have since discovered that this is what human beings do. We have the cerebral wiring that anchors negative events – an ancient survival mechanism. We are more likely to recall and focus on the bad stuff, therefore, and rather forget that there were also many moments of happiness. There are good evolutionary reasons for this, but whilst we have rather moved on from the need to avoid that place where the sabre-toothed cat ate our uncle, our brains still work that way. Our desire to make sense of this creates patterns, meanings, stories. ‘It has been a bad year’ and not, ‘some things happened and some other things happened, some were good, some were bad, some were neutral,’ creates a meaning-full narrative. If bad things are the things that defined the period, then a new period gives us hope that things will be better ‘this year’ or ‘next week’ or ‘tomorrow’.

Hope is a deeply human and necessary thing. In the darkness, we choose to see light. Indeed, it is in the darkness perhaps that the light is more visible. Hope is a particular feature of faith, but those without faith see it and desire it too. As a chaplain it is a question I ask often, and maybe moreso of people who don’t have any religious beliefs: What gives you hope? Maybe this is one reason the story of the Magi is so compelling, even for non-Christians. A bunch (maybe three, maybe many more) of astrologers, ‘foreigners’ from ‘The East’ choosing to follow a strange bright new star towards an unknown goal, and finding in that very lowly place, the Light of the World? It’s probably the best metaphor for the unversality of hope that I can think of!

We look forward to a ‘better’ 2021, even though we don’t know what will happen, except that it might be good. And some of it will be. There will most definitely be moments of darkness, of uncertainty, of loss. The reality is that the challenges of Covid, of climate change, of war and natural disaster, of political upheaval, and all the private and personal traumas are not suddenly going to go away. But there will also be joy, wonder, laughter, love, hope. All of it is real, and all of it is what it means to be human and to be alive.

The Magi didn’t know where they were going, but they went anyway. Because the beckoning light of Hope was too much, too big, too important to ignore, or to simply watch from afar.

With the brightest of blessings of love and hope for this year and all years.

Jude x