Monthly Archives: April 2017

An army of lovers…or an embrace of fighters

I’m tired of conspiracy theories.

You know the ones. The rumours that the world is being run by Illuminati cabals intent on embedding bar-coded chips into our flesh and turning us into zombie slaves or Soylent Green or both. Or by alien shape-shifting lizards from another dimension, who are running vast occult child abuse networks with the help of the Vatican, the police, Swiss bankers, and probably, who knows, a reincarnated JFK. The theories that tell us the world is going to the very hot place in a hand basket, and we need to Wake Up And Do Something About It before they have us all listening to evil Druid rock n’ roll (ha, sorry…tiny bit late for that, guys) and marrying our dogs. Because Satan. Or bankers. Or something.

People believe this stuff. And when they believe it, it makes them feel secure in their fear, paradoxical as that is. And that makes them lose their curiosity, about the world and about people who are different from them. And that’s where empathy ends and very big trouble starts.

I, for one, welcome our avian overlords….

No, no, I don’t. I don’t want a frightened world, because frightened people are too easily swayed into doing stupid and tragic things.

What I want to see is a different kind of conspiracy.

I want to hear about a band of revolutionary rebels who sneak up to people’s doorsteps late at night and leave care packages and cookies and notes that say If you ever need help, here’s our number. Who maybe leave hearts festooned with fairy lights in prominent places as their calling card.

I want to see slogans like You are loved and It gets better and You’ve got this written in rainbow-coloured chalk on gloomy sidewalks, and planted out in daffodils on the sloping sides of motorways, and scribbled on origami cranes stuck into the wire fences of parking lots. I want people to see them and know that something is happening, and Mr Jones doesn’t have a clue what it is…but some of us do.

I want to hear another language, below the level of the harsh and cruel words that count as the everyday discourse of the powerful, and of those who pretend to power. I want to hear whispered sentences where peace and spirit and social justice aren’t faintly dirty words. I want to hear people’s conversations break into poetry and rap. I want to heat new words that not only challenge the old realities, but shape them into something new,

I want people to have codes by which they can recognise each other as part of the movement. A purple hat with a peacock feather. A gold star (one of those ones the teacher used to stick on your work at school would do) on the left cheekbone. A gesture of stirring your coffee with the end of your pen. A secret ear wiggle. Something that says: Yes. Me too. I am not OK with this, and I’m working to make it different and better.

I want to know that there’s an underground army of lovers and artists, misfits and weirdos. The ones who in some previous generation would have been called beatniks or hippies, but who don’t now have a name for themselves, or a specific musical score to dance to (because marching really isn’t their style). A growing band of people who know something is wrong and who are trying, in small ways and larger ones, by conventional methods and by those that don’t and couldn’t use the master’s tools, to make the world a different place.

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I know that this exists already, in a myriad of ways. But so far, it’s gone virtually under the radar. People speak about random acts of kindness and guerillas art and so forth, but they speak as if it’s fringe activity, not part of the serious stuff of everyday life.

But…love, kindness, community, art, fun? These are the serious stuff.

The word conspiracy comes from a root meaning ‘to breathe together’. If we don’t learn to breathe together, to live together, we’ll suffocate alone, one way or another. So let’s spread a few rumours and make the Powers That Be a little nervous about their version of power.

Are you with me?

In the flesh: a fable

(In the spirit of the Jewish tradition of midrash – and in response to all the ‘but what would be the point of Christianity if Jesus hadn’t risen from the dead?’ articles which spring up like errant tulips at this time of year – here’s a slightly belated something for Easter…)

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Once upon a time, in a universe that was almost, but not quite, exactly like our own, God looked at the Earth and was sorrowful, because the humans living there were suffering.

And She thought: Maybe I can help them by coming down and living among them, and showing them that I’m not impassive and heartless. That I too am capable of bearing suffering and pain. Maybe then they’ll know they can trust in me, and that I can help them be kinder to one another and make the world a less hurtful place.

And so She planned to be born on earth as a human; to perform miracles of healing and abundance and commanding nature; and to suffer, and die, and then rise again from the dead after three days.

But then She thought for a while, and realised something.

Ordinary, regular humans can’t cure people with a touch, or multiply a loaf of bread till it feeds thousands, or command a storm to cease. If I existed as a human, knowing I could do all those things, I wouldn’t really be like them.

And if I knew I’d rise from the dead – what would death even mean to me?

It’d be like a comfortable middle-class activist, sleeping in a cardboard box in a shop doorway for a week to find out what it feels like to be homeless, when they have a nice apartment and a job to go back to when the week’s over.

Or like a rich student wanting to live the way her poor boyfriend does, when she knows that ‘if you call your Dad, he could stop it all’…

That’s not really suffering. It’s not really being there.

If I’m going to be one of them, I have to really be one of them. I have to be ignorant and weak and fallible. I have to be really afraid of sickness and poverty and death, like someone who can’t just wave their hand and have those things magically disappear. And I have to die like they do.

And so, that was what God did. She came among humans as an ordinary person. She wasn’t born of a virgin or announced by hosts of angels. She lived a normal human life. She was hungry and thirsty, and she got colds and cramps, and had hopeless boyfriends, and arguments with her siblings, and she didn’t have any divine powers to make any of it stop, and she didn’t even know she was God.

But through it all she had an idea at the back of her mind that she was here to make life better. So she tried to be kind, and to give her fellow humans the benefit of the doubt, because she knew they were also hungry and fearful and messed-up, but that they basically wanted the same as she did – to get by, and to have a little happiness in the world, and maybe to make it a little better.

And when she died, she died, as humans do: wanting to live, regretting things she hadn’t done, vaguely hopeful yet still afraid. And she didn’t rise from the dead.

And because of this, there were no books written about her, and no preachers going out to spread her teachings – not that she had any, not formally – and she went mostly unnoticed by the people in power.

But God learned so much from Her time on earth that She wanted to do it again. So She went back and was born among humans again, this time as a different person, but still an ordinary person. And after that, She decided to repeat the experience. And so She lived many human lives: as women and men and people who identified as neither; gay and bi and straight; people who worked in air-conditioned offices and people who worked in fields under the blazing sun, people who worked in noisy factories and people who didn’t work at all; people who were whole and healthy, and people who had non-functioning body parts and birthmarks and missing chromosomes and scarred minds; people of all shapes and sizes, all colours and races and religions and political views.

So the people of the world never knew, when they were meeting or speaking to another person, whether it was just another person or whether it was God, unknown even to Herself, looking out through their eyes.

But God let rumours spread in the world, that gave away what She was doing.

And God, between Her human lives, smiled. Because if you suspected you might meet God, on the street or in the workplace or down the pub, any day of your life…wouldn’t you be a little more loving, a little less prejudiced, towards everyone you met…just in case?

Hope and monsters; or, a little light reading

When weird and horrible things are going on in the world around you, there are two kinds of escapism you can indulge in.

There’s the silly fun route, which for me, generally involves YouTube videos of Japanese tourists being mobbed by adorable bunnies, baby goats being baby goats, and, well, this.

Or, there’s the ‘let’s find something that makes the current political situation look like tea with the Teletubbies’ route. Which is probably why the Magpie is on an H. P. Lovecraft reading jag at the moment, because most things pale into insignificance compared with tentacled ichorous horrors emerging from the deep. Ia! Yog-Sothoth! Cthulhu fhtaghn!

Ahem.

That said, there is another route that simultaneously gives you some kind of temporary escape from the nastiness, and also helps to arm you against it. I’ve been keeping a list of books I need to re-read – books which, while a darn good read in themselves, also help in understanding where we are, how we got here, and how we can work towards something better, fairer, more compassionate – not to mention more creative and more fun. Fiction and non-fiction, because they can both teach us those lessons.

Here, if you’re interested, are a few of the books I’ve been getting down and re-reading.

The Great Cosmic Mother – Monica Sjöo and Barbara Mor

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A classic of feminist Goddess spirituality, this book takes you from the biological beginnings of femaleness, through early humans’ woman-centred development and culture, through the origin of patriarchy and the destruction it wreaked on humanity and nature, right up to the present day – which, when the book was published, was the Reagan era in the US, giving its discussions of war, capitalism, reproductive rights and religious fundamentalism an eerie resonance today. This book really gets it into your head that the personal is political…and is sexual, cultural, ecological, spiritual and cosmic, too. Which is exactly the sort of integrated view we need to get our heads around what’s happening in the world. Sjöo’s artwork throughout the book, inspired by ancient cultures and modern women’s power, is amazing too.

The Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien

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Yes, it’s the absolute classic that gets to the top of ‘favourite book’ lists year after year, and yes, it’s now indissolubly linked in most people’s minds with those Peter Jackson movies. And yes, it has issues with gender and race that were of its author’s time and milieu, and may jar with modern readers. But it’s worth going back and immersing yourself in Middle-Earth, if only to remind yourself that the world isn’t always saved by the mighty deeds of great hulking heroes with massive swords, broken or otherwise. Sometimes it’s saved by small, ordinary people who show themselves capable, when it’s necessary, of extraordinary courage. We need to remember that, and to affirm with Sam Gamgee, alone in Mordor, that ‘I will not say the day is done/Nor bid the stars farewell.’

V for Vendetta – Alan Moore

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A graphic novel, and a very different fantasy world – Britain under the rule of a fascist dictatorship. Evey, a teenage girl venturing into prostitution to make ends meet, is rescued from a horrible fate by a mysterious masked stranger known only as V – who then turns out to be wreaking terrible revenge on all the remaining people who worked at a certain concentration camp (because yes, this is that sort of Britain) some years previously. Evey’s horror, bewilderment, trial and eventual epiphany is masterfully told in a medium too many people still don’t think is capable of reaching that deep – and hopefully, it can lead readers to a similar, if less dramatic, awakening to their own revolutionary power.

Pronoia – Rob Breszny

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Rob is well known to many people as a brilliant, quirky astrologer, but this book, born of a night conversation at Burning Man, is an exploration of another aspect of the human psyche: our tendency to believe the worst, and how we can change to it to expect the best. Simply put, if paranoia is the feeling that the world is out to get you, pronoia is its opposite – the belief that the universe is on your side, that it’s all conspiring to support you and help you – and everyone – grow and flourish. Sounds wildly and stupidly optimistic, but Rob is a hopeful realist, who just thinks we should spend less of our lives glamourising hatred and pain, and instead start using our creativity to weave a more constructive vision of how the world is and can be. This book, to that end, is full of exercises, essays, meditations and fascinating snippets to hopefully get it into your head that life actually doesn’t have to be as grim as we think it is.

The Fifth Sacred Thing – Starhawk

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In the near future, San Francisco is a green, diverse, egalitarian city-state where spirituality and care for the Earth are one with everyday life and no-one goes hungry or uncared-for. To the north, however, is a very different state – warlike, totalitarian, male-dominated, and bent on bringing its neighbours into line. The people of the city must band together, using magic, love and their own power-from-within, to protect the five sacred things – earth, air, water, fire, and the integrity of the human spirit. Starhawk is best known for her groundbreaking book on Goddess spirituality and feminist Wicca, The Spiral Dance; here, she puts the tenets of that book into novel form, drawing in places on her own experiences in grass-roots feminist and ecological activism. There’s one scene in particular which demonstrates the power of non-violent resistance in a heartbreaking, unforgettable way, but….I won’t give anything away. Read it. It will change you.

Those are just a few of the books that have fired and inspired me over the years. When the going gets tough, the tough get doing whatever they can – but when you can’t bring yourself to do anything else, you can read. In times like these, we need all the friends we can get, and books can be pretty good friends. If there are books that have inspired you in the past (and your list will be different from mine, and that’s OK), maybe it’s time to get re-acquainted.  Escape with monsters or kittens, dystopias or elves; but let’s have some hope shining through it all.