Monday, 29 May 2017

Unmasking the enemy

We seem to spend a lot of time forging and then defending our identities and succumbing to a sense of victimhood whenever our identity is under threat.  We want to defend our right to an identity, and often we take pride in our identity and want to be recognised for what we have forged in ourselves.  Sometimes our identities are hidden due to their being unacceptable in the society in which we live, we have to forge them in secret and they may find outlets in exquisite creativity, subversive activity and or depression. Often we gravitate towards others who seem to have a similar identity to ourselves, finding mutual support and being comforted by a sense of belonging.

Identity in itself is not a bad thing.  Nevertheless it is a thing and as such we can't take any of it with us when we die.  Our souls are ring-fenced, they are God's property but like a living thing they need to be nurtured and protected.  Indeed it could be argued we have living creatures to care for throughout our lives or in order to give us a type, an example, of the care we should take of our souls.  Our identity is not protected by God and His Angels, indeed the hardest spiritual lessons we learn have are those involving the erosion of our perceived identity, when we are stripped right back and faced with the reality of what lies behind and beyond these identities we have been so careful to nurture.  The problem comes when nurturing an identity becomes more important than the indwelling of the Blessed Trinity.  And indeed the problem looks absurd when viewed from that perspective because the Blessed Trinity is all: but how easily we are distracted....

Because our identity is not ring-fenced by God, it is the playground of the Devil.  He will do all he can to ensure we take our identity ever so seriously and spend an awful lot of time and effort defending it and nurturing it.  It is he who offers sympathy whenever our identity is under threat, it is he who nurtures our victimhood when the "bigots" and "-phobes" crowd in.  It is he who wants us to take great pride in our identity and to parade it and to be consumed by it.  We must have a healthy and cheerfully detached attitude towards our identity or he gets what he wants. He wants us to be consumed by our identities because when we are we let go of all that is good, we worship ourselves, we become our own idol.  He will take great delight when time, nature and fate transpire to ruin us because we've stared at our identity and found it empty but found nothing to fill the void.  One day we can be a celebrity, one day we can have the adulation of the crowd, the next day nobody recognises us and our own adult children are dragging us out of gutters and into re-hab after prolonged drinking bouts.....

We need an identity, or indeed multiple identities depending on who we are with and their relationship to us; masks are necessary to denote rank and authority and to offer us some ease through life so that things can be left unsaid yet understood. However an identity based purely on leisure, based purely on using our bodies rather than the giving of them in service is a thing of great danger, but it is also the only identity the world recognises as something of its own and the laws of the free world will enshrine its right to exist because it is doing no harm... it is a sign of our liberty and freedom and we are asked to defend its right to exist at all costs because there is something "oppressive" about those regimes where such liberty is not acceptable.....

It gets worse.  Those who don't see the world from the world's perspective because they have set their hearts on higher things, get bundled together with those who whilst utterly worldly are on crusades against identities that they see as threatening to their own identities in the name of something that the world recognises as religion.  All are seen as enemy to the identities forged in "liberty" and "freedom".

It gets complicated. In each of us there is a desire to protect identities which we are sympathetic towards.  It is impossible for us truly to separate our duty to defend God's property and our desire to protect a particular identity which moves our sympathies. It can also be very difficult for us to see God's property in those whose identity we find repugnant. This is our battlefield, both spiritual and temporal, engagement is vital, but there seem to be so few who are willing to fight.

Strip away "identity" and what remains?
Strip away "identity" and what remains?

Friday, 26 May 2017


I spend a considerable amount of my time in the company of teenage girls.  It is my job, not my choice.  They are one of the strangest tribes on the planet and one I never understood even when I was one myself.  There are unwritten rules of unimaginable complexity, there are meanings within meanings and everything must be taken soooo seriously; feelings, suspicions, needs, relationships, culture, fashion ...... But nothing is static and if you can't keep up and read the unwritten signs about what is right and what is not, then you are nobody..... 

However, these girls do have a lot to teach us about identity and what it means, and for this I have been grateful to have to mop up after them and the absurdities of the hurts they cause each other.

I think that in the not too distant past, our identity was not much of an issue.  More important were our duties of state; most probably the state which we found ourselves born into. It would be our integrity which determined how we fulfilled those duties.  There would be some mobility and flexibility in those duties but on the whole your "caste" determined your life.  Once secular egalitarianism became enshrined in the fabric of society, identity became important. If all are "equal" and have "equal opportunities" then forging an identity is incredibly important. It makes you identifiable, it makes you other (different from the rest), it makes you special, it gives you belief in yourself and something to cultivate and nurture, and it is all a mask. Ultimately it is something to hide behind. Fashioning an identity hides our insecurities.

This is where "my girls" have taught me so much. The only way to bring them on, to make they feel like they can flourish, the only way to humanise the petty insanity in their lives is to completely ignore their identity.  One day they are "gay", the next "bi", one day vegan, the next on a paleo diet, one day flowing long hair, the next a crew cut.... I exaggerate, but only slightly.  Their identities are both fickle and seriously real to them and it is simply best to ignore. What must be done is to defend them when they can be defended and reprimand when they can't, listen to them, but chiefly one must ignore the identity they are forging.  There is something deeper and more real than the identity we forge and that is what we must all try to reach in each other.... anything else is insanity as it involves trying to respond to something that only really exists inside the other person's head, it involves us trying to nurture it and help forge it, shielding up that person's insecurities, making them believe their own fantasy.

I have been thinking a lot about this as I look at pictures of this week's suicide bomber.  All I can see is an insecure youth.  Someone with body language that suggests he really doesn't fit in or feel at home with himself.  Someone on the edge of a group of friends, unable to pose with confidence like them, someone lacking the necessary social skills to feel quite at home in his tribe, someone desperate for an identity of his own.

You see, I'm not convinced that "radicalisation" is a major factor in turning someone into a suicide bomber.  I think identity is a far more important factor; something we choose to cultivate because it makes us feel better, it makes use feel excited to be us, we can perceive ourselves as a hero because we are forging an identity where others will see us as a hero. And so much the better if our identity is dangerous and is under threat, if it pits our identity against somebody else's conflicting identity.

And all the time society is escalating the identity crisis. Making us choose tribes. Making us forge meaning out of image. Making us all different but in such a shallow way.  We are losing the ability to look deeper into each other's souls because we are avidly trying to pigeon hole the other, place them in a tribe, make them different and judge them to be good or bad depending on which box we've stuck them in.

It is supply and demand.  If the teenage girls didn't have so much spending power to forge their identities and fantasy worlds, if they could find something beyond trying to cultivate an identity, they'd flourish and their culture of fakery, sexualisation, manipulation and promiscuity would lessen.  Could something similar be said for wannabe suicide bombers?  I think so.  But there is serious money invested in supporting and nurturing the whole teenage girl thing and it will not go away. And the same can be said for terrorism.

Mr Benn: he could change his identity whenever he wanted, just a short walk down Festive Rd and a visit to a very strange shop.

Monday, 22 May 2017

something to chew on

I'm a bit of a novice at attending the Greek-Catholic Liturgy, but I find it a profoundly moving and indeed draining experience.  As yet I have not received the Eucharist.  I am not yet ready for that.  Indeed receiving the "antidoron" after the Liturgy has such incredible significance that approaching Communion seems beyond me.  For those who don't know; several loaves of leavened bread are baked, one is chosen to be the Lamb, the rest remain on the altar, are blessed and returned to the congregation in chunks.  Some take it home to break the night fast with, the rest is consumed there and then at the end of the Liturgy.  The precept is to attend, not to receive each and every Sunday.

Chewing the antidoron I'm meditating about service in the country where I will be living; my service to the people there and God's acceptance of that service and His working of that relationship within me.  I will receive Him one day, beyond the the profound spiritual communion that is already taking place during the rite, I just don't know when. The antidoron seems to be a blessing on the future.  When the future life becomes the present, then it makes more sense to Communicate.

I was at the Greek-Catholic rite yesterday, before the anniversary of the night when one of my "holy helpers", King Henry VI was murdered and the day before the feast of my Patron, St Rita.  22nd May has a significance for me; it is about beginnings and ends and death and stuff though it isn't morose or dark in the slightest.

This year, there is simply an emptiness, a "sated" emptiness.  I do not need to know anything. I'm not searching for anything.  I have a sated exhaustion that things have indeed run their course. A friend said that I've been granted an "honourable discharge" from my fight (whatever it is/was).  However, I'm not sure it is that simple.  Every prayer is a battle, the fighting never stops.  I think I've just moved into a zone where my response is purely reflexive, I'm not having to think about what I'm doing, and I can't see the muck and bullets.

I deliberately visited the shrines of both King Henry VI and St Rita last year (imploring their help because things seem so impossibly unreal and daft and plain wrong) and they are with me, especially today and I must attribute my health to them, I've left my vocation for them to work out. I used to know what it is with certainty, but now I no longer know what it is.... but like St Rita, carried over the convent walls by her patron saints to fulfill her vocation, this is entirely in the hands of my patrons, whatever it is.

Now off to the Novus Ordo at the nearest church on my Patronal Feast ..... and receiving the Eucharist will not seem inappropriate.....

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Bad Science

I am writing about the characteristics of good and bad science because I suspect we are living in a time of unprecedentedly bad science.  The sciences have lost their way and this has far reaching consequences.  More particularly there are many unsuspecting souls who are using the methodologies of bad science to prop up their world views and this is little more than a house of cards that is getting increasingly unsteady.  Why should we care? We should care because Theology is a science and Theology is a practical science: you have to engage with God to grow in understanding of God, you can't "do God" purely from the text books. It has always been my view that it isn't so much heresy that we are seeing in the Church in these challenging times, but bad science. To be a heretic is actually quite demanding and requires a level of determination and self-justification (and consistency of thought) that is simply not present in those culprits many would deem to be heretics.  Being bad at science is as easy as s**t off a shovel because being a good scientist is nearly impossible.

Science involves "first principles" and things not open to question.  There are things whose existence you have to buy into if you are going to study science and operations they can and can't undergo within prescribed boundary conditions.  The vista then opens up as levels of complexity are introduced, boundaries and variables altered, observations made and predictions of future behaviour accurately described or refuted. Science involves elegance and beauty.  Science is dispassionate.  Science reveals herself in the doing of science. Replace the word Science with the word Theology throughout this paragraph and you will see that Theology is a science.

Bad science is passionate.  Bad science is often painfully sincere. Bad science relies heavily on experts rather than on science.  Bad science gets emotional.  Bad science thinks it has the answers.  Bad science is rigid in the wrong ways and flexible in the wrong ways.  It is rigid in its belief that it has the correct methodology and all other methodologies (historically well founded)  are wrong.  It is rigid in its belief in progress.  It is rigid in its passionate belief that it is right. It goes down rabbit holes.  It takes itself too seriously.  It is flexible with those "first principles". It likes to destroy the past rather than build on it.  It is flexible in its ideas about the truth which it sees as a movable feast rather than an eternal, ever present reality that we simply see through a glass darkly.  It is very human centred and seeks to define who we are by the challenges we face in our understanding of science. The more challenges that are thrown at us, the more we adapt to juggling increasingly contradictory ideas, the more uncomfortable it gets, the better it is for us. Bad science sees humanity in a process of "synthesis".  Bad science loathes or simply doesn't get metaphysics.  Bad science does not know the history of science. Bad science is purely atomist and constructivist.

Good science keeps its "first principles", good science is not grand or full of end-times prophecies. Good science is light, elegant and beautiful. Good science remains dispassionate. Good science isn't trying to change the world, just delight in it.  Good science knows it can't change the world though like bad science it can have a dramatic effect on the way we think about things and how we act on them.  Good science knows no human "progress".  Good science knows its limits. Good science is often not exciting.  Good science can be very dull indeed ..........   And just perhaps these are things the Church Militant should keep in mind too.... because to some extent we are all scientists.

 If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian- Ponticus Evagrius

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

ad Orientem

Psallite Domino, qui ascendit super coelos coelorum ad Orientem, alleluia.

It is more than a solar year but less than a liturgical year since I last heard those words.  They are the Communion Antiphon from the Feast of the Ascension (and from psalm 67, which I find a great source of strength).  Something very odd happened when I last heard them; I knew I would be going out East.  I shrugged it off and the conscious part of me laughed at the stupidity of this.  I was very sick and hiding just how sick I was.  Life was simply a struggle from day to day and beyond that there was no further reality. Death seemed far more likely than travel. I started putting my things in order, including righting the odd wrong from way back in my past, though still not sure if this constituted preparation for death or travel.  Best live every day as if it were the last..... and pray as if every prayer would be the last one said....

Now that everything is indeed set for challenging but wholesome employment in Eastern Europe, perhaps there is a little "see, I told you so" playing around my subconscious. I am grateful for the prayerful calm and complete lack of drama associated with what is happening.  It feels like the most ordinary thing in the world to be doing; getting rid of most of my stuff, leaving my routine and going to work for souls who seem so genuinely pleased to have recruited me. The "known unknown" that is leading me on is simply a somewhat abstract yet very human smile, but not one I'd dare ignore.

It seems no coincidence that so many of my friends are also heading off away from the UK.  We all feel like chess pieces being moved into position.  We know our limits, we know we will do nothing out of the ordinary, we know life will continue in a strangely familiar but uniquely uncluttered and concentrated way.  We all feel prepared, alert and humbled by God's love for us.

And as I familiarise myself with the Greek-Catholic rite, I am struck by an often repeated cry of the priest:

Înţelepciune! Să luăm aminte!
Wisdom! Be attentive! 

Indeed! God does indeed want my full attention, the spiritually refining days of passive sufferance are over for me; there is work to do. Work that is neither heroic or earth-shattering.  And the nature of this work will probably be hidden from me.  This is for the best, I work best in ignorance.  As a priest who knows me better than most said to me, "if you actually knew what you did, you'd be a menace!"...