Revenge…

Mt5.44

 

I have been thinking about revenge today on my drive around Argyll.

This was stimulated in part by a story that the news is full of over here in the UK about a former Member of Parliament and his ex wife who have both been found guilty of perverting the course of justice. Many years ago he persuaded her to take some speeding points onto her licence by saying she was driving when in fact it had been him. Later on, he had an affair with a work colleague and left his wife for her. His wife, by way of revenge, decided that she would tell the press about the speeding thing, knowing that it would end his political career.

What she did not anticipate was that both of them would end up in court, with the details of their intimate lives being dragged out in front of the media, at the end of which both are now facing a jail sentence.

Revenge, red in tooth and claw, let loose to ravage this way and that, doing damage to all.

I was also thinking about revenge because of another situation we are faced with- involving some people who have acted vindictively towards us, in a way that I will not spell out here. We are sort of in the position to give pay back.

Now I do not claim to be better than most- I am not in any way morally superior. But the words of Matthew 5 above- they gave me a problem.

What do we do when faced with personal injustice? How do we deal with people who slight us, who treat us with disrespect, who see what we are and find it wanting?

I know what my natural reaction is- I lick my wounds, I seek conversations of conspiracy- with people who will speak words of partiality and hostility. I obsessively pick over my rights, my own just cause. I look accross no-mans land and watch for weaknesses in the opposing trench line. In my mind I prepare for war.

But those words of Jesus about turning the other cheek, offering the shirt when they take my coat, walking two miles when forced to march one… they slow me down, discomfort me. Surely he is not wanting some kind of wimpy doormat for others to wipe their feet on?

Well, think about the politician and his wife.

He had it coming-  right?

 

Shock- churches unite!

against Gay marriage.

I find it all so depressing.

Is there nothing else that Churches can unite behind or against?

I suppose the truth is that they DO- all the time, but no body notices. There is a feeling in me however that that the issue of personal sexuality, and the application of the word ‘marriage’ to same sex coupling still has the power to bring spittle to the lips of the faithful like no other.

Not poverty, or people unfairly imprisoned or tortured. Not restoring sight to the blind or declaring jubilee to those who are oppressed.

I know- for many of my fellow Christians, this issue is complex- full of difficult theological questions and wrapped up some kind of desperate struggle against a perception of a rising secular tide.

For me it is much simpler.

If we are to make any kind of mistake- err on the side of grace.

Oh- and get on with the things that are the proper business of the Kingdom of God.

The stuff in Matthew chapter 5, not the obscure bits of Leviticus. This bit for example;

16 The LORD said to Moses, 17 “Say to Aaron: ‘For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. 18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed; 19 no man with a crippled foot or hand, 20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles. 21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the LORD. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God. 22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food; 23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the LORD, who makes them holy.’”

If you were born with a disability then you may not go to church?

Quite clearly we find this interpretation abhorrent. In our culture (but not the one of the ancient Hebrews) to be born with disability is not shameful. You are not to be hidden away lest other people are somehow made unclean. You are not condemned to a life that is less that those around you, or excluded from parts of civic life.

Does the parallel strike you?

In which I find myself reacting against positive thinking…

…there is no kind of problem or obstacle for which positive thinking or a positive attitude has not been proposed as a cure. Having trouble finding a mate? Nothing is more attractive to potential suitors than a positive attitude, or more repellent than a negative one. Need money? Wealth is one of the principal goals of positive thinking. There are hundreds of self-help books expounding on how positive thinking can “attract” money – a method supposedly so reliable that you are encouraged to begin spending it now. Practical problems such as low wages and unemployment are mentioned only as potential “excuses”. The real obstacle lies in your mind.

I read this today in an article in the weekend Guardian by Barbara Ehrenreich, author of a new book entitled ‘Smile or die, how positive thinking fooled America and the world‘, and ‘Bright Sided, How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America ‘. I have read neither books, but they appear to be part of an increasingly vocal critique of a certain kind of ‘positive-speak’ found in so much self-help material, life coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT.)

Positive-thinking is a dominant idea that has spread far beyond pyramid selling schemes or Oprah-like self help. It has persisted in cancer treatment, despite contrary research and is force fed to employees at almost every team meeting. It has also found it’s way into our churches, and mingled with fundamentalism to create a kind of unassailable world view that pushes up more than one mega church.

It is something I have been thinking about recently- for several reasons. Firstly, I have practised as a CBT therapist, and so know a lot about the strengths and limitations of ‘positivity’. CBT has a strong wind behind it at the moment in almost every sphere of human activity. In my field (psychiatry) it has more or less replaced all other forms of talking treatments.

However the second reason for my interest and pre-occupation comes from my own introspection. Like most people who are of a sensitive, somewhat artistic, creative bent, I can be somewhat mercurial. More than this, it could perhaps be said that I tend towards the melancholic. It is who I am. At times, I struggle with the consequences of this, but after many years of counselling (on both sides of the ‘couch’,) I know myself well enough to understand where this comes from, and to understand something of the strengths and weaknesses that I am skewed towards. It is the engine for much that is good, including my creativity, and ability to see the need in others.

Along the way, I have met many people who have set themselves on a determined path of self advancement and fulfilment- often fuelled by charismatic and inspirational speaking from other shiny high achievers who exhort you to step forward into a brighter more fulfilled future, just like they did. Some of them may even have achieved this- although this often seems to require quasi-religious self delusion. Many others feel guilty and worthless because they fall short of these plastic-fantastic ideals.

What is the harm in encouraging people to think beyond their limitations and reach out for something better- more hopeful, more vitalising and fulfilling? There is good here I think…

But still, what I find myself asking, is whether the dominance of positivity can also have a negative impact on our society?

I have always felt curiously ill at ease with faced with it- recognising other people’s apparent certainty in the benefit of positive outlooks and attitudes, whilst always wanting to add a big ‘BUT….’

Others are not so reticent in their willingness to critique this dominant world view. Perhaps this is in part a political/economic critique- this from another Guardian article, entitled ‘Welcome to the bright new world of positive living’-

In an economy overseen by optimists, house prices would always go up, stock markets would never crash. Positive thinking became not just the language of the mainstream but, on both sides of the Atlantic, political dogma and economic principle too. An ideology that originated in America has fanned out across the English-speaking world, and from there to everywhere else, hand-in-hand with the doctrine of free-market economics.

It’s globalisation by any other name, according to Eric Wilson, a professor of English, who wrote a book called Against Happiness . “The self-help movement has attempted to commodify experience,” he tells me. “It’s intimately tied into capitalism. Buy this package and, almost like a technology, it will move you forward with the goal of a trouble-free life.”

The article also quotes Oliver James, psychoanalyst and author of books such as ‘Affluenza‘.

“It’s snake oil,” he says, “and I explicitly reject it. Positive psychology and cognitive behavioural therapy and the idea that anybody can be anyone are American ideas involving what’s basically a sort of magical thinking. The purest example is The Secret, which is a disgraceful book. It’s just wicked really. It doesn’t have any kind of basis whatsoever. It says: if you want something you just have to wish for it, like my four-year-old does. It’s a kind of psychology for toddlers.”

For James, the push towards positive thinking has been bound up in a certain kind of economic world view, characterised by this kind of way of living-

The quasi-religious dominance of positivity has perhaps become a distraction or worse a justification of this way of living, that borrows selectively from world religions-particularly Buddhism and Christianity- to make a new heresy that simply fits better in a fast moving corporate world.

But moving away from Macro economic forces and back to the individual level- how about those folk whose lives appear to have been genuinely transformed by the power of positive thinking?

Good luck to you I say. May your life be blessed, in order that you in turn my bless others. I would also caution these people by suggesting that not everyone is like them. Not everyone will benefit from being squeezed into their narrow mindset, which to others can easily become an oppressive mental straight jacket.

There is suffering in this world.

And pain.

And sickness.

And imperfection.

And failure.

And brokenness.

And weakness.

And depression.

And periods when nothing seems to make sense.

And finally, there  is death.

(But in the middle of all of this- there is Grace.)

I would contend that these things define our humanity. They are not things to be suppressed and denied as invalid or minor irritants. They might be things to embrace, to acknowledge or to allow to shape a different form of transformation- one based not on achievement or success, but rather based on a counter cultural world view given to us by Jesus in Matthew chapter 5. Where the weak and poor find blessing, and the first are last and the last first.

And strength is made perfect- in weakness.

There is in me, I have to acknowledge, a skew towards the poor and weak. I think this is most congruent with trying to live in the way of Jesus. I think he told us to focus on the needs we see in others all around us- and he certainly did not promise a trouble free life. But in all this, I acknowledge that we continue to hope for transformation, and healing. We need to inspire hope in those around us  for something new, and better.

But the measure of this ‘better thing’ is too often seen in a kind of ‘success’ that turns my stomach. It is far too much about ‘me’ and tends to make a commodity out of ‘you’.

Perhaps too often, it brings me to this!

The universal declaration of human rights, and Jesus…

udhr_colour

On December 10, 1948 (60 years ago today) the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This incredible document was written as a response to the horrors of the second world war, and brought the hope of a

Eleanor Roosevelt with a Spanish Language version of the UNDHR, 1949

Eleanor Roosevelt with a Spanish Language version of the UNDHR, 1949

council of nations who would regulate the governance of the people of the world by a new, commonly agreed yardstick.

I have heard and read several discussions about whether this document has really made any difference to the people of the world. After all, the imperative to support and to enforce it remains the prerogative of the superpower of the age- and at present, we have only one- the United States of America.

For the past 60 years, the tradition of convenient alliances and an acceptance of all sorts of injustices for the sake of political expediency has continued in a way that seems indistinguishable from the preceding 60 years.

And even if the world was willing to unite behind a military solution to uprooting a despotic regime- and after all there are still plenty of these around, even if only a few ever make the media front pages- do we think that violence is the answer?

Does violence not only ever bring legitimacy to more violence?

And then, of course, the lawyers get involved. The UN declaration found it’s place alongside other other national and federated law- the European Convention on Human Rights for example. A huge machinery of sophistry was the inevitable, if necessary, outcome.

So, is this anniversary to be celebrated?

outlawed_guantanamo

One discussion I listened to brought me up sharp. A commentator said something like this;sermon-on-the-mount

…of course, the declaration is a bit like the sermon on the mount- it is aspirational. No-one ever expects that it will work in the real world.

Of course, I beg to differ on the sermon on the mount.

I think the words that Jesus left us with from Matthew 5 are far more than aspirational, they define for humanity the very best of what we are, and could ever be. They set a direction of travel and a yearning for better things. And they start from a heart to heart connection with something blessed and eternal. Something undefinably GOOD.

And in that moment a Kingdom like no other finds it’s foundations.

Of course, we fail. And the systems that try to organise a response to these words in the form of church and state- well they fail too.

They fail because of legalism, and because of indifference. They fail because of the idolatry of accommodation and compromise.

They are very different documents- the words of Jesus as quoted by Matthew, and the great humanistic declaration drafted by Canadian Lawyer John Peters Humphrey .

But perhaps their application might find some commonality.

Here are the words in full- you decide!

Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2.

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4.

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6.

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7.

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8.

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 10.

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11.

(1) Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

(2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

Article 12.

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14.

(1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15.

(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.

(3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.

(2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

Article 21.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.

(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Article 22.

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23.

(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 26.

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

Article 27.

(1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

(2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28.

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

Article 29.

(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

(2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

(3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 30.

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven…

Come with me my loved oneslet_the_earth_rejoice_bmug.jpg

Come into this Kingdom of mine

Shake free your feet

From concrete shoes

And dance

With me

Let me speak some tender words my loved one

For my heart is laid

Wide open

Ventricle and clavicle

Could easily be

Broken

Hear my distant voice

Dancing in the mountains

My music in these flowers

And flowing in the fountains

Come away with me my love

In this hillside let us…

Dally

apple_of_my_eye.jpg

Apple of my

Shining eye

Lily of my valley.

Blessed are those who mourn

aoradh.org – Beatitudes


Blessed are those whose days lie
Black with death.

Blessed are those whose guilt
Rises like a claw to the throat

Who could have done

Who should have done

So much
More

And blessed are those whose anger is bright wet
Like a sucking wound

Blessed are they in their rage
Blessed are they in their betrayal
Blessed in their
Abandonment

And blessed is the blaming
Blessed is the shaming

Blessed is the crying

These blessed children trying
To bring their loved ones

Back

How blessed
Are they

For it is
To this place

My Kingdom comes.

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Blessed are those who are persecuted…

Blessed are they who are persecuted because of me…

Blessed are the unfashionable

Blessed are those who dare to be

Different

And blessed are those who receive the scorn2273church_in_poso.jpg

Of others, because they know me

Blessed are those who are guilty

By association

And blessed are those who become the subject

Of gossip

Blessed are they in stunted careers

And broken friendships

Blessed are those who

Know rejection

Because of my name

january_jan11guantanamobayarrivalproc.jpg And blessed are the prison bars

Blessed is the lash

Blessed are the roaring lions

Blessed are the broken bodies

Bless this human

Trash

Bless them in their suffering

Bless them in their pain

And give to them

The keys to my

Kingdom

From ‘the beatitudes’- the whole thing is here.

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