Poem: Meditation on Matthew 25: 31 – 46

Stranger, be not afraid –

come in, come in, the table is laid.

I see thee be weary, please sit yourself down

You are tired, you are thirsty  – come, see now

you can rest from your worries and

your burdens lay down.

 

Stranger be not afraid –

come in, come in the table is laid

I once too arrived here, a stranger like you

Be assured you can lay all worries down too

Find here a place where from sorrows released

Where indeed you are known, and loved – be at peace

Stranger, stranger

Why do you beg, for some crumb of food,

for these meagre dregs? Stranger, begone

for I shall not share; but in my great mercy

I will at least, leave you alone

to beg on the streets.

 

 

Those with most power are not the least

(Though they claim the title –

but God knows, and God see’s)

and though the world tells us – turn the stranger away

God calls you out now: hear God say

When you shared nought with the stranger, you shared nought with me.

 

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50 Pastors, Roy Moore and Matthew 5:29

 

I have never in my life so far, or even once since becoming a Christian, advocated, believed in or approved of anything that looks like the authoritarian practice of ‘shunning’ or disfellowshipping, as it is practiced in various Christian traditions. It’s not an Anglican practice, and my understanding of it is very much in the context of it being practiced abusively by those who have more power, over those who have less. I have witnessed it toxic effects up close, and I do not believe it is healthy practice.

And then I saw that more than 50 Christian pastors had publicly given their support to Roy Moore.

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Christians have never been the most cohesive group of people. Even in the very earliest days of the church, Apostle’s quarrelled amongst themselves, and barely had Jesus ascended from Bethany before the church started writing women out of its formation, leadership and history. Arguably, you cannot trace the evolution of Christian tradition without acknowledging the fundamental role that it’s many splits played, not only in its differing theologies, but in the way that it sees itself, and how it portrays itself to ‘the World’.

Many of those splits could be considered a moral necessity, yet we must also remember the fullness of context: for example whilst Martin Luther was anti-semite,  a legacy that the Protestant church has yet to truly and properly acknowledge, Bonhoeffer’s split with the German Lutheran church helped grow a legacy of theology as resistance, as well as liberation.

Neither is the Anglican and Anglo-Catholic wing of the church without considerable failing – the role the Anglican Church played the treatment of Native peoples at the hands of her missionaries, for example, rightly remains an issue of contention with Indigenous people today .

But the Church is not without a model for corporate repentance, for there are moments in history when the body of Christ must reflect on its corporate sins and repent – as the Church of England did 10 years ago, when reflected on how it backed the slave trade, something which it acknowledged and apologised for. Dr Rowan Williams, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, said this:

“The body of Christ is not just a body that exists at any one time, it exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors and part of what we can do, with them and for them in the body of Christ, is prayer for acknowledgement of the failure that is part of us not just of some distant ‘them’.”

The corporate Church across all of its traditions, however, is yet to truly repent for its systemic failure to address its sexual sins: long before those 50 pastors decided to support a man whose personal morality is at the very (very) least questionable, the Catholic Church and Protestants both have come under scrutiny with regard to the abuse of children by its priests and pastors. So the response from  some wings of the Church to the accusations against Roy Moore, whilst immensely disheartening, was sadly unsurprising. Only a day or so before the open letter of support was published by the Alabama Pastors, Franklin Graham Jnr, had tweeted his own support for Roy Moore.

Those 50 pastors represent a small-ish but hardcore group of Christians who assume that a powerful, influential man is more likely to be the victim in the situation than a child; who are so in thrall to a phoney gospel that they will leave the widow and the orphan, and the violated child, out in the cold. It does not matter that I am from a different Christian tradition – it matters only that the body of Christ “..exists across history and we therefore share the shame and the sinfulness of our predecessors..” – and, indeed, our peers.

Children, in this instance young girls, were used and abused yet these 50 pastors hear those cries and they react first with paranoia, and suspicion. If we will know them by their fruits, and their fruits are as rank, as bitter and as spiritless as this – what place exactly do they have in the Body of Christ?  If abusers are welcome at the table but victims are not, when is it time to cut out the eye that causes us to stumble? Had we already gone past that point when the Church gave slave traders a theology to justify their trade?

I don’t have answers: I do have anger, and hurt and frustration both as a victim, a woman, a survivor and a Christian.Was Jesus not explicit enough when he warned us not to make these little ones stumble? Was he not severe enough we he said it would be better to drown, than to cause such stumbling to a child?

Or will centuries have to pass before we take responsibility, before we humble ourselves again before God, before we say sorry and repent, before the victims receive the justice, and the peace, to which we were called to live out in the first place? And is it time to gouge out the eye, if it means we will see more clearly?

Poem: The Evidence of My Eyes

Above the raucous, above the clashing

crashing, ever raging din

there is a softer

quieter song

that yet does soar

– i hear it sing

it will be well, it will be well

it will be well, let faith come in

 

And though the claws that rip me,

do not concede, do not desist,

that song so sweetly

calls me up

i could climb up

– I could insist

it will be well, it will be well

let hope like smoke, inhaled, be well

 

Song, sung high and sweet

above the woes

and cares beneath

that lifts me up

i will climb up

– high above, and clear, complete

it will be well, it will be well

and I will tell of all love speaks.

 

 

Poem: I Know Thee, Fear

I know thee, Fear

 

You that stalks my halls like the sweetest of traitors

keeping me from my king,

(with most earnest and well meant intention) –

yet you look at me, as if offended that I should speak mention;

 

as if I forget myself,

as if I have broken some pact or some treaty

I did not sign;

am I supposed to be quiet? but I am too tired

not to speak.

 

Maybe I am incomplete

not yet, or not enough or weak

do not speak of days when I have not praise

but bitter tears

 

Yes, I am not brave.

 

But there are days

when I know that even though

I am the helpless fish

in your coarse hands

 

you will sometime grip too tightly

and I will slip

quickly, quietly –

– oh let this stream swift carry me away!

 

I know thee, Fear

 

though I would have you

be a stranger to me.

 

Poem: I Dare

 

When I dare believe that love

Can also be received – or

daring more, can be held and without chains

will not let go;

Or when that reassurance

That with patience doth restore us,

Tender reaches with swift might,

Then all is right, I do not doubt;

And feel do I your arms around me,

once again – and love that binds me

grows the limbs that guard

this sacred, solid ground.

For though so often I am lost

More often still that I am found,

And cherished more for having lost

Yet never losing loves sweet sound.

 

 

Who Are Your Acceptable Victims and Who Do You Choose to Believe?

It is some time since I last wrote anything in long form – and whilst it has been mere months in reality, I look at the glare of the blank white screen, eagerly consuming the the letters I type, and I smile at it like a long lost and much adored lover. I have missed writing intensely, but for many reasons it has been a long way down my list of priorities.

But I’ve had some thoughts crystallising in my mind of late.

I was at my PIP assessment today and I wanted to scrub myself with a wire brush after.  I’m sure the chap who conducted the assessment is nice to his old Mum, and he seemed like the type of bloke who has a muscular, slightly ugly mutt at home he adores, and he wasn’t… unpleasant as such.  Its just that he hasn’t had to sit on my side of the table and would probably be personally offended if I had told him I found the whole process utterly dehumanising. Because it wouldn’t matter how nice the person conducting the assessment is (or how truthful they may, or may not, turn out to be).

When you go to these assessments (or – if you need one, and have jumped the endless hoops you are required to jump through to get one – had a home visit), you go as the person with the disability/disabilities, and/or chronic illness, and/or mental health issues. Your physical/medical/mental health has prevented you from working for a whole host of reasons, the vast majority of which are not your fault. Nobody asks or wants to be disabled, chronically ill, depressed, addicted, be involved in life changing accidents, or the (repeated) victim of crime – or whatever unexpected life altering thing it is that you couldn’t possibly have seen coming. You sure as hell don’t want to be in that office discussing whether or not you wet yourself, or cannot with the best will in the world fill in a form without hyperventilating.  And you would rather gauge your eyes out with a rusty spoon that sit there hoping the assessor will decide you are sick enough for some small amount of help, but you hope for it anyway because the alternative is being told you aren’t sick enough and should be working, and you’ve probably half killed yourself working for longer than you should of already, because you anyway live month to month and the roof has to stay over your families head.

You are only at that assessment because, metaphorically, your house is burning and the flames won’t go out.

But the benefit system as it is now is based on this simple premise: you have to prove you are on fire.

Its archaic – literally. The powerful, demanding that the powerless (who cannot conform to the prescribed behaviour set out by the powerful) prove their truthfulness/need for assistance by performing the claimed ‘weakness’* to the satisfaction of those with the power to help.

(*In this context, it is the powerful who perceive and promote the disability/illness etc as a weakness in a negative context. The idea of illness/disability/sexual and/or gender difference as a weakness or failing, is promoted by the powerful to maintain control).

Yet no matter how archaic it is – and to some extent, irrespective of the ideologies attracted to this method of achieving and maintaining power and control – it perpetuates, re-invented in some new form every few decades, but surviving largely intact and otherwise unchanged no matter what century it is.  And there is an uncomfortable truth at the centre of that.

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When I was writing more regularly about my experiences of rape culture, I was then – and remain now – utterly perplexed by how normalised it is for victims and survivors not to be believed.  There are those who would tell you that its simply hysteria to suggest that sexual abuse, assault, and rape are as much of a problem as they are. And whilst it means that those who should be taking responsibility are not, it is not the expected intransigence, arrogance or duplicity of a system that will of course seek to protect itself, that causes most perplexity. Or even, arguably, is the most difficult thing to resolve.

There is an extraordinarily simple reason why a rape victim needs to hear the words “I believe you”.  If you believe them, then (setting aside, just for a moment, the positive impact on the victim), you have acknowledged that there is a problem. If you have acknowledged the problem, you are more likely to accept the problem needs to be resolved. If you accept the problem needs to be resolved, you are more likely to look positively at what will resolve that. Because whilst prevention is better than cure, you still need the cure.

But since prevention is better than cure – what happens if you believe that most people would rather swallow a bottle of castor oil than lie about being raped or abused, and that (however uncomfortable it might make you feel), the overwhelming majority of victims of sexual violence are telling the truth?

What happens when we all acknowledge that? And what’s stopping that?

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The thing is – it isn’t just rape victims who need to be believed. That’s not the only systemic abuse problem. For disabled and chronically ill people the benefits system is inherently abusive, predicated as it is on the presumption of guilt. For Black/of colour/LGBTQ+ disabled and chronically ill people the problem is still more pronounced.  The politics of belief around chronic illness and hidden disability is a minefield. You are reduced to someone who has to permanently prove yourself innocent of a crime that never occurred, far less was ever committed.

But if we accept that most people would rather work than put themselves through the Dickensian benefits process, and we believed disabled and chronically ill people, then would we really continue to tolerate and normalise the thousands upon thousands of disabled and chronically ill people dying, every year?

What happens when we believe black people and people of colour about racism, and about how we as white people, need to address our internalised racism and do something about it?

What happens when we believe trans women and trans men, believe that they are who they say they are and that they receive the abuse and discrimination they are telling us they receive?

What happens when we believe the refugees who tell us of the brutality and wars they are escaping?

What happens when we actually do think of the children, and believe them when they say they are being abused?

What would happen, if we chose to believe them all?

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The uncomfortable truth is this: we choose to believe the victims we are comfortable believing. And we choose to acknowledge the oppression’s we are comfortable enough to acknowledge.

And whilst its the system that sells the lie, it only keeps working because people keep believing it. And all of us do, at one level or other: some people will believe disabled people about the how the benefit system is killing people – but not a person of colour when they say that something is racist, and won’t believe the refugee escaping war and brutality; and some people will believe disabled people and people of colour, but won’t believe that trans women are women and trans men are men . Or they will believe a person can be gay – but not bi. Or accept all that, but won’t believe that the respectable man up the road with the good reputation could possibly be an abuser, and will tell you how terrible it is that he has to live with that accusation…

And the still more uncomfortable truth is this – because we choose to believe some people are living under oppressive systems, but do not, cannot or will not believe the same of others – the cycle of abuse across the multiple layers of society continues. It might be chipped away at, in piecemeal fashion – but you only have to look around you to understand that the foundations of that system remain as strongly entrenched as ever, and that all we have successfully and systemically managed to do is disbelieve black people, rape victim, the disabled, trans people, LGBQ people, women, the sick and refugees.

We believe who we are comfortable believing. We believe those who don’t challenge our world view – and we definitely don’t believe those who challenge more profoundly our view of ourselves. We believe those we perceive as being acceptable to believe.

And we can choose to ask ourselves why we don’t believe the black person, or the disabled person or the trans person, or the refugee – and then answer that honestly, or not.

Because belief is a choice. So the perplexity remains.

 

 

Poem: In The Crook of Faiths Arm

For faith, which gave eyes to see

and gave ears to hearts, long wearied by fear;

For the love, that in blackest of night

never strayed from it’s path and holds faithful the light;

I hold close to it’s nurture and calm

giving thanks for it’s gift, finding peace in its balm:

And dearest to this, most wondrous care

that even apart, we meet in our prayers.

 

Poem: Celestial Navigation

When in moments, or in minutes, or in hours

When the safe shore of day, that you are home

Seems still so very far away;

When the waiting ache laps against my soul, and seeks

to trouble me with tears forever more

my poets soul reaches for thee;

That by some magic of poor words we might feel,

Closer to that day when we reach

That safe and happy shore.

 

Poem: Stranger, My Body

What is this trembling that stalks my body so

Electric pain taking delight, making my body

Feel like a needful unknown stranger;

Clamouring, demanding, hiding me from myself

Replacing pieces of me with turbulence

Constricting  and stretching muscle at will;

I close the door, it creeps in through the window

I lock the window and its porous gas seeps

through my skin, heat seeking;

Fog, moving through my head and scattering

My memories abroad, to seek asylum

And be discovered some other summer;

My will lines up its scarce resistance fearing

Useless dependence and told that it is

my feminine madness; a woman, hysteric.

Yet betwixt the stranger and that madness that some

seek to apply to me, and call it calm –

I sometimes weep quietly for your strong arm.