"The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men." attributed to Plato

"Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." attributed to Edmund Burke

Let's between us make the world a better place.

Sunday, 28 February 2010

We don't do Religion

This is what Alastair Campbell famously said when asked about Tony Blair's faith.
Yet we know Tony is a devout Christian and Roman Catholic - and now retired from Parliament he is not afraid to talk about it.
I went to a dinner the other night - the speaker was a Member of Parliament about to fight for a marginal seat in the General Election coming up in the UK. She was self assured, confident, a good speaker. But she "doesn't do religion," she said. But I know she is also a practising Roman Catholic - doesn't want to upset her voters, she said, who are atheists, and people of other faiths as well as Christian.
Is it right that we do not let faith enter conversation in our canvassing? Should we not be happy to profess our faith? Are we ashamed? Frightened? Surely the way we work as MP's should be a true reflection of our faith views and we should not be afraid to say so publicly? We need to stand up and be counted. Otherwise what sort of a Christian are we?

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Lent, Consolatory ministry and the Wounded Healer

Well my experiment with the cellphone in the bathroom (last post) didn't do anything for me so I am back to the serious today!
We have just had our first Lent group - a house group of 12 people meeting once a week to discuss a theme. This week the subject was Isaiah chapter 40 - Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says the Lord.
What is comfort? What comfort does God offer us in times of need? Someone mentioned the additional gift of comfort afforded to those who themselves have seen grief, hurt or other affliction and come through it to be able to help others - of course the Wounded Healer.
This reminded me of the consolatory ministry and the healing prose seen in the consolatory literature of the ancient Greeks. Perhaps the earliest example of this was On Grief, written by the Greek academic and philosopher Crantor in the mid fourth century BC. This type of consolation was offered on the occasion of any human misfortune, but seems to have been used particularly to console or heal following the death of a loved one, often a child. The consolatory ministry was built around the belief that by writing about one’s own suffering the author is not only helping himself through his own difficulties but can be in a better position to help others in a similar situation. The soul or spirit was often implicated in this healing process. It reflected the healing vulnerability of the Wounded Healer.
There were many examples of this genre of literature, which developed well into the European Renaissance period of the fourteenth to seventeenth centuries. By then people were recognixing that  sorrow, misery, and misfortune could be matters for sympathy - up until then they were too often seen as stemming from sinfulness. Francesco Petrarca, or Petrarch, who lived in the fourteenth century, was well known for his self- care and self -analysis. ‘No one’s solace,’ he wrote, ‘penetrates a saddened mind more than that of a fellow sufferer, and therefore the most effective words to strengthen the spirits of the bystanders are those which emerge from the actual torments.’ He quoted from Virgil: ‘Being acquainted with grief, I learn to succor the wretched (Aen. 2.630).’
The consolatory genre surely survives to the present day in the spiritual works of Henri Nouwen and perhaps Michael Mayne, for example. It was only when I read Michael Mayne’s Learning to Dance that I discovered that he had been deeply wounded as a child, when at the age of three his father, with no warning, committed suicide and left his wife and son homeless and very poor. This, Mayne said, left ‘an immense emptiness’ in his life. He was writing a meditation on his life of faith when he learnt that he had cancer. As he struggled with his terminal and painful illness, he completed Enduring Melody,  which became his own beautifully written and moving epitaph. In an addition to Mayne’s obituary in the Times in November 2006, Canon Chris Chivers wrote of Mayne: ‘The letter he wrote to me…was full of down-to-earth wisdom, mixed with deep prayerfulness, and an all-too-rare ability to put himself in the shoes and soul of another. This will surely be the enduring melody of his richly sacrificial ministry.’ Mayne’s meditational books are steeped in wonderful imagery that helps us understand more clearly the ineffable, the God immanent but unknowable. In his vocation as priest he was clearly the very essence of the Wounded Healer to those who received his ministry.
Isaiah 40 raises issues far beyond this and I hope to cover some more in later posts. Do "misery memoirs" come within this consolatory genre I wonder?

Thursday, 25 February 2010

cell phones in the bathroom

Alternative title - don't use mobile phones in the loo. I am still trying to find a connection between this and compassion, spirituality, love, the Wounded Healer. Indeed I feel anything but love and compassion for pigeons at the moment.
But first - my experiment - dont spoil it for me - please leave a comment just to say you've passed by this blog.Why?
I have just read a blog where the blogger said his hits and comments left on his blog for writing said item suddenly jumped to 100's from the total anonymity of his more serious but definitely more worthwhile musings both before and since. So this is my experiment - to see if this has the same effect for me!! Out of interest I googled said title - and hey there are literally millions of entries - of all sorts - videos - advice serious and otherwise - around "Don't use your cell phone in the bathroom."

On to pigeons and pigeon netting again. Why do the pictures in gardening catalogues always show such neat netting around perfectly formed frames around the vegetables. I spent two hours this morning in bitter cold putting new nets around the broccoli that the pigeons are determined to strip bare before any of it gets to my dinner plate. And it looks far from neat and symmetrical - it's a bit lopsided for sure - but I just hope it does the trick!

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope and the Wounded Healer

Which of us hasn't at some stage had a difficult relationship with a parent or grandparent?!
I guess what I am about to say may be controversial, and I realise Barack Obama may not be "flavour of the month" to everyone. But writing on the difficulties he sometimes experienced in his relationship with his grandfather, Obama observes “that sometimes he really did have a point, and that in insisting on getting my own way all the time, without regard to his feelings or needs, I was in some way diminishing myself.” He goes on to say: “I believe a stronger sense of empathy would tilt the balance of our current politics in favor of those people who are struggling in this society. After all, if they are like us, then their struggles are our own. If we fail to help, we diminish ourselves.”
This story comes from Obama's book The Audacity of Hope that I am reading for the second time. I really recommend it. In a very easy style he writes with clarity and honesty on the political divide, values, faith, race, the American Constitution, opportunity. Written as a senate before he made it to the White House, these are his personal reflections on his values and ideals and how change may be brought about for the common good. 

He reaffirmed his message of empathy later on the campaign trail, when he spoke of those he had met “whose dreams and struggles become my own; they will stay with me in the White House.”

This is a great show of the importance of empathy in our relationships, and in our lives, and is but a step away from the power to heal of the Wounded Healer. Barack Obama a Wounded Healer? Some may disagree but surely he has borne his own wounds of upbringing that he can bring with empathy, compassion and understanding to the world, to "tilt the balance of politics?" 

I would like to hear from you to let me know what you think. And where in your life do you see the Wounded Healer at work? Can you identify with the motif in your work place, in your own home, in the work of the physician?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

The Solace of Landscape and Soil

Broad Beans, I learn, are some of the oldest recorded vegetables, cultivated since biblical times. Apparently by the Middle Ages, stealing the crop was punished by the death penalty!

Yesterday the temperature went up to 9 degrees on the allotment and my spirits soared as layers of clothes were peeled off to stay cool! And all this after weeks of temperatures hovering around freezing and when I often found it hard to summon up any enthusiasm to do anything!

Part of our spiritual healing comes from our commune with, our intimate contact with, the earth, the soil. In Alastair McIntosh's wonderful book, Soil and Soul, he writes: "If humankind is to have any hope of changing the world...we need, first, to make community with the soil, to learn how to revere the Earth." Belden Lane writes of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes in a book of that title. Peter Owen Jones in his new book Letters from an Extreme Pilgrim, writes: "God, I loved the desert. It allowed me to see to what was broken - with all my hate, with all my love, my unknowing, my unbeing - and gave me the time to begin to mend."

Back to the allotment. And doesn't it look a mess!? The heavy snow brought down some of the netting protecting the brassicas from the pigeons, and before I could get up there the pesky birds had made a good job of stripping all the fresh young growth off the sprouting broccoli. The plants are now struggling to recover - although I think they will. Other plotters pulled up their pigeon stripped brassicas last year and put them on the compost heap. I persevered with mine and eventually had a tolerable crip. Let's hope this year is the same. At least the Bright Lights Swiss Chard is recovering after looking dead when the snow melted.

So back to those broad beans. Soon I shall be sowing them, alongside Cauliflowers, Globe Artichoke and Tomatoes under cover for transplanting out later. 
Let Shelley have the last word:
I love snow, and all the forms
Of the radiant frost;
I love waves, and winds, and storms,
Everything almost
Which is Nature's, and may be
Untainted by man's misery. (Percy Shelley 1792-1822)

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Rediscovering Values

This half term week reminds me of another half term; it must have been many years ago - my boys are now young adults. It was a rain soaked Sunday, and we had the misfortune to visit a large shopping mall outside town to return some goods to one of those internationally known super stores.

All those years ago the elder of our two boys was in a religious studies lesson at school. They were discussing Sunday Trading. “It is just wrong,” he said. No reason was needed – it was simply wrong!

Ever since it was introduced I have abhorred Sunday trading, and actually I also loathe those big soulless monuments or temples to consumerism and materialism we call superstores and shopping malls. But as I said we needed to change something and thought we could save petrol by calling in on our way to visit a local house and garden of historic interest with the kids. I had completed my morning duties at the Sunday service in our local parish church. This trip to the shop was meant to be incidental only, en route to our traditional Sunday afternoon family excursion, this time to Down House, the country home of Charles Darwin for the last 40 years of his life until he died in 1882.

Now I realize that for many Christians who like me abhor Sunday trading the mention of Darwin and his views on evolution may itself open up a fairly passionate discussion about The Origin of the Species and his theories of Evolution and Natural Selection. I’ll take that risk, but that isn’t the point of this story.

The car parks around the superstore were practically gridlocked, cars jostling for the scarce, almost nonexistent empty parking spaces, and families with their children were pouring into and out of the store, those on the outward home bound journey pushing trolleys loaded high with consumable goods. There were several thousand cars there, with perhaps 3 or 4 or more in each car. The arithmetic is simple and the disquieting effect on my previous feeling of spiritual calm was very real!

The damage to the environment inflicted through our collective behaviours around that one store on that one day must have been colossal. It doesn’t bear contemplation to multiply the effect by the number of other similar stores around the country presumably displaying the same patterns of greed and consumerism! These places have become for many the new religion, shopping malls replacing the church as the Sunday venue of first choice.

At least I was trying to economise that day and avoid two car trips where one could suffice; and our shopping trip was intended to be fleeting!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Cy Grant

I am so terribly sorry to hear that Cy Grant has died, age 90, on 13th February. I remember him so well from when I was a child, and he sang his Topical Calypsos on the Tonight programme on TV.  Sad in a way that this is how I remember him best from all those years ago, as he had a splendidly varied and successful life in many ways, and soon left the Tonight team as he feared being typecast as the black calypso singer.
A full obituary can be seen at Times Online. He was barrister, airline pilot, actor, activist, poet, author and more. In 2007 he wrote Blackness and the Dreaming Soul, "a meditation on his Caribbean roots and quest for identity during his time in Britain."
I am particularly sad because he was very supportive of my own writing ideas and we had exchanged emails over the last year or so in this connection. I had promised to send him a copy of my book when published and now that cannot be.
Rest in peace, Cy. I feel privileged to have come to know you. You said you had found a soul mate. I found one too!
love Eleanor

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Reflections on Life, Love and the Soul

I am reading a super little book. It is by Peter Owen Jones, a rather wacky Church of England priest, who after presenting Around the World in 80 Faiths for TV, disappeared high up into the Sinai Desert in Egypt to live in isolation in a cave for a while, to pray, think and of necessity live extremely simply.
From his soul searching during this time he wrote several letters, letters to friends and family, to the Prime Minister, to Jesus and God, and even to Osama and these have been collected into a neat little volume, Letters From an Extreme Pilgrim - Reflections on Life, Love and the Soul, (although he makes clear that he wanted to call it Letters From the Moon, and refers to his cave and landscape as The Moon throughout.)
In these letters we see his own vulnerabilities and uncertainties, even his own tortured soul, as he grapples with understanding himself and rediscovering, even healing, that soul within the context of all his different relationships and within the context of this crazy world.
"God, I loved the desert," he writes in the Epilogue. "It allowed me to see what was broken - with all my hate, with all my love, my unknowing, my unbeing - and gave me the time to begin to mend." And in that mending and in his forthright and honest writing, I believe he can be a wounded healer for all of us who are honest enough with ourselves to know we need that healing of our own soul and spirit.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Ten Commandments and Ann Widdecombe

I really enjoyed the Channel 4 documentary last night where Ann Widdecombe traced the history of Moses' Ten Commandments and highlighted their continuing importance and relevance for today's society. What I did not enjoy was Stephen Fry's quite unnecessary aggression in debate with Ann. Why do atheists so often seem so angry? I sometimes think it is because they are insecure in their stance. I have suffered a lifetime in meetings and debates of having to give in to those who could shout louder to override a point being validly made by myself. Whatever our own views we desperately all need to learn to be receptive to the alternatives in a spirit of humility and understanding. Ann to her credit behaved impeccably and I would have expected no less of her.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Bible: A History - Ann Widdecombe Interview - Channel 4

I have just been referred to a wonderful interview with Ann Widdecombe about the part she plays in the Channel 4 programme - The Bible: A History - where she stands up for the Ten Commandments - society would be much better if we'd only follow them, is her theme. And how right she is. This is going out this weekend and definitely worth watching. I love Ann's forthright and commonsense approach to life and society! I am one of her greatest fans!

A Fragile Economic Recovery

"When the last tree is cut, the last river poisoned, and the last fish dead, we will discover that we can't eat money..." (words on a Greenpeace banner)

I am reading Jim Wallis’ latest book, Rediscovering Values – On Wall Street, Main Street and Your Street (A Moral Compass for the New Economy) and I was reminded of an article I wrote back in 2008 – and thought it was worth repeating – a little updated.

Do let me have your views.

I wrote this as global stock markets were in turmoil, rocked by the credit crunch and the banking crisis. Whilst stock markets may be a little stabilized, the situation is still clearly fragile. And many still feel the recession gnawing at their financially precarious lives, whilst bankers yet again take huge bonuses. Isn’t more of the same sort of economy just going to get us in the same mess again later? Is this not another warning to us all about the non-sustainability of our economic policies as fuelled by our individual behaviour?
The predominant "free market" system of finance capitalism that operates in the world today is perhaps not what it seems. Many believe that it is seriously flawed. It relies on the creation of fiat money by the banks and a crippling compound interest loan system. It does not value the person, it is fuelled by profit motivation, and it ignores the ancient wisdom of the Old Testament land and debt laws at its peril. It contributes to the malaise of the world, both internationally and at local and national level, by fuelling injustices, increasing the rich/poor divide, failing to protect the environment and helping to destroy probably the most important contribution to trust and security and happiness once a basic standard of living has been achieved – sound personal relationships at family and community level. Strong words I know, and maybe controversial!

But pause and think. Would we as individuals eat everything in our own fridge and leave our elderly and young, our disabled and disadvantaged, all those living under our same roof, without any food and care? Of course not! But that is what we are doing. Because that is the reality of the world today. It is one global household, and we should behave accordingly.
We have to find ways to live more sustainable lives in a world where we can be sure that our good fortune is shared, where everyone has their basic human needs met, where both extremes of wealth and poverty become history.

We have lost our simple values, the art of love and respect and reverence for all living beings, animal and plant and human, the ability to understand ourselves as being part of a finely balanced world wide ecosystem, that together with the Earth we live on, we call Gaia. The economy of the world has to mimic the natural world and be totally cyclical and sustainable and environmentally sound. In nature everything is recycled – everything has a further use. Only if we behave with full understanding of our place within the living world, and build our economy accordingly – build it on principles of sustainability and justice for all – I believe that only then can we hope to heal this fractured world.

So what can we do?

We must support any initiatives that help people get back on their feet. We should support genuine Fair-trade, Traid-craft and other similar schemes wherever we can. We should curb our over consumption and wasteful behaviour, and use local charity shops, the Internet Freecycle facility and our recycling facilities wherever possible.

And we can and must fight to bring ethical trading in from the bottom up – enquire where our goods are produced and in what conditions - eschew all cheap goods where we know that unethical working practices are present. If the information is not available, demand it.

Be responsible shareholders, employees, employers and consumers. Many of us will own stocks and shares in some way, even perhaps without realising it in our pension funds. Some of these shares may well be in companies that operate unethical work practices, deal in weapons, or otherwise demonstrate behaviours that we would not support or condone in our own families. Look for ethical investments before profit motivation and ensure that any financial advisers know your views.
As Employees, Board Members, Non Executive Directors, Trustees, do we take a stand, perhaps against strong opposition, for that which we know to be right? Or do we allow practices to persist that we are uncomfortable with? Do we know what our employer really does – not just at the superficial level of our daily employment – but also at grass roots? Are we absolutely comfortable with its trading practices, its markets, its environmental footprint?
And if not, what are we doing about it?

It may often seem that the individual does not have a voice. But we can have our say – we can influence others – it needs knowledge and courage, and the support of other like-minded people.

And we should all give our support to any movements that are working towards a fairer, safer and happier world for all. Visit for example the website of The Global Justice Movement and support its aims. "Global justice grows from within. It starts with endogenous money and ends with peace."

Finally remember the parables of Jesus in Luke Chapter 12. Do not store up surplus for the future, do not worry about how you will be fed and clothed. In the words of the well-known hymn by Karen Lafferty, "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you, allelu, aleluia." This is not saying that we should not work to feed and clothe ourselves, but it is warning us of the dangers of materialism and all that this implies in our world.

This really only scratches the surface of a huge topic – let's have your views.


Tuesday, 2 February 2010

In the UK, near Birmingham, the Hindu community has reclaimed an area of polluted industrial scrubland. Here they have built a beautiful Hindu Temple within surroundings that now incorporate a historic canal, woodland and hills. From early beginnings where there was much resistance from local communities, there is now a place of beauty that is available for not only Hindu worship, but also cultural and educational events. The Hindus have healed the earth and restored a green and healthy environment to wildlife and the local community.

Here is a religion that teaches its followers to live simply and to see God in everything in the Universe. “Conserve ecology or perish,” says the Bhagavad Gita, (or Song of God), the Hindu sacred scripture.

“God’s creation is sacred. Humanity does not have the right to destroy what it cannot create. Humans have to realize the interconnectedness of living entities and emphasize the idea of moral responsibility to oneself, one’s society, and the world as a whole.”

Hindus teach that we can learn spiritual happiness and find fulfillment by living simply and without chasing after material wants and pleasures:

"They have to milk a cow and enjoy, not cut at the udder of the cow with greed to enjoy what is not available in the natural course. Do not use anything belonging to nature, such as oil, coal, or forest, at a greater rate than you can replenish it… do not destroy birds, fish, earthworms, and even bacteria which play vital ecological roles; once they are annihilated you cannot recreate them. Thus only can you avoid becoming bankrupt, and the life cycle can continue for a long, long time."

These quotations are taken from an excellent book, Faith in Conservation- New Approaches to Religions and the Environment, with permission, from the Hindu Faith Statement written for the book by Swami Vibudhesha Teertha, Acharya of Madhvacarya Vaishnavas, Udupi, Central Advisory Committee Member of the Visva Hindu Parishad.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Progress with the manuscript

Progress Bulletin for To Heal the Fractured Earth - Well I submitted the completed manuscript to the publisher, O Books, on 18th January 2010, and on 26th January it was forwarded by the Editorial Manager to a copy editor. As far as I understand the system, the copy editor will check sentence structure, readability, that kind of thing, picking up missing words and grammatical errors, and then return it to me as a copy edited manuscript for checking through. However careful we are to check thoroughly, read carefully, even have peer reviews of our work, a few errors still inevitably creep in - or rather do not get eliminated! Apparently there is only one known book that had absolutely no such mistakes in its final published form - I will find out which it was for a later blog, unless someone can meanwhile tell me!

Does this mean that the Editorial Manager had no substantial editorial changes to suggest? I assume and hope so! After all this is probably my third or fourth rewrite - each time the structure has been reorganised and evolved into a "final" version that I am happy with - at least for now. There comes a point in time in the development of a non-fiction book when a line has to be drawn, and any further ideas, developments etc need to be kept for a reprint or later edition.

For example, I learnt today (from an article by Marguerite Theophil in The Times of India), that whilst Carl Jung popularized the Wounded Healer motif in recent times, the idea is not only traced back to the Centaur chiron, but also to Plato, who recognized that the best physicians had themselves suffered, and were therefore better equipped to understand and heal the ills of their patients. I need to go back to that idea and store it away for future reference.

It's Time you knew - by Transition Rachel at YouTube

Many reasons to love La Gomera



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