(Grabbing some rest in Jaipur, India)
This post begins with a poem I’ve published previously but I’ve reworked it and here it is in a revised form. It sets the scene for the rest of the post.
Tough Love 2
Madness swells and seeps under doors.
The darkness in each of us seeks out its own.
We are blind mice
feeling for the exit
in a warehouse stalked by cats.
The anger of a thousand stolen childhoods,
shames inaction and smashes every excuse
for child sexual abuse.
Aromas of respectability become the stink
of yesterday’s household garbage.
Exposed and stripped of defence,
spread their hands
and evade responsibility.
Transitioned into care,
yesterday’s people outlive their usefulness.
Independence reigned in to a choke hold.
Dignity denied them by others’ decisions;
all legal, sensible, faux compassion.
The children who consign them there,
confirm their own decline
in turn and in time.
on the strength of a prenatal scan.
Imperfect parents will try another time
for a perfect child.
This one flawed;
airbrushed out of a family’s history.
Binned as biological waste;
the child spared, at least,
the obscenity of parents like these.
Fragments of a hundred butchered innocents
lie on a hot black road;
litter left by soldiers of Allah.
An unfinished jigsaw of heads and limbs
sorted and ripped by beaks and talons.
Forget love and kindness.
Cruelty and violence are the price
of entry to paradise.
Who’d have thought?
love is not set aside for the greater good,
explained away by self interest,
dishonoured through selfishness,
or perverted by pustulant ideology.
people can be
who they were created to be.
“Somewhere love is not set aside . . .
This is an article of faith for me and my reason for writing this post. Somewhere there is a place where love is not set aside in favour of chasing other goals. A place where people can be safe and free to be who they were meant to be. I understand that place to be the kingdom of heaven; not a place in the sky with clouds and harps, but the kingdom of heaven right here, as Jesus described it.
I seek that place, and I’m committed to doing what I can to help the world be such a place. It’s not there yet. Not even close. The world continues to be a place where evil roams free, even as patches of light and hope shine through, giving hints of what might be possible.
(Friday afternoon drinks. A small patch of light and hope in the world.)
What sort of world do we live in?
The worlds of our parents and grandparents are gone, and to be honest, they were no more idyllic than ours is, just quite different. We would have to look hard now to find any of the things they would have seen as givens. Automatic respect for authority figures; heterosexual marriage and mother-father families being the norm; Sunday observance; social sanctions attached to divorce, and promiscuity, to list just a few.
In our world authority figures do not receive automatic respect. Their decisions and pronouncements are challenged routinely and defied openly. Marriage is no longer exclusively heterosexual, and marriage itself shares the stage with a variety of arrangements of varying formality. The term ‘partner’ is used in preference to ‘spouse’.
Social sanctions are now applied for totally different reasons than they used to be. Divorce remains an unpleasant, damaging experience, but no longer carries the social and legal sanctions it once had. Promiscuity is now celebrated and assumed to be the norm, although some interesting ethical acrobatics are needed to avoid being caught up on the wrong side of ideology (#metoo).
Not that such changes are all regretable. Easy divorce has had an upside for some people trapped in intolerable circumstances, but the proliferation of divorce has shaken families and weakened our culture. We like our Sundays the way they are. Not so much days of rest anymore, but still we enjoy them.
Promiscuity? We are saturated with messages, overt and subtle, that a promiscuous lifestyle is normal and desirable. Does experience tell us that promiscuity leads anywhere beneficial, or that widespread promiscuity is something any society can be proud of? Seriously
While some of us view these changes with some sadness, many more celebrate what we see as the overthrow of oppressive structures and traditions. Some of us are in both camps. We see the dishonesty, the hypocrisy and the injustice threaded through the institutions of earlier generations. We also see and give credit for the stability and the meaning they gave to people’s lives.
Turning our faces away from traditional values, we might have believed that by doing so we would be free to live more honest, moral lives.
Is that what’s happened?
Convincing ourselves more enlightened than our forebears, embracing our whims and preferences as the guiding moral compass for our lives, we have put ourselves at the centre of everything.
How’s that going for us? Sweetness and light is it?
Lest you think you smell sanctimony, I have more than enough to regret and be ashamed of. I listened to the whispered silky justifications, I was seduced by the promise that it was all about me. As long as I wasn’t hurting anyone, I should have been free to do what I liked. I had no right to judge anyone anyway. After all, aren’t right and wrong so passé? Surely such old fashioned ideas belonged in an earlier time? I remember one self assured woman correcting me for using the word ‘adultery’. “Do they still call it that?” she asked mockingly.
It occurs to me that’s what the western world has come to believe. By changing the language, the social mores and traditions, we consider we have moved to a higher moral plane. We have rewritten the moral code to suit our own preferences and we are free to do that which we are inclined to do. But does it change human nature, or does it make us the fools, blind to predictable consequences?
So, yes. There was much to condemn in the values and mores of the world of our parents.
There is much to be thankful for in new ways of looking at the world and in the lifting of oppressive, hypocritical laws and practices, but have we have got it right yet
Living life as an extended pursuit of indulgence, freedom to make our own choices, our own happiness and fulfillment, as if we were not dependent on others and they on us, has become the reason for being for many of us. Our pursuit of personal fulfillment can see us dismiss the trail of hurt and damage we leave behind, if we think of it at all, as collateral damage, regretable maybe, but an acceptable sacrifice for the greater good (our wants).
Be true to yourself.
Follow your heart.
If it feels good, do it.
No one has the right to tell you what to do.
Each of these memes contains some truth, but that does not mean they are the whole truth, or that they are the best way to organize our lives
For all the ways we are encouraged to think of ourselves as free and uninhibited, are we as free as we think? In our culture diversity is seen to be a self evident good; except of course, diversity of thought. Try expressing reservations about some of the memes above and note the reaction
So how do I go about countering a worldview that’s seduced the western world so thoroughly that many people now see it as self evident, beyond questioning? A big ask, I know.
It’s just when you stop, step outside, and look around, you realise that it’s a seductive facade. It’s a lie. An attractive and seductive one, but a lie nonetheless. One leading us away from the kingdom of heaven I mentioned earlier; the place where love is not set aside; the place where we can be fully human.
We are more than our cleverness, the nastiness we cultivate, the selfishness we flaunt, and the misery we ignore. These things do not define who we are.
There is an answer of course. There is a path to follow. So many of us have rejected what we imagined was the Christian message. We rejected a caricature. The established church has much to answer for in that.
The Christian gospel is far more shocking and subversive than any adolescent arrogance could have imagined.
Maybe it’s time to look again with adult eyes at Jesus and to weigh his message in the light of your experience. Like me, you may be blown away.