Thursday, 23 February 2017

An Exquisite Following

Today I am taking time to prepare for directing The Mark Drama in Ballycullen Community Church the week before Easter. The six week preparation period before our 12 hours of reherasals begins today! I am renewed once again in my love for Jesus. I am so enjoying meeting with who he is in the words of Mark’s Gospel. 

I have the benefit of knowing how it comes together in dramatic form through the actions, personality and energy of all the different individuals playing the parts. This enriches my reading of the Gospel with vivid images and sounds from past Mark Drama performances. The pages of Mark’s Gospel in my bible are now filled not only with the lives of Jesus, Peter, the leper, Peter’s mother-in-law, the Pharisees... but with the myriad of people who have walked in these shoes and brought these people alive again and again through speaking their words and acting their feelings. 

Nathan, Honor, David, Hazel, Alastair, Catherine, Gavin, Bill... 
I can remember so many different faces.

I remember the way they acted the characters, bringing to each their quirks and their insecurities. I can remember the things we laughed about and how we challenged each other and the way we grew through the process of acting this narrative. 

It is so rich to be doing this. I am reminded once more that Community Theatre is so at home in the shoes of the Gospel. 

As I read the first few chapters of Mark’s account of the adult life of Jesus, I am struck by how real Jesus is. I am loving how he speaks with grace and strength, normality and fluidity. I am struck by how little he thought of what others thought of him. I am enjoying how he focuses on people where they are and who they are, how he speaks directly to them in plain, earthy, connected language. 

Wineskins, cloth, corn, bridegroom, doctor. 
Hungry, lonely, crowded, eating, walking.

This is a man who was with real people, in real time and real space. I am feeling connected to this man, to this Son of God who connected himself to real people in honesty and love. He is without pride or dominance and yet with an astounding determination and quiet perseverance that utterly shocks those around him into questioning this new type of authority. 

An authority that doesn’t command but offers following. Jesus invites and invokes people to follow him. And then sometimes he doesn’t. 

Jesus knows people’s needs more than they know their own.

No; go home, stay in this place, don’t tell people who I am or what I have done for you...

A quiet determination allotted only to someone who truly knows who they are. He does not need anyone to affirm him, to permit him, to follow him. This authority is exquisite. This authority is upsetting for those around him who thought they had authority. It still is. It is upsetting for those of us who think we have authority; to decide who Jesus is, to decide who we are... when maybe he offers us to follow; to come and see who he really is and who we really are.

I am following. And it is exquisite.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Love and Sleep

So now I am on the other side. The “there” where I’ve accumulated another human being and a baffling array of acronyms. Now I am privy to the world of DDs and OHs and NIP and FTM.  Never have I seen so many breasts and bottoms on my social media newsfeed. “DS2 in his new AIO” and “First time NIP!” I am not explaining… you are going to have to do what every un-internet savvy FTM does and google the meanings.

But back to the new human being. My “DD” apparently. 
No... the acronyms don’t do it for me. I just couldn’t reduce this glorious albeit tiny human being to two letters, even if they do resemble a hefty motherhood bra size. Yes, I am now part of the grouping of humans who are starry eyed with love. And broken sleep. Love and broken sleep. But mostly people want to hear about sleep.

There are variations to the phraseology, but the gist of it is:

“Does she sleep?” 

My answer is usually a much abbreviated version of what I’m really thinking: 

“Yes she sleeps loads. She sleeps like a baby. A baby who doesn’t know night from day. A baby who was never hungry or thirsty or cold or alone for nine months in my womb. A baby who is born with a brain only 25% developed and a tummy the size of a chickpea. A human baby whose mother’s milk is made with a low fat content to ensure frequent feedings keep baby close to mother to help that brain continue developing in the safe environment where it began. She sleeps like a baby.”)

If one wishes to make a baby’s sleeping pattern a moral issue simply add the word “good” to the question; “Is she a good sleeper?” 

If the preference is for an emphasis on the parent’s ability to control the new human being, add the sentence “Have you got her into a routine yet?” 

And if one likes to focus on the manipulating superpower of the tiny human then wording it like this is best: “Is she sleeping well for you?”

So here’s a surprise fresh from the other side: Sleep really isn’t the biggest or most interesting or even most challenging thing about becoming a parent. 

Why not ask me about the love?

Ask me how many times she smiled at me today.
Let me tell you about the conversation she initiated when I was trying to change her nappy and leave the house. 
Ask me about how she challenges my hurried pace. 
Ask me about how she makes me see all the things I have missed for years. 
Let me tell you about the shaft of light she showed me on the living room wall today. 
Let me tell you about the lengthy study she took of the cushion cover we bought in Bangkok before we imagined it would engage our three month old in conversation.

This is the kind of love that allows me to let go of those clothes in my wardrobe that suddenly just don’t fit, or don’t allow me feed my baby without stripping off first.
This is a love that makes me hope that I will someday accept the scars and flab across my once gloriously smooth stomach. (Or in my FTM naivety I still think they might go away…)
This is the love that makes it acceptable to not shave my legs in six weeks. 
This is the love that normalises discussing fecal matter with your husband over dinner.

The love list goes on…  But you asked me about sleep.

It is the kind of love that pulls me from the middle of a dream-full sleep at 2.20am because it is nuzzling beside me. Again. Already. Me? Now? Seriously?

Love, sleep, love...

It is the kind of love that can heal my broken, aching, frustrated, exhausted self with the opening of big wide eyes in the morning, and that smile of recognition and delight.

Someday she will be in a bed far from home. She might be waking up and fixing that gaze of perfect love and trust on someone else. And I will not regret one wakeful moment. I will not regret one interruption. I will not regret getting up from writing this blog (at this very sentence) to pick her up and hold her and feed her. I will not lose sleep over any ‘lost’ sleep. There is no loss here there is only gain, great and glorious, albeit sometimes very tired, gain. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Poems to my Child before I'm a Mother

You don't know how lucky you are

You don't know how lucky you are

My baby, my child
You don’t know how lucky you are
That clothes wait for you, clean and ready
That there is a home outside the warm womb
With warmth and protection of its own
You don’t know how lucky you are
That your parents are not wanderers, lost and alone
That there is community and home, love waiting for you
That bombs are not falling as you grow tendons and bones
That your mum has food to eat and water to drink
So you can keep growing and knowing 
You are safe
You don’t know how lucky you are
That there is no need for us to escape
That there is no fear of war drafts for your father
or rape for your mother
You don’t know how lucky you are
That we are safe to grow you and know you
To hold you and have you
Clothe you, feed you, breathe in air that’s not filled with riots and gases

You don’t know how lucky you are

I have the will...

I have the will to be your mother
Yes, I have the will to give myself to you, to know you
I have the will to show you the world in all its beauty, wisdom and wonder

But I don’t know if my will is enough yet to fit me wholly for you
And surely you deserve to be fitted wholly 
There is no other way for me to fit you, as you grow

Surely you will stretch my will, bending it as we bond together
You are a whole person, demanding, deserving all that I can give you
After all, you are here by our invitation
And now, there is no other way for you to come
But in me and through me

I am already wholly yours, answering to your call,
Believing there is space for you and me to grow together 

After all, there is you and all that you will bring
All that you will show me
All the wisdom and wonder I had never thought to see
Surely you will make up the gaps in my will
I rely on you to play your part to fill
The cracks where I doubt 
Or I fear that I am losing myself to another
Losing myself
Losing my life
Another said, that’s the only way to gain
I will and you will
Our wills together meeting in a myriad of mistakes and mishaps
And glory
I am your mother
You are my child
Nothing will ever change that, now that it has been.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

On Love and Voting

“You just have to vote YES to marriage equality on May 22nd. You just have to. If you're gay it's obviously your right, if you're straight it doesn't effect you anyway. Just vote yes and if you're going to vote no then please delete me from your friend list on fb. I don't want people in my life who deny others their basic human rights. I feel very strongly about this.
 I apologise to all the gay people of Ireland that their right to equailty is up for debate. 
You have such patience and grace to withstand the ignorance in this country.”

This facebook post on a beautiful woman’s page caught me as I think it was supposed to catch me. Her message was clear. Her passion is evident. My message is clear. My passion is evident. My response is here.

It’s a meagre sort of tolerance that only wants tolerance for its own. 

What sort of democracy indulges in coercion? 
What sort of fight for freedom employs bullying tactics to judge and despise?
What sort of search for equality threatens to wipe out friendship and connection with anyone who holds a different perspective, a different experience, a different understanding? 
What sort of tolerance ridicules difference? 
What sort of love refuses to stand with those they find difficult to love?

I believe in a love that loves you no matter what you vote. I believe in friendship that goes deeper than political leanings and life meanings.

I am shocked that someone would want me out of their life because I am different to them. 

There is a certain irony in this being preached under a banner of equality, justice and freedom. I am disheartened that someone would choose to see the way I vote as the sum total of who I am. We are all on a journey, we are all on a way. If we cannot speak to each other authentically from where we genuinely are then where is the hope for unity? 

At the first sign of diversity, is the response to be one of closing down and shutting out?

I thought the yes campaign was all about love and equality? Aren’t they the tasty buzz words of conviction: “Make Gra the Law.”

“I don't want people in my life who deny others their basic human rights.”

I take human rights very seriously. I believe every human being is equal in value though clearly our world is jam-pack full of diversity and individuality and difference.

Is marriage a basic human right? Is freedom of choice in a democratic referendum a basic human right? Is it a basic human right to hold your own opinions, beliefs, commitments and convictions and to exercise your democratic right accordingly?

If both marriage and voting are basic human rights, then it seems to be unjust to judge those who choose to use their basic human right to vote in good conscience on their understanding of the definition of marriage.

Isn’t this referendum supposed to be about a journey towards inclusion? 
What sort of inclusion makes demands to exclude?

I have decided that I don’t like the atmosphere of exclusion and coercion mounting in my country around this referendum. I have decided that my vote will be my decision because people at some point decided my vote was worth fighting for. I have decided that a vote bullied out of me would not be a real democratic vote for freedom, equality or justice. I have decided those are things worth voting for. I have decided that anyone who really and truly believes in the innate value of every human being to be absolutely free would want to include me in that freedom.

There is a lot of talk around love in this referendum. 

Is love a basic human right? I take human rights very seriously. I believe every human being is wired for love - to love and to be loved. So, contrary to the message of this facebook post, I do want people in my life who deny others their basic human rights. I don’t want to exclude, “un-friend” or “un-love” anyone because my weakness causes me to fear or despise difference. 

When I love and am loved I want it to be without condition. Isn’t that our only hope for a world more full of love? For laws more full of love? 

It’s easy to love those who think the same as you. It’s easy to love those who vote the same as you. I want to love others regardless of their voting choices.

“If you're gay it's obviously your right”

This statement presumes a person’s democratic vote is based on their sexuality rather than their freedom to choose because they have a right to their say in this democracy. It also unfortunately stereotypes and pigeonholes everyone who identifies themselves as gay into one box and one voting agenda. From my personal experience it's a lot more complex than that. In terms of respecting individuality, originality and diversity I struggle with such an assumption. 

If your are about to whip our the homophobe card at me then first read what Keith Mills has to say in his article in the Sunday Independent (01/02/2015) where he describes himself as an agnostic gay man supporting a 'No' vote in May.” Keith shares my concern about the bullying tactics and culture of fear to speak out that surrounds this referendum:

“While I have little doubt that most of the 'out' gay community are probably in favour of a 'Yes' vote, I know that I am far from a lone voice calling for rejection, but I am one of the few willing to raise their heads above the parapet.” 

Keith like many others in this country, who are probably too petrified to say so, don’t see a re-definition of marriage as providing an obvious right to same-sex couples. In fact he actually says "it upsets me when those promoting same-sex marriage try to portray civil partnerships as a "second class marriage". That is most certainly not how I and most people I know view them."

Keith actually sees civil partnerships as better expression of his rights, saying;

"I believe that civil partnerships are a better way of reflecting the reality of most same-sex unions and the idea that a civil marriage 'one size fits all' method of legally recognising all unions fails to address the fact that the relationship that a man forms with another man is intrinsically different from the relationship that a man forms with a woman.”

He writes "that civil partnerships are a better way of legally recognising same-sex relationships and providing all the rights and entitlements that come with civil marriage and are a better way of expressing diversity.”

“...if you're straight it doesn't effect you anyway.”

Another statement narrowly based on sexual identity rather than all the other elements that make up an individual and influence their voting decisions.

There are many questions raised here that perhaps have not been considered by those who choose to only surround themselves with like-minded friends.

What if I’m a minister of religion whose duty and right by law includes performing rites of marriage to those entitled under law to marry? Should I be sent to prison for my convictions, worldview and beliefs around marriage?

If I end up in prison because my freedom of conscience is over-ruled by those claiming “equality” where is the tolerance and love for me in that?

I am straight, or so my society labels me because of my sexual orientation, and I am married in the eyes of the Christian church and the eyes of the Irish state. 

I feel very deeply that the outcome of this referendum will in fact effect me. No matter how hard I try to convince myself otherwise, I honestly feel that it will and I am filled with disappointment and sorrow at the thought of that change occurring. 

Article 41.3.1 states: “The State pledges to guard with special care the institution of marriage, on which the family is founded, and to protect it against attack.” In seeking to change the constitutional definition of marriage the State is breaking the very promise to protect the institution of marriage as it is currently defined.

I feel betrayed by the State that gave me a marriage certificate based on a definition of marriage that I signed up to under Irish law. A change to that definition of marriage does of course effect me as a married person in this country. It does not change my personal marriage but it does change the definition of how the state views my marriage. It changes what any of my future children will learn in school about marriage. It re-writes a marriage narrative that has been read in my country and culture for millennia. It does of course effect me. It is naive and insensitive to believe otherwise. 

How heterophobic has my country become? That it would label any such expression of dismay at the potential change of my country’s definition of marriage as “bigoted”, “hatred”, “inequality”… labels I have consistently heard on social and national media. 

Since when does disagreement with someone mean you hate them?

Perhaps the ferocity I am witnessing within the yes campaign is a backlash from years of homophobic, horrifically alienating and un-loving culture both in church and state. But more hate speech, such as the facebook post that prompted this blog, won’t bring the love and equality we crave.

Marriage in itself will never be a ticket to equality. Some things will never equal one another. If this referendum is passed marriage inequality will still exist. I will still not be entitled to marry a twelve year old, even if we are deeply in love and committed to one another. I will still not be entitled to marry my brother, even if all we want is to make gra the law. I will still not be equal enough to be allowed to marry my beloved who is deemed mentally unfit to make their commitment to me.

How is marriage a “basic human right” when some humans are clearly excluded completely apart from gender or sexual orientation?

People have never and will never be entitled to marry just because they are in a loving relationship. 

So skip all the emotional blackmail please, skip all the vote for this person and that person,  spare me the vote for false notions of love and equality, vote for yourself, that’s what a democratic vote is for.

But if, for some strange reason, you are looking for someone else to vote for on May 22nd, then Vote No, for me.

Vote No for my marriage 
Vote No for a marriage that is two becoming one flesh 
Vote No for a marriage that is bonded by the blood of a covenant
Vote No for the genes of my husband’s and my ancestors who will grow together when we conceive a child 

Vote No for a genuine equality that respects the differences between relationships that are physiologically and biologically different

Vote No because you know there is something different between my marriage and a same-sex relationship

Vote No out of respect and love for that diversity, for that difference. And don’t be afraid of it. 

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

The Secondhand Story

Charity shops in Ireland. Op shops in New Zealand. Thrift stores in America. 

I don't remember when I started shopping secondhand. I do remember when I committed to stop shopping firsthand. It was a realisation which I credit, unashamed of the cliched associations, with my time away travelling in other parts of the world. 

Of course, the charity shop joy had already been instilled in me long before I took off travelling. My family and friends knew of my penchant for all things thrifty and secondhand. I knew of the intense joy of scouring the rails and scoring a find. More of that in due course.

What had not been instilled in me was the full weight of injustice lining my wardrobe. I had not before been in the same city at the same time as those who make my clothes were being gunned down while they went on strike for fair wages. These sort of happenings don't seem to make it from the streets of Phnom Penh to RTE news, yet the clothes still make it to the rails of M&S Grafton Street.

Suddenly buying secondhand took on a new incentive and meaning for me, and for others.

It seemed like a wonderful solution to the clothing justice issue. I could feel rather smug about my charity shop buys, and my lack of support for the unjust garment factory systems. Not only am I avoiding buying unjustly made garments, I am also giving my money to charities! When the slightly worn label reads Made In Cambodia, I feel thankful I wasn't the one who bought this brand new. In my satisfaction for all things secondhand I avoid driving the unjust clothing market forward with one more new buy.

But somebody else did buy it new. And somebody else still made the garment. I wouldn't be buying it if it had not already been made and bought. The question remains: Was it fairly made and bought?

My secondhand shopping is really secondhand support of the injustice I condemn. I am threading my own little ethical loophole to massage my materialistic ego and cleanse my conscience at the same time.

I am living off the excess of my materialistic society. I love it. Hence the smugness.

But I have to loathe it as well as I admit that it is not the solution to the injustice engrained in the hearts of greed which feed the unfair systems.

My own heart included. I naturally want more and I want it for less.

When did more become best?
I return to the lessons of my travelling time. When I didn't have the same social situations to attend to I didn't mind so much if I wore the same outfit repeatedly. When my back and shoulders ached after walking from the bus stop into the village to find a bed for the night I suddenly felt very keen to own fewer clothes. When my sandal strap broke in India I realised the joy of renewal when ten minutes and twenty cents later a man had fixed them with some needle and thread. I realised my skin did not disintegrate or my state of contentedness decline with owning fewer clothes.

When I came home I felt shock at the bags and boxes of clothes I had completely forgotten ever owning. Many made it (back) out to the charity shop. But oh how quickly I returned to the desire for more. If I had to carry the contents of my wardrobe on my back today I would be bent in shame at my undeniable material excess. Albeit at least 80% secondhand.

Since returning home to Ireland over ten months ago I have only bought one long sleeved black top in Penneys, and this was only after searching for one in so many secondhand shops until I ran out of time and needed it for an interview the next day! And underwear, I have bought underwear. Even though the Salvation Army in NZ does stock some great Bridget Jones' knickers, I do draw the secondhand line at underwear. All of my other clothes shopping has been secondhand. 

ALL of my other clothes. 

How much of that buying has actually been needed? How much of it is fuelled by my desire for "new" things, even if they are secondhand? Yes, it is good that the money is going to charity, but am I adding fuel to the materialistic excess of society by supporting the very system of excess itself? I am continuously amazed at the great finds I get in secondhand shops in Ireland. It brings me great joy when I get to grab what others throwaway, sometimes even with the labels and packaging still on - brand new secondhand!

But it brings me sorrow to consider the undercurrent of greed and thoughtlessness to the secondhand industry. Why does so much stuff get given away to charity shops in the first place? Why do we make and buy more than we need? Why do we get tired of clothes before they get tired of us?

I will continue to shop secondhand. Not just for clothing but for anything else that I can support in a second life. But I will confess that it is not simply out of virtue that I shop secondhand. I succumb to the powerful pull of the buying buzz and in doing so contribute to a cycle of material excess in my first-world society. 

I need to work on knowing the first story of my clothes, and knowing that it is a good one. I need to remember the families in Phnom Penh who grieve the loss of their loved ones who died because they asked to be paid fairly for making the clothes my society sells as fashion. Even knowing this, I confess that, after years of secondhand shopping, I find it too difficult to fork out fair trade prices for ethically made clothing that isn't even exactly what I want or need. But that's another story.

All I have in my wardrobe now is secondhand stories, and I know these second stories are good.

I know that my brown leather jacket was one I had been admiring for years but could never justify buying until it came to me in Vincent's, Greystones. I know every time I bake my pastry blind for a quiche my ceramic baking beans were someone's unopened castaway left for me in Enable Ireland, George's Street. I know my grey Nike tracksuit bottoms (Enable Ireland, two euro fifty) cheered me up, after months of searching, when I happened upon them while taking an unwanted trip to Bray to sort out a broken ring. I know the trip with my mum to that recycling centre in the summer scored a whole bag full of great clothes for me and my husband - totally free! 

My wardrobe is full of the emotion of personal finds; the people I was with, the place I was going, the unpredictability of the search and the joy of the find. My clothes are rooted in a time and place with which I can forge a personal connection and investment. That has become far more appealing to me than choosing my size off a rack of the same brand-new-freshly-shipped-from-Bangladesh.

And when my secondhand clothes get tired of me, I'll bring them back to the charity shop, and the story will continue...

Saturday, 15 November 2014

This time last year...

In the last couple of months I've been enjoying a nostalgic little habit of changing the desktop picture on my laptop to correspond with somewhere I was this time last year.

This time last year I was busy being a happy tramp, travelling, and abandoning this blog to my wonderings and wanderings at (if you are the curious sort).

Call it processing/settling/naval-gazing...whatever. I have been finding great satisfaction in creating a purpose to trawl through my travelling photos every couple of weeks in search of a new and timely photo that grabs me.

I wanted to share this current one from a rainy day arrival in Kuala Lumpur, around this time last November. Maybe after my first week of wet feet back in Dublin, this one feels meaningful.

I love the colours; the spotlit hanging bananas, the red bucket haplessly 'collecting' rain and all the other reds in the picture... the lanterns swinging, the red on the scooter, on the umbrella, on the building ahead. Did I notice there was so much red at the time? This photo makes me remember the buzz of exploring a new city coupled with the annoyance of feeling hungry and wet, walking up and down flooded, slippery tiled streets feeling confused about where to eat.

I never can tell exactly why I'll choose a particular photo from my past, but it always seems to bring into focus my present place. Often it will be a photo I don't even remember taking, until it catches my attention again, and I remember something beyond the picture itself.

So far, it has not been famous landmarks or tourist sites that make the desktop. It has been that sugarcane train I caught on camera in dusky light as it snaked passed our van in North-eastern Australia. It was that out-of-focus side-selfie shot I took of us on a spontaneous beach walk by that campsite near Byron Bay. It was that bend in the great ocean road (we don't even recall who took the photo) with the signpost and the puddle reflecting a sky that had just cleared of rain.

Choosing these photos makes me think about time. It makes me think about the time I have now and the things I will remember in time to come. The trains passing, the bends in the road, the walks on beaches whose names we don't remember. It makes me wonder at the things that seem meaningful and then wonder again at the things that really are meaningful.