Sobering thoughts

Every day I go to Tracing Rainbows, Ang’s blog, where she posts faithfully on a daily basis. She blogs about all number of topics – crafting, recycling, her family, her faith – there is always something interesting to read.

Today she writes about family – the importance of family, the joy of seeing the Thai boys, who were rescued from the cave, reunited with their families, the pain of seeing children separated from their parents by the Trump administration. Ang explains this is why she joined the protests against Donald Trump’s visit to the UK. I don’t usually comment, but today I did.

I wrote supporting her attendance at the anti-Trump protests, and said that I see Trump’s administration as evil – I find the man distasteful, his attitudes are to be decried, he appears to be racist, xenophobic, mysogynistic, a liar, and unintelligent. His government, and others like it, seem to be fuelling the far right, fascist parts of our society, giving them permission to air their fear mongering, hate filled policies and beliefs.

This chilling piece – it is long, but it is worth reading – was written by Fintan O’Toole, published in the Irish Times on July 8th

“To grasp what is going on in the world right now, we need to reflect on two things. One is that we are in a phase of trial runs. The other is that what is being trialled is fascism – a word that should be used carefully but not shirked when it is so clearly on the horizon. Forget “post-fascist” – what we are living with is pre-fascism.

It is easy to dismiss Donald Trump as an ignoramus, not least because he is. But he has an acute understanding of one thing: test marketing. He created himself in the gossip pages of the New York tabloids, where celebrity is manufactured by planting outrageous stories that you can later confirm or deny depending on how they go down. And he recreated himself in reality TV where the storylines can be adjusted according to the ratings. Put something out there, pull it back, adjust, go again.

Fascism doesn’t arise suddenly in an existing democracy. It is not easy to get people to give up their ideas of freedom and civility. You have to do trial runs that, if they are done well, serve two purposes. They get people used to something they may initially recoil from; and they allow you to refine and calibrate. This is what is happening now and we would be fools not to see it.
One of the basic tools of fascism is the rigging of elections – we’ve seen that trialled in the election of Trump, in the Brexit referendum and (less successfully) in the French presidential elections. Another is the generation of tribal identities, the division of society into mutually exclusive polarities.

Fascism does not need a majority – it typically comes to power with about forty percent support and then uses control and intimidation to consolidate that power. So it doesn’t matter if most people hate you, as long as your forty percent is fanatically committed. That’s been tested out too.

And fascism of course needs a propaganda machine so effective that it creates for its followers a universe of “alternative facts” impervious to unwanted realities. Again, the testing for this is very far advanced.
But when you’ve done all this, there is a crucial next step, usually the trickiest of all. You have to undermine moral boundaries, inure people to the acceptance of acts of extreme cruelty. Like hounds, people have to be blooded. They have to be given the taste for savagery.

Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group. This allows the members of that group to be dehumanised. Once that has been achieved, you can gradually up the ante, working through the stages from breaking windows to extermination.

People have to be given the taste for savagery. Fascism does this by building up the sense of threat from a despised out-group.

It is this next step that is being test-marketed now. It is being done in Italy by the far-right leader and minister for the interior Matteo Salvini. How would it go down if we turn away boatloads of refugees? Let’s do a screening of the rough-cut of registering all the Roma and see what buttons the audience will press. And it has been trialled by Trump: let’s see how my fans feel about crying babies in cages. I wonder how it will go down with Rupert Murdoch.

To see, as most commentary has done, the deliberate traumatisation of migrant children as a “mistake” by Trump is culpable naivety. It is a trial run – and the trial has been a huge success. Trump’s claim last week that immigrants “infest” the US is a test-marketing of whether his fans are ready for the next step-up in language, which is of course “vermin”.

And the generation of images of toddlers being dragged from their parents is a test of whether those words can be turned into sounds and pictures. It was always an experiment – it ended (but only in part) because the results were in.

And the results are quite satisfactory. There is good news on two fronts. First, Rupert Murdoch is happy with it – his Fox News mouthpieces outdid themselves in barbaric crassness: making animal noises at the mention of a Down syndrome child, describing crying children as actors. They went the whole swinish hog: even the brown babies are liars. Those sobs of anguish are typical of the manipulative behaviour of the strangers coming to infest us – should we not fear a race whose very infants can be so devious?

Second, the hardcore fans loved it: Fifty-eight percent of Republicans are in favour of this brutality. Trump’s overall approval ratings are up to 42.5 per cent.
This is greatly encouraging for the pre-fascist agenda. The blooding process has begun within the democratic world. The muscles that the propaganda machines need for defending the indefensible are being toned up. Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable.

So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality. They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.”

Let us protect our freedom with all our democratic power, and continue to be brave with everything we must face.

 

Leaving aside the problem that the use of “men” in this quotation might bring up (let’s assume that the author was talking about humankind) this is so true.

And yet…

I feel helpless. In the midst of what is going on in the world, the hate, the lies, the rise of fascism – and dear God, could what happened before happen again? Is that what we are being cajoled into supporting?! – what can I do, here in my house in the middle of France?

I suppose I can do the small things for now – supporting charities that promote love and support the homeless (PC4R), fighting where I can for justice (Amnesty International) and speaking out against even the tiniest bit of opinion that talks about refugees and migrants as “vermin” or “undeserving” Not letting it pass “because I don’t know how to say it in French”.

Leaving aside the problem that the use of “man” in this quotation might bring up (let’s assume AGAIN that the author was talking about humankind) this too is true. Every person on this earth has a part to play and we cannot, we must not, separate ourselves from the suffering of others. As Christians, as Muslims, as Jews, as atheists, as those who aren’t sure, we should be fully involved, fully implicated, fully engaged in alleviating the pain and anguish that others are experiencing.We shouldn’t see them as “other people”, or “different to us” – they are part of this earth as much as we are, and are as fully deserving of our respect and our support as our neighbour, our friends or our family.

It’s just that I don’t really know what I can do…

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Bits and bobs and 40 Acts (21 & 22)

Hello dear ones – thank you so much for your supportive and encouraging comments on my last post. They really helped me, and I appreciate the fact that you all took time to post a commernt. If you haven’t seen the comments from other people, I encourage you to go back & read them: they might help you too.

 

Yesterday I went for a short walk – a walk I’d probably do in 10 minutes took me about twice that time, and I felt quite breathless by the end of it. I will do the same today, straight after I’ve finished this post. I’m still sleeping more than normal – usually 10 – 11 hours a night, especially if I’ve taken an iboprofene. The “front door” is causing me some discomfort/pain when I lie on my side, I think because it’s getting squished up and pressed into the flesh, but that’s the side I feel most comfortable to sleep on. If I sleep on my back I get backache; if I sleep on my right side, my arthritic hip hurts! The iboprofene makes everything more comfortable, so I sleep better, but I don’t feel happy taking one every night!

Tonight we’re going to a birthday party – a 120th birthday party. But not for a very old person, but two 60 year olds! Of course, being French, it starts at 8 pm and is likely to go on until Lord-knows-when in the morning. It’s not considered a party in France if you’re not still awake when the cock crows! Thankfully, I have my illness as a perfect excuse to slip away at about 11.00 pm. “We would love to stay, but I’m afraid…” Mind you, the last big birthday party we went to they had only just served the main course at 11.00 pm, so we may not get the full meal!

Even though birthday cards aren’t really a French tradition, I have, of course, made one:

  

I hope they like it.

I don’t want to be too late to bed either, as I hope to make it to church tomorrow as well. A friend from church came over on Thursday, bringing me three hats she’d knitted for me – so, together with a lovely one that Michelle knitted, I am all set. Except my hair is showing no sign of falling out yet! I’ve got an appointment at a coiffeuse/wig shop on Tuesday too, but at the moment everything seems to be anchored to my scalp! Which might be a good thing aesthetically, but it makes me worry that the chemotherapy isn’t doing its job, as it should be killing off all the fast-growing cells, which include hair follicles and cancer cells. Oh well, I can always check up with the doctor on Thursday before my next session.

Onto 40 Acts:

ACT 21:: ACTION: Three weeks in – we’re halfway there! By now, generosity is probably sinking a little deeper into our lives. It’s a great time to put action behind our words. Think of moments when you’ve read or heard about something generous and thought, ‘That’s a nice idea,’ but never get around to doing it. Now’s the time. Only one act for today: What act have you put off over the last few weeks? What sounded like a good idea at the time, but you never got around to doing? Put it at the top of today’s to-do list.

Well, for me, the main act really is donating to Phone Credit for Refugees and Displaced Persons

This is a fantastic but tiny charity, started by one man, James. The website says: James came up with the idea while volunteering at the refugee camp in Calais known as The Jungle.  After talking regularly to people within the camp he realised that phone credit was a lifeline for many – and something he could help with from his home in Norfolk!

In the beginning, the process was very simple. James created a Facebook group, and added all his friends and some of the refugees he had met while volunteering. His goal was to have his close contacts provide phone credit to the handful of refugees he had come to know so well.

The group grew and grew, with his FB friends adding more friends, and they added more. Now over 64,000 members chip in when they can, donating £5, or more, to give credit to those who are desperate to contact their families left behind, or to contact aid agencies. This phone credit has saved the lives of vulnerable people, especially minors and women, so often targeted in camps.

Every Friday there is the Friday Conga, where everyone who can comments and donates (if possible), doing something important with FB algorithms that helps the group. I can’t always donate, I often forget to comment. But I’m going to make a concerted effort to start doing so. My Act 21 is to start saving 2€ coins, and when I have 10€ to make a donation. Can you afford to give a one-off donation to PC4R? This tells you how:

 

ACT 22: VALUED:: Today, a guaranteed way of making a difference. Talk up a service staff member. It’s such an easy chance to make a difference in someone’s day – but ask any service staff member, and you’ll hear how rarely it happens. Don’t let fear of insincerity put you off. A simple ‘You’re amazing, thank you for that!’ goes a long way when it’s well meant.  

I actually completed the Green task a couple of days ago, contacting the restaurant where we’d eaten on Saturday to compliment the waiter who had been very attentive to us. I certainly used to do this in the UK:  if I had received good service from a shop assistant I’d go to Customer Services, and say “I will complain if I receive bad service…” The face would fall “So equally I want to compliment good service…” The face would smile, and I would explain who had been helpful etc.

Sadly, France is not exactly the epitome of good customer service, with requests for help being met more often than not with a surly shrug. But I can still smile, and be polite and say Thank You to everyone who helps me, whether they do it with a smile or a shrug.

I hope everyone has a great weekend! Thank you for reading!!

Weep with Me

I know I’ve just posted, but …

With all the shittiness of the recent terror attacks, in Manchester, in Kabul, in Egypt, in London, and in other places around the world, I feel wordless.

Yet two different things have helped.

The first are the words of another blogger, Katy Boo,who always seems to have the right words to say. She writes forcefully about matters close to her heart. She does not mince words. She is funny, and she is emotional, she is an activist and she is a wordsmith. Her most recent post The Answer is Still Love is a heartfelt message of love in the face of terrorism. I urge you to go and read it.

The second is a new song by Rend Collective. “Weep with Me” is a lament, in the tradition of the Psalms, and is another message of love

As always, Rend Collective have managed to write a song that meets my need, and says what I fail to be able to say.

Listen.

Sing.

Weep.

Pray.

 

Telling the Bees

Recently I have been listening a lot to the band Big Big Train – Mr FD introduced me to them – in fact I have their music on continual loop in both cars! Lots of their songs are lovely, but I’m particularly taken with the one called “Telling the Bees”.

It reminds me of the production of “Lark Rise to Candleford” that I was involved in when we lived in Milton Keynes. A wonderful ensemble piece, which included some very talented young actors. Of course, you may also remember the TV series, but our live production was infinitely better!

In the play/book the character Queenie talks to her bees, following the ancient tradition of telling the bees of momentous events in the life of the family. This is especially true of the death of the “master” of the bees, as if they are not told, the bees may go away to find a new home, or alternatively the hive will not thrive. Wikipedia tells the story  of a family who bought a hive of bees at auction from a farmer who had recently died and, because the bees had not been “put into mourning for their late master” they were “sickly, and not likely to thrive.” However, when the new owners tied a “piece of crepe” to a stick and attached it to the hive, the bees soon recovered, an outcome that was “unhesitatingly attributed to their having been put into mourning.”

Charles Napier Hemy’s painting “Telling the Bees”

John Greenleaf Whittier’s poem, “Home Ballads” recounts this custom:

Before them, under the garden wall,
Forward and back
Went, drearily singing, the chore-girl small,
Draping each hive with a shred of black.

Trembling, I listened; the summer sun
Had the chill of snow;
For I knew she was telling the bees of one
Gone on the journey we all must go!

“Stay at home, pretty bees, fly not hence!
Mistress Mary is dead and gone!”

The Big Big Train song is a happier song, telling of the passing of responsibility from father to son, and how the bees were told of family events. The connection between nature and humankind…”the joy is in the telling the sorrow in the soul”…It is a lovely song, and I urge you to listen (video below) You too may find a new band to play on continuous loop!

My mother said ‘Listen, son…
Your father’s gone
Now the time has come
You must tell the bees he gave his life
Drape black cloth over the hives.
‘Now I am the keeper
And the years passed by
Until the day that Jenny caught my eye
I walked over and I asked her for a kiss
Sweet taste of honey on her lips
Telling the bees, telling the bees
As old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul
And the bees were told
On the day we wed
Wild flower garlands
Draped our marriage bed
Now two years on, we have our son
The bees were told and we carry onTelling the bees, telling the beesAs old as these hills and old as the stones
I feel it down to my soul

The joy is in the telling
The sorrow in the soul
Tears of happiness and sadness
Let them flow…

Telling the bees, telling the bees

I have just read this on  the blog The Pool, written by Emily Baker, regarding the attack in Manchester at the Ariana Grande concert on Monday:

There’s nothing more Mancunian than a resilient spirit. Today, our northern souls are aching for those lost, but we will think too of Manchester’s symbol of a bee – a hardworking, community-driven insect with a sting in its tail. It’s no coincidence that bees communicate through dance.

Learning that the bee is the symbol of Manchester, it seems kid of fitting (but also kind of pretentious!) to dedicate this to those who lost their lives and who are injured, or who have lost loved ones.

See the bees onthe globe up at the top!

Rather belatedly, I remember another Bee song by the Manchester band, Elbow – another favourite band. Here it is: Lost Worker Bee, it is called.

I love Elbow. We are sad that we won’t get to see them this year.

“Come be the Queen to my lost worker bee”

Act N° 20 (2017): REACT

On a day when we are considering yesterday’s events in London, when a man ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, before crashing into the barrier at Parliament, knifing and killing an unarmed police officer and then attacking other officers. He was shot and killed himself. A terrorist attack on what is being called “the heart of our democracy”.

And we react in different ways… I loved this:

People are donating to charities supporting refugees and saying “This is because I know that refugees are not terrorists”.

On the FB page of Phone Credits for Refugees & Displaced Persons there’s a post:

Deeply says condolence to the victims of terrorism in United Kingdom. It’s a coward actions their are targeting civilians”…As I pick my way through the multiple messages of outrage, condolences and love from Muslim immigrants this morning it’s obvious that those trying to divide us are not very competent at doing so…When you commit the kinds of acts that are universally offensive to all reasonable people regardless of their culture or religion, the only logical outcome is unity. Such events only serve to strengthen our feelings of solidarity for all those caught up in violence and danger where ever they are in the world…More than this, we’re each reminded to make our time count. Not only must we must be motivated and engaged in actively making good things happen, we must be more fanatical and active about organising those good things than those who organise hatred. Our apathy must be less than the apathy of people who are prepared to kill for their beliefs. Our acts of love must be even more outrageous and grab even greater attention than theirs.(My bold colour)

Brendan Cox, the husband of Jo Cox (the MP who was killed in another terrorist attack) who has always been so dignified and measured in his responses to her death has both tweeted “I don’t care about the name of the attacker. This is the name I will remember.” in response to the press release that Police had released a picture of Pc Keith Palmer, the 48-year-old husband and father killed in the attack.  Mr Cox also re-tweeted Mishal Husain’s tweet which read “The Westminster attacker is no more representative of Muslims than Jo Cox’s killer is representative of Yorkshire”

Others, of course, have reacted with anger, with insults, with hate, already calling the killer “scum”, “Islamist terror attacker”, and other things too hate-filled to post.

And the 40 Acts team reacted too, with speed and sensitivity. I am grateful for their swift response and inspiring message. It is up to us to provide love, generosity and goodness in our part of the world.

Today, the prompt reads, is not beginning as any of us planned or hoped as we hit the midway point of Lent and 40acts. Yesterday, innocent lives were lost during a senseless attack in the heart of our capital. In these moments of terror and uncertainty we must never forget that we can control one important thing, how we react. Today we’re calling on you, the 40acts community, to double down on generosity and love for others.

No options, just radical, generous love today… Wherever you are today, the most generous thing we can do is share the hope that is within us with those around us. How can you extend hope on a day like today to your colleagues, neighbours and friends? A smile at the stranger on the bus, holding open doors, putting others first. Treating stressed out colleagues to lunch, a message of support to the emergency services or your local MP. Gathering together to pray for our communities.

Love and compassion today will take many forms.

Let us not grow weary of doing good.

The meditation, which you can find over here, is truly worth reading, for its beauty, sensitivity, rightness in the face of what has happened. I wept as I read it. Plaudits to Mike, the CEO of Stewardship who had to write this. He found just the right words.

I’m at home today – it’s raining, cold and I have been to the dentist to repair my broken tooth, so I don’t feel like doing anything very much – but I will be carrying this message through further on ionto the weeks ahead.

Generosity, love, forgiveness – this must be our reaction to everyone. In the world. Around us. To a fault.

Don’t save our soul.
Pour it out like rain
on cracked, parched earth.

(Michael’s Prayers)

Acts 16, 17 and 18 (2017) – Catching Up on my thoughts.

Goodness me! I’ve slipped behind with my blog posts on 40 Acts – but I think I have reasonable excuses…

Monday I was working all day, and when I got home I did some more cleaning. Then I ate a huge amount of curry and lay on the sofa watching a recording of The Last Leg, and groaning because I’d eaten too much!

Tuesday, I spent the morning preparing lessons for the afternoon, and cleaning. (We do have a big house, and because of my bad back and poorly feet – yes, the dyshydrotic eczema is back. Oh joy! – I can only do a bit at a time.) I also prepared dinner. After my lessons I went to pick up Mr FD at the station. When we got home we had dinner & spent some time together (watching TV!!) I also had another fall,  again due to a dodgy bit of pavement. Nothing as bad as the last one, but I still bashed my knee about a bit. So I felt uninclined to do much – even blogging!

On Wednesday I was out again all day, teaching. I usually go to dance group on Wednesday but due to ongoing foot pain, I didn’t. But I was tired, as Mr FD’s hacking cough (he came back from Germany with a stinking cold) kept me awake for a good part of the night. It also kept him awake, so in the spirit of 40 Acts, I didn’t chide him or get grumpy!

 

But, having made my excuses, what did I make of the Challenges?

Act N° 17: GENERATION

An elderly person sitting alone for days; a new mum on her own with the baby and no one to share the moments and the pressure with; a teenager struggling to make friends. We’re missing out if we only interact with our own generation, and we’re leaving others isolated. Today, generosity steps out of its box as we celebrate the richness of mixing with different generations with simple acts of presence, conversation, and touch.

I remember Kezzie making a comment on last year’s similar Act, saying how boring she thought her life would be if she just mixed with people her own age. I can understand that, but I do have to say that I don’t have a largely age differentiated group of friends… From the “older” generation there is my mum – I could have phoned her, but she is away with my sister, in Berlin and Riga. Judy (my sister) posted on FB “Mum tells us that at her age it is recommended that she walks between 4 and 6 miles a week. We have made her walk 36 miles this week but there don’t appear to have been any ill effects.” Obviously my mum is in better foot-health than me! I don’t think I could walk 1 mile at the moment!!

Here is mum in Riga’s Art Nouveau museum, where apparently one can try on hats from the era. I think she looks rather dashing!

I am a tad stumped on this one, but perhaps God will push me at another time. Maybe I could take some chocolates up to the Maison de Retraite to be shared with the residents there. I will think about it.

ACT 18: PRAY

Prayer works best when we don’t think of it as a task. We don’t have to pray – we get to pray. When we understand that prayer’s a good gift from our generous Father, who’s keen to talk with us, prayer isn’t another rod on our backs, but a joy. We can be creative with how we talk to God.

Excuse me while I squirm uncomfortably.

Prayer time has always been a struggle for me – I try to find a time that “suits”; I try to find resources that inspire; I choose lovely notebooks to encourage me to write “thoughts”; I try to focus, and pray meaningfully – but every time I fail. I manage for a few days, weeks, even months – I think 3 months was my record – but it falls by the wayside because…because why? I don’t know. It is a slog, it is not a pleasure; it feels useless, dry, a waste of time…my mind wanders, I think about what we’re having for dinner…I’m not inspired…the words are trite, or so vague as to be meaningless…or, worse, forced. And I am not sure I believe that intercessionary prayer has any tangible results anyway.

So this challenge has been a challenge, and one which I have unobtrusively brushed under the carpet. If it’s right, I am sure that God will be prodding me on this front too.

ACT 19: ON TIME

What does being on time have to do with generosity? A whole heap more than you’d think. Keeping others waiting starts with a belief – however buried – that our time is worth more than theirs. We can become expert in finding reasons why our lateness is justified but do we consider the impact it has? Time to consider the generosity of punctuality. Challenging a lifestyle of lateness is a simple way to start being generous in unexpected ways. Rally yourself up to the task of being on time.

This – again – has me stumped, simply because I am generally on time. I strive to be on time for things, and feel bad if I am late. I think, as last year, this is a reminder not to get annoyed with people who are late. Our friend Gerome is an inveterate late-comer; not, I think, because he doesn’t value us, but because he spends time getting ready – perhaps because he does value us! I won’t get stressed about it. I will accept that is how it is, and be thankful for his company when it finally arrives!

Although it is suggested one might turn up early, (How about being early? Send what you need to send before the deadline, arrive early to greet your colleagues before work today, arrive early to catch friends when you hang out with them. And so on. ) I think we need to treat that suggestion with caution, and sensitivity. It depends on the event, on the people you are meeting etc. There’s no point me turning up early for lessons, for example, simply because my students won’t be ready for me! And if one turns up early at people’s houses you could cause chaos, by catching them still unprepared. So maybe be cautious there.

…and then there’s today’s Act.

On a day when we are considering yesterday’s events in London, when a man ploughed his car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, before crashing into the barrier at Parliament, knifing and killing an unarmed police officer and then attacking other officers. He was shot and killed himself. A terrorist attack on what is being called “the heart of our democracy”.

So here I am, more than a little shocked by, but inspired by the swift response and inspiring message that 40 Acts provided. It is up to us to provide love, generosity and goodness in our part of the world.

I will put it in another post.

What can we say?

Another attack on innocent people – men, women, children, Christian, Muslim, atheist, – the world pours out its sympathy, with messages of support all over Facebook, news reports unpicking every detail and examining all the facts.

Yes, it is terrible. And it is, it appears, the world we live in now.

But I honestly can’t help thinking, where were the minute-by-minute updates on the recent bomb attacks in Baghdad, for example?  Is it because this occurred in Europe? Because it brings it one step closer to home? I don’t know. But maybe now is not the time to ask the questions.

It is the time to pray for this world, for those who want to bring discord, hatred, suspicion, death and destruction. And to pray for those who want to counter that with love. Pray for Love.