Archive for March, 2016

Easter Message: Sacrifice, what have you done lately?

March 26, 2016

What does Easter mean in an increasingly non-Christian world? What is the message you take from this long weekend? Is it only about a break from work, an excess of chocolate shaped like eggs and bunnies (or Bunyips at home), that still manages to confuse us. How does a man dying on a cross equate with chocolate, eggs and bunnies? No, it still remains a mystery.

choc bunnies

As you know I gave up God and religion some time ago but I’m not sure that I’ve given up Christianity, the ideas promulgated by Christ. Here is a neat summary of the best bits of his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:1-12) found at http://thirdway.com/love-jesus/key-teachings/

The pity is that so many Christian religions and too many ‘Christian’ people I’ve worked with over the years do not subscribe to these views. It’s probably as well to remember that Jesus was a radical, he was preaching against the status quo, he was seen as a trouble-maker, an outsider. Something tells me he might not like how his message and his person have been hijacked by organized religion. Perhaps Allah feels the same about what is happening in his name at the moment?

So, Easter, Jesus, holidays – what is the essence here in a modern world? As we know many pagan festivals were hijacked by Christianity in order to take hold in people’s lives. Thus Easter occurs in the Northern Hemisphere at the beginning of Spring. Honestly so much about Christianity and other bits of the world make sense when you live in the Northern Hemisphere. What does Spring signify – new life, new growth as we emerge from the darkness and cold of winter. There is more light, there are buds on the trees, bulbs blooming in the earth; the world is coming alive again, readying for re-birth. How handy that Jesus dies at this time of the year, so he is linked to this idea of re-birth, of life renewing itself again and again. In Oz, this bit of the puzzle doesn’t make sense, but over here it is abundantly clear. Eggs = life; bunnies = new life. Jesus = the chance to be reborn. See it does link up. Very handily too, as a cynical youth mused in class the other day, that Easter is about chocolate so people can give it up for Lent and then buy shit-loads for Easter. And do it again and again, every year. He was not that aware of the real meaning of Easter at all – seeing only the raging commercial side of it.

But I want to turn away from chocolate and cynicism for a moment and think about this idea of sacrifice; that Jesus lay down his life for us, to take our suffering so we could more easily pass into the Kingdom of Heaven, where we all want to ultimately be. Regardless of whether you subscribe to that or not, I want to consider sacrifice. We see the crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice: that a man knowingly and willingly gave up his life for others. This is not unique but it is pretty special. This is what happens in war – men fight in foreign places (usually but not always), knowing full well that they might die, that they are fighting for us, so that we will be saved.

Sacrifice is both big – like Jesus and soldiers and small – like us. Like you and me. Consider your own life, what sacrifices have you made? For your career, your health, your family. What have you actually given up for the greater good? Because that’s really what sacrifice is about, the greater good.

fencing

Being a mother, a parent is a major area of sacrifice. Many women give up their careers, or put them on hold, never quite regaining their place on the promotions ladder. But the wonder of your own child, the joy of your own family cannot be measured. We sacrifice career, sleep, our figures, our sex lives, sometimes our sanity but for the vast majority of us, it is worth it.

Being successful in life, in your chosen career also involves sacrifice. We study hard, don’t go out on the town, get by on a meager existence in some hovel or another, work in some desperate part time job to get our degree, to qualify. We watch other people out and about, having money already, not being limited and restricted in their lives as we slog our way through our degree. But the sacrifice is worth it – we have a worthwhile qualification, we have the best chance to have the career we want and the life we want.

Doctor Jac

Sacrifice here is medium term pain for long term gain. We reap the benefits of our sacrifice and our lives are usually much improved for it. The same is true for athletes who perform at the highest level – intense work and sacrifice while they strut the world stage at their magnificent best. Achievement, awards and accolades born of hard work and sacrifice.

Short term pain is something we find much harder. Giving up smoking, alcohol, dieting – sacrificing the small things of life for healthy changes seems much harder and many of us fail here. But if we can get into that zone where we see that sacrificing trivial and often damaging pleasures will lead to a long term gain then we can sacrifice these things for the greater good – for our own health.

History is littered with those who have sacrificed their lives for their beliefs, for saying things that went against the status quo, that upset acceptable wisdom. We admire this in people, the strength of their convictions, that they would rather be outcast, suffer abuse, or accept the final sacrifice – death in the name of the cause. We think of people like Nelson Mandela who sacrificed his freedom for so many years, of the suffragettes who starved themselves for the right to vote.

The troubling side of sacrifice is creeping into our work places. More and more employers are expecting their work-force to give up the rest of their lives for work, for their career. The idea of the 8 hour day, the 40 hour working week is being eroded – well the concept seems completely dead in this country! In surveys we find that teachers routinely work 60 hour weeks, nursing staff are regularly expected to work unsociable hours that do not match with a family life; young doctors are on strike because of the excessive hours they are being asked to work, and less pay and poorer conditions. There are many other professions too, which is deeply worrying. Why are so many of us being asked to live a life based on work? Why are people expected to give up their friends, their hobbies, sporting pursuits, their families for work? What sort of a world do we have if people are expected to sacrifice their lives for work – for a boss who will very quickly turn on them and leave them on the street the moment they under-perform or displease the powers that be in any way.

Sacrifice has many faces. Christ on the cross taking away the sins of man, so we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven; martyrs dying for their beliefs, soldiers at war, women sacrificing their careers for family; people sacrificing their family for work, giving up smoking for your health. But giving up chocolate for Easter is not really one.

chox

What about you, then, what sacrifices have you made to make your life, or those you love, better? Be they big or small, a personal sacrifice to help others is never wasted. This is my Easter message. Go in peace. Enjoy your chocolates too! (Images from Private Collection)

Chocolate – I still love thee: let me count the ways…

March 19, 2016

From time to time I revisit posts from the past – today is one. When the world is upsetting and things go a bit pear shaped, there’s always chocolate… so as you parade the aisles at your local supermarket deciding what to purchase or not this Easter, consider a few points about the benefits and joys of chocolate, and make sure you get some for those you love and for yourself.

Chocolate – do I love thee: let me count the ways…

Valentine’s Day is behind us, Easter is to come – both times celebrated with chocolate. If you’re the tiniest bit Catholic and guilty it’s Lent and the time to give up things and many people (mostly women, I bet) give up chocolate. So be it, I am not so inclined. Why should you give up one of life’s simplest and purest pleasures because of some out-dated notion? Anyway, most people I know take up the forsaken ‘sin’ as soon as Lent is over, so what is the point, exactly?

Let us consider the benefits of chocolate. It is now established beyond doubt that chocolate, especially dark chocolate helps you to feel good – it excites all those chemicals in the brain that keep you feeling happier and calmer. It does, in fact, help depressives. Some chocolate every day keeps the Prozac at bay.

Chocolate is not in short supply, nor does its harvesting damage the planet. So you can indulge without worrying about the Ozone Layer, the melting of the polar caps, drowning polar bears or water levels rising.

Chocolate doesn’t have to be expensive. Sure, you can spend a fortune on expensive Belgian chocolates and some exclusive hand-made brands (yes, you can tastes the difference), but you can just as easily spend less than a dollar/pound on your daily/weekly indulgence. At the moment Malteaser bunnies are 3 for a £1 – now really, that is a bargain.

chox

Chocolate is a one-size-fits-all sort of present. Very few people are unhappy to receive a box of chocolates for their birthday or Christmas. And if they are, then someone they know will help them out. It’s hard to offend someone with chocolates. Always recommended for dinner invitations.

Chocolate addiction is not a crime that blights our society. Too much chocolate does not incapacitate you, incline you to violence, kill your liver, or induce you to hurt others. At best it makes you chubby: possibly it hastens diabetes, but I don’t believe that for a moment.

Chocolate comes in many forms, to suit many situations, permutations and perturbations. Chocolate bars, shells, oranges and a plethora of confections. Chocolate biscuits cannot be overlooked – the queens being the Gaiety and the TimTam- all others are shabby wannabes. Chocolate cakes of too many varieties to list. Chocolate ice cream, of course. Hot chocolate to sip by the fire. And if you must be healthy then dip your strawberries in it!

mars cake

You can and should eat chocolate everyday. You can eat it any time of day in any quantity. But the best, I think, is at night, your little treat at the end of a long or enjoyable day – a morsel of what YOU like best.

My advice is to have a bar of Toblerone or a box of Ferrero Rocher, or a bag of Crème Eggs, or whatever you love best, hidden away somewhere from those in your family who have to eat the whole packet at once. Then you can, in quiet moments in the evening, have enough to make you feel good, but not guilty, and feel the reassuring texture and taste of chocolate warm and melting in your mouth. It’s guaranteed to give you good dreams. (Oh, but do clean your teeth properly or you’ll need to surrender your mouth to the dentist too often. Re-read  an older blog on the ‘joys’ of dentists if you need convincing.)

 

Travelling Girl … 55

March 5, 2016

Travelling Girl – the latest in an occasional series.

Travelling Girl stood in her latest London lodgings, hands on hips, surveying its cosy comfort, its sweet views of the gnarled trees in the front yard, the cars parked cheek by jowl on the road, a brisk ten minutes from the mainline train station right into the heart of the metropolis. Was it home? Well it was sanctuary at the end of another day at the interface between civilization and brutality, where she toiled relentlessly with faint glimmers of hope. Hope that was all too often overwhelmed by the idiotic edicts from government mandarins who really hadn’t the first fucking idea about what she – and armies of other like-minded endurance machines – had to deal with each day.

New flat9

Not for the first time in her life, as she looked at her belongings, did Travelling Girl wonder about her life. A small but not entirely sad or hopeless sigh escaped her lips, which at least were not pursed in anger or annoyance. No, that seemed to have passed. Although when she looked in the mirror there were worryingly deep furrows above the bridge of her nose. She didn’t like them at all. She had, she noted with some relief, arrived at a place approaching contentment. Was that simply age, she wondered, or had some sort of karmic calm found her at last?

From time to time she wondered about paths and choices and how she really came to be here, just exactly here; not really where she had expected, nor, in truth, where she wanted to be. But who was? How many of her friends and colleagues were where they wanted to be? Lunch time conversations around the ‘ladies table’ focused on frothy things like children, houses, holidays, the latest BBC drama; but always returned to the dire nature of their shared profession, the decline of it, and the encroaching darkness of their professional futures. Too many days too many of them speculated about what else they could do, what other jobs could they turn their hands to?

In idle moments she thought about home. Home was a difficult word – operating on multiple levels at once. Home had been Hobart and Darwin all at once. She had cried when she’d left her house in Darwin, house of her children, swimming pool and palm trees, fruit bats and green tree frogs. But always she’d held her home in Hobart as home as well, or was it her dad’s place on the Huon; was that her natural Tasmanian home? Home was now this bright and airy flat, but so was Tasmania. Home was constantly shifting –London, Tasmania (including that terrible flat in Queenstown – never quite a home at all), the NT, even a cottage in France. But they were physical entities; bricks and mortar, weatherboard and corrugated iron: chunks of land with trees and flowers, vegetables and animals. Home was more than that. She knew that. She also knew her speculations were far from original.

deviot view

Ideas about home had changed, hadn’t they? Once they were simple, when the kids were young and the houses were homes full of noise and mess, love and tantrums. Home was easy, it was about love, about being together with the ones you loved best in the whole world. But travelling had unhooked home, unmade a natural physical base for the growing kinder to return to.

Home was here and now. This flat full of her things, put together and arranged exactly as she wanted. Home was an old cottage in France, where an important and special man made gardens and fixed plumbing and tiled all sorts of things. Home was with him. Home was when her children were with, when they all gathered for celebrations of one colour or another. But true home, real home was far away on the other side of the world, on riverbanks in white weatherboard houses, where memories and love lived and waited patiently for them to return.

Home was there. In her heart, she knew that. She had travelled across the world, had a family, seen and done a lot of things, with still more to do, but she needed to be back there – on a riverbank in a tiny obscure state on the edge of the world. She needed to stop moving, to face some facts, and find her way home, to the place, the physical place where she felt at ease, where it was warm and comfortable and she could sit on her verandah, drinking wine, nibbling Twisties, eating BBQ beef sausages and corn fritters, watching the river run; sitting with her family, whom she loved and missed more than anything in the world, until the end of time, until she was no more.

Travelling Girl knew it was time to make plans to get home – sooner rather than later. (Images from Private collection)