Litmus test

Nick Spencer, in his book Asylum and Immigration: A Christian Perspective on a Polarised Debate, talks about compassion for the vulnerable being the critical litmus test of a society’s social health – a truly sobering reminder of the state of our society’s declining social health, I thought. Spencer goes on to say that

a nation should be proud rather than grudging in its acceptance of the truly vulnerable, There are few higher callings than to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and house the homeless.

Of astonishment and the necessity of exile

I was struck by these two thoughts of Anne Dufourmantelle today:

  1. Her talking about ‘the audacity that leads a philosophical utterance to make us desert those dwellings of the mind where reason lives as master, when for an instant astonishment makes reason a guest’. That’s just brilliantly put.
  2. Her insight into ‘the necessity of exile in order for “oneself as another” … to come into being’. No experience of exile – no deep transformation; that, too, makes sense to me.

Both thoughts are from Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida to Respond.

Building home together

The only thing far away

In this country, Jamaica is not quite as far
as you might think. Walking through Peckham
in London, West Moss Road in Manchester,
you pass green and yellow shops
where tie-headwomen bargain over the price
of dasheen. And beside Jamaica is Spain
selling large yellow peppers, lemon to squeeze
onto chicken. Beside Spain is Pakistan, then Egypt,
Singapore, the world … here, strangers build home
together, flood the ports with curry and papayas;
in Peckham and on Moss Road, the place smells
of more than just patty or tandoori. It smells like
Mumbai, like Castries, like Princess Street, Jamaica.
Sometimes in this country, the only thing far away
is this country.

From Kei Miller’s collection of poetry, There Is an Anger that Moves

The forgotten astonishment

the invisible walls,
the rotten masks that divide one man
from another, one man from himself,
they crumble
for one enormous moment and we glimpse
the unity that we lost, the desolation
of being man, and all its glories,
sharing bread and sun and death,
the forgotten astonishment of being alive

From Octavio Paz’s long poem Sunstone / Piedra de Sol.

Women (according to Mary)

Women come off pretty badly in Christianity. Through Original Sin they are held responsible for everything in the world since the Garden of Eden. Women are weak, unclean, condemned to bear children in pain as punishment for the failures of Eve, they are the temptresses who turn the minds of men away from God; as if women were more responsible for men’s sexual feelings than the men themselves! Like Simone de Beauvoir says, women are always the ‘other’, the real business is between a man in the sky and the men on the ground. In fact women only exist at all as a kind of divine afterthought, put together out of a spare rib to keep men company and iron their shirts, and the biggest favour they can do Christianity is not to get dirtied up with sex, stay chaste, and if they can manage to have a baby at the same time then they’re measuring up to the Christian Church’s ideal of womanhood – the Virgin Mary.

This, it has to be said, is a pretty good summary of what has unfortunately and for far too long been a prevalent attitude within Christianity. Intriguingly, this summary is offered by Mary, one of the characters in Ian McEwan’s short story ‘Psychopolis’.

Being very careful not to say what he does not mean

No matter where in the world he may be, no matter what may be his power of protest, or his means of expression, the poet finds himself ultimately where I am. Alone, silent, with the obligation of being very careful not to say what he does not mean, not to let himself be persuaded to say merely what another wants him to say, not to say what his own past work has led others to expect him to say.

Thomas Merton, Dancing in the Water of Life: Seeking Peace in the Hermitage