Sunday, December 30, 2007

Podcast ponderings

"Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society."

Ok, I admit it, I'm becoming a podcast addict. More often than not in the mornings my brain/eyes is not up to reading, and my brain/ears is not really up for listening to music. So I listen to podcasts. The BBC do a good range - all accessible through iTunes and the BBC website - so I get my digest of Woman's Hour, Thinking Allowed and Jonathan Ross's Saturday show (I get funny look laughing out loud to that one). I am also working my way through various lectures from Princeton and Stanford through iTunesU. But recently I was trawling through the various sections trying to find some more religious studies podcasts and I came across the "Speaking of Faith" series from American Public Media. I've now downloaded the 102 back catalogue of podcasts and I'm going to work my way through them. So far I've listened to "Einstein's Ethics" and "Gay Marriage" among others.

Today as my beloved husband was driving us back down from "oop north" (6 hours), when I could bird of prey spot no more (3 buzzards, 1 buzzard/kite (looked too big to be the former), 3 Kestrels, 1 possible Hobby) I tilted the seat back, nestled into my pillow - it really is "Baby, you can sleep while I drive" - and revved up the pod. I listened to a podcast called "The New Monastics - Shane Claiborne". Anyone interested in emerging movements in Christianity should really download it and listen intently if you haven't heard of him. His book is definitely what some of my Christmas book vouchers will be spent on.

Those of you who know my given religious identification - agnostic with Pagan-Buddhist leanings (said with a rye smile) - may wonder why I still think and read so much about Christianity. Well I can give you all the superficial answers about "one of greatest social and cultural influences on human civilisation" blah blah blah etc. and I guess to a certain extent that is true. But something else fascinates me which I can never quite put my finger on... but I guess it comes down to the fact that I quite like Jesus. Biblical Jesus/myriad of historical Jesuses, I'm not fussed, I just like Jesus. I do have a soft spot for Buddha too (so don't get your hopes up guys). I'm also generally fascinated by how spiritual movements turn into religions, which then fracture, and reform and aclimatise to the many cultures that they find themselves operating in - and how would one "get back" to the essence of the spiritual movement if one wanted to operate spiritually but outside of the tradition.

Well that is what Mr Shane Claiborne and his friends seemed to be having a go at doing. Drawing on the New Testament and their own life experiences and taking the "What would Jesus do?" principle to its ultimate conclusion.

[On an aside, I really, really loathe the WWJD wrist-band thing. To me it just felt that it was just a commercialisation and commodification of an extremely deep and difficult concept into a small piece of plastic worn alongside bracelets and watches.... does wearing a band help anyone really get in touch with what living like Jesus actually might mean? I'm generally thinking not.... okay... rant over...]

So they moved away from their Churches - Protestant and Catholic - which they no longer felt were the best way to serve their God. And moved into the poorest neighbourhood in Philadelphia and basically put themselves in the way of suffering - direct, up front, face to face with the worst of 1st world poverty, homelessness and addiction. And that's where they live, and practice their faith, in a small community - of both married and single - and just do their best to live everyday the way they feel their God wants them to.

They've got involved with direct action, with wonderfully ironic causes: fighting the Catholic Church trying to kick out homeless families from an abandoned church which it had no plans to use and the criminalisation of homelessness (lie on a street to long, get arrested! Like that is really going to help).... hence the quote at the top (from Jacques Ellul courtesy of Mr Claiborne).

Anyway, that is enough random ranting and I really must go to bed as it is 1.30am... but here are some more quotes from Mr Claiborne to get you thinking....

"Not long ago, I sat and talked with some very wealthy Christians about what it means to be the church and to follow Jesus. One businessman confided, "I, too, have been thinking about following Christ and what that means … so I had this made." He pulled up his shirt-sleeve to reveal a bracelet, engraved with W.W.J.D (What Would Jesus Do?). It was custom-made of twenty-four karat gold."

"I recently surveyed people who said they were "strong followers of Jesus." Over 80 percent agreed with the statement, "Jesus spent much time with the poor." Yet only 1 percent said that they themselves spent time with the poor. We believe we are following the God of the poor — yet we never truly encounter the poor."

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Yule never guess

Yesterday Husband (reluctantly) and I attend our first pagan ritual. As I'm pretty certain now that the subject of my PhD is going to be modern paganism I thought I'd better start doing more than just reading. This is still a new and emerging religious form so there is only so much information you can get from books. No matter which approach I end up taking some kind of "participant observation" seems to be pretty likely to be involved. So I sought out a public ritual for the celebration of the Winter Solstice from one of the online networking sites. Anyone can attend but I dropped an email to the contact given and she said I was welcome to come along.

The ritual was organised by an eclectic Wiccan coven based in Surrey called the Cauldron of Cerridwen. From what I could tell their patron deities are the goddess Cerridwen and the god Cerrunos - both associated with the Celtic tradition. These fill the role of male and female deity present in mainstream Wicca.

The coven and other individuals met up at the pub in the village of Avebury. This is the location of one of England's greatest stone circles - in my mind, far more impressive than Stonehenge. It's used by a wide range for groups for varying rituals - with an official Druid "keeper of the stones".

The coven and all the bystanders - including me and Husband - formed a circle. With the leaders of the coven - male and female, not sure what they call them in this group - standing in the middle with a table laid with a black cloth, a flaming cauldron, a loaf of bread and a chalice. Words were said, and the four corners of the compass called, to establish the sacred circle. Part of the ritual was the re-enactment of the battle between the Holly King (the waning year) and the Oak King (the waxing year). Two chaps were dressed in green and did a mock fight with sticks , think Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. The Oak King won and was crowned. Then more words were said and then the circle broken. I hung around a spoke to a couple of coven members before heading back to the pub for a late lunch. As Husband commented "how English" to start and end your pagan celebration with the pub.

It was a public, light-hearted ritual and I can't say I felt any particular "spiritual energy" raised, but I'm pretty sure that wasn't the point of it. I imagine that most pagan groups only really get going in private. I'm glad I went. It helped confirm that I was studying the thing I should be studying.... but also made me wonder - how on earth am I going to get to know these groups? Well that's a problem for the New Year.

Blessed be.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A reflection for doctor/woman

One of my oldest and closest (despite the miles I hope) keeps a blog under the name doctor/woman. She is currently training to be a GP, after completing medical school and her junior doctor years. She doesn't always get to post that often, but when she does I love to hear her thoughts on her life and work... of course this is because I love and care about her... but it is also because in many ways we are very different people - not just because of our different careers - but because of our different personalities, quirks and foibles etc. We also have a lot in common, hence being good friends.

Her latest post started me writing a comment back to her, but then I realised that maybe it would require a longer reflection than would fit in that little comment box - so this post is for her (and me). I suggest if you're not familiar with doctor/woman, but are familiar with me, then you read her post first before you read this one.... otherwise this is not going to make much sense.

I believe that one of the greatest blessings of my time as an undergraduate was meeting the three wonderful women who became my friends, and were all training to be doctors. Now two are on their way to being GPs, and a third is working in gynaecology/obstetrics. I met them when they were 18. Having recently looked at some of the photographs I took of us in our first year (not many as it was before the days of digital) it makes me remember just how young we were. I feel so privileged to have been there to watch these girls become women, and to watch these students become doctors.

They are all remarkably bright, dedicated and hardworking and I admire them for so much for their tenacity and dedication to the path they chose when they were so young. But one of the things being their friend has taught me, above all else, is a lesson that I'm not sure I would have learnt had I not known them - and for that I am eternally grateful. Doctors are not superwomen/supermen. They are people, just like you and me, above all else. Medicine is the profession that holds the greatest mystique in our society. If I hadn't known these women as they grew up, and grew into their roles, then I'm not sure I would have grown to understood what it means to be a doctor.

They do know so much, and years of practice as well as education means that they do a good job and they are experts in their field. But they only have one brain, one body. Particularly those in general practice, have, by definition to be generalists not specialists. I don't go to my GP expecting her to have all the answers, but to work with me to find solutions or find someone else who might have an answer.

I so often overhear or am involved (but not contributing) to a conversation where people are dissatisfied with the medical profession. Yes, everyone, including me gets hacked off that the NHS doesn't have more money, that it has problems with organisational culture and modernisation, that we don't get enough time with our doctors when we do see them.... I have also encountered doctors who where basically arseholes, and just because they're doctors doesn't mean that that description can't apply - in fact because of their intelligence and background profile maybe there is a slightly higher proportion of arseholes in the medical profession than in the general public.... But what saddens me most is when people are criticising their doctor for not being able to solve a problem, or not knowing all the answers... I wish they'd give them a break... understand that medicine is just as much art as science.

So I have great sympathy with doctor/woman for feeling the pressure that that mystique puts on medical professionals almost unlike any other profession. I'm not sure there is much we can do about it as few people are blessed enough to have the experience I have had. But I hope she finds enough time in her "civilian" life to feel like a woman, and has enough rewarding moments from her medical life to feel like a healer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Feeling guilty

So it has not been a good couple of weeks. I woke up last Monday.... or rather I didn't as I spent that day and the following two pretty unconscious. I'd dragged myself home for one night at the weekend for my grandparents 60th wedding anniversary - which consisted of arrive at parent's house, nap, go to anniversary dinner, go to bed, come home, nap. But other than that I knew things were going down hill, just not how far down the hill I'd rolled.

By Thursday and Friday I was actually able to check my emails, catch up on the essential things that I had to be done. But a couple of hours concentration in a day was all I could muster. The weekend was similar. Helped Husband take a radiator off a wall (why did we find that so exciting?) and stripped a bit of paint from old skirting boards. Then it was back to work.

I started feeling achy, but I thought it was just the stripping having a delayed reaction - it was rather awkward to do. Then it got worse. Woke up this morning after a very crap night, feeling like a horses have been driven over my bed to pummel me in the night. So another email to my boss, saying was it ok if I worked from home today?..... why do I feel so damn guilty! He is very understanding - but as someone who is very fit and healthy how do you explain without sounding whiny? You try and describe how the brain fog feels - yesterday I came up with the lack of concentration/stamina is like when you're trying to watch a TV show when you really should be in bed and you find yourself drifting off....

I'm there and I'm paid to do a job. I have achieved a lot in 6 months - rewritten policy, built relationships, got to know the university and handled an insane Bulgarian academic on more than one occasion. So I know I have achieved something, and I don't think there has really been anything that I haven't done because I've either been off sick or not been up to my best. And yet the guilt still seeps in.... because I'm not being "normal" and I need "understanding".

I think it is probably best if I wheel out the spoon theory and maybe a few things from Action for M.E.'s publication catalogue. Even though I know he is trying his best to understand, sometimes I think that hearing how other people describe the illness might be easy to process.