Sunday, December 03, 2017

Franklin Graham, the hideous but logical outcome for a false gospel

Unfortunately I don't have time right now to do diligent research or explore this adequately but I just want to put my thoughts down with a view to giving this the time it deserves at a future date.

Billy Graham holds the distinction of preaching the Gospel to more people than any man in history. On both sides of the pond he has drawn massive crowds to hear a no-nonsense, down to earth Gospel message. Well planned organisation and follow-up meant that he was no hit and run preacher and he was certainly no snake oil salesman.

By all accounts he was a loving, caring family man who lived by his principles. I have no doubt that he lived by his word and didn't seek financial gain from his ministry but he did - and handsomely. As far as I'm aware, Franklin was no prodigal son but rather the junior partner in Graham and Son who has simply carried on the family business. So what did (or would) his father have thought of Franklin challenging Obama's claim to be a Christian based certainly on political grounds but who knows what other considerations?

To misquote John Wesley (but hopefully be in the ball park), he said that if he died with £10 in his pocket he could be called a liar and a thief. By all accounts Wesley neglected his family for the Gospel. There is a suspicion that Martin Luther King Jnr strayed from the marital bed. The 'family values' ethic of Franklin Graham would no doubt make much of such awful transgressions, disregarding Jesus' lack of condemnation for the woman caught in adultery.

In contrast, Jesus' condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees is severe for those who live 'moral' lives while robbing widows and orphans and loading ordinary people with burdens these men conveniently relieved themselves of. It's no secret that Franklin pocketed a great deal of money from his Samaritans Purse initiative. And you only have to look at his lifestyle to see he is no disciple of Jesus. Let's not get into his vile bigotry and hate speech that has led to petitions to ban him from entering Britain.

I would be slow to lay any blame on a father for the ways of his errant son but in this instance I believe there is a case to answer.

Graham's final message to America contained some wonderful council: to live our faith so that the gospel can be seen as well as heard; to love and be considerate. But his call to the restoration of a Christian nation has sinister undertones. Not only does it ignore Jesus' insistance on God's kingdom not being of this world, its based on lies that the evangelical church in America insists on perpetuating.

Graham's insistance that the American nation was built on prayer and Christian values is not only pretty insulting to native Americans it also has no basis. The founding fathers had no common faith and the Constitution is largely based on Magna Carta and the the English Bill of Rights. Evangelical Christians might insist on it being based on the Ten Commandments but nothing could be further from the truth.

Even considering 'thou shalt not steal' being equivalent to laws on theft, the whole reading of the Ten Commandments begins "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God…" yet the constitution fundamentally separates state and religion. The American Constitution is strictly secular so how can it be based on a religious text? To take it further, Jesus said that the Commandments could be summed up in 2 rules: to love God and your neighbour. Then James (brother of Jesus) declares that if you break 1 commandment you break them all.

So it's check mate on that point. Then if you look into the "One nation under God" nonsense you will find that the Christendom of America, in realty, goes back to the 1950's, the time when Billy Graham burst onto the world scene. It was the age of McCarthyism and irrational fear of communism and secular humanism. It was an age when women knew their place and it was up for debate if black people should be considered fully human.

Billy Graham's insistance on a personal saviour, a personal faith and personal repentance echo the "I did it my way" mentality that has relegated American health care to below all other developed countries. None of these points is worrying on its own but the whole deal certainly raises concerns. Proclaiming a Gospel in which Jesus defines himself as "The Way the Truth and the Life" should assume that the preacher would check up on his erroneous assumptions about the founding of modern America. When Jesus launched his mission declaring good news to the poor you'd think that would feature more highly in Graham's message.

Franklin Graham not only enjoys the privilege of the Graham dynasty he also heads the Billy Graham Evangelism ministry which he shamelessly exploits politically and financially. His bigotry stems, in part, from a literal and legalistic reading of his Bible and a demagnetised moral compass. The distinguished Graham name that has stood for integrity and certainty is little more than a front for his perverse message and lavish lifestyle.

Let's not forget the shocking recorded conversation with Richard Nixon in which Billy Graham mentions that he has friends in the media who are Jewish, saying they "swarm around me and are friendly to me" and "They don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country." Billy Graham later said that he didn't recall the conversation.

Nixon And Billy Graham Anti-Semitism Caught On Tape

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Dealings Done

House of Cards

You might be aware of the Netflix series 'House of Cards' based on a British series which has a central character who speaks into the camera, giving a running commentary throughout. What makes it compelling is that his nefarious and shady dealings are contrasted with his earnest and candid account of his actions. It begins with him as a Uriah Heap like Chief Whip with designs on the Premiership and a twisted Machiavellian moral code that excuses his otherwise repulsive behaviour.

In both series a woman becomes ensnared in a power play with the protagonist and pays a very costly price for daring to call the shots. In one of those bizarre prophetic coincidences, its rather spooky how the fall of Michael Fallon (involved in a sexual harassment scandal) should be proceeded by the elevation of the Chief Whip to Secretary of Defence. Any further connections with fiction may or may not surface but what is more poetic is the fall of Kevin Spacey who starred in and produced the Netflix' "House of Cards".

In hindsight its not difficult to see the connection between Spacey and the characters he has played over the years. If you've not seen "The Usual Suspects" I don't want to throw in a spoiler but on top of him playing the part brilliantly and the plot being extremely clever we now have another talking point. It can be difficult watching House of Cards because Spacey's character, Frank Underwood, is both charming and hideous. The justifications for his abominable behaviour stick in your throat and you are left with a depressing feeling of hopelessness.

Over the last few days a real life drama has played out around Spacey. At least he admitted the offence first brought light, even with the caveat that he couldn't remember because he was drunk. But announcing his coming out in the next breath has been denounced as shoddy and pretty much a case of throwing other gay men under the bus. Now that many of his crew in House of Cards have complained about his predatory and unwelcome behaviour we are getting a fuller picture but, depressingly, the shock factor is diminished by it being one of many. The only thing that sets it apart is that the victims are men.

If you watch Alistair Campbell in interview or discussion and then flick back to Malcolm Tucker (played by Peter Capaldi) in "The Thick of It" you get a sense of the power dynamics within government. We are made painfully aware of the preponderance of ineffective and bumbling ministers whenever they are called for interview (we didn't need "Yes Minister" to illustrate that point). We are not always aware of the bully tactics of press secretaries and whips driving agendas in the corridors of power.

Scottish MP Mhairi Black (the youngest MP in Parliament) has done a brilliant job of exposing the musty old boys club that presides in Westminster. She and other female MPs often speak about the archaic misogynistic attitudes that prevail and it has been said that its not surprising there should be a culture of abuse when women are so outnumbered by men. But as much as we need a more diverse House of Commons including women, people of colour, straight and LGBT this is not about men.

Its Not About Men

In any struggle there is a spectrum of views and differing opinions on who or what is the enemy. If there is injustice there must be an enemy that is perpetrating that injustice but to achieve a successful outcome you ultimately have to defeat the generals or strategists rather than the foot soldiers who merely follow orders. The #metoo campaign has rightly challenged the attitudes of men, some of whom accepted the challenge or acknowledged the injustice and pain while others shot themselves in the foot with their naked misogyny but it must go further than that.

From my perspective it was most powerful when stories were told with little or no commentary. Obviously the Harvey Weinstein scandal was the catalyst but every movement has its season and this came on the heals of a growing acceptance that the abuse and exploitation of women must be tackled globally. Liberals and progressives are sometimes accused of hypocrisy when it comes to their agendas. When you have a solid case and a clear agenda its easy to look on those who don't agree with you as bigots and morons. Those on the right can be accused of lack of empathy but it works both ways.

I hate to be put on the spot when being asked to contribute to a cause, especially when being asked for a regular donation. Its not just about evaluating if its a good cause its also about priorities and a sense that I'm doing this because I want to rather feeling any compulsion. The same is true when I considered #metoo. I have no hesitation whatsoever in campaigning for women's rights but there was a sense from some quarters that this was a direct challenge, not altogether positive.

The Womens' March (an illustration)

The Womens' March in Washington was organised largely by women of colour following Trump's election and is about to have its first annual convention. Bernie Sanders was invited to speak, though not as a keynote speaker. This sparked outrage among some feminists, particularly the supporters of Hillary Clinton. Its quite clear that these women see Sanders as an enemy of feminism because they believe he undermined Clinton's presidential race. In their minds it was Bernie who stood between America and its first woman president and by this metric he must be a misogynist even though he has a spotless record of voting in favour of every women's rights issue in Congress. But we in the UK can vouch for the fact that having a woman leader does not, in itself, guarantee any progress in women's issues.

Not In Isolation

#metoo has undoubtedly had a positive impact and been a challenge to men who might well have been on board with what was being said but benefitted anyway from hearing so many voices in concert. But on its own it would have inevitably faded as we get bombarded with new messages competing for our limited head space and been sidelined by those who don't care to listen.

While I take no delight in the scandals themselves that are now rocking the establishment to its core, its gratifying to see all the pieces falling into place (Weinstein, #metoo, Fallon, Spacey) and houses of cards collapsing. As public opinion is shifting and new structures are being built to replace the established order its both disconcerting and hopeful because no movement succeeded in its mission in and of itself.

Its About Democracy

If Animal Farm teaches us anything its that power corrupts and simply putting a woman in charge of a corrupt system doesn't bring about meaningful change. I do believe Parliament having a 50:50 split between men and women would be much more healthy but that in itself doesn't get to the root of the problem. Just as corporations are corrupting our politics, economics and environment because of deregulation so men will abuse their power if unconstrained (or even encouraged in many cases).

Democracy is about personal empowerment rather than dictatorship from institutions or individuals. Someone who is personally empowered doesn't need to control others, exercise covert contracts or shift blame. Democracy is also about transparency and accountability.

We currently live in a pseudo democracy where democratic processes are allowed to redecorate our living spaces, move the furniture around and even landscape the garden but not fix the foundations or investigate the cellar. Abuse thrives in such a scenario where we can be preoccupied with the trivial and satisfied with moving the furniture to cover up the damp patches. Progress begins by exposing the ugliness but ultimately relies on fixing the foundations.

I don't believe a radical change can come about by targeting a group even if it comprises half the population. We are all products of our environment and while artificially constructing a positive environment (like communist regimes have) doesn't work, restructuring the foundations goes a long way to fostering a healthy society that builds itself up and works for everyone.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sea of Islands

I worked in domiciliary care for 6 months of 2010. I was lodging at the time, half an hour's walk from my nearest appointment. I walked everywhere. I did a great deal of walking.

Mare Insularum means "Sea of Islands"

The Evening Shift

This is an assignment with plenty of sit down, watch the box time. The evening shift means watching my client, making sure he doesn’t choke on anything, organising his medicines and putting him to bed. It also means sitting through Emmerdale, Eastenders and Corrie. Watching soaps sounds like a breeze except (in my case) when it feels like cruel and unusual punishment, trapped between pill drops and bedtime. That time might otherwise feel like not working except you are being paid to be there and being there is often more important than being busy.

One client, whom I have only seen once, definitely didn't want me to be there. He was paying and, to his mind, it was his usual carer that he was paying for. It took a while to persuade him that he wasn't being fobbed off with a temp but as my two hours with him progressed it turned out to be a most rewarding experience for both of us. His stories of wartime on a frigate and peacetime on the footplate of a steam locomotive were quite entertaining and by the enormous smile he left me with I figured my time with him was greatly appreciated.

In domiciliary care you get paid for your time working - when it's in your allocated time. You don't get paid for the extra bits like when you find a client drunk in the bath covered in shit and you spend two hours cleaning it up. You don't get actual breaks on the job because your employer gets paid only for allocated hours for allocated clients and the profit margins are tight. Some clients are wonderful, others horrible. Some are complex (interesting complex and odd complex) while others are straightforward. Some are grateful and others feel entitled like the old guy who seemed to think crapping himself in bed was some perverse privilege that came with senility.

My clients deserve a level of respect regardless of their behaviour, opinions or lifestyle and whether or not they are appreciative. But for this particular old man, whom I hopefully will never see again because he is on someone else's list, I have little more than contempt. Entitlement without dignity is an ugly trait. When you work in the care sector you often get asked to conduct yourself professionally. I believe most care workers do but it always grates on me when someone on a minimum wage is asked to perform to a standard way above their pay scale.

Some aspects of the job are mundane, some repetitive and tedious but on the whole its rewarding. Beyond the payback that is reflected in my bank statement is a sense of duty that should not be underestimated especially when it is practised diligently. The constraint of following instructions and protocol tempers the spirit and focuses the mind. It’s a kind of left hand - right hand scenario, removed from the context of good works which can carry with it a sense of entitlement for merely acting like a decent human being.

So the big guy's in bed, the log is filled in and I've rung in to say I'm leaving. Its 9 O'Clock and I'm off. It's a half hour's walk back to my lodgings just as it was half an hour's walk to my first gig this morning. Walking between four and six miles a day for my job and with other activities I'm Physically in good shape - this is the fittest and thinnest I've been in ages - but mentally I'm a bag of spanners.

A Bag of Spanners

The most traumatic experience of my life is hanging over me like a shroud and there is no respite. In a holding period between devastation and equilibrium, I’m in survival mode in a sea whose islands are mere stepping stones only hours apart. My duties are my saving grace because the time I have to my own thoughts, walking from client to client, is a constant mental battleground. With psychological baggage that feels crippling, my thoughts are constantly accusatory, regretful, condemning and chaotic.

My journey home takes me over a river and through a park. I can then follow the road round the estate to where I lodge or cut through a fenced ginnel. The path through the park rises in a broad path to a high point that overlooks several housing estates and the city where my clients live. Its at the high point of this path, that is also a railway embankment bordering the park, that I stop. Its a pleasant breezy evening and my mind is free wheeling, performing it's usual mental gymnastics but it feels like I've hit an intersection of ley lines, superimposed by my own private paradox where longing cannot be separated from dread.

Home is a place of beginnings and endings, where you leave from and arrive. To dwell or sojourn is to reside but that doesn’t necessarily imply permanence. Its just where you belong at that time. Everywhere else you are simply passing through and like those 40 winks that top up your sleep or the snacks that get you through to dinner, the wayside hostelry is no more than a stop gap in your journey. So when your place of lodging is the best worst place to be you experience a permanent sense of suspension like sleeping in the station waiting room with your coat as a pillow. The ambient dissonance maintains an inaudible hum so long as you are distracted by life’s busy-ness. But when you inadvertently reach out for false hope the hum envelopes you.

It’s that journey homeward, unmindful of any concept of home yet anticipating a narrow ginnel at my journey’s end, that evokes a childhood memory; not an anticipation of anything but a memory of shadows and it’s the shadows that scare me most. It’s not the fear that stops me but the need to know where that fear comes from. If I barge through this barrier that my unconscious presents, then I have ignored its message and lost an opportunity to face down the fear that thrives on anonymity.

As if this were a vote on a committee of one, I propose doubling back towards the conurbation I have just left, that gives me some comfort and a sense of framework in which I can operate with some degree of confidence. So I head back to a traditional pub of which I am familiar. It so happens that at this time there is no one that I know here still I can buy a pint, read the newspaper and distract my mind from questioning.

Mare Insularum

It might seem overly introspective to analyse each fear that I encounter, like a detective seeing a clue in every revealing snippet, carelessly dropped by those knowing more than they will admit to. But in my journey across my Mare Insularum towards a Mare Serenitatis, delivering care to others navigating their own sea of islands, it is my inquisitors who signpost my journey from brokenness.

We have all experienced trauma at some point in our lives and from that experience we know that peace is not found through angels of resolution until we have dealt with the devil's advocates. Its only in tackling the difficult and painful questions that we find satisfactory answers. There is no gift of healing, only the gift of pain through which healing is won. And as society is judged by the treatment of its most vulnerable so it is defined by the care of those whose situation challenges us most.

While dealing with my own demons of dysfunction I find myself in an organised and functional network delivering care to those who would otherwise find it impossible to maintain a tolerable existence. Its a job that sought me out and for this experience I'm grateful. On the whole I have the tools at my disposal to carry out my defined role and its in these small accomplishments that I find purpose.

I am humbled by my job, not because I'm a grunt on minimum wage, but because of the inherent value I see in every human life I encounter. It is in the respect we give to others, regardless of their circumstance, that we can correctly evaluate our own worth.

© Chris Price 2017

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Because of Grenfell this government must go

Its not because it is directly responsible for the tragedy – it clearly isn’t. Its not because the now Foreign Secretary decimated London fire services when he was Mayor. The firefighters could not have done more to prevent the towering inferno and its doubtful a more substantial number of firefighters would have resulted in a significantly different outcome. Its not because the vicious cuts to public services meant that inspections were less frequent or thorough.

However critical we are of the current government this might have happened under a previous Labour government. Yet I do believe there will be attempts to shift blame away from central government and we are well aware that party affiliation doesn’t save you from being thrown under the bus – the Conservative Parliamentary Party would gladly sacrifice lesser Tories in order to retain power.

While there is plenty of blame to be attributed to political and business figures it is possible that a Tory government could mitigate some of its excesses and introduce legislation to make another tragedy of this kind less likely. But I’m not talking about blame or even competence (though the current shower on the Tory front bench look ill equipped to organise a village fete). Not even the tardy and hollow response of Tory ministers, particularly the Prime Minister, in the face of a human and national tragedy, persuades me to put forward this proposal.

Its the response of the Grenfell survivors that persuades me. Their reluctance to accept offers of temporary accommodation speaks of insecurity and lack of trust. They have no reason to believe that any established authority can be taken at its word. They were not listened to when they predicted the disaster; why should they believe anything has changed? Their distrust is well founded and reasonable. Even though their current accommodation is temporary in the extreme and entirely unsuitable, even in the midterm, to refuse what they have been offered means that they maintain some level of control however absurd it might appear.

Anyone who has suffered a crushing loss knows that putting things right doesn’t get to the heart of our human needs. In your darkest hour you need someone who listens and understands but I am convinced that a Tory government can’t understand what the recent tragedy means to the residents of Grenfell. It has no concept of living in a free society where you have no voice, no power and very little means of controlling your life. Its a paradigm alien to the Tory mindset. When thousands take to the streets to protest cuts to public services, the monetisation of health and justice and the ravages of austerity, its response is to point the finger and call us irresponsible.

This government has overseen the destruction and dismantling of our NHS, the erosion of living standards of working people, the decimation of public services, callous and immoral sanctions of the most vulnerable in our society and, at the same time, empowered and enriched those with most wealth and power. It has no moral capital or integrity and has proved where its interests lie.

Grenfell is beyond political but its blackened husk is symbolic of a political establishment that has been completely de-oxygenated and is no longer fit for purpose either practically or morally.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Oak and Willow

My Mum was born on 14 January 1924 and died 14 June 2010

Born Edith Betty Holland, she met a man she would dedicate her life to, to honour and obey, till death do they part. Dad died in 1999 and if you knew him you would know that he was a truly great man but as they say, behind every great man…

They fitted perfectly. My Grandma used to say that they were the best mum and dad in the world and she wasn't given to flowery sentimentality. Mum was strong and resolute, not one for forgiving and forgetting. Fortunately Dad was a peacemaker - Mum the dependable, brittle, oak, Dad the strong but flexible willow. Mum had little self confidence but she had an inner strength she didn't believe she had and drew strength from the man upon whom she could utterly depend.

The last few years Mum battled with vascular dementia but she clung on to the memory of her family and husband like grim death when, by all rights, she should have slipped into blissful ignorance. My eulogy at her funeral wasn’t the recollection of one life now ended but the story of two lives and a journey. This is the story.

There once lived a young sapling named Willow Wise. He was strong and supple, brilliant and humble. He learned the ways of the wind – whistled her tunes and measured her moods. He knew the extent of the forest, its height and girth. He knew why sap rose and leaves fell. He knew where the paths led, which ones were safe and which were treacherous. He loved adventure and surprise but never ventured near the swamps and ledges.

When the great cruel wind blew through the forest he was uprooted and came to rest under the boughs of Sycamore Strong. She grew very fond of Willow as he branched and blossomed and introduced him to a precious acorn named Oak Brittle. Oak was quiet and timid but reflected the beauty of the forest with her shiny shell. At first Willow saw only his reflection until her beauty won him over and they fell in love.

Oak grew in the arms of Willow Wise. She produced many acorns and guarded them in her strong branches and sheltering leaves. Strong, brittle Oak and Wiley Willow were perfectly matched. Her guarded heart was softened by willow’s grace while he found strength in her unyielding love.

But time gives no deference to love and happiness and eventually Willow grew tired and could no longer draw nourishment from the forest floor. Oak was left with no reason to be strong and her brittleness became a burden. She would have bent like Willow if only she could but her destiny was to hollow out and only in the fragility of her shell would she yield to nature’s curtain call.

Soon Oak could not recall the willow ways. She heard the wind but from where it came she couldn’t tell. Her shiny acorn shell had given way to splintered bark and her leaves had all but fallen. But she would not be felled. Willow’s shadow had not waned and though her pithy memory had gone her resolution remained as she kept a place for him in her empty centre.

But when her brittleness was spent

She heard the willow call and bent

She paid no heed to mercy at the axes heft

But for willow’s arching grace her spirit left

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Life's a Bich and Then You diet

Dieting has never appealed to me, partly because the pseudo science that drives the diet industry has so often proved itself to be just that. Even professional dieticians fail to enable their clients when they pursue a non-holistic approach, driven by their scientific methodology which doesn't adequately address the human condition.

While it must be under-girded by science, dieting is generally more an art. It also doesn't exist as a discipline in itself, it has to be part of a lifestyle to have any hope of maintaining traction.

I first fell into the trap of thinking that losing weight was a case of mind over matter - that somehow I could think myself thin. I can now attribute that to avoidance. To engage on a proper diet I would need to declare myself fat and my girth was not something I wanted to draw attention to (for many reasons).

But what you have to realise is that people don't pay much attention to things that don't change so if you are not gaining or losing weight you don't stand out. Also, everyone has their own image of who you are. You might compare yourself to George Clooney or Beyoncé but no one else does. Your crooked nose or double chin is only ugly to those who don't like you.

But your public image is affected by your self image and you will be more attractive externally when you feel attractive internally. In part, this depends on transparency (if people don't appreciate your inner beauty its because you are simply not nice or because you are hiding it); hence my decision to go public (that sounds over dramatic). As well as making a statement of intent I genuinely wanted advice from real people rather that Google.

I wanted a diet that was not based on some modern idea that prided itself on thinking outside the box or was gratuitously counter-intuitive. I was also not interested in a club as such where I would either follow some strict rules or feel the need to justify my own deviation from them. Being a closet rebel I needed a plan that was not my invention but would allow me to be innovative.

So I settled for the GI [glycaemic index] diet (see I've stolen from the GI model but its really more of a low carb diet, partly because its much easier to source low carb than low GI and because I don't want to get nerdy on the science. I had a diet buddy who has since given up because it wasn't working for her, but I don't think I could have started successfully on my own.

I was hovering around the 199lb mark but was happy to weigh myself at 200lb on day 1. This was not a complete accident as I consciously made the decision to eat what I wanted up to the night before. Losing 5lb in the first week might have owed some to inertia but, by strategy or design, I think I got it right. Losing 1lb per day over the first 3 days was a big confidence booster.

The general plan was to combine low carbs with fat (glycaemic index vs glycaemic load). My first shop consisted of strawberries, tuna, crisp bread, créme fraiche (full fat), peppers, mushrooms, broccoli, smoked mackerel, chicken breasts, Wheat Shreds (Aldi), brown rice, cucumber and almonds. I've regularly included cheddar cheese, onions, various veg such as green beans and cauliflower. I've avoided sugar, pasta, potatoes, bread and anything low fat or diet related.

At first I was having Wheat Shreds for breakfast, swapping sugar for strawberries and créme fraiche. I've since come to realise that cereals tend to be high carb (Aldi's Wheat Shreds are low carb in contrast to Shreddies which are not). Of course there's no good reason why I should start the day on cereals so I've since gone more for the fried breakfast option.

One piece of advise I was given was to eat smaller portions and that is really important. Part of the lifestyle change is to teach your stomach restraint which means learning to be hungry and not needing to be full. However, you also have to be aware of what your body needs. So when your stomach aches and you've not eaten you probably need to eat something and hunger should not be ignored, just overridden sometimes.

One of the key factors in deciding on a plan was sustainability. It was important I had a plan that wasn't too restrictive, prescriptive or utilitarian. It had to be a real life solution that I could live with long term. It needed to be based on foods that were easily available from most outlets and allowed for stepping off the wagon from time to time. I didn't want anything that involved counts which inevitably lead to guilt trips and discouragement. So I have a system that isn't a system.

All the best plans are triangular in nature (because a triangle is the most stable shape). So in addition to low carb/medium fat meals and small portions I've been walking briskly for a minimum of 30 mins per day (or average thereof). As well as helping to burn my reserves and keeping my metabolism firing it helps psychologically. Not only does it keep me alert its a distraction from the diet.

I've only just completed 3 weeks so you can take this all with a pinch of salt. But I do believe there is sense and logic behind this which I've gleaned from years of diet watching and dabbling in the science. If you will bear with me I'll give a summary of my progress so far by way of observations.

Observation 1. Cheat like hell. You are competing only with yourself and if you need a Mars bar go for it. If you are being honest with yourself, like not robbing Peter to pay Paul or fiddling with the scales you'll find a good balance. Use your natural inclination to sin and repent to advantage.

Observation 2. Avoid the weight watching aisle like the plaque. Ignore calories completely because, of themselves, calories don't make you fat. Neither does beer make you fat though you might want to moderate wine or cider.

Observation 3. Learn to be hungry. Don't swap munching crisps, chocolate and sweets for celery and carrots. Your weight loss will not be sustainable unless you change your eating habits. Sometimes you will get the munchies but be creative. I've microwaved frozen peas for a snack. Its quick and they are sweet.

I will be doing more research but only to inform what I'm already doing. Just like our bodies don't automatically turn fat into cellulite and cholesterol from eggs doesn't automatically clog your arteries, what I read doesn't dictate how I live. I'm just beginning this new journey and hope to gain more than I lose.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Cherry on the Cake

I think its fair to say that the majority of people are religious to some degree, whether they place their faith in a deity or religious mantra or simply hold to beliefs that lack empirical evidence. None (or very few) of us have a check list of verifiable facts by which we measure every action. We even deliberately go against sound advice and received wisdom when we feel the need to satisfy an emotional compulsion that defies rational thinking but agrees with our core. We’ve all heard (or read) someone say, “I’m not a religious person but I felt the need to pray”. Its a need to appeal to a higher authority that is impartial, compassionate and wise. The heart sometimes doesn’t even need to believe, the hope that good is supreme and actually resides in some dimension is enough to get through the moment.

Many find security in organised religion even though the tenets of faith under girding it mean nothing to them or are quite unfamiliar. Nationalists often affiliate themselves to a religion, not because of its teachings but because it gives them an identity. They very often cite quasi-religious texts that adherents of that religion reject. In reality most of us create our own god like a ‘Have it Your Way’ burger. But unlike fast food, fast religion has always been with us. Religious wars owe more to expediency than religious belief. This very human way of thinking and living is not peculiar to religion.

“Peace and goodwill to all men”, though biblical, is a Christmas meme that resonates for most us but doesn’t pass the litmus test when the warmongering media presents the latest atrocity and calls us to arms. Its natural to want retribution when we feel attacked but its also natural for siblings to fight over the best seat and lash out when they don’t get their own way. Peace is only possible when we deny our baser instincts and look to higher principles. World peace is no more than a motto in a Christmas cracker if all it accomplishes is to make you feel warm and fuzzy when you are not being challenged.

For Christians, Easter centres on the physical death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (our saviour Messiah). It leaves no room for the suck-it-and-see faith of those who merely call themselves Christian. It demands the acceptance of an actual person being crucified at an actual place at a precise time in history. And if we are to be faithful to the story we also have to accept that Jesus rose as flesh and blood, not the ethereal icon that ‘lives in our hearts’. But therein lies a problem that has blighted the 20th and 21st century church – taking the Bible literally.

The discussion around literalism, errancy and reliability of the Bible can be excruciating and circular. The more you define your view the more distorted it becomes. I’ve battled with these ideas for years and I think I’ve arrived at something akin to a cherry-on-top cake with an inedible (non-negotiable) case, a distinct cherry in the middle and the rest is stodgy and malleable. My belief in a creator God is non-negotiable, the Bible as a whole is open to interpretation. The words of Jesus and the centrality of his death and resurrection define and give purpose to the whole cake. To explain how I got here is a story long in the baking; its no cake mix.

The more socially aware I become the more I see the life and teachings of Jesus come into focus, the Easter story ever evolving while the essential ingredients stay the same. I see this same model applying to the peace and democracy movement. An ideology can distort your world view and alienate you from those who think differently. Fixating on specifics or being resigned to generalisations makes you a case with no substance or a cherry with no cake. To strive for world peace you need hope but if you have a focus that shifts from side to depending on the circumstances it might as well be just a wish. The cake itself is messy in the making and will collapse many times as you strive for success.

Faith is mostly stodgy and messy. It burns and sinks, delights and disappoints. It never turns out like the picture in the book and sometimes you have to try making it without a vital ingredient. On Good Friday the cake burned and the cherry was stolen. But God had an even more glorious cake planned.