smhwpf: (Default)
It is fucking scary.

Nazis, Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, gathering in large numbers, armed, chanting "blood and soil" and "Jews will not replace us", violently attacking and even murdering those who protest them.

And a President in the Whitehouse who clearly demonstrates his sympathy with them, praising the defence of monuments to those who fought to preserve slavery, and calling those who protest Fascism as bad as fascists.

While running an Administration with a clear agenda of keeping out immigrants, denying black people the vote, abandoning all efforts for promoting civil rights, and stepping up mass incarceration.

I have white privilege. I do not face the systemic oppression that people of colour face, and which the political establishment maintains and promotes, or at best takes half-hearted measures to moderate.

But I am also Jewish. Or, at least, Jewish. Christian by religion, not actively part of a Jewish community. But I, and members of my family, are very clearly on the target list of the tiki-torch wielders at Charlottesville, if not of the more respectable racists in Congress. So yes, this is not an abstract or distant issue for me.

This by way of prelude.

That Nazis, white supremacists, and their enablers in the halls of power need to be vigorously opposed is not something in question among my friends and progressive people generally. How to do so is a matter of legitimate discussion.

Should you punch the Nazi? Under what circumstances? Should protest against them be kept purely non-violent? Does using violence in return to their violence make things better or worse? I don't think the answers to these questions are as obvious for those with a modicum of human decency and political awareness as the question of whether they should be condemned and opposed.

For a Christian, Jesus's teaching and action are also a central consideration. "Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be true children of your Father in Heaven, who makes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous, and the rain to fall on good and evil alike". Or, in secular terms, there is a human being inside every Fascist, with the possibility for change, for love, for a different path to the one they're on.

That's not simply a matter of sentimental wooliness, it's a fact. Daryl Davis, the black musician who befriends KKK members, and has got 200 of them to leave the hate group, for example. Then, lately, I read a Sojourners article, Confessions of a former white supremacist, anout the group Life After Hate. There's an anecdote about one of the people in it, when he was still a Nazi, being served at McDonalds by an African-American woman, who saw the swastika tattoo on his hand, looked at him, and said "Oh. honey, you're so much better than that". And it didn't make him turn around and repent on the spot, but "That seed germinated for years until the man left white nationalism and dedicated himself to helping others leave".

[Geeking out], it sort of reminds me of when Dream of the Endless says to Hob Gadling at one of their Centennial meetings, when the latter has become a slave trader, "It is a poor thing to enslave another". That's all. And several books later we find these few sparse words likewise gnawed at Hob's soul until he stopped. [/geekery]

So yes, I believe that we should never forget the humanity even of the worst people, those who most hate us.

That does not, however, answer the question of what to do about hundreds of armed, torch-bearing Nazis gatheing in a city to march, spew hatred, intimidate, and commit acts of violence.

The first option I would rule out is "Just ignore them, they're a tiny insignificant bunch of losers who are no real threat. Just don't give them th attention".

Tell that to an African American, a Jew, an LGBT person, or a lot of straight white folks for that matter, in a town like Charlottesville where they come to play. From the articles I've read, they were an intimidating presence well before the actual day of the rally. At the rally, they surrounded a synagogue and an African American church. The synagogue was prevented from holding their Sabbath service, and went to the step of hiding away their Torah scrolls. (The police did nothing).

As for the oldest white supremacist group in the US, the KKK, they were orchestrating lynchings within living memory, with complete impunity. When Fascists gather in large numbers, they are a very serious threat.

I do not think it at all likely that explicit white supremacist groups, of the type that paraded in Charlottesville, will take over the government. I don't think we'll see a President Richard Spencer. But when we already have a government that is pushing hard against every gain people of colour have made over the past 60 years, and one of the two major US parties moving further and further to the right, embracing voter suppression and vicious misogyny and homophobia in the name of Christian Fundamentalism, these most extreme groups could play a significant role as the 'tip of the spear' of an increasingly authoritarian polity - in addition to the violence and terror they can spread at a local level.

And, well, I don't think it at all likely that actual Nazis will take political power, but the original Nazis started pretty small too. Unlikely is not the same as impossible. I'm not keen to take the risk.

So I think that left unopposed, far right groups would become more and more emboldened, dangerous, and probably bigger. They need to be confronted, in the streets, opposed and if possible shut down wherever they go, denied the possibility of becoming a more serious threat.

The police have shown, time and again, that they will not be the people to do this. Most police officers are not affiliated with the far right themselves, but they are a reactionary institution, a highly racist institution, and tend to see the left, not the right, as the ones that need to be kept down. Black Lives Matter, the Standing Rock Water Protectors, striking workers, etc., these all regularly find themselves on the wrong end of batons, tasers, tear gas and worse. Fascists far less often.

It is not primarily about beating Nazis up (satisfying as it may be when that happens), it is not about doing them injury, it is primarily about getting sufficient numbers in the streets to block their path, drown them out, make it clear that they are not welcome and will not be allowed to spread their evil, and basically get them skulking off home with their tails between their legs.

The British experience suggests that shutting Fascist groups down on the streets before they can get too big can be effective. The Battle of Cable Street in 1936, when Oswald Moseley's British Union of Fascists, aided by the police, were prevented from marching through the East End of London with its large Jewish community, by a large crowd of Jews, Communists and Socialists, and local workers, is widely seen as having been one of the factors in stemming the tide of Fascism in Britain. A generation later, when the rapidly-growing National Front tried to march through Lewisham in South London, they were likewise stopped and beaten off by left-wing counter protestors, their own internal literature shows they saw it as a defeat that harmed their momentum.

This is a small sample, and moreover there were a lot of other factors at work, and the exact role of these events in the political outcomes is of course highly debatable. I don't know in the end what is going to be most effective in stopping these groups, and nor does anyone else, for certain. But my best guess is that putting up a large and powerful street opposition to them will probably help, and that letting them rally and march unimpeded is dangerous.

If that can be done without violence, great. But, and here's the but, Nazis and their allies are not non-violent. They showed that very, very clearly in Charlottesville, as often before. They will, they do, they did, use violence, sometimes lethal violence, against those who stand in their way. So if you are going to protest against Nazis in the streets, then either you need to be willing to get beaten to a pulp, or you need to be willing to engage in self-defence, or allow those more prepared and capable to defend themselves and you.

Parts of the Civil Rights movement, led by MLK and others, did take the approach of allowing themselves to be subjected to police violence without fighting back, and it was arguably very effective at changing public opinion in favour of their cause and forcing political action. This was not the only aspect of the movement though, and I think that the Malcolm X wing, the Black Panthers, and so on, were also part of what brought about change. Who knows for sure what the balance was. But this is a rather differnent case. Bad as the police are, even less restraint can be expected from a white supremacist mob. Fighting back against a heavily armed police force in a pitched battle is generally going to be a pretty clearly losing option. Nazis can be outnumbered and beaten. This is not so much about changing public opinion in favour of equal rights, public opinion is already against the Nazis, it's about stopping an incipient movement from growing and spreading.

Besides, I don't think you're going to get too many takers for "Let's go and get our heads kicked in by Nazis".

At Charlottesville, those practicing pure non-violence and those willing to engage in self-defence found themselves in sometimes uneasy alliance; a group of clergy, of several faiths, along with Professor Cornel West and others, were among the former, linking arms, singing, putting their bodies in front of the Nazis, incredibly bravely, and willing ultimately to face the consequences. But at one critical moment when they were about to come under very serious attack, they were protected by a group of AntiFa.

West said, "The anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that. Meaning what? Meaning that you had the police holding back, on the one hand, so we couldn’t even get arrested. We were there to get arrested. We couldn’t get arrested, because the police had pulled back"

I would never, never belittle what those clergy did, or say it was worthless. I've been involved in non-violent direct action in the face of state violence. But I would certainly, like West and the others, be very glad of the AntiFa stepping in. Is that hyporcytical, to engage in active non-violence, but be willing to have others use violence to protect you? I don't know. Maybe it is. I don't actually care if it is a bit, if it can bring about positive effects. Different roles, different gifts. Not everyone is physically cut out for serious fisticuffs, whatever their ideological approach, but as I say, sheer numbers are most important (so I'm told by one who knows this stuff, anyway, and I'm inclined to believe it).

If you do have the numbers, the likelihood is that you will never have to worry about when and whether to use violence in self-defence, because when far right groups are heavily outnumbered, the police will generally form a very solid cordon around them. (Like I say, much more willing to protect the Nazis than their opponents). The Fascists will not be able to go anywherem they will be restricted to making their speeches and chanting their slogans in their little cordon, hopefully drowned out with plenty of whistles and vuvuzelas and shouting from the other side. Some of the more militant AntiFa might try to break through police lines to get at them, but those who do not wish to do so can remain with the rest of the crowd, making a joyful noise. (This is pretty much how it went down at one anti-Fascist counter protests I went to in Stockholm, although the cops kept the sides so far apart that we couldn't really drown them out.)

From everything I can gather, overwhelmingly the violence in Charlottesville was from the Nazis, and that used by the counter protesters was mostly a matter of self defence. Is going beyond that, actively seeking to attack far right gatherings, justified? Is it effective? I don't know, and I don't know. I would be unlikely to engage in it myself. Getting a bit old, and not in sufficient physical shape, apart from anything else. I'm not going to condemn those who do.

This is not all a matter of theory for me. There's a far-right 'Free Speech' rally in Boston on Saturday, I'm going on the counter-protest. It looks like there will be good numbers. 10,000 have clicked "Going", so hopefully we will be in the thousands at least, whcih will be way more than the Peach Freezers. I will be with a group of people I know. I will be prepared. I will not do anything stupid. I do not intend to be in the front lines. There's a Q&A on the Facebook page for the counter protest. One of the questions is "Are the organizers committed to non-violence?", to which the answer given is "The organizers of this event are committed to community safety, survival, and protecting marginalized communities." I am on board with this.

Where did we leave things with loving your enemies and so forth? I do believe in this. I think it is pretty crictial to calling oneself a Christian. (Though a whole lot of Christians seem to have missed that memo). it is important not to lose sight of your enemy's humanity. I do believe that hatred, even when most understandable (and sometimes emotionally unavoidable), is corrosive at an individual and a collective level. (Though the hatred of the victim for the abuser and oppressor should never be put on the same moral plane as the abuse and oppression itself).

Love of enemies is not about entertaining warm fuzzy feelings for Nazis, it is about remembering that they are also a child of God, on whom the same sun shines and rain falls, and desiring and seeking their ultimate good - part of which of course involves abandoning Nazism. I don't think it means you do not try to stop your enemies from harming you or others, especially when they are gathering in a large group with evil intent.

Incidentally, Daryl Davis's vocation of meeting and talking to Klansmen while black has not always been the safest of pursuits. He says that he's only got into a couple of physical fights as a result though, and won them both.

smhwpf: (Sandman)
Shit, but Handmaid's Tale is scary. One of the most terrifying programs I've seen.

Three episodes in. Not read the book.

Non-spoilery, but CN for slavery, rape.

So you probably know the basic premise, a plague has made the great majority of women infertile, Fundamentalist Christians have taken over the US and established a totalitarian regime, in which fertile women are enslaved as 'handmaids' to elite men and their wives who can't have children, to bear children for them. Based on the passage in Genesis 29, where Jacob has married sibling rivals Leah and Rachel, but while Leah has children, Rachel (initially) can't get pregnant and so tells Jacob to impregnate her handmaid Bilhah, who will bear children on Rachel's behalf.

It is terrifying because it is all too believable. I mean, I don't think a Christian Dominionist takeover of the US is likely, but I don't think it is impossible either; Fundamentalists are a minority, but a large and extremely determined minority, currently allied with a lot of extremely rich and powerful people, having a large if not controlling interest in the main ruling party at the moment, and they are going to be quite happy to play dirty when it's about salvation or damnation.

For them to actually take over and institute a theocracy would require some sort of massive crisis, as is the case in Handmaid's Tale. Plus all sorts of other things going their way. Far from inevitable, but far from imaginable. And it's going to take something waaaay better than the Democratic Party as currently led to stop them if they ever do get sufficiently close to power.

Handmaid's Tale is also terrifying because of how brilliantly it is shot and made. It is mostly from the point of view of Offred, one of the handmaids, and there is a constant sense of fear and oppression; literally the atmosphere is oppressive. The feeling of being completely under other's power.

(Of course there is a racial dimension to the effect this has - it is showing slavery in its full horror (and indeed sexual slavery), but this time the slave is white. Who was it that said that the definition of Dystopian fiction is when the sort of things that happen to people of colour all the time, happen to white people?)

The switching back and forth between the present day, under the theocracy, and Offred's previous life is also very effective, which makes the show even more overtly political.

The other way it's terrifying for me is that it's set in Boston! Offred comes from Brookline! One of the characters mentions having gone to the Fletcher School! (Which is where I work). One of the characters in the flashbacks mentions Davis station being closed! (Which is the station by my office). Gyaaaagh.

smhwpf: (Sandman)
We had a really powerful, eye-opening, set of testimonies at St. James last Sunday. We are having various guest preachers for the Easter season (though Holly the Rector preached on Easter Day itself), and this week it was a panel from MaeBright, a local company that

"works with state agencies, service-providing non-profits, businesses, schools, and communities that want to evaluate and improve the services they provide to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) people."

Faith groups are one of the types of organization they focus on, working with congregations that are trying to do better at being genuinely welcoming and inclusive to LGBTQ people; in our case, specifically trans and genderqueer folks.

There were four speakers, starting with the MaeBright Director, who was mainly there to say a bit about the company, and to introduce the other three on the panel, who are all trans people, and practicing Christians, and who were basically telling their stories and experiences. After the service, and the food and chat time, there was a Q&A session with the panel, for which quite a large proportion of the congregation stayed behind.

The stories were powerful and heart-rending, but it is clear that they are very, very, typical of the bullying, discrimination, violence, abuse, sexual violence and worse that trans people go through on a daily basis. And while it may pride itself on being a liberal city, Boston is far, far from being exempt from this. But as is so often the case, they were also stories of people who had come through a whole lot of shit, and still bear the wounds - I won't say they've come out "stronger", because trauma doesn't go away that easily, but with a whole load of compassion and wisdom and determination to fight and support other people going through the same.

C's story [1] struck me in particular. She's an African American trans woman, who came from a low income, very religious family, that initially rejected her when she came out (though now her mother has come round and strongly supports her, and was indeed there in the congregation). She knew she was a girl from childhood, but heard from her church how people like her were an abomination. She went through bullying, abuse, homelessness, rape, was repeatedly sacked from jobs or didn't get them in the first place because of her gender presentation, went into sex work due to a complete lack of alternatives.

She is fortunately in a much better place now, and is an active trans rights campaigner, helping run various advocacy and health advice services. And generally seems to be an utterly awesome person.

Hers was very much a religious as well as a personal and political testimony, and one thing that came through strongly was how she held onto faith throughout this, despite the church very often being the source of much of the prejudice she faced. Just how strongly she remained aware of the presence and love of God throughout it all, and determined to keep practicing her faith, so that even when she was homeless and felt there was no worshipping community where she could be at home, she would put on Gospel music on the radio on a Sunday morning, and sing and pray, and pretend she was at church. (She has now found an inclusive - or at least trying to be inclusive - church community).

The Q&A afterwards was really good I thought, with people engaging in serious discussion and listening, and not being afraid of being uncomfortable. A lot of tough issues, like intersection of race and LGBT issues, transphobia within the LGB community, as well as practical stuff like what should teachers do to support trans students.

Holly asked for a show of hands, to guide the Vestry, on putting the rainbow flag we currently have inside the churchm outside on public display, which received resounding support!

So, St. James is certainly better educated on this than we were before, and hopefully we will be making serious efforts to improve our welcome. For me,a rather belated awakening; while I know some trans andrather more  genderqueer people, and thought I had informed myself at least somewhat on some of the issues facing trans people, I think this revealed just how little time I have spent actually listening to trans people's experiences in particular. Well, I hope I will do better.

[1] She did give her name, and indeed is out there in public fora with her full name, but I hesitate to use it in a public post that she has not specifically approved.

smhwpf: (Wesley solitary)
A Catholic friend of mine posted this article on Facebook a while ago, by Jennifer Fulwiler, a Catholic, recounting a conversation with a gay friend in which she tries to explain to him the official Catholic position on gay marriage, and on homosexual relationships and sexual morality in general.

I wanted to write a response to this article, because it seems to me to come not from a place of bigotry, fear or hatred, but from a place of genuine love, though I disagree with the conclusions.

Also because, so much of the pro-gay marriage discourse one sees on social media and elsewhere, where not simply true but trite slogans, is responding to or satirizing the Evangelical opposition to same-sex relationships; “I hope you’re not wearing any polyester-cotton mixes” and so forth. Which, fair enough, a lot of the most vocal opposition to gay marriage, and a lot of the most virulent hatred against gay people, comes from the Evangelical branch of Christianity; but very little speaks to the Catholic position, which does not depend on a strict interpretation of Levitical commandments or the single, passing line in Paul’s letter to the Romans that is the sole clear New Testament reference to the subject.

Finally, because I was a Roman Catholic until fairly recently, and this was one of the issues which led me to feel that I was increasingly diverging from the Church. (I know many Catholics share my views on this but remain. For the whole story, see here.)
Read on. Long. )

Backlog

Dec. 4th, 2014 01:12 am
smhwpf: (Default)
Once again my brain is not up to substantive output. Fortunately I have a large store of photos from various places and events that I never got round to posting about at the time, so I will, much belatedly, post a few of these.

In June, I was at the 18th Annual International Conference on Economics and Security, which this year was in Perugia in Umbria.

It has a fountain and some fantastic views. )

The latter was from just outside my hotel in the historic centre. I arrived in Perugia by train from Rome. The train station is somewhere at the bottom of that view. I had the bright idea of walking from the station, with luggage. It might not have been the best idea I ever had, but it was abotu the best exercise I got this year.

Most disheartening was when I reached a point which, from the map, looked rigt by my hotel. Only to discover that it was in fact just at the bottom of that wall I'm looking over.

Perugia is very near Assisi, which I once visited interrailing with friends. The airport for both towns is St. Francis of Assisi international airport. The departure lounge vending machines have rosaries alongside the snacks.

That'll do for tonight. Gotta kep a reserve for the next brain-not-working night.

Advent

Nov. 30th, 2014 09:15 pm
smhwpf: (Treebeard)
Waaay too long since I have posted, dear LJ.

So I am going to try doing a regular daily post for Advent. You are most welcome to suggest topics, but I won't do a calendar thing, and if topics are not suggested I will just think of my own.

So, to start, Happy New Church Year, to those who mark that sort of thing. Also, Happy St. Andrew's Day.

Despite being one of the least religious countries in the world, Sweden seems to pay surprisingly much attention to the Church year. I think most people in Sweden would know that today is Första Advent (people in Britain who are not churchgoers seem to think it is tomorrow, 1st December, as that is when the calendars with pieces of chocolate behind each day start).

The lights have been going on all over town for a while already though, I think starting the weekend before Advent - this seems to be when some of the big stately homes have their Christmas markets at any rate. But there's definitely a big uptick of starts and seven-pointed (electric) candles in all the windows (including my own) from last night. And the big Christmas tree on Skeppsbron in the Old Town is alight:



I walked past it on my evening ramble today. It is, apparently, 40 metres (133 feet) high, plus an extra 4m for the star, and thus apparently one of the biggest in the world. It is decorated with 5000 lights along with sundry other stuff, and has had extra branches grafted onto it from 20 trees.

1st Advent is also (as I'm sure elsewhere) a day of many concerts, including my own choir's. A variety of Advent hymns, in Swedish, English and a bit of Latin, and Zadok the Priest to finish with something more weighty. The only context (other than a readthrough I suppose) where you will hear the words "God save the King" from my lips.

Have I only just noticed this, or is it particularly a Swedish thing, that Advent hymns are rather samey? I think we must have blessed every Davidsson and Hosie'd every Anna in the North. Anyway, all went well.

Which Churchly matters kind of brings me round to my big thing that will be happening this Advent, which is that I will be officially joining the Church of Sweden on December 10th. I've been going to a Catechumenate group this year, traditionally something for people preparing for Baptism, but in this case a fairly informal discussion group for people interested in being baptized/confirmed/joining the church/just getting to know more about their faith, etc. Anyway on the 10th is a service that is part of the programme, the "affirmation" service, where one of our group will in fact be Confirmed, we'll all make some sort of re-affirmation of faith, in my case there'll be some small thing to mark my joining the Church, and after the service I will sign the official form.

So I will officially be part of a church again. (I suppose technically I still am, as you can't actually leave the Catholic Church as such, though I suppose I have in effect excommunicated myself. Anyway, I will be part of a church that I actually go to). I'm not sure I really want to call myself a Lutheran, as Martin Luther was a right arse in many ways (though with some very important ideas of course), but the Svenska Kyrkan is not really so picky about the teachings of Luther these days so far as I can gather, so happier maybe to describe myself as "part of a Church in the Lutheran tradition" or something. Also, rather critically, "Part of a Church that has definitively decided that gays are fully equal human beings". The specific church I go to, Katarina, is also a rather big part of it. At any rate, one way and another it feels right.
smhwpf: (Treebeard)
Been slipping here - partly due to being away for the weekend in London, at a readthrough of the Lord of the Rings radio series, organized by [livejournal.com profile] mirabehn and [livejournal.com profile] mirrorshard. It was wonderful! I got to be Gandalf! (I should get a Gandalf icon along with the Treebeard one - I played Treebeard the first time Elly organized such a readthrough).

Anyhoo. There are various more substantive intellectual posts in the queue, but brain not up to that just now. So, an easier one, from the self-same [livejournal.com profile] mirabehn, who asked "Where is your favourite sacred place?"

That's a fairly easy one - has to be Iona, the Scottish island where St. Columba landed and founded his monastic community, which became the center of Celtic Christianity in northern Britain for centuries; and which is now a base for the modern-day Iona Community, a social-justice oriented ecumenical Christian community (their other base is in inner-city Glasgow). They practice a creation-centered form of Celtic Christianity that probably bares only a little more resemblance to the original than modern Celtic Paganism to its ancient inspiration, but which is no less awesome for that.

I went there with a chaplaincy trip from Warwick Uni in 1993. There was a student week, with groups from various unis.

It is of course a stunningly beautiful natural setting, and both the island and the abbey where we stayed are incredibly peaceful, spiritual, well, sacred places. The founder of the Iona Community, Rev. George MacLeod, described it as a 'thin place', where the veil between earth and heaven is weaker. Kind of like a reverse Hellmouth, if you will.

And, well, it was a powerful experience, with the music and the services and the walks round the island, and the ceilidhs, and it was where I was introduced to Single Malt Scotch, and where I first started properly encountering folk music.

Yeah, really want to go back there some time.
smhwpf: (Unwell Wesley)
Long, long time no post.

I aten't dead. Work has been rather horribly busy.

I've been gradually emerging from a long period of being in quite a bad mental state starting about 2 years ago - anxiety disorder, chiefly. (I am fairly open about it now, and various filters on my flist as well as family, quite a lot of non-LJ friends, many at work know, though this is the first time I've publicly posted about it). Getting medication, had some CBT, gradually processing stuff.

For about a year I've been in a kind of 'relapsing-remitting' state, but the remission periods have been getting longer, and the relapses more manageable. Not fully recovered yet, but, well, getting there.

Having decided to leave the Roman Catholic Church last year, I have been mostly going to my parish Church of Sweden church, Katarina church. It seems good for me in many ways. Even started going to a discussion group last year, and was looking into joining a choir and possibly joining the C of S, but Christmas plus workload getting horrendous has temporarily put a hold on that.

On which general topic, and so as not to make the post an all-about-me one, brief thoughts on the Papal resignation.

Definitely not a fan of Benedict XVI in any way. My post when he was elected made that fairly clear. But while I think a lot of his theological views are wrong and harmful, I do not think he is a monster or a Nazi or the Emperor Palpatine (funny though the joke be), and I think he is making a wise and brave decision in this. (Yeah, about the one thing I can praise his Papacy for is the manner of his leaving it). He is clearly a genuinely spiritual person, and a brilliant philosopher, and not all his stands are awful: he strongly opposed the Iraq war for example, and has been, like his predecessor, clearly opposed to Neoliberal forms of Capitalism. (I get the impression that he has been also somewhat more forceful in acting against child abuse in the church, though still far short of what is desired, and was actually trying to push the previous Pope further when he was right-hand man). Anyway, I am not in the least sorry he will be going, but I wish him peace in his life of contemplation in retirement.

As plenty of commentators have said, there is virtually zero chance that the next Pope will be in any sense a Liberal. What one can hope for is that he will be a Conservative who is more willing to listen and to be open to diverse views (such people do exist, believe it or not), and who will start seriously addressing the mind-set and structures in the Church that led to the child abuse scandals. I suspect that this would still require something of a miracle, but well, they do happen from time to time. The possibility of a non-European Pope is interesting and could have many positives... the fact that Peter Turkson of Ghana, one of the favourites, is head of the Pontifical Justice and Peace Council is quite positive, but more generally having a Global South perspective at the head could be a very good thing. (Though the incident where Turkson showed an alarmist YouTube vision on "Muslim Demographics" at a Bishop's conference is rather worrying; hopefully it was a one-off misjudgement rather than an indication of his overall standpoint; he does come from a country where Christian-Muslim relations seem to be generally pretty harmonious). We are not going to see any change in things like teachings on sexuality or women priests any time soon, but renewal can happen in all sorts of ways.

Even a relative liberal Pope would not see me returning to Rome, as I no longer accept the Infallibility doctrine. But the RC Church is still the largest single part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, so where it goes is still something that matters to me. Not to mention that, as a 1.2 billion strong institution with a heck of a lot of wealth, power and influence, the way it acts and how it is led has the possibility to affect an awful lot of people's lives, for good or ill.

Hopefully will manage to post a bit more, starting with this Lent. One of the things I want to do is to try to give more of my time in positive ways, which includes communicating with others through LJ.

A blessed Lent to all who mark it.
smhwpf: (Going places)
Ah well, the posting every day thing fell off rather towards the end. Still, posted way more than had been my habit.

Easter was good - didn't do a great deal. Went to the English Church in Stockholm, part of the C of E Diocese of Europe, for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Kind of wanted something reasonably familiar for Easter. Seems a good place, and very good music in particular. Don't know if it's where I'll end up yet.

Anyway, tomorrow I am off to the US, Washington DC and New York, for the launch of SIPRI's military expenditure data for 2011. Very exciting. SIPRI has just launched our new SIPRI North America branch, so we're doing a series of events in conjunction with them - the data launches in particular - to make a bit of a splash Stateside.

Apart from our own launch event, I will be doing presentations at the World Bank, a UN side-event, the US State Department, and a group of peacenik academics at a New York uni. (Somehow I think I'll enjoy the last one most).

Plus I will, albeit briefly, get to visit the family in Croton-on-Hudson and New Haven.

What with the likely substantial number of info requests from journalists, promises to be a busy week, but hopefully stuff should calm down after that.
smhwpf: (Friar Sam)
This morning I went to the main 11am service at Katarina Kyrka, the nearest (or equal nearest) Svenska Kyrkan (Church of Sweden) church to me on Södermalm. I have another picture of it, from way back, here.

Actually, the nearest church to me is Sofia Kyrka, on the hill in the park down the road from me, which is a gorgeous building, but sadly currently closed for renovations. The congregation is meeting at another church a bit further away for now. But Katarina is just 10 minutes walk away.

I've been reading up on the C of S, and so far have liked what I've seen. They have women bishops, and perform same-sex marriages, and have a strong focus on social justice and development issues. They're just now having a theme week across Södermalm on Hunger, physical and spiritual.

They're also, despite being a Lutheran church, quiet catholic in some ways. See, they had a somewhat different history to the German Lutheran churches, coming into being when King Gustav Vasa decided that the Swedish church would no longer accept the authority of Rome. A little like in England, except it was over the Pope refusing his choice of bishops, rather than wanting an annullment. Then latest they adopted the Lutheran credo. But they still have bishops, and indeed can claim Apostolic Succession (though they don't seem to make a thing of that), they have a fairly liturgical structure to some services (my hymn book had liturgies for various types of service, including a 'high mass' (Högmässa), which would not be that unfamiliar to an Anglican, say), and they have a strong adherence to the liturgical year. The church had candles and a crucifix in it. They also, so I'm told, have a 'high' church end. I talked to a guy at work who goes to the Svenska Kyrka (though he's American), and who knows a priest in the C of S, and he'll ask about the different congregations in Stockholm for me.

Also, they are in full communion with the Church of England as part of the Porvoo Communion.

Anyway, to the service. This one was somewhat freer form, but I'm OK with that sometimes at any rate. Started off with a Taizé chant. Good, and varied music - some congregational hymns, some by the choir (who were very good), a guy with a guitar singing a couple of songs in English - one was a rather bluesy-country version of Amazing Grace, the other I couldn't understand very well despite it being in English, but nice tune. The 'Behold the Lamb of God' from Handel's Messiah by the choir at communion. The one minus point on the music is that the congregation remained seated for all the hymns.

Good sermon. Ironically, it was a fairly Mary-themed service, being the feast of the Annunciation. They had a girl of about the right age (i.e. early teens) reading out the Gospel. Which was at the start of the service, after the opening hymn. Like I said, quite free-form. Generally understood most of what was going on in Swedish.

I received communion. I asked one of the stewards beforehand if it was OK to, as a Christian but not a member of the C of S, and she replied "You are most welcome", which I count as a definite plus over the RC attitude (though I sort of understand it).

After the service they served brunch in the parish hall. Very nice soup. The people at the table I sat at actually talked to me, which is astonishing considering this is Sweden, and specifically Stockholm.

I will not yield to the temptation to give it marks out of 10, as that is not the right attitude. Generally positive vibes, not entirely sure if it is where I will stay. There are other C of S churches to try, and I will also try the English Church (Anglican) in Stockholm, and perhaps the Methodists. Perhaps the English Church last, want to get a feel for the ones in Swedish, as if I start going to services in English I'll get lazy and stick with that.

So, thus begins my new adventures in catholicy-protestantism.

And just something to leave you with. The Porvoo Communion has a Porvoo Research Network, or PoReNe. Srsly. Oh dear. Now I've got "The internet is for..." in my head. I am so going to hell.

Blog rec

Mar. 13th, 2012 12:24 am
smhwpf: (Sandman)
Having done an epic post of longness and theological exposition and stuff, and being somewhat brain-dead tonight, I shall content myself with reccing a blog.

The Sarcastic Lutheran blog of Nadia Bolz-Weber, founding pastor of the House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver, Colorado, a "group of folks figuring out how to be a liturgical, Christo-centric, social justice oriented, queer inclusive, incarnational, contemplative, irreverent, ancient - future church with a progressive but deeply rooted theological imagination."

She says good and interesting stuff.
smhwpf: (Lion)
I do not think I can any longer remain a member of the Roman Catholic Church.

The immediate trigger factor, as you might guess, is the very strong public stand the Church is taking against same-sex marriage (not to mention a host of other reactionary positions), including in Britain, a pastoral letter from the Archbishop of Westminster, that was read out in all RC churches in England and Wales today.

More on this anon, but that is, as I say, only the trigger, the final straw if you like. It is hardly news, after all, that the RC Church is against gay marriage.

cut for theology )

tl;dr: So I had already been getting to the point where I was decidedly dubious about the doctrine of Infallibility (of the Church or the Pope), something the RC Church considers a deal-breaker. But I had basically decided to "park" these issues, as something that I had yet to come to an absolutely firm conclusion on. I didn't (don't) really want to leave my existing Church community, and still find much of value in the Catholic Church. (Though since coming to Stockholm I've been decidedly underwhelmed by the liturgy at my church).

But I've been increasingly uncomfortable about the whole issue of the Church's position on same-sex relationships. It is no longer "something where I disagree with the official church teaching", it's something where official Church teaching hurts my friends. Also, it seems to be looming larger and larger in the Church's attention.

I mean, in some senses it hadn't seemed so urgent. Until last year, I had never heard a single sermon in a Catholic church talking about homosexuality. (The first time was, as it happened, in the English-language mass in Florence cathedral while I was on holiday last summer). The English Catholic church in particular had seemed to be taking a relatively sensible and compassionate line in practice, given the constraints of the official teaching. (See e.g. here.)

But now. It is not just a matter of what the media is paying attention to, it really does seem like the Catholic Church is choosing to make the question of same-sex marriages into a key defining issue, as something into which the Church invests its energies and political capital, over other social and political issues. At Vatican and local level. I mean, the Church opposed the Iraq war, but were there letters read in every Church in England and Wales? The Church strongly supported writing off 3rd World Debt, but again, did we get a letter in every church in the land?

It gives the impression that this, opposition to gay sex, is what is truly distinctive about being a Christian. I am sure that is not what Archbishop Nichols or Pope Benedict actually think, but that's how they make it look.

I don't expect the Church to change its position on homosexuality overnight. It's an ancient, slow-moving institution. Maybe in a couple of centuries or so. But it's not as if the Roman Catholic Church - or any other institution that doesn't want to - is being asked to consecrate same-sex marriages. This whole argument about how opening up civil marriages to same-sex couples 'undermines' the whole idea of marriage is ludicrous. Most married couples will continue to be opposite-sex, and most of those will continue to have children. For those who are Catholics, the Catholic understanding of marriage will continue to play a part in their lives. Does Archbishop Nichols think that the Catholic vision of marriage is so weak that it will be destroyed by the existence of same-sex civil marriages?

Incidentally, Archbishop Nichols is right to say that marriage (from a Christian and possibly other perspectives) should be about more than the two individuals and their relationship with each other, and that it is about our fundamental humanity. But he is too limited in saying only that it is also about the creation and upbringing of children. A Christian marriage is one that invlves Christ, and is one that is therefore also facing out to the world, where the strength and love of the married couple is a means by which Christ's love may be spread. It is about hospitality, community. (And the latter two are not ideas necessarily limited to Christian marriage). And that is something that can apply to same-sex couples as much as heterosexual couples.

It is not just this issue; it is the whole RC way of looking at sexuality, gender, etc., that there are a narrowly-defined set of ways it is acceptable to be, and anything that does not conform to that is a sin. It's bullshit.

Now, in the past, whenever confronted with the latest statement of the Pope or action of the Church or scandal or whatever it was that made me wince, I've said to myself, "Yes, I don't agree with this, but I still stay with the Church because..."

But now I find that there isn't a because anymore. The issues I've been 'parking' basically mean that the reasons why I initially chose to become a Roman Catholic are no longer ones I find convincing. The stand the Church is taking on this and other issues is something I do not want to be associated with, and I no longer see a compelling reason why I need to be.

That is not to say that there are not still many things about the Catholic Church that I love - yes, I know that that is hard to comprehend for an outisder who probably sees only the negative; and there are of course still many wonderful people within the Catholic Church for whom I have the deepest admiration, whether fellow-struggling liberals or people who I might disagree with theologically but in whom I see a deep holiness and humanity. And many at St. Eugenia's I will want to stay in contact with.

But I think that, for myself, I can no longer stay.

Where do I then roam from Rome? I don't know yet. Were I in Britain, I'd probably gravitate towards the higher end of the C of E. Yes, they are pretty crap about gay issues, but at least they have two sides to the debate, and where one is 'allowed' to take a pro-equality position. Here in Sweden - well, there is an English Church in Stockholm, which I might try, or maybe the Church of Sweden, which is Lutheran, and which not only recognizes but now actually performs same-sex marriages (not that that's the only matter on which I would base a choice). There's an English service at one church, or I could see how far my Swedish has come on and try out the church down the road, St. Sofia.

Also, I really want to spend a week at the Iona Community.
smhwpf: (Sandman)
The other problem I have with the Just war approach is that it is so limited in imagination and ambition and, well, Christian hope. It's about negative peace. Placing limitations - very sensible and reasonable ones - around war, but not really exploring the positive possibilities of building peace. I mean, there's a few odd clauses hinting at that, but it's not explored. That's not to say that the theory is necessarily wrong, just limited.

I mean, as Christians we believe that Christ transformed the world by allowing Himself to be nailed to a cross, dying and rising. By meeting violence and hate with forgiveness and love and turning it upside down. It is the supreme example of non-violent resistance.

Now, that is not to say that Christians should be seeking to get themselves nailed to stuff all the time. That's the old martyrdom fallacy. There are many millions of Christians facing persecution worldwide - not always because they are Christians, still less for specifically theological reasons - very often it overlaps with ethnic or national questions. But anyhow, a great deal of the time the sensible response is not to bravely face martyrdom for the faith, which would usually achieve nothing, but simply to run like buggery. There's a large community of Iraqi Christians in nearby Södertälje, including some who go to my church, who are testimony to this.

But surely, in the light of the Gospel message, the Church should be at the forefront of looking for creative and unexpected non-violent ways of resisting evil. The key point is the second clause of the Just War criteria, namely all other means of putting an end to [the damage caused by the aggressor] must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective. What are these "all other means"? Diplomacy. Blah. Economic sanctions. Blah.

There are of course many powerful examples of creative and effective non-violent resistance, and they are not limited to the old favourites of Gandhi and MLK. But, as far as Christian practice of non-violence is concerned, it has mostly been only from the margins of the church that such things have come.

What if churches were to actually put effort into thinking, developing, and organizing (across faith boundaries naturally) for non-violent forms of mediation, intervention, resistance? (Actually, on the traditional mediation front, the institutional church has sometimes stepped up. Pope Benedict XV tried to mediate peace during WWI, with both sides rejecting his efforts as biased to the other, and it was Vatican mediation that pulled Argentina and Chile back from the brink of war in 1978.)

Or never mind churches, what if governments or the so-called international community were to devote a fraction of the resources devoted to the military to active non-violent peacemaking?

Perhaps this is not possible. Perhaps, by its nature, non-violent conflict transformation has to come from the margins. I don't know. Perhaps the Roman Catholic Church is just far, far too set in the ways of institutional power for it to be reasonable to entertain any such hopes for it. (Now he realizes this, cries the crowd).

But back to my main point: the Just War theory does not really go beyond a traditional military, state-based view of what constitutes security and how it is achieved. It places limits on the exercise of military force, but does not really question the notion that military force is what gives a nation ultimate security.

I believe, or at least hope, that there are better ways. That is not to say that there might still not be cases where none of these creative non-violent alternatives can work, when armed force might really be the only way of preventing a far greater evil (like, if the French or UN forces that were stationed in Rwanda had intervened in 1994); but we - nations, communities, faith groups, could be doing far more not just to think about but to actively prepare for the non-violent alternatives, so as to minimize the occasions where none but the violent remain.

Lent

Feb. 21st, 2012 11:42 pm
smhwpf: (Sandman)
Well, Lent begins in just under half an hour.

I have decided not to give up alcohol this year, although I've been cutting down somewhat, due to the fact that it interacts negatively with some medication. Binges definitely to be avoided.

Instead, I will give up takeaways/lunch or dinner out, when not for social purposes (max one lunch out for such purposes during working week). Exception: Sandwich/wrap/falafel etc. lunch permitted on Saturday.

And I will take up posting daily to LJ (starting a day early!) except when travel renders this unfeasible.
smhwpf: (Sandman)
On a more positive note, trawling through the endless pile of half-read emails from one political group or another in my, check out this rather awesome declaration from "Young, Jewish and Proud", the youth wing of Jewish Voice for Peace.

It was posted there for Rosh Hashanah, but I hope it is not inappropriate for the end of/night after Yom Kippur. I hope those of you who have observed it have had a meaningful fast. (And for those further west, may the last hours go easy).

Popery

Sep. 18th, 2010 05:21 pm
smhwpf: (Sandman)
I'm not living in Britain, but the current visit of Pope Benedict XVI is nonetheless pretty inescapable in most of the news media I follow, and something about which I have deeply ambivalent feelings. While I do not oppose the visit in itself, I think were I around in Britain I would be disinclined to go to a Papal mass or any of the other events surrounding the visit - although, as I shall explain, neither would I be attending the protests.

First, some background.

Why am I a Catholic? (warning, involves theology) )

The key upshot of this is that, for me, being a Catholic does not mean that I feel the need to defend everything the Church has done and is doing, or indeed hold back from severe criticism where merited, or that I need to believe everything the Church currently teaches. [2] The flipside is that neither my disagreements with Catholic teaching on issues such as homosexuality, women priests, contraception etc., and my horror at the Church's behaviour with regard to the sexual abuse of children by priests, inclines me to leave the Church. Fir me it is not like a political party, where eventually if one disagrees with its policies enough one will leave and join another.

However. There are many things on which I disagree with Church teaching and practice - and with the current Pope in particular, and many good reasons for protesting against them. They are familiar, but bear repetition.

The charge sheet )

One could add many more things to this list. All these things make for very good reasons to protest against the Pope. But for all this, I am left very uncomfortable by the "protest the Pope" movement in Britain that opposes the Pope's visit, and were I in country I would not be joining their protests.

From where I am sitting, the modern-day No-Popery movement is hostile not just to the Church's policies and abuses, but to the Cathollc faith itself, indeed to faith in general. They - or at least the majority from what I can see of their public face - do not want the Church to change; ultimately, it seems to me, they want it to disappear. Most seem to have no understanding of Chritianity of Catholicism, and have no wish to understand it.

This is of course a point of view to which they are entitled (many of you may share it), and those in particular who have been hurt by the Church are under no obligation to try to understand its better side. But it is not my point of view, and insofar as this is their agenda, it is one in which I wish no part.

There is no danger of active persecution of Catholics in Britain nowadays, and we are certainly in a position of privilege compared to say, Muslims and Jews, both of whom sometimes face physical violence on account of their beliefs. But I do see a tendency towards vilification of Catholicism (if not of Catholic, though it can be a fine line), of tarring all with the same brush, of reducing our faith to the very worst manifestations of the Church's teaching and behaviour.

I am glad to see that there are those on the atheist side of the fence who can see this. I can only end by whole-heartedly endorsing the words of Julian Baggini in the Guardian:

The kinds of protests against the pope we're seeing in the UK do not, of course, match the idiocy of Jones's pyrotechnics. But they too are creating divisions at a time when mutual understanding is already at a low, and – as the alleged terror plot exposed yesterday shows – religious tensions are at a high.

Take Britain's five million Roman Catholics. They are a very disparate bunch. Many despair of their church's stance on women priests, homosexuality, condoms and child abuse. They would also like to take this trip as an opportunity to let the pontiff know that his British flock cannot be loyal on these issues. A few have even joined the Protest the Pope campaign. But how many more could have found common cause with their secular brethren had not the latter opposed the trip outright... Instead, the impression is much more likely to be that the secularists have, once again, failed to understand the religious...

I am glad that people are protesting on the key issues that the pope has got very wrong... Right now, especially in the light of yesterday's arrests, what is needed is opposition to particular policies and actions of the pope, which is explicitly friendly to Catholics and other religious groups in general. Instead we're seeing another round of atheists versus the faithful when so much of what really matters does not divide along these lines. The cause may be just, but the current battle is creating too much collateral damage, to the image of atheism, and to the possibility of finding common cause with believers who despair of the pope as much as the protesters do.




[1] The Eastern Orthodox Churches of course share with the Roman Catholic Church the same historic continuity with the Early Church. You can make a good case for the Anglican communion as well, although I have a real problem with Kings declaring themselves head of their local churches. But I don't want to spend too much time on the finer points of theology just now.

[2] There are some teachings - such as the Incarnation, Resurrection, Trinity, etc. - that I do consider core beliefs that are part of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. Just what the boundaries of this are, and the whole Infallibility question (which is a very limited doctrine for the RC Church, although just how limited is again debated), are again Complicated and I'm having all sorts of Thoughts about this right now, which again are not directly relevant to the present discussion.
smhwpf: (Had to be there)
Was at the wedding of [livejournal.com profile] borusa and [livejournal.com profile] the_alchemist in Cambridge on Saturday, along with about... 30% of my flist.

An excellent occasion. Catriona looked Magnificent and Robert very dashing, both radiant and very much... so right. Yay for them!

The service was at Little St. Mary's, a high-as-an-elephant's-thigh Anglican church I've been to several times now on various visits, and come to appreciate very much; this service continuing the pattern. Very good choice of hymns (and ah, the singing from the whole congregation!), memorable readings by [livejournal.com profile] yvesilena and [livejournal.com profile] gnimmel...

I was in the choir, we were doing a number of anthems and bits of mass setting, including the first public performance of [livejournal.com profile] purplepiano's Honour, Riches, Marriage Blessing, which we'd previously sung at Bardcamp. (A Shakespeare setting, and a distinctly pagan element in a Christian service, with starring roles for Juno and Ceres.) A gorgeous piece. My own singing was... variable, I'd only been able to make one of the two rehearsals, so the stuff we'd not had advance PDFs of I was a bit hit and miss... but at any rate not enough to stop the choir as a whole sounding pretty darned good, I reckon.

Gorgeous mostly-veggie Gujarati cooking for the wedding feast, courtesy of friends of [livejournal.com profile] shreena's dad, too much wine, and the highlight of the reception, a concert and Ceilidh by Oysterband! Which was of course awesome. Though [livejournal.com profile] whatifoundthere and I couldn't quite work out how to wring out the dishrag. Although I think we just about got it the last time round.

And of course, chance to catch up with a reasonable proportion of the aforementioned 30% of my flist, most of seem I see far too infrequently, and some, such as the aforementioned [livejournal.com profile] whatifoundthere, that I see even further too infrequently, due to intervening oceans and continents.

Went to LSM again on Sunday morning, then hung out with various folks chez [livejournal.com profile] gnimmel and [livejournal.com profile] purplepiano until it was time to head back to Gatwick and home to Stockholm. Got home at about 2am, so a bit tired today, and hangover seems to have segued into mild cold, but a small price to pay.
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
Yay for the Church of Sweden! The Svenska Kyrkan's Synod voted yesterday to conduct same-sex marriages. This follows a law passed by the Swedish Parliament in May permitting them. 70% of the Synod voted for the proposal, and marriages can start from November.

Words

Jul. 23rd, 2009 11:01 pm
smhwpf: (Warwick)
Reply to this meme by yelling "Words!" and I will give you five words that remind me of you. Then post them in your LJ and explain what they mean to you.

My five words from [livejournal.com profile] midnightmelody:

Buffy: My number one fandom, favourite TV program of all time, source of stregngth and comforter in times of sorrow! I came into Buffy a little late, first watching it early in 2000 as I was sitting in my room in Dalston channel-hopping, and thought "Well, it sounds rather silly, but I'll give it a try!". The episode was Anne, the season 3 opener when it first showed on the BBC, and I was immediately grabbed by the cleverness of the dialogue, the reality of the characters and the understated nature of both the drama and the humour. I didn't immediately become a devotee, missing odd eps here and there, but I saw the entirety of the second half of season 3, and well before the end of that I was utterly hooked - to my mind that season, that arc, is the most perfect thing Joss has done. (There's been plenty of awesome stuff since then, stuff that in both form and themes goes beyond what was done in S3, more daring and hard-hitting, but in terms of such a long run holding together in such a coherent way and with barely a false note, that still stands out to my mind.)

I didn't join "fandom" until the end of S5, when I just had to know (or at least join in speculation about) what was going to happen and how they might bring Buffy back and so on. I think I went and bought seven tie-in novels the day after, and then started Googling Buffy, and finally encountered the BBC Buffy forum, where I met the wonderful [livejournal.com profile] mara_sho and subsequently many others, and in good time started doing what I'd sworn I never would and reading fanfic, and then writing fanfic, and finally attaining the level of insanity needed to organise Buffy readthroughs.

So yeah, 'tis quite a big thing in my life!

Folk: Music, that is. Well, that's another thing I'm quite a fan of. Probably taken over from classical as my most regular listening, though I'm still very fond of that. Always had it around to some extent, my dad was a busker and much of his repertoire was of a folky nature. Really got hooked though at Iona in 1993 when there were a pair of fair lasses who sang a gorgeous harmonised setting of The Blacksmith of their own devising, and a copy of one of the volumes of "50 songs popular in Ireland". Then on holiday with my dad in his van in Italy I spent much time poring through his copy of Colm O'Lochlainn's Irish Street Ballads and geekily learning as many as possible.

Teaching: I don't do much of it now, but I was an Economics lecturer for four years, and before that in my various postgraduate studies of maths and economics I did a lot of supervisions of undergraduates and problems classes and so forth. In my years as a volunteer with Campaign Against Arms Trade I also supported myself by being an itinerant maths tutor, travelling from house to house giving instruction to various undergraduates.

I seem to be reasonably good at it. The whole explaining complex concepts in comprehensible ways thing. My greatest triumph, I consider, was one of my freelance students whom I tutored throughout his Maths/Comp Sci degree, and who when I started lacked the most basic habits of mathematical thought, but who by the time I'd finished with him got not only a 1st but the mathematics prize for his year and who, even better, had actually started thinking like a mathematician. (He did have an awful lot of lessons, mind. In revision periods I'd sometimes be round his house every day for a week, for 4 or more hours of lessons a day.)

I like some aspects of teaching better than others: the lecturing side (for I like to hear myself talk), and the sort of problem-solving side, dealing with questions and helping students to come to the answers themselves. Not so good at the seminar-leading side, which tends to require more people skills. The other side of teaching I don't miss is, of course, marking, although it occasionally provides entertainment value.

Coffee: There is a saying in the mathematical community that the definition of a mathematician is "a cunning device for turning coffee into theorems". I am with this notion and variations thereupon. Right now I am a device (cunning or not you may judge) for turning coffee into military expenditure data.

Warwick University: My home for eight years! This was in my previous life as a mathematician. I started my undergrad degree there in 1987, then Masters, then PhD, which I gave up after two years and left in 1993 to do voluntary work, but didn't quite work up escape velocity and returned a year later to complete the PhD, before finally leaving for good in 1996.

It was a tough decision between Warwick and Cambridge, which I also got accepted by - the advantage of Warwick was the far greater flexibility of the maths degree, the ability to mix and match with units of other subjects, more after the Scottish and American fashion.

But what can I say about a place that I spent so long at in such formative years, that so moulded who I have been since? They were good years, with their ups and downs of course, met all sorts of people some of whom I'm still in touch with, got involved in all sorts of political, religious and cultural activities, bounced around all manner of ideas, became a Catholic (after my 1st year, having been a Baptist), generally spent far too much time hanging around the Chaplaincy (though it did have a baby hrand piano. And cheap tea and coffee.), ran for President of the Student Union a couple of times, chaired the SU Elections Committee that ran the elections (not in the same years I was standing of course), laughed, cried, loved (most often though not always unrequitedly), stayed up all night playing boardgames and arguing politics and religion, lived for a year in a freezing cold fungus-infested student house, and all manner of other things. Well, not all manner.

Oh, and occasionally did some maths.

So, please do cry "Words" if you would like some.
smhwpf: (Giles party weasel)
Does anyone know of a good, reasonably neutral and balanced, work on the history and theology of the Great Schism, and more generally the events and disagreements leading up to this? Or, if as is likely such a fabled beast is by its nature an impossibility, does anyone know of separate works that make reasonable attempts at fairness written from a) a Roman and b) an Eastern perspective?

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