Personal

What to do with the statues?

In the wake of black lives matter protests, there’s been a lot of attention given to many statues. What do we do with our lovely statues of less than lovely people?

Firstly, we should acknowledge that statues aren’t merely a historical record, and taking them down is anything but erasing history. It’s insane that people (including the PM) even try to make this argument. Adolf Hitler had a significant effect on our history, but we don’t give him a statue. We use statues to celebrate and immortalise those we hold up as heroes. They’re usually raised up for us to literally look up to.

With that out of the way, what do we do? I think we should obviously remove statues of bad people. People who we don’t want to celebrate any more. People like Bristol’s Edward Colston, merchant, philanthropist, slave trader and Tory MP.

What about, say, Winston Churchill? Churchill was a hero for the British war effort, but also a terrible racist, and arguably responsible for the deaths of millions of Indians. He was incredibly racist, even by the standards of his day (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Racial_views_of_Winston_Churchill). Should we continue to uphold him as a hero?

I think we need to acknowledge that Churchill played two different roles in two different stories. In one he was the hero, and in the other he was the villain. Does one story discount the other? Not entirely, but they can’t be neatly separated either. Was he a hero? I think it’s ok to say, “yes, but…”. Was he a villain? It’s ok to say “yes, despite…”.

In this, I think that Churchill epitomises the ambiguity of the British empire itself. An empire that did do much good, but also much evil. It’s ok to say it was both. I think the empire was more bad than good, but it’s ok to acknowledge and celebrate the good, so long as we also recognise the evil.

So should we take Churchill’s statues down? Would we be throwing out the baby with the bathwater? I don’t know. We’d take them down if he was a pedophile, so maybe we should take them down for him being a horrific racist; it’s maybe just a question of how much it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Can we celebrate him despite his racism and if we can, is that a bad sign about us?

I don’t know. Maybe Churchill doesn’t make the cut, and maybe he does. Maybe we have to learn to accept the contradictions of history and of life, and not be too quick to resolve them. If we have the patience to hold them in tension, we can learn and we can grow. The crucial thing is for us to learn, and learn from, both stories. History is complicated and the world isn’t neatly separated into good people and evil people. We need to grasp this if we are to make any progress.

God bless you!

Solidarity

It’s time to talk about racism.

Racism sucks. It’s absolutely unequivocally evil, and thinking about it makes me extremely angry. It also makes me painfully sad.

The tragic fact of the matter is that people are regularly killed for the colour of their skin. George Floyd is the latest name, but he is anything but alone in suffering this injustice. There is deep rooted cultural and systematic racism at work, and it needs to be tackled head on.

I wish that George Floyd’s death was shocking because it was unprecedented. I wish that this was an American problem and not a global problem. I wish that racism wasn’t real.

I am mixed race and have experienced racism, but, thank God, not to the level others I know have. A stranger at a train station shouted in my ear as he walked past “I think they should let all the jihadis in!” It’s fine that he thought I’m Muslim, but that he would call me a terrorist, that he would hate and fear me, fills me with rage years later. Don’t believe anyone who says Islamophobia isn’t racism. There have been other minor incidents too, but I’ll leave them.

When the police kill an innocent man, there must be a great cry of righteous indignation from all of society. If there is not, then your nation is already dead. When injustice doesn’t make you angry, you are no longer alive. Only Jesus can save you, resurrecting your anger. There is an anger which is holy, and this is it.

So we choose to join those crying out for justice. We choose to weep with those that weep. It’s our issue, because they’re our people, because all people are our people. ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ We are one society, and your problems are mine, and my problems are yours.

So get angry and go, do what you can. Join a protest, raise your voice, educate yourself, see if there’s any hint of racism in yourself and root it out, donate to a charity that’s fighting the fight, call out prejudice, pray to God. Do what you can. Right now, this is what love looks like.

God bless you 🙏🏽

Am I wasting my life?

(tl;dr: Yes, definitely)

The other day I had to delete a couple of games from my phone because I realised they were a) addictive b) taking too much of my time and c) not even very fun. So yes, I definitely tend towards wasting my time and therefore my life.

Then there’s the time I spend watching TV. Multiple hours each day in front of the box. That can’t be good. And then there’s all of the things I do and then regret.

I like to imagine that when we die, God shows us all of the stats for our earthly lives, like you can see on a video game. Things like jokes told, total time spent on mobile (excluding phone calls), friends made, friends lost, total time spent in prayer, total money donated to charity, biggest expense, total time helping others, total time laughing, total steps taken, total carbon footprint, time dominated by gluttony/lust/envy/greed/wrath/pride/sloth, total apples eaten, etc. etc., and with breakdowns for all the data over time. But I don’t think my stats would look very good.

I also like to imagine we get to see a highlights reel showing all of our best and worst moments. I’m not sure I’ll like watching my highlights reel either actually… Too much bad and not enough good.

I’m glad to say that we’re not judged on the basis of these stats or highlights, and don’t have to reach certain thresholds to enter heaven (although they maybe give a rough idea of purgatory time). But I don’t want to die and realise I wasted my life. Or even just a portion of my life.

Why did God make you? A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next. [From the Baltimore Catechism]

So what am I going to do about it?

  1. Delete any apps that waste my time
  2. Use the daily examen prayer to make sure I use my time/energy/life right each day
  3. Commit more time to prayer
  4. Watch less TV

God bless

Foxes and Goodness and God

I follow a fantastic twitter account, @hourlyFox, which posts one photo of a fox each hour. If you’re on twitter, follow it.

These foxes have taught me a profound truth: goodness is something solid and real. Sometimes I forget this. I start thinking of goodness as being something subjective, existing only in our minds, or as being just relational, existing only between things. But these foxes disprove this.

These foxes are good. God sees foxes, and sees that they are good. And they are not merely good-to-me or good-according-to-me; they are good-in-and-of-themselves. Foxes were good for millions of years before we humans even showed up.

As St Thomas said, “Goodness and being are really the same, and differ only in idea” (ST I, Q.5, Art.1). Foxes remind me of this truth. When we forget this, we can become stupidly small minded, obsessed with ourselves and with other people’s thoughts. When we are the measure and centre of the universe, the source of its meaning, our universe becomes as small as we are, and will suffocate us with its pressure.

It’s not all about me! It’s not even all about us! The universe would still be genuinely good if human beings never existed. Of course, we are good too, but not merely by our own judgments.

All of this does raise the question: who is it good to? Because as much as foxes are good in themselves, I’m not sure if the idea of “good” makes sense in a non-personal context. St Thomas links goodness with desire, which is surely tied to personhood. So can anything really be good in itself?

Yes, by being good in God. I believe that foxes being good in themselves is the same as foxes being good in God’s eyes. In fact, I believe their existence is the same as God’s knowledge/experience of them. God is not separated from reality for there to be a subjective-objective distinction. He is the non-other.

What’s more, the goodness of each fox is a participation-in and revelation-of the goodness of God, that is, God Himself.

Now we must ask: have we just shifted the existential burden onto this “God” character? Is the world small and in itself meaningless to Him, if not to us?

No. We must remember that God is perfectly humble (and this humility is Himself). Like fox cubs at play, He doesn’t act for any end beyond rejoicing in the act itself. It has no greater meaning and it needs no greater meaning. He has no greater meaning and He needs no greater meaning. He is love.

God bless you!

God loves sinners

God loves sinners.

I think this is a lot easier to accept when the sinner in question isn’t myself. When I’m the sinner, I find it impossible to accept that God really loves me, and can’t help hiding from God and trying to earn my way back into His good graces. Which I also know I can’t do.

Basically, God has to batter me down with His tenderness, to accept His merciful love. It’s impossible for me, but not for Him. The most I can do is ask Him to do this.

When we sin, we are in a state of sin, and live by the logic of sin, which is entirely incapable of understanding God’s grace and mercy. We think God is like us, judging and measuring up and seeking to exploit his friends and crush his enemies. Like Adam and Eve, we hide from God, because love doesn’t make sense to us.

Somehow God breaks through. I am put in His presence, and His merciful love breaks me down. In fact, it crucifies me. The heart of stone is shattered, and I’m set free, made alive again.

But it’s not about becoming “righteous”… In fact, I think that when I’m no longer the sinner that’s being crucified by His merciful love, I’m back in the logic of sin, and will soon commit a sin that makes that clear. Christian holiness is God’s own life in an unworthy sinner, and once we’re “worthy”, we’ve kicked Him out.

Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen

How to forgive

Recently, I realised I hadn’t properly forgiven some people. I wanted to, but couldn’t figure out how. I thought things like, “I forgive them, but they did still…” I realised that I didn’t really know what forgiveness was.

So I looked to the cross to learn, and there I saw that forgiveness means letting yourself be hurt. Jesus didn’t have to endure the cross, but He did, accepting every blow and every lash, rather than fighting the sinners attacking Him. All our sins are against Him, and so in choosing to suffer our sins, He was directly and immediately forgiving us.

So to forgive, we must allow ourselves to be wounded. Those we must forgive will be the ones who have wounded us, and are wounding us.

I think I had been thinking of forgiveness as being a matter of letting go, but now I think of it as accepting. I can’t just drop my pain, physical or otherwise, but if I accept it, if I say yes to the pain, then I’m free, and the pain, and whoever inflicted it, is no longer an enemy I can’t escape.

It feels pretty great. Unforgiveness creeps up again sometimes, but then I remember to accept the pain, and I’m free again.

And I think that that liberty is a small foretaste of the resurrection.

God bless!

Madly in love with God

I’ve been thinking a bit about the Saints today, and how they were madly in love with God. Like how young men and women fall madly in love with each other, and do stupid, foolish, and very brave things for each other. Like all our better love stories.

Like Tolkien’s Beren and Luthien, this mad love gives extraordinary courage and strength, and moves the course of world history. It is ready to risk and sacrifice everything.

Saints like Francis, Clare, Mother Teresa, Rock, Benedict Joseph Labre, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, Maximilian Kolbe, Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Anthony, Ignatius, Agnes, Cecilia, Augustine, Francis Xavier… and on and on, were just people who had fallen head over heels in love with the living God. Yes, they are heroes of our faith, but they are only heroes because they are lovers. However powerful ideals and honour and nobility may be, it is love and only love that is capable of the ultimate heroism.

But when I look at myself, I don’t think I can honestly say I’m in love with God. I love God, but I can’t say I’m in love with Him. Not yet.

I want to be though… I guess we call it falling in love because it’s out of our control. And I guess that the way people fall in love, is by giving in to the love they already have.

God bless you!

P.S. One thing I love, is that this idea that our religion is about falling in love with God Himself isn’t a modern sales pitch, but essential to the faith, running right throughout the Tradition, the New Testament, and back to the Old Testament, taking up the whole book of Song of Songs.

I’m writing a book!

For a while now, I’ve been slowly working on a book of Philosophy/Theology. It began as just one or two philosophical thoughts, but as I wrote them down, I found myself stumbling into other thoughts, including some very theological ones. I don’t really know where it is heading, because every time I revisit it, it seems to lead me in some new direction.

I don’t want to give any details away just yet, firstly because the paint’s still wet, and secondly because I think these thoughts need their proper space. So please forgive me for being vague. I believe these ideas are powerful, and I need to handle them carefully.

I will say that I’m very excited by them. They’ve changed my understanding of basically everything. They’re not particularly similar to anything I’ve written on this blog so far, probably because they can’t easily be slipped in, one at a time. Also, they’re just not ready.

Please say a prayer for me and my book. That I’ll write in humility and truth. That I’ll actually write it, and not get scared and bury it in the ground like the wicked and lazy slave in the parable of the talents. That whatever is true in it thrive, and whatever is false in it wither.

Thanks, and God bless you!