Monthly Archives: June 2016

Following the leader – or not!

I rarely comment on politics, as my silence, even on Brexit, shows. However, the current leadership row in the Labour party has me intrigued. That is, I started out being somewhat angry and frustrated because it seemed like a pointless distraction at a time when the country really needed to be holding together. However, as the situation has continued to develop, I find myself watching with increasing fascination over the way different people are responding.

The argument that has been given, repeatedly, by those who engineered the vote of no confidence, is that Jeremy Corbyn is not a leader. But what does this mean, I wonder? I mean, it’s been claimed that he has no vision. Yet, if the figures are to be believed, the public vote of confidence in him now numbers over 200, 000. That’s 200, 000 people who have caught this vision that he doesn’t have and are following him. Doesn’t that make him a leader? Well, apparently not.

One of the more major gripes has been his apparent indifference to the ‘Remain’ campaign in the lead up to the EU Referendum. This is interesting because the one thing that nearly everyone in his party seems to agree on is that he is a man of principle. So, surely, the next question that must be asked, if Jeremy is looking luke warm about a campaign, is which of his principles is the campaign not living up to?

Well, people have done this and come up with the stated purpose of the ‘Remain’ campaign as the obvious candidate. Clearly, Jeremy really wanted to leave!

Did he? Or could it possibly have had something to do with the campaign itself? For myself, I’d put a pretty good bet on it having something to do with theatrics and gimmicks and (dare I say it) possibly even lies that were all too apparent in the ‘Remain’ campaign. And I say this as someone who voted to remain, so it’s not about personal bias against a particular viewpoint. Rather, it’s about a method of campaigning that is all about trying to appeal to the voters rather than presenting a case with integrity. I would suggest, if he’s anything like me, that a man of principle isn’t going to sit easily with any such campaign.

It’s also been said that he ‘just doesn’t get it’ on immigration. Really? I’m quite sure Jeremy does ‘get it’. I’m sure he knows full well how some members of the public feel about immigration. But I suspect he also knows that (to put it bluntly) they are wrong about it.

The UK is a wealthy country and has (or had) one of the strongest economies in the world. That’s why people come here. They come because, in a wealthy country with a strong economy, they believe there is always going to be enough for them to be able to pick up a few crumbs off the floor, especially if they are prepared to work for them. In other words, they come because they believe there is already enough to go round. We know this because it’s been shown that immigration falls when our economy crashes and rises when it is stronger.

However, many of the folk in this country don’t believe there is enough to go round. They believe they have to fight for what they have. Hence they resent anyone else coming and getting it. And why do they believe this? Well, some of it will be because we have lost the industries upon which their livelihoods once depended. There are areas of the country where this is a real problem. However, at least in part, it will also be because that’s the lie that those with the wealth and the power would have them believe. They call it ‘austerity’ and they tell us it’s necessary. But this is always going to be a lie in a country with a strong enough economy to have an ‘immigration problem’ (as opposed to a refugee crisis). Somebody, somewhere, has got the money and presumably believe they deserve it. The ‘austerity’ lie is just a convenient means of ensuring that they hold on to it, with immigration being an equally convenient means of encouraging the population to point the finger away from them.

So does Jeremy ‘get’ immigration? I would suggest he gets it only too well, which is why he isn’t going to play smoke and mirrors with it like the rest of those in power. If there isn’t enough to go round, it isn’t because of the immigrants.

Then it’s been said that Jeremy is stubborn and won’t do the decent thing and resign. Excuse me? He is the elected leader and the elected leader has a responsibility first and foremost to the people who elected him. They are the people who must say if he is to step down. Until they do, as a man of principle, he going to hang on in there, whatever it costs. And, let’s face it, it takes a fair bit of courage to stand with a beleaguered cabinet in front of a Prime Minister who is determined to humiliate you and now has every excuse to do so. It’s not fun. But it’s what true leaders do. Call it stubborness if you like. I’d prefer to call it commitment and perseverance.

Finally, it’s been said that Jeremy is ‘unelectable’. Well, they may have a point there. But that’s got very little to do with whether he is a leader or not. It’s got much more to do with whether the country is willing to follow him, which is another thing altogether. Ask anyone what they look for in a leader and they will say things like, ‘Honesty. Integrity. Someone I know I can trust. Someone who cares.’ Well, it looks like they’ve got all those in Jeremy Corbyn. As I have said, nearly everyone in his party seems to agree that he is a man of principle and that the leadership row has nothing to do with his character. It’s about whether or not he’s electable. In other words, it’s about his policies – the things he is standing for. And that’s another interesting one. Jesus was a leader. But the people didn’t want to follow him so they killed him instead. Jo Cox was a leader – at least as far as her constituency was concerned – and it only took one person to kill her. In the end, it’s not about whether or not the person is a leader. It’s about whether or not we want to follow where they are going.

So, Labour MPs, The Mirror, The Guardian, the rest of the media and anyone else pointing the finger. Please stop telling me that Jeremy Corbyn is not a leader or doesn’t have vision. Instead, have the honesty and decency to admit that you don’t want to follow him.

Seed time and harvest

According to the 18th Century hymn, seed time and harvest are among ‘all things bright and good.’ That looks to me like a pretty good description of June so far in this part of the world.

Early in the month I was still frantically sowing seeds because a significant proportion of the carrots, swedes, poppies and beans I’d sown earlier had never shown. This seems to be quite normal for climbing French beans – at least the ones I’ve got. But the carrots, swedes and poppies? A phrase from one of my Dad’s gardening books comes to mind: ‘Ants steal seeds…’ Certainly there are plenty of them scurrying around my vegetable patch, although I have yet to catch one in the act!

So, yes, seed time in June; with some gloriously sunny weather in which to do it, followed by plenty of rain to help the seedlings grow.

Then, this week, I have harvested my first vegetables for the year – a handful of beans and a courgette. This is nearly a month earlier than last year, despite the fact that the earliest seeds went in a month later (in the second half of April).

Here’s how things stand at the moment:

IMAG0188s

The bean plants vary in height from 6″ to the top of the 8′ poles. The two courgette plants are putting in their usual bid to take over the world. There are a few carrots and swedes from the first sowing, but most of the later seedlings are still too small to see. The cornflowers are nearly in flower. The nasturtiums are growing nicely, but don’t look like they are going to flower any time soon.

Meanwhile, the herb garden is trying out life as a wilderness. The chives have tired of holding their heads up and are trying out the horizontal life instead (I know the feeling).The sage has nearly finished flowering (which saddens the bees immensely), but the oregano is about to start (which should help cheer them up).

We even have a few strawberries (on a plant that came up in the middle of the vegetable patch last spring and got planted amongst the herbs because I hate killing things and there was nowhere else to put it):

IMAG0189s

So, wherever the UK, Europe and the rest of the world are headed following a certain referendum, all is bright and good in the garden 🙂 And for that – the wonder and beauty in God’s world – I give thanks.

The sage awakes

Here it is:

IMAG0166s

‘The sage awakes to light in the night of all creatures,’ says the Bhagavad Gita. I think it’s talking about a different kind of sage, but I like it all the same. ‘The sage awakes to light…’

I planted this over a year ago. It started as a tiny seed and had grown into a small bush by the end of the summer. Over the winter, it slept. And now this! (The photo was taken last week, when the sun was shining).

I had no idea it would do this. I mean, I knew that sage had flowers and I knew that the bees liked them, but I had never seen them. I just thought ‘some herbs would be nice’ and put in the seeds. What a wonderful surprise! I love it!

Very sun. Many purple. Well excite 🙂

The bees love it too:

IMAG0165s

IMAG0176s

IMAG0172

Interestingly, despite the fact that both awake with the light, the words ‘sage’ and ‘sage’ have different roots. According to the Oxford dictionary of etymology:

  • Sage, as in the plant, comes from the French suage, which comes from the Latin salvia meaning ‘healing’.
  • Sage, as in the wise person, comes from the Latin sapere meaning wise.
  • Sagacious comes from the Latin sagire meaning discern acutely.

 

But perhaps this doesn’t matter, since it seems that sage awakes the brain anyway, which is going to make anyone more discerning. Maybe I should try it?

 

The sounds of silence

In the months since I last wrote in my blog, I have spent a considerable amount of time in solitude. I’ve had to. An exacerbation of ME/CFS symptoms including migraine, dizziness, nausea and brain fog have made it essential. For much of January and February, I was rarely far from my bed. I struggled with any form of socialising and spent most of my days entirely alone. When my husband was home in the evenings, our conversation was reduced largely to the bare necessities.

Since then, I have seen a slow improvement, but have also weathered the relentless pain and broken nights that have accompanied the onset of a frozen shoulder. As a result, my blog has remained silent.

Silence. I’ve written about it before: https://ripplesinthewind.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/silence/

In that post, I made the point that silence is not empty. In fact, if we stop to listen to them, the sounds of silence can speak much louder than words because words so often get lost, falling over themselves in a cacophony of human jabber that communicates little and hence, paradoxically, is silent.

My words like silent raindrops fell
And echoed in the wells of silence

(Paul Simon, ‘The Sounds of Silence’)

We need true silence in order to distinguish one voice from another and hear what it has to say. Yet prolonged silence can be difficult precisely because of this. It compels us to hear voices that perhaps we would prefer not to hear. With only ourselves for company, we become subject to all the fears and distortions that can be dreamed up by the human mind, together with the worst (and best) manifestations of our own human nature.

Back in January, I picked up a book that had been left on my bookshelf a couple of years previously by a friend. I picked it up primarily because I was bored. I hadn’t the energy to write, draw or communicate. So, thinking that on this particular day I might at least be able to read, I picked up the book: Taken on Trust – the story of Terry Waite’s captivity in the Lebanon. It’s not a book I had read before. When he wrote it, I was busy having children. But the more I read, the more I became fascinated by the similarities and differences in our experiences. He spoke of the long days and nights in which time seemed to have no meaning, separated as he was from the world outside. He spoke of his attempts to exercise – walking up and down and round and round until the steps became miles – and of his sense of frustration when he was chained to a wall and could no longer do this. He spoke of living for months without books. No books! And here I was reading his book because it was the best means I had of holding on to my own sanity!

Towards the end of his time in captivity, he became seriously ill with  some kind of chest infection and it was then that he says he came closest to being overwhelmed by what he describes as self-pity. Initially, this surprised me. Up to that point, his freedom and personhood had been violated in so many ways that I didn’t expect illness to make so much impact. Yet it did.

Self-pity. I know what he means. I know it only too well. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered about that word self-pity. In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus is ‘overwhelmed with sorrow.’ Is that self-pity, I wonder? He asks his friends to watch with him. Is that self-pity? He prays that he might not have to face the end that he knows is coming. Is that self-pity? Or is it more about a deepening realisation of one’s own vulnerability and hence a very human need for help, support and protection? And if it’s about a human need for help and support, is having that need really such a despicable thing that we must label it as self-pity and strive to hide it?

The sounds of silence.

Voices that can echo so loudly with vulnerability and inadequacy that it becomes hard to distinguish between them. At what point does the cry of genuine human need become the cry of self-pity? Who is able to make that judgement? As a child once put it:

pain is lonleyness because know one noes what I feel

(From ‘In Times of Pain’ by Jane Grayshon)

Brian Keenan, in The Evil Cradling (his own account of life as a hostage in Lebanon), is a good deal more open than Terry about the horrors of being at the mercy of nothing but your own mind. With nothing else to occupy it, the mind can and does torture us with all manner of distorted perceptions. However, because his time in solitary confinement was limited, Brian is also able to speak of the enormous strength and comfort that he gained from the companionship of someone who shared his cell and hence could walk the journey with him.

Having someone with whom to share even a little of the pain makes all the difference. There have been times in the past few months when I have been overwhelmed to the point of tears by the warmth, kindness and respect of folks who have shown me that they care, even if they haven’t always known how to help. Just by their presence, they help hold the shattered fragments of my being together far more effectively than they know.

I wish I could be more profound in my spiritual life. I am still very much a child in my understanding of my faith. I have no deep thoughts, no great insights, no outstanding qualities. I am a very ordinary man chained to a wall and attempting to struggle through another day of boredom and uncertainty.

(Terry Waite)

To me, this says it all. Those of us who face such difficulties are not heroes and would not want to be thought of as such. We are just ordinary people living what has to be lived because it has to be lived. We don’t deserve admiration and we don’t want it. Nor do we want pity. But, at least for me, kindness and respect are like gold in a world where everyone from the psychiatrist and politician to the local quack seem to be clamouring with opinions about what is wrong with me and how I could be or should be living my life.

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening

(Paul Simon, ‘The Sounds of Silence’)

In such a world, I am profoundly grateful for all those who have walked beside me. I would not be without them. However, I also know that there is a sense in which the journey can only be mine. No-one can walk it for me. That’s why I need the silence. Not just because I am sick or because my brain cannot cope with input, though this may be true as well. But because I need to be able to hear my own voice in order to find my way through. And because, beyond that, in the darkness, whether I hear it or not, there plays the silent music of hope, the gentle rhythm of grace, the fiery heartbeat of God inviting us to dance.

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence…

(Paul Simon)

Disclaimer: I cannot say what was in Paul Simon’s mind when he wrote the song. The above is simply one interpretation of his words.