Tuesday, August 23, 2005

On Twenty Wasted Years!

A Brazilian friend has just asked the question, “Are you a man or a mouse?” In the context of my first world credentials, it is a hurtful question, and it needs to be. Whatever happened to my commitment to the third world, to my study of Liberation Theology in the 1980s? Liberation can never be study; it is always action, in this case, action by the poor in light of the gospels. So where did I go wrong?

History, politics and salvation are in the soul of most people, where we came from, what we hope for, and our current ambition and commitment. The West has no ambition, simply platitudes, conservatism and a wish to retain the present state at all costs. So what of my history, my politics and my salvation?

My family originated in poor agricultural and then mining stock; I was one of the first in my family to go to university. Did I turn my back on their poverty? … on their history of oppression in Ireland and in the Welsh mines? Do I still value their principles and what they worked and stood for, or am I just another catholic capitalist paying lip-service to justice and peace?

The enslavement of generations of Latin Americans in sinful structures supported by the Church and state challenges not the existence of God, but the identity of God. It is clear from Old and New Testaments that to know God is to do justice; the Church (both the institution and individuals) is failing the people.

Scripture cannot support a political ideology of oppression and exploitation which is anti-Christian. The gospels renounce any identification with rich and authoritarian societies and their compromise with capitalism and imperialism. Didn’t Christ reject the coin and the head of Caesar … if we accept the coin, we accept all that goes with it … this is prophecy!

The witness of the Church is the process of liberation, liberation from sin and oppression. Structural factors, economic rationalism and development theory perpetuate the same neo-colonialist existence that they pretend to challenge. They deny Latin America the opportunity to value its Indian and Iberian cultures and traditions, and to integrate its hopes into regional solutions. It is time to renew the relationship between political activity and Christian faith. When will the Church give witness to community rather than to communities? A clinic in a Peruvian village is no response to oppressive employment practices and the need for agrarian reform. It is a sop to the conscience of the West.

Transformation of society is required with Christians opting for political action rather than personal prayer! From Puebla onwards, the tension between these two views has been marked. We have a choice, a “popular church” united in a struggle for liberation, or a “magisterium” trapped in its own theological bureaucracy, a choice between an egalitarian distribution of wealth and the need for cheap labour, a choice between participation and shared decision-making and the doctrine of national security.

God’s people are, like Christ, free, redeemed, but we need to be evangelised in the gospel of Christ, not that of Mammon. Christ gave us humans freedom in our relationship with the world (we are trustees), freedom in our relationships with each other, and freedom in our relationship with God. Our world is typified by the sinfulness of ambition and envy, and these produce injustice, domination, violence and conflict at all levels of society.

It is significant that the false evangelisation of centuries has made a virtue out of poverty, but theology is written by the rich and powerful. Is it “blessed are the poor” or “blessed are the poor in spirit”? True evangelization will enable us, not to ape the sins of our oppressors, but to proclaim the gospel of liberation. It is ideology and idolatry to associate God with domination and exploitation. The Church has failed!

It is time for me to choose. Am I a man or a mouse?

A Reflection on Helplessness !

Physical and intellectual overwork brought me to my knees. Exhaustion was utter, total and overwhelming. I was unable even to climb the stairs to bed that Sunday evening. The therapy of physical endeavours, as a contrast to the mental stresses of the week helped only to allow my body and mind to protest, and as I crawled crab-like to the bathroom at dawn, I knew that my brain had taken over from my heart.

My world was spinning in a clockwise ellipse, relentlessly pursuing its course around me. Closing my eyes could not shut it out. Retching like a child could not change it; nor could the almighty sweat which drenched me and the floor on which I sat. What was I to do? Nothing …. For probably the second time in my life I was helpless, unable to help myself, only this time I knew it; I understood!

Labrynthitis is not pleasant. Its disorientation is total. It does not respond to drugs, only to time, and of that I have plenty. Those two skulls, one inside the other which moved at different speeds, one always following the other, make for discomforting life. To lie still is one’s only hope, but patience is a virtue which is not my strength.

So to reflect on life and love and work, and on a future? What is there for me now, just a warning that I must or should learn to balance those elements of my life to which I have given so little thought? Firstly there is me, myself and I, a complex character, often hiding from his other self. What of me and my selfishness? Should I continue to work sixty plus hours each week? Should I limit myself to the local maximum of thirty-seven and see the quality of service to the community diminished? Should I challenge my managers to give me the support they have always denied, or close down the service and say, “To hell with those who need advice, those who have potential to change our world for the better?"

My wife and family I do not write about. That is personal, private, confidential and precious. Why should they devote themselves to this man who is everywhere else too often? Suffice to say, “Thank you!”

And so my interests, hobbies, addictions. What value do they have? What place in the history of our world? Am I allowed these selfishnesses, or are they like leaves upon the wind, a passing fad, a mere dot in the history of mankind? Is this how I will end my days building the garden fences even higher to shut out others’ gardens, top protect my passions and prejudice? Shall I soak myself in the history of the family, back to the Brayles of 1200? Why look back, unless it is to inform the future. It is not the names, dates and places of the past which matter but the social history which tells me and us of man’s search for betterment.

So what shall I do? Return to work with its absence of boundaries, little management and impossible demands, or shall I choose the better path, of reason and reasonableness, and put on my ageing frame only the burdens where I can make a difference … as a teacher. After all, this is my profession, or as a writer of what I do not know. Short stories perhaps.

So to the computer, my greatest love, I remain faithful. Armed with my mobile phone, PDA and laptop, I can travel the world knowing that I am never more than a call or text or email away from what I love, and to which and whom I will return. The choice is made. Technology matched with reason will save my life, my health, my life’s work.

Thank you one and all for your support and friendship. To work at last … there is no other course. But my work is words, communication, trust and challenge, poetry and prose in equal measure, and debate, discussion and argument. There really is no choice. I am who I am. I cannot change the person, just learn to remember who and what I am!