Archive | November, 2013
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MNYC, sam & priscilla

11 Nov
MYC, Sam & Priscilla

MYC, Sam & Priscilla

day at the museum

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MYC priscilla

7 Nov

MYC priscilla

the most beautiful…

all in, all out

6 Nov

Guy Fawkes: all in. all out

On the 14th July in Bristol, in what appeared to be a terrible enactment of Guy Fawkes’ night, two men set upon their neighbour. Bijan Ebrahimi, a quiet, disabled 44 year-old Iranian and devoted gardener. They dragged Mr Ebrahimi out of his council house and beat him unconscious. Why? He was falsely accused of being a paedophile and arrested by the police on 12 July.  The accusation was groundless. False. No child had been abused.  The police set Mr Ebrahimi free the same day.  But two of Bijan Ebrahimi’s ‘neighbours’ took what they thought was justice into their own hands.  And so, having beaten him unconscious, they burnt him alive in a bonfire.

Every year on the 5th November, we celebrate Guy Fawkes Night with activities that range from fireworks to bonfires. But who was Guy Fawkes and what connection does he have with the events in Bristol? Fawkes was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder the night before Parliament was to open and immediately arrested. He wasn’t the mastermind behind the plot to destroy the House of Lords.  Robert Catesby and Catesby’s relatives were. Fawkes was the only nonrelative in the small group. What did they have in common? They were Catholics in a Protestant country; minority outsiders – the marginalised -in a culture that didn’t want them and never listened to them. They were ‘all out.’ Catesby asked his priest confessor, Father Henry Garnet, this question before he became a terrorist bomber: is it right is it moral to kill ‘innocents.’ Garnet said such actions could often be ‘excused.’ Especially in war.  This answer was all Catesby needed to justify his actions. The extremeists were committed to action. They were ‘all in.’But the priest’s response was wrong. Let us be clear: neither in the 1600s or the 21st century; in wars nor in peacetime, God never desires the innocent to suffer. (Genesis 18:22-23) The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the Lord.Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Abraham gets closer to God, asks Him, but later answers his own question before God speaks: God never destroys, punishes, the innocent with the wicked. Never.

What do Bijan Ebrahimi’s neighbours have in common with Robert Catesby, Guy Fawkes and other terrorist groups, like al-Shabaab, the extremist group who attacked and killed in the Kenyan shopping mall? They are people who use force and in using force deny the humanity of others. Simone Weil, expressed this idea in her essay ‘The Iliad, or the Poem of Force’ published in 1939 just as the Nazis were taking power:

‘The true hero, the true subject, the centre of the Iliad, is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away. In this work at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relation to force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to.’ (Emphasis mine)

Extremists always ‘imagine’ they can handle it. They are wrong. Use of force sweeps away the human spirit. It is an uncontrollable fire. It excludes others from humanity. How did Catesby and Fawkes and the two neighbours in Bristol get so desperate, so consumed with their beliefs that they use violence? British author and historian Antonia Fraser describes Catesby’s mentality as ‘that of the crusader who does not hesitate to employ the sword in the causes or values which he considers are spiritual.’  People think, speak and act unkindly when they see themselves and their values as so different, so special, or out of step with their culture that they have removed themselves from the class of humanity. They become ‘super spiritual.’ They are themselves consumed by the fire of their beliefs. They leave humanity by the vehicle of the extreme force of their beliefs.

Remember Bijan Ebrahimi when you see the bonfires on the 5th of November. Let it remind you of the outsider in your community.  Naturally, we are wary, suspicious of the different, the outsider.  How could you include them? Pray for them. Question: Why has God placed this outsider in my path, at this time, in this place? What does this person’s presence reveal about me, my doubts, my fears, my prejudices? Me. Don’t assume you know the others; don’t judge them. Her, him- even unconsciously. Be generous in thought. Listen, by being aware of the other. Speak to them. Invite others in. Last question: ask, how does this person, my feelings, our situation relate to My relationship with Jesus who went ‘Outside’ for me, with me, to bring me in? ‘They’ aren’t all that different than ‘you.’ Remember Bijan Ebrahimi. Try to love a neighbour. As yourself.

 

 

NT’s ‘Frankenstein’

1 Nov

I hate, abhor rape scenes in theatre, film or art. For me they are powerful images that ignite uncontrollable anger within me. They recall the horrors of stories I have heard. People I have walked with. I wish to close my eyes and run when I am so encountered. Run with eyes close. Anywhere.

Last night, Halloween, Priscilla and I saw the rebroadcast of the National Theatre’s ‘Frankenstein.’ Directed by Danny Boyle, written from the monster’s point of view by Nick Dear, wonderfully acted by Miller and Cumberbatch in alternating roles of Creator and creation, I watched and stayed seated as rape occurs. I kept my eyes open.

I run and will continue to run from ‘Downtown Abbey.’ And from other gratuitous images of rape, Priscilla asked me at the end of ‘Frankenstein’-‘How is this rape-this scene- different?’ It differs because the writer, the director, the actors are quoting Simone Weil’s 24 page essay on the’ Iliad’ being a poem of force’ http://people.virginia.edu/~jdk3t/WeilTheIliad.pdf- with their work here. They may have never heard her, but their vision stems from her three sentences on the role of force in Homer’s ‘Iliad.’ Here they are:

‘The true hero, the true subject, the centre of the Iliad, is force. Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away. In this work at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relation to force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to.’

Force changes all; Creator and creation; victim and abuser. All are swept away with the use of force. NT’s ‘Frankenstein’ speaks of this life destroying force.

The play starts with the creature being forcefully born. The creation is a physical form created by Dr. Frankenstein through stitching together parts of many dead bodies, and then is given life through Frankenstein’s manipulation of science. The creature has no name. When Frankenstein sees this physical creation crawling towards him in his bare orange sun lab, he leaves, never wanting to see it again.

From this point on, unlike the book, the play chooses to follow the creature rather than the Doctor. New-born and abandoned, unable to speak and barely able to walk, the creation is forced to make its own way. He struggles to find any kindness, any compassion in human society. What does he learn?  He learns anger, hate, lying and the power of force. Through his experiences with humanity he becomes a thing. A creation, a possible human, an Adam, made a thing.

Weil’s essay relates how in the ‘Iliad’s ‘no one controls force; it changes all. It should rarely, almost never be used. NT’s production of ‘Frankenstein’ underscores Weil’s point.  It opens with the image of a creation being born in an orange sun and it ends with an image of creation and creation walking away together, bonded by hate. They walk into the ice smoke of the northern wastes. They become things together. Creator is creation. Voids without meanings.  That is why I kept still, with eyes open: to see what I could become and to thank my God that He saved me from becoming a thing.