‘Christianity is a western construct’

It was brown man who when I told him I had no religion he offered me his.

It was a brown woman who read aloud to me from Leviticus.

It was a brown mother who told me that if I wanted to rest my head in her house, I’d better be coming to church.

It was a brown daughter who showed me how to give thanks before the meal.

It was a brown congregation who taught me my first impossible hymns.

It was brown preacher who interrupted the vernacular service to give me a summary in English.

It was a brown father who looked up from his personal bible study and told me to forget about the gossipy church.

It was a brown friend who took my hands in his and prayed with me my first prayer.

(And as it was an Arab man who the Roman empire strung up upon a cross) It was a a brown man to whom I addressed that first prayer.

_________________________________

Yet, it was a white man who sat across from me in the lecture theater and said, “Your Christianity is a Western construct.”

 

The photo accompanying this post is of a mural, depicting a black Christ, inside Naiserelagi Church – not far from where I lived in Fiji during 2012. 

 

 

Advertisements

The end of life

As our government decides whether or not to permit euthanasia, my good friend Chloe and I reflect upon old age; as women in our earlier twenties, our knowledge of the end of life is limited, so we draw here from the times our young lives cross with those much older. For me, that’s a life drawing class. For Chloe, her medical training.

Hayley: Naked Elderly

I love to draw. My grandfather taught me. Early into my university study I realised there wasn’t much room for drawing and painting – a BA is all about words. So in an effort to keep that visual part of me awake, I started attending a life drawing class once a week.

I’ve been going for about three years now. Each class is pretty much the same: A room of about twenty people – some suited up, some with dreadlocks – sit quietly and draw whoever is modelling for one hour, then we all have tea break (20cents a cup), pay Tama our five bucks for the class, and get back into the drawing for another hour. At the end everyone calls out ‘thankyou!’ to the model, packs up their things, and leaves.

The only variation comes from the model.

It could be a women. It could be a man. She could be hairy. He could be hairless. She might be round. He could be stick-like. She might be pregnant. He might have some scars. She could be tattooed. He might be twenty. She could well be eighty-eight. In my experience, you can encounter pretty much any bodily variation at life drawing.

This is part of the reason why I like it; it inverts much of what I’m use to looking at. In the advertising that’s all around me, everything is subject to change except the body. There is endless variation in backdrop, font, colour, scale, sound, and so on. And yet, in every varied image the body is likely to remain exactly the same: white, thin, female, busty, hairless, aged 18-25.

I hate the thought that my eyes would become so accustomed to seeing this one sort of body that all others would appear as mistakes or deviations. It’s too narrow to encompass the great variety of humans that exist.

And I wonder at the possibility that this might happen (or have already happened) with the end of life. That we might become beholden to an image of what life is that is too narrow to include its fragile end. I want an understanding of human life that doesn’t cut off any edges: too fat, too thin, or too old.

IMG_0496

 

Chloe: How would you describe the pain?

1.

Mrs. T is a 65-year old woman with terminal mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure of unknown origin.  She is slim and reports anorexia and weight loss.  Pain in her left thorax is well-controlled with long-acting analgesics and occasional rapid-acting painkillers.  Breathing is normal and patient appears well.

Apart from the fact she is about to die.

2.

She was a former model but

She was not a model patient

She did not make terminal illness appear trendy.

She did not radiate optimism

She did not possess an indomitable will to beat her illness

She had not given her cancer a suitable pseudonym

To assert her dominance over this unsolicited invasion.

 

Her neighbours did not bring around lasagne

Her husband was long gone (“a widow 25 years”)

Her son was expecting his third child

So would not have time for her.

 

She had friends who were dying too

They sometimes went into respite care, so their husbands could have a break

Her husband was dead

So she did not qualify

Although she could have done with a break from looking after herself.

 

She spoke of an in-between feeling

Not the sensation of the mesothelioma creeping in between the lungs and chest wall

But the in-between of

Not knowing if it was weeks or months

The in-between of waiting

To be sick enough for hospice

Even our conversation swung between

The difficulties of dying

And favourite coffee brands.

 

She spoke of fear:

Her biggest fear was dying alone.

Her biggest fear was that she would be put into a rest home.

Her biggest fear was a long, drawn-out death.

Watching hospice friends die, one by one, she was afraid she would be next.

I think she was also afraid she would be last.

 

She nearly cried

Talking about her husband dying

her friends dying

the shock of her diagnosis

the lack of support

being alone

I nearly cried too.

 

3.

The day before, I had observed an interaction

Between a doctor and a body that had metastatic bowel cancer

Brought in by its owner, a bubbly 40-something, and her husband.

The three discussed the body’s calcium levels and thyroid problems,

Fatigue and the gas in the stoma bag,

“More blood tests!” was what the body needed, and the couple had agreed

 

This was much easier.

4.

I had seen dying before, but from a distance,

Not this prolonged, lonely dying –

I had not sat for so long in this place where questions have no answers

Where problems have no solutions

I had not looked straight into a dying face

And asked how it felt to be there.

 

I could only make feeble observations:

“That sounds really difficult.”

“So it seems like you feel quite unsupported?”

“It must be hard not to know.”

 

What else could I do?

 

I have learnt the skill of using stethoscopes,

Tendon hammers, sphygmomanometers, butterfly needles

I would like to learn the skill

Of putting them down

Knowing when a patient has had enough of being a primary-tumour-poorly-circumscribed-

With-widespread-mets-secondary-to-haematogenous-spread

And today, just wants to be a person.

 

If there are right things to say,

I would like to learn these.

 

If there are no right things to say,

I would like to learn this too

And learn how to sit in this space

Where we cry in between

Eating chocolate chip biscuits

And drinking Hummingbird Crave.

 

Some more info can be found at: http://www.goodlife.org.nz/what-is-euthanasia/

 

Badiou: To be true

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

I’ve spent the last five weeks getting my head around some of French Marxist Alain Badiou’s thought. Not everyone’s got the time for such pursuits, so I thought I’d share my take on Badiou here with all you busy people. It’s about truth and what it means to be true to something.

Badiou books

Imagine someone you work with, someone you’ve worked with for a while. You see them most days, and over time they’ve become familiar to you. Yet, it’s a work-relationship, so your conversation is quiet, a bit limited. You’d ask her about her weekend, or rant about the National Party, but you know there are limits, and you feel them as the two of you talk; she’s hesitant on the topic of family maybe, or perhaps she steers the conversation away from money.

And that’s okay. It’s all friendly enough.

Nearing the end of a long shift, this co-worker tells you she’s thinking to go swim on the South Coast after work, and would you like to join her? Yes, yes you would.

She drives you there, the car is silent to begin with, but the conversation comes eventually, and then naturally. You edge up to some of those limits you’ve felt and pass over them safely. Neither of you feel the need to remain on well-worn topics of assured mutual agreement (John Key’s a jerk). You venture real opinions (I find work suffocating sometimes), she ventures real opinions (I’m not sure I want a family). Your opinions aren’t necessarily the same, and aren’t necessarily insightful, but they are your own.

Brought into nearness through the conversation in the car, you arrive at the seas edge together. You get changed hiding behind the car’s open door together. You run out to the water and swim together. You talk and talk together. Put clothes back on, and drive home together. She drops you to your door; brief goodbyes and thank-you-for-a-lovely-afternoons round off your time together. You think: A connection like this is rare, work will be different now.

It’s a while until you are both put on the same shift. When it happens, she says hello, of course. She asks about your weekend, of course. You can’t help but mention the loveliness of the beach. She responds, unexpectedly, with a complaint that the National Party isn’t doing enough to protect water quality.

What?! You think, How can we be back here? Back to talk only of well-worn safety topics? You’re silently devastated, isn’t there something more? Didn’t we have something more? But she goes on safe-talking, she even asks you about the fucking weather.

_______________________________________________________

Badiou would call the trip to the beach an event, something that happens to us which is different from the ordinary run of things. Something that feels like an interruption. For Badiou, the whole stuff of life is working out how to live according to such an event, rather than tidy it away. Simply, to be true, is to be changed by the events which happen in our lives.

In this case, that would require both women to re-negotiate the terms of their relationship on the basis that something really did change between them at the beach. To do so would be to live in accordance with the truth. While to act as though nothing took place, as my fictional co-worker does when she continues on her safe-topics, is to live out a lie – one could even think of it as a subtle sort of betrayal.

Badiou doesn’t suppose that it’s easy to be true in this sense. From my own experience it’s quite difficult, especially trying to do so alone, in the face of someone else’s denial. We seem to be all the time shutting down such events, and then later on obscuring their reality. Why? I’m not really sure: Inconvenience? Fear of change? Self-preservation?

Maybe it’s as darkly simple as the Nick Cave song my Dad likes to hum as he does the dishes, ‘People aren’t no good, they never do just what you think they should’.

I began this post with a piece of scripture, partly because Badiou draws on Christian writing a lot (although he is a staunch materialist), and partly because it neatly distinguishes the truth from the law. It points away from an understanding of truth as a set of rules, like Moses’ law (thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not commit adultery, and so). And towards something else. Towards truth as something which passes between us, and is often obscured or simply missed.

Throughout the Gospels it seems to be Jesus’ personal project to point out again and again where people are ignoring the truth of the events in their lives. Reappearing like a voice which, perhaps would say to my imagined co-worker, Stop pretending nothing happened at the beach, even if you’re nervous for what might come next. Less so is his concern upholding Moses’ law.

For my part, whether I come at it through Badiou or through Jesus, I like the idea of trying to become more attuned to the events – like my fictional trip to the beach – which take place in my life. I like the idea of trying to living in truth.

Much of this is taken from Badiou’s short book, Saint Paul: The foundations of universalism.