WMD

 

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WMD – we all know what that means. Those were the Weapons of Mass Destruction which Bush and Blair failed to find in Iraq. Around that time, I saw a sketch on Gaelic TV where two soldiers marched into a small shop in the Highlands and demanded that they hand over their WMD. The shopkeepers looked puzzled, and then one of them triumphantly lifted out a huge, black, bomb-shaped sausage and presented them with Willie’s Marag Dubh (Willie’s black pudding).

Nuclear defence

The UK has four nuclear submarines based in Scotland on the Firth of Clyde, in an area of great natural beauty. The base at Faslane is close to an inlet called Holy Loch, where St Munn, one of the first Irish saints, is meant to have landed in Scotland, and where the previous nuclear base was situated. A few days ago, British MP’s voted to renew Britain’s submarine-based nuclear defence system by a huge majority of 355. All but one of the Scottish MP’s voted against its renewal, but that’s another story.

Even though I have definite opinions on other recent issues, such as the Scottish independence referendum and the vote on leaving the European Union, I have tried to appreciate other peoples’ points of view. Well, I have often argued in a stubborn way, but afterwards, I have thought about what other people said, and have been able to understand why they have come to different conclusions from me. However, I simply cannot understand the argument for spending an unknown amount of money on weapons which could kill 100 000 people in one go.

If faith should affect all of my life rather than being compartmentalised into a wee box labelled ‘Open only on Sunday’, then it has to affect political opinions and decisions. I have wanted to keep politics out of this blog, but I feel that if I don’t find some way to say I am against nuclear defence, then I am quietly giving my assent.

Gerard W. Hughes was a Jesuit priest and writer who wrote a great deal about the split spirituality which has led to many Christians seeing nuclear weapons and ‘just’ war as a means to preserve peace. In the book ‘God in all things’, he said that if someone who supported nuclear defence, really allowed God into their prayer to make them aware of their actual thinking, it might go something like this:

Dear Lord, inspire our scientists that they may invent yet more lethal weaponry (so that our deterrent may prove even more effective). Protect us from any unfortunate accident in its testing (lest it destroy us and our own cities rather than our enemies). Bless our economy that we may put these weapons into plentiful production (otherwise we cannot deter). Have a special care of the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the aged of our own land and of other lands until such time as our defence commitments allow us to contribute a little more to these worthy purposes. Strengthen our leaders in a strong defence policy. Drive out from our midst any who by thought, word or deed undermine our national security, and grant us the protection of nuclear weaponry now and forever.

Letting go of my own defences

It’s strong stuff, a bit like a modern version of Robert Burn’s ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’ where Holy Willie, an elder in the kirk, praises his own holiness, skirts over his sins, and asks God to blast his enemy’s cabbage and potatoes!  However, lest I become complacent and congratulate myself for being against nuclear defence, I should consider what Gerard W. Hughes says a little later in the same book:

It would be wonderful if we could overcome the dangers of pollution and global warming and if all nuclear weapons could be destroyed…. But we would not be secure until we had tackled and eradicated the roots of our own violence, hatred and aggression. Holiness is about this eradication. Holiness is like a light that uncovers our pretence and our hypocrisy.

I might not be able to do much about the decision to build a new nuclear defence system. However, I can ask God for help to bring peace into my own little patch. I can ask God to show me my own hypocrisy, and the areas in my life where I am aggressive or prejudiced. True peace is painful, because it involves letting go of fear, becoming vulnerable and being open to others. Before we are ready to get rid of our huge systems of nuclear deterrence, we might have to build peace one person at a time.

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Honour

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Three temptations

Bishop Robert Barron in his book ‘Catholicism’ says that humans face three great temptations: sensual pleasures (including money), power and pride. He goes on to show how Jesus was tempted in each of these ways and overcame them, after his forty days in the desert.

I have recently been reading ‘Selfish Society’ by the parent-infant psychotherapist Sarah Gerhardt who identifies three very similar traps. She shows how babies who fail to develop a nurturing bond with a parent or parent figure in the early years of their lives will often try to compensate later on by pursuing material wealth, power or recognition.

She uses research on attachment in babies and the latest advances in neuroscience to show that small babies need a close, nurturing relationship in order to develop empathy and a genuine concern for others. Unfortunately, many parents struggle to develop good relationships with their babies due to the hurt that they themselves received as children as well as pressures from wider society. Sarah Gerhardt gives an interesting analysis of how society has developed to put pressure on parenting and family relationships.

I am getting a lot more from reading ‘Selfish Society’ than from the parenting handbooks which cajoled me into becoming a better, more efficient parent, and left me feeling inadequate when their advice didn’t ‘work’. It has helped me understand why I have struggled at times to build loving relationships with my children.

No longer the golden girl

Out of the three temptations, my weak point is seeking honour and recognition. I don’t like power (although I can sometimes be a control freak) and am indifferent to money as long as I have enough to pay the bills (which is perhaps not as indifferent as I should be). However, a substantial part of me wants to be admired and praised and throws a stooshie (creates havoc) when I amn’t.

Before having children caught up with me, I was very career-focussed. I strove for excellence in my work and received praise and recognition. Sometimes I received awards without even being aware that there was some kind of competition. I worked hard, and although I remained a smallish fish, I was proud of myself for swimming upstream like a salmon and with great effort flinging myself over the rocks into the big pond.

I took it all for granted, until I became a mother. Despite working as hard as I could, the honours and praise began to dry up. Eventually I exchanged an exciting career to become the family cook, bottle-washer and bum-wiper. I was no longer the golden girl, and on top of that I was getting wrinkles! My recent attempts to return to work, have meant retraining and starting again at the bottom.

You’d think that these experiences might have made me indifferent to honour, but, no, it’s still alive and kicking, like an ageing popstar who is past it, but still poses in a tight, shiny outfit that shows off rolls of fat.

One voice among many

Writing a blog is another temptation to seek honour. A part of me wants to collect likes and followers and readers, and thinks that I have failed when I don’t. Another part of me, knowing what the first part is like, has wondered whether it is wise to venture onto the internet at all. All the thoughts I had about becoming a Catholic threatened to boil over if I didn’t do something about them. I wrote the first draft of this post early one morning when I woke up with thoughts turning round in my head. Sometimes I have no peace until I write them down.

Instead of seeing the internet as an online space where I jostle with other people for a little bit of attention, and possibly praise, I’ve begun to turn this on its head. The internet is a way for many people to express themselves, including those who might otherwise have no way to share their thoughts and feelings. The apparent randomness of internet search engines and WordPress readers allows one voice to momentarily be heard and then sink back into the crowd.

When I thought about blogging in this way, I felt relief. I don’t want to stand out, at least, the deeper, wiser part of me doesn’t. All I really want is to express what I am thinking, and if that makes a connection with someone else, well and good, and if it doesn’t, that’s also fine.

I’ll end with a quote from Thomas Merton’s autobiography, ‘Seven Storey Mountain’ in which he describes his first impression of the Trappist monastery which eventually became his home. Oh, and by the way, please don’t like this post (even if you do)!

The logic of the Cistercian life was, then, the complete opposite to the logic of the world, in which men put themselves forward, so that the most excellent is the one who stands out, the one who is eminent above the rest, who attracts attention.

But what was the answer to this paradox? Simply that the monk in hiding himself from the world becomes not less himself, not less of a person, but more of a person, more truly and perfectly himself for his personality and individuality are perfected in their true order, the spiritual, interior order, of union with God, the principle of all perfection. Omnis Gloria ejus filiae regis ab intus.

The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!