71. Ethiopian (Empathy, Lent 12)

 

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We sponsor a child who lives in Ethiopia. M’s life is so different from ours, not just because of where she lives, but also because she is a different generation to us. We don’t keep up with her as much as we ought to, but from the occasional correspondence we have built up a picture of how her life differs from ours.

I live with my mother and my grandmother. My mother is sick with the illness so many people here have. My father left because of it a long time ago. He lives in the city but he does not send money like some of the other fathers. Me and my brothers and my grandmother look after my mother and the chickens. They are funny to watch, the way they run! I like to sit and watch animals and people, but I don’t get much chance to. I like to play football, but most of the time I am doing chores and going to the school project.

At my project we learn English, maths, and other boring but useful things we will need when we are grown up. When I am grown up I will earn money for my family. I change my mind about what I would like to do. Sometimes I think I will be a nurse and sometimes a hairdresser. I think I would really like to be an artist, but that would not buy medicine.

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017 (photo changed to protect M’s identity)

70. Shopaholic (Empathy, Lent 11)

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I used to enjoy shopping, occasionally. It’s been a very long time since I had any energy or money to spare on it, and even if I had those two things, I don’t think I’d be drawn to it as a leisure activity. I am no minimalist, our house is cluttered enough, although one never has enough books, naturally. But how does someone who does shopping as a hobby, feel about it, and why?

I love having a new outfit, there isn’t a person, maybe especially a woman, alive who doesn’t. It makes you feel all special, like you’ve been made clean, born again, yes, that’s it, it’s a kind of baptism! You can be an improved version of yourself. And then there is all the fun of finding the right accessories, and the thrill of trying out new gadgets for the home. My other half loves finding new things for the kitchen, I love my power tools. They are always improving things, aren’t they? And we want to have the best, easiest life we can. Why not? The older stuff goes to the charity shop and I get to enjoy selling bits on Ebay too. Win win. What else would I do, sit at home and watch tv?

Photo from Pixabay. Text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

69. Brexiteer (Empathy, Lent 10)

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As a passionate “remain” voter, this one is tough. I felt very strongly that I was not heard by my country, and that those in Britain who voted to leave the EU were very harsh, both in their vote and in their treatment of those who disagreed with them. Being told afterwards to “suck it up buttercup” (yes, really) was very upsetting. This Lent, however, I am trying to diminish the power of “us” and “them” by looking at things from the other side:

I truly think that the nonsense perpetrated by the EU, with its open migrant policy and its farming subsidies, has to stop. It is unfair and we would do a lot better to self-manage our own nation. We are spending far too much on housing eastern Europeans who claim housing benefit and then send all their wages back home. It’s a drain on the economy. High time that we took back control of our borders and the definitions of what makes our country so great, like funding the NHS properly, instead of paying huge salaries and travel grants to Euro MPs who barely bother to show up. Time for a shake up and a fresh start. Britain was Great once, and can be again. Radical surgery is the first step to a better future.

Photo (of my brilliant artwork, aged 9) and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

68. Angry Young Man (Empathy, Lent 9)

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There are a lot of people I find hard to fathom as a middle-aged woman, but there are some I’ve always struggled to comprehend. Having grown up with three brothers, and as someone who went to a mixed comprehensive school, there have been any number of angry young men in my life. This Lenten practice is about trying to understand rather than dismiss. So, with apologies to Billy Joel, here is my attempt to do just that:

My maps and my medals are laid out on the floor, because they are so much easier to line up than the rest of my life. I like thinking about war, because I love the regimented nature of the military, I love the idea of finding glory, and I have so much rage and testosterone pent up inside me that imagining running into battle with a sword or a spear, roaring and brandishing my strength, is a way of expressing what I could never do in real life. So yes, I spend a lot of time in fantasy, gaming and warplay, watching films, being heroes who are a lot more together than I feel I am. Men who get to play out my dreams, with the beautiful women I’d never dare approach in reality, and the battles that I long to be part of, but which are denied me. I’m fighting everything, including my family, because there are no Grendels left to stand between me and my manhood.

Photo, embroidery design (!) and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

67. Gold Digger (Empathy, Lent 8)

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Money makes the world go round, they say, and those of us who’ve had to do without enough of it know how true that can seem. Maybe it is not too hard to imagine why some people (men as well as women of course) might forego love for security:

I saw my Mum work overtime for a month to buy me and my sister shoes and P.E. kit for school. I saw her crying when I lost my swimming costume, because she couldn’t afford to get me a new one. I decided, then and there, albeit maybe not consciously, that I was never going to be in that position if I could help it. I’m good looking and I’ve made the best of myself. I’m not stupid, and I know I’m going to have to put up with living with a man I don’t have much in the way of feelings for. But we get on well, and he’ll look after me. My kids won’t want for anything, and I’ll never be as exhausted as Mum was. This is how the world has always worked.

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

66. Gambler (Empathy, Lent 7)

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Gamblers do not walk around with “I am a gambler” tattooed on their foreheads. Your everyday addict isn’t easy to spot. The only time I’ve really come across them is after they have fallen headlong into the place of no return, when they’ve lost their spouse/kids/family home. I haven’t had much experience of them, I don’t have an addictive personality myself, and I know that makes me fortunate. So it is hard to stop and think about how it might feel to be one.

I’m not one of those people who say “I can stop any time I like.” I know I have a problem. I do have a system, but it is failing me. The trouble is, it’s like I started rolling down a hill, and now I can’t stop, even if I wanted to. I am out of control. It’s like I had ten drinks and I think the next one will take me to Wonderland and everything will be fine and I’ll finally be able to stop and enjoy the high. If I were next to a red button that said “do not push,” I would press it. I need to see what happens next. I need the danger, the risk, otherwise my life is boring, pointless. Maybe I’ll win big and my whole life will be different. You can’t tell me for sure it won’t. People win the lottery every day.

 

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

Incidentally, if you missed me yesterday, I was “on strike” for International Women’s Day.

65. Glamour Model (Empathy, Lent 6)

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This really is a hard one for me to get my feminist head around. But here goes.

It’s my body, and what I do with it is my choice. No-one has control over my sexuality and how I choose to express it. The system is always going to be against women so I might as well squeeze what I can out of a world that is going to judge me by my body anyway. I like the attention I get and it boosts my self-esteem. I like the feeling of power it gives me. I like the money too. I know some women think it’s wrong, but I find it liberating. I think the world can be prudish and I’ve got it so I’m flaunting it. When I’m older, my bank account and I will be glad I did.

All valid points, seen in a certain light, and leaving out the effects it all has on the patriarchal system and on other women. This view is one I see a lot, and if you want to know what I think about it, you can read my book Positive Sisterhood! But though the sexual exploitation of women makes me sad and angry, my anger is rarely directed towards the girls (they often are girls) and women involved. As with most oppressive things, it is inherent in the system, as Monty Python cheerfully tells us (whilst being flagrantly sexist itself within the accepted parameters of the time). But yes, looked at individualistically like this, I can totally understand and empathise, and this will help me to find better ways of explaining my own stance, as well as stop me sitting back in judgement.

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

 

64. Atheist (Empathy, Lent 5)

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Thinking about all the people I might struggle to identify with, and you might be surprised to find that in some ways, atheists are not too hard for me to have empathy with. God, the knowledge of his existence and goodness permeates, well, everything in my life, and so trying to think of a world, of even a breath, without him, simply doesn’t compute. And yet, I have a deeply analytical, logical mind, and can totally see how, without encounter, that might lead to deep, humanistic thoughts.

Two of my favourite writers, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett, were atheists; they were also admirably compassionate people. Whereas Sir Pterry did teeter on the edge of agnosticism on occasion, Adams described himself as a “radical” atheist.

I will let him speak for himself today: “God used to be the best explanation we’d got, and we’ve now got vastly better ones. God is no longer an explanation of anything, but has instead become something that would itself need an insurmountable amount of explaining. So I don’t think that being convinced that there is no god is as irrational or arrogant a point of view as belief that there is.” (excerpt from Adams’ interview with American Atheists in 1998)

Adams had a vast intelligence, but as I’ve said in other articles, genius can blind us to spiritual truths. There is not much point arguing God’s existence by logical means, though many have tried. His existence is extremely logical, that isn’t the problem. The problem is that the type of mind that wants to have God proven logically, is not prepared to take evidence of heart and soul into account. Any apologist who leaves out the heart of the matter is diluting God to the point where he might be explained away. And that can lead to all sorts of problems, as Adams ironically (and aware of the irony) well knew….

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mind-bog-gglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God.

The argument goes something like this: `I refuse to prove that I exist,’ says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.’

`But,’ says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don’t. QED.’

`Oh dear,’ says God, `I hadn’t thought of that,’ and promptly vanished in a puff of logic.

`Oh, that was easy,’ says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove that black is white and gets

himself killed on the next zebra crossing.” (from Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams)

It can be hard to respect and empathise with a viewpoint so different from one’s own, but a sense of humour, respect and dignity, are vital, as is remaining calm. Passion is often misunderstood.  Besides stupidity (like denying the age of fossils), there is nothing more damaging to a logical apologist’s argument, than the tell-tale steam coming out of her ears.  In my view, we are always better off living love as our witness of God’s heart.

If you would like to read my article “The Blindness of Genius” you can find it here http://jellyjots.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/the-blindness-of-genius.html

 

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

 

63. Pharisee (Empathy, Lent 4)

 

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Yesterday we ended by reminding ourselves not to be pharisaic. Well, maybe then, we need to look through the eyes of our inner Pharisee for a day, just to get a better understanding of why they look down on other people, and even themselves at times. Yes, I do think our inner Pharisees are driven as much by self-loathing as by the need to think themselves better than everyone else.

Look, I know I am better than them, because I try so much harder. I work at it. I push myself. God helps those who help themselves, you know. And he does. Look at where I am now, so far above all these layabouts and sinners! I’m saved, and now I can sit back and tell other people how to become as holy as I am, as close to the Lord as I am. I am helping them, really, by showing them such a good example. And I truly believe that if everyone were as strict with themselves as I am, if they really disciplined their minds and hearts to believe and feel the way I do, with calculated logic and good sense, then the world would be a better, more regimented place. We could leave all these dreadful, sinful urges behind us and really control ourselves, and our lives too.

There truly is no-one who does not look down their nose at other people at one time or another. And we think we are justified in doing so until we catch ourselves at it. Sometimes the prayer of examen (laying one’s soul bare before the Lord for correction and in repentance) also involves finding ways to be kind and compassionate to one’s own faults. That way we can hopefully extend mercy to those who share those same burdens.

 

Photo and text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017

62. Onesie Woman (Empathy, Lent 3)

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Photo from Pixabay

We’ll be talking about class a bit during these pieces, because it is still alive and thriving, despite what you may have been told. Rumours of its demise started by John Major, turned out to be greatly exaggerated. I know that as an educated person, albeit working class, I can be guilty of it myself. A snicker when I see someone wearing a cheap leopard print onesie on their way to the school run or the supermarket. A snide sideways glance when someone buys 40 fags and the Sun “news”paper.” So, let’s use those magic glasses of empathy again….

What I wear is nobody’s business but mine. I’m decent, comfortable and clean. The pattern is the one is all my favourite shops, and the fashionistas wear it too. My friends like it on me. Cheap and cheerful? Well, that’s me, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m only going 2 miles in the car, or I’m picking up a pack of bog roll and some dog food. It’s not the sodding Oscars, is it? No, I like to be myself, I like to be like my friends too sometimes. We talk about the soaps and what’s in the papers, so I keep up with it. I have a brain in my head too, and I use it. I sing my little boy to sleep each night after giving him and my fella a nice tea, and I read him a story too. I’m a good mum, a good partner, and a good friend. End of.

Yes. Quite right. We are so daft to separate ourselves and judge one another by external things, by the things that bind us to our groups. None of that is the sum total of us. Besides which, I virtually live in pyjamas and leggings, so I can’t talk. When did we stop saying “salt of the earth” and start saying “scum of the earth”? And wasn’t that down to those very same “news”papers? I would do well to remember that scum is exactly the position Paul says Christians need to hold in society as true apostles. Looking down our noses is for Pharisees (and we all have one of those peering out of our souls, I’m sure!).

“We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world – right up to this moment.” 1 Corinthians 4: 12-13 NIV

text © Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2017