Archive for March, 2010

Silly toil

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Sometimes far too much is asked and expected of us. We are simply slaves to someone else’s agenda. We are probably being manipulated. So stand back if you are being asked to do too much. If it cannot be done without loss of the balance of your life and if you are no longer happy doing something, it is time to move on. You are nobody’s slave. You choose. You are responsible only for yourself. The world is an abundant place. You are multi-talented. Life is too short to spend it miserably. Enjoy this moment and, if you can’t, leave behind whatever it is that’s dragging you down. Life is for living to the full – today!

The Happiness Habit

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Brian Colbert has written a book called The Happiness Habit: choose the path to a better life. It is excellent. It is very well written. It provides lots of useful tools to help sharpen your thinking and to help people make decisions about issues or challenges they face. The exercises are simple to do and insightful. The book is published by Newleaf, an imprint of Gill and Macmillan. I highly recommend it. I read it and did the exercises in less than two days. It grabbed and sustained my attention. A superb book.

Cardinal Brady’s position untenable

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

It was fun on the streets of Kells, county Meath, this afternoon. I never saw so many people dressed as leprechauns in my life! The weather was mild. It didn’t rain. There was a happy, relaxed atmosphere. A pleasant way to spend an hour with young families. There were tractors aplenty – this is a world away from the Dublin parade, with its cultural themes. Here in Kells were presented all life, all clubs, all activities; and, of course, some commercial advertisements too. There was the swimming club, the scouts, the tennis club, the GAA clubs, the soccer club, the brass band, the Moynalty cycling club. I think I saw a grind school. There was the Cookstown dogs’ and cats’ kennels. St Patrick (a live one!) was held aloft on the front of  – what else but a tractor. There was a leprechaun cheili group. And well drilling vehicles. Old Beatles and a Cortina. Last year there was the actual car used in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

You meet people. You have a chat. You shout a greeting as someone you know in the passing parade. You buy ice creams. And within the hour you drift home or head off somewhere to drown the shamrock.

Meanwhile, I’ve checked a press release from the Catholic Communications Office of yesterday 16 March regarding Cardinal Brady which said:

‘Fr Brady was then a full-time teacher at St Patrick’s College, Cavan.  Because he held a doctorate in Canon Law, Fr Brady was asked to conduct this canonical enquiry; however he had no decision-making powers regarding the outcome of the enquiry.  Bishop McKiernan held this responsibility.’

I find that ‘no decision-making powers’ a striking phrase. Every responsible adult human being has decision-making powers. As the Catholic Church itself teaches, we must always follow our conscience. We must always follow our honest judgment. Indeed it is Church teaching that we must follow our conscience even if the pope orders us to do something against our conscience. Or if a process denies us a decision-making role. As a human being, we always have a decision-making power and we must always act in accordance with our conscience.

The press release continues:

‘At the end of both interviews, the boys were asked to confirm by oath the truthfulness of their statements and that they would preserve the confidentiality of the interview process. The intention of this oath was to avoid potential collusion in the gathering of the inquiry’s evidence and to ensure that the process was robust enough to withstand challenge by the perpetrator, Fr Brendan Smyth.’

Could the church not be honest enough to admit that the purpose of such an oath might also be to avoid scandal? Thank God that in the secular world justice is done and is seen to be done in public. Such secrecy led to the concealment of crimes against children and to perpetrators of child abuse, including the rape of children, being able to continue with their crimes.

If an individual has no decision-making powers regarding the outcome of an inquiry, he or she retains the human decision-making power to report a crime to the police, and so help prevent further crimes against children.

In my view, the Cardinal’s position is untenable. We need a situation in the Catholic Church where there is no place to hide for child abusers and where each and every allegation of child abuse must be reported immediately to the police, who are the sole organs for the investigation of alleged crimes.

Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

In a word, we hated it. All of us. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, some felt, started well; although one sharp member had the book rumbled by page three. Could seven million people be wrong? Eh, yes.

Hemingway: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Our next meeting is on Monday 5th April, Easter Monday, at 7 p.m. at the Newgrange Hotel, Navan. This month we’re reading Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls. You are welcome to join us.

Wise Owl Book Club

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

The Wise Owl book club – by far the finest and most convivial book club in this part of the Milky Way – meets at the Newgrange Hotel, Navan, County Meath, once a month, generally on a Monday evening at 7 p.m.  If you love books and tend more towards Anna Karenina and Hemingway than chic lit, then we’d love to see you! For further details, email editor@joearmstrong.ie

Falling

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Last night I dreamt I saw a man falling off a kind of ledge. In the dream, I think he is a cousin of mine. My wife and I rush outside. I dread to think of the sight I might see. But once I look down I see that he is up and working as if nothing had happened. I’m astonished.

I recently attended a sociology conference on International Political Anthropology at the Waterford Institute of Technology. One of the presentations, given by Tom Boland of WIT, was on the theme of falling. I was very taken by the talk. Afterwards, and again this morning after my dream, I couldn’t get that gorgeous music Falling, from the film Once, out of my mind.

I don’t have my notes from Tom’s lecture but, from memory and whatever my own mind might bring to the theme, I took from it how falling is often like a window from one state of being into another. It can be the metaphor for seeming good luck or bad luck. But in any event it instigates change. We fall in, or out, of love. We fall out with a friend. We fall headlong into something, in the metaphorical sense. We fall on our feet – succeed from the outset, get a good start. We fall apart. Yeats’ famous poem The Second Coming talks of things falling apart (the best lose all conviction etc.). An astonishing poem. A fall from grace. The Fall of Man. Or Alice falling through to a different world. Likewise too with The Wizard of Oz (I think!). We may ‘fall apart’ in a crisis.

Falling can be an opportunity, although it is often experienced as a threat. We move from one mode of being to another. We may fall on hard times. The dead of a war are called the Fallen. This metaphor of falling seems to be all around us. ‘Don’t fall!’ a mother implores her young child, and as the child grows older the mother may have the same aspiration but apply it to her growing or grown offspring making a success of life and being happy.

People do fall apart. Lives disintegrate. Eden is vulnerable and some people live and die and might hardly, or never, taste it. Losing our balance in life – integrating a healthy lifestyle, harmonious relationships, a fulfilling career, bodily and mental strength, a sense of meaning in one’s life – can take a tumble from time to time. We juggle many things and little wonder if sometimes the things we juggle with might fall to the floor.

We are but human, men and women. People of flesh and blood. In Freud’s terms, we are superego and id, ideals and passions. We may aspire to greatness but we always have the matter of dust in our essence, into which we will return. I’m reading Hemingway at the moment: For Whom the Bell Tolls. Gosh, what a book. And the clear and highly crafted way in which he shows us humanity at its worst but also at its essence. When man loses a recognition of the humanity of the other. When hatred stirs. And violence is done not only to people but to the humane values that make life bearable and of some dignity. Sartre wrote of Men without Shadows. And Golding’s Lord of the Flies shows the same thin covering of civilisation.

The aspiration that the First World War would be the war to end all wars proved, sadly, untrue. The cataclysm of the Second World War was yet to happen. And all of the wars since then and yet to come. At the Enlightenment, people felt that all ‘mess’ had been done away with. The French Revolution was to prove there was lots more mess to come. And the silly expectations during the economic boom of the early part of this century that growth would continue and continue, that prices could only go up and that we could all only get richer, well, the stock markets and the banks and the savings and wealth of many have, yes, fallen.

First cycle of the year

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

I had my first cycle of the year yesterday. Last year I started I think on 1st January. This year it was 6th March. But the weather has been so very cold, the winter so hard and long. And last autumn we had so much rain and flooding. I’m out of shape. But it felt good to be back on my bike!

Mood

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Mood is a strange thing. Sometimes the mood is light. Sometimes heavy. I guess awareness is the key. At least let’s be aware of changes in mood. Ignatius of Loyola, the guy who founded the Jesuits, was into mood. He recommended that people take a little time at the end of each day to become aware of their moods that day. One of the cool things he said was to remember in times of desolation that consolation would return. And in periods of consolation to be conscious that periods of desolation would recur. Once when I was physically ill my only consolation was that a time would come when I would feel better. Time, indeed, is a healer. So, if today, or any day, things seem really black and hopeless, do not despair. Console yourself with the thought that a time of consolation will recur. Spring will follow Winter. Light will follow Night. Hope will follow despair. Peace will follow war. Time heals all…