on turning the corner

hey! you've found the place where pablo's blog is posted: here you'll find an alternative window on the world, enhanced with poetic reflections and some passport trails to track pablo's globehopping ventures — enjoy!

June 04, 2007

Poisoned hill of guilt…

During a power cut while in a little coffee shop in Phnom Penh this week, I felt the urge to browse among the twilight of the shelves where second–hand books were on sale. My attention was caught by an intriguing title, "Cambodia: a book for people who find television too slow." At a mere $2, who could resist purchasing? Not I!

In a creative mix of factual account and fiction, text and overt subtext, the author (Fawcett) argues that two cultural rights crucial in the enterprise of being human — the right to remember the past and the right to imagine the future — tend to be lost under the inevitable white noise of post–modern techno–media culture. In fact this erasure and suppression neatly serves the agendas of neo–colonial imperial powers who exhibit paranoia of those who seek to learn from the past, lest they envision an alternative future.

As is often said: history is written by those with power. However, the hidden perspectives on history from the people themselves are those to which we need to listen and attend, however painful this may be.

Last week I visited Tuol Sleng, the former Khmer Rouge S21 prison, to learn something of the history of the Cambodian genocide. While it doesn't make all the connections, it does clarify some. Such histories are rarely (if ever) given undivided attention by leaders of today's global imperium.

Notably, while the UK's Prime Minister (…or should that be "ex Prime Minister in waiting"?) goes globe–hopping in search of some last minute handshakes and photo ops, the daily paper here carries plenty of news on Iraq and Afghanistan, Blair's true legacy.

Yet this sub–architect of these new obscenities of catastrophic misery on a colossal scale merely wrings his hands and makes stuttering attempts at sincere speeches punctuated by long pauses, as if trying hard to remember something long forgotten or to imagine that it could have been different. Or perhaps trying hard to avert acknowledging something he knows only too well, but dares not admit not even to himself — that would be too honest and too dangerous.

Learn from past mistakes and envision an alternative future? Not the global powers that be. They prefer the illusory security of remaining enslaved in the vain and endless repetition of their own foolishness.

March 31, 2007

Sound of silence…

Paul Simon once penned: "the words of the prophet are written on the subway walls and tenement halls… and echo in the sound of silence." Perhaps today it is too easy to be one of those people who "bowed and prayed to the neon god they'd made", so an enforced media fast during a few days spent in a benedictine monastery has helped to clear my head of the clamour of images and voices that crowd in from a post–modern world.

Silence is essential for our sanity of spirit for "it is in the silence of the heart that God speaks." And as Mother Teresa goes on to say, listening to God is important since "it is not what we say, but what God says to us and through us that matters." So here are two reflections on silence for you to check out for yourself:

First is a film I watched last week entitled "Into Great Silence" by Philip Gröning. Not a story about an ascetic monastic order, this is rather an immersion experience of monastic spirituality filmed in the elemental translucence of natural light, and beautifully articulated within the rhythmic cycle of the seasons. For 160 full minutes you accompany the monks about their prayers, tasks and rituals. Such a poetic chronicle can only fully be appreciated if you take several long deep breaths and slow your racing pulse.

On a similar theme is the book "Into the Silent Land", Martin Laird's practice of contemplation. Patiently attending to the discipline of silence unlocks the doorways to perceptiveness of the world, honesty to oneself, and intimacy with God. This unsophisticated volume offers an approach to prayer that is utterly profound, yet simple enough to be within the reach of all, even people such as you and I.

As one who seven days hence will take monastic vows of simplicity, purity, accountability and presence, I would do well to take note of these prophets to the post–modern day, their words and images echoing the voices of ancient wisdom. For sure, this is a worthy practice to cultivate…

And no, I will not be taking a vow of silence!

January 17, 2007

Waiting for…?

In a post–modern world the notion of simply waiting for something is neither desired nor celebrated. A modern concept of the present merely as a prelude to the brighter reality of the future has been replaced by the instantaneity of the present moment, which must be experienced in all its fullness. But the waiting is not fullness, it is empty. The present moment must be filled: with noise, stimulation, frantic energy, motion.

Imagine my frustration at being stuck in Paris on my return from Colombia. Actually, being stuck in Paris would have been nice. Being stuck in the airport at the departure gates was not. alarm clock Three cancellations later, I did eventually get back to London sans baggage. Luggage turned up in Oxford a day later, and I just managed to stop the courier from delivering it to an anonymous next door neighbour.

One week later (passing through another airport en route to Latvia), I had time to pause and reflect. I recalled two young friends of mine, sister and brother aged 12 and 14, who had got stuck waiting at Cali bus terminus last month. It was waiting of the worst kind: not waiting for a bus, not waiting for a taxi — no, it was much more existential than that. They were waiting to know they belonged: that they were loved, appreciated, wanted.

How painful to discover that you are abandoned, unwanted, and that the person you thought would care for you is at best disinterested and views you as an inconvenience. Eventually their step–mother did arrive to pick them up, some hours late. But it was barely one day later that she decided to dispose of them on the next bus back to Bogotá. She didn't want them around, and it was too much effort for her to show a little love. Ouch!

So next time I encounter an awkward young teenager such as one of these, I'll not blame the young person for their emotional and relational dysfunction.

And next time I find myself stuck on a journey, I will remind myself that on the scale of important things in life, waiting for a bus is no big deal.

November 17, 2006

Usage twisted…

An intentionally provocative cartoon drawn by Polyp entitled "Jesus' final words" depicts a crucifixion scene of three crosses on a hill, with the figure on the cross in the middle saying: "…and I don't want anyone to go twisting what I've said into an excuse for a load of militaristic claptrap — you got that?" At first glance, one of my young friends thought it sacrilegious — which I must admit was close to my first reaction, until I reflected on what it might mean.

Disingenuous is a polite word to describe the twist in intent of a common citation at many remembrance day events. I refer of course to the quote from the injil or gospel where Jesus says: "greater love has no–one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends." (John 15:13) While some may draw comfort from these words when used in reference to soldiers who have lost their lives in bloody conflict (not infrequently someone else's bloody conflict), nothing could be further from the original context.

Not negating the heroic acts of many in the heat of battle, it is undeniably self–evident that war is not about laying down one's life at all. Quite the opposite, war is about making other people lay down their lives at the barrel of a gun, subduing others by the threat of lethal violence (even if in self–defence). Such acts are a far cry from Jesus' non–violent confrontation with the political and religious powers of the day that ultimately led to his execution.

Never should we forget the atrocities of armed conflict, but to romanticise our remembrance with a mis–placed quote from one whose inspired life so clearly marked an alternative path: now, that would be sacrilegious.

November 13, 2006

Looking beyond…

Why the white poppy? Only when asked this question on Sunday did I become aware of a pretty intense debate going on in some UK media. I have since read much that has been written, including plenty of sanctimonious nonsense on both sides with writers seeming to delight in giving and taking offence. With such disagreement over ill–articulated significance invested in symbols, it is no surprise humans cannot solve the problem of war. So, here are a few reflections on the colour of a flower.

It seems to me that the red poppy and the white poppy are two perspectives on the same actuality, two faces of the one coin, two weights in the balance. white poppy A red poppy is the colour of blood, a white poppy is the colour of peace. Red mourns lives lost in battle, white laments that we have wars at all. Red looks back to the horrors of war, white looks forward to the time when there will be no more war. Red remembers the past with regret, white envisions the future in hope. Red sees humanity as we are, white offers humanity what we could be.

In wearing a poppy, of either colour, we are recognising painfully that things are not as they should be. But whichever colour we wear, recognition alone is inadequate. We need to work for world where peace is not simply pacification, nor the mere absence of obvious militarised violence in the streets. We need to struggle towards a future where every system and structure of domination, subjugation, oppression, corruption, injustice, exploitation, abuse and neglect is demolished and dismantled never to be rebuilt.

Yet we need also the creativity to pursue our yearning struggle in radically different ways. For if such a peace is ever to become a reality, it will never come about through violence.

October 29, 2006

Likely not loquacious…

It is not those who talk the first or the most who necessarily turn out to have insightful things to say, as any parent of a babbling toddler will learn sooner or later (perhaps to their chagrin at their own somewhat over–inflated expectations). So: no apologies, even though this initial post arrives several months after promised — not that I have spent all the intervening days considering what to write. Nonetheless, I have chosen to delimit to a fair extent the political from the personal. Hence just this blog at present, and the more prophetic and priestly musings will appear on a separate website in due course. Yes, I will let you know the url once it is hosted! In the meantime, enjoy listening to the silence. Salaam.

oak leaves