I went to see ScaredSacred yesterday, and it was amazing. The Canadian filmmaker Velcrow Ripper (what a name) traveled to the worldís "ground zeros": Bhopal; Cambodia; Sarajevo; Palestine; Hiroshima; Afghanistan, and New York. In each place he documents stories of reconciliation, rebirth and hope. A theme of the film is the Buddhist practice of breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion.
Itís a very earnest film, but it is worth putting up with Velcrowís personal spiritual quest just to witness the stories that never make it onto the 6 oíclock news.
Velcrow spent 5 years making the film Ė enough time to connect with the communities he visited. He profiles a couple of people in each place.
The stories that moved me the most were from members of the Bereaved Families Circle, people from Israel and Palestine who have lost loved ones in the conflict, who are creating peace and reconciliation. They have set up a toll-free hotline so people in Palestine or Israel can pick up the phone and be connected to a stranger on the other side. Such a simple idea, but so wonderful. Over 830,000 calls have been placed. They also have an amazing art exhibition, "Offering Reconciliation" and a combined youth summer camp.
Film fest documentaries can be so depressing - this year I decided: No documentaries about the oil crisis, or the evils of economic globalisation, no holocaust movies, no sweatshops. I know these things are bad, I don't need to be depressed by them right now. But ScaredSacred left me feeling that maybe there is hope for the planet.
Of course then I ruined the sacred aura that hung around after the movie by rushing off for an iskender before seeing The Wild Blue Yonder, and concluding that I was right in the first place: human suck. And laughing so hard I got a belly ache.
it's true that fresh air is good for the body
but what about the soul
that grows in darkness, embossed by silvery images...
- Frank O'Hara
Iíve put together my Film Festival Wishlist. Is anyone else wanting to go to any of these, and want company? I'm going to be away for half the festival, which has limited my choices somewhat...
Avenge But One of My Two Eyes
The Wild Blue Yonder
Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures
The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros
Less is More
The White Planet
Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company
The White Masai
The Science of Sleep
It's hard to know how to start the entry after the one where the world feels like it's going to end... but I'm still here, and trying to hang in.
On Friday A stopped to help an elderly homeless man who had been blown over by the wind. ďIím a bit scared to get up,Ē he said, ďin case I get blown over again.Ē So he kept shuffling along on his bum.
S says that the possum sounds like an old man masturbating, and we all look at her, horrified.
My flatmate says the Gibbonís name is Nippy, heís 59 years old, and he is at the top of a hierarchy of two. Once he bit off someoneís earlobe. Heís very noisy this morning. I used to think that the sound of Nippy calling was some kind of strange other-worldly bird.
Iíve been doing some research into loft beds, as my dad is going to make me one for my very small new room. Now I canít believe I survived childhood without a bed with a slide. Or turrets. Or wheels. Or cowboy boots.
What a miserable week. On Monday, my birthday, I got stuck at Melbourne airport for 8 hours. On Tuesday I was a complete wreck. My combo of lithium and prozac doesnít seem to be helping at all, and Iíve been feeling worse and worse the past few months. But some days are even worse than others. Wednesday I had to cancel my birthday party, because their was a huge slip on the highway, other roads were flooded, the train workers were taking industrial action, and the weather was ghastly. Thursday it was just little things that went wrong. Like my psychiatrist cancelled our appointment. And when I was having a last minute panic about liturgy for Sunday and I went to get some books from the Mís office I couldnít unlock the door. Turned out someone had tried to force the lock with a difference key, and part of the key had broken off and jammed in the lock. And theyíd used enough force to break part of the lock, which was quite a sturdy one. Anyway I got the books eventually but still havenít worked out what Iím doing. And given that itís 3:30am and I am writing this, Friday isnít off to a great start.
The rest of this post is all about how awful I feel. Self-indulgent I know. But here, I can be real. Donít feel like you have to come any further. I donít care if anyone reads this, I just want to say it. And maybe this will be one of those times when writing it helps, even just a little.
Iím high-functioning on the outside. Most of the time, anyway (not so much lately!) I donít know how or why, but I can keep on doing the stuff Iím good at, right now itís church stuff, newsletter, Matariki dinner... I can hold it together, even chat and laugh, while inside I feel like I am breaking apart. Sometimes the person I am in public feels like an act thatís so out of control I canít stop it.
Can you believe Iím meant to be leading the service on Sunday? Itís a joke. Only itís not funny. I donít know what to do. Is it ok to talk about pain and hopelessness from the pulpit? I know, Jesus felt desperate. But not in public, I mean, he didnít talk about it when he ďpreached.Ē
Bipolar sucks. If thatís even what I have, since the medications donít seem to be working and none of the professionals in my life seem to have any better ideas, I donít know any more.
Thereís this cute picture book about depression, I Had A Black Dog, which I love, but itís not quite right. I mean there are times when itís perfect, but not now. A dog is too friendly. Too alive. This isnít alive. Itís a black hole inside me. The darkest evil I know, eating away at the shreds of life I try to paste over it.
I feel almost as bad as I did back then. Iím not actually psychotic, but I feel like Iím teetering on the edge at times, starting to get really irrational. Mostly just thinking everyone hates me and everything is my fault. Sometimes more drastic thoughts than that, but I donít want to freak you out. At least I have moments like now when thereís a small part of me that can see that Iím not being entirely rational. My feelings still seem real though.
Iíve been cutting myself again. Not as deep as I used to, but as often. And probably only not as deep because the chemist I used to buy scalpel blades from doesnít stock them any more, so Iíve been using blunt scissors and knives and broken glass.
Everything is too intense again, and more and more Iím overwhelmed by black waves that come from inside me but well up and over me until I feel like Iím drowning. I cry and cry, and more than anything I want someone to reach out to me, to reach down and catch hold of my hand, because I feel as though I am slipping under the surface... I feel scared that I may not be able to get out again. I bang my head against walls, hoping that if I push hard enough Iíll disappear, if I hurt enough Iíll stop feeling anything. I canít stop crying because I feel so hopeless, and I feel as though I canít keep going unless something changes... and I feel so alone. God, I feel so lonely, it feels as though I am breaking apart. And sometimes someone does reach out, and for a short time I do feel comforted, but so scared too, because I know they canít hold me forever. Eventually I get so exhausted that I canít cry any more. I feel numb. I know I have to pull myself out of it. So I do. Bit by bit I put the pieces together and drag myself through it. But itís so hard Ė and every time it feels as though I have less strength to do it. Just knowing the waves will come back makes life seem unbearable.
Everything feels so out of control, I feel like Iím on a rollercoaster thatís jumped the tracks. I know that Iím being messy and manipulative and an emotional screwball, and I hate it, but I canít stop myself.
Someone, was it Marsha Lineham? said that BPD is like the emotional equivalent of 3rd degree burns over 90% of the body. Thatís what it feels like. The slightest touch hurts so much. Anger is the worst. Even the random anger of strangers. The anger of a cab driver, or a person behind me in a queue. I donít feel like I can survive it. I just want to curl up, shrivel away.
I feel like I am wearing so many different masks, but there is nothing underneath them all, just this awful blackness. I feel as though my experiences are unconnected fragments. I constantly have to prove who I am to people... I have to show people that I am the things I do and the books I read and the music I listen too... because otherwise they will see the blackness. And they will hate me. Because I hate myself so much... I hate the blackness in me. I hate myself for letting it ruin my life. I hate myself for letting it impact on other peopleís lives. I hate myself for the stupidest things, like the grades I got in school. I hate myself for things that rationally I know are not my fault, but inside I know Iím to blame. I hate myself for not being able to save a little baby, for not saying something, when I had this little worry inside that she might be breech again, for not dragging her mother down to the hospital. I hate myself for fucking so many guys, for still feeling them all over my skin, inside me. I hate myself so much for the time I was so messed up, my friend let out this strangled little cry, like a bird thatís being twisted, hurt, by something terrible. I scared her so. I hate myself because sometimes I have told lies, to try and make the darkness outside match the darkness inside. I hate myself for using up so much of the planetís resources, for buying sweatshop products, for eating meat. I hate myself for not getting better, even when I have these amazing people looking out for me, my parents, doctors, counsellors, church... for being so messed up, even though I wasnít horribly abused as a child. I hate myself for all the friends I have lost. Most of all I hate my body, for being so sick and failing, for being so fat. I hate myself for eating bad stuff even though I know it makes me fat, even though I hate that, doing it anyway. I hate myself for not succeeding the times I tried to kill myself. For not being strong enough to do that.
Until now Iíve always had hope in something. A new drug, doctor, life-change, someone or something that would rescue me. I still believe in that which I call God, but my God is no help to me at times like this.
I believe in a God of physics and energy. I believe that human love can be an expression of God. I believe in the God Michael Morwood talks about in Tomorrowís Catholic: a presence within the depths of all that isÖ the love that is in our heartsÖ DNA, and the atoms and molecules in our bodily structure where there is spontaneity and life and movement; where there is growth; where, because there is freedom of movement and limitless possibilities, there is also illness as well as health.
I believe in a God as energy, incarnate in DNA, and in loving actions, and in stars exploding and leaves unfurling... but right now I want to believe in a God here like a friend beside me, God who has a plan for my life, God who I can pray to and know that my prayers will be heard. I pray, sure, but itís more like a meditation, a hoping, a longing, a ritual. I donít pray to anyone, I just pray. I want to pray as though God were a person beside me. Like I used to, years ago. But believing in that God is like opening Pandoraís box. All the pain and confusion I felt back then, all the conflicts. I just canít do it.
Right now my belief about God leaves me lonely and afraid.
I have tasted the bitter wine
of loneliness, black
I have come to receive
an answered prayer
a death sentence
I have loved
that they might have life.
if you are willing
you can make me clean
I need, I
(tweaked for coherency and links fixed 6/7/06, also when I first wrote this for some reason I couldn't open Cheryl's blog, but it's cool, and her presentation at the conference was great, but she should have been given more time to speak!
Firstly, apologies. It is surprisingly hard to get to the internet when at a church conference centre in suburban Melbourne. I will blog more about the rest of Melbourne soon, with photos, but hereís some thoughts I have been working on for the St Andyís news.
Iíll start by saying I really hope I havenít mixed up the speakers, I canít read my own notes, even the ones I typed, which I seem to have done in 3 different documents, all called ďVirtual ChurchĒ but saved in different folders. If you were there, please point out any mistakes Iíve made, or fill in any blanks!
After the womenís conference the guys joined in for a one day conference on ďVirtual Church.Ē As someone who is equally at home on and offline, I found it interesting that most people seemed to have a lot of prejudices about online life. People talked about Virtual Churches in opposition to ďRealĒ churches, as though online communities arenít real. Online relationships were seen less meaningful or permanent. One of the speakers, Phil McCredden, said that ďVirtual Church is a poor reflection of real life church simply because in the virtual world relationships can be fake and superficialĒ. In my personal experience, however, online relationships are no more or less superficial than offline relationships. Sure, the interactions in certain chatrooms can be fairly superficial, but the conversation in certain ďreal lifeĒ pubs and bars isnít very stimulating either. Hey, that's just my experience. Still, I found myself getting offended and frustrated when people listed the pitfalls of online churches, without acknowledging that many of the problems were just as common offline. The internet is not separate from the ďrealĒ world. It intersects with our everyday lives. Virtual Church extends that which already exists in the offline Church. I donít think itís helpful to think it terms of ďRealĒ and ďUnreal/VirtualĒ Church. Thereís just the one church. We may be Catholic or Protestant, we may meet online or face to face, but we are all one church.
It was also interesting to realise that when people thought of ďVirtual ChurchĒ they pictured something like the Church of Fools or virtualchurch a simulated experience of walking into a traditional church building. Itís true, there are a lot of Virtual Churches that try to mimic offline Churches, creating a ďbuildingĒ where people can meet, or worship alone, and read from service sheets that follow the same format as our paper orders of service. But what is the Church? Is it archways and pillars, service sheets and hymnbooks? Isn't it also about people, sharing a vision, supporting each other as we learn and grow in faith?
Donít get me wrong, I think Church of Fools is fun. I just worry that itís limiting our ideas about Virtual Church. For a start, only a few people can be virtually incarnated at once. For another, the more complicated the technology, the more things can go wrong. Check out the BBC review where the Virtual Minister crashes. Most of all, I worry that by mimicking the traditional offline church, with the minister preaching up the front, everyone reading along with the words, etc, we are missing the greatest opportunity the internet brings us; a chance to imagine entirely new ways of being Church.
The successful Virtual Churches that I have been a part of have not tried to mimic existing structures. They have been communities of people who have utilised the full potential of the medium they exist in. They have been rich and dynamic communities, using blogs, newsgroups, and chatrooms to meet, discuss, learn, change, pray, worship and commune together.
The first speaker, Alistair Macrae started by defining what ďChurchĒ went. He thought that the church is distinguished by three characteristics; it must be incarnational, communal, and sacramental.
The first of these is certainly possibly in the Virtual realm. If the Church is the continuation of Christís presence on earth, and comes alive whenever two or more are gathered, it shouldnít matter whether they are connecting in a physical space, or cyberspace. Virtual church is made of real, embodied people, gathering in new ways.
The second, communal, is also part of Virtual Church. It is in communities that we have the best chance of growing closer to God, and the internet is creating new ways of meeting and interacting communally. For some people, who are geographically isolated or housebound, or in countries with no religious freedom, Virtual Church may be the only church they can be a part of. For others, Virtual Church provides an opportunity to commune with people in other parts of the world. For some who are grieving after being hurt by the traditional Church, Virtual Church is a way of maintaining some connection to a Church community, but without taking the risks of venturing back into a face-to-face congregation. I fitted into this latter category for a few years. But now St Andrewís is meeting my needs. Not because it is face-to-face, but because it is alive with discussion, debate, and other people asking the same questions that I am.
It is the third characteristic, that the church must be sacramental, that is hardest to imagine in the Virtual realm. How can people be baptised, or receive communion, over the internet? At Alpha Church you can have your own food and drink blessed over the net, while listening to a communion service. But I donít think this is the best solution. Sacraments are symbols of a deeper meaning. If we stop thinking about the concrete symbols (water, bread, wine) and remember the meaning behind them (being part of the community of the church) Iím sure we can imagine ways to convey these meanings through virtual symbols. We may not have Virtual touch or smell (yet!) but we have images, words and sounds.
Another guest at the conference, Paul Teusner, spoke about the forms that Virtual Church currently takes.
There are Virtual Churches that focus on evangelism; the website works as a shopfront and religion is on sale. Smile International is one of countless examples of this kind.
Others seek to create a space within cyberspace, a geographic, or cybergraphic location. (Church of Fools is an example of this kind).
Still others treat the internet as a spiritual medium, a way of connecting to other people of faith. Through blogs, newsgroups and chatrooms these Virtual Churches are abuzz with discussion. Many define themselves as ďEmerging ChurchĒ. Believing that the traditional modernist structures of church have failed, Emerging Churches seek to create structureless, organic and revolutionary communities. Some examples of this kind are Ship of Fools(created by the same people who made the Church of Fools, but the ship is filled with discussion boards and chatrooms of all kinds), i-church (Church of England, offers a life chat chapel, prayer meetings, and study groups) and countless networks of blogs, including Signposts. In the comments section of Signposts there is a lot of debate about whether Virtual Church can replace or compliment offline Church, but there are several people who say that Signposts is the only church they take part in.
Do we have a Virtual Church? I think the PCANZ website has the potential to be, with itís ďe-ministerĒ. But our own website is a static page, and not interactive. Itís no more a Church than the noticeboards we have out the front.
I think it would be great to have a St Andrewís blog. It would be much easier to keep updated than our current static webpage. A blog is a great media for encouraging discussion and debate, as anyone can participate. We could have conversations about what weíve been engaging in, such as the issues raised in Living the Questions, and provide a forum for contributions from other communities around the world. The strength of St Andrew's is its discussion, debates and questioning, activities that are well suited to an online environment. A virtual church?
Iíll keep you posted on whether we start a St Andrewís Virtual Church. Meanwhile, if you found Jesus Dress Up offensive, do not follow the following links...
Ship of Fools also have a delightful caption contest. My favourite is this one.
If you haven't already discovered the Brick Testament, you must.
Finally, absolutely definitely do NOT click on this link if you are easily offended. Or even not so easily. If you've felt even the slightest twinge of discomfort at any of the links above, do not even think about clicking this one.
I warned you.