Wondrous Stories

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Question: Why is there a Bible in every hotel room?

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Considering the trouble this set of teachings continues to cause, you’d think commercial hotel chains would want nothing to do with it yet when I stayed in a Hotel over the summer there was a Bible, on the floor of our room. I asked for an annotated version a couple of years ago for a birthday present from my Methodist-practising mother in law, which caused some surprise from my husband. I’ve never embraced religion, but I’m not an idiot. This really is the most important book that has ever been published, for so many reasons, and if you think hard about it there’s everything inside. It is either a story book or a set of real-life diary entries. It is also the largest selling hardback/paperback on the planet.

The word ‘legacy’ gets thrown about a lot when it comes to major, life changing events such as the Olympic games but when the entire planet is focused on one place to celebrate sporting achievement (in all its forms) that can provide a perfect opportunity for the people hosting said event to capitalise. Making people think is a hard ask, after all: with all your personal issues from money woes to simply coping with the issues around you, why should you care about making the World a better place? As is becoming apparent in Brazil after 2016, what that country needs is not massive monuments to sporting excellence. The problems that existed prior to the Games have not been solved, far from it. Even after 2012 here, the UK has a lot of image and personality issues of its own to deal with.

Maybe the Bible could help everybody here.

Darren Aronofsky’s latest film is, if you believe certain interpretations of the plot, is simply another in a series of his biblically-inspired narratives. Although Noah is quite obviously based in a version of God’s story-line, a movie like The Fountain may seem to have less influence but really… no, he’s still falling back on the Good Book as source. It is no surprise, when all is said and done, because the parable is by far and away the simplest source material for an author to borrow from successfully. It also holds the benefit of being a story everybody understands, which makes the telling somewhat fraught. If you are overt in your settings and themes (as was the case with the 2014 telling of the biblical flood) and then subvert the ‘original’ story with elements that an audience can’t grasp or feel is inappropriate… things can and will get messy.

Until the day comes when we are a religion-free planet (and that’s not going to be a while) every religious text is shadowing every writer, whether we like it or not. It isn’t a bad thing, however, when you consider why the Bible was written to begin with, or the Quran plus the countless other texts that have become the foundations of modern spiritualism. Even Scientology, which is inspired by the sci-fi teachings of L. Ron Hubbard falls under this umbrella: just because you created a religion in 1954 does not make it any more or less significant that that which was established back before the Roman Empire fell. The key to legacy is inspiration, and the basis of the Bible are stories to make human being do just that, be inspired.

In effect, a bunch of stories is just as effective as building an Olympic village.

Faith and belief are not concepts owned by spiritualism. Both of these underpin physical achievement, drive athletes to be the best they can be: understanding yourself, being able to push beyond what most ‘normal’ human beings are capable of producing… complex systems of mental and physical fitness, combined to a whole. The ability to inspire a nation to start exercising, even when many of them were afraid to do so, is an enduring legacy of 2012 I am a grateful part of. However, many things have worsened post London Olympics, that no amount of inspiration is likely to alter. It is the encroaching spectres of xenophobia and greed that are warned of in the Old Testament, but are rarely seen held up as reasons for change. All the modern world seems to want to do with the Bible is try and justify why diversity isn’t allowed, as if somehow this will make everything right and ‘good’ again.

That’s the problem when someone tries to use the Bible as a stick to beat people with: it may often be used as a rule book, but those days are long gone. The world has changed, even if the ignorant and narrow minded still remain in power. These are stories and teachings, not doctrines. That’s what happens when a branch of religion takes the Bible and starts subverting the point: they create a version of the original tales, for their own ends, and often at the expense of humanity itself. Parables allow people to help rationalise the difficulties in their own existence, and come to a greater understanding of themselves. The big omnipotent deity thing is largely irrelevant, except to those who wish to believe that the Universe is clearly only man’s work.

Sport is not just about winning and ‘beating’ people, just as religion is now about who is ‘right’. Both of those conditions are placed on these ideas by human beings, often because they lose and are wrong in the eyes of others. The problem is not your God of choice dispenses his/her teachings, but how we choose to be directed by them. 

If you wish to understand the World better, start with yourself.

Think

Maybe it isn’t just me that’s the problem.

Perhaps sometimes, other people forget to think. That comment would have just been better not being vocalised. You could have not pressed ‘Send’ but now you have? It’s okay. You said sorry, I’ll move on. Except sometimes it takes a while. It used to be that I held grudges, that was how this worked. I wouldn’t forget the hurtful things, and that made me the bad person, unforgiving. What you fail to grasp here is that I’m the one having to accommodate your failings, and only by doing so do you get to move on. That whole conspiracy about forgiveness being the best quality? Maybe if you thought first, we wouldn’t need this whole dance to begin with.

I know that’s the real truth, now after many years of considering actions borne from thoughtlessness and selfishness. Taking what you want, assuaging your own weaknesses, this is how the spiral begins. I’ll do this, nobody will get hurt. It can be our secret. Anything where there’s not a notion of honesty is where life begins to unravel. If you have to deceive over your sexuality to maintain personal safety. If your professional relationship crossed a line. All these little lies, the moments you could have said no but wanted yes because it stopped the hurt, made you feel better. People are weak. Temptation is strong. It doesn’t matter, because that person’s feelings aren’t the concern, this isn’t about them.

Maybe it isn’t just you that’s the problem.

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More and more I grasp the significance of organised religion in society. Once upon a time, when all you had to worry about was the crops and waking up the next day healthy? I suspect the concept of death was a big deal. Knowing that this was covered for you, that God would be there to escort you to paradise and the crops would be a distant memory? Suddenly there’s a reassurance in the knowledge you can get on with planting and harvesting without a worry. If you thought about coveting your neighbour’s husband? There was a punishment for that too. Religion brought a structure and control to lives that otherwise would undoubtedly be driven as the animals were: procreation, dominance, care at the bottom of the pile. Except that’s not true. Care often comes first. It is the perception of significance that clouds everything else along the way.

On my morning walks last week I’d stroll pass a Kingdom Hall, several Catholic Churches. This town is packed with religion, close to both sea and river. It is a place of immigration and arrival: people travel here, settle from their points of disparate origin. The eastern European supermarket, west African posters for money transfer: fingerprints of global travel smeared across the town, one side to another. The Bangladeshi takeaway that burned on Tuesday morning, filled with fire investigation staff by the afternoon. Cannoli catch my eye in the small Italian diner, almost make me stop before breakfast to buy some to accompany morning tea. There is a cosmopolitan air to my home, yet every person is moved by the same, intractable emotional responses. Without order, we descend into chaos.

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I suspect obsession with the past is in direct correlation to struggles with the present. History is supposed to teach an understanding of why, to assist in the now. Except in a game I play I’ve watched history revised, conveniently re-written to accommodate change in direction. It happens to in the real world, belief that atrocities never took place. Women never had a part in history either: was this due to chroniclers being mostly male?  The church paid monks to rewrite ancient history, not nuns. It transpires the final resting place of one of the most famous Egyptian kings might in truth be the tomb of a more significant woman. Can I use sexuality as a stick to beat anyone when it, like religion, is so ingrained in the consciousness of the planet there is no way for a single voice to be heard above the clamour.

Maybe it is you and me that are the problem.

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History is flexible, supple if you know how to work materials. Except for me, and now, there is only this history, intimate moments that have gone, and I have no desire to retcon myself. Being critical of mistakes I have made myself is what I am. Only when I learn to move past and accept that shortcomings are a part of a history that spans tens of thousands of years can a willing mind truly move forward. Understanding the present and the past provides the best answers of all, perfect combination of disparate worlds.

Maybe, if I just stopped looking for the problems, everything would be fine.