Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The War on Christians

B.A. and I watched the BBC News channel at 11 PM to see the latest updates on the genocidal Islamist persecution of our brothers and sisters in Iraq and Syria. We watched in vain. Not a mention.

When I was a child I wondered what had happened to the first Churches--you know, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Colossians. The only ancient churches we ever heard about outside St. Paul's and St. Peter's Letters were Rome and Jerusalem, and Jerusalem (confusingly) was very rarely mentioned by the media as a city of Christians. A kindly adult--probably my mother--kindly informed me that they had been destroyed by Muslim invaders. Many of those countries we think of as Muslim or Islamic were once Christian. Within living memory, Syria and Lebanon were Christian countries. The indigenous people of Egypt, the descendants of those who worshipped pharaohs, are the Coptic Christians.

And so today. The Church of Mosul has been destroyed. Our churches are burning. Our brothers and sisters have been told by a raggle-taggle band of Islamist marauders to convert, pay a punitive tax or die. Monks are being driven from ancient monasteries; Christians girls and women are being gang-raped. And this means Christ is being driven from His home; Christ is being raped. Christ is being told to convert to a false religion. Christ is being told to cough up money He doesn't have. Christ is being murdered.

I know we have clicked our tongues and shaken our heads over the horrors of the modern world, and felt awful for Hindu girls gang-raped by other Hindus, and for African Muslim (or African Traditional Religion) girls mutilated by African Muslim (or ATR) women. We have been justly furious at those soi-disant Christians in former Yugoslavia who raped other Christian and Muslim women and had the nerve to ask why the Christian West did not take their side. We wring our hands over Israel, and are shocked by the virulent ant-Jewish hatred of what is now called "the Muslim world". We have been told many horrors, but rarely advised what we can actually do about them. So helpless we have been made to feel that it may come as a surprise that British activists actually drove to former Yugoslavia during its civil wars to personally pick up refugees and bring them to safety.

I wish I could drive to Syria. Indeed, I wish I could drive! Because this time it's not about "them"--foreigners, even if foreigners for whom we feel deep sympathy, as Canadians and Europeans felt for Americans on 9/11. It's about us Christians, us Catholics, even. The Chaldean Christians of Iraq are in communion with Rome; they are ours; they are us. So what are we going to do?

I will tell you what I have done so far, not to toot my own horn (which would be disgusting under these circumstances) but to help inspire you to do something yourselves.

So far I have contacted a friend in the media office of the (self-defined as Presbyterian) Church of Scotland, and an acquaintance in media office of the Catholic Church in Scotland. I have written to a Canadian Catholic journalist who has reported on the sufferings of Middle Eastern Christians, and himself been to Syria to speak with Christian refugees, for advice as to what Christians might do in the UK. I have sent a note to my fellow novelist, Fiorella de Maria, who has connections with refugee aid in the UK. I have sent comments of support to Tim Stanley for his excellent op ed in the UK Telegraph. I have changed my Facebook photo to the "Nazarene" symbol being spray-painted on the houses of Christians in Iraq. And I have spread news of a rally to be held in London, England, outside the Parliament buildings, this Saturday.

All that without leaving the house.

Today I will leave the house to meet with a Scottish journalist whose politics are normally the exact opposite of mine. Although he is not a church-attending Christian, he has great sympathy for the Christians of the Middle East, perhaps because he is a true liberal, and objects to any minority being destroyed by religious fanatics--even if that minority is Christian and even if those religious fanatics are a branch of Islam*.

So if this agnostic, left-wing journalist is willing to do something for our brothers and sisters, i.e. us, then what are you willing to do? What can you do?

If you really cannot do anything else, you could go to Mass on August 1. But please thing of something else as well. Talk to your friends. Organize a protest. Write emails to journalists and newspapers. Ask an expert to come to a public meeting in your church hall and then paper the neighbourhood with flyers.

*It appears that what is or is not Islamic is purely subjective and depends entirely upon the person claiming to speak for Islam. And thus there are very nice Muslims who don't see much of a difference between just being a good neighbour and being Muslim, just as there are very nice Christians who also don't see much of a difference between just being a good neighbour and being Christian.

Only if millions of Christians outside the Middle East come together and scream and work on behalf of those of us being persecuted in the Middle East will anything be done. The BBC is too fixated on Palestine, Putin and pedophilia to pay attention to anything else. To get the attention of the non-Christian establishment, we will have to shout together.

Update: I'm reliably informed that the Jesuit Refugee Service makes very good use of donations, and has tons of expertise in helping refugees.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

War on Procrastination

To continue the housekeeping theme, I will report that I have done 2.75 hours of housework today, albeit without a hoover. I broke the hoover on Thursday. Fortunately B.A. was sanguine about this loss, as he had got the device free and second-hand years ago. And we have ordered a new one, a 3-in-1 gadget from VAX, which not only hoovers things, it washes carpets. Yes, this is what married life reduces you to: the same excitement one used to have for a new dress, one now has for a new vacuum cleaner. And to think that I am actually looking forward to washing the carpets. Have I been brainwashed by aliens?

But it turns out that I do not hate housework; I just hated the thought of housework. It's the same with everything difficult, actually: I hate the thought of effort, so I procrastinate like mad, and then when I do it either it's not so bad, or I really enjoy it. I suppose the big exception would be cleaning the cat's litter box, but we don't have a cat, so I'm spared that.

To make myself do necessary tasks that take effort, I need a personal system of bribes and punishments. I also need to get up around 7 or so. And then, because morning is my brainiest time and it seems like a shame to spend the whole thing on housework, I make my coffee and study Polish for an hour. (Lately, though, I have been terribly distracted by the internet, so that hour goes on for quite a long time.) And then, having finished the exercises at the end of the chapter, I get up with relief and a sense of accomplishment and put on my cleaning clothes to tackle the Room of the Day. And only then do I allow myself to set fingers to keyboard, or open a literary work--although sometimes doing even these things involve self-bribery. For one thing, now that I get paid to read books, I should stop feeling so guilty about reading books.

When I ponder my reluctance to do serious housework, right down to the nap of the carpet cleaning, for example, I see not just laziness and procrastination but shame. At some point in the twentieth century, it became shameful for women to do a lot of housework. The idea was that women who stayed at home doing housework were pretty useless (for how long could it take, with all our new labour-saving devices?) and very boring compared to Career Women or, to describe the reality of the work world for the majority, women with jobs. This was a total reversal of my Canadian grandmother's way of life. Her primary profession was housewife, and she had a little part-time job behind the counter of a local store: Charlie's Smoke Shop, I believe. But by the time I was growing up, people (women, mostly) were so nasty about housewives and women so meek about being "just a housewife" that I honestly began to think that there was something seriously wrong with women doing their own housework and it was best left to paid professionals like Hannah Gruen, who ruled the kitchen in Nancy Drew's house. It was not until recently that I realized how much many working mothers long to stay at home and housewife all week instead of just on the weekends. All of a sudden, it's okay, even posh, for middle-class women to stay at home again.

Another situation that changed my attitude towards getting on my hands and knees to scrub is the phenomenon of Polish university students in the UK getting jobs scrubbing floors to pay their living expenses. My mother, who encouraged her children in their part-time jobs behind counters, would never have allowed me to scrub my way through uni. Yet the beauty of the parish gamely scrubbed the stairwells of Edinburgh for 12 pounds an hour, or whatever it was. (To put this into perspective, the pound has roughly the same buying power in the UK as a dollar has in Canada. The UK is hellishly expensive.) That impressed me a lot.

I am not sure what this all has to do with Single life, although naturally we all have an aversion to living in dirt. When I lived alone, I was quite good at keeping on top of housework, in part because I lived either in a bachelor (bedsitter), a one-bedroom flat or a room in a convent. When it is quite obvious that the only person who is going to clean and tidy is you, you just do it. When you have roommates or a husband, then letting things slide is a lot more tempting. But inevitably there will be drama. The preparing for marriage hint I will pass on is that expecting a man to do 50% of the housework is insane, even if you do work the same number of paid hours he does. To say that it is unfair for men to do less housework is like saying gravity is unfair. There seems to be some culture-based masculine enjoyment/toleration/shouldering of outdoor work, especially in the UK where men garden like mad, but honestly I think any indoor housework a man does is a nice bonus, unless it involves hammers.

Monday, 21 July 2014

War on Moths

If you should ever look for a new post on Seraphic Singles and be disappointed, you may safely reflect that I have not written as I am up to my eyebrows in housework. This year the Historical House has been infested with moths, and having engaged in a desultory and mostly defensive battle with them (most nice things having been put for safety into a large insecticidal closet), I am now on the offensive.

Sadly, though, I must report a lost battle. The wretched beasties got B.A.'s pure wool purple pullover, the one I bought him myself. It was kept on the bedroom shelf, which is near enough the bed to rule out the use of insecticide, and when I pulled everything down in today's "Special Cleaning Project", there a horrible moth was, bold as brass, perched on B.A's sweater. Naturally I squashed the horrid thing between my fingers, but when I checked for damage, there it was: nasty telltale little holes.

So now the handsome pullover has been stuffed into a plastic bag sealed shut with cellotape and is sitting by the kitchen rubbish can. But on the plus side, the shelf is tidy and there is one less moth in the world.

Meanwhile, I have hauled from the insecticidal closet 20 years worth of B.A.'s shirts (he throws nothing out) and told him I was taking them to the used clothing store. So he has removed half of them, which he will keep, unworn, for another five years, and then I will smuggle them out of the house. Five years is long enough for wifely piety around the sacrosanctity of a husband's old stuff, imagine ten.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

War on Kitchen

It took me three hours to clean the kitchen today, and that's with only two "special projects." The special projects were cleaning the spice shelf and cleaning one of the cupboards. I found a bunch of lost recipes from home in the cupboard. My mop broke again.

The long-term plan is that one day, the kitchen will be entirely clean, cupboards and all, with no junk anywhere.

As you can see, I am still preoccupied by housework.

Friday, 18 July 2014

War on Dust Mites

I have a new cleaning schedule. It makes so much sense, I don't know why I didn't think of this five years ago. In short, I tidy, dust, sweep or hoover and scrub (if applicable) one room of the flat a day, except Sundays. We have eight rooms (arguably nine, but currently we use the smallest as a closet), so two get done on either Saturday or Monday.

My sudden enthusiasm for cleaning is down to Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. I opened the neglected volume for stain removal advice, and got sucked into the section on dusting. What I read about dust mites frightened me so much, I seized the hoover at once and hoovered the dickens out of the bedroom carpet even though it was Sunday.

We have sand-coloured wall to wall carpeting throughout the flat, which I hate on principle, but it was here before us, and here it will be when we go. Having been roused to unprecedented levels of cleaning activity, I shall sail out this weekend to buy a carpet cleaner.

Now the flat is entirely tidy and dusted, though the recycling has silted up in the kitchen again. Saturday mornings are dedicated to cleaning the kitchen. Incidentally, I have taken to hand cream. Last night I went to bed wearing cheap wool gloves, hands covered in shea butter. My fingernails are a wreck. I am a homemaking martyr.

The psychological boost I get after finishing a room, especially if I get it done by noon, is really amazing. I am hoping it is addictive. So is B.A. Usually he cleans the bathroom out of sheer desperation, poor man, and in five years he complained only once.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

My Favourite Bookshop in Glasgow

I have discovered that St. Mungo's Bookshop in Glasgow carries both my books, Seraphic Singles and Ceremony of Innocence! Naturally I must now promote this excellent and enlightened, faithful Catholic business. So if you are in or near Glasgow and feel like visiting a Catholic bookshop, then off you must go to St. Mungo's, St. Mungo's Retreat, 52 Parson Street, Glasgow, G4 0RX.

Tell Thomas that Seraphic sent you.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Love Migrant

A young lady once said she admired me because I had given up everything, including my own country, to marry the man I love. I felt a spiritually maternal pang of worry although naturally there is a big difference between "giving it all up for love" when love doesn't come with serious and binding commitment and merely moving across the Atlantic to live with one's husband in his country. And I also felt a tad guilty, for it is not like I gave up a major career in Canada to come to Scotland. I wrote for both love and money then, and I write for both love and money now.

Still, moving three thousand miles away from home can do funny things to your brain, even if you are the most privileged kind of migrant, i.e. the love migrant who has simply married into the new society. Yesterday I was reading a published paper about the phenomenon of Polish grocery stores in the UK (unprecedentedly rapid within a four year period), and the behaviour of the Polish migrants seemed very familiar.

For example, in 2004, when Poles were allowed to come and work in the UK as if they were British (and British allowed to go work in Poland as if they were Poles), Polish migrants stocked up on Polish foodstuffs before coming to the UK, greatly hampered by Ryanair's 15 kg limit. After the rapid spread of Polish shops and the availability of Polish foodstuffs, they stopped using up their precious 15 kg allowance on cheese and juice and packed dishes made by their mothers instead. And, indeed, I do know a young lady who brought me a big chunk of meat cured by her own mother as a present.

"How very amusing," I thought, and suddenly remembered that I have a row of thirteen Tim Horton's coffee tins on top of my kitchen cabinets. And that both my mother and father brought me bags of Tim Horton's coffee the last time they were here, plus a box of Crisco and a tin of cookies made by my mother from her latest recipes. And when I saw the first coffee bag, I felt a split second of loss for the old familiar tin before reason kicked in and admired how this innovation makes Tim Horton's coffee so much more packable.

Food, says this article ("The Material Worlds of Recent Polish Migrants: Transnationalism, Food, Shops and Home" by Marta Rabikowska and Kathy Burrell, 2009", is one way migrants "practise home" in the face of a confrontation with "nonhome": To recognize home, one needs to first encounter a ‘nonhome’—a place and condition which contrasts with what was familiar before immigration. The home which is missed by immigrants exists only under the condition of exile and needs constant confrontation with a ‘nonhome’ over which they have little control. Practising home through consuming original food enables them to regain some stability and orientation in a host culture, or…it can be a means of affirming resistance to outside influences.

Personally I would argue that Tim Horton's coffee just tastes really good, but taste wouldn't explain why I keep the tins as fetish objects (in the original meaning of that word, people) on top of our kitchen cupboards.

Meanwhile, I visit the local polski sklep pretty often, although most often before Christmas and Easter, just like the Poles in the UK, apparently. And apparently Polish shopkeepers in the UK are particularly pleased when the native British visit their shops, so (if I pass for British among Poles) I am glad to be adding sunshine to my polski sklep shopkeepers' day. But as yet there is no study as to why a Canadian might take up Polish cooking as a reaction to migration to Scotland, although I would guess that it is because there are so few ways to express Canadianness in Scotland, and so few visible Canadians, that it is just easier to "go Polish".*

I shall never forget that moment of northern solidarity when I stood on a frozen pavement in Edinburgh with a Pole and we both gaped at the attempts of a Californian and an Englishman to get the latter's car de-iced and on its way. I don't even drive and I was appalled. Similarly, I sense in church-going Poles at dinner parties a similar sense of confusion about the attractions and politics of Anglo-Catholicism, i.e. Anglicanism/Scottish Episcopalianism. Like them I take Roman Catholicism for granted, and thus do not get all excited by orphreys or whatever. If a priest does his job, is orthodox and doesn't give scandal, then he can wear a burlap sack, for all I care. And fussing about the number of candles on the altar is just too, too Oxford Movement.

So I guess it could be a form of resistance, and as much as I love Edinburgh (I really do; see below) there are aspects of British culture that need resistance, especially if you are young and vulnerable. The benighted sexual culture is one of them, as is the widespread breakdown of the family, family coming all too often second to Great God Sex Life, and open drunkenness among all age groups (though not, of course, all or most Britons). The driving with two inches of snow on the roof of one's car and as if the roads were dry and ice-free when they actually resemble Montreal's rue St. Denis in January is also pretty bad, as is the lack of Bobcats to clear the roads overnight. I do my bit by refusing ever to call my husband my "partner", paint myself orange (except for Halloween), dye my hair, wear cougar gear or get drunk in pubs. I gave the Californian a combination ice-scraper/snow brush one Christmas.

But of course Edinburgh culture has serious advantages over Toronto culture (as I must say, or Hilary White will remind me that Toronto is not Canada). one of which being that Edinburgh has preserved and continues to preserve its architectural heritage. Also, it is still a Scottish city, with a Scottish soul, not a locus for mass immigration and state-encouraged multi-multiculturalism/multilingualism. In Edinburgh the vast (I estimate 98%) majority of residents speak English, Polish or Italian, and as I have those reasonably covered. I never get that sense of confused alienation I so often suffer on my Toronto neighbourhood bus. (If I hear Spanish, French or Russian, I can safely assume these are happy tourists, not homesick migrants.) And Edinburgh cares so much about its art collections, that its principal museums and galleries have free admittance. Edinburgh is thus a fantastic city--better than Toronto--for lovers of visual art. (For world-class opera, Toronto has the edge, though.)

I see that I have put a comma before "that" in the above paragraph--one of the amusing side-effects of studying and writing in Polish. A young Polish man once voiced his worry that B.A. might resent my interest in Polish stuff, as this must have been the last thing B.A. expected when he brought a Canadian wife home to Scotland. However, I think B.A. is relieved (if he ever thought about it) that I get along as well as I do in Britain and consider myself British anyway, being an anglophone Vimy Ridge Canadian. Not English (though I admire England) and obviously not Scottish (though I live here and my mother's grandparents were born here), but British. If I wasn't sure Alec Salmond's separatiste vanity project was doomed to failure, I'd be applying for British citizenship pronto.

*Update: That said, what could be more typical of a fourth-generation Torontonian than to become fascinated with someone else's cuisine?