Singing to the sea

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Earlier in the month, down on Portobello Beach on a very blustery, cold day, wind howling in off the Firth of Forth. I was having a walk with my chum and his hounds when we saw this group in white robes, who got out of their car, walked down to the beach then facing out to sea they began to sing. We couldn’t understand the words, but it had the feel of a religious ceremony, and although we didn’t know the words (and despite the biting, cold wind!) their song sounded joyful. My friend had seen them in previous days that week doing the same thing, singing out to sea. We still don’t know who they were or what the significance of singing towards the sea was. A friend online said he saw a religious group do something similar when working in Africa, but he didn’t know why they did it either. Anyway, it was an unusual and intriguing thing to see…

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Chester Brown returns with Jesus Wept Over the Feet of Jesus

Mary Wept Over the Feet of Jesus,

Chester Brown,

Drawn & Quarterly

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Chester Brown has to be one of our more uniquely interesting comickers, tackling sensitive – indeed even controversial for some – subject matter with a deft hand, an open mind and a strong element of respect and sensitivity. And tackling Biblical topics is an area likely to generate debate and, I would imagine, controversy, especially when the subtitle is “Prostitution and Religious Obedience in the Bible” (some people just can’t deal with those concepts, and sadly those are the sort of people who could most benefit from reading and thinking about some of the issues raised). Those of us who have enjoyed Chester’s frank and thoughtful work such as Paying For It, which looked at the world of sex workers and those who go to them, will not be at all surprised to find that here he is considering elements of sexuality and gender issues and perception and where they fit into the general human condition.

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And again Brown tackles what could very easily be exploitative material in lesser hands with his customary dexterity and thoughtfulness. Indeed throughout this entire book there is a genuine impression of Brown looking at some of the issues he raises and considering them, not just taking the standard interpretations of Gospel material, but presenting a selection of example tales – Cain and Abel, the Talents, Job Bathsheba, Ruth and more – allowing the reader to absorb them and start forming their own impressions, then, in an expansive Notes section going into far more detail about why he selected those tales and what his own reading has lead him to think about what lesson they really are trying to convey. And I have to say that I often found this latter part even more fascinating than the comic adaptation of the Biblical stories.

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That is no slight on Brown’s comicking ability, by the way – I love his style; the deceptively simple, mostly four-panel layout and the way he retains a cartoonish look but still packs a huge amount of expression into his characters’ face, making them much more relatable and believable and human. And of course those fascinating Notes wouldn’t make much sense without the context he prepares first with the actual comic strips. But it is clear from the Notes how much thought and study has gone into which tales Brown has chosen here to illuminate his chosen topics of obedience, morality, responsibility, gender roles, sex and prostitution. The Notes have extensive bibliographic references to the source books he has drawn from for inspiration, including, to his credit, some that he doesn’t necessarily agree with, but includes their reasoning and argument, which adds balance but also again prompts the reader to think more about their own assumptions, which is never a bad thing.

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(the parable of the Talents)

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I’ve little time for religion myself – my interest in it isn’t theological or a matter of faith, but  pretty much the same as the interest I’ve always had in the stories of the Olympian gods, or Norse pantheon, or the gods of the Mayans or Aztecs.  I’m more fascinated by what the worship of these beings and the stories constructed around them to explain what they are and why they do what they do says about human nature and our attempts to explain the world around us, and also to try and codify a coherent shared structure of beliefs and rules that can help shape and bind a society (for both good and ill). And of course quite often some of these are also just pretty interesting stories – the best of them, like many other good stories of all types, still holding relevance to today. The gender issues raised here are especially still of much relevance to our modern society, and you’d think by 2016 it shouldn’t be (come on, two thousand years later!), but sadly yes, it is and so it’s a good thing authors like Brown are highlighting them again, reminding us we’ve still a long way to go in improving ourselves and how we deal with others. Going back to a time when women were almost just property, where they had to rely on “a good match”, it’s not that far off from some of what you pick up on millennia later in the likes of Jane Austen (not so much the stories, but the position of women, the restricted choices they have to make in a hugely paternalistic society) and other writing from the Modern age.

I often disagreed with both the mainstream and Brown’s own conclusions about the meanings behind some of the stories – as with a lot of religious discussion it is easy to get tied into mental knots attempting to explain the reasoning behind the actions of some (to me totally imaginary) sky-daddy figure, when to me it seemed that, as with the likes of the Olympians, it’s better to just never trust the reasoning by any god because deities seem to change their fickle minds rather too often and then blame poor mortals for any mistakes. But cynical as I am I was still deeply fascinated by the reasoning Brown showed here, and the underlying theme of compassion he clearly has, and found that after reading his fascinating Notes section that I had to go back over each of the strips again several times, feeling as if I was looking at them from a slightly different angle, and that, my friends, is a real gift to a reader, not to convert you to the author’s point of view (and to be fair I doubt that was his intent anyway), but to share with the reader various viewpoints and competing ideas and allowing them to open different perspectives in the reader.

Medieval christening

As the news shows the usual pile of cringing royalists who camp out for a brief glimpse of the royal family passing, I see the actual christening ceremony likes to evoke a healthy slice of medieval superstition – water specially flown in from the River Jordan for the actual christening. Really? They do know it’s 2015, the Earth goes around the sun and the medieval trade in oogy-boogey magical artefacts is somewhat discredited? Nice to see the creaking, outdated notion of hereditary monarchy embracing modernity…. Seriously though, magic religious water from the Middle East to splash on a baby to mark it being more privileged than others? What utter rot.

Judas: the Last Days

Judas: the Last Days,

W Maxwell Prince, John Amor,

IDW Publishing

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I’ve very much been looking forward to reading this book, every since I saw it in IDW’s solicitations a few months ago. Knowing little about it or the creators save what was in the description, it was one of those books that triggered that vibe I get sometimes that tells me I want to check out a particular book. I was also intrigued enough by the idea of a book exploring a long life of an undying Judas Iscariot to ask the author, William Maxwell Prince, if he would like to do one of our guest Director’s Commentary posts (where we give the space to the creators to talk about their new work in their own words, any way they want), and what he said in his guest post just confirmed my bookselling Spidey sense that I really wanted to read this. I was not disappointed; in fact I found Judas delivered rather more than I was expecting.

He had forgiven me before the first lie even spilled from my lips. And that only makes it worse… There was this just this way… He concentrated on you, loved you, even at your worse.”

When we first meet Judas, it’s fair to say he is not a terribly happy bunny – his immortality weighs heavily on him, along with his infamous betrayal. Two thousand years of wandering the world since he betrayed Christ, lamenting a world and people who don’t really change, who keep making the same awful mistakes again and again. And he himself, despairing, wishing dearly to simply end it, but he can’t – he can’t die, he doesn’t even bleed, as we find out in several flashbacks to parts of his two millennia history, including, notably, one scene with the infamous Doctor Mengele in the death camps of the Third Reich as he experiments on prisoners (also dovetailing nicely with the well-documented Nazi fascination for occult secrets and their eagerness to gain any powers for their own ends). We soon see him entering a secret place, a hidden library, staffed with gnome-like librarians, who keep all the stories of the peoples of the world, including his. Surely they can tell him how he can simply die? But no, his story is fixed.

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And so he goes to seek out old friends – very old friends, as it turns out. Judas isn’t alone, each of the apostles is also immortal, and each has found a different way to adapt to their unending lives. And spreading the Word, even if that was what they most wanted in the earliest days, doesn’t really seem to figure in most of their lives today. Matthew is a cross-dressing lover of carnal delights (including pimping for demonic and other supernatural beings) and Paul (the Lesser) is a bloated mountain of a man, gorging on food, drink and drugs. Except with his immortal physique he can swallow, snort or inject as many drugs as he wants but never really gets high. And Paul… Well, let’s not spoil anything, other than to say Paul, by his own admission, “loves a pulpit” and prefers a high place from which to preach. Except these days his preaching seems to be more about remaking things in his own view and boy has he picked a high position indeed… And all of them know Judas wants to end his immortal existence. And some of them know that even among twelve immortal disciples he is rather special…

And I’m not going any deeper into the narrative, partly because I don’t want to spoil things but also because discussing the main plot points here wouldn’t really do the book justice; Judas does indeed have a fascinating narrative, but it is really one of those reads to be experienced rather than just absorbing a story. In fact in many ways this is a story about stories, about the world, faith (religious or in another person, or sometimes both), it’s about how some special peoples – some might call prophets or even extensions of a godhead – become so remarkable because they have learned to start seeing the world in a different way. And not just see it in a different way but realising that their thoughts and beliefs, especially shared with others, can alter and change the world, change people, change reality. And that’s a process that never ends, because this is about the power of stories and ideas, and ideas, the truly good, important ones, are not static, the Word is not just what was inscribed on a tablet millennia ago, never to be changed or deviated from, it’s just a tool, a key, a device to help expand your own doors of perception and develop your own ways of seeing a different world. It’s fascinating.

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What if I told you there was no such thing as a truth? That anything, any idea, can be turned on its head and made into something better… A single loaf of bread can be multiplied into infinite pieces. A man can walk on water. You, me, those men you’re after, we can all live forever. You just have to know how to change a story.

The story manages an intoxicating mixture of religion, philosophy and fantasy, with an added dab of conspiracy theory, and yet I didn’t think it was disrespectful to the source religion, if anything it highlighted the remarkable nature of Jesus and the love the disciples had for him, but also their feelings of loss when he was removed from their presence (and poor Judas, damning himself for his role in that, but at the same time, wasn’t his role a necessary part of that narrative, a requirement to enable this changing shape of the world to the new, better story that The Word promised, to allow Him to be reborn, even more powerful, transfigured?). John Amor has to handle a huge amount of variety in his artwork – Biblical scenes, various other historical scenes, the present day world and some flights of pure fantasy and changing realities, (and he has to keep the main immortal character recognisable in each of those historical segments), a tall order, but one which he pulls off well. It’s a fascinating work, and one which will demand repeated readings (I’ve already found myself going back over it a couple of times), and one of those intriguing books that plants nice little idea seeds in your brain that will tickle away, tantalising your mind. It’s also one of those books where, because it is about the ideas and concepts it is conjuring up in your mind, maddeningly difficult to do justice to in a review, because each person will see those ideas a bit differently. Judas is a book which, I think, will especially appeal to those who enjoyed works like Gaiman’s Sandman, Mignola’s Hellboy and Carey’s Lucifer. Much recommended.

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This review was originally penned for the Forbidden Planet blog

Five years on

me and mum and dad at NMS

It’s five years to the day since my mum was suddenly ripped away from us, just like that, literally overnight. Day before planning holidays with dad, buying new luggage, looking forward to the break, the two of them about to enjoy their retirement together. Next day (or more accurately the small, dark hours of the night) and our world was pulled down around us shattering dad and I. I find it so hard to believe it is five years since I heard my mum’s voice, held her hand, had a kiss and a hug. Time heals all, as the dreadfully banal and bloody meaningless phrase goes. No, it doesn’t, not even close. You don’t get over events like that, ever. You try and get on, every day life – work, bills, illnesses – distract, friends help, my darling kitties were a great morale booster for me when I was in the dark places (alas no more though, all gone too), but it is always at the back of your mind, every single day and always will be.

Been home spending the day with my dear old dad, we took flowers up to mum’s grave, very upsetting for both of us, but we perked up later in the day then on the way to drop me off at the station to go home we visited my cousin’s home deliver chocolate eggs for his adorable girls, and we got plenty of hugs from them and lovely wee handmade Easter cards from the eldest and I felt much better.

Sadly some of that better mood evaporated just five minutes from home when three very young women stopped me in the street wanting to ask me something. I paused assuming they needed directions somewhere but oh no, it was the God-botherer squad asking me about coming to their meeting to accept the love of Jesus into my life. I said no rather curtly and tried to move on only to have them ask again – these idiots are so blinded by how right they and their mission is they can’t accept a no or leave alone (indeed so arrogant they assume it is fine to go up to total strangers about such matters). And my patience snapped and I rounded on them, told them I had just returned from laying flowers on my mother’s grave on the fifth anniversary of her being suddenly taken from us, that she was a believer but their bloody god didn’t seem to care about taking her before her time, so frankly their god, if by some incredibly unlikely eventually he did exist, can kiss my arse because he is clearly a swine and no friend to me.

They started with sorry and we didn’t know sort of lines missing the point – they stop complete strangers in the street and they don’t know what is in that person’s head, they could be approaching someone who is grieving deeply, someone who is devoutly Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or any other faith who would be deeply offended by some 19 year old smilingly telling them why they know better than they what they should believe, they could even be stopping someone who has been abused by a member of the clergy (certainly enough of those) and for whom religious questions bring up dreadful memories. And yet they are so blindly arrogant in their belief and how right they are and that they should tell everyone else that they stop us in the street and even come round uninvited to our homes. I saw them return to the American style church that set near me a few years back, I’ve had these arrogant sods round knocking on all the doors in our blocks with this nonsense too and it never occurs to them they may be wrong, that someone else may know their own mind better. I don’t go into their gathering place to explain why I think their beliefs are silly, or point out that a little historical reading shows many components of their ‘word of god’ were borrowed from other, much older belief systems and that other parts of this supposedly sacred text were edited out in early church history so how can you trust any of it? No, I leave them to it, it’s their lives and beliefs, I have no problem with them pursuing it, but I do object to this blind arrogance that compels them to keep trying to tell others – uninvited and unwanted, I should add – that they should be believing as they.

Normally I just walk away from such idiots, but when they wouldn’t accept no I really couldn’t hold my tongue and frankly I think they deserve someone they stop asking them where the hell their god was when my mum needed him? And unlike me she did believe. Maybe they should consider why good, loving people get taken too early and uncaring, vile people get to live to a ripe old age so often, instead of just spouting what they have been told without actually considering it properly. Then again these evangelicals aren’t much on questioning… I object to these people stopping me in the streets of my own neighbourhood or coming around uninvited to my front door at any time, but today of all days I was in no mood for their unthinking, self righteous fairy tale nonsense. Perhaps those girls will think twice next time they approach someone – should we do it, we don’t know what that person is going through, perhaps we might upset them rather than help them – but I fear they won’t, because they are so sure they are on a sacred mission. And anything they do for that mission that upsets others as they upset me at a very emotional time is okay, they will be forgiven because it was for the Good and therefore they bear no moral responsibility for it.

I did feel like saying this is Easter so why doesn’t your god perform the resurrection miracle once more and give me back my mother, knowing they have no answer to that, but I was tired and upset by them by then and instead I just walked away.

The Easter message

Do this in remembrance of me: this is my body, this is my blood. And this is a cute bunny wabbit with a big-ass chocolate egg.”

 

From the Book of Carbohydrates, Chapter 3, Verse 8. Thus endeth our Easter reading, amen.

Blaspheming

Walking home earlier this week I passed a group of religious protestors outside Saint Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Not sure what they were doing there in the dark but one banner read “god save Scotland from blasphemy”, which makes me think they are one of those religious groups who think it is alright to try and restrict and control what others can say if it annoys or offends them in any way. The same sort who try to use ancient blasphemy laws and concepts to try and restrict what someone can say, what plays or films can be show or performed – while of course demanding the right to say what they want (newsflash, if an article, play, book or film says something that offends your little religion and your relationship with your invisible magic friend then don’t read or watch it – but don’t tell the rest of us we can’t). I despire blasphemy laws, they have no place in a modern society, they are an afront to free speech and they contravene the human rights legislation on the freedom of expression. Besides which, is what a non-believer says or does in a book or film or satire or whatever threatens your belief system so much I can only conclude your faith must be pretty weak or nothing could affect it.

religious protestors outside St Giles

One of the other banners had re-worked the lyrics to Flower of Scotland but now had something about the Church of Scotland and ‘arrogant popery’, so I have to assume as well as being humourless zealots who want to restrict what others can say if it offends their religious views they are also bigots, because that is the language of sectarianism. So these people demand an end to blasphemy (at least whatever they call blasphemy) but think it is okay to hold up bigoted, sectarian slogans in a public place? No, no double standards there at all.

A religious tryptich

A form of tryptich on the art board from the always interesting lot at the Saint John’s church on Princes Street, with three things the Roman Catholic Church has had problems with over its history (if they had picked everything the church has been prejudiced against, let alone violently opposed to they’d have needed a canvas longer than all of Princes Street), placed right in full view of where the Pope would go past in his recent and most unwelcome visit (why is the taxpayer funding a trip from a religious figure? It’s not a ‘state’ visit since the Vatican isn’t a real state but a religious theocracy holdover from medieval times. Why are we paying for a homophobic, bigoted, mysoginistic, anti-science, intolerant former Nazi to come to our country and then to insult us?).

Saint John's Church mural for Pope's visit to Edinburgh

Burning books

I find it highly amusing (in a bitter and dark way) that the same Muslim countries making vociferous complaints against the shagwit bigot preacher Terry Jones and his frankly stupid idea of burning a Qur’an are exclaiming loudly how it is insulting, provocative, derogatory and disrespectful of their culture (which it is) while showing their displeasure by doing what they usually do and burning flags and effigies. Do they see the irony in this? Does it percolate into their equally bigoted minds that perhaps they infuriate other cultures by mass burnings of national flags and effigies of people they’ve been told to hate? Nope, they don’t because like most such idiots (of any type, creed or any other affiliation) they only ever see the other people doing bad things, not them, oh no.

Meanwhile I read that in Edinburgh a group demonstrated outside the US consulate. Now I can understand they are not happy, but I wondered what they thought would be achieved by demonstrating outside the US building? I mean this isn’t an action taken by the US government; in fact government officials have gone out of their way to condemn the 9-11 anniversary book burning as a stupid and disgraceful act and also tried to appeal to the reverend on patriotic grounds, pointing out that his ill advised actions could lead to a groundswell in attacks against US forces overseas. To no avail. So what did the group protesting outside the consulate here expect? “We have asked the American government to arrest this man, he is causing anti-Muslim hatred and I cannot believe nothing has been done,” commented one of the organisers, Mohammed Asif.

Er, what? Rev Jones is clearly a bigot and intent on provoking more relgious hatred and, let’s be honest, anyone who burns books (religious or any other kind) is a barbarian of the first order in my opinion, but while what he’s planning may make him an uncivilised hate-monger he’s not doing anything illegal and he is free to express himself, even if he expresses himself as a totally bigoted arsebag. Guess what, that means you can’t gag him by arresting him. I despise what he is doing but calling for him to be arrested because you dislike his (legal if distasteful) actions is ridiculous – especially coming from a group who have just enjoyed using the freedom of speech of a Western country to stage a peaceful demonstration but seem to think it is okay to ignore someone they disagree with’s rights to freedom of speech and demand their arrest to shut them up. Not an unusual state of affairs when it comes to religious protestors of any type – witness the Christian ones here over the years who demand stage shows or films they dislike are banned or performers or writers arrested, happily invoking the rights to freedom of thought and belief for themselves while finding it so easy to demand its removal from others. Religion. Should be a law against it.

Meanwhile I can’t help but notice that no-one, be it on this militant fuckwit American church side or the usual flag burning Muslim countries side,  has commented on the worst aspect of this whole proposed book burning – I mean, just what is that going to do for their carbon footprint, eh?

I’m thinking the few remaining, book reading, civilised people should have a counter demonstration against both side and wave some oversized copies of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 at these numpties.

Update: as I was posting this news appeared on the BBC that Jones may be calling off his barbaric book burning, although even if he has he’s managed to stir up even more anger and hatred just with the plan of it, not that it takes much to stir up some groups…

C**t of the Day

Shrub Monkey performs an invaluable web service on his blog and Twitter with his Cunt of the Day, selecting a recipient for the not so coveted award on a daily basis, from a field of, let’s be honest, vast numbers of potential candidates. Today’s COTD was Andreas Laun, Roman Catholic archbishop of Salzburg, who declared that the tragic deaths at the recent Love Parade festival in Germany were god’s punishment for a lack of faith. Yes, seriously, this senior office bearer of the religious organisation which has spent decades protecting it’s many kiddy diddling members said that. As Shrub Monkey points out it was bad enough when a religious lunatic in Iran (no shortage of those, obviously) claimed sinful women caused earthquakes (perhaps he misunderstood the term ‘did the earth move for you?’ often used when spending time with such sinful women). But this is a presumably educated man in Western Europe in the 21st century. Yes, I know, as a priest he is more susceptible to be lead by stupid superstitions than most, but even so, Shrub Monkey is bang on, what a cunt, right up there with similar ‘caring’ so-called Christians who made simialr claims about AIDS in the 80s when it was predominantly confined to the gay community and they proclaimed it was god’s judgement.

(apologies for the use of the C word here, but it is the name of the blog and the award, so it kind of has to go in…)

Sinning

According to Vatican research men and women sin in different ways – for men Lust is the biggest temptation of the Seven Deadly Sins. Well, wow, imagine that – men are obsessed with shagging! Hold the front pages for that shocker. Said findings come based on research on confessions by a 85 year old Jesuit – I’m sure an ancient celibate can tell us all about sexual matters, which is why we should all take advice on sex and related manners such as family planning from the Catholic Church. Oh, hold on, I meant to say, cobblers to all of that. Fortunately I do not commit any sins whatsoever. Not, I hasten to add, because I am a paragon of virtue but because, thankfully, I am free of the superstitious shackles of fairy tale religions and so the concept doesn’t apply to me. Ladies, apparently, are more likely to give in to the sin of Pride than lust, which, like the nonsense statistics which say men commit more adultery than women, begs the question if this is accurate then who are the men committing lustful affairs with? Or is it more likely that the women simply don’t want to admit to being a bit naughty?