Oranges are not the only fruit


Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a novel by Jeanette Winterson published in 1985, which she subsequently adapted into a three-part BBC television drama. It is a bildungsroman about a lesbian girl who grows up in an English Pentecostal community.

I plan to read the book, but in the meantime, I found the TV series on youtube, so I watched that first. It’s a great show, give it a watch if you have the time. On youtube it’s uploaded as 6 parts of about 7 minutes for each of the 3 episode. There’s a part missing though, so if you can access the video via other means, maybe you could try that too. For example, I’ve just realized that the esplanade library carries the video cassettes! …not sure how I would watch video cassettes though haha, maybe the esplanade has a multimedia room you can use. Nonetheless, the missing part didn’t make the show any less enjoyable to watch.

Some thoughts:

It made me think, once again, about how flexible the human mind is.
I mean, how easily we can twist words to mean what we want them to mean. How words can mean anything.  How easily we can delude ourselves, how easily we can truly believe what is not true. How easily we can think, with all our heart, that we’re doing the right thing.

Can you blame the mother in the show, as unpleasant as she is? Can you fault her for treating the main character, Jess, in that way? It may not be your idea of love (it may be, in fact, your idea of hate) but I do think she does love Jess, and every horrible thing she did, she thought it was for the best. No, she knew it was for the best.

This is how humans are. We can operate separate from the ‘truth’. It doesn’t matter so much what is out there as what we think is out there, how we perceive what is out there.

And that’s the problem I have with ‘faith’. Knowing how susceptible we are to such thinking, to being able to have unwavering belief in your own thoughts, positions and actions, shouldn’t we be guarding against such thinking rather than encouraging it? Guarding against ‘having faith’?

Because isn’t such type of thinking the essence of faith?

To have complete trust in something. To believe in god without evidence. To… just believe. Just have faith. With all your heart.

People are capable of being blind enough as it is. Don’t tie blindfolds over your eyes and tell me that’s a GOOD thing. The more blindfolds you tie, the more you trust without EVIDENCE or PROOF, the better and more PREFERABLE that is? Seriously?
—-
The show had me crying. Because the worst thing was… knowing that this isn’t merely fiction. Knowing that this isn’t merely history. Knowing that this isn’t merely abstract ideas, or something happening far away.

This is real. This is now. This is here. This is me, and those are my friends.

Please don’t pretend that the church’s position has ‘progressed’, that your position has progressed and is better and more reasonable than historical positions. Does it really matter what words you use? Whether you call it a ‘demon in you’ or an ‘illness’ or a  ‘disorder’ or a ‘result of the fallen world’ or an ‘abomination’ or even just simply a ‘sin’?

You change the words, but the final meaning is the same. The church’s idea of ‘progress’ is ‘accepting’ new evidence but without letting it change the bottom line. So you have to change your interpretation a little. That’s not a problem. As long as you keep the bottom line the same.

I don’t remember if I’ve said it out loud on this blog yet, but… my girlfriend of three years broke up with me–yes, you guessed it– for religious reasons. You could say this blog is born from that incident.

During that break-up period, she showed me two different cases from two different Christian books she was reading– about homosexuals having had demons successfully cast out of them.

…how do you think that makes me feel? To know that the person you love thinks that the only reason why you love her and why she loves you is because of a demon?

…so when we enjoyed each others’ company, simply sitting on a bench enjoying the breeze and talking; a demon at work?
…so when we celebrated anniversaries or valentine’s days, exchanging heartfelt gifts; a demon pulling the strings?
…when we went out for dinner; a demon ordering dessert?
…when we said ‘I love you’ countless times, cheered each other on through tests, exams and school work, listened to each others’ problems and worries… all through a demon’s mouth and ears?

I understand a little more now why people can be so cruel, why the mother in the show can behave so hard-heartedly towards her daughter. That’s not her daughter, it’s a demon. The devil’s limb, as she says.

How people could have burnt women at the stake: they’re not women, they’re witches. The cries you hear aren’t the cries of a women in pain, they are the cries of evil knowing it has lost the battle. When someone cries and screams while having a demon cast out, that’s the sound of the demon, in pain.

What does ‘demon’ even mean, anyway? The idea of ‘ALL GOOD’ and ‘ALL BAD’ is really an incoherent one to me. It can’t exist in more than the abstract. If this thing you call a ‘demon’ can feel pain, shouldn’t we have compassion for it too?

I can’t wait to read the book.

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Stop taking sides


Stop taking sides, we’re all in this together.

When I taught philosophy, I began the course by walking into the room after the students were seated and announcing, “We are now going to play musical chairs.” The only further instruction was, “Please arrange your chairs and get ready to play.”

No student ever asked why. Ever. And no student ever asked how to play.
They knew the rules as surely as they knew hide-and-seek.
Always the same response– the students enthusiastically arranged the chairs in a line with the seats alternating directions, then stood encircling the row of chairs. Read, ready, ready!
All I had to do was punch up “Stars and Stripes Forever” on the tape machine, and the students marched around the chairs. Mind you, these were seniors in high school. They hadn’t played musical chairs since second grade. But they still knew how, and jumped into the game without heisitation. Musical chairs! All right!
After removing a few chairs, I stopped the music. There was a mad scramble for the remaining chairs. Those without chairs were stunned. They knew how this game worked–music stops, get a chair– how could they not have a chair so soon? They had “how dumb can I be?” written on their faces.

Too bad. But they were losers. Out. Over against the wall. Only a game.
Music continues, students march around, chairs removed, STOP!
Students go crazy trying to get a chair this time.
As the game goes on, the quest for chairs turn serious. Then rough.
Girls are not going to fight jocks for chairs. Losers to the wall.
Down to two members of the wrestling team, who are willing to push, knee, kick or bite to be the last person in a chair. This is war! STOP! And by jerking the chair out from under his opponent, one guy slams down into the last chair– a look of triumph on his face– hands raised high with forefingers signaling NUMBER ONE, NUMBER ONE.

The last student in the last chair always acted as if the class admired him and his accomplishment. He got the CHAIR! “I’m a WINNER!” Wrong.
Those losers lined up against the wall thought he was a jerk.
Admiration? Hardly. Contempt is what they felt.
This was not a game. Games were supposed to be fun.
This got too serious too fast– like high school life– and real life.
Did they want to play again? A few of the jocks did. But not the rest of the class. It all came back to them now. Big deal.

I insisted. Play one more time. With one rule change. Musical chairs as before, but this time, if you don’t have a chair, sit down in someone’s lap. Everybody stays in the game– it’s only a matter of where you sit.
The students are thinking– well…OK.

Chairs are reset. Students stand ready. Music starts and they march. Chairs are removed. STOP! There is a pause in the action. The students are really thinking it over now. (Do I want a chair to myself? Do I want to sit on someone’s lap or have someone sit in mine? And who?) The class gets seated, but the mood has changed. There is laughter– giggling. When the game begins again, there is a change of pace. Who’s in a hurry?
When the number of chairs is sufficiently reduced to force two to a chair, a dimension of grace enters in as the role of sittee or sitter is clarified– “Oh, no, please, after you.” Some advance planning is evident as the opportunity to sit in the lap of a particular person is anticipated.
As the game continues, and more and more people must share one chair, a kind of gymnastic dance form develops. It becomes a group accomplishment to get everybody branched out onto knees. Students with organisational skills come to the fore– it’s a people puzzle to solve now — “big people on the bottom first– put your arms around him — sit back– easy, easy.”

When there is one chair left, the class laughs and shouts in delight as they all manage to use one chair for support now that they know the weight can be evenly distributed. Almost always, if they tumbled over, they’d get up and try again until everyone was sitting down. A triumphant moment for all, teacher included.

The only person who had a hard time with this paradigm shift was the guy who won the first time under the old rules. He lost his bearings–didn’t know what winning was now.

As a final step to the process, I would tell the class we would push on one more round. “The music will play, you will march, and I will take away the last chair. When the music stops, you will all sit down in a lap.
“Can’t be done,” they say.
“Yes, it can,” say I.
So once more they marched and stopped–what now?
“Everyone stand in a perfect circle
“All turn sideways in place, as if you were going to walk together in a circle.
“Take a single step into the middle so as to have a tight circle now, with each person in the group bellyside to backside with the person ahead of them
“Place your hands on the hips of the person in front of you.
“On the count of three, very carefully guide the person onto your knees at the same time as you very carefully sit down on the knees of the person behind you.
“Ready. One. Two. Three. Sit.”
They all sat. No chair.

I have played the chair game in this way with many groups of many ages in varied settings. The experience is always the same. It’s a problem of sharing diminishing resources. This really isn’t kid stuff. And the question raised by musical chairs is always the same:
Is it always to be a winners-losers world, or can we keep everyone in the game?
Do we still have what it takes to find a better way?

– Robert Fulghum, “Maybe (Maybe Not)” (1993)

Stop taking sides, we’re all in this together.

In the process of re-learning and re-internalising a value I’ve always believed in.