Wednesday, 30 March 2011

"From politics, it was an easy step to silence."

Jane Austen

This woman lived in a totally different culture, and died almost 200 years ago... but she is still capable of making me laugh!

Friday, 25 March 2011

What Makes a Woman a Heroine?

This week a friend and I went round a new art exhibition, here in Madrid, entitled "HeroĆ­nas" (Heroines) - an exhibition which depicts women  through art, spanning many centuries and focusing on the different aspects which have been drawn out by the artists. 

Whilst slightly begrudging the fact that we paid the entrance fee, only to discover half way round that the second half of the exhibition was in a different art gallery (!), we were intrigued by  variety of the collection of artwork, and the thought behind its presentation. It was worth the walk to the second gallery to finish the tour.

What particularly interested us was the way in which the art was categorised, not chronologically, but in themes. The buzz word for feminism over recent years has been "empowerment" and this idea is established from the very name of the exhibition, which awards the title "heroine" to the array of different women depicted through the pictures: some iconic such as Joan of Arc, some highly symbolic, others merely peasant women, and a significant group are the female artists themselves.

In the light of this desire to portray the empowerment of women through art, the choice of categories is intriguing. The paintings or photos are grouped under the following aspects: solitude, work, delirium, sport, war, magic, religion, reading and painting. Several of these show obvious links to the idea of "empowerment", while other sections, particularly "solitude" - which depicted women in a state of apparent waiting, loneliness and passivity - do not seem to fit with the generally accepted idea of a heroine.

So what makes someone a heroine? The dictionary definition for the word is "a woman of distinguished courage or ability, admired for her brave deeds and noble qualities." Does that mean, as the exhibition seems to imply, that you can award such a title to any woman, simply for being female? The exhibition was thought-provoking as to the less conventional qualities of a heroic person... Solitude for example is claimed in this exhibition to hold "the seeds of independence and even resistance". 

What qualities would you expect from a "heroine"? Personally, I think I value qualities like kindness,  passion, wisdom or faithfulness in the women I admire, more than  I do rebellion or resistance.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

When the lights go out...

Could we survive without electricity? Yesterday I read in the news that the Japanese government is having to cut the electricity periodically for three hours at a time because there currently isn’t enough energy to go around. After all the atrocities that have gone on in their country during the last week, it is going to be a long and difficult road back to stability for the Japanese. Loss of power, as well as even portable water in some areas, means that the direct effects of the crisis are far from over.

The article made me reflect on just how dependant we are in the 21st Century on electricity in every part of our daily lives. It started me thinking about how much would be different:

  •  No lights- so you couldn’t carry on normal life after dusk
  • No phone – so you would be unable to contact people
  • No computers – offices would have to shut down
  • No internet or television – for news, entertainment, etc.
  • No street lights or security cameras – it would no longer be safe at night.
  • No trains or traffic lights - so your travel would be effected.
  • No microwave/toaster/kettle or possibly even cooker – so you would have to eat cold food.
  • Freezers and fridges would defrost so food would go off.
  • Automatic doors/cash registers/ in shops or public buildings would not work.
  • For hospitals... I don’t know where to begin.

The list goes on and on and it is amazing to realise just how powerless we would be!

A power cut can be troublesome and awkward, or maybe even quite fun depending on your situation. But I imagine the fun would soon wear out and ultimately our society today would fall into chaos after a prolonged lack of electricity. So... I hope they find an adequate replacement by the time the world’s crude oil supply runs out! Otherwise, I guess we really should at least start buying energy saving light bulbs...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Free Needles for Heroin Addicts

A few miles the south of the buzzing, metropolitan city of Madrid lies a small "gitano" village which is home to some of the most desperate people I have ever met: heroin addicts. The gitanos (travellers) make a good living out of drug trafficking but there in a rubble-filled, deserted car park the drug addicts sit in small makeshift tents or just lie out on worn out mattresses. Those who have been on drugs the longest are easily identifiable by their swollen, blackened hands and shuffling steps. It is hard to imagine, walking around the vibrant, lively centre of the Spanish capital, that such a subculture exists just a few kilometres away.

Betel, the church that I am going to here in Madrid, has a huge ministry to drug addicts. Betel started here just 25 years ago with the dream of helping the addicts kick their habits and has since spread throughout the world. Thousands of changed lives from around the globe testify to the love of these Christians and the power of God in breaking chains of addiction.

The team from Betel visit the site daily to give them food, tea and clothes, as well as to encourage those who want to that they are able to escape from the trap that they have found themselves in. They have several different rehab centres in the city where those who choose to can go to turn their lives around: a far longer and more painful task than it may sound. While out with the team, I asked what the large coach was doing on the site and one of them explained it was a government project which handed out free needles to the addicts.

Apparently, giving out free needles for the prevention of HIV is a Europe wide initiative. Clearly the EU has carefully considered this as the best option, yet it seems a controversial way of “helping” the situation. There were also several policemen around the area, and while we appreciated their protection, it seems strange that they were doing nothing to stop those taking drugs. One of the addicts who had just been shooting up went to the coach to get his arm bandaged up. 

The government seems to feel it is more important to prevent HIV than to discourage drug abuse. These addicts have been deemed beyond rescue. However Betel would disagree and it has been wonderful to meet several of the recovering addicts on Sundays, many years on, with families and jobs and a bright future ahead.