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2016 Grateful 13

As the week draws to a close, I’m officially confused. Even more so than usual. Back in 2009, I went on a road-trip to Eastern Hungary and saw one of the simplest and most beautiful churches I’ve seen, ever. Since then, when I think of Gothic, that’s what comes to mind. So yesterday, in the Church of St George in Spišská Sobota, I was a little taken aback to read that it was Gothic, too. And the two couldn’t be more different.

img_7106_easy-resize-com Just as we went in, a busload of Austrian tourists descended on the place and we got lost in the crowd. Taking photos was verboten and usually not one to break the rules, I put my camera on silent and shut down the flash. But when I could, I snapped. I made my peace with God figuring that such a beautiful place deserves a wider audience.

It’s a miracle that the five Gothic altars have survived as long as they have (the earliest dates back to the 1400s) and are in such good nick. They’re stunning.

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The 1464 Altar of the Blessed Virgin features the four principal virgins (a new one on me, one that leaves me wondering what made them principals?): St Dorothy of Cesarea, St Catherine of Alexandria, St Margaret of Antioch, and St Barbara of Nicodemia. The two on the right look shinier than the others because they’re copies. The real ones were stolen back in 1993. Is nothing sacred any more?

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But beautiful and all as the altars (and the Holy Tomb) are, it was the modern-day stained glass windows that mesmerised me. Added over time from 2007 to 2013 they’re quite something. Each has a story. I could’ve looked at them for hours trying to interpret their meanings. I didn’t manage to get photos that did them any sort of justice, but someone else did. They’re worth checking out.

I’ve banged on before about modern architecture and the shortsightedness of urban planners ruining the look of places so I was really glad (and grateful) to see that it is possible for old and new to coexist and harmonise. It’s a matter of taste. When fifteenth-century Gothic can sit quite happily beside twenty-first-century whatever, that’s something to behold.

Higher up the Tatras, in the town of Nový Smokovec, there’s an Evangelical Church with one of the most interesting altar backdrops I’ve seen. One that makes Christ look positively human. That too, I could have looked at for hours, but the church was locked up and standing on the wrong side of locked doors shortchanged the moment.

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And not alone am I confused, I’m also a little worried. September is officially over. And October has opened with a bang. Today, Hungary will to the polls in a referendum that asks the question:

Do you want the European Union to be able to mandate the obligatory resettlement of non-Hungarian citizens into Hungary even without the approval of the National Assembly?

Critics say this is the Hungarian version of Brexit – I hope that’s an overreaction. But for months now, the city has been awash with billboards asking questions like:

  • Did you know? More than 300 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Europe since the start of the migrant crisis.
  • Did you know? The Paris terrorist attacks were carried out by immigrants.
  • Did you know? 1.5 million illegal immigrants arrived to Europe in 2015.
  • Did you know? Brussels wants the forced resettling of a city’s worth of illegal immigrants into Hungary.
  • Did you know? Almost one million immigrants want to come to Europe from Libya alone?
  • Did you know? Since the start of the immigration crisis, sexual harassment of women has increased in Europe?

I worry that the propaganda might have taken hold. I hope not. It remains to be seen whether reason prevails.

2015 Grateful 32

When I was younger, and a lot more innocent, I used to worry that my gay radar was a little out of kilter. Working in London in the early 2000s, one colleague I had figured for gay was straight and another I was sure was straight wasn’t. It upset me a little that I could get it so wrong until I realised what I was doing – labelling.

Both were lovely. It didn’t much matter what their sexual orientation was. It was immaterial. And yet I had subconsciously bought in to the need to classify. Back then, the discovery that someone was gay was something that was talked about, often in terms of surprise – Hey, did you know? Me? I hadn’t a clue.

I had my first open and frank conversation with a couple of lesbian friends about 20 years ago – the whole nature vs nurture debate was raging and I was curious.   I’d grown up in a predominately white, straight, Catholic society and had an innate curiosity about anyone who didn’t fit that mould. I asked questions – I’ve always asked questions – because I wanted to understand, to know more.

I wanted to know what it was like to be black in LA during the Rodney King riots; I wanted to know what it was like to be gay in Uganda where it still warrants life imprisonment; I wanted to know what it as like to be Jewish in Europe in the 1940s. I didn’t trust the books or the scientific studies  – I wanted to hear first-hand and so when I got the chance, I asked questions. And the more I learned, the more amazed I was that the nature vs nurture debate still had traction. That anyone could believe that being gay is a choice is beyond me – but that’s just my opinion.

We all have our life stories, our scripts. How we choose to tell those stories pretty much defines who we are. That some people still struggle in telling their stories, still feel the need to hide the fact that they’re gay or in a same-sex relationship, says more about society’s intolerance than it does about them. But it’s sad.

Supreme-Court-gay-marriage-11People ask where God was hiding in the camps in the 1940s; perhaps a better question might be where were the Christians hiding? I’ve been taught that mine is not to judge. I’ve been taught that everyone – everyone – is equal in God’s eyes. I’ve been taught that the first tenet on which Christianity is based is to ‘love thy neighbour’ – and that one didn’t come with any caveats like to love them if they’re Catholic, if they’re straight, if they’re solvent.

Yesterday, Ireland went out to vote on ‘gay marriage’. I read somewhere today that for every two who voted in favour, one voted against. And they I’m sure have their reasons, reasons that should be respected if democracy is to work. We are all entitled to our opinions. Much has been said on social media in the last few months. And the one post that sticks with me is a photo showing Rosa Parks sitting on a bus.

Some people ask, ‘why do gay couples need to get married when they can already have civil partnership?’ Well, that’s not equality. That’s like saying, why did Rosa Parks need to sit at the front of the bus when she could sit at the back?

Not all gay people voted Yes. Some are happy with a civil union, believing that marriage should be reserved for a mother, father, and child. Many of my friends who voted No believe this, too. And that’s fine. If you’re gay and you’d prefer a civil partnership to marriage, that’s your choice. But remember, you now have a choice.

gayFor me, that’s what the referendum was about – equality of choice. I personally don’t think abortion is right and I have issues with IVF. But I would never vote in favour of denying another woman her right to choose or castigate someone who has made a choice I wouldn’t make for myself. I’m straight. And if I want to get married, I can. I have that choice. That this choice is denied to some of my friends around the world is inconceivable.

There are 196 countries in the world and about 20 or so have legalised or are on their way to legalising same sex marriage. Not great by any means but it’s a start. I wondered about Ireland, whether we’d do it or not. Honestly,  I didn’t think it would pass. I hoped. I prayed.  I doubted. But it looks like it has. And I’m so happy about that. Now my friends have the same choice … a choice that I’ve always had. They can choose to get married. And for that, I’m truly grateful.