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Sunday, December 12, 2004

You made me forget myself/ I thought I was someone else 

We had our Church's Christmas Fayre a couple of weekends back. It was opened by our local MP who is, funnily enough, the Home Office minister responsible for Immigration. He should be thankful, therefore, that this was the day before the Blunkett/visa scandal broke in the Sunday Torygraph because as it was, his opening remarks had to encompass the war in Iraq - 'I promise that this speech will last less than 45 minutes' - and the proposed ID card scheme. He's a decent guy, and he had the good grace to come and face us - for we can be a hostile crowd when the mood takes us - without attempting to justify government policy. He delivered his speech with his usual good humour and aplomb, spent a goodly amount of cash and departed. I was running the secondhand video - you should see how many people are offloading old videos now that DVDs have taken hold - and bookstall, and the day's humour potential increased markedly when I discovered a porn movie - Flesh Gordon - among the goods on the stall. The things that people donate to churches these days, eh?

On my break from the stall I was having a coffee in the other part of the building and chatting to some other members of the congregation. The usual stuff - life, jobs, the fact that I stayed till 11pm the night before to help get Santa's Grotto read, how I'd found a porn movie on the video stall - when I heard a clattering sound behind me. When I worked as a kitchen porter in a restuarant, after a while I could instantly tell by sound alone what sort of dish had just smashed to the floor behind me; glass pudding dishes sound distinct from dinner plates and saucers sound different from cups. Since my friends have started to spawn children, I've learned to recognise a whole new variety of sounds that are unique to babies and toddlers. The two-tone noise coming from behind me was clearly a child's plastic tumbler - with lid - hitting the floor handle first and then doing a bouncing half turn to hit again with the main body of the cup. Parents, you know what I'm talking about. Being the nearest, I automatically got up and handed the cup back to the child sitting in its buggy, waiting a second or two to make sure the boy wasn't going to start playing the Throw the Cup Game (agan, parents will know exactly what I'm talking about here) and then I went back to my seat.

'You're an all-round good guy, aren't you,' said my table-mate. I lookede at her and looked away again. I shrugged. It's not as if I'd donated bone marrow or rescued the child from an unexpected raid by child-stealing Maoist rebels. I didn't really know how to react. My internal monologue was raving about how, although I appear to be a decent bloke, I am, as a particular person would no doubt tell you, a bastard of the first order. I wanted to believe her, though; I had a desperate need to be told I was a good guy. Seeking the path of least pain and resistence, I left and went back to the stall, where a ten year old from the Sunday School was still engaged in his fruitless quest to sell vintage Schwarzenegger movies to octogenarians. Despite this child's lack of business accumen, the fayre did well and we raised over £1300 on the day and things began to wind down so we commenced with the tidying up. A woman asked me to brush the hallway. Of course, I said, happy to do it - I secretly love to clean floors; a woman who would expect, nay, force me to do so 12 hours a day would be a good candidate for a future spouse - and one of my fellow leaders remarked that I was a really good guy for helping out. At this point I was just about reduced to tears and I was so close to screaming at them, to tell them all to stop saying these things to me. Instead, I went and swept the floor and pondered what had been said.

Am I a bad guy who does good things, or am I a good guy whohas done a lot of terrible things? Which is better? The last time I met my friends Cannibal Saul - devout Christian - and Saint James - confirmed agnostic and consistent winner of Best Living Human Being - I tried to articulate some of this inner turmoil to them as they've known me through the good years and the bad, and are familiar with What Went On. One afternoon we took our lives into our hands by starting a theological discussion. While it was the same theological discussion that we've been having for the past six years, we added an element of danger, perhaps a sense of immediacy, to it by choosing to conduct it whilst crossing and incredibly busy road in the centre of Edinburgh. As conversations inevitably do when I'm involved, we soon got round to discussing the fact that we might not make it home alive. Yes, I said, dragging Saul out of the path of an oncoming bus, 'and bear in mind that we're all sinners too. That's why I,' I shouted as I rolled under the body of a juggernaut and between his wheels, are these vehicles really neccessary in a cityscape? 'Do as much to keep The Man on side as possible.' Saul seems to wish to continue to continue this conversation in the middle of the lefthand lane, but Saint James shepherds him to the dubious safety of the pavement where we are crushed under the feet of festival-goers. As we free ourselves from the melee and head for home, Saul says that he thinks my position is a sensible and refreshing one for a Christian to take. Saint James, who is guaranteed a place in the afterlife, makes noises of agreement. Neither, however, tell me if I am a good or a bad man.

I think I'll probably spend the rest of my life trying to figure it out, but I doubt if I will ever get the definitive answer. My life may never have had any absolutes before, but I hate how obvious that lack is and how fragile my existence is these days. While I'm happy with the progress that I have made in the past year, I'm sad that this progress cost such a high price and grew from such life-changing circumstances. I'm often incredibly angry at the world and I have to force myself to face the fact that I've got nothing to complain about as it is all my fault. We Christians believe that there is always a chance at redemption and forgivness, but while this may work after death it is not some magic cure-all for life here on planet earth. I have to accept, and it's terribly hard, that I've destroyed several futures for myself and others by my actions and I am never going to have another chance at them again. What's done is well and truly done, but when I die and I'm standing tall before the man I suppose I'll find out then if I am indeed a good or bad man. Regardless, I'm determined to have as many pluses in my corner as possible, hence all the do-goodery. Is it cynical? Does that lessen my motives?

More to the point, does anyone need a kidney?