Listen without Prejudice

I’m feeling so sad, my childhood hero  George Michael has died. Those of us who grew up in the 80’s and happened to have a huge crush on him, were devastated this Christmas. I remember being at my friend’s house in 1987 when his first solo album came out, and how amazed we were by the quality. Life after Wham! We couldn’t imagine that was possible straight off the bat. With his stylish clothing, dancing and general soulful good looks, we thought he was amazing anyway… but songs like Father Figure and Faith, made it impossible to think of him as anything but wonderful.

I can also remember where I was when someone told me he was gay. I was sitting on a bank outside school and one of the older kids described someone as a bit “George Michael”, meaning he was a bit “gay”, as an insult. I was amazed that firstly being “gay” was bad and secondly George was gay .. how could that be, what about the girls in Wham!?

It’s hard to imagine now that he was so brave in coming out and losing the straight “garb” to the horror of the record producers. Even producing “Outside” after being caught having gay sex illegally was pretty brave I thought, even if he was being promiscuous.

I hope “gay” is no longer an insult that all schoolkids use, but I am sure it is. There are certainly many hazards. The sorrow that George felt at not being able to be honest with his mum about who he was is, having to play certain roles to succeed, losing friends to HIV were part of his life. Unfortunately, it’s still the case for many young people that they will face discrimination and prejudice in life. Not many civil partnerships or gay marriages are celebrated with the complete extended family present, which must be a huge sadness for all concerned. For some it can feel like being chucked out of the nuclear family they grew up in.

I know this is a difficult for many Christians, who feel gay rights isn’t an issue we can even discuss positively, due to the explicit references to it as a sin in Paul’s gospels. I am not sufficiently confident as a theologian to challenge this view in my understanding of the bible, but I believe we are called to love each other as equal citizens of God’s redeeming love, regardless of our sexuality and we could do with showing some bravery and faith in God on this issue.

I can identify with the feeling of being an outsider.An incident of sexual abuse growing up, made me feel like the church was no longer either a safe place, or one that I could call home. It didn’t lead me to become gay, and I don’t think sexual abuse can really change someone’s sexual orientation overnight. Any kind of childhood trauma such as bereavement or loss can influence how we develop as people. It left me thinking though that sex wasn’t OK with God. It was a secret, a shameful thing. This is especially difficult when you are growing up in a Christian family if these things aren’t really discussed. I would now refer anyone who asked to the Song of Songs for evidence to the contrary!

Until not long ago, being gay was a psychiatric condition, along with being a teenage mum. We know now in medicine that this isn’t the case, and I pray that this issue won’t split the church. We have alot of work to do in 2017, working to make God’s kingdom come, working to bring in the harvest for God, irrespective of difference.We do this best when we are working to the same goals and being tolerant with one another, respecting each other’s rights and freedoms.

I hope now that George’s battles with addiction are over and he can rest in peace.It’s been so lovely to hear about his quiet philanthropy, I hope others are inspired by this to share their wealth.

Here’s a prayer for our LGBT community..

Gracious God, you love all that you have created, and you celebrate the diversity of your creation. Throughout your history with your people, you have reminded us that those whom the world sees as the least are the greatest in your eyes. We ask that you give us the grace to celebrate with our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers as they choose to live authentically in the world. Teach us to honor and celebrate their gifts, and help us to create a world in which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teenagers and adults are loved, accepted and celebrated. We ask this in your many names. Amen.

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Knitting

So month number 2 in the process of ordination, and  life is busy as normal. School trips, parents evenings, beavers, rainbows, swimming, study, work, and play are all happening at once, as per normal, plus I’m being re-ordered through the “ordination” process. It’s fantastic and like being rebooted at the same time. I’m learning a new vocabulary of theology, meeting lots of new people, and my ability to remember simple things, or plan ahead seems to have vanished! St Luke’s in York my new church home is different and familiar, and unexpected and traditional, all at once. I’m simultaneously amazed by powerfully meeting with the Holy Spirit, and stunned by how long traditions have been maintained by people in prayerful service.

I’ve been reflecting on this and decided that God’s using different strands of my life and my experience in a new way. Isiah 43 v19 “See, I am doing a new thing!”

I’ve not seen these strands as particularly connected and he’s got some kind of overall wonderful pattern in which it’s being knitted. In January we are planning a new adventure for people with dementia, in church. I’m really excited about progressing this, as I think it will draw on my experience and connections in the statutory world and link this to my desire to share my faith. It’s quite daunting though, as normally I like to compartmentalise my life, so work is about one thing, church is about another. Now church is work, it’s all a bit odd!

I guess this is the best thing though too, because when you are in a state of “flow” as athletes and artists describe their best work, it’s generally when things are aligned and the normal barriers have been swept away. Psalm 139 always reminds me of how well God knows us, much better than we ever realise…

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

When the tears run out

This week I’ve been mostly thinking about Happy Valley the hit UK show set in Yorkshire. I couldn’t believe the last episode was here so soon as I’ve come to look forward to the show so much. The lead character is so human, so complex I’m smitten! It’s hard to comprehend how she’s survived all the drama and how she keeps caring and smiling. 

I think we tend though to put ourselves as women in the impossible situation of either being fragile, beautiful and caring or tough, independent and streetwise. Catherine’s character seems so fully formed and all encompassing its dazzling on a mainstream tv show.

The women I’ve met like Catherine who can embrace all sides of life have sadly had their own suffering to deal with. When the tears run out they carry on and learn to live again despite the heartache.  Mary Berry also reminded me of this in her Easter show, when she mentioned they always raise a glass to her son on Easter Day who died as a teenager. There is something amazing about how as an older woman she lights up Bake off with a grace and charm which is incomparable. 

In Luke 2 v34 When Mary and Joseph took Jesus as a baby to the temple for an initiation ceremony, they were met by an old man called Simeon who immediately recognised Jesus as his saviour- when he had finished praising God he said to Jesus parents what he saw for him;

“Then Simeon blessed them, and he said to Mary, the baby’s mother, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, but he will be a joy to many others. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.””

‭‭Luke‬ ‭2:34-35‬ ‭NLT‬‬M

This Easter let’s pray for all those parents like Mary and Joseph who’s souls have been pierced by a sword of sorrow in losing a child and thank God that there is light and life and joy  as well as suffering in this world.

Shock, horror

I’ve been working in mental health for the last 2-3 years, and trained about 10 years ago as a psychiatric social worker, however my “in-house”training took place mainly through my family’s experience of dealing with psychiatric in-patient stays in the early 90’s and more recently support from a crisis team for a family member during two different psychotic episodes.

I recently set up and ran some consultations with people who have had first hand experience of this, and it was really tough to hear how distressing some of their experiences had been. One analogy I thought was great, was the idea of the battle weary soldier returning from the front, only to find the rest of the world was still carrying on as normal, while their world-view had changed completely. Like veterans, people living through a psychiatric crisis sometimes have post traumatic stress, due to the nature of a forced admission for care, or having to deal with the police or other emergency services when not feeling 100%. It can be just as stressful for family members as the person themselves. Worse still they often feel ashamed and embarrassed that they’ve had to go through this experience.

Things are improving, and many good people have campaigned long and hard to fight for the rights of those with a mental illness, which has influenced the UK’s government’s thinking and focus on mental health. There is still a long way to go, until a psychiatric emergency is given as much care and attention as someone experiencing heart failure or cancer. If an ambulance crew serving 1 in 4 of the population, was staffed to the same level as the psychiatric teams, would there be a public outcry?

Casualties in the battle are likely to be those who take their own life, or live with “shell-shock” from their experiences.

Not everyone who tries to take their own life, has long-term mental health conditions, but that doesn’t mean that having thoughts about it and discussing this with someone out loud, is just a “cry for help” or a false alarm.

In fact I would say the thing I’ve learnt from all my experiences personal and professional, is simply that talking really does help. However painful it is to relive past experiences, it really can help.

It doesn’t always need to be someone who is paid to listen for the talking to help, but accepting professional help isn’t a sign of weakness either. It wouldn’t be deemed “weak” to show up for physiotherapy if you had to relearn how to walk.

Knowledge about mental health matters is important and there are some excellent courses around, but it’s not the only thing that helps. As friends, colleagues or neighbours offering a smile, a friendly greeting, a comment on the weather, or a like on Facebook, we can really help someone going through a hard time.

As Christians are duty is to make it real for people that God actually cares, and can be trusted, if you ask for help. That’s why I think we need to share our experiences, not just when things are going well, but in the dark times too.

“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5, v7

 

It’s all in the mind

I pretty much take my mind for granted. I’ve been lucky in sailing through most of my exams at school and rely on my brain to pay the bills, as I am in a job where analysis and composing complex information is a requirement. Recently I felt like I’d let things go a bit and my mind wasn’t performing as it should. I kind of needed to give it a rest. If this had been a bad back or some other illness, I think I’d have been much kinder on myself, and accepted this earlier. As it was I struggled on for way longer than was really helpful for me or others concerned. This is pretty common, we all like to think we are invincible and young for way longer than we actually are, otherwise why would anyone smoke! If you are rundown mentally though, the implications for  your work, social life can be more long-term and people often suffer prejudice and discrimination.

Since then people have been really helpful in sharing ideas and approaches, and I’ve had different kinds of support from my GP signing me off work to counselling and advice from colleagues and friends. The one I’m enjoying the most is mindfulness, I downloaded an app, called Head Space and completed a 10 day trial, and have noticed immediately that I am much nicer to live with and can take different developments more in my stride. It teaches you not to react immediately to thoughts and feelings, rather to notice these and explore them, without acting on them. It’s a technique not dissimilar to meditation, guided Bible reflections, or other ways of praying that people of faith use around the world. It is definitively worth a try though as it helps you take a step back. When my mind is full of children’s schedules, work, difficult conversations I’ve had, and any other ideas swilling around, I can end up feeling overloaded, and miss the sunshine and the colour of the sky, when this isn’t actually necessary.

I have two close relatives who are olympic champions in taming their minds after being diagnosed with bi-polar and schizophrenia in the early 90’s and both have managed to complete degrees, get married and live independent and challenging lives. Both are a real inspiration to me in managing life long conditions that have big ramifications for their lives, but not letting it define them. Like a paralympic they aspire to achieve as much as they can with their amazing minds, but also recognise their limitations and own the reality of that on her day to day life. I think if everyone did that the world would probably be a much nicer, and safer place!