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.

 

Living on the edge

So life in the UK is currently fairly bonkers. Our esteemed politicians are fortunately not in charge of anything major right now; we have a fantastic civil service to do that for us! That leaves them free to worry exclusively about what other people think of them and how current events might make them look in the long term. 

When I say all our politicians, I’m being unfair as I’m sure there are some like the late Jo Cox and indeed Yorks Rachael Maskill who seem able to remember why they are paid by the British people; that is to serve us not their own political purpose. 

I think the lesson for me as a Christian is that old joke “if you want to make God laugh -tell him your plans!”

I’m really struggling with this myself right now – I had imagined once the church agreed to take me on as a trainee priest that a clear way forward would emerge. Over two months later I’m still waiting for some answers.

Waiting with God has been a key part of my journey and I’ve found it really tricky – I think what I’ve learnt though is doing the right thing for the right reasons is not only hard but basically essential for survival in this world. Why? Well otherwise you can be blown around like a leaf in the wind. 

Communicating what you think God has in store for you and others around you,  isn’t arrogant, it also helps others do the same.

Putting down foundations whether in a marriage, career or as a parent takes time, energy, commitment, sometimes standing up for yourself and often completing lots of boring tasks!

I’m optimistic that God can guide us as a country but I think we need to do the work too – refusing to tolerate racism, working for unity and accepting different perspectives, and putting the things that matter first. We need politicians who will show up for us and inspire us, especially when we are divided and the stakes are so high 

As the apostles had to when building the early church we need to challenge tradition as “We believe we are all saved the same way” Acts 15 v11

Selfies

This week has been really depressing, hearing about Orlando shootings, and the death of Jo Cox. I can’t remember really such a terrible time for ages. The shock of this has put the normal things into context, like politics, religion and all the debate about Europe. It makes me appreciate the little things that I take for granted, and those things that make me an individual. The way I feel about my husband, how the garden grows, the things I’ve seen develop in my family, my grey hair, they are all part of what makes me unique. In accepting my calling to leave my current job and move into the church full-time, I’ve had to accept that God’s calling me, not a better version of me, just plain old me.

I think the sadness I feel about Orlando, is that the guy who murdered all those young people had a conflict about who he was that was driving him to violence. I’ve been to gay nightclubs and felt uncomfortable being in the minority, but not because I thought it was something people should be ashamed of.

The man who killed Jo Cox had an opinion that led to violence. I’ve listened to lots of people talking about Brexit, but never wanted to harm them. Violence  can never be of God, as love, peace and humility have to be trademarks of anything God is saying to you. If those aspects are not there, it’s just not of God. Believing violence can be justified was the Old Testament. Jesus brings a final peace to us, that is new and scary, but ultimately different to “an eye for an eye”.

It’s fine to feel like commiting a violent act, and to feel angry. There are lots of examples of Jesus getting angry in the bible. I’m sure Jo got angry about the issues she campaigned about, but she did something constructive to make the world better, not destructive.

The beauty of God’s love is that we can all be ourselves fully in unity in his mind’s eye. He has a catalogue of selfies taken of us, and he can see it as one big picture. The radical nature of the way christianity spread, was such that even his disciples struggled to comprehend what was asked of them. Share the gospel with Gentiles who ate unclean food? That can’t be right!

I hope Jo rests in peace, and that her family are held in God’s love at this terrible time. I am still praying for the families of those who died in Orlando. I hope to see a world one day where people who are gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, white or black can live in harmony together. As a christian I pray that faith is never a barrier for this to happen.

Galatians 3: v26-29 “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Glad tidings!

One of the down sides of being a parent it seems to me is the constant list of things you are suddenly supposed to be good at- climbing trees, baking, making food, creating things with bits of paper, entertaining other kids, making stories sound exciting, and patiently listening to lots of stories about things you are not interested in without sounding bored. I think that’s why we compare ourselves to each other too much. You think, if I was more like that mum then I could organise a fundraiser, or if I was more like that mum, I’d be great at cooking and the list goes on. I don’t remember doing this particularly before I was a parent, but I’m sure I did a bit.

Basically envy is the only one of the seven deadly sins that isn’t all that much fun. It’s easy to let your schadenfreude about other people’s sorrows make you think more positively about your own life, or to be secretly thrilled when someone you didn’t get along with, turns out to have problems. It’s harder to be thrilled for someone who got a promotion instead of you..

I did a prayer tonight with one of my children and listed all the things we have to be thankful for, they responded with, well mummy you’ve missed lots of things out! I think that’s probably the case most of the time.

Christmas is all about the opposite of this, wishing others well. Celebrating the joy in the world, not just the bits that affect us. Giving generously and sharing our lives is also a good way to enjoy ourselves too. Feeling miserable about someone else’s achievements isn’t a great place to be. Spending time in contemplation alone, whether following mindfulness or meditation or prayer I find a really good antidote to this at any time of year, but I’m especially conscious of it at Christmas. Writing is one way that helps me.

So a very happy Christmas to anyone who’s ever read this blog, and thank you so much for all your glad tidings over the last few years, it’s meant alot to me that people keep reading this. I am praying the joy and happiness of the arrival of the baby Jesus will in some way remind us all of the good things in  our lives, and help share the blessings out in some way.

 

 

Surprise!

This time of year I inevitably realise too late that it’s my son’s birthday coming up.

He arrived in the world 7 weeks premature, so his actual due date was December. I’m not sure if that’s why, but after the summer holidays, it suddenly seems to be almost November before I’ve realised I need to organise his party.

The shock of him arriving early was pretty traumatic for me, for several reasons, but one reason I struggled to come to terms with it, was that I’m not all that good at surprises. I like to think I am very laid back,  but really I’m not. Give me a structured routine, and clear goals and objectives, and I feel much better!

When I step out of my comfort zone, I like to be prepared, maybe have a map, directions, or a sat nav with me. I always enjoy the adventure more then. If someone else is leading I’m quite happy to follow but will probably debate the why’s and wherefores first!

This life following Jesus that I am on, isn’t quite like that. I recently set up a “quiet time” at work, having felt this was really important task God had given me. I  got quite carried away with the idea, and booked a meeting room, and advertised it through our team brief. I was really sad when noone turned up, but weirdly the next day was surprised at how peaceful and happy I felt. It was like God was happy with me trying, and he had no expectations that anyone would come. We are meeting again this week at a different time, venue and I’ve set it up differently so I think there will be 2 or 3 of us this week. I’m really looking forward to it either way, as it will be chance to sit quietly and think and pray and I think that always does me good. I’m even thinking about buying some grownup colouring books!

A friend who works in scientific publishing shared an article this week, which covered the neuroscience of happiness, and you may already be aware that being grateful is good for our wiring. It also stated the importance of naming what we need, how we are feeling for our brains to work effectively. http://www.businessinsider.com/a-neuroscience-researcher-reveals-4-rituals-that-will-make-you-a-happier-person-2015-9?IR=T

I think that’s what happened to me, I sat and prayed for everyone in our office, and asked for help and afterwards felt much better about my own life, and fortunate to have a job and work with really great people. Being with other Christians, has also been shown to promote happiness, just through being part of a community that focuses on gratitude and naming what we need when times are tough.

So this week if you’re feeling fed up with work, it’s worth thinking about all the other people who rely on your cog in the machine, and thinking about what other people’s lives are like and I guess just counting your blessings. Even if you don’t believe in God, it’s possibly worth thinking, is there anything I need to be grateful for this week? anything I could make amends for?  Anything I need that I could ask the universe for?

The process might just make us all much happier!

Bed rest

Are you any good at admitting when you are wrong? I’ve had to apologise to people at work recently as I lost my temper. I have also had a stormy relationship with work colleagues in several different jobs, and it really doesn’t help me or the other people in the team but it’s alot easier than holding my hands up and saying sorry. Over the years my temper (mainly hidden as passive aggressive, and talking behind peoples backs..) has held me back. Recently I have had to stop and face up to this, and acknowledge that if I want things to change, the only person who can do that… is me. Often I think we want emotional growth to be pleasant and cuddly, but really it’s not always like that.

This Easter I felt rotten and went to bed on Good Friday, I lay in bed with a migraine, feeling really low, and I listened to a radio programme about a village where the plague had started, and a vicar had kept the locals from leaving to stop the plague from spreading. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05ny7nz. It was narrated by a doctor who had been working with Ebola victims. One woman in Eyam had to bury her husband, and three children single handedly. How I wondered does anyone get through that and survive? How did the village survive?

The message I got was to look into the pain, so I tried to look into the flashing lights I was experiencing as part of my migraine. As I did this, my anxieties fell back, my headache receded and I began to feel better. Facing up to the grief I’ve been carrying through my life, about my sister, has been a heavy thing to carry, but letting go of it, has also been difficult. The message I got was a bit like the bear hunt story.. you can’t go round it, you’ve got to go through it. Since that day I feel like things are slotting back into place gradually after a long period of really feeling quite anxious and low. Apparantly this is a normal part of the grief process.

I have to say being right even “righteous” which is probably the worst kind of right, is alot easier than admitting you have messed up. When you’ve been through a difficult time and had to dig deep, you like to think that’s it, you’ve done your bit, you have been saved/healed, sorted out, and there is no more personal growth to go through. I think that’s why alot of people get turned off church, as so many christians get stuck. Becoming a christian is not like a computer game, where you have to complete certain tasks to get to the next level, it’s more like Dr Who, whizzing around from one galaxy to the next, not knowing what to expect! Our preacher on Sunday was explaining that we sometimes try to compress the galaxy of God’s love into a more manageable component that we can carry around with us in our pockets!

Anyway that’s why I’ve decided for a while to change church. I believe it’s where God wants me to be, closer to home in Clifton, and I’m worshipping at Clifton Parish Church instead of St Paul’s. It’s felt really uncomfortable, like leaving university or something, as I’ve been part of a community, a group, a pattern of over 10 years, and I’ve probably left a massive hole in the rotas, but it feels like I’m being shaken up by God, and brought back to why I became a Christian. I’m not sure if I am going to stay there forever but it definitely feels like I am being told to rest a while……reminds me of Psalm 23 by David… (Bye the way I don’t know the bible that well, just look stuff up on Bible Gateway!!) ..

23 The Lord is my shepherd.

    I lack nothing.
He lets me rest in grassy meadows;
    he leads me to restful waters;
        he keeps me [a] alive.
He guides me in proper paths
    for the sake of his good name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
    I fear no danger because you are with me.
Your rod and your staff—
    they protect me.

You set a table for me
    right in front of my enemies.
You bathe my head in oil;
    my cup is so full it spills over!
Yes, goodness and faithful love
    will pursue me all the days of my life,
    and I will live[b] in the Lord’s house
    as long as I live.

Easter

In our house Easter is a welcome break from school and work, and family time. This year we are going to see alot of family as there is a reunion happening for my Granny Buster’s 100th birthday on Easter Monday.Granny is in the pretty advanced stages of dementia, so it’s unlikely she will come, or if she does will recognise any of us. It seems fitting though that as we are celebrating her 100 year life, and probably the end of her life in the next few years,  the church is celebrating the resurrection of Jesus and the birth of a new religion, social movement and new understanding of how God works.

The idea of life after death I think is tricky to accept, but as a Christian I’ve had some glimpses of this, which make me believe it does exist. I pray that Granny will be at peace when she dies, and is released from her current ill-health.  I think when the disciples met with Jesus on the road to Emmaus on Easter Sunday, they would have really believed in life after death for the first time. The only difference is they didn’t realise it was him to start with, so he must have appeared either different looking or in a way that didn’t instantly mark him out to them. It was through his actions, his words and his manner with them that they knew who it was. If you have lost someone, it’s their touch, their presence and their words that you miss.

As a child I really couldn’t understand why Jesus had to die, why the world would hate something so positive. In his brief 3 years teaching, people were cured from ill-health, demons driven out, hope restored. It has to be a political issue I think, that the establishment were threatened by his message of peace and hope, and that it was almost too good to be true.

Another event taking place this Easter..  My cousin Hamish’s daughter Mia has Batten Disease, which is a terminal illness, and rather than just trying to get by, they are campaigning to raise awareness. This year on March 31 they are asking people to bounce for batten and repost their photos on twitter with #bounce4batten (for more information go to www.bounce4batten.com) I like the campaign, as it’s a celebration of life, rather than focusing on death, and I think this is part of the message of Easter. While it’s hard to understand why God allows bad things to happen, why children have to die, it’s also possible to focus on the hope of a life lived, and the essence of that person living on in heaven.

Ascension

We’ve been watching this programme that’s out at the moment, its about a social experiment, where a group of people are under the impression they are on a space ship going out into the universe, seeking a new planet and new place to live. The people selected to be part of this experiment left in the 60’s, so haven’t seen the social changes that have happened since then, and the social structure is strictly managed. It’s quite a good concept, and quite disturbing to think that the people who’s lives have been radically altered by this experience are essentially living a lie.

At work we’ve been thinking about systems, and how as humans its often easier to subscribe to a culture or system than to act as an individual. Like the people in the phony space shuttle, it doesn’t actually matter if the the culture is based on truth or not, as long as everyone pulls together and works as a team to maintain the working environment. Too much radical change and rebellion is unsettling for any society, and we’ve been considering what small changes we can effect that will improve our effectiveness as individuals and cumulatively move to a new way of working as a team that has more positive effects. To start with this feels really unsettling, but I am really interested to see if we can move from how it’s always been to how it should be.

This morning another Becky was preaching at St Paul’s and she described the idea of someone being called, named by God and requested to fulfill a specific challenge. She described how we are all called to serve God in many ways and how this is a blessing that makes us equal as Christians together, even though some status and hierarchy often exists within church communities. The thing that makes us stand out though I think, is that God not only has a plan for each of us, sometimes it’s a radically different one to the culture, status and practice of the society that you live in. We are not like in the film Ascension, pre-programmed to live specific lives to enable the whole culture to survive, it’s more random and more wonderful in God’s world. People that used to be tax collectors like Levi, that Becky was preaching about, can go on to serve to achieve God’s plans. People who used to be homeless can be statesmen, and mums who are breastfeeding or weaning their babies can also be inspirational leaders. Waterfalls and rainforests, moors, beaches and deserts are all beautiful in different ways. The real galaxies of stars are changing day by day and the infinite nature of the universe is totally awe inspiring.

While the way we live on this planet is not great, and we are probably doing huge damage as the human race, we  can also be fascinating and wonderful people.  The stories of a grandma, raising thousands for a homeless man in the UK has been inspirational recently, and the small acts of random kindness that so many people do every day is not predictable or expected. The difference that parents see in children with special needs can be awe inspiring, and the contribution of people with mental illness to creative writing, art and theatre is immense.

We shouldn’t therefore be scared as Christians to break the mould, or if we feel uncomfortable within the social order, this shouldn’t be a surprise, as God’s ways are wonderful and also quite unfathomable, and that’s what makes it so exciting to walk in faith.

Acts 17 v24-25 “The God who made the universe and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in shrines made by humans, 25 and he isn’t served by humans as if he needed anything. He gives everyone life, breath, and everything they have.”