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.

Please share my blog if you have enjoyed it, or subscribe to receive by email.

Caring at Christmas

The closer we get the more emotional I am feeling this year about Christmas. it’s too much build up I think! The gap between the reality of our world and how we’d all like it to be is just getting bigger it seems. We can all help do something though however tiny if we want to. Often it’s the little things that grind you down….

My husband is a paid carer and like alot of people in the helping professions, is working this Christmas. He was fed up last night, not because he’s going to miss some of the party, but because his client had been served a half defrosted meal for lunch by other paid carers, and noone had remembered to stock up on dog food.

Because he’s working this year,  Christmas is being reordered.  Instead of normally going to church and then on to my parents, we are going to spend the morning at home for a change, and the kids are having a sleepover at my parents with extended family on christmas day, and I’m coming home in the evening to celebrate with husband when he gets back from work.

This has been preying on my mind, as we all get set in our ways and I’m also in a new context and was nervous about how to present this to people in the congregation. While I’m not yet a vicar or a curate, I responded to an article in the Church Times about vicars slacking on Christmas day. My response was published. The article was by an eminent theologian, Angela Tilby, and discussed familoraty- another eminent theologian Ian Paul has since commented on the article and it’s published responses here http://www.psephizo.com/life-ministry/should-clergy-have-christmas-day-off

I know there was a large mailbag as it touched alot of nerves, not just those of women in ministry but all of us who give up regular chunks of our weekends to serve in church settings at the cost of nuclear or extended family time.

It’s been a roller-coaster year 2016, and I’m relieved to have just scraped a pass on Ian Paul’s module at St Barnabus. It all seemed unimaginably strange when I started in September. The thing I’m learning about theology is it’s full of different opinions, positions, perspectives and all have nuanced rationales behind them. I am finding my feet but it’s quite odd being asked my own response to people’s perspectives who have given it considerable thought.

In previous commissioning and strategic planning roles my own opinion hasn’t been that key, as a team in the NHS or social care we relied instead on the consensus of stakeholders involved, political drivers, finance available, research evidence and it’s been my role to combine these perspectives into a set of options that someone else would then make a final decision on, having weighed up the risks and issues.

I keep thinking that at some point it will become clear whose the correct, common sense answer is. However this doesn’t really seem to be how it works! God speaks to us all in a myriad of ways in a world of multiple languages, contexts, cultures and conditions. We can all hear God’s voice and bring our own perspective, this is called hermeneutics. It doesn’t mean though that any one of us is not “on message” if we are sincerely expressing a theological view. There are restrictions of course, but within the parameters of the discussion there is more blue sea than horizon.

I took the kids to see the Disney film Moana and found it really inspiring. Like Moana, the ability of God to direct my travel plans is becoming more and more central to my life and it’s now impossible to stay in the comfort of “what we’ve all always done”.

Theology is basically talking about God, and I can happily do that all day long, I am hoping by the end of the training I’ll have more of an understanding of the debates and issues that are in the sea with me and the history and previous journeys people have made to navigate it all.Hopefully this will help me understand more about the Bible, but I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion there are no shortcuts, only my ancestors and culture behind me!

 

Being different

We’ve just formally had a diagnosis for our son that he has Developmental Delay Disorder (previously known as dyspraxia)

Ive known he was different to other kids his age from pretty early on but we didn’t know why. Having the diagnosis makes it official and will help us support him in getting the right help. It’s already opened up ways in which we can work with school to support him.

If I’m honest though I don’t feel happy about it right now as it’s like finding out that the world is going to be tougher for him in certain ways forever.

I’m  from a family of people who find physical coordination difficult and when I’m tired and emotional I do really struggle with practical jobs and I rely on others for a lot of help. It can look like I’m really not trying as well when I’m just not processing anything very fast!

With routine jobs I can really struggle to see the wood for the trees. I can  learn new tasks but it doesn’t sink in as quickly as it does for other people- both my son and I also get frustrated as we are both quite bright and pick up other things more easily.

This morning my fears about this impacting at church in a practical way came to the fore and I had to ask people to pray for me not to trip up or sneeze with the incense or drop a book etc. This probably sounds quite normal but it’s really annoying!!

We are all different and I often get along well with people who don’t fit into a “normal” mould.

A big learning point for me this term at college has been that god created me and thinks I’m perfect not just in mind or soul but in my physical body as well. He might not want us to suffer but I know of many people with physical difficulties who wouldn’t want a “cure” and I can relate to this now. Our son might be different but that is a great thing in many ways and we can support him to overcome obstacles and pick his battles. This matters because for all of us our physical body is a home for gods work

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;” 1 Corinthians 6 v19

 

 

 

Living in a bubble

Nov 9th date is significant in our house as it’s our son’s birthday, but now it’s got another reason as it’s the day we found out Donald Trump will be president of the US. With Brexit earlier in the year, and David Bowie and a host of others dying, for many of us left wing liberal thinkers this year’s been really tough.

It’s hard to understand why the US would reject the legacy Obama has established, why wouldn’t you want free healthcare for those who can’t afford it otherwise?

Why would you want to exclude Britain from a range of amazing benefits shared by the EU?

Why criticise someone you’ve never met to make your own situation seem better?

Why boast about sexually assaulting women or punish women who’ve had an abortion?

Why play into people’s fears about immigration when you can’t actually change the fact that we live in a world economy?

I guess I live in a bubble, because it doesn’t resonate with my reality. The bubble I live in has some good points, we have a roof over our heads, we don’t need to worry about food, we have free education in a decent school for our kids, and the prospects for the future look good. I care about the community I live in because that’s what I was brought up to believe, I don’t want my kids to be greedy, rude or put themselves above other people, and I hang around with other people who are similarly inclined. Many of us had the privilege of further education, and have white collar jobs. This doesn’t make us perfect.Most of the time we take for granted the blessings we have, and expect more to come. We see them as our achievements not gifts from god.

I know I am loved completely and fully by the most important person in the world and I have to accept that on that basis my life is important as well. He will listen if I pray, and ask him for help to understand what is going on around me.

So if you are feeling blue today because of the changes happening, my only comfort is that bad things do happen to good people, and how we respond to that will really make a difference. People who are oppressed will often rebel and rise up against the establishment and we need to be responsible citizens who listen to our neighbours

This is from Job who had a great life, and then lost everything and his friends are trying to cheer him up, and fail and in the end God comes and has a word with Job to explain his position in the universe…it’s a great book of the Bible to read for those of us in our bubble, and shows the God described in the Old Testament in all his glory!

Job 40 vv8-14

 

Would you discredit my justice?
    Would you condemn me to justify yourself?
Do you have an arm like God’s,
    and can your voice thunder like his?
10 Then adorn yourself with glory and splendor,
    and clothe yourself in honor and majesty.
11 Unleash the fury of your wrath,
    look at all who are proud and bring them low,
12 look at all who are proud and humble them,
    crush the wicked where they stand.
13 Bury them all in the dust together;
    shroud their faces in the grave.
14 Then I myself will admit to you
    that your own right hand can save you.

Pumpkins and eschatology

My homework today has been to read up on christian theology about the afterlife, at the same I’ve been scraping out pumpkins ready for Halloween. This seems like an unholy coincidence, however I think there is a blog in this! Firstly I’ve been trick or treating with my kids, as a guilty pleasure for a few years now. It’s probably not a very christian thing to do, but it’s the one of the only times I meet up with neighbours and quite a few families on our street make a big effort to decorate their houses, and welcome in children. We don’t visit houses beyond our couple of streets, and we are usually out for less than an hour. We don’t knock on doors unless the owners have signalled in some way they are up for being disturbed. This varies from lots of decorations, to a simple pumpkin. Some people put a bowl out of sweets to avoid being disturbed. If there was a decent alternative for christian families locally I think we’d support that, for example our youngest is at a light party with her Rainbows group tomorrow.

So secondly, why are Christians not keen on the concept of Halloween? Well it actually comes from the Eve of All Hallows day (All Saints Day) on the 1st November known in some catholic countries as the day of the dead. The pumpkins and lights are said to ward off evil spirits the night before. The fundamental issue with this, is that Christians (this is new to me too) don’t actually believe that when we die there is a spirit that lives on. We don’t distinguish between someone’s body, mind or soul and see them as one being. We hope for resurrection of all three, in the same way we believe Jesus came back from the dead in an actual body rather than as a ghost. Thomas put his hand in the wound before he believed it really was Jesus.

Thirdly today I was at the church where I became a christian and I became really conscious that “Saints” or those who used to worship at the church were around. I had a sense that two ladies in particular who have recently died of cancer, were really pleased to see me there. It wasn’t in a sense of them being ghosts or haunting the church, just that in the universe their presence was part of God’s glory. As a charismatic christian I often sense the Holy Spirit visiting a group of Christians in prayer this is the only spirit we do actually believe in. It’s like a presence or warm feeling, and often makes me want to cry. It’s part of who God is and can be a real blessing. Today I received a picture of some stars that joined to form a string of beautiful glowing pearls that then formed part of God’s crown. This represented to us the people we’d lost to cancer, now being part of God’s glory.

Every time we go to church we pray the Lord’s prayer and we ask that “his kingdom comes”, this is to say we want heaven on earth, we want an end to poverty and suffering and we want to see our loved ones restored in full resurrection. We also say “for yours is the power”, and this is key to Halloween, all the ghosts, demons and imaginary spooks in the world are not as powerful as God, but dabbling in the dark side can be dangerous, if you get into things like the paranormal, you may be inviting in the demons that will surely want to keep you from knowing God as fully as you might otherwise like to do. There is of course sadly bad to every good in the world but  how much power we give to the dark depends on how brightly our own lights shine out.

So tomorrow as I visit my neighbours I will be praying for them and thanking god for the community we live in, and probably binning like last year a great quantity of sweets which get really sticky and gooey in a plastic tub! I might even hand out some prayers with the sweets at home..

Here’s a couple of prayers that you may like to use yourself…

Father,
All-Powerful and Ever-Living God,
Today we rejoice in the holy men and women
of every time and place
May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

AMEN

 

 

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.

 

Sticks and stones

I’ve been hearing this week from a range of sources about how hurt people can feel through the words we use, whether at the school gates feeling socially shut out as a mum, or a teenager on the recieving end of “banter” which subsequently led to suicide..  Trump talking about women as sexual objects, gay people feeling shut out of church if they are “proud” of their sexual identify, there is just so much hurt around.

People hurting each other isn’t just about violent acts such as the UKIP MEP’s, it can also be about exclusion, not speaking to someone because they’ve upset you, or suppression of the truth if you are in a powerful position, at the cost of others. It can be about drawing up boundaries of gender or sexuality to define your faith position, at the cost of others, or using someone else’s work to get a promotion without giving them due credit. Someone’s pain and retaliation to injustice can also be misjudged as aggression. Sometimes it’s even through expertise or knowledge.. Sally Phillip’s documentary on Down’s Syndrome showed just how hard it was for parents of children with Down’s to be taken seriously when they said how proud they were of their wonderful child, and how they would never want to have a screening to stop a baby developing with Down’s. Their perspective was seen as dubious, when medical advances could be so positive..

On a personal level I’ve had to learn to think more carefully about the words I use, as I’m not nearly as proficient at talking as I am writing, sometimes impatient, and my words can be clumsy, ill-thought out or wildly wrong. I am quite able to wind someone else up and walk away, or to subtly influence, undermine or refuse to acknowledge someone else’s perspective, particularly if I don’t agree with them!

Being a mum I think has taught me that people don’t really want sympathy or condolences, they might want you to share their tough moments and agree how hard it is, or laugh about things, help them in a practical way, but advice is not always something we can hear, especially when our insecurities and own issues are in the way. It’s mainly better to be present, hang around, say something loving, and get alongside where the person is at, rather than to judge. The Love that Jesus talks about I think is more of a verb than a noun.. and that’s what we have to do is actively love, and hate anything that gets in the way of that, forgiving people and hating injustice… not just say the words, or buy the T shirt..it’s not easy otherwise we’d all be doing it, maybe that’s why it was a commandment, and not a “nudge”!

John 13:34-35

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 

 

Counting stars

So I’ve been feeling pretty smug recently as I’m finally pursuing this course of becoming a vicar, and I’m meeting lots of lovely people, and learning about new and challenging topics. It’s all pretty wild- my new day off I think is going to be a Tuesday or Thursday which feels slightly unlikely after working a 9-5 Mon-Fri for the last 20 years or so!

Me and the kids are going to be joining in new activities, and it’s all fab. Except of course, noone is going to be paying me my lovely NHS salary once a month anymore! I’m lucky to receive a grant during training and will be in receipt of extra benefits, so it’s not all fine, but I have been feeling slightly like my side of the bargain is pretty strong negotiating position.. until Friday!

On Friday I was sitting in church which was open for prayer, and I had a picture of the stars shifting, turning like the side of a globe… it seemed like God was trying to say, look mate, I created the universe, the stars, the planets, you may or may not be in my good books, but you are still one speck in the whole of creation!

It’s also becoming increasingly clear to me that whilst my new vocation will allow me to spend much more time thinking about, talking and discussing god, it doesn’t make me any more loved or special. That’s because like the way I love my children, there is no more love to earn. Sometimes I impose conditions on my kids, like “bed time now, or there is no computer tomorrow” but it’s not like they will be any more loved as a result. I’ve learnt the hard way that any relationship or friendship where conditions are attached, is not worth bothering with.

There are no reward points on my “Godcard”, there is no Fast Track to Jesus, there is no tally of deeds done, it’s just basically that God loves me, as he’s always done. The only difference is that he’s got a new role in mind for me, but that’s it! Each of us serves in our own unique way, whether as accountants, politicians, traffic wardens or nurses, so there is no score board, and no ladder to climb.For years I think I’ve put priests and vicars on something of a pedestal, and although it’s a big sacrifice in many ways serving God in this way, it’s also a real privilege, and honour.

I’m working for our maker, the one who created the stars, but I’m not going to be able to count them any more than anyone else. Turns out this is an issue many people have thought about over the years

Psalm 8 v 1-5

 

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in the whole earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
You have made sure that children
    and infants praise you.
Their praise is a wall
    that stops the talk of your enemies.

I think about the heavens.
    I think about what your fingers have created.
I think about the moon and stars
    that you have set in place.
What are human beings that you think about them?
    What is a son of man that you take care of him?
You have made them a little lower than the angels.
    You placed on them a crown of glory and honor.

 

Showstoppers

So I’ve started my ordination training! I’m really excited about it all and trying to get my head into new ways of doing things. I am going to be learning about the history of the Bible, over 3000 years ago in some places.Today was my first day at my new placement and we heard about spiritual gifts. I’m thinking about this at the moment, as I have been investigating prophesy, as I get pictures from God. The message though was more about appreciating the gifts God’s specifically given you and not wrapping them up and putting them away because they weren’t on your original “wishlist”, or mourning the gifts you’ve never had. If God’s given them to you, then it’s probably for a reason.Even if they don’t seem relevant or interesting now, then at some point you will probably need to dust them off and get to like them again. Also by focusing on the gaps in your life, you put extra pressure on yourself and your self-esteem, spiritual life or relationships.

Having  a change in routine I have to say is really refreshing and if there is any small part of your life you can try doing differently this autumn I’d really recommend it- whether it’s trying a new style of clothing, going  to  different place on holiday, or taking the bike instead of the car to work, walking instead of cycling, or fasting instead of feasting. The options are pretty endless. My son is hooked on mine-craft, and I definitely won’t have much luck getting him to play something else, but I might suggest it!

Using a mine-craft analogy though,  it’s about glorifying the tiny bit of diamond ore, God has put in you, and making that shine, rather than waiting until you have more diamonds to make something major like a sword, as God can polish up the small stuff and the seemingly worthless bits, as well as the “show-stoppers”.

Meeting all the other people on my course, it seemed like we were all so different, and will all have different things to share with each other as well as learning from the lecturers.None of us probably see ourselves as show-stoppers, but in God’s hands we can be.

Paul who wrote many of the letters and chapters of the New Testament paid for his travels by making tents, and this was only possible because the native land he grew up in, was famous for it’s goats hair, which was used then for tent making. So God’s purpose was worked out for centuries of Christians to inherit, supported by the trade in goats hair tents at the time Paul was writing! Without the Romans the message Paul was sharing would also have been impossible to pass on, as they introduced a network of formal trading route which aided communication.

The only thing we have to do is show up, and not shrink away from using the gifts we are given, and we can also be bold in asking for spiritual gifts

“God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues[d]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts and yet I will show you the most excellent way.” 1 Corinthians 12 v28-31