Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Simply Christmas

At the end of November we all heard a lot about Black Friday, if you were anything like me this was the first time you ever had heard the term. Saturday was dubbed "Panic Saturday" as it was apparently the day that "everyone" was out buying their last minute gifts. I guess I am not the only one who feels that  the real meaning of Christmas has been hijacked to serve the interests of rampant consumerism. I am glad to say that I did absolutely no shopping either on Black Friday or Panic Saturday and I hope I never will.
I really don't think I am too  much of a "Bah Humbug" character. I love Christmas. I just think that it is not enhanced by rushing around  panic buying or elbowing a stranger in the eye in an attempt to get a bargain. This year I have instituted a small revolution in our house and brought in the "twenty pound Christmas" rule. The basis of this is that a. nobody spends more than twenty pounds on anyone else in the family b. everyone has to name a gift for around or under that amount or put in a request for hard cash. The reason for this change is not really parsimony, although our income has reduced this year, it is more that I found we were buying things for each other which never got used. Every Christmas, everyone puts their presents into a plastic bag to take up to their room/ put away later. Every year for the last few years, the bags of  my sons and my husband remained in the corner gathering dust for months. At some point, usually in the Summer holidays, I would throw stuff away or take it to the charity shop. It  seems such a waste and I just long for a simpler and more, well adult approach to Christmas which says we don't really need to buy a lot for each other.
I fall in love more and more with the idea of Quaker simplicity. I have come to think that when we have less things in our lives, it can make room for us to value the important things more. We are all being sold a massive lie that buying stuff brings us happiness, and it really isn't difficult to work out that we are being sold that lie because it lines other people's pockets, even if it leads in some cases to families crippled by debt and to  negative economic impacts for so many of us. The simple truth is that you will be just as happy without the latest new product, in fact you will be more so because you will  search for joy and meaning elsewhere.
I am beginning to think the same way about success. An acquaintance of ours used to send us a Christmas letter every year, you know the sort that is designed to make you feel inadequate about your own life because everyone has been promoted and the kids have got fifteen A* at GCSE. Then they had a really difficult year - we got no letter and they did not get in touch with us ever again, we only heard on the grapevine what had happened. In spite of writing to us every year, they had built up a barrier of their own success and perfection and sadly we were not the sort of friends that they could be their real selves in front of.
Jesus was born into poverty and stigma in dangerous and difficult circumstances. He came to be flesh and blood and part of the message of Christmas is that we do not need to be afraid to be our very human selves. God delights in our growing and learning but he does not care how rich, clever, beautiful or successful we are and sometimes these things can be barriers to us drawing close to him.
I wish you a simple and joyful Christmas this year :)

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Christmas holiday

Thank goodness term has ended at last! It seems to have been an incredibly long one and, despite having stepped down from some of my roles, I seem as busy as ever. This may be due to the fact that I have also foolishly taken on some other roles (for less pay) and I am teaching a new A2 English Language syllabus for the first time... Still that moment when I pulled up on the drive yesterday and thought about two weeks to spend with family was delicious; also pure nectar was the sensation of waking up this morning to no alarm and the prospect of a whole weekend when I am not going to do any sodding marking. So this is a quick catch up on recent events and thoughts.
First of all I was pleased to hear the news this week that Libby Lane is to be the Church of England's first woman bishop, although you may have gathered that I still think this appointment is overdue by a few decades. It also seems either very fitting or very ironic that she is within the Chester diocese which certainly didn't have the best track record of voting for the admission of women to the Episcopate.
The massacre of school children in Peshawar is another horrifying indication of what extremist will do in the name of religion. It made me think of how Christmas, which we often see in terms of saccharine nativity scenes, is hemmed in by St Stephen's Day to Holy Innocents, days which commemorate violence and atrocity and remind us of the call to be liberated from cruelty and the misuse of power. I do hope that attitudes in Pakistan will now harden against the Taliban and that the anger and outrage felt can be channeled against extremism and atrocity.
Another news item that caught my attention was the one about obesity being a disability- I only caught an interview about this briefly on the news and so may have a sketchy idea of the context but it made me snort disparagingly. Fortunately I was listening on my own so nobody else had to suffer the disparaging snort, but the woman attempting to make the case for obesity, or the effects of obesity, being a disability made it so badly that that alone excited contempt. Surely a disability is a condition which you can do nothing about and not one you have inflicted on yourself and for which you can take remedial action? Apparently most UK adults are now overweight and although I can be very sympathetic about this there's still no need to go absolving people from taking responsibility for their actions.
Treat yourself?
Anyhow, I do hope anyone still reading this blog wasn't  about to tuck into that second, third or fourth mince pie and ho, ho, ho, I'm still feeling upbeat because it's the holidays! :)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

De Profundis

There has been a lot written about the waiting of Advent, about the way it is an active, expectant waiting, about the hope and faith it involves. Perhaps we don't so often think about the way that the waiting and yearning for a Messiah came from the depths of despair, the urgent place you reach when you have just waited to long and are almost hoping against hope for deliverance, looking for a new way when there seems no way forward. Psalm 130 is surely an Advent psalm which articulates the desperate longing for redemption. 

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.
 If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
 But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
 I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.
 He himself will redeem Israel from all their sins.

The metaphors of Advent speak to us of this place where we have almost relinquished hope. The resonance of the people who walk in darkness is indeed beautiful, but if you have ever tried to walk in darkness you will know that it is a frustrating, stumbling process where you are as likely to stub a toe, fall over or go around in circles as to make much progress. Likewise the metaphor of the barren woman, Elizabeth, hoping against hope for a child, involves as much anguish and despair as it does anticipation. Perhaps much of this relates to the situation in Palestine at the time of Christ's birth. The longing of the Jews for a Messiah who would restore power as well as peace and prosperity must, in the midst of disappointment and the hated Roman rule, have seemed  a desperate and futile hope.

Then there is John the Baptist out on the margins in his wilderness, not fertile ground but another place of barrenness and desertion where hope finds it hard to take root and he is not a person but a voice crying in anguish and defiance for a straight way where there is no path to be found. John is  a rather extreme figure with his strange clothes and diet and calls for repentance alongside alarming descriptions of winnowing forks and burning up the chaff, and so he should be because Advent waiting is the waiting of those who have reached a point beyond, they wait more than the watchmen wait for the dawn. It all smacks of a very, very long,  barren night of the soul.

 In our twenty first century world with global warming, economic recession, atrocity, conflict and war there are plenty of reasons for humanity  to cry out for deliverance from the depths of despair. Christ never came to deliver us from the Romans but more to deliver us from ourselves and from the human greed and selfishness that has always led us to mess the world up and continues to do so, perhaps just on a larger scale. Psalm 130 also shows us that we find redemption through a despair at our own folly, a reliance upon God's mercy and a willingness to embrace a new way.Advent is about repentance. Crying from the depths of despair to be saved from ourselves still offers our best chance of hope. 

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Advent- the meaning is in the waiting

Kneeling

Moments of great calm
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer; waiting for God
To speak: the air a staircase
For silence: the sun's light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great role. And the audiences
Still: all that close throng 
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
                Prompt me God
But not yet. When I speak
Though it be you who speak
Through me something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.


It is hard to believe that it is December tomorrow. It seems such a short time since the end of the summer and the return to college. Although I am not keen on the dark mornings, or scraping the ice of the car with numbed fingers, nevertheless I love this time of year and in particular find Advent invested with meaning. I always try to read something that will help me reflect on Advent during December and this year I am reading a book by Paula Gooder which takes its title from the last line of this poem by R.S.Thomas. So many Christian books are, to be quite frank, just so much drivel but so far so good with this one and I think it might prove a meaty and meaningful read.
I am not a patient person, yet when it comes to Advent I don't have a problem with the waiting. I am not enormously fond of Christmas day and it is the intense spirituality of Advent, shrouded in darkness, unknowing and anticipation that appeals to me more. In the spirit of waiting, I am trying to take some time out this Advent, and, even in my reading, to pause, reflect, to write about or pray about what I read. It isn't easy because I constantly find myself lacking time and rushing from one thing to the next. I know it isn't just me. It is a common complaint for most of us, isn't it?
Today, I spent some time thinking about the poem above and found it brought to my mind most powerfully the experience of Quaker worship, not the sort I usually experience where I fall asleep or my mind wanders off and I start making "to do"lists, but the rare but beautiful moments when silence is all that is needed and quietness it is an end in itself and not a waiting room or adjunct to something else.
That is when the meaning is in the waiting.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Do dogs have souls? (Part twenty-four)



Interesting article today about how dogs brains are hard wired to respond to humans. The evidence is based around stuff like neuroimaging and the way the  caudate nucleus lights up when they see, or more importantly smell, humans.There's nothing like a few scientific terms to baffle and impress, of course, more convincing to me was that dogs apparently are the only species to seek out eye contact. So your dog sees you as its family and it really does care...awww...but then didn't we know that anyway?

NB: I do keep planning to blog on something with more gravitas than how lovely dogs are or what I've done over half term but am just really busy still and spent a weekend recently wiped out with nasty winter vomiting bug. Just be glad I didn't blog that one.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Weekend away

We headed down South this past weekend partly to enjoy a half term break away but also so that we could see our son, as I explained to Mr M, I just needed to "lay eyes on him and check he looks OK." The good news was that he did indeed look  and sound OK. He reports that there is a shed load of work but that he is absolutely loving tutorials and student life in general. He was also very enthusiastic about a lecture he had attended given by Roger Penrose who designed the tiling outside the Maths Institute; son was sporting a hoodie with the tiling on it and tried to explain to me why the tiling was important- but you can just read about it on the link if you are interested.We also took him for a meal in The Eagle and Child,  it seems he has been pretty much living off Tesco's value food and kebabs.

Penrose tiling

Penrose hoodie

We also visited the Ashmolean Museum, although we didn't really have as much time as we would have liked. On Sunday morning we went to Sung Eucharist at the Cathedral at Christ Church. On our way back we visited Bletchley Park, again there wasn't enough time to get round everything and we hope to visit again as you can return within twelve months and reuse your ticket- tickets are  pinned up on the board in the kitchen but that is no guarantee we won't forget them. All in all, a lovely trip away. Just a shame to have to get back to the routine!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Letting be

 Yesterday, I read this post about the often cold or flawed nature of the welcome that  conservative churches give to LGBT people, even those who embrace celibacy. It wasn't a new story to me because there are some depressing attitudes around and conservative LGBT Christians can get the worst deal from churches as they can feel uncomfortable theologically and personally at "affirming" churches but do come up against an insidious prejudice in some conservative churches. One person told me that the church he went to told him that they were quite happy to have him there as long as he wasn't in a relationship, but then, a few months later when he offered to be more involved in church life, announced he would not be a "good role model." I want to hasten to say that there are conservative churches who do manage things much better than this, equally there are "liberal" churches which still manage to be crass or insensitive.
So what can you do if institutions or the people within them make you angry, bitter or hurt? Well, you can leave, or you can stay, or you can work to change them from the inside. It doesn't matter which of these options you choose as long as you recognise that being angry/ bitter/ hurt is not generally a realistic proposition as a long term emotional state. There are always a few individuals, of course, who thrive on their anger or outrage and use it to galvanise them to work for change. This can be admirable, although they can also run the danger of being one track crashing bores, but it does not suit the average person.
Over the summer I read Anthony De Mello's How to Love which was a book recommended on the Available Light blog. There was a lot about the book that I struggled with, didn't agree with or thought was too simplistic... and yet... there was something in it. I went back to the book several times and found myself in the strange position of either fervently agreeing or fervently disagreeing with almost every idea in it. I also found that it helped me cope better with a colleague with whom I had had a disagreement- and we were at a bit of an impasse. De Mello says that a lot of our unhappiness is caused by our ideas and expectations about the world around us and our need to try to arrange the world to our liking. He writes,

" Yet another belief: Happiness will come if you manage to change the situation you are in and the people around you. Not true. You stupidly squander so much energy trying to rearrange the world. If changing the world is your vocation, go right ahead, but do not harbour the illusion that this is going to make you happy... as well search for an eagle's nest on the bed of an ocean as search for happiness in the world around you."

De Mello does take this idea to the extreme and advocates a kind of asceticism in thought that even extends to a lack of concern at the thought of losing those closest to you - I have to say I have not reached this point yet! However, his ideas about letting people be themselves, not worrying too much to change them but just accepting them is good advice. It moves you from anxiety to peace. We all seek the approval of other people, but De Mello helps you to see that the only place  really worth seeking approval is with God and within yourself, your own conscience. And once you have reached that place external things such as people and institutions will no longer have the power to make you bitter, angry or hurt.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Tattie Harvest!

Over the summer I've grown radishes, dwarf runner beans and regular crops of salad leaves, all in tubs and pots on the patio alongside the usual sweet peas. This year I also managed an unplanned potato crop! This came about because I use our own compost in which to grow veg and one day, in between the salad leaves , I noticed a little seedling that looked a lot like a potato plant. I left it for a few days and, once I was sure it was a potato plant, I dug it up and transplanted it into its own pot. The only explanation is that it must have come from an eye in a potato peeling left still unrotted in the compost ( I had forked it  over a few days before and a peeling must have worked its way down.) Since it was so keen to live and grow, I thought I would give it a chance, and it not only grew into a bit of a monster, it produced a crop which wasn't bad seeing it just came from the compost. We are planning to eat the tattie crop, it looks like they are King Edwards, with some slow roasted pork chops and apple sauce on Wednesday.



At the moment I just grow veg in pots but the plan is to create a little vegetable garden. Mr M felled two pine trees this summer revealing a lovely sunny spot next to the wall which we think would be ideal for raised beds. Then I can grow runner beans, onions, potatoes and salad and will officially be as middle aged as I possibly can:)



Saturday, 18 October 2014

Mental illness

I had a dream last night. In the dream I was living in a beautiful house. The house was surrounded by a wonderful garden and there were amazing views of the sea and a stunning coastline.My initial feelings in the dream were that I could not believe I had been given this incredible place to live; I walked from room to room admiring everything and I couldn't wait to explore the garden and walk along some of the paths by the coast.
Then, looking out of one of the windows up a country lane, I saw a black spectre making its way toward the house. Spectres usually glide but this one was walking purposefully like it was on a practical mission and had tucked up its dementor-like robes so that you could see it had legs. This sight was so incongruous that, at first, I laughed out loud, but then I felt a sense of dread because I realised it was coming to my beautiful house and coming to get me. Very soon the dream turned into a nightmare as I tried to evade the spectre. I would look up to find  it beside me as I read or washed up dishes. It would reach out and touch my arm or my side and, wherever it touched, my flesh would go cold and numb and turn purplish blue. I tried to block the spectre by locking doors or building barriers but no physical barrier could keep it out.
The next part of the dream, I was looking in the mirror in the morning, and all the places the spectre had touched had  become discoloured and were beginning to putrefy. I then decided that, in my next attempt to evade it, I would go out to the garden which had a rose garden through a pretty arch. The rose garden contained some truly beautiful specimens in crimson, flame, yellow and pure whites and it was heady with scent and summer sun. I felt that I would be safe there. To my horror, the spectre followed and laid its arm around my shoulder in a comradely manner while I was trying to admire the roses. In desperation I noticed some steep steps down to a harbour and sea wall, the sea looked deep and surprisingly choppy given the summer weather but I wondered if I could escape the spectre by plunging into the sea or whether, there too, it would overwhelm and drown me.
This was the point when I woke from the dream and I knew at once that it was about a  case that happened at work last week. I can't say more than that as the details are obviously confidential. The symbolism of the dream seemed to me to translate to the idea that you can be in wonderful circumstances ( the sumptuous house) with good prospects ( the view) but that mental illness can still come out of the blue and lay its chilling fingers upon you. I want to say that I am not at all concerned about my own mental health, if anything, after a childhood marked by some difficulties and some emotional and mental illness in my early adult life, I have experienced what I would describe as post traumatic growth. The dream, I think, was a salutatory reminder that mental health issues can affect anyone, and that I should not be complacent or dismissive when others cannot seem to find a way to escape them because that may be their personal experience. The rise in mental health problems in adolescents is something that I am aware of through my work, and it troubles me deeply and often frustrates me. I think the dream may have been an exercise in empathy.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Keeping out the cold

I don't know if I've mentioned it before but we don't have the heating on in our house until half term. It is a sort of rule and- annoyingly- nobody in the house except me seems to find it challenging as October goes on and the chillier nights draw in. This makes me feel like a wimp and I tend to just brave it although I've learnt a few little wrinkles to keep me warmer. For anyone who is still managing without heating, this is my advice on keeping warm.

1. Layers- you've heard it before and it is true. Fleeces are also great as is a blanket in the evenings. Marks and Spencer's thermal socks with slippers are indispensable.

2. Warming food- we tend to make casseroles and soups at this time of year. This kind of fare is both warming and healthy as it delivers lots of vegetables and is usually reasonably low in fat. I do also sometime treat myself to crumble and custard which is an instant warmer.

3. Exercise. If feeling the chill, I take myself off to the gym, usually early evening or late afternoon at the weekends. After working out strenuously it takes me most of the evening to cool down. Again, it is not only warming, it lifts your mood and is so good for you. If we could bottle the benefits of exercise it would be a wonder drug - and it can help you cut down on the heating bills!

4. A hot water bottle. One of the pleasures of the colder weather is the comfort afforded by a lovely hot water bottle, electric blanket or best of all a warmer partner to put your icy feet on. If said partner is the one who insists you don't need the heating on yet, be  completely unapologetic!

5. Memory. Some of you can no doubt remember a world without central heating and the arctic experience of waking up on mornings when there was ice on the inside of the windows and the fire was not yet lit or had yet to get going properly. As kids we lived in a chilly curate's house in Wales and we used to steel ourselves, leap out of bed then dash downstairs to dress in front of the fire. I never spared a thought for my mum who had had to get up to light that fire. I was telling an older teacher about this once and she said that they had children who rarely had heat in the house and whose parents slapped on a layer of goose fat on their kids'chests to serve as insulation at the start of winter, covered it with brown paper and left them in the same clothes until the spring.

Just be glad we don't live in conditions like that anymore!

Monday, 13 October 2014

Fear , Ebola and UKIP

With a few exceptions, our students are really worried about Ebola. I mean really, really worried. I tried to interest my tutor group in the issue of the rise of UKIP last week, we got some discussion but it was the fear of dying of Ebola that engaged them most. One young lady told me that if it wasn't for Ebola, she wouldn't be worried about anything, or as she put it, "Like not worried about anything AT ALL, ever." I got asked if I wasn't worried and, tongue in cheek, I replied that at my age there's a lot of things that can get you. They seemed to think this was completely reasonable, and after all should anyone in their forties really worry about dying, we are half dead anyhow...
Of course, Ebola is a very serious concern and so perhaps I shouldn't laugh, it did make me reflect though on how much humans are driven by fear- and selfishness. I was listening today to a report on the race to find a vaccine alongside Margaret Chan's comments that there are no vaccines because the disease has been hitherto confined to poor African countries, or as she said, "the rich stay rich, the poor are left to die." Now we are threatened, even though this is to a much lesser extent, our fears impel us to find the will to act.
The rise of UKIP, I believe, is also fuelled by fear, our impulse to protect ourselves from that which we think threatens and contaminates us and our willingness to disregard the interests of others. Given the economic situation, the rise of parties such as UKIP was surely only expected, but has undoubtedly been fuelled by the lack of vision of the other parties, their reliance on bland and risk free politics, possibly by their fearfulness and lack of courage.
One of the messages repeated again and again in the bible is not to fear. I tried to encourage the worried students not to be too afraid, to have concerns but to see the bigger picture and to remember that, if our greatest fear, whatever that is, turned out to be groundless, we would very soon find something else to be worried about.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The summer is over and we are not yet saved

 A rather chilly second half of August has been topped off by a Bank Holiday weekend which has managed to continue the theme of cold and wet weather, even delivering frost in some areas on Saturday night. Add to this the fact that I can no longer convince myself that I am not yet back at work, and it certainly does seem that the summer is over.
In the meeting yesterday, I was thinking about this summer, about how I have not wanted it to come to an end and my fervent hopes that this coming year at work will not be as difficult as the last one was (please Lord...) In many ways this has been a blissful summer for me as I have really taken the opportunity to relax and have enjoyed doing simple things, growing vegetables, walking the dog, reading along with the occasional day out. Kev and I also went on holiday alone together for the first time since the boys were born. I was pleased to find that I thoroughly enjoyed it just being the two of us, and this was a relief as, after twenty years, it isn't always the case!
In terms of what we have heard on the news and seen on our TV screens, this has been a far from blissful summer. The shooting down of flight MH17 over Ukraine in July, the worsening situation in Palestine, the terrible atrocities in Iraq and concerns about the increasing power of the so called Islamic state in the region are all not just distressing in themselves but a cause for international concern and anxiety about the future. I also personally am saddened and horrified by the way that religious extremism can lead to such evil, and I am not complacent as I know that religious extremism of any shade can lead to the justification of inhumanity. In the words of Jeremiah, we might say that the summer is over and we are not yet saved.
It was a very silent meeting yesterday. Perhaps, like me, people have come to the end of knowing what to say or feeling that words are very helpful. I find it more and more of a tragedy that in this difficult world, in which we suffer what Shakespeare referred to as "the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to", that on top of this we feel the need to engage in conflict and inflict further wounds on each other. I have not blogged this summer about any of the horrible events in the news. What is there to say that has  not said by others or does not seem like a platitude?
It may seem pale and pusillanimous, but in the face of  this summer, with all its personal goodness and happiness for myself and all its suffering, conflict and atrocity for this world, all I could do was to place it, myself and the future in the hands of God.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Seizing the day

The very sad death of Robin Williams has led to a lot of media comment on the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide. There has been a lot of  thoughtful coverage but also many twitter comments and opinion pieces which still show how people can react with hostility and condemnation to an illness which they do not really understand, perhaps partly because they find the subject matter baffling or threatening. Unfortunately, religion has often helped perpetuate the idea that suicide is sinful, a viewpoint which fails to see that the sufferer may be so ill that they may believe their loved ones are better off without them.
I am interested in the issue of our mental health, partly because I have had contact with a fair number of students with depression and other mental illnesses in the course of my job, and partly because my early life was characterised by some level of mental health problems. I was diagnosed with a mental health issue which affected me quite seriously from my early to mid teens  and I experienced an episode of post natal depression following the birth of my second child. I have however been enormously fortunate in that I have been free from any mental health problems from my late twenties onward, something which I attribute to having come to terms with some personal issues, in particular  the fact that I was sexually abused, a life circumstance which can lead to a range of effects in later life.
 Mental health problems such as depression are not necessarily rooted in external circumstances and it is possible that, as with other illnesses, depression can arise that seemingly has no cause. Anyone who is suffering from a serious mental health problem should not hesitate to seek professional help, so I do not want to offer the following in a way that suggests that self help alone is always the right way forward. At the same time, we all need to be aware of our mental and emotional well being just as we would any aspect of our health, and these are things that I have found helpful.

1. Accept yourself.

You can't be whole unless you are prepared to believe that basically you are OK, that you are deserving of being valued and respected by others and that you can forgive yourself. This process  can be more difficult for anyone who has faced abuse, neglect or bullying in childhood, however many of us can find it difficult to suppress our inner critic and to realise that our shortcomings and failings are really just a part of being human. One of the most positive aspects of a faith can be that understanding of the intrinsic value of every person and the knowledge of being forgiven and cherished. Sadly faith can sometimes work in the opposite way and encourage a critical attitude towards the sinfulness of self and/ or others. Of course we should try to be good and Godly- virtue really is its own reward - but avoid a joyless and hand wringing type of faith.

2. Be yourself

I don't bother to do things that I don't enjoy anymore unless I have to for a good reason. I enjoy walking the dog, doing the garden,  spending time with quite a small circle of family and friends. I try to take time to savour the things I enjoy and to practise mindfulness. I'm not interested in buying a lot of things or going out a lot. I prefer thinking and reading to watching a lot of TV and I only drink alcohol in moderation. It might be really boring but it suits me! A really important part of being yourself is not letting yourself be pressurised by other people's expectations. Know what your values are and do what feels right for you. I think this is something which gets a lot easier as you get older and is one of the few major advantages of your advancing years!

3. Exercise and eat well

This might contradict point 2 for some people, but luckily I mostly enjoy exercise and also really enjoy good food. If they could bottle the benefits of exercise, it would be a wonder drug in terms of physical health. Exercise also contributes to your emotional health by releasing feel good endorphins and is great for lifting the mood if you are feeling down and just giving general mental balance. It is much easier to exercise if you find something you enjoy doing. I also think that when you exercise, you tend to eat better as you have a sense of the need to provide your body with proper nutrients. OK, I can get a bit obsessive about this one, and I don't always want to go to the gym but I know I feel better when I do.

4. Accept that life isn't always fair

Accepting that life is not always fair, that there may have been difficulties in your past and there certainly will be difficulties in your future, is essential to achieving emotional balance. If you can let go of bitterness or resentment or anger that this or that happened to you, or that your boss could treat you better or you are not as smart or beautiful or rich as  some other people, you'll be doing yourself a massive favour. Of course some life events are horrendous, you are bound to feel grief or distress at loss or terrible adversity. There is nothing wrong with grieving, or being angry at times and it is right to fight against injustice. As far as possible, however, aim for balance, recognise that life owes you nothing out of the ordinary, ask yourself if things really are so terrible and try to put things in perspective  as this builds resilience and emotional robustness. Life isn't always fair but it is there to be lived as fully as you can in whatever circumstances you find yourself.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

The Light of the World

          "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime."

The above is the remark attributed to the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Gray on 3rd August 1914, one which he apparently did not recall saying at all. I think the remark has survived, and been revived for the centenary commemorations due to its wonderful poetic cadences, its sense of ritual and the way it operates as a metaphor for despair and hope, good and evil.

I have been moved by the centenary commemorations, the facts, statistics and stories, some well known and others less so that I have heard over the last few days. Yet, at the same time, it seems to me that the First World War, which in some ways stands out as the first major  conflict which was to involve more nations than any other war in human history up to that time and haunt us with the loss of a generation of young men, is also just a part of the sad continuum of human violence and bloodshed. The Great War only became the First World war when World War Two started, surpassing the Great War in the scale of devastation.
And today, that continuum of hatred and violence continues, perhaps on a smaller scale but still with harrowing consequences in conflicts around the world, the places which have been in the news- Gaza, Syria, Ukraine, with effects that are equally devastating for the individuals involved. A capacity for hatred, brutality, atrocity, indifference to the plight of others, seems to be a hallmark of human existence. Perhaps from a Christian point of view we might reflect not just on the lights going out across Europe but on the vast abyss of darkness that is human sin and hatred, a darkness that afflicts all humans in all times and places and which cannot be subdued by winning wars but only by the much harder business of winning hearts and souls.
I am the Light of the World, whoever follows me will not walk in darkness
but will have the light of life.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Back from holiday

We have returned from a fantastic holiday in Turkey. We spent the time just relaxing but with a few trips out such as a day in Pammukale (below) and a boat trip. We left both our offspring behind. They had a party which was " a bit eventful" apparently. We left each son with an envelope filled with cash for "food and any emergencies". On our return, one son handed his envelope back, still sealed, and said he hadn't needed to spend it, the other son's envelope I discovered crumpled up on his bedroom floor. It was completely empty. There's a parable in there somewhere...
Just glad to be back and everyone OK and the house intact!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Let your light shine


I've just returned from a very peaceful retreat; this photo was taken on the last night after a prayer session in which  each member was represented by a candle. On my return I heard that Synod has passed the legislation which will allow women bishops. I thought this a very positive move but at the same time felt a slight sadness to think of the levels of bitterness - and what could seem like contempt or even hatred that the process has involved, along with (and I know this seems paradoxical) a sense of grief for those who will now feel hurt and angry. I also think many observers will be bemused that it took so long and was so difficult to manage - or maybe not many people will really even care.
Not sure the Church has let a light shine in the management of this issue but perhaps it will have more success in its practical implementation.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Wild child...

 Some readers, if indeed there are any readers still left, may have cottoned on to the fact that my life is pretty tame and quiet.  I am increasingly finding that routine appeals to me and doing anything out of my routine can frankly just take a bit too much effort.  The highlights of my life are a trip to the gym followed by a glass of wine, walking the dog down the canal and tending to my beans and radishes ( BTW that is not a euphemism for anything.) Consequently readers (if there are any left...) may be glad to hear that this week I have managed three nights out IN A ROW! This reckless spontaneity began with a meal out with friends at Gusto, an excellent Italian restaurant in Knutsford on Saturday, a trip to see the  Odd Socks company in their excellent, not at all highbrow, performance of Midsummer Night's Dream on Sunday, and a drink out on Monday to say farewell to a colleague. Top that all off with the fact that I am going on retreat on Friday. A retreat, I hear you say, does this woman always live life in the fast lane? Will the partying ever stop?

Meanwhile, my younger son is on holiday in Zante (Zakynthos). If someone told me I was going abroad and had to drink a lot and party all night, I might just cry. So he is the wild child to whom the title of this post refers. Heavens only knows what he is up to, all I can say  is that I am glad I don't. He returns on Friday early morning; in the afternoon I set off on retreat, hopefully to give thanks for his safe return!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Informal monitoring and reference

The case of Jeremy Pemberton, the priest who has had his permission to officiate revoked as a result of entering into a same sex marriage, reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a priest who had entered into a civil partnership. This priest had also had his PTO withdrawn after a "pastoral" meeting with his bishop. Rather like Jeremy Pemberton it didn't have a material effect on his livelihood as he had other employment- and I believe he had officiated at most services without pay anyhow. The priest concerned worked as part of a ministry in a rural parish where churches were far apart and it soon became apparent that they were going to be hard pushed to cope without him and couldn't replace him due, I think, to finances and the difficulty of finding someone able to provide that kind of part time cover.

After representations by another priest, someone quite senior in the diocese told him he could officiate, but that it wasn't official, and if it came to light they knew nothing about it, and so he was still regularly taking services as he had before.  I had to say that my response to this kind "offer" would have ended in the word "off".  His response was that he felt called to ministry and wished to help his fellow clergy and he was above petty resentments. He said if he had ever taken the attitude of the C of E personally, he would have left ministry but as long as he felt called and his conscience was clear he would stay.

 I heard this account a while ago, yet the impression it gave me, which was of the hypocrisy and lack of humanity that can occur in parts of  the Church, has increased since then. There is no work place in Britain where people can  be treated as shabbily or offered as little legal protection and redress as they are in  the Church. And surely something is wrong when we have reached a place where matters can be so very underhand and dishonest? The recent denials that there is a blacklist  of clergy who enter into same sex marriages seems part and parcel of the same approach. So there is no official blacklist? Well, there is an unofficial one then, isn't there? How do you "informally monitor" people anyhow? If the group has "no powers", why set it up? If the group is to advise diocesan bishops, what exactly does it advise them about?

I don't expect decency, and certainly not compassion, but is  honesty and transparency really too much to ask?

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Me time

After a very busy year I am at last finding I have a little more "breathing space" and a chance to pick up a few of the things that I just had to drop. I haven't blogged much over the past two weeks, and in fact I have pretty much stayed off the Internet, but I have read several books, had some early nights and weekend lie ins, done some baking and a bit of gardening. It feels like I've been recovering! It has been lovely.
  I have also started to get back to my previous levels of exercise with three to four gym sessions a week. I had dropped down to just one or two sessions at one point and was starting to find that I was struggling to work out to my previous levels. A real delight over this last few weeks is that I am starting to relish exercise again and to wake up in the mornings full of energy.
All of this has made me think about how we do need time for ourselves; it is not selfish and is really not an optional extra. Our health benefits if we have time to look after ourselves properly. We could all do with taking more exercise and eating more healthily given the rise in obesity and Type 2 Diabetes, and our emotional and spiritual selves also need time and space and attention.
I am hoping I will have more free time next year, not too much free time or we won't be able to pay the bills (which won't be good for anyone's health)... but still, a little more time to look around and appreciate all the good things we have.
Hoping you find time to appreciate life this week!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Spirit of Power

The story of Bernard Johnson, the D-day veteran who, having failed to get on an official trip to attend the commemorations, absconded from his care home and just did it anyway has surely delighted and inspired many of us.He left on the Thursday  morning with his medals hidden under his coat and told nobody about his adventure, presumably to scotch attempts to talk him out of it.  Perhaps it is no great surprise that the fortitude and determination of those who lived through major conflict should prove more than a match for our pusillanimous risk averse society. A tweet, supposedly from the police officers who discovered his whereabouts, sums it up with,
                                        #fighting spirit: still has it.
With Pentecost coming up tomorrow, the story made me ponder the idea of spirit and how we use the term spirit not just to suggest an attitude but a life force, something living which inhabits us and shapes our actions and decisions.  The bible uses so many terms to help us understand the concept of the Holy Spirit - something given, a grace, a help and counsellor, a power beyond ourselves, something which transforms us and makes us more than we would have been without it.
 Those who fought for their country during the Second World War, or anyone who is faced with a huge life threatening situation,needs to be able to reach deep within themselves, and maybe outside of themselves, to tap into a power which gives them the strength to do what they must do.I do not like the glorification of war, and I support those unable for reasons of conscience to take part in it, but I am unable to be a whole-hearted pacifist, particularly given conflicts such as the Second World War. We are told in the bible that the Spirit does not make us slaves who live in fear, and the D day landings were undertaken by those who, although they felt fear, were not prepared to be slaves.
I think of them at this moment and ask that through our hardest moments and  most difficult decisions we may be guided by the Spirit, not of timidity, but of power, love and self-control.


Ouistreham or "Sword Beach" one of the main landing areas

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Finding ways forward

I haven't been blogging properly for quite some time, the reasons for this are mundane and not worth outlining.   I haven't been reading blogs or facebook or keeping up with anything that has been going on in the Christian blogosphere. To tell the truth, this lack of time to keep up with  things has been accompanied by a  growing lack of interest in what is going on and I see this as a positive. In fact, when someone told me this morning that all forty four dioceses have now voted in favour of women bishops, it was news to me!
Nonetheless it was good news and when I did have a quick browse through the blogs I haven't followed for some time I found more positive news from the Church of Aotearo, NZ and Polynesia whose synod has voted to look into developing a liturgy for the blessing of same sex relationships. A heartening aspect seemed to be its positive reception among both conservatives and liberals as there was a promise to protect the integrity and place in the Church of both those in favour and those opposed. I think one of the difficulties around the admission of women to the Episcopate has been the cleft stick that any concessions to those opposed has meant a diminishing the authority of women bishops.

A few months ago I was reminded of Robert Frost's poem On a Tree Fallen Across a Road. Frost is fascinated by our journey through life and with how our choices and decisions make us who we are. The tree is, of course, a metaphor for the obstacles we all face and how conflict and difficulty can work as opportunities to reassess our way, exercise ingenuity, thought and skill and through that process learn "who we are". I am offering it not as a thought on women bishops or any of the obstacles affecting the Church (sorry that this is a bit of a random post!) but as a much broader reflection on how the need to find a way forward to all sorts of difficult situations can be a positive. I hope you like it!

                                        On a Tree Fallen Across the Road

The tree the tempest with a crash of wood
Throws down in front of us is not bar
Our passage to our journey's end for good,
But just to ask us who we think we are


Insisting always on our own way so.
She likes to halt us in our runner tracks,
And make us get down in a foot of snow
Debating what to do without an axe.


And yet she knows obstruction is in vain:
We will not be put off the final goal
We have it hidden in us to attain,
Not though we have to seize earth by the pole


And, tired of aimless circling in one place,
Steer straight off after something into space.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Let's celebrate!

There's already been quite a lot of reaction to the  Reform press release on the twenty year celebration of the ordination of women priests. It is full of silly and weak arguments which can't really even be dignified by the word "argument"- they are more whiny petulant comments along the lines of "why aren't we celebrating the women who make the tea after service? Apparently they are not worth it! Why aren't we celebrating men? Apparently they are not worth it! 

The greatest revelation for me is that it is women who are responsible for keeping the church roof on. No really, it is our heroic efforts which keep it where it is (it must say so somewhere in the bible...)

"Every day hundreds of thousands of women serve their church families; they serve the sick , the elderly, the housebound (etc)... they ensure the roof stays on..."

There you go. Let me never hear it said that Reform is sexist after that testament to the keeping-the-roof-on abilities of women. Let's have a service to celebrate!

Arch druid Eileen sends it up better than I can here.

A church with no women

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Arriving late

I'm loving Ben Myers Church Attendance Manual: Part one is a guide to arriving late.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Militant atheists?

 So several prominent British humanists have written to the Times objecting to Cameron's description of Britain as a Christian country, saying this is not accurate. Well, I am pretty lukewarm towards politicians who bring up religion anyway as I am cynical enough to wonder whether the desire for votes lies behind the show of piety. I also think the objectors may have a point querying the christian nature of modern day Britain. However, I laughed out loud when I heard on the radio today that one of the signatories (can't remember who it was) had said he was "offended" because Cameron might be implying you couldn't be fully British without being Christian. Offended by something which may or may not have been implied - and most likely wasn't! Offended, really?
To quote the teenagers I know, "get over yourself!"
 They're an arid bunch at times aren't they? I really don't care for militant atheists any more than any other form of extremist.I suppose it is good to know that the different camps can be equally pompous and silly.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Easter Sunday in Creole



I found this clip from the Patois bible online a few weeks ago. I was looking for examples of Jamaican Creole as we have to teach about pidgins and creoles for A2 English Language. I loved hearing such a familiar story in this form and hope you do too.
Happy Easter.

Friday, 18 April 2014



"He opened his arms of love upon the cross"

So goes a line in the liturgy. There are so many ways of seeing the Crucifixion, but one of the most accessible  interpretations  is that Jesus died to "show us how much he loved us", or to use scripture, that God so loved the world that he sent his only son. You might think that the line above from the liturgy reflects a relatively modern understanding- the touchy feely aspect of God rather than something more daunting and controversial, such penal substitution." Surprisingly though, the quote about opening arms is attributed to Hippolytus, right back in the third century.
                          Hoping you feel the embrace of Love this Good Friday:)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Surprising Easter

Today, Maundy Thursday, has been my first chance to get some time to myself and to really appreciate the fact that it is Holy Week. A few weeks ago I planted some seeds- I'd almost forgotten about them until this afternoon when I found several small but distinctive shoots in evidence, tender green emerging through the soil.
Maybe it is just me, but I always feel a sense of delight and something akin to surprise when I see that a seed I've planted has grown. It is a tiny miracle that the shrivelled, tiny seed has that potential. Today it reminded me of the words of Jesus to his disciplines, "unless a seed falls into the earth and dies it remains alone, but if it dies it produces much fruit." Holy Week is a week of highs and lows and of surprise and paradox- meekness and majesty,  triumph from shame, life through death. It is a journey to the bleakest places, disappointment, fear, humiliation, rejection, betrayal, loss, grief, suffering and death, and then beyond to a garden where a tomb is transformed into a surprising symbol of hope and life because of the power of love and sacrifice. It is so outrageous as to provoke doubt, there is whiff of a conjuring trick and plenty of room for the doubting Thomas in us all.
Steven Turner cleverly plays on our ambiguous attitude to Easter in the poem below. By using the structure of a joke, he draws attention to our questioning, our inability to understand, our tendency to scoff or to dilute the message of Easter and, in his final "knock, knock", the message that Easter is not a riddle which we can fathom but a call to encounter the risen Christ for ourselves.

Poem for Easter


Tell me:
What came first
Easter or the egg?
Crucifixion
or daffodils?
Three days in a tomb
or four days in Paris?
(returning  Bank Holiday Monday.)

When is a door
not a door?
When it is rolled away.
When is a body
not a body?
When it is a risen.

Question:
Why was it the Saviour rode on the cross?
Answer:
To get us
to the other side.

Behold I stand.
Behold I stand and what?
Behold I stand at the door and

knock knock. 

Friday, 11 April 2014


Vicars are just so multi-talented these days! (Don't worry, he doesn't break dance or anything...)

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Praise to the Lord



A wonderful hymn of praise to a God who defends the weak and vulnerable and befriends us with his love, goodness and mercy.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
The King of creation
O my soul, praise Him
For He is thy health and salvation
Come ye who hear, brothers and sisters draw near
Praise Him in glad adoration

Praise to the Lord
Who o'er all things so wonderfully reigneth
Shelters thee under His wings
Yea, so gladly sustaineth
Hast thou not seen all that is needful hath been
Granted in what He ordaineth

Praise to the Lord
Who doth prosper thy work and defend thee
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
If with His love He befriend thee

Praise to the Lord, O let all that is in me adore Him
All that hath life and breath
Come now with praises before Him
Let the 'amen' sound from His people again
Gladly for aye we adore Him

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Doing Lent badly

I'm not sure I am really that good at doing Lent. I've written before about how I prefer to see it as a time of growth and renewal rather than of deprivation and guilt. There are quite enough real Lents around without having to play act pain or suffering. I firmly resist doing things like giving up chocolate or alcohol just because I've tried it before an don't personally feel that brings me any closer to God.
What I do try to do in Lent is find a little time to read and pray regularly, and I sometimes pick a theme to meditate on throughout Lent. This year all of that has gone right out of the window simply because, having agreed to cover an absent colleague's classes, there's been no time to do anything. I had planned to mark the start of Lent, as I usually do, by attending the Ash Wednesday service in town but unfortunately I had a meeting on the same evening that didn't end until late. I guess it's not a good enough excuse.
So we were asked today in Church to think about what Jesus would make of our lives at this moment. I have no idea and I am not sure it is an easy question to answer. The gospels contain a warning about people who had looked at their lives through the human lens and genuinely thought they were doing pretty well. I am thinking of the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other people - robbers, evildoers, adulterers or the tax collector or of the rich young ruler, who was probably looking for a bit of a pat on the back for having kept all the commandments, or of Peter when he asked how many times he should forgive, knowing he had the "right" answer.
 Lent shouldn't offer a lot of space for complacency, and one of my fears about it is that Lenten discipline can be in itself a kind of egotism- in fact how often do we reflect upon the real danger  that religious faith can be a cover for a sort of smug, self satisfied egotism, even when our intentions, our desire to be "good" is well meant?  So much of what we do is about ourselves and meeting our own needs even if that is the need to feel righteous or at least less guilty.What is asked of us is mercy and compassion over routine sacrifice and , while I like to fool myself that I am quite good at compassion, it hasn't yet led me to give all I own to the poor...
 Lent should strip us bare of  our masks and make us recognise how utterly inadequate we are, not because we need to wallow in guilt for the sake of it, more because we need to understand the reality of our collective and personal human frailty. As Jesus once said, "Why do you call me good? Only God is good." Until we acknowledge that we all do Lent, and life, badly, we do not understand our need for the cross or the hope offered by an empty tomb.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Do dogs have souls? (Part twenty-three) The battle between good and evil



Be watchful, for your adversary the devil prowleth around like a roaring  ...  pussy cat?

PS: Bessie is giving up cats for Lent.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Prayers and P45s

 There is already a fair degree of  wailing and gnashing of teeth over the new pastoral guidance issued by the House of Bishops on same-sex marriage in relation to lay and ordained. It is, as one conservative blogger says, a complete dog's breakfast. Lay persons who have entered into a same sex marriage must be welcomed into churches, not subjected to intrusive questioning nor denied the sacrament. The church will allow prayers following a lay same sex marriage as long as nothing called a "blessing" takes place. Clergy on the other hand may enter into a civil partnership but not a same sex marriage, if they do they will not be ordained or if they are ordained then...
And this is where the statement is not entirely clear. Will clergy who enter into same sex marriage or look to convert a civil partnership into marriage be summarily dismissed? It doesn't actually say that but the Church will undoubtedly have to confront the issue as some of its gay partnered clergy surely will enter into marriages and I can imagine the headlines that might follow? Furthermore, although I can see that the Church may accept different standards of conduct for its lay members than it demands from its clergy, I can't be the only one who thinks that there would be something decidedly dysfunctional about an institution that prays (presumably in a warm fuzzy way?) for the newly wed gay parishioners while simultaneously handing a P45 to their newly wed gay clergy. What message do they seriously think that would give to the same sex couple they just "pastorally and sensitively" prayed with anyhow?
The fact that we have been dished a dog's breakfast is not so very surprising. The Church is after all caught between a rock and a hard place in not wanting to seem to lack compassion and be unwelcoming and not wanting to change their doctrine of marriage. Marriage is now largely the preserve of a secular state, but to the Church it remains a holy sacrament and there are very strong feelings on both sides about whether or not it should (and to some people whether it can) be open to same sex couples.
 I personally was neither surprised nor particularly moved by this report.  I made my mind up on these subjects long ago and am not up for debate. I am not a member of any religious institution (I have recently once again politely declined becoming a member of the Quaker group I attend, so this extends to all religious institutions) and the Church really must do as it sees fit and sort the matter out if it can.  What I do feel though is sorrow when I read the distress of ordained LGBT clergy like Rachel Mann. LGBT clergy (and lay persons) within the church have not pondered and debated these issues but rather have lived them.
When I read this piece I ask myself how pastoral the House of Bishops guidance really is.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Changes

Well, I said that 2014 was going to bring big changes to my circumstances, I just didn't know that it would happen this soon. Last week I was given the chance to step into a new role at work. I can't say too much about it but I made the difficult decision that I would do so. Please pray for me that this works out as I hope it will. It will be hard work in the short term but I think it will bring longer term benefits.
I can't say a lot more than that, but I may not be blogging much over the next three to four months.
With blessings as always!