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.