Category Archives: musings

All Are Welcome?

This blog has been a while in the writing, so its not quite recent anymore, but I still felt I needed to say it.

In church last week we sang All Are Welcome, one of my favourite songs from the Common Ground songbook (the full lyrics are part way down this page), which was the first hymn at our wedding, so it now has added special meaning. We chose this song and put it at the start of the service very deliberately, because we wanted to say this to everyone there, regardless of age, faith (or none), gender, sexual orientation or any other factor. We wanted to get rid of all the preconcieved ideas anyone might have had about what was expected of them or anyone else, or of how ‘the church’ saw or would judge them. Here is a place where we come as we are, with all that that means, and its ok. The first verse goes like this:

Let us build a house where love can dwell
and all can safely live,
a place where saints and children tell
how hearts learn to forgive.
Built of hopes and dreams and visions,
rock of faith and vault of grace;
here the love of Christ shall end divisions:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

These seem to me to be the kinds of aspirations Jesus would teach us to work for. A place where “all can safely live”, where saints and children each have something to teach us, and where everyones hopes and dreams are valued. “here the love of Christ shall end divisions” In this place, all distinctions, all differences, are stripped away, for we are all equal within the love of God and in Gods eyes.

It struck me even more recently, that the church, while we might have these aspirations, very often doesn’t meet them. The frequency with which churches determine who is or isn’t welcome, and erect barriers between different groups and denominations. Far from the love of Christ ending divisions, it appears to create them, as we decide for ourselves what God would think, and who he would welcome into his Churches. I believe this is wrong, that it is the worst kind of wrong that we can commit, particularly when it is done in the name of Jesus, who I don’t believe would agree with it any more than I do. And if he would, I’m not sure he is a God I want to follow.

But while all these things are happening, there are also things which restore my faith and pursuade me that God is working in people’s lives and bringing his message to us. I know of people who will take a stand to prevent such hurt and pain being felt by their fellow people, and to make sure the message passed on to our children is one of tolerance and welcome not of exclusion.

And the other week I saw via a number of links the image of Christians protecting Muslims at prayer during the protests in Egypt. I took notice- it was a striking image of the love of God at work, of a group of Christians acting on their beliefs. But then later, as I was thinking again about the song, and the line ‘the love of Christ shall end divisions’ came back to me, I realised that it shouldn’t be striking. Why is it that a group of Christians acting to protect another group of people when they are vulnerable should be news worthy, even within the church community? Shouldn’t this be ‘normal’? Isn’t this how we should live our faith?

The God I believe in and try to follow told us that we should love others as we would want to be loved. There weren’t any conditions on that, no footnote with exceptions. Just love.

Let us build a house where all are named,
their songs and visions heard
and loved and treasured, taught and claimed
as words within the Word.
Built of tears and cries and laughter,
prayer of faith and songs of grace,
let this house proclaim from floor to rafter:
All are welcome, all are welcome
all are welcome in this place

Covenant and Marriage

A week today we will be married. We’ve spent the last week saying ‘wow its very soon’ about every half hour or so. Its quite funny. So exciting, nervous in a very small way because its a big event and you want everything to go well.. “Like stage fright rather than cold feet!” was how Chris put it when I was saying why I might be nervous come the day itself!! Quite accurate really, why on earth would I have cold feet when I’ve been looking forward to this for a year?!

On Tuesday I had my last unmarried birthday. In a way that shouldn’t be significant, being married or not doesn’t really change a birthday, but being this close to the biggest thing I’ve ever done in my life gives everything a special significance. It’s a very odd, slightly nervous tingly feeling when people ask when we’re getting married and I can now say ‘next week’! As someone who really enjoys the anticipation as well as the event, this time is really special. And I’m so glad we’ve been properly organised, because now there’s not that much left to do, so we can just enjoy it!

Last Sunday we had covenant service at church. This is the annual service where we remember the new covenant God made with his people, and promise to fulfill our part in the life God wants us to live. I always find it very meaningful, but this year it also has extra significance as I thought about the ‘covenant’ I will make with Chris in a short time. In the service we say ‘I am no longer my own, but yours’, and I was thinking about this a lot as the thought of our wedding was inevitably on my mind. I don’t believe that I ‘belong’ to any one person, and at the wedding I won’t be ‘given away’ by my Dad even though he will walk down the aisle with me. If there is any giving to be done I will be the one doing it. But that is the point: I choose. And I choose this person, and because I do, I also choose that it is not *my* will any more, but *ours*. In the same way as in the covenant service where I consent to live my life the way God would wish, here I consent to live as part of a couple, whether that means I am able to live as I want and go where I want, or whether I am asked to compromise or sacrifice these for the sake of another. I will make these promises, and, as the text says, with God’s help I will try to hold to them. I pray that Chris will be patient with me as I try!

Seek and ye shall find

I’m not really a believer in those ‘open up the bible at the right page and it will answer your question’ theories. Quite honestly, I think if I’m going to get an answer to my question, its going to come when I don’t expect it, not on cue because thats when I want it.

But. This lent I’ve restarted the words for today daily readings, partly in an attempt to pull myself out of a kind of spiritual wilderness of only ever really thinking about faith as part of writing sermons. Anyway, I also decided I wanted to read Marks Gospel, cos I never have and people say its a good one to read, and its one of the modules on the LP course, to name a few reasons.

The chapter I got to today had the story of the storm at sea. The disciples are caught in the most terrible storm, the boat is rocking and they’re all about to be tossed overboard. And Jesus is asleep. Nevermind how is he sleeping through that in the first place (doesn’t anyone else ever think that?), the disciples are yelling at him to wake up and sort things out.

Jesus, for goodness sake, what are you doing just sitting by and letting this happen? Can’t you see things are really difficult here? We’re going to drown in a minute if you don’t do something! And he stands up, and stills the storm. And asks them ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’

Well that told me. I’m not sure I always believe it, like the disciples I frequently doubt and think I’ve been forgotten, that he ought to have done something by now. But maybe I need to hear those words more often.

This week I have a job interview. The right job, in the right place, at what is pretty much the perfect time. Very soon things in my current job start to get crazy again, I lose my free time, and probably my mind. People expect me to start committing to other things here, which are made harder by the hours I work. This is it, and the prospect of not getting it is scary. And I’m tempted to yell at God ‘why haven’t you sorted it out yet?’ Today I think I needed to hear those words.

Gender liberated?

How many aspects of our lives are gendered, tailored towards one sex or another, without our even realising it? What makes me think that Chris’ shaving gel smells masculine while mine is ‘girly’. What told the young girl we saw in WH Smiths that she wanted a globe in various shades of pink (wrong I tell you, so very wrong) rather than a ‘normal’ one?

While this question itself wasn’t one asked at this weekend’s SCM conference on ‘Liberating Gender’, we thought a lot about how the ways in which we are categorised and stereotyped based on gender extend into pretty much every aspect of our lives. Whatever your interest or personal perspective of gender, from feminine ideas of God to exploring Queer theology, there was something to inspire and make you think. For me, the roles of masculine and feminine resonated most with my own experiences.

In exploring ‘masculinity, men and violence’, I realised that, to start with, whenever we think of ‘gender issues’ or ‘gender inequality’, the immediate focus is on women, but that the same things apply to men also. We looked at the roles we push men and boys into, which force them to conform to the ‘tough macho man’ image, and leave no room for individuality or vulnerability. Society has forced ideal body images, attitudes and personalities on men just as much as it has on women, and they are no less difficult to ignore or stand against.
Scanning the BBC news website as I do, an article prompted by Barbie’s 50th birthday on Monday, caught my attention, looking at whether the Barbie figure is possible if scaled-up to life-size, and the possible effects of having this kind of ‘role model’ for young girls. I imagine it goes without saying that such toys create unattainble standards for young girls, but the responses from women and girls who honestly can’t see the damage this causes, and think that “there’s nothing wrong in using her as a role model when it comes to looks, as well as attitude to life. it’s empowering for women”. This from the woman who has had plastic surgery to make herself look like Barbie. The mind boggles.
We need to ask ourselves where these gender stereotypes come from, what tells us that conforming to these ideals is necessary. We need to realise how damaging they can be, how easily they are perpetuated, and how important it is that we challenge them.

Learning not to write

Today (well actually yesterday now cos I couldn’t post this at the time) I read this article from the BBC news on the ‘slow death of handwriting’, which was a bit of a shock I have to say. A sad state of affairs when we are no longer used to writing anything by hand, and the terrifying possibility that future generations may learn about us only by the computer data we leave behind, and won’t even be able to interpret these ‘strange symbols’ on a page. Even worse when we realise that this is no exaggeration. That it is true that in many jobs people can go for months if not years writing only the odd note or phone message by hand. That the recent troubles experienced by Royal Mail might partly be put down to people more often using email rather than good old fashioned letters to communicate.

I have friends who refuse to accept what some would call the inevitable demise of the letter, and resolutely keep writing, and in doing so encourage me to do the same (well it would be rude not to reply..). But I also know that when I try and write for a sustained period of time, I find myself getting fed up of how long it takes to form the words, I miss letters out because of trying to get to the end too quickly, and my hand gets tired much sooner than I’m sure it used to in school days.

Maybe we are losing the ability to write. Gradually, without realising it. And maybe we need to do something to prevent this from happening. A challenge for lent then- write a letter to a friend. Even just a card with a message in it. A small token which will brighten their day to see some post that’s not a bill or junk, and which will make you slow down enough to communicate your thoughts the good old fashioned way!

Transitions

I know I said I’d write a holiday blog when I got back, and I know I got back a while ago. For a while I was waiting till I was able to blog about Kenya, and wanting to do that before writing (different) random ramblings, and then I kinda didn’t get round to it. What with coming back to a birthday which got spun out with several celebrations, and then a couple of sermons and probably some other stuff as well, I think I got distracted. Well, the holiday blog will come, I promise. If nothing else, I want to record it for myself, so you’ll get the benefit of my ponderings.

Anyway, for now I just wanted to break the silence, and say I am still here, I did make it back from Africa, and to give voice to some of the things floating around in my head right now.

Today I had an experience I hope I don’t have too often. A colleague of mine has been made redundant, and today was to all intents and purposes his last day. Suffice to say this is not a pleasant experience, mainly for him and his family, which has just grown with the birth two weeks ago of his second child. His parental leave finished yesterday with a meeting confirming he was indeed out on his ear so to speak.

These things are never easy, but in this case the whole thing has been handled incredibly badly in a number of ways,  in my opinion. The overriding feeling after all this is helplessness, mixed with guilt at still having a job to go to (even if not entirely satisfied with it).  Also concern for someone who has become a friend, for what the future will hold, for the turmoil which must be behind the cheery face he has put on.

Tonight, whatever I would like to change about my work, I am grateful that I get to make that decision, and pray that neither you nor I will ever have to go through this.

Retrospective

“Please make sure you take all personal belongings with you”
So says the announcement.
I think I left something, a few things.
My self-confidence, inner strength, poise,
Knowledge and intelligence, if I had those to start with.

I can imagine them lying in the luggage rack
Maybe someone else will find them.
Will they hand them in to lost property?
Or will they decide they could use these things of mine?

Sitting in the shadow of the Eye,
watching those capsules of happiness sail past
through the fog of my tears.
I notice the clouds floating past the spokes
And for a moment its not the clouds moving towards me
but the wheel moving away,
free falling towards the River.

In that moment, everything seems bent on destruction.
How appropriate.

(written on the train journey home on Tuesday. apart from the last line)

A time for everything

And a season for every purpose under heaven. Thats the way the verse goes right?

Time is a funny thing. When you want it to pass quickly, like a school child waiting for the holidays, it can seem to last forever. Time drags, every minute lasting a lifetime, and it can feel like you’re never going to reach the end you’re waiting for. In the same way, when you want that day or even that hour to last forever, to be able to keep it, hold it in your hand and never let go, time slips through your fingers like grains of sand.

Well this may seem a little depressing (I think I’m allowed at the moment, I have a bit of time which I know will drag and which I want to be over in a blink). I think also there’s more to it than this. Maybe part of the benefit of blogging is it forces me to write these things down and then I think about them in different ways.

This weekend, like many this summer, was one of those in the second category, which I wanted to be able to hold on to, to make it last. If I could, I wouldn’t let go. But the good thing about that, is that even though the time itself has gone and I have to face the week (and the next) which follows, the memories of these good times are something that can’t slip away. I have them always, each time I close my eyes, whenever I want to think of them. This weekend, the one before, the good times we’ve had. Laughter, hugs, cooking meals and sharing milestones. And these things are what will get me through the time of the first category, which lasts forever and makes me feel so weary with its passing.

When time is slow, the memories of the good things keep me going through the tough times.

So long, farewell.

How do you leave a life? How do you pack it all up into boxes?

I’ve spent almost a month knowing this day would come. Knowing when I went looking round flats, when I signed my contract and sent it back, when I was excitedly telling everyone about my news. Knowing that the day would come when I would have to pack everything into a car and drive away from my home.

I’ve spent a week saying my goodbyes. Which I knew would be hard, but hadn’t anticipated quite how hard. Saying goodbye to people who have been my friends, my family, my support and my strength, for nearly 7 years. People who’ve shared all my ups and downs, achievements and sadnesses, who pick me up when I’m down, and laugh with me when things are tough. Wanting to see everyone again, just one last time, so that I don’t have to say goodbye just yet.

And now all that’s left here is a few bags and boxes. There’s no going back now, no changing my mind. No chance to stay. And yet, part of me hasn’t really taken it in yet. This place has a hold on me. People I’ve spoken to have said ‘I know its hard to leave, cos I haven’t managed it’. Oh how I wish I didn’t have to.

Whatever happens, I’m still going to keep going. I’m going to drive away from here tomorrow, knowing that I’m taking my memories with me. And that I’ll be back. Its not goodbye really, its ‘see you soon’.

But for now, I’m off. I know I’ve not been particularly regular at posting recently, but I’m likely to be offline for a couple of weeks, while I get my phone line and internet sorted in the new flat. I might pop by if I manage to swipe someone else’s in the meantime. Till then, take care. Thoughts and prayers in this direction appreciated.

I’ll be seeing you xx

An attempt

Things still aren’t great, it might be my state of mind right now but it feels like most things are just really not working. But the point of me doing this is precisely for the times when I feel like this (though its not usually this bad, so therefore not usually this hard). So I’m trying.

Yesterday I took a bus out to Clydach, a part of Swansea I’ve never visited properly before, just heard of it, been aware of its existance on the map and so on. I went to meet my mentor to discuss preaching stuff, but its more like sitting down and talking to a friend than a heavy discussion. We had tea, chatted about how its going (general feeling; pretty well, no problems), worked out the next dates we’re doing (not for a while yet, so thats one less thing to worry about after this Sunday) and then went for a walk. The weather was sunny and… *warm*, in February, in Wales. It’ll probably be grey and rainy again soon, but while it lasts.. It was nice, just for a short time, to be up above the world a little, to look down at it, and brought back the withdrawl symptoms of not having been up a decent hill in a while.

Everything isn’t fixed, buy a long stretch. I’m still here with job applications and everything else to do. But still, I spose finding the positives is all about those little moments which come in the middle of everything else.