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In the palm of God’s hand

It’s no secret that God and I haven’t been all that close in recent years. I think we had a series of misunderstandings that led to me packing the whole thing in. And yet, I’m beginning to suspect – as many have before me – that He’s kinda been there waiting the whole time.

I was talking to the BFF the other day, and was reminded anew of what a blessing she is in my life. “I have an image in my head” she said, “of you, sitting in the palm of God’s hand. You’ve spent the last few years desperating struggling against him. Trying to jump off. Trying to struggle free. And all the time He’s just been smiling and keeping you close”. It’s a beautiful image, and one that really spoke to me.

I guess I did with Religion what I often do. I wanted it to be perfect. I tried to learn all about it. But Faith isn’t like any other academic subject. It isn’t academic at all. The more I learned about the Bible and about the Church, the less it all made sense. I had all the answers, but I wasn’t asking any of the right questions. “I know you’ve already been saved” said the BFF, “So I don’t worry about you”. There’s a lot there that I should listen to. I have been struggling to get along in life for so long, when really I just needed to sit back and remember that I’ve already sorted the most important thing in life. I’ve already met God. I can rest, now.

Which doesn’t mean I’ll be going back to Church. I think I’m still a long way from finding that useful. But I am reading a book, which my LittleSis bought me for my birthday. “Divine Nobodies: Shredding Religion to find God”. It’s about a minister of a Church who burns out. He loses the love of Religion. He learns to find God in the little people again. In the little things. I’m not a fan of religion (despite teaching about it three days a week), but I might just be able to find a way to be a fan of God, again. In the end, wasn’t it Jesus who spurned the Pharisees and spoke out against ritual and the like taking over from a real relationship with God? I think, for a little while at least, God won’t be too cross if I don’t try and join in at the local Sung Eucharist on a Sunday… although my Earthly Father might have something to say about it.

Lampeter

I have a recurring nightmare. It is the first day of term at University. I can’t find the department building and I know I have to pick up my timetable. When I eventually find the place, it turns out I have an essay due, and I don’t even understand the title.

I think it goes back to the deep-seated fears I still have about University. That I didn’t study hard enough, and that I didn’t really fit in with those people on my course. I made some of the best friends I have ever had at Uni, but none of them were Theology students. I guess I imagined I would meet other people. people on my course, who would stay my friends forever… Instead, I found they didn’t like me much. (There is one exception, and she is still a friend on facebook. She, I think, embodies Christ in the world… although I often only ever asked her for notes before an essay was due. She has continued in her ministry, and I am thankful for her – Kath Black – every day)

It is at about this time of year when I remember those first weeks at Uni. I see my A-Level students head off for bright futures and I wish I could give them the advice I felt I never had… But I’m still not sure what it is… I was lucky. I loved the place even before I arrived. In the first 10 minutes I met a girl in halls, who, although I don’t know her now, made me feel welcome. In the early days I found that the East End girl I was so wary of, was actually a gift from God, and we have been sisters ever since. We were next-door neighbours and I know that God ordained that, and made it so.

University life was hard. I was often lost and sad and alone. I drank too much to cover my fears… I found comfort in my room (the first room I’d ever had to myself) but even that wasn’t a real comfort. I wish I had been more mature, but I don’t regret a single minute.

A lot of my facebook friends watched ‘Fresh Meat’, recently. They all said how like Lampeter it was. I’m not sure. What I do know is that, even though I remember so little of it, it made me the person I am now. And I’m glad of that.

Moving house

For various reasons, I have decided to move my blog over to WordPress. It looked relatively easy, so I certainly didn’t think it would take me most of the day… and then some. Even after buying an app that would help me convert all my iWeb pages into something WordPress would recognise, it still didn’t copy over the images, or much of the formatting. More importantly, it failed to remember when each post had been written, so I’ll have to manually edit all the dates.

So, I guess I’ll be spending a lot of my time in these first few weeks of being a part-time teacher, full-time writer to format the new blog. But, when it’s finished, I’ll have  a blog that is all mine… and hopefully easier to manage. Eventually.

To grow up on a mountain…

There is probably nothing more life-affirming than spending time with a child. You see the world anew, through their eyes. Everything is magical and awe-inspiring. A friend recently told me she had returned to the Church (the RC one, though… can’t win ‘em all) after years of being a Richard Dawkins Cult Member, simply because having children had given her that insight into the beauty of innocence again. She realised there was more to this world than the intellectualisation of everything we do.
I spent the week with my surrogate family, in their home on a mountain. I always come back (in the Husband’s word’s) serene. Glowing. Re-ignited. It is a beautiful place and they are a beautiful family. This week, as well as climbing mountains, playing in the park, kicking a rugby ball and hanging out at Caerphilly Castle, we went to the beach. I’m not sure I was really ever more alive than watching the Little Man in rock pools looking for fishies, or staying in the sea until he was blue with cold, but still refusing to come out. Or watching us, intently, as we made sandcastle mounds, only to smash them the minute they were done. In his laugh, there are angels.

The elephant overpowering the rider

As a child, my favourite animal was the elephant. I don’t know why, I certainly don’t remember seeing an elephant in my childhood; they aren’t particularly cuddly, and I don’t suppose they make very good pets. But, when my BigLittleSister was collecting every kind of Frog toy or miniature every made, I started a little collection of elephants.
They’re beautiful creatures, old and wise looking. Perhaps that’s why they really seemed to speak to me. There’s an eternal feel to them; sturdy and very real.

Tomorrow is the start of a new beginning for me, the first day of the summer holidays, and a time I often think about New Year’s Resolutions. It’s more important this year that I make some concrete plans, given the changes that are coming about in September when the new term begins.

I am an avid self-help reader, and always looking for new ideas about how to change your life for the better. Today, I came across an article based on The Happiness Hypothesis (Basic Books, 2006). The book aims to explain that positive changes are usually so difficult because the elephant (our emotional side) overpowers the rider (our intellectual, analytical side). The rider can think long term and make sensible decisions, but he is smaller than the elephant, who prefers quick fixes and immediate gratification. This is why, I guess, that when I try to lose some weight, I get quickly persuaded that a few glasses of wine won’t do too much harm… and then find that I am still putting on weight. The trick, says the article, is to do a number of things. First, you need to accept that your elephant (if he is on board) will be the driving force of motivation and keenness. Second, that he needs very clear instructions to get there. It is not enough to say, for example “I must eat healthier”. you need to tell your elephant “I must eat more green vegetables, and fewer chips”. Thirdly, it is exhausting making changes, so you must trick your elephant into seeing how small and easy to manage the change is. Things like, I suppose, when you are giving up smoking, thinking: “I just won’t have this cigarette, now” – rather than “I will never smoke again!”. One of the main reasons people give up on their changes is because any change is tiring, and you become emotionally exhausted. This is why, I imagine, it is important not to change too many things at once.
So, whilst my resolutions include losing weight, quitting smoking, learning to drive, writing for at least 12 hours a week, seeing my friends more, drinking less, etc etc… I will start with only one. The main focus for the next few weeks is to lose the weight that appears to have crept on over the last few months, while I wasn’t working and perhaps because of the medication. I am officially overweight, according to BMI, and I’m not sure that’s happened before. Once I’ve sorted that out, my elephant and I are going to work on the rest.

Latitude 2011

If you’ve never been to a festival before (as I hadn’t, before last year) I join Zoe Ball in suggesting you try out Latitude next year. If you have kids, I recommend it, too.
Last year, my first year at Latitude, I remember being totally blown away by the spirituality of the event. Not a prescriptive spirituality, but the kind you find at any event where people truly believe themselves to be part of a community, experiencing things outside of their usual lives. Never have I felt so close to the village-church community of my childhood, or the “we’re all stuck here together”-ness of Lampeter, my love. I spent much of last year in the poetry tent and fell in love with Rhian Edwards, among others. I scribbled feverishly during pauses in the line-up and imagined myself on stage when the poets were a little disappointing. I ate great food. I went along to music performances when my more trendy friends suggested it. I bought a flower garland for my hair, and wandered in maxi-dresses in a daze.
This year it rained. It rained for a whole day and the fields turned to mud. I never thought I enjoyed camping, I often said I didn’t. But, when you camp in mud and still wake up smiling, you have to rethink your own ideas. I think I might love camping! There is certainly a sort of freedom in not having brushed your hair or looked in a mirror for four days. We all smell. None of us care!
This year, in the rain, the poetry tent was often full. Though I hated that I couldn’t get in there, and cursed the people who were using it for shelter, rather than being ACTUAL POETRY FANS, I like the thought that some of those teenagers may have learned a little there, too. This year, I ventured beyond the poetry (but not before seeing the amazing Tim Keys and the inappropriate, but beautifully-Welsh, Mab Jones) into the Cabaret Tent. The Husband and I thoroughly enjoyed an accidental performance by Life Coach, Chris John Jackson (otherwise known as comedian and actor Will Adamsdale). Jackson’s Way is one of the best self-help instructionals I’ve heard – and I’ve read a fair few in the last year! In brief, Jackson believes that for every action that has a point, there are an infinite number of pointless actions. He believes that these pointless actions are where we should be spending the majority of our time and effort. Indeed, Jackson spends many hours trying to do things like, for example, make his hand appear in two places at once. Or rhyme words that simply do not rhyme. These pointless actions are called ‘jactions’ and you should repeat them until you feel physically sick. At which point you will know you have achieved the jaction, and can move on. I haven’t laughed so much for a long time. If you’ve ever watched the way that children play and thought we might learn something from it, I recommend Jackson’s Way.
Suede were the real pull for me. I went to see Suede in Oxford as a teen. Brett Anderson stormed off about half an hour in, and my best mate and I were sorely disappointed. Maybe it was about the time Bernard left. Maybe they were just too big for a theatre in Oxford with fixed seating.
At Latitude, my friend, the Journalist (another huge fan, who took me to see the Tears years ago), pushed to the front and we sang our hearts out. He touched Brett’s hand. I touched his, in a kind of ‘I’ll never wash again’ relay. It was an amazing concert. The Husband saw us on the giant screens and it was apparent in that moment that I had totally forgotten about him.
But actually, the performance that really did me in was Kele. I wouldn’t have gone, not knowing who he was, but when my Trendy friends explained and I recognised Bloc Party, I thought I’d give it a go. And what a performance!! It was this song that killed me, made me cry – blub – and raise my hands up, laughing. It’s been a funny old year.

 

Intolerance is Alive and Well – Huzzah!

It all started, I suppose, with the above poster, which I posted on my facebook wall. A friend of mine, who I don’t know very well, reposted it onto his wall, with the comment “It made me very happy you put this up”. I’ve known this lad since he was born… a family friend, though we lost touch when his father died and his family life got a little complicated. As it goes, he’s gay and surrounded by other family friends who are evangelical Christians. So, when he posted it on his wall, he didn’t get the same positive reaction as I did.
I’m quite used to the argument that all gays will all burn in Hell. It’s difficult to be brought up in a Christian community without coming across that opinion occasionally. I assumed, for a long time in my teens, that this was the opinion of my parents. Homosexuality wasn’t talked about in my house, and usually that meant it was something that was too distasteful to stomach. Years later, my vicar father made the very brave and awe-inspiring decision to be open about his acceptance of homosexuality – using Biblical justification…  in a small village… in print – and for that I am forever grateful. I have a very wise and beautiful father.

Unfortunately, there are still so many religious people out there who fail to grasp the most basic of Jesus’ teachings: ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’. For me, there isn’t an option to love homosexuals but still stop them from being allowed to have a loving sexual relationship, or commit to one another in marriage, or have a family together, or work where they please and talk about what they want. That isn’t loving someone as you love yourself. It’s as simple as that.

So I got involved in an argument that I’m not particularly proud of, because I know it hurt some of the people I count as family.

But the comments went a little like this:
“Well… honestly… Marriage is the union of one man and one woman, made by a public declaration, for the procreation of children, and for the building up of a stable society. Marriage between two men or two women just is not possible – it could never lead to the creation of children, and it could never build a stable society.” [As a ‘straight’ married woman, without children, I find the idea that marriage is solely for the aim of procreating a little alien – I also worry for heterosexual marriages where sex is only about having babies… let alone the huge number of marriages that totally fail to build a stable society through spousal abuse, or other issues].

“Come on… look at the biological logic and the sociological and psychological perspective – men with men cannot be the right way can it? You can be what you want to be, but what you want might not be the best for you – an alcoholic wants a drink but it may not be the best thing for him. Common sense surely must prevail – its just a clearly observable fact. Nothing personal, just a fact.” [A fact from where?? And when did it become ‘common sense’ to compare a homosexual to an alcoholic (someone with a medically recognised illness?). And – as another facebook user pointed out – how can telling a gay man that the way he lives is wrong, NOT be ‘personal’??]

When I offered this commentator a link to my father’s website, where he once wrote on the subject of homosexuality, he replied:
-There are some people in the church (such as [Sunshriek’s] dad it would seem, although I do not know him) who reject the Bible – that is their decision. I believe that I do not have the right or the ability to decide that God didn’t mean what he said in the pages of Scripture.

Reject the Bible?? My daddy?? That made me mad. ‘Bring it’, I said. ‘Ask me anything! Tell me your reasons for thinking homosexuality is so wrong. I have a degree in Theology! You want a biblical argument, I’m your girl!’.
His answer? He doesn’t much care for degrees and thinks my Theology BA only proves I have a degree, not that I have actually read any of the Bible.

At no point did this commentator proffer any actual biblical evidence. In fact, the best piece of evidence he could find to persuade this ‘poor’, ‘gay’, friend of mine to stop his ‘sinful ways’ was this: “I know a young man in [insert Northern town here] who has engaged in so much anal sex with so many men his back passage has collapsed and he now is fitted with a bag to take his poo away”. Brilliant. Gay men have a lot of promiscuous sex because they are filthy and disgusting. I thought we’d moved on from this.

I left the Church a while ago. I fell out with God. One of the main reasons was that His people seem so intent on making the world a horrible and intolerant place. One which I don’t want to live in. I can’t believe that a God who “Is Love” would approve of such utter thoughtlessness and cruelty. Until the Church sorts itself out, I’ll find my own way to God, thanks very much.

Postscript: I left out the most upsetting and disgusting of the comments because I couldn’t bear to deal with the thought of it, but it was this: “its wrong and yr dad would have disowned you if he was alive’. It’s comments like this that are why gay teens are twice as likely to commit suicide as their heterosexual peers.

Day One

I’m a little superstitious. I’m not sure I want to mention this yet… It seems to good to be true. But, today… today feels like it might be the start of something new. Something good.
The doctor was useless as always (one day, I might write an expose of the NHS’ treatment of Mental Health issues). But, with the help of an excellent counsellor, and with the support of some pretty amazing employers, and – maybe – with a bit of Grace from God… things are looking up.
The plan – and I know that until I have it in print I should slow down a little – is to work in my teaching job three days a week and write for the other days. Or sit still. Or laugh. To be part-time.
I am incredibly lucky to have this luxury. I’m not ignoring that. I am incredibly lucky that I married a man who is able to support me while I work part time. I am lucky to have had the opportunities, the education, the genes that mean I have a job that pays well part-time… I am very lucky.

On Rebellion

Over the years, the fact that I am a vicar’s daughter has raised numerous smiles and winks from people who think they know what that means. There are two types of vicar’s daughter, I’d imagine. Those who remain good and sweet until someone corrupts them, and those, like the girl who wins Bart Simpson’s heart, who go off the rails and rebel from the beginning. In a small village, where everyone knows your name, rebellion is impossible. Unless you really don’t mind hurting the people that love you most. And I did mind that.
My parents will tell you that I was a difficult teen. Sometimes I wouldn’t eat my vegetables. Sometimes I would sulk and slam doors. But I never took drugs, I never came home pregnant and I only got really drunk once (or maybe twice) and really that’s just a sign of not ever having drunk enough before. As teens go, I was pretty boring.
There was a sense of freedom when I arrived a Uni. I could suddenly begin to live on my own, out of the shadow of the duty and conformity of the vicarage. It wasn’t a miserable childhood, but the expectations to always be good and polite were stifling for a child who probably had too big a personality for it. If I rebelled at Uni, I still did it on a small scale – finishing my degree in Theology, going to chapel on a sunday morning (until they all drove me bonkers) and not coming home pregnant, or on drugs.
After Uni, I went to work in a Christian retreat. The life of service and quiet nearly destroyed me. I was too big for there, too, or too proud. I didn’t find God in the quiet, I found a new misery and loneliness.

And then I rebelled. It was a conscious decision. I moved to London to work in a bar. My letter of application to the graduate bar-management training scheme said: “I am a vicar’s daughter desperate to move to London and make friends with people my parents will disapprove of”. I think they gave me the job just for that.
I lived in London with Uni friends, we partied a lot, I didn’t eat properly. I found a boyfriend who wasn’t like all my other, lovely boy-next-door boyfriends. Not the sort of boy I could take home – who taught me a lot about how to find out who I wanted to be, and who I wasn’t. I stayed out all night and slept all day and didn’t ring home for years.

But rebelling wasn’t really me, either. I was lonely and I was miserable. And then I fell in love with my housemate, who was take-home-able, but still not too dull, and we got married and I trained to be a teacher and we bought a house, and he started doing really well at work and now…. well, now I find myself at 31, with a mortgage, married to a man who works in the city and I can’t help but think that I didn’t rebel enough, really, and now it might be too late. Where is my campervan? Why am I not travelling the world, playing the guitar and writing poetry?

I am working through this with a wonderful counsellor who asked me yesterday if I ever just felt like painting myself red and running through the room naked. She’s brilliant. I think I’ll be ok.