Recovery

I’m putting myself in recovery position. Recovery from a past faith that magnified my flaws, negated my gifts and abilities and put my self-esteem and self-belief at rock-bottom. Recovery from shouldering the constant guilt of not being, not doing, not sacrificing enough … psychologically, it’s not healthy. No more.

That’s why I am an exvangelical.

I grew up in a ‘bible-believing’ church that had me literally terrified of the ‘Rapture’ (I could talk about the psychological abusiveness of that right there), terrified of not being one of those chosen to go to Heaven. Even though the elders officially stressed faith over works, life still felt like a constant tightrope walk where any second, I could put one foot wrong and plunge into the abyss ….

As a young, intelligent girl, I was being told, in actions if not words (although sometimes words too) that I was subordinate. As a woman, I was always going to be less than a man (on biblical authority: the elders were of course all men.) My intelligence was something I should distrust (they particularly liked 1 Corinthians 3, verse 19: ‘For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.’)

It didn’t make sense to me; God made me a woman and She/He/It (post-applied – I always used male pronouns at the time!) gave me brains. What for – if not to use them? What use was a faith that could not be questioned but fell at the first sign of scrutiny?

I left that church at the age of 17 – the first stage of my deconstruction as an evangelical.

Since then, there has been more questioning – and much of my original faith held true, some was re-evaluated or re-framed (my conception of God, for instance – no longer the punitive man with a big stick! No longer male – or female – but vastly broader than either / both.)

Since then, there has been a lot of life experience. Learning to accept myself in all my messy fallibility. Lockdown has been hard but I have much to be grateful for: a mad, gorgeous, infuriating but lovely husband (I think he would say much the same about me, or I hope so); two brave and beautiful children who are so much themselves and who I am so proud of (ditto the writerly husband … get it OUT there!) and a whole host of fabulous and supportive colleagues (you know who you are!)

So what remains of faith? Good question.

I don’t want to judge all Christians by the narrowness and hypocrisy (the ‘do what I say, not what I do’ attitude) of the church I grew up in. Just because singing a lot of modern ‘worship’ songs in my most recent church started to feel like so much fake platitude to me doesn’t mean that faith is not being sincerely held by others present. Even though I’ve seen the harm that a number of different religions can do (currently exemplified by too many instances in the world to mention), there are those (of all religious beliefs as well as of none) who do incredible good. Am currently exploring progressive Christianity as something potentially broader, Celtic Christianity to try to rediscover a sense of mystery / the sacred, and Liberation theology as a marriage of faith and politics – something else that I am increasingly passionate about and which often seems of more ‘earthly use.’

I still believe in God. I still believe in Jesus’ teachings and compassion for the marginalised in society. I still believe in the good that people can be in the world.

Beyond that? I’ll get back to you ….


Picture credits:

Picture 1: https://onlinefirstaid.com/recovery-position-saves-lives/

Picture 2: https://cmmacneilblog.wordpress.com/2020/11/06/nov-6-2020-readings-in-recovery-twenty-four-hours-a-day/

Posted in Exvangelical | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A tame Christianity?

Preaching on the Massacre of the Holy Innocents was always going to be a tough gig.

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Last Sunday I went to church for the first time in a while and this was the text and sermon of the day.  As I say, a tough gig, so I waited with some anticipation and sympathy, I might add, for what the visiting speaker would make of this.

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He went through something of the identity and history of Herod.  Then started to broach the uncomfortable topic – if Jesus was saved by angelic intervention, why not some of these other children?  I’m not sure there is an easy answer to this (the essential problem of suffering) so I’m glad he didn’t try to give a glib response.

But then he tried to draw the different strands of his message together, mentioning the children suffering in Yemen today.  I leaned forward.  Inwardly – I am English (and therefore know how to behave with all due decorum in a church, after all!)  “Now, we get to it,” I thought to myself, “Now we get to the heart of the matter, the relevant take-home message, the call to action.”

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Except that we didn’t.

And in glossing over this very modern ‘massacre of the innocents’, I started to wonder when we had begun to accept this very tame version of Christianity, one that is loathe to get ‘political’, wary of causing ‘offence’, unwilling to shake the comfortable lives of those listening, myself included.

This happened last Sunday – I have been meditating on this since.  And in writing this blog, I have looked at far too many harrowing pictures, most of which I don’t want to share here for a variety of reasons.

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Now, don’t get me wrong.  I don’t want to SEEK offence, nor do I want to make a party-political (and definitely not a nationalist) point.  I think there are more governments than one responsible for what’s happening in Yemen – and elsewhere.

But I don’t think we as Christians can – or rather should – shy away from speaking up for the poor, the disadvantaged, the oppressed – of whatever nationality, creed, colour, sexuality they may be.  Jesus didn’t demand of the Samaritan woman that she either change her creed or become the model of an upstanding citizen before he spoke to her, nor did he shy away from challenging the stoning of the woman taken in adultery, contentious as that may have been to a contemporary Jewish audience.

Micah 6 v 8 has the prophet proclaiming:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly[a] with your God.

Acting justly and loving mercy here seem to be two sides of the same coin.  And all of this is wrapped up in humility.  I do not proclaim myself the final expert in anything, nor suggest that I have all of the answers – but I do seek to prayerfully challenge things that I believe are not right, because time and time again, I think that’s what Jesus did.

Again, in the New Testament, James challenges us in Chapter 2:

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

This should – and does – speak to me as much as to anyone.  To what extent do I live out the faith that I profess?  Not as much as I should, no doubt.  But the church I have been going to is involved with giving out food parcels to those in need and has a number of other practical demonstrations of faith, so the service above was not truly representative.  And in my own work I am very happy to be involved with another local Food Bank (http://mkfoodbank.org.uk/) as well as helping to raise money for another charity (https://www.winternightsheltermk.com/) which seeks to house homeless people during the coldest months of the year as well as help them find longer term solutions to the issues that have led them to be there in the first place.

Are these exclusively Christian organisations or ones that only Christians contribute towards?  By no means.  By are they organisations the like of which Christians should contribute towards – if they practice what they preach?  I would reply with a very strong affirmative.  And there are many, many other similar organisations we can get involved with, that support the marginalised and oppressed either closer to, or further from, home.

Above all, I do believe that we are called to be Salt and Light in this world.  And whether to season the world or to stop people slipping over, whether to light their way or point them to God, the world could do with some of both, in 2020 and beyond!

You are the Light of the World

Picture credit 1: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/standingonmyhead/2015/12/the-slaughter-of-the-innocents-today.html

Picture credit 2: https://www.growchristians.org/2016/12/28/still-too-many-holy-innocents/

Picture credit 3: http://www.easternprom.com/content/pismenny/massacre_holy_innocents_herod_scribe.html

Picture credit 4: https://www.ft.com/content/f5e3115c-b1d1-11e8-8d14-6f049d06439c

Picture credit 5: https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/10/09/starvation-and-child-soldiers-in-yemen/

Picture credit 6: http://andyatfaith.blogspot.com/2017/02/you-are-light-of-world.html

All Scripture references come from the New International Version on http://www.biblegateway.com unless otherwise indicated

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To be or not to be … resilient.

Resilience has been a growing ‘buzz-word’ over the past few years in a lot of environments and workplaces.  As someone who works in education and also practices mindfulness (although not as often or consistently as would be beneficial), I hear this word a lot.

But I have started to worry about the whole idea of resilience.

When should we be resilient and when should we not be?  Or how can we better implement a practical and wholesome idea of resilience, so it is not psychologically damaging?

resilience 2

We all know the idea of resilience as ‘“the ability to bounce back” or “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”  Equally we all know stories of immense and laudable resilience. I can still remember a student in my first school whose mother died during his GCSE preparation and who, instead of going on Work Experience was caring for her during her last illness.  Now I am not sure if it was the practicalities of caring for her or any other reason that caused this, but when he returned to school, he had cut his hair and was without his patka (the variant of a turban often worn by young Sikhs.)  What impressed me most was not just the massive significance of this – having uncut hair is an important part of Sikhism – but the lack of self-pity, the calmness with which, as he  could not talk about his Work Experience for a Speaking and Listening assessment, he proceeded to talk about his experiences caring for his mother instead. 

There are whole hosts of such stories, of people combating awful circumstances, overcoming dreadful odds, refusing to let these make them bitter.

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But equally there are stories in which young doctors are told to ‘suck it up’ when they are in situations where they are over-stretched, under-staffed, over-worked, and made to feel that the problem is with their lack of resilience rather than the situation (often far more politically sensitive, so easier to ignore) that they are working within.

And can we, as Christians, compound the problem, by encouraging an unquestioning compliance to our employers or to the authorities, rather than the ‘righteous anger’ that Jesus also displayed, when appropriate to do so?  When should things be cured rather than endured?

And what does the Bible have to say about resilience anyhow?

Certainly, from the early days of the Old Testament, we are reminded in no uncertain terms to have faith in God and to act accordingly:  ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go’ (Joshua 1 v 9.)  We are told that God is the one who provides the resources we need: ‘I can do all this through Him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4 v 13.)  And we are told that ultimately, this world is not our home:  ‘For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4: 17-18.) 

This is all well and good but how does it speak to those who are genuinely suffering?  How does it show genuine pastoral care to those who are depressed or even oppressed by a seeming cult of positivity?  ‘Chin up, love’?  ‘Keep on pushing through’?  Are we just encouraging people to keep on giving and giving and giving, until they genuinely don’t have any more to give?  And how seriously do we take Jesus’ words to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12 v 31)  when any act of self-care is ingrained in us as something selfish or unworthy, not as the act of service we should instead be performing towards others? (Just as a side-note, personally I don’t think it should be an either / or and besides, how can we fill others’ glasses from an empty jug?)

love neighbour as yourself

Jesus didn’t say to the paralysed man, the bleeding woman or the leper – ‘Chin up.’

He didn’t even say to the hungry crowd of 5000, ‘Never mind – trust in God.’

Instead, he changed their situations.

Moreover, when he saw injustice or corruption, he dealt with it:

12 Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’[a] but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.’[b]

I have read different interpretations of this incident – I take it quite a lot as a protest about the corruption of a true religion: a railing against the exploitation of captive pilgrims, there in Jerusalem for the Passover; and an attack on the commercialisation of religion akin to the medieval selling of Indulgences criticised by Chaucer in the Canterbury Tales.

So where does this leave us?  For me, resilience is often born of necessity: what are your options?  To sink into a slump of depression (or worse)?  Or to endure?  Yes, we can have faith that God is with us in our situation and that He will give us the resources we need.  But maybe, just maybe, sometimes God is giving us those resources so we can act against injustices and suffering where we find them, both for others but also for ourselves.

Which takes me back to my original question:

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Far from seeing this soliloquy from Hamlet, Act 3 Scene 1, simply as a death wish, I see this as very much a call to action and ultimately, I think I’m very much with Hamlet in deciding that while the former (‘suffering the slings and arrows’) is often commendable, sometimes the latter action is also much needed.

 

Picture credit 1 / 3: https://illusionsofautonomy.wordpress.com/2018/12/09/resilience-from-within-or-without/

Picture credit 2: https://www.yougotthiswellness.com/single-post/2018/07/14/Is-it-time-to-stop-talking-about-Resilience

Picture credit 4: https://www.crosswalk.com/faith/spiritual-life/what-does-it-mean-to-love-your-neighbor-as-yourself.html

Picture credit 5: https://www.bl.uk/treasures/caxton/pardoners.html

Picture credit 6: https://www.idlehearts.com/1898326/whether-tis-nobler-in-the-mind-to-suffer-the-slings-and-arrows

All scripture references come from the NIV version on https://www.biblegateway.com/ unless otherwise stated.

Posted in Authentic Christianity | Tagged | 2 Comments

People walking in darkness …

I’ve not been on here for a while as life has overtaken just a tad.  A tad too much, if I’m honest.  Which has led to a certain amount of metaphorical walking in darkness.  And a certain hunger to find the light behind it all again.

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But aren’t we all?  Walking in darkness, I mean?  In a world (and we call ourselves more developed!) where an old person can see no-one at all for 11 days; where people can make death threats against a 16-year-old for expressing his political opinion; where young people are increasingly suffering from poor mental health and where everyone is in such a tearing hurry that there is seemingly no time to sustain the ‘background music of civility’, to quote U.A. Fanthorpe.

In Isaiah Chapter 9, the prophet proclaimed the following:

2The people walking in darkness

have seen a great light;

on those living in the land of deep darkness

a light has dawned.

This is generally seen as a prefiguring or a precursor to Jesus’ birth – the light shining in darkness.  And don’t we all need that?  I look at the world sometimes and can be tempted to despair – rising violence, whether guns or knives; politics that either don’t seem to speak to or indeed represent the majority, so a growing disengagement or political malaise; the ever-present and corrosive anger evident on so much of our social media – where does all of that come from?  And more importantly, how do we combat this?

Isaiah goes on to say:

6For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given,

and the government will be on his shoulders.

And he will be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7Of the greatness of his government and peace

there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne

and over his kingdom,

establishing and upholding it

with justice and righteousness

from that time on and forever.

The zeal of the Lord Almighty

will accomplish this.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand the wheels within wheels behind our current political system, but I do know that it does not represent ‘justice and righteousness’ for all, let alone ‘from that time on and forever.’  But I have to hold on to the hope, however hard that is to do sometimes, that God knows what He’s about, and that His government will be one that represents all of these things and that one day, there will come a time, as Isaiah prophesied earlier, when ‘Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.’ (Isaiah 2 v 4c) where the ‘Prince of Peace’ will indeed reign.

But what about now?  Is it all ‘pie in the sky until we die’?  I hope not.  Maybe those of us who hold on (some how!) to this same hope need to BE God’s Kingdom until such time as it arrives – or maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4: 17, English Standard Version.)

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So whatever way you can BE light, GIVE light, SHARE light with others, even if you feel the candle is flickering oh-so-dimly, perhaps that way the light can dawn, here and now and as we go into 2020.

Have a blessed Christmas and New Year xx

thepeoplesmall

Picture credit 1:  https://www.markmallett.com/blog/people-walking-in-dark-jpg/

Picture credit 2: http://quotesnstories.com/inspirational/candle-loses-none-light-lighting-another-candle/

Picture credit 3: https://kairoschurch.net/the-people-who-walked-in-darkness/

Unless otherwise stated, scripture references taken from the New International Version of the Bible on https://biblehub.com

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For people walking in darkness …

Working, as I do now, in a Catholic school, I am more aware than ever of the liturgy and rhythm of the church calendar.

The end of term (still a near memory) is always a mixed feeling of tiredness and optimism – waiting until the end of term for that elusive ‘holiday feeling’ to hit!  There is always so much to be done, to be finished, before … before … always before.  The meaning of Christmas, of Advent, can be so easily lost, amongst the busyness, amongst the (lovely) Secret Santa, the tinsel, the carol concerts, the wrapping and posting.

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But I return to the advent wreath, the first candle of which was lit three Sundays ago (the next Sunday we were snowed in so I didn’t get to church), the second two weeks ago and the third last Sunday.

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The first candle represents hope.  And who doesn’t need some of that in their lives?  Hope for people we know and love, hope for those whom we will never encounter or may feel we have little in common with.  Our own hopes and dreams.

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Jeremiah wrote about hope in chapter 29 v 11 of that book:

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

I believe that God does offer us hope – sometimes we can’t see how or when this will come to fruition – our job is to hold on.  Simple?  No.  Simplistic?  I hope not.

peace

The second candle represents peace.  Again, looking at the world we live in, could do with some of that, huh?  Why does it seem so elusive?  In a world where country fights against country, creed against creed, brother against brother (metaphorically but sadly, sometimes literally too), peace seems beyond our reach.  But again, an old Testament prophet (this time Isaiah chapter 2 v 4) foresaw a time when that too would come:

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

I don’t know if peace will come in my lifetime – but I know that peace begins with me.  As a wise teacher in my school once said, we are not called just to be peace lovers (for who doesn’t love peace?) but peace makers.  In our communities, where we are, to actively strive for peace.  Again, simple?  Definitely not.  But let it start with us and see where it ends.

The third candle represents joy and is often pink.  As a teacher, I am particularly struck by this as it seems that the generation of youngsters I have the privilege of teaching are among the unhappiest ever (see for example, http://chototel.co.uk/blog/2017/06/21/why-are-millennials-unhappy/.)  Was it always thus – or is this a particularly 21st century malaise?

Joy

Sometimes that is the hardest of all.  But it can be a choice.  Not to be Pollyanna and just to play the ‘glad game’ but to choose to be thankful.  And to strive to keep making that choice.  And to help those who cannot make that choice through no fault of their own – to just be there in whatever way we can and hold them up when they cannot hold themselves.

For that in the end is, for me, the message of Christmas.  Again from Isaiah (chapter 9 v 2, 6 and 7a):

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
 Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.

It is not those who already have light who so desperately need it, it is not the hopeful that need hope, the peaceful who need peace or the joyful who need joy.  For those walking in darkness and indeed for all of us, I wish hope, peace, joy and above all love this Christmas.

Be blessed xx

 

Picture credits:

Picture 1: https://findingorderinchaos.com/tag/too-busy/

Picture 2: http://www.instructables.com/id/Make-an-Advent-Wreath-for-Your-Family/

Picture 3: https://resolvecouragehope.com/2016/09/27/there-is-always-hope/

Picture 4:  http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/pastors-urge-fast-july-15-for-mideast-peace

Picture 5: http://orfordvillelutheran.org/new/2017/07/31/joy-jar/

All Bible verses are from the New International Version.

 

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My top 10 favourite Shakespeare lines

shakespeare

This was the topic of one blog I’m following (https://bardandbible.wordpress.com/2017/07/19/my-10-favorite-shakespeare-lines/) – and as an English teacher, a very good if rather tricky challenge!

In no particular order:

  1. ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.’ (Sonnet 116)
  2.  ‘To thine own self be true.’ (Hamlet Act 1, Scene 3)
  3.  ‘If music be the food of love play on.’ (Twelfth Night Act 1, Scene 1)
  4. ‘We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’ (The Tempest Act 4, Scene 1)
  5. ‘All the world ‘s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.’(As You Like it Act 2, Scene 7)
  6. ‘The man that hath no music in himself, Nor is not moved with concord of sweet sounds, Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils … Let no such man be trusted.’ (The Merchant of Venice Act 5 Scene 1)
  7. Don Pedro: ‘You were born in a merry hour …’ Beatrice: ‘A star danced, and under that I was born.’ (Much Ado about Nothing Act 2 Scene 1)
  8. ‘My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:  And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare’ (Sonnet 130.)
  9. ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
    The more I have, for both are infinite.’ (Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 2.)
  10. ‘Though she be but little, she is fierce’ (A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act 3 Scene 2.)

Ok … not Shakespeare but still tickles me …

Image result for o death where is thy sting

Picture credits:

Pic 1: https://dramateachersnetwork.wordpress.com/

Oic 2: http://nativeenglishspain.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/wise-wednesday-grammar-figures-of_26.html

 

 

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#Slow Saturday

“We don’t do things at speed here in Valley Road.” My husband sometimes (often) comes out with immortal lines – that one just tickled me.

But it also chimed with my current thinking.  Having been off for two days this week with asthma-exacerbated issues, I need to slow down, to realise my own mortality.

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In our Chaplaincy group at school, we have recently discussed teacher well-being and for me that is vital – how can we give out as teachers, as Christians, if we don’t look after ourselves first?  Note: that’s not JUST look after ourselves – but look after ourselves SO we can also look after others.  Isn’t that our mission here on earth?

So … HOW?

  1. Personally, I rather like Martyn Reah’s #teacher5aday (which would I hazard to suggest work even if you’re not a teacher!) That particular journey started (?) here: https://martynreah.wordpress.com/2014/12/06/teacher5aday/

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2) I also like Mindfulness … not some random or possibly dodgy (depending on your worldview) Eastern mysticism and emphatically not something that, for me, conflicts with my Christian faith – nor something that demands it (I think that’s a whole different discussion for another time!) and have found the following sites useful – particularly the former as it’s so easy to do and his voice is so calming!:

photo

http://smilingmind.com.au/

https://www.headspace.com/

For me, Mindfulness isn’t rocket science.  One of my former blog posts was essentially about considering giving up teaching – I didn’t.  Instead of jettisoning something I love doing (on my best days), I found a way to cope with it, to shift my mindset (another buzzword, another blog?!) rather than the essentially hard work that goes into being a teacher (and many other professions, before anyone shouts at me! And being a mother before anyone shouts at me that this is also a job … I fully agree!  And a father … with aforementioned caveats and disclaimers!  And a human being … ditto.)

3) Finally and certainly last but not least – there is God.  Never do I realise more than when I have come to the end of my own resources, that I need God in my life.  Fair play to anyone else who manages without – each to their own.  I am not foisting God on anyone who does not want Him / Her (oooh – contraversial … another blog?) just reiterating His/Her invitation:

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Picture credits:

Pic 1: http://quotesgram.com/exhausted-animals-with-quotes/

Pic 2- 6: https://www.bedfordshireccg.nhs.uk/page/?id=4284

Pic 7: https://www.youtube.com/user/SmilingMindTV

Pic 8: https://uk.pinterest.com/pin/297237644127306886/

 

 

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The Bridge

image0218

Further to my last post: in the morning of the conference, my friend and I attended a workshop run by Christian Foley (for more information, go to this link:  http://applesandsnakesblog.org/blog/christian-foley-spoken-word-an-education                or watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9OGJpEaRbk

A little more context: I have previously been something of a classicist when it comes to literature – you know, Jane Austen, Dickens, that kind of thing.  This workshop was WAY out of my comfort zone.  I’m English (and therefore chronically embarrassed), middle-class, (dare I say it?) middle-aged: I don’t DO slam poetry.  But the rhythm and energy of this kind of poetry was something else.

Christian took us through a number of exercises to build confidence, explaining that this is what he does with a number of the kids that he works with, who often see school / learning as a very negative place / idea indeed.  Their response to what he does? ‘That ain’t poetry, man, that’s LIFE’ : rather inspiring.

The last exercise was introduced by one of Christian’s own poems called The Bridge, where students / we in our turn were introduced to a bridge between our reality and somewhere else.  And the rest was up to us: what would each of us be able to see …?

(Cue more free writing.  This is obviously my ‘happy place’!) …

TROPICAL BEACH06

A beautiful world.  Full of sunlight,

Full of delight.  No night scares,

No stairs to climb.  I’m free.

A beautiful beach.  Just out of reach,

The palm-trees beckon. I reckon

They’re taller than a skyscraper,

Taller than me. I’m free.

The waves glisten in the light.  I listen

To the roar of oceann against land

As the water kisses the sand

That trickles through my hand

And now I understand: I’m free.

And I close my eyes, feel the rays with surprise

(This is England, guys!

But not as I know it.)  I don’t want to blow it.

Want to seize my opportunity,

Reach out to my community,

Not just do my ‘duty’.

Can’t escape my responsibility

And yet …

Inside my head there remains the possibility.

Is it real or is it fantasy?

And I close my eyes: it is still there.

Wind blowing through my hair;

I can go there

Whenever

I want.

Picture credits:

Pic. 1: http://pulptastic.com/30-enchanting-bridges-need-see-believe/

Pic. 2: http://quotesgram.com/tropical-beach-quotes/

 

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Archway

Ok, a bit of context.

I went to a conference yesterday for teachers and writers – or for writing teachers – or for teacher-writers, or any combination thereof.  I went with a very good friend and colleague, both of us braving London town in the pursuit of inspiration and knowledge.  And we found both.

One of the starting exercises was essentially grounded in Mindfulness, where we were asked to focus on breathing / watch thoughts as if they were clouds, without judgement and without self-criticism.  And then we were asked to do some free-writing: just to write for 5 mins or so without stopping, without editing ourselves, just writing.

And this is what I wrote:

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An archway opens into a curious mind. Imagination sparks; synapses firing                into the void. The connections ever flowing, flowing, unceasing. A spider web               of conection.

Words.

This is why I am a teacher: the thrill of discovery.  Words have power,                 multiplicity of meaning.  The joy of ambiguity: did I mean that? or that? or that?          or perhaps all of these in one. A never-ending road of words.  This should be         scary.  But it’s not – it’s exhilarating. Have I spelt that word wrong?

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Picture credits:

Pic. 1: http://cadit.wikidot.com/archways-typology

Pic. 2: https://pixtowords.com/2015/09/05/the-road-to-somewhere-else/

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Mind the Gap …

Wow.  It’s been a whole year (over) since I last posted and what a year it’s been.

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Last time I posted (https://franceslouise75.wordpress.com/2015/03/), I was at a crossroads and not really seeing the way forward.  Now I am (thank God) looking forward to a new opportunity, having accepted an offer of a position at a new school, continuing with what I have been doing but also taking up a new and excitingly different direction.

Which got me thinking (the fact that we started the Easter holidays over here yesterday also helps!): what is God doing during these gaps, these hiatuses in our lives?  What are we to make of this in the light of today, Holy Saturday, the biggest hiatus in Earth’s history, theseemingly blank (and black) gap  in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Where is God on this day?

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Imagine it:  you have seen your best friend and mentor die, in the most horrific of circumstances possible.  He told you it was going to happen, but you never really believed it, not deep down. And now, all you feel is numbness, overlaying the anger and betrayal – what about this Kingdom of Heaven that was promised?  What about this promise of  new life?

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Jesus himself knew this anguish of abandonment, echoing the Psalmist’s words (Psalm 22) on the Cross:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Now Jesus’ sense of abandonment was a far deeper, far more all-encompassing one than we could ever know.  He who was God, separated from God for that one instant, feeling the whole weight of God’s anger when all He had known was the communion of God’s love.

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The first thing we can glean from this is that Jesus, above everyone else, understood what this gap, this sense of separation, of bewilderment felt like. As the writer of Hebrews says in chapter 4:15, ‘For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.’  So we can have confidence both that we can express our thoughts honestly in prayer, as the Psalmist did, and that Jesus will understand rather than condemn us for so doing.

The second thing I take from Holy Saturday, is to ask what God is doing in the midst of this apparent bleakness and loss.

The Medievalists had a belief in something called the Harrowing of Hell (explained in this blog  – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/joeljmiller/2013/03/the-victory-of-christ-and-the-harrowing-of-hell/) which states that in the time between Good Friday and Easter, Jesus was making something of a triumphant lap of Hell – coming in victory rather than defeat, showing his dominion over death.  I like to think this is true.  It certainly makes sense of the ‘time in between’, that time just before the Easter Dawn, when the world seemed most bleak.

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In my own life, I can look back over the past two years or so when it hasn’t always felt like God has been working through it all. Even though I’ve clung on to this belief, that there was purpose behind me being where I was, behind doors I was knocking on being slammed fairly firmly in my face.  And looking back now, I can see those incremental things God has been doing: the patience He’s been developing in me (still work in progress!), the new heart He’s awoken in me, the new vision He’s been preparing for me. All beneath the surface when things seemed apparently static, unchanging.  A bit like the time-lapse video below, when all seems dead on the surface, God is working beneath, in the quiet, holy spaces in our lives, to bring about new growth and new life.

Romans 8 v 28 states:‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’  That’s in ALL things, not just in the things we enjoy or in the times we can feel His presence, but also in the times in between, the gaps – maybe particularly in those times, I would dare to suggest?

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I pray that whether God is growing something fantastic in your life, or whether you have yet to see these new roots / routes taking shape, that you will experience God’s blessing and love this Easter and beyond.

Be blessed!

Frances

Picture credits:

Picture 1 – https://www.pinterest.com/trippcb/nature-crossroads/

Picture 2 – http://collegevilleinstitute.org/bearings/holy-saturday-spirituality/

Picture 3 – http://quotesgram.com/holy-friday-quotes/

Picture 4 – https://walterbright.org/tag/my-god-my-god-why-hast-thou-forsaken-me/

Picture 5 – http://www.patheos.com/blogs/anxiousbench/2013/03/harrowing-hell/

Video credit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iFCdAgeMGOA

Picture 6- http://bestcoverpix.com/holy-saturday-facebook-cover-photo/

 

All Bible verses taken from the New International Version on https://www.biblegateway.com/ unless otherwise specified.

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