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Introduction and Explanation

I love blossom, how fleeting it is, yet how beautiful. Just like certainty

Sometimes, in life, you hit a moment.  Where you realise you just can’t keep the status quo.  Something has to change.  Often, that is difficult and you don’t really know how to do it or where to turn.  I’ve had that recently.  Actually, it’s been building for a long time. Who knew the place I would end up turning to find my help would be Twitter!  Through following paths of tweets and threads I discovered such powerful writers as Rachel Held Evans, such present and relatable clergy as Nadia Bolz-Weber and people grappling with the same issues I am such as Sarah Bessey.  A new world of people who respect the LGBTQ+ community in a way most (but thankfully not all!) Church experience I had to date did not.  People not afraid to speak out despite knowing the level of vitriol and trolling they would receive, in many cases from those professing to believe in a Prince of Peace.  Those who would see my situation and rejoice in the redemptive story, instead of getting hung up on the path yet to walk.  I found my tribe.

Yet the physical word I live in is just not there.  I see Churches with incredible public facing profiles, yet deep rooted discrimination abounding beyond the doors.  I crave full acceptance, love and care, yet the wounds of Spritual Abuse still weep.  I sit in that liminal space, between knowing a physical Church home, and knowing there will be a new chapter of my faith story, within those walls or others, yet not knowing what that will look like.  I turn inwards, in prayer and rest, to the God who dwells within, laying all my processing and confusion down in that space.  And I feel gentle nudges.  Study.  Learn.  Write.  Share. 

So I begin my deconstruction.  I challenge the pressure to name my God as Father at all times and embrace her as the Mother she often is.  I will use They/Them pronouns in recognition They are one and three, thankful for the gift of Theology around Gender Identity for this expression.  I will study and hold my learning in liminal space with God, following the example of the Psalmist who sang “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word (Psalm 119:15-16).  I will pray until the Holy Spirit within makes the way clear, for I will take the advice of 2 Timothy 2:15 to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth”.  For in every way I want to deconstruct my relationship with Church, I want to hold true to the God who nurtures, guides, blesses and comforts me throughout all things.  For They are good, and I pray my writing will always point back to Them. 

I may make mistakes.  I may misunderstand or misinterpret.  I may write things I look back on in years to come and cringe!  I accept this as part of my journeying, I freely accept I won’t always be right and I invite critical yet polite engagement with my writing.  I do however challenge any reader to respect my journey whatever their personal response to it is, and to share any comments kindly.  Your journey will be different to mine, your conclusions may well differ to mine and that is what makes the world such a beautiful and varied place.  It is not disagreement which sows disunity, but unkindness. 

Peace be with you.

A Prayer for Sunday 9th August 2020

Oh God, your world is tired. I’m tired. So tired I can hardly write.

Oh God, your world is tired. Give us hope. Draw our attention to the ways you are working to bless your people, through community projects, support groups and neighbours doing amazing things for thise around them. Focus our minds on all that is good, so that we may build the strength in our hearts to love others as we are loved by you.

Oh God, your world is tired. Give us faith there will be an end to the sadness we see and the frustration we feel. Strengthen our faith in You, in your word and your Spirit, that we may rest easier knowing you have us in your care. Ease our grief and tensions, call us back to you, time and time and time again, in pursuit of deeper and fuller and stronger and more vibrant relationship.

Oh God, your world is tired; flood us with your steadfast love. The love that refreshes and revives like no earthly substance can. The love that holds us in a place of knowing, where despair is understood but peace is offered and the two can authentically co-exist. The love that offers us a glimpse of the Heaven we are going home to once our journey here is over, so we may revel in the sweetness and know whatever we suffer we are not alone on our path towards Home.

Amen

Peace be with you.

A Gift from a Child

Today my Son gave me a treasure to borrow, and it felt like one of the greatest honours I’ve ever been given. How then must God feel when we offer what we can, even if it’s as little as a pin badge?

My Mum’s favourite Christmas song is ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’. My Husband hates it and finds it rather problematic! But I love the image of the small, meek person, presented as having nothing, but offering up their greatest treasure, their heart. In my head, I see a weeping Jesus, bowing to receive it, maybe kneeling to scoop it and the figure up in one fell swoop, torn between taking the gift and refusing it, knowing how precious it is. Knowing I love the image so much despite it’s political incorrectness because I identify with it wholeheartedly.

Today my boy received a surprise parcel. He had written to a game development company months ago with a suggestion for their app, and they sent him a wonderful personal reply back with a gift of a poster and some pin badges. His face when he realised was glowing more than on Christmas Day. It was a real moment of joy and blessing on us all.

So when he took one, only one, pin badge from the sleeve, the one which was closest to my favourite colour, and shyly pinned it on my jumper without saying anything much, I had to hold back the tears. I had to stop myself from stopping him, for something in him was calling him to make this gesture. It felt like an anointing. An acknowledgement that this was something really special and of all the people in the world, I was the one he wanted to share it with. He didn’t even take one for himself.

And I wonder. Is this how God feels when I whisper the smallest of prayers in the dead of night when I don’t know how to carry on and it’s all I have left to give?

So next time I hesitate from doing that Bible Journalling page because I can’t draw, or sit in my chair instead of dancing because I feel shy, I’m gonna think again. The next time I want to pray out loud or compliment a friend, I’m just gonna let it out. I’m gonna send that message, tweet that tweet, record that song, post that blog! If something in us is calling us to give, we may not know fully the reason why – my Son certainly didn’t know the fullness of his witness today. But God does. Our hearts do. And the love flowing between us does.

Peace be with you.

Reflections and Resolutions

Spending some time by the Sea, where I was born and where my soul is most at peace and free, is always so restorative.

Oh what joy. The salt in the air, the movement of the breeze. The freshness tingling all around in the very atoms of the atmosphere. The gulls, the sand, the roll of the waves, the call of the foghorn and that moment, oh that moment, where the tide is going out and the water almost stops, there is a lull and it feels like the world has stopped it’s crazy churning cycle, if only for a moment.

Yes, I am a beach baby. People born in my town are known locally as Sanddancers. For 18 years I lived by the sea and for the next 18 years I yearned to go back to it. My teenage angst diffused when I sat at the top of cliffs looking out to sea and realised how tiny and insignificant I was, yet Jesus still loved me. My adult pains soothe whenever I manage the trip back, opening the car door to be met with the fresh, vibrant air of what will always be the Home of my heart wherever I live. We are made up of 60% water, I wonder if mine is Brine.

So to get away to the sea, even if it can’t always be my own little ripple of it, is always a blessing, and when offered the chance to do so in July with minimal Covid risk and within local guidance, we jumped at it. Risk assessments undertaken, masks and hand gel galore purchased, not quite the usual beach holiday but we were ready to make the most of any chance for a change of scene and a chance for restoration.

And I was in desperate need for some restoration. In many ways this blog has been life changing. It has been so affirming, for me in writing it and for others in reading it. It has also cost me dearly, and I’ve had to reconcile myself to that. I have been deeply challenged around how I can maintain a respectful fellowship within a church communion while also maintaining a little corner of the internet calling out injustice in the wider church – there is so much to dig into in that but the consequences of the discussion opening up have already cut deep. In speaking truth to power, the status quo could never be maintained, and perhaps it was naive hope on my part to think that it could. However I thank God for naive hope, that enables us to take steps we otherwise wouldn’t!

Listening to Jen Hatmaker speak on the recent Evolving Faith Podcast (ep 3 S1 – subscribe if you haven’t already, they’re all amazing!) summed so much up for me and I’m still processing a lot of it. Vicky Beeching wrote so poignantly in her book Undivided about the switch from fully embraced and successful Worship Leader to outcast because she dared to speak the truth she was Gay. It appears there is an unhealthy trend in the church of ostracising people who live a different truth to the mainstream, instead of embracing their vibrancy and listening to what they may have to say. What a loss to the church.

So what did I learn as I wept on the sand with frustration and grief, adding the salt of my tears back to the ocean they came from? I learned I am beloved, I am on the path God has called me down and I trust They know what They are doing. If my blog leads me to be considered less respected, able, Godly, I will not let that cower me, but always take it back to the God who loves me, who laughed with me on a beach in Brittany, who danced with me amongst the pebbles, who restored me in love with gentleness and gave me a little more of myself back with each tender wave rippling round my toes.

So on we go. There are words to write, seeds to sow, conversations to be had and a justice to seek. Amen.

Peace be with you.

Inclusion Helps us All

A simple set of stairs can be insurmountable to a significant proportion of our population. So why do we still use them as standard? This and many other questions need to be asked to enable our society to be more inclusive.

We went for a family day trip on Monday, to a large attraction. My son has ASC and as such we had booked a carer ticket for me, bringing the trip into our price range – just! My son cannot attend out of school provision and remain healthily regulated, so I have to work around school hours, limiting my earning potential. Therefore we make use of the provisions designed to support families like ours, in the knowledge we have paid into the pot before, and will do so again. There may be many issues in our society, but at least we do have this gesture of recognition within our system that we should support those who, through no fault of their own, need it at times, and I am very grateful for it.

However, as we arrived at the gate, we were then asked for his ‘proof of care’. My son is a self conscious pre teen who is still processing his diagnosis and the implications of it. He did not need it to be declared to the queuing masses that he needed care. Mostly, he doesn’t. However, within an hour of being in an environment with other people following months of lockdown, he certainly did, and as I was sitting in the car park with him while the rest of the family finished the trip I was even more grateful for the carer ticket!

It got me thinking. We are so ingrained in reasonable adjustments being the ‘other’ way, we reinforce the disabling routines of our society. Surely, if I purchase a ticket for a carer, that should be the end of it, just as if I purchase one for an adult or child? If ticket fraud is so rife then supporting evidence could be requested at the time of purchase. Oh but then you need internet to pre book your ticket. But that’s ok, because everyone has access to the internet, don’t they. Don’t they? Once you start actually thinking about it, the way we actively disable the most vulnerable element of our communities becomes more and more apparent.

So why not look at it a different way. When we plan modern developments, can’t we look at building them in a way which enables as many as possible instead of reinforcing traditional designs? Let’s have ramps for everyone, at an appropriate angle, with handrails and anti-slip flooring, with a white track line for the visually impaired. Let’s train all customer service staff in basic sign language as standard. In a world where masks are going to be with us for a while, let’s investigate options for windows around the mouth area so those who lipread don’t lose their independence – that’s not on them, that’s on us! Sensory calming spaces in every public place, wide enough corridors for large wheelchairs for the young men and women who are every bit as entitled to their human rights as everyone else, free internet because if services become online only then the access to them should be universal. I could go on.

But the cost! The practicalities! I hear the objections, and I understand there is no quick fix, especially in historical church buildings with listed status to contend with. We must still seek to be the best we can be though. It is yet another ingrained mindset we must actively challenge in our own awareness and that of others. Because the human cost of exclusion, isolation, low self esteem, being singled out, mistrust (because ‘they’ could be ‘faking it’) and a whole raft of other experiences which make up the daily life of thousands, is currently too high.

Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ ” Matthew 25:45 (NRSV)

Peace be with you.

A Prayer for Sunday 12th July

A slightly different prayer today. I wrote this song in half an hour yesterday morning after some quiet time with God, and then took the step of recording it this morning as my prayer. May it bless you, may you know you are not alone, may we lament together as we cry out to God for change.

Peace be with you.

The Legal stuff: Please feel free to share this or use this, but I would ask that you link back to this post as a reference. Released under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)

An Outdated Model?

It’s shocking that a search for preachers still shows mostly white men – if only I could draw what a kaleidoscope of genders and colours this image could be! For now, this lil one will have to do.

Teaching the faith used to be a lot simpler I’m sure. Up until the 20th Century attending a Church, usually the closest one to where you live, was a societal norm. Communities centered around their Church, often they were the seats of local justice and mediation when feudal lords were away, or where the police were mistrusted. One discrete denominational message was preached from the front, the masses listened and were instructed, then went on with their lives until the next time. There was more certainty in the words and frameworks delivered by the Priest, life was more fragile and religion gave explanations and comfort where science couldn’t. I apologise to those more expert than I for the simplification and lack of nuance, but bear with me for the purpose will become clear!

Today I can listen to a podcast from exvangelicals, Catholic mystics and conservative Southern Baptists one after another should I choose to. I can read six (and counting) different translations of the Bible when I go to my bookshelf, and many more if I could stand reading it off my phone screen. I own books of teachings from American Evangelical MegaChurch Pastors, progressive Lutherans, a 14th Century Anchoress and Bloggers who just had to speak out what God laid on their hearts. I can learn about urban monasticism, life in communities, the inner workings of the Anglican Parochial system and the individual journeys of those for whom church is no longer a safe place. At my fingertips I have six different answers to the same question I ask my online search engine. I can choose which answer, or combination of answer, aligns with my theology as I discern it in prayer and through study. Some would say it’s too much information which complicates the basic teaching of the Gospel. I adore it!

I adore that God gave me ways to test the convictions of my grandparents and use my own knowledge and experience to form my own, still Bible based, stances. I adore that God gave me community wider than my own direct experience so I can see so many different sides to the human struggle and the Grace which sees us through. I adore that I can discuss, debate, test, challenge and be challenged, and that I am a better person and a better follower of Christ because of it. I adore God’s design, the evolving pursuit of knowledge which constantly asks us to think again, not be complacent, choose Love.

I have completely fallen for Online Church, through Twitter mainly, because I see this facet of fellowship in action every single day. I long for it. It enlivens me, excites me, gives me hope. I have changed my stance on so many issues since I’ve discussed them with experts by experience, hearing how their struggles resonate with my own, and learned my judgment is prideful and offensive to God. I’m by no means perfect, I have many many flaws and God has a lot of work to do yet. But I am being swept downstream by the current of change, lying on my back gazing into the sky above and it feels a little closer to heaven every day.

So why do our church services, in general, keep to the same model attended by our ancestors when so much has changed. Why can’t our bible passages be debated instead of taught, our sermons provide a range of viewpoints with the challenge to engage with them, not be a lesson in one person’s view and that’s what they’d like you to subscribe to? Small groups, Bible Study groups, specialist services all meet this need to some degree, and I find those the most life giving element of a physical church community. I also know my words may be met with horror for those who receive best by the traditional model of a church service, who love liturgy and want to be led to an absolute truth; what sort of Ally to all would I be if I believed my need for difference trumps their need for stability?

I an not calling for a complete removal of the traditional Church Service. But wouldn’t it be something to at least have the conversation about different ways to try them? I suspect we’d all find our needs better met at the other side of it, in ways we may never expect …

Peace be with you.

Value

Do you see a dirty old banger, or a hidden treasure waiting to be loved back to life? Credit: Matt Conlon, Facebook

A Facebook friend shared an incredible post this morning I’d like to share here. With credit to Matt Conlon.

A father said to his daughter “You graduated with honors, here is a car I acquired many years ago. It is several years old. But before I give it to you, take it to the used car lot downtown and tell them I want to sell it and see how much they offer you. The daughter went to the used car lot, returned to her father and said, “They offered me $1,000 because it looks very worn out.” The father said,”Take him to the pawn shop.” The daughter went to the pawn shop, returned to her father and said,”The pawn shop offered $100 because it was a very old car.” The father asked his daughter to go to a car club and show them the car. The daughter took the car to the club, returned and told her father,” Some people in the club offered $100,000 for it since it’s a Nissan Skyline R34, an iconic car and sought out after by many.” The father said to his daughter,”The right place values you the right way,” If you are not valued, do not be angry, it means you are in the wrong place. Those who know your value are those who appreciate you. Never stay in a place where no one sees your value.

This post hit me hard this morning. I am feeling very vulnerable and undervalued right now, with the life changes and stresses the Covid pandemic has brought. In reality, I’m finding value in different roles, different ways of expression, and it’s a huge readjustment, so that’s ok. But value is very much on my heart right now.

How do we demonstrate the value we place on eachother? When we disagree, do we say so in kindness and with openess to find a way forward? Do we bury our problems and look over at one another with resentment and growing chasms between us? Do we nurture what we value or do we take it for granted. under the assumption it will always be there?

Do we say we value one another, but act in a way that makes us liars?

I am certainly guilty of this. I become so wrapped up in my own feelings and responses I lose sight of the responsibilty I have towards others in the relationship. I find it almost impossible to look beyond and reach out. Then when I do, I am so poor and unpracticed at it, it rarely goes as I envisage. At least I try, right?!

I am learning however. That to value means to see beyond the now and look to the wider picture. That to see value is to look through God’s eyes, and see the world as They love it. To show value sometimes means drawing back and giving wrongs to God in the faith They will make them right. It also sometimes means to challenge the status quo, call out those wrongs and stand firm in the ensuing discussion. Which to do belongs to the heart of God Themselves, and I can only seek to discern well.

Valuing means not giving up when the going gets tough, when you get hurt again and again. Valuing means looking for a third way when your way and their way just don’t meet. Valuing is enabling discussion, holding on to the conversation even when the connection is down. Valuing is always seeing the best in the other even when it is through a mist of despair.

I value fiercly. I value my Husband, my bairns, my family, my friends, my local Church, my wider church, my community, my colleagues and those I serve in work and in word. I cause joy and I cause pain. I excel, and I fail spectacularly. But that’s ok. Because I am a belived Daughter of God whose humanity is celebrated in its wonder and covered in its shortfalls by the Love and Grace of God. Who values is all more than we will ever know.

Peace be with you.

Love is …

“Icon made by bqlqn from www.flaticon.com

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” Ephesians 5:25 (NIV)

I have been challenged recently about my relationship to The Church. My story is quite unusual, in that I was brought up in a non-denominational Evangelical Church in the ilk of the House Church movement. My Grandfather was the Pastor, my Father the Worship Leader. My Grandmother led the children’s work, and it was one class for everyone. I grew up with church and family inextricably linked.

As I got older resentment began to creep in. Why did my Granda spend so much time with other people’s kids? Didn’t he know I would spend every moment with him if I could? Of course there were also perks. As soon as I could blow a few notes on my clarinet I was in the worship team, cutting my teeth on Noel Richards and hymn tunes.

When I left for University, I faced the almost impossible challenge of finding a new church to root in. Almost 20 years later, I have still not found anything like the home and family I desperately yearn for. There have been a number of times in a number of churches where I have felt peace, for a time. But then something always happens. The mistreatment of an individual which ruins their life. Once or twice that’s been my story. Or would have been without the redemptive love of a God who always changes the full stop to a comma.

Are my expectations too high? Well, probably. I’m a neurodivergent Enneagram 1 perfectionist. What a combination! I also find it desperately hard to build relationships. I lose count of the amount of people I’ve offered meals to, suggested cuppas to, and the take up rate is in the single digits. Each and every offer was an act of fellowship and and attempt at communion with my church family. Why are we so poor at that these days? The early church was built on it.

The spiritual maths isn’t looking great on this one. Is it any wonder I am so disillusioned by church? But. I’m still in one. I’m still part of the global body of Christ. I still hold fast to the ideals for fellowship and mutual support in this walk of life that Jesus laid before us.

But do I love it? Well, no. I wish I did. There is so much pain in my story, so much disappointment and frustration. Would I like to love it? Absolutely. I want nothing more than to belong, to walk with wise elders, gifted healers, prophets and musicians who may not always agree, but do always love. I want to love my church in all its forms, physical, online, local, global. Something for my prayers perhaps …

Peace be with you.

A Prayer for Sunday 5th July

For all who return to a physical Church building today and revel in your presence Lord, we pray, Bless them and Keep them.

For all who shield at home, uncertain of the world but certain of you, Lord, we pray, Bless them and Keep them.

For all who stand firm and connected to their faith tradition Lord, we pray, Bless them and Keep them.

For all who stand firm in your presence and nowhere else Lord, we pray, Bless them and Keep them.

For all who have lifted spirits alongside lifted restrictions Lord, we pray, Bless them and Keep them.

For all who stay still and mournful in their pain Lord, we pray, Bless them and Keep them.

For we are all one body, Siblings in Christ and loved by you. May we bless you and each other by sharing that love today and always.

Amen

Peace be with you.

It’s a Balancing Act

Some very wise counsel yesterday reminded me that life is all about balance. Without the darkness, light tones on a canvas can’t pop. Without the cold, a piping hot cup of cocoa wouldn’t bring the same comfort. Without considering many viewpoints, we can’t ever come to an informed decision on our own.

Churches are beautiful places. I love York Minister, for example, the vastness and amplification of God’s glory. I love the heart of service the staff and volunteers have. My spine tingles when I remember the times I have shared communion there. My husband and I deliberately took midday communion in Chester Cathedral on our way to our Honeymoon in Wales. These things are meaningful, and lovely, and precious.

I don’t like the fact that the wealth of one of those places could raise many out of povery in an instant. I find it such a challenge to reconcile my love for the theatre with my discomfort around the pomp. These places raise my spirit, but do they raise the lowly?

I don’t pretend in my writing to have the answers. These conflicts and discrepancies between the church the Apostles set up and the Church we have now is so blatant to me I admit I have a hard time connecting to ‘The Establishment’ on anything but a selfish, awe inspired level. The minute I start to think about what fellowship means and what Jesus called for, my heart sinks.

But then, as my husband regularly challenges me, the church we have is what we have, and we are challenged to love it anyway.

Does that mean we can’t speak out about wrongs? Some might say yes, absolutely, The Church is beyond reproach. The Catholic Abuse scandal would show otherwise. Others might say no speak out, but quietly, and just to key people, quoting Matthew 18:18. I agree with this to a large extent, but some issues are bigger than just one person or just one section of church. There can be a sense we must keep the image of Church pure so we can welcome people in. I just can’t buy that. We can’t project an image which attracts people who then find it an unsafe place to be, that is the thin end of a wedge of Spiritual Abuse. We can’t say all are welcome, and then when they start to thrive and pursue callings, cut them down because they don’t fit the more niche requirements hidden in the smallprint. In any other walk of life it would be illegal to block someone’s promotion because of their sexuality or who they let sleep in their home overnight. Yet in some churches this is policy, and those of us who see this as counter to Christ’s love and inclusivity feel obliged to stand against it.

However. I return to balance. I freely confirm I am still part of a Church, and I try to serve it well. I care for the congregation, I love that it is growing a heart for community, I admire the hard work and tight leadership from the top. I also despair at some of the policies, decisions, experiences and flaws. Which is perfectly normal in any human establishment in my experience! We are all human, and this is human balance. If it was perfect, it would be Heaven.

So I stay within, and try to speak out, while also serving. I recognise my Church has some really wonderful qualities which keep me invested in it. This may seem to be an impossible tension and to some it is an untenable position. But how will we ever grow if we can’t wrestle with these issues? How can a church community, on a local, national or global level, become more like Jesus if some of the voices illuminating His teaching through different lenses are silenced? We end up with a Church in our own ideal, not a Kingdom one.

Would York Minister still be as awesome without the gold, the treasures and the robes? I think so. Would the Christian Music scene be enhanced by embracing non cishet artists? Undoubtedly. Can the Church take a little criticism with the hope it can learn from it? Jesus worked on that premise. I have no agenda for the impact of my writing. But I believe God has, and that is why I shall continue to do it. While endeavouring for a little more balance.

Peace be with you.