Wednesday, November 14, 2007

truth on demand

Every now and then my loyalties to the media bubble up to the surface. (It's the nearly four years working for local newspapers what done it.....)

You do get some idiotic criticisms of the press.

I was recently encouraging colleagues from different parts of the UK to promote their good work in local media. One lady objected to doing so because "even if you tell the reporters exactly what to write, in a letter or email, they write something different."

Now, excuse me, but would you email a sermon to your vicar and expect him to preach it verbatim? Would you tell your doctor what you thought was wrong with you and expect him to meekly obey your guidance on the best medication?

There are many valid criticisms of the media. But do we really want reporters to write exactly what those with vested interests tell them to? Think that might actually compromise our nation's democratic status.....

Saturday, November 03, 2007

vocation, vocation, vocation


It dawned on me today that my idea of a dream job has changed.

Maybe 18 months ago, somebody asked me my ideal line of work and I admitted to a strange yet compelling fantasy that I would make a great Archbishop of Canterbury.

That phase is now, thankfully, over.

My sense of calling directs me elsewhere these days.

I wish to go over to Malibu and become mentor, friend and saviour of Britney Spears.

I guess, as we grow older, our inner longings subtly change.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Bloggers unite!

I am having a blog spree because it has been rumoured by the otherwise sensible and respectable Lucy and Mel that the world of blogging is being overshadowed by the world of Facebook.

Oh no.

Blogs are about effort, creativity and the occasional bit of humiliation. Hot and cold spells. Like a long-term relationship. Facebook is a series of one night stands.

Quick, everyone, get blogging.

(Or am I overreacting......?)

self perception

Self-perception....it's a funny old thing.

I am not a large person. But there are days when I become convinced I'm fat. This is sometimes due to the wonders of the monthly hormone tournament, but not always. Today I was feeling fed up about being flabby. I then went to the gym and, surrounded by mirrors, felt pleased with a reassuringly thin reflection of myself. What a wally!

Generally, I don't do too badly at avoiding the world's obsession with looks. But maintaining a healthy self-image is a struggle.

Preoccupation with how I think others 'perceive' me is another tendency of mine. It can get extreme: without realising it, I can act, speak and decide things just because they fit with my automatic analysis of others' expectations of me at a given moment.

These are not good things, really. I will try to enjoy and be free in who I am (externally and internally.) That's harder said than done in a society obsessed with image and immediacy. But it has to be possible, nontheless. And, in the words of that great inspirational force, L'Oreal, I'm worth it!

A biblical burlesque?

I've been learning about the Old Testament book of Esther this week.

It's a wicked story. Readable, gripping. Famous for making no mention of God at all. I knew it quite well already, but guiding me through this time is a commentary by Professor Carol Bechtel. Among my discoveries so far, according to Bechtel, are:

1. The story is probably mostly fictional (not that the author or readers of its time would have understood a distinction between history and fiction in the way we do today.) The author uses dramatic irony, exaggeration, suspense, to create tension and entertainment. Comic 'burlesque', occasionally veering on the edge of tragedy, is how Bechtel describes the genre. The question is, does one attempt to pose to an evangelical Baptist audience the theory that part of the Old Testament is most likely fictional?Hmmmm....

2. The existing Jewish festival of Purim is all about Esther's story. Traditionally, at Purim, the book is read aloud in its entirety, with the audience booing and hissing at the mention of the baddies and cheering when Esther's in the picture. It is also customary for everyone to, quite deliberately, get very drunk. It's the only festival where that's an official part of the proceedings. Think it's ok to mention this fact, as long as I don't advocate it as a way forward for the Baptists.

It is also an inspirational tale for anyone who feels vulnerable, at the mercy of life's circumstances. Esther was essentially a refugee who became a sex-slave. Yet in her most vulnerable position, she made decisions that saved the Jews from annihilation. Think such strength in weakness is seen elswhere in the bible, too.......

Friday, September 28, 2007

opinionated? moi?

I'm pretty awful at making my mind up, as I've been reminded this week.

If you want to find a community of people with opinions fiercely held and dizzyingly diverse, you can't do better than the Anglican Communion.

The media had a bit of a field day with this last week, thanks to an emotional and very significant meeting in America that could, allegedly, have split the global Anglican community asunder. (I won't go into the details - they're all over the internet if you're interested. Suffice to say the 'split' didn't happen.)

As one of the 'stay-at-home' staff in my office, I spent quite a bit of time following reports about the work of my colleagues out in the US.

In reading those reports day by day, I swung wildly from being proud and supportive of Rowan Williams' and others' desire to hold the communion together, to thinking unity isn't worth the price we're paying for it, to wondering what on earth 'unity' can mean in anything other than a local context anyway, to thinking Anglicanism is a big waste of time, to feeling ashamed at my own arrogance and lack of willingness to respect those who think differently to me, to.....ah, the list goes on.

Am I missing something in being incapable of deciding what I actually believe from all these arguments? In changing my mind (almost) every time I hear an empassioned statement from one side or another?

I cannot understand how so many people can feel so convinced that what they're thinking and feeling is definitely right, while what others think is definitely wrong. (All thinking they're on God's side, of course).

I could never be a politician. My epitaph would be: 'she tried out so many ideas: she must have had the right one at some point or other'.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hurray!!

Amidst all the meetings/listening to annoying people hold forth about pointless stuff/lack of resources/paranoia that I might be part of a doomed organisation, there are times when I like working in a 'lay' (aaarghhhhhh!) capacity for the church.

The best things about working for the Lambeth Conference are the numerous encounters and relationships that don't revolve around misguided priorities, cynicism or the desire for control. Also nice are the occasional but distinct impressions I get that I matter, even as a tiny cog in a big wheel, and regardless of what everyone else thinks I and the wheel are up to.

Today I had a chuckle of glee to see that a web page I helped create is being discussed in some lighthearted, sensible and (indirectly) encouraging forums. Really, the Anglican Communion doesn't always need to be a matter of 'life and death'.....................

See this on The Lambeth Conference Marketplace and the related links/discussion.

Hurrah! A little bit of light is all you need.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

flower power.


My week has been
cheered up a lot by
these lovely lillies that
Rich and Mel bought me,
which gradually flowered over about 10 days
and have only just passed their best.
Juicy,
lovely,
smily
lillies!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Two small things in my life.

On Sunday night we went to see The Bourne Ultimatum. Great trilogy...many good reasons to go and see the third installment. Here are two minor ones: the actor playing the Guardian journalist looks uncannily like each and every Guardian journalist your imagination has ever conjured; (and for you Londoners) it's unreasonably exciting to watch a lengthy chase-scene in which Matt Damon paces intently past the all-too-familiar shops of Waterloo station.

Yesterday I unusually (for a week day) read the whole of the forementioned newspaper. Had my feminist angst aroused by an article on the results of a recent sociological study, examining reasons for the pay-gap between men and women. The research followed on from another study that revealed women are paid less because they don't tend to negotiate/ask for more money so, of course, they don't get it. Cue jump to favoured conclusion - "If women stopped being silly, they'd be treated equally." But the new study indicates that, in fact, women don't negotiate because, consciously or not, they know a lady who 'asks for more' is generally disliked and thus disadvantaged in the workplace. A man who requests more money may or may not get it but he has nothing to lose. A woman who asks for extra dosh will most likely be despised, and so why would she bother? Hmph, I say, hmph.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Doctor, doctor

For the first time since junior school I have been prescribed something by the doctor because of illness. I became very confused when the pharmacist charged me £6.85 for my prescription. Payment? Eh? Don't we have an NHS?

How the world has changed since my youth. (Or maybe my mum picked up the tab back then.......)

Something to be grateful for, though: I am so unused to being unwell that I didn't know prescription charges existed.

I really am very, very sorry....

...but I am now a fully-fledged Big Brother house addict. I watch it at least once a day. See what being incapacitated for a fortnight does to you?

Anyway, the sad thing is that BB-related psychological trauma is now kicking in. This always happens if I allow myself to get sucked in. Usually towards the end of a series, I get unhealthily involved with one housemate or other. This began many moons ago, as I felt distressed on behalf of an expelled Nasty Nick......

I am now emotionally attached to Amy. She seems very eager to be liked (sniff) and a little bit dim. She's ended up being blamed by everyone for recent 'semi-evictions' into the Halfway House. (sniff, sniff) Carole is trying to make everybody hate her. (waaaaiiiilll!) And Liam - EVEN LIAM - is being a stereotypical male chauvinist git to her. I had liked Liam. I am so let down. (boo hooooooooo!)

Really, I think it's a good job that I can't follow the lives of my actual acquaintances in the amount of detail that Big Brother allows. Being party to all the tiny social complexities of a person's existence turns me into a hyper-empathetic nervous wreck.

Enough time wasting. Must get back to the telly.......

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I AM ILL


There's nothing like being sick to remind you of your human limitations. I may like to think my body is under my control - but clearly I'm wrong. Currently I feel like a hippo, despite really trying to feel like Anna.

The beginnings of the lurgy were hot sweats and a sore throat, followed by a cough and headache, followed by jaw-ache and eye-ache, followed by sinus ache, later enhanced with lots of snot. Have spent 3 days alternating between bed and the sofa.

Incredibly annoying. I give myself little tasks: remain in bed for one hour - you'll feel better; drink tonnes of fruit juice - you'll be able to do some work tomorrow; get some fresh air - you'll kickstart your system and feel healthier. All miserable failures.

Do you think resurrection bodies will obey our instructions?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

singing for my supper


Last week we had a summer social event at work, to which lots of VIPS were invited.

Against my will and to my surprise, I ended up entertaining this crowd with the rusty tones of my cello. Almost entirely unrehearsed.

Here's the tale: several months ago I decided this BBQ event would be cheered considerably by live music. Colleagues agreed wholeheartedly, so I got on the case. A professional musician in the family suggested I contact a friend of hers who runs a music agency. I did so, she was very helpful and we decided she would organise two violinists to play a couple of hours of jazz at the BBQ, at a slightly reduced rate. Excellent. Entertainment sorted. I emailed her just to confirm all the details after we spoke.

She didn't reply to my email but I didn't worry: musicians are artists after all, you have to allow for a bit of disorganisation. And we'd already sorted all the details by phone.

I called her three weeks before the event, to confirm all was well, and left a voicemail message. I then went on holiday.

When I came back, 4 days before the BBQ, there had been no return call from her. And still no email. I began to worry. I kept calling and emailing: no response. The BBQ was on Thursday. When I still hadn't heard from her at Wednesday lunchtime I decided a backup plan was needed.

A Warwickshire friend happened to be at a literature conference in London on Thursday and Friday, and was staying with us on the Thursday night. I texted her and asked her to bring her violin along, then downloaded some duets from www.virtualsheetmusic.com

I carted the cello into work on Thursday morning. Danny arrived fresh from a day's conference, loaded with her violin, at 6pm. The professionals hadn't showed up. So we ran upstairs, practiced the music I'd downloaded and then performed for half an hour. It was ok. Not of a professional standard, not polished, but ok.

I felt curiously staisfied with this. It takes a lot to make me get the old cello out these days - but nice to know I can pull it off if I need to.

(I'd love to tell you who the blinking music agency are.....but maybe there was a really excellent reason for their utter unreliability, so I'll refrain.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

quick update...

...as I've been off the scene for a while.

It was our second wedding anniversary yesterday. My husband is very good.

Had hols near Fort William last week. Reasonable weather, good food, fabulous scenery. We climbed Ben Nevis, leaped into bogs (by accident) and went on the 'Harry Potter to Hogwarts' train ride. The highlands of Scotland are really beautiful - and I only got three midge bites.

The week before that was also holiday for me but Jon had a course, so I did lots of reading and pottering near home. I have read: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (brilliant, simple, unnerving prose); Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (disturbing, complicated prose); The Secret Message of Christ (think that's the title - another by Brian McLaren. Good but not as much of a revelation as The Last Word and the Word After That) and I began A House for Mr Biswas by V S Naipaul (funny and moving so far.) Think there was something else but I forget......

One good thing about a train ride to work is that I get more reading done generally. I am enjoying being back into the swing of books again.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Lambeth live!

After what seems like an eternity, the new Lambeth Conference website is finally uploaded. Anyone interested in seeing what I'm working on, visit it here.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Good day....!


(Warning: long post.)

I have just finished 'The last word and the word after that' by Brian McLaren. It's 'creative non-fiction' - an academic/theological exploration of something dressed up in a novel.

Dan Poole, is a pastor under 'investigation' by his church because he seems to be preaching liberal theology from the pulpit of his (increasingly) conservative church. His character is used to explore various ideas about God's character, about mission and about hell.

I knew the 'eternal fires type hell' to be a human construct, built by Dante and others rather than biblical writers. But I didn't know that 'hell' wasn't really a concept at all for the Jewish people until very late. Establishing themselves as God's people in the here and now, in this world, was their only concern for a very long time.

If my understanding of what McLaren says is right, an 'afterlife' concept of hell was later adopted for very pragmatic reasons. The Jews were persecuted. And yet they knew themselves to be God's people. Two difficult facts to reconcile. So, the question: 'why aren't things as they should be for us?' was answered: 'because somebody must be screwing it up.' Who?
  1. For the zealots, the people screwing it up were those Jews who submitted to Roman authority. The zealots wanted to fight back - to bring Israel's God back to power in battle.
  2. For the Essenes, the 'screw-ups' were the people who were too politically involved in fighting the powers and authorities of the physical world. The key to uplifting Israel was focus on the spiritual life, on God's law, etc, in detachment from 'worldy' things.
  3. For the Pharisees, the scapegoats were 'sinners': people not keeping God's laws. So, in a sense, they developed a theory whereby those who didn't follow God's rules were destined for 'hell'. If they would only clean-up their act, the world would become perfect. Hence new and more detailed interpretations of God's laws became an obsession.
When Jesus came, he did indeed speak of a place like hell (in picture language and parable, and in such a way that we cannot possibly pin his meaning down). At least part of his intention in speaking of it was to turn the Pharisees' and others' misconceptions of 'hell' on their head. His purpose was very definitely not to drive fear into sinners and the marginalised.

In theory, none of this surprises me. But I am struck again by how pervasive is the theory 'a Christian's task is to save the unchurched from hell'. This can only lead to judgmental behaviour, to an overemphasis on a future world we can never understand and to incredibly patronising 'evangelism'.

Churches are there to usher God's perfect kingdom in and, yes, to introduce people to him. But the motivation for that is that life is immeasurably more empty without God, not because they'll go to hell after death. The bible does very clearly indicate that we will all face God's judgement, and that everything about us will be revealed at that time. But the emphasis is (I think) always on the 'process' of judgement. What happens afterwards is described in poetic, metaphorical, terms.

McLaren's book showed me again the reason I want to 'do stuff' in churches. I believe there is as much of a mission field inside the church as outside it. My passion is to help people who call themselves Christian to see how wonderful God is and how their understandings of him limit and demean him. And I include myself there.

McLaren begins: I believe that God is good. No thought I have ever had of God is better than God actually is."

Amen! Perhaps there's an awful lot of deconstruction work to be done before Christian communities will allow God, in all his fulness, into their midst. And perhaps, when they manage to do that, God's kingdom will really be upon us.

Let's get to it, I say.






Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bad day.....?

Is it wise to rant about work on a blog?

Ah well....wisdom's overrated anyway. I know you'll all take this with a pinch of salt. Please.

The order of the work-related events that have annoyed me:
1. I was asked by my manager to represent my team on a particular group, which has significant responsibilities.
2. Another team member, with similar role to myself, told me he would also be joining the group (though he couldn't make the particular meeting I describe below, which happened yesterday) because its chairman had invited him. This irritated me (can't I be left to do this on my own?) but I let it pass.
3. I was asked by one of the group members, who works in my office, to prepare a contribution for the meeting (something he had been 'tasked' with, but thought it 'would be good for me' to do.)
4. Obedient as ever (!!), I prepared this quite thoroughly along with a handout.
5. I arrived at the meeting: the members, who have all met me at least once, seemed rather vague about who I was. Given that I am one of three people on the management team for the project towards which we are all working, this was disconcerting. The meeting provided no opportunity for introductions.
6. The meeting began with a eulogy of the colleague mentioned in 2, who had at some stage spoken privately with the group chairman and established himself as being "clearly the person in the know" about my team's activities. I sat there like a lemon, wondering if it struck anybody else around the table that perhaps I too would be 'in the know' about my team's activities.
7. The chair proceeded to speak to the group about the topic that I had prepared. I tried to interject, as the papers I had copied would have helped everyone get a handle on what he was saying: this wasn't welcomed.
8. I eventually said I had prepared some material that people might like to look at. I was thanked but told its distribution could wait until the end. The conversation then went off on various tangents until...
9. ...I had to leave the meeting early, so made my apologies and left my hand-outs on the table.
10. As I was walking out of the door, I heard someone say: "well, these documents are very useful".

Now, I accept some of the blame. I can be a bit diffident and uncertain. And one can't expect to be listened to just because one is present and attempting to speak. A little self-assertion is surely necessary.

But, no, actually, I would hope that when judging who to listen to I consider it enough for a person to be a) present and b) attempting to speak. At least, until I know them well enough to realise that everything they say is rubbish......!!

Did I mention the male:female ratio in this group? Some other time.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

some things that have been going on

1. Discussion at house group that touched on marital breakdown. Quite distressing. Decided changes in attitude to loyalty in marriage have developed in a similar way to changes in attitudes to loyalty at work: people are no longer prepared to stick it out down the mines, or in the call centre, day in day out, unless there's no way out. And I can understand that. Just very grateful that I have an extremely wonderful marriage. And hope I will remain grateful.

2. Some time in the next couple of weeks Jon and I will be interviewed about our elligibility for church membership at the place we've been worshipping for seven months. Good old Baptists!

3. Watermelons, sunburn, mojitos and picnics have all taken place in the last fortnight. Hurrah!

4. Watched Jarhead. Enjoyed it. Very stylish, quite disturbing, not a cliche in sight.

5. Have tried to write a post a few times about the lack of female bishops in our country but keep getting over excited/confused/verbose and needing to stop. It might appear one day.

Monday, May 28, 2007

films for a wet weekend


Jon and I have watched two films this weekend. Last night, we saw Red Road on dvd. Today we went to Spiderman 3 at the cinema. Fair to say the two aren't that much alike.

Red Road is set on a depressing Glasgow council estate where people's lives are filled with hardship and darkness. The acting is sensitive and, combined with minimal musical distraction and everso slight handheld camera giddiness throughout, makes for a believable, disturbing tale. The general mood is of despair and claustrophobia but there are plenty of gentle touches and signs of humanity: even light at the end of the tunnel. Despite the aimlessness of the first 45 minutes, a gripping story line does emerge. Watch out for the bedroom scene, though. Blinkin' heck! You don't want to see that with your mum and dad.

Spiderman's fun. Not as good as the first, or second, film but fun nonetheless. I like the dark suit and the hint of eyeliner when he's gone all nasty. But my question is, does anybody actually fancy Tobey Maguire? Lycra-bound muscle or not, I just don't get it, Mary Jane.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

clothing

Clothes shopping is one of my least favoured pastimes. This is because:

a) There's always something more satisfying to do
b) Clothes shops are generally full of crap
c) Changing room mirrors were designed in hell by a Kate Moss-shaped demon
d) Parting with money is stressful and should be reserved for the most pleasurable purchases. A bottle of wine, for example.
e) It's depressing to shop alone and irritating to shop with somebody who is more/less patient with the whole enterprise than myself (ie, everyone)

In recent months, this strife has matured like an unclipped hedge. I am now aware that I need to clothes-shop 'ethically', as well as everything else. Oh dear, oh dear.

There are, of course, plenty of 'ethical' or 'fair trade' online clothing places. I've bought nice things from Ganesha and The Green Apple. But internet clothes-shopping can breed hideous results.

I am steadily getting scruffier and scruffier. Many of my clothes are cast-offs from friends and family, greedily snapped up by me. It takes a lot to make me feel scruffy - but I am there.

Thankfully, dear reader, I recently found a solution to my problem.

It came in the form of an exchange of letters printed in the Guardian's ethical living column. A troubled reader said she just didn't know where to shop. She was under the impression that only inaffordable boutiques were 'ethical'. (She was advised that this is not the case. Expensive places are just as bad).

Among the various responses lay my gleam of light. A wise and wonderful woman wrote that the most ethical thing to do, when it comes to clothes shopping and indeed any kind of shopping, is not trawl the internet and magazines getting confused by contradictory information. No. You simply need to buy less.

Buy less. Genius. Hurrah. What more excuse do I need? I am scruffy because I am ethical, you well-clothed monsters. Just popping to the pub.....

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

me against the world!

Many, many times I have explained to Jon that I am the slayer. He simply will not believe me. This may be because, mostly, I feel the need to hide my superhuman strength.

Now, thanks to Steve, I think my case is watertight.

And I'll hear none of this "but you look nothing like her in real life" nonsense.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

shepherding the flock

Jon and I went to North Devon recently to celebrate my Gran's 80th birthday. Lots, lots and lots of the Shepherd clan were present.

It was a good occasion, clearly meaning a lot to my Gran. We stayed in B & Bs, slept on floors and travelled around the windy Devon roads all weekend in her honour. She is a full-time carer for my Grandfather, now wheelchair-bound and increasingly lacking in confidence. I don't think he knows who I am any more, which is strange.

My Gran's feisty and sharp, though, and enjoys company (and being the centre of attention, I suspect!)

Jon discovered a Shepherd tradition he knew nothing of: Flanders and Swann. He had his head in his hands as young and old raised their voices in unison to tunelessly serenade my Gran with 'Mud, Mud Glorious Mud' at the party......

Good job he's already committed!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

speaking trouble

I am currently part-way through a week-long meeting.

This is difficult for me. I dislike even the shortest meetings. (Admittedly, most I've ever attended have been dominated by clergymen. But for once, this is not the root of my trouble).

I just can't speak normally in a meeting. Everything I utter is the result of frantic mental preparation and stress and materialises in rather garbled, nervy form. It's difficult to analyse such linguistic incompetence - I'd pass for articulate in almost every other scenario - but I'll try to pin down some of the reasons for it.

1) I'm keen to get any meeting over and done with, so why prolong them with my own speech?
2) Surely the other people in the room are cleverer than me and so already know what I'm about to say?..........
3) ....or else are so stupid that they won't understand what I mean anyway, so I may as well keep quiet.
4) Speech will reveal my extremely naive take on the situation being discussed.
3) 'Meeting talk' is a complex blend of conversation and public address. In conversation, I focus on people, not work. In public, I like to say amazing and life-changing things. It's impossible to do either satisfactorily in a meeting.
4) Unless I'm the chairman (heaven forbid), my role in a meeting is never entirely clear. How do I fit in? What am I supposed to say?

When asked to present a speech on a particular topic, I do it pretty well. When asked to be quiet and take minutes, I'll happily get on with it. But leave me to fend for myself in that grey area between 'practical tasks' and 'speech for its own sake' and I'll flounder.

Second problem this week has been the fact that I'm terribly self-conscious. After a day or so spent sitting silently in a meeting, I become increasingly convinced that everyone else is consumed by wondering why I don't contribute more. This leads to self-doubt and even, given half a chance, self-loathing.

My main question, I imagine, should be: in what way have I moved on since my 12th birthday?

Aaaah well. Onward and upward.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

update on my life (or part of it)

Few weeks back I blogged about my 'to try or not try for paid church ministry' dilemma.

Shortly after writing that post, I decided 'twas not the career for me: 'church leadership' systems are too riddled with temptation and corruption; the only real reason for entering into them is a need for status and respect; it's far too likely that, whatever my initial idealism, I would end up serving nobody but myself and contributing less to the world than I do as a lowly pew-warmer. Or getting stupidly busy and stressed. No, no, no, I thought. No, no, no.

Last week, for some reason that I really can't put my finger on, I began to change my mind (again). It struck me that, while I will be dubious about the concept of 'calling to the ministry' until it sits on equal terms in church dialogue with 'calling into banking' and 'calling into admin', it does in fact make practical sense for me to be a 'minister'. Just look at the things I'm good at, the things I enjoy, the things that move me and that I'm willing to make sacrifices for. Look at my history and my circumstances. It all works. I love God. I'm a Christian. I care about the church. I see potential for helping people to make the most out of their lives in a church context.

I've also come to the realisation that my current and my previous jobs have ruled out for me the option of ordination as an Anglican priest. For good or bad, my experiences in those contexts have put me off. Other experiences would have encouraged me, I know, and no doubt if I'd worked in Baptist House I'd be gagging for the C of E. But you only have one life!

Tomorrow I'm going to talk to my minister about all of this. Which is a bit nerve wracking because he hardly knows me. I tend to waffle vaguely when I'm nervous, so he might decide I'd be useless. Or I might change my mind about the whole thing before I get there.

We'll see.......

Monday, March 19, 2007

mr and mrs


Two good friends got married at the gorgeous, old Lord Leycester Hospital building in Warwick on Saturday. Strangely, for somebody who was invited to 14 weddings last year alone (I kid you not) this was the first 'non church' wedding ceremony I'd been to.

The bride, Danny, looked stunning in scarlet. We ate Indian sweets, samosas and curry followed by mango ice cream, then danced to a juke box. I had been asked to read a couple of poems during the ceremony, which was a privilege but surprisingly scary. I'd have been fine with a bible.....

Danny and Alex have really been married for ages. They've been together ten years. It was fantastic to see them declare their commitment in the presence of people they love. I got so far into the sense of celebration that I had to hold my tongue to prevent the occasional 'amen' squeaking out. You can take the girl out of the church.......

Very good indeed. Congratulations, guys!

And, as always, it was great to catch up with friends in Leamington. Lovely, lovely friendies.

PS - One bizarre thing about civil marriagies is that there can be no mention whatsoever of relgion or God. I had, until Saturday, blamed this on militant secularists. But it turns out that the church requested it be so. Very, very worrying........

Sunday, March 11, 2007

prayer?


Read an article about prayer the other day. (Work-related hazard).

The writer was chiding Christians who pray fervently for trivial things, like a parking space at a busy supermarket. He said such prayers, and the ensuing praise when they are 'answered', are symptomatic of poor theology. Do we believe that God is prone to clicking his fingers and creating a parking space just because we ask? And, if that is what we believe, how do we justify the fact that the same God didn't do anything when someone else prayed that their friend wouldn't die of cancer. Or when so many prayed for an end to the Holocaust. Etc.

I get his point. I've been irritated with the 'parking space' Christians too.

But I've also done 'parking prayers'. (Actually, when I'm driving, my attitude is one of constant, fervent prayer that there will be no bloodshed.)

I know that prayer isn't about getting what I want. It's more profound than that.... But if my response to pathetic, trivial needs did not include reference to God, wouldn't that demonstrate an even more shallow theology? Doesn't thanking him for daily 'blessings' and blaming him for daily irritations demonstrate an awareness of his proximity?

Prayer is a deeply significant part of my life. But so much of it remains a mystery to me. And this guy got me thinking......

Whaddy'all reckon?




Thursday, March 08, 2007

sex, sex, sex

Flipping heck! Blog readers - I need a break from conversations about sex.

Homosexual sex is the big one. There are people in my office who make reference to this during every verbal exchange, be that a discussion of staples, communion wine or which pub to go to for lunch. At least one colleague, I'm sure, thinks of nothing other than gay people and what they get up to in the bedroom. Half the time I find this boring. Half the time, infuriating. Half the time, depressing.

And that's one half too many for anybody.

Furthermore, not a day goes by without me learning that some married person I've just met (often in an important church job) is having an affair. Or has had at least one affair with another married person in an important church job. Or is not to be trusted because they're always trying to have an affair.....

It's all rather disconcerting. I have been party to more conversations about sex in six months working for the Anglican Communion than I was during five years as a student of English Literature....

Saturday, March 03, 2007

You can choose your friends.....


We recently went out for dinner with Jon's sister, Rachel, and her fiance Tom. Tom is a Captain in the army.

They have a nifty little sports car. Four adults don't quite fit inside it. Tom and I, in the back, struggled a bit. Tom struggled most because the only spaces for his head were the parcel shelf and the area between the handbrake and the roof.

I would have felt sorry for him, had I managed to stop laughing for long enough.

Makes you worry a little for our country's military defences, really.......

Friday, February 23, 2007

Lent - what's it all about?

Just read an interesting column in the Church Times about the current trend to make an achievement of Lent: it becomes a self-improvement or detox time. The writer, Giles Fraser, discusses how difficult it is, in our success-orientated society, to get away from that kind of mindset and do things simply because they get you off the treadmill for a while, disregarding altogether their 'purpose'.

It's a funny time, Lent. I always find it meaningful and moving but I'm not sure why. Easter is my favourite time of year: that's partly due to increasing hours of daylight. (The best time to start a new job is very early Spring: you begin full of anticipation of approaching summer and have a long wait before autumn term darkness and stress kicks in).

My most striking celebration of Lent was to give up make-up, when I was about 22 and took myself a little too seriously. (Which is not to say the make-up thing didn't do me good....) This year, I've been slightly less ambitious and simply given up reading the free Metro newspaper on the trains. The writing is awful and the content depressing: every other page is about someone stabbing someone or beating them brutally. I'm sure reading it has a negative impact on my day: so I'm trying to read the bible or a good novel instead.

Jon and I have given up alcohol on weekdays - unless abstinence would impact our socialising with others! So maybe we are buying into the 'detox' thing a bit.

I'm also checking out the ship of fools website each day: they have 40 suggested Lenten activities. Ship of Fools is never too pious or earnest, so I have high hopes.

Giles Fraser has also encouraged me to be less 'purpose-driven'.......and I think I'll enjoy that!




Saturday, February 17, 2007

"...booked any holidays yet this year?"

So. Yesterday I got my hair cut.

Is it just me, or are hairdressers' mildly stressful places?

First of all, I had to explain what I wanted 'doing'. And I haven't learned hairstyle language. "Make it shorter and tidier" is always my response, illiciting a sweet smile that says: "you are very dull indeed and clearly rather insufficient..."

Then they washed my hair in a basin and I wondered if my neck would ever recover.

At the cutting stage, you have to negotiate the disconcerting extremes of hairdresser behaviour. Some 'stylists' (did you notice that? That's the correct word, that is) talk incessantly and compel me to pretend to be deeply interested in things that, in reality, bore me to tears. Or they ask a barrage of questions, the answers to which confirm their suspicion that I am extremely odd.

Or else they don't speak at all, thus forcing me to gab away asking them questions that are probably equally confusing and uninteresting....

There's also the issue of being offered a drink. Aaargh. Yesterday I was thirsty and requested a squash when the chance arose. But just when are you supposed to take a glug? They place the cup on a table below the mirror in front of you, just out of reach without having to move your head. And they're cutting your hair, so you can't move your head. So the drink sits there, possibly getting cold. Often I just leave it, untouched. Yesterday I gulped the whole thing down while trying to pay. Probably dribbled a bit. But by then their opinion of me was so low that I'm sure it didn't matter.

After the cutting, I was asked what I thought about my new hair. "It's the same but neater" I wanted to say. But this seemed ungrateful. Instead I mumbled, as always, "very nice, thanks". What would happen if I ever hated it, I do not know. Probably "very nice, thanks."

Finally, can someone please tell me if you are supposed to leave a tip? To me, a hair cut seems way too expensive already. But I'm sure I'm not imagining the look of mild hatred and disdain that I'm usually given when I pay the exact amount and no more, waiting for 50p change if necessary?

I don't know.

Don't have to go through it again for a few months, at least.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

lightness of being.....


Looking at snow is a kind of otherworldly experience. It's such a bright white, it's so soft and omnipresent but so temporary. Its reflected light seems to travel through, behind your eyes and under your ribs.

Playing beautiful music makes you want to leave your body and dive into the world where that music really exists, without any interruption or flaw.

A deep snowfall and a moving melody evoke a kind of sensual excitment and longing that has to be something to do with the joys and the yearnings of mortality.....

I walked round the block at 715 this morning in my wellies, I was so excitable about the snow.
And the other day I rediscovered a piece of cello music that, somehow, I had forgotten all about. It is the most haunting piece of cello music I know. I hadn't played it for years. I can't play it very well any more but it was still a privilege to enter into its world again.

Praise God for the little, unexpected, gifts of life.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Bridget Jones


Last night Jon agreed to watch some of 'Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason' with me. Hurrah!

This was no mean feat. It involved emotional anguish and mental wrestling for both of us: I'm not proud of everything I said and did in order to persuade him. We watched half of the film together, without injury or undue stress, and have taped the second half to watch some other time.I have to concede that two hours of such chicky flickyness isn't good for anyone's health.....

But I do like Bridget. She's the person I'd be if I allowed every silly thought and insecurity to manifest itself fully in my behaviour. The title 'The Edge of Reason' sums up her thought life perfectly. But, then, lots of her political views are spot on.

I can sense some concern among you, dear readers. Never fear, though, Jon is doing ok. We watched an episode of Angel afterwards, to re-establish his equilibrium before bed.

Friday, January 26, 2007

which bird do you fancy?


My former boss used to tell me I was 'swan-like'. Sadly not due to grace or beauty. But because I always appeared calm and in control, regardless of how much my legs were flapping wildly underwater.

I can appear unruffled in most situations, regardless of how I feel. I can hide annoyance and distress when diplomacy so requires.

But is this a good thing?

Something that makes me really angry is when people act as if another person is inferior to them. Because they're young; female; not ordained; unattractive (in appearance or personality); too attractive (ditto); vulnerable; quiet; loud; of differing views to the majority; etc. Usually, this (very common) behaviour manifests itself in subtle ways. I think I usually spot it. And it really irritates me. (The only thing that gets me more angry is seeing someone being bullied.) But I tend to keep my irritation to myself.

Something that makes me really distressed is when relationships get hijacked simply because people insist on putting one another into categories. They say to themselves (something like): "I have put you into this 'box', I have defined you, and now, regardless of what you say and do, I will interpret it all according to my definition. So there's no way we can actually relate properly to one another."

This seems to be what's going on in so many of the church's rows at the moment. People don't actually interact, they just judge one another and let that judgement guide everything they do, and so things get sourer and sourer. And it happens all the time on the 'micro' level as well. In our friendships and workplaces.

Question I sometimes ask myself is, is it better to be a swan? Or to flap around like an ostrich in protest? Has anyone ever taken an ostrich seriously?

Friday, January 19, 2007

skiving?

I haven't been to the office today.

There is an explanation, which I'll summarise:

Wind caused chaos with trains last night. Had nightmare journey home during which coat was ruined and life almost lost. Still extensive problems with transport this morning - I had to walk two miles to an 830 dentist's appointment, for which I was late (healthy teeth, though, hurrah!) Bus back to train station. By this point I was shattered and annoyed. Still delays with many trains. Phoned office to say I'd be later than expected. Was told not to worry about coming in if it was difficult. Decided to take this gifthorse right on home with me and stop even thinking about trying to catch a train.

Have done stuff at home, though, honest!

There is something so wonderful about a day out of the office when everyone else is there and you know you should be too. The resulting glee can be felt even when you're ill, but then it's diluted by general misery and inability to savour fully the sensations of bonus time.

It's impossible to decide whether one SHOULD make the extra effort to get to work on such occasions. There aren't really any guidelines to go by: there's always someone who will tell you to chill out about a bit of time off and someone else who looks at you with bemused concern because they'd never contemplate cheating the system in such a way. I know I'd have been grumpy and useless at work and probably spent so long getting back home again at the end of the day that my ensuing rage would have ruined the weekends of all with whom I came into contact. But I know I could have got there without too much trouble. I know that's what they pay me for.

Aaaaah. Such moral struggles. Better calm my nerves with another small snack and a cuppa.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

am I a freak?

Ok, so this is going to be one of those entries where I waffle incessantly because I'm too emotionally involved with the subject. Sorry. Bear with me in my strangeness....

I frequently wonder about working for the church in a 'minister' type way. For one reason or another, the issue has come to the front of my mind again this week. Whenever that happens, I try to act on my thoughts in some small way. That seems a good way of testing whether or not they are sensible.

It's difficult to know what action to take this time, though. I am having mental wrestles with the whole issue of being a 'minister' (I shall use that as a generic term for priest, vicar, minister, whatever). My problems fall into three categories: 1. My motives. 2. The job. 3. The church(es).

Let's deal briefly and inadequately with these problems.

1. I am impatient, arrogant, insecure and self-obsessed (no better or worse than the average person, probably) and am afraid of letting these qualities lead me into 'the ministry'. I know that minister-type jobs falsely appear the quickest way to get people to listen to what I have to say and to make myself feel significant as a Christian. I tend to think I am terribly wise and important and want people to understand that - I would enjoy the status and respect that being a minister provides. I hate feeling unnoticed and unloved and it is easy to believe that being a minister would change all of that. I like to be the centre of attention. I want to be heard. I think I can do things better than other church leaders that I see in action.

All of these temptations are much more subtle than I can express here, where they sound obvious. But I have seen too many vicars etc who are in their jobs for the wrong reasons.

2. I do not get the whole concept of becoming a vicar/minister whatever. Why is this kind of work granted the worthy title of a 'calling' instead of being a job, like any other? Why is there such a distinction between clergy and 'lay' people at all? Why don't churches just employ people to lead them who have the right skill set, instead of this bizarre scenario where individuals feel 'called' by God and then training colleges/dioceses interview them and decide whether that calling is valid, completely independently of the situation in which they're actually going to work? Why is housing provided and controlled by the churches? Why are ministers expected to work crazy hours? Why are people who are ministers in large churches not trained in management, finance, PR etc? Why is it somehow ok for a minister to spend his time as he sees fit, pursuing the things that strike him as interesting or 'of God', while not actually being accountable to any manager or balance sheet? Doesn't the whole set-up encourage the kind of corruption that all of us are natually prone to as human beings? (Glory-seeking, laziness, irresponsility, workaholism....) And congregations suffer too, either abusing their leaders or fobbing off all responsiblity for the church on them because of the minister's strangely elevated role amongst them.

3. I can see no way of getting into the ministry without affiliating myself with one denomination over and above others. I was brought up Baptist, and think their ideology/theology makes more sense than any other I've come across. But I work for, have attended and also love Anglican churches. Their theology seems rather like a set of excuses that explain the way they happen to be.....but they seem better at actually getting things done well and at being proactive than any other denomination. Far too simply, one denomination has better ideals....the other has better results. I don't think one is superior to the other. And I don't want to have to explain to the 'recruitment' people why I want to be a vicar or a Baptist minister as opposed to working for another denomination. But I know that's a requirement of the recruitment process. And I know that part of the training you are given in any denomination is training to think 'our denomination is the best'.

I understand that a churchgoer has to be part of a particular denomination because that's how things work....but I can't see myself deciding that any church is 'the best'.

Despite all of this, I feel some kind of calling. I long to help people to get to know God and I don't seem to be able to get away from the idea of being some kind of church 'leader'....I just don't know quite where to go from here.

I am also afraid of the impact this kind of career would have on my husband, my future children and my reputation. It's all too complicated.

I'm going to have a beer.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Next year I'm 30....

Hello everyone and happy new year! 2006 has taught/reminded me that:
  • being married is very good
  • California has incredible scenery
  • churches get more confusing the more you think about them
  • I am a bit too obsessive about not getting fat
  • I enjoy public speaking...
  • ...but find it difficult to speak when in meetings
  • Daniel Craig is quite sexy
On a different note, I have been tagged. (See here for game details) by my husband. Below are some facts that I don't think many people know about me.

In return, I tag Joe, Lizzie, Caro, Danny (no blog yet!) and my Dad (Dad, have you got it going yet?)

So.....
Fact 1 - one of my favourite occupations is removing ingrowing hairs from my husband's upper arms
Fact 2 - I can (or could, when I was a journalist) write shorthand at 130 words per minute.
Fact 3 - I once interviewed Doris Lessing for the Birmingham Post and the piece was given a full page
Fact 4 - last night in bed I started moving my legs frantically as if cycling and exclaimed "it's really cool!"
Fact 5 - when I worked in Kenilworth I was once assaulted

I'm sorry that two of those are really me bragging. But I like bragging. And I never dare do it in conversation. (Perhaps this is the same for most people, resulting in almost every Christmas 'round robin' letter becoming an ode to the writer's annual achievements?)