Friday, December 10, 2010

methodism: what's that all about, then?

We go to a Methodist church in Chepstow. Purely in terms of ideology, I'd go Baptist and Jon, Anglican. But there are more important things than ideology. And I like the fact we've been Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists and Independent Evangelicals (sorry....) during our lives. I am Ecumenical and proud of it.

What with my Baptist minister patriarch and Anglican career, I am pretty well versed in the hows, whys and what on earths of Church of England (and Wales) and the British Baptists. But the Methodists..... after two years, I still feel rather in the dark about why they exist and what they stand for.
 
The Anglicans think every (Christian) body is really Anglican. More or less anybody, of any Christian mould, can find an Anglican church to suit them. The denomination gets in muddles because it does have some rules, about bishops and communion and stuff, which the 'all' have to somehow agree on despite the diversity. They have some regrettable links with good old Henry VIII, colonialism etc etc, which they can't really escape. And, being the state church, they tend to take the flack for all the madcaps (anti-women, anti gay, creationist etc) Due to that state link, they also have more money and tend to be given a voice in the public arena. Bishops rule the roost. The congregation's will is decided by an elected council - the PCC.

The Baptists resist being subsumed into all-embracing Anglicanism: their churchmanship is at root rebellious not conciliatory. They structurally insist on the independence of a congregation, the humility of a leader, the "priesthood of all believers" (the very prospect of bishops is a no-no) and self-chosen baptism. All very admirable. But with no heirarchy of authority there's more risk of things going wrong. And, in reality, today's Anglican church is no longer that which prompted rebellion. The British baptist church will never divorce itself form the British public's perception of American Southern Baptists - bad, bad PR. There's little central money. No one rules the roost. The congregation's will is decided by all its members.

The Methodists don't have bishops or call their leaders 'priests' (like the Baptists). But they are strict about who can serve communion (like the Anglicans). Their roots lie in rebellion against church corruption (B) but today they seem keen for protestant denominations to join forces (A). They theoretically prioritise the involvement of laypeople in 'priestly' ministry (B) but have strict ideas about who can preach and lead worship (A). They run in circuits - groups of geographically close congregations that share resources and are linked in various ways. Centrally, the denomination is in serious financial trouble. A "Conference" rules the roost (?) The congregation's will is decided in various ways: stewards, a church council, a membership. I am extremely unclear on the roles and responsibilities of any of these groups.

I really like my church. But I have not yet met anybody or read anything sensible and convincing that tells me what really, uniquely matters to Methodists and how that influences their setup. I may not buy into such a manifesto but I would like to know there is one.

A church doesn't need to be right. But, to my mind, it does need considered, faithful convictions underlying the bureaucracy. And those convictions need to be relatively obvious to the interested.
Correction and instruction welcome!

Friday, November 19, 2010

stuff I have been reading

Sometimes I wonder about making this blog a book and film diary, as I always forget what I've seen and read and regret it.

Anyway, of the books I recall, I've recently ploughed through Mantel's Wolf Hall, the Larsson trilogy, Greene's The Man Within, Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (never read before - how awful!), Williams Thanks and Silence & Honeycakes and Hauerwas Resident Aliens. Also an anthology of modernist short stories edited by Malcolm Bradbury.

Actually, I really enjoyed them all. Boring that, isn't it? Larsson got a bit tedious as it went on - I mean, how appealing did he (aka Mikael Blomkvist: author and hero are clearly one and the same in the former's imagination) think he was to women??? Get over yourself! But a good way to pass an hour or ten, in the main.

Loved Wolf Hall. Can't wait for part 2 of Cromwell's life to come out. Can you imagine having Henry VIII as your boss? Workplace stress redefined!

Dead interesting to read Hauerwas, who we heard speak at Greenbelt. He wasn't a very good speaker but I was sufficiently intrigued by his ideas to buy the book, which has provoked lots of thoughts. Not in absolute agreement on the church as totally distinctive 'colony' within society. But did make me question whether my particular brand of liberalism at times contributes to the church seeming obsolete rather than the radical community it can be at its best.

More on that later, no doubt.

Good old Rowan an inspiration, as ever. Thank God for a man such as him as our archbishop. Quite seriously.

Friday, November 05, 2010

craftsmanship

We all admire people with charisma, confidence and 'the x-factor'. Big personality and little effort win the day. Celebrity is most desirable. Many of our industries rely on marketing and PR departments because the actual content of what they're offering doesn't matter: if they can persuade people to buy it, they're successful.


If I'm not immediately good at a task (or able to appear so) I am tempted to give up. I assume the 'right' places for me to be in life are those where from the outset I feel confident, get admiration and have no need for being the stranger, for tuition, for practice and discipline.

Craftsmanship is unfashionable. That is, real mastery of a skill, situation, area of expertise, relationship or sense of community. It can only be achieved by trying over and over and waiting and failing and persisting. All the while learning from others who're further advanced. And few of us have patience with that.

I'd like to really get to know the people around me properly. And to develop the infant skills I have so I can be my most effective. But am I willing to listen to others, and be a novice and fall over a few times in the process? I hope so. I think that is the way forward. Whatever Simon Cowell and Alan Sugar may have to say about it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

achievable ambition

I find most of my ambitions in life are for my beloved, rather than myself. Not quite sure what this says about me and my society, but anyhoo......

Quite excited about the entrance of Miliband junior on the political front lines. Clever, pleasant, passionate about the right sorts of thing. Vast improvement on Brown. Very unlike the superficial 'try-to-be Blair' Cam, Clegg and even (though he is quite fit)  brother David.

So, my new ambitions for husband are:

1. Win a Nobel prize (don't mind which)

2. Become drinking buddies with the Milibands (well, they're not married but whatever her surname is.)

Probably number 2 should come first, before we all get too old.

I feel these are achievable. Jon is a member of the labour party and voted Ed. He is also scientist. I am now going to work on a strategy for inserting regular, encouraging / gently pressurising / inspiring speeches into our daily life to help him on his way.

Friday, October 08, 2010

faith

I find it extremely difficult to talk about my faith.

When with those who profess to be christian, my instinctive suspicion is that they will have a very different take from me on what that means. For those who would not align themselves with my religion, I feel paralysed in anticipation of their views about or bad experiences of it.

My guess is that increasing numbers of churchgoing people have this communication problem. And maybe that's a good thing. I mean, I think people of faith need to find ways and be allowed to articulate that faith. But I don't think it's necessarily bad that those of us who've been in churches for years are finding ourselves less confident in our speaking.

Many christian words have been hijacked - perhaps especially "God". For centuries past, religious language was not deemed worthy to summarise such a concept. And I think we are coming to realise that we aren't fully qualified to do so, either. Many of our claims to proof and evidence have been undermined by science, by contradictory life experiences, by new discoveries about the historicity of the bible, by a postmodern, globalised society. Many of us have listened to speeches made on and off pulpits and realised the words spoken are not our language. All of us have watched dwindle the privileged position of the Christian voice in government, education, marriage, international relations. And many of us have not been able to say in all honesty that we think this is A Bad Thing.

All I know, ultimately, is my own experience. Which is informed by countless hours over many years spent attempting to communicate with 'God', reading the bible, socialising with others who call themselves Christian, attending churches, thinking deeply about who I am and why I am here and what the hell is going on. And my experience has deepened, not reduced, a conviction that I have been lovingly made by somebody with whom it is possible to communicate.

But I cannot claim much more than that. And those hours and years have left me a lot less sure of what I once thought I knew. And a lot more likely to accept that the other person standing next to me has something to teach me, regardless of whether they nominally share my faith. And a lot more hesitant about rolling God up into the words of my mouth.

Which doesn't mean, as I guess this post proves, that you'll get me to shut up altogether!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Croatia

Northen and Central Dalmatia. Fabulous food and white wine, clear blue 23°C seas, stunning landscapes and cities.

We started with five nights in Zadar, travelled inland for two nights at Plitvice Lakes national park then spent four nights in Trogir.

Zadar is funky. A tourist-lite Rome, it has cute places to eat; dramatic city walls; a market groaning with fresh figs, sheep cheese and local honey; pizza, coffee and ice cream cafes galore; countless little churches and ancient ruins. It also has the sea organ, an instrument built into the sea wall that creates haunting, whale-like cries as the waves rush into the hidden holes and push air up through the pavement. At night, the next-door Sun Salutation uses the day's energy of sea and sun to put on a spectacular random light show. We spent several a happy half-hour just staring at these mesmerising installations.

Day 1 (arrival) - explored Zadar, found the boatmen of Zadar
Day 2 - explored Zadar more
Day 3 - took a boat tour to Kornati National Park
Day 4 - went to Paklenika National Park
Day 5 - went to the barren and beautiful island of Pag

It was raining when we got to Plitvice and stayed damp throughout (actually a blessing because even in the wet the place was teeming with tourists). The lakes are absolutely gorgeous: little waterfalls everywhere interspersed with deep, bright green pools of the clearest water. We felt a bit misled by the Lonely Planet, though, which didn't warn us about how heavily managed the park is, the Yugoslav prison block atmosphere of the hotels or the general drudgery of food on offer. A full day visit would have been preferable to two nights on site. Definitely a sight to see, though.

The hospitality of pretty Trogir helped us recover. A charming hotel on the traffic-free island that is the town centre delighted us with outdoor breakfasts and excellent service. This was our favourite city: more intimate than Zadar but just as gorgeous, with lovely places to swim within easy walking distance.

Again, we felt let down by Lonely Planet with regards to Krka, as tourist management was overbearing but useful information scarce, so much of the day was spent looking for park highlights in the car. I was, however, asked in conversation by a French couple if I was "Quebequoise" which made me rather pleased with myself.....

Split was impressive but too big for a stay and very touristy. I'm glad we didn't bother with the drive south to Dubrovnik. It was worth the tricky, unsigned hunt round Trogir streets (as wide as your arm) for the local ferry booking office to the tiny Drvenik Veli. No other Brits on board and a fabulous little island to swim off on arrival.

Day 8 - explored Trogir
Day 9 - trip to Split
Day 10 - visited little island of Drvenik Veli
Day 11 - visited Krka National Park

We then drove back to Zadar and spent our final afternoon chilling out in The Garden. Very cool.

Flights were Stansted to Zadar. Prices on location not cheap but a bit cheaper than the UK. Croatia's culture changes from a Western European vibe to something more Eastern European as you move inland. They don't have the €. Everywhere, people speak English or are ashamed not to. Service is generally good but you feel a bit more will need to be done (or perhaps will be done out of necessity) if the tourist industry reaches its full potential. You have to be a bit savvy to make your holiday work. Our guide book told us you could get around by bus and that was our intention, but we hired a car on day 2: it is, in fact, essential.


I can heartily recommend this part of the world and wouldn't be at all surprised if it catches on rapidly in the next few years.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Employment

I now have two jobs!

My principal employer is Christian Aid, for whom I am the half-time Regional Coordinator for Wiltshire. It is so great to have a job where I feel 100% motivated by organisation and cause. I am actually paid to learn more about development issues that I have always cared about but, as a busy pragmatist, never got very far with.

I am staying on at Affinity 10.5 hours. This makes a 30-hour week - one day off to chill, do chores (Jon is hoping!), write and do some church stuff. On paper, an ideal scenario. I am very excited - if aware that the 30 hours could easily expand into 40 or more if I'm not careful.

CA will be the largest organisation I have worked for. At Affinity, with its 6-person team, I am part of every decision and operation: fixing my computer; keeping on top of hours worked and holiday; decision-making; contract-writing; cleaning; purchasing - the lot! There is one 'department'. At CA, there is a 6-hour online training module on how to use the intranet; an IT department that controls my laptop at a distance and doesn't allow me access rights; a mountain of policies and resources and databases to navigate; a network of colleagues, 100s of whom I will never meet; a lengthy approval process to go through before a penny is spent.

How interesting it will be to work for both!

Monday was my first day at CA. Lunchtime was tricky. I popped out for a sandwich and had a dilemma about the ethics of my diet. Is it OK to drink coke zero?! In the end I settled for a glass of water. No doubt I shall loosen up over time.....

Sunday, June 13, 2010

empathy?

I once did a personality test with a management consultant.

You ended up with five key 'traits' My top one was 'empathy'. I have always thought of myself as empathetic - and seen it as a largely female trait. Sometimes I am so weighed down by a sense of others that I lose all sense of myself. If I sit down and exercise my imagination, I can walk in someone else's shoes. If someone exhibits an (even very subtle) emotional response to something, I feel it. If a person's predicament is presented to me in an artistic way (film or tv; written word; verbal explanation) I live it.

But I am not so good at empathising with someone when there is no emotion or communication involved. I often completely fail to predict that an action or set of circumstances will have a certain impact on a person. I am not pragmatic in my empathy: I am sentimental.

Quite a lot of blokes are the other way around: they'll fail to notice a communication or presentation of emotion but will foresee and make allowances for the practical impact a situation is likely to have on someone else's life.

I reckon that's empathy of a different kind. Maybe we should have a masculine and feminine variety.

Fempathy and manpathy.

Catchy.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

twi-lite

We watched Twilight: New Moon this weekend.

I am no a snob when it comes to popular culture. I get hooked on Big Brother. I love Britney. The Beckhams are amongst my heroes. I even enjoy Dawson's Creek, the most ridiculously self-indulgent exploration of teen angst out there.


I do not, however, understand the popularity of these films. They consist of repeated and unvaried scenes of two reasonably attractive, personality devoid young people: approaching one another; standing quietly in gloomy surroundings; staring into each others eyes; uttering one or two syllables; sighing; walking away from one other.

A few other people wander into shot from time to time to mooch and mumble. There are some potentially interesting baddies but the heavily edited snippets you see of them don't even achieve 'vaguely disconcerting' on the scary-o-meter.

I have read a few pages of the first book. Which was better. But if you're after melodramatic teen romance with some convincing vampire fantasy thrown in, this pales in comparison to Buffy. (The seven series of which I have watched 4 times.)

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

hygiene?

On Friday I will be going to see the hygienist.


I have done so only once before. That was after 10 years of not visiting the dentist at all, in any capacity. I wasn't even sure what a hygienist did at that stage (I just wanted my teeth cleaned and the NHS don't do that any more.) They were a little bemused by my lackadaisical approach to my mouth, I think, and passed judgement on me too.

Anyway, I endeavour to go through this again because my teeth did feel squeaky clean afterwards. And those little stains between them were disparu sufficient to please the most vain among us (me?) And I have a big event in a week or so, at which sparkly teeth will give me more shaky ground on which to base a little self-confidence.


But I quiver with fear in advance of my trip because I know the petite, well-groomed lady she is bound to be will attack my mouth with one of these. And I still taste the trauma of the last visit, as I sat there innocently awaiting a toothbrush and instead had a chisel rammed viciously, vigourously and at length between all my teeth. It left me a bit shaky for hours. There was a fair amount of blood too.

The price I pay for beauty..... ah me! Better go chew some chocolate.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

mental health

Last night I dreamed about walking up the stairwell of a high towerblock and being absolutely driven to measure the width of each and every step.

The night before, I dreamed about:
1. a murderer stuffing someone's mouth full of pretzels and then skewering them through the throat
2. the same murderer skinning someone else
3. the same murderer sawing a third person in half with a chain saw.

It was all rather graphic and blood strewn.

I fear all this may not bode well for my mental health. On the other hand, if your brain spews out all the bad stuff in dreams, maybe this kind of episode is why I'm such a delightful little lady to be with when awake.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lent, fasting, salvation and all that jazz

For me, redemption is an ongoing process of being freed from life's (little) entrapments.

I may never find it easy to disregard others' opinions but if I dwell on the fact that those opinions are not my god, especially when they feel most oppressive, their influence shall fall into its proper place.

I may always tend to fatalism but if I try (and allow others to try to help me) to develop an awareness that in most situations I face, I have the power to make them better and easier, the temptation to feel impotent and despondent will ease.

I may always be stressed out by those tasks that remain undone but if I persist in stepping away from the to do list on a regular basis, I hope to develop an outlook that says "I have worth, even if I achieve nothing today."

Little tasks and habits help: a day's pause before responding to a critical email; a phone call to someone who loves me whenever I feel small; a long lunchbreak on a hectic day. Simple stuff.

And most of the negatives are also positives. I value others, so listen to them and allow them to influence me. It's just that sometimes they become too influential. I recognise my limitations and so never behave like a control freak. It's just that sometimes I give up altogether. I am conscientious and can be trusted to get a job done. It's just that sometimes I decide that therein lies my value.

The stuff of life is rarely straightforward 'good' or 'bad'. It is a jumble. And when I read the bible, I don't see rules and doctrine. I see a miscellaneous collection of texts from different periods and cultures that, given full attention, makes wonderful sense of the jumble. Through earthy advice and an underlying message: there is only one god whose plan for you is fulfilment and prosperity - make time to look for him in amongst all the clamour.

That is what I am going to try to think about this Lent. And if that means giving up working hard, well, the Lord will convince my boss........ Ha ha!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Haiti etc

What is a 'good' reaction to humanitarian disaster?

Do we make every effort to put ourselves in the shoes of the people affected, because true empathy is powerful? And is it possible to get better at empathy over time? (I think my imagination has grown better equipped to perceive the plight of people far away - but I'm not sure it does any good. Except perhaps help me pray. And of course it is hard to see what that achieves.)

Do we try to reach these people in some way - giving our time to work with the disadvantaged; sending money?

Do we acknowledge we can't help but instead motivate ourselves to seek out the lost and poor and suffering that might be closer? Some say there are always needs under our noses, if we can bothered to see them. But let's face it, things are so much better for my neighbourhood than they ever will be for Congo or Haiti or Afghanistan.

Do we campaign for our own government to do more to reach the disadvantaged? How, exactly? And how to avoid the self-righteousness evident in so many campaigners?

Do we try to learn more about tragic international situations? And how to begin that, when there are too many to count and the facts are hard to come by?

Do we feel gratitude that such things aren't happening to us? And isn't that simply smugness?

Do we allow such situations to make their impact on us; rather than focusing on how we make an impact on them?

I think what happens to a person in Haiti today is a part of my own life. And I think feeling thankful I do not suffer the same is valid. And I think the thanks and the solidarity are part of what it means to believe in a God who is both here and there. And I think tears might be the best reaction.

But what all this actually achieves...... I don't know.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

2010 lah lah lah

Another year, another step closer home. Ha ha!

In terms of resolutions, in 2010 I shall try to only care about what I actually care about. If you know what I mean.
In terms of best books read.....not the most amazing year. But I got the Britney biography and Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising quintet for Chrissy, so things are looking up (!) Oryx and Crake was pretty good but fizzled out at the end.
In terms of best films seen - District 9 I think makes it to number 1.
In terms of best TV - watched all five The Wire seasons this year. Heartbroken but satisfied. May I adopt DuKwon?
Significant deaths - Michael Jackson (first childhood hero) and my Grandfather.
Significant births - too many! Including a niece.

Off we go!