Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ever increasing circles

Had one of those 'ooooohhh, so that's connected to that ...and that's connected to that and .. OH' Google moments yesterday.

The search was loosely related to finding a church in Sheffield and to toddler groups we are attending. It led me to news of clergy I recognised from days of yore and eventually all these things connected to the Nine O' Clock Service

I had heard of this Sheffield worship initiative and knew it to have been the subject of a sex scandal. But details I found in this blog piece and the embedded documentary led me to a fuller story.
It upsets me in particular (in general, the catalogue of abuses of power is very upsetting) because I consider myself part of the 'emerging' movement and now can better understand the suspicion surrounding it. It upsets me because, as a layperson who wants to remain within church structures but find new ways of doing things, Chris Brain is a forerunner who has cast us all under suspicion. It upsets me because the Nine O' Clock service, as a vision of church, appeals to me greatly: social awareness; genuine community; new ways of worshipping; lay people empowered; women given authority; part of but distinct from the denominational structure.

How can it be that those in positions of spiritual and pastoral responsibility idolised Chris Brain and gave him such a platform? He was handed a huge amount of power, very quickly, without question of his character and based (as far as I can gather) exclusively on his charisma. Based on the fact that he could get young people into an ageing church. Based on giddiness about a New Chapter. What a f*** up and a travesty.

When the spokeswoman for survivors of abuse says in the documentary that Brain was indeed grooming women in his congregation but may not have even been aware of this himself, it makes sense. Power is corrupting. All of us get carried away when we are worshipped. I do not for one minute excuse him: I can understand what happened.

I realise this story is old but I think we still have a lot to learn from it. Increasingly, I find the whole idea of being called by God to the priesthood, or to church leadership, or whatever language you want to use to describe God telling you are meant for an elevated role in your worshipping community, troubling. I will write more about that (again!) soon, I expect. Suffice to say that of the seven church communities I have known well, I could only describe two of them as free of abuses of power by their leaders.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Animal instincts.

I was chatting about child-rearing recently with a field biologist who studies mammals.

The conversation started with a discussion of practical decisions faced by human parents - eg, when if ever do you refuse to feed an apparently hungry child during the night? It might be when they have reached a certain age or weight that signifies readiness to be trained. Or when the parent is too exhausted to continue the practice and enforces a cessation. Etc.

The decisions one comes to about such things are often agonised over and judged in moralistic terms. Many of us like to justify ourselves using the latest research, some 'method' or ideological standpoint, a prediction of the impact our choices have on our child's future - or even the mistakes we have perceived in others' parenting.

This is fair enough, to some extent. But it can be rather haughty. My friend pointed out that every animal faces these sorts of choices. For other mammals, the decision is simpler: when the needs of myself and my young are in tension, what resources can I sensibly forgo for their sake? He observed that a mammal bearing few babies during its life, or having just one at a time, will usually devote more of its total energy to keeping that baby alive than its more prolific counterpart.

To return to the night feeding debate .... assuming a family is essentially loving and functional, which is of course not always the case, how is this choice made?

If your need for sleep is greater than your child's need to be fed, you will take the necessary steps. If you have the resources to deny yourself some sleep and your child is hungry, you will more than likely feed them. If you are someone who feels happier when life is predictable, chances are you will train your child to go through the night earlier in his/her life. If you are someone who enjoys the intimacy of night-time feeding and is easy with a lack of routine, you are likely to keep getting out of bed.

We give our children much. But not everything.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Any dream will do

I have been reading Brueggemann's commentary on Genesis (nearly finished - I promise!!) and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

The story of Joseph (the chappy with the coat) and that of Harold's journey invite us to believe in the dream we are given. They are about people who walk in the way of the dream, however unlikely its 'truth' may seem and whatever contrary evidence the world throws at them. They are both well-crafted tales of courage, suffering and unexpected beauty.

Harold decides to walk from one end of the country to the other to keep from dying an old friend stricken with cancer. Joseph (or should I say, those listening to the story about Joseph) is asked to hold onto a dream about a God-given future against all the odds and in the face of hatred, enslavement, false witness etc etc.

I am no advocate for 'blind faith' in things contrary to empirical evidence. But I think most of us, if we're honest, make decisions about our lives based on some kind of dream and after the fact look for the evidence to justify those decisions. It is embarrassing to admit that we act because we have dreamt: it invites mockery and misunderstanding. A dream is experienced by one mind and any power it holds will translate into silliness once it enters conversation.

I also think that it's impossible to know for sure why we end up in the places we do. Have I arrived here at this time of my life because I took that fork in the road? Ignored that route? Walked with that companion? Was hit by that storm? Rested a while there? Whether you follow a dream or follow more prosaic methods, the future will not be mapped.

A dream can never be justified, explained or proven to hold any power. But these compelling stories suggest that following one is better than choosing the route that worldly wisdom or propriety suggest will work out well. That is, better than the path that makes for an easy conversation with our friends and neighbours.

I think I probably spend more time making sure my behaviour makes sense to those around me than I do listening to my dreams.

So from now on I intend to be more of a fruit loop.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Misconceptions, breasts and all that jazz

I have been getting my rant on reading a couple of feminist books related to babies and that.

The first was Misconceptions by Naomi Woolf.

Woolf's personal story is a springboard to discuss the way birth is managed in the USA, amongst other things. I gave birth in Canada - so much better - but I read with horror nonetheless. She believes control in childbirth has been taken from women (the pregnant and their supporters) and handed to doctors and pharmaceutical companies, who tend to view birth as a risky, clinical procedure.

So, you are induced, given an epidural and get a c-section / episiotomy because the hospital wants you to give birth on its timescale and to have after-care it can manage easily; because the drug companies make more money from an epidural and the surgeons make more from a c-section; because a long labour (in the States, they do actually do interventions on a step by step basis depending on the number of hours you're taking and with no reference to your health and wellbeing) means you take up a bed for too long; because an episiotomy is easier to stitch than a tear, although the latter heals more easily. If you're in and out of hospital quickly, having experienced less pain, you're less likely to sue.

If you want to avoid all this, you end up being pushed out of mainstream care towards the 'natural childbirth' camp, which all too often has its own extreme ideology.

Then, I read Breasts by Florence Williams.

The word 'mammal' was coined by a male scientist who wanted mammary glands to be central to humanity. He disliked the (then) popularity of wet nurses.

Today, there are plenty of biologists who spend their days tracking why men find big breasts appealing. Nice work if you can get it..... Williams argues (convincingly) in favour of another school that suggests boobs are primarily for the woman and her child - not the mate. Eg, the breast is pendulous because the human baby cannot support its own head.

Breasts are at particular risk from cancers that could be caused by widely-used household chemicals and a nursing infant is top of the food chain when it comes to toxins in our air, water and food. Yet, the breast is the only organ in the body with no medical specialism. Surely banning anything that might be causing illness is better than pressurising women with medical warnings such as this?

When it comes to breastfeeding, we all have it drummed into us that breast is best. But finding accurate information and getting breastfeeding support in those intense few weeks after birth is often almost impossible. The organisations that do promote breastfeeding - such as the La Leche League - are often militant and ideological, damning women who don't breasteed in an entirely unhelpful fashion.

For my own part, I was induced at 38 weeks 5 days despite the three of us being perfectly healthy. I think the early days of motherhood were much harder for me and my babies because of my overly-clinical birth experience. For the duration of my hospitalisation, I felt like a piece of meat on a conveyor belt, rather than the person in charge.

I received next to no information about breastfeeding before my babies were born, was given contradictory and inaccurate advice by nurses afterwards and it took 3 months to see a lactation consultant. And today, there is at least as much condescension as admiration in the responses I get to the fact I'm breastfeeding twins. It must be even worse for mums who formula feed.

Women take all the blame but get none of the resources. I think that pretty much sums it up.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Feel free, bum, to look big in this.

I realise, since Chickies, how capricious my self-image is.

Before I was pregnant, I thought I hovered on the edge of just about ok in terms of my weight. Looking back on photos of myself pre-gestation I CANNOT BELIEVE what good shape I was in. I can say with no fear of exaggeration that I was toned.  This, by all accounts, should have made me happy. But instead I had no idea it was the case.

Now.... there is limp muscle tone, prune-like tummy and little or no handling of face or hair before an expedition of any kind. But - though it's a cliche - I don't give two figs. I'm a bit of a mess. But the way I look has moved to the periphery of my circle of vision. So, though I look worse, I feel better about the way I look.

My parents came to visit less than a week after the twins were born. We are probably a more-reserved-than-average family. But I didn't think twice about wandering around the flat with no top on. I am not sure if my Dad has been faced with this this since I was ten. But it didn't seem to matter. Babies fed well versus society's idea of propriety? No contest.

The thing is, little girls and perhaps little boys too are taught that the presentation of themselves is all important. We all cultivate the way we look - including the social face we put on - with great care. Our self-image becomes an idol: a thing we worship that is utterly devoid of real value. And all too often, when we should be focusing on someone else, we're hung up on ourselves and how we come across.

Having children is not the only way to shock oneself into a healthier sense of perspective. But it is one way.