Transforming a bad day… writing it out!

P1010097.JPGToday is a bad day, I wish I could tell you why, why I woke at 5am, with voices and accusations of the past echoing around my head, and why the lists of ought-to-do’s loom large in my mind. I got up and made tea, did a few things and then went back to bed, hoping to sleep for a couple of hours. Four hours later I force myself out of bed, and cancel a couple of appointments. If they had been essential I would have gone, I would as I do over and over again, have found the energy to go. Maybe I should just give in, allow the blackness to overtake me and stop. Maybe….

I had intended to swim today, and yesterday, but events meant that I have done neither of these, and while I may have had the energy yesterday I certainly don’t have it today. Tomorrow I have a meeting, I have no idea of I will make it, the temptation to send an apology now is great, but tomorrow is another day and I may have energy tomorrow.

It has been raining all morning, but the forecast for this afternoon is brighter, I would like to go out for a walk, a walk would do me good, I could take my camera and allow myself to become absorbed by the beauty around me, in this I find myself able to worship God when words leave me struggling, which is odd because I like words and I use words all the time!

I have lit a candle on my prayer table, it stands by a vase of flowers from the garden, sweet-peas in purples, pinks and whites, dotted with lavender and a single blue cornflower, beside them stands a miniature  copy of Rublev’s Icon, the trinity beacon me to the table, I accept their invitation if only to lay my head upon the table and weep. Who or what my tears are for I am unsure, I am not feeling sorry for myself, just a deep sorrow, certainly conversations I have had and incidents I have witnessed play their part, as do other events…

But I have hope, I believe, firmly believe in the Divine Creator who holds the end from the beginning and will bring all things to a glorious completion, a new heaven and new earth where there will be no sickness, sorrow or pain ( Rev 21). I believe that, that transformation is going on even now, even in me on my dark days, and that if I give myself to the process as Jesus did, even struggling in the horror of Gethsemane, then I will see that transformation, in fact we all will whether we enter willingly into it or not, because the creator and re-creator is at work at all times, the powerful Spirit will not be stopped.

I have hope because even my darkness can be redeemed, not banished or cast out but fully incorporated and fully transformed into newness, nothing will be lost, where dross is burnt up, it will be for the refining of gold, and all will be well.

As I write the rain has stopped, and a streak of blue is showing in the sky where the clouds have parted, my stomach growls reminding me I have not eaten today, I will not ignore,it, I will gather myself up and finally get dressed. I will probably walk and hopefully meet friends later. This day might not be so bad after-all, but it has taken me time to get going, I have been busy, too busy maybe, there have been a number of stressful things to deal with this week, maybe all I needed was to give myself permission to say that, and to rest. The black-dog is at heel now, tomorrow is another day….

 

 

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I see you

I met you  again today, and as we often do we chatted about what we are reading, you like mystery novels, so do I , we talk about our favourite authors, our liking for unusual heroes,  and our liking for a twist in the plot.

You drank your coffee quickly, I sipped mine, a luxury maybe, but we lingered at the table, enjoying the shared companionship, shared humanity.

I bumped into you following the sharing of Italian meal, an end of year celebration, you were sitting on the street corner, begging again, you hate this for yourself, I hate it too, but we are both helpless caught in an unjust system. I buy you lunch, you hate this too, but it is the least I can do.

You had hoped for a flat, one had been offered, but following the Grenfell Tower disaster, flats that would have once been available now aren’t . This is right and this is wrong. You should not be offered sub-standard accommodation,  but there should be accommodation available to you.  You work when you can, but somehow the wheels of injustice spit you out again, and so I find you here.

You are my friend, but I feel unable to help, you, a the same goes for the other you’s I meet. Yet you are all unique. I see you so I  tell your story, maybe I can do no more. ..

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She can’t be the Dr! Oh yes she can…

It has been long awaited, and keenly anticipated, it always is, but the announcement that Jodie Whittaker will be the new Dr Who has caused quite a stir. Some have received the news gladly others are voicing complaint, how can a woman be a Time Lord? In these days when we no longer ( on the whole) add the once obligatory *ess to a job description to denote her gender I wonder why people are so shocked! On the other hand I am not shocked because for all of our protestations about equality, inequality lurks very much below the surface for most women, and now and then raises its ugly head above ground to remind us that it is still alive and well.

In these days of women Bishops, and when the Methodist Church the denomination I belong to has here in Great Britain at least had several women Presidents and many women leaders, I still come across people who from time to time refuse to accept my ministry because I am a woman, or worse people who pretend to accept it but are condescending and patronising in their acceptance.

In these days when women’s rights still need to be fought for, and when recent legislation in some US States has diminished them, when we are still called by some the weaker sex ( which just shows you that men have not tried childbirth!), and when our emotions and minds are questioned or ridiculed, we need strong role models who will stand up and speak out.

Of course Dr Who is a fantasy/ Si-Fi TV  show, but it is a long running one, and the changes of Dr are somewhat bizarrely the cause for great announcements and considered newsworthy, so does it matter that the new Dr is a woman?  Well I for one am glad, though I rarely watch it these days, because it will allow for a development of the role and perhaps a new direction for the Dr, and while it can be argued that  every Dr brings something new, I hope that Jodie Whittaker will bring something more, Chris Chibnall the head writer and casting director certainly thinks so;

“I always knew I wanted the Thirteenth Doctor to be a woman and we’re thrilled to have secured our number one choice,” he said. “Her audition for The Doctor simply blew us all away. Jodie is an in-demand, funny, inspiring, super-smart force of nature and will bring loads of wit, strength and warmth to the role. The Thirteenth Doctor is on her way.”

I suspect that the fuss will die down eventually, one or two will stop watching the programme, remaining outraged that the Dr is a woman, and one or two, possibly including me, will watch the Christmas episode out of curiosity. I may not be a fan, certainly not of the can’t miss an episode variety, but I am glad that the new Dr is to be a woman if only because it shows that we do still inhabit a patriarchal society, as much as we like to say we don’t, for if we didn’t then it would be Jodie’s acting abilities that were being discussed not her gender but she is a mould breaker, the first, and firsts are always noteworthy, and in a world where the dystopian drama of the Handmaid’s Tale seems possible, we need to welcome her. She can be the Dr!

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Calling the Black Dog by name…

o-BLACK-DOG-facebookDear Black Dog,

you and I have a strange relationship, at one time you were there in my life making your presence felt everyday, blocking out the sun and demanding attention. I learned to tame you by befriending you, by acknowledging your presence, and by giving you healthy if occasionally broken boundaries. It was a learning process for us both, I guess it still is or I would not be writing this, I wish I could have banished you from my life, but that is not to be, and so we must learn to live with one another.

So I live with you, and you with me, I know that you would prefer more attention, that you’d like to sit and cuddle up with me on the sofa under a dark and soul dampening blanket, but I know that we need exercise you and I so I have learnt that when you become insistent that I need the motivation to get out and walk, if only around my garden.

You are not fond of music, but I am, I find it helps me to take my focus from you and to seek other horizons, writing and drawing/ painting do the same, so I try, even from the darkness of the sofa to draw, to write, to listen. I might pat you on the head from time to time, but please don’t insist too much on my attention.

I ask nicely, because I know that trying to evict you from my life, and beating myself up for ever letting you in are not options for me. I have spent long days wondering how you came to choose me and looking in detail at what I might have done to welcome you, all of that was unhelpful of course, and only made you feel and act much bigger. When I fill my days with “if onlys” you enjoy the attention it gives , somehow me beating myself up makes you snuggle up to me more and more, so I am not going to do that, I am going to accept that you are a part of my life, but you are going to have to accept that with the exception of occasional lapses I am not going to let you run things they way you did at first, and if necessary I will get help from others to make sure this happens.

Now and then however you sneak up on me, you have done over recent months slowly demanding more attention and stubbornly resisting my resolve to keep you in check, for a couple of days now you have loomed large in my life, and while I recognised the busyness and warning signs that should have alerted me to your sneaky ways, I was not prepared for the way you climbed into my lap and stuck your nose in my face.

Today, I am saying no, I am calling you to heal and demanding that you climb off my lap, today I am going to turn on my music and get out into the fresh air, today I am going to talk to someone and ask for help, today I am going to face the things that brought on your damp slobbery insistence, and to look for ways to deal with those.

So for now I am going to pat you on the head and tell you firmly to get off my lap and lie down. I am going to refocus as much as I can, and not beat myself up for the things I can’t do, I am going to seek my hopes and dreams and seek God, the God who greets me in the darkness, and who walks with me through the chaos of  your making until the valley gives way to the plain and I find myself once again in a spacious place, a place where breathing is not laboured and the light is not darkened by your shadow.

I will take things step by step, receive each day as a gift, each moment as an opportunity, and when (not if) I turn to find you gazing into my eyes and looking for that opportunity to snuggle up on the sofa, I hope I will have the resolve to say no, but if I don’t please know that that resolve will return for I am choosing life, real life and not your dullness of living.

I am fortunate I know, because I have a faith and friends who help me to pull through, I have hope, and confidence and even joy at times, others visited by you and your friends are not in such a good place, and sometimes you defeat them. Sometimes the shame of your presence is so stifling, the silence you insist upon so all enveloping that help is not sought when it could be for fear of being misunderstood. Sometimes we try to disguise you, or ignore you, or drag ourselves day by day with you like a lead weight pulling us down, but I know this, when I dare to call you by name, and when I dare to speak out, and let you be visible then your power is diminished.

So I am calling you by name Black Dog, you are depression, and you can take a variety of forms. I am calling you by name and asking you to get off my lap so that I can stand tall, I am calling you by name and telling you that the doubts and fears you are whispering to me are just that whispers and rumours. These doubts and fears are not who I am, I have gifts and talents, I have interests and dreams, and I will not be defined by you even when you loom large.

Dear Black Dog, today I am choosing life!

Sally

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Jayden K Smith

social_cohesionMy Facebook inbox is overflowing with warnings from my well meaning friends, the message is simple, beware Jayden K Smith, he is a hacker, he is out to steal all of your information, and your friends information, and their friends too. In short Jayden K Smith is a nasty piece of work, under no circumstances should you befriend him! A quick search on Snopes reveals that this is the same hoax that began circulating in 2009.

The fact that my usually sensible friends can fall so easily for this hoax and start sending it on to all of their friends is remarkable,  and yet it seems to say something about our fear of being made vulnerable. The very suggestion that a hacker could steal our passwords and financial information sets us into defensive mode very quickly and so the warning is circulating, beware Jayden K Smith, he is a nasty piece of work!

Just ponder that for a moment or two, and consider how you receive other news, when the press suggests that a certain group are untrustworthy how deeply do you question that? This fear-mongering is rampant in the media, and fuels so much hatred and division. I bumped into a young Muslim mum in the supermarket the other day, and when I turned to apologise she looked really fearful, but what I saw was her beauty. I did apologise, and then remarked how beautiful her turquoise blue Hijab was, she reflected that she had been concerned about what I was going to say to her. I find that to be deeply sad, and yet I know that her fears were not unfounded. Too often the given message is beware of the Muslim community, like Jayed K Smith, they are out to get you!

The list could grow of course; beware of refugees, of Labour/ Conservative Party supporters, of Pagans/ Christians/ those who follow weird ( in our reyes) spiritualities…. beware of the rich, the poor, the disabled, the homeless, the disenfranchised…. beware of those who are gay, trans, homophobic, beware of your neighbour, of the alien or stranger in your midst; it could be that like Jayden K Smith they are out to get you!

The very fact that we can use the term “they”, to place a label upon a particular group differentiating them from “us” is both helpful and unhelpful, and we must be very careful to ask questions of our motives and honest about our fears. Fear of the other reveals our insecurities and also taps into a primal drive for survival, but that does not make it healthy. Jayden K Smith of internet fame does not exist, but I wonder if there is a Jayden K Smith out there who is a thoroughly nice guy!

So how do we move forward in a fear-filled world? My first suggestion would be to get to know the other, the individual (s) behind the label. I have written a lot about how my attitudes towards homeless people have changed dramatically following being involved in the Comfort Zone Project in Blackpool, of how people I would once have called other have become my friends and given me so much, that I cannot help but be thankful.  I have been challenged in other ways too, to stop labelling LGBT friends and to celebrate our common humanity while acknowledging that sexuality is something totally unique to each of us, a bit like our fingerprints.

Again the list could go on and on, I have pagan friends, and muslim friends, I have friends from many different countries in the world, friends who are like me and friends who are not like me, friendships that take no notice of labels, many friends who unlike Jayden K Smith who are not out to get me…. but perhaps he is a thoroughly nice guy.

So maybe, just maybe it is time to take risks with those we might call other, like the members of one of the Mosques here in Sheffield who took the risk of gracing the Christian communities with gifts of chocolate cake, gifts made humbly and with a true vulnerability as these cakes were brought to worship services on a Sunday morning! Humbled by such an approach we are left stumbling over ourselves with wondering how to respond, but then perhaps to simply receive with glad thanks was enough in itself!

Maybe we need to take risks with one another, I was challenged to do so only recently when I responded to a Facebook request for a stop over in the Doncaster Sheffield area. The request was from a Facebook friend, but someone I had never met, so taking the risk that our mutual friends were people I trust I offered just that. I reflected to my daughter that my guest could have been an axe murderer, she responded but mum, for all he knew you could have been one! The result a lovely conversation and a new friendship in real life!

Taking risks in a risk averse society is counter-cultural, but surely it is a gift that we must dare to give to ourselves and to the society as a whole, if we are to respond with real compassion and grow in understanding we must be those who take risks, who dare to be open and vulnerable, who are willing to learn and even to open the door to Jayden K Smith and his friends, for in doing so we might be entertaining angels in disguise!

1-4 If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

5-8 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.

9-11 Because of that obedience, God lifted him high and honored him far beyond anyone or anything, ever, so that all created beings in heaven and on earth—even those long ago dead and buried—will bow in worship before this Jesus Christ, and call out in praise that he is the Master of all, to the glorious honor of God the Father. (Philippians 2)

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More….

Who are you eternal one,

You who I find in

The eyes of the other,

In the breeze

Stirring the tres,

In the wild waves,

On the mountain top …

Who are you?

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Who are you, creative one,

You who call me beyond

My boundaried self

Whose song I find

Ringing in unlikely places,

Even the rythm of my heart

Strong and slow…

Who are you?

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I ask, but I know,

And I know beyond knowing,

That you are my hearts desire,

My souls craving,

My joy,  my peace, my love,

And I am found in the finding,

Sought through my seeking,

Liberated yet connected….

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But there is more,

As I ask again, who are you?

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Jesus is the answer, Jesus isn’t the answer…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA” A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed- what Gospel is that? “- Oscar Romero

 

I am pondering conversations I had yesterday as two different congregations grappled with discussing the Gospel reading set for the day. Matthew 10: 24-39 ( though we read to vs. 42 on both occasions) . It is a tough reading, reminding us that the call to follow Christ is neither easy nor without cost. The Jesus who often proclaims peace and even breathes peace over his disciples here tells them, and us, that he has come to bring not peace but a sword, that his ways will divide families, causing division and disagreement! He goes on to encourage those disciples to take up their cross and follow, to be willing to lay themselves aside for the sake of the work that they have been called into. The reading sits in the context of the sending out of the 12, to heal the sick, to cast out demons and to proclaim the good news!

Good news! The Gospel of peace comes in like a whirl wind stirring up questions and bringing about divisions, perhaps bringing persecution upon those who are delivering it!

The passage itself is discomforting, and the discussions that ensued from our reading of it were wide ranging, we discussed what it means to be bearers of good news, and how we live that out. Once comment was that we have forgotten what the good news is because there is so much insistence of good works and living out the social gospel that we forget our need for salvation, in other words we need to come to Jesus first, and then learn to live that out. Another suggested that we don’t need good works, which is in a sense true if we are talking about paying for our relationship with God through doing good, but not true if we are talking about being in relationship with the God who calls us into a work of healing, wholeness and reconciliation with him/her.

To say that Jesus is the answer is both enough and not enough, in this passage it is made clear that we are called to a challenging work, but we must read it in the context with which it is set, the disciples were given gifts and power to do the work, and we will be too if we walk in step with the one who calls us into it. To be utterly reductionist a one time prayer is not sufficient, especially when it stems from a tradition that concentrates upon our brokenness and calls us inherently evil rather than acknowledging that we are created good, in the image of God! To live with the baggage of personal evil and darkness can very easily place us into a position where we feel that we have something to repay so that our good works stem from a place of guilt rather than being set free to love!

I am not suggesting that we don’t need forgiveness and grace, rather that perhaps our greatest task is to lay down the lies that we and others tell ourselves about how unacceptable and unlovable we are, lies that induce us to wear masks of respectability, a brittle outer goodness that crumbles when challenged or put under pressure, so no the reductionist Jesus is not the answer, but of course that Jesus is not the true Jesus, not Jesus The Christ who has come in power to reveal the word and work of God, who filled with the Holy Spirit invites us into his “large work” to live freely and lightly, to speak into the evil systems of injustice and oppression and to set the captives free, even ourselves!

So Jesus is the answer, it we take seriously his invitation to watch what he does, to free ourselves from the demands of our culture, our nature and perhaps even our families, and to walk his way, to go to the lost and the lowly, to include the excluded and to tear down barriers and to build bridges not walls. So much of what has passed for Christianity, maybe especially if you listen to media or other caricatures is about excluding others, about being morally upright, about being right and deciding who is in and who is out! Whereas if we truly follow the pattern of Christ Jesus we will find ourselves going to the excluded, not to put them right but simply to love them, yes he challenged people about lifestyle and into holy living, but it is worth noting that his harshest words were usually for the religious elite , those who thought themselves good, and not for those who were being crushed by the system.

In Christ Jesus the unloveable were called loveable, the unwanted, wanted, the untouchable, touchable, surely this must inform how we respond to those who our society and sometimes our religion call beyond the pale! To those who would exclude others because of the colour of their skin, their religious affiliation or their sexuality this is a wake up call. To those who preach a gospel of prosperity and reject the poor, this should be a wake up call. To those who see Jesus as the answer only for a promised afterlife, this should be a wake up call.

In Matthew’s account, Jesus says:

….unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples.  If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it. Mtthw 10: 38-39

Our discipleship, our walk of faith should be active, and loving, taking our pattern from the one who laid down his life, we can dare to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. This should inform all areas of life, and will probably cause us to speak up and act in ways that will bring both unexpected divisions but also perhaps form unexpected alliances. The forming of healthy and effective multi-faith partnerships for example, where we set aside differences in order to work for the good of all. The recognition of those who might have formerly been excluded, I have many friends in the LGBTQI… community who have taught me so much about grace and suffering and shown me real love when others haven’t, I cannot call them other, we are one in our humanity. I could go on listing more and more. Working among the poorest of the poor was a real challenge for me, until I had the privilege of looking into the eyes of the excluded, and found acceptance there, we are one in our humanity.

I know that my words will be discomforting for some of my Christian friends, and comforting for others; I am still on a journey, working out my salvation ( my journey to wholeness and healing, to completeness in Christ), and I hold lightly to my statements, because I am a long way from where I started my walk with Christ over 30 years ago. It has at times been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, and I am moving from a place where I despised and hated myself, where I hid what I felt were my faults and flaws and tried oh so hard to look and be right, stumbling at every turn, to a place where I am learning to go gently, to love myself, to allow God to use my faults and flaws, to pick me up when I stumble and to turn me around when I am heading the wrong way.

I can only return to the verse that has given me so much comfort and hope as I journey on:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Mtthw 11; 28-30

And to the encouragement from next week’s Gospel reading:

“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” Mtthw 10: 40-42

So is Jesus the answer, I guess that depends on the question….

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