Saturday, 25 December 2010
God-is-love. God-with-us. God-is-Love-with-us. And we are invited to participate, to pass it on. I know this, but I forget so easily and having it pointed out in big flashing neon letters is extraordinarily helpful.
In just over 7 hours I need to be at church, practising. Also, I've been awake for nearly 22 hours. So I think that I will stop here in favour of sleep.
Thursday, 23 December 2010
1) I slipped on the ice earlier -- refrozen slush is the worst. I don't seem to have injured myself, though.
2) As an organist for a small parish church with not too much going on, I can practise pretty much whenever I want.
3) Leftovers from last night have fed us well today.
4) After a comment from a friend suggesting it might be useful, I opened a Christmas present early. Heated gloves! Quite amazing.
5) Sweetie tucked up in bed beside me as I write this. Because the 25th and 26th are Saturday and Sunday, the next two days are statutory holidays. This means he'll be home for four days in a row.
<i>O Virgin of virgins, how shall this be?
For neither before thee was any like thee, nor shall there be after.
Daughters of Jerusalem, why marvel ye at me?
The thing which ye behold is a divine mystery.</i>
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
1) old friends
2) new friends
3) both sitting in our living room, giggling
5) the internet.
I'm rather tired now. Having people over for dinner so soon before Christmas is a bit mad; this weekend I'll be playing as many services in 3 days as I usually do in a month. But I'm really glad I did it.
Besides, there's plenty of leftover lasagne...
<i>O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.</i>
Tuesday, 21 December 2010
1) Shiny people are coming for dinner tomorrow
2) I found something to play on Friday night
3) Found some lovely mohair yarn in a discount shop; colours I'd been watching for at 1/6th the price
4) People have been lovely and supportive even when I've been stressed and impatient
5) From now, for the next six months, the days grow longer.
<i>O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay. </i>
Monday, 20 December 2010
1) The snow has not messed up any of my travel plans. Admittedly this is because I haven't got any travel plans, but it's still quite good not having to worry about it.
2) The piano has been fitted with a dehumidifier which will help it stay in tune.
3) Dad put draught excluder on the front door. I bought this over a year ago, but didn't get around to dealing with it.
4) A different position for the heater at church meant my hands didn't get so cold while I was practising today. It was still uncomfortable, but they didn't stop working.
5) I made dumplings for dinner, they were tasty.
The night shelter was over capacity last night. Next week it has a break and guests stay at the Crisis-run shelter. Then the next week I'll be out of town...
<i>O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal
and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death</i>
1) The visit from my father is going reasonably well. We're all having to make an effort, but on the whole things are calm, even pleasant.
2) I'm receiving so many beautiful Christmas cards. I will hang them on the Christmas tree soon (we haven't many decorations and it solves the problem of displaying the cards).
3) The chocolates I made yesterday turned out all right, I think.
4) I went to Leafy Suburb Church for their Nine Lessons and Carols. There I found something I had lost, delivered gifts to dear ones, had a chat with my father which was challenging and good, and made a snow angel. Also I got to sing some good music!
5) Sweetie is quite unremittingly wonderful. Yes, I'm soppy. But he is.
<i>O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death</i>
So, last year I had key problems when I went to record this antiphon. This morning, the padlock on the gate at church had froze, and I had to hop the (low) wall to get in.
Sunday, 19 December 2010
1) Sweetie bought me a better snow shovel
2) My hands are soft from cocoa butter; I was working with chocolate this afternoon
3) Although the insulation in this house leaves something to be desired, the heating does work and if it comes to it we have enough money to run additional heaters
4) Lots of blankets and cozy sweaters, which we all use before additional heaters
5) The way a good batch of snow reflects the streetlamps, so even though the sun set over six hours ago, everything is orange and strange.
<i>O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.</i>
Friday, 17 December 2010
1) The piano has been tuned and had some repair/maintenance done on it. It's much nicer to play now.
2) I did a really solid chunk of practising this morning.
3) It snew, and I shoveled before too much of it turned into packed ice. I like the snow, myself, but I know some people have problems getting anywhere when it's icy. I'm grateful that my joints are good enough that I can shovel.
4) My housemate learned a lot on her trip to Foreign Parts, and told me all about it over lunch earlier.
5) Later, Sweetie and dad and I are going for a nice dinner.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.
I struggle with laws. "Honour your mother and father" is particularly difficult today.
Thursday, 16 December 2010
1) My father arrived safely.
2) So did my housemate, who has been working overseas
3) Choir worked hard tonight
4) I'm catching up with the mess in the kitchen, and feeling less stressed about it.
5) Snow tonight in Upper Suburbia. It didn't settle but made me smile as I watched it fall.
Thanks be to God.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High
reaching from one end to the other
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.
Wednesday, 15 December 2010
2) With company from a different friend I was able to get some tidying and minor housework done today, without feeling too overwhelmed or stressed by it.
3) My student's grandparent fixed my bicycle light -- I couldn't get it open, had broken the tab off, but he managed to pry it. Now I can change the batteries.
4) I cycled to Neighbouring Neighbourhood to do banking. I've really been enjoying cycling.
5) I didn't cry once today, and it wasn't because I was trying to hold back tears, it was just that I wasn't feeling so low as I have been. This might just be that I'm not so far behind on sleep as I was on Monday and Tuesday, or it might be the higher than usual amount of social contact I've had in the last few days, or any number of things, but I'm still glad of it.
Thanks be to God.
My father arrives tomorrow for a 2-week visit. I am having very mixed feelings about this. It isn't always an easy relationship and visits are generally A Big Deal since we live on different continents. Mostly, I wish the visit weren't just now, when I have so much music to learn and won't be able to spend as much time as I'd like and my brain is playing silly buggers. I don't feel like I have the spare cycles to deal with a parental visit right now and I don't really want him to think that I'm always in this sort of state... And then, of course, I feel guilty for being so ungrateful. After all, I'm fortunate he can afford to visit at all, he's well enough, we are on relatively good terms and so on.
I have been being grumpy and short with Sweetie, and then realising it, and sinking straight into "If I am too difficult/grumpy/horrible/ill/NotGoodEnough, people will stop loving me and they will go away and leave me all alone." Tears, streams of apologies. Sweetie is wonderful about it, just hugs me and holds me and tells me I'm not horrible, just overtired and tetchy. Still, I wish I were treating him better.
It is late, and I am tired...
1) I finished crocheting a scarf I am making (gift for someone). I need to tie the ends in and wash and block it and then it will be done.
2) Though I felt very bleak in the morning, people were unremittingly lovely to me and by evening I was on a much more even keel.
3) I didn't get all my work done -- was really struggling to concentrate -- but it turned out to be all right in the end.
4) NO MORE long commute to North Of The Hill until January! Yesterday was the last day!
5) I had lunch with a friend who is quite amazing and who is also going through a really bad patch right now; she's keeping her chin up, staying brave but recognising she'll have bad days, and just being generally inspirational.
Thanks be to God.
Monday, 13 December 2010
2) I didn't sleep through my alarm this morning. I'm always worried I will on Mondays when I go help with breakfast at the shelter. I haven't yet.
3) Online charity shop. This means I can search for things from brands I know fit me (at my height, random charity shops very seldom have anything). How did I not know about this before?
4) I'm still not keeping up with household stuff in any meaningful way, but I'm feeling less stressed about being behind than I was a week or two ago.
5) I had a really good lesson this evening with a student who has been difficult for ages. It was good to see him smile again and be excited about our plans for the next lesson... it was also good to be reminded that whatever else happens, right now teaching is still part of who I am, part of what I'm for. Of course, I can't take full credit for this evening's positivity; it's a complex situation and there are many other factors. Even if that were not the case some of my best teaching is when I can "get out of the way", provide a safe space and a jumping-off point and let things unfold as they will. But seeing some of that happen with this child who has been so sullen reminded me why I try to do that.
Thanks be to God.
Sunday, 12 December 2010
1) my back hurt less today
2) the temperature has risen enough that our heating is actually keeping up. I am hoping it has also melted the worst of the very dangerous ice in some areas.
3) despite today being a working day there was time for a slow morning with Sweetie.
4) my keyboard skills are immproving. Tonight at a party I ended up at the piano, playing carols. A year ago I couldn't have read well enough.
5) the commute to work when I get up will be walkable.
Friday, 10 December 2010
2) The opportunity to catch up with a colleague from Academic Institution
3) Ibuprofen. Chamomile tea. Both of these things being helpful to me and available cheaply.
4) Physio exercises that I know will reduce the amount of pain I'm in
5) Not having had to deal with this much pain for several months.
I'm not sure what I did. But this will pass, and it is bearable, and I can still do things. For all this I am grateful.
Thursday, 9 December 2010
Even though my subject might be seen as inessential and much of my paid work is not directly related to my higher education training, I don't think any of this education has been wasted.
2) I am grateful that there are people who believe strongly enough in collective funding of education, and in the power of protest, to get out there and protest the university fees structure proposed (and, today, passed) by the government.
3) I am grateful that there is technology which lets people at the protests broadcast their descriptions of events, in real time, without it having to pass through official censors. Yes, I've been watching all this on Twitter for some of today. It's heady stuff.
4) I am grateful that we have free-at-the-point-of-delivery medical care in this country, so that those protesters and police officers injured today have been able to get treatment without worrying about whether they need insurance.
5) I am grateful the people I know who were there all seem to be okay, at least the ones I know about. There are still people held in various places, so that could change, but it's good that the ones I know about are safe.
Lord, have mercy.
Wednesday, 8 December 2010
These last few weeks I've been leaning heavily on friends, getting lots of hugs online and in person, being listened to patiently by people who really are rather too busy but manage to make the time anyway. The message that has been coming through is that the care and support that pulled me out of the pit last time are still there.
The last few days I've also been e-mailing one friend in particular, not with my usual meandering e-mails full of the adventures of the day with added musings, but even longer letters full of rather a lot of analysis, comparing my last serious depressive episode with how I'm feeling now. She's sparing with her advice but has had some useful insights.
I could spend several hours and many paragraphs explaining how I've come to this conclusion, but I think I do need the structure of some sort of Advent discipline right now, and I think it needs to be something gratitude-based. Not to beat myself over the head with my many blessings, and not to ignore or discount the mess the world seems to be in and the huge amount of work ahead to make God's kingdom known, but to hone my perception of God in everyday life.
I don't want to make this too complicated or too rigid so I am going to go with a daily gratitude list and try not to sweat too much if I miss a day.
1) I am grateful for the green tomato chutney I just ate with cheese and crackers. I made this earlier this year out of tomatoes from the garden -- we had a bumper crop and couldn't manage to eat them all fresh.
2) I am grateful for the group I performed with this evening, who have in their way become a big part of my life over the last couple of years.
3) I am grateful for the care and attention immediately directed my way when I started to talk about low mood or depression or whatever this current dark cloud is.
4) I am grateful for all the care and attention that people normally show me, when I'm not in crisis management mode and nothing is "wrong" but things are just ticking over. Even if I can't see it, or don't normally notice it... right now I assert that I believe it is there.
5) I am grateful for the heated underblanket in my bed. I have trouble not seeing this as extravagant and wasteful, to be honest, but in the cooler weather we've had recently and with the lack of insulation in the home we rent, being able to climb into a warmed-up bed and let the muscles in my back relax properly is a huge help.
And it is late, and I am tired, and that underblanket is sounding mighty good about now so I will stop there.
Wednesday, 1 December 2010
The guests are referred from a day centre; the shelter is given a list of people to let in. People not on the list are turned away unless there is space after a certain time. There are rules (no drugs, no alcohol, no weapons), there are boxes to tick. I don't know how I feel about this; I can see the point of trying to make it safe, but how do we help those who, through no fault of their own, cannot tick the right boxes? Lord, have mercy. And yet, the other week I heard another volunteer explaining to one of the guests how to get to the day centre, which boxes to tick. Clearly if there is space we take anyone we can.
The day centre offers hot meals and so we don't do a cooked breakfast; rather it's cereal, toast with jam, tea and coffee, occasionally some leftover dessert from the night before. I spend the morning filling milk jugs, sugar bowls, coffee machines, insulated flasks, the dishwasher, the cupboards. Things spill and I wipe up as I go along, almost unconsciously, a reflex when there is nothing left to fill. I don't talk to people much, and I hope that doesn't make me seem aloof.
There are rules about physical contact, about agreeing to meet guests outside of shelter hours. I'm not sure how I feel about this; I do think loving and kind relationships are important, and that physical contact can be part of that. How horrible must it be to have nobody to hug you? But I'll freely admit I'm also relieved not to have to make the decision, relieved that what I might be willing to give has been put into a nice, safe box. Lord, have mercy.
This past Monday someone asked me if I'd marry him. I declined as politely as I could, aware that I am culturally way out of my depth. Another volunteer said that's fairly normal and is a sign that I'm being accepted. I'm not sure about that, but the conventional dating scene must really suck if you're homeless.
The shelter runs until March.
I don't have anything profound to write about it, not yet.
Maybe there isn't anything profound to say. People are homeless and I've decided to try and help meet some of their immediate needs for food and shelter during a difficult time of year -- in a very safe and cautious and organised and cowardly way -- and that's all there is to it. I don't particularly enjoy or dislike the work itself; I don't come back feeling all aglow with lovingkindness. I come away wishing I could do more, and wondering why the shelter is so warm compared to our house (which is a bit nippy in the mornings), and whether the pregnant woman will get some more stable support once her child is born (does she know the father? is he homeless, too? Is he kind to her?) or whether we're going to be dealing with a baby come January, and reminding myself to bring some jam along next week.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
I've been feeling shaky mentally for a while now. Nothing drastic, but enough to slow me down. I'm in a foul mood more often than I like, being avoidant even about activities I love, increasingly unable to imagine enjoying things, my sense of perspective is a bit all over the place and I am wondering if it is time to start with the dried frog pills again -- not to drug myself out of my sense of dissatisfaction, not to medicalize a perfectly reasonable response to an uncontrollable and dangerous world, but to correct or ease or change whatever chemical or structural characteristic makes my fears so overwhelming that I resort to avoidance, displacement, or numbness.
The thing is, I don't really believe it was the antidepressants or the three and a half years of therapy that got me out of this last time. I think it was the continual reassurance of other people caring for me, doing their best to help me despite the difficulties (and I know I did make it difficult, for it was so hard for me to trust), making it clear that even if I don't understand why, I am valued and cherished and loved.
That support has not been withdrawn. On the contrary, it is very real and very ongoing. If you are reading this and you are someone who knows me, please do not think I don't notice that you care. I do notice, and I am grateful, but sometimes it's still hard for it to have any effect. It's as if another layer has been peeled away, and the fears that disabled me in years past have been replaced by some newer ones and some older ones, and suddenly my need to understand why I am loved -- so that I can keep doing whatever it is, you see, and so control my fate -- outweighs my ability to accept love I do not think I deserve. And the messages that I don't deserve love echo from a church that systematically excludes me and my loved ones and a society that makes it clear that the poor are to be discarded, right back into childhood fears of violence and abandonment. My ability to see myself as a beloved child of God disappears in a puff of Pelagianism. My ability to trust God to love me even though I am decidedly imperfect evaporates. I don't understand, and I can't trust, and so I am afraid. But I also have this desperate desire to improve things, to act on behalf of God in the world, to heal the sick and bind up the brokenhearted and all that priestly stuff from Isaiah. Christ has no body now on earth but ours, said Teresa of Avila, and I want to be the hands, the feet, the eyes -- even while I cannot imagine I will ever be anything but dust, not loved, not hated, not even noticed. And the danger of that is that without the sense of belovedness, without the knowledge that I am valued and cherished and loved, all my works are forced and manipulative rather than joyful. I will not be able to refill the well from which I draw water, and eventually I will be too tired and dried out to continue being unkind to myself while I try to serve others and will lapse into apathy or selfishness or despair. I know this is how it goes. I've been here before. It's not kenosis, a joyful self-emptying, a costly but beneficial surrender... it's sort of the opposite of that. But I don't know what else to do, I don't seem to have any control over my sense of being loved, and so I keep going through the motions, hoping beyond hope that if I keep going the doldrums will clear, waiting and watching for some subtle shift in perspective and meanwhile struggling against my instinct to withdraw, hide, hibernate, conserve what I think I have left -- as if any of it is mine.
I am already weary, already thirsty. I keep saying, on Twitter and a few other places, that I know this will pass, winter is always a bit difficult, I know I will be okay. But what I need to remember is not just that I will be okay but that I am already more than okay, that I am already valued and cherished and loved, and this is not contingent on anything I say or do or think or believe. I need to remember how to be kind to myself while being kind to others, I need to remember how to accept the kindnesses others offer.
Only say the word, and I shall be healed...
Thursday, 11 November 2010
Clearly, war is never what God wants for us.
Equally clearly, God does not want us to stand by while innocent people are slaughtered. I can condemn so many wars that have happened in my lifetime, but over them all hangs the spectre of gas chambers, concentration camps. I condemn violence but I cannot endorse genocide.
Lord, have mercy.
Regardless of how we let the world get to the point where the Holocaust could happen, regardless of the undoubted economic incentives for wading in, I think we reached a point where the atrocities would not have stopped with anything short of a war. Regardless of the knowledge that history is written by the victors, I cannot say we should not have fought. I don't know that anything else would have worked. Maybe it would have -- but I don't know.
Christ, have mercy.
We? I wasn't even alive during WWII. I am much-removed from the danger of current wars, even while I am (along with anyone else who uses oil) complicit in creating the conditions where they can happen. And so my disgust with war and violence turns into a sort of self-loathing, a need to seek forgiveness for my part in all this. And that, in turn, isn't what Remembrance Day is "supposed to" be about at all, is it? I can hear the patriots protesting, "It isn't all about you and me, it's about those who gave their lives!"
Lord, have mercy.
What did they give their lives for if we continue to behave in ways that cause war?
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
What am I on about? What do I mean, "if we continue to behave in ways that cause war"?
Here's my understanding of what causes war: War is caused by the fear of death, and our constant striving to hold it off or delay it or make it more comfortable.
Lord, have mercy.
War is caused when we see what someone else has and want it for ourselves even if it means hurting them.
Christ, have mercy.
War is caused when we value our own comfort over the lives of someone else. That's what the Holocaust was about, and that's what Afghanistan is about, and that's what the Gulf wars are about, and every other war I can think of.
Lord, have mercy.
Sunday, 31 October 2010
He was moderately polite, but took great pains to explain to me at some length that if I believe that God's love is unconditional, I believe in a made-up-in-my-head God, contrived based on my own desire for comfort. He quoted the Bible at me to try to prove that Jesus believed in hell and judgment, that anyone who fails is eternally damned.
I tried to explain something I've tried to explain before: that if Christ will draw all people to himself, then any hell that exists cannot be eternal, and hope must prevail. He wasn't having any of it.
We went our separate ways. I didn't get into discussions about scriptural literalism, and I didn't get drawn into prooftexting, and the whole thing bothered me a lot less than it might have three or four years ago.
I've been thinking about it, though, about how my beliefs and convictions differ from those of this young man so doggedly determined to save, to convert, by discussion and reference to scripture.
Maybe that works for some people.
My understanding of Christianity is certainly informed by scripture -- it would be difficult for it not to be given my background and upbringing -- but I do not believe in God's love for all humanity because the Bible declares it, or because people preach it. I do not believe in God's love for us because I have been told it exists.
I believe in God's love for us because I have been shown, in a hundred thousand little ways. I believe Christ died on the cross and rose again because a hundred thousand actions have pointed to that.
I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the mother worrying over her sick child.
I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the teacher who risks missing her train home in order to spend another five minutes reassuring a nervous student.
I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the counselor who responds promptly to a last-ditch-effort e-mail from a girl suffering from depression and supports her through the years of upheaval that follow.
I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the woman whose greatest concern on holiday seems to be that she can't keep in touch with friends who need her prayers and support.
I have seen Christ crucified and risen in the churches who operate a Floating Shelter because local council provision for the homeless obviously isn't enough.
I have seen Christ crucified and risen in a vicar who says "God loves us to bits" and means it, in a woman who cares for her ailing husband without complaint despite the toll on her own fragile health, in an online community where all are welcome, in the very oak leaves that fall dancing from the tree and go on to form soil.
It is not only the grain that, in order to live, must fall to the earth and perish. Sometimes I am the leaf, sometimes I am the tree, sometimes I am the grass growing in the soil of the sacrifice of others. And always, Emmanuel -- God-with-us. I don't believe this because I have read it. I don't need to read what I have lived.
That doesn't mean I don't have any use for canon, for scripture, for the Bible. But I don't believe the things I believe because they are written down in words somewhere. I believe them because they are inscribed on the hearts of the faithful and acted out day after day after day.
And these same things are inscribed on the hearts of those whose faith is known to God alone, those who acknowledge no higher power, those for whom talk of a personal God is nonsense but who work tirelessly to heal the sick, comfort those who mourn, help and encourage one another in what is good, bring justice to the poor.
Theism is not a dealbreaker.
Philosophy is not a dealbreaker. Political affiliation is not a dealbreaker. Sexual orientation is not a dealbreaker. Race is not a dealbreaker. Achievement is not a dealbreaker. Competence is not a dealbreaker. Income is not a dealbreaker. Social class is not a dealbreaker. Health is not a dealbreaker.
Sin is not a dealbreaker.
There are no dealbreakers in the Kingdom of Heaven. Thanks be to God! There is nothing that cannot be forgiven by a God of infinite love.
May my thoughts and words and actions reveal this as truth.
Wednesday, 27 October 2010
The idea was to rest, read, maybe get to work on a Mass setting I'm supposed to be composing. It wasn't a problem that my friend was at work all day; being on my own without a squillion things to do was the whole point, though it was good to catch up in the evenings.
I mostly rested. I didn't even start the Mass setting. I'm feeling very okay about that.
The next time I get more than one day off in a row will probably be after Candlemas...
Now the only problem is when I'm going to manage to actually write this music.
Thursday, 21 October 2010
These are going to hit the poorest hardest. The big corporations that have evaded tax won't be touched; neither will the banks that got such a huge bail-out of taxpayer money.
People are angry, and hurt, and confused. More than that, I think, a lot of people are frightened. Money is power in this society, and it just got more powerful. Of course we're frightened; we're terrified that might will prevail. It all seems so incredibly stupid.
What I'm struggling with is trying to get a mental picture of how much of the wealth I enjoy has really been "borrowed" from my future, or from people who have less economic clout than I have. I've been saying for a while that we live too well for it to last, but completely turning away from a broken economic system isn't something I've had the guts to do.
I think I do practise right livelihood, mostly: my actual work as a teacher and musician doesn't exploit others much. If anything I need to charge a little more, be a little less principled, because right now I still don't earn enough to break even and that means I am reliant on my partner for some of my living expenses. His work is perhaps less salutary. But then, so is the work of the parents of many of the students I teach; even without doing work that is damaging, I collude in a damaging system.
I also try to spend reasonably responsibly, and here I am less successful... my best intentions will not do the paperwork to change banks, or get me to the point where I do sew my own clothes rather than buying ready-made ones (Fairly Traded clothing that fits me and is appropriate for some of my work is almost impossible to find). I waste huge amounts of resources every winter because the house where I live doesn't have adequate insulation; as I can't afford to buy a house or flat and my landlord has no incentive to change anything, my options are to put up with what I can rent or to give up having a roof over my head. I don't think the latter would be constructive.
By removing myself from the monetary economy I would essentially remove myself from the information stream. If the number of people turning away from what's broken is small, they won't be missed. I recognise that there is a case for hermits, for prophets, for people who turn drastically away from broken societal structures to show that a different life is possible. They are necessary and I am glad they exist. But if the choice is black and white -- either sticking with the current structures or rejecting them completely -- most people will find the choice too hard, the current structures will continue, those who leave will be considered insane and nothing is achieved.
Rather, I think that it is important for me to continue to engage with the current structures, and contribute, if I can, to creative solutions to problems. I can't live perfectly, but I can take the money I'm paid and spend it on FairTrade rather than non-FT products. I can act with kindness toward people even if there is no obvious gain to me for doing so. I can try to improve my balance, living more independently of the broken system in some places, colluding where I have no other choice, and -- and this is important -- staying in contact, encouraging others to find out for themselves that life can be done differently, that win-win situations do happen. I can work with others to find creative solutions for the problems of injustice and poverty.
The UK government may have just made all that a bit harder, but all that means is that it's even more important that I do what I can.
Oddly, this is pretty much my stance on church participation, too. The C of E General Synod is pasted all over the Anglican blogosphere at the moment, so that even someone like me with hardly any time to read can't help but notice that there's an awful lot of dirty politics flying around. My fear is that the women bishops stuff will eclipse the Anglican Covenant stuff and we'll end up with no women bishops AND a stupid governing document that we don't need. But I don't think I can leave over this... because the reason I've become tangled up in the Church
The thing is, the changes in information tech make both of these things more easily possible. Seriously, the potential for functional "shadow" economies is HUGE with tools like Twitter, and the stronger those get the more irrelevant government provision will seem. Look at things like Kickstarter and FundBreak, which are private start-up funding for projects; look at Kiva which allows private lending, and initiatives like WorldBike (which might seem a bit conventional compared to the other examples, but is actually an example of what is possible with better communication).
Don't get me wrong -- I believe we're an extremely long way from being able to provide a crowdsourced NHS, for example. I know the budget cuts announced yesterday will harm a lot of people before we can get to that point, and I think the danger of reverting to depression is very real. And I know human beings well enough to know that the Church As An Institution is going to be around for a while. These things won't change overnight and we are all going to be wounded.
But this is my hope: to build up what is good rather than tear down what is destructive, to help others where I can, to put my money (what little of it there is) where my mouth is and let every action, every word, every breath point to the values of the Kingdom of God.
Who's coming with me, then?
Saturday, 9 October 2010
Last year I found an orchid in a pot sitting beside a rubbish bin.
I brought it home, put it on a sunny windowsill and watered it intermittently.
Our days are but as grass; •
we flourish as a flower of the field; (from Psalm 103)
Oh, but what a flower!
Friday, 8 October 2010
In addition to the thinking I've been doing about vocation or purpose, I'm struggling a little with a general mental malaise or low mood. I don't think it's a reaction to the things I've been thinking about or coming to recognise, though of course it could be; it doesn't feel like that kind of emotional response. I think it's much simpler. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and some years it's worse than others. I'm using my lightbox, and that's helping, but I still feel low.
As anyone who's had a major mental illness would be, I'm rather frightened that this mild low patch will develop into full-blown, whimpering-under-the-duvet depression.
I know that I have much better external support now than I did last time.
I know that I have much better mental tools now than I did last time.
I know that over three years of therapy did help heal a lot of the things that made my previous experience so debilitating.
I know that I don't react badly to some of the dried frog pills and that medication, though inconvenient, is an option.
I know that I'm aware of this and in a much better position to do something about it than I once was.
And I know that there is a chance that even if I do all I can, I will still get very ill.
And that's scary, because even the work I'm doing now -- which I love -- will fall apart if I get too sick to do it.
So I find my prayer this week sliding from "Please tell me what You want me to do" to "Please let me remain well enough to do it..."
I keep using the lightbox, I keep practising, I try not to sweat the small mistakes while allowing myself to focus on the small pleasures. I ask friends, loved ones, for help and company, I try to pace myself in terms of what I take on, and I reframe, reframe, reframe every all-or-nothing, black-and-white condemnation of myself or the world that my maladapted lizard brain tries to throw at me, trying always to turn toward what is good, turn toward what is God, the ground of all being, wanting to believe that love is stronger than this greyness.
Turn us again, O God of hosts; •
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.
from Psalm 80
Sunday, 3 October 2010
I will go to Nearest Church Mon-Thurs and say/sing Morning Prayer at (or near to) 8.30am. I won't tell anyone there that I'm doing this; I'll just do it. I never see anyone about at that time of morning when I go there to practise, and with the foreboding mornings getting darker and darker I don't think that's going to change anytime soon.
If it is working well for me after a few months I will talk to Gentle Vicar and see if he (or someone else there) wants to join me or put it in the pew sheet or whatever. If it doesn't work I'll try something else.
Fridays I'll try and get to Long Walk Church.
The Other Stuff... I need to sit with it for a while.
I met two lovely people on Friday, strangers, new friends. Without knowing me, without knowing how deeply they were scratching, they said some things about vocation which made me think. One was in the context of lay chaplaincy one of them had done, about what a privilege it was. The other was that anyone who finds a vocation to ordained ministry is an easy thing, a thing they say they've always been totally sure of, probably shouldn't be trusted.
I realised that "not ordained ministry" now holds the same slot in my brain as "not Christianity" once did.
I have a friend or two that I sometimes talk to about sermons as they're in the process of writing them. I realised only last night that, er, I really enjoy those chats. I find joy in reading the text, finding the truth in it, finding the love in it, finding God in it, and figuring out how to try and portray that. Something in doing this strengthens me just as much as making a meal for beloved friends does (and yes, I'm aware of the Eucharistic implications of that).
So, the "you really ought to be ordained at some point" comments from friends are not new, not new at all. I don't know exactly when they started. I know last summer, sitting at the piano playing Bach, I imagined it as a possibility -- and quickly discounted it, frightened at the upheaval. This week there has been lots of reinforcement, and I'm noticing or accepting that there may be something there after all. Or maybe not.
But mostly right now I need to wait. I have other work to do right now, and a huge pile of complications which cannot be written off as trivial.
Philippians 4:4-9 this morning at Nearst Church; a favourite of mine, I think, though something I don't do so well at practical aspects of it. Maybe that's another thing to work on while I wait.
Wednesday, 29 September 2010
I'm not sure if it's working very well as a direction relationship. That's not really something I want to discuss in much depth here. Suffice to say that in this, as in so many other situations, I find that I am not being led, but leading. I feel that our conversations challenge and stretch her but don't offer me a whole lot beyond the reflection I already do. She's a wonderful person and in many ways I enjoy our chats, but I don't feel I am being directed.
I join choirs and end up playing instruments rather than being part of a section of voices. I join a church and end up an organist.
I am trying to figure out how to live a semi-monastic life in a largely secular world. My partner, my housemate, many of my friends are not religious; I am someone who needs regular and structured engagement with God. Sharing that with others is important to me, but people with similar needs to mine seem to be few and far between. We talked about this. And I mentioned that a few people I know have commented (some in more depth or with more vehemence than others) that I could be a priest, and that I don't really feel like that's what I'm called to but I'm not saying "never" because the last time I did I was wrong, and because, well, Mary didn't. (And there, now you know too, dearest internets. Is this a surprise? Am I going to get a rash of comments along the lines of "of course"? I'm curious.) We talked about confirmation and preparation for confirmation and the difficulty of finding appropriately-timed classes of a suitable nature, and drew the same conclusions I'd already drawn.
I would dearly love there to be a local Morning Prayer I can get to. Long Walk Church is, well, a long walk, and taking two hours out of my day (which is what it is by the time I've walked there, prayed with the others and walked back) and walking so much is not always workable. We talked about this. One of the things I have mentioned before in our chats is that we could have Morning Prayer at Nearest Church, but I don't feel I can ask for that without ending up leading it, and I don't want to take on too many additional leadership roles (in addition to being the organist and choir director). I go to the weekday Eucharist even though there is no music at all specifically so I can be involved in a service where I'm not taking a leadership role. Half the time, I get asked to read. Big sigh.
Last night after talking with this lady who is "directing" me I asked if we could say Evening Prayer, since it was getting late. (One of the reasons I am not sure about this relationship as one of spiritual direction is that we never pray together.) She couldn't stay any longer due to another appointment but a colleague was meant to come just under an hour later for Evening Prayer. I asked if I could stay and practice the organ, in that case... so I did that. My phone battery died and my wind-up watch had wound down, so I had no idea what time it was. Evening Prayer was meant to be at 6pm. I practised, a lovely instrument in much better repair than the one I usually play. It got dark outside. Some people came and had a meeting in a back room. No (identifiable) clergy about, though, and nobody saying Evening Prayer.
So I said Evening Prayer on my own. Again.
When I got to the train station 20min walk away it was nearly 8pm. I'd waited two hours.
It felt like a pretty pointed message that if I want daily prayer to happen locally I'm going to have to do it myself, or at least ask, and may well end up leading it, and is it really so bad to lead if the alternative is praying alone?
I do not like this. I don't like the feel of it. I don't feel ready to lead and I think there is a huge amount of confusion among other people about what sort of leader I am. I am a musician and I am happy to take the lead, sometimes, in music. I don't know what it is that other people see or feel or intuit about me that makes them think I am a leader of prayers. I don't know why after at least a year of praying that I'll find people to pray with in some sort of local setting, the answer still seems to be "here, you do it".
Is this really something I'm supposed to do, or is it just that I'm not in quite the right place? Am I meant to take the lead in this or find somewhere that will have the kind of support I seem to need?
Guess I'd better get on with things and find out. No sense asking God to lead and then refusing to follow, even if I'm not sure of the path I tread.
Sunday, 26 September 2010
The first was the usual at Nearest Church, where I am settling in as organist. It's interesting getting to know the choir members individually and as a group, it feels rather different than it did when I was singing with them. I can't quite tell if I'm doing things "properly" but there is much that feels right. Gentle Vicar was on good form and the sermon was, if a little meandering, compassionate and affirming and challenging.
In the afternoon I went to a sung meditative service at Long Walk Church. I hadn't been to one of these before and wanted to hear their choir (which is small) and find out how they do things. It was interesting. It was good to be in a service where I didn't bear responsibility for the liturgy. It was good to see what was going on there. I realised that one of the very important things for me as a choir director is going to be to make sure I keep singing in other situations and especially in choirs where I am not leading. This is harder than it sounds, but having realised how important it is I think I might be able to fit it in.
The third service was at Leafy Suburb Church, which has been so important on my spiritual journey and which has one of my favouritestest people in the entire wide world, previously referred to here as Ambassador for Compassion, as Curate. Her sermon was good but I did struggle with one possible interpretation of what she said. She was preaching the potter in Jeremiah and the images of wrath and destruction which follow; she said that God does continually re-form us and that sometimes this is uncomfortable or frightening, especially if we are willfully resistant. She spoke of change and fear of change, about how we respond as individuals and institutions, about actions having consequences, about judgement being part of growth. She spoke of clay pots before and after firing, about flexibility and brittleness and the uselessness of shattered vessels.
The problem I have with this model is that it is too easy to extend it into something ugly, evil even. It is too easy to fall into the sort of theology that is found in some of the psalms: the idea that those who are prosperous are so because they are righteous, and conversely that those who suffer have somehow managed to piss God off. That kind of tit-for-tat petty logic is rife in our society and it is so very easy, and so very unhelpful, for people who are successful to think they needn't engage with those less fortunate, and also for people who are in real distress to blame themselves and get stuck in the mire of guilt.
I don't deny that change can be uncomfortable. I am sure that sometimes God speaks to us with discomfort if other methods don't work. I know that cause and effect is a simple fact of life in this world. But I don't think that's the whole picture. I know we suffer hugely at the hands of one another, and to say that is God's doing is to deny free will.
I believe God's love is transformative. I can't square that with punitive aspects of judgement. There is this whisper of hope that says nothing is wasted, not even our most selfish sins; that broken clay pots can still be made into mosaics. There is some persistent whiff of something I can only call redemption. The God who created the heavens and earth may well be a jealous God, but this is Christianity we're talking about here, and the God that loves us so much that God gave God's Son for us is not going to withhold that love because we've messed up (and isn't the Greek "hamartia" or "sin" more about missing the mark, the way an arrow misses a target, than about willfully doing wrong? No idea what the Hebrew is like).
That, too, can be oversimplified into something ugly. Our sins will be forgiven, transformed into something good? Then why bother trying to be good? Why bother striving for right action? Isn't trying to please God just a sort of Pelagian heresy?
That oversimplification also falls apart when viewed from the foot of the cross. I can't speak for others, but when I love someone, I wince when they are in pain. How much more so for God who loves us infinitely and unconditionally, and has much better than my measly human awareness of others' suffering? When we turn away from good, when we harm one another, that infinite love results in infinite pain which God bears on our behalf. That is quite terrifying. We are commanded to love God; by extension that means caring enough to want to reduce any pain God might bear. That means that even though by God's grace we are forgiven we should still strive to do God's will -- not for fear of what God will do to us should we fail, but because we love God's delight and abhor God's pain.
The other thing Ambassador for Compassion spoke of was the need for a two-way relationship with God. We are not golems, fashioned of clay with no will of our own. We live and breathe and laugh and cry; we respond. When we respond to God with open hearts, we participate in our own fashioning, our own formation if you like to call it that, and God responds back.
I think that dialogue-rather-than-monologue relationship with God is a key to avoiding both of the oversimplifications I've outlined in this post.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
That, in and of itself, is mildly distressing. Many apologies to any of you who might worry about me. I am well.
That I can't say I've been blogging much anywhere else is perhaps more telling. My career-related blog is getting posts even more intermittent than this one; my locked journal (which had several posts a day for many years) is all but abandoned. I'm not even really leaving long rambly comments on Nick Baines' blog (which has more than once been the cause of my not having time to blog here). My e-mails to various dear friends have become shorter and less introspective, very much more "I did this and that and the chard is still growing" than they once were. I'm not even doing pen-to-paper reflective journaling on my own (I tried for a few months early spring but it isn't good for my elbow to do that much longhand writing).
I'm not doing badly -- my physical and mental health seem to be pretty good at the moment, I'm doing lots of work, I'm mostly getting enough rest (although as always there is this battle to catch up, this temptation to be busy on days off). But given how much I have previously relied on reflection and analysis in a written format, I'm starting to wonder what's up here. Am I really just too busy, or am I avoiding something? Is this about finding a voice (I typed "void" the first time, Freudian or what?!?) for my career-related blog, or giving myself space to speak at all? Is this about being more private, more circumspect now that some of my job is so obviously tangled with my religious life, or about being honest with myself? Is this about busy-ness or about not allowing stillness? I don't want to be precious or dramatic about this, and maybe I just need to accept that it won't be perfect and I can't do everything, but I have written hundreds of words per day for several years and don't seem to be doing so now. It isn't that I can't think of what to write, as evidenced by the verbosity of this post. It's that I'm not sitting down and starting.
I think I need to work out a Rule again. I have sort-of had one of one sort or another since my last year at Academic Institution, where the Rule consisted of "practise two hours before anything else" and I built everything -- my prayer life, my social life, my work, even my love life -- around that.
I don't have anything like that focus now. I have some things that are major -- the organist job, the teaching, a chamber group -- which will always take priority over other work. I've tried to shape my days sensibly and I'm not generally spending hours and hours online talking when I should be working. But there are things that are getting neglected, including this blog. Some of the neglected things are optional; some are not, and I wonder if some of my tiredness is not from being too busy but from being a little ungrounded.
Do you have a Rule of Life, or a set of intentional habits for your daily life? How specific is it, and how flexible? How do you decide when, if ever, to make changes to it? How do you make this fit around variable working patterns?
Friday, 3 September 2010
I've been taking one day off per week for a long time now. I used to keep various rules for what constitutes a "day off" but now it is mostly "a day where I don't do anything unless I feel like it." All plans for my day off are provisional: if I'd rather stay in bed that's what I do.
Anyway, for years, the pattern was teaching work on Sunday, academic work Mon-Fri, day off Saturday. It didn't take very long, once the teaching work moved to weekdays, to fill Sunday with other kinds of work. Sunday is a special day for me, but it is not a day off; what I do in the mornings is worship, but it is still definitely work. Often I go to services in the afternoon and the evening to participate in or study what other congregations are doing, musically; I like it, but it's very much work. When that doesn't happen, Sunday is turning into a sort of study day. I like that, too, but it's still work.
I've been mostly taking Friday or Saturday off, depending which one is available.
Here's the problem: there is a Day Off, and then there are various chores. You know the sort of thing -- laundry, grocery shopping, the weeding in the garden that I truly don't feel like doing but which needs to be done, that kind of thing. These aren't things that belong on a day off, but they also aren't things I necessarily get a chance to do during the working week.
I'm thinking about taking two days off. I can't really justify taking two days off of practising... but I'm thinking about designating either Friday or Saturday as maintenance-focused rather than career-focused, so that I can do what practising needs to be done and then run around doing the various chores so that on my real day off I can rest without these things hanging over me.
What brought this on, of course, was talking to someone else about the importance of taking a day off. I wrote:
The idea is that God gives us a day to rest, even dropping a double portion of manna the day before... the idea is that there is value in your resting as well as in your working, value in your sleeping as well as in your waking. There is as much value in dreaming as in filling out forms, there is as much value in not trying to achieve anything as in striving to improve the world. God's kingdom includes your day of rest.
I think that last bit is the bit that we lose so easily.
The Kingdom of God includes our rest. It isn't only, as I wrote earlier in the same e-mail, that our rest makes our work possible, that without rest we wither, lose our edges, lose our flexibility. It isn't only that we need to rest: it is that our resting, in and of itself, is part of living in the Kingdom of God.
Tomorrow is my day off. I'd better get on with some laundry!
Tuesday, 31 August 2010
So I decided to take the rest of August gently. I did some practising, but blew off paperwork and other tasks. I had a weekend away with Sweetie and actually did not go to church on Sunday for the first time in... over a year, I think. I went to Greenbelt, which was great.
Everything starts again tomorrow; phoning students to arrange my schedule, practising in earnest, printing music lists, planning Christmas services (or at least the music for them), trying to coordinate rehearsals, the lot.
I've blogged on my public, professional blog about some of my experiences at Greenbelt. It feels very strange to do so, like I've exposed some of my spiritual innards. But I think it's necessary if I'm going to find a voice on that blog.
I'm not planning on disappearing from here, but the more I blog about music here the less anonymous I'll get, so I'm going to try to keep the music stuff more public.
If I "know" you here and you want to read it, let me know your e-mail address and I'll give you the url to the other blog. But don't out me, please.
Friday, 13 August 2010
Cycling has been good; in London I've not been riding as much as I'd like, but I've not become as desperately unfit as I'd thought. Cycling is significantly kinder to my joints than walking is. I've been taking advantage of the fact that most countryside churches are left unlocked, going there to rest. Sometimes I'll say the Office or a psalm but more often I simply sit and breathe in the calm, quiet stillness.
Sweetie and I stay in a B&B; during the day he does martial arts training and I go cycling, and we meet up for meals and lovely relaxed evenings together.
The other night we were watching the Perseid meteor shower. It had rained, so the sky was lovely and clear. The first verses of Psalm 19 were made for stargazing, and I remembered them as we sat there:
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God • and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 One day pours out its song to another • and one night unfolds knowledge to another
3 They have neither speech nor language • and their voices are not heard,
4 Yet their sound has gone out into all lands • and their words to the ends of the world.
It's been a lovely few days of that sort of quietness.
Yesterday I cycled to Glastonbury. I paid my money to enter the ruins of the Abbey and walked around the grounds with the other tourists -- pilgrims, even? -- mindful of And overwhelmed by the history of the place. Of course the line between history and legend is rather blurry there.
In a chapel with an altar I saw a notice politely informing me that "No services, prayers, music, ceremonies or rituals are permitted, without the written permission of the Custodian."
What a contrast with the unassuming country church where I'd stopped to rest on the way there. What a contrast with the spacious firmament on high, the stars ringing their silent witness.
My first instinct was sadness. I can understand that with so many different faith groups making some claim on the area it is necessary to have someone decide who gets to do what. But it makes me sad that humans have such trouble sharing, such trouble expressing faith in a way that doesn't threaten or condemn.
I suppose I'm one of these rebellious types, though... a ban on unauthorised liturgy doesn't, can't, stop me praying. A written notice cannot silence the music written on my heart. The notice really doesn't make sense. Sadness bubbled over into chuckles, then peals of laughter as I realised that, too, was a prayer. ...their voices are not heard, yet their sound has gone out into all lands and their words to the ends of the world.
Wednesday, 4 August 2010
"Watch 'Rev.'" said my vicar. "Watch 'Rev.'" said a handful of other clergy I know (where, exactly, did you all come from?). I don't have a television. I haven't watched television regularly for over a decade. But iPlayer came to the rescue, and I watched it...
...and yes, it was good. It was funny and serious. I think it portrayed quite well some of the challenges faced by urban clergy these days.
I wonder how many people watched it who weren't already interested, though. I wonder if anyone who doesn't go to church watched. I wonder if anyone who doesn't really know any clergy watched. I wonder if anyone who has been seriously wounded by the church watched.
I am not thinking about this in terms of converting people to Christianity or bringing lapsed Christians back to church, but more of the perception of religion and faith in this society. If one person watched this television program and thought, "Okay, maybe not all churches are prejudiced... maybe not all clergy are insufferable holier-than-thou hypocrites... maybe not all communities value conformity over justice or love or freedom..." then I would be very happy indeed.
Saturday, 24 July 2010
Thursday, 15 July 2010
I have been reading "The Go-Between God" by John V Taylor; a friend recommended it to me in the course of an e-mail discussion about mission. There are some things that are very dated, some things that I don't understand, some things that I don't agree with... but every three pages or so I read a sentence and think, "Yes, THAT! That is what I have been trying to say, that is what I have needed to hear!" I think this is a book I will keep coming back to.
Life continues. I had a nasty deadline a few weeks ago for a competition and lost a lot of sleep over it. The NHS has been giving me lots of physiotherapy for my dodgy ankle and it is, slowly, improving. My phone is on the way out -- same problem as the last one had. Teaching is winding down for the summer. Sweetie is sweet. Intrepid Anthropologist has submitted her thesis. The C of E is lumbering its way slowly toward more inclusive structures.
Any recommendations for books on intercessory prayer?
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
It was also difficult. Despite my best efforts, despite being committed to the laws of kashruth, there were some people -- kind people, good people, caring people -- who would not eat at my table because it was not kosher enough for them, not because they doubt the earnestness and diligence of my efforts or their correctness according to halacha, but because I was not Jewish.
Eventually I learned not to take this too personally.
The thing is, though, that nobody would have accused me of being prejudiced against Jews, or of purposely making them unwelcome. There was nothing I could do differently (save actual conversion, which in Orthodox Judaism is a lengthy and arduous process) which would have changed things.
Something I never experienced was people refusing to eat at someone else's home because I was also there, or because our mutual hosts might be willing to eat at my table. It simply didn't happen. In the community where I lived there were various interpretations of what "kosher" means, but the overarching rule of hospitality meant that if someone was Jewish you accepted their interpretation when dining in their home and you didn't refuse an invitation. Even if that had been the case, nobody would have claimed they were being persecuted because someone invited us both.
But that's what I see happening with groups wishing to leave the Church of England.
It isn't just that people won't take Communion from a woman, or don't want to deal with a female bishop. I don't agree with that response -- it smacks of the law rather than of grace -- but I understand it on some level, and I respect that for some people it might be the only way to move forward with any integrity, just as I respect that some Jews could not in good conscience eat food I had prepared.
But being invited not only to dine in someone's home, but also to help with the preparation of the meal, and then recoiling in horror when you find out who else is invited? And then claiming that those other guests are "persecuting" you for not sharing your interpretation of the law? What are we to make of that? If you invited people to dinner and they behaved like that, how would it make you feel? Lord, have mercy!
I have huge amounts of sympathy for anyone who feels they don't fit or are no longer welcome in a religious group with which they once identified strongly. I grew up in a Christian church and my family of origin was very much still involved in that church, and I walked away from that; I was fortunate, blessed even, that my family were understanding and even supportive, but it was still not easy.
And then, the reason I did not convert to Judaism all those years ago was not because my beliefs were incompatible (though they probably are now!) but because I did not think I could bend to some of the other requirements and maintain my own integrity. Not only did I end up leaving a faith community I had grown to love, but I had to admit that I had been wrong -- about myself, about Judaism, about how to live.
I have pretty big issues with the C of E, too, much as I am growing to love it; the structural changes which would make me feel truly accepted and welcomed are unlikely to even be discussed in my lifetime. (As an aside -- yes, I know I am complicit in these issues not getting discussed because I am not open about them ... I am still frightened, and with good reason. Lord, have mercy on on those who make the world unsafe for people like me, and on my cowardliness!) I respect anyone who takes a decision to walk apart. I know it is not an easy decision.
However, I don't think saying "Women are welcome" is persecution of those who are too frightened to extend that welcome to women. Nobody is forcing opponents of women's ordination to do anything. Synod has said, the majority of the church has said, "We are going to share this work more widely than before," not in order to chase away or hurt or persecute or reject anyone, but to finally include some of those who have been turned away and rejected for many centuries.
Friday, 9 July 2010
How long will you forget me, O Lord; for ever? •
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long shall I have anguish in my soul and grief in my heart, day after day? •
How long shall my enemy triumph over me?
Look upon me and answer, O Lord my God; •
lighten my eyes, lest I sleep in death;
Lest my enemy say, 'I have prevailed against him,' •
and my foes rejoice that I have fallen.
But I put my trust in your steadfast love; •
my heart will rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, •
for he has dealt so bountifully with me.
How long will I feel ashamed of how the church treats women?
How long will I feel ashamed of how the church treats LGBT people?
How long will I fear to speak openly, even here, of those issues of equality and fairness which affect me personally?
I don't know. I can't know. I am sometimes too weary even to think about how long these things might take.
But if the Christian claim of salvation and mercy is true, if the Christian hope of unconditional love is true, it won't be forever.
That is the song I will keep singing.
Here's hoping and fervently praying that General Synod will be full of love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. (Thanks, @philritchie!)
Sunday, 27 June 2010
Does this seem absurd to anyone else?
It's not that the games are trivial, though Big Brother might seem so at times. As a musician, I understand something of the rigour of athletics, of training for an event, working with others or alone and then, on the day, doing the best one can in circumstances one cannot control. I admire those who have the level of commitment require to attain a professional level in sport, even if I myself have very little interest in the actual games. I respect that it is hard work, and I understand that it can be beautiful, sublime even, for those who appreciate it.
But more people I know have casually mentioned football or tennis than any other one topic. The English flags I've seen hung off of windowsills or attached to cars have almost rivaled the number of adverts I've seen on the Tube, and then of course some of the Tube adverts have been football-themed too.
I'd love to see that level of involvement over... I dunno. Something that actually affects us all. Homelessness. Environmental damage. Electoral reform.
I can't be the first person to ask why this enthusiasm for football isn't echoed in other arenas. What does football have that church doesn't? Why will people faithfully follow a team but not get anywhere near religion?
I think one answer is this: for fans and spectators, football doesn't make many demands. Oh, there are people who will go to great lengths to show their support for a team, who will spend a lot of money on tickets for games, who will obsess on one level or another about managers, players, game strategies.... but for the most part, that doesn't actually affect the outcome of games. I don't doubt there are people for whom today's World Cup loss is painful, that there are people who are so very attached to their teams that this is a significant wound. But I am pretty certain that for most of them, "What could I have done differently here?" is not a question that is on the agenda. The game isn't like that. And that makes it easy to engage with, easy to follow.
In football, nobody is going to ask you why you haven't been kind to your neighbour. In football, nobody is going to expect you to make a serious attempt at finding out what you are for. In football, nobody says you have to change your life, nobody says you have to care, nobody asks you to look at what is wrong with the world and try to figure out how you can change it.
Of course it's popular. It has all the camaraderie of a shared hope without having to get to know your fellow-fans as people rather than as fans. It has all the excitement of a big battle, without having to actually take any risks.
Perhaps that's too harsh a judgment, but the same could be applied to music in some circumstances. Music can speak to the soul in songs of comfort, songs of challenge, songs of pain and songs of joy -- or it can keep the ears occupied for a while without making much impact. The same could be applied to liturgy, in some circumstances. I've certainly been to church services where people seem to feel good but they don't seem to be challenged in any way, though of course it's impossible for me to judge what is going on internally.
It isn't that I don't think there is value in entertainment. There is. The camaraderie of a shared hope can make future collaboration on shared goals and purposes easier. The shared excitement can be the basis for lasting friendships in which people do learn to see one another as human beings, rather than fans of one "side" or the other. Getting used to the disappointment of a cherished team losing may well be good practice dealing with losses that have more practical impact. There are probably other positive aspects that I don't pick up on, simply because I have never been a serious spectator of sport.
I was getting at something here, but I've forgotten what it is, and I'm too t to pick it up again now I think.
Friday, 25 June 2010
I'm finding it all very uncomfortable. You see, I wish I didn't have to deal with money. I'd like to be able to do all of my work for free. All of it is work I would do if I didn't need the money. I think if we were all generous enough with our time and energy, we wouldn't be so dependent on transactional labour... and I know that if I want that generosity to come about, I need to be willing to be generous even when others aren't.
I mentioned this to a friend today and her response was, "How are you going to live if you don't get paid?" which is quite a reasonable question.
I bit my tongue and changed the subject, got on with the task at hand. But my first thought, and the one that has been nagging at me since, was Why should I live and another not?
Why should I have enough to eat when there are people in the world who starve because of my food choices? Why should I have a roof over my head when there are people who are sleeping rough? I am not better than they are, I am not somehow more deserving. I know that with every fibre of my being. So why am I blessed with material abundance, a garden to grow my vegetables in, a safe bed to sleep in, medication to treat my nagging chronic health problems? By many people's standards I am not wealthy, but to those who are starving, those who are homeless, those who have no access to medical care, I am incredibly, unimaginably rich.
Why should I live so well?
So I eat out of a local veg box scheme, grow some of my own veg in the back garden, don't drive at all, try to buy fair trade for those things I can't get from local sources, try to be moderate in my consumption of electricity... but it is still my privilege to do those things. I have a choice only because I am already rich. Do these little things help enough to make a difference? If I'd make a bigger difference by giving it all away, shouldn't I do that? When I tell myself my skills are best used where I am, is that me being sensible, or is that me running away, crossing to the other side of the road? Do I live as I do out of obedience, using available resources to create a lifestyle that can sustain the work I am meant to be doing, or out of fear, turning away from the call to give away what I have?
Even having the time to think about these things seems like a completely undeserved luxury.
Saturday, 19 June 2010
I asked about mentoring, about having church music experts I can talk to after Networking Organist has moved on. It's been suggested that I go along to a service in Neighbouring Suburb, because the music director is very good and shares some of my interests. So that's where I'll be off to tomorrow morning.
I couldn't find said music director on that church's website. They do have a link to Anglican Mainstream. No no no no no no no goes my brain. I don't want to go. I don't want to get involved. I don't want to risk being in a position where I might have to say something, might have to upset people, might encounter some injustice or exclusion that I can, and therefore must, do something about.
Anglican Mainstream have the following quote on their website:
"If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved. To be steady on all fronts besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point"
Christianity posits that the truth of God is the love of God: merciful, unwavering, steadfast, faithful love. One of the places where the battle rages is in deciding how to show that. I don't think the debate on sexuality and ordination is really about sex. I think it's about perfectionism, about whether we can decide and judge what is human, what is acceptable to God. It's about whether we can accept that those different from ourselves are still human beings, still beloved children of God. It's about whether we have one standard for our sins and another standard for those things another might do which we think are sinful. It's about taking responsibility for embodying God's mercy.
I happen to believe that homosexuality is not sinful. I can't claim I have "done the theology" -- I was just raised in a reasonably liberal background. It's a no-brainer. But I am concerned with this argument around whether LGBT people should be ordained, not because I am convinced that homosexuality is not sinful, but because I am convinced that we are all sinners and even if I am wrong about the sinfulness of homosexuality I do not think that it is fair, just, kind or merciful to refuse the vocation of any human being based on something so minor. And it is minor, compared to so many things.
I know if I am asked, I will say the above, in some form. I will say that whether clergy are truthful is more important than whether they are gay, but that I probably don't know any clergy who haven't at some stage told at least a little "white" lie. I will say that whether clergy are jealous and covetous is more important than whether they are openly lesbian, but that I don't know anyone who hasn't had at least a tinge of envy toward a neighbour's house or car at some stage. I will say that in the grand scheme of things I hope that mercy trumps our judgments, I will say that I pray that love will topple our fears. And I will say it even if I think people probably don't want to hear my answer, because if they ask, I can't justify saying otherwise. To be steady on all fronts besides is mere flight...
Sunday, 30 May 2010
Something in Kathryn's sermon really struck a chord with me. She writes:
"...the love that defines and informs the one reaches out and spills over into the other
Look, says the Father.......look at the Son........
Look, says the Son...........look at the Spirit
And so the Three gaze at one another in mutual love and delight"
My best performances have been like this, in a way. They are the ones where I love the music, and am full of love or at least general goodwill for the listeners, and my desire to introduce one to the other is far more important than my nerves or worries about my own ability. "Listen to this," I want to cry, "isn't it amazing? Hear what these sounds, combined this way, do! Sing along if you like, get up and dance!" And that time, in that place, I am the performer, the audience are listeners, the specific pattern of notes that makes up the music is being performed... but those roles are provisional, fluid, and utterly interdependent. None exist without the others. All can control the outcome, too: if the audience gets up and starts dancing, you can bet it's a very different experience for the performer, and that the music is very different as a result.
I hadn't really thought about three persons of the Trinity that way before.
I've struggled with the Trinity; my experience of God includes a sense of overwhelming unity. I can just about cope with the Holy Spirit (though equating the Holy Spirit with the shekinah of Torah, which is feminine, and then speaking of it in masculine terms really bothers me), but "Father" and "Son" are loaded words, words we ascribe roles to, specific jobs for each of them to do, and then oops modalism!
It seems to me that an awful lot of our attempts to describe the Trinity end up with that sort of putting-God-in-a-box.
And that's okay, I think, as long as we don't take ourselves too seriously. We musn't kid ourselves that what we describe actually matches reality with 100% accuracy. Language doesn't work that way: saying a thing does not make it true. We just compare notes on our own experiences, trying to arrive at some sort of common meaning, common agreement.
This idea of each person of the Trinity pointing out another, though, and the bit after it -- the bit where we are invited to join in -- appeals to me. If the Church is the Body of Christ then the Trinity is not limited to three, but is infinite, as we each point out what is holy, with love and wonder and delight.
Back later. Gone dancing.
Tuesday, 18 May 2010
Mouse writes that both Ruth Gledhill, who writes for the Times, Michael Perham, Bishop of Gloucester, have essentially stated that the debate around sexuality and ordination is essentially a second order issue. I have to admit I have some sympathy for this viewpoint. I get tired of all the debate, all the wrangling. I feel something like I do about discussions about the Anglican Communion: all this dithering is fine if you have the time and the money for it, but I've said before and I'll say again that the rest of us have work to do. It's very easy to jump from that to "this is not a first order issue."
It's not a first order issue for anyone who has been ordained or consecrated without controversy and has never had to worry about whether someone else will question their ministry because of their sexuality.
It's not a first order issue for anyone employed by the church who doesn't feel they have to hide or disguise or even break off a close relationship (not necessarily a sexual one) because of what others in the church might think and the effect on their livelihood.
It's not a first order issue for those who don't have to question whether their time and gifts as volunteers will be accepted and appreciated, those who don't have to "come out" to anyone, those who don't have to constantly answer questions from their friends about why they are religious if their religion (or at least its bureaucratic structure) is so anti-queer.
This is not a first order issue for those who have the privilege to ignore it.
I cannot tell my brilliantly gifted organist friend, made unwelcome for not fitting into a heteronormative mould after being a church musician since the age of six, that her pain at such a cruel rejection is not a first order issue. I cannot tell my spiritually astute friend who is not pursuing a vocation to ordained ministry because he is bisexual and feels the barriers would be insurmountable that this denial of his gifts is not a first order issue. I cannot tell my friend who would love to get involved in all sorts of outreach work, faith-based or not, that it is not a first order issue that the C of E is not a safe space for her. I cannot tell my friends that it is somehow okay for the church to behave this way as long as it does some other good in the world, or that I am not afraid for my own livelihood should I be deemed unacceptable in some way unrelated to my ability to do my work. I'm quite serious about that last point: I live with a man who is not my husband, I'm quite open about it, and I'm well aware that a number of years ago that would have meant I'd be considered completely unsuitable as organist/choirmaster. As long there is not full inclusion, we are in the tricky business of drawing lines in the sand, and it is only by God's grace that I am currently on the "acceptable" side of the line.
That doesn't mean I think the other work of the church is unimportant. That doesn't mean I think we should not be striving to heal the sick, comfort the mourning, bind up the brokehnhearted and proclaim liberty to those who are captive. Of course we must do these things, we must care for the widow and the orphan, we must alleviate poverty. But excluding people from any level of ministry based on their gender or sexuality seems to me to be at direct odds with that.
The basic underlying message of Christianity, as far as I can tell, is that God is loving and God is merciful; it will always be a first order issue when the church fails to act like it.
Monday, 17 May 2010
It's partly that i've managed to get to that point where I don't want to post something that isn't finished, isn't quite what I wanted to say, isn't perfect. But that perfectionism degrades the medium somewhat, and certainly makes the quantity of my output plummet.
What have I been up to?
Lots of rehearsing, a bit of performing here and there, still teaching, more projects than I have time for and I don't seem to stop having ideas for even more. I went up to visit Kathryn of Good in Parts and had a simply grand time, as always.
I was going to write a post about keeping a strict Sabbath when I was observing Jewish law, and how that experience affects my attitude toward days off etc now (especially as I am a self-employed musician who works most Sundays), but I haven't taken an honest-to-goodness, all-day, Proper Day Off since 7th May, and I kindof stayed up until 5am watching election results the night before, which meant it was perhaps not as restorative as it might have otherwise been. I'll do better this week.
I'm still behind on reading blogs, too, but still thinking of and praying for many of you.
I'm going to try to do a post-a-day thing to get myself blogging again, but most of that probably won't be here: my public, identifiable-as-me blog needs more of that attention.
Saturday, 1 May 2010
Now, I've not lived in this area all that long, and I've not gone very far out of my way to find out what the local issues are. The bins get emptied, and I feel relatively safe here, so I don't have much cause to complain to the council; if I did, they'd certainly have heard from me before now.
So I mentioned the people outside the local tube station. I said that I realise it's a systemic, complex problem and not something that can just be changed overnight, but that I do worry about the people begging, and I asked what support the council is providing for them.
He then proceeded to tell me that the vast majority of beggars are economic migrants,
mostly from Eastern Europe, who have come over for temporary labour and got stranded here by being laid off, and that the council tries to "help them get home". I could hardly believe my ears!
I don't think it's an accurate assessment of the situation. I've written here before about my shameful failure to actually talk to people who are asking me for spare change, especially when it's dark and I am tired, but I do listen and I don't hear an overwhelming majority of foreign accents. Most people seem to be from London and environs.
Even if these people were mostly not British, there are a whole bunch of reasons that I think simply sending them home would not always be the right answer.
Instead of chasing him off the doorstep I decided to try and waste as much of his time as I possibly could, though I'm afraid I didn't manage to change his assumptions.
If there had been any danger of my voting Labour to try and keep the Tories out, it has well and truly passed now.
(I've written a very similar post to this elsewhere, with identifying information; the readership there includes more locals, and I think they need to know about this.)
This morning I did a spot of guerilla gardening, as is my custom on May Day. Upper Suburbia is pretty verdant, really, but there is a small patch of land I walk past often that doesn't get much attention. There were some trees planted there earlier this year; one of them was destroyed by folks who apparently had nothing better to do, leaving a bare spot. The edge of the patch, near a garden wall, is also bare of grass but does get a lot of weeds.
I'm pretty sure that the sunflower seeds will be eaten by rodents, but it's quite possible that the fennel, rocket, lamb's lettuce or catmint might sprout and grow. The chives and garlic chives were in small pots already and will blend in nicely with the grass for a while until they get established.
Thursday, 22 April 2010
There is a BNP candidate in the constituency where I live. This makes me feel vaguely nauseous. I will be voting, and of course I will not be voting for the BNP.
Otherwise? Life continues apace. This identity and my real name are colliding in some interesting (but I think manageable) ways. My foot is healing, walking is getting easier, the regular therapy for joint issues is going well and soon we will be down to monthly instead of weekly appointments which will be cheaper (I would have had to wait, on the NHS...) and take less of my travel time. I am behind on the gardening, composing, teaching prep, tidying, laundry, study for the Big Project (thank God it has no actual deadlines yet!), chamber music administrative work, general life maintenance paperwork, oh, and that thing all musicians must do, the thing that keeps me what I am, practising. Reading other people's blogs is minimal; commenting is happening even less.
I am having a great time and learning a huge amount but I am not going to catch up.
I haven't heard back from the homeless shelter I sent the volunteering application form to. Psalmody work continues apace, and often of an evening I tell Twitter I'm nearly home before stumbling wearily off the Tube, having been reading, half-asleep and exhausted from teaching, about Reformation politics and vernacular worship or some such thing, and more often than not there is someone begging. And I know I'm not in a position to just invite them into the house where I live, I know I don't have the skills, I don't have the understanding, to be of real help, I'm mentally fragile enough that dealing with someone who has really serious problems might well push me back into mental illness myself; I don't even have the financial resources of my own, given that Sweetie pays my rent! and I don't know whether giving money is the right thing -- it won't treat the mental health problems or drug addiction or whatever else has caused them to slip through the ever-widening cracks in a welfare system that has been comprehensively screwed over by the Tories and then by New Labour -- and I'm horribly, shamefully safe about it, never stopping if I'm alone or there aren't people about or I'm carrying an instrument or I don't have money easily to hand, never pausing for a simple decent conversation with a human being, finding out their side of the story, forming some sort of relationship that isn't based on my relative wealth. I walk that last leg of my journey home wishing I weren't such a coward, and I pray someone else knows what to do and has the courage to do it. And I get home, and tell Twitter I've got home safely, and I fail even to mention those who haven't got a safe home to go to.
Lord, have mercy.
A regular mid-week rehearsal has had to change to another time, and my first thought was "that's going to be really annoying for the group". My second thought, so quickly after the first, was "Now I can get to the mid-week Eucharist at Nearest Church". A said service, no less, not a hymn or a chant in earshot (though in my mind's ear the chanted kadosh, kadosh, kadosh and the blessings for ha-motzi and ha-gafen remain). I didn't expect bread and wine to become such a part of me so quickly -- or rather, I knew the bread and wine would, I didn't know the body and blood would. I am taking great comfort in this sacrament, even though my view of the entire world as sacramental has not changed in any fundamental way.
Tuesday, 13 April 2010
All that stuff I put off until after Holy Week? I have to do it now. Can't keep putting it off.
I'm away the end of this week and all this weekend. The idea is that after I've settled in I'll spend a day writing music while my host is at work, and then when she comes home we can have some social time.
It will be my first Sunday morning away from Nearest Church since I went to Leafy Suburb Church for All Saints, back at the beginning of November. I'm really looking forward to that. I love the work I do at Nearest Church, but it will be good to see how things look from the west end for a change.
In May I am pulling the same trick one week, going to visit Kathryn for a few days. Again I hope to write some music while she is working; last time I tried this I just sat underneath her cats instead, and if the same happens again it is no disaster.
I'm doing this stuff now because I'm well aware that once Networking Organist leaves I'll need to be ultra-reliable for a time, in order that the choir at Nearest Church get to know me better and get a feel for how I am going to do things.
I keep trying to tell myself I don't want to change too much, but there are some things that absolutely must change, and those are going to be a big shock. We are going to start doing some breathing exercises and vocal warmups at choir rehearsals. We are going to start doing a teensy tiny bit of sight-reading practice. This is going to make some waves, I think, but after people get over it I think it will help.
But it does mean I need to be there, I need to be consistent, I need to be trustworthy. I need to make it clear I am going to push people but that I'm going to be realistic about where we are now.