Monday, 29 November 2010

Theatreknit's Warm Winter Socks

This pattern was donated as part of my campaign to get people knitting for a London homeless shelter. Thanks to Ravelry's Theatreknit. I have added links to in places where you might need extra intstructions. 

Yarn: DK weight (sample knitted with Patons DK with wool)
Needles: 3.25mm

Loosely cast on 48sts. Divide over 3 double-pointed needles and join being careful not to twist the sts.
Work in K3 P1 rib for 7 inches (or preferred length)

Heel Flap:
Knit 24sts turn
Row 1: Sl1 purl to end
Row 2: Sl1 K1 repeat to end
Repeat rows 1 & 2 14 more times.

Shape Heel:
Row 1: K 14 sts, ssk, k1, turn.
Row 2: Sl 1, p5, p2tog, p1, turn.
Row 3: Sl1, k to one stitch before turning gap, ssk, k1, turn.
Row 4: Sl1, p to one stitch before turning gap, p2tog, p1, turn.
Repeat Rows 3 and 4 until all sts have been used
End on WS row with either p2 tog or p2 tog, p1.
14 sts on needle

1. Pick up 15 stitches knitwise down side 1 of the heel flap. Place a marker.
2. Rib across the 24 stitches from the cuff.
3. Place a marker, then pick up 15 stitches knitwise up side 2 of the heel flap.
You should have 68 stitches.

Now continue with the following 2 rounds, until 48 stitches remain:
1. Knit up to 3 stitches away from the first marker, then Knit 2 together, then Knit 1.
Slip the first marker, then Knit across until you reach the next marker.
Slip the second marker, then Knit 1, then S2K2tog, then knit to the end of the round.
2. Knit around.

When you have 48 stitches remaining, continue without decreasing until foot measures at least 8 inches (UK size 6) from back of heel. You can adjust the length at this point. The easiest way to work out a size is to ask a friend to measure their foot! For men, size 8 or 9 is ideal.

1. (Toe Decrease Round) K1, ssk, k to end of Needle 1; k to last 3 sts of Needle 2, k2tog, k1; k1, ssk,
k to end of Needle 3; k to last 3 sts of Needle 4, k2tog, k1. 4 sts decreased.
2. K around.

Repeat these 2 rounds until 20sts remain
Use Kitchener stitch to graft these stitches.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

The safest of all occupations

I was browsing the wonderful xkcd on 'random' today and I came across this:

I thought I'd double check and, as expected, the number of results for blogging accidents is now 17,100 but I have done diligent research and can confirm that this is because bloggers love xkcd and can't help referencing it at every opportunity. This is a relief, because I don't think I can be bothered to work out the %age increase represented by 17,098. It's a lot.*

Just to reassure myself further I ran a quick check on "died in a theology accident":
That's a relief!
So this confirms my plan for the rest of the evening:

  1. Finish this blog post,
  2. Continue researching the theology of John's Gospel,
  3. Knit myself a hat,
  4. Sleep

Sleep, I admit, is the most perilous of these tasks but on a quick, informal risk-benefit analysis the chances of me being a moody bitch tomorrow if I don't sleep are higher than the chances of me dying in my sleep tonight. I'm knocking on wood as I type this, of course, just in case...

*I know it would be easy to do the maths but I'm leaving it to the first smart-arse who decides to comment on this. Because, basically, I don't like maths. 

Monday, 15 November 2010

Knitting for the Community of Camden Churches Cold Weather Shelter

A challenge to all knitters: How many items of warm clothing can we give to homeless people in London this winter?

C4WS - the Community of Camden Churches Cold Weather Shelter - opens its doors every year from December to March to offer shelter, food and company to up to fifteen homeless guests every night (67 during the last winter). Our guests are of all ages, genders and backgrounds and last year, of the guests that actively engaged with the C4WS Welfare Worker, 96% were assisted in securing accommodation, returning home or moving in with friends.

This year we are asking for donations from an army of generous knitters. Some volunteers during the time we've been open have knitted warm clothing for our guests. This makes a real difference to them, because not only are they able to keep warm during the bitterly cold daytime (when we cannot open our doors), but they know someone has cared enough to give them a personal gift.

If you are able, we would ask you to knit an item of clothing (anything from socks to a sweater) but please bear in mind the following guidelines:

1) Please don't use fibres that cannot be treated roughly or washed in a normal cycle.
2) The guests of C4WS are very diverse, so please use neutral colours and styles.

Once you have made your item, please contact me through this blog for the address to send them on to.

We would ask you to please cover the cost of postage.

If there is anything left over at the end of the scheme, we intend to sell it to raise further funds for C4WS - nothing will be wasted.

Monday, 1 November 2010

All Saints Day

Reflection written for MCC North London newsletter the week of 1st November 2010.

All Saints' Day fell on the Monday of this week, and we celebrated on Sunday. I took the opportunity to talk about the saints who are venerated around the world, particularly in Catholic traditions, and what we can learn from them, but I also feel strongly that since we are all called to live lives worthy of the Gospel we can learn as much from everyday people who have not been honoured as saints.

Take Rosa Parks, for example, since we are just reaching the end of Black History Month. All Ms. Parks did was sit down on the front seat of a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. She refused to give up her seat for a white person - who was no more entitled to it than she was, after all - and this simple act was the beginning of the end for racial segregation in the United States.

Closer to home, women who take the time to vote have to thank Emmeline Pankhurst for the privilege. But as well as her well-documented activism for women's rights, she was also influential in changing the work culture of some of the most deprived parts of the country at the end of the nineteenth century. She launched a parliamentary challenge to the right of factory owners to employ young children and pregnant women to do dangerous work, and she spent many years in her early life working to distribute food to those in Manchester with nothing to eat.

Or David Morley, a man who will not survive in the public consciousness, but who showed extraordinary courage. After being injured in the Soho nail bomb attack in 1999, he returned to work at the Admiral Duncan pub despite the injuries and losses he suffered at the scene. He died in an unprovoked attack in 2004 sparked by the same prejudice that had cost him so much only five years earlier.

I could go on for hours, because the truth is that for every prejudice that is breaking down there have been people standing up for justice who have allowed it to happen. Each of these remarkable individuals has been one of thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of activists from all walks of life. We know that well in MCC and we are blessed to be part of a denomination that is proud to uphold the Gospel tradition of justice for all.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

The Love of All the Saints

Sermon given at MCC North London on the 31st October, 2010 for All Saints Day. 

Most of you know, I have just moved to Oxford to start a post-graduate degree in theology. I’m studying in an Anglican seminary with a strong Catholic tradition, so it’s been something of a culture shock, to say the least!

In the past four weeks I have observed saints’ days, sung psalms – and worse, sung them in Latin – and I’m beginning to understand things that have never been part of my worship before. When I arrived here, I was slightly surprised to see a long list on the chapel noticeboard of the saints’ days and their observances. I’m a good child of the Reformation, I wasn’t sure I could cope…

Today is the Sunday before All Saints’ Day, which falls tomorrow, and something that I have found quite striking since I’ve been here is really how much there is to learn from the lives of the saints.

In the past month, there are Christians all over the world who have celebrated feast days including St. Theresa of Avila, Ss. Simon and Jude, St. Luke the Evangelist and my current favourite St. Frideswide, who is the patron saint both of the city and University of Oxford.

St. Simon and St. Jude – the patron saint of lost causes – were two of the twelve named apostles of Jesus. Very little has been written in the scriptures about either of them but tradition, through the extra-canonical ‘Acts of Simon and Jude’ has them as early missionaries throughout the Middle East. They would, like St. Paul, have travelled as peripatetic preachers and evangelists. They are venerated as the founding saints of the Armenian Apostolic church and were martyred at around the same time as St. Paul on the site that is now Beirut, in the Lebanon.

St. Frideswide – it’s a good Saxon name, if you wondered – was local to Oxford, and has become the patron saint of the city and its University. She founded a priory in the 8th century, which was destroyed by fire in the 11th century along with its chronicles, so the records of its early life are lost. I was rebuilt around 1122 and then was dissolved under the Reformation of Henry VIII in the 1520s. Tradition, and Anglo Saxon writings, say that she had taken a vow of chastity and entered holy orders, but was pursued by a local nobleman determined to marry her. She hid in a pigsty to escape him and was saved when he was struck blind (or possibly fell from his horse and broke his neck – sadly this was in the days before reliable BBC coverage). Either way, she went on to live according to her vows and to found Christ Church College, Oxford.

St. Teresa of Avila was a Carmelite nun in sixteenth century Spain. She joined a holy order having been fascinated from an early age with the religious life and fell grievously ill whilst cloistered. During her illness, which lasted for many years, she had increasingly vivid visions of the glory of heaven. In response to these visions, she became determined always to live out her faith and express her convictions through practical means. She made this resolution as a response what she – along with the Protestant reformers working throughout Europe – saw as the increasing corruption and indulgence in the Catholic Church. She withdrew into a new order which took seriously its vows of seclusion and poverty but also suffered serious persecution in a time of significant religious confusion. She eventually died, presumably of the illness she had suffered since she was a young woman, having devoted the last years of her life to travelling southern Spain founding new convents.

'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
'Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
'Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
'Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.' 
Luke – whose life and work was also celebrated in a feast this month – records these as the words of Jesus to a large crowd of his disciples. Many of the people gathered there were asking for healing in body or spirit, some had already been healed, and all were listening raptly to the words of Jesus. There is no less diversity in reasons for seeking Jesus today than there were on that day in Judea (southern Israel) two millennia ago. The words he spoke to them then have comforted people throughout the centuries and inspired incredible works.
'Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. ‘Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you, who follow the example of Jesus Christ and his twelve apostles, the first Christian saints, including Simon and Jude, who left everything they had and followed him. Blessed is the person who goes without, who is impoverished for the sake of the Gospel or for their brothers and sisters in Christ.
And, because we should also take this at face value, blessed are you who are suffering poverty because of the actions of others. 
'Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.'
Blessed are you who mourns for the state of the world, or you who has lost something you thought was your whole life. Blessed are you who are suffering in your mind and spirit, who are worn out by a world that seems to be so far from being the good it was created to be.

St. Teresa, as well as suffering from physical illness, suffered from crippling depressions at times in her life. She felt abandoned by God, and believed herself unworthy of God’s care. She spoke repeatedly of how desperately miserable this made her but later in life, true to the words of scripture, she found deep joy in a life of prayer, and reassurance in the love of God. She said,
"Mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with him who we know loves us. The important thing is not to think much but to love much and so do that which best stirs you to love. Love is not great delight but desire to please God in everything … Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love."
St. Teresa of Avila, by Peter Paul Reubens, 1615
in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, image from Wikimedia Commons
'Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice on that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. 
One thing the saints seem to have in common is a triumph over adversity. They share this with the great prophets of the Old Testament – Elijah sulking under trees, Ezekiel exiled to Babylon, Job afflicted with sores and illnesses we cannot begin to imagine. The lives of these great people – whether they are recorded in Scripture or handed down through centuries of tradition – are an inspiration to all who hear them because they speak to an eternal truth and that truth is at the heart of the beatitudes.

What makes reading and learning about saints so wonderful is that, although they are exemplary, they are all human. They suffer illnesses of body, mind and spirit, just like we do. They face the difficult calling to live lives worthy of the God who created them, just like we do. And sometimes they get it wrong, just like we do. When Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians, I don’t suppose he imagined a church culture where people are named saints and recognised annually for their contribution to the Christian life, but I don’t suppose he’d disapprove. When he congratulates the Ephesians on their love for all the saints, he is talking of their reverence for those who have walked in the way of Christ before them. He is acknowledging that within the body of Christ there are many individuals performing their own functions and living their own way, and we can all learn something from observing others.

When we commit to a Christian way of living we commit to a life of learning from experience. Just as we know from experience the truth from tonight’s Gospel reading that all things – the good and the bad – are transient and must not be taken for granted, so we learn from observing the lives of others how we are to respond to the changing circumstances of our lives. In the lives of the saints we see how to be generous when times are good, and humbly give to others. We see how to find courage and hope after a time of darkness. We learn how important it is to stay committed to God in word, thought and deed and in the sure and certain hope that God’s love endures forever.

I’ll leave you with a thought that is expressed in MCC churches throughout the world when we welcome new members into our congregation. When you meet someone new,
"remember that they will have as much to teach you as you will have to teach them."


Sunday, 10 October 2010

Week 0: Things I have learned

Things I have learned about Oxford:
  1. There is a different word for everything here. Fees are 'battels', Freshers' week is 'Week 0' or 'Noughth week', a PhD is a 'DPhil', etc.
  2. You can be fined £50 for not wearing the correct academic dress - right down to your freshly laundered black socks - on certain occasions (including exams),
  3. Blackwell's on Broad Street is amazing. It is now my joint-equal favourite bookshop alongside Waterstone's Gower Street (London),
  4. The University of Cambridge was founded because of scholars dissenting from Oxford (rather like UCL from King's, I suppose),
  5. Lectures are optional, and any student of the University can attend any lecture,
  6. If you place the Examination Regulations book against a wall and hit the bottom of a wine bottle against it a few times, you can remove the cork without a corkscrew.
The Cloisters and the House
Things I have learned about St. Stephen's House,
  1. The current buildings were originally the residence of a closed religious order called the Cowley* Fathers, there is a secret staircase to the street that was used by a doctor to avoid breaching the closed order, and the old mortuary is now the House computer room (it's still pretty chill in there),
  2. The House has only been a full Permanent Private Hall of the University since 2004, and it remains the case that a large number of students are Anglican ordinands.
  3. The Founders' Chapel in the roof has a mural in which the saints are apparently depicted with the faces of various former members of staff, and if the windows in the chapel are opened, "pigeons come in and crap everywhere and you have to get a man with a gun to shoot them".
I'm sure there was more said this week than that, it's amazing how quickly it deserts you! I'm really enjoying my time here so far, everyone is delightful and I think the structure of the days (based around prayer and mass services) is really lovely. It's nice to have a motivation to get up at 6:30am, so I can really get going with things. I'm hoping it will help to keep me on track with my studies. I haven't made it to evensong yet, because I'm nervous about singing the wrong tunes. That said, no one has minded yet that I keep making mistakes, thank God for the patience of the church and her clergy!

On that note, I already have work to be cracking on with. I'm looking forward to lectures starting for me on Tuesday, and have got several courses of lectures mapped out this term that I'm planning to attend. These range from the ones that will get me through my exams (Introductions to the Old and New Testaments, Christian Moral Reasoning, God, Christ and Salvation) through to the things that interest me (Religious Philosophy, Diversity in the Church). Whatever else happens, it's going to be a good year of learning. 

*Cow in Cowley is pronounced like the animal, not so that it rhymes with Rowley!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Oxford calling

So, I have come to the conclusion that many things in my life are overrated. For example,
  • working for a living,
  • paying bills,
  • renting a flat,
  • generally being a grown up.
There is an obvious solution to this, which is to go back to university, so that's what I plan to do. I got a place at the University of Oxford back in February to study for a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) in theology, and I leave for St. Stephen's House in about 3 weeks time. 

So far, so terrifying, and that was before I got the Freshers' guide in the post. I haven't been a fresher for about 6 years, I'm not sure I know how! Freshers' week at UCL is a bit of  haze of awkward conversation, slightly dodgy parties in the Windeyer Bar (RIP) and then in the weeks that followed, a lot more beer, some drunken fumblings in Popstarz (you know who you are and I'm very sorry) and finally the bizarre decision (after a lot of vodka) to stand for election as co-president of the LGB Society*. All of that is totally fine and normal if you're 18 but I have this funny feeling that most of the people at St. Stephen's are real adults, and some of them might even have managed to hold down a job outside retail. I'm just a bit nervous that I don't really know how to talk to new people unless they want to know where we keep books by Philippa Gregory (ground floor, left-hand side, general fiction, her new title is also on display next to the music store).

Admittedly, as much as I joke about pink hair and piercings, I don't really think I'm all that unconventional. I've lived in Camden for six years, I'm well aware that I would have to try an awful lot harder to be really shocking. But, nonetheless, I still get slightly surprised looks from people when I tell them what I want to do with my life - "What, like a priest? Doesn't anyone mind about your tattoo?" - and it makes me more nervous again. It doesn't help that my view of the Anglican community is coloured by the media obsession with women's consecration and the place of LGB people within the church, and so I assume that as a woman who identifies as gay I won't last five minutes. 

None of this does any favours to the people I'll be studying with, of course, and the reality of living and working amongst people has taught me that to most people none of the surface issues really matter. Some of my closest friends and colleagues over the years have been very conservative and aside from the odd argument over a pint (of cola) about the precise role of the state in resolving the economic crisis, we get on just fine! 

More to the point, of course, most people will be feeling exactly the same way. St. Stephen's is a community of about 60 students, but the guide only lists 15 continuing students. So I can't be too worried about walking in to a pre-existing clique because new faces will by far outweigh the old. Many of the new students will be in the same position as me, independent students coming to study either theology or education but not seeking ordination in the Anglican church. Even more encouragingly, there seems to be a real sense that as a small college everyone takes responsibility for the environment and for building a community. The weekdays start as early as 7:30am with meditation, followed by Morning Prayer and Mass, and at 3pm on a Monday there is a slot in the timetable for "group duties", which appear to include gardening and cleaning. I'm sure I'll come to dread that slot in time (chores have never been my strong point), but at the moment it just seems to stand for a sense of responsibility for, and pride in, the place we all live and work that has to be a good thing.

So, come Saturday 2nd October I'll be a student again. I have a lot to sort before I go and when I get there, so I'm sure the next few weeks will pass in a blur. Meanwhile, if you're in Oxford, please send me a message and say hello! Friendly faces are always appreciated and I'm so nervous that I won't know anyone!  

*Now UCL Union LGBT Students' Network. How times change. 

Monday, 6 September 2010

Sometimes an image change is no bad thing

Pink hair! And a new hole for earrings. 
Today I decided to do something new (or newish) and highlighted my hair pink. I have had pink hair before, as some of you will know, but since the age of 16 only once for a show. But then I was taking my friend Reuben (The Wife) to have his ears pierced and it seemed like a good time to finally get the second earrings I've been talking about for ages (probably also since the age of about 16, actually, I'm clearly regressing).

I've been informed (by The Wife) that I look like a cartoon character at the moment, and despite the fact I don't really know what they are we have concluded that I look like the pink one out of the Powerpuff Girls.

So, voilà. Pink highlights - check. Piercings - check. Book of Common Prayer - check. I think I'm ready for theological college!

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The great I AM

People are fond of seeing contradictions in the Bible, particularly in the ways that God is depicted. We see one God in the Old Testament - vengeful, demanding, jealous, quick to smite people who cause problems - and another in the New - loving, gracious, quick to reconcile to humanity. We put Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, automatically into this second category of aspects of God, we believe in Jesus as 'meek and mild', a lover not a fighter.

That's why the gospel reading we heard on Sunday (Luke 12:49-56) is so challenging; it puts Old Testament imagery into a New Testament context. In other words, this week's reading challenges the tendency we have to anthropomorphise God. People are generally pretty limited. We are contradictory, that's undoubted, but we are a mere 'image' of God, a reflection or a shadow, incapable of being as God is.

It is precisely because we are so limited that it is hard for us to comprehend how much more God is than we are. We try to use human language to describe the divine. We use words like 'loving', and understand them in the same way we would if we were to talk about other humans. We cannot ever comprehend how much love God has for the created world. So, too, when we talk about God as 'angry'. We can only understand so much anger at one time, before our perception is weakened and limited. And how much harder is it to truly understand the fact that God not only has the capacity for all the emotion we do, but can experience several at once in a way that the human mind finds contradictory?

And yet, to me, it seems that this is the very essence of God, one of the things that makes God divine and not human. St. Augustine of Hippo, as ever, had a lot to say on the subject. The core of his thinking, though is this; if the Trinity is indeed composed of three beings who are interdependent but also distinct, then it is possible for each of them to have attributes that are not part of the other. However, for the human mind to truly comprehend the depth and breadth of God as Trinity is impossible, we can but pray for enough understanding to get a glimpse of the truly awesome power and nature of God.

"We believe that Parent, Son and Holy Spirit are one God, maker and ruler of every creature, and that "Parent" is not "son", nor "Holy Spirit" "Parent" or "son"; but a trinity of mutually related persons, and a unity of equal essence. So let us attempt to understand this truth, praying that he who we wish to understand would help us in doing so, so that we can set out whatever we thus understand with such careful reverence so that nothing unworthy is said."

What he is saying here is that we should not be surprised to see what look like contradictions in the nature of God, because all things come from God and are of one of the beings of the Trinity. When we find a passage in the gospels that challenges our understanding of what Jesus the son is, we should draw near to God in prayer and ask for true understanding to allow us to speak of God's infinite nature.

Of all the names we use for God, the one I like the best is simply "I AM", because it reminds us that sometimes there is no need to describe God with human attributes, but simply to acknowledge that God is.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


I totally love Rev. I have spent 6 weeks been somewhat hooked on it. It seems to tap into all the anxieties and stresses of being a Christian (never mind trying to be ordained).

There are so many things that just tap into the ordinariness of trying to be nice to people and wondering how on earth it's possible to be good at all when the odds are stacked against you. How do you manage to keep working for God when there's no money (to make the world go around) and no one else is interested.

But more than anything else, they've created a real person who just happens to be a vicar. Full of prayers, insights, inappropriate thoughts, a slightly irrational need for friends and a nicotine habit. Oh, and some very fetching green and gold vestments...

I have always loved the Vicar of Dibley, but it is outclassed by miles by Rev. My only slight fear is that I might turn out to be more like Nigel than Adam. I quite like the idea of the commandment to keep the sabbath as the most radical. Maybe that's my years of retail work talking, rather than a theological imperative.

Incidentally, this week's episode reminded me I haven't looked at Ship of Fools for a while, and whilst I was on there I came across this, which made me giggle.

Monday, 28 June 2010


On Saturday, it was the tenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Every 20th November we gather as a community to remember the trans men and women who have died as victims of hate crime.

Hate crime takes a number of forms. In its most extreme, it leads to murder. The murder of Ian Baynham in Trafalgar Square, or David Morley on the Embankment, or the brutal and unnecessary deaths at the Admiral Duncan pub ten years ago. But there are other things that happen that are dismissed. The people who call us names in the street, who make assumptions about others' gender identities and discriminate against them for it, even the people who were bullies at school. This is all hate crime, and it is all damaging.

When people die as a result of hate crime, it is not always because they are physically beaten by their persecutors. These mental beatings take their toll. It is estimated that 50% of young trans people attempt suicide at least once. In the LGBT community as a whole, rates of depression, self-harm and addiction are higher than in the general population. This is not a coincidence, nor is it because we are naturally disordered. It is because we face such discrimination on a daily basis.

And in that spirit, we should also remember the victims of bullying. It is anti-bullying week and we know that the victims of bullying today may be the suicide victims we are remembering tomorrow. A single act of bullying can be so devastating to a young person as to lead to all sorts of mental health and emotional problems later in life. Bullying is not normal, it is not a rite of passage, it is a devastating and life-changing thing to happen to someone. Sustained over a course of years it can destroy self-esteem and erode hope in someone's life.

The bullies will also suffer, those who torment others doubtless suffer countless torments themselves. The young woman of 18 who has been charged with the murder of Ian Baynham will never get her life back. She will forever be marked as "different" and probably even as "bad". Her life has been destroyed because she was never taught that it is wrong to persecute those who are different.

So this week, as well as praying for victims of transphobic hate crime and all forms of bullying, let us think about what we can do to make the world a better place. Report it when someone assaults you in the street, refuse to accept that "it's just a part of life". Do not let hate-speak go unchallenged, have the courage to correct people who make ignorant and hurtful remarks about what they cannot possibly understand. If you are in a position to do so, share your own story with a young person who will be given strength from it; maybe even write to your old school and tell them about your experiences. A few acts of harm can destroy a life, a few careful acts of kindness may rebuild someone.

We are all one body of Christ; it's time to look after each other.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

More on the God Delusion

Whilst I don't want to turn this into some kind of anti-Dawkins platform, a couple of interesting points have been raised about what I wrote last week that I think I should respond to, particularly as Wednesday's post was something of a knee-jerk reaction. I still maintain that my issue with Dawkins remains that he rails against extremism whilst channelling some of that into his own thoughts. I hope those who commented on Facebook won't mind me lifting quotes to give this some context.

I don't quite see how he has replicated other social prejudices. I also cannot see how it follows that Dawkins and other atheists are in anyway like religious extremists. I haven't read any atheist writings that condemn and call for violence against people of faith.
I don't think calling for violence is the only way to instill hate and prejudice in others. What if he were to say that being gay is against nature and those who believe it is not are irrational and unless they are challenged and choose to change their beliefs, the very fabric of our society is at risk. That doesn't wish death on anyone, but it is still hateful and damaging. Indeed, it is one of the beliefs that Dawkins identifies as harmful, and challenges.

I find his attitude to religion to be equivalent. If you single out one religion he talks about - Islam - the things he says truly are designed to polarise and to pit people against one another. He claims to want to wipe religion from the face of the earth. No, he doesn't resort to using the language of violence but that doesn't make it acceptable in my mind.

Moderate religious people compartmentalise their thinking - accepting science in one regard but reserving a special place for their faith. I think you are probably right insofar as Dawkins' takes his fight to the fundamentalists because moderates don't offer the 'culture war' that you could argue the new atheists are looking for. However, I also thinks moderates are overlooked by the new atheists because they have effectively marginalised themselves. If you are moderate enough to believe that faith is personal, that science offers a method for progressing human understanding and as such, religion has less of a place in society in terms of say making legislation then you are left with a group of the faithful that is essentially toothless.

It's interesting, though, that as I said above Dawkins flip-flops between wanting religion to have less influence and wanting to get rid of it altogether. And I also don't agree that most moderates are 'toothless'. They will certainly not be if Dawkins gets his way and faith is driven out of society. He would push people to have to fight for their right to a personal faith. Something that is protected by (amongst other things) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Just as he insists that all religion, taken to its natural conclusion, leads to 'young men with bombs in rucksacks', it strikes me that if his brand of atheism was taken to a logical conclusion (and if it becomes de rigeur in politics) would drive faith underground or make everyone fight. That in turn would make it look as though he was right, it would become a vicious cycle that could even create further extremism.

The crux of the 'new atheist' argument is that as a basis for understanding the universe, science offers a method based on logic and reason. As you rightly recognise, science cannot falsify the existence of a God. However, from this empirical worldview there is also no reason to invoke a higher power to explain any natural phenomenon. The bottom line is, whatever one might argue, science is irreconcilable with religion because in order to accept the tenements of any faith, one must put aside what is known about the laws of physics, biology and the universe and one must ignore the illogic that arises as a result of invoking a creator to explain its existence. Please understand that I am not attacking religious people here, I simply think that you have to accept that there has to be some suspension of reason in order to have faith.
But just as there is always an element of "who created the creator" inherent in religious philosophy, there will always be unanswered questions in science. What caused the big bang (and what if the LHC doesn't find out)? There is no reason to invoke God to fill the gaps, I agree. But Dawkins only ever challenges this 'God of the gaps' theology, and it is not the only thing that draws people into faith. I don't want to believe in a god who is diminished by science, or can only exist where science can't answer our questions. I am happy for there to be things I don't understand. Sometimes faith comes from a place that just can't be explained itself. Pascal (an agnostic) used to talk about there being a 'God-shaped hole' in all of us. There is a human instinct to faith, and maybe it does involve a suspension of purely scientific thinking, but until a couple of years ago it required a suspension of scientific fact to observe a bee flying!

It involves a suspension of science and rationality to enter into a monogamous relationship, to use birth control and have sex for pleasure. Love cannot be empirically measured, laughter can't be adequately distilled into chemical processes. We don't understand the human mind; science can see chemical changes occur in the brain of someone with persistent neuroses or psychoses, so why is it not enough to correct those chemical changes to restore a person to how they were without those neuroses?

We suspend reason in order to live to the fullest. Religion is not the root of all evil, science is not the cure. Religion can be used, shamefully, as a whip to drive people to do all sorts of things. But it's humanity that does that. Yes, there are arguments and turns of phrase that are emotive and are consistently used to draw people into extremist views, but politics can do that as well. Political Islam draws heavily on communist political philosophy (read The Islamist by Ed Husain to explain this more fully), and some parts of Christianity frequently embrace politically motivated 'scientific' studies to support their views on alternative sexualities.

We are flawed human beings. I can't explain through my faith why we aren't perfect, and neither can a scientist. We came to be this way through millennia of biological, social and psychological evolution. In so many ways, we suspend reason just by being.

This debate could keep going forever, there have been arguments against creationism for as long as there has been a capacity for human thought, so I'll leave it there.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The God Delusion on Channel 4

I will try to keep this as far from a rant as I can. I'm watching Richard Dawkins on 4OD in a series called 'The Root of all Evil?', and it is fascinating.

I do have a problem with Dawkins, and I should confess that now, but my problem is not that he is an atheist; rather, it is that he sees things in very black and white terms. He views all religious experiences as being 'the first step to young men with bombs in rucksacks' and says that 'even so-called moderate believers are part of the same religious fabric [as Osama bin-Laden and the taleban]', and that all with faith 'encourage unreason as a virtue'.

The problem is that this view is so distorted that I wonder if he would recognise a 'so-called moderate' if he fell over one. You know, Professor Dawkins, there are some of us who agree with you that the world is over 4 billion years old, and that evolution is indisputable scientific fact.

In fact, I would go even further than that. I know many Christians who positively thrive on the scientific method in their theology. To be more accurate, I suppose I mean the Socratic method (one cannot, obviously, test philosophical and theological reasoning in a lab). Like Dawkins, I love the times when other people from my academic discipline are able to come together to argue, debate and maybe even change one another's views. This tradition, although I called it Socratic, is also a very important part of Jewish tradition. Christianity and Judaism thrive on debate, discussion and the idea that the Word of God is both unchanging and of constant relevance.

Richard Dawkins does say, in fairness to him, that he doesn't hate anyone. I'm not sure this is borne out by the bigoted language he uses. I find it is frequently offensive, and if he were to talk that way about any other group in society it would be considered so and not aired. However, I am glad he is able to broadcast and to talk. I am glad that he challenges fundamentalism where it becomes dangerous, but I worry that he doesn't see a difference between 'death cults of suicide bombers' and the average church, mosque, or synagogue attendee.

I don't pretend to know everything. I have deep questions about the world that my faith can't answer. Science isn't there to fill the gaps in my knowledge of God, and God isn't there to fill the gaps in my scientific knowledge.

I hope I have been able to communicate that I don't disagree with him on everything, but I feel like Dawkins uses poor methodology to research his atheist work. He refers only to the extremes, never to the religious folk who might actually agree with him on some parts of his research. I find it telling that he doesn't talk to someone like Karen Armstrong, a former nun and expert on the semitic/Abrahamic faiths, or Richard Holloway, formerly Bishop of Edinburgh and both a relativist and a moderate. Is he too scared that he can't challenge the middle ground?

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Review: Kit and the Widow

Kit and the Widow were playing the Hampstead Theatre tonight, so I went along with my sister, her fiancé and a couple of my friends.

As ever, totally sidesplitting. Although there always moments when I find the humour crosses boundaries for me (the Romany Caprice, for example, if anyone knows it), but you can't help laughing (albeit guiltily).

Kit's interpretation of The Flight of the Bumblebee ("The Vol du Bourdon, or Who Stole my Chocolate Biscuit?") was a highlight, as was a new song about the sex lives of the Lib Dems and White Van Man, which is not new but is new to me.

We also had the pleasure of meeting them briefly after the performance, and had a quick chat with The Widow, who recognised us ("Oh, good Lord, it's the whole of the front row!"). Tori's fiancé is albino is sure that he managed to throw The Widow off slightly, because when he was bantering with the audience he decided to pick on the person on the end of the front row and then seemed to pull a face that said "oh, no, what can I say that's not offensive about the albino man?!". Lovely.

For the uninitiated, here are a couple of verses from a song about Obama that may, sadly, soon be outmoded.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Life in General

So I didn't leave my job, but I did have to take a significant cut in hours (and, therefore, pay).

However, I have been offered a place at the University of Oxford to study for a Post-graduate Diploma in Theology (PGDip), starting in October! So I'm very excited; looking forward to getting my teeth into some study again. I'm sure it'll be the bane of my life once I start, but right now the idea of being back in an academic library and being full-time curious is just too exciting!

I will be sad to leave my job, and certainly to leave London after six years, but it seems like the right time. My health's not been great lately, but I'm trying to see Oxford as an opportunity to get better, and not to see my health as a reason to put off the course I really want to do.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Vincent, the Doctor and me

The Starry Night (June 1889). Oil on canvas.

This week's Doctor Who fascinated me. Vincent van Gogh has always intrigued me, of course, because his legacy has always been as much to do with his mental health as it has his work.

And I loved that this formed a pivotal plot-point; that there was never a possibility of watering down his deep depressions.

For a start, it has made me want to read more about him both as a man and an artist. I assume a lot of research went into his speeches, and that is wonderful. I found myself looking at paintings that I had never thought to consider before.

I may have a degree that (nominally) included some art history, but I was all about the imagery - politics is everything in my art-brain. I love hearing people talk about art, though, and about how it is achieved. I read Noes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale a couple of years ago, and loved the way he talks about his artist's use of colour. The protagonist is a female artist who suffers from bi-polar disorder (also, somewhat erroneously, known as 'manic depression'). Her art is abstract, the sort of thing that I once dismissed as "stuff a four-year-old could paint" when I visited the Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Then I read Patrick Gale's description of colour, and how it is achieved, and began to think differently. Look at the sky. If you're like me, and don't really have a brain for painting, it's usually blue, pink or grey. I had never seen the green underneath the blue, or the purple in the grey. Colour was flat, except in variegated yarn...

And then, last February, my friend Clinton took me to see Rothko at the Tate Modern in London. I was totally indulging him, I thought; maintaining that I 'don't understand' modern art and can't respond to the abstract. But I was blown away by the sheer size and scale of the work, and the gorgeous depth. I won't pretend that I understand what happened in my mind when I looked at it, but there were some canvasses that I was so captured by that I couldn't take my eyes off them. I remember this one, in particular;
Black on Maroon (1959), Oil on Canvas

I can't tell you what it was about it that I loved. I remember saying to Clinton that it evoked a sense of the trinity in me. Something about the infinite colours appearing as just three; the way in which it is one construction in which three elements are apparent but the whole spectrum is present. It was complicated, and somehow moving.

I don't know anything about Mark Rothko, not really, except that he was active in the 1950s and painted abstract canvasses. So only as much as I have already told you! But that painting made me feel like I knew something of his mind. It's daft, of course, to claim to know the mind of one you can't ever meet, so I imagine that what I felt was something more innate, more inherently human. Not a unique sensation that can only be imparted by the work of one individual, but a shared sense of wonder and then of sadness. Not sadness in the depression sense; that is something very different in my mind. No, this was a melancholy sense that things will never be complete. A knowledge that I will never know the mind that created the image before me, nor the true complexity of the process by which it was borne out. It was a philosophical sadness, that the true nature of the universe cannot be revealed in this lifetime.

All of this came flooding back to me when I considered the scenes in the Musée d'Orsay. That way in which we respond to art so instinctively. We formulate complex ideas on the outworkings of someone else's imagination, and we form them in seconds, although we can never truly know the mind of the artist.

And I agree with the assessment of the writers; that van Gogh did not betray his illness through his work. I don't feel darkness when I look at his work; even the later paintings like The Starry Night, which are full of dark colour, don't make me feel sad or empty. The focus is an overlooked beauty. The beauty of a truly starry night when the wonders of creation are revealed. There is no way to look at The Starry Night and see only darkness. Indeed, one is more likely to see only light.

But this ability to see beauty, and experience joy, does not diminish the capacity of the brain to harm. Just as the body has its mechanisms for keeping us stable (the process GCSE students call 'homeostasis'), so does the brain. Just as the other organs in our bodies can go wrong, so the brain can go wrong; and it can have a real impact on your emotional stability.

I feel like it's a risk for me to admit to this, but I expect a lot of other people felt the same; I really identified with the pure fear that was in the character of Vincent when he thought he was going to lose Amy and the Doctor. I have been scared at what might happen if my friends leave, or change, or both. I have told people I can't cope without them, and I have thrown myself face-down on my bed and wept at the thought that they might not come back. But that has not prevented me, like our fictionalised Vincent, from sometimes managing to take a deep breath and carry on. Like another great man presented this series, Winston Churchill, I "Keep Buggering On" when the world and my emotions want me to stop. 

Now, I will never produce the wonderful art that van Gogh, Tchaikovsky, Sylvia Plath or Virginia Wolf created from their depressions. But I hope I can learn to at least understand and try to explain my own mind, such as it is. I hope, with God's help, I can channel all that bad stuff into something good. At the very least, I have promised myself that I will do my bit to challenge the stigma of mental illness. Because, damnit, poor mental health doesn't have to be validated or explained by genius. Just as there are people on the autistic spectrum who are not savant and there are deaf people who cannot craft a symphony like Beethoven, so there are people with depression who are not creative in that way. 

So it is thanks to people like van Gogh and Virginia Woolf that I can expect people to have some understanding of what it is like to live in this brain and this illness of mine. It won't be clear to everyone - maybe you wonder what sort of pretentious garbage this all is, anyway? - but I can identify myself in them and remember that you do not have to be healthy to make a difference in this world, as long as you have hope.

"Now I think I know what you tried to say to me,
How you suffered for your sanity,
How you tried to set them free.
They would not listen, they're not listening still;
perhaps they never will."

Friday, 4 June 2010

Love is an Orientation

I haven't yet read the book Love is an Orientation, but I have seen a lot of it around; particularly as a recommended companion to Living it Out. But I happened to be searching for a Billy Graham quote, and it came up with this interview with the author.

Firstly, this pretty much confirmed what I had read about the book; that it is very much from the perspective you would expect of a straight, evangelical Christian, but comes to a conclusion that is graceful and loving.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Blogs I like

I haven't done this for a while, so I thought I would link you to people who blog interesting things and are lovely.

Here's a few for starters (in no particular order);

Fashion Launderette is my cousin Milly's blog. Here she tells everyone in the world how she manages to look so fabulous so much of the time...

Miss Hilton Ink is Milly's equally fabulous and talented sister, who is a brilliant artist and works caring for young people with autism and other challenging behaviour. (I think the creative traits must be on the Hilton side, my sister picked them up but I didn't so much!)

NOLA Noodlings is the Big Easy MCC's blog live from New Orleans, Louisiana by the lovely Pastor Clinton.

Through Myself and Back Again is a life-in-general blog by a friend of mine, who tweets and is visible on Ouch as @lilwatchergirl, and is a research student working on disability and inclusivity in Christianity.

27% is The Girl-belonging-to-lilwatchergirl's blog about how she deals with her father's illness.

Two Mummies are Better Than None is Louise's blog about how she and C. are navigating the stormy seas of the UK adoption process as a gay couple.

At the YLGC meeting yesterday, we talked about the importance of sharing experiences, so I hope that my sharing others' here is interesting to you.

Monday, 17 May 2010

An email to a young Christian

I am part of YLGC - Young LGBT Christians - and involved in co-ordinating some of the activities of the group. We received an email from a Christian studying the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality for a school project and asking how we reached the conclusion that we could live as openly gay Christians. This is an email I sent in response.


I think you might get a couple of replies from members of YLGC, as we thought that we wouldn't be able to give 'standard' answers to your questions. I do think it's fantastic that you've been given the opportunity to explore this at school.

From my perspective, I think the easiest thing I can do is to try to explain a little about who I am, and how I came to the views I hold today. I'll try not to bore you with my life story, though!

I'm 24, live in London and I have an archaeology degree from UCL in London. I spent a year working for the students' union after I graduated and now work for Waterstone's in the history department of a university branch. I'm also student clergy in the United Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, based at MCC North London, and I've been accepted to Oxford University to study for a Postgraduate Diploma in Theology starting in October. I'm also in a relationship with a woman; we've been together for three months and are monogamous.

When I was young, until I was five, my family attended church. Mum was raised a Christian, but we stopped going when we moved house. I don't remember much from that time, other than how to make a palm tree from a roll of newspaper!

Other than six months or so going to school with a friend when I was ten, I didn't really have much to do with church from then onwards. It wasn't until I was fifteen, and had begun to realise that I was gay, that a school friend invited me to attend a youth event at her church. I was looking for friends, and a community, more than I was looking for God but I guess we often get more than we bargain for in this life!

I kept going along to the youth group for a few months. Sometimes the discussions made me uncomfortable, but on the whole I enjoyed the company. After a while, I decided I should make a decision about my beliefs before I committed to the group. One Sunday I went to the evening service before the youth group meeting. I don't remember what the sermon was about, honestly, or who was preaching, but I left feeling convinced. As conversion stories go, it's not dramatic, I know.

But this was complicated by the fact that I had come out to a couple of my friends at church and I found it very hard to reconcile the church's teachings on sexuality with my own views. Their teachings on homosexuality centred around a literal interpretation of a few verses (with which I'm sure you're familiar) to say that God's view of human sexuality is limited to one man and one woman. Of course, this view of sexual ethics does extend beyond homosexuality, to also forbid heterosexual sexual activity outside marriage.

I always felt instinctively that this didn't reflect my experience or knowledge of God, and did a great deal of reading around the subject at the time. I spent a lot of time feeling torn between my own, increasingly liberal, view and that of my church.

Essentially what changed my mind was based on how I felt God in my own life. I heard a sermon preached recently in which the preacher said that the Bible is not so much a rule book as a book of stories of how God works in people's lives. It's something that I have always loved about the Bible, the fact that it is full of some truly weird and wonderful characters and all of human life and experience is there.

However, if you read these stories, you will not find a preponderance of heterosexual, monogamous couples. There is only one couple which fit in with our modern idealised view of married relationship, and that is Adam and Eve. King David had several wives, and appears to have had a romantic relationship with Jonathan (see, for example, 1 Samuel 18). The words of the Christian marriage were spoken by one woman to another, as Ruth committed to travel with and care for her mother-in law (Ruth 1, especially verses 16-17).

And then there was the instinct, which you allude to in your letter, that if God created all things and saw that it was good, God also created all the facets of human nature. This points to a very deep and complex question about those aspects of our nature that are dark and seem to draw us away from God, and I don't presume that I can answer that. However, what we can do is look into ourselves and ask which are those darker aspects. For me, they are the things in us which have the capacity to hurt others. Sin is what separates us from God; almost exclusively sin is that which is disrespectful to God by causing pain to God's creation either by hurting or denying ourselves or others. In my mind, therefore, the act of loving another person is not and cannot be sinful.

It was for that reason that I eventually decided that I could not be part of a church that chose to deny me the opportunity for loving relationship with others. When I arrived in London to study, I spent a lot of time visiting churches and found myself unable to make a church that condemned gay people my home. Of course, there are always many things to consider when choosing a new church and this was by no means the only factor in my decision, but if I felt I could not be open about my identity and my relationships I would leave.

That was how I eventually came to MCC North London. I stayed because it was the single most welcoming church I had ever had the pleasure to visit, and because I realised that MCC changes lives. Organisations like MCC, YLGC and the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) have helped countless Christians come to a renewed faith in a God who loves them just as they were made, in God's image.

I realise I have barely scratched the surface of the many and complex issues that come up when human sexuality is discussed in a Christian context, but if I were to try and cover everything I'm sure that (a) I would fail, and (b) I would bore you! I would recommend a couple of books as further reading, though.

Living it Out was published last November. The authors both used to attend YLGC, and so most of the contributors have some connection to YLGC. Using the voices of over fifty Christians who have wrestled with some of the issues you are discovering in the course of your project, they have compiled a book that looks at the ways in which people live Christian lives as LGB people or their friends and allies. What I particularly love about Living it Out is the emphasis on the reality that there is no one way to be a gay Christian. In fact, there are as many ways to live as a gay or bisexual Christian as there are gay or bisexual Christians! (Incidentally, the reviews on Amazon are themselves interesting). Living it Out also has a website,

In the Eye of the Storm deals with one of the more visible issues of recent years; that of gay bishops in the Anglican Communion. It is Gene Robinson's theology and life story and is well worth a look. You can also find a talk by him on the website for Greenbelt, a Christian arts festival.

Of the wide range of academic resources available, my favourite is the Blackwell readings in Theology and Sexuality, particularly Rowan Williams' excellent article: The Body's Grace, a copy of which can be found here.

It is also worth reading the story of a group called Courage; their ministry was originally to cure gay and lesbian people, but they are now an out-and-proud group of Christians and the story of how they reached that point is truly amazing.

I feel I have gone on for too long, so I shall leave it there. I hope I have answered your questions to a certain extent. Feel free, if you would like, to follow up and to ask more questions. I do not have all the answers, but I think we are called as Christians to challenge ourselves and listen to the challenges of others.

Good luck with your project. It's wonderful that you're doing this and I hope it is a real journey for you, whatever you decide in your own life and faith.

With very best wishes,

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Why vote?

I am usually pretty evangelical about elections. I do, firmly, believe that everyone in the country has a duty to vote and my friends know I'm not afraid to say so. In my mind, it is not only a civil responsibility; a general election does, after all, affect the lives of everyone in this country, so it is an important part of caring for others to engage with the process.

For me, deciding who to vote for is very much a process of discernment and prayer. If you believe, as I do, that it is our responsibility to care for one another and to provide to the best of our abilities, then who to vote for is of the utmost importance. What matters more, taxing higher earners to pay for the NHS or cutting NHS funding in an attempt to restore the economy? Who would you protect, corporations or small businesses? Is being green more important than being wealthy? None of these questions can be taken out of the context of a faith in Christ, which is our compass and guide through the world of politics.

That is not to say that all Christians will vote the same way; far from it, and I hardly expect any of the Christians I know to vote for the Christian Party, because even they do not espouse my values. Nor do I believe that it is important for the leader of the country to be Christian; belief in the right of each human being to have a fair chance in life is not exclusive to Christianity. We cannot, and must not, claim to be the only people who can speak and act the word of God.

So however you vote on May 6th, do vote. And vote prayerfully and thoughtfully. People's futures are in your hands.

It shouldn't influence your vote, of course, but in case anyone wondered...

Saturday, 17 April 2010

A new knitting project

Unfortunately, the acrylic I bought for my Sweetheart sweater feels nasty as a fabric, so that's on hold until I can afford some decent yarn.

So, behold the next project, for The Wife's birthday; Mangyle from the wonderful I'm doing the gold in a dusky pink, but otherwise I've chosen similar colours of Stylecraft Life (Ravelry link for knitters).

Wish me luck!

Photo: Sarah Sumner-Eisenbraun on

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Life in General

Just an update on how I've been recently.

I'm leaving my job on May 22nd (eek!); it was a fixed-term position so I did know it was coming, but nonetheless I'm quite worried about finding another one.

I've been a little bit ill lately, as well, so I'm worried about what my absence record will look like.

At the moment, I suppose I'm mostly just lucky to have awesome friends who have stuck by me. Long may it last; I hope they (you, if you're reading this) understand that there are times when I'm not sure I'd cope without them. That's not additional pressure, it's a statement of fact. Just knowing they're there and that they give a crap is enough.

*cheesy American accent* I love you guys

Sunday, 11 April 2010

How to Walk Through Walls - 2 sermons

Le Passe-Muraille - The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls - Montmartre, Paris

Two sermons for the price of 1! Both preached on the same day, from the same notes, but it's interesting to me that they're quite different. 

Preached at Trinity United Reform Church, Camden Town, on Sunday 11th April 2010, Second Sunday of Easter.
How to Walk Through Walls - URC 110410 sound bite

Preached at MCC North London, Camden Town, on Sunday 11th April 2010, Second Sunday of Easter.
John 20:19-31
When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you."

After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you."

When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe." Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!"

Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe."

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Acts 5:27-32
When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, "We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man's blood on us."

But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Palm Sunday

Originally published as a reflection in the MCC North London newsletter, 25th March 2010
As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven! - Luke 19:37-38
Throughout Lent we have been looking at what it means to follow Jesus and asking, what are we prepared to do for him? This week, as we head into Palm Sunday and Holy Week, we have the opportunity to follow Jesus in triumph in his final entry into Jerusalem.
This was the pinnacle of Jesus' ministry, the paradoxical moment at which his followers were rejoicing in his arrival and he was beginning to prepare for his betrayal and violent departure. To follow him at this moment, to be walking with him as his followers were spreading their cloaks out for him in the road, waving palms, shouting and praising God, must have been the most incredible privilege. For a group of poor men from small towns outside Jerusalem to be greeted like that in the holy city itself, I can't imagine how that must have felt.
It would have been a moment when it was easy to follow Jesus, when there was reflected glory to bathe in, when the disciples felt like the most important men in the world. All Jesus' followers in the city - men, women and children, from all social classes - at that moment really committed to Jesus. They were a strong group with faith; strong enough to put the wind up the Pharisees.
And so it was the turning point in the Pharisees' attitude to Jesus. They realised that he had a strong and loyal band of followers; they were scared that he threatened their monopoly on religious teaching in the city, they were scared of losing their power and influence in Jewish society. This was the moment when a group of Pharisees decided it was time to approach Herod and Pilate and tell them that Jesus was leading a band of rebels, that he threatened the stability of Roman rule in Palestine and that their only option was to arrest him as a dangerous revolutionary. 

There is no doubt in my mind that the Pharisees really believed that Jesus was dangerous, and I know his teachings were revolutionary. We are blessed that they did not succeed in stifling Jesus' message, nor in halting the spread of his name across the empire, but for a time it must have looked like they had succeeded.

In one short week, Jesus went from entering Jerusalem in triumph to being arrested, sentenced and publicly executed. In one short week, the followers who were so committed to him on Sunday had disappeared by Friday. They were prepared to follow him in times of joy, but were too scared to stand beside him and share the burden of his punishment. Judas betrayed him, Peter denied him, many more withdrew and pretended he had never been their leader. People felt let down, they couldn't see past the arrest and execution to realise that Jesus was still the Messiah and their saviour. Jesus knew this, and knew that he was alone on his final walk that Friday, There were people following, and mourning, but they no longer felt like his disciples - his pupils - they were weeping for their loss, for their mistaken faith in a man who was fallible. 'Jesus turned and said to them, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children."' (Luke 30:28), he was reminding them that it was not his frailty that had led to this moment, but humanity's dark and selfish heart. 

I wonder how many people truly heard that message? I believe Simon of Cyrene understood, when he carried the cross for Jesus. I believe that the women who stood at the foot of the cross understood. Eventually, I know that the disciples came to understand, but they had to see the resurrected Christ first.

So when we get into Palm Sunday, remember that Jesus had this wonderful moment of triumph and glory. Remember that it is wonderful to follow Jesus when life is going well. But also take some time to think about what it means to follow Jesus when times are hard. Could we take up his cross? Could we still have faith as we watched him die? I pray that I could, and I pray that I will find the strength in times of darkness in my own life to have the strength of Simon and Mary, a faith that doesn't weaken when this world is cruel and cold.

Jerusalem today (taken December 2008)

Friday, 19 March 2010

Some bad jokes

A collection of bad jokes from tonight's funtimes in a bar in Soho (and others).

"What's the difference between a lesbian and a duck?
Spelling." - The Wife

Me: I'm not at church this week, it's my week off.
Scottish friend coughs in a pathetic sort of way... 'wee cough', get it?

"Did you hear about the lesbian who knitted a scarf?
It itched." - According to above-referenced Scottish friend this is a very funny joke that I fail to understand.

"How many musicians does it take to change a lightbulb?
Oh, it's an obscure number, I don't expect you to know it..." - Girl Housemate

Thursday, 4 March 2010


Dad at the Thames with Andante, enjoying the sunshine.

I don't know what it is about canals, but I really love them. I think it's something to do with the fact that they are such an important part of the cityscape in Britain. In London especially, you can walk along the canal for a while and forget where you are. It's a different way to see the architecture and you get a real sense of what it was like when the city centred around the waterways and the warehouses. There's something creepy about all the abandoned warehouses, particularly around Camden, but they're also really picturesque and imposing.

I also love looking at boat names. Mum and Dad's is called Andante ('walking' in Italian, musical term for 'walking pace'), because that's the name they inherited but Mum wants to call it Moby Duck. Then there's all the retirement boats called things like Dunworkin', the boats named after poems (we once took a boat out for a weekend called Macavity), or those that seem to be named after family members.

I went for my first run in my bid to do 7 miles for Iain Rennie Hospice at Home on the 20th June (Fathers' Day), and managed about 4km in 30 minutes, which isn't too bad. I ran along from Thornhill Road near Kings Cross past St. Pancras and up to Camden Road. I haven't run properly since October but I need to get back into doing intervals and increasing daily until I'm ready. According to a training guide Mum has, I should have plenty of time to get to the point I can run 10km (which is ≈ 7 miles).

I think I might start walking to church that way, it's really not far and I'll take some photos to plague you all with.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Run, Rowley, run, Rowley, run, run, run....

Right, I have a Cunning Plan. As many of you know, my Grandad sadly died on Valentine's Day this year. He had been suffering from pulmonary fibrosis for a couple of years and in the last 5-6 months he and Grandma were lucky to have excellent support from Iain Rennie Hospice at Home, who provided a hospital bed, nursing care and emergency doctors if needed. Three of the nurses then came to the funeral, and were kind enough to tell us that they had enjoyed Grandad's company.

We were so lucky that Grandad had all that support without needing to leave Grandma and their home, so I've decided to do something for them and I will commit to at least enter the Penn and Tylers Green Fun Run (3.5 miles), but aim to enter the Penn 7 (7 miles), both of which are held on Father's Day each year in aid of Iain Rennie.

I will be starting with a run tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!

A new commandment

Originally published as a reflection in the MCC North London newsletter, 4th March 2010. The Lenten reflections were on the theme of the hymn Will You Come and Follow Me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Sometimes I think that the responsibility given to us as Christians is almost impossible to fulfil. Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) That doesn’t sound so bad until you start to look at it in detail and really think about what is being said. What does he mean when he says, “as I have loved you”?

Jesus’ life and ministry was completely rooted in love. Everything he did was for the love of humanity, from enduring tests in the wilderness from Satan until the day he died in agony on the cross. The seasons of Lent and Easter are all about the raw emotion that is at the heart of our faith; love.

Jesus showed that love in many different ways, some of which are easy to follow and some of which are almost impossible for us. He spent time with the people at the lowest end of the social scale; sinners, tax collectors, women, fishermen, people who were ill or disabled, and the list goes on. He broke bread with them, he taught them the will of God and he tended to their needs. Would we dare to look after those we consider beneath us, no matter what the cost? Would we wash the feet of anyone we don’t know, let alone those we don’t like? Would we kiss a person with a deforming and debilitating highly-contagious skin condition?

Jesus healed in the name of God. He resurrected Lazarus, healed all sorts of disabilities and debilitating illnesses. He continued to travel around healing those he loved, even when he knew that Herod was looking for him, and that he was soon to be arrested and executed. Would we have the faith to heal someone in the name of God? Would we have the strength of will to carry on doing this if it would cost us our lives?

And if we did do all these things, if we fulfilled the commandment to love one another and truly showed the love of Christ to all our neighbours, would that be enough? No. Jesus says that not only should we do these things, but we should do them unseen, out of no desire but to please God. We should not seek the recognition of people, or the thanks of the healed. There should be no reward for this work but the knowledge that it is the work of God we are doing. The only thing we should be seen to proclaim loudly and without fear in the face of the public is the love of Jesus Christ. We should admit what he means to us all day, every day. We should not be too embarrassed to tell our non-Christian friends we’ll pray for them, nor too ashamed to admit we go to church. We have to come out as Christians, even if we are persecuted. And if we lose everything, even our lives, we will have lost nothing as long as we have loved the world and our God, and lived that love in every aspect of our lives.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Today was Grandad's funeral, and I read this prayer to the small gathering of family and friends. I wasn't sure whether to post this, but it's all I can think of to say. We celebrated the life of an extraordinary person today and I was lucky to have known him. 

Almighty God,

We stand here today in a time of grief and sorrow, in a season of darkness. This is the darkness of the end of the day, at the end of a bright day of joy and of laughter.

We have had the privilege of spending many such days with Hedley, our Grandad. We have never known a time when we couldn't look to him for support, advice and knowledge. Whether he was demonstrating the pressure in an aircraft, explaining how a barometer works or talking through the economic circumstances of the Wall Street Crash, he always made life seem so simple. There was nothing that couldn't be solved with a nice cup of tea or a quick lap of the garden in the old wheelbarrow. We acknowledge the precious gifts of life, love and family. We claim those gifts today and hold onto them for comfort in times of loneliness.

Almighty, ever-living and ever-loving God. You gave us promises of peace and eternal life - we claim those promises now for your children gathered here, for Hedley and for everyone whose life he touched with his quiet grace. We ask for perfect peace for all those who mourn with us. We ask this in the many names of God, whoever and however we perceive you to be.

God bless you, Grandad.


Sunday, 7 February 2010

Review of Living it Out

I noticed a new review of Living it Out on Amazon today, which I thought I would share. I was really pleased to see that it remarks on how taboo it is to discuss mental health issues in many churches. This second paragraph struck me really strongly, and I hope she manages to go back to a church.

This is the book I was looking for all along. It doesn't rehash the 'is it scriptural, is it moral' debate. But it also doesn't skirt around it. Instead, it cuts right to the heart of how to live. I found a lot of comfort in reading about other people's experiences, and I was inspired by the creative ways they have found to move forward. I particularly appreciated the discussion of mental health problems- often another taboo topic within the church. I realised reading this book how much I'd given up on the whole church thing, but I feel hopeful now that I might be ready to give it another go- armed with the tips, ideas and resources from this book.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

The Wedding Planner

So I can now finally announce it because it's on Facebook - Tori and her boyfriend* Luke are engaged!

The bling
So in August 2011 there will be a big Rowley-Freeborough wedding, and it's very exciting. We've spent the afternoon looking at bridesmaids' dresses and venues. At the moment, it's still fun. Ask me again in a year....

So, here's to Tori and Luke!

*Fiancé, obv.