Over 1,000 words, mostly ranting

Today, I got really fed up with the Current State of Things. And if it’s OK with you, I am going to have a little rant about it. What I also want are concrete suggestions about how I go about changing some of this…

I’m fed up with the narrative that casts any benefit recipient (except those ‘entitled’ to child benefit) as a scrounger. That says Disability Living Allowance is a drain on the public purse, when it’s the payment that allows people to live a full life. I’m fed up with a system that decides on a tick box list whether you’re fit for work or a scrounger, regardless of the fact there are very very few employers that would make the ‘reasonable adjustment’ needed for someone with, say, a mental health problem, when there are non-ill people out there also looking for work. And that says it’s not OK to be ill, and looked after. I’m fed up with hearing that food banks are expanding, because that means we are failing miserably both individually and collectively. And we are standing around watching people have their safety net removed, because job centre sanctions are enforced – sometimes for trivialities, by people who do not seem to understand what having no money is like. I don’t. I can pay my rent, I can go to the supermarket, make choices about what to buy, drink wine on a Monday. That makes me extremely fortunate. I’m fed up with people who do not understand that the bedroom tax is unfair and that £14 is a lot for some budgets. I’m fed up with zero-hour contracts and minimum wage jobs being seen as good enough. I’m fed up with contradictory noises – we should all be out working hard, but at the same time looking after our relatives?

I’m fed up with the phrase ‘affordable housing.’ We’d never talk about ‘affordable food’ like it was a good thing. I’m fed up with tenants being viewed as second class citizens. I’m fed up with housing benefit going to line private landlords’ pockets when the narrative suggests the claimants are raking it in.

I’m fed up with MPs denying cost of living increases to others whilst demanding more for themselves. They knew the pay rates when they stood for election, they should get over it. Live a bit more simply. Like the rest of us have to.

I’m fed up with a society that doesn’t care about taking more and more from the earth’s resources. We don’t need ‘green’ energy, they say, laughing at the tofu-eating environmentalists. We’ve got fracking! Take that jumper off, turn your thermostat up – we’ve got more gas to burn! But what happens after that’s run out? Why is no-one talking about investing in long term reductions of demand – making sure we have decently insulated houses with efficient heating systems, using solar or wind power where we can? Oh, that’s right. We just cut the green taxes that might have paid for that kind of stuff, rather than dent the foreign-owned energy companies’profits.

I’m fed up with our infrastructure being under the control of overseas states. As the Now Show put it – a socialist government is being funded by a communist regime to build us a nuclear power plant, so we can enjoy the free market. That same free market that means my train service is run by the Dutch government. Not to mention the utilities that are private-equity owned, taking money from the taxpayer to make rich people richer or fund investment by other states in *their* infrastructure.

I’m fed up with tax avoidance – and I am fed up with people not realising how privately-owned so many of our retailers are, and missing the point by focusing on one or two culprits.

I’m fed up with people’s need to buy more, consume more, to care about their shiny shoes, gadgets, clothes – when our consumerism locks other people into poverty. How long did people’s revulsion at the conditions the Bangladeshi workers were living with last? Or have we, 6 months on, forgotten – and sneaked back to the cheap clothes, no questions asked?

I’m fed up with a society that decides teachers needn’t bother learning how to be teachers, and under the guise of ‘choice’ siphons off money to private academies.

Actually I’m fed up with ALL the siphoning off of my tax money into private hands. I am a hard-working person – and I want to see my tax spent on things that make this country a better, fairer, cleaner, nicer, hopeful place – not a system that drives a further wedge between the haves and have-nots, whilst blaming the have-nots for their predicament.

Is the BBC biased? Probably. But not anti-Tory, not anti-right wing – not from where I’m standing. Where is the coverage of the sell-off of the NHS? Why does unelected UKIP get a voice when the Green Party doesn’t? But you know what? Despite that, despite the fact the Today programme makes me shout at the radio, I still love the BBC and its provision. I’d pay my £11 a month for R4 and its podcasts alone. It’s damned cheap when you compare it to almost any other major media provision.

I’m fed up with car drivers being prioritised over pedestrians and cyclists. I’m fed up with bus networks being pruned back, leaving those who rely on them isolated. I’m fed up with public transport being seen as an inconvenience to the freedom of the motorist – the idea that parking restrictions are a restriction on freedom only makes sense if you have never been stuck on a bus behind a stupidly parked car.

I’m fed up with libraries being closed by people who have no idea what happens in one.

I’m fed up with immigrant-bashing, rape culture, lads’ mags, the sexualisation of everything, the polarised debates about religion, discrimination, the ideology of the free market and…and…and… you know – that might be everything. For now. Until tomorrow, and the next announcement on the Today programme that makes me angry.

On the art of unrunning

Regular readers will know I am not exactly keen on the idea that spirituality is associated with the need to sit still and concentrate for any length of time. Quite apart from the objection that I don’t have hours spare in the week, I also have sneaky suspicions that all the reported spiritual benefits are only the result of meditation-type techniques. Other religions seem claim spiritual intervention or experiences when still & relaxed so there’s nothing to convince me that an experience of the Christian God is actually anything more than the side effects of a particular physical state of being. Tricky. There’s also my general worry that by not being any good at this sitting lark, I’ll therefore never make the grade as a Proper Christian. Answers on a postcard as to what a Proper Christian might be.

Last week I had a very interesting conversation with a very calm and wise person who helped me see the inability to sit still in a new light. She asked me how far I ran the first time I went. She asked me how much of my running was habit and practice. At this point the penny dropped. I know this has been obvious to lots of people but I realise that what I am being asked to do is learn to unrun. So on one end of the scale I’m off and running a half marathon. On the other end of the scale I’m finding stillness and peace. But whilst I can get to the first end easily, because the steps are practised and they flow, it’s harder for me to move in the opposite direction. And it will never get easy if I don’t put time into practise. Suddenly the physical process makes sense even if my internal jury is out on the spiritual process.

The very next day I met with @rosamundi who carefully took me through the steps of praying the rosary. I’ve only just touched it again and said a tentative few Hail Marys but this could well work out as a useful method of unrunning training. As long as I get past the bit of my brain that’s quizzically looking at me with an unfamiliar thing in my hand.

And, that, my friend, pretty much illustrates the difference between us.

I’ve mentioned in other blog posts that I am lucky to have good friends who belong to other Christian traditions. As well as the differences in preferred worship style we also do see the world somewhat differently. One could suggest that they are optimists, and I’m pessimistic; and that would be fairly true. Or that they’re ever-hopeful and I am a grumpy old cynic. That would also be true, but you know, we all have days when we do and think differently so perhaps one day it’ll be me with the wild joyfulness. What I value most about these lovely ladies in our friendships is their patience with me in the face of what must feel like endless questions about how they’re so quick to see God in things, trusting him completely. The cynical me would look instead at confirmatory bias and find as many un-spiritual explanation for things as possible.

So we get to today. I had a pretty poor night’s sleep last night – eyes wide open at 4:40am having jolted myself awake at the end of a dream. In this dream, I was trying to pack for a trip to Chicago (am attending SLA Conference in July). But I couldn’t find a suitcase, and the taxi was waiting, and I was getting crosser and crosser and eventually had to take one from my parents’ loft whilst stressing about missing the flight. I tweeted about the dream this morning in amongst my general tired grumpiness and other banter. Because, let’s face it, that kind of unpreparedness is bordering on the nightmare scenario for me. The lovely Paula C and I had a marvellous disagreement about the point of this. Paula, who is by far the wisest of the two of us, decided it was clearly something important. This amused me this morning because it does so sum up the difference between us. I think she’s talking utter nonsense.

And then there was this moment of genius banter from Ms C:

I love our differences and spending time with these women, online or in their actual company. They provide me a safe place where I test ideas and boundaries; where I take inspiration for living as a Christian in this messy world. I did not know it until later but Paula C was the sounding board Sian used, when I was exploring with her the idea of coming back to God during our time at library school. And she’s been an awfully helpful person ever since, exchanging helpful emails and allowing me to continue to ask stupid, angsty, short-sighted, selfish and difficult questions.

Enforced Independence

Don’t you hate it when you pay someone a teasing compliment and they react in a completely different way from that you had expected?

That happened to me yesterday – I was the reactee rather than the complimenter. In a joking discussion about why I did not want to join in with church activity – it was said that I was ‘independent-minded.’ Unfortunately, and unintentionally on behalf of the speaker, that really rather made me sad. You see, a lot of the independent-mindedness comes from my current life situation. Mostly, that if I want to do something, I have to do it on my own. Holiday? Theatre trip? Breakfast in a nice cafe? Run? Who’s coming with me? Yes, sometimes I have company, but for a lot of the time I plan and carry out these things on my own (although I know, and I value, the friends I do spend time with). And this particular activity would have involved me standing on the sidelines being ignored by people – not my idea of fun.

It is not from choice that I spend so much free time in my own company. I have had to get used to making my own entertainment. It is not a compliment to have this necessary trait highlighted – it’s a bit like telling the blind person how well they can hear. I know – I am being over-sensitive again. Some people would, I am sure, be envious of my solo travel. I have absolutely no qualms about eating in a restaurant, watching a film or a performance on my own, and as for being in church on my own, well, I’m very used to that.

But, you know, this week I have had a lot of time to think and reflect on life, faith, general bewilderment and how much I trust Him Upstairs in all this (if I am brutally honest – it’s about 5% trust, 55% bewilderment and 40% resentment). I’m stuck, having painted myself into a corner; hemmed in by work, PhD, commitments – and I don’t quite know what to do next.

Doing God in public

Recent(ish) tweets on the Bible Society’s Take your Bible to Work Day (October 25th) started me thinking about what I do and don’t do in public. In the past I’ve happily read a Bible on my train journey to work and then scribbled in a prayer journal. Now I’m using an iPhone, I don’t carry a Bible with me – no need, when it’s all there on the phone. I do generally have a copy of Cover to Cover notes with me, though, and I am a fan of PAYG to listen to.

So some days I use the commute time and some days I don’t. The thing that stops me more often than anything isn’t a general concern about being seen to Do God in public. Rather, it’s my attitude when I get on the train – if I’ve not been the most patient person waiting for a seat, or I’ve had to jostle for elbow space. Somehow I never quite feel I can then whip the notes out and read today’s passage or listen to the day’s PAYG – I’d feel way too hypocritical. One of the first days I walked to work listening to PAYG I started it just as I left the train. Walking towards the ticket barriers, I listened hard and felt very holy. Got to the barrier, was held up by someone faffing, made the kind of disapproving noise that sounds like Muttley swearing. Laughed out loud as I thought to myself that I probably ought to start that particular prayerful meditation again once I was out of the station…

Rain, running and relationships

It’s a spring Bank Holiday Monday, so naturally the weather is abysmal. I am studying today, at home, steadfastly refusing to put the heating on. It looks more like November out there!

On Friday I completed a lovely walk with my father, Harwich to Mistley, getting bits of me sunburnt along the way. I definitely picked the best day for that!

I haven’t run much in the last fortnight. Not least because the achilles pain I thought I had beaten has surfaced again.

I did two 4-miles last weekend on Friday and Sunday. The week before I phoned in a 5k at the Castle Park Race for Life – 31.04 when my target had been sub-30. That’s  not exactly a difficult target, yet I missed it by what feels like miles. The most realistic extrinsic excuse I can give is that for the last mile, one has to dodge the people that are walking the race and so lose any rhythm or momentum.

However, that wasn’t the real reason that I did so badly. It was all about mental attitude. As soon as I thought I had missed the sub-30 target, I gave up. Normally even after a 10k training run I can find the energy for a sprint over the last 100metres, yet at the Race for Life I could barely be bothered to jog to the line. I surprised myself by how quickly that sense of failure turned itself into a lack of motivation and energy. I have been pondering this for some time now, trying to work out how I can stop that kind of self sabotage in future.

It’s not just there that my confidence has taken a bashing.

I’m struggling again with faith and trust, with more complications in family relationships. I can’t see anything but a bleak future on this; and I am so utterly frustrated with the situation that all I want to do is scream and shout and howl with anger at both God and my brother. Yet if quiet prayer or quiet advice doesn’t get through (to either of them) will howls do any better?

Another impatience?

Just reviewed the categories I have assigned to posts, all are classed as ‘impatience.’

Here’s another one to add to the collection. Pity. I have just spent a great weekend with an old friend and a new child, which has been testimony to the work God has been doing in my life. I had a long train journey which I spent in reading the Bible, and writing my journal, praising God for the sense that his hand was in the weekend. I came home joyfully and went to church to continue worshipping.

Big mistake.

I should have stayed home and carried on with the journal.

Why is it that preachers always assume their congregation is a homogeneous lump of indifference? why must we weekly be told we need to step outside our comfort zone? Does anyone ever stop to think that some of us may not have been in a comfort zone for months?

I am missing good teaching. The last two weeks I have listened to sermons that are little more than anecdotes strung together precariously by a text. I want someone who will take the passage I have just heard read, and take me through it, line by line, word by word, until I really understand it, what it means, how it fits into the big picture. What I don’t want is a 45-minute marathon of ego-on-a-stick stories. Aware how many times I’ve said ‘I’ in this piece alone, it feels hypocritical to criticise its use but I was counting… Humility does not shine through when ‘I’ and ‘me’ and ‘my’ are used in favour of any more inclusive pronouns. And testimony is cheapened when you don’t bother to introduce yourself to your congregation at the start of your talk.

I would be more charitable if I wasn’t so tired. Or if this preacher hadn’t failed to deliver on a promise to email me some information, or had not once stopped a worship session because people weren’t ‘worshipping properly.’

A bit of God thrown in

To a certain extent I have self-censored in that I have not posted much about my frustrations lately. I have been very challenged by trying to understand why a close family member is burdened with a chronic illness when others get better – at the hands of physicians or God. I have felt very isolated as a single woman in a church focused on families. [As an aside: I am frequently told that of course the single people in church are valued and of course we understand your difficulties … if that’s the case why does the bi-monthly prayer request leaflet regularly feature family concerns but not concerns of the single folk? Just a thought.]

I have not understood why I find it so hard to trust God. I have, in several instances, decided that I know better than the Bible. In sum, I have seen faith as something other people are good at, and that God is a God of other people – and all those promises don’t seem to be holding true for me or my family.

In a fairly unconventional way, I had a gauntlet thrown down at me last week. Better to find out sooner rather than later if this is all a con, I was told. Go ahead, surrender, commit your whole life to God – and if nothing changes, you can walk away in the satisfaction you were right rather than suffering agonies about whether this faith is real, but from the sidelines.

That worked for me; much better than any vapid repeating of sticking plaster platitudes could have done (not that that would be the gauntlet chucker’s style).

10am banana at the Great Bentley half

Finish…

I wasn’t last – but not by a lot. Still, I was still ahead of the other 50million people who spent Sunday morning not running 13 miles… Times aren’t up on the club website yet, but I expect to be something like 670th out of 700 runners. Do I mind? I would if I had been training for months, doing lots of carefully planned sessions. But as it’s only nine weeks since I started and I couldn’t run two miles without a breather, I think I can be pleased with myself. I’ve got a good solid background to work from, knowing I can do the distance and it’s ‘just’ a matter of getting better.

I think this was also a really valuable learning experience (sorry if that sounds glib and cheesey). But I didn’t have that ‘extra’ banana scheduled for 10am, I didn’t drink much before – and I had trained with sports drink, I need a pocket in my running shorts, my hat is too warm – and a hundred other things!

At the start of the race I was feeling really competitive and minding a lot about being right at the back of the runners. By mile five I was out of that mood and more realistic about what I could achieve – after all I was racing me, myself and I and not the top club runners using the flat course to set a PB. I overtook a few people, was overtaken in turn by a few more. Including a speed walker which I would have minded about if he hadn’t been so encouraging. My family were at the halfway point to cheer us on, and had been encouraging runners for half an hour before I appeared so had given plenty of people a boost. I could hear Mark’s family shouting me on at the finish even though I couldn’t see them, head was well down into the wind and not looking at the finish.

Mark beat me by a good five minutes – I had to stop and walk three times in the last three miles and couldn’t catch him after that. And now I am going for a little lie down until it’s time for church this evening.

Demonstrating a chronic need for fruits-of-the-Spirit-like patience…

More than a year since I started the project, I’ve been asked, indirectly, to re-publicise the lending library in my church. It’s hard to feel enthusiastic about it for all sorts of reasons, and since it’s that kind of day I am going to list them here.

  • the book stock is old and uninspiring. There is no budget for new books.
  • previous publicity has been met with unmitigated indifference
  • publicity slots ‘booked’ in the noticesheet have been moved without warning leaving me with ‘library time’ planned in for the wrong weekend, scuppering work plans
  • sarcasm at best, and indifference, at worst, from some who should know better – or at least be able to remember my name by now
  • ideas fall into a black hole of non responsiveness
  • donations consist of books fit for the bin – “we have these out of date publications, would you like them for the library?”

Why am I always approached via an intermediary? Why am I not allowed to attend or contribute to discussions about the project, leaving me reliant on games of chinese whispers to communicate with the church leadership to try to make my case? Am I not trusted to behave at a meeting?

 

In my less cheerful moments the apparent misogynistic attitude is really depressing. It reminds me of the cartoon of a board meeting where the chair comments ‘That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Smith. Now perhaps one of the men would like to make it.’

(thought that was done by Jacky Fleming, can’t find it, but have seen another favourite – flamethrower)

 

It’s so frustrating. I am an independent, intelligent, well-qualified, professional woman. I have managed budgets of £500k, conferences in major exhibition halls, events with attendance of 10,000. I can sift and interpret business information from more sources than you can poke a stick at. Yet at church, I am a voiceless, marginalised, irrelevant, odd-one-out woman, only to be talked to indirectly. I’m not asking to be in charge, just to be treated in a civilised manner – the way that the men involved would, perhaps, value female work colleagues.

…all of which makes the Lord’s work such a joy to undertake.

Is this a problem because it’s an evangelical church? If the focus on the church was less on bringing more people in, and more about discipling/ teaching/ growing those already there, would several hundred books be seen as a useful resource, to be maintained, promoted and valued instead of shoved in the corner for the toddlers to be sick on?