Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Robin Williams and my black dog

Everywhere I've gone today I've heard the sad news that Robin Williams has (apparently) committed suicide.   Here's how it's been for me and my black dog.

Black dog has woken up after a lovely long sleep.
I feel desperately sad for Robin that he was suffering so badly and also for his family who will be grieving his loss.

Black dog is rubbing at my legs.
I can't stop thinking about how depressed Robin must have been and comparing it to how depressed I've felt in the not so distant past and what stopped me taking my life.

Black dog is curling up in my lap and making himself comfortable.
The news is full of Robin's struggles with drug and alcohol addiction. I "need to" eat but I'm stuck in a car for the long drive home from holiday.  I can't shake the feelings of sadness.

Black dog is wrapping himself round my neck.
Do other people ever feel jealous that someone has been brave enough to end the pain of depression?  I don't feel suicidal at the moment but the feelings are so close that I can touch them.

Black dog is in my lap asleep.
I can't shift the sadness and irritability I feel.  Why do I have up have this illness? Why did he?  Why does my family have to suffer?  Or his?  Will I be able to resist the black dog if a depressive cycle comes back? He didn't.

Black dog is on the floor by my feet.
I can at least write about it now. This is good; this is processing.  I wish we lived in a world where mental health was understood and appreciated properly; perhaps this writing will help just one person.  

Robin Williams RIP you gave so much joy to so many, I am so sorry you suffered so much. I wish I didn't understand and I wish you'd found someone who understood enough to help you.

If you are feeling suicidal please ring The Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90

Monday, 4 August 2014

What do I know about art? I'm a village idiot apparently #art #news

Have you seen the Independent and BBC articles about Jake Chapman and his comments about children and art?   No?  Then click here or here and then hurry back.

How are you feeling?
Unsurprised - he is a turner prize winner after all and likes to shock
In agreement - I'm amazed you've come back to read this
Incensed - aren't you the village idiot, you and me both!

Jake Chapman is happily telling all who will listen that children can't understand art and we're wasting everyone's t time if we take them to see art.  All I can say is

"Have you ever taken a child to an art gallery?"

I'm guessing he hasn't, because if he'd been with my Rachel or any of the thousands of other kids you'll see at at galleries, then he'd have heard profound commentary and insight from their young lips.  In fact if he'd ever taken a child to see art he'd know that as an adult you gain a whole new dimension of understanding when you hear what a child sees.

It may not be that a child can tell you about the political antagonism of a painting, but that is more due to their knowledge of systems that understanding of the work.  They may talk about arguments or friendships, of anger or love, of yellows fighting purples or textural differences.  The child sees the truth within so much more readily than we do as adults, and sometimes that is the truth of the artist which bleeds through their work despite their best intentions.

I love going to art galleries such as the Tate modern with Rachel, to experience the art with her and through her and visa versa.  Art, whether artists like it or not, talks to those who see it and experience it and I wouldn't change a child's eye view for anything.

Call me a village idiot; but listen to my words and you might just hear the truth you try to hide.  You can't hide from children; they see it all.

Holiday Club Crafts #messychurch #children #kids #families

We've had a lot of fun the last two Mondays at Noah's Ark @St Nics Holiday Club.  As well as the usual toys, chat, coffee and cake there have been crafts for both the older and the younger kids (and the adults).

On the first Monday we thought about friendship with loom bands and button caterpillars and heart pictures.  This week we focused on how we can look after people and the world and made pet rocks and corks and button wind chimes for the garden.

Here are some simple how to guides:

Button caterpillars
- cut a length of elastic
- thread on buttons of a similar size
- put on one larger button for the face
- tie knots at both the ends of the elastic

Button wind chimes
- tie a fairly long piece of elastic or string to both ends of a stick
- cut three shorter lengths of elastic and knot one end of each
- thread five or six buttons onto each length of elastic
- tie these pieces of elastic onto the stick so that they hang down
- hang the wind chimes in a tree or on a chair or anywhere

Pet rocks and corks
- you can collect rocks in the garden or beach
- or you can do as I did - make rock shapes from clay
- I got craft corks cheaply but you could collect you own
- paint the rocks and cork any way you like
- paint on or stick on eyes
- give your pet a name

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Loom Bands, the Bible and Children

If you don't know what loom bands are then you've probably been living under a rock (or no where near children) for the last few months.  They are little elastic bands which you can join together into bracelets, necklaces, skipping ropes and even clothing (apparently).

The craze has well and truly landed in our house and all the kids at church love them.  It therefore seemed like a natural match to bring loom bands together with biblical teaching.

I'm clearly not the first to do this, and I'm not even the first to write about it, but I thought I'd share some of the bands we've made and the stories and messages they relate to.  If you have any others I'd love to see them, links in the comments very welcome.

1. Creation

The story of creation in genesis is always one which mesmerises children.  By using a different colour loom band for light, water, land and a multi coloured string the abundance of plants and animals you create a wonderful recreation of creation.

2. Noah's Ark

It may look like blue, white and rainbow bands to you, but it's the story of Noah to the kids.  God told Noah to build a boat and he did.  It stated to rain, first lightly and then heavily. It rained and rained and rained and rained for forty days and forty nights and Noah, his family and all the animals were safe in the ark.  When it stopped raining Noah sent out a dove to find land and eventually they animals repopulated the earth.  God sent a rainbow as a promise that he would never again destroy the earth.

3. Moses meets a snake

The story of Moses is ripe for loom band creations. From brown and orange for a basket, to red for the passover, to blue for the parting of the sea.  The one I'm showing here is when God speaks to Moses and tells him that he is going to save the people of Israel.   God tells the disbelieving Moses that he should pick up the stick, he does and it becomes a snake.  What more could Moses need to be shown how powerful God is.

4. Baptism

This loom band design works for Jesus' baptism or for a general teaching about baptism.  The blue represents the water of baptism and the purple the kingdom of God.  We are baptised into the kingdom of God.

5. Fishers of Men

Jesus called the disciples together and told them to go to all the nations and baptise all the people in His name.  Jesus called the disciples to be fishers of men, we are called to be the same.

6. Jesus died for our sins

Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins, his blood was shed to save us.

7. Lost Sheep

This band tells story of the lost sheep.
One day the shepherd was counting his sheep; he counted once, twice, three times and ever time there was one sheep missing.  The shepherd didn't abandon his sheep, he searched all night until he found the sheep in a bush, trapped.  The shepherd picked up the sheep and brought it home safe and sound.

8. Care for the world

God made the world and everything in it and gave it to us to look after.  We are required as Christians to care for the world.

9. Kingdom of heaven

This band has a simple message; the message that being loved by Jesus brings us into the kingdom of heaven on earth.

10. Being a Christian

And last, but not least, we have the band which explains what it means to be a Christian.

Black - the darkness of life without knowing Jesus
Red - the blood Jesus shed for us
Blue - the water of baptism
Yellow - the glory of heaven
Purple - the kingdom of God
White - the pure joy of life in relationship with God

Monday, 28 July 2014

Serving and receiving #church #pioneer #ministry #god

When I was trained in the art and theology and practice of being an LLM there was a lot of focus on the gift we would be giving to our churches and communities, we were being prepared to serve people in our ministries.

I was licensed three years ago and threw myself into my journey of ministry with the kids and families of my church and community.  I gave and gave and gave, I served and I enjoyed it, it was amazing.  And then I crashed!

I crashed big style with a really awful depressive episode which left me unable to do very much at all.  I was crippled with anxiety and self doubt and awful thoughts of failure and uselessness.  I was on my knees.

How did I respond?
I beat myself up and valued myself less in my ministry because I wasn't able to serve and give of myself as I thought I should.  So I kept on as much as I could and I desperately tried to earn my value as an LLM..

Did it help?
Yes and no.
Yes, because it kept me getting out of bed and it kept me moving forward.
No, because it allowed me to keep valuing myself by my actions and achievements rather than my being me as God called me to be.

A year went past and the depression lifted and I kept on keeping on, giving and serving and putting myself second or even third or fourth in the pecking order. I wasn't looking after myself.  And guess what; I crashed again.  Harder, faster and further than before I crashed.

How did I respond?
This time I had crashed through the floor and there was nothing I could do or give or serve with. This time I had to hold my hands up and hating myself every minute I had to give in.  So I did, I gave in, I finally listened to everyone around me and stopped giving and started receiving.

Did it help?
Yes and yes.
Boy did it help!
It was amazing and it's taught me so much.

I had to receive, from my vicar, from Mike, from my friends and astoundingly from the very people I had been serving.  These amazing families who I ministered to, off their own backs, got together and took over the events and services I had started for them.  They seized the reigns and they kept the horse and cart going in the right direction.  They insisted that I receive from them and they've made it so much more than I could ever have imagined and so much more than I ever could have done on my own.

I had to stop serving.
I had no choice.
And when I stopped I created space for those I was serving to serve others, they served me and they served others.
When I got out of the way, they were there, God was there.

Serving and receiving; there's a healthy mix which I hope I can learn to live and minister in.  A mix of serving and receiving, for me, for them, for those they will minister to and for God.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Minister for Education job specification

Applications are requested for the post of minister for education in the UK Government.  We have carefully honed the role and can now confirm the specific skills and experience we are looking for in a successful applicant.

The applicant should:
1. Be a Parent
Not the sort of parent that becomes a friend with their childminder or comes to the pre-school fundraisers or primary school plays or secondary school parents evening; they wouldn't be qualified. The applicant must be a parent who manages their family from a distance and reads papers by experts in parenting to confirm their theoretical ideas about children and families.

2. Have a stable family life
The sort of stability that ensures no arguments between parents and no discussion with the children.  Please provide evidence of being away from home for considerable periods of time and therefore never bringing conflict into the home.

3. Have an independent eye
The applicant must put all knowledge of education behind them when they take up this post; facts are secondary to the ability to look at situations completely independently.

4. Be an entrepreneur
We are looking for someone who is passionate about implementing new ideas.  It is essential that the ideas are presented as brand new and developed without any involvement of the qualified professionals involved in education.

5. Hold their own counsel
Perhaps the key skill of the applicant is the ability to ignore any advice given from schools or teachers.  Although teachers mean well they are blind to the need to constantly change.  You will be given multiple streams of advice and the applicant must demonstrate the ability to ignore and plot ahead unhindered.

6. Have strong opinions
In an ideal world we would like to see applications from those who believe in the exact opposite of every parent in the country. We understand that this is nigh on impossible but we hope to find an applicant who disagrees with at least 90%of parent at all times.  It is taken for granted that the applicant will despise teachers and feel strongly that they are always in the wrong.

If you have a passion for messing up schools, devaluing children and ignoring parents then this is the perfect job for you.


For more facts about the newly appointed education minister please read this article


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Letter to an unknown soldier #poetry #1418now

Dear soldier

You stand and read my letter
With mud around your feet
With guns blazing in your ears
Fighting war we'll ne'er repeat

I don't know you, you don't know me
But now we're bonded here
I write with love and prayers and hope
That you will feel no fear

I write to you in support
For all you give for us
Despite the fact I don't like war
I'm proud of you because

You went abroad to the unknown
Afraid, of that I'm sure
Followed orders, fired your gun
Slept on a dirty floor

You give it all, for all of us
My thankfulness is great
I just wish I could tell you
No wars are in our fate

This ain't the end, it doesn't heal
The rifts that man will make
But know that you're remembered
One of millions that are great

And as I write this letter
Peace is in my heart
Because you gave so much for us
We rule out war from the start

This is written as part of the 1418now project.  Find out more and read letters by thousands of others at their website.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Music and Memory #miscarriage #motherhood #mentalhealth

Whilst recovering from pneumonia I've been watching the first and second series of The West Wing; it's the one good thing that's come out of enforced rest.

I loved The West Wing, it would be one of my top television series and watching it again has only increased its place on my personal ranking. If you've never seen it - give it a try!

The only downside of watching all these episodes of The West Wing is that they make me cry. And that's what's got me thinking and writing this post.

I know that I often used to cry when watching the weekly installment. I've also discovered that googling "West Wing" and "makes me cry" brings back hundreds of hits. But I've realised that my tears are coming from a source much deeper than those touched by the excellent acting of emotional scripts.

The first series of The West Wing aired in the US in 1999 and a bit later in the UK, but I didn't watch it until 2002.

The year 2002 will not find a place in the top ten greatest of my life, in fact I suspect it'll be somewhere near the bottom. This was the year of treatments and scans and tests and unexpected bleeding and terrifying waits in hospital clinics and more scans and bad news repeated over and over. 2002 was the first of three years going round the same awful cycle. Three years of pain that it's impossible to explain.

What's that got to do with watching The West Wing?
Well I've realised that when I hear the music at the start of the programme my heart clenches a bit. Quite a lot actually. The music takes me back to that time and the pain which didn't go away for years and which, if I'm honest with myself, is still there buried away not quite deep enough.

It doesn't seem to matter that I'm more than a decade on from this time. The music accesses my emotional memory, the music taps into my grief. My tears are tears of loss and pain for what could have been.

I'm a mother now, she's almost none for pities sake; and yet still the pain is real and alive. It's a bit like a volcano whose cap keeps getting dislodged allowing the hot lava of grief to spill out and destroy the new growth in its hillsides. And when I'm ill and my fear is high and my ability to be super mum is depleted, that's when the cap can vibrate about in response to the music of The West Wing and allow the white hot pain to spill out.


I was about to post this when a message came in from a friend to say she's having a miscarriage and I want to shout and scream for her. I want to post this to remind anyone who reads it how the pain endures and yet I don't want her to read it and feel worse.

I wish I knew what was best to do; I wish I knew the words to say to her that will help. But I know words can't help, not really and that she's hurting no matter what I might write or she might read. So instead I'll end this post with a prayer.

Father God I cry out to you today to be with all those who grieve the loss of their babies and to help heal their broken hearts. Amen.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Thoughts on The Great Commission #matthew #bible

Matthew 28:16-20
"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”"

As many people before me and many to come, this passage inspires me in my ministry.  Jesus told the disciples to ahead the good news and so he tells us to do the same.  What clearer aim could there be for ministry?

Often these few sentences are used as a slogan with little depth about what they really mean; they are a call to mission rather than a specific teaching about what mission really is.  At other times it's used to give assurance and promise in our work of the church; reassuring us that we are not alone.  Sadly some people use these words as a rod to beat themselves with, a proof that they have not done enough for God.  All these have something in them but if we go deeper we can find even more which this passage has to say.

Background to Matthews gospel
Matthews gospel was written to provide purpose to a community in crisis on how it should understand its calling and mission. It is thought to have been written c80ad for a community of Jewish Christians whose temple had been destroyed in 70ad and were now in crisis. They had no idea how they would exist without their temple which was everything at that time in Jerusalem.  Matthews gospel was written for Christians in crisis.

What does it mean for us?
Being in crisis as the early church was is about losing our identity, our home and everything we know about ourselves and what we believe.  This is more than imagining that our home church was destroyed; it's more akin to losing our family, friends, home, job and church at the same time.  It is about losing everything which defines us and allows us to know who we are.

Matthews gospel was written to help the Jews know that they had an important mission to fulfill.  When we read it we can imagine how transformative it would be of we had lost everything.  Would it be enough?  Would we continue on being missional?

Matthew's gospel is the only gospel which focuses on the gentiles, everyone who isn't a Jew, and how Jesus came for them as well as the people of Israel.  Matthew speaks about the kingdom, the entirety of God's world in heaven and earth, the source of all authority coming from the king, Jesus. Yet in opposition to how a Kingdom might be expected to be Matthew makes it clear that God is not providing a list of rules, rather he tells us to listen deeply for our own specific calling for the good of the kingdom.

What we can take away
God is not telling us what to do, instead he's living in the world and is in constant action which we can take a part in.  We are changed in the heart forever by knowing God and loving him.   This is the good news of Matthew.  This is the good news for those of us in crisis or not. This is true no matter who we are or how we feel about ourselves. Good news indeed.

Make disciples of all nations

We want to make disciples of all nations.  We are called to make disciples of all nations, Matthew 28 tells us to do so.
But what does it mean?

This is not making church goers, it's not about bums on seats.  It's about bringing people to a real and alive faith and encouraging them to become people whose lives are aligned with Jesus. It's about making Christians, in the truest sense of the word, in the whole of their whole lives.

It's not easy.
It's not quick.
There's no tried and tested formula.
But we are not alone, we have the Holy Spirit with us.

Most churches understand that you need to put effort into sowing seeds of faith and nurturing the new shoots which spring up.  Through alpha course and introductory groups most churches find success in bringing seekers to a commitment to Jesus.  But discipleship doesn't stop there.

Disciples are teachers, that's a long way from being someone who wants to learn and is at the beginning of their faith journey.  We need to keep providing opportunities for development of our disciples, whether they be 8 and in Sunday School, or in youth age 16, or a new member of messy church age 30 or a member of mother's union age 50 or a lifetime member of the church age 97.

What can we do therefore to help the process of making disciples?  Here are seven good ideas:

1. Seeker opportunities
2. Introductory courses
3. Home groups
4. Leadership strands
5. Visits to conferences or events
6. Excellent preaching
7. Mentoring and spiritual direction