17 Dec 2015

Are we nearly there yet?



I am in the car alone and it's dark. Despite having driven to Bristol airport and back a dozen times before I've never quite memorised the route. I can't seem to find the same road there and back twice in a row. It's the weirdest thing - maybe they hide it like the entrance to 12 Grimmauld Place or something. I am on a route that is familiar from 3 or 4 journeys ago and I have just enough time to pick up my in laws. I have less battery life on my phone than I'm comfortable with but it should be enough. After 20 mins or so there's a left hand turn at some traffic lights then a right hand turn almost immediately after it. I miss the second turning. I missed it last time as well. This is strangely comforting. Siri says turn around when possible, but it's not possible right now so I drive on in the darkness trying to remember how things panned out last time. Did I turn back or keep going? I think I kept going. Eventually Siri gives up telling me to turn around and re-calculates another right hand turn instead. This road is kind of familiar too. That's good. But then he wants me to turn left and the road narrows and I remember that this happened last time too and I didn't like it. I have flashbacks to a B class road with infrequent passing places that seemed to go on uphill forever making my ears pop. I don't have forever. I need to be at the airport in 17 minutes. 

Soddit... I'm back on the stupid uphill B road. Please let me not meet anything coming the other way.

After a few minutes the fuel light comes on with a dinging sound. Not good. But not disastrous. The incline of the hill makes the car think it has less fuel than it actually does. I still have plenty to get to the airport and get home again. Don't panic. Even though the persistent orange light is glowing thirsty... thirsty... thirsty... much brighter than it ever does in the daytime. Then a battery level low message pops up obscuring the map on my phone screen so I can't see where I'm going anymore. Charging cable... It's here somewhere.... I scrat around in the dark with my left hand but can't locate one. Soditsoditsodit... I close the pop up and continue climbing and yawning to unblock my ears.

Just keep driving. This will be over soon. The road can't go on forever. That's just not possible. The kids are at home alone and only know I'm somewhere between home and Bristol airport. That's not enough information for the emergency services. Plus in laws will be landing soon and have been travelling for most of the day now. I don't want to not be there when they emerge from the arrivals gate. It's an uplifting place to be, actually - the arrivals gate. Even in a really small airport like Bristol. Lots of embraces and smiles and warmth. People being reunited with those they love. It makes me hopeful for humanity just watching strangers at the moment they register a loved ones face... Anyway I digress - and another flashing pop up message draws my eyes back to the screen.

No no no... I have 2% battery left - how is that possible? I'm proper wetting myself now. Cue more fumbling around in dark with my left hand in a vain attempt to find a charging cable. I unearth some loose change, scrunched up bits of paper and a small collection of metallic speaker jacks that shouldn't be here. I chuck an empty IrnBru bottle on the floor in frustration. Must find somewhere to stop and look properly...

After another few minutes there is a driveway on my left. I pull in and put the light on. The charging cable is on the floor under a pile of child's drawings and a crisp packet. The phone blips reassuringly as I plug it in and we're off again. After a few uphill minutes into the darkness, the ground begins to level off and then drop. A few minutes later and the road starts to widen again. Good good. The B road is coming to an end. Judging by the screen Siri should be instructing me any second now...
Any second now...
Any second now...
C'mon - the road is less than 500 yards away...
TALK to me Siri - What's wrong with you?!

Siri is blanking me. What's that about? What did I do to you anyway, aside from plug you into your energy source? The screen continues to show me the route but all verbal instruction has ceased. 11 minutes til touch down. I can still work out where I'm going but the gear stick is in the way and not having him talk means taking my eyes off the road more often than I'd like. Honestly - what's going on with you? Maybe this is some sort of personal development plan. He thinks I can do this. I'm too reliant on him so he's encouraging me to think about the route more. Great plan. Just wonderful. It's just I now have 7 minutes to get to where I need to be and it's pitch black out there so flicking between the darkness outside the car and the glarey brightness of the screen (albeit in night mode) inside the car is not ideal. The human eyeball needs time to adjust to that kind of thing. And you have no concept of that, do you? Because you only understand 256 web safe digital colours and not the 2 million shades I have to deal with. And I have almost no fuel. And I'm rushing and feeling ever so slightly anxious right now. And you're meant to be helping me because that's the agreement we make when I launch TomTom. And now I'm so frustrated by your silence I'm actually shouting - happy now, are we?!?

Does anyone else ever feel like God is blanking them? Like he's not left the vehicle or anything, but just pretending to sleep and you can't shut your eyes even though you're really tired because you're driving and there's no safe place to pull over and stop. You feel his presence. The wifi connection is still there. You can see the glow of the screen in your peripheral vision even when not actively studying it, but the clarity is gone. Instructions are fuzzy and you need more. C'MON - TALK TO MEEEEEE. I know you're there...

Oh I know where I am! I'm not lost and ending up dead in a ditch - I've come the back road that brings you out by the tavern on the hill and the airport is 40 seconds away - Wayhey! All is well with the world. Siri, I love LOVE LOVE you and I'm sorry for yelling Xxx

17 Nov 2015

The weather

When our youngest was 3 and a half we sold her buggy on eBay and I purchased a corporate wardrobe of clothes. All within a six week period. My head still hurts a little bit to think about it. My relationship with modes of child transportation is not dissimilar to the one many grown men have with their motor vehicles and I don't enjoy clothes shopping unless it's for denim.

The whole thing was like Bam! - your pre-school stay-at-home years are over and your world is now juggling childcare with spreadsheets and never finding the dishwasher empty. Welcome to the season of always feeling like the thing you should be doing has sneakily been gazumped by the thing you're actually doing right now and sending the kids to breakfast club when they don't want to go because there's no bread or milk in the house. Again.

I missed the season I had just left. I actually missed it in the same kind of way as I missed the last few weeks of coupledom after child#1 arrived four and a half weeks early and then wouldn't sleep for longer than 45 minutes at a time unless the Hoover was on or he was attached to a boob. Hoover frequently lost. Neighbours get a little irritated if you try to vacuum at 3am.

I don't know if new seasons are hard purely because they are hard, or if they feel harder than they actually are because they are new and different and sometimes arrive when you're still dressed for the previous one. And when you're in the middle of a season it's hard to imagine life ever being any different one day. But the days gradually get warmer and the hours of daylight resolutely increase until one day you can't actually remember the last time you wore gloves - just that you don't need them anymore so maybe now's a good time to wash them because they stink of Wotsits.

And so it is with family stuff. Kids drift into and out of seasons so gradually sometimes that things can go completely undocumented until you look at old photos or spend time with a family who are at an earlier stage.

I don't know the last time child#1 asked me to read to him. It was years and years ago. He just gradually stopped asking and other things naturally took their place.

I don't know when child#2 last lined up all his Brio engines in front of the TV so they could watch 'Thomas & Friends' with him. Or when he finally stopped head butting nearby surfaces or the floor whenever he was cross.

I don't know when child#3 stopped her post shower game of wrapping herself in a bath sheet then curling up on the bathroom floor and barking until I arrived and unwrapped the towel to unexpectedly discover a puppy. Every. Single. Night. I might have recorded it just once if I'd not been absolutely sick of the game unable to envisage a time when we'd not be playing it anymore.

Today's weather:
• Child#1 enjoys reading lines and lines of spurious code off his laptop screen to me. These words are in English but their position next to each other in big long sentences (and I use that word rather loosely) means nothing. He's not good at addressing my questions without repeating the same meaningless words back at me in a slightly impatient voice, but he IS good at testing websites and new booking sites for work, finding typos and fixing broken code.

• Child#2 is the most laid back, sociable person I know. It's like a lifetime's worth of aggression was expressed in the first 3 years of his life and now the diplomacy gene is in overdrive. He hates conflict and often mediates between opposing viewpoints (either that or it's all there, waiting to explode again at puberty).

• Child#3 spends a long time after her shower sorting through her cuddly animal collection to select her 'bedtime crew' for the night so no one feels left out. Inspired by Sue Bentley's magic puppy books, she writes stories about talking dogs, draws pictures of sparkly dogs and would love to own a real live dog. We are not getting one. We own a low maintenance cat and 2 mice, who are a year old and therefore due to die off soon. 

I don't know when life got a bit saner. Maybe the season was so mental because too many different types of weather were all happening at once. I was most definitely still dressed for a different climate when it started.

Today's outlook: 

• Child#1 can be left in charge of Child#2 and Child#3 for short periods without expecting payment or major incident.

• Due to my redundancy by stealth programme, Child#1, #2 & #3 get up, dressed and organised for the day with minimal adult intervention, then journey to and from school independently.

• We still occasionally run out foodstuffs, but Lidl is just around the corner and everyone in the house is capable of going for bread and milk.*

Forecast: Who knows? These things are never accurate anyway. There will definitely be weather of some description.

* Except the cat- who is a pure free loader.








12 Nov 2015

Fake teeth and farming before the internal combustion engine

My mouth is ageing faster than the rest of me. For the past few years I've worn a partial denture to compensate for 2 missing lower teeth. The first of these could have been saved by a root canal filling, but given the time involved for this vs a simple 20 minute appointment and 40 quid for an extraction I went for that instead. Against my dentist's advice. Then about 2 years later I found out why when the tooth next to the space became infected due to being ever so slightly wobbly.

A wobbly tooth is an exciting thing when you are 5 years old. It's a rite of passage ushering in the era of the toothless smile, comments from older relatives about kissing boys and finding £1 under your pillow for every one of them you can wobble out. But by the time the Tesco people are happy to sell you kitchen knives or Jack Daniels without an ID, a wobbly tooth is no longer a good thing.

When you can be bleeped through as a Customer clearly over the age of 25 without anyone ever properly looking at your face, then any space in your mouth where a tooth used to be is already putting pressure on remaining teeth making you more likely to loose another tooth in the future. Who knew? So my wobbly tooth was removed and I got a partial denture instead of a pound coin. Welcome to middle age.

For 4 years after that I didn't think much about my old lady mouth at all. Brushing took longer as the fake teeth need cleaned separately then you need to clean the sides of the real teeth next to the gap, but it's no big deal. Then one day I was cleaning the denture when it broke clean in half.

Annoying. It's amazing how hard the opposite jaw has to work to crunch up cornflakes when the fake teeth aren't there to help. But my ever so lovely dentist quickly arranged a repair (I love the NHS) and a week later the denture was returned as good looking as new. Honestly- you couldn't even see the fault line where it had snapped. I clicked the fake teeth back into place and ... Owwwwwcchh!

This wasn't good. But I figured they just needed wearing in like a new pair of Doc Martins. Forgetting of course that a) this most certainly did not happen when the denture was originally fitted and b) every pair of Doc Martins I have ever owned have seriously shredded the skin on both heels for at least a month.

But I am forgetful and stubborn that way and wore the fake teeth for 4 long days. Sleeping was OK. Not eating hurt a little bit. Eating anything hurt more than new Doc Martins. But the more it hurt the more determined I was that it would be fine. Most of the time it felt as though I had a localised throbbing headache in my jaw. A wad of swollen tissue developed under one side of my tongue causing a slight lisp. I eventually gave up after realising how stupidly asymmetrical my mouth was and made another appointment.

My lovely dentist sorted me out in under 5 minutes after buffing the fake teeth with a metal whizzy thing that removed the extra bit of resin that must have been jutting out. I clicked the teeth into place and... Yay- A perfect fit! Like the teeth were made for my mouth. The tiny bit of material she filed away was almost insignificant, but it meant the difference between functioning normally and being constantly distracted by pain and having an unhealthy interest in soup, milkshake and anything else that didn't need to be chewed.

Then Jesus said, 'Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.' (Mat 11: 29-30)

Before the industrial revolution, bulls or oxen were used to pull farming machinery so Jesus' audience would have been familiar with this image. Apparently the animals would work either alone or be paired up and fitted for their yoke which would be individually contoured to the unique curve of their muscular backs and shoulders. The harness was never off the peg, but made to measure. The farmer would try it out, then return with his animals to get their yoke adjusted, perhaps several times, until it fitted perfectly. The animals' strength was vital to their task, but so too was their comfort and health.

Pulling a plough.
Munching up cornflakes.
Walking around in shoes that fit you.
Doing most things in life involves surfaces making contact with each other.
Movement proves we are alive.
And things have got to fit well together or they become worn and damaged.

Especially if you're talking about solid wood vs an ox's shoulder blades.

Or new Doc Martins or rigid plastic vs human skin.

My yoke is easy to bear and my load is light. What does that mean then?

The religious system back then was complicated, entwined within the overarching control of the Roman empire. There were laws and some more laws and then even more laws to regulate the original laws. It was unnecessarily complicated and underpinned by a corrupt multi-layered power structure that was designed to keep people subdued. To keep them on the fringes. To oppress.

Religion was hard.

Jesus' method was groundbreaking in its simplicity: Love God and love people. That sums up everything you need to know. It's not easy, but neither is it difficult to understand.

Because it's life.
And growth.
And movement.
And work.
The seasons don't stop and there's farming to be done.

The work required might be demanding, but it's designed for you and I'll kit you out with what you need. It's tiring and exhausting sometimes, but following me is not damaging. The yoke was crafted for you and look! I fit at the other side.

There has always been inequality and power struggles. In every society that ever existed and is yet to emerge there are corridors of power and those who fight to maintain them. But when God says We're in this together, he means it.







23 Oct 2015

Going barefoot

Home [həʊm], noun
1. a house, apartment, or other shelter that is the usual residence of a person, family, or household.
2. the place in which one's domestic affections are centered.
3. an institution for the homeless, sick, etc.: a nursing home.
4. the dwelling place or retreat of an animal.
5. the place or region where something is native or most common.
6. any place of residence or refuge.
7. a person's native place or own country.



Scene 1: We are all at ManChild's new school for a scheduled progress update with his form tutor, a bloke who has known him for seven weeks. The conversation is short, positive and pretty much contains all the information we expect to hear. He works hard. He performs well. He behaves. He appears happy. He's abnormally good at maths, computer science and all things geek (the teacher does not actually use the word geek). He's VERY quiet.

Teachers have been saying similar things about him for the past ten years. And because teachers like goals and action plans and filling in paperwork which proves there are goals and action plans in place, they usually follow it up with 'If you know the answer, put your hand up.' But this teacher doesn't suggest that. This teacher has already discerned that on pretty much every single occasion when an answer is requested from the class, Manchild could probably provide the correct one but chooses not to. Unless he is asked outright - in which case he will provide the answer in a clear, concise way and not whisper something unintelligible while looking at his shoes as he did until year three. (See? That's progress right there). This teacher concludes with 'He's quiet, but it's obviously his personality and part of who he is. We won't try to change it.' 

I like this teacher. He gets my kid. We all go for a McDs tea to celebrate the geekiness and avoid the end-of-day traffic nightmare that is Bristol every weekday evening.

Scene 2: It's 3am and me and a friend are in the 24/7 prayer room, working our way around the stations from opposite directions so it's like being there alone. We're both in our jammies. The heating is on. It feels like the rest of the whole world is asleep and it's wonderful. Thermos of tea in hand, I plod barefooted around the carpeted room having abandoned my crocs at the door. It's a lot like being at home. But it's church. But not church as we know it because there's all this creative prayer clutter all over the place that's helping me think and pray and formulate thoughts about what I believe and why. I sit for the longest time at the foot of a wooden cross which has been upcycled from an old pallet, reading Psalm 65 from The Message:

Blessed are the chosen! Blessed the guest
at home in your place!
We expect our fill of good things
in your house, your heavenly manse.



I am fixated by the home thing and make a list about what HOME means:
Shelter
Basic needs met
Family
Love
Communal living
Discipline
Getting along after an argument
Bringing friends round for tea
Boundaries / structure
Fun
Entitlement / inheritance
Chores
Responsibility
Belonging
Being understood

The first thing I do when I get home is kick off my shoes and put the kettle on. It's all tied in with relaxing and being at home in your own space. (If you ever find yourself in a position where can do this in someone else's house too, then this is a wonderful thing. Hang onto that friend).

So being at home in church - what does that mean when you're NOT wandering around there barefoot and in your jammies (i.e. most of the time)?

It can't be a license for a 'This is who I am and I'm not changing' type of thing. That's kind of arrogant and puts huge limitations on what God is capable / incapable of. He's paid the mortgage and legally owns the house.

But equally, having a healthy sense of who we are and how we belong is a liberating thing and actually frees us from the tyranny of comparison. The form tutor who has known ManChild for a mere half term can already make observations about his character and adjust his approach accordingly - because he understands something of the raw material in front of him.

So how much MORE so does God? The one who knows and understands our deepest thoughts and motives when we don't even get them ourselves? The one who always knew we would be. The one who created the raw material in the first place?

Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? (Luke 9:23-25)

The real you. I love that. 

I'll never be a worship leader. But I'm not meant to be. I'm meant to be a worshipper. 

I'll never be a teacher. But I'm not meant to be. I'm meant to locate good teaching, listen to and apply it, ask questions when I need to and share what I learn along the way. To be teachable.

I'm really, really not a morning person. I have tried the whole get up early to exercise / read / bake cookies nonsense. It really doesn't work. But I can do creative middle of the night barefooted praying in my jammies with sharpie in one hand and cup of tea in the other.

There are other goals on the action plan. I won't bore you with the details. But the form tutor gets well excited when I reach them.


30 Sep 2015

Randomness

• Pressing snooze on alarm then immediately falling asleep and starting the day in my head. Perform mundane start-of-the-day activities until alarm goes off again. Get up and have to do activities for real. Feel confused that I've been awake less than 5 minutes and have peed twice.

• Pressing snooze and fight the urge to do boring getting-up-stuff in head and will myself to dream of flight instead. Unsuccessfully. This is disappointing. I was born to fly. Something inside me is perpetually frustrated by gravity.

• Walking around the house while brushing teeth in order to do other things with free hand. Then gag due to volume of toothbrush foam and sometimes almost vomit during the sprint back to the sink.

• Getting annoyed at cat for just sitting there watching me rush around doing 5 things at once and not offering to help. (Certain tasks are still possible without opposable thumbs. Cats just wants us to THINK they are useless).

• Silently curse neighbour's tree for shedding leaves onto the patio that I swept clean only yesterday. Tree should clean up it's own mess. That would be like me shedding teeny tiny skin cells all over the place then never dusting. Then remember tree produces Oxygen and I do quite enjoy breathing. Forgive tree.

4 Sep 2015

Falling and drowning

Everyone who is old enough to remember 911 will probably remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when the news broke. I was pushing a buggy down the main street of the city where we lived when I realised a crowd of people were gathered around Currys' window, watching the headlines develop. (Before the age of the smart phone an electrical shop was the place to hear breaking news while outside the home, should there be any). A squalking baby and the lack of a soundtrack to the breaking news meant the story was hard to follow, but I knew something massive had happened.

At home I watched the news and fed and changed and bathed my baby and cried at the world I'd brought him into. When he woke in the night, I put the TV on while I fed him and watched yet more of the horror unfold. Onsite reporters. Back to the studio. What we know so far. CGI schematics of the towers. A statement from the president. This was not good use of a sleep deprived parent's time. Now I had multiple things to keep me awake.

There are many iconic images of that day. Many stories of heroism and selfless acts of bravery. The anonymous falling man is one of the best known and most uncomfortable, especially as there are many who cite that no one jumped that day. No one chose to die. All deaths were homicides.

Obviously. And even if people DID choose to jump, how horrendous were the conditions they chose to leave? Breathe sweet, smokeless air for the last 10 seconds of your life or spend slightly longer in an inferno, choking and vomiting, lungs blistering until they stop functioning and having your internal organs cook inside you? Jump or burn. Those are unbelievably shitty options.


Unlike 911, the refuge crisis making front page headlines does not have an exact death count. The symptoms are chronic rather than acute. The desperate people fleeing what's left of their countries after years of western sponsored violence have had longer to weigh up the options and decide that the possibility of drowning at sea is preferable to remaining in the rubble of their lives. But like the falling man, at some point they decided that leaving was more tolerable than staying.



I'm genuinely confused about the hostility and lack of compassion in the media regarding images such as these. We don't consume chronic problems as well as the train wreck type catastrophes that are immediate and change one's life within a few hours or minutes. Misfortunes that you didn't plan for while eating weetabix that morning. Tragedy that sneaks up on you and pounces when you think life is going just fine. We like those stories. Deep rooted, persistent suffering is more problematic. It's messy and complicated and less sensational.

And the media reflects the sensational stuff far more favourably. Because it's not a sentient being but a social creation. A tool of commerce that reflects life back to us the way we like it. Papers get sold. Links get clicked on. Income is generated. Win win.

Unless you're the falling man.
Or a citizen of Syria.
Or Iraq.
Or Afghanistan.

The list goes on and on...

I won't pretend I know how to fix this. After so many years of hostility and complication and layer after layer of half truths and lies, navigating the complex web of international relations would take the greatest minds on the planet many years more to unpick and even start to put right - even with an international commitment to unity and justice and a shared understanding of what minimum human rights even look like. But I do know we can't profit from political instability, conflict and repressive regimes without some consequences eventually knocking on our front door. Or flying into our skyscrapers. Or washing up on our beaches.

There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they’re falling in. (Desmond Tutu)

But until the international community gets its act together we need to carry on pulling people out the river (or the sea) And supporting the lucky ones that manage to stumble onto dry land again:

Amazon wishlist: donate to the refugee crisis
Petition: Britain must accept its fair share of refugees
5 Practical ways you can help
London 2 Calais refugee solidarity 

Stop the war
Weapon sales up 70%


27 Aug 2015

1010

This free app should carry some sort of warning. It is not free at all. It costs you hours and hours of your life. I have downloaded then scrubbed it from my phone on 4 separate occasions. It is an OCDers dream slash nightmare.

Remember Tetris? It's just like that, but without gravity. You place blocks within a 10x10 square grid, then once a row or line of 10 is complete, it disappears. If you are smart / lucky, you can clear multiple rows or columns at once eg:

L: Orange block is placed in bottom right corner
R: Both the completed horizontal and vertical lines disappear at once. Boom!



After realising the true cost of this game I repent, screenshot my current high score*, scrub it off my phone, then a few months later I cave and download it again because:
• we are planning a long trip in the car
• I get the flu
• I kid myself I am now mature enough to make sound gaming decisions
• Some other flimsy rationale
And the whole cycle starts again.

I like tidying up actual things that you can touch and read and trip up over. I enjoy putting things away where they belong or reorganising them so the space in the room works better. This character trait is the nearest thing I have to explaining why 1010 affects me the way it does. It's like tidying up a never ending supply of pixels in the most minimalistic way possible. I have this fantastic notion that if I manage to clear the game board completely the blocks will stop appearing. Although this has actually happened twice and the blocks did not stop. This made me anxious.

And now I have the flu and have ingested many over the counter drugs and am dreaming about a constant stream of objects which need to be tidied up. It's quite exhausting. The virus is totally messing with my brain and the blocks represent real tasks that need to get done- like food shopping and updating a website and taking a shower and answering emails and reading to the kids and some other stuff I can't remember the details of, but in the dream it's really important to do them all.

Sometimes the blocks are so difficult to place I'll struggle for ages thinking I've lost in real life - then suddenly a space is there and wayhey! a whole row disappears and the game plays on. Until I wake up exhausted and sweating and coughing and reaching for the brufen before I've opened my eyes.

But it works out in the end. Both when dreaming and awake. Despite the odds - which makes me think that the block order is not random, but divinely purposed in order that a solution is always possible. Sometimes the blocks are a pure GIFT - the next one fitting in exactly the same spot I was focussed on and clearing 3 lines and 3 columns in one move. Bam! The block giver knew what was needed and gave it. Other times it's far more congested and scary and things are really tight and I think this may be the last round, but I've got to just not panic and remember that gravity has been suspended. Like bullet time in the Matrix, there's time to look around. And even a poor decision now can be overturned with the next set of blocks which will offer an alternative. The game is rigged so I win.

These life lessons are interesting, but not worth it on balance. I should scrub this game off my phone again... after the flu goes...

*16543

16 Aug 2015

Distractions and dress code

We are creating a culture of distraction (Joe Kraus)

Unless I'm at the beach or away with work I pretty much live in denim. My jeans are assigned their very own drawer and I wear them in rotation to prevent jealousy in the ranks and maintain an evenness of wear and tear. Slouch, boyfriend, bootleg.... I love them all - jeans are comfy, can be accessorised up or down (mostly down) and don't show the dirt.

Like all things denim, churches come in different varieties too. And like my oldest, comfiest jeans with the hole in the left knee and enough give in the waist to be pulled on / off without undoing the zip, you get comfortable with what you know. There's an expectation and familiarity with favourite jeans. I know how they fit and find comfort in the way my phone fits in the back pocket without either digging into my bum when I sit down or threatning to tumble onto a tiled bathroom floor when I pull them below my knees.

Jeans just work, you know?

But, like wearing a bikini at the beach or a trouser suit while on conference, it's appropriate to wear something different on occasion. And it's probably good to NOT go to your own church on occasion too. Different can be good. Different can teach you what familiarity can't. Having been away from home for 5 weekends in a row and mixing with a wider selection of God-type people than I normally do, I have (re) discovered the following:

• Worship is about glorifying God, not about my preferences

• Lack of responsibility for any part of the meeting is quite liberating

• Even when most elements of a church service are not familiar, the unchanging nature and goodness of God is

• It's quite hard to offend genuine followers of Jesus who welcome honest enquiry

• If God's family can be so diverse within the limited expression of church that I can experience in my teeny tiny lifetime within a finite cross-section of Christendom, then heaven will be indescribably eclectic. (I can just about get my head around people from every tribe, tongue and nation, but talking / singing lifeforms with wings and lots of eyeballs may be a bit distracting for a while).

• I am too easily distracted

Expanding further on this final point (because it's an increasingly prevalent first world problem, plus 5 weeks away gave me lots of material), here are some of the distractions that might get in the way. There are lots more. Please feel free to add your own. The sharing of knowledge is power and all that.

• Unfamiliarity with whole thing
Stupid stuff that regular attenders take for granted can make a visitor feel like an observer rather than a participant. Is there a dress code? What's the order of the service? What expectations or limitations are there that are different to what I'm used to - not because God is limiting or expecting anything necessarily, but the culture within a church is shaped by encouraging / normalising certain things. Or not. Also, under normal circumstances I can plan a sneaky coffee / pee break according to what's coming up next, but as a newbie this is not possible. 

• Feeling conspicuous as a visitor
Especially as several members of our extended family belong here and as such, lots of people already know who I am and some want to speak to me afterwards and I can't remember ANY of their names. That's a fair bit of pressure if you think about it too much. So I don't.

• Arrive late and end up sitting at the front
Rookie mistake. Visiting AND sitting at the front? Forget the bikini- you might as well be naked.

• Worship songs are from a bygone era
This awakens childhood memories, both good and bad, of services dominated by counting the ceiling tiles, doodling flower patterns on the notice sheet and trying to make one packet of wine gums last the whole sermon.

• The worship material contains lyrics which raise theological ponderings
Hmmm - Do I believe in singing to Mary? And if not then is the polite response to sing anyway, not sing at all or just mouth the words? That last one seems like a lie really, so I don't.

• Songs presented in a different style than whe one I am accustomed to 
I shall build my church and it shall involve drum and bass or one of those little church karaoke machines or an 80's electric organ or re-worded Abba lyrics or one man and his acoustic guitar. Oh yes.

• Songs presented by the tone deaf a musician of lower ability
But that's Ok - Make a joyful noise to the Lord. Even if you're at the front. With a mic. And singing in a different key to everyone else in the room. That's absolutely fine.

• No words on the screen for whole songs at a time
Did Windows decide to update just before we got started? Or was this one chosen at the last minute and the techie can't type it in fast enough? Or maybe he's asleep, slumped over the desk at the back. Sometimes it's because the song actually finished a while ago, but the musicians are engaged in free worship between themselves and the first 3 rows. Either way, regular guys here know what's going on but newbie's mind is wandering now...

• And I'm feeling anxious that all the roller blinds down one wall are at different lengths. And the one behind the speaker is squint...
I am not obsessive. I am not obsessive. I am not obsessive.

• Working / hovering at back of big top with radio and ear piece so I can instruct the stewards on when to open which doors or help the medics reach anyone having a panic attack, if required.
So now I'm being paid to be distracted. How do pastors get through a Sunday morning with all these balls in the air?

• Those nearby messing around / not singing / chatting to each other
OK - this affects both home and away games. Rightly or wrongly I am distracted by the behaviour of others. We can help each other to connect with God or make it more difficult for them. Our willingness / unwillingness to engage with what's going on impacts those around us.

• There are no kids in this church and therefore no kids session. And I've brought 2 of mine today. Including the fidgeter.
Oh dear. As the minutes tick by they are increasingly bored and restless. One of them is blowing spit bubbles. I can't work out if it's more distracting to allow this to continue or to ask her to stop. I let it continue as I'm kind of mesmerised by them. Some take ages to pop.

• There IS a kids session (Yay!!) and even though it happens next door, there's colouring in and games at the back of the room from the start.
And kids can access it whenever they want. And they are. No one has to sit with a parent if they don't want to. Kids older than mine are chattering loudly and colouring in and my youngest is distracted herself as she wants to join them. So now I'm distracted because she is.

Missing my church family. I've been in unfamiliar clothes too long and need my jeans with the hole in the knee. (But good to know the bikini still fits).



11 Aug 2015

Communication

Post lunch time. We ate in the garden today because it was so gloriously HOT. Table outside has been cleared but kitchen is still a work in progress. Suddenly realise everyone has left me washing up.

Me: Hey - what's going on?
(All 3 of them turn round with lollies in their hands)
E: Madi said that you said we could have ice pops when we'd cleared the table!
Me: No - I said when we'd cleared up. Like in here as well.
(Scowling at Madi and picking up dishcloth): Get it right or you get people into trouble!
Me: Babe - It's fine. She misunderstood, that's all.
E: But now you're annoyed at me because I wasn't given proper information!
Me: I'm not annoyed with you - I'm correcting you because I'm allowed to do that - and you're annoyed at being corrected.
E: (Thinks about this) I'm... not annoyed.
Me: Great - You want to tell your face?






30 Jul 2015

The ordinary everynight

The Night Watchmen are whiling away the small hours of the night passing out hi-vi to pilgrims on their way out The Gate and repeating the phrases '....keep to the right please.... Quiet in the village.... Single file... Thanks very much...'

The Field is our haven and The Gate its sole point of exit and entry. We are simultaneously haemorrhaging and being transfused with pilgrims and the medics are unable to do a thing. The volume of hi-vi in the big green box fluctuates as the ebb and flow continues throughout the night, deeply disturbing Hamish who wishes all hi-vi to remain in the box at all times and not be draped over the edges. His OCD is amusing to the rest of us and we purposely leave reflective yellow material hanging over the edges. Hehehe...

The regular activity that continues throughout the night means many things to us. The flow of pyjammied pilgrims diffusing through the boundary of The Field and What Lies Beyond is:

a) Our solemn duty and privilege to oversee. We Night Watchmen cannot and will not rest until all pilgrims are safely back within the fold where they belong. We shall not desert our post at The Big Black Gate while any of our number are unaccounted for in the wild uncharted territory of Little Walsingham.

b) A welcome distraction and opportunity to engage with a wider range of people than is customary between the hours of 10 and 8. Many of them stumble past us in animal print onesies, incapable of speech, but the pool of faces with which we can exchange friendly greetings has widened significantly tonight.

c) ... yet ANOTHER interruption to the current game of Skitgubbe which was imported into our lives only a few days ago and the most addictive thing on the face of the earth. Well maybe- I've never done crack so can't say for definite.

As an obsessive collector of stickers, stamps, key rings and rubbers in childhood, my adult obsessions are not benign. I have the ability to sacrifice sleep and not feed my children when consumed by a decorating or craft project. I can watch 4 episodes of Once Upon A Time back to back with no pee break. I have an overwhelming need to store items where they belong AT ALL TIMES and get far too excited when IKEA being out a new storage range. Thus I have never tried crack. I am genetically primed for addiction.

Hmmm- but Skitgubbe flew in right under the radar and is now lodged at the forefront of my mind begging attention and draining hours and hours and HOURS of my life.

Which as a Night Watchman, has proven to be a good thing.
Thank you Joel. 
For IKEA and now for Skitgubbe.


29 Jul 2015

The Fallen Watchman

07.59 hrs sees the conclusion of the 97th game of Skitgubbe and the arrival of day steward Mark to relive us from our post. Gleefully we leave the newly buntified steward's tent and make our way to Bev and Mike's for bacon butties, a warm brew and the knowledge that bath and bed await. We split company, bonded by the sharing of stories and secrets throughout the long hours of duty, the short but enthusiastic Imsotiredifeelaweebitdrunk dancing on the gate at the arrival of dawn and the knowledge that tonight we get to do this all over again. Dear God- life is sweet and I'm grateful for it.

Bath and bedtime pass without incident and soon I am enveloped in sleep.

I awaken feeling totally and utterly refreshed. Twice now I have arisen after a night watchman's shift in this manner. Why does my body never embrace 07.00 hrs in this way? Because I was BORN for this life- that is why! To face the cold and hostile night, brave and unslumbering in the company of fellow outstanding individuals: We are The Night Watchmen.

It is a calling of the highest order, setting us apart from others and demanding so much- but the sacrifice is worth it, so feel no sorrow for us. The safety of all pilgrims who camp within the The Field with The Big Black Gate, the camaraderie within our team and the treasure awaiting us in heaven are thanks enough.

I pick up my phone to check the time, already wondering what's for dinner. It's Wednesday, I think. Lasagne, Pie, Sweet and Sour, (Blank) then fish or chicken. What is today's (Blank) dinner again? I'll find out soon enough. Yawning, I look at my screen...


11:40hrs?!? Noooooo... It cannot be. Quick! Phone down. Eyes closed and resume foetal position. That's it. Let's pretend this little glitch did not happen. There we go. Just sink into the pillow of unconscious rest and...
No.
No.
No.

No thinking about dinner. Think not of the rained off procession. Think no more of Mr Cross' granny blanket or Skitgubbe or muddy roads or the separation of church and state and the consequences for society - just SLEEEEEEP.

Now.
That's an order Watchman.
C'mon dammit- just stop THINKING. It's not that hard.

Except it is.
And now that I've started, it's hard to switch it off.
My brain's woken up my stomach and now I'm hungry. My body is betraying me.

I get up and wedge a towel at the top of the bedroom door, then fold another one along the bottom of the door to block out the little slivers of light which have suddenly overtaken hunger as the primary cause of my wakefulness. I take a pillow off Jo's bed and rest it on the floor against the curtains, blocking out a little more light there too.

Right- no excuses. You're not hungry. Bed. Eyes closed. Snuggle down. Go to your dolphin channel. End of.

After an hour I get up and make a brew and write this report, baring my soul and my failure to my fellow watchmen. And the greatest distraction whizzing around my head? Not the separation of church and state or the grass to mud ratio of roadways on The Field, but my laundry currently languishing in Greg's washing machine. I could be hanging it up right now. For the first time in days it is not raining and we are dangerously low on clean underwear.



To my fellow Watchmen: apologies in advance for falling asleep on duty tonight. Please don't post the photo if I'm dribbling.

17 Jul 2015

Cold calling

Junk PPI calls made to a contract phone belonging to a teenager are really not going to make anyone any commission. How many insane conversations do unlucky call centre people need to have before the whole scheme is abandoned as a big fat waste of time?

Today in the UK, 47% of 12-15 year olds have a smart phone. So just under half of every junk phone call made at random to people who have not been in an accident in the last 12 months or accidentally purchased PPI ever in their lives will probably be answered by a teenager who, on average will have far more disposable time on his hands than your average call centre worker on minimum wage.

Teenagers are energetic and fun and full of imagination. As a collective, they possess the ability to think up dozens of creative ways of wasting the time of call centre people. These include:

• Agree that PPI has been mis-sold to you at some point in the past, become distraught and weep down the phone.

• Agree that PPI has been mis-sold to you at some point in the past and then become enraged and shout a lot.

• Ask call centre person how their day is going and what qualifications they got in high school.

• Pretend to speak fluent French and not understand English.

• Pretend to only speak Minion.

• Tell the cold call centre person to 'hold the line please' then mute the speaker for at least 30 seconds. Un-mute to reassure call centre person that their call is important to you and you will be available to speak shortly. Mute once more. Repeat.

• Pretend to fart down the phone.

• Try to order a pepperoni pizza.

• Ask to speak to your friend 'Ryan' at the next desk. (You know Ryan... Yes you do - Ryan! At the next desk along from you! Opposite you then... What - he's not in today then? No, he DOES work there- I spoke to him yesterday... Stop messing with me mate, I NEED to speak to him, Pleeassee!!)

• Pretend to be hit by a car mid-sentence. Have nearby friends scream and call for help.

• Pretend to be deaf and pass your phone to a mate who will adopt one of the call centre handling approaches as detailed above.

I am torn between feeling proud of my teenager's ingenuity, annoyance at the call centre company who invaded his privacy, puzzled that the whole thing was ever considered a sound business model and sympathy for Ryan - who probably did quite well in school and has targets to meet. And probably a massive wad of student debt as well.


24 Jun 2015

Not cooking

For someone who finds cooking such a hassle the word cloud suggests I go on about it. Except this isn't really cooking because it involves chocolate and sweet stuff and all things delicious and bad for you.

I have been reliably informed that- and I quote: These are lush. More people need to know how to make them. Can I have one now and one in my lunchbox? (Jackson, 11)

I also wish to increase the revenue for dentists everywhere because they train forever and have to work in such cramped conditions.

1: Mars bar cake



Ingredients
• Multi pack of 6x mars bars - or Tesco / Lidl equivalent
• Small pack of digestive biscuits
• Big dob of butter - about 1/3 or a pack should do
• 2 handfuls of mini marshmallows
• Family bar of milk chocolate
• Sprinklies / grated chocolate to finish if required

Method
• Cut up mars bars into diddy pieces
• Melt butter and chuck mars bar bits in
• Mush up for 30-40 seconds then remove from heat
• Add biscuits and scrunch them up into mixture
• Transfer to greased baking tray and push down with back of spoon
• Tidy up / faff around on Facebook for half an hour
• Melt chocolate in microwave then spread on top
• Sprinkle marshmallows over it
•  (Optional) Decorate with further melted chocolate whizzed back and forth off the back of a spoon. Or rainbow sprinklies. Or edible glitter.

Notes
• With thanks to Elisa who first shared this with me (except she also uses syrup somewhere)
• Create a mint version of this by adding a ground up extra strong mint to the biscuit mixture then finish off with mint chocolate on top
• For added entertainment, make this with a child and give them the chocolatey spoon & bowl to lick clean. Then take photos when they're not looking.

2: Marshmallow cake



Ingredients
• Family pack marshmallows
• 6 toffees
• Big dob of butter
• 1/3 packet of rice crispies or cornflakes
• Sprinkles / similar to decorate

Method
• Melt butter
• Add toffees
• Add marshmallows
• When the mixture looks like clouds, add the cereal
• Mix
• Transfer to greased tray
• Decorate with sprinkles / popping candy (optional)
• Wait until cool before eating (optional - see below)

Notes
• Use chewits instead of toffee to create fruit salad, strawberry or blackcurrent varieties
• I once came very close to vomiting purely due to the overconsumption of this. I am not proud. I started nibbling it while it was still warm and hadn't even gone solid yet. Then it was just THERE in my kitchen and delicious.
• Only make if planning a social function - unless you have more self control than me

The End


14 Jun 2015

Hay fever


J: I wish I could stop blowing my nose. It's just annoying!
Me: I know... It's amazing how much snot can fit up there in a confined space.
J: Maybe it's a portal to another dimension.

8 Jun 2015

Seeing red



'Open your eyes and then open your eyes again' (Terry Pratchett)

After my last optician's appointment I spent an interesting 60 minutes wandering around town waiting for the fluorescein dye that had been dripped into my eyeballs to drain out of my head again. As instructed I didn't put another set of lenses in until an hour had passed. As not instructed, I didn't bring my glasses so had nothing to correct my naturally rubbish vision until the hour was up. I had a brief, uncomplicated to-do list, enough loyalty stamps for a free Coffee#1 and the resolve not to waste any time just because my whole world had temporarily been Gaussian blurred. I would just take my time. And only cross the road if I was really sure nothing was coming.

The whole process went remarkably smoothly. I selected a few little birthday presents for Madi, posted a parcel for work and stocked up on hair dye, toothbrushes and sellotape. I didn't walk by and ignore anyone I know (I don't think) and crossed the road twice without get hit by anything. Before long an hour and 10 minutes had passed. Yay! I used the bathroom of the coffee shop to put in a new set of lenses, exchanged my voucher for a free latte and started reading one of Madi's new books while I drank it. Within a few pages I realised the book was too old for her but decided Jackson would like it instead, and even if he didn't, I absolutely loved it and would carry on reading it.

I walked home, appreciating the renewed detail in my life again and feeling vaguely accomplished- I haven't set foot outside my own front door since the age of 11 without glasses or contact lenses, so completing a to-do list (however un-demanding) while wearing neither of these AND not being squished by a bus is a really cool thing.

The book I didn't give to Madi is called The Giver and after finishing it, I thought back to how poorly I could see when selecting it from the shelf in WH Smith, my nose 3" away from the back cover as I read the blurb... (Spoiler alert - stop reading this now and read the book instead!)

The story concerns 12 year old Jonas, who lives a seemingly utopian life in his Community. Life is uncomplicated and peaceful and like everyone else in the Community, his choices in life are overseen by the Elders who ensure the smooth function of society by means of restricting variation, referred to as Sameness. Early on in the book, Jonas describes a strange incident that happens while he and a friend are chucking an apple back and forth between themselves: the apple momentarily changes appearance while in mid-air. This happens repeatedly, but only fleetingly and Jonas lacks the words to describe it accurately. Later on in the book after a few similar experiences, his mentor, The Giver, works out what is happening to him: Jonas is beginning to see the colour red.

The people of the Community can only see in black and white. The peace and structure that Sameness brings has cost them many things, including their perception of colour.

How tragic. This is one of the reasons why Madi would hate this book. And one of the things that fascinated Jackson and compelled him to keep reading until waaaayy past his bedtime then appear in our bedroom at midnight, clutching Mr President and announcing he was too sad to sleep.

So... in our world we do have colour. And millions of people around the globe have their world brought into focus everyday with prescription glasses or contact lenses or laser surgery. After my blurry 70 minutes in town the other day I am even more thankful for access to trained optometrists and the means to correct our view of everything.

But what if, as per the inhabitants of the Community, there is actually more to our surroundings than the way most people perceive them? Just suppose that 20/20 vision is actually not perfect eyesight after all? What if there's depth and vibrancy and substance to everyday life that is on display constantly - but only for those who want to open their eyes and see it? Just say God is intrinsically involved in the world he created and loves and his fingerprints are really actually everywhere? Like a kid who's been painting and wanders off and touches stuff without washing his hands - leaving traces wherever he goes.

This changes everything.

Jesus then said, 'I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretence of seeing will be exposed as blind.' (John 9:38-40)

Neo: Why do my eyes hurt?
Morpheus: Because you've never used them before. (The Matrix)

Open our eyes open our eyes open our eyes, Amen Xxx


31 May 2015

Time management

All that is not eternal is eternally out of date. (CS Lewis)




This folder is the culmination of about 6 months work. Most projects we do generate a folder like this (in corporate orange - hello), divided into sections such as hotels, speakers, exhibition, programme and anything else we're asked to get involved in. As a conference approaches, the Orange Folder steadily fills up with bits of paper as information becomes available and finalised documents replace draft versions of things. By the time the meeting starts it is a complete summary of the next few days of my life and I would be totally stranded without it. We have digital versions of everything - but I need a tangible thing to hold in my hands and flick through - because it's far easier and more comforting to be able to hold the information in both hands. The Orange Folder becomes the event Bible, and must be accessible all the time.

Then the conference takes place. Large volumes of people gather in one place. A flurry of activity ensues. Then everyone goes home again. And a really weird thing happens - the Orange Folder becomes redundant.

The care and attention it has previously enjoyed is withdrawn - practically overnight. It returns home to a cupboard in the office alongside other summaries of events gone by, all waiting patiently for a day when they might be selected from the shelf and referred to once more. The Orange Folder, fresh from duty is likely confused at this sudden abandonment: Why is no one picking me up to arrange and re-arrange my contents? What happened to all the flicking through me 10 times a day to access my secrets?! Are you honestly telling me NO ONE needs to know which symposia will be held in which room, when the sponsors can run through their slides or who is still to submit a travel claim? What about how many Gala dinner meals need to be vegetarian, pescatarian, halal or under no circumstances contain peanuts?? No, no no - don't shut the cupboard door...!

But of course, no one cares now. After the dinner's over, no one needs to know what the final numbers were (which, incidentally, 10% of people won't show up for and at least one person will spontaneously develop / abandon a vegetarian lifestyle because they've just seen the alternative at another table...).

Isn't that weird? How can something go from being indispensable to recyclable in a matter of days? Time is such a fickle thing.

Or is it MORE weird that I even think about this stuff - because the alternative would involve a realm of no past or future - only the all consuming now. A fluid existence not framed by the passing of days and weeks and years, but something beyond the boundaries of experience or vocabulary or imagination. A place where the Orange Folder is always important or isn't needed at all...

What if we lived in immortality, like the wormhole prophets in DS9? Having never experienced linear existence, they need the alien concept of 'time' explained to them - and even then consider the whole thing to be unstable, unpredictable and quite frankly rather bizarre ('You mean you value your ignorance of what is to come???').




I'm with the Wormhole Prophets.
And CS Lewis.
(Who, to be fair, was plagiarising St Peter)
But until then I'm working on the contents of the next Orange Folder.

But don’t forget this one thing, dear friends: To the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like a day. (2 Peter 3:8)


Life begins (Part 2)




1: Waxing gives higher levels of smoothness than any razor could ever hope to achieve, regardless of whatever revolutionary triple-bladed technology involved.

2: After successfully waxing ones legs ONCE you may foolishly assume you are experienced enough to tackle other 'sensitive' areas.

3: This is a lie.

4: It is possible to be in so much pain that little white lights swirl before your eyes and you forget to breathe.

5: Screaming loudly in a communal shower block scares small children. Soundlessly mouthing obscenities and pacing in circles is recommended instead.

6: Body hair may be ripped out in smaller sections than the size of available waxing paper. Just CUT the waxing paper into smaller strips before you begin.

7: If all fingertips and both thumbs become covered in wax and pubes, abandon procedure and call for reinforcements.

8: A good friend will not mock you for poor hair removal decisions. She will help you tidy up and provide wine.

5 May 2015

Standing up for poultry

Near the end of church on Sunday Loz had several words / pictures for people. I only remember one of them:
• A cartoon chicken with poppy eyes.
• Maybe you feel a bit ridiculous?
• Sunshine.
• God says 'Be pleased with how I have made you'.

I hear this and type it into my phone as Loz says it, thinking Haha- Oh God, this is me! I can see a picture of the chicken immediately. It looks like this:



I know some of the things I say and think are a bit mental - but I like that I see life this way. I don't want to change it. And you know what? If I am ridiculous or if other people think I am then I don't actually care. I'm pleased with how you've made me. I like being a chicken, God - Thank you xx

I'm caught up in this and kind of laughing about it in my head when I realise Loz is asking people to stand up if one of the prophecies resonated with them and I'm like, Uh oh - Stand up?!? Even if I don't mind being ridiculous? Even if I embrace my chickenness? Do I still get up even then? Argh.... I should have been paying attention better. Poultry have shocking attention spans. We really do. We're like goldfish. I don't even know what to say to whoever comes over. I've kind of got used to praying for other people recently and wasn't planning on getting prayer myself today so what do I tell them exactly? Clearly it would make sense to mention the chicken thing. But I'll also feel compelled to tell them I don't mind being ridiculous. If they think that - maybe they don't. I can't presume anyone thinks ANYTHING cause who knows what someone else really thinks inside the privacy of their own head? And I'm really happy with who God's made me to be thankyouverymuch so don't worry about that bit and - oh crap - that could be really insensitive, couldn't it? What if whoever comes over is struggling with who they are inside their own skin and I'm all like 'Well I'm completely happy with who I was made to be thanks' - what affect would that have? Unless of course it's someone I don't know that well. Then they wouldn't expect me to know. Or maybe someone I DO know well but just not about their struggles with some stuff and... that's more likely actually. Because a lot of stuff passes me by completely. It's not that I don't care - I'm just not that observant. Or imaginative about what other people might be feeling / thinking / meaning when they say something. I have enough to think about keeping my own brain in order without trespassing over someone else's mind. I just don't want to be accidentally arrogant. 

Or is it MORE arrogant to sit on my backside and not stand up because God's talking to me because actually that's what this is probably about right now and I always need prayer so if it's directly offered I don't say no because that's a reeeeaaaallly stupid thing to do... 

By this time I'm concluding, OK, It's definitely more arrogant to sit if God's nudging you to stand because God matters more than other people, right? So standing up IS more appropriate right now, OK that's fine, that's fine, of course that's FINE... but the runaway monologue in my brain has taken some time and so I'm ALSO thinking, But I'm an all or nothing chicken! I don't do mediocrity. I should have been on my feet immediately and I can't stand up NOW having faffed around and argued about it first. What kind of chicken would do that? A chicken chicken - that's who!!

Then I can hear God smirking at me and I get all indignant and say What's so funny?!? and he's like 'If you're sooooo comfortable and don't care what people think then why you still sat on your bum exactly - now that you've decided not to be?' And I'm laughing too because I'm completely overthinking the whole thing and now trying to kid on that standing up in front of a room full of people when no one else is responding is not scaring the pants off me. But hey ho, You win! I love you and you're right - I'm doing it, I'm standing now just watch me get UP.... when Loz asks us all to stand and the moment is gone.

And then we get into little groups and pray for each other anyway. And we sing. And church ends. And I drink coffee and chat to people. And forget ALL about the chicken thing. I drink more coffee and speak to more people. And Keith's locking up so I'm not rushing off anywhere. And then I'm passing a little group of people and Loz kind of locks eyes with me and he's like 'Hey Jen- You ok?' and in an instant it all floods back to me and I'm like, 'Yeah really good- And the chicken thing was me!'

And he knew it was.
And I told him I don't care if I'm ridiculous.
And he reminded me of the sunshine thing.
Because that was really important too.
This is why I love my church.

James 5:15-16
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other


I am a slow learner. Sorry Loz. You heard correctly. There was a chicken in the room. I hope you weren't discouraged today Xxx

2 Apr 2015

Playing by the rules



Three or four times a year the kids get out the Monopoly board and we start a game that will involve all of us having dinner scrunched up at one end of the kitchen table for 3 evenings in a row, regular accusations of corruption against the banker, a few tears and at least one major argument. The game will end after a gradual slide into destitution as I slowly haemorrhage all my possessions to the eventual winner (which by the way, is never me).

It's interesting to see how the kids' personalities play out as the game progresses:

E: Rules are rules are rules. They are there for a reason. They make the game function. What's the point of playing it if you're going to show compassion? This is futile. It only prolongs the inevitable (and delays my rise to absolute power!! Mwahhhh haawhh haaaaaawhh...)

J: Lighten UP. Rules are a guide- a framework, if you will. It's people that are important. Playing the game should be fun. If you have to pay that massive bill then you'll loose Piccadilly and Coventry Street and be sad, so why not just pay me HALF the money and let me have some bubble gum bottles from your secret junk drawer instead? Oh - and if there's going to be an atmosphere about all this then I'll be in the garden playing football...

M: But I like the rules. If we aren't playing properly, then I won't play. Oh, unless you want to show me a little bit of leniency. Then that's OK- because I am the youngest.

The whole purpose of the game is to win, and to have a winner, everyone else must loose. Without an imbalance of power, there IS no game. Which is why I hate Monopoly. But because we play it so infrequently, my memory recovers well enough to convince me that it wasn't really that bad and we're teaching life skills like risk taking, conflict resolution, losing gracefully, blah blah blah, plus we need something to do on happy family no gadget Wednesdays that involves us all being in the same room of the house. Then the whole process repeats itself from the start and I realise once again: Yep I really do hate this game.

There comes a point, no matter what chance card you pick or how the dice falls, the event horizon of bankruptcy has been crossed and there is no going back. From now on the future involves only Foodbank vouchers, zero hours contracts and eventually dying alone in a damp bedsit, perhaps covered in your own vomit.

The game starts off so fairly, doesn't it? Everyone starts off with the same amount of money.  The iron, dog and top hat all receive the same amount of money for passing GO. The same opportunities for success exist equally for all, yet the outcome is always a situation that is very unequal- although supposedly fun to play.

Does life imitate art or vice versa? Do I have issues with Monopoly or the values it stands for? Because the game has been going on for real since forever and we start playing as soon as we arrive - even if we'd rather play football in the garden or wander off to the toilet and forget to come back to the kitchen table or (me only) rearrange all the cupboards in the entire house then post the photos to Buzzfeed.

Except in the real game there is no level playing field anymore. There are no equal opportunities - start up capital sums vary and property portfolios are often predetermined at birth. There is no set amount for passing GO- each person receives a different amount that reflects their market value. Because some people are inherently more valuable than others, right?

Race, gender, income, education, background - all kinds of things influence the gameplay. Some people are naturally predisposed to wealth or power and the game belongs to the wealthy and powerful. Some people live their whole lives waiting to roll the dice. The article here explores what the Monopoly rules would look like if applied today in the USA alone. Factor in global wealth statistics and the game rules only get more skewed. It's so weird. Every one of us being born into a time and place and situation that we have NO control over. How is that fair?

And how do we play the game fairly now that we're here? Fulfilling the responsibilities of adulthood, enjoying whatever rewards genetics, IQ and geography bring and sharing our (sometimes limited) resources based on the priority of need - without being embittered by what what other people have or immobilised by guilt about what we have or frustrated by the apathy of those who could really make a difference if they wanted to.

It must be possible to live here yet not be tainted by the system. To be in the world but not conform to it. Jesus managed it. He spent his whole life doing so and was eventually killed for it as the system was SO unjust it couldn't cope with him. The culture and context changes, but the same game plays on. And while the rules are still enforced by the powerful, we can learn stuff from the way he approached the rules while he was here:

Jesus made religious people mad by refusing to condemn a woman to death who'd been caught in adultery, telling the crowd, 'Let him who has never sinned throw the first stone.' One by one they dropped their stones and left. The religious people liked their rules. They liked catching people out who had broken the rules. But they chose which rules to follow and which rules to ignore (where was the man she was caught with??) Jesus knew all about the rules but loved people more than being right. He knew all the rules the religious guys had broken too - and exposed their hypocrisy.
• Love people more than rules

One time his friends were challenged about paying taxes to Caesar. Jesus instructed them to fish in the nearby waters and the money would be found inside the mouth of a fish. And it was - they were given what they needed at the point where they needed it. Jesus didn't make a direct stand against the taxation system (he could have done) - but used the situation to teach about God's ability to provide.
• God is bigger than the rules

Another time he advised some people that 'If one of the occupying troops forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it two miles.' This sounds like caving in to power, but was actually an act of quiet rebellion. A first century Palestinian could be forced to carry a soldier's supplies for one mile- but making anyone carry the weight further than this was forbidden and resulted in disciplinary action. Jesus wasn't being submissive - he was showing people a way to flip the rules back onto the rule makers and exploit them to their advantage.
• Make a stand against unfair rules

He didn't really have a permanent residence. He travelled loads- always surrounded by people. Someone once declared he would follow Jesus anywhere, to which he replied 'Foxes have dens, the birds have nests, but I have nowhere to lie down and rest.' He didn't have much stuff because stuff wasn't that important to him.
• Using the rules to acquire lots of stuff is not a good use of time

The longest recorded conversation we know about is between him and a Samaritan woman. This is massive. Hanging out with a woman? With a dodgy history? Who belongs to a people group we hate? This was beyond shocking. It was unimaginable. Things like this were never done - ever. 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you' he said.
• A rule that makes you hate someone is not a good rule. Ignore it.

Hmmm. Would Jesus rather play Monopoly or football or organise a cupboard? (One of these activities -my favourite one- has no rules at all).

29 Mar 2015

Online safety

FB status: What materials did we need to research for product design?
Parental comment: Candy floss, pixie dust and farts

(Comment disappears within a few minutes)

Me: What happened to the comment?
J: I removed it to save you embarrassment.
Me: I may just have to post it again...
J: Then I may just have to block you...

9 Mar 2015

Singing in tune

Multitasking: This term originated in the computer engineering industry and refers to the apparent performance by an individual of handling more than one task, or activity, at the same time, for example taking phone calls while typing an email. Multitasking can result in time wasted due to human context switching and apparently causing more errors due to insufficient attention. However, studies have shown that some people can be trained to multitask more effectively, with practice, where changes in brain activity have been measured as improving performance of multiple tasks. (Wiki)

'There’s no such thing as multi-tasking – just doing lots of things badly. The correct term is multi-failing' (Pete Brockman, Outnumbered)



I multitask (or fail) frequently. I can accomplish a lot in a short time by overlapping undemanding or repetitive tasks such as talking on the phone, formatting a document, checking homework or cooking tea. But I've also had to re-write emails that were drafted when I was distracted by something else or agreed that the kids could do /eat something because I wasn't focussed on the question. Also, as previously disclosed, doing anything + cooking must be approached with caution as it can go really wrong.

It depends on the thing, right? Big things like cuddling a child who's fallen over or anything involving these symbols (+ - ÷ % x) demand one's full attention. 

What happens when we multitask the big things? I ran an experiment to see. (NB: There was only one individual in this cohort and the trial has not been independently verified, so any real researcher reading this can legitimately question and reject my findings). 

Introduction:
Our church was set up for a whole night and day of continuous prayer. People signed up for 1 or 2 hour slots and had a range of creative ways to help them connect with God. Props included individual iPods preloaded with worship material, oversized scrabble tiles, a map of our local area, information about current world events, quotes from famous people - living and dead - about suffering, justice and the meaning of everything, and a collection of collage materials and PVA glue for those who wanted to make their prayers out of pom-poms and glitter.

Method:
It was the middle of the night and normal people were sleeping. No one else was in the building. The door was locked and I had the whole prayer space to myself. The kick off room had a looped video of global demographics and poverty statistics framed against a cover version of Mad World. Quotes about freedom and imprisonment, IS and the fall of the Berlin Wall surrounded the screens. There is much suffering on this planet. But much hope too. And triumph in the face of genuinely awful things. I remained in the room for 6 loops of the song and one cup of tea. I learned all the lyrics to Mad World without trying.

Moving into the main room, this prayer space was completely quiet and still and with the doors to the last area closed, Mad World could not get in. It did not remain quiet. With worship-to-go on an iPod and ear buds in, I sang, scribbled, glued and cried my way through several tracks, kneeling on the floor on top of our map, pritt-sticking song words around our town and colouring stuff in with Sharpie pens. The God Songs were all I could hear. Singing the God Songs was easy and natural. It was actually hard NOT to sing them.

Needing more tea, I went back into Mad World room to make another drink. I stopped in front of the screen and watched some of the looped video listening to the God Song on the iPod rather than Gary Jules- which didn't quite work. God Songs speak of power and love and the bigness of God. The video reminded me our world is still broken and confusing and grossly unfair. Why isn't God fixing it? What am I doing to fix it? How much worse can it get?? I unplugged one ear and Mad World mingled together with the God Song, which I was still singing.

It got harder to sing the God Song.

Phase 2 of the trial. I had no control over the volume of Mad World (where do we keep the TV doofer anyway?) but I did have control over the God Song and turned the iPod volume down. My own voice suddenly sung out louder. This did not help.

I turned the God Song down some more, but still kept on singing it. Man, this is hard. Mad World is now way too loud and it's making me want to sing that rather than the God Song I've already decided I want to sing.

Lower still - and I can only just hear the God Song in my one plugged-in ear. And all around me there are worn out faces and places and pointless races and all kinds of screwed up things which don't speak of God's greatness and sovereignty in a world of 1% starvation, 14% illiteracy and 7% computer ownership. I'm still singing the God Song, but singing it badly. I keep missing the start of the lines and forgetting which note I'm aiming for. It's a good job there's no one else here.

Test concluded. We have enough material.

Conclusions:
• There's nothing intrinsically wrong with Mad World. 
• Or any song that's not the God Song. 
• We have the freedom to pursue activities that don't don't reinforce the God Song or remind us to keep singing it. But focus on anything else for too long and the song quickly fades. You miss the start of the lines. Other tunes mingle in with it and you don't reach the right notes anymore. 

Recommendations:
• Have at least one ear plugged in at all times.
• Adjust your volume when you encounter interference
• Be aware of the Mad World and fight to change what you can wherever it is broken - but don't be immersed in grief over it. Things won't end this way. 
• Sing every day.
• Sing with other people who also sing the God Song. 
• Especially those who harmonise.