Before I did this…

Before I did this I did not proclaim to be a feminist,

I didn’t feel it was necessary.

Before I did this I didn’t shout out for women to be treated fairly,

I didn’t think I needed to.

 

Before I did this people didn’t comment on my appearance,

the clothes I wore, make-up or no make-up, my hair

were only commented on by my close friends…or my children.

 

Before I did this nobody ever said ‘Oh, you’re a woman’

in either surprised or disappointed tones.

Nobody ever asked if there was a man available instead.

 

Before I did this my inappropriate humour was found to be funny….or not,

my flirting was just that – to be returned in jest or ignored.

Jokes were jokes and actions were actions,

nobody thought the two must be connected.

 

Before I did this I was never avoided because I was a woman,

nobody was asked to stay away from me because I was a woman,

and if they had, nobody would have thought this was OK.

 

Before I did this I was never judged by my marital status,

I was never asked to explain my marital status,

nobody frickin’ cared about my marital status.

 

Before I did this my ability to do my job was judged by…

my ability to do my job.

Nobody ever wondered aloud whether things would be better

if a man was doing it.

 

Before I did this I did not proclaim to be a feminist,

I didn’t feel it was necessary.

Before I did this I didn’t shout out for women to be treated fairly,

I didn’t think I needed to.

 

 

Why I say ‘migrant’ not ‘refugee’.

Over the past few weeks there appears, to me anyway, to have been a change of feeling towards the plight of those fleeing from Syria and the nearby areas.

For a while we have heard reports of migrants attempting to enter our country, we knew of the ‘jungle’ at Calais and occasionally it was mentioned in a passing news article. As things progressed we heard of people hi-jacking lorries or attempting to walk through the tunnel to try and get across the channel and, as a rule, it was reported as a negative thing and as something we should try and stop at all costs. ‘We don’t have room; we don’t have the jobs; we’re full; we don’t have the resources; the economy can’t cope with it’ was the general prevailing opinion. Within all that, if you listened carefully, there were small voices shouting ‘They’re refugees NOT migrants!’ You may have missed them but they were definitely there. If you clicked on the comment section of news reports you could see them, if you listened to ‘Thought for the Day’ type things you could hear them and there were many blogs posted and reposted on Facebook highlighting their offence at this use of terminology. ‘Refugees NOT migrants.’

And then came the picture of little Aylan, the Syrian child found drowned on a beach in Turkey. There’s nothing quite like a picture of a dead child to shock our nation into submission. As we stopped in our tracks to look and ponder for a moment the small voices shouted louder and louder, ‘Look they are refugees! They need our HELP!’ And suddenly… they were heard, perspective altered, public opinion began to change, help began to to be offered.

You see, the people behind these voices knew something. They knew, as a nation, we like to compartmentalise people and this includes people in need. Terminology matters as it changes how we view the need. We relish the power to judge. We love to decide who is deserving of our help and who is not. ‘Migrants’ are people trying to reach our country to better themselves…and we can’t have that can we?! ‘Refugees’ are seen to be people we can pity, they need our help…and who doesn’t like to feel they are being helpful?

There is a certain irony that this is in direct opposition to how we judge the people in need in our own country. We have been fed the ‘Those who work hard to better themselves are more worthy’ line for so long that a majority of our nation believe it. In contrast our TV schedules are full of programmes ridiculing those people that, for whatever reason, are not in employment. We relish the power to judge. We love to decide who we think are unlucky and who we think are unworthy. And as the poor of our country have struggled more and more over the past few years, the rest of the country have sat back and told themselves that they ‘don’t deserve help, they’re not worthy’ or ‘we’re struggling too – we can’t afford to help’.

But here’s the thing….we CAN help…we just don’t want to. The response to Aylan’s picture has proven this. There have been donations of tents, clothing, food, money, blankets, bedding, offers of spare rooms to house people, people have petitioned for the government to help, vigils have been held, social media has come alive with news and stories to raise awareness of the plight, even the government has (miraculously?) found some money and pledged to take in more migrants over the next 5 years.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m happy people are offering help, that can only be a good thing. I am not, in any way, suggesting that we should not offer help. But I am also sad that we haven’t seen this passion to help the poor before now. I’m sad that, even amidst this surge of goodwill, there are still people in our own nation that we perceive as unworthy of our support. I’m sad that it took the picture of a dead child and a change in terminology for us to decide that these people were deserving of our help.

For this reason, I refuse to change the terminology I use. Accurately, people are only ‘Refugees’ if they claim asylum in the first safe country they come to, therefore the people arriving in Britain are ‘Migrants’. That’s fine by me, at the end of the day people are people and if they need help then they need help. I, like a great majority (but by no means all) in this country, are in a position to do so. I WANT to do so. And I feel no need to change what I collectively call these people so as to justify this.

5 reasons I am really ‘crying inside’

Today I am sad. No I’m angry. Or sad. Then angry. As you can tell, it’s a mixture of the two. And why? Because today I read an article in the Church Times entitled ‘Single churchwomen “cry inside” for the lack of men.’ (You can read it here.. http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/20-february/news/uk/single-churchwomen-cry-inside-for-lack-of-men)

Less than two weeks ago I endured a four hour lecture on ‘Singleness and Marriage’ which assumed that everyone’s main aim was to move from the former to the latter. I wrote it off as four hours of my life that I would never get back and was then ready to forget it and move on. However, today I read an article pretty much summarising the same kind of drivel spouted in those four hours. As a one-off it was both offensive but strangely amusing as it was so bizarre, but if it’s going to be pushed in wider circles as the norm then it’s time for me to be more vocal.

So here are my 5 main reasons why I object to it so much:

1. The headline is offensive.
I don’t want to suggest that there aren’t many single women who would prefer to be married, there are, I have met them. However the words ‘crying inside’ paint a picture of desperate and pathetic women who are sitting and waiting for Mr Right to sweep them off their feet. It conjures up images of women sitting every night with a bottle of wine, a tub of Ben and Jerrys and box of tissues snivelling over every rom-com going. It’s simply not true. Even those who would prefer to be married are merrily getting on with life, they are not pathetic and desperate, they are strong, independent and sociable.

2. The information gathered.
The stats are not a surprise. There are more women than men in church. Well no shit Sherlock, I’m fairly sure every person there could have told you that without a survey. And the information about how to interpret them, how women feel about the situation etc. comes from a man who runs a dating website. Firstly, if you want to know how single women feel perhaps it’s better to actually ask them. Secondly, if you survey people on a dating website then they’re probably going to tell you that they’d prefer to be in a relationship.

3. It insults single men in the church.
What message is this giving to single men?! They aren’t trying hard enough? They have no personality? They should review their expectations? Whatever message they are receiving from this sort of article, teaching and mindset, it can’t be a healthy or positive one.

4. The underlying message is that marriage makes life complete.
It is unhealthy to be constantly striving for something that may never happen. I remember the desperation of wanting a baby, it was all consuming and I would have tried anything to increase the chances of it happening. I remember people trying to be helpful and telling me to be patient and it would happen in it’s own time. One day someone spoke the harshest and wisest words I have ever heard. She told me that many people never had any children and they still lived happy and fulfilled lives so I should get my head round that and get on with living. I tried. Not always successfully, every month I would hope, but in the meantime I was living not waiting.
In the same way, marriage can be a blessing…but you can live a happy and fulfilled life without it. You are not incomplete if you are not married.

5. ‘Flirt to convert’ should always be a joke and not a life plan.
‘Thousands of Christian women in particular must choose between marrying somebody who doesn’t share their beliefs, or staying single.’
Yes, if we can’t find an eligible man in the church then we may……marry an unbeliever! Quelle horreur! Only in the church do we have this strange idea that future partners should agree and like everything we say and do. Outside of it there are many many couples that don’t have the same political views or don’t share a liking for each other’s social activities. Opposites can and do attract.

So I have a suggestion, I hadn’t considered it radical until today. What about if single people, instead of looking for Christians who believe exactly what they do, looked to marry other single people that they loved and who loved them, who appreciated them for who they really are and accepted them complete with faults? Would that not be a good idea?

Let’s also remember that not everyone is looking to get married.

And to all single people…you are lovely as you are, you are beautifully and wonderfully made, and you are complete. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

The year of the teapot.

So it’s New Year’s Eve once again, the day where we all look back and forward at the year we’ve had and the year about to start. And I think it’s safe to say that, for me, 2014 has had it’s ups and downs and probably more downs than ups. In fact, from Summer onwards, for a variety of reasons, it’s been pretty crap.

But…she says digging up some optimism….it’s not been a completely bad year. In fact, it’s been an historical year, the year of a complete new experience. Because 2014 is the year that…..

I first owned a teapot! (Whooping and clapping optional here)

Yes I know, I can hear you wondering how had I managed to reach the grand age of 40 without one. How on earth did I make a cup of tea?! Actually it’s surprisingly easy – you just put the teabag in the mug and swill it around a bit but anyway…that’s not the point. Thanks to some very kind friends, I now own a teapot. Not just any teapot. Oh no! None of your common or garden stuff for me, we can all shop at…errm wherever you would buy a teapot from. But not me, mine is a hand-painted teapot, painted by yours truly. Oh yes! So now when you visit for a cuppa I could make it in a pot. I don’t, because it’s a single serving teapot and if you visited then there would be two of us, but I could (if I wanted to make twice the work).

So last year on New Years Eve I optimistically made my big resolutions and, as usual, have failed to keep them. This year I’m going to set my sights a bit lower, actually considerably lower. You see 2014 was the year of the first teapot but 2015 is going to be….

the year of the bigger teapot!

Bring it on! It’s going to be a fab year🙂

Happy New Year everyone xxx

‘It just doesn’t seem very…errrm…Christian?’

I always feel a pang of guilt when I share with my non-Christian friends the times when I have been let down and hurt by my fellow believers. It’s similar to the feeling I had when I finally had to admit to my children that they were correct; Santa isn’t real, nor is the Tooth Fairy, and me in my onesie really is the nearest they will ever get to a unicorn. It’s that feeling you get as you slaughter the magical mystery of a myth, even if they know it to be untrue or make-believe they still like to pretend, but once you voice the reality… then the magic vanishes.

And so, in sharing these disappointments, I’m crushing that infamous magical myth…all Christian believers are better people, or as Mary Poppins so eloquently said, ‘Practically perfect in every way’. To be honest, I’m not sure how my friends can really believe this in the first place. I mean, they know me, they really know me, so how can they possibly believe this myth? It would be great (although incredibly inaccurate) if they thought it was because I emulated Christ-like qualities in all I do. However, I suspect they just think I’m the one that slipped through the net, that all other Christians are pious and perfect and I’m an imposter.

I can’t decide whether we Christians are responsible for perpetuating this myth, I’d like to say not but then I hear their response to my troubles,

‘It just doesn’t seem very…errrm…Christian?’

The guilt and the slight sense of disloyalty I feel does suggest that in some way we like to set ourselves apart, we like to think ourselves better, and we like others to believe it. To admit otherwise upsets the apple-cart on both parts.

But to not admit our failings, or those of others, does God a massive disservice. It implies that we have to be good/perfect to be a believer and that is so far from true. To pretend all is well all of the time allows others to enter into that make-believe world of perfection, a world they feel they can never enter in reality. More importantly, it misses that amazing message that God loves us just as we are (yeah I know, I always think of that scene from Bridget Jones too – and now you will!) and even when we completely balls life up. Luckily I don’t need to be perfect…. my problem is, that means all you others don’t have to be either.

Daring to Dream

I have a dream that I own pet ducks. In the dream I have a garden with a pond, overlooked by trees and I can sit on the perfect lawn watching the ducks swim on the pond. As an added bonus they would produce lots of scrummy eggs for me to have at breakfast. Now I know many of you have chickens and will be championing the idea of keeping these but, how can I put this gently, chickens are horrible mangy creatures with scary eyes and ducks are sweet. So not chickens…but ducks.

It’s not a dream that’s likely to make it to reality but you never know. That’s the beauty of dreaming, it can be anything from wild fantasy to the reasonably possible, as long as it’s something you would like to happen then it’s a dream. Some of us, it seems, are more of a daydreamer than others. I can pass hours and hours dreaming. In my childhood it got me through many a boring rainy afternoon or dull school lesson, as an adult it helps me through boring lectures and dull sermons in the same way. But dreaming can also be a communal activity; how many working adults dream of what will happen when they win the lottery, the things they will buy and the places they will go? They fill tedious working days chatting about their dreams for the future; the holiday they are wanting next year, their upcoming wedding, the baby they long for, their next job that will be so much better paid than their current one.

Over the last few weeks I have met people who no longer allow themselves to dream. Bitter experiences make them claim that dreaming only leads to disappointment. Listening to their stories, it seems they are right. I have heard from people in care growing up dreaming of having a permanent family that never materialises, people in abusive situations dreaming it will end and it didn’t, dreams of love and happily ever afters became relationships that ended badly, dreams of parenthood ended tragically, dreams of working to better themselves turned out to be impossible for so many reasons. In the end it became safer for them not to dream as dreaming gives hope of something better and with hope, there is the danger of disappointment. There is only so much disappointment one person can take before self-preservation sets in and internal barriers go up.

However, it is human nature to dream, we can even do it in our sleep! Therefore it’s not that easy to stop ourselves, to do that we need to find something to stop our minds and make us forget and many, but by no means all, of these people had found the substances to help them do just that. As they slurred their stories to me, spilt alcohol on my feet, shouted and were generally obnoxious I was very aware that these were the people that society shuns. Of course we do, we are continuously fed the lie that they deserve what they get, other people can cope so why don’t they just pick themselves up, sort themselves out and carry on? Standing there in front of them the answer was obvious, they had picked themselves up, over and over and over again in fact, but now they had run out of steam. They had stopped and they just wished the world would stop too. As it doesn’t they had found a way to block it out.

However, when I looked closely, amongst the doom and gloom there was hidden hope. Although they would deny it, this group of society’s misfits had become friends. As much as they would grumble and be nasty about each other, the truth was that they all knew what each other was up to and each one was missed if not seen for a day. In their rough and tumble way they looked out for each other, nobody went hungry…or homeless, problems were shared and advice was given. They were holding each other up from that final drop to the bottom, tentatively maybe, but holding on nonetheless. I wonder how long they need to do this before one of them finds some strength again, to give life another go, to start climbing back up, to begin to dream again?

So today, if you’re one of those of us who dare to dream, spare a thought and a prayer for those who don’t.

Who do you say that I am?

He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered him, ‘You are the Messiah.’”

 

From a very young age I have had this morbid curiosity with death. As a child I would ask to go to the park via the cemetery so that I could read the inscription on the graves. As a teenager I would spend hours wandering around grave yards thinking of the previous lives of the residents there. You’re probably thinking that it is therefore no surprise that I am now a Christian but this wasn’t thinking about heaven or an afterlife, this was and is the fascination of what people will say about me once I’m no longer here. How will people describe me?

 

Over the years I’ve attended more than my fair share of funerals, and often, quite bizarrely, funerals of people I don’t even know. I have my reasons! I haven’t really been hanging around the crematorium and gate crashing funerals. I’m not that weird. But each time it makes me consider my own, what I want and what I hate, and each time I look at my own life and wonder what people will say. You see, the problem with these things is that normally, the people who give the eulogy are the ones who know you best. Scary! They could say anything….and you can’t stand up and stop them! And I try and think what I would like them to say, I start with the ‘Jennie was amazingly patient and loving, always cheerful and helpful and a true credit to God.’ Then reality kicks in and I realise that actually I’d just be pleased if they go ‘Jennie was OK, she did the best she could’, to be frank anything more than ‘Thank God the miserable bugger has gone’ is considered a bonus.

 

Within my exploration of ordination there have been many references and reports written about me. Often it can be uncomfortable to read about yourself but sometimes, just sometimes, it’s quite nice. But my latest report starts with this line, ‘Jennie(40) is a single parent.’ I was less than pleased, OK I was mad, very mad, possibly unreasonably so. Did I rant by text and phone that night? Oh yes. Did I stomp around and slam my pots around over breakfast the next day? Yes, I did that too. And I learnt that people split into two groups; those that really couldn’t see the problem, and those that immediately exclaim ‘That’s outrageous!’ I wonder which group you fit in to..

 

So why was I angry? Well I am so much more than my marital status, or rather, lack of it.. And anyway, why should it matter? When Peter answered Jesus he didn’t say, ‘Oh they know you as the thirty something that’s not married. They think you must have commitment issues or be gay.’ did he? Of course not, and yet somehow this is the most important aspect of me apparently. But, rightly or wrongly, my marital status is perceived negatively by a substantial chunk of society and particularly within the church, therefore, this statement will have consequences

 

So I was pulled up short by a wise, and fairly brave, friend who said, ‘But Jennie this is how you describe yourself.’ Surely not! That couldn’t be true! Was I really that negative about myself? Grudgingly I had to admit that they were right. I don’t know when it started, but I had started to refer to myself in these terms. But no longer, this needs to stop! That night I remembered the following quote by Marianne Williamson and, when I start to slip, I continue to tell myself this…

 

‘Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate,

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be?

You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone.

And as we let our light shine we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.’

 

The dreaded ‘four zero’ looms

As my 40th birthday creeps nearer and nearer I have to confess to having mixed feelings about it. On the one hand there is hope and excitement for what the future may bring, but on the other there’s that realisation that life is passing by. In the back of my mind I remember the days when I thought people this age were wise and had life sorted, now I know that’s so far from reality it’s laughable (speaking for myself anyway). But the whole thing makes me realise how much time I waste and I’m determined to live life better from now on so it’s time for a list I reckon. Pen and paper at the ready..

‘I’m writing a bucket list’, I say to my son, ‘You know, a list of stuff to do before I die. Any ideas?’

He scans the room. ‘Maybe clean up a bit? It’ll save us a job once you’ve gone’.

Kids! Gotta love ’em!

Not them there religious folk!

Recently I heard the following exchange..

‘Are you religious?’
‘Oh no I’m not religious, I’m a Christian.’

I’ve heard it before, to be honest, but had forgotten about it, or blanked it from my mind would possibly be a better description for it. I remember it being one of those answers to give in the late 80’s and early 90’s but I thought times had moved on. I mean, have you heard it? Have you said it? I realise my upcoming comment may not be universally popular but for me, and I’m trying to be diplomatic here, this answer is not just icky but makes me want to scream! ‘A little extreme’ I suspect you are saying. Well let’s just examine and think about what’s been said.

Firstly, someone, by asking the original question, has shown a vague and passing interest in your faith. They have shown interest and initiated a conversation about it. In the secular world we live in where most conversations revolve around how we make and spend money or relationships between ourselves and others, this in itself is amazing. They want to know about the most important thing in your life, what makes you tick and what influences your decisions. But instead, the person asking the question gets corrected on the terminology they have used. Seriously?! If you are guilty of giving this answer then I think you need to go and sit on the bottom step and think about the consequences of your actions. Go on…

Secondly, why do we have such a problem with the word ‘religious’ anyway? At my last check, Christianity was and is a religion. And not just any willy-nilly religion but the world’s largest religion. 31.5% of the world’s population make up this religion so why would anyone try and distance themselves from that? OK, so in the UK the word ‘religious’ may suggest that you’re a tad boring but if you think the response above makes you sound young, hip and down with the kids, oh wow do I have news for you! You’re actually portraying more ‘freak’, and at best ‘pedantic’. Sorry people, I’m not sure I even have Christian terminology that would achieve what you’re aiming for, it’s probably one of those things where actions speak louder than words eh?

Finally… I’m going to suggest that we reclaim the words ‘religion’ and ‘religious’ and use them with pride. When we look in the dictionary for the actual meanings of the word this is what we find..

synonyms: devoutpiousreverent, believing, godlyGod-fearingdutifulsaintly,holyprayerful, churchgoing, practising, faithfuldevotedcommitted

I can’t see any there that I wouldn’t want to use to describe my faith, although ‘saintly’ may be a little optimistic!

So today I declare.. My name is Jennie Sharpe and I am religious.