Less jewels in the hand and more Doc Martens on the feet of God

I have spent much of this week at a conference for women in leadership in  Northamptonshire.

While I was there I have to admit I was my useless restless self, constantly checking my phone and fretting about all the other things I  could have been doing. But now I am home I  have found that the learning, the coaching and they praying is changing me in subtle ways. Bad habits have been challenged and new perspectives opened up.

However one of the ways in which I felt distanced from the conference was by the use of imagery of women that were largely passive and emphasised the physical appearance. Among those images were ‘stars in the dark sky’ and ‘jewels in the hand of God.’ Asking myself why I reacted so violently to the jewels imagery I realised that it was not only because jewels are passive, admired for their looks and largely useless but they are also things that are protected and guarded from the rough and tumble of daily life. And so I realised I longed to be more of  a Doc Marten and less of a jewel because a Doc Marten can go to all sorts of places, it’s strong and not easily broken and looks great when it is scruffed up. Docs come in all shapes and sizes and are worn by all sorts of people – yup I would definitely rather be a Doc Marten. (Between us my daughter and I have this rather impressive set of Docs.)Photo8

This time a couple of years ago I was on a placement in a wonderful church in North Birmingham where the priest and many of the people had roots in the Carribbean. There I was challenged, especially at Advent, by the Church’s overuse of metaphors which equate darkness with evil and light with goodness. “This dualism does us women no favours;” mused my friend, the priest there.

During this time I discovered this Advent Litany which I offer to you now. I love the way it honours both light and dark and reminds us of God’s presence in both.

A Litany of Darkness and Light
I: We wait in the darkness, expectantly, longingly, anxiously,
II: The darkness is our friend. In the darkness of the womb, we
have all been nurtured and protected. In the darkness of the womb,
the Christ-child was made ready for the journey into light.
All: You are with us, O God, in darkness and in light.
I: It is only in the darkness that we can see the splendor of the
universe—blankets of stars, the solitary glowings of distant
II: It was the darkness that allowed the Magi to find the star that
guided them to where the Christ-child lay.
All: You are with us, O God, in darkness and in light.
I: In the darkness of the night, desert peoples find relief from the
cruel, relentless heat of the sun.
II: In the blessed desert darkness, Mary and Joseph were able to
flee with the infant Jesus to safety in Egypt.
All: You are with us, O God, in darkness and in light.
I: In the darkness of sleep, we are soothed and restored, healed and
II: In the darkness of sleep, dreams rise up. God spoke to Jacob and
Joseph through dreams. God is speaking still.
All: You are with us, O God, in darkness and in light.
I: In the solitude of darkness, we sometimes remember those who
need God’s presence in a special way— the sick, the unemployed,
the bereaved, the persecuted, the homeless, those who are
demoralised and discouraged, those whose fear has turned to
cynicism, those whose vulnerability has become bitterness.
II: Sometimes in the darkness, we remember those who are near to
our hearts—colleagues, partners, parents, children, neighbors,
friends. We thank God for their presence and ask God to bless and
protect them in all that they do—at home, at school, as they travel,
as they work, as they play.
All: You are with us, O God, in darkness and in light.
I: Sometimes, in the solitude of darkness, our fears and concerns,
our hopes and our visions rise to the surface. We come face to face
with ourselves and with the road that lies ahead of us. And in that
same darkness, we find companionship for the journey.
II: In that same darkness, we sometimes allow ourselves to wonder
and worry whether the human race is going to survive.
All: We know you are with us, O God, yet we still await your
coming. In the darkness that contains both our hopelessness and
our expectancy, we watch for a sign of God’s hope.
Department of Parish Development and Mission, New Zealand

Perhaps being shaped by prayers like this will enable me (us) to become more and more of a Doc Marten as it reminds me that where ever I go God’s presence is already there and the goodness and love of God is just waiting to be discovered.


#interfaith means….

As part of my work with Near Neighbours I have been asked to use this hashtag as I tweet through interfaith week. It’s got me thinking what I can say beyond the usual interfaith means I eat wonderful food in a variety of fascinating places, interfaith means I have brilliant friends from different faiths and ethnicities and interfaith means that my own faith has been sharpened, deepened and refined by seeing through the lens of other faiths in dialogue and discussion. (Although all these things have hugely enriched my life they make peacebuilding feel like something passive or a consumer choice.)

This blog post was writing itself in my head before the shocking events in Paris unfolded last night. What I realise interfaith means to me is all about being prepared to love enemies, love those who are angry with you, love those who have done terrible things, love those who society says you should not love. I do not say this because I think people from different faiths are my enemies in any way – I say this because I think this unusual love which defeats fear is a core message of the major faiths. It is something we share. (And of course there are non-religious people who practice this kind of love)

I know some amazing stories from the Christian, Sikh and Muslim narratives that illustrate this and I am sure there are others found in the world’s major religions. The Good Samaritan is a foundational story for me, there is a beautiful story about Mohammed from the Muslim tradition called The Humble One and a Sikh friend shared with me an inspirational story of a warrior who couldn’t help giving a drink to the ‘enemies’ injured in battle. When he was asked why he did it he replied that he couldn’t distinguish between friend or foe as when he looked in their eyes he saw the light of the creator in all of them.

Its often said that the shared Golden Rule is ‘love your neighbour’ and I think that is how I often do interfaith. I spend time with people like me and I speak to people who will probably be receptive. Perhaps, if our shared Gold Rule were ‘love your enemy’ we might be more inspired to go out and find the people who disagree with us, the people who oppose our joint working and do not want to build peaceful cities and neighbourhoods.

I think one of the most useful conversations I have had recently was with some young people who were not keen on the idea of refugees living in their city. After an hour of nothing more sophisticated than storytelling and conversation they were keen to take practical action, to campaign and to fundraise on behalf of refugees.

These young people simply needed to hear a different story. We need to move on from talking to ourselves, from preaching to the converted. We need to get beyond being the same people, doing the same things in the same places. These activities in Birmingham have laid important foundations and enabled some wonderful relationships but it is time now to move beyond our comfort zone. We need interfaith to be incredibly active – a verb rather than an adjective.

It will be risky, there will be setbacks and we will make mistakes but if we do it together I believe it could make all the difference in the world and we might no longer even need to ask the question what does interfaith mean because we can see it practiced all around us.

In Memory of Her – a Reflection on Remembrance

This year, more than any other, I have become aware of the church’s role of holding for many the hope of resurrection and eternal life. In funerals, the minister says things with certainty on behalf of those who are not sure. At the hospital bed, the priest has the confidence to midwife the dying person on to the next phase of their journey. In memorial services held close to All Souls Day, grief is treated as both holy and ordinary, a consequence of loving and being loved. At Remembrance day, wartime sacrifice is honoured and the possibility of peace is birthed in our imaginations.

Today, on the 11th day of the 11th month, I had lunch with two men who fought in the Second World War – they  still call each other ‘soldier’. I heard tales of evacuation and a poignant story of the sacrifice made by four young engineers who were killed when a landmine caught in a tree in Sparkhill exploded as they sought to diffuse it. Hours before they had diffused a bomb buried 22 feet down in the garden of an eight-year-old boy – that boy is now 84 and thanks them today for saving his life.

In our Sunday service we remembered using the litany below. But in this week, exactly one year after the death of a remarkable woman who was our friend, I could not help thinking of other kinds of heroes. Those who fight fear with all the bravery they can muster, those who refuse to surrender to self-pity and those who carry hope in the midst of suffering and bewilderment. I have added my partial memories to the original litany – these are the far more clumsy words in italics.  And alongside Libby, I wanted to remember women and men from all over the world who face conflict and seek peace with courage and compassion.

A Litany

In the rising of the sun
And its going down,
We remember them

In the courage of facing death
In the grip of hope and love

We remember her

In the blowing of the wind
And in the chill of winter
We remember them

In November grief, and joy
Of a life lived in fullness
We remember her

In the blueness of the sky
And in the warmth of summer
We remember them

In your love of bright places
Seeking the best in all things
We remember you

In the rustling of leaves
And in the beauty of autumn
We remember them

In elegant draping fabrics
Beauty created with loving touch
We remember you

In the beginning of the year
And when it ends
We remember them

In patient questions asked
And gentle humour
We remember you

When we are lost
And sick at heart
We remember them

When we are lost
And sick at heart
We remember you

When we have joys
We yearn to share
We remember them

When we have joys
We yearn to share
We remember you

So long as we live
They too shall live
For they are part of us
We remember them

We remember you,
Kidnapped schoolchildren
Women lynched for witchcraft
You who have been raped and beaten
Those travelling with little hope
You who died giving life to your child
We remember you.

All humankind is one vast family
This world is our home.
We sleep beneath one roof,
The starry sky.
We warm ourselves before
One hearth,
The blazing sun.

Upon one floor of soil we stand,
And breathe one air,
And drink one water,
And walk the night
Beneath on luminescent moon.
The children of one God we are,
Brothers and sister of one blood,
And members in one worldwide family of God.

From the Book of Remembrance: Cathedral of St Paul the Apostle, Los Angeles California

Remembering Libby Sheehan: 5th June 1967 – November 12th 2014