Home – Jo Swinney // Book Review

A while ago I decided that I wouldn’t do any book reviews for a bit. This first year of Curacy has been a little bit bonkers, and for my own sanity I decided that was one thing that had to go. However when I had an email asking me if I’d like a pre-publication copy of Jo Swinney’s latest book, I was like, ‘err, YES’! As soon as I started reading it I knew I’d have to write about it, so for now I’m breaking my own rule.

Though I don’t know Jo well, I just like her. She’s a likeable kind of person, she’s nice, she’s funny, she’s a bit quirky and she just seems genuinely interested in the people she meets. All of which comes across in her new book ‘Home’.

As the title suggests Jo looks at the concept of where is home. In the diversity of the 21st century, easy and accessible world travel and just the huge availability of opportunity for many people, it can mean that ‘home’ is a complex subject. Well gone are the years where you grew up where you were born, stayed in the same town or village, worked in the same job for life and then died, buried in the parish church by a Vicar who’s been in post for all of the above. For Jo this is taken to the extreme though by growing up in Portugal and living in various countries before settling back in the UK (but for how long I wonder!). The themes she explores are so relevant, regardless of our geographical placement and I found myself nodding and ‘hmm- ing’ aloud as I read to myself. I was quite staggered to make a list that told me that at the age of 43 I have lived in 7 houses, 3 flats, 2 mobile homes, 1 tent, and 1 hostel; in 3 countries, 3 cities, 3 towns and 4 villages. Which of those would I have called home?

The book explores different aspects of ‘home’, like family and identity but interwoven with Jo’s own story living around the world, as well as reflections on the life of King David, framing the whole thing in a biblical context.

Jo’s own life has given her a wealth of information and experience to draw on and share, from growing up in Portugal, where she paints a wonderful picture of a loving, safe home with a vastly extended family of visitors and friends; to the pain of boarding school and homesickness; and on to the choices of adult life as to where to make or find home.

She also touches quite profoundly on the idea of identity, both culturally and personally. She writes of how hard it can be to define a home in a world that in many places is so multi-cultural. In fact in many ways what she writes is hugely prophetic and key for right now as we nationally, and worldwide, seek to understand our identity as nations. She notes:

All of us, whatever our defining cultural identity, benefit when we step out of our ghettoes and learn from each other. Our cultures will always be home in some sense, but who wants to stay at home twenty-four/seven?


But she also highlights the need to remember we are resident here and that we’re also inhabitants of the Kingdom of God, and just as that was comfort for David, it should be for us too. Again a timely reminder when we can easily be so bogged down in national and international negativity

I was touched as Jo writes so honestly about her own battle with depression, self worth and finding an identity of her own. As she says:

As I was discovering, wherever you go, there you are. I needed to find a home in side myself.

I wonder how many of us can say that we have truly done that – or even attempted to? How many of us have struggled with escaping from a situation or reality that was actually all about ourselves?

The book jacket asks the question:

Is home where you come from? where you live now? where the people you love are? or what?

If you’ve never pondered those things, then this book will help you draw out from your own life the ‘or what?’ things that help you call a place a home. It’s a book that asks questions of us, that might help us to seek direction, and challenges us – but in a gentle way and with the encouragement of one who has walked the journey before, and with the truth of God at it’s centre.


Home is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £14.99 and is available now.


Preach // ‘Come Follow Me’ // 20th Jan 2017

This is a sermon given at Hurst College Chapel, for the Senior School service based on Matt 4:18-23



Ok we are going to start by making some noise. So I want you to think of one thing that you follow,

maybe a band you like, a football team, a designer, apple products, someone on Twitter, anything, anyone. Just someone that you would say you follow.

Ok everyone got one? So After the count of 3, I want you to call that thing out,

for example: Seagulls, or Justin Bieber, Donald Trump (I hope not)


ok everyone ready? After 3 shout it out…


123 ….





Right, now how many of those things that we shouted out, do you think you could actually hear? Maybe a couple of them? Maybe the person next to you shouted so loud you couldn’t hear, or maybe you were drowned out – did anyone even hear you?!

Because in life there is not just one voice calling us like Jesus did, clearly the fishermen. There are so many things calling our name, enticing us to go with them.

Like your teachers voices – Study hard and you will do well, get a good career, follow me and I will help you get a good job?

Advertising voices – you need the new iphone7, it’s so good, it’s only got one thing different to the iphone 6 but you really need it, you will be so on trend if you have it, people will be jealous of you….

Or magazines and celebs telling us, follow our fitness programme, you too can have abs like these (well actually you wouldn’t want these ones…), you can be uber sexy and attractive if you just do what we say….

Or your friends – hey come to this great party it’s going to be amazing, no adults, vodka, and guess who is going to be there….

Or perhaps a more obvious one maybe – social media – who do we follow on Twitter? Snapchat? Instagram? Whose voice do we listen to there?

And we have to find out way through all of that, all of those voices, trying to follow a path that is right for each of us, and that will be different for all of us.


Story of a young girl //

So, I want to tell you a story, it’s about a young woman, at age 19 she found she could not hack all of those voices calling out to her. She couldn’t take the pressures they put on her – study hard, be good, to be skinny and look amazing, do well, get to uni, have a career…

And so she gave up her uni place, earned a bit of cash working in a local pub and as soon as she could she legged it to the furthest place she could go, the other side of the world, Australia, and instead of listening to all those voices, she decided simply to ignore them all and follow her own desires.

She wanted her own way. And why wouldn’t she, at 19, the, world lay at her feet.

And it was great for a while and she had a lot of fun. No responsibilities, in an amazing country, in the sunshine, bars, surf, surfers… what’s not fun about that?!

But things didn’t quite turn out how she had planned. Very quickly she went from following her own way, to following the pull of others around her, of the bright city lights, and very soon of drugs, of alcohol and sex. And before she knew it, it wasn’t her path she was following, it wasn’t her own desires, her own dreams, but instead she just looked for the next fix, in whatever form that took.

So instead of listening to her own voice, she simply got sucked in by others that were louder and more destructive, did not have her best interests at heart.



Simply, she was just looking for her own voice, or her own identity. I think most of us want something to follow, a path, a label. When we choose to follow things we are actually just looking for, or forming our own identity. What we follow reflects who we are, or who we choose to be or how we want to be seen.

So we could ask ourselves, like the fishermen in our passage, where do we throw our nets? What are we fishing for? Because you have so much more choice than those fishermen. The possibilities of what you can do, who you can be in the 21st century, are endless… aren’t they?




But like our young girl so often the voices that call out to us are distorted, skewed, they don’t seek to encourage us, build us up or lead us down the right path.

Here’s an example, do you know what an algorithm is? I expect some of you do, basically it’s like a code or equation and there are thousands of them running the internet. So for example – Facebook has an algorithm that means it chooses what you see on your timeline, you won’t automatically see all the latest posts from your friends, you will only see the ones that the code thinks you want to see.

Or online advertising is another one – have you ever noticed how you buy something online or watch TV show online, then for weeks afterwards every website you go to has adverts for that shop or that show? It’s just another algorithm that ahs picked up you like that show or that shop so it keeps showing it to you.

Angela Merkel (the German chancellor ) said in an interview that “These algorithms – can lead to a distortion of our perception. They narrow our breadth of information”  because they actually distort the truth, because you only see what the algorithms think you want to see. So the more you look at something, the more they think you want to see it, and so gradually what you see gets narrowed down until actually, where we think we are choosing our path, we are actually only experiencing a very narrow sphere of life.

That’s online, but we do it in every part of our lives – for example we tend to hang out with people who like the same things as us, have the same opinions as us.

So we really need to recognise that the voices we listen to, the things we follow, what we might think is the truth isn’t always the truth. Truth becomes relative to each person. Who, or what we choose to follow shapes who we are, shapes our personal identity.

For example, because of my job I hang out with a lot of clergy, a lot of people who work for the church, which means sometimes my view on what people think of the church is wrong. So I have to intentionally choose to hang out with people outside the church who remind me what real life is!

For example, my truth is that Donald Trump is a mysoginistic, racist liar. And yet women and people of colour voted for him, their truth is different to mine…

And excuse me for getting political but we are living in a time where it is becoming more and more important for us to distinguish between the voices who are shouting out to us. The loudest or most retweeted or most viewed is not necessarily the right one. Often the quietest ones are the most important, or the most vulnerable, or the ones telling the most truth. Choose carefully people.



So back to our girl in the story – what was her truth?

Well her truth was that she thought she was a misfit, that no one understood her, that she was the only one like her. She was a creative type, in a largely academic environment. Her parents had good careers and wanted that for her, when she just wanted to have the freedom to paint and to travel and discover and see.

She was seeking her own identity, who she was, but by following all the wrong paths.

But there is a happy ending to her story, because she eventually found one path that allowed her the freedom to just be who she was. To recognise her identity, and yes, it was in following Jesus. In hearing his call to ‘come, follow me’ and doing just that.

In the midst of her brokenness, pain and hurt, in amongst all those voices calling out to her, for one moment his voice was the clearest. And I suppose I should tell you, if you haven’t already guessed, that the reason I know about this young woman’s story is because it is my story.

From that moment of hearing his voice, my life was turned upside down (in a good way!) and of course I’ve only shared a small part of the story today, but what I can tell you is that following Jesus is better than any drink, any high, or any shag. It is like my whole life has been pointing to this (dog collar)

You know, if at 19 someone had said to me, in the midst of all that I was doing, that you are going to become a Vicar, well I would have laughed, a lot. In fact I still find it pretty bonkers that God would call someone like me to do this.

But you know that’s what he does, Jesus calls us as we are, just like the fishermen on the boat – he didn’t say go sort yourselves out then follow me, no, they followed him at once, as they were, probably filthy and to be honest, stinking of fish!

And hey, 19 year old me would think that the 40something me is very uncool and boring, and what the F happened to me, to become a Vicar! but I actually don’t care because when I heard his call, for the first time in my life I knew that it was right.


Because the real truth is, a truth that can’t be changed… is that God loves us. Every one of us. No matter who we are, what we’ve done or said, we are loved, just as we are. The bible tells us that he gives us the right to become children of God. That can be our true identity if we listen, if we follow him.

I think it’s much harder to hear his voice today because there are so many voices calling out ‘come follow me’ but it is there, for each of us if we want to hear it. and it won’t make you instantly perfect or stop you doing the things you enjoy (well some of them maybe!), but it might just take you places you never dreamed you’d go, and it might just help you to find the truth in a world that is full of lies.

So I want to encourage you today to just listen to the voices calling out to you. Think about what truth they are telling you? Think about what you are following. And if you can hear that voice of Jesus, saying ‘come follow me’, why not give it a listen? What have you got to lose? If God could take someone like me, broken, and walking a dangerous path to destruction, and turn my life around, then he is there for anyone….






Bikinis, braces and vanity


definitely bad hair…

When I was 10 I loved wearing tracky bums, had bad hair, read comics and spent my evenings after school hanging out in our road, cycling up and down and playing ‘king can copper’ with the other kids in the road. Of course some of my mates were into the latest ‘dash’ tracksuits and body shop lip balms, but most of us were content to be 10 year olds. 

It’s 2016, and I’m way beyond tracksuits and have a dresser full of ‘products’ and make up awaiting me each morning. I am a strong, independent woman, sometimes too confident and often too gobby, but this summer I wrote this, thinking about a possible blog post:

As the weather has got warmer (and colder again) there has been sudden rush of tweets to get your ‘bikini body’ ready. Part of me feels a surge of panic as I’ve not been able to properly exercise for a year now since back surgery, at the thought that I shall be going on holiday with friends and will not be at my best in my fave red 2 piece. Another part of me wants to scream and swear at those tweets and statuses that imply you must be perfect before baring all. And just to make matters worse as I googled ‘baring all’ to spellcheck it, up came 2 ads for ‘secret slimming tummy control’ swim wear. Arghhhhh!! there is no escape…

I’m not really that different to many women I know – we get cross with the media telling us how we should look but still secretly berating the extra inches on our waists. I’ve had 3 kids, have masses of stretch marks and no amount of running will make me look perfect in my bikini, or in my case spending too much money on straightening my teeth. As people have gradually noticed my recently acquired braces, usually the question is: ‘why?’. The honest answer to that is: vanity. Pure and simple. Yeah I know I’m 42 and I also really shouldn’t care but I do. Just like when I think about putting on my bikini.

So, the question is: why?


Why do I care about my wonky teeth, why do I care what I look like on the beach? Is it really just vanity? I mean as my Dad once said, ‘you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear…’ but, and I love this response,: ‘you can roll a turd in glitter…’. Not that I am saying I am either a sow or a turd (hahahaha!!) but I mean I know I’m not going to look like I’m 21 and and I don’t want to. I actually love being in my 40s. But I think this goes a lot deeper, perhaps it’s more about being honest, comfortable and completely ok with who I am.

I wonder if any of us can truly say that we are?

You know it’s taken me 10 years to get braces (and to be able to afford it) but one of the biggest things that has stopped me is the question of vanity. Is it ok as a Christian to want to change her appearance? Shouldn’t I be happy with what God gave me? Isn’t this a slippery slope to bottox or plastic surgery? (hey, we’re not that flush) and I have battled with that over and over.

Last month, the bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek, talked about highlighting the issue of body image in kids, something that is hugely important in our society.

I want to challenge the subconscious messages we’re giving,” she said. “We need to look at the language we use as adults and how it shapes our culture. For example, when adults engage with girls, nearly always the first thing we say is a comment on appearance. We need to find out who they are, what they enjoy, what they’re good at, what makes their souls sing…

We need to start encouraging young women to discover who they are as a whole person and to delight in that.

And I would suggest, not just our children, all of us! We are all, whether we like it or not, swayed by the message fed to us daily through the media, TV, the internet. When actually none of what they offer really helps us to be happy with who we are. If we bow to the messages of society, we might feel short term gain but in the end aren’t we always going to be assessing ourselves against others, against an impossible standard?

Last night at the Alpha course we are running, we discussed what following Jesus brings to our lives, for me it was the power of knowing that God loves me as I am, no matter what, that my identity is really as his child. He loves my stretch marks, the few extra inches, even the wonky teeth and even though I might not have completely 100% accepted that, it brings amazing freedom. I’ve always been a bit of a misfit, rebel even, and perhaps that’s how I’m supposed to be? Either way, nothing can take away from the fact that God loves me as I am. When I’m slapping on my mascara in the morning, or sitting in the orthodontist chair checking out my teeth, that’s what I am reminding myself. I am ok, more than ok, I am a child of the king. That’s what we need to be teaching our kids, that’s the message we need to be telling people.

God loves me as I am.

God loves you as you are.


What’s in a name?

Some rather rambling thoughts on names, identity and who we are….

Last week I walked up a volcano. Sounds rather exotic but if I’m honest it was essentially a large rock covered in stones. A rather dramatic rock with stunning scenery, but, nonetheless a rock.

IMGP3854When we reached the top we found there was a huge crater waiting to be discovered. Now cooled, solid and approachable it was a valley of stone and in the very bottom a small patch of life. An oasis of green, and vegetation, starkly standing out against the arid and barren surroundings. But it was not this that drew my eye, it was instead the rather geological graffiti which littered the crater, as visitors from across the world had left their names or patterns in stony form. ‘Wales’and ‘Tina’ stood out rather comically across the crater in huge letters, laid out in pebbles and rocks. I wondered what made someone want to spend so much time and some risk, leaving their mark in this way. Unlike spray paint this was not damaging the surroundings and I guess could be removed but perhaps with a significant amount of work!


Last year we visited the museum of London which features an old prison cell preserved behind Perspex, leaving us able to read the centuries old carvings which occupants had left on the wooden walls. Names, dates, rhyme, all featured in this place where one cannot imagine someone wanting to be remembered.

Here in this crater the effect was the same, names littering the plain and providing a rather interesting landscape to read. Buy why do we do this? Is it human nature that makes us want to ‘leave a mark’? As a child I wrote my name on a wall in chalk at a visitor attraction. My dad was enraged and dragged me to the owner to apologise. I was frustrated and cross, I couldn’t understand what I’d done wrong. It was just chalk and I’d only written my name, what could be more natural? How many times have you doodled your name whilst on a lengthy phone call?


When the angel told Mary she would have a child, he told her the name too and with it also, shared his destiny. 

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.

The same with Zechariah, when told of his future son, he is told the name, John, and his future is foretold. Moses, whose original name we don’t know, was given his name by Pharoah’s daughter who found him, and it means ‘drawn out’ as he was drawn from the water. Perhaps this also shows something of his destiny as God draws him out for his purpose, to be used for God’s kingdom…

Names often were linked to something of the time something relevant, or even of the persons future. Rather like someone calling a Christmas baby Holly for example.

Perhaps our human desire to write our names or leave a mark is really about calling out our own destiny? In leaving a name so publicly on a mountain or in graffiti we are leaving a part of us there, stating a fact, declaring our identity even. Is it perhaps a reassurance to ourselves as much as a sign to others?


IMG_0389One of my daughters decided to join the stony list and spelled out her own name. It looks huge in this picture, but from the top of the crater it was an illegible speck, in fact to be read from that far away it would have had to be 30′ tall! Which makes me think again of how we show our identity to others.

For some that’s in overt behaviour: being loud, wearing a certain style of clothes or mixing only with a certiain people group for example but for others even a lack of obvious or overt behaviour tells of who they are too. Clearly for us, our identity is not just in our name and I’m sure there are not many who can pinpoint their name as spelling out their destiny either so why is it so important to us?

I don’t have an answer I’m really just thinking as I write but I am rather fascinated by it… what about nicknames, people who change their name, choosing your child’s name? hmm, perhaps I’ll think on it some more… love to know people’s thoughts on it though…