Top 10 Tips for Starting Ordination Training // Guest Post

I’m delighted to be hosting a guest post today from Andrew Avramenko who has just started at Vicar School. It’s great to get a fresh and up to date perspective on the whole process and he’s got some great pointers here from his own experience, for those starting training…

Sarum College

For some, September and October marks the beginning of their ordination training. My training at Sarum College in Salisbury began a little earlier with a week-long Summer School in August. It was a welcomed opportunity to build a sense of community with the tutors and other students, and gave me a chance to pick up some tips for theological study that may be helpful; so here are my Top 10 Tips for Starting ordination training…

1. Freaking out is ok!

No matter how well you’ve adjusted to being recommended to train for ordination you may find it hard to fully accept you’re now an Ordinand. I felt like a fraud and expected my college to realise and politely ask me to leave. They didn’t – they knew I should be there but it took me a while to accept it myself – this is not unusual! I still find myself freaking out a little at the sound of ‘Ordinand’ – apparently that’s not unusual either!

 

2. You have been called

The discernment process is rigorous but if you’re starting ordination training you’ll know that. If you are training for Ordination you are doing so because the Church has recognised that God has called you to do that. So if you find yourself doubting your calling remember all those who met and encouraged you on your way to and through your BAP (Bishops’ Advisory Panel).

 

3. Enjoy yourself

After all the questioning you’ve had up to this point you might find it jarring to be able to simply listen to some teaching, I certainly found it somewhat of a shock but the realisation that I had three years of this ahead of me filled me with joy – the training is a blessing and a gift so enjoy it!

 

4. Come as you are

You have been called as you are, so be who you are. Be aware of how other people’s personalities can affect yours, and vice versa, and take steps to cope: if you recharge by being on your own make time to withdraw to quiet spaces after time with others, but if the quiet moments drive you crazy seek out people to talk to about them.

 

5. We’re one, but we’re not the same

Although you and your fellow Ordinands have gone through a similar process don’t expect to all be alike: prepare for people who believe, think and work differently from you. Learning to get along with those we might find challenging is important but hold onto the shared experiences as you do so.

Salisbury Cathedral

6. Everything in it’s right place

Don’t be afraid to face difficult past experiences, theological college should be a safe place to do so. Your tutors and fellow students will be facing their own challenges and should be supportive of you facing yours – it’s good training for walking alongside those experiencing difficult times now.

 

7. Question your views

We all have opinions and we might be right, but we might not be and your training is a good opportunity to challenge your opinions, preconceptions and accidental prejudices. Having an open mind at theological college also awakens you to receive exciting revelations.

 

8. Question other people’s views

Just as we might be wrong so might even the most established theologians. During my Summer School we were presented with some startling and deliberately provoking thoughts but were encouraged not to take them at face value or as ‘truth’; instead we were asked to question them and even, if we felt so, to disagree and treat them as simply opinions.

 

9. Living in another world

Do your best to avoid living in a bubble whilst training. Keep some non-theological interests and contact with friends and family: it’s is important to stay connected with all that happens away from a theological college, and will help when the training is put into practice.

 

10. It’s a marathon not a sprint

Hopefully you will be eased into your training but don’t be fooled by a quiet start into thinking you have time to take on new task and duties. The course will soon fill your time so enjoy this space at the beginning and use it to reflect on what brought you to it, to settle into your new life and to be excited about what is to come.

 

 

Andrew Avramenko is training for ordination at Sarum College in Salisbury and writes the Pilgrim Explorer blog which documented his experiences whilst exploring his calling to be ordained and, since August 2017, his experiences as an Ordinand.  He lives in Bath and hopes to survive juggling his study with his job and time with his wife and two children over the next three years.

Vocation & Discernment in the CofE

A week or so ago I was interviewed by the Church Times about vocations in the Church of England, and to be more specific the discernment process. The lovely people at CT have made the piece available outside their paywall, so if you are interested in what it might be like exploring a call to ordination, do give it a read, here.

And while I’m here, another short plug, if you are looking at the discernment process, I wrote a free guide to it all here on the blog. You can either read it online or download it to enjoy at your own leisure ;) 

Vicar School Update // Summer 2015

Jeremiah_callingJPG

2 years down, one to go.

So, it’s about time I did an update and here it is, this time via the blog, because, well just because it’s easier. And if you didn’t know I wrote a blog, well you do now…

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Post Op…

So I have successfully completed 2 years of my ministerial training, if there was ever a miracle, this is it. It means that God (and the Church of England, which are of course almost interchangeable) hasn’t yet changed his mind about me being a Vicar, which is somewhat encouraging (but also completely terrifying and requires wine, medicinal of course). Completing this year was certainly a marathon having suffered a back injury around Easter which a few week later became a prolapsed disk. To be honest if there was ever a ‘good’ time for this to happen it was then, I missed a minimal amount of college and should be fit enough to start back again in September; and in terms of work it is perhaps the quietest time of year. Right before Christmas or Easter would have been pretty disastrous… It basically has meant weeks lying on the floor on painkillers that turn you into someone with the mind of a jellyfish, and about as much coordination too (especially when coupled with the aforementioned wine). This was followed by surgery which was as you may imagine, not much fun, but has so far been successful and some 8 weeks post-op I am driving again and a lot more mobile.

So I definitely limped over the finish line this year and was completing my last essay under the influence of severe back pain and a cocktail of drugs. I sent it off with a note to my tutor suggesting it would either be brilliantly insightful as a result, or a load of pants. Amazingly I did rather well with it, so it does rather make me wonder about about the benefits of drug taking whilst writing essays ;)

All that said it has been an utterly amazing experience, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change it, as I have just felt an amazing closeness of God that I will always cherish. If you’d like to know more, I preached a few weeks ago on all that, and you can watch it here:

 

'So... you want to be a Priest do you...?'

‘So… you want to be a Priest do you…?’

I’ve been off work for 12 weeks now (eek, what will my inbox be like!?) but have spent the time off wisely by watching Suits and Youtube… ahem… I mean by being very studious… Actually I have loved having time to be creative again and lots of that has been blogged on here too, as well as finally finishing my ‘short guide to the discernment process‘ which will mean nothing to you if you’re not in it or ordained already. It’s basically the process by which the church selects people for training. It is, well, lets just say you need more than wine to get through it… Phil says it’s a ridiculous name and makes him think of old men in a room smoking pipes and stroking their beards saying ‘hmm’ a lot, which may not actually be all that far from the truth…

I started writing about it right when I started college but of course time and priorities meant it never quite made it to the top of the ‘to do’ list. But with hours on my hands I finally completed it and it’s now out there for all to see… well for the 7 people currently going through it all… ok maybe 8…

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Getting creative again…

So anyway, this is supposed to be a college update…. as I write we shall shortly begin discussions about my ‘title post’, aka The Curacy (cue dramatic music, dun dun derrrrr…). This will almost certainly mean a house move, and possibly schools for the kids too. It is with some trepidation we approach this but also with total trust in God. Phil and I have always felt that He would show us the way forward and guide us into His plans for us, so we continue to trust Him for our future.

But before then I still have a year to go at college, with a church placement – delayed due to my injury – which entails spending 8 weeks or so in another church, gaining experience and then writing a number of reflections on it. Then more modules, New Testament this term, plenty more essays and heaps of things from our ‘check list’ including visiting yes, more churches, and various tasks. There are frankly not enough hours in the day! This year will definitely be a challenge especially when I now have to add into it, regular physio and gym visits and walking twice a day too.

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Beautiful Canterbury Cathedral at dawn

Looking back this year has been great, despite the ending. We had a fantastic week at Canterbury again at Easter, with some beautiful worship in the cathedral crypt. Some great teaching, and a fab day on preaching with a visiting speaker Rev Dr Sam Wells, which won’t mean anything to most of you but those in the church might recognise his name. He was incredibly inspiring and it was great to chat to him at lunch too, over a rather soggy omelette (’tis the CofE you know, no expense spared…). For me, possibly a highlight of the year, was along with a few friends, successfully lobbying (and yes it felt like lobbying) for a more charismatic service during our study weekends. Despite not being able to lead it because of my back, it was a wonderful service, led fantastically at the last min by my friend Jeremy and I hope enabled people to see what good charismatic evangelical worship can be like. (Charismatic means different things to different people but in this case meant a more informal service, modern songs, less boring stuff – sorry guys, but it’s my blog so I’ll say what I think ;) – and more importantly some space for the Holy Spirit to move. In this case we had time for people to pray out as they felt led and some prayer ministry – time where people could be prayed for by a team of people with some privacy. Apparently it was the first time in years the college had included this kind of worship which felt like an achievement! And we had some great feedback after too, at a college like mine people come from all different parts of the church and it was never going to be everyones cup of tea, so it was lovely that people felt able to worship and meet with God, for many in a style they are not used to. For me, as the weekend where my back first started to go, it was an emotional roller coaster, but at the same time felt significant in more than one way.

As we took communion we included a wonderful song by the band Leeland, which is below. I just love this song, it expresses so much of what Jesus did for us…


I listen to this and think, yes I am seated where I don’t belong. Many people have said to me things like ‘you don’t deserve this’ of my back injury, but the truth is we all deserve a heap more than this. Sorry to get all deep, I know this newsletter is a bit more melancholy than others have been (and no bean jokes other, there’s a first) but I guess being incapacitated or poorly makes you reflect more and I’ve done my fair share of that recently. I can’t begin to describe the blessings I have felt in all the pain and I can only say that is down to God. Others go through far worse than this and suffer terribly and yet I can look back and say it has been a blessing. Why? I think it’s the goodness of God. And no I can’t say why I get to have a good time in it all and others don’t, but I just know I wouldn’t have got through this without Him…

 

Ok I’ve probably gone on enough, promise to be more jokey next time! and there might be some curacy news too :) In the meantime here’s some prayer points…

: For healing – well derr…. this is a slow old process but any prayer for helping in my back would be very much appreciated!

: As we approach curacy discussions, please pray for God to guide us to the right place.

: and in that, for peace for us all and particularly the kids

: A level results on Thursday, need I say more! Uni beckons…

: For me as I get back to work, for the time that I need to fit everything in!

 

 Thank You!

As always with love and blessings

 

Jules xx

 

 

Is there such a thing as a Christian Practice of Internet Use?

So I posted recently and tweeted rather a lot about my latest essay for #VicarSchool entitled: Outline and Argue theologically for a Christian Practice of:
Internet Use
. I promised to share some of those thoughts online, so here’s some of them. Bit long for a blog post but hey it was a 2,500 word essay! There was so much I could have written but the essay was about Christian Practice, so that’s my focus, plus I focussed largely on Social Media but maybe I’ll write more on other areas another time! And if you really want to read the full thing let me know and I’ll send it over.I’m so grateful to everyone who responded to my questions – whether I’ve quoted you or not, you helped me shape this essay, so thank you!

For info I’ve not cited all the books and stuff that I referenced in the essay as this is a blog post, but there is a list of some recommended books at the bottom and if you want to know where I got anything from then do let me know…

 

..oo0O0oo..

So, what  earth is a ‘Christian Practice’? Well, I started with this quote:

 

I love this quote, because I mean what even is a ‘Christian Practice’?! Choosing which is our own preferred
interpretation could be a practice in itself! My view is that Christian
practices are less about doctrine (boooorinnnng…) and more about actually seeking God for ourselves. So in a way a practice should be a bit softer round the edges, or less definite than doctrine. It’s not black
and white words on a page, but more
encounter with God. It’s almost as if we are building something where, if
the doctrine is the foundation or the structure, the practices then enable us
to fill the space and to decorate even!I like that Dykstra talks about a practice being communal and prayer is a good example of that, because even when we pray alone, our prayers join with countless
others around the world, rising together before God. Prayer is
something that should permeate our lives, not be something that
happens once a day or twice a week, or whenever we feel the need, it is as
fundamental to our lives as breathing, without it we would wither and die
spiritually.

Right so now we have that sorted, what about using the internet?

Use of the internet has rapidly become an integral part
of 21st Century life. Of course there is a choice not to use it, but
I would suggest that like prayer, without it life becomes less full, it withers, it becomes
difficult to live, it is, I think, perhaps controversially: like a life
half-lived.

So then, use of the internet for Christians as a ‘practice’ should be an
extension of a faith-filled life. We should seek to
find God within it, to allow his presence to be apparent within it and for it to
be a place where God is experienced and made more fully known to us.

So, Social Media then…

I couldn’t find statistics for Christian use of social media (any ideas anyone?), but even if it
were a very small percentage of these figures above, it would still mean a huge number
across the entire world. I wanted to look at this in more detail and as you probably know I posted here and on Twitter, asking people used their social media as Christians.

There were some key areas that people talked about including a sense of community, being part of something bigger and being supported and encouraged online, especially those for whom physical community is difficult, perhaps thorough disability.

Of course the idea of community makes sense, as humans
we were created to live in relationship with others, as we see in the creation of
humans in Genesis – and we seek to be part of something throughout our lives. Internet use is by it’s very nature relational and
communal, as I discussed earlier with the example of prayer, millions of people
taking part in something at the same time.

I loved this from @thehippypenguin said:

it’s connected me with a lot of like minded people I
otherwise wouldn’t have interacted with.

and

I’ve seen people offer prayers, support me in faith
stuff, talk about the big issues. All with a godly focus. Like a church almost

And I also love that people really felt God’s presence using the internet. This is a key point, that spiritual growth can indeed be achieved through internet use. After all, God has used some rather varied means to reach out to human kind, including a burning bush, bright star, a rainbow and even a talking donkey, so why not the internet too?! The responses ranged from seeing him through the words or responses of others, to a more active and personal answer to prayer. ‏‪@CatDeBie  felt that she was constantly reminded of God’s presence through following other Christians on Twitter and ‏‪@NoNonperson suggested that she felt God’s presence more in online interaction that at church.
@giles_morrison said this:

Difficult. I find my compassion challenged, there’s more to despair of in creation and I’m unequal to the prayer challenge. 

might be tiny fraction of looking into the heart of God. I’ve become more reliant on prayer by the Spirit. I don’t have the words 

What a wonderful idea, that he might be experiencing a tiny fraction of God’s heart by simply using the internet, I love that! But indeed this is something that came across in several responses and one I can relate to as I have felt God’s presence online on numerous occasions, and sometimes very personally. Read my owl story for example, if you haven’t already… 

..oo0O0oo..

 

All of this though, does require a definite choice to participate, which could be in actively choosing to follow or like other Christians on social media but also in engaging with the platform, posting prayer requests, responding to others or seeking out spiritual advice.So a Christian practice of internet use is communal both in a
passive sense – by being part of something bigger, but also in an active sense
– in actually receiving from God through others, by being online.

And experience is great, but that’s just a part
of a Christian Practice, being shaped and formed as a result is also vital. Pam Smith mentions this in her fab book ‘Online Mission & Ministry‘ as she talks about how using the internet has been key in her formation both as a
Christian and as a minister. She highlights the importance of Christians
sharing thoughts and ideas online in order to explore faith. Likewise, Romans
2 tells us we should be transformed by the renewing of our minds, in order to
know more of God, therefore in any Christian Practice we must allow ourselves
to be formed and changed, through God, by being online. This passage also tells
us not to conform to the pattern of this world, so we must also be aware of how
we use the internet so that we are there with a Christian presence and not one of
this world.

One of my fave people right now is Pope Francis (@pontifex). On
the World Day of Communications last year, he said felt the internet was a
gift from God, when referring to its benefits and possibilities! He asked also:

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture
of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter
others in the light of the Gospel?

What indeed? Something to ponder further I think…

..oo0O0oo..

As I look
back to Dykstra’s definition then, I see a
Christian practice of internet use that embraces communal action in which God
is made known. A practice that, in a 21st Century way, has a ‘virtual’
monastic air to it, where prayer punctuates the day as internet use does for
the modern Christian. Social media statistics show
that a large portion of users access their accounts several times each day and
often at the same time each day. In this way if the Christian
internet user does so with God as his focus, he is continuing the tradition of
thousands of years of believers seeking God several times each day. The monastery
is virtual, the community is online and the prayers and praises typed, but
together they provide a constant chain of prayer, praise and thought toward
heaven.

 

Canterbury #VicarSchool

This really has been an amazing week at Vicar school, and not yet finished. Such a privilege to be at a college that means we get to be here at the ‘Mother Church’ of the entire Anglican communion (that’s all the Anglican churches across the world). Still processing, more blogposts to follow, but here’s some snapshots of it…

Cathedral Crypt, stunning light…

Lying on the floor, explanation to follow! #Perspective

Stunning Sculpture in the crypt
Taize worship by candlelight
Dawn…

Candlelit Pilgrimage in Canterbury Cathedral

So this week I am away for a week studying, as it’s our annual
residential week, which, to be honest, is always slightly daunting. This year it has come
right after Easter – I got home from church on Easter Sunday, grabbed some
lunch and then was off. So, not only are we away for a week but most of us are
exhausted before we start! My plan for self-preservation was to do only what
was absolutely essential.
However
a few nights ago I was persuaded to join friends at a candlelit pilgrimage of
Canterbury Cathedral and boy am I glad I went.  It was just stunning…
After
hours, at 8.30pm, we were let into a very dark and empty cathedral. The bustle of the endless tourists and backpacks was gone and in it’s place was a holiness
reflected in the silence and dusty air. The
lights were off with just the odd candle or spotlight to light our path around this great building. The
orange glow from the floodlights outside dappled through the leaded lights onto those majestic giant legs of pillars. I
didn’t even want to breathe…
One
of the first things we were encouraged to do was to touch the building, to be
in contact with it. I lay on the floor (how great is that in itself – when
would you get to lie on the floor of a cathedral, and no chairs out either, and to
marvel at its majesty, in utter silence?) I was almost overcome with the size of the
building. It made me think of the tower of Babel where people wanted to reach
to heaven by their own handiwork, but here was a building so majestic, yet
built for the glory of God. My smallness against these huge pillars stretching
heavenward was so apparent, I felt in awe and wonder of God’s majesty.

..o0O0o…
As
we moved on we lit candles to carry with us and my eyes were drawn up to the
bell tower where the white light of the floodlights outside, strained through the windows, falling like gigantic angel wings gracing the tower,
protecting it, and joining with us in our pilgrimage giving glory to the
Father. 

It was mesmerising.
I stood with my eyes drawn heavenward, only being
drawn back to earthly joys by the voice of our guide moving us on.

..o0O0o…
As
we moved through the tunnel thousands of pilgrims have walked before, we joined
with the songs of ghosts past, simple taize chants, enlivened by the harmonies
of a few of our number, our voices rising and resonating as if joined by the
tower angels. I held my breath savouring the moment, not wanting it to end.
But
all too quickly we arrived at the altar of Thomas a Becket and were hit by the
stark reality that a life that unwaveringly followed Jesus, was before us. Becket
reportedly refused to lock the cathedral doors, despite knowing his pursuers
had murder in their hearts, believing the church should be open to all.
(just, wow)

The
modern sculpture that graces the place of his death is hideous. But only
because you cannot look at it without being aware of the violence that took
place here. In a funny way it is also beautiful and lit by one spotlight and our
candles, we saw it as many don’t, the jagged edges of swords highlighted in the
shadows cast on the pale stone behind, evoking thoughts of anger. and blood. and viciousness. and power. and hate.

As
I gazed on this monstrosity and embraced the thoughts it evoked, I looked down
to see my candle casting the sign of the cross across the floor.
No
words…
…o0O0o…
Later
we stood and pondered the words, ‘be still and know that I am God’. If ever
there were a place that exuded that verse it was here, and now. We were still. We
were quiet. We prayed. We thought. We marveled. How could I not know that he is truly God…?
…o0O0o…
Even
as I type I feel tears pricking my eyes. It’s been a full on week and perhaps
the tiredness and emotions were running high but there is something about this
place. I have visited several times before and each time been hit with another
spirit-filled moment. Even for a raving charismatic like me, this place:
celebrated in, worshipped in, site of pilgrimage, prayer enabler, mirror of
majesty, inviter of wonder; is simply, like no other…
Our
guide reminded us that pilgrims came, come still, as this is the ‘Mother
Church’. 
Of course! It all makes sense, this is the spiritual home, on this earth
anyway, of so many, for thousands, if not millions of Anglicans around the world.
And come they do, in their thousands each year, and I know why. It feels like
walking into an architectural womb (ok sorry if I’m going off on one here…) and
yet at the same time invites you to fall to your knees and marvel in the glory
of God. 
To just be still and know that he, HE, above all else, IS GOD…

3 min sermon of the Feeding of the 5000

This week at Vicar School we had to present a 3 minute sermon – harder than you think and has inspired some thinking on preaching which will undoubtedly follow on the blog…!
Anyway this was mine…

John 6.1-15 // Feeding of 5000 // 3 min sermon

One thing I have been guilty of (amongst many things I am sure) is feeling too busy, of not having enough time. And God has been speaking to me about that recently and in fact has shown me in quite amazing ways that if I just focus on him, there will be more than enough time. So I’m going to start with a little story about that…
A few weeks ago I had a last minute deadline to meet for work, a grant bid that had to be completed and submitted by the next morning. And for various reasons I had neglected some rather key parts of this.  I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t give this much thought, or prayer, I just assumed this would be an all-nighter (and I’m sure as students with essay deadlines we’ve had a few of those right?), it was the school hols, the kids were at home, there was no way I was going to get this done. But by complete chance (HA!) I had an hour without the kids, just enough to get started on it all. But as God had been speaking to me about time, I just prayed, Lord this is your time, I just give it all to you, I can only do what I can do.
Well, all I can tell you is that just over an hour later, the entire thing was finished, grant bid, all the key parts, financial projection, all of it. Finished just as the kids, came to find me. It was nothing short of a miracle. Because God simply multiplied that time. He took what I gave him and increased it, and not just a little bit but in abundance.
And that’s what we see in the story of the feeding of the 5000. God – Jesus –  multiplying the little that was given to him, in abundance.
But I think what this passage shows us, is that we have a choice. We can focus on the problem or we can focus on God and his answer to the problem.
We see, don’t we, the disciples focussing on the problem and not the answer, asking of the little they have: ‘but how far will they go among so many?’
and we see just how far: Jesus multiplies what little they bring and provides food for everyone.
Not only that, he didn’t just feed them, he didn’t just give them enough, he fed them ‘as much as they wanted’ it says, and even then there was masses left over.
Because he is a God of ‘more than enough’, a God of absolute plenty and abundance. There is always more.
So what does that mean for us now? 2 things I want you to take away:
1) the bible tells us we carry the spirit of God within us – God multiplied, spiritually, though us. There is enough of him for everyone. And not just enough but an abundance, including the leftovers if you like.
2) whatever we bring, he can multiply.
If we bring a mustard seed of faith, he grows it; if we bring weakness he makes us strong; if we bring a talent, he increases it; if we bring time as I have seen for myself, he makes us more efficient (WAY more efficient!)
So today, I encourage you to just give to God what you have, however little or large, and ask him to multiply it.
Let’s believe in a God of abundance!

Amen.

Grief and emotion in daily life

Photo credit: Martin via Wylio

So I should probably start by saying this is not a post about death or dying (although I have just come back from a Vicar School weekend looking at this theme). It’s more some (slightly rambling) thoughts about grief and our emotions, and how we experience them through our lives, and not just when dealing with bereavement.

I learned a lot this weekend about grief and dealing with it, but what has really surprised me is that I realised I am experiencing grief for things other than death, in my life. We looked at stages of grief and it was in that I recognised some of the emotions in my life. 

We are naturally beings with emotions and feelings, and yet so often we don’t really pay attention to those feelings. It’s only when they overwhelm us and make us incapable of going about our daily lives that we really address them. The danger though is that feelings we haven’t dealt with suddenly appear and surprise us when we are least expecting it, a bit like a bird pooping on your head from a great height in the middle of the High Street when you are happily minding your own business. Which by the way, according to superstition (which I don’t really do) is lucky. Hmm seems to me like a bird crapping on your head would be distinctly unlucky, but there you go. This morning I found myself quite amazed when preparing to share something quite positive from my life and from the weekend that I was engulfed by snot and sobs. Thankfully my Vicar School mates have seen the snot thing before so it wasn’t too awkward. However I really couldn’t get a grip on myself, even having shared what I wanted, so I took some time out in the salubrious surrounding of the ladies lavs in the King Charles Hotel. I stared in the mirror, asking God in bewilderment: ‘what on earth is this about? because you’re going to a have to help me out here, I haven’t got a flippin’ clue!’

Well, turns out God does actually listen and I became aware of some deep rooted pain from a situation I thought was dealt with, emotionally dealt with that is. Turns out it’s also something that isn’t just going to go away and I think in acknowledging that pain this morning God gave me a bit of freedom to feel hurt, and angry, and let down, and to recognise the injustice of the situation. There was, and is, great freedom in that, to think, actually yes, this is all a bit pants and that’s ok.

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We don’t really do emotion in this country do we? We’re all stiff upper lip, jolly good, carry on. Total stereotype I know, and things are improving, but think about it, we feel awkward with PDA (public displays of affection) don’t we? we’re all: ‘get a room’….  People who are overly emotional and can’t move on, we get fed up with, think they should be ‘over this by now’. And it’s because we don’t know what to do with it, we don’t know what box to put it in, we can’t just solve it with a ‘nice cup of tea’.

I wonder how many people with long term depression or mental health issues could actually be helped by being allowed a public outlet for their emotion, rather than feeling they need to keep it in. I’ve written before about the stigma of mental illness and I think it’s part of the same thing, public emotion makes us feel awkward, we just can’t deal with it. When actually if you think about it, if you’ve been through something terrible, on whatever level, it’s quite right that you should want to scream and shout about it. In my case I tend to come home and rant at my husband about anything that has affected me, he’s the one person who hears me swear (ok someone else heard me today so almost the only person!) and I think that’s actually quite healthy – letting the emotion out that is not the swearing. It’s not big and it’s not clever… You know what it’s like when you try to cram too much into a suitcase, eventually the zip is going to burst open and all your dirty laundry will be on display and it will be when you are least prepared for it. But like that, with our past emotions & memories, better to give them a good look at every now and then and put away the ones we have done with.

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Some very good friends of ours moved house a while back, moving about half an hour drive away. We went from seeing them almost every day to once every few months. I have to admit it took me some time to get used to this because I missed them terribly, we all did, kids too. I realised this weekend I had actually grieved the loss of that relationship. Of course the relationship is still there but it’s so different, vastly in fact. Of course when we get together it’s like we haven’t been apart but the being apart has been quite challenging. If only I had realised sooner that it’s actually pretty normal to grieve over loss and change. And I’m someone who actually thrives on change and new things, but this was different.

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So I guess I’ve come away from this weekend realising how important it is to think things through, to recognise emotions when they come and to allow them to be worked through when and where necessary. Some things we continue to carry with us, and we learn through them, others we can put to one side once dealt with or when the time is right. But that remembering to do that is the key…

Reading the paper as a Spiritual Exercise, Part 2 : The Red tops

So, moving on from my last post which introduced this whole thing of reading the paper as a spiritual exercise, I’ve now moved from the soul destroying Daily Mail and have been reading The Sun and The Daily Mirror, which actually was largely a more positive experience and certainly both had a less bitchy slant! OK well not entirely, but particularly reading The Mirror, I actually felt ok after reading it. In fact although there were things, which I shall come on to, it generally had a more positive spin, and I certainly didn’t read it feeling that the whole world is evil and against me, which is certainly how the DM felt.

It actually amazes me that The Sun, Daily Mail and The Daily Mirror are the top 3 selling papers of 2014, and all 3 have been in the top 3 in the last few years. What I found with both The Sun and The Mirror was that there was very little ‘what I call’ real news. 90% of what was featured was about people. Hardly any politics, court cases or news of wars, even the current problem with Ebola featured a very tiny column, until the day we heard of British nurse Pauline Cafferkey who had contracted the disease whilst helping in Sierra Leone. Then, once there was a personal British story, it took up several pages in The Mirror.

So I found myself thinking about this and about what ‘real news’ is. To me, I want to know what is going on in the world, I’m not really interested in stories and photos of celebs on holidays, or how the latest actor has grabbed a new role, or a sportsman’s wedding (3 pages of pics). Real news to me, helps me to keep in touch with the way our world is working (or not as that case may be), how our world is being shaped by those in power, how people on the other side of the world are living with a crisis. I feel part of a world created by God, and as a result I want to be interested in all of it.

That said, one of my passions is mission, reaching people with the Gospel, seeing people’s lives transformed and a really big part of this is getting to know people, forming relationships, so when it is real people that I know, then I am interested, very much so. 

So why do these stories of other people’s lives who we don’t know, sell papers? Why are they the key stories?

Pretty much everything that I read in these kind of pieces was about people whose lives are good, or have been made better. Whereas the DM featured stories of celebs in downfall, tearing them down and commenting on their failures, the red tops stories built people up. They told how amazing their lives were, not just celebs but unknown people too, often with heart warming stories: how a man survived falling from 3 stories; how a teenager recovered from an awful accident; how a little boy thought to be unable to walk, finally took his first steps. But then the celeb angle seemed to show a life that was possibly unattainable – how with money and fame you too could be happy, you too could be admired and appreciated.

Society seems to have such a focus on people, especially the young, wanting to be famous (for fame’s sake) or wanting to be noticed, recognised (and let’s not even start not he while #selfie thing). I wonder if we are raising a generation of people who just need to be loved. As simple as that. Are we encouraging people to seek attention when what they need is to be loved for who they are? Whilst these stories generally made me feel less depressed that the DM, I wonder if they are are just as harmful in the long run, feeding people a subtle message of ‘you can be better, you need to be better, you are unlovable as you are’? 

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Of course there were plenty of more obvious things I could comment on, like the endless sport pages (not really my thing unless it’s cricket which it isn’t at this time of year), the racing pages, masses of January sale ads, and the obvious political biases, especially in The Sun. I don’t want to comment on these things directly but I was thinking again about what I said in the last post about labelling people, and actually how we able ourselves too. Those who read the paper regularly do refer to themselves as ‘A Sun reader’ or ‘taking the Telegraph’ for example. Do we allow this to define ourselves? If you read one paper regularly for years on end, that cannot fail to shape your political stance, your feelings on the country you live in and many other things besides. The only thing I read regularly, daily in fact, is The Bible and I know how much that shapes me, so is reading a daily paper like reading a bible in one sense? It might not be spiritual reading but it is central to shaping people lives and opinions which is something I hadn’t really considered before and something I certainly will be thinking on some more. Just as I found with the DM, if we want to reach people previously unreached with the Gospel, then we need to understand people… (much as it pains me I might actually buy these papers from time to time just to remind myself of that very thing. Apart from The Sun, that I won’t buy again and see below for why!)

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Now, whilst there is masses more I could say, there was one reason I really struggled with buying The Sun, even for this project – Page 3. I loathe page 3. As a woman I find it completely degrading to women. This is, after all a newspaper, not a lads mag. Whilst I have just discussed ‘what is news?’ a picture of a woman with her boobs out is definitely not news. It has absolutely no place in a newspaper (I have strong feelings about porn in general but that is for another post). Whilst writing this I had the papers on my kitchen table and both my kids saw page 3 and pointed it out, looking rather embarrassed and asking, ‘why is that there?’ Jolly good question…  People use the argument if you don’t like it, don’t buy it, but it’s not just the people who buy it is it? it’s their kids, their colleagues, or those who see the paper lying around and pick it up, or even flicking through it at a shop – it’s only on the first flick of a page after all. I encourage you to support the No more Page 3 Campaign

Encouraging the Spirituality of Children

Photo via Wylio / Ivan David Gomez Arce

So last weekend at Vicar School we had some excellent teaching on stages of development and on stages of faith development. I was really fascinated by the teaching on children’s spirituality and how open they are to things of a spiritual nature. Open that is until we shut them down.

(and when I talk of spirituality, we had a whole discussion on what that means to different people, but essentially I mean here, in referring to matters of a spiritual nature, things that are outside of this world, seeking something outside of ourselves)

We learn from a very early age what we share with others and if the response is negative we learn very quickly not to share that again. Even as an adult I am careful when I share my own beliefs. I mean, I am a natural evangelist so I talk about Jesus all the time, but when it comes to things of a spiritual nature, for example, believing God can heal through the Holy Spirit or that I can feel God or in referring to ‘spiritual warfare’ then I test the waters first, because let’s face it can all sound a bit bonkers. And none of us want people to think we are bonkers do we, because then people won’t listen to the message we have to share…

So as children, it doesn’t take much for them to be shut down and yet research shows that an openness to spirituality is far more evident in children. In fact one research study showed that 50% of people have had a ‘spiritual experience’ and it mostly happens in childhood. 

I like to think that in this house we are pretty open to hearing from our kids on spiritual matters, in fact we try and encourage it, encourage them to be open about it. But even then, this week I was telling my youngest about the stuff I had been learning last weekend and she told me an example of someone at school (she’s just 8 by the way) whose friends thought she was lying because of something she said she had seen. Even at 8, they question things, even at 8, they learn to keep quiet, even at 8 they are wary of who to talk to. And I find that so sad. 

As parents we have a key role in listening to our children’s experiences, especially when they are younger, so often they just talk and talk don’t they, and so often we just switch off! Or if it something we are unsure about ourselves, we doubt what they say, or we try and explain it in our own adult terms.

So how can we encourage our children to be open to these things, to encountering God in real and personal ways, to understand that it is ok to have these experiences even though the world doesn’t always recognise them? and how can we be more open, listening, hearing…

That’s something that I really want to do with my own children. As I said we are pretty open and we have a once a week bible or prayer session with them, where we do different things or activities. In the past some of the best times we have had have been just waiting on God, giving them pen and paper and seeing what they feel God is saying. They have had amazing words and pictures that are way beyond their level of understanding. They have had words of knowledge for people who are really struggling and have spoken so directly into the situation without really knowing anything about it.

Sometimes we just have to allow them to be open, to listen, to hear and to see without questioning.

I would love to hear others experiences – have your children had spiritual experiences, seen angels, had words from God…? Or do you a have great ideas of how to encourage your children in this area? do get in touch…