Monday, 30 January 2017

Trump, May and that sinking feeling - what can we do?

Brexit, then Trump, and now the 'ban'. If you have a sinking feeling about all this, you're not alone. But if you're like me, then you possibly have a tendency to bury your head in the sand about politics, feeling like it's all too overwhelming, we can't do anything about any of it, and it's easier just to concentrate on Netflix or indeed the important things that consume so much of our energy - our jobs, our kids, our homes, our partners. I know I've scrolled past videos of Syrian refugees because my emotional reserves are empty after a tough day with the kids and I just feel like I can't deal with it. 

But recently I've been thinking about what happened in the past and what lessons we're supposed to have learned from history. I'm pretty sure the people who lived in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s were people like you and me. People who had been through a huge financial depression, who were scared and worried, whose energy was being consumed by their kids and jobs and homes and husbands and wives, and who just didn't see it coming until it was too late.

I'm aware that I'm going to alienate a few people even by drawing a comparison between what's happening now in the US and what happened under Hitler, but I'm going to take that risk because as this guy on Twitter puts it:

Or as Edmund Burke said:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

So, what can we do? What can YOU do?

1) Write to your MP. Write and urge them that Theresa May and the government should be opposing this ban by Trump. Google their name and 'contact' and it should come straight up. Don't be put off by feeling like you don't know enough. You know enough to say something and they have to listen to you.

2) Write to the Prime Minister. Here's the link. (NB: after you've sent it, they will send you an email and you need to click on the link in that email to confirm it.)

3) Support refugees. Find the nearest refugee donation points and drop stuff off, donate money to agencies. Here is a list of agencies that is helpful:

4) Go on demonstrations and marches. There is a huge sense of solidarity and a buzz that comes from joining on these. I have been on many and it's a great way of expressing yourself along with many others who you may disagree with over some things, but can unite with on this. And it is a very visual and obvious way of protesting against what is happening, that hopefully the powers that be will take into account. There are many going on tonight all over the country - search for 'demo trump [area]' and it should come up either on Facebook or Google.

5) Sign a petition. Read carefully before you sign and check you agree!

6) Engage. Discuss. Let's educate ourselves and each other. 

Please leave comments with any other helpful suggestions.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Leavers, I need your help: A Christian Remain Response to the EU Referendum

I woke up yesterday morning not remembering what news I had been waiting for in my sleep. What I have felt since then resembles the stages of grief: shock, denial and anger. I cried for a long time when I found out the news that we had voted to leave the European Union. I honestly feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, anger, bewilderment, betrayal, desperation, and powerlessness.

And yet. And yet, I totally believe with my heart and my head that God is in control; yes, indeed, “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). I know my citizenship is not of this earth; I know that God is sovereign; I know that my primary concern is the spread of the Gospel and his Kingdom, not earthly principalities.

But does all that mean that as Christians we shouldn’t feel emotions about this? I think not and I’m here to express that. This post is written out of a heart in turmoil, a head that aches from thinking about all this and a desire to try and struggle through these issues and come out the other side with grace and love. I’m trying, and praying, but it’s hard. I need help, and I imagine a lot of Christians are feeling like this too.

When someone endures a loss such as a loved one dying, getting a cancer diagnosis or becoming bankrupt, do we glibly tell them it’s ok and not to worry because “God knows”? No… at least I hope not. Yes, we use the Bible as a means of comforting them but in the context of offering support, love, compassion and understanding.

God cares deeply about our membership of the EU (or not). That’s not to claim I know his opinion on it. I just know that he cares. His sovereignty does not preclude sadness, anger or pleasure at earthly actions. Quite the opposite; who cares more about injustice and poverty than the Lord our God? Whose heart breaks more than his at needless death, greed and violence? (Proverbs 6:17 – “The Lord hates hands that shed innocent blood”; Psalm 10:17 – “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted”). So God himself, who knows that all things are bound together for his pleasure, purposes and glory, feels pain and anger and devastation at the events that happen on this earth.  

I have seen many Christians post verses and quick-fire responses that seem to reference God’s sovereignty as a reason for not having strong feelings about the referendum. And I find them very hard to accept because I am struggling. I’m struggling to wrap my heart around the truths of God’s word, and I am clinging onto them, but just as in any other crisis you are still buffeted around by grief and anger while you hold onto the anchor, and I need help.

So, Christians who voted Leave, and those who voted Remain but weren’t all that bothered about the vote, I am asking you 5 favours:

1) Please accept and acknowledge that a deep Christian belief in God’s sovereignty is not incompatible with deeply negative feelings about this decision. Please do not gloss over these legitimate feelings or assume we are responding unchristianly because we are going through them.

2) Please show compassion to us and allow us to feel what we need to feel while we struggle to hold onto God’s promises through this. Yesterday it had been literally HOURS since the decision was announced,  we were all still reeling, and my feed was full of people telling us to “stop whinging”; “suck it up”; and other less wholesome language. I’m fully aware there were Remain voters also coming out with some nasty stuff and that’s not on either but I’m not speaking specifically to them in this post.

3) Please try and understand that you really don’t understand how this feels, and that’s ok, but it needs acknowledging. If you voted to Leave, or voted to Remain but didn’t really feel that passionate about it, it’s impossible to understand why we are feeling genuinely awful about it. It’s not at all the same as how the Leave voters would have felt if they’d lost, because a) that wouldn’t have been a shock and b) that would have meant a return to the status quo. This is a seismic shift and one that’s very much full of uncertainty and turmoil.

4) Please talk to us. I am sensible enough to be deeply concerned that the referendum does not come between Christian brothers and sisters! But a lack of grace in any situation, from either side, is more difficult to overcome. I am a flawed person and I struggle to be fully gracious when it comes to political issues, but I am desperately trying! As the winners, I need the help of Leave voters to be magnanimous in victory!

5) If you’re a Christian and not bothered about politics, please question why not. I have more empathy for Leave voters who were passionate about their belief for the right reasons than Remain voters who aren’t bothered. The Christians of the past – the Wilberforces, Booths and Frys – they were at the forefront of social change because of their Christian beliefs, not in spite of. And if our minds are on heaven, we will act on earth.

You might sense that this isn’t written as a wrapped-up, perfectly-packaged piece but a whole load of scrambled emotions…. And you’d be spot on. I am aware, and sorry for, any ungracious attitudes to those who disagree with me and don’t empathise with my feelings on the matter throughout this campaign. Some may think that enough is enough and one more opinion piece on the EU is one too many, but I hope by writing this it may help some and at least explain my seemingly nonsensical reactions to some of my friends.

In Christ, who will indeed one day stand upon the earth – Amen!

Friday, 12 February 2016

3. Even Dogs in the Wild - 50 Books in a Year

I liked this book immediately for three reasons: first, it was a surprise present from my husband (albeit after quite a lot of heavy hinting... like, "Has anyone bought me the latest Rankin for Christmas?"); second, it's an Ian Rankin/Rebus book; and third, the cover has flocked bits on it that are really nice to run your finger over.

Ever since we found an Inspector Rebus book in the Greek hotel we honeymooned in and fought over reading it for the duration of the week, I've been hooked on the series. My dad was into them first, but I guess I still had a hangover of teenage refusal to enjoy something on the basis that he did (see also: Bob Dylan, olives and avocado). I've now read them all.

If you haven't come across Ian Rankin's Inspector Rebus series before, it's a set of 20 books about a Scottish detective with excellent musical taste called John Rebus who works in and around Edinburgh solving murders, getting himself into trouble with his bosses, and nurturing a long-term abusive relationship with whisky and bacon butties.

The last three books in the series are actually set after Rebus' official retirement from the force. We find him scrabbling around for a purpose without his career to give him one, leading him to continually hustle his protegée-turned-successor DI Siobhan Clarke for cases to 'consult' on.

This does mean that I wouldn't recomend this title if you haven't read any of the others in the series. There's a lot of Rebus background painting the scenery of Even Dogs in the Wild.

This book doesn't err from the tried-and-tested whodunnit formula, yet keeps you on your toes as usual. Rankin writes a classic murder mystery very well while taking an interesting angle on current affairs. He's discussed everything in this series from the G20 summit to the Edinburgh tramline development to the Scottish vote on independence. This novel sees him tackling the horrors of the child abuse cover-ups that have come to light since the Jimmy Savile revelations. Wry lines such as "they can put that in their pipe and vape it" root his books firmly in the present-day.

The first few pages had me rolling my eyes more than once at the over-familiar Rebus tropes: he hates the parking in Edinburgh; he buys fattening food on the go; he likes cigarettes and pints of IPA and drives a battered Saab. We know. But Rankin has managed yet again to develop his personality in retirement in a believable and satisfying manner. Age has softened him somewhat, as shown through his relationship with Malcolm Fox, a character who is becoming more and more interesting in his own right. Yet his scenes with Cafferty reveal his steely side too as the two men and their intertwining lives continue to form the backbone of these books.

It's not the most beautiful literature ever written; nevertheless, it's not only a great crime novel, but also somewhat philosophical. The Rebus books never fail to provoke thought about some aspect of being human. If you haven't yet read them, I'm envious. Start here (this new edition will have the nice flocky bits on too - bonus).

Saturday, 6 February 2016

2. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - 50 Books in a Year

After I finished The Kite Runner, I thought it would be good to read something a bit lighter, funnier and more uplifting. Then Aidan thrust his copy of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas into my hands. I knew it was something to do with the Holocaust, having gleaned that much from the trailer for the film, but thought, it being a children's book (aimed at Year 7ish), it couldn't be that harrowing to read.

Given To Kill a Mockingbird is one of my favourite books, I should have known better. It's the same concept: a child telling a story through their own eyes, with the reader understanding more than the child themself does. It makes it all the more chilling to read of a concentration camp in the childish language of a 9-year-old, just as Scout's innocent narrative of racism in the deep South renders it more disturbing to her audience.

Aidan would say it is a spoiler to mention the Holocaust as he thinks the book is at its most powerful when the reader has no concept of its subject matter and thus gradually understands as Bruno, the narrator, tells his story. I agree with him, but it's hard to write a book review without revealing anything about the book.

Having spent several years of my life studying the Second World War from various angles, I suspected I might find this book somewhat clichéd. But the perspective is different; Bruno is the son of a Nazi officer who has found favour with 'the Fury' and runs the concentration camp at 'Outwith'. He befriends a Jewish boy who lives on the other side of the barbed wire fence which is all that separates his hellish life from Bruno's cosseted one.

The characters in this book are well developed and Bruno's thoughts, as a 9-year-old boy, will resonate with any other boy of a similar age. I felt there was a discussion to be had about just how far the author pushed Bruno's naivety - at times he seemed to be doggedly determined in his failure to understand the events unfolding around him - but most books request you to suspend disbelief in one way at some point anyway, and as long as it is in one way only, as it is here, I will happily acquiesce.

The only weak point for me was the ending. I'm very particular about endings, and this one didn't quite satisfy, but it was also suitably harrowing; a plus point in my book, as I hate sugar-coated finales.

I have not yet seen the film, but want to do so. I'm curious to see how they could interpret a book whose principal purpose is to convey its tale via a specific means of narration rather than plot. I've heard good things though, so will reserve judgement.

Next up is book 3: Even Dogs in the Wild by Ian Rankin.

50 Books in a Year: 1. The Kite Runner

My husband has challenged me to read 50 books in a year. He's attempting the same challenge, and time was I would have outpaced him easily, but since I've had children my literary appetite has been somewhat lacking compared to my days as a bookaholic teenager and student.

However, now the baby days really are fast disappearing behind me and a full night's sleep is the blissful norm now, I've become quite the avid reader again, and I can feel parts of my brain that have lain dormant for the last five years waking up and feeling great relief that there is life yet. 

So I've accepted the 50 Books challenge, and wanted to blog about it, as quite frankly I struggle to keep count, and I want to remember what I thought of them. 

Number 1 is a very worthy opener; The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, although I cheated a bit with this one as I finished it in 2016 but started it in 2015. I say 'worthy' because this is one of those novels that everyone knows they ought to read but doesn't, and I count myself as 'everyone' until December 2015, when our newly founded Book Club selected this for our first joint read. 

I was apprehensive as I knew it was set in Afghanistan and involved sad things and there's a part of me that just wants to bury my head in my own little sandpit of school runs and meal planning and forget that there is a horrible world out there full of war and children who don't have enough to eat, let alone so much to eat they can afford to throw it on the floor in a strop. Nonetheless I'm far too much of a competitive perfectionist not to rise to the challenge, so I dove in.

I didn't get hooked straight away, although I know a lot of people do. It wasn't long though until I was compelled to read it whenever able. 

It's beautifully written, and so in one sense easy to read. In another though, there are some gruesome and stomach-turning events that make it almost impossible to read at points. The voice of the story is Amir, and his character is wonderfully complex, garnering sympathy and disgust from the reader at turns. 

Others would describe The Kite Runner as a very sad book, and although there are threads of deep sadness running throughout, not only in Amir's life but in the depiction of the ravages of Afghan history, I didn't shut it feeling devastated or distraught; rather there is a note of hope left ringing in your ears too. 

Since reading it I have been told by many people that A Thousand Splendid Suns by the same author is equally good if not better; and I'm interested to read that, especially as at times I struggled with the lack of female characters in The Kite Runner, and ATSS has central female characters. Hopefully that will make it onto my 50!

Friday, 1 May 2015

Funny Friday

Seeing as I seem to have gone AWOL from the blogging world, and promptly forgotten about Funny Monday after posting the first one, here's a Funny Friday.

As children do, over the years the girls have given various things cute misnomers. Here are some of the best.

"Ki-weed" (keaweed?) for kiwi.

"Hotscotch" for hopscotch.

"Sunbabe" for sunbathe.

"Thomas" for houmous.

And my all-time favourite, what they genuinely think the Golden Arches of Happy Meal fame are called:

"Old McDonald's".

Happy Bank Holiday weekend!

Friday, 3 April 2015

Don't worry... start mourning

I wonder how many times a day, a week, a month, you speak, or hear, the words, "don't worry"? Probably quite a few. Sometimes its use is entirely justified; we tend to spend a lot of time pointlessly worrying.

But sometimes those words can be thoughtless, inappropriate, or even unloving. Why do we tell people not to worry? Is it sometimes, perhaps, because we don't want to deal with the fact that they are going through something that there isn't an answer for? Something that actually requires us to stop and acknowledge that sometimes, a lot of the time, this life is full of sadness? Something that we can't "fix", and makes us feel sad too?

All too often we express the sentiment that when someone is struggling with something, it's a case of "mind over matter", that you "just have to get on". I know that when I get hung up on things that really don't matter and I'm blowing them out of proportion, these trite sayings can be applicable and relevant. But much of the time someone "getting on" isn't possible until those around them have stopped to acknowledge the reality of the pain and heartache they are going through and committed themselves to grieve it and endure it by their side.

It's not something a lot of us are comfortable doing. It requires us to stop pretending life's always ok, to drop the pretence that we're always fine, and ultimately it requires us to be sad too, at least for a time.

Matthew 5:4 reads,
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted".
What are we called to mourn here? We mourn our own sin and that of others. We mourn the devastation a sin-sick world suffers. We are called to grieve the terrible results of our own selfish hearts and the suffering that shows itself in every facet of the world around us.

This means that when my friend tells me her child has been diagnosed with a serious illness, the sentences I utter in response shouldn't start with the words "At least..." "Try not to worry" or "She's in the best hands". It means that if we know someone who is going through a divorce we don't just tell them it's all in God's plan. It means that if you have a relative who is going through the pain of infertility you don't just read out the verse that says it's for their good. We don't try and "fix" it first and foremost, because we can't.

No, we are called to mourn, and to mourn with them. To mourn the bodies that are mortal and frail, to mourn the torture of a broken family, to mourn the heartache of a barren womb. We must give validation to the legitimacy of people's pain in the midst of a fallen world.

What we mustn't do is tell them not to worry.

Worrying isn't the question in situations like this; mourning is. Feeling the devastation of utter grief is not the same as worrying. Difficult emotions are not in themselves a sign that someone isn't trusting God and don't warrant a call to "let go and let God". They are a sign that someone is being called through the refiner's fire, and that we must walk with them as much as we can.

It's hard, because it means shattering our comfortable, British illusion that life is good, that we can make it good and keep it good. That as long as we have the right house, the right money and the right family, we'll be ok. It means facing the reality that we have little control over events that can turn our world upside. It means accepting that any day, any week, any month, we could receive that diagnosis or lose that child.

It also means feeling, by proxy, a shadow of the feelings those close to us go through when they suffer. And that's not comfortable.

Today is "Good Friday", a day when we particularly remember Jesus Christ dying on the cross. All the sin of his people was heaped on him, his perfect body and soul turned rotten by our depravity.

If there was ever an occasion to mourn, it was that day at Calvary, watching an innocent man, the Son of God, being killed by the Romans having been betrayed by his own people. If there was ever a time to feel the pain, the grief, of a fallen world it was that dark afternoon when the source of life itself became death.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted".
But they will be comforted. Why? Because death wasn't the end for Jesus Christ. He came back to life, bringing the sure hope of new life forever for those who believe in Him.

We mourn now, but we will be comforted. The Cross gives us comfort even now as we know that despite the trials we go through, we have been saved from the very sin that is the root of those trials. But how much more we will be comforted in Heaven, when the cause of all our mourning is no more and the reason for our comfort is eternally present with us.

It would have been ridiculous to say to Jesus' followers (or even Jesus himself) at Golgotha, "Don't worry! He's coming back in a couple of days". The fact of his impending resurrection did not negate or cancel the seriousness of the sadness of Good Friday.

But thank God, "they will be comforted". Everyone has cause to mourn at one time or another. Life is hard. The Good News, and the reason it's called Good Friday, is that if we trust in Jesus, there's comfort to follow.