A November Poem

November Churchyard

A lament of naked chestnuts stands
watching over leafbound graves.

In the midst of life we are in death.

The book falls open to corrugated liturgy,
its own leaves sodden by November tears.

How blessed are those who mourn.

From damp dust we were fashioned;
now mud to mud returns.

God of great mercy, receive.

As torrents pour off a gutterless roof,
Autumn’s grip on life goes slack.

Yet though he dies he shall live.

While Winter’s spirit waits
in the shadow of the lychgate.

And we live on in sure and certain hope.


Never November

november-4pmNarnia under the White Witch’s rule is described as “always winter, and never Christmas”. In our world at about this time of year, under the Mad Marketer’s rule, it’s “always Christmas, and never November.”

November is the time of damp dark when we have to imagine the twinkling lights to come. It’s good to stand in darkness and hope for light. Darkness shapes us as hopeful people and causes us to dig for that single seed of faith that will sustain us until the light dawns.

A world where it’s always Christmas and never November robs us of the anticipation of Advent and replaces it with a feeling dreamed up by a marketing department to sell more stuff. I love the magic of Santa, the mince pies (I do!), the annual bottle of Baileys. I love the first listen to the Christmas playlist and the choosing of the tree.

But let’s relish the delayed gratification of November. Let’s acknowledge the gloom in a spirit of hope and use it to renew our faith – faith that even when the dark seems to rule, the light will dawn.

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.

*Only 25 sleeps till Advent!


What Doesn’t Jesus Require of Us?

We’ve probably all had some conversations lately about Charlie Hebdo, free speech and causing offence to religious people.

My first thought was that institutions and the people who run them are always fair game for  satirists but maybe leave the deities and prophets alone – a là Monty Python who set out to lampoon Jesus in Life of Brian but, on reading the gospels, found there wasn’t anything to lampoon.

Then the Pope made his “punch in the nose” comment.

Even though it jarred, it took a while for me to realise the obvious.

WWJD? No. What did Jesus do?


spat on


jeered at



“Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Religious slogans on bracelets make me feel a bit queasy but, all the same, the Pope could have used one last week.

Jesus doesn’t require our indignation.


Cosmic Quilting

It’s National Poetry Day so here’s another one I made earlier.

Cosmic Quilting

I used to fantasize in moments of mental escape
from the madness of parenting and domestic chaos
that I was called to make quilts.

I would have a sunny workroom and spend my days
designing fantastic patterns with rich and satisfying colours.
I would create order and Art (with a capital A) from scraps.
And my life would have order too.

We would live in the country and thrive on fresh air.
Every day the children would spill, laughing, from the school bus
and play together like tumbling puppies.
My husband would find peace in our cosy world
and I would be a happy woman – patient and thin.

Then one day, in the real world,
I cut out nine squares of cotton, painstakingly sewed them together
and thought – maybe the dream was a touch unrealistic anyway.

But, of course there is a more cosmic approach to quilting.

All I have to do is take all the scraps of my life,
no matter what shape they’re in,
and pile them at the foot of the cross.
All I have to say is, “Here are the bits of me.
I’m sorry they’re not much at best and some pieces
are shockingly awful, but they’re all I’ve got.”

And over time, all the scraps will be stitched together
into a life-sized work of art, a communal effort
of my will and obedience and a patient and forgiving God.
There will be no contrasting calicos or prim prints
but swirls of grace and splashes of redemption,
patches of black to offset the radiating joy.
It will incorporate the finest silk of my gifts
and the filthy rags of my darkest side.
It will take every day of my life to create
and the finished product will be too beautiful
and the pattern too intricate
to have been envisioned
from the raw materials of me.


Joyful Blues

One of my favourite songs is The Proclaimers’ Joyful Kilmarnock Blues which includes the line:

“When I started walking at Wishaw, my eyes obscured my vision…”

Thanks to a hole in my left retina, I now have major spots in front of my eye. Not spots really, more like large grey clouds of hairy debris that pass with alarming regularity across my field of vision. And now the same thing has started in my right eye, so it can all feel a bit much.

But sometimes inconvenient physical glitches lead me to interesting/prophetic moments.

It constantly surprises me that my vision isn’t impaired. I can see through these things even as they waft around distracting me from appreciating what’s beyond.

There is also nothing I can do to make them go away; they are permanent flaws. However, when I’m relaxed and just getting on with life, my brain can sometimes even forget they’re there.

You see? It’s a good reminder to me that being fixated on what’s wrong –
theological conundrums
imperfection – mine and others’
perceived wrongs
real wrongs
wants and desires
– will all stop me from seeing and appreciating the beauty of the big picture.

Focusing on the floaters in my eyes makes me feel tired and cranky and anxious.

And so it is with my inner sight. I need to work harder at cultivating God-Vision, by which I mean seeing the biggest picture I’m capable of seeing and not worrying about the things that irk, irritate and distract me from loving. I need to practice taking deep breaths so that my brain (heart) can learn to ignore the flaws and be filled with wonder and gratitude.

Which takes me to another favourite song, this one by the Rend Collective with the brilliant prayer of a chorus:

“You’re not finished with me yet
You’re not finished with me yet.
By your power I can change I can change
Cause you’re not finished with me yet.”


Beyond the Makeover ~ Part 2

BeyondtheMakeover   I have written and re-written this second reflection on Beyond the Makeover. I wanted to talk about selfie culture and how we help girls decide not to subject themselves – particularly their bodies, clothed & semi-clothed –  to the intense scrutiny of both “friends” and strangers on the internet.

But my mind kept bouncing back to something we heard right at the beginning of the day and I can’t shake the idea that our first duty to girls is to tell them the truth about sex.

Here’s a quote from Everyday Sexism (follow them on twitter) or buy the book.

I am 13 and I am so scared to have sex it makes me cry nearly every day. We had sex education in Year 6 and I felt fine about it, but now some of the boys at school keep sending us these videos of sex which are much worse than what we learned about and it looks so horrible and like it hurts, and at night I get really scared that one day I will have to do it.

This child believes that she has now seen “real sex” and that it’s bad for a woman. It’s something that will be done to her and it will hurt her.

But what if, from an even earlier age, the following was the main thing she believed about women and sex?

The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife…he does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.

Yes, they are carefully chosen verses out of context, (the community of believers has a long history of doing that), and the main gist is that a husband shouldn’t refuse his wife if she wants sex. But it also implies the truth I want that 13 year old girl to know: she has the same rights as a man regarding sex.

Everything else we say about girls and sex and boys and porn needs to come  from the truth that healthy sex is about mutuality and mutuality is the  basis of all good committed relationships.

And uncommitted relationships? That’s another conversation worth having, but I wouldn’t hesitate to tell a young woman to hold herself and her body in the highest regard and to expect the same from any partner.

What starts as a feminist issue becomes a relationship/community/humanity issue.

And some more out of context quotes from the same letter – wise foundational principles to live by – in all relationships:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.

…honour God with your bodies.

…knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

Be careful that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.


Beyond the Makeover – Part 1

Yesterday I attended a conference for youth workers working with teenage girls and thought I’d be there with my literacy hat on. Instead, I found myself listening and questioning and thinking simply as a woman – though one with various qualifying subtitles:  mum, educator, “woman of the village”. I think I even described myself as a “child of Germaine Greer”.

I came away with more questions than answers but two main streams of thought have stuck with me. The first is that sexualisation, sexuality, sexual behaviour, gender (in)equality and everyday sexism each exist on a continuum, and everyone has to choose where they place themselves on those lines that stretch from relatively harmless to outrageously harmful.

I think there are some points on the continuums that are no-brainer-absolutes (“equal pay for equal work” and “no means no” spring to mind), but there are other points that are more nuanced and will garner a variety of opinions even amongst my own friends and family.

Where do you draw the line on a girl looking sexy? Is it ok for a 9 year old to dress like a 19 year old? Or a 14 year old to dress like a 19 year old? Who decides what “sexy” looks like? Is it showing an ankle? a thigh? a face?

What’s the connection between what a women wears and what a man thinks? Where on the “who’s responsible” continuum do you put yourself?  If women cover themselves completely, they are doing men a big favour but, well, exactly….. you see why we need to have this discussion before the 17 year old is running out the door to meet her friends in town.

Where’s the line on comments from men to women? Is it before or after flirty banter? Is it ever ok to make a comment to a stranger about her appearance even if you think it’s a compliment? Does it matter what the woman thinks? How are we raising our boys? (If you want to be enlightened, go to twitter and follow @everydaysexism. If you want to be dismayed search #grabbed.)

Do we raise both girls and boys to simply not tolerate sexism at all ever, or do we raise girls to tough it out because that’s just the way the world is?

Some Christians will allow things that other Christians absolutely forbid. Yeah, I know, don’t go there just for the moment…but,

how do we in the church teach our daughters to be comfortable with their sexuality? How do we crush the myth of “Jezebel the whore” while maintaining the truth of Jezebel the powerful woman who, while faithful to her husband, was unfaithful to God? She’s a bad woman, but not because of her strength or her eye shadow!

In the end, most parents just muddle through their children’s transitions from innocence to sexually aware to sexually active. It’s not something – especially in the Christian community – that we’re helped to think through. But – and this is the focus of part 2 – we can’t ignore the fact that the combination of technology and social media have hijacked the timing of those transitions. “Lock up your daughters” is not a good strategy at the best of times  – but utterly useless in the presence of a smartphone.

I’m very aware that I’m speaking as someone who’s pretty much finished with parental muddling but I still want to think these things through – and pray for and support those who are in the middle of it or can see it peeking over the horizon. Thanks to marketers, you don’t get much time to breathe between toddler and tween.

Part 2: The differences between “In the Light” & “Public” and “In the Dark” and “Intimate”.

God & Heroes

Niagara Falls Wounded Trooper McLeod Badly Wounded

My dad told me there were two things absent from war:

Heroes and God.

In a time when everyone in uniform is a “hero” that must sound shocking, but it was his unwavering opinion.

We all knew the basics of his war story. Lied about age to join up. As a scrawny teenager he was made a radio operator in a tank. Shipped out to Sicily. Rolled into an ambush and was left for dead after a shelling. When he came to, he realised he wanted to live and got himself out of the tank and watched the battle rage around him until he was dragged to safety.

From a tiny child I tried to picture what it must have looked like. Him sitting there while shells and bullets flew through the air over his head.

Then one day, just a few years before he died, he added something to his story.

After he climbed out of the tank, he collapsed again and was unconcious. When he woke up an Italian soldier was removing Dad’s boot. Dad remembered him tipping the boot and pouring out blood.

Then someone shot the soldier dead. Dead. Just like that. When he used the word bastard in the telling of that story, it was not describing the boot thief.

And I don’t think Dad ever recovered from the horror of that moment – a  moment devoid of Heroes and God.

But here’s what I wish I’d thought to say to him before he died.

If God was on that battlefield, He was in the heart of the scrawny kid from Niagara Falls who was so horrified by the death of his enemy. That’s where God was.






Reaping the Harvest of Violence

I just yelled at my husband because I am filled with rage at James Dobson. So I’m going to give the poor man (husband, not Dobson) a break and get this out here.

Galatians 6
7Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Some loud Christians seem to believe that the United States has sown sexual immorality and that has led to the deaths of twenty little children and their teachers.

How bloomin difficult is it to see that what has been sown in the United States is not immorality linked to sex but immorality linked to violence – and particularily to guns? Seriously. How can the spiritual leaders of that nation not be falling on their faces in repentence for guns?

Do they think their addiction to guns is actually of the spirit rather than the flesh?

How can they not fall on their faces in repentence for vulnerable men and women unjustly put on death row?

How can they not fall on their faces in repentence for the deaths of Afghan children by American weaponry?

These days post the Newtown murders should be a time of sackcloth and ashes for anyone who thinks that violence curbs violence. It’s already a time of sackcloth and ashes for those of us who don’t.

Proverbs 22:8
Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

Listening Before Judging

My getting ready for 50 project involved letting my hair go grey. Tick.

And reading the bible cover to cover. Tick for the OT and the Gospels but got stuck in Romans, limped to Corinthians and am trying to get started again.

But this isn’t failure confession time. What I want to say is that, now that I’m properly on the other side of that hill, I’ve decided to, as far as middle-agedly possible, eradicate dismissiveness from my life.

When I told my 22 year old daughter that I was going to listen carefully to people rather than just assuming that I disagreed for whatever reason, she asked, “Does this include conservatives?”

Me: “Theologically or politically?”

Her: “Theologically – you never have to listen to right wing politicians.” (Nice touch,  I thought.)

Funnily, I’ve been trying to listen to the more liberal brothers and sisters out there but, having felt burned by some wacky far right theology, didn’t feel like I had to extend this listening before judging thing to my “enemies”. Yes, I do see how that bible-reading exercise might have influenced me a little more, especially seeing as I did get through the gospels.

So how’s it going?

It’s hard – first because I’m particularily gifted at judgementalism and this new way requires that I breathe (think, even) before I come to a conclusion.

Also- it’s hard because dimissive jugementalism is rampant amongst my peers. Left, right, liberal, conservative, believing, non-believing – it doesn’t matter – everyone seems so set in their middle-aged ways and not just their politics and theology, but their taste in just about everything.

It’s not that I want to like things that I find unlikeable. Not at all. But I want to be able to explain clearly why I’m bored to tears by Ricky Gervais when he airs his humourless atheism, as popular as he is, on a light entertainment programme. I want to be able to talk to an atheist about that and have them see my point of view. In other words, I don’t want to be dismissed either. (See? I didn’t miss all the Gospel wisdom.)

I especially don’t want to dismiss something because it’s new and different. I’ve never believed in the good old days. Rather, at every point in history, I’m pretty sure you could point out something cultural that’s better and something that’s worse than it was 30 years before. I don’t want to miss out on the stuff that’s better than it was when I became an adult almost that long ago.

So that’s the plan and the new spiritual work in progress.  Look for an update in about six months. It may be to say that I have no more friends. Must remember not to dismiss those who are stuck in their ways.