The in-between times…

Yesterday I wrote a post entitled My fearfully unveiled face it documented some of my coming out story, you can find more here in my post Coming out at 57 . I wrote it a number of years ago in response to some of the criticism Philip Schofield encountered when he came out at the same age. It was just before this that I had written to all of my adult children to tell them what I was going to tell others, and while their responses have been mixed they have been largely supportive, and in the case of two of them very unsurprised.

I wrote about a deep knowing at the age of ten, and how I had tucked that knowing away, it was not log after this, that my parents took the decision to move from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to England, for them it was a coming home, for me it was a very disorientating upheaval, and a complete change to the life I had known. This was followed by their divorce soon after that, which involved more upheaval and disorientation, between the ages of ten and fourteen I moved home three times, including the move from one continent to another. To say that I was a confused and mixed up teenager is to put it mildly! When I tell my story I now recognise that I do what the wonderful comedian Hannah Gadsby describes as tucking it away into jokes ( her show Nanette is powerful and revealing and helped me a lot). My life was not full of the trauma that hers was but I do tell the story of having moved from going to school with the Sultans daughter to living on a pig far in rural Essex. I don’t talk about the impact of the move across continents, the sudden change in lifestyle, the impact of my parents divorce, the reality of my fathers alcoholism. I also rarely talk about my life in Kuala Lumpur where my escape was the swimming pool, the only place I felt comfortable in my own skin. I was a big child, tall and big boned, probably more athletic than fat when I look back at the photos, but I thought I was fat, and I struggled with fitting in, in any way. It was a privileged life and came with all manner of unhealthy expectations.

So, I landed in rural Essex, hurting and confused and expected just to get on with life, I suddenly had a stepfather and more siblings, and frankly felt like a square peg a round hole, or more likely a round peg in a too small square hole! My sex education amounted to a book left on a shelf, and an instruction not to get pregnant, and some awful mechanical biology lessons at school. Relationships weren’t talked about ever so I took my longings for love and channelled them in two ways; 1. confusing love and sex, and 2. looking for God somehow, I began to go to a local Anglican Church in the middle of nowhere, where the liturgy became like a balm for my soul. Sadly though I felt that God required me to earn His love, and I knew nothing of grace, God was definitely a He and removed from my life, requiring me to be good and to behave properly, given the confusion of love and sex, 2+2 did not add up well! My confusion with sex and love did end up in the forbidden pregnancy, and that thankfully is where things changed. I refused an abortion, and eventually married the babies father, we had four more children, and were married for 32 years. They were difficult and wonderful, but in honesty mostly difficult. We were too young, and too mixed up. But. we met with God in different ways, and slowly and gradually my image of God shifted from a God of love to a God of grace, but for me it took a long time. I look with wonder at my adult children and wonder how they have managed to turn out as such well balanced and amazing human beings!

Life was still full of challenges and changes, we walked through the diagnosis of our middle son with congenital heart disease, we moved for a few years from rural Essex to Houston Texas, we then walked through the diagnosis of our two other sons with type one diabetes, with the angsts of teens who were coping with parents who were barely coping. I was suffering from depression and anxiety, developed a peri-menopausal thyroid related condition and just kept struggling on, sometimes drinking too much to numb myself. By now we were working for the church, which led to being accepted to train for ordination. My studies led to an engagement with liberation theology, probably most particularly feminist theology, and my world changed because my image of God changed. God became one who was interested in my and one that I could really relate to, and I mean really relate to. Of course I could articulate and had a living faith before this, and was able to articulate it well, but something in me shifted, and I knew I wasn’t satisfied with myself or my life.

Sadly but inevitably our marriage came to an end, it was a messy complex end, but I am not going to apportion blame and I know that my coping mechanisms and growing sense that I had been trying to be someone I was not had set my life crumbling. It was as it turns out the ending of our marriage that set me free to discover myself, to re-find that ten year old, and to take her knowing as a gift. I can vividly see where I was, and the two friends I was with! It is that well imprinted in my mind. told a few friends and received their support, and love given and received was so much more than struggle and sex, and God, being God who delights in all that he has made probably breathed a sigh of relief and said “finally”. In a sense I was like St Paul, I had been blinded to myself, my needs, and my desires, even seeing them as bad and unacceptable, and with the scales gone I saw myself finally created and named as good…

I finally saw that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, all are one, and I am one with them, hidden in Christ with God!

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My fearfully unveiled face

As I write this I am watching Andy Murray battle away in the third round of the Australian Open, he has an impressive determination and grit, and with two five setters under his belt so far I wonder at his endurance, at times it seems to teeter on the brink. I wonder at his endurance and tenacity just at a time when I question mine, and question if that is what is being asked of me! Please be assured I am not about to take up professional tennis.

What I am trying to do though, it to write out my thoughts and feelings that have found a catalyst in the statement made by the Anglican Bishops this week, and to process how all of this has left me with new sense of disorientation. Having written four pages in my journal this morning, I would like to share my thoughts and feelings, my response more widely, hence the blog post.

It isn’t long since I began to fully to recognise and speak about my own sexuality. It is both something I have always known, an awakening at the age of ten made that clear, and yet also something that due to the circumstance and environment of my upbringing that I buried really deeply ( rural Essex in the 1970’s was not a place to be gay). When I did come out I didn’t really have the language for it, and I struggled rather clumsily to express myself. More enlightened folk criticised my language, and while this bruised me I kept on walking the path. I don’t think I said the word lesbian at first, I pondered with the notion that I was bi, I am not, and settled on claiming the description of queer, because for me it is a word that celebrates the reclamation of denial and insult. It is okay just to be who we are. It is still a fresh vulnerability.

Over the last few years the church I belong to and serve as an Ordained Minister ( Presbyter), has voted to allow its churches and minister to be registered and authorised to celebrate same sex marriages as well as marriages between a man and a woman ( they are separate licences and authorisations). When the vote came through there was quiet rejoicing, and while some have left in anger, others while they still hold the belief that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman have stayed. For a church that has celebrated the ministry and membership of LGBTQI+ people since 1993, and places no sanctions on same sex couples including its clergy it is a little head scratching, but then of course many keep their profiles very much on the down-low, and rightly so, because essentially it is a private matter, until it is dragged out in the open by debate. No heterosexual couples have their relationships put under such scrutiny!

In a recent sermon, preached at my invitation, one of my Anglican colleagues stated very firmly that marriage is between one man and one woman, and the congregation, a supposedly affirming and inclusive congregation, who belong to a church registered for same-sex marriages all thought it was a great sermon, and that exclusive marriage was an excellent illustration for a Covenant Service. I was left asking, can I really be the only one who noticed?

Maybe I am still very bruised and battered following some of the almost vicious debates and discussions and the fallout following them from a previous appointment. Maybe I am still smarting from having somebody stand before me struggling to decide whether or not to receive communion, because he now knew I wasn’t straight. Maybe I still wear the very real vulnerability of having come out later in life. Maybe I am tired of telling people I identify as queer and have them look askance at me, they know I am divorced, but I have children, and grandchildren, surely that doesn’t work , though of course there are many like me for various reasons.

This I do know however, I cannot and will not hide myself again, I an sick, and I mean sick of feeling that who I am is something to be hidden, whispered about, and ashamed of. I am not ashamed! Nor will I stay quiet when others are wounded, I have in the past for fear and in confusion, and because I have felt intimidated by those who would very easily and quickly condemn me, who have muttered statement like, I can’t imagine what ” they do in bed” ( easy don’t it’s none of your business). This was the case in a previous appointment where I knew I would not be accepted by my colleagues if I came out. It was hurting me and hurting others. In this appointment I felt very much alone, and I know that others have experienced this too.

In my current appointment I am very aware that three of my ecumenical Anglican colleagues will be delighted by the Bishops decision, and for me that cannot not be problematic. It does matter, I cannot simply agree to disagree, it is not that simple, because to agree to disagree means setting myself aside, denying who I am, because I know that at heart they believe that I am intrinsically sinful, just for being myself. In no small part because I will not remain celibate for them in order to make myself tolerable. Oh and please do not read into that , that I am living a promiscuous lifestyle, I am not. Those who have mused upon my lifestyle see it as being much more exciting than it is. Apparently I have a lesbian lover holed up in the Manse with me, much to my disappointment I have been unable to find her, but while I laugh it off, things like this put me on my guard, I don’t feel comfortable, I feel judged, I am being gossiped about!

With all of this in the background I am struggling, the Bishops statement has become a catalyst for the discomfort I have been feeling, it felt like another kick in the gut, another put down, another exclusion. I know that I am struggling to recover from it. I am personally tired of all of the debates surrounding the full value and humanity of LGBTQI+ people. Yes the majority of churches I serve have voted to celebrate same-sex marriages ( one still needs to vote), but I still minister to, and am expected to minister with care, to those who consider my sexuality to be, and I quote; ” not a part of God’s good creation!” I am still expected to work on relationships with those who profoundly disagree with me, and stand upon the defence of centuries of tradition and scriptural interpretation. Those for whom my new fangled scriptural interpretation and hermeneutic of suspicion is heresy, and by whom my experience of a very real relationship with God is to be discounted, I am after-all, not a part of God’s good creation!

I am tired and worn out, I know that speaking up is rocking the boat and therefore unpopular, but I can only be who I am, and who I am is fearfully and wonderfully made, wonderfully made in the image of our many faceted gender-full God, and God who delights in the diversity of their creation. I am weary, and because I am weary I know that I can take upon myself the yoke of Christ, who calls me to walk and work with them, to receive and easy yoke and a light burden. The burden I carry feels heavy at the moment, so maybe it is not from Christ, maybe I am still called to work within the institution, but I ponder that maybe I am being called elsewhere…

Murray is still battling, he is in the fourth set now, if he wins and he needs to it will be another gruelling five set match. If I am called to such a battle I need to find somewhere the unforced rhythms of grace, to find the lightness of Christs yoke and the joy within the institution that I find connecting with people outside of it. I am asking questions of myself and of God, not whether I belong to God, I know I do, but rather what they are calling me to, and where…

Murray lost, he fought on but didn’t make the fourth round, but of course that doesn’t mean he is not an outstanding world class tennis player. I am not in a competition, but I am in a place where I need to find a life-giving way forward.

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. Matthew 11: 28-30 The Message Version

Unveiled faces, painting mine

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Lost? ( a midrash telling of Luke 15: 11-32)

In his wonderful book and Bible Study entitled The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller reminds us that the word prodigal, the word we attach so often without understanding to the wayward child, is actually a better description of the father, recklessly generous! The reckless generosity is shown first when the child, a son in this case asks for his inheritance and leaves home. Much attention has been given to the insult and disrespect shown by the son, how he was in effect wishing his father dead by asking for his inheritance while the father was still alive….

As I have pondered this parable over the last few days, I return again and again to the words of self discovery that are thought, maybe out loud by the son, and described wonderfully in the phrase, when he came to himself/ when he came to his senses, when he saw things as they were. He discovered himself, and in that discovery he knew where he belonged even if it meant returning as a servant and not a son, he wanted to go home. Perhaps deep down he knew that he was in fact wanted, and loved, not for what he could do, earn or give, but because of who he was. Perhaps he needed to leave home to discover this, and perhaps it was the knowledge of this that led the father to be so recklessly generous with him. Maybe the son didn’t leave home and get lost, maybe he was lost at home, unsure of his status and where he fitted in. I wonder how many of us feel that at times, and may even be feeling that now. Maybe he was followed around by a sense of inadequacy, a sense of not being who his culture demanded him to be. Maybe he was different, maybe he was neuro-diverse, maybe he was queer (LGBTQI), maybe he was a sensitive artistic type and not cut out for life on the farm, maybe he was disabled in some way, not strong like his father and brother, I could keep on adding to the list, I am sure you can come up with your own possibilities.

Whatever was driving him though he needed to leave, to get away, to find himself. The father seeing this did the unthinkable and gave him his inheritance, not a part of it, nor some pocket money to allow him to go off for a few weeks, but all of it, setting him completely free.

I wonder how the young man felt as he left, did he go in the morning, with a wave and a look back over his shoulder, or did he leave in the dead of night hoping nobody would see him and try to stop him? In my imagination it is the latter, he needed to go, and whatever was making him different weighed heavy upon him like a cloak of shame.

As he walked ( or rode) away each mile taking him further from home he was looking out for the far city, a place of freedom and release, and upon arrival he threw himself into life there, using his inheritance to gain friends, to pay for parties and the like, interestingly here he is mirroring in some way the reckless generosity of his father!

Sadly though his friends turn out not to be real friends, for when the money runs out they abandon him, and the son seeks out work feeding pigs, he had come to the end of himself, he could no longer fill in the hurt of his reality with parties and fine clothes, or whatever else he’d spent his money on, there was just him, his growling stomach and a bunch of pigs. It is here too that his thoughts turn to home, and maybe seeing and accepting himself for the first time he turns for home, speech ready.

What a fortunate young man he is, for although he is nervous about returning, something in him tells him that he will be accepted, if only as a servant, and how fortunate he is that his recklessly generous father has not changed in character and is waiting for him, and showers him with acceptance and love.

Here we are given the picture of the father God that many haven’t encountered or known, to quote Nadia Boltz-Webber from her recent sermon:

I may not be remembering this exactly right, but it feels to me like in the conservative church I was raised in, most of the sermons I heard growing up were about how God set life up to be like a moral reward and punishment system. Like we are all rats in some kind of cruel cosmic lab experiment – receiving shocks from God for going the wrong way and little reward pellets for going the right way in an existential maze.

How wonderful it is that the son had something in him that remembered his father as that recklessly generous man who knew that in order to find himself he had to let his son go free.

I wonder how many of us have gone through life with a sense of not fitting in, of not being enough, of lacking something, and not knowing who we truly are. I wonder how many of us have been brought up with a notion of a God who watches us like lab-rats in a maze. I wonder how many of us have felt the pressure of cultural expectation so heavily that we have been unable to accept ourselves for a long time?

I suspect that for some leaving home is enough, and they don’t need to blow everything and end up with the pigs, because they find a true home, a true welcome, and true acceptance away from the toxic atmosphere they were raised in.

But, this son needed to return, he needed to forget the father (God) he didn’t believe in and meet the father (God) who believed in him. He found himself in returning. However we find ourselves, it is a journey we need to take it may or may not mean leaving home, and it may or may not mean returning, our greatest need is to know that we are accepted and loved, we are not the worst thought that we have thought about ourselves, nor are we the worst thing that someone has whispered into our ears, or spoken about us, we do have a creator, mother, father, divine other who loves us just because, and that is our home. When I feel most lost, this is the reminder that I need, I have a home, and that home is love, it is acceptance, and it is true freedom.

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Safe…. pondering Covenant, pondering grace

This may sound a bit crazy in the context of Covenant Season in the Methodist Church, but I have been reflecting on the last few years, and the cost of all of the recent discussions in Methodism, where we have now reached a point with the Marriage and Relationships Task force where some of my friends can say God In Love Unites Us Conversations changed our lives. Since the Conference vote, many same sex couples have been married in Methodist Churches, and many churches sign up to celebrate marriage of both men and women and same sex couples. I am privileged to serve 4 Chapels that have agreed to the more inclusive stance, and are open to say that love is love.

Love is love, as I write that I ponder again that healthy relationships require a openness and honesty that should also include the ability of the individuals involved to love themselves, the inability to love ourselves so often trips us up and paralyses us and makes an unhealthy, even co-dependent relationship almost inevitable, believe me I have experience! Love is love, love given freely and unconditionally bears with all things, and looks to be accepting seeing beyond stigmas and shame, faults and flaws. For the longest time I have been unable to love myself, and have hidden behind many masks, none of them helped. A few years ago I began a journey towards radical self acceptance, this included accepting and knowing myself, and also voicing that for the first time.

I have blogged about my journey on several occasions:

Towards wholeness

On love

Coming out at 57

Invisibly invisibe

There are more of course, but you can only add so many links. In these posts I reflect on what it was like to live with a deep self loathing, an internalised sense that who I am is not right, not acceptable, not normal. This led to a deep shame, and it was a shame that was added to by the views I was taught within the churches I have been a part of. The discussions over recent years within Methodism, despite the positive outcome have not always lifted from me that sense of deep shame and otherness. It was with this as a background that led to my decision to move Circuits last year, I had support where I was, but I also carried many bruises and wounds. I needed to move. This move allowed me to move as myself, and while I didn’t attend the visit with a hello, I am queer badge on, I was able to ask about the nature of the Circuit, and had stated very clearly that I needed to be safe and to say that I needed the churches I was going to serve to be open to celebrating same sex marriages.

So here I am, and in this context on Sunday I shared in the Covenant Service for the first time, the words of the Covenant Prayer are as powerful as ever, the introduction begins no less powerfully:

Beloved in Christ,

let us again claim for ourselves

this covenant which God has made with his people,

and take upon us the yoke of Christ.

Let us take upon us the yoke of Christ, let us step into the calling placed upon us as children of God, beloved children of God, accepted, loved and known, let us claim the grace so freely given! I began the service with a few words from Richard Rohr ( yes for the purists I am aware he is a Franciscan Priest!) :

We have been graced for a truly sweet surrender if we can radically accept being radically accepted for nothing. Or grace would not be grace at all. Love responds to love alone and has little to do with duty, obligation, requirement or heroic anything.

Read that again if you will.

Love responds to love alone, there is nothing I can earn here, all is grace, love is freely given, this is the context of our Covenant Prayer, we step into the grace freely and completely offered by God, all is gift, when we say put be to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you or laid aside for you, let me be full, let me be empty, it is in the context of the grace that is wholly sufficient for us, and the assurance that through all of it we will be held. The initiative is all God’s, the price has been paid, the Spirit has been given, radical acceptance is our part!

It was on the same day that I heard the Covenant likened to the marriage vows, made between a man and a woman ( wound 1), and that the covenant of marriage being broken by those who don’t take them seriously ( wound 2). It took me several hours to come around to acknowledging the wounds that I incurred that day. The exclusive nature of male female marriage and the broken vows of divorce are both wounds I carry, and guess what, the old masks were back demanding to be worn, and the well of shame that is not quite empty within me threatened to fill up again. Instead I have chosen to speak out, for yes I agree that marriage is a covenant between two people made before God, and yes it should be entered into freely and lovingly, but it is not out Methodist Covenant, who would stand before their life partner and utter the words, put me to suffering, and who would expect their life partner to take all of the initiative in the relationship. Marriage is a covenant, like many other legal covenants, but the onus is never upon one party alone. When God makes a Covenant with us, all of the initiative is theirs, all that we are asked to do is to step into it, to take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ. Maybe we need reminding just what that is, here is Jesus invitation to take his yoke upon us:

Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Come, I will give you rest for your souls, this is the context of our prayer! So in this context, leaning upon Christ, I challenge the wounds I picked up, for in Methodism we are able to hold that marriage is a covenant relationship between any two people who wish to enter into it. and by the grace of God the wounds of my past are healed and I am set free, shame has no place here. In this place I am safe to enter into God’s invitation to Covenant grace! All this made freely available before I knew anything of it!

So, I have made a choice to speak out, and to say no, this reduced and frankly judgemental comparison is not enough, and I cannot accept it, I need to find myself in a wider place, a more radically gracious place, a place where I can learn a little more of the height, depth and breadth of the love I am invited into, over and over again. a love that simply grows higher, deeper and wider. All are welcome, all are included, all , all, all…. This is where I am safe.

Of course love does demand a response, and it will change us, but the initiative all lies with God. In this context I can say:

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing,

      put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you

      or laid aside for you,

exalted for you

      or brought low for you;

let me be full,

      let me be empty,

let me have all things,

      let me have nothing;

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessèd God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant now made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.  Amen.

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Be gentle ( a meditation on loss)

Don’t tell me/ us/ them to get over it,

loss has changed us,

life has changed through it,

and yes it was inevitable,

whether prolonged or unexpected,

shocking, or prayed for,

loss cuts like a knife,

ask anyone who has experienced it,

and really dared to explore

the depths of it,

loss can be many things,

but the lost cannot be replaced,

they are gone,

and we, left behind are changed,

be it person, pet, or relationship,

the scars are real,

and at times raw,

anniversaries, celebrations,

triggered memories

awaken, and remind us of what was,

and what cannot be again,

and yes the world turns,

and yes the seasons change,

and yes grief ebbs and flows,

we will and do laugh again,

but the loss remains,

if we are all honest

we all live with it

to some degree,

so go gently,

be gentle,

especially with yourself….

The face of Mary from the pieta carving by Fenwick Lawson in Durham Cathedral, I am challenged by the way the wood is split, and the grief that Simeon spoke of has been encapsulated in her face.

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Different?

I’ve taken the decorations down,

oddly they were getting me down…

maybe that isn’t odd,

I say every year

that I want to do Christmas differently,

but every year I fall into the old trap…

oddly I love lights,

and I’m even fond of a bit of sparkle,

maybe it’s what they stand for,

that and the endless droning on TV, and radio,

Christmas parties, family time,

menus, gifts, pressure and more pressure…..

so I’ve taken the decorations down,

reclaimed my space,

not only external but internal too,

maybe I will become a recluse next year,

declare the month to be a month of fasting,

of naming the things that hurt and harm,

and refusing to let them in…

the suicide rate goes up at Christmas,

the Samaritans receive more calls than normal,

mental health suffers,

this is the hidden face,

the flip side we shy away from,

like the massacre of the innocents

and the flight to Egypt,

they don’t reflect the tinsel bedecked shallowness,

the carols with non-crying babies,

and perfect children….

I’ve taken the decorations down,

maybe I will do things differently next year!

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The reason for the season- Christmas Eve musings…

What a strange time of year this is, in years gone by my home would have been full to bursting with people, we’d be making French Onion soup now, for Christmas Eve lunch, a gammon for dinner, we’d be frantically wrapping parcels and hiding them from one another. There’d be comings and goings, and a number of Christmas Services to get to depending on who was doing what and where. It wasn’t all peace and joy though, brining together a number of young adults under one roof when they’d been living independently could be stressful…

In the years before that, when they were smaller, and Christmas gifts were often hand- made, there was a different kind of magic to it all, special films to watch, the mounting excitement for Christmas day, the joy of stuffing stockings, which would usually be opened by 4am while we parents were pretending to sleep…

Before that, I look back over my family Christmases, which were such a mixture, my mum would make elaborate snow scenes, which seemed odd in the hot Far Eastern sun of Kuala Lumpur, then “family” games with my stepfathers family in Essex, and all the oddness between those two…

This year I am alone for Christmas, and while I have three services to lead between now and Christmas morning I don’t mind being alone, it is how life is these days, brokenness is a part of my Christmas story, and no amount of tinsel can cover that, but I will see my grandchildren’s faces as they open gifts, and I will enter into the story of Christmas afresh, for Christmas comes no matter what, for the truth that Christ is with us will break through…

Writing in the Yorkshire Post, Archbishop Stephen Cottrell says this:

I can’t stop thinking about those little boys from Birmingham who fell through the ice and died.And about their families. How hard this Christmas is going to be for them. And that policeman, who tried to save them, who I think might still be in hospital, recovering from hypothermia himself.

And I can’t stop thinking about those terrified, desperate refugees, exploited by wicked and unscrupulous people traffickers, getting into little boats on the northern coast of France to try to cross the channel into this country on bitterly cold nights crossing bitterly cold waters. Last week many had to be saved from those waters. And some drowned.

And these past few evenings, when I’ve taken the dog out for those last necessary things that dogs must do before bedtime, I stand in the cold and think about those who are going to be cold all through the night. Families huddled together in Kyiv or Mariupol. Anxious parents looking for children that won’t be coming home. Homeless people sleeping on the streets. Refugees in little boats.

Brokenness is everywhere, and still Christ comes, and we will tell again the story of extraordinary faith and courage, the faith of the young Mary receiving the angels message, and Joseph too, who hearing an angel in a dream choses to stand by her. The story of a babe born to be king, but not in the richness of a palace, but if far humbler surroundings, and we can argue all we like whether it was an actual stable, a cave, or perhaps the ground floor of a family home where animals would have been kept, it certainly wasn’t luxurious, and even then they would soon be fleeing for their lives, becoming refugees, settling in a far off land.

The story came to Shepherds too, angels again, fearsome beasts for sure, for every time they turn up they begin their messages with the words ” do not be afraid” , were these shepherds really outcasts, considered unclean, and really unacceptable, some commentators say so, others say they were simply decent hardworking folk, rough and ready types, whatever/ whoever they were they weren’t diplomats, maybe they were the Amazon delivery drivers of their day, shop workers, dustmen, all of whom we learned to appreciate during the Covid lockdowns (lest we forget). Maybe all are included, even the stranger and the foreigner in the camp.

That of, course brings us to the strangers, the Magi, the Wise Men, the Kings, foreigners from the East, following star charts, believing in signs and portents, exotic and as odd as their gifts, still they seek out this baby, stumbling into the palace of Herod, before realising their mistake, this new-born king is not what they had expected to find at all.

So there we have it, the humble, story of our celebrations, with its faith-filled heroes, unlikely visitors, odd locations, and angel songs, all topped off by a star. It is a tale of intrigue and violence, of displacement and fear, homelessness and heartache. It wasn’t dressed in tinsel, not lit by the warm glow of candles and stage lighting. The reality and rawness of it should be shocking to us still, it should stir us and discomfort us before it fills us with hope and joy, but fill us with hope and joy it should, because the central character, though he has little to say says everything. This is God who has come among us, God in the young woman’s womb, born into humble circumstances, God carried to Egypt, God hunted for by the murderous Herod, God sharing our life and experience, hope for the hopeless, love for the loveless, God of whom we can sing Tidings of Comfort and Joy!

Whatever your Christmas will look like, whether you are busy or alone this story remains the great gift for you, it can be unwrapped again and again, it will not loose its magic nor its power, it is the reason for the season!

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Queer….

Queer,

I identify as queer,

though to me it’s not a label,

maybe I don’t identify, I simply know…

queer is

more a reclaiming of a former insecurity

and insult, a sense of insufficiency ( is that a word)

so don’t ask me to define that….

you have asked the wrong question,

there is no answer,

I am a being

becoming,

twisting and turning,

stretching and spinning,

one moment centred,

the next moment not,

queer definition is fleeting,

barriers break before me,

queer power destructive, and reconstructive,

always seeking, searching,

queer art created, then often recreated,

swirls around me,

queer is never content,

words are not sufficient,,

queer disrupts my skin,

and is often

inconveniently assertive,

then frustratingly silent…

it stirs within,

never settling,

never contained,

always unexpected….

just for kicks, yesterday, I reordered my book shelves…

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transformation in threes…

Three years ago,

so the Facebook memory informs me,

I took an exhibition of art to be displayed….

three years, such a short time…

and yet it somehow holds all time

infinity, in three years,

and I am changed….

three years you walked the earth,

touching and healing,

changing lives, teaching a new way,

another way, showing us how to walk

the path with grace…

and we share your stories still….

three years ago, I loaded my car with art,

thought I knew where I fitted in,

had found a path to follow…

but now it seems undone,

and I have been undone,

scars I thought had healed

are newly opened….

three years, they feel like three hundred,

time is strange, but in three days,

you travelled from life to death, to life again,

utterly changed, yet unchanged,

the essence of you is still self-giving,

still healing,

still forgiving,

still grace filled…

three years, three days,

life is in you,

your life in me,

the art is still an expression of that…

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I am not fine….

Giver of Life,

I am struggling at the moment,

struggling with confidence,

struggling with any form of self belief,

struggling with being me,

I want to be strong,

but I am not strong,

I don’t want to be vulnerable,

but I am vulnerable,

right now I want to climb back into bed,

to pull the covers over my head,

and let days pass by…

+

if people ask me how I am,

I am likely to say I’m fine,

but I am not…

I had hoped for better days,

but the weight of bearing

disappointments,

and living with my disillusionment

feels too heavy….

don’t get me wrong,

I don’t want you to end,

I just want to stop,

to rest, to weep, to grieve,

to hurl stones into the sea,

to rage, yes to rage, and scream,

then rest some more…

I have been trying to be fine for too long,

and the trying has worn me down…

+

So I will say it,

I am not fine,

and though I have beaches to walk,

and a home, and food and warmth,

and family, and cats,

I am not fine…

there will be those who don’t understand,

but that is not my problem,

my problem has been trying, and trying and trying,

to keep up the appearances of being fine….

so I’ll say it again..

I am not fine, not okay, not all together, not whole…

so these burdens I bring, and ask

will you give me rest?

will you?

+

your words echo in my mind,

come,

I will give you rest….

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