Monday, 30 January 2012


I like to ask questions. No, make that I find it impossible not to ask questions. So much so that I sometimes think I resemble a toddler constantly saying 'Why? Why? Why?' I partly blame this on the programme Playdays that I watched as a kid. That Why-Bird has a lot to answer for. I'm particularly full of whys when it comes to church because quite frankly there is a lot to ask why about. Before I started going to church in my early 20s I had only done the usual school carol services, weddings and funerals and even then my first few years of church experience were in a completely unrecognisable form of church where people sat on the floor and bashed out songs on a drum kit (the minister once even sang to us with a banjo - bad times). It's only the last few years that has seen me delving into the massively complex world of church history and tradition as part of the Church of England.

I love what the Church of England offers. The heritage and history, the thoughts of thousands of people who have gone before, adding to what was there and perfecting as they went, but it can be mightily confusing to the uninitiated. I don't doubt that there is great richness in a lot of what goes on but without asking why I, and I fear many others who are afraid to ask why, have limited access to it. It's just words and symbols and different coloured altar clothes. I've been lucky to encounter lots of people who patiently answer my whys. I maintain that being asked why is a compliment to the person or thing being questioned. I love it when people question my seemingly barmy life in a titchy parish church banging on about God and making all kinds of strange decisions. Who questions something they consider worthless? You just dismiss it.

There comes a point where as adults we seem to become afraid of questions. We don't like asking them or being asked if we haven't prepared an answer. I suppose we worry about feeling silly, the 'I should really know this by now so I can't ask' feeling. Or perhaps we worry that our beliefs or ideals won't stand up to questioning so we protect ourselves by leaving the questions unasked. I can understand that. But I also think life has a way of asking you the questions you are afraid of. The big kahuna I see time and again for the religious (or just the thoughtful thinker) is 'Why does God allow suffering?' and we all know we'll have to face up to that one. We might not want to ask that question of ourselves but one day life will, when we or someone close to us is suffering or dies. Sometimes only experience can really give you any answers, sometimes answers are impossible to find, but I do think that asking questions is important for when the trials of life come knocking.

My husband is long suffering when it comes to my questions. I often make him plumb the depths of his theology degree to explain some belief that people seem to take as granted. Many times he has exclaimed 'You can't ask that question!' To which I reply, 'Why?' (are you getting the toddler reference?!) One of Ben's favourite lecturers once did a quiz on beliefs with his first year undergraduate class. Keen to impress they were all very decisive about their answers to the theological questions posed. When the answers were revealed the lecturer, one renowned in his field, had the lowest score in the class. He said 'I'm uncertain about many things, the more questions I ask the more questions I find.' So perhaps within the questions there is a place for uncertainty, a place for knowing that there is always more exploring to do and to know that rather than black and white, wrong and right, there is a whole lot of grey out there and that is no bad thing. I don't think I'll ever stop asking questions but my hope is that it makes my mind bigger not smaller. Questions, and really listening to the answers, offers a world of new experiences. Listen to the Why bird and never be afraid of 'Why!'

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Going Electronic

I love books. Having worked for a time in a second hand bookshop I have added knowledge to my passion (a dangerous thing indeed). I acquired my ultimate book crush while I was working there, a 13 volume set of the Handy Volume Shakespeare pocket books bound in red leather from 1880. I just love the thought of someone a hundred years ago heading off to the theatre with them in their pocket and that these books have survived two world wars, an industrial revolution and now the electronic publishing era and are still loved and cherished by someone (and taken along to Shakespeare plays!)

But one thing that working in a bookshop (and for a publisher) has shown me is the incredible wastefulness of book printing. Piles of books are thrown away, entire collections people have lovingly acquired sent off to be pulped because they won’t make enough money when sold. It is truly heart breaking for the book lover.  A bit like a volunteer at an RSPCA Rescue Centre I found myself re-homing all sorts of books, no matter how rough and ready they were, to avoid them going through the dreaded pulper.

All of this has made me increasingly selective when it comes to buying books. I don’t want my book collection to face that fate! Though I have a greater appreciation for books I am keener on having them in electronic format that ever before.  I’m wondering if this is a more general trend. The books we do have we want to be beautiful, like little pieces of art. It really is judging a book by its cover but in the best possible way, appreciating the artistry of designers and bookbinders. For read-once-and-pass-it-on fiction and text books (who wants to carry around hundreds of those heavy beasts?!) electronic is the only way to go in my mind. Plus the lack of copyright on classics means that you can get anything over a certain age for next to nothing in electronic format. 

With all this in mind I am off to purchase a Kindle this weekend. I’m VERY excited about it and have already realised that masses of my books, particularly classics, will be redundant. I know it will drastically affect my book buying behaviour in the future but now just comes the heart breaking process of deciding which ones stay and which ones go from my existing collection. How can a book- mother be asked to make such decisions?! I’m hoping that my love for having my book collection at my fingertips will quickly convince me that my less beautiful classics would be better off at the charity shop while they are still in a good enough shape to saleable. We’ll see how that goes!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The kindness of strangers (and friends!)

After the monumentally terrible start to the weekend things have started to look up. The night after the break in we stayed with our upstairs neighbours so that we were in hearing distance of the house but able to feel safe for a while and sleep for the first time in a couple of days. My in-laws then came for the weekend and we had a fab trip to the Wychwood Brewery (detailed on my other blog!) which lightened the mood until we had a call from a neighbour with sirens wailing in the background as our house alarm had gone off. After a break in I don’t think there is any worse sound (other than perhaps breaking glass!) than your own house alarm. Luckily all was well and we had a lovely dinner before heading back and sleeping our first night solo and alone since the break in. So far, so good. 

One thing this experience has really helped me to see with more clarity is the kind of things people do that make the world of difference when you’re having a bit of a crisis. I think we all want to be there for our friends, family or even just a stranger we encounter in need through work or our community but struggle to know what to do. So these are a few thoughts on what has really helped us over the last few days:

This might sound really mercenary but someone bringing you something to make you feel better is just so lovely. Some of the best things we have been given were a bottle of whisky from a neighbour who assumed, rightly, we would be on the hard stuff! I was also given a DVD I’ve been wanting to watch for ever and a brand new hardback someone thought I would like. Books are my escape so this is a perfect gift to help in times of trouble. Ben was given a comedy DVD which was amazing light relief for a few hours. Thoughtful gifts say someone is thinking of you and it really means something especially when some of your own precious things have been taken.

Practical help
A spot on our neighbour’s floor was a life saver on Friday night. Ben’s Dad helped us put up a house alarm and our landlord was fantastic in responding quickly to our security needs. The police were kind and sympathetic. People showed the inherent kindness that is around, particularly important when you’ve suffered at the hands of another human being.

There are some people who really know what it feels like to be in your shoes and they are a great comfort. Just someone to tell you that you are doing ok and your response is perfectly normal is a huge help. Some strong people have come out of the woodwork. People you can lean on, who shoulder some of the sadness. No easy task for the person involved but so valuable to the person in need.

Saying what needs to be said
The best responses were from friends who said ‘You need to sleep, stay with your neighbour,’ or ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself for feeling unsafe, it will get better.’ Sometimes you’re in such a tizz that you just need someone to say, ‘Have a cup of tea and just do what can be done.’ I really appreciate those people in my life who can tell me to calm down or anticipate my needs before I can.

Talking about (or doing) something else
Whether it’s a DVD or hearing about other people’s lives it all help to feel more normal again. I had a driving lesson on Monday and my instructor was the perfect combination of empathetic (he had been burgled himself), encouraging (my driving is improving) and taking my mind of it (I could hardly dwell while trying to navigate Oxford in rush hour!).
But most of all it is being there that is the key. A friendly voice on the end of the phone or a smiley face on the doorstep makes everything look a little brighter. Meanwhile each day is looking a little better than the last. Thank you to everyone who has thought of us over the last week. We really appreciate it.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Treasures in Heaven

Well, what a few days it been. Firstly to all my Twitter, Facebook (and good ol’ phone!) friends and family, thank you so much for your kind words and support this week. It has been a lifeline. On Thursday afternoon we were burgled and another attempt was made to get into the house while we were sleeping on Thursday night. I can’t really put into words how I am feeling right now. It’s not the ‘stuff’ that is gone that upsets me. Even the things of sentimental value that were taken aren’t so hard to bear because I know the most important thing anyone has ever given me is their time and the memories I have with them cannot be taken from me.
When I saw the broken window and my things all over the floor I immediately thought of this verse from the gospel of Matthew:
   “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I’ve been thinking about this for some time.  Of how easy it is to dedicate your life to temporary things, things that can be taken from you in a moment. I’ve consciously decided to focus on permanent things, on who I am as a person, on the love that I show to others, the good I do in my time on earth, on God.
But what I wasn’t prepared for was the feeling of utter desolation that came from the total invasion of my space. My home is my sanctuary and now I don’t want to be there. It feels like there is nowhere to go where I can feel safe or secure. My mind is full of alarms and checking locks and fear. Every person is someone who can harm you or who is looking through your window for what they can take from you. But I realise that just as I have already seen that putting your heart in material things is a road to nowhere so also is putting your security in a place. Because if it’s not thieves then it will be something else, as the passage ends ‘Do not worry about tomorrow for today has enough trouble of its own.’
For that reason I’m determined to not let this experience beat me. I don’t want to waste my days feeling fearful or angry. If that is how I become I will have been robbed of something much more valuable that some ‘stuff’.  In some ways the greatest danger is not even that it happens again as I’ve already been fearing. The biggest danger is that it changes me and the way I live and interact with people.  I love my community, I won’t have that taken from me. My home is a place of hospitality and warmth, I won’t give that up. I treat people as individuals and give them the benefit of the doubt – I’ll not have that taken from me either.
So the work of rebuilding home and confidence begins. And I will be successful. In that I am very sure.