Saturday, 29 December 2012

The year that was - 2012

I don't know about you but this time of year always makes me a bit reflective. As the New Year approaches you look back over what has been since you last desperately tried to keep yourself awake till midnight (if you are old like me!) and wonder at all that has passed in the last year. This time last year I was where I am heading today, at my in-laws house. I was pretty grumpy as the clock turned twelve because life was so very uncertain.

2012 - the year of good beer and saying farewell to Summertown
I had no idea what 2012 held in store and at that moment I'd well and truly lost the excitement of that and rather felt frustrated. I'd been waiting one year and three months for my interview for ministry training and had another three months to go until it arrived. The biggest question though was what I would do if I didn't get in. Work was, as it had been for many years, uninspiring and with a constant nagging feeling of being utterly in the wrong place but unable to find the right one. And it was easy. I sometimes long for easy now but when I think back to I hadn't been challenged in a role in years. I hadn't cared about what I did every day for such a long time. 

And then 2012 came. With a bang. Five days in and our house was broken in to. All in all I'm pretty much over it but not enough to want to relive those weeks again. But here's how it was if you want to look back (aren't blogs handy?!)

In the midst of all of that the interview came around quite unexpectedly fast. Before I knew it was back home, waiting for that dreaded envelope with the answer I had been waiting so long for. Accompanied by a burst sewage pipe the news arrived, and as we know, it was a yes. Life had changed for ever and in five short months I was off, not before collecting and renovating enough second hand furniture to fill our new house (if not a small shop!) and with a month long sojourn to Zambia with a bunch of sixteen year olds.
Wandering the streets with some bookshelves. There was a lot of this going on!
Zambia was unexpectedly life changing. I barely had time to register that I was going before I found myself there. I learnt how much fun it is to care, to see other people develop and grow into themselves and I got back to the heart of what really matter just at the right time as when that plane touched down I had four weeks until we were packing up the boxes and moving to college.

Beautiful Zambia
And so what about this year, as the clock turns midnight and I let out an almighty yawn? What does 2013 have in store? Challenge, that's for sure. Change as I continue on this intense journey of training. Joy, as new Greek words become my words and new ancient worlds are opened up to me through study (I'm a geek and I love it!) Im pretty sure I'll be frustrated. I will probably moan on this blog a fair bit. It won't be easy. But I will care and looking back on 2012 I think that is the greatest gift of all. Days that mean something to me. Bring on 2013!

The view from my college study, where you'll find me in 2013.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Getting back to you

The space from college this holiday has given me that most brilliant of things – FREEDOM! (cue singing of George Michael, 'Freeeedom, I'll not let you down....', you with me? No? Ok then.). It has taken a few days but now, much like the girl in the Twinnings advert, I find myself 'getting back to me' as I float away on a sea of Vampire Diaries watching and cake eating induced bliss.

I find myself wanting to set a few things straight. To put some stakes in the ground to mark where I stand and what I stand for while I still have the objectivity that a bit of separation from everyday life brings. Something to look back on as I continue on this journey. Some signposts for the way. So here they are, some rough and early musings that have come up as I've 'gotten back to me'.

Right? Yeah right.

I've been known to get it 'wrong'. Say things in the the wrong order, say the wrong things altogether. Light the wrong candles, narrowly avoid setting fire to the giant flappy sleeved robe I'm asked to wear (I mean, what genius came up with that eh?). But stake one is this – there is no right way (except maybe the setting fire to yourself bit, I'm pretty sure that isn't right...). The right way is an action done with love, compassion, intelligence and integrity. Nothing else really matters.

The future is God-made not Church-made

Ordination is not a one way street to stress, a job you complain constantly about and never seeing your family again. That lifestyle is chosen, no matter what anyone tells me. I've never taken the conventional route. I've never been a slave to other people's expectations or what I 'ought to do'. I'm on an adventure with God, that is what the life of faith is to me. There are many roles and many ways of being in them and there is one for me, as me.

Brighter, bolder. More, more, more!

Quoting my old pal St Iranaeus: 'The glory of God is a human fully alive'. There is a feeling in what I've been taught in the last few weeks of diminishing yourself. There is a call to always blend in despite the major movements in the church being lead by those who did anything but. I was told this term that if I wanted to 'advance' in the church then I ought to wear black, to fit in with the 'boys' as it were.

But the thing is God made me colourful. And if I see ministry at its depth as a calling out to people to be fully alive, fully themselves in all their glorious technicolour, then how can I model that in black when I'd be wearing it to hide or advance? I must be colourful too. And luckily for me I'm not really bothered about advancing I'm bothered about being who God made me to be. Teen drama watching, Christmas obsessed, glittery nail varnish wearing me.

'It's not enough!'

There is a character in Gossip Girl called Cyrus Rose who when he hugs people holds on for the bit too long and when they try and pull away says 'Not enough!' My husband jokes that I am a spiritual Cyrus Rose. I have always had a deep hunger for the extraordinary. Having space from college has helped me to see what is extraordinary and what is just plain run of the mill. When I pray stuff happens. When I go to church I expect God to be there. When I say words I mean them. I've seen extraordinary stuff this term and that's what I want more of. Because anything else, well, it's 'not enough'!

So there we are. A few stakes in the ground. A wee manifesto for next term. And now I'm off to paint my nails and watch the Vampire Diaries. I am nothing if not consistent!!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Top ten holiday activities

I've now officially finished for the Christmas holidays. However, a combination of the intensive pace of the term and an ever present sense of guilt floating about my person that I should really be studying Greek is making it hard to unwind. I know I really need some time off for my brain to recover but sitting and willing it to stop whirring isn't doing the trick. So I thought what better way to focus my attention on some serious relaxing and recuperation but to get it down in writing. Faithful blog readers, be my witness! I will slow down this Christmas!

And so here are my top ten activities I will do this holiday to break the pace and feel the peace, man!
  1. Lose track of time in a coffee shop
    I haven't done this for months. Every moment is accounted for. Even a half an hour slot is seriously valuable so I haven't been able to sit and let time float by without worrying.
  2. Get my vintage on
    A morning browsing the charity shops (there is a serious set of amazing ones just down the road from me now. It's brill!) is just what I've been craving.
  3. Bake
    The Christmas cake is done but there are plenty more on the must bake list. Next up, orange and cranberry breakfast muffins. Yum.
  4. Sew something
    Is there anything as restorative as an afternoon behind the sewing machine? There are a pile of gorgeous fabrics waiting to be transformed. I'm thinking a patchwork embroidered cushion might be in the offing.
  5. Devote myself to a box set
    This Christmas it is The Vampire Diaries. Yes I am a teenager very poorly disguised in a twenty something body!
  6. Wander round the shops
    It's Christmas shopping season, need I any more excuse than that?
  7. Tis the season to be glittery
    Nail painting, long baths, a hair cut has been long needed. Bliss.
  8. Friends and Family
    Staying up late chatting, lunch dates, feet up and eating a lot of cake. I can't wait to see them all!
  9. Read a good book
    Does this need saying – NON THEOLOGICAL!!
  10. Go out for dinner to a place that requires me to wear my new bright yellow heels
    Yes, this one is rather specific. But these poor beauties haven't seen the light of day yet and it is a tragedy!
To keep me on the straight and narrow I shall keep you updated on my antics. What are you doing this season for a little R&R?

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

…..And the mouse within

I didn't plan to write a part two to yesterdays post on this term but today has made me think otherwise. I've always tried to give a fair portrayal of how things really are on this blog. Ultimately this is because I believe whole heartedly in cutting the BS. I can't see any other way to really connect. Until we start to say with honesty where we are at, until we learn to live by the truth rather than the image we project, well, I'm not sure there's much hope for us. Much less in my line of work that has been know for centuries as a place of pomp, of hierarchy and of holier than thou. I don't know about you but I've seen enough of that. I'm looking for something more human.

Today we had a seminar on preaching. I'm excited about preaching probably because I love blog writing so much. That and because I genuinely love diving into the Bible which surprises me, shocks me, does my head in and encourages me in equal measure. But what I realised today in that seminar felt like the weight of fifteen bibles placed on my shoulders. Because, and here's the real secret, half the time I'm pretty convinced I can't do the things I'm being asked to do.

Now I know you're not supposed to say that. You are supposed to have the swagger of authority, to seem like you can hold the cares of the world in the palm of you hand and not even notice it. But I'm not like that. When I think about having something to say to people, something honest and relevant that stays true to the awesome and torturous history of this faith and the whole history of a nation, well, I feel very, very afraid. I feel like a gnat about to be splatted with the book I'm trying to preach from.

I've been known to call my being here a divine joke. Not that I don't think I should be here but that there is still an absurdity to it. I'm a square peg looking at a round hole and saying 'now how do you suppose this is going to happen?' It can be so easy to look around and think about everything I don't know. I can name about three hymns, all the ones people complain about because they are so old hat or sung too often. I have to rename the church silverware by names of Dr Who villains to make them stick in my mind and then very nearly end up calling a Ciborium a Cyborg out loud.

Ciborium or Cyborg?
Oh, I'm a trier, I really am, but sometimes I just want to sack the ritual and stand in the middle of a field to say my prayers that I make up right there on the spot. In the church God made rather than the one we create for him. Sometimes I need to sing Stevie Wonder to God and not something penned circa 1850. Sometimes I want to say I've had a bad day too, let you know that I'm a human being, that dog collars and robes don't mean a thing. We are all the same aren't we? We have the same beginning and the same end after all. The same hopes and fears at the bottom of it.

I don't say this to illicit cries of 'oh no you're more than capable'. Perhaps that is true, perhaps it isn't, perhaps it will become true with time. I say it to anyone sitting at their desk thinking 'I can't do this' or ducking out of what they feel they should be doing because of feeling too small for the task. I say it in the light of all the things I said yesterday. All the very real joys and triumphs of this journey. I'm saying it to be honest with you.

All I know I do have, and why the powers-that-be sent me here in the first place, is an irrepressible love for God. I don't really have any credit for that. It's like a power surge that I've found myself plugged into. One of my favourite poems is a very early, very simple Japanese verse. It goes 'Though one dams it and dams it my heart still breaks through like a swift river, saying how beautiful he is'. And that, my friends, is really all I have and I'm trusting it to carry me through.

I want that to be remembered as I tell my stories here and that's why I say it again now. Don't ever feel like you are too ordinary for the things you have in your heart to do. Perhaps it's the ordinary that will be the extraordinary thing. Who knows?

Monday, 3 December 2012

The term that was

I can't quite believe it but I am in the last week of my first term at vicar college. I was doing some reading today about education in Ancient Greece and the author described how the program for students involved working both body and mind intensively. With all the cycling up and down the world's largest hill (fact!) and the mind bending demands of the Oxford course I feel like this might have survived a couple of millennia and made its way into the ethos of theological college. Hmmm.......

And what else of these first few months? The study is as cool as I thought it would be, no scrap that, it's cooler. I'm reaching new levels of geeky with each passing week. The topics are fascinating. One minute we're in 13th Century BC on the exodus out of Egypt with Israel (or not, depending on what you make of the research!) and the next we're in the courts of the temple with the Apostle Paul listening to classical rhetoric and the dawning of a new world faith.

College is maddening and brilliant. I'm pretty sure that once the dust settle on this term I'm going to start to realise what has already changed in me. Every week has something new and challenging, whether that is visiting at the hospital or leading a service, reading at church or figuring out the truly mystical inner workings of a church sacristy (the place where they set up all the holy stuff to you and me!).

I am still most definitely an alien on Planet Christian but now I'm in an even stranger place that is Planet Church of England, nay even weirder Planet Theological College! And what a crazy place that has been to be these past few weeks. I'm baffled by something at least once a day (women bishops anyone?!) but then I'm touched by something just as often. I'm learning the art of 'just turning up' when I really don't want to and knowing those moments when like a wink to God, the author of the sense of humour, I can bend the rules a little.

I probably know less now about where I think I'm going than when I started here. I've definitely been drawn to things, sometimes quite brilliantly unexpected things. I've had little hints of where this might all go, what kind of church or community might be the right place for me. What I might be good at and what it might be as well to avoid. But mostly I've learned not to look too far ahead. There really is too much going on today for that and that is pretty darn cool.