Sunday, 29 September 2013

Autumnal Loveliness

Oh autumn. You are wooing me with your lovely orange leaves and cosy evenings. Anyone else with me?! There are just so many things to enjoy about this brilliant season but here are a few that are currently making my autumn days awesome.

1.New Crafts

I've always known I would start knitting at some point, it is one of the few crafts absent from my repertoire, the question was when. As I've been absorbed by my love affair with my sewing machine for the last couple of years the time just hasn't felt right. That was until I realised my great need for a chunky cream knit scarf and thus the stars aligned and I was off into the world of knitting.

And what a world! I spent Saturday morning perusing a yarn shop and my autumn evenings in front of the telly are well and truly transformed. It also means I get to dig out my Mum's old Golden Hands magazines. They are a feast of sixties joy, full of ways to knit, sew and embroider pretty much anything you could ever think of. And the pictures are hilarious. Love, love, love it.

2. Autumn Feasting

There is nothing like the cold weather/hot food combo. This week I've been making autumn soups from the glut of squash that keep arriving in my veg box. Here's my tip for a steaming bowl of autumnal loveliness.

Awesome Autumn Roast Veggie Soup

1 small squash, peeled and chopped into chunks
3 carrots chopped into 3 pieces
1 large onion, peeled and chopped into wedges
2 cloves of garlic (you can leave then whole)
A handful of chopped sage
1.5 litres of chicken stock
A little olive oil

Chuck all the veg a baking tray and toss together with the sage and some olive oil. Put in the oven on high (200 degrees C) for half an hour or until the squash is nice and soft when you put a knife into it.

Remove from the oven a leave to cool slightly. Add the veg to a blender with the chicken stock and whizz up. Reheat to serve and voila, autumn goodness in a bowl!

P.S You can basically chuck any veg in this soup so it is a great waste saver, Jamie Oliver would be proud!!

3. Autumn Fashion

If my local charity shops are anything to go by then now is the time to get down there and get your winter wardrobe sorted. My last trip saw me leaving with two new jumpers, two new woollen skirts and some brogues. Delightful.

Happy Autumn!

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Fake it till you make it

When you're self taught you always worry that you will be found out – Cath Kidston

The start of a new term, and my second year of training at Vicar school, is fast approaching. In terms of workload not much will change from now but there is something about it becoming 'official' that puts butterflies in my belly all over again, just like I had them last year. Perhaps it is that the start of something new always makes you stop and take stock a little. To look back and gaze a little further forward. That is where the butterflies come in.

One of the best books I read before starting training was by the Bishop of Oxford, John Pritchard. He described an incident where he invited the local primary school to the church for a special service. He went in to the school to do assemblies often but not in full Vicar garb so when one of the children saw him dressed up in robes and dog collar he said 'Mr Pritchard, why are you pretending to be a Vicar?' To which Bishop John thought, 'Crikey I've finally been found out! Why am I pretending to be a Vicar?!'

I've never met anyone who lives with complete self assurance or on some level doesn't feel like a bit of a fraud in their own world. I regularly chuckle to myself at what an excellent job I am doing pretending to be a grown up. Maintaining a house, having an ISA, going to garden centres. No one except those who have seen my CD collection truly understand that underneath I still have the mentality of a fifteen year old. I don't know whether there comes a moment when you suddenly think, 'This is it, I have arrived. I am terribly grown up.' Perhaps when you have kids, though I can quite imagine that moment arriving and thinking 'Why am I pretending to be a parent? This can't be safe!'

I suppose it is the same thing with work and it is deeply encouraging to here people I admire express the same feelings. The quote above comes from Cath Kidston's autobiography 'Coming Up Roses'. I love reading stories of business people who have made a hugely successful enterprise against all the odds. They always have such tenacity and self belief. And yet...that nagging thing still hangs about and Cath writes about consistently 'faking it till you make it' and the frequent moments wondering what on earth she had really gotten herself in to and if she could really handle it after all.

So as I start another term as a REAL TRAINEE VICAR. I'm going to take comfort that we all feel a small sometimes and it doesn't mean we can't think big. And hey, they may never figure me's hoping! ;)

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Daring Greatly

I've just emailed an article I'm really scared about. I'm not scared about the content, I stand by that. I'm scared of the reaction. You see, I've written what I believe to be true, something I think needs to be said but that I am pretty sure people don't want to hear. Man, it is scary.

While I was travelling this summer I read a book that describes my current feelings so well that it has made me think completely differently about it. The book in question is Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. She calls what I am currently experiencing 'a vulnerability hangover'. It's that moment when you open your eyes in the morning and thing 'Why on earth did I do that?' and want to crawl under the duvet and emerge when it is all over. In my case when everyone has commented and gotten over it.

I had a massive vulnerability hangover after writing about my feelings on the failedvote for women to become Bishops in Engalnd. Perhaps I was right to do so as I received some stark criticism in the comments that I was just too stupid to understand the mechanisms of the Church of England and their voting processes. What struck me was that this response was simply to a young woman expressing how it felt to continue to be excluded because of gender in her place of work. That post resonated with people, particularly with other women in my shoes, and I'm not sorry I wrote it.

And that is the nub of it really. That even when it is excruciating to put yourself out there, and writing is where I feel constantly compelled to do so, it is all part of daring greatly. If you hand on heart believe in what you are doing, you are doing so courageously in the hope of a better deal for everybody then vulnerability is just part of the package.

Brene starts her book with this brilliant quote form Roosevelt that deserves to be quoted in full again here.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Now when I feel those creeping feeling of fear and wanting to hide I am thankful because I know I have done something courageous. Success or failure doesn't really matter when you are being courageous and as Roosevelt writes both are inevitable at some point if you are going to step out and take risks. Instead it is being in the game, wanting to see change in the broken world and being willing to fight for it. That's worth a little vulnerability eh?

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Being Male, being Female - asking Big Questions!

Since I've been back from my travels it has been straight into the work but it hasn't felt like much of a chore. My major project at the moment is my dissertation which is taking me to far flung corners of the Bodleian Library and into parts of Oxford I've never seen before. It really is such a beautiful city and none more so that when you are studying in it. For me there is still no thrill quite like the one I get as I step into a library packed floor to ceiling with books. All those words, all those thoughts. It makes me buzz!

Yesterday I found myself in the Social Sciences Library amid what must have amounted to a least a hundred books on the subject of gender. I found myself a spot and poured over introductions to the research of the last fifty years. The questions are huge and stretch your mind to the limits. We are, after all, social creatures who have grown up in a particular culture. It is so hard to disentangle yourself from that and see things objectively. That was why it was so exciting to see books about what it means to be male or female in countries all over the world. It was the anthropologists who studied people in different cultures who first started to indicate that 'how we do it' is not the only way but rather is something we have constructed in our particular time and circumstances. Things can and do change.

For me this project is a bitter sweet thing. Sweet to have the time to read works of great women and to read about the history of feminism in my own country and culture. It is enriching to understand more about where we have come from and it raises so many fundamental questions. Why do we understand that to be a man is this and women that? What even is gender? Social research point to so much of our conceptions of maleness and femaleness being constructions of our culture and environment. As Simone de Beauvoir famously wrote 'One is not born, one becomes a woman'. But of course biology and society are interacting constantly. We adapt to our environment, our biology, like our culture, is fluid not static. For me it has blown open the categories I have in my head. The pieces of my understanding are floating about somewhere in the air and are waiting to resettle again!

The other side of my research is looking at the theological understandings of gender, particularly in the Evangelical wing of the Church of England. The perception of women and femininity both shackled and liberated women over the last 150 years. Digging down to the base beliefs about men and women is fascinating and at times bitter. More than anything it makes me want to push on to seeing mutual respect and understanding between the sexes and opportunity based on ability and calling, not gender.

Today a former tutor from my college was made a Bishop in New Zealand. Times are changing. We really need to ask ourselves these big and deep questions and allow ourselves to be surprised by the answers. As for me, I'm having the time of my life and so thankful for the opportunities I am being given right now. Even more so in the light of what I am reading, knowing how privileged I am given how women have lived throughout most of history. It is a privilege and it is a great responsibility. Back to the books!