Sunday, 16 February 2014

Love the life you live

Do you ever have those moments when you flick on Facebook, spot yet another new job/engagement/baby/new house/great holiday announcement, and have that sudden sinking feeling, 'What am I doing? What is happening in my life? Why am I so 'behind'?' This is the curse of social media. Suddenly we know the ins and outs of people lives we've long since stopped hanging about with. Lovely to catch up perhaps but so often it becomes a game of comparisons and don't you always come up short?

In many ways I think we would all be a lot better off if we took more of an honest approach to our interactions online. When a friends comes over for a cup of tea I don't list them my achievements of the week. No, I tell them how it is, the highs and the lows. The boring bits, the bits where I made an idiot of myself (what me? Never!) as well as the bits I'm pleased with and want to celebrate. Wouldn't life online would be so much richer if we poked fun of ourselves a little bit? Told the truth about the fact that, as we type, we are wearing old jogging bottoms, circa 1998, with an indiscreet hole that we STILL can't be bothered to sew up (Just me? Ah.....)

One of my favourite sayings from the book of Proverbs, that I often repeat it to myself, is this: 'Trust in God with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.' Because who knows why I have one lot and someone else has another? All I know is that I don't want to live my life in negative, in constant awareness of all the things I don't have. Rather I want to be where I am, feet firmly on the ground and looking about me for the possibilities and opportunities that MY life is offering ME.

All of this is neatly encapsulated for me in a single image I have from being in Greece, age 18. There my favourite early evening past time was to leap off the rocks into the sea. I'd just swim out in that clear, perfect blue water and feel totally alive, totally free and so deeply, unwaveringly bold. It's so easy to lose that exuberance under all the pressures of life, the shoulds, the oughts, the 'by nows', but who wins then? The life you could have had, your very own, remains unlived. Those straight paths are untraveled.
No, I'm reminded again to celebrate my one weird and wonderful little life. My chances, my opportunities, where I am right now. So bring it on Monday, I'm ready for you! Let's see what this week brings!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014


Ok, so I'm not exactly making my own car but I am making my car super snazzy with some home spun crafts. Partly this is in a effort to make friends with my new car which, despite now being the proud owner of a full drivers licence, still fills me with a degree of horror particularly as I am now driving solo for the first time.There was a time I couldn't wait to see the back of my driving instructor now I wonder how much it was cost to have him live permanently in my passenger seat. In fact, scrap that, how much do drivers cost these days?!

But anyhow, I digress, my jazzing up of the car is not only to get a bit more friendly with it but also to introduce a little humour to this whole driving thing and some 70s pop colours  to a boring grey interior because, well, when can you not use some 70s pop colours? Never, I hear you cry! So here is a cross stitch I knocked up which I am attaching to some bright flower power fabric to make a cushion for my back seat.

I'm also mid knit to created a patchwork blanket to accompany it. Chuck on my white rimmed aviators, some Donna Summer on the decks and I'm good to go!

All this crafting has been greatly enhanced by the publication of my first 'home made home' article today. As well as contributing the hints and tips I took the photos which was not only brilliant fun but was the first time my snaps have been used alongside my writing outside of this blog. Double whoop! Here's a shot of the spread (I love the design and layout) and a couple of the snaps featuring in the article.

You really can do anything with a tin of old paint, some fabric scraps and a tiny, weeny bit of crafting know how. Pick up Woman Alive to find out more!

Thanks for reading, now go retro up your ride! :)

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Why I've abandoned femininity for humanity

A good while ago I wrote a rather angst ridden post for International Women's Day particularly focused, in the wake of the failed women bishops measure, on women's lot in the Church. I signed off saying I was off to do a little exploration on this subject and a couple of months later I started a dissertation on the ideas about gender underlying arguments against women's ordination. It has been an enlightening time!

I recently submitted my first draft to my supervisors so now, though I am far from an expert in the subject and my views are still, of course, developing, it seems like a good time to talk about some of the things I have discovered. In particular the reading I have done about gender has prompted new thoughts on that question of what, if anything, does it mean to be a woman today?

Gender is fluid

The first, and probably most startling, discovery I made was how fluid a thing gender really is. Without even going into the 4% of live births in the UK which cannot be categorized as male or female on the level of anatomy and genetics, sociologists widely agree that our concept of what it means to be male or female is largely shaped by our culture.

This was first shown by anthropological research studying different cultures around the world. What it means to be a man, or what is considered to be masculine, in one culture is vastly different in other cultures. This can be seen in typical behaviours, work patterns and child rearing practices. In some cultures child rearing is a male dominated occupation. In some manual labour is women's work. These expressions of manhood and womanhood are often deeply held but also extremely varied.

There are many 'kinds' of masculinity and femininity

It has been argued that there is a dominant expression of femininity and masculinity in Western cultures and if you live in this culture the characteristics of these will be immediately obvious to you. Yep, in a nutshell, the macho, assertive man and the pretty, co-operative woman.
These types are favoured, and society exerts pressure on various levels for people to conform to these stereotypes, but within society there are actually multiple expressions of masculinity and femininity. One size really does not fit all and no one masculinity or femininity can be seen as natural or more ideal than another.

Men and Women are as alike as they are different

Within this idea of multiple masculinities and femininities it has also been found that in many qualities and abilities there is more variation within the genders than between them. Of course, as gender is largely created our culture, we can also create differences between genders by how we are socialized but this does not make men or women biologically better at one thing or another. Such differences are remarkably rare and the similarities between the sexes emerges much more starkly in research of this kind.

All this has made me reflect on my original question, way back then, what does it mean to be a woman today? My explorations have in some ways pulled the rug out from under me as many of the differences I consider there to be between men and women can be shown to be variable across cultures and not fixed at all. In many ways I think this is a positive thing. Rather than seeing individuals as something you can stick a label on saying 'Man' or 'Woman' and then expect a certain set of behaviours through this research the diversity and variety of humanity can be recognized and, one day I hope, treasured.

Women don't have to be more sensitive or less assertive. Men don't have to love power tools or be some great rescuer for the women in their lives. The door is opened to greater responsibility on the part of both genders, for themselves and for each other. I have so much more to say on this subject and so much more reflection to do, particularly on the place of femininity in faith and how this has both advanced and hindered women, but my thoughts from the last year have arrived in a place of stressing our mutual calling as men and women to good human, rather than gender specific, values.

In the Bible these are described in one passage as the 'fruit of the spirit'. Galatians 5 reads, 'the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control'. These values are gender neutral. Rather than seeking what it means to be a good woman or a good man I feel confident in saying that if you seek these human values, you won't go far wrong. By bringing kindness and generosity into our encounters with each others difference perhaps we will indeed find more joy and peace. By bring gentleness and patience into our relationships, regardless our gender, better things will surely come.

So that is where I am right now and your thoughts are always appreciated. I will continue to think and debate and be back on this again, I am sure!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

We are full of Wonder

I'm having a jolly good time in my studies at the moment. The first few weeks of term were, as always, fairly stressful as I started a new section of my course and learned to navigate a new set of requirement that came along with my latest unit in Modern Theology. My tutor put a new spin on my struggles, however, which has really affected my outlook on it.

Rather than seeing these big questions (y'know simple things like the nature of God and what not!) as things to be anxious over or pin down instead I can see it as play. I can enjoy feeling small and exploring something so much bigger than me. Instead of worry, I can wonder. Since taking this approach I've really started to enjoy myself and my work has improved because of it.

This mini-academic breakthrough made me wonder how much more fun things might be if I took this approach more often in the rest of my life. We take ourselves very seriously don't we? Always stressing and dashing about as if our lives depended on the next task on our To Do list. And yet these things rarely matter as much as we make out that they do. The ironing will wait for tomorrow, the essay will get done at some point, dinner from the freezer will be fine again.
The garden. Always seems like a very sensible place to wonder!
And yet while we are dashing about, trying to force an answer out of the mysterious or structure into the chaotic, I wonder if we are missing the things that we can know right here and now in the ambiguity and messiness of our lives. As I've tried to wonder more and stress less this week I have found that the answers actually flow a little faster. When I stop trying to pin God down he pops up all over the place, taking me by surprise all over again.

To me it seems that it is often the most human of things that we deny ourselves. So what do you think? Time to wonder this week? I'll be the one with my head in a bunch of flowers and my mind on the mysteries of the Incarnation! Life, eh?!