Chip MacGregor


I wanted to tell you about my literary agent.


The first thing I should tell you is I have never met him, because he lives in America, and I have never been there. There aren’t any literary agents for Christian writers in England. Well – I did have one but he went bankrupt; UK Christians aren’t that great at buying books it seems.


My agent is called Chip. Nobody in England is called Chip. It has that exotic American snap to it. Chip. That’s his name. And MacGregor - which I had associated only with Peter Rabbit before.


My agent – Chip – seems sharp and pointy in his mind to me. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He works very hard. He is a very self disciplined man. His agency is flourishing and doing really well (I think – it has increased its staff anyway and that’s surely a good sign). He has a list of authors who seem mostly highly successful and talented people. Chip sends us emails making sure we know about the Google register and being Brutally Honest with us about Marketing – which is to say he tells us that’s our responsibility and if we don’t do it nobody will. He goes into patient detail about what we have to do for Targets and Platforms and Goals and Priorities and things. I read all his emails.


I have this bad feeling about my agent. Well, no – not about Chip, because he's a sweetie; about me actually. The thing is, I don’t market anything, because I couldn’t sell a bottle of water to a man dying of thirst; obviously – you’d just give him it, wouldn’t you?


When I write a book, publishers ask me to send a list of famous people (speakers, preachers, writers – you know, people with a Ministry) so they can be approached for commendations and endorsements for the book cover. And they send me a pile of books to give to famous people to help with the marketing. I don’t know any famous people. I either give the books to the church for raising money to fix the roof, or to people coming by to pick up things I advertised on Freecycle.


My books do OK. My Hawk & Dove trilogy has been jogging along for 20 years now, quietly selling. My Spiritual Care book found its way into most hospices. But marketing is not my forte. I can only write.


And the reason I have this bad feeling about my agent is I think I let him down. I am not a success, not really, or savvy. I don’t have targets – at least, only three: to make Jesus known and loved everywhere and to help build the Peaceable Kingdom and to make sure that anything that passes through my hands is blessed before it goes on its way. I do no marketing. I can’t get my head round target audiences or techniques. I’m just not made that way.


I don’t give my agent enough work either. I just take a book along to a publisher and say ‘Will you publish that?’ and they say ‘OK then is this enough money?’ and I say ‘Sure’. Chip places some things for me, and I’m grateful for that, and grateful to know that I have a literary agent. It’s not the thing that makes me feel like a proper writer – only writing does that; but it kind of feels like someone’s on my side. But I feel bad that I don’t do my side of the business all that well.


But there is one thing especially I wanted to tell you that I really really love about my literary agent. There are subsidiary things – I love that he prays for me; I love that he is faithful and patient, and that in a quiet way his faith in God is as humble as it is tough. Chip hasn’t had life easy. But the thing I really really love is this photo I have of him with his granddaughter Maelie just after she was born.


Any man who has the soul within him to allow such tenderness to shine from his face also has my friendship, and my trust. When I look at this picture, I believe in Chip. Nothing to do with his sophistication or his sharp mind and the way he knows the market. I just know that such vulnerable tenderness as that takes you all the way home.

The difficult bits


See, there are two bits about being a writer I do not find easy. And who knows, maybe there are more than two.


Anyway.


The first (of the two) is the bit when a book is germinating. Gestating. Not even hatching, just growing in the dark. For months I drift, thinking, looking like the world's biggest loser, like an axolotl in a coma, unemerged, nothing to show, dosser and parasite and all those kind of bad things a person would rather not be. Watching for will o' the wisps and (worse) following them through all that marshy stuff to no destination. So, that's the first kind of not easy. And it's a solitary time. You can't think a book and be sociable. Well - I can't.


The second is where I am now. This feels like a piece of well-masticated chewing gum, one end held between a teenager's teeth, the other between the fingers of said teenager - stretching... stretching... stretching... My soul feels so extenuated and thin it has become impossible to itself.


Cos


laundry, housecalming, grocery-shopping, washing up, correspondence, dealing with tradespeople, answering publishers' correspondence, filling out author questionnaires, responding to people who need help encouragement kindness


all have to be done. And those responsibilities grip one end of me, and the unfolding story grips the other end of me, and the two worlds grip tighter and tighter and move further and further apart and I am stretched in the middle.


And why I don't like this is not because it is uncomfortable. I am at home with uncomfortable (although I do find it uncomfortable...). I don't like it because it brings to the surface, inexorably with a horrible grin on its face, all the flaws in my character.


I become whiney. Very whiney. And impatient. And intolerant. And rude.


I become frightened of interacting with people because in this very thin transparent state I walk in constant danger of committing that most unforgivable of social gaffes: saying what I think.


Now is the time to fast from Facebook. Fast. Fast fast I mean.

Now is the time to cancel social engagements.

Now is the time to stop answering the phone.


Now is the time to


stop


right


here
(please pray for me)

Defect




Ed and I had a most enjoyable day with Caroline. We took her to her violin lesson, and in turn she accompanied us on our many errands in Bangor, since when we have to travel and hour and a half to get somewhere, we only make it every 2 weeks or so and tend to cram as much on our "to do" list there as we possibly can. After a pleasant lunch, the violin lesson, some boring (for her) shopping, we ended up at my favorite store, Jo-Ann Fabrics. I knew she would enjoy the store because it has a large craft section which included scrapbooking necessities, markers, art supplies, etc., and she loves that sort of thing. I told her to pick out a few inexpensive items and I would buy them for her.

She's always drawn to the paper. In rows of shelving, they have single squares of all kinds of scrapbooking paper - shiny, glitter paper of metallic colors - smooth, satiny papers in rich jewel tones - whimsical printed paper using all colors of the spectrum. Her first choice was satiny silver paper. When she showed it to me, I could immediately see the defect in it - a place where the coating had scratched off. I said, "Honey, pick another one. This has a defect." Caroline, who will always ask what a word means if she doesn't know it, looked up at me and said, "What's a defect?" My quick answer was, "It's something that's messed up, not right, and keeps something from being perfect." She chose another one without a blemish and we checked out.

Caroline was content, but I was not. I realized I had been uncomfortable teaching her that word. One reason was that defect is a very powerful word. It comes with a lot of baggage, and if you invite it in, it can end up staying with you your whole life and generally making a mess of things. Secondly, I don't like to teach Caroline new words of which I personally cannot explain the meaning adequately. What exactly is a defect? Why do we always want things (situations, appearances, things we create, relationships, public servants) to be perfect without flaw? And when we find one, is it a real flaw or just a defect in our eyes?

As my dad was a philatelist, I always love stamp stories in the news, and my favorite stories are the ones where the stamp with the defect ends up being worth lots of money. From this week's news:

A rare sheet of 10 stamps depicting Audrey Hepburn fetched euro430,000 ($606,000) at a charity auction in Berlin on Saturday, two-thirds of which will go to help educate children in sub-Saharan Africa.

The mint-condition sheet of 10 stamps featuring Hepburn, a coy smile on her face and a long, black cigarette holder dangling from her lips, brought a profitable outcome to a botched stamp series that should have been destroyed years ago — and evokes Hepburn's starring role in the 1963 thriller "Charade," in which the characters chase a set of rare stamps.

Some stamps have defects because a plane was printed upside down or some other such printing error. In this case, as her son said, "In the original photo, she's got sunglasses hanging from her mouth, but they had flipped the negative and replaced the glasses with the cigarette holder." In any case, there was an objection and the stamps were supposed to be destroyed with one sheet saved for the archives and another for a museum.

Nevertheless, some got away and were circulated. Now those few stamps are worth much, much more, because there's "something wrong, something unusual, something messed up, something rare."

My wish for society is that we take the lesson of the flawed stamps and apply it to our lives. I'm talking especially to perfectionists like me, whose eye focuses more on the flaw in the quilt (or my body or my husband or my job) than on what's right with it. In the end, the flaw might be what makes it priceless - but at least it makes it of this world, not perfect without blemish, but human. And human is not an insult, as in "I'm only human!" It is a compliment. It is what we are meant to be. It is a child of God. It is possibility. It is perfect in the sense that it is "whole." And our very existence is worth much, much more than we seem to think.

A paean of praise to Thee


I praise Thee because my heart lifts up in gratitude for so many and so great blessings

I praise Thee because the nicest man ever is curled up all snuggly and peaceful and comfortable here in the bed beside me as the sun slowly rises in the chill of the morning this October day

I praise Thee because the house is so quiet you can hear the clock ticking

I praise Thee because it is the Lords Day and I am looking forward to the singing as our worship arises in joy before Thy throne

I praise Thee because just now we have some money in the bank and food in the cupboard and there is nothing to worry over

I praise Thee because though the roof still leaks the fireplaces are in and everything else broken is fixed Almost

I praise Thee because Thou art fair and mighty and surpassing glorious but Thy sense of humour is apparent in every creature Thou hast created especially ducks

I praise Thee because my book is two-thirds written and coming along well and Thou hast had Thy hand upon it for it is the story of how Thou workest with us with such extraordinary kindness

I praise Thee because my beloved had the sense to wheedle me into one last push yesterday so the fridge is well-stocked with enough food for lunch and supper today, we shall not be hungry nor need to break the Sabbath with shopping for more

I praise Thee for the soup Hebe made yesterday, sitting on the stove waiting to be heated up for lunch

I praise Thee for the rosemary bush with her spikes of fragrant green, two of which are going to metamorphose into a hot cup of tea any moment now

I praise Thee for Thy unsurpassable kindness which has blessed my life from the moment I was born

I praise Thee for the wildness of the storms and the sharpness of the frost and the clean air of the morning and the beauty and wonder beyond describing of the rising day

I praise Thee because I have no aches and pains and I feel completely well and I am happy and at peace

I praise Thee that I have Plain dresses to wear and aprons and nightgowns and petticoats and caps of my own sewing and the industry of sisters who love Thee and serve Thee – for Thou knowest right well that these things matter to a woman, for it is Thou that hast made her so to be

I praise Thee because the breath of Thy Spirit is in every living thing, and therefore as I watch the flight of starlings in flock around the pier, as I hear the cry of geese overhead, as I look into the golden green eyes of our black cat and hear the rattle of her purr, as I hear the heave and crash and thunder of the surf on the shingle, I see Thee and know Thee and that Thou art with me, most dear and glorious, beloved in all the earth

I praise Thee for that I had the chance to look with human eyes on this wondrous earth and gaze with astonishment on vermilion clouds against clear turquoise sky at sundown and infant frogs the size of my fingernail clinging to blades of grass in the garden in the spring

I praise Thee for firelight and starlight, for sunlight and candlelight and moonlight and I suppose I praise Thee for electric light in spite of itself because it is almighty useful that’s for sure

I praise Thee for barettes and Kirby grips and hot water bottles and can openers and penknives and every other astonishing contraption that ingenuity has fashioned from the idle wondering of men who were free to lie on the downland and chew a stalk of grass and gaze absently at the sky thinking wouldn’t it be good if

I praise Thee for muesli and apple juice topped with a chopped banana which is delicious whatever anyone thinks and for spirulina that fills me with zing – how didst Thou know to make spirulina

I praise Thee and I bless Thee, I glorify Thee and I adore Thee, and I exalt Thy holy Name in all the world

"The children are coming!".... Hallowe'en.


During the years my children were growing up, I objected strenuously to Hallowe’en festivities of any kind. My children did not dress up as ghosts and vampires, we did not festoon the house with fake cobwebs and death’s heads, or carve ghoulish faces into pumpkins for lanterns.

We did make pumpkin lanterns – a bit, not much, because I found it not very easy to do and nobody liked pumpkin very much – carving patterns into the sides, or just a cheerful smiley face.

On Hallowe’en itself we used to spend the evening in the back of the house, so there were no lights shining at the front. That way, we didn’t have to turn anyone away when they came for trick or treat: we were simply ‘out’.

We continued with the same approach once they reached adulthood. Just as I never preached on Remembrance Sunday with its glorification of war, so I was never ‘at home’ on Hallowe’en.

Then something happened that made me see things differently. Somewhere in America there is an autistic lady whose case study has been published by Oliver Sacks, and who has become something of a celebrity because of the work she has done to make cattle slaughter more gentle and merciful for the animals. A few years ago, UK television showed a documentary about her.

The television people arrived to film her and interview her just before Hallowe’en, and so she happened to mention, with excitement and delight, that she had a drawerful of goodies ready for the children who she knew would be coming to her home for ‘trick or treat’.

This severely autistic lady, known for her compassion and kindness, was focusing not at all on the ghoulies and ghosties, nor yet on the dubious practice of children threatening to do something bad to you if you didn’t come through with the candy. She had one thought in her mind: ‘The children will be coming!’ It filled her with anticipation and delight. All she was thinking about was that they would come to her house in hopes of some treats and candy, and she had lots prepared, because she delighted in them, she welcomed them.

And she put me to shame. She made me see things differently.

Shortly after that I married Badger and moved to Aylesbury. He hated Hallowe’en and ‘trick or treat’. He had moved to Aylesbury from a neighbourhood where teenagers came round trick-or-treating, and pelted his house with eggs. He felt defensive and anxious about what might happen, and was ready to see off any comers to obvert any possibility of anti-social behavior.

Because I was no Hallowe’en enthusiast and had always withdrawn from it in the past, I had nothing prepared that year, and had given no particular thought to it – except that the lady I’d seen on the TV had shunted my attitude to a different place.

The children came. Badger surged forward to see them off. I felt really sad about it. Another set of children came. This time I nipped in quick. I shot through the door saying, ‘Let me get this,’ and whispered to them: ‘I’m so sorry children. We haven’t any sweeties – we have someone really, really ill indoors. I’m so sorry. Do you think you could just go very, very quietly?’
And they nodded, and tip-toed away. It wasn’t quite a lie. We did have someone really, really ill indoors. Our cat.

But I felt sad about it. What we were doing seemed not very life-affirming. I thought next year we would do things differently.

So, when Hallowe’en came round again, I got ready. I made bags of mixed sweeties, and in each bag I put some stickers saying ‘God loves you’ and badges saying ‘Jesus loves me’. On the computer I designed and printed a small manga cartoon with characters giving a message that though the children were out to have fun, sometimes the dark and the ghosts could be frightening – and whenever were were afraid, we could pray to Jesus, because the Name of Jesus is our shelter from every evil, the most powerful thing in the world, more powerful than any kind of magic; and Jesus always hears us when we call out to Him.

And that’s what I’ve done the last two years. We left on the porch lights and put the bags out in a basket for the children to help themselves when they came round.

This year our family has children again. My daughter Grace has a young son Michael (a toddler), and her friend Donna has two daughters, a four-year-old and a two-year-old. We anticipate that as they grow up Hallowe’en might become an evening when they can call at our home and at the home of their other auntie, and find a welcome. We will float votive lights on the pond in our front garden, and light the candles on the celtic cross that hangs in our porch. We’ll make a smiley-face pumpkin lantern to stand under the Bible quotation from Philippians 4 that is carved in stone and fastened to the front wall of our house by the front door. And when these children who are part of our tribe come round, there will be no ‘trick or treat’, just a developing tradition that this is a night to go visiting in the dark, and be given some candy and a loving welcome, and sing some hymns around the fire.

I guess ‘For all the saints’, and ‘Therefore the redeemed of the Lord shall return’, and ‘When the saints go marching in’ should be suitable.

Origin of All Hallows in the context of the Christian Year


I know nothing about helicopters, but I once heard, in a lecture by a man who does, that there is a nut on a helicopter, situated I think above the bit you ride in and under the propeller, that holds the whole thing together; it’s called the ‘Jesus nut’.

As Grace said when we were talking about this at housegroup, ‘That’s because it’s the crux of the machine’.

‘Crux’, that we use in common speech as we say ‘the crux of the matter’ – the real heart of a thing – is the latin word for ‘cross’.

I think in that usage in common speech, ‘cross/crux’ is referencing not the cross of Jesus, but a place where things intersect, the place where everything holds together. And that’s what the cross of Jesus is. It is literally ‘the crux of the matter’. God was in Christ reconciling all things to himself (see Colossians 1:15-20). The cross of Jesus sits at the heart of creation, holding everything together, reconciling all things to God and to each other: it is the place of integration/integrity, where all things are made whole/holy.

It is no accident that Jesus died on a cross of wood, and that the cross is therefore often referred to as the ‘tree’, because trees are also crossing-places.

If you imagine in your mind a winter tree – the trunk and branches and twigs standing against the sky – then add to the picture the part you know is there but cannot see, the branching rootball going down into the earth, then you have a picture of something that is in both form and function similar to a pair of lungs. Trees are the lungs of the earth. Our words for breathing are inspiration and expiration – and the ‘spir’ part of the word comes from the latin word ‘spiritus’ (spirit). When we say someone expires, we mean they die. When we say someone is inspired, we mean they are illumined in a visionary way. The Hebrew word ‘ruach’ from the Old Testament means equally spirit,wind/breath, and that comes through to the way we use the latin root counterpart, spirit. We say someone is ‘spirited away’ when it is as though the wind snatched them.

A tree, however, does not inspire or expire, it transpires. The breathing of a tree creates chemical stability as it shuttles water, oxygen and carbon between the two different worlds in which it lives – the dark world of the earth where its roots are, and the light world of air where its branches are. To us, creatures of light and air, the dark earthy world means death, the light airy world means life.

Trees create stability, slowing down the movement of water through landscape to prevent drought and flood, drawing water from the earth and evaporating it into the sky; and holding the rain, as it falls from the sky, in the earth by its root system.

So a tree both creates stability and security, and also facilitates exchange between the worlds of darkness and light, death and life, earth and air. A tree is a cross, a crossing-place, holding things together as the Jesus nut does. And Jesus died on a tree, won life for us on a tree.

In his dying he entered the dark world and opened a way back to the light. He entered death and opened a way back to life. So in the cross we find a place of exchange or interchange, an alchemical place of transformation, where a way through is made between death and life. The cross, tree of death and tree of life, becomes the instrument of resurrection. It is the place of transpiration of the breathing of Holy Spirit.

When Christianity came to the ancient Celtic world of these isles, the spirituality in place followed the rhythm of the seasons in the agricultural year. Very wisely those early missionaries – Ced, Chad, Columba etc – did not attempt to sweep away the devotional observance of the Celtic people, but instead they enlarged the meaning of holy days already in place to embrace the new understanding that came with the Gospel.

The Christian Celtic year went in a circle that followed the rising and falling of darkness and light.

Imagine a circle (like a clock) subdivided into 4. At 12 o’clock is high summer, the zenith of the year, the summer solstice when day is longest and night is shortest. At six o’clock is the deep dark of the winter solstice. At three and nine o’clock are the spring and autumn equinoxes, when the length of day and night balance equally. Holding that picture in your mind, let’s go round the clock, starting at the bottom at 6 o’clock.

In the depths of the winter, at the time of the longest night of the year, when all is cold and dark and dead, the ancient Celts celebrated Yul, a Nordic word that means ‘the Turn’. They called it that because from that day onward the light would begin to grow as the days lengthened. So they saw it as a time of the coming of the Infant Light – when the light was at its smallest and weakest but would begin now to grow. So it was that the Christian Church settled at Yul the Feast Of The Incarnation, Christmas, when we celebrate the coming of the Infant Light to a dark world as Jesus is born. The year turns, ie begins again, at this point. Everything turns on the coming of Christ.

Halfway between six oclock (the winter solstice) and nine o’clock (the spring equinox) comes Imbolc, at the beginning of February. This was a time for spring-cleaning, getting rid of clutter, sweeping through the house and shaking everything out. Upon this festival the early Christians settled the feast of Candlemas, the time of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary after childbirth – so focussing on the same theme of ritual purification.

At nine o’clock, the spring equinox is Easter – which actually historically happened around then. The spring equinox used to be the festival of the goddess Oestre (hence the name Easter), where we also get the word ‘oestrogen’. She was the personification of feminine being, and was represented as a pregnant woman giving birth. The ancient Celts saw the earth as like a fertile woman – wells and water sources were seen as the openings of her womb, from which the water of birth heralded the coming of life, so that places that grew up around wells were called names like ‘Marywell’, ‘Osmotherly’, ‘Ladywell’, ‘Motherwell’ etc – expressing both the ancient traditional belief and the Christian Gospel it embraced. Jesus, son of Mary, burst forth from the dark tomb into the light at Easter; he is the risen light bringing the hope of new life, and this observance harmonises with the coming forth of new life from the wombs of the farm animals at this season of the year.

Halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice comes the Celtic festival of Beltaine, the Mayday festival of the return of the sun – the releasing of the spirit of the summer. This was a time for blessing flocks and fields as the days lengthened, the warmth returned, and everything began to grow and strengthen. ‘Beltaine’ meant something like ‘bright fire’, and it was upon this festival that the early Christians settled the festival of Pentecost (it also fitted here historically with Easter), when the Spirit came in tongues of fire to rest on the heads of the faithful and inspire them with new life and energy and hope.
Moving on up to twelve o’clock and the summer solstice, we come to the feast of St John the Baptist. This festival sits at the crown of the year when the days are longest and the sun is at its height and the light is greatest. John the Baptist is the herald. He points down the year to the coming of Christ at Yul, in the darkest deepest time, and thus connects and balances the darkness and the light.

Halfway between the summer solstice at twelve o’clock and the autumn equinox at three o’clock comes the Celtic festival of Lughnasadh, harvest-time, which the early Christians re-designated as Loaf-mass, that came to be called Lammas. This was a time of hand-fasting (betrothal) and all the obvious harvest celebrations.

At three o’clock, the autumn equinox, the Church placed the feast of St Michael and all angels. Michael is a warrior and the protector of the people, and as part of his protection of us he brings a reminder and a warning. He stands at the gateway between summer and winter, reminding the faithful that dark days are coming and that they must make ready. This has a simple agricultural application but also a spiritual application: that for each of us death is coming, and in the summer of life we must make our souls ready, so that when death comes it does not find us unprepared.

Halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice comes the Celtic feast of Samhain, the Celtic Day of the Dead, upon which the Church settled the feast of All Saints (All Hallows), when we remember the whole great cloud of witnesses including those who have passed on to greater life.
The Day of the Dead was the last festival of the dying year, when the Old Year was laid to rest with thanksgiving for all that was past, and it also had a function similar to the Jewish Yom Kippur, of laying to rest any old feuds or grudges, and getting rid of the spiritual baggage that holds us back – relinquishing that which is spiritually dead and no longer serves us. It balances against the spring-cleaning purification of Candlemas, when the house was swept clean. At All Hallows the house of the spirit is swept clean.
The Day of the Dead was also a time of giving thanks for those who have added joy and meaning to our lives, who have now passed on: a time of Remembrance and gratitude. It is interesting that we have (UK) Remembrance Day at this time of year because it ‘coincidentally happens to be’ the time of D-Day, the ending of the War.
Samhain was thought to be a dangerous time spiritually as people’s minds turned to consider the dead and the veil between the worlds of death and life grew thin. All Hallows affirms the strength, unity, security and safety we have in Christ our salvation.
For the early Celts, the day did not start at sunrise as it does for most us, but at sunset – which is also when the Jewish day stars, hence lighting the Sabbath candles on Friday evening. The ancient Celts therefore believed that dreams were not the processing of the old day, but visions for the new day.
Because the day began at sunrise, Halloe’en is the starting of the Feast of All Hallows – it is the beginning of the Day of the Dead.
Samhain, like all these Celtic fire festivals, was not one day only but spread over about three days. Samhain was the last festival of the year, so in most traditions it was considered that the new year began at the close of Samhain.
However, in some traditions, a period called No-Time passed before the new year began. The length of No-Time varied between one tradition and another. For some, No-Time lasted only a few days: but others believed we were in No-Time right the way through until Yul, the turn, when the seed of the light arrived and the year began again.
I believe that the early Church were working with the concept of No-Time in establishing at that point in the year the season of Advent, a time for inward reflection and preparation for judgement.
Advent was not, in the early church, a time to prepare for Christmas; it was a time to think about the second coming of Christ, an austere period of self-examination balancing the Lenten fast of early spring. It was also a time of longing for the return of Christ. This fits well with No-Time, the season of inwardness and reflection at the deepest darkest point of the year, the time of cold waiting before the seeds could germinate, when the next season’s lambs and calves were hidden deep in the bellies of their mothers.

So it is that Hallowe’en is not at all ‘Satan’s Day’ as many Christians say. It is not a time to be wary and suspicious of – it is a Christian feast and is also a part of the Celtic observance of the spiritual heartbeat that underlies the rhythm of life in the agricultural year.

There is no need to be afraid of Hallowe’en, or anti-Hallowe’en. We are numbered among the saints: let us not be afraid of our own shadows! Of course as Christians we don’t want to be pursuing silly nonsense of skeletons, or dressing as witches or ghosts. And absolutely we do not want to tangle with Ouija boards or any other foolish dabbling in and among forces we cannot see and do not fully understand. But Hallowe’en itself is a good thing.

It is the time for us to look back over the year that has gone, embrace its lessons and release its dross. It’s an opportunity to hold in remembrance those we have loved and have with us no longer, and a time to review our own practice and habits of life, resolving that the ‘evil be weakened in me and the good raised up’.

Hallowe’en is a quiet time, quite introspective, for considering what we need to let go of, what no longer works for us now. And then we enter No-Time, going down into the still and silent weeks of the year, experiencing a micro-version of the watching and waiting to which Christ called all of us.

'The world turns but the cross stands' is the motto of the Carthusian order. So in this rhythm of darkness and light in the turning of the year, the darkness and light wax and wane, ebb and flow, the seasons change and we reflect those changes in our fasts and feasts by which we enter and explore meaning in the seasons of the year and the seasons of our lives. Meanwhile, like the Jesus nut holding everything together, the cross stands at the heart of all creation, drawing all things into one and reconciling all things to God, holding open the way through between death and life, darkness and light, maintaining the spiritual realm of teh Making in a condition of stability, balance and peace.

The Case for the Human

Don't expect anything original from an echo. ~Author Unknown

Anyone who can be replaced by a machine deserves to be. ~Dennis Gunton

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

"Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow" so they [the Shakers] used to say. Work was an intrinsic part of their spiritual lives, thus its integrity was part of its appeal.

What is it like to think your job could be replaced by a machine? That scenario has become a reality to millions of people through the ages, starting as soon as the first machine was invented. After all, think of the many chores that have been eased for us as a society for which we used to have to labor with great difficulty. I can tell you with deep sincerity that I'm thankful I don't have to sew a dress completely by hand, that I don't have to wash dishes by hand or wash clothes by hand. But even in machines there are human brains behind them.

Let's take a washing machine, for instance. In the first place, a human had to imagine the existence of such a machine when there were none to see, and then the inventor would have to try over and over, with succession and failure, creating various prototypes and learning from them what works and what doesn't. Human brains even had to build the machines in the factories which helped produce the washing machines in great quantities. After all this human work, the washing machine lands in my house. I still have work to do. Sure, I only have to push a few buttons, but decisions are made by my human brain every step of the way. What items are going in? How are they separated? Considering the fabric, what cycles should be used? Hot or cold? Long or short? Heavy or delicate? What kind of detergent? Are there stains that need special attention? Should I take an item out to line dry or put it in the dryer? So far, at least, a washing machine has not reached my house that, when I dump a basket of dirty clothes on the floor in front it it, the machine sorts the items, makes all these decisions, opens its own door, sucks the laundry in, and cleans everything according to directions. My brain is still involved.

....As it is with medical transcription. It tickles me when non-MTs, upon questioning what I do all day, say, "What's the big deal? You just type what you hear." Oh my, if that were the case, there would be some very strange and incomprehensible medical records! Frequently the dictator will misspeak, and just as frequently my ears will hear something erroneously that the dictator did not say. The focus one must have for this job is incredible. The MT is driving along, sometimes down a familiar road, sometimes a totally new and unfamiliar one, and every second the MT is looking ahead to envision what is around the corner, at the same time looking in the rearview mirror to make sure everything was OK on that end, simultaneously trying to block out visual and auditory distractions as well as brain waves that would rather think about her personal grocery list or what to get her nephew for his birthday. And believe me, for most MTs, this car is speeding crazily down the interstate, not ambling down some lazy country back road.

If a machine can truly duplicate my job in a perfect way, then I'm not doing something right, because my human brain is my greatest asset in this job. As long as I never fall under the rule of "verbatim," a ridiculous (in my opinion) instruction to send the brain on vacation and type exactly and only what you hear, no matter how wrong you realize it to be, I am happy in this job. (Fortunately, I've always been allowed to use my gifts and my brain is always an active participant.)

I've heard that the Shakers had a philosophy of doing their work with integrity and to the glory of God. No matter if they were washing a plate, making a chair, or cooking a meal - they knew the integrity of what they were doing, and the importance of what they were doing, no matter how simple or how mundane it appeared to be. They used the same heart and soul and intent when they weeded the garden as they did when they designed a beautiful cabinet. The brain was engaged, the heart was engaged, their whole beings were engaged. What a beautiful attitude!

Changing the Thoreau quote above for my career, "It's not what you hear that matters; it's what you interpret." It's logic, it's experience, it's ear training, it's brain training. The letters, words, and sentences flow out of my fingers through my brain, through all my life experiences, every book I've read (even non-medical ones), every person's voice I've heard in my lifetime, nuances of speech, my education in French - and it all adds up to much more than a machine throwing back echoes. Through my complex brain storing my life experiences and learning, through my dependable quick fingers which follow the flow, through my heart which aches for the dying, celebrates with the newly born, and follows the courses of patients with their personal challenges and fears, through my very being, my job unfolds. I would like to think, yes, I do think, that that cannot be totally and in true essence replaced by a machine. I only hope the medical world realizes that and makes its decisions accordingly.


A Great Minimalist Cookbook


Here lately I've been trying the recipes in this Minimalist Cooking ebook by Meg Wolfe. This book has totally blown me away!

It covers the basics about setting up a simple, minimal kitchen that has everything you need but none of the gadgets you buy and never use and has nice recipes that even a dummy like me can follow--recipes that actually include meat!

Well, a lot of minimalist cookbooks are vegan, which is fine I guess but humans are omnivores and I like meat dishes!

I have made the no-knead bread, apple crisp, macaroni and cheese, roast vegetables and even fixed steaks by borrowing from her roast beef recipe. Everything turned out delicious and I haven't cooked so much in ages!

If you buy one cookbook this year, buy this book. These are affiliate links so your purchase will benefit this site.

I have read a lot of cookbooks in my desire to become a decent cook, and this is one of two that actually gave me good all-around recipes that I can use that don't ask for crazy stuff! I don't know about you, but I get tired of cookbooks that are all about stuff I wouldn't eat in a million years!

A Society of Enactors




Well, that was an odd experience.

14th October is Hastings Day, when all of us down here in 1066 country remember the Battle of Hastings that the Saxons should have won, but didn’t. They were brave men. They’d marched up to Yorkshire to block a Viking invasion, and while they were there word came of the Norman invasion on the south coast, so they legged it back down without a break, taking only two or three days to reach Sussex.

The actual battle took place in Senlac Field (‘Senlac’ derives from the French for ‘lake of blood’) in what is now Battle, a little market town five miles inland from Hastings. The Saxons fought well, and their discipline was magnificent. The Normans failed to break their shield wall, so the Norman army appeared to retreat. I think they separated into two apparently fleeing flanks downhill. The Saxons then broke their shield wall to go in pursuit, whereupon the Normans, who heavily outnumbered them, turned to attack again, and the day was won when a Norman archer’s arrow found King Harold’s eye.

It was a sad day. The Normans cared nothing for the Saxon way of life, and took and imposed as it suited them in the land they had conquered. But the king had an abbey built in stone from his homeland on the site of the Battle of Hastings, in tribute to the courage of those who had fallen that day. The siting of the abbey was a problem to the monks in as much as the abbey was not where it needed to be – by the river – but on the crest of the hill where it looked very splendid but presented a serious water supply problem. But they were very rich. That’s kings, for you!

So anyway, every year on Senlac Field, at the back of the old abbey (now a school and museum) in Battle, there’s a huge re-enactment do. From around Europe craftsmen come to sell their wonderful leather tankards and forged cloak pins and carved wooden spoons and linen caps and all the rest of it. A Saxon village springs up, peopled with costumed re-enactors living an eleventh century life for the weekend, and on the Sunday the Battle of Hastings is fought again. The Normans win every time.

We like to go to this. The craft stalls are wonderful. I write novels set in a medieval abbey so it’s brilliant to go and wander there at a time when the place is heaving with medieval re-enactors.

But this year it felt a bit weird. As I was getting dressed to go out, I thought: ‘Am I going to wear a kapp like I do at home? Or would it be better to wear a zandana?’ (which is what I usually wear when I go out to attract less attention)

Then I thought, oh for heaven’s sake! You’ll fit right in in a kapp – just wear it! I hadn’t wanted to be mistaken for a re-enactor, you see – false pretences… this is not fancy dress… etc etc etc

So I wore my kapp and my blue linen jumper with a green T-shirt under it, and carried my shopping bag in case I wanted to buy anything. And, guess what? I looked weird to everybody! Re-enactors are very particular about historical accuracy, as you probably know. So they would give me a quick glance up and down and see ‘plastic buttons… Birkenstock sandals… cotton jersey Tee… 18th century kapp not medieval… oh dear oh dear oh dear….’

But the visitors kept coming up to me and asking the way to the cafĂ© and the children’s archery competition…

I had a little grumble about it to Badger – I’ve hit bullseye this time, haven’t I! Anachronistic by anybody’s standards!

And he said: ‘Well, you’re not really a re-enactor are you? You’re an enactor.’ And that, in my head, went PING!!!

Absolutely!

In this book called The Road of Blessing that I sent off to the publisher last summer (will be out in January), about understanding the biblical principles for how to drive life without crashing, I wrote a bit about acted prophecy. That shows up in the Old Testament where some of the prophets, instead of delivering a spoken message, were asked by God to do rather than say something to depict God’s mind to God’s people. An example of that is in the book of Hosea, where God asks him to marry the prostitute as an acted prophecy of the relationship between a faithful God and faithless Israel.

In similar wise, I have the feeling that this call/leading to Plain dress is a form of acted prophecy: it is an enactment of the principles of the Peaceable Kingdom before the eyes of the people. Modesty, humility, simplicity, servanthood, refusal to compete, stepping aside from status and fashion, non-participation in the moulding of women into sex symbols, bimbos and Barbie dolls; this clothing is the enactment of God’s call to a recollected life of serious and single purpose.

I know that at first people won’t be able to read it. So when people see me they ask ‘Are you from Robertsbridge?’ or ‘Do you work at the castle?’ They haven’t the faintest idea what I mean by it. On the surface. But I think it’s like humming a tune that people don’t know at first. In time they will catch on. I think that when God calls a person to enact a prophecy whose time has come, though on one level the people may be bewildered, on a deeper level the Word will speak to their hearts. Because this picture of Plain dress is not an end in itself, it’s a word that God is whispering to call people out of consumerism, wastefulness, inequality, debauchery and greed.

‘Wake up…’ this dress is whispering to people: ‘wake up… it’s time… wake up… wake up…’

We’re an enactment society!

Pinned down about sewing


I only know one person who sews clothes - and she lives across the country in California. My sister owns a sewing machine, but the only thing she sews anymore are curtain-type things or cushion covers. Nobody I work with sews. Every time I used to shop at a fabric store in Bangor, I wondered how they could stay afloat. People just don't sew anymore, I thought. One of these days all the fabric stores will close after the sewers like me die, and sewing clothes will become a quaint craft found only in history books.

I really felt in the minority until I discovered a web site where sewers review patterns and teach techniques and share photos of their current projects. From there, I linked into sewing blogs and other sites and all of a sudden I felt less an anachronism and more a person on the cutting edge (no pun intended). I think that's one great thing about the Internet - it has connected people who think erroneously that they are isolated in their interests or hobbies.

Of course, we all can find fellowship for our specific passions on the Internet. Apparently there are groups for people who can't get sexually aroused unless the blowing and popping of a latex balloon is involved. If I felt disconnected, just think how they feel. What are the odds of finding someone with the same emotional requirement in your own neighborhood?

But I digress, of course. When I discovered the sewing community online, I finally regained hope for home seamstresses (and the future of my local fabric store). There were actually young people who were excited by the idea of creating their own clothes, possibly energized by TV shows such as Project Runway.

I don't think they teach sewing in the schools anymore, at least not that I know of. When I was in school, every girl took at least one year of what was called Home Economics, which supposedly encompassed sewing, cooking, and learning things like what to look for in a really good piece of furniture. I enjoyed the sewing, learned nothing about cooking, and the only thing I remember about buying furniture is to look for dovetail joints. When I started Home Ec, I had already learned some basics of sewing from my mother, but not much. It took my teacher, Mrs. Ray, a tall, lanky woman who made all her own clothes, to lead me into the world of sewing. (Sorry, Mrs. Ray, I never became a good cook, but luckily, I compensated by marrying one.)

Back then, patterns were 25 or 50 cents (now they can be priced as much as $16 and more), fabric was cheap, and the clothing style in fashion was minimal, so sewing was the obvious way to go. When I got my first job, my supervisor was sewing all her own clothes, and she was such an inspiration to me. Decades later, when I asked her why she quit sewing, she said she had only sewn to save money, not for the pleasure of it, and when she could start buying clothes cheaper at Walmart than she could make them, she put away her sewing machine. That made me question my motives for sewing.

They are, I have decided, manifold. Certainly, part of it is saving money. Clothes can be outrageously priced these days, and it doesn't take much money to sew a short lined plaid wool skirt as compared to buying one for $80 (LL Bean's current catalog).

But it's more than that. It is fit. Very little read-to-wear fits me. I have a weird body, and I know I'm not alone. For one thing, I'm short, so have to have a petite sizing, and that's not always an available option in ready-to-wear. I'm studying hard these days, with the help of my online communities and some books, to master the art of adjusting patterns to fit me. It's an ongoing process.

But it's more than that. It is control. I don't have to go to Eddie Bauer's catalog and be restricted to 3 colors for a skirt I admire. I have the whole JoAnn fabric store (and online retailers as well) to choose from. I choose the pattern, I choose the fabric color and feel, and I choose everything from buttons to whether it has a shallow or deep hem. It's one of the few things I can control in this world!

And finally, it's even more than that. It is creativity. It is the pleasure of making something with my own hands, something unique, something useful yet lovely. This is the reason that outweighs the others, the reason there seems to be a growing community of (mainly) women who feel the need to express themselves in a new way. We may not be in the majority, but we are a dedicated bunch.

So today I am thankful for my friend, Sally, who inspired me to get back into sewing clothes after years of only making quilts (I'm still quilting, too - have two in the works). I'm thankful for the ordinary working women, housewives, mothers, and grandmothers who blog about sewing, who provide pictures of their creations for inspiration, who share their frustrations and, yes, their failures, and who take time to answer questions and teach new techniques. I may spend the rest of my life without someone locally who can sew with me, but a whole other world is as close as my computer, and I am still eager to learn. I like to think Mrs. Ray would be proud.

The Ladies Fellowship


This morning I am looking forward to going to the meeting of my Ladies Fellowship.

My Ladies Fellowship is wonderful: the kind of meeting that is a highlight of the week, and sets you up for all the days ahead.

One thing I love about it, is that I don’t have to run it, and it doesn’t meet in my home. So I get to go out to the home of another Plain sister. Her home is simply furnished: quiet colours, no ornaments, very few pictures on the walls, everything homely and peaceful and comfortable and ordinary. On the windowsill a few late flowers and colourful leaves from her garden stand in a jam jar of clear water that catches the sun. There is an open fire for this chill autumn morming, and we have home-baked cookies with a hot drink at the beginning. The sister whose home we meet in has understood about the ethical implications of our food choices. That means our cookies are made with organic and fair-traded ingredients, and where she uses animal products she has been careful to source them from places where the animals are treated kindly and with respect.

It’s lovely sitting by the fire, and hearing each greeting at the door as the other sisters arrive – one is laughing over a story about her grandchild who is at the endearing toddler stage, one walked across the park and is full of joy at the reds and golds of the autumn leaves, one has come carrying a pair of trousers she took home to mend for the man of this house – she did it as a kindness because she’s handy with her needle.

As each one comes in, the cheerful greetings continue. We catch up on family news, sharing our joys and concerns and sorrows. In this fellowship you can tell it like it is – we know quite a lot about each other’s heartaches, the ‘problem people’ in each other’s families. It’s okay to share it here, because our secrets stay secret and there is no gossip and no blame – everyone is understanding but everyone looks for the good. So when one of the sisters shares about how disappointed she feels that her daughter does not walk the Plain way but dresses in the tightest leggings and shortest skirts, her heavily made-up eyes peering sulkily from behind her dyed and tousled hair, the circle listens with sympathy. We know this girl. Then one of the sisters comments how she saw her at church last Sunday, playing so delightfully with some of the little ones, and fetching a cup of tea for someone in a wheelchair. No-one pretends the problems are not there, but they don’t want to lock her in the stocks and throw rotten fruit – they are on her side, they love her, they believe in her. No-one puts her down, but they don’t belittle her mother’s anxieties and misgivings either. It is heard, it is wrapped in healing love, it is received with kindness.

Someone has brought her guitar, and we spend a while singing worship songs together. People sing joyously in harmony, and my heart lifts with the song. We sing the quiet, close intimate songs of adoration, of penitence, choruses that take us into the heart of Jesus and find His touch. Without needing to say anything, the songs lead us into prayer, and we bring our praises, our thanksgiving, our words of love to God most high who shields and strengthens and saves us. We pour out the confessions of our shortcomings, and we receive the ministry of His grace right there first-hand from God Himself. He is with us, we know He is, we can feel that He is. We bring to Him the situations of friends who are in trouble, of family circumstances causing us concern, of approaching weddings and baptisms and hospital appointments and school exams. We hold all these things in the Light, and God who hears us takes them into His hands for safeguarding.

Then together we open the precious Book, and discover God’s word to us in our reading from the Bible. We are looking at John chapter 9, about the man who was born blind. They threw him out, but Jesus went to look for him. There is so much in the story, we are in danger of running on into lunch-time! But after much sharing of questions and wisdom and wondering, it’s time to go home. The men of this house come home at midday for their dinner, and we disperse quickly and quietly so that our sister can have everything out ready to welcome them when they come in.

I walk home across the park with one of the sisters, and she tells me as we go about a really interesting book she’s been reading on home education.

When our ways part, I make a note of the book. I want to read it too!

This Fellowship I go to – at the moment it exists only in the longing of my imagination: but, that’s a good start isn’t it? Everything begins with a dream.

Polyphony


I don't think this blog post is especially hilarious - it's just that I was laughing when Alice took the photograph!


Polyphonic church music did not come in until the mid-to-late middle ages. Up until then, religious communities sang in unison. When polyphony came in, it was regarded (at first) with suspicion as definitely fancy, probably sinful, certainly worldly – Plain Chant was preferred. Then most of the church just got used to it, though a few stuck determinedly to unaccompanied unison singing as the spiritual way to go.

When I get lonely, I wander around Plain dress and modest dress websites and blogs, so I can rest my eyes on somebody who looks like me. Sometimes I feel a bit like the prophetess Cassandra of ancient Greek legend, who had a mean old curse on her: she would always tell the truth but nobody would ever believe her. In similar wise, I seem to be afflicted with the longing to dress just like everybody else but feel compelled to dress in a manner that is like nobody else in my circle and locality at all.

Or, almost. I was buying box files in the stationers the other day when the lady serving at the counter asked me in a voice Pregnant With Meaning, “Are you from Robertsbridge?”

Robertsbridge is a Sussex village about twelve miles inland from us. As Hebe, who was with me, said later when we were laughing about the conversation together: “Why? D’you want something taking there?”

No, what the woman meant is that there’s a Plain community there – of ex-Hutterians, and they dress pretty much like me. Or me like them. Or something.

But in general nobody much looks like me – though a Brethren woman passing through Silverhill (where I live) whipped her head round sharpish and gave me a very penetrating look when she spotted me a couple of summers back.

As they so often say to me filing out at the conclusion of a funeral: ‘What are you?’ Good question. What indeed?

Anyway, feeling lonely and a bit cut off from the herd this evening, I was mooching around the usual blogs enjoying looking at other women who dress Plain and reassuring myself I am not mad, when I came across one of the usual discussions about not drawing attention to oneself.

The point being made was that dressing Plain (assuming the woman in question not to actually be Old Order Amish / Mennonite or whatever) was OK so long as you weren’t doing it to draw attention to yourself. I stopped and thought about that for a long time. What kind of woman, I wondered incredulously, would dress like this in order to draw attention to herself? I mean, I know it does – but it’s not the right kind of attention, is it? The kind of attention a woman draws to herself on purpose is to look sexy and slender and elegant and chic and glamorous and successful and all that kind of thing. Well, I think Plain dress is beautiful, in its own funny way, but it’s certainly none of those other things. The attention it draws is the kind where people snigger at you or feel sorry for you, or wonder if you’ve come from a re-enactment venue. People I don’t know say hello to me now I dress Plain: and the people that do are very evidently residents from institutions – I think they simply mistake me for a nurse.

I find it wearing, embarrassing, isolating and very, very difficult. No, I don’t want to draw attention to myself. But in this garb I am myself, I am at peace, my soul sits right in its socket: that’s just how it is.

But then later I got to thinking about the Amish/Hutterite thing about uniformity: the kind of not drawing attention to yourself where you all dress the same because individuality is frowned upon as a temptation to pride and the desire to stand out – drawing attention to oneself.

I thought about (okay, I was ironing by this time, and I always think a lot when I’m ironing) our little troupe – this tribe and its friends and associates. We aren’t exactly a community, but somehow we’re a bit more than a family, because we live our lives ethically and intentionally, and try to make our choices in the light of Christ. In this house, we live simply, and we draw people to learn about the Bible and the way of Jesus, and we try to build the Peaceable Kingdom every day in all the ordinary little decisions and actions that make up a life.

But we don’t have rules about it, and we do not demand uniformity – never have. There’s never been a time when I told my children how to dress or whether they could dye their hair or have piercings or not. I believed in talking things through, teaching by example, and respecting their choices. Seems to have worked.

The thing is, I don’t really think you can get away from individuality and difference. They interviewed some Poor Clare nuns (Franciscans) on telly a few weeks back, and I was struck by how strongly evident was their individuality: dressing all alike made them more individual, not less. Fashion is a uniform just as much as Plain dress is, and dressing Plain makes the personality very vivid, somehow.

I have noticed over several decades acquaintance with (and affection for) Plain people, that Christian groups that have strict rules about adherence to uniformity have to express difference by church splits, because there is no room for difference to be contained within the group.

Every time real difference occurs, there has to be shunning and excommunication, or a whole new church started. This is surely a very expensive and disruptive and stressful way of dealing with difference of opinion. If a man’s entire family have to be severed from their kith and kin because the chap decides it would be a good idea to drive a tractor, I’m not wholly convinced that is altogether constructive: though I do indeed see why agreeing to do without tractors makes a farming community more interdependent and therefore more tight-knit.

If you don’t have the rules you can hold together in love, simply respecting each other’s differences when they crop up – as, people being people, they surely will.

There are casualties to either system, of course. The fewer the rules, the greater the level of self-discipline must be, for the community to hold faithfully to a Christlike life. Without rules, you have to (be able to) trust each other.

For example, I recently read that the Amish call television ‘the sewer in the living room’. Okay. Well, that’s very vivid! But it made me wonder what on earth they thought I might be watching on telly! Last night I saw a programme about the architectural vocabulary of church buildings (how they express the theology of the faith community in bricks and mortar). Straight after that I watched a programme I had been waiting to see, that is going through week by week the unfolding history of one particular ancient village through the ages. Last night we were on the fourteenth century. As I am writing a Christian novel set in the fourteenth century right now, I was keen to see it. ‘The sewer in the living room’? Why?

So, assuming we agree that not all programmes are suitable for Christian people to watch, and there’s an awful lot on the telly it would be better not to see, there are two approaches: either we can make a rule that members of this church may never watch telly in case they watch something sewer-ish on purpose or by mistake – or we can trust the people to discipline themselves. Now, I know that they often don’t. I was really, really shocked when Badger told me that a member of staff at a hotel where church leaders go to stay for conferences, told him that use of telly for pornography rises sharply when that group is in. I don’t know how they can tell, but apparently they can.

But, if you just took the telly away, that wouldn’t quite solve the problem – would it? It seems to me that taking away the telly would just cover it up. If given access to a telly a Christian man would sit up half the night watching porn, then the man has a problem, never mind the telly.

Difference…. Sameness…. Belonging…. Uniformity…. Individuality…. Trust… Self-discipline…. Humility…. Freedom… Travelling along together… All these things interest me very much, and that’s what I’ve been thinking about tonight.

I like Plain Chant, but I think Polyphony is beautiful as well.

Something I cannot understand

There’s something bothering me that I don’t really understand.

Maybe you know and maybe you don’t, there is a big argument rumbling on in the Church of England.

For some long while now, there has been ongoing antagonism about homosexuality. I could take you through a close study of the Bible texts on it, but I won’t because that’s not really what’s bothering me.

The basic antagonism is that some people (some of whom are homosexual, some heterosexual) in the Church of England want same-sex relationships to be acknowledged and accepted, while other C of E members firmly believe that would be morally wrong. Opinion therefore is irreconcilably divided – by which I mean that obviously you cannot believe both those things: you might change your mind, but you’d have to believe one or the other at any given time.

I haven’t read up a huge amount about all this, but I’ve formed the general impression that the people who are in favour of the acceptance of homosexual relationships cite a variety of reasons, but the people who say it is wrong unite on one principal reason – that Scripture says it is wrong. They also sometimes say it is against nature too, but a) that doesn’t hold up for long otherwise there wouldn’t be any homosexuals in the first place and b) that seems to be a secondary reason: submitting to the authority of the the Bible is the big one.

Well, as I said, I could take you through a lengthy Bible study on this, but that isn’t what’s bothering me.

What’s bothering me is this.

The people who are against acceptance of homosexual relationships are conservative Christians who (say they) base their faith and life and practice on the Bible. They also bring the charge that their opponents on this issue are going to split the church: and this they hold against them as a grievous wrongdoing. They say that the pro-gay people are going to split the church because they (the anti-gay people) will leave if homosexual relationships are accepted within the church. Meanwhile, the opponents (the ones in favour of accepting homosexual relationships) are lobbying to be accepted and included within the church.

There are two things here which have been troubling me deeply.

1) The person who leaves the church splits the church. Whatever the provocation, whatever the rationale, still, the person who leaves the church splits the church. ‘They made me do it,’ is always untrue. If you leave the church, nobody made you do it: if you went and you weren't thrown out, you left.

2) The conservative Christians who base their life and practice on the Bible, who submit to its authority and make it the centre of their faith, have presumably read it. If they have read it, they will know that though Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, he taught with great strength and clarity about unity. He begged and pleaded with the Father that we (believers) would be one, that we would hold together in unity. He asserted that it would be through our unity that the world would believe. The Bible’s teaching on unity is not dependent (unlike the teaching on homosexuality) on a few small proof texts scattered here and there: the teaching on unity is an artery that pulses throughout the whole of Scripture, starting with the Hebrew Shema which offers the unity of God as the basis for the unity of the people, and extending right through all the teaching in both Testaments and forming a foundation of the teaching of Jesus and the teaching of Paul.

Brothers, sisters – there is no mandate in Scripture for splitting the Church. And it doesn’t matter how you twist it: it doesn’t matter if you say, ‘Those other people made me do it, it’s their fault:’ it doesn’t matter if you say you had a good reason or those other people over there are disobeying the Bible. If you walk out of the church over any issue, and especially if you encourage others to walk out with you, then the person who has split the church is you, not the people you disagreed with: and you cannot say you are faithful to the teaching of holy Scripture and walk away from the church, because the teaching of holy Scripture is to hold together in unity.

If your understanding of what the Scripture teaches is that homosexual relationships are all, always, wrong, then the way forward for you is eminently clear: do not engage in such relationships yourself. But don't inflate this one issue to such great proportions that you are willing to flout in your own life the teaching on unity that runs throughout the whole of the Scripture, committing the sin of ignoring and disobeying the clear teaching of Jesus, all because you peeked over the fence into someone else’s life and saw them doing something you cannot approve of.

I cannot understand this. I cannot understand at all how people can say they are Bible-believing Christians then go right ahead to do what the Bible says clearly not to do. I could understand it if the pro-gay people wanted to split the church – because in the main they follow a more liberal interpretation of Scripture and usually sit more light to its authority. Yet it is not they who wish to divide the church – on the contrary, they are pressing for unity and inclusion.

And it’s not as if this were the only issue, blaming the pro-gay contingent simply will not wash: conservative Christian groups have a history as fractured as a shattered windscreen. They are forever splitting, always walking out. Anything from ‘God’s moving on,’ to ‘women ought to wear hats,’ to ‘we don’t like the music’.

What’s going on? Haven’t they read this book?

The approach that seeks to divide the church from within, saying we will serve under this bishop but not that one, we will be answerable to this ecclesiastical authority but not the other one, is also incompatible with biblical Christianity - it is the splitting into factions that Paul condemned so strongly, that disgusted him so much that he said 'I thank God that I baptised none of you...'

At the Last Supper, Jesus took the bread in His hands and ripped it apart saying, 'This is my body'. He told us to 'do this' to 'remember' Him. To re-member is the opposite of to dis-member. It was the desire of Jesus that we, the torn and broken body of Christ, gather in humble acceptance of one another with all our unbearable differences and, in our communion with each other and with God enter the mystery of Christ's work of reconciliation on the cross, by which all things in heaven and earth are brought back to God.

If we think we can walk out on this, if we think we can leave, we have failed to grasp the magnitude of what Jesus has done. For His cross now sits at the heart of creation, and by its power he has drawn all things, and all people, to Himself. We do not need to be afraid of the sin we believe we see in others, or disgusted by it, or turn away from them because of it. In Jesus' Name we have both victory and sanctuary. Our only responsibility is to do what He told us to do, which was to love one another, and what He prayed we would do, which was to remain in unity.

3-Day Minimalist Book Sale



I am honored to be included in Karol Gajda's 3-day Minimalist Book Sale event. He has assembled 27 Guides, a value of $224.54, together for a combined price of $27!

This sale is for only 3 days, and a portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Kiva.org. 

For more information on the wonderful books included in this sale, click here.

Taking The Tide Of Love


A couple of years ago, I wrote a story which I posted in episodes on the blog I had at St Pixels online church.


It's a love story of the Plain people, in this case a community of trolls known as the Old Order Forest Kindred Of Believers.


I enjoyed writing it, and thought it was worth posting as an online novella, so I've given it a blog of its own. As most blogs of course you have to read from the end back to the beginning, because the most recent post appears first, I posted it in reverse order so that you can start at the the begining and read it through without having to find your way to an earlier post.
Personally, I like stories with pictures, so I thought I'd have a go at making illustrations, but my drawing is only so-so and not all that great.
What I did was do buy some of those 1970s trolls from eBay - if you aren't fussy about highly collectable ones, you can still get them cheaply. I made Plain dress outfits for them, and then photographed them going about their daily business in illustration of the story.
Later on, when St Pixels church was raising money for a Water Aid project, I auctioned off my Plain community of trolls, so they were dispersed throughout the world in the end!


It was a lot of fun to do, and when I read it through again recently I still loved the characters and liked the story, and I hope you do, too.

You can find it here.


Hope you enjoy it!


Blue sky thinking


Mrs Noah looks cautiously out of her window.

Hallelujah! The rain has stopped and that's blue sky I see up there!

Everyone is safe in the ark, and it has finally (almost) stopped moving.

Out in the garden first thing, getting rosemary for my early morning tea and taking the peelings and teabags and whatnot down to the compost heap, it was beautiful. A sickle moon still shining clear in the yet half-dark sky, and one bright star - Venus? Birds singing their first tweet-a-bit songs, whistling little snatches as clear as water on the air that was cool but not cold. So beautiful.

It's been exciting - the last part of the family upheavals is my mother moving down to live near us. She is in her eighties, very fit and active, but as she grows older it would be so lovely to have her just nearby so we can all of us pop in and out and she can be properly part of the life of the family, instead of a long train journey and a sleep-over distance away, which limits who can go visit with her and how often.

So last week we viewed an apartment for her and took loads of photos for her to see, then Badger collected her and brought her down here, and yesterday in rain that made Noah's flood look like a light shower she saw the apartment then wandered in the little market town where it's located with Hebe and Alice.

The apartment is perfect - a short walk from the centre of this lively small town full of history and medieval building; but the living room has views across a valley of farmland and woodland, with a little white farmhouse across the field. She will be happy there. She put in a conservative offer and the vendors were glad to take it - recession has made homes difficult to sell.

So - hey-ho - another house move looms on the horizon! Sometimes we wonder if this will ever stop! This is what we did:
1998 moved from our Sussex home of 15 years to take up a pastorate in Kent
1999 moved from there to a different pastorate elsewhere in Kent
2001 moved back to Sussex to live in 3 separate tiny apartments and 2 bedsits during and after failure of 1st marriage.
Between then and 2003, various of us shuttled back and forth and swapped which apartment she lived in, to try and make things work for each other. Beds and furniture and clothes and books up and down staircases and in and out of house like yo-yos!
Sometimes Fi lived with Grace.
Sometimes Fi and Alice and Rosie lived together.
During this time, Hebe was at Emerson College, coming home to live with me in my apartment in the vacations.
When Clay moved to England, he and Grace lived in one of the apartments, then moved into mine when I married Bernard and went to live with him. Hebe who had been living in my apartment went to live with Fi and Alice in the other apartment, and the third apartment had changed hands to belong outright to my ex-husband, who sold it, Rosie being the final occupant there.
Then Rosie and Jon got a rented house. I married Bernard in 2003 and went to live in his cottage and Hebe moved into a caravan there in the autumn when he began to get ill.
Then Jon and Rosie bought a house and moved to that. Then in 2004 Bernard began to be seriously ill, so just after Clay and Grace married in the May, they moved into a rented house so I could have my apartment back to give Bernard a place to rest close at hand during the day when I was working in and around Hastings and he no longer felt safe alone in his cottage out in the woods at Beckley. Bernard died at the end of August 2004, and Hebe and I moved back to my apartment. Fi moved to Dorset, leaving Alice by herself in the other apartment, so Hebe moved in with her.
Then in 2006 I married Badger and we moved to Aylesbury. One of his daughters moved in to live with us. But she didn't like it. So we found her an apartment and moved her out into that. Then Fi moved to Aylesbury to live with us for a few months. Then she moved back to Dorset.
Then in the Fall of 2008 we bought a little house in Sussex so that Hebe and Alice could live there and Fi have a bedroom for when she was in Sussex, and Badger and I could have a room to stay, rather than staying on a sofa-bed taking up Jon and Rosie's living room when we visited. So that meant selling the apartment where Hebe and Alice lived, and on a January day of torrential rain in 2009 they moved into Godsblessing House.
Then in late 2009 Badger and I moved back to Hastings, to this big dilapidated old house, with a view to that becoming the tribe house.
Meanwhile Fi had moved back to Sussex from Dorset and began living half the year in Canada, half in Sussex (in Godsblessing House).
Then in early 2010 Hebe and Alice and Fi moved into the big house to live all together in family community.
We wanted for Grace and Clay to be able to live in Godsblessing House, and planned for that, but we couldn't close the gap financially, so had to abandon that dream. We were very sad because we loved Godsblessing House, and it seemed just right for them. So they renewed their rental lease for a year.
Then we put Godsblessing House up for sale. Then this spring Grandpa died, and inheriting a half-share in his cottage made the finances work for Grace and Clay to buy Godsblessing House at a price that allowed them to borrow against one wage only, so Grace could be a stay-at-home mother. So through all of this summer, while their contracted lease rolled on and the landlord looked around for a new tenant, Grace and Clay and Mikey have been gradually sorting the two-households-worth of possesions they put together in one home when Clay moved from the USA to marry Grace in 2004 (did I include that move? This last move is their fourth - English - home since 2004!) and moving into Godsblessing House which is j-u-s-t big enough for a family who doesn't carry too much ballast.
Meanwhile Grandpa and Grandmary had moved house in 2001, then Grandpa decided he wanted to live by himself, so though he and Grandmary stayed married, he moved out to live in his own cottage around then. So Grandmary looked for something smaller and moved to her present house around 2008.
She should make it into this new apartment by Christmas of this year, and at that point the carousel should stop!!!

Did you follow all that?

In our family we will then have two couples (one with a child) each living in their own little house ten minutes walk from our tribe house, the tribe house with five of us living in it as community, and an apartment for Grandmary just ten minutes drive away in a little rural medieval market town that suits Grandmary better than the less pretty (though plenty characterful!!) environment of Hastings.

Phew!

Well this morning it's stopped raining, and I'm looking at the blue. Tomorrow is Grandmary's birthday and she is here with us to celebrate.

And (I'm so sorry to have detained you on false pretences) I really wrote this post to move on that pic of me in my nightie!

The Reuben Philosophy


I enjoy most foods, although I draw limits at things like escargot, eel, oysters, squid, and octopus. Then there are things that I could eat if I had to, but I just don't like. For instance, I detest rye bread, swiss cheese, and corned beef, and sauerkraut isn't my favorite either. A few years ago, however, I tasted a Reuben sandwich for the first time, and I immediately fell in love with it. Now tell me, how can I hate these four main Reuben ingredients individually, yet when you put them all together, my taste buds rejoice?! It just doesn't make sense, but I swear, it's true. Who knows why? Is it the addition of the thousand island dressing? Is it the grilled bread? Is it the chemical reaction of the various components? Who knows?

As I ate my half a Reuben sandwich last week in our hospital cafeteria, I again questioned how it could be possible that I can't stand the ingredients on their own, but could find so much pleasure in their combination. In reflecting, I started wondering if my Reuben paradox could be applied to life.

Would it be possible to take days where so much goes wrong and end up with a day that is saved in some way? Is it possible to endure the miserable things of life and come out with something to make you smile? To take experiences that, individually make you shudder and nevertheless combine them into days, weeks, months, and years that bring contentment?

My daughter believes that everything happens for a reason. I don't personally believe that, as my life experience runs more in the line of "crap happens for no reason," but I can compromise with her in this way: Regardless of why the crap happens, something good can always come out of it - whether it's a lesson learned, a new direction or calling in life, a new empathy for others who are suffering, a determination to improve, or even an opportunity for humility to take effect. It starts with the attitude that, although I might wish to change the circumstance, I will use it to my benefit in some way, and by gum, I'm not going to be beaten down and I refuse to surrender my power in the situation. I'm not willing just to tolerate the crap; it's actually going to make my life better!

Dealing with crap is one of the very definitions of life as a human. One thing is bad enough, but two, three, four things you hate descend upon you? Don't automatically give up. Start with a good attitude, embrace what you can't change, add some more ideas, try something new, and what you end up with might surprise you!