Unity – an art project that reveals that we are all connected to one another

Standard

In this current climate we each need to be reminded that there is more that unites us than divides us. I was really inspired by this art project showing how well connected we all are. I would love to try this out in our community.

Watch the video here:

Or here:

UNITY is circular arrangement of 32 poles in a large field. Each pole is labeled with an identifier. For example, “I’m a parent,” “I speak English as a Second Language,” “I identify as LGBTQ.” With yarn, participants tie to each pole with which they identify. A canopy of interconnectedness forms as more people participate. In the end, we see that we are all connected by something. This project celebrates the uniqueness of individuals and raises awareness of how labels impact our perception of and interactions with the world.

Read more: http://www.unityproject.net


Checking my privilege – thoughts on #brexit

Standard

Now the dust has settled slightly in my mind since yesterday’s news, I have begun to feel more and more a sense of unease with my own privilege.

I was reminded of an interview with Rowan Williams after 9/11 – he was present in New York and had to seek shelter in a building as the dust billowed through the streets of Manhattan. He was the Archbishop of Canterbury then and the interviewer wanted a comment. He responded by saying that what he had experienced was nothing unusual, it was happening all around the world every day – people fleeing terror and bombs.

A little niggly thought I had yesterday in the middle of my grief (and yes it was a grief reaction) was ‘perhaps it is my turn to see what it feels like to be ignored’.

A little over half of voters yesterday voted to leave the EU. Most of my feelings against those who voted to leave ranged from snobbery, to anger, to patronising them as unthinking and stupid. To brand all those voters with the same brush of xenophobia or stupidity is not fair – that is just dropping to the same level as those who exploited the whole debate to espouse their racist views. Over half of voters, that is the person next to me on the bus, that is half my congregation at church, that is people that I know and love in my family.

Something that arrested my anger and vitriol yesterday was the arrival at my house of my cleaner (who is 22). Already I am cringing slightly by saying that I have a cleaner, but we do. She is bright and conscientious and just an all round lovely person. She arrived and I said ‘sorry, I’m quite upset today, not quite myself’ and she said ‘oh, is it because we’ve left?’ and I said ‘yes’. She then told me she’d voted leave. Then she said ‘but I heard that Farage saying this morning that there wouldn’t be the money for the NHS, but it was on the leaflet!’ She had quite sensibly read up on both campaigns and thought that it sounded like a good idea to give £350m a week to the NHS instead of to the EU and cast her vote. She then said ‘I was quite chuffed as it’s the first time I’ve voted for something and we’ve won!’

I posted on Facebook yesterday that one of the saddest things about this whole affair was that it wasn’t ultimately about the EU. It was about the fact that increasingly there is a huge gap between Westminster (and London) and the rest of the country; that we have a Tory government making cut after cut to public services; that people feel that nothing ever changes so to put a cross in the ‘leave’ box was a punt, like buying a scratch card, that may or may not bring about some change.

So many people in this country feel they are not in control of their lives, for the first time this referendum meant that every vote counted, so people did take back a little bit of control and were able to say ‘up yours’ to those rich people who govern the country without a care for those in real need.

The consequences are terrible, many people voted on gut instinct, I know a few people who only decided once in the polling station. We are so used to our votes not counting for much (cf. 4m people voting for UKIP and getting 1 MP) that many of us thought it wouldn’t really matter.

I’m challenged to think: yes, this is what it feels like to be ignored, not listened to.

I am challenged to think: how can we reform our country so that everyone feels they have a say?

I am challenged to think: what contribution am I going to make?

It is tempting to blame those who voted leave as idiots and to leave the blame for the fall-out of Brexit at their (or indeed at David Cameron’s) door. But we are literally all in this together, we are all part of this culture that has developed that has led to this monumental change to our political landscape. I just hope we can rebuild now, using the inspiration of Jo Cox’s example, to heal our fractured nation.13495313_10153916708875756_2588083424066735906_n

The prayer of St Francis comes to mind, I know that I need more to seek to understand than be understood.

May the living God guide us into all truth.

still-believe-2016-06-24-fb.png

Click here to make the pledge to keep going, together.

 

Update Sunday 26th June

Although we are now all in this together that does not mean we should be complacent. I feel a bit like I’ve gone back to the anger stage of grief! I am very angry about the lack of a plan from the Leave campaign. It is becoming increasingly obvious that neither Gove nor Johnson thought they would win. We need a new political movement and we must call our government to account.

Review of my trip to Tallinn, Estonia

Standard

This week I’ve returned for a solo trip (long story about clashing annual leave dates) to Tallinn in Estonia. I lived here for my gap year in 1999/2000. Back then Estonia was a bright new country forging its way ahead, desperate to shake off its Soviet shackles. Now it’s a confident place, fully in the EU and eurozone and feels affluent and buzzy.

Things that are different :

– Bigger and new buildings in the new Town including the very upmarket Solaris centre which has a Whole Foods-style supermarket, a lovely big bookshop and a multiplex cinema
– It’s far more expensive! I expect joining the euro put prices up but has brought the country in line with its Scandinavian neighbours (which is where it’s always placed itself). Having said that, a pint is about €3.
– There are a lot more tourists and tourist attractions and the churches have sensibly started charging a modest entry fee (I can remember climbing up the Oleviste church tower with some students and swinging on the bell ropes in 1999 – wouldn’t get away with that now!)

Things that are the same:
– The Estonian people! Still have excellent English. They can still come across as a little surly although I had some lovely chats in broken Estonian with shop keepers.
– A few of my old haunts are still there: Kloostri Ait, Hell Hunt bar etc
– Kadriorg Park is still fab – in fact even better

Here’s what I got up to:

Tuesday

I spent the morning exploring the old town, it truly is a medieval wonder and that it’s survived this intact is a miracle. It was lovely to return to Holy Ghost church where I worshipped when I was here, I think the painted panels have been restored – I remember we fundraised for that in 1999.

In the afternoon I went to Kadriorg Park and to the new (well, it opened in 2006) KUMU art museum. This is a great building designed by a Finnish architect and fits perfectly into the park setting. It has a couple of permanent exhibitions of Estonian art and other changing ones. It was superb, just the right size to get something out of it without being overwhelmed.

Tip:

– For the transport system get an ühiskaart (like oyster card) from a kiosk. They all speak English, you can top it up for 24 hours for €3. It’s quite hard to find bus stops, you just have to persevere! Make sure you validate your card by swiping it when you get on any transport.

Wednesday

I spent most of Wednesday visiting the Open Air Museum which is a half an hour bus ride up the coast. This is one of my favourite museums in the world! It has houses from all over Estonia moved piece by piece and rebuilt in a beautiful setting by the sea. I hired a bike there to ride around the grounds. It took me quite a while to get used to the bike as it had no brakes! Lunch in the old barn was just as good and authentic as I’d had there before.

In the afternoon I went to vespers at the cathedral on Toompea. I was very impressed that the service was in English and Estonian!

After that I got dinner at Olde Hansa,  the medieval restaurant that was here 16 years ago. It’s still great, slightly hammy waitresses in medieval (but authentic)  costumes and medieval style food – not a potato in sight! I would still recommend it.

Thursday

I met with an old friend Regina and we went together to the new museum of the occupations of Estonia. This is an important place that tells the story of the oppression experienced by the Estonian people in the 20th century. It was a privilege to go with Regina as her grandparents were exiled to Siberia by Stalin’s regime. The horrors experienced by the people are unimaginable.

My only criticism of the museum is that it would have benefitted from more personal stories – Regina was able to tell me her family’s. The impact of history, I think, can only truly be felt if you can connect with the human side to tragedy. The museum had a lot of artefacts and old reel footage but not many individual stories – I think it needs more of those so that this dark period of Estonian history is not forgotten.

After that I had a nostalgic wander to my old halls of residence and a favourite cafe called Kohvik Narva that has been on Narva Maantee since 1947 and the interior certainly hasn’t changed since I was there in 1999! It still boasts an amazing array of delicious pastries and is still very cheap (was about €3 for coffee and a big piece of cake). Worth a 10 minute walk from the old town if you’re visiting!

Later in the afternoon I watched the England vs Wales match in Hell Hunt bar (where I am currently writing this blog post!)

Friday

Today I went for a bus ride to the TV tower. It was built for the Moscow Olympics in 1980 (rather cunningly really as it improved communications no end across the country). I went there with my then boyfriend (now husband) in 1999 when the tower had a revolving restaurant at the top! It was very Soviet and a bit bleak back then. A decision was made, after it had become unsafe, to revamp it and it reopened in 2012. It now has a great exhibition both about the role the tower played in Estonian independence in 1991 (foiling a coup – 4 men defended the tower from Soviet troops by sticking a matchbox in the lift to stop it working!) and the contribution Estonians are making now in the world – eg. Skype is an Estonian invention! There is a nice bistro where I had a light lunch and you can also walk around the edge and get views of Tallinn and the surrounding countryside. There is the opportunity to do an ‘edge walk’ for €20. You walk right on the edge of the lip of the top of the tower all the way around attached by ropes. I was tempted but decided that it was something to do with others that you dare each other to do! That’s my lame excuse!

It’s been great to be back here and find the old and familiar and be surprised and impressed by the new. Estonia is really a country on the up. You can see the positive impact being a member of the EU has had.

As someone in my church here said to me back in 2000 – you will always carry a bit of Estonia with you – he was right, I will!

Highly recommended for a delightful holiday break.

Here are some photos from my trip in a slightly mixed up order!

image

New monument to those who died for Estonia's freedom in Freedom Square

image

Danse Macabre detail at Niguliste church

image

The tower called Fat Margaret!

image

View of the town hall

image

Olde Hansa medieval restaurant

image

Interior Holy Ghost church

image

Town Hall

image

image

image

image

Interior Holy Ghost church

image

Monk sculpture near the walls

image

Town Hall dragon

image

Funny back Street sign

image

Horse at the Open Air Museum

image

Inside a house at the Open Air Museum

image

Entrance to Kumu

image

Traditional Estonian food at the Open Air Museum

image

Open Air Museum

image

Open Air Museum - think it's some kind of may pole

image

My bike at the Open Air Museum

image

Cases on display at the Museum of Occupations

image

Vespers order of service

image

Narva cafe - here since 1947

image

Me at my old halls

image

View from the TV tower

image

TV tower entrance

image

Occupations Museum

image

TV tower

image

Old guildhall of the Black Heads

image

image

Danse Macabre detail at Niguliste church

image

My feet over a viewing hole at the top of the TV tower!

I’ve arrived in Tallinn! Olen Tallinnas!

Standard

After a rather eventful journey from Newcastle via Paris CDG (whose bright idea was it to put a piano in the departure lounge for people to play? It just got plinked on by bored children) I am now ensconced in my hotel room.

I decided to get a taxi from the airport into town as my 16 year old map of the city in my head is a bit faded. As we drove in things looked very different. There are a number of big new buildings that give more the impression of a city. In this picture are two memorable sights and one new one:

image

Note that these pictures were taken at 10.45pm! It’s the time of the famous midsummer ‘light nights’.

My hotel is on Pikk Street in the old town. I am currently re-reading the Harry Potter books and I couldn’t help but have the feeling that I’m staying in Tallinn’s equivalent of the Leaky Cauldron. I had to go down a steep staircase (that felt like a cellar staircase) at the bottom of which was a closed door. This is what greeted me on the other side:

image

Then I had to make my way down a couple of low ceilinged corridors :

image

And I found my little room. There is not room to swing a kass (Estonian for cat)!

Cosy is an understatement but as I said to my husband – very ‘me’ actually!

image

image

image

Quirky eh?

Still, since my plane touched down I’ve had access to good, free WiFi which reminds me of how technologically savvy the Estonians are. 16 years ago when I was here you could buy a coke from a vending machine using your phone!

Roll on the adventure tomorrow!

An increase in requests for Renewal of Marriage Vows services

Standard

love-in-black-and-white-1538905.jpg

As far as I am aware, usually in our parish we conduct one or two renewal of vows services a year. These are usually of what I would call the ‘traditional’ kind – a couple celebrating a significant anniversary – often members of the congregation. This year we have noticed a change – we have 6 Renewal of Vows ceremonies booked! And not all of them are of the ‘traditional’ sort.

Apart from the traditional celebration of anniversary kind of service these are some of the others that might be requested now:

  • a renewal of vows after some marital trouble – making a fresh start (for example, after infidelity)
  • the couple were married abroad and want to have a ceremony back home that more can attend
  • the couple want to celebrate their commitment to one another – and have a family get-together

I recently conducted a renewal of vows for a couple celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary. Their wedding had been on a beach abroad and not all the family had been able to go – at their renewal their children were present and the wider friends and family. The ceremony was arranged as a surprise by the husband as an anniversary gift for his wife and also provided the opportunity for a big family party. At the party afterwards I spoke to another couple who had had a renewal ceremony last year on their 15th anniversary. When I asked them why they’d decided to do it they said ‘well, so many of our friends are giving up too easily on their relationships. We wanted to show that we are still committed to one another.’

I think it is likely that we will see a surge in interest in Renewal of Vows services for a few reasons:

  • people are looking for opportunities to have family parties – often there feels a big gap, once christenings are done, between weddings and then funerals – it is nice to have a gathering that is celebratory and brings all the generations together
  • since the trend for people marrying abroad, more and more people might come to the decision to have a church-based renewal service to ‘fill the gap’ left by their secular ceremony on the beach with only a couple of friends present
  • celebrations of shorter anniversaries than the traditional (eg. 10 or 15 year anniversaries) are becoming more significant because the divorce rate is so high

You might be able to think of some other reasons as well.

It strikes me that we are extremely well placed in the Church of England to meet this new need – it’s a no-brainer! Celebrating lifelong commitment is something we should be doing. I think we could do more to encourage people to have a Renewal of Vows service.

Some questions I would pose are:

  • if you work in a church, have you seen an increase in requests for Renewal of Vows?
  • should we include renewal of vows services in our statistical returns to the Church of England (in the same way as we record other occasional offices)?
  • should there be some more liturgical resources available to meet these newer requests?

What I learnt watching telly for @sandfordawards

Standard

This year I was invited to help shortlist for the Sandford St Martin Trust Awards – an awards scheme for excellence in broadcasting that engages with religion, ethics or spirituality. The shortlisting process involved watching a lot of television (obviously) that covered themes as wide ranging as Joan of Arc, Muslim Drag Queens and Srebrenica.

sandford

Me at the Church and Media Conference in 2015 with some of the Sandford St Martin staff

I think broadcasting that covers themes of religion, ethics and spirituality is only going to become more important in our current times. You have only to see some views espoused on social media or down the pub about religion and belief to realise how ill-informed most people are (and I include myself in that). Despite the decline of print media and even the decline in live television viewing – most of us still consume a lot of television – we simply do this via catch-up now or streaming services or saving up for a box set. Levels of religious literacy in particular are at an all time low, we don’t even understand our own religious background (which floats around like a ghost in the back of our mind with a refrain of ‘he who would valiant be’ from Primary School) – let alone understand what makes a Muslim tick. Most people wouldn’t get the ‘Blessed are the Cheesemakers’ joke from the Life of Brian any more – or at least wouldn’t be able to say where the joke comes from in the Bible. So we need good religious broadcasting. We need to understand the ‘other’ better in our world of angry tweets and incendiary Facebook posts.

Fascinatingly, a lot of the programmes I watched for the shortlisting were about extremism – either Islamic extremism or forms of fascism and white supremacy. Whilst I found these quite interesting, they didn’t teach me anything new, but perhaps even hardened my view on extremism.

The programmes I found most affecting were those in which we saw ordinary people trying to live out their faith. I particularly enjoyed the Irish documentary series ‘Baz the Lost Muslim‘ about a man who had grown up in Catholic Ireland with a Catholic mother but Egyptian Muslim father who decided to explore the faith of his father for the first time at the age of 40 – he had some profound moments along the way – particularly the first time he prayed.

Another wonderful programme was a short film about Muslim style vlogger Nabiilabee meeting with ex-Girls Aloud singer Nicola Roberts – they were sent on a mission to buy each other an outfit that worked with their own preferences – of course with modesty for the Muslim woman. This is a lovely programme which you can watch here – I particularly loved hearing Nabiilabee talking about ‘bad hijab days’! This was a really honest conversation about clothes and religious beliefs.

Another programme which showed the levels of diversity within a big religion like Islam was Muslim Drag Queens. Initially the provocative name put me off but this was a very moving documentary. The most striking part for me was when one more seasoned drag queen was teaching a new lad some moves in a night club (during the day). It came to prayer time and the younger lad was going to take his prayer mat into the corner to say his prayers. The older drag queen was horrified that his friend was happy to pray in such a place. It was fascinating – the discussion was not about their sexuality or the fact that they were drag queens but about their faith and how they live it out in Western Society. This was such a refreshing surprise – I’d love to see more programming like this. You can watch the programme on All 4 here – don’t let the title put you off!

My favourite programme which sadly wasn’t shortlisted ultimately (but got top marks from me!) was You, Me and the Apocalypse. This was a drama shown earlier in the year on Sky1. It is the most innovative drama I have seen in a long time. It benefits from having very high American drama production values and a very witty British script with a mixture of British and American actors. I think the reason it wasn’t shortlisted was that we shortlisted individual episodes, not whole series, and this is a series that really needs to be seen in its entirety and not one episode in isolation as the plot is complicated. The series is by turns hilarious, profound and moving and generates plenty of questions in the viewer. In my view it would be a great programme to watch over a few weeks as a small group from church or even as an adult confirmation course! The premise of the programme is that there is a meteor coming that will destroy the planet in 30 days and it tracks the response of a variety of characters in the UK and USA and other places whose stories begin to connect as the series progresses. I really recommend it and I was disappointed it didn’t ‘make the cut’ so to speak so I will sing its praises here!

I have only written here about a few of the programmes I watched. I thought it was a sad indictment of our times that so many were focused on the negative things to come out of religion or extremist beliefs. I hope that programme makers might look a bit more in the future at the more human stories of people working out what it means to live out their faith in the modern world as it is these stories we need to hear more. We all know what happens when religion goes wrong – we have the news for that – but drama and documentary makers have the opportunity to report on the real lives of believers and the complexities of being a person of faith – that is far more engaging and interesting!

If you’re interested, these are the final programmes I helped to shortlist. The awards will be presented on 8th June 2016.

Television Shortlist

A DEADLY WARNING: SREBRENICA REVISITED

BBC Religion and Ethics for BBC One

Read more:

BAZ: THE LOST MUSLIM (PART 2)

Brown Bread Films Ltd for RTÉ2

Read more: 

GENIUS OF THE ANCIENT WORLD: BUDDHA

BBC Religion and Ethics for BBC Four

Read more:

JOAN OF ARC: GOD’S WARRIOR

Matchlight Limited for BBC Two

Read more:

MUSLIM DRAG QUEENS

Swan Films for Channel 4

Read more:

MY SON THE JIHADI

True Vision Productions for Channel 4

Read more:

SONGS OF PRAISE (16/08/2015 FROM THE JUNGLE, CALAIS)

BBC Religion and Ethics for BBC One

Read more:

THE ARK

Red Planet Pictures for BBC One

Read more: 

What is the source of ‘Chewbacca Mom’ Candace’s joy?

Standard

This is how to give a reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15)

When we think about mission and evangelism, about sharing our faith, we are often pointed to this verse in Peter’s first letter:

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15 NIV)

13254230_10209698870288942_4360937003533917898_n

This is Candace’s current Facebook Profile Picture! Hope she doesn’t mind my using it! 

 

https://www.facebook.com/candaceSpayne

I can’t think of a better example of doing this than from the famous ‘Chewbacca Mom’, Candace Payne, whose delightful infectious joy in a video she posted on Facebook last week went ridiculously viral with millions of views. Following this she was interviewed on Buzzfeed and asked the source of her joy and gave this beautiful and masterful response. Watch the video from 3.19 minutes in.