Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religion. Show all posts

Monday, December 18, 2006

A multi-faith weekend: Third Sunday in Advent and Second Night of Hanukkah




So, first there was Saturday, and it was the second night of Hanukkah, and we lit some candles. See pictures. Neither The Girl nor I are great at taking photos (although I'm sure you can guess which one I took, given that it's all blurry and you can't even see the menorah). The first one is clearer, through the joys of flash photography, but I like that you can see the lit-up Christmas tree in the other one. :)

Then yesterday was the Third Sunday in Advent. I really like my excitingly new, Anglo-Catholic church. The priest and I are going to have coffee sometime. The third candle on the Advent ring is for John the Baptist. He was a good guy. In response to which: May God bless all the prophets of - and on the edges of - today's Church, especially the ones who call us out of our comfort zones of easy belief or faith without actions.

But even after all that I still hadn't had enough religion, so I went to the annual LGCM carol service. It was nice, although lacking - something. Maybe I was too achy and tired to enjoy it properly. I am not exactly getting into the Christmas spirit at the moment. And really, why should I be? No, I am not happy about particular aspects of life at the moment (as much as I am aware of how blessed I am). I won't pretend differently just to make people feel better. I don't think there's anything wrong, anything 'sinful', about admitting that I'm stressed out, tired, in pain and generally sick of being sick. It's Advent, you see, a time of year that has always struck a chord with me, and it's about so much more than counting the days and putting up the decorations. It's about waiting, listening, wondering. Expecting hope - whether it arrives or not.

Although, with God, it always does.

"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. "May it be to me as you have said." - Luke 1:38

Mary responded,
"Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me."
- Luke 1:46-49

Saturday, November 04, 2006

I'm dreaming of an inclusive, multi-cultural, pluralistic holiday season


Those who know me are very aware of how I feel about our 21st-Century version of Christmas, complete with its crass commercialism, incessant advertising, screaming children, completely-lacking-in-imagination media saturation, tinny-music-blaring-out-of-speakers-in-every-freaking-shop 'carols', and general mad rush to buy stuff that causes shopping centres to become a complete nightmare for at least two months of every year. In short, I believe that it is sent to us directly from the devil himself, yes indeed. So it may come as a surprise to these people to hear that this afternoon I did most of my Christmas shopping.

This is entirely the fault of The Girl, who is getting quite excited about her first proper Christmas (what with being Jewish, and all). She decided that we would make a list, order a huge number of books-and-things from Amazon, and then have a leisurely wander down the high street to see if we could find a few more goodies. And so, I am now the proud owner of many gifts. In November. It's a bit odd.

The weather was utterly beautiful today. I love cold, bright, autumnal days. More of those, please.

It could all almost make me happy that it's nearly December 25th.

But not quite.

Monday, October 02, 2006

And so it goes, go round again

I am sitting at home, surrounded by chocolate and cups of tea, entertaining myself with The Sims II the little people are alive! ALIVE! Ahem. Sorry.

I did not go to work today.

For the past two weeks I've been experiencing so much anxiety and obsessive thinking that I rather feel like a complete loony mental freak stuck in a very tiny airtight box. I'm seriously bringing myself down.

Then this weekend I had a cold - nothing serious, but it knocked me out in a way fairly reminiscent of my post-viral fatigue thing (of 'ruined January and February' fame). As a result, when I woke up this morning feeling not only completely exhausted but also terrified of going near work, I made the sensible decision not to.

The fact that all of this co-incides with a change of job does not necessarily mean that the new job is to blame. On the contrary, when I'm enjoying this job, I really love it. I think what may be going on is that I've had too many stresses and shifts recently, including a very busy summer and a complete change of work situation, and all this stress has become the catalyst for a whole load of symptoms that I really don't need at this very busy time. Ah, the marvellously irritating paradox of stress-induced bipolar crap.

I'm hoping that a day off to get my head sorted out will help. If I'm more honest, though, it's been such an extreme and sudden reaction that I probably need the infernal drugs to pull me out of it. Lovely psychiatrist, who I was seeing earlier in the year, said that I could control my own medication for a few weeks if I found this happening again, so that's what I think I'm going to do. I have three weeks' supply of the usual stuff in my house, so I can start that and see if it makes any difference before I start having to see doctors and deal with all that awful rubbish again.

I'm irritated beyond the telling of it, because I was so very happy about how well I was doing, for months and months, without any medication at all. Still, I think I should be able to sort things out with a quick burst of the lighter medication, without having to go back on the evil 'you stay on this until the day you die of a toxic reaction' uber-drug. So that's something.

Meanwhile, I have only one thing left to say on this topic.

BLAH.

On an entirely different topic, I went to hear something called Kol Nidre at a synagogue last night. The Girl was introducing me to some of her Jewish culture - we decided Yom Kippur was as good a festival as any for this. Unfortunately, not only did the service last two hours, but we missed the first ten minutes and didn't get to hear Kol Nidre (which is apparently fantastic) at all. Instead we heard many prayers about sin. These were read in two languages and then sung. It was long. It was still interesting, but The Girl was a bit irritated by it all. For a Jewish person, she really doesn't like religion (except church, apparently, which she's all in favour of, in a very non-Christian way). Me, I'd quite like to see more of this synagogue thing. 'Twas interesting. It made up for Stoppard, which was also very long, and not nearly interesting enough. It was the weekend of long events.


Don't forget that I'm living inside the space where walls and floor meet...
- Kristin Hersh

Friday, September 22, 2006

Impossible jobs, exciting plans, and learning to say "I came here by helicopter" in sign language

Today I learnt why my lovely, open-plan, spead-across-several-buildings- with-lots-of-green-space-in-between workplace is not ideally designed for all weather conditions. That would be when trying to get from my office, at one end of the campus, to my classroom, at the other. During the hurricane. With the freezing torrential rain and the extreme winds of death. Hmm.

So, I've got through two weeks at the new place. In another wonderful case of I'm sure I said I'd stop volunteering so much, I've already agreed to run a subject area that is in so much trouble that there is absolutely no hope in hell for it. No one can say I don't like a challenge. The teaching is going fairly well - I've managed to engage one class completely with Angela Carter, begin to interest another in Much Ado, and get four GCSE groups to sit still and do something for three hours a week (with varying levels of relative success). Still, Key Skills starts next week, so it could all go horribly wrong yet. Hmm.

The Girl's gone jollying off around the world to see family again. Some sort of Jewish event involving something called honey cake, which is very nice - but I only know this because a colleague gave me some at work. The Girl definitely needs to include me in more of her delicious semi-religious festivals (and, on that topic, I want to know why, when Christians are supposed to be pious and read the Bible on our holy days, Jewish people are basically expected to eat and get drunk a lot on theirs). We've been working out where we're going to live, when that moving in together meep thing eventually happens. It almost feels like it already has, what with the whole thing where I spend four days a week at hers because but it's just so much easier for getting to work, although her small flat can't really accommodate us both. Not without causing minor but persistent disagreements about whether she's too messy (true) or I'm too obsessively tidy (just organised) or who left the heating on when it's 30 degress outside (not me). Meanwhile, we're learning British Sign Language. This is a very good thing, as well as being much fun. We can now have an actual, if very limited by only knowing about twenty signs, two-way conversation. It's a start. Unimpeded communication with my dad is my next goal. Hmm.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

How to survive a faith non-crisis


What do you do when your faith is in a stage of such flux (not crisis, mind you, but intense change) that you are questioning everything you have ever believed or been taught?

"You read more theology," says a thoughtful, scholarly friend. Most of it is so complex that it does my head in. None of it draws any actual conclusions, but it teaches me to ask questions. I learn new, more interesting ways of approaching the God-stuff with my brain as well as my emotions. This is a revolution and I get addicted. Sadly, I can't discuss any of these new concepts at Bible studies or prayer meetings, since the ideas are not evangeical enough. I go to Greenbelt instead, where at least I see that there are other people asking these questions too. Also, it gives me something new to talk to The Girl about. She likes theology, the freak.

"You stop being so busy with the Church out of a sense of duty, and start worshipping in the ways you choose to," says a wise fellow-member of my church. That sounds great. I no longer try to fit music group rehearsals and PCC meetings and endless Bible studies (of questionable theological stance) into my schedule. I have more time to spend with God, not to mention with the people who are important in my life. I also have time to think up more questions.

"You just keep going to church," says my vicar. I take him at his word, and start going to a different church every week. Just as long as I avoid the one I've been going to for a generally contented, very committed three years - and where now, every week, I feel like I want to stand up and scream in response to every sermon, comment or badly-written modern hymn.

"You take a sabbatical from religion," says a friend who has been in my situation. Apparently, this sabbatical thing has Biblical precedent. I like the idea. I get a lie-in on the occasional Sunday morning. Which would be great, if my girlfriend didn't get up at 7am anyway, and then she helpfully brings me a cup of tea, and then I'm up, and then I might as well go to church, because I miss it if I don't.

"You accept your new place in a post-evangelical, post-modern, post-Anglican, post-Church Christianity," say the books and the more radical Greenbelt lectures. Yet I can't help thinking there's more to life than being post-everything - especially since these wacky, new-fangled ideas are actually quite ancient concepts that have probably been buzzing around since the very first Christians started arguing about shellfish.

"You connect with your developing spirituality, which cannot be explained in words or concepts," says a neighbour who believes in reincarnation, yoga, extreme veganism, crystals and the power of mental thinking, but not religion. I don't quite understand. For now we see in a mirror dimly...

"You blog it," says The Girl. Funny how the best advice I get about my Christian beliefs comes from an atheist.


This morning I went to the latest church on my round of the local Anglican parishes. It was actually the second time I've been to this one. For me, at the moment, that's almost a commitment. Someone shout at me, won't you, if I start joining the choir or volunteering to run the Fairtrade stall? So there I was, quietly sitting there in the midst of the chaos (four children were getting dunked in the font), playing the 'how evangelical is this church?' game (solution to this week's puzzle: really not at all), trying to remember whether one crosses oneself from left to right or from right to left in an Anglo-Catholic church, wondering whether that's any different from the actual Catholics, and boggling at hymns that I used to sing at school... So light up the fire, and let the flames burn... When, somewhat unexpectedly (I wasn't exactly concentrating), God said something to me.

Helpfully, God's comment had absolutely nothing to do with my faith non-crisis. It was, however, quite reassuring.

Sometimes I feel like the narrator of A Prayer for Owen Meaney, with all his worrying about the resurrection as Easter approaches: "I am terrified that, this year, it won't happen; that, that year, it didn't." So busy worrying about losing his faith, in fact, that he neglects to notice the faith that he has. God, I think, has bigger concerns than my knowledge of theology, or how busy I am with church stuff, or whether I attend the same church every week, or whether I need a few weeks off church altogether, or whether I'm post-evangelical or not, or whether I'm 'connected' enough to my spirituality. (God is fascinated by my blog, of course.) It was nice to be reminded, today, that God cares about other stuff in my life, as well as about some ethereal concept of what 'state' my faith is in.

Of course, this does not help me solve the problem of whether or not to go back to my church. That would be too easy. If there's one thing my God is not, it's practical.

I hear there's Biblical precedent for that, too.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The spiritual journey that was really an ego-trip*

It's been a busy month.

First there was New York. My favourite place on earth, but I'll wait to get all eloquent about it until later when there's photos.

Then there were job applications. Hundreds of them. I now have the perfect letter of application, full of wordy little phrases that make me look far better than I actually am, which I edit to suit each job. It's got so good that I don't think the three colleges I'm currently applying to will be able not to give me an interview. Shame I still have to do one of those, really.

Now there's exam marking, which is really quite fun at the moment (really - kids are entertaining, even just on paper). I'm only doing 200 this year, after the fiasco that was last year's 500, which feels a lot more manageable. All the same, I'd better get back to it in a minute.

In between, there has been visiting churches. I decided to give mine a break while I try some others. There's lots that's good about it as a community, but other things that (I think) aren't right about it as an evangelical church. Whether I can get over those issues or will need to go elsewhere, I wait to see. I'm beginning to feel like God has something new for me - but of course, that could just be me being, well, me about it (oh, I'm so deep, my need for of a change of scene every two years isn't a sign of how stuck in the quagmire of consumerist culture I am, no no, it's much more deep and spiritual that that). So, I'm trying every vaguely alternative-sounding church in south (where I live) and north (where The Girl lives) London. This could take a while. Last week I went to a truly original Anglo-Catholic-yet-post-evangelical place where the congregation led the service, the chairs were set out in a big circle with the altar in the middle, there was one violin to accompany the hymns, the readers and pray-ers stood sideways to the people facing the many candles on the altar, children were involved in all aspects of the service and there was some Indian dance in honour of the Trinity. They were amazingly welcoming to me - I stayed for coffee, then for lunch (everyone in the congregation has a go at cooking on different weeks), and met some really interesting people. It was very inclusive, with lots of Indian members as well as many other types of people, and has a fascinating history. I may go back. The week before that I went to a church on the common that had progressive, open-minded teaching but a terrible organ. (It's interesting to find out what I'm actually looking for in a church, which appears not to be what I think I'm looking for.) Next weekend I might even go to a Quaker meeting. The world is my parish, to quote the marvellous Dave Tomlinson. Whose church I must also go to, now that I think of it.

Today, life is good. I wrote (well, edited) a letter of application for a very decent college in just one hour this morning. I haven't done much other work all day, but then it's that time of year. This morning I walked up the road to the station, on my way to the gym, having bought a cuppa from the cafe where they have it ready for me as soon as they see me walking in the door, and the sun was shining, and I thought "I love this city, and I love what I do, and I'm a very happy bunny."

Profound.


*The Poem That Was Really A List, Francesca Beard

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Seeking Something


Giles Fraser in Comment is Free, on English Christianity - from the Puritanical to the laughable and back again

Easter marks a kind of new spiritual year for Christians - not officially (the Church calendar starts at Advent) but in terms of expectations. From the beginning of Lent onwards, everything is focused on watching, waiting, meditating and expecting.

And that's good, and I find it helpful. In an age of instant gratification, in my restricted little world of non-stop commentary from television and music and pointless chatter, what better than waiting for something much deeper?

So I try. I really do. It's just that, well - I'm not good at waiting. "You want everything yesterday," my mother has been saying since I was four. A small illustration of this: I tried to give up chocolate and alcohol for Lent this year. I got drunk after a week, while the chocolate fast lasted until the week before Palm Sunday when I gave up entirely, on the grounds that it was very nearly Easter anyway wasn't it. Is holding out for delayed gratification worth the trouble? On a larger scale, this lack of patience occasionally seems like a good thing, when I throw myself into things with huge commitment and determination (which lasts about two days before I move on to something else). Still, it gets in the way. I can't watch and wait when I'm running around being busy, constructive and highly effective. See the story of Mary and Martha for more details...

But wait, I object, like the social constructivist that I pretentiously think I am. Surely I'm just a product of my society. Let's face it: we live in a world where such concepts as waiting patiently and seeking something deeper are less than popular. And yet, too many experiences with not-quite-mainstream churches, including everything from the slightly weird to the very disturbing, made me wonder if society's constant search for instant gratification is reflected in today's Church as well. A 'God-lite' approach, what Giles Fraser calls the "entrepreneurial model", the church of a free market society, where congregants want quick answers, quick fixes, quick experiences - all of which can end up feeling just a bit shallow. If God is so easy to to find, is S/He really worth looking for?

Which is why I think that Giles Fraser both has a point and misses the point. People are still seeking, despite the decline of the 'traditional' English church. That's why ultra-modern churches are suddenly doing so well. Yet these black-and-white approaches to spirituality may not go as deep or last as long as they promise. God, however (indeed, if) you imagine or encounter Her, is not a God of quick fixes.

That's why I worked on going a bit deeper this Easter. Well, as deep as a manic depressive with a short attention span and a low boredom threshold can go. And between the brief points where I actually managed that, I even got over a few 'God-lite' moments at my own, fairly evangelical church by remembering that I do not know everything yet. (I'm a post-evangelical Christian. We really, really like to think we've reached enlightenment.)

You see, I think that people are clever enough to realise that, if they're seeking Something, then what they're looking for is not just a quick fix. Even if they don't find what it in the traditional, they'll soon know if they're not finding it in the corporate. Of course, if they are finding it there, great. But I don't share Fraser's sense of doom. After all, God is bigger than us.

Just as well, really.


Here is a related reflection that made me think.

And because I never think of anything first, I've just seen that Maggie Dawn has much more eloquent thoughts than mine on watching, waiting and fulfillment at Easter.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Brain chemicals and fundamentalism - some light-hearted thoughts for the morning


There are days - just occasionally, mind - when I quite enjoy the bumpy fairground ride that is bipolar disorder. Today, for instance, I'm buzzing around the department like a very buzzy little thing (this regardless of the fact that I'm still sick of being overworked, bored with marking and tired out from unenthusiastic classes), feeling chirpier and more energetic than I have since December, when I got ill. It's pleasant. Hurrah for brain chemicals, at least when their effects are mild and useful.

Of course, this sudden cheeriness isn't actually encouraging me to work. I have spent the past hour perusing blogs and considering freedom of speech, particularly in terms of things like these thoughts on employers who limit their workers' opportunities to speak out. While it can perhaps be argued that there are jobs and situations where issues of security outweigh individuals' rights to write - not keen on the idea of an MI5 employee referring to classified operations, for example - it nonetheless seems that this excuse could be used to clamp down on important social criticism.

In not-unrelated thoughts, the flatmate and I watched this last night (on my tiny portable TV with the bad reception, since our incompetent cable company have ruined our viewing enjoyment). Now, it's possible that there was bias in the programme's aims, and I'd like to hear more of 'the other side' from those who work at the schools. Still, as someone who used to be an evangelical fundamentalist (and it feels a lot like I had a lucky escape from a cult there), the claims made in the programme rang some quite terrifying bells for me. What worried me most was seeing that the government is allowing groups who preach bigotry, hatred and some fairly blatant lies to run secular schools. I'm not opposed to faith - I'm still a committed Christian, after all. It's the literalistic, right-wing control of thought and belief that I see in fundamentalism, and its creeping influence in secular society, that I object to. I also have no problem with people taking the Bible literally, as long as they don't impose those ideas on others. I don't even object to faith schools, if parents have chosen to send their children there. But when such extreme ideas are mixed in with the National Curriculum and taught to children as fact, in local comprehensive schools where parents are sending their children to receive a state education, then as both an educator and a proponent of equal rights, I can't keep quiet about it. Especially since I know first-hand what kind of effect these ideas can have on young people. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to rework my thought processes on some very damaging ideas, relating to everything from homosexuality to heaven and hell. Not everyone who's exposed to these ideas will get the chance to challenge them for themselves.

Any opposing views on this one? I'd love to debate it.